I feel the anticipation in the room as I stand in front of the zipped garment bag hanging from my closet door. Two very excited girls are sitting on the end of my bed, knees bouncing with their chins in their palms. When I turn around, it’s most definitely for dramatic effect. Placing a hand on my hip, I cock my head to the side and furrow my brow in contemplation.
“Maybe I should make you wait.”
“I swear to everything that you love,” Simone begins, clenching her fists with her eyes closed, head tilted toward the ceiling. “If you don’t let me see that damn dress, I will lose my mind.”
Laughter bubbles in my chest, erupting before I can stop it. As soon as I picked my wedding dress up from the tailor, I sent a picture of the zipped black bag to Simone only to have a flurry of emojis sent back in rapid fire texts. One after the other. My phone was a constant buzz on the passenger seat. “But, wouldn’t it be more special if you saw it on my actual wedding day? With my hair done? My makeup airbrushed on?”
“Mom,” Nova whines, throwing herself back on the bed with an exaggerated huff. “No. No one wants to wait. I want to see it now.”
Simone laughs, an airy sound that’s always made me smile. She glances back at Nova before her eyes fall on me again. “You did this to yourself when you decided to shop for your dress online. You totally bypassed the fun part of getting married. Dress shopping.”
“I’ve done the whole dress shopping thing before,” I wave off, turning my attention back to my closet. “I knew what I wanted this time, and I didn’t want you to see it until you could see it on me.”
“Which we can do right now,” Simone encourages from behind me. I can hear the impatience in her voice. I glance over at the clock on my bedside table, making sure I still have time before Jack gets home.
When I whip my head back around to them, I lift my hand to show them I mean business. “Okay. Fine. But, you have to close your eyes until I get the dress on my body.”
I see Simone’s hesitation before she speaks. “You won’t need help with a zipper? Or lacing up the back? Is this a spandex, slide-on suit? I’m not judging. Just curious.”
“Fine.” I repeat, hands on my hips again. “You keep your eyes closed until directed by me to open them. Promise?”
“Promise!” Simone chirps, practically a squeal of excitement.
I focus my attention on my daughter, raising an eyebrow at her silence. “Nova…”
“Ugh,” she groans, sitting back up now. “I promise. Just hurry. I’m dying here.”
I nod once. “Okay. Eyes closed.”
My two favorite girls place their hands over their eyes as I unzip the bag holding the prettiest dress I think I’ve ever seen.
I had the big wedding once before—the flowing white gown, the traditional music, the lavish party. And, I loved it. It holds a special place in my heart. I can still see Aaron’s smile when I walked down the aisle, and he first saw me in my dress. I feel a warm glow in my chest when I see purple lilies because they filled my bouquet. I tear up every time I hear the song I first danced to as Mrs. Davis. And, I have our wedding video saved to a DVD in our linen closet. Nothing will erase that day.
This wedding is just … different. Jack completes every piece of me that felt empty before I knew him. My skin aches for his touch. My eyes search for him in every room. My heart beats for him in a way it hasn’t before.
I could have lived the rest of my life with just Nova and me against the world. She is the moon and the stars of my universe. But to find someone who loves her as much as they love me? Like she was their own? Who can fix any break and soothe any pain? That is luck. And everyday I wake up wondering how I got so lucky.
I also wake up wondering when I became so nauseating.
The dress is easy to slide over my hips after the alterations and my stomach flips when I glance at myself in the mirror. There is nothing special about my hair and makeup—my hair still holding a curl but my makeup partially worn off. However, it at least gives me a small taste of what I’ll look like in three weeks. It’s silver, form-fitting, long-sleeved, and off-the-shoulders with a slit up to my thigh. I feel like Elsa.
Wrangling the zipper is a hassle, especially with my hair getting in the way, but I manage to pull it up to the top without any assistance. Smoothing out the lines, my face turns pink when I get a good look at myself.
I sincerely cannot wait.
“Can we look now?” Nova’s voice is muffled by her palms, but I can still hear the impatience. “Please?”
“Okay,” I turn to face them, kicking the fabric out from under my feet so it flows like it’s supposed to. “Look.”
The collective gasps make my heart squeeze, and I feel the lump in my throat grow. Such a sap, I swear.
“Mom!” Nova exhales, standing up to come closer. Her hands are clasped under her chin as if she’s afraid to touch it. “It’s amazing. You look incredible.”
Simone nods enthusiastically, standing as well with her bottom lip between her teeth and her smile a little watery. “You make one stunning bride. It’s a gift you have, I swear.”
“I can now tell you,” I begin, grinning at both of them as I tug the sleeves a little. “I didn’t order it online. I got it from Mom’s store. So, she technically got to see what it looked like before anyone else.”
“Traitor,” Nova growls, narrowing her eyes as she looks up at me under her thick black lashes. “I can’t believe Grams saw it before me.”
“You are the first to see it on me in its finished form,” I offer, hoping it’s a decent consolation prize. Simone and Nova both step back as I take a few steps in the dress, trying to get a feel for how comfortable or uncomfortable I’ll be on the night of the wedding. It moves well. I can breathe in it.
They’re both ogling it with admiration when the bedroom door opens, startling all three of us.
“Oh hey, bab—” Jack stops, then, his eyes scanning the room, briefly over Simone and Nova before falling back on me. My lungs seize, but I am frozen in place. His face changes. His features soften, and he relaxes against the bedroom door as a whoosh of air escapes his lips. “Hi.”
I’m momentarily awestruck by the look on his face. His black scrubs fit his broad shoulders perfectly. His hair is slightly askew like it usually is after work. His beard is neatly trimmed from his recent visit to my salon. He’s as stunning as ever. My body relaxes, and I smile back. “Hi.”
“Liza,” he says in a sigh, shaking his head as his eyes rake over me. I’m still in a trance. Seriously, when someone as beautiful as Jack Peters looks at you like you’re the only person on the planet, you lose all sense of being. “You’re stunning.”
My attention snaps back into focus. I’m now panicking. I grab the nearest thing, which is a throw pillow on the foot stool at the end of our bed, and cover my torso with it, crouching down as if he has not already seen the full view.
“Wait. No. Jack! This is bad luck!” I squeal despite the obvious adoration in his eyes. I’m equal parts horrified and flattered. “You can’t see me, yet!”
He has the audacity to stay in place. He doesn’t shield his eyes. He doesn’t make a move to leave. The corner of his mouth twitches slightly before a smile spreads across his lips. “I already saw you.”
Nova laughs next to me and shrugs her shoulders. “He’s right, Mom.”
“It’s bad luck,” I repeat, using my free arm to shoo him out of the room. “Dammit, Jack.”
“Eliza,” Jack walks over, that stupid, adorable smile still spread across his face. “Remember how we met? There was a wedding involved. It was mine,” he clarifies, as if I could forget. But, I hear the teasing in his tone. “And, I didn’t see her dress before. Look how that turned out.”
Simone sputtered out a laugh, and I can’t help but laugh along, still hunched over with the pillow firmly clutched to my body. “That’s fair.”
“There is no bad luck with us,” he says, gently, ducking his head to catch my eyes. “I’d walk under a ladder, let a black cat cross my path, break a mirror, and never knock on a piece of wood again, and I would still be confident that as long as I have you and Nova, I won’t have bad luck.”
If it were physically possible, I could swear I feel my heart swelling in my chest. I catch his eyes and slowly stand up, but the pillow stays firmly pressed against my abdomen. “I hope you put that in your vows.”
“That? Oh please,” Jack waves his hand. “My vows are ten times better than that.” He’s grinning as he speaks and tugs the pillow from my arms. Stepping back, he gives me a once over before looking to his right at Simone and Nova. “Do you both have your dresses?”
“At the house.” Simone responds at the same time Nova replies: “Yep!”
Jack nods once and looks back at me, his grin no longer playful, but still there—a whisper of a smile. I watch his movements. He tosses the pillow back on the bed, steps closer, and takes my left hand in his. His thumb brushes over my ring, his eyes fixated on it, and then he looks up. He’s never looked more calm—more at ease. “Marry me today,” he says, barely above a whisper.
My first instinct is to laugh. It comes out in a surprised cough. I gasp for air and press my hand to my chest to calm the coughing fit that followed closely after the failed incredulous snort. “What?”
“Marry me today. I don’t want to wait another three weeks. Hell, I don’t want to wait another second. Marry me today.” He’s so sincere it physically hurts. If it weren’t for the audience, I would have thrown myself at him. My natural response is to call him crazy, push him out of the room, and go back to fawning over my gown in the mirror. But, I can’t. I can’t?
He looks vulnerable. Like this isn’t just some insane, off-hand declaration of love. He’s serious. I shake my head, running my hand through my hair. My hair. I can’t get married with my hair like this.
Oh God. I can. I can because I have a feeling I am about to.
So many refusals and reasons are ready. They’re right there, at the tip of my tongue. But instead: “Are you serious?”
I know he is.
“I have never been more serious. We have the marriage license. If I could, I’d find a way to marry you right here in this bedroom.” Jack glances over at Simone and tilts his head. “You don’t happen to be ordained, do you?”
“Unfortunately, no,” she replies, without hesitation, her expression wide with surprise. “And, I have never been more disappointed in that fact than I am right now.”
He waves it off with a good natured chuckle. “No. It’s fine. We’ll figure it out.” He looks back at me. “Right?”
There’s no other response in me but to laugh again. It’s weaker now. This is absurd. Absurd and yet possibly exactly right. “But, the wedding,” I attempt. “We made deposits.”
“We can still have a big party. We can put on the whole show,” Jack reasons, taking my other hand. “Liza, I am a pretty simple guy. I don’t need a lot to be happy. I just need you and Nova and the life we’ve built together. Everything else is just a bonus prize.”
“I’ve been called worse,” Simone pipes in, and I chuckle more even though my heart is thudding wildly in my throat.
My fingers squeeze his. I am but a puddle of mush. How can he consistently get even more swoony? Isn’t the starry-eyed love-rush supposed to fade at some point? “What about your dads? David is supposed to marry us.”
“All I have to do is call them. We can go right now. Simone and Nova can put on their dresses, and we can drive out to the farm.” It’s like he’s had this planned, but I know he hasn’t. Has he? No. He’s still in his scrubs for heaven’s sake. “But,” he stops, shaking his head. “No. You’re parents. We can’t do it without your mom.”
I find myself shaking my head. What am I doing? “I promise you, Melonie Fitzgerald only cares about the party.” This is one hundred percent true. “And Nova was going to give me away anyway.”
“Wait.” He grins, stepping close to me again. “Eliza Davis, is that a yes?”
“Are you re-proposing?” I snort. My bones are rattling at the force of my heartbeat.
Jack’s palm is the right kind of rough against my cheek, and I instinctively lean into it. He kisses me gently, holding back due to our audience. I applaud his restraint. “If that’s what it takes,” he whispers, his breath warm on my lips.
I cannot believe I am agreeing to this. My fingers curl into his strawberry blonde hair at the nape of his neck and I kiss him once more. “You’re insane.” Another peck. “I love you.”
My attention falls on Nova. Before Jack asked me to marry him, the only person whose permission he got was Nova’s. He took her to dinner, like he did often anyway, and told her how much he loved me and how much he loved her. He told her he never wanted to take Aaron’s place, but he wanted to be someone she looked at as a father figure. When Nova reported back to me with this information, after Jack proposed, I had never been so touched.
We were in her treehouse, staring at the ring Jack gave me—the one that belonged to David’s mother—when Nova told me the story. Then, as if my heart had any more room to expand, she said: “I already see Jack as another dad.”
I kept that to myself. Whenever she’s ready to tell Jack, I’ll let her. It’s way more special coming from her. “Well, kid?” I ask her, shrugging a shoulder. “What do you think?”
“Please!” Nova shrieks, bouncing up and down. “Let’s go get married!”
“You heard the boss,” I say, facing Jack again. He’s watching me so intently. I can feel the quick beats of his nervous heart against my own chest. “Let’s go get married.”
Celebratory noises escape Simone and Nova. They immediately scurry out of the bedroom to get ready, leaving me alone with my fiancé. I shake my head in disbelief, tightening my arms around him. “You’re unbelievable,” I whisper, closing the gap between us.
“I love you, too,” he mutters, pressing his lips against mine. Every single promise we’ve made; every laugh we’ve shared; every smile we’ve given made its way into this kiss. It’s exhilarating. My head is spinning from the impact of it—like a tornado of affection. The intensity of loving Jack has never eased. It’s full force, twenty-four-seven.
And it’s mine.