It’s twenty seven steps from one side of the room to the other. Thirteen, sometimes fourteen, of those steps to cross from one side of the table to the other. I know only because I’ve counted it, over and over again as I paced back and forth. “You’re going to wear a hole in that floor, Vetter.” What do I say? Do I laugh, or say something clever? I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Someone asked me for my name earlier when we first got here and I actually forgot what it was. I just stood there trying to think what my name could be. If Alvarez wasn’t here she would have never known that I was supposed to be here at all, and we would have gotten escorted out of the building. We had gotten here early and I don’t think it was something Alvarez intended, I just think I was driving him crazy with my nervous pacing at the house. Now I’m pacing here. I don’t know if it’s better or worse.
I probably should have just stayed there, at least then I would have more room to pace without driving Alvarez nuts. Except I don’t think it’s making him half as crazy as he says it is; he just keeps smiling at me when I manage to sit down for a few moments. Maybe he thinks that, like a little kid, if I pace back and forth enough I’ll tire myself out and be still for a bit. I pace past once more before sitting beside him, and now that I’m sitting I don’t know how I will ever move again. All there is left to do is wait, so I close my eyes and think of everything that’s happened in the past few days.
That Tuesday night, I couldn’t watch as I undressed her; I couldn’t bear the thought of her clothes, bloodstained again, this time from holding Mrs. Allerton. We had made frantic, needy, love, driven more by a need for assurance than by passion. Her every scream, her every moan, every cry, told me she was here, and she was okay. She was here. We made love until we couldn’t move anymore, just holding onto each other, exhausted both physically and emotionally. Until you’ve lost someone, really lost, I don’t think you can ever really know what that’s like. Just to touch her and know that she was right there with me. That we had come through it together. She was here.
I had called Alvarez that very night to tell him about our decision, that we wanted to get married right away. That we didn’t want to, couldn’t, wait any longer. He had laughingly suggested a Vegas wedding but one look at her as she stood looking out the kitchen window while she made coffee let me know I could never accept that. Sure, it would be fast, but it would never be right for either one of us. It would never be right for Jeanette. I don’t think he was serious either and he did laugh as he said it. Even if we were to consider it, it would have to just be the two of us, because it would be too hard to have anyone with us. Neither of us wanted a big wedding, but we did want a couple of friends to stand with us. It would have to be here. We had sat and talked for about an hour on the phone, talking about arrangements, we both stopped about halfway through. Two guys planning a wedding over the phone while Jeanette and Adriana sat in the background. It was another ten minutes before we could stop laughing about it. Alvarez may live for this stuff but I was fast catching up with him; we even had synchronized lists of what we had to do.
It was probably just as well that I had called him when I did, because the movers would come by the next day, Wednesday, with Jeanette’s things. All of her things would be here. She had moved in a few things and I loved to see them here; her toothbrush next to mine, her book on the table in the living room. It all had the look of something temporary and I wanted to see everything of hers here; so the house would smell of her. I wanted it to be hers. I never thought of this house as a home until she was in it. Jeanette is my home.
On the Wednesday morning I had woken to the sound of her singing quietly in the kitchen as she made muffins for our breakfast. It was raining that morning, the heat having broken the night before as we made love, as if it had waited for us to come home. She likes the rain, and the only time that she ever gets out of bed before me is when it’s raining. I had lain in bed and listened to her for about twenty minutes and I’m not ashamed to say that I was close to tears just at the sound of her voice. At the thought of her so happy that she sang, that she could go back to something that she enjoyed so much.
We had cuddled on the back porch; her in her pajamas and one of my t-shirts. The morning was cool, and she curled against me, her feet resting over mine so they wouldn’t get cold on the steps. Coffee and muffins right out of the oven were wonderful. Alvarez had brought over a bag of danishes that he never even touched, and I had never seen that happen in all the time I had known him. Jeanette bought a bunch of brown paper lunch bags on her way home the next day, so that Alvarez could still walk around with a bag of something. Every morning he would come over, and she would have a lunch bag with whatever it was she had made that day inside.
She used to work late not because she had to but because it was the only way to stay sane; to work until you were too tired to think. For a while it was strange for her to leave early. She would always ask Dan, often more than once; whether it was okay, and was he sure he’d be okay. Dan and I had talked about it a couple of times; he wanted to make sure she was dealing with it all right, he knew why she worked the way she did. It’s strange to look at him like her father, but he cares for her like one.
On Wednesday the movers delivered the rest of her stuff. Our house was full of cardboard boxes again, and Alvarez and the family came over that time to help her unpack. Alvarez and I kidded around with each other that it was two moves now. I owed him. We had laughed and joked about it, but yeah, I owed him. It was a little difficult for her, when the rest of her pictures came, because the two boys got to see Emily too, and that was a hard thing for everyone. I think it was hardest on Sandro; his crush on Jeanette making him more in tune with her feelings. Making cookies made things better.
By Thursday we had a date set, an actual date. We were at work early in the morning when the final okay on the time came in. My hands shook so badly that Alvarez took the pen from my hand and wrote the date himself. August fifteenth, at two in the afternoon. Monday. We divided up our list again, after I told Alvarez what I still needed to do. He just sat in silence for a couple of minutes watching me, as though he had no idea what to say, which is probably true. It got so awkward that I actually blushed and started to fidget again with the jewellery box I had carried in my pocket this whole time, now with our weddings rings inside. He drove me himself, on our lunch break, back to the jewellery store where I had bought her engagement ring. He had me sit in the car for a minute before we went in, and told me that it was the most romantic thing he had ever heard. He laughed when he said it, but it was a small laugh, while he looked out the window, because it was such a strange thing for a guy to say. He could have said nothing at all, and his expression would have made it plain what he felt. It had really touched him. He’s a romantic after all.
I had to pay a lot extra for it to be ready on time and I think the woman behind the counter was a little baffled by it, at first, wondering why I didn’t just get two different rings; but it would be done. Our two rings would be melted down, and made into two just like it, so that we would never have to get rid of them. My jealousy of John had turned into something else, the longer I was around her, and I didn’t want her to have to give that up. ‘Sean and Jeanette’ would be etched along the inside curve, and Alvarez would pick them up on Sunday. It was harder to give up that ring than I would have thought possible and Alvarez stopped for coffee so we could sit on the grass outside the office and I could pull myself together.
The rest just took care of itself, moving with a momentum all its own once it was set in motion. Calls were made to Hicks and his family, who would make it out but only for a day. It was too hard for Mom to travel, so we would call her when it was done, and we would send her photos. Jeanette put off calling her parents, a flicker of sadness crossing her face when I had asked her why. In my heart I knew, and probably shouldn’t have asked, but I did anyway. I wanted so much for everyone to be happy for us, for her, that sometimes it was hard to accept that some people might not be. She waited so that it would be impossible for them to show up; she didn’t want to be unhappy, and wanted only her ‘real’ family there, not her parents but the people that really cared for her. Dan was ecstatic when she told him that we had set the date; I wouldn’t say he was more nervous than I was, I don’t think anyone could be, but he was a bundle of nerves. He wouldn’t leave it alone until I had agreed to let him take us all out to dinner afterwards. I think if I had disagreed he would have just overrode me anyway. Jeanette was right not to call her parents; Dan was her real family, he was so happy for her, for us both. Jeanette got flowers and cards from regulars she had served for the rest of the week. Every day when she went in there was something else for her; it made me grin every time she came home with all these flowers, our house was full of them.
We even got a card from Obrador, which came as a shock to us. It was just signed ‘Luis’, but he wished us all the happiness in the world, and said that Vivian, Mrs. Allerton, wished us well also. She wasn’t exactly doing fine, that would take a long time, but she was safe, and was in a place where maybe she could put her life together.
As for the rest of our case that wasn’t a case, that too had a momentum all its own. We discovered from Holloway and his police force and intelligence connections that Rodriguez and Castile had been there that day, in the background. I suppose even in that public place, Brubaker never trusted himself to be safe, so he had his two assassins, his two bodyguards, close by. They watched what happened and stayed just long enough to know it was done before disappearing across the border themselves. The secretary who had set the filing room ablaze faced a serious prison sentence for it, and, with Brubaker gone, it seemed silly for her to keep covering for the man. She spoke at length about not only her activities but gave the names of those who were also involved. A couple of senior agents ended up being taken down by the OPR, but most of Brubaker’s people were low level, like the secretary. You would never even notice how much access to information they really had, it was staggering. He had secretaries, cleaning crew, and security guards that, amongst them, had access to every single part of the building, places agents didn’t even go. The whole office went through a shake up, with Torres taking the lead into looking at finding all traces of Brubakers crew.
Douglas stayed on, as a reward for catching Brubaker or as a way to keep everything quiet about the whole affair, I’ll never know; either way he stayed. He was also pleased to hear about Jeanette and I setting a date, and would make sure there was cover for Alvarez and I that day. He had asked about time for a honeymoon but Jeanette and I hadn’t discussed anything and, in a strange way, we had already had one, we were just getting married officially now. We would probably just stay at home, and I would save up vacation time for sometime in the spring. We would go somewhere again in the spring. Douglas had never been married and we didn’t really know each other that well, but he asked if he could be at our wedding anyway. We have a very strange family. We didn’t so much as invite anyone as they just wanted to show up. I wonder if we were to say no if they would have stayed away.
Jeanette had gone out with Adriana on Saturday, to pick up a dress, she said. I liked the idea of her just going out shopping; it wasn’t really something she liked to do. When we had been on vacation she had said that she liked shopping with me, that it was different, because neither one of us really liked to shop. I know from listening to Alvarez and his many Adriana impressions that Adriana loves to shop, and I almost felt sorry for Jeanette when she left that morning. With Alvarez at home watching the kids, I had gone out after work and done a little shopping of my own. I had to move some things around in the living room but it was worth it when she got home, and saw her new chair. I had made the saleslady a little nervous I think when I asked if she would have enough room to curl up in it. I had her sit in about a dozen chairs and somewhere in there I had told her about what I had wanted, and why. A perfect chair for her to read in, that she could curl up and read for hours in.
Adriana wouldn’t let me see her dress, and ran back out of the house with it saying it was bad luck, when they had returned; now I have my own Adriana impression stuck in my head. When I told Alvarez about it the next morning he nearly lost his coffee. I haven’t lost my touch.
Alvarez and Adriana had brought us over casseroles and, of course, piles of sandwiches, since we had announced our wedding date, so we didn’t have to worry about dinner. Probably for a while. Casseroles seem to be good for everything. Alvarez didn’t want to leave one day because Adriana had brought over some sort of a meatball casserole that he said was his favorite thing, but he got dragged out anyway. Jeanette had put a dish of it in a brown paper bag with his muffins the next morning. It’s probably just as well I was marrying her, because he would have swept her off her feet for that. He had made me drive and ate it cold, with his fingers, in the car on the way to work.
Jeanette and I had made love everywhere over the past few days; it was almost impossible for us to keep our hands off each other. We were like a pair of teenagers, and the moment we got home or got people out of our house we were pulling each others clothes off. We had gone out for milk one night and, after a long kiss at a red light, we pulled off to the side of a quiet road and made love in the car. I don’t know if it was nerves or what it was; all I know that every time I was near her my heart raced, my belly filled with butterflies and I hoped like hell I wasn’t in public because I would embarrass myself. It was no different for Jeanette. I have never felt like this before, it was an ache that only left me when I touched her.
Alvarez stopped by last night, dropping me off after work. We had just picked up the rings; he wouldn’t let me see them, he said it was bad luck to which I laughed and said he had made that up. He didn’t stay long, I think everyone that was around us for the past couple of days was affected by the electrical charge between us. He leered at me, one of his best leers ever, before he hugged me again, telling me he’d be here tomorrow to pick me up, if there was anything left of me. To get married.
We didn’t know what to do with ourselves, on the last night before we were to be married. We had made love in a fever for days, everywhere, anywhere, every moment that we had in every way we could imagine, and now all we could do was hold each other. Alvarez had told me that when he and Adriana got married, she had stayed with her parents the night before. I hadn’t realized how sensible an idea that was until I was here alone with her on the night before our wedding. I wanted her so badly it was as if I couldn’t breathe enough; to look at her was to hurt with wanting her. We stood by the door after Alvarez had left; our bodies barely touching and our fingers interlaced. Our eyes had said everything that our voices couldn’t. We would wait. All of our frenzied lovemaking was because somehow we knew we would wait for each other at the end. It didn’t matter that it was only one night.
We had dressed for the rain and walked down to the cemetery at the end of the street and sat for a while on the stone bench under the tree. I moved back and let her sit in front of me with her back pressed against my chest, thinking of the first day I had met her, on this very bench. It was there, overlooking the place where Emily and John slept, and the mountains behind them, that we found the strength to make it through the rest of the night.
Before we knew it the day was upon us and Adriana had come over early to pick up Jeanette, talking about hair and this and that. It was the only time I saw the slightest panic in Jeanette, and it had nothing to do with getting married. She laughed as she broke free from Adriana for a moment, and ran up to me to kiss me fiercely before getting pulled out of the door. My hands shook as I poured Alvarez a coffee and sat out on the back porch with him. He had already found the stash of muffins Jeanette had left there. I think she makes them for him as much as she makes them for me.
I don’t remember much of anything else. The time flew by at the house, or maybe it just took me forever to do everything. My hands shook so badly that Alvarez ended up tying my tie. He had watched me for a few minutes, growing more exasperated by the minute, before he got up to help me with it. “You look good, Vetter. I’ve never seen you in a shirt and tie. You better not let anyone at the office see you like that, they’ll have us all wearing the things.” He almost shuddered, and he wasn’t pretending either.
I reached out to tug on his tie, a very conservative dark tie and a white shirt. No jackets for either of us; it was halfway through August and too hot, despite the rain that still hadn’t let up. I wouldn’t have recognized him, he looked good too. He had looked with disgust down at his tie, as if he had been forced to wear a fish tied around his neck. His hand smoothed over his white shirt with distaste. “You know Alvarez, Jeanette is the last person in the world that would give you a funny look if you decided to go home and pick up something you’d feel more comfortable in.” The idea of him standing beside me in a fantastically bright Hawaiian shirt made me grin at him.
He had stopped fidgeting with his shirt and smirked at me. “Jeanette might not kill me but Adriana would, she took two rolls of film of me in this ridiculous shirt before we even left the house. I told her they were blackmail pictures and she’d pay a serious price for it afterwards.” He had me laughing so hard there were tears rolling down my face when he launched into another Adriana impression. It was probably hilarious anyway, it always is when he does it, but today I’m on the bare edge of hysteria as it is and it didn’t take much to push me off. “It’s one day, Vetter, I can wear this penguin suit for one day.”
I had started to pace shortly after that, which brings us to the present. Monday. August the fifteenth at around one forty. Courtroom 14 B. We would be married in a small rarely used courtroom in the El Paso Municipal Building. Both Alvarez and I started pacing, as we looked up at the big clock on the wall that just had to be there. One of the old ones that you could actually hear the tick as the hands move over the seconds. Maybe we just imagined it. Time seemed to slow down in this room. I feel pale, and I know I’m nervous and the pacing doesn’t help either one.
The doors open at the back of the room making my heart lurch. Hicks and Candice followed by a beautifully dressed skipping Rachel. Dan had gone to the airport to pick them up earlier, so he followed shortly behind, holding the door for Holloway, and Douglas, both of whom looked as though they felt nervous just being here. Adriana and the boys, and Jeanette would be last. I got hugged by everyone, even Holloway and Douglas. It didn’t help my nerves in the least.
Judge John Morgan, a small wiry man with white hair and dressed in judges’ robes, followed them all in, taking one look at me and knowing immediately that I was the one getting married. “Don’t worry son, it’ll all be over before you know it.” He drawled out as he shook my hand and patted my arm, smiling up at me, before moving to stand behind the table to wait for Jeanette, my bride, to show up.
It seemed like forever, with nothing but the ticking of the clock in the room as everyone waited for Jeanette. My stomach was in knots and I don’t know how I’ll ever be able to speak when the time comes or if all that will come out is a croak. The click of woman’s heels sounds in the corridor outside. We’re in a seldom used part of the courthouse and the sound seems to travel forever.
The door opens and Adriana, her face beaming the most beautiful smile when she looks at me, and Miguel, dressed much like his father in a white shirt and dark tie, move quickly past the other chairs to sit with everyone gathered at the front. No one sat on one side or the other; everyone sat right in front to watch us. Our family, the ones that mattered.
All of us were turned to face the doors, watching as the doors opened again. Sandro, dressed also in a white shirt and dark tie, and a dark jacket, proudly held Jeanette’s hand as she walked down the aisle. That was the secret they had shared, the day that I had proposed to her. She had asked Sandro to be the one to walk her down the aisle.
I swallowed hard, and it was so hard to breathe, watching her walk towards me. Neither Jeanette nor Adriana had said a word about what she would be wearing, and Jeanette left in the morning to get dressed over there, so I had no preparation. Knowing Jeanette, I knew that she would wear something simple, and knew she would be beautiful; she could never be anything else. I had even thought she might wear white, and had dreamt of her last night, in white.
She wore dark red. A beautiful dark red dress that moved like silk as she walked. More than one jaw dropped. Jeanette could have worn anything and been beautiful, but this was something that I know she chose for me. She wore no jewellery but her engagement ring, and only a little makeup. She had left her hair down, tucked simply behind her ears. I don’t want to think of all the convincing she had to do to get Adriana to leave it like that. The blush across her cheeks was her own, something she couldn’t help the moment she looked at me. How she can be so shy and so sexy at the same time, I still have no answer for. It’s just Jeanette and I couldn’t take my eyes off her; there was no one else in the room when she finally stood before me. Sandro, who had walked her down the aisle, didn’t want to leave once he got there, despite getting waved over by Adriana. A small nonverbal battle between him and his mother ensued before he consented to letting go of her hand, as long as he got to stand beside her, Jeanette’s hand stroking once through his hair. I don’t blame him; I wouldn’t want to leave her side either.
“All right.” Judge Morgan drawled, “We might as well get this started.” He cleared his throat and his voice took on a more official tone. I hardly heard a word he said. “We are here to witness the marriage of Jeanette McLean and Sean Vetter….”
All I could see was her. All I could hear was the sound of her heartbeat, racing with mine. I didn’t care if it was traditional or not, nothing about this was. I reached out and held her hands in mine, we both trembled, and if this went on much longer I don’t think we would have made it. The Judge quickly got the legal requirements out of the way; asking who gave their blessing for our wedding, and if anyone had reasons to believe we shouldn’t be married.
“Sean, do you take Jeanette to be your wife? Will you love, honour, and cherish her, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and do you promise to stay true to her as long as you both shall live?”
I was worried I would have no voice when it came time to speak, that I would croak, or stutter. Looking deep into her eyes I knew that would never happen. She was more than my light and my life. She was my strength when I thought I couldn’t bear any more. “I do.”
The judge repeated the question for Jeanette and my heart soared to hear her say “I do.” Her voice as strong as my own, even though her hands shook, as did mine. The judge wished us well, and told us of his own marriage, going on forty years now, and how there was nothing finer, nothing that defined the human spirit so much as the love between a man and his wife, when it was real.
It was time for us to say our vows. We had spent a bit of time writing them. Simple, powerful words that spoke of how deeply we loved each other. We committed them to memory. Looking at her now, my beautiful Jeanette, all I can think of is how she said that we were married already. That we already were. I thought back to when that had first really happened, when I first looked at her and knew, really knew, and what I had said.
“I will love you forever, Jeanette.”
It wasn’t the ceremony that we had written, but the judge was quick on his feet and went along with it, and so did Alvarez, as he handed me the ring to slip onto her finger. She held my hand, and, slipping the ring onto my finger, answered, “Forever, Sean.”
“I now pronounce you husband and wife, you may kiss…”
I kissed her forever; a deep passionate kiss that made everything in the room disappear. My wife. I lost my hands in her hair as our kiss broke, my thumbs tracing lines along her jaw, touching her ears and brushing over her lashes. My wife.
Her hand slipped into mine, the warm metallic click of our rings clicking together making us both smile, as we dealt with the paperwork. “They always get you with the paperwork, Vetter.” Alvarez’s voice was soft and quiet as he stood behind us, one hand on my shoulder and one on Jeanette. I signed first, my hands shaking at first as I signed the paperwork that would make all of this official. Jeanette looked at me and smiled, the most beautiful radiant smile, as she looked back to the piece of paper and signed, for the first time, her married name.
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