Who gives this woman to this man?
I never thought I'd make it to adulthood, but I did. I never thought I'd be getting married, but I am.
In the spring of my twenty-second year of life I was going to get married. It's currently the winter of my twenty-first year. It's sort of depressing how I made it here. Pretty drastic measures were taken. Basically, I became a very, very good candidate for a lung transplant shortly after I turned eighteen. And I say 'pretty drastic' with a bitter tongue. There was nothing pretty about it whatsoever.
Things since then had been a little out of ordinary. Firstly, my fiancé. The blind Isaac, it turns out, was the man I was destined to marry. In no way was he my soul mate, but I could see myself spending my life with Isaac until one of us is stored six-feet under in a wooden box. In recent times I found myself leaning towards cremation. I made a comment to Isaac about how cremation reminded me of Jedi deaths in Star Wars. Isaac laughed, of course, and understood the reference right off the bat, but I know one person who would've beat me to it: Augustus.
Augustus was, is and always will be my one, true soul mate. I love Isaac dearly, but never the way I loved Gus. He fully understands that, which one of the reasons I can marry him. Gus and I had a once in a lifetime kind of connection. Isaac doesn't complain about coming in second, which kind of sucks for him.
"You're behind a dead guy who drove like he was riding a bumper car and had one leg," I'd always joke.
Isaac would always laugh. "Yeah, I know. But…it's Gus. That's why I can accept it."
It's near Christmas, but there's no sight of a Christmas tree in our apartment. Isaac wanted to get one for our first Christmas together, but I told him no.
"Why?" he asked.
"It's not like you can even see it," I said, not really thinking.
"Says the girl who's marrying a blind guy."
I apologized and told him the real reason. When Augustus said I lit up like a Christmas tree, Hazel Grace, from that moment forward I couldn't look at any kind of tree anymore. It was only recently that I could stomach looking at trees, but pines will forever remind me of Christmas trees, which remind me of what he said, which I cannot bare to think of. My parents and Isaac know and understand this, so we have a blowup snowman to put presents under instead.
Spring arrives in the blink of an eye. Before I know it I'm at the church the night before my wedding. We decided to do it a little untraditionally and have the rehearsal dinner first, then go to the church. We're in the heart of Jesus in the church. And as Father Green runs through everything he's going to say tomorrow, I couldn't get my mind off one thing: Gus.
Isaac is the man I'm going to spend my life with, that's certain. I'd never think of standing him up at the altar, ever. But if Gus were alive…where would he be?
Probably standing where Isaac is, my subconscious said as if I just awoke her from a nap. I decide to stop thinking and allow the grouchy voice to return to its hibernation. Isaac and I say and do everything we're going to tomorrow. We didn't practice walking in order, bridesmaids with groomsmen and me with my father before Father Green ran through the procedure of the actual ceremony. We saved that for last. I walk towards my mom and dad, but I see Isaac's mother lead Isaac over to them. He whispered something in their ears and they nodded. My dad walked towards me with this overly giddy grin on his face.
"What did Isaac say?" I asked when he approached me.
"Nothing you need to worry yourself with," he said with his arm across my shoulders as we walked into the hallway. One-by-one the bridesmaids walked with the groomsmen until it was just my dad and me. Of course he was crying, but he kept it quiet until I slid my arm through his and we began walking down the aisle together.
"I'll be even worse tomorrow," he whispered.
My heart swelled with the sureness that I'll be crying along with my father tomorrow. He brings me to the front where Father Green is standing.
"Who gives this woman to this man?" he asked my father, like he's probably asked a million men giving women away at weddings.
"Her mother and I do."
"Fantastic. Ladies and gentlemen, I'll see you…tomorrow, right?" he joked, throwing a wink my way. My dad and I both laughed as I pull my arm from his and turn towards him to give him a hug. My mother comes up to us and joins in. The next time we hug like this, we'll all have something new in common: we'll all be married.
"Before I forget," Father Green interrupted as the handfuls of people involved were about to leave, "I have to show the men and ladies their dressing rooms for tomorrow."
"Hazel, you coming?" Isaac asked as he came up behind me and my parents.
"No, I already saw the dressing room when I put the dress there before dinner."
I nodded. He and his mother followed Father Green. I turned to both of my parents.
"You guys should go too."
"Are you sure, sweetie?" my mom asked.
"Positive. I think I need a few minutes to connect to God on a heart-to-heart level while I'm in his heart." We all laughed. "And I think I need to talk to one of God's fellow angels before I get married."
They get the message that I wanted to reconnect with Gus on a spiritual level in the place where we first met. In order for me to marry Isaac, I just need one last person's blessing. I already had my parents' and Isaac's mother's. My mom and dad walked hand-in-hand towards Father Green's train of people. I waited until the noisy crowd was well on their way down the hallway before I walked into the center of the heart of God and sat cross-legged on the ground.
"Hey God, it's Hazel. If I could just borrow Gus…Augustus," I corrected myself because he preferred when I called him by his full name, "for a minute, I would be forever in your debt."
I closed my eyes and took a sharp inhale with my new-but-not-really-new-just-recycled lungs.
"Hazel Grace," a voice that I hadn't heard in a while calls me by my first and middle name. There's only one person in the history of my existence that ever did that. My eyes opened to a surprise. A perfectly healthy, still one-legged Augustus Waters, of course with an unlit cigarette hanging loosely from the corner of his mouth. I questioned whether I'd gone mad and am just imagining him standing there, but I checked. I'm awake, sane and have two working eyes, unlike my unfortunate fiancé.
"Augustus," I greeted quietly, but I slowly regained that sarcastic hint in my voice that I used and embraced around him. "I think God would disapprove of your decision to have such an unholy metaphor hanging from your lip in the center of his heart."
"I made it into Heaven, didn't I? God must not think it's that sinful. Plus, I'm not the one who put the pack in my coffin." I blushed at the faint memory, erasing it from my head seconds later. I was not going to think about his funeral when I see that he's perfectly alive right in front of me.
"Oh great, so I'm going to Hell now?"
"I wouldn't let God commit such a sin," he said, ironically. "I've missed you, Hazel Grace."
"I've missed you too, Augustus."
I closed my eyes and chuckled. "Yeah?" It came out as a question, though I didn't really intend for it to.
Augustus limps forward, taking a seat across from me in the heart of God. He maintained a distance that put himself far enough away that I couldn't touch him, but that I could see every detail of his face perfectly. "Do you just have a thing for guys with missing body parts? You had me with my peg leg, and now Isaac with no eyes. Hazel Grace, are you going to be the next psychological theory? I can see it now. The Hazel Grace Complex: The subconscious desire to bang guys with missing parts for some complicated, slightly insane psychological reasoning."
"Alright, Freud," I said with a face that read I'm-trying-to-look-annoyed-but-am-failing-miserably-with-this-grin-stretching-across-my-face. "I seem to recall a theory called The Augustus Waters Complex: The subconscious desire to bang pretty girls who have cancer for some complicated, slightly insane psychological reasoning."
"I never banged Caroline," he said. "The correct definition of The Augustus Waters Complex is: the subconscious desire to make love to, and only make love to, the beautiful, sexy, gorgeous, Natalie Portman doppelgänger named Hazel Grace Lancaster."
"Only two recorded cases in history: you and Isaac."
"Yeah," he answered shortly, as if he didn't like that I said that. "I'm sorry, Hazel. I'm still a little bitter that I'm no longer suffering from personhood and because of it couldn't marry you."
"You're my soul mate, Augustus. Isaac knows that."
"Which is why I feel guilty for envying him, but I kind of have the right to."
I nodded my head. "Yeah. You do."
He smiled and fiddled with his finger. The silence between us was a bit awkward, to say the least.
"I see you still only have one leg," I said. "What's up with that?"
"I demand a lot in Heaven. Seriously, you can ask God Himself. He's fed up with my crazy requests. He was going to give me my leg back, but I requested that he kept me exactly the way I was when I met you and fell in love with you."
"Meaning…you still have cancer?"
"From now until…whenever."
"Did you ever ask for Him to bring me up there to be with you?"
The question made Augustus' face transform into a deer seeing headlights. He bit his lower lip and answered through clenched teeth, "never, but He knew I thought about it."
"I need to go."
I sucked in a gust of air. "Okay," I said with a smile.
"Close your eyes."
"Just do it, stubborn."
I finally listened to him. A few seconds later I felt the presence of a soft pair of lips against my cheek. "Save me a dance tomorrow."
And I opened my eyes to an empty room. One being. Just me.
My father walked me to the front of the heart, just as we did yesterday, only we're in much dressier attire.
"And who gives this woman to this man?" Father Green recited just as he did twenty-four hours ago.
"Her mother and I do…and a young man by the name of Augustus Waters."
I was the only one in the entire room to gasp. My father took a break from crying to get those words out, but there he goes crying again. And there I go, sobbing against his shoulder as I hug him and he gives me away to Isaac.
"I asked him to say that," Isaac whispered.
Isaac nodded and said nothing more.
We were officially married, Isaac and I. The whole day flew by in a blur. It wasn't until I was on the dance floor, well into the night of dancing I had ahead of me. I'm dancing to a fast song with my bridesmaids (and my dad, funnily enough). The song manifested into a slow one, which I danced with my dad. Then another fast one. A slow one came on after that one. I looked around the room for Augustus with this silly fantasy that he'd come to me like he did the night before and dance with me like he said he would.
Someone tapped my bare shoulder. I turned around, and there he was. Around everyone else, standing in his funeral suit with his hand extended.
"May I have this dance?" he asked in a serious tone with just a hint of humor on the backside.
"You may," I said.
We danced that six minute song like it lasted forever. It felt like forever, and then all at once, I was pulled back into the conscious reality that I was at my wedding, my wedding to Isaac. And Augustus was still dead.
"Did we really meet again, Gus? Or was I imagining all of it?" I whispered to the air around me. The whole night I went without noticing the projector by the DJ. It had pictures of me, Isaac, our parents, some of the guests and even one of Gus in a montage. The montage is wiped away for a second and these words are printed, clear as day, across the screen.
We did, Hazel.