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It’s like when you wake up, and it’s dark still, and you don’t know the time. And there’s the blurry outline of a dream you can’t quite put a name to, but you feel it in a quiet, secluded space in your chest, the melody of the memory of her laugh in time with the thump of your heart. That, that's what it feels like. 

Tessa is stressed.

Scott knows this because she’s sitting ramrod straight in her high-backed leather chair at her desk in her corner of their office, with her head bowed forward and her hands clasped and still in her lap. She’s barely moving, but Scott knows from the years of working together that that’s a complete contrast to how her brain is working overtime, analysing every single worry she’s got and every possible solution she can come up with for said worry.

“Hey, Virtch,” he says, soft so he doesn’t startle her, and she looks up at him. “I’ve got your almond milk cappuccino,” he sing-songs and it makes her smile just a little, one corner of her lips lifting. He hands her coffee over but she doesn’t take a sip, just holds it in her hands. 

He crouches down beside her and she swivels her chair to face him. “Thank you,” she says.

“Anytime,” he grins, “I know coffee’s the way to your heart, T.” She rolls her eyes and he takes that break in tension to ask, “What’s going on in your head? You’re looking stressed and I’m worried.” 

He’s trying to use all the communication techniques they’ve tried to cultivate since the first time they’d worked with JF Menard, a well-known business consultant specialising in partnership dynamics. Tessa would be proud.

She shakes her head and narrows her eyes at him in an ‘I know what you’re doing’ gesture, but he just cocks his head and waits for her answer.

“I’m just worried about the business, Scott,” she sighs. “Our customer numbers have been decreasing for like, the last three quarters, and I know we’re smart with our finances, but…” she shrugs, gives him a sheepish smile, “...I worry.”

“I know you do,” he pats her knee and stands up, “but we do have that meeting with a potential couple today, yeah? Look,” he spins around, “I put on the clothes you told me too. And I even ironed them.”

“You actually look like an adult, well done,” she says dryly. He’ll take the slight jab if it means that her posture’s a little more relaxed. “ And I tell you what clothes to wear so that we match. It puts on a more united front, trust me.”

Her dark blue, form-fitting dress complements his shirt and she’s right, they do make a dashing pair, if he says so himself.

“I do, T. I trust you. Always. We wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t the case, right?”

He looks around their office, where their desks occupy adjacent walls. It’s mostly in shades of white according to Tessa’s tastes but he’s added all sorts of photos and knick-knacks over the years. Tessa just rolls her eyes when he brings yet another plant in. He’d looked at her in surprise when she brought one in for him. That one takes pride of place on his desk.

Their matching MBAs hang side-by-side, and he smiles fondly thinking back on their grad school days where they started at each other’s throats. He wonders what that Scott would think if he could see into the future and see this little office that he shares with Tessa, running a wedding planning company that they both love with all their hearts, even if the day-to-day is more like blood, sweat and tears.

Even with all the ups and downs, Paper Rings is their baby, and they’re going to fight to make sure they can keep on making the wedding dreams of every single couple that walks in through their front doors come true.

“I know. I trust you too. Always.” She takes a sip of her coffee and gives a delighted sigh. “How do you always know the right thing to say?”

He takes her hand and squeezes it. “You do the same for me.”

The appointment is scheduled for 10 am, but Tessa being Tessa, she’s already got everything ready fifteen minutes before that. The presentation on the iPad displaying all their wedding packages and available customisations, the complimentary food and drink to woo the potential couple, perhaps a testimony or two from previous customers that he knows she’ll seamlessly integrate into today’s appointment if need be.

As for him, he’ll take care of any inquiries about financial costs, particularly any comparisons with their competitors. (If anyone brings up Gabi & Gui again, he swears to god, he doesn’t know what he’ll do.) 

If he’s being honest though, the most fulfilling part of this job for him is when it’s the younger, more wide-eyed couples who come in. The ones whose eyes balk a little at the prices, and that’s when he and Tess look at each other and know that they’re going to do all they can to modify the packages and minimise costs so that the couple they’re working with is able to achieve all their wedding dreams within their budget.

It’s an extra challenge, sure, and maybe he and Tessa would be a little richer if all they cared about was the bottom line, but that’s not what they’re here for. He knows that the two of them are in this business because they care about their customers, first and foremost.

The clock ticks a few minutes closer to ten, and Scott notices that Tessa still looks tense, her shoulders tight and high.

“Hey, kiddo,” he murmurs, a hand settling on between her shoulder blades. He still remembers when he said that nickname to annoy her but it’s changed now to something fond, an inside joke that they share.

“Hmm?” Tessa looks up at him. 

He moves his hands to her shoulders, digging his thumbs in the particular spots he knows starts to ache when she’s got too much tension. “We’re gonna do great today, okay?”

“Easy for you to say,” she hums, tipping her head forward. “You’re the one who’s charming with people.”

Leave it to Tessa to not recognise how much she leaves the people around her in awe. He doesn’t know anyone else who’s quite as oblivious to their effect on those around her. He knows that a lot of it is because Tessa has a way of making the person she’s talking to feel like they’re genuinely listened to, like they’re talking to a good friend instead of someone they’d just met.

He’s about to disagree when their front door opens, and the couple they’re scheduled to meet with walks in through the door.

He gives her shoulders one last squeeze, letting one of his hands linger on the small of her back as he looks up to greet their customers.

Both guys are laughing as they walk in, one of them holding the door open for the other, the easy kind of affection that still makes his heart clench in his chest whenever he sees it in the couples that he and Tessa work with. 

It’s been years since Kaitlyn broke his heart, years since he was about to ask her to marry him and he never got to because she ended things before he could ask the question, years since he lay awake at night wondering how he missed where things had gone so wrong.

“Hey there!” One of them greets. “I’m Jeff and this is my fiancé, Justin.”

“Hi! It’s so nice to meet you!” Tessa says, holding out her hand for Jeff and Justin to shake. “I’m Tessa, and this is my partner, Scott. Thank you for coming to us for an initial consultation for your wedding. We’re so happy to have you here.”

“Hopefully, you’ll find that we’re the right fit for you,” he picks up after Tessa pauses. “There’s nothing we love more than putting on the best wedding we can for the customers we work with, right, T?”

“We’re pretty excited too. Your place is gorgeous.”

Scott can see Tessa preen beside him. Their place is decorated to a white-and-cream colour scheme (he’s pretty sure these are the right words), with robin’s egg blue accents to match the colour of their logo. He knows she’s proud of how she’s made their place look. He'd mostly nodded, lost, during the entire process, doing whatever Tessa told him to do.

They’d spent days painting, leaving the blue feature wall for last, and finishing it felt like they were on top of the world. They didn’t know about all the difficulties that were yet to come, but they didn’t know about all the joys either. But it was the best feeling because their dreams were finally starting to become real.

Tessa leads them all over to the table where they’ll start talking about wedding options. He takes the seat beside hers, an arm on the back of her chair.

“So tell me a little more about you both,” Tessa leans forward, open and smiling. “How did you meet?”

“Oh, this is a funny story,” Justin, who’d been the quieter of the two so far, jumps in, lighting up in what’s sure to be a hilarious anecdote. Scott can see Jeff shaking his head, half-exasperated, half-fond, but he’s obviously going to let his fiancé tell the story. 

“We work on the same floor at the same company, right? I’m in finance, Jeff is in marketing. But this man,” he points his thumb towards Jeff, “always takes a stupidly long amount of time to make his coffee in the common kitchen. It was fine the first time, but every other time after that, it pissed me off. I hated the sight of him.”

Jeff groans and Justin thumbs his shoulder, grinning in delight. “It’s maybe a couple weeks later that he actually turns around to talk to me, who’s still impatiently waiting. And I, I was having none of it. I think I scared him with how angry I was.”

“Did not.”

“Did too. Anyway, it turned out he wasn’t so bad after all. Suddenly, it didn’t seem like I was waiting for ages for my coffee. I was waiting to see him.”

He turns to look at his fiancé. “And one day, by the time I got to the office kitchen, he already had my cup of coffee waiting for me, just the way I like it. And that’s when I knew. I kissed him first, then asked him out after.”

“And,” Justin gleefully adds, “I didn’t find out until months after we started dating that the reason he took so long when I was behind him was because he wanted to talk to me. Not realising that I hated his guts because of it.”

Jeff groans again, but he’s trying not to smile. “It all worked out in the end.”

He has to surreptitiously wipe a tear (he gets weepy at a good love story, okay?) and Tessa chuckles beside him, pulling out a packet of tissues from her dress pocket to hand to him.

“Forgive him,” she faux-whispers, patting his arm, “he’s a bit of a hopeless romantic.”

He rolls his eyes, “Thanks, Virtch.”

She grins at him, and he chuckles, smiling.

They discuss more of the practical details, he and Tessa offering what they believe sets their company apart, their most popular packages and asking Jeff and Justin what they’d like out of their big day.

Jeff and Justin don’t throw around the usual buzz words of ‘elegant’ or ‘sophisticated’; they maintain that they simply want to pay homage to their favourite memories together as they make new ones. It sounds like they want to invite large extended families and lots of friends though, but that shouldn’t be a problem.

They’re flicking through his and Tess’ digital portfolio on the iPad. Scott’s so thankful that they’ve come a long way in their business.

There was a time when it was photos of him and Tessa in full wedding regalia that served as advertising for the company, from a photoshoot where their hired models had failed to show up. He’d been so panicked when he’d called Tessa, so worried he’d let his partner down, but she’d showed up and suggested that she and Scott step in instead.

Are their families ever gonna let them forget they did that? No. Never.

(Danny and Charlie have copies of them hidden somewhere for blackmail purposes and he swears he caught his mom staring far too wistfully at it the first time she’d dropped by to see their company.) 

But Scott’s just so fucking grateful that he hadn’t fucked up completely.

He looks over at Tess, who’s caught up in a conversation with Jeff about the lighting choices made by one of the previous couples, and he’s overcome by such a wave of gratitude for what they have together that he reaches over to squeeze her hand. Once, gently, the way they do sometimes to ground themselves.

She pauses and smiles over at him, before picking back up on the conversation again.

Justin’s asking him about the potential costs and he shows him the table showing how all the different packages add up when he feels Tessa jolt upright beside him.

He glances at her, worried. He tilts his head, raises an eyebrow. Are you okay?

She smiles sheepishly, ducking her head, turning her palm over on her lap and tapping her fingers together like she does when she’s trying to commit something to memory. She gives him a reassuring nod, wordlessly telling him that he can go back to his conversation with Justin.

The time for this initial consultation is close to finishing, and the four of them have diverted from wedding planning talk. It’s good, though, because it lets him and Tessa get to know Jeff and Justin better.

“I really like your name, Paper Rings,” Justin comments, when their conversation digresses how hard it was to start out in your own business. “How did you guys come up with it?”

“T, you wanna take this?”

“Oh god, there was definitely too much alcohol. We’d been stuck on a name for ages—”

“—I suggested Le Scossa and she shot me down—”

“It was not a good name,” she tells him without missing a beat and he laughs. “Anyway, it was probably past midnight and I think some weird documentary was on Netflix by this point, but Scott had this piece of paper and was folding it like it was the most fascinating thing in the world—”

“—it probably was. I was pretty drunk by that point—”

“—and he wrapped it around my left ring finger and that’s when it hit me.”

Scott! Paper Rings! That’s the name of our business! ” He tries to imitate her voice, and she narrows her eyes, but he just wraps an arm around her shoulders, smacking a kiss on her temple. “It was a great name! That’s what we went with.”

The conversation winds down and it’s time for Jeff and Justin to leave. He hopes that they will choose him and Tessa. It’s not a prerogative for them to make a final decision now. He knows that couples tend to meet with a few different wedding planners before settling on one.

But he has seen their company’s numbers, and he does understand Tessa’s concern. He hopes Jeff and Justin would choose them if only so she could breathe a little easier.

“Thanks for coming in to talk to us,” he shakes both men’s hands as they prepare to leave. “Let us know if you believe that we’re the right fit for planning your wedding. Tess and I would be honoured.” He hands over the card with their contact details.

Jeff and Justin look at each other. Justin speaks up, “We’ve made our decision. We want you both to plan our wedding. You’ve been really great today.”

He feels rather than sees Tessa’s joy, the way she stands up straighter, a nervous hum in the way she moves.

“Also because,” Jeff adds, a teasing shine to his eyes, “we trust a couple so obviously in love. Who wouldn’t want a couple like you to plan their wedding?”

His stomach drops.

The things that flash through his mind:

One. He and Tessa need to keep as many customers as possible to keep their business from failing.

Two. He and Tessa, therefore, need to keep Jeff and Justin as customers.

Anything else?

Oh, that’s right: Three. He and Tessa are not a couple.

Shit. What are they going to do?

He glances at her the same time she looks up at him, and he knows the moment he looks at her that they’ve both come to the same conclusion. 

She leans into his side, as he wraps the arm around her waist tighter. Her voice is a touch too high when she says, “We’re so grateful that you want to work with us! We’ll definitely deliver on the wedding of your dreams.”

They make plans for the next meeting where they’ll flesh out a clearer timeline of everything that needs to be done for the wedding, and exchange good-byes. He thinks. Half his mind is far too preoccupied with what he and Tessa have wordlessly agreed too, the other half wondering if this is borderline-illegal.

(The other-other-half of his brain is preoccupied with the sweetness of Tessa’s perfume, the warmth and softness of her pressed against his side.)

They wave the couple goodbye for probably five seconds too long after they’ve left.

Tessa steps away from him abruptly and it’s like being doused in ice-cold water.

“Scott.” Her eyes are wide.

“We need to talk about what just happened,” he says and she nods, biting her bottom lip.

She picks up the iPad and the other documents that had been laid out on the table during the meeting and walks towards their office. He follows her, picking up everything else that she couldn’t. They take a few moments to put everything back in their rightful place, and he turns around to face her once he’s done.

Tessa tends to look perfectly put together, ever since they met on the first day of their MBA program. Of course, working together means that he’s now seen her in varying degrees of stress and make-up and casualness in clothing but he doesn’t think he’s quite seen her this flustered.

He wonders if he misread the situation and he’s now fucked up.

“Tess, hey,” he crosses over to where she’s pacing up and down. “I’m sorry, I misread the situation and I—”

“No, no, you didn’t.” He doesn’t know why she sounds so mournful when she says it. “I thought the exact same thing. One moment they’re saying they wanted us to do their wedding, and the next moment they said that was because they thought we were together, and I—” The next breath she takes is shaky. “We have to do it, right? Pretend we’re together?” Her eyes widen. “Fuck. Is that illegal? Scott, we’re gonna get sued and then we’ll lose the business and I’ll lose y—”

“Tess, hey, breathe.” He has his hands on her upper arms, moving them up and down in what he hopes is a soothing gesture. She leans into him and it’s too easy for him to wrap his arms around her. She makes this soft sigh against his chest, sounding so vulnerable and scared and he knows that’s not something she finds easy to admit.

He doesn’t say anything, just breathes and hopes Tessa breathes with him. They’ve faced problems before, especially that first year when their business was just starting out. And the way they’ve always faced them is together.

“What are you thinking?” he asks her, a familiar question he’s asked her a million times before, when her brain’s going too fast.

“I’m thinking...I think we need to do this. To—pretend we’re together.” She looks up at him. “I don’t want to lose our business, Scott.”

“Okay.”

“You’d be fine with pretending? To be...to be in love with me?”

“You know you have to pretend too, right?” he bops her nose because she’s looking far too serious. She huffs out a laugh, the one that affectionately, but clearly, says, You’re a dork.

Tessa’s the one who steps away and his arms feel oddly bereft for the second time that day. She reaches for a sheet of paper and pen, placing both on his desk, the surface closest to them.

“We need to figure out a game plan, set down some boundaries.” She taps the pen to her lips. “What’s our story?”

“Our story?”

“Like, how we got together.”

Oh, right. “We’d probably want it to be something simple and believable, yeah?” He leans against the desk, motioning for her to pass the pen she’s holding. “Maybe we’re having a late night here, trying to get so much stuff done, and we’d ordered take-out and you’re making fun of me for ordering the same burritos again…” It’s close to something that’s happened a million times before, a vague outline from the same set of memories they share. “...And I looked over at you, and you just looked so pretty in the computer screen light, laughing at something stupid I said and I wanted to kiss you. So I asked you if I could. And you let me.”

He says it and he knows it’s never happened, but he’d be lying if he says he’s never had the same line of thought before. Tessa is beautiful. Tessa is brilliant. Tessa knows him in a way that few people do. But he loved irritating and getting a rise out of her in their MBA days and he has no doubt she hated his guts, and then they became friends, and then they had the crazy idea of starting a business together. And he’s had his girlfriends and Tessa’s had her boyfriends and while neither of them has had one for a while now, he’s never made a move.

(If asked why, this would be the reason: he cares for Tessa, loves her in his own way. But he doesn’t know if he can love her in that way, the way that leads to the weddings they plan together.

He doesn’t want to know what it’s like to love her and then lose her. No one he’s ever fallen in love with has chosen to stay.)

“Okay,” Tessa sounds like she’s in a daze. Oh god, what if she thinks he’s a creep for saying all that? “That sounds...that sounds good. We’ll—we’ll stick with that.”

“What are our boundaries gonna be?” He switches the topic.

“Like, physical stuff?”

He nods.

“Whatever feels natural?” she shrugs helplessly. “I trust you. I know you’re not gonna do anything to make me feel uncomfortable. Or if you do, I know I can tell you.”

“Of course.” 

She frowns. “What about kissing? We’d probably need to in front of other people right? To make sure it all seems real?”

“You’re okay with that?”

“It—It’ll just be quick pecks in public. Whatever feels natural. It should be fine.” She tucks her hair behind her ears, then takes the pen from his loose grip and writes it down.

"What about…" he doesn't know if he should be saying this but JF's sessions about honesty must have really stuck with him, "...feelings?"

"Feelings?" Tessa squeaks. 

He's digging himself into a deeper and deeper hole. "I just mean, I don't want to complicate things." Now that he's said that, he's getting a clearer and clearer sense of just how much he'll fuck this up. 

If Tessa's a precipice he’s eternally close to falling for, this fake-dating scheme is just him inching closer and closer to the edge. 

"We won't complicate things." She says with a confidence he doesn't feel. "We'll just have to talk. If it becomes too much, or if we…if the way we feel about each other, um, changes, then we have to talk about it." She jots down, Feelings Clause: must talk if things change from the way they are now.

"I don't think the way I feel about you is gonna change," she admits, cocking her hip against the desk. 

"Am I really that terrible?" He pretends to be offended, a hand pressed to his heart.

“Yeah,” she smirks and he pinches her side. “Scott!” She scribbles the next number on their list. “What about the timeframe?”

“So...until after the wedding?”

Tessa nods, then she freezes. “Scott. What are we telling our families?”

Fuck. What are they actually gonna tell their families?

“Maybe...we’ll only tell them if we need to? I can’t lie to my mom. Or Jordan. They’d see right through me. But I also don’t want them to—”

“—make it a bigger deal than what it is?” he finishes. “Yeah,” he scratches the back of his neck. “If my mom thought we were actually together, she’d be insufferable.”

“Oh. Alma would hate for me to date you?”

“Nah,” he says absent-mindedly as he takes the pen from her and writes down, Tell family only if necessary . “She adores you. She’d love for you to be her daughter-in-law.” He dots the period at the end of the sentence. “Anything else?”

Tessa’s staring at him when he looks up. But she looks back down quickly and takes the pen from him, capping and uncapping it. “I think that’s it, for now. I guess it can be an ‘add-as-we-go’ kind of thing?”

He draws two lines at the bottom of the sheet of paper and writes their full names in block print under a line each. He points the pen towards her, “Would you like to do the honours, Virtch?”

She rolls her eyes as she takes the pen from him. “I, Tessa Virtue, take thee, Scott Moir, to be my fake boyfriend until the end of this wedding does us part.” She signs her name with a flourish.

He laughs, and she grins, looking triumphant. “Me too.”

“What, no speech?” Tessa pouts.

“Okay, okay,” he puts his hands up in mock-defeat, then signs his name. “T, kiddo, Virtch, Tess. You hated me when we first met because I was an idiot who liked to annoy the pretty, smart girl in his class. I am also now the lucky idiot who gets to kiss you and hold your hand. You know me and my strengths and flaws better than pretty much anyone and I’m the luckiest guy in the entire wedding planning world to have you as my partner. I promise to be the best fake boyfriend for as long as you want me to.” He grins at her. “Good enough?”

“Ye—yeah.” A faint blush settles on her cheekbones.

Even though both of them have been joking as they’ve been coming up with their pseudo-vows, he’s suddenly overcome with the urge to tell her that he means everything he said.

“T,” he takes her hand, squeezing it once. “I mean it, you know? You do know me better than practically everyone, and I am the luckiest to have you as my partner.”

“You made fun of me when I first suggested running a wedding planning business together.”

“Did you not hear the part where I said I was an idiot in my speech?”

She huffs out a laugh. “No, I heard that, loud and clear.”

The next day, he arrives with another cup of coffee for her and a kiss on her cheek.

“What was that for?” she asks with her fingers curled to linger on the spot where his lips had grazed her skin.

“Day one of yours truly being your fake boyfriend,” he grins, plopping down in his own chair and turning on his laptop.

“But there’s no one here to prove it too.”

He ducks his head, focusing his gaze on his screen. “I guess. Is it—is it too much?” He mostly wasn’t thinking. In the moment, it felt like the right thing to do. But maybe it isn’t.

“No, no. It’s fine. Whatever feels natural, right? Besides, it’s probably better if we keep it consistent instead of going back and forth.” She turns back to what she’s jotting down in her notebook.

“Okay,” he breathes out a sigh of relief. “So, for today, do you want me to follow up on all the vendors for the Volosozhar-Trankov wedding?”

“Yes, please. I had an email from the florist that I haven’t forwarded to you yet, sorry. Do you just wanna have a look on my phone?” She hands it to him. 

He types in her passcode and opens her email. 

“Just please don’t—”

“—look at your starred emails, I got it, Virtch.” He taps on the first email from the florist. “Do you have your porn subscriptions saved there?” He teases her and she sticks her tongue out at him.

The first time she’d asked him not to look was sometime in the middle of last year. A few moments after she’d passed over her phone, she’d frozen and then cried out for him not to look, had looked so horrified and worried that it scared him for a moment. She had said that it wasn’t anything bad, and no, her life wasn’t in danger, but she truly doesn’t want him to scroll through her starred emails.

He wouldn’t violate her trust and he’d never look where she told him not to, but he has wondered what reasons she’s got for asking him not to. It doesn’t matter though. Whatever reason she’s got, it’s ultimately none of his business.

He forwards the email to his own account and gives her phone back to her.

“I’ve scheduled in Jeff and Justin’s next appointment,” she tells him as she takes her phone. “You ready to pretend you’re in love with me?”

“Bring it on, Virtch.” He winks at her, “Gotta be careful, I might sweep you off your feet too hard and you might actually fall for me.”

She snorts. “Sure, Moir. Keep on dreaming.”

The first detail they try to iron out is the venue that the couple want to host their wedding in. Jeff and Justin have both said they’d like for it to be outdoors, and Scott knows which gardens he and Tessa will take them to first. Couples liked the venue for its aesthetic and size, and Tessa and Scott appreciated the owner because she is kind and easy to work with, but takes absolutely no shit from over-dramatic couples.

It’s the best combination in this industry.

That’s the first place they take Jeff and Justin to, although he and Tessa had another three options planned in case this wasn’t suitable.

Jeff and Justin have been all praises so far at least, which makes one less thing to worry about. An incredibly helpful thing, seeing as he’s worried that he and Tessa are gonna break and admit that they actually aren’t a couple.

The plan they’re sticking to at the moment is to try to act the way they usually do. Tessa had fretted that she’d be unable to act believably if they tried to go too over the top and he hadn’t even hesitated in agreeing when she said she was a bad liar. It earned him a punch but it’s true. Tessa is polite to a fault and can bend and twist the truth as far as it can go to serve her purposes, but outrightly lying? Scott will willingly attest that five-year-olds can do it better than Tessa can.

And acting like she’s completely besotted with him is definitely too much of a stretch.

But he takes her hand, and she links their fingers together, in a motion as easy as the way sunlight peeks through the hedges surrounding them.

“This place is beautiful,” Jeff says, looking at immaculately landscaped grounds. “It wouldn’t be too hard to put up a tent here for the ceremony?”

“No, definitely not,” Tessa assures him. “In fact, that’s something this venue is able to organise for you which definitely minimises costs. Shae-Lynn, the owner of the gardens, is lovely and a dream to work with.”

Shae-Lynn greets them in the reception office, all smiles and warmth as she shakes Jeff and Justin’s hands. “It’s so lovely to meet you. How did you like the grounds?”

“Absolutely gorgeous,” Justin answers. “Honestly. It’s a wonderful venue.”

Slipping an arm through his fiancé’s, Jeff adds, “I know Tessa and Scott told us they had a couple of different venues lined up that we could pick from, but this place is pretty much perfect.”

“They’re great, aren’t they?” Shae-Lynn throws the two of them a fond smile. “Tessa and Scott are absolutely the best in the business. You’re in very capable hands.”

“Do you guys think you’d come here for your own wedding?” Justin asks them.

In all their planning, they forgot to take into account all the people they’d have to keep the ruse up with. Namely, the regular vendors they work with who they’ll run into again. There’s no time to second-guess anything though when lovely, eternally-composed Shae-Lynn actually gives a delighted squeal.

“Wait—wait, hold on a second. You guys—you guys are together now?” She points between Tessa and him, the other hand pressed to her mouth.

Tessa takes his hand in both of hers, which he’s thankful for because he still hasn’t processed exactly what’s going on. “Yeah,” she offers shyly, and looks up at him with so much affection in her gaze that for a second it knocks the breath out of his chest.

“Oh my god, you guys!” Shae-Lynn looks towards Jeff and Justin and smiles sheepishly, “Sorry, but these two are just...ever since I started working with them, I’ve always wondered if they’d ever…” She shakes her head. “I’ve never really seen two people who care for and understand each other as much as you two,” she directs back at Tessa and him, “and that’s saying something considering how many weddings I’ve seen! And if there’s two people who deserve happiness with each other it’s the both of you. Obviously, it’s probably aways down the line, but if you ever need a wedding venue,” she spreads her hands, “you’re always welcome here.”

He finds his words by the time Shae-Lynn finishes, a little less off-kilter now that he’s had his hand in Tessa’s for a while. It’s easy to lift her hand and press a kiss to her knuckles, thanking Shae-Lynn for her generous offer.

Jeff and Justin finalise their contract with Shae-Lynn for the wedding day, going over the downpayment and the other terms and conditions. There’s a tightness to Tessa’s eyes when he looks at her and he resolves to ask her about it as soon as he can.

“Tess,” he turns to her in the car once they’re both seated. He reaches for her hand and he’s half-afraid that she’ll pull away, a thought he hasn’t had before. He’s grateful that she doesn’t. “Is everything alright?”

“No,” she whispers, head falling back against the headrest. “We just—Shae-Lynn thinks we’re together, Scott. And—and she thinks we’re the kind of relationship that will lead to getting married! What are we gonna say when this is all over?”

“I don’t—I don’t know. But we’ll figure it out, won’t we? Together?”

“Not together,” there’s a little more sadness in the way she says it than what he’d expected. “I mean—we won’t be together-together by then.”

“No. No, we won’t. You’ll be free of me! That’s something to look forward to,” he jokes, anything to get her to crack a smile.

She gives him a fraction of one, “I can’t get rid of you completely, though. We still have a business to run.” She looks down at their joined hands, “I wouldn’t want to anyway.”

It’s the simplest of words but it makes his heart soar. “Okay. I’m holding you to that, kiddo.”

“Don’t hold your breath, I can still take it back,” Tessa murmurs, eyes already sliding closed. Somehow, she naps no matter how long or short the drive is. Which is fine with him. He’s willing to be the one to drive the two of them anywhere.

(If the reason is that he likes knowing she feels safe enough to fall asleep around him, that he likes listening to the sound of her breathing evening out, that he takes every red light to look over at her sleeping form to make sure she’s okay, then that’s something he’s keeping tucked in between his palms and his grip on the steering wheel.)

Maybe his favourite part of any wedding that he and Tessa plan is bringing the couples to the only bakery that they trust to make any couple’s dream wedding cake, La Vie Douce. The owners, Marie-France and Patch, have been his and Tessa’s mentors ever since they met during a networking event during their MBA program. Their sharp intelligence is balanced with warm-hearted compassion, and they’ve served as inspiration, encouragement and a source of occasionally hard-to-hear advice for him and Tessa through the years.

They’re more like family now and he and Tessa love bringing new customers to their business. It also serves as a thank-you for everything that the two of them had done for him and Tessa.

“My babies!” Marie greets both of them with kisses on their cheeks, while Patch offers his warm smiles and handshakes. “How are you both?”

“Good, good,” Scott affirms, stifling a yawn. He’d had to stay up later trying to deal with another wedding’s logistics. His hand stays on the small of Tessa’s back and he notices Marie’s sharp eye lingering on the small gesture. “And you?”

“Wonderful, especially now that you’re here! Introduce us to the lovely couple, please.”

Tessa introduces Jeff and Justin, who seem instantly charmed by both effusive Marie and quiet Patch. Scott has always admired how they complement and balance each other, and how for all their differences, their love for each other is sure and strong.

“What type of cake are you envisioning?” Patch asks, taking a notepad out from his pocket. Marie looks at her husband fondly and Scott knows from previous conversations during dinners in the Dubreuil-Lauzon household that it’s because Patch stoically refuses to migrate to a more digitised method of planning, preferring the concrete feeling of paper and pen.

“It can be as grand as you like!” Marie chimes in, squeezing her husband’s arm. “We’ll be sure to work out how to do it.”

“Careful now, ma chérie, do you still remember the time you promised a fifteen-tier cake?”

“Hmmph, I remember that we managed to accomplish it,” Marie says with a dismissive wave.

“Definitely not fifteen tiers,” Jeff says, “how many do you think, babe?”

“What do you recommend?” Justin directs the question toward Marie and Patch.

“It depends on how many people you will be expecting. We can adjust the diameters of each layer and how many layers based on that number.”

“When we drafted our guest list, we think we’re expecting about two hundred guests? It will depend on who RSVPs though.”

“We can work with that,” Patch finishes up his notes before tucking away his notebook. He rolls up his sleeves. “Now for my favourite part: what type of cake would you like? We have prepared several of our most popular cakes for you to taste but if you already have something specific in mind that would help us too.”

Jeff and Justin spend the next hour or so chatting to Marie and Patch about all the possible cake and icing combinations, the fruits that are likely to be in season by the time of the wedding, and various decorations and garnishes for the presentation.

Patch kindly noticed that he and Tessa had been eyeing the cakes, and he sneaks the two of them their respective favourite slices: a chocolate ganache covered cake for Tessa, and the raspberry coulis and lemon sponge one for him. Tessa sighs happily as she cuts into her cake, taking the smallest bites to make it last as long as possible.

He attempts to steal some of hers like always, and she pulls her plate away from him, like always. He’s about to chuckle, but her eyes dart sideways to Jeff and Justin, and she scoops a spoonful of her cake and offers it to him. She’s never done that before.

He opens his mouth to take the bite and she wipes the corner of his mouth with his thumb after.

It’s the sweetest of gestures but he knows it’s because of their audience. Tessa loves her chocolate cake far too much to give even the smallest of pieces away.

Unless it’s someone she’s truthfully, wholeheartedly in love with, maybe.

He has a bit of a premonition of Tessa feeding cake to a phantom someone, where she’s wearing a gorgeous white gown and stars in her eyes, and he’s standing off to the side watching. He’s pretty sure Tessa would invite him to her wedding day. The most literal description of their relationship is that they’re business partners, and although he doesn’t say it aloud often, he thinks of her as one of his best friends. He’s going to pester her to allow him a speech and he’s going to squeeze in as many embarrassing anecdotes as possible. It’s gonna be awesome.

It doesn’t explain why the sweetness of the cake suddenly goes bitter on his tongue.

He doesn’t have much time to dwell on it though as Jeff, Justin, Marie and Patch stand up together. It’s not even a question that Marie and Patch will make the wedding cake—Jeff and Justin are in total agreement that their cake will be incredible. 

It’s early evening and Justin and Jeff thank Tessa and him again as they head to their car to leave. He and Tessa plan to help Marie and Patch clean up.

He’s helping Patch carry some of the dishes and display stands to be watched when the older man smiles knowingly and says, “So, you and Tessa, hmm?”

He can feel his cheeks heat and the urge to scratch the back of his neck increases but his arms are full of stuff. “Ye—yeah.”

Patch studies him and Scott’s not sure what he’s looking for, but whatever it is, he must find it because he nods. “Well, it is not an easy thing, to fall in love with your business partner.”

Scott thinks of the precipice that is Tessa and his heart stutters at what Patch says.

Patch pauses as he’s scrubbing the pans in the sink, turns to give him a soft smile, “But to love someone who feels passion for the same things that you do, it is a beautiful thing, non ? To have someone who understands both your good days and your bad.” He lifts the first clean pan from the water to give to Scott to dry. “No, it is not easy. But it is worth it.”

After, when it’s time to drive back, Tessa takes one look at him and tells him, “I’m driving. You’re too tired.”

He’s probably fine, but Tessa doesn’t look like she’ll take no for an answer. “Thanks, T. You’re—” he yawns, “you’re the best.”

She chuckles, taking the keys from him. “Get in. I’ll wake you up when we get back to ours. You should have power-napped enough to be able to drive home after.” She frowns, “Unless you’re too tired? You shouldn’t drive fatigued. It’s one of the biggest killers on our roads.”

“I’ll be fine to drive home,” he reassures her.

He lets his eyes close once they’re on the road. “Hey T,” he mumbles, “good job today. We’re doing good.”

She laughs, the sound fond. “Go to sleep, Scott.”

“Hey T?”

“Hmmm?” The car stops, probably at a red light.

There’s a question that leaves him, before he realises what he’s asking. “Would it be such a bad thing? If I fell in love with you?”

Sleep tugs him under before he can hear what she says in reply, but he swears he feels the ghost of fingertips on his forehead, brushing away a curl of his hair.

Suzanne’s Beautiful Blooms is the third florist that he and Tessa take Jeff and Justin to. If it was up to Tessa and him that would be the first place they’d take their couples to but Suzanne insists on them looking at other florists first.

“Gotta spread the love to everyone!” she always says, with a wink as she’s arranging bouquets.

His and Tessa’s customers tend to choose Suzanne’s more often than not anyway.

The bell rings as they open the door, and the door gets stuck as they try to push in, but the smell of fresh flowers hits your nose as soon as you walk in and it’s like any day is suddenly brighter. Suzanne waves from the front counter where she’s got various flower cuttings and brown paper and twine scattered around.

She steps around the counter to greet them, all warm hugs from the start even for Justin and Jeff whom she’s just met. She leads the couple away immediately and he knows she’s chatting at a million miles per hour, trying to get a feel for them as people before making her suggestions.

He and Tessa follow behind, with enough space to not hear the conversation ahead of them.

“Scott,” Tessa gets her phone out, opening up her to-do list app, “what else do we need to do for their wedding?”

“We need to meet with the invitation designers, and get the style and printing schedule finalised for that, place cards, programs and anything else that needs to be printed in bulk. Also the entertainment? Maybe Justin and Jeff have someone they have in mind for reception. And…” he wiggles his fingers, trying to remember if there’s anything else they need, “...photographers as well? Luckily, we’ve sorted catering out already. That was such a fucking mess last time.”

“Oh god, don’t remind me about it.” It was a horrible day and he doesn’t think he’ll ever forget how Tessa had collapsed in tears in his arms when it was just him and her by the end of the night.

“Okay, we’re definitely on track. Fingers crossed that no major crises come up. Remember when I accidentally walked in on the bride with the groom’s brother?”

“Remember when I booked the photographers for the wrong day?”

“Remember when it turned out one of the great-aunts was allergic to roses? There were roses everywhere for that ceremony. I thought she was going to murder me.”

“I think she was in her nineties, Tess.”

“Doesn’t mean she couldn’t.”

He loves moments like these. Moments when he can look back on the worst of days and smile because he knows he made it through all of them with Tessa by his side.

She’s still laughing against him, until she’s not, and it feels like something hits him in the chest everytime she looks at him still, that there’s something like affection in her gorgeous green eyes. She rises up on her tiptoes to kiss him once, gentle and chaste, like they’re kids in a schoolyard.

It’s the first time that his lips have ever touched hers.

“Get a room, you guys,” Jeff teases and Tessa rolls her eyes, going back to making her to-do list on her phone, but she stays tucked against his side.

Sometimes, it’s too easy to forget that this is all pretend.

Suzanne puts together some initial arrangements, which all look to be composed of daisies of varying sizes and colours, as Justin and Jeff ‘oohh’ and ‘aahh’ at what she’s making.

Tessa walks up to them and asks if they’ve discussed anything about arches or walls that might need additional structures to be hired. Scott lingers back as one of the bright blooms catches his eye and he touches the head of the bloom lightly. He’s suddenly overcome with the urge to give Tessa something.

He waits until after everything’s done for the day, Jeff and Justin have said their goodbyes and Tessa’s headed out first to his car, stealing his keys from his back pocket, before asking Suzanne.

“Is there anything in particular you want to say to her?” Suzanne’s voice is gentle.

“Say to her…how?”

“Through flowers, Scott,” she chuckles. “There’s a whole language of them and there’s common meanings but I think what’s most important is what you, yourself, choose to give her.” She gestures around her shop. “What flowers make you think of Tessa?”

He walks around looking at all the different flowers. With all the weddings he’s now planned with Tess, he likes to think he’s gotten better at naming them. He’s still not quite sure how to tell the difference between roses and camellias and gardenias but he’s getting there. He touches the bloom he had lingered at earlier. “These are peonies, yeah? Tessa sometimes brings a vase of these for the office. They make me think of her.”

When he taps on the window on her side of the car once he’s out of Suzanne’s shop, Tessa’s confused expression looks up at him. He mimes for her to roll the windows down. “What are you doing?” Tessa asks.

“These—” he whips out his clumsily tied bouquet from behind his back, “—are for you.”

Her mouth parts in surprise. “Oh! It’s lovely, thank you...um, what’s it for?” She asks softly, smiling like she doesn’t know she’s doing it. Her eyes dart between the bouquet and him.

“I just wanted to,” he says simply. He moves to his side and slides into the driver’s seat. “Do you...do you like it?”

“I love it,” she’s tracing one of the petals with her fingertip. She glances over at him, then leans over quickly to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank you.”

It’s the first time in a long time that Tessa doesn’t nap while he’s driving. It’s not easy to break his habit of taking every red light as a chance to look over at her, and each time he looks, he sees her touching every petal like each one is something so fragile.

He swears he doesn’t remember the wedding invitation designs feeling this...disconcerting. Uncomfortable. Like his clothes don’t fit right and scratch against his skin.

Tessa’s bright laugh reaches his ears from where she’s sitting with Damien, the guy who’s running the store today, and Jeff. Damien had suggested for both Jeff and Justin to roughly sketch designs separately before joining elements of what they both had in the final product.

Tessa had sat with Jeff at one table, leaving Scott with Justin at another table. All this crafty-stuff is not Scott’s forte but he’s willing to give it a shot if it would help Jeff and Justin. He’s pretty sure his wedding invitation currently resembles the preschool artwork only parents proudly display on their fridge but he’s been having a good time talking to Justin. Until Tessa’s laugh makes him turn to look at her table.

Damien’s leaning in close to Tessa, and she seems to be laughing at something he’s said. Scott’s chest feels like it’s burning, but he’s not sure why.

“Whoa, Scott,” Justin gets his attention back, “you’re about to break that pencil.”

Scott looks down at his hand and he’s pressing his pencil so hard against the page. “Shit.”

“Why are you—” Justin turns to where he’d been looking. “Ah, I see.” Justin smirks.

“There’s nothing to see,” he mutters, looking down at the rectangle of cardstock he’s been working on. He remembers how deftly Damien had used the calligraphy pens, how seamlessly all the lines had turned out. His looks like an absolute mess compared to that.

Justin just hums. “You’re not jealous at all, or anything.”

“I trust Tessa,” he’s quick to say, and Justin’s eyes soften.

“Of course, Scott. I didn’t mean—of course you trust each other. That’s what you do when you love someone.” Justin looks over at Jeff who’s got his tongue stuck out and a frown on his forehead, clearly concentrating on the task. Affection glows clear on Justin’s face. “But it doesn’t stop me wanting to claw out the eyes of any guy who thinks they can stand too close.” A boyish grin takes over his face.

It’s a little different though between Jeff and Justin, and him and Tessa. What they have is real, and has the promise of forever. What he and Tessa have is neither of those things. Not romantically, anyway. So there’s no reason for him to be feeling this burning in his chest at the sight of another man making Tessa laugh because he’s not hers, and she’s not his, and beyond this fake-dating business, there are no promises between them.

He’s still thinking about it when they get into the car afterwards.

“Scott!” Tessa’s grin is infectious when she gets into the car, kicking her heels off immediately which makes him smile. “Look what I made.”

She hands her rectangle of cardstock over to him and his breath lodges in his throat. You are cordially invited to celebrate the wedding of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.  

“This is attempt number 4 or 5, I think, but I think I got the calligraphy down by the end!”

It’s gorgeous, and maybe there’s a few lines that look a little wobbly, but all the imperfections just make it more beautiful. He’s running his thumb over the flourishes that join their names together.

“Sorry, I figured it’s okay to do our names for the wedding invite.” She taps her fingers on her collarbone, laughing nervously. “Especially because we need to keep it up in front of Jeff and Justin.”

“It’s really good, T,” he croaks. “Beautiful.”

“Yeah?” God, he’ll do anything to get her to smile that proudly again.

(She accidentally leaves it in his car. And on his bedside table, on top of all the books that she’s lent for him to read, he places it gently, carefully, like the way it makes him feel every time she says his name.)

It becomes easier. 

It becomes easier to hold her hand, kiss her hello and goodbye, look at her with something at the crossroads of trust and respect and adoration and affection: something that has a lot less letters than any of those words.

It becomes easier to anticipate when she’s about to lean on him for support because the soles of her feet are aching. It becomes easier to finish her sentences or begin ones that she’ll end, even more than before.

It becomes easier, and it becomes harder at the same time.

It becomes harder to keep the definition of who she is to him distinct as they blur the lines more and more every single day, even more than they’ve already been smudged. It becomes harder to feel the warmth of her lips and her hand and her skin against his own, to feel something so tangible and real but know it’s anything but.

It becomes harder when he lies awake at night, and it’s the memory of her laugh that lulls him to sleep.

“Scott!” Tessa bats his hands away from his radio controls, just as he’s about to change the station. “Don’t change it! It’s Hall and Oates!”

“It’s my car!” He argues, trying not to laugh. He’s lost count of how many times he’s lost this argument.

“And I’m your guest,” Tessa says primly, “I’m in charge of the music.”

“Okay, Virtch. I’m subjecting myself to your torture.”

She’s probably rolling her eyes at him.

It’s early evening, just as the sun’s gone down, the washes of pink and purple slowly starting to give way to the night.

Tessa’s got her laptop balanced on her lap, trying to sort out all the recent changes to all the weddings they’ve been hired to plan. He can kind of see her reflection in the windshield, how she’s biting her bottom lip and frowning as she’s thinking, the light from her laptop screen illuminating her face as she’s laughing at something stupid he said.

The streetlights flicker open.

Oh.

It’s like when you’re driving at twilight, when the sun’s dipped below the horizon and the sky’s bled of colour, and all of a sudden the streetlights have all switched on. That, that’s what it feels like.

I’m in love with you.

He’s shaking when he gets home.

Tessa had looked concerned when she’d gotten out of his car, but he’d smiled as best he could, like he hadn’t just realised what he’d realised on the drive back.

We'll just have to talk. If it becomes too much, or if we…if the way we feel about each other, um, changes, then we have to talk about it.

It’s what he promised her, that they’d talk about it if anything changes.

He was aware that Tessa perpetually felt like a precipice he’s dangerously close to falling for, but he’d never stopped to consider that maybe he already had.

He knows he should tell her, should follow through on his word that he’d signed their contract and made the sappiest (looking back on it in hindsight) vows.

He strips off his button down shirt, braces his arms on his bathroom counter, looks at his reflection in the mirror. Here is a man in love with a woman, a tale as old as humanity. Here is a man who doesn’t think he’s brave enough to risk losing everything he’s got.

Here is a man, who with one misstep, might lose it all anyway.

Days after momentous events always feel a little off-kilter. Yeah, your coffee tastes the same, and yeah, the door of your apartment makes that loud creak like always, and yeah, you’re still running ten minutes late.

The world is the same, but you are not.

And that’s what makes the difference, isn’t it?

He opens the door to Paper Rings, heads to the office and sees the back of Tessa’s head as she’s typing furiously already. She swivels her chair and smiles in a way that makes his chest ache, and she takes her coffee from him with a quiet ‘Thank you’, grabs his hand and presses it to her cheek before she presses her lips against his palm. 

And he hadn’t realised that this is what they’ve become, like almost everything he could want, and definitely more than he’d ever deserve, and every time Tessa talks to him it’s like the light bends to cast her in its glow and he wonders if that’s what love is.

Tessa is beautiful, and he’s sure there’s an array of scientific explanations about what construes beauty, things like symmetry and contrast and golden ratios. But Tessa is beautiful to him, because he loves her.

And he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to tell her.

He waits until she leaves before opening the drawer where they’d kept the contract and taking it out.

Feelings Clause: must talk if things change from the way they are now, is clearly written in her looping handwriting.

I don't think the way I feel about you is gonna change, Tessa’s voice echoes in his ears, stated like the simplest truth.

This all should be enough, is enough , but selfishly, there’s a part of him that wants everything with her.

But there’s a larger part of him that sighs in relief, even as it kind of hurts to breathe. If there’s never a world where she can fall in love with him, then at least there’s never a world where she can fall out.

The day of Jeff and Justin’s wedding comes both too slowly and too quickly.

It comes too slowly because he’s so much more aware of each day, everything too bright and too much, and he’s fallen in love before and he’s fallen out as well, but they all came with heartbreak that healed with time and distance. How does he fall out of a love that he’ll still see everyday?

It comes too quickly because he’s not sure he’s ready to let go of it yet, and it’s a pretence and it’s not real but god, he adores every moment with her anyway.

By the end of this wedding, he and Tessa need to start untangling all the threads that they’ve woven together in this ruse of a relationship, undo all these habits he’s picked up these last few months that are all linked to her. They haven’t quite figured out how they’re going to tell Shae-Lynn and Marie and Patch and Suzanne the truth but they have to soon.

After today.

He and Tessa have been up early, making sure that all the arrangements for the wedding go smoothly. She’d arrived in her own car, looking so breathtaking and he’d told her so, and she’d blushed. He’d tilted her chin up to kiss her, and if she’s not going to comment that there’s no one around to see, then he’s not going to say anything either.

“You look handsome,” she says to him. “See what good tailoring does for you?”

“I know, T. You’ve won that argument, you can stop,” he smiles.

“Never,” she adjusts a swathe of fabric on a chair.

The venue’s set up with all the decorations and the flowers. The guests have slowly arrived, trickling in with laughter and joy and the occasional snide remark, because what wedding is complete without that one rude relative?

It’s nearly time for the ceremony, where he and Tessa will fade into the background, changing gears to get ready for the reception.

It would be nearly time for the ceremony, at least, except there’s murmurs amongst some of the groomsmen, the mood apprehensive in a way that doesn’t feel settled, and the next thing Scott knows he’s been pulled into a room where Justin is dressed in his tux, pacing up and down, blurting, “I don’t think I can do this.”

Shit. This is not part of his job description. 

But he’s found himself in this situation once or twice before, and he’s learned what to do.

“Justin, hey man, what do you mean you can’t do this?” He walks over to one of the chairs and sits down, turning another chair to face him. He’s lucky that Justin takes the cue and sits down in front of him.

“Just the thought of walking down the aisle to Jeff...and I just wanna throw up.” Justin clenches and unclenches his fists.

“Okay, I see. Is there anything I can do to help you?”

“I don’t—I don’t know,” Justin rests his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands. “I love him.” He blurts out all of a sudden. “I love him so much. He’s the better part of me.”

Internally, Scott breathes a sigh of relief. Once they’ve hit this turning point, it’ll just be a matter of assuaging any fears.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, I just—it just hit me a couple minutes ago,” he shakes his head, “just how much I’ve got to lose. How much I could fuck up in the future. It just hit me—and I just felt so scared.” He breathes out shakily. “With Tessa, is that how you feel?”

Scott chuckles. “Every damn day. It’s like what you said about Jeff: she’s the better part of me. And for the longest time, I was so scared of loving her because I was so scared of losing her.” As he’s speaking, the realisation dawns on him. “But loving someone...it takes so much courage, yeah? Because you know they can break your heart. And they might. But a life without them, where they’re not the person you see first thing in the morning and last thing at night, that’s so much scarier. And that’s the real loss.”

All his worries and fears about telling Tessa the truth about how he feels—they don’t disappear, not completely, but they fade with his realisation.

Tessa could very well break his heart, and he might lose their friendship as it stands now, but if he never tells her, then that ‘what-if’ will forever be his real loss.

It settles in a quiet place in his chest.

Justin wipes his eyes, smiles and says, “That’s right. A world without him in it...that’s something I don’t want.”

Scott grins and breathes an even bigger sigh of relief, standing up. “You ready to walk down the aisle?”

Justin stands up, takes another shaky breath, “Yeah.”

Tessa’s looking for him when he finds her near the back of the venue. “Scott! There you are. Where did you go?”

“We had a case of cold feet,” he whispers near her ear.

“Oh no. Is everything okay now?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine. We got there in the end.” He exaggeratedly wipes his sweat from his brow, which makes Tessa giggle.

“Okay. Good. Everything’s going good so far over here too. No murderous great-aunts. Yet.” She wrinkles her nose. “Some of the guys were flirting a bit too much, though.”

His jealous streak flares up but he has to remind himself that that’s not his place.

“You handled them okay?” Tessa’s not someone who needs his rescuing but he wishes he was there anyway, even just for backup.

“Yeah, I did. I just reminded them how important it is to respect women as their equals and not view us as objects to be ogled at.” 

He grins because he’s heard her deliver that speech and it sends the most macho of men cowering into corners like dogs with their tails tucked between their legs. 

“And I added that my boyfriend was here with me,” she winks at him and he gathers her up in his arms. He wishes that it didn’t take the threat of another man for a man to back off, but he’ll always be whatever Tessa needs him to be.

She’s here and she’s who he loves and he’ll tell her, after, later, once the day’s done.

He can hear the sounds of music and dancing and laughter drifting out of the reception tent from where he’s sitting on one of the benches outside. There’s fairy lights strung across the trees and they glimmer like fireflies, or the stars he can’t see because the city lights are too bright.

He really should be inside, making sure that everything’s running smoothly along with Tessa, but something about all the joy and love emanating from everyone, especially the happy couple, just made him feel sad all of a sudden.

He’d messaged Tessa before he left the venue, letting her know he was just going to be outside for a couple of minutes. She’d sent him a smiling and a thumbs-up emoji back.

He closes his eyes, takes a deep, cleansing breath.

“Scott?”

He opens his eyes and finds Tessa walking to him, the skirt of her dress ruffled by the evening breeze. She doesn’t have a jacket or a cardigan and he worries she’s cold.

“Tess, hey. Is everything alright?” He sits up straighter.

“I was gonna ask that of you,” she smiles, concerned, sliding into the bench and taking a seat beside him, except she’s facing the table where he’s facing away. From this close, he can see the goosebumps starting to break out across her skin and he shrugs off his blazer to drape across her shoulders

“I—” The words, I’m fine, are on the tip of his tongue, the polite, reflexive reply, but it’s Tessa. “I was just thinking about Kaitlyn. And how things ended with her.” He swallows. “Just being inside the reception hall and seeing Jeff and Justin happy and together...I just couldn’t stop thinking…”

“That you wanted it with her.”

“No.” 

Tessa looks up at him, surprised. 

“I mean, I did. At one point. I thought she was going to be the woman I was going to marry. But now looking back, I can see all the places we weren’t right for each other. And I know I’m a better person being where I am today. But,” he takes a shaky breath and Tessa takes his hand, “I think of how my relationship failed with her, and all my relationships before that, and how the handful of dates I’ve been on just haven’t felt right, and I wonder...if anyone can ever, truly, fall in love with me. If anyone ever would.” His voice breaks at the last sentence and he swallows hard and blinks as quickly as he can.

“Scott.” Tessa reaches out to cup his face gently and he leans into her touch. She looks at him for a long while, in a way that makes him feel like a book that’s just been opened. She reaches into her dress pocket and pulls out her phone.

“I think…” she smiles, a soft, worn thing, pushing her phone into his hand, “that you should look at my starred emails.”

“You always tell me never to look at them.” He’s confused.

She shrugs one shoulder, tilts her head. “Just look.”

He opens her phone, types in her passcode, goes to her emails, navigates to the menu bar to go to her starred ones. He hovers her thumb, looks at her, but she just nods for him to keep going.

There’s a bunch of emails from vendors and customers, priority tasks for their business, but right there at the bottom, nestled among all the others, is one from him. He taps on it.

Urgent! Re. Chiddy’s wedding, reads the subject line.

But he knows nothing in the email actually was about that wedding.

T,

I know you’re probably still up doing stuff for the weddings, eh? Just a gentle reminder to a) make your favourite cup of herbal tea while you’re still working and b) go to bed soon ;) 

You work so fucking hard and you always leave me in awe. I swear I’m always playing catch-up to the best business partner of all time. But that’s a privilege I’m lucky to have. I’m sorry we’ve been having so many hard days lately—we’ve always known running a business was gonna be difficult as fuck but the reality of it all is still harder.

You’re amazing, Tess. We’re gonna get through this. Together.

(As long as you don’t get sick of me yet, haha)

- S

He remembers that time, somewhere in the middle of last year, when they were doing his best friend Chiddy’s wedding but also another couple who were just so damn picky and rude and hard-to-please. He remembers seeing Tessa so tense and fraught that afternoon and she’d gone home earlier than he had. All he could see, for the rest of the evening and his drive home, was the way her lips were pressed together, the tightness around her eyes, her shoulders drawn together like it was all she could do to keep herself from falling apart completely.

At home, he had sat in front of his laptop far too late into the night, staring at the blinking cursor on a blank email for far, far too long, because he couldn’t figure out the words to say.

But then he did, and he didn’t stop until it was all written in front of him, pressing ‘send’ before realising he had.

The day after, Tessa had come in, looking at him like that was the first time she'd seen him. She’d sat at her desk before swivelling her chair around to face him.

“Thank you,” she’d told him, cradling the coffee he had waiting for her at her desk, “for the email. I—I needed that.” She’d smiled at him, a soft, worn thing.

“Anytime, T,” he’d told her that day, grateful that he’d done the right thing.

“You sent me that at around...” Tessa tells him now, outside the reception tent with only the shimmer of the fairy lights on her skin, “I can’t even remember what time now. It was pretty late, and I was still working on stuff. And it had been an awful day and I’d been trying not to cry since I got home. But you sent me that, and I read it, and I just bawled.”

“Shit, Tess. I’m so sorry.”

She shakes her head. “No, don’t be sorry. Anyway, the reason I wanted to show you that is because,” she lets out a shaky breath, lets go of his hand, takes the daisy out of her hair that he’d tucked there earlier that day, “that was the evening I realised I’d fallen in love with you. And that there was no turning back.”

He feels like he's been pulled down by the waves on a dark summer night, where he hadn’t realised how much and how quickly he’d be knocked over and he’s left gasping for breath.

“I know—I know it’s not the same for you, and I promise I’ll be okay. What we have is more than enough.” She looks down at the flower in her hands and back up at him. “But I guess I wanted to tell you now, because you—you are worthy of love, so deserving of love, and I never want you to think otherwise.” She smiles softly, sadly, “And one day, you’re going to fall in love again, and they’ll love you just as much, okay? I just know it.”

She pauses, and this is the moment that he should show her the inside of his own heart, the way she’s just bared hers, and the words are there on the tip of his tongue, about to fall, probably not perfectly, but does that matter, if they share the same truth?

It would be, if there wasn’t a piercing cry from inside the reception tent that sends both him and Tessa to their feet running.

The ambulance sirens are still ringing in his ears by the end of the night.

One of the older women had collapsed unresponsive and he’s fortunate he and Tessa are trained in first aid because situations like these, while not common, are still likely and scary as fuck when it’s happening.

It’s hyperfocus that gets him through all the necessary steps to make sure that the woman is taken care of. He’d kindly but firmly gotten most of the crowd to keep their distance, and asked someone to call the ambulance. His heart pounds in his chest, the noise around him barely registering in his ears.

Once the woman has been taken care of by the paramedics, he sits back, wiping his sweaty brow. The mood of the wedding reception has deflated, understandably, and the guests are starting to leave.

He’s thanked by several grateful relatives and he assures them that he’s happy to have helped. He continues to speak to shaken guests, eventually reaching Justin and Jeff and he’s about to apologise when Jeff grabs him in a hug.

“Don’t apologise. Sometimes shit happens, you know? It’s been an incredible day,” Jeff grabs his husband’s hand and squeezes, “And we’ve got you and Tessa to thank for that.”

He realises he hasn’t seen Tessa since her confession on the bench outside. “It’s been a privilege for us to plan your wedding. Uh, have either of you seen Tess around?” He looks around but aside from a few straggling guests and some of the catering crew, he can’t spot her.

“She said goodbye to us a while back,” Justin says, “I assumed she was leaving?”

He takes his phone out of his back pocket and sees he’s got several messages from her. When he checks his messages, it’s Tessa apologising for leaving early without telling him in person, that she’d checked in with all of the vendors and crew, as well as Jeff and Justin. And the last four read:

I just need some space for a while

Just because of everything I told you

I promise we’ll be okay

But I just need time

The messages crack his heart like a sculptor taking a chisel and a hammer to it. Fuck, he should have told her quicker. 

“Scott?” Either Justin or Jeff is saying his name but he’s not sure. “You’re shaking. You’re probably crashing from all the adrenaline.” He feels a hand at his shoulder. “Let’s get you seated, alright?”

The next thing he’s aware of is that he’s sitting down, Jeff stealing another chair from where it’s been packed away and sitting in front of him. “Justin’s just gone to find you some water. Do you want to talk about it?”

He looks at the phone in his hand. “I fucked up,” he croaks.

“You saved someone’s life, Scott,” Jeff tells him, gently.

He shakes his head. “With Tessa.”

“What about Tessa?”

Justin comes back with a bottle of water. “Managed to steal this from catering. Here you go, Scott.”

He takes the bottle, uncaps it, manages a gulp. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “I—I—” he looks between both their kind faces, and an overwhelming feeling overtakes his chest and he blurts out, “It wasn’t real.” He doesn’t meet their eyes, doesn’t know how to. “It wasn’t real. Me and Tess. We weren’t together. I’m so sorry we lied.” His grip on the bottle tightens so much that the plastic crunches. “I’m so sorry.”

“Scott.” He looks up at them. “We know.”

“What?”

“Not at the start. We genuinely thought you two were together. The love was there, in how you talk, in how you are around each other. It took me a while, but sometimes, when you’re not looking, Tessa had looked at you like you were someone who she loved, but who didn’t feel the same way.” Jeff chuckles, takes Justin’s hand and kisses the back of it. “I only know what that looks like because I’d been there before.”

“I’m so sorry. We only did it because our business—” Scott croaks, “it hasn’t been the best lately and we knew we needed to keep as many customers as possible. And Tessa—she worries so much and I know how hard she’s worked and how many sleepless nights we’ve had and all the stress—and I just wanted to make sure that she didn’t need to worry as much. I always just want to take care of her, the way she takes care of me. And I never want to lose her.” It’s not until he touches his face that he realises his cheeks are damp from tears. “But it doesn’t excuse that we weren’t honest. I’m sorry.”

“Scott, we…” Justin sighs, “at first, when Jeff pointed it out, I was mad. But you two have never been anything but kind and helpful towards us, even when we’re sending you stuff at midnight and changing our minds again. When you helped me with my freak-out minutes before the wedding.”

“Thank you for that, by the way,” Jeff chimes in, grinning. “It would’ve been awkward with only one groom.”

“And we figured you must have your reasons. Even if we didn’t know what they were. And I know that we all do stupid things for love.”

Jeff claps him on the shoulder. “We forgive you both, for what it's worth.”

It doesn’t ease every ache in him, but when he takes his next breath, it comes a little easier.

Once he’s convinced Jeff and Justin that he’ll be fine, even as they ask him again and again just to make sure, they go home too.

He lingers a little longer, feeling the cool night air on his skin and staring at his phone. He wonders if phone calls are okay and he calls her number just to hear her voice. Which he does, except it’s her voicemail.

He wants to tell her, he does, but it just seems so wrong to leave it as a recorded message that she’ll hear much later than when he said it.

“Hey, T.” He’s searching for words because he can’t remember the last time he left her a voicemail; they usually pick up each other’s calls. “I just wanna make sure you got home okay. Stay safe, yeah? I—I’ll give you as much space as you need. Take as much time as you need, I promise I’ll have our business under control. Mostly. I hope.” He wants to say something, a replacement for the three words he wants to wait to say until he sees her in person, but he doesn’t know what. Eventually, he settles on, “I’ll be here, when you’re ready.” The beep sounds.

By the time he gets home, there are more messages from her. 

I’m home safe

I spoke to Jordan and we decided to bring our Paris trip forward, we were able to change the dates of our flights. I’ll see you when I get back in a week

Thank you 

For understanding

And the last text, sent later than all the others:

I’m sorry

He doesn’t know why she’s saying sorry. If it’s because she’s choosing to take an early vacation, he can’t blame her. She works too fucking hard and she deserves time for herself. If it’s because she left without saying goodbye in person, he can’t blame her either because it’s not like he wouldn’t have done the same thing if their situations were reversed.

But if it’s because she’s sorry that she’s in love with him, that might just be what breaks his heart.

He spends the week missing her.

He’s looking at all the picture frames that they’ve both put up around their office, photos of their family, photos of the two of them. All the memories captured in six-by-four-inch-sized pieces of paper. He’s got a meeting with another potential couple who said that they’d been recommended by Jeff and Justin. Business is looking up, but he wonders how he’s gonna get through the initial consultation without Tessa.

But he will. Even if he might not always be able to do it for himself, he’ll always do it for Tess.

He calls one of his brothers one evening when the quiet becomes too much.

“Scott,” Danny greets. “How are you man? Is everything alright?”

“I—No. No, they’re not.”

There’s the distant sound of conversation muffled in the background and he can hear a door opening and closing.

“I just moved outside,” his brother says. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m in love with Tessa,” he blurts out. “And she’s gone.”

“Wait—hang on. What? Firstly, it took you long enough to realise, Scott.” Even with everything he’s feeling right now, his brother saying that makes him laugh. Of course he was the last to realise. “Secondly, what do you mean ‘she’s gone’?”

“She’s off in Paris with Jordan for a week. I didn’t get to tell her. She told me, but I didn’t get to tell her.”

“She told you what?”

“That she’s in love with me too.”

Danny swears, mutters something that sounds suspiciously like, “You idiots,” before asking, “Why didn’t you tell her?”

Scott tells his brother about what happened at the wedding, the medical emergency that interrupted their conversation, how she’d left without saying goodbye, how he can’t call her because she’s asked him for space, how he’s made a mess of everything.

“What if...what if I took too long to realise? What if I lose her forever?” Fuck. “What if she meets someone over there? What if she never comes back?”

“Scott.” Danny’s firm voice. “No matter what happens between now and when she comes back, you know what you need to do, yeah?”

“Tell her...tell her I love her?” He remembers talking through Justin’s fears before the wedding, how certain he was that he was going to tell her, damn the consequences, but all his worries have been creeping back.

But he finds the glimmer of that courage amongst all the rust of his fears and holds onto it.

“Yeah, even if she’s met someone there and breaks your heart. She deserves to hear the truth.”

Scott goes to bed that night in a fitful sleep, dreaming of a Tessa who’s looking over her shoulder at him, with a hand held out he can never quite reach, no matter how fast he runs.

He makes another phone call the next day, timing it so that it's still a reasonable time in Paris.

Jordan picks up on the fourth ring. “Scott.” Her tone is short and he winces, wondering what Tessa’s told her and what she thinks of him. Everything, knowing how close Tessa is with her sister. And the worst of him, considering everything he hasn’t said.

“Hi Jordan.”

“What do you want?” She sounds like she wants to get off the phone as quickly as possible.

“I was just hoping to ask after Tessa. Are you guys doing good? Over there?”

She sighs heavily. “She just needs space, Scott. But we’re fine. I wish she was happier, but we’re fine.”

The thought of Tessa being sad in her favourite city cracks his heart even more. 

“I love her,” he blurts out and he hears Jordan inhale sharply, “I didn’t get to tell her, but I’m...I’m in love with her too. I didn’t want to tell her over the phone or as a voice message, but Jordan, please know I love her.” He thinks back to his and Danny’s conversation the evening before. “I know I fucked up, believe me. I should have realised earlier, I should have been braver, I should have told her as soon as I could. And if—if she meets someone there, someone who’s brave enough to love her from the first second, I—I understand.” His voice breaks, “She deserves to be loved like that.”

Jordan mutters something that sounds suspiciously like, “You dorks,” but she’s kinder when she tells him, “Scott, how did you not know that she was in love with you?”

“Because I’m...only me? And she’s Tessa?”

“God, I can’t believe you guys answer that question the same. Maybe you really do deserve each other,” Jordan laughs. “And of course, on the off chance that she meets someone here, then yeah, what’ll happen will happen...but we’re here a week, Scott.” Her voice is gentle. “She’s known you for years.” She huffs out a small sort of laugh. “I’m sorry I was angry with you earlier but for what’s it worth, I’ve always rooted for you two.”

He arranges with Jordan for him to pick Tessa up from the airport. 

She’d done so with the fond exasperation so typical of an older sibling, but she’d gone along with it, and he’s thankful that Jordan’s on his side and that he’ll be able to see Tessa as soon as he physically can.

He buys Tessa her cup of coffee once it’s close to their arrival time, so that it’ll still be somewhat warm by the time they arrive. He waits with it in his hand, scanning the scattered crowds for a glimpse of her.

It feels both too long and too soon once he sees her, hair pulled up into a messy bun, in an Adidas hoodie and leggings, tired but laughing at something Jordan probably said.

He knows the moment that she sees him. His heart breaks a little when she freezes in her tracks and turns away, saying something to Jordan, who nudges her towards where he’s standing.

He gives her a small wave, but doesn’t move. If she still feels like she needs more space, if she still doesn’t feel comfortable talking to him, then he’s going to respect that.

His heart soars, however, when she slowly makes her way towards him. “Hi,” she says, softly, once she’s standing in front of him.

“Hi, T.” He offers her the cup in his hand. “I got you your coffee.”

She accepts it, murmurs her thanks, but it makes him ache how she refuses to look him in the eye. She’s turning away, looking everywhere else from her luggage to the ground to somewhere else around them. “Whereabouts are you parked? We should probably head out before the traffic gets any heavier—”

He places one of his hands on hers where she’s got it on the handle of one of her suitcases. “Tess, can I tell you something?”

She looks up at him, and there’s so much heartbreak in her eyes when she does that it breaks him even more, and he wishes, wishes, wishes more than anything, that he’d had the chance to say everything he feels when she’d confessed that night.

“I love you,” he says, in a whisper because it’s meant for her and her only. 

She gasps, the smallest rise and fall of her chest, but she starts to shake her head. Like it’s not something she can bring herself to believe.

“Tess, I love you. I’m in love with you. And I’m not just saying this because of what you told me, I promise. I knew what I felt before that. I’m sorry I wasn’t quick enough to tell you that night you so, so bravely told me that you love me, but I love you.” He cups her face in both her hands, gently, because his hands can’t touch her in any other way. “I told myself I couldn’t love you, because I didn’t want to know what it’s like to love you and then lose you. But what I didn’t realise was that I’d fallen in love with you anyway, without consciously knowing. And that a life where I didn’t love you, where I never tell you I love you, is the greatest loss.”

She cries then, a steady stream of tears that start him off too, because everything he’s feeling right now can’t be contained in just his body.

“I’m sorry that it took me so long to realise. But Tess,” he presses his forehead against hers, “please believe that just because I haven’t realised that I love you as long, that doesn’t mean I love you any less.”

“I love you,” she tells him, sweetly and finally, before wrapping her free arm around his neck and pressing her lips to his.

Kissing Tessa is like this: it’s like when you wake up and you’re just in time to see the sunrise, and as pinks and violets and golds and oranges unfurl and streak across the sky, something settles in your chest, something that you have a name for now. That, that is what it feels like.

The warmth and softness of her lips as they mold and part against his, the curve of her back as she arches against him, the gasp that she makes as she pulls away to take another breath, the way she dives back in with no loss of intent, and he realises he’ll forever let her, because he’s hers to take.

He breathes roughly once they part, hers just as rough as his, and he runs his thumb across her rose-red lower lip and feels her shiver. The piercing strike of the green of her eyes when she looks at him is like Eros’ arrow that lodges in his heart, and her hand settles right over its rhythm, and he hopes she knows that it’s been hers for longer than he’s known.

(“Ahem.” A cough interrupts them and they turn to see Jordan standing there, smirking. “I’ll leave you two lovebirds to it.”

Tessa hugs her older sister fiercely, murmuring her thanks. Jordan hugs her just as tightly back. And then she punches Scott. Hard.

“If you hurt Tessa again, there’ll be hell to pay!” Jordan says, cheerfully, as she pushes her luggage to where the taxis are. “Stay safe kids!” she calls out over her shoulder.)

He drives her home, and she lets him hold her hand. It’s hard for him to break his habit of looking over at her whenever they’re at a red light, but this time, she’s already looking at him.

He was just going to drop her off and help her bring her luggage into her house, maybe sneak a kiss at the door before he leaves, because he understands that she’s jetlagged and tired and he’ll see her on her first workday back anyway.

He can wait.

Except she asks him if he wants to stay, earnestly and with her hands linked with his, and if she wants him to, the answer is never going to be no.

By the time it’s late enough to have dinner, he realises that she doesn’t have a lot of food in her refrigerator because of her impromptu vacation. 

(He runs his lips across the lines of her palm as he whispers another apology because he can only begin to imagine her heartache at thinking that her love for him was truly and hopelessly unreturned.)

He’s been at her house before, the same way she’s been at his, because it’s hard to have known each other for so long without collecting pieces of each other. But it hasn’t been like this, knowing that he’s in love with her and she’s in love with him, where he can learn the spaces of her kitchen as she learns the spaces of his heart. 

He successfully finds a pack of pasta and a jar of sauce in her near-empty pantry, and he makes them something to eat as she sits on her counter with her socked feet swinging.

She tells him about her trip and he tells her about his week at work, the initial consultation with a new couple that felt like he was missing a limb during it.

“I missed you,” he confesses as he wipes his fingers on a dishcloth he’d found in her bottom kitchen drawer. “I wished you were with me.”

“I wished you were with me, too.” She tucks one of her knees up against her, wrapping her arms around her leg and resting her chin on it.

They share from the same plate once he’s finished making it, both with their own forks but he feeds her bites more often than not, and she wipes the corner of his lips with her thumb, before leaning up to press a kiss to the same spot.

He can see a hundred more evenings just like this.

One kiss turns into two, that turns into three, that turns into more than he can count. His fingertips digging into the curve of her hips and her looking at him with pupils blown wide. She traces the curve of the opening of his shirt, hooking her finger into it, and asks him, “Will you take me to bed, Scott? Please?”

“Are you sure?” 

“Yes,” she nods, kissing him firmly. “I want you.”

He holds her steady as she slips off her kitchen counter, and she grabs his hand and leads him to her bedroom, and he counts down the days until the path will become something he’ll know like the back of her hand.

She shuts the door once they’re both inside, and it’s all too easy to crowd her against it as he traces a line of kisses down her neck, nipping and soothing to the background of her whimpers as he takes his time to discover every spot of her body that she wants to be touched.

He hits a spot that makes her giggle and he pulls away to watch her laugh. She twists her fingers in the back of his shirt and looks at him in awe, like she still can’t quite believe he’s here, in her bedroom with her.

He wants for it to be something she can more easily believe.

It’s a quiet journey between her door and her bed, as she coaxes his shirt over his head, as he gets her out of her hoodie and shirt. He learns she’s not wearing a bra, and there’s a moment where she goes to cross her arms, and he’ll never ask her for anything she’s not ready to give, but he knows the moment that she makes the choice to let him see her, to let him look at her, and it’s the moment that it hits him, yet again, how fucking brave she is.

He wants to be just as brave for her.

He unbuttons his jeans, slides them off and leaves them as a crumpled mess on the floor. He wonders for half a second if Tessa, his fastidious and tidy Tessa, is going to berate him for leaving their clothes as a mess all around the room, but once she’s stripped her leggings off too her lips are on his again and that cuts off his train of thought.

It’s easy to fall with her into her bed, and he thinks that falling in love with her must have been like that as well: something soft, something gentle, with someone to hold onto.

She’s so beautiful in the light softly spilling in from her bedroom window, the peach and orange and yellow and rose like smudges on her porcelain skin.

He links their fingers together as he presses their hands into the bed, his mouth finding her skin like she’s something to drink in, and he kisses down her sternum, deviates to swirl his tongue around her nipple and suck the peak into his mouth, and the cry she gives him, and the way she arches off the bed, is addicting as anything.

The muscles of her abdomen jump beneath his touch, and he lets go of one of her hands to trace the line of her underwear along the crease of her hip. “Can I take this off?”

“Please,” she whispers. 

He has to let go of both her hands to slip them under it and tug them off, but she touches him still, hand smoothing over his shoulder and bicep.

“Can I touch you?”

Her ‘yes’ is broken and almost begging, and he grows harder in his boxers but he’s going to make this as good as possible for her first. He thumbs small circles up her inner thighs. She spreads her legs wider, like an offering or a blessing or a miracle, and he’s here to worship her.

He parts her, finds her glistening and pink in the fading light, stroking up and down slowly, before gathering her wetness at her entrance and finding her clit.

“Scott, mm—I need more , ” she pants.

“What do you need? Tell me.”

“Want your fingers in me. Deep, please.

He props himself up on his elbow better so he can do as she says, and he fucks her shallowly first, watching her face for any sign that she doesn’t like what he’s doing, but he only sees her biting her bottom lip and playing with her tits. He’s so fucking hard as he ruts into the mattress, but he’s taking care of her first. He pushes in another finger, leaning down to mouth around her wetness, suck her clit as he fucks her deeper.

“Scott—just like that, mmm,” she mumbles into her forearm.

“Let me hear you, Tess,” he tells her, circling her wrist. She lets him move her arm away from her face, and she tangles it in his hair instead.

He settles back in between her thighs, licking and sucking to the sounds she makes, as her thighs tighten around his head. A string of ‘please’ leaves her lips, and he can feel her shaking. He strokes the flat of his tongue against her clit as he fucks her again with his fingers as deep as she wanted the first time, digs his fingers hard into her hip as he locks eyes with her, and he’s rewarded by Tessa coming with the quietest of cries, her face twisted in pleasure, as she rides the rest of her orgasm out against his mouth.

“Fuck,” she breathes, “just—um, thank you.”

He laughs. He’ll take it as a good sign if she sounds like she’s still too addled to think. “Yeah?”

She laughs along with him, tugging him up for a kiss. “Yeah. Better than all my fantasies.”

The thought of Tessa in this bed, getting off to the thought of him, just drives him wilder.

She hooks a leg around his hip, rolling them over, and his hands settle on her hips as she sits up, tossing her hair back. She moves back a little, enough to rub against his length, and he grunts. She slips her hands under his boxers, stroking his length and he swears as he grips the flesh of her hips harder.

“I can take these off?” she asks, all mischief, and he pinches her side and she yelps, dissolving into a laugh.

He helps her take them off, and he takes the time to reposition himself against her headboard as she sits again in his lap, moaning as she settles against his cock.

“Hey Tess, have you got condoms?” The thought just dawns on him, as he’s tracing small circles into the freckles dotting her shoulder. He doesn’t have any, and while it’d be painful to stop now, he would. Tessa’s worth the wait.

She frowns, “I should. Hang on,” she crawls off his lap, roots through her drawer, giving an adorable ‘aha!’ when she finds it. “God, I hope they’re not expired.” She smiles sheepishly at him. “It’s been a while.”

He touches her cheek, softly, and she turns to kiss his palm.

He takes the box from her, checks the date, and exaggeratedly wipes his brow. “We’re good,” he assures her, taking her back in as she settles in his lap again. She rolls one of the condoms on his length, positions him at her entrance, and slowly fucks herself on him.

It’s never been like this, he’s sure, as he watches her eyes flutter shut, a moan trapped in her throat. It’s never felt like the beginning and end of everything all at once. 

He kisses her jaw, scrapes his teeth at the sensitive skin just below her ear. He holds her steady at her waist, whispers, “Take me, Tess. Just like that. I’m yours.”

She sobs at his words, nails digging into his shoulders. He savours the bite of pain, how it keeps him grounded to her, to this moment. Her chest stays pressed against his as she moves up and down slowly at first, then faster and losing rhythm. He slides down a little against the headboard, so he can push up against her, help her come as he presses down on her clit.

“Taking me so well, love how you feel around me,” he murmurs, liking how she reacts to his words. He takes one of her hands, places it over his heart, leaves his own clasped over hers. “I’m yours, T. For as long as you’ll have me,” he whispers, just as she kisses him and comes around him.

The feeling of her around him, as she tells him she loves him, is all it takes for him to spill into her, breathing heavily.

It’s dark outside by the time they’ve caught their breaths, his head on her chest as she plays with his hair.

“Will you stay?” she whispers, so bravely, yet again.

He kisses each of her fingertips. “As long as you’ll have me.”

It’s like when you’re about to sleep, and the bedroom that you share is dark except for the lamp on her bedside table. And she asks you to switch it off and you do, grumbling but the smile in your voice is unmistakable. And even though it’s dark, it’s okay because she touches you and you know she’s there, and you’ll hold her until you wake. That, that’s what it feels like

She’s sitting at her desk, typing furiously and sipping at the coffee he bought her, when he opens a new draft email.

Hey T,

I love you.

-S

He sends it, and waits for her to read it. She huffs one of his favourite laughs, the one that clearly says, You’re a dork, but she glances up at him, and smiles, and mouths the words back.

(She’ll star it, alongside every random, thoughtful email he’ll send her from here on out, but he doesn’t know that yet.)