Without realising it, my eyes had started to fill with tears. Ian saw my expression and pulled me into his arms.
“Shh Nicole, it’s okay. It’ll be okay…” he murmured as I sobbed into his shoulder. I didn’t believe him, but it was comforting nonetheless.
When I had calmed down a little, I noticed that Ian was still looking uncomfortable. I searched his eyes for some hint of what might be bothering him. “Ian…?” I tentatively asked, “What is it?”
“There’s… something else I need to tell you,” he said. “Believe me, this move is hard for me too. I’m really going to miss Aidan… and you. Nicole, I don’t know how to tell you how much… knowing you, these past few years, I… you mean a lot to me.” He was stumbling over his words, clearly very nervous about something. I smiled encouragingly, hoping to put him at ease.
After a few deep breaths, he continued. “I wanted to tell you this before I go, because I don’t know if I’ll ever get another chance. I love you, Nicole. I… just wanted you to know that.” He paused, looking anywhere but at me. Even in the darkness, I could see that his face was burning red. “I’ll… I’ll see you around,” he said confusedly, and turned to hurry away, while I stood paralysed, still trying to wrap my head around what he had just said.
He loved me. Ian said he loved me. I could feel happiness bubbling up inside me, so quickly that it scared me. I couldn’t stop repeating his words in my head. He loved me, he loved me, he loved me. And if he loved me, that meant-
“Wait!” I called after him. I couldn’t let him leave, not now. “Ian, wait! Please!” I stumbled through the snow after him, while he kept walking as though he hadn’t heard. When I reached him, I grabbed his hand to stop him from moving further away. “Ian… stop…” I panted. He looked back at me, his expression unreadable.
“What is it?” he asked, sounding resigned.
I hesitated for a fraction of a second before pulled on the hand I was holding to bring his face down to mine, barely noticing the surprise mapped across it as I gently pressed my lips to his.
For a few moments, Ian seemed too shocked to respond, and my world stood still as I wondered how he was going to react. Had I been too forward? Had I perhaps misunderstood what he had said earlier? Then all of a sudden, his arms were around me and he was kissing me back with a passion that took my breath away, and all of my doubts with it.
It felt like time had stood still as we stood in the snow, wrapped in each other’s arms. I stopped thinking about anything or anyone else – in that moment, he was my whole world. When we finally drew apart, both of us were breathing heavily. I stared into his eyes, not knowing quite what to say, and he smiled reassuringly back at me.
Then I felt a lump rise in my throat as I remembered the first thing he said to me.
“Are… are you still going to leave?” I asked him, already dreading the answer. Ian smiled and drew me into his arms.
“If you want me to stay, then I’m not going anywhere,” he murmured, and I relaxed.
“I love you,” I whispered back.
“I love you too.”
Julie was very pleased when we told her about our relationship. She, of course, had noticed Ian’s feelings for me, and was overjoyed to hear that I returned them. Ian sent word to his employers in Sunset Valley that he would not be taking the offered promotion, and instead managed to secure a temporary position at the Science Facility here in Bridgeport.
Several months into our relationship, Ian officially moved in with Aidan and me. He was already practically living with us from the amount of time he spent at our house, but now he wouldn’t have to worry about keeping his belongings at Julie’s, and he would be around full-time to look after Aidan, who he already loved like his own son.
Aidan was in his first year at school already. Most mornings, he would catch the schoolbus from outside our apartment because the elementary school was on the other side of the city.
Every night, he was allowed to play games by himself before dinner. Sometimes, he would pretend that he was a king or a racecar driver for hours on end. I was constantly amazed by the imaginative games he could devise with only the apartment furniture at his disposal.
After dinner we made sure he completed his homework for school before he was allowed to keep playing. Aidan was a smart kid, and very rarely had to ask Ian or myself for help.
Because we couldn’t afford a third bed since Aidan had outgrown the crib, Ian insisted on sleeping on the couch most nights while Aidan and I shared the double bed. Occasionally I was able to talk him into switching places so that he could get a good night’s sleep once in a while. Regardless of who was using the bed, one of us was always available to read whatever story Aidan wanted to him before he went to sleep.
Meanwhile, I had been promoted in my career, and had managed to secure my first ever gig at the park where I had first auditioned. It wasn’t a concert hall, but it was a start. Aidan was at school that day, but Ian insisted on taking the day off work to come and watch me. Although I argued at first, I can’t deny that I was grateful for his support.
Despite the low-end location, I was excited to perform my first real show when I got to the park. The proprietor had even set up the venue’s background props for me while I performed.
I thanked him when he handed me the microphone, then turned to face the crowd.
“Before I start, I just wanted to thank everyone who’s here to watch my performance. It means a lot. I hope you enjoy the show!” I took a deep breath, and launched into my first song.
I noticed that several of the people in the park had gotten up to watch my performance, and I was encouraged to see that they appeared to be enjoying it.
Ian, of course, stood right at the front of the stage, cheering me on the whole time. I smiled at him as I sang, hoping to convey how much his presence meant to me. He and the other spectators cheered and danced along to my performance.
Partway through the show, it began to rain, but I ignored it and kept singing. I wasn’t about to let a bit of rain stop me in my first ever real live performance.
I was afraid that the unlucky weather conditions would drive my small audience away, but they didn’t even seem to mind. All three of them kept dancing and clapping for me long after they were all soaked through from the rain.
When I had finished, they all clapped and cheered like crazy, and I couldn’t help grinning as I took my bow. This rush after a successful performance had to be one of the best feelings in the world.
After that, the proprietor at the park gave me a regular gig there every Friday. It seemed like with every performance I was getting closer and closer to reaching my goal.
One evening, a bit over a year after we had started dating, Ian surprised me with a date at the park where we had had our first kiss. He had already called Julie to ask her to babysit Aidan while we were out.
It was early Spring, and the ground was already covered in flowers. Since it was nighttime the park was almost deserted. For a while we just lay back together on the grass, watching the stars sparkling above us. I reflected happily that being with Ian had to be the best decision I had ever made.
After a while, he began to get up. “I got something for you,” he said with a smile. I might have been imagining it, but he sounded a bit… shy tonight. Still, the bouquet of red roses he had seemingly pulled out of thin air were stunningly beautiful, and I felt my heart flutter with how romantic he was being.
“They’re beautiful,” I whispered. “I love you so much, Ian.”
He smiled as he wrapped his arms around me and tenderly, passionately, returned my kiss.
“I love you too,” he told me earnestly as we gazed into each other’s eyes. Then he dropped my hands and started fiddling inside his pockets. “There’s something else I wanted to do tonight,” he said cryptically, not looking at me as he searched. “Something important.” I started to get worried as my mind went over all the ‘important’ things he might need to say. He looked really nervous all of a sudden… was he about to break up with me?
I had no idea where this was going, until he got down on one knee in front of me and pulled a small box out of his back pocket. At the same moment I realised what he was doing, he opened the box to reveal the most gorgeous ring I had ever seen.
“Nicole Hunter,” he began, as I struggled to keep my rising emotions under control, “please believe me when I say that I did not know what love was until I met you. I have never met any woman like you in my life. I love you Nicole, and I love your son. I already feel as though I am his father. I know that I will never stop loving you as long as I live, and I cannot think of anything that I desire more than the opportunity to share the rest of my life with you. Will you grant me my dream by becoming my wife?”
I couldn’t speak through the tears of happiness welling up in my eyes. I nodded, and Ian’s smile was brighter and full of more joy than I had ever seen it before as he pulled the ring out of its box and slipped it gently onto my finger.
“I love you, Ian!” I managed to gasp as I threw myself into his arms. And I had never felt surer of anything in my life.