Teach Me Gently How to Breathe
Notes and Disclaimers: I don't own any Parks and Recreation characters. Please don't sue. I think this is the definition of a crack fic. A fic about a pairing that only makes sense if you're on crack. Okay, so maybe that's not completely true, but I have never found a story about this pairing (they are probably out there, I just can't find them) and I fear that I am going someplace entirely crazy with it, but I am also okay with that. I've been wanting to write this story since the season four Halloween episode and so now, here it is. Title is from The xx's song, "Shelter," which I absolutely love.
It starts with the clicking of her heels on the marble floor.
She walks quickly, ignoring April's protests and opens and shuts his door with one fluid movement.
"Abby," he says, glancing up for a moment before returning back to his work. It's not even close to 'Ann.' She tries not to grimace. "Out," he states.
She sounds more certain than she actually is.
"No?" he questions. He looks up at her with a mixture of amusement, annoyance and surprise.
She never thought in a million years she would surprise him, but here they are.
"You have one minute," he finally states.
"And you are not going to cut Ellen's position. She's worked here for thirty years and she has given her life to this place and the thought of—"
"Let me just stop you right there." He raises one hand and she hates how effectively it silences her. "I was given the charge to cut the budget and I did."
"She's not even in your department!"
"I know. Chris gave me free reign."
"But she is the best—"
"And you're minute is up," he interrupts, looking at his watch. "Thanks for stopping by," he says as he opens the door with the automatic door controller Leslie gave him for Christmas.
She curses under her breath and walks, well, more like stalks out. The door barely misses hitting her as it swings shut.
"Next time you should schedule an appointment," April says dryly from her desk.
She sighs and sarcastically says, "Okay, April, when is he free?"
"Um, let me just check. . ." she says, opening a file on her computer. "Looks like next week, oh wait, that's no good. Maybe three weeks, nope. Looks like I'm into next month. Or June. 2015."
Ann's not stupid.
So she turns around and marches right back into his office. When he looks up from his paperwork, she walks around his desk, pulls out his chair and spins him around to face her, placing her hands on the arms of his chair.
"What's this?" he almost shouts.
"This is your wake up call. Ellen's not going anywhere. I don't give a rat's ass about your stupid budget and I refuse to let you make a joke of this situation. So, you, sir, are going to find another way to save money."
He opens his mouth to say something and shuts it again.
After a momentary stare down, she pushes off and heads towards the door. "And we don't have this conversation again," she tosses over her shoulder. And then for good measure, because she is still Ann, she throws in a "Thanks."
She feels Jerry's and Tom's and Donna's and April's and his eyes on her, but no one says anything as she walks out.
There was that time when she was dressed as an eggplant and he was a pirate and he taught her how to fix things. For once, she wasn't just a nameless face who hung around the Parks department. She wasn't Leslie's best friend or Mark's girlfriend or Chris's former conquest. She was just Ann, impressionable student, specializing in wrenches and that glorious feeling that happens when the water actually comes out of the faucet and you realize that you made it happen.
That was a good day. She's not even sure why but it was one that sticks out in her recent memory. She had direction and purpose (because he did) and it was contagious.
So, three weeks after the confrontation in his office, she signs up for Habitat for Humanity. She still knows basically nothing about hammers or wood or building houses, but she has the desire to create and she'll at the very least show up and really, what else can anyone ask for?
"Ann, you beautiful construction worker," Leslie says when she finds out. She helps her pick out a cute flannel shirt and workbelt. Ann didn't really think that either of those things could exist, but if anyone could find them, it's Leslie.
She shows up to the site a half hour early and stretches a little while drinking her coffee. Bob the site leader, arrives and ten minutes later she is hammering nails into what will be a living room wall someday. (She has a hard time envisioning what these small, insignificant nails and plain, long boards will eventually become but she keeps hammering anyway.)
"You'll have better results if you get more space between the hammer and the nail," a voice that is all too recognizable says from behind her.
She turns around and there he is.
Of course he is, she thinks.
This is Habitat for Humanity, all outdoorsy and rugged and hardhats and she's mad that he's here but she's also mad at herself when she realizes that she intruded on his space, not the other way around.
"Ron," she says, avoiding his gaze.
"Doesn't really seem like your scene."
"Yeah, well I thought maybe I could use a new scene," she states.
He studies her for a moment. Trying to discern if she's genuine, she's sure. But then he just gives a slight nod and says, "Let me show you how to do this right."
"I don't need help—" she starts, but his skeptical glance stops her. "Okay, maybe a little bit."
He takes the time to show her the proper technique and explain the best way to approach the nail and it's almost like they're friends or something. But she shrugs it off. Ron Swanson doesn't have friends and even if he did, well, she knows she wouldn't be making the list.
They celebrate Leslie's victory in style, with an after party at her house. There's red wine and some sort of nacho cheese that Andy made simmering in a crock pot and Al Green is humming in the background, so clearly it's a classy affair. April doesn't talk to her all night (no surprise) and Jerry actually gets a little tipsy (weird) and Tom makes a move on Donna (she takes the wine away from him after that—lightweight).
Leslie is radiant. It's truly her moment and she finally has achieved one of her long-sought after dreams. Around two a.m., Ben finally persuades her to go home and she hugs each of them extra tight before leaving.
As Ben pulls away, Leslie rolls down her passenger side window and shouts, "I'm the King of the World!"
And she pretty much is.
Later, when everyone has left, Ann wanders around with a garbage bag, dumping cups and plates inside, the sounds of Al Green long forgotten as some old Nina Simone echoes through her empty house.
She looks around. It is empty now. This does not go without notice.
She ties the bag and opens the garage door, only to find a pair of legs sticking out from under her car.
"Ah! What . . . are you doing?" she asks, her breathing erratic, as she peers under the car doors.
"It looked like your radiator fluid was leaking. Thought I'd check it out," he says, not even acknowledging how strange this whole thing is.
"Do you realize it's almost three a.m.?"
"Do you realize the dangers of an overheated engine?" he counters from below her car.
He doesn't see her eyeroll.
"Well, how long is this going to take?"
"Do you want to be safe or not?" he calls.
"Not if it means I have to stay up much longer. I'm beat," she says.
He doesn't respond. She hates it when he does that. As if she is not worth a response, not worth an acknowledgement or a grunt or anything.
She sighs. It's 3:00 a.m. and he's under her car and she's annoyed and exhausted and her fingertips still hurt from the paper cuts she sustained during Leslie's last minute mailing push, so she turns to leave.
Her annoyance gets the better of her, however, and she stops before walking out. Turning back and getting down on her knees so that she can see him, she says (as forcefully as she can muster in the early hours of the morning), "Okay, how about this. I go to bed and you do whatever you do and well, that's pretty much it. Also, I'd appreciate it if you would respond to me when I talk to you," she finishes. She is acutely aware that she sounds like a teacher scolding a pupil but she doesn't back down (Hello, new, unapologetic Ann! she thinks, It's nice to meet you,). He raises his eyebrows and says, "Okay."
When she gets up the next morning, he's asleep on her couch. She doesn't know what to do with that, so she puts on a fresh pot of coffee and sets an alarm for him and goes to work.
He can find his own way home, wherever that may be.
A month and a half later the Habitat for Humanity house is finished and she attends the ribbon cutting ceremony. As she looks around at the people standing by, she realizes that she has come to love some of them. There's Bob, the project leader who reminds her of a cross between Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World and Kermit the Frog, always willing to advise her from his years of experience. And Tim, a retired accountant from Eagleton who constantly calls her "Annie." Then there's his wife, Marylou, who made sure the break area was always well stocked with baked goods partially in an effort to "fatten Ann up." And George, the seventy-five year old war vet, who persistently asked her to have breakfast with him and would talk about his deceased wife, Ellen for hours on end. He loved Ellen. And Ann loved hearing stories about her. This project may have been about building a house, but for Ann, it was about something else.
He finds her after the ceremony and asks if she'll be signing up for the next project.
"I think so," she says, looking at the workers around her. "Will you?" she asks.
"Always do. I like to build."
It's a simple statement, but for Ron, it is truth. And she decides she could use a little more simplicity in her life.
So she says, "Do you want to get a coffee when this is done?"
He looks at her like she has two heads (naturally), but can't seem to find a reason to say no (he didn't expect her to ask, she's starting to like surprising him), so thirty minutes later they are sitting in JJ's Diner.
More awkward than that time she dated Tom.
It makes her regret asking him.
Instead of talking about the weather or politics or sports or anything, they sit there in silence and drink their coffee and look out the window at the people walking by.
After twenty minutes, when she can see the bottom of her cup, he gets up, puts a couple of dollars on the table, looks directly in her eyes and says, "Thanks for the coffee."
She doesn't correct him and mention that he paid for it, because he genuinely seems to have had a good time. And she realizes that simplicity in her life started when she wasn't even looking, with a stretched silence and a strong cup of coffee and just being in the presence of another person.
It's not like they're really friends or anything, though. They aren't braiding matching bracelets or scrapbooking pictures or talking at the office.
But he does nod in her direction when she enters the room.
And it's more than a nod, she knows. It's respect.
She'll take it.
Dr. Wilson of the Pawnee Veterinary Clinic informs her that she'll need to put down Mr. Jingles, her eleven-year-old tabby cat, on the exact anniversary of her being dumped by Chris.
This is not a good day.
She didn't even know cats could have kidney failure, just like she didn't know she was being dumped, and sometimes (more than sometimes) she gets frustrated with her own blindness.
She can't focus so she wanders up to the Parks department to find Leslie. On days like this, she needs her best friend, but when she gets there and sees Leslie's empty chair, she remembers that she's gone for a weeklong conference in Indianapolis.
This seems to happen more and more with Leslie's upcoming transition to City Council. It shouldn't be surprising and Ann has no right to be angry (she knows this), but her cat's about to die and she's still alone (a year later) and right now she's allowing herself to be mad.
Jerry can tell she's upset that Leslie isn't there and offers to listen if she wants to talk.
She does not want to talk to Jerry. Just . . . no. She looks around for an escape route, because she doesn't want to hurt his feelings, when Ron emerges from his office and says, "Perkins. Good, you're here. I need to go over this health care thing with you."
There is no health care "thing" but she goes with him anyway, offering Jerry a small shrug. He seems satisfied, so she follows Ron into his office and shuts the door behind her.
"Thanks," she says, quietly.
He's back at his desk already and doesn't look up from whatever it is he's working on, but says "We all need saving sometimes."
It's probably the best thing she could hear at that moment.
She sits down and leans her head back against the wall and closes her eyes and just stays there for a while.
Ben knocks on her door one Thursday afternoon and asks if he can come in.
She opens the door wider and he sits on her couch and looks uncomfortable enough that she realizes what's happening.
"You're gonna propose," she says and she sees him physically exhale.
"And you need. . ."
"Help. I cannot find the right ring for her."
She nods. Choosing an engagement ring for Leslie would not be an easy job.
"She doesn't know, does she?" he asks anxiously. "She's so hard to surprise and I want it to be a surprise and. . ."
"Ben, relax. If she has any inkling at all about it, she hasn't said anything to me. And she tells me pretty much everything. So, no, I don't think she knows," she assures him. (She leaves out the part about how she and Leslie haven't been spending as much time together because of the campaign and then her new job. She's still confident enough in their friendship to know that Leslie has no idea).
"Okay, good. So, can you help me?"
She nods and a half hour later, they are standing in the small lobby of Meriwether Jewelers.
They scan the rows and rows of rings and finally she says, "That one."
Ben leans over the counter to get a closer look and smiles. "That's one of the three I had already reserved for a second look."
She's glad for this. It means he knows her friend well.
Mr. Meriwether pulls the ring out of the case and hands it to them for further investigation. It's simple and elegant and perfect for Leslie.
Two days later she gets a phone call and in between the shrieks, she can tell that the ring was the right choice. She tears up a bit as she hears the details of how he did it and how excited and surprised Leslie was and after hanging up, she spends the evening eating Ben and Jerry's ice cream and looking at bridesmaid dresses online.
Ben and Leslie's engagement party is nice.
Everyone is there and they're dressed up and it's just another one of those supporting character roles that she has come to do so well. And she should. This is Ben and Leslie's night, not hers. It's not supposed to be hers. But she can't help wonder when it will be hers and when her life won't rotate so much around the Parks department or her horrible track record with guys or her growing stigma for blandness.
She looks in the mirror in the bathroom of the restaurant they've rented. She had straightened her hair tonight. It pretty much just hangs there and her beige dress does not show off her tan as well as she had hoped and when she thinks about it, her name actually almost rhymes with 'bland.'
She tries putting her hair up and, sighing, decides to put it back down, grabs a tissue and wipes off her lipstick. It was far too bright for tonight.
Really, she's over it.
She grabs a bottle of wine and heads to the garden behind the restaurant and sits there sipping it quietly and watching the stars. They really are beautiful, but they're not hers. They've never been hers; she can't even claim them on a night like tonight.
"It's cold out here. Do you want me to get your coat?" he says from behind her. She closes her eyes and opens them again, and hey, it could have been worse. It could have been Jerry or Tom or Andy who found her.
She looks down at her hands. "Nah, I'm okay."
He perches himself on the brick wall next to her and she has nothing to offer him (bland, remember?) so she holds out the half empty bottle.
He pulls out a cigar and lights it. "No thanks. Wine is a drink for hoity-toity political functions and I've already had quite a few whiskeys and rum tonight," he says.
The way he says it, she can tell he's a little bit tipsy (or as tipsy as Ron Swanson can be).
She's a little bit drunk too, which is why she feels no qualms when she leans close to him and says, "Want to know a secret?"
"Um . . ."
"I was engaged once."
"Not even Leslie knows. Nobody."
"Why didn't it work out?" he says.
She shrugs. "He cheated. And I realized it wasn't worth the effort to try to fix it."
They sit in silence for a few minutes.
"It was a long time ago. But it really sucked. Like really sucked. I hated him for a long time and hated myself for not seeing it," she says, looking up at the sky and then back to the party where Ben and Leslie are eagerly talking with their friends.
"They're gonna make it, right?" she asks.
He turns and looks at them. "Yeah, they're gonna make it."
She takes a few more swigs out of the bottle.
"You're actually a really good listener. Did anyone ever tell you that?" she says.
"What'd you say, Alexa?" he counters with and she turns and truly laughs.
He laughs a little too and it's probably the wine and the whiskey and the fact that everyone is happy, while she can't help feeling a little sad, but she locks her eyes with his and leans closer and kisses him without a second thought.
He pulls back right away and stares at her for a second and she can't help but be embarrassed before his face softens just a bit and he quietly says something that sounds like her name. Pushing some of her very straight hair behind her ear, he looks at her, really looks at her, before she leans in and kisses him again.
She's never kissed a man with a mustache before, she realizes as her upper lip comes crashing into contact with his. She doesn't know why this is the first thought that pops into her mind, instead of What the hell am I doing? or Oh, God, what is going to happen when Leslie finds out or Good thing I work in a hospital. They'll probably treat me better when I'm admitted for temporary insanity.
But then she feels this little moan that slips out from what she can only assume is the back of his throat and his lips start moving more quickly over hers and his hands are reaching up to cup her face and pretty soon she isn't thinking at all.
It's weird, but it's also not.
And it's the 'not' part that's kind of freaking her out.
So, she pulls back from him and stands up and starts walking back to the party, but not before saying, "Coming?" her voice shrill and unsettled.
He walks two steps behind her the whole way in.
He sobers up faster than any person she has ever seen and suddenly he is loading her and Tom and Chris into his car and driving them home.
(She tries not to think about the fact that she has kissed each of the men in this car. Not relevant, right? Not. Relevant.)
Tom curls up next to Chris and is asleep before they pull out of the parking lot. She vaguely hears him murmur something about Leslie and "wedding boo" and she can't help but smile a little bit. He always could make her smile. She focuses on that and not on the person sitting behind the wheel.
A few stops later, they are alone and she refuses to make eye contact or say anything, because only two hours earlier she was kissing him and yeah. How do you live that down?
When he pulls into her driveway, he clears his throat and she knows whatever comes next is going to be bad, but he doesn't actually say anything. Instead he just gets out of the car, comes around to the passenger side door and opens it, gently helping her stand. He's half carrying her up her sidewalk (because after the kiss that did. not. happen. she managed to consume even more alcohol. Great life choices all around. Really).
She fumbles with her key a bit, but finally manages to unlock the door and moves to let herself in. Maybe if she can just get away fast enough, the 'talk' won't happen.
He clears his throat again and she freezes, squeezing her eyes shut. She was so close.
She turns back to him. "Listen, Ann. . ." he says.
And she realizes that's the first time he has ever used her name. Not Perkins or Alexa or Abby or the occasional Patricia. She looks up at him again and he actually looks a little nervous? She's half in a haze but she still has enough of her senses to know that this is not normal. Ann Perkins doesn't make anyone nervous. Ever. Especially not him.
"Ann, I . . ." he starts again before stopping.
She tilts her head sideways and steps a little closer to him, actually willing him to go on. (What happened to flee? FLEE! she asks herself, but she stays anyway because now she's genuinely curious).
"You're a nice person and all . . ." he finally manages to get out.
Ah. So that's where he was going with this.
She stops him.
"We don't have to talk about it," she states as she begins memorizing the tiny square tiles that comprise her front porch.
"Right," he says. "Less talking."
"What?" she asks, her eyes flicking up to meet his.
"I said, 'less talking.'"
She doesn't understand him at all.
And then she does.
She's not sure about this (but then again she's never sure about anything). It doesn't matter though, because she makes up her mind and walks through the door; he follows and she shuts it quietly behind him.
She stands there silently as he takes a step closer and then.
Then it's almost as if it's involuntary and she's become possessed by some other person from some other story. Because when he kisses her like this and touches her like this, she doesn't feel much like a supporting character at all. And that was supposed to be her role, wasn't it?
Her eyes open at 7:14 a.m.
She stares at her ceiling and is momentarily afraid to turn her head for what she might see when she does. After a few minutes, she hears some rustling next to her and realizes that she can no longer put off the inevitable.
He's there, fully dressed, putting on his shoes.
Her first thought: Oh God, don't freak out, don't freak out, don't freak—
Her second: I now belong to a group that consists of Tammy I, Tammy II, and Wendy Haverford. Oh God, don't freak out, don't freak—
"I'm gonna get going," he says, breaking her train of thought and staring at what must be the petrified look on her face.
She finally snaps out of it (at least externally) and says, "Oh, yeah, okay." She sits up a bit, clutching the sheet closely around her. "Do you want some coffee or something?" She could use coffee right now. She can hear her heartbeat in her ears.
"I don't think that's such a great idea."
She nods. "Right. No coffee. No joe. None of that cup of mud stuff." Stop talking, she says to herself.
He stands to leave, but pauses. "You're not going to say anything to anyone about this, are you?"
"Of course not!" she says. "Are you crazy?"
"Well I know how you tell Leslie everything . . . and you do love to talk."
"Not about this," she says, ignoring the jab.
He studies her for a moment and a harsh realization passes over her.
"I'm not the Tom in this whatever-it-is," she states, gesturing back and forth between the two of them.
"Me. I'm not the Tom. I'm not the one to be ashamed of."
"Mmhm," he says, before picking up his coat and leaving the room.
She's annoyed that with one "mmhm," he seems to have dominated the conversation, so she wraps the sheet more tightly around herself and follows him.
"You don't get to do that," she says.
"Do I even want to ask what I don't get to do?" He sounds angry.
"Walk away, like I'm not worth it."
"Are you?" he asks, and she takes a step back.
Somehow, she's not sure how, but somehow, he has brought her (pulled her really) right up to a moment of truth.
"Yes," she whispers.
"Hmm?" he asks, less harshly than before.
"Yes. Yes, I'm worth it, okay? I am worth things getting messy and weird and everything being hard." She turns her back on him, vaguely aware that she is still wearing a sheet. "Why doesn't anyone see that? Why don't . . . I see that?" she finishes softly.
He doesn't say anything, but walks around so that he's facing her and gently kisses her forehead, before giving a slight nod and leaving.
She is momentarily angry with him for going, but then realizes that she really does need to be alone, and that he already knew that. She sits down on her couch and just thinks for a while about everything that has brought her here.
Tom. Chris. Mark. April and Andy. Leslie. The pit. Her first job. Nursing school. Kevin, the ex-fiancée. Her mom and dad. College graduation. Cross country roadtrip with her friends. High school graduation. Her first kiss with Seth Miller. Sleepovers with Katie, her childhood best friend. Getting her ears pierced. Summers riding bikes with the neighborhood boys. Losing her first tooth in a fight with Martha McClinsky.
She smiles when she thinks of Martha and wonders where she is now.
Wonders if Martha ever questions where Ann is now.
Probably not and that's okay. There are things that aren't supposed to last forever. If they did, new things couldn't start.
And along the way she has been choosing new things, hasn't she? Choosing to take the part time health department job, choosing to get over Chris, choosing to stand up for herself and the people she cares about, choosing to take a chance on Tom (not all new things are good necessarily). But they were still choices and they were still hers.
She likes the feeling of ownership.
Later, when she's taking a hot shower, she remembers the feeling of his large hands sweeping across her lower abdomen and the way he could completely envelop her and she realizes that she doesn't have everything figured out yet. But it's a start.
"Ann, beautiful friend and maid of honor," Leslie calls from her office doorway.
"Hey," she says, all too eager.
"I have found the perfect dresses. Here. What do you think?" She plops the catalog on Ann's desk, pointing to the most hideous shade of bright pink in the most awful dress design ever created.
"Well?" Leslie asks impatiently.
"They are . . . great," she finally musters out.
She looks at her dear friend, her best friend and she remembers the promise she made to herself. "No, they are awful. Leslie, this is the worst color. No one looks good in, what is this, 'perky coral'?" she reads from the magazine. "Just no. And I know for a fact that that design won't work on both April and Donna. It's your wedding and all, but I just can't endorse the perky."
Leslie laughs out loud. "Good. I was hoping you'd say that. The real one I want is on page forty-five."
Ann flips to the page and sees a knee-length sleeveless black cocktail dress.
"Well?" Leslie prompts again.
Ann looks up at her. "It's perfect. I love it."
"Yeah," she says, before looking down.
"You okay?" Leslie asks, concern filling her voice.
She looks at her best friend. And she knows that she wants to tell her everything. But she also knows that she can't. Because what is 'everything'? What is any of this? She can't answer that question and she can't tell Leslie. So instead she says, "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little tired."
"Okay, well let me know if you need anything. Some Nutriyums perhaps?"
She smiles. "We still on for lunch tomorrow?"
"You betcha. Which reminds me, I'm late for a meeting with Ben. Can you call and order your dress sometime this week? The number is on the inside of the front cover," Leslie instructs.
"Great!" And then she's gone, once again leaving Ann alone with her thoughts, a place that is open and expansive and starting to feel a lot more comfortable.
She doesn't see him for two weeks after the incident (it will hereafter forever be known as the incident.)
There are no phone calls or texts (like he would ever text. Or own a phone). No emails or unwarranted trips to the Parks department.
She keeps her head down and does her work and tries to decide what she desires out of life.
She makes a list of things she wants.
1. A family
2. A successful career
3. Discernment and courage in every decision
4. To travel, see Asia, experience China and Japan
5. An endless supply of strawberry Twizzlers
Okay, so maybe number five isn't the best wish on her list, but it's something she loves. She continues writing for the better part of the afternoon, everything from "Finally buying Leslie the perfect birthday present" to "Sky diving," from "Making a speech in front of a crowd" to "Learning to knit like my grandmother," from "Finding the perfect shoes" to "Being able to be in the same room as Ron without being afraid/embarrassed/withdrawn." When she stops, she realizes that she has created a sort of roadmap for the rest of her life.
Committing her hopes and desires to paper, she decides that this isn't a wish list anymore.
It's a checklist. A list of things she will make happen.
And today, starting now, she's crossing things off.
She meets Leslie for their weekly lunch and sits down and he's there.
"Um," she says, gesturing towards him, while throwing her best What? eyes at Leslie.
"Ron needed to get out of the office for a bit," Leslie says and then looks over the menu as if nothing is different or unusual.
When he takes his cue from her and begins looking his own menu, Leslie lowers hers and mouths I'm sorry, he crashed. What could I say?
She shrugs and the three of them pretend to peruse the menu that they all know by heart, as if they aren't going to get their usuals.
They place their orders and Leslie excuses herself to use the restroom.
She exhales and doesn't say anything, but when she looks at him, he's looking at her.
"How have you been?" she finally says.
She pauses. "Good. I'm good." And she means it.
He looks relieved. "I'm glad."
"I'm sorry for the way I acted that morning. I was angry at myself and I should not have taken it out on you," she says. The words are coming easier now.
He shakes his head. "There's nothing to apologize for. At all."
"Okay, then," she says.
Leslie comes back and the rest of lunch flies by in a blur.
When she gets home, she crosses another item off of her list.
Leslie looks beautiful on her wedding day. She is totally breathtaking and Ann stands in amazement of her best friend.
"You're the person I want to be the most like," she says in the dressing room, as she fluffs the skirt of Leslie's gown.
"Ann . . ."
"No, I mean it. I have been thinking a lot about these things lately. And I'm so glad you found Ben and that he found you and that this is happening. It's perfect," she says and she's starting to cry a bit. She always cries at weddings.
Leslie is starting to cry a bit too. "Damn you, Ann! I'm not supposed to turn on the waterworks yet," she says, but she's laughing through her tears.
"Ready?" she asks.
Leslie takes a deep breath. "He's out there, right?"
She smiles. "Yeah, he's waiting for you."
"Then I'm ready."
A tear slips down Ben's cheek when he sees Leslie and the whole thing is just right.
Several hours later, after the toasts and the first dance, and after she has successfully avoiding catching the bouquet, she sits down next to him at a table.
"You look nice," he remarks, his eyes never leaving the slightly drunk people on the dance floor.
"Thank you. You clean up pretty well yourself."
He loosens his tie a bit and says, "Never one for a tie. But you know. Special occasions and all that."
She does know. This, all of it, is special.
"So, I am going sky diving next week," she says.
His eyebrows shoot up as he turns to look at her. "Really."
"Yes. I am terrified and I'm excited and . . . To just jump and not know where you're going to land. Just falling and falling and falling . . ." She laughs a small laugh. "I'm probably going to throw up, but I think it'll be worth it."
"And what brought on this decision?"
She shrugs. "Something I've always wanted to do. So I'm gonna do it."
He nods and looks almost impressed and watches the people dancing once again. She follows his gaze to Andy and Donna swing dancing together and to Tom, who is trying to do the Macarena and The ChaCha Slide at the same time. He called it the "MacaChaCha." She shakes her head.
Moving from one potential disaster to another she says, "Do you want to come with me?"
He looks back at her quickly and opens his mouth to say something, but stops. His gaze softens a bit (just like it did that night) and he says, "How about I wait for you at the bottom?"
He's there when she lands, just like he said he would be and she jumps up (after she detangles herself from the parachute) and throws her arms around him, because the adrenaline pumping through her veins makes her feel like she can do anything.
And she can, so she does.
Leslie returns from her honeymoon with an armful of souvenirs and a lifetime of stories.
She pulls Ann aside and tells her of the perfect guy she found for her, because she's Leslie, and of course she would be trying to find a guy for her friend on her honeymoon.
His name is Calvin and he is a journalist and he likes art and gourmet dinners and he is great.
"I'm not sure if that's what I'm looking for, Leslie," she responds.
Leslie looks surprised. "Then what are you looking for?"
He walks by and gives her a quick glance.
She shrugs and says, "I don't know. I think I'll know it when I see it."
(Later, they talk of everything and nothing, but she doesn't tell him that she saw him smile when she said that. Or that she was holding back a smile of her own.
Some things are meant to be secrets.)
Thanks for reading and reviewing. Love to all.