When the elevator opened to the third floor, the scent of cinnamon encapsulated the small lobby leading to our private residence. My stomach floated with excitement the same as it had every year since childhood with the approach of Christmas. Mom had arrived her usual week ahead of schedule to decorate and bake our traditional holiday favorites. Being my first year away at college I wasn't able to help, so when Dad texted he was stuck in New York and wouldn't arrive until Christmas Eve, I changed my plans and took the redeye flight to spend three days alone with Mom.
We'd always been close because my father traveled with business, and I sensed something was off from her last email. Hopefully my surprise early arrival would give us the mother-daughter time I'd missed since moving away to attend college eight months ago.
Careful not to wake Mom, I slipped my boots off on the mat inside the entry door and tucked my suitcase against the wall until morning. The clackity-clack of wheels rolling over the hardwood floor would scare her and possibly get me shot by the pistol Dad insisted on keeping in the nightstand.
I sauntered into the living room, surprised to see the Christmas tree lit and flames licking fake logs in the gas fireplace. Sultry giggles wafted in the stairwell. Hmm?
Did Dad change his plans? Was his text to throw me off so he could have a romantic interlude with Mom before I arrived? Such a hopeless romantic!
My heart warmed at the idea my parents still acted like lovesick teenagers after twenty-something years of marriage. I secretly wished for the same kind of solid relationship someday.
I tiptoed up the stairs, turned the corner to my room when the bathroom door opened. Trapped between the door to my parents' room, where from behind my mother's come hither statement of "Hurry darling, I'm getting impatient" beckoned, and the obvious object of her affection standing stark naked and erect in front of me, I couldn't stop the scream.
"Oh my god! Mr. Harris! Mom! Holy shit!"
A frenzy of squeals and flashes of at least fifty-year-old skin continued to fill my vision as everyone clamored for someplace to hide. I slammed my bedroom door, flipped the lock, and raced to window seat at the farthest end of the room. I pressed against the icy glass and squeezed my eyes shut in an effort to erase the images burned behind them. Mom naked. Our next door neighbor for the past fifteen years grossly exposed, holding her in his arms when she tried to catch me; gather me into an all too fleshy embrace. If I scrubbed my eyes with steel wool and drenched them in rubbing alcohol, I doubted the mental pictures would disappear.
Tears burned hot and bile licked the back of my throat. My mother—the woman I cherished, looked up to—a pillar of salt in our hometown—was sleeping with another man! And not just some random stranger, but the husband of her friend whose backyard meshed with ours.
I tumbled to the floor, barely reaching the wastebasket in time to hurl the in-flight snacks and beverages I'd consumed. The fetal position felt protective, the watery trails over my cheeks and bubbles from my nose, justified. The vibration of footsteps in the hall rumbled across my floorboards and hysterical verbal exchanges sounded muffled in my ears.
Three days until my father arrived. Three days of sorting through lies and excuses. Three days to decide whether to betray my mother or my father, by where I'd pledge my loyalty. Three days until Merry F'n Christmas…literally.
A wayward sunbeam sliced through the wooden slats covering my window, waking me. Every muscle painfully protested being straightened and the stench of vomit permeated the already stifled air in my small room. The day was half over, leaving the remaining two-and-a-half as an emotional endurance test to endure, starting after a much needed shower—in the same bathroom Mr. Harris had exited. I couldn't dwell on what disgusting things took place in there, or anywhere else this place I once considered a treasured sanctuary.
When I finally braved breaching the main floor, I found Mom sitting quiet in the corner, sipping tea and staring out the window. I raised my hand to silence her, microwaved a cup of cold coffee and popped a piece of her homemade cinnamon bread in the toaster. My stomach growled when the spicy aroma wafted from the hot coils.
"I'm sorry," she said, her voice small and penitent.
I gulped down rising emotions with a bite of warm toast, followed by a swig of too hot coffee.
Great. Burned tongue, scorched heart. How fitting.
"Sorry about the affair, or getting caught," I challenged.
"Both. I know it's a lot to ask, but please let me be the one to tell your father."
As sweet as the revenge of announcing Mom's moral downfall to Dad would taste, the intimacy of the sin removed any right I had to judge. Whatever pain their hearts would suffer from this, was their personal burden. Forgiveness would be slow, if ever, but my place in the whole mess was to love them both. Together or separate, we were still family. We had to be. Life would change some, but maybe not for the worse.
With change comes hope. Just like the flannel nightgown I received from Grandma every Christmas. I always hated it, but found comfort in her sentiment of love, the tradition, and hoped that next year it would be better. I'd get a gift card.
Hours dripped by yesterday, filled with awkward minutes when Mom and I had to acknowledge the other existed. I rose early this morning with intentions of skiing the entire day, maybe troll for a party where I could hide out for the night. But after completing only four runs, a winter squall settled in the canyon, the winds forcing the lifts to shut down. Instead of returning to the condo, I hung out in the lobby, propping my icy feet on the hearth to thaw, and feeding the fire until sundown.
"Problem?" Joe asked when he came on shift at six. "The desk girl said you've been parked in my chair for nearly four hours."
Tucking my ski equipment under one arm and forcing a smile, I offered a snarky reply in passing. "Just the magic of the holidays turning to shit. Guess I shouldn't have given up on the whole Santa Claus myth so early in life. Bad Christmas karma."
Joe picked up the newspaper and called out a reply. "Guess it's a good thing I still believe, then."
I made no effort to be quiet when I entered "the den of iniquity," shoving my skis into the locker and dropping my boots onto the teak drying bench with a loud thud. Hypnotized by the aroma of corn chowder and a gnawing pain in my gut from near starvation, I wandered to the kitchen.
Mom had pulled out all the stops. Table linens and dinnerware sporting snowmen graced two spots. A loaf of French bread taunted from beneath a snowflake napkin and a star-shaped bowl held a mound of black olives. I could eat my weight in black olives. Assessing my demeanor, my mother stood a few feet from the table, wringing her hands, a watery smile formed on her mouth.
"There's wassail in the crockpot, or we could have hot cocoa later, maybe watch a movie? I brought a few of your favorites—"
"Thanks, but no. Dinner, I think, will be hard enough."
She sat in her usual place at the table and tapped her fingers against her mouth. I, however, shoveled chowder over Frosty's sickening grin, broke off a chunk of bread, and grabbed a handful of olives. A few escaped the rim of my plate. I left them rolling across the makeshift starlit sky covering the table, and plunked on a stool at the bar. After a few minutes of nothing but slurping sounds, a fork clanked hard against china.
"Dammit Celia! Talk to me!"
I forced down the spoonful of corn mush trapped in my throat with a gulp of water and inhaled a deep breath. Keeping my back to her, I started. "Is it over?" No answer. Anger boiled in my chest. "Mom! Is. It. Over?"
"Yes, I believe so. It has to be."
The last statement sounded more like a self-declaration and not directed to me. I chanced a glance over my shoulder. She held a napkin tight to her mouth, a finger tracing a sparkly star on the tablecloth. I checked my tone.
"How, uh…how long have you been seeing him."
Mom looked up, her eyes red and filled with a weariness I'd never noticed before. "About six months. After you left for college." She sipped her wine, but did not meet my gaze. "Your father was in the Orient for a month negotiating some marketing deal and the house felt so empty—lonely. Barbara invited me to dinner a couple of times. Jim always walked me home." Her eyes fell back to the star. Another sip of wine. "He's a gentleman and insisted on escorting me across the yard."
"Some gentleman. Wonder how many other lonely neighbors he played 'escort' to?"
Mom slammed her fist against the table. "That's uncalled for, young lady. For your information, I made the first move, not Jim. One night Barbara came down with a migraine and cancelled at the last minute, so Jim brought over a plate. I don't even remember what it was now. I only remember…kissing him." Her gaze suddenly locked on me. "On the cheek. Completely innocent, or so that's how I intended it to be."
"Wow. Just wow." I dumped my dishes in the sink. Halfway through scrubbing corn kernels stuck to Frosty's hat, I shut the water off, slapped my palm on the granite countertop enough to cause a radiating burn to my elbow. "Tell me, Mother, did you spread your legs before or after dessert?"
Regret consumed me the moment the cruel words flew over my tongue, but I didn't get a chance to apologize before Mom's cell phone buzzed on the counter. Nine o'clock was the designated time for my father's nightly check-in call. Both Mom and I remained frozen as a second buzz summoned. When the chair across the room scraped the floor, I swiped the phone off the counter and answered, feeling a niggle of triumph at my mother's horrified expression.
Dad and I shared a couple of standard pleasantries before he asked to speak to Mom. I dropped the phone onto the table, toppling the snowman saltshaker. Instinctively, or maybe just grasping for any shred of hope, even if a superstitious one, Mom pinched some spilled salt and tossed it over her left shoulder.
Feigning disinterest, I headed for my room, but only far enough to not be seen. I wanted to hear her confession; the gasp of guilty air she'd breathe at my father's reaction. An oral vindication of the crime committed.
Apparently my tone raised suspicion something was amiss because Mom offered some lame explanation about a minor disagreement, blaming the one-sided version of her story on my new-founded independence. A few low murmurs and inaudible hums followed. Soon, giggles with seductive undertones danced on the air, and I sickened at the thought she may never tell my father about her indiscretion.
I slid to the floor in the hallway and covered my ears. I didn't want a verbal witness of her betrayal. Across the way, the door to her bedroom rested open, the bed suddenly appearing too large for the room. How could she hold something so vile in her heart and pretend she missed Dad? Would she shower him with false affection? Make passionate love with him in the same bed she had sex with Jim Harris? Would she even think to change the sheets?
Mom screamed and dropped her cell. She'd come up the stairs to bring me the phone to say goodbye to my father, unaware I'd hid around the corner in the dark. Dad's voice screeched from the flashing device still spinning on the hardwood. I shook my head and shoved my fist in my mouth. If I heard his concerned voice pleading for an answer to my outburst, I knew I'd spill the ugly truth. Instead, I chose to crawl into the bathroom, but banged the door hard against the frame for effect. On the other side, Mom explained away my petulant behavior using the one justification every man, even a dad, would believe. The early onset of my period.
The mantle clocked ticked off the midnight hour, dismissing one day forever and ushering a new one in to take its place. A sliding door in time. Shadows played across the kitchen appliances against a glowing orange backdrop. "Silent Night" chimed softly over speakers strategically placed throughout the condo, and twinkling white lights flashed like tiny lightning strikes across the room.
Curled in the corner of the couch, wrapped in a festive quilt and sipping from a Santa mug, sat Mom. The telltale aroma of wassail still lingered in the air. I snatched the old fuzzy red afghan draped off the back of a chair and folded into the opposite corner of the sofa.
"You didn't tell him," I stated for scorekeeping purposes. "Do you plan to, or do you expect me to keep your torrid secret and fake at being a happy family?"
"We are a happy family, Celia."
I snorted in response. "You didn't answer my question."
"Nor do I need to. This isn't your concern, sweetheart."
I'd read "hackles raised" in many books, but this was the first time I actually understood the term.
"How do you figure? I found you."
"Yes, but that doesn't give you the right to tell me what to do here. This is between a husband and wife, Celia. Not parent and child."
She placed her empty mug on the lamp table to her side and leaned my direction. I recoiled tighter when her hand rested on the knees I'd pulled tight to my chest.
"Honey, I understand the instinct to protect your father, but don't you think he deserves to hear something so intimate in person—not over the phone?"
I had no argument. In fact, for one split second I respected my mother, at least her choice to bravely face Dad with her adulterous news, and not cowardly dump it into the mix of idle conversation during a random cell call.
Mom twisted a loose strand of my hair. "Don't hate me forever," she whispered. She retrieved her mug and walked into the kitchen area, the crumpled quilt marking her absence.
"I don't hate you," escaped my mouth, barely audible and chased by unbidden tears. "I'm disappointed…and scared."
The warmth of her body standing behind me made mine shiver. Her long nails scraped gently over my scalp, her fingers trailing through locks of my hair. A fond childhood memory rushed forward. I loved how she made my skin tingle when I was small, massaging my head and brushing my hair with her fingers whenever I had trouble sleeping. All the restlessness wound tight in my body would slowly unwind until I felt sleepy tendrils pull me under.
Mom chased the demons away. She wasn't supposed to turn into one.
"Understandable," she whispered. "I let you down, but then again, I'm only human." She moved into the space beside me. "Not to throw stones, but didn't you sleep with your best friend's boyfriend while she was at her grandmother's for the summer?"
I couldn't believe Mom had stooped so low! Bringing up my past as an example to measure her guilty pleasures against, burned. Hurt. I scrambled to my feet, needing space. Sparks popped off my toes between the carpet and my socks as I paced.
"It's hardly the same! That was high school!" Mom shrugged her shoulders in response. "Ryan was over Anne—they would have broken up anyway. Besides, they weren't married." I drew a couple of deep breaths, tamped down my anger. "Don't compare what you did to my relationship with Ryan. Anne forgave us and moved on."
I hugged myself, hating the old embers of shame trying to ignite. True, my friend pardoned me, even blessed my union with her ex-now-my-current boyfriend. But I hadn't found a way to forgive myself, even after two years. Suddenly, my transgression didn't feel that different and fear shimmied up my spine. Would I never be able to forgive my mother?
"God, Mom. We were kids with overactive hormones. You're an adult. You should know better."
Mom clasped her hands and folded forward. A velvet hassock separated us physically, but emotionally, we connected by the cheating hearts beating inside each of us.
"Should I? Do you honestly believe age changes those carnal feelings? That I shouldn't feel lustful feelings for any man other than your father? Can you tell me truthfully, Celia, you've never looked at another boy with sexual curiosity aside from Ryan?"
"It's different. We're single and uncommitted. You and Dad have been together forever. You shouldn't have those kinds of desires."
Mom's hearty laugh filled the room. "Oh, dear daughter, please tell me you're not that naïve! A marriage certificate and wedding band doesn't assign a conscious to the mind or body. Sweetheart, no one is perfect. Not you, certainly not me, nor is your father cast in angelic radiance.
I picked my jaw off the floor at her announcement. While painting my mother as a demonic seed, I hadn't even entertained the thought my father could also be morally corrupt. Years of traveling away from home…from Mom… Had he? A shudder of disbelief rippled over my body.
"Are you saying Dad cheated on you? Is that why you screwed Mr. Harris? To even some score?"
She patted the corner I vacated, sliding away slightly to give us space, or be out of reach. "No, my sweet girl. I would never be so shallow. After all, not just your father's feelings are at stake here. To do something so conniving and selfish, wouldn't be fair to Jim, either."
I tipped my head to the ceiling and barked a half-laugh. "Not to mention, his wife—your friend. How do you think she's going to handle this?"
"Again, that's Jim's decision on how to handle matters. If Barbara confronts me, I won't lie. Okay?"
What could I say? I'd been put in my place already by rendering my opinion of the whole mess. Cautiously, I settled on the edge of the sofa, gathering the ratty afghan into a yarn shield against my chest.
Our conversation continued, a little less volatile, until charcoal shadows blended into hues of apricot with dawn stretching over the mountain peaks rising behind our condo. Christmas Eve Day arrived in fiery splendor and according to Mom, Dad would be here in time for dinner.
We decided to attempt sleep for a few hours before launching into the final preparations heralding the main event. Even though the wood shutters darkened my room, I couldn't shut my mind down enough to drift into a deep slumber. I punched a pillow and nestled into the billowy folds. Behind my cinched eyelids, thoughts and images still played on.
During our heartfelt discussion, I'd gingerly offered up the topic of Dad's possible infidelity. Mom squirmed, picked her words carefully, and eluded to a time when I was younger that she'd become suspicious another woman existed. When I dared to ask if she'd discovered her suspicions were true, she turned the question around to me.
"Your heart is already at war with one parent. Would my answer concerning something buried and forgotten in the past cast me in a better light? I think not, and the hero pedestal you've placed your father upon is so high should he fall, he'll break his neck. Let the past be, Celia. Besides, whatever did or didn't happen was mine to deal with as I saw fit. The same will hold true for this with your father. Understand?"
She also strategically toyed with my personal conflict by pointing out as much as she wanted to, she never interfered in my love life, or voiced a judgment regarding decisions I made. I knew Mom didn't approve of Ryan at first and feared he'd end up breaking my heart, but only told me after I'd asked for her opinion.
For the most part, Mom, and Dad for that matter, had stayed out of my personal life. Now the same courtesy was expected from me in return. The difference, however, lay in that my relationship with Ryan ending wouldn't tear our family apart. My parent's decisions, on the other hand, had the power to dissolve both my past and future. There would be an imaginary line separating Mom and Dad, with me hopping sides. We'd no longer be a nuclear unit, but two halves that could never be whole again.
Christmas Eve dinner held the appearance of tradition; the family gathered around a spiral ham decked with speared pineapple rings, steaming side dishes, and decadent desserts. Nevertheless, an awkwardness cloaked the usual joyful atmosphere, stunting conversations. Wary glances exchanged between us during quiet pauses. After helping Dad do dishes, I excused myself under the guise of going to bed early to allow my parents privacy. While I hated the idea of my mother's holiday surprise being the moral compromise of her marriage vows, if she didn't tell Dad soon, I feared the canker growing inside me would force me to reveal her ugly secret.
Dad hugged me tight, his familiar cologne mixed with the mustiness of a suitcase clinging to the soft threads of his sweater. The sudden burn of tears building behind my eyes forced me to leave his embrace and turn away before my emotions sold me out. I waved off Mom's "goodnight" sentiment, choosing to keep my distance and not accept the usual kiss on the cheek. No more playing the doting daughter tonight.
Careful to not rustle the sheets, I lay still in my bed, straining to hear my parents. They'd laughed, clinked their traditional glass of celebratory champagne at yet another midnight toll, but so far, no loud outbursts of anger or tears of anguish, followed by pleas for forgiveness. Nothing of dramatic consequence at all. By all rights, the clichéd dreams of sugar plum fairies should have danced in my head hours ago.
Just as I allowed my breaths to slow, my heartbeat lull me into slumber, my parents' bedroom door clicked. I scrambled out of bed and cracked my door. Silence enveloped the condo. No more holiday music wafted through the hallways or subdued lighting setting a magical stage. I tiptoed into the hall and listened, forbidding a breath to enter my lungs and reveal my childish decision to spy on my parents.
A ray of gold light stretched from beneath their door, their voices low, tone gentle. A suitcase zipped, the satin comforter on their bed hissing as I pictured it folded to the foot of the bed.
"The black one," clearly attached to Dad's voice, and Mom's "as you wish" rolled off a sexy titter. The light disappeared under the door, followed by fabric crushing, a low chuckle in my father's throat, and God forbid, loud, sloppy kisses.
Oh my hell! They couldn't be….
Shit! I couldn't think it, let alone hear it. I retreated to my room, dove under the covers and pulled a pillow over my head. Had my mother gone completely mad? Did she not realize I would tell my father she screwed their next door neighbor in this very house. In the same bed, and probably in the same position my father enjoyed her presently? It was all I could do to not scream.
Slipping my feet into nearby slippers, I grabbed my cell phone from the night table and made no attempt to be quiet in my retreat downstairs. I paused, coat slung over my arm, but no one appeared at the top of the stairwell, confirming my decision. I slipped out onto the deck cloaked in brilliant moonlight, and perched on the frosted step of the hot tub. Within fifteen minutes, my legs were chilled to the bone, nose icy, and flight rescheduled to early afternoon. I'd suffer through gifts and an uncomfortable breakfast, but then be on a plane and not have to deal with the train wreck happening before my eyes. No more watching my mother's betrayal or listening to any absurd reasoning. When the divorce finalized, they could notify me of our family dissolution via email.
Before entering the warmth of the inside and thawing the numbing sensations overtaking my body, I chanced a glance for any missed calls. I knew the arrangement—no contact—just family time, but still, my heart hoped. The folder remained empty. I slipped through the sliding door and relished the assault of hot air on my cold skin, accepting the impossibility of it ever penetrating deep enough to find my heart.
Taking advantage of opportune timing with Mom in the shower and Dad on a snowshoe walk through the woods, I stuffed my new laptop and other gifts, including the flannel nightgown covered in pink hearts from Grandma, into a spare carry-on bag. I tacked a goodbye note expressing thanks and a fake "hope to see you soon" on the refrigerator under a Christmas Angel magnet. I forced Merry Christmas smiles and well wishes to excited guests who passed me on the way to the lobby exit.
A sparkly blanket of fresh snow had fallen sometime during the night, creating a picturesque Christmas Day scene. I made a quick second check for boarding pass confirmation on my phone, hearing the crunch of snow pressing beneath tires rolling my direction. When I glanced up, instead of finding the car service I arranged, Dad stood holding the door open to some over-priced luxury 4-wheel drive vehicle.
"Your chariot awaits, Miss," he chimed gleefully, offering a noble bow to compliment the playful statement. When I looked confused, he pried the luggage from my fingers and placed the bags in the backseat. "We didn't get much time together so I thought I'd take you to the airport. Is that all right?"
I must have agreed because when my brain caught up, the condominium complex had disappeared in the rearview mirror. Dad watched me, but didn't say anything right away, just hummed to Bing Crosby crooning from the car radio. When we entered the freeway, he shut the radio off.
"I know." The words caught me off guard and he elaborated before I questioned what he meant. "Your mother told me about her and Jim."
"And that's all I'm saying right now. We've decided to stay on a couple more weeks to give us privacy to work through a few things." He patted my shoulder. "Honey, I'm sorry your holidays were ruined."
"Definitely one for the memory books." I held his hand over the console separating the seats. "So what now? I'm scared, Daddy."
He placed a tender kiss on my knuckles and let go. "So am I, Celia. So am I."
We rode in silence a few more minutes until the bright green highway sign brushed overhead announcing the exit to the airport. The skeleton locked in the family closet rattled and I dared to ask the question I tried to ignore. My voice cracked, a nervous quiver captured in my tone.
"Have you ever had an affair on Mom?"
Dad scrubbed his chin roughly before answering. "Mom warned me you might ask." He glanced in the rearview mirror, changed lanes in preparation of taking the next exit.
"It was a long time ago," he began. "I'd been on the road for nearly two months, not that that's an excuse, but it didn't help any either. I was invited to a swanky dinner party for one of our top-end clients and there was this girl there. Young. Pretty. Available. After several drinks, I grew stupid and accepted an invitation to her hotel room."
My heart thrummed loud in my ears. "I don't think I want to hear this."
The last exit sign appeared and the car made a slow, lazy turn onto a commuter stretch leading to where my escape had hopefully arrived on time.
"Nothing happened, honey. At least nothing as serious as you're imagining."
He had no idea what my imagination had managed to conjure up. I could write one hell of a bodice-ripping romance after everything that transpired this weekend, with my parents playing the villainous characters.
My relationship issues couldn't come close to the level of crazy my parents' had reached.
Dad pulled the car to the curbside drop-off station. He flicked one of the many tears that chased over my cheeks with his thumb. When I reached for the door handle, he grabbed my arm.
"Celia, listen to me for a minute. No matter what happens, what course your mother and I decide to take, it doesn't change the fact that we're still a family. Maybe not by traditional standards, but by our own. I don't hate your mother. We've been down some bumpy roads in our twenty-eight years together and share a strong bond. We're definitely at a crossroads, however, regardless of the path we choose, we'll always love each other. We have you, Celia. Our ties to each other may sever, but our ties to you as parents, will forever remain."
He gave me a burly hug, embracing me longer than he ever had before. A couple of shudders vibrated through his coat against my cheek and I held on until I knew we could face each other without completely falling apart.
Dad grabbed my suitcases and jingled his keys in his pocket, allowing me time to regain composure. I lifted my gloved fist for our traditional knuckle-bump goodbye, and he tapped the silent farewell.
"Love you, Daddy."
"Back at ya, girl."
I waited until he skirted the nose of the monster SUV he'd rented and slipped behind the steering wheel. The passenger window slid down halfway.
"We're going to be all right, I promise. All of us. And don't forget to text us when you land!"
A couple of cheery honks echoed as he pulled away, and I watched until the taillights disappeared. And just like that, I was alone.
The pilot's "ho-ho-ho" and holiday wishes preceded the standard mantra about weather conditions, no smoking rules, and shutting down electronic devices. I slid the face open on my cell and sent Ryan a message I'd be home a day early. A response immediately flashed.
"OK. Pick U up." My finger hovered over the end key when a second message appeared. "Yes or No?"
In all the melodramatic events of the past two days, I never got to share my holiday surprise. Ryan had asked me to marry him, but I wanted to discuss it with my parents before answering. I looked to their marriage as the ultimate model, afraid to believe I could experience anything remotely close. The past seventy-two hours confirmed no such fairytale existed.
My parents, however, taught me a lesson in the intimacy of relationships. It didn't matter what others thought or wanted. Only the couples involved could write their story from beginning to end.
The steward leaned forward, all holiday cheer erased from his expression. Quickly, I typed my response and shut off my phone. I smiled back at the sour face.
"Sorry, but I just got engaged!"