The digital alarm clock's digits glowed neon green in the dark room: 4:48.
Toby Cavanaugh rolled over in the Queen-sized bed in his Rosewood apartment, gently shaking his sleeping girlfriend, who lay peacefully next to him, buried under a worn threadbare blanket.
"Spence? Spencer…" he cooed. "Wake up, sweetheart."
"Mmmfffguhn…" Spencer grumbled stubbornly, which he took to be sleep language for leave me the hell alone. He shook her, a little harder this time. "Come on, wake up. Please, Spence? It's important."
"Toby?" she muttered, groping around to find the lamp switch in the dark room. "What…ugh…time is it?"
"Four forty-nine," he responded sheepishly, steeling himself for the outrage he was sure to receive from Spencer for waking her up at such an ungodly hour.
"Four forty-nine? In the morning? Toby! You know I require my beauty sleep in order to keep from being a fire-breathing dragon!" Spencer wailed, lifting her head from the pillow to shoot him a glare. Toby couldn't help but smile, noting how beautiful she looked with her bed head of dark curls, flushed cheeks, and raised voice.
"To me, you'd look beautiful no matter what," he reassured her gently, reaching for the lamp and flicking it on. His response seemed to mollify her for a moment. But only for a moment.
"Okay then, pretty boy, you gonna tell me why in God's name I'm up right now?"
He laughed. "Wait for it…three…two…one…"
The clock's digital numbers moved from 4:50 to 4:51, and Toby grinned brightly. "Happy birthday, Sweetheart! I love you!" he kissed his stunned girlfriend on the cheek, then pulled back to see her reaction, nervous.
Her mouth opened and closed a few times but no sound came out. Speechless. Spencer Hastings was speechless. Damn, I'm good, he thought.
"Toby…" she said finally, shaking her head. "I. Love you. So much."
Then she tackled him into a kiss.
His hands tangled through her mussed hair as their lips collided passionately. Even after years of dating, for them, every kiss was just like the first one all over again.
Spencer was now in her third year of college, while Toby had a manager's position at a construction company. The couple had been living together in Toby's apartment since the summer after Spencer's senior year, and after all the problems they'd endured, were still as strong and in love as ever.
They both pulled back to breathe, and Toby cupped Spencer's cheek. "I thought you were going to murder me right here," he laughed breathlessly, trailing a fingertip down her cheekbone.
"I thought about it." She smirked, "But…waking me up the exact time I was born twenty years ago to say happy birthday? It is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me, Toby."
Hopefully by tonight, it'll be the second sweetest, he thought, feeling a whole new wave of trepidation go through him. "You deserve it," he murmured, kissing her head. "I love you."
"I love you too. So, so much." Her mocha-colored eyes bore into his turquoise blue ones, reminding him of the first time their gazes ever really locked, a whole other lifetime ago, on a porch with a million questions left unanswered and misjudgments and desperation suffocating them.
She kissed him lightly, and he crawled back down under the blankets, beckoning her beside him. She lay down, turning off the lamp as she went, settling her head against his bare chest, snuggling up close to him. "Mmmm…I think this will be the best birthday ever," she gushed, and he smiled at the happiness in her voice. He loved hearing her sound that happy.
"I hope so, darling. Now go to sleep. Tomorrow's your day," he told her, laying a kiss on her nose.
He gently stroked her hair as her breathing slowly evened to the steady pant of sleep. Suddenly, when he was sure she was almost asleep, he heard her whisper, "I love you."
He glanced down, softly brushing a stray piece of hair from her eyes. "I love you too, Spencer. More than you'll ever know."
Then she was asleep, and he held her, rocking her, looking down at her lovingly. He tenderly stroked her beautiful face, remembering all the times they'd spent together, from their conversations on his porch, to their first kiss, to their first "I love you"s, to their first time, to the day they moved in together, to every kiss in the truck, every smile, every laugh, every second they'd ever been together. All of it had been magical, beautiful, indescribable. He honestly could not imagine life without Spencer. She was his one and only true love. His life. His everything.
Unable to join her in sleep, he carefully reached into the drawer on the bedside table, pulling out a small black velvet box.
Opening it carefully, he glanced at the sparkly Tiffany's diamond ring nestled inside of it. Tonight. Tonight his life would become whole.
If she said yes, that was.
He remembered the day he'd called the Hastings' to ask, the month before. It had been one of the most nervewracking experiences of his life.
Toby reached for the phone, quickly dialing the all-too-familiar number before he lost his nerve. Calling the parents to ask for their blessing was ridiculously old-school, but Toby was a gentleman. A very scared, extremely agitated gentleman.
One ring. Two. Three. By the time the phone was answered on the fifth ring, he has practically sweated through his shirt.
"Hello?" Veronica Hastings's clipped voice came on the line.
"Hello, Mrs. Hastings. Uh, it's me." Real smooth, Toby.
"Toby? Is everything alright? Is Spencer okay?" the older woman demanded in concern.
"Yes. Spencer's fine. She's, er, at a class."
"Oh." Mrs. Hastings seemed relieved. "But something tells me you're not calling to chat, eh?"
Toby flushed. "Um, no. I mean, yes. I mean…"
Mrs. Hastings laughed. "Out with it, Toby. What are you so nervous about asking me, mmm?"
Oh, God, how do I do this? "Um, well, Spencer and I…we've been together going on four years now," he said finally, "And they've been the best four years of my life. Mrs. Hastings, I love Spencer with all of my heart, and I think she miraculously feels the same way. My whole life—my world—became whole when I met her, and-"
"Toby," Mrs. Hastings interrupted. "You're asking to marry my daughter, aren't you?"
He reddened all over again. "Yes." He said finally. "I am."
Silence. Just when he was bracing himself for the 'no', Veronica spoke again.
"Toby, you are a great man. Kind, honest, trustworthy. And anyone with eyes can see how much you and Spencer adore each other," she said slowly. "And my daughter deserves someone like you, someone who loves her, and who she loves just as much. As a mother, I cannot possibly deny her that. You have my blessing."
It took him a minute to register 'you have my blessing' before it hit him. She said yes. She actually said yes.
"Thank you so much," he said in relief. Then another thought hit him. "Mr. Hastings-"
"He agrees. We both consider you the best possible man for our daughter, and we both wholeheartedly accept you into our family," she replied graciously.
"Thank you. You have no idea how happy your acceptance has made me, Mrs. Hastings."
"Please," Mrs. Hastings laughed. "Call me Veronica. You're practically family now."
"Okay…Veronica," it sounded funny coming out of his mouth, but he figured he would get used to it.
After getting off the phone with Veronica, he called Aria, Emily, and Hanna to make plans for the big proposal, finally deciding to ask after Spencer's birthday party, planned by her three best friends, on the eve of her birthday.
And, needless to say, he was terrified.
Spencer stirred slightly and he panicked, shoving the ring box closed and into the drawer. Hiding the ring from his girlfriend—and keeping the secret of his proposal—had proven itself a difficult task, but so far he was almost certain Spencer didn't know about his plans.
Spencer murmured his name in her sleep, reaching for his hand. He closed his fingers around hers, laying a kiss on her temple. "Sleep, sweetheart." She obliged, drifting off again. Suddenly, Toby's phone, sitting on the bedside table, trilled, and he winced, glancing back down at Spencer. Thankfully, she was still asleep.
He grabbed the phone and opened the message in slight annoyance.
T-minus 15 hrs, loverboy. U ready? –Hanna
Not really. Any hints? –Toby
Smile :) relax, pls. shes crazier bout u than she is bout her daily 5 gallons of caffeine ;)
Thanks. See you the party:)–Toby
As he put his phone down, he wondered idly why Hanna was up at five in the morning, being even less of a morning person than Spencer. She was probably planning her outfit for that night. And Emily's. And Aria's. And Caleb's. And the greater Pennsylvania area's.
Spencer opened one eye, yawning as he turned his phone off. "Who was that?" she asked groggily.
"Hanna," he asked, avoiding her gaze. "Asking what I'm wearing to the party tonight."
Spencer rolled her eyes affectionately. "That sounds like Hanna." She half sat up, holding out her hand. "Come here," she murmured. He crawled back in beside her and the two of them held each other, occasionally whispering 'I love you' or kissing each other, but otherwise in silence.
Toby and Spencer both finally drifted back off to sleep around seven a.m., and when the alarm went off at 8: 15, Spencer groaned. "Five more minutes," she begged before Toby could even begin to attempt to coax her out of bed.
"Fine," he replied, kissing her forehead. It was her birthday; she deserved to sleep in, especially after he had interrupted her slumber the night before. "I'll go make breakfast," he told her.
"Mmm-hmm." She mumbled into the pillow. He stifled a smile, throwing on his cotton T-shirt and heading to the kitchen.
A few moments later, he returned, bearing a breakfast tray with Spencer's favorite granola, an orange, a blueberry muffin, a copy of the Rosewood Observer, and, of course, a mug of steaming black coffee. Spencer sat up in bed, her brown eyes opening fully.
"Toby…breakfast in bed?" she asked, arching her brows, although he did it every year.
"Tradition," he kissed her softly. "My way of reminding you how much I love you."
"As if I could ever forget." She smiled, kissing him gently. "I love you."
"I know," he grinned. "Now relax. Eat. Today's all about you. And your party is tonight, so make sure you look as beautiful as always, okay?"
"Speaking of my party…" Spencer took a sip of coffee before continuing, "Are you sure Aria, Em, and Hanna remembered everything? Like, there won't be a catering crisis or a lack of party favors, right?"
Toby laughed. For someone like Spencer, who was used to being in charge of everything, letting anyone else control anything worried her. He found that quality both amusing and adorable.
"Yes, Sweetheart, I'm sure," he said, smoothing her hair. "Let Aria, Emily, and Hanna do this for you, okay? You have to trust them. Just relax."
"I do trust them!" Spencer sighed. "It's just…I hate when I'm not fully in control of something. It scares me, you know? I feel like handling things is my job."
"Sweetie, your only job today is to be happy. Relax. Whatever you want, it's yours, okay? It's a day to celebrate you."
Spencer smiled a little. "What if I want you?"
He kissed her. "I'm already yours, remember? Now eat. Then whatever you want to do, we'll do it."
"Thank you." She kissed his cheek. "And thank you for being the sweetest person on the planet."
He kissed her head. "I'm gonna go shower. I'll be back in a minute, okay?"
As he headed to their bathroom, he paused in the doorway. "Spence?"
The words were on the tip of his tongue. The question, will you marry me? He wanted to tell her right then and there, because he couldn't wait twelve hours. But what came out was, "Happy Birthday, baby."
She smiled brightly. "Thank you. Now go shower so I can eat in peace!" she grinned, and he laughed, "Okay, I'm going."
In the bathroom, he closed the door and pulled out his phone, which he had grabbed before leaving the room.
Everything set? –Toby
Yup. 2nite will be perfect! –Hanna
Yes. Just cnfrmed w caterer. Everything's a go. Good luck 2nite btw. Not that u'll need it! Spence will be so excited! –Aria
Yes. And relax. Everything will be fine. -Emily
Toby sighed, turning to face the mirror, to look at his own face—chestnut waves, deep dimples, piercing blue eyes—and practice. Practice what he would say to the love of his life in T-minus eleven hours and thirty-nine minutes.
"I love you with all my heart. Will you marry me?"