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According to an often-referenced New York Times article, here are fifteen questions you should ask yourself and The One before marrying. About children (how many who will be primary caretaker?), finances (spender saver?), sex (how often you're not secretly gay are you?), in-laws (get the rules in writing!), and even if there should be a television in the bedroom. But the most important question, the one that had me second-guessing my near instantaneous acceptance of Tom's marriage proposal, was the last. Number fifteen. About the strength of the relationship and whether it would withstand challenges.
Such as my twin sister, Stella. "This is an intervention," Stella said, stretching her skinny arms across my bedroom doorway to block my escape into the living room, where my engagement party was in full swing. "From a marriage that will bore you to death before your first anniversary."
She wasn't laughing. Shouldn't there be a laugh after a comment like that? A just kidding?
"Run for your life, Ruby," she whispered. "You don't want to die before your thirtieth birthday, do you?" She added the trademark head tilt she'd affected by studying Angelina Jolie.
Stella and I were not identical twins. Clearly. We had little in common other than the first half of our childhoods, our big-toothed smiles and our taste in menuntil now, until Tom.
She objected to his looks, which she described as classic woodwork. She objected to his clothes, which she described as nerdometer-blowing. She objected to his dinner conversation, which she described as better than Sominex.
My response: You and I are not the same person, Stella.We never have been. Even if we used to be attracted to the same type of man, starting with three-foot four-inch tall Danny Peel in preschool.
Tom was the man for me. Granted, I was a bit stumped on some of the questions from the New York Times article. But wasn't compromise a good answerthe right answer to many of them? For example, to Tom wanting four kids, like his parents had, like both his sisters had (his brother wasn't yet married). We would agree on two. Though he really, really, really wanted four. And as a twin, I really, really, really liked the idea of having just one child, lavishing all my attention on him or her. When I mentioned that, Tom had looked at me as though I had four heads, and said there was plenty of time to figure all that out.
Yeah, to convince you to pop out four, Stella had commented when I'd mistakenly been thinking out loud last Thanksgiving. Tom and I had been talking about our future even then. After the first kid,he'll make you feel guilty about not giving Bore Jr.a sibling,so you'll get knocked up again,with twins because they run in the family.Then he'll make you feel guilty about Bore Jr.being the only non-twin,and you'll be pregnant again.Suddenly, you have four, just like he wanted. And right, you'll co-parent. She'd cracked up for a good half minute.
At least Tom and I were both savers, so that was good for the finance question, even if Tom did go overboard in the supermarket, consistently choosing, say, generic toilet paper over Quilted Northern, which I felt was worth the extra money. Not only is he a cheapskate, Stella had said, but he does it so you won't ask him to go grocery shopping in the first place. You say he's not a typical guy, Rubes, but trust me, that is a typical guy.
And Tom did like a television in the bedroom, tuned to either CNN or a Red Sox game. I wasn't so crazy about that. But it was hardly a deal breaker.
Then there was sex. Our sex life could be described like that hilarious split screen scene in Annie Hall, when both Annie and Alvy are separately at their therapists' offices and when asked how often they have sex, Annie says: "Constantly. I'd say three times a week." And Alvy says, "Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week." This, I hadn't shared with my sister. I didn't have to, since Stella often said that "the sex must suck." It didn't, not really.
It wasn't that I wasn't attracted to Tom because I was, to a degree. He was tall, lankily muscular, with washboard abs and he smelled good, like Ivory soap. And he was perfectly attractive in a bit of a bland way. He was also great company, kind, intelligent, often funny, responsible and solid as the ole rock. But
"Let me guess," Stella continued, dropping her arms to twirl a strand of her long, dark hair around her finger. "Mr. Personality proposed at school. In front of seventh graders."
I didn't know why I laughed. It wasn't funny. Stella assuming such a thingor the fact that she was right.
"And you said yes," she whispered. "Yes to being Ruby Truby." She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Ruby Truby," she repeated, then turned and disappeared into the crowd in the living room, settling herself in a chair next to our great-grandmother, Zelda, our only other relative in the world, unless you counted our father and his extended family, which you couldn't.
I could barely count Stella.
I glanced around for Tom; he was on the deck, wearing his engagement gift from one of his young nieces, a white apron embroidered with I Rock As An Uncle and splattered with preschool-made painted handprints. He was brushing barbecue sauce on the chicken while chatting with a bunch of his male relatives, who were tall and lanky like him.
Just over a week ago on the last day of school, Tom Truby, in the durable Dockers and trademark sweater-vest that drove Stella nuts, knocked on my classroom door during study hall for "A moment, Ms. Miller?" There had been the usual whistles and "You go, Truby!" from the students, my eighth-grade English class. Teacher romances weren't common at Blueberry Hills Academy.
I decided not to confirm to Stella that Tom had proposed in school. In the stairwell. During fourth period. But on one knee, at least.
The stairs were sort of romantic. Tom and I had met on those steps on my first day at BLA (affectionately acronymed with a silent H by students and faculty alike) two and a half years ago. I'd been going up; he'd been going down, but then he'd suddenly jogged up backward to my step and stared at me for half a second before extending his hand with a friendly, "Tom Truby, AP English and European History." My first thought was nerdy. My second was but kinda hot underneath that navy-blue sweater-vest. My third was I like the way he's looking at me with those intelligent blue eyes. Which, for that one unguarded moment, was passionately.
The English Chair, Meg Fitzmaurice, had come down the stairs then. She'd clapped her arm around me and said, "Welcome to the loony bin, Ruby. I see you've already met Tom Truby." (Who had since continued back down.) "If you need anything, he's your guy. True as his name." Then she leaned in and whispered, "But avoid Nick McDermott. You'll know why when you meet him, but I'll give you a hint. The entire female faculty refers to him as Mr. McDreamy. You know, like from Grey's Anatomy."
Two and a half years later, if the sight of Mr. McDreamy could still manage to make the air whoosh out of my body at my own engagement party, I would accept that I, myself, was a challenge to my future with Tom, to our marriage. I would accept that Stella (who knew nothing of my feelings for Nick) was right, that I did require an intervention. Because it was one thing to marry a man you did love but maybe, if you were very honest with yourself, more like a friend than anythinga man who would make a trustworthy, dependable husband, a wonderful, doting father. But it was another to do so knowing that you were in love with someone else, someone you couldn't have the way you would want. Or need.
What you wanted, what you needed, you had said yes to, and for good reason. You were an intelligent woman. You overthought, in fact. Something you'd been accused of since kindergarten. But you didn't have to overthink what you craved, what you fantasized about, what stopped you from all rational thought several times a day, which now stood on the deck of your home, a guest at your engagement party.
Nick, of course, had spent a good fifteen minutes charming my great-grandmother, who'd uttered, "My, is he handsome!" three times already. But charming women of all ages was Nick's specialty. Including twelve- to eighteen-year-old girls, his students, into passionate discussions and essays about The Merchant of Venice and To Kill a Mockingbird. The part of Nick that stole the breath out of me was ninety-nine percent (okay, seventy-five percent) that: the maverick teacher who could command a classroom of adolescents at their hormoniest worst and transfix them by relating centuries-old relationships to their own. He managed to make voice-cracking thirteen-year-old boys feel so much for Henry V that they broke out into soliloquies in the cafeteria, their French fries raised as swords, ketchup splattered on their T-shirts as they fell in bloody battle.
Yes, he was gorgeous. In that almost movie-star way. Thirty-four. Six-one. Lankily muscular. Two dimples. Sparkling dark-brown eyes and thick, dark-brown sexy hair. Fair, fair skin that somehow managed to tan even before the last day of school. That perfect Roman nosebroken once in a fight with someone's husband. He also came complete with a small trust fund that enabled him to live in a gorgeous, historic apartment in Portland's West End, drive a silver Porsche and do exactly what he wanted with his life, which was to teach.
As I headed out onto the deck I ignored Stella, who was French braiding the hair of one of Tom's little nieces. The deck was crowded with Trubys, faculty from BLA and friends. Tom, adding the vegetable shish kebabs to the grill, was deep in conversation with his male relatives about the Red Sox and whether they'd make it to the play-offs. Nick stood alone by the railing, staring out at the view of downtown Blueberry Hills, the town square and the BLA campus just across the street.
Blueberry Hills was your typical Maine coastal town: lovely and quaint, five white clapboard churches with their magnificent steeples lining the mile-long Main Street, the yellow Victorians (mine was a miniature yellow Victorian) and white antique farmhouses, the swing sets in backyards full of children, the joggers, the baby strollers, the dogs, the majestic trees. Maine in June was at its most glorious. Temperatures, like today, in the low seventies, brilliant sunshine.
"Your mother would be so proud," Grammy Zelda said as she and her boyfriend, Harold, who lived next door to each other at the Blueberry Hills nursing home (she insisted on living there for her "independence"), shuff led toward me, plates of cake crumbs in their hands. "Tom is a real nice fella," she whispered. "Quality. She'd be so happy that you didn't end up with someone like your father." She threw up a hand in disgust, then spit on her arm. "I shouldn't even say his name. The meshugener."
I eyed Nick and had to admit that he and my father, Eric Miller, shared a certain resemblance beyond the womanizing. And the charm. They were both tall, dark-haired and too handsome. They both had dimples, though my father had just one. But a difference was that Nick was here, celebrating my engagement with me. And my father, whom I hadn't seen since I was six, wasn't. "Tom is a good man," I said to Zelda. "The best." He was. I am an engaged woman now. Ruby Truby rhymes! Rhyme is good! I will stop ogling Nick McDermott. I will stop imagining. Wondering.Today I will officially stop.
Not that there hadn't been chances these past two and a half years. Nick and I had become instant friends my first week at BLA. Good friends. We spent a lot of time together. And he'd made f lirtatious little comments from day one. But I knew Nick McDermott. Knew his type, too. You had a night, maybe a great couple of weeks, with Nick McDermott. But you had a future, a lifetime, with Tom Truby.
As Zelda and Harold headed back inside, Nick gestured me over. Between grading finals and endless congratulatory lunches and dinners with faculty and various members of the Truby family, I hadn't spent much time alone with Nick during the past week. So this would be the litmus test. Would the air whoosh out of me the moment those dark, dark eyes were looking at me? Or would I finally, at my own engagement party, be immune to Mr. McDreamy?
"So you're getting married," he said. "You're off the market. I've lost my chance."
The air whooshed, as always.
He was teasing me, of course. But still, my first thought was: Have you? If you stretched your arms out on either side and said: Ruby Miller, this is an intervention.You can't marryTom because you will die of what-if before your first anniversary, would I say okay? And okay to what? The one night? The just-tofinally-know? "Take a walk with me?" he asked, nodding at the yard below.