The alarm clock read 5 o'clock when I finally stirred awake, my eyes swollen from all the tears I'd shed earlier. I was surprised I didn't end up sleeping through the entire day and night after my fight with Ashley. It had definitely taken its toll on me, both physically and mentally.
If Derek had never broken up the fight, I would've given Ashley the beating she deserved. Even now, traces of anger and rage still lingered in my mind, none of which would ever go away until she was out of my life for good. I'd rather stab a needle through my arm than have to see her wicked face again.
At the same time, I absolutely loathed myself for reacting the way I did. The satisfaction of hurting Ashley had blinded me from something much more important- my baby. I couldn't even begin to imagine how devastating it'd be if my actions had harmed our little bean.
Seeing Derek's face back in the car only heightened my feelings of regret. He'd looked so frightened and lost, desperate to be reassured that our baby was fine.
How could I have done that to him?
This whole situation never would've happened if I'd just simply ignored Ashley. Instead, I stooped down to her level and now, I felt more terrible than ever.
Just as I was about to drag myself out of bed, Derek walked in holding his phone to one ear, wearing a plain white tshirt and sweatpants. He gave me a weak smile then sat down at the edge of the bed.
"Who is it?", I mouthed to him.
"Keith," he mouthed back.
I nodded and snuggled back against the pillows, listening to whatever Derek had to say.
"You agree with me on this one, right? It's for the best. I don't want my wife suffering because of her," he stated firmly into the phone.
My curiosity peaked, and I waited for the conversation to end, hoping that Derek would tell me whatever it was he and Keith were discussing.
When he finally hung up, he set his phone on the nightstand then shifted to lay beside me, pulling me into his arms.
"How are you feeling?", he asked, pressing a kiss to my forehead.
"Somewhat better," I murmured, playing with the hem of his tshirt.
"I explained the incident to Keith. I didn't tell him exactly what Ashley said to you, but I told him how she hasn't stopped causing you pain even though I warned her to leave you alone."
"And what did he say?"
Derek exhaled, staring deep into my eyes, and I saw a ghost of a smile on his lips.
"He said you're the boldest woman he'd ever met."
"Really?" My face lit up.
I let out the biggest sigh of relief and Derek chuckled.
"After what happened, I thought everyone would hate me."
"Not a single soul out there could ever hate you, sweetheart. If anything, my fellow coworkers seem to love you more and more each time they meet you. Trent even said that you're better at organizing our company fundraisers than we are."
"Yeah, right," I scoffed.
"It's true. You've got wicked organizational and management skills. But more importantly, you're super lovable." He gave my hip a playful squeeze.
After reassuring me that he and Keith would explain the incident to the rest of their coworkers on Monday at work, he asked about what Ashley had said to aggravate me so much.
"At first, she was just saying the same old things- how if it weren't for me, you two would be together. Then she made a remark about you probably being a father to some other woman's child," I spoke.
Derek let out a snort.
"How accurate of her to say that."
My eyes widened in horror and I bolted upright, growing sick to my stomach.
"You have a kid?!", I screamed.
Derek winced, covering his ear with one hand then sat up as well, turning to face me.
"Jeez, Claire, you didn't have to yell," he grumbled.
"Answer my question!" I slapped my hand on the pillow.
He stared at me wide-eyed then to my disbelief began to laugh hysterically, clutching his stomach as tears formed in his eyes.
"What the hell is so funny?", I demanded.
"Y-you seriously think I have a kid?" He was choking on his laugh.
"You just told me what Ashley said was accurate!"
"I was being sarcastic, Claire. Jesus, calm down."
I groaned in exasperation, sinking back into the bed and Derek stifled another laugh, but I shot him a death glare and he immediately grew serious.
"You nearly gave me a heart attack!"
"Sorry, babe." He made a pouty face, and I threw a pillow at him.
Unfortunately, it ended up hitting the accent light I'd bought him for our anniversary, but just as it was about to crash to the floor, Derek caught it, setting it back on our nightstand.
"Holy shit, that was close." I released the breath I'd held in.
"Watch where you throw things next time," he scolded.
I rolled my eyes and pulled the covers to my chin, turning to face the wall. Derek moved to press his body against mine, draping an arm over my stomach as we lay there in silence.
Eventually, I grew drowsy with sleep and was about to close my eyes when he finally spoke again.
"You never answered my question." His cool breath fanned my neck.
"You never told me what Ashley said that had triggered the fight."
In my head, I was transported back to that exact moment in our conversation when I knew that Ashley had crossed the line. She'd been standing with her hands on the table, talking about my father's death as if it'd been the most casual thing. The worst part? She'd blamed the timing of his death for ruining her relationship with Derek.
That was what had set my heart aflame.
Now, as I lay in Derek's arms, I couldn't even bear to restate her cruel words, but if I didn't tell him, then he'd never understand how I'd felt earlier today.
"The truth is, Derek, hearing Ashley talk about what could've been between the both of you doesn't make me angry. Sure, it's annoying, but it's not worth punching her for," I began.
"So what else did she say?", he prompted, his tone stern.
I turned around so that we were facing each other and opened my mouth to speak but found myself struggling for words. Derek reached out to stroke my cheek with his palm, his blue eyes searching deep into mine, and I felt a sense of security. He was my rock, my source of comfort, and with that thought in mind, I continued.
"She brought up my father. S-she blamed him for ruining your relationship with her."
Inside, I felt a rush of anger and hatred mixed with throbbing pain as tears began to well up in my eyes.
"What exactly did she say?", Derek asked gently.
"She said that my dad should've waited until later to have his heart attack. You wouldn't have had to marry me. You'd marry her instead...and she'd be the one carrying your child, not me."
No matter if I tried to forget them, Ashley's words would always remain burned into my memory. Just like the memory of her would, as much as I didn't want it to.
"I had no idea...," Derek spoke, his expression tightening into a glower.
"I'm so sorry, baby. I couldn't just sit there letting her plunge the dagger through my heart like that. The way she talked about my father..."
My voice became ragged, and my entire body shook as I sobbed into the pillow, punching the mattress with my clenched fists.
"You have nothing to apologize for, sweetheart," Derek said in a soothing tone, cradling my head in his chest. Through my sobs, I could hear him cursing under his breath.
"What did I ever do to make her hate me like this?", I wailed.
"You've done nothing. She just has an unhealthy dose of jealousy in her veins. Damn it, Claire, if you had told me this when we were still downtown, I would've dealt with her right on the spot."
"How could I? Your father made you drag me out, and I was a complete mess! I couldn't even think straight let alone talk!"
"I know, baby," Derek sighed heavily.
"You wanna know what else she told me?"
"That the two of you still talk," I stated bitterly.
Derek narrowed his eyes and pulled himself away from me, standing up. Immediately, my body felt cold from the loss of contact.
"Are we seriously going to go through this again?" His tone was accusatory.
"I talked to her once!" He held up a finger for emphasis. "What did I tell you before? You have nothing to be jealous or suspicious of."
"Why are you yelling at me?" I felt so fragile all of a sudden, as if I was going to break under his heated gaze.
He groaned in frustration, running a hand through his hair then collapsed back onto the bed. I lay still, afraid to touch him.
"Apparently, Keith told Ashley that you were pregnant. So, she came up to me one day to ask if it was true and I said yes. That's the only time we ever talked."
"I believe you," I said quietly.
I nodded my head, signaling that our conversation was over and turned to face the wall again when Derek gently grabbed my arm.
"I'm sorry for yelling at you. I didn't mean to. I was just angry listening to all the things Ashley said to you." His expression was worn as he held my gaze.
"It's ok." I managed a small smile.
He sighed in relief and pulled me back towards him, draping the covers over our bodies as I lay my head on his chest.
"I should've made my decision a long time ago," he mumbled, staring up at the ceiling.
"I decided to fire Ashley. I talked to Keith about it, too, and he agreed."
It took a moment for his words to sink in but when they did, I was utterly speechless, consumed by the huge wave of relief that had hit me. After all these months, our issues were finally solved.
"B-but what about her family? You promised-,"
"Your happiness is my priority, not them. Ashley will just have to find a different job some place else."
I tried to keep a straight face, but inside, I was leaping with joy.
"I'll serve as a a reference for her if she needs one, but that's it. You and Derek Jr. are the center of my life, and nothing will ever get in the way of that," he vowed, sliding his hand under my dress and drawing small circles on the curve of my stomach.
"I hope he has your blue eyes."
"A million bucks he will." Derek smiled, kissing the top of my head.
"I love you."
"I'll love you more if you shower with me and eat dinner afterwards. I'm starved."
"I didn't make anything yet, though."
"No worries. I made pasta while you were sleeping."
"Wow, I married a pro golfer, dancer, and chef."
"Yup, you won the jackpot." He grinned, pulling me out of bed.
Indeed I did.
"Ashley should've known better than to mess with a pregnant woman," James remarked with a laugh, setting down his glass of whiskey.
We were all seated at the dining table with Derek's parents, enjoying a delicious meal that his mother had prepared while relaying the story of what happened between me and Ashley a week ago.
Over the months, Heather and I had grown extremely close. Although she hadn't been the ideal mother in the past, she'd changed. I confided in her ever since I found out that I was pregnant, and she had amazing advice to give each time.
"The baby was unaffected by the fight, right?", she asked, giving me and Derek a worried look.
"Thankfully, yes," I replied.
"She's a tough one," Derek teased, playfully elbowing my ribs.
"I can see that," James said with a smile. Heather breathed a sigh of relief.
"So, who will your new secretary be now, dear?", she asked.
Derek turned to look at me.
"Who's that one girlfriend of yours? Stacy or something? I'm sure she'd love to work for me."
I immediately shook my head in protest.
"Oh, hell no. As much as I love Stace, I really don't want to picture her all over you."
"I was joking, babe." Derek chuckled.
"You better be."
"Anyway, I'll just post a job listing on the company website and see who's interested," he said to his parents.
They both nodded their consent and then we switched the topic over to baseball. After dinner, I helped Heather wash the dishes while Derek and his father watched the Padres game on TV.
"You know, I was so terrified to come here today because I thought that you and your husband wouldn't understand why I acted the way I did with Ashley. But you did, so thank you," I spoke.
"Of course we'd understand, darling. James and I know the type of woman you are. You've got great character and heart. Derek needed someone like you in his life. If your dad were still alive, I'd thank him for bringing you to us."
I felt tears beginning to form in my eyes, but I quickly forced them down. Instead, I gave her a smile, and she hugged me.
"Oh, and from now on, just call me 'mom.'"
"Ok. Thank you for bringing Derek into this life. I'm so glad I found him."
Heather's lips quivered and before I knew it, we were both crying- her regretting the past and me missing my father.
Our life experiences- both good and bad- had shaped us into better people, and it was in that moment, embracing Heather, that I felt truly connected to her. She might not be my actual mother, but she sure felt like one to me now.
That night when Derek drove us home, I reminisced about my childhood days back in Minnesota, and it made me miss my family more than ever. I missed the house I grew up in, my old friends, and the Schneiders.
Ever since I married Derek, I hadn't flown home, but I definitely would in the upcoming months.
"Do you have any vacation days left?", Derek asked as we ascended the stairs to our bedroom.
"I have exactly a week. Why?"
The moment I stepped through the door, I noticed a pair of tickets sitting on the dresser. When I went to look at them, a huge smile lit up my face.
"You bought plane tickets to Minnesota?!", I exclaimed.
"Yup. I decided we both needed a few days off to forget about everything that happened last week. You haven't been home in a long time, too," he said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"I was thinking about my family just now in the car. God, I can't wait to see them again. I miss my mom so much."
Derek smiled, and I pulled him in for a hug.
"You're the best, you know that?", I remarked.
He leaned in and then his lips captured mine in a passionate kiss that left my knees weak. I moaned when his tongue darted into my mouth, tasting and teasing, and I snaked my arms around his neck to pull him closer.
Feeling every inch of his hard body pressed against mine sent delicious tingles down my spine, and with every stroke of his skilled tongue, I ached for more.
When we finally broke apart, my head was spinning as I panted for breath, clutching Derek's biceps. He rested his forehead against mine and curved an arm around my waist, holding me close to him.
"I wish I'd met you earlier in my life," he murmured.
"Because if I did, there never would've been an Ashley or Monica. You'd be my first and only love."
"Oh, Derek...," I breathed, grabbing the collar of his shirt as we both fell back onto the bed, desire coursing through our veins.
"You're mine," he rasped, brushing his lips against my neck.
"Always," I whispered.
Years ago, I never would've thought that I'd ever cross paths with a man like Derek Weston, but now, deep down, I knew that we were destined to find each other.
A/N- Well, there you have it- the very first update of 2016. I had planned to update over Christmas break, but my family decided last minute to go to Florida, so I couldn't. Anyway, I had a great time there. Also, I turned 18 two days ago, so I'm an official adult now (: On a different note, Ashley Lawrence finally got fired! *cue fireworks* All of Claire's problems are finally over...right? Read on to find out what happens next, and remember to like and comment!
P.S. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and New Year!