Consistency of Real Love
"Is that him?"
"Huh?" Rachel asks eloquently, turning back to her friends.
"Is. That. Him?" one of them repeats slowly, nodding towards the circulation desk. The man casually chatting with the librarian doesn't seem to notice that he's being watched, but Rachel blushes furiously all the same.
"Yes, that's him."
"Oh, he's gorgeous!"
"Oh, my God, Rachel, please tap that for me."
"Who knew grad students came in the cute variety?"
She hushes them for fear of being overheard. It's bad enough that she's staring out Ethan-the-British-grad-student (the uncreative but self-explanatory title her friends came up with) in the middle of the library. To be caught staring at him would be mortifying.
Not that her crush on him isn't embarrassing enough. The day she walked into the classroom full of excited murmurs about spending six whole weeks in England, her eyes had immediately been drawn to the young man standing with the older professors. When she heard his British accent, her initial interest had turned into a school girl crush. That crush hasn't disappeared.
She recognizes her chances. She's not even twenty one yet, and he has to be at least twenty four. He's at the 'I don't have to be at school but am driven enough to want to continue for my future success' stage. She's still at the stage where she alternately wants to go to grad school to avoid the real world and go to the real world to avoid writing another paper ever again.
Despite all of that, it doesn't hurt to admire him from afar.
Their real first date is an utter disaster in the way that only first dates can be. First, she can't find the right shoes, which only manages to put her into a mild panic. She knows he won't care about the shoes, but she isn't really in the mood to be reasonable. She wastes so much time looking for them that she doesn't have time to shave, which really just annoys her.
She thinks she might be fine once he picks her up. A mild snag in an otherwise perfect evening.
He has already told her that they are going to dinner and then the theater – on the kind of adult date that makes her giggle just thinking about it – but he forgets to mention that he has in mind a Greek restaurant. Had he warned her, she could have made other suggestions. As it is, she can only pretend to be interested in the menu items that she truly has no interest in and never will. The fact that he notices only leads to embarrassment on both sides and extremely stilted conversation. They never run out of things to talk about but tonight, they do.
On the way to their show, they find the one minuscule nail on the road. When she notices that he doesn't really seem to know how to change a tire, she doesn't know whether to offer to help him change it and risk getting dirty or hold back and risk being late. The weather decides it for her when the sky opens up with a sudden clap of thunder (had the news even predicted a chance of rain?), sending both of them scurrying for the car in the hope of staying somewhat dry.
The two of them sit in somewhat awkward silence until she can't keep her mouth closed anyone. "What a bloody disaster." He snorts, making her look at him. When their eyes meet, neither one of them can hold back their laughter.
On their second date, they go to Steak n' Shake and the new Ben Affleck movie. When he kisses her goodnight, they smile at each other in complete agreement. If it's the choice between a dramatic, romantic date or a fun time with him, she knows exactly which one she would choose.
When he walks into their house on their first anniversary, he confirms what he has previously only suspected: his wife can't cook.
He knew when they got married that she didn't like cooking. He doesn't really mind, and she always manages one of those 'idiot proof' box meals when he runs late. But this… This is the kind of disaster only someone who really can't cook could create.
"Damn it, damn it, damn it!" she yells in frustration, oblivious to his presence. She is too busy attempting to put out the small fire in the oven, clean up the mess on the stove from where a pot has boiled over, and balance a pot in her hand all at once.
"Uh, Rach?" he asks. "Do you need—"
CRASH. In a last ditch effort to get the fire out, the pot goes to the floor. She uses a couple of words he has never heard come out of her mouth and then turns, freezing when she sees him in the doorway. "Oh."
"Do you need some help?" he asks again.
Unexpectedly, his question makes her eyes well up with tears. "No." She shakes her head, wiping at her eyes furiously. "I just wanted to do something special for you, you know?"
He crosses the room in moments, wrapping his arms around her because he knows that's what she needs. After a few moments, her arms wrap back around him. He leans back enough to look down at her with a smile. "How does Chinese take-out sound?"
"There's nothing to be afraid of," she reassures him for the hundredth time.
"Easy for you to say," he grumbles, grabbing her hand.
"I don't know why you're scared," she chides as she leads him around to the back of the house and towards the sound of conversation. "It's just my parents."
"I have a sister," he says. He isn't afraid of meeting her mother. Her father is a different story. He knows how his father reacts whenever his sister brings a man home.
She gives him a look that tells him that he's an idiot before she pulls him into the backyard. He has a second to recognize that either Rachel or her mother lied when she called it a 'small event' (or maybe it's just meeting so many members of her family at once) before everyone seems to call a greeting and swoop down on them.
Through the flurry of introductions and jokes about a test later and the occasional cracks about his accent from people who have the least room to talk about accents, he gathers that Rachel has never brought a guy home to a larger family gathering. She shrugs in slight in embarrassment when he looks at her after someone lets that slip. More importantly, he notices that her father hasn't rushed forward to introduce himself.
He wonders if that in itself is some kind of test as Rachel drags him over to the man at the grill. "Hi, Dad," she says cheerfully, dropping Ethan's hand to go forward and hug the man.
"Hi, sweetie," he says, shooting Ethan a glance over her shoulder. The man himself isn't all that scary, but something about the look on his face is a completely different story.
Rachel lets go of her father and reaches a hand back to Ethan. "Dad, this is Ethan."
He reaches out his hand. "Peter Woad. I hear you're going into architecture."
Ethan isn't entirely sure if that's a good or bad thing, but he nods because it's the truth. "Yes, I am."
"Residential or industrial?" he asks.
While a far cry from 'What are your intentions with my daughter?', Ethan somehow feels that the answer is just as important, judging from the look Rachel shoots her father. "Residential, probably."
The response is startling. "Would you like a beer?"
"Er… Yeah, thanks." When he wanders off, Ethan turns to her. "Did I miss something?"
She just shakes her head. "I told him he couldn't ask you anything about our relationship. He would find another way."
He shakes his head. "I would have been less confused by the intentions question."
She shoots him a look. "Last time I try to protect your ass." He grins with the realization that no matter how much her father might want to protect her, she isn't going to let anyone scare him away.
He isn't afraid of any other questions he might be asked, if only she feels the need to protect him.
Her friends sometimes jokingly ask her who wears the pants in their relationship. She's never entirely sure what to tell them. Their relationship is fairly balanced in a way that few relationships really are. She's relatively independent to begin with, and he certainly doesn't expect her to do things for him when he can do them for himself.
Sure, he doesn't know how to change a tire or work on a car, but she would be absolutely lost if he didn't do the majority of the cooking. She might do most of the baby care, but he does enough house work to even it out. Even though their pay checks aren't really equal, that doesn't really matter in the grander scheme of things.
The truth is she prefers them equal. Without him as an equal partner, she isn't entirely sure what she would do. She needs his help, and she knows that sometimes he needs hers just as much.
She still tells her friends that, naturally, she wears the pants. It's really just easier for everyone that way.
She doesn't question him when he tells her he needs to stop by a site for a few minutes. It isn't all that unusual, especially when he starts a project. When they pull up in front of the house though, the project is far from new. "This one's nearly done," she says in confusion.
He grins at her. "Not nearly, but there are walls, which is more than when you usually see them. I need to check out how they're doing some interior walls. Do you want to come in?"
It's cold and almost dark, and there's no telling how long he will take if he finds a mistake and gets distracted. She follows him into the house, feeling slightly bewildered by the fact that a house that looks so close to complete outside can look so incomplete on the inside.
"We came in through the kitchen," he says, smiling slightly. "This is the living room, and that will probably be the office until there's need for a real dining room. There on the end is the master suite, and there are three bedrooms upstairs. I don't know if that will end up being too much, but it seems like a good start anyway."
"Mm-hm," she hums, looking around distractedly before what he said fully sinks in. She rounds on him. "Wait. A good start? A good start for what?"
He grins, reaching out to capture her hand. "A family, of course."
"A family," she repeats blankly. "Families in general?"
"Well, yes, but ours specifically," he says, obviously trying not to laugh. She just blinks at him, feeling confused.
That confusion peaks when he gets down on one knee in front of her. "Oh, my," she squeaks, making him laugh. It isn't that they haven't discussed it a little, like most couples do once they reach a certain point, but that conversation didn't prepare her for this.
"Rachel," he says, smiling up at her. "I know we haven't been dating for as long as some, but I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I want to raise our children in a home like this one. Or any home. It doesn't matter as long as you're there. Will you marry me?"
She stares at him for a moment in utter shock before grinning. It isn't the most romantic proposal she has ever heard, but it's more than enough for her. There really is only one answer. "Yes!"
"We could go to Venice! How romantic would it be to ride in a gondola on our honeymoon?"
"How romantic would it be to have a bird shit on you during our honeymoon?" She shoots him a filthy look, making him shrug. "What? It's a possibility. There are pigeons everywhere in Venice."
She huffs. "You make a suggestion then!"
He just wants to go somewhere that he can have her to himself for a couple of weeks, preferably in a bed. He doesn't say it quite so bluntly though. "We could just go to a beach somewhere."
She makes a face. "Pfft. Where is all the romance in your soul? A beach somewhere?"
He gives up and just says it directly. "I want you naked in bed with me for a straight week. It doesn't matter where the hell that bed is as long as you're in it."
She blinks at him before giggling. "Well, I can handle palm trees instead of gondolas outside the window."
She isn't at her apartment, and she isn't answering her phone. He goes to the only place he can think where she could be, hoping she's there. Bargaining with her best friend, as terrifying as she might be, will be nowhere near as hard as hunting all over the campus trying to find her.
He breathes a sigh of relief when he sees her car parked in front of Caroline's house, but finding her is not even half of the problem. He doesn't hesitate even a moment when he goes to knock on the door.
Caroline blinks in slight surprise when she sees him standing there. "That was… incredibly fast."
"Thanks," he says wryly. "What test do I have to pass to convince you to talk to her?"
To his surprise, she moves to let him in without another word. When he gives her a look of confusion, she rolls her eyes. "Obviously you realize you're an idiot, or you wouldn't have gotten here so quickly. You usually seem to make her happy, so I'm pretty sure this is just an off day for you."
"Far cry from before," he says wryly, making her shrug. She might have said something else, but he doesn't really care at the moment. "Where is she?"
"Upstairs, first door on the right. She's not crying, so she's not really as mad at you, but be careful anyway."
He grunts a thank you before taking the stairs two at a time. All he wants to do is apologize and beg for forgiveness, even if it means he has to kiss serious ass for the next couple of days. It's worth it because, in Caroline's words, she makes him happy.
When he opens the door, Rachel just looks at him. "She let you in?"
"She accepts that men can be idiots some days," he replies, moving forward cautiously.
"Is today one of those days?" she challenges.
She eyes him again before sighing. "Fine. You're lucky I like you so much. Close the door and start talking."
He likes to think that he loves all of his children equally. The only competition for the happiest day of his life is the three days each of his children were born.
For all that he loves them equally though, there is something about their youngest that he has a hard time saying no to. She knows it too, for all that she's only seven. She just gives him her most innocent smile and asks him if she can have some ice cream even though it's only an hour until dinner. He thinks it might have something to do with the fact that she has her mother's eyes. He can't really say no to Rachel either when he gives her that same innocent look and asks if he minds picking up their son from soccer practice.
He has learned that the best option is to tell her to ask her mother. She can smile innocently or pout all day long to Rachel, and Rachel will still tell her no. So when he sends her to ask Rachel, he isn't entirely surprised when Rachel gives him a wry look over their daughter's head as she tells their daughter that no, she can't have ice cream because dinner is soon.
He just smiles his own innocent smile. He can't really be blamed if he's a sucker for the women in his life.
"It was the jeans," she says.
He blinks at her. "The jeans?"
"Sure," she teases. When he asks when she first noticed him, she's more than slightly embarrassed to admit that it was long before she ever took her seat next to him on the plane. When he asks what attracted her notice, she isn't quite willing to embarrass herself a second time by giving him the predictable answer. "Some girls are just a sucker for guys in a really good pair of jeans. Haven't you ever heard that before?"
"Unfortunately, no," he replies, a grin slowly spreading across his face. "So my accent has nothing to do with it?"
"Maybe a little," she admits before rushing on. "But the jeans came first. The accent just confirmed it."
"Uh-huh," he says, his smile clearly saying he doesn't believe it. "Would you like to know a secret?"
"It can't be any more embarrassing than mine," she grumbles.
He laughs, pulling her towards him. "I noticed you that day too."
"No, you didn't," she protests even as she lets him tug her against him.
He smiles teasingly as he bends his head towards her. "It was the jeans."
"What is this?"
She turns in confusion before letting out a squeak. She quickly navigates the obstacle course of boxes sprawled across the room and yanks the pair of underwear out of his hands. "It's nothing."
"Certainly nothing I've seen you wear before," he replies, grinning as he tries to look around her. She refuses to let him see it though. He laughs at that. "It's not like I've never seen your knickers before."
"Well, these are for the honeymoon," she says sharply. She pauses, smiling slightly. "You really just said knickers."
"'Course I did," he agrees, grinning. "Now can I see them? They looked kind of interesting."
She gives him a wry look. "Just go pack that over there, would you?"
"Just think," he teases, tapping her ass as he walks around her. "When we get married, you won't have any secrets."
"Well, by that point, you'll know all of them anyway," she teases back, but that doesn't keep her from hiding the underwear from him. Just because he will know all of her secrets soon doesn't mean he has to know them right now.
The first time was bad enough, but the second time is even harder. He sprints across the room, dodging wheelchairs and patients, to reach the desk. "I need Rachel Abrams."
The receptionist gives him a wry look. "What is wrong with Miss Abrams?"
"Mrs. And she was in a car wreck, so if you wouldn't mind—"
"She's in 206," she says politely, which further pisses him off.
Instead of snapping, he just gives a terse nod and storms off. He all but stomps all the way up the stairs and into the room. Her head jerks up when she walks in, a look of relief crossing her face. Before he knows it, he reaches the other side of the room and has her in his arms.
"Ethan, I'm okay," she protests even as she wraps her arms around him in return.
"Are you?" he insists.
"Well… Yes. But…"
He leans back to look down at her. "But you lost the baby." She nods, making him lean down to kiss her forehead.
"It's fine," she protests again. "I don't like it, of course. But… it's happened before, so it doesn't… Well…"
He tightens his hold on her. "We can try again."
She smiles weakly at him. "Maybe." He hugs her tighter because no matter how brave she tries to be, he can still see how much the loss hurts her. One loss is enough, but to lose two might be too much. So he just holds her because he isn't sure what to say, and he can only hope that this will be enough.
It isn't the dates that she loves. It isn't the flowers or the dinners or the presents. In true cheesy and romantic fashion, her favorite times are the little moments that no one else would catch. When he grabs her hand almost without thinking about it. When he drops a mug of coffee on the table next to her without a word when she's stressed out about a test. When he doesn't mind her sitting in his lap even though he's in the middle of watching whatever game he happens to be watching.
Mostly, she loves them because they show how well he knows her. He knows that she would rather be caught holding hands than be caught kissing in public. He knows that she doesn't want to talk to anyone when she's overly stressed out but coffee will work wonders on de-stressing her. He knows that she sits on his lap more to watch the game herself than to distract him from it.
Simply, those moments show how much he loves her more than any words ever could. Even though he doesn't say it often, she knows. And that is plenty good enough for her.
She realizes it one day in the middle of asking Ethan (for the fifth time) to fix the door next to the garage before someone gets the fabulous idea of breaking into the house. "Oh, no."
"What?" he asks, obviously confused. He should be; she did cut herself off mid-sentence. But that's a minor concern in light of her realization.
"I'm turning into my mother," she groans, covering her face with her hands. The snort of laughter that follows her statement doesn't make her feel any better. "It's not funny," she grumbles from behind her hands.
"I don't think you're a thing like your mother," he reassures her.
She peeks at him through her fingers. "That's because you never lived with her. She nags Dad all the time, and she is the most passive aggressive person I know."
He laughs, which makes her feel a little better. If it were true, he wouldn't be laughing. Right? "I don't know how I feel about the comparison to your father, but you don't nag anymore than you need to. I've been meaning to fix that door."
"Really?" she asks worriedly, dropping her hands entirely. "You'll tell me if I turn nagging though, won't you? I'm terrified of becoming my mother."
He wraps his arms around her with a grin. "I don't particularly want you to turn into your mother either."
She feels like she has spent more time with him than anyone else on the trip during the past six weeks, but he still hasn't said anything. She knows there's the possibility of something between them, if only he would actually pick up on it. Or… care enough to pick up on it.
She has considered that maybe he does recognize that she might have more than slight feelings for him and has just chosen to ignore it. Somehow, she doesn't think so though. Boys can be notoriously oblivious sometimes, and there's an inverse relationship between how much education a man has and how many signals he is actually able to pick up on from the opposite gender.
So she says goodbye to everyone else, not hoping to get anything before they go their separate ways. Maybe in the fall, when they have some more time…
"You're not leaving?" he asks in bewilderment when she tells him goodbye.
She laughs, shaking her head. "No. I'm jumping a flight home in an hour or so. It just seemed easier to catch a connection than to drive up here and then leave my car somewhere." He gives her a look that's part surprise and part something she doesn't understand. She laughs again instead of trying to analyze it. "I'll be back in a couple of weeks. I just needed to go home for a while. See my family and friends, the usual."
"Oh." He blinks again. "I was kind of hoping… Well, never mind."
Catching what she thinks he might be saying, she smiles slightly. "I'll be back the third. Maybe we can hang out or something."
"Yeah. Hang out." He looks at her for a second before shaking his head with a muttered oath. Before she can fully consider it, he pulls her in and drops a quick but telling kiss on her mouth. "The third?"
"The third," she confirms, unable to keep from grinning. Because maybe, just maybe, he isn't so oblivious after all.
Her best friend hates him, and he can't figure out why. Not that he hasn't tried asking. He has. "She's just trying to be a good friend," Rachel always says, brushing it off like it isn't important because to her, it's only a matter of time before the two most important people in her life become lifelong friends.
But he knows it isn't that simple. He also knows that, without Caroline's agreement, he will never be able to get a ring on Rachel's finger like her so desperately wants (some time in the future, of course. Not now, not so soon, but sometime). So when Rachel leaves them at the table by themselves while she goes to the restroom, he asks.
"You're going to hurt her," she says simply.
He blinks. "Pardon?"
A wry smile crosses her face. "You'll hurt her. Maybe not tomorrow or next week or next month, maybe not on purpose, maybe not knowingly. But you will. And then? You'll run back to England and leave me to clean up the pieces."
He wants to know where she gets off, accusing him of hurting her. He might, someday, unknowingly or accidentally, but he would never leave her. Not like that. Never. "I love her," he insists.
She gives him a look that makes him want to hit something. "Really? Prove it."
He doesn't have time to respond before Rachel reappears, taking her seat between the two of them. "Talking about me?"
"Always," Caroline drawls.
On their wedding day, as caught up as he is in his new wife, he still notices Caroline's approving nod.
At first, she thinks it might just be because she's been spending so much time with him. It's reasonable for her friends to be mad that she doesn't spend as much time with them, particularly her best friend. But even when she makes time for Caroline, the tension is still there.
Whenever Ethan asked her about it, she had just brushed it off, but even she has to admit that something strange is going on there.
"Why do you hate him so much?" she finally asks.
Caroline gives her a look of surprise before smiling wryly. "Do you two talk about me? Because he asked me the same thing."
Rachel didn't know he had asked, but she doesn't let it distract her. "Seriously."
Caroline shrugs. "I don't hate him."
"Dislike him, then."
"Does he plan on going back to England?" Caroline asks instead.
Rachel blinks because the truth is she has never really considered it. Of course she knows he is from England. She just doesn't know his… long term plans. "I don't… know."
"Well, until you do, I reserve approval," Caroline says calmly.
Thinking it a fair question, she asks him later. "Do you plan on going back to England when you finish school?"
He blinks at her like it's a question that he has never really considered either. Or maybe he has and just doesn't want to tell her his answer. Or maybe—
"I hadn't planned on it," he hedges.
"But?" she demands.
"Well, I had kind of hoped to stay here."
"Why?" she asks. She has some kind of strange need to know his reason. She isn't sure if she wants it to be because of her or not. They haven't been dating all that long, after all. And maybe—
"Because I have a life here now," he said simply. While he doesn't explicitly name her as a reason, she knows she's part of it. She also knows that she's not all of it. Somehow that answer is more reassuring than any she could have imagined.
When the rain starts, instead of being angry like most girls would, she lets out a happy cry and runs out into it. It doesn't seem to bother her that it's cold and wet, and she doesn't seem bothered by how long it might be before she can change into dry clothes.
"What are you doing?" he asks from his shelter under the overhanging roof.
"Dancing in the rain," she says as she spins around. "I love rain. Don't you?"
"I live in London, so no," he replied, watching her in utter confusion.
She stops to stare at him in surprise. "You haven't ever danced in the rain? Gone puddle jumping? Kissed in the rain?"
She frowns at him before reaching a hand out towards him. "Come here."
"And get soaked intentionally? Why?" Just to tease her, he adds, "How old are you anyway?"
The only response he gets is an eye roll. "It's just water. Come here."
He grumbles, but he comes out to join her while thinking about the crazy things that people do for the ones they love. "Now what?"
"Now we do this." She pulls him down for a kiss.
When the kiss ends, he raises his head to look at her. "Not that I'm complaining, but why did we have to do that in the rain?"
He's glad she's not offended, but he still doesn't understand what is so funny.
She had thought to make it a special announcement, but she just can't hold it in anymore. "I'm pregnant."
He stops mid sentence, staring at her in surprise with his mouth open. She reaches over to close his mouth with a giggle, snapping him out of his shock. "Pregnant?" he asks.
She nods. "I know we weren't really planning on having them yet, but… it happened."
She isn't entirely sure how she expected him to react, but before she knows it, she's being pulled into his lap and hugged so tightly she almost can't breathe. The wide grin across his face settles any fears she might have had. "A baby. We're really having a baby."
His grin turns slightly salacious. "I guess it is a good thing we got married so early then."
She loves debating things with him. What she loves even more is trapping him into the arguments to begin with. It was how they met, after all. Her friends call them nerd arguments because instead of debating just modern politics or music or something normal, they debate history. Not that they don't argue modern politics, but instead of being obsessed with cars or video games and having the strange male desire to talk about them for hours on end, he is obsessed with history in a way that makes her heart flutter. It isn't really the kind of thing you would think an architect would take interest in, but she doesn't complain.
It doesn't take much to trick him into the debates. A simple sentence like, "Maybe if they had managed to claim the ridge, the entire war would have been turned in their favor," and before he knows it, he's debating military strategy or old world politics or treatment of a figure in history.
Her favorite part is how he doesn't lecture her. They can have an actual discussion about anything from candidates for office to the accuracy of a book made into movie.
Sometimes, he doesn't realize what he's doing. He has these debates with her like it's something that everyone does. Other times, he realizes halfway through telling her she's wrong. He pauses, his mouth half open, and then closes it with a wry smirk. Usually he finds something much better to do with her mouth than argue with him.
Either option is fine with her.
Sometimes she wonders how all of this happened so quickly, particularly when all of the wedding plans begin to pile up. Less than a year and a half ago, he barely knew she existed, and the most she knew about him was that he was cute and British. Less than a year ago, they were only beginning to date. And now they're getting married.
It is just so unbelievable that she sometimes has problems wrapping her mind around it. No one dates for less than a year before they get engaged. No one sensible, at least. What if they're rushing into things?
The look on her parents' faces when she tells them that they are engaged confirms it. Caroline's hesitation whenever she wants to plan wedding details make her worries seem all the more real. Her other friends squeal and jump up and down and congratulate her, but even they seem surprised and look at her in disbelief from how quickly their relationship has developed.
She doesn't want to bring her worries up to Ethan. It isn't that she doesn't love him, only that she doesn't know if she's ready for such a big decision. But he knows something is wrong. He always does.
"What if we're rushing into this?" she blurts before she can stop herself.
"Do you think we're rushing into it?" he asks. She doesn't want to say yes, but all she can do is shrug helplessly. He just smiles and says something that she finds a little unbelievable in itself. "We can wait then."
"We can?" she exclaims in surprise.
He laughs. "Of course we can, if it will make you feel better."
"Why didn't you tell me that earlier?" she demands, making him laugh.
"As long as you're happy, I can wait as long as you want."
Sometimes she can't believe how lucky she is to have someone who not only loves her but also has enough sense to know that her own uncertainties have nothing to do with him.
Any vanity you might have disappears when a baby comes. Particularly when one baby turns into two a little too soon after the first one comes.
She thinks it's a little much to think about shaving her legs or putting on makeup when she only had four hours of sleep the night before because the crying of the baby led to the sniffling of the toddler. And when it comes to dressing up just for the sake of looking nice for her husband? Forget it.
But sometimes it would be nice to just sleep for an entire night. Most people her age are still out late partying or going on dates or studying. She just wants more than three hours of sleep in a row.
So when she wakes up to the sound of a baby's cry for the third time that night, all she wants to do is cry herself.
Before she can even think about moving though, she feels a kiss against her forehead. "My turn then?" Before she can protest, she feels him move out of the bed. In another few minutes, she hears him murmuring to their son, shushing him before he can wake up their daughter.
She smiles as she settles in to fall asleep again. Maybe, she thinks to herself just before she falls back asleep, just maybe, she'll actually take the time to shave her legs in the morning. Just for him.
"I'm horrible at relationships," she tells him before they even start dating. They are still in the casual, get-to-know-one-another stage, but it still isn't something that a person usually mentions.
"Really," he says dryly, because in his mind, no one bad at relationships actually admits that they are bad at relationships.
"Really," she assures him. "I'm needy and possessive."
"Who the bloody hell told you that?" he demands through his laughter. He's never met a girl less needy and possessive.
"Oh, I internalize like all girls," she replies cheerfully. "But just wait, one day you'll be a little late for our date, and snap! I'll go crazy psycho bitch."
He laughs, but he remembers it when they start dating. It isn't something he thinks about every day, and it isn't something he really believes. But sometimes it comes up in his mind. Nothing happens for the first few months. Nothing ever does. In the back of his mind, he knows it will though.
And it does. He's running late because of freak traffic, his phone dies without his knowledge, and by the time he realizes it, it's far too late for him to do anything about it. He goes back to his apartment because it's well past midnight and he knows that she has work early in the morning. All he plans to do is charge his phone enough to text her an apology and tell her that he'll call in the morning.
He's surprised to find his light on when he unlocks the door, and he is even more surprised to find his half asleep girlfriend curled up on his couch. She jerks awake when he walks in, staring at him with an expression he can't read.
Though she doesn't say anything, he still feels the need to attempt to apologize. "I'm sorry. There was a tree down on the highway and my phone died so I couldn't…" He trails off when her expression doesn't change.
After a few moments, she takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "Well," she says, her voice tight, "let's just be glad your phone was the only thing that died." She gets up, grabbing her keys and her phone, and moves to walk out of the apartment. She starts to pass him, but she stops next to him at the last moment.
Without saying a word, she grabs his loosened tie and pulls him down to her level. The kiss that she gives him is more possessive than any kiss he's ever gotten, and before he fully recovers, the door closes behind her.
He shakes his head, bewildered. He knows that he should probably be bothered by the fact that she was waiting for him in his apartment or that she didn't even really give him a chance to explain himself. Despite that though, he can't help smiling slightly to himself as he turns off the lights and gets ready to go to bed.
She did warn him, after all.
She can't help being a little excited when she checks her ticket and sees that she's sitting next to him. She tries to keep her grin to minimum as she stows her bag and takes her seat. She turns to him with a polite smile. "Hi."
Ethan-the-grad-student gives her an uncertain look. "Hello." Although she knows it's impossible to hear an accent from only one word, she imagines all kinds of British inflections. Of course, she already knew he was British. Had known since the first planning meeting for the summer trip to London. It had spurred a crush that has gradually increased with every fun fact she learns about him.
She wonders if he actually enjoys leading undergrads around London or it's just an easy way for him to get home on the university's tab.
"I think life would be really boring if you had xenophobia," she blurts. She immediately winces at her own randomness even as he turns to her with a confused look.
"Yeah. You know, fear of—"
"Things that are foreign," he finishes. She barely resists the urge to wince again. Of course a third year grad student wouldn't want to be told something by an almost senior. "I was more asking why that would make life boring."
She opens her mouth, ready to blow his mind with her brilliance, and immediately closes it again. Any answer she can think of sounds snobby even in her own head. "Well… everyone should see the world once," she finally says lamely. "I mean, you're studying away from home. Across an ocean even."
"Just to America," he says, giving her an odd look. "There's nothing horribly foreign about that."
"I think it's brave, that's all," she replies, wishing she didn't sound like such an idiot.
He mumbles something vague then turns back to the window. She curses silently to herself until the plane takes off, then she takes a deep breath and pulls out a book.
"Please tell me you're reading that because someone is forcing you," comes a voice to her right.
She turns to him in bewilderment, looks down at her book, and then looks back at him. "What's wrong with it?"
"Besides the fact that it's not well written and historically inaccurate for all of that?" he asks. "Nothing, I don't suppose."
She straightens, readying herself for an argument. If there's one thing she can debate about, it's historical fiction (she is a history and English double major, after all).
Seven hours later, both of them leave the plane in bemused fascination with the other. Seven days later, they can be seen laughing together. Seven weeks later, they're dating, and seven months after that, they're engaged.
Seven years later, he says to her, "That was one hell of a flight."
All she wants to do is put her head on his shoulder and have a good cry. Cry out all of her worries, all of her troubles, all of her stress. But she can't. He is the cause of all of her worries and troubles and stresses.
As much as she wants to, she can't blame him. Not now. Not when she doesn't know if he will make it out of surgery or not.
All she can think about is how young they are. She is too young to have gray hair. Their daughter is too young to have a boyfriend. Their oldest is too young to be driving. Ethan is far too young to die, and their children are far too young to lose their father.
She wants him to hold her and tell her everything will be alright. Instead, all she can do is pray that he will be able to hold her again soon.
It is slightly bewildering at first. That wild, reckless feeling in his stomach every time they kiss. That clentch in his chest every time she smiles at him. He doesn't really know what it is or where it comes from, but he's almost afraid to guess. He's twenty five and too old to be dreaming up things like soul mates and true love.
Until, of course, she smiles at him, and then he feels lost all over again. This is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, he thinks to himself. And when he kisses her, he feels that same irrepressible zing, and he knows that he will never want anyone but her.
Author's Note: Hi! Yes, I'm still alive and writing when I have the time. This a response to SKoW prompt 6. And it won! So thanks so much to Jenina for the honor! (I would also like to thank my roommate for giving me Gondola and attempting to convince me that K should stand for Kinky...) I thought about telling you what order they go in, but one, I only have a vague sense of the order myself, and two, it doesn't really matter to the overall story.
Speaking of story, would you like to see more Rachel and Ethan? They've been floating around for quite some time, waiting to be written. Let me know what you think of them and their story in a review!