The amount Seymour was messing with her dress, you’d think it was broke. He kept arranging a piece here and then stepping back to observe, then moving a piece there. Susan was adjusting her hair and making sure the little tiara didn’t look too trashy and that the veil wasn’t getting stuck to anything. Her mom was taking pictures every time Harriet so much as blinked. Her dad was just sitting in the corner of the large tent saying nothing at all.
For all the worrying she had done yesterday—and over the past year—she wasn’t anywhere as nervous as she’d thought she’d be. Actually, she was feeling a bit hungry. It probably came from not having eaten anything last night and only having a bite that morning. All in all, her first surgery was more nerve wracking than her wedding. She couldn’t tell if that was good or not, not having had another wedding to compare it to.
“Harriet.” A deep voice said from the divider in the middle of the tent where the bride’s and groom’s parties were kept separate and secret. Harriet raised her brows as a body pressed up against the thick canvas and the outline of a face appeared, breathing heavily. She recognized it as Em immediately. “I am your father.”
“No peeking at the bride!” Aunt Phyl screeched and smacked at the face with a little bag of pink and yellow M&M’s that they were handing out as favors.
“You can’t even see through it.” Debbie said from one of the chairs in the corner near Harriet’s father. She was fanning herself with some slip of paper she’d found even though it wasn’t hot out. Maybe it had something to do with the large bump under her pink bride’s maid dress.
“Where’s Vernie with the shoes?” Aunt Phyl fretted.
“Well, you can’t expect her to be quick on those scrawny legs.” Harriet’s mom commented.
Harriet groaned. “How did I forget the shoes?”
“A bride never forgets anything.” Sofia, Andrew’s cousin and Harriet’s last bride’s maid, told her. “Everyone else forgot it.”
From the other side of the tent, there was a loud pop followed by a round of laughter.
“Listen to them,” Debbie said, still fanning themselves. “Champaign before the wedding. What wouldn’t I do for a glass right now?”
“You act like you’re the one getting married.” Harriet said.
“Been there done that, I can’t wait to pop this lady out and then we can all move on with our lives and I can take a few shots.”
“I thought you said you were done drinking?”
Debbie waved her make-shift fan in the air, dismissing her. “I’m just wining. Those days are over for me. It’s diapers and cooking dinner for my husband now.”
“What a life.” Susan said. Susan who had cooked for Harriet’s family for twenty years and never complained. Harriet felt a swell of gratitude grow in her chest and she gestured for Susan to come closer.
“Thank you Susan.” Harriet said and squeezed her into a hug once before Seymour began to squawk.
There was a brief conversation outside the tent as Martin, who was keeping guard of the bride’s side entrance. They all glanced at the flap as Veronica came in, huffing gently with a box in her hands. She brought them up to her mom who took them happily. She was wearing a pretty blush colored dress that Harriet immediately loved. Veronica hadn’t really changed much over the years. She was still very small in both stature and presence, like a little bird. Harriet always wondered if she had been too overpowering for Vernie and that’s what had driven them apart. Harriet was always in the lime light, she knew that, even if it was unintentional. And Veronica who was so small and quiet…they had just faded apart.
But she was here now. Harriet didn’t know what compelled her to speak to her old friend when she hadn’t in years, but she did now. “It’s just like when we were kids, huh?”
Vernie’s lips flicked into a little smile and she raised her eyes once from where they were always fixed on the ground and said, “Yeah. You look beautiful.”
Harriet’s chest warmed. “Thank you. You do too. I love your dress.”
Vernie’s grey eyes found the floor again. “Andrew had to fix it for me. It’s been years since I’ve been to something like this.”
Harriet looked at her as she gripped her mom’s hand to keep her balance as Aunt Phyl helped her slip on her white jeweled sandals. They had just enough heel to keep them fancy, but not enough to she would be tripping in the sand. “He did?”
She nodded. “The other night when I helped him file his recipes and expenses.”
“Oh.” Harriet said simply. Andrew hadn’t said anything about that. “That’s nice.”
And then the conversation died away quietly, just as their bond had many years ago.
“Here you go.” Aunt Phyl said and raised a little blue and silver butterfly hair comb.
Harriet reached out to touch a wing gently. “It’s beautiful. But why—”
“Your grandmother and I haven’t really spoken in years.” Her mom answered for her. “She’s here today, but…I didn’t have anything blue to pass down to you.”
“And this is old too,” Aunt Phyl said. “Like me.”
Harriet laughed away the tears that had gathered in her eyes and turned around so Susan could put it in her hair. Harriet twisted to look at it in the mirror. It was a wonder that it didn’t clash with the tiny tiara, but it didn’t. It looked beautiful. She turned back around. “Thank you Aunt Phyl.”
“I should get going.” Vernie said, so quietly they almost missed it. “Don’t—I don’t know—trip or anything.”
“I’ll try.” Harriet said and watched the little bird slip out the tent.
“Yo.” Em’s voice came through the panel again. “Andrew wants to know if all’s a-go.”
“Uh,” Harriet looked around, trying to see if anyone was missing anything. “Almost.”
“Mm-kay.” Em said and his shadow disappeared.
Harriet swallowed hard. Okay, now she was feeling a bit nervous. She jumped when someone touched her elbow. Her dad smiled at her softly and said, “You look beautiful.”
“Thanks daddy.” She hugged him tight. He smelled like disinfectant and coffee, just like always. To some, that combination might not have been very nice, but to her it just smelled like her dad.
“Are you ready to get this show on the road?” He asked.
Harriet looked around again. “I guess. I mean, yes.”
“Alright everybody, in position.” Aunt Phyl said and clapped her hands.
Debbie groaned and rose from the chair and Sofia rounded up Little Olive and Andrew’s other young cousin Caren and Ben who had been blowing bubbles in the corner for the last half hour. At least her flower girls and ring bearer had found something to do while the adults were boring. Right now, Harriet sort of wished that she was the one blowing bubbles and that someone else could just do this wedding thing for her. Yes, marriage by proxy, that sounded nice.
“Em.” Aunt Phyl slapped the divider. “Let’s do this.”
“Okay, everyone, let’s do this thing. Grab your—no Thomas…” The voices faded as Em walked away from the flap.
“Do I want to know what they’re grabbing?” Harriet asked rhetorically.
“Okay mama.” Harriet said. “You first.”
Her mom dabbed a tear away awkwardly with a handkerchief. “God, I’m sweating like a pig.”
The music started up and Harriet’s mom did a couple little jumps like she was preparing for a race. When the right note hit, Aunt Phyl opened up the flap just a bit and her mom disappeared. Aunt Phyl and Susan continued peeking out, subtly as they could.
“Alright,” Susan relayed to them. “She’s walking, she’s walking, she’s walking, she’s—”
“Walking?” Debbie asked sarcastically, but no one responded.
“Okay, she’s there. Now Quinn is going. Now Markos—” Another cousin. “What are they carrying?”
“Jacob’s going.” Aunt Phyl continued. “And Em. Oh god.”
Harriet’s hear leaped into her throat. “What?”
Aunt Phyl and Susan were cackling. “He’s strutting like a peacock.”
Harriet could hear the whistles and cat-calls outside as Em made his way down the sandy aisle.
“Now he’s walking backward, doing a shuffle or something. What is he carrying? Alright, he’s up there now.”
Susan took over now. “Now Andrew and his parents. Oh! He looks so handsome!”
“Hey,” Harriet said, trying to force some humor into her anxiety ridden body. “He’s my husband.”
“Not yet, he’s not.” Susan said and continued watching. “Okay, he’s there, his mom gave him a kiss on the cheek. They’re sitting down now. Em said something and Andrew is laughing. Quinn’s picking at his eyebrows.”
“He’s just nervous.” Harriet knew the feeling.
“Okay, now George is going out. He’s got something too.” Aunt Phyl said. Her husband had become a certified officiant for the occasion. “I knew that tux would make his bottom look good. Okay, ladies. Sofia, you first.”
And just like that, her friends filed out of the tent. When Debbie slipped out of the tent, Aunt Phyl turned around and said. “Bohemian Rhapsody. Works every time.” And then she left.
“Okay, kids.” She said to Ben and Caren and Little Olive. “Get ready. Ben, you go first…nnnnow.”
Ben walked through the flap that Martin was holding open for him. He looked very respectable in his little suit and pink tie and gold pillow. Next went the girls in pink dresses made from the same flowing material as Harriet’s dress. They carried white wicker baskets filled with pink flowers. She hoped they wouldn’t try to eat them as she apparently had at Aunt Phyl’s wedding.
“Hattie?” Martin said softly from the opening of the tent. “You got this.”
“You do so totally got this.” Her dad echoed and Harriet laughed, despite the lump in her throat.
The music changed and Harriet could hear the shuffling of dresses as people rose, waiting for the bride to emerge. “Ok. Ok, let’s go.”
Andrew hoped he was right in trusting Veronica’s advice. Everyone had laughed a little at the sight of the groomsmen and George carrying stuffed animals, but Andrew had a good feeling about it. Quinn had Peanut the beagle and Markos had a Leo the lion and Jacob had Edgar the one-eared elephant and George had the bear with a Jewish tallit. And lastly, Em held onto Harriet’s pink lady bug that she still slept with every night.
Veronica had told him how at their play weddings, Harriet would always choose them to be the groomsmen and her Jewish bear would stand as the officiate. Veronica even managed to track down a couple pictures of the old weddings for reference. Little Harriet had been beautiful even back then in her mom’s too-big clothes and jewelry with make-up splathered all over her face.
The music picked up as Aunt Phyl came out from the tent and turned out onto the aisle. She wore a lovely pink dress, though one more fitting of someone her age who was already married with a grown child. As she came closer, she raised her brows at the animals all the groomsmen were carrying. Andrew saw her eyes light up and soften as the memory surfaced from years and years ago. He hoped Harriet would remember too.
Andrew shifted on his feet, feeling impatient and nervous and happy and scared and a lot of other things he didn’t have the words for. It was a relatively small wedding, around one hundred people, maybe a little less. Andrew hadn’t thought they’d show up, but his mom’s brother and sister had both showed up and his dad’s five siblings, all of them bringing their children and even grandchildren along. He didn’t know most of them. Markos and Sofia and the couple others that lived close by he knew, but the others…a lot didn’t even live in So-Cal anymore. Harriet’s uncle and her cousins had come too, nearly all of them dark haired, grey eyed men with some girls here and there and the one red-head of the family. Then of course, there were old friends of both families and a teacher or two of Harriet’s whom she’d been close with, and Francesca, and even some people neither he nor Harriet knew, but had somehow wound up on the guest list anyway.
When the music shifted and Andrew watched the sea of people rise up and turn toward the tent, he felt his heart stop and start and stop and start again. There could have been a million thoughts running through his head or even none at all, but either way he didn’t notice. Ben walked down the aisle with the pillow of rings and a spot of something on his white collar. They were the real rings, though Harriet had been very nervous about him losing them in the sand even though they were tied to the pillow. Harriet had gotten Andrew a simple golden band, just like he’d asked. He’d tried on some other sorts with more decoration or engravings, but they were uncomfortable. Harriet was sad she didn’t get to splurge on his ring as he had done for her, but she’d accepted his reasoning. Harriet’s ring was just the ring he’d gotten her in London. He’d thought about getting another part to attach to that ring, but in the end they’d both decided it was beautiful as it was.
That damn kid had better not drop them.
Then Little Olive (who was outgrowing the honorific of Little with every passing year) and Caren with their baskets and dresses made from pink chiffon. Caren dropped one petal at a time, while Little Olive dropped handfuls and looked very serious the whole time, like she was walking onto a battle field and not down the aisle and then off to sit in her mother’s lap. People awwwd them both anyway.
Andrew held his breath unintentionally at the murmurs of appreciation which could only mean the bride was on her way. And when she stepped out onto the main aisle…Andrew could only stare.
She had on a two-tiered white dress made of chiffon and lace and beading and was just short enough that he could see white jeweled sandals underneath. She had on a long two-tiered veil that matched the dress with a little tiara and a blue and silver butter fly clip. Her hair was done up prettily and her make-up was done so perfectly that—well, actually he could never tell when she had make-up on; she always looked perfect.
“I’ll say it again man.” Em whispered to him, holding onto both Harriet’s lady bug and the rings. He couldn’t even recall Ben handing them over. “You’re a lucky *******.”
Andrew vaguely felt himself nodding, but couldn’t feel it. She was so perfect and… then she was up there and Dr. Thatcher was handing her hand to Andrew. He took it. It was cool and soft and reassuring, just like always. She looked up at him with those big eyes and he almost melted. He was marrying her. Now. Right now.
She handed her pink bouquet to her Aunt Phyl and then turned back toward Andrew, grabbing his hands. It was then she looked past him and noticed what Andrew’s friends were holding. She looked at the bear George was holding and then at the groomsmen again, then at Andrew.
“How did you…” Her voice trailed off as she looked to the crowd. Andrew felt when her eyes fell on Veronica. The girls smiled at each other and Harriet’s eyes began to fill with tears.
No. He thought distantly. If you start, I will too.
George said something and everyone sat down, but Andrew didn’t really even notice. He was vaguely aware of George and Harriet talking, but really he was lost in her eyes which were glancing between his eyes and their held hands between them. Had it really only been five years ago that they’d met on this beach? That he’d run after the map to the place where she’d had that stupid interview she didn’t get even though she deserved it more than any other person had? So many things had happened to them in the past five years, enough for a life-time.
They’d had fights and earthquakes and riots and a doctor giving Andrew the death-glare as he stood on his porch. They’d played on the rocks and pet squirrels and been bitten by squirrels. They’d gone go-carting and cliff diving and camping and hiking and swimming with dolphins and rock climbing and horse riding and stayed at home and watched movies and had lots of $ex. They’d conceived a baby and lost it before Harriet even knew she was carrying. And then they’d conceived once more and had named and loved their son, and then they’d lost him and even now they could still feel the pain of it. They’d cried over how they would never get to be parents—how it was best if they didn’t try again. They’d fallen apart and come back together what seemed like a million times now. They’d been all over Europe and discovered that for all that, sitting at home together doing nothing was as nice as anything. They had found out someone they both loved deeply had something wrong with him and had watched him try to kill himself twice now. They dealt with the pain of loving someone who they couldn’t help.
But they loved each other. They’d dealt with a lot of $hit over the past five years, but here they were, on the beaches where they’d met, holding hands as a hundred people watched them. Here they were standing here and…someone was trying to talk to him.
Andrew blinked. “What?”
Harriet grinned and squeezed his hands as a hundred people began to chuckle. On any other day he would have felt faint at even the mere idea of standing in front of ten people, but today he barely even knew they were there.
“Vows Andrew.” Harriet said softly. “The vows.”
“Oh, uh…” Andrew began to pat his suit. Where were his vows?
“I got you, man.” Em said quietly and reached into his own inner pocket and pulled out a paper.
Andrew took it. It wasn’t his paper or his sloppy hand writing, but they were his words. Childish as Em was, every once in a while he came out the hero of the day. Em knew Andrew would forget them and wrote it down himself. Andrew would thank him later.
Harriet’s eyes were shining with mirth when he turned back to her. Who was supposed to go first? He couldn’t remember. From the look Harriet was giving him, it was probably supposed to be Andrew. He looked down at Em’s sloppy scrawl and up at Harriet who was so beautiful and tried to ignore all the eyes he suddenly realized were on him.
“So, um,” He began, already regretting not eloping. “I’ve said before that I’ve never really been good at speeches, but…I know that whenever you’re with me I suddenly get a lot better at them. And at most things actually. Because you make me into a better person. Even though it’s only been a few years, we’ve grown up a lot together and faced so much together, holding hands as we are now. I don’t really have a lot of money to give you or vast wisdom or anything like that. So I guess the only promise I can make here today is to love you. Even when things get bad and scary and even when we fight, know that I love you and I promise to love you for the rest of my life—for forever and a day.”
Harriet was crying by the time he was done. Even though what he said wasn’t what he wrote down word for word, what he’d said with all the eyes staring down at him, with his chest filled with anxiety, was truer than what he’d written down in the calmness of his bedroom. The fear had somehow made his words more truthful.
Harriet looked down at her own cards and began to laugh. “Either we think too much alike or Em told you what I wrote.” She looked down at her paper and then folded it up and handed it back to Aunt Phyl. “I have to change it now.”
“Go for it.” Andrew said. The people he refused to look at were laughing softly, but he forced himself to not care.
“Alright,” Harriet said and took a deep breath. “I promise to never touch you with my feet if I can help it because I know you hate feet. I promise to model anything and everything you need me to. I promise to buy you a new can when I use your shaving cream on my legs. I promise I won’t tell anyone that thing that you and Em did when you were Freshmen—”
“Dude!” Em cried. “You told her?”
Andrew looked at him. “Wh—she’s my wife!”
People weren’t even trying not to laugh anymore. Half of them were near rolling on the beach.
Harriet squeezes his hands hard. “And I promise to share you with Em sometimes and maybe even your family on occasion. And mostly I promise to love you too.”
Andrew smiled, hoping he could get all of that in writing, especially the feet thing.
George spoke some more words of the distant cry of seagulls and then it was over.
“You may kiss the—”
Andrew grabbed either side of Harriet’s face and kissed her before George could finish the sentence. People cheered and Em made catcalls and Harriet laughed through the kiss.
When they finally pulled back for air, Andrew smiled so wide he thought his face might break.
“Come on doctor,” He said. “Let’s go do married stuff.”