The coldest day of January also happens to be my wedding day.
What a strange, strange sentence.
It’s one thing to say, Oh hey, I should totally marry this guy so I can save the day. It’s quite another to make it happen. Despite what I told Calvin—a few forms, an interview—Google happily informed me that this process is arduous. There are a million forms. There are a million requirements. And although there are visas specifically for this situation—where someone in the arts wants to hire a foreigner and an American citizen can’t fill the role—Calvin having lived here illegally makes that option unlikely. Which is why just yesterday we were here, getting our marriage license.
Marriage license. Holy hell, this is happening.
“I know I’m always encouraging you to get a life,” Lulu says, sliding her hand into mine, “but this is like me suggesting you eat something and you go and scarf down three dozen donuts.”
My heart is in my throat as we climb the stairs in front of City Hall, and I grip Lulu as if she’s keeping me above water. I am so grateful that she’s here: she got a great deal on simple gold bands from her shady uncle and came over early this morning to do my hair.
“You did say it would make a great story for my biography one day.”
Her dark hair—blown out and curled for the occasion—falls in a polished wave over one shoulder. “I said my biography,” she says.
Tipping her head back, she takes a final draw on her cigarette before snuffing it out. Her exhale plumes into a dense cloud in front of her, and I let go of her hand and subtly step away. Lulu quit smoking twice this year—going from Marlboros to vaping, to nothing, and back to Marlboros again. According to her, it’s not so much that she’s addicted as that auditions make her nervous, the wait after the audition makes her nervous, working in a restaurant in Manhattan and dealing with people’s shit makes her nervous.
“Just giving you a final chance to back out.” She fishes in her small bag for a box of orange Tic Tacs. “We don’t have to go in there.”
Her suggestion would be the easy choice, and certainly the smart one, but I can’t back out now. For as nervous and as terrified as I am, there’s another side that’s secretly, shamelessly giddy.
Self-consciously, I smooth the front of the pleated chiffon skirt I’m wearing as we pass through the glass doors. I’m still not sure it was the right choice. Trying too hard? Not trying hard enough? What does one wear to a fake wedding, anyway?
“You look good, kid.” Lulu pauses to spare me a glance. “What underwear are you wearing?”
“Lulu.” Seriously, how is it possible she is both the good and the bad angel on my shoulders?
“It’s an important question. Wedding night, Appalland.”
I’ve already explained to her a thousand times that it’s not going to be that kind of marriage (I mentally pour one out at the sorrow of this truth). We step just inside and I point in the direction of the Marriage Bureau, leading us down the corridor.
“I admire you for this decision, so don’t take what I’m going to say the wrong way.” Her shoes click on the tile floors. “But I can’t believe you didn’t at least tell Jeff. I plan on lying like a politician if either of your uncles ever asks me whether I was here.”
“I’ll tell them both everything as soon as it’s done. It’ll be like a little surprise party. ‘Hey, look! You get your star and oh, by the way, we’re married.’?”
She loops a sympathetic arm around my shoulder and gives me a little squeeze. “I do not envy you that conversation.”
A hint of movement catches my eye, and I see my groom at the end of the hall. His light brown hair is neatly combed and he’s wearing a blue suit with a purple gingham shirt and blue bow tie. With my blue skirt and pink silk top, we match.
“Jesus,” Lulu stage-whispers.
My pulse takes off like a rocket.
His stride is long and purposeful, and in just a few steps, he’s standing in front of me. My eyes move from Calvin’s freshly shaved jaw to the tan column of his throat. I imagine him with his guitar in the park in the summer, the dappled shade in his hair and blades of grass clinging to his shoes and the bottoms of his pants.
“You look nice,” I say, in dramatic understatement.
“You look . . .” His green eyes take a casual stroll down the length of my body. I feel the attention as surely as if it were hands moving on my skin. “Stunning.”
A throat clears at his side.
“Hello.” A man with acres of black hair and pale blue eyes steps in front of him, taking my hand. “I’m Mark. The better man.”
“Is that right?” I say with a laugh.
“Witness,” Calvin clarifies, and sidesteps him. “This is Mark Verma. A friend.”
I smile up at him. “It’s nice to meet you, friend.”
He aims a set of dark, raised brows in Calvin’s direction. “I like her.”
I can feel Lulu hovering just behind me and pull her forward. “This is my best friend, Lulu.”
“It’s nice to officially meet you,” she says to Calvin, stepping forward to take his hand.
They talk among themselves for a moment, and it’s only now, with Calvin standing just a few feet away, that I notice what he’s carrying.