“What do you mean you have a surprise for me?” I clutch the phone tighter to my ear, dodging a group of undergrads right outside the entrance to the Blackwell building where I teach one of the breakout sessions for Intro to Modern American Literature. “You know how I feel about surprises.”
In other words, I don’t care for them.
“You’ll like this one, I promise,” Luke’s warm voice assures me through the phone’s speaker.
“Is this an anniversary surprise?”
“Yep.” I can practically hear him grinning, imagining those bright blue eyes of his crinkling at the corners.
“Are we going out to dinner?” I mentally review my closet at home, not even sure I own a dress nice enough for if we go out somewhere fancy. Maybe Becca has something I could borrow.
“Nope. I actually need you to head over to the library.”
“Are you on campus?” Why would he be here? He has class over at Orange State today.
“Someone has something for you at the front desk. I have to go now. Love you.”
“Love you too,” is all I have time to reply before he hangs up, leaving me even more confused. Someone has something for me at the library? Could he be any more vague?
He knows I avoid the front desk there ever since the… incident. I have no idea if any of the staff remember what I wrote, but I do.
I take a left at the next pathway toward the two-story brick building and cautiously enter, practically tiptoeing up to the main desk.
And wouldn’t you know it, it’s James there, as nerdy looking as ever.
“Hi,” I manage to croak out, and despite my strides in overcoming general embarrassment, my cheeks still get hot. “Um, my boyfriend, Luke, said to come here-”
“Hey, yeah, I know you,” he says in a booming voice, catching everyone’s attention within a ten foot radius.
Just kill me now, please.
I hunch down slightly, but he actually looks delighted to see me. “You know, I completely forgot about this.” He reaches down and pulls a green folder out from under the desk.
My jaw drops. That’s not the original, is it?
“Luke asked me to give this to you. But don’t worry, I didn’t show anyone this time,” he whispers, like we’re in together on a secret.
“Uh, thanks.” I take it from him and stuff it in my backpack. I’m still not a fan of his over-chumminess. “But you read it, didn’t you?” I ask, finally making eye contact with him.
The grin drops from his face, panic in his eyes. “You’re not going to tell him, are you?”
There’s an actual tremble in his voice, one that I take perverse pleasure in. But really, how can I blame him for snooping? Luke put prime temptation right in his hands. “Your secret’s safe with me, as long as you never tell anyone about what happened.” I menacingly point my finger at him, as if I wield any kind of power.
But the threat of snitching to Luke must be powerful enough, because he makes a crossing motion over his heart and mimes zipping his lips shut.
I turn and make my way out of the library, pausing at a bench outside the front doors. I pull the green folder out of my bag, and on closer inspection realize it’s not the original. This one looks much newer. Glancing around to see if anyone is paying attention, I carefully open it, wondering what in the world Luke could be up to.
There’s a single handwritten page inside, his familiar scrawl jumping out at me.
You don’t care for poems that rhyme,
But now really is the perfect time.
Go to the place where I watched you from the back,
Where I smashed a bug for you with a hearty whack.
I cringe even as a goofy smile overtakes my face. This has to be the worst poem ever.
In your element, you spoke with intelligence and grace,
As I admired your beautiful, ethereal face.
Well, at least he’s complimentary.
Is this like a scavenger hunt? He has to be referring to the classroom in Hawthorne building where I was TA for his Intro to Literature class. But that was years ago. I don’t remember the exact room. I’m not even sure if it was on the second or third floor.
Anxiety creeps up simply imagining barging in on classes in session searching for the right one.
I stow the folder back in my bag and head in the direction of Hawthorne. I’ll just see what happens – without making a fool of myself.
As I approach the building, I spot Samantha, Luke’s cousin, who goes to Suncoast now too, waving excitedly at me, bounding with energy. What is she doing here? She doesn’t have any classes in this part of campus this semester. I know because I helped her choose them all.
“Did Luke send you here?” I ask hesitantly when I get within speaking range.
“I’m here to make sure you made it to the right place.” She loops her arm through mine, still grinning widely.
Yeah, that’s a little suspicious.
“What’s going on?”
She leads me inside and up the east stairwell, replying, “We’re going to your old classroom.”
“To get your next clue.”
I give up asking questions, her tone clear she’s not giving any more hints. She’s perpetually cheerful as usual updating me on how her classes are going as we climb the steps to the third floor, and from there, my feet are on autopilot going to the right classroom with no problem, some kind of muscle memory kicking in.
I peek my head in, and thankfully, no one’s here, just a lone copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the desk at the front. I walk over and stroke the cover, remembering discussing this book with his class. I’d gained so much confidence in those early days of teaching, the experience invaluable for aiding me in acceptance to grad school, where I teach two classes three days a week now as part of my official TA duties. Luke always teases he’s going to come and sit in the back to admire me, reminiscing on old times.
As I pick up the book, a slip of paper flutters out from between the pages, and I glance at Samantha, who smiles enigmatically at me. “I think you can get the rest from here,” she says, coming over to squeeze me into a comforting hug. She’s so tall, I have to reach my arms up, but it’s worth it for how much love she conveys in that hug alone.
My suspicion alarm goes off even stronger, but I’m fairly sure asking her again what’s going on won’t get me far. She’s a good secret keeper when she wants to be.
I wait till she leaves the classroom before I glance at the note, another silly poem greeting me.
Two poems in one day?
Your boyfriend must be mad.
Maybe you should read him more poetry
Or else he’ll stay this bad.
I smother a laugh, shaking my head. I’d recently started reading him the collected poems of William Carlos Williams at night before bed. He says he doesn’t always understand the meaning behind them, but he loves listening to my voice.
Do you remember where you showed off to me?
In tight yoga pants that highlight your ass so perfectly?
I gave you a show you enjoyed even more
And that was only the beginning for what we had in store.
The campus gym. It has to be that.
I smile to myself as I skip down the stairs. How many places is Luke going to make me go?
And what’ll be waiting for me at the end?
I spot Becca as soon as I enter the gym, casually chatting with Natalie near the front. They both clam up, though, when they see me approach. Is there anyone today that isn’t suspicious?
“I’m not saying a thing,” Becca declares, handing me a sealed envelope, the creamy white paper expensive looking.
She’s keeping her mouth shut? Well, that’s a first.
I glance up at the two of them, both watching me eagerly, waiting for me to open it. “Has this been driving you insane?” I ask, waving the envelope at them.
“Maybe a little,” Natalie admits, biting her lip.
Becca’s eyes never leave my hand, and despite her claim of not revealing anything Luke has set up, it must have killed her to wait for me.
I take pity on the two of them, and carefully slide a finger under the seal, pulling out a blank white card. I open it, a significantly better poem inside.
Our first kiss
Just one night
That I’d forever miss
And in my heart
As midnight rang out
A brand new start
If I’d known then
I’d have only one night with you
I’d have kissed you forever
And kept you through and through
“Why doesn’t Josh write me poetry?” Becca grumbles from behind me, clearly reading over my shoulder.
“He must not love you as much,” I smile sweetly at her, cradling the card to my heart. I can’t believe Luke is doing all this for our anniversary. I have the most romantic guy.
“Well, he has other good qualities,” she smirks, and I swear to God if she says In the bedroom, I’m going to lose it.
“So what does the poem mean?” Natalie asks, bringing us back to the task at hand.
“He’s talking about the New Year’s Eve party, what was it… three years ago? We kissed that night, but then soon found out I’d be his teacher and had to put everything on hold.”
“So you’re supposed to go to where the party was?”
“I guess. That was the rooftop of his old apartment complex. I don’t even know how I’d get in, though.”
“The terrace was always open to anyone,” Becca chimes in. “Terrible security feature if you ask me. But great for us. We actually hosted a birthday bash for one of our friends there a few months ago.”
“Luke hasn’t lived there in a year and a half,” I exclaim.
“Yeah, but the space is free,” she counters with. “And beautiful. It still has all those lights strung up. And best of all, no one questioned us. The building we live in now would never let anything like that fly.”
I exchange an amused glance with Natalie and tuck the card and envelope into my backpack, next to the green folder and copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
“Have fun, sweetie.” Becca waves as I exit, and I start my trek toward the parking lot. It’s so nice having a car of my own now rather than relying on her or Luke to cart me around everywhere.
Despite not going there in a while, the way to Luke’s old place is still ingrained in my brain. As I drive, all the reminders of the beginning of our relationship bring a smile to my face. We’ve come so far from back then.
Dating for three years, living together for nearly half that time, I can’t imagine my life without him. He’s the first and last person I want to see every day, those everyday moments we talked about so long ago now a reality — pancake breakfasts on weekends lounging in bed, morning kisses that leave me breathless, and nights that have me blushing when I recall them the next day.
As I’m walking up the stairs to the roof, wondering who will be here to greet me this time and what kind of poem Luke will have waiting for me, my hand trembles slightly on the lever to the final door leading out, like my subconscious is trying to tell me something.
I open the door, pausing at the romantic brilliance of the strung lights glowing against the darkening sky, and Luke, so incredibly handsome in that blue Oxford button-down of his that matches his eyes, the one he knows I like, standing in the center of the rooftop terrace.
I smile as I advance toward him. “Luke, what are you—”
He bends down on one knee, his gaze steady and sure on me as my hands fly up to my mouth, somehow surprised despite the obviousness of it all now that I think about it.
“Charlotte.” He smiles, beckoning me closer.
My feet are frozen, though, rooted to the spot even as my brain insists I go join him.
“You’re really going to leave me hanging over here?”
“I want to come over. Honestly, I do,” I call out to him. “But my legs won’t move.”
He grins at me, standing up to walk over, every step he takes making my heart beat that much faster. There’s a ring box in his hand, love in his eyes as he finally gets close enough to cup my face and lay a soft kiss on my lips, tender and sweet. The action serves to unthaw my body, my arms automatically coming up to wrap around his broad shoulders, their breadth and strength so familiar to me.
“You okay?” he whispers in my ear, knowing how my anxiety gets to me. Another man might have too much ego to come over here and make sure I’m okay after interrupting his proposal, but my man is always looking out for me. It’s why I love him.
“Yes.” I nod, my head bobbing almost in a frenzy to reassure him I’m fine.
He kneels down again, taking my free hand, the one that’s not wiping at the tears already forming in my eyes. Curse my easy crying.
“Charlotte, I love you more than anything on this Earth. You carry my heart and soul with you everywhere you go.”
My fingers tremble, the butterflies in my stomach fluttering at his beautiful words, the sincerity shining on his face, the absolute devotion in his voice. How did I ever get so lucky?
“I want to be with you for the rest of my life. To love you till my last breath.” He shifts to open the ring box, a diamond catching the light from the setting sun to shine brightly for just a moment in a brilliant display. “Will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?”
His question echoes the same way he asked me to be his girlfriend all that time ago, a Regency-era Mr. Darcy proposing to the woman he loves above all others.
A fresh wave of tears blinds me momentarily, my throat too choked up to speak, but I nod fervently, desperately wanting to tell him how much I love him, how much I want to be his wife.
I launch myself at him, peppering his face with kisses, practically strangling him with how tight I’ve wrapped my arms around his neck.
“Whoa, whoa,” he exclaims, nearly dropping the ring in my enthusiasm. I back off, biting my lip sheepishly, and hold myself still as he slips it on my finger, the action incredibly intimate as he holds eye contact with me.
“With this ring, I thee wed,” he whispers, making my heart beat faster. There’s an energy surrounding him, something in his eyes I can’t quite decipher, but as he blatantly stares at me, satisfaction oozing off him, I realize what it is. Possession.
“I’m yours, Luke,” I whisper back, sliding my arms over his shoulders, more gently this time. “Forever.”
“Forever,” he repeats, finding my lips, pouring all his love into the kiss. “I want forever with you.”
“You have it. All of me.”
A slight growl sounds from the back of his throat as he lifts me in his arms, holding me securely as he makes his way over to the door to the stairwell, the site of that infamous incident all those years ago.
“You up for a repeat?” he murmurs, his lips trailing across my neck deliciously.
“Are you serious?” I lean back as far as I can in his arms to see his face, a grin greeting me.
“Am I ever not serious about wanting you?” He maneuvers us into the darkened stairwell, my eyes needing a moment to adjust. “Today is all about revisiting old memories. And that’s one of the best early ones I can remember.”
Except where I acted like a neurotic psycho afterward and ran from you, I think to myself. Maybe tonight’s a way to change that memory, though. I’ll never run from him again. He’s mine, the same way I’m his.
“I want you,” I tell him, running a hand over his chiseled jaw. “So take me.” I squeeze my thighs tighter around his waist and he groans, backing me up against the brick wall, in almost the same spot as before.
But this time, we’ll both get what we want.
His lips drift down my neck to my cleavage, and I thank God I wore a V-neck t-shirt as he hitches me higher in his arms, his tongue in the valley between my breasts, edging closer to where I want.
I reach down and pull my shirt and bra up, his mouth finally closing over a nipple, sending a zing through my lower belly.
“Yeah, like that,” I encourage him as he sucks, his hands kneading my ass where he’s supporting me.
I can barely feel the rough brick against my back with how much I’m concentrating on his mouth, switching between breasts now, exciting me anew. His cock is fully hard against me, straining against the zipper of his jeans, but there’s no space between us to reach down and stroke him.
“I want you,” I repeat. “All of you.”
Despite the dim lighting, I swear I see his eyes flash in excitement as he lowers me down his body till my feet touch the ground. I pull my bra and shirt in place, looking at him as I slowly unzip my jeans, wiggling them down just enough to reveal my panties.
“Holy shit,” he breathes, his hand reaching out automatically to caress me over my underwear, like he can’t help himself. “You really want to? Right here?”
I nod, the passion and excitement in his voice spurring me on. I stroke him over his tented jeans, then pull his zipper down, his groan like music to my ears as I draw his cock free from his boxers.
As much as I love him taking charge, after three years together I know there’s nothing he loves more than when I unexpectedly take control.
“Fuck, Charlotte. You’re so goddamn sexy,” he says as I rub my thumb across the tip of him, his body swaying toward me. He braces one hand on the wall behind me as he pulls aside my panties, two fingers delving in, relief coursing through me immediately. I’m so wet for him already, something about the thought of him being my fiance now, mine forever, ratcheting the desire up that much further.
We touch each other, our breaths harsh in the echoing walls of the stairwell, neither of us worried about being caught, too far lost in each other.
My free hand sneaks under his shirt, tracing each ridge of his abs, up to the hard planes of his chest, his skin warm and smooth.
“Touch me,” he whispers in my ear, making me shiver. “Touch me everywhere.”
I roam his body, lightly circling his nipples, stealing around to his back, the muscles there strong and unyielding. I continue to stroke his thick shaft, my hand sliding easily along him, his fingers still pumping into me, building me higher and higher.
“You get me so hard,” he groans. “I wanna take you home and fuck you for real.”
That’s a twenty minute drive. I can’t wait that long. And neither can he from the soft moans he’s making in my ear, signaling his desire to come.
I let go of him, his immediate protest cut off as I turn around and lower my jeans more, sticking my ass out toward him. “Take me, Luke.” There’s a reason I went on birth control a while ago. I love not having to stop what we’re doing to find a condom.
His palms reach out to rub my backside, then position themselves on my hips, anchoring me to him.
“So fucking sexy,” he growls, pulling my panties aside to feed himself into me, both of us already so aroused that he slides in easy, hitting that spot within me that has my knees weakening.
Between my hands on the wall and his grip on me, though, there’s no danger of falling, other than over that elusive edge, hurtling closer as he pumps into me from behind. His fingers dig into me, hips going jerky as he comes, and it’s exactly what I need to follow him, spasming around his cock as he jets into me.
Tingles race down my spine as he leans forward to press kisses to the nape of my neck, fully supporting me now as my body goes boneless. “I love you,” he whispers, withdrawing from me and tucking himself back in his jeans before pulling mine up too.
“Mmm, love you,” I murmur in a dreamy haze.
He turns me toward him and slides his arms around me, kissing me soundly. “I could get used to that. We have to get engaged more often.”
“Only the one time,” I admonish him, grinning. “This is forever.”
“Forever,” he promises, kissing me again.
And with this man, forever won’t be nearly long enough.