“Were you wrestling?” Zachary asks in a lisp, now missing his two front teeth, and Aaron struggles valiantly to not burst out laughing.
“Yes,” Andrew answers earnestly. “And look! Mae won a ring.”
I am engulfed by hugs from my future in-laws(!) and Aaron and the twins. Benny takes the opportunity to laugh at the telling disaster of my hair before pulling me in for a tight squeeze. Although this is the best surprise ever, it feels oddly quiet without my parents and Miles.
Slipping my phone from where I left it on the kitchen counter, I take a picture of my left hand, texting it to my mom:
I stare at the phone, waiting for the indication that she’s read the text, but my message sends slowly, the bar inching across the top.
“I hear you’re loving your new gig,” Aaron says, pulling my attention up.
“I am!” I tell him, grinning. I am now the lead graphic designer for Sled Dog Brewing, an up-and-coming microbrewery only a half mile from Red Rocks and the hottest biergarten in town. I have a team of two who run the website and social media, and I design all of the gear—T-shirts, pint glasses, hats, beanies, and all kinds of fun merchandise. The owner has been so impressed with my work he’s asked me to redesign all of their labels, which means my artwork may someday be in refrigerated cases all over the country. So far, Sled Dog has been the most fun and rewarding job I’ve ever had.
“I got a bottle of that imperial stout,” he says.
“How’d you manage that?” The imperial stout just won an international gold medal; it’s nearly impossible to find it locally, let alone in New York.
“One of the dads at school is a distributor. He hooked me up.”
“I love you.” Stretching, I kiss Aaron’s cheek. Even across the country in Manhattan, he’s staying connected to what we’re doing out west. I follow the kiss with a hand ruffling his newly natural salt-and-pepper hair. “And I love this, too.”
“Yeah.” He smiles at me. “Shortest midlife crisis on record.”
“Hopefully Lisa got some documentation of the dye job.”
“Or at least half of the dye job,” he jokes.
Lisa protests, laughing, “Hey.”
I don’t even notice Andrew had slipped outside to the car and come back in with my bag until he hands it to me. “I hate to ruin the surprise, but you might want this.”
He winces. “Your parents’ flight was delayed. They’re almost here.”
“Really?” I squeal, and quickly pull my brush out, tying my hair into a bun on top of my head.
Just in time, because my mom is already singing my name before she’s even reached the porch. “Mae! Where’s my girl?”
Behind her, Dad is carrying his bag and hers, and grinning ear to ear.
Andrew comes up behind me as Mom jogs up the steps, and she throws her arms around both of us. “I knew it!” she sings. “I knew, I knew, I knew!”
“How long have you known he was going to do this?” I ask her.
“Well, let’s see.” She looks to Andrew, calculating back, and Dad comes to give us each a hug. “Maybe two months?”
“We got the tickets in April . . .” Dad says. “So, longer than that.”
“I asked your permission in February,” Andrew says, laughing. “On our two-month anniversary.”
Lisa comes out, and she and my mom turn high-pitched and animated with their shared happiness. Ricky, Dad, and Aaron give each other a here we go look and head inside, presumably to find beer in Benny’s fancy new fridge. Benny greets my parents before heading down the steps with Kennedy, who’s holding a book about leaves. Theo wrestles with Zachary in the living room. I miss Kyle, and I miss my brother, but I bet there’s a tiny electric zap in their mood, even in the middle of their busy lives.
I catch a small tidbit of what Mom is saying: “. . . here, but before or after Christmas?” and assume that our wedding is being planned without us, that the pressure for grandchildren will start almost immediately, and that we’ll have our hands full with busybodies for the rest of our days. All of that will have to be discussed, but after the moment we exchange our vows—whenever that is—luckily, we won’t have to negotiate how to blend our families. They were blended long before we came along.
When we step out of the sun and back into the house, my eye is caught by a framed picture on the wall in the new sitting room. From far away it’s hard to tell what it is, but up close, I realize it’s an aerial photograph. Andrew puts his arm around me and then leans in, studying the photo. Finally, he reaches forward, putting the tip of his finger right in the middle. “There we are.”
He moves his finger to the side, and I see what he’s showing me. It’s the cabin, in the center of a cluster of other buildings, in the midst of a busy swirl of streets, in an even busier stretch of mountains. Beyond that, the world stretches out in both directions, and every single point on Earth’s surface is the center of someone’s universe, but this picture gets it right.
The center of my world is right where I’m standing.