It takes me a second or two to realize I didn’t imagine her word. My mind halting on the to-do list I’d just begun, my head falling forward again, tipping to the side.
Her eyes blink again, and her lip tugs up on one corner. Fucking Elvis!
“Ye…yes?” I stammer, nowhere near as cool and calm as I had pretended I would be when I fantasized about how this morning would go.
Maddy nods, her smile growing.
“Yes, Will Hollister. I will marry you,” she says.
Her eyes dazzle, and my heart stops, just for a moment, almost as if it’s etching a memory of this moment on my insides, as if right now is anything I could ever forget.
I turn to face her, lifting her body into mine, her legs falling over my own, our bodies pressed close together while my hands graze up her arms to her cold cheeks, pink from the morning chill. I lean into her, stopping when my forehead rests against hers, holding my kiss until I can just be certain I’m not dreaming.
It’s my smirk that gives me away.
“You’re totally going to throw me into the pool, aren’t you?” she asks, and I nod against her, biting my lip, but unable to stop the devious laugh that puffs out from my chest as I squeeze her to me tightly and push off with my legs, dumping us both into the water.
She screams when her head breaks back through the surface, and in typical Maddy fashion, her arms swing wildly, pelting me with balmy waves that still sting in the cold Indiana air. I let her hate me for just a second, and then I grip her wrists and drag her kicking toward me, my hands smoothing down her soaked sweatshirt, pressing her into me for warmth.
“I can’t believe I signed up for this for life,” she says, her voice quivering and her lips vibrating from both laughter and the cold.
I cup her face in my hands and kiss her hard, holding her head against mine for a second or two more, finally helping her from the pool, and then chasing behind her for the locker-room showers.
Once the hot water penetrates our skin, I pull her naked body to mine again, and I kiss every spot I missed the first time. I never tell her that I can’t believe she signed up for this either. I don’t share the millions of times I doubted deserving what she’s given me already. I keep all of those voices away from my head and heart. I lock them out, and I promise myself never to let them back in. It’s taken me years to defeat them. I couldn’t do it on my own. I needed joy.
Maddy…and eighteen seconds.