Falling into Us Read online

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Nell, for her part, doted on Benny to the point of spoiling him. She even went so far as to rearrange the usual order of who came down the aisle when to feature Benny as a highlight, even though weddings were supposed to be all about the bride. Usually the flower girl and ring bearer came after the bridesmaids and groomsmen and before the bride, or something like that, but Nell was adamant that Benny be the last down the aisle, bringing the rings all by himself.

  So there he was, marching all by himself down the long aisle, acting oblivious to the whispers and pointing and not-so-subtle accolades of Benny’s epic cuteness. I felt my heart squeeze at the sight of Benny in his tux, so grown up, so focused on his job.

  Benny ascended the steps carefully, and then, unlike we’d practiced, he stood directly between Colt and Nell, holding the pillow with the rings up as high as he could reach.

  “I got rings, Nelly. Here go. ” He gazed up at her, and the crowd awwww-ed appropriately.

  Nell smiled down at him, let go of Colt’s hands, and gathered her skirts up to kneel at Benny’s level. “Thank you, Benjamin. ”

  “I do good?” he asked her, apprehension in his voice.

  Nell kissed him on the forehead, laughing. “You did perfectly, little man. ”

  “I have ’Raffey now?”

  Nell glanced at me, not sure what he was asking. Nonno—the Italian word for “grandpa,” meaning my dad—came to the rescue, settling Benny onto his lap after the minister took the rings. Benny dug his stuffed giraffe, affectionately known as ’Raffey, out of his Nonno’s coat pocket and made a loud animal grunting/barking noise, hopping the stuffed animal across Dad’s shoulders. Everyone laughed at Ben’s antics, especially Nell. She sobered quickly as she turned back to Colt.

  The wedding was beautiful, and Nell glowed with a happiness brighter than I’d ever seen in her. The reception was a huge, lively affair at a banquet hall not far from the wedding chapel. At the end of dinner, Nell seemed to be considering something, sipping idly on a glass of sparkling water with a wedge of lime, glancing at Colt and then away.

  I was sitting next to her, with Colt’s best man, an attractive but hard-bitten black man named Split, on his right side. Nell sucked in a long breath and let it out, having made a decision. She leaned over to Colt, wrapping her hand around the back of his neck and whispering something in his ear. Whatever she told him had Colt’s eyes widening with surprise and then delight.

  “You are? You’re sure?” he asked, not quite quietly enough.

  Nell nodded. Colt glanced down at her belly, then up to her face, and I knew what she’d whispered. “I just found out for sure yesterday, and I wanted a special occasion to tell you. ”

  Colt wrapped his arms around her, hugging her close, whispering under his breath into her ear. I heard Nell sniffle, her arms on Colt’s broad shoulders, palms flat and trembling slightly.

  “Can I announce it?” he asked.

  Nell pulled away. “Right now?”

  Colt grinned. “Hell, yeah. I’m ecstatic!”

  Nell ducked her head to bump her cheek against his. “You’re crazy. ” She glanced up into his eyes. “What if—”

  Colt pressed two fingers over her lips. “No. Just…no. ”

  Nell nodded and opened her mouth to bite Colt’s fingers. “If you want to announce it, then go ahead. ”

  Standing at his chair, Colt waved at the DJ, who brought over a cordless mic. “I guess now’s as good a time to do speeches as any, right? I’ve got a captive audience, since most of you are still eating dinner. So, this is the best day of my life. I’ve had a lot of good days, and a few not so good ones, like everyone has. But today…today’s the best of them all. I got to marry Nell, you see. Yeah, you can go ahead and be jealous, fellas, because that beautiful, sexy, talented, amazing woman right there is all mine. I won’t bore you with the gory details of how we got together, since most of you know some version of the story by now. The point is, I’m the lucky one. She rescued me, and I’ll never be able to love her as much as she deserves, but I’ll sure as hell try. ” He paused, and the crowd filled the space with raucous applause and cheers. “Yeah, thanks. So…this is also the best day ever because Nell just gave me some news. Stand up here with me, baby. ” He held the mic in his hand and pulled Nell to his side, glancing down at her and grinning. “See, she just told me, just now, that we’re gonna have a baby. ”

  The cheers were deafening, but no one clapped harder or cheered louder than I did.

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  “When are you due, babe, do you know?”

  Nell rested her head against Colt’s arm. “I’m due in December. ”

  Colt glanced away and toward the ceiling, thinking. “Which means you conceived in…March. ” A slow grin spread across his face. “I think I know exactly when we—”

  “Colton!” Nell shrieked, and snatched the mic from him, smacking him across the shoulder.

  “Sorry. I’m just excited. ”

  The crowd was laughing and clapping, and then someone toward the back clinked their spoon against a glass, which was soon caught up by everyone in the room.

  Colt handed the mic to his friend Split and turned Nell in his arms. “With pleasure,” I heard him murmur to her as he kissed her, long and deep.

  After a few moments, Split stood up and held the mic to his mouth. “A’right, a’right. Save it for later, you two. ” Split turned to face Colt as he and Nell sat down to listen. “I’ve known my boy Colt here since he was nothin’ but a scared little cracker livin’ in the ’hood. He’s been through more than most of y’all could ever imagine, and he’s here because he always was the smartest and the strongest of anyone I know. Now, I ain’t gonna lie, I saved his ass a time or two, but he’s been there for me more than I have him. He’s like a brother to me…a brother, and a brotha, if you know what I mean. ” Split glanced out at the audience sitting rapt at the round tables. “But then, most of y’all are white, so you may not know. Guess that makes me the token black guy at the wedding, huh? It’s a’right, it’s a’right. Point is, after everything Colt’s gone through, there ain’t no one in this room happier than me to see him get married, ’specially to a damn good woman like Nell. When I met Nell for the first time, I was skeptical. She was nice, but…well…I didn’t see back then how strong she was. She took Colt and she gave him a new lease on life, as stupid as that sounds. She did, though, for real, y’all. She loves him, and she gets him. And that’s important. So…Colt, Nell, ya’ll two are family to me. You’re the family I ain’t never had, and that’s the truth. I love you both, and I’m happy for you. Congratulations. ” He lifted his glass of ice water to the ceiling, and then toasted Colt.

  It was my turn, I realized. I’d been thinking this through for days. I took the mic from Split and stood up, swallowing hard and focusing on my breathing. “Hi. I’m Becca. Nell has been my best friend since the first—the first day of kindergarten. She stole my glue and my glitter. We’ve been friends ever since. ” I faced Nell. “I’m going to try to get through this without crying or stuttering, but I’m not making any promises. We’ve both had some…interesting experiences. I’m going to keep this light, since it’s a wedding, but Nell, you know what I mean. There were days I really worried about you. You said once you weren’t sure you’d ever be okay. Well, look at you now. You’re married to an amazing man, and you’re gonna be a mommy soon. I’m proud of you, Nell. You…you’ve come through s-so much, and you’ve found your happiness. You’ve found your way to okay. You’re going to be a w-wonderful mother, and Colt, you’ll be a wonderful father. I have no doubts in my mind. My son loves you, after all, and he actually listens to you better than he does me some days. Right, Benny?”

  Benny was sitting on Jason’s lap, a piece of bread in one hand and a fork held awkwardly upside down in the other, mashed potatoes clumped onto the end. He looked at me, hearing his name, and then held out the fork to me. “I gots ’tatos. Want some,