Chapter 18 – Catch the Sun

"I never said this"

"What?" Clarisse said, confused.

"I never said I didn't love you anymore" Joseph said, and for the first time that day, their eyes met.

"What are you talking about, Joseph?" asked Clarisse, truly confused.

"Your whole speech is correct, except for one thing. I've never stopped loving you"

Clarisse widened her eyes. Could it be that Joseph was saying exactly what she had wanted to hear? It seemed impossible.

"But are not in love with me" she said.

"I used to think that, too" he slowly stepped towards her.

"Joseph…" she trailed off. She had to say something but couldn't think properly as he got closer and closer to her.

"This whole thing with Heather was a terrible mistake. I knew that since the beginning. The only reason I let it come this far it was because I thought, as I said, that it was time to move on" he said quietly, and if he hadn't been almost whispering on her ear, Clarisse wouldn't have heard him.

"What made you change your mind?" she asked with her breath hitching.

"I realized that, if it means I can't be near you, I don't want to move on. What you didn't consider is that you let me go once, and I returned. Don't you remember? When you told me to leave and I said that it was too late, that there was..." he trailed off, his lips almost touching hers.

"No turning back" she finished the sentence. "I remember. But what about Heather and the baby…" Clarisse said. Why the hell couldn't she keep her mouth shut? Why did she have to remind him of why they couldn't be together?

"Heather will be just fine without me"

"But she is pregnant" she insisted when she realized that she was almost pressed against the wall.

"No, she is not" he said, as if it was the simplest thing in the world.

"What?" Clarisse exclaimed.

Joseph sighed, but did not move away from her. "When I offered to go to the doctor with her, she freaked out. Said this was a woman thing. She was nervous, frantic. I got suspicious, and called the doctor she said she had an appointment with. He said he had never heard of Heather before. I confronted her, and she told me she had lied in order to keep me with her. She felt threatened by you"

Clarisse almost smiled "How long have you known about this?"

"Well, considering we've been locked in this room for the last fifteen minutes, I would say, half an hour."

She kept silent, not knowing what to say. This was it, wasn't it? The happily ever after?

"In case you didn't figure out yet, I broke up with Heather" Joseph smiled.

Clarisse didn't fight the urge to laugh. "I can't believe it"

"Well, you better" he said, and leaned down. Clarisse didn't even have the time to think, and felt his lips capturing hers in a fierce and breath-taking kiss. With uncertainty, she put her arms around his neck, just as he circled her waist and pulled her closer. She smiled against his lips, not daring to believe that this was really happening. She had thought she would never feel his lips on hers, would never feel the happiness which was only brought by loving and being loved.

Minutes later, the need for oxygen made them break apart. Joseph rested his forehead on Clarisse's, not loosening his grip on her.

"Joseph…" she began, but he cut her off.

"Clarisse, don't say we can't be together"

"I wasn't going to say this. But it's going to be hard. I'm still the Queen, and…"

"And Mia will take over the throne in a few years. When you're no longer Queen, we can talk about letting our relationship out in the open. Until that, no one will have to know about us" he smiled.

"You are alright with this?" she asked.

"If it means I can be with you, then yes, I am"

She smiled and got lost into his eyes. That man loved her. It was an amazing feeling.

"I…" she began, and paused to clear her throat. "I love you"

"I love you too" he said naturally, as if he had been saying that his whole life.

They smiled at each other and leaned down for another kiss, just as a knock sounded on the door.

"Grandma, are you still in there?" they heard Mia's voice.

Joseph sighed and kissed her forehead. "Back to the real world" He said, starting to move away from Clarisse, but she grabbed his hand, keeping him by her side.

"Come in, Mia" she said, not taking her eyes off Joseph.

"Er, Grandma? It is locked"

Clarisse looked at Joseph and they burst out laughing. He moved to the door and unlocked it.

"Am I interrupting?" said the teenager with a mischievous smile.

"As a matter of fact, yes" said Clarisse with a smile that told Mia it was no problem.

"It's just that… Well, I hate to be the deliverer of the bad news, but Heather is downstairs"

"What?" said Joseph and Clarisse in unison

"Clarisse, my dear, you're sounding repetitive" said Joseph to her with a smile.

Mia looked from Joe to Clarisse, and realized that whatever had happened in that room, they had solved things between them. Which was probably the reason why Heather was downstairs, demanding to talk to Joseph and threatening to burn the palace down.

"Okay, I'm not so sure I want to know exactly what happened here, but who cares? All is well if it ends well. Meanwhile, while you two lovebirds make up, and, I presume, make out, Heather is driving our guards mad." Said Mia "Joseph, could you please get down there and shove that woman out of the palace? I'm not so sure how much more of her voice I can take"

Joseph chuckled. "I'll be down in a minute. And, Mia, don't worry, you'll never have to hear her voice again"

Mia sighed theatrically. "Oh, thank you. My hero" she said, kissing Joseph on the cheek and winking to Clarisse before making her way to the door. With her hand on the knob, she paused and turned back to face them "Oh, by the way, what day is today?"

"The 21st, why?" said Clarisse

"Really?" asked Mia, her eyes lighting up

"Yes, really" said Joseph, confused as well.

"Why?" Clarisse asked again.

"Oh, nothing" the teenager said, and in a blink of an eye she was gone. But both Joseph and Clarisse could hear clearly as Mia shouted in the hall, "Charlotte, come here! You owe me 20 dollars!"

"They bet on us?" said Clarisse, surprised.

"It seems they did" he said.

"You know, Heather is still downstairs" she said, regretfully.

Joseph put his arms around her "Don't worry, Clarisse. Whatever comes our way, we'll see it through"

"I know, Joseph. I know"

They stared at each other for a few minutes, both understanding that their life together would not be easy. They would face many obstacles in their relationship, and Heather would be just one of them. But they also understood that their love, which had survived for decades, was stronger than anything life would put in their way.

The End (not quite)

Many years had passed since they admitted their love for each other. Mia had just been crowned as Queen of Genovia, a few days after Joseph and Clarisse had finally said "I do". The now inseparable quartet, which was formed by the just married couple, plus Mia and Charlotte, sat in the parlor, having tea.

"… I know I'll never forget the look on Heather's face when you told her you and Grandma were together, nor do I want to" laughed Mia.

"Oh, please, is that the only thing you all can talk about? Heather?" said Clarisse with a smile.

"Well, she sure gave us material for a few more years of talking about her." Said Charlotte

"I've always known she was not pregnant" said Mia.

"No, Mia, you haven't" said Joseph.

"Of course I have. Haven't I, Charlotte?"

"No"

"Well, well, well" laughed Clarisse.

"You're just envying me because I told you and you didn't want to believe, Charlotte"

"Hey, that's not true, Mia!" exclaimed Charlotte.

"Oh, darling, is 'Your Majesty' for you" joked Mia.

"Don't call me 'darling'. Ever again" said Charlotte, feigning anger.

"Don't you have a meeting with the Parliament now, Mia?" asked Clarisse, looking at the clock.

"Yes, I have" she got up "The good ones at heart, follow me" She paused, and looking at Charlotte, said, "Okay, the not-so-good ones too, because we can't leave you behind, can we, Char?"

Joseph and Clarisse laughed as Charlotte stood up, sending a death glare Mia's way. When the two women were gone, Joseph put his arm around Clarisse's waist, and whispered 'I love you' in her ear. She smiled, and rested her head on his shoulder. Minutes later, as the sun began to set and its lasts rays gently bathed the embraced couple, Clarisse thought about everything they have gone through in their relationship, and how they had finally found the happiness they had been seeking their whole lives. In that moment, being held by the man she loved, she thought that life couldn't get any better than this. She looked up at Joseph, smiling, and as he leaned down to kiss her lips passionately, she knew life couldn't possibly get any better than this. As Mia had once said, 'the ending is always happy', and this was exactly how her happily ever after was supposed to be.

The End.

A.N.: I can't believe it is over. Oh, God, I have tears in my eyes now. I'm so glad I had you girls with me through this fic. Thank you all, I can't even begin to say how much happy you all have made me. I'll post an author's note later properly thanking each and every one of you. Now, to the girls who reviewed the last chapter (Captain Weirdo, Kristi-Julie, LadyLuxembourg, bensonsmyhero, my dear Clarisse Renaldi, green dame, Poppinswannabe, addlogcon, missy, risingdancer, potter-renaldi, bluegirl-783, Minerva M McGonagall, AlternativeRocker, mapetite16, JUJUChick16, ForeverJulie, One Special Lana, Zsulie, nasimrochester, CJS-DEPPendent), thank you so much for everything. Please tell me if this last chapter was worth reading the whole story. Love, Duda.