March 24:

Yesterday, we drove out to my parents’ house in SoCal.

Jim, on his part, was making a supreme effort to impress my parents. He spent the better part of an hour figuring out what he should wear. This is really unusual behavior, because while Jim always looks good, he usually spends very little time or effort trying to look good. He ended up picking a dark blue button-down shirt which I thought brought out the color in his eyes really nicely. He also wore a tie, which was untied and I made an honest attempt to tie it for him based on instructions on a website, doing a bad but not horrible job. He didn’t even distract me by trying to kiss me while I did it.

He bought a box of chocolates for my mom. Not just any chocolates—really nice, expensive Godiva chocolates. I was so nervous, it was all I could do to keep from grabbing the chocolates from him and devouring them myself.

We started on the road after an early lunch, with the intention of driving straight there and arriving by dinner. We hit a little traffic early on though, and I have to say, Jim was driving kind of recklessly to get there on time. Usually, he’s a really great driver and this was the first time I’ve ever felt nervous when I was in a car with him.

We arrived at five on the dot and I had to remove my fingernails from the dashboard. Seriously, it was a pretty nerve-racking drive. After Jim put the car in park, he leaned back in his seat and took a deep breath. “How do I look?” he asked me.

“Really handsome,” I answered honestly.

He grinned at me and kissed me. Then he got his chair out of the back seat and transferred into it. I checked the windows and got a sinking feeling when I saw my mother peeking out at us. I didn’t want her to see Jim transfer.

Even though my mother saw us pull in, she took her sweet time to open the door for us. And she did not even bother to hide her distaste for Jim, even after he gave her the chocolates. Honestly, I was pretty embarrassed by her behavior. Then she told me that she had made up the bedroom for me for tonight. (Jim decided the most respectful thing would be for me to stay here and for him to stay at a hotel.)

Dad, on the other hand, was super happy to see Jim. He greeted him with a warm hello. “Jim, it’s so great to see you again!” he said.

“It’s nice to see you too, Mr. Manousakis,” Jim said politely.

“Hey,” Dad said. “Do you think you could take a look at my computer? It’s doing some weird stuff.”

I should have known. But it was hard to be mad at my father, considering he was being really nice to Jim, at least.

My mother asked me to come to the kitchen while Jim followed my father into the den. She was making chicken and the smell of it wafted through the entire house. It smelled amazing. She’s a great cook, a trait that Tina has inherited but I have not. I’m a fair cook. I don’t burn toast or anything.

“I can’t believe you’re back together with him, Anastasia,” she said to me. She only calls me Anastasia when she’s upset with me.

“I like him,” I said weakly.

“You’re only with him because you think you can’t do better,” she said. “But you can. I promise you.”

“That’s not it, Ma,” I said.

She turned away from the stove to face me: “You are going to realize this is a mistake. I promise you. I know this is just… something you have to do for now. But mark my words, you’re going to figure out he’s not good enough for you and end it.”

Oh god. She was not going to take the engagement news well at all.

Dinner was subdued. Ma wouldn’t even talk to Jim. He kept slipping me nervous glances and there was nothing I could do to reassure him.

We made it through to dessert and that’s when we planned to break the news. I had the ring in the velvet box in my coat pocket so that I could produce it if things weren’t too tense. When we talked about it beforehand, Jim volunteered to be the one to tell them, but I could see now he was regretting this. I could actually see a few beads of sweat on his forehead.

“The meal was delicious, Mrs. Manousakis,” he said.

My mother grunted.

“Listen,” he said, clearing his throat. “Tessie and I, we have… something we, um, want to talk to you about…”

My mother looked up with interest. Did she know?”

“The thing is,” he said. He rubbed his nose nervously with the back of his hand. “We, um… she and I decided…”

I decided to put Jim out of his misery. “We’re getting married,” I said.

I think in my thirty years of life, I have never said anything to make my mother look as horrified as she did right now. All the color left her face except for two little pink spots on her cheeks. I was just joking before about giving her a stroke, but I was actually seriously worried she might really have a stroke.

“No,” she said.

Jim stared at her. “No?”

“No, I won’t allow it,” she said. I felt sick. “Jim, I’m sorry, you seem like a nice person, but I can’t let you marry my daughter.”

At first, Jim just looked shocked. I sort of hoped he might just drop it after that, but of course, I knew he wouldn’t. I could see the surprise in his eyes turning into anger. But it was controlled anger, at least. Jim is a typical laid back Midwesterner and rarely loses his temper. “With all due respect, Mrs. Manousakis,” he said, “I think it’s Tessie’s decision.”

“Tessie is a good girl who does what she’s told,” my mother said.

My father and I were just kind of sitting there, frozen. Neither of us are any good at standing up to my mother. But I could just tell that Jim wasn’t going to back down. This had the potential to get ugly.

“Tessie is an adult,” he said. “And if she wants to marry me, I think you should support her.”

“I can’t support her when she’s making a mistake,” my mother said.

“Well, I don’t think it’s a mistake,” he said. “I can take care of Tessie. I have a good job, I own an apartment where she is currently living…”

Oh no… he didn’t just tell her we were living together. Jim, why?

My mother’s mouth fell open. “Tessie, you’re LIVING with him?”

I couldn’t even speak. I just bowed my head down and tried to meditate myself away to a nicer place. Like a concentration camp.

“Yes, she is,” Jim said. “And I think that as an adult, she—”

“Get out of my house.”

Jim stared at her liked he’d been slapped. “What?”

My mother stood up. “Get out of my house, young man. Now.”

I had never seen her behave this way. But then again, I’d never seen her so upset. She was really angry. I mean, she HATED Jim right now. I was scared she was going to throw a plate at his head or something while screaming curses in Greek.

“Fine,” Jim said. He wheeled himself away from the table and looked at me. “Tessie, are you coming?”

Everyone was waiting to see what I’d say. But really, it wasn’t such a hard decision. I love Jim. I want more than anything to be married to him. “Yes,” I said.

I stood up from the table and followed Jim to the door. I was shaking and Jim was obviously pretty upset the whole thing too. When he was transferring back into the car, he actually slipped a little and just barely caught himself, which I’ve never seen him do before. Once we were inside, Jim just sat there, staring at the steering wheel. He wasn’t saying anything and I was afraid to even breathe loudly.

“I’m a nice guy, right?” he said, as much to himself as to me.

“Of course you are,” I said.

He shook his head. “I don’t think I deserve…” His voice broke and he took a breath. “I mean, I don’t look like a total freak, do I?”

I wanted to tell him no, but honestly, I still remember my first impression of him. I was uncomfortable with him being in a wheelchair and the sight of his paralyzed hands. I forget because I know him so well, but that’s how he must look to my parents.

“Never mind,” he said, noticing my hesitation. “You don’t have to answer that.”

I reached out and took his hand. “It doesn’t matter what they think,” I said. “I love you. I want to marry you.”

Jim kissed me deep on the lips. He is just such an amazing kisser. “That’s all that matters,” he said, although I knew how badly he wanted to make a good impression on my parents that night and how crushed he is that my mother doesn’t like him.

March 27:

Jim and I first met when I called the computer helpdesk and he picked up the line. Even though he still does occasional shifts there, usually when someone calls in sick, he’s mainly moved on to bigger, more important things. After all, they don’t pay him the big bucks to tell people to turn their computers on and off and see if it works this time. His area of expertise is computer security issues, so he’s been working hard to make sure our company’s data is all nice and secure. Beyond that, I have no idea what he does.

Despite the fact that he no longer works at the computer helpdesk, when the big bosses need their computers fixed, they call Jim on his cell phone and he’s pretty much forced to come on over. (He also does the same for me.) I think he finds it sort of annoying, but it’s the one shit part of his job. Whereas my job as an actuary is basically 100% shit work.

Jim and I were supposed to go to lunch today, but he called me and told me he stuck installing some upper level guy’s printer. I thought it was kind of an asshole move for the guy to make Jim work during his lunch doing a kind of menial task, but Jim didn’t sound too upset about it. “Shouldn’t take long,” he said. “Why don’t you meet me up here, huh?”

He gave me directions to an office two floors up. I waited about fifteen minutes, then went upstairs to find him. The office he was in belonged to some junior executive whose name was Vincent Alton. Somehow that name sounded familiar to me and I guessed I had met him at some meeting.

Sure enough, Jim was sitting behind the desk, looking up at the computer screen and pecking at the keyboard with his index fingers, which is how he types. Before he saw me, I spent a few seconds looking at him. Jim is so hot. I’ve never dated a guy who was as cute as he is. I love the way he looks when he’s deep in concentration, his brow furrowed as he peers through his glasses at the computer screen.

“Should work now,” Jim was telling Vincent Alton. “Let’s print a test page.”

He got the printer going, then he looked up and his face brightened when he saw me. “Tessie!” he exclaimed.

“Hi,” I said, shifting in the doorway.

The youngish junior executive, Vincent Alton, was kind of staring at me. I had no idea why but it was making me uncomfortable. He looked really familiar to me, but I was still having trouble placing him. He was not nearly as cute as Jim, but he had this sleek and suave look to him. His clothes looked elegant and expensive.

“Vincent,” Jim said. “This is Tessie, my fiancée.”

Vincent was still staring at me. I guess he was thinking that Jim and I made an odd couple or something: an ugly girl and a quadriplegic. I held out my hand to him. “Nice to meet you.”

He reached out and gripped my hand hard enough that it sort of hurt. “Actually,” he said, “we already met, Tessie.”

I knew it. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m bad at recognizing people.”

“That’s okay,” he said. “It was a long while ago. We went to high school together. I was about two years ahead of you. I think your house was only about five blocks from mine.”

My eyes widened. Oh my god, that’s where I knew him from. He was Vinnie Alton, one of the most popular guys at my high school. But how on earth did he know ME? I was a little wallflower in high school. Unless he took notice of me because of my remarkably bad looks. I didn’t realize I was so memorably ugly. I wanted to crawl under Vinnie’s desk. “Right,” I said. “Vinnie Alton. I remember now.”

He winced. “Nobody calls me Vinnie anymore. It’s Vincent.”

“Right,” I said. I just wanted to get the hell out of this office. I’m not big on nostalgia and this whole interaction was making me uncomfortable. “So Jim, are you mostly done?”

“I think so,” Jim said. He looked at Vincent. “You know, Tessie and I were about to go to lunch. But maybe you’d like to join us?”

No! I tried to send Jim silent messages to retract his invitation. The messages were not received.

“Thanks for the invitation,” Vincent said. He smiled at me. “I’d love to come.”

All right, I’m going to be totally honest: I had a bit of a crush on Vincent when I was in high school. He was in my Spanish class when I was a sophomore and he was just so… cool. He wasn’t super handsome or anything, but he just had this cool, sexy vibe about him. I mean, I would have been weird NOT to have a crush on him. But anyway, it didn’t make me feel better about the whole lunch deal. Maybe if I had somehow sprouted from the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, maybe this lunch would be the start of some great romantic endeavor. But then again, it wouldn’t, since I’m engaged. I’m not even sure why I said that.

When we were in the restaurant and looking at our menus, Jim put his arm around me. I thought that was odd, because it’s not something he usually does. He’s usually affectionate, but that was kind of… possessive. Jim’s never been the type to be jealous or possessive before.

“So tell me what Tessie was like in high school,” Jim said to Vincent with a grin. I would actually love to know what Jim was like in high school. From what I’ve been able to piece together from the trophies I found in his old bedroom, he was an even bigger nerd than he is now: he was on both the math and the chess team. Of course, he wasn’t in a wheelchair back then and was probably still pretty cute, so that makes me wonder how successful he had been with girls. I have to believe he did fairly well, despite being a bit of a geek.

“She was pretty much the same,” Vincent said with a smile.

What the hell did that mean?

“She was really good in Spanish,” Vincent added.

“Thanks, so were you,” I said.

Vincent laughed. “You really don’t remember me very well, do you? I was awful.”

Actually, I remembered him perfectly in that class. And yes, he was awful. A complete slacker. I was just being polite.

When I looked at Vincent, I felt confused. They say that the most popular guys in high school never amount to anything, because all they’re interested in is being cool and aren’t smart or hard workers. But Vincent has done really well. He’s only two years older than me and he’s already a junior executive. What’s up with that?

“So when did you guys get engaged?” Vincent asked.

“A couple of weeks ago,” Jim replied. He nudged me and I held up my left hand to show off my ring.

“Wow,” Vincent said, raising his eyebrows. “Jim, that must have cost you a bundle.”

“I wanted her to have the best,” Jim said. “She deserves it.”


“Well, congratulations, you two,” Vincent said. “I still haven’t met the right girl, so it’s great that you’ve found someone so wonderful.”

Huh. Did that mean he thought I was wonderful? Or that Jim was wonderful? I guess he was being polite. “Thanks,” I said.

There was a long, mildly awkward pause where Vincent was just kind of looking at me. “I’m really amazed to see you, Tessie,” he finally said. “It’s a small world, isn’t it?”

“I guess,” I said.

Most of the rest of lunch was spent with Vincent telling me the fates of people from his class in high school. Apparently, he somehow kept in touch with a lot of these people. I didn’t really know many of them personally, but they were all really popular kids so I knew who they were, and hearing about them was a little like reading a tabloid for celebrity news. I kept in touch with basically nobody from high school.

On his part, Jim was quiet for most of the lunch. Obviously, he didn’t have much to add to the conversation, but he kept a pleasant smile on his face. And with the exception of when we were actually eating, he kept his arm around me. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed like he was tightening his hold on me as the meal progressed. I don’t know what to make of that, but I don’t think he had to worry that the most popular guy from my high school is going to somehow steal me away from him. That’s pretty laughable.

To be continued...