Chapter 6: The Tear Down
A/N: Same disclaimer applies. Thanks to C & K for encouraging me to explore this little plot bunny and cheering me on the whole way through.
It turned out Lauren's idea of an emergency was chipping one of her acrylic nails while busting a move to Baby Got Back. How she managed to do so, I wasn't sure, but I suspected it had something to do with the fact that someone had pulled a few chairs out onto the dance floor, encouraging all kinds of debauchery. Ten feet away I saw a woman in a mini-dress straddling a guy, shoving her massive cleavage in his face and practically dry humping him while he chugged a can of beer.
So ends the classy portion of the day…
Glancing around the room, I was reminded why I typically stepped once the dance floor opened. I really had no interest in watching a bunch of desperate people getting busy on the dance floor and sneaking away to bathrooms and dark corners to do God-only-knows-what. I'm not sure what it was about wedding receptions but they always seemed to bring out the pheromones.
As I passed by the corner of the dance floor, looking for the bride, I spotted Chet palming the ass of one of Lauren's bridesmaids while she giggled and tugged on his necktie.
Gross. This wedding has sufficiently scarred me for life.
Finally, I found Lauren, tearfully clutching her ruined finger while her mother and maid of honor attempted to console her…with vodka. Seriously? It wasn't even the woman's real nail. Besides, once the dance got started, no one was paying attention to anything other than the open bar and trolling for a hook up. I was baffled sometimes at what some brides got upset about.
I pulled out my kit and helped her file her nail down, touching up her French manicure as best as I could before sending her teetering back to the dance floor. Part of me hoped the woman would just pass out already so I could be done with her.
Stopping by the bar, I snagged a soda, looking for a little caffeine boost. As was typically the case, well over half the guests had cleared out for the night while those who remained congregated around the dance floor. People didn't usually stick around receptions past the first couple dances unless they were looking for a party.
I figured I'd get a head start on clean up, extinguishing candles and grouping them all on one table to let the wax cool, folding up framed table numbers and stacking them in one of the many storage boxes I'd carted along, any little thing that would make my job at the end of the night a little easier.
I was working my way through slipping chair sashes off the seat backs, looping them over the crook of my arm when someone came up behind me.
"Want some help?"
A smile spread across my lips as I turned my head to see Jasper standing a few feet away, his suit coat and tie from earlier discarded and the top buttons of his dress shirt undone, resting his hands on the back of a chair.
"You're a guest. Shouldn't you be out there getting your freak on?" I smirked, nodding toward the packed dance floor.
"You know I hate listening to this crap," he said with a grimace.
It was true; Jasper had been a bit of a music snob. He preferred the bluesy stuff, constantly on the lookout for the next great Indie rock band. He used to claim he'd been a great guitarist in another life though he couldn't strum a single chord in this one. Lady Gaga wasn't quite his style.
"Where's your date?" I asked, stripping another sash off a chair and adding it to my pile.
"Talking to her aunt. We're gonna take off pretty soon here, but I've got a few minutes."
"I won't say no to free labor," I consented with a twitch of my lips, gesturing for him to have at it.
We moved around the tables side-by-side with Jasper untying the knots and handing them over to me to stack, keeping up an easy conversation the entire time. It was nice working with him again. When we'd been together, he'd often show up at the end of the night to help with some of the heavy lifting and to spend time with me after a long day. We'd always worked together seamlessly and he'd always made me laugh, no matter how many things had gone wrong that day. It was nice to see that some things hadn't changed.
"So," he drawled after a few minutes. "I know it's not any of my business, so feel free to tell me to screw off, but what's the deal with you and that guy?"
"What guy?" I asked, quirking my eyebrow and straightening out the fabric draping over my arm.
"The photographer. He's had his eye on you all day and if I'm not mistaken, you've had your eye on him, too." I glanced over to see if he was just teasing me, or if maybe he was somehow disturbed by the thought of me with someone else. But his face didn't show an ounce of amusement, anger or sadness, it was the same expression he'd given me anytime he knew I needed him to listen—open and caring and full of understanding. Jasper's compassion had been one of the things I loved most about him.
"I don't know what the deal is," I admitted, continuing the move around the table. I hoped if I kept my hands busy that it'd be easier to talk. "He— I don't know. It's confusing."
"It doesn't have to be," he said, handing me another sash. He leaned against the back of the chair across from me, crossing his ankles out in front of him as he studied me. "I know you, Bell. When something comes up that wasn't in your plans, you freak out. You throw up your guard and make excuses about why this new development could never possibly work instead of considering the alternatives."
"Ouch," I winced, concentrating on smoothing the sashes over my arm. "Well, that was blunt."
"I just tell it like I see it," he said. "You know I'm not one to feed you bullshit."
"Yeah, I just figured that was one of your more charming personality quirks that I didn't have to deal with anymore," I needled him with an innocent smile.
"Very cute," he smirked, balling up a sash and tossing it lightly at my face. I giggled and added it to my pile, moving to the next table as I considered his words.
"You really think that's how I am?" I asked quietly.
"Well, yeah," he said, falling back into step beside me. "And it's understandable. I mean, you've been dealt some really crappy cards. First with your mom, and then…us. It makes sense that you don't do so well with change. I just, I'd hate to think that you'd close yourself off because of that. Because of me." He laid his hand on top of my arm, holding it there until I turned and looked up at him. "You've got so much left to give, Bell. And if you find someone who wants to give right back to you, you shouldn't shy away from that just because you've been burned in the past. You deserve that and so much more."
I stared down at my hands, stroking the edge of a sash to give them something to do. Jasper knew me better than anyone, sometimes even better than myself. For as long as I'd known him, he'd always known exactly what to say to make me feel better, when to push, when to back off and let me come to my own conclusions. I'd always felt so lucky to have someone like that in my life. That connection was really what I missed the most about him, and though it was difficult to completely forget the fact that he'd hurt me, badly, it felt so good to have that back. It was nice to have a friend who I could open up to and be honest with again.
"I'm scared, Jas," I whispered.
"Of course you are. Falling in love's a scary thing." My eyes shot wide open, my mouth gaping at his casually confident usage of the L-word when it came to me and Edward. He grinned and tapped his index finger under my chin until my mouth closed again.
"Don't look so surprised. I can still read you like a book. You're in deep, Bell, or at least well on your way there and he's so far gone over you; it's all over his face. And uh, I sorta caught a glimpse of you together out in the parking lot," he admitted with a sheepish smile. "You were looking pretty cozy."
"I'm not— He couldn't— " I sputtered uselessly. "I mean we haven't even—"
"Maybe not yet, but," he trailed off, seeming to consider his next words carefully. "He looks at you the way…well, the way I look at Alice. And the way you look at him… you never looked at me like that."
He was right; a part of me wanted to regret that fact. Jasper and I had been together for ten years, yet Edward made me feel so much...more. And after only knowing him such a short time in comparison. Yet Jasper didn't seem hurt at all, he sounded genuinely happy for me and maybe even a little relieved.
"But I hardly even know him, Jas," I argued, feeling ribbons of panic tangling in my stomach. When did this all get so complicated?
"Your heart doesn't need much to know what it wants," he responded, reaching out to tug on one of my curls. "Just think about it, okay? He seems like a good guy."
"He is," I affirmed weakly, still feeling a bit shell-shocked over the turn this conversation had taken.
Jasper placed his hands reassuringly on my shoulders, staring down at me with a look that was both affectionate and frustrated at the same time. "Don't be afraid to let him make you happy."
I knew Jasper would never accept some pat answer, or some flaky non-committal statement; he'd know if I was just placating him to change the subject. So I stared him straight in the eye and promised.
He smiled; satisfied I'd follow through with my word.
"Can I make one request?" he asked, waiting for my nod to continue. "Don't go making nachos and holding all-night Monty Python marathons with him. That's ours."
I laughed and offered my own condition. "As long as you never let Alice steal your track sweatshirt."
"Promise," he grinned, holding his hand out to squeeze mine and seal the deal. He glanced over my shoulder then back down at me. "I should get going. I'll call you later this week?"
"Sounds good," I smiled, reaching down to pick up my pile of sashes. "Night, Jas. And thanks."
"You'll figure it out, Bell," he assured me, wrapping me in a quick hug before he turned and walked away.
For the rest of the night, I thought about what Jasper said; I couldn't seem to think of anything else.
He was right to be worried about me sabotaging my own chances at happiness; I'd been wrestling with the very same concerns all day.
There was no way I was in love with Edward, it simply wasn't possible. While I may have been a romantic, I was also far too realistic to believe in something like love at first sight. Until today I'd never even thought of him as anything more than a casual acquaintance, someone I worked with a handful of times every wedding season. It had to be the same for him, right? I mean, even if he'd harbored some sort of crush on me that I hadn't been aware of, there was no way he could be in love with me. We barely even knew each other.
In fact, it was scary to think of how little I really knew about him. I didn't know where he lived or what he liked to do other than take pictures. I didn't know if he had another job or if he went to school or how he got into photography in the first place.
But Jasper was right. My heart didn't seem to care about any of that.
And as scared as I was about how quickly this was all happening and how overwhelming my feelings for him were already, I was starting to realize that I was even more afraid of running away and never again experiencing the way I felt when I was with him.
Just thinking about him made me smile. I was already aching for next Saturday so I could see him again, so I could feel his arms around me, warm and strong and unyielding as they had been when we danced together. I couldn't wait to just talk to him again, to see if I could make him grin and maybe even laugh enough that his nose crinkled and his eyes went squinty. I loved that laugh. And though we'd never kissed, I was dying to discover the sweet pressure of his lips, the texture of his tongue, the feel of his breath mingling with mine.
A week had never felt so long…and he'd only been gone for an hour.
The bar announced last call and the DJ wound things down a short time later. Guests lingered around the room in little groups, saying their goodbyes until the catering staff began politely shooing them on their way. Lauren and her family barely spared a glance in my direction. She was obviously eager to get a head start on her wedding night festivities, forcefully dragging Tyler out the door to their waiting limo. As much as I appreciated a simple 'thank you' and one more chance to congratulate the happy couple at the end of an event, I was far more eager to see them go.
After what felt like hours, the doors shut behind the last guest and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Until I opened my eyes to see the mess before me.
Half-burnt candles, discarded glasses, toppled over bottles, and crumpled napkins littered every surface. For all the time that had been spent transforming the room into an elegant affair, all that work now had to be undone.
When I'd been just starting out on my own, I hadn't had the resources to hire extra help for cleanup and tear down, and without a reputation behind me, most of my initial clients were budget brides who weren't willing to dish out the money themselves. After all, that's why they hired me, to take care of those sorts of details. I'd spent more nights than I cared to remember cleaning messes like the one in front of me. Looking around, I'd never been happier to know that I wasn't responsible for it this time.
The catering crew hustled around, eager to do their part so they could be on their way. I heard a few of them talking about going out for drinks afterwards and I wondered how in the hell they still had the energy. All I wanted was to kick off my shoes and crawl into bed.
I helped out with gathering anything I'd brought in, bringing my car around to load it up with emptied vases and boxes of décor. Once all the tables were cleared, I stuffed the soiled linens into sacks, ready to be dropped off for cleaning the next morning.
Finally the only thing left to do was wait for the rental company to come by and pick up the stacks of folded tables and chairs sitting by the doors. Unfortunately when I texted the driver to check on their status, he notified me that they were running about forty-five minutes behind and wouldn't arrive until around two-thirty. And I was stuck waiting around until they arrived.
A few members of the catering staff offered to stick around with me, but I ushered them off to go have their fun. All I needed to do was sit there until they showed up and then shut off the lights and lock the doors; there wasn't any need to make someone else waste an hour of their lives.
After they left, I wandered aimlessly around the room, twirling bored circles in the eerie silence. The air conditioning had kicked in full blast and without five hundred bodies to balance the temperature, the ballroom swiftly grew downright chilly.
My feet were killing me and I was exhausted, both mentally and physically. With at least another half hour to kill, I unfolded a few chairs, lining them up next to each other, and dug out one of the leftover clean linens that hadn't been used. Draping it over the chairs, I discarded my shoes and eased myself down on the improvised cot, tucking the tablecloth around me like a taco. It wasn't the most comfortable arrangement in the world, but after shifting around a little bit, I finally found a tolerable position and settled in to wait.
What seemed like only seconds later, something soft and warm brushed against the cool skin of my cheek, then my forehead, then once more on the tip of my nose. It tickled just a little and made my nose twitch, so I shifted away. But I couldn't escape it. Whatever it was made a faint trail down the curve of my face and then slowly across the bow of my lips, lingering there for just a moment. Then I felt a different pressure against my cheek-similar and still warm and gentle, but a thousand times more pleasant. There was a sweet caress on the apple of my cheek, then another closer to my ear before I heard a soft whisper.
"Wake up, sleeping beauty."
I sighed, torn between sleep and wakefulness. It felt so good to just lazily doze. But that voice was familiar and impossibly sweet. Maybe it wouldn't be such a hardship to wake up to a dream.
With some effort, I fluttered my eyes open, blinking to moisten them in the dry air. After a few moments, my vision cleared and Edward's face came into focus, directly in front of mine.
"Hi," I whispered, still a little bleary with sleep.
"Hey." He smiled softly. That gentle warmth I'd felt on my face shifted, moving upward to brush my hair back from my face. I realized that his hand had been what I'd felt, his touch what had stirred me from sleep. I couldn't think of a better way to wake up.
My eyes traveled over him, drinking in what I hadn't thought I'd get to see again for a week. He was kneeling in front of me, his crouched legs clad in dark denim, a small patch of faded gray peeking out from under the zipper of his navy hooded-sweatshirt. I realized I'd never seen him in casual clothes before. He looked good enough to eat…or maybe just nibble…especially right there below his jaw where a patch of stubble was growing in.
My eyes shifted back to his face, then narrowed in confusion. There was something different.
"Why are you wearing glasses?" I asked in a raspy voice.
"All the better to see you with, my dear." He smirked, adjusting the thick tortoise-shell rims on his nose.
"Huh?" My brain clearly hadn't gotten the memo yet that it needed to be functioning again.
"Sorry," he chuckled. "I should probably let you wake up a little before attempting to dazzle you with my wit."
"You don't have to try very hard," I sighed. A split second later, I realized what I'd admitted and slapped my palm over my mouth as I felt my face heat. Apparently my filter was still sleeping in with the rest of my cognizance.
"Oh really?" he asked, his voice filled with amused delight. "I'm gonna remember you said that, Swan."
I groaned and rolled onto my back, rubbing my hands over my eyes to clear the crusties out and try to slap some sense back into me. I couldn't properly conduct myself in the presence of Edward Cullen's charms if I was half asleep.
"May I ask why you're wrapped in a table cloth?" he asked, plucking at the fabric that slid down over my shoulders.
"I was cold," I mumbled into my hands.
I combed my fingers back into my hair, blinking widely a few times, then decided that needed to be good enough for now. Where's caffeine when you really need it?
"Here, how about you try this instead?" he suggested. I looked over to see him unzipping his sweatshirt and shrugging it from his shoulders. I blushed and tried not to choke on my tongue upon seeing him in a snug t-shirt for the first time. Holy moly, the man was perfection.
"Thanks," I stammered, sitting up to reach for the offered sweatshirt. The fabric was still warm from his body and I eagerly bundled myself into it. I just barely stopped myself from sniffing at the collar, remembering at the last second that he was still right next to me and would probably think I was really weird.
"Sorry, I'm a little out of it," I muttered around a wide yawn. "How'd you get in here?"
"I got here at the same time as the rental guys," he explained as I patted my pockets searching for my phone. How long had I been sleeping? "They should have most of it packed up by now, though you're lounging on the last of it."
"Oh," I gasped, jumping up and quickly moving to fold the chairs.
"I'll get those," he insisted softly, placing his hand on top of mine until I released my hold on the one I'd already lifted. "Stay here and wake up a little bit."
"Thanks," I murmured, watching him stack the three wooden seats in a short row and hoist them under his arm with ease. I might have made it carrying all three in one trip, but there was no way I would have managed quite so smoothly. Maybe it was a tiny thing, but between the sweatshirt and the chairs, I felt taken care of…and it felt really nice.
Scrunching the collar of his shirt in my hands, I indulged in my earlier temptation to inhale. It smelled like Downy fabric softener with just a hint of something woodsy and warm. I wanted to curl my entire body up inside the fleecy cocoon and wallow in the comfort of his scent.
Remembering that he wouldn't be gone for long, I took one last sniff and lifted my face, settling for hugging my arms around myself with my hands tucked deep inside the long sleeves.
Then a thought occurred to me. It had been after two a.m. when I laid down on the chairs, and Edward had absolutely no reason to be here.
Duh. Maybe that should have been your first observation rather than some stupid comment about his glasses. Way to be quick on the uptake there, Bella.
I dug into my pocket and got a glimpse of the time just as Edward walked back into the room.
"Looks like they got everything. You all set?" he asked, crossing the empty floor toward me.
"It's almost three in the morning," I pointed out, ignoring his question. "What are you even doing here? Did you forget something?"
He stopped a few feet away, staring at me with quiet scrutiny. He squared his shoulders a little and took a breath, like he was preparing himself for battle or something.
"Yes," he said firmly, swiftly crossing the remaining steps between us. Before I could blink, he was right in front of me, so close that I could feel the heat radiating from his body. His gaze dropped to my lips for just a moment before returning to my eyes. "I forgot this."
Just as I realized his intentions, his head swooped down until his mouth found mine. There was no initial hesitancy, no tentative sweep of his lips to test my response. When Edward kissed, he did it whole-heartedly and with no turning back. His kiss was sweet and demanding all at once, moving his lips ardently against mine. When I finally gained enough of my wits to kiss him back, he groaned in delight and parted his mouth, lightly sucking my bottom lip between his.
His hands dove into my hair, pulling me firmly against him until I had no choice but to wrap my arms around him and cling. His fingers pressed into my skin with urgency, like he was afraid I might disappear if he didn't hold on tight enough. But it wasn't uncomfortable, not in the slightest, and only incited my own touch to grow bolder and more passionate. My hands clutched at his shoulders, using his body to pull myself closer until I was holding onto him just as tightly as he held me.
I felt consumed by him and never wanted to break free.
When the pressure began to ebb, I sighed into his mouth, the sweet, chaste aftershocks hitting me just as hard as the initial onslaught. Tingles coursed across my skin as our lips just barely met in soft caresses between us, sometimes not even touching at all, just sharing the same breath.
His hands stroked down over my back, then up to my hair, gently urging my head down until he cradled me into the crook of his shoulder and sighed contently.
As he held me close, he whispered against the top of my head. "I got home and realized I couldn't wait another week to find out what it was like to kiss you."
I nuzzled into his chest, reveling in the feeling of being in a man's embrace again, enjoying it all the more because they were Edward's arms and I was pretty sure his might be the only ones I was interested in having around me for a very long time.
"That was…" I started to respond but couldn't complete the sentence. No word seemed sufficient to describe what that kiss had been.
Euphoric? Ridiculously hot? Blissful? The absolute best feeling I'd ever had in my entire life? How about all of the above? Nope, still not good enough. This might take a while.
"Amazing," he said, lifting his head until I could see his face smiling down at me. His eyes were bright and crinkled in the corners from smiling so hard. He looked positively giddy and I was sure my expression mirrored his.
"Yeah. Amazing works," I accepted, though it still seemed far less than adequate.
"Just like I always knew it would be," he murmured, tenderly stroking my cheek with his knuckles until I leaned into his touch.
He winced slightly and his smile faded. He appeared sheepish and almost nervous as he dropped his hand.
"Longer than is appropriate to admit," he said.
"What do you mean?"
He turned away and walked over toward the bank of windows along the wall, resting his palms on the ledge that ran beneath them.
"I've wanted you since the first time I saw you," he confessed, still staring out the window in front of him. I could still see his expression reflected in the glass and I hated that he looked so sad when only seconds ago he'd been smiling so beautifully.
"You probably don't even remember," he shrugged. "It was years ago, back when you were still working at the hall downtown. It was one of the first weddings I was shooting on my own and I was so nervous that I'd screw up and miss something big. I was sitting in the hall, checking all my lenses for the tenth time when I heard your voice. You were freaking out because one of the staff knocked over the cake when they were setting up."
"I remember that," I murmured, racking my brain for more details about the day.
"You looked so frazzled and annoyed and completely beautiful. There was a tiny bit of frosting at the end of your hair," he said, his lips spreading into a soft smile as he remembered.
He turned toward me then, leaning back against the window ledge. "And when you saw me, you smiled, just for a second in the middle of your catastrophe. I swear I felt my heart stop. I said to myself, 'I have to know this girl,' like somehow, deep down, I knew you were important."
I felt my heart squeeze with foolish giddiness at hearing his recounting of our first meeting. I couldn't remember ever making someone feel that way. I hadn't known I was even capable of eliciting that sort of response from another person, certainly not from someone like Edward.
"Then I found out that you were engaged and it felt like someone punched me in the gut," he continued, rubbing his middle like a physical bruise still marred his skin and ached. "It was like some cruel joke, 'Hey, here's your dream girl but you don't have a chance because she's already with someone else,'" he chuckled humorlessly, his shoulders sagging a little. "Every minute I spent with you that day was torture—wanting you, but knowing I could never have you.
"After that, when I'd find out that a client of mine was working with you…I was excited but dreading it all at the same time. It would have been easy if you'd turned out to be some uptight snob or a horrible person, but of course the more I found out about you, the more wonderful I realized you were.
"When I heard you got divorced, I was…relieved," he admitted, looking completely miserable at his confession. "I mean, how fucking wrong is that, to be happy that someone's marriage ended? And I know it had nothing to do with me, but I still felt guilty. Because I respected your relationship with him and I never would have done anything to mess with that, but a part of me still hoped…" he trailed off, shaking his head at himself in disgust.
My heart hurt to see him so clearly struggling with his feelings, the way his hands curled around the ledge of the window until his knuckles were white, how his toes scuffed uncomfortably at a speck on the carpet. Most of all, I hated the way he avoided me, like he was afraid to look into my eyes.
It seemed that I wasn't the only one whose head was jumbled, and he'd clearly been wrestling with his confusion for far longer than I had. I wanted to soothe him, to just go to him and hug him and tell him everything would be okay, but there were too many thoughts running through my brain.
"How could you feel that way about me?" I asked the first thing I could think of. "I mean, you didn't even know me."
"I know, Bella," he groaned, tugging at his hair in frustration. "Don't you see? It didn't matter. I just felt so…drawn to you. It's like I couldn't help it."
"You still hardly know anything about me," I pointed out, folding my arms in front of myself.
"We've never spent any time together outside of working weddings— "
"I want to change that," he interrupted, looking anxious and coaxing at the same time.
"The fact still remains that all you know about me is that I'm a twenty-seven-year-old divorcee wedding planner," I maintained, pacing restlessly. Then I remembered something he'd said earlier that day. "And that I'm allergic to cats. I still want to know how you managed that one," I demanded, pointing at him in playful accusation.
Some of the strain drained from his face, a mischievous gleam returning to his eyes as he smirked. "It's my job to be perceptive."
I sighed and walked toward him. "Somehow I think that's above and beyond the call of duty." I came to a stop directly in front of him, reaching my hand up to smooth the wrinkles of stress on his brow. His hands came to rest gently on my hips as I smiled at him adoringly and chided, "Stalker."
He laughed, just as I'd hoped he would. I didn't want to see him looking so sad anymore; apparently we'd both suffered enough heartbreak already.
It was going to take me some time to digest all the things he'd told me, but I realized that none of it really mattered. I didn't need to worry about the steps that had brought us here, because here was exactly where I wanted to be.
"You're right," he sighed, reaching out to stroke a strand of my hair between his fingers. "Maybe we don't know that much about each other, but I know enough. I know that I'm happier when I'm with you than I've ever been in my entire life. I know that something as simple as holding your hand is exciting and makes me feel alive, that just the thought of kissing you… God, Bella, you make my heart race," he whispered, dropping his forehead to mine.
"I know that you're sweet, generous, patient and kind, and you make me laugh." He lifted his head again and stared down at me with unwavering certainty. "I know that I want to know everything about you."
"You do?" I asked, hardly more than a squeak.
"Yeah. I don't want to rush you or freak you out, but I'm pretty sure I've already fallen halfway in love with you." He paused for a moment, hesitating. "Probably more than halfway. And now you really think I'm a crazy stalker," he groaned, leaning back like he was trying to step away, but I wouldn't let him.
I lifted my hands to his face, softly stroking the scratchy stubble on his cheeks as I poured my heart into my words, hoping that I could show him that he wasn't alone in this. Not anymore.
"Edward, you make me feel things I never thought I'd be capable of again. When I look into your eyes, I feel like my heart is whole again. You make me believe that maybe true love still exists, that it's still possible." I reached down and took his hand in mine, exhaling a shaky breath before lifting it to lie over my pounding heart. "And as much as it terrifies me, I'm falling right there with you."
He closed his eyes, his entire body seeming to sigh in relief. I caught just a glimpse of the wide grin that seized his lips before I was captured close in his warm embrace. He rocked me gently, like a gift he wanted only to cherish and never let go.
"You don't know how long I've waited to hear you say that," he murmured.
"I can't promise I'll make it easy," I warned him, snuggling into his comforting arms. "But I really want to try and live happily ever after with you."
He leaned back, his arms looped around the small of my back as he grinned down at me.
"How about we start with breakfast tomorrow?" he suggested easily.
I pursed my lips, considering for a moment.
"You know, technically it already is tomorrow. You woke me up," I reminded him coyly.
"Yes, I suppose that's true." He nodded, mockingly serious.
"Know anywhere that serves pancakes at this hour?"
"Are you asking me out, Swan?" he teased, poking me in the side.
"No, you asked me out, remember?" I giggled and flinched away from his tickling fingers. "I'm just renegotiating the time-frame a little. Why?" I asked, eying him suspiciously as I crossed my arms over my chest. "You have other plans at three in the morning?"
He pounced at me, emitting a sound that was halfway between a growl and a laugh as he scooped me right off my feet and into his arms.
"My only plan is to find somewhere that's open for breakfast and spend the rest of the day with my girl."
My girl. Oh my gosh, I could get used to that. Really damn quickly.
"Is that a fact?"
"Mmhmm. But we're gonna have to shake things up a bit," he told me with a wicked grin. "I don't think I can wait until we say goodnight to kiss you again."
I didn't wait for him this time, reaching my hands up to thread my fingers through his silky hair as I urged his lips down to mine. This kiss wasn't permeated with the same urgency as our first embrace, but there was just as much passion, tempered with the sweetness of promise and possibilities. It was the kind of kiss that spoke of forever.
His lips pecked gently at my nose as he turned and headed toward the doors. "Ready to ride off into the sunset?"
I grinned and wrapped my arms around his neck. "Lead the way, Shutterfly."
That's all, folks!
Forgive the massive end note here, I just wanted to say a couple things.
Thanks to every one of you who has read, reviewed, pimped, what-have-you. From before I even posted the first chapter of this little baby, you guys have been completely awesome and all the excitement truly humbles me and means so much.
For those wondering about any future projects from me, at this point there are none. I WILL be writing the promised outtakes from TTI and that's what I'll be working on next. After that, I'm not committing to anything. As for Shutterfly and Plannerella, I won't say for sure, but there's a possibility I'd come back to visit them for a future-shot or something, no guarantees. Summer's busy for me, especially this year, and plot bunnies tend to be sparse in my brain. I'm not saying I will never write again, but I'm not making any promises either. I wasn't intending to write anything after TTI and one day this popped into my head and wouldn't be quiet, so who knows!
As a personal PSA that's unrelated to this story but completely related to me right now: If you're of age, able, and willing, please consider donating blood with the American Red Cross and getting tested as a bone marrow donor with the National Bone Marrow Registry at Bethematch (dot) com. Both are wonderful organizations that have had a huge impact on my family. Donating blood and marrow will not have any lasting effects on you, but it can make all the difference to someone else.
Thank you again and if you're still with me, click on that little link and let me know your thoughts about my little story here.