A little more than a year later
There were a lot of things I liked about being back in Jamaica.
The sunlight, for one. February in Boston was fucking brutal even if you loved the place.
The fact I didn’t need to wear eighteen layers of clothes and gear just to walk outside was another. The all-around-you heat was one thing I never stopped missing about growing up in Florida and then med school in Southern California. Something about it unlocked the tension in my shoulders.
And the thing I liked the most—
“Is this the same one?” Sara stopped walking down the path and cut a glance in my direction. She motioned to the bungalow as she shifted her bag to the other shoulder. “It’s the same one, isn’t it? Did you request this?”
That short stack of pain in the ass was what I liked most. I liked being here with her again. It beat the hell out of coming here without her. “And if I did?”
She propped her sunglasses on her head. “Are we having an emotionally significant vacation? Because you did not notify me of that in advance. I did not pack for a meaningful vacation.”
I glared at her. “What did you pack for?”
“I packed for ten days of sitting on the beach.”
“Okay, you sweet little psycho. What would you have done differently if you’d known I requested the same bungalow we stayed in the last time we were here?”
She stared at the small building, her gaze running along the roofline and the thick crowd of tropical plants nestled around the bungalow. After a minute, she shook her head. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “A new swimsuit. Maybe some cuter sundresses.”
“All of your sundresses are cute. They’re very cute.”
She shifted toward me, a hand propped on her hip. “This is supposed to mean something. Isn’t it?”
I studied her for a moment, taking in her black leggings and her long, loose tank top that dipped low between her breasts as if special ordering my attention to that spot. Her hair was gathered in a bun, though it had shifted from its original position at the top of her head since departing from Boston before dawn. It was now lazing to the right like a scoop of ice cream this close to sliding off the cone.
There were times when I looked at Sara and everything that had changed in the past fifteen months carried me away like a landslide. When all I could do was blink at her and wonder how she’d cupped her little hands around my life so completely that I couldn’t remember what it was like to live without her beside me.
We’d given ourselves a few months before we started looking for a new place to live. Whether that was a result of our general refusal to do anything outside of a bedroom (or living room or kitchen or shower or against the front door or in one particularly remote on-call room) or the unspoken doubt that we’d make it that long was never discussed. That was fine. As far as I was concerned, last winter had been the wrong time to go house-hunting in Boston.
By the time we’d started looking, we realized we wanted none of the things we said we wanted. We’d visited at least a dozen condos and townhouses—hated all of them so much that we spent an hour yelling back and forth about all the things we hated—before Alex and her husband knocked on my door. Since the walls were bullshit, they’d heard most everything we’d had to say.
Instead of side-eyeing all over my ass, Riley opened his laptop and announced we’d been doing it all wrong. That was how we ended up gutting an 1890s Victorian in Cambridge with the expert guidance of Riley and his family’s firm. Right down the street from Nick and Erin too. It took ten months and cost a fucking fortune, but now we had everything we wanted, exactly the way we wanted it, and a bathroom just like the one inside this bungalow.
“It means we like this one,” I replied. “That’s all.”
“But that’s not what makes it significant,” Sara said.
Sometimes, I had to make her say it. “Then what makes it significant?”
A funny thing had happened while we were renovating the house. Aside from being dead certain we didn’t want the space and burden of a single-family home and ending up with one that we loved. Another funny thing. The contractors and tradespeople working on the house assumed Sara and I were married and…we didn’t correct them.
It didn’t seem like the sort of thing to harp on when the tile guy said, “Your wife chose this for countertops, but the material that came today looks nothing like that.”
From the contractors, it gradually spread to our new neighbors—and I was pretty sure that was how it spread to the hospital. The rheumatologist a few streets over liked to stop and talk while he was out with his dogs. He did the same thing in the elevators, the halls, the nurse’s stations.
And that was when the wedding gifts started coming in.
We’d laughed over the crystal vase like who could even believe this? and we set it aside, an issue to be resolved another day. The next day came and with it, a set of wine glasses from some company that Sara said was extremely fancy. Then martini glasses, crystal bowls, more wine glasses. Glassware like you wouldn’t believe. Vases. So many fucking vases.
Our colleagues were very, very happy for us, although slightly annoyed that we hadn’t made it easier on them by registering at a department store. We kept on laughing over it. It was funny. We teased and played with it, throwing husband and wife at each other because who could even believe this?
Our friends believed it.
I endured a hostile lunch with Cal, Nick, and Alex, all of them withholding my sandwich until I explained how it was that they were the last to know. How it was that we didn’t think they’d want to hear about it when we eloped—or whatever the hell we did without telling them.
There was nothing to tell. No eloping. Just a misunderstanding that we didn’t feel the need to correct.
I mean— Well.
I never stopped calling her my wife.
And that was fine. That was perfectly fine.
Waking up and immediately wrapping my arm around her waist and saying, “Good morning, wife,” was no different than me calling her a screech owl or any of the other ridiculous things that came out of my mouth.
That word had a way of tiptoeing over my shoulders, leaving me with the undeniable awareness of what I’d said and why I’d said it. I wasn’t because I secretly craved the legality, the ceremony, the whatever-the-fuck bullshit. Definitely not the gifted glassware. I didn’t care about any of that. It was a word that meant something. I wanted it to mean something between us.
And Sara never stopped calling me her husband, which sounded to me like a choice. She’d made a choice and I was it, and I liked that very much.
Sara motioned to the bungalow again. “It’s significant because—because we didn’t hate each other here.”
“I never hated you. I fantasized about killing you many times. Never hated you.”
With a little sigh, she said, “We figured out that we didn’t hate each other. Despite all outward appearances to the contrary. We learned how to talk to each other here. We learned how to be together. You told me you loved me here and it scared the shit out of me.”
“Yeah.” I mashed a knuckle into my brow because I remembered that a little too well. “I recall that.”
She eyed the bungalow again. “This feels heavy, husband. Why is it so heavy?”
“Because you’re remembering the parts that were heavy.” I watched as she sawed her teeth over her bottom lip. “Those aren’t the ones I remember.”
“What do you remember?”
“A back handspring.”
She shot me a wicked little grin. “Is that all?”
“Well. There were a few others.”
“Oh my god, Sara,” I muttered. “Can we go inside? I want to put this shit down and then find a lounge chair to share with you for the next six hours. And then—dammit.” I reached into my pocket for my phone as the chime sounded.
“If that’s O’Rourke again—”
“Of course it’s O’Rourke,” I replied. “Probably needs another lesson on how to use the dishwasher. It’s like the kid grew up with servants or something. Or he’s intentionally dim. Probably both. I don’t know.” Handing over the lease on my apartment to him had been convenient but it came with some unexpected consequences. Namely, teaching him how to adult. The new neuro fellow who moved into Sara’s apartment required far less assistance. I thumbed open the call. “What do you want?”
“Oh, hey. I wanted to tell you about a full arrest bike messenger versus motor vehicle case I saw this morning and—”
“No. No, you don’t. Not today. Not for another ten days.”
“We are on vacation, O’Rourke,” Sara called.
“Tell your wife I’m not familiar with that concept. Above my pay grade, at least for the next few months,” he replied. “I just thought you’d want to know I pulled metal spokes out of a femur. Several of them.”
I paused. “Seriously?”
“Will they ever bike again?”
Sara crossed her arms over her chest. Since I couldn’t let her frown at me with the chaos bun melting off her head, I gathered her around the shoulders and held her snug to my chest.
“Yep,” O’Rourke replied. “After a few more surgeries and some rehab, but yeah.”
“That’s awesome,” I said. “We’ll talk about it when I’m back.”
“Will you be buying me lunch?”
“On this singular occasion and only if you don’t call me again,” I said.
“I can agree to those terms,” he said. “Since I have you here and you’re holding me to these ultimatums, can you explain to me where to find my mail? Where…is it? In the building, that is.”
“Give me the phone.” Sara snatched the device from my hand, tapped the speakerphone icon, saying to him, “Go talk to Emmerling. She’ll help you out.”
“She’ll pawn me off on her husband. Last time she did that, I ended up on the fire escape. Which was terrifying for me, as you know. I don’t really think—”
“This is not a real problem,” Sara said. “Good bye, Bay.”
She ended the call and glanced up at me. “I love it when you’re demonic,” I said, not even trying to hide how much I adored that savage heart of hers.
“Inside,” she said, laughing. “Let’s go.”
“You don’t want to hang out for another ten minutes and beat an answer about this bungalow out of me? We’ve started. Why stop now?”
She stepped away from me, reached for the luggage sitting a few feet away. “I’ve decided I want the lounge chair option.” She shot me an evil grin. “You can tell me all about your significant bungalow intentions there.”
“Oh, that’s adorable,” I said, following her up the steps. “Thinking you’re going to get anything other than me slightly drunk and petting you all day. Just fuckin’ adorable.”
“You were slightly drunk and petting me all day at my brother’s wedding,” she called from inside the bedroom.
“Yes and it was rather effective at distracting you from that shit show, if you’ll recall,” I said, ducking into the kitchen to confirm the refrigerator was stocked as Sara requested. “Remember that cake? Damn, that was good cake. What flavor was that? It was something random, right?”
We went to Memphis for Eli’s wedding last spring. If Sara was the good girl of the family, Eli was the tatted-up bad boy—and he really leaned into that vibe. He married a firefighter named Oscar who jumped out of aircrafts and into wildfires. Between the two of them, they could produce firsthand accounts of almost every natural disaster in recent history. And here I was, thinking surgeons were adrenaline junkies. Not even close when it came to these guys. For their honeymoon, they were hiking some obscenely long trail through Central America.
That didn’t sound fun to me but it wasn’t my honeymoon.
Not that I had a point of reference. The closest thing we had to a vacation following the integration of husband and wife into our vocabulary was the time we’d spent on Cape Cod after I got snipped. Another thing that wasn’t fun, not in my opinion. But it was done. One less thing to worry about. And I’d had the benefit of a complex wound specialist tending to my balls.
Life could’ve been much worse.
She appeared in the kitchen wearing a two-piece swimsuit with a gauzy little situation tied around her waist. “It was lemon, olive oil, and rosemary. What the fuck is that? It wasn’t too lemony for me. It was a manageable amount of citrus. I still don’t understand how those things go together in a cake. Why was it so good?”
“To piss off your parents,” I replied, grabbing some drinks. “To be sure.”
“I still can’t believe they went,” she said with a groan. “I mean, I can’t believe Eli invited them. That was a fine example of playing stupid games and winning stupid prizes from it.”
“Okay, yes, all of those things,” I said. “Can you just come over here? Please? I don’t want to talk about other people anymore. I want this”—I wagged a finger at her exposed skin—”and that”—I gestured to the patio—”and nothing else.”
“Come on, then.”
With a patient smile, she watched while I changed into shorts then towed me outside and allowed me to arrange her exactly as I wanted on the lounge chair, which included untying the gauzy situation and draping it over us like a translucent blanket.
“This is significant,” she said after a minute. “You wanted to see if it would be different.”
I ran my fingers through the mist of curls at the nape of her neck. “Is it?”
She bobbed her head slowly. “Yeah. It is.”
“Tell me how it’s different.”
“I don’t feel like I’m drowning myself to stay in control of anything right now,” she said. “I noticed that when I was in the bedroom. The last time I was there, I was…I was drowning. And I realized how much energy that required of me. How much time. Then I realized how much has changed.”
“And…” I glanced down at her. “These are good changes?”
“What part of not drowning is unclear to you, husband?”
I heaved out a sigh. If only I had a stuffed pineapple to chuck at her head. “Do you want a wedding?”
“There’s nothing a wedding would give me that I don’t already have.”
I was going to have another one of those embolisms. The imaginary-but-also-real kind. “Lemon, olive oil, rosemary cake?”
“Hmm.” She nodded. “We could probably just throw a little party and order a cake. Like, a housewarming party or something. We can do that, now that we have furniture. In most of the rooms.”
“‘Throw a little party?'” I echoed. “In our house? A party you can’t leave early because you live there? Did you really just say that?”
“I did!” She laughed, her smile pressed into my chest. “Do you want a wedding?”
“I want to be married to you,” I said. “But I don’t need a ceremony or a document for that. I don’t need witnesses.” I pressed a kiss to her hair. “I have everything I need.”
Sara tipped her head back, smiled at me. “Me too.”