Driving home, late. The hour was questionable, as daylight savings time might have started, and the hour might have been rolled back, but it was late enough that the highway was mostly empty, and the road was quiet. Edie Brickell was playing, and soothed me into that nice roadtrip lull.
I turned off the heater, even though my feet were still cold from the beach weather, because the air was getting thick with smoke. In the headlights I could see ash hitting the car. That afternoon at the wedding, as we were perched on the edge of the country, right on the water, ash fell on our shoulders. It looked like snow, the way the sky was grey-white and heavy. Only the sun, burning a dangerous shade of red, reminded us of the truth: behind us, everything was on fire, people were evacuating, things were dying. In front of us, two lives were starting a new beginning.
The smell of roses mixed with the smoke in my car. We had been given a centerpiece to take home, and it was resting against the back of my seat. My eyes were burning, and it felt like sitting too close to a fireplace just after the last embers faded, when it seems too cold for how warm it smells.
That’s when he woke up, complaining that it was stuffy in the car. He shifted in his seat next to me, and moved his hands to change the dials. He smacked the defrost button in his confusion, and began asking me a question. He didn’t finish it, however, and trailed off. When I looked over at him, his right hand was still in the air, elbow resting on the door. His mouth was open, his head rocking back and forth, not quite in time with the song. He was asleep again. I placed my hand on his leg after I turned the air off.
The haze was thick in front of the car, and Edie was singing about a volcano. My thoughts wandered to the wedding, how fancy it was, how beautiful everyone looked, how people tried to put a good spin on the wildfires around us. “Luckily none of the roads on the way here was closed.”
He had leaned over to tell me how much he liked the bride’s dress, and then we shared in quick little whispers how we had always pictured our own weddings. We both were shocked (but not too shocked) to find we were imagining the same thing, wanting the same thing. We stopped talking about it, before we had said too much, before we said something that was meant for later. We left to join the dance floor, still smiling, a little smugly.
The smoke was clearing from the car as we were nearing home. I turned the heat back on, shifting the scarf over my legs that was keeping my knees warm. My feet felt colder at first from the blast of warm air. I wasn’t sleepy, but I was exhausted.
That was when he woke up, suddenly, as if he had just remembered something. He appeared to not know he had been asleep for some time. His hand was still floating in front of him, and he used it to open the glove compartment. He pulled out a little gold box–
and in the same split second it takes for me to recognize the box of Godiva chocolates that were at our table my heart flips completely over because that’s what happens when tiny boxes come out of unexpected places
–and he took out a piece of chocolate, ate it with serious concentration, and then fell right back to sleep again, mouth still open, the sweet smell of cocoa taking over the space between us. It was right then, when his left hand twitched a little in his lap, as the first roadsigns for our exit appeared, that I fell in love with him all over again.