Chapter 22: The World
“Where is she? Where is this girl who’s going to marry my son?”
Hearing the fighting tone of those words, Rosemary knew who must be approaching through the milling crowd. She cowered back against Fabricio. Silly at it may be, she was terrified of his mother. They’d spoken on the phone two weeks ago, when Fabricio called to share the news. Rosemary had held the phone a whole foot away from her head, and still his mom’s delighted shriek practically burst her eardrums. She envisioned a woman of formidable size, a Mexican valkerie. All last night she’d had nightmares about it.
Fabricio only chuckled. It was June 3rd at the Husky Stadium; graduation day. He looked handsome in his black cap and gown, the purple-and-gold UW tassel flirting with the strong bone of his cheek. Smiling up at her, he gave Rosemary’s hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Don’t worry. She’s going to love you.”
At that moment a diminutive woman pushed her way out from between two tall African parents, who had been happily taking photographs of their graduating daughter. Short, round, and solid, with thick black hair, she looked like a Mayan carving come to life. Her eyes lit up, snapping to attention as she noticed Fabricio holding Rosemary’s hand. This could only be his mother, Maria Esmeralda O’Connor.
“Mi hijo!” she cried. Practically running, she swooped down on Fabricio and bundled him into a thick-armed hug. “So amazing, to see one of my children graduate from college! You make your old mother so proud!”
“Ma, stop,” Fabricio protested, but he was smiling. Raising an eyebrow at Rosemary, he shrugged.
Following behind, apologizing to the affronted couple his wife had just bowled over, came Fabricio’s dad. Sean O’Conner was lean, freckled, with thinning red hair and a beard. He looked just like a larger-than-usual leprechaun. Clearly unused to celebratory environments, he stuck his hands in his pockets and was looking around sheepishly.
Esmeralda pulled back and brusquely wiped the tears from her eyes. She gave her son a wavering smile, then straightened up.
“Now, let me get a good look at your fiancée. Oh! Fabricio, she is beautiful! How did you get such a pretty girl to marry you?”
Rosemary was suddenly enveloped in a fast hug, somewhere around her middle. Esmeralda’s head only came up as far as Rosemary’s shoulder, so she was able to look out in bewilderment as Fabricio’s dad sent a sly look at his son.
“He must have learned something from me,” he said, and they both burst out laughing.
“Huh. What you know wouldn’t fill a bookshelf. Not like our college graduate!” said Esmeralda hotly.
“School of Life was the only one I ever did,” Sean admitted, good-natured beneath his wife’s scolding. He held out his hand to Rosemary, and she took it. His shake was firm and warm, like his eyes. “It’s a pleasure, Miss Miller. My son is a lucky man.”
“So good to meet you, Mr. O’Conner. Mrs. O’Conner.” Freed from Esmeralda’s exuberance, she was finally able to offer her hand to her future in-laws.
“Oh, please,” Esmeralda huffed, “Don’t call me that! ‘Mom’ will be fine.”
Her husband raised both his eyebrows in a meaningful gesture. Sighing, she added, “Or Mera, if you like that better. All the other kids do.”
Fabricio interrupted them then, giving his mom’s elbow a squeeze. “Hey, I’ve got to go line up. See you all after the ceremony, okay?”
“Good luck, mi hijo! We’ll get pictures!”
Watching him roll off, back straight, his gown billowing around him, tassel swinging, with the bright June day as a backdrop, Rosemary felt her heart soar. Loving him so much, and knowing he returned it, was a remarkable gift. With a happy sigh, she turned to his parents.
“I sent my folks ahead to find us some good seats. They’re so excited to meet you.”
“Us, too, chica, us too.” Mera patted Rosemary’s elbow before tucking her arm through it. “I am so excited for you to meet all the sisters and brothers! They’re driving in now. Should be here in time for pictures. A graduation in the family! I can’t believe it!” She chattered unstoppably the entire time, while Sean trailed behind them, smiling his bemused smile as he followed along.
The stands were packed fuller than a college football game. With no assigned seating, families squeezed in wherever they could. It was a diverse crowd: extended families in jeans and UW shirts, waving flags and holding up signs; sophisticated couples in business suits; families in traditional clothing from all over Africa, Japan, Korea. And, sitting midway down the L section, was Rosemary’s family.
Thyme was there, of course, and he’d brought Bruce along. Parsley and Lorenzo sat alongside, and on the bleacher in front of them were Mom and Esteban. The big surprise was Sage. She’d flown out from New York for the occasion, claiming that she wouldn’t allow any marriage to happen between her little sister and some guy she’d never met. Fabricio had subsequently met with her approval.
They were a colorful, loud, argumentative clan, and Rosemary realized then how much she loved them all.
Esmeralda dashed right up and squeezed Rosemary’s mom in a tight hug. “You must be Peggy Miller! We’re just delighted to meet you!”
Mom hadn’t gone by her given name, Peggy, for years. Parsley stifled a laugh behind her hand at their mother’s look of dismay. Catching Rosemary’s eyes, they both grinned wide. Mom had requested to be introduced as Rainbow Willow awhile back; who knows what she went by these days. Her hippie persona had been ripped away by her old-fashioned name, and now Peggy was at a loss. Though he couldn’t understand, Rosemary thought she caught a hint of a smile on his dignified face, also.
“Welcome to the family,” Mom said, once recovered. “You’ve met my Rosemary, of course. Her twin brother, Thyme; my oldest, Parsley; and Sage, in from New York. And this is my husband, Esteban.”
“Oh? Esteban? Y usted…?” Esmeralda queried, gesturing politely to Lorenzo. He introduced himself, and soon the three were busily conversing in Spanish. Esmeralda was delighted. For a moment, she paused the conversation to turn gleaming eyes on Rosemary. “Isn’t it wonderful? Together we find so much in common! A Spanish-speaking family. How amazing!”
“Guess I’ll be learning Spanish now,” Rosemary muttered to Sage.
“Oh, for sure. We should all be bilingual anyway.” Sage fluffed her hair and sat back with a sigh. “When will this graduation start? I’m ready for the after party!” She glanced crosswise at Rosemary, then said abruptly, “You aren’t pregnant, are you?”
“What! No!” Rosemary twisted her head around, terrified that one of the mothers might have heard. But Peggy was deep in conversation with Sean O’Conner, and Esmeralda was in the middle of what sounded like an entertaining story. Safe for now, thank God.
“Good. Then you can have a sip of this.” With a wicked grin, Sage pulled out a mini flask from her jacket pocket. “I sneaked it in. Go on, take a swig. It’s the good stuff.”
Rosemary was saved from the awkwardness by Pomp and Circumstance. The crowd in the stands quieted down as the professors marched out in their colorful robes, followed by the hundreds of soon-to-be-graduates, trailing in like a line of black bats in their caps and gowns. The School of Fine Arts was near the back of the procession. Of course, Fabricio was easy to spot.
“There he is!” cried Esmeralda, leaping to her feet. “There goes my baby!”
“Shhh! Get down!” hissed Sean, his cheeks coloring, but she didn’t listen. Esmeralda waved her arms and jumped up and down until Fabricio finally looked their way. She couldn’t see his smile from the distance, but he raised his hand in greeting. His mom sat then, satisfied.
“See?” she told her husband. “Now he knows where we are!”
Sean just shook his head. Turning to Rosemary, he said, “Lucky for you, Fabricio takes after me in temperament. You won’t see him making a fool of himself in public.”
“Who’s making a fool? Aren’t you proud of your son? And anyway,” added Esmeralda, to Rosemary this time, “Don’t think you’re getting such a good deal. He can have that Irish temper, you know. Stubborn. Doesn’t like to admit he’s wrong.”
Rosemary smiled. “I know,” she said. Thinking back on it, she realized that although they’d only been together for a couple months, she truly did know Fabricio. Their relationship had been condensed; intense and passionate, yet also enduring through uncertainty, misunderstanding, and even betrayal. Yes, she knew him just as well as anyone could know another person. The man she was about to marry. Rosemary looked down at her hands, smiling at the little diamond ring.
With thousands of students to get through, the ceremony became something of a slog. Thyme and Bruce couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Parsley and Lorenzo were clearly arguing over some domestic situation, while Sean and Esmeralda were invested in getting to know Peggy better. Only Esteban gave the graduation his full attention, sitting straight as a pole, eyes firmly on the proceedings. Smiling, Rosemary reached out and gave his arm a grateful squeeze. Without looking at her, Esteban nodded. She didn’t need to tell him so, but without his advice and gentle confidence, they would likely not be here now. It’s funny, she thought, the people who end up having the biggest impact on our lives. Sometimes it’s the last person you would ever expect. But it all works out, somehow. That’s the beauty of living.
When Fabricio started forward with his college, ready to head up the ramp, get his handshake, and collect his diploma, everyone stood up. Esmeralda cheered hard, but Sean clapped loudest of them all. His eyes were bright with unspoken pride as he watched Fabricio take his place among the graduates.
It was incredibly moving to watch the man she loved being so celebrated. In her family, a university education was a take-it-or-leave it kind of thing; Sage had graduated (and been blasé about walking, to the point where she skipped the ceremony for law school), and so had Thyme, but neither Rosemary nor Parsley had gone any higher than community college. Yet there, standing in the Husky football stadium with Fabricio’s parents alongside, Rosemary remembered what a tremendous accomplishment this was. He was the first in his family to graduate college, and that meant something. She was prouder of him than she had ever been of anyone.
At the end of the ceremony, the graduates threw their collective caps and then processed out, leaving their families to mill and bunch in the grandstands. It was half an hour before they finally escaped from the arena, at which point Fabricio’s siblings had arrived. Rosemary saw them right away: a group of laughing, joking look-alikes, all with dark hair, some tinged with red. When the youngest girl caught sight of them, she shrieked, and ran over to grab Rosemary in a hug.
“I can’t believe I’m going to have another sister! I’m so excited! Do I get to be a bridesmaid?”
“Uh, sure, why not?” said Rosemary, giggling.
“Sofie, leave my fiancée alone!” said Fabricio. Rolling over, he took Rosemary’s hand and pulled her down into a long kiss. Somebody whooped. She thought it was a relative, but when Fabricio finally let her go he turned with an expression of shock on his face.
“Chad?! What are you doing here?” he sputtered.
“Graduation, dude! Thought this year I might as well. Place gets old after seven years, y’know?”
“I…uh…wow. Well congratulations. What’s your degree?”
“Holy shit.” Fabricio’s eyes went huge with shock. “Premed? Really?”
“For sure, man! Someone’s gotta prescribe the medical cannabis, yo!”
Everyone cracked up at that. Chad was an irredeemable surfer dude; he sauntered off to join his attractive, blond, tan parents, leaving Fabricio shaking his head.
“I thought I’d never see the day,” he said through his chuckles. “Kinda steals my thunder.”
“Hey, we don’t even know that guy. I flew out from California to see you, bro!”
Fabricio smiled again. “Yeah, I know. Thanks, Juan. It means a lot.”
The siblings milled around a bit, until Fabricio caught on and said, “Oh! Wow, I forgot you hadn’t met Rosemary yet. Rosemary, here they all are, the whole O’Conner clan: Sophia, Mary, Juan, Henry and Patrick. Ma and Dad you’ve met.” Sheepishly, he glanced up at her through shy eyelashes. “Still wanna marry me, after meeting this crazy crowd?”
Rosemary laughed loud, then swooped down and enveloped him in a hug. Her lips were warm against his cheek as she pulled him close. “More than ever,” she said.
The restaurant that night was jovial. Everyone from both families came, so it served as a sort of engagement dinner—slash—graduation celebration. People happily chatted about wedding plans, graduate school, and family connections, in English and in Spanish. Rosemary held Fabricio’s hand the whole time, even during dinner. His face was lit from within, shining with light and bright with devotion. When he leaned over to kiss her after dessert, his lips tasted like crème caramel. Although she had plenty of champagne, Rosemary knew it wasn’t the alcohol making her dizzy. She was drunk on emotion, feeling the love radiating toward her from all around. And in the midst of it all: Fabricio, her anchor, her emperor, her love.
It was the next day, when she was packing up her apartment in preparation for the big move, that the Tarot put it all together for her. While stacking her bookshelf in boxes, Rosemary came across the embroidered bag Parsley had given her. In the whirlwind of preparations for Fabricio’s graduation, not to mention their super-short-engagement and upcoming wedding, she’d almost forgotten it. The bag was nearly empty now. Only one card remained inside.
She drew it and came face to face with The World. A heavyset woman, ringed with flowers and stars, wearing a beatific smile, danced alone on the sparkling planet. A wild beast was in each corner, like protective spirits. Rosemary knew them right away: they were her family. Fabricio was the proud lion; Thyme, the playful dolphin; Parsley and Mom combined into the steady, reliable bull; and Sage was the sharp-eyed raven. Together, they encircled her, kept her safe and surrounded by love.
Smiling, Rosemary tucked the card away on top of the Tarot deck, before binding it all with a rubber band. Her fool’s journey might be finished, but she knew more adventure waited just around the corner. With or without the cards to guide her, Rosemary was off into the wide and wonderful world.