Mila gives Ryan a hug of her own. “So you’re back, huh?” she asks. She knows she’ll get the details soon. She’s just glad he’s here. “Happy to see you,” she says, smiling at me.
Ryan laughs. “Happy to be seen.”
We thank Mila and Christina, and the three of us get into the car. We drive to our place. We get out of the car. I open the front door. We all walk in.
Here we are. Our tiny family. Nothing’s missing anymore.
That night, Ryan gets into bed next to me. He holds me. He kisses me. He slides his hand down my body, and he says, “Show me. Show me how to do what you want.”
And I do. And it feels better than it did with David. Because I am once again myself with the man I love.
We forgot, for a while, how to listen to each other, how to touch each other. But we remember now.
The next morning, I wake up and open the shoebox in the closet. I dig out my wedding ring. I put it back on.
The wedding is a month later. It’s a hot July day. We’re at Natalie’s friend’s beach house in Malibu. What this friend does for a living, I don’t know. I would guess, judging from the fact that this house is quite literally on the beach and has one-hundred-eighty-degree ocean views from every floor, that it’s something in entertainment. There is a bonfire scheduled for late tonight and a lobster bake picnic scheduled for after the ceremony. Drinks and dancing are on the roof deck. Remind me to start hobnobbing with Hollywood producers. I would like for this to become a regular thing.
The ceremony is starting in a few minutes. Natalie, Rachel, and I are finishing getting ready. Natalie is wearing a Grecian-looking dress, draped around her. Her face is flush. Her boobs are huge. Her hair is long and curled. She is wearing long earrings that are buried in her long, dark hair. Her eyes have so much life behind them.
“Does this look right?” Rachel asks, as she fastens the halter top of her “persimmon” dress behind her neck. I assure her that it does. I know, because mine looks exactly the same.
Natalie’s mom is helping Natalie get her shoes on. I thought Natalie’s parents would be lithe and vibrant like her, but they look entirely average. Her mom is round in the middle. Her dad is short and hefty. I’m not sure what it is about them that makes it clear that they are from Idaho, but they certainly don’t seem to be from around here. Maybe it’s the fact that they are some of the nicest, most sincere people I’ve ever met.
Natalie’s dad knocks on the door to come in.
“Just a minute, Harry!” Natalie’s mom calls out. “She’ll be ready in a second!”
“I want to take a picture, Eileen!”
“Just a second, I said!”
Natalie looks at Rachel and me with a laugh. “Oh!” she says, the thought just coming to her. “The bouquets! I left them in the fridge.”
“It’s cool,” I say. “I got it.” I cross out of the room through the shared bathroom and head down the stairs to the kitchen, where I can see my brother standing with Ryan and his friend Wally just outside the sliding glass doors.
Charlie is dressed to the nines in a fitted cream suit. He looks sleek and handsome. He doesn’t look nervous. He doesn’t look shy. He looks ready. Ryan and Wally are wearing black suits with black ties. Outside on the beach, white chairs line either side of the aisle, facing the light blue sea. People are trickling in. They grab their programs. They take their seats. The minister is standing there, waiting. My mom is sitting in the first row on the right side. She is wearing a navy-blue dress. She’s got Jonathan in her arms. Bill is sitting next to her in a gray suit. Mila and Christina are a few rows back. They are having a rare moment alone without their kids. I can see Christina look over and kiss Mila’s temple. She smiles at her.
I grab the three bouquets from the refrigerator and shake them out over the sink.
“Any last insights?” I hear Charlie say. “Any words of advice?”
I should head back upstairs, but I want to hear Ryan’s answer.
“All you have to do is never give up,” he says.
“Simple enough,” Charlie says.
Ryan laughs. “It is, actually.”
I hear a pat on the back, I’m not sure who is patting whom, and then I hear a third voice, which I’m assuming is Wally’s. “Dude, I have zero advice to give. Because I’ve never been married. But if it makes any difference, I think she’s great.”
“Thanks,” Charlie says.
“You ready?” Ryan asks.
I hear them start walking, and I peek to see their backs as they walk out together, getting ready to take their places.
I run back up to the bedroom to find Natalie. All four of them—Natalie, her parents, and Rachel—are ready to go. I hand Natalie her bouquet and hand one of the smaller ones to Rachel. I keep the third.
“OK,” Rachel says. “Here we go.”
Natalie breathes in. She looks at her dad. “Ready?”
He nods his head. “If you are.”
Her mom snaps a picture.
“OK, I’m going down first,” her mom says. “I’ll see you in a second.” She kisses Natalie on the cheek and leaves before she can start crying.
“Hoo. OK. Here we go,” Natalie says. “Any last tips?” She laughs. I assume she’s talking to her dad, but she’s talking to me. I am now a person people go to for marital advice.
I tell her the only thing there is to tell her. “All you have to do is never give up.”
Natalie’s dad laughs. “Listen to her,” he says. “She’s absolutely right.”
It’s ten o’clock, and the party is still going strong. When Natalie danced with her dad, I got misty. When Charlie danced with Mom, I broke down. The sun set around eight, but it’s been a warm night. The wind off the beach is strong and cools us down. Charlie and Natalie put the baby to bed a few hours ago.
Rachel made the cake, and it is the hit of the night. People keep asking about it. Everyone thinks it was from a very expensive bakery somewhere in Beverly Hills. I correct one person who asks Rachel about it. I say, “It’s from this great new place opening up called Batter,” I say. “Location TBD.”
“Location is on Larchmont Boulevard,” Rachel says, correcting me. When I give her an inquisitive look, she tells me the bank approved the loan.
“When were you gonna tell me?”
“Well, I just found out, and I didn’t want to steal the sunshine from Charlie’s wedding,” she says.
I whisper, “Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” she whispers back. “You can pretend you’re hearing it for the first time when I tell everyone next week. You’re good at that.” She smiles at me to let me know she’s teasing.
Mom and Bill dance the night away. Later on by the rooftop bar, I point to him across the room, eating shrimp cocktail. “So the romance is alive and well, huh?” I ask Mom.
She shrugs. “I don’t know,” she says. “Maybe it’s OK to stick around a little longer than the honeymoon phase.”
“Wow,” I say. “I’m impressed. Are you thinking about letting him move in?”
She laughs at me. “I’m thinking about it. All I’m doing is thinking. Have you seen this, by the way?”
“What?” I say, turning my head to look where she’s pointing. Over in the far corner of the dance floor, Rachel is now dancing with Wally.
I think about how Rachel would want me to answer. “Yeah,” I say, shrugging. “We’ll see what happens.”
“Yes, we will.”
The music changes. You know the party is reaching its peak when the DJ plays “Shout.”
Ryan runs up to me. “Baby! We gotta dance!”
I put my drink down and turn to my mother. “If you’ll excuse me,” I say.
“Certainly,” she says.
We run into the crowd. We surround Charlie and Natalie. We join Rachel and Wally. We sing our hearts out. And because “Shout” is the type of song that brings everyone onto the dance floor, Mom and Bill hop in just as Natalie’s parents make their way into the circle. Soon Mila and Christina join us, and even Uncle Fletcher can’t resist. We dance together, twisting side-to-side, crouching lower and jumping higher as the song plays on, forgetting to worry about whether we look silly, forgetting to worry about anything at all.