After the last of the guests filed out of the house, Justus dropped to one knee holding the ring his mother had given to him before she'd passed away.
Nervously, he wet his lips. "Stacey. This ring has been in my family for three generations. It's very special to me. And... and so are you."
Stacey smiled and clasped her hands together. "Oh, it's beautiful Justus! I can have it? Really?" Stacey grabbed the ring and slipped it on her finger. "Look! It matches my rhinestones!"
Justus uncertainly stared at Stacey. "Stacey... you do realize I just... well... I proposed to you. I want you to marry me..."
Stacey looked up. "Duh Justus. I know."
Justus wet his lips again. "Well, you didn't give me an answer..."
Stacey lifted her hand and showed him the ring on her finger. "Ring on my finger. Pretty sure my answer is yes!" Rolling her eyes, she laughed. "Let's make it official!" she cried as she tugged him out of the room.
Stacey tapped his knee and said, "Because. We're going to have a quickie."
Justus' head whipped around and looked around the room. "Stacey!" he gasped.
"A quickie wedding, dork!"
Finally, the curator came in and gave them forms to sign and initial. Justus had to admit his hand was shaking, just the tiniest bit.
Stacey just continued to dance on her own. "No, I'm good. Hurry back, baby."
Justus turned around to see an older man sitting at the bar. "Watch it. That's my wife."
Henry scoffed and sipped his drink, "Good luck with that."
Justus just ignored the bitter man and continued to watch Stacey. Finally, his curiosity got the better of him. "What do you know about it?" he asked.
Henry swirled his drink around in his glass and paused before answering. Finally, slamming back his drink, he left a tip on the counter and clapped Justus on the shoulder and cautioned, "She's fire, man. She'll burn you." Without another word, Henry wobbled away from the bar.
"What are you talking about?" Stacey asked sourly. "Here we are having a good time and you're getting pissy! Why do you have to ruin everything?"
Justus stared at his wife and knew that there was no one to explain his conversation with the man. He dragged his hands through his hair and spit out, "Nothing. I'm just... I think I drank too much. Let's go home."
Stacey softened. "Oh poor baby, let's go home I'll take care of you." Looping her arm through his arm, she hailed a cab and clambered into the taxi after him.
"What are you doing here?" she accused.
Henry wobbled on his feet. "I saw you with him tonight. Are you going to ruin his life, like you ruined my life?"
Stacey glared at him and stomped her foot. "You're drunk!" Then, added, "Besides. I did not ruin your life. You did that yourself!"
"Oh, you take no credit for seducing me like a witch?"
Stacey crossed her arms against her chest. "I was young, okay. I made a stupid mistake. I'm sorry."
Henry stepped closer. "Sorry doesn't cut it," he said.
Stacey pushed Henry away. "I want you to go. You're sloppy drunk and not making any sense."
Henry walked away and kicked her trash can. "I'll go. But, he's going to find out about your past. I'm going to tell him."
Stacey lifted her chin. "Who says he doesn't already know."
Henry just laughed before he staggered away. "Oh, he doesn't know. But, he will."
She got out of bed and looked around the house for Justus. "Justus... are you there?" She worried that Henry had dropped by again this morning and told Justus before she had a chance to talk to him.
"In here," Justus called from the bathroom. "Dang it!" he suddenly yelled.
Worried, she called out, "What's wrong?!" as she rushed to the bathroom. Stopping in the doorway, she laughed as Hardimos jumped out of the bathtub, covered in suds and splashed water all over the room.
Hands on hips, he looked at her and demanded, "What's so funny."
Stacey tried to stop laughing as she walked over to him. "You are. You have bubbles on your nose."
Justus joined in laughing and wiped the bubbles on her nose.
She hadn't planned on being pregnant. She'd seen how well that worked for Anne. She'd kept track of her through the years and was sad when she thought of all the nephews and nieces she had that she'd never have a relationship with.
But, ready or not, she had two little boys: Chester and little Austin.
Stifling a sob when her sister picked up, Stacey cried, "Anne. It's me. I need your help."
Anne patted her tummy and half-smiled. "Yes, another one. Hopefully this one will be in college before I know!"
Stacey faced her sister and felt ashamed that she'd had to ask for help. Anne had never asked for help. And, in fact, Stacey had just made things harder by causing her more stress. She looked down at the ground and whispered, "I'm sorry, Anne. I was horrible. I wouldn't doubt it if you hated me."
Anne just hugged her again. "It was really hard and it hurt. But, I've made my peace. I've forgave you a long time ago." But, fixing Stacey with a hard stare, she added. "But, if it ever happens again..."
Stacey just blanched, thinking about the other night Henry came over drunk. She wondered if she should tell Anne about it. "No... Anne... it won't happen again. I promise. I'm different now!"
"Nothing I do makes him stop. I just don't know what to do."
Anne picked him up and patted his back and Chester burped. "There now, there you go, baby," Anne said.
Stacey looked on amazed. "How did you do that?"
Anne just laughed. "I've had lots of practice."
"I used to resent you," she said after feeding Chester. "You just always seemed so perfect and I always felt like such a failure," she began.
Anne sighed and said, "That's so funny. I used to be so jealous of you. You were single without a care in the world. I sometimes... well... sometimes I wished that I'd never married Henry. But, what's done is done."
"I can't believe I've known you all these years and you never once told me this. Is that why your sister kicked you out? Were you seeing him while you were seeing me?"
Stacey hedged, "Well, I wasn't really 'seeing' him. And I never slept with him! I just... led him on... and kissed him..."
Justus slapped his hands against each other. "So, was it while we were dating?"
Stacey sadly nodded her head. "But, after I moved in here, I never saw him again. And I stopped seeing other people shortly after moving in here, too."
Justus winced. "There were more? More guys?"
Stacey wrung her hands. "Justus, I'm sorry..."
Justus hung his head. "I always knew you liked to flirt.. but when I think about the parties you threw and all the guys who came over... know I don't know who you were romantic with and who were just friends." Justus tried hard to remember names. "Max? Did you date Max?" he demanded.
Stacey tried to touch Justus' hand. "Justus..."
"Don't touch me right now..."
Stacey pulled her hand back. "No. Well... yes. But, nothing ever happened."
"Story of your life apparently!" Justus exploded as he stalked to the room and slammed the door.
"I'm sorry I got so mad, Stace," he began, "It's just... you dropped that bombshell on me and I didn't know how to react. I realize that you might've seen other people before... made other mistakes... and as long as it stopped when we got serious... then, we're okay. Okay?"
Stacey reached across the table and squeezed his hand. "Okay."
Digging into his cereal, Justus announced, "I think we should have your sister and her family over. It's time to mend some fences," he said. "And apparently I'm an uncle!"
Stacey hurried after breakfast to bathe the boys before the company came over. She was excited that they'd get to meet their cousins.
"Look at you!" she exclaimed again when she saw Jansen. "I haven't seen you since you were a little baby!"
Jansen had smiled awkwardly and thanked her. Stacey wondered what he remembered... or had heard about her.
Catching Justus' eye, she grinned and mouthed, "Thank you."