“I had to revise it a little,” he said, and unfurled the page.
Now I understood.
Rosa, her boy, and the other man had approached but stayed a few feet away.
Gavin cleared his throat. “I know now that our lives have changed you may no longer want to get married, but I do. I have wanted to marry you since we went to your Aunt Georgia’s wedding and hid beneath the cake table when we were five, fingers sticky from sneaking frosting, always together, even when we were in trouble.”
Tears squeezed from my eyes as I remembered the first time he’d read from the scroll, seventeen years old, his voice shaking. He wasn’t a whole lot steadier this time.
“We’ve had a lot happen since the first time I asked you this, but it’s shown me how important you are, and how empty my life has been without you. I know I have a lot to prove, not just to you,” he glanced down at Rosa’s boy, who had come up beside him, “but to everybody.”
He took another breath. “I can’t do this without you. I know you don’t have to stay. I can only hope you’ll want to. That you’ll have me. And we all can be together for always. Will you marry me?”
Gavin eyes were impossibly blue, brighter than the ocean behind him, more intense than the sky overhead. I’d grown up looking into them, and they had witnessed almost every tragedy my life had endured. I had promised myself that no matter what happened with this boy, I would see him through it. He was telling me he would do the same, right in front of the people who would be impacted most by what happened today.
The boy tugged on Gavin’s sleeve. “¿Ahora?” he asked.
He dug through the pockets of his coat, like he had when he produced the yellow chicle. This time, though, he pulled out a small blue box, proudly passing it up.
To his father.
I found I was able to say the words in my mind. Gavin was a father. A father again. He’d never stopped being one. And even if I never got another chance to try it again, I would not stop being a mother.
The ring inside the box was not the one he gave me all those years ago, but a new one, silver with a clear diamond on top. He knelt on one knee, and without prompting, the boy, his son, Manuel, did it too.
Jenny nudged me with her elbow. “I think he asked you a question.”
The seagulls swooped and cawed overhead. The sun was warm on our faces. Everyone turned to me, waiting, expectant. Gavin watched me, patient, and, I could see, utterly unsure of what I might do or say. How could he not know? How could he think for a minute I would want to be without him?
“Yes,” I said, and everyone let out their breath at once. The man by Rosa suddenly remembered his camera and began snapping like crazy, flashes bouncing off the sand. Gavin took my hand and slipped the ring on my finger, the wrong one, and everyone laughed as I switched it to the other side. Manuel found the laughter infectious and threw himself backwards on the ground, giggling his head off and filling his hair with sand.
Gavin stood up and held me close. “We’re going to make this work. We will absolutely make this work.”
Manuel got up suddenly and crashed into us, one arm around each of our legs. I startled at the contact with this unfamiliar child.
“¡Paleta!” he said, and dug through his pockets again, coming up with a handful of suckers in a rainbow of colors.
“¡Paleta!” he said again, holding a yellow one up to Gavin, who took it from him.
“¡Paleta!” He thrust a pink one up at Jenny, to match her hair.
He gave a purple one to Tina, who took it, laughing. “You’re going to have your hands full with that one.”
Manuel stopped beside me. “¿Paleta?” he asked and held a green one out to me.
“But you like the green ones best,” Gavin said.
He tapped my leg with the lollipop. “You like?”
I knelt down next to him. “Okay.”
He pushed the sucker into my hand. “You like!” He got shy suddenly and ran back to his mother, burying his face in her coat.
I stayed down low a moment, looking at the sucker in my hand. I wasn’t sure how much of my love I could give over to a child that reminded me exactly of what I had lost.
“Picnic!” Jenny announced and set the basket on the ground. “I’ve got sushi! I’ve got tacos! And I’m going to let you all eat cake!”
Gavin reached for my arm and lifted me up to stand beside him once more. We turned back to the sea, impassive, ever-changing, and endlessly blue. If I once thought I wanted to get lost in it, to let it take me away from all the hardship, I knew now I wanted to be by its side. We were meant to be here, Gavin and I. Our memories would happen on its shore, the walks, the sand castles, the laughter, and growing up.
“Come eat, engaged people,” Jenny said, “or the kid will steal all the cake.”
None of us were alone anymore. Rosa had her son, and he had his father. I had Gavin, and Jenny, and now Tina. No matter how isolated any of us once felt, from this point on we would be together to catch one another, no matter when or how we tried to fall.
The door jingled as Gavin came into the bakery, pulling Manuelito along behind him. “Sorry about this.”
I glanced at the boy holding Gavin’s hand, my heart squeezing the same way it always did when I saw them together. Not a good squeeze or a bad squeeze, just bittersweet, wishing the child was ours, not his. In the two weeks since we’d found out he was Gavin’s son, we’d seen him almost every day. Gavin liked to take him to eat hot dogs or pizza after he got off work. Since he needed my car, I often went along. We were managing while Rosa came back and forth arranging paperwork.