Glancing at Calicifer, Howl sighed. “I’m going to ask Sophie to marry me.”
“That’s wonderful!” Calcifer’s flame grew brighter at the news. “What seems to be the problem? Not sure how to go about it?”
“Yeah,” Howl sighed. “She means more to me than she will ever realize.” He walked to the window, opening it to the night sky. The view brought back memories of their narrow escape, how he had taught her to walk on air. The thought brought a small smile to Howl’s face. That’s how he felt whenever he was near her—as if once again, he were walking on air. And her expression when he had released her at her destination, referring to her as “my girl”—well, it was priceless.
He walked about the room, conjuring flowers of every description. On the table he produced a vase of one dozen roses, beautiful both in appearance and scent. Reaching into the pocket of his cape, he drew out a small box tied with white silk ribbon, placing it near the vase with so much tenderness that it almost drove him to tears.
Going to the cabinet, he took out two long candlesticks, placing them on the table at strategic positions. Returning to Calcifer, he held out his hand. “Care to do the honors, old friend?”
Howl held out his hands, cupping them to allow Calcifer to hop in. Returning to the candles, he held Calcifer near as he lent some of his flame to first one, then the other. The result—a soft glow that warmed Howl’s very heart, as thought or sight of Sophie seemed to do nowadays.
The sound of footsteps caught Calcifer’s attention. “Someone’s coming!” Thinking it might be Sophie, Howl quickly returned him to his place in the grate, smoothing out his apparel so as to not arouse suspicion.
The door creaked open, and Sophie walked in, followed by Markl and the Witch of the Waste. “Well, someone’s been busy,” the Witch chuckled, as they all marveled at the sight.
Howl gave them a knowing smile. Nodding in understanding, the Witch and Markl slipped away to another part of the castle.
“What do you think?” Howl smiled as he reached around and pecked Sophie on the cheek, as her cloak flew to the waiting coat rack.
“I—I—” Sophie was at a loss for words. “When did you find time to do all this?” she finally stammered.
“For you,” Howl whispered, reaching for the vase of roses. As he gave the flowers to Sophie, the vase vanished, replaced by florist paper.
“Oh!” Sophie’s eyes filled with tears. “Howl—they’re—they’re beautiful!”
“Not half as beautiful as you, my Sophie,” Howl whispered, concealing the box with one hand as he hit one knee. “I can’t even begin to tell you how much having you here has meant to me. I—” Tears filled his eyes and he found it hard to continue. When he had once again found the voice to speak, he lifted the lid. “Sophie Hatter, will—will you marry me?”
Sophie gasped, her eyes growing as big as saucers. “Howl—this comes as such a surprise…I—I don’t know what to say.” Her heart was filled with so much love, she felt as if her heart would burst. Throwing her arms around him, she sobbed. “Yes!”
Howl was slipping the ring on Sophie’s finger when two heads poked out from their hiding place. “Is it safe to come in?” the Witch inquired with a smile.
Turning around, Howl beamed. “You may enter,” he whispered. As they returned, he added, “I am probably the happiest man in the world right now. Sophie has just agreed to be my wife.”
The two gasped at the news. “That’s wonderful!” Hugs were exchanged all around, and Sophie and Howl smiled at their congratulations.
In the months to come, everyone hurried around, making preparations for Howl and Sophie’s big day. That evening—for it was to be a night wedding—Sophie stood before the mirror, making final adjustments to her dress and veil. She turned this way and that, glancing at herself from every angle.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. “Come in.”
The Witch entered. “You look lovely, my dear,” she said with a smile. “I hope you two are very happy together.”
“Me, too,” Sophie whispered.
Soft music drifted in, capturing their attention. “It’s about to start,” the Witch smiled, before she left. “Are you ready for this?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Sophie sighed, running her hands over her bouquet.
As Sophie stood at the top of the stairs, waiting for her cue, she still couldn’t believe everything that had happened. When the first chords of the march floated up, she steadied herself and made her way down the stairs.
It was going well at first, until shoe and dress made an unfortunate meeting. Everyone gasped at Sophie’s slip. However, Howl just smiled and raised a hand. At that, she began to float in the air, over everyone gathered, until she'd landed safely at his side. At that, everyone cheered and applauded.
Markl stood to one side, holding a pillow with their rings in his hands. As they repeated their vows, they slipped the rings on each other’s fingers. But it was these words that brought tears to everyone’s eyes:
“I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”
Howl touched Sophie’s cheek, lifting her face to gaze into her eyes. As their lips touched, their arms found their way around each other.
Afterwards, at the outdoor reception, the guests laughed, exchanging congratulations with the happy couple. After the cake had been cut, everyone gathered to witness Howl and Sophie’s first dance. It seemed as if the sky itself had known of their happy day, for it was filled to overflowing with the brightest of stars. But the brightest of all was the sparkle in Sophie and Howl’s eyes, as they wrapped their arms around each other.
Their first steps were on terra firma, but as the dance progressed, they were floating again, much as they had when they walked over the town. Howl glanced around at the stars, then back down at the ones that graced Sophie’s eyes. “I’d give all this for you, my Sophie, my girl,” he whispered, coming in for a soft kiss. As they continued to dance, they kicked up a trail of stardust that enveloped them, even landing in their hair. Sophie and Howl had come a long way, but they wouldn’t trade it for the love that had brought them so far!