Darren held the dark blue velvet box in his open palm but Issey couldn't look away from his eyes. "Stand up." She half whispered half choked, "Please, stand up."
He did, his face falling, this wasn't how it was supposed to go.
She took a breath and then wrapped her hands around his, avoiding contact with the box. "I can't start our lives together with you on your knees. We're equals, partners, in this together. You don't have to try; you already make me happier than I ever knew I could be. I don't need a speech, I don't need a song, I only need you."
They were both in tears as they fell into each others arms, holding on tight. "You scared me there for a minute, I thought you were going to turn me down."
"And throw away the best thing that's ever happened to me for a second time? Even I'm not that stupid."
"Did I mention I love you?" He backed up, smiling at her, thumbing her tears from her cheeks.
"You did, but I didn't. I love you, with everything I am. There isn't a single thing I wouldn't do for you, or our family."
"Well in that case I think I'd better put a ring on it." He opened the box; it opened at the center, pulling out to either side where "Harry Winston" was stamped in Gold on white satin. In the center was a solitaire, emerald cut diamond set in platinum. It was simple and stunning.
"I talked to your sister about the cut, she was sure you'd want emerald. I told her you hate emeralds but she insisted you loved the cut, just hated the color. I wanted to get it with diamonds around the band and a bigger stone but she said no, she said you'd hate that. I guess I kind of knew you would but I wanted it to be spectacular, you deserve something really special." Words were rushing out faster than he could control them.
She let him put it on her finger as he babbled then placed a hand on either side of his face. "I already have something more special than any diamond." She kissed him, he kissed back. Soft, delicate, the sort of kiss that has no real need behind it because you already have all you could dream of.
"Be honest, do you like it? If you don't we can get another one. I know you're about to tell me it doesn't matter, you love it because I picked it and all that romantic shit, but I really want you to love it."
She laughed and looked down at her hand with fondness. "Do you know how Sophia knew what cut I wanted?"
He shrugged, "She knows your style?"
"Growing up I wasn't one of those girls that planned her wedding. When Sophie was walking around with towels on her head and Gran's plastic flowers clutched in her hand pretending to walk down the aisle I was listening to music and rolling my eyes at her. I had no romantic notions of a white gown or a huge cake with all my friends in ugly pink dresses oohing and ahhhing. The one thing I did have was a picture, ripped from a magazine hanging on my wall, a picture of this exact ring. I didn't think about the man that would give it to me, I'd just buy it myself if I had the money, but I wanted this ring. I never had any idea that as beautiful and perfect as it is it would be the least amazing thing I'd get the day it showed up on my finger."
The rest of the night, and into the morning they talked about his time in London, how the fans had given him the energy he needed to perform every night, even when he thought he had nothing more to give. They talked about what they wanted their home to be, how they wanted their children to grow up, and how much their families, both related and not, meant to them.
"Chris has been distant, toward the end of the tour, not just with me, with everyone. Have you talked to him much?" Darren asked.
"He texts me, mostly in the middle of the night, to see how I'm feeling, if I need anything, but otherwise I haven't talked to him. He's just so busy with the book and the movie I didn't think anything of it. You think he's okay?"
"I don't know, but if you still want to stay with him while we're in LA I don't have a problem with it. It might give you a good excuse to check up on him."
"You're a good man, Charlie Brown."
"No falling in love this time though, okay?"
This time Darren's kisses had some heat behind them, there was something he wanted that he'd been deprived of for too long and the time had come. His body covered hers, conveying the urgency of his intent, his fingers gliding her skirt up her thighs. They moved together, bodies responding to each other in a natural flow until he touched a button on her blouse.
"Wait." She caught his hand, "Please just leave it." It came out desperate, dripping with fear.
He shook his head slowly, the moonlight and makeshift stars shining in his eyes, "Baby, it doesn't matter, I love all of you, please don't hide from me."
"I'm not, I won't, tomorrow, I promise. I don't want to remember the night we got engaged as the night you saw the scars."
"I won't push you, but what better night? I'm marrying all of you, scars, dark secrets, and beautiful laugh, all of it. You're getting all of me, the guy who loves you and the guy who lied to you, the man who'd die for you and the man whose jealousy nearly consumed him. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, all of it is for each other now, but if you really want to wait for me to see, we'll wait."
Her lower lip quivered and he worried she might cry but she unbuttoned her blouse and started to unwrap the bandages across her chest. Her hands were shaking when he moved them away and gently peeled the layers of gauze from her skin.
He kept his eyes locked to hers as he got down to the final layer, "Does it hurt when you take it off all the way?"
She shook her head, it didn't, not anymore. Issey looked away, her gaze falling over the Las Vegas strip in the distance.
"Don't look away. There's nothing to be ashamed of. These are battle scars and you came out the winner." He set the gauze aside; it came up clean, not sticking to her skin with blood or pus like it had the week before. She was grateful for that at least.
He took a deep breath before speaking. He wanted to tell her it wasn't that bad, but it was, she knew it was and to minimize it would trivialize what she'd been through, what she'd lost. Instead he dropped his head and kissed the clean space of skin between where her breasts had been, the one spot that didn't look sore and angry. He whispered apologies against her flesh, begging forgiveness for not having been there through her recovery. She felt the brush of his eyelashes and his tears drop against her and hushed him, her fingers carding through his soft curls. Issey said nothing. He didn't need to apologize, but he'd never believe her. She let him grieve what she already had.
In the morning they called their closest friends and family to share the news of the engagement. They left Mia and Chris for their final calls and went to separate rooms to make them.
Issey texted Chris before calling, knowing he would most likely already be on set.
To Chris: Got a second to talk?
To Issey: For you always, urgent or can you give me 5?
To Chris: It can wait. Nothing to worry about.
To Issey: I'll call you in a few.
When he called she picked up first ring. "I'm sorry, were you working?"
"I'm making props; I was covered in spray glue."
She laughed, "Only you. I just wanted to let you know before it's out everywhere, Darren and I got engaged last night."
It took him a minute to respond but she could hear talking in the background. It could have been that he needed to let the information sink in, or it could have been someone else diverting his attention. "Congratulations!" he said finally, sounding like he meant it.
"Thank you. He surprised me last night, came home early. I just wanted you to know, I mean, I know you're over it and whatever but, I don't know, it wasn't long ago we were…"
She heard him give a little exhale that sounded like a laugh of derision. "Over it. Not the word choice I would use but okay. I'm happy for you, it makes perfect sense."
"What does that mean?" there was an edge to her voice, she wished there wasn't.
"If the baby was mine I would have proposed, I mean, you'd have said no, but I'd have done it. It makes sense that he proposed now. You're getting a house together, you're having a baby together, he makes you happy, when he isn't lying to you…sorry, I've got to get back to work. I'm happy for you, I am. We'll talk soon."
"Chris? Wait. I…I don't know what to say here, but I feel like you're angry. Can I still stay with you this week?"
"Of course you can. Isn't he coming back to LA?" he sounded tired.
"He is, I just don't feel well enough to stay with him and his friends. Plus I wanted to spend a little time with you, we haven't had much time to talk lately. I miss you."
"Do you? You don't have to. I mean, you don't have to say you do if you don't."
"Of COURSE I do. I love you, you know. Truly. Always. I'm sorry if I haven't been the best friend lately but I've kind of had a lot going on." She regretted saying it as soon as she did. He knew what she had going on and saying what she had was like an accusation that he wasn't acknowledging it.
"I'm aware. So have I. I know you're stuff is way more important than mine but I don't know where I fit with you now, how much am I allowed to worry, or care?"
"My stuff isn't more important."
"Of course it is, you're fighting for your life, for the baby, it's more important that any movie, I didn't mean that to sound snide."
"It didn't. This movie is a huge deal; it could be life changing for you, that's important. As far as where you fit with me, Chris, I don't know how to make you understand that your friendship is every bit as important to me as our romantic relationship was, more even. I want to stay close to you, please don't let's lose that just because I'm marrying someone else."
"You trust him this time?" his voice was quiet.
"Completely. You aren't hurt are you?"
"No. We're over, I'm just still, sorting, what we meant I guess."
"And a little pissed that I've been able to move on as quick as I have?"
"I guess I am hurt. I have no right to be, you were always going to be his, and we both knew that even when we pretended we didn't. I guess that's why you didn't need any time before going back to him."
"I took time, just not a lot. If you were straight, I don't know Chris, I really don't, but you aren't, and I love him completely. It wasn't just me who wasn't in our relationship for the long haul if we're honest."
"You're right, I'm not saying otherwise, I'm just saying it changed me, how I feel about myself, about relationships, about sex, all of it. It wasn't just a diversion on my way to something else."
"I don't know if this is just going to make things worse but I'm going to tell you anyway. I couldn't be with Darren now if I hadn't been with you. It's that simple. You weren't a diversion, you were a necessary experience, and you were a revelation as to what could happen if I trusted. I will never regret what we did; I'll never be able to thank you for what you gave me. I needed you more than you will ever know and I'm sorry if I haven't made that clear to you."
"Issey I'm just overtired and feeling out of sorts. I know, I know all of this, and I love you and I know he loves you and as much as I hate to admit it I trust him too. When will you be in LA?"
"Tomorrow Darren and I are spending another night in Vegas and we'll be there tomorrow to see the house."
"Call me when you're here, I'll give you directions to the set so I can give you a house key. I have a night shoot but the next night I'm clearing for dinner with you if that's ok?"
"Perfect. Love you."
In the other room Darren had called Mia, forgetting the time difference.
"Hell, fuck, hello?" He voice was whiskey and smoke and if he was honest with himself, pure sex.
"Shit, Mia, I woke you up, go back to sleep, I'll call you later."
"Dare? Are you in London?"
"Jesus you get around, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, honestly I forgot the time difference, mostly I forgot the time you get up, seriously go back to sleep, we'll talk later."
He could hear her tell someone to go back to sleep and pictured her padding barefoot and nearly naked, hair wild and mascara smudged to the bright kitchen of her apartment.
"No, it's fine it's time I dragged my ass out of bed, what's up?"
"Not sure how to say this."
"You're marrying her." There was nothing accusatory in her voice.
"I am, yeah. I felt like I needed to tell you, ah, before you heard it elsewhere."
"Quit making this awkward Dude, we're friends now right? You've got your girl, you're starting a family, right on, am I invited?"
"Of course. I mean we just got engaged last night so we have no plans but of course we want you there."
"If I hated her I'd be pissed right now, y'know? Like, why are you telling me, go live your life man, but she's cool, we're good. Not gonna say I won't shed a tear over what could have been, we were good together weren't we?"
"We were great together Mia, you know I'll always love you. I came to you a boy and you helped make me the man I am."
"Tell her she owes me a thank you for that."
"I think she knows. She adores you."
He could hear the sunshine smile in her voice, "everyone does."
"Was that a new friend I woke up?"
"Old friend, you remember Petey?"
" Sweet Pete, boy followed you like a hungry puppy."
"He got called up to the majors."
"Hope he earns his spot."
"You know me, nothing's ever easy."
"Loving you is easier than you think."
"Stop being sweet I'm trying not to be in love with you."
"Good luck, I'm irresistible."
"So you always told me. Go tell your girl congrats, I'm gonna wake Petey for his morning kibble."
Neither asked how the others call went, some things weren't for their new lives, they belonged to the old.
Darren poured her orange juice and raised an eyebrow at her. "Wanna see the Internet explode?"
She laughed, "do it, then shut off both our phones and lets get some sleep."
Darren tweeted their engagement with a photo of the ring on her finger then powered down their phones and carried her off to bed.