Authors Note: I know most of you are waiting for the next chapter in Surprises, and believe me its coming, but I couldn't get this out of my head. Let me know what you think.
Chapter 1- Breaking the Surface
On the outside, I was smiling,
On the inside, I was screaming.
The muscles in my face were freezing up. I wanted the engagement party to be over so Joe and I could get back to our relatively normal lives. I spent half my time in the bathroom, avoiding his and my grandma and the other half at the buffet table. But that stopped when my mother took away my plate and told me I was not going to be a fat bride.
My name is Stephanie Plum, and I'm about to be married.
I gave up bounty hunting about three months ago in lure for a safer job. I suddenly didn't want to be chasing every skip around town or picking up my latest stalker. Once I had learned to get up on time, my job at the button factory was looking better every day. And Joe seemed to mellow out somewhat, since I wasn't blowing up cars regularly and contact with Ranger had seemed to stop.
Ranger. Every time I thought his name, my stomach would drop a little bit. I'll never forget the last conversation we had.
"Heard you quit, Babe." He said to me late one night after breaking into my apartment
"You heard right."
"You need a job?"
"Nope, I start at the button factory on Monday."
"But I thought they fired you." His lips twitched into an almost smile.
"It's not management this time."
"Whenever you need a job, come talk to me." He leaned down to kiss me. I moved back and could see confusion etched in his face.
"I'm marrying Morelli."
This made him stop. Whatever emotion was on his face, was now gone. The blank face had slammed down. "Congratulations." He got up to leave.
"Good-bye, Steph." And like the wind, he was gone.
Joe came up to me and put his arm around my waist. I almost cringed away from him, but stood there, stoically like I had for the last three months.
I walked down the concrete steps and sat down; finally peace and quiet. I couldn't take answering one more question about the wedding, or the cake, or my dress. I put my head into my hands. After some time had gone by, I felt the bristling on my neck. Ranger was here. I looked up and saw him standing there in all his glory. I stood up and moved away from the house into the dark alley. When we were safely hidden, Ranger pushed me against the brick wall and passionately kissed me.
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
"I needed to see you." He replied, nuzzling into my neck. There was a long pause, and he said something, but I couldn't hear it.
"I said, I love you," he moved his head so we were eye to eye, his hands holding my face. "I want to be with you and I want you to come with me right now."
I couldn't believe it. He was saying all the things I wanted him to say, but at the wrong time. "I love you, but I told Joe I'd marry him. I'm not going back on my word. I thought you knew that about me."
"I thought maybe this once…"
That maybe if he told me everything that I would go with him, that maybe it would be enough, I thought, completing his thought. Tears began to stream down my face. He brushed them away with the pad of his fingers.
"I can't," I whispered, wishing that it weren't true. "God, I love you so much that it hurts, but I just can't."
He kissed me one last time and when we turned to walk out the alley, Joe was standing there.
"Joe, it's not what you think…" I started.
"It's not? Then tell me why I just saw you kissing him?"
I couldn't think of anything logical. I turned to Ranger. "You better go."
He didn't move. I rolled my eyes and began to push him. "Go," I said louder. This time he left. He walked all the way to the car without looking back and sped away. When I turned to look at Joe again, he was red faced.
I sighed. I thought that we had gotten past all the feelings of jealousy that Joe had felt towards Ranger. I guess not. "Just say it, Joe. He's a raving lunatic and I should have nothing to do with him. Well, stop worrying because I won't anymore."
"How do you know?"
Because I had seen the look in his eyes before our last kiss. Our good-bye kiss. "He told me."
"And you believe him."
"Why would he lie to me?"
"Because he's trying to steal you away from me!"
"God, Joe, if you get any greener, you'll become the Hulk." I spat sarcastically. I was done with all of this. Joe's jealousy was getting to an all-time high and I don't think I can take it anymore.
"Let's just go back inside and we'll talk about this later."
"Fine," I huffed.
After everyone had left, Joe proceeded to berate me about the alley. He thought I was cheating on him and what would've happened if that was my mother or his mother instead of him and that I should stop, otherwise we wouldn't get married. I just sat there. I didn't listen as he went on and on about a relationship that was never there. We were both too upset to have sex, and I was lying awake thinking about the entire night. How it was nice that our parents threw us a nice party, and that I needed to get that recipe from Mary Lou and the fact that the only time I felt alive was when Ranger kissed me.
At that moment, I had an epiphany. It was a large one. I haven't been feeling anything in over three months. I have been the shell of a former Stephanie. I felt like I was breaking the surface of the water. Life was becoming clear again. I didn't want to marry Joe. Actually, that wasn't true. A part of me will always wonder what kind of life I would have if I did marry him. But, I just can't. I quietly got out of bed and began collecting my things. I looked at the clock. 2 am. Perfect timing to make a getaway, I thought.
I drove back to my apartment and began my preparations. First, I dumped my purse out on the table and took out all the GPS tracking systems that Ranger had slipped in there. I needed to be alone and I couldn't do it knowing that Ranger could come by any day and drag me back. Next, I packed as many clothes as I could into as many bags as I had. I also packed a bag for Rex, I was planning to drop him off at Mary Lou and give her the necessary letters that I had written. I had written one to my mother, my father, Grandma Mazur, the Merry Men, Lula, Connie, Vinnie, Joe and of course Ranger. Out of all of them, Lula and Ranger were the hardest. How do you tell the two people who know you the best that you need to be alone for awhile? I started packing the car, making sure to disable the GPS on the car. Thankfully Ranger gave me free range with the on/ off switch. I would probably swap the car out somewhere, just in case. I was ready to leave by 5 in the morning, knowing that Joe wouldn't be up, but Mary Lou would be. It was a production to get those kids up.
"Stephanie? What are you doing here?" She asked when I reached her front door.
"Hey Mare, I need to talk to you." We went inside and she poured me a cup of coffee and I told her the whole story.
"So you're not marrying Joe?"
"No, I can't."
"Is this about Ranger?"
"No, not all of it at least," I brought the letters from outside of my pocket. "I need you to get these to the right people." I flipped through them one more time, just to make sure I had them all. Finally reaching Ranger's, I placed a small kiss on the envelope and handed the stack to Mary Lou. She looked stunned, but nodded.
"How long will you be gone?"
I sobbed. "I don't know. Long enough for him to forget he loves me." I didn't need to specify the who because she already knew just exactly who I was talking about.
"Steph," she started, and then she smiled. "That man will never forget how much he loves you. I've seen it in his eyes."
"I've screwed up Mare, I never wanted to love him, but I do. I've messed his life up way to much to fix it. I need him to forget me." I looked at the clock. Joe would be up soon. "I need to go. Tell Joe nothing." She nodded and we hugged.
"I made you my emergency contact. Just in case."
"Just in case," she repeated.
I ran to my car and quickly pulled out. I needed to be out of Trenton. And fast.