A Child Whose History Unfolds Their Future
What began as a fight between two sisters, one lover, and a baby, continues with two men struggling to understand their lives with this woman and child.
At the end of Unfinished Melody, we watched Marni Montgomery accept Noah Bergstrom’s proposal of a happily ever after. To the chagrin of Ben Howard, Marni and Noah promise to love, support and trust one another.
However, one deeply kept secret between two sisters will ruin all that Ben and Noah know to be true. When revealed, no relationship will remain the same.
Perfect Harmony unfolds the complex relationship between our three characters, past and present. In this final installment, no question goes unanswered, no secret, untold.
Chapter 1 Ben
Marry Me ~Jason Derulo
Mar. I will love you until I die. No matter the circumstances, I promise to be faithful to you. Though we will be miles apart, you will stay securely in my heart. You are my best friend, my lover, my life, my every breath. Before you leave, I wanted to tell you how much I love you. Though we’re young, I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you I want to marry you as soon as you’re done with school. I don’t want us to ever separate again.
Will you marry me, Mar?
“Sorry. Did I wake you?” Mar was surprised to see me when she turned on the light in our hotel room.
I popped off the couch in a daze. What the hell was that? “It’s all right. What time is it? Is Ali up?” Looking at the curtains to ascertain the time was of no use. It had been pitch black in the hotel room.
“It’s six. I got here early so you can get ready for your meeting. I guess you fell asleep on the couch.”
“Yeah. I guess so.” My head was discombobulated with all the shit swirling through it. This was late, but I needed to say what’s been on my mind all night. “Mar.”
She stopped mid-step. “Let me check on Ali, first?” She was deflecting. I was a complete asshole to her yesterday. I needed to make amends.
Grabbing her hand, I pulled her to the couch and sat her down. “About yesterday—”
“Stop,” she interrupted me immediately. “I get it. I’m not Ali’s mom. You feel guilty toward Melody. You want Ali to know her real mom. I can’t say I wasn’t hurt by your reaction, but I also can’t say I don’t understand.”
“Let me apologize,” I said, grabbing onto both of her hands. “I shouldn’t have reacted so…” I stopped talking because something wasn’t quite right. Looking down at her hands, I noticed a ring on her left hand. “What’s this?” I asked, pulling up the hand in question just in case my question wasn’t clear enough.
“It’s an engagement ring,” she answered quietly.
“To Noah,” she laughed with her answer, “who else?”
“I don’t understand. I thought you two were separated.”
“You know how it’s been with us. We’ve been apart, but we never really separated. I love him.”
“Does he love you?” Marni looked as if I’d slapped her in the face. “Sorry. What I meant was, after all the break ups, how do you know for sure you two should be married? Shouldn’t you wait a while longer before taking such a big step?”
Now, Mar was laughing at me. “I’m thirty-two. I think I’ve waited long enough to get married. You were married for ten years.” The first part of her statement had much anger, the second part, much resentment.
“I’m just watching out for you, Mar. I don’t want you to be hurt.” I said this boldly, but the doubt in her eyes made me doubt my own statement.
“Listen, if this is about Ali, I want to relieve your mind.”
I guess it was always about my girl. Her welfare was our first concern. That’s what bound us. “I take it you’ll find a new place to live?”
“Yeah. I don’t think my husband will take kindly to me sleeping in another man’s house.”
We both laughed until we heard Ali call out for her “Mama.” That moniker still perturbed me, but I decided there was nothing I could do about it. It wasn’t as if Mar coached my one-year-old into calling her Mama. Even if I wanted to un-train my daughter, I didn’t think it’d be possible.
“Mama!” The holler got louder.
“I’m coming, Ali-Girl.” Mar called out in a sing-songy way that had Ali giggling from her crib. “You’re awake early, Ali-Girl.”
“Mama.” My baby girl called her aunt and raised her arms to her and only her. When I reached for Ali, she pulled her hands away and swayed her body from side to side. This was her letting me know she didn’t want me.
“Seriously, Ali?” I picked her up and gently threw her in the air. That brought out a welcome laugh filled with drool. “I knew you’d want me instead. You see how much fun your daddy is?” I continued to throw her in the air.
“Dada!” She squealed.
“That’s right! Your dada is the best!”
As weird as it was that I was playing house with my sister-in-law, I loved that my little girl recognized me as her father. As she became more cognizant of those around her, I’d have to take time to show her who her real and only mother was.
“Ali-Girl.” As soon as Marni spoke, it was as if there never was a Dada throwing his little girl in the air. She jumped over to her aunt. “I see you have more teeth breaking through. You’ve been such a good girl even with all this teething. Most babies are a mess, but not my Ali-Girl.”
“Mama!” Ali continued to pat Mar on the cheeks with her chubby hands. She also leaned in to hug her tight.
The sight made me sigh deep. This time, it wasn’t the thought of Melody that came to mind, but I marveled at how much Ali loved her aunt and how much her aunt loved her. I was truly an asshole for being upset yesterday.
Mar watched me closely to make sure I wouldn’t go psycho on her again.
“Again, I’m sorry about yesterday.” I would continue to apologize until my friend believed me. “I love seeing my baby girl so happy.”
“What time do you leave?” I gave her a questioning look why. She answered, “The Admiral is leaving this morning and he’d like to have breakfast with all of us. May I take Ali with me while you’re at your meeting?”
“Sure…” I dragged that word out for as long as I could.
“If you’re not crazy about the idea, I’ll tell them I can’t make it.” Mar was still wary of my mood swings. “It’s not a big deal. I’ll see Noah’s dad when he comes to LA.”
Did I want my daughter a part of this happy family reunion?—not really.
Did I even congratulate Mar on her engagement?—not really.
Was I happy that Mar was getting married?—not really.
Did all of the above make me an asshole?—probably.
“That’s fine.” I blurted the words before I could take them back. “I’ll be back by Ali’s nap time. You mind if we talk, then?”
“I’m really fine about what happened yesterday. You don’t need to apologize anymore.”
“If that’s the case, could you and Noah discuss how you want to work Ali into your schedule once you’re married? Maybe you and I can talk about my daughter afterwards.”
“Sure…” Now it was Mar who was slurring her word.
“What?” I asked.
Her eyes stayed with me for a while. “Nothing,” she said to me and then turned her attention to Ali. “Let’s get you changed so you can go have breakfast with Noah, the Admiral, Cece, and Carson. Do you remember them from lunch yesterday? Do you remember how you sat on the Admiral’s lap and played with him? You already have Cece, Carson, and the Admiral wrapped around your little pinky finger. Noah told me you’re all they talked about, Pretty Girl.”
My baby girl giggled as if she understood.
I had no idea my daughter had already met the “in-laws.” Everyone knew each other, loved each other, and acted like one big happy family already.
Why the hell did I feel like the big fat loser in this equation?
Chapter 1 Noah
Marry Me ~Jason Derulo
“Noah. You know how much I love you. I’ve loved you since I was barely out of high school and I should have married you when you first asked me that night on the beach. I know you still feel guilty about Marni and I know you hurt for her. I can’t say I’m sorry for her loss; you and I belong to one another—always have. When you ended up at NYU this year, I knew we were meant to be together, forever. Marry Me, Noah Bergstrom. We love each other, we make each other happy, and we’ll make beautiful babies together. Say you’ll marry me and live with me the next hundred years!”
“What are you thinking about? We’ve called your name three times now.”
“Sorry, Mom. I was thinking back to when Siena proposed. I shouldn’t have said yes that night. What a terrible mistake that was. I created such a mess for all of us.”
“Mom’s always right, I like to say. I told you it was a big mistake to marry her.” Mom had a smirk on her face. “Neither of you were ready for marriage, Siena especially. That girl is only about fun. I shudder to think what kind of mother she would have made for my grandchildren, had you stayed married to her.”
“Sad thing—I think our marriage was over as soon as the honeymoon was over. Having Admiral di Rossi as a father, I thought she’d understand my desire to succeed in the Navy. Who knew she’d have such a hard time with me working?”
“Twenty-two is too young for anyone to marry. Look at me. I loved your father but didn’t like having to grow up myself, and with a child. Had I been ten years older, I don’t know if I would have fallen for the Admiral’s charms as easily. I would have seen the lonely future ahead.”
I disagreed. “You would have fallen for the big, bad Admiral regardless of the pitfalls that lay ahead.”
Mom laughed. “You think, huh? I’m sure your father will agree. Have you spoken with Siena at all since the divorce?”
“Here and there I’ve seen her. It’s hard to avoid her since her father works with Dad and she’s married another Navy man.”
“Right after we separated, she started dating a guy around my age and rank. The big difference between us is the fact that he’s willing to work completely under Admiral di Rossi’s wings.”
“And that means he’s with the di Rossi family at all times.”
“You’re a smart cookie, Mom.”
“Hey. What’s with the family pow-wow without me?” Carson walked into the kitchen with this greeting.
“You gotta get up very early to join in these secret sessions, Darling.”
“My gorgeous wife, you exploit all my weaknesses.” He reached over and kissed my mother as if I wasn’t even in the room. They acted like young newlyweds. I loved watching Carson adore my mother. Both Carson and my father were good examples in loving their woman.
“So when’s the wedding, Noah?”
“Why, Carson? You offering us a big, fancy wedding?” I challenged with a smile.
“Because I love your mother so much, I’d do anything to make her happy.”
“Was that a yes to my question or another declaration of your undying love for my mother?”
“Yes!” Carson answered.
“I hope Marni and I will always be as happy as you two are.”
“You will be, Son. I love Marni. She’s so warm and loving and down to earth. Initially I was worried about her situation with Ali, but after watching the two together yesterday, I see why she feels the need to be with her. I’m thinking I may be out in Los Angeles more often to babysit for you two. One meal and we’re all in love with Ali. I can’t wait until you and Marni have babies. When that happens, I’m permanently moving to Los Angeles.”
“Or maybe by that point, Marni and Noah can move next door to us in New York. Hopefully Ali will be situated by then.”
“Carson,” I added to this conversation, “unless you’re offering us a wedding and a penthouse in your posh neighborhood, you’ll be visiting up in Queens or Harlem. There’s no way we can afford a home in Manhattan—or even Brooklyn for that matter.”
“We will have you move in with us if that’s what it takes for me to play with my grandchildren.” Now Mom was getting way ahead of herself.
Carson shook his head. “Cecilia Hanover,” he warned. “I won’t share you with anyone. No kids or grandkids in the house with us.”
Mom paid no attention to her husband’s comment, but I knew he wasn’t kidding.
“So really. When’s the wedding, Noah?” Carson asked again.
“Soon? I’d like to have a small wedding, immediately if possible. I thought I heard Dad say he’ll be back in the States next month.”
“Where will you have this wedding? LA or New York?”
“I think we need to talk to the bride about all this, Carson.” Mom got up from her stool. “If we don’t hurry, we’ll be late meeting Marni and her sweet niece.”
“Let’s go, then.” Carson picked up Mom’s shawl and we all headed to meet my fiancée.
Chapter 1 Marni
Marry Me ~Jason Derulo
You’re my unending sunshine, you’re my unending hope
You’re my first and last breath, my sweet Melody
Will you give meaning to my life by becoming my wife
I love you my sweet Melody
Damn. Of all the songs to appear on the radio, why this one?
I was engaged to be married now. I’d become someone’s wife soon. This should have been the most fantastic morning, but this song threw me into a funk.
Memories of the first time I heard this song altered my mood. After Ben and my sister told me they were getting married, this song hit the airwaves and went viral. Every woman loved this song and couldn’t stop singing its tune. The story of Ben Howard proposing to his girlfriend with this song hit a chord with every woman in the world. The romantic gesture catapulted the song to the top of the Billboard 100.
I was shopping for groceries when I heard this song the first time. Standing in the cereal aisle, I listened to even word; Ben’s proclamation to the world of his love for my sister. Like a fool, tears fell and I cried to his words of love. I couldn’t stand the pain. I hurt so much, I left everything in the aisle and walked to my car so I could cry. After a good long time of consoling myself, I promised this would be the last time I would cry over my sister and Ben. Unfortunately, I could never keep that promise.
“Mama.” Ali brought me back to reality. Her big, toothy grin made my heart do somersaults from here to Los Angeles. This little girl was the reason for my existence these days.
“You want more fruit, Ali-Girl?”
She nodded her beautiful head. “Dada.”
“Your daddy is in a meeting with some Hollywood producer. Hopefully, he’ll get the job so he can pay for that little pink grand piano he purchased at FAO Schwartz yesterday.”
She nodded her red head again.
“Ali!” I heard Cece’s excitement. Ali’s head turned to the call and gave Cece exactly what she wanted—a squeal, a gigantic smile, and hands raised, ready for a hug. “Oh my sweet child. How can I be so in love already? You’re not even mine and I love you like my own.”
“Hello there, Fiancée.” Noah grinned.
“Hi.” I answered shyly. His greeting was a small shock to my heart. Fiancée. I was someone’s fiancée—to be married, to be loved. I cherished that thought. I feared that same thought.
“Good Morning to my future daughter-in-law.” Carson hugged me. “Finally, another person in the family who is/was not a Bergstrom. I felt outnumbered for years. I’m glad you’re joining the Hanover family.”
“Last I checked my son’s name was Bergstrom, not Hanover, which means Marni will take my last name.” Elijah Bergstrom, in all his glory, was in the house!
“Hello to the both of you,” I returned each man’s embrace. “I kinda like this attention. Two debonair men fighting over me. I see why Cece keeps you both around,” I teased.
“Come sit with me, Marni. I think Cecilia has decided to kidnap Ali for her own this morning.”
“Damn you, Carson. You already have Cece. I want Marni with me,” The Admiral kidded, kind of.
“Uh, guys? She’s my fiancée, not yours. I think she should be with me!” Noah demanded.
I enjoyed this familial interaction. I wished Mom were here.
Noah pulled me down next to him and everyone else took his and her seats.
“Marni, will you be having babies right away?”
I looked at Cece who showed no shame in wanting grandkids. “Well…I’m not sure? Noah?” I asked.
“I’m all for procreating!” he declared to the chuckle of the men.
“When and where’s the wedding? I need to make sure I’m available.” My future father-in-law asked.
“When will you be back, Admiral?”
“You may no longer call me Admiral. I’m commanding you to call me Dad.”
“Uh, if he gets Dad, I get Dad, too.” Carson chimed.
“If they get Dad, then I get Mom,” Cece spoke those words in between kissing Ali’s cheeks. “Does that make me your grandaunt? I can’t wait to be a grandmother!” She plopped a few more kisses.
Noah and I both felt the overflowing Bergstrom/Hanover love; it was sweeter than I deserved.
“Well, Dad.” I addressed the Admiral first. “The wedding will be the first weekend you can get off. And as to where we will have the wedding, I figure New York would be the best place since Mom and the other Dad are located here.” I addressed my other newfound parents.
“I can be back as soon as two weekends from now. Are you sure you can get everything ready by then?”
“I suppose I should ask Noah if he minds, but I’d be all right with a very small, family-only affair. Nothing fancy. If Mom doesn’t mind, we can get married at her apartment or some small restaurant. Maybe Dad Bergstrom can officiate, and Dad Hanover can walk me down the aisle. That would be ideal in my mind. Then everyone can be involved since the moms will most likely plan the wedding.”
“What about your father, Marni?” Noah asked cautiously.
“My father and Jean are still grieving Melody’s loss. It would be nice if they attended the wedding in New York, but I don’t think they will. They’re having a hard time.” I forced myself to hold back any sadness. I didn’t need to dampen this wonderful mood. I was gaining two fathers rather than losing one. He was already lost to me.
“That sounds perfect to all of us.” Cece spoke for everyone at the table. “I’ll call Jackie and we’ll finish our conversation from last night.”
“Marni,” the Admiral said, “We don’t mind flying into Los Angeles. You don’t have to try and work your schedule into ours. Will your brother-in-law be able to bring Ali back to New York so soon?”
Deep down, I knew Ben wouldn’t come to the wedding. Though his response to my engagement was surprisingly tame, I couldn’t imagine him watching the wedding with a happy heart. As much as I wanted Ali to be a part of my joy, I accepted this reality.
“I’ll talk to Ben. You don’t need to concern yourself with him. Just make sure you can officiate our wedding. It would mean a lot to me, and of course to Noah.”
Noah watched but didn’t say anything to contradict me. “If we’re all done here, should we separate so Marni and I can discuss a few things?”
“May I keep Ali with me a little longer? I’ll take her back to the apartment and play with her while you two do your planning.”
An uneasy feeling arose, but I tamped it down. My niece appeared to have no issues playing with Cece. “Are you sure? She’s more work than that cute little face shows the world.”
“I’ll strap her carseat into Carson’s car and we’ll carefully drive our princess home.”
“Ali-Girl. You want to play at Cece’s house? Will you be all right if I left you for an hour?” Seeing as how she didn’t even look my way, I understood her answer to be yes. “Please call me if there are any issues?”
“Of course.” Cece took off her pearl necklace and put it around Ali’s neck. The obsession with those pearls started yesterday and hadn’t worn off yet. “Leave us all her stuff and go.”
I kissed Ali good-bye and turned back several times to make sure she didn’t cry with my absence. After the initial wave, she never looked at me again.
“Let’s walk a few blocks. I want to take you somewhere so we can talk.”
“Sure.” I followed his lead. “I’m sorry I made all the wedding decisions in there. I’d be completely fine changing them to your needs. It doesn’t matter to me what we do in terms of the wedding. As you know already, I’m not high maintenance.”
Noah brought me to a gelato shop that had barely opened for the day. “For old time’s sake?” He gestured for me to enter after opening the door.
We ordered, we sat, and Noah appeared contemplative.
My heart sank. “Is something wrong? Did I say or do something you didn’t like?” Suddenly, I wondered if he regretted asking me to marry him. He had stayed quiet all morning—a little too quiet for comfort.
I felt so vulnerable and scared at this moment. Usually, I was a stronger person, but I felt unsettled of late. I couldn’t help the tears that formed.
“Marni. No. It’s nothing like that. Don’t cry. Shit.” Noah pulled me into his body. “Where did my Marni go? Where’s the strong woman who could give up on me and her own happiness to rescue her helpless niece?”
“I don’t know, Noah. Since I made that decision, nothing has been easy—whether with you or with Ben. Ali and Mom have been my only comfort.”
“Can we be honest with one another today?”
“OK…” I wondered if there was something Noah or I had said or done that hadn’t been honest up until now.
“What happened to you yesterday that put you in such a funk? You’ve been nervous and on edge. It’s as if you’re looking over your shoulder.”
“You noticed that, huh?”
“I notice much about you, my future wife.”
My newfound title made me smile. “So you’re not regretting proposing to me?” The hitch in my voice was unmistakable. The insecurities wouldn’t leave until I heard an affirmation.
Noah brought me right back into his body. “Marni Montgomery. I love you. I want to marry you and create little Alices of our own. If you will still have me, I will be the best husband to you and the most incredible father to our children. As an added bonus, you’ll get Carson, Cece, and Elijah as parents and grandparents.”
I cried on his chest for a while. Noah and I had some rough years, but the pain was worth it. We’d grown up together. Once married, I knew we’d be mature enough to handle any other problems that came our way.
“All right. I’m good now,” I answered with a relieved heart. “What did you want to talk about?”
“Siena and my first marriage.”
That topic was not anywhere on my radar. Did I want to hear about either?
Chapter 2 – Ben
Amnesia ~5 Seconds Of Summer
“Hey, Mar. I’m so glad you called. I’ve been meaning to call you today. How did we go an entire summer and barely see one another?”
“I wondered that myself. How have you been?”
“Busy. I think this music gig is going to work out after all. I’ve been crazy-inspired these days. Songs are pouring out of me like never before.”
“That’s wonderful, Ben. I knew you’d be successful. You just needed a new inspiration.”
“I guess. How’s school? It just started, right?”
“It did. It’ll be a great year.”
“I’ll try and visit a little more this year. I know I haven’t been the best friend or boyfriend to you.”
“Listen…I wanted to tell you that I think it’s best if we break up.”
“What? Mar. I know we haven’t talked much. I’ve been busy with my career.”
“I know, Ben. I’m not blaming you for anything. I think distance is hard on any couple.”
“Mar. We’ve been together for so long.”
“We have, and I thank you for all those years. I’m truly grateful you’ve been my friend. It would have been difficult growing up by myself.”
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“I think this is what we both need. Time away will be good for us. You can focus on your career now that you’ve found your inspiration.”
“We’ll still stay friends?”
“Of course, Ben. That’ll never change…I hope.”
“This feels weird, Mar. I can’t remember the last time I was emotionally separated from you.”
“You’ll be fine, Ben. You might even be better off.”
“Mar… If you ever need me for anything, even if it’s just to talk, you’ll reach out?”
“I guess it’s good-bye? Take care, Mar.”
“One last thing?”
“I know you weren’t serious, but just in case, I relinquish you from your marriage proposal. Be free to marry whom you love. I know it’s not…me…”
“Take care, Ben.”
Hell! I didn’t understand why I kept thinking about the time I proposed to Mar. It wasn’t anything serious. We were just teenagers. I feared losing her to the lures of college life and I wanted to tie her to me. Last thing I wanted was for her to meet a like-minded collegian and leave me for a better prospect. Little did I know, I would be the one getting married in my early twenties.
I loved my wife. She was my sun, my moon; the entire solar system revolved around her and me. She treated me like a god and we rarely had cause to disagree on anything. There were times I knew she didn’t like my ideas, but she chose to let go of her wants and needs and support me. There was no better wife than Melody Howard.
Lately, my career flourished, Ali blossomed with all that love and attention, and I had a peace of mind—sort of. My prayers were answered when my baby girl found her caretaker, but my head was filled with question marks.
Where my sister-in-law was concerned, I was tormented. She was on my mind constantly, and I couldn’t figure out why. With her being engaged now, my head and heart wanted nothing to do with the reality that lay ahead.
I worried about Ali and her daycare situation again. If Mar married, where would that place Ali on her priority list? Mar declared her love for my daughter, but when she had kids of her own, what would happen to that love? There was no way Mar would put Ali above her own child. Forcing myself to look into the future, I needed to find someone who would place my baby girl at the top. That probably meant I needed to find another wife.
To remarry—I did not want to think about this so soon. In fact, I didn’t want to think about this at all! In my perfect world, I wanted to live happily ever after with my daughter. There was no one who could possibly replace my late wife.
What was I to do with all these crazy ideas swirling in my head? I didn’t want to lose Marni again. I didn’t want to date again. I sure as hell didn’t want my daughter being passed around at some daycare center again! No matter how much I pushed this idea away, the ideal scenario was Ali, me, and Marni. The three of us worked.
I didn’t want to cause any trouble for Mar and Noah, but I needed her. I maybe even wanted Mar, if I was being honest with myself. As much as that made me an asshole, I knew Mar could work as Ali’s “Mama” and she could easily fit into the role of my new—
No. I would not disrespect my late wife like that. Mar and I had a long history, but history did not make a marriage. Friendship did not make a marriage. Love for my daughter did not make a marriage. I was speaking as if Marni wasn’t already promised to another man.
Soon, I needed to come up with a plan B in case Mar decided she could no longer watch Alice. I had months to think of an alternative. In the meanwhile, I’d talk to Mar and get some answers.
Chapter 2 – Noah
Amnesia ~5 Seconds Of Summer
“Why the frown, Charlie Brown? Tomorrow’s our wedding day! You should be shouting from every rooftop letting everyone know how happy you are!”
“Sorry, Siena. I wasn’t frowning. I was thinking about unnecessary things. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“You will! I’ll be the most beautiful woman in the room.”
“Is there any doubt? Good-bye Noah. Good-bye Admiral Bergstrom.”
“I have no doubt she’s excited to get married. But, I do wonder about your heart. Why are you doing this if she’s not the one for you, Son?”
“Is it that obvious, Dad? I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to marry Siena. I do. The timing isn’t quite right. I’d like to accomplish a few other things before I settle down.”
“Take it from a man who’s full of regrets, if this isn’t what you want, walk away. Marriage is forever.”
“You didn’t want marriage with Mom?”
“It was the divorce I didn’t want.”
“I don’t know what to do, Dad. I believe Siena and I love each other.”
“But, I still think of Marni. Our last exchange in her hotel room haunts me. I shouldn’t have let her walk away without a fight. I think I gave up too easily.”
“Is it guilt that’s plaguing you or Marni herself? You’re a good kid, Noah. You’re feeling guilty for hurting Marni. Maybe you’re purposely making yourself unhappy so you won’t feel bad about getting married to Siena? If so, that’s not fair to your future wife. She deserves to be happy with you.”
“I’m so confused, Dad. My head hurts when I think about all this. I don’t want to be responsible for the misery of two women.”
“You’ll be a good husband, Noah. We Bergstrom men love our women. Be good to the woman in your bed.”
“Hey. Did I lose you?”
“Sorry, Mar. What’d you say?”
“I said I don’t need any guilty recanting of your first marriage, but if it’s something you must do, then I’m all ears.”
“I need to start this topic by asking why you gave up on me so easily our last night together, Mar.”
“I could ask you the same question.” She hesitated briefly, and then added, “I knew the inevitable, Noah. After Ben, I wanted to be someone’s love, not someone’s guilty conscience. I also felt incredibly betrayed by you. Of all people…with the way you pursued me…with the amount of attention and affection you showed me…you were the last one I thought would cheat on me.” I tried to protest, but she wanted her say. “Maybe you didn’t physically cheat, but your body already belonged to Siena. The brief interaction I saw between you two the night of your birthday party, I knew you were on your way to falling in love with her, if not already there.”
“OK.” I blew out a hard breath. “Perhaps this was a bad idea. I should have started with an apology.”
“Noah. You’ve apologized enough. I don’t need anymore.”
“I know when we re-met in New York, I did and said everything I needed to so we could get together again. But now that we’re getting married, I want to explain everything to you so there are no surprises after we’re married.”
“All right. I’m listening.”
I sat comfortably and started my tale. “Siena and I met the summer before our freshman year in college. Our chemistry was instant and we started a relationship.” Marni fidgeted in her seat. Could what I was doing be more detrimental to our relationship than I thought? “However, our relationship ended as quickly as it started. I wanted to get serious about school and my future, and Siena wanted to forever live a high school romance.”
“You were both young. I suppose that’s how Ben and I were. I wanted him to follow me to college and make something of himself. He, on the other hand, believed he could become somebody without taking the old-fashioned route.”
“When I started at NYU, I had every intention of honoring my commitment to you. At first, it was really school that separated us. I could barely keep my head above water. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have control and it scared me. Failure was not an option, being the son of a high-ranking Navy Admiral. I couldn’t embarrass my father.”
“Noah, I understood back then you were going to be busy. I had all kinds of misgivings about our relationship as soon as summer started. You helped alleviate some of it when you visited me in Vegas, but as soon as school began, I knew we were done. So in many ways, it wasn’t only your fault that we ended. I expected us to end. I’m at fault, too.”
“No, Marni. You’re not at fault. I’d always had a hard time saying no to Siena and even as a grown man, I couldn’t say no. She seduced me with promises of fun when life was difficult. She smiled when I frowned and comforted me when I felt overwhelmed. She was everywhere and I couldn’t ignore her.” I didn’t like the dimness in my fiancée’s eyes. “What’s the matter,” I asked.
“I feel guilty.”
“What the hell for?”
“I should have called you more and forced you to tell me what was happening in your life. I wasn’t there for you because I didn’t want to face the inevitable. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know your schedule was impossible. I figured if I closed my eyes to the reality around us, you’d figure out a way for us to work. I’m sorry, Noah.”
“That’s not what this conversation is about, Marni. I’m not pointing fingers at you. I only wanted to explain that after that first year, Siena asked me to marry her.” Marni looked shocked. “Brandishing aside all kinds of doubts, I said yes and we married in a lavish ceremony in Rome.”
“That sounds beautiful.” Marni didn’t look me in the eyes when she made this statement.
Before I continued this saga, I wanted to change the mood I’d created. “We don’t have to have a simple wedding at Mom’s. You can have your heart’s desire, Marni. Don’t feel obligated to make life easy for the rest of us. I want you to have the wedding you’ve always dreamed of—you’re not getting another one.” I threatened with a smile.
“I have no desires for a grand wedding. A simple ceremony suits me fine. Did you want something bigger?”
“Hell no. Even when I had the big, I didn’t want it. I like your idea of an intimate family-only wedding.”
“I’ll maybe invite Syl and her husband.”
“If you chose to, then I’ll invite a few navy guys.”
“So are we done?”
“Almost.” I placed my hand atop hers and explained, “Even before Siena and I married, I had doubts about our union. She confirmed those doubts the moment the fun part of the marriage was over. As desperately as she wanted to live in the fantasy of marriage, I wanted to step into reality and progress with life. Less than a year into our marriage, we separated and by our second anniversary, our divorce was final.”
“OK. I heard you. I understand you. I’d like to put this all behind us.”
“The main reason why I wanted to tell you this story was to explain that I have absolutely no doubts about us. Even through our many separations, the fights concerning Ali, and my issues with Ben, I love you and can’t wait to call you my wife. I want you to know that I feel like I’m finally man enough to be your husband. I will take care of you. I will cherish you. I will love you until I die.”
“Thank you, Noah. I love you too.”
She had a satisfied smile. I knew we were on the right track and we would be all right. “What’s on the agenda with the wedding? How can I help you?”
“When are you headed back to San Diego?”
“Tonight. When do you leave?”
“Tomorrow morning. Ben is in a meeting right now with some Hollywood person and didn’t know when he’d be done when we booked our tickets. I did just get a text from him saying he’d be back at the hotel in an hour.”
“Can I ask you what you’re thinking in terms of Ali?”
With a look of fright, she was scared I might have changed my mind. “Will Alice be an issue for you? For us?”
I relieved her fears immediately. “No! Not at all. I actually really like her. She’s adorable. With her red hair and hazel-green eyes, she reminds me very much of you. Is that what you looked like when you were younger?”
Marni paused. “I guess? I’m unsure. Ben’s parents say aside from the hair color, she looks identical to Ben. I’m sure my dad and Jean will probably say Ali is a mirror image of my sister Melody. I think it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
“In any case, what did you want to do about your situation with Alice, school, and work? I know you’ll be with her during the day. Will you continue with work and school at nights?”
“I’ve been thinking about that.” Her lips pursed and moved from side to side. “I think I’m going to postpone school once the semester is done. I don’t want you to come home to an empty house. It’s important for us to start on the right foot and me being gone half the nights doesn’t seem prudent. As for work, since I get most of it done during Ali’s nap time, I think I’ll continue. But, that’s up for discussion as well.”
“You don’t have to quit school for me.”
“I’d like to spend more time with you, Noah. We’ve lost too much time, already.”
I didn’t like the way Marni sounded. There was an insecurity that shouldn’t be there. “Marni. What’s the matter? I’m pumped we are getting married. I feel like I can conquer the world. Do you not feel the same way?”
“It’s not that I’m not excited about marrying you. I just feel like you’ve sacrificed everything to be with me. I want to do something for you and this was the only thing I could sacrifice.”
Pulling her out of her chair and onto my lap, I kissed her with all the love I had. “I would give up every last thing I own to be with you. Let’s not make any rash decisions until after we’re married. If work and school separate us more nights than we like, you can quit, postpone, continue—I’m good with all of the above. All I want is for us to live as husband and wife.”
Those were the magic words. She was glowing like a future bride.
We’d be married in two weeks!
Chapter 2 – Marni
Amnesia ~5 Seconds Of Summer
“Now that you’ve graduated, where will you go work? You have so many offers on the table. I’m so proud of you, my genius daughter. Look at all these PR firms who want you in their company!”
“Thanks, Mom. I was thinking I’d stay in San Diego and work for the same PR company who gave me the internship.”
“But that’s the smallest one in size and pay. Why would you do that?”
“Because you’re here. Because San Diego is my home. Because this is where I feel I belong.”
“Marni. You have a famous PR firm in New York who’s dying to have you in their workforce. Their pay is higher than all the others and it’ll be great on your resume for when you want to return to California. You also have that firm in Los Angeles who’s willing to relocate you with all the bells and whistles. Why would you give either up for San Diego?”
“I’m scared, Mom.”
“Of what, Sweetheart?”
“LA is where Ben and Melody live and New York is where Noah and Siena live. Chances of running into either couple are slim to none, but I can’t do it. I can’t watch them together. It still hurts too much. I’m sorry I’m such a loser. I don’t want to experience that kind of pain again.”
“I understand, Marni. But, I am disappointed in you. You can’t let two failed relationships cloud your future. It’s not as if you were married to either boy. Look at me. Your father left me for another woman and I survived. Life is all in your attitude. If you behave like a victim, you’ll always be one. I’d like to see you move beyond the past and create a bright future for yourself.”
“I am behaving like an idiot, huh?”
“You are. Fortunately, you have some time to think things over. Don’t make any decisions when you’re emotional.”
“All right, Mom. I’ll keep in mind what you’ve said.”
“You do that, Sweetheart.”
“Shall we go see if Mom is still alive after spending two hours with a toddler?”
“Your mom is fantastic with Ali. She’ll make a fine grandmother.”
Noah and I stopped discussing the wedding. He told me that he, Carson, and the Admiral would each get a nice suit and leave the details to us. I needed to sit with Mom and Cece and plan something quick. I may have bitten off more than I could chew with this two-week wedding.
“Ali-Girl! How are you?” I smiled hesitantly, not knowing whether she liked being in Cece’s company.
Ali shook her body no when I tried to take her off Cece’s hands.
“You want to live here with us, Ali?” Cece loved that Ali was so taken with her. Ali appeared to love her too.
“Your daddy wants to have lunch with you, Ali-Girl. We need to head out.” She wasn’t happy with me taking her away, but she understood she was seeing her father.
“When shall we talk about the wedding?” My future mother-in-law excitedly asked.
“How about I come by after I put Ali down tonight?” I suggested.
“I’ll probably be gone by the time you come,” Noah answered with chagrin. “Maybe I should change my flight.”
“That’ll cost as much as a plane ticket. Don’t do that, Noah. I’ll see you when we get back home.”
“All right. I’ll take you back to the hotel.”
“See you tonight, Marni.” Cece hugged me farewell. She then hugged and kissed my little niece and told her, “And I’ll see you very soon, too. I’ll miss you until then.”
Noah chuckled at his mother’s transformation into a doting grandmother. “What a crack-up! I’ve never seen Mom so enamored with a baby. You seem to have that effect on people, Alice Howard.”
She grinned without having a clue why she was smiling.
It didn’t take long to arrive back at the hotel. Sadly, it was time for us to part.
“I’ll see you back in California?” I asked.
“I’ll come up on Friday and we’ll start apartment hunting.”
We kissed briefly and separated. With Ali between us, that was the best we could do.
“Hello, my precious girl!” was the greeting this baby received from her father the moment we stepped into the room.
“Dada!” Ali ran to her father. No matter the attention from others, Daddy’s love was the best. Ben was a terrific father.
“What did you do while your old man was working hard?” As if Ali understood him, she started babbling nonsense. “Uh, translation?” he asked me.
“She had a second breakfast, then played with Cece while Noah and I talked over a few wedding details.”
“So you’re really going to do it, huh?” he asked with skepticism.
“Why would you ask me that and in such a tone?” His manner of speech bothered me.
“I just don’t think he’s right for you. Look at how many times you’ve separated from him. If you two were meant to be, you would have married years ago. I think you’re both holding onto the past.”
Ben’s blunt remark surprised me and put me on the defensive. “Maybe all those years we separated were necessary for us to figure out what we really wanted. Maybe not everyone has a perfect courtship and marriage like you and my sister. Noah and I love each other. I think that alone is solid reason for getting married.”
My brother-in-law looked at me with sadness in his eyes. “Sometimes, love just isn’t enough to sustain a relationship. Look at us.”
Now that really hurt. “You obviously didn’t love me, Ben. If you could easily sway toward another woman because I wasn’t around—that’s not love.”
“Don’t belittle my feelings for Melody or for you. I didn’t just find another warm body because you were a thousand miles away,” he answered angrily. “You don’t know what I went through when you left for college, and you couldn’t care less. You were off having fun with all your new friends, including Noah. Your sister was the support I needed when my fledgling music career was going down the toilet. She encouraged me in ways you never did—and you were supposedly my girlfriend at the time!”
“I had given you my heart, mind, body, and soul. If that wasn’t enough, then I’m sorry. Obviously my sister was the better woman for you. I know you were a dream come true for her and she was your muse. Good for the both of you! I wasn’t right for you, but I’d like to think I’m right for Noah. After all I’ve been through in my young life, I’d like to believe there’s happiness and hope for me too.”
I gave Ali a kiss on the forehead and walked out.
I hated thinking about the past.
I hated thinking about how much I had loved Ben and how betrayed I felt by him and my sister.
I’d walk off this anger and hurt, and move on.
I had a wedding to plan.