“Have you ever been to Hawaii?” I ask, the memory of the rude reporter’s tropical shirt sparking the idea.
“Believe it or not, I haven’t.”
“Then can we go there? I know it’s not another country, but we can experience something new together for the first time.”
He smiles. “Yes. We can go to Hawaii. Exploring somewhere with you for the first time is perfect for our honeymoon.”
“Then I’m ready. Let’s go do this interview.”
• • •
Four hours later, Chris and I have parked the 911 beside the winery owned by his godparents and, hand-in-hand once more, we start up the concrete steps leading to the magnificent ivy-covered, stone-faced chateau with square cutouts at the top. I have a moment of feeling swept back in time, and hoping that dragons and men in kilts are right around some magical corner. We’ve made it halfway to the huge oval-topped wooden door when it opens and Katie and Mike appear, both looking quite twenty-first century. Katie is her normal elegant self with her long gray hair sleek and shiny, her dark blue pantsuit conservative. And Mike is quite distinguished, but it’s more his carriage than his Dockers and button-down.
Greetings of joy explode from the always-excitable Katie, and Chris and I are thoroughly hugged by both of them. I’m struck by how comfortable and right it feels. I’ve come to look at these two people as our family, and I realize now that I never felt such warmth with my own, not even from my mother. I adored her. I loved her, but there was always her need to please my father at all costs that made us dysfunctional.
“I have wine and cheese and an assortment of lunch meat and bread ready. You two must be hungry.” Katie points at Chris. “Don’t say you prefer beer. I need you to sample wine for the wedding.” She laces her arm through his and mine. “Now come. I’ve missed you both.”
Mike winks at me, opening the door, his thick gray hair fluttering in the wind. We step inside the chilled foyer with its high ceilings and concrete walls, and the same twenty-something pretty blonde we met last time greets us. “Can I take your coats?” she asks.
“We’ll keep them,” Chris replies. “We’ll want to walk out back and look at the wedding location.”
“Oh, good idea,” I say, and as we glance at the woman to thank her, it’s pretty obvious she’s admiring Chris, a fact that reddens her cheeks. I’m not surprised; he has that effect on women. And I know for a fact that he’s oblivious to nothing around him, her reaction included.
He’s quick to wrap his arm around me, a silent promise that her attention means nothing to him, but I don’t need that to feel comfortable or safe. I don’t even compare myself to her—feeling like the cute brunette while she’s the pretty blonde—as I had the last time I was here. And it’s not just because Chris and I have evolved since then. I’ve become stronger and more comfortable in my own skin, and it’s a realization I make with pride.
We follow Katie and Mike into the huge rectangular room we’d dined in my first night here, the centerpiece of which is a long wooden table spanning five feet. The table is set for four, with trays of cheese, meat, and bread in the center.
Chris and I shrug out of our jackets and claim one side of the table, while Mike and Katie perch opposite.
“I assume you two are staying the night?” Katie asks.
“Yes,” Chris confirms. “I never let go of the rental house we were in before Ava escaped.”
“But we’re headed back tomorrow to be sure the press doesn’t find us here,” I add. “We’d like to keep it peaceful for our wedding.”
A waiter fills our glasses with a wine selection as Mike asks, “Does that mean leaving the city again?”
I pick up my glass and smell the wine, as if I actually know what I’m doing with this tasting stuff.
“No,” Chris says. “We’re staying. We’re going to let them have at us and get it out of their system before we return here next month.”
“What do you think?” Katie asks, giving me an eager look.
“I think that if I drink before I eat something, I’ll end up sick,” I say, remembering the mistake the last time I was here that left me hanging over a toilet. “Perhaps I should stick to tea or water.”
Chris squeezes my leg, and I know he’s remembering the fight we’d had that night, too. It was emotional, but in many ways, it was growth for us. “That sounds like a good plan. We’ve barely eaten today.”
“Of course,” Katie agrees, alerting the waiter. “Should we have the chef whip up a meal?”
“No,” Chris says. “I want to take Sara to dinner at one of the local spots later tonight.”
“You’re welcome to join us,” I add, having talked about this with Chris in the car.
“We won’t interrupt your romantic night.” Katie speaks to the waiter before returning her attention to me. “I was hoping you’d stay in town until the wedding. But I have samples of items I need your opinions on today. Eat a little, and I’ll bring them out and show you. Most importantly, we have the cake flavors, but you haven’t picked a design.”
“Chris and I can’t wait to see the designs,” Mike jokes.
Katie smirks at him. “Just for that, you can go get the sample books.”
“I don’t have to be told twice.” Mike stands and motions to Chris. “Give them some girl time. I have some investments I want to talk to you about.”