A/n: So this is the last chapter. Thanks to everyone who has read this story, and a special thank you to those of you who reviewed. I'm glad you've enjoyed what started out as just a personal project. Happy holidays to everyone!
My first year of grad school kept me busy, and I had a small break between semesters.
I had planned to spend those two weeks in May alone in my apartment, just relaxing. I had some ideas for new pastel works, some new stories to write, and I was looking forward to relaxing in as many bubble baths as I felt like.
And that's what I did for the first week. Clay had taken his own vacation, even going away with his girlfriend for a few days, but he showed up unexpectedly the Monday of my second week.
I was stretched out on the couch in my pajamas when he burst through the door, and I fell off the couch with a yelp and a silent scattering of popcorn.
"Jesus Clay!" I shouted, trying to trample down my panic. He spotted me, took in my attire and suddenly grinned.
"Sara, get dressed."
Feeling like a petulant child because I'd had my 'me time' interrupted, I started to ignore him and pull out the vacuum. He snatched it from my hands.
"Seriously! Get dressed! I've got a surprise for you, but you have to come with me now!"
I forlornly thought about the afternoon I'd planned to spend watching my favorite chick flicks, but I knew from his tone and the excitement on his face that he wasn't going to take no for an answer.
He'd only done this sort of thing a few times before. The first had been because Ken had written him, asking him to make sure I got my 'social time' and didn't stay locked up in my room forever, so Clay had dragged me out to a party with some of his friends without taking no for an answer.
The second time had been when he threw me a surprise birthday party, inviting some of my friends from home and my fellow graduate students to the reserved dinner room at a local pizza place.
Neither of those had ended badly, so I had no reason to believe this one would.
I had no idea where we were going, so I threw on a pair of half-decent jeans and a tank top with the Batman symbol emblazoned on the chest.
When I emerged from my room and wiggled my feet into flip-flops he didn't protest, so I figured I must be presentable enough for wherever we were going.
I was growing more and more confused as Clay drove, getting off the interstate at the exit for the airport.
"Are we picking up your Grandmother again?" I asked.
He tried and failed miserably to suppress the grin on his face and I groaned.
"Seriously? Your surprise is that your Grandmother is coming? Last time she came to visit you she left underwear in the shower! I get no warning?! Come on Clay!"
He laughed, and I folded my arms over my chest, scowling the entire time as he parked.
I was so busy trying to figure out how to kill my roommate and hide the body that I didn't pay attention to anyone else in the airport.
I hung just behind Clay, staring at the back of his head and contemplating the best place to smack him at that moment when he lifted his arm and waved at someone.
I stepped up to his shoulder but found I couldn't see over the crowd of passengers that were exiting baggage claim, so I bounced up on the balls of my feet and craned my neck in an effort to spot Clay's Grandmother.
I didn't see the short, crabby old lady, and I was so preoccupied with searching for that head of gray hair that I nearly jumped out of my skin when someone emerged from the crowd on the other side of Clay and dropped a huge duffel on the ground with a dull smacking sound.
I stared dumbly at the huge, lumpy green duffel which had seen a lot of wear since the last time I'd seen it.
It couldn't be here. I swallowed hard and looked past the duffel to the battered tan boots, camouflage-print fatigues and up to the huge grin on my best friend's long features.
And all I could do was stare at him.
He wasn't scheduled to be here. He couldn't be here. The last letter I'd gotten said he was coming home in July.
It was May.
His presence was impossible.
My brain was simply frozen, and I had a feeling that if it were a computer the blue screen of death would have flashed on the screen before going dark.
I had to be hallucinating. Yes. That was it. I was so distraught over Clay's Grandmother's arrival that my brain had to come up with something to cope.
Yet, Clay clapped hands with a very real and solid Ken, and I just stood there, gaping at him.
I was numb. Absolutely numb. I couldn't move my mouth because my jaw had gone slack, and my feet seemed to have been glued to the floor of the airport.
Clay took a step back so he wasn't between Ken and I, slapping Ken's shoulder with a smirk on his face.
Ken's silly grin slid into a warm smile that melted whatever had been holding me still. "Hey you" he said, just before I launched myself at him. I flung my arms around his neck with a shriek and hung on for dear life.
He caught me and held on tightly enough that my toes were off the ground. I was having trouble getting enough air into my lungs because he was crushing my ribs and from somewhere under his shirt his dog tags were probably bruising my sternum, but I didn't care. He was here. He was back and he was safe and here.
"I thought you weren't coming back until July!" I choked out, finally finding my voice.
He didn't make any move to let me go. "Orders changed" he replied. "I didn't have time to write before they packed us up and shipped us home."
Despite the fact that I was already worried about choking him, my arms tightened around his neck and I buried my face in the collar of his fatigues. For the first time in ten months the lingering knot of fear in my stomach dissolved.
The lump in my throat went with it and before I knew it I was crying into his shoulder. His grip shifted and I found myself on my feet again. His arms stayed tightly around me, but his hand came up to the back of my head, fingers gently threading into my hair.
He gently swayed back and forth, murmuring into my ear. When I calmed down I realized what he was saying. "I'm so sorry Sara. I thought surprising you would be fun. I'm sorry."
I pulled back then, scrubbing my hands over my face. Then I looked sideways at Clay, who had apparently been watching us with a huge grin on his face.
"You!" I exclaimed, pointing my finger at him. I hadn't managed to go far from Ken, and I realized my hand was fisted in his jacket like a little kid refusing to let go of a parent. His arm slid up around my shoulders. "You could have told me!"
Ken chuckled, giving my shoulders a squeeze. "When I got a hold of him and he told me you weren't doing anything this week, I thought we could surprise you."
I tried to scowl at him as I punched him in the shoulder. "You're evil!" I exclaimed even though I couldn't keep the huge grin off my face. "Evil."
Ken smirked then, pulling me back against him into a hug that wasn't quite so rib-crushing. "You know you love me."
I wrapped my arms around his middle and hung on, as though he might vanish if I let him go. I wanted to reply, tell him I did love him, but I couldn't form any more words.
Ken's arms loosened and he took half a step back, his hands holding my shoulders. "So, are you seeing anyone right now?"
The question caught me off-guard and I automatically said "No?" I thought he knew that from my letters to him.
When he kissed me I was surprised for half a second. I was super confused because it was something that I had never thought would actually happen in a million years.
When he'd joined the military I'd been worried about him. When he'd deployed to Afghanistan I had to accept the fact that he was going off to get shot at and I might never see him again, and spent ten months with an ugly pit in my stomach.
Now he was home and, god help me, he was kissing me like there wouldn't be a tomorrow.
I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him back, pouring eight years of pent-up feelings into one moment.
And then I remembered that we were standing in the middle of the airport with Clay. Even though I wanted to stay in his arms, kissing him forever, I pulled away.
The three of us headed out and I didn't let go of Ken's hand the entire way home.
My alarm blared and I groaned, hoping it would shut itself off if I ignored it long enough. With a growl, my bed mate crawled over me and fumbled with the clock before he managed to shut it off.
"Why do you have to get up so early?" He complained, voice thick with sleep.
"This is coming from the guy who got up at five A.M. with the army?" I teased, poking him in his ribs. They were easily accessible since he wasn't wearing a shirt.
He twitched and blinked blearily at me.
"Yes, well I am not in the army now."
I gave him a cheeky grin, despite barely being awake. "Yup. I think if you woke up naked with someone in the army you might be in trouble."
He scowled at me and I decided it would be best for my health if I got out of bed then. Except when I sat up and strong arm looped around my waist and yanked me back against a warm body.
"Just another minute?" He murmured against my neck as his hand started dancing across my exposed torso.
"Ken, I need to get up. I've only got enough time to shower and eat." I tried to sit up, but his arm tightened around me again.
"Skip the shower."
"Ken" my voice held a warning, but it wasn't really effective when I could feel his breath on my neck. "I can't be late for school. Seriously no time this morning."
He mumbled something unpleasant about a cold shower, but retracted his arm.
I rushed through my morning routine, making sure that I made enough coffee for Ken to have a cup when he woke up. He'd had it easy this summer when I had been devoting most of my time to research, but today was the first day of my new fall schedule, which including getting to my clinical practica site by eight.
The downside of wanting to work with children was that their school day started early.
As I was making a last pass through the bedroom to grab my phone, keys and a sweatshirt I was sure I'd need, I noticed Ken's dog tags on top of the bookcase. He wasn't on active duty anymore, so he didn't wear them.
I ran my fingers over the indentations of his name with a tightness in my chest. Sometimes I still couldn't believe he was here.
"Weren't you in a hurry?" Ken mumbled from the bed. Our bed.
With a curse and a glance at the time on my phone, I tore out the door.
It was only when I made it down to my car that I realized the tags were still in my hand. I debated shoving them into my pocket, but finally decided to loop them over my head before I ducked into the car.
I peeled off my sweatshirt, dropped my purse to the floor and flopped, face-down onto the bed. It turned out to be more painful that I'd thought because the dog tags dug into my sternum, just above my bra.
Ken strode into the room, and I could feel the smirk on his face, despite my face being buried in the comforter.
"Rough first day?" He asked.
I scowled into the bed. "You have no idea." I turned my head slightly so I wasn't suffocating myself. "I went in to supervise a five-year-old girl's transition into a group play therapy session, and it went straight to hell. She threw a temper-tantrum when one of the other kids wouldn't give up the scarf they were playing dress-up with."
The bed shifted slightly as Ken sat down next to me. I rolled all the way onto my side so I could look up at him.
"So what happened?" He asked.
I sighed heavily. "She tried to strangle the kid with the scarf." Ken bit back a laugh, which turned into a snort and I glowered at him. "It took two of us to get her off the kid and I had to put her in a hold." I held out my arm to show him where a medium-sized bruise in the shape of a small set of teeth was darkening on my skin. "She bit me."
He leaned over and planted a gentle kiss on the corner of my mouth. I turned and caught him in a full kiss, losing the tension of the day as he dragged a hand through my hair and rolled us so he was on top of me.
I'd forgotten that I had his dog tags on until he pulled off my shirt and froze, staring at them.
He lifted himself up until he was leaning over me on his hands and knees, eyes flitting between my eyes and the tags laying on my chest.
He finally settled his eyes on my face, meeting my gaze and holding it. "I was wondering where those went" she said mildly.
I couldn't get a read on how he felt about me having them around my neck, so I opted for humor. "Well, they kinda came with my keys this morning, and they don't make good key chains."
He eyed me for a moment, then leaned down and kissed me soundly. I was out of breath by the time he pulled back, eyes dark. "Is that really why you picked them up?"
I shook my head. "They were next to my keys, and I was out to my car by the time I realized they were in my hand." I fingered the small pieces of metal and felt a small smile tug at my lips. "I kinda liked having them today though."
"Oh?" He smirked.
I leaned up and kissed him, hard. He responded with a low sound in his throat, pressing me back down against the bed. I pulled just far enough away from him to say "I like the reminder that you're here, safe and not still away from me."
He pulled back and considered me carefully. We may have been together, but serious conversations between us were still rare.
Finally he lifted his hand from my hip and pressed it against the side of my face. "I'm not going anywhere Sara." I nodded, but I couldn't look him in the eyes. "Sara, I'm serious." He slid mostly off of me, thumb sliding over my cheekbone as he lay at my side. I fixed my gaze on his shoulder and tired not to let myself get overwhelmed.
Sometimes I still wasn't sure I honestly believed he'd chosen me. He was cool and confident, and a lot of things I was just not. Plus, he was hot. I'd never deny that.
"Sara." The stern tone in his voice made me look him in the face and the warm concern his eyes held had me swallowing instinctively. "I'm serious. I'm not going anywhere." I leaned into the touch of his fingers along my jaw and neck, closing my eyes as he dropped down to kiss me again. "You know I love you" he murmured. His lips were so close that they brushed mine when he spoke, but my eyes opened again.
We had thrown around 'I love you' for years, and I knew we'd always meant it, but this was different. I blinked at him and he smiled at my surprise.
"I love you Sara" he said it again, and a hint of arrogance slid into his expression as he dropped his hand down and lifted the dog tags. "And I think I like your new jewelry." My eyebrows went up. "It means you're mine" he said and kissed me again, hard.
I sat down next to the girl I was currently working with and jumped when she reached up and grabbed for my neck. I managed not to leap out of my skin or swat her hand away. She didn't look ready to kick off, and I didn't want to set her off.
So I let her drag the dog tags out from under my shirt and inspect them. She frowned after she read the lettering. "Your name's not K-enn-eth" she said, sounding out the name.
I nodded. "That's good reading Crystal. These say Kenneth because they belonged to a man named Kenneth."
The seven-year-old looked up at me, her face still creased in a frown. "These mean he's a soldier, right?" I nodded, letting her inspect them so long as she didn't present any danger to my neck. "So why do you have them? Is he dead?"
I couldn't help smiling. Kids were often way more perceptive that you might think. "No sweetie, he's not. I like to wear them because it means he's home safe."
Crystal still looked thoughtful. "Is he your boyfriend?"
I chuckled, and answered, though probably not how she was expecting. The Center's policy was not to talk about those kinds of things. "I have lots of boys who are friends. Do you?"
Crystal scowled at me. "But is he a special friend?"
I tilted my head sideways, though I knew exactly what she meant. "A lot of my friends are special to me. Ken and I have been friends since I was your age, which makes him a very special kind of friend."
Crystal's eyes widened. I'm sure to her I seemed very old, even if I was only twenty-five, so I knew she thought it had been forever since I had been her age.
"Is he your best friend?" She asked. "Are you going to marry him?"
I paused, gently taking the dog tags out of her hand and tucking them back under my shirt. I used the time to quickly gather my thoughts before I replied "Yes he is my best friend. Do you have a best friend?"
She started chattering away about a girl in her class she started playing with, and I gave myself a mental pat on the back for a bullet dodged.
That didn't mean I didn't think about it again later.
I knew I was frowning when I walked in the door that evening and Ken barely looked at me before he asked "What's wrong?" I looked over at him, sitting at the table in front of his computer.
I had no idea where this was going, where we were headed. Serious conversations still weren't a big part of our relationship, and I didn't even know what that was.
Had he ever even introduced me as his girlfriend?
My life plan, vague as it was, had always been to get married (to someone) and (eventually) have kids.
"Sara?" I realized I was standing just inside the door, my coat still on.
We'd never talked about it. Did he even want children? What was he expecting out of me?
"Sara?" I have no idea when he'd moved, because as far as I was concerned, he was just suddenly in front of me. "Something happen at work?" He put a hand on my shoulder, suddenly worried about me.
I wouldn't be the first time something serious happened at the Center. Just the week before one of the children had a grand mal seizure right in front of me. Twice in a day.
"I. . ." Before I could stop myself, I suddenly said "One of my kids asked me if I'm going to marry you."
He paused, hands dropping away from me to slide into his pockets as he simply said "Ah." He didn't really look the least bit bothered by it, and I suddenly wanted to punch him in the face.
I hung my coat up on the hook by the door and ducked into our bedroom to change. I threw my shirt into the hamper and pulled open the drawer where I kept the T-shirts I reserved specifically for lounging. It was empty. Apparently I needed to do laundry.
So I walked over and pulled open the drawer with Ken's shirts and pulled out the old thermal shirt that I had borrowed what seemed like ages before. It had actually only been two and a half years, but it felt like so much more.
I pulled on a pair of sweat pants and then flopped down on the edge of the bed, staring at the ceiling. For a while I had just been so deliriously happy to finally be with Ken that I never once paused to consider if we wanted the same things.
I was still considering it twenty minutes later when Ken strode into the room and sat down next to me on the bed. He reached over and took my hand in his, and it was only then that I realized that I'd been running my fingers across his name on the tags over and over again.
"Are you really worried about it?" He asked.
I pursed my lips as I considered my answer. "Do you want kids?" I countered, and he jumped a little at the sudden question.
"I. . . What?" He was actually quite adorable when he was confused, and that was one word I would almost never put together with Ken.
"I've always wanted kids. You know that."
He did know, and I knew it. There had been a point a few years before when I'd had some hormonal issues, and the doctors thought I wouldn't be able to have children. Turns out they were wrong, as proved by some invasive tests, but Ken had been the only person I'd talked to about it.
Melissa would have been so overly sympathetic with me, but Ken accepted the information, and made sure I was processing it while he tried to cheer me up.
"Sara. . ." He trailed off, as though unsure of what to say. I could sympathize because we were bordering on a serious conversation, and that wasn't something we did routinely. "Can we talk about this another time? Clay's having people over soon."
I looked over at him, saw the edge of panic on his face, and nodded.
I would just have to make up my mind on whether I wanted commitment and kids or Ken. I doubted I'd get both.
I was exhausted by the time Friday rolled around that week. I absolutely adored working with the children at the Center, but it was draining work, even only working four days a week.
Every time I helped a child function better made all the other days worth it though.
Weekends were reserved for studying for my classes and doing research for my thesis until my brain dribbled out of my ears.
So understandably that particular Friday, I curled up in bed with sweat pants and a good book, all set to unwind.
And then Ken completely derailed my plans with the simple statement of "I have reservations."
I simply stared at him over the top of my book. "Seriously? You wait until I change into pajamas?"
He smirked then, sliding open the closet door and rifling through my clothes. He pulled out a cotton dress and turned around with it in his hand.
I have him my best exasperated face, but all I got was amusement. "Ken. . . I really don't feel like going out tonight."
He hung the cotton dress back up and strode over to sit on the edge of the bed. "Sara, come on. I haven't taken you out in a while, and you look like you need to relax."
I made a face at him, which only earned me a smile and a patronizing pat on the head. I swatted his hand away and scowled. "I can relax just fine with my book."
He leaned forward then and looked me straight in the eyes. "Sara, I've been planning this date for a while. Please?"
The please caught my attention because he didn't usually pressure me into doing anything I really didn't want to do. Sure he'd make me watch a movie I wasn't too crazy about, or drag me out to a bar under protest, but if I adamantly refused, he didn't push too hard.
He also rarely said 'please,' simply because he was an arrogant idiot. Who I was completely, head-over-heels in love with.
I sighed heavily and he grinned, knowing that was a sign I was giving in. "Do I have to wear a dress?"
He smirked. "I bet you'll regret it if you don't."
I rolled my eyes and headed over to the closet, admittedly a bit grumpy at the thought of changing out of my sweats for a dress.
I chose a black cotton dress that didn't look half bad but was still insanely comfortable. A pair of black leggings went on under the dress and I tossed a pair of boots on the floor at the end of the bed. Ken had been watching me with a smirk on his face, stretched out on the bed.
"No fancy underwear?"
I glared at him. "You got me out of sweats" I pointed out and I stuck my feet into the boots. "Consider yourself lucky." I debated putting my hair up, but settled for actually running a brush though it. I almost never put on makeup, so I skipped that phase and turned to find him standing by the closet, shirtless, as he pulled out a button-down.
I watched his back muscles move under his skin and before I knew it I'd slid my arms around him and pressed my face into the back of his shoulder blade.
He was warm and smelled like Ken. My Ken.
I didn't know when I'd come to the decision, but I knew that come whatever he was mine as much as I was his. There had never been any picture of my future that didn't have him in it, and I wasn't going to let him go.
"Sara, as much as I like this, it would be a little awkward to go to the restaurant with you attached to me." I planted a kiss on his shoulder and then stepped away. He pulled the shirt on over his shoulders and then turned. I was still in arm's reach, and when he reached out and pulled me back to him I wasn't really surprised.
He liked it when I wore dresses. He said it was because it reminded him I was a girl, but I knew he was just teasing me. I think he liked my legs.
He kissed me hard, but not like he was going to back me into the bed. It was different, almost as though he wanted to get something across to me with the kiss.
I had no idea what it could be.
He was already wearing khaki cargo pants, so he didn't change. He just led me down to his car, even holding open the door. It wasn't as though he didn't open doors for me. In fact, when we were walking into a building he got miffed if I didn't let him open and hold the door for me. He also insisted on walking on the outside of the sidewalk, no matter where we were.
It was something I never let any other man get away with. Ken was the exception to just about every rule I had.
I frowned at him as he got into the driver's seat. "What is up with you?" I asked.
He looked over at me and raised his eyebrows, starting the car. "What d'you mean?" He asked, checking the street before he pulled away from the curb.
"You never care how I'm dressed, but you made me wear a dress today. You opened the damn car door!"
"I'm not allowed to spoil you sometimes?" He asked. I folded my arms over my chest, partially because I was scowling at him, and partly because my hands were cold. I stuck my fingers into the armpits of my coat to keep them warm.
Ken glanced sideways at me as he stopped at a red light and turned up the heat in the car. It was the middle of March and-
"Shit!" I exclaimed suddenly and quite loudly. Ken's head whipped over to look at me.
I looked at him in horror. "Your birthday was yesterday!"
He smirked at me. "Sara, calm down."
"I forgot your birthday! How did you let me forget!?"
He put the car in gear as the light turned green. "Sara, we agreed we were celebrating today, remember?" Unable to do anything else, I simply stared at him. "The day between our birthdays? St. Patrick's Day?"
I vaguely remembered a conversation along those lines last month, but it didn't matter. "I still missed your birthday! I have a present for you in the closet and everything!"
Eyes still forward on the street, his lips curled into a genuine smile. "I know. I saw the wrapping paper under one of your sweaters. Don't worry" he added after a pause. "I didn't peek."
I was still mentally berating myself when he pulled into the parking lot of the restaurant.
I let him open the door for me as we went inside. It was a quaint little place, not something I'd expect to find in the middle of a city. Dark red carpet covered the floor and the walls and ceiling were made of a dark, walnut-stained wood. Small twinkling lights lined the corners of the ceiling, leading to several large rooms cluttered with wood tables and chairs, and many other diners.
Ken gave his name and we were whisked over to a small table in the corner. He sat with his back to the wall, facing the entrance, which wasn't unusual. I took the chair against the other wall and glanced over at him.
"You know you don't have to spend money on me" I said. It was probably the two-hundredth time I'd told him that, and I meant it. All I needed to know was that he loved me, and I didn't need him to buy me things just to reassure me.
He didn't do many things like that, but I still thought he could do better things with his money than buy jewelry I wasn't going to wear anyway.
With some of the clients I worked with at the Center I even took off the dog tags because I worried about getting strangled with them.
Which was why I appreciated his thoughtful Christmas present of a set of animated Batman movies.
He did know me better than anyone else, after all.
After dinner we got back in the car, but instead of going home he pulled into a park.
I recognized the park. It was the place that, two and a half years before, he had told me he wanted a cease fire.
It was also not the greatest place to be after dark. We weren't likely to get shot or anything, but still.
He cut the engine and looked over at me. I could see a hint of nervousness in his face, though he was covering pretty well. "Could you just trust me for a few minutes?"
I raised my eyebrows at him. I trusted him more than anyone else in existence, and he knew it. That didn't mean I was getting out of the car.
He seemed to read it in my face because he groaned. "Sara, come on. Just go with it?"
I rolled my eyes, but opened my car door. Ken seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as he shut the driver's door behind him. We walked quietly along the path until we came to a familiar spot and a familiar bench.
It was where I had figured out the expression 'heartbroken' for the first time. It was that exact bench where Ken had told me he wanted a 'cease fire' instead of the holding pattern we had.
My heart was in my throat and I found myself automatically reaching under my coat for the dog tags I wore around my neck.
It wasn't that balmy September day. It was a brisk March night and it was the day between our birthdays.
Absently thinking I needed to buy more chapstick, I dug it out of my pocket and put it on before looking over at Ken.
He was watching me with a guarded expression on his face.
"What're we doing here?" I asked, bouncing on my toes a few times in an effort to make my legs warmer. Dresses were cold in March. When he didn't answer right away I sighed. "Ken, I'm starting to freeze. Now unless you want a Sara-cicle, I-"
"I'm serious" Ken said, suddenly cutting me off. I closed my mouth and waited for him to continue. "I'm serious about us, you know?"
I frowned. "Is this about Tuesday?" I asked. "Because I-"
"Sara, would you let me finish please?"
And we were back to amused exasperation in his eyes again. I started bouncing gently on the balls of my feet. My legs were freezing. See if I ever wore a dress at his request again. Ha.
"I was thinking about this way before Tuesday" he said, stepping closer to me again. My eyes were on his face, but I saw him take something out of his coat pocket.
Oh, I hoped it was gloves. Why did I not have gloves in my coat?
"Sara, I'm very serious about us. I know you want kids, and I'd never thought I'd say it, but I want them too. With you."
My breath caught in my throat.
"I. . . I know we've screwed things up with each other before, and I can't promise we won't do it again, but. . ." He trailed off and then muttered "Fuck it" under his breath and held up a small, black, velvet-covered box.
I felt like the world stopped breathing as I stared at it. It wasn't open, and I didn't even want to guess at what was inside.
I couldn't guess. There had been so many times with him that I'd gotten my hopes up only to have him rip my heart out and trample it in the dust. Making an assumption about what was in that box would only lead to disaster.
"This is the part where you take that" Ken murmured. I looked up at him, and I'm sure my eyes were huge.
"Are you supposed to say something else?" I asked warily, and he rolled his eyes.
"Take it first" he said gruffly, and with a smirk on my lips I lifted a very cold hand from my pocket and gingerly picked up the box.
I noticed my hands were shaking, and the knot in my stomach was quickly twisting itself around as much as it could.
When I opened the lid I went absolutely still. Inside was exactly what I hadn't dared hope.
There was a goddamn ring in that box. "Sara, will you marry me?" He asked quietly.
I went cold. Granted, it was about thirty degrees, but it was a different kid of cold.
I closed the box carefully and his eyebrows drew together. "Sara?"
"Is this because I freaked out earlier this week?" I asked before I could stop myself. "I know I freaked you out when I asked if you ever wanted kids. Ken, I can't say yes if you're just asking me because you want me to be comfortable. I love you and I know we could figure things out. I don't want you doing something just because I-"
He'd learned a while ago that if I started ranting kissing me was a good way to shut me up and distract me. It worked this time too.
He pulled away again a moment later, but I was properly quiet and trying to recover my train of thought by then.
"Sara, if you want the damn receipt I'll show you. I bought it two months ago."
I gaped at him. Two months?
"This is what I want. You. Is that okay with you?" The last part he said just to tease me, so I ignored it and opened the box again.
I pulled the ring out of its velvet slot and just looked at it for a long moment. It was beautiful.
With a low chuckle that did funny things to my chest, Ken plucked the ring from my fingers and slid it onto my finger. "So Sara, you didn't answer the question. Would you marry me?"
I smirked at him. "Well, that would mean I'm stuck with you forever, right?" He rolled his eyes, and I pulled him down for a kiss as I said "Yes."
Ken's mom squeezed my hand and pressed a hand against the side of my face. The smile faded as she suddenly looked more serious.
"Are you ready?" She asked. It had fallen quiet outside the small room except for some soft music playing.
I suddenly wanted desperately to stay in this little room. I couldn't go out there.
His mom must have caught something of that in my face because she smiled. "Honey, you know you have to come out. We're waiting on you."
I nodded and let her pull me gently to my feet.
The door opened again and my little sister poked her head in, blue eyes wide as she looked at Ken's mom. "We're ready for you" she said, and Sue patted my cheek gently.
"You have nothing to be nervous about" she said before she stepped around my sister and out into the hallway.
Marie eyed me carefully. "You okay?" She asked cautiously. "Need a bucket?"
"I'm not going to puke" I muttered as I glared at my little sister.
She just grinned back. "Come on. If we wait any longer, he's going to think you ran away."
I raised my eyebrows at her. "If I did, he'd hunt me down and shoot me" I replied, which only earned me a smirk.
"Nah. He'd never shoot you. Come on!" She basically pushed me out of the room and down the hallway.
Several of my friends and his were waiting outside the double doors. They looked up at my approach, and I tried to look ready despite my nerves.
Janet strode over to me and took my face in her hands. "I know a long time ago I told you it was a bad idea, you and him." I raised my eyebrows. She was choosing now to tell me this? "I wanted to tell you that I take it back."
Ali, Marie and I just stared at her. "Really?" I asked.
Janet nodded. "You made him better. I take it all back."
I grinned at her and pulled her into a hug, trying to let her know exactly how much hearing that meant to me.
My brother and sister disappeared through the doors, followed closely by Ali and Jack, Alan and Janet, and then I finally stood alone, just out of sight of the room.
It fell silent and I took a deep breath as the first note of the familiar melody hit my ears. I stepped forward, the bottom of my dress just brushing the ground as I walked forward and into the huge room that awaited me.
Ken stood in the front, flanked on both sides by our friends and my siblings. His eyes found me immediately, and the warmth in his eyes chased away any lingering nerves.
How many people could honestly say they were marrying their best friend? I know a lot of couples who became best friends, but it's decidedly not the same thing.
I was getting married to my best friend, the one person who could read me with a look, the one man I trusted unconditionally with every fiber of my being, and the one person who had always, always been there every time I needed him, no matter when it was.
As we stood in front of our friends and family and spoke the words the minister told us, Ken squeezed my hand, thumb drawing lazy circles over my skin. His finger hit the edge of his dog tags, and he looked down at them in surprise.
When he looked back up at me I could see the amusement dancing in his eyes.
Mine he mouthed, and I felt heat creep up my neck. He looked so smug and proud of himself that I wanted to kick him.
However, I didn't think it would be appropriate to kick him in the shins in front of the entirety of our friends and family, so I settled for giving him a thoroughly exasperated look.
Giving him that look in the middle of the ceremony was all right. Anybody who knew us was quite accustomed to that look on both of us.
Anybody else in the world who could make me want to bang my head against the wall as much as Ken did wouldn't have even been my friend, let alone be the man I was marrying.
He just smirked down at me just as the minister said "You may kiss the bride."
And then he did.
Well it's getting late
That's the way it is,
You can't deny
When it feel like this.
And it's strange,
What it's bringing out
You're gonna open up
'Cause you can't stop now.
Oh you can't stop now.
While you're watching over
The moments that make up your life...
-Rob Thomas "Getting Late"