The morning of Nathan and Allison's wedding dawned a little bit gray, but not rainy. It turned out to make the outdoor pictures a lot easier on everyone's eyes, actually. I think even Allison didn't miss blue skies by the time she'd finished staring up in the thin cloud cover for nearly two hours. I know my retinas were grateful.

She was an unbelievably beautiful bride. She definitely glowed like a woman in love. If I looked like that around Matt, it was no wonder she and Natalie had known how I felt about him long before I did. The curly blonde hair of which I'd always been so envious was swept up elegantly with a few stray curls left dangling to frame her face. The dress we'd picked out back in January fit perfectly, highlighting her willowy figure and looking incredibly classy as she made her way down the flower-lined aisles to her beaming groom.

I did my best to fulfill all of duties as the maid of honor. By the time I took Allison's bouquet so she could take Nathan's hands, I was trying hard not to cry. Allison was a lost cause, as I knew she would be; she sniffled her way through her vows, still managing to look and sound incredibly happy in a way I knew I could never duplicate. Matt caught my eyes from where he stood behind the best man, Nathan's younger brother, and he winked at me and mouthed, "I love you." Or maybe it was "elephant shoes" or "olive juice"; knowing Matt, the latter is more likely. In any case, it made me smile and stopped my tears before they had a chance to fully form. I winked back and turned my attention to the couple in front of me who were promising themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. I thought about standing in their places in a few months and wondered if the gravity of the promises we would make should make me nervous. I let my eyes wander back to Matt as I thought about trust, honesty, life-long fidelity, and love much deeper than mere romance. There was no doubt in my mind that those were promises I wanted to make to him.

The bridal party milled around in the narthex for several minutes after the ceremony as we waited for Nathan and Allison to go back in and dismiss the guests. Matt took advantage of the lull to sidle up to me and whisper, "Looking good, hot ass." He gave the aforementioned body part a quick squeeze, eliciting a little gasp of surprise from me before I batted his hand away indignantly.

"I thought I told you I would punch you if you ever called me that," I reminded him, holding up a (not very) threatening fist.

He held up a finger. "You said you would punch me if I ever called you that in front of my friends," he corrected, "and nobody else heard me."

"But they could have seen you," I pointed out, narrowing my eyes.

He chuckled. "What can I say? I can't keep my hands off you." His arm settled into a much more appropriate position across my shoulders, and I relaxed against him. "Did you know that the Fourth of July is in just under two weeks? It's kind of like our one year anniversary," he commented.

I arched an eyebrow. "I'm not sure I'd go that far. We didn't even agree to be friends until October."

He made a face. "Whatever. I still think we should celebrate."

"Going to take me to see some fireworks and keep me company?" I asked with a smirk. "I hear it's much better when you're not alone."

He gave me a wicked grin in return. "Baby, I'll have you seeing fireworks before we even make it out of the house," he breathed into my ear suggestively.

I burst out laughing. "You have the worst pick-up lines in the history of man. Have they ever worked?"

He smiled brightly at me and shrugged. "I only use them on you. Good thing I already got the girl, huh?"

I shook my head, settling it more comfortably into the crook of his neck. "You're ridiculous. And don't call me baby, please. 'Kid' is bad enough; I don't need to regress any further in age."

He pretended to look put out. "You are going to be the death of me, woman" he muttered, but there was a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

"At least now you're addressing me as an adult," I replied with a cheeky grin.

He squeezed my shoulders. "You're lucky I like you so much," he said.

We were interrupted by Matt and Allison's parents, who had been dismissed and made their way over to us. Mrs. Benningham was dabbing her teary eyes with a handkerchief while Mr. Benningham made comical faces behind his wife's back making fun of her weepiness. When she had gotten herself composed, Mrs. Benningham gave Matt a big hug and kiss as she spouted something about how proud she was of both of her children and how they had both grown up so fast. Then she turned to me and wrapped me into her motherly embrace, promptly bursting into tears again. I looked at Matt to see what brought that about, but he just shrugged and mouthed, "Don't ask me." Mrs. Benningham pulled back and took my face in both hands, kissing my cheek soundly.

"Such a good girl," she proclaimed, letting go of me so she could retrieve the handkerchief she had prematurely put back in her purse.

When they moved on a few minutes later to greet some of the other guests, Matt leaned over to me and said out of the corner of his mouth, "I think my mother's almost as in love with you as I am. I'm pretty sure she'd given me up as a lost cause; here I was, nearly twenty-five and all set to become whatever the male equivalent of an old maid is. You've rescued me from a fate worse than death."

I settled my head back onto his shoulder as his arm snuck around my waist. "My parents like you too," I told him, unable to resist adding, "even though my dad would have preferred me to become a spinster."

I managed to make my way through a short, slightly nervous toast at the reception. Matt had told me to throw in a few innuendos about how it was traditionally bad luck and certainly a bad choice to get married on the summer solstice, which was followed by the shortest night of the year. I had declined. Allison may have been my best friend, but I had no desire to think about what she and her new husband might be getting up to after we dropped them off at the hotel that night.

The toasts were followed by dancing, beginning with the new couple and then the traditional father-daughter dance. I saw Mrs. Benningham surreptitiously dabbing at her eyes again when Nathan offered her his hand and asked her to join them. The bridal party dance that followed was a little awkward, at least for me. I, as maid of honor, found myself clasping the sweaty hands of Nathan's blushing, stammering younger brother, the best man. Joel was about to begin his senior year of high school, and he was still a little short and a little gangly. I was sure he'd fill out much the way Nathan had; in fact, Joel reminded me very much of the shy boy that had asked my best friend on a date three years ago. Yet at the moment, he seemed to be very flustered by the forced proximity to a woman five years his senior and, in my heels, a couple of inches taller. I did my best to talk to him and help him relax, and I think I managed to coax one or two genuine smiles out of him and maybe even make his palms stop sweating by the time the song came to a merciful end and he dropped me like a hot potato.

Matt had promptly grabbed me and convinced me to stay for a few fast songs as the DJ encouraged everyone else to join us. But it wasn't long before I was starting to sweat and I felt the need to shed my shoes. Matt handed me his tuxedo jacket and asked me to leave it with my things. As I made my way through the room, I spied my family sitting at a nearby table.

I sat down and talked with my parents and my little sister Lauren for a few minutes. Lauren looked bored and uncomfortable, being the only twelve-year-old present. She'd been quite a surprise when my parents, who had given up trying for more kids after I'd been an only child for nearly a decade, had suddenly found themselves expecting again. We'd never had the usual sisterly bond because of the age difference; she'd hardly finished second grade when I moved out for college. Nonetheless, she looked up to me and I was fond of her. So I was happy to keep her company for a little while as my parents talked with some of their friends. We were in the middle of a conversation about how much she hated her new braces when Matt joined us. He greeted my parents with a quick "Hi, Mr. and Mrs. McKenzie," but almost immediately joined in conversation with Lauren and me.

"It's so stupid!" she was complaining. "They won't let me eat anything good any more, and the stuff I am allowed to eat just makes me mouth hurt."

"Braces suck," Matt agreed. "My parents made me wear mine for five years 'just in case.' At least they eased up on the dietary restrictions after a while. And I guess they worked, right?" He flashed a toothy smile for my approval.

I patted his shoulder indulgently. "Beautiful. Just like Lauren's going to be if she can survive these accursed instruments of torture."

I was pleased to see her sullen face flicker into a smile for a moment before she said, "They won't even let me eat the jelly beans. They took mine and hid them." She indicated the wedding favors on the tables around us.

Matt got up and went to his spot at the head table for a moment. When he returned, he tossed Lauren his box of jelly beans and said, "You can have mine." He winked conspiratorially. My sister's eyes widened and her cheeks, as transparent as mine, flushed bright red. I fought back the urge to laugh. I knew that look—she was smitten. I didn't point out that Matt hated jelly beans and had been trying to get rid of them earlier.

A little later, Matt excused himself to try and get a dance with his sister. I leaned over to my own sister, unable to resist teasing her, and whispered in sing-song voice, "Lauren likes Ma-att, Lauren likes Ma-att."

"Shut up," she said, shoving me away and blushing again. "I just think he's cute. And he's nice to me."

I laughed. "I know, I'm just teasing."

She looked at me, the dark brown eyes of which I'd always been so jealous staring at me seriously. "I did have a crush on him last year for a while," she confessed. "We were over at their house around Christmas, and he sat and talked to me for a while when you and Allison were doing something else. He fixed my Nintendo DS, and he actually remembered my name." She blushed again. "And I like his hair."

"Me too," I admitted. "Which is weird, because I don't normally like guys with curly hair."

Lauren smiled. "I know he's your boyfriend, so I don't want you to feel all… whatever about me liking him. I'm just glad you found somebody good enough for you. I'm totally over it." I could tell she obviously wasn't, but it almost choked me up that she was willing to lie about it out of love for me. "Besides, there's this guy in my class that I kind of like, and I think he maybe likes me too. His name's Brian…"

She told me all about Brian and every painfully awkward but cute interaction they'd ever had, and I listened like a good big sister and encouraged her as best I could. The conversation ended when Matt came back and, to my surprise, asked Lauren to dance. She got that same wide-eyed but slightly adoring look on her face and stammered out her acceptance. Matt threw me a wink over her head as they found a spot on the dance floor. Once again, Matt's avoidance of "real PE classes" was coming in handy as he showed my sister how to waltz. I propped my chin up in my palm and watched them dance.

"Now there's a look I've never seen you wear before." I turned to find my mom watching me shrewdly. "You serious about that boy?"

I looked at him again. He was spinning Lauren dramatically, making her giggle. I couldn't help the smile that spread over my face as I nodded. "I'm going to marry him," I said quietly.

"Good," was all she said. We both watched them for another minute until the song ended. As Matt and Lauren walked back towards us, my mom patted my shoulder and told me, "I can see he loves you, and I can tell he makes you happy. He's a good man."

I couldn't help agreeing as Matt left Lauren at her seat with an exaggerated bow and came to me. "Come on, ginger blossom. It's my turn for a dance with the other McKenzie sister."

"Ginger blossom?" I queried as his arms moved into position around me.

He grinned at me. "If you don't want me to call you kid or baby, I've got to come up with something else, right? And there are so many options to try out."

"Just as long as it's not hot ass," I muttered, shaking my head. He snickered.

"So," he said, changing the topic with a smirk, "I think your sister might be a little enamored with me."

I shook my head and informed him, half-truthfully, "She says she used to be, but she's totally over it now and I shouldn't feel weird about it."

Matt sighed dramatically. "What is it about me that you McKenzie women just can't resist?"

"The hair," I returned without pause. "Our obsessive-compulsive side can't help wanting to straighten out that messy mop." One corner of my mouth rose into a smirk.

"I hate to break it to you, sweet cheeks," he replied, dipping me back, "but it's a lost cause. I've been trying for over twenty years. It doesn't get any better than this."

I grinned up at him. "All the better for me," I quipped. "I won't ever have to stop trying." I ran my fingers through his curls once before pulling him into a kiss. I had meant for it to be a quick one, but Matt wouldn't let me pull away so fast. It only took him a couple of seconds to melt my inhibitions about the number of people around us, and I slowly twined my arms around his neck as he brought me closer and deepened the kiss. He kissed me slowly and sincerely, and when we separated, he just smiled at me for a moment in a way that filled my heart with warmth. As we started to dance again, he murmured, "Love you, Lex." His breath was warm on my ear, but it made me shiver pleasantly. And when I gently kissed his jaw in response, I heard him sigh contentedly.


Lauren caught the bouquet, much to her surprise and Natalie's disgruntlement. I think Ted breathed a sigh of relief. While they were still happy together, I had the feeling that Ted was a little sick of Natalie's insistence on getting what she wanted. I knew she had a little ring envy; when Allison had let news of my engagement slip one night a couple of weeks ago, Natalie had been hard-put to cover her jealousy with happiness for me. When I asked her why she was in such a hurry for Ted to ask her this one important question after she had been willing to wait for six years for him to ask her out, she simply said that she'd used up all of her patience on waiting the first time. I told her it should have been good practice, but she didn't look too happy with me.

There was no garter toss, as Allison refused to let even Nathan put a hand that far up her skirt in public. Matt was also a little relieved; he confessed to me that he hadn't been looking forward to seeing his sister being groped in public like that. I reminded him that he'd wanted me to make bawdy jokes about a short wedding night in my toast. He told me that the two were entirely different. I just rolled my eyes.

Slowly the party wound down; the older guests started leaving, the music slowed permanently, all the relatives with small children and long drives home trickled out. Matt kept me out on the dance floor while we waited for Allison and Nathan to say their goodbyes to everyone. We would be driving them to their hotel room when they were ready to go. While we waited, I decided to ask something I'd been wondering about since that fateful day in May.

"Matt?" I murmured, my head resting on his shoulder as we danced. "When did you first realize you were in love with me?"

I felt him smile against my hair. "I don't know how long I'd already been in love with you by the time I figured out that I was, but I knew it for sure by the end of Valentine's Day. At some point after you fell asleep on me, I found myself wishing I could end every day curled up with you in my arms."

"You're such a sentimental softie," I teased. "That was incredibly corny." He pouted at me until I tightened my arms around his neck in an affectionate hug. "Why didn't you say anything to me once you realized it?"

His eyebrows lifted. "I did say something, remember?"

"Yeah, you stammered something out in May," I reminded him, straightening up so I could look him in the eye. "That was three months later. Why did you wait so long?"

He gave a noncommittal shrug. "At first, I didn't think you were interested in me that way. And you'd just called it quits with that other guy, whom I had taken as a sign that you weren't waiting around for me to ask you out. And the longer I waited, the harder it got to change the status quo. I guess I was just waiting for some kind of signal that you wanted me to. You don't ask your best friend out for shits and giggles, you know; I wanted to be sure you felt the same way I did."

"And calling you up on Tuesday night was enough of a signal?" I asked skeptically, not allowing myself to be distracted by how nice it sounded to hear him call me his best friend.

He grinned. "When you had that much work to do and no other excuses? I knew you just missed me." His wink was cocky and made me chuckle, even though he was entirely correct. "Besides, what about you, Miss Ballsy Chick? Why didn't you say anything? I can't believe you went straight from friendship to marriage proposal in one night."

I'm sure I looked a little sheepish as I smiled at him. "Same as you, I guess. And to be completely honest, I didn't mean to propose until after I'd said it. I don't usually have that kind of guts. But once it was out there, I realized that there was no point in taking it back when I already knew that I wanted to marry you."

He studied me thoughtfully. "Are you ever sorry you beat me to it? You ever feel bad about missing out on having a romantic proposal story to tell to all your friends?"

I laughed. "You don't think, 'So we were making out on his couch when I blurted it out,' counts as a romantic proposal story?"

"That's not quite how it happened," he corrected half-heartedly. "Most of the making out came afterwards."

"Psh, whatever," I said dismissively. "I honestly don't care. I've always thought the over-the-top romantic gestures were completely overrated. I'd much rather have a straight-forward proposal from a guy I know loves me than a stereotypical romantic proposal from a guy who thinks he needs to prove he loves me once because he doesn't show it the rest of the time."

A dimple showed in Matt's cheek. "Good," he said, leaning forward to kiss me lightly. "Then I'm just going to give you this, because you already know that I love you, and you already know that I want to marry you and spend the rest of my life with you." He reached into the inside pocket of his tux jacket and pulled out a small diamond ring.

"You can't give this to me in the middle of the dance floor at your sister's wedding reception!" I hissed, eyes wide. "That's terrible timing!"

"Why?" he shrugged, ignoring my protest completely as he slid it onto my ring finger. "I told you we'd keep it under wraps until after Nate and Allie's wedding. Now they're married, and I'm sick of waiting."

I held out for about two more seconds before I sighed. "Well, if people start noticing and making a fuss and your sister gets mad at me for being tactless and stealing the show, I'm blaming you entirely," I said, sliding my arms around his neck again as we resumed the dance. "Besides, I thought we were going to look at rings together later on this week. Where did this one come from?"

"We were," he agreed, "but I told my mom last night after the rehearsal dinner that I wanted to marry you, and she got all choked up and weepy and went and dug this out of the back of her jewelry box. Apparently it was left to me by my grandparents, who inherited it from their grandparents. But if you don't like it, we can always get a different one."

I was at a loss for a moment as to which part of his revelation I should address first. "I think it's beautiful," I started, looking at the way the dim lights of the reception hall glinted off the small diamond in the middle of a simple band. It was simple and straightforward, like us. "What did your mom say?

He chuckled. "She's thrilled. I told you already, you've rescued me from her greatest fear: that I would die unmarried."

"I'm glad I could be of use," I grinned. "And I'm incredibly honored to be wearing a family heirloom like this, Matt. That's… I don't even know what to say."

"I'd like to say I've been saving it for the right girl to come along, or something clichéd like that," he said nonchalantly, "but I honestly didn't know it existed until last night."

"As always," I chuckled, "you know exactly what to say to suck the romance out of a situation."

He grinned. "I'm sure you must love that about me. Every girl's dream, right?"

"Exactly," I agreed. "Who doesn't want a guy who uses her to ward off an ex-girlfriend, calls her 'hot ass', insults her with his compliments, gets her to paint his house, makes her propose to him first, flirts madly with her little sister, and then gives her a family heirloom practically by mistake in the middle of his sister's wedding reception? What more could I possibly want?"

I could see Matt's lips twitch as he suppressed a smile. "Nothing I can think of," he replied.

"Precisely," I smiled, tilting my face up to kiss him, and I meant it when I agreed, "I don't want anything else."

A/N: And there you have it. The end. I'm rather ambivalent about it; I find endings difficult to seal up.

Thanks for reading and a special thanks to those who reviewed, alerted, and favorited (whatever the real verb forms of those actions are) this story! I hope you enjoyed it.