Given the circumstances, Laura’s parents were understanding about our new timeline. We had come over on a Sunday afternoon and shared my mother’s desire to see us wed before her passing. Mrs. Welch had shared the story of her own mother’s illness and passing and how she had not made it to her college graduation and what a regret that was.
We began to receive R.S.V.P cards daily until the last week of our preparations when a trickle dwindled to a full stop. More than 200 friends and family planned to attend; enough to fill the modest sanctuary and cost my parents a fortune in ribeye steak and chicken marsala for the reception.
I let Laura plan the ceremony except for the prelude; I wanted my parents’ prelude: “Trumpet Voluntary” by Jeremiah Clarke. She planned hymns to sing, a full communion, hired a soloist to sing Malotte’s famous Lord’s Prayer. She picked flowers to honor both her mother and mine. All these decisions I left to her, not because I didn’t care, but because she had been thinking about this event most of her life; she knew what she wanted, and I knew that I wanted her to get whatever she wanted.
“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.
The next Monday after Choir, as I was putting up my folder, Laura approached me. She looked serious.
“Hey, James. We need to talk. Maybe we could get lunch over at O’Connell’s?”
“Ok. Like, right now?” I said.
“Yeah, if you’re available.”
“Is everything ok?”
“Come on; we’ll talk about it outside.”
As we were walking out together, I saw Zach leaning up against a wall in the hallway, talking with a freshman girl. He looked up, gave me a wink, and continued talking to her.
We stepped outside into the cool, autumn air. The leaves on campus were turning, but I didn’t pay much attention to them. I was focused on Laura.
“So, what’s up?” I asked after we crossed Boyd Street, which ran across the north side of the music center.
“So she just kissed you? Out of the blue?” said Zach as we found our seats on the bus.
“Yeah, it caught me off guard.”
“But she hasn’t said a word to you since,” he said.
“Right. I don’t really know what this means. I mean, does this mean she wants to get back together?”
“It’s gonna happen, James. She’s just testing the waters. Think about it. We had just sung one of the best performances any of us had ever sung, and she wanted to share that with you. That definitely means something. Like she said, you’re her person.”
“Do you think I should go try to talk to her?” I said.
“Naw, let her come to you. She’s taking her time. She asked for space, remember?”
We were quiet most of the rest of the way back to Norman. I watched the flat landscape of north-central Oklahoma roll by and began to feel a melancholy that I often felt at the end of momentous trips. I laid my head against the window. It was cool, and it calmed me, and I began to think about the kiss. I had not kissed her since the summer before my junior year.
“You ready for this?” said Tyrice, picking at his french fries at a table in the Union.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said.
It was the day before the trip, and I was packed and ready to go.
“So what do you think you’re going to say?” asked Terrence.
“I’m gonna tell her how I feel. I’m going to be entirely honest. Tell her that I miss her.”
“How long a trip is it?” asked Spencer, munching on a taco.
“It’s like six hours.”
“Dog, that’s a lot of time to discuss feelings and shit,” said Tyrice. “You need more than that. You need to build up to that. Get her talking. Get that magic going.”
“Well, I can’t really talk to her much about the summer because that was spent with another girl. Well, I guess I could talk about my classes so far.”
“I’m gonna teach you something,” said Tyrice, “It’s called the eighty-twenty rule.”
The next day, on campus, I felt different in little ways. I made more eye contact with people. I wanted to be seen. I felt good about the way I was looking after my buddy makeover. When I went to the computer lab, I noticed that Bijan had sent me an email at my school email account. He had wanted to meet me for lunch. He said he would be at Pinks at 11:30. I replied and hoped it wasn’t too late.
Pink’s was a small bar and grill named Pinks in the hopes that the frat kids would think it was a gay bar and would stay away. It was just across the street from Catlett and was a usual hangout for music majors and their friends.
When my morning classes ended, I walked across campus to find him. Though it was hot, he was waiting for me on the front patio. He’d found a shady spot and was sipping a Coke.
It was the first day of my senior fall semester at the University of Oklahoma. I had broken up with Stacey. She had gone back to Lawrence, Kansas for college, and I didn’t feel like having a long-distance relationship. Letters were not what I had wanted from her.
The heat and humidity of the Oklahoma summer were still lying thick over the campus as I walked from my Monday 8:30 Database Design class to the Catlett Music Center. I had auditioned in the summer and had been placed in the bass section, although I could have been as equally comfortable in the tenor section. Not only had my voice preserved well through several years of not singing, but its range had also grown significantly.
Dr. Baker was bustling about, straightening chairs and organizing his music stand. He was an African-American of around fifty with short salt and pepper hair.
He gestured to me then to the chairs and said, “Basses on the back two rows on the right.”
Laura and I decided to break up the spring of our senior year of high school. She had chosen to go to a small private college in St. Louis, and I would be staying in Oklahoma to study computer science. We wouldn’t write or call. That was the deal. But we would reconnect in the summers–no questions asked. Summer became my favorite season.
It was the week after our junior year in college, 1995. I had totaled my Ford Festiva out in front of my bank a week before. Bijan said he would get his dad to cut me a deal at the dealership where he worked. My dad and I drove up to the city to look around the lot. Much to my father’s disapproval, I intended to by a pickup truck. I felt that I would be moving around a lot in my twenties and might benefit from it. He had never owned a pickup truck and didn’t like unknowns when it came to a large purchase like a vehicle.