What Happens On The Way To Vegas...
I know what you’re thinking. Or at least, I know what I’m thinking whenever I read a story about unrequited love or a couple facing so many obstacles. I think, “Do whatever it takes, move heaven and earth, love is all you need, love conquers all, love is more important than anything else.” There was one night that Ryan and I put those theories to the test. I try to remember it whenever I start to let myself get too close to him again. Yep. Whenever we… let’s say… start up a challenging game of who can catch the most fall leaves and end up in a prolonged embrace while silently repeating the words, “We cannot kiss, we will not kiss” over and over in our minds… that’s when I remember the night of our Junior Prom.
We’ve always planned on going to prom together. Ryan is very gallant in asking me to be his date, despite the fact that we have broken up. He’s a boy, and he holds all of the cards. While girls are waiting and pining and scheming for their dates, boys are biding their time, playing it cool, trying to convince their mothers to let them spend the tux rental money on video games and skip prom altogether.
The practices for promenade, the preparation, the date… it all has me tied in knots. I love him, I hate him; I hate him because I love him. I see him charming some other girl and I seethe, he charms me and I melt. We try our best to be friends, but a step too far one way puts us in a headlock, and a step too far the other way puts us in a lip lock.
So here I am at prom, walking on a fine line in heels and yards upon yards of glistening white fabric. We’re stiff and practiced and perfect through the showy part, and finally… finally… the audience begins to disperse and the students are left to dance with their dates, relaxing into the usual poor posture and occasional smashed toe.
Ryan and I lose ourselves in a sea of colored ruffles and sequins out on the dance floor. The stern look of concentration softens away from the outer edges of his eyes; his fingers rest more leisurely at my hips. We dance and we mingle.
After awhile, Ryan pulls me to his side and moves his lips close to my ear. “I hardly dare get close to you with all of the fluff and flowers between us.” He gestures to the corsage pinned to his lapel.
“I’m more concerned with what surrounds us than what’s in between us,” I say, and when my eyes sweep the room, it’s a dizzying kaleidoscope of noise and giggling girls that are a possible threat to me.
Ryan reads my expression. “You wanna go for a drive?” he asks.
I nod, and he takes my hand and leads me from the gym. We load me into the car, my dress taking up my entire seat and half of his. The lone sounds of his car door closing, of the key turning in the ignition feel so intimate and welcome.
He drives a few blocks and we pull up in front of the playground at the local elementary school. I gasp and turn to him with eyes alight. “I get to swing in my prom dress?” I ask.
“Do you want to?” he asks.
I like the way the corner of his mouth twitches into a half smile and tells me that he’s surprised that I can still surprise him.
I open my car door and jump out, carrying the majority of my dress in the circle of my arms in front of me as I run for the swings.
He walks behind me, snickering quietly at my eagerness.
I plop into a swing, kick my shoes off and start to sway back and forth, the wind fluttering the soft layers of my dress as I pick up speed. I’ve never felt more beautiful.
Ryan sits in the swing next to me, and twists a quarter turn so that he can watch me.
“Have you had a good prom?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, “Thank you for asking me. I know you didn’t have to.”
“I wanted to,” he says, “And I’m glad I did.”
We’re quiet for a minute, taking in the stillness around us, the twinkling night sky.
“We survived another rite of passage,” I say. “I liked dancing the first dance with my Dad. He made it a point to tell me that he’s proud of me and that he loves me.”
“Yeah. My Dad has a gift for always saying the right thing at the right time. I know I’m lucky. I know that not all dads say those things out loud.”
“Your Dad is a good man. I always want to be on his good side… which is the side away from where he’s pointing the many rifles in that gun safe he keeps in the basement.”
“He probably hates me now doesn’t he?”
“Nooo,” I dismiss this silly notion. “He tries not to get involved in my boy issues… but he does take those rifles out for target practice quite often…”
This is us. Confiding in each other, making each other laugh. We continue for awhile as more time slips away. Then he steps in front of me, debonair in his tux and bow tie, and stops my lulling swing. He helps me up and I stand facing him, barefoot in the woodchips, white ruffles spilling out around me. We look like two sweet-cheeked porcelain figurines atop a wedding cake, I think to myself. There’s that forbidden word again. Husband, husband, husband. Apparently the forbidden words haven’t heard that we broke up.
When we get back in the car, I see that we still have a good hour until I have to be home.
“Look! The night is young!” I say.
“I’m young,” he says. “Being with you reminds me how too young I am.”
“Well,” I say, reaching out to place my fingertips along the side of his face, “You’re not looking so young. You look more like a grumpy old man.”
“That’s because fighting off the temptation to kiss you is exhausting,” he says.
My smile shines brighter than my dress in the moonlight and I lean in close. “I’ll bet…” I say, “That I know just how to rejuvenate you.”
I touch my lips to his. He moves fast for someone so exhausted, his hand pressing at the back of my neck, coaxing my lips to stay. It wouldn’t have required coaxing. Soon the car fills up with the other forbidden H word. Honeymoon, honeymoon, honeymoon. I can hear the word, and I let it whisper to me for awhile. I can taste it, and I savor it. But then it’s so potent that I’m breathing it in and I reach up and push Ryan away, gasping.
His eyes are intense and his voice raspy as he says, “Can’t you see how impossible this is?”
I shake my head like a scolded child.
“We can’t stay together and then we can’t stay away from each other!” he says.
I just continue looking at him with round, fearful eyes.
“We’ll go to Vegas,” he says, as though he’s determined his recourse. “We’ll drive to Vegas tonight and we’ll get married.”
Husband, husband, husband.
“Okay,” I say, still sounding like the lighthearted girl on the swing.
“You better mean it, Amie, because I’ll do it.”
“Let’s go,” I say. I think I’m calling his bluff.
He faces forward, starts the car, and pulls out of the parking lot without glancing back at me. He doesn’t even drive slowly. We’re ten miles down the highway, headed south before I let the idea sink in.
How much of my dream would I give up? Would I give up the part where our family members stand around us smiling? Would I give up the part where Ryan has grown into a man who knows who he is and where he’s going? Would I give up the part where we look into each other’s eyes with confidence and know for certain that we’re doing the right thing?
I see a million scenes flash before my mind’s eye. I see us scrambling for some sort of makeshift wedding ring. I see us sitting in my living room, across from my parents and trying to explain ourselves to them. I see only the beginning of our problems.
Then I see Ryan in a suit and tie, a missionary name tag on his chest. I see my Mom holding her first grandbaby, with joy in her eyes and not worry. I see my Dad dancing with me at my junior prom and telling me that he’s proud of me.
“Ryan,” I choke the words out, “Pull over. Stop the car.”
He does. He pulls right off to the side of the highway.
“I understand now,” I say. “I see that this isn’t what we want and it’s stupid to wish for it.” Somehow I know he’s already seen everything I just imagined. I think he’s already thought this option through. He just needed me to see it.
He takes me home. We sit on the porch talking until midnight and I whisper to him that I’m still not giving up on the real dream. The one where I don’t have to make any concessions. I still want it all, but now I understand that love is not the most important thing. What you value and what you feel is right- those are the most important things. I still believe in happily ever after, but I have to be careful how I get there.