“I told you not to eat those extra cheese fries last night,” she joked as she finished. “Anyway, it’s not too tight—it’s a perfect fit.”
Sammie had come back to California a few weeks before to help me prepare for the wedding between Oliver and me. She’d been in Texas for the past few months getting her life together—with the help of Oliver’s parents, who looked after her. Even though I was trying my best to get her to move back to California, she seemed to be finding her footing down in Austin. I couldn’t have been happier for her. She looked healthier, too: not only physically, but mentally. Emotionally. I knew my sister still had so many things to work through, so many demons to still slay, but she was doing it day in and day out.
And I couldn’t have been happier to have her by my side during the happiest day of my life. I often used to dream about my wedding day, and it was always my sister who was standing by my side in those visions. I was so happy they’d come to fruition.
“Hey, Emery, wow,” Tyler said, coming into the dressing room. “You look amazing. I was supposed to come here and tell you that the photographer needs Reese and Sammie for solo pictures. They just finished up doing mine and Kelly’s. They are right down the hallway to the left,” he said.
Sammie thanked Tyler as she walked away with Reese’s hand in hers.
Tyler turned to me and gave me a tight smile. “You look amazing, Emery, truly. My best friend is a lucky bastard.”
“Thank you. Now, if only I could get my nerves in check,” I joked.
“Nothing to be nervous about. I’ve never seen two people who were more meant to be. Listen, I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you . . . for loving him. You gave him a shot when the rest of the world had counted him out. You’re a phenomenal woman, and he’s so damn lucky to have you.”
“He’s not wrong,” a voice said, interrupting us both. I turned around to see Oliver’s father, Richard, standing there. “Not to jump in uninvited, but do you think I can have a moment with Emery quickly?”
Tyler nodded and headed out of the space.
Richard stood back for a minute with his hands stuffed in his pants pockets. “Wow,” he muttered. “Completely breathtaking.”
“Don’t make me cry too soon, Richard. My makeup artist is MIA.”
“Sorry, I just . . . my son is very lucky. I won’t take up too much of your time. I’m going to be honest: I don’t know much about wedding traditions. Michelle and I ran off to Vegas for a shotgun wedding, and to this day my parents are still pissed about it. But I heard this thing about something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. I only got one of those pieces, but I figured I’d offer something borrowed to you, if you’d like.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a watch.
“This was Alex’s favorite piece. He, um, always had a watch, no matter where he went. He hated that his brother was always late, so to make up for it, Alex was always right on time. And I think that’s fitting for you, because you were right on time for Oliver with your love. Now, I know this might not go perfectly with your outfit, but—”
“Please,” I said, cutting him off as I held my arm out toward him. He smiled and nodded as he began putting the watch on my arm. I stared down at the beautiful piece that held the history of a beautiful man. “I wish I could’ve met him.”
“He would’ve loved you. Just like the rest of us.” The way the Smiths had welcomed me into their world seemed so unreal. I didn’t feel worthy of their love sometimes, but they always gave it to me and my daughter without thought.
Richard stood in front of me as if he had something else to say but wasn’t sure how to get it out.
“Is there something else?” I asked.
“Yes, I mean . . . you’re allowed to say no, because you’re your own person. But I realized you have no one walking you down the aisle, and I wanted to say that if you needed a father figure to hold your hand, I’d gladly offer mine.”
The tears fell down my cheeks, and Richard held his hands up, trying to stop their flow. “No tears! Your makeup.”
“It’s fine, we’ll find the makeup person again,” I laughed, pulling him into a hug.
When the time came for me to walk down the aisle toward my favorite love song, I linked my arm with Richard’s. When the officiant—Abigail, of course—asked who was giving me away, Richard gave me off to his son. It was the most touching moment, and I felt more love than I’d ever felt in my life.
Everyone who meant anything and everything to both Oliver and me stood around us, supporting our happily ever after. Oliver stood tall, looking like a dream that I’d never thought I’d receive. Thinking back on life, I realized that I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t trade in a tear, a struggle, or a broken heartbeat, because all those pieces had led me to where I was right then and there. I stood beside the love of my life.
Right there, in front of our family and friends, we recorded the best song to exist on our mixtape of love.
That night we danced to the Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” Oliver’s parents’ first-dance song. We were creating a new story. Breaking generational curses and making new traditions. And from that point on, Oliver and I would be dancing together for the rest of our lives.
Two Years Later
It had been a long time since I’d felt lost. Don’t get me wrong: I still experienced sadness, but working with Abigail, I’d learned better ways of coping with my emotions over time. There was a point in my life where the bad days outweighed the good, so coming to the place where I was now, I was overwhelmed by how many great days I’d experienced.
Thank God I didn’t give up on my life. Thank God I kept fighting through the darkness. If I’d given up all those years ago, when I was at my lowest, feeling as if death was closer to me than life, I never would’ve made it to this very moment. I never would’ve discovered my true happiness.
As I breathed in the autumn air, the breeze brushed against my face, and Emery laughed with Reese as they lay in the grass staring up at the fading sunset. My little boy, Alex, lay on his stomach, trying his best to figure out how to crawl, wiggling his body back and forth repeatedly. On the speaker, music blasted loudly. It was smooth music, with a calming characteristic to it.
It was my birthday. Each year on my birthday, the family went to Alex’s grave site, and we’d play him our favorite songs of the current year and talk to him. We’d tell him the ups and downs of life and celebrate him. Every time a breeze passed, I knew he was there with us. Even though we couldn’t see him, I felt his spirit surrounding me.
It was also tradition to sing “Godspeed,” by James Blake. This year, Reese sang along with me before she wished her uncle Alex a happy birthday. A song that had once brought me heartache now stood for something beautiful.
I stood to my feet and held my hand out to Emery, who, without question, placed her hand into mine. I pulled her up, and we began swaying back and forth against one another. We danced to the music as my daughter sat beside her brother, rocking back and forth, trying to help him figure out how to move forward to his new life of discovery.
Emery laid her head against my shoulder, and I held her as close to me as possible.
Her lips touched my earlobe as she whispered against my skin, “Are you okay?”
No day was perfect. Not every day ended with slow dances and laughter, or smiles and happiness, but each day was worth it. Each day was worth living because it led to the better tomorrows, the brighter days, the happily ever after. This was our life. It had its ups and downs, but without question, it was ours. This was our mixtape, and I was damn proud of it.
I was overwhelmed in that moment with the best truth I’d encountered. A truth I hadn’t thought I’d ever achieve, but I was so happy that it had finally found its way to me:
I want to be here.
Firstly, I would like to thank you, the reader, for taking the time to meet Emery and Oliver. Their story was a labor of love, and it means the world to me that you’ve given this story a chance. Without you all, these characters never would’ve come to life. Your support never goes unnoticed.
Up next are my extremely talented and kind editors from Montlake, Alison and Holly. Without your patience, support, and brilliant ideas, this story would still be unfinished. From our emails to our phone calls, thank you for helping me take these characters to the next level. Your creativity and allowance for me to explore have been a gift. Working with you both has been such an honor. Thank you.