A/N: I told you guys I wasn't going to abandon this story! But seriously, I do apologize for the delay-real life and work can be such a handful, you know?
Blake woke up with a headache and the feeling that he couldn't remember everything that had happened the night before. He shifted slightly and felt the weight of another person on his mattress. Careful not to move too much—both for the sake of his head and the other person in the bed—he rolled over and immediately recognized the dark hair resting on the second pillow. It was still foggy, but the night before began coming back to him. It had been Cricket's twenty-first birthday and after spending the night celebrating with college friends, Cricket insisted they go back to his apartment for one more drink.
"Stop watching me sleep. It's creepy."
Blake smiled at the sound of her voice. "You're not sleeping."
She rolled over so that she faced him. "Morning," he said when he saw her blue eyes.
"Morning," she echoed.
"Did you make coffee?" he asked and she nodded. "When?"
She glanced at the clock and shrugged. "An hour ago. I needed an aspirin so I started a pot before I went back to sleep."
"You are too good."
He got out of bed and headed to the kitchen. "Aspirin's out on the counter," she called after him. Even though Blake couldn't see her face, he knew she was smirking. Once in the kitchen, he grabbed the bottle of aspirin and dry swallowed two of them. Taking two mugs off the shelf, he filled them with coffee and then added skim milk to one and sugar to the other. He carried the mugs back into the bedroom and handed the one with sugar to Cricket.
"You're welcome." He sat back down on his side of the bed. "Did you have a good birthday?"
"Do you remember it?" he teased gently.
"Yes." She rolled her eyes in annoyance before adding, "Do you?"
He shot her a grin. "Of course."
For a moment she gave him a smile that matched his but then it faded and she became serious. "Blake." She held his gaze while she said his name, but then looked down at the coffee mug cupped in her hands. "We can just forget it."
Blake thought back to the night before when the birthday nightcap transitioned to a 'slumber party' as Cricket had deemed it after she insisted she was a too tired to walk home. Even though she lived in the apartment building directly across the street from his, Blake had agreed and was ready to spend the night on his couch until she insisted they share the bed. It's not like you're going to try anything, she had told him with a laugh. Besides, everybody already assume that we are, she had added before ducking into his bathroom to change out of her dress and into a t-shirt and pair of his gym shorts.
"If that's what you want," she continued. "We can just go back to normal."
He watched her blow on her coffee to cool it. "Normal's overrated," he said finally.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Blake took a sip of his coffee and grimaced slightly as it burned his tongue. He had known it would be too hot to drink yet, but he wanted a momentary distraction. "I don't know," he admitted finally.
"Great," she muttered. "I'm sorry I even brought it up. It's stupid—I'm stupid."
"You're not stupid, Crick."
"It was a stupid idea."
"That's not what you said last night."
Last night. Last night when they had been lying in his bed and Cricket suggested that they get married. At first he had thought she was joking, but then she rattled off a list of reasons why it would be the perfect arrangement and he realized she was serious. He hadn't been sure how to respond and since it was nearly 2:00 AM he had told her to just go to sleep.
"I didn't call anything stupid. It was late, we'd both had more than enough to drink, and I just…"
"What?" she interrupted sharply. "Wanted to stop me from saying something I'd regret."
"It just wasn't the right time to talk about that kind of thing."
"That kind of thing?" she questioned. "Translation: you thought it was stupid."
"That is not what I thought." Blake noticed a look of surprise register on her features. "It's just not the kind of decision you make after drinking as much as we did," he continued. It wasn't that he wanted Cricket to take back what she had said, but he didn't think there was a reason to dwell on late night drunken confessions. "Can you honestly tell me that you would have made the same suggestion if you hadn't been drunk?"
He watched her take a drink of her coffee to stall. "Well, no," she admitted
"That's why I stopped you."
"Look, Blake, you're right. If I hadn't been drinking, I probably wouldn't have brought up the idea, but last night wasn't the first time I thought about it. Can you honestly tell me that it's never crossed your mind?"
Of course it had. The arrangement would be almost ideal for him, but it wouldn't be fair to her. "Seriously though, Cricket, how do you think this would to work?" he asked. "I mean…"
"All couples have outside interests," Cricket said glibly. "They say it's healthy."
"I'm pretty sure they don't mean this."
"A marriage is about more than just sex," she said bluntly. "So what if we end up looking to other people for that? We wouldn't be the first people in Dallas—or even our church—to do it. Do you have any idea how many wives look the other way?"
"You expect me to believe that everyone's parents cheat?"
"Not everyone, but enough. More than you'd think." For a second, Blake thought she was going to name names, but she switched directions. "But with us, it wouldn't really be cheating."
"You're proposing—what? That I go away on business trips and you go off to the spa?"
"Not the spa—Sharon and Carlene would want to join. It'd have to be something they'd hate—like tennis lessons. I could get a trainer."
"What?" She smiled slightly. "My backhand needs work."
"You've really thought about this."
She nodded seriously. "It would be a perfect arrangement."
"A marriage is more than just an arrangement—it's not just a business deal."
"It's about romance?" she asked with scoff. "Because my parents had a romance and we both know how that turned out."
"Cricket, you are not your mama."
"Of course I'm not. Because unlike her, I understand that marriage—a good marriage—is about compatibility."
She had a point. With all the time they spent together, they rarely argued and when they never truly got angry with each other. "We are pretty compatible."
"You need a wife and I need a husband. It's perfect."
"Maybe for me, but not for you. Cricket, just because I can't have a conventional marriage it doesn't mean you shouldn't," he said seriously in hopes that it would convince her to listen. "I know your daddy's been pressuring you…"
"This isn't about Daddy Bo."
"So that ultimatum her gave you a few months ago never crossed your mind?"
Her eyes flashed with anger. "I make my own decisions, Blake."
"I know you do," he said automatically. "But…"
"But nothing," she snapped. Cricket paused to set her coffee mug on the nightstand before continuing. "Last night—before we fell asleep—you said you loved me. Was that a lie?" He shook his head in response. "Then what?" she asked. "Is the idea of marrying me that unbearable?"
"No," he said firmly. "But the idea of you committing yourself to living a lie for me is."
"If we love each other, then it's not a lie."
Blake set his own coffee mug aside. "You deserve more than just spending your life covering for me."
"You need to stop telling me what you think I deserve."
"I'll stop when you start acting like you believe me."
"You want me to rattle off the list of every good quality you've insisted my future husband have?" she asked. "Let me summarize: I deserve someone who loves and respects me for who I am. Who does that describe?"
She ignored him. "It describes my best friend. I never feel more beautiful or special than when I'm with you."
"Crick, you could have any man..."
"I want you."
Blake studied her for a minute—taking in her crossed arms and stubborn glare. "We are an unstoppable team," he said finally. Being married to Cricket would give him the life he desired—he could be the conventional husband everyone expected but have a wife with whom he could be completely honest. Nevertheless, he still had reservations about what he believed Cricket deserved, but if this was what she truly wanted, then how could he deny her that? "We'd be the ultimate power couple."
She furrowed her eyebrows as she considered what he said. "Is that a proposal?" she asked.
"That's supposed to be my response."
"You want me to propose right now?"
"Well, I expect you to be on one knee."
"I haven't even asked your daddy."
Cricket rolled her eyes. "Screw Daddy Bo." Blake looked at her in surprise, so she added, "What? You're the one who's always telling me I need to be more independent."
"You're right. Independence looks good on you."
Blake stood up and walked across the room to his dresser. Opening his top drawer he reached toward the back to pull out a small jewelry box his mama had given him nearly a year before. He hadn't even been dating at the time, but his mama had insisted he take it—telling him that he might not be to predict the moment he'd need it. She was right—even if this was the last thing his mama would have expected when she gave it to him.
Cupping the box in his hand he turned around and dropped to one knee. Blake couldn't hold back his grin as Cricket's hand flew over her mouth in surprise. "Cricket Ralston Caruth, you mean more to me than you will ever, ever know." He opened the box and continued, "Will you do me the honor of becoming Mrs. Caruth-Reilly?"
He could tell she was fighting to hold back a smile as she asked, "Not Mrs. Reilly?"
"Please, you're a modern woman and this marriage isn't exactly going to be traditional."
"Normal's overrated," she repeated what he said earlier.
"Is that a yes?" he asked.
Cricket finally broke out into a true grin. "Yes."
A/N: And thus concludes my interpretation of how Blake and Cricket went from high school classmates to husband and wife. I want to take a moment to thank all of you for reading and for the feedback. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.