The energy in the room is electric. It’s filled to the brim with the people I love most. My parents. My friends.
All here to celebrate my graduation from culinary school.
The last year turned out to be harder than I imagined it was going to be. Not only was culinary school more of a challenge than I was prepared for – though I did graduate with flying colors and more job offers than I knew what to do with – but the time investment was grueling.
If I wasn’t in class, I was working.
And the little bit of time I did have between work and class, I spent with Piper.
It was a struggle. Not being able to see her every day. Not waking up next to her every morning.
She was busy, too. Which meant our schedules conflicted more than they coincided.
But our relationship is strong.
We celebrated her graduation from LSU a few weeks ago and we’re both taking a little time off to relax and figure out what’s next for us. Not that we’re not going to be busy during our month off. Kane is getting married, Willow’s baby shower is the week after that, and my parents are on vacation at the end of the month, so I’ll be running the restaurant while they’re gone.
“Can I have everyone’s attention,” Piper says, standing on a chair so she can be seen over the crowd. “Thank you all for being here. It’s been a long year for Julian, but his hard work has paid off and I’m so proud of him. And I plan to take a little of the credit for his success since I am the one that sent in his application.”
Everyone laughs. Everyone knows the story of how Piper’s love for me, and her belief in my abilities, caused our first fight. One that almost cost me the love of my life.
Thank God it didn’t. I don’t know where I’d be without her, and I don’t want to find out. She’s the air I breathe, the beat of my heart. Watching her from where I’m standing at the back of the room, my heart threatens to explode with love and gratitude. When her eyes find mine, I see hers are glistening with tears.
I take a step forward, but she shakes her head, causing me to stop in my tracks. She’s fine, just emotional. She doesn’t need me, but I know she wants me which is why I start moving in her direction when she begins talking again.
“And to my best friend, the love of my life,” her eyes never leave mine. “I’m so proud of you. Of the man you are now, the man you were when I fell in love with you, and the man I know you’ll become one day. And the extremely large woman I’m going to become because of your amazing culinary skills.”
Piper rubs her belly, drawing my attention to where her hand rests. It’s perfectly flat but that doesn’t stop my imagination from envisioning her round with my child. We’ve talked about it a lot lately. Kids. Marriage. The future.
I’m not sure what I want, but I know I want it with her. All of it.
When I reach her, I pull her off the chair and into my arms. A few people whistle, Brady’s laugh carrying over the crowd.
“Pretty girl,” I whisper against her lips before I kiss her. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Julian.”
“Get a room!” This from Brady and I’d expect no less. Though, I take aim at him any chance I get these days. He’s as whipped as I am, and he knows it.
Piper and I are snuggled into a booth after saying goodbye to our friends hours later. She’s almost asleep on my shoulder, the hour late and the day draining the last of her energy.
My parents slide in across from us, causing her to stir, her smile to lift, and a dab of energy to return. My parents love Piper. Sometimes I wonder if they love her more than me. She stayed on after her internship and has been helping my mom run the dining room, helping my dad with the menu while I was in culinary school, so I didn’t have to give up as much of my free time, and helped to generate new and creative ways to bring business to the restaurant.
We’re busier than we’ve ever been, and I know they’re incredibly grateful for everything she’s done.
“You two should get out of here,” my mom says taking in Piper’s demeanor. “We can finish this up.”
“That’s okay. We’re happy to help,” Piper chimes in before I can accept my mom’s offer.
“No you don’t, pretty girl,” I state when she tries to escape my hold. “I’m taking you home and putting you to bed. You’re exhausted. You planned this entire party and have barely stopped buzzing around long enough to let me kiss you.”
“Were you surprised?” my dad asks, smirking at me.
They helped. I have no doubt about that. They closed the restaurant so Piper could use the space and had a small team here to work the party. The food was magnificent, a few of my own creations and a few of Pipers, and the drinks were flowing.
“Just a little,” I state, motioning to the plain white t-shirt I wore all night. I came ready to work, not to party. The rest of my friends were dressed up and I walked in wearing chef pants and a stained T, chef coat slung over my shoulder.
“Good.” Piper pushes out of my embrace, sitting ramrod straight next to me. “Because I have one more surprise for you.”
“Babe, I told you-“
“No arguments. This is one surprise I had no control over.” She looks to my mom who has tears welling in her eyes, nodding her head in understanding. Then suddenly my parents are leaving us and Piper’s turning to me, tears streaming down her cheeks.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, reaching up and wiping away her tears only for more to replace them.
“I’m pregnant, Julian.”
My fingers go still, mid-swipe, as I stare into Piper’s eyes before dropping to my lap with a thump.
But we’re not married yet. She wanted to wait until we were more settled. Both graduated. Both ready. I bought her a ring months ago, waiting for the perfect moment.
I’d drop to one knee right now if I thought Piper would say yes. If I had the ring on me instead of hidden in the depths of my underwear drawer. But the last thing I want is for her to think I’m proposing because she just said she was pregnant. With my child. We created a little human.
“Say something,” she encourages, her voice wobbly.
“Pregnant?” Really, dumbass? “I mean, how?” Wrong again. “Not how. I know how we got here. Oh my god. We’re pregnant.”
“We are. I know this wasn’t the plan but…”
Her voice trails off, uncertainty left whirling in the air between us. But what is she uncertain about? Us? The baby?
Does she think I don’t want it?
Get your shit together, Julian. Let her know everything is going to be fine. That you’ll take care of her. That you love her.
Adjusting in the booth the best I can so we’re sitting facing each other, I reach up and wipe the fresh tears from Piper’s cheeks, pull her face to mine, and kiss her deeply. The kind of kiss that more than likely led to the kind of night where we made the child that’s currently growing inside her.
“Pretty girl,” I mumble against her lips. “We made a baby. A little you or a little me. Out of love. I know you’re freaking out right now, and maybe I am too, but everything is going to be fine. I’ve got you.”
“Yeah?” she asks, closing her eyes and resting her forehead against mine.
“Piper, I love you. I always will. I didn’t think we’d start having kids for a few years, that we’d be married first, but life doesn’t always go as planned. And with us… normally it takes longer than planned,” I joke, knowing she’s going to think back to how it took us three years to realize we were meant to be. “A baby is a blessing. The timing may not be perfect but still a blessing.”
“A blessing,” she echoes.
“How far along are you?” I ask.
“Eight weeks. Too soon to tell anyone else but I already told your mom. She caught me puking the other morning.”
“Morning sickness. It comes and goes. She made me go to the doctor and that’s when they told me the news. Your mom asked what the doctor said, and I broke down in tears.”
“My mom was probably over the moon.”
“She may have squealed with delight and ran to tell your dad. But they also pulled me aside that afternoon and talked to me about everything. They kind of made me an offer I don’t want to turn down. Well, the offer is for us.”
Sitting up, I immediately hate the loss of contact, so I pull Piper into my lap and wrap my arms around her, my hands covering her stomach.
“What offer?” I ask after a few beats of silence.
“They want to give us Metro Bistro. You’d take over the kitchen for your dad and I’d take over out front for your mom. They called it a wedding present but since we’re not-“
“We will be.”
“Pretty girl, I already bought the ring. Months ago. Us getting married will happen eventually. We can do it tomorrow if you want but I’d rather wait and give you the wedding you want, the wedding you deserve.”
“Just so you know, this does not count as a proposal.”
“Oh, when I propose to you, you’ll know it.” Tightening my hold on her, I kiss the top of Piper’s head and let out a sigh of contentment. “I’m going to be a daddy.”
“You sure are. Are you ready for that title?”
“Not even close, but we’ll figure it out. Together.”
The way we do everything else life throws at us.
BABY!!! Who doesn’t love celebrating a new generation of characters? *** spoiler *** There will be a LOT of kids between all these couples ten *fictional* years from now. And an entirely new series to read. But before that can happen, I have to hook up the rest of these characters – with each other and with new characters you may not have met yet. So snag your copy of Scandalous Little Obsession and find out who catches Evie’s eye. Unfortunately for him, he also caught the attention of Max… poor kid.