Monday, October 30th, he was drinking tea on the terrace outside their suite and scribbling. The Victorian hotel opened in an hour. Jumpy with anxiety, “easy-going” Matthew King was parsing words for a magic spell to prevent her from relegating him to the past.
The secret birthday celebration—Brooke became 18 tomorrow on Halloween—wasn’t secret from Sung who agreed to it. One, because discovery would be disastrous, but not criminal. And two, he owed Brooke several permissions, especially after the movie’s tie-in to Hamlet. Fletcher and Dorothy said neither of them would have seen the parallels.
Sung reminded Matthew to be scrupulous. After this: no contact until “Readiness Is All” had run six weeks. He and Brooke had three days and three nights in Saratoga Springs. Thursday morning, Brooke must leave for Poughkeepsie by eight am. Matthew would pay the bill and drive to Woodstock. By then his face on the newest magazines would hint at hidden pleasures. Going up everywhere by noon was a series of billboards. Trailers would play on every screen and social clouds would roll out quizzes, contests, and forums.
Nervous or not, Matthew believed he could win her back; she wasn’t lost to him, yet. And she needn’t commit right away to the vacation he’d planned for them on Kauai, an island in Hawaii unsuited to anything like Sasha’s palace, which he’d sold. Matthew had rented a well-equipped, isolated bungalow for Brooke’s semester break. Kauai was not at all about movie stars but rather, snorkeling and terrific volcanic waterfalls.
Despite the unusually warm, sunny morning, he wore the black watch cap and oversize Van Halen sweatshirt that were Average Guy signatures. His spine straightened. He shut the notebook. From the corner of Broadway and Walton, he sensed her energy. He’d ordered a birthday cake for tomorrow and bought the hotel’s spa basket of lotions and salts for their whirlpool tub. Her step sounded (ankle boots with a stacked heel). Following this: a rush of sounds, quickening everything. Her smell, which he sought constantly, acted on him immediately but subliminally, filling him with euphoria.
From behind, she removed his fake eyeglasses and whispered, “Hey, Average Guy.” He watched her slip into the wooden chair adjacent to his, cross her legs at the knee and again at the ankles. She smiled at him so intimately, he suppressed a shiver. When she touched his fingers, he resisted grabbing hers. Yet her clear green eyes widened as if she were aware that his erection already felt perpetual. He watched her hair flow to just beneath her jawline.
What the—she’d stolen his notebook! Before he could say, “Give that back,” he said instead, “Brooke, you wouldn’t believe how much I missed you.”
Now her smile revealed a real awareness of his elation. A warning voice reminded him: don’t rush her. “Brooke, we can walk in public for once. Stroll through the park; eat in a café. You can tell me about London and then about Vassar and—if you missed me, how much?”
“Is that what you want to do, walk around?” A half pout—she wasn’t fooled. “What were you writing? Etiquette for us? ‘How are you, my dear?’”
She scooted her chair closer to his, keeping the notebook in her lap, and slid a finger down his neck to his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re Average Guy. ’Cause if you were Matthew King, the best Hamlet ever, an exuberant young prince imitating Matthew King playing the roguish, romantic James Bond, I’d be too shy to say a word—” Her fingers moved across his collarbone. “And if you weren’t wearing that ugly hat and sweatshirt—here’re your glasses back—you’d be so handsome, I’d be afraid to look.”
She stroked his thigh and Matthew, choosing one embarrassment over the other, found the voice he’d used once when she was angry with him on the biggest waterfall’s narrowest ledge.
“Wanna see da room, honey? ’Cause I gotcha some shit dat’ll ding ya into da new epoch—Brooke, hey. No.”
Leafing through the notebook full of crossed out lines, she draped an arm around his neck. “Oh my God, Matthew! I can’t believe you wrote me a poem! Which is it? Oh, here:
“For my first poem, I probably shouldn’t have treaded on Shakespeare.”
“Matthew, no. I love it.”
Inside the suite, she slouched on the upholstered bench, her legs stretched straight. Her luminous skin looked creamy beside heavy draperies.
Not thinking, he crouched between her legs and pressed his head into her short, taffeta skirt. Her fingers combed his hair. Then she lay forward along his back, soothing him, as he wept in her lap.
For worse than losing her was the horrific possibility that he had, in fact, limited her—loving her so seriously so soon. But thank the Lord—no! Young as 18 was, Brooke, as gorgeous as ever, was thoroughly composed, a stirring young woman. Nine months away from him and her home and she’d grown into a graceful, unmistakable adult.
She lifted his head and kissed his face. “I love you forever, Matthew. You just don’t know.” She led him to the bed, and pulled off Average Guy’s clothes. No persuading necessary for him to lie back and watch her standing on the mattress, silent and thrilled as she undressed, bouncing a little.
Later, she hoped he’d brought some regular clothes. Indeed. He’d brought a suit. “We’re eating posh tonight.”
Thanks to him and Fletcher, all Brooke’s clothes were elegant.
“Not like they’re gonna stare at you, or soon will.”
Before they got up, though, she had a present for him.
“It’s not my birthday. I have birthday presents for you, Brooke, but after dinner. Connie says you were born right after midnight.”
“Let me give you your present now, though.” She walked slowly, marvelously naked, and retrieved a thick book. Scooting onto the bed so that she sat between his legs and folded hers, she opened, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.” On the frontpiece, her third-grade teacher, Mrs. Ambrose, had written that Brooke was at least as wise and capable as Alice. If she ever felt misplaced and misunderstood, she should remember that she’d soon find her way in and out of wherever she wished.
Matthew hadn’t read the book or even seen any of the movies, but of course, he knew the story.
She pressed against him, her lithe, charged body casting pink and gold light. She raised her dazzling face to catch his eye and he was lifting her in the air, turning her, but she said, “First the book.”
Showing him the endpage, she asked, “Can you read my handwriting?”
Matthew, if the Caterpillar points his hookah at the Mad Hatter while I’m at sea in my own tears, let’s promise to find each other. We’ll play croquet and control the cards, sometimes apart, sometimes together. But if our hearts belong to one another, will you marry me? The day after tomorrow.
The city clerk’s office opened at nine am. and preferred birth certificates. Knowing this, Brooke had gotten hers from Town Hall last week. Matthew happened to have his on hand from promoting the movie where people had good reasons not to trust U.S. passports. The marriage license required 24 hours of waiting.
For her birthday, Matthew gave her a ring he’d bought in Arizona. A Navajo artist had etched a band of white gold and fused it to a wider wavy band. The lower band represented the earth. The upper band, the flow of life. Flush between the two realms was a bead of smoky quartz beside a bead of moonstone. They’d get Matthew an identical ring later. For now, they bought a silver band at one of Saratoga Spring’s jewelry stores.
Matthew rescheduled her birthday cake for Wednesday afternoon, instead of Halloween. When she asked him about a pre-nup, he was insulted. “I’m marrying you for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”
“Me too, Matthew! I just thought…”
“We’re not like that.”
So she wore the ballet-pink dress from Fletcher with golden kitten heels. Matthew parted his hair on the other side as he had for the restaurant last night, thinking this distinguished him from any resemblance to James Bond in a Bangkok casino.
The inn’s proprietors witnessed the ceremony. Brooke and Matthew took straightforward vows. They said “I do,” followed by rings and a kiss. The certificate would be registered and ready early tomorrow. Then they agreed to a small bite of cake. But please—no photographs.