Soundtrack Song - Girls Aloud, Can't Speak French
All of his words seem to go in one ear and out the other. French, English... none of it registers in my spinning mind. Except, that is, his questions. "Charlotte Marie Bickley, will you marry me? Veux-tu être ma femme?"
Suddenly, it's like I have tunnel vision. The Talbots disappear and fade into the background, and then the background vanishes away. I can only see Max in front of me, down on one knee with a box in his hand. A ring in his hand. A perfect, three-stone ring set in silver or white gold or something. A diamond in the center, flanked by two emeralds, sparkles and entices me to answer him.
Max wants to marry me. He's talked about forever and the rest of our lives; he's talked about it like he wanted it to happen.... And now it is happening. This is the beginning of the rest of our lives. Together.
It takes me forever to find my voice. I know what I want to say; my answer's a resounding yes!, but my brain is fried from having so much sprung on me today. Surprises are nice and all, but there's only so much surprise I can take in one day before it affects my mental processes. Especially when I want to give him the perfect answer in French. I want it to be in his language, and I want his family to understand.
"Maxime. Je t'aime...." That part was easy. But the rest of it is a little harder for me. I close my eyes and try to search quickly for the words. I'm cursing myself for just trying to memorize canned phrases and sentences instead of actually learning the language. I rack my brain and hope this will suffice. "Oui, je vais."
I open my eyes in time to see his head snap up, and his eyes meet mine. "Oui?" All I can do is nod, because I'm deliriously happy and I've completely lost all ability to speak at this point, so I nod and nod and nod until I think my head will snap off my neck. Max's eyes light up and his smile returns. He fumbles with the box as he picks up the ring and takes my left hand in his. His hands are shaking as he slides the band of precious metal onto my finger, and it touches me how overcome with emotion he is. That's when I start crying. Max stands up straight and I fall into his arms and kiss him like no one's watching. It's a beautiful moment we're in, just him and me and the love we're going to share until the day our hearts stop beating.
So many questions start whirling around in my head. I'm so happy, and I want to know all the details. Did he plan this? Did he invite his family down because he was going to ask me? And the ring—how long has Max had this ring? It feels right, but it's only been months. When did he buy it?
I don't get the chance to ask him for answers because his family pours in around us and begins to offer their congratulations. Max and I are pulled apart as everyone takes turns hugging us and kissing our cheeks and passing us around the room. It's pure insanity and utter chaos. The men all clap Max on the back as the women admire my new piece of jewelry. Someone, I think it's Will, hands me a celebratory flute of champagne. I don't even know where the champagne came from, only that there's some in my hand.
Max and I lock eyes, and he tilts his head to the side and shrugs subtly as if apologizing for his family. I smile at him to let him know that I don't mind his family. After all, they're happy for us, and I wouldn't want it any other way; I just wish he was by my side instead of across the room. There's so much going on: toasts that I don't understand, questions that I don't know the words to answer, and delightful stories of Max as a kid, which would be funnier and more endearing if they didn't have to translated for me.
After the initial celebrations, the party breaks off into several groups, and I somehow manage to find myself between Francis and Will. I can't help but think that this isn't going to be good as Will says something to Frank, and then Frank turns to tell me something.
Thank goodness their wives and Véro walk over and interrupt. Juliette pulls Francis away, and Sylvie does the same with Will, both giving me a knowing smile as they leave. They knew they were just up to trouble. Véro gives me a light squeeze. "Don't worry, we saved you. They were going to take advantage of your poor French by teaching you some rotten things to say to Max. Consider yourself warned about those two, because they love to pick on their little brother." She pauses. "You doing all right?"
"Never better," I tell her with a smile. "Today has been great, I'm just...."
"Overwhelmed? Excited? Tired?"
"Yes," I laugh, thinking that I'm all of those things. "So much is going on, I feel like I need just a little quiet time to myself to kind of soak it all in. I'm not used to all this," I tell her, gesturing at the loud atmosphere.
"Why don't you go upstairs for a minute, then? If anyone asks, I'll tell them you had to powder your nose or something."
"V, you are amazing," I sigh, pulling her into a hug. "I just need two minutes, I promise." I step behind her and cut into the kitchen, polishing off the champagne left in my glass before setting it on the counter and taking the back staircase up to the second floor. The voices echo up from the room below, and I step into Max's bedroom and plop onto his bed for a moment in the dark. I close my eyes and take in one deep breath, holding it for a few seconds before I let it out, long and slow.
"Welcome to the family," I hear as the room lights up around me.
I look to my left and see the figure in the doorway. It takes me a split second to realize that it's not Max, and it's one of the brothers. It takes another split second to realize it's Frank. I kick myself, because Will doesn't speak English, so of course it's Frank. I wonder how much wine I've had. "Merci," I giggle, finding a touch of humor in how the Frenchie is speaking English to me, and I'm speaking French back to him.
"You're not regretting your answer, are you?" he asks, sitting down beside me.
"What? No!" I squeal out quickly and loudly, sitting up. "Not at all, Francis. I love Max, and I love your family. I just needed a breather. I needed to recharge for a second."
Frank smiles back at me, being very sincere. "Good. He's obviously crazy about you. When I saw your escape.... He kind of put you on the spot when he asked. I was worried you said yes to prevent his embarrassment."
I laugh. "Put me on the spot... yes, he did. But that's Max. I couldn't imagine it happening any other way. I meant my answer with all my heart."
"You two are good together. We can all see it. You just let me know if my baby brother does anything I need to, uh, how you say, kick his ass for."
I chuckle again. "Thank you, Frankie. I hope to never need to take you up on that." I look down at the ring, sigh, and look back at up Francis. "I can't even begin to tell you what a good man your baby brother is."
"Please, begin," Max says, leaning in the doorway. "Frank won't believe it otherwise."
"He's always been a trouble-maker," Francis laughs, deserting our serious talk for a chance to poke fun at Max.
"Don't put bad thoughts in her head about me. Va te faire voir!" he orders as he smiles, nodding toward the doorway as he steps farther into the room.
"C'est bien, à plus tard," he returns, getting up from beside me and heading for the door. On his way out, Frank squeezes Max's shoulder and nods at him. It seems like such a sweet moment between two brothers who normally concentrate on ribbing each other.
Francis closes the door behind him, and Max takes that fact to his advantage. He reaches for my hand and pulls me up off the bed. He removes my sweater, and my skin almost instantly starts to get goosebumps—and not just from the cool air. He kisses my bare shoulder. "Finally, some alone time."
As if on cue, loud laughter reverberates through the floor. "We're not exactly alone."
"Close enough." One hand presses against the small of my back, pushing our bodies together, as the other hand unzips my dress. "Take your hair down."
"If you wanted alone time, you shouldn't have invited your family into your home," I giggle. That fact doesn't stop me either, because I do as he commands and remove the clips and let my hair fall down around my shoulders. Then I reach up under his shirt and lightly drag my nails down the flesh of his sides. Next, I go to work on the buttons of his shirt.
"They won't care if we celebrate our engagement properly," he mumbles, kissing across my collarbone to my neck. His scruffy chin electrifies my nerve endings. "I thought you were going to say no."
My hands quit their progress of undressing him. As badly as I want him, those desires are temporarily put on hold. "What? Why would I say no?"
"You took forever to answer. It's not supposed to take that long to say 'yes.'"
"Max, my answer to you will always be 'yes.' From here on in, it's always yes." He kisses me hungrily, igniting all my pent-up passion. "I just wanted my answer to be perfect."
"What did I tell you about perfect? As long as you agreed to wear that ring, any answer would have been perfect. In English or in French. I don't care what you speak."
"Really?" I ask, raising my eyebrows. "I guess all those special lessons from V have gone to waste then." Max looks at me and waits for me to explain. "Embrasse-moi." I end the conversation here, not wanting to distract myself from the task at hand. He grabs my waist and guides me down on the bed. His right knee's between my legs, the left is on the other side of my body, and he's peeling the straps of my dress down my arms slowly.
That doesn't mean we don't get distracted, however. There's a loud knock at the door as one of the brothers says, "Maxime!"
"Will, va-t'en!" he growls, bending over and kissing right above the neckline of my dress.
"C'est important," Will calls.
"Je suis occupé."
"Allez, Maxime." He knocks on the door again. "Ouvre la porte."
Max sits up and shakes his head. "Stupid Frank."
"I thought it was Will?" I ask, feeling confused.
"It's Will at the door, but I bet Frank sent him up here. He knew...." Max throws open the door as I pull the straps of my dress back onto my shoulders and make sure the hem is pulled down so I'm at least covered. "Qu'est-ce que tu veux?"
I can see that Will is grinning much like the Cheshire Cat. The brothers are definitely messing with Max, and Will knows what we were up to as he spies a half-naked Max and my disheveled appearance. "Hé, Charlotte. Comment allez-vous?"
Max groans and steps in the line of sight so Will is forced to look at him and not me. "Qu'est-ce que tu veux?"
"Papa et Maman ont pris la chambre d'amis. Et nous? Où sommes-nous supposés dormir?"
Max scowls. "Il y a le divan-lit dans le séjour et le matelas gonflable. Organisez-vous." Then he shuts the door and engages the lock.
Will hollers through the door, "Quelle impolitesse! Et penser qu'on est venu jusqu'à Pittsburgh pour te voir!" He laughs and hollers down the stairs as his shadow disappears from the crack below the door. "Oui, Francis!"
He shakes his head and groans. "Be glad you don't have brothers. Now, where were we?"
"Later," I sigh.He pouts and I laugh, "I promise. Later." I stand up and turn my back to him, pulling my hair across to one shoulder so he can zip me up. "We shouldn't be rude and ignore your family."
"Our family," he whispers, zipping my dress and kissing the nape of my neck. Then he goes to work on putting his shirt back on. "Maybe it's not official yet, but you're a Talbot now."
That's not a comment meant to make my cry, but it does make me get weepy. I love his family. I can barely even speak to them, but they made me feel so at ease and so at home with them that it's like I really am a part of their family, and I had been a Talbot for my entire life. It's a happy feeling, but I'm sad, too, because I have to leave them and go home tomorrow to my real family that isn't nearly as sweet.
"Don't cry, baby."
"I'm sorry. Your family is so accepting. I love them to death, Max-A-Million. I think I love them more than my own family."
He smiles broadly. "It's great seeing you fit in with them. I knew that they would like you, but I didn't know they'd like you this much so soon. And my mom.... She will love you enough for a billion mothers. She's probably already planning our wedding. Let's go back downstairs, Charlotte." He laughs at his thought. "You're going to be Charlotte Talbot. That kinda rhymes."
I groan. "I don't want to have a rhyming name."
"I think it sounds perfect. It's got a nice ring to it," he says with a smile.
I look down at the brand new ring on my left hand. Charlotte Talbot. Yeah, that definitely has a nice ring to it.