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The Wedding  婚礼-The Wedding

Despite the heat, I spent the rest of the afternoon pulling weeds, and afterward I showered before heading off to the grocery store. It was, after all, Saturday—my day to cook—and I had decided to try my hand at a new recipe that called for side dishes of bow-tie pasta and vegetables. Though I knew this would probably be enough for both of us, I decided at the last minute to make appetizers and a Caesar salad as well. By five o’clock, I was in the kitchen; by five-thirty, the appetizers were well under way. I had prepared mushrooms stuffed with sausage and cream cheese, and they were warming in the oven next to the bread I’d picked up at the bakery. I’d just finished setting the table and was opening a bottle of Merlot when I heard Jane come in the front door. “Hello?” she called out. “I’m in the dining room,” I said. When she rounded the corner, I was struck by how radiant she looked. While my thinning hair is speckled with gray, hers is still as dark and full as the day I married her. She had tucked a few strands behind her ear, and around her neck I saw the small diamond pendant I’d purchased in the first few years of our marriage. As preoccupied as I might have been at times during our marriage, I can honestly say that I have never grown inured to her beauty.? “Wow,” she said. “It smells great in here. What’s for dinner?” “Veal marsala,” I announced, reaching to pour her a glass of wine. I crossed the room and handed it to her. As I studied her face, I noticed that the anxiety of the night before had been replaced with a look of excitement that I hadn’t seen for quite some time. I could already tell that things had gone well for her and Anna, and though I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath, I felt myself exhale in relief. “You’re not going to believe what happened today,” she gushed. “Even when I tell you, you’re not going to believe it.” Taking a sip of wine, she grasped my arm to steady herself as she slid one foot and then the other out of her shoe. I felt the warmth of her touch even after she let go. “What is it?” I asked. “What happened?” She motioned enthusiastically with her free hand. “C’mon,” she said. “Follow me into the kitchen while I tell you about it. I’m starved. We were so busy we didn’t have time for lunch. By the time we realized that it was time to eat, most of the restaurants were closed and we still had a few places to visit before Anna had to get back. Thank you for making dinner, by the way. I completely forgot it was your day to cook, and I was trying to think of an excuse to order in.” She kept talking as she moved through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Trailing behind her, I admired the subtle movement of her hips as she walked.? “Anyway, I think Anna’s sort of getting into it now. She seemed a lot more enthusiastic than she did last night.” Jane glanced at me over her shoulder, eyes gleaming. “But oh, just wait. You’re not going to believe it.” The kitchen counters were crowded with preparations for the main course: sliced veal, assorted vegetables, a cutting board and knife. I slipped on an oven mitt to remove the appetizers and set the baking sheet on the stovetop.? “Here,” I said. She looked at me in surprise. “They’re already done?” “Lucky timing.” I shrugged. Jane reached for a mushroom and took a bite. “So this morning, I picked her up . . . Wow, this is really good.” She paused, suddenly examining the mushroom. She took another bite and let it roll around in her mouth before going on. “Anyway, the first thing we did was discuss possible photographers—someone a lot more qualified than me. I know there are a few studios downtown, but I was certain we wouldn’t be able to find anyone last minute. So last night, I got to thinking that Claire’s son might be able to do it. He’s taking classes in photography at Carteret Community College, and that’s what he wants to do when he graduates. I’d called Claire this morning and said that we might be stopping by, but Anna wasn’t so sure since she’d never seen any of his work. My other idea was to use someone she knows at the newspaper, but Anna told me that the newspaper frowns on that kind of freelance work. Anyway, to make a long story short, she wanted to check the studios on the off chance that someone might be available. And you’ll never guess what happened.” “Tell me,” I said. Jane popped the last of the mushroom into her mouth, letting the anticipation build. The tips of her fingers were shiny as she reached for another mushroom.? “These are really good,” she enthused. “Is this a new recipe?” “Yes,” I said. “Is it complicated?” “Not really,” I said, shrugging. She drew a deep breath. “So anyway, just like I thought, the first two places we visited were booked. But then we went to Cayton’s Studio. Have you ever seen the wedding pictures Jim Cayton does?” “I’ve heard he’s the best around.” “He’s amazing,” she said. “His work is stunning. Even Anna was impressed, and you know how she is. He did Dana Crowe’s wedding, remember? He’s usually booked six or seven months in advance, and even then he’s hard to get. I mean, there wasn’t a chance, right? But when I asked his wife—she’s the one who runs the studio—she told me that he’d had a recent cancellation.” She took another bite of her appetizer, chewing slowly.? “And it just so happens,” she announced with the faintest of shrugs, “that he was open for next Saturday.” I raised my eyebrows. “That’s wonderful,” I said. Now that the climax had been revealed, she began to speak more quickly, filling in the rest of the blanks. “Oh, you can’t believe how happy Anna was. Jim Cayton? Even if we had a year to plan, he’s the one I would have wanted. We must have spent a couple of hours flipping through some of the albums they’ve put together, just to get ideas. ?Anna would ask me whether I liked these types of shots, or I’d ask which ones she liked. I’m sure Mrs. Cayton thinks we’re crazy. As soon as we’d finish an album, we’d ask for another—she was kind enough to answer every question we had. ?By the time we left, I think both of us were just pinching ourselves at how lucky we’d been.” “I’ll bet.” “So after that,” she continued breezily, “we headed out to the bakeries. Again, it took a couple of stops, but I wasn’t too worried about getting a cake. It’s not as if they have to prepare them months in advance, right? Anyway, we found a small place that could do it, but I didn’t realize how many choices they have. ?There was an entire catalog devoted to wedding cakes. They have big cakes and small cakes, and every size in between. Then, of course, you have to decide what flavor you want it, what kind of frosting, the shape, what additional decorations and all those kinds of things. . . .” “Sounds exciting,” I said. She rolled her eyes heavenward. “You don’t know the half of it,” she said, and I laughed at her obvious joy. The stars weren’t often in alignment, but tonight they seemed to be. Her mood was rapturous, the evening was young, and Jane and I were about to enjoy a romantic meal together. All seemed right with the world, and as I stood beside my wife of three decades, I suddenly knew that the day couldn’t have gone any better had I planned it in advance. While I finished preparing dinner, Jane continued filling me in on the rest of her day, going into detail about the cake (two layers, vanilla flavoring, sour cream frosting) and the photographs (Cayton fixes any imperfections on the computer). In the warm light of the kitchen, I could just make out the soft creases around the corners of her eyes, the feathery markings of our life together. “I’m glad it went well,” I said. “And considering it was your first day, you actually got quite a bit done.” The smell of melted butter filled the kitchen, and the veal began to sizzle slightly. “I know. And I am happy, believe me,” she said. “But we still don’t know where we should have the ceremony, and until then, I don’t know how to make the rest of the arrangements. I’d told Anna that we could have it here if she wanted, but she wasn’t too keen on the idea.” “What does she want?” “She isn’t sure yet. She thinks she might want to have a garden wedding of some sort. Someplace not too formal.” “It shouldn’t be too hard to find a place.” “You’d be surprised. The only place I could think of was the Tryon Palace, but I don’t think we’ll be able to do that on such short notice. I don’t even know if they allow weddings there.” “Mmm . . .” I added salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the pan.? “The Orton Plantation is nice, too. Remember? That’s where we went to the Brattons’ wedding last year.” I remembered; it was in between Wilmington and Southport, almost two hours from New Bern. “It is sort of out of the way, isn’t it?” I asked. “Considering most of the guests are from around here?” “I know. It was just an idea. I’m sure it’s booked anyway.” “How about someplace downtown? At one of the bed-and-breakfasts?” She shook her head. “I think most of them might be too small—and I don’t know how many have gardens—but I suppose I can look into it. And if that doesn’t work . . . well, we’ll find someplace. At least I hope we can.” Jane frowned, lost in thought. She leaned against the counter and propped her stockinged foot against the cabinet behind her, for all the world the same young girl who talked me into walking her to her car. The second time I walked her to her car, I assumed she would simply get in her car and drive away, as she had the first time. Instead she’d struck just the same pose against the driver’s-side door, and we had what I consider to be our first conversation. I remember marveling at her animated features as she recounted the details of her life growing up in New Bern, and it was the first time I sensed the attributes I would always cherish: her intelligence and passion, her charm, the carefree way she seemed to view the world. Years later, she showed the same traits when raising our children, and I know it’s one of the reasons they’ve become the kind and responsible adults they are today. Breaking into Jane’s distracted reverie, I cleared my throat. “I went to visit Noah today,” I said. At my words, Jane resurfaced. “How’s he doing?” “Okay. He looked tired, but he was in good spirits.” “Was he at the pond again?” “Yes,” I said. Anticipating her next question, I added: “The swan was there, too.” She pressed her lips together, but not wanting to ruin her mood, I quickly went on. “I told him about the wedding,” I said. “Was he excited?” “Very.” I nodded. “He told me he’s looking forward to being there.” Jane brought her hands together. “I’m bringing Anna by tomorrow. She didn’t have a chance to see him last week, and I know she’s going to want to tell him about it.” She smiled appreciatively. “And by the way, thanks for going out to see him today. I know how much he enjoys that.” “You know I like to spend time with him, too.” “I know. But thank you anyway.” The meat was ready, and I added the rest of the ingredients: marsala wine, lemon juice, mushrooms, beef broth, minced shallot, diced green onions. I added another dab of butter for good measure, rewarding myself for the twenty pounds I’d lost in the last year. “Have you talked to Joseph or Leslie yet?” I asked.? For a moment, Jane watched me as I stirred. Then, after retrieving a spoon from the drawer, she dipped the tip into the sauce and tasted it. “This is good,” she commented, raising her eyebrows. “You sound surprised.” “No, I’m really not. You’re actually quite the chef these days. At least compared to where you started.” “What? You didn’t always love my cooking?” She brought a finger to her chin. “Let’s just say burned mashed potatoes and crunchy gravy are an acquired taste.” I smiled, knowing what she said was true. My first few experiences in the kitchen had been less than an earth-shattering success.? Jane took another taste before setting the spoon on the counter. “Wilson? About the wedding . . . ,” she began. I glanced at her. “Yes?” “You do know it’s going to be expensive to get a ticket for Joseph at the last minute, right?” “Yes,” I said. “And the photographer isn’t cheap, even if there was a cancellation.” I nodded. “I figured that.” “And the cake is kind of pricey, too. For a cake, I mean.” “No problem. It’s for a lot of people, right?” She looked at me curiously, clearly stumped by my answers. “Well . . . I just wanted to warn you in advance so you won’t get upset.” “How could I get upset?” “Oh, you know. Sometimes you get upset when things start getting expensive.” “I do?” Jane cocked a brow. “Don’t bother pretending. Don’t you remember how you were with all the renovations? Or when the heat pump kept breaking? You even shine your own shoes. . . .” I raised my hands in playful surrender. “Okay, you made your point,” I said. “But don’t worry. This is different.” I looked up, knowing I had her attention. “Even if we spend everything we have, it’ll still be worth it.” She almost choked on her wine and stared at me. Then, after a long moment, she took a sudden step forward and poked my arm with her finger.? “What’s that for?” I asked. “Just checking to see if you’re really my husband, or if you’ve been replaced by one of the pod-people.” “Pod-people?” “Yeah. Invasion of the Body Snatchers. You remember the movie, right?” “Of course. But it’s really me,” I said. “Thank goodness,” she said, feigning relief. Then, wonder of wonders, she winked at me. “But I still wanted to warn you.” I smiled, feeling as if my heart had just been inflated. How long had it been, I wondered, since we’d laughed and joked in the kitchen like this? Months? Years, even? Even though I realized that it might be only temporary, it nonetheless stoked the small flame of hope I had begun to nurture in secret.? The first date that Jane and I went on didn’t go exactly as I’d planned.? I’d made reservations at Harper’s, which was regarded as the best restaurant in town. Also the most expensive. I had enough money to cover the cost of dinner, but I knew I would have to budget the rest of the month to pay my other bills. ?I’d also planned something special for afterward. I picked her up in front of her dormitory at Meredith, and the drive to the restaurant took only a few minutes. Our conversation was typical of first dates and simply skimmed the surface of things. We spoke about school and how chilly it was, and I noted that it was a good thing we both brought jackets. I also remember mentioning that I thought her sweater was lovely, and she mentioned that she’d purchased it the day before. Though I wondered if she had done this in anticipation of our date, I knew enough not to ask her directly.? Owing to holiday shoppers, it was difficult to find a space near the restaurant, so we parked a couple of blocks away. I’d allotted plenty of time, however, and felt sure we would arrive at the restaurant in time to make our reservation. On the way to the restaurant, the tips of our noses turned red and our breath came out in little clouds. A few of the shop windows were ringed with twinkling lights, and as we passed one of the neighborhood pizza parlors, we could hear Christmas music coming from the jukebox inside. It was as we were approaching the restaurant that we saw the dog. Cowering in an alley, he was medium size but skinny and covered in grime. He was shivering, and his coat made it plain that he had been on the run for quite a while. I moved between Jane and the dog in case he was dangerous, but Jane stepped around me and squatted down, trying to get the dog’s attention.? “It’s okay,” she whispered. “We won’t hurt you.” The dog shrank back farther into the shadows. “He’s got a collar,” Jane pointed out. “I’ll bet he’s lost.” She didn’t look away from the dog, who seemed to be studying her with wary interest.? Checking my watch, I saw that we had a few minutes to spare until our reservation came up. Though I still wasn’t sure whether or not the dog was dangerous, I squatted beside Jane and began speaking to him in the same soothing tones that she was using. This went on for a short while, but still the dog remained where he was. Jane took a small step toward him, but the dog whined, skittering away. “He’s scared,” she said, looking worried. “What should we do? I don’t want to leave him out here. It’s supposed to fall below freezing tonight. And if he’s lost, I’m sure all he wants is to get back home.” I suppose I could have said just about anything. I could have told her that we tried, or that we could call the pound, or even that we could come back after dinner, and if he was still around that we could try again. But Jane’s expression stopped me. Her face was a mixture of worry and defiance—the first inkling I had of Jane’s kindness and concern for those less fortunate. I knew then that I had no choice but to go along with what she wanted.? “Let me try,” I said. In all honesty, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Growing up, I’d never owned a dog for the simple reason that my mother had been allergic to them, but I held out my hand and continued to whisper to him, resorting to what I had seen people do in the movies. I let the dog get used to my voice, and when I slowly inched forward, the dog remained in place. Not wanting to startle the mutt, I stopped, let him get used to me for a moment, and inched forward again. After what seemed forever, I was close enough to the dog that when I held out my hand, he stretched his nose toward it. Then, deciding he had nothing to fear from me, he let his tongue flicker against my fingers. A moment later, I was able to stroke his head, and I glanced over my shoulder at Jane. “He likes you,” she said, looking amazed. I shrugged. “I guess he does.” I was able to read the phone number on the collar, and Jane went into the bookstore next door to call the owner from a pay phone. While she was gone, I waited with the dog, and the more I stroked him, the more he seemed to crave the touch of my hand. When Jane returned, we waited for nearly twenty minutes until the owner arrived to claim him. He was in his mid-thirties, and he practically bounded from the car. Immediately the dog surged to the man’s side, tail wagging. After taking time to acknowledge the sloppy licks, the man turned to us. “Thank you so much for calling,” he said. “He’s been gone for a week, and my son’s been crying himself to sleep every night. You have no idea how much this will mean to him. Getting his dog back was the only thing he put on his Christmas list.” Though he offered a reward, neither Jane nor I was willing to take it, and he thanked us both again before getting back into his car. As we watched him go, I believe we both felt we’d done something worthy. After the sounds of the engine faded away, Jane took my arm. “Can we still make our reservation?” she asked. I checked my watch. “We’re half an hour late.” “They should still have our table, right?” “I don’t know. It was tough to get one in the first place. I had to have one of my professors call for me.” “Maybe we’ll get lucky,” she said. We didn’t. By the time we got to the restaurant, our table had been given away, and the next available slot was for nine forty-five. Jane looked up at me.? “At least we made a child happy,” she said. “I know.” I took a deep breath. “And I’d do it again, too.” Studying me for a moment, she gave my arm a squeeze. “I’m glad we stopped, too, even if we don’t get to have dinner here.” Surrounded by a streetlight halo, she looked almost ethereal. “Is there anyplace else you’d like to go?” I asked. She tilted her head. “Do you like music?” Ten minutes later, we were seated at a table in the pizza parlor we’d passed earlier. Though I’d planned on candlelight and wine, we ended up ordering beer with our pizza. Jane, however, didn’t seem disappointed. She spoke easily, telling me about her classes in Greek mythology and English literature, her years at Meredith, her friends, and anything else that happened to be on her mind. For the most part, I simply nodded and asked enough questions to keep her talking for the next two hours, and I can honestly say that I’d never enjoyed someone’s company more.? In the kitchen, I noticed that Jane was eyeing me curiously. Forcing the memory away, I put the finishing touches on our meal and brought the food to the table. ?After taking our places, we bowed our heads and I said grace, thanking God for all that we had been given. “You okay? You seemed preoccupied a couple of minutes ago,” Jane commented as she forked some salad into her bowl. I poured a glass of wine for each of us. “Actually, I was remembering our first date,” I said. “You were?” Her fork stopped in midair. “Why?” “I don’t know,” I said. I slid her glass toward her. “Do you even remember it?” “Of course I remember,” she chided me. “It was right before we went home for Christmas break. We were supposed to go to dinner at Harper’s, but we found a stray, and we missed our reservation. So we had dinner at this little pizza place down the street instead. And after that . . .” She squinted, trying to recall the exact order of events.? “We got in the car and drove out to see the decorations along Havermill Road, right? You insisted that I get out of the car so we could walk around, even though it was freezing. One of the houses had set up Santa’s village, and when you walked me over, the man dressed as Santa handed me the gift that you’d picked out for me for Christmas. I remember being amazed that you’d gone through all that trouble on a first date.” “Do you remember what I got you?” “How could I forget?” She grinned. “An umbrella.” “If I recall correctly, you didn’t seem too thrilled about it.” “Well,” she said, throwing up her hands, “how was I supposed to meet any guys after that? Having someone walk me to my car was my modus operandi back then. ?You have to remember that at Meredith, the only men around were teachers or janitors.” “That’s why I picked it out,” I said. “I knew exactly how you operated.” “You didn’t have a clue,” she said with a smirk. “I was the first girl you ever dated.” “No, you weren’t. I’d dated before.” Her eyes were playful. “Okay, the first girl you’d ever kissed, then.” This was true, though I’ve come to regret that I ever told her this, since she’s never forgotten this fact and it tends to come up in moments like this. In my defense, however, I said: “I was too busy preparing for my future. I didn’t have time for such a thing.” “You were shy.” “I was studious. There’s a difference.” “Don’t you remember our dinner? Or the drive over? You barely said anything to me at all, except about your classes.” “I talked about more than that,” I said. “I told you that I liked your sweater, remember?” “That doesn’t count.” She winked. “You were just lucky I was so patient with you.” “Yes,” I agreed, “I was.” I said it the way I would have wanted to hear it from her, and I think she caught the tone in my voice. She smiled briefly. “Do you know what I remember most from that night?” I went on. “My sweater?” My wife, I should add, has always had a quick wit. I laughed but was clearly in a more reflective mood and went on. “I liked the way you stopped for the dog, and were unwilling to leave until you made sure he was safe. It told me your heart was in the right place.” I could have sworn she blushed at my comment, but she quickly picked up her wineglass, so I couldn’t be sure. Before she could say anything, I changed the subject. “So is Anna getting nervous yet?” I asked. Jane shook her head. “Not at all. She doesn’t seem worried in the slightest. I guess she believes that it’s all going to work out, like it did today with the pictures and the cake. This morning, when I showed her the list of all we had to do, all she said was, ‘I guess we’d better get started, then, huh?’” I nodded. I could imagine Anna saying those words. “What about her friend, the pastor?” I asked. “She said she called him last night, and he said he’d be happy to do it.” “That’s good. One less thing,” I offered. “Mmm.” Jane fell silent. I knew her mind was beginning to turn to the activities of the coming week. “I think I’m going to need your help,” she said at last. “What did you have in mind?” “Well, you’ll need a tux for you, Keith, and Joseph, of course. And Daddy, too. . . .” “No problem.” She shifted in her seat. “And Anna is supposed to be getting the names of some of the people she’d like to invite. We don’t have time to send any invitations, so someone’s going to have to call. And since I’m out and about with Anna, and you’re on vacation . . .” I held up my hands. “I’d be glad to take care of it,” I said. “I’ll start tomorrow.” “Do you know where the address book is?” This is the type of question with which I’ve become quite familiar over the years. Jane has long believed that I have a natural inability to find certain items within our home. She also believes that while I misplace objects occasionally, I have assigned her the responsibility of knowing exactly where it is I might have misplaced them. Neither of these things, I might add, is completely my fault. While it’s true that I don’t know where every item in the house is located, this has more to do with different filing systems than any ineptitude on my part. My wife, for instance, believes the flashlight logically belongs in one of the kitchen drawers, while my reasoning tells me it should be in the pantry where we keep the washer and dryer. As a result, it shifts from one location to the next, and because I work outside the home, it’s impossible for me to keep up with such things. If I set my car keys on the counter, for instance, my instincts tell me they will still be there when I go to look for them, while Jane automatically believes that I will look for them on the bulletin board near the door. As to the location of the address book, it was plain to me that it was in the drawer by the phone. That’s where I put it the last time I used it, and I was just about to say this when Jane spoke up.? “It’s on the shelf next to the cookbooks.” I looked at her. “Of course it is,” I agreed. The easy mood between us lasted until we finished dinner and began to clear the table. Then, slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, the quick banter between us gave way to more stilted conversation, punctuated by longer pauses. By the time we’d started to clean the kitchen, we had retreated into a familiar dialogue, in which the most animated sound came not from either of us, but from the scraping of plates in the kitchen. I can’t explain why this happened, other than to say that we’d run out of things to say to each other. She asked about Noah a second time, and I repeated what I’d said previously. A minute later, she started speaking of the photographer again, but halfway through her story, she stopped herself, knowing she’d already recounted that as well. Because neither of us had spoken to Joseph or Leslie, there was no news on those fronts, either. And as for work, because I was out of the office, I had nothing whatsoever to add, even in an offhanded way. I could feel the earlier mood of the evening beginning to slip away and wanted to prevent the inevitable from happening. My mind began to search for something, anything, and I finally cleared my throat. “Did you hear about the shark attack down in Wilmington?” I asked. “You mean the one last week? With the girl?” “Yes,” I said, “that’s the one.” “You told me about it.” “I did?” “Last week. You read me the article.” I washed her wineglass by hand, then rinsed the colander. I could hear her sorting through the cupboards for the Tupperware. “What a horrible way to start a vacation,” she remarked. “Her family hadn’t even finished unpacking the car yet.” The plates came next, and I scraped the remains into the sink. I turned on the garbage disposal, and the rumbling seemed to echo against the walls, underscoring the silence between us. When it stopped, I put the plates into the dishwasher. “I pulled some weeds in the garden,” I said. “I thought you just did that a few days ago.” “I did.” I loaded the utensils and rinsed the salad tongs. I turned the water on and off, slid the dishwasher rack in and out. “I hope you didn’t stay in the sun too long,” she said.? She mentioned this because my father had died of a heart attack while washing the car when he was sixty-one years old. Heart disease ran in my family, and I knew it was something that worried Jane. Though we were less like lovers than friends these days, I knew that Jane would always care for me. Caring was part of her nature and always would be. Her siblings are the same way, and I attribute that to Noah and Allie. Hugs and laughter were a staple in their home, a place where practical jokes were relished, because no one ever suspected meanness. I’ve often wondered about the person I would have become had I been born into that family.? “It’s supposed to be hot again tomorrow,” Jane said, breaking into my thoughts. “I heard on the news it’s supposed to hit ninety-five degrees,” I concurred. “And the humidity is supposed to be high, too.” “Ninety-five?” “That’s what they said.” “That’s too hot.” Jane put the leftovers into the refrigerator as I wiped the counters. After our earlier intimacy, the lack of meaningful conversation seemed deafening. From the expression on Jane’s face, I knew she too was disappointed by this return to our normal state of affairs. She patted her dress, as if looking for words in her pockets. Finally, she drew a deep breath and forced a smile.? “I think I’ll give Leslie a call,” she said. A moment later, I was standing in the kitchen alone, wishing again that I were someone else and wondering whether it was even possible for us to start over.? In the two weeks following our first date, Jane and I saw each other five more times before she returned to New Bern for the Christmas holidays. We studied together twice, went to a movie once, and spent two afternoons walking through the campus of Duke University. But there was one particular walk that will always stand out in my mind. It was a gloomy day, having rained all morning, and gray clouds stretched across the sky, making it look almost like dusk. It was Sunday, two days after we’d saved the stray, and Jane and I were strolling among the various buildings on campus.? “What are your parents like?” she asked. I took a few steps before answering. “They’re good people,” I finally said.? She waited for more, but when I didn’t answer, she nudged my shoulder with her own. “That’s all you can say?” I knew this was her attempt to get me to open up, and though it wasn’t something I’d ever been comfortable doing, I knew that Jane would keep prodding me—gently and persistently—until I did. She was smart in a way that few others were, not only academically, but about people as well. Especially me.? “I don’t know what else to tell you,” I said. “They’re just typical parents. ?They work for the government and they’ve lived in a town house in Dupont Circle for almost twenty years. That’s in D.C., where I grew up. I think they thought about buying a house in the suburbs some years back, but neither one of them wanted to deal with the commute, so we stayed where we were.” “Did you have a backyard?” “No. There was a nice courtyard, though, and sometimes weeds would sprout between the bricks.” She laughed. “Where did your parents meet?” “Washington. They both grew up there, and they met when they both worked for the Department of Transportation. I guess they were in the same office for a while, but that’s all I know for sure. They never said much more than that.” “Do they have any hobbies?” I considered her question as I pictured both my parents. “My mom likes to write letters to the editor of The Washington Post,” I said. “I think she wants to change the world. She’s always taking the side of the downtrodden, and of course, she’s never short of ideas to make the world a better place. She must write at least a letter a week. Not all of them get printed, but she cuts out the ones that do and posts them in a scrapbook. And my dad . . . he’s on the quiet side. He likes to build ships in bottles. He must have made hundreds over the years, and when we ran out of space on the shelves, he started donating them to schools to display in the libraries. Kids love them.” “Do you do that, too?” “No. That’s my dad’s escape. He wasn’t all that interested in teaching me how to do it, since he thought I should have my own hobby. But I could watch him work, as long as I didn’t touch anything.” “That’s sad.” “It didn’t bother me,” I countered. “I never knew any different, and it was interesting. Quiet, but interesting. He didn’t talk much as he worked, but it was nice spending time with him.” “Did he play catch with you? Or go bike riding?” “No. He wasn’t much of an outdoor guy. Just the ships. It taught me a lot about patience.” She lowered her gaze, watching her steps as she walked, and I knew she was comparing it to her own upbringing. “And you’re an only child?” she continued. Though I’d never told anyone else, I found myself wanting to tell her why. Even then, I wanted her to know me, to know everything about me. “My mom couldn’t have any more kids. She had some sort of hemorrhage when I was born, and it was just too risky after that.” She frowned. “I’m sorry.” “I think she was, too.” By that point, we’d reached the main chapel on campus, and Jane and I paused for a moment to admire the architecture. “That’s the most you’ve ever told me about yourself in one stretch,” she remarked. “It’s probably more than I’ve told anyone.” From the corner of my eye, I saw her tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “I think I understand you a little better now,” she said.? I hesitated. “Is that a good thing?” Instead of answering, Jane turned toward me and I suddenly realized that I already knew the answer. I suppose I should remember exactly how it happened, but to be honest, the following moments are lost to me. In one instant, I reached for her hand, and in the next, I found myself pulling her gently toward me. She looked faintly startled, but when she saw my face moving toward hers, she closed her eyes, accepting what I was about to do. She leaned in, and as her lips touched mine, I knew that I would remember our first kiss forever. Listening to Jane as she spoke on the phone with Leslie, I thought she sounded a lot like the girl who’d walked by my side on campus that day. Her voice was animated and the words flowed freely; I heard her laughing as if Leslie were in the room. I sat on the couch half a room away, listening with half an ear. Jane and I used to walk and talk for hours, but now there were others who seemed to have taken my place. With the children, Jane was never at a loss as to what to say, nor did she struggle when she visited her father. Her circle of friends is quite large, and she visited easily with them as well. I wondered what they would think if they spent a typical evening with us. Were we the only couple with this problem? Or was it common in all long marriages, an inevitable function of time? Logic seemed to infer it was the latter, yet it nonetheless pained me to realize that her levity would be gone the moment she hung up the phone. Instead of easy banter, we’d speak in platitudes and the magic would be gone, and I couldn’t bear another discussion of the weather. What to do, though? That was the question that plagued me. In the span of an hour, I’d viewed both our marriages, and I knew which one I preferred, which one I thought we deserved. In the background, I heard Jane beginning to wind down with Leslie. There’s a pattern when a call is nearing an end, and I knew Jane’s as well as my own. Soon I would hear her tell our daughter that she loved her, pause as Leslie said it back to her, then say good-bye. Knowing it was coming—and suddenly deciding to take a chance—I rose from the couch and turned to face her.? I was going to walk across the room, I told myself, and reach for her hand, just as I had outside the chapel at Duke. She would wonder what was happening—just as she wondered then—but I’d pull her body next to mine. I’d touch her face, then slowly close my eyes, and as soon as my lips touched hers, she’d know that it was unlike any kiss she’d ever received from me. It would be new but familiar; appreciative but filled with longing; and its very inspiration would evoke the same feelings in her. It would be, I thought, a new beginning to our lives, just as our first kiss had been so long ago. I could imagine it clearly, and a moment later, I heard her say her final words and hit the button to hang up the call. It was time, and gathering my courage, I started toward her. Jane’s back was to me, her hand still on the phone. She paused for a moment, staring out the living room window, watching the gray sky as it slowly darkened in color. She was the greatest person I’ve ever known, and I would tell her this in the moments following our kiss. I kept moving. She was close now, close enough for me to catch the familiar scent of her perfume. I could feel my heart speed up. Almost there, I realized, but when I was close enough to touch her hand, she suddenly raised the phone again. Her movements were quick and efficient; she merely pressed two buttons. ?The number is on speed dial, and I knew exactly what she’d done.? A moment later, when Joseph answered the phone, I lost my resolve, and it was all I could do to make my way back to the couch. For the next hour or so, I sat beneath the lamp, the biography of Roosevelt open in my lap. Though she’d asked me to call the guests, after hanging up with Joseph, Jane made a few calls to those who were closest to the family. I understood her eagerness, but it left us in separate worlds until after nine, and I came to the conclusion that unrealized hopes, even small ones, were always wrenching.? When Jane finished, I tried to catch her eye. Instead of joining me on the couch, she retrieved a bag from the table by the front door, one I hadn’t noticed she’d brought in. “I picked these up for Anna on the way home,” she said, waving a couple of bridal magazines, “but before I give them to her, I want to have a chance to look through them first.” I forced a smile, knowing the rest of the evening would be lost. “Good idea,” I said. As we settled into silence—me on the couch, Jane in the recliner—I found my gaze drawn surreptitiously toward her. Her eyes flickered as she looked from one gown to the next; I saw her crease the corners of various pages. Her eyes, like mine, are not as strong as they once were, and I noticed that she had to crane her neck back, as if looking down her nose to see more clearly. Every now and then, I heard her whisper something, an understated exclamation, and I knew she was picturing Anna wearing whatever was on the page. Watching her expressive face, I marveled at the fact that at one time or another, I’d kissed every part of it. I’ve never loved anyone but you, I wanted to say, but common sense prevailed, reminding me that it would be better to save those words for another time, when I had her full attention and the words might be reciprocated. As the evening wore on, I continued to watch her while pretending to read my book. I could do this all night, I thought, but weariness set in, and I was certain that Jane would stay awake for at least another hour. The creased pages would call to her if she didn’t look at them a second time, and she had yet to make her way through both magazines. “Jane?” I said. “Mmm?” she answered automatically. “I have an idea.” “About what?” She continued staring at the page. “Where we should hold the wedding.” My words finally registered and she looked up. “It might not be perfect, but I’m sure it would be available,” I said. “It’s outside and there’s plenty of parking. And there’re flowers, too. Thousands of flowers.” “Where?” I hesitated. “At Noah’s house,” I said. “Under the trellis by the roses.” Jane’s mouth opened and closed; she blinked rapidly, as if clearing her sight. But then, ever so slowly, she began to smile.

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