"Matt, breathe okay? My parents will like you," Emily insisted not for the first time that morning.
They were walking down the block to Emily's parent's house in Albany. There were light flurries falling on them, and Matt was trying not to look as nervous—or cold—as he felt. He'd teased her about being so nervous meeting his gianormous family, but his throat was dry just at the thought of meeting her much smaller family.
Matt nodded his understanding for the umpteenth time that morning. It wasn't really getting through though. He was about to meet his girlfriend's parents, and that was always a nerve-wracking experience. Actually, it would be easier if it was just a girlfriend, but this was Emily. That alone set the bar a dozen times higher. He could not under any circumstances screw this up.
They were going to meet and greet with her parents, before they all headed off to Emily's Aunt and Uncle's house (her mother's sister). There they'd meet her mother's two sisters and their families. Emily had a whopping four cousins—two female, two male, but one of the guys was with his wife at her family's Christmas. The guy that would be there was also married, with a kid (though Matt would be damned if he could remember age, sex, or name). Two of the women were married, one had two kids, and the other was pregnant.
The door opened seconds after Emily knocked, and a grey-haired woman appeared with a big smile.
"Oh sweetie, I missed you!" Emily hugged her excited mother, seemingly just as happy to see the woman.
"Hey mom, I missed you too."
"You should come home more often." She stepped back and ushered them inside, turning to Matt. "Now, unless Emily started going through boyfriends quicker than her cousins did in high school, you have to be Matt."
"Yes, it's nice to meet you ma'am." Matt smiled, and shook her hand.
"I'm very happy to meet you too Matt, but let me pretend I'm a little younger, and call me Suzie."
"I thought I heard voices," a man's voice entered the room before the rest of him did.
Emily grinned. "You know, I could diagnose that for you?"
"Very cute, Emily Renee." He rolled his eyes, before embracing his daughter.
"Hey Dad," she greeted, before stepping back to introduce Matt. "Dad, this is Matt."
"Pleasure to meet you. Does my daughter psychoanalyze you too?" He said it teasingly.
"She tries, but I make a lousy therapy patient."
"Probably why she likes you, Emily always did need a challenge."
"Dad!" Emily admonished him, half laughing.
"What? You've never been satisfied with anything, unless you had to work for it," he insisted.
"Yeah, that sounds about right," Matt chuckled.
"Isn't it though?" Her mother agreed. "She was the only child I know of that grew angry if her homework was too easy. If she had none, she was as happy as anything other child, but if someone gave her homework, it better have been challenging."
"Oh, thanks mom, now I sound like a dork."
"But see, that's why I like you," Matt teased.
Emily shot him a playful glare.
"Oh!" Suzie suddenly exclaimed. 'Oh my goodness! Emily Renee Lehman how could you not tell me!"
Emily's wide eyes told Matt that she was as surprised and confused by her mother's sudden outburst as he was.
"What didn't I tell you?"
Suzie Lehman waved at Emily's left hand, her ring finger decorated with Janie Flannery's ring. Matt and Emily exchange quick looks, and knew they were about to lie again.
"Oh yeah, I wanted to tell you in person, Mom."
Her mother frowned, one hand planted on her hip. "Then why not say something?"
Emily cringed. "We're still a little shy about it?"
Because it's a lie, she added to herself. But, if Matt's family believed they were engaged, it's better that Emily's did also. God forbid they discussed the engagement date at the wedding, and the families had different dates.
"Well, I can forgive that." Suzie smiled, and then quickly pulled Emily into a tight hug. "Congratulations sweetheart."
"Thanks Mom." Emily managed, though her mother was almost certainly compressing her chest in that hug.
She finally released Emily, and grabbed Matt, squeezing him as tightly.
"My little girl is getting married." Emily's father looked at her in a sort of stunned awe, before pulling her in for a hug. She was his youngest, and really the only child left to him.
Matt stood nervously until Jake Lehman offered his hand, and then he took it readily. The older man pulled him into an embrace complete with straight-guy pat on the back, and whispered in Matt's ear. "You keep making her happy, I'll keep liking you. You don't, I hang your balls on our front door."
"Yes sir." Matt stepped back, eyes a little wide, face a little pale. Emily noticed right away.
"Dad, what did you say to him?" Hands on her hips, she regarded him, appearing to her father like the stubborn teenager she'd been so many years ago.
"I just impressed upon him the importance of keeping you happy."
"You don't need to, he makes me very happy."
Emily rolled her eyes, as did her mother, who suddenly jumped.
"Oh! You're aunt moved dinner up, we need to leave now. If we're late, we'll never hear the end of it." Suzie shook her head, unpleasantly.
Matt raised his eyebrow's at her sudden change of tone, to one that was almost hostile. Emily shook her head at him, she'd explain that later.
"Suzanne, Jake, good to see you." A man in his late thirties opened the door to Emily's cousin's house, and greeted her parents with hugs.
"You too, Tony." Suzie agreed, moving into the house.
"Emily, we weren't sure you'd make it. How have you been, it's been a while?" He smiled and hugged Emily as well.
"Good, busy...uh Tony, this is Matt. Matt, Tony is my cousin, Bethany's husband." She introduced the two men, who shook hands.
A brunette swept into the hall, a nasty smirk on her face. "Well, look who decided to grace us with her presence. I'm surprised you actually came."
"Bethany, nice to see you." Emily tried unsuccessfully to hide a grimace, as the women shared a very cold hug.
They followed her parents into the living room, where people sat and stood scattered throughout. Maybe a dozen of them. Two older couples, two younger couples, and a small handful of kids under twelve. Emily took back Matt's hand and squeezed it tightly. She'd had no desire to see anyone in that room, but with family you don't get a choice.
"Gosh Emily, I can't believe you actually came!" Another brunette approached Emily, with wide eyes, and a smile like a tiger sizing up the antelope he was eager to sink his teeth into.
"Hi Halie, this is Matt. Matt, my cousin Halie." Emily engaged in another icy hug, and made half-hearted introductions.
"Can you believe it Halie, she actually brought a guy!" Bethany was back, and wearing a similar hungry smile.
"After all these years, I'd just figured Emily was into women." Halie shrugged.
Emily resisted the urge to hang her head, and just continued smiling like she didn't mind any of it. God knew, she had enough practice.
Matt smiled politely, as Emily continued with introductions, meeting her aunts and uncles, and her cousin Jeremy and his wife Sasha. They mostly stood or sat for the next twenty minutes, listening boredly to Halie and Bethany gush about their wonderful lives. The women's parents gushed about their children, and how wonderful they were, and seemed especially taken by Halie's baby bump. It was the topic of the day, and carried them into dinner, when the conversation turned to Emily.
"So Matt, where did you find Emily?" Bethany asked once they'd sat down to dinner.
"Uh, we work together. We're partners." Matt didn't like her, so he gave her the most basic answer he could.
She shot a pleased look at Halie. "Really, you brought your partner, Emily?"
"Yes Beth, Matt is my partner." Emily kept her eyes on her food. She knew exactly what her cousin was thinking--that she dragged her partner to dinner, because she had no one else.
"See Beth, I told you she was into women." Halie grinned like she'd just proven herself victorious.
Suzie hissed from her end of the table. "They're engaged."
The table went silent, no talking, no forks scrapping teeth, no knives cutting meat.
Bethany arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Really, you didn't mention that, Emily?"
Suzie spoke again. "It's her business when she tells you." After so many years, she was tired of her nieces attacking the only daughter she still had.
Emily held up her left hand, showing off the blue opal on her ring finger. She didn't want to talk about it. She wanted to eat, watch her cousin's children tear open presents, and get the hell out of there.
"No diamond? I suppose you don't make much in the FBI." Halie spoke as if it was no big deal, but knew exactly what she'd said.
Matt spoke quietly, fearing anything louder would shake his control. "It was my mother's ring. She died when I was twelve, and left it to me. It means more than any diamond."
"Sorry, I didn't realize." She could have sounded less apologetic, but it would have been hard.
"So what does your boss say about your engagement?" Jeremy asked, curiously. He was seven years older than Emily, and had been vicious to his young cousin when they were kids, but didn't have as much interest anymore.
"She's looking for new partners for us, otherwise, she's happy. She'll be a bridesmaid," Emily said.
They hadn't actually started planning the wedding, technically they weren't really engaged yet, but she sure as hell wasn't having more than two bridesmaids, and Cheryl and Lia were her closest female friends.
"You're good friends with her?"
"Yeah, she was Matt's partner for five years before she got promoted."
"Did you date her too?" Bethany couldn't resist, her Cheshire cat smile was proof of that.
"No, never had the inclination." Matt didn't even flinch.
After everyone found out he and Emily were more than friends, they assumed Matt and Cheryl had been screwing around the five years they were partners. Her question wasn't a surprise to him.
"So then, what drew you to our little Emily?"
Emily was the youngest of all the cousins, by a few years, and they never let her forget it.
"Besides the obvious?" Matt asked, and then paled slightly and turned to her father, adding a sheepish. "Sorry, sir."
Jake chuckled. "Don't worry about it. I know my little girl is beautiful, just like her mom."
His kissed his wife's cheek, while Matt swallowed the lump in his throat. As a general rule, a man does not insinuate his girlfriend is hot in front of her father, lest he wants to lose his balls.
"Yes then, besides the obvious." Bethany said.
"I think it would be a little hard to explain to someone who clearly doesn't see her how I do." Matt tried to be polite, but the woman was pissing him off.
Further pissing him off was that Emily was just taking it. It was as if the strong, confident woman he knew melted into a quiet little shadow. No wonder they didn't see it.
"Exactly why I asked...but you can't really answer, can you?" Bethany smiled, pleased with herself.
"I told you, it's hard to explain."
Emily squeezed his hand, sensing the tension in his voice. She wasn't offended that he couldn't explain, she couldn't give the same answer about him either. It wasn't something you could explain to people, it was just something you felt.
"Ha! What did I tell you, Halie, it's all a lie. I bet you she paid him, he's probably an escort."
"I really didn't think Emily was that pathetic."
Matt blinked in shock for a minute. Did she just call him a hooker? And, the other one called Emily pathetic. He's buttons were just about pushed.
"He isn't an escort, Beth. He's my fiancé, we live together," Emily insisted.
"Sure, you do sweetie."
Emily sighed. "Would it kill you to be happy for me, just once?"
"Maybe if I could believe it, I would be."
"You just don't want to believe it."
"And why wouldn't I want to believe it, Emily?" Bethany batted her eyelashes.
Emily knew why, but had behaved herself all these years to avoid pointing it out, and causing an argument. She shook her head, and swallowed. She'd behaved herself too many years already.
"Because Beth, that would mean I'm not only more successful than you and Halie, but that I'm happy too, even happier. You're a stay-at-home mom, and you don't even like it. You can't stand your kids or your husband, and you never even finished college. It was easy to put me down when we were kids, I wasn't pretty, I was a shy, badly-dressed dork that barely said two words to anyone, and certainly wouldn't defend myself. And, for the longest time I believed everything you said, but then I grew up. I have a doctorate, I'm at the top of my field, and that must hurt, Beth. Now, I come back to New York with a guy I'm crazy about, and it's acid in the wound. Well, I'm sorry, but I've had enough. I won't apologize for what I have and you don't."
Emily pulled the napkin off her lap, and stood up, ready to bolt "Happy Holidays everyone."
Then she did leave, Matt right behind her. They grabbed their coats, and took off to the car, Emily dialing a cab along the way. She still remembered the number for one, and thank god for that, she wasn't staying a moment longer. She didn't even know why she came.
"Emily! Matt!" Her mother came running out of the house, and stopped them as they hit the sidewalk.
"I'm done, Mom. I don't want to see them, and they don't want to see me."
"I know, I know. Go back to the house, your father and I will finish up here, and meet you there. I didn't get to see much of you, and I'd like to before you go back to California." The older woman looked heart-broken at the idea of her daughter taking off without much of a visit.
Emily relented. "Alright, do you have keys?"
"Here. I'll see you in an hour or so." Suzie kissed both their cheeks.
"Don't try to smooth anything over mom, it isn't worth it."
She reluctantly nodded, and then hurried back up to the house.
Emily moaned as they walked down the block. "God Matt, I'm sorry this was such a disaster."
"If you hadn't said something, I would have," he admitted.
"I hate my cousins, but I'll still have to invite them to our wedding...which, everyone we know thinks we're engaged now, does that mean we're engaged?" Emily turned to him, forehead creased with her confusion.
"Whoa, why do we have to invite them? And no, since I haven't actually asked you yet."
"Because I don't hate my aunts or uncles, if we invite them, I have to invite their children. Besides, there is a silver lining to having them there..." Emily grinned to herself.
"Really, what is it, cause I can't even imagine…" Matt was frowning now, completely bewildered.
"They have to sit there and stew in their jealously, while I'm deliriously happy," she said, capturing his lips.
"Oh, you'll be deliriously happy on our wedding day?" Matt smiled now, amused that Emily was showing the nasty streak she kept well hidden. She was a sweet, wonderful person, but that didn't mean she couldn't shoot a glare, or enjoy someone else's misery just a tiny bit when the situation called for it.
"Of course, why else get married?" She smiled seductively, the anger that had flared up in her seemed to have virtually disappeared.
They'd stopped at the end of the block to wait for the cab, and Matt took that still moment to sweep her against his body and give her much more than a peck on the lips.
They spent a few hours with Emily parents before heading to the airport, and catching the six-thirty flight to LA. Of course, it being winter in up-state New York, the flight was delayed two hours. Then they were diverted to Texas, because of bad weather where their original lay-over was, complicating things further. They had to wait another two hours in Texas, before another plane would leave for LA. The negotiators finally got home around two a.m., and didn't have the energy for sex. It was enough that they even bothered to change.
The next morning they slept until after eleven, when Emily finally began blinking awake. She was facing Matt's back, and she could see their sage green curtains blocking the morning light beyond him. Emily shimmied toward him, pressing her body against his, and wrapping an arm around his stomach.
His body moved against hers gently, telling her that he was awake. After a minute, he turned over to face her, quickly wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her close again. She leaned into him, pressing her lips to his. It teetered on intense, but one could only handle so much upon waking up.
"Hey, morning." Matt smiled.
"Morning." Emily settled against him, feeling relaxed for the first time in weeks.
They'd survived Christmas, and that was no small feat. Sure, the party with their friends was easy and fun, but their family gatherings had to be handled a bit more...delicately. Matt's family still welcomed Emily with open arms, and she was steadily becoming more comfortable with the sheer volume of them. They left Albany knowing that Emily's parents liked Matt, and the rest of her relatives…well, they didn't really matter.
Matt turned his head, and captured his girlfriend's lips again, pushing this kiss deeper than the first. That was really all it took. The temperature soared between them, and soon Emily had maneuvered herself on top of Matt, never breaking the kiss. Hands slid over skin, fingers dug into hair, and clothes began landing on the floor of their bedroom. They drew it out as long as possible, taking the opportunity of a completely free day to make love the way they didn't often get too.
They laid back on the bed, breathing heavily and slick with sweat. Matt pulled Emily back against him, drawing the sheets and blankets over their bodies to stave of the chill. They fell back asleep, Emily resting against Matt's chest, their arms and legs intertwined.
Matt woke around noon to find Emily still burrowed into him, and kissed the top of her head. He needed to move, but how to do that without waking her? Her Christmas present was hidden safely in the den, and he had planned on surprising her with it in the morning. It no longer morning, but if he could figure a way out of the bed without waking her, he could still surprise her. Of course, he should also make coffee. You don't try and surprise a coffee-drinker before they've had their coffee, they'll be too fuzzy to process it.
He frowned. He was going to have to wake her. Damn.
As carefully as he could, Matt eased his body away from hers, and his arm out from under her. Emily stirred and blinked her eyes open. Matt cursed silently.
"Mmmm, don't go, it'll be cold," she said pitifully, moving back toward him.
Matt chuckled. "I have to use the bathroom."
Emily frowned, but relented, allowing him to move, though diving deeper under the covers. He watched her go still, and knew, even if she wasn't awake, she wasn't moving without considerable coercion.
He threw on the black cotton robe Emily bought him last year, and trekked out to the kitchen. He started the coffee first, hit the bathroom, and then crept off to the den, but not before peaking in on Emily. She was still curled up in bed, unlikely to move.
Matt went over to his desk, and pulled open the filing drawer on the bottom. Emily had ventured to pull open the cabinet only once. She'd taken in the lack of labels, the haphazard storage of paper and who the hell knew what, and said she'd never open it again. That's why he'd chosen to hide the little bag between two of the folders in the far back. He pulled a box out of the bag, and quickly stored it in his robe pocket.
In minutes, he was walking into their bedroom with two steaming cups of coffee, which he set on the nightstand.
Emily pulled her head out of the covers and looked up at him, the confusion of sleepiness written on her face.
"You want some coffee?"
She nodded, and pulled herself up in bed, hissing immediately at the cold. That's right, she was naked.
Matt was already handing her robe when she started to look around the floor for her pajamas. She pulled it over her body, and crawled back under the covers, sitting up in bed. Before Matt could grab one of the cups, she pulled him close for another kiss.
He caught his breath, leaning his forehead against her. "Hmmm...we do that again, and this coffee will get cold."
Emily laughed lightly, and fell back against the pillow, propped on the headboard. Matt handed her a cup and then climbed in beside her. They sipped quietly until Matt worked up his nerve, and set his coffee back on the night table.
Emily noted the sudden change in his demeanor, a change that would be imperceptible to anyone else. She turned toward him, and watched him reach his hand into his pocket, and pull out a small box with a ribbon wrapped around it. Without a word, Matt handed her the box, taking her cup of coffee, and setting it down beside his.
She was awake, but not awake enough to really consider the size of the box, and what it might mean. She pulled at the ribbon, and opened the box as if it were an ordinary Christmas gift. Inside was a black velvet jewelry box--no surprise there. She pulled out the box, and opened it to reveal a diamond ring. A thin silver band weaved on either side toward a marquise cut diamond, with a tiny round diamond on each side.
Emily's head flew up, wide eyes staring at Matt's. That woke her up better than any cup of coffee could hope too.
"Em, I know this makes you nervous, and that I said we'd wait, but hear me out, okay?"
Emily nodded slowly.
"I thought this pretending to be engaged thing would freak me out, but it doesn't, not at all. Maybe at first a little, but now, it just feels right. It feels right to see you wearing that ring, because you are the only woman I've ever wanted to give it to. I told you when I gave it to you, it was knowing that one day, I'd give you another and ask you to marry me...I know what I want, Em...I want you, and I want you until we're both old and grey, and mixing up our dentures." He grinned.
Emily smiled through the tears that had begun to collect in her eyes.
"I love you, and I need you, so will you marry me?" Matt swallowed nervously, his own eyes moistening.
Emily nodded her head, her voice coming out as a hoarse whisper. "Yes, yes."
Matt slipped the ring on her finger, beside his mother's ring, and pulled her against him. They held each other tightly, tears slipping from both their eyes. Emily breathed and her body shuddered with the emotion running through it. This wasn't what she imagined waking up to, but somehow, it didn't frighten her.
Actually, she was pretty damn happy.
I know Christmas is over, but I needed to write this before the next part--the wedding. Trying to push past writer's clock on Falling, so forgive me again. Thanks for reading, and please review!