“I THINK IT’S WEIRD THAT YOU’RE MARRIED, AND I’M NEVER GOING to understand it,” Mya declares as she watches me wander around our common room in search of my keys.
“It’s weird, yes, but eventually it will stop being weird and you’ll realize it makes perfect sense.”
She stubbornly shakes her head. “You’re twenty-one. Who gets married when they’re twenty-one? This isn’t the Middle Ages!”
“I’m pretty sure the chicks in the Middle Ages got married when they were, like, twelve. I’m a spinster compared to them. My mother would be fainting with relief, and Dad would be getting the smelling salts if they managed to marry off their old maid daughter.”
But I get it. We’re young. And it’ll definitely take a while for all my friends to get on board. The only one who seems totally unruffled by my elopement is Diana, but nothing ever ruffles her. She’s already talking about double dates with her and Sir Percival. Somehow those two are still together, though he’s sounding more and more controlling the more details she gives about him. I don’t love that.
“Oh my God, where are my keys!” I groan in frustration.
“Oh, is that what you were looking for? They’re right there.”
I glare at her in outrage and walk over to snatch them up. “You could have saved me so much time right now.”
“Where are you going? Plans with the hubby?” she mocks.
“Nope. I got my sports marketing and psychology papers back on Friday and aced both, so I’m treating myself to an afternoon at the butterfly gardens.”
An hour later, the car’s parked, my membership card’s been scanned, and I’m walking into my favorite place on earth. I stroll the paths for a while, enjoying the humid breeze and rainbow of wings flapping all around me. I smile when I hold out my hand and a blue morpho flutters down to perch itself on my finger. This is as close as I’ll ever get to being a Disney princess, and it’s glorious.
I admire how the butterfly’s lustrous wings reflect in the sunshine streaming through the glass walls.
“You have such a good life,” I tell him. “You don’t have to write exams or decide if you want to take a summer school course so you have a lighter workload next fall. You just get to fly around in here all day. Play with your friends. Drink your nectar.”
Then it suddenly occurs to me maybe he wouldn’t want to be trapped in here. Maybe he wants to be out in the great big world beyond the conservatory, surrounded by a million things that could kill him. Like, I’ve seen Bergeron snatch a butterfly out of the air with his jaw and eat it whole.
“Would you want to be eaten if it means having your freedom?” I ask the blue morpho in dismay.
I hear a startled cry from a child nearby. Her mother scowls at me and takes her hand. Marches her away from me.
Wow. Apparently you can’t have philosophical conversations with butterflies in front of children anymore. People are so close-minded.
I meander down another path and turn the corner.
My dad is standing there.
I freeze. Jaw dropping. Oh, come on. Seriously? I can’t have one beautiful Sunday in my beautiful happy place without being reminded of the fact that my father has never been more disappointed in me in his life?
The memory whips through me like a hurricane. Rips into my chest, leaving nothing but pain in its wake.
He must see it seeping out of my face, the joy I usually feel here, because his features crease with unhappiness.
He walks over to me. “Hey.”
“How’d you know I was here?” I say in lieu of greeting.
“Your husband told me where you were.”
I lift a brow. “Wow.”
“You actually said the words your husband without flinching.”
“Yeah, well…” Dad slides his hands in his pockets. He’s wearing cargo pants and a white T-shirt, and I don’t miss the way some of the women around us check him out. Dude’s still got it going on in his forties. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Ryder and I are friends now.”
Ryder keeps telling me the same thing, insisting they’ve cleared the air and all the tension is gone. Ever since the men’s Frozen Four win, there’s been something lighter about Ryder too. His teammates backing him up with the media was humbling for him, and he and Case are friendly again. He and my mom are even friendlier, practically best friends now. Even my brother is on board—those two have stupid nicknames for each other. So it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s made genuine headway with my father.
As for me, I’ve been making a diligent effort to avoid anything related to my dad. I’m still so mad.
Except I’m not mad.
“You were right,” Dad says. “He’s a good guy.”
“I know.” It’s become a habit now, when I’m on edge, to twist my thin silver wedding band. It’s like Ryder’s presence washing over me, relaxing me.
We walk down the path and cut toward another one that’s empty. There’s a wrought-iron bench near one of the fountains. Dad gestures at it.
Once we’re seated, he gives me a sad, earnest smile.
“Forgive me,” he says simply.
I don’t say anything.
“I know I screwed up. I reacted poorly.”
“Very poorly,” I mutter.
“It’s just…a lot of things were happening in that moment. I was shocked, obviously. Totally didn’t see that one coming.” He looks over dryly. “You’ve always been so terrible with surprises, like when you tried to plan your mom’s surprise party and sent her an invitation?”
A laugh pops out. “That was a mistake.”
“Yeah, I’m just saying, you don’t surprise me very often. But this came completely out of left field. So there was the shock. And I guess in the moment I felt angry that you made this life-altering decision without even consulting us.”
“I’m sorry.” Then I shrug. “It didn’t need consulting.”
“You really mean that?”
“Yeah. Nothing you could have said, or any advice you would have given—or Mom, or Wyatt, or any of my friends—would have stopped me from marrying him. He’s it for me. He’s the one.” I twist my wedding band again. “Like I said, I don’t envision it being perfect. I’m sure eventually the sex won’t be as good—”
Dad coughs. “G!”
“Sorry, but you know what I mean. The honeymoon phase will fade. We’ll get stuck in ruts and routines, and probably want to kill each other half the time. But it doesn’t matter. He’s the one I’m choosing to do all of it with. Like you and Mom.”
He nods. I’m startled by the look in his eyes. It’s not resignation, but acceptance. I note that difference, wondering if maybe he has come around to this.
“So that’s why you were such a jerk?” I prompt. “Shock and anger?”
“No. I thought that’s what it was at first, and then I realized there was something else too.” His voice becomes rough. “I was hurt.”
“Hurt,” I echo, and experience a flicker of guilt. I don’t like the idea that I hurt him.
“I always pictured myself walking you down the aisle.”
The admission grips my heart and squeezes it tight.
Damn it. Now I know why my mom can never stay mad at him. It’s because he goes around saying things like that.
“Let’s be real,” he continues. “Your brother’s never getting married—”
“Fuckboy till the day he dies,” I agree.
“But I thought I had a shot with you. You’ve never been super girly, but I heard you and your mom talking about wedding dresses before. I assumed yours would be this fluffy white thing. You’d look beautiful in whatever you chose, though. I was looking forward to seeing you in it. Walking you down the aisle. Dancing with you at your wedding.” He looks over, hopeful. “I know you already tied the knot, but you should totally consider having a wedding. Your aunt Summer would kill to plan it for you, you know that.”
I snicker quietly. “You’d have to talk to Ryder about that. The man has a problem sharing what he had for dinner—you think he’s going to stand in front of hundreds of people and recite his vows? Because we both know you’re not keeping that wedding guest list below five hundred.”
“I can’t help that I have friends. Jeez.” His humorous expression quickly sobers. “And you’re wrong about him. I think you’d be surprised what that man would be willing to do for you.”
We go silent.
Then I turn toward him and lean my head on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry I disappointed you,” I say.
“You didn’t. I disappointed myself.” He pauses. “I love you. You know that, right?”
“Of course.” I pause. “I love you too.”
Another silence ripples between us.
“I was inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
“I know.” I didn’t send him a congratulations myself, but I did tell Mom to pass it along because I’m not a heartless jerk.
“There’s a ceremony and party next weekend. I’d love it if you and your husband would attend.”
After a beat, I nod and squeeze his hand. “We’d be honored.”