Into The Light

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters in this fic!


The next day…

The stone cut across the water of the lake, skipping five times before sinking into the depths of the water below. Jim sat on the dock, legs dangling over the water, while his fingers ran over the smoothness of another flat stone. It wasn't long before he set that one skimming across the water, too. Then he sat back, impatient, his green eyes hidden behind dark, tinted sunglasses.

Light steps alerted him before a weight sat down next to him, His lips twisted up into a relieved smile. He didn't need to look at the newcomer. Jim knew who it was. There seemed to be a difference in the air when she came around him. "It's about time," he joked, a mischievous glint to his eyes that she couldn't see, not with the dark shades blocking her view. He let the stone drop into the water and shifted his body until there wasn't a bit of space between them. Needing the contact, as he always did, he draped an arm around her shoulder.

Trixie rolled her blue eyes, settling in closer against him and glanced down at his arm. The ugly scar didn't bother her, not like it had before last night. With his help and support, she had been able to lay that demon to rest, along with a few others. Instead, she concentrated on the feel of his body next to her, the sound of his breathing, and the hand that was drawing small circles on the bare skin of her arm. Being near him felt so right, making her feel complete and cherished. She couldn't deny it even if it did sound old-fashioned and clichéd. It was the pure and simple truth. The move from friend to girlfriend hadn't been difficult or awkward at all, even under the knowing and amused eyes of all of their friends and family during the graduation party. It felt completely natural as if they had always been meant for each other and that fate had been doing its best to bring the two of them together. "It's been a busy day," she laughingly answered, at ease with him just as she always imagined she would be. "I've had a lot of things on my plate today."

He lifted both eyebrows while he pretended to study his watch. "Not even a day has gone by and you're already too busy to make time for your boyfriend," Jim complained with a deep, dramatic and playful sigh. Low chuckles of contentment rolled out of his mouth when she pushed against his chest.

She flushed only a little when he referred to himself as her 'boyfriend.' It sounded perfect to her. It wasn't something she was ever going to get tired of hearing, not until they traded it in for another, more permanent title. But that was a long way off. "You know I had to a zillion chores this morning. I think I told you that last night. Moms isn't going easy on me anymore, not that I thought that would last too long." Now that her body was healed and she was back to her normal, active self, her household chores were back to normal, too, even after a night of congratulatory partying. "I didn't get finished until lunchtime. Then I spent most of the afternoon at your house with your sister. It wasn't my fault that you weren't in residence there," she chided him gently. Then she laid her head on his shoulder and inquired, all teasing aside, "How did your meeting go?"

He would have much rather been at home. Even if the purpose of her visit had been to spend time with his sister, he knew he would have been able to steal her away from Honey for awhile. He would give just about anything find her in his room again, alone and uninterrupted, like that night a few weeks earlier. But he hadn't been able to miss out on his meeting. As he stared down into the blue eyes that he knew better than his own, he realized that they were going to have to learn how to balance their friends, their family, and their jobs. It wasn't going to be easy but it would be worth it. "It was informative. All of the other camp counselors for the summer were there, too. We got to see the names of the kids who have registered so far. It's a pretty impressive list. We also planned out our agenda for next week."

"I know you saw a Robert Belden on that list," Trixie remarked, doing her best not to laugh at him although her overly expressive face told how much she enjoyed it. She found it extremely humorous that Jim was going to spend most of his summer watching over her brother at the community center, the same way she had spent a good portion of her life watching over him. "I'll be glad to give you a few pointers on how to handle him, should you need it," she offered.

"Somehow I doubt repeated readings of The Tale of Peter Rabbit by my second favorite Beatrixworks anymore, right?" His hand trailed up and down her bare arm, from her shoulder to her wrist, leaving small tingles in its wake. His favorite Beatrix was sitting next to him, exactly where he always wanted her to be.

"Definitely not," she giggled back, doing her best to ignore the feelings that his touch were already starting to create in her and overlooked the use of her first name. She didn't mind hearing her given name falling from his lips. He could call her just about anything he wanted to. "He is definitely looking forward to the summer camp at the community center. Were his two partners in crime also on the list?" Trixie pretended to shudder, imagining the horrors that the three of them could manage to create, even under the watchful eyes of reliable and trustworthy camp counselors, like Jim and the rest of the staff.

He repeated her exaggerated shudder. It had the promise to be an interesting experience for him, one that he was looking forward. While it had the chance to be challenging, he would also gain a lot of valuable experience for his school, which he planned on opening sometime in the distant future. "Of course they did. At least I won't have to worry too much about Larry, not until he gets the cast off of his foot. Bobby and Terry will be my main concern for the first two weeks." He was ready to be busy. He imagined that those three were certainly going to keep him on his toes for the entire summer.

Looking out over the lake, listening to the water lap gently and lazily against the shore, Trixie cuddled against him, feeling unbelievable safe and secure within the comforts of his strong arms, and explained softly, "I was a little later than normal because Moms needed extra help with dinner. There are more people coming to eat than she had expected. Mart sprang it on her about an hour ago that he had invited Dan to come over. Honey's also coming, courtesy of Brian, so it's going to be a little fuller than Moms had originally thought. I think she was secretly grateful that you and I had made other plans already."

The picnic basket he had packed for them sat unobtrusively near the picnic table, untouched. Neither were in the hurry for food. They were content with each other. "I don't care that you were late. All that matters to me is that you came. It's just too much fun teasing you." Jim leaned in, ready to give her the first kiss of many for the evening, when a series of cheerful whistles coming down the path alerted them that they wouldn't be alone for much longer.

Trixie swung her head around and narrowed her eyes at the path, identifying the whistler immediately. Twin feelings of frustration and anticipation whirled throughout her. She hadn't seen her most bothersome brother since breakfast. She stared at the point in the path, waiting for him to come into view, a mischievous smile tilting up her lips. She stood up from the dock, dusted off her shorts, and started forward, Jim right next to her.

Brought to a halt by their presence, he stared at the two, his whistle dying a quick death. Running a hand over his short hair, he told himself that he was going to have to get used to seeing his baby sister with one of his good friends and that he couldn't let it bother him. It was going to take some getting used to but he couldn't complain or tease them about it, not without becoming the worst hypocrite possible. After all, he was becoming further and further entrenched in an amazing relationship with one of their best friends. Ignoring the chance to annoy her about her new position in Jim Frayne's life, he started forward, willing to take another topic up with her, one that was more appropriate and certainly dearer to his aggrieved heart. "You cannot even begin to tell how fortuitous that I have happened upon your presence," he sneered out, his face promising a stormy retribution when he looked at his sister.

She eyed her brother with her hands on her hips. The tiny smile that curved her lips at the edges was extremely satisfied and thrilled. She had been waiting for his reaction since he had left this morning. "Do you have something to ask me?" she wondered overly brightly, tapping a finger against her chin.

He took his cell phone from the clip at the side of his worn work jeans and shook it in her direction. "Do you know what she did to me?" he asked Jim, intentionally overlooking her and focusing on the smiling redhead.

"With Trixie, the possibilities are endless," he remarked easily. Jim remembered seeing Trixie and Dan cornered together for a good five minutes at the graduation party the evening before, wearing identical looks of playful impishness and diabolical delight on their faces. Their voices had been low, as had been their laughter. He hadn't felt a smidgeon of jealousy over the two, most likely because they had spent a goodly amount of time already showing how important they were to each other. He hadn't asked her about, had figured she would tell him when the time was right but he had a pretty strong suspicion about what the two of them had come up. "I don't know what she did," he declared frankly and winked at her, letting her know that he was firmly in her corner.

"I finally got even with him," Trixie retorted with a small sniff, tossing her head back defiantly and staring her brother down. "About time, too, I might add."

Mart ignored her and brandished his cell phone under Jim's nose, causing Jim to take a large step back. "Can you believe it? I can't. I absolutely can't believe that she did it." He muttered a few unintelligible words. "This is the thanks I get. This! After I lent her my phone when Sergeant Molinson confiscated hers for evidence, she had the audacity to change my ring tone!" He stabbed at a series of buttons and then the gleefully sweet and extremely joyful strands of ABBA's Dancing Queen came out of the receiver.

Jim's mouth twitched. He couldn't hold back the sharp bark of laughter even though it only made Mart glower more fiercely at him and then at Trixie. "That's, ah, that's terrible, Mart," he managed to get out with sham sympathy after his laughter died down.

"That's not the worst of it." Not acknowledging his sister, who was holding her sides because laughter was spilling uncontrollably out of her, he added disdainfully, "There I was, having lunch with Di at Wimpy's, a full to the brim Wimpy's, I need to add, when I hear this horrible noise emanating from my cell phone. Normally I keep my cell on vibrate but someone must have switched that, too." He eyed up the 'someone', gave her a look that should have reduced her to ashes, before continuing, "So, everyone in the diner is staring in our direction while the Swedish singing groups serenades them. When I finally realize that the song is coming from my cell, I answered it as quickly as I could." The damage had been done. The patrons of Wimpy's had burst into a round of raucous laughter while he had flared a vivid red.

"Awful, just awful," Jim choked out, gripping Trixie's hand while he listened to the rest of Mart's story, and impressed with her ingenuity.

"It wasn't her calling, of course." He jabbed a finger at his sister. "It was her partner in crime, of course, and my former best friend." Mart shook his head, wondering why Dan had agreed to help her out. He would get even. He would make sure of it. "And he didn't call just once. Oh, no. Mr. Mangan called three times in the span of five minutes. I'm sure he would have called more if I hadn't turned my phone off." Spent from his story, he stepped back, an annoyed scowl on his face while he waited impatiently for Trixie and Jim to regain control of their laughter.

A full minute later, wiping away the tears of mirth from her eyes, Trixie inhaled a deep breath. "It serves you right," she snorted without an ounce of sympathy for her brother. "You played with my phone enough since you've been home from college if you remember correctly. You gave me a few interesting and rather inappropriate ringtones. Dan offered to help me get even with you a while back. I finally took him up on the offer last night." It had been fun to plan their strategy. She almost hoped that Mart would reciprocate and give them another chance to even the score again.

"You evened it, all right. I hate to say it but I have to admit defeat on this one." Now the frown was directed at himself, as was his frustration. "I'll bet that both you and Dan knew that ABBA is one of Di's favorite non-country groups, right?" At Trixie's interested nod, he continued, "She was impressed with my new ringtone. Di was so impressed that she begged me to keep it." Mart looked pained. "She loves it."

Jim and Trixie burst into another round of delighted laughter. "And you couldn't tell her no," Trixie surmised correctly when the newest wave had died down, without the least bit of sympathy for her brother. He deserved it, as far as she was concerned.

He slanted another infuriated glance at her. "You played a little too dirty there, Trix."

"I learned from the best," she quipped back, remembering his chosen songs for her and how embarrassed she had been when her cell phone had rang. Staring at the picnic table a few feet away, remembering the time her phone had rang during their picnic when everything was just starting to fall apart, she put in warningly, "You should also know that Dan and I came up with quite an impressive list of other, even more embarrassing songs, chosen just for you, Mart. A good many of those songs are favorites of Di, too. I won't hesitate to use them if the need should arise."

"I'm not ever going to touch your cell phone again," he stated strongly, shuddering with disgust. "I'm completely done with that little prank." It hadn't been as much fun to be the recipient. But, as he pasted an aggrieved look on his face, he realized that he would only have to come up with something even better to tease her with. It could take a while but he knew that there were other, more inventive ways of exacting revenge against her. She was his only sister. He was honor bound to provoke her, no matter what.

Trixie rocked back on her heels. As hard as it was for her to admit, it didn't happen much. She rarely came out on the winning end and was prepared to enjoy the feeling of besting her 'almost-twin'. "Are you heading home now?" she inquired, hoping that a change in conversation would improve his disposition.

Nodding curtly, Mart smiled, a slow, cunning smile. If the chance came, he already had a way of paying back his good friend and business partner. "I invited Dan to come down for dinner but you probably already know that. I called and told Moms a while back." He pointed in the direction of the stables. "Anyway, he's still visiting Regan. We spent most of the afternoon helping him repair a part of the fence on the far side of the field that was in danger of falling apart."

She could practically see the wheels turning in her brother's mind. Revenge was sweet, saccharine sweet, as their youngest brother had declared many years ago. She would warn Dan not to accept any food or drink that her brother helped make. She doubted if he would find the results pleasing. "No Di, Mart?"

"She had to watch her brothers and sisters this evening," Mart explained with a disappointed sigh, missing his violet-eyed beauty. "Lunch was our only opportunity to spend some time together today. Thanks for making it so memorable," he said sarcastically before giving them a small wave. The boards creaked under his feet. "Have a good evening," he called back over his shoulder. Mart stopped before the first corner of the path and looked back. This time his smile was happy and pleased. The two looked good together. Even he could see that. Stomach rumbling, he patted it and hurried down to their house, needing sustenance in the form of his mother's delicious chicken salad.

Jim had trouble comprehending the revenge she had successfully employed against her brother. Slanting a wary glance her way, he pondered aloud, raising a single eyebrow, "Dancing Queen?" Secretly, he was ecstatic. If she was searching out ways to annoy her brother, then she really was succeeding in her endeavor to put the pain of the past behind her. Overwhelmed by pride for her, he caught a hand and brought it up to his lips.

"Completely inspired by Dan," Trixie answered cheerfully, threading her fingers through his, completely unaware of his interpretation of her actions and how well he understood her. "I pulled him off to the side last night at the party and brought it up to him. He had offered to help me a while back but the time wasn't right." She didn't add in why. It wasn't needed. Both knew the reasoning behind it. "We decided that it was finally time for Mart to learn a lesson. Maybe he'll think a little harder the next time he wants to get a laugh." It had felt good to plan a little harmless revenge against the nitwit that was her brother, to completely feel like herself again. It felt even better to see the effects of their plan.

His eyes lit up with approval, relieved that their lives were returning to normal. As he stared at her hand held snugly within his, he hastily fixed his thought. It wasn't exactly the old normal that had once existed between them. They found themselves creating a new normalcy, one where their relationship, as well as a few others, were starting to shift and change in new and exciting ways. Stepping closer to him, his voice deep and low, he wondered aloud, "Now, where were we before your brother so rudely interrupted us?"

Trixie's breath caught in her throat. About to answer, resting a hand at his waist, she stood on her tiptoes, bringing her face upwards towards his, only to be interrupted by two jovial raised voices. Disappointed, she dropped back, a small, irritated frown on her face. Of all the luck, she thought disconsolately. "Who is it this time?" she muttered, eyes narrowed and a small pout on her lips.

Her older brother and his sister. Jim didn't share the identity of the voices. The same feelings of frustration were riding him hard, too. He was only slightly better at hiding them than she was. He pasted what he hoped passed for a welcoming grin on his face and turned to face the path once again, keeping her hand within his. "Hey, Honey and Brian," he called out when the couple came into view.

Honey waved back, a sunny smile on her face, and rushed towards them on the dock, her happiness radiating out from somewhere deep within her. The cause of her joy followed at a slower pace, correctly guessing what they had interrupted. Having no qualms over stopping his best friend from kissing his sister, even if only for the moment, he joined the group of three, making it a nice round number of four, and greeted them with a satisfied smile. He wasn't going to ask what they were up to or what their plans were for the evening. He didn't want to know the answer.

"You'll have to watch out for Mart when you get home," Trixie began, certain that her brother wasn't going to be in the best mood. "He's on the warpath right now. He's not very happy."

"I heard," Brian replied with a deep chuckle. Honey joined in with him, her smile widening until it nearly split her face. He added, "We were talking with Dan and Regan while we took care of the horses after our ride. Dan told us all. Then Honey called Di and got a firsthand account from her. It sounds like you were very successful."

"Good for you, Trixie!" Honey called out gaily, impulsively throwing her arms around her friend. Like Jim, she had caught on to what it meant, was more than overjoyed that her friend was successfully mending and moving on. She vowed to help Trixie in any way that she possibly could. "I couldn't have pictured a more perfectly perfect way to get back at Mart. He won't try that trick again, I know that. Di even joined in, in case you didn't realize it. She managed to convince him to keep the song as his permanent ringtone. She did that on purpose, you know, for you."

"I didn't know that." Trixie covered her mouth, eyes dancing at the cunningness that was Diana Lynch. "I'll have to remember to thank her."

"He'll only think of something new to trip you up with," Brian put in astutely. "You'll have to watch out for that, Trix. He'll give you a while to think that he's forgotten about it. But he won't. Mart will come back with a new tactic."

"He wouldn't be Mart Belden if he didn't!" Trixie declared jovially. "Between me and all of you, I really don't mind most of his tricks. It's part of what makes him so special to all of us. But," she added in forcefully, "he does need to be put back in his place, every now and then. I know all of you will be glad to help me with that, when the time comes again."

He had always suspected that Trixie was secretly okay with Mart's jokes. Nodding his head, he took ahold of Honey's elbow and started back down the dock. "Are you on your way home for dinner?"

"No. I'll be home later," Trixie told Brian. "Have a good time. I'll see both of you later." She gave the two of them a small wave and watched them leave, her brother and her best friend, thinking that they made a lovely couple. Then she forgot about them. The feeling of relief that came with their departure was immense. Shyly, she turned back to Jim, her eyes asking him for what she wanted. Her hands were inches away from winding around his waist when the melodic beep of her cell phone cut in, announcing a new text message.

Squinching his eyes closed, Jim dropped back and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his faded jean shorts, unable to believe their string of bad luck. They had way too many friends. They had way too much family. The only place where they were going to get any type of privacy was to find a deserted island somewhere, preferably in the Caribbean. The fantasy that came to his mind made him draw a sharp breath. Shaking it away, he gestured towards her cell "Go for it, Trix," he invited her.

She didn't have a choice. She had to answer it. The last thing she wanted to do was to forget her cell phone at home and not have it with her. Her parents had made it clear that she still needed to have her cell on her at all times and that she had to answer it. At all times. The thought of being grounded, now that she was officially dating Jim, was detestable. It was the very last thing she wanted to happen. Flipping open her phone, she read the text message. "It's from Di," she explained quickly. "She says that she's stuck home watching her brothers and sisters and is feeling bored. She also wants to get together with Honey and me tomorrow since she wasn't able to meet with us today."

He took the phone from her fingers and flipped it closed. Then he helpfully slipped it back into her back pocket, taking a longer time than necessary, and causing her heart rate to triple. He patted the phone through the denim of her shorts while his other hand found her waist. "What do you think, Trixie? Is that our last interruption of the evening?"

She wasn't even given the chance to answer. They heard the sounds of another set of footsteps coming their way from the Manor House. Staring at each other, they came to the same conclusion. "Dan," they chorused together, accepting their fate with as much grace as possible. Both had known it was going to be hard to find time together. Neither had realized how hard, when there were so many people more than ready and willing to trip over them. Trixie smothered a groan and laid her head on his chest, breathing in the masculine smell of his cologne, before she found the strength to move back.

Sure enough, he came down the path and stopped, staring at the two of them with an unholy gleam to his dark eyes. He would have had to have been blind to have missed out on the fact that both Trixie and Jim did not want to host anyone right now and clearly would prefer for him to continue on his merry way without stopping to speak to them. Because they wanted to be alone, he decided not to be obliging and sauntered towards them, his grin slightly wicked. He wouldn't tease either of them, for Trixie's sake, but he would act slightly irritating, just for the principle of it. They wouldn't expect anything less.

"Hey, guys!" He called out happily, all the while laughing inside at the looks of agony they shared with each other before giving him their attention. Even though he possessed the knowledge that Trixie and Jim were not joining the Beldens and a few assorted others for dinner, he asked the question anyway, "What are you doing out here? I would have thought you were both going down to Crabapple Farm for dinner. From what I understand just about everyone is going to be there."

Trixie pursed her lips together, accepting the fact that they were not going to be alone for a little while longer. Looking at her 'partner in crime', as Mart had dubbed him earlier, she thought it only fair to warn him. "Ah, Dan? I wouldn't recommend eating or drinking anything that Mart gives to you," she advised Dan softly. "It would probably be best to give him a little space tonight. He's not that happy with either one of us right now. And, well, you'll be the only available one that he'll be able to take it out on right now."

"Ah," Dan responded with a cheerful chuckle that grated on Jim's nerves. "He knows we were working together, does he? He didn't say anything to me about it when he came back from lunch but he is a bright one, curse his soul. I'll bet he's already trying to find some way to get even with us."

Trixie nodded with an answering grin of her own. "He wasn't very happy. At all." She leaned in closer, pitching her voice lower, and gave him the best news to come out of their plan, "You're never going to believe this but Di is in on it, too. She convinced him that she loves the song so much that he has to keep it as his ringtone!"

Dan's grin widened until it nearly cracked his face. He was going to have to make certain that he called his friend often and he was going to have to thank Di when he had the chance. "That's even better than we hoped for. Good job, Trix." He clapped her on the shoulder, more to test Jim than anything else, and was pleased to note that Jim's face didn't flare up with jealousy like it had when they had visited Trixie in the hospital. He nodded his head. Knowing that his feelings were reciprocated must have dulled some of his friend's fiercer emotions, Dan realized with a curt nod. That would only make both of them happier with each other.

"Hey, I'm not the only one who worked hard on this one." Trixie held her hands up, palms out. "I had a lot of help, from you and from Di. I only had to sneak into his room and fiddle around with his phone. You are the one who came up with the awesome choice of song."

"Thanks for the warning about Mart." Noticing that Jim was unusually quiet, obviously wishing that he would stop and continue on his merry way, Dan decided to give in and do just that. Teasing Jim and Brian wasn't going to be quite as enjoyable anymore now that the time limit had elapsed and each had managed to corner and win their respective girls. "I'll be sure to watch out for that brother of yours. I'm off to have some of your mother's good food. Take care!" With a small salute he was gone, his whistle floating back to them even when he was gone from sight.

"You know, you never told me why you wanted to punch Dan the other night," Trixie mentioned, staring after their friend.

"Let's just say that he's my Mart. I know that you can understand that better than anyone else," Jim explained cryptically and then ticked off the interruptions in his mind. "Yeah. That's got to be it," he decided quietly, giving Trixie a sly look.

"What do you mean?" Confused, she tilted her head to the side in that way he found endearing.

"Five Bob-Whites have either come or texted and have definitely gone. Mart. Brian. Honey. Di. Dan. I'd say that the coast is finally clear. At least the coast is clear until dinner is over at your house and everyone starts to return on that path over there." He took her elbow and led her back to the edge of the dock, the place they had started at before their many interruptions. They sat down, their picnic dinner waiting for them in the basket by the picnic table, forgotten, and looked out over the peaceful water again. "Do you remember our Bob-White picnic the first weekend I was home?"Jim asked suddenly. "It was Sunday, the day after our ride to the bluffs."

With her head resting on his shoulder, Trixie gave an absent, "Hmm. That was when Mart revealed my newest and potentially most irritating ringtone." There were a few other important details from the picnic, a few small and a few big, but Trixie refused to dwell on them, to let them affect her life any longer. The stalker was gone. Britten was dead. It was over. Everything was finally fine with her world again. She wasn't going to waste time thinking back on the recent past. She couldn't be cavalier enough to say that it didn't matter because it did. But she was strong enough to not let it bother her, not when she had more charming avenues to pursue, such as the handsome man next to her.

"That's right. You came over to the dock, just like this. I followed you. Then we were sitting together like this, right here, at the edge of the dock," he murmured into her ear. "The others had miraculously disappeared and we were all alone. Just like we are now," he added huskily. He hoped that they managed to find lots of time to be alone and private but he wasn't overly optimistic. Sleepyside may be a small town but it was filled to the brim with people that they loved and respected. Alone time, with only the two of them, was going to be sparse. The number of interruptions they had recently suffered through attested to that. They would have to make the best out of the time they managed to steal away from the others. Tucking a wayward blonde curl behind her ear, he watched it spring back into its former place. "I can remember thinking that I was missing out on a perfect opportunity."

Lulled by the smoothness of his voice, as well as the sound of the water gently lapping against the wood of the dock, she inquired dreamily, starting to feel tired from her late night and her full day of pleasant and not-so-pleasant activities, "For what?"

"I'll show you, if you'd like me to." Jim's arms wound their way around her.

She lifted her head immediately, all tiredness gone, and reached up to remove his sunglasses. They landed with a plop on the dock while a slow smile curved its way across her lips. "I'd like you to show me, very much," she invited, meeting the brilliant emerald green of his eyes with hers, aware of exactly what he wanted to.

The descent was slow. When their lips touched, it was with the utmost of care, extremely soft, and heartbreakingly gentle. "Just as perfect as I imagined it to be," he said against her lips. "You're just as amazing as I knew you would be." Trixie couldn't formulate a response. His lips were on hers again, this time much stronger and more demanding, carefully pulling her deeply into the kiss until they both had to break apart, gasping for much-needed breath and in need of a little space to combat the desire that flared so effortlessly between them.

"It's only going to get better, isn't it?" Trixie wondered aloud, touching a finger to her trembling lips. It was unbelievable. She could still feel the pressure of his mouth on hers.

His arm slipped around her waist, pulling her up against his side. So many possibilities shone out before them. So many options and so many choices. Limitless. Exciting. And impossibly exhilarating. He knew beyond a doubt that she would be right next to him through it all, helping him and supporting him, the same way he would be there for her. "I couldn't have said it better myself," he whispered before leaning in for another taste. "I love you, Trixie."

She would never get tired of hearing those words coming out of his mouth, in the sound of his beloved voice, with his green eyes shining with the absolute truth of the simple statement. If she blinked back a few sentimental tears, she wouldn't admit it. With the endless blue of the sky above them, as surely as open and luminous as the future that spread out invitingly before them, she repeated the words that had been the beat of her heart since she had been thirteen years old. "And I love you."

The End

To everyone who read this story…

Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and (hopefully) enjoy it! It was a really enjoyable experience to write it and to post it here at , thanks to the wonderful readers and reviewers here. I also want to thank the people who helped make this story better, both with their ideas and also when they caught mistakes that I made. I appreciate all of your support even more than any of you could know. Thank you. I wish everyone the absolute best.

Have a terrific day!