Our return home couldn’t have come sooner. The motel was nice enough, but sleeping in your own bed? Priceless.
Ever since that night at Blue Moon Lodge, things between David and I have changed. We were friends before, but even if neither one of us has said it outright, we were definitely an item now.
This time around, I didn’t beat around the bush and told my parents about us. Mom’s response?
“Oh, you just became a couple? I kind of assumed you already were when I found him sleeping on our couch that one night. Congratulations, though. I like this one much more.”
Dad and Gerald just chuckled. Apparently, Dad also thought David and I had something going on, while Gerald was just wondering how long it would take the two of us to get together.
It was good to be home.
Of course, not everything was that simple.
The situation at the company, for example: things were even more chaotic than before we left. As soon as it became clear that Selma ditched from the country, the majority of upper management have turned in their letters of resignation, most likely out of fear of becoming embroiled in the legal scandal with the company. The rest of the workers had no idea what to do in these circumstances. They were worriedly awaiting news of what would become with their jobs. After all, they were regular people who needed a steady income…
While David and I were playing detective things just got more out of hand at home, and the further it went on, the more effort it was going to require to fix the situation.
As the situation stood, the company was still in a whole lot of legal hot water. While the server leak did come from a questionable source, investigation into said information has proven most of it true, which, under different circumstances, would have meant a hefty sentence for Lionel and a smaller one for Selma. As things stood, the main criminal was dead, and the accomplice was in a country out of our legal system’s reach.
David was lucky to have been officially uninvolved with any of his parent’s illegal activities, which was the one bright thing about this whole mess. He was in the clear with the law, especially after he himself nearly became a victim of the same criminals who killed his father and tried to pin it on his mother. The law enforcement somewhat sympathized with his situation. But that meant that he, as the remaining heir of Collier Enterprises was now responsible for dealing with all the fallout from the recent events, in regards to the company.
Yes, that’s right. By some strange miracle, law enforcement didn’t force us to close down the entire company.
Of course, there was one huge explanation for this: Collier Enterprises was one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the country and it was one of the biggest employers in the area. Forcing us to close down would have created more chaos than the law enforcement and the local government were willing to deal with.
However, that didn’t mean Collier Enterprises was getting completely off the hook.
About a week after we got back from Twinbrook, we were visited by a government attorney named Liam Upton, who, in convergence with local law enforcement, was going to keep track of all financial deals made between the company and whoever it did business with. He had a respectable level of experience with corporate legal matters and it wasn’t his first time dealing with a company that landed on the wrong side of the law. Of course, most of his experience didn’t involve legal troubles quite as extensive as ours, but that just meant that we were going to be under much stricter overlook than any of the other companies.
All things considered, it was completely understandable and very reasonable. However, as things stood, we were now guilty until proven innocent for the foreseeable time period.
But at least, we could continue working, and so could the people whose livelihoods depended on having a job at Collier Enterprises.
Which left us with another problem — the company’s management team, which was basically nonexistent at the moment. The logical solution was to promote the remaining employees to the now empty positions and to start recruiting for new employees for their former jobs. However, as things stood, the local job-searching population seemed to be avoiding us like the plague and we only managed to hire a handful of new people. And the employees who were offered management positions suddenly found excuses for why they couldn’t take the jobs! Some bizarre, some understandable.
Tia, for example, happily announced that she and Roman were expecting baby number two and that sooner rather than later, she would have to go on a maternity leave. We were happy for her, of course, congratulating her on the soon-to-be new addition to her family.
Lana was one of the very few who actually agreed to take the job, but she warned us that she soon might end up having to move from Hidden Springs permanently, since her husband was awaiting a possible promotion to Sunset Valley.
Of course, there was another problem with these promotions: due to the large fines the company had to pay out, we could only give a very small raise to the new managers, not nearly as much as they should have been getting. We hoped this will change soon. But that remained to be seen.
And me? I was now very much a part of it all – I agreed to take the head manager’s position without any need to convince me, refusing the raise that came with it. Ever since the Marilyn fiasco, I couldn’t help but feel that my quest for justice would have had almost the same results for the company as hers, minus the deaths. So, of course, I was going to do my very best to fix things.
Besides, there was no way I was leaving David to the sole responsibility for everything. We were a team now.
Even if being a team meant falling asleep exhausted together, not even making it to a bed.
After about a year, things were beginning to look up, somewhat. The company, while still dealing with a lot of financial duress, has figured out a new pattern for work, new medicines were still being developed, and slowly, people began to regain trust in us. Mostly, it was because David and I made a huge effort to change how things were done in the company. Collier Enterprises was no longer an intimidating pharmaceutical giant. We were a business founded on shady dealings, but we were doing our best to replace that foundation with one based on trust, honesty, and community presence.
Some things changed, others haven’t.
Lana, to Tia’s and my delight, didn’t move away. She and Emmet have decided to stay here, after all.
Tia had her baby, and little Clyde dotted on his new sibling. Roman, after being contacted by both the Twinbrook and the Hidden Springs police departments, was now working with the local unit, strengthening the cybersecurity of their servers and also giving seminars on computer safety and privacy. He was happy to once again be able to provide for his family, from which he has been away for so long.
We’ve kept contact with Deputy Rosswell from Twinbrook. After he saved our lives, we have decided to stay in touch with the man. He has informed us that Marilyn and Sam were both tried in court for their crimes. Even with their admissions of wrongdoing, both Sam and Marilyn were going to jail for a long time. However, Marilyn was to serve a part of her sentence in an institution much more appropriate to her mental wellbeing, which turned out to be completely nonexistent, as ascertained by the court psychologists.
On a happier note, Gerald has proposed to Katy and they were busy planning their wedding. Most of the time, she was over at our place now, spending time with my brother. They have never looked happier.
And I was happy too. When David and I did manage to have some free time to ourselves, he never failed to put a smile on my face. He would constantly bring me sweet treats at work, give me compliments and kisses when we were together, and he could brighten up my day just by smiling a certain way.
I think, for the first time in a long while, everything in my life was looking just perfect. I was busier than ever, true, but I had someone that I knew was there for me no matter what, and who cared about me deeply. That constant worry I felt when I dated Micah, was never present with David. I think it just meant that Micah was never the right person for me, while David was. And I probably had to Micah to thank for that – if not for our terrible break-up and my behavior afterwards, I probably wouldn’t have met David the way I did and most likely never would have looked past his family name to see the wonderful person he was. Life works out in strange ways.
In record time, it was time for my brother’s wedding. After complaining about how boring most wedding invitations that they’ve seen were, Gerald and Kate have taken a very humorous approach to wedding announcements. At least they had a lot of fun during the photoshoot, and most of our friends seemed to like the invites!
Also, in a decision that calmed my worried heart, Gerald and Kate have both decided that it would be a better idea for Kate to just move in with us after the wedding than for her and Gerald to move to a new place. The idea of my brother moving out worried me because I knew that, despite my biggest attempts to do so, with how busy I was at work, there was no way I could give as much care as needed to Mom and Dad once they got older. And I would have hated for them to be uncared for. Whereas, I knew Gerald’s much saner work schedule would allow him to spend time with the family.
On their wedding day, both Gerald and Kate have looked the happiest I’ve ever seen them. Despite their wedding photoshoot, neither had cold feet – if anything, they both wanted to get married as much as anyone possibly could.
Mom and Dad were also happy, even though both broke down in tears during the vows. After all, their youngest baby was all grown up and getting married! (I think they were also feeling happy about the fact that Gerald was remaining home after the wedding.)
It wasn’t long after the wedding that David and I have gotten our first break at work. A new medication for arthritis, while not too expensive, has managed to get the company much closer to leaving our current financial rut. This meant that we could finally give out some much needed bonuses to our hard-working employees, and also relax a bit.
Also, that meant more time for the two of us to spend together, outside of work. Since neither David or I liked large gatherings and loud places, that usually meant staying in and spending our time watching our favorite shows together, eating all sorts of unhealthy snacks, and just enjoying ourselves.
I know, I know, we were acting like boring old people, you might say, but it was during moments like these that both of us felt the happiest and most content. I knew I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
We were re-watching old episodes of Colombo (what could I say, we have both developed a taste for detective fiction after our trip), having extra-cheesy pizza and cheese sticks, and laughing our butts off at all the ways “the bad guys” tend to get caught in shows. It was a lazy Saturday and David and I were at his house, with no plans to go anywhere. After polishing off the last pizza slice and finishing the episode, I leaned back into David contentedly. Suddenly, he asked me:
“Are you happy with me?”
Surprised, I turned to look at him. “I am. Why do you ask?”
He shrugged. “It’s just, you’ve been there for me in every way possible for the last two years and I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten through all this without you. But it made me wonder if I was doing nearly enough for you to qualify as a decent boyfriend.”
“Are you kidding me? You’re an amazing boyfriend! Who else would bring me chocolates at work? Or give me a backrub when I’m feeling down?” I laughed.
“I just love to see you smile,” he whispered, hugging me.
“And I love to be with you. Just, in general,” I admitted quietly.
In response, he kissed me, making my stomach do flips, the way it always did when we touched.
“Hey, there is still some light outside. We should go somewhere,” he announced.
“What do you have in mind?” I was curious.
“We officially spend too much time cooped up indoors. We should enjoy beautiful nature for a bit. Bring your jacket, just in case,” he smiled, heading for his car.
To my surprise, instead of going to the park or the beach, like I thought he might, since David turned out to be an avid swimmer, he swerved into the hills and headed up the mountain road.
“Where are we going?” I wondered.
“You know, for someone who is a native of Hidden Springs, you know too little about all its nooks and crannies,” he smiled. “Have you ever been to Redwood Peak?”
“No,” I tried to remember the place. It was popular with some members of the astrology club back in high school, I remembered, as they used to camp out there to watch the stars. But I was more focused on other things back then. It was true, I’ve never been there.
“Well, you’ll see it now!” he drove higher up the mountain, coming to park by the entrance area of the park.
I could see why the place was perfect for stargazing – it was probably the highest point in town, and there was a lot of empty space to set up a telescope. If anything, there already was one present.
David led me towards it, explaining, “The view from this place is truly amazing. Take a look for yourself.”
I did just that. The entire Hidden Springs was laid out before us, with everyone looking so very tiny from our viewpoint up here. The height was terrifying, but there was something exhilarating about it. It was beautiful.
“What do you think?” he asked, hugging me from behind. “Was it worth leaving the house for?”
“It is. Thank you for bringing me here,” I whispered, still awed by the view.
“I thought you’d like it,” he smiled contentedly. “I used to come here with Emily, whenever possible. I used to think this place was more romantic than the Eiffel Tower on Valentine’s Day.”
“I think you were right about that,” I laughed softly. The air here was pine fresh, and the chirping of crickets had a peaceful quality to it, making me feel happy and elated.
“So, I’ve always thought that if I ever wanted to propose to someone I cared about, this would be the perfect place to do it,” David continued.
I turned around slowly, trying to figure out if this was really happening.
“Irene, I met you at the moment when my life was at its lowest, or so I thought back then. But when I met you, despite everything, you’ve managed to be a guiding light for me. At those moments when I felt close to giving up on everything, on admitting failure in life, you were there, pushing me along and reminding me that I wasn’t alone. I can’t and don’t want to imagine my life without you in it, because it would be absolutely empty. So tell me, will you be my wife, Irene?”
My breath caught in my throat and I could feel the tears well up in my eyes, tears of happiness. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to marry David, but I didn’t know if this would be something that would ever happen to us. Now that he was proposing, I couldn’t handle the surge of emotions in my chest.
“Yes! Of course, I will marry you, David. Because I don’t want to imagine my life without you either. I love you. I think I’ve been in love with since that time I’ve seen you outside the restaurant in town. I don’t know if soulmates exist, but if they do, you are mine.”
“But we’ve met at the bar?” David was happy but confused.
“Yeah, but I first saw you in town square, outside the restaurant, it was afternoon on a Saturday,” I admitted. “I remember wanting to go and meet you back then, but feeling guilty because I was still in a relationship. You looked really sad.”
“That was the day I first arrived here from Bridgeport. I’ve just arrived back from the airport at that time and I was dreading coming home,” he admitted. “And you saw me on that very day! Wow, this truly is fate.”
“I guess it is. So, this was your plan? Bringing me here for a proposal?”
“Partially,” he smiled, pulling me in for a kiss. “Have you ever gone camping?”
“No,” I admitted.
“There’s always a first time for everything! There are marshmallows and tent in the car. We’re going to have so much fun!”
I spent the rest of that night blissfully enjoying nature and s’mores, and falling asleep in a tent under the stars, next to the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. If human life could reach perfection, it was probably something like this.