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that's what you get for waking up in vegas

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Thursday

 

Tessa is sitting at her kitchen table, papers scattered around her, as she tries and fails to read the same paragraph for the dozenth time. She really shouldn’t have ignored her thesis for the better part of the summer—instead spending most of her time teaching dance, lounging at her mom’s cottage, and hanging out with Scott—because now she has no idea what she was thinking when she started writing it last fall.

On top of that, she is trying to review notes for the first class back next week, preparing notes for the tutorial she is supposed to be running and figuring out how to make behaviourism make sense to a bunch of eighteen-year-olds. Particularly considering the fact that she knows Professor Griffin is old and boring and does a piss-poor job explaining it. She is getting a headache just thinking of him droning on. She needs more coffee, but of course she ran out this morning, and black tea just isn’t cutting it.

It’s noon and she hasn’t moved from her spot at the table since eight am. She is wearing nothing but an oversized sweater with the words “Maybe Later” scrawled across the front that she’d thrown on over her bra with her shorts after rolling out of bed. Her hair is leaking out of its top knot and her thick-framed glasses keep sliding off her nose–magnifying yesterday’s mascara smudged around her eyes.

She is a mess, and she knows it. But this has basically been her life for the last week—and will be for the foreseeable future. Next week, she is supposed to meet with her advisor, Dr. Alexander and discuss her progress on her thesis AND she is supposed to present him with something—preferably with content that makes even an iota of sense. And at some point this year, she is actually expected to finish the damn thing. She is pretty sure everything she has so far is garbage.

She is rubbing her temples when she hears a key turning in the lock and the door to her apartment open and close behind her. She isn’t surprised and doesn’t even bother to turn around—just continues to stare blankly at all the papers in front of her. Only one other person has a key.

A grande Starbucks cup magically appears in front of her, eliciting a moan in place of a thanks. She feels a gentle kiss drop on the top of her head, and a pair of strong warm arms wrapping themselves around her. She can tell he showered at the gym, probably right after work; he smells like the lemon soap he keeps in his gym bag, rather than his usual pine, which makes him smell like outside.

“Almond milk cappuccino,” says her favourite voice in the world, soft and low into her ear, making her shiver. “You look like you could use it, kiddo.”

“Ugh. Remind me why I’m doing this? The school year hasn’t even started yet and I’m already drowning in work.” She takes off her glasses, rubs her temples again, and thumps her head down on the table in front of her.

Scott, her best friend in the whole wide world—her biggest fan and most ardent supporter—just laughs. “Because, the brilliant Tessa Virtue decided she liked learning so much that she’d dedicate at least a decade of her life to it…face it T, you did this to yourself.”

He isn’t wrong. When she graduated high school at seventeen, she had had no idea what she wanted to do with her life—still doesn’t to be honest—so she just went with one of the few things she knew: school.

She had always loved clothes and had flirted with fashion and modelling for a nearly a year after high school, but quickly realized that it was not a world she wanted to be involved in (though she still modelled occasionally for a local boutique, which was always relaxed and fun and came with perks like free clothes). And though she’d danced all her life she knew that was never a viable career path (not in her family of lawyers anyways, because: “That’s not a real job Tess, and we won’t support you financially for the slim to none chance of you making it as a dancer.”). So that only left one thing, really the only other thing she had ever liked—learning. Tessa just liked knowing, everything.

Yes, she had been that weird kid who actually enjoyed reading Shakespeare, and learning about the War of 1812, and reading Les Mis (in French), and whatever else was thrown at her (except math, she always loathed math).

So, she had dedicated herself to school. She did her undergrad as a double major in English Lit and Psychology, but quickly learned that as much as she loved reading, she did not love analyzing literature. She almost gave up when in third year her Shakespeare professor had attempted a Freudian reading of Measure for Measure. She’d gone on to do her Master’s in behavioural Psychology because she was always so interested in knowing what made people tick, and is now working on her PhD in the same, with a particular interest in behavioural game theory. And it’s fun, really…except she still has no idea what she’s going to do with it all in the end, no idea how she is going to pay off the impressive amounts of student loans she has accumulated. But she made it this far and Tessa is not a quitter.

With her head down on the cool hard surface of her Ikea table—one that had cost her $150 for the table and four chairs, and that Scott had spent an afternoon cursing at while he built it, refusing her help—she lets out a muffled groan.

“Do I really need the PhD though?” She mumbles into her arm.

“You have to finish it! I’ve been looking forward to telling everyone you’re a doctor.”

She hums. “Not a real one. God, this is exhausting.”

Scott laughs again and plops himself down in the chair across from her, before remembering it’s the one with the wobbly leg and moving himself next to her instead. When he takes her hands in his, his face is radiating something like nervous excitement—like he was just waiting for the right segue.

“Sounds like you could use a vacation.”

“That is exactly what I don’t need.” She sighs, taking a long sip of her coffee.

“Yes, you do. Look at you. Come away with me this weekend,” he says with a mischievous smile, and she immediately knows he’s up to something.

“If this is a ploy to get me to go camping with you again, there is no fucking way. Not happening. Nope. I’m still recovering from the last time. That was actually the worst.”

“Okay, while I still think you should give camping another chance, that’s not it. I was thinking somewhere with a bit more amenities. Like a lot more amenities, and alcohol and shows and basically what ever else you want to do… How does Viva Las Vegas sound?” He does a little shimmy as he says the last bit.

She rolls her eyes. “You’re so full of shit Moir. We aren’t going to Vegas.”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell am.” He smiles and winks at her.

She studies him, and even if she hadn’t spent a good chunk of her masters studying body language and micro expressions, she’d still be able to read Scott Moir. Always has been able to. She’s known him for twenty years, has been best friends with him for most of that time, has loved him for at least half of those years. She has always been able to read him, to know him almost better than she knows herself. And he is not lying.

“What the fuck Scott? Vegas? Why? When? What?”  

He smiles brightly. “The universe is giving me a surprise birthday gift, I guess.” He waits for her sleep deprived brain to register what day it is before continuing.

“Wait, shit…Scott this weekend is…I forgot.” She pouts in form of apology.

“It’s not until the weekend T; you would have remembered in time...anyway, I was on my way to the gym after the night shift, listening to the radio and they had one of those call-in contests. A weekend trip to Vegas, and I won. I actually fucking won. Three days, all inclusive for me and a friend…that’d be you Tess…so you in?”

“No way. I can’t. School is starting next week and after that I’m going to be swamped…wait…Scott you worked until eight, and went to the gym after, then got me coffee…bless you by the way…have you slept at all yet?”

He shrugs sheepishly. But behind his boyish excitement she can see the bags under his eyes and how heavy his head is looking on his shoulders.

She sighs and shakes her head with a look of playful exasperation. “Officer Moir, you worked all night. Go lay down.”

“Not until you say you’re coming with me. Come on, it’s Vegas baby!”

She doesn’t answer, just casts him her trademark Tessa Virtue glare.

“Come on T, call it research. Haven’t you told me how your game theory shit and whatever else it is you are working on applies to poker. So really it’s a pre-semester research trip.”

“Scott, the semester starts in six days.”

“Well you’re in luck, the trip is only three nights and we’re leaving in the morning. You’ll definitely be back in time for the first day of class.”

“Scott! Tomorrow? What the hell? No. No.”

“You know you want to T. I promise it will be fun, and you’ll make it to class. What could go wrong?”

She breathes in deeply and exhales long and loud. She looks around at all her scattered papers, and realizing she’s been getting nowhere for days, she bites her lip and sighs. “Fine. Vegas here we come. Now will you please go lie down?”

He smiles, pumps his fist in the air and kisses her on the temple. Then he gets up and moves towards the couch on the other side of the table, kicking his shoes off as he goes.  

She shakes her head. “Go to the damn bed Scott. You worked all night.”

“It was all just frosh week nonsense, lots of drunk eighteen-year-olds...no real work.” But he starts to head to the bedroom anyway. When he gets to the hall he turns back to her. “My mom wants us to have dinner with them tonight—she wants a Euchre rematch.” He laughs before turning the corner and heading into her room.

“Tell Alma it’s on,” she yells back to him.

When the door closes, Tessa’s eyes remain fixated on the hall, where she imagines she can still see his shadow. Vegas, they are going to Vegas. Together. Tomorrow. And she really tries not to analyze this, or any other part of their funny little relationship. Because it would all just be too much to unpack. She could probably write her entire thesis on their friendship.

She really doesn’t want to look at how domestic their whole exchange just was. Him coming over after a night shift, and the gym, bringing her her favourite coffee, going to nap in her bed, dinner with his parents, and now they’re going on a trip together. Really, it is in line with how damn domestic they’ve been for the last year and a half, since she started her doctorate and he got a job with the London police. How he stays with her a few nights a week, because sometimes the 20 minute drive to his parents place in Ilderton is just too far, or how he will come in with armfuls of groceries and shout “Honey I’m home”—knowing that when his is in study mode she often neglects going shopping—or how he always seems to find that special spot in the crook of her neck and breathes her in every time they hug. It’s a whole lot of married behaviour from people who aren’t even dating. And god she tries so hard not to read into every little thing that he does. Tries not to turn over and over in her mind what the hell all of this could mean. She tries really hard not to delve into how any of it makes her feel. She didn’t get into psychology to study her relationship with Scott. Nope. She is pretty sure that it is impossible to understand, anyways.

So, her childhood best friend, whom she is pretty sure she is completely in love with and who is currently napping in her bed, just invited her for a weekend trip to Las Vegas. Which is known for people going a little crazy, getting a little drunk, making mistakes and leaving them there. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Sunday

The desert sun is streaming in through the gauzy curtains, warm against her skin. She half opens one eye and it feels like it is coated with sand, and even the tiniest bit of light creeping in through the slit of her eyelid is making her head hurt. She cautions a glance at the clock on the table next to her—the red light flashes 8:02am. She groans and goes to roll over, but her attempt to get comfortable again to sleep off this hangover is thwarted by a weight across her chest.

Oh shit. What the hell did I do last night? Is the first thought that flashes across her mind as she attempts to access her drunken memories. Breathing deeply, she tries to calm down before steeling herself to look at whose arm is pinning her to the bed.

She breathes a sigh of relief as she looks beside her and sees a familiar mop of floppy brown hair and strong muscular shoulders. It’s just Scott. Her best friend. Okay, that’s cool. They’ve fallen asleep together before. No big deal. Going back to the hotel with Scott means that she didn’t do anything too incredibly stupid. Like go back to a hotel room with literally anyone else. So, this is a good thing, really.

Her breathing calms, and she relaxes. It’s just Scott. Scott, whom she has maybe been half in love with for the last... well most of her life. Just Scott sleeping next to her, breathing against her skin, and setting her body on fire. But that’s perfectly okay; she’s pretty good at shoving those emotions down. It’s okay. It’s cool. Super cool. Cool, cool, cool.

But then panic sets in again as she follows the muscles of his shoulders down to his bare chest, and abdomen, down to where the sheet is tangled low around his hips, and nope it really doesn’t look like there is anything but the sheet covering him up. It’s just Scott. Naked. Just her naked best friend, with his arm draped over her chest. His arm is sweaty against her own bare skin. And yes, she is naked too, the slightly scratchy white cotton hotel sheet only covering her up to her belly button. The rays of the sun cast their soft glow over her bare chest. One of her legs is wrapped up in the sheet, half tucked in between his, and the other is peeking out, uncovered from below her knee. She is also naked. Very naked.

And there is really only one conclusion she can draw from this.

Holy fucking hell. She had drunk sex with Scott last night. Of freaking course, they would come to Vegas, get piss drunk, and wind up in bed together. Yup. That’s just how Vegas works, right? That’s why there’s that saying, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. And she should have known better, because this is another thing to add to the list of the stupid shit that always seems to happen when they get drunk together. And she maybe should have anticipated this before they came. And really, she kind of did. But she should have thought about it a bit more. At least before they started on the mini bar in the room last night or headed downstairs to god knows where, she really doesn’t remember.

Over the last decade there have been numerous drunk confessions of love usually when he’s been “on the outs” with his girlfriend (that of course never get spoken of again when he and whatever girlfriend never actually break up), drunken makeout sessions on her couch, and a drunken pact (that they both pretended to have forgotten but neither ever did). This, however, is a first.

And this she does not remember. And that’s probably the worst thing about whatever this is. She finally, finally, slept with Scott and doesn’t even remember it. She closes her eyes and tries to remember, really tries. To her surprise, she settles in closer to him while trying to piece together the fragments of her memories from the night before. She gets very little, just non-sequential images, like flipping through the camera roll of a phone given to the absolute worst photographer you know from a party you weren’t at.

Which means, she will blame the remaining alcohol in her system for the next thing she does. Because, dammit, she wants to remember this, and they are in Vegas, so this doesn’t really count, right? She shifts her body closer to his, wrapping her arm around his and pulling it tightly into her body. The movement has shifted his hand enough that he is inadvertently cupping her bare breast. She shudders at the sensation and she has no idea how awake or how sober he is, but he is squeezing her, and pressing his body into hers and then he’s pinching her nipple and kissing her neck and her whole body lights up. She finds she really doesn’t care about anything if he keeps doing that.

He mumbles something into her neck that sounds an awful lot like, “You’re perfect.” His mouth and his breath warm against her skin making her moan.

The hand not on her breast snakes down her body, and under the sheet. She arches her back into him and she thinks that this is perfect. But since she doesn’t exactly know what this means and isn’t really interested in unpacking that right now she sets herself to committing everything that happens next to memory—in case whatever this is never happens again.

She doesn’t notice the ring until she is getting out of bed sated and exhausted, on wobbly legs, and trying to find a t-shirt to throw on. She is wondering if maybe she was better off forgetting what sex with Scott is like, because now she knows and she doesn’t think she’ll be able to not want to do it (or more aptly him) every time she looks at him. That’s a whole lot to think about, so she tries not to turn back to the bed to look at him, but she can feel his eyes on her. She knows he is laying there, staring at her nakedness, committing her to his own memories and the thought makes her whole body blush. She needs to find something to put on, quickly. She can’t find a t-shirt but does spot a dress shirt draped across the back of a chair. She doesn’t recall him wearing last night.

 

She grabs it anyways, and it’s as she is reaching her left hand out for it that she sees the glimmer on her ring finger.

 

Holy shit.

Chapter Text

 Fifteen years ago

Because Scott’s birthday has always fallen either on or around the Labour Day long weekend, the Moirs have always thrown a Labour Day/the kids are going back to school/Scott’s birthday barbecue the weekend before school starts every year. For the past six years, the Virtue family have also been in attendance.

Scott was turning sixteen, and in honour of this, his big brother, Danny, had bought a few cases of beer and cheap vodka coolers (for the girls). The plan was to get little Scotty drunk for the first time in honour of his birthday. Scott was already an excitable little puppy dog, running on all cylinders all the time, so there were bets between his brothers and hers and some of the older cousins as to what Scott would be like drunk. (The answer is: an even more affectionate Labrador than usual.)

And that’s how a bunch of teenagers (and kids in their early twenties) found themselves cooped up in the sticky garage, tipsy on cheap alcohol, while their parents mingled in the yard barely a hundred feet away. All the siblings and cousins were under strict instruction not to let Tessa have any alcohol—because she was only fourteen and the baby of the bunch, and her oldest brother Kevin made it his mission to make sure this rule was strictly followed.

She found this entirely unfair. Their parents all knew what was happening in here—even if they pretended they didn’t—and it’s not like she would have gotten shit faced with her mom and dad and big brothers just outside. On the other hand, Jordan, her sister, would not care—in fact a year later she would be the one to get Tessa really, truly hammered for the first time. Besides, Tessa was mature for her age. She even skipped a grade, making her only one grade below Scott in school. So, it wasn’t fair that she had to watch from the corner, sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest, while everyone else had fun. Not fucking fair. She turned the word over in mind. If she couldn’t drink, she’d at least rebel by swearing, even if it was only in her head.

She could have, of course, gone back out to the parents and sat around where the actual kids were playing. But that would have been admitting defeat and saying that she shouldn’t be in this sweaty, stinky garage celebrating her best friend’s birthday. And she wouldn’t do that. Nope. Wouldn’t have Scott think of her as a little kid, too.

She noticed Jordan was on her third cooler, chatting animatedly with Cara and Sheri and someone else they all went to school with (but whom Tessa didn’t know). Danny, Charlie and Casey were setting up a game of beer pong, placing an old sticky folding table and red solo cups in the middle of the garage. Kevin had gone back outside to be with the “other adults” and have some “real beer.” And she thought that no one even noticed she was still there, quietly pressed against the cold wall.

It was then that Scott plopped down beside her, grinning widely and pressing a cold, sweaty, strawberry flavoured cooler into her palm. One of the many reasons why Scott was the best.

“Thought you might like to have some fun.” He smiled crookedly at her, smelling like beer.

She silently took the drink from him and took a long sip. It made her cough. It wasn’t bad, per se, but she wouldn’t claim to like it. The carbonation and the alcohol burnt her throat a little on the way down, and the strawberry was so fake and way too sugary. She kept drinking anyway, taking in big gulps—afraid one of their siblings might turn around and take it away from her.

Scott just sat there next to her while she drank it, leaning his head into hers, the beer making him sleepy and a bit cuddly. He hummed softly to himself and she could feel the vibrations through her skin. When she finished the drink, and all eighty-five pounds of her were feeling sufficiently buzzed, Scott offered her a sip of his beer. His fourth, she thought, that he’d been nursing for the last half hour. And when they were done with that, the beer pong game was well underway, things were getting rowdy, and the two of them, sitting in companionable silence in the corner, had been long forgotten.

“Wanna go outside?” Scott asked.

She raised an eyebrow at him, unsure they should really face their parents after he gave her alcohol. Which she was absolutely not supposed to have.

“To the front,” he added quickly, reading her thoughts.

So, the two of them snuck out of the garage, hand in hand, to the quiet of the front yard. They walked with their fingers intertwined until they were sitting in front of the maple tree next to the driveway—in the exact spot where they became friends six years earlier.

She’d been almost eight, taking skating lessons at the rink just down the street from here. One of her friends from ballet was a skater and convinced her to take lessons. His aunt was the instructor and when her mom called to say she was running late to pick her up—something had come up at work—Scott’s mom so generously offered for her to come over to play in the yard until her mom got there.

Scott played hockey and didn’t have practice until later in the evening. She’d seen him around the rink; much to his duress he’d been forced into her figure skating class on a few occasions. She knew he was loud and outgoing and full of energy—the exact opposite of her.

But they fell into easy companionship; he was much calmer with just her and she felt braver around him. It wasn’t long before she was challenging him to a tree-climbing competition, goading him into climbing higher and higher on the little maple at the end of the driveway.

Then it was her turn, and she is still not sure why she decided to show off for him, but she climbed up to the second branch and hung herself upside down, hooking her legs around the branch, swinging herself like a gymnast. Giggling as the blood rushed to head, she swung and patted him on the head with her dangling arms. It was when she finally put her hands back up to lower herself down that she felt something crawl on her—a spider or an ant. She screamed and lost her hold on the branch, and the next thing she knew she was tumbling down.  

She landed with a definitive snap. And when she tried to move, a pain so bad it made her want to scream travelled through her arm and up her shoulder and radiated through her entire body. It made her want to puke and maybe pass out.

“Holy crap! That’s so gross!” was the first thing out of Scott’s mouth as he looked at the impossible angle her arm was in beside her. Then he immediately dropped to his knees to ask if she was alright.

She shook her head and he told her he had to go get his mom. And she remembered crying and saying, “Please don’t leave me.” And he didn’t. Had been by her side for the last six years.

And the whole thing could have ended much differently; her parents could have been angry with the Moirs, but they weren’t. They were moved by the fact that Alma and Scott brought her to the hospital and Scott refused to leave her side the entire time. He even somehow convinced the nurses to let him put on a lead vest and hold her hand while she got her x-rays. Even when her parents arrived, Alma and Scott refused to leave. And Scott told her parents it was all his fault, even though it definitely wasn’t.

And somehow her breaking her arm because she was showing off for the outgoing Moir boy bonded their two families. Scott bought her a Marvin the Martian body pillow to prop her arm up with so she’d be more comfortable, and Alma offered to pick her up from school when her parents couldn’t, and Joe, Scott’s dad, brought her chocolate and ice cream in the hospital. And her mom and his started getting together for coffee every week. Her dad and his golfed a few times. Their brothers got along fine and her sister was already friends with his cousins from school. Soon they were going to Moir family barbecues and joint family day trips to the Virtue cottage.

And her and Scott were inseparable.

Six years later, under the same tree, with her body buzzing and feeling all tingly from the vodka cooler, she smiled at the boy who had held her hand whenever she needed since she was seven years old. She didn’t pull away when Scott started tracing the scar on her left arm. It was thick and slightly pinker than the rest of her pale skin, from when the doctors had to cut her arm open to screw in a plate to set her broken arm. A surgery for which he had sat in the waiting room the entire time. She knew he was thinking of the same memory when he lifted her arm and kissed the smooth line that ran from her wrist to midway down her arm.

“Tess…Tutu,” he started, using her oldest nickname, “you’re the best. You know that, right. You’re probably my favourite person in the whole world. Probably the prettiest too.” (And she learned that night that Scott was also a sappy and emotional drunk. Still is.)

She shook her head.

“Tess? Do you think you’ll still be my best friend when we’re old and you get married?”

“Scott,” she said, feeling the edges of reality blurring a bit behind the alcohol. “I would never leave you. Besides you’ll obviously get married first. I’m too awkward and nerdy.”

He sighed. “Awkward and nerdy is cute. At least you don’t look like a damn twelve-year-old.”

“You don’t though.” She didn’t see it, maybe because she’d grown up with him and always thought he was pretty cute. But she knew how sensitive he could get about how small he was, and the fact that he still had a “baby face”. The hockey guys never let him live it down, but on ice it didn’t matter because he was the faster guy out there.

There was a long moment of silence before she said, “I’d marry you, you know. I’m still shorter than you so even if you never get tall it wouldn’t matter.” The way the words came out made her sound like a little kid, and she felt her cheeks getting hot and red and she wished she could take it back.

But he was definitely still quite buzzed and seemed to think her statement was sweet, not juvenile. And she was thankful; she didn’t need him treating her like a kid too. He smiled brightly and took her hand in his.

“How ‘bout this Tutu: If in fifteen years we’re still best friends and neither of us is married we do it. We marry each other. Like one of those stupid marriage pact things, eh? I mean it’s ridiculous, because you’ll definitely be married. But it’ll be something just between us, right? A fun little secret. Besides, marrying your best friend is probably better than being alone.”

“Okay.” Her voice was quiet but sure.

Then he took out the Swiss Army knife Charlie had given him for his birthday and carved an SM into the tree trunk. He handed it to her. “Initial here to agree to the terms of the pact.” He laughed. 

She carefully began to carve TV under his initial. But he ended up laying a hand over hers and guiding the knife after she nearly stabbed herself when it got caught on a knot in the bark.

“You and this tree…one day you’re going to kill yourself…It must be bad luck for you.”

“Not bad luck. Without this tree, we might not be friends.”

“Well now we marked it. This is our tree now. You and me forever.”

Maybe it was the tree that made her brave, or the alcohol, but she leaned forward and kissed him. “Happy birthday, Scott.”

And it was dumb. They were dumb kids. Kids who thought thirty was old. But that was the first time she fell for Scott Moir. And they never talked about it again, but she is reminded of that night every time she goes past that goddamn tree.

 

 

Sunday

 

The ring is beautiful. Perfectly her. Actually, perfectly Scott for her. She knows immediately that he picked it. Would have known even if she hadn’t woken up naked beside him this morning. It fits into the category of “things Scott knows she wants before she even knows herself.”

Right there on her finger, that particular finger that makes it mean everything, is a delicate white gold band that is really two thin bands wound around each other, weaving in and out around her finger. One band is highly polished, shining brightly in the light that beams in from the window. The second band has a lighter, brushed finish. Right in the centre, nestled tightly in a knot made by the two bands, is a small (almost small enough to miss) but perfect diamond. It takes her breath away. 

She can’t stop staring at it. And really, she should. She should stop looking at it. She should stop being absolutely in love with this perfect little ring, and the man who obviously gave it to her. She should really be freaking out about it. About the implication of it. About the fact that she doesn’t remember him giving it to her. She should be in full panic mode because the evidence here is pretty damning. But she can’t stop admiring how pretty this damn ring is. How it makes her chest flutter, as if all the butterflies in Nevada have migrated inside her.

The sex, the ring, the dress shirt he hadn’t been wearing when they left the room last night, and then the little white sundress she spots on the floor out of the corner of her eye, they all point to one thing. It is too much all at once. She was already drowning in her own head trying to figure out what to do about having slept with her best friend—and wanting to do it again and again, to infinity and beyond. Which, as she looks at it right now, might be something she agreed to last night—somewhere in between in sickness and in health and I do. And dammit if “to infinity and beyond” isn’t something she knows drunk Tess would say in wedding vows. God, she would too. That idea is slightly mortifying, or at least would be if the person on the receiving end wasn’t potentially Scott.

Goddammit, what did they get themselves into?

She should say something to him but finds she doesn’t have the words. Doesn’t know if she wants to say anything just yet, because then they will have to talk about this. Then they will have to reflect on this morning and figure out what this means for them. And she isn’t sure if she wants that, if she is ready to find that out.

Right now, she just wants to stay in the bubble of this room where she just had the best sex of her life with her best friend and favourite person in the whole world. She wants to put on his dress shirt and order room service of poached eggs and toast and just enjoy each other’s company—and maybe have more mind-blowing sex. She doesn’t want to analyze, doesn’t want to process, doesn’t want to let her emotions surface and risk getting her heart broken.

Though, she thinks with a slight satisfaction, this time he will finally have to confront his drunken actions. This time he can’t pretend he never said he loved her—whispered the words into her mouth as he held her close when she was eighteen, a year after she’d first said it to him—or pretend they never kissed— fiery and passionate— after a few rounds of tequila, or —slow and languid— after a few too many glasses of red, and a couple times after beer and so on and so fourth, enough times at least that she needs both hands to count them.

They can’t run away from married quite as easily. But that would also mean she has to unfuck the last decade’s worth of her own emotions and feelings toward Scott. She is much, much better at avoidance. Confrontation has never been her thing. Nope. She’d much rather not talk about it. Avoid. Avoid. Avoid.

Avoid how her heart pounds in her chest and her breath catches in her throat when he looks at her like she is the most beautiful thing in the world. Avoid how all the blood in her body pools low in her belly when he comes over after work, still in his uniform, or when walks around her apartment in just a towel after a shower when he spends the night or crashes in her bed in the morning. Avoid what it means that he spends at least two nights a week sleeping at her apartment, with the way too flimsy excuse of avoiding a barely twenty-minute drive. Avoid all their questionable, probably way too close for just friends, behaviour—particularly over the past few years while they’ve both been curiously single. Avoid questioning glances from their friends and family when they are together and tuning the world out as they are apt to do. Avoid the fact that when she was seventeen she told the boy she’d been best friends with for nearly ten years that she loved him and he said “thank you.”

She is saved from her own spiralling thoughts by the sound of Scott clearing his throat. She wonders how long she’s been standing there and is glad she has been facing away from him—that he can’t see her admiring this new piece of jewellery. She finally takes the shirt in her hand and turns her head over her shoulder to look at him.

He is smirking at her—looking smug and satisfied—and she knows he’s been staring at her ass. She watches his eyes rake over her body, sees the way his own reacts and the butterflies are back, trying to push their way out of the cage of her ribs.

“What? Did I get a tattoo or something?” She smiles wryly at him.

He breathes in deep and lets out a combined sigh and groan before throwing his head back on the pillow.

He starts and stops a few times before getting out, “God Tess…how are you so damn beautiful?” He sighs again, and he is looking at her is like he can’t quite believe she is real. It makes her simultaneously want to cover up and let him worship every inch of her.

“Your ass...” He groans again, loudly, and squeezes his hand into fists. “And everything…really…fuck, Tess.”

She bites her bottom lip and tries to suppress a laugh, turning her body fully to him now, but holding his dress shirt close to her. “I think,” she says quietly, “you already did that.”

He laughs and inhales sharply. “Fuck being in Vegas…fuck anything else ever…that…waking up like that…with you…this now…this is the best birthday…ever.” 

“Oh.” She almost whispers. It’s a lot, again. Because they aren’t drunk anymore, aren’t riding that early morning delirium and he still wants her—isn’t pretending that it didn’t happen, doesn’t seem inclined to either. Nope, she is apparently the best birthday—gift—he could think of. So yeah, that’s a lot. She will just add it to the list of shit that has happened this morning that she doesn’t want to process just yet. But she could use this. It doesn’t weigh the same as the ring, though delicate, that now hangs heavily on her finger. And yeah, she can use this to avoid opening that can of worms.

It’s his birthday, and he deserves a lot. Everything really. He is the best man she knows. He’s worked so hard to get where he is and she loves that about him. And she wants to put off talking about the whole accidentally married thing. So, it’s his birthday and if he wants her body, well she can gladly offer him that—really, it’s a mutually beneficial gift. She can give him the full Tessa Virtue experience and make it a really happy birthday. Until they have to talk about the whole I think we got married thing, but that can wait until they consummate their maybe marriage at least one more time. And maybe the fact that she knows, or thinks she know, that’s what’s happening here—which makes the whole thing kinda official—and does not care. And how that says a lot about her feelings toward Scott and the idea of being his wife. Wife. Woah. But she tries not to think about that.

Instead she draws in a deep breath, swallows hard and looks up at him—batting her eyelashes. She follows the line of his abs with her eyes, traces over the veins in his neck and his hands with her gaze, takes in his shaggy sex tousled hair and yup, that gives her the confidence she needs to push forward. She drops the shirt she’s been clutching to her body and slowly crawls on to the bed. She hovers her body over his.

With her lips so close to his that she is breathing into his mouth she manages a “Happy Birthday.” It comes out low and throaty and sounds like seduction. It surprises her, and definitely does something to him. She kisses him, long and slow, as his hands find purchase on her body, pulling her down on top of him.

She pulls away ever so slightly. “So,” she says, “if I’d have known that this is the kind of birthday gift you wanted…we could have been doing this a whole lot sooner.”

His face is buried in her neck, kissing her, sucking bruises into her collarbone. “But we don’t do gifts.”

She laughs, that was a silly rule they had since they were teenagers.  She doesn’t really remember why they started it to begin with. 

“Well,” she says, shifting out of his grasp and beginning to trail kisses down his body, “maybe we should change that.”

She doesn’t miss his low growl when her lips meet his hipbone, and she continues her path downward. And she almost forgets about the ring on her finger, the white dress on the floor, and the sudden but persistent resurgence of a memory of standing with her hands in Scott’s and looking up into his eyes—so full of adoration— as he murmurs “I love you”. And somewhere in the recesses of her memory is a glimpse of just his voice saying, “Remember when you were fourteen and I was sixteen and you promised me that in fifteen years you’d marry me?”

That voice is much easier to ignore when the Scott here with her now starts moaning her name and tangles his hands in her hair and tugs.

Happy Birthday Officer Moir, is the last coherent thought she thinks, and promptly forgets everything else.

Chapter Text

Thursday

Tessa is sitting cross-legged in the chair across the table from him, biting at her bottom lip as she studies the last card he dealt her. He can’t help but notice how her hair is tumbling softly out of the braid she’d thrown it in after she showered, and how the loose strands are framing her face. Her face, which is currently free of makeup, so he can clearly see every single one of the freckles that he loves so much. She is so beautiful like this. She is beautiful all the time, really. But he especially loves how she is when she’s just with him and with family: fresh-faced, messy hair, in jeans and an old University of Michigan t-shirt that she has cut so it rests just above the top of her jeans, and which she may or may not have stolen from him years and years ago. Completely herself.

He is so busy studying her that he hasn’t even looked at the cards he’s finished dealing himself. She looks up at him curiously, knitting her eyebrows together and tilting her head to the side in question. He shrugs at her and picks up his hand. He tries hard to focus his attention away from her. He can’t.

As she looks down at her cards and then back at him, he can read by the slightest tilt of her head and flick of her eyes toward the upturned card in the centre of the table what kind of hand she has. And it’s not exactly table talk, but he is pretty sure silently communicating with your partner across the table is probably still in the realm of unfair play. Though he can’t bring himself to care; they’ve won almost every hand so far. And they’ve become so good at reading each other now, knowing the other’s tells so well that it’s almost second nature by this point.

Their friends refuse to play against them in any team games. He is pretty sure his parents would follow suit if they didn’t have their very own set of tells between themselves, forged from decades of marriage.

They had started playing Euchre against his parents as teenagers, and back then his mom and dad had no qualms kicking their asses. So, he thinks, this is just payback.

Tess sighs and lets out a little laugh while shaking her head in mock disbelief. God, she is adorable.

“Moir, did you even shuffle these?”

And that’s her way of telling him that she will be no help to him if the card in the centre of the table becomes trump.

“Hey! At least I know how to shuffle and not drop half the cards on the table.”

“My hands are too small. It’s hard, okay.”

He laughs, “Sure, you keep telling yourself that, big hands.” 

She is about to say something back, when his dad interrupts.

“Alright kids, why don’t we play.”

When everyone passes and it comes back to him, he looks to her again—letting her know what he wants to do. The nod she gives him would be imperceptible to anyone else but she knows he catches it and her little pout after tells him her cards are crap anyways.

So, he picks the card up, making trump spades and then, without looking away from Tessa, says, “Sorry Kiddo, I’m gonna go it alone this round.”

“You better not lose this for us.” She winks at him, tossing her cards face down on the table. “So, since I’m out anyways, who wants more wine?”

His mom raises her empty glass, “I’d love some, sweetheart.” 

Tessa stretches as she gets up to grab the nearly empty bottle from the counter. The movement lifts her top up exposing the tiniest hint of her bellybutton ring. And he’s definitely staring. And it’s definitely obvious, but no one says anything, so he doesn’t stop.

This, Scott thinks, is perfect. Sitting here, at his parents’ house, across the table from her. Having woken up in her bed— on her crisp white sheets that have the lingering scent of her strawberry shampoo— after a long night shift, at the job he’s wanted since he was a little boy. Followed by driving with her to have family dinner with his parents, followed by wine and a heated game of Euchre. It is probably all he could ever want for the rest of his life. Maybe add a wedding ring, a dog, and two mini Virtue-Moirs, and really that’d be all he’d ever ask for.

He’s always loved her, has been in love with her probably since she was seventeen (the first time she admitted she had feelings for him), been lost to anyone but her since they carved their initials into the tree in his front yard fifteen years ago. But it took him until two years ago to realize and admit to himself the depth of that love. That she is it for him. That there will never be anyone else who can compare to the girl he’s been best friends with since he was nine years old.

No one will ever mean as much to him as her. The tough little girl who hardly cried when she fractured her arm so badly she needed surgery—and still has the scar to prove it. The ever-patient girl who put up with him as a rambunctious little boy, and a cocky teenager, and a douchey frat boy. The girl who stood by that dumbass frat boy when he lost his full ride to UMich after a season and a half when he couldn’t be bothered to go to class and then broke his hand in a bar fight (thank god no one called the cops after that one) and, when he was unable to play, became a liability to the team. And boy did she save his ass after that, helping him get into Waterloo (where she was doing her undergrad) and forcing him to apply himself in class. And finally, the beautiful woman who he finds hilarious. Who is vastly brilliant and graduated at the top of her class and is now on her way to having a doctorate. He is so proud of her. He’s so proud and he fucking loves her—with his whole damn stupid ass heart.

Their weekly dinners at his folks’ place started over a year ago. They’ve shared at least fifty-two nights like this—nights that feel so natural, so unbelievably like this was how things were always meant to be. Tess has never been a stranger to the Moir house—in fact she had probably spent more of her childhood and teenage years here than in her own home. But in the last year, having her here with him has felt different, it’s felt like more. More than just his best friend hanging out at his house. Just more.

He wants to make this a forever thing. Wants to make her a forever thing. But she had been pretty clear when she started her PhD and turned down date after date with what he could have sworn was every guy between 25-35 in the London area, that she was only focused on school. That that damn doctorate was the most important thing and she wouldn’t let anything—especially not dating— get in her way.

So, he is waiting for her. Laying ground work. Infiltrating every corner of her life. Hoping that by the time she has defended her thesis she’ll be so used to him in every aspect of her life that dating him will just feel like a next step. That being together—like that—will just be an easy evolution to their relationship.

And it’s great so far. Really fucking great. Except for the fact that he now spends almost all of his free time—except for the occasional drink with buddies from work or old high school pals and a weekly beer league game—with the woman he is undeniably head over heels for. And it is so damn hard not to do something stupid that will completely derail his plan.

He thinks about kissing her almost every time he looks at her—definitely has a few times they’ve had one to many drinks. He wants to be touching her, always—they’ve always had a pretty tactile, cuddly relationship so this he gets away with, for the most part. And he mostly just wants to tell her he loves her at any available opportunity—almost has more than once.

Honestly, he is always only a few too many away from just proposing. He has a ring already. Which is stupid. So, so very stupid. But he is a fucking lovelorn moron, and the ring screamed Tessa the moment he saw it. Literally, he could hear her name being yelled in his head when he looked at it.

He’d been helping Chiddy, his best friend from work and the guy he is normally on patrol with, look at rings for his girlfriend when he spotted it. He returned later that same day for it and hasn’t told anyone about it. And it is currently hiding in the lining of his suitcase. Because he is a 30-year-old who still lives with his parents and that was the one spot he could think no one would find it—though in his defense he still lives with his parents because he is trying to be responsible and has been putting away money and now has a considerable sum saved for the future. Money for a sizeable down payment (he even has a house in mind) and maybe a wedding.

Tessa’s big booming laugh—the same laugh she has had since they were kids that has always seemed too big for her—breaks in and gets him out of his own head. His dad just said something; he thinks he may be regaling her in the story of the time his niece Charlotte, who was just learning that boys and girls are different, casually tapped the man in front of them in line in Tim Hortons on the back and asked ever so innocently if he had a penis. The man had no idea what to say and nervously dropped the change he’d been holding to pay for his coffee. Charlie picked up a loonie and the man just told her to keep it. She’d been so pleased with herself and bought herself a vanilla dip. And it really is a funny story, and Tess can’t stop laughing. He loves that laugh.

He’s won four tricks so far, and Tess hasn’t taken her eyes off him since she stopped laughing and sat back down with her second glass of wine. She is toying with the stem of her wine glass, twirling it around between her fingers, smiling at him when everyone plays their last card and he wins the round.

Tess updates their score card, and they’ve already reached ten. “And that’s the game folks.” 

He reaches a hand out for a high five. “Undefeated, baby!” He cheers when she slaps his palm.

After they all work to clean up the cards and the wine glasses, and he notices Tessa start to yawn while she rinses the last glass in the sink.

He presses himself up behind her, wrapping his arms around her middle and kisses her temple. He can feel her relax into his touch, and he loves that she does that. That she is so comfortable with his arms around her, that she never recoils when he plants kisses on her temple or cheek or shoulder. It’s all so easy and feels so natural between them.

“Why don’t you go get ready for bed?” he says.

His parents had offered to drive them to the airport in the morning—to save them the crazy airport parking fees, or the hassle of a cab. So, they’d decided—more like he convinced her—that both staying over here after dinner would make the most sense.

“And I’ll be the one to share my bed, for once,” he’d said.

She had rolled her eyes and giggled. “Oh, so do those old Leafs sheets get lonely?”

“Don’t make fun of my Leafs comforter; it’s the coziest and you know it.”

She had begrudgingly agreed that yes, his old Maple Leafs bed set was indeed super soft and comfortable. She packed her bag and neither of them mentioned the fact that both his brothers’ old rooms are vacant, and there is a perfectly decent pull out couch in the basement.

Now, she places the wine glass on the drying rack, turns in his arms and gently kisses his cheek. “Okay,” she murmurs.

He gives her a gentle squeeze and says, “See you up there in a minute.”

And he doesn’t miss the look he gets from both of his parents as he watches her saunter out of the kitchen toward the stairs.

“What?” he asks, once she is out of earshot.

“So, Vegas?” his dad begins, with raised brows. “Just the two of you?”

“That would be how a trip for two works, yeah.”

His mom sighs. 

“Mom…”

“Scotty…I know you keep saying it’s not like that…but that girl is sleeping in your bed, and I know you spend half your nights in hers—we helped her move into that apartment, so we know there is only one bed—and now you’re going on this trip together. To Las Vegas of all places—”

“Sin city,” his dad mumbles quietly under his breath, and good god he wants to simultaneously laugh and run from the room.

“We just don’t know what to believe, between what you say and what we see. You two have been so close recently…and whatever it is you’re doing…You’re adults, we know that…and we love Tessa, have for the last twenty years…you don’t have to hide whatever it is from us…but it’s…just be careful.”

Scott groans and rubs his face with his hands. They are not having this conversation. Nope. He isn’t talking about this, about whatever the hell it is he and Tess are to each other with his parents. Nope. Not happening.

“I’m not having this conversation with you. But that definitely isn’t what this trip is about. I won this trip and it is for ‘me and a friend’…friend…we’re not…no…it’s just going to be a fun trip. Tess is the best at poker, so we’ll try to win some money and we will go to some shows. It’s going to be fun."

“Just be careful,” his mom reiterates. And it’s more of a don’t do anything stupid, Scotty, which is something he used to hear a lot in his early twenties.

“Mom, we aren’t going to go to Vegas and get mixed up in something. No counting cards, no drug cartels, no trouble and I’ll make sure T stays safe. We’ll be back in one piece on Monday night." 

“That’s not what I mean, Scotty.”

He heaves in a sigh. This is not happening. “Mom. We aren’t going to go to Vegas and like elope or something...if that’s what you’re thinking. No. That’s not…no…I mean really, do people actually do that?”

The way his mom is looking at him makes Scott almost reconsidering not inviting one of his brothers instead. And god, he is going to have to watch how much he drinks so that he doesn’t actually try to propose to Tessa on this trip. And if she were to say yes, he is so far gone he probably would marry her on the spot. Fuck. He really (really just a little bit) hates his mom right now for putting that thought in his head.

He decides then that his main goal for the weekend is do not get drunk married to Tessa in Vegas. Which he thinks should be easy; he’s not that dumb, or that far gone. That is until he walks into his bedroom.

She is lying on his bed, on top of the old Toronto Maple Leafs comforter, wearing one of his old Detroit Tigers t-shirts (from when he lived in Michigan) and an old pair of novelty boxers (and thank god he decided not to keep the ring in his underwear drawer), a book propped up on her lap. She’s taken her hair out of the braid and it is cascading over her shoulders. She crosses her ankles and his eyes travel up her legs, pale against the dark blue comforter, to where the boxers have bunched high on her thighs.

And fuck, maybe this weekend was a really, really bad idea. He isn’t sure he possesses enough self control to not…well not do something. Because right now he is pretty sure all he wants is to push her back on the bed, rip his clothes off her, make her sigh out his name over and over, and then profess his undying love to her.

“Hey,” she says softly, looking up from her book—something on behaviourism. “I decided I didn’t want to bother unpacking anything from my bag, so I just stole something of yours." 

He swallows hard. “Looks good on you, kiddo.”

 

He is so fucked.

 

 

Friday 

He’s known for years that Tessa has anxiety about flying—stemming from a trip to BC for a dance competition where she caught a cold and on the return flight the pressure change was too much, and her eardrum perforated on descent. He knows this. But he’d never experienced it before, never had evidence of just how anxious she’d get upon landing.

Now, with the half moon marks left by her fingernails still imprinted in his hand by the time the get to the hotel, he can say with first-hand knowledge that Tessa Virtue hates flying. Well… hates landing.

She still hasn’t stopped apologizing for how hard she squeezed his hand when they get up to the check-in desk.

“Hey,” he says, pulling her into his side and kissing the top of her head reassuringly. “My hand is always there for you…but maybe we could just, I don’t know, cut your nails before the flight home or something."

She lets herself relax into him, resting her head on his chest as they approach the desk. She chuckles softly and says a quiet, “Maybe.”

The lobby is both grand and modern. Beige brick accent walls, floor to ceiling windows and lots of clean white lines. The radio station didn’t pull any punches with their prize package. 

“Check-in for Moir,” he says once they are at the counter. “Might be under Virgin Radio.”

The clerk smiles brightly at them. “Mr. and Mrs. Moir, welcome to the Renaissance Las Vegas."

He is about to say something when Tessa takes his hand and squeezes it gently.

“Thanks Tina,” she smiles just as brightly back, and squints to read the woman’s name tag. “We are so excited to have a little weekend getaway. We’ve never been to Las Vegas before. 

What the hell is she doing?  

He can’t ask her, because Tina begins excitedly asking Tessa what types of things they like to do, all while listing off activities covered by the radio station in their prize package. Tessa is just as animated in her answers, explaining the types of things that they typically do together at home—and dammit if they don’t sound exactly like a settled married couple.

By the time they have been given their keycards—to their shared suite—Tessa is in possession of at least ten pamphlets and a comprehensive list of shows, casinos, and attractions they have to check out. Also, the detailed directions to a restaurant where they’ve been promised a relaxed but romantic evening. 

“I guarantee you’ll love it,” Tina says, and smiles. “It’s my fiancé’s and my absolute favourite for date night.”

Tessa thanks her, and after Scott insists that they don’t need someone to bring their two relatively small suitcases up to their room, they are headed to the elevator, Scott rolling both bags while Tessa flips through her pamphlets.

Once the elevator doors close on them, he leans in to her ear, brushes her hair aside so his lips graze her skin.

“Mrs. Moir, eh?” He whispers.

He doesn’t miss how her body reacts to his voice, low in her ear.

She tries to shrug nonchalantly, but her voice comes out all breathy. “We’re in Vegas, just thought I’d go with it. Have a little fun.”

Good god. 

He heaves in a sigh, let’s put a long exhale, his voice catches a bit in his throat. “Okay. I like fun.”

After a long pause he continues, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was one bedroom suite. I can sleep on the couch in the living room, if you want.”

“Scott, this is your trip you aren’t sleeping on the couch. Besides, if you’re alright with it, I’ve kind of gotten used to sharing a bed with you.” He notices the slight flush in her cheeks.

Dammit. 

“More than alright,” he manages.

When the elevator doors open at their floor, she turns to him and smiles.

“Alright Mr. Moir, how about you show your wife to our suite.” And she winks.

God fucking dammit. 

This was a terrible, horrible, really bad idea. He has absolutely no idea how he is going to make it through this weekend.

Chapter Text

Twelve years ago

Scott was sitting the living room, his feet propped up on the coffee table, a bowl of cereal balanced on his lap, and Sportsnet playing in the background. He had dribbled milk on his t-shirt, so he’d discarded it along the back of the couch and was now bare chested and wearing in an old worn pair of Marvin the Martian pajama bottoms (a gift from Tessa because they had reminded her of the pillow he’d gotten her when she broke her arm when they first met). He could hear the phone ringing from the kitchen but was steadfastly ignoring it—it was almost eleven, but he’d just rolled out of bed and had no interest in being a message taker for his parents.

The ringing stopped eventually, and he heard Charlie, his older brother, answering the phone from the kitchen with his best impersonation of their dad.

“Scotty!” Charlie hollered. “Your girlfriend is on the phone.”

Scott nearly toppled his cereal on the floor as he was jumping up, because what? He had been away for the past few weeks in Michigan at training camp, and yeah, he’d sort of started seeing a girl, but she was not his girlfriend (yet anyways) and there was no way she could have gotten his parents’ home phone number. Right?

He was tripping over his own feet in his rush to get into the kitchen, because like hell was he giving Charlie the chance to talk to whoever was on the phone. It wasn’t until he was racing into the kitchen, his socks slipping on the smooth tile, causing him to crash into the cabinets, that he realized his dumbass brother was talking about Tessa.

“Looks like Scotty was in a real rush to talk to you, Tess.” Charlie said, laughing at him, while he rubbed the place on his hip that had hit the counter top, before handing him the receiver.

“Shut up,” he huffed under his breath, flipping his brother the bird and taking the phone.

“Um, hi.” Tessa’s voice barely carried through the speaker, she sounded so small and quiet.

It was weird, he and Tessa never really talked on the phone, which was why he was surprised, and maybe a little concerned that she was calling on the house phone—not that she’d call on his rarely used Motorola flip phone either.

They had been used to seeing each other on a near daily basis, and therefore they never really found the need to talk on the phone. And lately, with him away for training camp, they’d started chatting every night over MSN. Last night they’d been up well past midnight typing jokes back and forth, chatting a bit about his training and her ballet and making plans to hang out. 

They had barely signed off twelve hours ago, and they had plans for this afternoon, so he really hoped she wasn’t calling to cancel. He had hardly seen her in weeks—was surviving off their late-night MSN chats—and this weekend was his last at home before he officially moved into his dorm at UMich.

“Hey T!” He chirped into the receiver, trying not to allow his confusion at her uncharacteristic phone call to be too obvious. “You aren’t cancelling on me, are you?" 

He could hear her breathing unsteadily on the other end, and he knew exactly how much she hated talking on the phone. He could clearly picture her nervously twiddling with the curly cord of the rotary phone in her room—the one she’d found at a yard sale and just had to have because it looked so “neat.”

“NonotexactlynoIdon’tknow.” It had all come out in one breath and he couldn’t decipher the words she was trying to say.

He could hear the unsteadiness of her breaths, and he hated that he knew her so well that he could tell she was panicking just by the sound of her breathing. He knew exactly what she’d look like, one hand on her chest, the other fiddling nervously with whatever was in reach, trying to calm herself enough to say what she set out to. He knew he’d have to coax it out of her before she bottled it all up.

 “Hey,” he started, calmly, evenly. “Tutu, what’s wrong?”

There was a moment of dead air, and he wondered, briefly, if she’d just hung up.

“Nothing. Nothing. This was stupid, I shouldn’t have called. I’m sorry. I’ll just see you later, okay?” 

“Tess. You called, so it is clearly not nothing. Out with it.”

Even through the phone he knew she was shaking her head.

“Tess.” He pushed.

“Scott.” She parroted his tone.

“Tessa Jane.” Annoyance at her stubbornness was beginning to overshadow his worry.

“I know you hate talking on the phone, so obviously if you called you have something to say, and I want to hear it.”

There was another beat of silence, then he heard a long drawn out breath in followed by, “Iloveyou.”

She blurted it out all at once on the exhale, the words barely recognizable, before back tracking. Stammering out her next set sentence.

“Um…shit…No…I mean Scott…um…I wanted to tell you before…but didn’t think I could do it in person…I uh…I really like you, and yeah…dammit…I don’t know…I just wanted you to know, you know before you go to school.”

Goddammit, Tessa. 

Why now? He’d just spent the last few weeks away trying to get over his own feelings for her. He had been pretty sure that she just wasn’t interested. And, really, once he started to think about going there, no matter how much he wanted it, it probably wasn’t the best idea. He was going to college in the States and she was only seventeen (while he was almost nineteen) and really, what would he be getting himself into if he tried to date his best friend right before moving away. 

Was it worth jeopardizing a decade of friendship over a high school romance? Just because she was just so damn cute, and hilarious, and genuine, and he wanted to kiss her half the time?

No. There were plenty of other cute girls in the world.

None of them were Tessa, of course, but he could get over that. So, he had started dating Jess, and he liked her well enough, and really there was no she is your best friend who has basically been a part of your family for the last ten years thing to contend with if he messed up.

And now, she’d gone and chose the second to last day before he officially moved away to tell him she liked him? Well, he was pretty sure she’d actually blurted out love, but he was choosing to ignore that.

She had to tell him now? As if they hadn’t just flirted their way through the entire last year? They’d been closer than ever, basically living in each other’s pockets. Ever since he had come back to for a victory lap—or grade 12 B. He’d come back not because he failed or anything but because he had wanted to have one more year as captain of the hockey team, and a chance to retake the SATS. A better score would mean being able to cash in on his scholarship offers from some American schools. And because Tessa was brilliant and had skipped grade six, this put them in the same grade. They had gone to the same high school for three years, because London had better programs and a better hockey team, but for the first time they shared the same lunch period, they had classes together, and even the same spare period.

They ate lunch in the courtyard and schooled their friends in Euchre during spare. Or, on days when Tessa didn’t feel like spending time with people (other than him of course), they walked to her house and she’d make them a box of KD—which she left to boil over and overcooked the noodles of every single time.

After school, when he didn’t have hockey or she didn’t have dance, he would drive them in Charlie’s old truck—a hand-me-down he actually appreciated, old as it was—to his house and she would help him study for the SAT, which she would have aced if she’d decided to take it. More often than not, she’d stay for dinner—her parents worked late so often and all her siblings had already moved out—enjoying the company of his family.

They went to movies on the weekends, and she’d sit in the stands at his hockey games—though sometimes he swore he caught her with her nose in a book instead of actually watching. Sometimes, they’d go out to this fancy ice cream shop called Tout Sweet—it was Tessa’s favourite, all house made ice cream that they’d roll out onto a frozen stone to fold in whatever toppings you wanted. Sometimes they’d take his truck out late at night and drive to a little clearing about ten minutes from his house and lay on the hood and stargaze, her head tucked into his chest. Or just watch movies, cuddled together on the La-Z-Boy in his basement.

So, he thought they were on the same page when he invited her—as his date, even though they’d be sitting with his brothers and parents—to the annual Ilderton Skating club banquet. He was up for both a hockey award and a volunteer award. She’d spent the entire night smiling quietly next to him in her new dress, a little white thing with yellow lace on top, dotted with delicate yellow flowers.

He knew it was new, because the night before, she’d been over for dinner and was yammering away to his mom about getting to go shopping with Jordan, who helped her pick the dress. Then she babbled some more about how she had to get a new bra to go with the dress, something strapless, since the whole top part was lace. And that was exactly not what he needed, picturing Tessa’s underwear (or what was underneath it) while sitting in at the dinner table with his parents.

She’d even kissed him lightly on the cheek, lingering a little, when he’d won Player of the Year. He had thought that maybe, just maybe, he could finally turn that into a real kiss, later. But that changed after the dinner when everyone was mingling.

He and Tessa were chatting with his aunt Carol and his cousin Cara. Tessa, who was growing tired now that it was nearing the end of the night, had her arm linked through his and her head resting on his shoulder. Charlie walked over with one of the board members for the club. After congratulating Scott on his award, he turned to Tessa.

“Hank Daniels,” he held out his hand to her.

Tessa smiled shyly, shaking his hand awkwardly with her left hand, not seeming inclined to pull away from Scott. “Tessa Virtue.”

“Well Miss Virtue, you must be very proud of your boyfriend here, he is such a star at the rink, and I heard about the full scholarship to University of Michigan next year.”

Charlie chuckled and winked at the two of them. “Oh, I’m sure she is very proud of him.”

Tessa inhaled sharply, immediately dropped his arm, nearly jumping away, and looked wide eyed at Charlie, then Hank, but ignored Scott’s concerned glance.

“No, no, no…I mean yes…I’m proud of him, yeah. But…Um, no, he’s not my boyfriend. No. No. Definitely not. We are just best friends, have been since we were kids.”

She looked like she was going to be sick as she stumbled over her words. As she talked he counted at least six NOs in there, which was excessive. So, he took a step away from her to give her space. She still wouldn’t look at him, but he could see the redness that crept up from her neck and to her cheeks. She charged forward, making sure this man, whom she didn’t even know, was aware that no, they weren’t like that, could never be.

How could he have been so wrong? She was here with him, had been hanging off his arm most of the night, she was his date—was she not? Did she not realize that’s what he meant when he invited her?

(He would learn a year later that she had no idea. That she had been so caught up in her own head trying to untangle her own feelings for him—completely and utterly oblivious to the signs he wanted her too. Her own insecurities, mixed with his natural affectionate nature, smothered any notion that he could possibly ever like her back. To her, what he had thought were obvious displays of just how much he liked her, and wanted her, were just devices to deliver a slow, burning torture.)

“Earth to Scott.” Tessa’s voice roused him from his memories.

“Scott? Are you still there? Shit, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…dammit. I’m sorry.” He could hear the edge of tears in her voice.

He didn’t want to make her cry. He had to say something. He knew just how hard any kind of emotional vulnerability was for Tess; he didn’t want her shutting down or closing herself off because of this. He still needed her to be his best friend.

He should’ve told her the truth. He should’ve told her he really liked her too (How could he not? She was funny, and beautiful, and kind.), but that their friendship was just too important to jeopardize. He should’ve told her something.

He should’ve told her pretty much anything but what ended up coming out of this mouth.

“Thank you,” is what he eventually managed. And fuck, if that wasn’t the worst thing he could have said.

There was another long, painful moment of dead air before he tried to salvage it. He wanted to take back the entire last ten minutes and bury his head in the sand like an ostrich until the danger passed.

“Um, thank you, for telling me, I mean. I know how hard that must have been for you to say.”

He was an idiot.

 

Eleven years ago

Scott loved Niagara Falls. He loved the kitschy tourist traps on the hill. He loved the wax museum, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, the dozens of haunted houses, the beavertail and ice cream and candy shops at every turn, the Rain Forest Café with the trumpeting of elephants and the rolls of thunder emanating from its doors, the Hard Rock Café with the giant neon guitar, the huge Boston Pizza with a bowling alley inside, the Sky Wheel, and the dinosaur mini put, complete with a real, erupting volcano.

And of course, the Falls themselves, which were totally worth pushing through the early September crowds to get a good look at to witness the sheer force of water tumbling over the edge spraying him with a light mist even hundreds of feet away. And of course, he was experiencing it all with Tessa, which always made everything better.

In the days before the start of their second year of University, one of their old high school friends, Eric, who was going to Brock, in Niagara, suggested they get some other friends together and split the cost of hotel rooms and see the Falls (since he and Tessa had spent their lives living barely two hours away and had never been). So, Scott had invited his buddy Andrew from UMich, Tess invited Kaitlyn, who she danced with at Waterloo and who was really the only friend she had made as she was going to school part time. Eric’s friend Meagan tagged along with him, and they got two rooms at a Holiday Inn a few minutes from Clifton Hill between the six of them.

“I hate that it is such a tourist trap here,” Tessa had said as they pushed their way through a large tour group, all babbling away in a language Scott didn’t recognize. They happily snapped photos of the water and posed with peace signs and forced smiles, blocking an entire twenty-foot length of fence. “It really detracts from the natural beauty of it all.”

So, at Eric’s suggestion, Scott drove Tessa out to the Niagara Gorge, just down the parkway, to witness the river in all its natural glory. It wasn’t a waterfall, but the rapids and the whirlpool were dangerously beautiful. Tessa was hesitant, because “Scott, I don’t hike.” But, they made it down the all three hundred stairs, four kilometers down from the top. They fairly easily traversed the rocky trails; Tessa only stumbled and almost rolled her ankle once.

And god was it beautiful, the way the light of the sun snuck through the thick canopy, casting dancing shadows on the narrow path, the way trees sprouted from the moss that covered the building sized boulders, which leaned against each other forming little caves and tunnels, the way the sheer expanse of the cliff face had etched itself into the earth.

He watched Tess as she took it in and her dislike of hiking and nature and fear of whatever creepy crawlers they may come across in the forest were replaced by pure wonder. By the time they got to the bottom of the trail, walking along the edge of a cliff leading to the water, it was Tessa who suggested they find a spot to climb down. She wanted to sit on the large smooth rocks that jutted out into the river.

He held her hand, holding her up on a particularly steep part, put his hands on her waist to offer support as she climbed over a boulder, lifted her across a big gap in the rocks. And over the course of their climb, he completely forgot about the dozens of texts he had from an angry girlfriend who was upset he was on this trip with Tessa in the first place.

He was glad of the fact that his confused phone wasn’t sure if it was in Canada or the US and was stuck on roaming. It was just him and Tessa down here, and he could easily ignore the awkwardness of the last year. He could pretend that he hadn’t ruined things when he said “Thank you” when she told him she loved him a year ago. He could pretend he didn’t have a girlfriend who openly hated his best friend, who told him more than once she didn’t like him hanging out with Tessa.

When they found a large rock, smoothed by centuries of rushing water, “Ryan and Sarah 2003” painted in a big green heart across its top, he found himself watching Tess more than the several thousand tons of fast-moving water coursing past them. He watched as she laid down on the warm surface of rock, her feet kicking in the air as she carefully peered over the edge. Filling her lungs with the scent of trees, dirt and water, listening to the loud pounding of water against rock. He couldn’t look away from her, and she smiled at him and thanked him for convincing her to come. And he felt a warmth spread through him and suddenly couldn’t even care that his girlfriend was mad at him.

When another couple carefully climbed over the boulder next to them, Tessa asked if they could snap a picture of the two of them—proof that she’d done it, hiked down to the very bottom. Handing the woman her purple Nikon Cool-Pix, she tucked herself into Scott’s side and smiled brightly.

Later, back at the hotel, she posted the picture to Facebook. It sparked an angry phone call to him from Jess, who asked just what the hell he thought he was doing, going on romantic hikes with Tessa. He just told her they were getting ready to go out to a bar with their friends and he wasn’t going to deal with this now and hung up, deciding to turn his phone off for the rest of the night.

The girls spent forever getting ready in their room across the hall. Meagan took it upon herself to do Tessa’s makeup so she’d look older. Since Tessa was only barely eighteen, she had Jordan’s old G2 (from which she had painstakingly removed the “NOT TO BE USED AS PHOTO ID” sticker) to use to get into the club. Meagan was a self-proclaimed expert in makeup that makes you look older, because even though she was in fact older than Scott, she wasn’t even five feet tall, which made her look all of twelve years old.

The girls were already buzzed off Absolute Vodka and vending machine coke when they met the boys in the lobby.

They went to some sleazy club called Butterfly, or maybe Dragonfly—something like that. He drank way too much, upset over Jess and his reemerging feelings for Tessa. He couldn’t recall how many beers or shots he’d had, but he knew the hundred he’d won earlier at the Casino was now entirely depleted.

But drunk as he was, he didn’t miss the tall blonde in a white t-shirt with pants halfway down his ass when he approached Tessa from behind, grinding up against her, running his hands along her sides. Definitely didn’t miss the way she stiffened at this guys touch and tried to move away, only to have him grip her waist to pull her in closer. He was up on his feet and moving towards them before he fully processed what was happening. Then he was shoving the guy, telling him to back the fuck off.

“This your boyfriend, sweetie?” The guy, who had to be at least twenty-five, slurred at Tess.

She didn’t answer, just looked at Scott unsure and a little afraid.

“Come on baby girl,” the guy said, gripping her arm. “I can show you a good time.”

Tessa was frozen, but her eyes were pleading with Scott to help her. The blonde was probably a good five inches taller than him, but Scott’s confidence was backed by a few too many drinks, and his innate need to protect Tessa at all costs. So, he pushed back harder this time, and pulled Tessa into him.

“I told you to fuck off.” He gritted out.

Luckily the guy looked him up and down and decided Scott wasn’t worth his time.

But before he left he smirked at Tess, “Baby, if you get tired of this boy and want a real man, come find me.”

As soon as he left Tessa all but collapsed into him.  

“Scott, I don’t want to be here anymore.” She murmured into his chest.

He walked with her back to her hotel room; Meagan had disappeared at some point in the night and he was pretty sure that Kaitlyn had gone with Andrew back to the boys’ room where he had found the Do Not Disturb sign hanging off the door knob. So, he went inside the girls’ room with Tessa.

Feeling riled from alcohol, his near fight, a little bit of a hero complex, and lingering annoyance about the whole Jess thing, he was ranting animatedly about the guy at the bar. How disgusting he was, how he couldn’t believe anyone would treat a woman like that, how he’d said those things right in front of him.

It took him a minute of drunk raging to realize she was sitting on the bed, knees drawn into herself, crying.

He kicked off his shoes and climbed into the bed next to her, pulling her into a tight embrace.

“It’s okay, Kiddo,” he said into her hair, gently kissing her there.

They sat there in silence for a while, wrapped in each other’s arms. Her tears had subsided and she was breathing steadily against his chest when he spoke again.

“I think Jess is going to break up with me,” he said.

“Oh.” She looked up at him and he couldn’t read the emotion that flashed across her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she said softy.

“She thinks I have feelings for you…and I don’t think she is wrong.”

“Oh,” she said again, still unreadable.

And that’s when he told her, alcohol and the remaining bit of bravado clouding his judgement. He told her what he should have a year ago. He told her about the date-not-date banquet, about how he only started dating Jess to get over his feelings for her, how he had been so afraid of ruining their friendship.

“I love you, Tess.” He said, finally. His hands cupping her face, his lips mere inches from hers. “I love you and I never want to see you hurt, I’m sorry about tonight.”

She was crying again. And that’s when she opened up and told him something she’d never told anyone before.

“Do you remember Jake? From the basketball team?”

Of course, he remembered Jake. He was one of the biggest man whores from their high school, an asshole who thought he was the greatest gift to women. When it got around that Tess has helped Scott get a high enough score on the SAT, the coach of the basketball team had asked if she would give Jake some study tips, help him out just once. And Tess never knew how to say no.

“Did you know that there were rumours? About you and me…that we you know…”

And of course, he knew that too. They spent all their free time together, it was high school, people were bound to think something was happening. He’d heard the rumours, he’d been asked in the locker room what she was like. He ignored them, always, but never dispelled them. He selfishly liked people thinking she was his.

He nodded.

“Well, I guess Jake heard them too. And he thought that you know, I helped you study, and I was helping him study, so you know…that I don’t know.”

“Tess?”

She swallowed hard. “He said things like that guy tonight, that if I wanted a real guy, with experience and a…I can’t even say it. He kept pushing…saying he’d show me a good time. I told him it wasn’t like that…that we’d never…I’d never…but he didn’t believe me.”

His heart caught in his throat. “He didn’t. Tess…please tell me he didn’t…”

She shook her head wildly. “No. No. Not that…But he was persistent…kept trying…I think maybe, he would have tried…but I ran to the bathroom and called my mom to get me.”  

He pulled her in roughly against his chest, squeezing her as tightly as he could, hoping he could squish out her hurt.

“I love you, I am so sorry.” He repeated over and over.

Then he kissed her. But he couldn’t help the guilt that crept up inside him, filling his chest, crushing his lungs like a vice.

It was his fault she’d dealt with that. Because he was dumb and selfish. If he’d just said it wasn’t like that, that she wasn’t like that, instead of shrugging his shoulders in a “none of your business” kind of way. Instead he let the rumours escalate. Never said anything either way. Maybe if he had, that creep wouldn’t have tried anything.

It was his fault.

They fell asleep wrapped up in each other’s arms and in the morning, he pretended like he didn’t remember any of the night before. Pretended he had been too drunk. Because he couldn’t deal with the fact that he had, even inadvertently, hurt her.

When Jess apologized, and said she still wanted to be with him, he stayed. Even though that relationship wouldn’t last much longer.

He was still an idiot.

 

Friday

Walking down the Vegas strip arm in arm with Tessa reminds him in some ways of that night in Niagara Falls, eleven years ago. The bright lights of Clifton Hill were like a smaller, slightly more subdued version of the strip. Neon colours masking the darkness of night, glowing like halos around buildings, while flood lights illuminated the water in the distance, making it glow in an unnatural way—though this somehow just emphasized the natural wonder it truly was.

But where that night had ended tears, drunk confessions and ultimately a total mess, this night is nothing like that.

Their first evening in Las Vegas so far is absolutely perfect, he thinks, as they walk down the strip with linked arms. Tessa’s head is tucked into his shoulder and he can smell her favourite strawberry shampoo. They take in the coloured lights of the strip, and they are beautiful in their own artificial way.

They ate dinner at the restaurant that Tina from the front desk had recommended. She hadn’t been wrong; they loved it. After dinner they had gone to see Cirque Du Soleil, the tickets for which were one of their entertainment options from his prize package.

She clutched his hand tightly when one of the acrobats leapt off the platform and plummeted towards the netting above the stage, only to be caught mid-swing by her partner. She rested her hand on his thigh for most on the rest, leaning her head towards him, nibbling on the Twizzlers they bought.

Now, walking back to their hotel, Tessa is more relaxed than he’s seen her in a long time. She is running her hand up and down his arm, planting gentle kisses on his bicep, and smiling at his lame jokes with wide, adoring eyes. It is like she left grad student Tessa back home and is allowing herself to be more open with her feelings, with him. She’s allowing herself to just be Tessa. And he will take it, even if it’s just for this weekend.

He is still worried about doing or saying the wrong thing, about taking things too far and sending her skittering away. But her open affection tonight, the easy way she accepted Tina thinking they were married, and playing along—it gives him a sense of hope. Maybe, just maybe, his plan is working. Maybe, him getting the girl isn’t as far off as he thinks.

He wants to tell her how he feels. His love for her is practically bursting from him, as bright as the neon lights of the Las Vegas strip. And they aren’t drunk this time. They aren’t emotionally compromised, they are just happy. He wants to tell her he loves her and get it right this time.

By the time they are back at the hotel, and she is climbing into the bed in her little sleep shorts and camisole, he thinks he can’t hold his affections in any longer.

She smiles at him from the bed, tilting her head slightly, as if trying to take in more of him.

“Hey,” she says, softly, as he strips down to his boxers and tucks himself in next to her.

“Hey,” he replies, pulling her gently into him, kissing her temple.

He reaches an arm behind him and switches off the bedside lamp and the room is cast into semi-darkness. Coloured lights from outside still manage to break in through the curtains.

They lay there in the quiet until their breathing and their heartbeats sync. And sure, they share a bed several times a week, but never this close. They are in a king sized bed but are occupying next to none of it. Her head is pillowed on his chest, a hand resting over his heart, her index finger rubbing small circles against his skin. Her breathing is slow and shallow, and he knows she is almost asleep.

“Tess?

She hums against his chest in response.

“Do you remember back, god twelve years ago, when you called me? To tell me you loved me?”

She stills for a minute before nodding. And he is quiet for a long moment, and her breathing is getting more drawn out, she is much closer to being asleep than awake.

“I’m sorry.” He says. “That I didn’t say it back.”

She sighs, but says nothing, and they are plunged back into silence.

A few moments later, he isn’t sure if she is still awake, but he continues.

“Do you remember when I was sixteen and you were fourteen, and you said in fifteen years you would marry me?”

She doesn’t respond, but he feels her arm tighten against him, pulling herself closer to him, if that were possible.

“Tess, I’m pretty sure I’ve been yours since that day.”

Her breath is steady against him, and she doesn’t stir. He knows she is asleep. He presses a small kiss to the top of her head.

He may still be an idiot, but at least now he’s an idiot who knows he is in love, knows this is it for him. And he has a plan. As long as he can stick to it.

“I love you, and I promise to get it right this time,” is the last thing he says before falling asleep underneath her.

Chapter Text

 

Sunday

Tessa has her head resting on Scott’s bare chest, her body curled in towards his. His hand is leisurely drawing lines up and down her spine and she can feel the goosebumps forming, prickling under her skin. It’s late in the morning now, she hasn’t looked at the clock to know for sure, but the sun is high in the sky and beaming steadily through the thin curtains.

She isn’t sure how long they’ve been in bed since she first woke, but long enough to be laying in the afterglow of round three. Long enough for her body to be deliciously sore, and almost long enough for her to have forgotten how she thinks they ended up naked in bed together in the first place. But right now she is pretty fucking glad they did.

She wants to live in this moment forever. Listening to the steady thrumming of his heart underneath her, being lulled into contentment by the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest while his hand gently, lovingly explores the contours of her body. It would be perfect, the greatest moment in her life so far, if it weren’t for the nagging worry of what the hell does this all mean?. It would be perfect if she couldn’t feel the smooth edges of a ring burning a mark into that finger.

She should talk to him about it. She really should say something, and she opens her mouth to start, but closes it again when he hums happily and plants the gentlest of kisses to her hairline. Instead of talking, she returns his affections by tilting her head slightly and leaving a lingering kiss to his chest, feeling the muscles there flex slightly under her lips. This is moment is perfect and she is loath to ruin it.

Doesn’t want to bring it up and send him running.

She remembers the boy who said thank you after she said I love you, and the months of awkward friendship in the aftermath of that. She remembers the boy who finally, after a year, said I love you back. But by the next morning pretended as if he hadn’t—going straight back into the arms of a girl who wasn’t her. And she can’t pretend that even after more than a decade that doesn’t still sting. Can’t pretend that that morning, when he acted as if he hadn’t promised to love her and never hurt her hadn’t cracked her heart in half. Can’t pretend that that wasn’t the exact moment that she packed up the broken pieces of her heart, locking them away and hiding the key—protecting herself from him. A desperate attempt to preserve the remaining pieces of her young heart and the friendship that had always been the most important thing in her life.

She knows he is different now. Knows that he’s grown up. And she knows, she really does, that he loves her. He hasn’t ever said it, not in that way, since she was eighteen, but he tells her in so many other ways.

He tells her with nothing more than a look in quiet moments at home. He tells her when he brings her coffee without her asking. He tells her when he rubs her sore shins after a dance class. He tells her in the way he listens to her hash out ideas for her thesis, even though she knows he isn’t interested. He tells her when he offers to pick her up from an evening class, or from work when she decides to take a shift or two at the bar—even when he has to work in the morning.

He has been so attentive to her, so caring, so charming over the past two years. He has been everything to her. And she hasn’t missed any of the signs. Of course, she hasn’t. But it doesn’t make her less nervous about allowing herself to feel how she did about him back then.   

And it isn’t like she misses the ways he looks at her. One moment with such softness that she can actually feel the gentle caress of his gaze against her skin. The next with eyes so wide and dark she could fall right in and get swallowed up. Sometimes he looks at her like he is the wolf and she is Little Red and he is waiting to devour her, to swallow her whole. And she’d be lying if she said she didn’t try to make him look at her like that over the past few years. Purposely walking around her apartment in an old shirt of his and dance shorts that can barely be classified as underwear. Wearing tank tops without a bra with the air conditioning on while they watch the Blue Jays on her little living room TV. Walking around in no more than a towel after a long hot shower.

She knows she is playing a dangerous game, but she has grown addicted to seeing the slightest shift in his expression, to watching as his pupils dilate and his eyes rake over her body, to how he sometimes shifts uncomfortably in his seat and knowing she makes that happen. She selfishly wanted to push him, see how long it would take before he gave in and makes a move already. Apparently, all she needed to do was bring him to Vegas.

Now, knowing what it’s like to be devoured by Scott, she thinks it’s a game she wants to keep playing--as long as it always ends like this, like right now. Curled up naked and spent in bed together. And as long as those looks of unfiltered want are still balanced by his looks of pure adoration and devotion. And she thinks for just a minute that that’s what life would be like, married to Scott. A perfect balance of love and passion and the same domesticity they’ve grown accustomed to.

She is about ninety-five percent certain that she maybe sort of has that, that she is probably married to him. But she stops herself short of imagining the perfect character home they’d have, just outside of London, where he would cook dinner still in his uniform after a long shift, and she would prep lessons for the psych courses she’d be teaching at Western, belly big and round from the Moir baby growing inside. She can’t allow herself to go there, because though this, whatever this is, could have been the start of something between them they’ve already ruined it by promising forever in vows neither of them will ever remember. This is a mistake. They can’t start a life based on a wild drunken night that ended in a marriage. Not when they’ve spent so many years avoiding this, avoiding what they may actually mean to each other.

It’s not like she can say, Hey, Scott I think we got shitfaced last night and accidentally got married—but hey maybe it wasn’t the worst idea. And it’s definitely not liked he’d answer with, That’s great, I’ve actually wanted to marry you since I asked you to be my back up plan on my sixteenth birthday. How fortuitous that we could just jump right ahead to being committed to each other for life.

Despite the fact that she thinks she’d actually be perfectly okay with that, she knows that is unrealistic. It is more likely that the whole thing was his impulsivity (and maybe a little bit of her own) and he will panic, like he has before, and this will ruin everything. And she suddenly wants to cry, because fuck, before right now she hadn’t realized how much she wanted this, wanted him. Wants him, wants a life with him. Forever, and ever, amen.

Maybe, she can still salvage this. If she can talk to him and get the words out right, and he doesn’t freak out. If he really loves her as much as she thinks, she can convince him to just for a little while ignore the fact that they maybe got married one wild irresponsible, impulsive night in Vegas. If they can pretend that didn’t happen, just shelve that for a little while, they can use this morning as a starting point for a relationship. They can try to date, for real, and then determine if forever is what they want—she knows it is what she wants. She can’t imagine herself married to anyone else.

She needs to talk to him. They need to confront this. But she wants to hold onto hope just a little bit longer. Doesn’t want to ruin this moment. She doesn’t think her heart can take the idea of him running away from his feelings for her, again.

Turns out her stomach has other plans and ruins the moment anyway by growling loudly. Scott laughs underneath her, a big belly laugh that shakes her body where it is pressed against him.

“We should feed you.”

She groans and snuggles further in to his side.

“Don’t wanna move.” She mumbles into his chest.

He laughs again, “We both know what happens when I don’t keep Tessa Virtue well fed.”

She huffs, trying not to think of the times she’s snapped at him after forgetting to feed herself, which happens often after hours and hours of studying.

“And what about you, huh?” She retorts, because she knows Scott Moir can get just as hangry.

He hums, tickles her lightly and starts kissing down her neck, and nibbling on her collarbone. “I’m good.” He continues to gently bite her skin, from her collarbone down her chest. She moans as his mouth moves further down her chest, only for the his stomach to ruin the moment this time, doing its own low loud grumble.

They both chuckle, and he rolls away from her with a grunt.

“Okay, so real food, I guess.”



Two and a half years ago

Tessa relaxed into the couch, propping her socked feet up on an unopened box. She let out an exaggerated sigh and leaned her head into Scott, who put his feet next to hers on the box. The cardboard sagged a bit under the weight.

Running her toes along the sole of his foot she laughed, bright and airy. “We match.”

They were wearing nearly identical Toronto Maple Leafs socks—she thought he may have actually bought them both. The only difference was that hers were grey with a blue logo, pulled up almost to her knees over her black leggings, and his were the same shade of blue with a white logo.

He had set up her TV on the floor, for lack of any furniture aside from the couch and her bed. It was playing the leafs game and they both had a bottle of Molson Canadian— his request for helping with the rest of her boxes after the rest of her moving crew left (both their brothers, his parents, and her mom and sister).

He smiled at her and kissed her cheek. “Great minds, kiddo.”

She shifted her weight to lift her hip up and pulled her phone out of her back pocket.  

She motioned for him to cheers her and snapped a photo of their full beers clinking, their matching socks and the game playing in her half unpacked living room in the background.

With her head nestled into his shoulder she played around with filters on her Instagram and deliberated over the perfect caption. Finally, she settled on:

Game-check

Beer- check

Team socks- check

The best company-check

Everything else can wait.  

She pressed post, smiling while tilting her head up to look at Scott while he took a long sip of his beer.

“What’s up, T?” He asked, noticing her wide grin.

“This is nice. Thank you, for helping me today. For everything.”

“Anything for you, kiddo. Always.” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in closer. “I missed you.”

“Scott, I was in Toronto for school, it’s not that far. You still saw me.”

“I know but I like you here. I’m so happy you’re home.”

“Me too.”

She settled into him to watch the game, though was hardly paying attention, exhausted by a day of moving and being lulled into semi-consciousness by the rise and fall of Scott’s sturdy chest beneath her head. She’d been at U of T for her MA in Psychology; he had been working as campus security at Western, waiting and applying and reapplying for the London Police Service. He’d finally gotten a call to come in for the arduous hiring process, and she had been accepted to start her PhD at Western.

Since the minute she told him, despite having his own career to worry about, he had jumped into action. He worked hard at helping her find a suitable apartment close enough to campus, but not in an area with a heavy student population. He’d even put the deposit on this place for her when she couldn’t make it to town, knowing that it wouldn’t last long. At some point while she was away Scott Moir had become a real grown up, and she loved him more for it.

She was halfway to drifting off, securely cuddled into his side, when her phone started buzzing incessantly where it lay in her lap. She grumbled at the disturbance and felt Scott shift to peer over her head, checking whom  it may be.

“It’s Jordan. She’s been texting you for the last fifteen minutes. You fall asleep?”

“Mmm maybe. It’s your fault though, you’re cozy.”  

She picked up the phone and peered at it with one eye open, to be greeted with at least six messages from her sister. Which ranged from T, it is 10pm why is your “best company” still there playing footsies with you? To Are you having a sleepover? And the final message Tessssaaa if you don’t answer me I will have to presume the worst.

Tessa rolled her eyes, mildly exasperated and feeling a little bit like a twelve-year-old. Sometimes older siblings were the worst. The absolute fucking worst.  Being the youngest of four and Scott being the youngest of three the two of them received their fair share of teasing growing up. In fact, Jordan and Scott’s cousins had made them “date” as kids because they were “just so adorable” together, and none of them had let up since. Their siblings, all five of them collectively, loved to poke at them over the state of their non-relationship, and she was about eighty-five percent certain that none of them believed they were never anything more than friends—you know love declarations and some drunken tomfoolery aside.

She was twenty-six, nearly twenty-seven, and Jordan—love her to death—had a magical way of needling her to the point of making her feel like a teenager with an embarrassing crush when it came to Scott. It was annoying. All fun in nature, but today she was a goddamn grown-up who was about to start a PhD. She thought the picture was cute and innocent. So, as much as she deliberated answering and telling Jordan to F off or that truthfully they were just watching the game, she figured it was better left to the morning. Besides, it was more fun this way.

With that she tossed her phone to the other end of the couch and settled back into her human pillow, who was now checking his own phone.

“Do you know why Danny is texting me to ask why I’m still here?” He asked.

“Fucking Jordan.” She huffed under her breath. “I posted that picture of our socks, because it was cute. And Jordan was being…”

“Jordan was being Jordan?”

“Yeah.”

He nodded and shrugged. Par for the course with their siblings. She swore that they had to have some sort of group chat dedicated exclusively to discussing her and Scott. Really, they had to. Because Jordan was the only one with Instagram to have any idea he was still in her living room.  

“Maybe I should go?”

“You don’t have to.” Please don’t.

“Okay.”

 

Sunday

Freshly showered and in ripped jeans and a loose T-shirt, Blue jays baseball cap thrown over her wet hair, Tessa is searching the room for either of their cellphones. She hasn’t even thought about them until now, really hasn’t thought of much other than Scott, and the whole married thing. But she can’t find them and is panicking a little over it.

“Scott.” She calls, her voice carrying to where he is in the bathroom.

“Yeah, babe?” And oh, that’s new. She flushes a little at how much she wants to hear him call her that again. She never thought she’d like pet names, and he already has half a dozen nicknames for her, but that right there does something to her insides.

“Umm, do you know where our phones are? I can’t find either of them.”

“Check whatever pants I wore last night, maybe?”

She isn’t sure why she didn’t think of that. It isn’t abnormal for Scott to put her phone in his pocket along with his own when she doesn’t have any pockets of her own. So, she searches the haphazard pile of their discarded clothing from last night—it is pretty clear they undressed in a hurry, the strap of her bralette is hanging off a knob on the dresser, she has no idea where her underwear is, his are by her discarded dress. And sure, enough she finds two iPhones in the pockets of his pants, pooled at the end of the bed. She presses the home button on each, but sure enough they are both dead. Figures.

It’s when she is plugging them both in that Scott comes out of the bathroom, smelling like hotel soap, in jeans and a Blue Jays t-shirt. She points to her hat and laughs.

“It’s like we’re on the same wavelength.” He smiles, wrapping her up in his arms from behind and kissing the crook of her neck.

Then he flicks the brim of her hat, “This looks cute, by the way. Though I happen to think you’re always pretty cute.” He kisses up her neck, stopping just behind her ear.

She smiles, she could really get used to this. It’s the same sweetness he has always had with her, but he isn’t trying to pretend that there isn’t something more. So she snuggles into him. Maybe he won’t freak out? She lets herself think that maybe this can all work out. He hasn’t panicked about the sex yet. In fact he is calling her babe, and making her feel very loved up in a way only he can. It is nice. So, so nice.

“We should wait until these babies have some battery, then head out.” She says, nodding her head towards where their phones are both plugged in on the dresser.

He hums into her hair, arms still wrapped tightly around her middle, pulling her into him.

“How ‘bout we don’t.” He whispers low into her ear. “How about we enjoy this, just us a little bit longer? Babe? Just you and me? When we get back from breakfast we can rejoin the real world.” He kisses her again. “Right now I just want to enjoy being with you.”

“Yeah.” She says, a little breathless. Just us, Babe. Until breakfast is over. But she will take it. Breakfast being with Scott, however this is. Just enjoying each other in this new way, before they have to figure their shit out.

They leave the hotel hand in hand (she makes him take her right hand, and awkwardly holds the left so it is semi hidden from his view—she couldn’t bring herself to take the ring off) and he sneaks little kisses at every opportunity.

They eat at a kitschy little 50’s diner. It  is actually in one of those rounded silver trailers like you’d see in the movies. There is bright red vinyl seating, formica table tops, a jukebox and oddly some model UFOs hanging from the ceiling and the whole place smells sinfully like grease.

Breakfast was eaten mostly in amicable silence, casting each other heated glances over bacon and eggs. As she works on her third cup of stale coffee—finally feeling like she might be able to handle a discussion—his hands reach under the table, lightly tracing the skin on her knees, exposed by the rips in her pants. The way he is barely touching her with just the pads of his fingers is too much, it sends a shiver through her entire body. She gives him a look of warning, which he ignores in favour of moving his hand further up here leg.

 

Finally back in the hotel room, with Scott just a few minutes behind (finding her proper coffee that doesn’t taste like swamp water), Tessa decides to power up both their phones. Assuming that Scott’s family (and more than likely hers as well) will be trying to reach them to wish him a Happy Birthday.

Both phones turn back on at almost the exact same moment and are inundated with various notifications. Hers nearly vibrates right off the dresser, and his won’t stop that telltale ping.

What the fuck?

She unplugs hers and takes it over to the bed, hoping that all it is is their families worried they couldn’t get a hold of them when they tried to wish Scott a happy birthday. She really, really hopes that’s all that it is. Hopes she didn’t drunk dial Jordan last night. Or that their families all assume since they aren’t answering it is because they are busy…well busy doing exactly what it was they were doing this morning—but their moms definitely don’t need to know that.

It turns out she is right about one thing. All her various messages and missed calls are from her sister, her brothers (both of them, which really shocks her), her mom and Alma. So that’s mildly concerning. She clicks to open the most recent, from Jordan.

TESSA JANE! You can’t post that insta story and then not answer your phone for twelve fucking hours!

Oh. Dear. God. What did she do?

Without checking any of her other messages she goes straight to Instagram, and has a dozen direct messages there too. Fuck.

She breathes in deep, and exhales on a slow count of four before steeling herself to open her own insta story. There is more than one.

First, there in all its glory is a picture of the ring adorning her very own hand. All that she has offered as explanation is the diamond emoji. Goddammit, drunk Tessa. This is bad, but it could have been worse.

It is. The next story  is much, much worse.

There in grainy cellphone footage is a drunk her, beaming at the camera. Her eyes are a little glassy, but otherwise she looks coherent—firmly in the fun drunk stage, right after pleasantly tipsy and right before weepy.

Her laugh, her big belly laugh that crinkles her eyes and leaves her breathless echoes through the phone speakers.

“I’m so, so happy right now.” She hears her own voice squeal in delight to the camera. And god, does she always sound that high pitched?

Then Scott’s head appears beside her, kissing her on the cheek. Tessa from last night giggles through the phone.

“I love this girl so damn much!” Drunk Scott basically shouts. And she can hear distant cheering at that. “And I am going to go marry her. We are going to get married!”

Then he is leaning between her and the camera and the last thing she sees is his the back of his head and his hand coming up to tangle itself in her hair before the image gets shaky and the video ends.

“Fuck.”

She looks up and there is Scott. Scott of right now, Scott who she had sex with three times this morning, the Scott who she definitely got married to last night. She hadn’t even heard him come in. He is looking at her wide-eyed, a coffee cup in one hand and his own phone in the other.

“Tess, what the fuck did we do last night?”

Chapter Text

Saturday
(Morning)

Scott always sleeps better when he sleeps next to Tessa. It’s a fact, and he’s learned to accept it. Despite her occasional restlessness at night, there is something so profoundly comforting about feeling her presence next to his in the bed that always lulls him into peaceful slumber. But falling asleep to her cuddled into his side, her head pillowed against his chest? Well, that’s something else entirely. Feeling her whole body pressed against his fills him with a kind of warmth he didn’t know existed. It’s like being wrapped up in the brightest summer’s day. He wants to feel that way, always.

Even though he is sure she’d been asleep and hadn’t heard him, he fell asleep telling her he loved her and meant every word of it. And this morning he feels lighter somehow, despite the slight weight across his body that’s pressing him into the mattress. He laughs, because somehow Tessa has ended up completed wrapped around him, like a koala clinging to a tree.

At some point during the night, he’d shifted so that now he’s right at the edge of the bed, and Tess has migrated so she’s practically on top of him. Her leg is wrapped around his thigh, her arm is draped all the way across his chest with her hand tucked into his side, her own chest is pressed to his—half on top of him. The sensation sets his whole body on fire.

He wants to touch her, feels like he needs to touch her. Everything in his body screams that he needs more contact. A chorus of must touch Tessa runs through his head. His hands literally burn with the need to be somewhere, anywhere, touching her skin—like her body is the only balm that can soothe the burning.

He wants to run his hands along the soft skin of her bare leg, following along with the pads of his fingers to where flesh disappears under dark fabric. He puts a hand on her knee, connecting the light smattering of freckles there with a soft touch. But before he can go any farther, he stops.

It’s too much. Way too much. She lets out a little sigh and her leg inches up along his until it is dangerously close to where he is already at half mast. His breath catches. His mind screams too much. Yet, he can’t seem to peel his hand away.

Tessa sighs again, and presses herself against him, and he becomes painfully aware of her breath, hot and steady against his skin. And he can feel her fingers moving, delicately over his ribs where her hand rests at his side. And, yeah, half-mast might not be a problem anymore. Fuck.

He thinks, not for the first time, that this weekend might have been a very bad idea. He has no idea how he is going to make it to Monday. Because right now it literally hurts how much he wants her, and it’s been a really, really long time. The longest he’s gone in his adult life.

And goddammit, he might not be a detective, but he is a police officer and observation is a part of his job. So it’s not as if he isn’t aware of how she prances around her apartment in next to nothing, how she smirks to herself when she notices him shift uncomfortably in his seat or licks her lips when she catches him staring. How she seems to make a conscious effort to place her yoga mat right in his sightline while stretching in nothing but a sports bra and leggings with weird mesh cutouts down the sides. It is maddening. For the longest time he questioned whether she could be doing it all on purpose but became pretty damn sure of it about six months ago.

Six months and five days ago, standing in her kitchen at exactly 6:23 in the evening making her dinner, was the exact moment any doubt about her intentions were completely washed away. He didn’t miss her sharp intake of breath when she came out of the shower in nothing but a towel, and hugged him from behind, snatching a pepper from over his shoulder, only to have the towel slip slightly from where it was pressed between their bodies. He is pretty sure he stopped breathing, completely frozen in time with her nearly naked body pressed against his.

“Oh,” was all she said, low and quiet, but she kept her arms wrapped around him for a long moment before moving slowly, carefully to cover herself back up.

He couldn’t see, but he could feel the impression of her against his back, and that combined with her soft little Oh was too much. So much that he nearly missed the onion he was chopping and was about millimeter away from losing the tip of his finger.

And he could have sworn he heard a frustrated little huff when he had said, “Why don’t you go get dressed? Dinner will be done in a few minutes.”

He remained stiffly in his spot, trying to refocus his energy on the vegetables he was chopping, so as not to reveal just how much her little stunt was affecting him. He was nearly shaking with the effort.

It had taken every ounce of willpower he had to not turn around and easily undo her little re-tuck on the flimsy white towel and let it drop to the floor, to discover and admire every new inch of skin he normally had to imagine. It had taken every bit of self-control not to push her up against the counter and kiss her and explore her body with his hands, his mouth…Yeah, that moment six months ago nearly fucking killed him. He may have developed and aneurism from the strain of not doing anything.

This is all to say, that yes, he knows exactly what she has been trying to do. And it is slowly driving him to the brink of insanity. He really won’t be able to take it much longer before he just goes for it. But the problem is, he can’t just have sex with Tessa. No. He wants everything with her. He wants to love her, to build a life with her, to marry her and have kids with her and grow old watching jeopardy together every night. Everything. And he can’t go there, can’t cross that proverbial line with her unless he knows she is in this just as much as he is.

Because yeah, he might be able to read her pretty well and he knows she wants him. Well, he knows she wants sex with him, at least. But he can’t read her mind, so he doesn’t know how she feels. He doesn’t know if it is more for her too, or just purely physical. Because he spends half his nights at her place, and the nights he doesn’t they text until they are both asleep, he is pretty damn sure its been a really long time for her too.

But she has done a pretty good job keeping whatever her feelings are for him bottled up tight since he royally fucked up eleven years ago. He wouldn’t blame her if she never opens up that side of herself to him again, though he hopes she will. He has been trying so hard to show her he has changed, that he isn’t a dumbass kid anymore. And he thinks they are getting there but doesn’t want to ruin it by being a convenience fuck. Because he has no idea where that pretty little head of hers is at, and it would literally destroy him to go there, to have her and then lose her once she graduates. If they go there and it turns out she only wanted him because he was comfortable, and there, or she realizes how much better she can do.

So, he can’t, and he won’t go there until he is certain he is as much it for her as she is for him. He thinks he can be. He thinks she might be getting there, that his plan is working. But there is still that nagging doubt, that voice in his head that says you will never be enough for her. It’s the voice that reminds him how brilliant she is and that it took him until twenty-eight to even get an interview for the London Police Service.

But goddammit, not going there also hurts, physically hurts and he is pretty sure he is literally about to lose his fucking mind. And if this weekend continues how it is, if she keeps being overly affectionate, keeps pretending to be his wife, keeps sleeping with her body wrapped tightly around his like an adorable little spider monkey clinging to a branch he won’t be able to make it through to Monday. He won’t be able to make it to tonight, if he’s honest.

He needs a plan, needs to do something to suss out her real feelings. At least a way to make his intentions clear, to show her he wants her for the long haul and see how she reacts to that.

He needs to romance Tessa Virtue.

That’s it. He needs to give her the most romantic day of her life. And it’s got to be today, before he literally can’t hold himself back any longer.

He fucking loves her, and he is going to show her just how much. And hope that he can crack her defences. Hope that he can win her over. Hope that she will let him see how she really feels. And he really hopes she feels the same way he does.

Careful not to wake her, he gives her a squeeze and rolls her off him before he sneaks out of the bed. Then, with the help of google and (thank you Tessa) the piles of pamphlets on the dresser he plots the ultimate date day. He even quietly calls Tina at the front desk for recommendations, tells her he really just wants to give his wife (because of course Tessa had let Tina believe she was his wife) the best day ever, because she deserves it. Tina is, of course, more than happy to help him. Still, he passes on Tina’s suggestion of a couple’s massage—because that would just be way too much for him to handle at the moment. Even thinking about being on a massage table next to a naked Tessa is too much. Way too fucking much.

 

Two and a half years ago

Tessa had her arm linked in his as they walked through downtown Toronto, heading to the restaurant he picked to celebrate. She had just been accepted to do her PhD at Western. It was warm for March, but the humidity hung heavy in the air, and the clouds above were threatening downpour. Tessa shivered against him as a cool breeze passed over them.

The restaurant was a good fifteen-minute walk from her apartment at a regular walking pace, but unfortunately Tessa was in brand new heels that rubbed against her Achilles so she moved much slower than her regular walking pace. He offered to carry her, which she declined, citing the shortness of her, likewise new, black dress and the fact that: “We’ll look absolutely ridiculous”. Instead, she chose to tough it out and hobbled along the street, slowly. Very, very slowly.

So that was how they arrived at their reservation six minutes late. The first hit from the universe against his carefully made plan to treat his best friend to the perfect evening she deserved.

“You’re Mr. Moir?” the hostess, asked, an expression akin to terror on her young face. “Oh, no. I am so so sorry. We called your name a few minutes ago and another couple claimed your reservation.”

The girl looked all of nineteen, and like she was about to cry at the prospect of having given their reservation to someone else. She offered to ask the couple who had claimed to be them to give up the table, but Tessa and Scott both waved that off, not wanting to cause a scene should the other couple have refused. In the end, as it was Friday at seven in downtown Toronto and everywhere had at least a forty-five-minute wait for a table, the hostess called the manager who got a small table made up for them right by the kitchen. Which would have been nice, if it weren’t for the constant rush of waiters and bussers rushing passed them.

“Thanks, for this. It was really thoughtful of you.” Tessa looked at him, the greens of her eyes lit up by the flicker of the candle between them, and placed her hand gently on his.

“Anything for you, kiddo. I am so proud of you.”

She blushed and took a long sip of her wine, a house red that was hastily recommended by their annoyed waiter—who was clearly not pleased with having another table added to his section in an already over-crowded dining room. It had been twenty minutes since they received their wine and they hadn’t seen a return of him to take their food order.

Hit number two came as she was putting her wine back on the white table cloth. A waiter who was rushing out of the kitchen literally tripped over her chair. He stumbled forward but managed to keep a grip on the two steak platters he was holding. He mumbled a gruff apology before hurrying off without checking on them.

Though the steaks had been saved, the result was Tessa’s wine glass flying from her grip and landing (luckily without breaking) right in front of Scott. Its contents had spread out along the white tablecloth, running down and over the edge like a sweet red waterfall. The wine then pooled on Scott’s lap, leaving a large red stain on the thigh of his beige khakis.

Tessa was out of her chair and over to him with her cloth napkin within seconds.

“Fuck. I’m so sorry. This is going to ruin your pants,” she said, as she tried to dab the stain. Her hands fumbling with the napkin against his leg.

“Not your fault…and you really don’t need to…umm, Tess. Tess, stop. It’s okay. I can get it.” He choked out as her hand and the napkin were moving uncomfortably high up his thigh. “Why don’t you focus on the table? I got this.” He gestured to his leg, his own napkin in hand.

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Yeah.” Even in the low light he could see the blush creeping up her cheeks as she moved her hands from his leg.

She bit her bottom lip in embarrassment, turning her face away from him, and went at the table cloth with a determined focus. It was kind of adorable.

She had her back to him, standing in front of his chair, trying in vain to clean the mess on the table, when as if by some force of the cosmos that seemed to have it out for his plans, a busser bumped into their table on his path to the kitchen. The effect was like dominos. The table shifted, knocking into Tessa and sending her backwards into his lap, the force then sending the entire chair careening back, tipping precariously on the back two legs. On instinct he wrapped an arm around her waist, holding her tightly too him, the other hand flying out to grab hold of the table to pull them back upright.

Tessa let out a breathless little giggle. “This is ridiculous. And we haven’t even ordered food yet.”

“I’m sorry, T.”

She shrugged. “Not your fault, it was a great idea…but umm, do you maybe just want to leave? I’m starving, and we can probably just get a pizza faster, and I still have a few bottles of Innis and Gun from the last time you were down.”

“Beer and pizza sound great, kiddo.”

With that, he threw a twenty on the table for the wine and held out his arm for her to take. They made it six blocks before the clouds that were only ominous an hour earlier split open, and within moments of the first drop they found themselves running through a torrential downpour.

By the time they flung the door to Tessa’s apartment open, their clothes were soaked through and their shoes ruined, but neither could stop laughing.

Her cheeks were red from cold, her wet hair knotted, strands sticking to the sides of her face and her fully saturated dress clung to her body and he cold see the goosebumps rising on her skin and the shiver she was trying to supress. But she still smiled at him as she slammed the door behind her.

“Well, this has been a night, eh? And it’s barely even eight o’clock.” She said, gathering her hair up and wringing it out. “I’m gonna go change. Want to order the pizza? There’s a flyer on the fridge for the place I usually order from.”

“Okay,” he said, kicking off his wet shoes and peeling back his sopping wet socks.

Halfway to her room she called back to him. “Do you have sweats in your bag? Or do you want me to grab you the ones you left here last time?”

“That’d be great!” he replied.

Half an hour later, clad in sweatpants and sweaters, he sat beside a cross-legged Tessa on her white Ektorp couch. An open pizza box sat on the coffee table, and they each had a half-finished bourbon barrel beer in hand. Flipping through the channels on her TV, Scott had found Moulin Rouge playing on some random channel, on which one exactly, he wasn’t sure.

Tessa had about fifteen cable channels, about ten more than she ever used, made better by the fact that she wasn’t actually paying for cable. When she had set up her Bell cable internet and, on a whim, plugged the cable into the TV, she discovered she had channels. There was no guide and the channels were all out of order because she didn’t have a digital cable box. But she had free cable.

When she first discovered this, she called Scott in a panic, thinking maybe she was stealing and wondered if she should call the cable company to tell them. He assured her that it was probably just the fact that the cable and internet were the same line. Besides, the channels she got didn’t come in the best quality and you had to surf through dozens of channels worth of static before finding a show.

So, that’s how they settled on Moulin Rouge, the opening credits the first picture amongst the static. They’d first watched it, he vaguely remembered, on New Years Eve 2001. Tessa and Jordan had picked it up at Blockbuster, while the boys of the Virtue and Moir clans were next door at the IGA piling enough junk food into a shopping cart to feed a small army—a joint family tradition (though the three oldest siblings would be bailing for their own parties long before midnight). He remembered very little of the movie itself, though he did recall Tessa getting in trouble later, for singing voulez vous coucher avec moi into a hairbrush microphone during an impromptu karaoke session. He very distinctly remembered the crimson colour of her cheeks when her mom told her what it meant.

Once the pizza was finished and the box discarded, he settled himself into the couch, using the coffee table as an ottoman, resting his beer along the waistband of his sweatpants. Tessa stretched out, resting her feet in his lap. He rubbed her arches through her thick fuzzy cat socks, complete with ears and whiskers.

“These socks are cute,” he laughed. “Do they make them in adult, too?”

She threw her head back in a laugh and kicked at him playfully. “These are for adults. Fun adults, who like warm feet.”

He watched as she adjusted one of the grey throw pillows behind her and settled back in to watch the movie. He watched her as she watched the movie play out. He watched her hum along, out of tune, to the songs. He watched as she teared up toward the end, trying and failing to subtly wipe the tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. He watched as she quietly sang along to Come What May. He couldn’t help but smile at her, running a hand up and down her calf.

After the end credits rolled and the station cut to commercial, she turned her head back to face him.

“This is really nice.”

“It is,” he agreed.

It was more than nice. It was perfect. He could live this night over a thousand times and never grow tired of it. As a he looked at her smiling at him, hair frizzy and tangled from being caught in the rain, face free of make up, wrapped up in her oversized sweats, he realized that this moment was perfect because of her. Because he loved her.

He was in love with Tessa.

 

Saturday
(Afternoon)

Drawing in a long deep breath, he puts his arm around Tessa’s shoulder and pulls her into him. It is a move he has done countless times before, but in the moment, it feels different. In this little boat, captained by a man in a striped shirt, red scarf tied around his neck and weird little straw hat, Scott is laying his heart out in front of Tessa.

They are taking a private gondola ride around the Venetian, and he is pretty sure his intentions are very clear. Which is why he breaths in a sigh of relief when she settles her head into his shoulder and places a hand carefully—almost hesitantly—on top of his where it rests on his leg.

“I know this is all fake,” she starts, gesturing to the faux-European buildings around them. “But this is still really nice. I mean, this may be the closest I will ever come to riding a gondola through Venice.”

“Come on kiddo, if you want to go to Italy, you will find a way to get there. I’ve never seen you not go after exactly what you want.”

She hums, and he watches her nose scrunch up in the oh-so-adorable way that it does as she tilts her head a bit to the side, thinking.

“Would you come with me? If I wanted to go to Italy, I mean,” she says finally.

I would go anywhere with you, he thinks. But it sounds ridiculous, even in his head. Like a line from a cheesy rom-com.

So, he just nods and says, “If you wanted me to.”

This might actually be working, he thinks. If he lets himself hope and reads into her words how he wants her to mean them. She asked if he’d come to Italy with her if she ever went: that means she wants to travel with him. Which, he could extrapolate out to mean she wants to be with him, romantically. He can’t be sure though, because of course she is here with him now, and this trip was meant to be a platonic friends trip. Well, maybe? They never really talked about it meaning anything. He had just badgered her until she agreed to come.

This morning, he was already showered and dressed by the time Tessa woke up, with an entire day’s worth of romantic activities planned. She looked at him, eyebrows raised in question, eyes puffy with sleep, the wrinkled impression of the pillowcase still on her cheek. The strap of her tank top had slipped off her shoulder, and he desperately wanted to reach out and fix it, to brush his fingers along the bare skin of her collarbone, but he had a plan and losing himself to touching her was not part of it—yet.

So instead, he smiled at her and said, “You should shower and put on something cute. I have a whole day planned.”

She stared at him, incredulous and maybe still half asleep. Sitting up a little further on the bed and tucking her legs under her, she noticed his eyes still on her bare shoulder, and adjusted the strap of her top, making eye contact with him as she did so.

“You have a day planned? What kind of day?” Her voice was rough and groggy.

“It’s a surprise. But I think you’ll like it.” God, I hope you like it.

She was quiet for a minute, looking at him, taking in his nice jeans and button up t-shirt—both pieces she had gotten for him, from the local boutique she sometimes did photoshoots for. Anxiety gripped his heart, and it felt like all the air had been sucked from his lungs. He was waiting for her to say something, afraid that she might say no, that she might understand exactly what he was planning and turn him down.

“It’s barely even nine o’clock,” was what she said, after a long beat of silence.

The vise on his chest loosened slightly and he let out a little chuckle. “Coffee and pastries are stop number one.”

“Good.”

And with that, she dragged herself out of bed, pulled some clothes from her suitcase and headed to the washroom.

“You’ll want to wear comfy shoes,” he called after her as she closed the door behind her.

True to his word, their first stop was to a French café recommended by Tina from the front desk, whose opinion he trusted after the success of her diner recommendation from last night. Then—after lattes and chocolate almond croissants that were “to die for” according to Tina—Scott led Tessa to the Bellagio to walk through the 14,000-square-feet Conservatory and Botanical Garden. And of course, the theme of the summer exhibit—which would be ending in just a few days—was That’s Amore. The whole thing had the feel of walking onto the set of a Shakespearean romance, if that set were to be entirely made of flowers.

It didn’t matter to him anyways, he was too preoccupied watching her face light up like a kid on Christmas morning the moment they walked through the doors and were met with the overwhelming scent of thousands of flowers. For as long as he’s known her, Tessa has always loved flowers. As a kid she would sit cross legged in the grass making flower crowns, instead of playing. As an adult she always keeps fresh cut flowers in mason jars around her apartment.

She grinned at him, her cheeks coming up to scrunch her eyes. “Thank you,” she said, quietly, squeezing his hand.

“This is just the beginning, T.”

After, they went for lunch at the Venetian, and it felt like every other lunch they’d ever shared. Except she kept looking up at him and grinning—which he took as a good sign, because she wouldn’t have that stupidly adorable smile plastered on her face if she wasn’t having a good time, unless she was just trying to make him feel good about himself. And he couldn’t stop staring at her, and how beautiful she looked with her hair swept off to the side and a braid, in a loose floral blouse and white jean capris (and her white Adidas sneakers, because she had thankfully listened to his advice on comfy shoes).

And all that brings them back to right now, the clear, chlorinated waters of the replica channels rippling below them, their hands clasped together, her head resting on him, and his arm wrapped around her. He can’t help but allow hope to swell in his chest, as he turns slightly and kisses her ever so softly on the top of her head.

And he knows exactly how it looks, so isn’t a surprised when their gondolier asks, “So how long have you two been together?”

He is about to respond with his practiced, oh, we aren’t a couple, just good friends, when Tessa beats him to it.

“We’ve known each other for, what? Twenty-one years now?” She lifts herself from his side to look at him.

“Yeah.” He says.

“Childhood sweethearts, yeah?”

“Something like that.” Tessa replies. But she isn’t saying it to the small man in costume steering their little boat, she is only looking at Scott. Searching his face for something, and he hopes she finds the answer she is looking for. He thinks she does when she smiles and snuggles back into him.

Hope, desire and love swell in his chest. Could this be a moment? Is she feeling the same thing he is?

“I think I’d pick France, over Italy,” she says.

“Well, you’re in luck because I’m taking you to the Eiffel tower for dinner tonight.”

Chapter Text

 

Sunday

 

“Tess, what the fuck happened last night?”

Scott’s eyes are wide, frantic. He stares down at his phone—gripped tightly in his hand—and then at her. His eyes are drifting from the phone that she is still holding in front of her—from which their own faces are staring back at her in the frozen video—to her face. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

This is it: time to wake up from the dream that was this morning and face reality.

She can’t breathe, can’t look at Scott. She isn’t ready for this. For a brief moment she wonders if she can just drop her phone and kiss him senseless. She can already sense his impending freak out, can read the worry and confusion on his face—can see it in his wild unblinking eyes, in the crease in his brow, in the way he clenches his jaw, and in the white-knuckled grip he has on his iPhone.  

She desperately wants to reach out and run her hands through his fluffy hair, and caress his face, rub the tension out of his jaw with her thumbs. She wants to tell him not to freak out, wants to say it will be okay, I’m here and we are in this together. But she can’t speak, and she can’t move, can’t look at him. She just wants to package up this one perfect morning in a neat little box and keep it forever.

“Tess…did…did we…are we…Tess, I really need you to look at me. Please look at me. I need you to help me understand these texts I got from my basically our entire collective families…because they seem to think…that we are…” He trails off and holds out his phone to her.

“Married,” she whispers and completes his thought. She takes his phone and replaces it with her own, cued up to her Insta story.

She watches his reaction—sees his eyes bulge at the image of the ring, placed snuggly on her ring finger. And she thinks he may have stopped breathing when the video starts, when she can hear their excited, drunken voices crackle through the little speaker.

“—I’m going to marry this girl.” Drunk Scott says through her phone, and she hears her own giddy little giggle, right at the moment where she knows he leans in to kiss her in the video, right before it cuts out.

“Fuck. Fuck. Goddammit…I…We…T…do you…do you have…are you wearing…?” He is stumbling over his words, but she knows exactly what he is trying to ask.

She holds out her left hand to him, swallowing hard. This is it, the moment she’s been steadfastly avoiding all morning. And maybe it says something about her that she feels more dread now, at the prospect of having to discuss what they should do next, than she felt when she realized she maybe, possibly married him. But she chooses not to unpack that right now, just like she chose to do all morning. Nope, no psychoanalyzing herself.

He takes her hand in both of his, running his thumb over the ring. He is quiet for a long while, holding her hand in his, looking at the ring, feeling it, running his thumb tenderly up and down the length of her finger.

He seems to be admiring it, the same way she had, taking in how it looks, how it fits perfectly, how it compliments her pale skin, how it isn’t too big or too small on her long, thin finger. The way the brushed gold catches the afternoon sun makes the whole thing look like it’s sparkling with a hundred tiny diamonds. The perfectly understated centre diamond shines bright with perfect clarity.

“You’re wearing it,” he says, finally. His voice is barely above a whisper. And for just a moment, he looks up at her and it takes her breath away.

She nods. “It’s beautiful.”

“I gave this to you.” She isn’t sure if it’s a question or statement. He still hasn’t released her hand or taken his eyes of the ring.

“I don’t remember. We may have picked it out together?” she wonders out loud. “It’s not like you brought an engagement ring to Vegas, tucked somewhere in your suitcase. That would be insane.”

He is quiet for a minute, his hands stilling around hers.

“Yeah,” he says, so quietly it might not have been meant for her to hear. “That would be crazy.”

“Crazy,” she repeats, just as quietly. As if spending decades pushing aside their feelings for each other and then getting drunk married is somehow less crazy than the idea of him having bought a ring for her before last night—because she knows how he feels, and he is almost crazy enough to do something like that. But she doesn’t want to think about the implications of that, if he had bought a ring for her at some point before last night.  If she ever wanted to analyze how weird they are, to study the dynamics of their relationship over the last decade, she could really put her psych degrees through the wringer.

“I didn’t mean to…dammit. Tess, I didn’t mean for this to happen. Fuck. This wasn’t supposed to happen, not like this, anyways. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” He still has her hand in his, thumb still running back and forth over the ring. He puts his head down, and rests it on their joined hands. Defeated.

“Scott it’s—" She tries to stop him, reins in her own panic so she can stop his. He looks at her again, but his eyes can’t seem to focus, they keep flitting from her face to the ring, to some point on the wall behind her.

He is spiralling. “Fuck. Fuck. Tessa, I’m so sorry. I ruined everything. This is my fault. I shouldn’t have…god dammit…You deserve so much more than a drunken spur of the moment—I don’t even know. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sorry. This was all my fault, and I’m going to fix this.”

And here it is—2007 all over again. Just when she thought they were getting to a place where they could actually talk about, and maybe explore, over a decade’s worth of tamped down emotions, he is panicking and gearing up to run again.

He brings her hand up to his lips, kissing it gently. “Tess, I am so sorry I ruined this. Please, tell me how I can fix it?”

Wait, is he saying he is sorry? Why the hell is he sorry? He ruined things? Sometimes, this man truly exasperates her. She can fix this. He isn’t running, he just needs to understand she is okay, sure a little freaked out, because for fuck sakes they got drunk married and that’s a lot, but she is okay, because it’s him and it’s her and maybe their drunk idiot selves know better than their sober selves do.

“Baby,” she says softly, bringing her right hand up to cup his cheek. “Hey. Why are you sorry? Why is anything ruined, or your fault? Scott, I know you, and I know me, and whatever we did last night, we did it together. Always. So, whatever this is, I know I was as much a part of getting us here as you were. Okay?”

He finally looks directly at her and his eyes, with their unique mix of sandy brown with flecks of gold and rimmed with murky green, meet hers. He still looks just like the little boy who sat next to her, nervously holding her hand, while she was in a hospital for hours and hours with a broken arm.

“You’re not mad?”

“Mad? Why would I be mad? I mean clearly, I don’t love that I can’t remember how we got here. I’m not super happy about that. And I was surprised and maybe a little freaked out for a bit there…but I’m not mad at you. I could never be mad at you. Not for this. Never...”

“I’m sor—”

“Scott, if you say sorry one more time, I swear to God...”

“Sorry.”

She shakes her head and laughs—just a little puff of air that pushes out from high in her chest and comes out sounding like the embodiment of fond exasperation.

Moving her hand from his cheek to his chest, she strokes gentle circles above his heart. “You’re impossible.”

“You’re beautiful,” he murmurs absentmindedly in response.

She finds herself blushing and presses her face into his chest. She breathes in the scent of detergent on his shirt, mixed with the sweet musk of his cologne, and just a hint of the coffee he must have sloshed on himself when he read all his texts—because he always reacts with his whole body. He smells like home: like cuddles on her couch, and family Euchre nights, joint grocery shopping, and homemade breakfast eaten in comfortable silence while she figures out how to be awake again. She kind of wants to end the conversation here, and just live with her face pressed to his strong chest, breathing him in. But they are getting somewhere, she thinks. So, they need to press on and figure their shit out.

“What did we get ourselves into, T?” he says into the top of her head.

“Trouble, like always,” she hums against him.

“Drunk us royally fucked sober us over, didn’t they? God, T, I don’t know what I was thinking. I shouldn’t have drunk so much, I should have known better. You deserve more than that. Drunk Scott is an impulsive idiot. This isn’t how this was supposed to happen. I hate drunk Scott right now.”

“Don’t,” she says, tilting her chin up to look at him. “Don’t, okay? Maybe, our drunk selves were just giving us the push we needed. I mean, drunk Tess and Scott may have over-corrected just a little bit, but they probably just thought we were taking too long…”

She lets her words trail off and brings her lips up to his, kissing him first on the corner of his mouth, and then softly along the seam of his lips, and finally with a little more force, nipping lightly at his bottom lip.

“If drunk us hadn’t done whatever it is drunk us did…if I hadn’t woken up, um, naked, beside you this morning, I might not feel as comfortable doing this, right now.” She kisses him again, this time tugging a bit more at his lip with her teeth and working his mouth open with her tongue.

“And I really, really like doing this,” she says, a little breathy, when she finally pulls away.

“Me too.” He presses his forehead to hers.

“So, I guess we can thank drunk us for getting us here? For making us address this, us…whatever this tension that’s been hanging over us—forever… and I think we can definitely thank drunk us for the sex.” She hopes they can at least. She hopes he is on the same page as her now.

“I guess.” The way he says it is low and gruff, and this time he leans in to kiss her.

When they finally break apart, breathing heavily, they look at each other questioningly, nervousness filling the small space between them. Neither are sure where to go from here, because they really have yet to fully address the proverbial elephant in the room. He’s still here though, and he kissed me. So, she is pretty sure that he isn’t going to run away from this. He has grown up so much, and they can do this—together.

“So…” she says, finally.

“I guess next time I see Tina at the front desk and she asks how my wife is, I won’t be lying when I answer…”

She draws in a sharp breath. Wife. She isn’t sure she will get used to that. She says it over and over in her head. Wife. Wife. Wife. Wife. She turns the word over in her mind so many times that she starts to dissociate it with its meaning and instead focuses on how weird English words sound when you really think about them. Husband and wife. Fuck. The words sound pretend, like two kids playing house.

She realizes she’s been quiet for too long when the panic returns to his voice. “Unless that’s not what you want. Oh, shit. Dammit…if it’s too much we can just pretend like this didn’t happen…and, I’ll fix it…okay?”

She shakes her head. “Scott, together, remember? I’m fine…I…I…” She wants to say I love you, but the words catch in her throat, like they’ve been lodged there so long that they’ve become stuck. “I want to be with you. So, we will figure this out…besides I don’t think we can pretend this didn’t happen, considering the list of missed calls and texts from basically every relative that either of us have, and whoever follows me on Instagram.”

“Fuck,” he groans.

“Yeah, I’m really not a fan of drunk me for pulling that. What the fuck was I thinking?”

He laughs a little. “No fucking clue. You’re the psychologist…want to take a stab at what either of us might have been thinking last night?”

“Not a psychologist. I deal with theory and research, nothing practical, and I haven’t graduated yet.”

“Tess, don’t sell yourself short. You and I both know you’re not good at poker because of luck. You know how to read people, you pick up on little nuances, and you are so incredibly smart. You could be anything you wanted to be.”

“You have to say that, you might be married to me.” She laughs. “But my best guess would be…that it was a long time coming. And we’ve both always been better at expressing our, um, feelings, for each other, after a few drinks…because this is big and means so much, so it’s a little scary. But it doesn’t have to be.”

“No?” He says it like a question, but he’s not expecting an answer as he reaches up to cup her cheeks in his hands and plants a firm kiss on her lips.

“No.”

There is a long beat of silence as they stand, unmoving, bodies pressed together, lips inches apart. Tessa can feel their breathing and heart rates begin to synch as they relax into each other, with the shared hope that this will be alright.

Then Scott’s phone starts to ring, and they step away from each other, as if caught in a compromising position. They stare at the phone where it lies on the bed, with MOM calling flashing across the screen.

“Fuck. What do we tell our families? Should I answer that?”

“Not yet…I mean we don’t really know for sure that we…that we got married, right? So, quick Officer Moir, use your policing skills and let’s find some clues so we know for sure.”

“Evidence, kiddo. This isn’t a board game. And I’d say number one, the ring is pretty solid evidence…”

“Okay so ring. My ill-thought out Instagram story. Um, the white dress,”—she walks over to the heap of clothes still on the floor from the previous night (they had been so preoccupied this morning that they hadn’t bothered to pick them up) and picks up the dress pants—“and these, that we didn’t own before last night.”

As she is about to throw the pants on the bed, something crinkles in the pocket. She reaches in and pulls out a crumpled receipt. She unfolds it carefully and reads the words Little White Wedding Chapel.

“I don’t think we need more evidence…” she says, silently handing the paper to him.

He takes it, flopping down on the bed so that he is lying down on his back. “Well, that’s pretty damning. I guess we should make the call and put our mothers out of their misery.”

She climbs onto the bed and lies down next to him, finding his hand with hers, and interlaces their fingers.

“Or,” she starts, her heart buzzing in her chest like a hummingbird, “hear me out here. Do we really want to call home right now? And listen to Alma cry about how her youngest son—her favourite son—went and eloped and didn’t even tell her? Or would you rather come over here and kiss your wife?”

 

 Monday

 

The McCarran International Airport is humming with activity and chatter; it’s a constant state of noise and motion. She’s waiting in their terminal and the fluorescent light above her buzzes and flickers obnoxiously.

She has a headache.

She’s not nearly had enough sleep or coffee to be somewhere this busy at ten in the morning. She closes her eyes and leans back in her chair. Soon, she feels a familiar presence drop down in the chair beside her and cautiously opens her right eye.

“Hey beautiful,” Scott says, as if he hadn’t just left her side ten minutes ago. “One grande flat white, one yogurt with fruit and granola, and I also grabbed you a water and these.” He shakes a travel sized container of Advil.

“Oh, bless you. You really are the best.” She opens her left eye too and sits up a bit, first taking the clear plastic water bottle from his hand. He carefully places the paper tray with their coffees and her yogurt on the floor between the chairs and opens the Advil tube for her.

Handing her two red-coated pills, he says: “So, am I rocking husband duties?”

She laughs, then swallows the pills, chasing them with a large gulp of water. “Very much so.”

She leans over in her seat and plants a kiss on his lips, brushing a stray hair from his forehead before sinking back down in her chair. He smiles a bright, lopsided grin and he looks so proud of himself. It’s the same smile he used to use as a kid when he scored a goal at his hockey games. He settles in next to her, placing a hand on the back of her neck and squeezing gently as she starts on her yogurt. She eats slowly, carefully stirring the berries and granola into the yogurt, making sure not to spill any over the sides of the little plastic cup.

“So, are we really doing this?” he asks, after she has swallowed a small spoonful of her breakfast.

“I think so, yeah.”

When they had finally FaceTImed their parents late yesterday afternoon—her own panicking mother having driven to Scott’s parents’ house so they could freak out about their children together—they had decided to tell them the truth, mostly. Yes, they got married, yes, it was an impulse decision, yes, they are happy. What they didn’t tell their parents was that no, before Saturday night they had never before been in, or even discussed, having a romantic relationship—despite their obvious feelings for one another. Instead they let their mothers believe what they had already been suspicious of: that they had been dating but weren’t read to tell their families yet.

“Well, we’ve been pretty much in an emotional relationship for nearly two years,” she had said to him before they called, “Really, the only thing that will change is the kissing, and the sex.”

“I really like the kissing, and the sex,” he’d replied, his mouth moving along her jaw.

Explaining their elopement was enough. They both agreed that having to tell their parents that they got drunk married when they hadn’t even tried dating, and that they were just hoping for the best, was too much.

Alma had cried, as expected, murmuring something about how she had always pictured them getting married at their church in Ilderton, ever since they were inseparable as kids. And her mom had said something about missing her baby girl's wedding, laying on a thick layer of guilt in between the "I'm happy if you're happy" and the "we love and support you". 

And before she even realized the words were coming out of her mouth, Tessa had said that, maybe, in a few months, they could do a ceremony with family. She’d immediately wanted to shove the words back in and swallow them up. But their mothers had both looked so happy and the conversation quickly veered to dresses and flowers and booking the church.

Tessa takes another bite of her yogurt and feels the soft skin covering the squishy inside of a blueberry between her teeth, as she bites down. She immediately begins to gag and swallows the fruit and granola quickly without chewing any more. Blueberries—not their flavour, but the texture—have been an aversion of hers since she was a kid. Eating them has always triggered her gag reflex and made her feel sick. Scott turns to her, and she can’t hide her grimace.

“Blueberry?” he asks, concerned.

She nods, making a face.

“Sorry, I didn’t see any in there, just the raspberries and blackberries. Give it here.” He holds out his hand to take the cup of yogurt.

With determined focus, he uses the spoon to carefully search through the yogurt, picking out every blueberry, and eating them—even though they aren’t his favourite either. He hands it back to her with a gentle smile.

“Blueberry-free.”

She looks at him fondly and can’t help but think those three heavy words, the ones that have been a weight in her chest for as long as she can remember, ones she hasn’t said to him—or any man for that matter—in over a decade.

“I love you,” she blurts out.  

Chapter Text

Fifteen months ago

Lying on her stomach on the half-deflated air mattress, arms folded under her head, Tessa listened to the rain pelt on the nylon walls of the tent. It hurt to move, hurt to breathe, and everything was itchy.

She was wearing just her pajama shorts, her t-shirt lying on the sleeping bag next to her. She’d thrown her bra into the corner because it was evil and why did it want to hurt her?  The cool air in the tent soothed her burning skin.

She knew her back was the exact same shade as the bright red sleeping bag she was currently on, even though she couldn’t see it, with the reverse crisscross pattern of her strappy bathing suit branded into her skin.

That was how Scott found her when he unzipped the tent and shook the rain from his floppy hair—half naked, lying face down, in the middle of their shared air mattress, in the centre of the tent.

“Jesus. Tess,” he gritted out. “Maybe you should get a shirt on?”

She groaned and turned her head to face him, “Can’t. It hurts my skin.”

He laughed a little, but caught himself and stopped, looking at the expanse of her bare back.

“Shit, T, that is really bad,” he sighed and looked away, focusing his eyes somewhere on the tent wall behind her. “You really should have let me help you put more sun screen on.”

“Well it’s a bit late for that now, isn’t it?” She buried her face in the crook of her arm. “Did you find aloe, at the camp store?”

“No, but I did find After Sun, which is aloe with lidocaine. So, it’ll help the pain. I also got After Bite and marshmallows and chocolate. Though it looks like there will be no roasting tonight.”

He knelt down on the mattress next to her, dropping the white plastic bag from the campground commissary next to her shirt on the sleeping bag. She could tell that he was still trying not to look at her naked back, and normally she would revel in the opportunity to try to get a rise out of him. She knew he stared, a lot. Knew he’d shift uncomfortably when she would walk into the room in something even slightly revealing. But her back hurt too badly to even care.

“Scoo-ott,” she whined, drawing out the o, “please just put that stuff on my back. It hurts so much.”

She could hear him audibly swallow, and okay, maybe it didn’t hurt enough not to garner a semi-satisfied smirk from her.

He shifted so that he was right next to her on the mattress, which dipped under his weight caused her to slide into him. Her side was pushed snugly against his leg, and she could feel the bare skin of his calf against her ribs, the course hairs of his leg tickling her side. She took a deep steadying breath. Carefully, she swept her hair out of the way and rested her head on her arms, facing away from him, as he rifled through the bag for the lotion.

“It’s going to be a bit cold,” he said, and she could hear the splutter of the gel being squeezed into his hand.

“Cold is good. I feel like I’m on fire,” she muttered.

His touch was careful, hesitant, at first as he started at her shoulders, working the cooling gel in with little more than his finger-tips. She sighed at his first touch, as the cold gel numbed her burning skin. Then she could feel his entire hand spread between her shoulder blades and suddenly felt a whole new kind of heat. The motion of his hand stilled, and his fingers flexed, his hand encompassing much of her upper back. She had to bury her head in her arms to stifle a small moan.

“God, Tess, you’re so hot.”

She nearly stopped breathing. God, she really wished if this was going to be the moment something happened that she didn’t look like a fucking tomato and feel like she was dipped in fire. She swallowed hard and choked on her own spit. She started coughing and he quickly withdrew his hand.

“Uh…god…I mean…your skin…it is so hot…not that you’re not…I mean…” He stuttered.

She wanted to scream into the mattress, but instead turned her head to him, her face probably as red as her back and said, “No, um, of course not. I knew what you meant…it is hot…the skin I mean…because of the burn.”

“Um, should I keep putting this on? Is it helping?”

“Please,” was all she could say, longing for both his touch and relief from the pain of her burn.

He finished covering her back with the After Sun, his hands lingering on her lower back, above the hem of her shorts—where she knew for a fact that the burn was not bad, as it was mostly concentrated on her shoulders. She tried hard to control her breathing, counting her breaths, in and out to beats of four, while his fingers delicately traced over the dimples in her lower back. 

“Better?” he asked, finally.

She felt like she had to catch her breath in order to answer and it still came out a bit ragged. “Much, thanks Scott.”

She could see him reach for her shirt out of the corner of her eye. “Do you, um, want this now?”

She groaned at the thought of trying to wriggle into her athletic t-shirt, the fabric tight against her sensitive skin. “My clothes hurt me.”

“Oh, um, okay…um…you might get cold though…maybe…uh…” He stammered, and she had to stifle a laugh.

“Scott, I wasn’t planning on wearing nothing…but, uh, maybe something loose? Do you have an extra t-shirt?”

She turned her head towards him to see him nodding dumbly, staring at her, again, but not moving.

“Uh, Scott?”

“Yeah?”

“I may need you to get it for me…I’m a little…uh, yeah.”

“Oh, shit. Yeah, of course.” He quickly went to rifle through his bag and pulled out an old worn out Toronto Blue Jays t-shirt, one she remembered getting him years before when they went to a game together, when she lived in Toronto.

He handed it to her and turned around so his back was to her, which was when he spotted her bra haphazardly tossed on top of her duffle.

“Do you want this?”

She shook her head. “It’s evil.”

He laughed, but she noticed his shoulders stiffen, and his breathing quicken.

Once she was in his t-shirt, she sat next to him on the mattress and pulled the After-Bite out of the plastic bag. Now that the pain from her burn had subsided, and Scott’s hands and eyes were no longer on her naked back, the itching of her several dozen mosquito bites had moved to the forefront of her mind. Good god, she hated camping.

As she was trying to contort to get the worst bite on the back of her calf, she felt Scott’s hand over her own.

“Let me.” He said. “It’ll be easier.”

She nodded. She wasn’t sure having his hands all over her again was the best idea; wasn’t sure she could handle it. But she also didn’t want to say no. She desperately wanted his hands, anywhere, everywhere.

He motioned for her to put her legs up on his lap, so she did. As she was leaning back on the mattress on her elbow, with her legs across his, he took the little After Bite pen from her and began dabbing it on the angry red bumps blistering up along her legs.

“There are like a hundred.” She whined.

She hated camping. The sunburn, the bug bites, the rain. The tension.

 Being trapped in a tent with my best friend who I definitely want to have sex with, and who I am pretty sure feels the same, but refuses to make a move. Not to mention that even if he did, it would be ruined by the sunburn and to mosquito bites. Yeah, camping is a real treat.

“Doubt that, T,” he said with a smile. “I’ll count them.”

So, he did. As he dabbed each one of the little red bumps he counted out loud. She rested on her elbows, watching the softness in his expression. The way his brow furrowed in gentle concentration, lips parted slightly, the way the muscles in his face relaxed. She watched the small smile he sported each time he counted a new bite, and it was harder to handle than his hands all over her bare back. Fuck.

“Twenty-six.” He said, lightly dabbing a bite on her inner thigh.

And that was positively too much. She drew in a sharp breath and scrambled out of his lap. Sitting up on her knees.

“I think that’s all of them. How about we play a game or something? Since we can’t leave the tent.”

The air suddenly felt suffocatingly hot and she needed to do something to take her mind off him. Him caring for her, tenderly, his hands on her bare back, bare legs—burnt and mosquito bitten as they were.

“I brought a deck of cards.”  Scott offered, looking a little shocked, at the sudden removal of her legs from his, After Bite pen still in hand.

“How about poker?” she suggested.

“You just want a game you know you’ll win.”

“You’re just scared of losing, Moir.”

“We don’t have anything to bet,” he said a little too quietly, and she could tell something was turning in mind. And she was pretty sure she knew exactly where his thoughts had gone, by the distant, lustful look in his eyes.

“How about the marshmallows and chocolate?” She suggested quickly, trying to cut the obvious rise in tension.

They were a half hour into their game and Tessa was winning handily. The sun had set, and they had a lantern between them as they sat across from each on the slowly deflating air mattress. She was getting cold, she knew that her skin was prickled with goosebumps, and her chill was obvious through the thin cotton of his Jays t-shirt. She wanted to wrap herself up in her fluffy fleece blanket but knew that the obvious chill in the air was her advantage in this game. He was distracted, his gaze constantly flicking to her chest, and this made him painfully easy to read. She had won nearly every hand.

She had been steadily munching on her winnings, without really processing, because you can’t put sweets in front of Tessa Virtue and expect her not to eat them. But, she realized now that Scott had raised the bet and she was shockingly nearly out of Marshmallows, and completely out of little squares of dark chocolate.

“I think I accidently ate all my poker chips,” she laughed.

“Do you fold then, Virtch? Call the game?” he smirked.

“No!” she said, maybe a little louder than she meant to. If there was one thing Tessa hated, it was losing. “You know I won way more than you did…”

“But I haven’t been eating my winnings, T. You have nothing to prove you’ve beat me.”

She looked around the tent, then down at herself. “I will see your bet and raise you my shorts.”

“Tess.” He said, a hint of warning in his tone.

“Come on Scott, you hardly have any chips left…I’ve eaten most of mine…it’s time to up the ante.”

He cleared his throat, and looked down at his socks, and shorts and Canada hoodie—under which she knew he had on a t-shirt.

“T, maybe that isn’t a great idea…I, uh, I have way more clothes on…and it’s…um…it’s getting cold.”

“Come on Scott, you know I won’t lose.”

He swallowed hard and looked at his cards again, a small glint in his eye…and maybe her confidence was misplaced.

“Okay. I’ll allow it.”

They would never learn who won the hand (it was Scott), because the fire they had used to cook their dinner, the one they had thought the rain had put out suddenly roared to life. Like an explosion outside their tent, the wet wood crackled loudly under the heat of the flame and their entire campsite glowed orange.

“Shit!” Scott leapt up, dropping his cards and slamming his feet into his runners before opening the tent and rushing out.

Tessa took her blanket and wrapped it snugly around her before slipping into her shoes and joining him outside, careful to zip the tent all the way back up.

The rain had slowed to little more than a light drizzle, or maybe that was just the wind shaking water from the canopy above them. A gust of wind must have reignited the embers in the fire pit. Somehow the damp wood had caught spectacularly. Bright orange flames licked the blackened wood and popped, crackled and spit as the water evaporated, steam rising from the flames, carrying to orange glow upwards.

Tessa leaned into Scott’s side, his arm coming to wrap tightly around her, pulling her in close.

“It looks beautiful.” She said.

“It really does.” He kissed the top of her head.

 

Thursday

The door to the Moir’s has barely swung open when Tessa finds herself engulfed in a crushing hug. She breaths in the familiar scent of Alma—fresh laundry, Dial soap, and the light floral bouquet of the same perfume she’s worn since she and Scott were kids.

Finally, after what must have been a full minute still out on the stoop, Alma pulls away, holding both Tessa’s cheeks in her hands, looking into her eyes with tears in her own.

“I am so happy to have you in our family. You’ve always felt like my little girl, now you really are.” Alma pulls Tessa’s face in and plants a loud kiss on each of her cheeks. “We love you so much, Tess.”

“Thank you.” It’s all she can manage, looking into the eyes of her new mother-in-law. Wow. Mother-in-law. She feels like this should be some momentous moment, the first time seeing Scott’s family now that she actually belongs to it. But Alma is still the same. The same woman who has been a second mom to her since she was gap-toothed little girl; the woman who used to bandage up her scraped knees when she fell trying to keep up with the boys; who watched her without complaint anytime her parents worked late; who was her shoulder to cry on when her parents got divorced; who threw her a huge party to celebrate her getting into her masters and again for her PhD.

There is such affection in Alma’s gaze, and she can’t help but return it. This moment feels so right, so happy—perfect. This feels like it was always meant to be; she could never have married anyone else or belonged to any other family. She had been so nervous for their regular Thursday night family dinner at the Moir’s, but maybe, she thinks, her anxiety has been misplaced.

Until Alma turns to Scott and says, “I love this girl, and I’m thrilled she’s the one you decided to marry, I feel like I’ve always known it would be her, eventually. But that doesn’t make me less angry with you, Scotty.”

“Ma—“ he starts but is cut off.

“No. Scott, this isn’t how I raised you. Running off and eloping? Do you know how hurt I felt, still feel? Finding out from your brother that my youngest son, my baby, got married, in Las Vegas of all places, to a girl he swore to me a week-ago was nothing more than his lifelong best friend. Even though you share a damn bed most nights of the week. I’m not an idiot Scotty.” She looks to Tessa sympathetically. “You lied to me about your relationship, and then I didn’t even get to be there when you got married?”

Scott gapes at his mom, unsure of what to say, because nothing she has said is wrong, really. Tessa watches him shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other, wringing his hands. He is blessedly saved from having to respond, by a voice emanating from down the hall.

Tessa can hear the unmistakable voice of her own mother drifting in from the living room. “Oh, they’re here already?”

Alma, noting the way Tessa’s eyebrows raise at the sounds emanating from the living room, says: “Did you two really think you could get married and then avoid us all?”

“So, everybody is here?” Tessa asks, wanting to bang her head on a wall. It was bad enough thinking they’d have to face Alma and Joe, maybe Charlie and his wife.

“Oh yes. You didn’t actually think I’d wait for coffee next week, did you?” her mom says, entering the front hall.

Tessa looks at her mom, trying on her best I’m sorry I got married and didn’t tell you face. Which is a mix of a half-smile and her biggest sad puppy eyes.

“Scott, your dad and your brother are out back throwing some burgers on the grill, why don’t you see if they need a hand?” Alma says, looking to Scott.

Tessa looks at him, and she can tell he is about to say he’s sure they’re just fine without him, but then they both notice his mother’s pointed look.

Tessa grabs his hand and gives it two gentle squeezes, silently letting him know she’ll be fine to face their mothers alone, though really, she doesn’t want to leave his side. They’ve been on opposite schedules since waking up together in her bed (is it their bed now?) Tuesday morning. Right now, she wants nothing more than to feel the warmth of his presence beside her, to feel his hand rest comfortingly on the back of her neck, while he helps navigate explaining this all to their families—because she is still trying to understand it herself. But mostly, she just wants to get home and kiss him, fall into bed with him, and maybe stay there for the next week.

She knows their families and knows this can’t be avoided; he does too. He squeezes her hand back, an unspoken I love you—and that’s a new thing too, he says “I love you” at every opportunity, and since she blurted it out Monday, she’s wanted to so, so badly to say it over and over, but the words get stuck on the tip of her tongue. He kisses her on the cheek before nodding to his mom and heading through the kitchen for the back door.

He leaves her alone with the two women she has always looked up to most. They are staring at her as if they were about to perform brain surgery, wanting to open up her head and find out just what the fuck she was thinking, because surely the person who got drunk married in Vegas is not the hyper-rational Tessa they know and love. She’d love to know what she was thinking, too.

She suddenly feels very alone and very vulnerable.

Then her mom lets out a long sigh and pulls her into her arms.

“Come here baby girl.” She says, smoothing back Tessa’s hair, and suddenly she feels seven-years-old.

“Mom…”

“I can’t believe my baby is married.”

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

“Hey, if there were any boy you were going to run off and marry, I’m glad it was that one. Surprised it didn’t happen earlier, honestly.”

She lets out a little laugh and hugs her mom tighter.

“Are you happy, Tess?”

She nods. So very happy. She is still a little shocked, and they are still trying to figure things out, but she is happy. So fucking happy.

“That’s what matters.”

Her mom holds her tight, both arms wrapped entirely around her body, and she allows herself to relax into her mom’s embrace. Her anxiety eases, she doesn’t feel quite so bad about how everything happened, how their families found out.

Alma clears her throat, as Tessa steps out of her mother’s arms, and the three of them stand in silence for a moment.

“You owe us a ceremony,” her mother says finally, her face not betraying an emotion—which tells Tessa that despite being happy for her, she is disappointed.

“And in the future, I better not find out I’m getting a grandbaby from that Instant Gram,” Alma adds, oh so helpfully.

Tessa wants to bury her head in the potted plant by the door. It was silly to think she could just be wrapped up in warm comforting mom hugs and be happily married without having to actually talk about any of it.

“Did I hear grandbaby? Is there a grandbaby? Is that why you had to get hitched in Vegas?” Jordan, with her hair pinned up in a neat bun, wearing a white blouse and grey dress pants, and a trademark Jordan Virtue smirk, is leaning in the doorway from the living room.

Fuck.

“Did you leave work early just to come to dinner, Jo?”

“You know I can’t resist Alma’s cooking.”

“Bullshit.”

For the third time in the span of ten minutes, Tessa finds herself in the arms of one of the women who helped shape her. Her sister pulls her in one armed with a deep laugh. She’s been told that her and Jordan laugh the same, and she really hopes it’s true, because she loves hearing her sister laugh. Laughing along with her big sister has never ceased filling her up with bubbles of giddiness, that fizz from her abdomen all the way to her fingertips.

She hugs her sister back tightly with one arm, and then feels her own laugh bubble up out of her. “Hey, so I got married…to Scott.”

Jordan shakes her head at her baby sister and releases her, unable to keep her affectionate smile away.

“Yeah, silly, I saw.”

The four women move into the kitchen where Charlie’s wife, Nicole, is pouring wine into five glasses. She smiles at Tessa, handing her the glass with the largest portion.

“Figured you might want this. Welcome to the family.” Nicole holds up her own glass for a little cheers followed by a nod of solidarity between women married into the crazy, big, loving Moir family.

Tessa is about to take a very welcome sip of her wine when Jordan grabs her hand, effectively stopping her.

“Jo, I’m not actually pregnant. No grandbabies here…” She tries to pry her hand away so she can drink her wine.

“The ring! I need to see the ring!” Jordan takes the glass out of her left hand so that she can examine the ring that has taken surprisingly little time to get used to.

“Tess, this is beautiful. Wow. Did you pick this yourself, did Scott pick it? You got in in Vegas? How much did it cost?” 

Tessa shrugs, and looks down at her hand, cheeks pinking a bit. “I don’t really know. I don’t remember. I’m pretty positive Scott picked it. The second I saw it, I knew—it had him written all over it. Sometimes he knows what I want before I do.”

“So, no wedding band? Does Scott have a ring too?” Jordan presses. Of course.

“Just this one. I’m thinking of getting him a band, if he wants one. Maybe tungsten? It doesn’t bend or scratch like gold but can be broken unlike titanium, and maybe a silicone one for work. He said that’s what some of the other married guys have.”

“So, you know for sure you’re married? Not just engaged?” Leave it to Jordan, the lawyer, to ask all the pressing questions.

“Pretty sure, Jo.”

She doesn’t want to explain that she just knew the moment she saw the ring. Because she knows them, knows how they work. Knows how their feelings can never be repressed when they drink. And she knows how she felt this overwhelming certainty that that was exactly what had happened. They won’t understand.

“We found a receipt in his pants for the wedding chapel. That seemed like a pretty sure thing.”

Jordan looks at her questioningly, eyebrows creeping to her hairline.

“Yeah, yeah…We also went to the chapel, before we left…to see if we could get a copy of the marriage license, or certificate or whatever it is.”

It had been Scott’s idea, to go to the chapel. After they talked and made-out on top of the hotel bed covers like horny teenagers, he had paused and looked at her like he was trying to piece together a puzzle.

“We should have a paper or something, shouldn’t we? Like a license.”

“Oh,” she said, lips swollen and red, not really ready to be done with the kissing. “Yeah. I guess so. I didn’t see anything though.”

“If I paid for a wedding, I want to have the proper paperwork,” he said with a laugh. “We should go to the chapel…and as much as I don’t want to end this, maybe we should get out of the room and spend our last day exploring a bit. Cram a whole honeymoon into an afternoon?”

She laughed and shifted onto her side, shimmying closer on the mattress so that their bodies were entirely pressed together.

 “Hmm, I always thought that you were supposed to spend your whole honeymoon in the hotel room.”

“That. Sounds. Tempting,” he said, punctuating each word with a kiss, “but we should go to the chapel. You know, investigate. Maybe it will bring back memories or something? At the very least we should go talk to someone there, see about getting a copy of whatever official paperwork we should have.”

“Mm, you’re turning into Officer Moir on me right now.”

He chuckled against her lips. “You know you can’t resist the charms of Officer Moir.”

“Too bad you don’t have your uniform here.”

It was another forty minutes before they were ready to head out, and though the chapel filled in a bit of their night, they did not leave with the paper they had intended to get. The receptionist, a woman in her fifties who was wearing the dress equivalent of a Hawaiian shirt, bold (gaudy) costume jewelry, and permed hair, died an unnatural shade of red, recognized them right away.

“It’s the childhood sweethearts! Tessa! Scott!” she yelled. “Not regretting it already?”

“No. No. We just, um, must have misplaced our marriage license. And were wondering if we could get a copy,” Scott said, taking Tessa’s hand in his, holding it tightly, bringing their clasped hands to his heart, reassuring himself she was there.

“Oh, thank heavens,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve come across a pair who looked more in love—I’d be so upset if you kids didn’t work out. You know, we don’t always agree to the spur of the moment weddings here, but you two, you’re different. And as soon as you said y’all have known each other since you were just little things…well it was just meant to be, yeah?” She put her hand over her heart and talked about them as if they were characters in a movie. “But I’m sorry to break it to you kids, the minister is doing back to back ceremonies today and I don’t have access to that, but if y’all want to leave contact info I can get him to call you. But it needs to be filed and then you should be able to order a copy.”

 

Tessa doesn’t feel the need to regale her sister with all the details, doesn’t get much of a chance to before Scott comes in, his niece clinging to his back, arms wrapped tightly around his neck, to tell them the burgers are done and it’s time to eat.

“Hey, sweetie, I don’t think Aunt Tess will be impressed if you strangle Uncle Scott before they’ve even been married a week,” Nicole says, shaking her head with a smirk and taking a large sip of her wine. “Why don’t you go help grandma set the table?”

Scott crouches down so the little girl can hop off his back and run full tilt into Alma, who scoops her up and asks her if she thinks she can handle putting out the cutlery. Kate grabs the salad off the counter and follows Alma and Quinn into the dining room.

Scott approaches, her where she is standing between Jordan and Nicole, a stupid grin on his face, eyebrows raised to his hairline, and plants a wet kiss on her lips, causing her to tense, blush, and look down at her feet.

“Relax, babe,” he whispers in her ear, wrapping a hand around the back of her neck and squeezing reassuringly. “We’re married. I can kiss you whenever I want, and no one can say anything about it.”

“You two are disgusting. Adorable, but gross,” Jordan says, taking her still-full glass of wine and a stack of napkins, and heading into the dining room behind her mother, Alma, and Quinn.

Scott spins her around, so he is standing behind her, wrapping her up in his arms, and leaning down to rest his chin on her shoulder. “I missed you.”

“God, your brothers said you guys would be that couple…and they were right. I will give you the room.” Nicole shakes her head but her voice is filled with a gentle affection. She adds a bit more wine to her glass before leaving them in the kitchen.

They hear her on her way to the dining room, her tone now in full mom mode, “Quinn, get your brothers and go wash your hands before we eat.”

 

Dinner is as exactly as she expected. Their families are obviously not content to let them forget their drunken idiocy, or to drop the subject of how long they have been together and supposedly lying to everyone.

“I knew you guys weren’t that oblivious.” Charlie says, wiping mustard off his chin, with a napkin. “I mean, we all knew you were in love years ago…we just couldn’t believe you guys hadn’t figured it out.”

Scott looks at her, red-cheeked, and squeezes her knee under the table. It’s not that they didn’t know, per se, it’s that they were both too afraid to do something about it.

“So,” Jordan says, tone serious, as she serves herself some cucumber and tomato salad, “how long has it been…you know when did you guys first…well, you know?”

“Well, Scotty started spending the night…what a year and a half ago?” Alma looks from Tessa to Scott and then over to Jordan, with a smile.

“Fourteen months ago…but…but…it wasn’t like that…we weren’t…” Scott mumbles.

Beside him Tessa casts him a sideways glare that she knows is obvious, but he is not helping. She can feel his grip tighten on her leg. Maybe their obvious discomfort was okay, though. Because who would believe the truth? Platonic bed sharing? Is that a thing? How many other fully-grown adults sleep together regularly, but never sleep together? Particularly with friend who you’ve been watching check you out for months? Who you’ve been maybe, kind of trying to seduce? Who gets married to their best friend when you’ve never even gone there before? No, this is all their particular brand of bullshit. And she knows that no one is going to buy it. She barely buys it and it is her damn life.

“So, summer last year?” Jordan casually takes a bite of her salad.

Tessa shrugs, neither confirming, nor denying.

“God dammit,” Charlie huffs, “Dan was closest, wasn’t he? He said last summer.”

Jordan takes a long sip of her wine and nods, solemnly, “He’s going to be such an asshole about it.”

Nicole glares at both her husband and Jordan, “You two, watch your language! The last thing I need is call from preschool about the boys swearing again. But you can always just tell Danny he is wrong, yeah? Not like he’s here. Who’s next closest?”

“I was so sure it was as soon as Tess moved back from Toronto. But apparently, I don’t know anything. Or my sister at all…because I always thought she’d tell me as soon as she finally hooked up with Scotty boy.” Jordan looks at Tessa, and despite her joking tone a genuine look of hurt passes across her face. Tessa has always told Jordan everything.

“I knew as soon as Tess agreed to go camping. My girl would not go camping unless she was in love.” Her mom says.

Scott looks to her then, his hand stilling where it had been gently rubbing above her knee. He tilts his head to the side and blinks, he looks open and vulnerable. He takes a deep breath and it’s as if he is asking her is that true?

She nods and hopes he understands. She thinks he does. He smiles and crinkles his nose. And she can see his eyes glistening a bit.

“She refuses to go back with me though, so I don’t know if it’s true love.” He says, winking at her. And that’s just like Scott, trying to lighten things with a joke.

“Scott. It was awful. I got a sunburn, like seventy mosquito bites, and we got rained out…all of our clothes were damp.”

He laughs and shakes his head back and forth, but it is full of love. “Tess, babe, if you had let me put more sunscreen on your back like I wanted to, then you wouldn’t have gotten burnt. And it was twenty-six bites, remember I counted when I was putting the After-Bite on them. Also, if you hadn’t left the duffle-bag pushed up against the side of the tent your clothes would have stayed dry. Lastly, I am pretty sure you thoroughly enjoyed being trapped in the tent, kicking my ass at cards. Also, you kicked ass on that hike. Fifteen K, on rocky terrain, and you rocked it, kiddo.”

She wants to retort, but she can’t. She can’t find the words, because everything he just said is true. And he is smiling at her, with that alarmingly disarming Moir smile, his eyes wrinkling at the corners, and she can’t help but smile back at him, and she is pretty sure she actually batted her goddamn eyelashes. Finally, she breaks eye contact and looks at the members of their families who have come to dinner.

She doesn’t miss Jordan’s near eye roll, or how their moms are looking at them like they are about to cry, and Charlie looks like he is about to laugh, and Joe who has been particularly silent this whole time is looking at them with a goofy grin that says he is no longer worried about the state of his son’s love life. And suddenly something clicks, and she realizes exactly how they look and sound to everyone else. And no fucking wonder no one believes them. And no wonder being married to Scott feels so natural, because damn they are so married. And have been for years. How could they have been so stupid? How did she not realize this before? They really are that couple, the ones who are so stupidly in love it is sickening. Well, this is news to her—even though it clearly is not to anyone else.

“So...the camping trip, then?” Charlie says.

Scott looks at her, and she can only shrug. Seems as good a time as any. It was after that trip that Scott went from just visiting her almost every day with food, and coffee, and his company, while occasionally falling asleep on her couch after a long work day, to actually spending the night on a regular basis—on purpose. To her saying just sleep in my bed because really, how was that different from the close proximity in the tent? And if she handled huddling up to him for warmth on a leaky air mattress, during a storm, she could handle having him in her bed. It was after that trip she suggested he bring some spare clothes over, so he wouldn’t have to trek back to his parents in the morning. But they’d been doing their weird dance for far longer than that. Jordan was right, in a way. Something changed as soon as she moved back from Toronto. Maybe even just before that.

“Yeah, the camping trip.” Scott says, refusing to make eye contact with his brother.

And for a little while the conversation is dropped. Their families, at least for the time being, are satisfied with knowing how long they’ve been together—even if it isn’t true. For a short time they are allowed to eat their meal, and conversation falls to work and school. Quinn excitedly chats about what teacher she has this year, and which friends are in her class. She is talking so animatedly that she accidently smacks her brother in the face while explaining how she’d jumped off the swing at school and made it all the way to the grass outside the gravel surround.

Scott is rubbing her thigh, absentmindedly, and she leans into him, whispering low in his ear, her lips barely moving—a party trick they’d learned as kids, trying to keep secrets from nosey older siblings.

“I know I said I’d never go back, but I’m sure you could convince me to go camping again. I feel like there were a few things we didn’t take advantage of last time.”

She kisses him on the cheek and pulls away with a small smirk. He is smiling brightly, hopefully, at her. But at the same time his eyes are filled with a look that is deliciously new, filled with a longing for something they’ve only just discovered.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he huffs out, right into the shell of her ear. “How much longer before we can leave?”

His hand is slowly traveling up the inside of her leg, and she carefully picks up her wine glass, holding it in front of her mouth in an attempt to hide the sigh she can’t help but let escape her lips. Fuck. Fuckity. Fuck. Fuck. Two days. How does only two days feel like an eternity?

Scott.” She grits out in warning, looking around the table before taking a small sip of wine.

His hand has stopped its progress upwards, but he has started rubbing gentle circles with just the tip of his index finger against the bare skin of her mid-thigh, where it is exposed by a rip in her jeans. He slips his finger under the frayed material and wriggles it closer to the inside of her leg.

She sucks in a sharp breath, causing her wine to slosh down her pale pink blouse.

“Fuck.”

The entire table turns to look at her and she can feel the heat rising to her already flushed face. She knows she’s turned an unflattering shade of vermillion, and all she can do is look dumbstruck at all the familiar eyes now trained on her. Scott quickly withdraws his hand from her leg, and she feels a chill from lack of contact.

Scott grabs a handful of napkins and starts blotting the stain just above her left breast, wiping downward and grazing her nipple and it is too much. She knows she is completely flushed, red from her chest up, and all nine people seated at the table are staring at her and Scott—who seems completely oblivious to the fact that he is touching her in a way that is going to cause a very embarrassing reaction in about five seconds if he doesn’t stop immediately.

Thank god for Alma, who clears her throat, causing Scott to still his hand on her chest and look up.

“Scotty, dear, why don’t you take Tessa upstairs to get her a t-shirt? That way I can get some stain remover on that beautiful top before it’s ruined.”

 

As soon as the door to Scott’s room has closed his hands are on her, helping her unbutton her top. Once the top two buttons are open his mouth is on her collarbone, teeth running along the ridge of the bone under her skin, as his hands work deftly at undoing the rest of the buttons.

“Scott.” she moans. She means it to sound stern and warning but her head lulls back in pleasure as he sucks a mark into the sensitive skin where neck meets shoulder. She can feel the sharp prickle of small vessels breaking.

“Tess.” He breathes in reply, kissing up the length of her neck as he pushes the blouse down her arms, letting it drop in a heap at their feet. 

Finally, his lips meet hers and she is lost. Her hands come up to tangle in his hair, tugging gently. He pulls at her hips, bringing her into him, so they are pressed together completely. Then he runs his hands up her slowly, starting from her hips in towards her spine and then following the curve of her back up to the bottom edge of her bra where they begin to work at the clasp.

She pulls her lips away from his, breathlessly. “Scott, we should wait, until we get home.”

His hands still, and he looks right into her eyes, and she realizes what she said. Home. Singular, together, their home. They haven’t talked about this. They are married, and they haven’t even talked about whether or not he is going to actually move in with her. They really are a special kind of stupid, sometimes.

Before she can over think it, she smiles softly at him, tilting her head a bit to the side and brushing a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Scott, do you want to move in with me?” It comes out in a half laugh, because really asking your husband to move in with you would seem ridiculous if it were anyone but them.

“Fuck. Yes. Of course. Of course, Tess.” He pulls her into a crushing kiss.

Her bra is undone but held on by his chest, which pushed up against hers. His hands travelling up and down the completely bare expanse of her back. There is a light knock on the door, and then the creak of the hinges as it is slowly pushed open.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Guys! I’m sorry. Fuck.”

Scott wraps his arms protectively around her, as if they could cover her completely bare back, which is turned to the door. He looks up over her shoulder at the intruder.

“Charlie, what the fuck man?”

All Tessa can do is bury her head in Scott’s chest until she hears the door click shut again.

“Fuck me,” she hears Charlie mutter from the other side of the door.

Tessa quickly moves away from Scott, and does up her bra while he rummages through the middle drawer in his dresser for a t-shirt.

“Look guys I’m sorry,” Charlie starts from out in the hall. “But seriously, with everyone downstairs? Goddammit, you aren’t teenagers.”

“It’s my room, Charlie,” Scott yells, helping her into the Blue Jays t-shirt he grabbed.

“You should be glad I didn’t send one of my kids up. Mom said dessert is ready, and she wants to get Tessa’s shirt in the wash right away before the stain sets.”

Tessa tries to ignore the burning in her cheeks, embarrassment at having been caught out like teenagers. She looks down at the t-shirt she has on, smoothing it out, and then smiles to herself.

“This is the same one I wore camping.”

“I know.” Scott says, pulling her back to him, thumbing the collar of the shirt. “It looks better on you.”

“It’ll look better off of me,” the words come out of her mouth before she fully processes what she is saying, and he practically growls.

He pulls her in roughly, hands gripping her ass. He kisses her again, long and deep, and as he does his thigh slips between her legs, and she moans into his mouth.

Charlie clears his throat from outside in the hall, where he is evidently still standing—waiting for them.

Fuck off.

Tessa picks up her wine stained shirt and starts for the door, looking back at Scott expectantly. He’s still standing by the dresser. He shifts uncomfortably.

“I’m gonna need a minute,” he says. 

 

Tessa goes down the stairs without him, following Charlie, her cheeks still flushed red. She wonders if her face will ever return to its normal shade of pale when around their families, or if it will forever be various shades of rouge. From the dining room she hears a voice that sounds surprisingly like Charlie’s, or Scott’s. When she rounds the corner with Charlie, she sees Alma holding up her iPad to the room, Danny’s face coming in slightly pixelated over FaceTime.

“So, there’s my new sister-in-law!” Danny yells through the screen as soon as she comes into view. “And where might your new husband be?” He raises his eyebrows; the same way Scott does.

“He had a situation,” Charlie says with a wink at his brother’s floating head.

Danny’s image freezes for a second, and then when he comes back to life he is cackling. Everyone, every single eye, in the room turns to Tessa, who has gone from slightly flushed to Santa’s suit in a matter of seconds. She puts her hands to her face and her cheeks are burning, the heat of them warming her fingers.

“What situation, Aunt T?” Quinn’s little voice drifts through her uncle’s laughter.

“Uh…” she starts, catching Nicole’s eye, who gives her a sympathetic nod.

“It’s just a grownup thing sweetie, and Daddy and Uncle Danny are making a joke.”

Tessa awkwardly makes her way to Alma, handing her the stained shirt, and giving FaceTime Danny a smile wave and a little hello. By the time she has made it back to her chair, Scott has rejoined the table. His hair still a little mussed from where she had run her hands through it, tugging lightly at the roots, and his face is still flushed, matching her own perfectly.

“Can’t keep your hands off your wife, I hear. Acting like goddamn teenagers.” Danny says, as Scott sits down.

Scott just shrugs, and mercifully no one says anything else.

They eat dessert, while passing Danny on the iPad around the table. After a few bites, Scott pushes away his plate of apple pie and looks to her, to make sure she is on the same page. She nods.

“I think it’s time we head out.” He says.

“No.” It’s Joe who moves to stop them. “You two always stay for a game on Thursdays.”

“Yes, it’s tradition,” says Alma, looking to Kate with a hint of a smirk.

“Monopoly!” Danny calls, from within the iPad. “Tess and Scotty always used to love Monopoly!”

“That takes forever,” Scott grumbles.

But Quinn is already chanting a chorus of Monopoly and the rest of the adults are nodding, grinning a little conspiratorially at Tessa and Scott. They have no choice.

As the game progresses, slowly, it becomes painfully obvious that their desire to leave has been painfully obvious and their families are planning on drawing out this game as long as they can. An excruciatingly painful punishment for getting married without telling them, and for sneaking upstairs and making-out like a couple of kids.

Charlie moves his race car up four spaces, and pays Alma her tax, before turning back to Scott.

“Vegas Scotty, though? Really? For our girl, Tess? She deserves romance, not an Elvis impersonator officiating her wedding.”

Scott rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably and looks determinedly at his cards, refusing eye contact.

“Yeah, I know,” he says, quietly.

She can hear the apology in his voice, and it brings back memories from Sunday, him repeating over and over that he is sorry, that she deserves more, and she won’t have that.

“Hey,” she starts, looking to Scott urging him to look up at her. “The chapel was actually really cute. And it was romantic. At least what I remember about the day. Scott, I swear, found a list of every romantic thing to do in Las Vegas. We went to a botanic garden, and on a gondola ride, and out for dinner in the Eiffel tower. It was an amazing day.” She looks to Charlie now, “Your brother is quite the romantic.”

Scott smiles at her and squeezed her hand under the table. “You remembered?”

“Of course, it was the best date I’ve ever had. You wooed me, Scott Moir. I should have told you earlier.” She smiles at him, bright and genuine, and he is smiling back at her with his goofy boyish grin.

“You two really are disgusting,” Jordan says, laughing from across the table.

Scott sticks his tongue out at her, and then turns to Tessa and leans in close.

“I love you. I’ve told you that, right?” he says softly into her hair.

“I love you, too,” she says to him, for the third time in her life. It comes out in a whisper, just for him.

They haven’t noticed that Alma has rolled and moved her little silver dog to chance. She clears her throat and their attention is drawn outward, away from each other.

Alma picks up her chance card and reads it aloud, looking directly at Scott, “Send an opponent straight to jail, do not pass go.” 

Scott bites his lip, and twists his hands together and tries, she can tell he really tries, not to say anything. But it’s nearly ten o’clock, and they are tired, and it has been two days. Two lost days after, after two years (honestly probably over ten years) of not realizing what they were missing out on with each other. Two fucking days. Two days that have felt like an eternity, and she’s been riled up since he ran the back of his hand up her thigh at the dinner table, and she knows he has been too. 

He throws all his money down in the center of the board, “Fuck it. We’re out. We are going home. We are adults and we are married and we are going to go home and do married adult things!”

He grabs Tessa’s hand, pulling her up from her seat and into him. He kisses her once, unabashedly on the lips and then says, “I am taking my wife home.”

She can feel her heart flutter, and heat build low in her abdomen.

She has never been in more of a hurry to get home.

Chapter Text

Eighteen years ago

Tessa was very good at jumping rope. For the past few years they had had a Jump Rope for Heart event at school, and every year she had gotten a new red skipping rope with white plastic handles. This year, she raised enough to get two long beaded ropes, for double Dutch, a frisbee and a t-shirt.

She could do fifty-two consecutive double-unders, twenty-five cross overs, a round-off into double Dutch, and her double Dutch record at double speed was thirty-four. She also skipped grade six, and apparently jump rope was not as cool when you were in grade seven as it was when you were in grade five. She didn’t care though. Because she was good at it, and she loved it, and she really, really wanted to try out her new ropes.

She usually skipped with some of the grade six girls, girls who she was mostly friends with last year in grade five, but at recess when she pulled out her new red and white beaded ropes, one of the grade sevens from Tessa’s class, Ashley, asked if she could join in.

Tessa let Ashley jump first, and she and her friend Lizzie quickly found a rhythm with the ropes. Click, clack. She loved the sound the hard plastic beads made as they hit the tarmac.

Ashley was pretty good, she made it nineteen jumps before her ankle caught on one of the ropes, and then it was Lizzie’s turn.

When it was Tessa’s turn, she knew she was showing off just a bit—but Ashley was older and one of the cooler girls in Tessa’s class, so she wanted to impress her.

“You’re friends with Scott, aren’t you?” Ashley asked, as Tessa waited for her and Lizzie to find a proper rhythm with the ropes.

“Yeah, he’s my best friend,” Tessa said, looking over to the soccer field where she knew Scott was hanging out with his friends.

He had just started at the same school as her this year, having transferred because her school in London had a hockey team and was a feeder school for the high school they would both go to, one with the best hockey team in the region. His school in Ilderton had been too small for a team. They made eye contact for a second, but Scott quickly looked away and went back to talking to his friends.

“Oh, that’s cool, I guess,” was all Ashley said.

Tessa shrugged and took a running start at the ropes before springing into a round-off, small stones from the loose tarmac digging into her hands. She landed right in the middle of the ropes in perfect time to jump as the first rope came under her feet.

She was ten jumps in when suddenly one of the ropes was pulled tight, catching on her ankle when she tried to jump over it. The force tripped her up and she fell forward, hard on her bare hands and knees.

Her right knee hit a particular rough patch of the old tarmac where it was mostly just loose stones, and she could feel the warm trickle of blood running down her leg. On her left palm, she felt the sting of a sharp piece of rock embedded into her skin.

Before she even had a chance to pick herself off the ground, she felt a familiar hand on her back.

“T, are you okay?” Scott asked, kneeling beside her.

She could feel the start of tears begin to sting her eyes and tried to blink them away.

She nodded.

One hand still rubbing her back, Scott turned his body to Ashley and yelled, “What the hell was that?”

The thing was, Scott was small for his age, not much taller than Tessa, who was really just average height for a grade six, and kind of on the smaller end in her grade seven classroom. So, if you didn’t know him, the booming projection of his voice could be a little bit surprising. Out of the corner of her eye, Tessa could see Ashley flinch.

“You hurt her!” Scott continued, gently lifting Tessa’s left hand and examining it, carefully moving the rock out and revealing a small gash underneath.

“It was an accident!” Ashley started, “I didn’t mean for her to fall and get hurt.”

“So, you just wanted her to trip so she didn’t look better than you? I saw you pull the rope on purpose.”

Scott’s face was getting red, and his breathing was loud and heavy. Tessa could tell he was trying really hard not to go right up to Ashley and hit her, even though she was a girl and at least the same size as Scott, if not bigger.

“Scott,” she said, biting her lip because she’d moved a bit and felt a cut on her knee ripping open, “it’s okay.”

Scott shook his head as he wrapped an arm around her and helped her up to her feet. They both looked at her knees, which were entirely skinned. The left was red and raw, the right was filled with tiny little stones, and blood was running down her shin.

“No, it’s not, Tutu.” He was speaking through gritted his teeth. “You’re hurt!”

“It was an accident.” Tessa looked at Ashley when she spoke and watched as the older girl looked down at her feet. “But I’ll take my ropes back now, please.”

Tessa held out her hand, and Ashley handed her the handles she had been holding, before retreating to find her own friends.

Scott wrapped an arm around her protectively, leaning his head in close to hers.

“I saw her pull the rope, T.”

“I know, but it’s okay. I’m okay.” I don’t want her to hate me.

Scott pulled her into his arms. “I hate seeing you hurt.”

He walked with his arm around her, supporting her, into the school. They walked slowly to the office to get some Band-Aids for her bloody knees.

On the way, Scott kissed her temple. It was the first time he’d done it.

 

Nine years ago

Tessa poured out three shots of rum into three glasses of ice and grabbed the soda gun. She added coke, filling them to the top, before finally adding a slice of lime to the rim of each glass. She slid all three over the bar to where Scott and his buddies were waiting.

“That’ll be nine bucks,” she said to Scott.

“Not going to give them too me on the house?” He gave her a little wink.

She shook her head at him, playfully. “Nine dollars Moir, cough it up.”

He took out a crumpled ten from his wallet and handed it over. “Keep the change.”

She shook her head and rolled her eyes, “How generous.”

Matty, one of his old high school pals, took his drink and handed the other to Adam, from hockey.

Matty looked at Scott and nodded towards a booth in the corner. “We’re going to be over there, once you’ve finished flirting with your girlfriend.”

Tessa blushed; it had been a little over a year since Scott drunkenly confessed that he loved her, and they’d subsequently ignored it. Scott awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck, which she could tell was turning red. He had broken up with Jessica six months ago, and since he moved back to Canada for school—after he broke his hand in a bar fight and couldn’t play hockey anymore—they had started to get really close again. Close like they hadn’t been since before she fucked everything up by telling him she was in love with him, aged seventeen.

No one understood their relationship, and because they were still getting back to normal, any mention of romance between them made things awkward.

“When are you done?” Scott asked.

“I work close tonight,” she pouted. “So, I probably won’t be done until two thirty or three.”

“Want me to drive you home?”

“Scott.” she said, nodding to the drink in his hand.

“I’m just having this one, maybe I’ll nurse a beer after.”

“Scott, it’s only eleven now, I don’t want you to wait around for me all night, I’ll just call a cab.”

“No way Tess.” His eyebrows had shot up and he was shaking his head. “It’s not a big deal, really. I am sure the guys and I will be fine until you close up, and then I will make sure they get home and swing back to get you.”

“Scott,” she tried to protest, even though she knew it was useless.

“Tess, I am not letting you cab home alone, at 3:00am.”

“Paxton, from the kitchen, lives kind of close to me; we can split a cab if he’s still here.”

“No way Tess, I’ve seen the way those guys look at you.”

“Paxton is nice. He brought me a flower the other morning, when I worked opening. Because he knows I hate mornings.”

That was when Scott’s jaw clenched, and he drew in a sharp breath through his nose.

“Tess, he only wants one thing. He shouldn’t know where you live. I’m picking you up…I want to make sure you’re safe.”

She rolled her eyes at him but couldn’t help but watch the muscles in his jaw work, like he was chewing on a piece of imaginary gum. She saw his eyes widen at the same time that she felt a hand come to rest on her lower back.

“Tess, is this your boyfriend?”

She turned her head slightly to look at Dave, the bar manager. This was only her second shift behind the bar. She had started working here as a waitress when she turned eighteen, but as of last week the place had been short a bartender and Tessa was there, so here she was. She had never really dealt directly with Dave before, but he was always around when she worked, and she knew him. That didn’t stop him from making her feel a bit nervous.

He was standing a bit too close and gripping her hip while staring at Scott.

“Her friend, sir. I was just letting her know I will pick her up when she’s done with work.” Scott was trying to sound polite, but the muscles along his jaw were tightening even more.

Dave was in his thirties, and she knew he was married, and she knew he meant well but he was super touchy, and a little too friendly with the girls working the floor and the bar. But that’s just who he was.

“You know, Tess,” Dave started, “if you ever need a ride after work just let me know.”

Scott swallowed, and looked Dave straight in the eye, “Thanks for the offer, but I’ve got her covered.”

Dave gave Tessa a pat on the shoulder and swiped a piece of hair off her cheek before retreating, heading towards his office.

“Don’t let this boy distract you, eh,” he said as he lifted the opening of the bar and stepped out.

Once Dave was out of earshot, Scott looked at her, taking a long sip from his drink.

“I don’t like that guy, he’s like thirty-five…you are definitely never getting a ride home with him.”

 

Three and a half hours later, and Tessa was finally done. She had stacked all the bar stools, wiped down all the surfaces of the bar and cashed out. She was dead on her feet and reeked of beer. She had just stepped outside and was about to text Scott that she was done when she spotted his old truck pulling up in front of her. She pocketed her phone and headed to the passenger door.

When she got in, she was greeted by a familiar smell. She looked down to see two Tim Horton’s cups resting in the cup holders.

“I got your favourite,” Scott said, sheepishly, handing her one of the paper cups.

She popped the flap of the brown plastic lid open and breathed in, letting the warmth of it fill her up.

“Coffee and hot chocolate?”

“Yeah, but I went with mostly hot chocolate, and decaf because it’s late.” He smiled, starting the truck and pulling away from the bar.

She took a sip of her hot chocolate, and it made her feel slightly less bone weary.

“So, is this going to be a thing?” she asked, mouth just above the lip of her cup, which she had wrapped both her hands around.

“What?”

“You insisting on driving me home after work?”

“I just want to know you’re okay, Tess.”

She wanted to roll her eyes; he knew she was fully capable of taking care of herself, but the tenderness in his voice made her stop.

“And you’re willing to wait up until,” she looked at the clock, “2:45am for me to be done?”

“Always.”

“Okay.”

“What?” he said, sounding surprised.

“I work next Thursday night, I’m done at one.”

 

Two weeks after

The guy is persistent.

She is standing behind the bar slicing lemons and limes and putting them into the little plastic cups next to the soda gun. She needs to get it done before the bar picks up when the first rush of students come in an hour or so. It’s nine thirty and she’s already had a steady flow of customers, which is making the task near impossible and this guy is not helping.  

She thinks he said his name was Abdul—but in her head she is calling him Stumpy, because one of his fingers is inexplicably shorter than the rest. He has been standing at her corner of the bar for ten minutes, long since she had given him his drink and he’d paid. She is simultaneously trying to ignore him, prep fruit for the rush, and keep her eye out for anyone else looking for a drink.

“You have beautiful eyes,” Stumpy says, curling his tongue around the straw in his drink, but he isn’t looking at her eyes; his gaze is about a foot lower.

She internally cringes and has to stop herself from rolling her eyes directly at him. Still focusing on her lemons and limes, she hums.

“Well, they work, so, I like them,” she says, refusing to look at him.

“So, do you go to Western, too?”

She wants to laugh, because though she knows she looks younger than her age, with her minimal makeup and her hair in a loose braid, she is nearly thirty and definitely doesn’t look like an undergrad anymore. And this guy looks all of twenty-five, tops. And he really doesn’t seem to be getting it.

“I teach and do research there, yeah,” is what she decides on.

“Oh, I can totally see the hot professor vibe,” he says with a grin and raises eyebrows.

Oh, for fuck sakes. Is this guy for real?

“I’ve always had a thing for teachers, but you’re all a little bit tense,” he continues. “Gimme your number and I can show you how to unwind.”

She really just wants to hit this kid, but it’s her job to keep the customers happy—as long as they are just a little gross. She looks around to find Matt, the bouncer, making sure he is close by.

“Sorry,” she starts, with a forced kindness he does not deserve, “but I’m already taken.”

“Oh, come on, you all say that.”

She is saved from having to answer that question by the sound of the printer next to the till. Blessedly, she gets to walk away and check the chit in the machine. Meghan, one of the new waitresses, needs a Guinness for table twelve. She grabs a glass and heads over to the tap, but he is still there. Fuck off.

And fuck, Guinness is a slow pour, and a new keg. She has to start it, wait for the head to recede, and start again. She tries to ignore his leer while she holds the glass, tilted, under the tap. Out of the corner of her eye, she can actually fucking see his eyes rake over her body, stopping at her ass. She wants to turn and call him out but hopes ignoring him will be enough.

“C’mon, baby,” he says, “stop playing coy, I know you wanna give me your number.”

She bites her bottom lip, hard, and draws in a deep breath, willing herself not to yell. Then she hears something being placed on the bar with a bit too much force.

She turns off the tap and looks up.

Scott.

He looks from her to Mr. Not Taking A Fucking Hint, and says, “Is there a problem here?”

He’s in his uniform—his black short sleeved button down, with the London Police badge stitched to the sleeve, pressed and tucked neatly into his black pants with the thin red stripe down the side. Looking at whatever his name is, Scott shifts his hands so that his thumbs are hooked in his belt. His right hand comes to rest unnecessarily close to where his gun is holstered. His hand is tense, and she follows the bulging veins up his arm with her gaze, watching how his muscles twitch and flex.

He widens his stance and puffs his chest out a little, and her eyes travel to the small silver tag above the pocket of his shirt that reads S. Moir. She looks from his chest up to his face, which is a picture of soft concern, not at all matching his protective stance. He raises his eyebrows at her as if to ask are you alright, babe? and she almost forgets all about what’s his name, who’s still leering at her from the other side of the bar. The only thing she can think is that’s my husband, he’s mine. I get to go home to this. Suddenly, her lips feel dry. She licks them.

“Sweetie, you alright?” Scott asks, gently, and she realizes she’s been staring at him for a few beats too long.

She swallows hard, and nods.

“Hey man,” Stumpy says, “we’re cool here. She was just giving me a hard time about getting her number, making me work for it, eh, sweetie.” He winks at her and then looks to Scott. “You know how it is.”

That’s when she sees the telltale line emerge in Scott’s jaw and she could swear she hears his teeth grind together. The man had an impressively cut jawline, but damn, if it isn’t accentuated more when he is angry or upset.

“No I don’t know.”

With his jaw still clenched and the muscles in his arms twitching as he closes his fist, Scott takes a deep, steadying breath. She watches the wheels turn in his mind as he contemplates what his next move should be. He turns to her then, and everything softens. He breathes out, takes her in with his eyes, studying her to make sure she is fine, and she really wants to jump over the bar and wrap her arms around him. She loves him so fucking much.

He smiles at her.

His decision is to ignore the other guy; he’s really grown up so much. He slides a Tim Horton’s cup across the bar to her.

“I had a few minutes, so I thought my wife might like a coffee. It’s your favourite, three quarters coffee—”

“One quarter hot chocolate,” she finishes.

“Yeah,” he smiles, and in an exaggerated move leans over the bar and plants a kiss directly to her smiling lips.

“Dude…Officer…uh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize she was your wife,” and oh yeah, Stumpy is still standing there.

In a drawn-out movement, Tessa takes her left hand from behind the bar, making sure her ring is clearly visible, and places her hand over Scott’s on the coffee cup.

“I told you I was taken,” she says, matter-of-factly.

He shakes his head, and she can tell he is pissed, though he has no right to be, But he finally starts to walk away.  

She doesn’t miss what he mumbles under his breath to Scott as he does, though.

“Tell your wife she shouldn’t dress like that, if she wants guys to believe she’s married.”

Scott’s entire body reacts; he flinches and starts to move on instinct, out of anger. She gently squeezes his hand and shakes her head, silently telling him that it’s not worth it. He relaxes slightly and stays where he is, his hand under hers on the Tim Horton’s paper cup.

His face is still tight when he turns back to her. “What the fuck? Did he actually just say that? What the fuck. Tess are you sure, you’re okay?”

She nods. “Yeah. I’m fine. Sorry, I didn’t even think about that…I just wore what I normally do…”

She looks down at her outfit, which is pretty much the same thing she’s been wearing when she works Saturday nights here, on and off for the last decade. A tight black t-shirt with a V-neck and the Barking Squirrel logo on the left side, and a pair of tight black shorts that would definitely not pass the fingertip test—they barely make it past the black apron she has tied around her waist.

“Don’t be sorry, he was way out of line.”

“Yeah, I mean of course…but I didn’t think about it; we’re married now…are you okay with this?” She gestures to her clothes.

Scott reaches across the bar and cups her face in his hand. “Babe, as long as you’re comfortable, I don’t care what you wear. You look beautiful, T.”

She wonders sometimes what she did to deserve him, and she can’t help but rake her eyes up and down his form appreciatively. She’s looking at his uniform, the way the sleeves of his shirt pull tight against his biceps—formed by countless hours in the gym—the softness in his eyes when he looks at her, and the way he grits his teeth and tightens the muscles in his jaw when she can tell he’s thinking of that guy again. And she really, really likes it. Fuck. She takes a deep breath and swallows.

“Thanks for the coffee, and you know…”

His eyes are locked to hers and he is looking at her knowingly. And she realizes that they are standing here, on either side of the bar, staring at each other. It’s a lot, but she can’t seem to bring herself to do anything to stop it.

“Hey, Officer Moir, let your girlfriend get back to work, eh?” Dave’s voice carries from beside the till.

Tessa just turns to him and smiles. He may be her boss, but after ten years she’s stopped caring what Dave says; she is good at her job and everyone knows it. That’s why they keep calling her to come back, why she takes shifts that fit into her schedule, and only takes them when she wants to.

“His wife, actually.” She holds up her left hand to Dave.

“Well congratulations,” Dave says, with just the slightest hint of enthusiasm. “Now tell your husband he’s being a distraction.”

Dave grabs some receipts from the till and retreats into the back office.

“I still hate that guy,” Scott says. “So what time is he letting you get out of here? Closing?”

“Nah, I let the new girls do that. I’ll be done at one.”

“I’m off at midnight, I’ll come pick you up as soon as you’re done.” There is a hint of promise in his tone, and Tessa feels the corners of her mouth quirk up into a smile.

“Don’t you always?” She smiles at him.

He walks out of the bar with a wink and she feels something build low in her stomach, a warmth that bubbles up through her entire body. Damn, the things this man does to her.

Chapter Text

 

Saturday Evening

Tessa is across the table from him, her chin resting in her hands, elbows propped up on the table, looking flushed in the candlelight. They’ve gotten a table right along the bank of floor to ceiling windows in the Eiffel Tower Restaurant, giving them a perfectly clear view of the lights and the bustle of the strip below. The sun has just set, making the lights outside all the more vibrant. He can see the Paris balloon, all neon bulbs, looking like it’s floating right outside their window.

“Scott, this is…just wow,” Tessa says, looking out the window, wide-eyed. “This is amazing, thank you.”

“You deserve amazing, T.”

She opens her mouth to respond and he knows that she is about argue with that, tell him that he is just being too nice, that she doesn’t deserve a fancy dinner and a hundred-dollar bottle of wine, but he stops her. He places a hand gently on hers, giving it a little squeeze and smiling at her.

“You do, okay. You deserve so much, let me give you this.”

For a minute, he is afraid she might ask why. Afraid she might question what they are doing here, what he is doing, but she doesn’t. Her cheeks turn red and she casts her eyes downward, away from his gaze, almost shyly. But when she looks back up at him, she is smiling—bright and adoring.

“This is really nice, Scott,” she says, as he fills her glass, generously, with Château la Fleur Pétrus. He recognized the name as soon as he saw it—for months she wouldn’t shut up about it. Her mom’s friend had brought back a bottle from France as a gift, and since then Tessa had been trying to get her hands on some. He knows this one isn’t the same year, but he is pretty sure the 2000 is way out of his price range.

She brings the glass slowly to her lips, smiling over the rim as she tilts it, sipping slowly and sinking comfortably back into her chair with a sigh.

“I can’t believe you remembered how much I loved this wine.” She swirls the contents of her glass, watching the deep red slosh dangerously close to the rim, staining the sides.

“How could I forget?” He just barely stops himself from saying I remember everything you say, because this is going so, so well, and that might be too much.

Honestly, this day has been perfect. He isn’t sure how much better it could get. He is sitting across from the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with, and she is looking back at him, eyes glistening, with a smile that lights up her entire face, the wine sending a flush to her freckled cheeks–and god, he wants to spend forever with her. He would gladly trade a hundred, a thousand Saturday night hockey games for Saturday date nights with her across the table from him.

He watches as the red in her cheeks spreads down her neck to her chest, and he wants to count the freckles that dot her sternum. His eyes follow them like a map, leading to uncharted territory below the neckline of her shirt. And he realizes he is staring, but he can’t help himself. He is imagining pushing the frilly floral collar off her shoulders, exposing the freckles he knows are there. He imagines undoing the top few buttons and pushing it all the way off her shoulders, to expose the top of the lacy white bralette he knows she is wearing, and then kissing the bare skin underneath.

He wants to cross those lines and he knows she does too, as he looks up and sees her watching him staring at her with a slight grin. If this day is going the way it feels like it is, maybe, just maybe he can. And he swears when he catches her eye, she winks.  

She takes another sip of her wine before setting it down and reaching for both of his hands. Her hands are cold—like always—and she runs her thumbs over the tops of his and he watches the slow, soothing movement. Under the table, he can feel her foot nudge his calf, urging him to look back up at her. He does, smiling.

“Scott,” she starts, voice wavering ever so slightly, “thank you, for this. For this entire day, really. It’s been…it’s…this has been the best—” she cuts herself off by drawing in a sharp breath, “ date I’ve ever been on.”

He can’t help his full-face smile, doesn’t care that he is grinning at her like an idiot. She called it a date. That was her word, not his. The best date. There are very few other words that could make him this happy right now.

Before he can catch himself, he says, “Any date with you is the best date.”

He immediately wants to take the words back, he can feel heat rising to his own cheeks in embarrassment. But she is smiling at him, her eyes are sweet and warm and she shakes her head at him affectionately.

“You’re so corny.”

He shrugs, the movement sliding their joined hands a little closer to him on the table. He seizes the moment and brings both her hands up towards his lips and kisses her knuckles. She blushes, but makes no move to pull her hands away, in fact she gently squeezes his in return. He takes that as a positive sign.

“Do you remember when I tried to take you to that fancy shmancy restaurant in Toronto?”

She nods while trying to suppress a laugh—which ends up coming out as an adorable little snort, “Of course I remember. Someone took our table, the waiter spilled my wine and we got caught in the rain—ruined my new shoes.”

“You couldn’t walk in those shoes anyways, but you know what I remember most about that? That we couldn’t stop laughing and everything just felt right. Tess, that night—rain soaked, having beer and pizza in your living room—that was better than any date I’d ever been on. Because it was with you.”

She tilts her head a bit to the side, and looks carefully at him, not unhappily, just reading him.

“Scott. That was two and a half years ago…why…why didn’t—“

“You wanted to focus on school, and I wanted to make sure that--” he runs his hands through his hair, feeling suddenly nervous, “that I did things right.”

She takes a long sip of her wine, and looks out the window. He knows she’s thinking. He is afraid that maybe he’s said too much, or said the wrong thing. Even if it’s the truth.

But then she looks back at him, blinking, and finishing the last dregs of wine in her glass before saying, “Well, I’m glad we did all this today. It feels pretty right, I guess.”

He breathes in a sigh of relief, but she is back to looking out the window, running the stem of her now-empty wine glass between her fingers. He wonders, still, if he said too much. The last thing he wants is for her to bottle herself back up again, because of something he’s said, not when she is finally starting to open up her feelings towards him. Not when they seem to be on the same page.

He quickly picks up the wine bottle from the centre of the table, nearly knocking the tea light in its pretty glass jar over in the process.

“More wine?” He offers.

She looks from the window, to him, to her glass—almost surprised to find it empty even though she just finished the last of it. She holds it out to him.

“Please.”

He fills her glass, and tops off his own, and there is a beat or two of silence before the well-timed appearance of the waiter with their dinners. Roasted chicken with wild rice and root vegetables for her, and the beef Wellington for him. It all looks so good that he can barely wait for his plate to be set down before unrolling his cutlery from its cloth napkin and tucking in. After a few bites he looks up at Tess, who is delicately cutting her half chicken.

“So, Tina from the front desk said that we have to get the soufflé for dessert. She insisted it’s a must, you get to watch them being made.”

She smiles at him over a bite of her chicken, “Tina?”

He rubs the back of his neck and his cheeks redden. “Yeah, she kind of helped me out with this whole date day thing…her and all your pamphlets.”

“You really had this whole thing planned out, eh?”

All he can do is nod, casting his gaze back down to his plate. He feels her run her foot up his shin playfully, and looks up to see her eyes twinkling in a soft smile.

“So, about those soufflés, do you think they have chocolate?”

Two years ago

 

Tessa is sitting with her legs folded neatly under her, tucked comfortably into the opposite corner of the couch her body turned toward him. She is wearing calf-length yoga pants and a little crop top, and the afternoon sun shining through her third floor windows keeps catching the silver of her belly button ring. It’s the blinding glint–every time she moves and it catches the sun, like the beacon of a lighthouse–that makes him keep looking at it. Or that’s what he’s been telling himself for the past ten minutes.

“Name the streets that intersect Exeter road,” she says, reading off one of his study sheets.

She shifts and the little silver ball blinks in the light, again. He tries to cast his gaze away, but finds his eyes trailing the defined lines of her abs down towards the hem of her yoga pants.

She clears her throat, waiting for his answer.

“Um, shit…I should know this. Um, White Oaks…right?”

"Would you FOCUS?" she asks, exasperated. "I know you know this."

He huffs in apology, trying to control his thoughts, reining in his stupidly infatuated brain…trying to think of anything but her relative lack of clothing.

"Sorry, T, ask me again," he says, chastened. "Please?"

She asks, and he gets it right this time. Of course, because he could find his way around London with his eyes closed. He lets out a breath, one question down. And he decides to let himself look once more at the little winking silver ball, as a reward. Maybe, he will be able to focus better this way, allowing himself stolen glances at her bare stomach, and the belly button ring she has had since she was basically a pre-teen that has driven him wild for just as long.

They move on from cross streets and quickest routes around the city—he allows himself a momentary look with each correct question, finding himself working to get more and more right—to dispatch codes, which are arguably harder to remember, so he decides that maybe, he can allow his thoughts to wander further for the questions she throws at him that he answers correctly. He starts off with four. For every four questions he gets right he lets his mind wander. He imagines what her skin tastes like, if the skin on her stomach would feel the same under his lips as the skin on her cheeks or shoulders when he sneaks a quick friendly kiss. He wonders if she likes her belly button ring played with as much as he finds he wants to play with it.

This system turns out to be a mistake, because he starts rewarding himself with thoughts of Tessa every time he gets a question right. And he’s doing very, very well, better than he's done all week. She looks very impressed, a smile playing on her lips, eyebrows raised, asking, did you study when I wasn’t looking?

Fortunately, she doesn't know that his latest mental reward is imagining what could happen if she let him tug those yoga pants down and press his mouth to her, drive her mad until she's shaking with desire, pleading for more, more, for everything he has to offer.

He knows he should stop, he has to stop. Because now, he looks at her, tucking a stray hair behind her ear and biting her lip in concentration as she scans his study sheets. And she is beautiful, and how she sucks in her bottom lip as she reads is hot and he can’t help where his imagination goes. Fuck . It isn’t fair to her, and he shouldn’t be thinking these things. But he does anyway.

He keeps going, teetering on that line between his rational brain telling him that this is wrong, and that he has to remember things like what a 505 code is, and the other half of his brain. The part that's thinking about pinning her up against the kitchen cabinet and kissing her senseless, and whether palming her ass in yoga pants would be very different than in jeans. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck . He really is the worst.

After Tessa asks what he figures is her fiftieth question, she stands up and stretches.

“Want water? Oh, or I think I might have some chocolate milk in the fridge.” She smiles excitedly at her own revelation.

“Um, water’s good, thanks T.”

He is uncomfortably aware of the situation his overactive imagination has worked himself into. Hyper aware that if he gets up she will notice, that actually, if he shifts at all she will notice. And what kind of pervert gets himself worked up over questions about jaywalking and right of way? What the hell is wrong with him?

 

Saturday night

 

Walking down the strip after dinner, he can tell Tessa is just on the other side of tipsy. They had finished the bottle of wine off with their meal, and after going to watch soufflés being made at the kitchen dessert station—where, to Tessa’s delight, they did in fact have chocolate—they capped the night off with a bourbon recommended by the pastry chef.

Her cheeks are warm and red when he kisses them, and she is giddy in a way she only gets when she is over-tired, or a few drinks in. She is dancing on the sidewalk a few paces in front of him; she does a little split leap and a twirl to face him and he admires just how graceful she is, even under the hazy influence of half a bottle of wine and a glass of bourbon. Even he is starting to feel the tingle in his fingers and the warmth in his cheeks and it’s hard not to smile just as bright as Tessa is. He rarely drinks, outside of wine at Thursday night dinner or a beer or two while watching hockey, so it is hitting him a bit more than he thought.

But he finds he doesn’t mind the slight blur from  the wine; he is feeling warm and fuzzy from the inside out. Everything is perfect. This is a date. She knows it, he knows it. And it is fucking perfect. He is probably the happiest man alive right in this very moment, and he is just waiting for the right moment to kiss her.

He grabs hold of Tessa’s hand and she twirls herself into him, stopping to softly to kiss his cheek, but landing more on the corner of his mouth. He takes it as a sign and pulls her in close, one arm wrapping tightly around her waist, the other snaking up her bare arm and come to rest on the back of her neck. She pulls away ever so slightly, to look at him and he can see the smile in her eyes before it makes its way to her lips. She reads his face and knows exactly what he is thinking, and he can see her nod, ever so slightly, and it’s all the invitation he needs.

He lowers his face to her, and she tilts her head at just the right moment, at just the right angle—as if in a practiced dance—for his lips to slot perfectly against hers. Her lips are warm and soft under his and parted slightly so he takes the liberty of deepening the kiss, even though he had intended it to be soft and chaste.

He pulls away after a few seconds, after a whoop and holler from a passing bachelor party, and he remembers where they are. When he pulls away Tessa is blushing furiously, her hand on his chest in the limited space between them.

“Hi,” she says, her voice too quiet and low to travel outside of the bubble they have created for themselves, in the middle of the sidewalk in Las Vegas.

“Hi,” he returns, resting his forehead against hers.

Eventually, they break apart, she slots her hand into his, intertwining their fingers and resting the side of her head against his shoulder as they continue to walk down the street. He wants to walk her back to the hotel, kiss her some more in private, but he thinks that might be a little too fast—if there is such a thing after twenty-one years of friendship and probably ten years of whatever the fuck they’ve been doing, and definitely two and a half years of emotional commitment. He also had plans to take her to one of the many casinos to play poker.  

She is swinging their hands between them as they walk, humming contently to herself, when she stops and lets out a little squeak.

Scott follows her gaze with his own, and it doesn’t take long to realize exactly what she is looking at. In the window of a little clothing boutique across the sidewalk from them is a white dress that screams Tessa. It’s strappy and lacy and delicate and probably expensive—everything Tessa likes in clothes.

“You should go try it on,” he says, nudging her towards the store.

She shakes her head, “No, I can’t. Scott, it probably costs a fortune. Besides, what would I do with a white dress?”

He laughs and looks at the small red stain on her floral blouse—where she’d sloshed a bit of wine at dinner. “Well, you’d switch to clear liquids for starters—no more red wine, just white and maybe vodka soda; then we’d go out to the casino and maybe dancing.”

She rolls her eyes at him, “I’m not going to buy it.”

“Then I will. T, just go try it on. Please?”

Holding her hand tighter within his, Scott pulls her towards the door of the shop, noting that it is 8:45 and they close in fifteen minutes. He pushes the door open before she can protest, and the little bell above them dings, alerting the sole salesperson to their presence.

“Can I help you?” the woman–who was clearly trying to get a head start on her closes duties–asks, sounding mildly irritated.

“Yeah, she would like to try on that white dress from the window,” Scott says with a smile.

The woman, probably in her early thirties with bleach blonde hair, a mini skirt and a blouse she is literally bursting out of, just barely contains an eye roll—clearly not interested in entertaining customers so close to closing, but gets up to find the dress.

“Size four sound about right?” she calls to Tessa as she walks towards the back of the store.

“Yeah, four usually fits,” Tessa calls back, then turns to Scott and lowers her voice, “I feel bad, Scott, maybe we should just leave.”

“T, it’s her job. They aren’t closed yet.”

Less than two minutes later, they have been shown the single change room in the back of the store, which is little more than a corner with a thick patterned cotton drape hanging on rope partitioning it from the rest of the small shop.

After about a minute, she has called him into the little dressing room with the cloth curtain to have him help her with the dress zipper—which he takes more time to do than absolutely necessary, dragging his knuckles along the bare skin of her back and watching as the action makes her shiver. When it’s all the way done up, his hand lingers between her shoulder blades before she turns and tells him to stay.  She saunters back out into the store and finds a pair of black pants and a white dress shirt in his size.

She opens the curtain and stands in front of him, holding the clothes out expectantly, looking proud of herself for her choice.

“If I’m fancy, you’re fancy,” she says by way of explanation.

He takes the clothes from her, and she draws the curtain closed around them.

“Tess, are you planning on staying here…while I…”

“Scott, I’ve seen you in your underwear before…put these on. Please?” She gives him her best puppy dog eyes, and maybe she is a little closer to properly drunk than tipsy. She is already sliding her hands underneath his t-shirt, and he has to grab her wrist to still her hands as they crawl up his abs.

“Tess,” is all he can muster, hissed out on an exhale.

“What?” She asks with feigned innocence, “I’m helping you get changed.”

Hands still on her wrists, under his shirt, he leans in closer, breathing in the fruity scent of her shampoo and the faint smell of bourbon and wine still on her breath.

“I don’t think you are,” he says low in her ear.

He can feel her pulse quicken, through the delicate skin in her wrists, and can hear her sharp intake of breath.

“I am helping,” she says, and this time she is the one to start the kiss, standing up on her toes so her lips can meet his. He is quick to deepen it, taking advantage of the relative privacy the thick cotton curtain gives them. He loosens his grip on her wrists and she takes the opportunity to free one of them, her hand coming up to work its way into his hair, the other stays resting on his stomach. His find her hips and pulls her in closer, holding her firmly against his body, her hand trapped between them.

She moans into his mouth when he bends his knees ever so slightly, to align their hips and get a better angle to further deepen their kiss, slipping his tongue in her mouth. She scratches the back of his neck lightly as he sighs.

He isn’t sure how long they kiss for before he hears the shop clerk clear her throat from somewhere outside the curtain.

“Everything alright in there? I close in seven minutes.”

Tessa pulls back slightly from him, her lips puffy and red, and she looks a little delirious, drunk on wine and their kiss. She brings a hand up to her mouth to stifle a laugh. He has to work to control his breath, hands still gripping tightly onto her hips. He presses their foreheads together.

Hey, he mouths.

Wow, she mouths back.

And wow is right. It takes everything he has to steady his breathing and not lean back in to kiss her again, and again, and again. They breathe together for a moment, synching themselves to each other.

The clerk clears her throat again, obviously annoyed, and not naïve to what they are doing behind the curtain.

“Yeah. I love the dress, I think I will take it. Just seeing if these pants are a good fit,” Tessa manages after a few beats too long. She sounds as breathless as he feels.

He can hear the woman huff from the other side of the curtain as she walks back over to the till.

“You better get these on,” Tessa giggles, reaching for the button of his jeans.

He had nearly forgotten he’d put the ring, the one he accidentally brought to Vegas in his suitcase—the one he bought for his best friend before he’d even managed to ask her out—in his pants pocket. He hadn’t wanted to leave it in his unattended suitcase in the hotel, but was afraid if he left it in the safe with their passports that Tessa would find it—so instead he had slipped it into his jeans pocket, without its little velvet box, before they left for the day. The exact same place it had been all day yesterday. But now she is unbuttoning his jeans to have him try on pants, and a new shirt because if she is getting the pretty white dress, he of course has to match her. And he is painfully aware of its presence. The hole it is burning through the lining of his pocket is almost as hard to ignore as the pressing situation in the front of his jeans as Tessa moves her hands to his zipper having undone the button.

He pushes her hands away, afraid of what will happen if she continues, both with his situation and if something were to happen to the ring.

“Tess,” he inhales, “uh, let me…okay?”

She moves her hands, embarrassed, “Sorry…I didn’t mean…sorry.”

“Hey, it’s okay…more than okay…it’s just um, maybe not in here…I better just try this shit on, eh?”

He quickly takes off his pants and shirt and slips into the ones that Tessa had brought in for him. She’s been trying to keep her hands to herself while he finishes changing, but when he is down to the last few buttons of the dress shirt, she moves his hands aside and her nimble fingers quickly finish the task. He isn’t surprised that everything fits perfectly, Tessa has always been an expert at picking clothes.

She leans forward and kisses him quickly on the lips, while ripping the tags off both the shirt and pants.

He is wide eyed when she pulls back.

“Scott, come on. The poor girl should have closed up three minutes ago. We have to at least buy this stuff. We might as well keep it on and go enjoy the town.”

She carefully rips the tag off her own dress and goes to step out of the change room while he scoops up his jeans and shirt from the little chair in the corner. Of course, as he slings the jeans over his arm, the delicate circle of white gold he had tucked so carefully inside slips out, and clinks against the tile floor.

His heart stops. He knows the exact moment all the air is sucked from his body and his heart literally stops. The ring spins on its side, like a coin might, before landing right in front of Tessa’s feet.

Tessa looks at the floor and back up at him, unsure, yet, of what fell from his pocket. He wants to grab it, to scoop it up quickly in his hand before she can see it, but she is faster. He is frozen where he stands.

She sucks in a gasp when she picks it up, and when she draws herself back up to look at him her eyes are wide, shocked, confused, upset, hurt maybe…there are so many feelings flashing in her eyes, her gaze burns and he can’t read any of it.

`“Scott…” she starts.“What’s this? Why? What? Scott…you don’t usually carry diamond rings around in your jeans.” She would know; she has fished for his keys enough times when his arms are full of groceries or the like. “Why? Why do you have this?”

Her voice cracks and wavers; she sounds genuinely confused, but also on the edge of tears. He needs to say something, but the pathways between his brain and his mouth seem to be blocked. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out.

“Oh. Oh god,” her voice is small. She brings a hand up to her mouth. “I am sorry. I am so sorry…god…this is an engagement ring? Scott…fuck. Dammit. Are you seeing someone? How? When? I am so sorry. How didn’t I know?” Tears are streaming down her cheeks, as she struggles to get her words out—as she goes from looking confused to absolutely devastated.

No. No. No. She has it all wrong. Fuck.

She is still holding the ring, her hand shaking. He has to say something to fix this.

He drops his jeans and shirt on the floor. They land with a soft thud at their feet, and he brings both his hands up to cup her cheeks, red and warm still from the wine. He wipes away an errant tear with his thumb.

“Tess, baby, no. There is no one. No one else. Not for a long time. Fuck. I’m such an idiot. A huge fucking idiot, and you are either going to laugh at me, or run away. I bought that ring for you…and I know it was dumb…so so very stupid…but it’s you and it’s me and I knew as soon as I saw it that that ring had to be yours. So I bought and and then just hoped some day…”

She is blinking away tears, “Scott?”

“I bought it for you, baby. For someday…for when we figured this all out. But I had hid it in my suitcase and accidentally brought it here. I didn’t want to leave it in the hotel. So I’ve been carrying it with me.”

“You bought me a ring?” She sniffs.

He nods.

“An engagement ring?”

“Yeah.”

“Before you even asked me out?”

He sighs and looks down, away from her eyes, “I told you I was stupid.”

“Scott,” she says, her voice is soft and soothing and the hand not still clutching the ring comes up to rest on his jaw.

He looks back up at her and then she is kissing him. And it’s both soft and full of ferocity, sweet and passionate.

“You’re an idiot,” she says as she pulls away.

He pulls her into a crushing hug, and she presses her head against his chest, “You’re not running away.”

She shakes her head against his chest, “You’re a wonderful idiot, who bought me a ring.”

“Tess,” he swallows, “I love you.”

She wraps both her arms around him, the ring clutched tightly in her right hand, and squeezes. She hugs him tightly, tighter than any hug they’ve ever shared and he thinks that maybe she is trying to show him, without words, how she feels. Trying to squeeze everything she can’t say yet into him. And he thinks he understands.

“You bought me a ring,” she repeats, head buried in his chest.

“I did. Tessa, I love you, I’ve loved you, I think, for a long time…and I want to keep loving you forever. I just kept waiting for the right time, and then I bought the ring and kept waiting. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry I waited so long. There probably is no right time.”  He kisses the top of her head.

“Is that a proposal?” Her head is still buried in his chest.

He shakes his head, “Uh, no…sort of? I don’t really know?”

She tilts her chin up, to look at him, “Can it be?”

 

Sunday night (later)

After paying for the dress, shirt, pants, and a new pair of shoes for Tessa—because I can’t wear this dress with sneakers, Scott— which all cost more than he hoped, but less than he’d expected, they take their new outfits and her new jewelry out to the Bellagio Casino.

“I promised you poker,” Scott says, wrapping his arms around from behind and rocking them side to side.

She is looking at the ring now on her finger—it’s a perfect fit. She didn’t take her eyes off it the entire walk over; Scott had hold onto her shoulders and steer her in the right direction. He has been steadfastly trying to avoid looking at the ring, and how it looks like it has always belonged right there on her finger, because he is still in shock. He thinks maybe he will wake up tomorrow and this entire day will have been a dream.

She leans back into him, settling herself against his chest, “Poker, and a drink to celebrate us finally getting our shit together.”

“I’ll drink to that, babe,” he kisses the top of her head and pushes them forward, through the bright lights, the jingle of the slot machines, and the chatter of hundreds of happy and not so happy casino goers.

After getting drinks Tessa settles into a game of three-card poker with two men who are probably in their sixties, a woman with a long blonde hair falling below the seat of her chair, and a guy probably Scott’s age wearing flip flops and a backwards ballcap. Scott declines to join her, preferring to watch as she reads the table—which is for the best because they both know how awful his poker face can be. Scott leans over her chair and wraps his arms around her, trailing kisses up the length of her neck to her jaw.

“Scott,” she tries to sound stern, but her body betrays her, her head tilting to the side allowing him better access to her neck.

“I’m trying to help, baby,” he says into the shell of her ear. He can feel her shiver.

“You’re not,” she laughs.

“You going to call, honey?” The dealer asks, looking first at Tessa, but then to Scott who is still wrapped around her.

“Yeah,” she says, trying to shrug him off so she can place her bet in the middle of the table.

After she loses twice, probably due to his wandering hands, and the fact that when he glances at her cards over his shoulder his face betrays her, she tells him to go away.

“You’re too distracting,” she says, leaning into the kiss he places behind her ear. “Save this for later, back at the hotel,” she says, her voice dripping with promise. It takes more self-control than he knew he had not to grab her hand and drag her right back to the hotel right now. But, he’s waited this long—what’s a few more hours?

Scott leans against the bar, watching as Tessa raises the call, tossing her chips into the pile in the middle, a smirk playing on her lips.

“That your girl?” the woman beside him at the bar asks, tilting her head in the direction of Tessa.

He nods.

The woman, probably in her late fifties, slides onto the stool next to where he is leaning.She smells vaguely like dial soap and cigarettes, and drums her painted nails against the bar top. She is wearing pale pink cardigan and beige slacks, looking every bit the retired suburban housewife. Her voice is low and nasally.

“She’s beautiful, and very good at poker.”

“Yeah, Tess is pretty good.”

“Hank,” she nods toward one of the older gentlemen, to the left of Tessa, who looks to be about in his sixties with salt and pepper hair and a Tom Selleck mustache, “my husband, hardly ever loses. I’d say she is very good.”

“She is, she sent me over here because I was distracting,” he chuckles, and turns his body towards the woman and extends his hand, “I’m Scott.”

“Marylin,” she smiles, still looking at Tessa, who is playing with the new ring on her left hand studying it carefully. “Your fiancée looks like she is still getting used to that ring, I assume you got engaged recently?”

He is surprised at how forward Marylin is, but her voice is kind and genuinely curious. And wow, fiancée. Wow. She’s right, he guesses, he’s given her an engagement ring…it just seems for foreign. Just a few hours ago they were no more than best friends. Fiancée. He repeats the word in his head and finds he really likes how it sounds.

“It’s very new,” he says, honestly, rubbing the back of his neck and looking to Tessa.

She raises her penciled eyebrows at him.

“Like an hour ago,” he confesses.

Marylin claps her hands together in excitement, “Well, that we have to celebrate!” She motions for the bartender to come over, “Can I get a bottle of champagne and four glasses?”

The bartender nods and heads over to the other side of the bar, likely to procure the champagne bottle.

Scott shakes his head at Marylin, “That is very kind, but you really don’t have to…um, it’s really not necessary.”

She brushes him off with a flick of her wrist, as if to say, nonsense. “So how long have you and, Tess is it, been together?”

He looks over to Tessa again, and she catches his eye, smiling as she pulls the pot towards herself, having won another game. He recalls what she had told the gondolier earlier, and not excited to recount the fact that they weren’t together—like that anyways—before today he decides to borrow her answer.

“Tessa and I have known each other since we were kids,” he starts, and Marylin is looking at him with cocked head and questioning eyes, like she knows there is more. “But, um, it took us longer to get here than it really should have.”

“I get that,” Marylin replies, a little wistful.

The bartender returns with a corked bottle of champagne in a container of ice and four flutes. Marylin fishes a credit card from her wallet and hands it to the bartender with a thanks. Before the next game can start, Marylin catches her husband’s eyes and they seem to have a wordless conversation—much like Scott and Tessa are able to do, with nods and smiles and unbroken eye contact. Scott sees Hank lean toward Tessa and she looks back up at Scott curiously, brows knitting together in question. He shrugs, I know as much as you do.

Tessa and Hank approach the bar together, and he is congratulating her on a game well played with a friendly pat on the back, and a chuckle. Once they cross the small amount of space, Tessa settles herself into Scott, leaning her back into chest so that he can wrap his arms around her.

He runs his hand along the lace of her new dress, feeling the texture of it under the pads of his fingers. He finds her belly button ring under the fabric, like a red X marking the centre of her stomach. He runs his fingers over it lightly, and feels her shiver against him. Interesting. He presses a little harder, his fingertips digging in, pressing on the ring and into her stomach around it. She leans all her weight into him, like for a moment she can’t support herself, and a he doesn’t miss the sigh that escapes her lips. But as soon as his fingers relax, she stands up straighter and elbows him in the ribs.

“Scott.”

He is suddenly aware of their company, after momentarily being distracted by his fiancée. He will have to wait until later to explore what other ways he can make her melt into him.

“Tess, this is Marylin, and her husband Hank, who you’ve been playing poker with.”

Tessa extends her hand to shake those of Marylin and Hank.

“And Hank, this is Scott, Tessa’s fiancé.”

He feels her whole body stiffen against him, and he realizes that she too probably hadn’t had time to fully appreciate what the ring on her finger truly meant. For a second he is afraid she will want to give it back, but instead she turns her head to look at him, and she smiles with her eyes. Her bright green eyes are swimming with love and happiness and want, and she traps him in her gaze. It is just the two of them, and he can tell she is running the word over in her mind, and she is happy. And he can’t help but smile and then kiss her.

“They just got engaged,” Marylin continues, “and we bought them champagne to celebrate!”

Hank chuckles, “Well, congratulations.” He claps Scott on the back.

Marylin pours a generous amount of champagne in each of the four glasses, and they toast and drink and fall into easy conversation with the other couple.  

“So how did the two of you meet?” Hank asks.

“Well,” Tessa begins, taking a delicate sip of her champagne, “we used to skate at the same rink, which was basically in Scott’s backyard…one day my mom was late to pick me up so Scott’s mom invited me to come play in the yard…of course I had to show off for the cute boy who played hockey and ended up falling out of his tree and breaking my arm.”

“I felt so bad, that I went with her to the hospital and she hasn’t been able to get rid of me since,” Scott adds. “Also, the break was so gross, she still has the scar. I mainly just wanted to see if they’d have to pop it back where it went.”

Tessa rolls her eyes at him, and both Marylin and Hank smile at them and then at each other.

They find out that Hank and Marylin have not actually been married long. They are in Vegas on a bit of a belated honeymoon—a few months post wedding. They have also know each other since childhood, and were each other’s prom dates. But life got in the way and they fell out of touch. It wasn’t until a year and a half ago that they came back into each other’s lives.

“We talked for a few months, over the phone and in email. And then started having coffee a few times a week and after a few months…I don’t know we just knew, that it was meant to be and we didn’t want to miss another chance so we got married as soon as we realized that this was it,” Marylin says, sipping from her second glass of champagne.

Tessa is nodding along to the story, pressed tightly into Scott’s side. He kisses her head, and she turns to him, glassy eyed, almost finished her second glass of champagne.

“We should get married.”

“Yeah, kiddo, that’s kind of what the ring is for,” he gently brushes a stray hair off her face.

“Now, like tonight. Scott, we’ve waited so long…doing god knows what...I don’t want to waste any more time,” she turns and kisses his cheek.

“Yeah?”

She nods.

“You kids wouldn’t want to rush into anything,” Hank winks, “not after what, twenty-one years of knowing each other.”

The next thing Scott knows, Marylin has bought them all another round of drinks and he is pushing the boundaries of good and properly drunk. Tessa has her phone out and is making some sort of video, probably for Jordan. She is flashing her ring in front of the camera and smiling so brightly it might actually blind him, if he weren’t certain he looks the exact same.

“I’m going to marry this girl!” He shouts, before leaning between her and the phone and pressing his lips to hers. He hears Hank and Marylin cheer.

 

Saturday night (even later)

He can’t help but notice how radiant she looks, in her little white dress, with her dark hair taken out of its braid and tumbling softly over her shoulders. She has both of his hands in hers and she is smiling at him, her eyes are a little bit glassy, her mascara smudged at the corners of her eyes and she giggles and it’s beautiful. She is beautiful. But she is also drunk and he can feel the fuzzy edges of the alcohol in his system fading, and the sharp corners of clarity slipping back in.

They are standing in front of a minister, who he vaguely remembers introducing himself as Elvis—but not an impersonator, that’s the guy’s actual name. And it could almost be perfect, because it’s him and it’s her. But then she giggles again, and hiccups, and leans her head against his shoulder, and he knows that they can’t do this. Not like this . He wants her, wants forever, but he wants to remember it all. Wants her to remember it. And despite all their years being whatever the fuck they are to each other, today was their first real date.

“You two ready?” Elvis asks.

Tessa nods, but doesn’t take her eyes off Scott. She bites her bottom lip—still pink and swollen from the kiss they shared outside the chapel—to try to suppress her giggles, her cheeks are still flushed pink from the last round of drinks they had at the Casino and he can see red in the whites of her eyes.

Scott turns away from her, to look at Elvis, who is probably in his late forties or early fifties, just a bit shorter than Scott, with buzzed, greying hair, and kind eyes—he looks like the kind of guy who would be great to grab a beer with, under different circumstances.

“Can I just have a minute to say something first?” Scott asks him.

Elvis nods.

“Tess, baby, I love you. I love you so much, and I want this, you need to know that. I want to marry you—have wanted to marry you for a while now. I mean that’s why I stupidly bought a ring before I even asked you on a date. But I want to marry you someday. Not today. Not like this. I want to remember every moment of this, and I want you to remember it too. I want to know that we mean everything…I want to marry you sober, kiss you sober…”

She leans her forehead against his chest, then kisses right above his heart, “I hate that you are making so much sense right now.”

He kisses the top of her head, “It happens sometimes…Tess…is that okay?”

She looks up at him, one hand on his chest, he covers it with his own, and the other cupping his cheek.

“Of course…Scott…god…how are you so perfect? I want all those things too. I want to marry you, I think I have been imagining marrying you since I was seventeen. I want to remember it too…and maybe have our families…god our moms will be so mad...but mostly I just want to be with you.”

“Okay,” he says, squeezing her hand where it rests over his heart. “Okay.”

“So…um…I guess we’ll table this for later?”

“Later,” he repeats kissing her softly on the forehead.

Chapter Text

One and a half months later

Scott runs his hand through his hair— it’s getting long and he should probably get it cut soon—and then rests his face in his palm, cradling his phone against his ear with his other hand. He listens to the man on the other end talk, and his words aren’t really a surprise, they are just a confirmation of thoughts he’s been having lately—information he has gathered from the resurgence of pieced together memories over the past few weeks.

Elvis, from the chapel in Vegas, had called him back after nearly two months, and Scott had hoped that the man would simply let him know how to get his hands on their missing marriage license. Instead, he finds himself flooded with memories and confirmation.

“So,” he says, carefully into the receiver, “we’re not married?”

“Not legally, no,” Elvis replies, tinny through the little speaker. “Your speech was quite compelling, though. Tessa is a very lucky girl. I’m sorry that it took me so long to reach out to you; your phone number had gotten lost in a pile of paperwork.”

“No, no worries, man. Thank you for getting in touch. That’s…uh, great news. Our moms were pretty upset about missing  us getting married.”

Elvis chuckles a little through the phone, “Well your mothers will be very happy they get to share in your big day. I remember it being a concern of Tessa’s. You know, yours was one of the first almost weddings I have been a part of where I was glad you didn’t go through with it. Though, not because I was afraid you wouldn’t  last, but because you two deserve a perfect wedding day. You and your lovely bride-to- be were the absolute sweetest couple…I wish you all the happiness life has to offer, and if you’re ever looking for someone to officiate the real thing, give me a call.”

“We will keep you in mind,” Scott says with a half-hearted smile that the other man can’t see.

After exchanging a few more pleasantries, he  hangs up. He is sitting on a bench in a little park near downtown London. He’d just gotten off his shift when he had gotten the voicemail from Elvis, the minister from The Little White Chapel. Unable to sit still, needing some kind of motion to keep his thoughts in check he had decided to go for a walk while he called back.

That’s how he found himself at the park—more like a narrow patch of grass with a few trees bare of most of their leaves and two iron benches. As he sits slumped, his elbows digging into his knees, he covers his face with his hands. Fuck.

He needs to plan how to break the news to Tessa. The last month and a half had been a blissful  dream, and now it needed to end. The memories had been coming back to him in jagged fragments that he’d been trying to piece together like a black and white jigsaw puzzle with no edges and too many middle pieces. There were glimmers of images in his mind, impossible to understand, until he found the connecting pieces and doubt began to percolate—this was all too good to be true.

He had tried to ask Tessa what she could recall, but for her, everything past dinner was a bit of a blur—hazy and out of focus. So much so that she couldn’t discern what had happened at all.

With Elvis’s words ringing in his head – “ Scott Moir? I am sorry it took so long to reach you, I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that you and Tessa didn’t go through with the wedding” – the memories finally seem to fall into place, the whole picture coming into focus. Some moments still more sharp  than others.

The most vivid memory, the one he plays over and over and over in his head, is the morning after. Waking up groggy, with a throbbing in his head and a bitter taste in his mouth—he can’t handle drinking like he used to. But it was easy to ignore the haze of his hangover when he peeled open his eyes to take stock of his surroundings and realized he was wrapped around her, pressed skin to skin. He had a brief moment of panic. Panic that they had finally gone there, crossed that one line they hadn’t dared touch before but had been toeing for years, and he couldn’t remember it.

He tried to blink back the memories. He remembered dinner. He remembered her holding his hands in hers as she acknowledged that it was a date . The best date. He remembered the bottle of wine and the tumbler of bourbon. He remembered her easy smile as she danced down the street, the alcohol reddening her cheeks and lowering her inhibitions. He remembered kissing her right there in the middle of the sidewalk. He remembered a white dress, and a heated kiss inside a change room. And, to his relief, he finds he remembers getting back to the hotel, stumbling through the door with her hand clutched tightly in his. Pressing her against the door, as soon as it closed behind them, slotting his lips against hers, pushing his body against hers—allowing himself to feel the shape of her against him. They made it to the bed, tearing their clothes off in the process.

He remembers lying over her in the bed, fully divested of clothes, kissing her face, pulling back to look at her face. That’s when he had noticed the glassiness of her eyes, the redness there, the heat in her cheeks. From more than just the fire between them. And he had stopped. He remembers stopping. Hovering over her.

“Tess—” he managed on a forced exhale. “Tess, baby, we shouldn’t.”

He watched her face fall, “You—you don’t want to?”

“I do. Fuck. I want to so much—” He reached for her hand and put it between them, so she could feel how much he wanted to. So much that it hurt. But he recalled her stumbling down the hall to their room, using him to hold herself up. Recalled how, not long before she was slurring words and dancing through the street, and he remembered a similar conversation to this, knew that they shouldn’t do something—not like that—but he couldn’t recall what, not then.

“But?”

“But you’re… we are drunk. We shouldn’t…I want to make sure this is what you want…”

Her eyes were no longer glassy and she looked at him with steely determination as she huffed out a breath. “Scott, it’s been a long time…but I’m not a virgin. I know what I want.”

He let out a sigh, and then breathed deeply—in and then out. He wanted her so badly it actually hurt. They literally had years of tension building to this moment, but he was sobering enough to know they should wait. He didn’t want to do it like this.

“I know you want this, and I want it too, but Tess, baby,” he squeezed his eyes shut for a second, willing himself to calm the throbbing need and want coursing through his veins. He opened them again to lock eyes with her, and her eyes weren’t as glazed over anymore, but they were still bloodshot. “I want this to be special, I want us to remember this—all of it.” He gestured around the room. “I want to be 100 percent sober, because I want to remember every second of every minute of the best thing of my life.”

She bit her lip, considering. “Why do you keep having to make sense?”

He shrugged.

“But in the morning?” She asked, tentatively, beginning to draw her arms up to cover herself.

“Yes! Of course, yes. If you still want m—this in the morning. Yes.”

She had still wanted him in the morning, and he remembers every second of every minute of it—and it was definitely one of the best moments of his life. She wanted him. Still does, a month and a half later, and it almost makes his heart hurt how happy he is. This feeling like he can have everything he always wanted, with her, is almost too much. Too big. Every moment of the past month and a half had been more than he had ever thought to ask for. But that first morning, his birthday, waking up to her wanting him—like that— that had been the best.

He had woken up to feel her slight movement under his arm, which had been draped across her chest. He could feel the quickening rise and fall of her ribs as she assessed the situation they found themselves in, and he found himself lying still, his eyes closed tightly against the early morning sun streaking in through the gauzy curtains. He was frozen in place, attempting to keep his breathing slow and even, waiting for her to move, to react. He could feel her chest bare against his arm, and that’s when he found himself retrieving memories from the night before, hoping that they hadn’t done something he wouldn’t remember, or that either of them would regret. He didn’t want to withdraw his arm and scare her or make her think he didn’t want to be touching her—god, he did. But he also didn’t want to move in closer, to press more of his bare flesh against hers, not until he was sure that was what she wanted.

She breathed in deep and settled herself further into him, her side pressed entirely flush against him. His hands itched to touch more of her, to run down the expanse of her ribs, over her stomach, her hips. He wanted to feel her soft skin under his palm, to catalogue the feeling of her to memory. He clenched his fist, nails digging into the fleshy part of his palm, in order to stop himself from mapping out every inch of her body with his hands. And then she shifted. Rolled a bit onto her side, causing his arm to slide, his hand landing between her breasts, and then she wrapped her arm around his and pulled herself in closer. His hand was cupping her chest and she pushed herself back against him.

Slowly, he moved his hand, gently squeezing her breast, committing the feel of it, the weight, the size, the shape of her to memory. Under his touch she arched her back, pushing herself more firmly into his grasp. He traced his thumb over her nipple, pulling it between his fingers. She moaned and, with one hand still on her chest tracing the ridges of her ribs, he moved the other over the smooth expanse of skin of her stomach to curve around her hip underneath the sheet . He had been so intent on memorizing  every dip and curve – they had time and he wanted to make this special.

“You’re perfect,” he said, as he burrowed into her hair, finding the crook of her neck.

He wrapped his hand around the inside of her thigh and splayed his fingers. He could feel her dissolve into him, her breath coming out short and sharp. She moaned, and he could feel it reverberate through him where their bodies were connected. He kissed and nipped at her neck, behind her ear, and she pushed herself back into him, trying to create more points of contact.

He slid his hand further up her bare thigh, slowly working towards her centre while trailing kisses up her neck, nipping at the sensitive spot right behind her ear. He remembers clearly the low rasp in her voice, still thick with sleep, as his name had spilled from her lips.

Immediately, he shakes his head, trying to dislodge the way her voice had curled around his name in the most sinful way. He is still sitting on the park bench, phone clutched tightly in his hand, and he really has to stop thinking of that morning before the slight tightening he feels in the front of his pants becomes a very inappropriate problem.

And now he has to figure out how to tell her they aren’t married.

Five years ago

Scott was using his thumbnail to peel off the label on the neck of his beer bottle, the sweat dripping down the sides helping to loosen the adhesive. He was leaning against the tree at the end of the drive, listening to the crickets chirping in the tree stand fifty meters away, trying to ignore the sounds of happiness emanating from the backyard.

His mom was throwing a going away party for Tessa, and tomorrow he was supposed to be helping her pack up to move to Toronto to start her master’s. And he was happy for her – of course he was, she was his best friend – but he was also miserable, and he’s never been any good at hiding his emotions. So, he found himself out  in the front yard toeing a mound of dirt with his Converse and worrying at the label of his Molson.

She was so quiet that Scott hadn’t noticed Tessa’s approach through the long grass—he definitely had to get out here to cut it soon. She had her own beer in one hand, and half of one of his mom’s double chocolate brownies in the other.

“Hey,” she said, her voice barely carrying over the crickets in the distance, but it startled him all the same. “I missed you back there.”

“Just getting some air,” he said, and she raised her eyebrows at him.

“There’s more air over here than in the backyard?” She smiled softly.

He rolled her eyes at her. “You know what I mean.”

She quickly ate the last two bites of her brownie, washing it down with a swig of beer and cringing at the flavour combination, before placing a hand gently on his arm, “No, I don’t. But I wish you’d tell me. I feel like you’ve been avoiding me all night.”

He hadn’t, exactly, been avoiding her, but he also hadn’t been seeking out her presence. He was happy, ecstatic actually, when she had told him she got into her master’s at U of T – it was a huge deal. But for the past year, she’d been nearby; she graduated, was working at the bar, spending more and more time with him, and now she was going to leave.

“I’m going to miss you,” was what he managed.

“Toronto isn’t that far, and I will be home for holidays.”

“It won’t be the same,” he said. And, god, he sounded like a bit of a toddler.

She smiled at him softly, and lightly clinked her beer bottle against his, making him look up at her. Her eyes sparkled in the warm glow cast over the yard from the front porch light, and he could see the beginnings of tears gathering on the waterline of her eyes .

“No, it won’t. But it’ll still be good, okay? Toronto isn’t that far…I’ll come home to visit, and you’ll come visit me in the city, right?”

“Of course, I’ll visit, T,” he said, leaning his back against the tree and sinking down into the dry dirt and hard roots.

He chugged the last of his beer and set the bottle down in the dirt beside him, twisting it around, creating a little divot for it to rest in. Condensation from the bottle dripped down the sides creating a little ring of mud around the base. Tessa nudged his shoe with her foot, hinting for him to move over to make some space for her against the tree trunk. He obliged, shuffling over a few inches so that she could settle snugly into his side. She leaned her head into his shoulder and sipped her beer slowly, deliberately.

“I’m going to miss you too, you know,” she said finally, resting her own, now-empty, bottle against the tree. She started tracing over the back of his hand with the pads of her fingers. “I’m going to miss this,” she said quietly.

Allowing her to continue playing with his hand, Scott wrapped the other around her shoulders and she snuggled in closer to him.

“We’ll still see each other, and we can talk on the phone,” she reassured him , tracing letters along the top of his hand. If he paid attention, he was pretty sure that she was spelling her own name into his skin. Her fingers were cold, but it felt like she was carving her name into him with fire—branding him.

“Yeah, of course we will.”

She shifted her head slightly to the side and he saw her eyes widen at something. He followed her gaze to the trunk of the tree, to the long ago, but not quite forgotten, mark they had carved through the bark. Their names, and a promise.

She took her hand off his and traced the now-smooth lines in the peeling bark.

“That was my first kiss,” she confessed, a wistful smile playing at her lips.

“No, it wasn’t.”

She raised her eyebrows at him in question.

“I kissed you before then, do you remember? When I was ten, at the carnival. I always considered that my first kiss.” He brushed an errant hair off her cheek.

She shook her head. “Doesn’t count.”

“I count it.” He smiled, his thumb still resting on her cheek. “You were my first kiss too, T.”

She held the delicate point of her finger over his name in the bark—the S more like a three-lined zig-zag, the O a diamond. “Do you remember the promise we made that night?” Her voice was soft and low; it barely carried over the chirping of the crickets and the distant laugh of his brothers in the backyard.

He nodded, using the hand on her cheek to turn her face back toward his. How could he forget? Sometimes, reflecting on how spectacularly his relationships all fell apart, he wondered if he subconsciously sabotaged them—waiting for her. Not that she was great at relationships either, if a professor, a TA and a douche frat boy were anything to go by. Sometimes he wondered if she was doing the same, but they never talked about it.   

He could feel the buzz of a couple of beers coursing through him—making him bolder. He looked from her lips, the bottom one tucked between her teeth as she watched him, to her eyes, silently asking permission. He swiped his thumb over her bottom lip, pulling it out from in between her teeth, and leaned his forehead against hers, breathing in her exaggerated exhales. She wrapped her hand around the back of his neck, and he could feel her move her head, ever so slightly in a nod.

Then, he was kissing her. Her lips were soft against his, and he could taste beer and brownie on her tongue as it tangled with his own. He kissed her until he couldn’t breathe. Until he was drowning in her. Until he could taste the salt of her tears. He pulled back to wipe them away with his thumb.

“This isn’t a goodbye, okay,” was all she said.

“Okay, okay.” He breathed in deep, trying to hold her gaze with  his own. But it was, it was goodbye. At least for now. Tomorrow, he was going to help her pack up her entire life and move it to Toronto and he didn’t know when he’d see her again.

One and a half months later

The white plastic bag rustles against his leg as he walks through the half empty halls of Western, towards Tessa’s office. The smell of French fries follows him as he turns from the wide hallway full of lecture halls to a smaller one of offices. Once he reaches hers, he stops, hand prepped to knock, when he realizes the door is open a crack.

Her high pitched giggle, ripples out of the room, followed by the little snort he knows she makes when she wants to laugh her big, all consuming, honking laugh but tries to hold it in. He pushes  open the door, and there she is, her face flushed red from laughter, bent over her desk with a pile of papers in front of her and a red pen in her hand.

There is a man—tall, with tanned skin and dark hair that’s all salt and pepper along the sides, his sleeves rolled up exposing his muscular forearms, and a wide grin spread across his angular face—leaning over her shoulder. He’s pointing at something on one of the papers in front of her. Scott watches as she laughs again and crosses something out with her red pen.

There is a sudden pain gripping his chest, like he’s been hit square in the middle of it, with something hard and weighted. He feels the muscles in his jaw clench reflexively, and he grinds his teeth before swallowing hard. It’s nothing. This is nothing, he tells himself, she is yours . Except she’s not. Not really. They’ve spent nearly two months thinking they were married, but they aren’t. He needs to tell her that they aren’t, that she’s free to not be with him. Though he hopes she’ll stay.

He watches as she tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, and the man, still leaning closely over her shoulder, points to something else on the page. He raps his knuckles on the door frame and clears his throat, and both Tessa and the man look up at him. Tessa’s eyes lock on to his and she smiles brightly.

“Hey,” she says, noticing the bag in his hand and clapping her hands together, “did you bring me dinner?”

“As promised, your favourite,” he says, stepping forward into the room to place the takeout on her desk. He nods to the man who has now stood fully upright, and is at least five inches taller than Scott. “Sorry, I didn’t know you’d have company or I would have brought more food.”

He shakes his head. “Oh, don’t worry about me. I was just checking up on Tess, seeing how grading all these papers is going.”

Tess. He called her Tess. Scott can feel his jaw muscles tightening again, and works to relax them.

Tessa nods. “One student just started making up definitions and they are hilarious –horrible and incorrect, but hilarious.”

Tessa is talking but barely paying attention, already eagerly pulling out the white styrofoam takeout containers from their favourite greasy spoon diner.

“At least that makes them interesting to mark,” Scott replies.

The man nods. “It certainly helps spice things up. Though I secretly think that Tess here loves getting out her red pen and marking up poor little second year papers.”

Tessa laughs as she opens up her dinner. She doesn’t even bother looking up as she says, “Oh, Scott this is Avery—uh, Dr. Avery Alexander. My advisor.”

Scott nearly swallows his own tongue, and starts choking on his spit. This is Avery? She’s talked about Avery before and Dr. Alexander, though he never realized they were one and the same. He assumed, incorrectly, that Avery was a woman and another grad student.

Scott holds out his hand for the other man to shake. “Nice to meet you, I’m Scott, Tess’s husband.”

The words come out of his mouth before he even realizes what he’s said. But it feels good to say it, even if it isn’t true— he wants it to be. And she still believes it is. It feels especially good to say it to this man, who spends so much time with his…Tessa. He is so screwed.

“Ah, the infamous Scott. It’s nice to finally meet you,” Avery shakes Scott’s hand, firmly, then looks to Tessa. “I didn’t realize you were married already – congratulations.”

He notices a blush creep over Tessa’s cheeks. She hadn’t told him that she was married. Well, she isn’t, the stupid little voice inside his head reminds him. And this is stupid, because he knows she loves him, he does. But he can’t wrap his head around why she wouldn’t tell him. He knows she sees Avery at least a few times a week, and it’s been nearly two months. Why wouldn’t she mention it? He wants to shout it from the rooftops, wants everyone to know he is married (well, thought he was) to the most amazing woman he’s ever known.

Why didn’t she say?

Anxiety grips at his chest again, a fist squeezing around his heart and lungs. Why wouldn’t she tell him?

“Oh, thanks. We got married September first,” she says. “Just before classes started.”

“That’s very exciting. I knew you seemed exceptionally happy.” Avery smiles at them both, and, god, if it isn’t the most charming grin Scott has ever seen (aside from Tessa’s), and his voice is soft and genuine. Scott hates him. Hates that someone else notices a shift in Tessa’s moods. He wonders what else about Tessa Avery has noticed.

Tessa is already working on her fries. He notices the four discarded ketchup packages—now squeezed into the corner of the styrofoam container. He hopes there is enough; he forgot to ask for extra—a must due to her weird love of ketchup—because he was preoccupied thinking of ways to tell her they aren’t married. Something that is going to be much more difficult now that he’s introduced himself as her husband to the man who is the equivalent of her boss, and who happens to look like a Greek god.

“Are you going to sit and eat dinner with me?” Tessa nods toward the second container from the bag.

He takes the seat across from her, the one that students would normally take during her office hours. There’s another desk pushed up against the wall, and Avery leans against it.

“So Scott, you work for the London Police?” Avery gestures towards Scott’s t-shirt, the London police logo emblazoned over the left side of his chest. He had just gotten off work when he went to pick up dinner for himself and Tessa.

He nods, opening his own container, and he wishes this guy would get the hint and leave.

“I’ve done some work with the department,” Avery starts, “on reading micro expressions, and have done some behavioural analysis workshops. I keep telling Tess she’d be great at behavioural analysis.”

“She would,” Scott replies. Of course this guy has to work with the police department.

Tessa looks about to argue, but has mouth full of French fries.

Scott smiles at her, shaking his head affectionately.

“Sorry, I was so hungry,” she says, eventually, after she’s swallowed her fries. “Avery’s work with police departments on recognizing micro expressions in potentially dangerous situations is wonderful. But his work on predictive behaviourism is really quite fascinating. It’s my favourite.”

“I’m just building off of the ideas of others. Your paper on how rationality and outcomes play into interpersonal relationships is going to be great.”

“I thought you were studying game theory,” Scott says.

“Oh, yeah I am. I just changed things around a bit though and am applying game theory to how people interact within romantic relationships. The idea just kind of struck me, and I can still use most of the same research.”

He doesn’t remember if she told him this or not—that she changed the direction of her paper. Though, he supposes that most of their conversation lately starts with talking about the December wedding ceremony that their mothers have decided they need to have—December, because Tess has a few weeks off school—and end in one or both of them naked so that they don’t have to talk about flower arrangements or guest lists anymore.

“Well, anyways,” Avery says, standing up, “I should probably head  home for dinner myself.” He puts a hand on Tessa’s shoulder and squeezes gently. “I’ll see you Thursday in class.”

Scott grabs at the arm of the chair, squeezing hard around the plastic. He knows his jaw is tight, the muscles in his face practically twitching. He bows his head, trying to hide his expression, knowing both Tessa and Avery would be able to so easily read the jealousy there. Which is stupid. This is Tessa. She loves you , he reminds himself. She is with you.

Tessa looks up at Avery with a smile, ketchup in the corner of her mouth. “See you later. Thanks for the marking help.”

“Nice to finally meet you, Scott.”

“Likewise,” Scott says as he reaches out to wipe the ketchup from the corner of Tess’s mouth and licks it off his thumb. Then he waves to Avery as he reaches the door.

If Tessa notices anything strange about his behaviour, she doesn’t say anything. They eat their dinner, and she steals his French fries—which he’s come to expect—and she reads her student’s ridiculous made-up definitions, which he has to admit are hilarious.

It’s not until she is getting up to throw out the styrofoam contains and plastic forks that she says anything.

“You okay? You’ve been acting weird since you got here.”

He should say, I talked to Elvis from the chapel in Vegas earlier today and there is something we need to talk about. Instead what comes out is, “Why didn’t you tell him we’re married?”

She chuckles lightly and shakes her head, and when she walks back to the desk she comes around to his side and plops herself on his lap. She drapes her arms over his shoulders and rubs his earlobe between her thumb and index finger.

“That’s why you’re upset? Oh love, I’m sorry. It just never came up. Avery is nice, and we’re friendly, but he isn’t my friend. He’s my professor, my advisor, and basically my boss. I didn’t want to tell him I got drunk married in Las Vegas.” She studies his face. “But babe, he knows all about you. Honestly, he’s been under the impression you’re my live-n boyfriend for the last year and a half, and I never bothered to correct him. Okay?”

She leans in to kiss his forehead and he nods against her. “Okay.”

Scott looks up at her, studying her face – memorizing this moment: her cuddled up in his lap in her little university office – and tries to convince himself that nothing has changed. She is still the exact same Tessa she has been for the past month and a half—or the past twenty-one years. She still thinks she’s your wife . But she’s not, and that has the potential to change everything, to burst this perfect little bubble they’ve been living in.

She cocks her head slightly, trying to read him as he looks at her. “Are you sure that’s all that’s bothering you?”

“Yeah, I’m good now. Just admiring my wife .”

She smiles at him and places a gentle peck to his lips.

“You know what, there is a coffee cart not far from here that closes in,” she squints at the wall clock, “fifteen minutes. Why don’t you go get us coffee while I finish up marking this last paper? Then we can go home, so that I can admire my husband… without all these pesky clothes.”

She smirks and hops off his lap, and sends him off with a firm squeeze to his ass.

The entire walk to the coffee cart a few hallways over, he feels like he can’t breathe, like something is bound tightly around his chest, and his ribs can’t rise and fall as they should.

He’s really made a mess of this. All he knows is that now that he has had Tessa, he can’t bare to lose her.

Chapter Text

 

Two months later

 

Tessa watches the tendrils of steam as they curl over the rim of her coffee mug and mix with the dust particles that dance in the streaks of light from her big living room window. She is sitting across her little dining room table from her mom and Alma, the contents of a wedding binder spilled out between them. She sips her coffee slowly, relishing in the way it heats her from the inside out—almost hot enough to burn her throat as she swallows. The voices of her mom and Alma fill the space around her, like the chatter of squirrels up in the branches of the trees outside—high pitched and entirely too much for 9am on a Saturday morning. She isn’t really processing anything they are saying but she is beginning to realize that doesn’t really matter—this is more about them anyways.

She continues drinking her coffee, inhaling the sweet aroma of the vanilla almond milk and hoping that breathing it in will send the caffeine straight to her brain.

“I still think the arena would be perfect,” Alma says, “and I can book it on short notice.”

“But the hall has more of a rustic feel, with the original hardwood floors, and the open rafters. It will be better for pictures,” her mom counters.

She groans and rests her head on the cool surface of the table. This—wedding planning—is even more stressful than writing her thesis. In fact, right at this very moment she should probably be nose deep in a behavioural psychology textbook, or one of the countless peer reviewed papers she has to sort through, or marking student papers—which at least prove to be amusing albeit tedious as hell.

Or, her favourite, she should be spending her Saturday wrapped up tightly in her husband’s arms. Or just wrapped around him…or under him…or any variation that leaves them breathless and naked in bed. Thoroughly fucked. 

She watches how the light reflects off the top of her coffee and tunes out the pitch of her mother’s voice as she talks about the old hall that is just perfect, letting herself fall into a memory from early last Saturday morning.

Much like this morning, last Saturday had begun with a steaming mug of her favourite blonde roast—the beans freshly ground in the burr grinder her mom had bought her last Christmas and brewed in her French Press. But she had sat up in bed, book on her lap, coffee in hand, basking in the warmth of her blankets while she waited for Scott to return from his run. And when he returned, she surrounded herself in the warmth of him.

“Hey, babe,” he had said, shucking off his sweaty Under Armor and crawling onto the bed by her feet. “Reading anything good?”

She’d shrugged, the movement causing the strap of her tank top to slip from her shoulder and slide down her arm. He smirked, pulling the blankets off her legs, revealing her bare skin.

“Got up and made coffee but didn’t bother putting on clothes?” he asked on the tail end of a laugh.

She shrugged again, “Why, when I was going straight back to bed?”  

“I see,” he started, kissing up her leg beginning at her ankle. “And do you plan on leaving the bed at all this morning?”

She hummed, “That depends.”

He had continued to his exploration of her legs with his lips, trailing kissing along the insides. One leg and then the other, until he reached the apex of her thighs and placed a quick kiss over the center of her underwear.

“You may want to put the coffee down, babe,” he said, “don’t want to spill it on your white sheets.”

She had contemplated holding on to it, to try to prove she could, but decided better of it, reaching over to place the mug carefully onto the bedside table. Which turned out to be a good idea, as she spent the next little while writhing in the bed, his arm across her abdomen holding her against the mattress, her legs wrapped around his shoulders—heels pressing into his back—his breath and tongue hot against her core. She felt enveloped by the warmth of him, like the scarlet heat that is now spreading across her cheeks. That, she thinks, was a much better use of her Saturday morning.

“Tess,” her mom says, breaking her out of her reverie. “Do you have any input here?”

She shakes her head, embarrassment colouring her cheeks a darker shade of crimson. “No, not really…I’m sure that whatever you guys decide on will be great.”

It’s not that she doesn’t want to have a wedding ceremony to celebrate her love for Scott with their families, it’s just that she could care less about planning it. When she was a kid, she fantasized about tutus and pointe shoes, not wedding dresses. Whenever she thought of her wedding day it was not the décor or the dress she pictured, but the feelings she’d have—that shared love, trust and respect. She thinks that ever since she promised him at fourteen to be his back up, she’d never pictured marrying anyone but Scott. That’s all she wanted and even though it didn’t happen like she expected, she got that. She married her best friend, everything else is just extra.

She picked the flowers and that is as much as she’s cared to do. She loves flowers, always has, so she picked those easily—white peonies and rosebuds, with berry branches. It’s everything else that’s proving stressful. They are on a fairly tight budget, even though both her mom and the Moirs have agreed to pitch in. There are just so many Moir cousins that they can’t forget (because “Tess, if we invite Uncle Bill, we can’t not invite Uncle Charlie and then of course we’d have to invite all of his kids, and then...”). So the guest list keeps expanding. Her wishes to keep things small and personal are getting all but ignored.

Alma has already booked the church for December 29th, and they are now discussing whether or not they should rent out the arena—the place where she and Scott met twenty-one years ago—or the community hall to have a little reception...and then there is the consideration of what caterer to use (Scott thinks they should just order pizza and her mom would rather everyone go hungry than feed guests greasy pizza from Uncle Vinnie’s).  

“Where would we set up the tables at the arena?” she asks Alma, trying to engage in the conversation.

Alma perks up at her interest, sitting up taller, a bright grin spreading across her face—Scott really does get his expressions from his mom. “Well, we can cover the ice, just like they do when the indoor soccer team plays at the rink…like what they’d do for concerts. And then we can put the tables right out in the rink.”

Tessa thinks this actually sounds cute, and just the right amount of sentimental. It is the place they met twenty-one years ago. A stone’s throw away from their tree—she’s called it theirs since they sliced their names into the bark—where they first became friends. Where she broke her arm, sparking their friendship. Where she first kissed him, and kissed him again years later. She makes a mental note that they need to include the damn, twisty little tree somehow in whatever photos they take.  

“I think I like that idea; Scott will too.”  

Tessa hadn’t heard the door open, or Scott kick off his running shoes, but sees both her mom and Alma’s heads shoot up, in near perfect sync.

“What idea will I like?” he asks, his voice startling her. His long-sleeved running shirt is sweat stained and clinging to his chest, his cheeks and the tip of his nose kissed pink from the cool late October air.

“Having the reception at the rink,” Alma smiles brightly at her son, gesturing for him to come sit next to Tessa. “I can book it this week, for the 29th of December. The Christmas carnival is the 22nd, so it would have to be after Christmas.”

Scott reaches his hand behind his neck and rubs—trying to work out some kind of tension built up there. His eyes dart between Tessa, his mom, her mom and the contents of the wedding binder and he shifts his weight from his left foot to his right and back again. He sets his jaw and breathes in deeply through his nose. She hasn’t missed the way his brow pulls together and the muscles in his face tense and twitch. She can read him and she knows something is bothering him, has been for over a week. She hopes it is nothing, maybe just a little bit guilty over the idea of having an actual wedding ceremony when they are already married.

“Uh, yeah. Whatever Tess thinks is best.” He leans over and kisses the top of her head. “But I think I probably need to pop in the shower.”

By the time Scott gets out of the shower, her mom and Alma have left and she has tucked all the wedding planning back into its binder and stashed it under the coffee table in the living room. She is waiting for him on their bed, her legs tucked up underneath her, scrolling through the province of Ontario website on her phone. She has the the curtains drawn all the way open and the sun beams directly onto the bed and she is basking right in the middle of it—like a cat would.

“Our moms are gone?” he asks, stepping into the room with a white towel wrapped around his waist.

She nods as her eyes scan his bare chest, a few stray water droplets following the lines of muscles down his stomach, pooling in his belly button. He uses a finger to brush the water out.

“How was the run?” she asks, sitting up a little straighter in the bed.

He shrugs. “Good, a bit chilly. My lungs aren’t used to the cold air yet.”

He sits on the edge of the bed and she cringes at the dampness his towel leaves on the clean duvet. He runs his fingers through his wet hair and then cocks his head, looking at her. He looks about to say something, but stops himself. He searches her face with his eyes, though she isn’t sure what he is looking for.

“How was the wedding planning?” he says, finally, she sees the bob in his throat as he swallows.

“It was alright...it’s mostly for them, right? So whatever makes them happy. I’m already married to you and that’s really all I could ask for.” She realizes how cheesy she sounds, it’s the kind of line he would throw out, but she also realizes she means every word of it.

She notices him stiffen, his shoulders pull back and he breathes in sharply, but then he looks at her and softens. Every part of him visibly relaxes as he meets her eyes. He shuffles up the bed next to her and kisses her nose, her cheeks and then a quick peck on the lips.

“I don’t know what I did to deserve you,” he says. “You are perfect and being with you is all I could ever ask for.” He smooths her hair away from her face and then stops to run his thumb softly along the column of her throat, gaze still locked to hers. He is getting himself lost in her eyes, looking for the answer to a question she does not know, hoping that somehow she holds the information he needs.

She can feel the blush that rises to her cheeks and wonders if every woman is so affected by their husband. She sighs and sags into his touch, increasing the pressure of his fingers on her neck by just a fraction. She hums and she can feel the sound vibrate through her throat against his thumb.

She has a question she means to ask him, but it can wait. As he catches her lips in a desperate kiss, pushing her back onto the mattress, his towel falls away and the question falls away with it.

 

Twenty-one years ago

 

Tessa stood in front of the tree at the end of the Moirs’ yard, her hands set on her hips with more grim determination than any eight-year-old ought to have. It had been four whole months since she fell out of the tree, two since she had gotten her cast taken off and one since she got to stop wearing the stupid tensor bandage wrapped around it. She appraised the tree. I’m not afraid of you, she said to it in her head.

“What are you doing?” Scott asked, emerging from the garage carrying two cans of Orange Crush, a semi-deflated soccer ball tucked under his arm.

“I’m going to climb the tree,” Tessa said.

Scott walked around in front of her, placing the cans of pop and the soccer ball at the base of the tree. In a huff he put his own hands on his hips and puffed out his chest, trying to make himself taller.

“No you aren’t,” he said.

“Am too.”

“Are not. You’re gonna get hurt.”

“I am not,” she huffed, stomping a foot in the dirt.

Tessa saw his eyes dart to her left arm, where the scar running from her wrist halfway to her elbow, though half covered by her rolled up sweater sleeve, was still pink and raised against her skin.  

“I want to try to climb it again,” she said with a pout. “It’s just like when I fell at skating last week when I tried to do an axel, and you told me to get up and try again.”

“But you didn’t fall out of a tree at skating, Tess.”

She shoved him out of the way, pushing passed him to the tree and jumped up to grab the branch. He caught her legs pulling her back down to the ground.

“I’ll tell my mom.”

“You wouldn’t,” she said, hands back on her hips, biting her bottom lip.

“Would too. And she’d be so mad.”

Tessa pouted again but slumped down in front of the tree, resting in the dirt, and picked up one of the cans of orange crush. She wiped the condensation off the side with her sleeve and tapped on the top with her nail like her mom taught her and popped the tab.

“I don’t like you,” she said, looking up at Scott who was still standing under the low, climbing branch.

“Whatever,” he said, grabbing the other can but staying standing, kicking at the dirt with his sneaker.

He opened his can and orange liquid fizzed and bubbled out over his hand. He shook it off before licking his fingers and the back of his hand. Tessa made a face, her nose crinkling and lips pulling tight. Boys are so gross , she thought, facing away from him. Instead she watched a chickadee hopping down the driveway with something that may have been a soggy potato chip in its beak.

Scott pulled the soccer ball toward him with his foot, rolling it around in the too quiet space between them with the toe of his worn own Nike sneakers. He took a long sip from his pop can, leaving behind and orange moustache that he wiped with his arm (and then he wiped that on his jeans).

“Wanna play?” he asked her, after too many minutes of quiet for him to bear.

She took another sip of her drink and then settled it next to the tree trunk, shrugging.

“Fine.”

They kicked the ball around and Scott might have been bigger but Tessa was fast and agile. She knew it took him by surprise and she managed to get the ball around him quite a few times.

One time she managed to deek the ball around him she kicked in off into the treestand twenty yards away, causing Scott to run after it. While he searched to bushes for the old ball, she turned on her heels dashed back over to the tree. Quickly, she managed to clambour up to the second branch, giggling wildly as she looks down on him still searching for the ball.

He heard her laugh and turned to where she was, perched in the tree. She set her face up in the smuggest grin an eight-year-old could manage, expecting him to look at her with irritation. Hands on his hips, scowl on his face. Instead she was met with worry. His brows raised and eyes widened as he rushed over to the tree.

“Tutu! Please come down, you could get really hurt again. Just come down—carefully.” He holds out his arms as if to catch her if she falls.

“I just wanted to climb the tree again so you won’t get better at it than me,” she said when they finally sat back down to finish their drinks. “You get to climb it all the time.”

He shook his head, “I don’t climb that tree anymore.”

She looked at him, eyebrows knitted together in question.

“I was so scared when you fell,” he admitted, so quietly she nearly missed it.


Two and a half months later

 

Tessa wraps herself around him, one hand squeezing his bicep, and presses her chest into his back. She kisses between his shoulder blades and he pours coffee into two mugs.

“Morning, Mr. Moir,” she says.

He is still for a moment and she can feel tension rise through the muscles in his back, she kisses him again and he relaxes.

“Morning Mrs. Virtue,” he says, turning in her arms and backing her into the small island.

She hums and he kisses down her jaw and neck, she shakes her head a bit. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that,” she starts.

“About what, my love?” He is sucking a mark into the skin just below the line of her jaw.

“You’re distracting.”

He hums in assent.

“I wanted to talk to you about my name, we haven’t talked about that at all…” They haven’t talked about any of the logistics or marriage at all: whether or not they should get a joint bank account, how long they plan on living in her tiny one bedroom, kids, the future, what they plan to do once she has her doctorate. They’ve been too busy fucking like rabbits and, every time she’s tried to bring something up in the past week or two, he’s been there ready to drive her to distraction. She is starting to worry that he either thinks she wants to talk about things because she is having second thoughts, or that maybe he is having second thoughts.

“I like your name,” he says gruff against her skin, she shivers.

“You don’t want me to change it? To be a Moir?” she asks. “I’ve been looking up how to change your name and I just need a copy of our marriage certificate and then I just take that to the MTO and can change my license.”

He freezes, tucks his head into her neck and breathes in deep.

“Is that what you want?”

“I like being a Virtue,” she says. “I have work published under my name and it’s part of who I am, but I also want everyone to know I’m married to you. I was thinking I’d like to be Tessa Virtue-Moir, if you’re okay with that?”

He hesitates and she feels the warm rush of anxiety creep up into her chest. It clutches at her lungs and her breathing quickens. Does he not want this anymore? She knows that can’t be it; he has made it clear that she is what he wants, what he has wanted for a long time, but she’s having so much trouble understanding his behaviour the last few weeks and why he seems to be avoiding having any real conversation about their marriage with her.

“If that’s what you want, babe, then that’s what I want too,” he says after a few too many beats. “We’ll figure out how to make that happen.”

He says it as if he doesn’t quite believe that this actually is what she wants, all of it. So she kisses him, just a gentle little peck filled with as much tenderness and sincerity as she can muster.

“I love you,” she says.

He doesn’t hesitate when he answers, “I love you too, so much.” He proceeds to plant kisses down her neck towards her chest.

“Scott,” she says, in weak protest. “We should probably also talk about a joint bank account and rent and—“ she doesn’t get to finish her thought as he scrapes his teeth over the tight skin covering her collar bone.

“We have forever for conversation, baby,” he says, the whisper of his breath cool against her damp skin. “We, however, only have an hour until Jordan comes to get you and I want to show you how much I love you.”

Two hours later she is with her mom and Jordan in a little shop in downtown London, it’s walls lined with hundreds of white dresses. She is walking sock-footed—shoes could tread in dirt that would ruin the dresses, the woman at the front of the store explained—trailing her hand over the fine fabrics. She had explained to the saleswoman that she wasn’t looking for anything ornate, no decorative beading, no train, no lace, no puffy skirts, just simple and elegant.

She falls in love with the third dress she tries on. It’s made of tulle and has thin straps leading into a low v-neck that ends in line with her sternum, and it’s cinched at the waist, with an a-line skirt. She twirls and the tulle billows and spins around her just the right amount. Flowing around her like the gentle ripple of a raindrop in otherwise still waters. It’s perfect. She is in love.

She can picture herself so clearly, standing at the end of the aisle of the little Ilderton church Scott grew up attending, seeing the love and desire in his eyes as he watches her walk towards him in this dress. She can see them dancing in the middle of the ice rink where they first met, the skirt swishing gently around her as he holds her close and spins them, can almost feel the hot trail left by his lips along her sternum the moment he gets her alone in this dress. She knows this is it. This is her dress. It is beyond everything she ever imagined, it’s almost perfect enough to make her forget Scott’s weird attitude the past couple of weeks.

He’s been extra affectionate—which coming from him is a lot—but she feels his anxiety pulsating off him every time she tries to talk about the wedding or anything related to their marriage. She thought about mentioning it to her mom today but knows she would just tell her that he is probably afraid he’s let everyone down by eloping. She would also probably mention that maybe he feels their families are angry with them for hiding their relationship, which they aren’t she would assure her—though she’d say it in a way that would sound like maybe she is in fact still a little mad still.

Instead she focuses on how absolutely wonderful the dress is once the sales woman gets these giant clamps on the back so that it fits properly, hugging her in all the right places.

“This is it,” she says to her mom and Jordan. “This is my dress. I found my dress.”

Her mom is looking at her, tears collecting in the corner of her eyes and she wipes them hastily on the back of her hand, “Oh, Tess, honey, you certainly have.”

“I love it T,” her sister starts and she knows the But is coming before it does. “But this is only the third dress you’ve tried, don’t you want to see more?”

She shakes her head, she knows this is the dress for her.

Tessa orders the dress in her size, she is told it will be in in within two weeks and then they will fit her for any alterations it might need, but the dress will be ready by December. They leave the shop and since it took far less time for Tessa to find a dress than they had planned the three of them head out for an early lunch.

Even after having lunch with her mom and Jordan, Tessa still arrives home an hour before she told Scott she would be back. She opted not to text him to tell him she’d be home early, instead wanting to surprise him. Because, well, it was a rare day off for him and she knows that if she told him she’d be home he’d fuss over getting the dishes in the sink done for her or vacuuming the little area carpet in the living room. Also, she thinks it might be fun to surprise him.

He is in the bedroom, on the phone she assumes by the sound of his voice floating out the half open door through the small apartment.

Stripping out of her coat and sweater, tossing them haphazardly on the couch she approaches the bedroom door. She can make out half his form through the partially open door, his shoulders slumped and his face in his hands. He has his phone on speaker and immediately she recognizes the voice of his brother, Danny, tinny and a little distorted through the speaker of his four year old iPhone. She pauses with her hand hovering over the door knob.

“I don’t know what to tell you man,” Danny’s voice carries out into the hall. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“I don’t know,” Scott says and he sounds defeated.

“Scott, you aren’t actually married. You need to fucking tell her.”

Her heart stops. At that exact moment at 2:33 on a Thursday afternoon her heart actually stops and drops heavily out of her chest and into her stomach like a rock.

“I know. I fucking know. I just—“

“Scott what is your plan? Let her walk down the aisle and then say ‘surprise this is actually our real wedding, we didn’t go through with it in Vegas’? What the fuck are you thinking, man?” she’s never heard Danny sound so angry.

“I don’t know, okay? I don’t. I meant to tell her. I really did...But I don’t know...I don't know how to tell her. What if she feels like I trapped her or something? What if she just... leaves me? I can't live without her – I never could, but now we've had this, I just can't... go back. But what if the moment she realizes she doesn't have to be with me, like she’s free, you know? That there's more to life than being tied to me for the rest of her life. She has better options out there. Sometimes I think about her walking away and I can't fucking breathe through it. I can't lose her, Dan. And she's gonna find out she's not married to me after all and... and... that'll be it, won't it? I'll be fucked."

Her heart is still weighing heavily inside her stomach and her lungs refuse to fill with air and her chest is too tight for them to expand. She hardly registers that her hands are trembling as she stands frozen to the spot for a minute. We aren’t married. Not fucking married. They didn’t go through with it and he knew. She can get over the not married thing, she can even get over him lying about it, but the fact that he has such little faith in her. That he thinks she would leave. That he doubts the extent of her love for him. That cuts the deepest, hurts the most. He thinks I’d leave him. She is gasping for air now, and realizes all too late that she’s let out a sob.

“Tess?”

She pushes the door the rest of the way open but remains planted firmly in her place in the hall, her feet rooted to the floor. He looks up at her from the bed—his phone next to him, the screen still alight—but she isn’t sure if Danny is still on the line or not. She doesn’t really care, if she’s being honest.

“Tess...did you? How much did you hear? Fuck. Fuck. I’m...Tess, babe...let me explain…” She can tell he is panicking, his tongue tripping over his words as they rush out of his mouth. For a fraction of a moment she wants to cross the space between them to run a comforting hand along the tense line of his jaw. She wants to look in his eyes and tell him to breathe. But those feelings are fleeting. She is angry and hurt.

“Scott.” She shakes her head; anything else she wants to say gets caught up in a sob that she can’t hold back.

He stands up and it only takes him two strides to cross the room to stand in front of her. He takes her hands in his and she doesn’t stop him, doesn’t resist but instead lets her arms hang limply at her sides.

“Tess, I’m sorry...I’m so sorry.” His lips press against her forehead, her cheeks, her nose, before he brings their joined hands up to his mouth and she feels his breath ghost over her knuckles. “I was an idiot okay? I was afraid to tell you. I can’t lose you, T.”

She inhales deeply, counts to four and then releases. “Scott, I need some space.” She needs just a little time alone to process. “I think you should leave.”

Chapter Text

Two and a half months later

 

He’s rooted to the spot, staring at her. Unable to move, her words echo in his head. There are tears clinging to her eyelashes and he can see how she is trying (and failing) to regulate her breathing. He can hear the telltale crackle in her voice that means she is minutes from falling apart but trying desperately to hold herself together and that breaks him. I did that, he thinks. I hurt her.

“Scott, you need to leave. Please,” her voice wobbles unsteadily as she says it but her expression is stony, unwavering.

It feels like he’s been punched, like all the air has been forced from his lungs and he can’t fill them back up again. He’s grappling for his words, for something to make this better, but they left him along with his breath. All he can manage is a pleading, “Tessa.”

She shakes her head at him, pressing the backs of her thumbs to her eyes, “Scott, I need some time, okay?”

No, it’s not okay. But it’s fair. This is his fault and he knows it, but he’s breaking. He lied because he didn’t want to lose her and now he’s losing her anyways. And this is worse than it’s ever been before because he knows what it’s like to be with her, what it is like to have all of her. What it’s like to explore every inch of her body. What it’s like to wake up with her every morning. What it’s like to be married to her (even if it wasn’t real).

“I’m going to go for a walk,” she says. Please don’t be here when I get back , is left unsaid but he knows it’s what she means.

She rubs her temples and closes her eyes briefly, as if in closing and then opening them again she can go back in time and fix this.

“I’m sorry,” is all that he can muster, the words scraping against his dry throat as he pushes them out. She turns away from him and starts to walk towards the front door.

Her voice is small by the time she reaches the door but still loud enough to carry back to him, “I can’t believe you’d have such little faith in me.”

And then she’s gone. He’s alone. And he cracks.

Once he finally manages to pull himself together, and physically drag himself off where he’s sat in the middle of the floor where she left him in their (her) bedroom doorway, he starts throwing items at random into his duffel bag. He doesn’t know how much time she’ll need, or if she’ll even forgive him at all, but he hopes that in only packing the essentials—only enough of his belongings for a few days—he can will a short reconciliation into being. He just needs long enough to come up with an apology that’s worthy of her forgiveness.



When he wakes up in the morning he’s a little dazed, slowly blinking out of a dream. His mind had been replaying their first night together once they’d gotten home from Vegas, both a little unsure how to proceed. How did their new relationship work once they arrived home? How would things change or stay the same? Scott unlocked the door to Tessa’s apartment with his key (the one he’d had since she’d moved in) carrying both their bags over the threshold.

They’d arrived home in the middle of the afternoon, but he knew she’d been fighting a migraine all morning so he wasn’t surprised when he looked down at her, leaning on his shoulder, and she blinked up at him with tired eyes.

“Welcome home, love,” he said, placing a gentle kiss on her head.

She hummed sleepily into his chest as they made their way into her little apartment.

“I guess I don’t have to make excuses to invite you into my bed with me for a nap?”

He chuckled lightly, pulling her more tightly into himself, “You never need an excuse to ask that.”

He woke up a few hours later, body curled around hers, a mess of dark hair in his face. They’d been here before, of course, but it was different this time. Now that they’d slept together, now that they were married. Different in her bed—a bed they’ve shared often but where he’d tried hard not to cross into her space—than in a generic hotel room in another country. This somehow made everything seem real.

He ran his hand over the bare expanse of her arm, his hand coming to rest gently on top of hers, where it lay on her thigh. He traced his thumb over the small ring still wrapped around her finger. He memorized the feel of it there, the smoothness of the dainty white gold band, the bumps in the detailing around the small, perfectly cut, gleaming diamond. He intertwined his fingers with hers and she’d stirred then.

She nestled herself in closer to him, her ass pressing between his hips, where he could feel his dick twitching already, even  just at this slight contact. He moved their joined hands over her hip and to her belly, where he used them to pull her in further. Her body melted into his and he felt a little vibration through her as she hummed in contentment—completely at home in his arms.

“This is nice,” he said, soft in her ear.

“Yeah,” she breathed. She laid there quietly in his arms for a minute before squeezing his fingers tightly in her own. Slowing she migrated their hands over her belly, inching closer to the elastic of her pants she said, “You know how much I love to nap, but there are so many other things I imagined doing with you in this bed.”

He’s about to ask why she never said anything before, why they waited so long to do this when he realizes she had probably spent the last two years in the same weird stasis as him. He’d done the same, lying awake in his bed, next to her, imagining all the ways he could make her body sing, too afraid of upsetting the precious balance they created to do anything about it.

He’s going to tell her this, when all thoughts—and remaining blood—leave his brain. She dips both their hands into her underwear where she guides him down between her thighs to feel how wet she is before he’s even done anything.

“What do you say, should we christen this bed?”



He’s half-hard now he rolls over in the bed, his sleep-addled brain expecting to find her there next to him and pull her in. But the space next to him is empty, and it takes a minute for him to register that he was in a dream and he isn’t under the soft white duvet on Tessa’s bed, but under his faded Maple Leafs comforter.

He slowly makes his way downstairs hanging his head, his mom is there waiting for him— coffee in hand. He takes her offering and sits down at the old kitchen table, it’s the same one they’ve had since he was a kid—graffiti marking the years until he and his brothers were grown. He sits at the spot he knows has Tessa’s name carved into the side of the table—he’d dared her to do it some time when they were maybe two years into their friendship—and traces the letters with the pad of his thumb, before resting his forehead on the hard surface in defeat.

His mom gives him a moment, but she won’t wait forever, he knows that. His parents already gave him the night to compose himself. Not asking questions when he showed up alone on their doorstep, overnight bag in hand, probably looking as haggard as he felt.

“I fucked up, Mom,” he says eventually, lifting his head to look at her.

The look she gives him in return says, you wouldn’t be here, without Tessa, looking like someone killed your puppy if you hadn’t.

I lied to Tess,” he continues, not knowing how much to tell his mom. He doesn’t know how to tell her they aren’t married, never were. As it is, he’s only voiced the words aloud to Danny—and now Tess knows too, of course. “I lied to her, and hurt her, and she asked for space.”

His mom lets out a deep sigh, both hands wrapped around her coffee mug. “Scott,” she says his name, but means don’t fuck this up, “I don’t pretend to understand the relationship you two have, but I do know that it’s strong enough to withstand just about anything. And that girl will always forgive you, always has.”

“Maybe she shouldn’t,” he folds his head back down on his arms.

“Scotty,” his mom’s tone is sharp, warning. “You didn’t—please tell me you didn’t—”

His head whips up and he looks at her, meets her eyes, full of concerned accusation. “No. Mom, I didn’t cheat. Not on Tess, I would never.”

She lets out the breath she was holding and he feels the sharp sting of her earlier tone, hurt by the fact that his own mother could think that of him. But then he realizes he’s given her nothing else. He’s here without with the woman they believe to be his wife, the one he’s been in love with half his life—even when he didn’t know how to show her—telling his mom that Tess shouldn’t forgive him.

It feels wrong to tell his mom the truth now, after how disappointed she was thinking the two of them had lied about their relationship to begin with. The only ones we were really lying to were ourselves, he thinks of all those years where the two of them danced around their feelings for each other, when everyone else saw it so clearly.

Maybe, that will be the case here. Maybe he can come clean, he can tell his mom and she will be able to see things clearly, where he can’t.

He swallows the lump in his throat before beginning, “Mom, Tess and I we, we aren’t married. We never were.”

She stares at him, a mix of confusion and hurt clear on her face, she opens her mouth as if to speak but then shuts it again. Her knuckles turning white where she grips tightly at her coffee mug. He can hear a bird chirping somewhere outside the kitchen window, and a low click as the coffee maker shuts itself off.

“When we went to Vegas, I, uh, I accidentally proposed, when we’d been drinking...and somehow we ended up at a wedding chapel. We paid for the marriage and everything but I guess we didn’t go through with it. But, Tess, she thoughtwe did.”

“And you knew?”

He feels sick, bile rising in his throat, dizzy from his own thoughts. “Not at first, at first I thought it could be true. And it was like waking up to everything I’ve ever wanted, so I wanted to believe it was. But then after, I started to remember things and I worried that maybe it was all too good to be real. Then a few weeks ago the minister called and confirmed that we didn’t...that we aren’t.”

His mom is looking at him intently, trying to follow exactly what he is saying, her face isn’t betraying any anger, but she doesn’t look happy.

“And you didn’t feel like she should know? That the woman you love, who thinks—thought—she was your wife deserved the truth from you?”

He sighs, because of course she did. He was just scared. He carefully takes a sip of his own coffee, thinking of the best words where there are none, he has none.

“I was scared,” is all he eventually comes out with.

His mom cocks her head and taps her fingers against her mug, probably resisting the urge to smack him in the side of the head.

“What were you scared of, Scotty?”

“That she’d realize she doesn’t have to be with me.”

His mom lets a little half laugh, “Have to be with you? She never had to do anything, Scotty. If she’s with you it’s because she wants to be. When have you ever known Tessa Virtue to do something she doesn’t want to do?”

She has him there. But there’s more to it, he thinks. He knows she never needed to be with him, that she could have easily asked that they get an annulment, but he also knows she hates to quit on anything. And he knows they are complicated. And mostly he knows she deserves more than he can offer.

“What do I do?”

“Well, she asked for time, so start by giving it to her. Then, you work things out, together. Like you two always have.”



Twelve years ago

 

Scott focused on the sound of his blades cutting the ice as he picked up speed. He focused on the puck at the end of his stick as he maneuvered it across the blue line. He focused on his relative distance to the goal and how fast approaching the defender was on him, as he tried to time the perfect shot.

He was in no way focused on the petite, green eyed brunette in the stands, hot chocolate clasped between her pink mittened hands as she cheered for him. He didn’t let his concentration falter listening to the way her voice curled around his name. He didn’t think about the fact that she had borrowed her mom’s car and driven an hour to come see him play even though she just barely got her G2 and hates driving outside of town. No. Tessa being at his game absolutely had nothing to do with his momentary loss of focus, leading to him lying flat out on the ice, as the arena spun around him.

Sitting on the bench, squirting water from his bottle onto his face and into his open mouth, as the world slipped back into relative stillness, he caught her eyes in the stands—full of concern.

“She likes you,” Charlie leaned over, nudging him in the shoulder, causing things to spin out of focus a bit, again.

He shook his head, realizing his mistake too late, blinking slowly to try to keep the dizziness at bay. “Dude, she’s just my friend, you know that.”

“Whatever you say, but I’ve seen the way she looks at you.” Charlie said, sipping from his own water. “Does she even like hockey?”

“Of course she does! And she doesn’t look at me any different than she always has.”

“All I’m saying is that if she’s here, it’s because she likes you. You can pretend that’s not true all you want.”

He rolled his eyes at Charlie, but the next time he glanced up at the stands, Tess had her hot chocolate in one hand while the other waves at him enthusiastically and her face splits into a bright grin.

She was sitting alone, just having come to watch him, no other hockey loving friends to keep her company. It meant more to him than he could ever explain in words to her, but he’d known Tess since she had bangs and pigtails, she was just his best friend (though he still won’t admit that to the guys) and she loves hockey—that’s all.

It wasn’t until after the game, once he’s showered and dressed, and found Tess waiting outside the change rooms—fidgeting with the key ring on her mom’s car keys—that he realized it’s Friday night and she was missing a ballet class to be here to watch him play. He got this warm feeling in his chest he couldn’t  quite explain.

“How’s your head?” she asked, a quiet concern lacing her voice.

“Good now.” It was, it had stopped hurting the second he saw her smiling at him.

“Good. Uh, so...I know you took the bus here with all the guys,” she started, “but I was wondering if you wanted to drive back with me.”

She was looking down and he noticed a flush of pink colour her cheeks, “You don’t have to,” she added quickly. “You probably want to celebrate your win with the team.”

He put a hand on her wrist to still her fidgeting, “And spend an hour on a school bus with 20 other sweaty guys? Nah, I’d rather drive with you, kiddo. Even if there is a high likelihood we will die.”

She looked up at him then, half smile, half scowl on her lips. “You know it was just parallel parking I couldn’t do, right?”

“Yeah, and left hand turns, and regular parking…”

“Shut up, Moir,” she swatted him in the arm. “Take your stinky bus then.”

He pulled her into his side with a grin and felt her whole body relax into him. “How about we get dinner first? I just have to tell coach I have a ride.”

She nodded and he could have sworn her smile lit up the dirty, dim, peeling paint, locker room hallway.

Maybe it does mean more that she’s here, he thought. Tessa Virtue never does anything she doesn’t want to do.




Two and a half months later (plus six days)

 

He lets the silence drag out for a week, using all the willpower he can muster to give her the space that she’s asked for. He knows that with Tessa it is always best to let her have the time she needs and not to push her. Knowing this doesn’t stop his fingers from itching to call her every time he picks up his phone--if only just to hear her voice--or from the countless texts he’s drafted and deleted. The texts he never sends range from a simple I love you and I’m sorry, to babbling novel length message detailing every reason why he didn’t tell her and every reason why he knows that was wrong.

The text that he does send her, the one he spends an hour stewing over, six days after she tells him to leave--to give her space to think--means everything. He deliberated whether or not to send something all last night, getting next to no sleep, but in the end he thinks his message is perfect and he would have sent it no matter what was happening between them.

Tessa is due to have a meeting and give a presentation to the chair of the Psychology department along with her advisor about a potential research grant and he knew that she’s been nervous about it for weeks. He knows she’ll need the pep talk. And since they were in high school every single interview, presentation, performance or anything else that has Tessa knotted up in a tangled ball of anxiety he has sent her a similar message reminding her to breathe and how wonderful she is no matter what.

So, he presses send on his message and watches as it pops up in the iMessage--delivered.

Tess, this is just my reminder to you that you’re amazing and brilliant and strong. You can do anything you set your mind to. Remember to breathe and remember that you once fell out of a tree, broke your arm, and still wanted to climb right back up. You’re the bravest person I know. Good luck today. And no matter what I love you.  

He tacked the last line on, deviating from his standard messages because he means it. Not just in the sense that he will still love her even if her meeting goes horribly wrong, even if she were to drop out of her PhD today. It’s much more than that. He wants her to know that no matter what happens, even if he fucked things up so badly (which he did) that she never wants to be with him again, even if they never get married for real, even if he never again gets to kiss every inch of her freckled skin, or hold her hand, he will still love her. Always. Because she’s Tessa and he’s Scott.  

Just over a minute later, still staring at his message, rereading it again and again, he sees that she’s read it. The text bubble pops up and his heart skips at the prospect of her responding. But then it disappears again. Nothing. But at least he knows she saw it. She knows how much he cares.

For now that’s all he can do.

He doesn’t hear from her all day and it takes a concerted effort on his part not to call her to ask how her meeting went. He has to tuck his phone away, back in his old bedroom at his parents so that he stop checking it to see if she’s responded.

 

It’s not until seven o’clock, when the sun is low in the sky staining it pink and orange and he is at the kitchen sink finishing off the dishes from dinner, that he sees her car pull up the long driveway. At first he thinks that maybe he’s imagined it, that he’s so desperate to see her that he’s dreaming up a whole scene where she comes to the house running into his arms, willing to forgive his lies. But this is real.

He hasn’t heard from her in six days and she never responded to his message, but there she is, hesitantly stepping out of her car outside his parents house. She looks like she hasn’t yet changed from her meeting. Dressed to impress, her hair is pulled back neatly in a low bun, loose strands flying around her face in the cool wind. She’s wearing grey dress pants and a matching blazer and her favourite pointy black heels. Her heels are a bit unsteady on the gravel drive and she stumbles just a bit, catching herself on the door of her car. She’s trying to wrap herself up in her oversized scarf, her favourite one, one her nana had gotten for her years and years ago, when a gust of wind pulls it out of her grip.

He watches as the material is caught in the breeze like a kite and sails above her, as she tries in vain to catch it. He’s just finished wiping his wet, sudsy hands on his jeans ready to run outside to help her recover her scarf when he looks out the kitchen window one last time to see the scarf catch on one of the upper branches of the tree at the end of the driveway—their tree.

He is still shoving his feet into his sneakers when he makes it outside, bursting out the front door, half expecting her to be standing on the other side. At first he doesn’t see her at all and thinks that maybe it was too good to be true—her being here— that he had in fact been imagining the entire thing, but her car is still here. His gaze traces the front yard, her shoes are laying at the base of the tree, and there she is, stocking-footed pulling herself up to the second branch.

He finds himself rushing down the driveway, heart in his throat at the sight of her wobbling unsteadily on the branch as she tries to stand on it to reach her scarf—waving in the wind like a flag.

“Tess!” he yells, “what the hell are you doing? Get down from there before you get hurt.”

“Just a sec,” he thinks she calls back, though her voice is muffled by the wind. The wind which has been picking up and swaying the branches of the tree, Tessa along with it.

He’s about to start climbing up after her, for the first time in nearly twenty years. But when using one hand to brace herself against the tree trunk she reaches up and captures her scarf between two fingers of the opposite hand.

It’s as she’s bring the scarf in close to herself, sighing in relief, that she loses her balance. He watches, helplessly, as she careens forward, one foot slipping first, then the other. And then she’s falling.

He only has a second or two to react, to rush under the tree, hoping he has the right trajectory, before she’s landing in his outstretched arms. He only manages to get one arm hooked around one of her legs, the other on her back. He’s thrown off balance and stumbles as he tries to right them. He ends up landing with his butt in the dirt and Tessa sprawled on top of him.

He pulls her in tight, not sure how he managed to catch her, but infinity glad he did. She burrows her head into his chest, her breath coming in short and sharp, body trembling a bit.

“I told you that tree would try to kill you one day.”

“But you’re always there to catch me,” she says into his shirt.

He shakes his head. “I’m so sorry, Tess.”

“I know.” She says softly before untangling herself from on top of him, allowing them both to get off the cold ground. “I know.”

He stands in front of her now, his hands running over her body, checking for signs of injury.

“I’m fine, Scott,” she chuckles lightly, her eyes a little watery.

He cups her cheeks in his hands, his thumbs wiping under her eyes where tears are gathering in her lashes. “I’m so sorry.”

He doesn’t know what else to say right now, other than sorry a million times over. Still holding her face, he pressed his forehead against hers—like maybe somehow he can press his thoughts into her head, that he can make her feel just how sorry he is.

She breathes in deep and he can feel her let a bit of her weight fall against him.

After a minute of breathing each other in, he pulls away to look at her face, steadying himself to speak again.

“Are you okay?” he pauses, unsure if he wants to ask what’s next. “Are we okay?”

“Scott I—I,” stops and starts again. “I got your text.”

He sighs, taking her hands in his, “I meant every word. No matter what happens, kiddo, I love you.”

She chokes out a sob, her tears falling freely now. The wind is still battering around them, blowing her hair into her face where it sticks to her damp, pink cheeks.

“I love you too. I-I...I had my presentation and I was a mess. I was so nervous and I mixed up my data, but they are giving us the grant anyways. And after the only person I wanted to see, wanted to talk to, was you. Always. But Scott, I’m hurt. What you did, hurt me.”

“I know. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I lied.”

“I know you are. I know. And I am a little mad that you lied to me—“

“You have every right to be very mad. I deserve it,” he interjects.

“But that isn’t what hurt most. Scott, it hurt me that you could doubt how much I love you.” Her words sound practiced, probably are. She probably ran them over and over in her head trying to figure out the best way to express her feelings to him.

He feels awful because if their places were reversed it would break his heart to know that she could doubt that he loves her with everything he has. That he wouldn’t want to be with her. She’s done nothing in the past two and a half months that would lead him to believe she isn’t as much in this with him as he is with her, so he doesn’t know how to explain himself, and his doubts.

“I was scared and I’m so sorry,” is all he can come up with.

“Why were you scared?” She looks up at him, blinking away tears. She looks so vulnerable and afraid herself. She inhales sharply and bites her lip and he doesn’t need to hear her say what she’s thinking, what did I do to make you think I would leave you?

“I was being stupid. So stupid. And I was, I was just afraid that you’d realize that you don’t have to be with me,” it’s the same thing he told his mom and even though he knows, she knows, that she never had to be with him the feeling lingers. “That you’d realize you deserve better than what I can give you. You deserve so much more. More than a guy who couldn’t manage to get a job on the police force until he was nearly thirty. More than a guy who only likes to read about sports. Who nearly flunked out of university, would have if it weren’t for you. More than a drunk proposal in Las Vegas that you can’t even remember.”

He lets go of her hands for a second to run his own through his hair. She’s looking at him with her wide green eyes, waiting for him to go on.

“That’s not how I would have done it Tess, what kind of idiot proposes drunk to the girl he’s been in love with for a decade before he even asks her out—”

“Well you did take me on a date first,” she smiles, just a small one, a tiny ray of sunshine peeking through a cloudy sky.

“I had this whole plan...I was going to wait until you weren’t so focused on school...I was going to ask you out and show you that I could be good for you. I bought that ring months and months ago because I wanted you to have it...but I was going to wait to do things right.”

Her eyes have gone wide and she’s shaking her head, “You bought me the ring...before...before Vegas?”

He nods. “I brought it by accident. I hid it in my suitcase...god I’m such an idiot. And I’m sure I disappointed you.”

“You aren’t. I mean...you are for lying...you’re a really big idiot for that and for thinking that you aren’t enough for me. You are, you’ve always been enough. The rest though...you aren’t an idiot for Vegas, for the ring no.” She’s shaking her head vigorously. “Never.”

“Tess, I love you. So much and I’m so sorry I made such a big mess of this. Fuck. I wanted to give you a real proposal...and I’ve fucked everything up”

“Scott.” She says his name heavily, as if it contains much more meaning than just a title.

Then she is taking her hands out of his and pulling the ring off her left hand, holding it delicately in her right. She opens his palm to place the small circle of metal and stone into his own hand. Then she folds his fingers around it.

“Then do it. Give me a real proposal.”