Prince Charming Epilogue
Chris is having a panic attack, and Keaton is trying to soothe him in the middle of a windstorm of people. They’re both in tuxedos, standing in front of the mantelpiece at the Barrington mansion, not that anyone could see the mantelpiece past the 744 roses it's layered with. Apparently there are supposed to be 749. It’s five short.
I said Keaton. His name is David. I’m slowly getting used to his real name. Patiently acclimating to his real, gentle, giving self. He’s been showing me the places he grew up, the people he knew. I met his parents, and the extended family he hasn’t seen for years.
It's been a year since I found him in a house in the Sequoias. A year since he decided to live his life and commit to a place and a person. Been a few months since we nailed Keyser. But that's a story for a different book.
“I'm thinking of paper roses,” Harper says from beside me. “Or just lying and telling her there are 749.”
People arrive in pairs and family sets, all dressed in their best. The young pastor sets up a makeshift altar in front of the rose display.
“What's his deal with having an exact number?”
“Sentimentality. But there's not another rose in the state. So sentiment’s gonna have to take a bow to math.”
Chris and Catherine are finally getting married, a banner day when you consider they were high school sweethearts separated for thirteen years. Keaton glances at me and winks ever so slightly. His smirk still drives me wild, and his dimples are Morse code for happiness.
Taylor joins the two men, pointing at the rose garden in the back. I know what he’s saying. You can pick five damn roses from there and none will be missed, but Chris's deal was that the rosebushes in the back stay intact. He's a stubborn guy. Handsome. Rich. Unbearably smart. And stubborn. But I guess waiting for someone that many years takes a certain kind of pigheadedness.
Keaton—no, David—peels away from the discussion and comes to me. “You need to be sitting.”
“Oh God,” Harper says. “I can’t even with you two arguing about this.” She takes David's old place near Chris and Taylor.
I'm left alone with David putting his hand on my distended belly and saying, “Doctor's orders, Special Agent Grinstead.”
“My ass gets tired sitting down all day.”
“There'll be time enough to massage that arse later.”
My pregnancy hasn't slowed us down at all. Not sexually, at least. He's become more gentle and sweet as the months have gone on, but I can't wait for the old roughness back.
Everything in its time. I'm having a baby boy in three weeks and getting married in two. Nana and his family are meeting us in Vegas for a big, splashy wedding. I had the choice to get married in a pregnancy-friendly wedding dress or get married with a baby in my arms. Nana put her foot down. She made no apologies or excuses for being a single mother, but insisted I break the cycle.
Harper stomps to the back of the house and slaps open the kitchen door. Keaton pulls a chair around for me until its seat hits the back of my thighs. I acquiesce and sit. He kneels on the floor next to me and takes my hands, flicking his thumbnail over my diamond engagement ring.
I love when he kneels next to me, puts his hand on my belly to feel baby kick. It’s the most dominant thing he does.
“Are you sure you want to wear these shoes?” he asks.
“It's not like you’re gonna let me stand up.”
The screen door slams open then shut again as Harper runs in with a handful of roses. “Look! These had just fallen right off the bush. Can you even believe it?”
She hands them to Taylor, who laughs.
“That's cheating,” Chris exclaims. “The entire point was to leave the rose garden in the back exactly as it is.”
“No,” Harper says. “The whole point is that you have a good time at your own wedding, and if you're gonna freak out over five roses that no one can even see, then you need to take the roses from where you can get them.”
“You should try getting married yourself,” Chris replies, accepting the roses from Taylor.
“I'm still in school. Don't push me.”
“Who’s pushing?” Taylor asks.
Nana trundles in from the backyard in a sparkly sequined dress. She's holding five roses. “I heard you were short some flowers. You got a ton of them out in the back.”
Chris throws his arms up as if surrendering to a mighty foe. I shift in my seat, sliding to the edge so I can get up. Keaton stands with me, bracing his arms against me as if I might tip forward, which actually, I might.
“Where do you think you're going, young lady?”
“I'm going to help them set up the roses… five of them. And the other five…” I had an idea about what to do with the extra five, but it flies out of my head when I feel liquid trickling down my leg.
“What’s wrong?” Keaton asks.
“I think my water broke.”
I kick my foot out a little while Keaton holds me straight. My stockings are wet all the way down to the shoe.
I look at him. He looks at me.
“I don’t want to ruin the wedding,” I whisper. “We should just sneak out to the hospital.”
He presses his lips between his teeth as if he’s holding back his words.
“Just grab my bag,” I say, pointing at it. “And we can—”
“Father Grady!” Keaton calls.
“Yes, yes,” the pastor intones as he removes a silver chalice from a box.
“I need you to marry us right now.”
“David!” I snap, using his real name without thinking for the first time.
“I’ll tell Catherine!” Harper shouts before bolting up the stairs.
Grady doesn’t look up from arranging the silver. “I have thirty-four minutes.”
“We can wait,” I hiss.
“Did you piss yourself?” Nana asks. “Or is the cake baked?”
“The cake is baked,” Keaton says. “Father Grady!”
The handsome priest looks up for the first time, pushing his glasses up his nose.
“We need a quickie before this baby is born out of wedlock,” Keaton says.
“Your parents,” I whine. “And the party.”
“We can still have the party. We need rings. Right?”
“Right,” Grady answers, still looking a little flummoxed. “I think. Uh…”
“Use ours!” Catherine flies down the grand staircase with her wedding gown unhooked at the back and her veil waving behind her. “Chris! Give them the rings!”
Chris has his hand over his eyes. “I’m not looking at you!”
“Who has them?” Catherine shouts.
“The best man,” Chris says from behind his hand. “Back upstairs, woman!”
I turn to face Keaton fully. He’s David. He’s real, and he’s mine.
“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “Not really. Let’s not take the wind out of their sails.”
“We’ll be gone before Catherine Barrington even walks down the aisle. And it does matter. It matters to your grandmother, for one, and it matters to me.”
“I don’t think you’re going to leave me.”
“I will never leave you. I hardly think even death can separate us.” He leans his forehead on mine. “This child was created out of our love. Let’s make sure he’s a part of our commitment too.”
He’s looking out for me, and in his eyes, I see only love and care for me as a person, not the consequence of a wedding after a birth.
Chris has the rings. He hands the big one to me and the smaller one to Keaton.
Grady stands by us with an open book.
“The short version,” Keaton says.
“Do you have vows? Could be quicker that way.”
“No,” I say.
“Yes,” Keaton says at the same time. “I’ll go first.” He takes my left hand and isolates the ring finger.
“Make it quick,” I whisper. “I’m leaking onto the carpet.”
“Cassandra Grinstead. You are the partner to my real self. More than a name. More than a title. You are more than family. You are the flesh of my heart and the reason it beats.” He slips the ring on my finger until it nestles next to the diamond.
“That was nice.” I sniffle, running my fingers across my cheeks, clearing the way for fresh tears.
“Come on, come on!” Nana shouts. “You’re going to drop it in the car.”
I hold up the larger ring and isolate David’s finger. In a room full of people, half of whom don’t even know there’s a second wedding happening, I can only see his seven o’clock eyes.
“David Webber. I don’t… I can’t…” Words leave me. I want to get out my notepad and read off the stupid, flowery vows I’d written, but we don’t have time, and they express nothing that needs saying. I can walk right into hell alone because I know he will follow me. He can run straight into oblivion and I will be right behind him.
What I need to say can be said in six words.
“I love you.” I slip the ring on his finger. “I trust you.”
“By the power vested in me,” Grady interjects. I’d forgotten he was there. I’d forgotten everyone in the room was there, but the volume in my head gets turned up ever so slowly. “I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”
David smashes his lips against mine.
That’s when the first contraction hits. It’s more of a twist than a pain. But still, I say, “Ow.”
Nana puts my bag on my shoulder. “Get moving!”
“It’ll be hours, Nana,” I protest. “Take it easy!”
“So you say. My mother dropped me so quick, my father barely had time to grab his hat on the way out.”
“Let’s just be safe.” David hoists me into his arms and carries me to the door. He navigates the crowd in the living room, the porch, and to the car without taking his face off mine.
He gently puts me in the passenger seat and buckles me in.
“I have the music all picked out.” I tap the screen on his stereo as he closes the door, crossing to the driver’s side. When he gets in, I finish my sentence. “It’s all in English too.”
“It begins, my dodger. Stealing my stereo and stealing my heart.”
He pulls onto the road, smiling all the while. I can’t keep my eyes off his jaw and the curve of his neck. I want the baby to grow up to be just like him, with a soul so deep and layered, a lifetime isn’t long enough to figure him out.
A man worthy of a woman’s trust.
I’m embarking on an adventure that’s been written by generations of women before me, and yet it’s a story that’s never been told. It’s our story.