“Okay,” he muttered as I pulled him in for a hug. For a moment, his body was rigid against mine, but he finally relaxed, and it felt as if a weight built up over years had lifted off his shoulders.
“Thank you for coming to me,” Daddy went on. “Before you took it forward. I truly appreciate it.”
Bastian and I exchanged glances, and I nearly burst out laughing but forced myself to hide it. Daddy was better off not knowing everything.
“And I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me if I ever look at another woman,” Dad muttered next.
“Daddy, there’s nothing to forgive.” I squeezed his hand. “Mom would want you to live your life after all these years. Please. You have nothing to apologize for. Just talk to me about her. Let’s remember her together, okay?”
“Okay.” He smiled warily.
“Is there someone you like?” I teased him then, winking.
“What?” He laughed, obviously nervous. I knew I had something. “Oh no, not at all.”
“He’ll tell us when he’s ready,” Bastian told me, grinning at his old friend. “Or me after a couple of whiskeys.”
“I might take you up on that.” Daddy laughed. “Holly, can you give us an hour? I need Bastian for a while.”
“To grill him about you.” Daddy winked. “And to ask his advice. Now go on, go to your room.”
I smiled and nodded, hesitating before blowing Bastian a kiss and running up to my room. When I closed the door behind me, I was no longer the girl who left this room the previous night. I was Bastian’s woman, and I felt whole.
“Holly, honey? We’re done down here if you want to come join us.”
Dad’s voice sounded up the stairs, and I called back that I’d be right out, putting my book away. I pulled a cardigan over my floral dress and headed for the stairs. Something was off though. All the lights were off, and there was a weird glow downstairs.
Bastian appeared at the foot of the stairs. “Hello, sugar plum.”
“Hi.” I smiled. “Where’s Daddy?”
“He’ll join us in a moment. Will you come down?”
“Sure.” I took the stairs two at a time, giving him a suspicious look. “What’s going on here?”
“Something very special,” he muttered, guiding me to the middle of the room. The entire living room was illuminated with candlelight, with rose petals strewn on the floor. I gasped at the sight.
“Bastian?” I whispered.
“Holly.” I turned around and gasped again when I saw him on his knee.
“Holly,” he repeated. “I’ve known you as a little girl, but I’ve loved you as a woman. You’re the missing piece of my puzzle and the woman I want to wake up next to, and fall asleep with, for the rest of my life. You’re my person. The one who’s been missing this whole time. Will you make me the happiest man alive and marry me?”
“Oh, Bastian,” I whispered. “Of course I will!”
He slid a sapphire and diamond engagement ring on my finger, and I gasped as he stood up, gathering me in his arms. Our lips met and he held onto me, kissing me all over as I heard the sound of clapping.
Rosie and Daddy came out from the kitchen, grinning widely.
“Hi!” I gushed. “Were you two in on this?”
“Kind of.” Rosie grinned. “Bastian told us the plan.”
“What?” I looked at my new fiancé. “You didn’t even know if I’d change my mind!”
“You had to.” He smiled. “Because we both know we’re meant to be together.”
“Oh, Bastian.” Our lips met again and we kissed deeply. “This is so perfect.”
“We’re having dinner together now,” Dad said. “Rosie and I cooked.”
“Oh, God,” I groaned.
“What?” He gave me a defensive look. “There’s no fire!”
“Good.” I laughed. “Let’s see what you made then.”
We sat down to a home-cooked roast, and Bastian and I couldn’t stop complimenting the chefs as we dug into the food. It was the perfect meal and the perfect evening, the best way to start a new year, in the company of the people I loved most.
In the middle of the meal, Dad clinked his glass and we all turned toward him, waiting for his big speech.
“I was inspired by my daughter this year,” he started. “So I’d like to dedicate this toast to my wife. Barbara, while you may not be here with us today, we carry you in our hearts every single day we spend without you. I know you’d be as proud of our Holly as I am. Maybe a little angry with Bastian though….”
We all laughed, and Bastian squeezed my knee under the table.
“Either way, as a sign of remembering Barbara, we’ve set another place at the table,” Daddy went on, pointing to the seat where Mom usually sat. It had been empty for years, but now there was a simple table setting there, as if we were just waiting for her.