Chapter Twenty

It was 12:00, and though Ryan Atwood wanted to be far away from this house, this gated community, the city as soon as he could, he also could not deny the fact that he was hungry and on his way to freezing to death. Winters in Northern California were completely different than the winters he had known in Long Beach, but despite the wind, rain, fog, and chill in the air, he preferred the frigid conditions outside over the warm ones in the house he was working on. Stuffing his hands in the pockets of his jeans, he shuffled along the backyard, his hair dripping wet, his body chilled to the bone, goosebumps covering even the unexposed parts of his body, his teeth chattering noisily in his closed mouth.

The work that day was not overly exerting, just time consuming, messy, tedious, and too loud for Ryan. He was wallpapering that day, something he normally avoided, but his boss had offered time and half if he did the job, not willing to trust the detailed, expensive, special designed wall décor in the hands of any of his laborers. Being a husband and father of three, there was no way he could turn an offer like that down. However, he hoped that Marissa never asked him to wallpaper their house, because he would be forced, for the first time, to deny her something, especially if it had stripes or polka dots. Stripes and polka dots, at this point in the day, were the bane of his existence. However, he could have dealt with these issues, smiled through them even, but it was impossible for him to accept that he had to work with someone else. Ryan Atwood was training a rookie.

It was only Monday, and already he could tell it was going to take forever for Friday afternoon to roll around. For the next several weeks, he was the mentor and teacher for a young punk right out of high school. The kid had no ambition and really did not want to work in construction, but his dad was friends with Ryan's boss, and, because the kid refused to go to college, he had given him a job. Lucky Ryan, because he was the best at what he did, was the chosen instructor. Sometimes it really does such to be good at your job, Ryan thought to himself. Today had been their first day working together, and, before the kid even opened his mouth, Ryan knew it was going to be a strained relationship. He had shown up late, driving in with the obscene rap music in his sports car blaring, talking on his cell phone the entire time. Refusing to work until his call was finished, he had merely lounged around in the home's living room, talking, eventually joining Ryan only to not listen to what he told him and mock everything he said. The worst offense, though, was that the kid would not shut up.

He talked incessantly, bragging, complaining, or just wasting his breath to hear the sound of his own voice. As soon as he was off the phone, he started asking Ryan questions about himself, prying for information. Always curt and brief with people he did not know or like, Ryan had merely answered that he was married, had two sons, and a daughter, but as soon as his brass apprentice, Drew, who, although his name was Andrew would not tolerate anyone calling him anything but his nickname, heard the mention of a woman, he was off on a tangent, not only annoying Ryan but also angering him. Whistling loudly, he not only shared too many details about his own sex life but attempted to pry into Ryan's. 'What's she look like,' 'how much sex do you get,' 'does she have a sister,' were all questions he posed to Ryan. Finally, loosing his temper, Ryan had glared at him, caustically warned him to let it go and never speak about his wife again, and went back to work, his outburst only managing to curb Drew's babbling for a few minutes. Although he hadn't brought Marissa up again, he still would not shut up. It didn't help matters for the younger man either that things at home, things between Ryan and Marissa had been stressed since Friday afternoon, and Ryan was utterly puzzled as to why.

Just like most couples, they had their occasional squabbles, bickering here and there mainly over minor, stupid issues such as his leaving the cap off of the toothpaste so that she could accidentally put her clean clothes down on it when she went to take a shower or her inability to say no when it came to helping someone, always stretching herself too far and becoming exhausted, but they handled their disagreements quickly, always before they went to bed. Marissa did not like going to sleep when things were not good between them, and she knew exactly how to distract him from his irritation, completely eradicating any animosity he might feel for her. All she had to do was look at him a certain way, run her delicate fingers up and down the side of his torso, or softly brush her petal smooth lips against the back of his neck, and he was putty in her hands. It was a two way street though; it was easy for him to turn one her bad moods into a pleasant evening for the both of them, too. He would offer to pick up dinner on his way home so she wouldn't have to cook, give her tired, sore feet a massage after the kids went to bed, or let his hands slide down her body as he wrapped his arms around her from behind in a tight, close embrace. Well, these tactics worked most of the time.

It had all started Friday morning. They had both been at work, the boys had been in school, and Loren, as always when Marissa was at work, was in the hospital day care. Marissa had gotten an urgent page saying that Loren was sick. Immediately, as all mothers do, she became worried, her mind instantly assuming the worst possible scenarios. She had called Ryan to meet her at the hospital, her warnings of their daughter's dire health sparking him into immediate action. He had literally dropped what he was working on, ran to his truck, and drove 100 mph to the hospital. Half way there though, Marissa called him back, their conversation brief and curt as her frustration with the child care providers ruined her good mood. The staff in the day care had made Loren's illness seem much worse than it really was. She merely had a cold, and they were worried about her making the other children sick.

Because of this, Marissa had to switch shifts with someone, taking Loren home and watching her until Ryan got home. Then she cooked dinner, spent some time with the boys, and went back to work the third shift that night. Not only did she have to stay with the kids the next day without any sleep because Ryan had a job that Saturday, but she had to go in, again, and work another shift Saturday night. By the time Sunday rolled around, she was exhausted. He had been able to watch the kids so she could sleep in the morning, but it was back to the hospital for her Sunday afternoon shift.

On top of getting little sleep, Loren had been tired and cranky all weekend long, demanding their attention constantly. Thankfully, her medication had started to kick in so she could return to the hospital that morning with Marissa who was back on her normal shift schedule. Loren had spent every night in their room that weekend, and because the boys saw that, they thought they should be able to sleep in there as well, so even when he and Marissa got Loren down for a few hours, the boys would shift and turn the whole night interrupting their sleep. At least they hadn't interrupted anything but sleep, because there was no way anything romantic was going to happen between Ryan and Marissa. She had never been as cool to him as she had been the past weekend in their entire relationship. She would barely look at him, let alone meet his eye, but he suspected that it was more than anger that had made her turn away from him. Something else was wrong, something that was triggered when Loren got sick, but he couldn't figure it out.

Before he knew it, his lunch break was over, work was beckoning, Drew was looking for him, and he still hadn't eaten a bite of his lunch. Suddenly realizing he had no appetite, he merely put it away, his worry over his relationship with his wife ruining the idea of lunch for him. The worst part was he still had no idea how to fix whatever he had unintentionally broken. Walking into the warm house again, his worries still weighing his mind and heart down, he left the cold with at least one idea that would improve his afternoon.

"Hey Drew," he called out, unsure of where the kid had retired to in the house to eat the gourmet lunch he had ordered in, "I had an idea." When he heard him call out, showing that he was listening, Ryan continued. "So, I was thinking that you could bring in some of your CD's and we could listen to those while we work….REALLY LOUD. Maybe you can instill an appreciation for rap music in me despite my initial protests."

Excited about the idea, Drew immediately ran to his car, not even bothering to complain about the weather first, sans umbrella. At least I won't have to listen to him talk this way, Ryan commented to himself. Terrible music he could block out; the incessant drone of an idiot, he couldn't. Two minutes later, Drew returned, loaded down with several CD cases, and before Ryan knew it he was knee deep in wallpaper and adhesive again, working side by side with a completely silent Drew who just bobbed his head to the beat of the music, leaving Ryan to his thoughts, thoughts that were on one thing and one thing only: his wife.

"Marissa, boys….Loren,….where are you guys," Ryan called out as he walked through the front door early Monday evening. He was tired, slightly grumpy, and in a bad need to forget the rest of the world by spending as much time as possible with his wife and kids. "I'm home," he continued, still with no answer. After taking off his shoes and hanging up his wet coat to dry, he made his way through the house listening for their voices until he heard them upstairs in Loren's room. With a smile on his face, he crept slowly up the risers, wanting to catch them unsuspecting so he could hang back, watch them silently, and just observe them, relish being near them and seeing them interact with each other.

Peering around the frame of the open door, his wish was granted. Marissa was sitting in the rocker, folding laundry while Garrett laid on his stomach working on his homework. Cooper was supposed to be doing the same, but, always easily distracted, he was sitting up, crossed legged, playing with a gurgling Loren who was laying on her back looking up at her big brother and watching his every teasing movement as he toyed a rattle in front of her face, letting it get close enough for her little, chubby hands to grasp briefly before pulling it back. Every time he would pull the toy away, she would gurgle even more. His perfect moment was interrupted though when Marissa looked up and saw him standing there.

Startled, she exclaimed, "Ryan, what are you doing just standing there?" He didn't answer, just merely looked up at her, his eyes catching hers in a powerful glance as he tried to show her with just one look how sorry he was and how much he missed their closeness. Unfortunately, she turned away from him almost immediately. Dismissively, she spoke again. "Just put the groceries I asked you to pick up on the table, please, and I'll put them away. Thanks."

Oh shit," Ryan groaned to himself, the groceries! This is a great way to get back on your wife's good side, forgetting to pick up the few things from the store that she reminded you to get about ten times this morning.

When he didn't say anything or move, Marissa looked up. What she found was a conflicted, apologetic face. "Let me guess," she bit out sarcastically, her tone betraying just how annoyed she was, "you forgot?"

"Well….um…..yeah," he answered timidly, his eyes straying across the room as they were unable to look at her. "I'm so sorry, Marissa, but it wasn't on purpose. I had every intention of going to the store for you, but then today was just a day from hell…."

"Language, please," she interrupted him, motioning to the boys who were watching the beginnings of a disagreement with trepidation on their faces, Loren's gurgling stopping immediately as if she could sense the shift of moods in the room. Ryan and Marissa had always been careful never to show any sign of discord in front of the children, knowing they were sensitive to it because of everything that had happened with Gerry, so the sudden hostility in their voices startled the two boys, making them nervous.

"Sorry," Ryan apologized for his swearing, "it's just it's been one of those days. What, between the weather and having to train this young kid who not only is disrespectful but rude, ignorant, and spoiled, and he would not stop talking, and you know how I can't handle that, especially when I'm trying to work."

"And you think my day was a walk in the park," Marissa countered, her anger flashing in her eyes as she stood up and moved out of the room. "Boys, keep an eye on Loren; I'll be right back. I need to go switch the laundry."

"I know your day wasn't easy," Ryan agreed with her, following her down the stairs. Neither of them noticed Garrett picking up Loren and motioning for Cooper to follow him as they chased after their parents so they could listen to their fight. "You haven't had a day to relax in quite a while, so that was why I had planned to come home tonight and pamper you. Fix dinner, make you take a long, quiet bubble bath, put the kids to bed, let you eat your favorite ice cream in bed and not even ask for a single bite, a night that was all about you, but then I had to go and ruin that by forgetting the groceries."

Sighing, Marissa turned around to face him. "Well, I couldn't have done that anyway. There's too much to do. I need to wash all the bedding, because Loren is feeling better and I don't want the germs from her cold still in the house. Plus, I was planning on starting my spring cleaning tomorrow, so I wanted to get a jump start on that."

"Marissa," Ryan contradicted, "I can wash the bedding. I do know how to run the washing machine, and, as for spring cleaning, it's February. Do you really think that's necessary?" As soon as he questioned her, he knew it was the wrong thing to say. Her eyes flashed at him dangerously for a second before she turned her back on him and continued her way into the kitchen. "How about I just go back out and go to the store now, pick up those things you wanted. I can be back before your next load of laundry is done, and I'll take over and you can relax," he said in a soft, pleading tone as he followed her into the kitchen. "I mean, it's not that bad out there. I'll be fine."

Just as Marissa went to say something, Cooper interrupted her. "Don't go," he said in a small voice, the fear in it evident. Though he was not loud, he broke into the haze of conflict between Ryan and Marissa, making Ryan look at him confused and Marissa soften her face.

"What….I mean, why don't you want me to go," Ryan asked the younger boy, the bewilderment he was feeling clearly written across his brow. "I'll be right back, and, if it's okay with your Mom," he continued as he turned towards his wife, "you can go with me."

"Neither of you are going anywhere," Marissa corrected him. The change of her mood did not go unnoticed by Ryan. "It's only supposed to get worse out there. In fact, flash floods are called for. There's no way anyone I love is going out there into that mess tonight. End of discussion." Turning back to the cupboards, she spoke out thoughtfully. "We'll just have to figure out something else for dinner."

"How about I go upstairs and put all that laundry away that you folded," Ryan offered, taking Loren out of Garrett's arms and kissing his daughter before ruffling the boy's hair affectionately, smiling at him as he passed by and walked towards Marissa, "while you scrounge up something for all of us to eat. The boys can bring their homework down here and get it out of the way, and then, after we eat, we'll all do something together, you choice, honey."

Marissa still did not turn around to look at him, but he could tell that she was not as angry as she had been when he had gotten home. Her body wasn't as tense, and she shook her head quickly to agree with his idea. "That sounds nice," she answered him quietly.

"And maybe this way, Cooper can actually get some work done," Ryan teased, laughing at the guilty expression on the younger boy's face. "Okay, so we'll be back in a little while," he continued, surprising Marissa when he brushed his lips across her cheek before walking out of the room making funny faces at Loren as he moved towards the stairs.

"Wait," cried out Garrett suddenly, startling everyone. Ryan spun around instantly as did Marissa, and Cooper looked at him inquisitively, sitting down on a kitchen stool and placing his adorable, little face in his hands to watch the show enfold out in front of him. "I….um….need to talk to you about something," Garrett confessed.

"What about honey," Marissa asked concerned. "Is something wrong?"

Before replying, he shook his head profusely from side to side. "No, at least, I don't think so."

"Then tell us what it is, buddy," Ryan encouraged with a small smile on his face to comfort the nervous child in front of him.

"Well, you see," he began tentatively, looking anywhere in the room except for his parents' faces as he spoke rapidly, "our teacher told us today that the old baseball coach quit, so before we can start practicing we'll need a new one, and no one has volunteered for the job yet, so I told them that I thought my Dad might do it."

"Oh, honey," Marissa cried out softly with tears in her eyes, immediately going to her son's side and taking him in her arms, kissing the top of his head, "I'm so sorry, but I really don't think your father would be your coach even if he did live here. That's just….not Gerry."

"No, Mom," Garrett laughingly dismissed his mother's concerns, "not Gerry, Dad….Ryan. I thought Ryan would be our coach."

At the sound of the boy in front of him referring to him as Dad, Ryan could feel his throat start to constrict, an altogether foreign experience, but he cleared his throat quickly before moving towards Garrett in one swift motioning, pulling him into a tight embrace with his free arm. "I'd love to be your coach," he responded ecstatically. "Both of your coaches," he added, motioning for Cooper to come and join them, giving him a quick, tight hug as well before turning to Marissa.

She, unlike him, had been unable to hold back her emotions. He could see the tears brimming in her eyes, her lips trembling, her whole body starting to shudder, and he knew, just by looking at her, that her response was to something bigger than the fact that her oldest son had finally referred to him as his Dad, that whatever she was about to finally let go of had been what was bothering her for the past few days. Quickly, he handed Loren back to Garrett, taking Marissa protectively into his side, cradling her body to his.

"Can you watch your sister for a minute," he asked the two boys. Without even waiting for a response, he moved towards the stairs, looking over his shoulder to check on the kids one last time before he and Marissa disappeared. It was as if they hadn't even noticed their Mom's behavior for they were both too excited, rambling about how great it was going to be to have their dad as their baseball coach. As he made his way up the stairs, with his wife tucked securely into his proactive body, he felt her release her pent up emotions in a powerful sob, grasping hold of his body as tightly as she could. Finally, he sighed to himself, relief flooding him immediately. Finally, she's going to let me in.

"Now," Ryan teased Marissa faintly, kissing her brow tenderly before pulling her even closer to his body as they reclined in the chaise lounge in their bedroom, Marissa on his lap, "will you please tell me what has been bothering you. I know that I can't handle this wall between us any longer; it's driving me crazy, and I'm pretty sure you feel the same way."

"I do," Marissa admitted, a blush rising to her cheeks. "And I was doing a pretty good job of ignoring my stupid insecurities and neuroses, but then Loren got sick and I just cracked. I'm so sorry. I should have just talked to you months ago when this all started instead of letting it build into this giant, messy, mainly one sided quarrel."

"Wait," Ryan questioned, his surprise apparent in his voice. "What do you mean months ago?"

Taking a deep breath, Marissa turned around to sit crossed legged in his lap, meeting his gaze. Sliding her small, delicate hands into his larger, work worn ones, she kissed them softly before continuing. "Okay, you're probably going to get upset when I tell you this, but I won't be able to continue if you become mad at me. I'll probably just start crying and turn into a blubbering mess, and nothing will be accomplished. So, for me and so that we can go to bed tonight happy, like we're always supposed to, will you just let me say everything I have to say before you react?"

"I can't promise you anything," Ryan answered her truthfully, the fear of what she was about to tell him settling in his conflicted eyes. Normally, his entire body would tense up in stressful situations, but the mere presence of Marissa in his arms helped keep him somewhat calm. "But I'll do my best," he promised her when she went to protest. Picking their entwined hands up, he kissed hers just as she had done to him moments before, wanting to give her a sense of safety and comfort.

"My Mom came to visit me," Marissa began, her eyes never wavering from Ryan's, "back in September. She actually had the audacity to pick the locks and let herself in, scaring me half to death because I thought someone was robbing us."

Unable to help himself, Ryan asked, "why does your Mom know how to pick a lock?"

"I didn't ask," Marissa laughed with him, "and to be honest, I didn't really want to know. She's a little underhanded to say the least."

"You don't say," Ryan teased her, their light, playful banter calming Marissa even more. Touching his face tenderly before she continued, she knew they would be fine. "Anyway, we ended up getting in a fight, go figure," she shrugged her shoulders, a tiny, wry smile making its way onto the corners of her lips, making Ryan smile back at her. "And in the middle of the fight, she brought up the fact that I knew nothing about your family, about your past. At first, it didn't bother me, but the more I thought about, it started eating me alive. I know it doesn't change who you are now," she explained rapidly, wanting to reassure him, "but that still doesn't stop me from being curious. I mean, you know almost everything about me, from what my favorite toy was when I was a little girl to how old I was when I lost my virginity, but you've always been really guarded when it comes to your past." Taking a breath, she continued before Ryan could get a word in edgewise. "And that's okay, I mean, I don't have to know everything about your past; we're allowed to have a few secrets….I guess, but when Loren got sick, I realized that I don't know your medical history, your family's medical history, and what if there is some heredity disease that our children could have or could be carriers for. As a parent, I need to know these things, so, and I'm sorry for doing this to you, but you're going to have to tell me at least a little bit about your family." When he didn't say anything, just dropped her hands and looked down at his lap, she spoke up again. "Ryan, please, say something….anything. I didn't mean to hurt you; I'd never hurt you. I love you."

"I love you, too," he finally responded, his whisper so quiet it was hard to hear, "but I can't tell you about my family, because….I don't have one." Looking back up at her, he noticed the utter confusion taking over her countenance and knew he would have to explain himself even more. "When I was born, my Mom abandoned me on the steps of a church. I don't know anything about her. When I was older, my social worker gave me the option to look at the file they had on me, which had my birth record in it, but I didn't want to. If she didn't care enough about me to even make sure I lived through the night, then I didn't care enough to find out who she was."

Pushing back the tears that were already threatening to fall, Marissa moved closer to Ryan, needing to feel him near her and hoping her closeness would offer him a sense of protection and love. "So, were you adopted?"

"Nope. I had several different sets of foster parents, but I never stayed someplace longer than six months. I mainly grew up in a group home, bidding my time until the state would let me go off on my own. As soon as they did, I got a job, worked my way up, taught myself, got better, and, at the point where I met you, I had only let Q in; that's all." Noticing that Marissa was barely holding it together emotionally, he laughed, cupping her face tenderly before leaning his forehead on hers, sighing, and taking a deep breath. "That's why I never wanted to tell you this before. I knew it would upset you."

"You're damn right it upsets me! To think of someone treating you like that….you who has the biggest heart I've ever seen in my life…."

"I think you win that award," Ryan interrupted her making her roll her eyes. "But I don't want to spend the night like this, me upset that you're upset. It doesn't matter any more. I'm happy. So what if I don't have a family."

"That's not true," Marissa argued with him emphatically. "You do have a family, our family. You, me, Garrett, Cooper, Loren, we are a family….your family." Finally, she felt him relax in her arms, wrapping his around her. Taking his lips in a passionate embrace, they just sat there, savoring the nearness of the other for a few minutes, their kisses gentle, loving, full of commitment and promises. As they relished the feeling of finally being near each other, both physically and emotionally again, two shrill, impatient voices rang throughout the house startling them away from each other and eliciting matching chuckles from them both.

"Mom," Garrett cried out exasperated, "We're hungry! When are you going to make dinner?"

"Dad," Cooper complained, "Loren spit up all over my shirt and it's really gross! I need your help!"

"Hear that," Marissa asked as she turned back to her husband, "your family needs you."

"Our family," Ryan corrected her, making her giggle out of surprise when he stood up rapidly, picking her up in the process, and running out of the room with her still merrily laughing in his arms as they made their way, together, as one, down to their family.

"What did I tell you," Ryan playfully chastised the woman standing behind him. She hadn't said anything let alone made a noise yet, but the fact that his body was all of a sudden covered in goosebumps made him realize his wife had entered the room. "You're supposed to be relaxing while I finish the laundry."

"I know," Marissa cooed out seductive. Ryan knew that tone; it meant only good things. "And that's exactly what I plan on doing…..with you, here, now, and, later, upstairs."

Turning around he questioned, "What about the….." before his mind stopped working altogether. Marissa was standing there with a silk robe on, a robe he knew hid nothing but her supple, graceful body. Just by looking at how the smooth material hugged her perfect curves, outlining her firm breasts and teasingly cascading off of the hips that seemed to fit perfectly with his, it was obvious she was nude underneath the flimsy cover up, and the thought of her like that completely made it impossible for him to think about anything other than being with her.

"The kids," Marissa laughingly asked him, knowing exactly what he had been inquiring about and what she was doing to him, "they're fine, sound asleep and dead to the world. And you know," she added, slowly moving across the laundry room, her movements making the sash on her robe slip slightly, revealing a sliver her bare chest to his greedy, hungry eyes, "it has been a few days. I've missed my husband."

"Yeah…..um….me, too," Ryan agreed profusely, swallowing thickly and making Marissa smirk at him.

As soon as she was close enough for him to reach, he pulled her into his arms, one slipping around her waist and holding her close to him, dipping low enough to lightly brush against her round, firm derrière, the other gliding inside her robe to cup her aroused breast in his hand, and joined their mouths together, immediately slipping his tongue into her mouth in a fiery, erotic embrace. He could feel that her need to be with him matched his own, so without wasting further time, he picked her up carefully and set her down on the top of the washer.

"Here," Marissa asked him incredulously, "on the washing machine? Ryan's that a little cliché, don't you think?"

"So," he argued, wiggling his eyebrows at her, "it's new. It's probably one of the only places in this house we haven't, and, besides, it'll be adventurous."

"If we break it …," she started to argue only to stop talking as soon as his hands leisurely pulled the tie of her robe to let it fall to the side revealing her entire body to his admiring gaze. Wrapping his hands around her bare waist, he pulled her to the edge of the machine before letting his hands fall between her legs. Gently, he pushed them apart, moving in so that she could wrap them around his body, before suddenly, with no warning, he slipped his left hand around her neck, drawing her mouth to his own and taking it over and over again in a voracious, insistent kiss, and his right hand between her legs, letting two of his fingers tease and taunt her before entering her warm, wanting body, her hips reacting to his touch immediately.

Lost in her taste, her touch, her scent, it took Ryan a few moments to realize that she was quickly shedding him of his clothes, pushing down his pajama pants and ripping his wife beater off of him so that their lips would not have to part. Letting go of her neck, he used his free hand to finish taking off the robe that was getting in their way before taking her right breast in his hand, massaging and kneading it hungrily while his lips slid down her body until he was able to take her left breast in his mouth, sucking and nipping at her hard, aroused nipple. He continued toying with her enchanting body as if it were his playground, assaulting her senses and encouraging her desire to mind blowing proportions, until he felt her reach down and grasp him roughly in her hands. Knowing that she was close to orgasm, he finally entered her, filled her, satisfied her just as she had wanted him to, moaning out in pleasure as he felt her warmth surround him completely. Their bodies moved together, rising and falling in unison with each other and the washer, for what seemed like an eternity; their tongues joined as one, savoring the other and muffling their cries of pleasure, danced for what seemed like only a second, before Ryan found Marissa slumped against his chest, sweaty, out of breath, and entirely satiated.

After a few moments of just playing with the others body, kissing sweetly, touching erotically, she was finally able to control her breathing enough to talk. "That was…..um…..," Marissa began only to pause to regain her breath by gulping the air greedily before continuing. "Suddenly I am such a fan of the cliché! We should do this every time its laundry night."

"You'll have no arguments from me, Mrs. Atwood," Ryan teased as he lifted her off of the washer and made his way out of the room towards the stairs, the laundry, the dishes, the numerous other chores they were supposed to do completely forgotten. Cradling her in his arms, he made his way to their bedroom, lightly taking her swollen lips over and over again in tender kisses. That night was just about them; the rest of the world disappeared to allow the two lovers a frozen moment in time where nothing and no one could touch them. Together, then, there, and forever, they were perfect.

Ryan was in bed, in the most comfortable position he could ever imagine, his naked wife sleeping on top of him, her body molded to his, her arms holding him to her tightly, her sweet, innocent breath tickling his chest, but still he could not sleep. Turning he looked at the clock and saw that it was almost four in the morning. There was no way he could go to work tomorrow, so he was going to have to do something he never did: call off. It will be nice though, he thought to himself. After the boys get on the bus, we can lounge in bed together all day, only occasionally getting up to take care of Loren. A whole morning and afternoon in bed with my wife…. His thoughts were interrupted as he felt her stir in her sleep.

Rubbing her eyes tiredly, she looked up at him. "Baby, what are you doing awake?"

"It's nothing," he reassured her, sitting up enough to kiss her neck before settling back down into bed. "Go back to sleep. I'm just thinking."

"Oh, okay," she agreed in her heavy-eyed confusion, sighing out of contentment and burying her face back into his chest, kissing it softly. "Love you," she breathed out before she fell back to sleep.

"I love you, too," Ryan returned even though she couldn't hear him.

Going back to his thoughts, he went over the day, every little thing that had happened. For some reason he felt a sense of déjà vu. He could have sworn he had had similar feelings towards a week before in his life, dreading it entirely and lamenting the fact that it was only Monday, but for some reason, he couldn't remember when it was, and that, not being able to recall the memory, was making it so he could not sleep.

Sighing, knowing that in less than two hours they would have to get up and face the day, get the boys ready for school, and feed Loren, he still could not relax enough to fall asleep. Looking down at his wife, he couldn't help but notice all the good, all the beautiful, all the magical qualities in her. Tracing her face with his index finger, he realized just how effortlessly she had taken over his world, becoming the most important thing in it. Utterly perfect, he whispered to only the silence of the room. She literally has no imperfections, physically or in her character. Suddenly, he knew; he knew what the day before had reminded him of, and within seconds his mind took him back to the most crucial day of his life.

He could remember his absolute sense of dread for the weeks to come, how hot it was even in the air conditioned house, how he had eaten his lunch quickly outside and spent the rest of his break resting against a tree, that was until he was interrupted by sheer luck striking his life. She's gorgeous….practically flawless…. most beautiful eyes he'd ever seen...peaceful to be with, all the initial, private thoughts he had of his wife ran through his mind, and he knew exactly what the previous day had reminded him of. In life it seemed as if what were going to be the worst possible days ever always turned into the best ones of a person's life. On that hot, humid day a year and a half before, he had met the love of his life, and on the cold, miserable, rainy day the day before, he had finally gotten a family, the one thing he had wanted his whole life.

Speaking out loud, his voice full of certainty, Ryan amended the concern he had voiced all those months ago on the night he had met his wife, "it's going to be a long, wonderful life!"

A/N: Thank you to everyone who read and enjoyed this story. It has definitely been a labor of LOVE of mine. Not only has this story been meaningful for me to write, but I've enjoyed it tremendously. I hope this last chapter is everything you hoped for and is a fitting conclusion to this tale for you. Enjoy!
Charlynn