“No . . .” I said.
We had just gotten into Barcelona on the Eurail from Madrid. There was a woman selling jewelry on the street. The two of us were exhausted and headed straight for our hostel. But the woman was hounding us to please take a look.
So we did.
I saw a ruby ring.
And I’d said to Jesse, “See? I don’t need anything fancy like a diamond. Just a ring like this is beautiful.”
And here it was, a ruby ring.
“You got me a ruby ring!” I said.
Jesse shook his head. “Not just a ruby ring . . .”
“This isn’t the ruby ring,” I said.
Jesse laughed. “Yes, it is! This is what I’ve been trying to tell you. This is that ring.”
I looked at it, stunned. I pulled my hand away from my face, getting a better view. “Wait, are you serious? How did you do that?”
I had visions of Jesse making international phone calls and paying exorbitant shipping fees, but the truth was much simpler.
“I snuck back and bought it when you went looking for a bathroom that night,” he said.
My eyes went wide. “You’ve had this ring for five years?”
Jesse shrugged. “I knew I was going to marry you. What was the point of waiting to buy you some diamond when I knew exactly what you wanted?”
“Oh, my God,” I said. I was blushing. “I can’t believe it. It fits perfectly. What are . . . what are the odds of that?”
“Well,” Jesse said shyly, “actually pretty high.”
I looked at him, wondering what he meant.
“I took it to a jeweler to have it resized based on another one of your rings.”
I could tell he was worried this made it less romantic. But to me, it was only more so.
“Wow,” I said. “Just . . . wow.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” he said. “Will you marry me?”
It seemed like an absurd thing to ask; the answer was so obvious. It was like asking if someone liked French fries or whether rain was wet.
Standing there on the beach, with the sand underneath our feet, the Pacific Ocean in front of us, and our home just a few miles away, I wondered how I got so lucky to be given everything I ever wanted.
“Yes,” I said as I wrapped my arms around his neck. “Absolutely. Of course. Definitely. Yes.”
We were married Memorial Day weekend at Jesse’s family’s cabin in Maine.
We had talked about a destination wedding in Prague but it wasn’t realistic. When we resigned ourselves to marrying in the United States, Jesse wanted to do it in Los Angeles.
But for some reason I didn’t want to do it anywhere but back in New England. The impulse surprised me. I had spent so much time exploring everywhere else, had put so much emphasis on getting away.
But once I had put enough distance between myself and where I grew up, I started to see its beauty. I started to see it the way outsiders do—maybe because I had become an outsider.
So I told Jesse I thought we should get married back home, during the spring, and though he did take a bit of convincing, he agreed.
And then it became obvious that the easiest place to do it was up by Jesse’s parents’ cabin.
Naturally, my parents were thrilled. In some ways, I think the night I was caught by the cops and the day I called my parents and told them we were going to get married in New England shared a lot in common.
Both times, I had done something my parents thought was wildly out of character for me, and it surprised them so much that it instantly changed things between us.
Back in high school, it had made them distrust me. I suspect it had been the trouble with the police that did it more than the drinking. And the fact that I started dating the very boy with whom I’d been detained only served to compound the problem. To them, I had gone from a precious little girl to a hooligan overnight.
And with the wedding, I went from their independent, globe-trotting daughter to a bird flying home to the nest.
My mom handled a lot of the finer details, coordinating with Jesse’s parents, reserving the spot by the lighthouse on the water just a mile away, and choosing the wedding cake when Jesse and I couldn’t make it back for the taste test. My dad helped negotiate with the inn down the street, where we’d have our reception. Marie, married to Mike just nine months before us, lent us the place settings and table linens from their wedding.
Olive flew to Los Angeles from her home in Chicago to host my bachelorette party and my bridal shower. She got rip-roaring drunk at the former and wore a shift dress and an oversized hat to the latter. She was the first to arrive the weekend of the wedding—always proving that Olive didn’t do anything half-assed.
Our friendship had been a long-distance one since we went off to college. But I never met another woman who meant to me what she did. No one else could make me laugh like she could. So my oldest friend remained my best friend, despite however many miles kept us apart, and it was for that reason that I made her my maid of honor.
There was a brief moment when my mother and father seemed unsure whether to acknowledge that Marie and I had not chosen each other for that esteemed role. But we were bridesmaids for each other and this seemed to mollify them.
As for Jesse’s side of the bridal party, those spots went to his two older brothers.
Jesse’s parents didn’t ever really care for me very much and I always knew that it was because they blamed me for the fact that he stopped swimming. Jesse had confronted them, had told them the full truth: that he hated training, that he was never going to pursue it on his own. But all they saw was the convenient chronology: I showed up and suddenly Jesse didn’t want what they believed he’d always wanted.
But once Jesse and I became engaged—and once Francine and Joe found out we were willing to have the wedding at their cabin—they opened up a bit more. Maybe they just saw the writing on the wall—Jesse was going to marry me whether they liked me or not. But I like to think that they simply started seeing me clearly. I think they found there was a lot to like about me once they started looking. And that Jesse had grown into an impressive man regardless of whether or not he followed their dream.
Aside from a few minor breakdowns over my dress and whether we should practice for our first dance, Jesse and I had a relatively painless wedding-planning experience.
As for the actual day, the truth is I don’t remember it.
I just remember glimpses.
I remember my mother pulling the dress up around me.
I remember pulling the train of it high enough as I walked to avoid getting the edges dirty.
I remember the flowers smelling more pungent than they had in the store.
I remember looking at Jesse as I walked down the open aisle—looking at the black sheen on his tux, the perfect wave of his hair—and having a sense of overwhelming peace.
I remember standing with him as we had our picture taken during the cocktail hour between the ceremony and the reception. I remember he whispered into my ear, “I want to be alone with you,” just as a flash went off on the photographer’s camera.
I remember saying, “I know, but there’s still so much . . . wedding left.”
I remember taking his hand and escaping out of sight when the photographer went to change the battery in his camera.
We rushed back to the cabin when no one was looking. It was there, alone with Jesse, that I could focus again. I could breathe easy. I felt grounded. I felt like myself for the first time all day.
“I can’t believe we just snuck out of our own wedding,” I said.
“Well . . .” Jesse put his arms around me. “It’s our wedding. We’re allowed to.”
“I’m not sure that’s how it works,” I said.
Jesse had already started unzipping my dress. It would barely budge. So he pushed the slim skirt of it up around my thighs.
We had not made it past the kitchen. Instead, I hopped up on the kitchen counter. As Jesse pushed up against me, as I pressed my body against his, it felt different from all the other times we’d done it.
It meant more.
A half hour later, just as I was coming out of the bathroom fixing my hair, Marie knocked on the door.
Everyone wanted to know where we were.