As Neil spoke with his Aunts and Uncles, he realized that he hadn’t stopped smiling all day. From the moment he had seen Claire walking down the aisle towards him, from being able to kiss his bride, to celebrating with their family and friends, he had been on a high of happiness. Being with Claire always made him happy, but today felt like the cumulation of everything it took to get them to this point.
He thought about how lucky they were and how hard they had worked to get to this point. He thought about how close they had come to not getting here. If she hadn’t fought for him after he was injured during the earthquake, if she hadn’t been his strength when he wanted to give up when recovery seemed impossible, if she hadn’t leaned on him whenever she was struggling. Things could’ve ended up so differently. Realizing that he had been away from her for too long, he excused himself from his family.
He glanced around the room looking for Claire but didn’t see her. He knew that while she was happy for them to get married, she had been less thrilled about the large wedding and reception. His mother had wanted them to invite all their extended family to the wedding. There were people there that he didn’t even know. Claire had wanted to make his mother happy and agreed to a larger affair. He tried to tell her that his mother loved her even if she didn’t agree with what she wanted. Claire insisted that they do what would make her happy. He made his way outside to the balcony sure that Claire had stepped outside to get some air.
As he walked out, he saw her leaning against the railing the wind blowing her hair. He stood for a moment and simply watched her. He was so lucky that he was going to get to spend the rest of his life with her.
As if she knew he was there, she turned and smiled at him. “What?”
He took a few steps so that he was beside her. “I’m not allowed to look at my wife?”
“You can do whatever you want,” she said shivering.
He slipped his jacket off and placed it around her shoulders. He wondered how long she had been out here.
“Everything okay?” he asked, “You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”
She slipped her arm around his waist pulling him close. “Absolutely not. You Neil Melendez are stuck with me forever.”
He pressed a kiss against her head. “Good, because I wouldn’t be able to let you go.” He noticed a lingering sadness in her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“I can never hide anything from you.”
“I don’t want you to.”
She looked up at him. “Today has been one of the happiest days of my life.”
“One of?” he teased.
“My first lead surgery is pretty high up there,” she grinned. “You were right beside me then too.”
“And I always will be.”
“I know,” she said. “I was just watching everyone in there and even though I’m sure she would’ve messed it up somehow, I was missing mom.”
He felt the familiar bang of sadness when she mentioned her mother. He hated that she had suffered so much because of her.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly, wishing he could do something to make it better.
“I still think sometimes of what she used to say to me.” She looked out over the garden. He kept his arm around her waist, keeping her close to him. “She always told me that no one else would ever love me.”
He wanted to interrupt her and tell her that she had his heart, but he knew she needed to share what was bothering her.
“I believed her for so long,” she said softly. “I wish she could see me now. Growing up, I used to dream of getting married and having a family, but I never really thought it would happen. I wish I could go back and tell that lost little girl that something amazing was waiting for her.” She pulled away so she could look at him. “And just so you know, I’m talking about you.”
He reached out and wiped the tears from her face, his hand lingering against her cheek.
“You’re pretty amazing yourself,” he said. “I wouldn’t be standing here without you. I am so grateful that we found each other, even if it took us a little while to get here.”
She stepped closer to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her hugging her close.
“Do you ever wonder if we would’ve made it here if we had meet each other in another time of our lives?”
“I don’t know,” he answered honestly.
“I’d do it all again,” she said, “if it meant I got to end up spending the rest of my life with you.”
“Now who sounds like the romantic?”
“It’s our wedding day, I’m allowed to.”
“You know I don’t mind.”
She moved so she could look at him, “By the way your mother asked me when she was going to get a grandchild.”
He groaned. “What did you tell her?”
She smiled at him, a teasing glint in her eyes. “I told her we’d get started tonight, but she told me we shouldn’t.”
“Do I even want to know?”
She laughed. “She said we’d have better luck tomorrow after a goodnight’s sleep.”
He sighed. “I wish I could tell you she’d get better, but she won’t.”
“I don’t mind.”
“You say that now.”
She sighed. “Do you think we should go back in?”
He glanced behind them into the ballroom as he watched family and friends dancing, talking and drinking.
“I’m happy to stay here with my wife a little while longer.”
She rested her head against his chest. “I’m happy here with my husband.”
They stood with their arms around each other enjoying being with each other on the night that they officially started their life together. The road might have been bumpy, but he was so grateful that they had found their way to each other.