From halfway under a table where he’s fending off the Nilsen brood one at a time, he shoots me an abbreviated Sad Puppy look.
“Okay,” I say to Kat. “What’s the plan?”
The night moves in ebbs and flows. Cocktail hour first, then dinner, a myriad of tiny gourmet pizzas all decked out in goat cheese and arugula, summer squash and balsamic drizzle, pickled red onion and grilled brussels sprouts, and all kinds of things that would make pizza purists like Rachel Krohn scoff.
We take seats at the kids’ table, which Bryce’s wife, Angela, thanks me tipsily for about a hundred times after the meal is over. “I love my kids, but sometimes I just want to sit down to dinner and talk about something other than Peppa Pig.”
“Huh,” I say, “we mostly talked about Russian literature.”
She slaps my arm harder than she means to when she laughs, then grabs Bryce by the arm and pulls him over. “Honey, you have to hear what Poppy just said.”
She hangs on him, and he’s a little stiff—a Nilsen deep down—but he also keeps a hand on her low back. He doesn’t laugh when Angela makes me repeat myself, but says in his flat, sincere, Nilsen way, “That’s funny. Russian literature.”
Before dessert and coffee are served, Tham’s sister (hugely pregnant, with twins) stands and clinks a fork to her water glass, calling attention at the head of the arrangement of tables. “Our parents aren’t much for public speaking, so I agreed to give a little toast tonight.”
Already teary-eyed, she takes a deep breath. “Who would’ve thought my annoying little brother would turn out to be my best friend?” She talks about her and Tham’s childhood in northern California, their screaming fights, the time he took her car without asking and crashed it into a telephone pole. And then the turning point, when she and her first husband divorced, and Tham asked her to move in with him. When she caught him crying while watching Sweet Home Alabama and, after teasing him appropriately, sunk down onto the couch to watch the rest with him, until they were both crying while laughing at themselves and decided they needed to go out in the middle of the night to get ice cream.
“When I got married again,” she says, “the hardest thing was knowing I’d probably never get to live with you again. And when you started talking about David, I could tell how smitten you were, and I was scared I was going to lose even more of you. Then I met David.”
She makes a face that elicits laughter, relaxed on Tham’s side of the family and restrained on David’s. “Right away I knew I was getting another best friend. There’s no such thing as a perfect marriage, but everything you two touch becomes beautiful and this will be no different.”
There’s applause and hugging and kissing of cheeks, and servers have started to come out of the kitchen with dessert when suddenly Mr. (Ed) Nilsen is on his feet, swaying awkwardly, tapping a knife to his water glass so lightly he might as well be pantomiming it.
David shifts in his seat, and Alex’s shoulders rise protectively as attention settles on his father.
“Yes,” Ed says.
“Starting off strong,” Alex whispers tightly. I squeeze his knee beneath the table and fold my hand into his.
Ed takes off his glasses, holds them at his side, and clears his throat. “David,” he says, turning toward the grooms. “My sweet boy. I know we haven’t always had it easy. I know you haven’t,” he adds more quietly. “But you’ve always been a ball of sunshine, and . . .” He blows out a breath. He swallows some rising emotion and continues. “I can’t take credit for how you’ve turned out. I wasn’t always there how I should’ve been. But your brothers did an amazing job raising you, and I’m proud to be your father.” He looks down at the floor, gathering himself. “I’m proud to see you marrying the man of your dreams. Tham, welcome to the family.”
As the applause lifts around the room, David crosses to his father. He shakes his hand, then thinks better of it and pulls Ed into a hug. It’s brief and awkward, but it happens, and beside me Alex relaxes. Maybe when this wedding is over, everything will go back to how it was before, but maybe they’ll change too.
After all, Mr. Nilsen is wearing a big-ass gay-pride pin. Maybe things can always get better between people who want to do a good job loving each other. Maybe that’s all it takes.
That night, when we get back to the hotel, Alex takes a quick shower while I flip through channels on the TV, pausing on a rerun of Bachelor in Paradise. When Alex gets out of the bathroom, he climbs onto the bed and draws me into him, and I lift my arms over my head so he can take my baggy T-shirt off, his hands spanning wide across my ribs, his mouth dropping kisses down my stomach. “Tiny fighter,” he whispers against my skin.
This time everything is different between us. Softer, gentler, slower. We take our time, say nothing that can’t be said with our hands and mouths and limbs.
I love you, he tells me in a dozen different ways, and I say it back every time.
When we’re finished, we lie together, tangled up and sheened in sweat, breathing deep and calm. If we talked, one of us would have to say Tomorrow is the last day of this trip. We’d have to say What next, and there’s no answer for that yet.
So we don’t talk. We just fall asleep together, and in the morning, when Alex gets back from his run with two cups of coffee and a piece of coffee cake, we just kiss some more, furiously this time, like the room’s on fire and this is the best way to put it out. Then, when we have to, when we’re out of time, we unwind from each other to get ready for the wedding.
The venue is a Spanish-style house with wrought-iron gates and a lush garden. Palm trees and columns and long, dark wooden tables with high-backed, hand-carved chairs. Their floral arrangements are all vibrant yellow, sunflowers and daisies and delicate sprigs of tiny wildflowers, and a white-clad string quartet plays something dreamy and romantic as guests are entering the grounds.
More high-backed chairs are lined up on a stretch of uninterrupted lawn, a burst of yellow flowers lining the aisle between them. The ceremony is short and sweet because—in David’s words, as they’re walking back down the aisle to an upbeat, strings version of “Here Comes the Sun”—it’s time to party!