I was pacing like a mad man, walking up and down the hallway. I glanced at the grandfather clock – it was five o’clock, and I had only an hour and a half left to get ready. I made a couple of phone calls before I showered to make sure everything was in the right place. Tonight there was no room for messing up – it should be perfect. Speaking about perfect, I tried out every outfit in my closet to find the right one for the occasion. But later I discarded the idea for a new blue suit. I also decided to shave and get myself a new haircut from Bessel and Bunkers.

I was all ready in an hour. I had half an hour to go and I had no idea what to do. I picked up the Vogue, skimming through the pages I have seen a dozen times now. It was the only thing I could do to kill time. Finally, I made my way to the porch. I knew that this was a huge step in my life and that a little bit of peace would be of some good. I watched the scene before me, as I counted the rise and fall of the tide. A few couples lingered on the beach, some of them holding hands and walking near the blue waters. The sun dipped low kissing the horizon. I knew that there were going to be more days like this, days full of peace and eternal beauty.

I was back in the hall and noticed that it was six- twenty on the clock. I had to get going. I grabbed my keys and hopped into my car. Crystal’s house was only a few minutes away. Every turn came naturally, I have traveled these roads a million times and I knew them by heart.

I pressed the doorbell and waited patiently. I watched the moths flutter near the light trying to concentrate on anything but the nervous feeling in my stomach. The door opened and Mr. Hutchinson looked at me like I was here for the first time. Mr. Hutchinson is Crystal’s father. He is a bald, patriotic man and would rather watch President Trump on TV than talk to an outsider. But when he does, he talks about his love for the nation and what a wonderful man John F. Kennedy was. He would often tell me “Kid, get into politics it would do you good.” Otherwise, he remained silent and once in a while questioned me about the working of things like the coffee machine.

“Evening Sir,” I said, though he did not look pleased to see me.

“Sure, it is going to be a hell of an evening,” he said, his voice lower than usual.

“So you are taking Crystal out…huh” he continued.

“Yes sir. I am” I replied ignoring his tone as a mere reflection of his character.

“So….I want you to know that….” he started his usual advice but this time I was not listening. I looked behind him, at Crystal. She was making her way down the stairs. She was in hot red, her dress cutting low to show off her breasts and the slit along her thighs revealed the clear glow of her caramel thighs. Her hair waved down her shoulders like the way I always liked it. She smiled as she leaned over and kissed her dad goodbye.

“So you ready,” she said like she knew what was going to happen already. I nodded and lead her to the car. The drive was long and there was a long silence between us. But it was not the awkward kind, I liked it.

“I am going to stop here,” I said, breaking the silence. She just smiled at me and nodded. I love the way she went along with whatever I did. I knew she trusted me enough to do so. I parked the car near the eucalyptus forest. We stood there holding each other for a couple of minutes.

“I am nervous,” she finally said.

“Don’t be. I am sure they will love you” I said, my voice soft and comforting.

“I hope so,” she said, her arms tightened around me as I pressed a kiss on her head. I was nervous too. Not that my family was mean to strangers but just the fact that she is new and I was not sure of what they were going to think of Crystal.

I held her hand and walked into the forest. She did all the speaking. She spoke about how her brother was doing at North Western University and how she had to go to the veterinarian five times this week to get some vaccines for her Golden Retriever. She was nervous I could tell. She was constantly pulling at the strings on her purse and was biting her lower lip when I responded to her stories.

I raced my palm along the wall that bordered the forest. It was covered with ivy. Chris was talking about her new neighbor when suddenly I was swallowed by the wall.

“Dylan….Dylan are you okay?” she cried, her voice in full panic.

“Chris, do you trust me,” I asked, smiling from the other side of the wall.

“I do…but,” she said, panic still lingering in her voice.

I stuck out my hand through the ivy and the hole in the wall. She grabbed it and before she knew it I pulled her through, and into my arms.

“Keep your eyes closed,” I said, my voice almost a lost whisper in the wind.

“Is something wrong?” she asked, concerned.

I pressed a kiss on her shoulder, her neck, and finally her ear before I whispered “No darling. We are here. We are home.”

She opened her eyes. And I was content to see her reaction, this was all I was waiting for.

“Is this your family?” she asked.

“Well, you said you wanted to meet my family. These are the people I consider as family.” I replied pointing to the large crowd near the bonfire.

Her shock did not subside. She stood there in my arms and did not make a move.

“You will be just fine. They are going to love you.” I said, pulling her towards the crowd.

The event was set up exactly the way I imagined. Mom had the steaks going with a couple of my aunts. Dad was talking to my friends about the basketball game from the night before. Brian and Cassie, my siblings, are handing out drinks. And Brian’s partner Conner was the DJ for the night. I wanted Chris to meet everyone.

Cassie was the super extrovert for the three of us. She loved having people over and was always making friends. It would be a surprise to know that someone in town was unaware of her whereabouts.

She was the first to notice that we arrived. She ran across the lawn and into my arms. She pulled away scanning my face and said, “Don’t tell me you took the shot cut and brought her through the wall.” I do not know how she found out, but I nodded.

“I would be lying if I said no,” I said with a shameless smile across my face.

“Stop it, Cassie!” Mom’s voice came from behind Cassie.

Cassie stepped back her arms up like she was standing in front of a cop. Mom embraced me “Daring, I am so happy that you planned this,” she said. I hugged her facing Cassie. She made a vulgar gesture I chose to ignore before she acknowledged Chris’s presence.

“Leave Crystal to me. I will show her around. She will be okay” Mom said, pulling Chris towards the girls. Chris turned around, my mom’s hand was still firm on her arm. I gave her an apologetic look and waved simply until she looked away.

“Man… What up?” Drake asked, pulling me towards his chest. Drake was my best friend from high school, he was the playmaker of The Royal Crown(our basketball team in high school). I high-fived the others, grabbing a coke as I joined the group in casual conversation.

“So is she here?” Dad asked, his hand thrown over my shoulder. He was a casual man that knew very little about being a dad. He talked to me like he was a classmate since Kindergarten. He was different from all fathers. But I guess that just made it easier for me in many ways.

“Nice suit Dylan” one of my friends complimented.

I murmured “thank you”. I usually do not get complimented so I was trying to find something to say.

But before I could come up with something Dad broke the unnoticed silence.

“He has a better style since Crystal,” he said, “for his Prom, he showed me a shirt that said ‘Vampires Rule’ and thought that it would be the best match with a khaki pants” he continued.

I looked down hiding my embarrassment. “My partner liked me in khaki,” I replied.

“Sure she would have liked a bald head and a naked guy,” my father replied. “doesn’t mean you lose your sense of dressing,” he added.

Everyone laughed at that and I bowed low taking a good minute to look at myself. Indeed my fashion has improved since Chris. Speaking of Chris I looked around and caught her eye. She smiled at me and waved. I waved back but before I could get her response my sister pulled her aside introducing another of her friends.

In the next few hours, I met my classmates and a couple of family members. They all had flown in from Canada to attend this event. I only mentioned it a couple of times and they insisted that they come. It was important for them to meet the woman that will potentially become my wife.

Dad called Chris to the house for some reason that I was not supposed to know. She was good with people and I saw that all those nerves were now gone as she walked out of the house, her laughter full and real. She had changed her outfit and was now dressed in white shorts and a red tank top. Her hair was up in a high ponytail and her legs……I looked around to see if anyone noticed the young, teenage look on my face. I shook my face and my head a bit dizzy at the sight of her. I looked away, urging myself to stay interested in the conversation Matt seemed excited about. I nodded stupidly, as my mind returned to Chris.

Hours later we all gathered around the fire. Our s’mores were ready and mama joined in as we shared “talent”. Conner had an unbelievable talent for beatboxing, I knew that I should not have expected anything less from a DJ. Cassie was excellent at the guitar and sang a few songs urging Chris to sing along. Chris was enjoying herself, her face bright and attentive as she listened to Cassie rattle about the club down the street. She looked so beautiful and I knew that we would have many more nights like this, just me and her. Her hair was flying a few stands brushing her face. She reached up and tucked a few strands behind her ear. I smiled to myself imagining myself do that, imagining myself running my hands through her hair. She turned and looked my way – I froze my heart beating fast. I looked away and tried to look for some sort of conversation to join but failed. Everyone was talking to one person or the other. I had no choice but to look back. And when I did she raised an eyebrow in silent question – What?

I nodded simply, she smiled at me, her rich, red lips curving upward. I cursed under my breath. She loved it when I admired her secretly and enjoyed teasing me when I caught me doing it.

“You are no less than a teenager” she would say. Something that I don’t take as a compliment.

The evening was closing in – a few stars were already insight. The group was still singing songs and sharing stories. Little did I know that they were going in a certain order. When Cassie said, “So Dylan I guess it is your turn now.”

I stared at the audience. Me! I knew nothing about talent. I could play the piano, but there was no piano here so I dismissed the idea.

“Me! No! I will pass.” I said.

“Come on Dylan, show us something!” Conner yelled, the rest of the group cheering in unison. I looked at Chris, she simply tilted her head urging me to please the crowd – “Show us something” she said, echoing Cassie’s words.

I waited for something…but I had nothing to share. I leaned back against the tree. I ran my hands through my hair trying to come up with something. There was a low whisper initially, the words got louder as everyone chanted. It took a while before I registered them – “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!”

I opened my mouth in shock, instantly glaring at Cassie. It must have been her idea. She shrugged, continuing the chant a little louder.

“No, come on, that is no talent.”

The chanting descended as Cassie exclaimed, “It sure is a talent, isn’t it? “

The crowd agreed in a roaring cheer. I looked at Chris as she walked towards me.

I would kiss her every minute, every hour, and every day but now, with these people watching. Chris and I had never been so public as a couple.

When Chris was a few inches away, the crowd watched in delight as she pulled me by the shirt, and wrapped her hands around my neck. In response, I held her hip. She pulled me close, her lips hard on mine at first and then gentle with much more passion and love. I ran my hands through her hair as I imagined. The crowd gasped at the sight, he gave them not more than a few minutes to feast their eyes. I shifted Chris pinning her to the tree trunk, blocking their view as I kissed her in return. The crowd sighed in disappointment as I remained there as long as the kiss lasted.