Quick A/N: I know some of you have wanted me to make this story longer, but I'm sorry to say this is the final update. I didn't want to drag out the story or make it longer than it had to be, even though I liked writing about the characters just about as much as you liked reading about them. Anyway, enjoy the epilogue!
Five Years Later
"You remembered to lock the door, right?"
"Relax, Elyse. I remembered to lock the door, Robert has the spare key to feed the cat, and I unplugged most of the electronics," Ryder replied.
"Okay, sorry. I'm just making sure everything is taken care of so we can enjoy our time with your family," I replied. We were staying at his family's house until after New Year's since we both had the whole week off until then and hadn't spent much time with his family in a while. However, I didn't want anything to happen to the apartment I shared with Ryder. We recently just moved into our new apartment, and this one was much nicer than the one we previously shared when we were still in college. Now that we were both starting our careers, we were able to afford a much nicer place to live that was close to our jobs.
"Everything will be fine. We'll only be gone for a week," he said, looking over at me with a reassuring smile.
Two hours later, we were home. Well, we were at his parents' house, but that was basically my home away from home. Over the past five years, I became closer to his family than I ever was with my own parents. Although I did still talk to my mother occasionally, I was thankful to spend another Christmas with the Jamesons.
"Ready for another chaotic Christmas Eve with my family?" Ryder asked, taking my hand in his.
"Of course," I grinned. I gave him a quick kiss on the lips before we entered his house.
"Ryder and Elyse are here! Everyone get over here!" Mrs. Jameson exclaimed. She hugged me first since I was closer. Then she made her way over to her tall, eldest son and hugged him, which he now easily returned. I was happy to see that Ryder now welcomed warm embraces from his family, unlike when we were in high school.
"It's good to see you, Mom," he told her.
"Oh, I missed you! Both of you! Are you hungry? Here, come sit down while I finish up dinner," she said, ushering us into the living room. It was there that I finished hugging Ryder's siblings.
"Gosh, you all look so much older!" I commented, taking a seat next to Ryder on the couch. He automatically wrapped his arm around my shoulders, bringing me closer to his warm body.
"You haven't visited for a while," Quinn stated. She and Jenna looked like fashionable young girls, both now ten years old."
"I know, I'm sorry. We haven't been able to take off from work recently," I said. Since I just started working for the local news stations in public relations, I started virtually at the bottom of the totem pole. I wasn't able to take off work much, except for a day every once in a while. But when I had off from work, Ryder usually couldn't take off the same day.
He graduated college with a social work degree, and was now working for a non-profit organization that helps teenagers dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide. I was really proud of him, and I'd be even prouder when he got his own foundation set up eventually. We were both just taking our future one step at a time right now though.
"Hey, I skip parties sometimes to come home early," Dylan said.
Ryder rolled his eyes. "Only when you know they're going to be boring."
Dylan shrugged, not denying that. It was safe to say that he was enjoying his first year in college.
"He won't even let me go to any college parties," Cole interjected.
"You're only thirteen, you don't need to be going to college parties," Ryder said sternly. Cole held his hands up defensively before returning to the video game he was playing.
"Dinner is ready!" Mrs. Jameson called. We all got up and went into the dining room, taking our seats at the table. Quinn and Jenna wanted me to sit in between them, so Ryder sat across from me with his brothers next to him. Ryder's parents took their seats at the ends of the table and began passing around the delicious home cooked foods.
"This is really good," I commented after chewing my very first bite.
"Remind me to give you the recipe," Mrs. Jameson replied.
"Like that'll help," Ryder said sarcastically under his breath. We all clearly heard him though.
"My cooking has been getting better!" I said defensively. I'll admit, I wasn't the best cook around, but I wasn't as horrible as Ryder made me out to be.
"Yes, her cooking has been getting better," Mrs. Jameson added seriously. I didn't know whether to thank her for taking my side, or feel offended. Compared to her cooking, anyone's would be worse.
"What about the pies?" Ryder asked smugly.
"Pies?" his mom wondered.
I looked down at my plate. "Alright, the pies didn't turn out well, but everything else! The chicken I make isn't raw or too dry anymore, right?"
Ryder's smug smile formed into a genuine one. "Your chicken is perfect." I grinned back, happy to hear that I could cook something right.
"Practice is all it takes, Elyse. At least you're making an effort," Mrs. Jameson said, shooting a playful glare at Ryder. Her son rolled his eyes and continued eating the enjoyable food in front of him.
After dinner, the twins begged to finally open one of their presents. Since it was Christmas Eve, the Jamesons each opened one of their gifts before going to bed. Once their mother allowed it, they tore through their gifts and both shrieked, obviously happy with what they got.
Meanwhile, Ryder and I both started opening the gifts that Mrs. Jameson handed us. Once we both revealed what it we got, I had to hold back my laughter.
"This is great!" I exclaimed, trying not to laugh. I help up one of the ugliest sweaters I've ever seen.
"No it's not, it's terrible, I know. It's from Great Aunt Velma," Mrs. Jameson said. I let out a breath of relief, knowing I wasn't going to offend Ryder's mom.
"How did I get one, then?"
Mrs. Jameson grinned slyly. "I told her to make you one. I knew you'd enjoy wearing it while Ryder wore his," she joked.
"Well it's the thought that counts. We'll have to thank her," I said to Ryder. He nodded and lightly tossed his sweater aside.
"Alright, everyone should get to bed if we're getting up early," Mr. Jameson said.
"Yes, I know you need your beauty sleep, dear," his wife teased. They kissed each other, making their children groan and walk out of the room. I laughed, but I could help but think that they looked so adorable together. I hoped Ryder and I would last as long as they have, and more.
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I opened my eyes at the sound of Jenna's voice. She may have been much older than when I first met her, yet she acted just as excited about the holiday as a five year old.
"Isn't she too old to act like this?" Ryder said, now gazing at me.
I grinned. "You're never too old to be excited about Christmas."
He rolled his eyes playfully and leaned forward to kiss me. The kiss was gentle, which made my insides feel warm. We've been together for five years and each day he continues to make me feel like I just fell in love with him.
"Ryder! Elyse!" Jenna shouted, running into Ryder's bedroom. "It's time to open presents!"
"Okay, okay. Geez, can you knock first next time?" Ryder replied before Jenna ran back out. "She's lucky we weren't doing anything more than kissing. My mom would never forget that," he said as he put on a t-shirt and sweatpants.
"As if I would do anything in your parents' house," I scoffed. I wouldn't be caught dead doing anything in this house. You never knew who was going to interrupt you at the most mortifying minute.
Ryder then wrapped his arms around me, bringing me closer to him. His hands slowly made their way down my back and around my hips. "You sure about that?" he said in a dangerously seductive voice. The smirk he wore on his face teased me. He knew the tone of voice he used was one of my weaknesses.
So what did I do? I played around with one of his weaknesses. I attacked his lips with my own and kissed him hard, but that wasn't his weakness. No, that didn't kick in until I moved my hands slowly across his muscular chest and tugged at his bottom lip with my teeth. When I heard him release a small moan, I broke are kiss and lightly shoved him away.
"Yes, I'm sure," I said sweetly, smirking back at him. His eyes were dark with desire, which prompted me to leave before this went any farther. I had a feeling we both would jump each other's' bones if we didn't go downstairs to be with his family now.
"Merry Christmas!" everyone greeted.
"Merry Christmas," I replied, sitting in a chair near the Christmas tree. Ryder sat on the floor between the tree and where I was sitting. Once everyone else was settled, we were all given gifts to unwrap.
I opened my gifts from the Jamesons and thanked them for what I got. Some things were just for me, like jewelry, books, and a new jacket. Other things were for Ryder and me, such as things we could decorate our apartment with. I saw Ryder got new clothes as well, along with a few other things from his siblings.
After everyone was done tearing through their gifts, Cole and Dylan went to play a new video game that one of them got. Quinn immediately started reading a new book she received, while Jenna went to try on the new clothes she got. Ryder and I had yet to open the gifts we got for each other, so I handed him the present I got for him.
"Here you go," I said, handing it over.
He took it and gave me a gift in return. "Open yours first," he suggested.
I nodded and tore into the gift. Once the wrapping paper was off, a small box was revealed. My hands started to sweat nervously as I imagined what it was. Could it be a ring? Was he going to propose to me? Was I ready to get married? Would I be a good wife for him?
I glanced over at Ryder and couldn't help but smile. As he gazed back at me, waiting for me to open the box, I felt any worries I had about our future together disappear. Ryder was perfect for me. Of course I was ready to marry him.
Now suddenly excited, I flipped open the small, velvet box and grinned. "Wow, this is…I love them," I told him, looking down at the pair of earrings. It wasn't a ring, but instead a pair of diamond earrings.
"Are you sure? I can exchange them for something else," Ryder replied, looking worried. He probably thought I was disappointed about the earrings. I guess I was sort of disappointed when I saw it wasn't a ring. Then again, Ryder and I never really talked about getting married. We just took life day by day, happy that we were still in each other's lives.
"No, I love them! Here, hold this." I handed him the box for a moment. I took one earring out of the box and put it on, then put the other one in my right ear. I turned my head and grinned, showing him the diamond earrings on me. They really were lovely.
"Thank you," I said, giving him a chaste kiss. "Now open your gift!"
Ryder tore through the wrapping paper, revealing a white box. He opened it and smiled excitedly when he saw it was a watch. Specifically, it was the watch he's mentioned about a thousand times over the past few months.
"Thank you, Elyse. This is great," he spoke, kissing me.
I smiled against his lips. "Merry Christmas," I whispered. Alright, so maybe I wasn't expecting the box he gave me to contain earrings, but I didn't need it to be a ring either. I was happy with just having Ryder in my life.
"Oh, those earrings are gorgeous!" Mrs. Jameson interjected, making me break away from her son.
"Thanks," I replied, leaning my head on Ryder's shoulder.
"I don't mean to intrude on you two, but I was hoping you could run out to get something I need for our holiday meal," she wondered.
"Sure, what do you need?" I asked.
"Just a gallon of milk. I thought I had more in the back of the refrigerator, but I guess not."
"Okay, we'll get it for you. Right?" I looked over at Ryder, who rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, sure Mom."
After we quickly got dressed into much warmer clothing, Ryder suggested we walk to the store instead of taking the car.
"It's snowing outside," I stated, putting my jacket on. Ryder never wanted to walk around in this cold weather unless he had no choice.
"Yeah, but I want to spend some time alone with you without my family constantly interrupting. Come on, we won't be outside for that long. We just have to cut through the park and get the milk at the store before coming back."
I shrugged. "Alright, let's go."
As we started walking in the weather, I was starting to regret agreeing with Ryder. It was only lightly snowing, but it was freezing cold outside. Luckily the store wasn't far past the park from his house. Talking made me focus on something else other than the cold temperature too, even if Ryder wasn't talking much with me.
"I hope Quinn likes the book I got her. She reads a lot of books though, so she'll probably like it. And you said Cole would like the video game we got him, right?"
"He loves any video game that involves violence," Ryder answered.
I laughed. "That's true. I know Jenna will like the makeup I got her because she pointed it out last month to me. I'm sure Dylan likes his video games too. He seems to like the same kind of games as Cole."
We continued walking through the park when a sharp wind blew through the air. "Geez, why did I agree to walk with you? It's freezing! Are you sure you're warm enough? I can give you my earmuffs if you want them. They might look a little feminine, but I don't think anyone will judge you if you wear them." When I got no reply, I turned to see that Ryder stopped walking.
"Why'd you stop? Do you want my earmuffs?"
"No, I don't want your earmuffs."
I paused, waiting for him to offer an explanation for why we weren't walking anymore. "Then what is it? What's wrong?"
"Nothing is wrong. Ever since you entered my life, nothing has been wrong. Everything feels right with you, Elyse," he stated.
I smiled. "Everything feels right with you, too."
"Let me finish, Huntington," he said softly. Ryder took a step closer and put his hands on my arms. "This is where you found me that night." I glanced around me, realizing he was right. When my eyes met his again, he continued. "I was supposed to die that night, but instead I ended up starting a new life. A life with you in it—a life that I want to live until I'm old and gray and die of old age, after we've been married for years and had a bunch of kids and grandkids and great-grandkids. I know I can never truly thank you for saving my life that night, but I promise that I will always be there for you every day for the rest of our lives together. That is, if you'll be my wife. So Elyse Huntington, will you marry me?"
Ryder got down on one knee, in the snow and all. He held up a small box, one similar to the box I received earlier with earrings in it. Except this time, there was a ring in the box that he opened.
I gaped at the sparkling ring for a short moment. Then I realized that this was actually happening. Ryder was really proposing to me! "Yes, of course I'll be your wife!" I exclaimed. I automatically wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him. I could feel him smile against my lips as he stood, lifting me off of the ground. After he set me down, he broke our kiss and continued to grin at me.
"Here, put it on," I said, holding out my hand. He slipped the ring on my finger, making me feel even more ecstatic. The round cut diamond ring looked perfect on my finger. "I love you," I grinned, kissing Ryder again.
"I love you too, Huntington."
My eyes widened and I frowned slightly. "Oh no!"
"What?" Ryder asked, looking concerned.
"You won't be able to call me that anymore! I'll be Mrs. Jameson."
Ryder shrugged, looking relieved. "I'll just have to find something else to call you, then. I think that'll be the least of your worries."
"What else should I be worried about?"
"Being bombarded by my family when we get back. My mom knew what I was going to do, and by now she told the whole family."
"So we didn't have to get milk?"
He laughed. "Nope. That was just to get us out of the house. They'll be waiting for us to get back though."
I raised an eyebrow. "How did they know I'd say yes?" I teased.
Ryder rolled his eyes jokingly as we started walking back, our arms around each other's waists. "Because you love me and couldn't say no to this," he replied, gesturing to his entire body.
I laughed. "Yeah, okay," I said sarcastically. Then I looked up at him a little more seriously. "Actually, I thought you were going to propose to me back at the house."
I nodded. "I thought there was a ring in the box you gave me, not earrings. I truly do love the earrings though."
Ryder smiled slyly. "I did that on purpose, you know. I wanted you to think I was proposing to you earlier, so you'd be surprised when I actually did."
I opened my mouth in shock and slapped his arm. "That's so evil!"
"No, it was genius," Ryder laughed.
I huffed and turned away. I wanted him to think I was mad, when really I was just forming a nice, hard snowball in my hand.
"Elyse, wait. I'm sorry, okay? I just wanted everything to be perfect," he apologized, walking toward me.
As I turned around to face him, I pegged him in the chest with my snowball. He looked surprised at first, and then smiled impishly at me. "Oh, now it's on!" Suddenly he was forming snowballs quicker than ever, throwing them straight at me. He hit me a few times before I gave up, deciding to tackle him to the ground instead.
"You win this time," I laughed.
"I know," he said smugly. I rolled my eyes and moved to get up, until he stopped me. He tightly wrapped his arms around me and connected our lips in a passionate kiss. I never felt so much in love than I did after this day.
"Looks like you'll be stuck with my cooking for a lot longer than you bargained for," I joked.
"As long as I get to spend the rest of my life with you, I think I'll survive," Ryder replied seriously.
I grinned and kissed him again, more than satisfied with that. Both of our lives changed that night in the park five years ago, and a lot more would change over the next several years. But as long as we loved each other, I knew we could both survive another tomorrow.
Author's Note: And it's officially over! I really loved writing this story and reading your comments along the way. I wouldn't have finished it without your support, so thank you! I also have a few ideas circulating for another story, but I probably won't have one posted anytime soon. Again, thanks so much for reading!