Dropping the box by his feet Garrett stretched his tired muscles. It had taken two years to make the move from Starlight Shores to Aurora Skies. If it had been up to him he would have left as soon as the funeral was over. Looking down he found the top of one of the boxes had come open. He reached inside pulling out the framed picture that caught his eye. Tears pricked his eyes as he examined the smiling couple in the photo.
Coming up behind him Verity wrapped her arms around him. “They’d be so proud of you” she said leaning her head on his back.
“I miss them so much,” he sniffed trying to keep the tears at bay. Taking a deep breath he asked “where did you get this?” He had thought everything they had, all the mementos, pictures had been destroyed in the bomb.
“Your grandparent let me copy a few of their pictures,” she explained “I thought it would be a nice surprise.” Kissing the back of his neck she released him “if it hurts too much to have them displayed in the house we can put them in an album or something.”
“No I want them,” his voice a half strangled sob “thank you for this. I thought everything had been destroyed.”
Putting her hand over his heart “not everything. You’re still here.”
He gave her a crooked grin “thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Eat a whole lot worse,” she giggled as she pulled away from him to start unpacking boxes.
“I’ll have you know I make a mean mac and cheese,” he retorted bending to open a box.
“If you like it charred on the bottom,” she said ducking the pillow he threw at her.
“That only happened once,” he ducked as she tossed the pillow back at him “as I recall you distracted me.”
Crawling over to him she pushed him to the floor “how did I distract you? Aren’t you supposed to have superb focus to rescue people?”
“So far none of the people I’ve had to rescue from near death have had your luscious lips,” he pulled her down on top of him rolling her over on the floor.
Gazing into his eyes she ran her tongue along her bottom lip, “does that mean you’d be distracted if they had my lips?”
“Never,” he brushed his lips across hers “no one would ever compare to you.”
She ran her hand up his back, into his hair pulling his head down to capture his mouth with hers. Breathing hard she pulled away gasping “that better be the way it is for always.”
Running his hand down her side to her bare midriff “you’re mine now and for always.”
“Good,” she smiled at him as her hands worked on his belt “I can handle that.”
Sometime later they lay in each other’s arms among half-open boxes. Garrett mumbled “will you marry me?”
Her hands stilled their lazy meandering along his dark toned chest. The word she wanted to shout out loud stuck in her throat. She brought her lips to his soft skin kissing a trail across his chest. She heard him moan deep inside as his arms tightened around her.
“Are you trying to distract me?” he asked sitting up “I thought that’s what we both wanted.”
“It is. I do. It’s just,” she ran her hands through her hair.
“What is it?” he asked “we’ve lived together for the past two years. It can’t be my age. I may be younger than you but I am still an adult.”
Pulling her knees to her chest she shook her head “it’s not that.”
“Then what is it?” he demanded reaching out for her.
She shrunk from his touch knowing she was about to hurt him worse than she already had. “I…” she opened her mouth but couldn’t say what she knew would shatter them both.
Dropping his hands to his side he slowly nodded. Without saying a word he pulled his pants on, slipping his feet into shoes. Moving towards the door he said “you need to let it go.”
She jumped when the door slammed shut as Garrett left the house. She knew he was right. She had to let it go. She couldn’t continue to blame herself for Ian’s death. She messed up she knew that. Did she need to continue to punish herself for it? How many times had Garrett told her he didn’t blame her? Leaning her head in her hands he had told her so many times that she had lost count.
She loved him. Didn’t want to live without him. Then why couldn’t she say yes when he asked her to marry him? What was holding her back? What was she waiting for? Kara was gone. At least for now. As much as she wanted to believe Kara wasn’t lurking somewhere on the periphery of their lives she couldn’t let it go. She wanted to hunt her down. Make her pay for what she’s done.
That in a nut shell was why she couldn’t let it go. Her sense of justice needed her to search for answers. She couldn’t let Kara think she had gotten away with her crimes. Her eyes strayed to the unopened box she had stored her research. Now while Garrett was out she could store its contents inside her file cabinets. Not that she was concerned Garrett would snoop inside her things, he knew she took her job as a detective seriously. She didn’t want to risk him finding out she was still searching for her. Somewhere she knew Kara had left a clue and she was going to find it. When she did Kara wouldn’t get away again.
Several weeks passed and neither one mentioned the aborted proposal. Garrett would get up early, go to work and barring emergencies he would come home early after lunch. He would walk into the small house he shared with Verity, change clothes and go for a run. One day as he passed by the bathroom door he stopped in concern. Standing outside the door he thought he heard something “Verity are you alright?” He waited for a response. When nothing happened he opened the door to find her draped across the toilet. Kneeling beside her he repeated “are you alright?”
Glancing up she moaned, her eyes glazed over in misery. Her mouth moved to reply only to be aborted by the need to throw up. When she was done she let him pull her into his arms “I feel awful,” she mumbled into his shoulder.
Stroking her silky red hair “you’ve been sick a lot lately,” he recalled times when she had gotten up in the middle of the night or left the table in the middle of eating. “I’m sorry” as air escaped his lungs leaving him feeling somewhat hollow. He should have known she wasn’t well.
“It’s not your fault” she assured him “well not completely.” She tried to smile up at him ignoring her upset stomach and spinning head.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked looking deep into her eyes.
“Well” she bit her lip “I went to see the doctor.” She looked into his concerned eyes “I’m pregnant.”
“What? Really?” he gasped putting a hand over her stomach “how? I mean we’ve been careful and we haven’t had…” His voice faded away remembering their first day here among the boxes…
She watched him carefully as his smile faded and his eyes became clouded “we weren’t as careful as we should have been that time.”
“How long have you known?” he asked his voice hoarse.
Scooting out of his arms saying “about a week.” Tracing the grout lines on the floor she added “you don’t have to marry me just because of the baby.”
“Damn it Verity,” he slammed his fist into the floor “I’ve been asking you to marry me for months. Now you imply I’d only marry you because of the baby?” He got to his feet and stalked from the room.
“Garrett please,” she entreated following him into the living room “I’m sorry I…”
He stood staring at her work area tugging on a locked file cabinet. “It’s because of her isn’t?” he asked as she came up alongside him. Yanking on the drawer as her silence confirmed his suspicions.
Reaching out she put a restraining hand over his “I’m sorry.” She bit her lip as he turned towards her “it’s my fault they’re dead. How can I marry you when I feel so guilty?”
“How many times do I have to tell you it was a mistake?” he asked reaching his hand out to caress her face “my parents deaths were not your fault.”
“I know you say that,” she looked away gulping for air “but how can you look at me and not see the person responsible?”
Gently he ran his thumbs across her cheeks wiping her tears away “the person responsible isn’t in this room. Kara is the only person I blame for what happened. It wasn’t your fault. You made a mistake. I’m going to keep telling you that until you believe me.”
“I wish it were that easy” she mumbled her eyes searching his “I want to believe you. My heart keeps condemning me. I keep replaying that night over and over in my head. I see all the things I should have done.”
“Let it go,” he pleaded kissing her forehead “dad wouldn’t want you doing this to yourself. He’d be the first one to say people make mistakes. He loved mom despite all the mistakes she made. Don’t you think she blamed herself for how Kara turned out? Dad wouldn’t let her get lost in the blame game and neither will I. I love you mistakes and all. None of us are perfect…”
“You’re pretty close to perfect,” she ran her fingers through his hair “you keep putting up with me and my mistakes.”
“What mistakes?” he asked with a smirk trying to lighten the mood.
“Besides what we’ve been discussing?” She pursed her lips “one I can think of is me telling you no” her eyes shimmered with moisture “Garrett Jefferson Bennett will you do me the honor of being my husband?”
“I’m supposed to ask you that” he protested as a grin took over his face.
“What?” she asked knitting her brows together “don’t tell me you wanted me to be your husband!”
“No silly. My wife” he leaned forward pressing his lips to hers “I want you to be my wife,” he murmured against them.
“Mrs Bennett,” she mumbled embracing him “I like the sound of that.”
“Name the date, any date and I’ll tell the family,” he told her growing excitement enlivening his voice.
“Today” she joked “it has to be fairly soon. I don’t want to be as big as a house when we say I do.”
Four weeks later Gene and Aimee stood on an empty lot overlooking the ocean. Slipping her hand in his Aimee spoke softly “we don’t have to do this.”
“I know,” his voice was hoarse and shaky as his mind transported him back in time. He squeezed her hand “it’s been almost sixty years since the fire and I’ve never been back.” He pointed towards an empty pool that marked where the house once stood. “The house was there. I used to love to torment my brothers; especially Casey, he’d get so mad.” A sad pensive smile spread across his face.
Aimee shivered in the cool breeze coming in off the ocean. It was an eerie desolate place, almost as if the land still mourned the family who once lived here. “It wasn’t your fault,” she murmured turning to him stroking his weathered face “the fire wasn’t your fault.”
Looking out across the empty expanse when he spoke it was like he hadn’t heard a word she said “I wonder why no one ever built on this lot?”
“Would it make a difference if they had?” she asked trying to divert his attention to her face. Her pink eyes reflecting his melancholia as the depressive mournful tone of the place swept through her.
“I don’t know” he mumbled “maybe it would have helped to close this chapter in my life.” He shivered as he wrapped his arms around her “I’ve tried so hard to become a better person…”
Hugging him tight despite the pain jolting through her joints “you’re the best most wonderful man I know. You’ve saved me in more than one way. We all make mistakes. Don’t look back and compare who you are with what you were. It wouldn’t be fair to the thirteen year old boy you were or the man you are now.”
Snorting he moved so that he could kiss her lips “I love you.” He had said those three little words a million times before. Each time he said them it felt like the first time.
“I love you too” she kissed him back “come on” tugging on his hand “we need to get back. You have a bride to give away.”
Smiling Gene let his gaze sweep across the yard long ago memories crashing over him. The wind seemed to carry their voices to him, calling to him. Sydney, Robert, his parents were all gone. He could feel the sands of time running out as they beckoned him to join them. Shaking his head he turned to follow Aimee to the car. The only voice he hadn’t heard was Ian’s and that hurt more than the rest.
Garrett stood beside August gazing down the aisle while his sister tried to smile reassuringly from the other side of the wedding arch. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He had dreamed about this day for two years. Now it was a reality. It could only be better if his parents were there to share his happiness with him. He doubted he’d ever stop missing them. Wherever they were he knew they’d be happy for him.
He felt August grip his shoulder as the music changed and Verity came into view. He smiled as he watched her walk arm in arm with his grandfather. His eyes misted over as he realized the depth of his love for this beautiful woman walking towards him.
Gene leaned in close kissing her cheek “are you reading for this?”
Nodding she gave him a tearful smile “it’s been years since I lost my parents.” She blinked back tears “I miss them today more than ever.”
Wrapping her arm around his he patted her hand “it’s only to be expected. It’s every girls dream to be walked down the aisle by her father.” He looked down the aisle where his grandson was waiting for them “you have someone very special waiting for you.”
“I know,” she said leaning up to kiss his cheek “I have someone just as special standing beside me. You and Aimee are always welcome.”
“Thank you” Gene straightened to his full height “if you or Garrett ever need anything don’t hesitate to ask. Aimee and I will always come and help.”
“Good,” she said reaching over to fix the flower in his lapel “you’ll need to be here when the baby is born.”
“You’re pregnant?” he asked his dark eyes coming to life with a mischievous gleam.
Nodding she squeezed his arm “you’re the first person I’ve told other than Garrett.”
“We’ll be here” he told her clearing his throat “now let’s get you married.” He walked her down the aisle a genuine smile upon his face. He looked towards Aimee and winked as he made his way to her side. She leaned her head on his shoulder as he sat beside her whispering “I love you.”
Garrett missed the scene between his grandparents having eyes only for Verity as he took her hand and turned toward the minister. He couldn’t believe this beautiful woman was about to become his wife, future mother of his children. His lips repeated the vows the minister recited. His fingers trembled as he held the ring slipping it around her finger.
Verity smiled up into Garrett’s clear blue eyes. She mouthed three little words “I love you” as he finished saying his vows. They both agreed to go with the traditional vows instead of writing their own. They had so much to accomplish in the few weeks they allowed to organize their wedding. She barely knew what she was saying and yet she knew she meant every word she said. She loved this man with everything she had.
As the ceremony came to a close a couple towards the back got up and hurried towards the exit. The man bent and left a wrapped package on the gift table. The woman took his hand squeezing tight as they turned to leave. At the door they stopped taking one last look of the happy couple sharing their first kiss as husband and wife. A brief secretive smile passed between them as they linked hands firm in the knowledge the couple was safe and happy.
Sometime later as Garrett and Verity sat in their living room surrounded by their closest family members they opened their wedding presents. Garrett grabbed the unmarked package that was left by the mystery couple.
Turning it over he frowned “this one doesn’t have a card.” Looking up he asked “is there a loose card anywhere?”
Everyone looked shaking their heads “maybe it’s on the inside” Verity suggested.
Garrett reached for the package, stuck his thumbs under the wrapping paper ready to tear into it. Verity put a restraining hand on his “maybe we should have it checked first.”
“You don’t think…” he began than stopped reading the answer in her eyes.
“Better safe than sorry” Gene told them reaching for the box “Jeff do you think you could have someone check it out for us?”
Hesitating a moment Jeff shook his head “that won’t be necessary.”
Gene frowned ready to argue “I want that scanned before the kids open it.”
“Trust me it’s safe,” Jeff repeated his voice low and confident “go ahead and open it.”
Looking from his Uncle to his grandfather Garrett hesitated for only a second before taking the package from Gene’s hands. “Did dad tell you to do this before he died?” he asked looking over at his Uncle.
Jeff simply nodded somewhat relieved at the explanation that Garrett came up with on his own. He was rewarded with a huge grin as Garrett pulled out first class all expenses paid tickets to France for him and Verity. “Your dad wanted you to have a honeymoon,” Jeff explained “it’s something he and Celia never had.”
“Thank you Uncle Jeff” Garrett muttered “dad would have appreciated you fulfilling his wish for us.”
Nodding Jeff added “they’re open-ended so when your ready to go just call that number and you’ll be all set.”
Gene gave him a knowing look motioning for his nephew to follow him outside. As soon as they were alone he demanded “what’s the real story behind that package? I saw your face when we all thought it was Kara up to her old tricks.” He let his words hang for a moment before adding “you no more left that package than I did.”
Jeff squirmed under the older mans scrutiny “it’s exactly as Garrett said.”
“Bull” Gene spat forcefully “don’t forget I know your tells and I know you’re lying.”
Jeff looked away unable to maintain eye contact with his Uncle “it’s what Garrett said. Ian wanted them to have a honeymoon. I didn’t have to do this for Katrina because Ian was able to do it himself even though they weren’t married yet.”
“Liar,” Gene said “I don’t know exactly what or why but you are.” He gave the younger man an angry glare “I have a feeling I know what it is though.”
“Please whatever you think it is please keep it to yourself,” Jeff half turned towards the house “at least for the time being.”
“Alright,” Gene agreed with a knowing smile “you more or less confirmed my suspicions.”
“I know,” Jeff nodded “I was never very good at lying.”
“At least not to me,” Gene confirmed feeling more lighthearted than he had in a long time.