Don't steal. I still haven't figured out why anyone would, other than maybe the praise? Because if that's what you're into go volunteer at a nursery home. For some reason that actually makes everyone think you're a wonderful human being, which you won't be if you steal.
Thanks so much for everything, all the comments and all the encouragement. This story was completely written before I posted it at all, but the editing and rewriting and all the other stuff were a right bitch to do, more work than the actual writing. I was going to do it anyway, but all of your kind words made it just that little bit sweeter. So thanks.
I'll come back to recheck for mistakes, but feel free to point them out. We're only human down here and, as recently discovered, pointedly not 20/20 anymore. So we miss things sometimes.
This is the last chapter. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I always hate writing the end...
Thanks for everything again!
He, of course, can't really stay away that long. I literally burst out laughing when he comes to me in June all contrite saying that he wants to go on this month-long, small-venues tour, to showcase the new material his band has been working on. He looks at me like I lost all my marbles but what else is new.
Pat informed me that he wanted to move in with me in early January. It made very little sense to me at the time because his apartment is bigger, and he chose to wait until I made a very long argument about it to inform me that he had bought the apartment next door to mine and wanted to join them together. We lived in his old apartment for a couple months until the renovations were complete and now we have a most awesome apartment above the bakery that I am now fully running. Mrs. Yearling moved away to be with her kids and, long story short, now I manage the thing.
Liz and Ollie moved to the city as well and are living at the old apartment; she helps me manage the bakery and we've built a nursery for little Ollie – who still is in love with me – to hang out with us. And Ari too, I guess, after school. They're pals now. It's all good.
Anyways, after a lot of begging and seeing as I'm now done with school and only await my fall graduation, I come along on that small-venue tour with Pat. The bunks on the tour bus do resemble coffins a little bit but Evan, Joe and Jared aren't really that sweaty. They're in fact really nice and protective of me and Zoe, who also comes along, and really grateful for all the stuff we do; things smell good, there's always coffee and let's face it. We're pretty.
And I admit it, I have a blast. I spend most of the days hanging out with Zoe, taking pictures and buying random crap and I spend the nights with Pat, watching him perform, laughing at him for attempting to out drink me and my hollow leg and stealing the little soaps from all the hotels we stay at. Which we keep in an enormous jar at home in the bathroom. I also am recruited for teaching them some dance moves in exchange for getting lulled to sleep by Joe playing the slide guitar, with which I am weirdly obsessed. It's almost bad to return home.
Scratch that, it sucks to return home. Pat and I can't ride the bus back to the city because I get sick, the kind of cold that has me hacking, coughing, spluttering and in general making all kinds of repugnant noises that make him neurotic. I try to explain that I won't die from a cold, but he refuses to listen to me, books us first class seats and pretty much swathes me in blankets and forces me to drink tea and sleep all six hours. He doesn't even let me watch the movie. It's very obnoxious.
I suspect he's just feeling guilty because I only got sick after the whole sex-on-the-terrace-in-the-rain incident three days before, so he's overcompensating and being a pest. However, after like another three days of it not getting better, I admit that I need a doctor and allow him to take me to one.
Pat is scandalized. Horrified. If I didn't feel so freaking rotten I would laugh at his appalled outrage. It's no use reminding him that I was there and consented, as well, because he thinks it's all his fault. He doesn't stop watching me even three seconds. I'm not even sure he sleeps. He feeds me my pills like clockwork and keeps the kitchen stocked with sick people crap like applesauce and soup and orange juice. He's an angel. A fucking irritating angel, but an angel all the same.
And, admittedly, he does help me get better. He babies me for about a full week after I'm back to normal, and doesn't want to touch me for fear that he may, I don't know, dislodge one of my lungs or whatever, but he's never been able to resist me for very long, especially not when I purposely pull out all the moves in the book until he cracks. When he finally capitulates, he repeats over and over to me that I'm evil.
Which is what lands me on today, six weeks later. It's my graduation day and I'm standing here in my bathroom, in a pretty dress, all made up and with no freaking clue of what to do with myself. I'm really nervous. I have to be ready in fifteen minutes – there's a crazy man out there who keeps yelling at me to hurry up – and I don't have a clue of how to do...anything today.
One guess to what I found out this morning.
Finally, I do go out, still at a loss. He looks at my pale face funny but doesn't really comment as he is in a right tizzy to get going. In all honesty, he's more excited about this whole ceremony thing than I am, and he's been conspiring with my mom behind my back to, like, organize a dinner to celebrate and whatever. I don't feel in the mood for this. I'm queasy and I have a headache and I just don't feel good.
Two guesses to what I found out this morning.
I get through the ceremony in one piece. I do the requisite shots, smile for everyone, hug people, the whole nine yards. But my stomach is churning. I am freaking out on the inside. I don't want to go to this dinner. I want to go home and have a bath and just figure things out. But everyone is so excited and bouncy that I just suck it up. It's just a couple hours. It's a couple hours too long. I'm not sure I'll make it.
Three guesses to what I found out this morning. And haven't told anyone about.
On top of everything, Pat is super quiet in the car on the way to the restaurant, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel like he's nervous about something. He's pointedly avoiding looking at me and it's freaking me out. Finally, when he parks, he turns to me.
"I did something," he announces a little bit fearfully.
And that's just what I needed. To hear this. Because in my currently frazzled state, a thousand horrible scenarios cross my mind; from Pat cheating on me to him throwing away my bunny slippers that he loathes to inviting someone I hate to my graduation dinner. All kinds of stupid things that wouldn't even cross my mind under different circumstances, things that wouldn't faze me even remotely if they did cross my mind for whatever crazy reason. I can feel the beginning of a hyperventilation spell and he sees it, too, because his eyes widen alarmingly and he places a soothing hand on my forearm.
"I just have something for you, is all," he grimaces, obviously contrite about causing me distress. Probably it's in part because he hates anything that makes me unhappy, but mostly I think that it's because I'm never ever distressed and it's weird for him. I really can't believe he's not onto me. I'm seriously never this irrational and I can hardly believe myself, even as my throat tightens almost painfully. I swallow thickly in a futile attempt to dislodge the enormous ball that has formed there as I give him a jerky nod, prompting him to continue.
"Here." he says, handing me a small, black, velvet square box. It looks suspiciously like a ring box.
Were I any other woman my heart would have started jackhammering against my bones. Were this any other man who had given me this box just like that, I myself would have been shocked into at least a mild case of tachycardia, especially in my funky emotional state. But you see, I know Pat. He does weird shit like this all the time and I wouldn't put it past him to have put a Hershey's kiss, which I still find everywhere in our home all the time, inside the velvet box as a way to announce that he bought stock in the company or something totally insane like that.
So, unfazed, I open it without preamble and sure, what's inside isn't a ring, engagement or otherwise. It's a pair of keys in a simple silver ring. I give him my best what-the-fuck face. Aptly named so by Pat himself.
"They're the keys to the bakery," he explains. His weirdness never ceases to amaze me.
"I have the keys to the bakery, Pat. I run it," I speak to him like he's four. Then he bites the corner of his lip and smiles just the way I like it, rolling his eyes skyward like he needs patience because I'm the one who's slow.
"Those are the spare keys," he elaborates. I have to admit it. He never ever stops making me laugh and today, fed up and jittery as I've been, is no exception. I start to laugh despite myself because I just don't get what the hell he's doing, although I know that there must be some sort of purpose to this little charade of his. He'll get to it soon enough.
"Okay," I chuckle.
"The only spare set," he ducks his head to catch my eye like he's willing me to understand something. I don't and it much be pretty obvious in my face, because he rolls his eyes once more in exasperation before finally letting the cat out of the bag. "I bought the bakery."
My smile dies instantly as my eyes widen. "Patrick. I thought I told you not to do that?" my voice rises way high pitched at the end, almost to a squeal and he winces, I presume both at the supersonic pitch of my voice and the very rare use of his full name.
We sure have had this discussion before. He wanted to buy it from Mrs. Yearling from the get-go, but I wanted to work for it because I hate the thought of coasting on his sizable bank account. It's one thing to accept extravagantly expensive jewelry – yes, I accidentally found out how much those gorgeous studs cost and I nearly threw up – but another altogether is to accept a free ride from him like that. I may be his live-in girlfriend and we may be in love but we still have separate bank accounts. We both pitch in. We split the cost of the renovation, even. We don't exactly have a system or anything, but we both contribute and this is totally fucked up because I expressly told him to not do it. I'm almost never ever mad at him, but I can feel it coming. Screw that. It's already here, hard and fast and red-hot.
And now, predictably, I'm on rant mode. "Seriously why did you do it? This is so embarrassing. You know that I'm almost done rounding up the money I need. I have no idea why you had to go and crap all over my plans like that. Do you just not listen? Was I not clear when I said that I didn't want a free ride on your freaking money?" I hate that my voice is still doing that squeaky, high-pitched thing and that it's so loud for the confined space we're in. But I can't control myself.
"It's our money," he counters with the same stupid argument that he always brings up when this particular discussion happens and that invariably irritates me and makes me feel like a bitch simultaneously. I open my mouth to tell him exactly where to shove our money when he holds up a hand in an uncharacteristic display of authority. "Stop talking, Logan. I'm serious. Just listen. I may have a compelling argument this time."
Oh this I have to hear, because I'm pretty damn sure that there's no way he can come up with something that's going to make this the time I cave in about this crap. I gesture sarcastically for him to continue. He rolls his eyes, as if asking for patience once more and sticks his hand in his jacket pocket.
"It's our money as it is, but if you want to make it official then take this," he smiles at me, extending his hand palm up. And cue the freezing of my entire blood-flow.
Because on his hand right now is the flamboyant pink diamond ring that I assume came in the box where the keys just were. And, while a mentally deficient deaf-dumb-blind could have predicted that one day I would be the recipient of such a trinket from my sweet little annoying lovely, I'm just a girl, I've had a trying day and I'm shocked into stunned, slack-jawed silence.
"Look," he chuckles, because apparently the expression of my face, entirely stone-frozen, is very amusing to him. "As far as I'm concerned everything I own is yours since the day that you popped up in my face from behind that cupcake stand, because I knew right then that I wanted to marry you. You may think that's stupid but hey, that's how it went. As far as the bakery thing goes, I have two things to say about it," he raises two fingers in front of my face.
Then he ticks the first one off. "The first thing is that I've watched you work your pretty little backside off to buy that place. You knew since you were a kid what you wanted and you went for it. Don't think for a second that you got this for free. If anyone deserves something like this that's you, and if I love you and I have the means to do it then I don't really see what the big deal is. I already know you're not a freeloader or a gold digger. Give yourself – and me – a little credit, Ellie," he snorts.
"Secondly," he says as he ticks his second finger off. "Do you have any idea of what you've done to me in a short year? I just told you that I wanted to marry you instantly, even though I felt totally insane. I was a total goner within days. I bought this ring in a month. I'm not wrong about this. You've literally changed my life. One small thing that I want to do for you with money that really doesn't mean that much to me doesn't even begin to compensate for everything that you do for me. So please, Ellie. Just accept the damn bakery and give me your hand so I can put this thing on your finger and then go screw your brains out. Please."
I can't help it. That last part makes me laugh, albeit a short, shocked laugh is all I can muster. In reality, he does raise a compelling point. Must come with his years of seniority over me, I muse. Or maybe he just knows me well.
And, well, there's no way I'm going to say no to him. I also knew pretty early on that I was screwed for all other men. I'm just not gonna find someone else like him. He's it for me, I've known it for a long time and especially at the moment. Since this morning. So, I offer him my hand without a word and he quite visibly sags with relief as he slides it on my ring finger. Moron. Like he didn't know that I would say yes.
I wiggle my left hand fingers under the overhead light of the car, both admiring and contemplating. The ring is gorgeous, a bit on the big side, kind of funky. It looks almost like candy. Trust Pat to find a ring to propose with that looks edible. And our moms, who are both waiting at the restaurant, are going to see this at twenty paces. Super.
Furthermore, I feel better than I have the whole day. This whole proposal thing? Makes everything better. I take a deep breath for my own big reveal.
"Well, this sort of changes things," I say breezily. It belies my actual nervousness. This ain't gonna be easy.
"Yeah, we'll finally get a joint checking account," he rolls his eyes.
"Besides that, which is getting tabled for further consideration," I inform him, ignoring his snort to continue. "I kind of have something to tell you, too."
"Oh?" he perks right up. He loves surprises so. Boy, are you in for a huge one.
"I peed on a stick this morning," I tell him. I see some semblance of recognition in his eyes that he really, really tries to suppress in favor of a somewhat neutral expression.
"Any...particular kind of stick or just a normal one?" he asks me quite conversationally.
"The kind you buy at the pharmacy."
His eyes do this thing where they roll to all sides, like he's trying to consider this carefully.
"And?" he finally asks, settling them on me.
"Let's just say that if we do this wedding thing quick I may still fit into regular clothes for it," I grimace.
He bites the inside of his cheek as he regards me through narrowed eyes, like he's thinking very hard about something.
"Holy shit," he says in the end, sucking air through his teeth. "We are going to have a seriously small kid."
And, just like that, everything's perfect. I start to laugh behind my hand and he follows right after, waiting just a beat or two before he throws his arms around me and pulls me in for a really tight hug. And some of those crazy kisses of his.
We don't stop making out until one of our phones go off. Probably one of our parents, wondering why we're taking so long or maybe Keegan, wondering if we took a quickie-detour. It's Pat's mom and I can hear her berating him through the receiver, both because we're super late and because he keeps giggling like a schoolgirl which is apparently irritating her.
He helps me off the car and wraps an arm around my waist to walk me to the restaurant, going slowly for the benefit of my stilettos on the gravel parking lot.
"You know, it's fucked up that you stole my thunder," he comments. "Now people will think that this is a shotgun wedding."
I snort with laughter. "You gave me pneumonia. The antibiotics interacted with my pills. If you think about it, this is all your fault," I point out primly and it's his turn to laugh.
"I'm pretty sure that you were there and that you liked it."
"You're okay," I dismiss him just as we cross the threshold of the restaurant, moment which he chooses to smack a loud sloppy kiss on my cheek.
My hand is behind Pat's back when we cross the doorway to the rental dining room that he and my mom got for the enormous family dinner, so no one's seen the pink monstrosity on my finger. However, the very second Hayden, the quietest and most serious of all my brothers, takes one look at me he speaks, loud enough for everyone to hear.
"So, are you engaged now?"
My head whips towards Pat, who looks just as shell-shocked as I do. He didn't tell anyone, it seems. And now I have like twenty expectant heads aimed right at me. I do the only thing I can do, which is take my hand out and hold it up with my best what-the-hell-just-happened face on. Predictably, the room erupts in cheers and clapping and whatever, but before we can be engulfed in congratulatory hugs and kisses and shit, Mackenzie speaks.
"And pregnant?" he asks, much more eagerly than my own brother should, may I add, especially considering that for all intents and purposes I am the second Harding who conceived a kid out of wedlock, not to mention that I'm a girl and the youngest, if that wasn't enough. I turn to Pat again, because this is total bullshit. He makes this don't-look-at-me face, with eyebrows raised and both his hands extended in front of him in the universal 'I'm innocent' gesture. I turn to look at the room, totally appalled. And Pat thought I stole his thunder? Take this, buddy boy.
Apparently I don't need to say a word, I have 'pregnant woman' stamped on my forehead now, because people start making noises again.
And above the ruckus, I hear Mackenzie's distinct voice.
"Sweet! You guys just made me a thousand bucks."
And that's it! It was great to share this stuff with you guys. I thought it would hurt!
Somebody brought up at some point or another that I wasn't particularly specific with the music bit of this. I don't have the whole playlists, as they didn't survive the great iPod debacle of April 2012, which involved general d&d of both my iPods AND my laptop, but I do know what the ones mentioned are, so I'll share those now, in case you're interested.
I love some of these people really, really hard – cookie if you guess which ones, just for kicks – but all are without exception really talented people one way or another. Support them if you like them! Music is awesome!
The Cupcake Slut [mostly complete] Soundtrack
The Little Mermaid Soundtrack – Kiss the Girl (that's self explanatory)
First Aid Kit – Emmylou (that's the breezy, country-ish song from the roadtrip playlist)
Aerosmith – Crazy (that's the non-kid friendly song, also from the roadtrip playlist)
Jason Mraz – I'm Yours (that's what Pat scoffs at. From the beach playlist)
Kings of Leon – Wasted Time (that's what Ellie doesn't look like she likes)
Piero Umiliani – Mahna-Mahna (that's what breaks the ice during their little post-date fight)
Cabaret Soundtrack – Cabaret (that's a showtune Pat likes to karaoke to)
Grease Soundtrack – You're the one that I want (Pat also likes to karaoke to this)
The Turtles – You, Baby (Another one of Pat's karaoke picks)
Little Joy – Don't watch me dancing (this is what Pat showed up at seven in the morning to dance with Ellie to)
Damien Rice – The professor & la fille danse (same as before. I was obsessed with both at the time)
The Jayhawks – Angelyne (this is what she demonstrates dancing to Pat with)
Journey – Any way you want it (something Pat puts in Ellie's happy-weird playlist)
New York Dolls – Personality Crisis (same as before)
Train – Sing Together (what Joe is picking out of his guitar in the dressing room at the – unnamed – arena )
Tom Jones – It's not unusual (elevator music)
Matthew Sweet – I almost forgot (this is a song that has steel guitar in it)
Ron Pope – Virginia (this is also a song with steel guitar)
There are chapter titles that refer to songs too. Such as:
Chapter 3 – Something to remember – it's in reference to a song called "Spread a little joy" by the Life Sized Humans.
Chapter 4 – Two birds of a feather – from "If it's love" by Train. Listen to it. You'll fall in love with someone. Anyone.
Chapter 6 – Crazy little thing – refers to a Queen song called "Crazy little thing called love". I sincerely hope I don't need to explain.
Chapter 7 – Forever in Bluejeans – from a Neil Diamond song of the same title. Yes. You heard me.
Well? Find anything you liked? I hope so.