This one was fun!

I don't own Lemonade Mouth.

Chapter 15

Later that evening, Ray picked up Stella from her home, to take her out for after-dinner coffee. They went, of course, to Minnie 'N Joe's.

Veronica seated them, and said, "It's good to see you again!"

Though her hair was pulled back by a kerchief, several rebellious strands kept popping out. It was enough for Stella to notice.

"I love the new color!" she said. Veronica, completely taken aback to be noticed by anyone, let alone a rock star like Stella, immediately self-consciously fiddled at shoving her hair back under the kerchief. "Oh, thank-you!" she said, a bit shyly. She took their orders, and she went back to the kitchen.

"She's so sweet, and such a cutie," said Stella.

"I guess so," said Ray. He was too busy thinking about how to give Stella her birthday gift to notice how cute Veronica was or was not. Stella turned away from looking after Veronica to see Ray fidgeting with his pockets. She raised an eyebrow at him.

"Happy Birthday, Stella," he said, producing a necklace-sized jewelry box. Stella eagerly opened it. Inside was a bright orange guitar pick on a ball-bearing chain.

"Cool! Thank-you!" she said. Ray looked at her eagerly, or at least as eagerly as Ray Beech allowed for anyone to see him. Stella realized that there was something else she was supposed to notice about the guitar pick. She took a closer look and noticed, "To Sista Stella" written on one side. On the other side was, "xoxo, Sista Slash". Stella's jaw dropped. She could not believe it. Ray had managed to get a personalized, autographed guitar pick from Stella's all-time favorite singer.

"How did you…?"her voice trailed off.

Ray replied, shrugging (but clearly incredibly pleased with having impressed her), "I have connections." Then, Stella remembered that Ray's dad's sports drink company was sponsoring the tour of a band that Sista Slash was opening for. All the same, there was a heck of a lot of leg work, and time, involved in getting something like this.

"How did you know?"

"That you like her? Well, remember how you gave me your notebook to talk while my pipes were dead?"

Stella nodded.

"You kinda have all of the lyrics of all of her songs written throughout it, along with many word-art drawings of 'Sista Stella'."

"Oh yeah. Well, besides that…" Stella gave a weak, and slightly embarrassed, laugh. Then, she thought a bit about the amount of time it must have taken Ray to put all of this together.

"When did you do this?"

Now it was Ray's turn to be embarrassed. "I started when I got home from the hospital. I was going to make it a sort of thank-you for all that you did for me in the hospital, and, well, kind of, sort of, then I was going to try to ask you out. But then, uh, other stuff, Club AZ, happened. And so, birthday gift."

Such a great gift, and the thrill of finding out that he had been planning a way to ask her out (before that glorious night at the club!) made Stella want nothing more than to jump across that table, throw her arms around him, and thank him good and proper. She scooted her chair next to him, put her hands on his cheeks, and drew him in for a great, big kiss. Then, she leaned up to his ear and whispered, "Sorry. I know you hate PDA's."

Ray replied, "That's ok. I'll survive." He took the necklace and put it on her. After he fastened it, he leaned in and kissed the back of her neck. This sent chills all over Stella.

Thankfully, before they completely forgot that they were in public, Veronica arrived with their order. She also had a large folder under her arm.

"Hey, I was wondering if you could do me a favor? I have Charlie's posters, and since you'll see him before I will, could you bring them to him?"

"Of course!" said Stella. "But I'm pretty sure he'd be happy to come by himself." At this, Veronica blushed. Stella had the information she wanted.

Quickly, Veronica replied, "He's pretty busy, and this is way on the other side of town, I don't want to bother him."

"In giving him something he has coveted for years? I hardly think you'd be bothering him!" But Stella didn't want to embarrass Veronica. "I'll be happy to help you out, Veronica!"

"Thank-you!" she said, and she handed Stella the folder.

On their way home, Ray reminded Stella of dinner with his parents.

"So, Wednesday…" he began. He pulled over near her house. They stayed in the car.

Stella saw an out! "I can't on Wednesday. That's Charlie's live web interview. I promised I'd help him. So, oh well! Maybe another time?" Like, never?

"Yeah, I already thought about that. That's why we're having dinner early, 5:00."

"But probably meat, right? And doesn't your dad have crazy work hours?"

"There will be meatlessness for all the cute weirdos who don't enjoy animal carcass."

Stella shuddered. "Really? Did you have to go there? Gross!" She attempted her final strategy, "and your dad's hours?"

"Ever since Amanda and I got home from the hospital, he's been working from home more often. He said he could move around a few meetings for us."

Stella scowled. Defeated, she gave in, "OK."

Ray took her hand, and he said, "Thank-you." Then, he said, "You know how you said your parents are crazy old-fashioned and protective about how and whom their daughter dates?"

"Yeah…"

"Well, mine have always been the opposite. But I know my mom has always wanted to be more a part of my life, especially the girls part. I want to have a better connection to my parents, and they've been trying to have a better connection to me. Also…" but then he trailed off. He already felt like an idiot for talking this much about his relationship with his parents. He was reaching the end of his patience for this mushy crap.

Then, he looked down at his hand. And there was this delicate, beautiful other hand residing in it. Its partner reached up and touched his cheek.

Stella did not speak. She knew better than to coax more talk out of Ray than he was willing to give. Besides, she also knew by now that he would eventually say what he needed to, when he was ready. Instead of talking, she touched his scars from the car accident. Man, she loved those scars! Before, Ray was a total pretty-boy. Now, he was killer handsome, and everything inside of her melted into a puddle whenever she saw him. It's funny how a few little flaws on what was once a supposedly "perfect" face have made it so much better…

Her fingers on his small scars, her hand in his. I don't think it's possible to feel any better than this. That thought was immediately followed by, aw, hell. It's not like she doesn't know everything I feel about her anyway. He said out loud, "Also, with my parents, well, they never took an interest in the girls in my life, mostly because I've never wanted them to. But I do now."

"So that you can repair your family?"

"No, Stella. Because I want them to see how important you are to me." He turned to face her, "Look, I knew this is all still new, but no other girl has ever made me feel the way you do. You make me feel happy, and you make me feel like I want to be a better man. Hell, I feel more like a man than like a kid, because of you. My life is better because you are in it."

Stella let out a sigh, and said, "Wow." She kissed his hand, and she said, "You take my breath away." Unlike many of the other times that their conversations went serious, Ray did not give a sarcastic reply this time. So, because she wasn't sent into verbal sparring mode, Stella went on, and she told him exactly what was in her heart. "You are so confident, and you're incredibly funny, and you're insanely talented but you work hard at it and so you're even better, and you're smart, and – oh man – you're so handsome that my throat closes for a split second and my heart aches a little bit every time I see you. When you are in a room, everyone and everything else disappears. You're…like…" she searched for the right word, the apt comparison, "…sunshine. That's it! You're sunshine to me. You bring warmth and brightness and joy that glows inside me. So, I can't tell you how happy I am to know that I mean something like the same thing to you."

Ray was floored and speechless. He had nothing else to say, and there was no need. This was the time for his embrace to do the talking.