Just then, a small, white square appeared at my feet.

“What’s this?” I said, bending down to pick it up. The paper was old, yellow. It was addressed to the future Mrs. Travis Maddox.

“It’s from my mom,” Travis said.

My breath caught. I almost didn’t want to open it, it had obviously been sealed and kept safe for so long.

“Open it,” Travis said, seeming to read my thoughts.

My finger carefully slid in between the opening, hoping to preserve it as best I could, but failing miserably. I pulled out the tri-folded paper, and the entire world stopped.

We don’t know each other, but I know that you must be very special. I can’t be there today, to watch my baby boy promise his love to you, but there are a few things that I think I might say to you if I were.

First, thank you for loving my son. Of all my boys, Travis is the most tender hearted. He is also the strongest. He will love you with everything he has for as long as you let him. Tragedies in life sometimes change us, but some things never change.

A boy without a mother is a very curious creature. If Travis is anything like his father, and I know that he is, he’s a deep ocean of fragility, protected by a thick wall of swear words and feigned indifference. A Maddox boy will take you all the way to the edge, but if you go with him, he’ll follow you anywhere.

I wish more than anything that I could be there today. I wish I could see his face when he takes this step with you, and that I could stand there with my husband and experience this day with all of you. I think that’s one of the things I’ll miss the most. But today isn’t about me. You reading this letter means that my son loves you. And when a Maddox boy falls in love, he loves forever.

Please give my baby boy a kiss for me. My wish for both of you is that the biggest fight you have is over who is the most forgiving.




I held the letter to my chest with one hand, and opened the door with the other. Travis’s face was tight with worry, but the second his eyes met mine, the worry fell away.

He seemed stunned by the sight of me. “You’re . . . I don’t think there’s a word for how beautiful you are.”

His sweet, chestnut eyes, shadowed by his thick eyelashes, soothed my nerves. His tattoos were hidden under his gray suit and crisp, white button-up. My God, he was perfection. He was sexy, he was brave, he was tender, and Travis Maddox was mine. All I had to do was walk down the aisle. “I’m ready.”

“What did she say?” he asked.

My throat tightened so a sob wouldn’t escape. I kissed him on the cheek. “That’s from her.”

“Yeah?” he said, a sweet smile sweeping his face.

“And she pretty much nailed everything wonderful about you, even though she didn’t get to watch you grow up. She’s so wonderful, Travis. I wish I could have known her.”

“I wish she could have known you.” He paused a moment in thought, and then held up his hands.

His sleeve inched back, revealing his PIGEON tattoo. “Let’s sleep on it. You don’t have to decide right now. We’ll go back to the hotel, think about it, and—” He sighed, letting his arms and shoulders fall. “I know. This is crazy. I just wanted it so bad, Abby. This crazy is my sanity. We can . . .”

I couldn’t stand watching him stumble and struggle any longer. “Baby, stop,” I said, touching his mouth with three of my fingertips. “Just stop.”

He watched me. Waiting.

“Just so we’re straight, I’m not leaving here until you’re my husband.”

At first his brows pulled in, dubious, and then he offered a cautious smile. “You’re sure?”

“Where’s my bouquet?”

“Oh!” Chantilly said, distracted by the discussion. “Here, honey.” She handed me a perfectly round ball of red roses.

Elvis offered his arm, and I took it. “See you at the altar, Travis,” he said.

Travis took my hand, kissed my fingers, and then jogged back the way he’d come, followed by a giggly Chantilly.

That small touch wasn’t enough. Suddenly I couldn’t wait to get to him, and my feet quickly made their way to the chapel. The wedding march wasn’t playing, instead “Thing for You,” the song we danced to at my birthday party, came through the speakers.

I stopped and looked at Travis, finally getting a chance to take in his gray suit and black Converse sneakers. He smiled when he saw the recognition in my eyes. I took another step, and then another. The officiant gestured for me to slow down, but I couldn’t. My entire body needed to be next to Travis more than it ever had been before. He must have felt the same way. Elvis hadn’t made it halfway before Travis decided to stop waiting and walked toward us. I took his arm.

“Uh . . . I was gonna give ’er away.”

Travis’s mouth pulled to one side. “She was already mine.”

I hugged his arm, and we walked the rest of the way together. The music quieted, and the officiant nodded to both of us.

“Travis . . . Abby.”

Chantilly took my rose bouquet, and then stood to the side.

Our trembling hands were knotted together. We were both so nervous and happy that it was almost impossible to stand still.

Even knowing how much I truly wanted to marry Travis, my hands were trembling. I’m not sure what the officiant said exactly. I can’t remember his face or what he wore, I can only recall his deep nasally voice, his northeastern accent, and Travis’s hands holding mine.

“Look at me, Pidge,” Travis said quietly.

I glanced up at my future husband, getting lost in the sincerity and adoration in his eyes. No one, not even America, had ever looked at me with that much love. The corners of Travis’s mouth turned up, so I must have had the same expression.

As the officiant spoke, Travis’s eyes poured over me, my face, my hair, my dress—he even looked down at my shoes. Then, he leaned over until his lips were just a few inches from my neck, and inhaled.

The officiant paused.

“I wanna remember everything,” Travis said.

The officiant smiled, nodded, and continued.

A flash went off, startling us. Travis glanced behind him, acknowledged the photographer, and then looked at me. We mirrored each other’s cheesy grins. I didn’t care that we must have looked absolutely ridiculous. It was like we were getting ready to jump off the highest high dive into the deepest river that fed into the most magnificent, terrifying waterfall, right onto the best and most fantastic roller coaster in the universe. Times ten.

“True marriage begins well before the wedding day,” the officiant began. “And the efforts of marriage continue well beyond the ceremony’s end. A brief moment in time and the stroke of the pen are all that is needed to create the legal bond of marriage, but it takes a lifetime of love, commitment, forgiveness, and compromise to make marriage durable and everlasting. I think, Travis and Abby, you’ve just shown us what your love is capable of in a tense moment. Your yesterdays were the path that led you to this chapel, and your journey to a future of togetherness becomes a little clearer with each new day.”

Travis leaned his cheek to my temple. I was grateful he wanted to touch me where and whenever he could. If I could have hugged him to me and not disrupted the ceremony, I would have. The officiant’s words began to blur together. A few times, Travis spoke, and I did, too. I slipped Travis’s black ring onto his finger, and he beamed.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” I said, repeating after the officiant.

“Nice choice,” Travis said, admiring his ring.

When it was Travis’s turn, he seemed to have trouble, and then slid two rings onto my finger: my engagement ring, and a simple, gold band.

I wanted to take a moment to appreciate that he’d gotten me an official wedding band, maybe even say so, but I was having an out-of-body experience. The harder I tried to be present, the faster everything seemed to happen.

I thought maybe I should actually listen to the list of things I was promising, but the only voice that made sense was Travis’s. “I damn sure do,” he said with a smile. “And I promise to never enter another fight, drink in excess, gamble, or throw a punch in anger . . . and I’ll never, ever make you cry sad tears again.”

When it was my turn again, I paused. “I just want you to know, before I make my promises, that I’m super stubborn. You already know I’m hard to live with, and you’ve made it clear on dozens of occasions that I drive you crazy. And I’m sure I’ve driven anyone who’s watched these last few months crazy with my indecision and uncertainty. But I want you to know that whatever love is, this has got to be it. We were best friends first, and we tried not to fall in love, and we did anyway. If you’re not with me, it’s not where I want to be. I’m in this. I’m with you. We might be impulsive, and absolutely insane to be standing here at our age, six months after we met.

This whole thing might play out to be a completely wonderful, beautiful disaster, but I want that if it’s with you.”

“Like Johnny and June,” Travis said, his eyes a bit glossed over. “It’s all uphill from here, and I’m going to love every minute of it.”

“Do you—” the officiant began.

“I do,” I said.

“Okay,” he said with a chuckle, “but I have to say it.”

“I’ve heard it once. I don’t need to hear it again,” I said, smiling, never taking my eyes from Travis. He squeezed my hands. We repeated more promises, and then the officiant paused.

“That’s it?” Travis asked.

The officiant smiled. “That’s it. You’re married.”

“Really?” he asked, his eyebrows raised. He looked like a kid on Christmas morning.

“You may now kiss your—”

Travis took me in both arms and wrapped me tightly, kissing me, excitedly and passionate at first, and then his lips slowed, moving against mine more tenderly.

Chantilly clapped with her petite, chubby hands. “That was a good one! The best one I’ve seen all week! I love it when they don’t go as planned.”

The officiant said, “I present to you, Ms. Chantilly and Mr. King, Mr. and Mrs. Travis Maddox.”

Elvis clapped, too, and Travis lifted me in his arms. I took each side of his face into my hands and leaned over to kiss him.

“I’m just trying not to have a Tom Cruise moment,” Travis said, beaming at everyone in the room. “I now understand the whole jumping on the couch and punching the floor thing. I don’t know how to express how I feel! Where’s Oprah?”

I let out an uncharacteristic cackle. He was grinning ear to ear, and I’m sure I looked just as annoyingly happy. Travis set me down, and then glanced around at everyone in the room.

He seemed a little shocked. “Woo!” he yelled, his fists shaking in front of him. He was having a very Tom Cruise moment. He laughed, and then he kissed me again. “We did it!”

I laughed with him. He took me into his arms, and I noticed that his eyes were a little glossy.