"Does love do this to you?
Make you turn into
A completely different person?
If it does, guess love's
What happened to me…"
-- Jessie Daniels, "What Happened"
Joe barely started telling Macy his story before Nick and Kevin arrived, both seemed torn between worry for Joe and anger that he might have hurt Stella. Macy convinced the boys it would be best if they talked downstairs in the kitchen and Nick set to work making everyone sandwiches.
"Well," he muttered, pulling deli meats from the fridge, "at least the grocery service we set you up with seems to be working well."
"Those aren't from the service," Joe said, resting his head sadly on his folded arms, "those are from Stella."
"Stella brought you food?" Kevin asked, eyes going wide.
"Yes!" Joe snapped. "She brought me food and fashion magazines so that she could help me create a whole new wardrobe for myself. She cleaned this place up and cooked me breakfast -- she can cook now, did you know that? And she brought me this mask and all the other ones! You guys never thought to get me masks, we all just thought that the paper bag was good enough but not Stella! She didn't even know I was ugly, she just thought I was freakishly shy and brought them so I didn't have hiding my identity as an excuse to make her leave! It's no wonder that this Dave guy likes her! She's perfect! How has no one gotten her before now? Gah! I've been wasting all these years wishing she'd come back instead of going after her and when she finally does come back I push her away like an idiot! Why didn't you guys tell me how stupid I was being?"
At some point during his tirade Joe had begun pacing. All the three could do was watch as he raved. He didn't wait for an answer to his finishing question, only stormed from the room and up the stairs. The sound of his bedroom door slamming echoed through the house, making them jump.
"Do you think," Nick said, spreading mustard on bread, "that he's finally figured out he still loves Stella?"
"I hope so," Macy said, opening a bag of chips and eating one.
"What, Kev?" Nick asked.
"If he's figured it out, what's he gonna do about it?"
The muffled sound of a particularly action-packed movie playing upstairs filtered through the ceiling.
Nick sighed, dropping a finished sandwich on to a plate with less care than usual. "It looks like he's gonna do exactly what he's been doing."
Kevin took a few chips from Macy and the two munched away, drowning their sorrows in salt and grease.
He may have just admitted to being an idiot, but that didn't mean Joe was foolish. He'd turned on the loudest sci-fi movie he owned before slipping into the shower. With his theater-worthy sound system there was no chance his brothers and Macy would hear the water running. He would have preferred to dry his hair but he didn't want to waste time, there was no telling when one of them would try to be helpful and come check on him.
From his closet he pulled one of the outfits Stella hadn't deemed unworthy, one he knew she would approve of. He'd taken his mask off for the shower and didn't bother putting it back on now.
He grabbed the address Macy had dropped when she first came in and slipped quietly down the stairs and out the front door.
"Okay," Macy said heavily, gathering up their plates and heading to the sink, "it's decided. Tomorrow Nick goes home and gets your parents. We'll deal with … whatever their reactions are when they get here."
"Are you sure you don't want --" Kevin began.
Nick smiled at him while picking up their empty soda cans. "No, Kev. I think it would be best if you stayed here."
"I wasn't gonna say me," Kevin said, "I was gonna say Macy. She's good at manipulating people."
Nick just caught the glare Macy sent his brother's way before he opened the door to the yard and was glad to escape when he did. Luckily the gardener hadn't brought the recycling container back inside, giving him a few moments of peace as he headed up to the front gate.
As he rounded the side of the house he thought about looking back through the kitchen window to see how Kevin was faring, but something in the front drive caught his eye.
Kevin cringed. Macy hadn't said anything yet, she was just staring at him, waiting, he was sure, for him to say something else even worse. He slowly stood, wishing he had a rabbit or a duck to distract her with -- she couldn't be angry with him while he held a cute animal -- but paused when he saw Nick. He couldn't identify the expression on his brother's face, but it wasn't good.
"Nick?" he muttered.
"Nick?" Macy demanded.
Kevin opened his mouth to explain but was cut off.
"Joe!" Nick cried and disappeared from the window in a blur. Macy turned just as Kevin came up beside her and both of them leaned over the sink to get a better view. Nick chased after a bright red sports car as it rolled out of the driveway with a Joe-shaped figure sitting in the driver's seat.
"He wouldn't," Macy breathed.
"Oh come on," Kevin said. "He totally would."
After the beach and her very surprising talk with Fiona, Stella had every intention of heading straight to Joe's house, but once she sat down in her rental car and felt the sand and the salt sticking to her skin she realized that showing up in a bathing suit probably wasn't the best idea. She headed home to take a quick shower and spent the entire time alternating between thoughts of what to say to Joe and what to wear.
Thoughts of what to say faded when she got out of the shower and had to get dressed. Luckily, she was on vacation so she had limited opportunities. After an hour she managed to narrow it down to two different outfits. Did that shirt say "I love you, I'm sorry I ever left" or did it just say "slut"? Did those shoes say "best friend" or "successful businesswoman"? Even when she'd dressed Alexis Bender for the Oscars she hadn't had this much trouble.
The sound of a car outside reminded Stella that she didn't have all day and she grabbed the outfit closest to her and dressed in a hurry.
Joe had never been more glad he'd brought Nick with him the day he bought this car. If he'd been by himself he never would have sprung for the GPS system and then he'd have no chance of finding Stella. The soothing computer voice guided him through the twists and turns of the California hills. He caught himself starting to speed and decided that he would lose way too much time if he got pulled over or lost control and went into a ditch.
Once or twice he thought he saw a bright blue car in his rearview mirror but he didn't dare stop to see if it really was the rental car he'd seen in his driveway while making his escape. As much as the others wanted him and Stella back together they weren't likely to approve of him going out in public like this.
"Turn right and proceed two hundred yards to your destination."
"Finally," Joe said. He pulled up to the corner a split second after someone else coming down the street Stella was on. They both made right turns at the same time and Joe saw that familiar head of blonde hair through the driver's window. He screeched to a halt, trying frantically to make a U-turn and follow her.
He got back onto the street just in time to see her disappearing around the next corner. The GPS told him he was going the wrong way and he turned it off so viciously that he doubted the power button would ever work again.
He didn't see Stella's car after making the turn but they were still in the country and by the looks of it this road went for a while without any turn offs. He powered through, doubting he'd find many police out here. Swerve after swerve in the road revealed nothing but trees and warning signs. Joe was getting seriously frustrated when the trees suddenly opened up and he found himself at the top of a hill. Beneath him were busy city streets, shopping centers, and gas stations. And, at the intersection at the bottom of the hill, stopped at the red light, was Stella's car.
Joe was certain that ramming into her and causing life-threatening injuries wouldn't help his chances, but he'd never been sorrier to drive safely. The light turned green when he was halfway there and, since Stella was the only car going that way, turned yellow seconds later. Joe made it clear but the blue car behind him made it on the red and sirens flashed. Up ahead Stella pulled dutifully over and Joe sped ahead of her, turning a sharp right so that the nose of his car touched the curb and his passenger door couldn't open half a foot before hitting her bumper.
The siren cut out and Joe caught a glimpse of the blue car pulled over more than a hundred yards back. Now that he was doing this he was actually kind of glad they'd followed. If he failed he'd need their support. And so would Stella.
He didn't bother turning off his engine, only climbed out of the car and walked around the back. Luckily the traffic on this particular street wasn't too much and there were enough lanes that he wasn't causing much trouble.
Stella sat, gripping her steering wheel so tight her knuckles were white, staring straight ahead in shock. He walked up to her door and she glanced up before he could knock on the window. He winced and was grateful that she seemed too shocked to be disgusted.
"Listen," he said as she climbed out, "I know I'm an idiot. I've always known that but I thought that it was better to give you what you wanted, to just let you go. But I can't do that anymore. If you really don't want to be with me -- and really, I know I'm horrifying, I don't expect you to say yes -- then that's fine. I'll let you go if that's what you want. But if you can look past this," he gestured to his face, "then … well, then I promise, I will do everything in my power to make you the happiest woman alive, because you'd be making me the happiest man."
Seconds passed with cars rolling slowly by, drivers clearly wondering what was going on, and Stella staring up at him. Joe fought the impulse to fidget, knowing this was too important. Suddenly she lunged forward, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him deeply. He caught her around the waist, holding her against him and returning the kiss until she pulled away and rested her head on his shoulder.
"I missed you," she said quietly.
"I missed you too."
"Is there a problem here?"
The two sprung apart to face the officer who'd left their friends (after giving Macy a ticket) and pulled up behind Stella.
"Sorry, officer--" Stella began but the man's eyes were on Joe.
"I know, I know," Joe sighed. "Wait," he said, turning to Stella, "you really don't care?"
Stella only had time to frown before the officer declared, "Joe Lucas! Man! My girlfriend loves your band!"
"Care about what?" Stella asked. "The fact that you basically hid your identity from me? Oh yeah. But it's not like that's any worse than completely ruining both my date with Van Dyke and the outfits you guys were supposed to wear for the Prime Minister, thus costing me a fun night and replacing it with a night of frantic worry. I got over that and I've gotten over this -- mostly."
Joe could only shake his head. He looked around for the others and, when he saw them running up the sidewalk, went to pass the officer.
"Whoa!" the man said, holding up a hand to stop him. "You may be in my girlfriend's favorite band, but you're still getting a ticket."
Joe didn't need to reach the others. The moment his eyes met Macy's her face broke out in a grin and she leapt into Kevin's arms. He swung her around, laughing happily while Nick stood off to the side, gesturing that he should probably get back to Stella.
"Joe," Stella said, grabbing his arm, "are you okay?"
"Oh yeah," Joe said, wrapping his arms around her. "I finally figured out what's most important."
And he kissed her again.
AN: This is the final chapter, which means it's time for my long final comments. Feel free to skip down to the review button.
Kudos to everyone who got the Alexis Bender joke in this chapter.
I loved finding the quotes for each chapter. Only three of them (chapters 6, 9, and 11) came to me immediately. I've actually had "What Happened" in mind for the final chapter for a while now. It's one of my favorite songs and I highly recommend you all check it out.
I'm sure most of you figured this out, but since no one mentioned it, I'll point out that the copy of Peter Pan Stella finds in chapter 6 is in fact her book. Joe's a thief.
Bringing Fiona in to help Stella figure out what she wants was one of my favorite ideas for this story and the drive to write that scene was part of why this story is done right now, so thanks to everyone who didn't hate me for using her and an even bigger thanks to those of you who were happy she was included.
Also, the title of the story, for anyone who hasn't figured it out, comes from the episode "Frantic Romantic" when Fiona demands Stella say what she loves so much about Joe: "the way he flips his hair out of his eyes [chapter 6], the way he grins when he gets nervous -- and his heart [both chapter 9]." As Stella points out in chapter 10, these are the things that both make her start falling for the supposed Paolo and the things that convince her that "Paolo" is really Joe.
I had so much fun writing this and you guys were a big part of that. I was iffy about this story from the start but all of your reviews helped me a lot. I've never gotten so many anonymous reviews that were actually encouraging and everyone who submitted signed reviews was wonderful! You made me want to keep writing, no matter how annoyed I was with where the story was going. And thanks in advance to everyone who reviews this chapter. I love hearing how people feel about a story once it's finished.
Thank you all for sticking with me this long and remember...
reviews = love