Winnie fell asleep on the way home from her parents’ house. She needed the rest from the emotional day of dealing with her mother and brothers. She also hoped to be up late, snuggling in Joel’s arms, taking their relationship to the next level. She stretched when she realized they’d pulled into the parking lot of her apartment complex.
Joel had kept the radio off, and Winnie was lulled to sleep by the white noise of the car’s engine.
“Hey, there, Sleeping Beauty,” Joel said quietly. “Did you have a nice nap?”
Winnie cleared her throat and cringed away from the streetlamps shining down on the nearly empty parking lot. “Yeah, I think so.”
Joel pulled his car next to hers but left the engine running. “Did you still want me to stay tonight?”
“Yeah… I thought you wanted to.”
“I do. I just… well… I’ve been thinking about my conversations with your brother.”
“What about them?” Winnie’s heart plummeted. If her brother said anything that scared away the first guy she ever really liked, she was going to be so angry.
“He’s your big brother. And he just wants to protect you.”
“Are you trying to break up with me and using my brother as an excuse?” Winnie threw the car door open and scrambled to leave. Joel tried to grab her hand but she ripped it away and slammed the door, grumbling as she did. “That’s just great. My stupid brother ruined the only real relationship I’ve ever had. The only guy I’ve ever actually cared about.”
“Winnie, wait up!” Joel left his car running and the driver’s side door wide open while he raced to catch up with her.
Winnie spun around and glared at Joel. “Just do it. Break up with me. I get it. My family’s crazy. They scared you away. Whatever. Just let me down easy and don’t drag this out.”
“Winnie would you just listen?” Joel pleaded. Whatever he had to say wouldn’t make this blow any easier.
“Joel, just get it over with and leave me alone!” Winnie yelled. “Don’t make this any harder than it already is. I knew you were too good to be true. I knew you’d break my heart. Why did I ever let myself get caught up in your lies?”
“I have never lied to you!” Joel yelled back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about you breaking up with me because my brother turned you away from me.”
“Your brother didn’t turn me away from you,” Joel said.
“Then why are you breaking up with me?”
“I’m not breaking up with you!”
“Then why are you yelling at me?”
“Because you’re yelling at me!”
Winnie dropped her shoulders in defeat. “Why am I yelling at you if you’re not breaking up with me?”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” Joel said, also relaxing his shoulders and let out a long breath.
“You said my brother talked to you.” Winnie’s thoughts were spinning. She was still not fully awake and feeling mildly woozy from lack of food.
Winnie waited for Joel to continue. “And?”
“And I’m thinking maybe you and I should… wait.”
“Wait for what?” Winnie shivered and folded her arms across her chest.
“Wait to have sex until we’re married.” Joel reached out and rubbed his hands up and down her arms to warm them up.
“But… we just met.” Winnie shook her head.
“But… but… do you realize how long that is from now?”
“No, I don’t.” Joel pulled her just a little closer. “How long is that from now?”
“Is this a trick question?” Winnie was almost more confused now then when they were yelling at each other.
“Do you want to marry me?” Joel asked. Was he proposing to her?
“I don’t know. We just met.”
“You said that a minute ago,” Winnie said.
“If you don’t know if you want to marry me because we just met, then it’s too soon for us to have sex.”
“But you’ve had sex before.” Winnie couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to have sex with her.
“But you haven’t.” He bent down so he could look her in the eye.
“Don’t you want to be my first?” she whispered, her lip trembling, emotions close to the surface.
“Yes, I do”—Joel added a caveat— “on our wedding night.”
“I’m not following you. Are you asking me to marry you?”
“Because I want you to be ready,” he said.
“I am ready,” Winnie practically whined. “I’ve been looking forward to this all day.”
“We can still snuggle, and kiss, and talk, and wake up in each other’s arms.” Joel pulled her closer and kissed the tip of her nose. “Let’s take some time to get to know each other and think about the future and what we want for our futures and decide if what we want is to be together forever. And if we do, then I’ll buy you a pretty ring, and get down on one knee, and you can wear a white dress, and your dad can give us his blessing, and then—on our wedding night—I’ll make love to you for the first time.”
“You will?” Winnie relaxed into his arms.
“Yeah, I will. But if you decide that I’m not the man you want to marry, then you deserve to save yourself for the man you do want to marry.”
“What about you? You didn’t save yourself.”
“Just because I made mistakes in the past doesn’t mean I should make them in the future. Like we said yesterday, neither of us wants this to be a hook up. Right?” He nodded and she answered with a nod of agreement. “If we had sex tonight, we would cheapen the relationship we’re developing. We both deserve to wait for each other until we’re married.”
“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” Winnie looked up at him in awe.
“I’m very serious about this. And I’m serious about you.” Joel paused and smoothed flyaway hairs that had fallen from her bun. “I watched you sleep while I was driving, and you seemed so peaceful and beautiful, and I couldn’t help thinking that I want to watch you sleep in my bed every night from now until eternity.”
“That statement would be a little creepy if it weren’t so adorable.”
“You know what I mean, Edwina. I want to sleep beside you every night.”
“I thought we were planning to sleep together tonight,” Winnie grumbled. “Why do you think I took such a long nap?”
“We can still sleep together tonight,” Joel said. “Just, without the sex. Okay?”
“Okay.” Winnie breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t want to break up with her. He wanted to wait to have sex until they were married, and he wanted to get married. But not yet. She could be okay with all that. “Can we go inside now? I’m freezing.”
“I should probably go turn my car off first.” Joel chuckled. “But one more thing I need to say.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with you.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m falling in love with you too,” Winnie said, comforted by the trajectory of their fledgling relationship.
Before Joel headed back to his car, he took Winnie in his arms again and lowered his face to hers for one long, passionate kiss.
Yeah, she was falling in love with Joel Anderson.