/living

# Novel: His engagement formula is called 'hooha'

• Story Highlights
• The novel "Lovesick" is about when love runs up against crime
• Andrew Altman wants to marry the girl he's in love with
• But the young suitor runs into a ring of geriatric gangsters
Alex Wellen
CNN

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from author Alex Wellen's new novel, "Lovesick." In this chapter, 29-year-old Andy Altman reveals to his 83-year-old best friend Sidney Brewster that he is ready to propose to Paige Day. Andy even has a pie chart to prove it. Gregory is Paige's father.

Nothing like mixing love and a battle with a crime ring of geriatric gangsters to cause some dizziness.

(CNN) -- According to my calculations, I'm ready to get married.

I've zeroed in on the relevant variables, constructed the proper algorithms, evaluated the empirical evidence, and crunched the numbers. I've checked and rechecked the math, reverse-engineered the process, and charted the results.

No one will appreciate this mathematical certainty as much as Sid.

Sid is a good friend. He's smart; he's helpful; he has a lifetime of experiences and all the time in the world to share them. I trust him.

Sid was the one who convinced me not to move in with Paige. (As if that would have even been an option with Gregory.) "Living together is a cop-out," he's prone to telling me. "When you live together, you're committed to working things out until they get tough. When you're married, you're committed to working things out when they get tough."

"I'm getting hitched," I say, trying to downplay the news.

"Congrats! Who's the lucky girl?"

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He knows exactly who she is. Sid couldn't be any more immersed in our lives. He watched Paige and me fall in love. Gregory is his best friend; he is mine. Sid and Cookie are Paige's god parents. "Brewster men make boys," Sid is always saying. Paige is the closest thing Sidney and Cookie Brewster have ever had to a daughter, and they spoil her rotten.

"I'm thinking I'll pop the question in the next couple of weeks. I'll need your help with the final arrangements," I tell him.

Sid's eyebrows poke out over his massive sunglasses. Only now does he realize that I'm serious.

"Final arrangements? This ain't a funeral, kid. It's great news, but what's the rush? It's only been a few months. You sure you're ready for marriage?"

Sid has asked me this question before, and this is the first time that I've had a suitable enough explanation.

"Because I've got proof," I say, slapping my pie chart on the table.

Sid's expression swiftly goes from playful to disturbed. Sid lifts his shades and holds the chart up to his nose to get a better look.

"I made this chart for you. Right about now I bet you're wondering why I didn't just do a simple list of pros and cons like a normal person --"

"Indulge me for a moment."

"I don't like the looks of this chart. I don't even understand it."

"Each slice signifies a different factor influencing my decision to propose, by percentage. Take this slice labeled 'Timing.' It occupies about 10 percent because it's more important to the engagement formula than, say, 'Necessity,' which occupies 5 per cent of the pie," I explain.

"What's this big slice labeled 'Points'?" he asks hesitantly.

On our third or fourth date, for some unknown reason, I started awarding Paige points for various feats. For example, she got points the day she bowled a turkey (a miraculous three strikes in a row); Paige got points that time she split aces and doubled down in blackjack; just last week she got points for slurping down a dozen slimy bluepoint oysters. After "I love you" no three words bring Paige more joy than "You get points" (although "You were right" and "I am sorry" are a close third and fourth).

For me, I explain to Sid, this is how love adds up.

Sid hates this system.

"Does she ever award you points?" he asks curiously.

"No, but she could. Paige likes points, really."

"Uh-huh," he says with skepticism. "Okey doke, so I think we're done with this little chart of yours."

"Just indulge me for two more minutes," I plead. I pull out a thick black Magic Marker. "Take these two slices," I say, using the marker to point to "Pressure" and "Posterity." "I'm not getting peer pressure to get married, and I'm not getting married for show. Then there's 'Sex.' "

"Hold your horses," he tells me, raising the stop signal.

"All I'm saying is monogamy doesn't scare me."

"And 'Guilt'?" he asks of the corresponding slice.

"None whatsoever. I'm not proposing because I feel like marriage is 'the right thing to do.' I'm not caving to Paige's demands. I want this. 'Necessity' isn't a factor, either. Paige isn't pregnant. I'm not proposing because I'm tired of the dating scene. I'm popping the question because I want to marry Paige. We're not getting married because it's convenient. 'Fear' doesn't come into play, either. I'm not worried about ending up alone. I'm ready, Sid. She's ready."

"You're brilliant, kid, but a moron when it comes to relationships."

"I don't understand . . ."

"Then let me put this in terms you will: you're trying to solve the unsolvable."

"Tell me one factor I've missed," I insist.

"Look at me, Andy."

I look at him.

"No formula, no pie chart, no miracle calculation is going to give you the answers. Take it from someone who thrives on math: there ain't going to be a solution at the bottom of the page that you can place in a neat little box. You want to marry Paige? I'm thrilled. You think she's ready? You're ready? I can respect that. But not this," he says, swatting the pie chart away like a gnat.

He slowly takes off his shades to look at me. The sunlight hurts his eyes like pins and needles. They begin to tear.

"So what does the father of the bride think about all this hooha?" he demands.

"Don't start."

"You need Gregory's blessing," Sid says. "That part is not up for negotiation."

"The guy doesn't think I'm competent enough to drop pills in a plastic bottle; you really think he's about to consider me worthy enough to marry the 'apple of his eye'?"

"And the alternative is what?"

"He brought this on himself by hiring me in the first place."

"Now you're talking nonsense." He chuckles. "You're punishing Gregory because he gave you the job that landed you the girl of your dreams? We both know Gregory had little to do with it. You had your mind made up when you came back to Crockett in the first place. You ask the father for his blessing because that's what us old geezers expect. Why do you ask for my opinion when you don't even want it?"

"Gregory doesn't make it easy," I mumble, gulping down my latte.

"You're no walk in the park yourself," he responds. "Level with me, kid: how are the two of you getting along?"

"Pretty good," I lie.

"I'm blind, but I'm not deaf. I hear the way you talk to each other."

"Just don't tell him I told you what I'm going to tell Paige."

"And the wedding? The grandchildren? You plan to enter them into a witness protection program?"

My stomach gurgles from anxiety. Everything's starting to unravel.

"I think Gregory hates me," I whisper.

"He doesn't hate you," Sid insists, softly. "Do you know Elie Wiesel?"

"I've seen her around the pharmacy."

"She is a he, and I highly doubt you've seen Elie Wiesel trolling the aisles of Day's Pharmacy. Wiesel is a famous writer and philosopher, a Holocaust survivor. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1980s. He's famous for saying a lot of very smart things, but one of my favorites is 'The opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference.' "

Sid studies me. "Just talk to Gregory," he says. "Gregory is a good, generous man -- more generous than you'll ever know. You need to have a relationship with him. It would make Paige happy and earn you -- whatever you call 'em -- 'points!' "

Staring blankly at the table, I run the back of the Magic Marker along a grain in the wood. My chest hurts.

"Do you love her?"

"You know I do."

He snatches the marker from my hand, pulls off the cap, and starts drawing across my stunning masterpiece. "Can you not do that?" I beg.

Sid draws a big, thick jittery "G" around the circumference of my chart. "From where I'm sitting, you missed the biggest factor of all: Gregory. He takes the cake . . . or rather, pie."