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Faking with Benefits : Epilogue

FIFTEEN MONTHS LATER

Layla Thompson @HerTreatLayla ✓

update: we got married 

We get married on a flower-filled rooftop in central London, on the day of my thirtieth birthday.

The ceremony is beautiful. The guys all look delicious in dark suits, and I wear a creamy silk dress I designed myself, covered in tiny organza butterflies. We say our vows as the sun sets over the city, streaking the sky in a wash of gold and peach and rose-petal pink. As the last few rays of sunshine fade away from the blackening sky, and the boys each take turns kissing the bride, the rooftop lights up. Hundreds of glowing lanterns illuminate over our heads, and the foliage glows with strings of coloured fairy lights carefully threaded through the leaves and branches.

And then the party starts. Thanks to Zack’s flat-out insistence on an open bar, soon the alcohol is flowing, and everybody is migrating to the flashing disco dance-floor we had set up. I hang back, savouring my slice of frosted birthday cake and watching people dance.

We have way more guests than I would have ever expected at my wedding. My parents are here, chatting to Luke’s niece Lavender, who’s clinging onto the hand of her heavily eye-lined girlfriend. Zack’s parents are happily drinking and jiving in the corner. Josh’s brother Rob also made it, and thankfully didn’t bring Amy with him. Josh told me privately a couple of weeks ago that the couple is currently on a break. She got fired from Emery High last summer, after the Inspection Board decided she was being negligent towards student safety. Apparently, after she lost her job, Amy started to let her sweet facade slip, and some of her usual nastiness began to show. Luckily, Rob is having absolutely none of it.

It sounds bad, but I hope they break up. Rob seems like a lovely guy. He deserves better than her.

Josh also took it upon himself to invite every listener who once invited the boys to their weddings. He said it was only fair. So now the roof is practically overflowing with energy and laughter as people drink and dance and mingle. It’s a good reflection of how my life has been going recently. Ever since the engagement, my life has been a whirlwind of love and work and happiness.

It happened eight months ago. I was in New York to promote some new pieces in my Butterfly collection. It ended up selling incredibly; so well, in fact, that Anna Bardet got back into contact a few weeks after the release dropped. She asked if she could incorporate the design into her new spring collection.

I turned her down. I’m doing more than well enough without her.

The guys came with me to New York, and used the opportunity to do a couple of live shows for their American listeners. Their audience has only expanded since they went solo. They’re regularly hitting the podcast charts, and were named the #1 most popular relationship advice show in the UK last year. Which, admittedly, was much easier, since Sweetheart Soulmates is now disbanded. Apparently, the couple who hosted the show weren’t as perfect as they pretended. After it got leaked that both partners were having affairs, the podcast ended immediately, and they’re now navigating a very messy divorce.

Shame.

New York was a great trip; the only thing that made me sad was that we were all too busy to really hang out together. Even though we were all living in the same hotel suite, I was always up before the guys were awake, and they always seemed to be gone by the time I got back.

By our last night in New York, I’d pretty much given up on having any romantic time with the guys in the city. I’d gotten back to the hotel at three in the morning, absolutely exhausted after spending hours at an afterparty, and when I’d tiptoed back into our shared suite, my jaw had dropped. It had been completely transformed into some kind of romantic dreamland. There were bunches of flowers everywhere. Boxes of chocolates stacked on the bed. Lit candles flickering on the windowsills. And all three guys were down on one knee, each of them holding a little velvet ring box.

I hadn’t eaten all day, and I was still very jet-lagged from travelling, so I’m very embarrassed to say I pretty much literally swooned. I had to sit down on the bed with my head between my legs for a bit. It was fine, though. Zack finger-fed me chocolates until I felt better, and then the guys tried again after dinner. And this time I said yes. Three times over.

And now we’re finally married, and everything is perfect.

Well. Almost perfect.

I scan the rooftop. Josh is mingling with the guests, and Zack looks like he’s started some kind of conga-line on the light-up dance-floor — but one of my shiny new husbands is missing. Casting around, I eventually spot Luke, half-hidden behind the pavilion we set up in case it rained. He’s holding a flute of champagne and staring out at the London skyline, his expression tight.

My heart hurts. I wasn’t sure if today would be hard for him. I had a sneaking suspicion it might. Hiking up the skirt of my dress, I float over to him. He looks down and smiles softly as I wind my arm through his, leaning against him.

“Hello, darling,” he murmurs.

“Hi.” I nuzzle close, greedily inhaling his warm books-and-tea scent. “Are you okay?”

“I’m perfect.”

“You don’t look perfect.” His brow creases, and I correct myself. “You look hot. Gorgeous. Not happy.”

He lets out a breath. “I am,” he says. “I’m happy. Really happy. Just…” He looks out over the horizon, his jaw working. His shoulders are tight. “The last time I got married, I screwed it up.”

I lay my cheek on his arm. “You didn’t, Luke. It wasn’t your fault. Sometimes, people just drift apart.”

“I’d honestly rather it was my fault,” he admits, running a hand through his thick hair. “If it was a mistake I made, then at least I could work hard to not make it again. But you’re right.” His eyes are hazy as he watches the city glitter below us. “Sometimes, people do just drift apart.”

I tilt my head, looking up at him. He shakes himself, setting the flute of champagne down. “God. Sorry. I know it’s morbid to be thinking like this on my wedding day, but I can’t get the thought out of my head. Sorry, sweetheart.”

I purse my lips, then move to stand in front of him, stroking my hand up his lapels. “Maybe it was your fault. Maybe it wasn’t. I don’t care. I know the divorce makes you question yourself, but the way I see it, it was a turning point on the path that led you to me. And I’m so glad it happened.” Pressing closer, I wrap my arms around his neck. “And if you seriously think I’m letting you go, then you don’t know me at all, Mr Martins.”

He clutches at me, holding me in place. “You’re perfect,” he murmurs into my hair.

“Lucky you.” I give him one last squeeze, then pull away. “I’m gonna go thank people for the presents. Take as long as you need, then come find me, kay?”

He catches my hand and presses a kiss to my knuckles before letting me go.

For the next fifteen minutes, I float around the rest of the party, chatting to people. Normally, socialising isn’t my scene, but today, I don’t feel shy or awkward at all. I feel like I’m on top of the world. I’m just winding up a conversation with a podcast listener about her dress when I feel two warm arms wrap around my waist.

“Baby,” a low voice says in my ear.

The listener smiles and blushes, quickly scarpering, and I turn to face Joshua. He looks delicious in a white shirt, open at the collar. It’s a hot evening, and his bow tie is hanging loose around his neck. He looks like James Bond off-duty.

I push the dark hair off his forehead, smiling at his bright eyes and flushed cheeks. “Are you drunk again? Is this your wedding tradition?”

He doesn’t answer, threading a hand through my curled hair and tilting his mouth down to mine. His kiss is so deep and so fierce it takes my breath away. My stomach flips, and my toes curl in my heels as his soft lips press against me.

I finally pull back to a smattering of applause. My whole body is singing. My blood is thumping in my veins like I just ran a marathon. “Well?” I ask when I catch my breath.

“I’ll give you a nine-point-five,” he decides, stroking our cheeks together. “But only because it’s your birthday.”

I snort as he starts nuzzling down my neck. “Wow. Wedding champagne really gets you going, huh?”

He shakes his head. “Didn’t have any.”

“Sure.”

“I didn’t,” he protests, pulling back and cupping my cheeks. His eyes are soft as they rove over my face. “I’m just happy.”

My heart melts in my chest. I sometimes still can’t believe that I can do this. That I can make one person — let alone three people — so happy, just by being me. It’s a surreal feeling. “I have a present for you.”

His eyebrow raises. “Oh?”

Leaning against him, I reach into the bodice of my dress. Josh clears his throat as he watches me extract a tiny envelope from my boobs. “This may not be the most feminist thought, but sometimes I appreciate the fact that your clothes don’t have pockets,” he admits.

I give him a flat look, handing him the envelope, and he shakes out the contents. It’s a small, A5 piece of thick cream card, embossed with swirling rose-gold lettering and clouds of tiny butterflies. Our wedding invitation.

We sent them all out a couple of months ago, but I made sure to save one for him. I’ll be damned if he has a collection of other people’s wedding invites, but not mine. Josh’s face is inscrutable as he traces his finger lightly over the embossing.

“For your wall,” I say, when the silence stretches out a few seconds too long.

He meets my eyes, and the look on his face almost floors me. There’s so much love and light shining out of him, all focussed on me. He tucks the invitation carefully into the inner pocket of his jacket, then curves a hand around the back of my neck, tugging our faces together until our foreheads are touching. My eyes flutter closed. I wait for the kiss, but it doesn’t come. He just holds me there, pressing our skin together. We breathe each other’s air.

“GUYS GUYS GUYS.”

We break apart to see Zack enthusiastically jogging across the dance-floor, dragging a bemused-looking Luke by the wrist.

Josh sighs slightly. “I can’t believe I just signed myself up to a lifetime of him, too.”

“We’re a package deal, I’m afraid.” I pat his chest. “It’ll be okay.”

Zack skids to a stop next to us and pulls a pen out of the pocket of his trousers, shoving it at me. “Here, pine-nut.”

I examine the cheap plastic biro. “Thanks, honey. I love it.”

He checks his watch. “Baby, quick. We’re running out of time! You were born at five-past-ten, right?”

“Um. Yes.”

“Thank God.” He pumps his fist. “Just made it!”

“Zack,” I say slowly, “I love you, but I have no idea what you’re going on about.”

“I do,” Luke says, reaching into the pocket of his trousers and pulling out a crumpled scrap of paper. He offers it to me, his grey eyes twinkling. “Will you do the honours?”

I glance at the page, and recognition jolts through me as I take in the long list of carefully ticked bullet points. It’s my ten-year-plan.

I pull a face. “God, why do you have that?”

“We’re very fond of it,” Josh says in my ear, kissing the top of my head. “It’s the reason you’re wearing our rings.”

Luke waves the page tantalisingly, and I sigh. “Fine.” I reach forward and grab it, scribbling a wobbly tick in the last box. GET MARRIED.

Zack watches with a look of deep satisfaction. “Think you should triple-tick it, babe,” he suggests when I’m done. “You really knocked this one out of the park.”

Trying not to smile, I obediently add two more ticks. Zack whoops, pulling me out of Josh’s arms and twirling me around. The city flies around me, all of London’s lights swirling together in a vivid stream of amber and white. I’m laughing hard when he finally sets me back down, pressing a kiss to my forehead.

“Now what, honeybun?” He asks against my temple.

I shrug. “I guess we do my thirties.” I glance up at Luke through my lashes. “And your, like, sixties, honey.”

“I’m not that old,” he protests. “What’s on the ten-year-plan, sweetheart?”

I hum, considering. I haven’t actually written one, but I have a few ideas. “Buy a house,” I decide. “Go to Japan. Teach Zack how to fold a fitted sheet.”

“Hey! They’re tricky!” Zack protests.

“I know, baby.” I think. “Hmm. Show in New York Fashion week. Reach a million sales on the website. Start a garden.”

Josh steps closer at my side, sliding his hand down to curve over my stomach. I get the not-so-subtle hint.

“Have a baby. Or two.” I glance between the three men. “Or maybe three would be more appropriate.”

Considering how different the three men are, they can act remarkably in-sync at times. As soon as the words leave my mouth, the same dark, heated look crosses all of their faces.

Zack looks to see if anyone is watching, then reaches around to grope my behind. “Why don’t we get a head start on that last one?” He asks, his voice suddenly gravelly.

“Right now?” Luke offers, taking my hand. “I’m sure we can make an excuse to go back to the hotel. It’s about time our honeymoon started.”

“What’s the rush?” I smile, tangling my fingers with his. As a light breeze sweeps over the rooftop, sending all of the lanterns swaying in the night sky, our joint future stretches out in my head. It’s so vivid, I can practically see it: the four of us growing older together, our faces lit up by Christmas lights, and birthday cake candles, and New Years’ fireworks. The seasons changing around us. Endless hot summer days and cosy winter nights. Kids, and pets, and houses, and new jobs. We have a whole new life ahead of us. And it’s only just started.

I take a deep breath, then look up into the faces of my three best friends. My neighbours, and my roommates, and my coworkers, and my partners. My husbands. I smile. “We’ve got all the time in the world.”


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