We caught the dawn ferry on the Magnolia/San Myshuno line. I remember the boat’s name: Hestia. We always liked to ride of the Hestia, for she had an upper floor with inside seating area and an espresso bar. We carried our lattes out to the deck and leaned on the railing. Fog lifted off the bay.
“Pops is excited you’re coming,” Sept said.
“Will I be on trial?” I asked.
Sept laughed. “Of course not! Pops says, ‘long as I’m happy, he’s happy.”
We didn’t talk more about Sept’s family on the ride over. We watched the sun rise over the waves. We counted sea gulls. A sturgeon jumped off the starboard side. “They’re endangered,” I said. We felt lucky to have seen it.
We arrived around noon and walked up from the dock. Sebastion waited for us in front of the house.
“I had the ferry schedule!” He said. “You’re right on time.”
He wrapped his son in bear hug.
Mop barked near my feet. “Who’s this little guy?” I asked. “You look just like that puppy I saw in that photo on Sept’s blog.”
“He is!” Sept said. “That’s Mop! Octy’s puppy.”
“But that picture was posted years ago,” I said. “And he’s still a puppy? How come he hasn’t grown?”
“Octy’s mom gave him to him,” Sept said. “He’s not from here.”
He didn’t look like an extraterrestrial puppy, not that I would know what they look like.
“Will he always be small? Is he in disguise?”
“Nope and nope. Pretty soon, he’ll hibernate, and when he wakes up, he’ll have transformed into his adult stage.”
“Like a chrysalis?”
“Sort of. You’re so good with dogs,” he said, and he kissed me on the cheek.
Sebastion smiled, but later, when he and I were alone, he reprimanded me. “I’m not keen on PDA,” he said. “Sept doesn’t see eye-to-eye with me on this, but if you could help me out, I’d really appreciate it. If you’ve got to kiss, fine. Do it. Just not in public. And not in front of me.”
When I told Sept about it on the ferry ride home, he laughed. “Yeah, that’s the one thing he and I don’t agree about. I’m afraid I’m not gonna give on this point!” He made out with me, there on the upper deck in front of anyone who wanted to see, just to show he meant it.
Octy seemed to share his father’s perspective. He and I were playing dolls, and when I made the mommy and daddy dolls kiss, Octy said, “Oh, no. Peoples. Please. Not in front of the child!”
I made it up to him by serving an extra large slice of strawberry cake for desert.
“Your family’s lovely,” I told Sept. The simple words didn’t come close to expressing what I wanted to say, which was that I could feel the nurturing and support. Sept and Octy both relaxed into a security that I had never felt in my own home, nor in the homes of any of my school friends.
“It’s all Pops,” Sept said. He seemed to know what I meant without my having to say it. “We know there’s nothing we could ever do to blow it. Pops will love us regardless. That kind of takes a weight off.”
I couldn’t imagine, but I knew that was the space I wanted to provide for my kids, if I ever had any.
We were tired when we finally got home late that night but still wound up from a full day of travel. Neither of us could sleep.
“I know,” Sept said, after I got out of the shower. “Let’s run down to the dock and watch the beam from the lighthouse. That always helps me relax.”
I ran, and I didn’t feel my feet. My heart seemed to beat outside of my body. Ice circled my chest. My father yelled, “If you’re going to major in goddam philosophy and cultural studies, you might as well have some culture and marry a rich guy! I know plenty of sons of clients who’d have you in an instant.”
I ran harder.
My mother sobbed into the telephone. “No, don’t come home, dear. Stay in college. It’s all right. We will make it through this. We always do.” My dad cuts in. “Stop calling so late at night.” He slams down the phone.
We reached the dock. I sat in ice and shadow.
“Nothing like a visit home to fill you up with goodness, eh, byu kiya?”
I was far away.
“What is it, Mallory?” he asked, when he felt my distance.
His black eyes opened, and my pain swirled into them and when he exhaled, the shadow lifted. The ice melted.
“Family isn’t necessarily who you were born to,” he said, softly. “We can make family, even more than we can be born into one.”
“I never thought a family could bring sweet feelings,” I said quietly, through a few tears. “Except maybe on TV.”
“Families bring all sorts of feelings,” he said. “I want my own family to bring the sweet ones. That’s why I chose you.”
“Do you really want to create a family with me?” I asked.
“I do,” he said. “If it’s not too weird for you.”
I told him that what I felt with him were the most natural feelings a woman could feel.
“And they’re all really sweet, warm, and juicy,” I whispered.
“We should make it official,” he said.
We sat in silence for a few moments.
“I’m really gonna do it!” he said. And he popped up.
“Mallory, byu kiya, I have a big life ahead of me, and a cause that’s bigger than both of us, but I know I can do anything the universe asks of me, if I can come home to you. Mallory, can we get married?”
I am not my conditioning, I told myself. I’m not my mother, and I’m not my father, and I’m not a chicken. I can do this, I can forget about the end of the world, and I can pledge myself to someone who is the best man I have ever known, even if he’s not from around here, and I can be brave, and, maybe, I can actually be happy, too.
I said yes. Of course I said yes! I wouldn’t be telling this story if I hadn’t said yes, and even in my most forlorn moments, even with all that I had to give up for the life I chose, I never ever, not once, regretted that single-syllable word that, somehow, contains everything within it: Yes.