A/N: Oh my GOODNESS, this is the end! I can't believe I typed The End to this story! Ahh it's been quite a journey... trust me, haha. Enjoy! :-)
Epilogue – One Month Later
"Ashley? Ashley!" Jess barked impatiently.
I gritted my teeth and told myself repeatedly: I will be nice to her. She's my sister. I promised my dad. "Yeah?" I asked her once I had calmed down.
"Where are the flowers?" she demanded as Angela, Maggie, and Christina fussed over her wedding dress. Mom looked on approvingly from a safe distance away.
"I'll go find them!" I said, eager to escape and excited to get the hell out of there before I got into trouble or said the wrong thing. My mom narrowed her eyes at me, obviously seeing right through me, but let me go.
I exited the small room reserved for the bride and entered the main room of the church. The library was quiet but the madness started in the foyer of the church, where a lot of people were scurrying around, doing last minute preparations for the ceremony. I finally caught sight of Alex, Mark's best man, walking away, and called his name. He turned around curiously. "Where are the flowers?" I asked him hopefully.
"Check in the kitchen," he replied before hurrying away.
I turned and walked over to the small kitchen off the foyer of the church. I pushed the door open, stopped short, and then yelped, "Come on!"
Cody and Olivia jumped apart. The image of them making out made me want to bleach my eyeballs. "Sorry dude," he grunted, looking slightly chagrined.
"Gross." I muttered and then caught sight of the bouquets. "I just want the flowers." I jabbed my finger at them, avoiding their eyes. Seriously, it's not like I haven't seen it before, but Cody is like the little brother I never had who (fortunately) lives in a different house. And, as any sibling can tell you, watching your sibling making out with someone else is not fun.
"See ya." Olivia muttered and then forced a smile at me as she exited.
I forced a weak smile back and then turned to Cody. "So Tessa is still going crazy?" I asked him as I gathered the bouquets together.
"Yeah… she won't let it go." Cody nodded. We were speaking of Nate's now ex-girlfriend, who had taken up a personal vendetta against a girl named Amanda… who was the second girl that Nate had cheated on Tessa with. "Poor Amanda," he added sympathetically.
"Yeah, really." I agreed softly, fully knowing how she felt (obviously).
"Hey, come on, Ash…" He sighed, leaning against the counter. "Olivia is trying."
"Hey! I am too!" I complained.
"I know…" he trailed off and sighed again.
"I need to get these to Jess before her head explodes." I announced quickly and then left the kitchen. I hurried along, smiling tightly at the assorted guests who were already beginning to arrive, and finally entered the quiet library. I almost breathed a sigh of relief when someone abruptly grabbed me from behind and then buried their face in my neck. "Caleb!" I burst out laughing as my body molded against his.
"Hey pretty girl," he said lowly in my ear before kissing my temple from behind.
"Don't mess up my hair." I warned him as I pulled away and turned around so that I could face him.
"I didn't," he promised before beaming softly at me. "You look beautiful, Ash."
"Thanks." I smiled back. "You look pretty handsome in your suit." I pointed out as I admired him.
"ASHLEY!" Jess bitched in the distance.
"Go," he said softly, pushing me gently back as my eyes raked over his styled hair and black tie suit. I couldn't resist, I leaned back in to kiss him again.
As I did so, I heard my dad sigh. "Ten minutes left, Ashley," he told me, sounding long suffering.
I pulled away and then beamed up at my boyfriend. "I'll see you after the ceremony." I said quietly. He nodded without taking his eyes off me as I backed away, grinned, and then took off again.
The second I entered the room, Jess bitched, "Finally!" at the sight of me with my arms full of the flowers.
"Calm down." I tried to soothe her, although I knew it wouldn't do much.
Sure enough, she barked in reply, "Forget it." I decided it would best if I distanced myself from her. Making her commit a homicide would definitely ruin her (and Mark's) day.
"Jess!" Maggie gasped breathlessly as she adjusted Jess's veil. "You look amazing!" she cooed and then sent me a furtive smirk. Ahh, yes…
After I had quit/been banned from the wedding, Jess had appointed her favorite cousin Maggie to be her new maid of honor. Maggie had counted it as a victory over me since I had gotten Caleb… although I had really had him all along. It hadn't made me all that happy to hear Caleb admit, "We made out a few times," after we had officially started dating, but what could I do? I knew that Caleb had wanted me all along but I couldn't expect a teenage boy to remain celibate while he waited (without knowing he would even get anything from waiting).
Maggie, however, saw the making out with him as Caleb almost being her boyfriend, and was still mad that I had "stolen" her almost boyfriend (not).
"Five minutes, Jess." Dad entered the room just then, undoubtedly waiting until the last minute to jump into the fray.
The rest of the girls squealed excitedly as I waited patiently next to my mom, who fondly looked on before turning to me and gently patted me on the back.
"Ashley?" Jess barked. Oh great. Everyone turned to look at me as she stared, wide-eyed, at me.
I cautiously edged closer. What had I done now? "What is it?" I asked her.
Her breathing was uneven and her eyes were too wide. "I…" she began haltingly. "I can't…" and then I understood.
"Calm down." I said firmly, recognizing the signs of an epic panic attack that was coming on.
"It's too soon," she squeaked out, which sent her other bridesmaids into a tizzy ("Too soon?" "Too much?" "What is it, Jessie?").
"Jess." I said firmly and grabbed her by her shoulders, remembering that she only liked talking to me when she knew that I would be honest with her. "It's you and Mark. You love each other. It's time to start your life with him."
The room went silent and filled with tension. I could practically hear my dad totaling up the cost of the wedding in his head as everyone else waited with abated breath. But it wouldn't have been Jess's wedding unless there was at least one epic meltdown.
The uncertainty and panic vanished just as suddenly as it had appeared in Jess's eyes. We shared a moment of understanding, maybe the first in our lives. "It's us," she whispered. I nodded as I released her shoulders and backed away. She looked past me, at our parents, and then became brisk. "Let's do this," she said as she picked up her bouquet. The other girls rushed around her.
"Thank you." Dad muttered under his breath.
"Sure." I nodded.
Twenty minutes later, we were watching my dad walk Jess down the aisle. Her fear, uncertainty, and terror was completely gone… it was like it had never been there. I knew Mark would never know and that made me glad, as I watched him beam at her. At least, even though she was a pain in the ass almost all the time, Jess would be happy.
Caleb winked at me from where he sat with his parents.
After the ceremony, barrage of pictures, the meal, and all the special dances, I slung my arms around Caleb's neck as we slow danced. "So… is this practice?" he asked me quietly.
"For what?" I asked, confused.
"For when I take you to the prom?" he suggested, expression quietly happy.
I blinked in surprise and then beamed up at him. "Yeah." I agreed softly.
He smiled down at me. "Great," he said quietly and then pulled me closer, ducking his head down so that his lips just barely brushed my shoulder. A shiver ran down my spine.
I caught sight of Cody and Olivia over Caleb's shoulder. Olivia was happily pressed against Cody's chest but his attention was not on her… it was in the distance. I followed his eyesight, mildly curious, and was stunned to see Nate in the doorway out to the courtyard, staring right at me.
I jolted and Caleb pulled back. "Are you okay?" he asked me curiously.
I nodded, moving closer, and then peeked over Caleb's shoulder at Nate. He pointed at me and then gestured for me to come to him. What the hell did he want?
"Ash?" Caleb pulled back again and looked down at me, clearly concerned. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." I nodded jerkily, which we both knew was a lie because I could feel that my eyes were too wide and my breathing was too fast.
He stopped dancing all together and gently held me. His voice sounded far away as he asked me, "What's wrong?" as my head spun.
What the hell was Nate doing here? Why would he come here? What did he want from me?
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: He was here because Tessa was gone and I was the next best thing. Or maybe I had been the best thing all along and he had just realized it.
I looked up at Caleb's concerned face and saw the love in his eyes. He was here… he had been here all along, he had wanted to be here all along, and it wasn't because he had just figured out that I was the best thing. He knew that I was the best thing that had happened to him and he had known that for a while.
I wrapped my arms around him as my panic attack slowed while I moved in closer to him. His eyes widened slightly in surprise. "I'm sorry." I muttered. "I'm okay."
I felt, as well as saw, him relax. "Yeah?" he clarified softly.
"Yeah." I agreed. He began to slowly move again and ducked his head. "I love you." I whispered finally in his ear.
He pulled back once again and looked down at me, only a little surprised. Maybe he had known that all along too. "I love you too," he smiled down at me. I smiled back before he kissed me.
It was over.
I smiled against Caleb's lips.
It was all over.
A/N: It's all over! Woot! Haha... let me just say that this has been quite a story to write... especially since this is based briefly on my own experience. Yes, I was Ashley at one point, two years ago, and there was a real-life Cody, Nate, Olivia, and Tessa (my cousin, my cousin's best friend, my cousin's girlfriend at the time, and her best friend at the time). This story was especially hard for me to write because it brought a LOT of bad memories back... even though it was over two years ago and I have since moved on with the best boyfriend ever (we've been together for two years and counting!).
If I hadn't reined this story in like I was advised too (wow, it got long, right?), there would have been so much more! There would have been more Cameron, Ashley would have seen Cameron cheating on her at a party, she would have had another drunken makeout session with Caleb, things would have been more awkward, Lili and Tyler would have forced Caleb and Ashley to go on a surprise double date with them, and THAT would have been what had finally gotten them together. That would have been another (at least) five chapters! Not to mention I was going to have Jess really flip out and leave Mark at the alter, Caleb and Ashley would have taken care of Mark the night after Jess leaves him, and then Jess and Ashley would have had a bonding session after she had gotten home the next day. THAT would have been at least 5 MORE chapters. See? This is what happens when you don't map our your story in advance and allow yourself to get swept away...
Speaking of mapping out stories, I'm working on a new one and I'm stoked! I can't stop thinking about it and it's nothing like this one... meaning that at 21, I feel old writing high school romances, so I'm moving on and up!
For the few reviews that I got before posting this:
Gigi: Whatever, Maggie is Maggie!
AbbeyEileen: I'm glad that you like it! I really like Nice Guy too... although I think The Search for Something More is my favorite.
So, that's it!
a smile that explodes