Chapter 25: More Cake
Two years later...
Patrick Woodhouse loosened his blue tie, ruffled his blonde hair, and leaned back in his seat in the metro and tried desperately not to fall asleep. He'd just had a long day at work and felt a headache coming on too. He was also pretty sure that he had a blister on his right heel from his not-yet-broken-in dress shoes. All in all, he was exhausted and he didn't care who knew it.
Unknown to Patrick, a young woman across the car was eyeing him with particular interest. She looked up from her book and smiled. Every few minutes she repeated this ritual until finally (by pure accident) she caught his eye. Patrick nodded and smiled politely. It was a kind, yet dismissive gesture. Her face fell. Being tall, thin, and gorgeous usually got her better reactions than that. She was forced to retreat back to her fictional world and forget the handsome man sitting a few feet away from her.
Patrick rarely noticed such things anymore. If he did, then he'd probably note the ego boost with appreciation then promptly forget about it. Generally speaking, he wasn't interested in women like he used to be.
Well, with one important exception.
He exited at his stop downtown and crossed the street, breathing in the brisk twilight air and glancing at the passing business signs. Patrick finally stopped at a small, quaint bakery with an ornate formation of cupcakes in their window sill. He raised his eyebrows with interest and happily entered.
"You're always late…"
"So you should expect it from me by now, right?" he countered with his usual dose of charm.
Zoe Knightley rolled her eyes, but didn't look truly annoyed. She'd learned along ago – even before they started dating – that some of her boyfriend's habits could not be remedied. Her arms were crossed across her professional outfit. Patrick often teased her about her usual ensemble – cardigan, pencil skirt, button-down shirt, and reading glasses – but secretly he loved it. Zoe looked like the sexy schoolteacher he (unfortunately) never had.
"How was school, darling?" he asked her, leaning in to kiss her forehead.
She sighed. "Fine. I had to give a pop quiz."
Patrick gasped. "You're so mean!"
"Feel bad for me! I have to grade them later tonight." she pointed out.
"What a bummer…" Patrick said, smiling slyly. "I had other plans for us tonight."
Zoe's cheeks flushed pink, but she retained her class and pretended that she didn't know what he meant.
After a few minutes of waiting, one of the bakery attendants ushered them into a backroom. Patrick looked like a little boy on Christmas Eve. As soon as Taylor and Maggie had announced their engagement a few months ago, Patrick had graciously volunteered his services to taste test cake flavors. After all, it was Patrick's specialty. As a veteran best man from Kyle's wedding, he was experienced in such matters.
"Where are Maggie and Taylor?" Patrick asked, looking longingly at the slices of cake before him. "Can we start without them?"
Zoe laughed. Patrick was so predictable. "They will be late, so yes. We can start without them."
Patrick smiled in satisfaction, grabbing a fork and digging in to a nearby flavor. He held it up to his girlfriend.
Zoe leaned forward and took the bite.
"Is it good?" Patrick asked.
Zoe nodded, still chewing the large mouthful. Patrick swopped in and kissed her, licking his lips as he pulled away.
"Ah – Pat" she said, finally swallowing. "That was an ambush…"
"You had icing on your lip and I wanted to see how it tasted." He winked at her.
"Oh really…" Zoe laughed. "and what did you think?"
Patrick shrugged. "I prefer butter cream myself."
The pair continued on like this for a while - Zoe diligently taking notes about what they liked and what they didn't like and Patrick diligently eating whatever was in front of him. They made an excellent team.
"Are you sure that Maggie and Taylor trust us?" Patrick asked, swallowing the mocha crunch chocolate ganache combination. "I mean, they're not even here..."
"Yeah…" Zoe said. Patrick didn't see, but her hands were twisting nervously on her lap. "I think it should be fine."
"But what if we botched the order?" Patrick asked. "I don't think I could trust someone else to handle something so important for my wedding. I mean, what if we got something gross like marzipan or…lemon."
"But what cake is your favorite?" Zoe interrupted, pressing on with their task.
Patrick shrugged. "I can't decide. I guess they get the final word, right?"
"But if it was…your cake….then which one would you want?"
"I guess it would be –"
Suddenly, Patrick bit down on something hard – something hidden deep in the Italian cream cake he was sampling. He maneuvered the subject around in his mouth, a confused and slightly disgusted look on his face. Zoe was holding her breath.
He spit it out and whipped it off with a napkin. Unexpectedly, a shinny gleam caught his eyes. It was a silver band. Patrick Woodhouse's eyes widened and he looked up with a shocked expression. Zoe's blush had returned and she smiled sheepishly.
"Patrick," Zoe started, laughing nervously and leaning closer to him. "Maggie and Taylor aren't coming. In fact, they've already picked out their cake. I - I was sort of hoping that this tasting could be…for us."
Patrick's was still stunned, his face almost unreadable.
"Uh…Patrick?" she asked again, grabbing his hand with concern. "Did you hear what I just said?"
Patrick looked down in awe at the silver ring in his palm.
"Patrick Woodhouse!" Zoe stood with her hands on her hips, all concern out the window due to impatience. "In all the years I've known you, you've never had trouble opening your mouth and talking so can you please do so now before I go completely nuts! What's on your mind? Say something!"
"Are you…are you proposing?" he asked incredulously.
"Duh!" she cried, feeling more annoyed than she would've liked to at this particular milestone. "And you're required to answer, by the way. That's how these things usually go, Patrick."
"No," he corrected with amusement. "Usually the male – meaning me – plans something cute and elaborate, requiring the female – you – to do the answering."
Zoe stamped her foot. "Patrick Woodhouse! You're ruining this beautiful moment. Can't we do anything normally?"
He swooped in and silenced her with a kiss. In all the time that he'd dated her, Patrick had discovered that this was usually the best way to end a fight, lecture, or silly banter exchange. It was her ultimate weakness. After about five seconds of lip lock, Zoe Knightley tended to melt into his hands like a popsicle in July. Sure enough, he felt her body drain of tension and her hands slip longingly behind his neck as she responded with enthusiasm.
He pulled away, but continued to hold on to her. Her blue eyes were sparking and her lips were swollen from their contact. Patrick grinned.
"Italian cream cake." He said.
"P-Pardon?" Zoe blinked. Clearly, she was still recovering from the spontaneous romantic moment.
"That's the wedding cake we're having." Patrick said raising his eyebrows playfully. "I hope you wrote it down, Knightley."
She smiled beneath him and forced him towards her once more, enjoying the temporary privacy they had in the back room of the shop. It was a few more minutes before Patrick pulled away and sighed deeply in satisfaction.
"You know…it's just too bad you have to grade papers tonight…."
Zoe laughed and punched him playfully in the bicep. She then extracted herself from Patrick's strong arms and smoothed out her blouse. One could always count on Zoe Knightley to stay classy.
"By the way…" Patrick said, catching her eye. "Don't think I'm going to let you off the hook so easily for stealing my thunder."
She returned his gaze with curiosity. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, that if you had just waited a few more days, then Gram's resized vintage ring would've arrived and I could've done all this myself."
Zoe Knightley's face softened into an odd expression. It was like the one Patrick observed on her features when she was watching a particularly touching chick flick or staring at a puppy. She was positively lit up from the inside.
"Y-You were going to propose to me?"
"Of course." Patrick said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Who else on earth would crazy enough to marry me? If I didn't propose soon, you might realize you're too good for me and bounce town. I needed to put a ring on that finger ASAP. That is, if you like the ring…"
"I'm sure I'll love it!" Zoe gushed, not caring that he'd just called her crazy. In a way, she was. She recognized this fact but was indifferent to it.
"Do you want me to bake it in something for you -?"
"No!" she interjected, stepping forward and wrapping her arms around him. "No need for any of that."
She went on tip toe and kissed him on the cheek.
You know what, Patrick?" Zoe asked, burying her head in the crook of his neck
"Though you often pretend otherwise, you're the biggest softy I know."
Patrick furrowed his brow. "That's a compliment, right?"
She grinned. "You bet."
Patrick held her for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth they created between them. They finally snapped back to reality, eagerly placed their order for a wedding cake, and left the store arm in arm. They didn't know it then, but years later the narrative of their proposal would prove a comical bickering point between the couple. In a true Patrick-and-Zoe fashion, the details of who proposed to whom and which person was more romantic would be challenged. It was all in good fun, however. Essentially what they were fighting about was who loved the other more…and if that's the most recurring argument you have in your marriage, life is not so bad.
a/n - Thank you to everyone for reading and a special thank you for all the people who reviewed. The feedback was awesome for this story and I really appreciated it. I'm so happy this story is complete! I've now completed two Austen fics. Life is good.
PS - virtual high five to everyone who picked up on the "lemon" reference from earlier in the fic