At Last


Love exists in that which completes you

Pots and pans were scattered throughout the kitchen, soiled with the remains of food that had been haphazardly prepared. The oven was ringing, the phone was ringing, and the beeper was vibrating on the kitchen table. A dozen used matches lined one counter, and a mess of half-burned candles lined the other. The door to the refrigerator was wide open, and parsley flakes were scattered on the floor directly beneath it. Amidst it all, tired and half-crazed, stood Howie D.

With a sigh of frustration, he yanked the over door open and moved to pull out the dish of lasagna, cursing when he realized that he'd forgotten the oven mitts. He sucked on his reddened finger for a moment before sliding the mitts on and pulling out the dish again. He set it gently on the stove and cracked a tired smile.

He hadn't burned it.

He turned the knob on the oven to cease the incessant ringing and growled at the phone. With his luck, AJ had decided to pester him again, and he didn't have time for it. The vibrating beeper feel to the floor with a loud crash and continued to buzz its way under the kitchen table. Howie sighed again and let out a very un-gentlemanly stream of curse words as he reached for the phone.



His entire body relaxed at the sound of her voice, and he caught himself smiling despite the craziness of his situation. "Yeah, love?"

"Um, what's that buzzing sound?"

He rolled his eyes in annoyance. "The beeper. It fell."

She laughed, and the sound was like music to his ears. "Oh. Listen, I hate to tell you this, but I'm stuck in traffic, so I'm probably going to be late. There's a wreck on the interstate, and they're only letting one car go at a time. Someone flipped a pick-up truck, and there are tools scattered everywhere. It's a mess."

He sighed with relief and glanced at the clock. He felt bad for her, but he needed the extra time. "Don't worry about it, babe. I understand. Just drive safely, and I'll see you when you get here, all right?"

He could hear her smile over the phone, and his own smile widened at the thought.

"How, I'm really sorry about this."

He actually laughed. "Don't be! It's not your fault, and it's not a problem at all. You'll just give dinner a chance to cool off a bit, and I can actually get this place cleaned up."

She chuckled. "Thanks. I love you, and I'll see you soon."

His brown eyes glittered in the light of the kitchen. "I love you too."

He clicked the phone off and glared at the beeper, which was still buzzing on the floor. It was definitely AJ. No one else had the patience or the energy to page him repeatedly for fifteen minutes. He rolled his eyes again and lifted the device off the floor, successfully turning it off. He reached for the radio instead, knowing that the music would be able to soothe his frazzled nerves. He groaned loudly, however, when AJ's voice bled through the speakers.

"Go figure."

He switched stations and returned to the task at hand, scrubbing away at the dirty dishes in his sink. He rarely cooked for himself, and he wasn't used to having a mess, but he didn't want her to see that he'd burned the sauce twice before finally getting it right, or that he'd blown half of the cheese into the sink on the first try. As soon as the dishes were tucked safely in the washer and out of sight, he reached for the broom and began sweeping up the parsley flakes, closing the door to the fridge as he did so. At long last, he tossed the matches in the garbage and hid the discarded candles back in the cabinet. When he was finally finished, he leaned back against the counter with a satisfied smile. He wasn't usually such a perfectionist, but everything had to be perfect that night.

He opened the second oven to take a peek t the dinner rolls and smiled more broadly when he saw them turning a golden brown. Another minute and they'd be done. He closed the oven door again and headed out of the kitchen, grabbing a checkered table cloth and two white candles from the counter. He stepped out onto the patio and spread the table cloth over the plastic table, then set the candles upright and lit them. They gave off a romantic glow, and he smiled at his own genius. "Now for the roses, and I'll be done."

Another trip inside to remove the rolls and retrieve the vase, and he returned armed with a dozen roses for the little round table. He set them close to the wall so that he could see his girlfriend across the table and reached for the bucket of ice and wine, placing it gingerly next to the vase. The entire scene looking like something out of a movie, and Howie breathed a sigh of relief.


He returned to the kitchen and grabbed two crystal glasses, two napkins and two plates. He set the table quickly and eagerly, glancing at his watch when he had finished.

She'd be there any minute.

He smoothed a few strands of hair back into place and tugged gently on the hem of his black sweater. He reached into his pocket with a sudden urgency and smiled with relief when his fingers closed around the black velvet box.

No, nothing was going to spoil that night.

As if on cue, he heard the doorbell, and he took a deep breath to compose himself before rushing to open the door. When he did, the breath caught in his throat, and he drank in her appearance eagerly.

God, she'd never looked more beautiful to him.

At last
My love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is like a song

"Hi," he breathed, and she smiled shyly, blushing beneath the attention.

"Hey," she returned, her soft Southern accent wrapping around the word. "Are you going to stare at me for a bit longer, or can I come in?"

It was his turn to blush, and he did it gracefully. "No, you can come on in. I have all evening to stare at you."

She blushed a deeper crimson, and he smiled triumphantly. "Are you hungry?"

She nodded eagerly. "Very. It smells wonderful."

He laughed. "Well, cross your fingers. I don't always cook well."

She grinned, sliding off her coat and setting it on the arm of the couch. "I noticed, but that's okay. I don't either."

Howie smiled gratefully. "I just didn't want another night of Chinese take-out, you know? Tour's over, life is good, and I haven't seen you in awhile. You deserve something special."

She laughed and moved toward him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "I definitely missed you. I'm glad you're home."

"Me too." He pulled her closer to him, inhaling the scent of her perfume. She'd left her long black hair down in curls that evening, and he loved the look on her. She was wearing a form-fitting black knee-length skirt and a red velvety sweater that felt soft against his hands. The sweater accented the flecks of gold in her green eyes, and the result was striking. "You look lovely tonight."

She smiled up at him, fingering his short curls affectionately. "So do you. But, then again, you always do."

He laughed lightly, blushing again. "Glad you approve. It's a nice night, so I thought we'd sit outside. Is that okay?"

She nodded. "Perfect. I kind of wanted to be underneath the stars tonight."

At last
The skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clover
The night I looked at you

He pulled back and took her hand, leading her through the gleaming kitchen and out onto the patio. "Well, here we are..."

He turned just in time to see her eyes widen with surprise and delight as a smile graced her lips. "Howie! Oh, goodness, I can't believe you went to so much's lovely. It's incredible." She turned her eyes on his in awe. "How did you manage this?"

He winked at her happily. "Oh, I have my ways."

She shook her head slightly and laughed. "You certainly do. This"

Howie laughed at her overwhelmed expression. "Wow is good, I take it?"

She swallowed. "Wow is wonderful."

"Merry Christmas, baby."

She smiled warmly at him. "Merry Christmas, How. Which seat is mine?"

He stepped forward and pulled out a chair for her, pushing her closer to the table once she was seated. "Right here." He walked to the other side of the table and took his own seat, then reached for her hands to say grace. She obliged, and they both bowed their heads.

"Dear Lord, thank you for the meal we are about to eat, and thank you for the strength we've needed to get through these past few months alone. Thank you for the love we share, and the time we're about to share tonight." And please, God, give me the courage to go through with this tonight. "May there be many more nights like this. Amen."

When he lifted his gaze, her eyes were glowing. "Thank you, Howie. I mean it."

He smiled graciously, dipping his gaze a bit at the praise in her voice. "You're welcome."

They proceeded through dinner with a casual air, chatting amiably about the past few months and what the future would hold. Howie told the more humorous stories of the last tour, and she gave him the more interesting tales of her encounters with clients at the office. At long last, they finished eating, and he stood up to clear the dishes while insisting that she "stay right there". After a brief but light-hearted argument, she obliged. She tilted her gaze to watch the stars, and was so engrossed that she hardly noticed his return until he spoke to her.

"Actually, Stacey, there's a reason I called you hear tonight..."

She turned to look at his and gave a tiny gasp when she saw him on one knee in front of her. He smiled lightly to reassure her, and she couldn't help but return the smile. His heart skipped at beat at the look on her face. Oh, dear Lord, don't let me screw this up...let me find the right words to say what I need to say.

I've found a dream that I can speak to
A dream that I can call my own
I've found a thrill to rest my cheek to
A thrill that I have never known

"Stace, for the past two years, you've been this driving force in my life. On a bad day, I see your smile, and I catch myself smiling. Whenever I'm happy, you give me one more reason to smile. Whenever something happens, you're the first person I call because I know that, no matter what, you'll care about what I have to say. When I need advice, you're the person I run to because your opinion matters the most to me. Up there on that stage this last tour, I'd sing the love songs and I couldn't help but think of you. I could come back to the hotel and call you, and I wouldn't feel lonely anymore. You..." He took a deep breath and looked tentatively into her wide eyes as he pulled the velvet box from his pocket. "You complete me, Stace. I want to spend the rest of my life knowing that you'll be there to smile at me. Will you marry me?"

The ring was a simple platinum band with a tiny circular diamond, sparkling at her from a bed of black velvet, but she couldn't see the ring for the tears in her eyes. She could only see Howie's tentative smile and the love that shone from his brown eyes. There was a slight tremble in his voice, a tiny shake in his hand, and that was all she needed. She slid off the chair and kneeled in front of him, taking his hand in hers.

"Yes," she whispered. Their eyes connected for a brief moment before both broke into a huge smile. Howie slid the ring on her finger tenderly and kissed the tip before pulling her into a warm embrace. She fell into his arms, unable to get enough of the man that had stolen her heart.

"I love you, Howie," she said softly. He pulled back so that he could see her and broke into a grin again.

"I love you too."

You smiled
Oh, and then the spell was cast
And here we are in heaven
For you are mine
At last

"At Last"
performed by Etta James
lyrics and music by Henry Warren and Mack Gordon