“You sound surprised.”
Lips slightly parted, she stiffly shakes her head. “No. I…I hate that idea too. I didn’t know if you’d want me to stay or go or…” She trails off looking flustered.
More than a f**king glimmer of hope.
I give her fingers a light squeeze. “I should probably finish stating my intentions.”
“There’s more?” She’s fighting a smile.
“Yeah.” I draw her around the counter to stand in front of me. Her head tilts back as she looks up, and I touch the curve of her cheek with my thumb. My heart pounds against my ribs. I’m going all in. But it’s what I do best. And I’ve learned my lesson; Anna is too important to go at with half-measures.
“One day,” I tell her, “I want to marry you.”
Her whole body gives a reflexive jerk, her mouth dropping open. “Marry me?”
I can’t help but smile at her shock. “Not now. We’re not ready for that yet.” I trace her bottom lip with the tip of my thumb. “But one day. One day, I will ask you and hope that you say yes.” I palm her cheek. “You’re it for me, Anna Marie.”
She steps into my space, her hand landing on my waist while her other hand smoothes over my forearm to clasp tight. My heart squeezes before something deep within eases. She’s searching my face, a small smile breaking over her. “Because sometimes you just know?”
A grin pulls tight at my cheeks. “You have been paying attention.”
And then she’s easing into my embrace, her hands sliding over my chest and around my neck. Everything inside me goes warm as I bend down to meet her lips, but I stop just shy of them. “Is that a yes?”
She halts too, her cheeks plumping on a smile. “You know, you didn’t have to persuade me. I was going to say yes.”
My gut tightens. She snuggles closer, nibbling along my jaw, up to the sensitive corner of my mouth. I feel it at the base of my balls. “You were?” I follow her mouth with mine, trying to capture it, but she’s evading, a smile gracing her lips as she brushes them across mine.
I grasp the curve of her h*ps and pull her hard against me. “Jones.”
“Baylor.” She laughs, and then gives in, her fingers playing with the leather cord around my neck. “Of course I was.” Her thumb caresses the sliver of wood I carved out of my parent’s house. When her eyes find me, they’re wide and deep green. “You’re my home, Drew.”
I let out an unsteady breath. “We’ll be each other’s home.”
TELLING MY FRIENDS that I’m moving in with Drew goes about as well as I expect it to, which is not very. Right in, Iris starts on me.
“Are you f**king crazy?” She follows me into my room, watching as I open my closet and haul out the steamer trunk my mother sent me off to college with. “You just got back together. Why would you move in with him?”
“Because he asked?” I heave the trunk onto my bed. “And because I want to?”
George saunters into the room. “What about Iris? You can’t leave her in a lurch.”
I glance at him before going to my dresser. “You think I’d do that?” It hurts that he does, but I get it; love can make people crazy. “I’ll still pay the rent here until Iris moves out for grad school.”
“So Drew’s gonna be like your sugar daddy?” Iris sneers at the very idea.
“Yeah, because that’s so me.” I roll my eyes. “He owns the house outright and only pays utilities. I’m paying for groceries.” I’d wanted to pay for more, but Drew insisted. His name is on all the bills, and he has the money, so we’d compromised.
Iris plops down on the bed and idly flicks the trunk’s lock. “I get that you’re happy to be back with Drew, Banana, but, come on, you’ve been avoiding commitment like the plague, and now you’re going to move in with him?”
I can’t blame Iris for her skepticism. If I had heard myself even a weeks ago, I’d have thought the same thing. But things change. People grow up. “For months I’ve been resisting letting Drew in, convinced that I’d lose who I am if I did. That he’d crush my heart. But I was the one destroying my soul. I was f**king miserable.”
Even the shadow of that memory hurts. I brush it aside with a deep breath. “I’m happy with him.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to live with him,” she says.
“No, it doesn’t. But if being with him makes me happy, then why stay apart for fear that it might not work? That would be stupid.”
“But you’re so young. Don’t you want to see what the world has to offer?”
As if life is somewhere just around the corner, and I’ll find it if only I keep searching. It’s what we’ve all been promised, an elusive brass ring that’s always just out of reach, and one day, one day it will pop up in front of us. Well, I don’t want a treadmill life. I’ve tried it and it sucks.
I shake my head. “I used to think that if I figured out what I wanted to do with my life, everything would fall into place. Now,” I shrug, “now I’m thinking that happiness is never going to be having the perfect job, house, life. It isn’t a destination, you know? It’s a series of moments. I mean, isn’t that what life is? Moments? The here and now?”
I stuff my underwear into a bag. “Yeah, I have to discover what I want to do with my life. I could end up with the greatest career in the world, but at the end of the day, who I come home to, who I share my accomplishments with is what makes the struggle worth it. And for me, that’s Drew. So, yes, it’s reckless and it may blow up in my face, but I am not afraid. I’m more excited than I’ve ever been. So just… support me, will you?”