Is this joy?
I think it might kill me.
She takes my face in her hands and kisses me, kisses me with a love so deep it releases my brain from its prison. My heart starts beating violently.
“Ella,” I say. “You’re going to be my wife.”
She kisses me again, crying again, and suddenly I don’t recognize myself. I don’t recognize my hands, my bones, my heart. I feel new. Different.
“I love you,” she whispers. “I love you so much.”
“That you could love me at all seems like some kind of miracle.”
She smiles, even as she shakes her head. “That’s ridiculous,” she says. “It’s very, very easy to love you.”
And I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to respond.
She doesn’t seem to mind.
I reel her in, kiss her, again, and lose myself in the taste and feel of her, in the fantasy of what we might have. What we might be. And then I pull her gently onto my lap and she straddles my body, settling over me until we’re pressed together, her cheek against my chest. I wrap my arms around her, spread my hands along her back. I feel her gentle breaths on my skin, her eyelashes tickling my chest as she blinks, and I decide I’m never, ever leaving this bed.
A happy, wonderful silence settles between us.
“You asked me to marry you,” she says softly.
I smile, my heart filled suddenly with inexpressible joy. I hardly recognize myself. I can’t remember the last time I ever smiled this much. I can’t recall ever feeling this kind of pure, unburdened bliss.
Like my body might float away without me.
I touch her hair, gently. Run my fingers through the soft, silky strands. When I finally sit up, she sits up, too, and she blushes as I stare at her, mesmerized by the sight of her. Her eyes are wide and bright. Her lips full and pink. She’s perfect, perfect here, bare and beautiful in my arms.
I press my forehead to the curve of her shoulder, my lips brushing against her skin. “I love you, Ella,” I whisper. “I will love you for the rest of my life. My heart is yours. Please don’t ever give it back to me.”
She says nothing for what feels like an eternity.
Finally, I feel her move. Her hand touches my face.
“Aaron,” she whispers. “Look at me.”
I shake my head.
I look up, slowly, to meet her eyes, and her expression is at once sad and sweet and full of love. I feel something thaw inside of me as I stare at her, and just as she’s about to say something, a complicated chime echoes through the room.
Ella frowns. Looks around. “That sounds like a doorbell,” she says.
I wish I could deny the possibility.
I sit back, even though she’s still sitting on my lap. I want this interruption to end. I want to go back to our conversation. I want to stick to my original plan to spend the rest of the night here, in bed, with my perfect, naked fiancée.
The chime sounds again, and this time, I say something decidedly ungentlemanly under my breath.
Ella laughs, surprised. “Did you just swear?”
A third chime. This time, I stare up at the ceiling and try to clear my head. Try to convince myself to move, to get dressed. This must be some kind of emergency, or else—
Suddenly, a voice:
“Listen—I didn’t want to come, okay? I really didn’t. I hate being this guy. But Castle sent me to come get you guys because you missed dinner. It’s getting super late and everyone is a little worried, and now you’re not even answering the door, and—Jesus Christ, open the goddamn door—”
I can’t believe it. I can’t believe he’s here. He’s always here, ruining my life.
I’m going to kill him.
I nearly trip trying to pull on my pants and get to the door at the same time, but when I do, I rip the door open, practically tearing it off its hinges.
“Unless someone is dead, dying, or we are under attack, I want you gone before I’ve even finished this sentence.”
Kenji narrows his eyes at me, and then pushes past me into the room. And I’m so stunned by his gall that it takes me a moment to realize I’m going to have to murder him.
“J—?” he says, looking around as he walks in. “You in here?”
Ella is holding the bedsheet up to her neck. “Uh, hi,” she says. She smiles nervously. “What are you doing here?”
“Hey, is it cool if I still call you J?” he says. “I know your name is Ella and everything, but I got so used to calling you J that it just feels right, you know?”
“You can still call me J,” she says. And then she frowns. “Kenji, what’s wrong?”
“Get out,” I snap at him. “I don’t know why you’re here, and I don’t care. We don’t wish to be disturbed. Ever.”
Ella shoots me a sharp look. She ignores me when she says, to Kenji, “It’s okay. I care. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Nothing is wrong,” Kenji says. “But I know your boyfriend won’t listen to me, so I wanted to let you know that it’s almost midnight and we really need you guys to get down to the dining tent ASAP, okay?” He shoots Ella a loaded look, and her eyes widen. She nods. I feel a sudden rush of excitement move through her, and it leaves me confused.
“What’s going on?” I say.
But Kenji is already walking away.
“Bro, you really need to, like, eat a pizza or something,” he says, slapping me on the shoulder as he leaves. “You have too many abs.”
“What?” My eyebrows pull together. “That’s not—”
“I’m joking,” Kenji says, pausing in the doorway just before he leaves. “Joking,” he says again. “It was a joke. Jesus.”
And then he slams the door behind him. I turn around.
“What’s going on?” I say again.
But she only smiles. “We should get dressed.”
“I promise I’ll explain as soon as we get there.”
I shake my head. “Did something happen?”
“No— I’m just— I’m really excited to see everyone from Omega Point again, and they’re all waiting for us in the dining tent.” She gets out of bed still holding the bedsheet to her body, and I have to clench my fists to keep from pulling it away from her. From pinning her against the wall.
And before I even have a chance to respond, she disappears into the bathroom, the sheet dragging on the floor as she goes.
I follow her.
She’s looking for her clothes, oblivious to my presence, but her dress is on the floor in a corner she hasn’t glimpsed yet, and I doubt she’d want to put that bloodied dress back on anyway. I should tell her that I found a drawer full of simple, standard clothes we’re probably allowed to borrow.
For now, I step behind her, slip my hands around her waist. She startles and the sheet falls to the floor. “Ella,” I say softly, tugging her body against mine. “Sweetheart, you have to tell me what’s going on.”