Antonio read the same page over for the fifth time. Looking up, he was surprised to see his office manager standing over him, hands on her hips. How long had she been there?
“This is the 3rd meeting you’ve missed Mr. Torres,” Ashley Thompson said. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep Mr. Martin from cancelling the entire deal. I’m good, but I’m not that good.”
He scrubbed his cheek with his palm and stood up, “Ashley, cancel all my appointments for the next couple of days. I need to take some time off.”
Ashley threw up her hands in exasperation, “You haven’t made any appointments in the last month. You haven’t signed any of the contracts and haven’t answered any of the landscape work requests. If you don’t snap out of whatever you’re going through, there won’t be any work for anyone to do, including me!”
Antonio barely registered that Ashley was still talking to him as he headed for the elevator bank. He’d been in a fog for the last month. Aaliyah wouldn’t answer any of his phone calls and he never managed to bump into her in town. None of her friends would tell him where she was, although he suspected that Ariel wanted to say something to him, at least that was the vibe he got from her the last time he went to talk to her about Aaliyah.
Reaching the parking lot and getting into his car he thought, I should never have left. I should have made her listen to me. Instead, he had walked away from the woman he loved.
Twenty minutes later, he parked in front of Aaliyah’s home. Her locked front gate taunted him, as it had done for the last thirty-five days. She was gone or at least her home hadn’t been occupied for over a month; this he knew for certain as he had stopped by every day since she asked him to leave that morning.
At first, he didn’t think anything of it. She was upset, yes, but he had thought once she got a chance to think about everything that she would call him. When a week passed by with no phone call, he started to call her. She never answered. He found reasons to drive by her home, but she never seemed to be home. Finally, he gave up all pretenses and started standing in front of her barred gates, hoping to catching her coming home or going out. He had never even caught a glimpse of her. Now he didn’t bother getting out of his car. It had become habit to drive to her home and he didn’t actually expect to see her there anymore.
Antonio put his car in drive and headed home. If she went through all the trouble to fall off the face of the earth, then he would let her be and move on.
Antonio was just heading to the kitchen when his doorbell rang. There was no one he was particularly anxious to see, so he let the door ring as he walked to prep for dinner. The doorbell continued to ring and the person started banging on the door.
“Who the hell is it,” Antonio growled as he yanked his door open. His jaw dropped when he saw Aaliyah standing on his doorstep.
Antonio had no words to describe what he was feeling; absolute joy at seeing her standing there and an irrational fear that she wasn’t real and he was just starting to lose his mind.
“Am I intruding?”
“I was just going to make dinner for myself.” This was absurd. Here was the love of his life, standing in front of him. His prayers were finally being answered, and they were making small talk.
Aaliyah shivered a little in the cool air and Antonio immediately pulled the door open wider, “Would you like to come in?”
Smiling, she stepped into his home for the first time. They’d dated for months and she had never once stepped foot inside his home. He had really made a mess of things, hadn’t he? Shaking his head, he showed her to the living room and had a sudden case of déjà vue. He had done the same thing at his parents’ house, he had almost kissed her for the first time in that house, back then they had laughed at Darling’s antics and been full of hope for their future.
Looking at her now, he wondered if they had lost their moment, if the lies and the hurts were too much for them to overcome.
“Are you hungry? I was just about to make dinner.” Antonio wanted to hold her so bad his arms ached, but he didn’t know why she was here after going to so much trouble to stay away. He didn’t want to push for an explanation and end up running her off. So he would continue with the banal small talk until she was ready to talk. Until then he would just enjoy looking at her.
“Yeah, I could eat,” she said, looking around and he desperately wished he had tidied up a little.
Antonio went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. She followed him and he breathed a sigh of relief. He did not want to have her out of his sight, not even for a minute.
Afterward, sitting next to her at his dinner table, he had to force his eyes away from her face. She still had not said why she was in his home and he was starting to worry she might leave and never say what she came to say.
Staring at his plate, Antonio asked the most pressing question, “Are you alright Lia?”
Aaliyah looked at him for a minute and seemed to brace herself before saying, “As you must know, I’ve been away for a while. I feel ashamed to admit this, but my agent offered me a role in a new movie and I have been in Aurora Skies shooting it for the last five weeks. I took the part mainly to get away for a little bit and think. Essentially, I ran away.”
Giving her a small smile, Antonio said, “I understand. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of needing some space. Are you home for good now or are you just visiting?” He cleared his throat at the last sentence, not liking the emotion that was so apparent in his voice. Having her admit that she left because of him caused his heart to ache. She hadn’t even wanted to discuss it with him. How was he supposed to get them past this?
“That’s the thing, I was supposed to be on set for six weeks, but I got sick and had to come back early.”
Antonio’s thoughts scattered at that and he looked up from his plate, “Sick how, are you alright? Have you been to the doctor’s yet?”
Aaliyah smiled, “Yeah, I went to see my doctor and they took some blood work. I had some nausea, weight loss and got tired very easily.”
“So what did the doctor say?”
“I’m six weeks pregnant.”
Silence greeted that statement while Antonio stared at her. Did she just say –
Then he broke into a huge grin, “Yeah?”
“Yeah. I wanted you to be the first to know and I wanted to tell you in person. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect us to get back together just because of this baby, but I want you to be involved and be a part of this process, if you want to be.”
Antonio stood up and helped Aaliyah out of her seat. Looking into her eyes, he said very slowly and clearly, “You are never leaving my sight again. I don’t know how many ways I have to tell you that I love you and want to be with you for you to understand. But I will say it every day for the rest of our lives until you believe me.”
Aaliyah looked at him thoughtfully. He didn’t know what the men in her life before him did to her, but getting Aaliyah to trust him was like pulling teeth.
Aaliyah smiled then. “Ok.”
“Ok?” When she nodded, he kissed her and pulled her into his arms. Finally, he could hold her like he’d wanted to all evening.
The next couple of weeks were heaven for Antonio. Aaliyah and he spent some time reconnecting and it felt as if everything was right with the world. He had practically moved into her home and vice versa. They even spent some time at his parents’ house.
In fact, Aaliyah redecorated each of their houses with a room for a girl and a room for a boy. His parents’ house she left alone. Since the only spare room was his childhood bedroom, she decided to leave it as it was. He tried to tell her he didn’t care if she changed it, but she just smiled at him and shook her head.
Every day with Aaliyah felt like a blessing to Antonio and he meant to share them with her forever.
Wrapping his arm around Aaliyah’s waist in bed one morning, he gently woke her up, “Lia, I want to take you somewhere nice tonight. I’ve been working on a space by the water plant. It has been something of a pet project of mine and I want you to see it. Can you meet me there around 6:30?”
Aaliyah rolled over and snuggled into his warmth, “Sure. But this better be an amazing project, because it’s freezing by the water plant this time of year.”
Antonio laughed and kissed her, “It will be worth it. I promise.”
He reluctantly got out of bed to get ready for work. After tucking the blanket around her to keep her warm, he walked into the bathroom and grinned. He loved seeing her things sprawled around his things. Yes, it was silly to be so happy about a toothbrush or a comb, but these little things reminded him that she was with him. They had worked through the hurdles and he was finally getting the happy ending his mother had promised him when he was younger.
Staring at the mirror above the sink, he thought fondly of Rose Torres, the woman who took him in and helped him through the most traumatic experience of his life. Without her and Martin, he would have been just another foster child lost in a system that was underfunded with social workers that were underpaid. His birth mother had saved his life in that car crash and Rose and Martin Torres had continued to save him from himself every day after that.
I love you mom and dad. Turning the shower on, Antonio got ready for his day.
Later that evening Antonio took the company limo to meet up with Aaliyah at the water plant. He got there a little early to make some last-minute arrangements.
When she stepped out of the car, he caught his breath. Every time he saw her smiling at him, he couldn’t believe how lucky he was.
Taking her hand he led her to the water silo and up some stairs. He could her mumbling about heels and deathtraps and he couldn’t stop from laughing. He loved her so much!
Antonio heard her gasp when she caught sight of his surprise. Turning around he asked, “Do you like it?”
Aaliyah looked at him with a smile. “It’s so beautiful. Who would think there would be a garden up here?” Walking to the middle of the garden, she did a complete 360.
“You can see the entire town from here! This is amazing Antonio.” Now she looked at him a little puzzled, “The view would be better during the day, though. Why are we here so late?”
Taking Aaliyah’s hand, Antonio said, “I have loved you almost since the first day I met you. You have taught me what fulfillment really means. All my life I’ve been searching for family, for home, someplace to call mine. I’ve found them in you and I don’t plan on losing you ever again. I want to always be where you are.”
Antonio got down on one knee and pulled a black box out of his jacket pocket.
“I love you Aaliyah Weatherly Shelby, will you marry me?”
Aaliyah stared at him for a moment, her mouth moving but no sound coming out. This woman, if she ever managed to say yes, would be his for the rest of his life. He grinned and said, “Lia, cariño, you’ve gone from mumbling to only moving your lips. Try a little harder.”
Aaliyah narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “How can you go from impossibly sweet to annoying so fast?”
“Lia, I’m on my knees here, an answer please?” Aaliyah just smirked. “Okay, fine. I’ll just take this ring back to Jared’s…” He closed the box and moved to put it back in his pocket.
“Wait, you went to Jared’s?”
Antonio started laughing. He absolutely adored this woman.
“Fine. Ahem. Yes Antonio, I would be honored to be your wifey.” Aaliyah giggled.
Antonio put the ring on her finger and while she gushed over it, he let out a silent sigh of relief. For a brief moment, he really worried she would say no.
A week later, as Antonio was leaving for work, he caught sight of Aaliyah talking to Darling. “So, Darling, will you be my ring bearer?”
Antonio fought the urge to pull Aaliyah into his arms and opted to shake his head instead and continue with his day. He wondered if talking to a pet was the same as talking to oneself. Grinning, he got into his car and left Aaliyah to whatever it was she did during the day when she wasn’t working.
As it turned out, asking Darling to be the ring bearer was the only decision Aaliyah made on her own while planning for the wedding. She wanted to get married before the baby came and didn’t want to have a baby bump in her wedding photos, which meant that they needed to be married within a month.
The base of operation Get Married ended up being in Aaliyah’s home and so most if not all of their things finally found some permanent homes at the castle. Every day when Antonio got home, there was another to do list tacked on the living space on the second floor. He loved that Aaliyah wanted to marry him so soon – whatever her reasons – but this was becoming exhausting.
“Lia, why don’t you hire a wedding planner to do all these things?”
Antonio laughed aloud. As the big day approached, Aaliyah grew more and more surly and her responses shorter and shorter. Her mumbling, however, had increased. She even mumbled in her sleep now. Sometimes, he would stay up and just watch her sleep and mumble. He knew she was more worn out then he was.
“Well, I guess it’s a good thing I took some time off to help you.” He heard silence for a second before Aaliyah tackled him.
“Did you really, seriously? Because that would help so much. It’s such hard work getting everything done. Kandy tries to help but she still has to go to school during the day and sometimes I fall asleep and –”
Antonio kissed her. “Now, go do whatever it is you were doing and let me work on this list.”
Aaliyah gave him a heart-stopping smile and a salute and went back to the letter she was writing.
And so progressed their last week as singles. Both he and Aaliyah decided that bachelor and bachelorette parties weren’t really for them.
They got married at Antonio’s parents’ house. Aaliyah wanted something simple and elegant, with as few hassles as possible. Antonio made it happen.
“I, Aaliyah Weatherly Shelby, promise to love and cherish you, to be your port in the storm, your voice of reason, your cheerleader, your confidant and your home, wherever we may be. For now and for always.”
The wedding ceremony went off without a hitch. They had it in the backyard by the pond and had the reception on the patio behind the house. They cut the cake, danced a little, mingled with the guests and he got to kiss Aaliyah for the first time as her husband. He would love this woman until his dying day.
Author’s Note: Some things you may not notice but are important/interesting. In the second-to-last picture, there are two covered chairs in the background. Those chairs are in memory of Antonio’s parents, Martin and Rose Torres. Aaliyah wanted to honor the couple that raised such a wonderful man. Also, some people on the guest list were her parents – you can see her mother (second-to-last photo) in the orange dress on the left and her father in the black suit on the right in the last photo. Her brothers are also both in the last photo – Aaron in the tan pullover and black button down outfit and Bem in the gray pinstripe suit. Her sister, Kandy, is hidden behind her mother unfortunately. Also in the last photo is Antonio’s longtime friend, Bjorn Bloom. His wife, Magnolia, also attended but isn’t shown. Some other guests were the Hackett family – Janelle and her sister Ariel, along with their parents, Martha and Jared Hackett. (You can see Jared and a bit of Ariel in the last photograph.)