When David steps into the motel, everything is almost disappointingly ordinary. The room looks the same as it had when he’d left it yesterday afternoon. An empty cinnamon roll box still lies open on the table. His overnight bag still sits atop the cedar chest. An army of nail polish bottles are still strewn across the nightstand. Alexis is propped up in bed, nose buried in her phone, and their mother is screeching something about “the wrong shade of black” on the other side of the connecting door.
David has walked in or woken up to a similar scene nearly every day for the past few years, and yet he’d expected today to be different somehow: a different room with different faces to greet him. Because today he is different. Because today he’s not the lonely and friendless misanthrope he’d been the day they’d moved in. He’s not even the hopeful and happy boyfriend he’d been just yesterday morning, excited about an afternoon picnic and wherever the evening might lead.
Because, today, he’s engaged.
How could anything possibly be the same?
Still in a bit of a daze about it all, he manages to make his feet carry him around his bed so that he can sit down. What he’s supposed to do next, however, he isn’t sure.
He’s engaged. Patrick had asked him to marry him. He’s engaged to the absolute love of his life, and they’re going to get married. They’re going to have a wedding. They’re going to spend the rest of their lives together.
The full weight of the realization hits him like a truck, and he buries his face in his hands, overwhelmed and happy and relieved and embarrassingly, giddily, stupidly in love. He wants to cry. He wants to scream. He wants to laugh until his stomach aches. He’s getting married.
“David?” comes Alexis’s voice from the other bed. “Are you oka— What are THOSE?”
He lifts his face to find her mouth open comically wide in shock, one accusatory finger pointed straight at his left hand. He hadn’t been sure his family would even notice, wondering if he’d have to all but slap them across the face with them to get anyone to pay attention, but he should have known Alexis would sniff out new jewelry in a heartbeat. A glance at the four gold rings adorning his fingers sets his whole face twisting to hide the wide grin threatening to break free.
“David,” she says again, keener this time. “Are those what I think they are?”
He manages to move his head in a little tremor of a yes that grows and grows into an exaggerated, exuberant nod. “Yes,” he replies. “Yes, Patrick asked me to—”
“DAVID!” She launches herself off the bed, nearly toppling him over in excitement as she bounces onto the mattress beside him.
“Shhhhhh.” He glances toward the connecting door. “I am not telling mom before her afternoon valium kicks in.“
"God, can you imagine?” she says with a grimace. “Let me see!” He holds his hand out to her and watches as she runs a gentle finger across his rings. Despite her obvious excitement, there’s something a little longing in the touch, something a little sad, and for a fraction of a second, he wants to pull her into his arms and tell her that she’ll have another chance at this. But then she opens her mouth again. “Are they 24 karat?”
“Fuck off, Alexis!” He snatches his hand away, but she just shimmies it right off of her shoulders.
“So did he get down on one knee? Did he do something super cliché like putting them in a glass of champagne? Oh my god, did he sing? Please tell me he sang something super embarrassing. I need the deets!”
“Okay, don’t say ‘deets.’ This isn’t 2005.”
David pushes himself to his feet. There’s too much excitement thrumming in his veins. He needs to move, or he might actually explode with joy, which would be the most embarrassing thing to happen to him in this room since his dad had walked in on him and Patrick celebrating their baseball win. Still, a soft smile slips back onto his face as he walks circles into the carpet, remembering the way Patrick’s face had lit up when David had said yes.
“If you must know, he took me on a hike, and—”
“A hike? I thought you said you were going on a picnic.” Her look of surprise melts into a pout. “You poor thing.”
“Shut up,” he snaps, though there’s hardly any bite in it. He’s just too damn happy to really mean it. “We did have a picnic. It was just on top of a mountain. And it was perfect, okay?”
When she doesn’t tease him or press him for more details, he stops pacing to find her looking at him with some unfamiliar mix of emotions.
“I just—“ She shakes her head. "You’re engaged, David.”
“No, like, you’re actually going to get married.”
“But you, David. Of all people.”
“Um, there’s a lake just up the highway. Can you drive into it please?“
She scoffs. “I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just, like, I always assumed that I would be the one to get to have that great big dream wedding we used to plan when we were kids.” Her fingers absently tangle in her hair, her eyes unfocused now as she gets lost in some thought that makes her smile. “Do you remember when we broke apart mom’s pearls to use for the seating chart?”
David remembers it well. That had been back when Alexis’s modelling career hadn’t yet taken off and her only trips around the world had been on family vacations with the rest of them. Back when breaking into the wig room just to have a look around had been the most dangerous thing they’d ever dared to do. “Adelina thought she was going to be furious.”
“But when we told mom, she just said to use the sapphires instead next time because they better complemented the color scheme.” They both laugh at the memory. Things had been so much easier then, back before they’d both gone out into the world and let it make things hard.
Happiness had been easier.
Love had, too.
“You just never really seemed interested in all that,” Alexis says. “The planning part, yes, but not the part where you get yourself a cute, little husband.”
David can’t stop the smile that blossoms across his face at the word. Patrick is going to be his husband. He buries his face in his hands again, feeling the way his skin heats against his fingertips at the thought.
“I wasn’t,” he admits through his fingers. “Interested. Before.”
“Patrick’s changed you, David.” The smile that she gives him is strangely proud. “You’ve let him change you.”
There are so many things he’s done in the last year that he’d never thought he’d do in his life. Things he’d never wanted to do. He’s hiked up a mountain, and he’s hit a homerun, and he’s clambered across shaky boards thirty feet in the air. He’s learned about tax brackets and insurance premiums. He’s gotten up before 9 a.m., when the occasion has called for it.
"I know,” he says.
Patrick has taught him to compromise, has shown him that sometimes you have to give more than you take, has shown him that sometimes trust and contentment and unconditional love can still be easy.
Because at the end of the day, all he wants is to make Patrick happy. It’s as easy and as hard as that. He wants to give back every single ounce of joy that Patrick has given to him, and if that means that sometimes he has to move the lip balms a few inches down the counter, then that’s something David can do. Because Patrick—because his fiancé—is worth it.
“I kind of think—” Alexis says, frowning a little like the words taste sour on her tongue, “I think I want to hug you.”
She stands up and steps closer. “Can I hug you, David?”
“Oh. Um, o-okay.”
Her arms are around him before the word is all the way out of his mouth. She squeezes him tight, hands clasped together behind his back, and he wraps his arms around her shoulders, closes his eyes, and breathes.
It’s been years since they’ve done this, standing in nearly this same spot after she’d broken up with Mutt, and David isn’t the only one who’s changed since then. Alexis has pushed herself to be better in nearly every area of her life. She’d gone back to high school. She’d gotten her certificate. She’d turned down a job offer that would have taken her out of this town. And in the most un-Alexis move of all, she’d let go of Ted—chosen his happiness over her own—only to find him choosing her in the end. David is fiercely proud of her. Even if he’d never say it.
“I can’t believe you’re getting married,” she mumbles into his sweater.
He holds her a little closer, ignoring the tears threatening to form. “I can’t believe you’re leaving.”
“I’ll be back in six months.”
“You better be.” He pulls back with a watery little laugh, blinking against the sting of his eyes. “Who else is going to help me arrange all those diamond-studded floral centerpieces?”
She rubs a hand across a wet cheek and chuckles. “I think the diamonds are gonna be hard to come by these days. You might have to settle for cubic zirconia.”
“Ew. Why would you even say that to me?”
“And since Elton probably isn’t an option anymore, maybe you can just get mom and the Jazzagals to sing a little medley for your first dance.”
“Oh my god. Stop!” He swats a hand at her, but she dances out of his reach.
“Instead of the horse-drawn carriages, there could be, like, goats pulling a wagon.”
His horrified gasp is drowned out by her gleeful cackle, and she bounds across her bed as he lunges after her, chasing her around the room as she continues to hurl increasingly disgusting suggestions his way.
“The cocktail hour can feature sangria with that gross fruit wine mom filmed that commercial for. The dinner can be a barbecue. Oh! The ceremony can be at town hall. You can get married at Roland’s desk!”
“I hate you.”
He does. He hates that she knows exactly what buttons to push, and he hates that she could push them with her eyes closed. He hates that she’s reminding him in this otherwise happy moment of everything that they’ve lost. But most of all he hates that she isn’t even going to be here to help with most of the planning. All those fantasy weddings they’d imagined as kids, they’d dreamed them up together. How is he supposed to plan his real wedding without her?
She pouts at him, but her eyes are still shining with glee. God, he loves her. He’s gotten so used to having her around, he really doesn’t know what he’s going to do without her for six months.
“Oooh,” she squeals. “You and Patrick can rent suits from that menswear store in Elmdale.”
Okay, he takes it back. He does hate her after all.
“I hope you get eaten by a tortoise.”