On the cusp of waking, I hold onto a wonderful dream. I am walking through a leafy forest, magnificent towering trees with sunlight filtering through the canopy. I step slowly, with a keen sense of anticipation. Up ahead the trees thin, revealing the shimmer of a calm ocean. Still, I feel like I’m waiting for something. I stop, my eyes on the glint of sea. Suddenly, behind me, a twig snaps. I spin around, my heart beating wildly.
He is smiling. He had been there all along.
The morning sun pours through the picture window now. I sit up. My wedding day. James’s side of the bed is cool and empty. We had decided to sleep apart, keeping with custom and all that. A shiver of excitement runs up my spine. I stand and stretch, then open the windows to let the breeze in. I start a bath and turn on Bach, loud.
I met James ten months ago. Just after Christmas. Mutual friends set us up, and we had been wary. James suggested we meet at Milk Bar, a trendy cookie shop in the city and an absurd place for a date. Unbeknownst to each other, we both suffered from dating fatigue—tired of long dinners on first dates we knew wouldn’t go anywhere. So the cookie shop felt safe, and I agreed—if the date was a dud, we’d part ways in under an hour.
James told me later that when he saw me standing outside under the streetlight, waiting to step into the crowded shop, he knew immediately. He proposed within six months. He asked me just after breakfast in bed on a Sunday morning in June.
And here’s the thing, our life together is glorious. We have jobs we love. We travel often and to beautiful places. We have a huge and wonderful circle of friends. It is such a good life, but it is so stunningly full. There isn’t an evening of the week that we don’t have a dinner or a work engagement or a party. We travel for our jobs, and we’ve both just received promotions. Environmental charities take up a lot of James’s extra time, and I’m in the pottery studio whenever I have a free hour, which is rare. I think we’ve been sleep deprived since we met.
So when it came to planning our wedding, and my mother was tallying up a guest list of four hundred, I lost it. It came out of nowhere. It was a Tuesday evening, and James and I were walking up Mulberry, yet again discussing whether or not to have a bridal party, and I burst into tears. James looked at me wildly.
What? What is it? What’s wrong?
I stopped walking, miserable. The wedding, I sputtered. It’s too much.
His face darkened.
No! I want to get married, I said quickly. I just don’t want all this. This wedding. My mother, the bridesmaids, the flowers, the menu…it’s too much.
He nodded slowly, carefully. After a long pause, he said, I just want to be married now.
I hiccuped with relief. You do? I asked. Really, do you?
He nodded. More than anything.
A wave of relief washed over me. I started to giggle. Uncontrollably. He looked at me strangely and then started to laugh too. And then there we were, laughing and hugging, then crying and laughing all over again on the busy sidewalk.
So we cancelled everything. I let my parents down with the promise of a big party at Thanksgiving. I wrote a card to each of my best friends, explaining our plan. I cancelled all of the flowers and food and gold-leaf invitations and set my sights on Kiawah Island.
My parents took me to Kiawah as a young girl, and the magic stayed with me. It’s like the wonder and joy of childhood enchantment was imprinted onto my soul. When I return to the Island, when the ocean air hits my face, I feel like a little girl again, playing in the dunes, climbing magnificent live oaks in the warm summer dusk.
James visited once, a quick trip to Charleston and lunch on Kiawah for business. But he understands. When I talk about Kiawah, he says my whole face lights up and I get what he calls “melty”— like you’re melting from happiness.
And so we decide to elope. We take a week and a half off from work—no phone calls, no emails. I pack sandals, swimming suits, a few sundresses, and my silk wedding dress—the one thing I kept. We land late on a Friday night, strangely quiet with anticipation, holding hands and smiling shyly at each other as we exit the airport.
The day arrives, and instead of in a full church, we meet on the beach in the late afternoon, the seagulls and dolphins as our guests. I have pulled my hair loosely at the base of my neck and kept my makeup simple. James stands with the officiant, barefoot in his tuxedo, no tie. As I walk down the boardwalk steps to the beach, he smiles hard, brushing tears from his eyes with his fingertips. My heart beats wildly.
Without a word, he embraces me, kissing my forehead, my eyes, my cheeks. We walk closer to the shore and turn to one another, reciting the vows we’d written over the past weeks, parts we say together, parts we have kept secret until this moment. With tears in our eyes, both hands joined, we say, in turn, I marry you. Forever. The officiant declares us husband and wife.
I half-laugh, half-sob as he circles his arms around my waist and lifts me off the ground. Married. Us.
We walk through the trees towards champagne and dinner, talking excitedly about our dreams—what we want to achieve together, who we want to be for each other, what wisdoms we’ll hold close. It is perfect, this warm fall evening, our arms looped together as we stroll, planning our life together.
By the time we reach the clubhouse, we are giddy and giggling. Kim greets us with congratulations and hugs, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot chilling on the porch. We drink champagne and watch the sun dip low over the marsh. He is everything I hoped he would be. — C.G.