I OWN NOTHING YOU RECOGNISE (AND SOME THINGS YOU DON'T.) If you steal my work I will take legal action against you. I mean it. I worked really hard on this story and I don't want to read the exact same story on another site with the names changed. Not cool.
Chapter 38- I Believe
'Ever felt like you were dreaming
Just to find that you're awake
And the magic that surrounds you
Can lift you up and guide you on your way
I can see it in the stars across the sky
Dreamt a hundred thousand dreams before
Now I finally realize
You see I've waited all my life for this moment to arrive
And finally, I believe...'
I Believe- Fantasia Barrino
Luke's Point of View
Months of intense internal debate and soul-searching, weeks of planning and hours of fine-tuning to get things just right had culminated into me getting down on bended knee in front of CiCi, holding the ring I hoped she would let me slip on her finger.
And yet I still didn't know if she would say yes.
The look of astonishment on her pretty face wasn't giving me anything positive to work with. Her eyes were huge and her mouth was slightly ajar, giving her a 'deer caught in headlights' air.
"Celsi? Did you hear me?" I asked, staring up at her frozen features. Hey, maybe her shock was due to seeing me on one knee in front of her and she actually hadn't heard a word of my (corny, I know) proposal! It was pretty windy up here. I tried again, clearing my throat nervously. Here goes nothing. "Will you marry me and- at the risk of sounding mega corny- make me the happiest guy in the world?"
Swallowing as her hand slipped to her throat, CiCi managed to splutter, "Luke- I- what?"
Okay, so she wasn't speaking in full sentences, but that was a start.
"Is this a joke?" CiCi whispered, her eyes almost willing me to admit that I was just playing a mean prank on her, some sort of vicious mind game, and there was actually a candy ring in the box, as opposed to a platinum plated blue sapphire and diamond ring that I had picked out just for her.
I couldn't help cracking a smile as I replied, my knee cramping. "Celsi Sawyer, I'm kneeling in front of you with an engagement ring in a box, asking you to marry me. Trust me, it's not a joke."
I mean, I had gone through a lot of trouble (all worth it if she said yes) to get things perfect for tonight. Contrary to what I told her, I actually flew into New York early yesterday morning so that I would have enough time to put my plans into action. Yeah, that's how I knew about it raining yesterday. Seriously, I've got better things to do than check the Weather Network when I'm not even in the country. I spent almost two hours in jewelry stores, finally settling on a beautifully simple ring from Tiffany's. I thought that CiCi would appreciate a gorgeous, non-flashy ring, but apart from the initial first glance, she hadn't even looked at it. After buying the ring, I headed to a stationery store to buy the huge piece of paper, hopped on the ferry to Liberty Island, switched the letter I had written 5 years ago for my handwritten proposal, arranged for a surprise that would only happen after CiCi accepted my proposal and she was asking me if this was a joke?
Just how malicious would I have to be to go to all this trouble for a joke?
Pretty fucking malicious, I'd say.
"Luke- stand up."
"Um, I'm pretty sure that I have to be on one knee when I propose," I replied semi-teasingly, shrugging as I looked up at her. CiCi's forehead creased as I continued. "You know, for effect and all that-."
Her voice firm, CiCi cut in. "Get up."
The tone of her voice didn't change but the way her lips tightened and her eyes hardened made me realize that, for whatever reason, CiCi was pissed the hell off. I didn't want to piss her off more by not adhering to her wishes (or maybe I did since angry Celsi had always been able to turn me on) so I scrambled to my feet in a hurry, groaning as blood started recirculating through my leg. Shit, I was in for a major attack of pins and needles now.
I sighed to myself as I looked into CiCi's face, her hazel eyes filled with bewilderment and irritation. Okay, so maybe I had gone about this the wrong way. We hadn't seen each other in two years, she thought I was madly in love with someone else and I came back and dropped a proposal on her without any warning.
Yeah, I can see how that would throw someone for a loop.
"CiCi, listen-," I started, unable to get over the anger flashing in her eyes. I hated having CiCi mad at me, hated it almost as much as I hated seeing her cry.
She interrupted me, her mouth set. "What are you doing?"
"Well, I was-."
Before I could even get a chance to finish my sentence, she talked over me again, her voice embittered. "Proposing, yeah, I get it. But- ugh!"
She ran a hand over her face, kneading her forehead as she tried to find the words to say.
Biting my lip, I stared at her. "I don't get it, though. Why are you so mad?"
"Really?" CiCi raised her head and fixed her eyes on my face, her nostrils flaring. "You show up after two years, tell me you just broke up with your girlfriend, randomly propose to me and you think that's okay?"
I scratched my head, feeling a shamefaced blush spread. Okay, maybe I didn't exactly think this through. "Well-."
"Luke, forgive me if I think this feels like one of your high school jokes," CiCi said sarcastically. "I mean, you can't just ask me to marry you just like that! Why are you proposing, anyway? Just because you feel like it? Or do you want me to be your rebound chick, is that it?" I was blown away by the vehemence in CiCi's voice. She really thought I was just punking her? "Or maybe you proposed because you're bored and you thought this would be a fun way to shake things up when you came back?"
My heart thudded against my ribcage as CiCi spoke. Fuck, she was totally missing the point!
Couldn't she tell how I felt for her? I couldn't get her off my mind on a good day. On a bad day, she was the only thing I could think about. All I wanted to do was spend the rest of my life with her, giving her everything she wanted, taking care of her and letting her take care of me. Sure, we had only dated for a short while in high school, but didn't the fact that I was still in love with her after all these years show that our relationship had been anything but puppy love? I had never been able to get her out of my mind, even when it became apparent that her memory was slowly eroding my relationship with Seiko.
But CiCi didn't realize that because I had never told her what I felt for her. I never told her about the sleepless nights I spent, trying to remember how she felt in my arms, replaying memories of our conversations, our kisses, hell, even our arguments. I never told her about how I had punched a hole in the wall of the hotel room I was staying in when she told me she was dating Ahmed or how elated I had felt when she called me to tell me they had broken up. Part of me had hoped, wished that the breakup had something to do with the fact that CiCi still loved me, but I never had enough nerve to ask her. We rarely talked about those few, heady months we had been a couple, with CiCi preferring to sweep those memories under the rug and act like we never happened. Sure, it was kinda presumptuous of me to think she would agree to marry me when we didn't really have much of a history to fall back on, but I liked to think positive. As clichéd as it may sound, I knew CiCi was the one for me the very first time I kissed her. I never believed in that soul mate stuff until we got together and now- well, now I knew that we were meant to be. Maybe this proposal was the worst timing in the world (in hindsight, it totally was) but at least it cleared the air so that we could finally talk about things we had been wanting to talk about for years. Namely- our feelings.
"You're not a rebound chick," I said, sincerity practically seeping out of my pores.
A raised eyebrow told me that CiCi didn't believe me. "Oh, really? Ironic, considering you just broke up with Seiko three months-," she started, her lips tight.
"It's been almost a year since we broke up," I said, puffing out a breath. "I don't know why I told you three months. She's dating a Japanese basketball star now. Just moved in together. They invited me to their housewarming party."
Seiko's boyfriend was over two feet taller than her, but they were happy together, and that was all that mattered. If only I could make CiCi realize that.
Her throat working, CiCi gave me a dubious look. "You know why I'm skeptical, right?"
I grinned sheepishly at CiCi, tugging my ear. "My timing is pretty fucked, isn't it?"
"In a major way," CiCi replied, her voice small as all the fight went out of her. I wanted to hug her, comfort her, make her realize that I wanted her, that I loved her, but I knew she probably wouldn't appreciate me touching her without at least explaining my thinking leading to this point.
My shoulders slumped as I spoke. "I'm sorry, Celsi. I thought this would be perfect." I spread my arms, gesturing at the starlit night sky. "I had a firework display ready to go off when you said yes. I guess I just planned this with no respect to what you wanted."
"You got that right," CiCi said, shaking her head as she stared at me.
But I wasn't done. "That being said, I have no idea why you think I'm joking or doing this out of boredom or spite."
Her eyes troubled, CiCi opened her mouth to say something. "Luke-," she started, her throat working. But I talked over her, needing to get this confession into the open before I chickened out again.
"I love you Celsiana Sawyer," I said passionately, leaning forward to grasp her cold hands in mine. "I love your eyes, your smile, your body, your hair. But most of all, I love you. I love the loving, caring CiCi who helped me get through one of the darkest periods of my life, the forgiving CiCi who gave me chance after chance after chance, the brave CiCi who went through hell just to get to me when my aneurysm ruptured." CiCi's huge eyes never left my face as I poured my heart out to her. I couldn't stop talking, the words kept tumbling out of my mouth without a filter, but the amazing thing was I had wanted to say all these words for years. "I never stopped loving you. Ever. You're like- you're one of the best things that has ever happened to me."
Quickly, CiCi shook her head, sending her bouncy curls flying. "Don't say that," she admonished.
"I mean it, though," I said, squeezing her hands. "You came into my life at the perfect time and I just- I don't even know what to say, CiCi." I sucked in a breath. "You're just- I need you in my life. I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
CiCi closed her eyes for a second, her long eyelashes fluttering. "Don't you get why I'm skeptical, though? How long has it been since you and I actually dated?"
"5 years," I admitted. Okay, that was a long time. But it didn't matter. Only our feelings mattered, and if I was right, CiCi felt the same way I did. She was just more scared, is all. "But-."
"Luke- we've grown up. We're adults." A bitter smile twisted her lips. "Don't confuse the puppy love we had for something it will never be. We haven't ever hung out as adults. As much as I want to-." She shook her head again, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. "Luke, it won't be the same. It can't be the same."
I wasn't trying to hear that. "You know perfectly well that what we had wasn't puppy love, Celsi," I said softly, dropping her hands and tucking my finger under her chin as I stepped closer to her. "Look me in the eye and tell me you don't feel anything when I touch you." I cupped her cheek with one hand, feeling her shiver slightly under my touch. "When I kiss you."
My heart thumped as I leaned down to kiss CiCi's full lips, ignoring the stunned look in her eyes as my nose brushed hers. Her lips tasted of watermelon chap stick and I gently brushed them with my own, re-exploring her warm, wet mouth. She tasted so good, just as I remembered. I traced her parted lips with my tongue, running a hand through her soft, curly hair as I felt her kiss me back. Her lips worked over mine, our breath intermingling as we gave in to our pent up passion. When she drew back, CiCi looked dazed, eyes glazed over and breathing labored as we shared air in the small space between us. My eyes unflinchingly bored into hers.
"Luke-," she started, still trying to get her piece in.
Trailing a finger down her cheek, I whispered, "I love you. And of course it won't be the same, because we're older. It'll be better."
"I don't think-."
Okay, I really didn't like interrupting CiCi every time she tried to say something, but I couldn't help myself. I knew she was just trying to find excuses to shut me up, and I simply wasn't going to have it. "Did you ever stop loving me?"
CiCi swallowed hard, her eyes dropping from my gaze. She didn't answer.
"Because I never did," I continued. "Why do you think Seiko left?"
Whispering, CiCi asked, "Why?"
"Because you were all I could talk about and it drove her crazy. She didn't want to compete."
Shaking her hair out of her eyes, CiCi said, "She was competing with your memories of me, not the real me."
"Why do you keep saying that?" I asked, totally not getting her logic. "Who did I have hour long conversations with almost every day for the last three years? You or your 17 year old self?"
A tiny smile turned up her pretty lips and I had the urge to kiss her again. "Me."
I pressed my mouth against hers again, licking her plump bottom lip as she sensuously sucked on my top lip in perfect harmony.
Pulling back, she stammered, "But why didn't you tell me? All these years- think of how much better it would have been!" Her eyes searched my face, confusion rampant. "I mean, you dated Seiko for years! Why did you do that if you knew you still had feelings for me?"
"I hooked up with Seiko to get my mind off of you. Off of our breakup, which really, really hurt." Leaning forward, I pressed my forehead against hers, relishing our close proximity. "More than anybody knows. All I wanted to do was get on a plane and come back to you, but since I couldn't, I tried to move on." I sighed at all the repressed memories. "I really liked Seiko, but I knew she wasn't the one for me. We were just together because we felt comfortable with each other and we got along, but it wasn't like we envisioned a long future with each other. She had her plans, and I had mine. Or at least, that's what I thought." I bit my lip, staring at a rapt CiCi pensively. "Then you hooked up with Ahmed and- the jealousy that I felt scared the shit out of me. I always knew he liked you, but I just tried to ignore it. Never thought he would act on it. But at the same time, I wanted you to be happy; even though I was positive you would be way happier with me. So I didn't say anything. After you guys broke up, I wanted to let you know how I felt, but you were on that 'I'm focusing on school right now' tip, so I didn't want to be the one to screw you up." My voice rose and fell as I let CiCi in on my deepest and darkest feelings. "Sometimes I almost wished I could hate you because it would make things easier for me. But I can't, so I've just gone on pathetically loving you and hoping that someday things could work out between us. And now here we are, 5 years down the line. And I still feel the same."
Running both hands through her hair, CiCi remarked, "You could have just told me that you still loved me, that would have gotten your point across better than this."
"Doesn't really matter." I shrugged, a dismissive tone in my voice. "I still want to marry you. I don't care if we get married tomorrow or next year or in 20 years, as long as I know that it's gonna happen and I'll always be with you." Cupping her face in my hands, I continued. "I want to have one of those relationships where we're 80 years old and still goofing off to make each other laugh."
CiCi blinked, sighing as a dreamy expression flitted onto her face. "I always wanted that, too."
"Well, we can have that, Celsi." I stared into her beautiful eyes. "Say yes."
Laughing uneasily, CiCi exclaimed, "Luke, you can't just pop up and ask me to marry you like this! We need some kind of foundation first! How can this even work?"
"You know what my dad said to me before he died?" I started, my face and voice solemn. I had never told anyone what I was about to divulge to CiCi before. "He called me when I was in Japan and told me 'if you know what's good for you, you won't ever let Miss Sawyer go. The girl you're dating right now is nice and all, but Miss Sawyer is the one you're destined to be with. You'll see.'"
Eyes wide, CiCi breathed, "He said that?"
"Yup." I nodded. "And he was a business man, so you know his judgment was spot on."
Musingly, CiCi looked up at me and my heart did a little flip at the hesitant look in her eyes. She looked like she was starting to believe what I had been telling her about my feelings for her. "He once said I was the best decision you made in years."
A reluctant grin slid onto my face. He may be gone, but the old man was still calling the shots, it seemed. And in this case, I dint mind at all. "He was so right. And letting you go was the worst. Look, I know I came on a little too strong with the marriage thing, but I would be lying if I said that didn't want that to happen eventually." I smiled hopefully down at her, praying that she would say yes. "Not now, if you're not ready. But I do intend on making you Mrs. Celsiana Astor." I reached into the pocket of my jeans and brought out the Tiffany's box again. "So will you wear this ring until that day comes? Please?"
Celsi's Point of view.
I looked down at the open ring box in Luke's hand, then looked up at him, my mind still reeling from the admissions we had both made tonight. His face was open, eyes as vulnerable as I'd ever seen them, and I suddenly realized that he was telling the truth.
His feelings hadn't changed during the time we had been apart, just like mine hadn't changed. He was still in love with me. And I had known that all along, even though I had tried to hide it from myself.
There's nothing hidden under the sun, Celsi.
But some incessant part of me just wouldn't let me let Luke's proposal be great. It was like I had a split personality that enjoyed playing devil's advocate until the bitter end.
It can't work! He doesn't even know the most basic things about you, Celsi!
"You don't even know when my birthday is," I mumbled, knowing that the devil's advocate voice had a valid point.
Spreading his arms, Luke said, "I know that you read romances and wish you could be the heroine, even though you've never told anyone that before. I know you love drinking hot chocolate with loads of tiny marshmallows because it reminds you of your mom and happier times. I know that whenever you sit at the piano and play, you're transported to your own little world."
Luke said all of this with the cutest half-smile on his face that pulled at my heartstrings, gazing down at me as my eyebrows rose in amazement.
"You seriously know all those things?" I gasped, my eyes filling with tears.
Nodding, Luke said, "I want to spend the rest of my life getting to know more about what makes you tick, about your little quirks, whether you bite off the head or the body when you eat gummy bears, if you just say yes."
Blinking back tears, I nodded, throwing caution to the wind. I loved Luke, nobody could compare to him. There was no need for a lengthy battle of reason because I knew what was right. Me and Luke, together forever. That was right. That was how it was supposed to be.
Luke's eyes narrowed, staring at me as though he couldn't quite believe his ears. Or his eyes. "Really?" he murmured, tugging a hand through his windswept hair.
"Yes, silly. I love you. And I'm saying yes."
Wrapping my arms around his neck, I stood on my tiptoes to kiss him, my lips gentle against his as I took my time tasting him, his tongue slipping into my mouth to entangle with mine.
Breathing hard, Luke pulled back, a triumphant look gleaming in his green eyes. "July 7th," he whispered.
Feeling dazed from the kiss, his words made no sense to me. "What?"
"July 7th. That's your birthday, isn't it, future Mrs. Celsi Astor?"
My heart almost jumped into my mouth at that double whammy. He remembered my birthday! And dammit if Mrs. Celsi Astor didn't sound perfect. "Yes Luke, it is," I whispered against his lips, feeling so happy that I wanted to sing.
Somehow, I don't think anybody wants to hear that. Even my future husband.
"I love you, Celsi Sawyer."
Smiling deliriously up at him, I was rewarded with an equally elated smile back. Luke's dimples popped into view as I whispered, "I love you, Luke Astor."
His arms slipped around my waist and he held me close. There was no need for more words as we listened to the soft breeze rustling overhead and I finally realized that our destiny had been fulfilled. Our path had been heartbreakingly difficult, filled with devastating twists, miserable turns and unforeseeable potholes but somehow we had managed to pass every single obstacle to get to where we were right now- happy, content and so deeply in love that it hurt. And now I knew why. It had been meant to turn out like this because it was written in the stars that shone above us...
15th April 2009- 4th July 2011.
I reposted it. Nearly three years after removing it, I put TPOD back for a new batch of readers to enjoy, and from what I see (feedback, reviews, PM's and Facebook messages) it was a good call!
I'm proud to present you with Luke and Celsi's finished love story. I strayed from my original vision more times than I care to remember, but at the end of it all, I'm happy with the way it turned out.
I love you all for your dedication and belief in me, whether you lurked, reviewed or alerted and favorited. I'm sorry for my crappy review replying skills - blame it on my procrastination. Just know that I appreciate every single review, even though I might not answer them. Hell, I don't usually answer emails, so yeah. It's definitely something I need to work on. But I'll have you know that you've been amazing, my little fictionpress family :)
Thanks for keeping me company, guys. Maybe next time I want to take you for a ride, you'll want to tag along? It'll be fun!
Until next story... take care, my friends.