Here it is, the conclusion to the story! Seth finally makes Jessica realize how beautiful she is - through a game of chess, a dance to a heavenly song, and three long-awaited little words.
This chapter was inspired by both Belinda Carlisle's wonderful song and by Steeleafan's story "Cabin and Cupid." And yes, I can totally picture Jessica dancing around the kitchen to "Heaven Is A Place On Earth"!
"You know what's funny?"
"You mean other than the fact that we're sitting here playing chess, still dressed for a midlife prom?"
Jessica giggled, pushing a pawn to king's four. "Yes, other than that. But in all fairness, we don't have much of a choice. I wouldn't feel right wearing my pajamas while you're still dressed up, and it wouldn't make very much sense for you to go all the way home, change clothes, and then come all the way back here, now would it?"
"I guess not. But we still look like a couple of swells," Seth commented, shifting one of his own pawns forward. "Anyway, what's so funny?"
"I was just thinking how something can say everything about someone. What you said to me earlier about the song 'Lady In Red' being written for me got that wheel turning."
"I meant it, Jess, I really did."
"And I appreciate it so much." Jessica's eyes were sparkling sapphire again. "But honestly, if there's any one song that was written for me, I'd have to say it's the one playing now."
Seth paused to listen. Jessica had turned the radio on to provide a little background music and kept it tuned to WWAL, Cabot Cove's soft rock station, which was now sending an old rock favorite out over the airwaves. He roared with laughter when he recognized the song. "'Private Eyes'? Well, for someone who solves mysteries on a daily basis, I'd say it fits the bill!"
Jessica grinned as Hall & Oates kept jamming. "It certainly describes my outlook on both my novels and my, quote-unquote, 'side business,' as some have come to call it." She moved one of her knights out and captured his pawn. "What about you? If you could choose any song to describe yourself, what would it be?"
Seth didn't have to think twice. "'Sixteen Tons.' Another day older and deeper in debt." He chuckled and retaliated against Jessica's move by unleashing a bishop to take her pawn. "I always did like Tennessee Ernie Ford."
"Not bad. I would've chosen 'Heigh Ho' from Snow White."
"Jessica Beatrice!" Seth exclaimed despite the smile splitting his face. "You are not comparing me to one of the Seven Dwarfs!"
"On the contrary, Seth. I'm comparing you to two!"
"Let me guess: Doc, for obvious reasons."
"And Grumpy, also for obvious reasons!"
"Better Grumpy than Dopey, Jess." He watched as she made her next move, hatching a plan to capture her queen and pay her back for the song comment. "By the way, you haven't asked me which song I'd pick to describe you."
Jessica shot him a wry grin and narrowed her eyes playfully. "I'll bite, but you'd better make it good. Which song would you use to describe me?"
Seth moved another piece forward. "'American Made' by the Oak Ridge Boys. It's all about how, even in this age of foreign-made everything, there's still an all-American girl who's pure USA from her 'silky long hair' to her, uh..." He grinned, watching her contemplate her next move. Time to bring out the big gun. "'Sexy long legs.'"
He would not have been surprised if Jessica's eyes popped right out of her head. Her reaction was priceless; the only thing that would have made it better was a spit take. "Seth!"
"What?" he asked innocently, keeping a blithe expression on his face while his insides quaked with suppressed mirth.
"I can't believe you just said that!"
"The last time I checked, calling somebody sexy wasn't a crime," Seth said dryly. "You gonna make your move or what?"
Jessica huffed and, as he had predicted, moved the wrong piece in distraction, leaving him free to take her queen. "Gotcha," he said, grinning broadly.
"You play dirty."
"And you still look like somebody goosed you. What's going on, Jess? People have been calling you beautiful all night, wolf whistling right and left, and falling all over themselves trying to dance with you, and you haven't gotten anywhere near this flustered. Good grief, it's like you've never been called sexy before."
"That's just it. I haven't."
Seth dropped the knight piece he held back onto the board with a clatter. This was a night of surprises to be sure, but this latest revelation was a wallop to the gut. "Never?" She shook her head, her ruby earrings dancing. "Frank never called you sexy?"
Jessica blushed. "Well... he preferred the word luscious."
"I know. It's just... well, sexy seems more appropriate for a California girl, not a woman like me. I've heard people call me beautiful, just like tonight, but I don't see it myself."
"I wish you could."
"Seth, what is so beautiful – or, heaven forbid, sexy – about me?"
Seth stared at her for a good thirty seconds before he dared respond. "You want me to be honest?"
"Of course I do! Seth, you're my best friend. I can't think of one time when you haven't been honest with me."
Well, he wasn't being totally honest about his feelings for her, but darned if he was going to lie to her about the beauty she was blind to. "All right, the truth." He set down the chess piece he'd been absently fingering and linked his hands together. "You really want to know what's beautiful about you, Jess? Everything. Your hair, your skin, your smile, your wonderful big blue eyes. Even your voice is beautiful, and you have the most amazing laugh on God's green earth. And don't even get me started on that beautiful heart of yours. You are a beautiful woman inside and out, Jess; you just don't know it." He grinned mischievously. "And you do have sexy long legs."
Jessica laughed despite the flush coloring her face. "Oh, Lord! I don't know whether to laugh or cry." She collected herself and cleared her throat. "So... miracles do happen. My old friend the grouch has the soul of a poet."
Seth chuckled softly. "Yeah, I know. Who'd have thunk?"
"You're just soft."
"Only when I'm with you."
Jessica shook her head, still floored by what he had said. "You really do think I'm beautiful, don't you?"
"You see anyone else in this room? I sure as heck wasn't talking about Mr. Nobody."
"I don't know what to say. No one's described me in such glowing terms in a long time. You make me sound like an angel."
"Well, if the halo fits..."
"Oh, you!" Jessica gave his foot a gentle kick with her own. "Enough praise, or you'll reduce me to a puddle. Besides, I have a bet to win."
That was enough to rouse Seth's competitive spirit again. "Not if I can help it!" The chess game resumed in earnest, with pieces taken and moved until Seth finally managed to corner her king. "Checkmate!" he crowed triumphantly, clapping his hands together. "I just won ten bucks!"
"Ayuh. You did say double or nothing."
Jessica smiled and bowed her head graciously. "So I did. Congratulations, Seth, you won ten dollars."
"And bragging rights?"
"You will brag whether I grant you rights or not! Don't give me that song and dance!" she chortled.
The last notes of Billy Joel's "The Longest Time" faded and five seconds of dead air passed before Belinda Carlisle began belting out "Heaven Is A Place On Earth." Much to Seth's astonishment, Jessica actually started singing along with every word! "Jess, you like this song?"
"I love this song! Every time it comes on, I dance around the kitchen – making a fool of myself, no doubt, but it's just me in the house. Nobody sees me but the bird, and he doesn't care how silly I look."
Seth laughed. "Well, if you want to dance around and be silly, I won't judge. Matter of fact, how'd you like a partner?"
"Really. What can I say? I'm feeling silly tonight." He took her hand and pulled her up. "Come on, woman, let's dance!" They whirled out into the middle of the living room and danced to their hearts' content, not caring how goofy they looked.
"Ooh!" Jessica laughed aloud when Seth lifted her off her feet and spun her around; the doctor beamed with pride at making her laugh and felt his heart leap at the sound bursting from her throat. "Lord, you're so beautiful when you laugh," he said as they capered around the room.
"I feel beautiful," Jessica said, almost breathlessly. "You've made me feel more beautiful tonight than I've felt in years." She was quiet for a moment. "And you've also made me realize something."
"That only someone who truly loves me would treat me with respect rather than fall all over me, tease me while actually having the guts to call me sexy, and say all of those lovely things about me with such tenderness and conviction." Her hand squeezed his. "Seth... do you love me?"
Well, she could have knocked him down with a feather. This was it: the moment of truth and a heck of a conundrum. If he said no, he'd be lying to himself and possibly hurting her deeply and wrecking their lifelong friendship in the process. On the other hand, he could drive just as great a wedge into their friendship by saying yes... but there was still a glimmer of hope. And tired of fibbing his feelings, he chose the glimmer and prayed with all his might. "Yes. I do love you, Jess."
Jessica's breath caught and she closed her eyes, causing Seth's heart to sink until she finally spoke. "You don't know how relieved I am to hear that."
His eyebrows arced. "Relieved?"
"Yes." She opened her eyes, and much to his amazement and relief, those blue depths were glowing bright. "I've finally solved the greatest mystery of all: whether or not you and I are 'getting together,' as they say."
"Jess..." As much as his heart was rejoicing to hear such news, there was still a nagging question at the back of his mind. "What about Frank?"
"I loved him and I always will, but I know in my heart that he would want me to be happy, just as I know Ruth would want you to be happy."
"She would indeed," Seth murmured, thinking back on his darling wife, who had told him herself that all she wanted for him was his happiness. He was certainly happy now, but was Jessica? "Are you happy?"
"Tonight is the happiest I've been since Frank died. You've made me feel happy and beautiful again, Seth. How can I not love you for that?"
Seth's heart gave a bound. "You love me?"
Jessica's smile in that instant was absolutely dazzling, and her eyes were sparkling to shame every star in the heavens. "With all my heart."
Throwing caution to the four winds, Seth let rip a loud "Yeehaw," so great was his joy. He lifted Jessica up and swung her around before bringing his lips to hers. Their arms came around each other, the kiss deepened, and time seemed to stand still, save for the song that played on. A lovely evening, the joy of dancing, and this wonderful woman with the beautiful face and beautiful soul in his arms... Seth couldn't have asked for anything more. Heaven really was a place on Earth.