Reagan was slightly tipsy, and very happy, when she and Evan arrived at her house after the graduation party. It had been a huge success and Reagan was determined he was going to spend the night, mother or no mother. She also made a big decision, especially after seeing Taylor and Elliott together, she was going to tell Evan how she felt. He’d been there for her through so much, supporting her. He hadn’t said it yet, and she didn’t think there was a rule about who said it first, or if he even had to say it back, but she was pretty sure he felt the same way.
As soon as the front door closed behind them, standing there in the dark, Evan drew her to him and kissed her senseless. He didn’t seem like a man that wanted to run. “Evan,” she said, completely breathless when he finally released her. “I need to tell you…”
Before she could finish her sentence, the room was flooded with light, interrupting them as they shielded their eyes against the sudden brightness.
“Sorry kids, I fell asleep on the couch,” said her mother, standing there in her nightgown. “And I didn’t want to eavesdrop.”
“Mom….are you okay?” asked Reagan, as her eyes finally adjusted to the light. She looked as if she’d been crying.
“I’m fine. I’ll just go to my room. Carry on. Don’t mind me.” When she turned to walk out, Reagan heard her sniff followed by a little mewling sound.
Reagan turned to Evan pleading for him to understand with her eyes.
“Maybe I better go,” he said finally, none too happy.
“Evan, I’m so sorry. I’ve never seen her like this. I need to see what’s going on. Tomorrow night? Maybe?” She was begging him and she knew it.
“Reagan, you know this is just a play for attention,” he snapped.
“Why would you think that?” she asked, “No, I think something’s happened.”
“Right, she didn’t get invited to the family party,” he said sarcastically.
“Evan. No. She wanted to go somewhere. She asked to use my car. Something happened. Maybe she went to see an old friend and they were cruel to her.”
Evan sighed and touched her face. “In the words of Elliot, Goodbye Luv.”
Reagan smiled at his imitation of Elliott’s accent. “He’s nice, huh?”
Evan pouted, “Nicer than me?” he asked still imitating Elliott. “I’m bloody jealous.”
Reagan snickered. “I’m gonna miss you tonight.”
Evan kissed her again. This time it was sweet and soft, not so intense like before. “I’m definitely gonna miss you too,” he said softly, “Go, take care of Mommy Dear…your mother.”
When the front door shut, Reagan turned out the lights and leaned against it. Tonight had been almost magical. Everyone was happy and having a good time. Remembering the dance with her father made her smile. Elliott turned out to be a hit, probably because everyone wanted to listen to him speak. And he put up with Connie’s endless questions about Harry Potter. But Taylor, she literally glowed when he showed up. Reagan wondered if maybe she glowed when she was next to Evan. She thought she did, because he always made her smile and her heart race. And Ryan. She was pretty sure he and Rosa left together.
She heard her mother’s bedroom door shut, reminding her why she wasn’t in Evan’s arms right now. She sighed, pushed off the door and walked the short distance to her mother’s bedroom and knocked softly. “Mom, can I come in?”
“Of course,” came her reply.
Her mother was sitting at the dressing table, not yet in bed. When she walked closer she looked at Reagan’s reflection in the mirror with sad eyes. “You didn’t have to ask him to leave because of me.” Her words were emotionless and dry.
“What’s wrong. Why were you crying?” she asked, ignoring her mother’s statement.
Avery turned and looked at her. “It’s nothing,” she said, and began to tear up again.
Reagan sat on the bed. “Obviously, it’s not nothing. I’m not leaving until you tell me what’s wrong. Come sit over here and talk to me.”
Avery got up and moved to the bed next to Reagan. “I found out some things tonight that were – upsetting. I’ll be okay.”
“Mom,” she said gently, “please tell me. Let me help you,” said Reagan.
Avery studied her, making her uncomfortable. Suddenly she knew what it was. Her mother knew where she had gone and that she lied to her. Damn. Evan was right.
“I learned someone close to me died, a long time ago,” said her mother, “But I just now found out.”
“Oh, Mother,” said Reagan, sad about her friend, but happy her mother’s tears weren’t because of her. She went to put her arms around her to comfort her, but her mother stiffened and pushed her away.
“It’s okay darling, I’ll deal with that. But truthfully, it’s you that’s hurt me the most. Reagan, don’t ever lie to me again. Not ever. I know where you were. You were with them. The whole bunch of them.”
By the time she finished her rant, it was clear how upset she was and Reagan felt like a little kid being scolded instead of a grown woman. “I’m sorry,” she said weakly, but was determined to stand her ground. “Mom,” she said with more forcefulness, “they’re my family too, and I didn’t want to make you feel bad.”
“That man tried to keep me locked up!” she sneered, her face contorting into anger, “Of course I feel bad when you go see him and that little tramp he’s married to. But I feel worse when you lie to me about it!”
Reagan felt small again. “Mom, I thought you were happy he had moved on … you said…”
“I was! Up until he tried to convince the commissioners to deny me my parole. If his high and mighty sister hadn’t declined to say anything, they sure as hell would’ve.”
Reagan didn’t know what to do. Her mother was so angry and now she was getting angry with her too. She knew her mother didn’t like her seeing her father, there was certainly no love lost between the two of them. But, they respected her decision to allow her mother to live with her, albeit reluctantly. In fact her father gave her money to help. She wanted so badly to tell her just that, but she knew he would be upset if she did. So she kept quiet.
“Mom, you don’t understand,” she said finally, deliberately keeping her voice calm and soft, “Daddy didn’t know I was going to be at the hearing, or that we wrote a letter. Or he wouldn’t have done that. I’m sure of it. I was going to tell him afterwards. I didn’t know they would be there either or I would’ve told him. I’m sorry this is hard. But I’m trying. I love you both. Don’t do this … please … ” Her voice broke with emotion.
“Oh … honey. I’m sorry,” said her mother, apologetic now, instead of angry, and Reagan breathed a sigh of relief. “I’ve spoiled your evening with your boyfriend and upset you, just because I was feeling sorry for myself. I just that I can’t stop wondering how long I have to continue to pay for making one bad choice.”
Avery stopped and took a deep breath before going on. “You knew I had severe postpartum depression, right? And it caused things between your father and I to deteriorate. That’s why I sought comfort in the arms of my ex. It was wrong. And I’m sorry. And now he’s gone. You’re all I have left.” She was getting emotional again.
Reagan was shocked by her mother’s confession. She must have felt very much alone while she was out having a good time with people that hated her. Then it dawned on her what she said. “Spencer?” she asked, “He’s the one?”
“Yes. It was just before the trial. I think he was killed,” she said, her eyes glassy. “He could’ve cleared me.”
“Oh no. I’m so sorry Mother. That’s awful.”
“I wish I could find out who did it,” mumbled Avery under her breath. “Noah Redcliffe has the wherewithal to do something like that.”
Reagan was shocked. “You can’t be serious,” she said, “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Her mother suddenly looked at her, her features hard and cold. “You need to grow up Reagan! People are capable of all kinds of horrible things when they’re threatened.”
“No. Noah is a gentle giant. He wouldn’t put Ami at risk like that. He adores her.”
“My point exactly,” she said and sighed, much calmer again. “Well, don’t you worry you pretty little head. I need you Reagan. We need each other. So no more secrets sweetheart. Now give this old woman a hug and get to bed. It’s late.”
Reagan flopped down on her own bed thinking over her mother’s statement. If Spencer had been found alive, she reasoned, she may indeed have gone free. No wonder Mom is so bitter. But Noah couldn’t possibly have been behind it. That’s just ludicrous. Then she wondered, How did Mom even find out about the party? And how did she find out about Spencer? Ami didn’t know, surely they would’ve told her. Maybe, whoever she was talking to on the phone had some inside knowledge. Her attorney possibly?
Reagan yawned and slid under the covers,still pondering the night’s events. Should she tell her mother about the money, even though her father made her promise not to? If her mother managed to find out, she would be extremely angry with her for breaking her promise not to keep secrets. Reagan desperately wished Evan were there with her to help her make sense of it all, or at least take her mind off her troubles. Evan was the last thought she had as she finally drifted off to sleep.
Elliott had been exhausted and Taylor’s dad had invited him to spend the night with them, rather than spend money on a hotel. The next morning, Taylor went to find him. The guest room was empty and the bed made. She hoped he hadn’t become overwhelmed by her family and friends and left.
She ran downstairs to search for him. She stopped dead in her tracks and relaxed when she saw him sitting at the dining room table, drinking coffee and talking to her parents. Her mother looked like she was crying, but she was smiling. What was going on?
Then her dad stood up and reached across the table and shook his hand. He was also smiling. This is so weird, she thought.
She cleared her throat to alert them to her presence and they all three jumped. Her mother quickly wiped her eyes.
“Any coffee left?” asked Taylor, as if she didn’t notice the weirdness.
“Yes, or I can make some more,” said her mother.
“No problem, stay put, I’ll check. Oh, and good morning,” she said, giving Elliott a huge smile.
Elliott returned her smile tenfold. It warmed her to see it his beautiful smile, because he hadn’t done a lot of it in the years that she’d known him. “Morning Taylor,” he said, “If you’ll excuse me, I should go shower.” He practically skipped out of the room. Taylor had never seen him look quite so animated – and relaxed.
Her dad rose from his seat trying to suppress a grin. “I gotta head to the clinic. I’ll be home early.” He kissed her mother’s cheek, then walked over to her. “I love you Taylor,” he said and kissed her cheek as well. Then he left, leaving just her and her mother.
A confused Taylor sat down at the table while her mother got a fresh cup of coffee for her. When she sat down, Taylor eyed her. “Mom, what was all of that about?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing,” replied Dannie emotionally, “He’s such a sweet man. I see why you have fallen for him. It was so romantic for him to come and surprise you.”
“Did you know?” asked Taylor suspicious now.
“Heavens no. I don’t think I could’ve kept that a secret. He went to the restaurant where you work, and they told them where you were. Poor thing had to meet the entire family in one fell swoop. I’m so glad we didn’t scare him off. Especially Connie. He did mention he would like for you to show him the park and the city.”
“Yes. We really need to talk. We didn’t have a chance last night. I’m still in shock he’s here. But Mom, I have to ask, how would you feel if I went back to London with him?”
She grinned. “I don’t know. Are you?”
“If he’ll have me,” she said.
Her mother smiled, her eyes sparkling with emotion. “Honey, that man loves you. I know he will. Run along and get dressed, I’m sure he’ll be ready well before you.”
Later that day at the Memorial Park in Newcrest…..
Taylor had to pinch herself. She still couldn’t believe Elliott was here with her, sitting on a bench in the hedge maze. The air was crisp and cool, but the sun felt nice, and warmed things up, making it a beautiful early spring day. But not nearly as beautiful as the man next to her. Now was the time to tell him she was moving to London.
Before she could form the words, he began to fidget and started to ramble. “Taylor, I’ve loved meeting your family. They’re an amazing bunch. Meeting them and seeing where you grew up, it really helps me understand you even better. It’s a brilliant little town, and the openness of it all is quite nice. Is Newcrest where you want to open your restaurant?”
Taylor swallowed hard. “No,” she said, “I want to go back to London with you and help you with your family’s restaurants.” There, she thought, she’d said it. Let the chips fall where they may.
His shoulders slumped and sadness marred his beautiful face. “That won’t be possible, love.”
Not possible? That infuriated her. “Then why did you come all the way here? Just to tell me in person we’re through? You don’t make any sense Elliott Gray. That’s a crappy way to break it to me! Ever heard of a freaking text message? It’s easier and much less expensive.”
He worked his jaw before replying, totally ignoring her rant. “But you like Newcrest, right love?”
“Elliott, are you not listening? I don’t want to be here without you,” she was on the verge of tears, how could he mess with her heart like this? She was ready to stick him on the next plane. She really thought he was telling her parents he wanted to take her back to England and that’s why her mother was crying. Now she was confused.
“Taylor, darling, I like Newcrest too, and I love you. And the reason we can’t go to London is because my parents sold the restaurants and our flat. It was going to take too long to turn them around. My parents needed to be where they could be looked after and I couldn’t do it all. I put them up in a retirement village – at their insistence. They insisted I keep the rest and come to America. They could see, I was miserable without you.”
Taylor’s heart was beginning to pound in her chest. She could barely breathe anticipating his next words.
“If you say no, I’ll leave, but I really hope you’ll say yes.”
“Yes to what, exactly?” she asked expectantly.
He pulled a box from his pocket. “Taylor, marry me and live here, in Newcrest, with me. We can open our own restaurant. And maybe even have babies together.”
God. This man. He did all of that without asking her first. She was furious with him and she loved him furiously. “Why Elliott?” was all she could manage.
He looked confused. “Because I love you. I thought you loved me too.”
“No….” she said shaking her head violently.
“Bloody hell,” he said and began to get up.
“No….I don’t mean ‘no’, I mean No, that’s not what I meant … oh god…” She was getting upset because her words were all jumbled up. She took a deep breath to clear her head and slowed down. “I mean, why did you sell the restaurants and not even talk to me about it? I could’ve come and helped. I’m messing this all up. I’m so sorry.” Taylor took his hands. “Elliott, why didn’t you call me?”
Elliott looked so dejected and looked down at their joined hands as he spoke. “I was bloody miserable after you left. I literally couldn’t function. My parents knew it was because I was lovesick. They said love is more important than a restaurant. When I look at them, and now your parents too, I know they’re right. After we got everything sorted, and I was ready to leave, my mum gave me her wedding ring. She said give it to Taylor and marry her. Now I feel like a fool in love.”
Elliott had tears in his eyes and it touched her deeply. He had left everything he ever knew or loved behind, for her. And she had been willing to do the same thing for him. Maybe we’re both fools in love, she thought.
“May I see it? The ring?” she asked, blinking back her own tears. Elliott reached in his pocket pulled out the little velvet box and handed it to her. She looked at it and gasped. “It’s gorgeous Elliott. But I can’t take your mother’s ring,” she said as she handed it back.
He swiped at his face and swallowed hard. “I’ll be on the next flight out. I’m sorry I’ve upset you.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Taylor, confused.
“You refused my proposal… I can’t stay.”
“Ohhhh,” said Taylor, “Elliott, ask me again, please.”
He looked in her eyes and the corners of his mouth turned up as he realized his mistake. God, that beautiful smile, thought Taylor. She vowed to make him smile every single day for the rest of their lives.
This time he got down on his knee and took her hand and kissed the back of it. Then once more, he asked, “Taylor, my love, will you marry me?”
“Yes, I will,” she said through her smile.
“Please love … take the ring. It will make my mum very happy. She will be hurt if you don’t. It was her mother’s before her and she has no female children to pass it to.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Your hand love.” Taylor put her hand in his and allowed him to slide the ring on her finger. “I love you Taylor,” he said and kissed her.
“I love you too Elliott,” she said when he released her, then began to laugh. “I told Mom this morning that I was going back with you, if you’d have me.”
Elliott looked guilty. That’s when it hit her….“Wait! Elliott Gray, you told them already! They knew you were going to propose. Oh God, what did they say?”
He smiled one of the best smiles ever, and touched her face. “They said they’d never seen you happier than you were last night. Your mum said you glowed. I have to agree. We have their blessings.”
She loved this sweet man so much. He was perfect. Who asks parents if they can propose. Elliott does. “I have just one condition though,”
“Wait, you can’t take it back…” he looked panicked.
Taylor laughed and leaned back into his arms. “Get your knickers out of a wad Gray! I’m not. You’re stuck with me now. But let’s promise each other, that from now on, all of our major decisions will be made together. Because Elliott, I was going to London if you hadn’t come here first. We might’ve passed each other over the Atlantic.”