“So, white cake.” The woman jotted a note. “Just one tier.”
“It’s going to be very small,” I said.
She nodded. “Very sensible.” She flipped through a book of images of cakes. “And this design, right, just some white-on-white decorative swirls?”
“That’s fine,” I said. I didn’t really have any opinions about the cake.
“No, not fine,” Jenny said. “We want those fancy flowers on them, the ones that look real.”
The woman turned a few more pages, showing images of flower cakes. “Lilies? Roses?”
“Hyacinths,” I said before I could even think of why.
“That’s a lovely choice. Are your wedding colors going to be purple?”
“I guess so.” I suddenly second-guessed my choice. I had chosen hyacinths for Finn’s funeral because Gavin’s mother had always grown them in front of their house. I often tended them, pulling weeds, watering, and staying close so that Gavin’s father would behave as they worked on his old car. They were the flowers I knew best. It was the right thing. It meant Finn would be there with us.
“Any other adornments in the design?” the woman asked. “Oh, look, he’s made his cookie.”
Manuelito stood between me and Jenny, his dark head barely reaching the stools.
“Whatcha got there, little man?” Jenny asked. But when she reached for the cookie, he pulled it back.
“Corbell,” he said.
He’d never actually said my name before. I looked down at him, holding up the cookie, and my throat closed so tight I couldn’t have answered him if I wanted to. In a shaky, messy spread of frosting, Manuelito had painted an unmistakable image of a butterfly with a green body and little dots of blue on four yellow wings.
The butterflies that matched Finn’s mobile still hung in the trees outside my apartment, where Tina was staying now that I had moved in with Gavin. And despite the trauma of that moment when I was loaded into the ambulance, I still could see the tiny monarch braving the wind to flap against Gavin’s jacket.
Finn was here.
I reached for the cookie with trembling fingers. “Thank you, Manuel.”
He grinned at me, his expression so totally Gavin’s that my heart caught. For a moment I was four years old again, playing with my best friend, darting along the alley, or hiding on the other side of the fence.
Gavin would peek at me and say, “Found ya!” and his face would look exactly like Manuelito’s, joyful, eager, and pleased with himself. If this boy was anything like his father, then he and I would have everything in common.
Manuelito turned his face up high to look at the bakery woman. “More?”
We all laughed and the woman, probably mollified that Jenny had managed to talk me into a design upsell, bent down to get him another cookie.
“Is this one going to be for me?” Jenny asked him.
Manuel accepted the cookie and headed back to his table without answering.
“Little turkey, playing favorites,” Jenny said. She turned back to the book. “So what else? I want more doodads on this cake.”
I looked at Manuelito’s cookie. “Are there any butterflies?”
“Oh yes.” The woman flipped the page and revealed a beautiful cake covered in pastel wings and golden bodies, all intertwined with pale green stems like ribbons.
“That’s it,” I said. “That’s the one.”
“No hyacinths?” she asked.
“No. This is it.” Wedding, not funeral. Future, not past.
I spun around on the stool, watching Manuelito spread frosting across a cookie. Gavin and his son were a package deal. No matter how this little boy got here, and no matter whether or not we were ever given a sibling for him, he was ours.
He glanced up and rubbed his hand across his nose, leaving a smear of blue frosting.
“Shall we take some cookies home to Papa Gavin?”
His dark eyes lit up, his little chin nodding up and down. “Yes!” he said. “More!” He returned to his cookie, spreading the frosting in earnest, as intense as Albert with his painting of the castle and its one lone light.
If fate had to give me something, if it already knew whether or not my future would ever include a baby of my own, then I knew I had to accept this gift, to nurture it, and to never hold myself apart.
Life wasn’t easy. We all had our hardships, our setbacks. But if Manuelito could come through everything that had happened to him, still wanting to share, still smiling at us with shining eyes, then surely I could let myself believe that everything that had happened — Finn, his death, Gavin’s run to Mexico, my forced move to San Diego — was necessary for us to arrive at this moment, this boy, and the new family we had formed.