Reese – Nearly One Year Later
I wondered if he knew what today was.
Chase didn’t see me immediately when he walked into the restaurant. I was seated in the corner of the bar, partially concealed by a couple sitting at a pub table. I stole the moment to appreciate the beauty of the man without him knowing I was looking. My man. I didn’t think I’d ever get used to how incredibly handsome he was.
You know how after a while even the most amazing things become familiar and you start to forget that the sight once took your breath away? Shiny things lose their luster in our eyes even though they still sparkle? Yeah, well, that never happened to me with Chase Parker. Even after a year to the day, he still took my breath away and sparkled every moment.
I watched as his sharp eyes scanned the room. For a second, I considered shifting in my seat to hide, just so I could take more time to appreciate him properly. My soon-to-be-live-in boyfriend was the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome. He was well aware of it, too. His cocky, self-assured attitude only added to the list of things that made him attractive. Factor in wealthy, brilliant, and exceptional in bed (not to mention in his office, in the car, on the kitchen floor, on top of the washing machine, and most recently on the conference room table in my new office space), and it was no wonder the hostess was currently frothing at the mouth as she vied for his attention.
Finding me across the room, his gorgeous face softened, and he gave me the sexy, dimpled smile I knew was only for me. He strode across the restaurant, completely zoned in on his intended target. Goosebumps littered my arms as I watched his determined face. Reaching me, he said nothing, instead greeting me the way he frequently did when we went more than a day without seeing each other. Winding my hair around his hand, he gave it a soft tug and took my mouth in a deep kiss that wasn’t really appropriate for a restaurant bar, although that would never stop him.
I was still lightheaded when he pulled away and spoke in a strained voice. “Next time, I’m going with you.”
“You could have come this time. I told you that.”
“You also told me you would be gone two days, not five.”
I’d just returned from California this afternoon. Jules and I had expected to be in San Diego for two nights to pitch a new client. But after we signed that new account, the VP of marketing offered to get us an appointment with a sister company in Los Angeles, so our two-day trip wound up being a full five.
“I can’t help it if people want us.”
“People want you right here. The line forms behind me.”
The bartender came by to take our drink order just as an older couple walked up next to us.
“Are these seats taken?” the man asked.
There were two seats open next to me at the bar.
Chase answered, “All yours. I’m going to stand so I keep close to her anyway.”
The older woman gave him a smile that said he’d just melted her heart a little. I knew, because I wore the same one.
She took the seat to my left and her husband sat beside her. “I’m Opal, and this is my husband, Henry.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Reese. This is Chase.”
“Today is our fortieth wedding anniversary.”
“Wow. Congratulations. Forty years. That’s pretty amazing,” I said.
“How long have you two been married?”
“Oh, we’re not—”
Chase interrupted. “Married anywhere as long as you. But today is our anniversary as well. Five years of wedded bliss.”
I looked at him incredulously, although I’m not sure why I was surprised. I knew of his penchant for stories, and today was our anniversary of sorts. One year ago today we’d sat in this restaurant together. Only the last time, my date had been Martin Ward and Chase had been the date crasher. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Just as I’d done that fateful night, I propped my elbows, folded my hands, and rested my chin atop them.
“Yes. Five years ago today. You should tell them the story of how you proposed, sweetheart. It’s a really good one.” I smiled sweetly and batted my eyelashes.
Of course, Chase being Chase, he wasn’t at all freaked out that I’d just put him in the hot seat. Instead, he looked pleased that I was playing along.
He stood behind me and squeezed my shoulders. “Mrs. Parker is sentimental, so I took her to the place we first met for dinner. I had been planning to propose to her for a while, but she was busy with her new company, so the right time never presented itself. We’d just found out that she was pregnant, and I decided right time or not, I was going to pop the question.”
My mouth hung open. Not because he was weaving yet another crazy tall tale, but because he couldn’t possibly know the irony of the story he was telling. The afternoon before I’d left for California, I had found out I was pregnant. I just hadn’t had a chance to tell him yet, and here he was making it up as part of his crazy story. I decided I had to add to his tale. It would be fun later when he found out that my addition to his story wasn’t fiction like his. Taking his hand, I brought it to my stomach. “We’re actually expecting another child now.”
Chase smiled, pleased I was playing along, and rubbed my tummy as he continued. “Anyway. When we first got together, she made us keep it a secret because I was her boss. I’m a little territorial when it comes to the Mrs., and that never sat right with me. But then she went and quit on me—that’s a whole other story—and started her own successful company, so I figured it was okay to make a public statement. While she wasn’t paying attention, I had all of our friends and family slip into the restaurant. You see, back then, before the first two kids came, she was still googly-eyed over me. People could come and go, and she didn’t notice most of the time when we were together.”
Opal smiled. “I don’t think that’s changed. I see the way she’s looking at you right now. Your wife is still pretty smitten.”
Chase looked at me. “I’m one hell of a lucky guy.”
“So you proposed in front of all your friends and family in the restaurant where you had your first date? That’s beautiful.” Opal said. “Henry wasn’t quite as romantic. He was about to get on the bus to go for his second tour in the army, and he asked me if I wanted to get hitched. Didn’t even have a ring.”
“Considering it’s been forty years, I’m thinking it all worked out pretty well anyway.” I looked up at Chase. “It’s not the proposal that’s important. It’s the man you spend the next forty years with. I would’ve been happy with any proposal from this crazy man.”
Chase grumbled, “Now you tell me.”
The hostess came to tell Opal and Henry their table was ready and said ours would be just a few more minutes.
“It was nice meeting you, Opal, Henry,” I told them. “I hope you have a great anniversary.”
“You too, dear.”
After they disappeared, Chase kissed me again.
“I missed you,” he groaned into my mouth.
“I missed you, too.”
“You should come back and work for me. I like having you in the office every day.”
“You like having me on your desk, you mean.”
“That, too. But the place isn’t the same without you.”
“I saw your new billboard on my way over. It came out great.”
A week after we got back together, Chase had painted over the existing Parker Industries ad that had been on the building across the street from his office for years. We’d never spoken about him changing it, but I knew it was monumental that he’d gotten rid of an ad featuring Peyton. This week, while I was away, an image from his new ad campaign had finally been put up over it.
Although I wasn’t the one who’d created the final ad, I’d been part of the ground-floor brainstorming on that campaign, and it warmed me to know a piece of me was up there now where he could see it from his office. He was truly moving on.
That’s why when we were cleaning out his place to make room for some of my stuff, and I noticed Peyton’s guitar had been packed away, I’d insisted he keep it out. She was part of his life, part of the man he was today. I didn’t want to replace those memories. I wanted to make new ones with him, be part of the dreams that freed him from the nightmares.
Eventually, the hostess came and told us our table was ready, and we followed her back to the dining room.
“Is this the right table?” she asked as we arrived at the same spot where we’d been seated a year ago tonight.
Chase looked to me. “It is. Right, Buttercup?”
I was touched he actually remembered. “You know it was exactly a year ago we sat here, right?”
He pulled out my chair before taking his seat. We both sat exactly where we had on that first night.
“Do you remember which table I was sitting at before I moved to yours?” Chase asked.
“I do.” My eyes searched across the restaurant, and I pointed, remembering that night. “You and your date were sitting right over…” I squinted, sure my eyes were playing tricks on me. “Right over—wait…is that? Oh my God. Is that, is that Owen?”
My brother smiled, held up a champagne glass, and tilted it in my direction with a nod.
Chase didn’t turn around. “It is.”
There was no surprise at all in his voice. I looked to him, confused.
He smiled mischievously. “See anyone else you know?”
For the first time, I looked around the room, and it was as if all the faces suddenly came into focus. There were my parents to the left. Chase’s sister, Anna, and her family to the right. In fact, the entire restaurant was filled with our family and friends.
My old boss, Josh, and his new wife, Elizabeth.
My best friend and business partner, Jules, and her boyfriend, Christian.
Travis, Lindsey, the entire Parker Industries marketing department.
Chase leaned in and whispered, “It really is my Aunt Opal and Uncle Henry’s anniversary. That part was just a coincidence.”
I was confused as hell.
Why was everyone here?
And why was everyone smiling and staring at me?
My mind was a muddled mess. I couldn’t even add two plus two and see that everyone was there four me.
The restaurant, which had been a loud rumble, suddenly quieted.
Everything after that happened in slow motion. All of our family and friends faded away as the man I love got down on one knee. I heard and saw nothing but him.
“I had this whole thing to say planned out in my head, but the minute I saw your face, I completely forgot every word. So I’m just going to wing it here. Reese Elizabeth Annesley, since the first time I laid eyes on you on that bus in middle school, I’ve been crazy about you.”
I smiled and shook my head. “You got the crazy part right.”
Chase took my hand, and it was then I noticed his was shaking. My cocky, always-confident bossman was nervous. If it was possible, I fell a little more in love with him in that moment. I squeezed his hand, offering reassurance, and he steadied. That’s what we did for each other. I was the balance to his unsteadiness. He was the courage to my fear.
He continued. “Maybe it wasn’t a school bus or middle school, but I fell hard for you in the hall, that much I’m sure of. From the moment I saw your beautiful face light up that dark hallway a year ago, I was done. I didn’t even care that we were both on dates with other people, I just needed to be closer to you any way I could. Since then, you’ve distracted me every day whether you’re near me or not. You brought me back to life, and there’s nothing I want to do more than build that life with you. I want to be the man to look under your bed every night and wake up next to you in it every morning. You’ve changed me. When I’m with you, I’m myself, only a better version, because you make me want to be a better man. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I want it to start yesterday. So, please tell me you’ll be my wife because I’ve already been waiting for you my entire life, and I don’t want to wait any more.”
I pressed my forehead to his as tears streamed down my face. “You know I’m going to be even crazier once we live together, and probably even worse when we have our own family. Three locks might turn to seven, and doing my check in that big house of yours is going to take a long time. It might get old and tiring. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to change any of that.”
Chase reached behind me and bunched my hair into his hand, cupping it along with the nape of my neck.
“I don’t want you to change. Not any of it. I love everything about you. There’s not a single thing I’d change if I could. Well, except your last name.”