Chapter 7 - Going home

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Eighteen months later...

Joe knocked on the door before letting himself in. He found Julie in the kitchen. When she looked up and saw him she smiled.

"Come help chop," she said and as he went around the kitchen island to stand next to her, she reached up and kissed his cheek. "When should we expect Ella."

"She said that she's stopping rehearsal at six, no matter what."

"She'll pull off a good show. She did last year."

Joe nodded. Ella had never stopped amazing him with her talent. He had attended more chorus and theater productions than ever before. He liked supporting her. There wasn't a person at the high school who didn't know they are a couple. He had had students walk into his class and mention seeing his babe, chick, woman, or other unfavorable terms. He had lectured each of them about being respectful to all females. Teenagers seemed to have difficulty remembering they weren't the adults.

Joe and Julie talked while they worked together in the kitchen. He really felt like the Burke's had adopted him. They knew the overview of his family history and childhood. They even met Tommy and Gina when his friends had come to visit. Joe was concerned that Tommy filled them in more than he would have liked.

Tim arrived and Joe felt a fist in his belly. He had been waiting for an opportunity to speak to them alone and it seemed that he finally had it.

Clearing his throat, he said, "I don't have any immediate plans, but..."

Julie smiled, "Yes!"

"Well, I wanted to ask for your blessing for when I do ask El to marry me." He breathed having gotten the words out.

Tim exclaimed, "What are you waiting for?"

"Is that a yes?" he asked.

"Of course, son, I thought I gave you my blessing that night in the garage. So why wait?" Tim was as excited as a kid.

"I know it sounds stupid, but Owen is going to ask Nat when they go away April break. They've been together so long and Nat will be upset if we get engaged first."

"I think that is thoughtful," Julie said. "Ella's young there's no rush although I admit the idea of being a grandmother excites me, of course we have Fiona now."

Nick and Sara had a baby a few weeks before. Bridget doted on her new sister. The whole family did, including Joe.

"Please keep it a secret," he pleaded.

He was sitting at the table correcting some papers when Ella finally arrived at almost six-thirty. He still felt flutters when she smiled at him. She looked tired and he jumped up to hug her.

"Can I just lean on you?" she groaned.

"Always. If you're too tired we can stay here. I can leave early so you can sleep..."

"No, I'd rather go stay with you," she said.

Joe managed to date her for a month before they became lovers. Once he had her in his bed he never wanted to let her go, but he cared about what her parents thought so she would climb out of his bed to go home. After about a year, she started staying on Friday and Saturday nights. Tim never said anything to him, and no one ever mentioned it openly. Ella's grandparents had no idea, although he suspected that the rest did -Tim and his siblings were very close.

Julie interrupted their embrace by announcing that dinner was ready. Ella updated them about rehearsal for the musical. The following week was tech week which meant dress rehearsal and run-throughs with the full crew including lights and sound. It also meant late rehearsals every night. Since dating Ella, Joe had learned to go easy on homework and tests during tech week because of his students in theater. He usually stopped in during their dinner break just to see Ella. Tech week was followed by a full weekend of performances and more rehearsals the following week before the second weekend of performances. Ella was in her element and did an amazing job.

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