Jeff held onto his son tightly. “Pax…you’re alright.”
Pax looked up at his dad with a confused expression. “Yes, why wouldn’t I be?”
“You were gone all night!” Charlotte exclaimed, standing beside Jeff. “Your grandfather and I were just about to go looking for you!”
“You and grandpa together? There is nothing to worry about,” He said calmly.
Jeff couldn’t help but smile at his son’s innocence and the look of pure worry on Charlotte’s face. “What are you staring at?” She demanded.
Jeff let out a small laugh. “You were the one who said they shouldn’t be scared right? That doesn’t excuse you, Pax. You can’t leave without telling us where you’re going.”
“He was with me,” Astra said, stepping forward. “Don’t blame him.”
“She needed a partner. You said never leave without a partner. I couldn’t just let her go on her own,” Pax explained. Jeff shot Astra a look that made her shrink back. She hadn’t meant to cause so much trouble.
“I want you in your room now Pax,” Charlotte instructed. “You’re not to leave unless you ask me or your dad. That is final.”
“No buts, listen to your mother,” Jeff said. Pax let out an annoyed huff but bounded to his room nonetheless.
Charlotte led her sister to the dining table. “You better have a damn good reason for putting my son’s life in danger.”
“I didn’t know he would follow me,” Astra said. “I thought I was alone.”
“That doesn’t make it any better. You’re not supposed to go out alone,” Charlotte said.
“I can’t stay here and watch all of this. It’s nauseating,” Astra said finally. “Watching you and Jeff raising your little family is making me sick to my stomach. Grandpa is morning. Dad is heartbroken. Yet here you two are flaunting your love lives in everyone’s face. Excuse me for wanting to be by myself for like two minutes.”
“Two minutes?” Charlotte demanded. “It was an entire night! You can’t be reckless now of all times. Be a freaking adult Astra! Our lives are in danger! Grow the fuck up. You have some nerve dismissing my family like that. Jeff was here for our family even before you returned, so I would shut the hell up if I was you.”
Astra could feel the insult stinging her chest. “I just wanted some time to think! This is weighing on me just as much as it is you!”
“Listen,” Charlotte said through gritted teeth. “I don’t know what has gotten into you since this elven mystery man appeared and disappeared but it has got to stop.”
“Girls, enough,” Ethan warned. “Everyone is stressed out right now but we’ve got to keep cool heads.”
“No,” Astra said. “We shouldn’t. We should be able to feel the way we feel. It’s okay for you to mourn grandpa, you don’t have to be strong for us.”
“Of course he does,” Charlotte said angrily. “I don’t mean to sound insensitive but we all have to suck it up. You think this is all fun and games for us but it isn’t. I have children to think about. All of our actions affect them.”
“You’re both right,” Ethan said. “I am mourning but in my own way. We all have to push some things to the side so that we can end this mess once and for all. It has gone on for far too long. Char, lighten up on your sister. If she wants a few mintues to herself, that’s fine. But Astra, you weren’t gone for a few minutes. You were gone for a whole night with Pax. The minute you saw him, you should have came home.”
She bit her lip, looking down. “Grandpa, I didn’t mean to…it wasn’t like I was out partying or something. I ran into Dionysus, and we were talking. He said he heard someone following us and then he brought us back to his house. By then it was too late for us to just leave, it was dangerous.”
“Dionysus?” Charlotte couldn’t contain herself. “He better have a damn good explanation for leaving too. Where is he?”
“He doesn’t want to be found,” Astra said and she wasn’t lying. “He said he has to do something to protect us. I don’t know and I don’t really care. I just…nothing happened, alright? We were safe.” Astra began to walk away.
“This isn’t over!” Charlotte called after her. “We’re going to talk about this sooner or later!”
Charlotte excused herself from her grandfather and went into the kid’s room. Graciela was watching tv with her grandfather and Charlotte bid Pax to join them so that she could have a few moments to herself. It was becoming increasingly hard to be the only one who was thinking of the group. She hated it. It was like she didn’t just have three kids, but a whole bunch she had to worry about. Astra worried her the most. Something seemed off about her. Her words echoed through her brain. Did she think everything was all happy and loving between Jeff and her? Surely she saw the rift splitting between the two. Reaching into the pocket of her shorts, she pulled out a glistening diamond ring. Jeff had given it to her eight years ago, while she was pregnant with Graciela. Maybe it wasn’t Jeff she was disillusioned with, but the society she found herself in. Maybe she was idiotic for thinking this, but she wanted a life where her husband would go out to work and when he came home dinner was ready and the kids were done with school work and begging him to play video games with them. The kids were home schooled, and Ethan was a great teacher when it came to history but sooner or later they’d need to learn about their vampire heritage. All three of her children were vampires.
She slipped the ring onto her finger. It was a happier time. One that she wished she could return to.
“Where were you?” Charlotte demanded, cranky and back aching. “Pax was crying all day. He wouldn’t stop even for a moment, I thought I was going to lose it.”
“Babe,” Jeff said, concern in his voice. “I’m sorry you had a tough day. But I think I can make it better.”
“Doubt it.” Typical Charlotte, ever so cynical. “Imagine two kids?” She watched Jeff fidget with the flowers behind her back. Did he think she didn’t know? She could smell the roses, but had no will to even ask him about it. What had he done that he needed to butter her up with flowers? “Where were you exactly?”
“Your dad’s place,” He answered. “I had to ask him something reeaaaaalllly important.” He was acting giddy, like a child in a candy store.
“Ok, what are you doing?” She asked.
“Wow Char, I’m surprised you lasted this long. I know you know I brought you flowers.” He presented the vibrant red roses to her. “Before you ask, no I didn’t do anything wrong. I just wanted to surprise you since you’ve been so wonderful.”
“Wonderful?” Charlotte raised her brow. “Tell me how you really feel.”
“I love you,” he answered simply. “I don’t want you to be so guarded. How long have we been together? Let me in, please.”
Charlotte moved closer to Jeff and allowed him to slink his arms around her waist. “I’ve let you in and look what you did to me.” She jokingly pointed to her belly.
“Don’t pretend like you’re not the happiest woman in the world right now,” Jeff said.
“Of course I am, I have you,” She stated.
Jeff could feel his face heat up. They had slept together countless times. She had told him that she loved him plenty of times too. But this, it was different. Her words were heartfelt and spoken with genuine emotion. “I love you,” He whispered. Charlotte could feel his hot breath on her neck.
“I love you too, even when I don’t really know how to show it,” She whispered back. “I’m sorry for being so terrible to you. I am seriously the shittiest person in the world.”
“I wouldn’t have stuck around so long if that was true,” He said softly. “You can be a pain in my ass, sure, but I wouldn’t trade you for anyone in the world.”
“Can I ask you something? It’s been bothering me for a while,” She said. Jeff nodded, more than willing, but fear drowning his eyes for what she could say next. “Your uh, wife…what was her name? What was she like?”
“Lisa. She was kind of like you, but also really different. She knew how to put her foot down and demand things when she needed to, but for the most part she looked to me to take charge. With you, well you know you’re in charge.” He smiled kindly at her.
“And your parents?” She mumbled. “What were they like?” He didn’t understand where the flood of questions was coming from but he’d answer in the best way he knew how to.
“Grace and Robert,” He answered. “My dad was the coolest man I ever knew. He was so kind, caring, compassionate but could kick ass if he had to. he was a freaking genius too. My mom was beautiful, and put her kids first always.”
Charlotte nodded. “I… ” She bit her lip trying to find a way to tell Jeff. “We’re having a girl, that’s what Ade said. How likely do you think that is?”
“If Ade told you, 98% likely. I hope she looks just like you.”
She grinned, running her hands through his hairs. “If she has your pretty hair I’ll be really happy.” She laid a kiss on his cheek and then spoke again. “Well, I want to name her after your mother, if that’s okay. We don’t have to name her the same thing, but how about Graciela?”
For a second Jeff was silent and she wondered if she had said the wrong thing. She felt his arms tighten around her body and heard his breathing. “You would do that, for me?”
“O-of cou-rse,” She stuttered, shocked at the tenderness of his voice. It meant that much to him? Of course she would, 100 thousand percent she would.
“I love you so much,” Was all he could mutter as he kissed her. “So damn much.”
What happened next shocked even her. “I knew I wasn’t making a mistake when I approached your dad today.” He dropped to one knee. “This isn’t as romantic as I had planned out, but I can think of any other time that would be better to ask you than now.”
She gasped in shock. “Jeff are you…” She didn’t know what to say.
“Charlotte Gray, you have been the single most annoying thing in my life. I have not met anyone else that I simultaneously wanted to strangle and make-out with. Early on, you were making it really hard for me to love you. I’m glad that I stayed around to get to know the real you behind the attitude and edginess. Charlotte, I can’t see myself with anyone but you. Will you make me the happiest man alive and marry me?”
“You idiot…” She breathed and then threw herself into his arms. “Of course I will. Yes.”
His lips had made her whole body light up. This was perfect.
“What are you thinking about?” She looked up to see Jeff sitting beside her.
“When did you get here?” She muttered.
“Just now.” He stroked her hair lovingly. He had spent over ten years with this woman and he loved every torturous minute of it. “Are you alright?”
She shook her head. “This isn’t the life that I wanted…” her voice trailed off. “I wanted so much more.”
Jeff’s voice caught in his throat. This was it. The woman he had fought so hard for, was telling him it was over. Everything had piled onto her shoulders and he couldn’t find an adequate way to relieve that weight. “Charlotte…please.”
“Don’t be an idiot and look at me like that.” She lifted her head slightly to look the male in the face. “I don’t mean you. Us. That was the only good decision I’ve made in my life.” She reached out and held his hand in hers. She could feel his tension. Jeff was always tense. Ever since Moonlight Falls had been taken over… “I mean, I wanted a place I could call home. Somewhere my family would be safe.Somewhere I didn’t have to look over my shoulder every second of every day. I want you. I want the kids. I want my dad back. The one who smiled and laughed and joked. I want Dionysus and Ethan. Ade, Millie, Astra and grandpa. I want them all back.”
Jeff could see the tears welling in her eyes. The ones she had held back for ten years. “When my parents died, I felt the world crashing down around me. I couldn’t do anything. I was scared…numb. I did stupid things. Reckless things. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to function again.”
Charlotte listened intently. She knew only part of this story. He never spoke of his past if he could avoid it, and she didn’t push him. What kind of hypocrite would she be? His deceased wife, his parents…she knew he had siblings but anything specific she couldn’t recall. He squeezed her hand tightly, and with his free one, he pushed some hair out of her face and willed Charlotte to look at him. “Are you going to tell me how you got through it?”
He nodded slowly. “I had people who cared about me. My sisters, my brother, my aunts and uncles…they were all there for me. Without them I wouldn’t be the man I am today. You have that, don’t you? You have kick-ass sisters. A dad and grandfather who barely freaking age, some gorgeous kids, a good looking husband.”
He saw her frown. Husband. He said husband didn’t he? “Even you hear how ridiculous that sounds, right? Look around us. I can’t be your wife. It’s just physically impossible. There’s not even anyone who would officiate it.”
He stood up and reached out for her. She begrudgingly stood up and leaned her head onto his chest, not wanting to move. “Babe…” He leaned over and kissed her forehead tenderly. “Do you need a paper? A party? Rings? I can’t give you any of that, but that doesn’t change the way I feel. I will be here for you and the kids forever. Ring or not.”
“We have the ring,” She mumbled. She finally pulled away and showed him her hand.
“You said you didn’t grab it when we left…” Jeff whispered.
She shook her head sadly. “I had thought that if I lost it, then we wouldn’t feel so bad about not being able to get married. I just couldn’t bring myself to ditch it. I want to be your wife.” Jeff and Charlotte had never found the right time to tell the family. Alistair knew because Jeff had asked his permission. But not soon after, things began to fall apart. They didn’t have time for a wedding. Then, Ade and Erik got married and Charlotte couldn’t bring herself to ruin their moment, even if it was shrouded in uncertainty and danger.
He stroked her hair lovingly. “This has been on your mind this whole time?”
She nodded. “Every time I’m upset at you, or someone else doing something stupid, I look at this ring. it reminds me of what once was.”
“What will be, one day,” He said. “This will be over soon. We’re not giving up.”
“Even so…” She dreaded saying the next part. “You’re human, and you’re aging…I’m aging much slower than you. The kids will age slower than you. And what about having vampire kids? You never even mentioned anything about it…”
Jeff dragged her onto the bed beside him. She hung her legs loosely over his. “First of all, I don’t care that our kids are vampires. I love them. Pax, Graciela, Waverly and you are my world. You guys are vampires, so what? What does that change?”
“I don’t know?” She whispered. “We’re just different? It’s kind of the reason Declan made us go with Altiere to begin with when we were kids. He made it seem like being a vampire was this big deal.”
“Look at where they are now,” He said. “I’m not saying vampires aren’t spectacular, but we bleed the same blood. I don’t have the powers that you do but I can feel just the same.”
She snuggled her head into his chest. “And the aging? I know it’s not something that we want to talk about, but we have to at some point.”
“I don’t know the answer to that,” He whispered. “I don’t think your grandfather did either.”
“You can’t leave me like that. I can’t live with out you,” She whispered.
“That’s what Ethan said, right? He’s living now.” His words were shaky, despite trying to sound confident. He would die. Again. That was how it all worked out.
“He’s miserable, Jeff. Dad has those potions maybe we can-”
He kissed her passionately, with all he could muster. Leaning his head against hers, eyes closed, he whispered, “You know we don’t have the resources we had before. He’ll run out for himself and he needs it more than me. What can I do to help stop this?” Charlotte wanted to protest but he kissed her once again. “I will always love you, no matter how old I am. If I’m ancient and decrepit and you want to get rid of me for a younger stronger vampire, than I give you permission. but for now, you’re stuck with me.”