Excerpt: Going To The Chapel
An Oberon/LA Love Lessons Crossover Novella
My name is Derek, and this is not my story. This is a story about a wedding. And as everyone knows, nine times out of ten, weddings are all about the bride. But this part right here—the part where I'm about to propose to the love of my life? Yeah, that's all me. So that's where I'll begin...
It was our last day in Bali. I'd been there for about three weeks already, teaching an advanced yoga class at a private retreat in Ubud. When I signed up for the job, almost a year ago, it seemed like a great gig. But in some ways, this trip couldn't have come at a worse time. How could I have predicted that my best friend, the girl I'd been secretly in love with, would choose three months ago to finally admit she loved me back?
To make the idea of being away from home—away from her—seem even less appealing, when I'd booked the trip I'd tacked on an extra week at the end to just relax and enjoy myself. But who wants to vacation alone in a place that screams romance when you've got a special someone at home, and you want to spend every minute of every day with her? Luckily, Gabby had stockpiled enough vacation time that she was able to fly out and join me for this last week.
So, in another very crucial way, you might say this trip to Bali couldn't have come at a better time. Seriously. It was almost like fate.
See, there's this traditional Balinese pavilion on the hotel grounds, overlooking the rice paddies. And there's this magical moment that seems to happen, just as the sun is about to set, when the clouds seem to glow and flocks of starlings appear out of nowhere to wheel through the sky, calling to one another. The air is cool and heavy with the scent of frangipani. It's perfect. If I had the whole world to choose from, I don't know if I could find a better time, or a more romantic setting in which to pop the question.
Yeah. That question. The Big One. "Will you marry me?"
You're probably thinking I'm crazy proposing to Gabby so soon, or that she'd be crazy to accept. I bet you don't believe in love at first sight either, right? Trust me, I get it. I've been there. But when I met Gabby, everything changed. And all my previous ideas about love and marriage went right out the window.
Which is why I'd made up my mind: This is going down. Tonight. Just as soon as I get back from climbing this volcano.
That's not a metaphor, in case you were wondering. It's a short hike up to the summit of an active volcano and back, which I figured was exactly what I needed to settle my nerves. And, yes, I'm man enough to admit to being nervous. When it came to marriage, my parents were such phenomenally bad role models that my brother and I both swore we'd never follow in their footsteps. We were never getting married, never settling down, never having kids.
What can I say? You live, you learn. Am I right?
While I'm in full-disclosure mode, I should maybe mention that there was more than one reason I chose this particular hike. Yes, it was good exercise, strenuous enough to get my blood pumping, but there's an interesting legend attached to it as well. Supposedly, if you can make the trip down from the summit without stumbling, or having to grab hold of anything along the way to steady yourself, you'll have proven yourself to be balanced, centered, and calm. And the gods will reward you with a life that's free from all unnecessary complications.
I'm not superstitious, but I'll take all the luck I can get.
Of course, there's a downside to the legend, which is that the reverse is also true. Mess up even a little, and you're doomed to a life of endless complications. But as I told Gabby once when she was still worried about the possibility of sex ruining our friendship, some risks are worth taking. And as far as meaningless superstitions go, this struck me as being a lot more creative than knocking on wood or crossing my fingers.
Needless to say, Gabby hadn't joined me on the hike, having opted to pamper herself with one last spa day. But I didn't want to think too much about that. It was too distracting. Once I started imagining what she might be up to, visualizing her stretched out on a table, moaning softly while strong hands massage her oiled and naked body; or floating—still naked—in a fragrant tub of flower petals and steaming water, I'd lose my balance for sure.
Better to imagine her getting another of those fish pedicures she likes so much. In case you don't know, that's where you sit at the edge of a big tank, stick your feet in the water, and let schools of fish nibble at your toes. Gabby swears by it, and as she's a bit of a foot fetishist, I guess she'd know. But the whole idea of it freaks me out.
As it was, however, not even the fish were enough to save me. I'd almost made it to the bottom of the trail when it happened. A patch of loose scree caused my foot to slip out from under me. Without thinking, I reached for a branch overhanging the path to stop myself from sliding. The instant my hand made contact I realized what I'd done; I'd cursed myself with a lifetime of complications. Sweet!
It's a damn good thing I'm not superstitious.
I'm a rational guy. I never really believed in bad luck or curses. You make your own way in the world, that's how I see it. But, all the same, as soon as I unlocked the door to our hotel room, I began having doubts.
"Hey, you're back," I said, surprised to find Gabby there before me. "Everything go okay?"
"Um...yeah." She seemed little distracted. I put it down to her being in that deeply relaxed state that often follows a really good massage. She shoved something into her suitcase, which was open on the bed, then stood and faced me. Her eyes widened. "Omigod, what happened? You're all covered in mud!"
"It's nothing," I lied. "Imma take a quick shower, then maybe we can walk down to the pavilion, watch the sunset or something—okay? There's something I want to ask you."
"All right, sure. We can do that."
"Great. Why don't you get dressed then? I'll be right out."
So I grabbed my stuff, disappeared into the bathroom, and tried my best not to hyperventilate. It wasn't that I thought she'd say no exactly, but I've learned not to take anything for granted when it comes to Gabby. She has her own way of thinking, her own way of doing things. That might be what I love most about her, to be honest, but it does keep me on my toes.
I took a shower, gave myself a pep talk in the mirror, then slid the ring box into the pocket of my slacks. I was ready. Sort of. But when I exited the bathroom, I found Gabe pacing the floor, still dressed in the same tank-top-and-boy-shorts combo she was wearing when I went into the bathroom. Alarms started ringing in my mind. "What's wrong?"
She didn't answer right away,. She bit her lip, stared at me uncertainly, and then, out of nowhere, she blurted, "Do you want to get married?"
"What?" In my defense, she'd caught me off-guard. Wasn't that supposed to be my line?
"Stop saying that!" She snapped. Then her bottom lip started trembling. "So, I take it that's a 'no' then?"
"No." I shook my head. "I mean, no! Wait—that's not what I meant either. Fuck!" I pulled the box out of my pocket and extended my hand. "Here."
"What is it?" Gabby asked shrinking back a step, eyeing the box like it was a spider.
"What do you think it is?" I flicked the box open as I crossed to where she was standing. "It's an engagement ring. See?"
"No, why would you think that?" I asked as I took a knee. "Doesn't everyone keep diamond rings in their toiletry kit when they travel? Who knows when you might get the urge to propose to random strangers."
"That's not very funny."
"Well, I'm sorry." What could I say? I was still in shock. "Maybe I'm practicing my dad jokes. You ever think of that?"
"You're practicing what?"
My dad jokes. You know, those bad jokes dads always make to embarrass their kids? I'm pretty sure it's a requirement."
"And I'm pretty sure you're full of shit."
You're probably right," I admitted, as I took hold of her hand. "But you caught me by surprise. I didn't plan to do this here. And I was really hoping to make it more romantic. But I guess this is it, so here goes." I took a deep breath, squeezed her hand a little tighter and said, "I love you, Gabe. Will you please marry me?"
"Oh, Derek," she said, sniffling just a little. "Of course I will."
Relieved, I slipped the ring on her finger. Then I jumped to my feet and kissed her. Mostly, I was ecstatic. But a small, panicked part of me was shrieking. A baby? What the fuck have we done?
"So we're really gonna do this." Gabby sounded slightly bemused as she snuggled against me.
"We are definitely doing this." I pressed a kiss against her hair, inhaled the elusive flowery scent of her shampoo. "The sooner the better." Call me old fashioned, but I didn't want to be her baby daddy. I'm not saying I'd have chosen to have a kid just then—or maybe ever—but if that's what we were doing, I was determined to do it right.
"Soon, huh?" She sighed heavily. "Yeah, that might be a bit complicated."
I bit back a laugh, because of course it would be complicated. Hadn't I already figured that out? But the truth is, no, I hadn't. Neither of us had any idea, at that point, how truly complicated our lives were about to get.