A/N: Alright, so this is the final chapter of this little ficlet. To replace it, I'll be starting a new story; how long it will be is yet to be determined. El will get to have a say in which tale I tell next, but you can also request either fun and fluff or drama and angst in your responses. I can't promise to listen, but I'll at least take into account what you say. For those of you who were stumped, the middle name Lee came from Ryan's favorite book. On his first date with Marissa, he revealed that the book To Kill a Mockingbird inspired him to become a lawyer. The author of that literary work is Harper Lee. Thanks to everyone who read this story and enjoyed it. Your comments were always appreciated! Enjoy! Charlynn
Standing in the doorway of their poolhouse, the building which had served as his wife's studio for the past fifteen years since they had their first child, Conner, Ryan couldn't believe how much he still loved her, how, with one glance at her still beautiful face and body, he was taken back to the fateful day they had met, back to the moment he had made her his wife, twenty years before to that very day. Never had he imagined that his life would be the way it was. Growing up in Chino with an unstable childhood, an even rockier adolescence, and then a difficult time as a young adult as he struggled to make something of himself with only his mom to support him, Ryan had never dreamed he would meet the woman of his dreams let alone marry her. But, after twenty years of marriage and three kids, they were still as in love as they ever had been.
Unbeknownst to Marissa, he had contacted Renetta the week before and asked her to call off so that Marissa would be alone that afternoon so he could set his plan in motion. Although they had agreed to just spend their anniversary in with the kids as they always did, there was no way Ryan was going to let their twentieth anniversary go by without surprising her somehow, and Julie and the kids had proven to be quite helpful in accomplishing his goal.
Wanting to surprise her, for she was not expecting him home for a few more hours, he carefully moved across the expanse of the room, holding in his laughter at her work habits. She had drawing pencils stuck behind both of her ears, another hanging from her mouth as she chewed on it, and a fourth in her hand as she rapidly moved it across the blueprint she was working on. Obviously taking advantage of her solo day at the office, she was still in her pajamas, and adorable baby-doll nightgown, and her feet were bare. The windows were all thrown open to allow the fresh, cool breeze off the ocean to relieve the stuffy August air, and the ceiling fan was on high to circulate it around the room. The moving currents also made the stubborn wisps of hair around Marissa's face tickle her warm, soft skin, but, too busy working, she would merely attempt to get rid of them by blowing the hair off of her face. All together, Ryan was not sure if he had ever seen a more beautiful sight before.
Sliding his arms around her waist, Ryan let his hands wander her still taunt and supple body while his lips left whispering, delicate kisses along her neck. "Hello Mrs. Atwood." He couldn't help but give out a deep chuckle as he heard her gasp from shock and surprise, her body, at first, stiffening but then relaxing immediately into his arms as soon as she realized who was holding her. "Happy Anniversary."
"Hm, it just got a whole lot better." Standing up, she moved into his body and kissed him softly before pulling back. "But what are you doing here? Don't you have to work today?"
Nuzzling her neck, he replied, "work's no fun, and I knew that you were home alone this afternoon, so I figured I'd treat myself to a little pre-party celebration."
"We're going to have to be quick," Marissa instructed him, attempting to pull him out of the poolhouse and towards the kitchen doors that would lead them into the house and then to their bedroom, "because Carys will be home from school in about an hour, and the boys won't be too far behind her, because football practice is a short session today." No matter what she'd do though, Ryan would not move. Instead, he kept bringing her back into his arms and steadily moving them towards the far wall of the studio.
"Where is your adventurous spirit? You know," Ryan persisted, attempting to run his hands under her pajamas only to have Marissa playfully dodge his advances, "it could be fun, staying out here, running the risk of getting caught, add a little something extra to our sex life and make it even better."
"First of all," Marissa argued, a look of mock annoyance on her lovely face as she pretended to be insulted, "I didn't realize our sex life needed any improvement. From what you were saying last night, I'd say that we're pretty much perfect together."
"We are perfect together," Ryan agreed sweetly, dropping a light kiss on her nose and smiling at her before she continued talking.
"And secondly," Marissa added, "running the risk of getting caught making love by our six year old daughter does not sound like an adventure to me. It sounds like a nightmare. Now," she coaxed, quirking her eyebrow at him and sliding one of the loose straps of her nightgown down her shoulder, "if you'd settle for our bedroom, I might just give you one of your presents early."
Turning around and giggling, she went to run towards the house, but Ryan's outstretched arm stopped her. Pulling her body back against his, he, that time, succeeded in slipping one of his hands under her pajamas, letting his fingers idly dance their way up her abdomen to her full and free breasts. "What if I were to tell you that Carys was getting picked up from school today by your Mom, that they were going shopping until the boys got out of football practice, and then all four of them were going out to dinner. The best part, though, is that all three kids are spending the night at your Mother's, which means you and I get a whole evening to ourselves to do whatever we want….wherever we want."
"I thought we were going to have a small party at home with the kids," Marissa pouted. "I didn't get to kiss them goodnight…."
"Which I'm sure the boys are quite happy about."
"That's not funny, Ryan. I don't care how old they are, they're still my little babies, and I'm going to give them a kiss goodnight for as long as I can. And what about Cabot's allergy medicine," she pointed out, getting upset. It took everything in Ryan to keep from laughing at her worrying antics. "You know he never remembers to pack it when he goes away. Maybe I should just…." She went to go back into the main house, but he kept a firm grasp upon her body making sure she stayed with him.
"The kids packed everything they will need; I made sure of it. And, if not," he conceded when she went to protest, "your Mom will call. We're not going to fall off the face of the earth; we're just going to properly celebrate our twentieth anniversary which means you and me getting some alone time together, then dinner out at your favorite restaurant, and then more alone time later tonight when we have the whole house to ourselves as we exchange gifts. After all," he pointed out cheekily, "your Mom raised you. I'm sure she can handle her three grandchildren for one night."
Slowly starting to give in, Marissa acknowledged, "we haven't had a night to ourselves in a long time."
"Years," Ryan added.
"And it would be nice just to be alone, you and me, not having to worry about making dinner, helping with homework, or making sure everyone gets to bed at a decent hour."
"Exactly, he agreed with her, nodding his head vehemently. "So," he added, tilting her face back so that his lips could meet hers, "why are you being so difficult?" When she didn't say anything, he deepened their kiss, letting his tongue slip into her mouth to meet and dance with hers, savoring the feeling of having his wife in his arms, enjoying their close embrace, and wishing for an even more passionate expression of their love.
Suddenly and catching Ryan off guard, Marissa turned around in his arms and wrapped her own around his neck, drawing him deeper into their kiss. Knowing that was her way of agreeing to a poolhouse tryst, he quickly picked her up and pushed her against the wall, shedding her body of the alluring nightgown that was obscuring his eyes from the view he craved and his hands from the body he was addicted to. It was going to be a wonderful anniversary, and Marissa was still absolutely clueless as to what he was up to.
Waiting at the end of the stairs for Marissa to finish getting ready for dinner that night, Ryan couldn't help but think about how wonderful their life was. His eyes swept up the stairs admiring the numerous photographs Marissa had arranged to tell the story of their lives as a person ascended the stairs. It started with snapshots of their trip from Paris, their first photos together as a couple. Then there were pictures of their first Christmas and New Years Eve together as a couple, shots of them on the night he proposed, photos from their wedding day and honeymoon in Rio, various shots from the many trips they took the first five years of their marriage, and pictures of the two of them fixing up their house after they bought it.
Following their photos of just the two of them, the kids took over the focus. There were various pictures of Conner either by himself, with his parents, or with his two grandmothers, but, because his younger brother, Cabot Lucas, was born two years later, many of the shots had both boys in them. With two little boys so close in age, Ryan and Marissa had been too busy taking care of them plus an ailing Dawn whose health continued to deteriorate as she got older to consider having more children. Ten years before, when Conner was only five and Cabot three, Dawn had succumbed to her many illnesses and had passed away. Four years later, the family got a surprise when little Carys Lynn was born. She was the apple of her parents' eye, the little, baby sister her older brothers spoiled, and the joy of their small family. The rest of the stairwell consisted of pictures of all three kids together at various holiday events, and Ryan couldn't wait to add more pictures to their family gallery.
"Marissa," he called up the stairs, holding back his laughter, "are you almost ready? Our reservations are in an hour, and you know what traffic is like on the freeway at this time of night."
"I wouldn't be running late," she answered him sarcastically, "if someone wouldn't have pulled me into the shower with them after I was completely dressed! So you have no one but yourself to blame if we lose our reservations."
"It would be a little sacrifice in comparison to what I gained by making you join me in the shower." He could hear her mumbling to herself as he moved away from the stairs chuckling. It really didn't matter if they were late or not for there were no reservations, but, in order to keep his surprise under wraps, he, at least, had to pretend to care about running late.
Picking up the small, velvet case that was hidden safely away in his pants' pocket, Ryan smiled in anticipation, eagerly awaiting Marissa's face when he gave her the anniversary gift he had been preparing for months. Specially designed just for her, he knew that she would love the present. Plus, it didn't hurt matters that it was another piece of jewelry. Just as she had forewarned him the night they were married, she had always wanted new rings, necklaces, bracelets, and earrings after discovering he had wonderful taste in jewelry, and, over the years, he had not disappointed her. No matter what though, her wedding rings always proved to be her favorites, and they never left her finger.
"Okay, I'm ready to go," Marissa announced as she came down the spiraling staircase in a hurry. "I didn't have time to put on much makeup or blow-dry my hair, but you'll just have to put up with me not looking my best."
"You look wonderful," he replied honestly. The freckles he adored so much were on full display across the bridge of her nose and brighter than ever after three months of playing out in the sun with Carys, her hair was left to dry naturally giving it a carefree, tousled, post-sex look that drove him crazy with desire, and her brilliant blue eyes were flashing with anticipation, happiness, and love. Seeing her in that moment, he couldn't wait to spend the next twenty years of his life married to her, and he knew they would be just as magical if not even more so than the first twenty years of their marriage. Reiterating his previous statement, he said, "absolutely wonderful," running his index finger down her nose and stopping it to softly brush against her full, rosy lips before leaning in and gently kissing her. Just as he felt her fall into his embrace, he pulled away, smiled, and took her hand in his as they walked out the door together to his car, her body tucked carefully into his side.
Twenty minutes later, sitting in traffic on a packed freeway just as he had predicted, the two of them sat talking softly waiting for the cars ahead of them to move along so they could reach their destination.
"Maybe for Christmas this year, we could all take a trip as a family," Marissa suggested, turning towards Ryan, the enthusiasm she felt for the idea evident upon her glowing face. "We could invite my Mom along…."
"To watch the kids so we can sneak off and get a little alone time."
"You are terrible," she exclaimed, playfully swiping her hand against his arm after he voiced his idea. "We would ask her along so she wouldn't be alone during the holidays, and," she added slyly, winking at her husband, "if she happened to volunteer to watch the kids one evening, who would I be to argue with her. After all, she is still my Mom."
Ryan laughed at her demure behavior. Picking up her hand that he held in his own, he asked, "a trip this winter sounds great. Where were you thinking we'd go?"
"I don't know," Marissa responded, "perhaps someplace cold, someplace where we could all go skiing, maybe Austria."
"I like the sound of that. We'd spend all day outside playing in the snow; then it would be back to our rooms for a night of privacy in front of the fire. A guy couldn't ask for much more," Ryan added with a roguish smirk.
"What is with you today," Marissa teased, giggling at his brazen behavior, "you're about as flirtatious as you were on our first date. It's really quite flattering, not to mention fun."
"What can I say, you just bring out this side in me." Rolling her eyes, Marissa never noticed how close Ryan was to hitting the car in front of them nor did she expect his embrace when his lips slid across hers, completely ignoring the fact that he was driving on a very crowded freeway. Before either of them could enjoy the kiss though, the sound of crunching metal filled their ears, breaking the blissfully happy couple away from each other, making Marissa's face become crestfallen as she thought their plans were about to be ruined and Ryan's face to twitch with mischief.
"No, no, no," she lamented, almost in tears, "this is not happening on my twentieth wedding anniversary. "It was cute that we got stranded on the freeway for our first date because that's how we met, it was symbolic when we got married here after the minister was delayed because of a fender-bender making traffic come to a standstill, it was even fitting that you had to deliver Conner because another accident waylaid the ambulance that was supposed to take us to the hospital, but this is just cruel. All I wanted to do was celebrate my anniversary with my husband, have nothing go wrong, but, of course, we could not travel on this cursed highway without something happening. That's it," Marissa pronounced, sitting up and wiping away her tears before they could even fall, "we are never getting on this damn freeway again. I don't care how out of the way another route will take us, I am so sick of fender benders running my life!"
Hiding a smirk, Ryan leaned across the center console and kissed her cheek quickly. "I'm sorry this happened, honey, but give me five minutes, and I'll figure something out, I promise. This is not going to ruin our anniversary. I won't let it."
Sighing, Marissa offered him a small smile as he climbed out of their expensive luxury sedan and approached the car in front of them. Turning to look out the window, she ignored the conversation Ryan was having with the owner of the car they had just hit, and patiently waited for him to return. Before she even had time to get upset though, he was back, sliding into the driver's seat, and taking her hands in his.
"It's all settled. I gave him our insurance information, he agreed to settle the claim without calling the cops, and we don't have to sit here and wait for the authorities to arrive. So," Ryan continued to talk as he moved back to sit fully in his seat and to drive, "as long as we can get the car to start, we'll be able to go out to dinner just as we planned. This was just a minor setback."
The car would not turn over though no matter how many times he tried to start it.
"Looks like we're stranded here anyway, despite your suave deal with the other driver," Marissa lamented as more tears threatened to pool out of her gorgeous eyes.
"Hey," Ryan playfully reprimanded her, "the Marissa Atwood I know does not give up that easily. Just slide into my seat, put the car in neutral, and steer it into the side lane while I push."
"But you'll ruin your good clothes."
"I'll be careful," Ryan placated her, "but even if I do stain my shirt, it'll be an easy price to pay to give you the anniversary you deserve."
Several pushes, two relatively small grease stains, and one car safely in the side lane later, Marissa was looking up at Ryan with eyes full of questions. "Now what?"
"We walk," he suggested, moving ahead of her to begin their trek. "There's an exit a couple hundred feet up the road, and I'm sure, from there, we'll be able to find a restaurant, eat, and then call a cab to take us home."
"I'm in heals, Ryan."
Looking at her with a confused look on his face, he asked, "so?"
"So! So, I can't go walking over Southern California in heals! Are you trying to kill me so that you can be free of your pesky wife and find a newer, younger, less wrinkled one?" Her words were said with humor, but he could tell the idea of walking to a restaurant did not appeal to her.
"Well then, that leaves us with two options. Either we stay here and sit in the car waiting for a tow truck to get through this traffic or we risk permanent damage to your feet and try walking anyway."
"Or," Marissa teased, slowly moving towards him with a devilish smile on her face, "there is one other option." When he just watched her without saying a word, she continued. "You, my big, strong, fit husband could offer to carry me, his little, thin, light wife to safety and be my hero."
"You just had to word that so if I said no, there was no way I would be able to avoid getting into trouble, didn't you?" Marissa merely laughed at the corner she had backed him into. "Fine," he agreed, his acceptance of her idea eliciting peals of giggles and a bright smile from his wife, "but you better be prepared to give me a full body massage later tonight when we're alone in bed.
Climbing up on his back for a piggyback ride, Marissa leaned down to his ear and kissed his neck softly before replying, "I promise to do even better than that." As they set off, she couldn't help but let her face rest in the crook of his shoulder, whispering softly to him, the contentment and joy she felt evident in her tone, "I feel just like a teenager again."
"And I feel old and out of shape," Ryan complained.
"Ah, poor baby," she sympathized. "Here, maybe this will make you feel better." Letting her lips graze against his neck again, she slowly started sucking on the skin right below his ear.
"And the night is suddenly looking up again." Flirting the entire way, Marissa and Ryan continued to banter back and forth in between her delicate kisses to reward him for his chivalrous behavior in carrying her and his lighthearted complaints. Before they knew it, they were safely off the freeway and in front of a lovely little café with an outdoor dining room amongst the gardens. It was as if the freeway had worked its magic for them again or a well thought out and designed plan went off without a flaw….or perhaps it was a combination of the two.
"Good evening," the host of the restaurant greeted Ryan and Marissa when they walked in. "I can offer you a table in our dining room in about an hour, but, if you're in a hurry and don't want to wait, there are tables available outside."
"Outside would be…" Ryan went to answer, but Marissa's soft voice interrupted him.
"Ryan, I really don't want to eat outside, especially after we had to walk here."
"You mean after I walked here and you rode," he corrected her with a smirk.
Snapping, she replied, "you know what I meant. I'm slightly hot…"
"More than slightly," he whispered playfully into her ear only to receive a glare.
"And," Marissa continued to explain, "I can eat outside in my own garden any day I want. This is my anniversary; I want to be pampered."
"Yeah, but the sooner we get done eating," Ryan argued gently, "the sooner we can get home and you'll get your present."
"One table outside, please," Marissa requested turning back to the host quickly with a gracious smile on her face. Turning back to join her hand with Ryan's she never saw the host's smirk as he walked them outside.
"You'll have to excuse the noise, Ma'am," the host explained as he escorted them outside, "but we seem to have a rather large group of people celebrating a very important event, and they're not quiet."
Before Marissa could respond, a deafening, warm "Happy Anniversary" was cheered out loud for the couple, one member of which was surprised while the other was ecstatic that his intricate plot had worked without a flaw.
"Mommy, Mommy, Mommy," little Carys called as she jumped into Marissa's arms, her auburn locks streaming behind her and her large, sapphire eyes, eyes just like her mother's, glowing, "I kept the secret. Aren't you proud of me?"
"Yes I am," Marissa laughed, giving her daughter a big hug and dropping a delicate kiss on her freckled nose, "but I have no idea how Daddy managed to keep you quiet. You always tell Mommy everything even when Daddy asks you not to."
"Grandma said she'd buy me lots and lots of presents if I didn't say anything," the little impish girl revealed, smiling widely and showing off to the world that she had just recently lost her first tooth.
"Well that explains it."
"Can you put me down now, Mommy? I want to go and dance. Do you know that my new dress Grandma bought me flies out when I twirl? Want to see?"
Putting her down, Marissa replied, "in just a minute. Mommy wants to say hello to your brothers and the other guests first, but you'll be a good girl while you play, right?"
Her eyes full of mischief, Carys answered, "always, Mommy," before skipping off and, no doubt, searching for trouble.
"And look at you two," Marissa gushed, moving to pull her two sons into an embrace, kissing Conner's forehead first and then giving the same attention to Cabot's cheek, "I see Grandma bought you guys new dress clothes, too."
"Don't remind us," Cabot complained, attempting to loosen his tie before Julie's watchful hand batted his away from his collar.
"Well you both look handsome. Thank you for my surprise," Marissa added, smiling warmly at her boys. "It was perfect."
"Oh, there's more where this came from," Conner admitted excitedly before Julie pushed him out of the way.
"And that's enough from you two," she ordered, motioning for them to leave. "Now, go track down your sister. No doubt she's taking after me and already breaking hearts. I want to talk to my baby girl for a second before you two ruin my gift to the happy couple."
"Mom," Marissa chastised, "you didn't have to get us anything. This party was plenty."
"But the party was all Ryan's doing," Julie answered flippantly, pointing to her son-in-law. "All I did was make sure your kids got here and held down the festivities until the guests of honor arrived. Besides," she continued, pulling Marissa in for a tight hug, "there's no way you're arguing your way out of this present. After the party is over, a limo is going to pick the two of you up, take you to the airport, and you're going off to Greece for a week."
"But the kids, Ryan's work," Marissa pointed out only to have her mother dismiss her concerns.
"I'm going to stay with the kids," she answered, "and I've already talked to Ryan's boss. As soon as I said I was the mysterious woman who inherited all of Jones' money after he died last year, he was butter in my hands. Plus," she added smugly, "he's also my date to the charity ball next month."
"Oh, don't Mom me. I may be getting older theoretically, but my plastic surgeon is doing a damn fine job of keeping me young physically, if I do say so myself. Now," she ordered, pushing both Ryan and Marissa towards their guests, "go, mingle, eat, drink, and, whatever you do, make sure you share a few publicly obscene embraces when your kids are looking."
"I can't believe you did all this," Marissa gushed when she and Ryan were, once again, standing by themselves while the rest of the party enjoyed themselves around them. "I mean, the accident, walking here, this was all part of the plan, wasn't it?" His shy smile answered her question. "Thank you. This is amazing."
"Twenty years and three kids later, you don't think I'd let this day go uncelebrated do you? You deserve this."
"No," Marissa corrected him, "we deserve this."
Turning towards her husband as they sat on the plane while in-flight to Greece, Marissa put her most innocent face to work as she tried to persuade him to do what she wanted. "So," she began, fluttering her eyelashes at him coyly, "you said something earlier about a present. Care to give it to me now?"
"What," he asked, playfully, "can't you wait a few hours for the plane to land in Greece and for us to check into our hotel?"
"No." He chuckled at her answer. "I've been patient all night, and, if I wait until we're in our room, it'll technically be the day after our anniversary, and where's the fun in that?"
"That's a good point," Ryan conceded. "However, what do I get if I give you your present now?"
"I'll be a really good girl during the flight," Marissa promised, snuggling her body into his and placing a kiss on his cheek.
"Too bad I was hoping you'd agree to be a really bad girl. Twenty one years ago on our flight to Paris I asked you to help me join the mile high club, but you said no." He only continued after he saw the flash of recognition move across his wife's face. "What would you say if I asked you again?"
Moving away from him, Marissa settled back into her seat, pouting. "We're not having sex in the bathroom, so I guess I'll just have to wait to open my present in Greece."
"You're no fun," Ryan pouted, pulling her gift out of his pocket and handing it to her. "You can open your present now, but I expect at least one long, very inappropriate kiss for my efforts."
Smiling, she leaned over and gave him a kiss as she took the present into her own hands, turning back to it impatiently as soon as Ryan was pleased with her embrace. Unwrapping it quickly, she tossed the paper onto his lap and ignored his sarcastic comments and digs that she was worse than her children when it came to gifts. Opening the small jewelry box, Marissa's eyes fell across a beautiful, simplistically elegant mother's ring. In the center was a sapphire, her birthstone, and then circling it were the gemstones of their children, peridot for Conner, amethyst for Cabot, and ruby for Carys. Together, with the gold accents, the stones formed a flower.
"I figured it was safe at this point to get you this," Ryan explained, slipping it on her finger. "I think, by now, we're definitely done having children. We just have to sit back and wait for grandchildren now."
"And it better take a while! I'm not ready for my babies to have babies yet," Marissa demanded, tears glistening in her eyes as she melted into his arms and kissed him greedily. After a moment, she pulled away, running her hands across his jaw as she looked into his eyes. "Thank you. It's beautiful…perfect." Before he could say anything, she leaned into him again, taking his lips in another endless, passionate embrace.
Pulling away from her gently, Ryan rested his forehead against his wife's looking into her loving eyes the entire time. "Happy Anniversary, Marissa."
And, indeed, it was.