His voice comes out hoarse at first, and he clears his throat. “I do.”
I love the way his accent curls the words.
She turns to me, and he squeezes my hands in his. “Holland, do you take Calvin Aedan McLoughlin to be your husband?”
I nod. My breath is tight in my chest, and for the first time since the ceremony began, I feel a pang of loss that Jeff and Robert and the rest of my family aren’t here. “I do.”
We promise to love, honor, cherish, and protect each other—forsaking all others.
We promise to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer.
My stomach drops, and Calvin twists our fingers together—a tiny loophole on these promises.
With a shaking hand, I slide the simple band on his finger, and he returns the action on mine. At the bases of our fingers, the rings are so unblemished and innocent, gleaming proudly. I have the hysterical thought that I wouldn’t have the heart to tell these shiny, happy rings that they’re just props.
The ceremony is over with a flash of the camera as the officiant pronounces us husband and wife.
“Calvin, you may kiss your bride.”
I do a double take toward the officiant before I can help it. It never occurred to me that he would. That we would.
Calvin laughs a little at my wide eyes. “I promise to make it nice.”
It takes every bit of focus I have to remain upright. “I . . . believe you.”
A tiny cocky grin curves his mouth. “If you can’t be good, at least be good at it.” His hand comes to rest at the back of my neck; his fingers thread into my hair. “So come here,” he whispers, licking his lower lip. As he leans in, I have to tip my head back to see him. His eyes are closed, his breathing even, and there’s a moment of hesitation where I know we’re both thinking, This is it. We’re really doing this.
I bring my hand to rest on his chest and it’s that solidness that spurs me on, has me closing the last bit of distance between us. His lips are warm, smoother than I imagined, and tiny explosions travel along my body like a rush of caffeine filling my veins. It’s a perfect kiss, not too wet, not too soft, and I count to two before he pulls away, his forehead resting against mine. And just as I’m wondering whether he’ll ever kiss me again—unprompted—he whispers a sweet, nearly imperceptible “Thank you.”
A flash goes off to the sound of cheering and applause. More couples wait their turn, so we’re rushed out the door and down the hall to a small backdrop of the historic building. We pose for photos, of me and Calvin, Mark and Calvin, me and Lulu (she threatens dismemberment should I let Jeff or Robert find them), and all of us together.
“You did it,” she says into my ear, hugging me tight. Holy shit, she’s right. I got married. Me. I’ve never even considered marriage before and the word sounds so foreign I can barely wrap my brain around it. She hands me a small bag. “Your first wedding present!”
Inside and buried beneath what has to be an entire package of tissue paper is a red magnet with a white heart that reads:
Married in New York City.
So what now?
Ahead of us, Lulu and Mark are trading small talk—about jobs, New York, weather.
Calvin and I are in a weird bubble right behind them. The wind is sharp and cold, and we’re bundled up, heading down the last block to Gallaghers Steakhouse, unspeaking. He’s a nice person, I’m a nice person. As our two dates have demonstrated, we get along just fine . . . but I’m sure we’re both reeling with the awareness that we’re married.
Married. Calvin is my husband. I am his wife.
I glance down to the ring on his left hand and, in response, the metal on my finger seems to grow bitingly cold.
“You all right?” he asks.
Startling at the sound of his voice, I shift my attention to his face. His nose is pink, and adorable. Ugh. I’ve married him, and he has no idea I’ve been writing Holland/Hot Busker fic in my head for months. How is this a good idea?
I go for breezy: “Yeah, of course—it’s my wedding day.”
When he turns his face forward again, I can barely see it peeking out from the hood of his black down jacket. But I do catch the smile. “You’re quiet. I haven’t known you that long, but what I do know isn’t quiet.”
Well. He spotted that quickly.
“You’re right, I’m not.” I smile faintly back. My face is numb, it’s so cold outside. “I’m just thinking about all of this.”
“No, more of the ‘What now?’ kind of thinking. I need to tell Robert.”
“Maybe we could talk out here, away from prying ears.”
I look over at him again. We’re less than half a block away from Gallaghers now, and he’s got a point. Once we get in there, everyone will be able to hear us, and will for sure see the awkward navigation through the What now? if we leave it until the end of the meal.
I stop, bending as if adjusting the strap on my shoe. Calvin calls out to Lulu and Mark. “Yeah, keep going,” he says. “We’ll catch you inside.”
And then he crouches, meeting my eyes. “This is big, what you’ve done.”
“Yeah.” I’m caught in the intensity of his expression.