He would describe her to Cal later on as a game-changer. The truth was, even from the first, even as she walked up to him in the bar and kissed him like they were both drowning and the other was their only source of air, he knew that word was only a pale shadow of what she was. He’d never believed in love at first sight, or soulmates, or any of that crap Cal was always spouting on about. But he knew that this one was different.
He had always been jealous of Cal, he admitted to himself, even as he tried to change him. He would admit that to himself only when the girl of the night had gone and he had no companion but the lady on the Home Shopping Network, the warm mother he had never had. He envied the way Cal made connections, the way he could make people like him even when he was at his most pitiful. Jacob couldn’t make people like him because he wasn’t very likeable. The best he could do was to seem mysterious, then go away before people realized exactly what wasn’t underneath. But he wanted this one to stay. Hannah had the same sweetness about her that Cal did, the same heartbreakingly open blue eyes. It figured that he would want exactly what he didn’t have.
So when Hannah was laying there laughing at his collection of Coin Bears, Jacob thought about how Cal did it. He didn’t like the answer. Cal had made Jacob like him by seeming vulnerable, a thing Jacob had all but sworn never to do. But if he didn’t try, Cal would slap him in the face, for having lost sight of who he was as a man and a lover, and be right to do it. So he took a deep breath, hiding the cold panic in his gut with a smile.
“Will you ask me something personal about myself?”
“So wait,” Hannah crowed. “You’ve never learned how to ride a bike?”
They were having dinner in the Weavers’ backyard. ‘They’ being he and Hannah, Emily and the kids, and Cal, who had ‘dropped in for dinner.’ Cal had dropped in for dinner almost every night that week. Jacob and Hannah had a running bet on how long it would take him to move back in. Hannah said next month, but Jacob would bet longer. For now they seemed to be in no hurry, going on twice-weekly dates and generally acting like the college kids they had never had the chance to be. He turned to Emily.
“So, Mrs. Weaver, did you and Cal enjoy the symphony on Friday?” He had gotten them a private box, not that they would ever know that. He had given Cal cheaper tickets at first, then called the usher ahead and told them to ‘upgrade’ the Weavers. Since his mother was one of the orchestra’s major donors, the usher had been only too happy to oblige.
Emily smiled at him. “Sorry, Jacob. You’re not getting out of this one that easily.”
“I mean, seriously,” Hannah said. “You spend like a million hours a week at the gym, and you can’t ride a bike?”
“I use the stationary bike at the gym!” he protested. The stationary bike that didn’t move underneath him, or throw him off.
“Nana, leave him alone,” Cal said sternly, and Jacob tried to hide a pleased, shy smile at being so defended. “Really, though, Jacob? Didn’t your dad teach you when you were little?”
His dad had already been sick by the time Jacob was old enough to learn, and his brief periods of remission weren’t enough to make up for the lack. “He was busy,” Jacob mumbled, trying to stop the heat from rushing to his face.
Cal seemed to realize he had hit a sore point, and his nod contained his unspoken apology. Robbie, though, as always didn’t seem to know when to quit. “Dad, we have that spare bike in the garage, right? You could teach Jacob right now!”
Thanks a lot, kid. “Oh, that’s a nice thought, but I’m fine.” No way was he getting on a bike. Ever.
Molly grinned at him. “You don’t need to be scared, Jacob. My dad wouldn’t let you fall, and it’s fun!”
Called out on his cowardice by a six year old. Great, Palmer, just great. “I wouldn’t want to take up your dad’s time.”
Cal was already pushing the bike out toward the yard. “Come on, Miyagi. Time to learn something for a change.”
He phoned Cal in a panic. “Dude. I need your help. Seriously.”
He could feel Cal rolling his eyes on the other end of the line. “What, is someone wanting you to act like a civilized human being again? Don’t strain yourself.”
“Hey! That’s not fair!”
“You’re dating my daughter. I decide what’s fair.”
Jacob couldn’t help smiling, even in the midst of this crisis. “Yes, sir. That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. I have no idea what to get Hannah for Christmas. None. Drawing a complete blank.”
“Jacob, I am not helping you find the perfect Christmas gift with which to seduce my daughter. You’re on your own here.”
“She seduced me, and I need help!” He wasn’t above begging, not in this case.
“Ew. I do not want to know. Ever. Anyway, you’re the one with all the money. Go nuts.”
Cal’s complaints about Jacob dating Hannah had declined both in heat and frequency when he had found out Jacob’s net worth. Jacob was never, ever going to point that out to Cal. He liked living. “That’s the thing. You know Hannah; she doesn’t care about things like that. If I bought her some extravagant gift it would only look lazy.”
Cal actually seemed to think this was worth listening to. “You’re right. At least you’re giving it some thought. Look, it doesn’t matter what you get her, as long as it’s something that means a lot to both of you. If you have a real relationship like you keep telling me you do, you should be able to figure it out.” He hung up.
When Hannah opened the giant box containing fifty individually-wrapped Coin Bears, she stared at him for five full seconds. Then she cackled like a banshee, laughing so hard she fell back onto the Weavers’ carpet. When she recovered, she took Jacob in her arms and kissed him long and deep, like she had the first night, only now it was so much better because Hannah’s mouth on his was like coming home. “I love you, Jacob Palmer,” she said, the first time she had told him in words, even though she told him every day with her actions.
Emily, on the couch, raised an eyebrow. “Do we want to know?”
“No,” said Jacob, Hannah, and Cal, in unison.
Later on, they danced. Or rather, Cal and Emily danced, while Jacob and Hannah looked on with a faintly proprietary air. He had done good.
Hannah rested her head on his shoulder. “Still wildly unhappy?”
4 (and 5).
Cal and Emily renewed their vows on a beach in Maui, their children and friends surrounding them and Jacob allowed to tag along, recognized by now as a more-or-less permanent presence in their daughter’s life. He relaxed on a lawn chair, sipping a fruity drink, glad to have nothing to do. Hannah was, of course, her mother’s maid of honour. He assumed Molly would be the flower girl, and Robbie the best man. He could sit here and watch his triumph unfold. When he had started this, he had never imagined that Cal might actually win back his wife, but he’d hoped to see him settled, somehow. Maybe even happy.
But he hadn’t believed in love, then.
Robbie, whom Jacob had finally persuaded to cut his hair for the occasion, thank God, rushed out from behind the pavilion. “Jacob, what are you doing?”
“We need the best man to start, moron. Come on!” Robbie grabbed his hand and began pulling him toward where the groom’s party waited.
Cal smiled at him. “Hey. Wondered where you’d got to.”
Jacob gaped. “I’m...I’m your best man?”
“Oh! Didn’t I mention? Robbie and I decided it would be appropriate. After all, without you I’d still be crying into my vodka crans about David Lindhagen.”
This was true. Also, as far as he’d known, irrelevant. “But you hate me for dating your daughter!”
“Jacob, if I hated you you’d be gone by now. There’s value in second chances. I ought to know that, or I wouldn’t be standing here. David Lindhagen would. As far as I’m concerned, you’re one of the family.”
There was something in his eyes. Possibly sand. “Oh, my God,” Cal said. “Are you crying? At my wedding? I always knew you were secretly a giant girl. He clapped Jacob on the shoulder.
“No, it’s just the sand, I mean the grit, in my eye.”
“Right. I thought I was the one who was supposed to have a nervous breakdown today. Lucky thing I’ve done this already, and know the big secret. Well, the two big secrets.”
“Which are?” Jacob asked, just as glad not to be talking about himself anymore.
“See, just to show you how much I forgive you, I’ll tell you for free. First, no one will be looking at either of us. Only at her, so it doesn’t matter if we screw up. Second, this is the least important day of the marriage. It’s every day after that counts. That’s where I fell down, before. Don’t you make the same mistake.”
“No, sir,” Jacob said. It was the first time Cal had acknowledged that he and Hannah might, one day, get married.
“When are you asking her, anyway? I’ve seen you fiddle with the ring like, eight times this trip. If you don’t hurry up she’ll figure it out. I’ve tried to distract her, but Nana’s too smart for you.” He grinned smugly as Jacob’s mouth fell open, then put his arm around him. “Come on,” he said. “They’re waiting for us.”