A/N: Thanks for your reviews!

Chapter 69- We've Only Just Begun

The day before New Year's Eve, Johanna and Maggie sat at a table in a classier restaurant than usual for lunch. The plush décor and sparkling chandeliers gave the place an art deco vibe that seemed to announce how proud it was to have carried it's elegance from the 1920s into the 1970s. It looked high class; a touch of something extra special that the girls had decided they needed for their last lunch break of 1976…they were just glad that management had kept the prices affordable in light of the high class atmosphere.

After the waiter poured their wine, he left them alone and Maggie glanced across the table at her friend. "We haven't really gotten to talk to this week; I think I've lived at the courthouse since Christmas."

Johanna swallowed a sip of wine and smiled. "That's how I'll be feeling after New Year's."

Maggie gave a soft laugh. "Well don't worry; I'll still be there after New Year's so you'll have company."

"Good to know; I'd hate to have to be there without an ally."

"How was your Christmas?" Maggie asked.

"It was good," Johanna replied. "It went smoothly and there weren't any incidents."

"That's good to hear; especially after the way your Thanksgiving went. Everything went well with Jim and your family?"

"Yeah, it went better than expected…they all seem to like him a lot. I didn't expect the topic of an engagement party though."

"Who brought that up?"

"My aunt; and my mother agreed that there needs to be one."

"You don't want one?" Maggie asked as she picked up a forkful of pasta.

Johanna shrugged as she dug into her own pasta dish. "Honestly, I hadn't really thought about it. I've just been…"

Her friend smiled knowingly. "Just been happy to be engaged and not worrying about all the hoopla that comes with it just yet?"

"Yeah," she sighed. "It hasn't even been a month yet."

"Well, you know how relatives are."

"Oh, I know."

"If you don't want the party though, don't have it."

"It's not that I don't want it…I just hadn't thought about it and now there's going to be one; tentatively scheduled for January 29th. "

"Wow," Maggie said; "It's moving right along; but honestly, Jo; if you don't want it, just tell them."

She took another sip of wine. "It's not so much that I don't want it…and it's not the party itself that worries me…"

"Oh," Maggie said, her tone colored with understanding. "It's the thought of both families coming together for the first time…in front of an audience of friends."

"Yes," she breathed. "But it's even worse than that."

"How so?"

"Because my mother says that before the party; like the week before, she wants Jim's parents to come over for dinner. The mothers have already met and they don't like each other. Dad has only met Robert in passing in a business setting; he hasn't met Elizabeth at all and I know he's not going to like her. Elizabeth thinks she's above everyone and Dad hates that. My grandmother has invited herself…because I've told her all of Elizabeth's misdeeds and she wants to be on hand to give her the eye…so Jim's grandmother has been invited as well so the grandma angle will be balanced."

"Oh my," her friend said, her smile a mixture of amusement and sympathy; "You're going into the New Year with real happy thoughts, aren't you?"

She sighed deeply. "You don't know the half of it, Mags."

Her friend laughed. "Don't worry; no matter what happens, it'll be fine…and if that eye thing from your grandmother works; ask her if she can do some work for me, because I've got a list…"

Johanna laughed. "I'll let her know that I can send some business her way."

"Please do. So, you think the main showdown will be between Grandma and the dragon lady or between your father and the dragon?"

"It's hard to say…I think Dad and Grandma may tag team it."

"What about your mother?"

"She can throw a roll pretty well if she's pissed off enough," Johanna remarked; "And with Elizabeth Beckett, there could be an urge to throw things."

"As long as it isn't knives."

"Mom would throw the cups before the knives."

"Well then there shouldn't be any fatalities…we hope."

"The dinner is honestly more terrifying than the idea of the party."

"I can't blame you for that," Maggie remarked; "But Jim will be there with you and I'm sure he'll help you keep things under control."

She gave a short laugh. "No one controls Frank McKenzie; he says and does what he wants. Clearly no one can control Elizabeth Beckett either; and there hasn't been a person born who can control Sophia Calabrese. No…there will be no keeping things under control; it'll either happen with tense civility or hell will break loose."

"We'll hope for tense civility."

"Yeah, we'll hope…I'll let you know when it's taking place in case I need to call you for bail."

Maggie grinned. "I will definitely stay home and be near the phone that night in case you need bail or my legal services."

"I appreciate it," Johanna said, raising her glass in salute. "Now, how was your Christmas?"

Her friend sighed. "I suppose it was good…I went to my parents as usual."

"Supposing it was good makes me think it wasn't."

Maggie shrugged a little. "It was my normal Christmas experience; seeing the family, listening to the same stories, having the same meal…listening to the same squabble between Mom and Dad about shutting up with his army stories because no one wants to hear war stories on the holiday. It was all very normal…and empty."

"Empty?"

The other woman nodded, brushing back her blonde curls as she did so. "I was supposed to spend Christmas with Jeff and his family…and that's where I wanted to be."

Johanna gave her a sympathetic smile. "I'm sorry."

"It's alright; I didn't expect it to sting so much being with my own family…but it just felt like something was missing, you know?"

"Yeah; I know. Does your parents know you and Jeff broke up?"

She shook her head. "No; I haven't told them yet; thankfully I also hadn't told them about the plans to have Christmas dinner with Jeff at his parents. I held off on that because I knew my mother would be mad so I wanted to wait until the last minute."

"Good thinking."

"Yeah; I was glad for it when the holiday rolled around and nothing had changed."

"Jeff didn't come over at all?" Johanna asked.

Maggie met her gaze. "He came over Christmas night."

"And?"

"And he gave me my gift," she said, holding out her wrist to show the bracelet she was wearing.

"That's beautiful," Johanna said sincerely; admiring the diamond and topaz bracelet.

"It is," Maggie agreed.

"So…if he gave you your present, what happened?"

"Well…I asked him if he wanted to have a glass of wine with me and he said yes; so we drank some wine and danced around the elephant in the room…and eventually he kissed me."

Johanna's brow rose. "And?"

"And you know how the story goes…"

She grinned. "He spent the night?"

"Sure did…and when I woke up in the morning, it was to the sound of him tromping around, getting dressed and collecting his gift to head out the door."

"Seriously!"

"Uh huh."

"Did you stop him?"

"You better believe it. I asked him what the hell he was doing, why he was leaving…that I thought things would be better between us."

"What did he say?"

"He said; I love you, Maggie; but I don't know if I can ever give you what you need. I'm sorry about last night, won't happen again."

"He said that!"

"Yeah…I wanted to rip his face off," Maggie said as she stabbed her fork into her pasta.

"I don't blame you."

Her friend sighed. "He just refuses to talk to me about any of it…I wasn't asking him to marry me next week, Jo. I just wanted to know if he saw us getting to that place one day…preferably sooner than later but at least I'd have a 'yes, one day we'll get there' commitment in mind. But he just totally lost it and he won't talk about it, won't tell me why we can't have that discussion. It was just all down the drain…and it was the last thing I ever expected after the way he took the middle ground between you and Jim when you were having your relationship issues. He wanted the two of you to get together, couldn't believe that Jim was being so stubborn and bullheaded…and then he essentially turns around and does the same thing."

"It was a shock to all of us," Johanna replied.

Maggie raked her fingers through her hair. "I just wish he'd talk to me about it. How can I fix whatever is wrong if he won't tell me what it is? Because I'm sure that whatever it is, I can fix it. I mean is it me? Am I just not the kind of woman he wants for a wife?"

"No," she said with a shake of her head. "It's not that at all, I'm sure."

"Do I do something he doesn't think he can live with?"

"No; I'm sure it's nothing like that…I mean you two always stayed together a lot so if it was something you do, he would've discovered that long ago and fled under that theory."

"True," Maggie relented, her gaze flicking to her friend. "But what could it be?"

Johanna chewed on her bottom lip; this was the moment she had been dreading.

"Jo?" her friend said quizzically, a touch of suspicion in her voice. "Do you know what it is?"

She sighed. "Kind of."

"Kind of?"

"Okay, I know…Jim told me."

Maggie kept her gaze upon hers. "Tell me you didn't swear an oath of secrecy just because you're still dazzled by the diamond. Tell me you'll break the oath if you did."

"I didn't swear an oath."

"Then start talking, sister."

Johanna smiled at the comment but quickly dampened the look under Maggie's firm blue gaze. "Okay; the problem is your father."

"My father?" she asked, shock coloring her features. "What the hell does my father have to do with anything?"

"Jeff knows that your father doesn't like him or approve of him; so he's afraid that if he marries you, your father will disown you or you'll be put in the position of having to choose between them and he doesn't want you to lose your father."

Maggie scoffed angrily. "He says that like I've ever really had him. He's always been more of a drill sergeant than a father. Don't get me wrong, I love him…but he's a pain in the ass and his career was his life. He didn't care how we felt about being uprooted every time he got stationed somewhere else. He didn't care when three of his children chose to live with their grandmother instead of staying with him and the rest of the family. It was always the army for him. We were just his little personal army at home; do this, do that, don't like that person, don't like this one; do as I say and not as I do. If my father ever forced me to choose; he'd find out exactly how little I care about keeping his presence in my life. I am entitled to be with the person of my choosing. I love Jeff and I don't give a damn what my father thinks of him; at least Jeff isn't a pompous windbag, puffed up with false glory like my father is. I would always choose Jeff; and I'd do it without hesitation."

"That's what he's afraid of; you'll choose him and lose your family."

"Oh for God's sake," Maggie declared with slight disgust. "He ought to know my family better than that by now. Mom does what the hell she wants regardless of the orders barked at her and my siblings like Jeff and wouldn't hesitate to side with us. Why should my father's opinion even matter? It doesn't matter to me. It's my life, I choose who is in it and who isn't, not him."

"Well his opinion matters to Jeff a lot apparently."

"Well he needs to worry about my opinion, not my father's! Oh my God, I can't believe this whole thing has been about that; it's…it's…it's just so stupid," she declared, waving her hand in agitation.

Johanna smiled. "You know how men are."

"Yeah," Maggie muttered over the rim of her wine glass; "They're a pain in the ass. I don't know why we put up with them."

"I guess because we don't have anything better to do after work and on the weekends," Johanna said lightly.

Her friend nodded. "That could be it; but seriously; this was the last thing I expected. Why didn't he just say so?"

"I think he might be having a slight jackass phase."

"Slight?" Maggie scoffed. "More like full blown. We could've had this settled long before now…and we're going to settle it, mark my words."

"What are you going to do?"

"When we get back to the office, I'm hunting Mr. Campbell down and telling him he better be at my apartment for dinner at six sharp and if he isn't, he'll live to regret it…and when he asks why; I'm going to tell him I know all about his problem and we're discussing it and putting an end to it once and for all!"

"He's going to hate me," Johanna stated, her eyes closing as she thought about an angry Jeff Campbell.

'Sometimes you have to take one for the team, Jo; this is one of those times."

"Apparently so," she remarked. "I'm glad we chose to have wine today; I may wish I had more later."

"If he gets too out of line just call me and I'll take care of it," Maggie replied. "I'm going to have this whole thing settled. Since Roche gave us tomorrow off since it's New Year's Eve, I don't care if it takes me all night to beat a few things into his thick skull…and then we'll be coming to the office party together."

Johanna gave a soft laugh. "You're awful sure of yourself."

"Trust me; I'm going to win," Maggie declared; "Defeat isn't an option…especially when the battle is over a man whose opinion shouldn't matter because he won't be living with us!"

She nodded. "I wish you luck, Maggie; I want it all to work out for the two of you."

"Me too," her friend said, her tone softening. "I just feel too empty without him…I could handle being shunned by my father better than I can do without Jeff."

"You'll get him back," Johanna replied; "Even if it doesn't happen tonight; I have no doubt you'll get his head back to where it needs to be eventually."

"He may as well get it back to where it needs to be tonight because we are not ending this year apart…I just can't let that happen," Maggie remarked.

Johanna clinked her glass against Maggie's. "Here's to getting your man."

The other woman laughed and repeated the gesture. "And here's to you doing such a fine job that you got a proposal within six months of capture."

Johanna giggled. "That sounds so wrong and yet so right all at the same time."

Maggie grinned. "It's a gift."

She bumped her glass against Maggie's once more. "And here's to a friendship I'm glad I'm going into another year with."

Maggie smiled warmly. "Ditto."


Johanna had a feeling that Maggie had made good on her promise to have a word with Jeff…because the man stormed into her office not long after lunch without his usual easy going smile. She cringed a little inside as he met Sharon's eye.

"Beat it, Rhoda; I want a word with Mary," Jeff stated.

Sharon's brow rose. "With that attitude, I'm not sure I should go."

"You should," he said, his tone firm.

"It's alright, Sharon," Johanna said; "We can finish up after Jeff says whatever it is he has on his mind."

"Alright," her secretary replied; "I'll do a little typing until he leaves."

"Good idea," Jeff said sarcastically; "Go earn your keep for a change."

Offense flicked across Sharon's face. "I do my work!"

"If you were my secretary, you would've been fired awhile ago for your multiple Phil related trips down the hallway."

"Well she's not your secretary," Johanna said before Sharon could say anything. "Sharon does her work; and when I feel she's not giving the proper amount of attention, she gets bitched at by me and the problem is resolved without the need to fire her."

"You don't fire her because she's your little buddy."

"Yeah, she is; but she's also good at her job. Go on, Sharon; shut the door behind you."

Sharon gave Jeff a parting glare and then shut the door as she stepped out of the office. "Alright, Jeff," Johanna said; "What the hell is your problem?"

"Just who do you think you are?" Jeff asked her.

She smiled. "Johanna Elizabeth McKenzie; it's right there on the diploma on the wall if you want verification. Who do you think you are?"

He smirked at her. "Cute."

"Just get to the point."

"Who do you think you are telling Maggie about what I said about her father?" Jeff asked.

She shrugged. "Well…she asked me if I knew what you problem was…and I did know, so I told her."

"It's none of your business!" he exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air as he did so.

"Well then yell at Jim; he's the one who told me."

"Oh of course he told you," Jeff declared; "He'd tell you anything while you're on your 'thank you for the rock on my finger' tour."

Johanna smirked at him. "I wouldn't call it a tour but there have been a few encores."

"Feeling your oats today, Sassy?"

"I had a glass of wine at lunch."

Jeff paced in front of her desk. "Your big mouth lunch with Maggie."

"If you want to call it that but personally Maggie and I just call it lunch."

"Uh huh; you man bashing blabbermouths."

"There wasn't man bashing!"

"Oh sure," he said; "I just bet; but let's not get off topic. You had no right telling Maggie my personal business!"

"No one said it was a secret," she replied.

"It doesn't have to be said, you should just know!"

"Well I didn't…and Maggie wants to know why she's single again so I told her. You should've told her yourself and then I wouldn't have had to."

"I didn't want her to know," he said through clenched teeth.

"Of course not; letting her sit around and blame herself is better. Letting her be hurt is better. Letting her sit around trying to make a list of flaws to correct is better. Anything that doesn't hurt your little ego is better, isn't it?"

"Look, Jo; it isn't your business and I'll thank you to stay out of it."

"Maggie's my friend and when she's hurting that is my business. Suck it up and tell her what's bothering you and let her work it out with you so you can both stop being miserable. God, you talk about me and Jim and you're just as bad."

Jeff shook his head. "No; everything in my life was fine until you had to flash that diamond and now Maggie's got wedding fever!"

"Oh she does not," Johanna replied; "She even told me so; all she wanted was to know if you see your relationship one day getting to the point of marriage."

"She doesn't need to know!"

"Yes, she does! All women want to know!"

"Why?"

"So we don't waste child bearing years on a man who's never going to marry us," she replied. "Maggie loves you, you idiot. She wants to marry you one day, you should be flattered; not packing up and heading for the hills because you're afraid of her windbag father…and windbag is her description, not mine. If you'd just discuss the issue with her, you'd find out its not as bad as you feared."

"Oh sure," Jeff scoffed.

Johanna sighed. "Jeff, why are you being an ass?"

"Because people don't mind their own business…because they think because they have a ring, everyone else should get one and be all happy, happy, joy, joy and some of us just see nothing good coming out of it."

She frowned. "So you don't want to marry Maggie?"

"It doesn't matter if I do or not; I can't."

"Why?"

Jeff looked at her incredulously. "You know why, big mouth."

Another sigh crossed her lips. "Jeff, dear; I don't know if you realize this or not, but when you get married; it's just you and your wife living in the house…she doesn't bring her father with her. You only have to see him on holidays; other than that, ignore the jackass."

"Oh sure, you make it sound so easy," he retorted. "You don't know what it's like."

"I don't know what it's like!" she exclaimed with a humorless laugh. "Elizabeth Beckett fed me food laced with pecans…that she knew I was allergic to! She crashed a lunch with my mother; told her about walking in on me in Jim's bedroom, wearing a towel and seeing my lingerie on his floor. She had his brother crash our vacation. She has made it known that she hates my guts and she calls me a slut. She took to her bed when Jim told her we were engaged. She's probably out buying a gun as we speak…but I'm still marrying him despite her."

Jeff gave her a slightly disgusted look. "It's different with women."

She rolled her eyes. "Fine; Jeff; if you don't want to work it out with Maggie, don't. If you don't ever want to get married, don't. If you want her father to make your life decisions for you, go right ahead. But just know that when Maggie finally tells her parents that you're no longer in the picture, her father is going to think that he's won…because you can bet your ass Maggie will tell them that he's the reason you left her. He'll love that; he'll thrive on it, think he's all that…and poor Maggie; he'll dog every other man she dates in the same manner until one day she cuts him out of her life because she can't take it anymore. So go ahead; let her father win, I don't care. I'm sure Maggie can find someone else who's willing to stand the heat since you're clearly not man enough to do it."

"Not man enough!" Jeff exclaimed, outrage on his face. "Where do you get off saying something like that, Johanna McKenzie?"

She shrugged a shoulder. "Well, I just followed the evidence…you're clearly afraid of Mr. Lawson; you're willing to lose Maggie because of him…so apparently you're not man enough to take the heat in order to keep her. If it was me, it would kind of make me doubt the affection you claimed to have…after all, can a woman really continue to believe that you love her if you cast her aside so easily because she wants to have a conversation? Can she really believe it when you're willing to let her father come between you? I could understand it if you were in high school and wanted her to go to prom and her father objected…but you're both adults, it's your lives, not his and yet you're giving him the control…so…you know; it makes you look like a wimp."

"A wimp!"

"Uh huh."

Anger flash in his eyes. "From what I hear, you've got a little bit of wimpiness in you; after all, from what I hear; your father had to demand to meet Jim after you got engaged because you were too chicken to take him around for a meet and greet."

She smiled. "Well, you know what you said, Jeff; it's different for women."

Jeff's jaw was tight with tension. "Sassy; it's a good thing you are a woman, because if you weren't…"

"You'd what?"

"I'd take you outside and punch you right in the mouth."

She laughed. "You'd punch me for telling you the truth?"

"I'm starting to be sorry that I told Jim to hook up with you," he retorted.

"Like I couldn't have gotten him without your encouragement?"

Jeff smirked at her. "Honestly, Sassy; I doubt you could have…he was pretty reluctant…that's why you had to play dirty to get a confession. You know our profession frowns on dirty dealing to get confessions."

"Funny how you approve of certain things until the tables turn and your ass is brushing the coals of the fire."

"Funny how you don't want people in your business but you're willing to stick your nose in everyone's personal lives."

Johanna's brow furrowed. "When did I say anything about people being in my business?"

"When you and Jim broke up."

"I didn't say for people to stay out of my business; I said the jokes went too far and cost me my relationship, which in that moment was the truth…so…kiss my ass."

"I would but I think Jim's got that covered for you…he's probably got every part of your anatomy covered."

She smiled. "He is very thorough with his work."

"You think you're cute, don't you?"

"Jim tells me I'm adorable."

"He lies."

Johanna shook her head. "I don't think so. If you're done yelling at me now, I do have some work to finish up. Sharon and I were going over the schedule for next week and I'd like to get back to it."

Jeff pressed his hands against the desk and leaned close. "Keep your nose out of my business, Sassy; friendship only goes so far."

"No problem," she retorted; "I won't say a word about you to anyone. I don't care what you do with your life; if you want to throw away a woman who loves you, go for it, I'm not the one sleeping alone at night, you are. I don't care. Now get out of my office."

"You can dish it out but you can't take it," Jeff remarked.

"No, honey; I've taken you just fine…it's just time for you to go now before I get the urge to punch you."

"What's going on?" Jim asked as he opened the door of Johanna's office.

"Nothing; your friend was just leaving," Johanna remarked.

"My friend?" Jim said, moving toward them; "I thought he was our friend."

"Mr. Campbell isn't pleased with me at the moment and has asked me kindly not to be in his business anymore. He's mad because he wasn't man enough to tell Maggie what is problem was…so when she asked me at lunch today, I told her...because you didn't tell me it was a big secret."

Jim smiled a little; she was trying to tip him off, letting him know that she hadn't told Jeff that he had encouraged her to tell Maggie the truth. "Well, Jeff didn't tell me it was a secret either, that's why I told you."

She nodded. "It seems that Mr. Campbell needs to start adding some fine print to his confessions…and perhaps have an attorney present to make sure there's no breach of confidentiality."

"That might be true," Jim agreed before turning to his friend. "Are you giving my fiancée a hard time?"

"Just telling her to keep her nose where it belongs and that's out of my business, and you can stay out of it too since you can't keep your mouth shut now that you've put a ring on her finger. You used to have some loyalty," Jeff declared; "You used to keep things between us but apparently now you have to run and tell the little woman everything."

"I don't think I like what you're insinuating," Jim replied. "You're acting like I'm not trustworthy and you know I am. You didn't say your reason for not wanting to get married was top secret…I mean I think Maggie has a right to know; it's her time she's been wasting if you're not planning on sticking around. After all, you spent plenty of time telling me to cut Johanna loose if I didn't want to commit to her. Well if you don't want to commit to Maggie; tell her the truth and let her go. Don't blame it on us…because that's what you've been doing; blaming us because we got engaged and had the audacity to tell our friends."

"You could've told me that you were going to propose…then I could've been prepared when this issue arose…because we all know that once one woman gets a ring, all her girlfriends who don't have one, want one!"

"Jeff, no one has said that you have to get married," Jim remarked. "If you don't want it, then don't do it. Let her go; you don't have to be with her if it's not what you want. She did deserve the truth though…and if you want the truth, I told Jo that if Maggie asked, she should tell her if you didn't do it yourself during the holiday."

Jeff looked at him with a touch of betrayal on his features. "You told her to tell her!?"

He shoved his hands in his pockets and nodded. "Yeah."

"Why?"

"Because it seemed like something you would do if I didn't take care of an issue myself."

"I can't believe this!" Jeff exclaimed. "My best friend turning his back on me."

"I am not turning my back on you," Jim retorted. "I just don't want you to take it all out on Johanna."

"She's got a brain of her own, she didn't have to do what you said," Jeff replied; "But she did it anyway because she's a busybody."

"Quit while you're ahead, Jeff," Jim warned. "I know you're upset, I know you've made yourself miserable…but I won't let you get away with calling her names."

'Fine, I can switch to you," his friend retorted.

"Calm down," Jim told him. "Think of it this way, if she didn't know, Maggie would just keep hounding you for an answer. Now she knows and she can stop asking and move one."

"Oh yeah, right. She barged into my office twenty minutes ago, demanding I be at her apartment for dinner tonight so we can 'get this put to rest' she claimed before telling me all about her lunch with the soon to be Mrs. Beckett."

"If you don't want to go to her place for dinner, don't go," Jim retorted; "She can't force you."

"She'll just come to my door."

"You don't have to open it."

"You've just got an answer for everything, don't you?"

He shrugged. "You're the one who slept with her on Christmas…so you can't blame her for still thinking she has a foot in the door."

"Oh great, now you've told your girlfriend that," Jeff said, waving a hand at Johanna.

"For what it's worth, I already knew," Johanna told him. "Maggie told me at lunch."

"Oh my God," Jeff exclaimed; "I can't trust anyone; I'm done with all of you. I've had it. I'll just go start life over somewhere else."

"Don't be ridiculous," Johanna said; "You told Jim, Maggie told me, it's as far as it's went."

"Well with your big mouth, I'm sure you'll share it with Rhoda out there, along with everything else and then it'll be all over the office by the end of the day."

"Quit calling her big mouth," Jim said firmly.

"And I'm not going to tell. If you're ashamed of it you shouldn't have done it," Johanna stated.

"Oh and you're just perfect," Jeff said snidely. "I'm done; keep your nose out of my business; both of you. It's a sad day when I can't even trust my best friend anymore."

"Come on, Jeff," Jim said; "You know that's not true."

"Yeah, it is," he retorted as he stalked to the door. "Apparently your loyalty only extends to her now; well that's fine."

"Jeff," Jim called after him but his friend stormed away without another word.

Seeing that Jeff wasn't going to come back, Jim pushed Johanna's door shut and turned toward her. "So how did Maggie take it?"

"She thinks it's a stupid reason and she wants to put it to rest tonight and get back together," Johanna replied; "You really should've let me take the fall, Jim. I had to tell him that I knew because you told me, but I hadn't told him that you told me to tell her."

"I know you didn't; but you shouldn't have to take it alone."

"But it would've been better that way; now your friendship will suffer and it'll be because of me."

Jim shook his head. "He just wants to be mad at the world right now; he'll come around."

"What if he doesn't?"

"Then I guess that will be my fault for telling you to tell Maggie what I knew," he remarked as he rounded her desk and leaned down to press a kiss to her lips. "I wouldn't want our friendship to end for something so stupid…but if it does, it'll be on my head. It won't be your fault."

"It won't feel that way to me."

He smiled; his knuckles brushing her cheek. "Don't worry; Jeff will calm down and sort it out. He's just very angry with himself."

"I still wish you had let me take it for you."

"That wouldn't be fair to you, sweetheart."

"I'd rather you still have a best friend."

"I do, no matter what, I have you," he replied.

"Yeah; but I can't talk about cars and football and whatever else it is you two talk about."

Jim laughed and stole another kiss. "I really don't think it'll be as bad as you're thinking; it'll work out. We've had arguments before; they always take care of themselves."

"I hope so," she murmured; thinking to herself that if she could resolve it sooner for them she would. She was willing to take full blame and she would…she just had to work out how to go about it.

"I heard Jeff was down here reading you the riot act," her fiancé remarked.

"Is that why you're here?"

"Yeah; Sharon thought it might be best."

She smiled. "I had a feeling she left too easily."

He grinned. "I'm glad she tipped me off. I need to get back though; I have a few things to finish up. If we both get everything taken care of, maybe we can slip out early and go home."

Johanna nodded. "That would suit me just fine."

"Me too; let's say we make a run for it at four."

"Deal," she laughed as she accepted another kiss. "Go get your work done and send my secretary back in so I can't get my schedule worked out for next week. Once I have that done and the mail looked at and dealt with, I'll be finished."

"Alright, sweetheart; I'll see you in a little while."

"I'll be here," she told him, a small smile clinging to her lips as she watched him go.


After finishing her work, Johanna made her way down the hallway to Jeff's office, knowing she was opening herself up to more of his anger but there was something she had to do and she'd just have to take it.

"Hello, Johanna," Jeff's secretary Barbara said, her tone friendly as she laid down the magazine she was reading.

"How are you doing, Barbara?"

"I'm alright with the exception of the bear in there in the cave," she said, jerking a thumb toward Jeff's closed door.

She smiled. "Did you get yelled at today too?"

"Honey, I've been getting yelled at every day since him and Margaret hit the skids. I wish they'd knock it the hell off."

"You know she hates to be called Margaret."

"I know; but I'm annoyed with both of them."

Johanna gave her a smile. "Well at least he isn't blaming you. He's got it in his head that it's all my fault because I got engaged."

Barbara shook her head as she snapped her gum. "Men; it's always someone else's fault. That ought to be the title of their collective biography, 'It wasn't my fault, a woman did it'."

Johanna laughed. "That's a pretty good title…and exactly the way the majority of them think."

"I think instead of blaming you, there should've been a party thrown to celebrate you finally getting Jim caught in the net. Let's face it, you worked for it."

She grinned. "We're having a party at the end of January, you'll be invited."

"I'll be there with bells on."

"Good. Is the bear in with a client?"

"Hell no; like everyone else, we finished up work shortly after lunch. He's in there brooding in front of his TV…which I'm not allowed to watch with him today."

"How anti-social of him."

"I know, right? He said he doesn't want to be disturbed."

She smirked. "He's already disturbed."

Barbara laughed. "Do you want a whip and chair before you open the door?"

"No; I'll take my chances," she replied as she moved to the door and turned the handle, pushing it open.

Jeff's gaze darted from his TV screen to the door to identify his intruder, sneering as he did so. "What the hell do you want?"

Johanna shut the door and moved further into the office. "I just wanted to tell you that Jim was lying."

"Lying about what?"

"About telling me to tell Maggie what your problem is," she lied. "He didn't tell me to do that; I took it upon myself."

"Why did he say he told you then?" Jeff asked sharply.

"You know how he is, he loves me…he likes to protect me. He didn't want me to take it alone."

Jeff scoffed. "Sometimes I think he should've left you in the hallway where he found you and I should've left Maggie in the break room. Life was a lot less complicated before you two came on the scene…especially you. I never had to worry about my friends betraying me until you arrived and turned Jim's head."

The comment stung her and she lowered her gaze, swallowing back a harsh remark in return. She was there to take the fall; to keep Jim from losing his best friend. If Jeff wanted to hate her, he could…she wouldn't like it but it was better than Jim going down with her. "I'm sorry you feel that way," she said softly. "I never meant to cause trouble; especially between you and Jim. You're his best friend and I don't ever want that to change because of me. That's why I came to tell you that he had nothing to do with what I said to Maggie at lunch today. I know Jim only told me what you had said because he didn't think I'd say anything to Maggie. I'm sorry that I hurt you by doing that but please don't take it out on Jim…he was just trying to protect me."

Jeff's jaw was tight with tension but he gave a slight nod. "Alright; that's a story I buy. It was hard to believe that he would go behind my back like that…after all, I never did that to him and I always knew he wouldn't do it to me. I'll apologize to Jim…but you stay out of my business and I mean it, Johanna."

She nodded. "I promise I'll never say anything regarding you again."

"Make sure you don't…and I don't want to hear anything you have to say about Maggie either."

"I didn't say anything about Maggie."

"But you will eventually," he retorted; "That's how you are when you've got a bee in your bonnet; and I'm telling you right now I don't want to hear it."

"Jeff, if you want, I don't have to speak to you at all…will that make you feel better?" she asked, her stomach sick at the thought that she had obliterated a friendship all by doing what Jim had asked her to do…but she supposed Maggie was right, sometimes you just had to take one for the team.

He met her eye. "For the time being it might…maybe until things are quieter…and you're over your engagement euphoria."

Johanna honestly didn't think she had been that bad…she thought she had been tame by the standards set by Colleen and Sharon. She had shared her news but hadn't done any planning or bragging about her proposal. She really didn't see where she had done anything to draw such a remark but she supposed some people saw it differently. "Alright," she said softly. "I can't say I'm sorry that I got engaged but I'm sorry that you can't be happy for your friends…or rather happy for Jim since I seem to be off your list as far as friends go…and I'm sorry if we seem too happy about it in your opinion. I'll keep my distance; but please work things out with Jim."

"I will talk to Jim," he replied; "Now go."

Johanna turned without another word and left his office, closing the door behind him. Barbara met her gaze and shook her head. "I had the intercom on…it was hard to listen to."

"Hard to take in person too," she replied.

"You were lying," Barbara whispered.

"What are you talking about?"

"You were lying about Jim telling you to put a bug in Maggie's ear."

"No, I wasn't lying."

Barbara eyed her. "That may be your story for publication but I know you."

She gave her a small smile. "Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do."

"I guess that's true. Are you coming to the New Year's Eve party tomorrow?"

"I don't really know what we're doing," Johanna remarked; "We had intended to stop in for awhile; but with all this going on, who knows."

"Well I hope to see you there but if I don't, Happy New Year."

"Happy New Year to you too, Barbara. I better get back down the hallway before he calls security."

"See you later, Jo," Barbara said as she watched her go. She gave her a few moments to get away from the office and then she rose from her chair and went to Jeff's door, opening it enough to stick her head in.

"What?" her boss asked.

"I just wanted you to know you're a prick," she replied. "I was afraid you might not have gotten the memo."

"You're fired, Barbara."

She scoffed. "Yeah, that's what you said last week and I'm still here. I am willing to leave early though if it'll suit you."

"Please do," he stated; "I'll answer my own damn phone."

"Hey, I can turn on the answering machine and you don't even have to do that."

"Fine, do it and get the hell out of here and let me be."

"No problem, Happy New Year."

"What's so damn happy about it?" he asked.

She shrugged. "Well, you're alive, you seem to be in good health, you've got a successful career, some money in the bank. You've got food to eat, a home, a car…friends who love you…family…I'd say you've got a hell of a lot to be happy and thankful for because there's people sleeping on the street tonight that would be happy to trade places with you…where the only worry they'd have is that their girlfriend might love them enough to want to marry them. Why don't you think about that while you brood, you jackass."

"Get lost, Barbara."

"Love you too, boss," she said with a grin before shutting the door and moving to her desk to turn on the answering machine.


Jim was packing up his briefcase when Jeff sauntered into his office. "Did you come to lose your mind some more?" he asked as he glanced at his friend.

"No; I came to tell you I'm sorry for accusing you of betraying me," Jeff replied.

"It's alright," Jim told him. "You've said worse about me when you're drunk."

Jeff grinned. "Yeah; you've done pretty well yourself when were drunk."

"I try to live up to your standards," he jested.

"Yeah; well, I'm sorry…your girlfriend confessed that you were just trying to save her ass and I get why you'd do that but sometimes you just have to let her fight a battle alone, Jim."

He shook his head. "No; I told you the truth. I told her if you didn't tell Maggie over Christmas that she should tell her and put everyone out of their misery."

Jeff smiled as he shook his head. "Nah; that's not your style. I found it a little hard to swallow when you said it earlier; I knew you wouldn't do that to me. I can overlook you telling Sassy; after all, we all tell our women stuff we probably shouldn't but she's come clean and told me the truth; she did it without input from you and I believe that."

"Jeff; she was lying."

"No, she didn't look like she was lying to me; she looked me right in the eye."

A tight lipped smile crossed Jim's lips; she knew how to lie while looking you straight in the eye. In fact, she made sure not to even blink while she did it…which was how you knew she was lying; she didn't blink. "I appreciate your willingness to overlook this but I really did have a hand in it."

"I know, you told her my reason, but it's okay, it happens. You can't help it that she went to lunch with Maggie and flapped her gums over a glass of wine. You're my best friend, I know you have my back…and as for Sassy; yes, I'm extremely pissed at her but I'll forgive her eventually."

"It would be nice if you could do that sooner rather than later," Jim remarked; feeling guilt creep up on him in light of Jeff's unwillingness to believe that he had told Johanna to tell Maggie the reason.

"I can't promise you that; I think she needs to learn a lesson about minding her business," his friend stated. "I know you love her and you don't like to hear that…it doesn't make me feel good to say it because I love her too, in a platonic way of course, but damn it, the girl has to learn."

"I think it's her first offense, you could go easy on her."

"I might have considered it if she hadn't called me a wimp and said I was letting Maggie's father win."

Jim smiled a little. "She was just trying to rile you enough to make you push away the things that worry you and get back to where you need to be…she doesn't really think you're a wimp."

"I don't care; she crossed too many lines today."

"Okay," Jim said with a nod, not wanting to argue with him; "But since you're mad at my New Year's Eve date I guess you won't be joining us tomorrow."

"No, I guess not," he replied; "Sassy said she'd keep her distance if I wanted and since her and Maggie are thick as thieves lately, I said it was best."

Jim sighed quietly; he imagined his fiancée was a bit bruised from whatever discussion she had gone and gotten herself into just to save his ass. "Well, Jo and I can skip the office party so you don't have to see us; we'll find something else to do."

"No need for that, I'm just going to stay home. What's the point in going out alone? I didn't really plan on tagging along with you and Jo anyway; I don't want to be a third wheel…and Maggie will be around and Sharon and Phil and everything will be awkward so I'm just staying home."

"I wish I was staying home," Jim muttered; "It's starting to sound like some kind of sequel to last New Year's Eve and I'd just rather stay home with my date and watch TV."

"So stay home," Jeff replied; "There's no law that says we have to go out every New Year's Eve…who the hell needs the hassle? Not to mention how cold it's been all week."

"That's true…but I'm sure Jo will want to go out."

"Yeah; women always want to go do something," his friend muttered. "There's just no pleasing them."

Jim smiled. "And yet we can't live happily without them."

"I'm going to learn how," Jeff remarked.

He shook his head. "Come on, Jeff; you know you won't be happy without Maggie. Why don't you go eat the dinner I assume she's going to cook and listen to what she has to say? Maybe it won't be so bad…maybe she'll make you feel better…just don't spend the night again if you don't intend on getting back together."

"That's easier said than done…I mean I didn't intend to spend the night on Christmas…it just kind of happened."

"Who started it?" Jim asked.

Jeff shifted on his feet, his fingers raking through his brown hair. "Well…I don't know…I want to say it was mutual…but it could've been me…you know…accidentally."

Jim laughed. "Really, accidentally?"

"Yes, I was just…you know, trying to have Christmas cheer."

"Apparently it didn't work, you've been an ass all week."

"It worked at the time," Jeff remarked; "And then I realized what I had done."

"You should've just stopped the realization from setting in…then everything would probably be back to normal."

"I don't think anything is ever going to be normal again," his friend muttered. "I just want everything to be the way it was and I feel like it can't be."

"Maybe you need a break," Jim suggested.

"From what?"

"Work…Maggie…whatever else you need to get away from. Take a few days off and go off somewhere and sort yourself out."

He frowned. "I don't want a break…I don't want to go away alone; there's no fun in that."

"Then take Maggie with you."

"I don't know if I can…she wants to have those discussions of our future."

"Then tell her what she wants to hear and get back to normal. You don't have to give her a date; just tell her you do see marriage in the future one day."

"But what if she wants a date?"

"Tell her five years from now to give yourself wiggle room."

"I'm not sure she'd like that."

"Tell her that's the best you're willing to give right now; that you're open to it being sooner but that five years is the maximum."

Jeff shook his head. "I'm not sure she'd go for that…you know how women are."

"Yeah; I know how they are; but…tell her five years and then distract her…like you did on Christmas," Jim replied.

"I'm sure you know that sex is only a distraction that lasts so long."

"Yeah," Jim said; "That is a problem…and sometimes they aren't willing to be re-distracted."

"Right; and then they want to talk…they always want to talk," his friend stated. "Why the hell do they have to talk so much about every little thing? Why can't they just let things happen?"

"I don't know," Jim said; "But isn't it nice of me not to mention anything you said to me when I was having that same 'let it happen on it's own' issue with Johanna? I mean I think I'm doing really good here, I haven't thrown one phrase back in your face."

Jeff smirked at him. "I'll make sure that's detailed when I nominate you for the Nobel Peace Prize."

"You do that."

"What made you decide to get married all of a sudden?" his friend asked. "Did you think she was pregnant or something?"

"No…but if you want the truth, we had that scare a few months ago. I'm surprised Maggie didn't tell you, she knew about it…hell she knew about it before I did."

Jeff's brow rose. "When was this?"

"A few weeks before Sharon and Phil got married…remember, I told you Johanna was acting weird and you said she was probably on her period."

"Yeah, I do remember that," Jeff replied.

"That's when it was; I didn't find out until after she had the results…and she was very sensitive about the whole thing so I didn't say anything more about how she was acting that week; other than that she had a virus, which was true."

His friend nodded. "I get it…but are you sure that didn't play into your reasons for getting married already?"

"No, not in the way you mean. We did a lot of talking after that happened…and we agreed that we wanted to have a baby together one day; and it dawned on me that if I wasn't afraid of having a baby with her, then why be afraid of marriage? In some ways a baby is a bigger commitment than a marriage…and I promised her a baby before I bought her the ring…but it wasn't the only thing that made up my mind."

"What else?"

Jim shrugged. "I just can't see myself being anywhere but with her. I love her, I want to keep her…all the crap I've put her through and she's still there, willingly, every day…I'd been thinking about it…about how I like going home to her, that I always want to go home to her. I just figured why waste more time? I love her and I know there's never going to be anyone else; I don't want anyone else. I just want her…I want her to be my wife…and she's willing to be my wife despite my mother and her asinine behavior; so that's definitely bonus points for her," he said with a laugh.

Jeff chuckled lightly. "I knew a long time ago that you were going to marry her one day."

"Oh yeah? When did you know?"

"That time we took her out after work to cheer up…and she got drunk on margaritas and you had to carry her out of the bar."

Jim laughed. "That was a long time ago…we weren't even dating then. Her sister hadn't even gotten married yet; although the wedding planning was one of her issues that day. What made you think I'd marry her back then?"

Jeff shrugged as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "I don't know; I just knew…I still would've liked advance notice but…I'll forgive you eventually."

"I'd appreciate that…and just so you know; you may as well get back together with Maggie; we both know you're going to marry her one day so just surrender and tell her you see it coming sometime in the near future."

"I'm not sure I'm ready."

Jim sighed. "I didn't say you had to get married next week."

"That's good because I don't want to…but she's not going to want to put it off if I give her a favorable answer."

"Okay, Jeff; here's the deal; I proposed before you did so you're not allowed to get married until after I'm married, okay? Does that help? I forbid you to get married before me, is that better?"

Jeff nodded. "It helps a little…when are you getting married? Just so I know how much time I have left."

"It's not a terminal illness, Jeff."

"You know what I mean."

"I don't know when we're getting married; we haven't set a date but I'm assuming sometime this coming year…I would assume later in the year. I'll let you know when we figure it out."

"No hurry," his friend replied.

Jim laughed. "Just relax, Jeff. Just ease into it."

"I'll think about it," he replied.

"Fine; be bullheaded, you get a bad case of that once in awhile."

Jeff scoffed. "Like you're not chairman of the board."

"Let's not debate that," Jim replied; "But whatever you decide, I'll support…I might think you're a little dumb if you let her go, but I'll respect your decision just the same."

"Thanks, I appreciate it."

"No problem; now don't be stupid anymore; you're at your quota for the year."

"The year isn't over yet."

"I should've known you'd take it as a challenge," Jim said as he pulled on his coat. "I'm heading out early today; I'll see you around."

"Are you taking Sassy with you?"

"Of course; it wouldn't be any fun to skip out early without her…who do you think is going to cook dinner?"

Jeff laughed. "That's the reason you're getting married, isn't it?"

"It's not the only reason but it's in the top five."

"I don't doubt it. See you later."

"See you later…do the right thing."

"Whatever that is," Jeff quipped as they left the office and went their separate ways.

That evening after dinner, Jim and Johanna settled down on her couch to watch a movie on TV. He waited until she got comfortable and then glanced at her. "Why did you go tell Jeff that I lied about telling you to tell Maggie about his issue?"

Johanna met his eye. "Because I don't want him to be mad at you…especially when I play into it. It's better for him to just be mad at me and keep your friendship intact."

"He would've gotten over it after awhile."

"Maybe I didn't want to chance it," she replied; "Friendships change when people enter relationships…I don't want to be an issue between you and Jeff so I told him you had nothing to do with it."

"But I did."

"He doesn't believe you…and that's okay. I can take what he throws at me, I'm a big girl."

"I know," Jim answered; "But I don't want you to take the fall alone when I'm the one who encouraged you to tell her."

"Well, as Maggie says, sometimes you have to take one for the team…and this is one of those times," Johanna remarked. "I don't mind taking it all for you…it's better that way. Just let him believe me and one day, hopefully, he'll get over being mad at me and it'll all be fine again."

"I hope so, I feel bad that you're taking the blame for me."

"It's alright, honey…it'll all work out. Let's not think about it anymore tonight."

Jim nodded. "Alright."

"Do you think he'll go to Maggie's since she demanded his presence for dinner?"

"No; he'll be stubborn."

"Of course."

"Does she have a back up plan?"

"Yeah; she'll deliver it to his door."

"That'll be harder for him to refuse."

"At least we hope so," Johanna replied. "What are we doing tomorrow night? Are we going to the office party?"

He frowned. "If you want to…but honestly the idea doesn't appeal to me. Last year's party still leaves a bad taste in my mouth…I'd rather not return to the scene of that debacle just yet."

She laughed softly. "Well, honestly, I'm not sure I want to go either; not because of that but because Sharon and Phil will be catching pneumonia in Times Square and Jeff and Maggie are on the outs and probably won't show up. I know we have other friends who will be there but it's never the same without our little group."

"That's true," he replied; "So where does that leave us? Do you want to go watch the ball drop?"

"Are you crazy? It's going to be below freezing; I'm not standing out there to watch the ball drop in this weather we've been having. I went with Sharon to see it when we were in college and nearly froze then and it wasn't as cold that night as it's going to be tomorrow night."

"We are having a hell of a cold snap," Jim remarked; "Standing in Times Square doesn't sound too appealing at the moment and I definitely don't want you getting sick over foolishness; and honestly, I didn't want to go anyway."

"I don't want either one of us to be sick. We'll go out to dinner…somewhere nice."

He grinned. "I always take you to nice places."

"I know," she replied; "But I was thinking maybe one of those fancy holiday dinners at one of the hotels?"

A smile side across his lips. "While we're there, do you want to get a room?"

"At three times the usual cost? No way," she laughed. "If we need a room, we'll just come home."

"We always need a room," he quipped.

"Such smugness, Mr. Beckett."

"That's what you do to me, sweetheart."

She laughed. "So, are we set for dinner?"

"Yeah; if we can get in," Jim remarked; "We'll have to call around and see what we can get."

"If we can get in the Waldorf we could just stay there after dinner and listen to the band for awhile," Johanna told him.

"That would save us from going back out in the cold for awhile."

She met his eye, a small smile on her lips. "And you know, we don't have to stay out until after midnight…if we don't find the hotel party to our liking, we can always come home and have our own celebration."

"What would that entail?"

"Well, tomorrow morning we could go out and get a bottle of champagne to put in the fridge so it'll be chilled for us…and then when we get home tomorrow night, we can open it…light some candles, put on the record player or the radio…have the ball drop on TV in the background with the sound turned down…dance a little…wait for our midnight kiss," she said, a touch of seductiveness in her smile.

Jim smiled. "I like that idea a lot, sweetheart."

"So should we split our evening that way? Go out for a little while and then come back here before midnight?"

"Yeah; that sounds good," he admitted; wishing they had thought of the stay home option first.

"Or should we go to your place?" she asked; "It's my weekend to stay with you, I just remembered."

"Let's just stay here," Jim answered.

"How come?"

He shrugged. "I don't know; it just feels more cozy here."

"Alright, but to keep things fair, I'll spend the next two weekends at your place."

"I'm not worried about keeping it even, sweetheart; but its fine with me if you want to do it that way."

"At least we have our New Year plans settled," she stated; "But it'll be a little strange without everyone else."

"I know…I feel that way too; but it'll feel better once we're back here."

"You'd like to skip right to that part, wouldn't you?" she asked teasingly.

He grinned. "Well…I can't lie and say it isn't the more appealing part of the evening, but if you want one of those hotel dinners, that's what we're going to do…as long as we can get in."

"I think we'll be able to manage…most people either want to be out in Time Square or at one of the concerts. I know we can't get into any concerts; we would've needed tickets weeks ago."

"I'm fine with the plans we've made," Jim remarked; "I'm just relieved it's looking like a better New Year's Eve than last year…quieter and less chance of a fight."

She smiled. "The bonus of not going to the office party is not seeing Melanie."

"That's one of the reasons I suggested not going."

"Look at you being all slick like that," Johanna teased.

He grinned. "What can I say, it's a gift."

She moved closer and caught his lips in a kiss. "It must be one you acquired this year."

"Among other things," Jim replied as he tugged her against his side.

Johanna smiled as she snuggled against his side, knowing he meant their relationship. It was the one thing she was most grateful to acquire this year.


"Are you sure you want to go out tonight?" Jim asked late the next morning as he came into the apartment, a bag in hand. "It's freezing out there."

Johanna smiled as she watched his take off his coat. "I bought a dress."

"So freezing temperatures or not, we're going out?"

"Well…I would hate to waste that dress," she replied; "And we already agreed to come home early, so…I think we'll be alright for a little while. Did you get the champagne?"

"Right here," he said, holding up the paper bag. "It's probably already chilled from the just the trip to the door."

She laughed softly. "Put it in the fridge so it maintains that chill."

Jim gave her a teasing grin. "What am I, your slave boy?"

"Hey, I offered to go with you; you're the one who said 'no, stay here where it's warm, I'll get it."

"You just have to keep track of exact quotes, don't you?" Jim asked.

"Yes; a good lawyer does."

"I thought maybe you were practicing to be a wife…seems more like a wife thing," he remarked as he headed toward the kitchen.

"That too."

"That's what I thought. Any word from Maggie?"

"I just hung up from talking to her a few minutes ago," she said as Jim returned to the living room and sat down in the chair to take off his shoes.

"And?"

"Well, Jeff showed up, ate dinner, spent the night and then left this morning without a word about their relationship status…other than he's willing to go out with her tonight."

Jim glanced up at her, puzzlement on his features. "I'm not sure what to make of that."

"Neither does Maggie."

"So where are they going?"

"She doesn't know; she wanted to know if we were going to the office party and I told her we were skipping it this year."

Jim met her eye. "Did you tell her where we were going?"

She smiled a little. "Maybe…was I not supposed to?"

"No…but you know if they know where we are, they're going to show up…and then we're going to have to stay the whole time."

Johanna shook her head. "No, I told her we weren't staying out all night; that we were coming home early."

"And we're sticking to that," Jim declared.

"Yes, we are…I wouldn't change our plans just because they might show up."

"Alright then."

Johanna shook her head a small smile playing on her lips. "I'm just in all kinds of trouble this week every time I talk to Maggie. First Jeff and then you were ready to yell and complain…I could see it bubbling up within you…must be husband practice."

He laughed. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. You know I just hate for us to be interrupted when I plan on having you to myself."

"I know but I really doubt if they show up at the hotel. Maggie might want to sway him into going somewhere where it can be just the two of them so she can work on smoothing things over and that wouldn't happen if they were with us."

"That's a good point; hopefully they'll sort themselves out before the evening is over."

"We can hope," she replied. "What time are we leaving?"

"Seven…so you should probably starting getting ready now and then you might be done on time."

Her eyes narrowed at him. "I am not always late."

"No, not always…but sometimes."

"I'm sure I'll be on time tonight since I don't have work interfering."

"We'll see," he quipped.

"I guess we will," she replied; "You'd think you'd be in a more obliging mood since you got to sleep in this morning and I made you a nice breakfast."

Jim gave her a grin. "Yeah; but that was before I went out in the cold…maybe you need to warm me up."

She gave him a sassy smirk. "Well, darling, I would…but that might cause me to get behind on my day and then I'd be late tonight and I think my fiancé frowns on that."

"That's cold, Jo; very cold," he laughed.

She rose from the sofa and moved toward him, leaning down to capture his lips in a kiss. "That's what happens when you think you're funny," she teased. "I'm going to go get all my stuff out so it'll be ready when I start my preparations for our evening."

"You're going to be on time now just so you can say I told you so, aren't you?"

Johanna smiled. "Yes; that's what any good wife in training would do."

He laughed. "What would a husband in training do?"

"Learn his lesson good naturedly," she teased; "With the thought in mind that we have better games to play after midnight."

Jim gave her a grin. "That's what makes going out in the freezing cold worthwhile."

"I had a feeling you'd feel that way," Johanna remarked. "Do you have everything you need for tonight?"

"Yes, I have everything here. What time should we come home?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, how about ten or ten-thirty?"

"Sounds good," he replied. "It's a low-key celebration for us this year but hopefully that's the key to a peaceful one."

"I'm sure it will be," Johanna answered; thinking to herself that the only way it wouldn't be peaceful would've been if they had planned on going to the office party…where drama flowed as freely as the free champagne. She was glad to skip it this time around, she'd had more than enough the year before.


That evening, Jim smiled as he caught sight of Johanna making her way through the hotel ball room and back to their table. She was a vision in her ice blue cocktail dress, he thought to himself. It wasn't a color she wore often but he thought she looked beautiful in it…and she had been ready on time that evening; just to spite him, he was sure. He continued to watch, noting her graceful strides and the heads that turned, the eyes that admired her…but she paid them no attention, a smile coming to her lips as her gaze met his as she drew near.

"Did you miss me?" she teased as she returned to her seat.

"I always do," he quipped; "I thought maybe you got lost in the bathroom."

She gave him an amused smirk before taking a sip of her champagne. "There's a crowd, I had to wait my turn for the mirror."

"You don't need a mirror, sweetheart; you look beautiful."

"And you look very handsome as always," she replied, her fingers brushing against his thigh affectionately.

He smiled, capturing her hand and pressing a kiss to her palm before releasing it. Another year would be over in a few hours; but despite it's bumps along the way, it had been a good year…he had finally landed where he belonged and that was at Johanna's side, in the committed relationship he had been so afraid of in the beginning. He wasn't afraid now though, he thought, the sparkle of her diamond engagement ring catching his eye. No, he wasn't afraid…he was anticipating. It was somewhat strange to do so; to be so sure that marriage was right and wasn't being rushed…but he was sure…and he didn't think he was rushing. He'd made his decision and it was the right one; there would never be anyone else for him but the woman sitting next to him. He couldn't wait until he could call her his wife…looked forward to going home with her every day; waking up beside her every morning. It was right…and for that fact alone, the year would've been considered a success.

"You seem awful pensive all of a sudden," Johanna remarked, twirling the stem of her glass between her fingers as she broke through his thoughts. "Is anything wrong?"

"No, nothing's wrong, I was just thinking," Jim replied.

"Anything good?" she asked; "Or are you wishing we had spent New Year's Eve somewhere else?"

He smiled. "No; this place is fine."

"It's a little loud for the serious thinking you seemed to be doing."

"Well now you see what happens when you abandon me and go off to the bathroom for whatever it is you women do in there for what seems like forever."

Johanna smirked at him. "We think about the evening so far while touching up our makeup and decide if we're going home with our date later."

He laughed. "Oh yeah? How did I fare in the debate?"

"It's still fifty-fifty either way," she teased.

He shook his head, a teasing grin on his lips as he cradled his glass. "No, sweetheart; I think you miscalculated…it's a hundred percent in favor of going home with me."

She giggled. "That may be, but if I stick to the fifty-fifty publicly, it'll look like I made you work for it."

"I don't think anyone will ever accuse you of not making me work for it," he chuckled; "Besides, that ring on your finger pretty much tells the world you're going home with me."

Johanna glanced at the glittering diamond on her finger. "Well, I guess that's true," she said, smiling somewhat shyly. "Last New Year's Eve, I would've never thought that just a year later I'd have this."

His hand found hers and curled around it. "It's a good surprise though, right?"

She cupped his cheek and kissed him. "The best surprise."

Jim smiled, his hand squeezing hers. "I kissed you last year at midnight."

"I know…you told me that they say whatever it is you're doing at midnight is what you'll be doing for the next year and you didn't intend to spend it fighting with me."

"That's true," he remarked, a grin curving his lips upwards. "And we've done a lot of kissing this year."

Johanna gave him an amused smirk. "We did our share of fighting this year too."

"I guess it ended up being both ways," he laughed; "We were kissing and fighting last New Year's Eve and it followed us all year…but I think we got a handle on it now."

"Oh most definitely," she agreed; "But despite the bumps in the road; I think it's been a pretty good year…even if it did get off to a rocky start."

Jim laughed. "Yeah, we started the New Year hungover…and you upped the ante by slapping me."

"You shouldn't have kept trying to make a move on me when I was mad at you."

"Yeah; that was a lesson I learned quickly," he quipped.

She smiled sheepishly. "I am sorry about it though…I shouldn't have done that. I was just hurt and angry with you and you kept touching me and I didn't want you to because I didn't want to just give in like always."

He kissed her softly. "I know; and I should've backed off when you told me to, so really I brought that slap on myself. I should've known better."

"I guess we both learned a few things," she said, "At least we made it right…we had our New Year's do over at the cabin."

"Yeah; that was one of my better ideas," Jim remarked. "It was good, wasn't it?"

"It was, I loved it. It was just what we needed to hit that reset button. You made my birthday good too while we were in Albany."

"That was just as important to me as the case," he told her, his fingers rubbing against hers in a soft caress. "It was just us, I knew I had to make it just right…I wanted you to have a nice birthday."

"It was perfect."

Jim took a sip of his drink. "We almost crossed the line that night."

A soft smile touched her lips. "Oh I know…I regretted walking away."

His gaze met hers. "Maybe that's how it was supposed to be though…we had other things to work through first."

Johanna nodded. "I really thought you were going to leave me when you got that job offer…and I was so angry with you for it. I just couldn't stand the thought of you going."

"I admit to being overly flattered by the offer," he replied, shaking his head as he did so, his eyes meeting hers. "But I couldn't leave you, Jo. Every time I thought about not being able to see you every day…it just felt wrong in so many ways. No job, no matter the amount of money or the number of perks was worth losing you."

A glimmer of tears shone in her eyes as she squeezed his fingers. "When I came to your apartment that weekend…I kept telling you I had to tell you something."

"I remember…and I've always had a feeling it wasn't what you told me."

"It wasn't," she confessed. "I had come there with the intention of telling you that I loved you and asking you to stay here with me."

He stared at her for a long moment. "Why didn't you tell me?"

She smiled. "If you remember, you wouldn't let me get a word in edgewise," she said with a small laugh; "And by the time you were done, you had made your decision to stay and I chickened out."

"But why?"

"I guess because you had already made up your mind to stay…and maybe a part of me felt like I could just keep it to myself a little while longer. I think it might've been better that way; if you hadn't made up your mind without that declaration in mind, I would've always wondered if you regretted the decision…because I would've felt like I had been selfish and forced your hand."

"I would've never regretted it because even though I toyed with the idea and tried to convince myself it would be so great…I couldn't actually see me there. I kept seeing myself here…with you."

'I'm glad you didn't go…I don't know what I would've done if you had gone."

"It's not anything you'll ever have to worry about; my home is here with you…this is where I belong."

She slid closer so that she could settle against him, his arm going around her. "We had another fight not long after that…because of that incident at the bar with your brother; and then you were in that car accident and I was so scared because we hadn't spoken in days…and I didn't know if you were okay or not…I've never been so scared."

"It scared me too," Jim admitted. "The whole time I was thinking about that stupid fight and the things I had said…that I didn't want that to be what you were left with."

"Thankfully you weren't hurt badly," she murmured; "And we got through it."

"We did…we were good to go for our trip to Atlantic City with everyone else."

Johanna smiled. "That was a fun trip."

"Yeah, it was…you tormented me the whole time," he chuckled, pressing a kiss against her temple.

"Hey, I tried to give you what you wanted…it's not my fault Jeff ruined it."

His fingertips caressed her arm. "Yeah, I'm still not totally over his interference. I had you right where I wanted you and he just had to ring that damn phone."

She laughed. "I really did try to wait for you."

"Yeah…I really did try to wake you so we could pick up where we left off but you were no longer interested," he remarked.

"Well by then the moment had passed and I was too tired."

"I should've punched him," Jim mused. "I really should have."

A soft laugh crossed her lips. "Then you might've needed bail money."

"Worth it," he replied; "It would've been worth it."

She sighed softly, her lips brushing against his neck. "After Atlantic City…there was our big blow out."

Jim nodded. "Yeah…May was a rough one."

"Tell me about it."

"We didn't make it easy, did we, sweetheart?"

"You didn't," she remarked. "I wanted to discuss moving our relationship on to the next level and you wanted to fight."

"I felt blindsided."

"You shouldn't have."

"Why not?"

She shifted to look at him. "I had let you take most of my clothes off the week before; you should've seen it coming."

"In my defense, I was probably still thinking about you being half naked."

"You could've gotten the other half if you had just cooperated."

Jim smiled. "If you had told me that that night I might've cooled my heels a little."

"That's why I didn't tell you; I wanted you to love me for the right reason."

"I do, sweetheart."

"You keep practicing that phrase, honey," she quipped, her fingers trailing along his jaw.

He laughed. "Don't you worry, I've got it memorized. But back to May…I guess we had to do it the hard way."

"Yeah…that seems to be our way."

"But eventually we get it right."

"We do," Johanna replied; "May started off badly…but we got it right in the end."

"We did…in all the right ways…with all the sex we could manage to have," he quipped. "Before work, after work, a few lunch breaks."

Her laughter filled the air around them as she swatted his chest. "You could've mentioned the love, you know."

"The love is great too…it goes right along with the rest."

She shook her head at him. "I don't know what to do with you."

He gave her a grin. "You always say that and then we go home and you prove that you know exactly what to do."

"That's why you're marrying me, isn't it?" she asked with a laugh.

"No; it's not the first reason…but it is in the top five."

"The top five, huh? I didn't realize you had a list."

"Every man has a list," he replied; "I'll tell you what's on it one day."

"I'll hold you to that."

"You got it…but in all seriousness, I'm glad we finally got to where we need to be."

"Me too," she said softly. "We had a good summer…our first official date."

"Yeah…and my birthday, which was great because I got just what I wanted and that was to be with you," he told her.

"I'm glad I could make it good for you. Our vacation was good too."

"Not all of it," he replied.

"Our midnight swim was great," she stated, her tone light and flirtatious; "And the beach part of it was good."

Jim smiled. "Okay; you're right on those counts."

"Then there was our breakup," she said, her tone quieter.

His fingers entwined with hers. "I was stupid."

"So was I."

"It was more my fault than yours."

She laid her head against his shoulder. "All that matters is that we got past it and got back together."

"I'm thankful that you took me back," he replied.

"I wouldn't have it any other way…all I wanted was for you to come back."

"Sometimes it takes me awhile to wise up," he said with a small laugh.

"I'll pass on commenting on that," Johanna said wryly; "But the making up did lead to a pregnancy scare."

Jim smiled and patted her knee. "Don't worry; we'll get it right eventually and there will be a real baby in there the next time you suspect something."

"I certainly hope so, but I'm in no rush at the moment…I want to enjoy the moments as they come."

"Agreed, sweetheart. Thanksgiving was a disaster."

"The first one," she remarked; "But our do-over was really good."

"It was perfect…do-over holidays must be our thing," Jim replied.

"Maybe so…but the perfect follow up was this," she said, wiggling her ring finger so her diamond would catch the light.

Jim smiled. "Surprised you, didn't I?"

"You did," she answered; "You really did."

"I'm glad."

Her eyes sparkled with love and excitement of the promises her ring held. "Me too…it was perfect; and we had a good Christmas too."

"Yeah, we did…and here we are, New Year's Eve once again," he said, his thumb drawing circles on her bare shoulder.

"This year…it's been a hell of a ride," Johanna told him.

He nodded. "Yeah; it has been…and I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

"Me neither…and I'm looking forward to the next year."

"Me too," Jim said; silence falling for a moment. "What's your favorite month?"

"What?" she asked, puzzlement furrowing her brow as she glanced at him.

"What's your favorite month?"

"Why?"

"I just want to know."

"My favorite month," she said as she thought it over; "I guess I'll go with August."

"Why August?"

"Because when I think of the best part of summer, I tend to think of August for some reason. August feels like it takes its time…like it's not as rushed as June and July. It has a different feel to it. Beach trips are better in August too; the water is warmer then earlier in the season. It's also the month I take my vacation so that's a plus as well."

Jim gave her a smile. "Well, will August be alright then?"

"Alright for what?"

"To get married."

She stared at him with a touch of surprise; she really hadn't expected to have a conversation about setting the date while sitting in a nightclub on New Year's Eve. "This August coming?" she asked, needing clarification.

"That's what I was hoping…unless you wanted a longer engagement."

"No!" she exclaimed; fearful he'd change his mind. "August is fine…it's great actually."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, of course," Johanna replied, excitement growing within her.

"Will you have enough time to plan? It's only eight months away."

"It'll be fine," she remarked; "What is there really to do that takes so long? All I have to do is reserve a church…and a place for the reception…find a caterer…get a dress, flowers, music, rehearsal dinner, bridesmaids dresses…invitations…guest list…cake…," she trailed off, slight panic building within her.

"Maybe we should pick a different month," Jim suggested. "What about November?"

"No! I'm not getting married in November as fall is waning and the holiday season is kicking off; are you crazy?"

"Obviously," he laughed. "What about September? That's an extra month."

Her nose wrinkled. "Even though the majority of September is technically still summer; the fall colors and wardrobes start coming out and I am not a fan of dull fall colors and I won't have them at my wedding like Sharon had them at hers."

"Alright," he said with a nod; "I do see what you mean about the colors…I didn't really like the greens and oranges of Sharon's wedding décor."

"Neither did I."

"Maybe we should wait until the following summer."

"No! No need for that," she replied; if he was willing to get married sooner rather than later, he wasn't getting out of it after offering.

"You're sure?"

"Yes; positive," Johanna replied; "I'll unleash my mother and everything will be done on time and it'll all be fine. I'll start looking for a dress sometime this month. Reserving a church won't be difficult if we get married at the one my family has always gone to…would that be okay?"

"I'm fine with that. I already told you that we could be married by a Catholic priest like you wanted; we may as well do it the church you've always known. I'm sure it'll please your mother and like you said, it'll probably be easy to acquire it with your mother being a member in good standing."

She leaned close and caught his lips in a kiss. "Thank you."

"It's no problem, sweetheart. Having my mother walk into a Catholic church will be like a belated Christmas gift to myself."

Johanna laughed. "Has she gotten out of bed yet?"

"Oh yeah, she's up and around…still complaining. You want to go over tomorrow and surprise her for New Year's Day? Get her year off to a good start?"

She patted his knee. "No, I think I'll keep my distance for awhile longer but thanks anyway."

"That's probably smart of you."

"I think so too."

"So…now we know we want to get married in August, exact date to be narrowed down later…"

"I'm thinking mid August," Johanna remarked.

He nodded. "That sounds good; it'll give you a little extra time. So mid August and we know the church and we'll let your mother pick a favored priest."

She smiled. "We're off to a good start, aren't we?"

"We are…and we know we want a tropical honeymoon."

"Destination to be narrowed down later," she quipped.

"Right; but at least we have general ideas."

"We do…we're doing good, we've got this."

Jim smiled. "I want Jeff to be my best man…despite his past habits of interrupting…and his odd attitude this month."

She giggled softly. "I figured as much…I want Maggie to be my maid of honor."

"Not Sharon?"

"No…not after what she did to me; besides, I feel like Maggie has been there for me more than Sharon has been this year."

"I'm inclined to agree with you on that…but she'll be mad."

"I don't care; she can be a bridesmaid. I'm going to ask Maggie to be my maid of honor."

"I think it's a good choice," he told her; "And I'm not just saying that because I pick Jeff as best man…although we better hope they're back together by the time we need them for these roles."

"I'm sure it'll be worked out before then."

"I hope so."

"We should have Angie and Alicia be our flower girls," she told him. "Do you think they'd like that?"

"Are you kidding? Angie will be over the moon."

"Do you think Michael and Natalie will let them?"

"Of course they will…is Greg too little to be in the wedding?"

"Well, they say the ring bearer should be three to eight years old…and he'll be turning three a couple weeks after the wedding…but I think he could handle it. I want Valerie to be one of my bridesmaids, if nothing else, he could walk with her so she can make sure it goes smoothly if it looks like he'd need help."

He nodded. "That sounds good…because I think he should be in the wedding; he's important to you."

"He is…but with him and the girls, will Mikey and Danny feel left out?"

"Maybe we can find something they can do; even if it's something we make up."

"Maybe Mom will have a suggestion," she replied; "I'll ask her."

"You do that," he told her; "I'm sure she'll know something they can do."

Her fingers curled around his, her lips brushing against his cheek. "Let's go home," she murmured.

"I thought you wanted to listen to the band for awhile."

Johanna smiled softly. "It's not my kind of band."

"Mine neither," he agreed. "But the dinner was good."

"It was…but let's take our party favors they gave us, go home and open up our bottle of champagne and turn on our kind of music."

He smiled. "I could've just bought you one of those tiaras when I got the champagne and we could've stayed home."

"I bought a dress," she stated; "When I buy a dress, I have to wear it out…we had dinner, we danced a little…now I'm ready to take you and my tiara and go home…unless you want to stay."

"No!" he exclaimed; "I'm fine with heading home now…we're an hour earlier than intended and I'm fine with that."

Johanna laughed. "I figured you would be."

"I am; grab your little tiara and let's go before you change your mind."

She picked up her small purse and the party favor, taking his hand as he rose first. "Next year, let's go somewhere more fun," she told him.

Jim nodded. "We'll arrange that…hopefully all of our friends will be on speaking terms."

"And not standing in Times Square freezing to death," she added as they moved through the ballroom.

"If you and Sharon did the Times Square thing in college, why the hell did she want to do it again tonight?"

Johanna smirked at him. "Because she hasn't done it with Phil," she said, imitating her friend's voice.

"Oh for God's sake," he muttered. "Now she and Phil can get pneumonia together."

"That's one marriage milestone I don't want to put on our agenda," Johanna replied.

"Good, because we're not."

"Now if we'd happen to have a mild winter one year…then I might consider standing in Times Square with you."

"Deal," Jim remarked as they headed for the desk to collect their coats.


Later that night, in the dim candlelight of the kitchen, Jim felt somewhat silly dancing with Johanna…but she had requested it sweetly; and he found that he could deny her nothing when she was barefoot, still clad in her icy blue dress and bathed in the glow of the candles. It was silly…and yet perfect too, he decided as they swayed to the sound of their song on the radio. He smiled and nuzzled her hair, breathing in the soft scent of strawberries.

"We're going to have to find a different song to dance to at our wedding," Johanna murmured softly.

"Why?" he asked. "That's our song…it's been our song since before we were together as a couple."

"I know; and it'll always be our song…but technically it's a breakup song…and I don't think we want our first dance at our wedding to be to a breakup song."

"Well…it was the first song we danced to period and we've done pretty well up to this point."

"I know…and it's not that I don't want us to dance to it at our wedding; it's just that breakup stigma that people think of when they think of this song. I just think we might have to use something else…and I don't like the thought of it either; but do we want to hear six weeks of people saying 'your first dance as husband and wife was to a breakup song?"

"When you put it that way…"

"Can you just imagine your mother; she'd say it was omen," Johanna stated; "Hell my mother might say it's an omen, she gets into all those superstitions when there's a wedding. I'm not saying we can't dance to it at all…just not as the first dance."

Jim nodded. "I see your point…and as long as we can dance to it later in the reception, then I'm fine with finding something else for the first dance…but it doesn't replace our song."

Her fingers played with the hair at the nap of his neck. "Nothing will ever replace our song…or the way I feel when I hear it. It's ours forever."

He dipped his head and captured her lips in a long slow kiss. "I feel the same way."

"I'm glad…and we don't have to make any final decisions tonight."

"That's right; we've got time to figure everything out."

She nodded. "Yeah; but for the moment it's fun to think about and start getting little ideas…I probably won't be saying that a few months from now when planning is in full swing."

Jim laughed quietly. "Because you'll be stressed by it?"

"Most likely…just don't let me get to Colleen and Sharon's level. I don't want to be like them at all."

"I won't let it happen, sweetheart. I promise I'll pull you back from the brink."

"Thank you."

He smiled and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "You're going to be a beautiful bride."

"Only if wedding fashion has improved since I went shopping with Sharon for her wedding."

He laughed. "I'm sure you'll find something to your liking…even if we have to have it designed and made. I want you to have whatever it is you want; but no matter what, you're still going to be a beautiful bride."

A light blush spread across her cheeks. "You're going to be a handsome groom."

Jim kissed her once more. "This time next New Year's Eve, we'll have been married for a few months."

A smile spread across her lips, her eyes lighting up. "Yeah, I guess so," she said softly, a touch of wonder in her voice at the idea. "Sometimes I wonder if I'm dreaming all of this."

Jim shook his head, his mouth brushing over hers once more. "You're wide awake…and I hope it'll be better than a dream."

"I'm sure it will be," she murmured before drawing him back for another kiss.

A loud knock sounded on the door, making them pull apart. "Who the hell is that?" Jim muttered as he glanced at his watch. "It's 11:45."

Johanna shrugged as they made their way toward the living room. "I don't know…I didn't invite anyone if that's what you're thinking."

"Of course not," he said, another knock sounding as she released the locks on the door. He gently nudged her away and opened the door halfway to see who was outside.

"Happy New Year, Buddy!" a grinning Jeff Campbell declared.

"I should've known," Jim said with a shake of his head. "I should have known."

"Aren't you glad to see me?" he asked jovially. "Look what I brought with me," he added, tugging Maggie to his side.

"He's a little drunk," Maggie declared as Johanna appeared in the doorway as well.

"Drunk on happiness," Jeff stated; "You gonna let us in?"

"Do I have to?" Jim asked.

"Course you do; it's a holiday," his friend declared.

Johanna stifled a giggle and forced the door open further despite Jim's grip on it. "Of course you can come in."

Jeff half stumbled in the door, dragging Maggie with him. "What's going on in here," he asked, noticing the candle light and the glasses of champagne. "Are you practicing for your honeymoon?"

Jim smirked at him. "No, not yet; but we're going to make sure our honeymoon takes place somewhere where you can't find us and interrupt."

His friend grinned. "What are you implying?"

"That you're a habitual interrupter."

Jeff glanced at Maggie. "Did he just call me a bitch?"

"No, sweetie; he said 'habitual."

"Habitual," he repeated. "That's a funny word."

Johanna laughed. "How much as he had to drink?"

"I lost count," Maggie replied; "I am sorry though for interrupting your evening but he just wouldn't hear of not coming here once he thought up the idea."

"It's alright," Johanna assured before shifting her gaze to Jeff. "But I thought you were mad at me, Jeff."

Jeff opened his arms and moved toward her. "I forgive you; come here, give me some sugar."

"I don't know if I should," she said, holding out a hand to stop him. "You were calling me names earlier."

He gave her a lopsided grin. "But you know I love you, Sassy. You know you're my little sister. I have to call you names once in awhile or I'm not being a good brother."

"Well when you put it that way," she laughed.

"Come on," he said, his arms open once more. "Give brother Jeff some sugar."

She moved toward him and accepted his hug, wondering if he'd change his mind about his good nature toward her once he sobered up.

"What are you doing here?" Jim asked; casting a glance at the TV to see how close they were to the countdown.

"I had to share my good news," he declared.

"What good news?" Johanna asked.

"I'm getting married," Jeff announced. "My Mags is going to slap the ole ball and chain on me."

"Really?" Jim asked.

"Uh huh; tell them Mags."

"We came to an agreement," Maggie stated.

"When are you getting married?" Johanna asked.

"Some day," Jeff stated.

"Some day?"

"Some day in the next three years," Maggie said with a laugh.

"Three?" Jim repeated; his gaze moving to his friend. "I thought I suggested five."

Jeff nodded. "I tried five; she talked me down to three…that damn talking, remember, we talked about women and their talking…anyway, I get to pick when to propose though, because I'm the man."

Jim couldn't help but laugh. "Oh yeah? Did she check and make sure?"

He grinned. "She's thoroughly examined me many times and declared me a fine specimen."

"Are you sure?"

"Positively…but three is good, right? Because you got to get married first; that's what we agreed on, right?" Jeff asked.

"What?" Maggie and Johanna asked at the same time.

Jim waved a dismissive hand at them. "It's nothing; don't worry about it."

"You are getting married first, aren't you?" Jeff inquired.

"Yes, Jeff; I'm going to go first, just like I told you."

"Okay then; it's all set. Everyone is getting married...and it's not a terminal illness."

Johanna's brow rose as she glanced at Jim. "I'll explain that later; it's not what you think," he told her.

"That's good," she replied before giving her attention to Maggie. "Did he agree about marriage before or after the drunkenness set in?"

"Before…and I had to promise him that my father will never live with us and I won't force them to interact more than necessary and I won't allow my father to cut me off from the family. I agreed, we said sometime in the next three years and then the drinks came and he didn't stop until he decided to come find the two of you."

Johanna stepped closer to her friend and hugged her. "Well I'm happy the two of you worked things out."

"I told you I wouldn't accept anything less," Maggie replied; a sparkle in her blue eyes. "And I managed to do it before the year was over."

Johanna laughed. "You did; good for you."

"Good for both of us; we've both caught our men this year," Maggie declared with amusement.

"True…and Jim and I have decided to get married in August."

"That's great," Maggie said with a smile. "I'm happy for the two of you."

"What August?" Jeff asked.

"This summer; don't worry, it's still before you."

His friend smiled. "Okay then, I'm happy for you, buddy."

"I'm glad," Jim said with a laugh. "Are you too drunk to agree to be my best man?"

"Hell no," Jeff stated; "I already knew I was best man."

"Oh you did?"

"Of course; who else would it be…it definitely wasn't going to be Phil…Phil, Phil, the sleeping pill."

"I have to remember that one," Johanna declared as she laughed.

"You could've at least acted surprised," Jim told his friend.

"Okay, I'm surprised and I'll be a good best man…I'll find the best strippers for the bachelor party."

"I'm going to ignore that statement," Johanna said as she met Maggie's eye.

"Me too," Maggie remarked.

"But since you're here," she went on, a smile touching her lips, "Will you be my maid of honor?"

"Me?" Maggie asked, her eyes widening slightly.

"Yeah…I want you to be my maid of honor…but if you don't want to, I'll understand," Johanna replied; although she knew a rejection would sting.

"Oh, no," Maggie exclaimed, a smile coming to her lips; "I'd love to be your maid of honor…I just assumed that job would go to Sharon."

She shook her head. "A long time ago, I thought she would hold that role but not now…you've been here for me more this year than she has been. You're my best friend just as much as Sharon…and I want you to be my maid of honor."

Maggie pulled her into a hug. "I accept…I'll be happy to do it…I'm excited."

Johanna laughed softly as she returned her hug. "I'm excited too."

"Look at em, Jim," Jeff said; "They're all happy."

"Yeah; they're happy…and we're happy, right?" he asked his friend, a bit of teasing in his tone.

"Of course we are; they're nice when they're happy…that makes us happy."

"You're so drunk," Jim commented.

"I know, isn't it great," Jeff said with a grin. "Why aren't you drunk?"

"Because I don't need to be," he laughed.

"It's almost time for the ball to drop," Johanna said, her gaze on the screen. "Let's get some champagne and wait for the countdown.

Jim grabbed the glasses from the coffee table and followed her into the kitchen to refill them with the champagne they had on ice and to get glasses for their unexpected company.

Johanna smiled as she met his eye while he poured the champagne. "Don't worry, I'm sure they won't stay long," she whispered.

"Am I wrong for hoping you're right?"

"No, of course not. We have plans and you want to stick to them…and we will after they're gone."

"Do you think Jeff will still stick to his plan with Maggie when he sobers up?" Jim whispered.

"He better hope so," she stated as she picked the glasses for their guests while Jim carried their glasses.

"Thirty seconds," Maggie declared as they entered the room.

"It's almost here," Jeff said as he took his glass from Johanna. "Jim's last months as a single man."

"Hey, don't forget, you're right behind me," Jim told him.

"Right," Jeff stated; "But you go first."

"That's very important, isn't it?" Maggie asked.

Jim smiled at her. "You can thank me later."

"For what?"

"For getting through to him," Jim laughed.

"Just roll with it," Johanna told her. "All that matters is that it worked."

"Right," Maggie stated. "Ten seconds left."

They countdown with the announcer on the screen, watching the ball drop as 1976 faded into 1977. "Happy New Year," Jim murmured in Johanna's ear before kissing her.

"Happy New Year," she replied, clicking her glass against his. "I hope it's one of our best."

"It will be, I promise you that," Jim remarked.

"Of course it's going to be one of the best," Maggie stated after swallowing a sip of champagne. "It's now the year you get married," she declared.

A shy smile crossed Johanna's face, butterflies filling her stomach. "Yeah, that's true…I can't wait."

"It's going to be good," her friend assured; "Better than that, we'll make it perfect."

"That sounds good," Johanna said as Jim's arm slid around her waist. "And then will get to work on your wedding."

"Right," Maggie said, smiling as she glanced at Jeff. "Is that okay with you?"

"Sure, Babe; whatever you want," he told her. "But Jim has to go first; we agreed on that."

Maggie patted his chest. "He'll go first, I promise…now let's go home and let them enjoy their night…and we can enjoy the rest of ours."

Jeff grinned and finished his champagne. "Okay, let's go."

Maggie finished her drink as well and sat the glasses on the stand. "Happy New Year, sorry for barging in on your evening."

"It's no problem," Johanna assured; "Be careful getting home."

"We will be."

"Can you get him back to the car?" Jim asked; "Do you need help?"

"No, we'll make it," Maggie stated, her hand wrapping around Jeff's arm. "Won't we, stud?"

"I'm with you, muffin," he replied; "See you all in the funny papers."

They said their goodbyes and shut the door, Johanna laughing as she put the locks in place. "What the hell does see you in the funny papers mean?"

"I have no idea," Jim stated as his arms wrapped around her. "I'm just glad they're over their spat."

"Me too…everything is back to normal," she replied.

"Right down to the interruption," he quipped.

She laughed softly before stealing a kiss. "Well, now that we're alone again…shall we go get our year started right?"

Jim took her hand, his finger's entwining with hers. "Right behind you, sweetheart…maybe we'll set a precedent for year's to come."

Johanna gave him a sassy look. "Knowing us, it's almost a given."

He smiled, following her to the bedroom he was thinking of more as theirs than just hers lately. It was going to be a good year…he wouldn't accept anything less.

A/N: I'm sensing Elizabeth's return in the next chapter…