This is the original Chapter 31 which I decided against and replaced with Chapters 31 and 32. However, since some of you expressed an interest in seeing the original ending, here it is! This is in NO way neccessary to read for understanding this story (it's out of order, actually since after this there would be the Epilogue).
And just so everyone knows, I started Mina's story Unwritten (shameless promotion here haha) if anyone is interested. It has very little publicity at the moment so I thought I'd push it through with this one too :)
Anyway, thanks everyone for all your interest in this story! Hope you enjoy this alternate (though similar) ending.
Another surprise came Sunday morning.
I awoke to a most unfamiliar scent.
Home cooking. Frying and baking.
The smell of something delicious and mouth watering permeated through my nocturnal illusions.
I jumped up in bed quickly, looking at the clock.
7:55 A.M. it blared.
Who the hell?
I stealthily got out of the comforts of my warm sheets and put on a pair of jeans that were strewn on the floor near the foot of the bed as well as my bunny sweater that hung in its usual place on the hook connected to the bedroom door.
As I peaked through the crack of the door, wondering whom this benevolent intruder was, I prepared myself for the worst.
It wasn't him. Unless he got a bit shorter, smaller, and much more feminine.
Lita's back faced me as she banged around the kitchen looking for God knows what. Amy sat on the sofa entranced on something on television, I'm guessing it's either history or discovery or maybe a soap. She has a thing for soap operas. I think it's in the nature of girls. They have to like soaps.
Beside her was Ray seated at a funny angel leaning against the armrest, her belly slightly protruding and possibly blocking some of her view of the TV. Not that she seemed to be enjoying it as much as Amy, she looked disgruntled.
No sign of Mina.
"What the hell, guys?" I finally said declaring my presence at last after these sly observations.
"Well, good morning to you too, Sunshine!" Ray almost sounded sincere. Almost.
I glared at her and she stuck out her tongue.
She gave a more mature gesture and I laughed.
"What're you all up to here at this fine hour?" I questioned again when no one seemed too inclined to really acknowledge me or the fact that they'd invaded my house.
"Did you know about this?" Amy said, taking her eyes away from the TV for a second to look my way and then at everyone around.
"What?" I replied, being kind and not ignoring her question as the rest did with mine. I waited, anticipating something about a new medical discovery or maybe they dug up some other random tomb in Egypt. Who knows?
"Julien got Teresa pregnant! He's Little Ethan's real dad!"
"Ames, that's been the plot line of the show for the past 5 years. Nothing has changed."
"Well, I didn't know." She said and turned back to the television, awed by the old news.
"Again," I said, trying to get them to focus. "What's going on in my apartment?"
Lita turned from the stove, finally. She smiled. "We're making you breakfast, Silly. Well, I am. They're useless; they'd poison you on accident if they tried."
"I wouldn't." Ray spoke up and smiled, "It would be on purpose. Just to stop anyone from wearing that sweater."
I looked down. "I love Bugs."
"We know." Ray said with an affectionate smile.
"Okay, well, besides poisoning me why are you here? Not that I'm not pleased to see you all. At…" I looked at the clock on the stove, "Eight in the morning."
Amy finally turned off the TV; I'd heard the soap end. "You've missed lunch enough and you were going to miss it again. So we're changing it up to fit your schedule."
They'd only know anything about my schedule if they spoke to Mina. "Mina?"
"It was her idea actually." Amy said with a gentle look. "She said she didn't want what happened to cause some kind of rift between you and us. Said it wasn't fair for you. She feels really guilty, Sere."
"Where's she then?" I asked, trying to clear my now dry throat.
"Asleep I'd predict." Ray said bitterly as she laid her head down at another funny angel.
Amy slapped Ray's knee.
"She didn't want to make things awkward. Says you guys aren't patched up still." Amy explained.
"I see." I didn't know what else to say.
"But," Lita cheered with a clap and twirl, to face us. "That's not what we're here for. Breakfast is ready!"
She was always angelic that girl. A tray of freshly baked pastries were held up by one elegant hand as the other showed off one of the many plates of omelets in a fashion that would bring even Vanna White to shame.
Ray's energy seemed to be revitalized by the mere sight. She shot up and grabbed her food and the rest of us soon followed.
I got more details about Amy's upcoming wedding.
We'd be flying out at the end of March. So basically, I had one and a half months to get everything straightened out at work so I could do that. Aka I would have to do some extreme begging the next few weeks at work. If that doesn't work then I'll have to find another job, especially after another piece of news I hadn't realized. Zach was paying.
"You picked a good one." I'd joked with Ames and she'd laughed, a deep blush staining her cheeks. But then we got a bit serious and argued over this benevolent act for another ten minutes. It would be extremely expensive to pay for all five of our tickets, if you include Amy. Amy then argued that the four of us were her only guests so we had to have VIP treatment as well as incentives to come. I rolled my eyes and continued debating the subject with the rest of the girls but in the end, we failed. Zach's family was rich; we were all relatively broke.
"Plus, I'm the bride and this is my wish so deal with it." We couldn't argue that.
And, no, Zach wasn't paying the entire thing. Amy had argued, a lot and a lot of arguing, her way into paying for her dress, our dresses (which again we argued), and the cake. The cake, of course, was easy since she knew an excellent pastry chef that would do it for next to nothing- a hug from the blushing bride afterwards was Lita's only request. The rest was on Zach, but they were going Dutch on the honeymoon- according to Amy, we all highly doubted Zach would stick to this.
And where was this honeymoon, you wonder?
To say that when Amy said this she had three very green friends is an understatement.
So, in the end, the morning wasn't a waste. By the time they all left, around noon, I couldn't help the smile on my face. I'd missed that. The dinner with Lita and Ray that week was fun but all of us together was a different story… All of us minus one I suppose. I wiped away a few traitorous tears before I left the apartment for my Cocoa break with Jimmy.
I was surprised on Monday morning to see that Jimmy was there, instead of my usual bubbly Cindy. Apparently she couldn't make it, he didn't know why.
I missed her but Jimmy definitely wasn't a bad alternative. I came back for my fifteen-minute break, not really feeling like real food. A muffin, some coffee, and a dose of Jimmy were enough this afternoon. It wasn't busy, one or two people interrupted us but otherwise we got to chatter away.
"No, I'm one hundred percent serious." Jimmy said being one hundred percent serious. He leaned over. "She said it just like that." Lowering his voice and placing his face closer to my ear he whispered what the old woman on the subway had whispered to him yesterday.
I couldn't control my laughter. The kid had the craziest stories and this one just beat them all out of the water.
"People in New York are crazy, even the elderly." I concluded, gaining a grip.
"Mr. and Mrs. Wipple should've proved that to you." He replied with a smile. I'd told him only a few of my numerous Mr. and Mrs. Wipple anecdotes.
"Yeah, right?" I exaggerated a shrug. "You think I'd learn."
"Learn what?" A new, deeper, agitated voice interrupted.
"Oh, sorry, sir." Jimmy said as I turned frigid in my position against the counter. Jimmy had straightened and was already in his professional demeanor to acknowledge Shields with a bright smile and an apology. "Can't really blame me for getting distracted with such a beautiful woman over here can you?"
It was supposed to be a joke, a way to get his latest customer to have a small laugh and maybe a scone with that when he offered. Darien didn't seem to think so. All I heard from behind me was a slight huff and a forced chuckle.
"Large coffee, please." Darien said politely when Jimmy asked what he needed today. "Bout to go talk to my agent, she seems awfully busy lately." I heard the sarcasm, Jimmy didn't.
"They tend to get that way." Jimmy acknowledged as he turned around to get the order.
I felt him right behind me. Literally.
His arm and a fraction of his chest barely brushed my back but it was enough. My stomach flipped and butterflies began doing all sorts of acrobatic moves I'd never been capable of.
Even his slight, familiar scent overpowered everything else around. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee was gone, replaced by a spicy pine flavor that could almost be tasted. I had the distinct urge to lean back into it but resisted. It took a lot but I did. I could already feel my head trying to turn to relish in the scent that had been absent for too long. Again, I didn't.
I was rigid. Waiting.
Jimmy came back, gave Darien the coffee. They exchanged pleasant good-byes and everything was gone. The scent, the touch. I was left like I had been before, but now with a queasy stomach and sweaty palms.
Jimmy turned back to me, grinning. The grin soon disappeared. "You okay?"
"Fine." I replied, attempting a smile. "Just too much cocoa probably." It was a valid excuse. The one I was drinking was the second in this break. Jimmy didn't believe in running out of a drink. It was free refills on anything apparently. At least for this customer.
"Well," He said all business, "We can't have that. You're cut off, Missy." And he took it away, dumping it and taking away my only comfort.
"Heh." I laughed slightly and we continued talking for another ten minutes. Ten minutes over my break time. I didn't want to go up to my office; I knew what awaited me. More specifically, I knew who awaited me. But I had to go. I couldn't hide away here forever.
Bidding Jimmy goodbye five minutes after that, also assuring him I felt better, I took my time getting in the elevator then pressing five buttons to prolong my ride. Sooner than I hoped, I was on my floor. Greeting Pam again, I walked briskly across while taking a deep breath.
I let it out when I saw an empty reception area where Jimmy sat at his desk.
I smiled brightly and moved along toward my door.
"Oh!" I heard Brad yell and turned. "I forgottt, Mr. Shhhields is in your officccee." He smiled awkwardly.
Intake another breath, Sere. It'll be fine.
I held the door knob for a moment, trying to mentally prep myself for whatever would come.
There are a million witnesses. Don't do it, Sere.
I thought over and over.
Do what you may wonder? Well, certainly not the crime you maybe thinking of.
I was more worried I wouldn't be able to control my hormones, always a problem with Darien. I couldn't give into them for a million and one reasons now.
First, he slept with my best friend and cousin twice and something about that, especially the second time, seemed wrong. Call me old-fashioned if you must. But twice?
Second, he's in my office- a place of professionals and not hormonal teen-minded adults.
Okay, those are the only two I can name. But I'm sure the other 999,999 reasons are there.
Then I opened it.
He wasn't seated at all. He stood against the wall, looking beyond pissed off. Not exactly what I had anticipated. But pissed off Darien I could deal with better.
"Hello, Mr. Shields."
"We're really going professional after you've ignored your client for almost a month?" Darien replied and I'm sure glared at me but I didn't dare look at him.
I headed towards my desk, sat down then met his eyes. The depths of his midnight gaze had too many emotions for me to decipher but that isn't my concern. I don't care.
"You're working with the marketing department right now; I've been conversing with them as well. Business is being seen to."
He kicked off the wall and seated himself loudly on the chair opposite my desk.
"What the hell, Serena?"
"I'm the one that should be asking that question. I made myself perfectly clear."
"You didn't even give me a chance to talk. I don't even understand how you could be so mad about this. It's in the past. Over. Fini if you want to stick to your random French outbursts."
"Seriously?" I tried to contain my scream. "You're seriously going to sit there and yell at me now, telling me I should just get over it?"
"Nothing else seems to be working. What else can I possibly do? It was a decade ago, Jesus! You're going to hold that over my head? Just break off everything because of what I did as a hormonal teenaged boy?" His anger rivaled my own. Then he laughed bitterly, "But speaking of which. You now seem to have your own fondness for hormonal teenaged boys again."
"Don't go turning this on me." I crossed my arms, trying to do something with them. "Jimmy is a kid who knows how to fill ten minute breaks."
"More like thirty." He threw back.
"Doesn't really matter how I spend my time, now does it? You think I can just forget something like that? Sleeping with my COUSIN twice. And not once mentioning it. And don't give me bullshit about it being a decade ago. You've slept with her twice, what more is there?"
"I didn't sleep with her." He argued glaring at me in slight confusion. I glared back, as I opened my mouth he cut me off. "I did back in high school, once. That's it. There was no second time. I don't know where you get your information but you should get another source."
"Mina, the girl whom you slept with, isn't reliable enough? Don't give me bullshit, Darien. You slept with her not just once but twice. Four months ago, for God's sake! Or are you so busy that you don't even remember that little excursion? Too many to fit one small brain."
"What the hell is up with these comments about me being a womanizer?" He yelled now, completely losing the Darien cool he always had. I could especially tell since he kept pushing his hair back with his hands in too small of intervals. "Where did you get this impression exactly? I must know. My social calendar is fairly sparse. I've dated and had sex, yes. I'm not denying that but I will deny this sudden label as a womanizer serial dater."
"Yet, you slept with my cousin twice and fail to remember the most recent activity?" The nerve of the man!
Again, he ran a hand through his hair. "I did not sleep with Mina twice! She thinks we slept together four months ago?" His voice was incredulous and a bit scornful. He gave a slight snort to put his point across. "Four months ago I ran into an old high school classmate at a bar downtown. She was not of sound mind, clearly distressed and not in condition to drive or even hale a taxi. Instead of leaving said woman at this bar, possibly having her pass out on the disturbing colored floor where God knows how many people barfed previously, I offered to have her stay at my place. She accepted. I wasn't even sure if she remembered who I was! Yes, she was that out of it. I drove her back to my apartment; I hadn't even taken a sip of alcohol that night yet so I was fine to do so. Again, no crime committed. We drove in silence, though once we stopped because we had a scare she might barf all over the seats. Once we got there, partially with me half carrying her, she collapsed on the bed. I slept on the couch. Next morning, she was gone. I did in no way sleep with her. Nothing involving sleep and her happened. Just sleep. She was in the general vicinity. Completely separate. End of story. A month later I met you, eventually met her in a different condition. I pretended it didn't happen, she was either doing the same or she couldn't remember. It really didn't matter either way. To me, she's just an old classmate. Yes, we slept together once but I was a kid, what's it matter?"
That stopped me short.
"You didn't sleep with her four months ago?"
"No!" He threw his hands back in frustration then looked at me, more gently. "You thought I'd sleep with her then a few months later just pretend to not know her? You really do have a poor opinion of me." He rubbed his eyes, which I now notice have slightly darkened bags beneath them. Even his face has slight stubble, clearly needing a shave. "Sere," His voice is gentler than ever, "I'm not that guy. I've never been that guy."
"I didn't know that."
"Clearly," He laughed bitterly, "What'd you like me for then? I'm not just a pretty face." It was a joke but I got the feeling he was really skeptical now.
"I…" I trailed off trying to think of what to say. My brain was still processing. "I liked… like you." That was my final lame response.
He laughed again, almost hysterically. I saw some kind of moisture trail down his cheek, but he quickly scrubbed at his face seemingly from frustration before I could identify it. He turned serious again, looking at me across the desk. Then without a word he got up and moved around our impediment. Pushing my rolling chair slightly to him he leaned down, his arms caging me from either side. Our breaths intermingled in the small space.
"Too bad for me then." Another small laugh. "Sere, you want to know what's behind this beautiful guise?" Even in the most serious of conversations his ego didn't faze. I nodded with a small, tentative smile. His breath whispered on my skin as he spoke, "I'm technically an orphan but with a family better than anyone could ask for." He started and I thought of my own friends and Sammy. "I was a filthy rich kid who had no control over his money though when I turned eighteen I got full access to it. A large sum of which had been dented by an… well, to put it nicely extravagant uncle. I put some of it into cancer research that a friend of mine started up in New Jersey when I had brains enough to think of it." I could barely stop myself from pushing forward and ending our separation. The smile was apparently all too clear because he laughed and shook his head then continued, "Though a lot of it went to my own excesses. Including that car you like to make fun of, as well as a larger than average condo. Oh, and a helicopter that I still need to get a license to drive." I raised my eyebrows at that but remained silent. "I am also a man who decided to do something completely irrational with the remaining sum. Open up a music production company with my best friend which didn't turn out too badly, actually. It's slowly showing its worth. But those things are all surface information. You need to know them, yes, but… Well, the most important little piece of information you need to know about me is…" He stopped and kissed me quickly before pulling back again and looking at me, "I don't like you." What?
He laughed, "It's the truth. I don't like you. Or… I guess to put it more romantically, I don't just like you. I love you, Serena."
My heart sputtered then did a twist akin to heart burn, but the best kind of heartburn. The kind that makes you want to jump up and down and maybe do a few dancing queen moves.
I finally let go of my restraints.
Wrapping my arms quickly around his neck I brought his face towards mine as fast as humanly possible. He didn't object though he adjusted the situation a bit by kneeling down instead of squatting which, I'm sure, couldn't have been comfortable. He's a bit shorter than I am in this new position so I have to lean down but I don't mind. His arms are around me; his lips and mine are indistinguishable. Everything is fine. More than fine.
When we finally came up for air he gave a laugh with that crooked smile I'd nearly forgotten about.
"That mean you'll consider continuing dating me?"
I laughed this time. "We haven't even gone on a single date."
His face scrunched up in slight confusion and I stopped myself from pointing out how cute it was. His ego was big enough. Then he grinned again, "We've gone on plenty of dates. I don't want my seeing you displace your dinner to lose credit here. It should count for something. I'll admit they weren't official… or orthodox."
"I've always been a bit weird." I replied thoughtfully.
"This is true." He laughed and I swatted his head.
Then I felt the lightest pressure around me and realized he was signaling me to get up which makes sense I suppose. Maybe in romantic movies it doesn't hurt but in reality staying in that kind of position is a pain. He slightly grunted in pain when he got up and I laughed.
"Old man," I said remembering a similar situation involving a closet. The line seemed to bring me good luck. This time was no disappointment.
He made no comment this time except for a skeptical brow then he proceeded to adjust the situation to his liking… and to mine too. He now leaned against me with the wall supporting my back. He kissed me again this time deeper than before and with a little wandering of the hands. I stopped their progress after a bit of indulgence.
He looked at me questioningly.
I smiled in reassurance.
"I'm not just weird. There's a bit more to this beautiful exterior too." He raised a brow, encouraging me to continue. "I was a girl who took everything a bit too seriously ever since I was sixteen years old. A girl who lost her dad too quickly, too soon. I learned to take things seriously." I swallowed the lump in my throat but I knew my emotions would betray me again. And they did. Darien's expression was gentle, not too demanding nor too placated. I continued as he wiped the few tears that dropped away. "A woman who had to take even more responsibilities when her mom lost the fight against her own body. I was almost twenty. Sammy was twelve. I'm a mother, not just a sister. I have to be." I took a breath to steady myself then looked up at Darien again through misty eyes, "I've told you that before, but I haven't mentioned a couple other important details. I'm also a girl who never took that last step in a relationship." I raised my eyebrows, willing him to understand without my mentioning it explicitly. His face was scrunched in confusion. "I'm a twenty-eight year old who hasn't dated much. And certainly hasn't dated the right guys. That being said and with me being serious in everything I do and busy being maternal… I've never done certain things." I gave it a second, and, yup, there it is. His expression is shocked to say the least but to his credit he didn't move away or make some snarky remark.
He just reiterated it, to be explicit. "You've never had sex."
"Yes." I replied. I continued before he added anything else, "So you can see how my thinking that you and Mina had… you know… Twice would be a bit bothersome. I mean, it's still not a pleasant idea but it's a decade ago I can get over that versus a few months. But anyway, yeah. I'm that girl."
"I see." He replied, nodding.
"And I make no apologizes for it either." I restated, glaring at him. He raised his brows.
"I wouldn't expect you to."
What's that mean, though?
"As in… you're okay with it?" I questioned to clarify.
He gave a laugh, "Sere, I admire you for it… And… Well, call me selfish but I'm glad."
I smiled mischievously, "So sure you're the one?"
"Well, aren't I?" He questioned with a bit of playfulness as well as seriousness.
It's now or never. I know it and so does he.
"Who better than the guy I'm head over heels in love with?"
He laughed blissfully then leaned in for a kiss that said it better than any of my own rambling words could ever describe.
Soon after a flustered Brad interrupted us. I pushed Darien away as fast as humanly possible when I heard the knob turn, but clearly Brad wasn't that dumb. When he left all Darien said was, "You Meatballhead." And I couldn't even argue because he'd gone back to our original business.
And, no, not quiet that far….
I called Mina that night.
She was surprised when she heard my voice on the other end of the line though in a good way.
"That's me." I said with a slight laugh.
"You're calling me." She was a bit tentative.
"Mins, I need to know something." I replied and continued before she had to ask. "What do you remember about that night? With Darien?"
"Sere…" She trailed off trying to avoid.
"No, Mins, just tell me. Please. I need to know." I believe him, I do. I just need to confirm it. I have to.
"I don't know why you'd want to…" I waited. It worked. "Sere, the whole night is a blur. Jason had just broken up with me. I was in pieces. You know that." I nodded to myself, remembering Mina's six-month relationship with the realtor. "I don't remember anything, Sere. I swear. I don't. All I know is Darien was there and I found myself waking up in his apartment the next morning. I saw a picture next to the bed with him and some guy on the dresser and then I remembered seeing him the night before. I ran out right then."
I breathed a sigh of relief. Everything was confirmed. I smiled to myself.
"Mins, you didn't sleep with him."
"Sere…" She sounded concerned. "I'm sorry but…"
"No, Mins. I talked to Darien. You slept at his apartment, yes, but you didn't sleep with him. He just put you up for a night, that's it."
She paused. "Oh my God."
"I know, right?"
She proceeded to apologize profusely once more for how she'd told me everything, even the lies. I accepted this time on the condition that she never drink that much again. She made a wishy-washy promise, but I accepted it with a laugh.
That night I went to bed with a smile pasted on my face, permanently. Luna slept soundlessly on the other half of my pillow, but I couldn't even think of joining her in the land of slumbers. My waking life was so much better.
And when the incessant alarm rang the next morning I finally understood my mother's words so many years ago. Waking up early had some appeal to it. The appeal you wonder? It's in the form of a midnight blue eyed man who had promised me our first official date. Breakfast before work.
Coffee is included in the package too, so I'll be more than fine.