Title: Normal is the Watchword
Summary: Rogan. Sort of a sequel to Amends, another Rogan of mine. Rory and Logan come together in the midst of an unusual day. Because we all need some happy Rogan fic now and then.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Characters from Gilmore Girls, story title borrowed from the Season 2 opener of Veronica Mars. Both excellent shows. This is merely a fan fic for the former.
She was early, though it was already late. It was Thursday, which was always a late night for them, and the one night she never felt bad about whiling away extra hours at work doing research as it was the one night that her dinner companion was stuck at his office until well past the post-dinner hour. Instead of eating alone at a normal time, however, they always met at what was now considered their favorite restaurant and had dessert followed by an appetizer to go, which they shared as a midnight snack before spending some quality time in bed. It was, as they say, a standing date.
Normally, in keeping with their inside joke about meeting for dinner without actually eating any dinner—surprisingly easy for her to acclimate to by simply having a large, late lunch and an extra quad-shot latte around four in the afternoon—they met at the restaurant in question and waited at their usual table for the other to arrive. It was never a long wait, as she'd learned exactly how long he had to stay at the office and would only beat him or make him wait in the arena of five minutes, depending on how stimulating her own work proved that particular week. This had been going on for five months; since she'd gotten her current job and truly gotten settled in this new routine. They'd established a new normal together; far from her old schedule, her old life. They had dinner together every other night—all but Thursday, in their own home usually, with the usual parlays into the city to try new places, meet with friends, or just try to appease a tired palate. And, yes, perhaps he did do much of the actual food preparation at their residence, but she pitched in as far as her culinary skills allowed; though, to be fair, that generally only amounted to her informing him that she was craving garlic bread and handing him a stick of butter from the fridge. She's also been known to venture into the backyard to obtain an avocado when a recipe called for it, as he claimed she had an innate gift in gaging ideal avocado ripeness. She knew, however he attempted to spin it, that it was much more likely that he was afraid she'd try to be helpful in his absence and set the smoke detector off again. He grew a tidge bit skittish after she'd managed to set it off while keeping an eye on the bacon while he shaved one morning a couple months back, and had failed to leave her unattended in the kitchen since unless she was only in search of a box of cereal.
That day could not be described as normal—new normal or old normal. He'd had a rare early morning meeting—a pre-breakfast breakfast, which she never tired of endlessly mocking him for, despite its signaling a large deal in the works for him and his team—and by the time her alarm went off there were only signs left of his earlier presence; a damp towel hanging on the rack by the shower in the master bath, the lingering scent of his shaving cream in the shower, a used glass in the sink in the kitchen, and one fewer bagels in the wrapper when she went to pull one out for herself. She had smiled, mentally tallying up the fact that he was set to have three breakfasts that day, and despite knowing he'd have no proper dinner, she still couldn't help but generate an innumerable amount of Hobbit jokes for later use. Her car was still at the dealer for maintenance; a fact they'd argued over for a good half hour two days prior until she had told him point blank that until he was capable of performing an oil change on her car himself, she would continue to make decisions concerning where to service her own car, thank you very much. That had shut him up until the dealer called to tell her that they'd have to keep her car longer than expected, and then she had to put up with both his knowing smirk and a taxi in the interim, as he'd left so early and couldn't be sweet talked into dropping her at work.
Work had been invigorating that morning; she got praise on her last piece she submitted to her editor and a warm reception for her story pitches at the staff meeting. She'd spent the rest of the afternoon researching, until her computer crashed. It didn't just crash, as in it froze, she hit the trusty Control, Alt, Delete, and it rebooted, giving her a good scare. It crashed as in the whole screen turned blue, she hit the three magic buttons, and it made some unassociated grinding noises that made her squeak and pick up her office line to call IT. When the cavalry arrived, he assessed the situation, turned to her, and confirmed that she had, for the time being, paralyzed it. Lost with the bulk on her work locked in the memory of a very expensive paperweight, he suggested she use her internet-capable phone to access her email and do limited work from home while he sorted her computer out and got it back to working order.
Not wanting to take a taxi all the way back home and then back out later to their usual meeting spot, the computer incident had sent her out to her second favorite coffee shop in hopes that the IT god could grant her a quick reprieve. She sought temporary accommodations at the coffee shop the one by her offices, as opposed to her favorite cafe that was located by his office. Not only was the coffee and service slightly superior at the higher-ranking establishment, but it had also been the gin joint she'd walked into, albeit knowingly, to find him just a few months earlier-after five years of separation. By her fifth cup of coffee in that first sitting across from the reason she'd uprooted her whole life on a chance he still harbored the same feelings she could no longer ignore, she was hooked, and he was convinced that not only did she mean business about moving to his zip code but that if he didn't agree to let her buy him a cup of coffee at a later date, she might need to be put into a medically induced coma to help her come down off the caffeine buzz she'd amassed. A month later, she'd moved all her belongings cross-country to his house; though he'd insisted she think of it as their house, as he'd bought it for them—whether she'd lived in it yet or not. She also had three job offers, thanks to a contact she hadn't told him about, still to that day. Suddenly they were a couple, with their own rewarding careers, a home, and after he could take her accruing fee after fee for taking money out of her own bank account no longer, she had caved and closed her bank account in Hartford to combine all her meager savings with his untold holdings thus joining their financial lives as well as the rest of their possessions. Since then, for the grand total of three months, she'd been afraid to check the balance on her account—she didn't want to know what their monthly statements would tell her. She had always been hyper-aware of every cent that came in and out of her own singular account, but the moment she knew she wasn't going to be in danger of over-draft violations, she did her best to avoid looking at their net worth. It seemed too real; he'd been so laid-back about combining their money, so comfortable about her using his money as her own. What was the point, he'd posed, of them sharing everything but money? They were already doing it anyhow, and it made no sense for her to try to keep everything separate. He'd been offering to go over their accounts together, so she could see how everything was set up, and he'd even downloaded an app on her phone so she could check these things easily, whenever she wished. Luckily, she was fairly hopeless at using her phone, and was skilled enough to use it to dial out, check her messages, and send text messages—sometimes, for him, of the dirty variety. She knew it was capable of nearly everything under the sun—he had the same phone and used it to check in at the airport early, to make dinner reservations online, order items online, play games, take photos, organize his appointments—anything and everything at the touch of his fingertips.
Maybe if she had learned to use her phone properly, she wouldn't have accidentally opened the application for their financial information while attempting to open her email. Because that was where her day, while already unusual, truly took a sharper and much more distracting turn. She halted, mid sip, and blinked. First of all, the balance on their account was astonishing. She'd never guessed that a bank statement with her name on it would ever be so considerable. It was not a matter that she hadn't been aware he had money, but gazing on these records she felt like she had hacked into someone else's account. She swiped her finger and transactions appeared, instantly, as if to assure her that this was tied to her own existence. There, from last Friday, just six days prior, was a deposit from her employer, in the amount that she was paid every two weeks. She scanned through, with just one more swipe to see the ins and outs of the account—something he'd offered so many times to do with her—until one very large transaction caught her eyes. There was a sizeable—and that word didn't even begin to cover it—deduction from the account. As she'd never written a check for anything more than three hundred and fifty dollars—to cover a deposit for an apartment she shared with her roommate in college—in her entire life, she knew that either the man that she was sharing everything in her life with had bought something the size and cost of a car (though in all reality she had no idea just how much more he normally spent on cars) without telling her or they'd been thieved. She stared once more at the name of the company that had processed the transaction, EKJ, Inc., which was not helpful in the least in aiding her attempts to postulate a guess to what on earth could cost so much. Even an internet search (after she managed to close the application and open the search engine on her phone) provided her no help. She found listings all over the country for private holding companies, jewelers, accountants, and even a Chinese Bistro sharing that acronym. Even on her best night, she could eat no more than fifty dollars' worth of Chinese takeout, tip included. She was stumped and her frugal nature insisted on getting to the bottom of this unknown purchase immediately.
That was what put her in his office, early at the late hour of eight pm, after she'd Googled the company listing again to no avail, called her mother to leave a message on her voicemail in lieu of getting her feedback, and checked back in with work's IT guru to find out that it was still no use for her to come back to her office to get any work done. She would not admit to it, unless given some sort of formal polygraph, but she also had a few extra cups of coffee in the interim before making her way to his office a good two hours before they were supposed to meet for dessert to get an explanation of the outlandish charge.
His assistant was gone, always being given the clear to leave no later than six in the evening, no matter how long he stayed himself, which Rory took as proof that he didn't find fault with everything his father ever did. She saw a veritable ghost town as the elevator doors opened and she stepped out onto the floor that held his office, a few conference rooms, and what she referred to as the war room, where he and his colleagues met for strategy meetings and emergency situations. But the war room was empty and if any of his colleagues were around, they weren't in their offices. His light was still on, his door was open, and he was lost in whatever was on the screens in front of him—there were three.
It took him a good two minutes to realize he was being watched. She leaned in his doorway, watching him type furiously, frown, and scratch his nose with his thumb. He blinked, mostly from eyestrain, and his face softened into a familiar smile as he took in the sight of her watching him, holding a nearly empty coffee cup and her phone in the other hand.
"Hey. Did we get our signals crossed, or are you bringing me coffee?" he asked, taking pause for confirmation, though he remembered quite well making sure they were on for tonight as usual. While he loved sharing dinner with her most nights, Thursdays were special and just a little unorthodox, but in the way that they were special and a little unorthodox. And he was willing to bet most of his amassed worth that the coffee cup in her hand was nearly drained.
"Oh. Neither. Sorry. I had some computer troubles, so I tried to camp out at a coffee shop with my phone," she bit her lip.
He chuckled. "I'm going to assume that didn't work out too well for you."
"Actually, I finally got the hang of it, in the end," she frowned, staring at the currently hibernating gadget.
"Welcome to the twenty-first century, Ace. I always knew you could do it," he smiled by way of holding back his laughter and turned his attention back to the screen on his right, his fingers typing again without looking down at the keyboard.
"Logan?" she asked, coming in farther and taking a seat across the desk from him, her welcome implied.
"Yeah?" he asked, not looking at her.
"I'm not sure how to ask you this," she began. They didn't discuss money. He'd offered time and again, but it seemed so pedantic. She was never with him because of his money. She knew that they enjoyed the perks of it, and she would never complain, but she had always known that her safety net was frugality, no matter what. Being with him—committing herself to starting over, rather—had entailed a lot of attempting to change her assumptions, and she was working on the money thing. She spent as she saw fit, though most of the time, aside for a splurge in the fancy coffee department now and again, she tended to spend like someone who made her salary would spend—scratch that, she was still spending like a starving college student. Granted that was slowly changing, as she got used to the working world. Still, she couldn't imagine ever getting accustomed to spending as Logan did, even omitting the obscene charge she'd witnessed earlier.
"Surely I don't need to explain sentence structure to you," he mused, still working away.
"No, I know how to form a question," she admitted. "I just don't want to offend you, I guess?"
He glanced up with a glint in his eyes. "Is that a question?"
She rolled her eyes. "Shut up."
He gave another chuckle. "So much for not offending me."
"Be serious," she pleaded, needing him in the proper frame of mind.
He nodded in understanding. "Fire when ready, Ace."
"It's just, I was trying to check my email, and I accidentally hit the application that brings up our bank statement," she hedged, hoping he'd look up and offer some sort of reaction. Instead he continued typing.
"Anyway, I scrolled though it. Just checking, you know, since it was open already," she continued, hoping to bait him, but sounded more like she was trying to cover her snooping. She had to remind herself that looking at her own records wasn't sneaky. If it was something he wanted to hide, he'd have been smarter than to use that account. And if he was listening to her explanation, she had no idea, as he continued working.
"It's pretty handy, how it keeps track of everything. All the income, spending," she cleared her throat.
"Yeah, I told you it was useful. Not that I expected you to ever actually embrace the technology," he admitted, still typing on his keyboard, still showing no emotion.
"Logan," she began again, now frustrated that this conversation was so hard to start. "I saw something on there that, well, to be honest, it shocked me."
"Really?" he drawled in a half-distracted tone, not fazed in the least.
"Really. In fact, it was so out of the ordinary, I assume it's something we should contest with the bank."
He glanced up now. "A charge to contest?"
"Well, I mean, I certainly didn't spent twenty-five thousand dollars in a single transaction, and I've never heard of the company it was being routed to," she laid it out there for him, ready for his reaction.
There was no sign of surprise or any other reaction on his face, he simply looked away from her and back to his work. "Three weeks ago?" he asked coolly.
"Yes," she frowned.
"It's fine." More typing, that's all she heard. She was nearly ready to toss that keyboard out his view-giving window.
"It's fine?" she asked, scandalized. It most certainly was not fine—at least her perception of his reaction.
"It's a joint account, and it shows both of our transactions," he explained like she'd never encountered a bank statement before now.
"I'm aware. But I'm also pretty sure that I would have mentioned spending twenty-five thousand dollars to you. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I'd clear it with you before spending any more than, say, five hundred."
He shrugged. "That's your prerogative, I suppose, but you can spend as freely as you like, I've always told you that. I trust your judgment."
Her mouth opened slightly. She'd actually been bluffing; five hundred was way more than she'd spend without discussing a purchase with him. It wasn't that she felt the need to clear the purchase of most things, but she would certainly bring up a book-buying frenzy or a shoe-shopping venture, either of which would normally make her cringe at the credit card evidence that always came later, but apparently he wouldn't even care about either in the least. Or, perhaps he, too, was merely bluffing.
"You do not," she tossed back lightly, attempting to entangle him further, or in the very least, engage him in her discontent.
His actions slowed, and he frowned at her over his monitors. "Excuse me?"
She gave a half shrug as she leaned over to toss her now empty cup in his trash can. "You don't always approve of how I spend money. You hate that I take my car to the dealer, and you nearly had a meltdown that last time I took cash out and okayed that five-dollar service fee. I'd hate to see what happened if I bought concert tickets from Ticketmaster in front of you," she smirked playfully.
"I hate rip-offs. Taking your car to the dealer is not only a scheme, but completely unnecessary. I told you, I have a guy, a well-paid professional who doesn't overcharge for simple things like changing out your oil and checking your tire pressure."
"Did you have 'your guy' check out the new car?" she asked nonchalantly, almost positive of his purchase. After all, what else could cost that much money? It was unlikely that he'd needed to repay bail money, as from what she'd experienced, save for a few boys' nights, his wild adventure trips were a thing of the past. It could be a down payment on a larger house, but she was almost positive he'd learned not to buy another house without her approval. Granted, the one he'd picked was perfect. Everything she would have been looking for, in fact. She probably wouldn't have started looking at three bedrooms, but after living in it a short while, she was glad that they had an office, a spare room for guests, and a separate den. After all, they had a lot of books. So much so that she insisted he tip the movers extra for having to haul box after box labeled simply 'Rory's Books' the day they unloaded the truck. Her mother had promised to thank Luke, who had done most of the heavy lifting back in New York, but she had no desire to find out exactly what that involved.
"New car?" he repeated slowly, trying to follow her train of thought.
"Didn't you buy a new car?" she pushed, hoping he'd just make it a little easier by admitting to whatever he'd purchased.
He smiled, clearly entertained. "No. I think our cars are both sound and in good shape, save for the fact you insist on taking yours in to be held hostage by the dealer every three months."
She sat back, considering her next tactic as he gave her a playful wink and went back to work. A minute passed as she let her thoughts run wild and he worked, thinking the issue was at rest.
"Are you having some sort of medical procedure?" she supplied, her best option dismissed.
"What?" he asked, his voice amused but not dismissive.
"That costs a pretty penny. And it isn't just women that get it either, men get calf implants, hair plugs, laser hair removal," she listed.
Now he did stop working. "What is wrong with my calves?" he asked point blank, realizing how crazy her current tangent was, and yet still sensitive to the question.
She recoiled. "Oh, god, you didn't pay for something for me, did you? Because I know this is California, but I do not want breast implants!" she announced.
He stood up, walked around his desk, and sat down in the chair next to her. He made sure he had her full attention before he spoke. "I would fight any man to the death that ever dared to touch your breasts. They're perfect. What is all this about?"
She gazed into his brown eyes—she saw no conspiracy there. She saw a man that loved her so much that he put her above even his job, which he was intensely passionate about and dedicated to. He didn't deserve this kind of questioning, and even if he had bought a new house or a car, honestly it was his hard-earned money (for the most part) and she wasn't sure why she was getting so worked up about it, other than the fact that he was completely open and honest with her about everything else. For him to suddenly drop that much money and not tell her stung a little.
"I was just surprised, that's all, that you would spend that much money and not mention it to me. Not that you have to clear spending your money with me, but something that substantial must be a major purchase."
He took stock of her words to form a response, but it only took him a second. He grabbed her hands soothingly. "First of all, it's our money. And it was a major purchase. But short of that, all I can tell you about it right now is that it was a necessary expense."
She bit her lip. She couldn't stop herself. "Was it for work?"
He shook his head. "As nice it would be to write everything I buy off as an expense, there was no loophole for this particular item."
She felt her heartbeat quicken. "Oh, Logan. Not more climbing equipment! I think the fate of your last expedition confirms that you should in no way attempt that again. And I will go to the mat with Finn on this, I'm serious. I do not want you in pieces at the bottom of some ravine in a third-world country!"
He smiled and leaned in to kiss her. "My protector. I promise I did not buy any outdoor gear. I'm sure you could take Finn, but I'm not so sure he wouldn't enjoy every second of it, so we'll consider my lesson learned, okay?"
She smiled with satisfaction. "I might have been too rough on them when you got hurt in college."
"They're big boys, they can take it. Besides, they love you."
"Colin and Finn love me?" she asked, surprised by that knowledge.
"You have more admirers than I'm sure you'll ever realize," he said solemnly.
She sighed, still enjoying the feel of his thumb stroking the back of her hand as they remained connected. Suddenly, it hit her. "Oh! I know what it is!"
He raised an eyebrow, his skepticism overridden by his amusement as he watched her get so excited. "You do, do you?"
She nodded with great determination and a triumphant smile. "Uh-huh. A wife for Henry."
He smiled widely, thrilled at her overactive imagination. "Has Henry been lonely? Did he say something to you?"
She narrowed her gaze at him. "You know that scares me."
"Yes, my suit of armor suddenly coming to life and pouring out his melancholy at not having a life partner is something we should all be terrified of," he mocked her.
"The idea of Henry suddenly coming to life doesn't freak you out even a little bit?"
"I can honestly say the very notion never even occurred to me until you entered my life," he assured her. "And still, I have no fear of Henry. He's an inanimate object."
She gave a small sigh. "You're really not going to tell me?"
He studied her for a moment. He looked like he was on the verge of breaking, his face revealing his weakness for her. But then, he sniffed her.
"Did you just sniff me?" she inquired, taken aback.
"You smell different," he said, sniffing her again.
"Bad different?" she pressed, still trying to lean out of his olfactory zone.
"No, not bad, just not like normal. Why do you smell different?"
She swatted at him. "I ran out of my body wash and had to use yours. Stop that!" she admonished him.
"We should stop by on the way to dinner and buy you more. You smell like a guy. A girly guy, but still," he amended.
"I smell like you," she breathed in the light scent that was on her clothes. "I like it. It's like wearing one of your shirts."
"You mean stealing one of my shirts? That's such an archaic practice you women get away with. How would you like it if I stole your clothes?" he asked, still teasing her.
"Hey, I give them back! Besides, I'm comfortable with you borrowing anything of mine as long as I don't come home to find you in the closet wearing my panties and my high heels," she attempted to pull off a serious tone, but failed.
"I cross my heart and hope to die that you'll never come home to that scenario. But that is the reason that I won't give Finn a key to our house, just so we're clear."
She sat in shared amusement as his declaration, still holding his hands, but not quite fully satisfied with the results of her inquiry. "You're sure you didn't buy Henry a wife? Because if you did, and you got a robot like Rosie on The Jetsons, it would cut way back on our domestic duties. I'm all for that."
He nodded agreeably. "I'll look into getting us a robotic maid. Now, should we get out of here? I was about to take a walk in the park before we met for food."
She eyed him warily, not budging. "I thought you still had to work."
He shrugged. "I got it all done. I planned on wrapping things up early tonight."
She stayed rooted in her chair, her features awash in confusion. "But, it's Thursday."
He smiled. "It is indeed."
"You always work until our date on Thursday," she pointed out matter-of-factly.
"I normally do, yes," he sounded a little less confident as hesitation seeped through.
So the day wasn't just unusual for her, she realized for the first time. She still had no answers to her questions, but she couldn't help but be charmed by his evasiveness. It was a skill that was genetically encoded, she knew. As much as he railed against being anything like his father, though she would never tell him to his face if she could avoid it, there were several ways in which they were eerily similar. Their charm and their hardheadedness were two prime examples that leaped to the forefront of her mind.
"But today you wanted to take a walk," she probed.
He nodded. "That is correct. Can you walk very far in those heels?" he frowned as he leaned just slightly and observed her footwear.
"An evening stroll," she rephrased.
"Because if you're going to break an ankle, I'd rather just call ahead and try to bump up our usual reservation," he said, ignoring her.
"Hey, I could run a 5K in these heels, you know, if I could run that far without dying in regular shoes," she frowned.
"What if you were being chased by a wildebeest or something?" he posed.
"Because so many wildebeests are roaming free around the Bay?" she raised an eyebrow of her own, mocking his irreverent question.
He pondered the likelihood of that scenario. "No, but I've seen some really aggressive geese roaming around, flapping their wings and honking."
"I'm pretty sure I could outrun a goose, even in these heels. Besides, I didn't buy them for their athletic support. They're pretty."
"As are you," he leaned in and kissed her cheek, making her smile.
"I had a reason for coming here," she poked a finger in his chest.
He sighed. "I thought by the time we got around to discussing wildebeests, you would have lost your original train of thought."
"It takes more than a band of wildebeests to put me off topic," she complimented herself.
"An implausibility," he said.
"Are you saying I'm easily misdirected?" she demanded.
He chuckled again. "No, a herd of wildebeests. It's called an implausibility," he explained.
"How on earth do you know that?" she blinked.
"I never forget a useless fact. It's like a steel trap," he tapped his temple.
He stood and offered his hand to ease her out of her chair. She took his hand and stood before him, their eyes on an even keel thanks to her pretty shoes. They'd been a recent splurge, though only four hundredths the cost of whatever he'd splurged on. At this point the shroud he was using to conceal said purchase was just making her want to know even more, the cost potentially less interesting than his reason for not disclosing his need for the item. She didn't even believe that he wanted to hide whatever it was, not forever anyhow. His manner had remained upbeat, and after all, he had even admitted to the transaction in general terms.
"You really don't want to tell me what you spent twenty-five thousand dollars on? Because I promise not to be mad, unless it's a boat."
He shook his head in surprise. "You'd be mad if I bought a boat?"
She fixed him with a knowing glare. "I'm not very fond of boats."
He cringed as an old memory surfaced. "Right. I promise, it's not a boat. Come on, Ace, where's the trust?"
"I do trust you," she said weakly.
He lightly reached out and snagged her fingers with his, pulling her hand against his leg. "I told you when we joined our money, that this is a joint deal. What's yours is mine and what's mine is yours. Granted, I probably would have used my credit card instead of a check had I known you would have finally figured out your phone so soon, but I promise, it's something I needed and you won't be in the dark much longer."
She gave a groan of defeat. "I do trust you, Logan. I do. You just have to realize that for me to see something so big, it… it gave me heart palpitations. I'm a simple girl, Logan. I didn't freak out because I thought you were hiding something. I freaked out because I've never seen that much money coming and going. Ever. Not even in our Monopoly box," she admitted. "Mom had a tendency to misplace Rich Uncle Pennybag's funds."
He brought her hand up and kissed the back of it. "I'm sorry. See, this is why I wanted to discuss financial matters before now. I didn't want to cause you medical distress. We're worth some money, Ace. You need to be comfortable with that, because I don't intend to piss it away. We're always going to have money. And I can totally set you up with a tricked out Monopoly bank. I want you to have everything you deserve."
She looked away from his intense, satisfied, loving gaze, just for a moment. The moment she got caught in his eyes, she knew she'd be completely out-maneuvered. He'd reeled her in, and he was about to lower the boom. She was going to have to wait until he was ready to show his hand. Even though it was now killing her.
"I think you've already given me everything I need," she said softly, her eyes smiling up into his before dipping down to his lips, ready to feel the soft pressure of them against hers.
"Really?" he asked, suddenly growing more solemn. The playful glint to his eye had faded, and he looked far more serious than she'd seen him in a long time. "Because I don't think I have. Not yet."
She felt a fluttering in her stomach. She gripped his hand tighter, hoping he'd keep her steady. There had been a thought in the back of her mind, ever since they'd reunited; an unspoken wondering on her part. They'd parted so many years ago because she turned down his marriage proposal. Her coming to him six months ago was in large part her attempt to show him she was not sorry, but ready. However, as she had crushed both of them with her turn down, she did not feel she was owed another chance at being asked readily or on a whim. In fact, as the months passed, she was doing her best to accept the fact that they might just be one of those couples who, while happy, didn't need a piece of paper or a piece of jewelry to prove their devotion. After all, they already lived together, made each other a priority, and had pooled all their earthly possessions. They were basically married at that point anyhow. A rush of heat flowed up from her chest as she made that realization. It had happened so effortlessly, she hadn't even realized. He didn't even need to ask; she'd already given her consent.
"I think you've given me more than you realize. Or, maybe more than I realized," she fumbled for her words, trying to express the sentiment behind her thoughts.
"Rory," he said, pulling something out of his jacket's inner pocket. He opened it and held it in the palm of his hand. Suddenly, twenty-five thousand dollars made all the sense in the world. Her eyes widened as he literally revealed his hand. Instantly she felt tears threatening, from the overload of not only her emotions for this man, but for all the little pieces of information that were crashing together to form a much bigger picture.
"That's definitely not a car," she laughed as she wiped a tear away from her cheek.
"Your observation skills never cease to amaze me, Ace," he grinned at her.
"Henry's going to be very disappointed," she said, needing more conversation topics as he'd failed to give her any questions to answer.
"Henry's a lifelong bachelor. I thought we were alike in that way, until I met you," he brushed another tear from her cheek as they slowed to a stop. "But I did get his blessing."
She laughed; she couldn't help it. "I'm glad Henry approves."
"Who am I to say no if Henry's already given his stamp of approval? I don't want to get on his bad side," she leaned in conspiratorially. "He does have a sword, after all."
"Just so we're clear," he said, leaning back ever so slightly to gage her gravity, "You do realize that I want to marry you."
She nodded, looking from him to the ring again. "It's not the kind of ring you give someone you just like a lot."
He smiled. "So you'll marry me?"
She nodded again. "Yes. I will marry you," she clarified softly. "And as a sign of good faith, I promise to go over our financial information with you this weekend. And I won't even close my eyes, not once. I might peek through my fingers if it gets really overwhelming."
"I did my best to give it a sizeable hit," he took the ring out of the box and slid it on the proper finger. "It's hard, being a successful guy. I need someone to keep me in line, keep me on a schedule. And I really need someone who lets me eat cake for dinner once a week," he laughed. "You seem up for the challenge."
She reached out and pulled him close to her. She could feel the added weight of the metal and stone on her left ring finger. It was clearly different from the first ring. She'd never asked what he did with the ring she'd given back to him so many years ago, and it didn't truly matter. In keeping with their fresh start, he'd had a ring designed anew. He kissed her firmly, with relief to be sure, and she wound her arms around him, holding him as close as possible as realization settled over them both.
Her eyes immediately rested on the ring as they eventually pulled away from one another in the silent office. "You like it?" he asked, watching her inspect the new piece of jewelry.
"It's amazing," she admitted breathily. "But I'm sure there were other rings that were probably more cost effective, without looking like they were a prize in a box of food."
He smiled. "I wanted something that symbolized what you meant to me. Cost was most definitely secondary, but even as much as it was, it doesn't begin to amount to what you're worth to me. That's something that can't be bought," he ran a hand over her cheek, his fingers brushing just into her hair.
"I feel the same way," she smiled, her lips so upturned she was expecting her cheeks to ache at any moment. She'd never been that happy. It was the polar opposite, of his last planned proposal at a party, in front of her family, with a big speech. She didn't need him to explain how he felt about her now; she most definitely knew. But surely he hadn't intended to propose here in his office if he'd just been on his way to take a walk and then to meet her at the restaurant. "Wait. Were you going to put this in my dessert?" she demanded as the thought occurred to her.
"And risk having you digest it? I've seen you tear into that chocolate raspberry torte, Ace, there's no way I'd do that. This ring has some sharp edges, might do some serious internal damage if swallowed. It'd probably be effective in a fist-fight, too, if you ever need reinforcements," he assured her.
She frowned as she realized that if he had a ring such as that, he'd probably had a plan; and one that didn't involve proposing in his office. "So, how were you going to do it?"
He smirked. "Well, I guess now you'll never know."
Her mouth dropped open. "What?"
He shrugged and yanked on her hand, pulling her toward his office door. "What's done is done, Ace. Clearly you couldn't wait and just had to know what I'd bought. You got what you wanted, didn't you?" he asked playfully.
"You're seriously not going to tell me how you were planning to propose to me?" she asked, still in disbelief.
"Sometimes patience is more than a virtue," he laughed as he turned off his light and shut the door behind them. "Hey, I'm hungry, and it's getting late. Proposing takes a lot out of a guy. We should skip the park and just head to the restaurant, don't you think?"
"Logan! Tell me how you were going to propose to me!" she demanded, now more riled than before, safe in the knowledge that everything was even better than she'd realized.
"Oh, Ace, you would have loved it. I was going to go all out," he baited her, his eyes gleaming in the dim light of the empty offices as they waited for the elevator.
"You're enjoying this," she pouted.
"Yes, as a matter of fact," he laughed.
"Mean," she admonished.
"But you still love me," he announced, clearly not concerned at her disparaging thoughts about him.
She turned to face him and give him the evil eye. "A little."
His smile widened. "You agreed to marry me. I take that as encouragement."
The elevator door opened and he stepped onto it. She was going to have a hard time continuing to fight with the man she'd just agreed to marry, especially if he was going to continue to bring up their newfound joy and make her revel in it. It was especially difficult considering they were off to eat her most favorite treat in the world. Add those factors to the impossible-to-ignore ring on her finger, and she knew she couldn't argue with her husband-to-be over such a minor detail. At least, for the rest of the evening.
"That just means I have the rest of your life to suss it out of you," she announced triumphantly as she stepped into the elevator behind him.
He simply shook his head. "Whatever happened to as long as we both shall live?" he pondered.
"Women live longer than men. It's a statistical eventuality."
"Just got engaged and you're already plotting my demise? I thought that ring would buy me a few years of goodwill at least," he joked as he wrapped his arms around her waist to pull her in closer.
"Shut up and kiss me, Huntzberger," she rolled her eyes at him and for the first time all evening, he gave her instant gratification. As the elevator door closed, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, content with the outcome of her unusual day and ready to adjust to a future full of her new normal life.