The sun hung low in the sky and Lulu admired the way it brought out blue tints in her boyfriend's hair. Boyfriend. Was that what Johnny was? She wasn't sure and she didn't want to ask. 'Are you my boyfriend?' sounded stupid and reminded Lulu of the book Are You My Mother? Laura used to read to her.
"You're afraid of heights," Johnny said before taking another bite- if you could call biting half the thing off a bite- of his pizza.
"False," Lulu told him, ripping off a pepperoni and plucking it in her mouth. "You like The Notebook."
Johnny grinned. "True. You hate diet soda."
"True. You eat pizza like a pig."
Johnny laughed and the sound of it made her smile. She wished he would laugh more often. "This is a game to get to know each other more, not pointing out the obvious things."
"Rules are meant to be broken," she told him. Johnny rolled his eyes and swiftly finished off his coke.
"Yes, they are."
The silence that quickly fell over them was comfortable and it caught Lulu off guard. She had always felt the need to fill up silence with words, but with Johnny she was okay with just sitting there and thinking. It was a different way of going about things, but it was definitely a good different. She guessed she could say she was comfortable doing anything around Johnny. He just calmed her and sent her heart racing all at the same time. She could definitely get used to being around him . . .
Well, she certainly did get used to being around him. Lulu smiled to herself before taking another glance at her watch.
He was late.
Which was very un-Johnny like, but then again so much had changed over the past year- what did she really know anymore? Maybe Johnny wasn't OCD about time anymore. Maybe he liked to be fashionably late. Maybe he smirked to himself at the thought of someone waiting around for him. Maybe he was actually driving the speed limit getting a good old laugh.
Maybe this date thing was a bad idea.
"Hey! Sorry I'm late," that rugged voice said from behind. She turned just in time for him to graze his fingers down her arm. The sparks that popped and fizzled were enough to give her a migraine, but a good migraine. If there was such a thing . . . Whatever it was sent all doubts running away screaming. "Claudia held me up."
"Was it another speech of how I'm not right for you and you should just let me go?"
Johnny gave her a sad smile and said, "Something like that."
"So, where are we going for our 'date'?" She asked, using the term 'date' loosely. The word almost made her dissolve into fits of giggles. She and Johnny really did things ass backwards. First, have a baby, then get married, and then date. They were the definition of dysfunctional, but at the moment dysfunctional seemed to work pretty well for them.
Lulu was almost afraid at the wide smile that spread across Johnny's face. It spoke volumes of a secret he wasn't going to let her in on- she was going to have to find out for herself.
"What is it?" Lulu asked, shaking the box up against her ear. If she looked like a little girl at 6 AM on a Christmas morning, well- so be it. Johnny grabbed her curious shaking hands and forced her gaze onto him. Well, he didn't really have to do much forcing. Her gaze just kind of automatically went to him.
"Open it." Lulu looked at the box and then back at him. "It's not a bomb," he promised her with a smirk.
"I'm not good at taking presents," she admitted.
"You're not taking it. I'm giving it." Lulu sighed which only fueled his smirk. She couldn't really say it bothered her. After all, he was like a freaking Greek God.
Her nimble fingers parted the box open, revealing a necklace she had seen countless times around his neck.
It was his mother's.
"I can't take this," she told him, snapping the box shut and thrusting it towards him.
"Why not?" He asked, pushing the box back towards her. "I just got it polished and it's the perfect length, I checked."
"It's your mom's."
"It was. Now I want it to be yours."
"Johnny you should keep this in the family. I mean we've been dating for what, a month? And now you're giving me your dead mother's jewelry. Keep it. Give it to your daughter."
"I don't have a daughter. So my girlfriend'll have to do."
"You don't want me to have this," she told him, lifting the box up and giving it a shake.
"If I didn't want you to have it I wouldn't have given it to you."
The staring contest that took place between them lasted for what felt like forever. He was relentless and stubborn and she wasn't any different. 'Oh, what a pair we make,' Lulu thought sarcastically. She looked at the box one last time while thoughts of giving in and just taking the damn thing overrode her brain. Johnny, however, snatched the box out of her hands and held it safely within his.
"I don't know why you think I would just give this away to anybody," he said. "You're not anybody. You're not like anybody I've ever met before. You're the girl who climbed into my car one night and didn't even care who the hell I was. You're the girl who doesn't care that I drive like a maniac. You're the girl who isn't afraid of my father. You're the girl who doesn't let my sister scare you away with her over-protectiveness and ridiculous threats. You're the only girl who I've ever cared about and it wasn't easy, just so you know. I didn't just let myself care for you. You wormed your way in with your absolute craziness and your insane bravery and the warped way you look at things-"
"Yeah," he said with a laugh. "I didn't say it was bad. It's just- just different and interesting."
"Then can you just use those words instead of 'warped'. You're making me sound like Carly."
"You're acting like Carly with the whole interrupting my speech thing."
Lulu threw her hands up as she threw him a teasing smile. "Sorry. Continue, please."
"I just care about you, Lulu. A lot. And I want to give you something that proves that I care about you- a lot."
"But you should have this. You should wear it and look at it everyday and remember her."
"I'd rather just see you everyday and look at it that way."
Lulu opened the box with a snap and stared down at the gold necklace. "Okay."
She quickly snapped herself out of memory lane and turned her head to look at him. His worried expression almost made her giggle, but it did make her smile. Her Johnny worried too much.
"We're not even officially on our date and already you're zoning out on me," Johnny teased.
"Sorry," Lulu said, waving her hand through the air. "I was just thinking."
"Old times," she answered with a smile. At the worried look on his face, Lulu reached out and touched his arm lightly before saying, "Good old times."
"I love you, Lulu."
It was like someone had sucked all the air out of the room and threw it out the window. She felt light headed and a little nauseous. She was positive that it wasn't from her new founded pregnancy either.
"Please don't say that," she whispered, eyes locked on the ground.
"Say what?" Johnny asked. "That I love you?"
"I do!" He pressed, taking a step closer.
"No you don't," Lulu insisted, looking up at him as she took a step back.
Johnny took a deep breath and continued, "I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it."
"You're just saying it because I'm pregnant," she told him, pointing at him accusingly. She felt the baby inside her flutter and it caused her heart to swell.
"Lulu, I don't say something unless I mean it. You know that. I love you. I have for awhile now and I didn't tell you because I didn't want to be honest with myself, but I think you and our baby deserve more than that."
"I thought you were afraid of love." Her hands clung to the bottom of her shirt, twisting and folding- anything to keep busy. She didn't know what she'd do if she couldn't keep busy.
"I'm afraid of becoming my father," he corrected. She knew he was being honest just by the look in his eye and just by the fact that he was Johnny. He didn't lie. Especially to her.
He took a step back from Lulu and the situation and looked down at his hands as if they would tell him what to say next. "I'm afraid of loving you so much that it eats me alive. I'm afraid of losing myself and I know you are too. But I'm gonna take a chance. I'm going to prove to myself and to my sister that I am not Anthony. I'm my own person who has his own thoughts and his own feelings. I'm not going to end up like him and you're not going to end up like your mother.
"I won't let you become Laura. I'd save you. And I know you'd save me. Those are my thoughts and those are my feelings."
Her heart kept replaying his words over and over to her head- trying to convince her steel head that he was right. She may look like the loving and fragile Laura, but every ounce inside of her was Luke. Johnny may have been raised in a house of violence where his mother paid the price, but that didn't mean he was destined to play the same game.
"We could totally crash and burn," Lulu said taking a step forward.
He nodded, "We could."
"We could be horrible parents." Another tentative step.
Johnny shook his head. "Naw. I think we'll be okay."
"Our kid could hate us." Another step.
"With your smile?"
"We could end up hating each other." One more step.
"I could never hate you," he whispered, stretching his arm out and extending his hand towards her, waiting for her to grasp it. She looked down at his hand and closed her eyes.
Lulu darted her tongue out to wet her lips and then sighed. Slowly she opened up her eyes and met his stare. "I love you too," Lulu said, grabbing his hand. She took one last step and closed the distance between them.
Johnny leaned down and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
The sound of Johnny's car door being slammed shut shook her out of her thoughts. Lulu reached down and unbuckled her seatbelt just as Johnny opened up her door. Her soft hand grabbed his rough one and he dragged her up a stone path that led to a large white house.
"Who's house are we breaking into for our date?" Lulu asked giggling.
"Well," Johnny said, releasing her hand and jogging up the few stairs that connected to the porch. He leaned up against a pillar and stared down at her. "Nobody's, since I own this place."
"You bought a house?" Lulu yelled, raising her arms and then letting them fall just as quickly back to her sides.
Johnny nodded. "What the hell do you need another house for?"
"Your house has some pretty bad memories and so does mine. I think what you, Nate and I need is a fresh start and this," he slapped the pillar and turned to look at the front door. "This is a fresh start." Wide eyed, Lulu shook her head in disbelief.
"You want to move in together on the first date?" She asked trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
Johnny laughed, "Not tonight, but soon. And I don't have to move with you guys. I just know that you don't like it back at your house and I know you can only endure being Maxie's roommate for so long so . . .-"
"You bought me a house?"
"Yeah," Johnny said as he stared at the building. "Yeah, I guess I did."
Lulu stomped her foot. "What if I don't like it?"
"You can change whatever you want. I'll even pay for it . . ."
That wasn't necessarily true and Lulu had a feeling that her husband knew it, but the irritated eight month pregnant women didn't care. She could hear his hurried footsteps racing down the stairs and rolled her eyes. Sometimes she wished he would just go to sleep and not wake up for a very, very, very long time. Maybe then she could get some peace and quiet.
"You don't look busy," Johnny said from his place on the stairs.
"I'm busy trying to convince your demon seed to stop kicking me in the kidneys," she told him, crossing her arms and turning her attention back to some dance show.
"I don't hear you yelling at him."
"Since Johnny Jr. eats what I eat, drinks what I drink and breathes what I breathe, I figure why can't we communicate telepathically? I mean, that's the next stop in the mother/son bond, right?"
Johnny snorted. "You're kidding right?"
Lulu turned around from her spot on the couch to throw him a nail biting glare. "Do I look like I'm in a 'kidding' mood?"
"No you don't," Johnny said, jumping off the stairs and coming around to the couch. He picked up her hands and gave her a slight tug. "Come on, I have something to show you."
"Bring it down here," Lulu said as she tried to pull her hands out of his.
He shook his head, "I can't. You have to come to it." He gave her hands another pull.
"Johnny," she said. "I am as big as our TV. I am as big as our refrigerator. Hell, I give our car a run for its money. So, with that said, bring it down here."
Johnny rolled his eyes and let go of her hands. Lulu gave a thankful sigh and leaned back against the couch cushions. It was short lived as Johnny put one hand underneath her knees and the other under her back, effectively lifting her off the couch.
"What are you doing?!"
"Taking you to it!"
"If you drop me, Johnny Zacchara so help me . . .!"
"I'm not going to drop you, Lu. Relax."
She groaned and muttered insults the entire way up the stairs and up till he set her down right in front of their baby's nursery. Johnny hurriedly pushed the door open and threw his arm out pointing towards a blue bassinet.
"You built it?" Lulu asked as the grin slowly spread across her face.
Johnny nodded and the pride just oozed off him in waves. "Took me all day, but I finally finished."
Lulu smiled at him and then turned her attention back to the bassinet before walking over to it. She laid one hand down to feel the texture, but the tiny crib had other things in mind. As soon as her fingers made contact it crumbled to the wooden floor, wood, cloth and all.
She stared down at the pile and sucked hesitantly on her bottom lip. "Baby?"
"Stick to the piano, okay?"
". . . maybe one day- soon- it can be me, you and Nate again, but right now I get that you need to just be you and I respect that . . . "
Lulu yawned and cuddled into Johnny's side as she wrapped her arms around his right arm tighter. She lifted her eyes up and gave a smile. One month old Nathan Zacchara slept comfortably on his dad's chest with his little fists curled tight with one underneath his chin. The little, blue hat he wore was gone and she saw it curled up in Johnny's hand that lay protectively over their son's back. She felt Johnny press a kiss to the top of her head and Lulu knew that all the decisions she ever made in her life were the right ones. They lead her here after all, didn't they?
". . . I don't want you to think that I bought this place to mess with your feelings. I just wanted to do something nice for you- to show you that I do love you and that I do want to make things right . . . "
"Chinese?" Lulu asked, glancing at all the take-out menus that they had stashed in the kitchen drawer. It had been awhile since they had been out of the house for anything other than a diaper run and that meant take-out food was the number one food source.
Johnny glanced at the menu from over her shoulder before he wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her neck, breathing in the scent of babies and vanilla. "MetroCourt," he mumbled into her neck.
Lulu hit him upside the head with the menu. "The MetroCourt doesn't deliver, silly."
Johnny lifted his head and rested his chin on her shoulder. "I know. That's why I called Maxie to come baby-sit."
"We haven't left the house in weeks for just mommy and daddy time." Lulu leant back into him and let her fingers dance lightly on his arm.
"The MetroCourt does have really good food."
He nodded, "It does."
"And it's not like he's going to miss us."
Johnny kissed her cheek and mumbled, "Stop trying to convince yourself and let's go. I hear Maxie in the driveway."
Lulu looked down at her feet and then up to the rambling man before her. Why was she being a complete and utter idiot? She had it all. She had a beautiful son with the brightest smile she had ever seen and a man that loved and adored her. Sure he had lied, but he had done it for good reasons. He was sorry and was trying to make up for it and she was making him jump threw fiery hoops.
She let her clutch purse slip through her fingers and hit the ground as she took fast and long strides up to the blue porch where the love of her life stood. Yeah, that's right- the love of her life. There had never been anyone else that held her fascination and adoration the way Johnny did. There was never someone who knew her so completely inside and out. There wasn't any other man she wanted to spend forever with. Johnny was it for her and it made her heart swell to know that he felt the same.
Lulu had no clue as to why she had been an idiot for so long.
As she reached the final step and found she was only a breath away from Johnny she thought about telling him how much she loved him. She thought about telling him what a big doof she had been this past month, but quickly decided against it.
Johnny was the artist. She was the actionist.
Lulu slid her hands up his chest and grabbed onto his shoulders for dear life as she pulled him down and captured his lips in a kiss. Her heart was thudding loudly in her ear and it gave her the confidence and the courage that she so desperately needed. She felt his hands grasp her hips and pull her flush up against him. Lulu relished in his warmth and the softness of his lips.
She found herself pushed up against the front door and the jingling of keys fluttered through the air and up to her ears. She felt the door swing open from behind and she only gasped in surprise against Johnny's soft mouth, but he caught her. He always did.
Lulu let her fingers slide underneath his sweater and tickle the skin underneath before helping him out of it and throwing it to the side. He ignored the buttons on her sweater and instead lifted it over her head and tossed it. Her tank top followed seconds later and Lulu held back a moan as his warm, rough hands made their way across her bare back, pressing her into him. She closed her eyes and threaded her fingers through his hair as her back hit the floor.
He kissed her ear, her cheek, the corner of her mouth before laying his forehead against hers and running his hand down the side of her hair. "I don't really want to do this in an empty house," he whispered against her swollen lips. "You deserve better."
Lulu played with the hair on the nape of his neck with one hand while the other skimmed the top of his briefs. "Yeah," she whispered back. "Like what?"
He kissed her again and Lulu felt her toes curl. "The world," he breathed.
"All I need is you, Johnny," she told him, running a finger over his lips. "You're all I've ever needed."
A/N: Holy crap. The longest chapter I've ever written for CIY. Just want to remind you there's only one more chapter left and it's the Epilogue. It's kind of cheesy in a way, but a very faithful reviewer requested it from about Chapter 5. Who am I to deny?