Tools of Engagement

Page 54

How much happiness could one heart withstand? “I’ll love you, too, Wes. Fiercely. Even when we fight. Especially when we fight,” she vowed, her voice shaking. “And I would be honored to be your wife.”

His lips jumped at one corner. “Don’t you want to see the ring?”

“No. All I need to see is you.”


Eight Months Later

They were the scourge of the kindergarten graduation ceremony.

The Castle-Daniels contingent required an entire row to cheer on Laura as she accepted her diploma. Bethany winced over the dirty looks they were receiving from the other parents, but what could she say? She’d gotten there an hour early to secure seating. When you snooze, you lose.

Crammed into the front row of the elementary school auditorium were her parents, Georgie, Travis, Dominic, and Rosie. Kristin and Stephen were there, too, behaving as if Kristin had the future king of England strapped to her chest, glaring at anyone who sneezed or spoke too loudly in his vicinity.

Bethany had to agree about one thing. Her new nephew was pretty great. Bethany, Laura, and Wes had a secret pact to expose the kid to as much normalcy as possible, in the hopes he turned out slightly less bananas than his parents. Although, to be fair, Bethany and Stephen had grown a lot closer post-flip. She’d even let him sit in on a Just Us League meeting around Kristin’s due date, because he’d been too paranoid leaving her there alone.

He’d ended up buzzed on tequila and engaged in a group hug, crying and promising to be a better friend to women. Bethany was still traumatized.

But she loved her big brother. Or whatever.

The day he’d conceded Flip Off to her, she knew he’d meant it. And along with her own growth during those wild three weeks, she’d truly started trusting herself. Believing in herself. And now she never questioned her ability to love or be loved.

Love wasn’t perfect.

Well, some days it was. Other times, it was just muddling through and ripping off your T-shirt to make a bandage. Or her, Wes, and Laura all getting a cold at the same time and piling like zombies in her once-pristine bed for days on end.

They did what worked—and the result was wild, chaotic, beautiful happiness.

Bethany craned her neck to see if Wes had arrived yet. She was saving the seats next to her, right on the aisle, so Laura would be able to see him. And their special guest, if she was able to make it.

The school principal tapped on the microphone, unleashing a peal of feedback. He welcomed everyone to the graduation ceremony, but Bethany was only half listening. For one, she was worried Wes wouldn’t make it on time. But mainly, she couldn’t help but reflect on how much things had changed over the last eight months.

For one, she’d married Wes.

Had she planned a big, perfect wedding?

No, they’d invited everyone to their new house, formerly known as Project Doomsday, and ambushed them with a surprise wedding, right there in the living room. A living room full of finger paintings and framed pictures and dust on the mantel. That’s right, Bethany Castle had gotten married barefoot in a messy house without a single stroke of professional makeup. There was no place she’d rather be.

They didn’t leave her home behind due to a lack of warmth or hominess. They’d simply wanted to create their own space top to bottom, as a family. She’d stood in that haphazard living room with a smile on her face a mile wide. Why wouldn’t she be smiling when she was marrying the most incredible, loyal, steadfast man on all of planet earth and gaining a quasi-daughter in the process?

Now, months later, every single person in the front row had fallen in love with Laura. She didn’t have merely one home, she had several—and in about a decade, she was going to be the busiest babysitter in town, because Rosie and Dominic were expecting twins, Travis and Georgie had a little girl on the way, and, not to be outdone, Stephen and Kristin were already trying for another.

As for Bethany and Wes?

They had their girl and she was more than they could ever want.

Speaking of whom, with the last name Daniels, she was going to be one of the first handful of kids to cross the stage. Where was Wes?

Her thought barely had time to finish before her husband appeared in the entrance of the auditorium, dressed in his signature cowboy hat and too-tight jeans. A look of relief crossed his face when he saw the ceremony hadn’t started yet and Bethany waved him down to the front row. His lips curved at her and he shook his head a little, as if to say, Of course you snagged the front row. Also, I love you.

His expression said that as well. It always did.

She was confused when Wes stepped back out of the auditorium momentarily. Until he walked back in with his half sister at his side.

Bethany breathed a sigh of relief. She’d made it.

After the appeal was filed with the court to grant Wes temporary guardianship of Laura, they didn’t hear from Becky for several months. They’d been so busy moving into their new house, those months had flown by so fast that Bethany had been stunned to open her front door one evening and find Becky standing there.

As luck would have it, there’d been a Just Us League meeting on that night. Becky stayed for it. And then she showed up for the next one, and the one after that. She still hadn’t opened up about everything in her past, but it was impossible not to see the positivity of the club take effect, little by little. With Bethany and Wes’s help, Becky had completed rehabilitation and was now sober, living in Freeport.

With Brick & Morty expanding to take on two flip teams instead of one—Bethany and Wes making up the additional crew—Bethany had been in need of a new stager. She was training Becky for the position.

Her husband and his sister slid into their seats, just in time for the principal to start calling the names of the kindergartners.

“Hey!” Bethany whispered, reaching out to squeeze Becky’s hand and accepting a kiss on the forehead from Wes. “I’m glad you made it.”

Me too, mouthed Becky, seeming a little uncomfortable in her surroundings. Compared to how she’d been at Laura’s Christmas show, however, she was definitely growing more relaxed in family situations. For Laura’s sake, Bethany couldn’t be more pleased about that. Laura had been standoffish with her mother during their first few visits, but the more commitment Becky showed, the more Laura warmed—and Bethany had faith it would only get better from there on out.

Laura’s name was called and the front row broke out the noisemakers, causing Laura’s clear, happy giggle to ring out on stage. She waved at the front row and held up her diploma like Thor’s hammer. Oh yeah, she was done with princesses.

It was all about superheroes now.

Wes’s fingers threaded through Bethany’s, squeezing and drawing her attention. She was surprised to find emotion shining in her husband’s eyes.

He looked down the row of friends and family, then back at her.

“Look at what we’ve got, baby,” he said quietly, brushing a kiss across her wedding ring. “We’ve got everything.”

“Everything,” she breathed.

He leaned in and kissed her mouth, lingering a moment before repeating the vow he’d made on their wedding day and every day since. “You and me. In it together.”

“Forever and ever.”

The End

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