You may start screaming. Here’s the epilogue to the Spotless series, taking place shortly after Island Chaptal & The Ancient Aliens’ Treasure. You can start reading it below… or listen to Amy McFadden narrate it! 🙂
Our Lego wedding was awesome—Joy gushed over my selfie with the priest—but Dad took the whole thing personally. When I called him the day after, he asked me if March had brainwashed me into doing something like that, and whether he was trying to keep us apart. Dad said it’d kill my grandparents if they learned the truth, especially my grandma, who gave March a penguin sweater with googly eyes for Christmas—how could we do this to her?
So, today isn’t my second wedding ceremony: it is, for all intents and purposes, my family’s. It’s a muggy eighty in Cape Saint Francis, and the sky is dark with the promise of a refreshing rain later tonight. The spectacular wedding buffet gram and I cooked awaits safely under several layers of cling wrap. Sitting proudly on a garden table in front of our newly rebuilt cubicle house is a complete ’70s dinner party. We’ve got mini-quiches, mini-mousses, mini-franks, and mini Jell-O lime salads: mini everything.
Jan will be our officer. He registered for a fifteen-minute, two-hundred-dollar Zoom course, and now he’s apparently a licensed marriage officer in Mozambique. This isn’t Mozambique—and, to the best of my knowledge, Andrea has none of the credentials required to preside over a secular wedding ceremony—but March and I are already married anyway. “Nothing can undo what you’ve done with those Legos,” to quote my dad—who should know better since he is, after all, Janice’s third husband.
Paulie found a gorgeous, second-hand black marble altar on Yaybay and managed to have it delivered to March’s lawn straight from New York. This exceptional piece is both our wedding gift and a cautionary tale against online shopping: had Paulie zoomed on the pics, he’d have seen the goat-guy and pentacle engraved on the front. I’ve spent hours imagining what kind of horrors that altar saw before it ended up in South Africa.
Joy helped me hot-glue plastic roses over the pentacle, so my grandma won’t see it. Our arts and crafts session was the perfect opportunity to revisit the latest earthquake in her highly seismic love life: Angel Somoza. Our 9.9 Richter scale apocalypse swept her off her feet and flew her in his goddamn private Concorde to Quito . . . where she ultimately spent less than thirty-six hours. They did not sleep together—which in itself constitutes a serious red flag—and Joy reappeared in New York with a light tan and the kind of relationship PTSD one normally acquires over the course of a decade-long marriage to a diagnosed psychopath. I won’t go over everything that went down between them, but she’s basically in a superdark place where she eats B&J’s from the carton and asks her Instagram followers whether Mr. Right exists and still awaits somewhere.
She quit her job before her boss could fire her; she wants to take some time to figure things out and maybe write a book about hot men of the shadows and the women who love them. Her fanbase ballooned overnight to almost a million IG followers after she appeared in Gualtiero Franz’s ancient aliens documentary. Her agent says she’s going to be the new Kerry-Lee Storm—but better.
I’m a thousand women at once as March and I come to stand in front of Jan and Andrea—serene and terrified, a fifteen-year-old girl in a pink chiffon dress holding the hand of the young assassin who saved her life, a woman standing confidently at the side of the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with, through sun and storm. My toes curling in agony in white stilettos I should never have bought, I gaze up at March and squeeze his fingers tight. Dammit, he looks dashing in his gray three-piece suit. No tie, of course. His jaw ticks from the mint he’s secretly grinding between his molars. Seventeen guests sitting in the garden is pretty much a full stadium for him: he’s just as anxious as I am—possibly even more—but his eyes meet mine, and his dimples bracket a smile that’s just for me.
Jan straightens, clears his throat. It’s the first time I see him wear an actual pressed shirt and not a T-shirt full of holes. He even kinda brushed his ponytail. “All right, all right.” He claps his hands for all to hear. “Everyone’s here? Are we ready to begin?”
“What did he say?” croaks a quavering voice. That’s my grandpa, sitting in the front row next to my grandma in her frothy lavender dress. He insisted on bringing Remington, their white poodle—who’s patiently sitting on his lap—but he “forgot” his hearing aids at home. He doesn’t like them, but he’s ninety and, well, pretty much deaf.
“He says the ceremony is about to start,” my grandma whispers, the late afternoon breeze fluffing her cottony blow-dry.
“Is he his father?” My grandpa mumbles. We tried to introduce everyone to him, but he sometimes dozes off and loses track of conversations.
March’s smile wavers at the evocation of his father, who never replied to any of the texts March sent him.
“No, he’s a friend,” My dad explains quietly. Wrapped in a dramatic turquoise poncho dress at my dad’s side, Janice places a gentle hand on his to stop him from rapping his fingers on his knees. He readjusts his tie instead, takes a deep breath. Next to him, Joy is swooning over Kalahari and Ilan’s little boy. Kalahari raises Sam proudly to better showcase the continuous stream of drool bubbling from his mouth and trickling on his tux onesie. Joy is mesmerized by this gruesome spectacle.
March issued an invitation to Angel, but he sent his congratulations and a box of chocolate instead. In other words, he chickened out because things are simply too . . . complicated between him and Joy. Plus he’d have to socialize with my family—or worse, with Antonio, who’s sitting next to Beatriz and rocking a sleepy Isla with one hand while giving us a thumbs-up with the other. Multitasking at its finest.
There’s bright smiles, glistening gazes—my dad’s—hands clasped in anticipation of the words to come. It’s a lot. Maybe too much. I try to breathe the surge of emotion out, wrestle it under control even as I can feel my eyes threatening to water. My world rights itself when March’s hand reaches around my waist, to steady me—or perhaps to seek an anchor of his own, I realize, when his Adam’s apple rolls in his throat and he releases a trembling exhale that carries the scent of mints. I manage a grin. We’re in this together, awkward and fidgety as Jan starts reading his speech to the rhythm of Andrea’s heavy breathing—I think he’ll eat my grandparents’ poodle if we don’t keep an eye on him.
I’m thankful to Jan, who cracks a few jokes to put us at ease. He tells March he doesn’t brush up too badly, but that he looks nowhere as good as the bride-to-be. March chuckles and, to my amazement, keeps smiling even as Jan starts reading from the pages in front of him.
It was his decision. Everyone present here today will hear the secret he buried seventeen years ago. Janice and my grandparents will never know the whole truth: My dad briefed them before they landed in Port Elizabeth, but he left out the details of why March goes under an assumed name, or why he chose to resurrect a boy who supposedly died in Cape Town at the age of eighteen. I fear Janice is gonna have a lot of questions later, but for now, she seems oddly calm, sizing me up with the mysterious smile of a woman who’s been in my place before.
With Joy, it was easier: after everything we went through in September, she harbored little doubt that November wasn’t March’s real name. We went for a walk on the beach at dawn, treating our toes to the heavenly feel of wet sand. I told her his birth name, and she said, “I thought it’d be longer or weirder, like his—” I pressed a hand over her lips before the joke could slip out. She mumbled it against my palm anyway.
Mr. November legally married Miss Chaptal-Halder in Carlsbad, California, on September 25—but today, the woman standing by March’s side and listening to Jan’s speech is Miss Kovius, her father’s daughter. It is, I think, a fitting end to a story that started twelve years ago.
I was afraid my dad wouldn’t understand, that he’d be hurt; I gave him far too little credit. When we talked about it, he simply said he’d brief Janice and my grandma before the ceremony, and he begged me not to make the wedding dinner vegan. With these gruff and tender words, my Apache helicopter dad severed the final mooring line between us and let me go, free to fly away to new and mysterious horizons.
Jan is droning through a reminder of the mutual obligations of marriage when he pauses mid-sentence without warning. All heads turn in sync as a battered Toyota truck approaches the trail leading to our cubicle house. The vehicle rolls to a stop, and the driver’s door opens, revealing a jean-clad leg and scuffed black boot. I squint as the rest of the newcomer’s silhouette unfolds from the vehicle.
He’s tall and bony, wearing a worn leather jacket and a shirt printed with big orange flowers. His leathery hands and craggy blonde beard remind me of Jan, but the newcomer’s face is older, ravaged by life. The nose looks like it was broken badly, long ago. The cheeks are gaunt, sunken—probably from a few molars missing. His deep-set eyes are a familiar shade of dark blue though, and even with his shoulder-length hair, there’s just something . . .
I probably look as confused as everyone else in the garden, except March. He’s just staring at the stranger, his expression blank. The man gives a sullen nod but remains rooted in place, studying us from a distance. His sharp gaze swipes over the silent assembly, lingering on March and me.
March’s hand grips mine so tight it hurts a little. His Adam’s apple bobs, but his eyes remain dry. It’s me who blinks back tears when it dawns on me that March’s dad came after all. Despite all the anger and all the mistakes, despite the twenty years the two of them spent drifting apart after March’s mother died, a little part of him remains a dad.
I think of Dries, and my chest grows so tight I can barely breathe. I so wish he were here with us today.
“And that one, is he his dad?”
My grandpa’s loud question shatters the silence and snaps March out of his daze. With his usual clipped efficiency, he produces a tissue pack from his inner pocket and gives it to me. While I wipe my eyes and blow my nose, he strides over to his dad and motions for him to follow. Ilan and Kalahari have figured out what’s going on: Ilan gets up and jogs to the cubicle house to grab a chair from the kitchen. The chair is placed in the front, next to Janice, who smiles at this complete stranger who comes to sit at her side. There’s some more awkward shuffling as Joy gets up to take the dirty tissue from my hands and wraps it in another tissue before discreetly cramming it in her satin clutch. When our gazes meet, she worries her lower lip with her teeth. There’s a question etched in the furrow between her eyebrows. Am I okay? Yeah. I think so. I manage a trembling smile to reassure her.
Against all his rules about public demonstrations of affection, March bends to nuzzle my temple and presses a fleeting kiss there, before he clears his throat and tells Jan, “I apologize on behalf of our late guest, please go on.”
“Yeah, I think we’re good,” I murmur in my turn, a smile chasing my tears.
Jan gives a firm nod, his gaze zeroing on the checklist resting in front of him on the altar among several scattered papers. “All right. Did you prepare anything you’d like to read?”
We both shake our heads. It’s not that we have nothing to say to each other, it’s just that . . . not in public. There won’t be any lengthy vows, no song. We totally have one, but my dad would shoot up from his chair and strangle March if we played Conway Twitty’s You’ve Never Been This Far Before. So, there will be none of that, and it’s okay: all the words are in our eyes, in the nervous brush of our hands. March knows he’s my Prince Charming and that I take all the good and all the bad in one big bunch that is him. And I know, without any trace of doubt or insecurity left, that he loves me, that the spark has been there, shy, then all-consuming, ever since that Christmas party when we didn’t meet, four years ago.
The memory of that particular night invites itself in my mind, a silly scene I had almost forgotten. Grinning up at him, I lean against his arm to take off my stilettos. I sense confused, amused gazes in my back. My dad grunts in disapproval, but March remembers; he understands. As I now stand barefoot at his side, his features light up. He smiles brightly, proudly. I’m his barefoot contessa—except everything works fine for him down there, and he won’t have to shoot me at the end of the story.
“Now I’m ready,” I tell Jan, who scratches his beard with a mischievous smile at my antics.
March took his dad aside after the ceremony was over, and they went to stand near the Toyota. I’m watching them, barely aware of Kalahari hugging me while Joy cracks explicit jokes about honeymoon sex.
Even from a distance, I can tell the two of them aren’t saying much. There’s nodding on both sides, long pauses during which neither speaks. There must be something left to mend; they wouldn’t be standing face to face today otherwise. Still, I wonder to what extent one can fix twenty years of hate and silence. They’re practically strangers to each other now.
The old man crosses his arms over his leather jacket and turns his head to look at me. I get that same feeling I experienced back during the ceremony, that I’m being dissected, figured out—March and his dad share the same piercing gaze, that predatory tilt of the head when they catalog a new and mysterious species. He nods again and returns his attention to his son. A few more words are exchanged before he pulls out a battered wallet and searches it for something. A small rectangular piece of paper he gives March.
I can’t make out what it is, but I don’t miss the way March’s chest heaves as he stares down at his father’s present. He slips it in his inner pocket, against his heart, and I think I know. The only material possession March is genuinely missing in his life: a picture of his mother. He doesn’t have any because he left home with only the clothes on his back, and he never returned to take any personal items. Most people I know still keep a few souvenirs from their childhood: a toy, a treasure, clothes they’ll never wear again but can’t bring themselves to throw away. The tracksuit March wore that night is long gone, and until today, I thought there was absolutely nothing tangible left of his past.
Now there is.
His father mouths something, scratches his head before climbing in the Toyota and turning on the engine. He said goodbye. They won’t hug or anything like that, but I want to believe it’s a start. I delicately free myself from Kalahari’s gentle hold on my arm, leaving the cradle of her flowery perfume to cross the lawn and join March. “Are you okay?” I ask.
His chin ducks once as he watches his father drive away. “I honestly didn’t expect . . . I don’t know what to make of it.”
“I think it’s a tiny step. A first step,” I say, stroking his arm. His muscles are a little tense underneath: I don’t know if he’s ready for a public hug. I inch closer until he relaxes a fraction and pulls me to him, rules be damned.
“Did you tell him?” I ask quietly against his chest.
“No. Do you think I should have?”
“I can’t decide that for you, but there’s still time.”
“Thirty weeks,” March replies without missing a beat. He brushes the back of his knuckles reverently against my belly and the mysterious little bean growing there. He’s installed an app to count every day, track every ultrasound and every blood test, as per the directives of his fifty-three-slide contingency plan. Everything is under control—or so he wants to believe. I, on the other hand, try my best to accept that my stomach is only going to get bigger until I look like Homer Simpson, and that I’m gonna have to pretend I know what I’m doing for the next twenty years or so.
“I’ll have to tell my dad,” I say, watching him pet little Sam with a sense of dread—I’m not sure I’m quite ready to face the roaring takeoff of a helicopter grandparent.
“I’m sure he’ll be thrilled,” March lies, rubbing the small of my back in a soothing motion.
As if on cue, my dad looks away from Sam and patrols toward us, his shoulders a little stiff—he seldom lets his guard down around March. Shifty blue eyes dart a guilty look at Janice, who’s busy showering little Sam with compliments. He clears his throat. “So, now we’re having some sort of . . . dinner, right?”
March’s lips twitch as he contains his amusement. “A small braai.”
My father’s eyelids screw shut in a silent prayer of thanks. Meat, at last: an oasis in the vegan desert that his existence has become ever since Janice forcefully converted him.
“At March’s cubicle house,” I supply giddily. I can’t wait to introduce my father to our newly rebuilt kingdom: on the ruins of his four hundred square feet brick house, March erected a seven hundred square feet palace with not one but two bedrooms. Solar panels on the roof, teak walls, one-way mirror windows, and, of course, the “basement”: a three-thousand square feet fallout shelter connected directly to the beach by an underground tunnel. And let’s not forget a cutting-edge infrared grill—the only feature my dad is interested in at the moment.
He shoots another look at Janice and whispers to March. “Whaddya got for me?”
March leans down, mimicking my father’s conspiratorial tone. “40-days dry-aged Angus and boerewors.”
Dad clasps his hands. “Christ . . . Boerewors is sausage, right?”
“Miles of it,” I drawl in his ear.
“Oh, God. Janice is going to kill me for this.”
“But what a glorious death it will be,” March purrs, suave like Satan himself.
“And our basting sauce is vegan,” I add, thus hammering the final nail in my father’s coffin as he walks away to bravely tell Janice that we’re having a traditional South-African vegan braai.
“Speaking of sauce,” I tell March. “Did he bring it?”
March gives a somber nod. “I fear so.”
You bet. Antonio promised me a forbidden hot sauce maxing out at a ludicrous ten million Scoville, and I expect him to deliver, especially since he hyped it to me with claims that one of his cousins produces it in his kitchen using pure capsaicin crystals and some guava “to round the taste.”
Beatriz chooses this moment to pop up at our side, her purple muslin dress matching that of the baby in her arms. At only eight months, little Isla already boasts a shock of black curls, and I dare say that Sam is now facing some serious competition in the drooling department. She proudly squishes a soaked teething biscuit against my cheeks when Beatriz sucks me into a group hug that smells of sugary perfume and dubious diaper.
“Look at you two!” Antonio cheers as he joins us, the tattoos all over his bronzed face and hands a stark contrast with his white tux. He flips out a tiny black bottle from his pocket. His eyes narrow ominously as he shows me its sober red label, which reads: Muerte Súbita—Sudden Death. “I have your wedding gift right here, queridita . . .”
“I don’t want this near Island,” March warns him while helping me wipe Isla’s offering off my cheek. Bless my new husband: I will never know another day without antibacterial wet wipes at hand’s reach.
Ilan rubs his hands and winks at Antonio. “You have my full attention.”
“I’ll go first,” Jan volunteers after he and Andrea are done clearing the altar.
Antonio wastes no time unsealing the bottle. As if they’d sensed that something momentous is hanging in the air, Joy and Janice pause in their discussion. On my grandpa’s lap, Remington gives a sharp bark, but Andrea ignores the poodle’s challenge. He watches his master, panting hard as Jan takes slow, measured steps towards the buffet.
He gives the chili sauce bottle a cautious sniff and stabs a mini-frank with a toothpick. Janice snorts in disapproval. Everyone else is holding their breath. I don’t even realize I’ve balled my fists tight until a few wailing strands of harmonica rise in the evening air. Joy gives a mad grin and raises her phone at me: the powerful crescendo of Ennio Morricone’s Final Duel thrums under my skin as Jan cracks his neck and pours a few drops of Muerte Súbita onto the mini-frank. The sun has started to set on the horizon, streaking the gray skies and the ocean with gold and copper.
He brings the sausage to his lips.
“No going back . . .” March murmurs as Jan’s mouth closes on the cursed appetizer.
Antonio snickers. “He doesn’t know it, but he’s dead already.”
And yet, as Jan chews thoughtfully, nothing seems to happen. He scratches his beard with two fingers, frowns. “Oh. It’s coming up. It’s starting to hit.”
Antonio’s predatory grin grows wider by the second. Ilan’s eyes narrow in keen interest as he studies what sort of hell awaits him. Joy brings a trembling hand to her mouth. Janice and Kalahari shake their heads, muttering something about the general idiocy of the Y chromosome.
Jan lets out a rasp. Then a roar. “Liewe fokken Jesus!” Sweet fucking Jesus!
Andrea launches into frenzied barking and barrels to his master’s side as he staggers across the lawn toward the beer cooler.
“You might want to drink oil instead to wash off the capsaicin,” March supplies kindly, while a crimson-faced Jan grabs two brown bottles, holds them cap-to-cap and uses one to decapsulate the other with a flick of his wrist.
Pieter, March’s longtime mechanic and braai partner, nods his assent and admiration. “Black Label sê die Bybel.” Black Label says the Bible, according to South Africans, who particularly enjoy that Canadian lager. The brand’s motto, “Champion Men deserve Champion Beer,” seems oddly appropriate as Jan collapses on our lawn with a groan of agony.
Ilan and Jan both vomited on the lawn, but the braai was otherwise a success. That is, except for the part where Janice cried and told my dad she didn’t know whether their marriage could be saved after he ate a sixteen-ounce rib eye and several feet of boerewors. It only got worse when she figured out that gram’s mini quiches contained smoked ham. Joy thinks they’re gonna need counseling when they get back to New York.
I think they’ll make it through.
I smile to myself as the sun rises on Cape Saint Francis, my cheek resting on a rug of crimped silk and debauchery. And chest hair, mostly chest hair. March combs through my curls; as the back of his knuckles grazes my ear shell, I register the smooth feel of the titanium band adorning his ring finger. “You should get back to sleep, biscuit.”
I nuzzle one deliciously flat nipple. “Maybe . . . I thought I’d be more tired than that.” We didn’t get much sleep, and I regret to say that there was no savage lego sex on my second wedding night. After we were done waving everyone off and cleaning the kitchen—and the lawn—with Joy’s help, March and I pretty much collapsed in bed at two a.m. like a doddering pair of centenarians.
Warmth seeps from his skin to mine. His heart beats against my temple, calm and steady. With each muted thud, I imagine I can pick up a third pulse between us, but it’s a little early for that: our little bean is hardly bigger than a tadpole and a fairly quiet roommate, save for a recent bout of morning sickness.
I’ve been thinking about my mother more and more as the weeks pass: I lost her too young to ever discuss the all-encompassing subject of motherhood with her. Was it the same for her? The fear, the joy, and the constant peeing? The Internet has all the answers and, I’m afraid, none at all.
“A penny for your thoughts,” March drawls, his voice rich and gravelly from sleep.
“I was thinking of my mom . . . and Joy. We had a talk while we were decorating the altar.”
“Should I worry yet?” Oh, he knows me—and her—far too well.
“She said she wants to recruit an anonymous donor on Tinder and do a buddy pregnancy with me.”
I roll over just in time to see March’s eyebrow take off. “That . . . sounds like a severe case of quarter-life crisis.”
“Not yet. Okay, almost. She’ll be twenty-nine in February. It’s freaking her out because she feels like everyone is getting married, getting pregnant, and kind of moving on.”
March gathers me once more in his arms, this time spooning me and kissing my shoulder as dawn licks across the cubicle house’s lawn. “Much as I hate to twist the knife, it is my understanding that she’s already found a willing . . . donor.”
I cringe at the memory of Joy’s torrid Ecuadorian stint with Angel, which ended with her calling him a psychopathic bag of triple-cream dick brie before she stomped off from his five-star palace suite and raced to the airport. She was on a flight bound to JFK mere hours later.
March sighs. “He was right about one thing: she does need to face her fear of commitment before she can possibly settle down.”
I jackknife up in outrage. “How can you take his side? He casually proposed over dessert! Who does that?”
“No,” March corrects me with a low chuckle. “If I recall well, he didn’t quite propose: he told her that they will marry.”
To be continued . . .