This is it! The final chapter and epilogue of Better Than Engagement. I’ll post the short story later today in its entirety, but I wanted to get this final part out for everyone who’s been patiently waiting for it. It’s almost 2 in the morning here, so without further adieu…here’s Matt and Aaron. Happy Reading! Lane xo
Better Than Engagement – Part 10
When my cell buzzed in my pocket, I held up my hand to let my parents know I needed a minute before stepping into an alcove to check my screen. It was an email from the jeweler. I was sure she was confirming our previous discussion and reminding me to let her know when I was available on Monday. I’d handle that later. The only person I wanted to talk to was Aaron. And it needed to happen as quickly as possible.
I breathed a sigh of relief when he answered on the first ring.
“Oh my God, Matty, I’ve had the craziest morning. I have a major surprise for you. Major!”
“Major, eh? That sounds important. I thought you had to work.” Yes, I was stalling, but I was charmed too. There was something about the sound of his voice that soothed me and made the excess nonsense fade.
“The shoot was postponed, so I went shopping.”
“Uh oh,” I teased.
Aaron snickered. “I know. I’ve been bad. Real bad. I bought flower samples and color swatches and about a dozen wedding magazines. I even found a gay one. They have a few online but a live and in person one is the find of the century! I have so many great ideas for table décor, wedding favors and flower arrangements. I splurged on one of everything! I have at least a million things to show you, but don’t worry… I’ll clean up before they get here. I don’t want to give your mom a heart attack. How much time do I have?”
I glanced around the corner and spotted my parents holding hands and chatting near the front door. I could tell from their expressions that they weren’t necessarily in agreement but their body language spoke volumes. They were in love and they had been for a long time. They didn’t bother hiding their affection. They were proud of it.
“No, don’t. Don’t put anything away. I want to see everything,” I said earnestly.
“Huh? Did your parents’ flight get delayed?”
“No, they’re with me and we’re on our way, but Aar…I want you to be you. No filters. No more being polite or keeping our lives on the DL.”
“You told them and they’re pissed,” he guessed in a flat tone.
I bristled at the resignation in his voice. The sudden shift from excitement to something resembling defeat was heartbreaking. It was ending now. I was more determined than ever that no one was going to take this joy from him. And they weren’t going to dim it for their own personal comfort…even temporarily.
“I didn’t say a word. Just…don’t change anything and don’t put anything away.”
“Okay, but I’m warning you, it’s epic. I wasn’t exaggerating.”
“Fine by me. We’re not in the closet and we sure as hell aren’t having a wedding in one. I’ll be home in fifteen minutes. Love you, baby.”
My parents weren’t particularly talkative on the drive home. They’d definitely had words of some kind while I was on the phone with Aaron. They were rarely at odds with each other. And usually, it wasn’t a big deal. I probably could have diffused the tension by pointing out a few of their favorite DC sights on the way back to my condo. However, my mind was elsewhere. I loved my parents, but honestly, I wished they weren’t here. I hated big confrontations as much as I loathed heavy silences. Sometimes they were inevitable, I mused with a sigh.
I grabbed their suitcase from the trunk and lead them to the elevator in the underground garage. My dad stepped backward when I held the door open and gestured at my car.
“Matt, I think I left something in the car. Hand me your keys. You go on upstairs. Your mom and I will be there shortly,” he said, tugging gently at my mother’s sleeve.
I didn’t argue. And I certainly wasn’t going to invite my mom to join me. They obviously needed a few more minutes alone. I barely refrained from telling them to take their time as I tossed the keys at my dad. But I stabbed at the elevator button repeatedly, hoping the extra pressure would close the doors before my mom decided to jump in with me.
Thankfully, the ride was short. I rolled the small suitcase down the hallway to our condo, picking up my pace when I heard Latin music blasting through a half-open door.
I closed the door quickly and left the suitcase in the foyer then hurried to adjust the volume before our neighbors complained. I turned the corner into the great room and immediately stopped in my tracks.
The living area had been transformed into a floral wonderland. The coffee table and fireplace mantel were laden with giant bouquets with tall stems and massive branches. Smaller ones were perched along the island and on the dining room table. Roses, lilies, sunflowers and many more I couldn’t name. The colors were brilliant and beautiful but nothing compared to the hot man in the kitchen shaking his ass to a samba beat.
I opened my mouth but nothing came. I was blown away by his attention to detail. Votive candles and antique mirrors were interspersed with wildflowers and miniature pumpkins. Where the hell did he find pumpkins in March?
I turned down the music and set my hands on my hips. Aaron spun in a circle, dropping the stems in his hand on the counter before dancing over to greet me. He threw his arms around my waist and raised his head for a kiss. I bent to lick his lips and slipped my tongue inside. He tasted like peppermint and chocolate. Delicious.
Aaron grinned like a madman as he pulled out of my embrace and made a grand sweeping motion with his right hand. “Well? What do you think?”
“It’s…a lot. I mean, it’s beautiful. But damn, you weren’t kidding. You went crazy. It looks like you offered our condo to a florist who was getting ready to deliver to three weddings on the same day.”
“I warned you.”
“You did. It’s amazing.” I brushed my hand over my stubbled jaw when I spotted the impressive stack of wedding magazine on the table and noted the one on top featured two dapper-looking grooms on the cover.
Aaron nodded enthusiastically.
“It’s going to be. I’ll make sure of it. This will be the wedding of the century! People will be talking about it for years,” he assured me before glancing toward the door. “Where are they?”
“They forgot something in the car. They’ll be here any second.”
“It’s probably too late and you did say to leave everything alone but… do you want me to put anything away? We can hide the arrangements on the balcony or in our room.”
I chuckled. “No. It’s perfect. It’s like a stage. I like your surprise.”
“Oh, this isn’t my surprise.” He glanced at the door again then back at me with a Cheshire cat grin. “I can’t wait. I have to give it to you now. I swear I’ll do it properly later, but…”
He was practically vibrating. His eyes were bright with excitement and his hands were shaking. I cocked my head curiously and furrowed my brow. “What is it, baby?”
“The first thing I did when the photo shoot got canceled was call the jeweler.”
“Yeah. I know we’re a done deal but I always wanted to do this part too. I love the ring you bought me so I just picked up the matching one. And… we’re on a time crunch, so I’ll keep this short.” Aaron licked his lips and dug into his pocket. Then he got down on one knee and glanced up at me. “I love you, Matthew Sullivan. I love the way you love me, accept me and make me realize I’m stronger than I think. I’m pretty sure this is a yes, but…will you marry me?”
For the second time in less than ten minutes, I was speechless. Only this time, my heart was in my throat. Perhaps it was the unexpected sweetness of the gesture or maybe it was the look of absolute love and adoration in his eyes. Either way I was humbled. And fuck, I loved him.
I sank to the floor and crashed my mouth over his in a searing kiss that left us both breathless. We stared at each other and smiled, surrounded by a forest of flowers in our own living room. Aaron grasped my left hand and glided the ring into place. Then he bent to kiss my fingers.
“Te amo, mi amor.”
“Te amo,” I repeated, caressing his cheek and gazing into his beautiful eyes.
A sharp knock startled us into action. Aaron gave me a panicky look as hopped to his feet. “How do you want to play this? I’ll just follow your lead. Unless you say something dumb. Then I may have to stop you, but—”
“Relax. And remember, no matter what they say or how they react, we’re getting married because we love each other…. and because we want the tax write-off.” I winced when he punched my arm and glowered at me.
I snickered and slung my arm over his shoulder. “Find humor in uncertain situations and stick to people who make you smile. I’m marrying my best friend. There’s no reason to worry.”
Aaron laid his head on my chest and grinned up at me. “Are you going to let them in?”
“They have my keys,” I replied.
The door opened on cue a moment later.
I tightened my hold around Aaron reassuringly when I heard my mother’s gasp. On one hand, I couldn’t blame her. It was a normal reaction from anyone walking into an indoor garden unexpectedly.
“What’s going on here?” My mom looked shell-shocked and pale. I waited for a tendril of dread to creep in and overshadow our joy. It didn’t come.
I held Aaron’s hand, brushing the platinum band on his finger as I stepped around the massive arrangement on the coffee table. “Welcome. What do you think?” I asked pleasantly.
No one said a word. They didn’t have to. Their flabbergasted expressions spoke for them. I let the moment linger. A cheerful Latin song was playing at a low volume through the speakers. I preferred it to the classic jazz he usually put on when parents visited because he thought they liked it. The happy melody unobtrusively declared this home was Aaron’s too.
“It smells good,” my dad said with a half-laugh as he set his hand on my mom’s shoulder.
“Thanks. We have something to tell you. We’re—”
“No!” My mom blurted. She moved toward the island, stopping to touch the petals on a red rose before continuing to the dining table.
I let go of Aaron’s hand and stood in front of him protectively as I turned to face her. “Mom, look at me. I have something to tell you and you’re going to listen.”
Her nostrils flared slightly, but she complied. “What is it?”
“Aaron and I are getting married.”
No clapping. No tearful hugs and kisses. No questions about how it came to be or what our plans were. Just a little samba music in the background, straining to lighten the growing tension.
My dad moved to my side and clasped my shoulder before embracing my fiancé. “Congratulations. Welcome to the Sullivan family, Aaron. We’re happy for you both, right honey?”
“I— Does he know about the pretty girl at your office?” she asked in a faraway tone.
Aaron raised a brow and nodded. “Jana? I know all about her. She’s young and naïve and no offense to Matty, but she’s probably more infatuated with his job title than she is with him.”
“He didn’t push her away when she hugged him. I was there. I saw,” Mom insisted tightly.
“She was congratulating me, Mom. She knows I’m engaged to Aaron.”
“What do you mean, she knows? You told some intern you were marrying someone before you told your mother? Who else knows?”
“Everyone,” I answered simply. “Our friends, our co-workers, our doorman, Aaron’s family and… my sisters and my brother.”
She threw her hand over her mouth and fixed me with a horrified look. Once upon a time, I would have done anything in my power to erase her sorrow and quell her fear. But not now. I loved my mother but my heart and my future belonged to the man next to me.
“I can’t believe you would do such a thing,” she gasped.
“Be happy?” I shoved my hand through my hair in frustration and stepped toward my now teary-eyed mother. “You always told me you wanted me to be happy. You taught me that giving was more important than receiving and that love is the greatest gift you’ll ever have to offer anyone. It was you, Mom. You. So wise. So nurturing and so unselfish. You taught me the value of respect and that acts of kindness are infinitely more meaningful than sharp words. But now you want me to deny how I feel and I don’t understand.”
“Aaron is lovely man. I like him quite a bit but—”
“I love him!” I shouted. “He isn’t just a nice man. He’s the man I love, Mom. I’ve loved him for years. I’ve loved him for so long I can’t remember what it’s like not to love him. And I never want to. He is my heart. He is the only one I want. No one else even registers. I’ll never change my mind. I don’t notice people like Jana because I gave myself away a long time ago.
“And I made an effort to let you know when I first figured out that I’m not straight. I was scared and unsure so I went to the one person who always had my back. You were the first to know. You said all the right things. You told me nothing changed and that you’d always support me. If that’s true, you shouldn’t be surprised because I haven’t stopped being me and I sure as hell haven’t stopped loving Aaron. If you can’t accept it… it might be best for you to leave.”
Her look of utter anguish sliced me to the bone. But I wasn’t backing down and I wasn’t going to change any part of my life to please her. This was non-negotiable.
“You don’t mean that,” she whispered.
“I do. This is my life and Aaron is the biggest part of it. I won’t tolerate you or anyone else coming into the home we share and being careless and disrespectful. I won’t let anyone hurt him. Especially not the people who claim they love me.”
“I do love you, Matthew. I love you so very much,” she sobbed.
“Then stop this now. Don’t ever tell me you like him but want me to meet a nice girl. Don’t ever refer to him as my roommate or my buddy. Don’t ever make him feel like he’s anything less than my equal.” My voice hitched as my emotions bubbled and spilled to the surface. “The best day of my life happened less than a week ago when Aaron agreed to marry me. He’s going to be my husband but he’s already my family. You need to understand this is forever.”
Aaron threaded his fingers through mine and squeezed them. I looked at our joined hands and then at his face, alarmed at the tears clinging to his eyelashes. I kissed his temple and then glanced back at my dad.
“Give your mom a minute, Matt. She’s going to be okay,” he said.
She sniffed loudly and held up her hand. “No. I don’t need a minute.”
She shook her head wearily before reaching for her purse and pulling out a tissue. She dabbed at her eyes and sniffled. “I’m sorry. I’m terribly sorry. Please forgive me. Your dad suspected you had news like this but—”
“How? I didn’t say anything.”
“I didn’t know for sure,” Dad corrected. “I just had a feeling you were getting ready to settle down…get married, start a family. You have a calmness about you that wasn’t always there. Like you know where you’re going and you can’t wait to start the next chapter.”
“Your dad saw it and I…panicked. But he’s right, I’m being horribly selfish. I apologize. I knew you were serious about Aaron and that what you felt for him wasn’t ordinary. It scared me. The mother in me wants to protect you. But here you are telling me you’ll protect him from me if you must. God, that breaks me in half.”
She turned to Aaron with a sorrowful look. “I’ve always liked you, Aaron. Even when I didn’t want to. I’m terribly sorry. I hope you can forgive me. But more than anything, please take care of him because… he loves you. And if I know my son, I can assure you he’ll be a wonderful husband to you and some day, the best dad in the world to your children.”
Aaron swept my mother in his arms and held her close. I took a cleansing gulp of air and fought the urge to dog pile on their hug and give in to the well of emotion that had me upside down for days. My dad bumped my shoulder companionably before pulling me into a fierce embrace. He stepped backward and rubbed his hand over his nose.
“You good?” he asked with a sniff.
“Yeah. Thanks.” I cast my gaze at Aaron and my mother still holding each other a few feet away. “So, you’re really okay with everything?”
“Of course. You’re good together. You balance each other out. Mom knows it too. In her heart, she has no doubts. But she loves you so much she can’t see straight sometimes. She lets her fears get the best of her and says things she ends up regretting. I know that wasn’t easy, but she needed you to tell her how you feel. You were gut-wrenchingly honest. That hurts. But she’ll be fine. She knows you love him and he loves you. You have a strong foundation for good head start.”
“I have a feeling we can do better than good.”
Honestly, I was sure of it. Loving Aaron was the easy part. We’d been together long enough to know relationships required absolute trust, unconditional respect, and a willingness to compromise. We knew it wasn’t always hearts and roses, but we also knew what we had was worth fighting for and protecting. He was my partner in the adventure of a lifetime. And personally, I couldn’t wait for the journey to begin.
Aaron burrowed into my side and hooked his leg around mine. We were covered in sweat and my body was still humming in the afterglow as my breathing returned to normal. If it wasn’t so cold in our bedroom, I might actually be able to fall asleep just like this. I brushed his hair out of his eyes and kissed his brow.
“Aar, grab the blankets. It’s freezing in here.”
“Mmm.” He pulled the duvet over us and settled back, resting his head on my heart. “Better?”
“Much better. Are you sore?” I kneaded his bare ass, wishing I could be inside him again. God, he felt so good.
“I might be in the morning, but I’m fine now. After two days with no sex, I don’t mind at all. It was a nice visit, but I’m glad we have our place to ourselves again.”
“Just us and five dozen flowers.”
“More like eight,” he chuckled. “We made a few important choices this weekend though. Roses, sunflowers and tulips. Shades of yellow, red and orange… perfect, don’t you think?”
“Sure. Thanks for involving my mom. I know you’re going to things your way but it was cool of you made her feel like you needed her advice. Especially since she started the weekend acting like a raving maniac.”
“She loves you, Matty. Besides, she apologized and was on her very best behavior, saying all the right things about being happy for us. I think she meant it at the end.”
“I hope so. You’re so patient with her, which is funny because you’re not patient otherwise.”
“It’s my Catholic guilt. You don’t mess with momma where I’m from,” he joked. “She’s trying. That’s what counts. And when she asked me to take care of you… it got me. I think it was her way of passing a baton. It’s super old-fashioned, but I kinda liked the sentiment. Just so you know…I’m going to be the best husband you ever had.”
I snickered as I reached for his left hand to examine the simple band on his finger. “You’re my only husband.”
“Not yet. Six more months.”
“Yeah, but in a way we’re already married. The title is nice but the truth is… the only thing we’re missing is a piece of paper.”
“And a kickass party. There’s so much to plan, Matty! Band or DJ? Traditional cake or cupcakes or both? What about a seating chart?”
I widened my eyes theatrically then pulled the duvet over my head. “Wake me up in six months.”
Aaron giggled as he flung the cover back. “No chance. I’ll do most of the work, but I have a request to make.”
“What is it?”
“I want you to play our song at the wedding.”
“”Your Song” by Elton John?” I waited for his nod of agreement before adding, “And sing?”
“Yeah. Will you? I know it’s personal. If you really don’t want to, that’s ok—”
“I’ll do it.” I ran my fingers over his flat stomach. “But I’m a little rusty. I haven’t been playing much lately.”
Aaron rolled off the bed and headed for the door buck naked. “I’ll be right back.”
He returned a minute later with my guitar. I sat cross-legged and gently took the instrument from him, propping it on my lap. Aaron mirrored my pose so we sat with our knees touching. I strummed a few chords before humming the first few notes of the melody, then I looked at him and began to sing.
“It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside…”
I missed a couple chords and I fumbled the lyrics once, but when I reached the last line, “How wonderful life is while you’re in the world”, Aaron threw his arms over my neck and kissed me.
“It’s my favorite.”
“Then it’s yours.”
I held his gaze as I set the guitar aside. I was tempted to fill the quiet, but I let it go. I wondered what was going on in his head. I wondered if he thought that song was our beginning and if he ever dreamed in a million years he’d ask me to play it for our wedding. Maybe someday I’d ask, but for now, I let the moment be. It was good the way it was. In fact…it was better than good.