f you want to know how I envisioned the main characters of Don't Panic, there are links on my profile page. All of them are fairly accurate, with the exception of Micah.


Vivian snarled, "If you miss this, I will chop off your balls, Bennett. I have planned too much for this party for you to be late! Get here now."

"I'm on my way," I huffed into my cell phone and then slipped it into my pocket. Nolan chuckled beside me and I sent him a dark glance. "I'm not in the mood to be laughed at, Nolan."

"But you're so goddamned adorable when you're pissed," he protested, tossing back his head when a car swerved in front of me and made my face turn red.

"Asshole," I griped at the careless driver, laying on my horn.

"Lighten up," Nolan insisted, his warm hand on my shoulder. "We're almost there."

The road ahead of me was packed with cars. My skin crawled in frustration as I glanced sideways at the digital clock on the dash board. 6:45. The party started at 6:30. I was never late. Not anymore. And being late for thatparticular event was out of the question.

Speaking of which…

Scarlet was burbling happily in the backseat, content with gnawing on the strap of her car seat. Through the rear view mirror, I saw her hopeful brown eyes shining as she took in her new surroundings and, for the millionth time that day, my heart felt like it was about to explode.

"Hey, little girl," I called back to her. "Are you ready to be pinched and coddled by my family?"

Nolan snorted. "You think your family is going to coddle her? We're going to have to keep her from my aunt Ruby. Once she has Scarlet in her arms, she'll never let go."

My stomach flopped in anticipation, at the thought of meeting Nolan's family. They were more accepting of Nolan's homosexuality, but not as accepting of our marriage.

When we pulled into the banquet hall's parking lot, it was not easy to find a spot. The place was packed out and I realized, with a nervous laugh, that most of the cars were there for us. For Scarlet, the sweet red-headed two-year-old we now called our daughter.

"Bennett!" Vivian snapped, stomping toward me in high heels that seemed unstable. Liam jogged after her, an apologetic smile on his face. "Everyone is inside. We've been waiting for half an hour. C'mon, get inside."

Standing beside my sister, it struck me how old she looked. Not the gross, wrinkled kind of old – mature. Like a woman. Being thirty-one, she should've looked like a woman, but it was still a shock to me. I hugged her, even though she was scowling. But then her eyes lit up when, for the first time, she saw Scarlet.

Nolan was lifting her from her car seat, plopping a little green hat onto her head. The hat balanced between her pig tails and she let out a delighted squeal, snuggled her face against Nolan's neck, so trusting and beautiful.

"Give me that baby!" Vivian shrieked, grabbing Scarlet right out of Nolan's arms. "Oh my God, Bennett, you don't deserve a little girl this adorable!"

"Penny is adorable too," Liam said, defensively. "Just as adorable as Scarlet."

"Of course she is," I teased, pinching Liam's cheek while he swatted at my hand. "She's got your genes."

Laughing, we – Liam, Viv, Penny, and Lowell trailing behind - made movements toward the double doors of the banquet hall, a warm summer breeze tousling Nolan's hair. He grinned at me, slipped his hand into mine easily. After all, that's where it belonged.

On the way in, I spotted Micah's shiny silver car and I was suddenly eager to greet my old friend. The penthouse dream never unfolded quite like I wanted. Micah lived in Cameron, still, and I hadn't seen him for three years.

Inside, it smelled like cinnamon and the party guests immediately crowded in around Vivian. She was holding Scarlet against her chest like she never wanted to let go and, to my alarm, Scarlet appeared terrified. I stepped forward to rescue her but Nolan's hand on my shoulder stopped me.

"Let them have her tonight. We get her for the rest of our lives."

Reluctant, I nodded and stood to the side with Nolan while our family members went berserk. Scarlet warmed up and started handing out "high-fives" left and right. Nolan and I smiled and laughed when my dad tickled her face with his stubble and she burst into laughter, a true social butterfly, full of grace and joy.

It didn't take long for Micah to find us. He grinned warmly and, by all appearances, seemed like he was going to be perfectly civil and polite. But then he rushed at me, wrapped his arms around my neck before moving on to Nolan and squeezing him in a hug as well. Wyatt was right behind him, his edgy hair overgrown and slightly curly, his glasses glinting in the dim yellow light. Micah worked his way through the crowd of family members, mingling easily with the strangers as he always did. He managed to kiss little Scarlet on her head and shook her hand before returning to where Nolan, Wyatt, and I were standing near the doors.

"She's gorgeous," Micah said, grinning broadly. Micah, almost thirty-years-old, had grown up a lot. He worked with an older psychologist in Cameron, training to start his own private practice someday. He no longer looked awkward, gangly and wiry, although he was still a little too thin. He had done just fine for himself. Wyatt too.

Wyatt, short and sharp-witted Wyatt, softened some. Not much, though – he was still the same sarcastic, overly-passionate nerd I used to know. He worked as a civil engineer, a job that sounded boring to me but he liked it just fine.

Gary was there, too, choking back alcohol far away from the clamor of the crowd. He was the same, only more tired and, honestly, miserable.

With the entire group there, all of my family, all of Nolan's family… I felt like my life was bursting at the seams. I had so much to live for, and adding Scarlet to the mix only sweetened it. We were happy – Nolan and me. We lived in a modest one-bedroom apartment in the city, a loft above the garage that Nolan owned, and worked as the head mechanic. After I completed graduate school at Truman, I made headway in the business world, one step at a time.

It all seemed too perfect to fathom. I feared that, one day, I would wake up and realize that it had been one of my elaborate dreams.

But I never woke up. And by the end of the evening, I was in a literal paradise. Scarlet was in my lap, slapping her chubby hands on the table while our families mingled. Nolan's arm was draped casually around my shoulder as he chatted with my dad about raising a child – my dad, the pastor, sitting two feet from me and my husband, my daughter. I thought to myself that it was a fucking miracle, that I was the luckiest man alive, that nothing could be better than this.

So now I've told you my story, right up until this moment. Scarlet is sleeping on Nolan's chest. They're snoring on our bed. Nolan is tangled in the sheets, an arm draped protectively over our daughter. The moon is high in the sky and I should be asleep, too, but I'm too happy for sleep. I need some outlet, some way to share my journey with the world. Writing it down only seems logical.

Through it all – the confusion, the angst, the drama… I came out alive and well, on the other side. I am living with the love of my life. I get to see him every day, and that feels fucking amazing. I get to raise a child alongside him. I get to have good friends like Micah and Wyatt. I get to have my family around me, loving and supporting me.

Looks like I got my cake, and ate it too.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, don't give up on finding this supreme sort of happiness. You know what it looks like – it's in your dreams, just like it was in mine. If you try your best, do everything within your power to make your dreams a reality, you will have nothing to regret when you take your last breath.

I have no regrets. I would do it all again, if it meant I got to sleep beside Scarlet and Nolan on this warm summer night. And that's just what I'll do.

;( Why must I torture myself so!? Now Nolan and Bennett have a little girl to raise, an adventure for sure! And still, I get the feeling that their story is over. *sigh* I love you guys (my readers) and I hope that the message in this epilogue rings true with you. Even if your dreams seem unattainable, go after them. You might fail, but you don't want to feel an inch of regret on your deathbed.

So, Don't Panic is over, with the slight exception of an edited Nolan/Bennett reunion on the way and, perhaps, a one-shot or two of their adventures with raising Scarlett.

Sadness and happiness all at once!

Much love,