“Okay, so you’re thinking a small wedding?” he asked me. “I mean, it can be as big as you want it to be,” I said. “If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be anyone there. Just me, you, and the officiant.”

“Oh wow, okay, so you’re talking about straight-up eloping,” he said.

“Aren’t you?”

“Well, I was thinking we could do it with our families and really plan something, you know? But now that you say it, eloping does sound much easier. Certainly more exciting,” he said as he smiled at me and grabbed my hand.

“Really?” I said.

“Yeah. How does one go about eloping?” he said, and when he did, his eyes were so bright, his face almost maniacally excited, I knew he was on board.

“I have no idea.” I laughed. everything felt funny to me. everything felt invigorating. I felt light and giddy, like the wind could knock me over.

“Ah!” he said, excited. “okay! let’s do it! let’s get married now. Can we do it today? Can we, like, go somewhere right now and do it?”

“Now?” I said. We hadn’t even showered yet.

“No better time than the present,” he said, grabbing me into his arms and holding me. I could tell he was smelling my hair. I just lay against his chest and let him.

“Great,” I said. “let’s do it today.”

“Okay.” He ran out of the room and grabbed a suitcase.

“What are you doing?” I asked him.

“Well, we’re going to vegas, right? Isn’t that how people elope?”

“Oh!” Honestly, that thought hadn’t even occurred to me. But he was exactly right. vegas was where people went to do those things. “okay! let’s go.”

Ben was throwing clothes into the bag and checking his watch. “If we leave in the next twenty minutes or so, we can be there by 10:00 p.m. I’m sure there are chapels open at ten.”

That’s when it hit me. this was really happening. I was about to get married.

November

“You okay?” susan asks me from the kitchen. I am addressing the envelope to Mr. Callahan.

“Actually, I am really good. you okay?”

“Mmm-hmm,” she said. “I wanted to talk to you about something actually.”

“Oh?”

“Well.” she sits down next to me at the breakfast nook table. “I closed Ben’s bank account.”

“Oh,” I say. I didn’t know she was going to do that. I don’t really know if it’s her place to do that.

“It really is none of my business,” she said. “But I did it because I knew that if you did it, or if I tried to get you to do it, you would not take the money.”

“Oh,” I say. “I don’t feel comfortable—”

“listen.” she grabs my hand. “you were his wife. He would want you to have it. What am I going to do with it? add it to the pile of money I was left from steven? It means more in your hands, and Ben would want it that way. It’s not some extravagant amount. Ben was a smart guy, but he wasn’t brilliant with money. neither was his father. actually, if I hadn’t taken out the life insurance policy on steven when we were in our twenties, I’d be in a much different place right now, but that’s beside the point. take the money, okay?”

“uh . . .”

“Elsie,” she says to me. “take the damn money. I didn’t spend forty-five minutes on the phone with the bank convincing them I had the authority to do it for my health. I did it behind your back so I could deceive you enough to get the check in your name.” she smiled at me, and I laughed.

“Okay,” I say. It doesn’t even occur to me to ask how much it is. It seems irrelevant and somehow perverse, like knowing what color underwear your dermatologist is wearing.

“By the way, while we are talking about uncomfortable and depressing things, what did the county say about your marriage certificate? did you call?”

I am ashamed. I feel like I stayed out past curfew when I knew we had church tomorrow morning. “no.”

“What is the matter with you?” she asks me, and her voice is clearly exasperated.

“I know. I need to get it.”

“Not just for you, elsie. For me too. I want to see it. He never told me about it. He never confided in me why he was doing it. I just . . . I want to see the f**king thing, you know? look it in the face and know it’s real.”

“Oh,” I say.

“Not that your marriage wasn’t real. I know you well enough to know that’s true. But I just . . . you have a kid and you daydream about him getting married. Getting married was the last big thing he did and I wasn’t there. Jesus, was I so terrible that he couldn’t tell me what he was doing? that I couldn’t have been there?”

I was surprised that this was coming up now because she seemed like it was all behind her, but now I understood that it had never been behind her. It had been right there on the surface the whole time, so large and imposing that it colored everything she saw.

“He wasn’t . . .” I say. “you weren’t terrible. It wasn’t that. It had nothing to do with that.”

“Well, what then?” she asks me.“I’m sorry that I sound upset. I’m trying not to sound . . . I just . . . I thought I knew him.”

“You did know him!” I say, and this time I am grabbing her hand. “you did know him. and he knew you and cared about you. and maybe the way he did it was misguided, but he loved you. He thought if he told you . . . he thought you couldn’t handle it. He worried that you wouldn’t feel like you two were a family anymore.”

“But he should have told me before you two got married. He should have at least called,” she says to me.

And she’s right. He should have. He knew that. But I didn’t.

May

We were two hours outside of las vegas when the cold feet set in. Ben was driving. I was in the front seat calling wedding chapels. I also called hotels to see where we could stay the night. My body was thrilled and anxious. the car could barely contain me, but I could see that Ben was starting to tense.

He pulled over into a Burger king and said he wanted a burger. I wasn’t hungry, I couldn’t possibly eat, but I got one too and let it sit in front of me.

“I’m thinking we should go to the Best little Chapel,” I told him. “they take care of everything there. and then we can stay at either Caesars palace, which has a pretty good deal on a suite, or interestingly enough, the Hooters hotel has really cheap rooms right now.”

Ben was looking at his burger, and when I stopped talking he put it down abruptly. I mean, he basically dropped it.

“I need to tell my mom,” he said. “I can’t do this without telling my mom.”

“Oh,” I said. Honestly, I hadn’t even thought about his mom, or my own parents. I had briefly thought about inviting ana to come and be a witness, but I quickly decided I didn’t want that either. I just wanted Ben and me, together. and whoever the officiant was.

“Don’t you want to invite ana or something?” he asked. I did not like the turn the conversation had taken. the turn in the conversation was about to create a turn in the trip, which had the very real consequence of a turn in this marriage.

“Well, no,” I said. “I thought we just wanted it to be the two of us.”

“I did,” he said. “Well, no, you did.” He wasn’t being combative, but I was still feeling defensive. “I just think that I was being overzealous before. I think I should tell my mom. I think if she found out afterward that she would be heartbroken.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because she wasn’t there. that her only child got married and she wasn’t there, I don’t know.”

This was what I had been afraid of. suddenly, I felt my whole life slipping away from me. I’d only been engaged for four hours, but in those four hours I saw a life for myself that I wanted. Just in the time we had been in the car, I’d thought so much about what our night would be like, what our tomorrow would be like, that I was already attached to it. I had replayed it so many times in my mind that I felt like I’d already lived it. I didn’t want to lose what I thought I already had. If Ben called his mother, we weren’t going to get back in the car and drive straight to nevada. We were going to get back in the car and drive straight to orange County.

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