He placed a hand on my thigh and squeezed it. “I know.”
“I’d have to find someone else to manage this place. Train them. And there’s Grandpa Gus and Peter too. I love them too, and I can’t just leave them like that either. Mo and I are all they have, and they were all I’ve ever had for most of my life,” I whispered to him, my eyes burning just a little but more than enough because they weren’t used to it. “But I’m going to miss you so fucking much, and I don’t know what to do.”
It wasn’t my imagination that his eyes were getting glassy, and it definitely wasn’t in my head that I heard his voice get just a little hoarser as he said, “You didn’t ask me to stay.”
“No, and I wouldn’t,” I told him. “I love you, and I’m not going to make you pick. You don’t do that to someone who means the entire universe to you. Grandpa Gus told me once that when you love someone, you threw them up into the sky to fly, Dimples. You don’t just open your hand to let them go. Because you know who they are, and they know who you are, and that’s all that matters. You don’t hold back someone you love. Even if I don’t want to go so long without seeing you, you have to go.” It was my turn to reach over and cup his lean cheek. He’d shaved, and I could just barely feel the prickles of his beard growing back in. “And I was just looking into it. Literally, right before you walked in, I was reading up. I can stay in the country for ninety days at a time on a tourist visa, and I don’t know if you knew this or not, but I’m the boss of this place, and I bet they could survive without me for a while once I train the assistant manager to do more of the things that I do.”
“Yeah?” he replied, those golden-brown eyes sparkling, or at least to me, it seemed like they were. He slowly eased forward until his forehead was against mine, and Mo was there, digging a hand into my hair until we were both giving her kisses on each cheek. After a few moments, it was his turn to whisper. “I’ve looked it up too, and there’s a better option as well.”
I moved the pad of my thumb right under his fat bottom lip. “What is it?”
“I reckon it’s our best option,” he replied, easing away just a little, the corners of his mouth edging upward. “At least the only one that makes the most sense. Our only option, really. If you’re ever ready. If you ever can, but you have to know that I’m fine with whatever you decide, love. But it would be better all around.”
“I know I could get a work visa.” I kissed one corner of that mouth. “Grandpa Gus has got friends in Tokyo that—”
Jonah touched his lips to mine. I sensed him fumbling for a second before his mouth brushed a light kiss across the bow of mine and then one more on the other corner. Only then did his big, free hand take mine in the same way it had so many times lately. “Lenny,” he murmured. Those fingers stroked over my own. I could feel his breath on my lips, and it made me want to kiss him again.
So I did.
And it was then that I felt it.
Something cold and hard, followed by the heat of fingertips right after.
In the wake of his fingers as they moved across my skin, I glanced down and sucked in my breath.
Those hands, so big and rough and careful and gentle at the same time, threaded themselves through mine, squeezing.
“I’m coming back,” that soft voice stated with so much conviction I felt it. “And you’re coming to see me. This is just the beginning, Lenny. It’s nowhere near the end. I love you. I love you both, and we’ll be together again.” His voice dropped even lower as his fingers rubbed over my ring finger. “Marry me. Before I go. If you change your mind, I can get you a visa, easy. If you don’t change your mind, you know I’ll always come back to you, yeh?”
I was too busy looking at the ring sitting on my finger to manage to find a word to say.
Marry him? Marry Jonah?
Holy fucking shit.
Here I’d been just thinking and stressing about being apart from each other.
Here I’d been, never even thinking about the “m” word in the first place.
And here Jonah was telling me to marry him.
To be with him, even if I couldn’t be with him.
Forever. For some people. Not forever for other people.
And he wanted this? From me? With me?
My heart started pounding away at my fucking chest, and I could barely say, “Jonah, we don’t—”
I blinked up at him, laughter erasing the fucking panic instantly, just wiping it right off. “Did you just shush me?”
He was already grinning when he nodded.
I laughed again. “You shh.”
That smile grew even wider before he proceeded to ignore me. “It’s a gray rose cut diamond,” Jonah explained, like I knew what the hell that was.
My fucking eyes strayed to the delicate yellow gold band and the two white, almost triangle-shaped diamonds tapered on each side of the center rock sitting on my finger.
He was serious.
There was a ring on my finger. And not just any ring, but a real one. One he’d bought for me.
Because he was telling me to marry him.
“It made me think of you,” he went on, his fingers taking each one of mine and massaging one at a time lightly as Mo slapped at his cheek. “But if you don’t like it…” He lifted my hand to his face and gave two of my fingertips a kiss. “Too bad, eh.”
What the fuck?
Something that was either a snort or a fucking crying choke snapped out of my throat. And then I couldn’t fucking help it. I couldn’t help but grin even as a thrill shot through me like a damn lightning bolt, straight down the middle, heady and brutal and beautiful and terrifying, but not really.
Not at all, actually.
I laughed again, right from my gut, from my soul, from the place inside of me that housed all of my joy. “Too bad?”
He nodded and settled my hand on his cheek, letting the tiny bristles tickle my palm. “We don’t have time to change it if we have to wait three days after getting the license to marry.” He smiled. “The office closes at five today.”
That beautiful, amazing fucking feeling filled my chest, but it still made me gulp, still stole my words and my thoughts and everything. “Why do I feel like you aren’t asking me?”
“Because I’m not.” He leaned forward again and brushed his lips across mine so softly it almost seemed like I could have imagined it. That mouth went to one cheek and then the other before he drew back and beamed me with an enormous smile I’d remember for the rest of my life. Jonah Hema Collins wrapped an arm around the back of my neck and drew me into that wide chest, and I let him. His voice soft in my ear as he informed me, “If I don’t ask you, you can’t tell me no, love.”
Three days later, when we got married in front of a justice of the peace, with Jonah holding my hands tight, with Grandpa Gus holding Mo on his shoulders beside Peter, with Luna, her husband, her sister, daughter, and my grandpa’s friend and his wife, I smiled so much my cheeks hurt.
The very next day, when Mo and I dropped him off at the airport, and he gave us a hug that lifted us into the air as he told us how much we were loved, and how there was nothing we couldn’t handle together, I made sure I was smiling then too…