I finally step out of the car and try to breathe. This is the place. I know it, I've looked it up ten times, minimum. This is it. I'm really doing this.
The gravel crunches under my shoes as I walk up to the front door. I take one more deep breath and ring the bell.
There's a squeal and a scuffle from inside, and then the door bursts open to reveal a little boy, tiny and towheaded, with dimples and enormous brown eyes. My breathing hitches again, but I kneel down anyway and ask: "Hey, there. Is your daddy home?"
Two tall, sturdy jeans-clad legs appear behind the boy. "Yes, I am."
I straighten up very slowly and raise my face toward his.
It's him. It's unmistakable. The eyes don't look nearly as big as they used to now that his jaw line has been honed and his features are more precise, but they are his.
His expression doesn't waver. "It's 'Matthew' now."
"I thought it might be."
His hand lands gingerly on the little boy's head, tousling the blonde hair as he murmurs, "Go back to Mommy, kiddo." The kid disappears behind him, and he steps outside, pulling the front door shut so that it's just him and me on the quiet suburban street. His motions mesmerize me; he moves now with ease and grace and even a hint of a swagger. He knows what a catch he is. My heart doesn't know whether to break or to swell.
I fling up a hand to maintain our distance. "Hey, before you get any naughty ideas, I'll have you know that that's my fiancée waiting in the car." I jab a finger over my shoulder.
"Fiancée?" The brown eyes sharpen and dart after my finger. Then they fix on my face with earnestness that floors me, though it shouldn't. ". . . Is he a good one?"
"The best." I hold his gaze to answer the real question: No way in hell would he ever lay a hand on me.
He smiles, a faint ghost of the smile I remember. "Congrats. You here to invite me to the wedding?"
"No," I answer honestly, even though I know he's kidding. I reach into my tiny purple bag, but my hand is nervous and my fingers fumble around. "I heard what you did for Melanie," I say quickly to hide the delay. "That was really amaz—"
"Spare me the sob story. That was years ago. And my parents did the work, anyway. Right after they grounded me for life."
So he did tell them. And he remembers it all. But only because I brought it back with me. No way was he counting the days.
My fingers close on their target at last. "I came to give you this." I pull out the slab of bills and hold it out to him.
He pushes my hand away.
I push back. "Take it!"
"Drop the noble act and take it!" I slap the money into his palm, but he lets the rubberbanded wad fall to the ground with the smack! of paper on stone. "Or at least take your half!"
Eyes on the pavement, he slips his hands into his pockets. "You get a freebie on that. It's not about the money. I'd have given you all of it if you'd asked."
No boy has ever made me cry and I have no intention of letting that change, but man, he is good. "If it's not about the money, then what?"
It's a dumb question because it has a million answers, but I want to hear which one he'll choose.
His head lifts and those chocolate-brown eyes lock on mine. He takes a step closer. "I never got to kiss you back."
Icy panic sweeps through me, freezing me to my spot on the front walkway while my brain screams for flight. Yet at the same time, I know with a certainty that runs deeper than the earth's core that this new Matthew, grown man, homeowner, husband, and father, is still my old whimsical buddy Matty who loved lava lamps and wore spaceship pajamas and wouldn't hurt a fly.
So I let him enter my personal space, and I don't even flinch when his long-fingered artist's hands cup my shoulders. The grip is so loose, so tentative; it requests permission to break one last rule, fully prepared to back off if I don't grant it. But, closing my eyes, I do.
His cool lips tenderly brush my forehead, the kiss as soft as his whisper: "Don't be a stranger, Addie."
Then he pulls back and lets me go.
. . . . . . . .
He watched her walk away and slip back into the front passenger seat. As the car revved up, he ran his tongue across his lower lip, where her fading taste lingered. Clean and sweet, yet somehow wild and dangerous.
Just like a thunderstorm.
A/N: So that's the end. I hope you've enjoyed this and find the ending satisfying. I know this ending leaves a lot of gaps to be filled, but I'm not going to fill them. This isn't meant to be a novel; it was actually a short story I wrote a couple of years ago - I just broke it up into more easily digestible chunks to try to keep it from getting buried in the archive.
If you hate the ending, let me know, and if you love it, let me know :) Reviews are like rainbow sprinkles, except black and white and not edible. Otherwise exactly the same.