“Are you drunk?” said Laura back at my apartment.
“I just had a few drinks with your parents,” I said, speech slurred.
“My parents? As in my dad and my mom?” she said.
“It’s no big deal, babe. I told your parents, and it went ok—for the most part.”
“What do you mean for the most part?” she asked, pacing my living room.
“Well, you were right about your dad. Calling him Frank changed everything. He was cool about it all, and it was his idea to drink, not mine,” I said.
“And my mom? She actually had a drink?”
“Yes, but lemme finish. She was upset at first, ya know? ‘What do you know about being a husband and all,’ she said. But I stood up to her. I told her how I really feel about you and that I will support you and that I’ll get a good job and that we’ll wait until we graduate.”
“Wait, what? You said, we would wait until we graduate?” she said, still agitated.
“Yeah, you know, until I can get a job and make some money.”
“We never discussed that. You can’t go making decisions for us like that!”
“Babe, you weren’t there!” I said. “That was the condition your father made with me for his blessing, and I felt like I needed to say that to your mother to get her to calm down.”
“Still, that’s like, our lives, you know?” she said, stopping in the middle of the room.
“I know, I know, but don’t you think it’s a good idea? I mean, is there really a rush?”
“No. We probably would have waited anyway. I just need us to be a team. Promise me, James, that from this day on, we are a team. We make decisions together.”
I met her in the middle of the room and took both of her hands and said, “Yes. I promise. Look, I’m just glad it’s over and that everybody is ok with this.”
“Um, well not everybody. What about your parents? We haven’t told them.”
“Yeah, I guess I hadn’t thought about that, yet—I was so focused on your dad. Look, I really don’t think it’s going to be all that big of a deal,” I said. “ Come here.” I pull her into my arms. “My parents adore you. They will be very happy. I promise—once they get over the initial shock.”
She took a deep breath, let it out, and nuzzled me a little on the neck.
“You don’t think your mom is going to give us a sex talk, do you?”
“I’m quite certain she will,” I said, but then I was reminded of the fact that my mom was dying. It hit me like that, a few times a day, crushing me a little more every time.
She laughed and pulled away, but I wasn’t laughing.
“What is it?”
“My mom. I mean, do you even think she’ll live to see us get married?”
“Honey, I don’t know.”
“What are we going to do? Maybe we shouldn’t wait after all,” I said, sifting through the possibilities in my mind. “Don’t you think your parents will understand?”
“Hey, you got my mom to drink. You can do anything.”
We decided that was enough excitement for the day, so we went to The Mont, a popular hangout for students wanting chips and queso and their signature drink: the Swirl, which was a swirl of margarita and sangria; deceptively potent. The restaurant had a large patio, where I spent a good deal of time during my college career, but the weather was turning colder, so we sat inside, which was all dark wood and dim light. We sat at a booth.
“So, when should we tell our friends? Have you thought about who would be your best man? What about your brother Mike?”
“We’re not really all that close. He can be a groomsman. Let’s tell my parents first. I don’t expect it to be any sort of hurdle, but they deserve that respect. I’m not exactly sure who should be my best man. I mean, Bijan is my oldest friend, but he’s off doing his own thing. Zach is really my best guy friend at the moment, and he invested a lot in us, ya know?”
“Ok, but don’t you think Bijan might be hurt if you don’t ask him?” she said, sipping her Swirl with a plastic straw.
“Geez, I don’t know. I can never tell with that guy. We’ve kind of drifted apart. He might not even be able to come to the wedding with his apprenticeship and all. But you know what? I should ask him first, if he says he can’t do it then I’ll ask Zach. If Bijan can do it, then Zach can be a groomsman.”
“Yeah, ok. That sounds like a good plan, babe.”
I smiled at being called babe. She had never called me that even when we had dated.
“I’ll ask Jennifer.”
“Sure, “ I said.
We continued to discuss plans as we munched sausage queso with chips, and I drank a second round of Swirls.
“Don’t you think you’ve had enough to drink today?” she said.
“It’s kind of a momentous occasion, don’t you think?” I said, a little defensively.
“Ok, ok. That’s fine. Just an observation.”
We decided to tell my parents the next day because Laura was a little sick to her stomach about it and she didn’t want to wait any longer than necessary. I phoned ahead, and I could tell that my dad sensed something was up. It was a little unusual for me to stop by midweek.
The next day, we stood outside of my parents’ house, and Laura stopped me from ringing the doorbell. “What if they don’t like me? What if they freak out and don’t want us to get married?” she said.
“Babe,” I said, taking her hand, “It’s going to be fine. It might be an adjustment, but it will be fine.”
“Ok,” she said.
So, I rang the doorbell.
My father answered. “Ah, it’s my favorite youngest son,” he said. “And Laura. It is so nice to see you. Come on in, guys. I have some coffee brewed for the occasion—whatever that might be.”
My mother greeted us in the living room. “Laura, wow, I guess we haven’t seen you around for a while. I understand you’ve transferred to OU.”
“Yes, Mrs. Roberts,” said Laura.
“No, no. You should call me Cynthia! We’re all adults now.”
“Well, I guess you’ve heard about our news,” said my mother sitting down in her usual spot and slapping her hands on her legs.
We sat down on the couch, and Laura said, “News?”
“Yes. I’m dying. Will be dead in just a couple of months.”
Laura stammered as she said, “Umm….yeah…I…uh…yes, well James told me. I’m so sorry, Cynthia.”
“Why should you be sorry? It’s not your fault,” said my mother.
This was one of her habits that really irritated me. She never understood the concept of someone saying there were sorry, as in sorry to hear your dog died, but there was no arguing that with her.
“No,” said Laura, “I’m just saying that I’m really sorry to hear that.”
“Would you kids like some coffee,” said my father cheerfully as he walked in from the kitchen.
“No thanks, Mr. Roberts,” said Laura.
“Sure, Dad,” I said.
“Black?” he asked.
“Yes, that will be fine,” I said.
“Good man, good man,” he said, walking back into the kitchen.
“So,” continued my mother. “I take it you’re back together?”
“Well,” I said, “that’s kind of what we want to talk to you about.”
My dad returned with a tray of coffee and passed two mugs to my mother and me and took one for himself, placing the tray on the coffee table.
“So,” he said. “what is this important matter of which you wish to discuss,” he said with a twinkle in his eye and a smile to my mom. I wondered if he already knew.
“Well, so,” I began. “Yes, Laura and I are back together, and we just couldn’t be happier.” I took a deep breath and said, “So we’ve decided to get married.”
At that, my mother jumped up from her chair and clapped her hands together, and said with great vigor, “That’s wonderful! We’ve been praying for this for years. We just think you’re such a catch, Laura! Tell them, Phin.”
“Yes, yes, yes. That is good news, kids. A perfect send-off for Cynthia.”
“Dad,” I scowled, “do you have to say that?”
“Why shouldn’t he,” said my mother. “I really would like to go out with a bang. How soon is the wedding?”
“Well, that’s the thing,” said Laura. “We kind of told my parents it would be when we graduated.”
“Oh,” said my mother, sitting down, “I see, well I suppose that is sensible.”
“But,” I said, “We think they’ll understand given the circumstances if we do it before…well before.”
“Oh! Well there’s so much to do. Phineas, there’s going to be a party! We can take an advance on some of the life insurance money out of savings and make it a real humdinger!”
“Mom,” I said, “come on. We don’t need you to make a big fuss.”
“What?! My baby is getting married. This will be the last time I get to make a fuss over you!” she said.
“Your mother’s right, James. Let us do this for you. It’s traditional for the groom’s parents to give a rehearsal dinner. You let us worry about it, ok?”
“Are you planning on having kids?” said my mother getting up and pacing in a circle.
“What? Now?” I said.
“Well, no, not now of course, but someday.”
Laura and I turned to each other, and Laura said, “Well…yeah…of course we want to have kids…eventually”
“Well, there you have it,” I said.
“Oh, that’s just wonderful. I can teach you the best positions for conceiving a child,” she said, perusing the living room library. “I believe I have a book here somewhere.”
“Mom! We’re not going to discuss sex positions today!” I said.
She turned around, and her intensity softened. “My baby is going to be married. Come here, the two of you—Phin? Let’s have a group hug.”
We all gathered in the middle of the room, and my father wrapped his arms around us all and began to pray.
“Heavenly Father, we gather together to celebrate the love of James and Laura. We asked that you bless them beyond measure with love, happiness, and children. May they grow old together and deepen in their understanding of your love and grace. In the name of your son Jesus Christ, Amen.”
My mother responded with an enthusiastic, “And may your sex be as electric as your father’s and mine! Amen!”
That night, I pulled out my address book and looked up Bijan’s new number in L.A. I hadn’t spoken to him since his party. I hadn’t even really said goodbye properly. Both out of a sense of obligation and out of honoring our long friendship, I dialed his new number. It rang a few times before a familiar voice answered.
“Hey, this is Bijan”
“Hey, Bijan, it’s James.”
“James! Hey, it’s great to hear from you. How have you been?”
“I’ve got good stuff and bad stuff. Bad stuff first. My mom is dying of a brain tumor.”
“Ah, man, I’m really sorry to hear that. How long do you think she has to live?”
“Couple of months.”
“Dude, that really sucks. I’m really sorry, man.”
“Thanks. It’s a little tough to get used to. Just kind of out of the blue, but she is at peace with it, and I’m doing my best.”
“And the good news?” he said.
“Ah, yes. There’s something I want to ask you,” I said. “Laura and I are getting married, like really soon.”
“Dude! No way! I didn’t even know you were dating again.”
“Yeah, it all happened kind of quick. But when you know, you know….you know?”
He chuckled and said, “Yeah, I guess so.”
“Well, anyways, I wanted to know if you would be my best man. I know you’re busy and I wouldn’t expect you to do a bachelor’s party or anything, just—”
“Of course I’ll be your best man! Dude, there is no way I’m gonna miss this. You’re like my best friend.”
I was so deeply touched by this that it took me a moment to regain composure.
“Wow, that’s great,” I said, gulping back a cry reflex. “Look, we don’t have a date or anything yet, but it’s going to have to be soon because of my mother.”
“Of course, of course. Yeah, I’ll make it work. Just tell me as soon as you know, ok?”
“Yeah, cool,” I said, taking a beat. “Wow, this is really great. I wasn’t sure if you would do it, I mean we haven’t talked since you left, and—”
“Dude. We will always be friends. I know that we haven’t exactly been close recently, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about you. You’re my oldest friend, and I heard what you did for Elaheh—with the cucumber. That should have been me, you know, but you stepped up. Ya know, you kind of changed her life, James. She’s doing so much better this year with school and friends and all.”
“I’m really glad to hear that, Bijan. She means a lot to me. I’ll be sure to invite her and your family to the wedding.”
“Well, that’s enough news for now. I’ll be in touch about the wedding and all.”
“Awesome. I’ll be there.”
The next day, after Choir, I said to Zach, “Hey, let’s meet up with the boys at the Union. I have some news.”
“Oh yeah? Can I get a sneak preview? Is it about Laura?”
“Yes, it’s about Laura,” I said as we walked out of the choir room.
“Did y’all get back together?” he said.
“Something like that,” I said.
“That’s what I’m talkin bout!” he said.
“Oh, but there’s more. Way more. I’ll tell you when everyone’s together. Are they gonna be there?”
“Yeah, they’re there pretty much every Wednesday.”
As we walked, I began thinking about our moment in the shower, and I decided to bring it up.
“So, about the shower thing. Level with me. Are you gay?”
He was quiet for a while while we walked, then he said, “Look. It doesn’t matter what I am; it’s not like white boys being gay. A white boy comes out, and there’s a party. His parents might even accept it, right? Even in Oklahoma.”
I thought of the guy in my computer science program who came out. It did all seem to be ok. “Yeah, I guess,” I said.
“Well it’s not like that for a black dude. The black community is very anti-gay…those Baptist Pentecostal roots, I guess, or maybe just plain prejudice. I can’t just come out. My friends and family will not understand. Can you imagine what Tyrice and them would say?”
“I dunno. Maybe they’d be cool with it. You don’t really know. How do they talk about gay people?”
“They ain’t bad, but it’s definitely different for black guys. I’m telling you.”
“I just think it’s a shame,” I said, “that you can’t be yourself, you know? I mean, this is a big part of who you are, right?”
“Look,” he said, “It’s just one part of who am I. When I leave here, it will be different. I’ll go off to grad school, or maybe start auditioning. There are a lot of openly gay black men in opera. That day will come.”
“So you’re just going to wait?”
“Yup. Those guys are my friends and all, but they’re not a part of my world here in the school of music. I love them, but we’ll all be moving on soon. Trust me; it’s better this way.”
“Ok. I won’t push you on it.”
“That’s alright; you’re just being caring with me. I appreciate that,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder and grinning.“
When we arrived at the Union, Tyrice, Terrence, and Spencer were already eating. Tyrice gave me a hearty greeting.
“Wassup, Romeo? How’s Juliet?”
“I have some news on the Juliet front. Lemme get some food first.”
“Aw, my boy got news!” he said and gave Spencer some skin.
We got back with burgers and sat down. I took a bite, and Spencer said, “Ok, so what you got, white boy?”
I swallowed a bite and said, “Ok. So, I got back together with Laura.”
With that, Tyrice stood up and strutted for a moment laughing with his hand over his mouth, “My boy got GAME!”
“Ok, ok, well there’s a little more to it than that. I asked her to marry me.”
“You what?” said Tyrice.
“You heard me.”
Then Terrence broke his silence, pushed his glasses up on his nose, and said, “And what did she say?”
“Well, she said yes.”
“You crazy? You ain’t even out of college and you gonna get married?” said Tyrice.
“I know, it’s crazy, but when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, why wait?”
“That’s cool, that’s cool. I get it. Then get after it. When’s the wedding?” said Tyrice.
“We’re not sure yet, but soon. And here’s the thing. I want you guys to be my groomsmen.”
“No kidding?” said Spencer, chewing a bite of taco.
“No kidding,” I said. “You guys made this happen. I don’t think I could have done it without you.”
“Well shit, man. I would be honored to be in your wedding,” said Tyrice.
Everyone else nodded in agreement.
“So, everybody’s in?” I said.
Then Zach said, “Are you sure about this, man? This was quick?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said, and I was.
“Ok, then. We’re here for you,” he said, and the matter was settled.
Planning was underway. Laura and I set a date for November 3rd and sent out invitations to 275 people. We decided we would get married in my family’s church by Reverend Clark. Although Laura was Episcopalian, she intended to join the church after we got married.