This Is How It Happened

By: Jo Barrett

“Let’s see. There was that waitress from Denver,” Carlton said, counting on his fingers. “But that only lasted a month. So I think they annulled it. That makes five,” he said, flashing me all five of his fingers.

“Getting married five or six times is a very Texas thing to do,” I said.

“Well, howdy fucking doo-dah,” Carlton replied, gunning the accelerator. We cruised down I-10, past the Katy outlet mall, the strip centers filled with Home Depots, Walmarts, Exxons, and McDonald’s—the sprawling concrete jungle that stretched like open arms into the city. A green sign on the side of the highway said HOUSTON 17 MILES.

I shrugged my shoulders. “Don’t hold it against your dad, Carlton. Some men are the marrying type.”

Carlton shook his head, a bitter look on his face. “My dad is the RE-marrying type,” he said, simply. “But at least he’s got a pre-nup that’s tighter than The Donald’s.”

“Who’s the lucky bride?” I asked.

“Some flight attendant. Holly something or other. She works the first-class section. Dad met her on a flight to New York. They spent their first weekend together at the Ritz in Central Park.” Carlton put his hand to his ear and said, “Can’t you hear the wedding bells, Maddy?”

“I’m sure she’s a very nice person,” I deadpanned.

“They’re all nice,” Carlton said. “Especially when they see the checking account.”

“C’mon, babe. Give us some credit. All women aren’t gold diggers.”

Carlton rolled his head dramatically in my direction. “Not all women. Not you,” he said. “You fell in love with me despite my Honda.”

“That’s right, Romeo,” I said, plugging my finger into his arm. “And don’t you forget it.”

An hour later, Carlton and I checked into our luxurious king-sized room at the Houstonian Hotel. We “christened” the bed first, with quick athletic sex, and then showered and got ready for the wedding.

I wore a tight aqua-blue dress I got on sale at Saks. It wasn’t ugly aqua like something a mermaid would wear; it was the softest, palest blue you could imagine. And it really brought out the color of my skin, which being a Piatro, was on the olive side.

Carlton wore his favorite Italian suit with a blue tie. When we were finished getting ready, he said, “Sorry, sweetie. I forgot your blue wrist corsage.”

I giggled and covered my mouth. “I forgot your blue boutonniere.”

He grabbed me and swung me around in a dance circle.

“We’re not too matchy-matchy, are we?” I asked, wrapping my arm around his waist and posing in front of the bathroom mirror.

“Who cares?” he mumbled. He suddenly spotted the Juliet ring on my finger. In one quick motion, he grabbed my hand and rolled the ring off my finger.

“Hey!” I said.

“Don’t wear this tonight,” he said, holding the ring in front of my nose. “I don’t want my dad to think we got engaged without telling him. This is his night.”

I smiled at Carlton and nodded. For now, the Juliet ring would be our little secret.

The entire wedding was held inside the Grand Ballroom of the Houstonian Hotel. The ceremony itself lasted four minutes. Carlton’s father recited his vows as if they were second-nature. Like a hiccup.

The reception, on the other hand, was just like Carlton’s dad. Big and bold, and a little on the wild side. A lavish, Texas-sized affair, complete with rib eye steaks the size of footballs, and strolling mariachis singing “La Cucaracha.”

Forest Connors greeted us underneath one of the sprawling chandeliers. He smiled his big-tooth, politician’s smile and waved his broad hand. He was wearing a black suit instead of a tuxedo. And black cowboy boots.

El Diablo.

“Madeline,” he said, inclining his head in my direction.

“Mr. Connors,” I replied.

“Glad you could make it, son!” he said, clapping Carlton on the back.

Carlton gave his dad an awkward sideways hug, and said, “You know I never miss one of your weddings, Dad.”

“Aw, shucks, son! Cut your old man a break.” Forest Connors chuckled.

“I read somewhere that married men live longer,” I piped up.

Forest Connors looked down his nose at me as if I were some kind of flea or tick.

“Hell, Madeline! Why would anyone want to grow old?” Forest Connors boomed. He pointed his finger and stabbed it in my direction. “Better to lead a fast life, die young, and look good in your coffin. Right, Son?” he said, nudging Carlton.

“Whatever you say, Dad.”

“Life is short, Madeline. I can always make more money. But I can’t make any more time,” Forest Connors said. He winked at Carlton and walked away.

It was disarming. The way Forest Connors walked and talked. With his snakeskin cowboy boots and Texas twang. On the outside, he had the genuineness of a pure country bumpkin—the type of guy you see driving a tractor on the side of the road. Chewing on a sprig of mint.

And yet, it was his eyes that bothered me. When I looked into his hawkish dark eyes, I saw that Forest Connors was a solid force of a man. Those eyes held sheer raw, unadulterated power.