JANUARY

JANUARY

"So, how did your parents meet?"

"They were in a plane crash together," she said.

"No they weren't," he said.

"Yeah, they were. Crazy, right?"

"That can't be true," he said.

"They got together from that, and then they broke up right before my mom found out she was pregnant with me, so she raised me alone for a while, and then my dad found us, and...yeah. What about yours?"

"They always told us a friend introduced them, but last year my dad told me they really met in a bar," he said.

"Nice."

"Yeah, my mom must have been drunk. That's the only explanation," he said.

JULY

"Are you awake?"

"No," he mumbled.

"Wake up," she said, poking him in the shoulder.

"What's wrong?"

"Don't freak out," she warned.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing, but I feel like I should tell you that I'm like, a day late. I'm totally not pregnant, I'm not, I just feel like I should tell you, just in case," she said.

"Sweetie, you always make me wear a condom and you're on the pill. Do you really think you're pregnant?"

"No, but I worry," she said.

"Stop worrying. If you're pregnant, we'll have a baby. Go to sleep," he said.

The fan whirred in the hall, and a car drove by on the street outside, illuminating the wall with its headlights.

"You know how my mom found out she was pregnant with me?"

"How did your mom find out she was pregnant with you?"

"She was gassed, and she lived," said the girl, sitting up against the headboard and pulling the blanket all the way up to her neck.

"She was whatted and she what?"

"Gassed. As in Zyklon-B, mustard, sarin. That kind of thing."

"Tell me you're joking," he said, from the pillow.

"No, it's true. You know Alex?"

"Alex with the hair and the lips?"

"I'd have preferred you remember her as Alex from the university with all the dogs, but yeah. It was her dad that did it...I told you I have a crazy family," she said.

"Wait, how did she live? Your mom—she lived?"

"Apparently it's...like in Auschwitz, they'd pull the bodies out of the gas chambers and the pregnant women would still be conscious."

"Jesus."

"All the extra blood vessels for the baby and the placenta, they absorb enough of the gas that the mom can survive. So usually if it's a regular genocidal gassing they just go around and shoot the pregnant women—"

"Jesus."

His eyes widened, suddenly realizing the magnitude of what happened in her family's "old country."

"But two of my uncles found her. You know that wedding in Koreatown we went to? Same thing. Jiji and her mom Sun. They lived too."

"How old were you when this happened?"

"I was zero. I think my mom was only a month along or something," she said.

"You were gassed as a baby. That explains so much," he said.

"Shut up."

"I love you."

"Yeah."

"I'm really glad you made it."

There was a quiet rattle as the old house settled a little around them. Outside the summer crickets called out to each other.

"Charlie, can you ask you something?"

"Anything," she said.

"If you Iare/I pregnant, will your dad hate it less or more if we're already married when we tell them?"

"Oh my god, would you please cut it out?! My mom is the nosiest busybody ever and she saw the wedding folder from the hotel and the books, and she told my dad, and my dad is old and conservative and superprotective and a total square. Did you know when I went to college he told me not to have sex until I graduated? I mean, nice try dad, but come on. I already told you, my dad just took me out to tell me not to rush into anything, he didn't say not to marry you, he just said I should think about it, and make smart decisions and not do anything rash and rushed. Look, he just loves taking us all out and giving us all advice. He's always done that, ever since we were little. It was ice cream when we little, and then coffee, and then beer when we were old enough, and then he always gives us money, like absurd amounts of cash. It's his thing. He's not opposed to marriage in general or you in particular. Seriously, just forget I ever told you. We're going to do whatever we want."

"I think he's going to punch me."

"So punch him back!"

"I'm not hitting your dad," he said.

"You hit that guy that time. And your brother at the Memorial Day picnic!"

"My brother is a jackass," he said with a sigh, regretting that he had ever introduced her to his clan.

"He was just flirting. It was nothing," she said.

"Says you," he said.

"Yeah, says me, your future wife. So trust me, will you? Honestly, let me handle my dad. He's just a big puppy. I promise."

"I do...trust you."

"I know. I love you."

The lovers kissed, and Charlie settled in behind Matthew, pressing her bare breasts against his back and wrapping her arm around him.

"The story of that Island would make a hell of a book," he said, wondering how many other monstrous events Charlie's parents had suffered through.

"Nobody really knows the whole story," she said.

"You must," he insisted.

"No, I don't. My mom never talks about it. And my dad'll tell stories if you get him going, but it's only the funny stories, and I'm pretty sure half of those are just plain lies."

"Maybe it was all fun and games except for the gassing," he joked.

"When I was little, my mom used to wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Especially whenever she was pregnant," she said, burying her face into the mattress under Matthew's left shoulder.

"Aww, baby, that's horrible. I'm sorry."

"Eh, we were fine. Those nights were always kind of fun, because once we were all up anyway, we usually all ended up in the kitchen eating leftovers and hanging out until everybody was tired again," said Charlie.

"Good. So you guys were all basically okay?"

"Yeah, all us kids were fine, and my mom is a rock, but when she was pregnant, which was all the time, she was always sort of cagey and my dad had to keep her from flipping out. Thank god for my dad. I mean, my dad...Well. We had this German Shepherd named Tiger—we had a lot of German Shepherds actually, and they always slept in the hall between all our rooms. Sometimes I'd wake up in the middle of the night, and if the dog was gone, it was because my dad was out in the garage cleaning his guns. I think that was his way of coping with whatever happened. I'd go back inside and tell my mom and then she'd put me to bed and she'd go find Ihim/I and when I woke up the next morning the dog was back where he was supposed to be. My mom freaked out when she was pregnant, and my dad would get a little paranoid, but they always sort of talked each other down, and we kids...we were happy. We were basically okay. We always just thought that kind of stuff was normal."

"Your dad has guns?"

"Lots," said Charlie, thinking of all the ones she knew about and the many she knew were there but hidden.

"Of course he does."

"Ask him about the Second Amendment sometime. That's always a fun diatribe."

"Well, at least now I know how I'm going to die," sighed Matthew.

NOVEMBER

"Happy Thanksgiving, baby."

"Happy Thanksgiving."

"I think your dad is starting to like me," gloated Matthew.

"My dad likes you. I told you that already. If he really didn't like you, you wouldn't be at his house for Thanksgiving."

"Your sister's boyfriend...what's his name?"

"Lucio. And exactly. Lucio isn't long for this world. Or at least for the world of my family. But seriously, it's not my dad who's gonna run him off. I mean, he will, but only because my mom doesn't like him either. My dad sort of hates all of you, but it's only if you piss off my mom too that you're really in trouble."

"So is he actually going to kill Lucio?"

"Would you stop?"

"Your dad is scary."

"My dad is not scary. My dad is just Inoisy/I," she said.

"Bullshit," he said.

"I love my ring," she said.

"I already told you, seriously, if you don't like it, my feelings won't be hurt. Just tell me and I can get you something else," he said.

"If you do I'll never forgive you," she said, with a kiss.

JUNE

"Dad, you can't cry today."

"I'm paying for this goddamn wedding and if I want to cry over you running off and marrying that smart aleck Matthew of yours, then I'll goddamn well go ahead and cry."

"Thank you," said Charlie.

"For what?"

"For the wedding. It's all amazing and beautiful. Thank you so much," said Charlie looking up at her father.

Sawyer shrugged, embarrassed.

"I love you, kiddo."

"I love you, too."

"Hey c'mere." Charlie rustled over in her dress and sat next to her father. "Did I ever show you this?"

Sawyer pulled a quarter-folded piece of paperboard out of his wallet and handed it to Charlie. It was the cover of a paperback book, warped and faded, and nearly in four separate pieces from having been folded and unfolded so many times for so long. iWatership Down/i.

"Can I read it?"

"That's the point, kiddo."

On the opposite side of the cover was a handwritten note. Charlie recognized her mother's handwriting.

IDear James,

We love you.

Yours always,

Kate and the baby/I

"Daddy, what's this from?"

"You know, that's the first time you and me ever met. It's from when your mom left the Island. I didn't find it for a long time. She hid it in this box I'd buried in the sand, but I—after the—I didn't go back to the beach for a really long time after...the camp burned. But then I did, and I sort of tripped over the box, and that had been there the whole time," said Sawyer, running his hand through his hair as he remembered those months between the day he thought he lost then and when this note told him there really was a reason to hope for a future with her, with them.

"Oh, Daddy..."

"The point is, I consider you to be a signatory to that document. Just because you're in love with this guy doesn't mean you get to ditch your useless old father," said Sawyer, eyes twinkling.

"Dad..."

"Shut up, I'm talking. It says, right there," his thumb running across the words Kate and the baby. "You're mine, always, no matter what, and even if you do have a new man to love now, you still have to love me until I die."

"Just try and stop me."

"You sound like your mom."

"We love you," said Charlie throwing her arms around her father's shoulders

"Yeah, baby, I know," holding his daughter tight, kissing her temple and trying to remember he had to eventually let her go.

"Dad, I told you not to cry!"

"And I told you to shut up. Now go find Cass and your sisters and your mom. We're gonna be late," said Sawyer, pushing her away and blinking.

"Can I keep that?" she said, pointing to the note.

"Hell no," said Sawyer. There were some things he wouldn't share. He had to let that guy out there have his daughter, but the note was staying put.

Charlie's blue eyes met her father's and he sighed to see his baby, his and Kate's first baby, with her curls and freckles, but unmistakably his eyes, in her wedding dress. Of all things. Her wedding dress.

She blinked back a couple of tears of her own and went to get her sisters out of the next room.

THE END

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