He stares at me, face terse, eyes dark and cloudy.
“Tell me,” I beg, and he just stares at me, the silence of the room adding to the buzz inside my skull.
Finally, he shakes his head. “Of course it’s because of you.”
I take a step back, like his words might burn me.
“She broke up with me before we went to Sanibel, and I felt so guilty that whole trip because all I could think was, I hope Poppy doesn’t think I’m boring too. I didn’t even remember to miss her until I got home. That’s how it always is when I’m with you. No one else matters. And then you’re gone again, and life goes back to normal and . . . when Sarah and I got back together, I thought things were so different, so much better, but the truth is, she didn’t want to go to Tuscany and I told her I needed her to, so she agreed. Because I wasn’t willing to give you up and I thought if you two were friends, it would be easier,” he says, so intensely still now he rivals the faux-statue servers at the party.
“Then you thought you were pregnant and it scared me so much I got a fucking vasectomy. And it didn’t even occur to me to ask Sarah what she thought. I just made the appointment, and a few days after, I was walking past this antique store and I saw this ring. An old, yellow-gold art deco thing with a pearl. I saw it and thought, That would be a perfect engagement ring. Maybe I should buy it. And my very next thought after that was, What the fuck am I doing? Not just the ring––which Sarah would’ve hated, by the way––but the vasectomy, all of it. I was doing it all for you, and I know that’s not normal, and it definitely wasn’t fair to her, so I ended things. That day.”
He shakes his head. “I scared myself so much that I couldn’t tell you what had happened. It was terrifying to realize how much I loved you. And then you and Trey broke up, and––God, Poppy, of course all of it was because of you. Everything is because of you. Everything.”
His eyes are wet now, shimmering in the dim light over the sink, and his shoulders are rigid, and my gut feels like there’s a knife twisting into it.
Alex shakes his head, a small, restrained gesture, little more than a twitch. “It’s not something you’ve done to me,” he says. “I kept hoping things would change for me, but they never have.”
He takes a step toward me, and I fight to maintain my composure.
A breath slips out of me, my shoulders relaxing, and Alex takes another step toward me, his eyes heavy, mouth twisted. “And I doubted myself for a long time before I ended things, because I did love her,” he says, “and I wanted to make it work because she’s amazing, and we’re good together, and we want all the same things, and I loved her in this way that feels . . . so clear and easy to understand, and manageable.”
He breaks off, shaking his head again. The tears in his eyes make them look like the surface of some river, dangerous and wild and gorgeous. “I don’t know how to love someone as much as I love you,” he says. “It’s terrifying. And I get these bursts of thinking I can handle it and then I think about what it will do to me if I lose you, and I panic and pull away, and—I’ve never known if I’ll be able to make you happy. But the other night—it sounds so ridiculous, but we were looking at Tinder, and you said you’d swipe right on me—and that’s the kind of tiny thing that feels so huge when it’s you. I lay awake trying to figure out what you meant for hours that night. I’m broken, and, yeah, probably repressed, and I know I’m not who you’ve ever pictured yourself with. I know it doesn’t seem like we make any sense, and we probably don’t, and maybe I could never make you happy—”
“Alex.” I reach out for him with both hands, pull him in against me. His arms come around me, and his head bows until he’s a giant question mark, hanging over me. “It’s not your job to make me happy, okay? You can’t make anyone happy. I’m happy just because you exist, and that’s as much of my happiness as you have control over.”
His hands curve in against my spine, and I twine my fingers into his shirt.
“I don’t know exactly what it all means, but I know I love you the same way you love me, and you’re not the only one that scares.” I scrunch my eyes shut, gathering the courage to go on.
“I feel broken too,” I tell him, my voice cracking into something thin and hoarse. “I’ve always felt like once someone sees me deep down, that’s it. There’s something ugly in there, or unlovable, and you’re the only person who’s ever made me feel like I’m okay.” His hand sweeps gently across my face, and I open my eyes, meet his head-on. “There’s nothing scarier than the chance that, once you really have all of me, that changes. But I want all of you, so I’m trying to be brave.”
“Nothing will change how I feel about you,” he murmurs. “I’ve been trying to stop loving you since that night you went inside to make out with the pothead water taxi driver.”
I laugh, and he smiles just a little. I take his jaw in my hands and kiss him softly on the mouth, and after a second, he starts to kiss me back, and it’s damp from tears and urgent and powerful, sending shock waves through me.
“Can you just do me one favor?” I ask.
He knots his hands against my spine. “Hm?”
“Only hold my hand when you want to.”
“Poppy,” he says, “there may come a day when I no longer need to be touching you at all times, but that day is not today.”
* * *
• • •
THE REHEARSAL DINNER is at a bistro that Tham invested in during its early days, a place ablaze in candlelight and dripping with bespoke crystal chandeliers. There’s no wedding party, just the grooms and their officiant, thus the lack of a true rehearsal, but Tham’s whole extended family lives in northern California and have shown up, along with a lot of David’s friends who were at the party last night.