Mitchell’s mom is sweet, but I’m happy to be away from her, and the rest of his family, and mine too.
The rehearsal went smoothly, but it killed me not to just say I do, kiss my husband and go home, to our home, and make sweet love all night long. Only, his grandparents have taken his bed. His mom and stepdad are in the guest bedroom, which only has a pullout couch—he never had a need to add more furniture since his only overnight guest has ever been me, and we’ve never slept in separate rooms. His cousins share an air mattress on the living room floor while he has tried to make himself comfortable on the love seat. but I can tell from his stiff movements that it has done nothing for his back.
“Let’s skip Renee’s,” I say in the car. “Go to a hotel. I’ll give you a massage and a hot bath.” He doesn’t know the hot bath is me, but he will. As soon as he sees the sheer negligee that Rita gave me at my bridal shower.
“He probably won’t know what to do with it,” she joked, but Mitchell is much more skilled than any of our friends know. There are things he’s made my body do that I could never dream of with any of the men I’ve been with before. Though, I can count their names on one hand, and we were also young and didn’t know anything. But I’d like to think that even in their 40s and 50s, they wouldn’t come close to bringing the weakness I feel in the pit of my stomach, in my inner thighs, just thinking about it.
I put my hand on his knee, run it up his leg, stop on his lap. He takes my hand and squeezes it. “Only one more day. You promise to behave yourself?”
“I’ll try.” But we both know I don’t mean it, and we pull over into an empty lot five minutes from Renee and Bryan’s house.
* * *
I’m sick of the pre-wedding festivities. All I want to do is to lie in bed with Mitchell and wait until the sun rises and we’re married at last. I keep readjusting my dress. Somehow I’ve gotten into it backwards. At least that’s how it feels. Maybe it’s the looks Rita gives me from across the table that make me uncomfortable. She sees right through me.
Rita has brought a new beau, and the surprising thing isn’t that he’s black, though that initially shocked all of us, but the second shock came when he told us his age—nineteen.
Renee dragged Rita into the kitchen so fast, she nearly yanked her arm right out of the socket. “You’re robbing cradles now?” she squealed.
Rita shrugged. “He’s legal.”
“Barely,” I said.
“You made me put alcohol in the eggnog and he’s not even old enough to drink it!” Renee said.
“Please. Like that ever stopped us when we were in college.”
Rita acts like she’s still in college. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy for her to fall for a teenager. And she’s fallen. Hard. Her eyes light up every time she sneaks a glance in his direction. I know they’ve seen every inch of each other. When they think no one is looking, he touches her with an expertise, knowing exactly where and how to make her swoon.
We’re a lot alike, Rita and I. I envy how she freely flaunts her sexuality. Mitchell and I must be secretive. We wear masks as if we are the ideal Christian couple, who have dedicated their bodies as temples meant for God, who make living in this sinful world and abstaining from all unholiness possible, who deny themselves daily for the Lord’s purposes, when in reality, we’ve let our desires take over so many times.
But in my heart, I know our love is pure. And I want to shout it from the rooftops, from the mountains. Who cares if we’ve had sex once, or twice. Or every night since the first night Mitchell told me he loved me. I’ve found the one whom my soul loves.
In our last soiree before the wedding—with just the friends, no family members allowed—we sit around Renee and Bryan’s dining room table, a Christmas themed smorgasbord of finger food before us. Snowball meatballs smothered in a parmesan and white cheddar cheese sauce. A Christmas tree forest salad. Sprigs of rosemary line the inner edge of the bowl like Christmas trees, and the dressing is a rosemary and citrus vinaigrette. Lamb kebabs to remember that we celebrate the Lamb, who was born on Christmas. Flaked coconut covers the table like a bed of snow.
Renee wants to play a game: What is your fondest memory of Mitchell and Natasha’s love? Everyone jokes about how sappy Renee can be sometimes, a real Hallmark movie. But after the jokes and groans, they all participate in the sappiness, and I want to cry, because this is more than my happy heart can take.
“When you gave up drinking, for Mitchell,” Bryan says to me. “We all remember how you use to throw ’em back, Tash, so to quit cold turkey just because you want to be better for him—” He loops his arm around Renee. “It shouldn’t be so hard for me to do the same with my cussing.”
Renee leans over and gives him a light peck on the cheek. “I feel the same way,” she says looking at him, then turns to me and Mitchell. “Your love inspires all of us. You’re both saved. You both love the Lord. And you both love each other. Anyone can look at you and tell this was a love only God could create.”
Under the table, Mitchell squeezes my knee. He’s tense like he was the night he made me leave his house in the cold.
When it’s Antonio’s turn, he clears his throat. “Y’all know the drama I’m dealing with, with Elise. For the longest time, I thought that was just what I was supposed to have. But seeing y’all together has shown me that my Ruth is out there somewhere, waiting. I know I have to better myself so that I’m ready for her when she comes.”
“Amen!” Renee shouts. She claps her hands and invites everyone else to clap too. “And we’re with you every step of the way.”
In the middle of the applause, Mitchell whispers something in my ear. But I can’t hear him.
Before he answers, Rita speaks up.
“It was junior year.” She twists the napkin around her finger, picks up a handful of coconut flakes and sprinkles them back on the table. “You and Mitchell had been dating a couple months.” She keeps her eyes down, bites on her lip as if it will help her remember. “We were at Mother Goose’s, the three of us. I was the third wheel, and I guess I got drunker than usual because of that. And Tash, you started drinking too, just so I wouldn’t feel alone. But at some point that night, I had sobered up a bit, and you were completely wasted.”
I remember that night. And Mitchell’s car was in the shop, so we had to walk through South Tatum in the middle of the night to get back to our dorms.
“You saw something run off into the woods and followed it. I don’t know what black person sees something in the dark and goes after it, but you did,” Rita says and laughs. “So we went in after you. You must have tripped or something. You lost a shoe and fell awkwardly on your foot so that you couldn’t walk. And Mitchell picked you up and carried you all the way back to the dorm.”
She’s quiet for a few seconds. We wait for her to finish. Again she bites her bottom lip, blinks several times—I think she may be near to tears. Suddenly she pushes herself back from the table, stretches her neck, breathes in. “I don’t know,” she says. “Just the way you took care of her, didn’t try to take advantage of her just because she was too drunk to function. I know how most guys think when they’re with a drunk girl. Experienced it myself. But you, you were different. And, I don’t know, that just did something to me.” She wipes her eyes—she is crying—and rises from the table.
“Where are you going?” Renee asks.
“I just, I need to step outside for a minute,” she says with a sniff, and walks out the door without grabbing her coat, but I hear the jingle of keys.
The boy, the one Rita came with, I can’t remember his name. He forks a snowy meatball in front of him and shoves it into his mouth. He eats another, and while still chewing, says, “I should probably see if she’s ok.”
As he’s walking away, stumbling over his own chair, clearly uncomfortable to be around us without Rita, Mitchell turns to me, and in his eyes I know what he’s thinking; it’s the same thing I’m thinking.
The night Rita spoke of was the night he first told me he loved me, and while she was passed out on her stomach on the futon, he climbed the ladder to my bunk bed, and I, fully alert and aware of my every move, flipped the covers back, wiggled out of my underwear, and opened up for him, cleaved to him as one flesh. That night I knew I would belong to him, mind, body, and soul, forever.
But for the sake of appearances, after we were engaged, he made me promise that we wouldn’t do it again until we were married. I didn’t want to argue, because in my heart, I knew that sex within the sacredness of marriage was how God originally intended. I wanted to respect that. I knew once we were married, it would be even better, we would be even more blessed, we wouldn’t feel like sinners afterward, but justified, pleasing in God’s eyes. And we tried, we tried hard. We lasted six months, but no matter how honorable we thought we were being, we couldn’t tear apart what was already united. Even if we did do it out of order.
“We can’t start this marriage on a lie,” Mitchell whispers to me.
“What are you saying?” I ask.
“Yea, what are you saying,” Renee, who has the hearing of a dog, interrupts.
“Lemme stop you right there,” Bryan says, “because if this is about y’all getting busy the other night, we already know.”
“You, you know?” Mitchell asks.
“Tash told me,” Renee says.
“Renee told me,” Bryan chimes in.
“And Bryan told me,” Antonio finishes.
I hope that he will be more relieved by this, that there’s nothing to lie about, everything is on the table now, they know and it doesn’t change their opinions about us, they still accept us, just like God will accept our marriage, but he still shakes his head.
“But who told Rita?”
We exchange looks around the table. No one speaks.
We hear the chime of the front door opening. Thinking it’s Rita, Mitchell perks up. Will he tell her? After she’d just commended him for being a gentleman, for being the one man she knows who doesn’t only want sex from a woman?
But it’s Rita’s nineteen-year-old boyfriend instead. He rushes in, nearly out of breath, puts both hands on the back of Mitchell’s chair, and panting, says, “Rita’s gone.”