I should have known. The night was too perfect. Dinner, the walk, and the feeling Luke had something else planned for when we got home because he kept getting this little smile on his face and not saying why. And now, here was Randy on the porch, waiting because today was my birthday and I was free. But I didn't want to be free. I wanted to be right where I was. And now I had to do what I should've done before, tell Randy the truth. Why didn't I tell him then, so that my perfect night wouldn't be getting messed up now? I was an idiot.
I looked over at Luke, and his face was stiff and his jaw was clenched tight. I wanted to say something, but he shook his head a little and reached for the door handle. "Luke - " I said, reaching out, but he stopped me with a look.
He got out so I did too, and since he was closer I had to hurry to catch up as he started up the walk. I looked up and saw Randy's eyes take in our nice clothes and he gave me kind of a curious, uncertain smile.
"Happy birthday, Katie. Been out celebrating?"
Luke was at the steps and Randy stepped down one toward him as he started up, and put out his hand to be shaken. "Luke, I never said thanks for what you did. For Katie, I mean. Marrying her to keep her out of foster care, that was pretty brave."
Luke stared at his hand, then took it and shook it, and as he let go he looked back at me for a long second. "I'll be inside," he said quietly. "If you want me."
When the door was shut I leaned back against the wall and closed my eyes. Not this. Not tonight. When I could breathe again I pushed off the wall and dug into my pocket and brought out the little velvet box and just stared at it. I should've asked her at the restaurant, or on our walk. Why didn't I? If I had, she'd be wearing it right now, that diamond telling Randy and the world that we were staying together forever. But now all she had on her finger was a gold band with a nine-month expiration date. And today was that day.
And I couldn't lose her.
I spun around and yanked open the door, and just as my foot hit the porch Randy's engine cranked and the headlights came on. Katie stood alone leaning on the porch rail watching him leave, and all of a sudden I didn't know what to do. Was she standing there heartbroken again, was she going to cry over him again? Had he hurt her? Had I? Randy's truck backed down the driveway and disappeared down the street and she watched it go. "Katie," I rasped, in a voice that didn't seem to want to work, and she turned. And there weren't any tears on her face. I could hardly bear to hope. "Are you okay?" I asked.
"I'm okay," she nodded. "Are you okay?"
"Depends." I looked toward where the truck had disappeared, then back at her.
"Randy's not so okay," she said, looking down.
"Why not?" I could hardly breathe again, and after a second she looked back up at me and I could almost swear she was smiling.
"For some weird reason he wasn't happy to hear that I'm in love with you."
"You told him." My breath came out in a whoosh.
Katie's smile faded away. "Didn't you... I mean... wasn't I supposed to?" Okay, now there were some tears starting up in her eyes, and I knew that had come out wrong. "I thought you... loved me. You said... I thought..."
Oh god. She was going to cry and I was going to start too, and there was no way in hell I was gonna cry out here on the front porch. "Come inside," I demanded, grabbing her hand and pulling her in the house and to the bottom stair. "Third step."
"Stand on the third step." I nudged her to start her up the steps, but she wasn't going.
"Luke, I don't get it."
She went slowly up the three steps, and I saw her wipe at her eyes with the back of her hand, and it was so cute and touching. But even better was the look on her face when she turned around and saw me looking up at her. I think she knew right away, and for once in my life it was easy for me to say the words. "Every time I've seen you come down these stairs, starting on our wedding day, I've fallen more and more in love with you," I told her. "And if you've noticed, when you get to about the third step, I usually take your hand." I reached out my hand and she took it carefully, and I helped her back down to the floor. And then I dropped to one knee and held my other hand out palm up, the one still holding the blue velvet box, and she drew in a big shaky breath and bit her bottom lip nervously. "Don't be nervous," I told her, and she smiled a little smile.
"Because I love you with my whole heart, Katherine Ann Hendricks Jordan."
She giggled a little giggle and I opened the box and when she saw the ring, her smile was the most beautiful thing in the world.
"And this time I don't want you to be my wife for nine months. I want you to be my wife forever and ever."
"And ever?" she asked softly.
"And longer than that." I don't know what I expected, but what I didn't expect was for her to sit down on my knee. I wobbled, but saved us from falling over and we both laughed. "So, are you gonna answer me?" I asked.
"Tell me one more time."
I didn't have to ask what she meant. I looked her right in the eyes. "I love you, Katie."
"And I would be very honored to be your wife forever and ever."
"And ever?" I teased gently.
"And longer than that." She started to kiss me but I shook my head and pulled the ring out of the box. She smiled again and held out her hand, and I slid the ring on her finger and nestled it against the gold band that meant so much more than ever. Again she leaned toward me but I stopped her.
"Can we get up first, please? My leg is killing me." She burst out laughing and got up, and I got up too, and on my way up I met her lips with mine and kept them as I pulled her into my arms. I was so happy that my mouth was smiling even against hers and she giggled and pulled away. "Where do you think you're going?" I asked, stretching forward for more of those little happy kisses.
"Nowhere," she answered. "At least, nowhere that takes me away from you."
I pulled her close again, lifting her off her feet, and spun around until she squealed for me to stop, and even then I only let her down long enough to scoop her into my arms and carry her upstairs.
So we had lemon cake for breakfast instead.