Loose Ends

His Heart's Keeper

Ricky jumped in the shower the second he closed the door of his apartment. He toweled himself off while walking into his bedroom to get dressed. He tossed the towel on the floor, making a mental note to pick it up later, and opened his closet. He laid out his outfit and started to get dressed. Back at Amy's house she had just stepped out of the shower. She wrapped a bath towel around her and headed back to her bedroom. Nice but not too dressy, nice but not too dressy she said over and over in her head as she browsed through her closet for what to wear. She knew she couldn't spend a lot of time deciding because she still had to blow-dry and style her hair as well as do her makeup. She found the perfect dress and tossed it, still on its hanger, onto the bed and made a beeline for her dresser to select makeup colors to compliment it while deciding what she wanted to do with her hair. She glanced at her alarm clock and sighed with relief when she found that it was only 5:20; she still had plenty of time to finish getting ready.

Back at his apartment Ricky gave himself a once-over in the mirror. He had chosen to wear a crimson, long sleeved, button-up shirt with a red tie in a slightly lighter shade with black slacks. He gave his black suit jacket a quick tug to straighten it. He's put on a slight amount of Calvin Klein Eternity cologne and brushed a few strands of hair that had decided to misbehave. He checked his watch and saw that it was 6:30. He put on black dress shoes, grabbed a small giftwrapped present from the coffee table, grabbed his keys and phone, and headed to Amy's. He decided to change things up and ring the front doorbell instead of going up to the kitchen door. Ashley opened the door carrying Robbie on her hip.

"Hi!" Robbie greeted him happily. Ricky and Ashley both smiled at him.

"Hey little man." Ashley stepped aside so Ricky could enter and then closed the door.

"Amy will be done in a minute or two," Ashley informed him. He nodded and headed into the living room to wait on the couch while Ashley headed back to the kitchen. Ricky heard footsteps a few moments later and turned to see Amy dressed in a black trench coat that went down to her shins. Since he didn't see any dressy material he figured her dress was shorter than the coat but the coat didn't give him any clue as to what it looked like. Her hair was styled in large, loose curls that cascaded around her with some strands of hair pulled back at the sides and held together in the back by a hair clip that, not surprisingly, had a large butterfly on it. She had earrings that resembled strands of tinsel in her ears and was wearing makeup that brought out the color of her eyes. She was carrying a small, black clutch purse. Ricky was drawn to her dark red lipstick, mainly because she was smiling at him. He stood up from the couch and smiled back.

"Ready?" he asked her, walking to the front door. He opened it for her when she nodded. He walked her to his car but stopped and turned to face her when they reached it. "I want it to be a surprise. So….." he paused to take a scarf out of the inner pocket of his suit jacket. Amy arched an eyebrow and gave him a questioning look when she saw what he was holding. He smiled at her and made a hand motion signaling she needed to turn around. She shrugged and decided to play along. She turned around and let Ricky blindfold her. "How many fingers am I holding up?" he asked her once the blindfold was on. He wasn't holding up any fingers and wanted to make sure the blindfold was snug enough.

"Two," Amy replied. Satisfied she couldn't see, Ricky carefully opened the car door and guided her into her seat. He closed her door while she felt around for her seatbelt and buckled herself in. He jogged around to the driver's side with a smile on his face and got in. Ricky started the car and turned up their favorite smooth jazz station. Amy relaxed into her seat to enjoy the ride. "So how far away is this place?" she asked as a way to make conversation. Ricky chuckled.

"It's a little bit of a drive. Just relax." Amy did as he instructed. Twenty-five minutes later Ricky pulled into a restaurant parking lot and turned off the engine. Amy reached up to undo the blindfold but Ricky grabbed her hand to stop her. "Not yet." He got out of the car and went around to her side to help her out of the car and Amy couldn't help but giggle at how mysterious Ricky was being. Once she was standing he shut her door and locked the car. He stood behind her and put one arm around her waist to guide her into the restaurant. Amy suddenly felt warmed as they entered the restaurant and the front door closed behind them. Amy's nostrils were assaulted by the aroma of a type of cuisine she couldn't place. Ricky moved to stand behind her and began to untie the blindfold. He spoke just before he lowered it. "Amy, welcome to Butterfly Bonanza." The blindfold fell away and Amy gasped in amazement.

They were standing in a foyer that had dark mahogany wood floors and a high vaulted ceiling that was covered with hand painted butterflies. Ricky smiled at Amy's face and his heart warmed at the sight. She had the same expression of childlike wonder and joy that she'd had at the zoo. He put his hand on the small of her back and ushered her towards the hostess stand. The gentleman behind the counter smiled at them.

"Name?"

"Underwood," Ricky told him. He quickly scanned the computer screen in front of him and nodded when he found the reservation. He picked up two menus.

"Right this way please, Mr. Underwood." Ricky and Amy followed their hostess into the dining room and Amy stopped in her tracks and gasped again when she saw it, causing their hostess to turn and face her to make sure everything was alright. He smiled when he saw Amy's face. Happens every time. He continued walking towards their table and Ricky had to guide Amy because she kept staring at the ceiling. The ceiling of the dining room was actually a large mesh net that was draped around metal supports to make the mesh form a series of intersecting barrel vaults over the entire space. And above the mesh were hundreds of hanging flower pots filled with different types of flowers that were playing host to hundreds of live butterflies. They arrived at their table, Amy oblivious to the trip they'd just made across the dining room to their seats, her attention still focused on the ceiling.

"Your waiter will be with you shortly," their hostess informed them and Ricky nodded in acknowledgement before he walked away. Ricky turned to look at Amy and found she was still staring at the ceiling. He couldn't help but chuckle.

"So do you like it?" he asked her with a smile. She lowered her eyes to look at him and he was startled to see tears forming in them. He was about to say something when she suddenly threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek. The force of her hug made him take a step backwards before he could hug her back. She pulled back to face him.

"I love it. Thank you, Ricky. This place is perfect."

"Glad you like it." They shared a smile before Ricky removed his jacket and placed it on the back of his chair while Amy unbuttoned and removed her trench coat. When she did Ricky's mouth fell open and he openly stared at her. Amy was wearing a midnight blue dress that went down to her knees. The top was form fitting from the waist up and flared out at the bottom. Instead of regular straps the dress had two pieces of material that crisscrossed in the front and then tied together at the base of Amy's neck, leaving plenty of material to drape down her back once a bow had been made. The top gave the appearance that Amy was wearing a pushup bra. She looked hot today in that bikini but she's gorgeous in that dress. Amy cocked her head a little to the left and smiled at him.

"Is this nice enough," she asked him teasingly. All he could do was nod. She sat down in her chair and Ricky simply mimicked her movement. Amy suspected that had he not pulled out his chair before removing his jacket he would've landed on the floor just then because Ricky was still staring at her and not paying attention to what he was doing. She laughed and reached over to close his mouth. "You'll catch flies like that," she told him with a wink. Her wink seemed to bring him out of his daze and he blinked before smiling at her. They opened their menus and began browsing the appetizers.

"So how'd you find this place? I didn't even know a place like this existed."

"A lot of Google searching. I knew that whatever I did to apologize needed to include butterflies so I searched for places all over the city, and nearby ones, for businesses or activities involving butterflies. I found this place by chance when a restaurant review came up in one of my searches." He looked up from his menu. "So? How do you like my apology so far?" he asked her teasingly. Amy giggled.

"So far so good."

"So do you want any appetizers?" Amy shook her head.

"I'm kinda hungry so I'll just skip to the main course."

"Me too." Their waiter arrived to take their drink order. Ricky ordered a soda and Amy ordered an iced tea. They asked for a few more minutes to decide what they wanted to eat. Amy was puzzled as she browsed the menu.

"Ricky?"

"Yeah?"

"What's up with this place?"

"What do you mean?"

"They've got fancy dinners from like, all over the world plus all the stuff you can get at like, a Denny's or someplace but none of it's too pricey. So why the need for reservations?" she asked, looking up from her menu. Ricky gave her a small smile.

"The butterflies." At her confused expression he explained. "The couple who opened and owns this place love to cook and have traveled all over. Their favorite trip was one they took to the Amazon rainforest where the wife, who loves butterflies as much as you do, got to see thousands of different kinds. She and hubby wanted a restaurant that served home cooked meals plus good food from around the world and they made butterflies their decoration theme. People loved coming for the butterflies so much they had to start requiring reservations 'cuz at closing time they kept ending up with a long line of people who still wanted to eat here."

"So how long did it take you to get a reservation here?"

"Well I found the place the day after our trip to the zoo and I made a reservation then." Amy smiled at Ricky's efforts to plan this for her and went back to browsing her menu; Ricky did the same. Their waiter arrived with their drinks and took their orders. Ricky ordered the country fried steak dinner while Amy ordered the shrimp pasta meal.

"So," Ricky began once their waiter had walked away. "Still nervous about school starting?" Amy shook her head.

"Not anymore. I know who's my friend and who's not and I've gotten so use to avoiding drama that I honestly don't think the day-to-day school nonsense will bother me. Have you given any more thought to college?" Ricky shrugged his shoulder.

"I don't know. I have no clue what I wanna do for the rest of my life except work at the butcher shop and be there for you and John."

"Well why not get a business degree? I don't know what one does exactly with a business degree but why not learn more about how businesses work. Who knows? Maybe you'd get promoted or something if you had that degree." Ricky absorbed her suggestion and thought about it for a moment and then smiled. "What?"

"Maybe I need to spend some time Googling what to do with a business degree." They shared a smile briefly. "What do you wanna do after college? I know you said you wanted to be a teacher but what grade do you wanna teach?"

"Either eighth or ninth."

"Why those two?" Amy chuckled.

"You remember how shy and insecure I was as a freshman?" Ricky's spirits sank a little and it was evident in his voice.

"Yeah." Amy reached over and squeezed his hand; he turned his hand over to hold hers and she let him.

"The unexpected pregnancy and all that aside, I wasn't sure of myself and didn't know how to have a backbone because I hadn't found my voice yet." Ricky looked at her confused and she smiled. "At the music program I learned that I'm still allowed to be a human being even though I'm a teen mom."

"You lost me."

"Those of us whose parents didn't kick them out or disown them feel like we're not allowed to complain about the frustrations or stress of motherhood and we have to be perfect little angels for the rest of our lives to make up for the one huge lapse in judgment we had. Finding out that it's okay to speak up for myself and voice my thoughts, feelings and emotions was liberating for me, Ricky, and I wished that someone had told me that sooner, that someone had helped me find my voice a lot sooner. I wanna help kids find their voice before they enter high school so they can stand up for themselves or during their freshman year so they have an easier time getting through the rest of high school, even if I'm only able to help them find their voice by putting it on paper." Ricky smiled at Amy proudly and then kissed her hand.

"You're amazing you know that."

"What do you mean?"

"It takes a special kind of person to wanna take their life experiences and use them to help someone else. You're gonna be a great English teacher someday, Amy." They shared a smile just as their meals arrived. They were both pretty hungry because they silently started eating their meals. Ricky had never had a country fried steak that was as tender and flavorful as the one he was eating and Amy had never tasted such tasty shrimp or a creamier pasta sauce. They were both halfway through their meals before they began chatting again. They talked about how much fun John had had at the beach that afternoon and how surprised they both were when he took to swimming like a fish to water.

"I can't believe our little toddler figured out how to doggie paddle. Maybe we should check and see what kinds of swimming classes for little kids the youth center offers." Ricky nodded in agreement.

"And if we don't find anything or one that works with our schedules we can always take him to the pool on the weekends, or back to the beach." Amy smiled as she twirled another forkful of pasta.

"He'd like that. He never ceases to amaze me."

"Me either," Ricky replied, eating a forkful of his steamed vegetables and washing it down with some of his soda.

"Then again, that could just be because I've never been a mom before. I'm sure my next kid won't surprise me as much."

"So you do want more kids someday," Ricky stated, remembering their conversation in New York. Amy shrugged and nodded as she ate a bite of her salad.

"Not anytime soon but yeah, someday. Do you want more kids someday?" Only with you.

"Someday, preferably after college when I'm married."

"So you're going to college now?" Amy asked with a triumphant smile. Ricky chuckled.

"Okay, I admit. I kinda like your suggestion of a business degree. I don't know if it'll get me a raise but I guess I'll give college a shot." Amy had an 'I told you so' look in her eyes. "And please don't say I told you so."

"Wasn't gonna," Amy replied in a singsong voice. Ricky gave her an 'I don't believe you' look but let it slide. They were just about finished with their meal so Ricky stopped their waiter when he went past their table again and asked for the check. They had finished their meals and put their coats back on when the waiter arrived with the check. Ricky put his debit card inside and he and Amy watched the butterflies and chatted about them until he returned. Ricky quickly figured the tip and signed the receipt. Amy linked her left arm with his right as they made their way out of the restaurant. He stopped just before they reached the front door and gave her a mischievous smile as he once again removed the scarf from his jacket pocket. "I have to be blindfolded on the way home?" she asked him teasingly.

"Who said we were going home?" Amy gave him a shocked and confused look.

"We're done with dinner. Why wouldn't we be heading home?" she stated logically. Ricky just shook his head while smiling at her. She sighed and turned around so Ricky could blindfold her again.

"How many fingers am I holding up?"

"Seriously, Ricky?" He chuckled and once again guided her out of the restaurant and back into the passenger seat of his car. He climbed into the driver's side and carefully backed out of the parking lot. "What are you up to?" she asked him, crossing her arms.

"We had dinner and now we're gonna go have dessert," he told her simply. Amy just sat back and listened to the radio, trying to guess where they could be going.

"Are we getting ice cream?"

"No, why?"

"Just wondering." She was silent for several moments. "Are we getting cake of some kind?" Ricky laughed.

"It's a surprise, Amy; stop trying to guess. I know you don't like surprises but I give you my word you'll like this one."

"Says you." He grinned. They pulled up to their destination several minutes later and Ricky turned off the car; Amy didn't make a move to get out of the car or un-blindfold herself. Ricky quickly came over to her door and helped her out just as before. He guided her to their destination and stopped near the entrance. Ricky removed the blindfold without a word and Amy bust out laughing; he'd brought her to the Dairy Shack. She turned to him and gave him another hug and kiss on the cheek. "You're ridiculous and cheesy you know that?" she said with laughter. Ricky just smiled back at her and nodded his head.

"Yep." He took her hand and they walked inside, getting a few stares as patrons wondered why two people dressed up for a fancy event were eating at the Dairy Shack. They walked up to the counter to order shakes. Even though this wasn't their neighborhood Dairy Shack Amy knew she'd love her chocolate chip cookie dough shake. Ricky paid for their dessert and handed Amy hers. She started walking over to a booth but Ricky grabbed her hand and led her back outside. They walked back to his car and stopped just short of it. "Wait here," he told her, handing her his shake to hold for a moment. He unlocked the car and retrieved a beach bag from the trunk. He locked the car and walked back over to Amy, holding his hand out for his shake and offering no explanations. He offered her his elbow and she took it, albeit questioningly, and Ricky started leading her towards the nearby beach. He selected a spot he liked and stopped. He handed his shake back to Amy and opened the bag. He took out a blanket large enough for the two of them to lie down on comfortably and a small electric lantern. He set the bag on the blanket and then took his shake back from Amy so he could help her sit down before he joined her. Ricky turned on the lantern and looked at Amy with a serious expression on his face.

"What is it Ricky?" she asked once the lantern illuminated his face.

"I wanna talk to you about something, Amy."

"Okay."

"We've been hanging out for almost two months now and we've become best friends, right?"

"Yes." Ricky's heart started beating faster. It's now or never. Please let her feel the same.

"Do you remember what we talked about when we agreed we needed to hang out and become friends?" Amy's heart began to beat faster. I hope he's talking about what I think he is. She needed to make sure before she revealed her romantic feelings for him though.

"Yes." She wasn't going to be the first to say it.

"Well….it turns out….I'm not over band camp," he said cautiously, not sure of what Amy's reaction was gonna be. His heart continued its feverish pace when he saw her smiling back at him.

"Me either." It took a moment for Ricky's brain to realize Amy had just admitted she had romantic feelings for him but when it did his face broke out into a grin. He flopped back on the blanket so he was lying on his back, the grin never leaving his face. Amy stretched out so she was lying next to him propped up on her right elbow. He turned to look at her.

"I was driving myself crazy the past few days trying not to say anything yet." Amy giggled.

"Why didn't you wanna say anything yet?" The smile vanished

"I was afraid you might not feel the same way about me yet and I didn't wanna ruin our friendship." Amy bridged the small gap of space between them and kissed his forehead.

"I felt the same way." Amy smirked when she saw surprise spread across his face. "I was prepared to be your best friend indefinitely because I didn't wanna tell you that now I was also in love with you, spook you if you weren't ready to be in a romantic relationship with me, and then lose you as a friend, possibly forever." Ricky smirked at her admission.

"So much for communication." Amy gave his a questioning look. "We started this summer admitting we didn't know how the other felt about a lot of things because we never bothered to talk about them. Then when we fell in love with each other we were too afraid of messing up what we already had to talk about it." Amy realized the irony of the situation and started laughing, Ricky joining her. When their laughter subsided Ricky sat up and retrieved a small wrapped gift from the beach bag and handed it to Amy. She sat up and took it from him. She pulled on the ends of the bow and then began unwrapping it. Inside was a small box that had the name of what Amy assumed was a jewelry store. She opened it to reveal a heart shaped locket. She opened it and began to tear up when she saw what was inside. The left side of the locket contained a picture of her and John from their trip to the Butterfly Pavilion. She was holding John, smiling, and showing him a butterfly that had landed on her hand; John was reaching out in wonder to touch it. The right side contained a picture of Ricky leaning against the side of a building with his signature smirk on his face. Ricky silently watched her look at both pictures before speaking. "Turn it over." She did so and two tears actually fell, one from each eye. The back of the locket contained an inscription:

To Amy

My heart's keeper

Ricky

Amy looked at Ricky and he smiled as he gently took the locket from her. He unclasped it and Amy turned her back towards him and lifted her hair so he could place the locket around her neck.

"Amy, I honestly can't say when I fell in love with you because it happened so gradually. I woke up one day and realized that my life was incomplete without you in it and I couldn't explain why," he told her as he placed the locket around her neck and closed the clasp, his task made a little more difficult because Amy's neck was a little too far away from the lantern. "It hit me while you were in New York that you were more amazing than I realized and I only hoped that someday you would forgive me for taking you for granted and treating you badly." Amy turned around to face him and he took both of her hands in his. "Our friendship started at band camp, Amy. I knew I wanted to get to know you better as we were talking that night and unfortunately it took me until this summer to make an effort to do so," he admitted, staring down at her hands in his. He looked her in the eye and smiled. "I first loved you when I held John for the first time; I couldn't help but love the woman who'd given me such an amazing gift. And when I did get to know you better I couldn't help but fall in love with you too. I love you dearly, Amy, and I'm also deeply in love with you. I'm ready to be in a monogamous relationship with you." Several more tears fell from Amy's eyes as she smiled at Ricky. It was her turn to declare her love for him.

"Ricky, it hit me out of the blue too that I was in love with you." She smiled remembering the night she'd made that discovery. "For the past couple of weeks every time I see your name on my caller ID I get butterflies in my stomach and my happiness level shoots through the roof. Just the thought that I'm going to see you again makes me feel happy and giggly. You're the first guy I've ever felt this way about, Ricky, and it doesn't scare me one little bit. I'm ready to be in a monogamous relationship with you too." Ricky bridged the small space between them and kissed her. If Amy hadn't been reclining on the blanket she would've fallen over because her knees went weak and her head started spinning. Her heart started beating faster and the smell of Ricky's cologne became seared into her memory. Ricky had kissed her before but never like this. They had become so close that they could communicate nonverbally and Ricky was nonverbally shouting his love for her from the rooftops with his lips. Amy heard him loud and clear and shouted back. Ricky's head was spinning and he'd never felt so alive. He couldn't think straight, all he could do was focus on Amy. The warmth and softness of her lips; the smell of a meadow of flowers, which he assumed was her shampoo; and what her lips were telling him. Sure he'd kissed her before but even back at band camp when he'd just liked her and in her bedroom when he was very much attracted to her it hadn't been this sweet, this romantic, this loving, this….right! Somehow kissing this woman just felt right.

They mutually ended the kiss when oxygen became a necessity. They stared into each other's eyes and saw all the answers they needed reflected there. Ricky saw just how deeply and truly Amy was in love with him in her eyes and she saw the same reflected in his. For the first time in both of their lives they'd found someone they could give their heart too and knew it would always be safe in their hands. Ricky glanced down at Amy's hands still in his and noticed a cup nearby. It dawned on him that they'd completely forgotten about their shakes and he started to chuckle. He released Amy's hand and picked up his shake. Amy laughed and looked around for her own. They sat side by side, Amy's head resting on Ricky's shoulder and his left arm around her, and sipped their slightly melted shakes in companionable silence while they watched and listened to the ocean crashing against the beach. An older couple who lived nearby was out for a late night stroll and were walking further up the beach in silence, hand in hand. The clouds had cleared and the full moon was now illuminating the beach. The woman spotted Amy and Ricky sitting on a blanket and smiled. She got her husband's attention and pointed to them. He chuckled and released his wife's hand to put this arm around her.

"Oh, young love," he said with a smile. His wife put her arm around his waist and he kissed the top of her head.

"It's a beautiful thing," she agreed, turning her head to look up at her husband. He leaned down to kiss her briefly.

"Yes it is," he agreed. They continued walking and left the young couple undisturbed. Ricky and Amy hadn't seen them, lost in their own little world.

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