September came right around the corner, marking the return of Friday night lights. There was nothing I enjoyed more than watching Nick's football games. Sophia, unfortunately, had broken her ankle so she was out for the soccer season.
"Come on Nick, sack that guy!", Derek yelled, punching the air with his fist.
"Dad, this isn't even high school football. No need to get so worked up," Sophia said with a laugh. She was seated between her father and I on the bleachers.
"Are you kidding me? Every game counts."
"You know, you should just coach the team yourself, dear," I said.
"I'm going to. These coaches don't know what the hell they're doing."
He raked his hair in frustration then stood up with his hands on his hips, surveying the entire field. Just when he was about to speak, cheers erupted from the crowd as one of Nick's teammates ran twenty yards for a touchdown.
A look of satisfaction crossed Derek's face, and I smiled to myself, knowing all too well how much he enjoyed competition. In fact, he'd never lost a deal for his company before. I was jealous of him sometimes- he had no idea what it felt like to lose. At all.
Well, except for that time I ran away from him over a decade ago, and he nearly lost me.
Nick's team ended up defeating their opponent 20-7, and to celebrate, we all went out for ice cream in La Jolla. Derek and I shared a banana split while the kids had giant cones.
"Got any plans for the weekend, dad?", Nick asked.
"Well, I was hoping to take your mom out for a date tomorrow, so you'll spend the day with Grandma and Grandpa."
Derek gave me a sideways glance, grinning boyishly.
"A date? Aww that's so romantic," Sophia sighed.
"But you two are already married. What's the point of a date?", Nick contested.
"I just miss spending time with your mother. We're always so busy with our jobs, I barely see her anymore," Derek replied, reaching out to grab my hand.
Nick frowned slightly.
"If getting married means turning all...soft like this, I don't think I want to."
"Oh, shut up, Nick. Just wait til you fall in love with some girl," Sophia countered.
Derek and I exchanged a glance and then we both burst out laughing. Nick rolled his eyes, and Derek playfully ruffled his hair.
"Believe me, son, I wasn't always 'soft' like you think. Ask your mom, she'll tell you."
"Leave me out of this," I joked as I resumed eating my ice cream.
"So you'll go on that date with me tomorrow?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world."
He gave me the most breathtaking smile, and my heart began drumming rapidly in my chest. Nothing had changed- everything about him still made me weak in the knees.
That night, I slept exceptionally well after making slow, sweet love with Derek, but in the morning, I woke up to an empty bed.
Frowning, I clutched the sheets to my chest and checked my phone to see if he had left a message. None.
Just when I was about to call him, my head turned towards the door at the sound of footsteps. Derek strolled into the room, dressed in jeans and a black polo, looking as handsome as ever.
He caught my gaze, and a roguish smile slowly spread across his lips.
"God, what a view," he said with appreciation.
Immediately, my cheeks began to burn as his eyes raked over my naked body. He crawled onto the bed and with one swift yank had the sheets on the floor.
"Derek," I gasped when his lips met my neck, sucking gently. He was hovering over me, and I felt utterly consumed by him.
"How'd I get so damn lucky," he murmured, circling an arm around my hip. I pulled his face up to mine, getting lost in his beautiful blue eyes.
"Believe me, darling, I'm the lucky one," I whispered, stroking his cheek. He smiled, shaking his head and leaned in to kiss me.
"I dropped the kids off just now," he mumbled against my lips.
Our kiss grew more heated, and I let out a moan as his hand reached out to knead my breast. He rolled my nipple to a hard peak between his fingers then his mouth replaced his hand.
"Oh, god," I cried, clutching his broad shoulders as my body ached with pleasure.
His lips worshipped my breasts before trailing lower. Kneeling at the foot of the bed, he grabbed my ankles, spreading my legs apart. Desire glistened in his eyes as he stared at the most intimate part of me.
"You're so beautiful," he groaned before his mouth devoured my throbbing core. I cried out in utter ecstasy, and he clutched my hand in his as he sent my body to heaven.
With every lick of his tongue against my sensitive nerve endings, I trembled with pleasure, and not too long after, I felt an orgasm building up inside of me.
"That's it, baby. Come for me," he urged.
I cried out his name, and my body convulsed as I came violently. Tears blurred my eyes, and the next thing I knew, Derek was back at my side, stroking them away with his thumb.
"Just thought I'd give you a proper good morning," he teased, covering my sated body with the comforter.
"That was more than just proper."
"I know." He grinned playfully.
"I love you, Derek."
"I love you too, darling. Now how about you go shower so we can leave for this date of ours?"
"Will you join me?"
"I already showered this morning."
I pretended to pout, and he chuckled, climbing out of the bed. I craved moments like these when it was just me and him. Yes, I loved our kids with all my of heart, but it was nice to have some alone time with my husband every now and then.
"So, what's the plan for today?", I asked Derek when we got inside his BMW.
"Today, we're taking a trip down memory lane," he replied with a smile.
"Ooh, I like the sound of that."
Derek drove us to Richard Walker's Pancake House for breakfast, and immediately, memories of the mornings Charlotte and I'd spent here in the past filled my mind.
I hadn't seen her for almost a month since she had left for a vacation to Spain. Like me, she and Elliot also had two kids- one boy, one girl.
"Remember the first time you took me to this place?", Derek asked.
"Yes. We went for a long run, and I ate like a pig. You were probably judging me hardcore."
"Not really," he said, taking a bite of his pancakes. "So what if my wife has a bigger appetite than me."
He smirked, and I punched him on the arm.
After breakfast, we spent the afternoon at Seaport Village and took one of the boats out for a sail. It truly felt like Derek and I had gone back to the earlier days of our marriage, and I couldn't help but feel nostalgic.
We'd practically been strangers then, and the journey towards us finding love was one I'd remember forever. At La Jolla, Derek coerced me into playing a round of golf, and just like that time at his parents' charity event, I sucked badly.
"You know, this was probably one of my favorite days of all time," I remarked when we were eating dinner at SeaWorld.
"I'm curious, though. Of all the places we could've ended the night with, why SeaWorld?
Derek smiled, taking a sip of his wine.
"You don't remember?"
He set his glass down.
"You and I shared our first kiss here."
And then the memories of that night came flooding back. The way I felt so warm in his arms despite being drenched with water, savoring the taste of his lips for the very first time...
"It was also the night I realized I was falling in love with you," he continued.
My eyes lifted to his, and I suddenly felt extremely emotional.
"Yes. You were like a breath of fresh air- so youthful and innocent- unlike other women I'd met. Seeing you carry that ridiculous giant fish around-"
"His name was Shamu," I interrupted.
"Yes, Shamu. But anyway, I remember thinking about how you were the girl I'd spend the rest of my life with. And the idea didn't seem so bad as before. It turned out you weren't the cold, closed off person I'd previously thought you were."
"This is quite a story to tell our kids one day, huh?"
"I can't believe it myself. Like I said before, sometimes I feel as if I'm living in a dream the entire time."
"Only it's not a dream."
He grinned, leaning back in his chair.
Every spring break, people at my workplace often asked me which vacation destination I considered to be paradise, and I always answered with "nowhere in particular."
Because for me, paradise was simply wherever Derek was.
Sadly, my 'vacation in paradise' ended all too soon, and Monday morning, I was up early and ready for another day at work.
"Breakfast is ready!", I yelled from the kitchen.
Nick and Sophia came running down the stairs then sat down at the counter to eat their omelets.
"Are you and Dad coming to conferences tonight?", Nick asked.
"Yup, we'll be there. I'm sure your teachers have nothing but wonderful things to say about the both of you."
They smiled happily.
A few moments later, Derek rushed into the kitchen, grabbing a piece of buttered toast and the coffee I'd prepared for him.
"Alright, I'm off to work now. Have a great day at school, kids," he said, kissing them both goodbye. Then he turned towards me.
"Good luck with your presentation today. You're gonna kick ass."
I laughed, and he pulled me in for a brief yet passionate kiss.
"I love you, Derek."
"I love you, too, darling. Forever and always."
Then he was gone.
Fifteen minutes later, the kids left on the bus for school, and after cleaning up, I headed to work as well. For the first two hours, I coordinated with the members of my team to decide how we were going to execute our presentation.
During that period, I experienced another one of my chest pains, but unlike previous times, this one lasted for quite a bit. I even had to sit down, which caused worry among my coworkers.
"Are you ok, Claire?", Adam- a senior financial analyst- asked.
"I'm fine," I lied, involuntarily rubbing my temples as I began to feel lightheaded. For a second, the room became a spinning blur, and then it was clear again.
"You don't look fine," another coworker commented.
I stood up, slightly disoriented, and resumed the task at hand, ignoring the concerned looks everyone gave me. However, as another hour passed, I started to feel worse than before, and finally, with defeat, I made the announcement to my team.
"I'm sorry, everyone. I don't know what's going on with me today, but I have to go home. I'm not feeling well right now. You all will be fine without me during the presentation."
Before anyone could have the chance to say a word, I grabbed my purse and left the room. I wasn't trying to be rude, but I needed to get home immediately. My back was tightening up, and it was suddenly getting hard to breathe.
I dreaded to admit it, but something very wrong was happening to me. Only I had no idea what it was.
As I drove, my hands grew damp with sweat, and the road turned blurry. Luckily, I made it home safely. I practically stumbled out of the car and when I got to the kitchen, everything started spinning.
"Oh my god," I cried, clutching my chest as I felt intense pain shoot through me.
911. I needed to call 911.
With a trembling hand, I attempted to dig in my purse on the counter to grab my phone. That same instant, my vision began to blur again, and the last thing I heard was the sound of my purse falling to the floor before everything turned black.
The entire day at work, I kept thinking about my wife and the amazing weekend we'd spent together. I never thought it'd be possible to love her more than I already did, but god, as the years went by, I'd fallen even deeper for her.
She was a wonderful mother, and the kids absolutely adored her. If her father were still alive, he'd be so proud of the incredible woman she'd become.
"What are you feeling today? Chinese or Italian?", Keith asked when we were finally able to take a lunch break around three after our conference meeting.
"Chinese. I could use some General Tso's chicken right now," I replied, patting my stomach.
"Chinese it is then. How about we walk over to that place nearby? It's too nice to order in and sit in the office."
On our way to the restaurant, my phone started vibrating in my pocket, and I pulled it out, surprised to see that it was a call from home. Claire was still at work, so it was either Nick or Sophia. They never called during my work hours before, so I couldn't help but feel slightly anxious.
"Hello?", I answered.
"Dad, you have to come home immediately!", an anguished Nick cried into the phone. Immediately, I began to panic.
"What's wrong, buddy?", I asked worriedly.
"We just came home from school, and m-mom-"
"What about mom?"
"I-I don't know what happened to her, but she's lying unconscious on the kitchen floor," Nick wailed, choking on his tears.
As soon as the words left his mouth, I felt my world come to a grinding halt. Keith must've seen the shocked expression on my face because he looked at me with utter concern.
"Ok, Nick, listen to me. I want you to call 911, and then you and Sophia wait for me to come home, alright? I'm leaving right now," I said urgently, struggling to keep my voice steady. No matter what, I had to make sure the kids remained calm as possible.
"Ok. Please hurry, dad!"
"I will. Love you, son. Take care of Sophia, too."
"What happened, man?", Keith asked once I hung up the phone.
"It's Claire. The kids found her lying unconscious at home on the floor."
"Holy shit. I'm leaving with you."
"No, you go back to the office and tell everyone to plan our next business trip without me. I'll be fine," I said, my mind a whirlwind of different emotions.
"Drive carefully. Update me as soon as you're at the hospital."
I nodded then sprinted down the street towards the parking garage where my car was. The entire drive home, I mentally prayed that Claire was ok. My hands shook as I clutched the steering wheel, terrified to face the situation that awaited me at home.
Just this morning, I'd kissed my wife good-bye before leaving for work, and to think that she'd somehow become unconscious chilled me to the bone.
Had someone broken into the house?
Realizing that Claire had been home before the kids, I eliminated that possibility. There had to be a reason she'd left work early...but what was it?
As soon as I turned into my driveway, another thought crossed my mind. I remembered Claire telling me a couple of times in the past that she had minor chest pains, but we'd both thought that they were effects of stress.
Now, I was beginning to feel like those pains weren't quite so minor after all.
"No...," I muttered out loud, rushing inside the house as I felt my body become numb.
"Dad!", Sophia exclaimed when I entered the kitchen.
"Where's mom?", I asked, my heart beating rapidly in my chest as I pulled her into my arms.
"The paramedics brought her to the hospital."
"Did they say what happened to her?"
Sophia was about to reply but burst into tears the very last minute, burying her face in my chest. Nick came running out of the bathroom and like Sophia, he was crying as well.
"Nick, what happened to mom?", I asked, shaking with fear.
"She had a heart attack."
And just like that, my life turned into ashes at my feet as the image of my beloved wife from earlier today burned bright in my mind, her hopeful, radiant smile the only light getting me through the darkness that I knew was about to come.
"Does Claire have a family history of heart attacks?", the doctor asked while I sat in the waiting area with the kids.
Numb. That was all I could feel right now.
"Her father and grandpa both died from them," I replied, my voice barely audible.
"I see," the doctor said, taking notes on his clipboard.
"She did complain about having chest pains every now and then, but we thought they meant nothing. Maybe just minor heartburn."
"Heart attacks can happen to anyone. However, since both Claire's father and grandfather had them, that put her at a greater risk."
"I know...why didn't I ever think about that? But she always seemed so healthy."
"That's exactly what I'm talking about. You couldn't have possibly known," the doctor said.
My entire thirty-six years, I'd never had to visit the ER before, but now here I was, waiting for my wife to miraculously wake up. The beeping of the heart monitor was the only thing keeping me sane as I sat next to the bed, staring at the beautiful face I loved more than life itself.
The face I would no longer get to wake up next to every morning.
My eyes roamed over her lips, the lips I'd kissed a thousand times in the past and would never feel against mine again.
Five hours ago, the doctor had delivered the heart-shattering news: Claire wasn't going to make it.
The kids didn't know yet, though, but I'd tell them when Claire was truly gone. As long as I could see her heartbeat on the monitor, she was still alive.
My parents were out in the waiting area to comfort the kids, and I couldn't even imagine the pain they felt right now, not knowing if their mom was going to make it.
I reached for Claire's hand, brushing my thumb over the wedding band I gave her nearly fifteen years ago as unshed tears began streaming down my cheeks. She felt so cold, gradually slipping away from me.
"God, who ever thought your life would come to an end like this...", I murmured, my heart constricting in my chest.
"We were supposed to send our kids to college, see them get married, grow old together...oh god, the kids," I cried, dropping my head on her chest as heavy sobs shook my entire body.
"How am I supposed to raise Nick and Sophia without you?"
How am I supposed to live without you?
That night, as the hours went by, I wept like I never had before, and then finally, at 5:25 the next morning, Claire was pronounced dead, and a part of me died along with her as well.
Too much of her vital heart tissue had died, so her heart was incapable of pumping effectively on its own.
In just the span of twenty-four hours, I'd gone from having everything to nothing at all. If it weren't for my beloved children, I had no idea how I'd be able to live with myself.
That morning before leaving the hospital, I made a promise to Claire: to be the greatest father I could be to our children. Nothing would make her happier than that, and from now on, I'd always live to make her happy.
Three Years Later
It was a crisp autumn day in Minnesota, and the kids and I were outside with my mother-in-law, setting up Halloween decorations for the house.
Although we all tried our best to be cheerful, inside, we were bottling up feelings of pain and grief. Today marked three years since Claire's death. I'd never expected the first funeral I'd ever attend to be my own wife's, but until now, that heartbreaking day remained fresh in my mind.
Her mother and I had agreed to have her be buried here in Minnesota, so she could be with her father. After her death, I'd thought about selling our giant house, but at the same time, we'd made unforgettable memories there. I couldn't let them go. So in the end, I decided to keep the house.
Eighteen years ago, I married Claire Elizabeth Delaney. At the church that day, our wedding vows had been the seal to a business partnership. But as time passed, our vows had become the seal to something much more. A marriage with everlasting love.
And although Claire was gone, I'd never stop loving her.
Her death hadn't drifted us apart. In fact, it'd only made our connection grow stronger. Now, I knew what it felt to have loved and lost. Just like she had.
Later that evening, all four of us drove to the cemetery to leave flowers at Claire's grave. I honestly couldn't believe how God could've been so cruel to Elizabeth. To have lost both her husband and daughter at such young ages...
We were all quiet as we stared at the words engraved on Claire's headstone when Nick spoke up.
"Are you ever going to remarry?"
His question caught me off guard, but when I answered, it was as certain as could be.
"No. Your mother may be gone, but in my heart, I'll always be married to her."
I gave him a sad smile, and both he and Sophia snuggled closer to my side.
"And yes, darling, I'll never leave you. Just like I promised all those years ago," I whispered to her grave.
A gentle breeze ruffled the trees, and I knew Claire had been with us all along.
A/N- Well guys, this is sadly how the story ends:( Please don't hate me too much. I just wanted to portray how deep love can be, even in death. I absolutely loved working on this story for the past two years. Thank you to everyone who supported me along the way. As you all know, I'm in college now, so this is the last story I'll write for quite a while. And for the final time, remember to like and comment! Happy reading (: