The secret wedding was set for June, but I wouldn’t go through with it. Sometimes I tell this story as epiphany at the eleventh hour: how I woke that day, being other, knowing otherwise. But sometimes I think I always knew—that there was never a moment without a halt in my heart, a clench in my throat, a gap between the door and the frame. Do you remember the last time you saw him? It was years ago now. It must have been March, just before I had my wisdom teeth removed. No, after. My jaw was sore. I had returned to my parents’ house to recupe. He had taken the bus to visit me there, his car in the shop again, never reliable. My mother remarked about his baggy clothes, the weight he had lost. We took her car to buy him a new sweater, something ribbed with a turtleneck. I thought he looked handsome in burgundy, but he bought the forest green. Were your parents fond of him? They thought he was pleasant enough, but they cautioned against getting too serious. I was in grad school, they said. I was going places. Where was he going? Meanwhile, Charlie and I were talking marriage license, rented convertible, honeymoon at the shore. Did he have any concerns about your--fidelity? I was going to say sexuality. He remarked once, off the cuff, that he had a tendency to fall in love with women who were fluid. I didn’t ask what he meant. I didn’t think of myself that way, and I still don’t. In the end, I’m much too binary to be on trend. I was an orange posing as an apple. Does anything stand out in particular from that night? We went to see a movie at the second-run theater, something strange with Kevin Spacey, K-9 or K-Pax. Then, Charlie wanted to stop at a flower shop, buy my mother a bouquet. It was a nice gesture, but I told him there was nothing he could buy that was half as fine as what she could grow. “She’s a master gardener,” I said. “You can’t win her over that way.” But he insisted. Then, we had a little sex in the car because we were bored and there was nowhere else to go. And what about--I remember the car got very quiet afterwards, though, and then I started humming as I was driving, and he asked what I was humming, and I didn’t know. But I kept humming until the words attached themselves to the notes: “Charles in charge of our days and our nights, Charles in charge of our wrongs and our rights.” Once I heard those words, I was embarrassed by them, by the chorus that culminates “I want Charles in charge of me.” “It’s from a TV show,” I said to him, blushing. I kept my eyes fixed to the road. “Oh, I remember now,” Charlie laughed. “Scott Baio lives in a house with two hot teenage girls he’s supposed to be taking care of.” “There’s a little brother, too.” “Yeah, well. That’s just to cover their sitcom asses.” Charlie is eleven years my senior, a fact we acknowledge but never discuss. “Yeah, I was just starting college in 1987,” he says, leaning back in his seat with a sigh. “That show came on, and I thought to myself, that Charles is one lucky shit. Did you know the older girl—the hotter one—went on to star in Baywatch?” Now his hand crosses the central console and perches like a bird on my thigh. I have never seen Baywatch or many other shows of my time. I was only eight when Charles in Charge first appeared in the TV Guide. My mother let me watch because she recognized Scott Baio from Happy Days. She liked him: wholesome, clean-cut. “That’s the kind of boy you need to find.” Half the streetlights on these suburban streets have gone out. Another is sputtering as we pass. Imagine: I was only in first grade, and my mother had already prescribed the type I should like, the type I should be looking for. But flip it the other way: I was only in first grade, and already how I relished looking at them—the blond daughters, Jamie and Sarah. How I kept them all to myself all these years, like two halves of a locket, invisible around my neck. “Are you coming?” Charlie asks, impatient. The hydrangeas and snapdragons are spilling over his arm. All these years later, and I can still feel the longing in my child-body for something I was not supposed to have. Jamie. Sarah. “Julie!” He shouts my name, taps on the glass. A spell is breaking. Before I can answer, he slams the door.
-- Julie Marie Wade is the author of eight collections of poetry and prose. She teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University in Miami and reviews regularly for Lambda Literary Review and The Rumpus. In 2018, her first coauthored collection with Denise Duhamel, The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose, will be published by Wild Patience Books, and her novella-in-poems, Same-Sexy Marriage, will be published by A Midsummer Night’s Press. She is married to Angie Griffin and lives on Hollywood Beach.