Sharlee had sent him a gift, but she wasn’t able to be there for Noah’s eighteenth birthday. His mother was working that day, but that evening she’d brought him home a cake. Melina and Will both gave him presents.
“Noah you have done outstanding with your probation. You haven’t had one violation. The hearing is set for next week. There won’t be any problems with having you released from probation and having your juvenile record expunged.”
After his final court hearing, Noah breathed a deep sigh of relief. He felt as though a great burden had been removed from his shoulders. He had a clean slate, a new beginning. Mr. Thorne shook Noah’s hand.
“Yeah, and the next time you talk with her, tell her I said hello.”
Noah laughed and said he would.
After they left the courthouse, Noah and his mother returned home. He looked at his diploma. He had opted out of the graduation ceremony. He just wanted the diploma. Sharlee would be graduating soon as well. Her eighteenth birthday was a few days after her graduation ceremony.
Noah took the diploma and packed it with the few other things that he wanted to take with him.
“Yeah. Mother thank you for letting me stay here during my probation.”
“So you two still intend to continue seeing each other? You know she’s going away to college. I still say you should go to college too!”
He didn’t even bother hugging her. He headed for the door.
“Noah drop me a line every once in a while to let me know how you’re doing.”
Noah said that he would but wondered if she’d asked because she really wanted to know, or was it because she felt like it was the proper thing to do.
The next week, Noah arrived in Santa Fe the day before Sharlee’s graduation. He had driven there on his motorcycle. He called Sharlee as soon as he checked into his motel to let her know that he had arrived.
“We’re so proud of you, Sharlee. We couldn’t have asked for a better daughter.”
Noah thought of the contrast between Sharlee’s parents and his own. Rather than telling him that she was proud of him, his mother had said that he should be proud of himself. Will had just shaken his hand and told him goodbye. Noah would definitely not miss either one of them.
Noah frowned and Sharlee started laughing. “You’re hot, Noah! You look different now that everything is over. So much more relaxed than I’ve ever seen you.”
“Thank you Mrs. Stallworth.”
Alissa went into the kitchen to help Sharlee.
Noah went over to Dale.
“I’m not going to college.”
“Oh, what technical school are you attending?”
Dale said angrily in a raised voice, “It’s just like I’ve always thought! You’re nothing but a bum! You aren’t going to amount to anything! Well I promise you, you won’t be dragging my daughter down with you!”
“Sharlee come back here!”
Sharlee looked at Dale.
Alissa closed her eyes sadly. She knew what would happen next.
Sharlee didn’t say another word. She went upstairs to her room.
“Dale how could you do that! I haven’t wanted to say this to you before because I knew how it would hurt you. However, this time you leave me no choice. Every time you have run Noah down and said hurtful things to him and about him, you have behaved just like your mother. That is the same way that she treated me. You have no idea of how much damage you have done today, but you are about to find out.”
“Sharlee please don’t do this. You know your father loves you and only wants what is best for you.”
“Yes, I know that Mom, but he doesn’t have the right to run Noah down and hurt him. He doesn’t have the right to keep us apart. Noah has endured so much over the years and made so many sacrifices because he loves me. This time it’s my turn. It’s time. I have to leave. I can’t keep letting him be hurt.”
“What about college?”
“No baby. You keep that and if you need me or your Dad, you call.” Alissa was fighting tears and so was Sharlee.
When Sharlee and Alissa came downstairs, Dale was sitting on the bed in their bedroom feeling dejected and ashamed. When he heard the front door open and close, he understood what Alissa meant. Alissa came over to him and hugged him tightly. “She knows that you love her. She loves you too, but Noah comes first for her now. He loves her and he’ll keep her safe. You know he will.”
“Not for a while. She may be gone for good.”
The taxi dropped her off at Noah’s motel. Sharlee rushed up to his motel room and knocked at the door. Noah was packing and assumed it was a maid. He opened the door and his eyes widened in surprise when he saw that it was Sharlee carrying a suitcase. He moved aside and let her enter.
She put her suitcase down.
“What? How? Your father is okay with that?”
“I’m eighteen now. It doesn’t matter whether he is or not.”
Noah knew that meant that Dale wasn’t okay with it.
“What about college?”
“I can go later, Noah. Besides, I still don’t even have a major. This will give me more time to make up my mind.”
She put her arms around his neck. “Throughout our relationship you have made so many sacrifices for me. I never had to ask. You just did it because you love me. I love you and I’m tired of people trying to keep us apart. I want to be with you now.”
Noah didn’t answer. Sharlee took his silence the wrong way. She stepped away from him.
She picked up her suitcase, and Noah took it away from her. He put it back down on the floor.
Noah made up his mind and smiled at her happily. Then he went over to his backpack and took something from it that she couldn’t see. He slipped it into his pocket.
Noah suddenly seemed nervous. He led her to the lake and helped her down into a rowboat. After they were inside, he rowed it out further into the water. Sharlee was staring at him as he looked around them, trying to get his nerve up for what he was about to say.
Noah told her. “This is where we had our first date.”
She noticed that Noah was looking at her strangely and taking deep breaths. Then he knelt down on one knee in the boat in front of Sharlee. He took a small jewelry box from out of his pocket. He looked up into her surprised eyes.
“One of the first things that I did when I got my job after being released from Juvie was to lay away this ring and start making payments on it. I wanted you to have something nice. The clerk thought it was odd that someone my age was already thinking of marriage, but I told her that it was what I wanted to do.
I had intended to wait until the time felt right. I thought it would be another two years before I proposed, but when you showed up at my room today. Ready to leave your home and your family behind to be with me, I knew that this was the right time.”
“For a long time, I have wanted to say how much you mean to me and how having you in my life has been the one constant source of happiness and peace for me. You mean the world to me, and I would never ever hurt you for anything. I want you to be happy and the only reason behind this proposal is the odd chance that you might be happy with me. I know I don’t have much to offer you but I can only promise that I will take care of you and protect and love you all the rest of my days.”
Noah paused again and then continued. He had known for a long time what he wanted to say to her when this moment came.
“You have made me a more calm and better person. You have made me believe in myself when no one else would. You have shown faith in me even when I myself didn’t. I can’t imagine my life without you because you have become such an important part of my life. Every word I’m speaking comes straight from the bottom of my heart. You will always remain my most cherished and best friend. I promise that I will always love you. I know that everyone will say that we’re too young, but we know for us that isn’t true. Please Sharlee, say you’ll be my wife!”
Noah slid the promise ring from her finger and replaced it with the engagement ring. Then he sat on the bench and pulled Sharlee onto his lap. He kissed her lovingly as the boat gently rocked beneath them. This kiss was special too, and one they’d always remember. It was their first kiss as an engaged couple.
“You’re perfect Sharlee.”
“No, I’m not, but I’m glad you love me anyway. When did you want to be married?”
“I don’t know. I need to find a job and get us a place. I actually did have a plan before. I intended to travel for about a month. Then when I got back to Bridgeport I planned to work two jobs and find a super cheap place to live so that I could save my money while you were in school.
Then by about your third year of college, I thought I’d have enough saved for a downpayment to get a loan from the bank to open my own repair shop. Something small at first that I could slowly add to as the business grows. I’d ask you to marry me and get a nicer place for us to live. Then by the time you graduated, we could get married. I’d be able to take good care of you. Of course, we wouldn’t be as well off as your family, but we’d have what we needed. I knew you’d want to get a job in your field. Whatever that turned out to be.”
“Do you think it would have really mattered to him if I had told him? Your father will never think that I’m good enough for you, Sharlee. That’s just the plain truth.”
Sharlee knew that Noah was right. “Noah, four years is a long time. I don’t want to wait to be with you anymore. Aren’t you tired of living so far apart? Living in separate cities?”
“Of course I am.”
Sharlee didn’t believe that her parents would approve of her marrying Noah at eighteen even though her Mom had only been nineteen when she married her Dad. That didn’t change her mind though. She had always dreamed of having her father give her away and having a big wedding with all of her family and friends there.
Then she looked at Noah and realized that the type of wedding she had wasn’t important to her anymore. Noah was the most important part of the wedding. How she married him didn’t matter.
“Where were you planning to go first Noah?”
“When we went to Greece for your parents renewal ceremony, it was a very nice country. I had a great time there, but this time I thought I’d go to Italy. I planned to hike around the countryside. Camp out sometimes or stay at a youth hostel to stretch my money.”
“Let’s go there together. Let’s get married in Italy.”
Noah frowned. “What about your family? I know you want that long white gown and veil. If anyone deserves that white gown it’s you!”
Noah hugged her close and asked her, “Are you sure? You won’t regret not having the big wedding with your family and friends there too?”
“No, and besides, years from now we can renew our vows like my parents did if we want to.”
Noah smiled. “Alright, but will you do one thing for me?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Call your Mom and tell her about our engagement and our wedding plans.”
Sharlee kissed him.
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