“Let’s get married,” Ted said to Mary.
The couple was sitting by their pool on a summer evening. Hollywood stretched out below them, its lights beginning to glitter as the last of the sunset faded and the sky overhead turned from purple to black.
“Wow. A proposal,” Mary said, toasting Ted with her martini glass.
Cecil B. strolled by.
“That cat is getting fat,” Ted said.
“I think Mrs. Welles next door is feeding him. So you want to get married? It ain’t broke, you know.”
“Sometimes it’s fun to tweak something, even if it ain’t broke. We’ve been shooting a wedding in that church they use in Pasadena. It put me in the mood.”
“Does the couple live happily ever after?”
“The wife gets killed right after the ceremony. But still.”
“I could be interested,” Mary said.
They sipped their drinks, gazing into the depths of the pool, azure in the dusk. The tile mosaic seahorse at the bottom moved in a languid way, as the pool water circulated though the pool filter.
“I suppose we’ll need a pre-nup,” Mary said.
“You can’t ever forget the pre-nup,” Ted said. “If my folks taught me anything, it was to remember the pre-nup.”
“I’ll call Sid in the morning.”
“I’ll call Saul.”
“Then what do we do?”
“I think we swing by a County office and pay a fee and pick up a license.”
Mary signaled Brigitte to bring out another chilled pitcher of drinks.
“Please bring my laptop too, Brigitte” she said.
A towhee closed the day with measured chirps in the hedge, announcing the sunset’s completion as surely as a night rooster.
“We can apply for a license online,” Mary said, studying her laptop with a fresh drink in her hand. “Then we have to go together to pick it up at one of the County branches… There’s one on Burton in Beverly Hills. I’m shooting in Santa Monica tomorrow and you’ll be in Pasadena. Let’s meet halfway.”
“Do they still want a blood test?”
“Apparently not… There’s something called the Name Equality Act, but we won’t be changing our names, so we don’t need to worry about that. I’ll fill out the application right now and then we’ll go down tomorrow, show them our driver’s licenses, and pay them ninety dollars.”
“Wow, it costs to get married these days.”
“Ninety for a public license, eight-five for a confidential license. That’s for when everybody thinks the two of you are already married… Do you want a wedding?” Mary said. “I don’t care. It says here you can arrange for a civil ceremony when you pick up the license. Otherwise, you have your own ceremony, get the pastor’s name on the license, and mail it back in. You’ve got ninety days.”
With the light gone from the sky, the blue illumination in the pool grew stronger. The circulating water cast restless, rippling light and shadow in the trees overhead. Cecil B. meowed at the sliding screen door and Brigitte let him in.
“We ought to throw a little party or something, don’t you think?” Ted said. “At least? Have your sister and my brother over, and your folks. Some friends. Get Emilo to cater it. Or we could just tie the knot right there at the County building.”
“No, let’s have the party. Father Bruno can marry us. He’s consulting on our shoot and he’s a darling.”
“What did you and Fred do for a ceremony?” Ted said.
“We were never actually married. People just assumed.”
“Jane and I made it clear we weren’t married, from the start,” Ted said. “We didn’t want any confusion about that. We explained everything to her kids so they wouldn’t ever expect me to be some sort of dad to them.”
“OK. I’m filling out the application here. Hmm. Your mom and dad’s full names and the state each was born in?”
Ted told her.
“This is so simple,” Mary said. “Boom. It’s done. We have fifteen days to go down, show our IDs, pay the fee, and collect our license. Then we say I do when the padre asks us, a witness signs the license, the padre signs it and mails it in, and we’re married.”
“Woo hoo,” Ted said, and they toasted each other a second time.
They met at the Beverly Hills Courthouse the following afternoon. They both parked on the curb along Civic Center Drive. In minutes they were done at the County Clerk’s counter and stood together out on the wide grass meridian in front of the building, holding hands and shaking their heads in mild amazement at what they had done. Ted followed Mary over to Mariposa on Wilshire for a late lunch. They discussed their honeymoon while they dined. Because they were both working on pictures, they settled on a quick trip to Palm Springs, where they would stay at the Zoso or Parker or Viceroy.
The following day, Ted picked up a pair of wedding rings at Harry Winston on Rodeo and Mary splurged on a modest Judy Lee for the ceremony.
“It’s about time,” Mary’s mother said to her over the phone. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Mary said. “Ted was at a shoot that was filming a wedding. It struck a chord, I guess. All of a sudden, it just seemed right to us. When we got the license, he had a great big smile.”
“Has the subject of children come up in the conversation? Can I hope to ever be a grandmother?”
“Not yet,” Mary said, “but it could happen as quickly as this wedding has. Who knows?”
“He did OK with his girlfriend’s kids the last time around, didn’t he?”
“They loved him. He shied away from being a dad, though. But that was a long time ago.”
Her mother took all this as a good sign, and was satisfied.
Ted and Mary made the wedding arrangements together, treating the event mostly as a casual party by their pool. The pre-nup was in place. In addition, everything Mary and Tom owned belonged, without question, in a legally defensible way, solely to one or the other of them, in spite of the fact that they had lived together in total devotion for a decade. Money, property, and the future never created issues for Ted and Mary. Their sole point of connection and intimacy to date was their relationship – their love and respect for each other.
On the appointed day, the guests arrived – Mary’s parents and sister, Ted’s brother, a variety of aunts and uncles and cousins and friends in the business. Everyone kept to the shade of the trees and the tables with umbrellas around the pool. Emilio set up the buffet and bar at the edge of the back lawn, out of the sun.
The sky was cloudless and the day was quiet. A thrasher called from the scrub on the hillside. Mary’s uncle got ready to record the ceremoney on his iPhone. Standing in the shade of an oak, Father Bruno held forth for a bit and then asked the couple if they did in fact agree to take each other in sickness and in health, and so on, for the rest of their natural lives.
Mary responded in the affirmative without delay. Ted hesitated.
“Sorry to be a pain,” he said, “but I just want to be clear. When are we actually married? When I say I do? When the padre signs our license? Or when the County records the license after we return it?”
“In the eyes of God,” said Father Bruno, “after you both say yes, you’re married.”
“Sure, but I mean, in the eyes of California.”
“The same, I believe,” said the padre. “Although to eliminate any doubt, I’ll sign the license as soon as you say yes, or at least nod your head. Who’s the witness here?”
Mary’s sister was the witness, although she said she wouldn’t do it if Ted was going to be a jerk about it. She had had a yen for Ted for years, so she was looking a little hangdog in the first place.
“Let’s back up and do another take,” Mary said. “You don’t mind, do you, Father?”
“Used to it,” Father Bruno said with a smile.
“Uncle Bob,” Mary said, “would you move around and shoot on my good side? Thanks.”
Father Bruno just summarized his thoughts the second time around, and got to the crucial question a lot quicker. The attention of several of the relatives had strayed in the direction of the portable bar waiting under an acacia beyond the roses. A young man stood behind the bar in white shirt and black tie, ready to serve the guests whatever they ordered. Mary again said yes and Ted again hesitated.
“What’s the problem?” Mary said.
“It just seems like… How can me saying one little word now, or even just nodding, do the trick? It’s a big step. What if I say yes and then instantly regret it? Padre, will you still sign the paper if I change my mind before you get your pen to the paper?”
“I ought to,” Father Bruno said. “You’ll be married once you agree. I’d feel bad, not signing it.”
“What if you sign it and don’t send it in?”
“California doesn’t care so much whether you send it in or not,” Mary said. “I asked at the courthouse. If they don’t receive the completed license in ninety days, you get a computer-generated reminder. If the license gets lost in the mail or you don’t bother returning it, there’s a statement or affidavit or something you can sign later on. Basically, when you say yes, you’re married.”
“That’s so old-fashioned,” Ted said. “I could say I didn’t really mean it. I could say I didn’t really nod, it was just a muscle twitch. A mosquito bit me and I jerked.”
“Let me remind you,” Mary said, “that for us, you and I, it’ll be as easy to get a divorce as it was to get married, if we ever decide we want one. If you change your mind after you say yes, we’ll call Sid and Saul and they’ll move us back to square one in no time.”
Ted stood thinking.
“Don’t do it,” said Mary’s sister to him.
“Give it up,” Mary said to her. “He likes you. He doesn’t love you. Settle for that.”
She turned to Ted.
“Honey, it’s OK,” she said. “If you’re not comfortable with this, we can drop it. It’s no big deal. If you change your mind back, we can have another party. Is that all right with you folks?”
Everyone agreed that they’d be happy to come back for another attempt. Emilo’s catering alone made the trip worth it. Perhaps everyone would bring their swimsuits next time.
“You don’t care if we stop now?” Ted said.
“I care, but I care about you more,” Mary said.
“Nah…,” Ted said. “Nah, it’s OK. Let’s do this. Do you mind another repeat, Padre?”
“Not at all,” said Father Bruno.
“Can somebody lend me their phone?” Mary’s uncle said. “I’m out of memory here.”
Once the uncle was in place and recording with a borrowed phone, Father Bruno repeated his admonitions to the couple. Sensing that this would be the final take, he allowed himself to expand on his original thoughts a bit. When Ted’s moment came, he said yes in a strong voice. The couple exchanged rings.
“Feel any different?” Mary said.
“I feel good,” Ted said. “I feel very good. What about you?”
“I feel good, too,” Mary said.
The guests clapped, shook hands with the bride and groom, gave hugs, and headed over to the bar and buffet. Emilo sent out the table workers and they began uncovering the food.
Later, the couple took off for Palm Springs. Everyone cheered as they drove away from the house.