“There she is.”
I heard a whisper behind my back as I flipped through clothing items absentmindedly. The voice was female. High-pitched.
“Word around town is she broke up with Knight the week his mom died. Heartless, right? That’s after he’d taken care of her for years. He literally had no life other than her.”
“Insane,” another girl gasped.
Sometimes—more often than I cared to think about, actually—people assumed that if I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t hear, either. Or maybe I could hear, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to confront them. I never had. Never would, they assumed. Only today, as I hung out with Daria, her mother Melody, Emilia, and Edie, finding her the perfect engagement party dress, these girls were in for a rude awakening.
“Luna,” Edie called from the crème loveseat in front of the dressing rooms, cradling a glass of champagne next to the rest of the women. Daria was inside, trying on her fifth dress in the boutique. All of us tried our hardest to focus on the garments and not on the fact that we were faking the entire thing, ignoring the Rosie-colored elephant in the room, but I had to take a step back and pretend to look for something for myself so they wouldn’t see me cry. I missed Rosie terribly. More so every day.
“…and now she’s hanging out with Daria Followhill? How fitting. All she needed to do was become a bitch like her to get in the cool kids’ club.”
The chatter behind me intensified.
“I hope Knight goes back to Poppy. At least she didn’t play stupid third-grade games.”
“Luna, baby, come. I think this one’s the one,” Edie said.
She must’ve seen the girls behind me, deduced that they were talking about me by the way they looked at me, and wanted to spare me the heartache.
Edie, Emilia, Melody, and Daria had gotten used to my speaking, just like everyone else around me, but they were still overprotective. They still worried I couldn’t take care of my own business.
“Just one minute, Mom!” I yelled to Edie, loud and clear.
The chatter behind me stopped. So did their shuffling of clothes. I turned around, a serene smile on my face. It was high time I did this—stood up to the bullies myself instead of hiding behind Knight’s broad, formidable back.
Set the record straight about what I was to him. What he was to me.
Shut them up by showing them quiet didn’t mean weak. That being gentle and meek didn’t mean there wasn’t a storm brewing inside me. Still water runs deep. The people who were the noisiest and most popular in my school often had the most to hide. I walked over to the girls, the sound of my squeaking Vans the only thing audible in the store. I stopped a few inches from them, my smile widening.
I recognized them. Two senior cheerleaders: Arabella and Alice. I’d seen them both at Vaughn’s party last year. Arabella had been all over Knight, teasing me about sleeping with him. Now I knew it wasn’t true. It had never been true. Knight had only slept with me. I could rub it in her face, I realized. But I wasn’t going to.
I was too old and too smart for her game.
“For your information,” I said pleasantly, watching in amusement as Arabella clutched a feather-trimmed, sequin and tulle baby pink dress to her chest, as if using it for protection from me. “I did not break up with Knight. We took a break while he attended to something much bigger and more serious than our relationship. He is mine. He was always mine. Not Poppy’s. Not yours, Arabella. Not anyone’s. And, if I didn’t make it clear before, I think I should now: I will destroy everything in my way, including your catty ass, if you ever say a negative word about him or me. Don’t mistake my politeness for weakness. I merely let you keep him occupied while I sorted out my own issues. But now I’m here. I will stay here. I will always be here for him.”
I took a deep breath, undeterred by the way they stared at me, wide-eyed and slack-mouthed, still in shock over the fact that I was speaking—and not just that, but having fun handing them their asses on a platter.
“I love him. So very much. And anything you say about our relationship is not going to change that. So I strongly suggest you move on to your next gossip victim, or better, stick your noses where they belong. In your own business. And by the way, this…” I plucked the dress from Arabella’s round-tipped, nude-colored fingernails, throwing the gown over my shoulder. “…will look gorgeous on Daria at her engagement party. From one bitch to another, thanks.”
With that, I turned around and marched triumphantly to Edie, Emilia, Melody, and Daria, who was now standing outside the dressing room in a green number, staring at me with an entertained smirk, her arms crossed over her chest.
I tossed the gown to her, and she caught it in the air.
“Proud of you, Saint Luna,” she said.
“For standing up to those idiots?” I asked. “I should have done that long ago.”
Daria shook her head, her grin widening. “No, for having perfect timing. I think your love declaration is appreciated, considering the circumstances.”
“Circumstances?” I blinked. “How do you mean?”
Daria’s gaze traveled to the glass door of the boutique. Behind the windows, I saw something that made my heart blossom and almost burst out of my chest.
Knight, Vaughn, Dad, Dean, Jaime, Lev, Racer, Penn, Hunter, and the entire football team of All Saints High were standing there, each guy holding a sign written in Knight’s awful handwriting.
Vaughn’s read: Luna
Another baller’s: My
Another baller’s: Wife
Another baller’s: ???
Another baller’s: Chill.
Another baller’s: Just
Another baller’s: Kidding
Another baller’s: …
Another baller’s: (Mostly)
Another baller’s: Actually
Another baller’s: I’m
Another baller’s: Fucking
Another baller’s: Serious
Finally, Knight’s sign was the biggest, and held more than one word. It read:
Ride or die, Moonshine?
I opened my mouth, knowing how much was on the line. Knowing Knight, once again, had done everything backward. First the engagement, and then, right after, the declaration of love, which had yet to come. The patching-up part. The getting-back-together portion of the Knight show. But this was Knight for you.
He didn’t do things by the book.
But he was sober.
It was the easiest decision to make. The easiest by far. And the Rosie-colored elephant in the room was knocking over racks of clothes left and right, because I knew she was somewhere up there watching this whole thing. In fact, I could practically hear her telling me not to settle for this before I heard the words I’d been dying to hear since the day he’d saved my life in the rain on my bike. Since the day I’d known I didn’t love him as a brother. Not at all. He was the love of my life.
“Knight Jameson Cole,” I said, loud and clear, not caring that we had an audience, that the saleswomen took out their phones to record this. That Edie, Mel, and Emilia had tears in their eyes. That Daria muttered only half-jokingly that I was stealing all her thunder.
“You come here right now and tell me the L word if you want to be my awful-wedded husband.”
The entire football team erupted in laughter, and Knight’s nervous smile broke into the cockiest, most arrogant, most adorable grin I’d ever seen on a human face. He made me weak in the knees. And I knew, impossibly, that this was the way it was going to be until my last day. My heart would always miss a beat the first time he entered the room—no matter how many times I’d seen him.
Tossing his sign behind his shoulder, he threw the glass door open and strolled inside, ignoring Arabella and Alice to his right. When he reached me, he got down on one knee, but instead of looking up at me, he bowed his head, like a warrior kneeling in front of his queen, his sword piercing the ground. Producing something from his pocket, he held a ring up in the air, no box. I recognized it immediately. It had belonged to Rosie.
Story was, Dean had given it to her on their second wedding anniversary. It was a round-cut, yellowish-green diamond, surrounded by much smaller diamonds. For every year of Dean’s sobriety, he’d added one more mini-stone to surround the bigger one. At some point, he’d begun to decorate the band itself with precious diamonds, too.
Knight’s message was loud and clear. He wasn’t ignoring the issue. He was tackling it headfirst. He was promising me not only his heart and loyalty—but his sobriety, too.
“I know I have been a terrible boyfriend. I know we’re not together anymore. I know you deserve much, much better than what I’ve given you so far as a lover, not as a friend—other than the sex part. The sex part was…” He looked up, his eyes laughing as mine widened in horror and embarrassment. “I mean, let’s admit it, Moonshine. We’re the shit in bed, okay? No point denying it.”
Dad cupped his mouth with both hands. “On with your speech.”
Everyone laughed. I think it was the first time since Rosie was in a coma that our families were truly happy, and I understood why Knight needed this. This big, festive, out-of-this-world thing. We all needed it.
Knight shook his head, like he was trying to rid himself from some naughty thoughts. “Anyway, to your request—your quite reasonable request, milady—I assure you, I love you. I’m in love with you. I’m crazy about you. Have been since age four. It was always you. Never someone else. Not even for a fleeting moment. Not even when I dreamed of moving on from you. Even when I hated you—or when I thought I did—I knew we’d be together. I knew. Our love always had a pulse. Sometimes it was faint. Sometimes it was beating so hard I couldn’t hear anything else. But it would never die. It can’t. I won’t let it.”
I took a shuddering breath, placing my hands on his shoulders, signaling him to get up. But he stayed put, still on one knee.
“I spent the night at Dixie’s, trying to come up with a way for you to know I will never repeat my mistakes. I will never give in to alcohol and drugs again. Never self-destruct that way. But the only thing I could come up with was for you to give me a chance not to fuck up. Because if we’re apart—how would you be able to know? I decided I’m coming to North Carolina, babe. You gave up so much for me, and I am happy to do the same for you.”
I shook my head frantically. Violently, almost. Now Knight’s smile was completely gone. His face a little paler.
“No,” I said, letting the tears on my cheeks run freely.
“No?” He was still on one knee, and not in a hurry to stand up.
I loved it. I loved that he was still in a vulnerable position. For me.
“No, we won’t be going back to Boon. Boon changed me in so many ways, and I will forever be grateful for the journey, but my home is here. You’re here. Our families are here. Some people can go to an out-of-state college and do their own thing. Not us. We’d be leaving too much behind. No, babe. We’re staying. We’ll study here. We’ll overcome your addiction, and my inhibitions, here. We’ll stay close to the street we grew up on. Where we fell in love. Where we fell apart. Where we broke and pieced ourselves back together.”
There was a beat of silence, after which Knight cleared his throat.
“So…is that a yes or a no? Because Dixie’s been filming this whole thing outside, and I don’t know how much memory her phone has.”
A burst of laughter rang in the air. I was pleasantly surprised that some of it was mine.
“Yes!” I shouted. “Yes, I’d love to be Luna Cole!”
He scooped me up and kissed me for the entire world to see. My arms linked behind his back, my lips fused to his. It was the perfect princess moment I never thought I could have, with a prince I’d thought was everyone else’s rake.
And when he finally put me down and stared at me, I knew what he was going to say before he opened his mouth. We knew each other so well. Too well.
“Always. Whenever. Forever,” he mouthed, his lips still on mine.
I decided to complete his sentence, the way I’d imagined it in my head so many years ago.
“I choose you.”