I sighed, a smile on my face. This vacation had been fun in more ways than one. I had learned a lot about myself, about who I am, about what I want. I could hear Rangers even breathing in the seat next to mine, and something as little as that made my heart burst with butterflies. The view from the window looked especially beautiful as it flew by, us passing from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.
The silence was broken by Ranger. "So does this mean you'll eat your vegetables now?"
I grimaced. "As if."
His eyes twinkled knowingly. "There are rewards for good girls who eat all their dinner."
"And those rewards would be?"
His fingers found mine. "Dessert."
I could read between the lines. "I think I've developed a taste for green food."
It was three in the afternoon when the van pulled into the Rangeman garage. All the guys were waiting for us with huge smiles. Hal was dancing on his feet, looking excited. Lester and Tank parked and got out. Lester was back to having a mischievous smile on his face. Tank had no facial expression.
Ranger opened my door for me, helping me down from the van. "Vince, take her bags upstairs, please. Cal, will you help him? You'll probably have to make a couple of trips. She got a little crazy in New York."
I heard Tank mumble under his breath, "A LITTLE crazy? A LITTLE? She practically bought out the state!"
I glared. My line of sight was quickly cut off by many black shirts. There was a chorus of greetings for both me and Ranger.
"We missed you around here!"
"Yeah, there were no explosions!"
"Do you know how boring it was?"
"And just think-"
"-Now you'll be in the-"
"-Same building as us!"
"All right, all right! Come on guys, she just got back!" Tank boomed.
There was muttered apologies from them, and red faces. Hal finally spoke, softly.
"Sorry, Bomber. We just… We missed you."
I gave them all a big hug. "I missed you guys too! In fact, I have a video to show you…"
Later, after all the Merry Men had chosen sides on the upcoming epic battle of prank wars, dunking's, and surprise attacks, I looked around the 7th floor apartment. It felt like home to me. As if he could hear my thoughts, Ranger murmured, "It won't be home for long. There's still the batcave, you know." His arms went around my waist and his chin rested on my shoulder.
I couldn't help the smile. It came naturally now, every time I heard his voice or smelled his shower gel or thought about him. "I know. But for now… For now, this is perfect."
He turned me around, gently placing his lips on mine. "It's only perfect because you're here," he said. "Every time you were here, it was a brighter place. And when you weren't, it's like the room was calling for you. Like it could feel how sad it made me that you weren't."
"Now you'll never get rid of me, though. Are you sure you can handle that?" I asked, leaning my head against him.
He looked at me seriously. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
I licked my lips, out of habit. I could feel his reaction, see his eyes darkening. He got that "I'm-the-fox-and-you're-in-my-house-now" look, his smile growing. I felt myself being pushed back, and I feel on the bed. Things were heating up, which I wasn't all too unhappy about, when I heard my phone ringing. I groaned, and it had nothing to do with where Ranger's hand was, although I wish it had.
Rolling off the bed and stomping into the living room, I answered my phone with a huff. "What?"
I could hear Lula screeching in the background. "Stephanie! It's your mother. Where have you been? I've been calling and calling!" Crap. "Your friends are here, Lula and Connie and Mary Lou and Joseph! Joseph is here with a woman, Stephanie! The last thing I heard was you were off with that Ranger man! What in the world were you thinking? Your only chance at settling down, and you blew it off to go live in sin with a mercenary!? And your friends and your grandmother are telling me to leave you be because you went on vacation. You could have called; you could have let me know! I was worried sick! I think you need to come home right now, and apologize to Joseph and set things right."
I was speechless. I had never heard my mother speak so long since I was four and I accidentally overflowed the bathtub with Barbie hair.
"I… You… Okay…" was all I could manage.
I assumed Ranger had heard everything, because his blank face was firmly in place. I thought I saw the beginnings of a tear before he turned away. His voice low, he said, "I understand. It was fun, this thing with us. I love you, Steph, I truly do. But I understand that you need to go be with him. It's what's expected." He walked to the bedroom and slammed the door. I heard him mumble, "Stupid, stupid, stupid. Fight for her. No, I don't even deserve her. I'm a coward."
My veins turned to fire. Tears streamed down my face, but I could've sworn they turned to steam because of how mad I was. I stomped out the door, stomped into the elevator, stomped out into the control room and pressed the button that would project my voice to every floor, in every room. The guys stood there with wide eyes, waiting.
"Carlos Manoso! I don't know what the hell I'm going to have to do to make you understand that I love you! I want to be with you, I want to be yours for as long as you'll have me! I don't want anyone else; I don't care what anyone else says." My voice broke, the tears really coming now. I heard the elevator ding. "I can't believe you would think you don't deserve me! I can't believe you would walk away from me, let me go. Do you remember what happened? Do you?! I love you! I always will! Do you hear me? I love you!"
I let my finger slide from the button and turned to face him. There was dead silence in the room. Moving closer, I stood on my toes to kiss him. "I love you."
His blank face was gone; I could see the love on his face, see it in his eyes, and feel it in the way he kissed me. "Always. That's how long I'll love you."
All the guys had lost their edge, they were beaming. I heard a familiar voice, repeating what had started all this. "Go Bossman!"
I was smiling as Rangers lips found mine yet again.
Pulling up into my mother's driveway was nerve racking. For the first time I can remember, my family wasn't pressed up against the screen door.
I got out of the car with Ranger on my heels. I turned the unlocked door, stepping into the house. A wave of freshly ironed clothes and freshly made food hit me, followed by the smell of booze. All of my mother's methods to calm down had been used. I suspected that's why she had called. The kitchen table held my mother, father, Lula, Mary Lou, Joseph-who was looking sheepish-, a girl who looked a year or so younger than me-she looked terrified-, and Grandma Mazur. I took a seat next to my mom, Ranger next to me. He and Joe nodded at each other.
All was silent except the bubbling sauce on the stove.
My mother cleared her throat. "Stephanie. Explain."
I narrowed my eyes. "I've found the man I want to be with."
"And that's it. What more do you need?"
"Where have you been? Why did you go? You do realize your only chance of getting married is gone now, right?"
Ranger looked annoyed. "Excuse me, ma'am, but I would love to give Stephanie a chance at getting married."
I broke in, "I went on a road trip. I went to get away from this pressure. Joe's happy, I'm happy, we're still friends, and I don't see what the problem is."
My mother sighed. "I just want you to have a family like you want. And how can your children have a family if their," she glanced at Ranger, "father isn't going to be there."
Ranger started to rise angrily, but I yanked him back down. "No, mom. That's what you want me to want. Right now, I just want to enjoy my life."
"Mrs. Plum, if I might say, I think Mr. Manoso and your daughter are good for each other. Look at how happy she is; she's practically radiant." Joe said.
I stared at him. "What?"
He half smiled and linked hands with the girl. "I'm pretty happy myself."
My father grunted. "Let them do what they want. If they're happy, let it be." He then got up and shuffled to his chair, turning the volume up on the T.V.
My mom looked like he had slapped her. "Well. All right. Would you all like to stay for dinner?" She hauled herself up and turned away.
We all ate, and said our goodbyes. Joe and Cindy, the girls name was, left, and then Mary Lou and Lula left as soon as I promised to spill the details of the trip. I hugged my family, and my mom even cracked a smile after she gave us the doggy bag. "Kinda like old times, I suppose."
I hugged her tight. "Kinda is."
I knew that she wouldn't accept my non-traditional choices easily, but I knew that she would. My dad seemed like he could talk some sense into her. Grandma Mazur winked at me and pinched Rangers butt. "You gotta keeper here, sweetie. You kids be safe."
Ranger half smiled. We were both silent as we drove back to the building. The control room was running just fine as we headed up to the 7th floor. I smiled and waved to some of the guys. All of them looked relaxed and happy. Maybe this place needed more than just a woman's touch. Maybe it needed a woman to make it a family. I smiled to myself. It's nice to know you have a family. I didn't have the traditional 2.5 kids and white picket fence, but I sure did have a nice little family who loved me.
"Why are you so happy?" Ranger asked me.
I rested my head on his shoulder. "I finally found where I belong. And I found my family."
A/N: So… This left off rather abruptly. I think I'll make another chapter, but if I don't… Then THE END! Thank you guys so, so, so, so, so, so, so much for being with me. Thank you for never giving up, thank you for the help. I'm going to miss this story so much, and I know it took me FOREVER to write this, and I'm so sorry. My birthday's coming up, (16 woot woot!) and I went on vacation and school. But I love each and every one of you. And thank you again! Maybe you can give me ideas on my next story?