And now, I wonder if there can be a happily ever after…
"Madeline? Is that you?" the voice exclaimed, making me stop in my tracks.
I didn't need to look. I didn't need the visual confirmation. Even after years without contact, I would recognize that voice anywhere.
"Jeez, it really is you," he muttered, appearing out of a group of business-like people. I should have kept going, but I couldn't. Instead, I just watched as he excused himself to come towards me.
"Ethan Pierce," I sighed, unsure of what else to say. My mind felt like a completely blank slate except for when it came to the man before me.
I tried to remember the last time we saw each other, the last time we had spoken to each other. It was a long time ago, and I knew I had only myself to blame. I had been a fool to push away my best friend. At the time, I believed that it would make things easier, but in the end, I only hurt him and myself.
"God, you look just like I remember you," he remarked, looking unsure of whether or not he was allowed to hug me.
I thought of the way I looked back then and took his words as a compliment, "Thanks Ethan. You look pretty not bad yourself."
He chuckled at this, "Same old Mad."
"Sounds about right," I replied lightly, feeling uncomfortable.
I swear he was feeding off of my awkwardness. He just smiled strangely at me, "How are you, Madeline?"
Like I'm a nervous wreck who has no clue what to do, I wanted to say. Then it hit me, this was Ethan, I was talking to. It was exactly what I said.
And in true Ethan fashion, he just laughed at me.
"What about you?" I asked, shifting awkwardly.
Amusement sparkled in his hazel eyes, "I guess we're still pretty in tune with each other. I can honestly say that I feel the same right now."
I laughed a little, but my discomfort did not ease.
"So what have you been up to? It's been a while," he asked, his voice full of genuine curiosity, "It's been what, five years since we've talked?"
"Yeah, just about," I muttered guiltily, "I've been doing what I can, you know? Work is pretty much my priority in life."
"Of course," he chuckled, "I'm not surprised in the slightest."
"And you?" I asked, "What are you up to? How's your mom?"
"She's no longer Mrs. Pierce," he informed me with a grin, "But otherwise, both of us have been great."
"Your mom got remarried?" I asked in surprise, forgetting my awkwardness for a moment.
"Yeah, she did," he replied, still with the amusement in his face, "About a year ago."
"Oh wow, tell her I said congratulations," I said, remembering his mother fondly.
"I will. She'll be glad to hear it, I know."
I stared at him, remembering our circumstances, and feeling uncomfortable once more, "Shouldn't you get back to work, Ethan?"
Turning to glance at his co-workers chatting amicably across the street, Ethan just shrugged, "We just landed a big deal and we were going to go celebrate."
"Oh, well I don't want to interrupt," I muttered, awkwardly rubbing the back of my neck.
"What are you doing right now?" he inquired, staring at me as though he were trying to read me.
"Well, I'm done for the day," I replied, shifting under his gaze, "I was just going to head home."
A broad grin spread across his face and he yelled to his co-workers to go on without him. They all nodded and walked off. Turning back to me, he smiled, "Want to get some coffee or something? I'd like to catch up. And besides, I always did enjoy celebrating with you, Mad."
I felt at a loss for words. I had imagined that Ethan Pierce was angry with me or something. Oh, how wrong I was. I guess I should have known better. Ethan was too good of a guy to hold a grudge or to ignore me. And if he felt the slightest bit uncomfortable or awkward, he wasn't showing it to me.
The only thing I noticed that was different between us was the lack of physical contact. He hadn't tried to hug me or throw an arm around me. He hadn't tried to pull my hair or poke me. We didn't even shake hands. I knew he was still waiting for me for an ok, but I couldn't give it.
"Since when do you drink coffee?" I asked, clearly remembering how much he hated coffee.
Leading me to the nearest café, Ethan shrugged and smiled at me, "Since I became a working man. Now come on, I know you can't resist coffee."
I laughed a little at that. The statement was just so true, no matter how much time had passed.
"Madeline, you really do look amazing," he complimented, without taking his eyes off of me.
"You do too, Ethan," I finally admitted.
We lapsed into another silence before Ethan spoke again, "So, are you seeing anyone?"
"I see lots of people," I scoffed, causing Ethan to roll his eyes, "But I don't have a boyfriend, if that's what you mean. I just got out of a relationship so I'm free as a bird. And you?"
"Nope, no boyfriend," he replied, his eyes sparkled with amusement though his tone tried to be serious, "But no girlfriend either, if that's what you mean, not a serious one, at least."
I rolled my eyes at him, "Well, you should work on that if you want to infest the world with little Ethans."
"Oh yes," he remembered with a slight smiled, "My plan for world domination."
"You were such a dork," I laughed.
He stared at me as I laughed and once I noticed, another wave of silence invaded our conversation. It was definitely awkward to say the least.
"I went to your college graduation, Mad," he confessed, so suddenly that my mind went blank again.
Frowning at my lack of response, he just kept talking, "I was there. I watched you get your diploma, and I thought you looked beautiful."
I didn't say anything. I couldn't.
"I know it had been years since we had talked, but I truly thought I deserved to be there, so I went. I even got you a bouquet of flowers," he continued.
"The bouquet of sunflowers," I muttered, remembering the beautiful flowers I had found on my doorstep after I returned home from the graduation ceremony, "Those were from you?"
Of course they were. Only Ethan would've given me a bouquet of sunflowers. Deep down, I had known it was from him, but I simply refused to admit it. And yet, I never would've guessed that he had actually attended my graduation.
Ethan nodded with a slight smile, "I'm glad you got them."
"Why didn't you find me?" I asked, though I felt stupid for doing so. I never would have found him if the situation had been reversed. I didn't have the nerve.
"You pretty much avoided me since our little incident that summer," he remembered, sounding a bit hurt.
His mention of it all stung me, but it probably killed him just as much, if not worse.
"I'm sorry, Ethan," I sighed after a moment, feeling ashamed, "For all the things I said and did, or didn't do, that summer."
Ethan smiled weakly at me, "It's ok, Mad."
"No, it's not," I whispered, barely loud enough for him to hear me, "I shouldn't have pushed you away. I didn't mean to destroy our friendship. It was the biggest regret of my life. I should've realized that eventually, my actions would break us."
"It was my fault too," he sighed, "I could've fought back harder than I did. I shouldn't have let you push me away, and besides, I don't think I handled our last fight very well."
I remembered watching Ethan as he walked out the door of his apartment. After shedding my tears, I was determined to go home and pretend like nothing had ever happened, but it did. I left and I ignored his calls and avoided his visits. I was awful at pretending that nothing had happened.
"No Ethan, I was stubborn and stupid. I should have waited for you to come back. Maybe things would've been different if I had waited," I insisted, knowing he was just trying to be gallant by taking some of the blame. It was my fault. I had already come to terms with that.
"Well," he argued, "I probably shouldn't have left in the first place."
I shook my head fervently, "I don't blame you for leaving and you did try to make things right afterwards, but like I said, I was stupid and stubborn."
Waving away my words, he smiled at me, "What's done is done. No need to dwell in the past."
"I guess so," I sighed. I looked up at him and admired his dark hair and hazel eyes, "Thank you, Ethan, for coming to my graduation and bringing me flowers. It means a lot to know that you were there despite everything."
"Of course I was, Mad," he said softly, "I was in love with you, remember?"
I was stunned. "Even after four years, you still loved me?"
Ethan chuckled softly as he looked at me, "God Mad, even after all this time…"
I stared at him, waiting for him to continue. I didn't know what I was expecting, but I couldn't find anything at all to say or do.
"I wasn't kidding when I said I loved you. It wasn't just a naïve, childhood crush, Mad," he murmured, staring deep into my eyes to get me to understand, "It was the real deal. I don't believe something like that could just disappear."
"Ethan," I began.
Raising a hand to cut me off, Ethan smiled, "It's something that still hasn't disappeared. I'll always love you, Madeline, even if you don't love me back. All I need from you is at least your friendship."
I knew I was blushing, but my mind went spinning as I stared at him.
I remembered the day he rescued me from the rain. I remembered the day he promised to accompany me to my late best friend's funeral. I remembered the day he protected me from the pain Donovan left me with. I remembered the day I was forced to say goodbye to him. I remembered the day he surprised me at my graduation. I remembered the day he left me alone in his apartment. And finally, I remembered everything I had felt when I saw him again.
Before I realized what I was doing, I was reaching across the table to place a hand on each side of Ethan's face. "I love you too, Ethan," I whispered, gently brushing my lips against his, "I always have. I was just too stupid and stubborn to realize it."
The surprised expression on Ethan's face gave way to one of happiness as he captured my lips with his.
"If this is a dream," he finally whispered, once we pulled apart softly gasping for air, "Then I hope I never wake up."
"I hope you don't either," I giggled, feeling the intense warmth of my cheeks, "I love you, Ethan Pierce. I don't want you to ever stop being my knight in shining armor."
"Don't worry Madeline," he chuckled, his voice a notch huskier, "I never will. I love you and we're going to live happily ever after, Mad. I promise."
It was a very hard promise to keep, but somewhere deep in my heart, the part that had always known the intensity of my love for Ethan, I knew that he would. Ethan Pierce would give me happily ever after, and he would be the only one that ever could.
Author's Note: Wow, I'm done. I think that makes me happy. Lol. I really hope you guys liked it and thanks for taking the time to read it!
My wonderful reviewers:
Fleeting Moment: So, is that an ending that you liked? I hope so. Thanks for all your reviews. They're short but concise and they always make me smile. I hope I can continue writing things you like!
starlit x sky: You went and reviewed every chapter and each one was really great! Thanks so much! I'm thrilled that you liked it. Thanks a bunch for the praise. It means a lot. And I hope you liked this chapter just as much.
ihrtbks: Thank you, thank you, thank you. It makes me happy that you think so highly of this story. I too am glad that this is a short story, but I'm pretty bummed that it's actually over with. Lol. Then again, it feels good to be done. Such conflicted emotions, it's awful. Anyways, thanks again for the review and I hope you enjoyed this chapter just as much.
Arctic Wolf: I know this is random, but I just wanted to say that I like wolves. Lol. Sorry, I just had to share that. Moving on, I'm really glad you liked the last chapter and I hope this one was of equal worth. You're great and your reviews made me smile. Thanks a lot. Oh, and school is ok... Lol. How else can I really describe it? Each class has got its perks (aka cute guys or professors who don't give a damn if you're in class or not) but I'm definitely not complaining about the four day weekend I'm having. Anyways, best wishes to you with whatever you've got going on and hopefully, I'll be able to write something new that'll spark your interest! Thanks again for everything!
ValSilph: Well, I hope this was soon enough for you! Thanks for the review! I hope you liked this chapter!
oh.look.a.bird.CHOCOLATE: Hahahaha! Yeah, maybe just a few screws... But yes, I think I understand what you mean about your love/hate relationship with the last chapter. Lol. I can relate. Anyways, you're very welcome for the mention, and thank YOU for reviewing every chapter since the very beginning. If I could shower you with chocolate and all other good stuff, I so would. I hope you liked this chapter as much as, and maybe even more than, the last chapter. Thanks again for the review!!!
Nadine-rdrgz: My first day back to school was chaotic, as usual. Parking at my school is awful and then I had to buy my books, which is never too much fun either. But I survived it without a scratch and will make it to the next first day of school. Let's assume that that's a good thing. Anyways, I hope the ending was what you wanted and more. Thanks for the review. It's very much appreciated!
All right. That's all I've got, so thanks again!!!