SEVEN MONTHS LATER
The sun peaked out from the clouds, shining through the blooming apple trees. The air surrounding the orchards smelled sweet and enticing, while the smell of the earth and the dirt calmed my senses. I could slip my fingers into the earth and feel closer to my wolf this way. It was like the Moon Goddess reaching back and holding me in her arms. Leaning back on the blanket we brought from home, I soaked in the sun’s warmth while I still could. I stayed bundled up as the fall season and its chill trickled over my cheeks.
The summer just flew by us.
“I bet I can pick more apples than you can,” Jess stated.
I opened my eyes, finding him up a ladder and shouting at Cameron two trees down. The Flores Apple Orchards were now officially open to the public. The orchard was wide and open, but buzzing with life, with families and friends and a flock of excited tourists. It was so much bigger than I thought it would be, big enough for us to find a lonely corner for ourselves.
Cameron grinned. “Are you asking for a rematch?”
“We’re still tied,” Jess shrugged. “One win each.”
“That last time didn’t count! I would’ve won-”
“Does everything have to be a contest?” Mark asked, holding Emily up so she could reach out and touch as much as her little toddler heart desired. Despite himself, Mark kept glancing up at Cameron and smiling. Cameron finally caught him staring. He grabbed one of the lower limbs, letting himself lean all the way down to kiss Mark on the forehead. Mark rolled his eyes, but he still smiled, and his cheeks burned bright and pink.
“Sounds like loser talk!” Grace shouted. “We’ll destroy you boys!” She snatched Mia from the ground, putting her on her shoulders. Mia squealed as her mother ran her around the trees. Mia put her arms up, shouting a war cry into the sky.
Liam shook his head. He laid next to me. Apparently, his attempts to nap have failed. I elected to join him on the blanket with the picnic basket full of food. Ever since Alex broke a tendon in my bicep, it was difficult for me to lift my left arm all the way up, so instead of making people fuss over me, I wanted to relax. And ever since Liam almost died, Grace babied him and insisted he continued to rest. If it weren’t for Ryan that day, he’d be gone.
Ryan laughed at the display, drinking his portion of the spike apple cider we smuggled into the orchard. He finally declared his major in college. In a few more years, he’ll be Dearest’s best Veterinarian.
Now that I looked around, it seemed that everyone had finally shed their braces, their casts and most of our bruising. Some scars, however, were there to stay, like the bite marks around Mark’s knee and scratches down Dominic’s back. At the time, the doctors forced Jess to shave his beard for all the stiches in his face. I was worried, knowing exactly how it felt to look into the mirror and be reminded of a horrifying moment.
Jacob’s handy work could do that.
But a few nights after his stitches came out, Jess sat in bed with me, glistening and almost too brilliant to look at directly. He smiled, causing the scar across his lip to perk up too. The scar ran down his chin and down his neck. He said, “This scar will never let me forget that we won. It will never let me forget that I got my life back, with you.”
I sighed blissfully remembering the wonderful night that followed.
Glancing down, I touched my engagement ring. Well, it was a thick black tattoo around my ring finger. My only tattoo and another mark that reminded me of Jess. I looked up at him in the tree. He snatched Mia from Grace’s shoulder and helped her reach the apples higher up. It didn’t matter the time of day, the season or the light, Jess was the most beautiful creature in the world and he was mine. All mine.
“Excuse me?” Dominic said, walking up this length of the orchard. It was rows and rows of apple trees, like an army of foliage. There was also a huge barn, where people could eat and party. A festival was also going on to celebrate opening day, complete with games and even a Ferris Wheel. We could just barely make out music playing.
Of all people.
He wore a crisp button up, nice pants and he had combed his hair back. He rested his hands on his hips. He wore a gold little name tag, identifying him as someone who worked here. The expensive shoes and the tie told people he owned the place. Dominic’s thick brows narrowed. “You guys do realize that other people are here too? Can you keep it down?”
“Is that really why you came?” Liam asked, his hands folded on his chest.
Dominic blushed, glancing at Ryan. Ryan had been too busy drooling and blushing to say anything. Sighing, Dominic walked over to Ryan and offered his hand. “Hey, do you want a tour of the place? Uh, I know a few secret places around here that you might like.”
Ryan took his hand and didn’t let go, letting himself be led away. “Um,” he mumbled, redder than any of the apples hanging off the tree. “Um, how secret are these places?”
Dominic smirked. “Secret enough that no one’s gonna walk in on us.”
“Do you two need a chaperone?” Grace yelled at them as they walked away. Dominic grimaced and shot her a bird, which made her roll her eyes. “Jesus. If Dominic doesn’t tell Ryan they’re mates soon, I’m gonna do it.”
“I’m sure you will,” Liam laughed happily to himself.
I looked around the orchard, admiring the view. It had been a while since I could just sit and do nothing. Taking to my feet, I meandered to Jess’ tree. Crossing my arms, I leaned against the bark and smiled, waiting for him to notice me. We had been busy lately. We just finished renovating the shack behind the Inn into a proper place to live. We also finished moving my grandmother here, along with Jess’ mom and stepdad, plus a couple of friends from home.
Everything was falling into their perfect place.
Jess’ eyes flickered at me. “Oh, hello,” he grinned. “You look ripe enough for the taking.” He hopped down and put his arms on either side of the tree, trapping me there. I laughed as he leaned in closer. “You know I was thinking, this might be a cool place to have a wedding.”
“Hm,” I shrugged, even though I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. In just a split moment, he could make the butterflies in my stomach go crazy. “That’s only if I want to marry you.”
“Hey!” Jess laughed and grabbed at my sides. I screamed with laughter, but managed to squirm out of his hold. “You asked me, remember!” He laughed, chasing me around the trees. I led him down a row of trees, running underneath the shadows of the limbs between the flecks of sunlight. I finally slowed down, hurrying around the side of a thick tree. Holding onto the side, I leaned around the other way.
“But how will I keep you interested if I don’t string you along? I have to keep you interested somehow,” I teased him and he lunged for me, but I jumped out of the way. He chased me further down the lines of apples trees, until I slowed down and let him wrap his arms around me. He swept me off the ground, spinning me around. I laughed as I clutched his arms for dear life. “You got me! You got me!”
He still held me, clutching my sides and leaving a fluttering of kisses down my neck. I squealed again, curling around his arms. He let us fall onto the grass and he climbed on top of me. He said, “That’s right I’ve got you and I intended to keep you forever. You will never have to worry about that. If you didn’t know, I’m obsessed with you.” He grinned, when something caught my eye. He kissed me, sliding just the tips of his fingers up my jaw line to my ear.
What was… I began to think.
In-between his kissing he said, “You’re my best friend. People sometimes can explain why they love someone, but not me. I have a long list of all the reasons I love you, Drew….” He kissed me, pulling my arms around his neck. I moaned against his lips as the excitement tickled my senses. He said, “You’re the kindest man I’ve ever met. You make everyone around you become a better person. You have a big heart...” His lips traveled down as he nibbled at all the sensitive spots around my neck. “You with your beautiful eyes and your handsome face.” He nibbled the spot behind my ear, sending a thrilling sensation through me.
That was when it hit me.
“Jess, hold on,” I said, slightly breathless and dizzy. I grabbed him, forcing him to turn around and lay on his back. He laughed, slightly confused as I held his face. I looked closer, now that he was painted by the golden light of the sun.
The color went in and out as he looked up at me with his big warm brown eyes. Brown eyes like fallen fall leaves. Brown like the color of an old lucky penny.
My Jess’ eyes.
“Jess,” I said, my voice tight as I burst into tears.
“Drew?” He sat up and held my face. Confused, he tried searching for an answer. “What is it?” I just smiled wider and shook my head, laughing just a little. I kissed him too excited to even put it into words. I kissed him over and over, opening his mouth and forcing his head to be filled with nothing but thoughts of me. He laughed, realizing nothing was wrong at all.
“Are you doing to tell me?” He laughed, returning my kiss and running his hands up and down my back. “Or are we just going to keep kissing?”
“I’ll tell you in a second,” I chuckled, my brain melting into a sugary sweet goo. He didn’t seem to mind at all. Everything was alright. There wasn’t a need to rush this moment or this day. We could simply enjoy ourselves without being forced to look over our shoulders and expect the worst. We finally made it. We finally found what we were looking for all this time.
Jess and I were happy.
Jess and I were home.
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