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I've Decided To Marry You

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At thirteen, Vanessa planned out her wedding down to the last detail.

She was going to wear a beautiful white dress, with a long train and a lacy veil over her hair, and pearl jewelry. The flowers would be roses and calla lilies. Her groom would be a gorgeous rock star who thought she was the prettiest and coolest girl in the world.

Nina would be her maid of honor, of course, and Carla could be a bridesmaid. And her mom would be there, so proud to see her little girl getting married.

And it was gonna be perfect.

*

At fifteen, Vanessa decided she was never getting married.

Boys were all jerks anyway. Even the really cute ones. Especially the really cute ones. They were all jerks and there was no point getting yourself stuck with one forever.

"I don't think they're all jerks," Nina said when Vanessa shared her insight. "Maybe it's just boys our age."

"No," Vanessa said, "It's all boys."

*

At seventeen, Vanessa thought she might get married after all.

If she met the right guy, someone handsome and charming and rich and not a jerk. They could elope, run away together and get married in a hurry somewhere along the way to someplace that wasn't Washington Heights -- LA, or Paris, or something. Someplace glamorous and beautiful and far away from New York.

She wouldn't even tell anybody. Well, maybe she'd send Nina a postcard after they were safely away, and then Nina could tell everyone that she was okay and married and never coming back.

But that would be it; after that it would just be her and whoever the guy was, a million miles away.

*

At nineteen, Vanessa couldn't even imagine ever getting married.

Boys were fun, for a while, but the novelty always wore off pretty quickly and then she was right back where she started; either she blew them off when she got bored or vice versa. And no matter who did the dumping, somebody always got dumped.

Getting dumped, or even dumping someone else, would be way worse if you were married. You couldn't just give them back the jacket they left at your place; you'd have to get lawyers and stuff. And everybody would know that you couldn't make it work, and they'd feel sorry for you all the time after that.

No, she decided, it was definitely better to stay away from marriage.

*

At twenty-one, Vanessa said "yes" when a boy she'd known all her life, a boy who embodied the heart and soul of the neighborhood she'd longed to leave, asked her to marry her.

The answer surprised her as much as it did Usnavi. He was nothing like the boys she used to imagine marrying, when that was a thing she imagined. He wasn't dashing and wealthy and jet-setting; he wasn't going to sweep her off her feet and take her away from New York to someplace glamorous and exciting.

Usnavi was dependable and loyal. He knew everyone and everyone loved him; he called himself Washington Heights' streetlight, and Vanessa thought it was a pretty great description of him, steady and faithful and brightening everyone's lives. He put everything he had into making other people's lives better, making sure that Sonny grew up well and Abuela's memory was carried on and something about this neighborhood stayed when everything else changed.

And he loved her, at least as much as she loved him.

*

At twenty-three, Vanessa got married.

She wore a white dress and Abuela Claudia's old pearl earrings. The flowers were dahlias and hydrangeas. The groom owned a corner bodega, and he thought she was the prettiest and coolest girl in the world, and he cried when he saw her in her dress.

Nina was the maid of honor, of course, and Carla was a bridesmaid; Vanessa asked Daniela to be a bridesmaid, too, but Daniela opted to be the official wedding hairdresser instead. Benny was the best man, Sonny and Pete were slightly awkward groomsmen, and Nina's dad gave Vanessa away.

And it was perfect.