Shepley smiled and then opened his mouth to respond, but the fasten seat belt light dinged, sending everyone into a flurry of standing up, reaching up, and getting situated in the aisle.

The mother in front of me smiled. “Congratulations,” she said. “Sounds like you have it figured out more than most people.”

The line began to move. “Not really. We just had a lot of hard lessons early on.”

“Lucky you,” she said, guiding her son down the aisle.

I laughed once, thinking about all the fuckups and letdowns, but she was right. If I had to do it all over again, I’d rather endure the pain in the beginning than have had it easy and then have it all go to shit later on.

Shepley and I rushed to baggage claim, got our luggage, and then hurried outside to catch a cab. I was surprised to see a man in a black suit holding a dry erase board with MADDOX PARTY scribbled in red marker.

“Hey,” I said.

“Mistah Maddox?” he said, smiling wide.

“That’s us.”

“I’m Mistah Gumbs. Right this way.” He took my larger bag and led us outside to a black Cadillac Escalade. “You’re staying at the Ritz-Carlton, yeah?”

“Yes,” Shepley said.

We loaded the trunk with the rest of the bags, and then sat in the middle row of seats.

“Score,” Shepley said, looking around.

The driver took off, buzzing up and down hills, and around curves, all on the wrong side of the road. It was confusing, because the wheel was on the same side as ours.

“Glad we didn’t rent a car,” I said.

“Yes, the majority of accidents here are caused by tourists.”

“I bet,” Shepley said.

“It’s not hard. Just remember you are closest to the curb,” he said, karate-chopping the air with his left hand.

He continued giving us a minitour, pointing out different things along the way. The palm trees made me feel enough out of our element, but the cars parked on the left side of the road were really messing with my head. Large hills seemed to touch the sky, peppered with little white specks—what I assumed were hillside houses.

“That’s Havensight Mall, there,” Mr. Gumbs said. “Where all the cruise ships dock, see?”

I saw the big ships, but I couldn’t stop staring at the water. I’d never seen water such a pure blue before. I guess that’s why they call it Caribbean blue. It was fucking unbelievable. “How close are we?”

“Gettin’ there,” Mr. Gumbs said with a happy grin.

Right on cue, the Cadillac slowed to a stop to wait for oncoming traffic, and then we pulled into a long drive. He slowed once more for a security booth, we were waved in, and then we continued on another long drive to the entrance of the hotel.

“Thanks!” Shepley said. He tipped the driver, and then pulled out his cell phone, quickly tapping on the screen. His phone made a kiss noise—must have been America. He read the message and then nodded. “Looks like you and I go to Mare’s room, and they’re getting ready in yours.”

I made a face. “That’s . . . odd.”

“I guess they don’t want you to see Abby, yet.”

I shook my head and smiled. “She was that way last time.”

A hotel employee showed us to a golf cart, and then he drove us to our building. We followed him to the correct room, and then we walked inside. It was very . . . tropical, fancy Ritz-Carlton tropical.

“This’ll do!” Shepley said, all smiles.

I frowned. “The ceremony is in two hours. I have to wait two hours?”

Shepley held up a finger, tapped on his phone, and then looked up. “Nope. You can see her when she’s ready. Per Abby. Apparently she misses you, too.”

A wide grin spread across my face. I couldn’t help it. Abby had that effect on me, eighteen months ago, a year ago, now, and for the rest of my life. I pulled out my cell phone.

Love you, baby.

OMG! You’re here! Love u 2!

See u soon.

You bet ur ass.

I laughed out loud. I’d said before that Abby was my everything. For the last 365 days straight, she’d proved that to be true.

Someone pounded on the door, and I walked over to open it.

Trent’s face lit up. “Asshat!”

I laughed once, shook my head, and motioned for my brothers to come in. “Get in here, you fuckin’ heathens. I’ve got a wife waiting, and a tux with my name on it.”


Happily Ever After


A year to the day after I stood at the end of an aisle in Vegas, I found myself waiting for Abby again, this time in a gazebo overlooking the rich blue waters surrounding St. Thomas. I pulled at my bow tie, pleased that I had been smart enough not to wear one last time, but I also didn’t have to deal with America’s “vision” last time.

White chairs with orange and purple ribbons tied around their backs sat empty on one side, the ocean sat on the other. White fabric lined the aisle Abby would walk down, and orange and purple flowers were pretty much everywhere I looked. They did a nice job. I still preferred our first wedding, but this looked more like what any girl would dream of.

And then, what any boy would dream of stepped out from behind a row of trees and bushes. Abby stood alone, empty-handed, a long, white veil streaming from her half-up, half-down hair, blowing in the warm Caribbean breeze. Her long, white dress was form fitting and a little shiny. Probably satin. I wasn’t sure and I didn’t care. All I could focus on was her.

I jumped the four steps that led up to the gazebo and jogged to my wife, meeting her at the back row of chairs.

“Oh my God! I’ve missed you like hell!” I said, wrapping her in my arms.

Abby’s fingers pressed into my back. It was the best thing I’d felt in three days, since I’d hugged her good-bye.

Abby didn’t speak, she just giggled nervously, but I could tell she was happy to see me, too. The last year had been so different from the first six months of our relationship. She had totally committed to me, and I had totally committed to being the man she deserved. It was better, and life was good. The first six months, I kept waiting for something bad to happen that would rip her away from me, but after that we settled into our new life.

“You are amazingly beautiful,” I said after pulling back to get a better look.

Abby reached to touch my lapel. “You’re not so bad yourself, Mr. Maddox.”

After a few kisses, hugs, and stories about our bachelor/bachelorette parties (which seemed to be equally uneventful—except for the whole Trent stripper thing), the guests began to trickle in.

“Guess that means we should get in our places,” Abby said. I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I didn’t want to be without her for another second. Abby touched my jaw and then rose up on her feet to kiss my cheek. “See you in a bit.”

She walked off, disappearing behind the trees again.

I returned to the gazebo, and before long the chairs were all filled. We actually had an audience this time. Pam sat on the bride’s side in the first row, with her sister and brother-in-law. A handful of my Sigma Tau brothers lined the back row, with my dad’s old partner and his wife and kids, my boss Chuck and his girlfriend of the week, both sets of America’s grandparents, and my Uncle Jack and Aunt Deana. My dad sat in the first row of the groom’s side, keeping my brothers’ dates company. Shepley stood as my best man, and my groomsmen, Thomas, Taylor, Tyler, and Trent, stood next to him.

We’d all seen another year pass, we’d all been through so much, in some cases lost so much, and yet come together as a family to celebrate something that had gone right for the Maddoxes. I smiled and nodded at the men standing with me. They were still the impenetrable fortress I remembered from my childhood.

My eyes focused on trees in the distance as I waited for my wife. Any second now she would step out and everyone could see what I saw a year before, and find themselves in awe, just like I was.


After a long embrace, Mark smiled down at me. “You are beautiful. I’m so proud of you, sweetheart.”

“Thank you for giving me away,” I said, a little embarrassed. Thinking about everything he and Pam had done for me made hot tears pool in my eyes. I blinked them away before they had a chance to spill down my cheeks.

Mark pecked my forehead. “We’re blessed to have you in our lives, kiddo.”

The music began, prompting Mark to offer his arm. I took it, and we walked down a small, uneven sidewalk that was lined with thick, flowering trees. America was worried it would rain, but the sky was nearly clear, and sun was pouring down.

Mark guided me to the end of the trees, and then we rounded the corner, standing just behind Kara, Harmony, Cami, and America. All of them but America were dressed in purple, strapless satin minidresses. My best friend wore orange. They were all absolutely beautiful.

Kara offered a small smile. “I guess the beautiful disaster turned into a beautiful wedding.”

“Miracles do happen,” I said, remembering the conversation she and I had what seemed like a lifetime ago.

Kara laughed once, nodded, and then gripped her small bouquet in both hands. She rounded the corner, disappearing behind the trees. Soon after Harmony, and then Cami, followed.

America turned, hooking her arm around my neck. “I love you!” she said with a squeeze.

Mark tightened his grip, and I did the same with my bouquet.

“Here we go, kiddo.”

We rounded the corner, and the pastor motioned for everyone to stand. I saw the faces of my friends and new family, but it wasn’t until I saw the wet cheeks of Jim Maddox that my breath caught. I struggled to keep it together.

Travis reached out for me. Mark held his hands over ours. I felt so safe in that moment, held by two of the best men I knew.

“Who gives this woman away?” the pastor asked.

“Her mother and I.” The words stunned me. Mark had been practicing Pam and I all week. After hearing that, there was no holding back my tears as they welled up and spilled over.

Mark kissed my cheek, walked away, and I stood there with my husband. It was the first time I’d seen him in a tux. He was clean-shaven, and had recently gotten his hair cut. Travis Maddox was the kind of gorgeous every girl dreamed about, and he was my reality.

Travis tenderly wiped my cheeks, and then we stepped onto the platform of the gazebo, directly in front of the pastor.

“We are gathered here today to celebrate a renewal of vows . . .” the pastor began. His voice melted into the sounds of the ocean breaking against the rocks in the background.

Travis leaned in, squeezing my hand as he whispered, “Happy anniversary, Pidge.”

I looked into his eyes, as full of love and hope as they were the year before. “One down, forever to go,” I whispered back.