Disclaimer: I own nothing - and this will be true for every single chapter of this story.
A/N: Well here it is. The sequel to Twenty Five Roses. This all started with my Christmas story which was originally meant to be a stand alone story. But I ended up making all of the events that took place in it true for Twenty Five Roses and now with this story, I find myself with a trilogy. In this chapter, we'll be taking a long walk down memory lane. I've included snippets from each of the previous stories, all of them part of a couple of dreams Kelsi is having throughout the chapter. I'll be including snippets from the first two stories throughout this one. A sidenote about the dashed lines - whenever you see a long dashed line it means we are either entering or coming out of a dream. The shorter dashed lines indicate a break between the different scenes of a dream. The title for this was inspired by the song of the same name by Little Big Town - beautiful song and one of my favorites. Like I said before, this story will have some similarites with Twenty Five Roses but with a bit of a twist. You won't find out what that is until the next chapter, but hopefully you'll like it. Thank you all once again for your amazing support of Twenty Five Roses. The response to that blew me away and I can't even begin to say how much I appreciated it. You all rock! So without further delay, I present to you the sequel. Long chapter warning. Hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think!
Kelsi sighed peacefully in her sleep, a faint smile on her face as she instinctively snuggled closer to her husband. Ryan glanced over at the bedside table and noted that it was time for them to get up. They had a plane to catch after all, and all of their friends to see. But as he turned his attention back to his wife, he didn't want to wake her. He lightly traced the outline of her face with his finger.
"I wish I knew what you were dreaming about," he said softly. He had no way of knowing the answer, though if he did it would have made him smile. Because the dream she was currently having was about him. Or rather, it wasn't so much a dream rather than a beautiful collection of memories that visited her as she slept. Memories like so many pictures making up a larger scrapbook. Each one enhancing the quality of the next and meshing together to create the single best story of Kelsi's life, a story that was growing and developing all the time. If their entire relationship – past, present, and future – was laid out on a film strip and if someone had to point out what part of the story they were living currently, they would have to point somewhere in the middle. Because the truth of the matter was that this story, this beautiful and wonderful story, had in so many ways only just began. Kelsi would soon find that out for herself. But for now she still slept peacefully in her husband's arms while her montage of memories had started at the best place for a story to start: at the beginning...
If Kelsi had been awake and able to analyze her current dream, she would have realized that each memory carried with it a pivotal part of her relationship with Ryan.
Starting with their first kiss...technically speaking.
"Hold on, I'll walk you to your car." He said, glancing outside. The rain had actually stopped around lunchtime but was starting up all over again. He quickly took off his jacket. "Here. So you don't get soaked again."
"What about you?"
"I'll live. Besides I have an umbrella," he waved it at her. He then grabbed her backpack and set it at her feet, indicating for her to turn around. "Come on, I don't want you to get drenched again. I mean...it won't keep you completely dry, but it'll help." She couldn't help smiling as she turned around so he could help her into it.
"Thanks Ryan." He reached down for her backpack and slipped it over one of his shoulders. He stepped outside first, opening the umbrella before she joined him, and the two of them walked across the parking lot to her car. He waited patiently while she unlocked it. She offered to drive him back to the building as he still had to wait for Sharpay, so he got in the passenger seat and they drove back to the building. "Here you can take your jacket now," she said as she pulled to a stop. He shook his head.
"That's okay; you can just bring it to school tomorrow. You still have to get in your house," he reminded her. "I'll be fine."
"Well...thanks...I'll see you tomorrow." She gave him a small smile and then surprised her by leaning across the console and giving her a quick, but soft, kiss on the cheek.
Blending into the first time Kelsi began to realize that her friendship with Ryan was turning into something else...
"Oh just you wait. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I guarantee that by the end of the day, you'll be singing Christmas carols with boundless enthusiasm."
"Boundless enthusiasm?" she giggled at him. "Somehow I doubt that."
"You never know," he reached over to brush a lock of her hair away from her face and in doing so their eyes met and held. Just like that, the moment changed from lighthearted banter between friends to something else. Something different that Kelsi couldn't quite identify. It was at that moment when she became suddenly aware of how close they were and now she thought she understood what was going on. The air between them now seemed to be one of a sort of anticipation mixed with nervousness. Funny how a moment could just change like that, Kelsi thought absently. It was like taking a nice, pleasant walk somewhere and suddenly finding yourself at the edge of a cliff, just a hair aware from falling off and into the unknown. The feeling managed to intrigue and terrify her all at the same time, leaving her torn between wanting to let the moment play out and wanting to run away. She felt her throat go dry as his gaze drifted from her eyes to her mouth and back again, this time with that odd sort of intensity she had seen from him a few days before. She gulped involuntarily, wondering why breathing all of a sudden seemed more difficult. She felt a wave of panic sweep over her as she realized she didn't exactly know what to do. Ultimately, the decision seemed to be already made for her as she found her gaze flickering to his lips while a strange sort of magnetic energy seemed to be pulling them closer together in what felt like slow motion. It was like being under a spell and as he moved closer, she went from being on the edge of a cliff to falling directly off of it. She felt her eyes fluttering shut and his breath on her face as they were moving closer and closer and...
"So what should we watch now?" Kelsi didn't consider herself to be a violent person by any means. In fact, the mere thought of violence made her feel a little queasy. And she liked Troy a lot, she even thought of him as a brother in a way. But at the moment, the idea of getting up off the loveseat to walk over and strangle him was suddenly very appealing. At his voice, she and Ryan jerked apart in opposite directions in an attempt to look as if they hadn't been a heartbeat away from kissing each other.
The first real kiss the two of them shared...
"You're still here," she said lamely.
"Yeah...I made it back to my car and remembered that I forgot something," he informed her. She remembered then that she had never given him back the jacket she had borrowed a few days ago when it had been raining.
"Your jacket," she nodded. "I can go get it," she started to turn but he grabbed her arm gently to stop her.
"I wasn't talking about my jacket," he said.
"You weren't?" He shook his head. "Then what did you forget?"
"This," he said calmly, pulling her towards him and then reaching up to frame her face with his hands. Kelsi's heart started pounding so fast in response that she was convinced that it would actually find a way to beat itself out of her body. He leaned in and softly brushed his lips against hers, barely making any contact and pulling back almost as soon as he made contact. He studied her face, as if to gauge her reaction and make sure she wasn't about to slap him. She gave him a small smile indicating that it was okay, and he returned it. He leaned back in and kissed her again, longer this time. At first she was unsure of what to do, but after a moment it seemed as if instincts she hadn't known she had kicked in and she kissed him back in response. He kept one hand on her face and moved the other one to the back of her head, gently holding her in place. In an attempt to both keep her arms warm and get a little bit closer to him, she slipped her arms under the jacket he was wearing and wrapped them around his waist. He was kissing her very lightly, but it was enough to send a wave of a strange tingling sensation all the way from her mouth down to her toes. She was very grateful to be holding onto him because she wasn't confident that her knees would be able to hold her up otherwise. The kiss lingered for a few more seconds until he pulled away and pressed his forehead to hers. "Wow," he murmured and she couldn't help letting out a small giggle in response.
"Wow," she repeated, in a whisper. He held her close for a few more moments and then eased away again, sliding his hands down her arms until he was holding both of hers.
"Now I really should get home," he grinned at her. "But I'll see you in a few hours." He lifted up both her hands and softly kissed each of them before letting her go.
"Okay," she agreed, feeling as if she had fallen completely under his spell.
Leading into the moment they officially became a couple...
"I had a really hard time figuring out what to get you for Christmas," she shook her head. "At first I thought about getting you a new hat, but that didn't work. I looked but there were a bunch I know you have and then there were others I thought you may already have, but I wasn't sure so I didn't get any of them. Out of the remaining ones I saw, there weren't any I really liked for you. And then I had a really hard time trying to think of something else."
"It's not a big deal Kelsi, really. The best present you could ever give me is just being with me," he said sincerely. "Well actually there is something else..."
"And what is that?" Kelsi had been planning on launching into what she had done for his Christmas present, but now was curious.
"Be my girlfriend," he offered. Kelsi felt the now familiar rush of butterflies in her stomach yet again.
"I could do that," she said, pretending to give the matter serious thought. "Yeah, I think I'm perfectly fine with that idea. Though geez, I wish I would've known that you'd be happy with that as your present. I could've saved some energy thinking about it!" Ryan laughed.
"You didn't hurt yourself did you?" he teased her.
"I try," he said, winking at her. "So then I guess we're officially official now?"
"I guess we are," she smiled.
Blending into the first time he ever made her cry...
"Hmm," Kelsi pondered the question. "We used to sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem"...Of course that was when we could spend the holiday with my grandparents. That's my Grandma's favorite...I guess it kind of rubbed off on me," she smiled. It was a sad smile though and he moved his arm around her shoulders.
"You miss her."
"Yes," Kelsi nodded. "It feels like it's been forever since we saw them," she sighed. "I was really looking forward to seeing them this year. Especially since I finally learned how to play that song. Last time I saw them I had just gotten my own keyboard and I told my Grandma I'd learn how to play it so I could play it for her."
"Well I'm not your Grandma, obviously, but...would you mind playing it for me?" he asked gently.
"Sure, why not? May as well play it for someone right? Will you sing along?" she asked.
"Of course," he nodded. Kelsi started playing and smiled as he started singing along as promised. She let her eyes close as she played, getting caught up in the song. They flew back open, though, when she heard someone else start singing near the end of the song. She glanced at Ryan, who was grinning at her. "Turn around," he suggested. She slowly twisted towards the entry of the room and gasped as she spotted who had been singing along.
"Oh my gosh," she whispered, her eyes filling up with tears. "Grandma?" She got up from the bench and stepped around it. "Grandpa?" She looked back at forth between the two for a moment before rushing into her grandmother's waiting arms. "I didn't think you could get a flight!" she cried, moving to hug her grandfather. "How did you find one?" She was crying openly now.
"I think you should ask your young man that," her grandfather spoke up, smiling over her head at Ryan. Kelsi turned towards him.
"Remember when you asked if your dad coming was the end of the surprises and I said maybe?" Ryan started. "Well this was the final surprise."
"But how? All the flights were booked." She was stunned.
"That's true," he agreed. "But it just so happens that my dad has a pilot's license and owns his own plane." He waited while what he said sunk in.
"Wait a second," she said slowly. "Your dad was supposed to be at the office..." she trailed off as realization hit her. "He was never at the office," she whispered. "He was flying out to get my grandparents." She covered her mouth with her hand for a few moments, overcome.
"I knew how much you wanted to see them," he explained. "I asked my dad to do a favor for me and he was happy to help."
"Oh Ryan," she shook her head, still crying.
"Kelsi?" Ryan called her name softly, gently shaking her to try and wake her up. "Time to wake up, baby."
"Don't want to," she mumbled in protest, pressing her face into his shoulder.
"Come on, honey," he tried again. "We have a place to catch..." When she didn't respond, he went with a different approach. "Well, you know, you can keep sleeping if you want to but then we're going to miss our flight and we won't see all of our friends and all of their children. And they're all going to have a wonderful week on a gorgeous tropical island and we'll be stuck here." She let out a sigh.
"Five more minutes?" she asked, hopefully.
"Nope," he replied, kissing the top of her head. "Unless you want to go to the airport in your pajamas." She grumbled and pushed back away from him. Her hair was a mess around her face and she still looked to be half asleep, but she was still the most beautiful woman Ryan had ever seen. "You can sleep on the plane," he promised her. She yawned, lifting her hand up to cover her mouth.
"I was having a wonderful dream," she informed him. "And now I lost it." She narrowed her eyes at him playfully. "Thanks a lot."
"Sorry baby," he said in response. "I held off waking you up for as long as I could. But we really do have to get ready."
"I still can't believe we're going to be spending a week in paradise practically," she smiled as wave of excitement about their trip hit. "It'll be..." she trailed off, pressing her hand to her stomach. "Uh oh."
"What?" he asked, concerned. "Are you feeling sick?" She barely managed a nod before almost hopping off of their bed and heading into the bathroom. Ryan frowned as he followed her, dropping to his knees behind her in order to pull her hair back from her face. This had been happening almost every morning for the past two weeks. Kelsi would wake up feeling sick to her stomach which usually resulted in her hurrying to the bathroom to throw up. There had been some days where she had made several similar trips to the bathroom and neither one of them could figure out what was wrong. After all, aside from being a little more tired than usual she had no other symptoms. "Maybe we should get you to a doctor," he muttered as she finished. She shook her head and reached up to flush the toilet before letting him help her to her feet.
"It's probably just stress," she decided. "We worked so hard on that show and have barely been sleeping. My mom gets sick to her stomach when she gets stressed out too. It always happens."
"It's been happening every day for two weeks, almost," he pointed out. "We've been done with the show for a week. Shouldn't you be over it by now?" He waited while she grabbed for her toothbrush and squeezed some toothpaste onto it.
"The show may be over but it can take a while for the stress symptoms to go away," she said calmly. "A week in paradise with my husband and our best friends is just what I need." She lifted her eyes to meet his worried ones in the mirror. "Don't worry, honey. I'm fine."
"Promise?" he asked. She smiled at his reflection.
"Okay fine, but if you don't feel better by the time we get back you're seeing a doctor. Deal?"
"Deal," she agreed.
Kelsi was quiet on the way to the airport, still feeling a little sleepy from having to get up so early. She rested her head on Ryan's shoulder and felt herself slowly drift back asleep and soon found herself dreaming once again. This time her dreams consisted of roses.
Her twenty-fifth birthday had easily been the most memorable birthday of her entire life. She was a Valentine's baby and Ryan had been called away to take care of something for his father, leaving her all along for Valentine's Day. Or so she thought. She had woken up to a beautiful white rose. A rose which had been the first of twenty five, according to the letter that had accompanied it. It had actually ended up being twenty six roses all together. With every rose came a new message as to why Ryan loved her so much. And that was the direction her dreams took her this time. She found herself flittering between the speeches that had accompanied each rose and the memories that they had been inspired by. Each and every rose had been special, but there had been a few in particular that had really stood out.
There had been a rose, given to her by Troy, for the very first time her and Ryan had told her he loved her...
"Kelsi Nielsen, you have completely lost your mind," he had started, his voice heartbreakingly tender as he had pressed a kiss to her temple.
"Gee thanks." Her voice had broken on the words and she was horrified to feel tears filling her eyes.
"You must be completely crazy if you honestly believe that it is in any way possible for me to forget about you once we get to Julliard," he had finished. "That could never happen."
"You don't know that," she had been able to hear the tears in her voice as she said it. He had responded by squeezing her a little tighter.
"Yes I do, actually. And do you want to know why?"
"Why?" she had whispered the question. He had angled his head so his lips were right at her ear.
"Because I am completely and hopelessly in love with you," he had said softly.
"You're what?" She had been fairly shocked by the words and convinced that she had been hearing things.
"I'm in love with you." She had pulled away from him just enough that she could slowly turn around to face him.
"Are you serious?"
"Completely," he had traced the outline of the side of her face with his finger as he said it.
"Really?" Her voice had been so hopeful at the idea that he had smiled.
"Really," he had confirmed, leaning in to give her a soft kiss. "I wanted to tell you months ago but I just couldn't get the words to come out."
"Oh Ryan," she had sighed. "I love you too." He must have misinterpreted the nerves in her voice as her being uncertain about her feelings, because he had frowned slightly.
"Aw Kelsi, you don't have to say it back just because I said it. I don't want to push you." He had suddenly looked so uncharacteristically nervous that she couldn't help smiling. "I only want you to say that to me if you mean it. Not because you feel like you have to because I did."
"Okay," she had agreed with him. "Ryan?"
"Yes?" She had leaned in toward him so her mouth was closer to his ear.
"I love you," she had whispered.
There had been the rose symbolizing, among other things, the way Ryan thought of Kelsi as his own personal enchantress...
"After all," his voice grew tender, "you had my heart from that first moment even if I didn't know it. Which brings me to the last thing that this rose symbolizes...enchantment. Kelsi...I am totally enchanted by you. It's not just the things you do; it's the way you do them. You know, the way you move...the way you play the piano...the way you talk..."
"Oh Ryan," she whispered.
"The way you say my name," he smiled. "The way you smile..." He brought his hands to her face and started gently brushing away her tears with his thumbs. "The way you laugh...the way you cry when you're happy...The way you love me...the way you love you friends and your family...You have me completely under your spell and you don't even know it. I don't think there's anything or anyone that could break it, which is great for me because I'm perfectly happy being under it. You're like my own, personal, princess slash enchantress and I wouldn't have it any other way."
And, of course, there had been the last two roses that had been given to her at the same time. These roses were without question the most special of them all...
He tilted his head. "Do you know what two roses given at the same time means?"
Kelsi shook her head, positive that she wouldn't have been able to speak if she had tried to.
"Two roses together mean a couple of things. One, it symbolizes mutual love and says that not only are we a couple, but also that the bond between us is inseparable and that there isn't anything that can come between us. And to tie into that, they represent an upcoming marriage or engagement," he began, "which I find to be very appropriate because all of that ties into what I was just saying." He held up the two roses and took a deep breath. "Kelsi Nielsen...I love you with all of my heart and soul and I want to build a life and a family with you." He looked deep into her eyes as he continued. "Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? Will you marry me?" Kelsi let out a sob as she nodded. She took the roses from him with a shaking hand and was practically bouncing when she felt him slide the ring onto her finger. She waited, not so patiently, while he got to his feet and then launched herself at him. They held onto each other tightly for several seconds, both of them still crying. She eased back to look at her face.
"I love you so much, Ryan Evans," she whispered, bringing her mouth to his in a kiss that soon turned passionate.
"Kelsi...baby, wake up." Ryan shook her lightly, amazed that she had actually fall back asleep. "Come on, honey." He watched as her eyes slowly fluttered open.
"Mmm...I was having a really good dream..." she mumbled. "And you had to go and wake me up. Again."
"I'm sorry honey," he apologized. "But we're pulling into the airport."
"You know Ryan," she started. "If you insist on constantly waking me up, you can at least help me finish my dream." He raised an eyebrow.
"And how would I go about doing that?"
"Like this," she replied, lifting her mouth to his and kissing him slowly. "You know the best part about my dream?" she asked, her voice soft. "The fact that it all actually happened." She leaned in to kiss him again and couldn't help but feel like somewhere along the way she had left the real world for some sort of fairy tale. Her life had turned into something beautiful and it was all because of the wonderful man she was married to. What Kelsi didn't know, and what she would soon find out, was that her fairy tale was only just beginning.