Two Hearts Stand Alone Pt. 06byphotodad©
This story is quite long, and it is highly recommended that you start from part one to see where the characters come from.
Please remember to vote at the end, and 5's are appreciated if they are deserved.
The four shared the stage elevator up to the ready room floor, posing for pictures in front of the stainless steel Tonight Show with Jay Leno Backstage sign mounted on the wall. The same spot where the pre-show interview was done. Matthew and Jay followed the couple to their room and engaged them in light conversation, mostly about what they thought of the show. A small crowd of assistants and interns filled the doorway to watch with curiosity.
Then, Jay turned the thread toward something he had a passion for. "So, Chris. When your dad gets the money from insurance, you get to go back to driving that Olds?"
Chris shook his head, saying that he overheard his parents talking about trading that car in on top of the insurance money to get a nicer, more age-appropriate car for his dad.
Jay was put back a little. "What? You're a working man, what, next week? And going to school soon? You're not going to have a car?"
Chris shrugged. "Well, I figured when my ankle gets limber enough to press the pedals, I'd use part of my paycheck as a down payment on a used something or another."
Leno frowned. "What are you driving, Christine?"
"Nothing's mine. I've been borrowing my mom or dad's cars," her voice had a hint of sadness, but her face was still glued to her Perma-grin expression from everything that had happened toward the end of the show. Chris was happy that even with her idols in the room, she still glanced frequently at the new shiny on her finger.
Jay shook his head. "That just won't do. Just doesn't seem right that you two don't have cars to get you from place to place. So, Chris has a job near home, and obviously he'll be going to school there. Where are you going, Christine?"
She answered that she had always dreamed of going to Auburn, and so would be going there.
Jay looked at his friend and said, "Not right at all, is it, Matt? They won't get to see each other without rides."
McConaughey shook his head in agreement. "That sucks bad. I don't see how y'all will do it."
Leno reached in his jacket pocket, pulled out a checkbook, sat down and started writing out the date. "I'm going to give you a graduation gift to go toward getting your new cars," he said.
Matthew asked, "How much you giving them, Jay?"
McConaughey motioned at his assistant, who handed him his own checkbook. "I'll match it," he said as he started to write. "You give yours to Chris, mine will go to Christine."
Chris and Christine were dumbfounded as the two men wrote out the checks. As Jay tore out his, Chris finally found some words. "Really, that's not necessary. We would find our own way to get our vehicles." Jay handed the check over anyway, and Chris looked at his name and the numbers written out below. "But it is very much appreciated!" he finished. "Thank you very much, sir!" he exclaimed as he excitedly shook Jay's hand.
Matthew handed Christine her check, but she was still at a loss for words. Instead, she jumped up and hugged him fiercely. He had written on her memo line, "Congratulations on your graduation and engagement!"
Before saying goodbye, Jay said that he wanted pictures of them with their cars in exchange for the gift checks. They promised that they would do so immediately after their purchases. Last to leave were the assistants and interns who stayed behind to shake the couple's hands. One of Jay's interns handed Christine his card with Jay's personal email address written on the back.
Finally they were alone. As soon as the door closed, Christine leaped into Chris's arms, shrieking, "Ahhh! Oh my God, we're getting married!"
"Hell yeah, sweetie! Thank God you said yes!"
She stepped away slightly and looked up at him. "Are you kidding? What on Earth would make me say no?"
"I don't know. A thousand things...and nothing...all at the same time. Too soon to ask, not as attracted to me as I am to you, being apart mostly for the next four years...anything."
She kissed him. "Don't be absurd. I love you. Always have, always will." The ring caught her eye again. "This looks so familiar, and isn't it a wedding ring?"
"It's my grandmother's. She had the wedding and engagement rings fused together decades ago. When I approached Mom about asking you, she gave it to me. I can't think of a better home for it than on your finger."
Christine was frustrated with her confusion. "It fits perfectly. How is that possible?"
He held up her class ring on his pinky finger. "I loaned this to Mom so she could get that sized, cleaned, and polished. You didn't notice your ring was gone from my hand a few days ago?"
"No...I...ugh. How often do you check someone's jewelry? This...all this is just perfect, Chris. The ring, your proposal, the show. Perfect! Why are you so good to me?"
He kissed her and pulled her tight to him. "Probably the same reason you tolerate being around me. I love you."
"Mmm. I love you, too." Then as an afterthought, she gave a jab to his stomach. "And, I don't just tolerate you."
He chuckled. "I know. You do wondrous things for me, too."
They helped each other remove the mics from under their clothing, breathing a sigh of relief to see that they had, indeed, remembered to turn them off when the show ended. Chris's ankle reminded him that it was there with a throbbing ache, and he moved around more and more slowly helping Christine get things together until she commanded him to sit down. She finished up, he picked up his crutches, and they opened the door to find Brad there, waiting patiently for them. He called down the hall for another assistant to help him take their things to the car, and they made their way down the hall, gladly receiving hugs to the staff members who offered them.
Just before the exit, another group of staffers were waiting for them, presenting two boxes of parting gifts. Hats, t-shirts, mugs, keychains...all with the Tonight Show logo. The group gave them hugs, congratulating them and wishing well with their futures.
Outside, a group of twenty or so teens had gathered and cheered when they saw CC appear. Most had visited the gift shop while the couple was visiting with their host and fellow guest after the show, and donned similar merchandise that Chris and Christine just received as gifts. They recognized several from the airport yesterday. A marker was thrust in front of them, and they wrote out autographs on shirt tails and hat bills. After each signature, group members took turns to take pictures with the happy couple.
Brad asked them where they wanted to go, once they finally made it inside the car. Christine spoke for them both and said that they should celebrate at a nice restaurant. They didn't change after the show, so they were already dressed for the occasion.
He had gotten to know their personalities the last couple of days, so a few minutes later, he pulled up at the Pinnacle Building where Arnie Morton's Steakhouse was located. A valet approached, but Brad stayed in the driver's seat, explaining he was merely dropping off his "fare." He lowered the passenger window and got Chris's attention. "Order the 'Dinner for Two' special. It's off-menu, fantastic, and will save you a bit of money."
An employee opened the door for them with a smile, and they were greeted warmly by the Maitre'D. "What's the occasion?" he asked.
Christine glanced around and noticed the attire was mostly business casual, so it was a natural question to be asked. But there were so many answers she could have given...that they were alive, that they just met Jay Leno and Matthew McConaughey, and got money for two cars from the experience. Instead, she decided to go with her happiest answer, and the one most understandable to someone outside their circles. "We just got engaged," she beamed while showing her ring.
"Oh excellent!" their host said jubilantly as he took her fingers lightly and inspected the ring. Then he gently pecked her hand and released it. "Do you have a reservation for yourself and the lovely bride to be?" he asked Chris.
"Sorry, no. We just came from...a show, and our driver took us here."
"Not a problem! You came at an excellent time. A tad later, and you might have had to wait." He instructed a hostess to lead them to a specified table and wished them congratulations.
The experience was unlike any other they had for dinner. A cart rolled up to their table with fresh, unprepared foundations for the entrees, and the waiter described each in mouthwatering detail. Chris took Brad's advice and asked for the dinner for two special, and the waiter gladly presented their options. Throughout their three-course meal, employees stopped by the table to wish the couple congratulations on their engagement. Even the general manager, Kevin, stopped by to check on things and wished them a happy future together.
During dessert, Christine slipped her phone out of a hidden pocket in her dress and called Brad to let him know they would be ready in about ten minutes. As soon as they finished eating, the waiter cleared their plates and set the bill in front of Chris, saying that there was no hurry. But Chris glanced at the now-busy entrance and knew it would be polite to keep the after dinner conversation brief. He pulled out his check card and placed it in the bill jacket without even glancing at the total.
But, Christine's eyes got wide, because she did get a look before he closed the folder. "I'll help you with that when we get back," she whispered.
He shook his head. "C, let me get this. Whatever the amount is on that slip, you're worth a million times more than that to me."
The waiter picked up the bill, and Christine waited until he was gone before speaking. "The customary tip for that amount is like 25 bucks alone! More like 35 or 40 if we give what's right for the unbelievable service we got."
"Well, thank you, then," she said, giving a smile that would melt anyone's heart who saw it.
The waiter returned with the slips for Chris's signature and gave Christine a special souvenir menu that had "Congratulations on your engagement" printed as the header. He wished them a bright future together, as did the rest of the wait staff on their way out. The Maitre'D took Christine's hand and kissed it again, giving them his best wishes as they exited.
Brad was waiting out front, and opened the door for them. When asked where to go next, Chris said that they would just like to enjoy the city for a while before returning to the hotel. Brad nodded as he understood what Chris meant.
As they pulled away, Christine brought out her phone again, opting to text rather than "ruin" the mood with an overly long phone conversation. She typed, "Moms, just letting you know the show went great. Hope you enjoy watching it as much as we did doing it. There are a few surprises at the end. Love you both, C." She selected numbers for both her mom and Chris's and sent the message.
She returned the phone to her pocket and snuggled up to Chris for the car ride. They played with each others fingers and hands while Brad leisurely drove them through the best parts of LA and the surrounding areas. It was a tossup as to which was more romantic...the beautiful city lights at late sunset, or the quiet company of each other. Christine gave up trying to decide. Calling the night in total as the best she's ever had worked for now.
The last glow of the sun dipped into the Pacific, and they enjoyed the sparkling lights of the city dance past them for a couple of hours. Brad started looping back toward the hotel, and both of their phones started buzzing at almost the same time. It was their moms, of course, excitedly wishing them congratulations.
Chris's mom broke out of her normalcy and rushed through saying a bunch of things. Most of them helpful, some not, but all well-intended. She ended up saying goodnight way before Christine's mom, saying that she had school to teach the next day.
Christine's mom broached the subject a different way, asking for and about every detail from start to finish of the show. Christine happily chatted with her about everything, her mom now ranking in the top three of her best friends, after Chris and Jill. It shouldn't be that way, she knew, but it just was. But, the open conversation she was having now definitely had her mom fast approaching Jill's spot. The phone got handed to her dad about the time Chris hung up.
"Good to see he took my advice and popped the question elegantly," he greeted his daughter.
Butterflies of the good kind got startled in her stomach, spreading warmth throughout her as she suddenly turned and stared wide-eyed at Chris while she madly tried to thrust down the emotion in her throat. Finally she found some words, "You knew he was going to ask?" The voice was there, just not very strong.
"I didn't think he'd do it on a national stage, during probably the most-watched Tonight Show in recent years. But, yeah, I figured he was going to pop the question."
"Why? What made you think that?"
"Because he asked me if he could ask you."
Her nostrils flared and her chin quivered for the second time that night. "You asked my daddy?" she asked Chris. She could hear her dad chuckle on the other end.
Chris grinned in that oops-I-got-caught way. "Yeah, I asked him last week."
Like all little girls, she had dreamed, wished, and even planned for how she wanted to be asked to take such a leap. Romantic setting, maybe after being sung to, her family as witnesses, the traditional one-knee pose, and the old-school thoughtfulness of her beau to ask her father for permission. It was even written on the inside cover of her journal, hidden far back under her dresser. Even she had forgotten long ago that the journal existed. He had more than satisfied four of five on her wish list, and she already forgave him of the fifth. But now she was being told that he had even done that one.
The feeling of absolute love consumed her, and she straddled his lap in the back seat, planting a big kiss on his lips. "When did you talk to him last week? We were so busy..."
"Something this important, you just have to make time." Word for word, the phrase came from Chris's lips and through the phone.
She cringed, having forgotten that the phone was still to her ear when she kissed Chris. There was no way her dad missed that. Thinking quickly for a graceful way out of the awkward situation, she said, "Daddy, thank you so much for letting him ask me!"
"You're welcome, sweetie." She could hear the smile in his voice.
"I better go before I start bawling."
"Okay, I understand. See you on Saturday at 11, right?"
Oh yeah, the airport. "Yes, I'll be there to pick up you and Mom then."
"Very well. Have fun tonight. And...don't get pregnant!" Before she could respond to that one, she heard him chuckle knowingly as he terminated the call.
Still astride him, Christine stared above his head, absently watching the traffic behind them. Brad braking hard for the light ahead threw her off balance, but Chris caught her elbows before she went far. It snapped her out of her thoughts of happiness.
She leaned forward and attacked his mouth with her tongue, breaking the kiss to say, "God, you're perfect!"
Chris looked shocked. "No I'm not."
"Why won't you believe me?" she pouted.
"Because if you knew what I was thinking right now, you certainly wouldn't think me perfect."
She sat up on him. "Well, 'for better or worse,' right? I better start getting used to it, so go ahead and tell me."
"I'd rather show you, and we'd have to be in our room, first."
"Chris..." she warned.
"Fine, what I really want to do is bunch up that pretty dress, pull aside your panties and just go for it...right here, right now."
"'Tis okay by me," Brad called from his driver's seat. "Not like I haven't seen that in my car before," he added.
Christine blushed. "God, you're perfect," she repeated. "You've been reading my mind."
They made out fiercely, but kept their decency...at least until they made it back to their room.
The return trip the next morning was a repeat of the one out to California, save one glaring difference. Whereas several recognized them before, it seemed that everybody who glanced their way knew them now. Like long lost friends, people came up to them to enthusiastically offer their congratulations, and ask how their trip was going. They endured what seemed to be hundreds of handshakes and hugs with smiles. Fellow passengers across the aisle from Chris struck up conversations while in the air. Chris understood about every third word due to the engine noise, but he bobbed or shook his head at appropriate moments to be polite. Ever the approachable couple.
The attendant on their final flight to their destination was an angel in disguise. She picked up on their brief unintentional look of despair when the seat opposite the aisle was occupied with an overly friendly male. Much to CC's relief – even they had limits -- the attendant asked the man if he would mind sitting on the emergency row to man the door, in the unlikely event that was needed. He said sure, and Christine could feel Chris melt into his seat. Unknown to him, his finger had been tapping for the last hour.
"Can I get you anything else?" the attendant asked, even though she hadn't directly acted on anything they requested.
Christine glanced down at his hand in hers and saw that it was quiet. She smiled beautifully. "No, I'm so thankful for the quiet, I could kiss you."
The attendant looked around before leaning in. "I AM staying in town for the night, if you want, we could..."
"Kidding, just kidding," giggled Christine to interrupt her.
The attendant rushed to recover from her out of bounds step. "I...well...if, uh..."
Christine grabbed the girl's hand. "Shh...It's okay. Happens all the time, so...I don't recall this happening, do you?"
"So...a Sunkist for you? What about you, Chris? I mean, sir?"
"Coke will be fine," Chris said slowly, unsure of what just happened.
"Sure thing, I'll get those to you once we're in the air." Then she disappeared behind the curtain just ahead of them.
He looked at Christine. "What happens all the time? Girls hitting on you?"
"Girls, guys...whatever. You said I'm pretty, right?"
"I'm not sure I like that...well...SHE'S kinda hot, maybe we COULD get her number and see if..."
Christine reached over and smacked his chest, forgetting about the brace there. "OW! Down, boy. I'm not into that!" She dropped his hand so she could rub the smarting one. "When does that thing come off, anyway?"
"Never if you keep trying to slap me," he grinned.
"And if I promise to stop?"
He pursed his lips, considering whether he wanted her to stop the playfulness. "Eh, don't stop. Either way, I'm just wearing it for the long trip. I'm done with it once I get home. Screw what the doctor said. It itches too much."
She flinched when he knocked his doctor. Christine knew that type of attitude in patients irked her dad. "Don't let Daddy hear you say that," she reminded him.
It just slipped out, and he felt like a heel, so he silently nodded to avoid shoving the foot that was now in his mouth down further into his throat.
They landed about an hour later, and as with the other flight today, the flight crew gathered at the doorway to give their congratulations to the couple. Christine gave the embarrassed attendant a hug and whispered her thanks for a great flight. They made their way up the jetway and were about halfway down the terminal when three brilliant spotlights mounted on TV cameras made Christine second-guess her decision on wearing a t-shirt.