I’ve always thought that it was unfair for women to look so stunning when they feel such pain. Maybe it’s because there’s a part of me that feels like I can be a hero if only I can wipe their tears away, or maybe it’s just a defense mechanism that kicks in so that I can cope with the pressure before me. Either way, it’s still impossible to remain numb to the fact that she is crying in her wedding dress.
“It’s because I wore white,” she explains bitterly, her hands clutching at the fabric to create wrinkles in the satin skirt. She pieced together the whole thing herself—the bodice tight and overlaid with lace daisies, the neckline unfairly high, cap sleeves puffing out to provide only modest comfort and protection from the winter’s bite.
She had invited a group of ladies around the house before the ceremony itself, hoping to be primed and prepped and prodded to within an inch of her life and our budget. None of them came except for her best friend, a rather nervous girl by the name of Betty. I don’t think Betty has ever liked me, which is just bullshit since Karen’s been with me since before we even moved North in the first place. She’s city through and through though, always cautious enough to be caught up on other people’s business without ever giving away any of her own. I hate her simply because she hates me, that one. Why did Karen have to go and pick her as her witness and maid of honor for the wedding? I half expected the girl to pipe up during the vows to say that we couldn’t get hitched because she was the one who was truly in love with Karen, that she had always been in love with Karen and always would be. Truth be told, I think she might still spring it on us as though it would come as any surprise.
To retaliate I made sure my witness was Rocky Pantineri. He’s as hardheaded and foul as they come, but he could talk a mermaid into coming up for a dance. He just has that easy charm about him, even with his hair slicked back with so much oil that you want to laugh at his appearance when you first meet him. Before you know it, it’s ten hours later and you’re halfway through telling some isn’t this hilarious sort of anecdote when you realize that you’re drunk and worse yet, you have been for ages. Karen hates him because he’s a black hole when it comes to time and money, two things that have always been lacking between the two of us. I think he’s good fun, but he’s generally not welcome in our house, particularly if she’s home.
“I should have made it yellow or peach or blue… I saw this really lovely, really faint blue when I was getting fabric, but no, I just had to go the traditional route and insist on the white.”
“What are you talking about?” I finally demand, which seems to snap her out of it. At any rate, her hands stop writhing like they’re enduring separate pains.
This is our reception: one large, circular table at the local bar, affectionately named The Half Pint, with only two seats occupied. Betty said she couldn’t join us after the wedding itself, something about a quilting class she positively could not miss, and Rocky’s much more comfortable up there on his stool, leaning over the bar to try to charm his way out of his ever-climbing tab.
“White,” she snaps, like I haven’t heard her the first several times that she’s mentioned the color. “Purity. Virginity. I showed it to the girls because I was just so excited about the design. The pattern, the stupid fucking pattern—“
It’s not like her to swear like this, especially when she’s so concerned about what everyone else thinks in the first place.
“—but it doesn’t matter to you because you’re drunk.”
The accusation is a slap as dramatic as though she had picked up her glass and launched her drink in my face. I wait for that, brace for the liquid against my skin or, better yet, the sting of her palm against my cheek. But she leaves me in complete suspense, her face getting redder by the minute.
I’ve just had a couple though. Nothing major, just warming up for the night. I hold my hands up in surrender, then make sure she’s not going to freak out before I slide my chair next to hers. Silently, I place my hand over hers and feel the metal of our wedding rings click together. They’re nothing all that expensive, not really, but they look decent and suit us just fine. They look like proper wedding rings rather than something pulled out of a box of Cracker Jacks, which was always my main concern since stealing her from her family back where she had a decent life carved out for herself. I’m surprised by how warm the metal feels on my finger already, almost as though it’s adopted my pulse as its own.
She gets quieter when I touch her, and I slide her drink towards her, just a glass of white wine because this place doesn’t have any champagne. “Just calm down and take a sip of that,” I tell her, and I hope that she can hear me over the jukebox. She must since she nods and then raises the glass to her lips. I expect her to just mime the whole thing, but when she puts it down again, the liquid’s halfway gone.
“How long have we been here, Dust? Why is it that no matter how hard I try to make it into these women’s good graces, they always fine a way to cut me down again?”
It breaks my heart to know that no matter how many compliments I throw her way, no matter what grand gestures I make on behalf of love, she’s always going to be able to chop herself back down again because some ridiculous bitches don’t approve of our lifestyle. Even making it right by getting married is just too little, too late as far as they’re concerned.
“Forget about them then. They obviously don’t want to be concerned with us, so don’t let them in. Don’t let them get to you. They’re pointless. Fuck them. What are you going to do if they really like you, huh? Just make fun of some other poor woman who can’t get it right no matter how she tries?”
She laughs quietly, somewhere between wounded and healing. With the heel of her palm, she dries her eyes, and I take the liberty of reaching out to take another pull from my bourbon.
I’m ashamed to admit there’s a part of me that wishes she would just get a grip on herself so I can enjoy this. This place is a sanctuary of sorts for me when I’m home, and now there are people staring at us. People that I know, guys that I see most days when I’m here, are looking at us in our formal wear and probably trying to figure out if we’re still in high school or if we’re part of a school play. I think that I’d rather have people just assume we’re underage revelers sneaking in on fake IDs than know the truth.
“I guess you’re right,” she says at last, and she takes another sip of the wine. A drop of it catches on her lip and then decides to jump ship, so I lean in to kiss it away from her. She hates the taste of hard liquor even on my breath, but this time she doesn’t try to pull away from me.
“Say it with me, Mrs. Wallace. Say ‘fuck ‘em.’”
Her nose wrinkles up, caught up in disgust with the language and, at the same time, the same twinkle in her eye I recall from us being teenagers. It’s the way she looked when I showed her that plastic gun and told her about how I’d used it as a weapon regardless. There must be some adrenaline coursing through her. At this point, getting away with a wedding must be the equivalent of getting away with murder.
“Fuck them,” she responds primly, but I know that I’ve won that battle. It’s time to finish my drink, and I do so with abandon. She looks away from me, but she’s always done that. I just figure that there’s nothing beautiful or compelling about a person trying to get every last drop of liquid out of a drink they paid for. I can hardly hold this against her.
“That’s beautiful, missus, it really is. Do you know what I want to do right now?”
“Just what notion could you possibly have in that foggy head of yours?” Her chin juts out defiantly, obviously not totally sold on the idea of me dictating what happens next since this bar scenario was my suggestion. I’ll be the first to admit that it wasn’t the smartest idea, but it’s not like those women would have ever made her happy. I know that I can. That’s all that matters.
“Well, I was thinking that we could go back to the house, which is ours, and then we could go up the stairs, which are ours, to find the bed that the both of us decided to purchase, even if you were the one to pick out the sheets and all of that nonsense. And then, I was thinking that we could get you out of the offending dress.”
“And then what?” she prods, and her hand slips over mine. It’s colder than I expect, but that doesn’t matter when her fingers are so firm in digging into my own.
With our fingers twisted together, it’s easy to pick up our hands in order to place my lips against the back of her hand, to treat her like the princess she deserves to be. “And then I hope that I never wake up from this dream if I know what’s good for me.”
I hope this letter finds you well. There are so many words that I should have written to you already, though honestly I should probably call you instead. You can probably understand my reasons for going this route though. It’s much cheaper when we’re so far away, and at least this way I can get it all out of my system without interruptions. I hope you’ll at least have the patience to read through this letter all the way before you decide to throw it in the fire or rip it to pieces. Afterwards, of course, you’re free to do anything you want with these words, but I was a boy when I left and hope that you’ll see that I’ve become an adult with time.
First of all, I want to apologize for what happened all of those years ago. I shouldn’t have struck your son the way that I did. As you can imagine, I was desperate. Or maybe you can’t imagine it. You treated me with kindness for so long, and then I repaid you with that. You had to be furious. You probably still are. But love doesn’t follow any sort of logical path, and please know that I have loved your daughter since I laid eyes on her. I knew she was the only girl in your life, but I also knew that you’d never let her go unless you thought that she’d found a man who was worthy of her attention. You thought that you knew me well enough to understand that I wasn’t deserving of her future. You could control her movements to a degree, but you couldn’t control her love. You certainly tried. But we were adults, and there was nothing that you could do to stop us.
We never would have planned to leave if there had been any other way. She was plenty happy with you, and she loves all of you very much. I’m sure she would like to talk to you again, but it just hasn’t been possible yet. She had to pick one of us, and she decided to go with me because I gave her the choice. You did not.
You should know that Karen is both healthy and happy. I don’t want to tell you where we are—I’m not completely confident that you won’t have the police on me yet for what I hope is water under the bridge—but trust that we have a nice apartment together. It’s not a house, which I wish I could have afforded to give her at this point in our lives, but it’s bigger than most and is comfortable enough for the both of us to get along. We’re not living in sin either. We’re married now.
You’re probably angry that we went through that without inviting you, but we did a civil service, in and out of an office with a bit of paper signed and that’s it. She would’ve liked a big church do, but we don’t have enough friends up here yet. Plus she just didn’t think it would be right if she didn’t have her daddy here to give her away. I know you would never stand to see that happen when I was the one in the suit, would you? Can you forgive me for what’s happened, or are you always going to refuse to admit me as a member of your family? I’m your son now, and I’d like to make amends.
We have to admit that we’ve made life pretty difficult for each other, haven’t we? You probably never believed that we’d stay away for long since that’s just what teenagers do when they’re vying for attention. But we never wanted your money or anything like that. All I’ve ever wanted is for you to respect me for the person that I am and to let Karen do what she wants, even if it’s a mistake. I don’t think what we’ve done has been wrong.
I don’t know that we’ll ever come home after all that’s been said and done. We’ve gone too far in all of this to actually be able to turn back and show our faces again. I understand that. I know nobody’s ever really accepted me back there, and I’ve probably done nothing to make myself look any better in their eyes. They probably all blame me for what happened with your daughter. They probably believe that I convinced her to run away, and that’s fine. If they want to think that, then that’s their business. But it was her idea. She’s the one who suggested it and the one who egged me on even when you fired me and I wasn’t sure how we’d ever have enough money to make it on the outside. You probably won’t believe me, but I didn’t coerce her into a damn thing. And we’re happy.
I’m sorry that I can’t provide a return address for you to let us know if you hate my guts or if you’re ready to burn old bridges. I wish that I could make myself begin to trust you more than I did before we left, but maybe I haven’t grown up quite enough yet. Or maybe adults are just better at holding grudges because they know how to frame their paranoia to look like a justification. Whatever it is, I don’t trust you. I don’t think you trust me either. Maybe this opening up will help me move towards that, or maybe you’ll have the bloodhounds after me for even bothering. Please understand that I have only good intentions in writing this, and I hope this won’t be the last communication we ever have. Let’s have the only blood between bind us.
“What are you doing?” she asks as she leans in the doorway of the living room. Well, living room and kitchen; if I stretch out my arm, I can reach the cup of tea that I’ve left on the counter next to the sink. For the sake of comfort, I try not to do too much stretching. It only leads to disappointment.
“Just a bit of writing,” I tell her, folding the pages over and creating a sharp crease in the middle. If she reads them, I’ll be able to tell, but this isn’t about privacy. It’s just not the right time to bring up the topic, that’s all. The last thing I want to do is talk about her father when she’s wearing that nightgown, all baggy silk that drapes across her breasts and then hangs loose around her torso and hips. It’s shapeless, but it just adds an air of mystery about what lies beneath. Plus the easy access is nothing to scoff.
I expect her to press the issue, but she doesn’t. Instead she just adjusts her stance to cross her ankles and glance up at me through those thick, dark eyelashes of hers. She’s always been able to make me weak with those hazel eyes, and since this is technically our honeymoon since I’m taking a break between jobs, I feel like it’s only right to give into her will. “Well, there’s something I wanted to ask you about, if you’re not doing anything better.”
“I was just finishing up.” And like that the notebook closes, bam, no need for her to ever glimpse the words or think about the potential life that we’ve left behind. “Should I come back to the bedroom then, or is it something that you wanted to discuss when we were vertical?”
“Your mouth works either way,” she responds, but she’s already turned to make her retreat, granting me a flash of thigh and underwear as that nightgown shakes in an artificial breeze.
I snap off the lamp in the living room and pad back to our bedroom, which seems much smaller since we’ve gotten married. There have been some gifts that have been delivered in the past few days, no doubt just brought on by others’ guilt that they didn’t support us on the day of. It doesn’t bother me that these false displays of dedication have flooded in after the fact; it’s not like we’ve had many people in our corner since the very start.
“You asked for me?” There’s no light on in the room, and I don’t know if I’m supposed to take that as a sign of something sexual or if I should just take it upon myself to turn one on. She’s always been difficult to read like that. I sit down on the edge of the mattress instead, and she doesn’t move to fix the matter. Taking that as a hint, I let my hand begin to crawl up her thigh.
“I was thinking.”
“Please, keep thinking…”
“We’ve never talked about having children.”
My fingers freeze beneath an elastic band. I would just pull my hand back, but I know I wouldn’t be able to stand the accusatory snap of the material. “Children.”
“It’s what couples do, Dustin. They have homes. They have children. There’s not really much for me to do around the house during the day, and I just thought…”
“You thought that if you had a baby around, it would help to make things less lonely.”
Even with the light off, I can see the way she closes hers eyes and squeezes them so tightly that future wrinkles make themselves known on her face. Is this a preview of what she’s going to be like in ten years? Twenty? Is this the person that I’ll be sharing my bed with when we’re that old?
“I just want a piece of you that I can keep with me always.”
“It would be a lot of money, supporting a child.”
“We could manage. We always manage, and I could always do a bit of work around town. I’m sure that I could find something. Besides, I don’t want a cat. I don’t want a dog. I want a family with you. I miss having other people in the house.” Her hand pulls mine out, tangling her fingers with mine as she holds on for dear life. “I’m not saying I need to be pregnant right this minute. I just want to know that we can try.”
Technically, we’ve never been cautious with our sex, but the occasions have been so few and far between that it’s seemed pointless. Now that we’re newlyweds, there’s a box of condoms in the top drawer and I’ve intended to get our feeble money’s worth. “You want to just…see what happens?”
“I want to try.” She gives me a smile in the darkness, but the curtains are thin enough that I can see the corner of her mouth twitch. She’s anxious about this. All her life, she’s been able to hold her own. She hasn’t really needed anyone, not really. But this is something that she can’t do on her own.
Holding my breath, I slip my hand back beneath her nightgown. “Well, then let’s try.”