Posted on: December 16, 2014
When people ask Marcus where they met, he lies.
“There’s no shame in it,” Lily will tell him.
“The other story is so much better,” Marcus will say.
The real story is they found each other on an online dating site. Marcus was ready to delete his account when he saw Lily. He would tell her much later that she was the only real woman he encountered in a picture; they had all been too staged, and his dates had come across more like auditions than authentic human interaction.
He’d taken the last woman, Marissa, to a football game because she wore a jersey in her picture. She broke down in tears at halftime and admitted she hated crowds, but she thought men found a “guys’ girl” more interesting. She also said her ex-boyfriend was “like, super jealous of black guys.” Marcus gave her money for a cab and left without saying goodbye.
In her profile photo, Lily’s dark hair gathered in a messy side braid that cascaded past her collarbone. Her head tilted back, her mouth open in a loud laugh Marcus heard inside his head. Her hazel eyes gleamed with mischief, like she had pranked someone nearby. Her short fingers curled around a delicate champagne flute.
The story Marcus tells is that he saw her at the yellow door on a hazy Saturday morning, and they abandoned errands for coffee, too rich in taste and cost, but not time. It is an appropriation of their first date, in which Lily suggested the familiar landmark and Marcus suggested the activity. Lily had worn her hair down, and it hung in a glossy sheaf against a Harvard sweatshirt, the hood hanging over the collar of her black peacoat.
The first words that came out of Lily’s chapped lips were “I’m sorry.”
Marcus, on autopilot, responded with “Don’t be.”
Lily explained she spilled foundation on the blouse she had been wearing, and she was behind on laundry, and so she didn’t have anything else to wear but her favorite sweatshirt.
Marcus unzipped his winter coat, the white “Yale” letters blazing like heresy.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” Marcus said, “but I think we have a lot of trash talk to cover over coffee.”
During the following year, they will show up at each other’s alumni events in rival colors, first eliciting cringes but later familiar smiles. They will encourage each other to try new things, leading to misguided forays into yoga and indoor rock climbing and a surprising addiction to spam musubi.
They will meet at the yellow door every Saturday and walk to the closest coffee shop nearby.
At Thanksgiving, Marcus meets Lily’s fathers for the first time. He presents both men with their own bottle of bourbon and, upon prompting, begrudgingly admits he doesn’t know what Modern Family is and doesn’t understand what lame joke he should be making.
“I told you you’d like him!” Lily gushes, her lips stained after two glasses of red wine.
“Bless you, son,” Robert chuckles.
When Lily excuses herself, Marcus doesn’t waste any time.
“I love your daughter,” Marcus says, “and I know I want to spend the rest of my life with her. Before I ask her, I want two things: to move in with her, and to have your blessing.”
“How will you ask her?” Frank asks.
“I don’t know yet. I have some ideas.”
“When?” Robert adds.
“When it’s right,” Marcus shrugs. “Not a holiday or our anniversary, though.”
“We’ve had three hours and four courses to get to know you,” Robert says. “You think you’ll get our blessing right now?”
“I didn’t expect to, to be honest,” Marcus smirks. “I thought you would want to know my intentions. I thought you should know about Lily’s Christmas present.”
Marcus shows them the pictures from his phone: a bright, modern loft with smooth white walls and light hardwood floors. Metal and glass accents glint.
“She’ll love it,” Frank says.
Lily wakes up to a cold bed. She shivers and reaches for Marcus, but he’s gone. She rolls out of bed, stumbling into the nightstand. A tiny wrapped package drops to the floor, the silver bow crushed on impact.
Lily tears the paper off and pulls at the lid. A piece of yellow paper lies alone in the box. Printed in careful handwriting is “Kitchen counter.”
On her counter is a bigger present topped with a festive red bow. Inside another note reads “Get dressed. Check weather first. Meet me at the Starbucks by the yellow door.”
Pulling on her Harvard sweatshirt, yoga pants, and brown leather Frye boots, Lily exits the apartment. She returns three minutes later to collect additional winter accoutrements - coat, scarf, ear warmers, mittens. As an afterthought, she drops two empty thermoses into her bag.
The smell of chemical gingerbread and eggnog and booming Bing Crosby greets her. An over-caffeinated woman in a green apron and felt elf hat (complete with pointy ears) beams at her when she walks in.
“Are you Lily?” The woman asks.
“Yay! I was worried you might stand that nice man up. He thought you might be here an hour ago.”
“I guess I slept in on Secret Christmas Scavenger Hunt Day,” Lily says.
“I’m supposed to give you this.” The woman sets a present next to the register.
“I’ll trade you,” Lily says, handing her the thermoses. “Two of those holiday teas. Extra hot.”
The next note is an address near Lily’s office. She hands the woman a crisp twenty and leaves with two thermoses, steam wafting in thin spirals as she makes her way to the address.
A doorman greets her with a “Merry Christmas, Lily!” and hands her another present. It’s a new key, silver and unused. The doorman tells her a floor and a unit number.
In the elevator, the tears come as her lips tug into a wide, full smile.
She knows which apartment it is when she exits the elevator. In a row of black rectangles, it’s a freshly painted bright yellow door, the happy sheen welcoming her home.
Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Shelly Love
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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