the cottage.

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after the hearing had officially ended, and chad and kim had their exclusive interview, i was standing in the grand foyer of the senate hall, talking with arabella and isabel.  julio and d.j. emerge from a stairway, and i excused myself from the conversation with my future mother and sister-in-law to make my way over to my best friend.

as i approached him, i felt awkward, like our relationship had a whole new, strange status, but as we stood face-to-face, i threw my arms around his neck.

"thank you," i whispered into his ear.

"i'm happy for you, kiddo," he smiled.  d.j. was only twenty, a few months younger than i was.  he'd be twenty-one in just a few weeks, but as he stood in front of me, in his element, his favorite form of government, he looked ten years older.  

"no, really," julio chuckled, "he's happy for you.  not just because i told him to be."  he joked.

i laughed.  it hurt my ribs, but i didn't care.  i stood there laughing with d.j., until charlie appeared from around a corner.

"hey!" i called with an overdramatic wave.

he looked a little confused, almost startled, nodding to d.j. and julio.  d.j. returned it with a knowing nod.  "can i steal her?" charlie asked d.j.

d.j. waved him on.  "but of course."

charlie grabbed my hand and began pulling me away from the group.  "where are we going?" i asked with a giggle.

he didn't respond.  his face looked dead serious as we turned a corner down a private hallway, enclosed by heavy industrial doors.  once the door shut, he swung around to face me, showing his devilish grin, the one i'd only seen the night of my loyalty weekend.

"where are we going?" i repeated.

he chuckled under his breath.  "it's a surprise," he said.  suddenly, he swept me up into his arms and began running for another heavy door at the end of the hall.

the door led to the outside, a paved driveway behind the senate house.  charlie moved quickly and swiftly down the steps and ran for my mustang that sat pulled up to the back of the senate house.

"get in!" charlie laughed as he hopped into the driver's seat.

i opened the door and slid in next to him.  he turned the key in the ignition excitedly and peeled out of the parking lot.

as we drove, the air got colder.  i shuttered.  charlie chuckled.  "don't worry, we're almost there."

he turned into the parking lot of a fast food restaurant a few minutes later.

"this is where we're going?" i asked, astonished.  "a mcdonald's?"

charlie cracked his wild bad-boy smile.  "no," he laughed, "this is just dinner.  we've got to stock up before we make it there."

he put the top up on the mustang to ensure that we would make it out of there unseen.  we went through the drive-thru and ordered an obnoxious amount of food.  the two bags sat in between the two of us, their greasy aroma filling up the car and making my stomach growl twice as loud as it already had been doing.

after we ate in an empty parking lot, charlie took off down a back highway.  he slowed down as we passed a small, brick hut.  a little old man in a blue suit waved us on from the window of the hut.

"where are we?" i asked.

he didn't answer.

we drove up a windy driveway that was all uphill.  after about two minutes of driving, a tiny cottage appeared on the hillside.  it was a cream colored stucco with bright blue shutters.  there was ivy growing all around the red front door.  it looked like something out of a walt disney movie.

"oh my goodness," i gasped as he pulled the car onto the circle drive and parked the car.

i ogled over the sight of the tiny house as he ran around and opened my door for me.  charlie took my hand and led me inside.  the inside was even more adorable.  terra-cotta tile in the entry way turned into plush white carpet in the living room, where an overstuffed couch covered in throw pillows and sherpa blankets, a huge flat-screen t.v. sat over a white-painted brick fireplace, a bookshelf full of paperback novels and potentially every dvd imaginable sat off to the left of the fireplace.

charlie smiled gleefully as i stared wide-eyed at the perfect cottage.  "this isn't even the best part."

he began walking down a hallway toward the back of the house.  i followed hesitantly, and grew more nervous as he stopped in front of the last door on the left.  the door creaked open slowly as charlie stepped in.  from the hallway, i saw a big, four-poster king-sized bed with a cream comforter and purple trim covering the mattress, while nearly half-a-dozen throw pillows sat primped against the headboard.

that's when i realized why we were there... we were officially engaged.

"uhm," i said quietly, "can i have a minute?"

he nodded.  "bathroom's in there to the right," he motioned to a pocket door on the opposite side of the bedroom.


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