Nicholas opens the box and removes an invitation. An RSVP card falls out and tears away, pinwheeling across the parking lot. “I’ve kept one of these folded up in my wallet for months,” he tells me. “I’d take it out and look at it sometimes, and I’d smile because I was so excited to marry you. But then I stopped being happy when I looked at them.”
“Because you stopped wanting to marry me.”
He hands me the invitation. “How do you feel when you hold this?”
“Sad,” I reply truthfully.
“Read it. Tell me then what you feel.”
I’m so empty, you could hear the wind blow through me. But I sit back down on the car, Nicholas hopping up beside me, and have to read the fancy curling script twice before it digests.
I haven’t given these invitations a second glance since they arrived in the mail, and my response is the same flare of annoyance. Nicholas observes my reaction and nods. “Exactly. Do those look like they should be our invitations? Are those our words? Does any of that feel representative of our marriage? Your middle name isn’t even on here.”
“It’s not what I would have picked,” I admit, hearing the bitter notes in my voice. “But I didn’t pay for them, so. Didn’t get the final say.”
“Isn’t that insane, though? That you didn’t get the final say?” He examines the invitation. “Never decided on a picture to put in these, either.
It’s just as well, since those pictures memorialize an unhappy day. I remember you weren’t feeling well, and I didn’t like my outfit. We were annoyed with each other, standing in front of the photographer with fake head-over-heels smiles.”
“And these ribbons?” He touches one of the ivory silk bows on the invitation. There are tons of them, with faux pearls in the centers. “Does this resemble our taste at all? I’ve had a good long time to think about this, and when I look at these invitations they don’t feel like ours.”
“They’re not. They’re your mother’s.” I look him right in the eye. “If you didn’t like the decisions she made, you should have spoken up.”
“I know. I’m sorry I let her take over everything … I knew how it was making you feel and I just let her do it because at the time it was easier for you to be upset with me than to have Mom upset with me. Which is screwed up.”
“Yes, it is.” There’s no point rubbing his nose in it, so I add, “You’re getting better, though. You’ve been defending me. You haven’t let any of her insults slide. And for your own sake, I’m glad you haven’t been going over there every day and taking all of her calls.”
“It helps that I have you beside me, encouraging me.” He rests his head on my shoulder. “You make it easier.”
“I haven’t always made it easier.”
He takes my hand and squeezes. “I was sorting through things to throw away this morning, and found the boxes. It was the most natural thing in the world to toss them.”
“Wow,” I remark hollowly. “Don’t bother to soften the blow or anything.”
“Sweetheart, why would we have a wedding in St. Mary’s? Why would we use a stuffy banquet hall for our reception? Do either of those places hold any personal significance for us?”
“It should be about us,” he continues urgently, taking both of my hands in his and turning us fully to face each other. “And the guest list! It’s a mile long. I don’t know most of the names on there. Why would we crowd all of these strangers around us for the most special moment of our lives?”
He crushes an invitation into a ball, and I wheeze out a gasp. “These are for a fake wedding. I threw away the invitations because I don’t want any of those people there.”
My eyes are saucers. “None of them?”
“Why would I? This isn’t about anybody but me and you. The only people I care to have at our wedding are those who have treated both of us well. That rules out just about everybody I know, including the person who designed these invitations.”
I can’t conceive of a wedding between us in which Deborah isn’t the grand marshal. She’d never let us get away with excluding her. For Deborah, our wedding is a social event at which she can preen and trot around her son like a pageant mom. She can’t wait for all the other moms in her circle to congratulate her. “What about our families?”
“Fuck our families. Fuck everybody.” He throws the crumpled invitation at a dumpster. It bounces off the rim.
I burst out laughing. I know he doesn’t mean that, but maybe for one day, he’s right. On a sacred day that signifies putting each other above all else, celebrating a deeply personal commitment, maybe we shouldn’t have to accommodate the wants or opinions of others. We should do what feels right for us and no one else.
“We’ll make our own family,” he says earnestly.
I shake my head and muse, “You’ve lost it.” I take an invitation from the box, smash it into a ball, and shoot it at the dumpster. It misses.
“If I’ve lost it, then good riddance to whatever it was that I had.”
Scrunching up our wedding invitations and vaulting them in the general vicinity of a garbage can is strangely cathartic. Once we get started, we can’t stop. We pile them up like snowballs on the hood and take turns trying to make it in the dumpster. He scores eleven and I score nine.
“This one’s my grandmother’s,” I tell him as I hurl a snowball of paper and ribbons. “For pressuring me to wear her veil even though she could tell I didn’t like it, and for suggesting I might be too old to bear children.”
I land my shot and Nicholas cheers. “Suck it, Edith! You’re officially uninvited!”
“This one’s your brother’s,” he replies, swinging an arm around like a baseball pitcher and letting it fly. It misses its mark by a mile and ends up in the road. “I know you stole my sunglasses, Aaron!”
“I can’t wait to throw your mom’s.”
“Oh, please, let me. I’ve earned it.”
He’s right, this honor belongs to Nicholas. I hand him a fresh invitation just so he has the satisfaction of crumpling it with Deborah’s name in mind. He grinds it with precise ferocity and it arcs over the dumpster, pinging off a stop sign.
“If I make this one,” I say, tossing an invitation snowball from one hand to the other, “you have to pick up this mess by yourself while I watch and eat fries. I’m not getting fined for littering.” I squint and aim carefully, but miss. Of course.
“Ha!” he crows. “Sucker. If I make this, you have to go back inside and buy me a chocolate shake.”
Nicholas misses, too. “Damn.”
I snort. “Your aim’s even worse than mine.”
“Your face is worse,” he mutters, to which I have to laugh.
There’s one last invitation in the box. I wad it up with purposeful slowness. “If I make this shot …” I think of the craziest outcome to all this I can come up with. It makes perfect sense. “You have to marry me.
Not someday, and not maybe. We do this now.”
I swing my arm back and am about to let it go when Nicholas catches my wrist. He plucks the invitation from my fingers, slips down off the car, and walks over to the dumpster. He very deliberately drops it inside.
I raise an eyebrow at him when he walks back to me.
He stops a foot away, hands sliding into his pockets. His eyes are no longer teasing. “I’m not leaving you and me up to chance.”
I stare at him. He’s dead serious. “Really? You want to get married?”
“Really. There’s no one else I want to torture but you.”
I can’t stop staring at him. The way he’s talking, it sounds like he’s offering me everything I want. I’m dying to take it on trust, but there’s a crucial part of myself I’ve given him, which he hasn’t yet given in return.
“But you still haven’t said you love me.”
“That’s not true.”
“I say it all the time, I just say it very, very quietly. I tell you when you’re in another room, or right after we hang up the phone. I tell you when you’ve got headphones on. I say it after you shut the door behind you. I say it in my head every time you look at me.”
He steps closer, until we’re breathing each other’s air. I don’t know what the right thing to say is, but luckily Nicholas does. He’s got me.
He cups my face in his hands and brushes his lips over mine, his gaze so soft, a smile curving the edges of his mouth. “Of course I love you, Naomi. I never stopped.”
It takes six days for the marriage license to be granted after we apply, and for now we’re just holding on to it until the right moment.
Nicholas and I are driving back from an afternoon of laser tag, thanks to him taking a sick day at work. His hand rests on the gearshift, and he’s facing straight ahead at snow gusting across the road. It’s not snowing right now but it has been all day, white drifts rising twelve inches on either side of us. I cover his hand with mine and feel that barely discernible flex, an automatic response that feels like reassurance and unity.
“I vote we invite your parents next time,” I say, imagining Deborah and her fresh manicure holding a laser gun like a dead spider. Harold huffing and puffing, trying to shoot her.
He cackles. This fits perfectly into our plan of changing up how we spend time with his parents—finding a way to make it entertaining for us so that family togetherness doesn’t feel like a draining obligation for the rest of our lives. We have a long list of weird experiences we’re going to subject them to, and last night we drank too much wine and fell off the bed (okay, maybe I’m the only one who fell off the bed) laughing at each other’s suggestions while trading the notepad back and forth.
We haven’t breathed a word about the marriage license to them. We’ll break the news after we’re already married and throw a reception at a bowling alley in Eau Claire. Or maybe we’ll write a letter to Dear Deborah at the Beaufort Gazette and tell them that way. If she doesn’t have a meltdown about our imperfect ceremony, she definitely will when she hears we’re combining our surnames to create a brand-new one unique to us. Rosefield.
I shiver and crank up the heat. The paperwork that says Nicholas and I are legally allowed to marry within the next thirty days glows from the glove box, and I pick up the conversation where we left it off before laser tag. “Plane tickets this time of year are going to be expensive.”
“True. I’m not sure I want to fly in this weather, anyway. I’m already such a bad flyer, and if it’s snowing I’ll be freaking out up there.”
“That rules out Bridal Cave in Missouri and that glacier in Alaska.”
We’d been considering courthouse nuptials, but then I typed interesting wedding destinations into a search engine and the results inspired us to be more imaginative when it comes to eloping. Eloping is fantastic, by the way. I highly recommend doing it if you ever get the chance. All the fun of getting married, none of the stress of planning a traditional wedding.
“Do you have a favorite day of the week?” I ask. “For example, I would not want to get married on a Monday.”
“Oh?” He slides me a brief glance. “Why is that?”
“I think it would increase the chances of anniversaries falling on a Monday. Which are never good days.”
“I don’t have a preference for the day of the week,” he replies, “but I’d rather not get married in the morning. My hair looks best when it’s had a few hours to breathe.” I nudge him, and he makes a show out of combing his fingers through his brown waves. He’s only half joking; his hair is indisputably peak-glorious in the latter half of the day.
I love talking about wedding details. I love hearing Nicholas casually discuss spending the rest of his life with me. I don’t bother to hide my happy dance, and while I don’t look over at him I know my elation is contagious and he’s smiling.
“I have some of Wisconsin’s waterfalls mapped,” I suggest. “Might be cool to get married in front of a waterfall.”
“Or on a scenic trail. Plenty of those around here.”
“If we’re going to get married on a scenic trail, we might as well just get married in our own backyard,” I joke. Then we both freeze and stare at each other, because it’s perfect.
“Why is that not the first place we thought of?” Nicholas says wonderingly.
“Right?” I’m dumbfounded that it’s taken us this long. “The pretty trees. The pond. Imagine the barn in the background, all those icicles coming down. And snow everywhere! Oh, it’ll be a fairy tale.”
“Walking to our honeymoon will take thirty seconds. Free lodgings. We won’t have to pack.”
“Yes.” I clap. “Yes, yes, yes.”
“And to think, we were considering getting on a plane and flying all the way to Juneau to stand on a glacier and be just as cold as we are here. And we own the venue!” He swings a look at me and grins. “Naomi, we’re getting married.”
We pass the Junk Yard, and I crank around in my seat to peer out the back windshield. “Wait! Turn around.”
I pat his arm repeatedly. “Turn around, turn around!”
“You turn around first, crazy lady, and then I will.” He reverses in a driveway. “Where are we going?”
“Right here.” I point at the Junk Yard. There are two cars out front—
Leon’s and Mr. Howard’s. I don’t know right away why we needed to turn around, but I know it, and wait for the reason to catch up to me. My instincts were right, because I remember:
“My old boss, Melvin, is an ordained minister.”
Nicholas parks and stares at me. “Seriously?”
I’m so excited, I can’t speak. All I can do is nod. It’s not a Monday, it’s not morning, and opportunity knocks. Mr. Howard walks out of the shop carrying the sign from above the register, It’s the little things, and stops when he sees me. I wave, opening my passenger door.
“Hey! Do you have a minute?”
The best weddings are surprise weddings. I had no idea when I woke up this morning that I’d be getting married today, and I hope it’s a sign. I hope our marriage is full of spontaneous surprises like this one, and plan Cs that go spectacularly right.
I dig through the closet of what’s going to be a guest bedroom, now that I’m not sleeping in it anymore. Every article of clothing I own is swallowing the bed or scattered all over the floor. What do you wear to a spontaneous backyard wedding?
My nicest dress is sleeveless and about as thin as tissue paper. I’d turn into a Popsicle.
I try on a sweater and immediately rip it off. I try to layer a turtleneck and leggings under a different dress, but they don’t mesh well. “How’s it going?” Nicholas calls through the door. I bet it took him fifteen seconds to get dressed, the heathen.
“Go naked, then.”
I throw a shoe at the door and he laughs. “Hurry up!” he says. “I want to marry you.”
“Hush, go away. I love you.”
“I love you, too. See you on the other side.”
I hear the staircase creak as he heads downstairs, and resist the temptation to look out the window and see if he’s out there yet. I open the door, thinking to tiptoe into our bedroom and plow through his wardrobe in search of something better to wear, but step in a puddle of fabric laid in front of the door.
Coveralls. I pick them up and shake them out. They’re mine, the smaller of the pair. They’re practical and they’re not much to look at, but if you’re going to be standing outside in seventeen-degree weather reciting your vows, layers aren’t a bad idea. I smile and yank them on over ordinary clothes. Then I yell for Brandy, who bounds up the stairs with a hairbrush and curling iron. Brandy is one of the exceptions to our no-guests rule, since she’s positive and respectful of our choices and won’t cast a shadow on our day.
“Ready?” she asks happily.
“Good luck. You’re going to need it.”
“Oh, shush. You have nice hair.” She shoves me into a chair and begins to fuss with my bangs, which have grown out a smidge. Nicholas thinks he doesn’t like bangs, which goes to show he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, since he keeps falling in love with me whenever I have bangs.
She gives me a crown braid that I never could have pulled off arranging myself, and when she’s finished I’m pleasantly surprised by the Naomi who blinks back at me in the mirror. My hair is actually pretty darn cute.
“Stunning,” she says, hugging me as she hops up and down. “Here, I brought you this.” She opens her palm and shows me a breath mint.
“Wow, thanks so much,” I reply dryly.
“It’s my wedding present to Nicholas. Girl, no one wants to kiss a quesadilla.”
I pop the mint and swipe on simple lip balm for a finishing touch. Leon, the other exception to our no-guests rule, is waiting downstairs. Mr.
Howard must already be outside with Nicholas.
“Your husband-to-be made this for you,” Leon says, handing me a bouquet of snipped evergreen branches. I hold them to my nose and twirl.
“How do I look?” I pose for them.
“Like you’re gonna go spray somebody’s crawl space for termites,” he says.
“Excellent. That’s what I was going for.”
Brandy offers me her arm, which I accept. I thought Brandy was here to be my maid of honor, but evidently she’s going to be giving me away.
“I’m beyond ready. Need to go lock that man down before he gets any ideas and escapes.”
We all walk out the back door into lavender twilight, picking our steps carefully down the snowy hillside. There’s no aisle. There are no flocks of bridesmaids or groomsmen, no flower arrangements, no flash of a photographer. It’s as far from St. Mary’s as you could get.
The forest retreats into a black smudge, cold air rushing into my lungs.
The man I love is waiting for me at the pond’s edge, and I feel his pulse as if it’s my own. My senses kaleidoscope, collecting pictures and scents and sounds to preserve until my dying day. I’ve been holding my breath since the second I met him; how strange now, to exhale at last. Breathing will never feel the same again.
I’m sure the scenery is lovely, but it dawns on me that it doesn’t matter where we are. Nicholas could be standing in a storm, a desert, a vacuum. I wouldn’t know the difference, because he’s all I see.
He hits me with a smile so beautiful that it swells me with more emotion than can fit inside my body. The word love feels like Nicholas.
It’s filled all the way up with him. One day that word will evolve, filling up with the people we bring into this world together. I can’t wait to see what kind of magic we spin with that word, how many shapes it will take. I can’t wait to see how many memories emerge from our decision to stand right here, right now, and take each other for better or worse. As far as that goes, I say: bring it on.
We already know each other’s worst. We’ve battled right through it and come out the other side unbreakable. There will inevitably be arguments, concessions, and peace treaties drawn up in spilled blood, sweat, and tears.
We’re going to have to choose each other, over and over, and be each other’s champion, never letting ourselves forget the good whenever we’re stuck in a patch of bad. It’s going to be work. But let me tell you something about Nicholas Benjamin Rosefield: He’s worth it.
Nicholas’s eyes glimmer with unshed tears and his smile is luminescent.
Like me, I know he’s not taking any of this for granted.
How great would it be, to get a second chance?
The sun descends over the curve of the earth and plunges the sky into a brilliant spectacle of blues and purples that play off the snow like the northern lights. He takes my hands in his, examining my icy red fingertips.
He blows gently across them to warm them up, then pulls me closer to share his heat. He’s got a sprig of evergreen in the utilitarian front pocket of his coveralls, like a boutonniere, which makes me laugh.
The thing about a wedding is: you don’t remember the vows. You forget them the second after your mouth utters the sacred words, because your brain needs the room to catalog every detail of your partner’s face. All of my concentration is on him. Everything is wonderful. Every day is the same. Every day is like our wedding day.
Mr. Howard’s words are so quiet in my ears, it’s like they’re coming from another world. Nicholas’s mouth hitches at the corners, just a little, before he leans in. His gaze rises from my lips to my eyes, and whatever it is about the way I’m looking at him gives him pause. Makes him kiss my forehead softly before dropping to impart the kiss that will make me his wife.
Diamond twinkles of snow tumble around us as I tug my fingers through his hair and kiss him again and again, this man who belongs irrevocably to me.
How did Nicholas and I meet?
We met in a house called Ever After, the second time we were strangers.
And I am one hundred percent in love with the transformation of us.
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