This is the last chapter! I know it's a little bitter sweet. I'm excited because it's done but now I don't really know what to do with my time. I hope you have enjoyed the story. I know that I've enjoyed writing it. And thank you for all your wonderful reviews!
Marshall and Sarah sat inside on opposite sides of his table. They didn't say anything, just sat there awkwardly, both of them wondering where to start. Marshall finally decided that he had to say something.
"What are you doing here?"
Sarah shrugged, her eyes still focusing on her folded hands. "I was hoping to talk to you."
"There is no us, Sarah. There hasn't been for a few months now."
She finally looked him in the face. "And for all that time I haven't been able to stop thinking about you once. Everyday I wonder if it was a mistake to walk out."
"Mistake or not, you walked out. I believe it had something to do with Mary, my partner, who is, in fact, still my partner."
"I know that. And I know that maybe I overreacted. I was insanely jealous of her, of how much of your time she was allowed to dominate. Sometimes I have a hard time sharing."
"You would still have to share," he told her quietly.
"I know. But if I like you so much, I shouldn't be surprised that I have to share you with other people who like you as well." She leaned towards him, taking his hand. "We were good together, Marshall. We fit."
Marshall wanted to say yes. He wanted everything that Sarah could offer him. They had similar tastes and interests and she was fun to be around. She wanted a relationship. He could see himself caring for her, maybe even loving her one day. But she wasn't Mary. He loved Mary, Mary who refused to give him all the things that Sarah was offering to him right now. He wasn't sure that having a relationship with Sarah was really going to be fair to anyone.
"Let me think about it," he heard himself saying. "It's late and I'm tired. It's been an eventful day."
"I figured by the tux," she said, gesturing towards his attire. "Wedding?"
"Mary's sister got married."
"And you went?"
"You don't know Mary and her sister. If I didn't keep Mary from killing her, no one would have been able to."
Sarah smiled, chuckling softly. "It's a brave man that gets between two sisters."
"Sometimes, I wish I wasn't that brave." The smile on his face indicated that he didn't really mind that much. Sarah stood up, kissing him on the cheek.
"Just give me a call," she told him before leaving.
He didn't know what to do; there was a very strong part of him that wanted to say yes, wanted a relationship with Sarah. Once again, he was left with two options: stay strictly friends with Mary or leave her forever. Maybe being with Sarah would make it easier if he decided to leave. Maybe not being around Mary would finally make him able to fall for someone else, to have a relationship that wasn't so destructive.
Marshall sat there for awhile before finally dragging himself up his stairs. He didn't know what to do with the information that Sarah had just dropped on him. Mary was coming over tomorrow night but Marshall wasn't sure for what. Maybe she wanted to start up their non-relationship again but he couldn't do that. He was an all or nothing kind of guy and Mary seemed pretty hell-bent on nothing. He changed, hung up his tux and crawled into bed. Maybe Sarah was just the thing he needed. Maybe a relationship with someone who genuinely cared was exactly what he needed to forget about Mary.
Mary knew Marshall was home because his door was unlocked but every light in the house was out. She closed the door and then walked into the kitchen. No Marshall. She left the food she was holding on the counter, then walked into the living room, standing behind the couch.
"Marshall?" she called.
"I'm right here."
Mary jumped, and looked down, seeing Marshall stretched out below her. "What are you doing laying here in the dark?" She leaned over the couch, turning on the lamp on the end table.
"About what? And why does it require darkness?"
"It takes away from the distractions." He stood up and walked into the kitchen, unpacking the take-out she had brought.
"You didn't answer my first question."
He turned to look at her, his face showing his exhaustion. "Mare, why did you come here tonight? What do you want from me?"
"Just to talk," Mary answered with a shrug. "I feel like my best friend is gone. I'm kind of lost without him."
"Sarah was here last night." He figured that she had a right to know.
"As in… your ex-girlfriend Sarah?"
"The one and the same."
"What did she want?"
"She wanted to get back together," Marshall told her with a sigh.
"You told her no, right?"
Marshall didn't answer. He couldn't even look Mary in the eyes. "I haven't told her anything yet. But I think you should know that I'm going to try again with her. I need to try again with her."
"What? Why would you do something so stupid? That woman was crazy. There was a reason the two of you broke up."
He looked up at her, angry. "Why shouldn't I try again with her? We made sense and she likes me. She actually likes me. Who knows what could happen? You were the only reason we broke up!"
"You have to be shitting me! You're blaming your breakup on me?" She crossed her arms over her chest. "That's pretty low, Marshall."
"The last fight Sarah and I had was over you. She thought that I spent too much time with you, that I was in love with you. It was the only thing we ever seemed to fight about."
"So, what, now you're going to stop hanging out with me for her? Are you going to get a new partner too?" Again he didn't answer but this time he at least kept eye contact with her. She realized that was exactly what he had been planning to do. Mary shook her head, over and over. "No. No, no, NO! You can't do that!" she screamed at him.
"Do what? Fix my life? Be happy for once?"
"It's a stupid idea, not to mention completely unfair!"
"Unfair? How could this possibly not be fair!"
"Because you can't make me fall in love with you and then run off and date someone else!"
Marshall was stunned into silence, not believing what he had just heard. "What… what did you say?" he managed to get out.
"Nothing," Mary mumbled, "I have to go." She made a mad dash for the door but Marshall managed to catch her, forcing the door closed with his hand just as she tried to open it. Mary turned, Marshall inches from her.
"Tell me what you just said." His voice was quiet, patient, all the anger gone.
"Do I have to repeat it?"
"Because there is no way I heard that right."
Mary took a deep breath but kept her eyes glued to her feet. She wasn't sure she was brave enough to look him in the face when she said it. "I said that I'm in love with you."
"You're not just saying that to get me into bed, are you?"
Mary looked up, surprised, before she saw the smile on his face. She shoved him a little. "I don't need to tell you that to get you into bed."
"Hey, I'm not that easy! I've got standards."
Mary raised an eyebrow. "I don't know. You did sleep with Sarah."
"Oooo, low blow."
"Oh, shut up," she said, pulling him down to kiss her.
Marshall tried to creep quietly out of bed the next morning but a hand caught him. Soon an entire body had slid close to him, preventing him from going anywhere. "Mary, I just want to take a quick shower."
"Because you always take all the warmth with you. If the bed gets cold, then I get cold and then I have to get up."
"Heaven forbid we get up before noon."
"Hey, I took today off for this stupid wedding. You better be damn sure that I'm sleeping in." She managed to escape the covers enough to look at him. "I still don't understand how you can get up at eight thirty…" she pushed herself up slightly so she could see the clock, "four in the morning."
"What can I say? I'm a morning person."
"I'm not, so you should stop being one."
"You should be glad that one of us is."
"Why?" she mumbled, her eyes closed.
"Because A. I get you to work on time. And B. if we ever had kids I can guarantee you wouldn't be getting them up to get them to school on time."
"…You think about if we're going to have kids?" She opened her eyes again, realizing that it was probably futile to try and get back to sleep.
"If I say yes, are you going to overreact like you did when I said we were in a relationship?"
"Christ," she said, rolling onto her back. "You freak out one time."
"Yes, I've thought about kids." He watched her, gauging her reaction at the news that he had contemplated their future.
"Kids… wow. That's… a big deal," she finally managed to say.
"Hey, don't do that," he said, moving closer and kissing her. "I've thought about it because I love you and I've wondered. I don't expect anything."
"So you're saying you don't need to have kids?"
"I'm saying that I want you more than I want a hypothetical future." He watched her relax. He had never known a person so adverse to commitment. "Now, are you going to let me get up and shower so that I can cook breakfast or are you going to make me stay in bed all day?"
A wicked smile crossed her face. "Well, both have their possibilities."
"It's like I'm dating a teenage boy," Marshall muttered, getting up to shower. He was done within minutes, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, then headed downstairs. He could hear Mary turning on the shower. He glanced in his fridge, wondering what to make this morning. He decided on waffles with strawberries on them. Mary loved them and he hadn't made them for awhile. He wondered if he had powdered sugar to sprinkle on them. Before he could pull out the waffle iron, there was a knock on the front door. His clock read eight fifty. When he answered, Sarah stood in front of him.
"Sarah, what are you doing here?"
She walked past him, letting herself in. "I wanted to see you. I know that you leave early for work so I was hoping to catch you before you left."
"I have the day off, actually."
"Right, the wedding. Marshall, I didn't mean to bombard you like that. I wasn't really thinking I just… I had to tell you." She stepped closer to him, looking up through her lashes. "I just want you to know that I'm really serious this time. No more hang ups or jealousy."
Both turned to see Mary standing in the doorway to the kitchen. Her hair was wet and she was dressed in her jeans but one of Marshall's shirts. "Mary, I didn't expect you to be here," Sarah said, recovering first. She took a step back from Marshall, giving him a look. "Especially so early in the morning."
"I wasn't expecting you either," Mary responded. "At all." She walked over to Marshall and slid her arms around his waist. She stood on her toes and kissed him, full on the mouth. "What's for breakfast?"
He knew why she was doing it and part of him was angry. This wasn't the way he had meant to tell Sarah what was going on. But the other part of him was secretly happy that Mary was jealous and felt the need to claim her territory.
"Waffles," he told her. "Could you give Sarah and me a second?"
Mary shot her a glance then shrugged. "Sure."
Marshall opened the front door and led Sarah out onto the porch. "I'm sorry about that," he said when they were alone. "I didn't mean to tell you like that."
"I don't understand why you couldn't have told me two nights ago when I was over here."
"Because, two nights ago, there wasn't anything to tell. Up until last night I had every intention of dating you and getting a new partner."
Sarah was upset and Marshall could tell she was trying to keep her composure. "And what? Mary just suddenly decided that she needed to be with you?"
"Mary and I have kind of been dating in the months that you and I weren't together."
"How can you kind of date someone?"
"Believe me, you can kind of date Mary. I thought that it wasn't going to work out. I thought that Mary and I weren't ever going to be able to be together. But she came over last night and, well, changed all of that."
"How? How could one woman change so much?" she whispered.
"I love her, Sarah. I love her in that way that changes you and once you figure it out, you're never quite the same without it."
Sarah took a deep breath but Marshall could see tears threatening to come. "I thought… maybe, just maybe, I had been wrong. Who is friends with someone for so many years but doesn't tell them how they feel? I thought that maybe I really had just been jealous." She looked at Marshall, sad smile on her face. She leaned up and kissed his cheek. "I hope you're happy."
Marshall watched her get into her car and drive off before walking back inside. Mary sat at the kitchen island, pretending that she hadn't been eavesdropping the whole time.
"So, how did it go?"
"You know exactly how it went," he told her as he locked the door.
"Only the first part," she said, smiling.
"I was planning to tell her a little differently. I don't think kissing me in front of her was strictly necessary."
"Whatever," she answered with a shrug. "I know you. It would have taken you twenty minutes just to hint to her that you were seeing me. The way I do it, it's straight and to the point."
"And unnecessarily mean."
"She's a grown woman, Marshall, she can handle it. I stopped listening when you said you loved me. What'd she say after that?"
Marshall walked over and leaned against the counter, next to Mary. "She said she hoped I was happy."
"Well?" Mary asked after he was silent a moment. "Are you?"
Marshall looked at the woman sitting in his kitchen. She was difficult and pig headed and was so oblivious to people and their feelings, he sometimes wondered how she managed to interact with the world. But she was also beautiful and loved those she cared about with as much passion as she put into her job and life. She was trustworthy and, when she wasn't yelling at you, fun. He smiled and kissed her. "Yeah, I am."
They had been dating for two months now and no one at work the wiser. Mary casually suggested lunch and Marshall immediately took her up on it. The elevator doors had barely closed before he grabbed her and kissed her.
"Those doors might open and someone could catch us," she mumbled between kissing him. Marshall knew she wasn't really protesting.
"The elevator will slow down," he told her. The elevator didn't slow until they hit the bottom and then two composed Marshals stepped off.
"We have to do something about all this secrecy," Marshall said when they reached the restaurant. They had done fast food yesterday and Marshall wanted something different.
"What are you talking about?" She picked up a menu, skimming it.
"We're not going to be able to hide it from them for forever. Eventually, Stan and Eleanor are going to figure it out on their own. Eleanor already suspects. She's a bit more perceptive than Stan."
"She does not suspect," Mary argued.
"Women are statistically more intuitive about relationships than men are." He looked at Mary for a moment then smiled. "Of course, there are exceptions to every rule."
"Shut up." She threw her napkin at him. "If you're so worried then let's just tell them."
"Mare, they're going to separate us. They're going to give us new partners."
"Not for long."
"What are you talking about?" The waiter came and they both ordered.
"No one would be able to stand me for more than a week," she said when he was gone. "Let's face it; you're the first partner I've had that's lasted more than six months. Before they paired me with you, I ran off four guys in two months."
Marshall gave a low whistle. "That's impressive."
"Girl has to have a hobby. I'll go through a few partners until finally Stan will tell the government to shove it and put us back together."
Marshall couldn't exactly argue with her. Mary was a refined taste. Granted, she was one he loved savoring, but he knew that finding her another partner that she worked with as well as him was unlikely. In fact, he would venture to say damn near impossible.
"I don't know. I'm still not sure that just coming out and telling them is the way to do it."
They headed back to the office after they had finished lunch, Mary driving.
"Hey, Stan," Mary called when they got off the elevator.
"What?" he asked, coming out to stand next to Eleanor at her desk. Mary grabbed Marshall and kissed him right there in front of everyone.
"Marshall and I are dating. Can you take care of the semantics for us?"
Stan grumbled something and then placed a twenty in Eleanor's outstretched hand. "Yeah, I'll figure it out. Damn it, I never thought he'd tell her."
"You should never bet against a woman's intuition," Eleanor chided.
"They were betting against us!" Mary huffed.
"Actually only Stan was," Marshall pointed out.
"I'm dating an optimist. This could end up being a problem," she told him.
"I think it's adorable," Eleanor chimed it.
He was going to kill her. Six months of dating and he was going to have to murder her. She had left for work before he had this morning. He thought it was odd until he realized that she was just trying to get out before he woke up. He practically ran up to the top floor of the building and Mary was sitting at her desk.
"Mary!" he shouted. Her head shot up and she saw Marshall stalking towards her, angry.
"I have to go!" she said, trying to run past him, out the door. He caught her before she could even get around her desk, the momentum forcing her back in her seat. Marshall placed his hands on her arms rests, effectively trapping her in her seat.
"You used up all the hot water," he accused her. She smiled a little sheepishly.
"Not all the hot water," she countered.
"Leaving me thirty seconds of hot water does not count as leaving me some."
"You're such a pansy. Just suck it up and take a cold shower."
"Says the woman who got up early so she could take a hot one. This can't continue, Mare, you can't keep leaving me cold water."
"Well, what do you expect me to do about it?" She crossed her arms over her chest, daring him to come up with an answer. Marshall just smirked.
"There's only one solution to this problem. We'll just have to move in together to a house that has a bigger hot water heater."
She gave him a blank stare for a minute and then starting chuckling to herself. "How long have you been waiting to drop that bomb on me?" she asked him.
"About a month," he conceded.
"Fine, I'll move in with you. I mean, if you went to that much effort just to ask me, it's the least that I can do."
They found something a month later, equidistance from their two old houses. Jinx finally moved out, not wanting to impose on the two. Her daughter had finally found someone she liked, someone Jinx knew Mary cared for. She didn't want to stick around and, well, jinx it.
Marshall decorated and Mary tried to sneak in as many tacky pieces of furniture as she could. "We are not having a lava lamp in the living room," Marshall told her, taking it off the mantle.
"Oh, come on! Every self-respecting home needs a lave lamp."
"Not in the living room."
"How about in the bedroom?"
Marshall looked at her for a second. "Fine," he said.
"But this means no naked girl coo-coo clock!"
Brandi was dropping off her kid. Mary couldn't believe that her little sister had reproduced so quickly after their marriage. She teased Brandi about it constantly but, to be honest, she loved the little kid. At almost two, she had just the right amount of smarts and attitude to be great when she was with Mary but a real pain in the ass to her parents.
"We're only going to be gone for the day," Brandi said. "No sweets. I'll kill you if I come home to a hyper kid."
"We're going to have fun, aren't we Alexa?"
Brandi looked at Marshall desperately. He took the child from Mary's arms. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it," Marshall told the worried mother.
"Thanks. Alexa, say goodbye to Mommy and Daddy." The little girl got kissed by both her parents and waved goodbye to them until they car disappeared around the corner. She had been over Aunt Mary's and Uncle Marshall's house plenty of times. She knew exactly where all the toys were.
Mary and Marshall entertained her for hours until, after lunch, she fell asleep on the couch in Marshall's arms. Mary leaned against the doorframe, watching him gently rock her. After a few minutes, he looked up and smiled at Mary.
"Hey," he whispered.
"Hey, yourself," she whispered back. "She looks pretty comfortable there."
"Good, because my arm is falling asleep. She'd better be comfortable."
Mary sat down on the couch and rested her head on Marshall's shoulder.
"You honestly don't want one of these?" he asked her.
"When did I ever say that?"
"That first morning after Brandi's wedding, when I told you I thought about our future."
Mary smiled, remembering what a good morning it had been. She also remembered actively trying not to freak out when Marshall had mentioned kids. It had been over two years ago and things were so different now. She was different now.
"I want one of these but only if you're there to raise it with me."
"Really?" he asked, surprised.
"Really. Though, we should probably get married first. Isn't that how it usually works?"
"Sometimes… are you telling me that you want to get married?"
"I'm telling you that you can take out that ring that you've been carrying around for years and ask me."
Marshall smiled and reached into his pocket, pulling out the same ring that Mary had discovered in his desk ages ago. It seemed ages ago to him, anyway. "Mare?" he whispered.
"Of course, Doofus."
"Love you, too."