Chapter 1: Prologue
I've had to change a few things for this AU to work - namely that the Virtues live in Ilderton and Tessa grew up there alongside Scott.
Also, in this universe Tessa and Scott don't compete in ice dance together.
Chapter titles come from various Leonard Cohen songs.
“Come on, Tess!” Scott calls out from up ahead of her as he dodges garbage cans and weaves around parked cars, moving quickly through vacant fields and down empty streets, his feet crunching on the freshly fallen snow. It’s a cold night and the crisp air burns with every breath, and Tessa can see white puffs of air every time she exhales that dissipate into the starry sky.
The snowstorm that had bombarded them over the last three days had been a doozy, bringing Ilderton to a virtual standstill and closing down all the businesses and schools. But now the storm had moved on – leaving behind a fairy-tale landscape ripe for exploring. Like a scene from Tessa's favorite ballet, The Nutcracker. She can almost imagine that she's Clara on her way to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and Scott is her Nutcracker-turned-Prince.
Most people in town have gone to bed already, so there's nobody around to notice the two shadows scurrying through the neighborhood, but even if they had been spotted people would only have shaken their heads and laughed. Virtue and Moir running about town like two vagabonds attached at the hip was nothing new.
“Slow down!” Tessa calls out, waving one of her hands - encased in brightly colored oversized mittens - high in the air at her best friend. Scott immediately slows and waits for her to catch up, reaching out for her hand and cupping it with his own so that he can drag her along at his pace.
“Hurry up, kiddo! We don’t want anyone to see us.”
They continue running towards their destination (what that is, Tessa isn't sure), despite being encumbered by their heavy winter boots. Hardly noticing or caring the way their cheeks turn progressively redder and their noses grow colder. Eventually a blue and beige building comes into view and Tessa tugs sharply at Scott’s hand so that he’s forced to stop.
“This is where you’ve been leading me? Scott, it’s closed.” Tessa complains, frustrated that he’d abused the knowledge that she’d follow him anywhere to get her to sneak out of her parent’s house and run all the way here – a useless destination at ten o’clock p.m.
"It’s not if you have the keys.” Scott grins, eyes twinkling with mischief, and reaches into the pocket of his coat where Tessa can hear the jingling of medal.
“You didn’t.” Tessa says with a gasp, watching as he pulls the ring full of keys out of his pocket.
“I did.” He nods with a proud tilt of his chin.
“Your mom’s gonna kill you when she finds out you stole those.”
“Who said she’s gonna find out? You’re not gonna tell her. Besides, if she didn’t want me to take them then why did she leave them in the bowl by the door?” Scott walks over to the main doors of the rink and unlocks them like he’s seen his mom do a million times.
"Probably because your parents own the arena and she always keeps them there?” Tessa points out, rolling her eyes but following Scott inside anyway. She’s never been inside the rink when it’s empty before, and that makes this a brand new adventure.
And if there’s anything Tessa Virtue loves, it’s new adventures. Especially if they’re with Scott. They’ve been best friends ever since he saw her sitting alone at recess three years ago reading Amelia Bedelia. She had been only seven and he’d been eight, almost nine, but he’d strolled on up to her and asked her to be on his team for Red Rover. Once they’d linked their hands together that day, they had never let go.
“This is so cool.” Tessa’s voice comes out in a whisper, her green eyes going wide as she takes in the size of the arena – so much bigger and intimidating at night than it is during the day when its teeming with people and skaters.
“I thought you’d say that.” Scott throws her a smirk, pleased at her reaction, before leading her over to the skate rental area. He hops up on the counter and swings his legs over, dropping down to the other side with a plop. “What’s your size?”
Tessa tells him her answer and watches as he disappears behind the rows and rows of ice skates available for rent.
“I wish we could afford our own skates.” Tessa says wistfully, accepting the little pair of scuffed up brown figure skates that Scott slides towards her with a pout.
“Someday I’ll own my own shop and you can have all the custom skates you want – figure and hockey.” He bumps her shoulder with his after hopping back over the counter and sitting down beside her on one of the benches to lace up their skates – working side by side like they have so many times before.
Tessa laughs. “What would I do with hockey skates? You’re the hockey player, not me.”
“Somebody has to help me practice.” Scott looks up at her where she’s now standing, having taken a little bit longer to do up his skates than she did.
“Hey, this would be the perfect moment for a proposal.”
“What?” Tessa asks absentmindedly, not following the rapid change of subject, her thoughts already drifting towards the freshly smoothed ice just waiting for her.
“Like in the movies. This would be the moment the guy looks up at the girl and asks her to marry him.”
A squeal of laughter breaks free at the absurd image – Scott proposing to her. Ha! But Tessa can see a hint of something more serious in his adolescent eyes, made darker by the lack of lighting inside the arena.
“Sure, Scott. In the movies maybe.” Tessa acquiesces, holding out her hand to help him stand up.
“What about real life though?” He presses as they walk awkwardly on their skates towards the ice. Before she can step onto it, he grabs her by the sleeve. “Tessa Virtue, will you marry me?”
She looks at his smiling, hopeful face - the one she knows almost better than her own - and sticks her tongue out at him before tugging her arm free and skating away. Her feet gliding over the ice like it’s a second home.
“Well? Answer the question!” Scott calls out, skating after her and quickly catching up. Tessa’s fast though, she always has been, and she puts more effort into pushing off on her legs as she goes around, speeding up and staying just out of his reach.
“No!” She yells behind her, a huge smile spreading across her face as she holds her arms out to the side. Sometimes she thinks ice skating is the closest a human can get to knowing what it feels like to fly.
“No you won’t answer, or no you won’t marry me?” Scott asks, and she can feel him hot on her heels.
“Scott Moir, I am ten years old. I have too much to live for.” She spins around to look at him, which is a mistake. He collides into her and they barely manage to avoid falling in a tangle of limbs and sharp edges. They're saved only by Scott’s surety on his feet and Tessa’s natural grace.
When they finally stop wobbling and feel sturdy again and are no longer at risk of having their feet slip out from under them both and ending up with bruises or possibly a concussion, Tessa looks up at his earnest pre-teen face, so much closer to her own than it's ever been before, as they stand there with their arms around each other in the middle of the dark ice rink.
The air is cold and the silence pervasive as they stare at each other, and Tessa – for all her inexperience – feels like this moment weighs heavier than any others in her single decade of life. “Why would you want to marry me anyway?” She asks, quiet and breathless, and Scott smiles.
He leans in slowly, and Tessa has no idea what he’s doing but she doesn’t move away. Doesn’t move when his mouth gets close to hers. Doesn’t move when his eyelids drop. And doesn’t move when he presses his lips to her own so, so softly.
She lets her own eyes shut as well, basking in the strange and kind of wonderful sensation of being kissed for the first time.
When Scott pulls away he smiles at her again and whispers, “So I can kiss you anytime I want.”
Chapter 2: One Thousand Roses
Your responses to the prologue were overwhelmingly wonderful! Thank you all so much for your continued support <3
Tessa slowly blinks her eyes open, letting her eyesight adjust to the bright lights of the room as it gradually comes into focus. It takes her a few seconds to remember that she's not a ten year old child in Ilderton – she’s twenty-nine and she'd fallen asleep at work. With her head resting on the desk and the last vestiges of sleep still stubbornly clinging onto her eyelids, she can almost smell the lingering scent of the cold arena and feel the ghost of a kiss on her lips. It had been a vivid dream – nothing new, but one that hadn’t plagued her in years. She’d stuffed that memory away with all the others inside a big locked cage inside her brain, and its resurgence now is unnerving.
She gives herself a moment to come back to reality, taking in the sounds of buzzing sewing machines and swooshing scissors and papers being shuffled that are nearly deafening inside the small warehouse that she’d managed to rent last autumn and convert into an office space. Her name, Tessa McCormick - visible from her horizontal position on the hardwood surface - spans the far wall and reminds her everyday what her goals are.
Lifting her head, she peels the paper stuck to her skin off of her cheek with a wince before popping her neck and arching her back to stretch it out. Sleeping at a weird angle on a messy desk isn’t exactly going to make her chiropractor happy. She'll have to book an extra appointment when this is all over. Maybe turn off her phone and make it a full spa day as a special treat - a reward for hopefully pulling all this off.
"I think I’m going to need more coffee.” She mutters to no one in particular before standing and walking over to the coffee machine across the room. Moving around all the hustle and bustle as people scurry to and fro to get work done. Trying to make a team of ten feel like a hundred. Work that Tessa should really be doing too, instead of taking uncomfortable walks down memory lane.
The Keurig, nicknamed Life Support by her entire team, comes to life at the push of a button and Tessa pops one of the cups into the top and places her favorite New York Ballet mug underneath the spout.
“You know, you do this funny sort of smile when you sleep – it's kind of nostalgic.” One of the tailors teases her, and Tessa shakes her head as she rolls her eyes. Coffee pours into her mug in a stream of dark brown, the delicious smell wafting up to her nose and already beginning to accomplish its task of waking her up.
“Alright, how come all of you let me sleep?” Her voice is full of gentle accusations as she pours a little creamer into the cup and stirs it around. Nobody knows better than her team just how important the launch of her new line is - the first clothing line listed under her name, and hers alone - and she expected them to keep her going just as much as the Life Support.
“Oh calm down. You needed it.” He continues with a wave of the hand before going back to pinning and tucking at the dress on the mannequin in front of him.
Tessa smiles and shakes her head again, but inside she reprimands herself. The success of the new line depends on her. She is Tessa McCormick, after-all, and it's her ass on the line if everything crashes and burns - not to mention the incredibly dedicated team of people surrounding her who also need this to succeed so they can get paid. She refuses to give anything but one hundred and ten percent to this project and will do everything she can to ensure its success.
Her ass doesn’t touch another surface - even when her feet start throbbing from being in heels all day. Tessa just kicks off her shoes and continues working. She scurries back and forth doling out advice, making necessary adjustments, and bolstering everyone with encouraging words now and then. By the time she feels satisfied and dismisses everyone to go home to their dinners, Tessa is exhausted but proud. They might actually be prepared for the show tomorrow, and she can start to feel anxiously excited instead of just anxious.
It's a beautiful evening and the sun is already slipping behind the horizon when she exits her office. Tessa strolls slowly home under the dim starlight above - barely visible thanks to all of the light pollution coming from the city around her. She loves the city though. Loves walking home to her apartment. Loves walking up to the building each night and looking at it as if it's the first time she's seeing it. La Belle Epoque - she'd initially chosen to tour the building because of the name - but it had quickly won her over completely with its white interiors and plentiful natural light. It’s the only place she ever feels like she can be herself. Her private oasis away from the hubbub of the busy city and the stress of trying to become the Next Big Thing in fashion.
All she wants the night before the launch party is to reheat the chicken and potatoes in her fridge, open a bottle of wine, and soak in the bath. So when she unlocks her door and finds red and white rose petals scattered all across the floor – leading back into her living room where there are about twenty bouquets waiting for her spread around the room – her initial reaction isn’t happiness or gratitude, it’s annoyance. Who's going to clean all this up? But the feeling soon dissipates once she lets herself smell a few of the sweet scented flowers, and Tessa smiles before pulling out her phone and finding a voicemail from the man she assumes is responsible for the stunning botanical display.
“Hey honey, there’s a rose for every moment I thought of you today. I’m sorry I don’t get to see you tonight, but I understand. You must be exhausted. Listen, knock ‘em dead. I’ll see you at the show tomorrow. It’s going to be great! I love you and I can’t wait to see you. Goodbye.”
She disconnects from the voicemail and looks at the home screen on her phone. A picture of her and her boyfriend from the last Habs game, grinning like idiots at the camera.
Harry Chen. Tessa had met him at last year’s fashion week in New York City and had been pleasantly surprised to learn that he was from Quebec. They'd spent an entire afternoon chatting about everything from books to their careers to fashion to politics (in which he is very much involved), and when she had returned from her trip she’d found a bouquet of red roses waiting for her on her desk at work and a card asking her out to dinner. They've been dating ever since.
The relationship is easy, simple, and straightforward. They liked each other, they started going out, the sex was and continues to be satisfactory, and he makes her smile. Tessa can happily say that she’s content with their relationship. It also helps that he’s incredibly supportive – back when she was only an assistant and still now, when she’s trying to start her own line - he never has anything but kind things to say about her career.
The only source of contention comes from his mother, who Tessa is convinced hates her guts, and the fact that he hasn’t met her family yet (other than Jordan).
And maybe one other tiny issue that Tessa refuses to acknowledge even to herself.
The family issues chafe sometimes, but Tessa has become fairly skilled at dodging or deflecting the questions regarding her own. Harry doesn't need to know about her life in Ilderton, anymore than anyone in Ilderton needs to know about Harry. She hasn't lived there in a long time, and Tessa firmly believes the past should stay in the past.
The next morning, after satisfying her need for a good long soak in the bath and a solid eight hours of sleep, Tessa dons the white jumpsuit and maroon heels she'd laid out the night before and does her hair in a high half-up ponytail. The outfit is sleek, stylish, and makes her feel like a powerful boss. She reads the mantra on her mirror, Little Girls with Dreams become Women with Vision, twice for confidence and luck before grabbing her purse and heading out the door.
When she arrives at the event space - a large series of interconnected tents - it's ten million times more chaotic than Tessa could have ever imagined. There are people everywhere and it's enough to make her introverted heart beat faster and make her think longingly of sweat pants, Jeopardy, and the double chocolate fudge ice cream waiting for her in her freezer. Consolation if the show goes poorly, and a prize if it goes well. Ice cream is versatile like that.
“Okay people! We are officially late!” Tessa yells out, pulling a dress from the rack and taking it over to one of the models. Dozens of people call out her name for attention and assistance and she stops at each one to solve their problems.
“This top is supposed to be aubergine and it’s all wrong!”
“Don’t panic. Put her on third, the light queue is yellow and it will fix the color.” She starts to walk away when she remembers, “Oh and Pam – the reason it’s all wrong is that it’s on backwards.”
“Where is she? My little protégé!” Tessa spins around to see Marie-France Dubreuil walking towards her – her old boss and mentor. Relief floods her body as she runs up to embrace the older woman.
“Marie! You’re not supposed to be here, you’re the competition!” She says it, but they both know she doesn’t mean it. Neither of them has ever thought of each other that way. They have always been each other’s greatest cheerleader ever since Tessa started interning at Marie’s company eight years ago, and their relationship hovers between mother/daughter and sisters.
“Competition? Please. I design for whomever I wish and nothing is going to come between me and my greatest student on her day of triumph. Votre étoile monte, ma chérie.”
“Why do I feel like I’m in the middle of Mt Royal Park with no clothes on?” Tessa moans, rubbing her temples.
“Chérie, tu seras bien. Eight years ago you were just a wide-eyed young girl fresh out of small-town Ontario wandering into my workshop like a lost and scared animal, and now you’re about to have your very own show. I could not be more proud.”
Marie pulls her in for another hug and Tessa can feel her eyes beginning to water.
“Okay, go. Go. Before you make me cry.” They kiss each other on the cheek twice before Marie whispers, “Bonne chance” and walks back out of the room – leaving Tessa alone to suck in a deep breath and get back to work.
She’s briefly distracted by the sight of Harry on one of the monitors, being ambushed by reporters outside, as usual. He looks good in his dark, tailored suit – he always looks good – and he handles the press incredibly well. He has the most perfect media-ready smile that Tessa has ever seen.
Harry’s mother is the lieutenant governor of Quebec (an incredible feat for a Canadian of Chinese descent in a predominantly French province), and his father is a leading business tycoon - throwing Harry into the spotlight for most of his life – both as the heir presumptive to his mother’s political legacy, and as the region’s most eligible bachelor.
"Please tell me he has a flaw somewhere.” Kaitlyn bumps her shoulder, the blonde looks stunning all dressed up in a gorgeous, deep red gown – the centerpiece of Tessa’s collection tonight.
“He asked me to go to St. Barts for Christmas.” Tessa confides with a wide grin, nudging Kaitlyn’s shoulder in return.
“He’s going to ask you a lot more than that.” Kaitlyn says confidently, and Tessa’s smile falls a little bit.
“You think so?” She asks nervously, all thoughts of the fashion show leaving her mind at the prospect of a proposal from Harry. She loves him (she thinks... she's like ninety percent sure), but she's not ready to marry him. For multiple reasons.
“Mmhmm.” Kaitlyn smirks, and Tessa stares at the monitor – her stomach tying itself up in knots.
“Come on everybody it’s time! Places!” The floor manager calls out, and Tessa jumps back into the present – hurrying over to the doorway by the catwalk to make sure she can do any last minute checks or fixes before the models walk out into the spotlight. Forcing herself to push away all thoughts of proposals or weddings or husbands.
The show is a success, by any definition of the word, and Tessa basks in the attentions of photographers and fashion bloggers and her peers at the after party – pausing for photos and sipping champagne and just generally feeling lightheaded and giddy.
"Oh, Honey!” She calls out after spotting Harry, running into his waiting arms. “You made it! Those flowers were insane.”
“Well, I just wanted this day to be perfect.” He plants a warm kiss on her cheek before setting her back down on her feet.
“Oh God, what if they hate me?” She asks, gesturing to the circle of critics standing by the catering table.
“Tessa, darling, they’re critics. They hate everybody – including themselves.”
“That’s easy for you to say. I wasn’t born with that thick Chen skin.”
“No, you weren’t, and that is what I love about you.” He smiles, taking her face in his hands and planting a quick kiss on her lips. “I’m sorry, but I have to go to a quick meeting in Brossard.” She pouts and he pouts back at her. “I know, I’m sorry. But don’t forget we have that thing tonight at city hall.”
“What thing?” Tessa replies, scrunching up her nose. There's that carton of ice cream waiting for her at home and she'd hate to disappoint it.
“The fundraiser thing.” Harry gently reminds her.
"Right. The thing. With your mother. That’s tonight. Okay.”
Smiling at her hesitation, he says, "Yes, that thing. I'll send a car for you." He kisses her cheek and whispers, "I am so proud of you" then walks away with his team of personnel - always on the move.
“Thank you. I love you.” Tessa calls out after him.
“I love you too. Congratulations!"
Kaitlyn invites her to join the rest of the staff for drinks after the show, but Tessa is forced to begrudgingly refuse. She has that fundraiser to attend, and needs to look the part if she has any hope at all of Harry's mother saying something nice to her. Nice being a relative term that, in regards to Lieutenante-gouverneure du Québec Michelle Chen, really just means a few backhanded compliments before being ignored for the rest of the night.
Ignored is how Tessa likes it though when she's forced to attend these political events with Harry, and she consoles herself with the knowledge that there's always good food available, and, hopefully, some sort of ice cream or chocolate dessert.
Once she's back in her apartment she sets about getting ready - trading the white jumpsuit for a black knee-length dress with a lazy bodice, sparkles on the skirt, and long mesh sleeves. It's just funky enough to be interesting, but still professional, and it's one of Tessa's own designs. She's making a real name for herself with the way she incorporates mesh into her clothing, and she has to take every opportunity she can to advertise it. She also can't deny that she likes reminding Harry's mother of her career and that she isn't some chick riding her son's coattails to fame.
Once her hair is done up in a flawless chignon and her make-up touched up - lips a shade or two darker for the evening - Tessa steps out onto the street. She expects to find Harry waiting for her next to his silver sports car like he usually is, but despite double-checking the time on her phone, her usually prompt boyfriend is nowhere to be seen. There's just a black sedan parked by the curb, and it isn't until a nice looking older gentleman steps out to open the door for her and explains that Harry sent him does she understand.
“Miss McCormick, if you please. Mr. Chen sent the car for you.”
“Oh, yes. Of course. I forgot. Thank you.”
She slides into the backseat – the fine leather interior reflecting the lights from outside and bouncing off of the posh interior walls. There's even a bottle of champagne cooling in an ice bucket. Leave it to Harry to get her the finest ride in town, even though the journey won't be very long. Heaven forbid she not show up in style.
She plays around mindlessly on her phone, scrolling through Instagram – commenting on Jordan’s latest post from Istanbul (her current stop on her world tour – how she’d scored that international tourism job, Tessa still isn’t sure) – until she realizes the drive is taking much longer than expected. Looking around in confusion, the thought that this driver might be a creepy geriatric serial killer slips unbidden into her mind and once it's there Tessa can't seem to shake it.
"Where are you going?" She asks loudly, nerves building in her stomach.
“Excuse me miss, but Mr. Chen called and said his meeting is running a little late. He asked that I take you inside to wait for him.”
“Where are we though?” This definitely isn’t city hall, but the driver just exits the car and holds the door open for her before leading her inside a nondescript building. Tessa lags a little bit behind him, keeping her eyes out for any and all escape routes as they wind down some empty hallways and through a few sturdy looking doorways until another old man opens the final door and greets her with a smile.
“Miss McCormick, won’t you come in?”
Tessa goes through the door and finds Harry waiting for her on the other end of the hallway, and her sigh of relief is almost comical. He's dressed handsomely in his tuxedo and holds out a hand for her, and Tessa smiles as she walks over quickly to join him.
“So, have you made a decision?” He asks, taking her arm in his.
“St. Barts.” Harry says, like it should be obvious.
“St. Barts, honey? That’s six months from now.” Tessa replies with an affectionate shake of her head. In truth, she's thought a lot about it and what it might mean in the last two hours while getting ready for tonight, but she's trying not to panic too much about the implications of him taking her on a fancy getaway vacation.
“I was thinking maybe two, three hundred guests tops.” Harry leads her into a pitch-black room and Tessa laughs in confusion.
“For Christmas? Harry, are you on some sort of medication? What’s going on? Please tell me where we are.”
The old man who greeted her at the door flips a switch and rows and rows of lights come on – in the ceiling, on the walls, and inside all the cases upon cases of shining, shimmering jewelry.
Not just jewelry. Rings.
Tessa’s mouth falls to the floor as she recognizes the little blue boxes decorating the shelves, the words Tiffany & Co. standing out like a beacon. “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
Harry takes her hand and kneels down in front of her. “Tessa Jane McCormick, will you marry me?”
“Are you sure? I mean, are you really sure because if you’re not sure we could just go back to the car. It’s only been a year since we met, Harry.”
Harry stands up, taking her other hand in his as well. “You know I never do anything irrational. I usually never ask a question I don’t already know the answer to, so at the risk of being rejected twice, I’m going to ask you again. Will you marry me?”
Tessa smiles, even as a strange rubber-band tightens around her heart, “Yes. Yes!”
He scoops her up in his arms and spins her around – laughing joyfully – before gesturing to the room and telling her to pick one.
In the end she picks the one that's clearly Harry's favorite, despite her own personal opinion that it's a little over-the-top. The ring is platinum with rose-cut diamonds - one diamond in the center, eight smaller diamonds around that, and then thirty-five tiny diamonds around the edge - altogether creating a sort of floral appearance. It's very pretty, even if it's not her style, and it makes Harry give her a megawatt smile every time he looks down at it, so Tessa nods and lets him slip in onto her finger with a kiss.
They spend most of the drive to city hall making out in the back seat – the giant ring reflecting everything and looking as though it's its own light source.
“I thought you were tired.” Harry says with a knowing smirk, his hand dropping down to her ass.
“Can you excuse us for a second?” Tessa addresses the driver with a laugh, pushing the button so that the partition goes up.
“I’ve been planning this for weeks. I knew this would be great. This thing tonight is perfect – I can’t wait to see the look on my mother’s face.” Tessa pulls back sharply, but Harry just continues on without noticing her reaction. “Come on, let’s call your parents.”
“No!” She says hurriedly, pulling her purse out of his reach. “I mean, uh, not right this second. What I mean is, uh – Honey would you mind terribly if we just kept this to ourselves for a few days?”
"Tessa, it’s going to come out sooner or later.”
“No, I know. But, um, it’s just that I haven’t been home in about ten years and I just feel like I should probably tell them in person. This isn’t really a conversation I want to have over FaceTime, you know?”
“Of course.” He acquiesces with a nod and a sweet peck on her lips.
“And I should tell them alone.”
He visibly stiffens, like he always does when she becomes too reticent about her family. “Tessa, I’m going to have to meet them eventually.”
“I know. And they will love you.” She caresses his cheek, wiping away his scowl.
“Is it because I’m Quebecois?” He jokes.
“Well that, and a Habs fan.” Tessa jokes back, before leaning in to kiss him again.
“Okay. Mums the word." He agrees with a heavy sigh, "No one will know.”
They arrive late to the party, and Tessa quickly spins her ring around her finger as the driver opens the door for them – keeping the diamond facing inward towards her palm. She would have hidden it in her purse, but she's terrified that it might fall out.
The crowd waits outside and as soon as they step out of the car they're blinded by flashing cameras and made deaf by all the people calling out questions to them as they walk up the red carpet towards his mother.
“That shade of lipstick does nothing for you, Harry. What kept you?”
“That’s none of your business.” Harry shoots back with a tight smile – keeping his face presentable for the crowd and never-ending flashbulbs.
“You know I hate surprises. What’s going on?” Harry turns away to talk to someone else without answering, leaving Tessa alone to take the brunt of his mother’s attention. Mrs. Chen reaches out to take Tessa’s hands in her own, clasping them tightly and pasting her media-ready smile (the one that eerily matches her son's) on her face. It’s one that Tessa knows well, as it’s the only smile she’s ever received from Harry’s mother.
“Tessa, so good to see you.”
"Thank you, you as well.”
“Always belle of the ball." Somehow the compliment comes out sounding like an insult, a special talent of Mrs. Chen's that always makes Tessa feel small. "I hear very good things about your new line.”
“Oh yeah, thanks.” Tessa tries to take her hands back, but Mrs. Chen’s grip suddenly tightens like a vice on her left hand.
“Harry, it seems Tessa is wearing a skating rink on a very important finger.”
“Um, if it’s all the same to you, I’d really like to-“ Tessa doesn’t have a chance to finish before Mrs. Chen is spinning the ring around and directly into the light of dozens of cameras. Cameras that immediately start going off like strobe lights.
“You’re engaged?” She cries out in horror, and the crowd around them goes wild.
Chapter 3: Things We Can't Untie
There's just one itsy-bitsy little detail standing in the way of Tessa's marriage to Harry...
“Oh my God! You’re engaged? And you didn’t tell me?” Kaitlyn’s voice screeches through the speaker on Tessa’s cell phone as she leaves the airport terminal in London and heads towards the rental car company. She'd considered driving down from Montreal, but a fourteen hour round trip (assuming traffic wasn't too bad) didn't sound all that appealing. Especially since she doesn't intend to be in town for very long.
“I know, I know. I’m sorry, but she just grabbed my hand and the word was out before I even had a chance to breathe.” Tessa explains, still cringing from the memories of the night before and the onslaught of media attention in the hours since.
She'd told Harry that her reason for coming to Ontario was to tell her mother and brothers about her engagement, but truthfully a large part of the reason was to escape the chaos of the Montreal social scene that would be sure to follow her everywhere she went if she stayed in town.
"We’ve been friends since McGill, Tess. That's practically a lifetime, and it earns me special rights. Special rights that include the first phone call after you get engaged.” Kaitlyn says, sounding like she’s mostly joking, but also still a little offended. “Instead I have to read about it on my morning Twitter feed like the rest of Quebec.”
“I know, I'm sorry. I panicked a little. I’ll make it up to you – will you be my maid of honor?”
“You are forgiven. Yes.” Kaitlyn agrees immediately and Tessa laughs at her enthusiastic response. “I’m at the diner by the shop with Luis and Ashley, why don’t you meet up with us?”
“I can’t… I’m in Ontario.” Tessa grits her teeth as the words leave her mouth, making them sound slightly muffled and flat. The clerk at the car rental desk gives her a funny look as he hands over the keys to the sleek silver Acura she'd rented, and she smiles apologetically. It's not Ontario that's the problem, really, there are plenty of great places in Ontario including, but not limited to, Toronto and her family's cabin on Lake Huron, but Ilderton...
"I’m sorry, I thought you just said you were in Ontario. The day after getting engaged. Harry must just love that.”
“Actually it was kind of his idea. He wanted me to tell my family and I thought I should do it in person, before they read it in the news just like you.”
“That makes sense." Tessa can hear her nodding, but Kaitlyn knows some of the history with Tessa's family and so she sounds a little hesitant when she says, "Good luck, babe.”
“Thank you.” Tessa replies. She's going to need it.
The drive from the airport to Ilderton hasn’t changed at all in the past decade. The land is still flat and covered with trees and farmland and aging houses. Tessa decides to take the long way – which means adding five minutes to her twenty-five minute drive – in an attempt to buy more time to come up with something to say when she arrives.
As she coasts down the familiar roads, passing the sights she once knew like the back of her hand, Oxbow Public School, the old Stewart farmhouse that looks surprisingly updated, and the Canadian flags that hang proudly from every street post, she tries desperately not to think of her youth. Of the memories that hide behind every turn and on every street corner. Of a head of thick dark hair and a hand that fit perfectly in hers.
She straight up refuses to look in the direction of the arena while she waits at the intersection in front of it before turning left onto Timberwalk Trail. If she stops to look at that old familiar building she might just end up driving all the way back to Montreal right now, and then she'd have to pay an astronomical rental fee for the car.
Instead she focuses on driving down to the end of the road, past some new developments that actually look pretty nice, and arriving at her destination - a tiny trailer park (made up of exactly three trailers) one of which she knows still belongs to the man she’s looking for. There’s a familiar forest green pick-up truck parked in front that tells her he’s home.
Tessa pulls the engagement ring off her finger and zips it up inside her purse before exiting the car. The gravel crunches underneath her silver slip-on heels, making it hard to walk and causing her to wobble a little as she approaches the beige trailer with white trim that was once her home too. Years ago. Entire lifetimes.
A German Shepherd rests lazily on the porch, ears perking up when it sees her, and Tessa stops walking – her heart beating painfully at the familiar sight. For just a moment she feels eighteen again, coming home from working a long shift at the Daisy Mart, but she quickly shakes her head and the moment passes.
The dog starts barking a warning at her as Tessa starts to approach, and she moves to try to calm it down when the front door swings open and an achingly familiar man steps out onto the porch. “Quiet, Babs!” He chastises the dog before turning to face her, “I’m sorry. He’s loud, but I promise he doesn’t bite. How can I help you?”
She takes in the sight of him, scanning upwards from his worn jeans to the faded Maple Leafs t-shirt to his overly-long hair – slicked back and curling at the nape of his neck and around his ears – before finally landing on his familiar face.
Light brown eyes, prominent nose, sharp jawline.
Older, but still the same.
He’s smiling at her just as friendly as can be, and after the last ten years it’s more than Tessa can handle. She throws her emotional walls up sky high and snaps at him.
“Well, for starters, you can get your stubborn ass down here and give me a divorce.”
The smile falls off his face at an impressive speed. “Tessa Virtue!?”
And really, objectively she knows that the last time he saw her, her hair was still fading from red back to brown and she’d yet to develop any real curves, but she’s a little offended that he didn’t recognize her. She's positive that she could pick him out of a line-up even if it had been fifty years and not ten.
"Come on, Scott, the joke’s gone on long enough. Please let’s just finish this.” She sighs, pulling out the manila envelope from her purse and holding it up for him to see. “I brought the papers with me. A copy for you, a copy for me, and one for the lawyers.”
He continues to stare at her, mouth gaping, and Tessa props one hand up on her hip and cocks her head. “What?”
His eyes roam up and down her body – her fitted jeans, the white partially see-through long-sleeved top, her high ponytail and large, funky tassel earrings. She knows she looks nothing like the girl he used to know. Maybe it was the clothes that had thrown him off.
“You show up here after ten years without so much as a ‘Hey there, Scott, remember me? Your wife?’” He finally reacts, stomping angrily down the stairs to stand in front of her, and Tessa is forced to take a step back – overwhelmed by his sudden proximity after so long. “Or a ‘Hey, Baby, lookin’ good.’”
Nothing and nobody has ever been able to incite emotion inside Tessa like he has, and she immediately lashes out. “You expect me to tell you that you look good? Where did all the barbers go? Surely they must have all left town for your hair to look like that.”
“I don’t know, T, maybe they all went to the same place you got your nose done.” He spits out and Tessa recoils.
“Wow, real nice, Scott.”
“And what’s with your ridiculous earrings? They look like if I pulled one of them curtains would open somewhere.” He reaches out and tugs on one, not hard, but enough to prove his point, and Tessa quickly swats his hand away.
“I designed these! At least I’m wearing new clothes. Haven’t you gone shopping once in the last decade?” She stabs his chest with her index finger, right in the middle of the leaf, and he rubs at the spot while arguing back.
"The Leafs never go out of style, and I don’t recall you complaining too much about my t-shirts when you were sleeping in them.”
She's always been an easy blusher, and she can feel the color rising in her cheeks now - much to her chagrin. The last thing she needs is reminding of anything they once shared - the trailer and the dog are hard enough to see again as it is. “I was young. I had terrible taste back then, but I’ve learned a whole lot in Montreal.”
“Oh, is that where you were?” He feigns indifference, and it immediately gets her hackles up.
"You knew where I was," Tessa folds her arms and replies in a testy tone, "and don’t try to pretend you spent all this time missing me.”
Scott steps in closer, until his face is only inches from hers. She can see the flecks of different colors in his eyes and the triangle of freckles at the base of his neck that she used to trace with her fingers and her traitorous body starts breathing heavier as if by instinct. “Oh, I missed you all right. But at this range, my aim is bound to improve.”
The moment is effectively ruined.
“Is that a threat?” Tessa holds up the papers to remind him that she can and will use any excuse to get him to sign them, and Scott rolls his eyes. They both know she knows he wasn’t serious.
“This really isn’t funny, Scott. My lawyers charged me every time you sent these papers back.” Her voice comes out more whiny than intended, but she's seriously sick of this game of tug-of-war. Especially after so many years. Why he won't just sign the damn things, she has no idea, but it's driving her crazy.
“Well, I’m glad to see that you finally got the message, eh?” He replies loudly, and all of their noise seems to have caught the attention of the dog, who saunters up to Scott’s side and starts barking loudly at her.
Tessa yells, “Shut up, Tallulah!” just as Scott says, “Shut up, Babcock!”
She freezes, looking at Scott and finding pain in his eyes.
“What happened to Tallulah?” She asks, dreading his answer.
“She got sick and died. You weren’t here.” His voice is flat, and Tessa looks down at the German Shepherd at their feet – and in the sunlight now she can see the subtle differences between the two dogs. This one is more beige where Tallulah was ginger and lacks the distinct black markings around the eyes. A pang of regret and grief lances through her heart.
Scott watches her for a long moment, an array of unreadable emotions running through his eyes, his fingers twitching at his sides like he wants to reach out to her - and Tessa feels torn between wanting that too, and knowing that she can't and shouldn't want that anymore. She waits with baited breath for his decision - and she has no idea what to do if he does reach out to touch her - but he just turns suddenly on his heel and marches back up the steps.
“What are you doing!?” Tessa shouts, following after him. He can't just walk away - she needs to get back to Montreal.
“Leaving. You did it. You should recognize the gesture.” He throws the accusation over his shoulder, not slowing down at all as he retreats back into the trailer home.
“Scott, can we please just try to keep this as civilized as possible? Please just sign the papers so I can go home.” He pulls the screen door shut behind him, and she's forced to yell through it.
"Home.” He scoffs. “What do you know about home?”
It stings, but Tessa doesn’t let herself acknowledge the hurt. There will be plenty of time to wallow later – back in Montreal after she does what she came to do.
"You are so stubborn! The only reason you won’t sign these is because I want you to.”
“Maybe you’re right! Maybe I just really want to piss you off.” He agrees before slamming the inside door shut and Tessa can hear the sound of the lock turning.
With a huff she spins around and walks down the steps and towards the tiny garden full of white rocks in front of the trailer. It takes her about five seconds to spot the fake and she slips open the compartment on the bottom – grinning at the little gold key she finds there.
When she stands back up she sees an elderly lady in her dressing gown standing on the porch of the trailer opposite Scott's, holding a hand over her eyes as she looks at Tessa.
"Hello, Mrs. Campbell. Nice day, isn't it!" She waves with false cheeriness, receiving only a scowl in return. The old woman turns and walks back inside without saying anything, and Tessa sticks her tongue out at her back. "Old bat always did hate me." She mutters as she walks back up the steps to Scott's front door.
There may have been an incident when Tessa was trying to cook for Scott and ended up getting the fire department called in - with all their loud sirens and noisy trucks. And it's possible those noises scared Mrs. Campbell's cats to death. And it's possible that Tessa had tried to replace those cats as a sign of good will with kittens she'd found in Mr. Miller's field. And maybe Mr. Miller had shown up at Mrs. Campbell's home and accused her of animal thievery, thus starting a vicious feud that Kate has assured her daughter is still going strong.
But really, Tessa can't understand why the woman would still hold a grudge about all that.
The key slides into the lock easily, and Tessa waltzes inside and sits down on the couch – the same faded maroon sofa that they’d bought together at a garage sale when they'd first moved in.
“Hey genius, next time you lock somebody out, make sure they don’t know where the spare key is.” She states calmly, primly adjusting her shirt and picking at the fabric of her jeans.
Scott spins around from where he’d been muttering to himself and pulling a can of Molson out of the fridge, glaring at the object in her hand as she waves it around triumphantly.
“Gee, you know, a spare key can be really useful, if your wife would tell you where it was!”
Tessa shoots up out of her seat and walks over to stand across from him. “I’m not your wife, Scott, I’m just… the first girl that climbed into the back of your truck.” He looks like she’d just slapped him, and she knows it was a low blow, but there’s no going back now. “But I’m not that girl anymore.”
“You know, you’re right about that.” Scott pulls out his phone and presses a few buttons before walking down the hall and into his bedroom – slamming that door shut behind him as well. Apparently he's become fond of dramatic exits in her absence.
He always was the more emotional one out of the two of them.
Tessa stands awkwardly in the kitchen. There's no way she's going to leave, if that's what he's hoping, but she also doesn't have anything to do and boredom has never sat well with her. She's almost tempted to start cleaning - there's a few dishes in the sink and she's sure the floor could use a good scrub - but a few minutes later he walks back out, looking completely carefree and whistling a little tune. “You make clothes, right?” He pauses to ask, then grabs a handful of grapes out of the fridge – tossing them into his mouth one by one.
“I design them, there’s a big difference.”
“Do you design anything with stripes?” He gives her a shit-eating grin just as red and blue lights start dancing against the wall opposite the open living room window.
“You called the sheriff?” Tessa jumps away from the window, her body flooding with fear. “You know that old bastard hates me!”
“For good reason!” Scott shoots back, still leaning casually up against the counter, eating his grapes.
Tessa's still scrambling to find another exit when the front door opens without so much as a warning knock, and she freezes.
“Well holy cow, if it isn’t little Tutu!”
Tessa spins around at the familiar voice. “Charlie!? Charlie Moir?!” She squeals in delight and runs the short distance to give him a hug – which he returns with bone crushing strength.
"Damn, girl! We haven’t seen you in far too long.”
“I can’t believe you’re the sheriff!” Her cheeks hurt with how wide she's grinning, and she can hear Scott grumbling somewhere behind her (clearly this isn't the reaction he was hoping for), but the Moir boys had always been like brothers to her - even before she'd married Scott.
“Yeah, well, life never takes you where you expect, does it? But it pays pretty good and I get the chance for some excitement here and there – like seeing you!” Charlie pulls her back in for another tight hug, and Tessa goes willingly.
“Can you please try to be professional here, Charlie? She broke into my house.” Scott's exasperated plea breaks up the happy moment, and Charlie lets her go and attempts to adopt a more serious expression.
“Now, Tutu, you can’t just break into other people’s houses, eh? Even if that person is Scottie Boy.” He reprimands her with a twinkle in his eye, and Tessa giggles.
"Don't call me that." Scott complains, but they both ignore him.
“I didn’t break in, Charlie, I used my key.” Tessa explains, holding the piece of medal out to Charlie, her face the picture of perfect innocence.
She can tell that he's fighting a smile when he replies, “Still, it’s not your house so I’m going to have to escort you out.”
“Use the handcuffs.” Scott suggests enthusiastically.
“If you get him to sign these, Charlie, I’ll let you run me out of town – in a high speed chase if you want, just like in those movies you always loved.” Tessa's voice is sweet, dripping with honey, and her smile the one she knows is hard to refuse.
“That’s none of your business, Charlie.” Scott jumps in, trying to stop his brother from walking over to the counter where Tessa had set the envelope.
“What is it?” Charlie shoves Scott's hand away and takes a quick look. “Divorce papers? Scott, you told us you took care of that a long time ago.”
“I thought I had.” Scott mutters, refusing to look at either of them.
“Well, if you’re still married then this is still her house too, so there’s nothing I can do. You two enjoy catching up, and Scott I’ll see you at Sunday dinner. You should come too, Tutu, Mom would love to see you.”
"Thanks Charlie, but I'll be back in Montreal by then."
Charlie kisses her on the cheek and pulls the front door open, stepping back out onto the porch. Tessa breathes out a sigh of relief - she'd honestly thought for a second before he showed up that she was going to end up in jail today (there may have been an incident with the old sheriff involving his prized medal of commendation that she still pleads no knowledge of).
“Wait,” Scott calls out to his brother, looking entirely too pleased at the idea that's just occurred to him and Tessa's blood fills with ice water, “You remember that time someone crashed the Zamboni at the rink and Mom blamed you?”
“Scott, no!” Tessa yells at him, but it’s too late. Charlie turns around – clouds gathering behind his eyes.
“Yeah, what about it?”
An evil grin spreads across Scott's face as he points slowly at Tessa. “Guess who really did it.”
Tessa has done some really embarrassing things in her life, mostly during her teenage years (and all of them with Scott), but having to call her mom to bail her out of jail – a minuscule one-cell building at the edge of town – at twenty-nine years old on her first night home after ten years has to take the cake.
Kate, bless her soul, doesn’t react with harsh words or judgement, just promises to be there in a jiff and asks if Tessa wants to pick up dinner on their way home.
"I'm really sorry about this, Mom." Tessa says as she fastens her seat belt. "It was Scott's fault, really."
"I've heard that one before." Kate replies with a sigh. "You never could stay out of trouble with that boy."
Tessa's not sure that's entirely fair - at least half of the trouble had been her idea - but she lets it slide. There's no point in rehashing old arguments about Scott Moir.
"I don't want to talk about him. Besides, there's someone new in my life now - I told you about him. Harry Chen. He's really nice and..." She takes in a deep breath and retrieves the ring from her purse, slipping it onto her finger and holding it out for her mom to see. "We're engaged."
"Oh, Tess! That's wonderful news." Thankfully they've pulled into the driveway by now (distances aren't exactly long in Ilderton), because her mom takes both hands off the steering wheel so that she can grab Tessa's and hold the ring up closer to her face to look at it. "I'm so happy for you."
"Thanks, Mom." She hesitates before adding, "It's really nice to see you." She offers the metaphorical olive branch, and smiles when her mom seems to accept it.
"It's nice to see you too, honey. In person, instead of on a tiny screen. You've stayed away too long, at least Jordan comes home for Christmas." The gentle reprimand makes Tessa feel immediately guilty. Sometimes she forgets that in her hurry to leave her old life behind, there had been unintended casualties.
"I know. It's just... hard." She lets it hang, needing no further explanation. Her mom, bless her soul, pats her knee sympathetically and nods.
"I know, Honey. But still, it's nice to have you back."
She pulls her bag out of the backseat and follows her mom up the walkway into her childhood home - a grey, folk Victorian farmhouse that always seems to smell like freshly baked cookies and immediately wraps around Tessa like a warm blanket.
It's so much emptier now that her mom lives there alone. Casey and Kevin live with their own families, Jordan is always on the road, and her dad had left six years ago to start a new life - stating irreconcilable differences. But it still feels like home. The same floral rugs cover the hardwood floors, the same furniture, the same pictures on the walls - although a few had been added to include the grand kids and a few removed that had included her father.
"Your room is still just how you left it. I'll see you in the morning, Tess."
"Goodnight, Mom." She gives her mother a kiss on the cheek before heading upstairs and slowly pushing open the door to her childhood.
Her mom hadn't lied, the room is still exactly the same as how she'd left it when she'd moved into the trailer with Scott at seventeen. The same light lavender walls, the white furniture, the pink, purple, and yellow bedding, the bench where she used to sit and read - in front of the large double window that Scott used to sneak in through sometimes (a lot).
She knows in the compartment underneath the window seat she'll find all her old photo albums and yearbooks and diaries, but it's too much. This day has just been too much.
Tessa tears open her suitcase, throws on her pajamas, and climbs into bed - trying desperately not to think of the sorrow in her mother's eyes when she'd mentioned how long it had been since she'd come home, or the perfectly wonderful man back in Montreal who's waiting patiently for his fiancée to return so that they can start planning their wedding, or the man a few blocks away with eyes that always seemed to look straight into her soul, who can rile her up like nobody else, and who refuses to stay in the past.
Chapter 4: He Never Was a Stranger
The “Get Along” Shirt is an oversized t-shirt that is meant to be worn by bickering children as a disciplinary method... these two need one.
Tessa wakes up the next morning to the cheery sound of birds happily singing fee-bee outside her window and buttery rays of sunshine streaming into her bedroom. When she was a child black-capped chickadees had built a nest every spring in the sycamore tree outside the front of her house, and it’s nice to know that not everything has changed.
Deciding to take advantage of the beautiful morning, she dons her black leggings and a maroon athletic top before tugging on her sneakers. A run sounds like just the thing she needs to clear her head and start the day off right.
And hopefully formulate a plan to get Scott to sign the divorce papers.
She doesn’t exactly fancy running into anyone and getting sucked into a conversation, so Tessa takes one of the longer roads outside of town. It starts well, the steady drumming of her shoes hitting the pavement and the sounds of nature are nice as she runs, but it's not distracting enough. Her thoughts keep turning to Scott, and not in a planning kind of way, but more of a I wonder what he's up to kind of way. She can't help regretting her forgotten headphones buried somewhere in her purse – she could really use the familiar beat of Eminem’s Till I Collapse pumping through her system right now.
“Hey lady! We don’t see the likes of you around here much!”
Tessa cringes. Great. Just great. An empty road and she finds the one cat-caller for miles. She ignores him and picks up the pace, but the car has no problem keeping up with her.
“You look like sex on a stick in that outfit!”
She has absolutely no patience for this today (or any day - men like that are gross), so she comes to a sudden stop and yells, “Listen, buddy, why don’t you just kiss my ass!”
Only when she spins around instead of finding a creepy guy who looks angry or apologetic, like she'd expected, the man is grinning at her through the open window of his car like he's done absolutely nothing wrong and even expects her to laugh. He's older and sporting a scruffy beard, but something about him seems familiar, and after a second she recognizes him.
“Eric? Oh my God!”
He pulls over and parks the car before jumping out and reaching for her with wide open arms. “Get in the car then, because I don’t do that kind of thing in the street!”
“I guess your mother raised you right.” Tessa grins up at him as he sweeps her into a big bear hug. “How have you been? Last time I saw you, you were dating little Meagan Duhamel.”
“Oh, she’s married to Bruno Marcotte. They live in Mississauga now.”
“And no boyfri-“ Tessa continues to ask, but Eric cuts her off.
“Oh. Well, we all have our secrets I guess.” She smiles softly at him.
“I don't have any secrets, just nothing to tell. Not like you. I read all about your secrets on Twitter.” He grins lasciviously at her and Tessa steps back in alarm.
“I know all about the cocks in your henhouse, Mrs. Harry Chen-to-be!”
“Eric! Don’t be gross!” She hits him on the arm, but he just laughs.
“You always were an easy target. It never did take much to make you blush. Scott always said you were his little strawberry girl.” He teases, making Tessa's cheeks turn even redder, before looking a little more sober at the mention of the other man's name. “Does Scott know? About the engagement?”
“No.” Tessa quickly replies, before hesitating. “At least, I don’t think so.”
“You should tell him.” Eric says firmly, but Tessa just shrugs and kicks at an imaginary rock on the sidewalk.
“I hardly think he’ll care. I’m sure he hasn’t exactly been the pinnacle of monogamy in the last decade.”
Eric quirks his lips and Tessa's not sure she likes the knowing look he's giving her, “He’s gone on dates, sure, but he’s never been serious about any of them. Not that I’ve seen, anyway.”
The surprise must show on her face, because the look Eric gives her is full of too much understanding and pity. What is it about old friends and their ability to read you like an open book?
Tessa has no idea what to do with the information Eric's just given her. Sure, she’d wondered over the years if Scott was seeing anyone, taking other girls back home, making them promises, and yeah – maybe a part of her had hoped none of that was true and that he was pining for her (she knows how hypocritical that is, but she couldn’t help it). To hear that both theories are half right sends her head spinning.
“Listen, Tess, I’ve got to get to work. Will you be in town long?”
“I hope not.” Tessa snorts, refocusing her attention on Eric and the present.
“Well, if I don’t see you again before you go, it was really nice seeing you this morning.”
“You too.” She replies, giving him another tight hug.
She hadn't realized how much she'd missed her old friends. People she'd had to leave behind without really meaning to. Eric and Patrick Chan had been the other members of their little quartet of hellions as children, and seeing him had brought back so many memories of getting into trouble and laughter and too much teenage stupidity. In other words, a lot of fun.
She waves at him in the rear-view mirror as he drives away before looping back around to head home – letting herself indulge in a few of her more innocuous memories of the trouble they'd all gotten into so long ago. Like the time they dug up a baby maple tree and reburied it in the school baseball diamond - right on the pitcher's mound. The principal had been furious but it had made the local paper and they'd gotten a real kick out of it. Tessa's got a whole ten pages dedicated to the event with newspaper clippings attached in one of her diaries.
Chuckling to herself, she runs past the old Stewart farm and pauses to take in all the updates made to the buildings. The white house with the attached red barn was always one she’d admired, even when it had fallen into disrepair, and it’s nice to see it getting the love it deserves. Proof that things can change, even in Ilderton.
“I’m home, Mom!” Tessa calls out, heading straight to the kitchen for some orange juice.
"Did you have a nice run?” Her mom greets her with a kiss on the cheek. “You must be hungry. Let me whip up some pancakes. Chocolate chip?”
She really should refuse and eat something healthier like oatmeal, but no one can cook like Kate Virtue, so Tessa slides into a seat at the counter and says, “Yes, please! That sounds delicious. And yes, I did have a nice run – I ran into Eric Radford. He’s looking good.”
“He is. I wish he’d settle down, but I guess it just takes longer for some people.”
“That’s probably a good thing. Better than rushing into something too soon.” Tessa replies, hinting at her own hasty teenage wedding.
“Yes, well, sometimes you do better the second time around.” Her mom agrees with a pointed look.
It’s interesting, the way the subtle slight against Scott still makes Tessa want to jump to his defense. But that’s a dangerous road to go down, especially with her mother. She's lost count of the number of times they've argued about Scott. So Tessa keeps her mouth shut and focuses on the pancakes placed in front of her.
“What are your plans today?” Her mom asks, brushing over the briefly uncomfortable moment.
“I’ve got to find an ATM so that I can pay you back for the bail money.”
“Oh, you don’t need-“
“No. I will pay you back, Mom.” Tessa looks up sharply, and her mom holds her hands up in surrender.
“Well, then you’ll have to go to the bank. The ATM has been broken for the last five years.”
A shower and fresh change of clothes later, Tessa walks into the old brick building - a little bell above the door announcing her arrival. The only other person inside besides the teller and the security guard is an older, large man in overalls with a thick bushy grey beard and a permanent scowl thanks to the nasty scar on his cheek. A gift from one of Mrs. Campbell's kittens. He glances over at her and grimaces.
“Hello, Mr. Miller.” Tessa greets him – trying to sound friendly – but he just grunts in response and shoves his way past her and out the door.
Honestly. All this bad blood over some silly cats!
“Hi, I need to make a withdrawal.” Tessa says to the girl behind the counter, brushing off the interaction with the crotchety old farmer. A cute blonde with her hair pulled back into a bun and creases around her eyes that giveaway how often she must smile greets her in return.
“Tessa? I heard you were in town! It's me, Liz.”
"...Putnam?" Tessa says slowly, unsure if her guess is correct. Elizabeth Putnam had been a few years above her in school, but she remembers watching the older girl skating at the rink with awe. Amazed by her talent and wondering what her life could have been like if she'd taken skating more seriously.
"Yep! It's me. It's so nice to see you back in town. Are you here for very long? You should come have dinner with me and Patrick. He'd love to see you."
"Patrick... Chan? You mean Chiddy? I didn't know you two were-"
"Yep!" She's practically bouncing with energy. "Going on two years now." She holds out her left hand, showing off her simple, but pretty, gold band with a square diamond.
"Wow! Congratulations! I'm so happy for you both." Tessa replies with a genuine smile. "I hope Chiddy isn't still getting into trouble these days."
"Well, it's certainly a lot less now, what with you being gone and Scott so busy all the time." Liz winks at her, and Tessa briefly wonders what Scott is up to that keeps him so occupied. She hopes it isn't anything illegal. “So, I'm assuming you want to withdraw from the joint account?”
“What joint account?”
Liz looks at her for a moment like she's being deliberately obtuse. “The one you share with Scott.”
Oh. The one they’d opened together when they were first married - feeling so grown up and celebrating by depositing their meager checks together and then getting milkshakes at the diner.
An idea starts to form. Undoubtedly evil, but hopefully effective.
“Yes. I’d like to withdraw from the joint account.”
With cash burning a hole in her pocket, Tessa’s first move is to drive down into London. Ilderton just doesn’t have the stores she needs to bring her plan to fruition.
On the list are quite a few furniture shops, along with maybe an art boutique or two. She picks out a new couch, a few other pieces of furniture, and decorations – including some Jackson Pollock-inspired modern art pieces she knows Scott will hate.
Her last stop is for herself – a special little purchase that will be the pièce de résistance of her surprise and complete the ensemble.
The afternoon is spent coordinating the couch delivery and cleaning, replacing the art on the walls, and baking. There isn’t much that Tessa can cook successfully – it hadn’t been her talent as a teenager and it certainly isn’t now – but Harry had taught her how to make the perfect apple pie last Thanksgiving and she's put the knowledge to good use today.
Perfect, she thinks as she pops a chunk of the gooey cinnamon filler into her mouth while sliding the pie into the oven.
Sucking every last bit off her finger, she heads into the bedroom to swap outfits – trying and failing not to notice all the details that had changed in the room over the years and what had stayed the same. For instance, the bedding was still the same dove grey quilt that had been a gift from his aunt Carol, and Tessa can’t resist running her hand along the familiar texture - remembering cold nights huddled underneath it together for warmth - but the books on the nightstand are new. A whole variety from Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time to the latest Jack Reacher novel.
A Blue Jays hat hangs from the corner of his closet door, and upon closer inspection she recognizes the ketchup stain on the bill. It’s her hat, not his. The mark had happened when a man had rudely shoved past her seat in the stands and smeared his hot dog all across it. Scott had nearly gotten in a fight that day, and they'd almost been thrown out of the game.
The sight of the hat - hanging there on display - shakes something inside of her, and Tessa hurries to finish the business of changing her clothes, terrified of what else she might find hiding in the shadows.
Smoothing down her dress in the mirror, she heads back out into the living room to wait - hoping that Scott won’t be much longer since she actually made (ordered) dinner and she’s pretty hungry.
It’s there, tucked away at the bottom of a bookshelf, that Tessa finds a thin ivory scrapbook she’d thought he for sure would have thrown out by now.
Don’t do it. Don’t look. Nothing good can come from it. She yells at herself, reaching for the book anyway and sitting down on the couch.
She opens it slowly like Pandora’s Box – terrified of releasing its contents - even though unlike Pandora she knows what’s waiting inside for her.
The title page, in seventeen year old Tessa’s carefully written cursive script, says:
The Wedding of Scott and Tessa Moir
April 15, 2007.
It was the first time she had written it down, and her hand had wobbled on the M as she fought the instinct to write Virtue after her name. She traces the letters for a moment, before turning the page gingerly, like too much pressure will make it fall apart.
There they are – pictures of her and Scott from their wedding day. Scott looking stiff and uncomfortable in his rented tuxedo and Tessa smiling nervously in her simple tea-length gown that had made her feel like Audrey Hepburn. Pictures with their families – Scott surrounded by grinning brothers, Tessa by her siblings whose smiles were a little more subdued.
The only pictures that don't look awkward are the ones where Scott's giving her a piggy-back ride - their mother's looking appalled in the background. The grins of two kids in love and in way over their heads shine out at her from those pages - hitting her eyes like a painful bright light (which is her excuse for the moisture forming there).
They’d been married at the old red brick church and Tessa can still remember the way Scott’s hands felt in hers as they stood in front of the reverend. Sweaty and shaking, but his eyes never leaving her own – never wavering in his choice. Not hesitating for even a second when he’d promised to love and cherish her forever.
Tessa, on the other hand, had mostly felt nauseous – for a variety of reasons. None of them having to do with Scott himself... not really. Mostly it was because she was seventeen and hadn’t even graduated high school yet and Scott was trying to go to school at Western and it seemed like the worst possible timing for a wedding.
But what was it Charlie had said yesterday? Life never takes you where you expect.
They didn’t have the money for a professional photographer, so there aren’t many pictures in the book, but each one had been lovingly labeled and placed inside by a young Tessa who was terrified of her future and trying to make her present feel more controlled in any way that she could.
She flips to the end and her high school graduation announcement falls out – a young, freckled-faced version of herself smiling awkwardly up at her – and it's such an oddly perfect place for it to be hidden that a strangled laugh breaks free from her chest.
The sound of a car door closing interrupts the moment and alerts her to Scott’s imminent presence, and Tessa jumps up to retrieve the pie. It’s an essential component necessary to completing the aesthetic she’s going for here.
The front door opens and Scott walks in – wearing another faded t-shirt and sweat pants and dangling a pair of black figure skates from his hand - looking tired. For one fleeting moment Tessa wants to drop her whole plan and ask him about his day and the circles under his eyes, but then he opens his mouth.
"What the fu-“
“Hi, Sweetie! I’m so glad that you’re home!” She waltzes out of the kitchen wearing giant oven mitts and carrying the hot apple pie in both hands, and Scott’s mouth falls to the floor.
She smiles up at him – grin growing wider by the second as he takes in her blue and white checkerboard 1950’s dress, thick white headband, and Mary Jane heels.
The picture of domestic bliss.
“What the fuck, Tess?” He tries again, and she clicks her tongue at him.
“Language, dear, please.”
“Don’t you ‘language’ me. I know you can swear like a sailor. Where is all my stuff?” He whips his head around the room, taking in all the changes as the color drains slowly from his face. A wonderful jolt of satisfaction shoots through her. Ha!
“Oh, I replaced it. It was all so old.” She explains, setting the pie down on the counter and merrily humming an off-tune pop song as she cuts slices into it, her stomach grumbling at the delicious apple and cinnamon smell.
“My couch? T, I loved that couch.” He gestures wildly at the nice new grey one as if he finds it personally offensive.
“Scott, that couch had lumps on top of its lumps. It was awful.” She arches an eyebrow at him. Honestly, out of everything she thought he’d at least be grateful for the new sofa. It'd had the best reviews (and had been the most expensive, but that's less important).
“But I finally managed to maneuver all the lumps to exactly where I wanted them. It was perfect.”
“This couch is better.” She says decisively, scooping a piece of the pie onto a plate and shoving it into his hands with a fork. “Dessert before dinner? I just can’t wait a moment longer. You know me and my sweet tooth.” She reaches up and pinches his cheek and his face is such a funny mixture of furious and confused that she can't help the giggle that breaks free.
Just then Babcock comes trotting in from the bedroom wearing a Habs dog jersey and a big orange bow, sitting at Tessa's feet and looking eagerly towards the pie.
“No.” Scott looks absolutely horrified. “No, no, no, no, no. Take that thing off my dog.”
“But, Baby, it looks so good on him! And this is a joint household, you know.” Tessa wags her finger before leaning down to give the dog a kiss. "And Babsy loves it."
The dog licks her face and Scott glares at him. "Traitor! Man's best friend, indeed." He mutters in disgust. "Ugh. T, you can do whatever you want with your money, but get that thing off my dog right now before he forgets who he is entirely.” He takes a big angry bite of his pie, still glaring at the offensive jersey, and Tessa knows it's time to deal the final blow.
“But, Pumpkin, what’s yours is mine, remember? And you always said that we should think of it as our money.”
She watches as Scott freezes mid-swallow – fork still raised – a slow smile spreading at the corner of her mouth as the realization dawns on his face.
“It’s just a guess, but I’m thinking the words ‘joint checking’ are flashing in your head right now.”
Scott finishes swallowing and sets the plate down slowly on the new coffee table before looking at her, and Tessa can see that he’s barely managing to restrain his anger.
“How much did you take?”
“All of it.” Tessa folds her arms and tilts her chin up triumphantly. She didn't really - only used a tiny portion (he has a shocking amount of money saved up) - but Scott doesn't need to know that.
“Goddammit, Tess!” He shouts, throwing his arms in the air.
“You wanted a wife? Well, you’ve got one!” She yells back, stomping her foot.
“You can’t just take what isn’t yours!” He's in her face now, but she's never been intimidated by him and she doesn't hesitate to go toe-to-toe.
“But it is mine until you sign the divorce papers! What are you doing with all that money anyway? You should really be investing it.”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Fine! Sign the papers, I’ll stop asking questions, and you can have it all back.”
“Fine! Hand me a pen!”
She marches over to her purse on the couch and pulls out a pen, and Scott swipes it out of her hand before plopping down on the cushions and reaching for the papers she’d laid out on the coffee table on the off chance that he actually caved and gave her what she wanted.
“What were you doing with figure skates, by the way?” She asks quietly as he reads over the documents in front of him. The sudden silence after their argument too much for her to handle and making her fidget in her seat. The wedding album is still on display, and it's jarring to see it next to a copy of her divorce.
“I thought you promised to stop asking questions.” He shoots back, but his voice is calm and his anger seems to have dissipated somewhat.
Tessa turns to look at him – his familiar profile, strong shoulders, the veins in his arms – and a sense of nostalgia sweeps over her. “Look, Scott-“
“It’s fine, T.” He looks over at her, a warmth in his eyes that she hasn't seen in a long time, “Nobody finds their soul mate when they’re nine and seven years old.” He gestures to the scrapbook with a small sigh, and his smile is so sweet, so genuine, that Tessa can feel the walls around her heart starting to crumble.
“Yeah, I guess.” She agrees, but it feels wrong to say it somehow. Like she's betraying the memory of what they'd had.
“I mean, where’s the fun in that, right?” He gives her a lopsided grin and her heart thumps painfully.
“Hey, I actually just remembered something. I’ve got a hot date tonight.” He drops the pen and papers back on the table and stands up – leaving Tessa feeling like she’s got a bad case of whiplash. Her head flying in a completely different direction than her body.
“What!? What are you doing. You haven’t signed!”
Harry, Tessa reminds herself. She's supposed to be getting back to Harry - her fiance - and Scott keeps preventing it. That's the point of this whole charade.
Scott walks back towards his bedroom and she stomps down the hall after him, fully intending to drag him by the arm back out into the living room and physically force him to sign his name if she has to.
She opens her mouth to shout at him, but instead comes to a dead stop at the sight in front of her. Scott, lifting his shirt over his head, completely uncaring that she can see him, and suddenly all those muscles are on display that she hasn’t seen in years – leaving her completely speechless. She’d forgotten. How had she forgotten!?
He turns to look at her, cocky and unfazed, and gives her a lazy smile. “I’m just a simple man, Kiddo. I need a lawyer to look over those and make sure I’m not being tricked or anything.”
Tessa struggles to remember how words work, but eventually manages to say, “Scott! They’re the same as they’ve always been. Come on.”
“Nah.” With an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders, he reaches down and drops his pants – leaving him clad only in a pair of black boxer-briefs – and Tessa stares a little too long before slapping a hand over her eyes and spinning around.
“Scott!” She whines, blushing beet red.
“What? It’s not like it’s anything you haven’t seen before.”
It’s true, but she didn’t need the reminder – especially since now that he’s pointed that out her brain is traitorously supplying plenty of examples of what she’s seen before.
"I see you left your clothes on my bed. Just like old times, eh?"
She can hear the smirk in his voice and in a desperate attempt to change the subject, she spits out, “You are the most infuriating man I have ever met.”
“Well, at least I’m something.” He replies, sounding a little bitter, and pushes past her down the hallway – now fully dressed in a red and black plaid shirt and a nicer pair of jeans.
“Are you seriously going on a date right now?” She calls out, following after him again. She's not jealous. She isn't. She's just angry that he's leaving her for some other woman in the middle of their very important conversation.
This isn't how her plan was supposed to go at all.
“Yep! Don’t be here when we get back.” He leaves the door open behind him and whistles as he walks to his truck, turning to give her a little salute before getting in and driving away. Leaving her standing on the porch like a slighted 1950's housewife. Mrs. Campbell watching the display from between her curtains.
We. It echoes around her brain and sets a fire in her blood. There’s no way she’s going to let him get away with this.
Chapter 5: And So it's Come to This
Let it be known that copious amounts of booze never leads to good decisions.
“I love you, I love you, I love you.” Tessa says immediately after accepting the phone call from Harry. A little for his benefit, but mostly for her own. After the insanity of the past few days, she needs the reminder of why she’s putting herself through all this in the first place. It's all so that she can marry Harry, the love of her life, the man she’s supposed to be with, and ride off into the sunset with him happily ever after.
Or something like that, anyway.
“Are you sitting down?” He asks, and Tessa glances around at the leather interior of her car, where she's currently sitting parked in front of the local bar.
"I just picked up the new Flare magazine, and I quote, ‘That cool breath of fresh air blowing through the fashion industry this week was the soon to be household name of Tessa McCormick. Fashion insiders have labeled her the next big one.”
Tessa claps a hand over her mouth in shock and joy. “Are you serious? They said that?”
“Yes! I am so proud of you, Tessa.” Harry's voice is genuine, and she can hear his smile through the phone.
“Thank you. Oh, you have no idea how much I needed that tonight. I-“
Her sentence is interrupted by a loud slapping on her driver's side window and she looks up to find Eric grinning in at her, before he leans in and sticks his mouth on the glass and blows – a horrendous sound erupting out of him.
“Is everything alright? What on earth was that?” Harry asks in concern, and Tessa rushes to reassure him.
“I’m find. That’s just the sound of my past. I’ll call you later, okay?” She opens the car door and steps out, already mentally checking out of the conversation.
“Okay. Call me later tonight. Love you!”
“I will. Bye!” Tessa drops her phone into her purse and shoves Eric a little as payback for his ridiculous theatrics.
“Fancy seeing you here! I didn’t realize it was 'Act like a Twelve Year Old' night at the King Edward.” Tessa teases with a hand on her hip, adopting her most chastising tone.
“Well, this is the only bar in town. Chances were pretty good that I'd be here. And I never turn down an opportunity to embarrass you.” He chuckles and she can't help joining in. “You’re coming inside, right?”
“Yeah.” Tessa nods – giving herself a final once-over in the reflection of her car windows. She had left Scott’s trailer to run home and change into something less matronly and old-fashioned before hunting him down at the bar – ending up in a long-sleeve off-the-shoulder white top with a blue floral pattern print, denim shorts, and a cute pair of gladiator sandals.
She adjusts the ponytail at the top of her head and nods once at herself. The ensemble is casual, but eye-catching and sexy. Exactly the look she’d been going for. She wanted to look hot, but not enough to immediately tip Scott off on her plan to wreck his date.
As a finishing touch, she slips her engagement ring back on her finger. There had been a long debate with herself in the car on the drive over about whether or not she should wear it, but ultimately the knowledge that Scott was out dating made her want to show him that she’d moved on too.
“Holy shit, Tess! That rock is ginormous!” Eric grabs her hand and holds it up to the light, not that it needs the help. “You must really give that Harry guy great blow jobs.”
“Gross. God, Eric! Can’t you say something nice and not so juvenile?” She rips her hand out of his and shoves at him again.
"Sorry. I meant he must really love you a lot.” He doesn’t look or sound repentant at all, but Tessa lets it slide with an exasperated shake of her head.
“Thank you. He does.” She agrees – even as her treacherous brain reminds her of his comment that his mother would hate the ring. Sometimes she wonders just how many of Harry’s decisions come from a place of wanting to piss off his mother. It can seem like a lot, in regards to Tessa and their relationship.
She follows Eric up the steps and into the bar, not at all surprised to find it packed wall to wall with local Ildertonians. It’s Friday night, there’s a game on, and it’s not as if the town offers much else to do – at least, not for adults. Most of the kids are probably at the ice rink for Friday Night Free Skate (assuming they still do that).
The King Edward hasn’t changed at all in her absence. Still the same mossy green walls and dark hardwood tables and floor. The same shirts with “Drink Cask and Stay Hoppy” printed on the back – now with a matching floor runner in front of the bar that might just be the only new thing in the whole place. That, and the pictures along the wall behind the counter of what looks to be junior ice skating teams.
Back in the day, there were many nights spent here with Scott, Eric, and Chiddy playing pool or watching games, even though Tessa hadn’t been legally allowed to drink at the time (the owner had always patted her head and looked the other way), and the memories start coming so fast Tessa has to slam a mental door over them to maintain control.
“Tessa! Scottie said you were in town!” She’s swept up into a hug almost the moment she’s past the front door – arms crushed to her sides and feet dangling off the ground. “How’s my favorite little sister-in-law?”
“Danny, I’m you’re only little sister-in-law.” Tessa grunts out, struggling to break out of his hold. When he sets her down she turns around to take a good look at him – older, clean cut (instead of that shaggy mop-head he’d had going on ten years ago), and wearing a snug Ilderton Fire Department polo shirt. “And I’m soon to be your ex sister-in-law.” She finishes, holding up her left hand.
Danny whistles loudly. “Who’s the lucky guy?”
“His name is Harry and he’s in politics up in Montreal.”
“Well, I’ll toast to that. Let me get you a drink. You still like vodka cranberries?”
“Sure.” Tessa shrugs and follows him up to the bar. A quick scan of the room reveals Scott watching them from the corner with his arm slung around some blonde in a mini-skirt and nursing a beer. “How have you been, Danny? Catch me up on the last decade.”
“Oh, you know. Stopped causing trouble, traded my toe pick for an axe and the heat of competition for something much hotter.” He jokes. “Got married!” He scrolls through his phone, finding the image he wants, and holds it up to her. A cute photo of him with his wife and two kids – a boy and a girl. “My wife’s name is Tessa, too.”
He laughs at her dumbfounded expression. “Yeah, it was a little weird for a while. Scott never calls her that. Somehow he came up with Essie instead and we all indulged him and now it’s stuck.”
She laughs awkwardly, unsure of how else to respond to that piece of information. To the implication that hearing and saying her name hurt too much, even if it was referring to a completely different woman.
“So… you and Charlie, eh? Out there protecting the citizens of Ilderton.” She changes the subject, playfully nudging his shoulder.
"Yeah, I guess that’s about right.” He grins.
"I’ll toast to that!” Tessa clinks her glass against his and downs almost all of the red liquid in one go.
“Whoa, Tutu. Slow down a little. They’re not going to run out of Grey Goose anytime soon.”
“Just a little liquid courage, Danny. I’ve got to go confront your stubborn ass brother over there.” She gestures to the corner with her thumb, and Danny grimaces.
“Go easy on him.”
She arches a single eyebrow. Go easy? Fat chance. He’d ended their battle with the upper hand earlier at his trailer, but she fully intends to win the war tonight.
Scott watches her approach with dark eyes, leaning over to whisper in the blonde’s ear and making the other woman laugh – loud and shrill. The noise grating on Tessa’s ears and making her grit her teeth.
“Hey, Scott. You gonna introduce me to your friend?” She forces herself to smile and appear genuinely curious – trying to play the part.
“No. What are you doing here?” He asks, his face expressionless as he drags his eyes up and down her body.
“I’m sorry,” Tessa ignores him, addressing the other woman instead, “He’s very rude. I’m Tessa, his wife – who he refuses to divorce even though I’m engaged to another man.” She shakes the woman’s hand vigorously before showing off the rock on her left ring-finger, and there – she’s done it. Ripped off the Band-Aid in the most vindictive way she could imagine.
“Holy shit! Look at the size of that thing!”
Tessa forces herself to look over at Scott, and finds that his face has gone positively green – she’d almost say he even looks devastated – but he quickly schools his features into an unreadable mask and she dismisses it as a trick of the dim lighting.
“Sadie, why don’t you go get us a couple of beers.” Scott hands some cash to the girl and she flounces away – apparently unperturbed by the revelation that her date has a wife.
“Engaged, eh?” He mutters, grabbing her left hand to inspect the ring himself. The connection sends tingles up her arm and down her torso, and Tessa swallows thickly before replying.
“Yes. It just happened earlier this week actually.”
"You replace everything, don’t you? Furniture, jewelry, people…” Tessa flinches, but he continues on, “This ring isn’t even right. Doesn’t he know you at all?” He scoffs and drops her hand in disgust, and Tessa swallows the whimper that almost broke free at the loss of the connection.
Her stupid body seems to have been tuned to his frequency at a young age, and now it’s humming like crazy at the proximity – pushing her to reach out for him - even though she’s fighting it with everything that she has.
“Of course he does. He loves me.” She states defensively, folding her arms over herself.
Scott’s look is appraising as he drinks the final drops from his bottle of beer, and Tessa can’t help but trace the muscles of his jaw and throat with her eyes as he does.
“But you don’t love him.” He finally says calmly, like it’s a foregone conclusion and he’s just stating the obvious.
She makes a noise of protest and opens her mouth to yell at him, but she’s prevented from saying anything by someone lifting her from behind.
These surprise hugs are going to give her a heart attack someday.
“Tessa Virtue, as I live and breathe!”
“Chiddy, put me down!” She squeals, and bless Patrick Chan and his kind, wonderful, understanding heart because he immediately listens – setting her down gently and stepping away to give her space. “Sorry. You really thought you could sneak back into town and I wouldn’t find you? Come here, girl.”
He opens his arms wide, waiting for her, and this time Tessa steps into the hug willingly, patting him on the back as she does. “Hi, Liz. Nice to see you again.” She greets the other woman over Chiddy’s shoulder, and Liz just laughs.
“Hello, Tessa. I told you Patrick would want to see you.”
“I should have listened.” Tessa agrees as Chiddy releases her.
“What have you been up to all this time, Tess? I swear one day you were here and the next you’d disappeared up to Montreal to learn French or something.” Chiddy nudges her arm, his tone clearly teasing, but Tessa cringes at his words. That pretty much is exactly what happened, but she doesn’t need reminding and she’s certain Scott doesn’t either.
“I graduated from McGill. Now I work in the fashion industry designing clothes.” Tessa explains, suddenly feeling a little shy, but Chiddy is all smiles.
“Wow! That’s amazing!” He hugs her again, and his genuine emotion is touching and makes her feel warm and proud. It’s nice to have her accomplishments acknowledged by her old friends – the people who know intimately where she started and how hard she’d had to work to make a name for herself.
“Guys, you know what we should do?” Eric slings a heavy arm over Chiddy’s shoulders and gestures towards the old pool table with his glass of whiskey. “Pool. Just like old times. Tess and Chiddy against me and Scott.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, man.” Scott says, shaking his head at them. The blonde, Sadie, tucked back into his side – although she looks a little annoyed that Scott hasn’t been paying her much attention.
“Why? Afraid Tessa and I will kick your ass?” Chiddy goads him, sticking out his hand for Tessa to fist bump enthusiastically.
“Yeah, Scott? Afraid you’ll lose?” Tessa tacks on with a mocking smile.
Scott’s mouth sets into a hard line as he shoves away from the wall he’d been leaning on and reaches for a pool cue. “You’re on, Kiddo.”
“Yes!” Erics shouts, pumping the air with his fist. “This means we need shots!”
He runs over to the bar and orders a tray of vodka, and on the count of three they all down their glasses and slam them back onto the tray like they used to do, yelling their cheer, “Hakuna Ma’Vodka!”
Tessa doesn’t remember how the cheer was created – it had happened during one of their less than sober parties in high school – but it had stuck as their tradition. The thing they always did first on a night out. To this day she can’t hear The Lion King soundtrack without thinking of these three boys.
The thing about drinking on an empty stomach though, is that you shouldn’t do it. A fact Tessa is starting to painfully remember as she stumbles around the pool table and feels herself losing all impulse control. It's been a very long time since she let herself get this drunk.
Empty glasses once containing tequila or Fireball whiskey line the edge of the table and every so often Liz has to reach in and grab one before they accidentally send it careening towards the floor. Each of the players growing careless in their movements.
“So, Tess, tell us about your new man.” Eric commands, leaning heavily on his cue as they wait for Chiddy to take his next shot. They’re all a fair distance away from being sober, except for Scott, and Chiddy ends up chipping his cue on the table and dissolving into a fit of laughter – which sets Eric and Tessa off too.
“He’s amazing,” Tessa says when she finally stops giggling, the liquor loosening her lips, “Tall, strong, handsome, rich, regular haircuts.” She can’t resist adding that last dig in for Scott’s benefit.
“The important things.” Scott snorts cynically from across the table, running a hand through his long hair.
“Well, they certainly don’t hurt!” Tessa shoots back, knocking the six ball into the corner pocket. She shifts around to go for the twelve and ends up positioned right in front of him.
She’ll blame the alcohol tomorrow for the way she bends obscenely over the table and sticks her ass out at him – shifting from one leg to the other to taunt him.
She misses the shot, and his warm hands circle around her waist, “You’ll never win that way.” He whispers in her ear, sending shivers up her spine, then forcefully moves her to the side so that he can take his turn.
“This reminds me of New Year’s Eve 2006. Do you remember, Tess? You were dead drunk and still managed to kick Scott’s ass. You knocked the last four balls straight into the pockets in a row!”
“How could I forget? That’s the night Scott got me pregnant.” She slurs her words, but they’re still clear enough to be understood, and Scott’s whole body visibly jerks and he completely misses the shot - the white ball careening towards the edge of the table and nearly bouncing off it from the force of Scott's hit.
“Why don’t you just go ahead and go public with that, Tess?” He spins around to glare at her, and if she were sober she’d feel guilty and ashamed, but she’s decidedly not sober so instead she rolls her eyes at him.
“Oh, please. Nobody has secrets in this town.” She shoves her way past Scott to grab onto Eric’s arm. “Except maybe Eric, of course.”
“What did I ever do to you?” The taller man looks down at her sharply, warning flashing in his eyes.
“Nothing.” She shrugs, before losing herself in a fit of giggles, “Or any other girl-“
“Tessa!” Scott grabs her by the arm and tugs and she goes willingly into his side, falling a little and relying on him to support her - which he does without hesitation. “I think you’ve had enough.”
“You’re not the boss of me.” She pouts, reaching out for another shot of whiskey and swallowing it whole before he can snatch the glass away. “You’re nothing to me.”
The words leave her mouth before she can rein them back in, and she listens to each vowel and consonant with horror as they fly off her tongue. It’s not true – could never be true, no matter what has happened or ever could happen between them – but it’s too late, and Tessa can see her vicious words hit him one by one like poisoned arrows.
The room, once lively and happy and full of cheers and laughter, goes silent at her awful display, and Tessa fully expects Scott to walk out and leave her there to suffer under everyone’s judgmental stares.
She’d deserve it.
Instead he swallows loudly, his jaw clenched tight, and speaks quietly, “You’ve had enough. I’m taking you home.”
Without giving her a second to protest, he bends down and lifts her over his shoulder, bids everyone a quick goodbye, and carries her outside.
It’s one hundred percent humiliating and if Tessa hadn’t already moved out of town, she’d have to after tonight just to maintain any shred of dignity that she has left.
“You don’t have to drive me, you know. I can get myself home. It’s like three blocks away.” Tessa fights his hands as he attempts to buckle her into his truck – until finally Scott is forced to grab them and clamp down on her wrists with one hand while finishing fastening the seat belt around her.
“No way. You can’t drive like this.” His voice is cold and distant, and she hates it.
“What would I hit? A cow?” Tessa shoots back, watching him climb into the driver’s seat.
He doesn't reply, just focuses on driving carefully, and she can’t seem to stop looking at him as he does – torn between wanting to apologize and wanting to reach over and boop his nose. Drunk impulses are an entirely different breed of weird.
She settles for tracing the shirt seams along his shoulder, even though Scott’s gone all stiff under her touch (and not in a fun way), until she passes out somewhere between blocks two and three.
Water. She needs water. And possibly a completely new head. The one she’s got is pounding like a motherfucker and Tessa would happily swap it out for a new one, no questions asked.
She lifts her head up from her pillow, finding herself still dressed in her clothes from the night before, and looks around. There’s a glass of water on her nightstand next to a bottle of Ibuprofen, and she reaches for it gratefully – only to freeze mid-motion at the sight of the manila envelope lying next to it.
Reaching for that instead with shaking hands, she pulls out the papers inside and finds Scott Moir signed neat and proper on all the applicable dotted lines.
Her stomach heaves and she runs to the bathroom.
Eventually Tessa emerges after losing all the contents in her stomach (possibly also the stomach itself), having managed to take a quick shower, and is able to take some painkillers and change her clothes. If there was ever a day for her comfy peach colored shorts and matching oversized striped t-shirt, it’s today. Tessa winds her hair into a quick side braid before heading downstairs to face the music. She's certain her mother will have plenty to say about this.
She finds her mom waiting at the kitchen table reading the paper with pursed lips, and steels herself for whatever’s coming next.
“Scott carried you home last night.” Her mom wastes no time in getting right to the point. “You weren’t with him, were you?”
That she wasn’t expecting and she makes a loud noise of protest, her cheeks flaming, “Mom!”
Her mom merely turns the page and continues on, “You can’t blame me for asking. The last time he brought you home drunk like that was New Year’s Eve 2006 and you ended up pregnant.”
Tessa flinches, the bile in her stomach rising back up in her throat. “Last night was nothing like 2006. He and I are not together, and never will be again. And I don’t want to talk about that night. Ever.”
Kate hums in a vague way that leaves Tessa unsure whether or not she believes that her mother will drop the subject, but there’s no use carrying on the argument.
Her phone starts ringing and Tessa looks down to see Harry's name flashing across the screen. "Good morning." She greets him, trying not to sound too horribly hungover.
"Hey! I'm glad you're alright. You didn't call last night."
Shit. "I'm sorry. I was out with some friends and got home pretty late."
"That's perfectly fine, Tessa. I was just worried about you." Harry says kindly, and it makes her feel even worse. "I'm off to play some basketball with the guys, but I just wanted to check in. I love you."
"Have so much fun. I love you too." Her reply is perfunctory, and she hangs up without waiting to see if he'll say anything further.
She can feel her mother boring holes into her head from across the kitchen. "I know you're thinking something, Mom, so just spit it out."
"Does Harry know about all this?"
"... He knows enough." Tessa says, not sounding convincing - even to herself.
"Oh, Tessa." Her mom sighs, and she stiffens.
"It doesn't concern him. Now," Tessa forces herself to ask, “Can you take me to pick up my car?”
“Tess..." Her mom starts to say, but then chooses to let it drop, "It’s out front. Scott dropped it off this morning.” She folds up the paper and sets it down neatly on the table. “Is there somewhere you need to be?”
“Oh.” She honestly hadn’t expected Scott to do that for her, especially after the way she’d treated him last night. “Um… he signed the divorce papers, finally, so I was just going to tell him thank you before seeing if there’s a flight out that I can grab this afternoon. I need to get the papers back to my lawyer.”
“Mail the papers and stay a little longer.” Her mom suggests, finally smiling at her. A quiet pleading look in her eyes. “Tomorrow’s Canada Day, surely you can spare a little more time. You’ve been so caught up in this Scott thing, I’ve hardly seen you.”
It’s so rare that her mother asks her for anything, that Tessa gives in easily. Besides, it might be kind of nice to be home for a holiday for once.
She swings by the post office on her way to Scott’s house, sticking a few extra stamps on the envelope for good measure. It’s high time all this drama came to an end, even if it is a little bittersweet.
When she pulls up to the trailer Scott’s already out front, loading a big toolbox into the bed of his truck alongside a ladder and some cans of paint.
“I thought you’d be long gone.” He says by way of greeting, not pausing to stop for even a second as he continues loading supplies.
“I wanted to bring you the receipts for all the stuff I bought, so that you can take it back. Everything is returnable.” She hands him a wad of little papers all paper-clipped together, but he just shakes his head and frowns – refusing to accept it.
“Nah. I figure all that stuff will help it sell faster.” He whistles for Babcock, gesturing for the dog to jump into the bed of the truck before he closes the back of it with a slam.
“You’re moving?” The thought doesn’t sit well with her. When? Why? Where?
“It’s time.” Scott says simply. “Listen, Tess… I signed your papers. What are you doing here?”
“Scott, I need you to know how sorry I am. For last night, and… and for so many other things. I never meant to hurt you or anybody else. And I just came over here to say… thank you. Not just for signing the papers, but for getting me home safely last night. I always could trust you to take care of me, even when I don’t deserve it.”
He gives her a wan smile and a nod and climbs into his truck without a word.
“You can’t just leave.” Tessa protests. It can’t all end like this. She’s not ready.
“Sure I can.” He disagrees, but then adds with a warmer smile – a hint of hope around his eyes. “Do you want to come with me?”
The familiar pull tugs at her heart, urging her to follow after him. “Where are you going?”
“There’s something that I’d really like to show you.”
It would be easy – so, so easy – to get into the truck and let him take her wherever he’s itching to go, but it would also be wrong. “I can’t.”
His smile falls, the light in his eyes fading. “Can’t, or wont?”
“Both.” Tessa replies ruefully.
“The girl I knew used to be fearless.” Scott says quietly, and Tessa sighs under the weight of his gaze.
“That girl is gone, and she isn’t coming back. I have… other obligations now.”
“I know.” He replies softly. “See you around, Kiddo.”
She watches him back out of the driveway and head down the road, giving him a little wave as he goes.
Chapter 6: Gather Up the Brokenness
Is it too late now to say sorry?
** this chapter briefly talks about miscarriage **
When the shrill sound of the alarm clock rings out the next morning, it isn't a reminder to get up and exercise, or to join her mother helping out at the fireman's breakfast, but a reminder that Tessa owes someone an apology and it can't wait any longer. Texts and phone calls the day before had gone unanswered, so Tessa wakes up early - not even attempting to reach for the snooze button - and throws on her clothes. The weather app on her phone had predicted unusually high temperatures for the holiday, so she puts on a coral colored midriff-baring tank-top with a floral print and high-waisted jeans, and braids her hair before heading out the door.
Her mother had given her the address for Eric's apartment the night before, and Tessa intends to put it to good use.
She rings the doorbell and waits anxiously, shifting her weight back and forth and debating whether or not she should hide so that he can’t see it’s her through the keyhole and decide not to answer. The sounds of someone moving around inside tell her that he’s home, but it takes a few minutes for him to finally open the door.
When he does, it’s with an emotionless expression that makes Tessa’s heart sink.
“Good morning.” He says coolly, his stance - one hand on the door and the other on the frame - clearly says that she's not welcome inside.
She knows she deserves it. She’d been absolutely atrocious two nights ago and almost said something unforgivable.
“Hi Eric. Can we talk? I promise, I’ll be quick.”
"Go ahead.” He gestures for her to begin, still not moving. I guess we’re doing this on the porch, she thinks, bracing herself to say what she came to say.
“I was awful. I was rude and obnoxious and I should never have said what I did. I am so, so sorry, and I hope you can forgive me, but if you can’t then I understand.” She spins her ring around her finger and stumbles on her words, unable to look him in the eye as she speaks.
“You were drunk.” He dismisses her apology, but his voice is still cold and distant and Tessa knows that she can't let him let her off the hook that easily.
“That’s no excuse. I behaved terribly. You and I both know that I did.”
“You did. But…" His face softens, "You didn’t mean to. I know you, Tess, you don’t normally lash out like that unless you feel cornered or out of control.”
“But I still shouldn’t-“
"No, you shouldn’t.” He cuts her off, “But I’ll make you a deal. You talk to Scott – I mean really talk to him. Work out those issues you’re still holding on to – and I’ll forgive you for almost outing me. Deal?”
“I..." She looks up at him with wide eyes, not expecting him to tack on those terms and conditions to his forgiveness. "What if he refuses to talk to me?”
“Fine, you have to make an attempt. Okay?” He amends himself, folding his arms and tilting his head - clearly expecting her to agree.
“Good.” He reaches out and shakes her hand, and Tessa offers him a small smile. It feels like a large weight has lifted off her shoulders when he smiles back.
"Now, since you're still in town I assume you're coming to the Canada Day picnic at the fairgrounds this afternoon, right?"
"Yes. I promised my mom that I'd go with her."
"Excellent. Promise me you won't drink anything." He winks, and Tessa lets herself laugh. If he's joking about it, then she must be forgiven.
"I swear to God, hand on my heart." She nods solemnly, and Eric grins.
The fairgrounds are teeming with people, all gathered to celebrate the Act that united the three separate colonies of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia back in 1867. Tessa could swear that all 17,200 residents of Ilderton must have crowded in together for the occasion - creating a chaotic, but jubilant, environment.
It's really impressive, what the city has managed to put together. There are carnival rides and lots of food stands and fun decorations and games. Canadian flags hang on the arena and surrounding buildings next to banners with the Ilderton motto written in big, bold letters.
Once, back in school, Tessa remembers coming across the phrase "someone is walking over my grave" to describe an irrepressible convulsive shudder or the sudden appearance of goosebumps across the skin. That's how she feels looking at the motto, Ilderton: You're in the Right Place. Like a supernatural force is trying to send her a message.
She turns away, resolving to ignore it.
Instead of dwelling on potential messages from the universe (which she doesn't believe in - she doesn't - not anymore) Tessa meanders through the crowd - inevitably bumping shoulders with quite a few people as she follows her mother to get some dinner. It's a slow process, not just because of all the people, but also because Kate knows just about everybody and stops to make small talk with most of them. They all seem to either know, or have heard of, Tessa, so she gets drawn into the conversations too.
Most of the time it's fine, but every once in a while there's the odd nosy person who asks, "Weren't you married to Scott Moir? What happened there? He's such a sweet boy," and then Tessa has to avoid turning over control to her flight response like she wants to do and running away.
The relief she feels when she spots Chiddy and Liz sitting at one of the picnic tables, eating hamburgers and laughing, is palpable, and she immediately slips away to join them.
“Tess! You're still here!” Chiddy smiles. "Can I grab you some food? A drink?"
"No, thank you. I promised Eric I wouldn't pull a repeat of Friday night here." She says, joking in a self-deprecatingly way. Thankfully Chiddy and Liz laugh. For all her other mistakes, at least she hasn't treated either of them badly.
"When do you go back?" Liz asks, stealing a French fry off of Chiddy's plate despite his noise of protest.
"Tuesday." Tessa reaches over and looks at Chiddy for permission before stealing a fry for herself - giggling when he rolls his eyes.
"That's too bad. It's been nice having you back in town. I'm pretty sure we won the pool game, even though you left early." He gives her a friendly smile, nudging her foot with his under the table.
"Maybe I could fly home for the winter." Tessa suggests, only half-joking. It has been weirdly nice to be home, despite all the drama. Maybe she and Harry could buy a place here. "Hey, do you know who owns the Stewart farm now? I noticed the house has been all fixed up."
Liz laughs, making a weird sort of mocking noise, "Why don't you ask-" Her body jerks to the side suddenly and she glares at Chiddy.
"We don't. Someone new to town, probably." Chiddy sort of answers, and Tessa looks suspiciously back and forth between the two of them - clearly having one of those silent conversations that all couples are somehow able to master.
"Am I missing something?"
The sounds of laughter erupting a few yards away across the grass draws her attention and saves Chiddy from having to answer. She spots Scott, dressed predictably in a bright red t-shirt, getting tackled by a group of little kids. His brothers and their wives are standing around nearby and smiling affectionately at the display, so Tessa figures the kids must be his nephews and nieces.
The scene is, quite frankly, adorable.
Scott is clearly a beloved uncle. The kids take turn tackling him and running around - playing some sort of game of tag or Duck, Duck, Goose, she isn't sure - and Scott plays along willingly. The grin never leaving his face as he does - making him squint his eyes and lighting up his whole appearance.
She doesn’t realize she’s been staring until Chiddy breaks her concentration by saying, “He went up there, you know.”
Tessa glances over at her friend, tilting her head curiously, and he takes a sip of his beer before continuing. “Montreal. About a year after you left. He’d been a mess – drinking a lot, sullen, wouldn’t tell any of us what happened. Wouldn't even really talk to anybody. Just said that you’d agreed to separate. It was obvious he was miserable though, and eventually he picked himself up and decided to try and get you back. But I think the big city made him think he didn’t have anything to offer and that he needed to conquer the world first. He’s been trying ever since.”
“That’s why he kept sending the papers back.” Tessa says quietly, mostly to herself. The revelation burns with physical pain, and she presses her hand over her heart.
“It’s funny how things don’t work out.” Chiddy says quietly with a sad smile.
Swallowing thickly, Tessa shoves down the ache in her chest and smiles back with genuine happiness for her friend and replies, “It’s funny how they do,” tilting her head towards Liz who’s currently chatting away happily with another woman.
“Mr. Scott, when’s our first hockey practice?” A boy no older than twelve runs over to ask, his voice loud enough to carry over to where Tessa and Chiddy are sitting. The boy stands over Scott, who’s lying on his back on the ground and holding his nephew up like an airplane, waiting for an answer.
“Next Thursday, buddy.” Scott says up at him with an easy smile.
“Are we still having figure skating practice on Wednesday?” A little girl walks over to ask, a group of her friends tagging along, all of them looking just as eager for information as the boy.
“Of course, Isabelle.” Scott’s rolled over now, and is currently stomping around on all fours while his nieces and nephews ride on his back – the kids all scrambling around trying to make all five of them fit without falling off. Every time one of them starts to tilt sideways, Scott reaches back and catches them instinctively.
The confusion must show on Tessa’s face, because Chiddy leans over and says, “Scott’s the Ilderton youth coach – for both hockey and singles. All the kids in this town worship him.”
“Oh. That’s really great.” Tessa manages to say, her throat suddenly going dry. That explains the black figure skates he’d been carrying into the trailer the other day.
The display becomes too difficult to watch and Tessa shoots up out of her seat. "I'm going to go find my mom. I'll see you later, Chiddy."
"Okay. See you around, Tess."
She walks away as quickly as she can until she reaches the outskirts of the ground and feels like she can breathe again. Bending over to brace her hands on her knees, Tessa lets herself focus on taking deep breaths and clearing her mind.
“I think you’ve been avoiding me.” A familiar, matronly voice says, and she opens her eyes to see Alma Moir sitting on a bench nearby - patting the spot next to her and waiting for Tessa to sit down.
“No, I haven’t.” Tessa stands up straight and quickly disagrees, but it’s a lie. Out of everyone in this town she had been the most terrified of seeing Alma again.
The woman had been like a second mother to her – ever since she was a tiny little kid with two matching braids and missing teeth – and Tessa can’t bear the disappointment and hatred she must feel for her now.
“Tess, honey, I don’t bite. Sit down.” Alma laughs, and Tessa drops to the bench at her command, afraid of what might happen if she refuses. There's a quiet strength inside Alma that makes her someone you definitely don't want to mess with - as Scott had learned many times as a kid.
“I know that you’re expecting me to be angry with you, and I'll be honest - I was angry for a long time after you left. It hurt me to see how Scott was hurting. He showed me the note you left though, after a few years had passed and a lot of persistent persuading on my side, and I began to understand you a little better. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been to get pregnant, get married, and then lose the baby all in six months. It would have been a lot for anyone to handle, let alone a seventeen year old girl.”
She reaches over and pats her knee sympathetically, and Tessa can feel the tears forming at the corner of her eyes. “I’m still sad about the way things ended, but Scott’s done real well for himself and I think a lot of that was due to your indirect influence. He wanted to be a better man for you, and I'm so proud of who he has become. I just want you to know that I don’t hold a grudge, and you and your family will always be a part of my family – married or not. You were the daughter I never had, and I love you.”
Alma reaches out and wipes away the tears on Tessa’s cheeks that she hadn’t realized had fallen with a kind, softhearted smile, and Tessa surges forward to give her a tight hug.
“Thank you, Alma. You’re so kind and generous, and I’m so sorry for everything that happened.”
"Hush now. It’s all in the past. Time to look towards the future."
They sit together for a while as the afternoon fades into dusk, Tessa quietly answering all of Alma's questions and asking a few innocuous questions of her own - nothing regarding the youngest Moir - until Charlie comes to recruit his mom for his team for some game. It's then that she notices the logo on their matching black shirts: Moir's Skate Shop.
"Did you open a skate shop at the arena, Alma? What a great idea!"
"Oh no, Honey. It's Scott's. He opened a place down in London a few years ago after getting his business degree, and we all pitch in from time to time. Plus, such a big family means free advertising." She says with a wink, before they both wave goodbye and leave Tessa there alone - trying to absorb this new piece of information.
Apparently Scott really had conquered the world while she'd been away.
She considers following Alma back to to the party, but instead decides to wander away from the crowd and down the street.
She doesn't really feel like immersing herself in the overwhelming horde of people anymore, and as she strolls aimlessly she finds that her feet take her to the tiny little pet cemetery a few blocks away.
It's gloriously deserted, and the summer breeze caresses her body and makes the loose strands of her hair tickle her cheeks as she winds her way slowly through the various headstones and tributes to lost companions, until she finally finds what she’s looking for – a small, bronze plaque that reads Tallulah Virtue – and Tessa sits down on the rock in front of it with a slump.
"Hey there, girl. Sorry it took me so long.” She talks quietly, the grief swelling inside her and making her oblivious to the sound of footsteps behind her. “I would have come sooner if I’d known you were sick… Actually, that’s probably not true.” She admits guiltily. “I’ve been pretty selfish lately. Well, for the last decade, really. I guess I’ve been so focused on my own needs and goals, I let myself ignore everyone else – even you.”
A few tears sneak silently out of the corner of her eyes as she chokes out, “You were my best friend. You never left my side, and then I just went right ahead and left you. I bet you sat there waiting, wondering what you’d done wrong.”
“I told her it was my fault.” Scott’s voice from somewhere close behind her makes her jump.
“How long have you been there?” She asks, glancing at him quickly before looking away as he sits down on the rock next to her – squishing in tight by her side – and Tessa hurries to wipe away any evidence of her crying.
“Long enough.” Scott replies gently, reaching out and taking her hand, and she surprises them both by letting him. “She was a good dog.”
“The best.” Tessa agrees.
They sit there in companionable silence, until Tessa’s head falls onto his shoulder – their fingers still entwined. Long before they were romantic partners, before all the drama, they were best friends – two halves of a whole – and it’s her best friend that she sits with now as she mourns the loss of her dog.
“Do you…” He begins after a few minutes, then stops himself.
“What?” Tessa prods gently.
“Do you ever wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t gotten pregnant?”
“Scott…” Tessa lifts her head and pulls her hand out of his, trying to put some space back between them. It's almost impossible, given the size of the rock they're sitting on.
“Just hear me out, T. I need to say this. When you told me about the baby, I was scared, but I thought it would be an adventure. It took me a long time to realize that it would have been your only adventure. I guess Mother Nature knew better, eh?”
“I was so ashamed,” Tessa starts to say, the tears coming back in full force and making it difficult to speak. She hates crying, and she’s done an absurd amount of it today. It makes her feel exhausted - too exhausted to fight anymore - and she lets her emotional barriers drop. Honesty spills out of her unchecked, “Because I felt relieved, and I wasn't sure if I was allowed to feel that way. And it was all so confusing after the miscarriage, because I couldn’t figure out if our marriage had been for us or only for the baby. It became too much. Too confusing and overwhelming. It all got tangled up in my head. So I just… I wrote you a letter like a coward and I ran away.”
“I understand, Tess. You weren't a coward - we were practically still kids. Neither of us knew how to handle all that. But I should have actually talked to you about it before things got so bad, instead of just blindly hoping that they would get better on their own. I knew you were upset and struggling, but I figured you just needed time. I just… never expected that what you needed was actually seven hundred kilometers.”
“I’m so sorry. I know I keep saying that, but I mean it. I never should have left the way that I did. God, I’m so ashamed when I think of it.”
"It… messed me up for a while.” Scott admits. “I came to find you in Montreal eventually.”
“I know. Chiddy told me earlier.” Tessa tells him with a sad smile.
“Chiddy... I bet he’s been bursting to tell you that for nine years.” Scott chuckles mirthlessly. “I didn’t even know what I was going to say when I saw you. Whether I would yell at you, or beg you to come back home. But then I got there and Montreal was so big and full of so many opportunities and I knew that it could offer you so much more than I could, so I left. I… I always assumed that you’d come home when you were ready.”
“Well, you know what they say about people who assume things though, eh? Makes an ass out of you and me.” He chuckles and nudges her shoulder, and Tessa grants him a small smile in response.
“I wish that things hadn’t gotten so complicated.” She lets herself admit out loud, and Scott squeezes her fingers between his.
“Yeah, me too.”
“Maybe –“ She looks at him fully for the first time, and a loud laugh bursts out of her – shocking them both and bursting the bubble. “What happened to you!?” She points at his head, and he looks up like he’s trying to see what she’s pointing at.
“Oh – the gum? Charlotte said she got some in my hair when we were wrestling earlier. I figured I’d just take care of it when I got home. Why? Is it bad?” He asks in concern, looking increasingly alarmed and nervously patting his head as Tessa tries to school her face into something more neutral.
“A little? Scott… I think you’re in for a nasty surprise.” She pulls out her phone and snaps a photo, showing him the war zone in his long dark hair and watching the horror unfold as he takes it in.
“Tess. What am I going to do!?” He looks at her with wide, helpless, pleading eyes and she giggles.
“Let’s go home. I’ll see if I can fix it.”
It isn’t until later that she realizes what she’d said.
“You didn’t put Charlotte up to this, did you?” Scott asks with a pointed look and Tessa tries not to laugh, she really does, but the sight of him with his long hair sticking out wildly from the back of his head thanks to the clumps of bright pink bubblegum is so ridiculous that she just can’t help it. It's so much worse in the bright lights of his kitchen than it was in the dark cemetery.
“I swear I didn’t. Here, come sit down.”
Pouting, he lets her push him into one of the old wooden chairs so that she can assess the damage.
“We can figure this out.” Her voice is not unkind as she starts picking at the wads of gum as gently as she can - genuinely trying to get it out without hurting him or his hair.
“Ow.” He flinches and Tessa mutters an apology. The gum sticks stubbornly to each strand, despite her best efforts to get it untangled.
“Ouch, T! Stop, stop.” Scott swats her hand away and walks out of the room, leaving Tessa to rinse off her sticky fingers and brainstorm what else they can try.
He comes stomping back in a minute later and hands her a pair of small hair salon scissors. With a jolt, she recognizes them as being part of the same kit they’d had when they were married and trying to save money by giving each other haircuts. She'd been better at it than he had. “Here. You win.”
He drops back down into the chair, looking like he's just swallowed a bitter pill, and folds his arms over his chest. The scowl on his face is one of epic proportions, and Tessa has to hide her little happy dance by the sink where he can’t see before walking over to join him.
“Are you sure about this?” She double-checks. As much as she wants to cut it, it is his hair and she doesn’t want to do something he’d be uncomfortable with. “We haven’t tried combing it out yet. Maybe that would work.”
“I’d rather have you cut it than pull it out by the roots.” Scott says with a heavy, resigned sigh. "I don't want bald patches. That would be worse than any haircut you could give me."
“Well is there any particular way you want it then?”
“Just do whatever you think will look best, T. You always had more style than I did.”
Tessa bites her bottom lip to keep from grinning and gets started. It’s more difficult than she’d imagined – cutting out all the gum – and she has to constantly run her left hand through his hair to make sure she’s getting it all, essentially massaging his scalp as she goes along.
Scott’s tense at first, but under her careful ministrations he eventually manages to relax and lets his eyes fall closed.
“It's a little short now, but your hair grows fast and I think I’ve almost got it all.” She murmurs, tugging at the hair at the base of his neck to make sure there's no trace of gum left and that everything has been cut evenly, and a low moan rumbles through Scott’s chest.
Tessa freezes and time stands still. She can tell that Scott’s gone tense again as they both wait for the other to speak. To either acknowledge or brush off the moment.
“All done.” She finally says, embarrassed to hear her own voice come out in such a low, raspy whisper.
He turns to look up at her and Tessa is struck by how much younger he looks. His hair is only slightly shorter than it was when she’d left him ten years ago, and she just knows that in a week or two it’ll be the perfect length.
Scott’s hands come up to rest on either side of her waist and he repositions her between his knees, his thumbs tracing along her hipbones over her jeans as he does. “Does it look alright?” He flicks his head just a little in question, and Tessa realizes with a jolt that her hand still lingers in it, resting on the side of his head.
Move your hand, Tessa! Move it! But her ever-traitorous body doesn’t listen – just continues running her fingers through his hair of its own accord.
“It’s… not bad.” She finally manages to say, attempting to sound casual and disinterested. She’d probably be more convincing if she could stop touching him.
He just hums in response, and after a moment surprises her by sliding his hands around the waistband of her jeans until he finds the buttons in the middle and slowly starts to undo them. Her breathing grows heavy as she watches him with hooded eyes, both of her hands landing on his shoulders for support - squeezing reflexively.
She doesn’t know what he’s doing. She definitely knows she should stop him. But instead, she waits - completely entranced by the expression on his face. A mixture of curiosity and desire.
He doesn’t stop until he's undone all the buttons (five of them, instead of a zipper), then pulls the denim apart to reveal the skin underneath, including her bellybutton ring. The curiosity on his face shifts to satisfaction at the sight.
Tessa realizes with a jolt that that’s what he had been looking for. He’d been with her when she got it, of course, barely seventeen and full of teenage rebellion that dying her hair red hadn’t satisfied. He’d just barely graduated high school and she’d been nervous about how things would change once he started at Western in the fall.
She’s thrown backwards suddenly to the summer of 2006:
“I’m going to miss you so much when you leave.” They were walking hand-in-hand down main street, enjoying the freedom of the summer holidays and having no immediate obligations.
“It’s only a twenty minute drive, Kiddo. I’ll come home all the time, I promise.” Scott said, pausing to kiss her.
"But it won’t be the same." Tessa protested once they had resumed walking, "And you’ll be there surrounded by all these beautiful co-eds with their perfect noses and there will be no room for me in your life anymore.”
“No one could be more beautiful than you." He replied reflexively, like it was the most obvious, natural thing in the world. " L ook,” He pointed to the jewelry display in the store window, stopping her as they walked past, “Let’s go in. I’ll buy you a promise ring and then you’ll know that I’ll always come home to you.”
“You can’t buy me a promise ring, Scott, my parents would freak out if they found out. They already think we’re too attached as it is.” Tessa stated practically, even though the gesture filled her with a giddy sort of joy.
“They don’t have to know.” He grumbled, sounding a little hurt by her rejection, but letting her tug him down the street anyway.
“This, however, we could do.” She pointed at the piercing parlor a few buildings down with a wide, mischievous grin.
“You want to get pierced?” He asked in surprise, eyes wide.
“Uh huh. You can buy me a bellybutton ring instead.”
Scott made a funny choking sound. “How will that not make your parents freak out?”
“Oh, they still will, but for a normal 'my teenage daughter is wild' reason. They don’t need to know it has a deeper meaning.”
“Just to make sure I understand, let me ask again. You want a bellybutton promise ring?” He reiterated, mouth still hanging open in shock.
“Yep! Come on.”
She'd dragged him inside the shop and greeted the receptionist with a friendly smile, picking out one of the simpler silver rings and not at all nervous about what she was about to do. Scott handed over the money, still looking a little unsure but wanting to make her happy.
The process had been quick and less painful than Tessa imagined, and when the technician finished she'd left them alone in t h e room to give Tessa a chance to check it out in the mirror, which she'd done – turning slowly from side to side while keeping her shirt lifted up around her ribs.
“Well? What do you think?” She looked over at Scott, who was staring wide-eyed at the shiny piece of silver winking at him in the bright lights of the studio like he'd never seen anything like it.
Instead of responding, he walked over, dropped to his knees, and kissed her stomach right below the new adornment - careful not to accidentally bump it. “I think it’s perfect. Our little secret, eh?” He grinned up at her, and it did funny things to her insides.
“Our little promise.” She corrected him, running her hand through his hair as she spoke.
“Our little promise.” Scott whispers against her skin, echoing her memory, speaking so quietly she almost misses it. Without warning, his lips are there – pressing into that same spot and sending heat pooling between her legs instantaneously.
Tessa’s eyes fall closed at the achingly, intimately familiar sensation, her arms cradling Scott’s head as he rests his forehead against her stomach. Each puff of breath he exhales against her sends shivers up and down her spine.
It wakes her body up like a volcano that had been lying dormant for many years. Molten lava moving through her veins, reheating her system and making her tingle all over.
“Tessa,” He whispers, lips moving against her like a caress, and what he’s going to do or say next she has no idea, but she wants to find out.
A loud ringing coming from her back pocket breaks up the heavy atmosphere, and Tessa jumps away from him like she’s been burned – recognizing the jingle as the one she’d uniquely set just for Harry.
“That's..." Tessa trails off, but Scott's guarded expression tells her that he knows exactly who it is. That for a moment they'd both let themselves fall under the spell and forget who they are now, but the call was a timely reminder. "Anyway, I should go."
"I know. Thanks for the help with my hair." He grabs the broom from the corner and starts cleaning up, and Tessa struggles to find the right thing to say.
"Um... of course. You're welcome. See you later."
She picks up her purse and walks over to the front door, sparing him another quick glance before opening it and stepping out onto the porch. She barely manages to catch his quiet, "Bye, Tess" before the door closes behind her with an overwhelming sense of finality.
“Well, I’m glad you’re sober and walking on your own two feet this time.” Her mom greets her as she walks in the front door, and Tessa looks up sharply from the text she'd been sending Harry.
“How long are you going to hold that over my head?” She asks, realizing that her mom had been teasing and huffing out a laugh.
“At least a few more days.” Kate replies, kissing her on the cheek. “Where were you?”
There’s something about her tone that tells Tessa her mother knows exactly where she was and sets her on edge.
“At Scott’s. There was a gum incident with his niece and his hair. He needed help.”
“Mmhmm…” Her mom hums as she walks back into the kitchen, and Tessa follows her and the smell of baked goods wafting from that direction. Sure enough, there are cookies fresh from the oven and Kate gets back to work taking them off the tray and setting them onto the cooling racks.
“What?” Tessa sighs, sliding onto one of the stools across from her and stealing a warm cookie – shoving it into her mouth before the gooey treat can fall apart in her hands.
“I saw the way you two were looking at each other.”
“We don’t look at each other.” Tessa disagrees, licking a streak of smeared chocolate off her pinky. “I mean, we do. Obviously. But not the way you’re implying.”
"Tessa, I’m glad that you are finding closure, but that boy is like quicksand where you’re concerned. I don’t want you to get pulled back in.”
"Why do you hold such a grudge against him? I can’t help the way he feels-felt about me.” Tessa insists, correcting her accidental present use of the verb.
“My issue was never with how he felt about you. If it were only about loving you then Scott and I would have no problems at all. I love the Moirs. Alma is one of my dearest friends! But his feelings made him reckless, and you ended up pregnant because of it. My baby girl with her bright, shining future. So smart and so much promise. And it was almost all lost.”
She starts rolling balls of dough rather forcefully as she continues, “Then you left because of him. I lost you all over again in a new, but equally painful, way. And even though I was so proud of all that you were achieving in Montreal, I missed you horribly. If Scott hadn’t gotten you pregnant you would have stayed local and gone to Western and these last ten years never would have happened.”
“Mom…” Tessa hops off the stool and comes around to hug her from behind, resting her chin on her shoulder. Kate pats her hands where they cross over her chest, blinking back tears - neither of them comfortable with showing too much emotion. As they say, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree.
“It takes two people to get pregnant. I was just as responsible for that as he was. And I didn’t leave because of him, I left because of me. I’m sorry for leaving and staying away so long. It wasn’t right. But you have to stop blaming Scott.”
“I know, I know. It’s just easier…” Her voice drops off, but Tessa understands. It’s easier to paint Scott as the villain than acknowledge that life isn’t that simple and decisions can be incredibly complicated and consequences notoriously tricky to predict. Tessa’s intimately familiar with that diversion tactic.
“Can I help?” She releases her hold and steps back, gesturing towards the large bowl of dough.
“That would be lovely, thank you.”
They turn on High Society and Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby take turns crooning in the background as the two women bake side-by-side, something healing inside them both at last. Pieces that they didn't know were missing fitting back into place.
When Tessa slides happily into bed that night, stomach full and humming "So on and on it will always be: True love, true love," she realizes the plot of the movie is disturbingly similar to her own life.
Suddenly her brain supplies her with an image of Scott singing Bing's part in one of the other songs:
And if some distant day
You decided to say,
"Get along, go away, goodbye!"
I'm a one-gal guy.
She rolls over onto her stomach, pulls the pillow over her head, and screams at the universe.
Chapter 7: We Gather Up Our Hearts and Go
Thank you all so much for your kind comments last chapter. I love you all <3
“So I was thinking that we could have a mother/daughter shopping spree down in London today. Maybe throw in a mani/pedi as well. Get some lunch at The Bag Lady. What do you think?” Her mom asks as she brings the water in the pan to a simmer while Tessa retrieves the carton of eggs from the fridge.
“I think that sounds great, Mom.” Tessa smiles and pops some pieces of bread into the toaster. It feels natural, being in the kitchen with her mother like this.
Back when Tessa was a teenager, after Jordan had moved out to go to school, she had spent a lot of mornings hanging out with her mom in the kitchen - just the two of them. Although she had never managed to pick up many cooking skills, the hours spent together had created priceless memories. Memories full of laughter and delicious food (thanks to her mom) and broken dishes (thanks to Tessa), which meant shopping trips to replace said dishes that had forever embedded a love of home goods stores inside of her.
“Excellent. Give me some time after breakfast to get ready and then we’ll head out. Now, hand me that slotted spoon, please."
Kate was still wearing her favorite silk dressing gown, but Tessa had gotten up early again for her morning jog and had since showered and dressed in a cute red sundress, leaving her hair to dry in loose waves around her shoulders. So after breakfast she decides to head out into the backyard to wait for her mother to be ready to leave and indulge her nostalgia a little bit on her last day before heading back to Montreal.
The yard hasn’t changed much over the years. Kate’s herb garden is still lovingly tended to, Kevin and Casey's tree house is still standing high up in the branches - complete with its telescope, pirate wheel, and "No Girls Allowed (that means you, Jo & Tess)" sign - which she and her sister had always ignored, and the little bubbling brook she'd always imagined was occupied by fairies still flows happily through the corner of the property next to the lilac bushes.
It’s as if here, in this one plot of land in western Ontario, time has stood still.
On a whim she walks over to the old rope swing hanging from the biggest tree – the one Scott had called Treebeard after making her watch those fantasy movies that he’d loved - and tests the ropes with a few good tugs. Once satisfied that they aren’t going to snap and send her flying to her death, she sits down and kicks off – letting her head fall backwards and her eyelids drop and enjoying the way time ceases to have any meaning under the warm sunlight.
If she tries, she can almost pretend that she’s ten years old again and Jordan will come running out at any minute to tell her the latest piece of gossip, or that she'll hear her mom’s laughter at something her dad said (probably a ridiculous pun) floating out through the open kitchen window, or Scott strolling over to say –
“Tessa?” Her eyes fly open at the sound of her name being spoken by the last person she ever expected to hear from that morning.
"Harry?" Her fiancé is currently standing underneath the tree next to Scott (Scott!?) and looking at her with a bright, expectant smile that says he’s clearly pleased with himself for having surprised her and is waiting for her to leap into his arms.
She tries to stop swinging, but the momentum is too strong and the sudden force of her feet hitting the ground has her tripping over her bare toes (ouch!) and falling right into Scott’s arms instead.
“Whoa, Kiddo! Careful!” He says as he helps her stand up straight, his hands lingering on her body for a second more than is strictly necessary and warming her in an entirely different way than the sun had.
“Thank you. Sorry - you guys just surprised me.” Tessa tucks her hair behind her ears and looks up at Scott, then over to Harry – her brain is still struggling to catch up with the weird image of the two of them standing before her side by side. “What are you doing here?”
She's not sure if she's addressing Harry or Scott, but it's the first man who answers.
“I missed you and wanted to surprise you!” Harry says, looking curiously back and forth between her and Scott, his smile having dimmed slightly. “I know you were planning on coming home tomorrow, but I just couldn’t wait any longer and I wanted to meet your family. And my mother wouldn’t stop droning on and on about all the eligible women up in Quebec City.”
Tessa chooses to ignore that comment and the way Scott grimaces and grits his teeth like he's trying not to say anything. “But how did you find me?”
“I just pulled into the first public building I saw and asked. It was a tiny little grocery store. Honestly I don’t know how you grew up here with so few amenities – no offense, man.” He says, glancing at Scott who shrugs in return, the muscles in his jaw still tightly clenched. “This gentleman happened to be there and when I asked if anyone knew you he said he’d be happy to show me the way.”
He claps Scott on the back like they're old friends, and Tessa can tell by the way Scott's eyes briefly close that he is beyond irritated. “He came in asking for a Tessa McCormick. Isn’t that odd, T? Took me a second to realize he meant you.” Scott finally speaks, fixing his sharp eyes on her.
“What?” Harry asks, eyebrows furrowing. Scott continues on, ignoring the interruption, his face a mixture of frustration and disappointment.
“Tessa Virtue. Tessa Moir. Tessa McCormick. Doesn’t it get exhausting, keeping track? Do you even know who you are anymore?”
“Scott…” Tessa starts, moving her hand almost unconsciously to reach out for him, and whether she’s going to apologize or try to offer an explanation, she isn't sure. She isn’t even sure that she has the words to explain. How do you tell your fiance and your ex-husband that you've been lying about your last name because your maiden name isn't yours anymore and your married name hurts too much?
“Who is this guy?” Harry cuts in again, louder this time. Tessa knows he's never been the kind of man who waits patiently for explanations. He's used to getting what he wants, when he wants it - both in business and his personal life.
“You and I are in love with two different people.” Scott mutters, shaking his head and stepping out of Tessa’s reach, and her heart thuds painfully at the statement.
“What is he talking about?” Harry clenches his hands into fists, the anger clearly building in his expression.
Tessa takes a deep, fortifying breath and blows it out slowly, preparing for her confession. “He’s my husband.”
“What!?” He throws his hands out in shock, and Tessa can't blame him. She'd be pretty surprised, too, if the situation was reversed. Finding out your spouse was married is kind of a big bombshell - which is why she hadn't ever intended to tell him.
“I mean my ex-husband.” She quickly corrects herself.
"You were married?”
“I came here to finalize my divorce.”
“And you didn’t tell me any of this because…?” Harry steps closer to her, demanding answers, and Tessa can see Scott stiffen out of the corner of her eye - his body language changing from frustration at Tessa to concern for her safety in a instant.
“It was… He’s in a different province… and I thought it was history… I just-I didn’t think it was something that you needed to know.” She stutters, struggling to convey her reasoning. It had all made sense to her once, the secrecy, but now in the light of day all her excuses seem flimsy and careless.
“That doesn’t even make sense, Tessa!” Harry steps forward, crowding her personal space, heat flashing in his eyes and clearly fuming at the revelation. She doesn’t blame him. All of her attempts to justify her actions are pretty weak.
“Hey, back off!” Scott jumps in, putting a hand on Harry’s chest and pushing a little - preventing him from coming any closer to Tessa.
“Scott, it’s fine.” Tessa says, reaching out and touching Scott’s arm to keep him calm and get him to back down. The last thing any of them needs is a fistfight.
He drops his hand from Harry and turns to look at her, searching her face for confirmation that she's okay. “Are you sure, T?”
“I’m fine, Scott, really. We’re good here. You should go.” She nods reassuringly at him, and he reaches out to stroke her elbow before glaring at Harry and walking away.
“Are you sleeping with him?” Harry asks as soon as Scott has disappeared around the side of the house.
“No.” Tessa states quickly in a weird, squeaky voice. "No, I'm not." She tries again, this time sounding more confident.
“Then I am at a complete loss as to what’s going on. I come all the way out here to Podunk, Ontario, using a good chunk of my airline miles, I might add, just to surprise you – my fiancée - and finally meet your family, only to find out that you’re already married and apparently still familiar enough with the other man for him to touch you like that!”
“We’re not familiar. I haven’t even seen him in ten years. Scott was my husband – we got married when we were teenagers – but it… it didn’t work out. We separated, but didn’t have an official divorce. I wasn’t worried about it until you proposed, but then obviously I knew I needed to get it taken care of. It didn’t seem like a big deal.”
Tessa gives him a hurried summation of the events of the past week, hoping that the lies sound more convincing than she feels. She really doesn’t want to get into all the details of when and why and the fact that she had tried to divorce Scott multiple times, but apparently he’d been sending the papers back because he was still hoping she’d come home, and no, she doesn’t know how she feels about that.
“So you kept it all a secret and lied about your real name.”
“I only sort of lied. McCormick is one of my middle names. I wanted a fresh start, and Marie-France thought it would help if I adopted a nom de plume after I graduated from McGill.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you hid it from me, along with the truth about your estranged husband. Lots of people have a past, Tessa, I wouldn’t have minded. In fact, it would have really bugged my mother – which would have kind of been a perk.”
A flash of irritation jolts through her at the second mention of his mother. It really would be nice if they could have a conversation about their lives without him bringing up how she would feel about it. “I guess, I just thought it would be easier if my past stayed in the past.”
“Are there any other secrets that I should know about? Another ex-husband? An ex-wife?”
"No. None.” She shakes her head vigorously, almost giving herself a headache.
"Will you tell me what your real, legal name is?”
“Tessa Jane McCormick Virtue Moir. It’s a bit of a mouthful. You can see why I dropped a few pieces of it. There's no way it would fit on a clothing label.” She jokes, and it earns her a crooked smile from Harry.
“Alright. You can keep the first four on that list if you want, but I’d prefer if you dropped the last one when we get married.”
“… Of course.” There's a slight moment of hesitation that she can't explain. Of course he would want her to drop Scott's last name, but it seems almost... wrong, and she's briefly diverted by the thought.
Tessa Moir. Tessa Chen. The two names flash back and forth in her mind like a strobe light.
Harry reaches out for her hands, bringing her attention back to him. “Then I can forgive the past. What I need to know is if you still want me in your future.”
“Yes. Absolutely.” Tessa replies, standing on her tiptoes to kiss him. After all, she’d made her choice. She and Scott are divorced now, and Alma had told her to look to the future. A future that Harry is standing here asking to be a part of. “We should drive back to Montreal.” She suggests impulsively.
“Drive?” Harry’s eyebrows shoot into his hairline. He hates long drives and she knows it. He’s definitely not the kind of guy who sings and dances in the car or enjoys playing road trip games like Inside the Actor’s Studio. Tessa had tried once a few months ago on a drive to Ottawa and he had shut her down before she even asked the first question.
“Yeah. It will give us time to talk. You can tell me about your childhood, and I’ll tell you about mine.” She steps in closer and plays with the collar of his shirt, giving him her best puppy dog eyes. They need this. She needs this.
“Alright, Tessa, I’ll indulge your whim just this once.” He agrees, which is a relief. If his smile is a little patronizing, well, she lets it slide in favor of celebrating her small victory.
"Thank you. Now, I would like you to come meet my mother."
She takes his hand in hers and leads him up the back porch and into the house, where her mom is busy scrubbing dishes at the sink and trying to look innocent. If Tessa had to guess, she'd say her mom had been watching everything unfold from the window and only scurried away a moment before they entered the house.
“Mom, this is Harry Chen, my fiancé. Harry, this is my mother, Kate Virtue.”
She drops the pot she'd been holding and wipes off her hands, reaching out to accept Harry's handshake with a warm smile, "Hello."
“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs. Virtue.” Harry gives her his megawatt, media smile in return. The one he reserves only for the people he wants to like him the most. “You have a lovely home and an even lovelier daughter.”
“Thank you, Harry. It’s so nice to finally meet you.”
"Mom, Harry and I are going to drive back to Montreal so that we can have some time to talk. I'm sorry about our plans today - we'll have to reschedule for the next time I'm in town." In truth, Tessa would much rather spend the day shopping with her mom, but she knows that it's more important right now to get everything straightened out with the man she's supposed to be marrying.
"I understand, Honey. Just don't let it be ten years again." She says, pulling Tessa in for a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“You know what? We can wait until tomorrow. Kate, I would consider it a great honor if you would accompany Tessa and I around town and show me what makes Ilderton special. I’d very much enjoy a grand tour of the place that inspired such an amazing woman.”
Tessa looks over at him in alarm. She had not been counting on that. “There really isn’t much to see. Ilderton’s kind of a ‘blink and you miss it’ type of town.” She really doesn’t want to journey down memory lane with Harry – especially not where people could bump into them. It’s too much of an uncontrollable situation and anything could happen. Things are tenuous between them enough as it is right now, without someone from her past accidentally making it worse.
“Nonsense. I really would like to see it.” He dismisses her with a wave, looking expectantly at Kate who smiles and acquiesces easily to his request - either missing or ignoring the pleading NO Tessa had been trying to quietly send her.
“I’d love to come with you and be your guide, Harry. Would you prefer to drive or walk?”
“It’s such a lovely day, Mrs. Virtue, let’s walk.”
“Please call me Kate.”
"Alright, Kate, lead the way."
Everything starts out fine and they make it quite a few blocks without incident - to the point that Tessa starts to relax. Which is of course when they come around the corner and find the police cruiser parked in front of the Miller's farmhouse.
"No, Mr. Miller, there is no evidence that Mrs. Campbell stole the ducks from your pond. I checked her house myself." Charlie sounds exasperated, but like he's trying to cover it up, and writes something down in the small notebook in his hand.
"But Sheriff Moir there is a precedent of her stealing livestock that I don't think you've taken into account."
"Kittens aren't livestock, Mr. Miller, and the police investigated that 'crime' years ago and found her innocent. You know that."
"It was rigged. She used that Virtue girl as an accomplice."
"Regardless of your personal feelings on the matter- oh, hey Tutu! Mrs. Virtue!" Charlie stops for a second to give them a cheery wave.
"Good morning, Sheriff!" Tessa says with a cheeky smile. It's still a little weird to see Charlie in uniform, even if it does look good on him.
"Are you sure she didn't do it?" Mr. Miller scowls in her direction, and Tessa can't help but recoil a little bit.
Charlie rolls his eyes while the old man isn't looking before replying, "A report about the ducks has been filed, Mr. Miller, I'll let you know if we find anything. Have a good day."
Mr. Miller walks back into his house, slamming the door loudly behind him as he goes, and Charlie rolls his eyes again and sighs. "Sometimes I watch American police shows just to remind myself that at least I'm not getting shot at on a daily basis."
The three of them laugh and Charlie sticks out his hand to introduce himself to Harry. "Good morning, I'm Charlie Moir. You must be Tessa's new man."
"Yes, I suppose I am. Moir... are you related-?"
"Older, funnier, brother." Charlie answers the question before it's finished, and Tessa cringes slightly in preparation for things to turn awkward. Although if she had to run into anybody on this walk, she's grateful it's Charlie. Danny, who had always been a little more protective of Scott, would probably not be as friendly.
She's pleasantly surprised when Harry doesn't make a big deal out of it. "It's very nice to meet you. Can I ask, what's the story behind the nickname Tutu?"
"Oh," Charlie chuckles, "One Halloween when Tess and Scottie were little she couldn't decide between being a princess or a ballerina, so my mom made her a costume that combined both. Biggest tulle skirt I have ever seen. The name just stuck after that."
"That was the year Scott decided if Tessa could be two things, he could too. He wore the funniest little vampire ninja turtle costume, do you remember?"
Tessa turns to her mom in surprise, shocked that she'd offered up that information - and with a fond smile, no less.
"Oh yeah!" Charlie joins in with Kate's laughter, and Tessa starts to wonder if she's having an out of body experience. "He kept running around, hyped up on sugar, yelling 'Cowabunga!' and trying to bite Tutu and we had to sit him down the next day and have a serious chat because we were worried it was becoming a fixation."
It had become a fixation, years later (the biting, not the turtle cries, and mostly only in the crevice between her neck and shoulder and on the underside of her breasts), but absolutely nobody needs to know that so Tessa keeps the thought to herself.
Instead of speaking she tries to focus on rubbing reassuring circles into the back of Harry's hand. The conversation had definitely taken an awkward turn now, and she can tell that he feels uncomfortable.
"That sounds like a fun memory." Harry says through a tight smile, clearly irritated, and Tessa wonders if she's imagining the look of triumph in Charlie's eyes. Maybe Danny isn't the only one who's protective of Scott.
"Yeah, I don't think I have a single memory of Scott after he turned nine that doesn't include Tutu. Those kids were glued at the hip."
"Yes, well, we'd better get going. We don't want to keep you." Kate hurries to say, trying to ease the tension as if suddenly realizing that she'd inadvertently contributed to it. Charlie takes the hint and gives them a little salute.
"I'm off to get all my ducks in a row." He laughs at his own joke, and Tessa can't help the little giggle that breaks free - earning her a wink from Charlie in return. "You folks have a lovely rest of your walk."
"Thanks, Charlie, we will. Good luck with the whole Miller/Campbell feud."
"As long as you stay out of it, I think we'll be okay." He teases and Tessa laughs again, her heart bursting with affection as he drives away - even though he had probably widened the rift between her and Harry.
But that's always been her weakness: the Moir boys are just too damn easy to love.
They continue their walk, the silence only broken up by Kate occasionally pointing out various landmarks or buildings, and Tessa lets her mind wander to thoughts of food and what they should eat for lunch. Maybe they should still drive into London, she wonders, there are definitely more restaurant options there.
“That’s a beautiful home. I love the white house combined with the red barn like that. Very old school country-chic.” Harry says, pointing across the street and drawing Tessa's attention away from her rumbling stomach.
“That’s the old Stewart farm.” Kate says dismissively, but Tessa jumps at the chance to finally get the information she's been curious about since her arrival.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you about that.” She says eagerly, “I asked Chiddy, but he got weird and wouldn’t answer. Who bought this place and fixed it up? It used to be a dump and now it’s amazing.”
“Oh," Kate hesitates, glancing quickly at Harry before looking away, "Scott did. He bought it a few years ago for an absurdly low price. I think the Stewarts were anxious to be rid of it after their father passed away. We all thought he was crazy – it seemed like a complete money pit – but he’s been renovating it with the help of his brothers and it’s turned out really nice. Alma has shown me some pictures and I wouldn’t have guessed it was Scott’s taste, to be honest, but she said he hired an interior designer to help ‘get it just right.’ Lord knows what he needs all this space for.”
Scott. Scott bought the a house. Not just any house, but the one house in Ilderton he specifically knew that she liked. The revelation hits her like a truck.
And apparently he’d renovated it himself and made sure to bring someone in to do all the decorating so that everything would be perfect. But perfect for who?
"Maybe he's looking to get remarried and start a family." Harry suggests, and Tessa's blood runs cold.
Her heart is screaming that he did it all for her, but her head wants to deny it. Wants to convince herself that he was probably sick of living in the trailer and he has money now so why shouldn’t he have a nice home? And maybe Harry is right and he did it because he wants to find a nice girl and settle down. One who won't leave without a warning.
He did it for you, her heart continues to scream anyway – paying no heed to anything that her brain is saying.
She spends the rest of the walk in a stupor having a serious mental debate about Scott's motivations while her mother and Harry chat happily, oblivious to the turmoil raging inside the woman lingering on the path behind them.
“I hope you’ll come visit us in Montreal very soon, Kate. We’d love to show you around before the wedding.” Harry says kindly the next morning while loading up the car with their things.
“Do you have a date picked out yet?” Her mom asks, handing Tessa a bag of fresh cookies for the drive.
“No-“ Tessa begins to say, but Harry talks right over her.
“My mother thinks we should wait until at least Christmas, but I just can’t wait that long. I suggested September First and luckily the Château Vaudreuil was available.”
“What?” Tessa looks at him in shock. “You picked a date? And a venue? When were you going to tell me?” She's trying really hard to keep the anger out of her voice, but those are big decisions that the bride should probably be part of.
“Today, when I saw you. Obviously I became a little distracted. There isn’t a problem, is there? I just love you and want to marry you as soon as possible.” He kisses her cheek and Kate murmurs awwww and Tessa feels like she has to smile and pretend everything is okay, even though she's really pretty upset about it.
“It’s just a little fast. I don’t even have a dress yet.” She points out, trying to keep her voice more meek and not pick a fight.
Harry easily dismisses her concern. “Don’t worry about that. I spoke to Marie-France and she’s whipping up something for you.”
“Well, it seems like you’ve thought of everything.” Tessa speaks through gritted teeth, forcing herself to keep the smile plastered to her face.
“I have. You just relax and enjoy daydreaming about our life together.”
“It sounds wonderful, Harry, I can’t wait.” Kate jumps in, sensing that Tessa is a landmine about to blow and trying to diffuse the situation. “After all, how many times does your youngest daughter get married?”
It works in a backhanded way, as they all cringe and Tessa momentarily forgets her annoyance in favor of mortification.
“I mean, except that other time, of course.”
It's going to be a long drive back to Montreal.
“Wait, wait, wait. I think I’m going to need you to start again. When you said you were in serious need of a girl’s night and some advice, I thought it meant you wanted to discuss your bachelorette party, which I am planning by the way, not that you needed help choosing a groom.” Kaitlyn holds up the hand not currently wrapped around the stem of her wine glass, looking at least as confused as Tessa feels.
They’re sitting on Tessa’s couch, both of them having worked through one bottle of wine together and now currently making progress on their second, and Tessa has just finished going over her past week in detail with her unsuspecting best friend.
“Not choosing the groom, Kait, just… figuring out how I feel about getting married so soon. I thought I had more time and this past week has been so crazy and Harry-“
“We can get to that in a second. I’m going to need to focus on husband number one first. You married him when you were seventeen?”
“And how long had you been dating at that point?”
“I’m not really sure. We’d been best friends for like ten years already by then… it’s hard to say when it became officially more than that. Our first kiss was when I was ten, but our first real kiss was when I was fifteen.”
“Jesus. That is a lot of history for a couple of teenagers.”
“So then you left and moved to Montreal the following January, eight months after the wedding.”
“We were assigned as freshmen roommates at McGill, and you just… never mentioned him? Not once!”
“I needed a new beginning.”
“I get that. I’m not blaming you. I’m just trying to work out the timelines in my head. Because I remember wondering why you never dated anybody. I mean, there was Chad in your Psych 101 class, Damien in that pilates class you took sophomore year, our neighbors Ryan and Antonio junior year who adored you, and Lance senior year who sent you flowers every week and walked you to class. You never dated any of them and I always was so confused. Frankly, I thought you were a lesbian who hadn’t come out yet.”
“I’m impressed." Tessa says with a little laugh, downing the rest of the wine in her glass, "I don’t even remember all that.”
“I’m not done. The first date you ever went on that I knew of was four years ago and you called me sobbing from the bathroom of the restaurant, do you remember? I thought for sure I was going to have to come down there and kick someone’s ass.”
Tessa does remember. The man, a perfectly respectable, attractive lawyer, had made some innocuous comment about the Maple Leafs and it had sent her spiraling. She’d ended up calling Kaitlyn for a ride and complaining of food poisoning – which had backfired when he’d threatened to sue the restaurant – then spent the night curled up in a ball under her blankets crying, staring at the ring in the box she kept in her nightstand, and wondering if she had committed adultery.
“What about Peter? I dated him.” Tessa says, feeling the need to defend herself – against what, she isn’t sure, only that she doesn’t like the picture of a pining, lovesick girl that Kaitlyn is painting her as.
“You went on three dates, slept with him once, and then called me crying. Again. Really, Tess, I have been holding in a lot of questions over the years.”
Tessa cringes. She'd forgotten she'd called Kaitlyn to cry about him too. “I guess I just wasn’t ready any of those times.”
“So what made Harry different?”
“I don’t know… he was safe, I guess. A constant gentleman, confident in his life choices and career path, never unpredictable or hotheaded, keeps his emotions under control at all times. Harry is… stable. I know how my life will be with Harry now, in five years, in twenty.”
“And that’s what you want? Stable, predictable, and safe?”
“Yes? I mean, isn’t that kind of what we all want? Nobody wants to be out of control.”
"Maybe…” Kaitlyn hums, refilling both of their glasses, “But it sounds to me like you might be choosing Harry because you’re scared of the unpredictable, not because you actually want to spend your life with him.”
“But I do. I love him.” Tessa argues. She does, doesn't she? She'd been ninety percent sure a week ago before Ilderton, she should be at least that now - and that should be enough, right?
“Do you remember Charles?”
"Yes.” Tessa replies. Charles had been Kaitlyn’s boyfriend right after they’d graduated, and things had been pretty serious between them for a while.
“He proposed to me, and I thought I loved him.”
“He did?” That was news to her, although she had kind of suspected it at the time, “Why didn’t you say yes?”
“Because I hesitated long enough to realize that my head and my heart were saying two different things.” The look Kaitlyn gives her is a little too knowing, and makes Tessa squirm deeper into the couch cushions.
“Well, it’s a big decision.” Tessa points out.
“It’s supposed to be the easiest one you ever make. For example, if Andrew proposed to me tomorrow I would say yes without question, and he knows it. We’re it for each other and nothing else matters – the decision is simple. Was it that way with Harry when he asked?”
Tessa stares at the deep red liquid in her glass, pondering the question. Had she felt certain the night Harry had proposed? Not really. Mostly she had felt shocked and then immediately worried about her lack of a divorce. In the weeks leading up to the proposal, she hadn’t even thought about it in anything other than an abstract kind of way – he had completely blindsided her. Sure, she knew that he loved her and that it was probably coming some day, but she hadn’t expected it so soon.
Then the week after the proposal had been one insanity after another back in Ilderton – each day leaving her head spinning more than the one before.
After the silence has stretched on too long while Tessa thinks, Kaitlyn nudges her knee with her toes, tilting sideways and almost falling off the couch as she does. “I’m not trying to make you have doubts, Tess. I just want you to take some time to think. I don’t know if you’ve really done that.”
“I think…” Tessa starts, but then gives up. It’s no use trying to work out her feelings when she’s drunk on wine and feeling emotional. “I think we should watch a Jane Austen movie. You pick.”
“Ooh. Let’s do Persuasion. We haven’t watched that one enough.”
"Miss Elliot, I can bear this no longer. You pierce my soul. I'm half agony, half hope. Unjust I may have been. Weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it eight years ago.”
Tessa reaches up to wipe surreptitiously at her wet eyes while Captain Wentworth confesses his feelings on screen, shooting a glance at Kaitlyn to make sure that she hasn’t noticed her tears, but the blonde is curled up at the end of the couch and dozing peacefully.
With a loud sniffle Tessa curses the whole confusing situation.
Damn the wine. Damn their heartfelt conversation and Kaitlyn's advice. Damn Jane Austen for being so romantic. And damn herself for having absolutely no idea what she should do.
Chapter 8: But Now it's Come to Distances
When in doubt, flee to Paris.
(We are almost there guys, I promise! She just needs a little bit more of a push)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Sitting alone at her antique wooden desk in her warehouse in Montreal, the only sound that Tessa can hear, apart from the distant traffic, is the gentle humming of the laptop in front of her. The lights in the office are turned down to the level that she likes, her New York Ballet mug is full to the brim with fresh coffee, and she’s pulled up her long hair into a messy bun on top of her head – in other words, she’s ready to get to work.
She has about two hundred missed emails from her week away that she still needs to catch up on, designs to go over, pieces to finish, and not to mention the office could use a good cleaning (she can’t afford to hire a service yet). But instead of attending to all those things, Tessa sits at her desk with her legs crossed, staring aimlessly out of the window at the one-footed pigeon sitting on the brown brick ledge, while her coffee gets cold and the emails continue to pile up.
Once upon a time she was the most motivated person on her staff. “Le petit moteur qui pourrait,” Marie-France had called her. The little engine that could. Now she can’t seem to connect the tracks from one thought to another and her little engine stays put.
Two weeks. She’s been back in the city for two weeks and she isn’t any closer to knowing her own mind regarding her impending marriage. She'd made her decision when Harry had shown up in Ilderton, but it needles at her in the back of her mind - keeping her up at night, preventing her from being able to focus, making her feel itchy and restless.
Harry is having no problems with his engine though. He’s been full-steam-ahead wedding planning ever since their return, making decisions and getting everything ready. Completely oblivious to Tessa's hesitation (mostly because she's careful to hide it from him).
Even while on his current business trip to Singapore he’s still managed to pick a caterer and a florist. It probably should bother her, since she is the bride and it’s her wedding too, that he isn’t including her in any of the decisions, but for some reason she doesn’t seem to mind. Tessa is completely content to let Harry plan the whole thing exactly how he likes it. Or, she suspects, how is mother likes it. He'd told her that his mother had said, "Well, if you're going to marry the girl you might as well do it right" - so she assumes Mrs. Chen has a hand in all the planning.
Tessa figures that because she had been mostly responsible for planning her first wedding and it had been a tiny affair at a local church, it’s not like she has the skills or knowledge to plan a wedding with five hundred guests (ninety-percent of whom are Harry’s or Mrs. Chen’s) - so she might as well let the experts handle it.
It’s probably a little unusual, too, that in the two weeks since returning to Montreal she’s only seen Harry three times. He’s been so busy alternating his focus between wedding planning and his job, that they haven’t had any time for each other. A dinner here, a quick lunch there, but other than that – nothing.
She thinks that, like the wedding planning, it should bother her more than it does.
It definitely would have bothered her before the whole Ilderton affair. Before the engagement and ensuing chaos she had seen him almost every day, and on the days she didn’t see him he would at least call or text, but now… now he’s practically gone radio silent and Tessa feels relieved.
But that’s a dangerous emotion to start analyzing on a Tuesday morning, so Tessa shoves it into a box inside her head and files it away. Everything is fine. It's all under control. She should be excited and grateful that she doesn't have to put in any work.
With a long, drawn out sigh she drops her feet to the floor and scoots her chair forward, determined to cut down on some of the emails crowding her inbox and stop fixating on her upcoming nuptials.
Twenty minutes later and one-hundred and fifty-seven emails left to go, she’s in the middle of reading the one about her apartment’s rental price increasing at the end of August (she should probably ask Harry where they're going to live...) when her cell phone lights up with a call from Marie-France.
“Bonjour!” Tessa answers cheerfully, grateful for both a friendly voice and the distraction. Any opportunity to escape her thoughts is a good one, especially if it comes in the form of her dear friend and mentor.
“Bonjour, ma chère! How was your visit home?” Marie replies just as cheerfully, and Tessa can hear Billie-Rose in the background singing along to Moana.
“It was… not exactly what I expected, but good. How have you been? How are the preparations for Paris Fashion Week going?”
"Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I’ve been having some interesting conversations with Paul Vasileff, the young designer for Paulo Sebastian, you know? He’s interested in working together on a collaboration with Disney and would like to meet with us to discuss it. He’ll be in Paris in a few weeks, and Patrice and I were already planning on taking Billie-Rose for the rest of the summer, so I agreed to meet with him.”
“Marie, that sounds amazing! But what do you mean ‘us’?” Tessa asks in confusion, not missing her friend's use of that particular pronoun.
“Yes, us, chère. I think it will be a very good thing. I know you have to be back for your wedding at the beginning of September, and I won’t be missing that either, and I understand if you have too much planning to do, but if you can be spared Patrice and I have plenty of room for you to stay with us and I think you, me, and Paul could really create something magical together.”
Paris? Tessa would love to go to Paris. It actually couldn’t be coming at a more perfect time for her personally. She could really use the break right now and a chance to get away and clear her head. But is it practical so close to the wedding?
"I would love to join you, um… it’s just difficult timing. I’m not sure Harry would be very happy with me if I bailed on him right now. When exactly are you going?”
“We would leave next Saturday, July twenty-eighth. I understand if you feel you cannot go, although I cannot deny that I am disappointed.” Marie sounds upset, but like she’s already moving on. And that’s who she is – confident, poised, and certain in all her decisions. Tessa doesn’t think she’s ever seen Marie-France be indecisive. It’s a quality that she wishes she shared. Tessa can make decisions only after she's spent hours working out what the most practical, logical choice would be.
“No!” Tessa cries out impulsively. “No, I can go. I want to go. Harry’s doing most of the planning for the wedding anyway and there isn’t too much left that needs to be done, I’m sure he won’t mind.”
“Are you quite certain?” Marie asks slowly, and Tessa knows that this is her last chance to back out. Marie probably has her finger on the button to purchase flights right now.
“Absolutely.” Tessa states with more confidence than she feels.
"Très bon!” Tessa hears some clicking in the background and then, “I’ll send over our flight details aussitôt. Do you think you can stay a month? I have so much I want to show you and so many people to introduce you to. And there’s a dress in Paulo Sebastian’s Autumn line that would look marvelous on you for the wedding, unless you’re wanting to design your own, of course.”
“Sure. I can make it work.” Tessa agrees, already pulling up Google to research all of the things in Paris that she wants to see. The Champs-Élysées, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower (especially at night), Notre-Dame… the list goes on and on. “And no, I don’t want to make my own dress. Something from Paulo Sebastian sounds perfect.”
"Excellent. I’ll chat with you later then, Tessa. Au revoir!”
Going to France six weeks before her wedding is crazy. She knows it, and she knows everyone else will think so too, but for once in a very long time Tessa wants to indulge her spontaneous side and if that happens to mean going to the city she’s always longed to see, well then that’s just a bonus.
“What do you mean you want to go to Paris? Tessa, we’re getting married in less than a month and a half and I’ve hardly seen you.” Harry’s voice is frustrated, bordering on angry, as Tessa tries to explain her decision over the phone to him later than night.
“I said I am going to Paris, Harry, and it’s hardly my fault that we haven’t seen each other. You’ve been in Singapore!” She tries to remain calm, she really does, but the decision has been made. He can’t talk her out of this one.
“I’m here for business, you know that. It’s not like it was my choice to leave you.”
“I know. And going to Paris is important for my business. You knew Fashion Week was the same month as the wedding. It’s why two days ago I vetoed your idea of taking a month long honeymoon.”
Harry huffs, grumbling under his breath, “I still can’t believe you’re limiting us to just two weeks in Bali.”
“Two weeks is still longer than most honeymoons, Harry, and that’s not the point. The point is this trip to Paris is a great opportunity for me.”
“I understand that, it’s just really bad timing. Surely you can see that?”
“I know, but you have most of the wedding planned anyway, and if it makes you feel better Marie-France has a dress in mind for me in Paris - so it is kind of a wedding-related trip, if that makes you feel better.” Tessa uses her best cajoling voice to coax him into agreeing with her.
It seems to have worked and his voice is calmer when he replies, “I suppose... when will you be back?”
“I bought a return flight for August twenty-fifth. That should be plenty of time.”
“A week?” His voice shoots back up in volume at the news, and Tessa flinches. “You’ll barely be over the jet lag! I can’t get married to a zombie bride who’s half dead on her feet.”
Tessa rolls her eyes so hard it hurts. “Harry, it will be fine. I promise. Please support me in this – you know how hard I’ve worked to have a successful career and this is a chance to do something really amazing with Disney. That’s a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity.”
“I want to be supportive, Tessa, I do. I just can’t believe that I’m not going to see my fiancé for pretty much the entire two months leading up to our wedding.” He sounds surprisingly sad, and Tessa wonders for a second if she’s misjudged him. If maybe all of his intense planning for the wedding comes from a place of excitement and not insecurities or a desire to irk his mother.
“Well… just think of how much sweeter our reunion will be.” She says tenderly in an attempt to placate him. “They say absence makes the heart grow fonder for a reason.”
He chuckles, low and deep, and Tessa worries for a second that she’s gone too far and he’ll want to have phone sex and she just isn’t in the mood for that at all. It takes so much more concentration than regular sex – she can’t just “lie back and think of England” like she could if they were together. She's confident (aka: she hopes) that her sex drive will return by the wedding, but right now she just doesn't have the heart for it.
Thankfully, all he says is, “I’ll be holding you to that,” and Tessa breathes out a sigh of relief.
“Well, ma chère, what did you think of the display?” Marie asks as they leave the Musée Yves Saint Laurent a couple weeks later, swinging Billie-Rose back and forth between her and Patrice as they stroll along the Seine towards the Tuileries Garden.
“It was wonderful. Such an amazing opportunity to see the history of an iconic designer and how he worked and how his designs changed and evolved over the years. The sketches were my favorite part.” Tessa effuses. She’s always had great respect for Yves Saint Laurent, as any designer would, and being in Paris makes her feel like she’s among the greats in her field.
“Mine as well.” Marie agrees with a happy hum, “I have always loved to see how other artists think and work through their individual process.”
“Yes. Although it makes me feel like I have a long way still to go.”
“We all feel that way. The trick is to keep going.” Marie says with a wink. “Now, we must hurry if we want to make our appointment with Paul. On se voit bientôt, mon amour.” She kisses Patrice on the lips and her daughter on the cheek before leading Tessa away to catch a taxi.
They were originally supposed to meet with Paul Vasiloff on Wednesday, August first, but he had been delayed in Australia and couldn’t come until a week later. It had annoyed Marie, who is the epitome of punctuality, but Tessa hadn’t minded rescheduling in the slightest.
She’s been loving Paris so much, the ambience, the sights, Marie and Patrice’s cozy and chic apartment with its views over the Seine, exploring the city with little Billie-Rose - whose childish curiosity and constant stream of questions helps Tessa see everything in a different kind of way. It’s been absolutely perfect so far (and the endless stream of pain au chocolat hasn’t hurt either).
She's happy as long as she isn’t alone. As soon as she’s alone her thoughts start to spiral and her heart starts to ache, and her biggest problem is that she doesn’t know who she’s aching for. There's been a lot of reading and shopping between accompanying Marie to business meetings in an attempt to keep her mind from straying.
But the day of their appointment has finally arrived and it’s time to get down to business, so Tessa sits up a little straighter in her sleek black dress and straightens her ponytail while they take the taxi to the Paris offices of Paulo Sebastian.
“Disney has always been a source of inspiration for me. Growing up I was always enthralled by the magic of transformation that the stories offered.” Paul says with a friendly smile as he leads them through is office space.
The twenty-eight year old had surprised her with his simultaneous kindness and intensity when they were introduced. He had very short hair, angled eyebrows, and dark pointed eyes that seemed to look right through her soul, but he was full of boyish energy and enthusiasm that was a very jarring juxtaposition to his appearance. She’s still trying to get used to it even as he continues to speak.
“To have Disney entrust me with telling their stories through couture is an absolute dream come true. I am very familiar with your work, Madame Dubreuil, and my assistant showed me a few of the pieces from your show in June, Mademoiselle McCormick. I’m very excited about the dresses you’ve been creating with mesh and sheer fabrics, as I, too, like to work with those elements. I think the three of us can create something truly magical together.”
“Thank you, Monsieur Vasileff, we are very honored that you thought of us.” Marie replies and Tessa nods enthusiastically behind her. She feels a little bit like a drowning woman trying to keep her head above water, but she’s determined to learn how to swim and to learn fast.
They spend the rest of the afternoon going over the basic sketches Paul has done so far - French tulle and silk chiffon in tones of petal pink, rose, iridescent starlight, raw umber and ebony shades adorned with intricate hand-sewn embroideries of woodland scenes, sweet nightingales and floral motifs, evoking a sense of enchantment synonymous with Disney storytelling. In a word: beautiful. Tessa can’t wait to begin working with him for real.
“Now,” He begins over a cup of espresso, “I believe Marie mentioned you were in need of a wedding dress. I have a beautiful gown in my Autumn and Winter collection that I think is perfect for you. Would you like to see it?”
“Yes, I would like that very much, thank you.”
He leads them to the adjoining room where bolts of fabric are spread across tables alongside swathes of paper covered in sketches in various stages of completion. At the end of the room is a rack full of his finished dresses.
Paul runs his fingers across the garment bags looking for the right one, before finally saying, “aha!” and lifting one of them off the rack and bringing it over to her. He holds it out over his arms and nods for her to unzip the bag.
"Voila. C’est magnifique, non?”
It is magnificent. The dress is an almost iridescent shade of white and so, so delicate – with a caped gown and three-dimensional floral embroidery covering the bodice, cape, and long sleeves. The fabric is light and thin, without being so sheer that it borders on obscene. It is the epitome of gentle, fairytale elegance.
“Oui. C’est très joli.” Tessa agrees, gently stroking the fabric between her fingers.
“I knew you would love it the moment I saw a picture of it on Paulo Sebastian’s Instagram.” Marie says from beside her, one hand on her shoulder for emotional support.
"You were right, Marie, as usual. It’s the perfect dress.” Tessa readily acquiesces. It is perfect – not for a wedding in a quiet church of course, but for a giant wedding in front of prominent members of Quebec society at Chateau Vaudreuil it is perfect. Harry will be very happy.
“C’est bon. I will have it sent to your home in Montreal immediately.”
“Merci, Monsieur.” Tessa says with a smile that she suddenly doesn’t feel.
For the past few weeks she’s let herself either mostly forget or forcibly chase away any thoughts about the wedding or anything else related to home (except for one haunting dream last Saturday night that had left her reaching out for a body that wasn’t there the next morning – a body that decidedly didn’t belong to her fiancé) – and this sudden reminder has a wave of melancholy sweeping over her like a sudden crest in the ocean, threatening to pull her under.
Her change in mood does not go unnoticed by Marie, who keeps glancing sideways at her in the cab ride home.
“Are you quite alright, Tessa? You look a little grey.”
“I… think I might be coming down with something. I’m not feeling very well.”
"Do you need a doctor?”
“No, no, nothing like that. I’m just going to go lie down. Thank you, Marie.”
Six days later and her condition has hardly improved. She wishes that she could say she’s been busy, been going out and about, been working, but mostly she’s been lounging around the apartment in her favorite Adidas sweatpants and an overly large t-shirt that she’s pretty sure was Scott’s once and that she hadn’t realized she’d packed, listlessly sketching here and there between watching episodes of the Great British Baking Show (Nadia is her favorite).
It hasn’t exactly been her finest week.
Which is why it isn’t exactly surprising when Marie sits down across from her Sunday morning, swapping Tessa's coffee for some orange juice and her pastry for eggs and bacon, and fixes her with a stare that’s partly worried, partly ready to give her a good kick in the ass.
“Ma chère, I am concerned for you. You haven’t seemed like yourself at all this week. I would even venture to say tu es malheureux. Unhappy. Even your sketches are different from your usual style.” She gestures to the open sketchbook on the table in front of Tessa, where the dresses on the page are full of dark, swirling colors and sharp edges.
“Perhaps I’m going to name my next line La Mélancolie.” Tessa tries to joke, but it comes out sounding flat. It isn’t actually a bad idea. It’s a nice, dramatic name for a clothing line… maybe she will.
“Will you tell me what has you so sad? I don’t like seeing you like this. Paris is for light, for love, not mélancolie. And a bride should not be so unhappy before her wedding.”
“I don’t know, Marie. Cold feet, I suppose.” Tessa tries to shrug it off, reaching for her plate of food and eating a few large bites to make the older woman happy.
“Ah, oui, je comprends.” She nods, standing up to retrieve more eggs for Tessa, despite her protests that she's had enough. “You are a smart girl. What is your heart telling you?”
"That I’m not as smart as I thought I was.” Tessa says, despondent and sullen. “What is it about love that makes us so stupid? For something that should be simple, it’s proving to be incredibly difficult.”
“I don’t know if it’s supposed to be simple.” Marie says quietly, relaxing into her chair as she ponders silently for a moment. “Falling in love can certainly come easily, but choosing love, which is what marriage entails, can be very hard. I love Patrice with my whole heart, but every day I have to make the choice to keep loving him, to work at that love, to recommit to it, and it is not always easy. It’s a partnership between two people who have to be equally committed to making it work. Almost like a business.”
Tessa listens carefully, letting the words sink in, before helplessly asking, “So what do you think I should do?”
“Ask yourself if Harry is the man you want to be business partners with, if he’s the one you want to wake up next to every morning and choose to work with and to love.”
“And what if I make the wrong choice and regret it forever?” Tessa gives voice to her deepest fear. She's already spent a decade haunted by guilt and regret, she doesn't want to do it again.
“Ma chère, regrets are a waste of time. They cripple you in the present and keep you from moving forward towards the future. You must make your decision and then stick to it, and if you discover it was wrong then you make a new decision. Always keep moving forward.”
“That’s the problem.” Tessa mutters, sagging into her chair, she can't seem to move past this first big decision.
Marie switches topics suddenly, her voice becoming light and breezy again as if they weren’t just talking about major life-impacting choices. “The Open Air Cinema at La Villette is showing their last movie of the summer tonight. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. Have you seen it?”
“No, I haven’t.” Tessa replies slowly, feeling very confused as to why they’re suddenly discussing umbrellas and how that could relate in any way to her love life.
“Patrice and I are taking Billie-Rose. It’s a French classic. Join us. You will like it, I think. You know I believe that music and people have colors, well the music of this movie matches you, I think.”
With nothing better to do and a desire to make Marie happy, Tessa agrees to go.
Superstition is a funny thing. Tessa knows the textbook definition: a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.
When she was a girl she held just about every superstition there was. Lucky pennies drew her like diamonds, she never walked underneath ladders, good luck charms like her grandmother’s necklace really worked and must be cherished, and knocking on wood became a religious rite.
But when she’d moved to Montreal and decided to remake herself into someone new, she’d given all that up. Superstitions were for children, the Universe wasn’t sending her signs about what choices to make, and luck had to be self-made.
She traded being impulsive for being practical and being carefree for rigid schedules. After all, where had impulsiveness and carelessness gotten her except for knocked up in high school?
And that lucky penny she’d found on the church steps the morning of her wedding to Scott? Clearly that hadn’t been the good omen she’d taken it to be at the time.
Tessa never wanted to feel helpless again or like her fate wasn't in her own hands, and so she had lived the past ten years of her life holding on to every ounce of control that she could.
Lately, however, it was starting to feel like the Universe was sending her messages again. Banging on her tightly sealed door with a battering ram. Superstition was creeping back into her subconscious. Every movie she watched seemed to relate to her current situation, every song was either about heartbreak or love – two emotions she’d been vacillating between, and despite her best efforts it was starting to invade her psyche and affect her decisions.
The movie tonight for example, a teenage girls falls in love with a boy, gets pregnant, falls out of touch with the boy and marries someone else, only for him to come back into her life. And Marie – without knowing her history – had said it reminded her of Tessa.
Having now seen it, Tessa can’t help but kind of agree. It had touched something deep inside her, which is almost more frustrating than her slumbering superstitious tendencies bubbling up to the surface.
Sitting at the little white table on the balcony overlooking the Seine, the Louvre glimmering across the water, Tessa reads and rereads the lyrics to Devant Le Garage/I Will Wait For You on her laptop as the minutes tick by - long after Marie and Patrice have put Billie-Rose to sleep and gone to bed themselves.
If it takes forever I will wait for you
For a thousand summers I will wait for you
Till you're back beside me, till I'm holding you
Till I hear you sigh here in my arms
Anywhere you wander, anywhere you go
Every day remember how I love you so
In your heart believe what in my heart I know
That forevermore I'll wait for you
The clock will tick away the hours one by one
Then the time will come when all the waiting's done
The time when you return and find me here and run
Straight to my waiting arms
If it takes forever I will wait for you
For a thousand summers I will wait for you
Till you're here beside me, till I'm touching you
And forevermore sharing your love
But the character Geneviève hadn’t waited, had she? Tessa had paid close attention to the movie tonight, and what it had shown her was that two people in love could find happiness elsewhere. Teenage promises don’t always work out, and that’s okay. It’s sad, but it doesn’t have to be a tragedy. (Even if she had sobbed the entire way home – alarming Marie and Patrice and positively terrifying Billie-Rose).
With that thought in mind, the stars watching her from above, and the moon in its first quarter hanging over the water, Tessa takes a deep breath before reaching for her pen and sketchbook. It's time to finally do what she's been putting off for weeks.
Flipping to a blank page, she carefully writes Reasons to Marry Harry across the top. The only thing to do is sit here and actually write out her feelings and go from there, otherwise she’ll be tempted to turn the decision-making over to the Universe like she’s seventeen again.
Harry loves me. He will take care of me. He’s a good man. He’s reliable (predictable?). He’s safe. Marrying him would make my mother happy. Marrying him is the easier choice…
And that’s it, isn’t it? Tessa looks down at what she’s written, and finds that the answer is staring her in the face. Staying with Harry, marrying him, building a life with him (or letting him build it), is the easy option. If she turns away from that, says no and breaks up with him, then her life gets thrown into chaos. Suddenly the future loses its clarity, and Tessa loves clarity. Thrives on it. Clear goals, clear purpose, clear lines about where she stands.
Besides, even if she were to throw caution to the wind and go running back to Scott (which she momentarily lets herself admit is what her heart might want), there's no guarantee that he would take her. In fact, he'd probably laugh in her face.
No... she's better off committing to her decision to marry Harry.
But what about your happiness? a little voice that sounds suspiciously like eighteen-year old Scott says in the back of her head.
A star shoots across the sky and Tessa squeezes her eyes shut tight. Alright Universe, she thinks, choosing her words carefully, you have the week from when I get home on Saturday up until my wedding day to convince me that I shouldn’t go through with this.
There. She's made a decision. Let fate prove her wrong.
When I was looking up things that Tessa could have done in Paris during the month of August, I came across the Open Air Cinema and found that they were showing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg on August 19th. It was too perfect not to include.
It's the happy coincidences like that that make writing fun. :)
Chapter 9: But if the Road Leads Back to You
Murphy's law, or, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong".
But then it might just go right...
On Saturday night Tessa arrives home four hours later than planned after being delayed on the tarmac for an unbearably long time. To make matters worse, her entertainment system on the plane hadn’t worked, the man sitting next to her had spread his legs so wide that she’d been cornered into her window seat, and the person in front of her had reclined so suddenly that her ginger ale had spilled all over her new Margaret Atwood book.
In other words, it was an absolute misery.
When she finally wheels her suitcase into her apartment, all she wants is to shower, put on her fluffiest pajamas, and crawl into her bed and never emerge (or at least, not until she's gotten a solid eight hours). She heads into her en-suite feeling slightly better about her life now that she's home, only to let out an unholy shriek when she turns on the light and finds that the mirror behind her sink had somehow fallen off the wall and shattered all over the counter.
She spends the next hour cleaning it all up and by the time she’s showered and ready for bed she’s so frustrated and exhausted that the sound of her phone loudly ringing with Harry’s custom ringtone sends her into a white hot rage and she ends up throwing it across the room.
Universe 1 - Tessa 0.
On Sunday Tessa wakes up at an ungodly hour thanks to her jet-lag without having had nearly enough sleep to recover from the trials of the day before, but there’s no chance of her being able to go back to bed so she decides to try and make the best of it. She unpacks, does laundry, cleans, and catches up on work and wedding related details.
In the afternoon she realizes, as she reaches for an empty carton of almond milk, that her fridge and pantry are seriously depleted (or rotten, as evidenced by the rather unique odor emanating from her yogurt), so she heads to her local grocery store.
Really, what happens next is her own fault when, instead of taking multiple trips like a sane person, she decides to carry all of the paper bags inside the building in one go. Laden with so many bags, Tessa doesn’t see the pitch black cat shoot out across the sidewalk in front of her, and as such she trips right over it – falling in spectacular fashion, bags tearing and groceries spilling out everywhere.
As she lays there on the sidewalk, surrounded by broken eggs and bruised fruit and a cat that licks contentedly at her spilled milk, she tries to remember that black cats aren’t ever adopted because people think that they’re unlucky, and that that’s sad and she should and does feel sorry for them, but mostly she thinks that this specific goblin creature looking at her with wide, innocent blue eyes has earned its reputation and she hates it.
Universe 2 - Tessa 0.
Monday and Tuesday are relatively uneventful. Tessa goes to work, she meets Harry and his mother for final wedding preparations, and she starts going through her closet to plan what she should pack for her honeymoon in Bali (bikinis – a lot of bikinis).
When each day ends without disaster striking, Tessa figures she can count it as a victory.
Universe 2 - Tessa 2.
Wednesday, however, might just be the worst day of all. First, Jordan calls her from Yekaterinberg having come down sick with some sort of stomach bug that will definitely prevent her from flying home that weekend. Then, her niece Poppy contracts lice from another kid at her daycare, which means Casey and his family will definitely be staying home while she goes through the special shampoo treatment. Third, the coffee machine at work explodes – literally – in some sort of freak accident that the electrician said he’d never seen before, sending coffee and shards of medal careening across the room like something from a battlefield.
But the weirdest thing is when a horrific crashing noise from somewhere inside her apartment wakes her up at three-thirteen in the morning (she knows this exactly because the red light on her alarm clock is the first thing she sees when she screams awake thinking her apartment is being broken into).
Grabbing her closest shoe, which thankfully happens to be a bright fire-engine red stiletto, she creeps out of her bedroom holding said shoe aloft and preparing to fight for her life. She would call the police, but her phone has been on the fritz since she threw it and only works when she doesn’t need it do.
After turning on the lights and jumping out into the main room, she determines that she is, in fact, not about to meet her doom in a pair of pink flannel pajamas with yellow polka-dots, and relaxes.
It’s at that moment that she notices that the front hall closet door is ajar, and all four of the umbrellas she owns have spontaneously sprung open.
Tessa battles the umbrellas for twenty minutes trying to get them folded back up and put away, before she gives up and collapses on the floor – yelling at nobody in particular (or the Universe specifically), “Okay! You’ve made your point! I get it!”
That’s the day she decides to call off the wedding.
But then Thursday happens, and it is lovely. She sleeps in, wakes up to find Harry cooking her breakfast and a fresh bouquet of roses on her kitchen table, and her mom sitting on the couch having arrived early to surprise her.
Thursday she forgets about all the bad things that have occurred since returning home and focuses on showing her mother around Montreal and being wooed by Harry as if they’re suddenly in the springtime of their love. - with everything new and fresh and exciting.
Thursday is the day she decides the wedding is back on.
On Friday she gets hit with a veritable sledgehammer of allergies – full on runny nose, watery and itchy eyes, and a headache. The works.
All of that would be annoying, but fine, if she had ever had allergies before, but she hasn’t. They come out of nowhere and her mom, bless her heart, tries to combat it by buying Tessa the heaviest dosage of allergy medicine that she can.
Friday Tessa spends most of the day passed out in her bed, but Harry brings her his grandmother's chicken soup recipe and kisses her forehead, so she counts it as a tie.
But Saturday, Saturday dawns beautifully. Her fluke allergies have disappeared, the sun is shining, birds are twittering cheerfully in the trees, and all signs seem to be pointing to a perfect day.
Chateau Vaudreuil is absolutely gorgeous, with plenty of trees lining the property and a pretty arbor for them to stand under as they recite their vows and even a horse-drawn carriage to whisk them away after the reception. It really is like something out of a fairy tale.
Which is why Tessa isn’t expecting the panic attack that she has in the bridal dressing room.
It’s as if everything she’d been pushing away, all the thoughts and worries and doubts, come collapsing in on top of her as soon as she puts on her dress. One minute she's standing in front of the mirror, admiring all of the intricate floral details, and then the next she's curled in on herself in the corner of the bathroom, trying to remember how her lungs work.
She could swear she knew how to breathe ten minutes ago.
“Tess? I’m back. I found a blue ribbon around one of the vases downstairs that I think we can make work - and technically it counts as something borrowed, too. I still can’t believe your sapphire hair pin snapped like that.” Kaitlyn’s voice barely breaks through Tessa’s increasingly blacked out conscious, and she can’t bring herself to answer.
“Tess?” Kaitlyn calls out again, coming around the corner towards the en-suite bathroom and finding Tessa with her head tucked into her knees. “Oh my God, Tess! What’s wrong? Did something happen? Are you sick?”
Tessa manages to open her eyes, unsurprised to find Kaitlyn kneeling directly in front of her looking concerned.
“I can’t do it. I can’t do it, Kait.” Tessa mutters, barely audible behind the hand covering her mouth (an attempt to stop herself from throwing up).
“Can’t do what? Get married?” Kaitlyn asks patiently, gently pulling Tessa’s hands away from face and replacing them with a cool washcloth.
The words stick to her throat like molasses, but they need to come out so Tessa forces herself to speak. "Yes. I can’t do it. I can't get married. It’s all wrong.”
"Tessa, it’s just cold feet. I’m sure every bride gets nervous like this before the ceremony.”
“It’s not nerves, Kait. Everything about this is wrong, and I’ve just been ignoring all the signs because I was trying to be practical, but I can’t go through with it.” She clasps at Kaitlyn's hand, pleading with her friend to understand. To help her out of this mess.
She'll bless Kaitlyn forever for what she says next.
“What?” Tessa's so taken off-guard by the easy response that she almost swears she heard wrong.
“I said okay. If it’s wrong, then it’s wrong. You don’t have to marry him.” Kaitlyn pats her on the head like she's being a silly child, and perhaps she is. Maybe it really was a simple choice all along and Tessa, in all her overthinking glory, had been making a mountain out of a mole hill.
Impulsively, Tessa surges forward onto her knees, practically assaulting Kaitlyn with a fierce hug. “I love you, Kait.”
"I love you, too. What do you want to do now? Should I make some sort of announcement like the town crier?” She jokes with a wink, and Tessa chuckles. Her panic having faded into the past at the hands of her marvelous friend.
“I have no idea. I’ve never canceled a wedding before.”
Kaitlyn laughs, “There's a first time for everything. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
“Tessa, honey, can I come in?”
“Mom?” Tessa jumps to her feet to face the door as her mom walks into the room and shuts it quietly behind her.
“Kaitlyn said that she thought you might want to talk to me. What’s wrong?”
“Mom…” Tessa tries to speak, only to find that her throat has gone dry and scratchy – the words refusing to come out. Telling Kaitlyn was one thing, but she has no idea how to break this news to her mother. Her dear, sweet mother who has only ever wanted what's best for her.
Kate’s eyes soften and she takes Tessa’s hands in hers with a tender smile. “Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
“Mom, I’m not… I don’t… I can’t…” She tries, she really does, but she isn't quite sure how to cross that final threshold.
“You can’t do this.” Kate finishes for her, cupping her cheek with her palm and looking the complete opposite of shocked. “I’ve been wondering if this moment would come. To be honest, I thought that you were going to call it off while in Paris.”
“What? You did?” In an unexpected turn of events, Tessa is the one feeling shocked at this new revelation.
“Tessa, I’m your mother. We may have spent too many years communicating through FaceTime, but I could still tell that your heart didn’t seem to be in it. If you had been excited for this wedding you never would have left the country and let someone else plan the whole thing. When you married Scott you were involved down to the tiniest detail. So yes, I was kind of expecting this.”
“And you’re not… mad?”
"Mad? Heavens no. Tessa, I want you to be happy. Do I think that Harry could make you happy and give you a wonderful life? Yes, I do. But only if you’re ready, and I don’t think that you are.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready, Mom. Not for him.”
Kate sighs, clearly understanding Tessa’s veiled meaning in that last statement and wishing she didn't, but she soldiers on anyway. “I guess maybe it’s time for me to let go of past hurts then, if you’re going back to Scott.”
"I don’t know if I am. It may be too late for that. But I know that marrying Harry is the wrong choice for me, even if I never see Scott again.” Tessa states resolutely, finally feeling certain of her decision.
“Then you’d better go tell him.” Her mom pulls her in for a tight hug, whispering good luck and I love you in her ear, before releasing her to do the hardest job of all.
Tessa stares at the individual lines of grain in the wood of Harry’s door for a long time – following each crack and offshoot and noting the various sizes and colors breaking through the white paint. It's probably supposed to look modern-rustic, but Tessa thinks it mostly just looks old.
Her right hand rests lightly on the gold handle, just waiting to be put into motion.
Behind the solid door she can hear the muffled sounds of Harry getting ready, some sort of jazz music playing at a moderate level (his favorite choice before a serious business meeting or media event, and never too quiet or too loud - volume always right in the middle).
Tessa lets her head fall against the door as she groans – the knowledge that she may be about to break his heart weighs her limbs down like lead. But she knows what she has to do, and she finally knows that it’s the right choice – even without the nudges from the Universe all week that were as gentle as a hail storm.
At that moment she looks down and sees a penny on the floor, face down of course. I get it. You can stop now, she grumbles. This last little jab from the Universe feels really unnecessary - message officially received.
She lifts her hand and raps her knuckles lightly against the paneling, listening closely as the music stops and Harry’s footsteps draw closer.
The first thing he does upon opening the door is slam his palm over his eyes. “God, Tessa! What are you doing? It’s bad luck!”
"You don’t believe in luck.” She replies, squeezing around him and walking into the dressing room assigned to the groom. It's a shame that he doesn't believe, really, because it would be a hell of a lot easier to explain her choice if she could just blame fate.
“Well, it’s tradition then.” He amends, dropping his hand but keeping his eyes closed tight.
“Harry, I need to talk to you, and I’d rather you look at me while I do.”
“Alright.” He opens his eyes, blinking quickly at the sudden adjustment to the bright afternoon sunlight streaming in through the window behind her, casting the overly white room in an orange glow. “Wow, Tessa. You look absolutely stunning. Better than I could have ever imagined. We'll be the talk of the town.”
"Thank you. You look very handsome yourself.” And he does, dressed in his tailored grey suit and immaculately styled hair. He’d make any woman feel very lucky to be walking towards him down the aisle… but just not her.
"I know. Thank you. Now, what was so urgent that it couldn’t wait until after the ceremony?”
Like a Band-Aid, Tessa thinks, bringing her hands up in front of her so that she can spin her ring around her finger, anxiously working a red mark into the skin underneath. “Harry, you don’t want to marry me.”
His brow furrows and the corner of his lips crinkles into a little frown, “I don’t?”
“No. No, you don’t. Not really. You see, the truth is I gave my heart away a long time ago – my whole heart – and I never really got it back. And I don’t even know what else to say, but I’m sorry. I can’t marry you. And you shouldn’t want to marry me.”
She stands there helplessly waiting for him to speak, watching his frown grow deeper and his face transition through shock, anger, hurt, and then surprisingly something peacefully resigned like acceptance.
“So this is what rejection feels like.” He says quietly, one hand over his heart as if marveling at the sensation. “Huh.”
“I’m so sorry if I’ve hurt you. I’m just trying to be honest.” Tessa blurts out, anxious to ease the pain, but Harry seems... curiously alright. Maybe he wasn't so in love with her after all.
“Are you… are you doing this for him? To go back to your ex?”
"No.” Tessa says, pleasantly surprised to find that she means it, “I’m doing this for me. I don’t know what will happen now, and frankly, I’m terrified of what the future holds, but I know in the end we wouldn’t have made each other happy.”
“I don’t know if that’s true." Harry shakes his head with a little pout, "I think we could have tried, but… I understand. If this is your choice then I respect it. I deserve to have a wife who wants to try.”
“Exactly."Tessa lets out her breath, her shoulders losing some of their tension, "You absolutely do.”
“So then, this is goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Harry.” She takes the ring off of her finger and places it in his open palm, then walks out of the door and his life forever.
“What will you do now?” Kaitlyn asks as a few of them stand in a loose circle in the foyer. Most of the guests hadn't arrived yet, and the ones who had are in the reception hall being treated to free liquor, courtesy of Harry, which means the lobby is blissfully empty except for the staff.
“Go back to my apartment and change out of this dress, I guess.” Tessa replies with a shrug, earning groans from everyone around her. "What's wrong with that plan? This dress is pretty, but not exactly comfortable lounge-wear."
"Nothing, per se... But then you’ll go to Ilderton, of course.” Eric says from his position standing suspiciously close to Luis, and Tessa wonders if she’s only imagining the spark between them.
“Why would I do that?”
“You’re kidding. She’s kidding, right?” He looks around at everyone while gesturing to her like she’s an animal in an exhibit at a zoo. A particularly bizarrely behaved one at that.
“To put Scott out of his misery, of course.” Chiddy says flatly, arching an eyebrow at her. Eric throws his hands up and mutters thank you, and even Liz is looking at her like she’s being particularly thick-headed.
“But he probably doesn’t want that. I mean, I would have given up on me by now.” Tessa states with more conviction than she feels. Of course she hopes he hasn't given up, but it seems awfully pretentious of her to just assume.
“Tessa!” Eric cries out, his voice more annoyed than Tessa feels the situation calls for. “You are driving me insane. Why call all this off if not for him?”
“I did it for me!" Tessa argues back, putting her hands on her hips and giving Eric her best glare, "Marrying Harry wasn’t right for me, regardless of Scott.”
"Okay, that’s great and all,” Chiddy continues, speaking on behalf of an apoplectic Eric, “But you do still love Scott, right? And that man has been in love with you for twenty years. You didn’t see his face when Eric and I told him we were coming to your wedding. Crushed, Tess, crushed.”
“Miss McCormick!” A stodgy, dark-haired man in a bowler hat (where do people even find those anymore?) comes running through the main doors and into the foyer, barely missing being run over by a member of the staff carrying a tray of champagne flutes.
He comes to a stop in front of her, breathless and sweating. “There you are! I hope to God I’m not too late. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for two months.”
“I’m sorry, but who are you?” Tessa asks, brow wrinkling in confusion.
“I’m Mr. Lloyd, from Lloyd, Birkshire, and Sons. Mr. Birkshire, your regular lawyer, has been out of the office on an extended summer vacation with his family, so I took over a few of his cases.”
The surprises just keep coming. Tessa never expected to see her lawyer at her wedding. Honestly didn't think she would need one.
"I’ve been away in Paris. What are you doing here? Scott signed the papers.”
“He did,” Mr. Lloyd says, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping off his brow, “You didn’t.”
Gasps can be heard from everyone around her as Tessa numbly asks, “What? You mean I’m still married?” That's impossible. She'd obsessed over those papers. Did everything she could to ensure her divorce. And now he's telling her she didn't actually sign anything at all?
Can the Universe quit it!?
“Well, not unless you want to be.” He replies with a shrug, pulling the all-too-familiar manila envelope she’d addressed to his law offices two months ago out of his briefcase with a little flourish.
“Oh my God, Tessa.” Kaitlyn says, clutching tightly enough onto her arm that she’s certain it will leave a bruise. “These things don’t just happen, you know that right? It’s a sign.”
“She’s right, Tess. And this seems like a pretty fucking big one.” Chiddy gestures to the ceiling as if somewhere up above Fate is listening and waiting for the acknowledgement of all its hard work.
It does seem like a sign. It absolutely does. She’d asked the Universe, wished for guidance on a shooting star, and now here it seems to be. Again. The final piece in a week long puzzle. Like a giant neon billboard flashing right in front of her nose.
“What do I do?” She asks her friends desperately. Her brain seems to have turned into nothing but a circle of spinning exclamation points – incapable of higher thought.
“Go! You get your ass to Ilderton right now!” Eric says, practically yelling and earning glares for the whole group from various staff members trying to clean quietly.
“Is there a flight?” Liz asks, whipping out her phone, but Chiddy seems to already be on top of it.
“No flights to London tonight. The soonest one is Monday morning, but that could work.”
"That’s too long.” Eric disagrees, shaking his head vigorously. "She needs to get there A.S.A.P!" He enunciates each letter slowly and with distinction, emphasizing his point.
“You could call him.” Kaitlyn suggests, "That would be fast."
“Don’t be stupid. She can’t do this over the phone.” Eric huffs at her, earning a slow eyebrow raise from Kaitlyn that can make grown men cry (Tessa's seen it). “Sorry.” He tacks on after a second, only able to take so much of Kaitlyn's stern, nonverbal reprimand.
“Train?” Kaitlyn turns away from Eric to ask, and Chiddy is already on that one too.
“It’s nine hours to London by train, and she’s already missed the six-thirty departure tonight. The next one’s at six-thirty tomorrow morning.”
“It’s fine. I’ll drive.” Tessa cuts in with a determined nod. It seems to be her only option.
"Overnight?” Liz asks in concern, clearly the mother hen of the group. "Won't you be tired?"
"Yes, overnight. I'll load up on caffeine. Kaitlyn can you take me to my apartment? My car is there and I’ll need to change and pack a bag.” Now that a plan is forming, Tessa is anxious to put it into motion. She wants to go and find out if the love of her life will still have her.
“Pack something nice, eh? He deserves it.” Eric says with a wicked smirk, and Chiddy shoves him.
“This might be a terrible idea.” Tessa admits, looking around at all of her friends who are practically humming with energy and a desire to get her on the road towards her happy ending.
"Sometimes those are the best kind.” Kaitlyn says with a grin, playfully shoving her towards the door.
“Go, Tess. He’s been waiting for you.” Chiddy smiles softly at her, and it’s all the encouragement she needs.
By the time Tessa turns onto the dark, quiet streets of Ilderton the sun is barely starting to crest over the horizon – turning the black sky into a soft purplish-grey. She knows it’s absurdly early and that she’s all hyped up on exhaustion and coffee, but she heads straight to Scott’s trailer anyway. There's no way she'll be able to quell this restless energy until she speaks to him.
Disappointment floods through her when his truck isn’t parked out front. It’s a Sunday morning, and it’s his birthday, and she had expected to find him at home. For a moment she makes herself ill with the thought of him having gone out the night before to celebrate turning thirty-one, and heading home with some other woman – drowning his sorrows (or even worse, not feeling any sorrow at all) in her body.
She drives back down the deserted road, chewing mindlessly at her thumbnail (a habit she'd quit long ago, but still reemerges when she's especially nervous), wondering if she should just go to her mom’s house and sleep and worry about finding Scott later, but that’s when she spots his truck parked in front of the arena.
Hands shaking, she carefully parks in the spot next to him – practicing some breathing techniques from her yoga classes before stepping out of the car and walking through the front doors, which thankfully he’d left unlocked.
Rounding the corner past the sales desk and concessions counter, she hears him before she sees him – the sound of his blades scraping rhythmically across the ice echoes through the empty building, bouncing off the high ceiling and cement floor.
When she finally spots him, she keeps herself hidden behind a pillar – observing the tense set of his shoulders, his hands buried deep in his pockets, and the deep frown on his face.
She's not happy that he's sad, but she is happy that he's here and not out with some girl.
Waiting until his back is turned so that he doesn't see her before she's ready, she scampers over to the skate rental and finds a pair in her size, lacing them up quickly with deft fingers. It may have been a while, but some things stick with you – like riding a bike - and for her ice skating is one of those things.
When she emerges, she spots him in the middle of the rink having come to a stop with his back to her to stare at something high above him, or maybe to just let himself get lost in thought.
It’s the perfect opportunity.
She steps onto the ice, holding onto the wall for a moment until her legs can remember how this works, and then kicks off – heading straight for him.
At the sound of her skates Scott spins around, angry at first, then shock registering on his face once he recognizes her.
Tessa grins and picks up speed, only to realize that unfortunately she seems to have lost her ability to make a precise stop, and she practically slams right into him.
He reaches out instantly to steady her, his hands gripping her bare arms while she regains her balance. It’s cold in the arena, but her skin breaks out in goosebumps for more reasons than one.
“Hi, Scott.” She says, sounding giddy and breathless and feeling fifteen again.
His expression remains guarded, however, and closed off as he replies, “Hi. Where’s your husband?”
“I’m looking at him.” She giggles again, partly due to lack of sleep, but also because of his proximity. She holds onto the open lapels of his jacket for more support than strictly necessary, just because she can. “Apparently you and I are still married.”
“Is that right?” he asks, trying to keep her at arm’s length to maintain a proper distance between them and minimize their contact, which is the exact opposite of what Tessa wants right now.
"Yep! I never signed the papers. Isn’t that ironic?”
He still doesn't look happy, and her heart sinks a little when he says, “So what? You’re here to get me to sign new ones so that you can go back to your fancy fiancé?”
“No. We broke up.” She says bluntly, sounding a little more sober and holding onto him tight - refusing to let him skate away from her.
“Why? You can’t make the right decision until you make all the wrong ones, is that it?” His voice is bitter, but his face is not. It's slowly become more open... and more sad. Like he's just waiting for her to deliver the final blow.
“I made the right decision eleven years ago, it just took me a long time to realize it." Tessa moves one of her hands to cover his heart, relishing the way it beats under her fingers. Solid and true.
“What do you want, Tess? Because I’m not sure that you even know and I am at a complete loss.” He sounds so unbelievably tired and vulnerable that it breaks her heart a little bit.
Reaching up to hold his face in her hands, fingers spread wide around his ears, thumbs stroking along his jaw, she forces him to look her straight in the eyes and tries to pour every ounce of love inside her body into her expression. Hoping beyond hope that he can see it and will believe that it’s true. That she loves him, and only him.
“You’re the first boy I ever kissed, Scott. I want you to be the last.”
He looks away, even though Tessa won’t let go of his head, and whispers sadly, “Maybe we had our chance.”
“Have you always been so stubborn?” She teases, shaking her head.
“Why would you want to stay married to me anyway?” His voice is still gruff, but Tessa thinks she can see a glimmer of hope in his eyes, and it's all the encouragement she needs.
She smiles, moving in closer and tilting her chin up to make her intentions clear, leaning forward slowly to give him the chance to stop her or pull away if he wants, but he doesn’t move.
The moment her lips touch his a forest fire rips through her body – changing the landscape forever. He hesitates for a brief moment, but then his arms wrap around her enthusiastically as he kisses her back. Hard. Like he’s trying to fit a decade worth of kisses into this one.
But they have time. An entire lifetime.
So Tessa pulls away, pressing her forehead against his as their chests rapidly rise and fall against each other.
With an incandescent smile she waits until Scott’s eyes reopen and meet hers before answering his question.
“So I can kiss you anytime I want.”
Chapter 10: Epilogue: A Thousand Kisses Deep
Thank you all for joining me on this journey! I hope you've enjoyed my take on this AU and that I've done it justice.
I've certainly enjoyed writing it, and I can't wait to explore this universe a bit more...
Here's a fluffy epilogue for you, you've earned it. <3
So I can kiss you anytime I want.
It takes him a second, but then a smile spreads across his face as he remembers his own words from so many years ago spoken in this very ice rink. Years before the highs and the lows and the drama and the heartache. Back when they were just two kids with the seedlings of an emotion that would grow to be a love so much bigger than they could have ever anticipated. Scott leans in to kiss her again, carefully holding her body as if she might crumble away if he holds on too tightly.
But Tessa has no such qualms. He’s real and solid and she can touch him now instead of restraining herself like she’s been doing for the past decade. That permission is incredibly liberating, and she lets her fingers tangle in his hair as much as she wants and she presses her body as close to his as possible, kissing him thoroughly and loving the way he does the same. So familiar, yet so new.
Sleep deprivation has made her lethargic and given everything around her a sort of mottled haze, somehow heightening the romance of it all. Her brain has shut down all processes not essential to the act of making out with Scott. Her husband. And that extreme focus helps her catalog everything: how soft his lips are, the way he strokes her mouth with his tongue (tentative at first – then bolder once she grants him access), how his hands spread out wide across her back (one of them slipping underneath the hem of her shirt to rest on the warm skin, sending tingles up her spine). It all feels like something out of a dream.
They’re wrapped up so closely together that she’s not sure where she ends and he begins, and she loves it.
“Tess?” Scott murmurs against her, pausing in whatever he was going to say kiss her again – clearly distracted.
“Mmhmm?” She hums against his mouth, not sure why he’s trying to talk at a time like this. Especially since all she can seem to think is kiss Scott on repeat. An earthquake could rumble through town and bring down the building and she swears she wouldn’t notice.
But Scott pulls away again, apparently determined to complete a sentence, and Tessa takes advantage of the opportunity to scatter kisses along his jawline and down his neck – humming happily in response to the deep moan in the back of his throat.
“I want to show you something. I bought a house, and I’d really like you to see it.” His sudden shyness catches her attention and forces her to stop kissing him, even though it’s almost painful to do, and she leans back just enough to look at him.
“I really, really want to see it. But can we go home first? I’m in desperate need of a nap, and I want to be able to give you my full and undivided attention when you give me the tour.” It seems that, now that she's no longer feeding off of the endorphins that come from kissing him, her body is finally succumbing to exhaustion. Her limbs feel heavy and her eyelids have started drooping, despite her best attempts to keep them open.
The way his eyes light up when she asks if they can go home, though, is something that she’ll remember forever. He looks like she’s just given him the best gift in the world.
“Yeah, we can do that.” He tucks a strand of her hair behind her ear and kisses her again before asking, “Did you drive here?”
“Mmhmm.” She nods, but the motion is really mostly her head starting to bob – body too tired to keep it up any longer. Funny how I never notice how heavy my head is until I’m exhausted, she thinks with a giggle, resting her head on Scott’s chest with a quiet thunk.
“All through the night?”
“Yeah.” She mumbles against the fabric of his shirt. The smell of detergent and soap and his slightly spicy aftershave filling her nose and making her synapses fire with the word Home.
“For me?” It should be obvious, he should know the answer, but Tessa can tell that he still needs reassurance, and she doesn’t blame him. He’ll probably need a lot of reassurance from her in the upcoming months, and she’s determined to give it to him.
She musters up just enough energy to step backwards and look him in the eye, issuing an unequivocal, “Yes. For you.”
He surges forward, kissing her with so much force that they actually slide backwards a few feet on the ice. Tessa tries to respond as best she can, but her lips are slow against his, which makes her whimper in frustration.
"Let’s go.” Scott says, taking pity on her, “I know how you can be with no sleep.” He winks at her, guiding her off the ice, and she grins lazily. He does know. Knows how first she gets giddy, then ridiculous, then weepy. Better to take a nap before phase two sets in and she starts waxing poetic about his gorgeous hair, or light-brown eyes, or the veins in his forearms.
Tessa presses her lips together to keep all that from spilling out as the words clatter against her teeth. Ridiculous indeed.
Scott unlaces her skates for her, returning them back to where they belong, then walks with her hand-in-hand out into the parking lot, the sun having risen in earnest now and turning the sky a beautiful shade of lilac and butter yellow with streaks of pink. The perfect morning.
Tessa moves towards her car, but Scott’s hand clamps down on hers – refusing to let go. “Ride with me. You’re too tired to drive. We can come pick up your car later.”
Something about the look in his eyes, like he’s afraid to let her out of his sight, makes her give in (not that she was going to protest anyway).
The gentle sway of his truck rocks her to sleep almost instantly, even though she’s trying so hard to fight it, and she wakes up minutes later to Scott unbuckling her seat belt and lifting her out of the truck.
“I can walk.” She mumbles, even as she burrows her face into the crook of his neck.
“It’s alright. I’ve got you.”
She's too jostled to fall back asleep in his arms, but she keeps her eyes closed anyway – thinking idly about how he’s carrying her like a bride over the threshold, and how fitting that is on this day of what she hopes is their new beginning.
He lays her down gently on the bed, pulling her shoes off and setting them down neatly in front of the closet like she prefers, and Tessa rolls over onto her stomach – latching onto one of his pillows like a koala bear. It smells deliciously of him and she can’t resist breathing in deeply and basking in it.
When the expected weight of Scott joining her doesn’t come, she forces herself to open her heavy eyelids (even if it feels like she’s prying them with a crowbar), and finds him gently closing the bedroom door and walking towards her with an extra blanket in his arms.
He freezes when he notices her eyes on him, looking suddenly guilty.
“I thought… do you mind if I join you? I didn’t really get any sleep last night either.”
Tessa smiles, letting her eyes fall closed again, “You’d better.”
He lays down cautiously, like he’s afraid she’s going to change her mind and kick him out (as if), draping the extra blanket over them and tentatively tugging at her shoulder, encouraging her to tuck herself into his side, which she does immediately – latching onto him instead of the pillow, her hand resting gently over his ribs.
Scott brings both of his arms up to encircle her and if she wasn’t half asleep she’d swear she felt him kiss the top of her head and smell her hair. She idly hopes that he still likes the smell of strawberries.
“I love you, Scott.” She whispers, lips grazing his skin, already ninety percent asleep and only partially aware of what she's saying. His arms squeeze a little tighter, but any verbal response is lost as she succumbs to dreamland.
Tessa’s eyelids feel like they’ve crusted together by the time the afternoon sun hits them, streaming in through the open blinds of Scott’s window and prodding her awake. Somehow during their nap they’d rolled over, and now she’s lying on her side facing the window with Scott plastered to her back, his breath tickling the hairs at the nape of her neck.
They’ve probably slept most of the day away, but she doesn’t care. Doesn’t even bother forcing her eyelids open. Instead she focuses on syncing up her breathing with the steady rise and fall of Scott’s chest behind her, easing her body back into sleep like the gentle rocking of a boat.
She’s very nearly unconscious again when his breathing changes, signifying his own return to the land of the living. He takes in a deep breath, his nose buried in her hair, before lightly skimming his lips along her neck and shoulder. “You’re really here.” He whispers to himself, voice full of sweet surprise, and Tessa wonders how many times he’s had this dream only to wake up with empty arms.
“Yeah. I really am.” Tessa replies, rolling over in his arms to face him, reaching up to trace his features – learning the little ways that he’s changed and recommitting to memory all the things that are the same.
“I forgot to say it before, but happy birthday.”
“The best birthday ever.” He whispers softly, eyelids growing heavy again underneath her gentle touch, but he fights against it – instead choosing to keep his drowsy gaze on her – making her heart thump unevenly and her throat constrict around unspoken emotions.
“I missed you.” She confesses around the lump in her throat. It should be obvious, but it needs to be said anyway.
“You did?” He asks so, so quietly. Like he can’t quite believe it.
Tessa leaves her hand resting against the side of his head as the words come pouring out of her, “All the time. It was like I was missing a limb. And, you know, I got used to it eventually, after about eight years, but there was still that phantom limb sensation every once in a while that never really went away. I would wake up and reach for you, only to open my eyes and realize that you weren’t there.”
Scott becomes more alert as she speaks, his own hand reaching up to cup her cheek, “I missed you, too. God, Tess, I missed you so much. I don’t think I ever got used to it, not really. I just… learned to live with it - the ache of missing you. Like a chronic pain that had no antidote.”
“Scott…” She says quietly, closing the already infinitesimal distance between them to press her lips against his. She means for it to be chaste, just a gentle reassurance for both of them that they’re really there with each other, but her body apparently has other ideas – coming alive the instant their mouths touch - and his body responds in kind.
He rolls on top of her, propping himself up on his elbows to keep from crushing her with his weight, but she doesn’t mind. She wants to feel him – wants to feel every inch of him against every inch of her.
But there’s too much clothing in the way and that just won’t do.
Her hands scramble for the hem of his t-shirt, pulling it up as far as she can before scratching along his lower back – making him shudder against her where his face is currently burying into her neck, working marks into the skin under her ear (apparently the oral fixation lives on).
“Off! Off, off, off.” She commands, growing impatient with the layers of fabric preventing her from a full reunion with him.
Thankfully, Scott listens, because he sits up on his knees and tugs his shirt over his head, fluffing up his already messy hair in a delightfully ridiculous and sexy way. Tessa was right – a few months later and it’s at the perfect length. She can’t wait to bury her hands in it to her hearts content.
"Tess, I know this is probably too fast, but… are we…?” He lets the question go unfinished, but she can guess what he’s asking.
“Yes! Yes, please. I want to have sex with you.” She states bluntly, and his answering smile is so wide she’s not sure how it doesn’t break his face – the skin around his eyes crinkling in that adorable way she loves. She wants to spend the rest of her life trying to make him smile like that.
He barely gives her a moment to appreciate it though before he’s tugging at her own clothes, and then the only thing she can appreciate for a while is the way his skin feels pressed against hers, the way their hearts beat together, and how coming together feels like finally coming home.
They lay there after, bodies twisted together like a pretzel, sweat still cooling on their skin, and basking in the afterglow.
Tessa will need to move soon. The afternoon sun is making the room too hot and their skin is starting to stick together and she’s in desperate need of a shower (although if he wants to join her, she won’t be opposed). But for the moment she is content to stay still and let Scott draw lines from her neck, across her shoulders, and down her chest.
“I missed your freckles.” He says, fingers connecting the dots on her sternum, and Tessa giggles at his statement.
“Oh, is that what you’re drawing down there?”
“Yep.” He punctuates his answer with a kiss over her heart.
“My freckles missed you too.” She giggles again, and Scott joins in this time – leaning up to kiss her mouth. The moment is so wonderfully intimate and unlike any she’s ever had with anyone else.
“Scott…” She begins, the hesitation in her voice completely obvious and making Scott draw back and look at her with a wrinkled brow.
“Now might not be the best time to tell you this, but I’m going to anyway. After I left, I didn’t kiss or sleep with anyone else for seven years. And the first time I did I threw up afterwards.” She grimaces at the memory – both the event and the vomiting. They were equally unpleasant. “The second time was with Harry, and you know how that story ends. I know it doesn’t really matter, and I’m not fishing for information about you, I just thought that you should know. I know it may not seem like it, but I spent a lot of years loyal to you, and then when I did date I tried to force feelings with someone else in an attempt to recreate a shoddy imitation of what you and I have.” She reaches up and presses against his forehead with her thumb, smoothing his wrinkles. “The point is, you’re my gold standard.”
Scott sighs and then kisses her, pain briefly clouding over the joy in his eyes, “I’m not going to lie and say I was celibate, even though I wish I was, but those other… they were never anything more than one night stands. And not until after the second time you sent the divorce papers. No one’s ever come anywhere close to you, Kiddo. You’re my gold standard, too.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the years I wasted chasing the wrong dream.”
“Hey, no more of that now, okay? The point is we’re back where we belong.” He smiles, kissing away the tear that had leaked out and ran down her temple.
"Ilderton: you’re in the right place.” Tessa quotes with a little laugh, and Scott joins in, his expression turning mischievous.
“I was thinking, ‘Scott’s bed: you’re in the right place.’”
It’s so good to hear him teasing her again that Tessa, instead of hitting his arm or rolling her eyes, throws her arms around his neck and pulls him back down for a kiss.
He lets her kiss him for a couple minutes (lets meaning enthusiastically reciprocates) before propping himself back up. “As much as I want to stay here, I really want to show you the house.” He smiles sheepishly, shrugging his shoulder as if to apologize, “Can I?”
“Oh! Yes, please!” Tessa replies enthusiastically, jumping out of bed and pulling him up by the hands. “Let’s shower real fast and then we’ll go.”
“Tess, I like where your head is at, but I don’t think that’s going to work.”
"Why not?” She pouts, not hurt exactly by his rejection, but disappointed.
“I just think you’ve got a faulty memory.” He gestures for her to head towards the bathroom, and she does – entirely confused by his meaning.
It becomes clear the second she enters the bathroom.
“Was it always this tiny?” She asks a minute later, gesturing at the shower that’s really more of a box in the wall, “How did we both ever fit in here?”
She distinctly remembers that they did, many times, but they must have been a lot smaller back then.
“Creativity?” Scott answers with a smirk and playful slap on her ass. “Take a shower, kiddo. I think you’re going to like the surprises I have waiting for you.”
“Scott, we have a problem.” Tessa calls out fifteen minutes later, wrapping a towel around herself as she walks back down the hallway in search of him.
“What is it?” He sticks his head out from the kitchen, voice worried, but his gaze quickly shifts from panic to appreciation at the sight of her mostly naked. “I like the outfit. It might be a bit awkward for a house tour, but I definitely approve.”
“That’s the problem. We left my car at the arena and now I have no other clothes to put on. I don’t want to wear the same grungy stuff I drove here in.”
“Borrow something of mine then.” He shrugs, trying to seem casual, but Tessa can tell by the set of his jaw that it isn’t just a casual suggestion. If she had to guess, she’d say he wants her to and is trying not to show it.
“Is that okay?” She double-checks, biting her bottom lip to keep from smiling at the little nonchalant way he tilts his head.
“Sure. You never had to ask before, you don’t now.”
“Awesome. Thanks!” Impulsively, she skips up to him and kisses his cheek before running back down the hallway and rifling through his closet for something that will fit her.
When she reemerges in a pair of sweatpants and a black t-shirt with “Moir’s Skate Shop” printed on the back, Scott freezes – one hand in the sink holding a soapy dish, the other dripping water onto the floor as he stands there speechless. His eyes rake up and down her body and Tessa preens under his gaze, the heat in his eyes doing delicious things to her body.
"You could… You could only wear that from now on and I would not complain.”
She giggles and walks over to the sink to help him finish. “I’ll take that into consideration.”
"I can’t wait to see this. The outside is already gorgeous.” Tessa says as they walk up the steps to the white farmhouse. It really is an amazing piece of property – two acres surrounded by tall, wonderfully old trees with room for a trampoline or a play-set for future kids (whoa, Tessa mentally chides herself, slow down) – it’s like something out of a movie. “You really did an amazing job.”
"Thank you. Danny and Charlie helped a ton, though. I couldn’t have done it without them.” Scott says, quick to give credit where it’s due.
“So it’s protected against burglars and up to date on all the fire codes?” Tessa jokes, pleased when Scott laughs.
He takes her hand as they walk up the steps to the front door, and Tessa reaches out eagerly for the handle - anxious to see inside - but Scott shoots out a hand to stop her.
“Wait! Wait. We have to do this right.”
“What do you mean?”
Before she has time to prepare herself Scott sweeps her up into his arms with that same dorky grin that makes him look like a kid again. “Like this.”
Somehow he manages to get the door open while holding her, then carries her over the threshold with an over-exaggeration of pomp and circumstance that has her throwing her head back in laughter.
“You are ridiculous, you know that, right?” She asks, hands resting on his shoulders for balance while he sets her down.
“Of course.” He nods seriously, a twinkle in his eyes, then spins her around to face the interior of the house.
What she sees takes her breath away.
It’s absolutely stunning. The walls are varying shades of white or pale grey, the floors are all gleaming hardwood, and the furniture is the perfect blend between modern and classic – creating a cozy feeling while still keeping up with modern trends. The colors Scott had chosen are also muted – shades of navy and olive green and grey – creating a soothing sense of peace and calm that runs through the entirety of the house. All of it, combined with all of the natural light streaming in from the windows, makes the home feel like an oasis.
“Well, what do you think?” He asks nervously, rubbing his thumbs and index fingers together as he watches her explore the huge, gorgeous white kitchen.
“Have you ever seen the show Fixer Upper? I feel like Joanna Gaines designed this house.” Tessa replies, eyes growing wider as they walk into the open dining and family room. Each room leaving her more delighted than the last.
“Um… well… that’s probably because she did.” Scott admits, scratching awkwardly at the back of his head and running his hand through his hair a few times.
Tessa turns quickly to look straight at him, “What do you mean she did?”
“I watch a lot of HGTV in my downtime, and Fixer Upper is my favorite. I love her style, and when I was ready to start doing the interior of this place I knew she was the perfect choice to help me. She kind of reminds me of you. So I sent her an email and she agreed to let me hire her and then I sent her the floorplan and about a million pictures and she worked up the whole thing.”
“Holy shit.” The expletive drops from her lips unchecked. The fact that he went to so much care and effort isn’t surprising, but it is amazing, and she’s absolutely blown away.
“I take that to mean you like it?”
“Like it? Scott, I love it. It’s literally the perfect house.”
“Good.” Such a simple word used to convey all the emotions Scott’s obviously currently filling. Even standing a few feet away Tessa can see the joy, relief, and excitement in his eyes. “You haven’t even seen the best part yet.”
“I’m not sure how it could get any better than this.” Tessa admits, gesturing to the room around her.
“Just wait. Do you trust me?”
“Then follow me.”
He leads her up the stairs and around the corner to a pair of double-doors, twisting the handles slowly and revealing the room behind them with a flourish.
The master bedroom.
The walls are a slightly darker grey and the navy color can be found here too, but this time accented with a beautiful shade of coral that's the perfect blend of masculine and feminine and creates an overall feeling of serenity. Tessa can’t wait to sleep in this room (the king sized bed in the center of the far wall isn’t bad, either).
“This isn’t all, come on.” Scott takes her by the hand, clearly pleased by her gobsmacked reaction to the bedroom, and guides her into the master bathroom.
It’s huge and bright and white with a double vanity, a large glass shower (with a bench!), and a tub so big it spans the entire back wall – complete with Jacuzzi jets. Tessa’s pretty sure she’s about to cry.
Silently, she walks over to Scott and embraces him, burying her face into his chest.
“Are you okay? Is it not good?”
“It’s too perfect. I need a minute to recover.”
He laughs, the motion reverberating through her, and plants a kiss on top of her head.
“Okay, I want to look at the bedroom again, then maybe come back to this bathroom and never leave.” She moves around him as he chuckles affectionately and walks towards the bed, stroking the soft comforter and admiring all of Scott’s excellent choices. She wants to live here. With him.
Behind her she hears the sound of a camera shutter, drawing her attention back to Scott, and she turns to find him holding up his phone and looking guilty.
“Sorry.” He jumps immediately into an explanation, as if she might be angry with him for taking her picture. “It’s just… you standing here in this house, in that shirt, it’s not… It’s something that I gave up hope of ever seeing. I just wanted to have a memento in case I wake up tomorrow and you’re… and this turns out to be a dream.”
And you’re gone. She knows that’s what he was going to say before he caught himself, and it stings a little.
“You can take as many pictures as you want, I don’t mind. In fact, let’s take some together. We can frame one of them and put it on display assuming…”
“Assuming what?” His eyes are fixed on her, just waiting for her to say the words, and Tessa takes the plunge.
“Assuming that you want me to move in with you.” She finishes, holding her breath while she waits for his response.
He walks over and takes her hands in his, holding them up to his chest, “Tess, that’s all I’ve ever wanted. But what about Montreal?”
"We can figure that out. We’ll make it work.”
“Are you sure? I don’t want you to feel trapped here. I could move there.”
“I love you for offering, but we both know you have about a million commitments here that would be impossible to relocate, and I’d never ask you to move so far away from your family.” Tessa steps in closer to lay her head on his chest, closing her eyes and breathing him in for a second. No, she could never leave this behind again.
“I’ve got the next two weeks completely free,” (Thanks to her lack of a honeymoon now),“We’ll figure out our future and I’ll help you move your stuff. Deal?”
“Deal.” Scott grins, leaning down to kiss her.
“And I want to see Moir’s Skate Shop, and I want to watch you coach. Basically I’ve got ten years to catch up on – I want to know everything that I’ve missed.”
“And I want to know everything about you.” He agrees eagerly, and she smiles – tugging his hands towards the doorway.
"Tell you what, let’s go get my car so I can have my stuff,” She chuckles, tugging up the sweatpants that keep sliding down her hips as evidence of her need for her own pants, “Then go home. We’ll order a pizza, open a bottle of wine, and catch up on everything that we’ve missed.”
Scott follows her willingly, not even pretending to put up a fight. “That sounds perfect.”
They keep the questions light as they eat. Sticking to safe topics like their college majors and favorite and least favorite professors. She tells him all about Marie-France and Kaitlyn, and he tells her about signing up to coach Pee Wee hockey because one of the dads backed out at the last minute – and somehow getting roped into coaching all the youth classes permanently. She tells him all about the success of her new line and the work with Paul in Paris, and he talks about opening the shop in London – how intimidating it was and how it’s done so much better than he ever expected.
“I’m not surprised. You’ve always been so much smarter than you gave yourself credit for.” Tessa says, nudging his ribs with her roes and laughing when his hand shoots out to grab her foot.
The wine sits pleasantly in her stomach and she’s just buzzed enough to feel relaxed and happy, but still in full control. It’s the perfect sweet spot and has her feeling like all is right in the world, which for once it actually is.
So when Scott starts massaging the foot that he’d trapped she knows exactly what she’s doing by leaning her head back, arching her spine, and moaning a little. Satisfied at the way Scott’s eyes darken in response and his hand inches up higher on her leg – moving to rub circles into her calf and then stroke along the back of her knee.
“I have another question, T.” He asks quietly, his voice low and husky.
“I want to know - do you still taste the same?”
They take their time, going slowly and with purpose. Where earlier that day their coupling had been all about reuniting – rushed and heated – this time it’s about getting to know each other’s bodies after the decade spent apart. Learning them all over again piece by piece.
Scott explores every inch of her as she lays naked on her stomach, before flipping her over to give the same treatment to her front – spreading her wide before his hungry gaze.
“Do I get to do this kind of thorough investigation with you? Because your ass has only gotten better with age.” Tessa teases at one point, content to let him take his time, but only so long as she gets her turn.
He laughs, open and carefree, and nods, “Anything you want, T. I’m yours.”
“And I’m yours.” She agrees, breathless and aching and so, so in love.
The next morning dawns to find the two of them already awake - Tessa playing with the fingers of Scott's left hand. He’s curled around her, spooning her from behind, pressing soft kisses into her bare shoulders - both of them content to enjoy the silence and companionship.
They’d spent most of the night alternating between sleeping and making love, and she should be exhausted, but instead she feels exhilarated. Like she could go outside and run ten miles and hardly break a sweat.
But Tessa also wants all the cuddles and kisses and the gentle twirling of their fingers, so she stays still.
It’s that last sight, though, that has her tensing. Something’s missing, and she needs to fix it. She moves to get out of bed, kicking the sheets away and trying to swing her legs over the side, but Scott’s arm tightens around her - pinning her down.
"Just where do you think you’re going?” He asks, nipping at her shoulder and making her squirm.
“I’ll be right back, I promise. I just need to get something.”
He releases her with another bite, and she moves quickly, not bothering to get dressed (mostly because there’s no point, but also for Scott’s benefit – she can see him admiring her body from the corner of her eye, and she loves it).
She digs around in her suitcase until she finds what she’s looking for – a plain black box, the shine faded after so many years gathering dust in her drawer. Turning around she climbs back into the bed – facing Scott this time so that she can talk to him more easily. His arm immediately comes up to circle her waist again – tracing little obscure shapes into her hipbone – and for a second she lets herself get lost in kissing him.
"What did you get?” He asks, eyes blinking drowsily and his hair a wild nest on top of his head. He looks thoroughly fucked, and Tessa glows with pride – certain that she looks the same.
“This.” She holds up the familiar box, opening it to reveal the simple silver wedding band. The engraving of their wedding date that Scott had asked the jeweler to add for her on the inside of the band still shines brightly.
“You still have it?” His voice is thick with emotion, and he takes the box from her with a tender reverence.
"Of course I do.” Tessa replies, feeling her own eyes grow watery and trying to fight it.
She holds her left hand out in front of him, gesturing in silent permission, and there are definitely a few tears escaping his eyes and falling into the pillow now as he lovingly slips the ring back on her finger where it’s always belonged, kissing it twice when he’s done.
Tessa waits until he’s looking at her again before saying the vows she’d practiced all during the drive down from Montreal, “I, Tessa Jane McCormick Virtue, take you, Scott Patrick Moir, to be my lawfully wedded husband, with your faults and your strengths, as I offer myself to you with my faults and my strengths. I will respect your integrity and have faith in your abiding love for me, through all our years, and in all that life may bring us. I will help you when you need help, and turn to you when I need help. I choose you as the person with whom I will spend my life, and I promise to keep choosing you for as long as we both shall live.”
Scott’s tears are falling in earnest now and he has to wipe them away before he can bring himself to speak, “Tess…”
“I love you, Scott.” She says simply. She just does – it’s part of her essential make-up and she knows that now. Their roots grew together, forever entwined, and there’s no separating them.
"I love you, too. So, so much. With my whole heart.” He leans in closer and she tilts her chin up to meet him, “May I now kiss the bride?”
She laughs against his mouth, “Please do.”