CHAPTER 1—STARLITE BEACH
Maggie and I marry on Starlite Beach. A quiet, quarter-mile stretch of sandy shoreline in Thunder Bay, Michigan. We are barefoot and all smiles as we watch giant black-and-blue clouds roll over Lake Huron. They are electrified with lightning.
Thunder rumbles, the storm inches closer, and Reverend Romanowski—one of Maggie’s Dad’s long-time drinking buddies—leads us through our vows. He is sober for now but moving us along quickly, and I don’t think it’s because of the weather. Twenty yards away, under the pavilion near the BBQ pits, public showers, and toilets, there’s enough alcohol for three hundred people. We are expecting a hundred and seventy-five.
We say I do, the sky breaks and rain christens our first kiss as husband and wife.
“We better head for cover,” the Reverend says.
He puts his old, leather-bound Bible over his head and hightails it to the pavilion where guests are drinking and snacking, waiting for us to arrive.
“This is perfect!” Maggie says.
And in this moment, I agree. It is only us, the beach, the big lake, and the rain. We kiss again with wet lips, and I feel that great, hungry urge to eat her alive as our bodies press together. I pull her closer, tighter. Try kissing her, but she pulls away.
“Stop!” she says. “We’ve got our whole life for that.”
A gaggle of old ladies huddles at the corner of the pavilion closest to us, smoking and drinking, cackling away. A few look familiar—aunts and distant cousins, I suspect—but there’s little connection to be made. They pop umbrellas in unison then walk toward us, waving and smiling—coming to save us from the treacherous downpour, no doubt. My guts roll and rise. I do not want to be trapped under a canopy of trembling umbrellas with a bunch of perfumy old bags smoking like chimneys and flirting with broken hips.
“Oh, God,” I say. “Not now.”
And then, lightning strikes. It is so violent and close that old ladies shriek and stampede back to the pavilion.
“Wow!” Maggie says, “That was close! I smell ozone!”
“I smell burnt hair and toasted diapers.”
“You’re awful!” she says, then takes my hand and we run from the beach through the wet grass and puddles toward the reception—an event so overdone and overblown I can barely stand it. Gold and silver centerpieces, monogrammed napkins, and frilly tablecloths. Gaudy decorations and assigned seating for friends and family attending, not out of love and support—we haven’t seen these people in ten years or more—but for the catered meal. A choice of roast beef tenderloin or salmon from Thunder Bay’s nicest restaurant, Jack’s Sawmill, and for the open bar stocked with kegs of Killian’s, Oberon, and Summer Shandy—not to mention the bottles and bottles of top-shelf booze.
“What a waste of money,” Maggie says. “All of this is so unnecessary.”
“It is quite the show,” I say.
“That’s my Dad,” she says. “The great showman.”
We walk around the back of the pavilion to avoid the crowd. The bottom of Maggie’s dress is muddy and wet, but the top is clean and white and tight around her breasts, and her cleavage is stunning. I kiss her neck as we stand at the bar, settle my hand into the small of her back and move it down slowly. She reaches around and pulls my hand away.
“The happy couple!” the bartender shouts.
I recognize him. He’s another of Maggie’s Dad’s drinking buddies, but I can’t remember his name, where he’s from, or what he does when he isn’t doing favors for friends.
“We’ll be happier after a few drinks,” I say. “Do you have our wine?”
“Nothing but the very best!”
He pulls a box of Carlos Rossi Merlot from under the counter.
“You remembered!” Maggie says, and she kisses my cheek.
“Just like the olden days,” I say.
I fill two green Solo cups to their brims.
We toast and drink and look out over the lake. The rain is still heavy, but herring gulls have come now and dotted the beach and are bobbing atop the waves. I think of Maggie and Starlite Beach, about Thunder Bay and about the way we used to play Monopoly and drink box wine and eat easy cheese on Triscuits at her place or mine. How we flirted and talked and listened to Pearl Jam and Radiohead and Dave Matthews Band. We watched Donnie Darko, Magnolia, and The Matrix. She was always happy to see me, and she liked being touched and she liked touching me and she enjoyed fucking in the greatest places and ways—bent over my kitchen table, rammed up against her shower wall, trembling on all fours in my living room, and my favorite, her tight body bouncing over and over again on top of mine on the squeaky spring mattress in her bedroom.
“I’m going to miss this place,” she says.
“Not me,” I say. “This town has given us a big bunch of nothing. We need to move so we can do what we’re meant to do.”
“And what is it that we are meant to do?”
“Write and paint and make babies.”
“You’re pretty sure of yourself.”
“I’m pretty sure of us.”
We kiss, and with my eyes closed I can taste the sweet dry wine and feel my heart pounding. It’s as if I’ve never touched or kissed or held a woman before. It is like this a lot with Maggie. Everything always feeling new.
Raindrops pound the pavilion’s metal roof. Maggie leans into me and we sway to the music of the band. Captain Perch and the Musical Minnows is a group of old farts that have known Maggie’s Dad since they were kids. They specialize in covering country-western classics and butchering songs by Elvis Presley and The Doors. They are finishing up Kiss an Angel Good Morning when the Reverend stumbles into us with whiskey breath and bear hugs.
“A toast!” he says.
We raise our cups.
“To the rain! A good omen! An indication of all the good that’s to come.”