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I'm Not Letting Go

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This is meant to be the happiest time of our lives, but I'm on the brink of losing you.

There's that horrible sound, the one that paralyses me with fear. One continuous beep that only means one thing.

Flatline.

Nurses rush in & begin to resuscitate him. I’m in the way, I know I should leave… But I can’t.

Arms wrap around me, & I'm being pulled backwards.

“NO! NO!” I say, fighting to get free from whomever is pulling me out of his room.

Just as I’m pulled over the threshold & out into the corridor, one word words rips its way out of me in a deafening scream- “MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRKKKKKKK!”

****

24 hours earlier

He can't stop kissing me- his hands on my hips, my arms wrapped around his neck. This, this is my happy place.

“Urgh, enough with the PDAs!” Aaron says.

We both part, both looking bashful.

“Sorry, Az,” I reply.

He shrugs. “I’m okay with it.” He smiles. “I just like to tease you two.”

Mark punches Aaron's arm as he passes us. Mark then turns his attention back to me.

“Are you free later?” He asks, rubbing my back gently. “This evening?”

I narrow my eyes. “What have you got planned?”

He smirks. “Come and you’ll find out.”

I raise my eyebrow. “That big a secret, huh?”

He smiles, leaning in for a kiss. “Yep.”

He kisses me, pulling me flush against me.

****

It's dusk when I return to the Brennan house. As I’m walking up the front steps, Aaron & Tyler come out.

“Oh, hey Brennans,” I say, surprised.

“Hey,” they both reply.

“Where are you off to?”

“Just the Waterhole,” Tyler says.

“Oh, cool. Have fun.”

“Thanks,” Tyler says. He steps down, stopping on the step beside me. “You have fun tonight too.”

“Thanks,” I reply, smiling. “You know what he's got planned?”

Tyler digs his hands into his pockets, the tell-tale sign he’s lying. “Nope, sorry.”

“That's okay.”

“But whatever it is, he said you should meet him in the backyard,” Aaron says.

“Okay…” I reply, wondering what's waiting for me. “Thanks boys.”

“You're welcome,” Aaron replies. “We should let you…” He points towards the front door.

I nod. “Bye.”

“Bye,” they both say.

I watch them head off down the driveway, before I turn and walk inside.

The lights are off, the large living and dining area lit by the small, flickering light coming through the back windows. I place my handbag on the kitchen bench and make my way out to the backyard.

When I step out, I see a path boarded by lit tealights in jars. I follow the path around the side of the house, the lines of candles widening at the paved dining area, now free of it's table, to form a large circle. And, standing in the heart in front of a picnic blanket and pile of cushions, is Mark.

“Hey,” he says, as I walk over to him.

“Hey,” I reply, pulling him in for a kiss.

“Had a good day?” He asks, wrapping his arms around my waist.

“Yes, it was slow at Harold’s.” I look around. “I see you had a good day too.”

“You like?”

Like?” I raise my eyebrow as I look at him. “Babe, it's beautiful! I love it!”

“Good!” He kisses me. “Because it took me a lot of careful planning to set it up without having a mess.”

I smile. “Well… I thank you and your cleanliness for making such a romantic gesture.” I pull him in for another kiss- a slow, long tongue-dancing kiss.

“Well,” he says, lips barely apart from mine. “This is just the start.”

He guides me onto the picnic blanket, getting me to sit down. He then goes over to the BBQ & opens it- getting out food he put in there to stay warm. It takes a couple of trips (he refuses to let me help), but he lays out a spread of both hot & cold food on the blanket. He then retrieves two wine glasses & a bottle of wine in an ice bucket & brings them over. He places the bucket down & hands me a glass as he settles next to me.

“Wow,” I say. “This is… Amazing.”

He smiles, reaching for the wine bottle. “I’m glad you like it.”

I gently grab his chin & turn him to look at me. “I love it as much as I love you.”

I kiss him again.

****

After dinner, we lie down propped against the cushions. I’ve got one arm around behind her, as she leans her head against my chest.

She's talking, but I’m not listening. I can't help but think about how perfect it is right now. How perfect we are. For the first time in a long time- too long, to be honest- I'm truly happy. I haven't felt like this since… since… Kate.

And then it all clicks. I can picture my future- really picture it.

And it's all with her.

“Marry me,” I say, softly.

“And I-“ She cuts off, realising what I said. She sits up slightly & looks at me, slightly confused. “Wait… what?

I smile. “Marry me.”

Her jaw drops. “Are… Are you serious?”

I nod, smiling. “Very.”

She just stares at me. Then, with eyes brimming with tears, she smiles. “YES!”

I grin as I reach for her- cupping her face with both hands & pull her into a long kiss. She straddles me as we kiss, hands splayed on my chest & I drop my hands to slip under the bottom of her shirt.

****

The next morning

I wake to kisses on the back of my right shoulder. I open my eyes & he captures my lips with his.

“Mmm morning,” I mumble.

“Morning.”

I notice he’s dressed, & frown. “Where have you been?”

“I had to go pick up your gift.”

“My gift?” I ask, confused, through half closed sleepy eyes.

With a smile, he holds a small box up in front of me. I sit up. He turns his wrist, the box now resting in his open palm. I open the box & gasp. Inside is a beautiful silver ring- simple band that's embedded with a row of small diamonds leading up on both sides to a stunning silver flower that rises up from the band to form the centrepiece, diamonds line its petals, with a large diamond in its heart.

“Thought we should make it official,” he softly says.

“It's beautiful,” I reply. “But how did you get it?”

“Uh…” He raises his eyebrow. “The usual way.”

“I meant… You asking me last night was spontaneous.”

“I have a friend who owns a jewellery store. He owed me a favour, so I called him this morning and asked if he could open early. And I know it's a little… flamboyant, but… I like it. It's unique. Like you.”

Awwww!” I reply, looking at him. “I love it!”

We kiss.

“Put it on.”

“Oh, I’d rather you do the honours.”

He takes my ring out & places the box on his bedside table. He then gently holds my left hand, & slides my ring all the way down my ring finger. We kiss. I lie down as we do, pulling him with me so his body is on top of mine.

“Mmm,” he says, breaking the kiss. “Much as I’d love to do that with my gorgeous fiancée… I can't.”

I pout. “Why?”

“You may have the day off, but I have to work.”

“Call in sick.”

“No.”

I pout bigger. “But I want to spend the day celebrating with my fiancé!”

“I can't.”

I whimper.

“Paige.”

“Stay.”

“No.”

Staaay.”

“Paige, I'm sorry.”

I furrow my brow & pout.

“I’m sorry, I have to work. But I promise you, tonight.”

“Tonight?”

“Mmmmhmmm.” He kisses my neck. “We’ll call it an early night.”

“Mmm,” I reply.

“And we'll celebrate,” he adds. “In here. Promise.”

I think it over for a few seconds. “Accepted.”

He smiles. “Good.” He kisses me. “Now, sleep. You’ll need the extra sleep because you won't be getting much tonight.”

Ohhh?” I reply, raising an eyebrow.

He gets up. I watch him change into his uniform. He then kisses me goodbye- several small kisses- & I watch him leave.

I drift off to sleep, unaware of the devastation happening mere hours later.

****

“Paige?” Aaron asks.

I groan, fighting the urge to wake.

“Paige?” He’s closer now.

I groan louder & longer. Leave me alone!

“Paige, come on. Wake up.”

I groan again, batting the air in his direction. Just leave me be!

“Please, Paige! We need to talk. It's important.”

“If I give in, will you leave me be to sleep afterwards?”

He hesitates. “If it gets you to talk… Yes,” he says. “But I don't think you’ll want to after you hear what I have to tell you.”

I sigh & open my eyes. I roll onto my back & sit up, holding the sheet against me since I’m naked. “What?”

“I’ve been trying to call you for an hour.”

“It's my day off. I wanted to sleep in.”

He notices the ring. “He proposed.”

“Yes. Last night. But he got the ring this morning.”

“Congratulations.”

I smile. “Thanks.”

“I’ll hug you later,” he says. “Don't want to…”

I nod. “Thanks.”

“I'm happy for you.” He smiles, but I see the sadness in his eyes.

“Okay, what's wrong?” I ask. “You say you’re happy, but there's sadness in your eyes. And why have you been calling me?”

He hesitates. “It's… Mark.”

I look confused. “He's at work.”

“No…” He hesitates. “He isn't.”

I narrow my eyes. “What is that supposed to mean?”

He hesitates, avoiding making eye contact.

“Aaron.”

“Just hear me out, okay? Don't interrupt, don't speak until I’m done. It's the only way I can handle telling you this.”

My breath catches in my throat. “Okay, you're freaking me out now.”

“Earlier, Mark was taking part in a raid,” he says. “The criminals ran off & he chased one.”

I smile. “Ever the hero.”

Aaron nods. “He caught up with the criminal &… I don't know exactly what happened, but his colleagues say they took a tumble off a second story balcony.”

I can't breathe. I try inhaling, but my chest is so tight I can't.

He holds my face in both hands, making me keep eye contact. “Listen to me, okay?” He says. “He's alive. Critical, but alive. So get dressed & I’m going to take you to the hospital.”