One year later...
It was a beautiful spring day. The sky was blue, the sun was shining and there was just a hint of a cooling breeze.
"Perfect weather for a wedding," Taylor Weston observed happily. "I'm so glad they're having it at Strickland House – it will be so lovely to take photos at Milk Beach. Oh, Dan, I can't believe they're actually getting married. I remember when they first told us they were going out... it feels like it was just yesterday!"
"Well, it's actually been a year," Dan mused as he knotted his sky blue tie. "But the time seems to have just flown by."
"How do I look?" Taylor asked her husband, turning around for his approval.
She was wearing an empire-waisted coral maxi dress and a matching flower in her long dark hair. Jewelled sandals completed the simple yet elegant look.
"Hmm, I don't know. I think you'll have to wear something else," Dan murmured.
His wife looked a bit miffed. "Really? You don't like it?"
Dan grinned. "I didn't say that, honey. I just don't think it's legal to outshine the bride on her wedding day."
"Ha-ha. Very funny!" Taylor shot back. "I was in panic mode for a second, wondering what else I was going to wear."
"You look beautiful, Tay," Dan said sincerely, dropping a kiss on her head.
He eyed his own reflection. "Me, on the other hand... I think I need to shave."
He headed for their ensuite bathroom and Taylor's eyes widened in alarm.
"Wait!" she cried desperately. "I don't think you need to shave, Dan. I think you look fine!"
"What are you talking about? I look scruffy," Dan chuckled as he touched his cheek. "I don't think the best man is allowed to have whiskers, anyway. I need to be well-groomed for the wedding photos."
"Well, the photos will be on the beach and the stubble makes you look more... nature-ish," Taylor said lamely.
Her husband laughed. "Nature-ish? What's gotten into you, Tay? As soon as the stubble starts to grow, you're usually the first person to tell me to get my razor!"
"I just think it looks... very attractive today," Taylor fumbled. "Plus there isn't much parking and we should really leave now if we want to get a spot."
Dan's eyes travelled to the clock. "We have plenty of time," he corrected. "It won't take me long, anyway – just a few minutes."
He strode to the bathroom and Taylor covered her face, knowing that any further protest on her part was futile. She braced herself for what was to come.
There was a muffled exclamation in the bathroom, before Dan came out slowly, looking completely dazed.
"Honey, is there something you want to tell me?"
In his hand, he held a used pregnancy test... only this one was positive.
"Can I open my eyes yet?" the bride begged impatiently.
"Almost, I'm just putting the final touches on your make-up," Izzy soothed. "Just one more sweep of mascara... and we're finished! Go ahead and open your eyes."
The bride opened her eyes tentatively and stared at her reflection.
"Is that really me?" she asked in wonder.
"It's definitely you," Izzy said with a grin. "You make a beautiful bride."
"Bride," she repeated, shaking her head slightly. "I can't believe it. I'm actually getting married today!"
"Now don't forget your something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue," Izzy reminded her. "I know it's just tradition but it can be fun too."
"Well, my dress is vintage," the bride said thoughtfully. "And my shoes are new."
"And here's something borrowed and blue," her maid of honour chimed in helpfully, handing her a delicate white handkerchief embroidered with blue flowers.
"Perfect," the bride said with a smile. "I really have to thank you for all the hard work you've done – this wedding wouldn't be taking place without you... honestly."
"Mummy, the car's here!" Henry yelled eagerly. He had been stationed at the front window all morning, waiting for the silver Mercedes to arrive.
"Time to go!" Izzy said excitedly. "Let's go get you married."
"Does this mean what I think it means?" Dan asked cautiously as he held up the test.
Taylor bit her lip. "If you think it means what I think you think it means."
Her husband shook his head slowly. "Why were you keeping it a secret, Tay?"
"I just took the test this morning and I didn't want to overshadow the wedding," Taylor explained. "I was going to tell you tomorrow."
She smiled wryly. "You weren't supposed to find out like this. I had it all planned – I was going to cook your favourite dinner tomorrow and have you wonder what the special occasion was. Then I was going to give you a box with a pair of baby socks in it. And then I was going to wait for you to figure out why I was giving you baby socks. It would have been such a great surprise."
Dan stared at her for a moment as though he couldn't believe his eyes. Then he unexpectedly let out a loud whoop until Taylor giggled and shushed him.
"We're going to have a baby," he marvelled. "That's amazing. How long have you been pregnant?"
"I'll have to go to a doctor and confirm," Taylor said hesitantly. "But from my calculations, I should be around five or six weeks along." She sighed regretfully. "I really wish I'd been able to surprise you, though!"
"Hey, it was still an incredible surprise," Dan said, wrapping his arms around his wife. "I can't wait. I know you're going to be the best mother in the world. Our little girl is going to be very lucky."
"Well, I guess I know what you're hoping for," Taylor teased her husband. "It could be a boy, you know."
"I'll be happy with whatever we have," Dan assured her quickly. "But to be honest, I would love to have a daughter that would be as beautiful as her mummy."
His eyes narrowed. "Although that might be a problem when she becomes a teenager and I'll have to fight off all the guys that will be chasing her."
Taylor giggled, and all thoughts of razors and weddings were briefly forgotten as the excited parents-to-be imagined what their baby would be like and grow up to be.
At this stage, they didn't know what the future would bring, but they were content to dream.
All eyes were on the bride as she floated down the aisle on her father's arm, looking elegant in a classic white satin sheath with a simple train. But she only had eyes for her groom.
All the details that she had been worrying about in the weeks leading up to the wedding – the flowers, the arrangement of the chairs, the music and the colour of the groom's boutonniere – suddenly none of it seemed important anymore. The only thing that mattered was that she was finally going to marry the man she loved.
She smiled as young Henry did a reading, dabbed away a tear as her maid of honour sang a song, listened attentively to the minister's sermonette about marriage, and simply stared in adoration as her groom recited his vows.
I'm married, she thought in awe as her new husband kissed her, eliciting cheers and whistles from their friends.
"Are you ready to take the first steps of your new life together?" the minister asked.
Her husband squeezed her hand and they both nodded eagerly.
"In that case," the minister said with a smile on his face. "It is my great pleasure to introduce to you, for the first time, Mr and Mrs Churchill."
"What a beautiful wedding," Emma said dreamily. "Didn't Jenna look lovely in that dress?"
"She did," Jake agreed, as they walked together to the Woodhouse's front door. "I think they'll be very happy together."
"And they owe it all to me," Emma said smugly as she fumbled for her keys.
"You?" Jake exclaimed incredulously. "Emma, what have you got to do with it all?"
"Well, if I hadn't protected Frank from all the girls that were after him, he might never have gotten back together with Jenna," his girlfriend reasoned, a twinkle in her hazel eyes.
"You're incorrigible," Jake said with a laugh.
"You love me in spite of it," she replied flippantly, smoothing down the folds of her aquamarine maid-of-honour dress.
Jake shook his head. "No, I love you because of it," he corrected.
Emma opened the door quietly. "Looks like Dad's gone to bed already," she commented. "Want to come in for a bit? I could make tea."
"Sure," Jake agreed readily, following her inside.
Emma dumped her bag on the couch and made her way to the kitchen. It didn't take long for the kettle to boil.
"I hope peppermint tea's OK," she called, as she walked back into the living room... and stifled a gasp.
For Jake was on bended knee, looking expectantly at her.
"Oh, my gosh," she breathed quietly.
"I think you'd better put those mugs down, Em," Jake said with a grin. "We don't want any spills."
Emma obediently set the mugs down and stared speechlessly at Jake, as he took her hand.
"Emma Jacqueline Woodhouse," he said. "Sixteen years ago, I asked you to marry me. Back then, you thought getting married was all about climbing trees and eating chocolate-chip ice-cream. And we can do those things... but it's about so much more than that. It's about knowing that you can live the rest of your life without someone... but not wanting to. It's about loving someone and dreaming about making them happy. It's about hopefully raising a family one day and growing old together. Emma, I want all these things with you. Will you marry me?"
He held up a small circular object and when Emma saw it, she choked back a laugh. It was a ring fashioned out of chewing gum... just like the one Jake had made her – and she'd ended up eating – sixteen years before.
"Don't worry – this isn't the real ring," he said teasingly. "The real ring is in my pocket, but I thought this would be meaningful."
It was thoughtful gestures like these which reminded Emma of why she loved Jake.
She closed her eyes and briefly reflected upon the day of her first proposal.
She didn't know any other eighteen-year-old guys who would have humoured a six-year-old in the way that Jake had. His kindness and compassion had only increased over the years. Nobody knew her in the way that he did. She knew he would make a wonderful husband.
"Not wanting to force an answer out of you, Emma, but my knee's starting to get sore," Jake quipped. "I'm getting old, you know."
Emma laughed at his joke, but seeing the slightly anxious look in Jake's eyes, she took pity on him and gave him his answer.
And of course, you must be wondering... what did she say?
Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.
Author's Note: It's FINISHED! And with an Austen quote, I might add. Sorry, I couldn't resist. :)
I have to give a special thank you to two very special reviewers who have followed this story from the beginning and provided so much encouragement along the way – iambbq and TheImaginationAddict. I truly appreciate the support you gave me during the chapters I didn't want to write and this story would not have been completed without you!
Thanks to all those who reviewed the last chapter – Bet, Frogster, TheImaginationAddict, MySarcasticGreenCrayon, iambbq, RhiannonAmidala, Stephy-Lou-Clark-Weasley, TodayIsYesterday'sTomorrow, EaF and Whosepride!
For all those who want to see more of Emma, Jake and the rest of the gang... I'm confirming that there will be a sequel. It's called Ever After and I'll get started on it soon.
And as a special thank you gift to everyone who reviews this final chapter, I will send you a sneak peek at the sequel! Obviously this won't work with anonymous reviews – so either log in when you review or leave an email address.
If you're hungry for more modern Austen in the meantime, check out my other two modern Austen stories – 'A Christmas Medley' (which goes through Jake and Emma's Christmases) and 'The Importance of First Impressions' (which is a modern Pride and Prejudice).
And as always, you can follow me on Twitter and/or PM me if you want to interact in the meantime. Thanks, again, everyone, and I hope you'll be reading Ever After!