I lean against him ever so slightly as we head toward the end of the aisle, our elbows brushing and my dress swirling around his legs as we walk. I have to rise up on tiptoe to whisper back, but he bends toward me to catch the words. “I can’t wait to read to our child in here as they’re growing up, the same way your mother did for you.” I smile at him, and he freezes mid-step in the middle of the aisle to look at me.

For a second, I worry I said something wrong. Brought up a painful memory he didn’t want to think about today. But instead, a huge smile splits his face and he leans in to kiss me again, to the sound of renewed whooping and cheering from our friends and family. His hands snake around my waist and he dips me backward, he kisses me so hard, until I can barely keep upright on my feet. I wrap my arms around his neck and laugh into the kiss. When we break apart, we’re both grinning at one another.

This is the happiest day of my life, I realize. As cheesy and weird and wild as that sounds, it truly is.

“I love you,” we say at the same time, both of us breathlessly happy, stunned by this reality, which still feels like a movie to me some days.

His mouth finds mine again, slower and surer this time. My lips part beneath his, letting him claim my mouth, letting him kiss me with every ounce of the heat and passion we always feel between us when we’re together. Right now, we have our reception, on the second floor of the bookstore, where one of Patricia’s other many friends offered to prepare food and drinks for us. We have hours of celebrations, toasts, speeches from our friends and families, and plenty of embarrassing family traditions of Xander’s to adhere to.

But after that, I know, he’ll carry me home to our penthouse apartment, lifting me into his arms as we cross the threshold into the building. After all of this, we’ll go home together and prove all over again, with our bodies, just how much we love one another. Just how perfectly the two of us fit together when we’re alone in the night air with each other.

And I can’t wait for that either. I can’t wait to start our life together, just the two of us.

Well. Just the three of us, I guess. When we pull apart again, as if he’s reading my mind, Xander’s hand skates around the edges of my hips to come to rest, his palm flat, against my belly, just for a second. We share a secret, sly grin.

Or maybe not so sly. Weeks later, after we’ve announced it, the wedding pictures will emerge. And right there will be a photo of the two of us, frozen in the middle of the aisle of the bookshop, Xander’s hand on my belly and our gazes locked, as our friends and family blow bubbles and cheer around us.

The three of us, together for the first time. Ready to begin our new life as a family.

16

Xander

“You can do this, Melanie. Push!” I hear the doula’s voice, followed by Devan echoing the cheer. Then my wife lets out a guttural roar, followed by a string of curses that make me grin.

Until she notices and narrows her eyes, and I flinch back to my seat on the sidelines.

It’s late at night on a Wednesday, and our baby is about to be born. When Melanie went into labor earlier, she teased me for how much more panicked I seemed than she did. I raced around the house trying to make sure we had everything we’d need. I must have checked at least a dozen times over before Andrew finally stormed up from the garage and demanded we go.

The whole car ride, I couldn’t relax. I stuck to Melanie’s side, holding her hand, letting her grip tightly whenever she needed. Because a million worries chased themselves through my mind: what if something went wrong, what if something got complicated, what if I lost her? I couldn’t lose her. I needed her. I never even knew how much until we found each other, but now… I can’t imagine a life without her.

But Melanie, as usual, proved the stronger one. She reached over to grip my hand and pinned me with a look. “Trust me,” she said, before another contraction took hold and made her growl with pain.

I held onto her hand, let her clench mine as hard as she needed to. But after that, my worries faded. Because I do trust her. More than anyone. And she can do this.

But nobody warned me how bad the nerves would be in this scenario. Just waiting on the sidelines, helpless, hoping.

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