“April is a good month,” she said.
“April is a good month.” He gave her the smile she liked to mimic, higher on the left than the right, head tilted just enough to make up for it.
She was hiding behind her mug, both hands interlaced with the string of her tea bag.
April was a good month. They’d gone on their first date in April, over two years ago. She was beautiful in April. She was beautiful all of the time, when she laughed, when she crinkled her nose, when she twirled her hair because she was nervous. But she was stunning that first April.
It had been one of the best springs he had known, weather-wise. It followed a harsh winter and it broke into the season on the day after a snow, a late-season, wet, dirty snow that nobody appreciated. Everyone had forgotten the sun, the humidity, their porches, corn hole, shorts. All of the sudden, no one had responsibilities and there were more hours in the day and Mary Macgregor was meeting him for breakfast.
He had never forgotten that April. The late nights, the rain, the awkward introductions, the real talk over black coffee. The way Mary looked before sunrise and at dusk.
He was in love with April, because of Mary. He was happy. He didn’t have any doubts about Mary. He would never regret Mary. April seemed only too appropriate.
He couldn’t sleep. It was August and too hot to leave his window open, so he lay on his bed, on top of the comforter, almost naked, eyes open but not seeing, until he was heaving in the stifling air, unemotional tears flying down his cheeks in a way that the minutes on the clock refused him. He needed to vomit but he couldn’t pick himself up until the shudders involuntarily contracted his frame and he crashed into the bathroom.
He was weak and the toilet was cold.
Jake was at the doorframe, asking him if he was okay, and he must’ve answered because Jake went away and came back with a glass of water.
He fell asleep with his cheek against the side of the tub.
The second time, Jake didn’t let him get away with it.
He came home from a work party at Mary’s office, loosening his tie as he slammed the door behind him. Jake called to him from the porch. He grabbed a beer from the fridge, untucked his shirt, and pulled the screen door open and closed.
Jake was sitting in a plastic chair, a beer in his hand and an empty one on the ground beside him. It was another hot night and he closed his eyes to an oncoming headache.
“Are you nervous?” Jake asked finally, his gaze fixed on the sunset.
“I don’t think so.”
Jake’s eyes flicked over to him for a second.
He sighed and let his head sink, his elbows digging into his knees.
“I’m happy, Jake. I love Mary.” His voice was low. “I asked her to marry me. I asked her.”
“You’re allowed to be nervous.”
He kicked the mildewed railing, leaving a visible off-white scuff mark on his dress shoes. He slumped back in the chair and pressed hard on the bridge of his nose, alleviating the pressure building with the humidity. It was going to rain.
He felt like he was seventeen again, and he couldn’t explain to his mother why he didn’t want a party when he committed. He had gone to college and played for four years and he had never once regretted it. And he loved Mary more than he had ever loved baseball.
“I don’t know, Jake.”
He could feel Jake’s eyes upon him as he took a swig from his bottle. The beer was sticky and heavy and weirdly sweet and he choked it down, consciously not letting himself cough or grimace.
He wrote Mary a letter that night. At about four, he got out of bed and burned it with a lighter, barely feeling the fire burn his pointer finger as the last of the paper disintegrated.
“Do you want to marry her?”
He vomited into the toilet. “More than anything I’ve ever wanted.”
“You look tired.” Mary closed the door behind him as he stepped out of his shoes.
“I haven’t been sleeping well. It’s too hot.”
She noticed when he didn’t want his dinner.
“Do you want my carrots?”
The bite in his mouth grew sour at the thought of the sweet of her carrots, and he barely made it to the bathroom before what he had managed to swallow came back up.
He rested his forehead on the seat, between his raised knees, breathing hard. Mary was a gentle hand on his back, an oppressive heat beside him.
He had a toothbrush in her medicine cabinet and she brushed his teeth and led him to her bed. He lay on his back and she turned the lights out.
“I love you,” he whispered. She hushed him, gently rubbing his stomach.
She was still there when he woke up.
“What time is it?”
He crawled out of bed and brushed his teeth again. She had cleaned the kitchen.
“Are you okay?” she asked as he settled next to her. He knew she was crying.
“I’m fine. Why are you crying?”
He laid his head on her lap.
“I talked to Jake,” she said a few minutes later. He was still.
“Do you want to get married?”
He wanted to say yes, but his eyes were so heavy and there was a dull throb behind his forehead.
“If you don’t, just-“
“I want to marry you.” He tried to think. “I want to marry you tomorrow. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I want everything about you. I love you, Mary.”
“What’s wrong with you?” He wasn’t sure if he’d thought it or if she’d said it.
He let her run her fingers through his hair and relaxed. He could feel himself sweating, but he didn’t want her to move.
But he couldn’t fall asleep. So he sat up, slowly, moved next to her, held her face in his hand, pulled her onto him, let his lips graze hers. He could see her tears reflecting in the darkness, and he kissed them individually.
She kissed him, gently at first, then hard, and he had to pull back. Then he kissed her again, and his tongue found her teeth and one hand was in her hair and one hand was on her thigh and she rested her forehead against his.
They lay back and she fit the way he remembered her fitting that April and the way he knew she would fit the next April and the April after that and the April after that. And he kissed her hair and the sweet smell of the shampoo didn’t make him sick so he breathed it in, deep, and it smelled like April and flowers and happy and Mary. And he saw the ring on her finger, her long, thin finger, and the diamond shiny even in the dark and he was cold and her body was warm and he loved her.