Chapter 11: Epilogue
It takes a while to figure out and Beth second guesses herself a few times more than necessary before they realize that they do work, fit together quite seamlessly, one half finding another. They go on dates, real dates, and Rio pays for every one despite her protests of wanting to break even. He tells her there will be time for that and to enjoy someone looking after her for once.
She definitely enjoys it.
Beth continues to work from her online craft store, turning a decent profit that she has to expand her merchandise (which is a lot of work to do, but it’s so worth it to feel like she’s doing something that she’s good at, that means something). She teaches Rio how to bake a few cakes and even uses Mug Half Full for a few meet n’ greets with clients; it’s good publicity for his café and she gets to spend more time with him.
She somehow convinces herself that dating needs to be a mix of time: intimate dates, alone time, and detailed mapped out plans put in and spent in a certain way. But she’s wrong.
She’s realized in the best way that sometimes just being there with someone makes all the difference—Beth hovering around Rio’s café as he makes lattes and scones with Marcus, Rio cooking dinner while she makes jewelry for orders on her craft store, sitting on the couch together and not talking but touching.
These are things she doesn’t realize. Rio’s filling empty spaces inside of her until one day, she feels complete. Spaces like shelves with things taken off, dust gathering, gaping holes that seemed like home because she’d gotten used to it.
Rio’s in the midst of cutting vegetables for a stir fry and Beth pauses, her fingers grazing the bottom of a wine glass she has in her hand, something lost slipping into place and clicking. She turns and wraps her arms around his waist, placing her chin on his shoulder before kissing his cheek.
She feels him smile more than seeing it, his hands pausing administrations to lean back into her. “What was that for?”
Beth shrugs, pressing her nose into the back of his neck briefly, “Just because.”
Rio angles himself more towards her, pressing an equally thoughtful kiss to her forehead, “Well if you keep distractin’ me, dinner will never be done.”
It doesn’t sound like much of a threat, but she lets him continue.
A lot of things begin to pop up: Dean tries to drag her into the mess that his new life with Kate but Beth wades in slowly because of the kids. She wants to make it work as much as possible without sacrificing any of her newfound freedom.
When her ex-husband tries to bring up his distaste for Rio, Beth cuts of his sentence with: “You fucked your new wife on your work desk while we were still married, I think that gives me permission to date whoever I want.”
Dean’s face changes color like a gumball losing flavor; purple to red to pale white.
He never brings up Rio again.
Rio’s around a lot more than she thought he would be; he has two jobs and it keeps him busy. But what surprises her is that he consistently asks her out on dates. He makes himself available for sitting around both of their apartments while she works, days on playgrounds with their kids, days for brunch because it turns out Rio really likes crispy potatoes that involve avocado, nights in to cook, nights out to grab a drink at a local bar.
Beth’s curious how he figures it all out; a hectic schedule sometimes has the capability to knock her completely out and yet here he is, doing mundane shit like sorting laundry with her while they eat Pad Thai.
She chews on her lower lip, can’t stop herself from asking— “So your schedule must really be flexible for the stand-in if you’re spending so many nights with me.”
Rio licks his lips, his eyes concentrated on his Thai food before the gaze flutters up to her. “Nah, I don’t do that anymore.”
She blinks, tries not to sound as surprised as she feels. “Oh,” She folds a tank top before placing her hands on her knees, “I didn’t realize you stopped.”
He shrugs his one shoulder, putting his food down to take a sip of his wine, sitting with his back against the bottom of the couch as she sits on the cushions. He moves to kneel, turning until he’s pressed in-between her legs, his hands on top of hers.
“You wanted me to go on dates with other women?”
Her cheeks redden gently at the teasing and she shakes her head even though she feels transparent, eyes seeing right into her. “I…I never asked you to quit.”
He tilts her chin and leans against her, his lips brushing hers, “You never had to.”
They don’t talk much after that.
Beth runs out of fabric for a job that she waited until the last minute to do, of course, and she’s nearly euphoric when she opens the front door and Rio’s standing there with a bag from the nearest craft store.
“You’re a lifesaver.” She says with a smile and Rio leans against the doorjam, glancing inside to see that she’s not alone.
Annie looks up from the couch, covered in sequins and trying to untangle string. She raises an eyebrow at him.
“You can thank me later.” He says and waves a hand at her sister and then sticks his hands in his pockets.
“How much is that gonna cost her?” Annie snorts, a teasing tone to her voice that makes Rio roll his eyes.
They jab at one another like this, Beth’s come to realize with an amused but fond tilt to her lips. Annie tends to bring up his last place of employment, shots about money and prices while Rio never hesitates to go after her job at Fine & Frugal or her sparkling personality.
He must sense how down to wire Beth is about getting this work done, however, because he simply replies, “I’m sure Beth has a payment plan in mind,” before kissing Beth’s cheek and making his way back to the car.
Beth lets out a slow sigh and wanders back to the couch, pulling the fabric out of the bag. She finds herself thinking about ‘paying Rio back later’ instead of the job in front of her. It definitely encourages her to work a little more effectively.
Annie smiles a little, shaking her head when she bumps their shoulders together.
“He’s annoyingly attractive.”
A laugh slips out of her throat, nodding and grabbing her scissors as Annie contemplates a thought.
“Are you sure he’s not available to go to my high school reunion?”
She doesn’t feel very different when she’s busy, running around doing every odd and end thing for her business or kids. But it’s in the quiet mornings she understands how happy she is.
Beth’s not quite awake yet, somewhere in the in-between, her blankets warm as the sun streams through her curtains. She feels a warm weight beside her, breathing even and slow, his arm around her lower waist as his lips brush along her neck.
She turns, just slightly, to get a good look at him. He’s beautiful all the time but there’s nothing like this; his face free from worry lines, eyes closed. She wants to touch him but doesn’t want to wake him, even though her movement ends up doing it anyways.
Rio stirs gently, his nose brushing against her cheek, pulling back just slightly as he fixes his gaze on her. He smiles, just a little, hand moving to cup her cheek. He sleeps with his ring on, which she found odd at first, but now she relishes in the touch—the metal familiar against her skin.
“Waffles?” He decides, even though she knows it’s a question.
Beth leans forward and kisses him—just because.
It’s in moments like these she realizes she’s whole again.