Chapter 3

2250 Words
Chapter 3   Piti I stare out the window at the clouds below while my mind wonders and sleep eludes me. We're still about an hour out from Orlando, but I'm so anxious to get off this plane. Not only because flying still scares me a little, but also because I'm ecstatic about seeing my best friend and her family again for the first time in ages. And for such a happy occasion too. I jump when a hand touches mine. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. You just look kind of, I don't know, anxious? Is everything okay?" My boyfriend, CJ, asks. I sigh and throw my head back against the headrest. "I'm just ready to land already." He chuckles. "I know, me too. I bet Courtney and Charlie are just as excited to see you as you are them." I smile at the thought of them. It's been months since Courtney last visited Chicago and while we talk often, it's not the same. I always thought we'd be there for all the big moments in each other's lives, but it hasn't happened that way so far. She comes to visit a couple times a year and we pretend that nothing's changed, even though I think we both know that neither of us are the same people we used to be. We finally land and my heart leaps with joy. I impatiently make my way through the airport, leaving CJ in a proverbial cloud of dust. When I reach the baggage claim, I keep my eyes peeled for Courtney and Charlie. I wander around for a few minutes, checking each exit, but no sign of them. I see CJ coming towards me in the distance wearing a huge smile on his face. He nods behind me and I turn around to see a giant poster board that reads, Welcome to Florida Aunt Piti! in glittery, pink letters. I already feel the tears coming when I leap into Courtney's arms. "I've missed you so much!" "I've missed you, too!" she cries. I kneel down in front of Charlie and she grins ear to ear. "A little birdie told me that you like these nasty things," I say, handing her a bag of dried fruit. She giggles. "Thanks, Aunt Piti. Oh, I almost forgot! I drew you a picture!" She takes a rolled up piece of paper out of her small, pink sling bag and hands it to me. "Thank you," I tell her, standing up straight and unrolling the paper. It's a picture of me, Charlie and Courtney at the beach in the sunshine. It's something we always talk about doing together, but haven't quite got around to yet. "I love it! You are going to be an artist someday, just like your mommy!" She takes my hand and drags me towards the exit where I see Ryder parked. He gets out and he and CJ load our luggage into the trunk while Courtney, Charlie and I get into the back seat. Charlie never lets go of my hand as we drive away. "So I hear there are some no boys allowed plans for today," Ryder says. "That's right, dad. Just us girls!" Charlie says looking between her mom and me. "We're going to the beach!" "Oh! The beach, huh? Would it be okay if CJ and I stopped by later to hang out? After you're done with girls day, of course," Ryder asks. Charlie groans. "I guess." After dropping our things off at Courtney and Ryder's house, us girls head for the beach. It's been so long since I've felt like I was in my comfort zone, but with Courtney, it's not hard to feel comfortable. She's known me longer than anyone and I can be myself around her. We set our beach chairs out and put our shades on. Charlie sits in front of us with a pail, shoveling away without a care in the world. It's a beautiful day out, even though it's hot. The gentle ocean breeze makes the heat a little more bearable, but after a while we've all had about all we can take. "Mom, it's hot. Can we swim now?" Charlie asks. Courtney sits up and takes her shades off. "That sounds like a great idea." Charlie runs ahead of us with her pink float in tow. We watch her as she splashes around and rides the waves. "I can't believe how much she's grown since the last time I saw her," I say. Courtney chuckles. "I know." "I can't wait to have a little one of my own someday," I say, thinking out loud. Courtney looks over at me and grins. "Have you an CJ discussed kids and marriage and all that?" I look away to hide the heat rising to my cheeks. I haven't told Courtney yet, but I'm pretty sure CJ is planning on proposing while we're here in Florida. I know he wanted it to be a surprise, but I found the ring a while back while I was looking for a nail file. To be fair, he didn't do a very good job of hiding it. "We have. CJ is one of those kinds of people that has to have every single detail of his life planned out. Graduate, get a job, buy a house, get married, have kids...die." Courtney looks at me and raises a brow. "Die?" I giggle. "Sometimes it just seems like he's missing out on life because he's too busy worrying about his future. When we first started dating, we had so much fun together. But then medical school was a bitch. He was so high strung and on edge all the time. I'm so glad it's finally over." "I would absolutely love it if you guys moved to Palm Springs. Maybe then we could make these beach trips a regular thing." I smile. "I agree, although I'm not sure CJ really wants the job here. He wants to get on at University Hospital back in Chicago so he can stay close to his parents." "And what do you want?" she asks. Her question catches me off guard. It's been so long since someone's asked me what I wanted. I moved to Chicago nearly six years ago, took a boring job and assumed that I'd just do whatever CJ wanted to do. He's a doctor. He's important. I'm not, so it doesn't really matter what I want, right? I look down and kick at the water. "I don't know. I guess I just want him to be happy wherever he is. He's worked really hard for this." "Mom!" Charlie cries out, limping towards us, holding her knee. Courtney hurries towards her, scooping her up in her arms. "What's the matter?" "Jellyfish!" I cry out, when I notice a few swimming away from us. We scurry out of the water and back onto the beach. Courtney lays Charlie down on her chair and examines the sting. Charlie's bright green eyes glisten with tears even though she's trying to be tough. "We need vinegar," I tell Courtney. She looks up at me and furrows her brows. "Vinegar? Why?" "It cleans it up and helps ease the pain of the sting." "How did you know that?" she asks. I shrug. "When you've been dating a med school student for six years, you learn a few things. I'll call CJ and tell him to bring some. They should be heading this way soon anyway." Charlie is asleep by the time CJ and Ryder arrive with the vinegar. I watch as CJ dabs a little on a cotton swab and gently applies it over the sting. Charlie's eyes shoot open and she sucks in a sharp breath through her teeth. "It's okay, it's okay," Ryder assures her, stroking her hair. "This will make it feel better." CJ puts a bandage over it and pats her on the head. "Well, it looks like you are officially my first patient." "Are you gonna give me a lollipop?" she asks, sitting up. "Cause when I go to the doctor, I always get a lollipop when I'm done." He chuckles. "I'm fresh out right now, but I'll do even better than a lollipop. How about when we leave here, I take you to the candy store?" Her eyes light up and she grins ear to ear. "Okay!" I smile, watching the two of them interact. I've always known that CJ would make a great dad someday, but seeing him with Charlie sends an explosion of butterflies through my tummy. CJ takes my hand and pulls me close. "Want to take a walk with me?" I nod, brushing my long, black hair away from my face. We walk hand in hand along the shore in silence for a while. I can see him glancing over at me out of the corner of my eye and I'm wondering if he's thinking of popping the question here and now. "I can't thank you enough for sticking by me through four years of medical school. I know it wasn't easy for you," he says. I look up at him and smile. His light blue eyes shine with happiness and it makes my heart flutter. "It wasn't easy for you either." He laughs. "No, but it was worth it. Now that it's all over, we can start the rest of our lives together." He stops and turns to face me, taking both my hands into his. "Piti, my world hasn't been the same since you came along. I think that I couldn't possibly love you any more and then you go and do something to prove me wrong. I find myself falling deeper and deeper in love with you every day." My heart is pumping so hard right now, I wonder if he can feel it through my hands. He lets go of my right hand and reaches into his pocket. I gulp when he pulls out exactly what I expected. A diamond engagement ring. He drops down on one knee, holding onto my left hand and staring up at me with those amazing blue eyes. "Piti Melrose, will you marry me?" Everything seems to disappear, leaving only us standing on this beach. I nod excitedly. "Yes. Yes, I will marry you, CJ." He stands and I leap into his arms, kissing him with urgency and desperation; elated to finally be Mrs. Cody Jackson Malone after all this time. We stay molded together until we hear cheers coming from behind us. I pull away and look over to see Courtney, Charlie and Ryder smiling and waving. Ryder's phone is pointed in our direction and I'm relieved that someone caught this perfect moment for us. Courtney runs at me and engulfs me in a hug. "I'm so happy for you!" I feel a tiny pair of arms wrap around my leg. I look down to see Charlie grinning up at me. "I call flower girl!" "Like I would dare ask anyone else," I wink.     After CJ has gone off to Palm Springs for his interview, I go into party planning mode with Courtney. She's picked a lovely spot right on the beach with a large pavilion and a private pier. While she doesn't want to make too much of a fuss over the party, I can't help but go a little overboard. I guess it's a mixture of excitement for my own engagement and Courtney's anniversary. "I can't believe it's already been five years!" I say, as we sit cross-legged on the ground untangling  strands of twinkle lights. "It's gone by fast, I know," she replies, smiling as usual when anyone mentions her relationship with Ryder. "It's crazy how far we've come in that short amount of time. Do you remember when I first met him?" "How could I forget?" I laugh. "You were convinced he escaped from prison." When Courtney met Ryder over seven years ago, she went on and on about how his tattoos and piercings made him look like a felon. She denied her feelings for him at first, but ended up falling madly in love with him. And who called it? I did. She chuckles and looks over her shoulder at the parking lot. "Speak of the devil." We stand up and start towards the parking area where Ryder's just pulled up. I stop in my tracks when another guy gets out of the passenger side. I've never seen him in person before, but I know exactly who he is. "Well, hello beautiful," he says coming to a stop in front of me. "Where have you been all my life?" "Dating your brother," Courtney deadpans. Despite Courtney's revelation, his eyes still travel up and down my body and he lets out a low whistle. "There is no way my egghead brother is dating this cup of hot chocolate." I scoff. "Hot chocolate? I get it, because I'm black?" "What?" he asks, clearly confused. "No way. It's're..." he sighs in frustration and rakes a hand through his sandy blonde hair. "I'm sorry." He has the same crystal blue eyes as CJ, but that's where their resemblance ends. This guy is much taller and muscular with a chiseled jawline and pouty lips. As good as he looks, it's obvious that CJ got all of the brains. "Don't be. I'm Piti, by the way. And your brother is actually engaged to this cup of hot chocolate." I shake his hand and he continues to look at me like I've just told him I'm from the moon. "No fucking way," he mumbles, taking a step back. "Nice to meet you, Piti. I'm Russ." I watch him as he walks away with Ryder. Something about him makes me feel a little uneasy. Maybe it's just the mystery that surrounds him, but maybe it's something else altogether. In the nearly six years I've been dating CJ, I've never once met his brother and CJ rarely mentions him. I intend to find out why.  
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