Chapter Twenty-Nine

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Two months later...

This week, we brought more than just a bouquet of flowers to Suze's angel monument. I brought a print of my finished portrait of her, too, framed as durably as I knew how. The real thing was hanging a block away at the Graveside, in the entranceway to Mrs. Gautier's Suzanna White exhibition. Mrs. Gautier had loved it. She had practically smiled at the sight of it. Even I had to admit it made the perfect entrance to the exhibit, hanging beside Suze's own self-portrait.

I placed our bouquet next to the print and spared only the quickest glance for the once-white lilies, tied with a single red ribbon, that lay, decayed, at Suze's feet. They used to always be fresh and glowing, but I had a feeling I knew why that had changed. They were from James. Now he was in jail, waiting for his trial. This bouquet had died, and there would be no new ones to take its place.

Sighing, I looked up at Suze's serene, marble face. I didn't know why Suze made Owen wait as long as she did-why she'd made both of us wait. Maybe it was in her nature to allow a certain amount of suffering. Or maybe some things had always been outside her control. It didn't matter anymore; I could only be grateful to her for bringing us together, after all this time.

Owen's hand found mine, and I squeezed his fingers possessively.

Ferdy bounded up to Owen and me and nosed at my pockets. I smiled as I slipped him another biscuit. "That dog is becoming your shadow," Owen remarked.

"My huge, fluffy, drooling shadow."

The sadness from the graveyard slipped away from us both as we walked out from underneath the pine boughs, onto the sunny sidewalks of Church Street. The rest of the day spread out before us like a fresh canvas. We had many days like this now. Sometimes we went to the beach or hung out at the pub with Kaye and Andy and maybe Rusty or Muscles. Even Miserable Margot joined us every once in a while, though she wasn't quite so miserable anymore.

Other days, I would paint while Owen tinkered with one of his instruments. We often went outside since Owen was still rebuilding his workshop and since Fall Island had so many secret meadows and sea caves and forest clearings. But sometimes we stayed in. Owen had framed a few of my paintings-I was slowly building up my portfolio for my application to art school-and had hung them on the walls in Suze's old room. It felt like a real room now, a cozy, happy place that you wanted to spend time in. So we did. I thought Suze would have been glad about it.

"You know," Owen said, as we turned onto Main Street, "you don't have to take your easel back with you every time you leave my place."

"What if I want to paint in the middle of the night?"

With a laugh, he pulled me close and kissed me. "Only you would worry about that."

I tugged away from him and walked nonchalantly down the block. "Did I tell you Kaye is moving out in September? Andy is talking about getting his own place when that happens, maybe downtown."

"Yeah?" I could hear the tension in his voice.

"I was thinking I don't want to find three new housemates. But that means I'll need a new place to live," I continued airily. "I'd be sad to leave my little attic, but I suppose the right place could be worth it."

"Miranda..."

He stopped walking, and I turned to face him, my cheeks warm with joy.

"Are you sure you'll be ready?" he asked me quietly. "I don't want-"

"I'm sure," I told him. "I'm absolutely sure."

He seized me by the shoulders and kissed me hard, dazzlingly. When he drew back, a smile crooked the corner of his beautiful mouth.

A little breathless, I realized that we were standing in the middle of Main Street, with Ferdy snuffling around our feet. A group of tourists, huge topo maps in hand, pointed and giggled at us.

"Is there room for a huge, fluffy, drooling shadow?" I asked, ignoring the tourists. "Your mom said she wants to give him to me, when he's better trained, but I-"

"Of course there's room," Owen said. "It's getting hard to separate you two, anyway."

"And you can tolerate how messy I am?" I asked, with a pang of worry.

Owen laughed as he kissed my ear, sending a shiver of pleasure down my spine. "I'm sure you'll make me crazy, with paintbrushes and lipsticks everywhere." He moved from my ear to my neck.

"And you'll make me crazy," I told him, grinning and wrapping my arms around him, "using a T-square to make sure your carpet is laid out straight."

"I don't even own a T-square."

"You totally do," I said, and he laughed again, his breath warm against my neck.

"I actually have several." He kissed my collarbone. I tried to wriggle out of his grip, aware that Bob the grocer was giving us an annoyed look, but he held me in place. "Miranda," he murmured, into my throat, "I want to sleep next to you at night, and make mallorcas with you in the morning, and trip over your sketchbooks. I want to live with you more than anything, no matter how messy you are or how many dogs you bring home with you. But only if you're ready."

"I'm ready," I told him again. And I was. But I loved him even more for wanting to be sure.

"Get a room, you two!" someone called out good-naturedly, and Owen and I both laughed. I glanced over and saw Chrissy, who ran the liquor store, waving cheerfully at us, next to a few more grinning, pointing tourists. We waved back.

~The End~


*****

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~London

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