When Our Worlds Go Silent

Graham

Kennedy’s warm body nestled against mine, her back flush against my chest, is just the thing I need tonight. From running around with Ben, to planning the wedding, we’ve barely had time to breathe. The ritual of life with another human being is something I never thought I’d grow used to. Every day the same thing. The same lips to kiss at night. The same smile greeting me when I roll over in the morning. Other men aren’t as lucky as me. They don’t wake up to Kennedy’s laugh.

“Our wedding is tomorrow,” Kennedy whispers into the darkness of our bedroom.

I’m still surprised how her voice weaves magic into my life. The room is brighter because of her. She knows what I need, when I need it, without me having to utter a single word.

After much argument from everyone, we’ve thrown caution to the wind and chosen to spend the night before our wedding together. We’re already married. Some traditions are meant to be broken, especially if it means I get to sleep next to my wife.

“Are you nervous?” Her shoulders vibrate with laughter.

Our first wedding at the courthouse wasn’t anything special, but it was ours. The traditional parts were lacking, but the love in the room was at its highest. Ben finding his forever home under our roof is more important than the glitz and the glam.

It’s been official for a month now. If I thought I loved Kennedy before Ben, the love I have now is a whole different kind. She’s selfless, and since it’s her, it comes as no surprise. To step up to the plate like she has, without reservation, is a privilege to witness.

“Nothing about us makes me nervous.” I kiss the top of her head, and she rolls over to cuddle into my chest.

“Me neither.” She reaches over me and switches on the lamp. Her sexy brown hair cascades down one side of her neck, draping over her shoulder as she falls to her side of the bed.

“It’s getting long.” I twirl my finger around a curl. “I like it.”

“I’m going to cut it once the wedding is over.” She giggles, propping herself up on her elbow.

“Of course, you are.”

“I thought I’d donate it.” The velvety tone of her voice screams satisfaction.

Her generosity never waivers, even when those who demand it don’t deserve it. I’ve been on the receiving end of Kennedy’s kind heart too many times to count. I’ve never understood what she saw in me that night on a Tennessee dirt road, but dammit, I thank my lucky stars every morning she’s beside me when I wake up.

“Of course, you are.” I grin. “And that’s why I love you.”

Kennedy is all the proof I need to know I’ve done something right in this world.

“Mom.” Ben’s sweet voice travels down the hallway.

Kennedy glances at me, and her eyes soften for our son. Our son.

It’s a surreal moment every time I realize I’ve become a dad. My journey has been less than conventional, but dammit, I’ve enjoyed the whole damn ride to this point.

I selfishly follow Kennedy to Ben’s bedroom to watch her walk around in those tiny, spandex boyshorts. If ogling my wife as she goes to comfort my son is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

“Can you read me one more chapter, please?” Ben asks when we step into his room.

“Are you having trouble sleeping?” Kennedy sits on the edge of his mattress, stroking her fingertip over his left eyebrow.

Ben grins over Kennedy’s shoulder. I’m half-tempted to call him out, but I get it. He and I have that in common. We’d listen to Kennedy read the grocery list just to hear her soothing voice.

“Do you remember what page we’re on?” Kennedy smiles over her shoulder. She knows she’s being suckered, but that’s the thing—she doesn’t care. She’d read every book in the world to Ben.

“I’m going to leave you guys to it,” I say, rubbing Kennedy’s shoulder. I bend down and kiss Ben on the crown of his head. “Goodnight, buddy.”

“Goodnight, Dad.” Ben’s full attention is focused on Kennedy, dismissing me. Little shit.

I step into the hallway, leaving the bedroom door cracked, and press against the wall. I slip to the floor and rest my elbows on my knees. I don’t do it to intrude on their time. The exact opposite, actually. Every so often, Ben requests extra time with Kennedy, and I always find a reason to make myself scarce. I go far enough to seem gone but stay close enough to be present.

“Now, where did we leave off?” Kennedy asks. The bed creaks as she slinks against the headboard beside him and begins to read.

I listen to every word like they’re my only source of oxygen. She’s animated and present, which is the best part about watching her with Ben. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in her life, how busy and stressed she is, she manages to always keep Ben at the forefront of her mind.

“Why do you think he did that?” Kennedy asks. She often stops and asks Ben questions. She says it keeps his imagination running.

“Because she loves him.”

“Exactly.”

“Like how my first mom loved me.”

“Loves,” she corrects. “Just because someone isn’t here with us, doesn’t mean their love goes with them. Your mom loves you without a shadow of a doubt, kiddo. She is wherever you are, Ben. Please don’t forget that.”

“Do you think she’s mad that I live with you and Dad now?”

“No, Ben, I don’t think she’s mad. If it were me, I’d be relieved you’ve found a warm, safe bed and someone to love and protect you.” At Kennedy’s delicately chosen words, my body stirs. I hear the worry in her tone, full of fear of the day she won’t be able to protect him. She calls it a mother’s worry.

“I love you and Dad, but I miss her.” Ben’s voice cracks. He’ll always be the boy who loves and cares just a little bit deeper than most.

“You never have to apologize for missing your mom. The choice of leaving you wasn’t hers. She was ripped from you, Ben, and that void inside your kind and gentle heart, won’t ever go away.”

Ben’s too smart for his own good. When he came to live with us, we decided to speak freely and honestly with him.

“You chose me. That’s what Betty tells me.”

Ben and I volunteer at the shelter, or more like I volunteer, and he visits with the kids. Kennedy and I think it’s good for Ben to show his friends there is hope. If we could adopt every one of them, we would. Kennedy’s heart breaks a fraction every time she leaves them behind.

“The thing about me and your dad is that we did choose you. Every day, we choose to lead you through this life that you already know can be cruel. You chose us, too, though.”

“Every day,” Ben whispers his and Kennedy’s promise. I imagine his small pinky finger twisted around hers. It’s their thing. I’ve never tried to make it an our thing.

A loud yawn escapes Ben’s mouth, making Kennedy laugh.

“You think you’re ready to fall asleep, don’t you?” The bed creaks. “Goodnight and get some rest. We have a big day tomorrow.”

“Aren’t you already married?” Ben questions.

“I’d remarry him every day if I could.” The door swings open, and I glance up at Kennedy as she blows our son a goodnight kiss.

“You’re really good with him,” I state, not to give her credit, because I know it makes her uncomfortable, but because, sometimes, it astonishes me how easy it is for her. Motherhood for her is second nature, as easy as taking a single breath.

“He makes it simple for me.” Kennedy grunts, her grip tight around my wrists. Doing most of the work, I stand, leaving Kennedy satisfied for having the strength to pull me from the floor. We walk back to our bedroom and shut the door behind us. “Why do you sit in the hallway?” She draws back the covers and slides in bed.

“Honestly?”

“No, please lie to me. You know how much I love it.” She’s such a smartass.

“I like to imagine what you’re like with him. Your words are always honest, yet mindful of his situation. You at your rawest is remarkable.”

“Trust me, you’ve witnessed me at my rawest.” Kennedy tugs back the sheets for me, and I roll onto my side of the bed, checking my alarm.

“And that’s exactly why tomorrow morning”—I roll to face her— “I’m going to slip into my tux and watch you walk down the aisle in front of everyone we love. Because even with everything we’ve been through, the good, the bad, the ugly, we’ve managed to find it in ourselves to keep fighting.”

“You’re a romantic.” She swings one leg over my body until she straddles my lap, running her manicured fingernails up and down my chest.

“You make me want to be romantic.” I strain to kiss the tip of her nose. “Men aren’t born romantic. We’re either taught by our fathers, or the right woman comes along and proves to us that those feelings shouldn’t be hidden.”

“Tomorrow, then?” Kennedy’s smile shines brighter than the stars in the sky. I’m constantly reminded of the reasons I love this girl.

Every day.” Just this once, I’m stealing their promise. I don’t think Ben will mind.

I coerce her body down against mine until she’s perfectly tucked against my chest. My palm rests over her heart to experience the beat I know like my favorite song. Her breathing evens as she falls asleep on top of me, a silent promise to do the same thing every day until the day the world is cruel enough to rip us apart.

*****

“Are you ready?” I straighten Ben’s tie. He looks so handsome and older. I ruffle his hair to remind myself he’s the little boy who wore Batman footie pajamas. As a nine-year-old, he’d kill me for even mentioning it.

“The better question is, are you ready?” Ben grins. Rico stops primping in the mirror long enough to high five him.

“I love this kid.” Rico’s nose tweaks.

“What’s not to love?” Ben shrugs, and I want to die. The more time he spends with Rico, the cockier he becomes.

“Your kid is smooth. He’s going to be my wingman tonight, aren’t you?” Rico slugs him softly on the shoulder.

Ben gazes up at him with such admiration, and it drives me crazy. Rico is a great guy, but I’d prefer if Ben would find life inspiration from someone who doesn’t believe panties are a road block.

“I’m your guy.” Ben giggles, proud he’s standing next to Rico at the wedding and the reception.

I cover Ben’s ears and whisper to Rico. “Do me a favor and don’t use my son for your own personal gain.” I stoop to Ben’s level, releasing my hold on his head, and push a small box against his chest. “Make sure Mom gets this, okay?”

Ben runs off to find Kennedy, and once Ben is out of sight, Rico offers me a shot. I promised Kennedy no excessive drinking would happen in front of him.

“Cheers!” he boasts, happily clinking his glass against mine.

“Cheers.” We down the clear liquid.

“Okay, okay, enough of that shit. We need the groom to be sober.” Mark enters, fully dressed and ready for the festivities. Dan is close on his heels, shouting something to Violet before closing the door behind him.

“And where would the fun be in that, huh?” Rico pours us another one, and I grin.

These three are my best friends, and I can’t imagine getting married without them by my side. Without knowing it, and sometimes being fully aware of their roles, they’ve helped me through some of the hardest times of my life.

I lift my glass, and they do the same. “I can’t thank you guys enough for everything you’ve done for me and my family. You’ve welcomed Ben in like he’s always been here, and well, I don’t think it needs to be said, but you treat Kennedy like a sister.”

“A sister Mark almost fucked,” Rico whispers under his breath, covering his remark with a fake-as-shit cough.

“Seriously!” Mark looks over at Rico, glaring holes into the side of his head.

“Back to the sappy shit.” Rico laughs, twisting his hand in the air to move me along. “Forget I made the joke.”

“And I barely rounded first with her.” Mark’s lips pinch together while he’s crumbling from restrained laughter.

“Not from a lack of trying,” Dan chimes in.

“Are you done now?” I level my best friends with a single stare.

We clink our glasses, down our shots, and hug.

“Why do I think I’m minutes too early before the dicks come out.” Amanda’s voice forces us apart. “Should I leave you four alone to finish?”

Amanda grins from ear to ear. Her dress is the perfect shade of emerald green Kennedy’s worried over for months. By the look on Rico’s face, and the drool pooling at his feet, I’d say my wife did an excellent job at picking out the bridesmaid dresses.

“Oh honey, quit staring. It won’t make the fabric disappear,” Amanda whispers, passing Rico and placing a finger under his slack jaw.

Rico jerks away, acting as if he’s unaffected. “Whatever.”

“You’re beautiful, Amanda.” I kiss her on the cheek.

“I know. Wait ‘til those brown eyes of yours land on the bride,” she counters with a wink.

“I have no doubt.” I check my watch. Thirty minutes until go time. I’ve only been tempted twice to bust down the door across from mine.

“I was told to bring this to you.” A white box lands on the table beside me. “Don’t let these pigs look at it, okay?” She leaves the room, and I thumb the black bow.

“Leave,” I bark, shoving the three of them towards the door.

“What, you aren’t going to even let us peek at what’s in there?” Rico reaches for the box, but I cut a look at him, and he backs off. “Fine, we’ll be harassing the bridesmaids if you need us.”

“No one is harassing anyone,” Mark argues, pushing Rico the rest of the way out and closing the door behind them.

Unbuttoning my tuxedo coat, I sit in one of the chairs, resting the box on my lap.

“Of course, she got me a book,” I mutter to myself.

The black leather is soft as a cloud. I flip open the cover, and Kennedy’s beautiful handwriting is scrolled across the ivory front page.

To Graham, the love of my life.

Today I’ll be walking down the aisle in a gorgeous white dress. I’ll be the girl with a bright smile on my face.

Flip the pages to bring a smile to yours.

I love you more.

Yours always,

Kennedy

I turn the first thick page, and a submarine-sized lump forms in the back of my throat.

“Holy. Hell,” I say, skimming through her present.

Every photo is different, but each sexy in its own right. I pause on the one of my high school baseball jersey. It’s unbuttoned, and she wears nothing but a pair of black lace panties under it. A baseball bat rests on her shoulder.

“Jesus.” I puff out a breath of air, my dick swelling from the sight.

“God damn,” Rico shouts from behind me.

“What are you doing in here?” I slam the book shut and stand to my feet, hiding my growing erection behind my gift.

“Accidently checking out your wife.” He cringes. I’m seconds from knocking him on his well-manicured ass. “But that’s not why I came in here.”

“So why did you?” I ask, placing the book in the box and setting it on the table behind me.

“It’s time, man. You ready?” Rico pats me on the shoulder, ushering me to the door.

In the hallway, my mom wraps her arms around my neck and hugs me tight. She’s just as beautiful as she’s always been. It’s taken a long time for her to get back her strength. Her honey-toned eyes used to be dark and afraid, but now they’re filled with a confident light I’ve been desperate to find in her for far too long.

“You’ve always been handsome,” she whispers, her voice shaky with tears. “And I haven’t said this enough, but I’m proud of the man you’ve become.”

It doesn’t matter how old I get, it’s troubling to watch my mom cry, happy tears or not. With her close by my side, we walk towards the back garden and pause for our eyes to adjust.

One of Kennedy’s requests was to have flowers everywhere. Now I look at the blush peonies beside the white lilacs and see how they compliment each other. Why do I even know this shit? Well, I’ll be damned if I couldn’t deliver a blooming wonderland for my wife.

A huge Weeping Willow cascades over a portion of the grounds behind the building. Small lanterns with flickering lights hang from the branches, casting our guests in a beautiful hue.

“Our worlds collided in the dark, and I wouldn’t give up the darkness for just a little bit of light if it meant we never happened,” she’d whispered in my ear at our photography consultation.

Soft, dramatic music plays as we take our place in the procession. After Will guides Mrs. Conrad to the front row, I walk my mom down the aisle to her seat.

For the first time, I realize this weight on me isn’t a weight in the slightest. Contentment is as heavy as burden. We sometimes confuse the two. What is one person’s scariest moment, ends up being another’s easiest.

Kennedy is my easy.

I’ve never been the type of guy to fall for the hype. My heart and my mind work together to make the best choices for me. Every decision I’ve made, the good and bad, has led me to this day, and damn if I don’t find my hands gripping tight at my sides, eager to see my woman walking down the aisle.

Everyone’s attention on me doesn’t matter. It never has when she’s in the room. The wedding day pressure. The uncertainty. The restlessness. None of those are present, but instead, in their place, is a whole fucking lot of gratitude.

When I say my mind and heart work together, I mean they work for her. The girl with the goofy grin and breathtaking sparkle shining at me as she waltzes down the aisle. She is the reason I’m here today. She saved my life and brought meaning into it.

Dammit, she’s beautiful. Her dress hugs her body like a second skin, and it’s the perfect shade of white. Apparently, there are as many shades of white as there are types of flowers, another tidbit of useless information I’ve learned. Her veil cascades down her back, and her hair is curled but pinned. Perfectly messy and effortless. The flowers lucky enough to be in her hand are tied in an emerald ribbon, matching the bridesmaid dresses.

Mr. Conrad releases his hold on his daughter. He kisses Kennedy softly on the cheek and winks at me before sitting down next to Mrs. Conrad.

“Hey, handsome,” Kennedy whispers.

“Fancy meeting you here.” There’s no way in hell I’m waiting to kiss her until the pastor says, “You may now kiss your bride.” I lean forward and quickly graze my lips against hers, not worried if her lipstick is on me, or what anyone thinks. It’s her and me.

“Look what we’ve done. Do you think they forgot we’re already married?” Kennedy’s head lifts with her laugh. I blink slow and imbed her into my memory. I want to remember her like this.

When I’m old, I’ll look back on this day and remember the happiness she brings into my life.

“You may be seated,” the pastor says to the congregation.

While everyone we love watches, I hold hands with the girl of my dreams. We sway softly from side to side, grinning like school children. I’ve never believed in soul mates. What I do believe is you know when you cross paths with someone who is meant to be your future. Since the beginning, I’ve known she was going to cause the biggest ripple in my story.

“Do you know what makes love last?” the pastor says. Kennedy’s stare softens. “It’s not attraction, or how much money you have. It’s work. We work every day of our lives to make marriage plentiful. Some have to work harder than others, and some of us have already done enough work to last a lifetime.”

Kennedy gestures between the two of us. She’s right. We’ve worked harder than we ever imagined possible in our short lives. Every obstacle that could be thrown in front of us, has been, and we’ve hit it head on, together.

“Graham and Kennedy, to no surprise, have chosen to speak their own words of love to each other.” Pastor faces Kennedy, urging her to go first.

The wind lifts Kennedy’s veil and whips it around like a kite. A disgruntled sigh exits her pink painted lips. Violet jumps into action and, without a single word exchanged, unhooks the long white material and tucks it over her arm.

“There. That’s better.” Kennedy laughs, making the rest of our guests chuckle along with her. She shrugs, unapologetic for the mishap. “Graham, I’m not even sure there are words to begin to describe what you mean to me. I know a lot of people say things like that, but without you, I wouldn’t have survived. You have been my soft place to land, my hope, and more importantly, you’re the love of my life. No one on this Earth can compare to you. It’s because of you that I’m a mom.” Kennedy flashes a smile at Ben and winks. With a light squeeze to my hand, she vows to me, “On this day, in front of our family and friends, I devote my life to you, again, and I will continue to for the rest of our lives.”

Sighs ring out around the garden. Everyone embraces her words, like I do. They’re more than just words. Deep in our chests, Kennedy’s vows burn to remind us that love can conquer most things if we allow it.

“The truth is, I didn’t write my vows,” I say, garnering a few snickers from my groomsmen. “Before everyone jumps on my back, it’s because I knew I didn’t need to. I’m not going to stand up here and read off a piece of paper. Everything about you and me is organic. It has been from the beginning. There’s always been an ease about me and you, Babe. You look at the world so beautifully, Kennedy, and you are my reason why.” I close my eyes and collect myself. They open to Kennedy’s lips quivering as she fights back tears. “I wake up every morning with you beside me, and I know I did something right, at some point in my life. You and Ben are my something right.” Ben grins wildly, and we fist bump. I love that little guy. “So today, I promise to always put you two first, to grab your ass while you’re doing the dishes”— I wink, and everyone laughs because they know it’s true— “and to kiss you always like it’s our last time.”

I brush my thumb along the corner of her eyelashes and dry her tears. She mouths, “I love you.” Nothing else matters other than this girl in front of me and the boy groaning behind me. He’s not thrilled watching public displays of affection from his parents.

After we exchange rings, the pastor smiles at us. Even though the state of Connecticut says we’re legally married, we’ve been going through pre-marriage counseling. The pastor’s been teaching us ways to communicate better and how to settle disagreements. According to him, it’s easier to have a happy wife than win an argument.

Most importantly, he’s been discussing our past. It was hard at first, and Kennedy and I found ourselves admitting things we may never have to each other or ourselves, really. Our meetings with Pastor Gregory have been the best thing for us. Old feelings, those things we’ve tried to keep tamped down, have been brought forward. None of it is easy, but for the benefit of our family, it’s been worth every tear.

“And by the power vested in me by the state of Connecticut, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Graham, you may now kiss your bride.”

Once those words leave the pastor’s mouth, Kennedy lunges at me, catching me off guard. With a sturdy hold on me, she flicks her feet into the air. Our lips lock like we’re desperate for fresh air, and our source for life is found in each other.

The guests, every person who has stood by our sides throughout our journey, hoot and holler as I fall deeper and deeper into my wife.