He was unsure what to do, so he quietly moved down the stairs to give himself some distance. He paced the bottom of the stairs. He knew Elizabeth cared for him. Knew she loved him, even. But the promises Charles could make to her, the things he could provide. Mr. Thatcher's words rung in his ears. While he knew Elizabeth could well make up her own mind, the insecurities flooded back. He was trying to decide whether to stay or go when he heard fast footfalls and the door slam. Jack did his best to try and appear as though he was just happening upon the scene, though he quickly realized it didn't matter much what he did.
"...practically betrothed," he heard Charles mutter as he began a hasty descent of the steps. His eyes were focused ahead of him. "She knows this is no place for a Thatcher…" Jack couldn't hear the rest of his words, but heard the word "Mountie" spit from the man's lips as he hit the ground. Jack looked up again at the door, but Elizabeth was not giving chase. He sighed, letting some of the tension in his chest dissipate. Jack was now facing the stairs, about five feet to the side.
He knew he was out of eye line. Knew he could probably let Charles go and the man would be none the wiser to his presence. He could do that. It would probably be more noble to do that. But he thought of their words in Hamilton. Thought of the kiss by the stagecoach. He took a step as though he'd just sauntered up.
"Charles," he stated. He didn't want it to seem like he was put off by the man's presence.
The man whirled to face him. "Jack?" he said, his voice sounding a mixture of surprise and disgust. It was then that Jack noted a red blotch on the side of his cheek. The same cheek he'd seen kissed. His confidence surged.
"Didn't know we were expecting another visit to Hope Valley so soon," Jack continued, forcing his voice to stay even and his facial expressions flat.
"I came to see Elizabeth," the man said, his arms crossed in front of him like a petulant child. Jack confidently put his hands in his pants pockets, as he attempted to convey confidence. He flinched a little when his right hand stopped short as it collided with the small box in his pocket. He hoped Charles hadn't noticed.
"Is that right? Will you be staying long?"
There was clearly rage in the man's eyes. For a moment it made Jack worried for Elizabeth. Was she alright? "I'll be leaving tomorrow," the man spat out and turned on his heel, quickly moving away a string of word on his breath. He started to walk away, and Jack moved toward the stairs.
Jack paused when he heard Charles. "She's going to regret this."
Now it was Jack's turn to turn around. "Was that a threat?" He took two steps towards the man.
"Just the truth," Charles replied coldly. "Maybe not now, but she'll wake up one day and realize the life she could've had." Jack shook his head and turned back to the stairs. "She's a Thatcher!" Charles yelled by way of explanation as Jack took the stairs two at a time.
"Not for long," he muttered under his breath as he reached the top of the steps. He took a deep breath on the porch and realized his hands were balled in fists. He unfolded them and wiped them down the front of his pants. He hesitated before he reached for the door. Out of respect, Jack knocked softly. He counted to three in his head, and when there was no response, he quickly pulled on the handle.
"Elizabeth!" he called. She was at her desk, staring off. When she heard his voice, she looked up. Her eyes were red rimmed, her face red and blotchy.
"Jack!" she exclaimed. She wiped her face, smoothed her hair, and her cheeks blossomed to a brighter red.
"Elizabeth," he repeated as he tried to read the situation. He stayed by the door. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," she replied as she tried to take a deep breath. "Oh Jack," she said as tears filled her eyes. Her hands shook as she wiped them away. He went to her. She stood as he came near her. He faced her and braced her at the elbows. He tried to assess her from head to toe.
"Did he hurt you? Harm you? Did he…?" Jack swallowed before he could finish that thought.
"What? I'm fine, I'm fine" she replied with a watery chuckle. "It was Charles, he came to see me. To-"
"I know," Jack said, cutting her off. "I just passed him. You're sure you're alright?"
She took another deep breath and swallowed. She took a half step back, breaking the contact between them. "He came to propose, Jack. He told me he couldn't stop thinking of me since I was last in Hamilton." Now it was Jack's turn to swallow hard. He obviously knew how the proposal turned out, but he hadn't expected this reaction.
"I, uh…" Jack trailed off, his hand on the back of his neck. He wanted to take her in his arms, reconfirm their love. Promise her forever. He won't propose. Not now, when she's so clearly shaken.
"I said no, obviously," Elizabeth clarified. "I told him I'm not leaving Hope Valley." She paused and took his hands. "I'm not leaving you." There was another pause as she caught his eyes in hers. His thoughts whirled. He had many more questions, but looking into her eyes, being this close to her, he couldn't help but feel the corners of his mouth raise in relief. His smile grew bigger as hers mirrored his. He pulled her towards him to wrap his arms around her. He breathed in deeply as her head snuggled into his chest and her arms wrapped around his waist.
"It's alright," Jack murmured into her hair. "I have a feeling your rejection will have a lasting effect."
"I suppose the slap that accompanied it did put a certain punctuation on my refusal." She said into his chest with a slight chuckle.
Jack lifted her chin up to look at her. "He wasn't-"
"No, no," she assured, answering the question he didn't want to finish. "His reaction to my answer was rude, vulgar, and insulting. I shouldn't have, but I lost my temper."
"Why, Miss Thatcher, I'm surprised. But I'm sure your reaction was appropriate."
She nuzzled back into his arms and he placed a kiss to the top of her head. They stood for a while.
Elizabeth finally pulled back. "I'm sorry if I've messed your suit. I might well have ruined our date as well. But you should know that you look very handsome." Jack gave a bashful smile, suddenly very aware of the box in his pocket.
"Our date changing course can hardly be blamed on you. But if you'd do me the honor of escorting me on a walk around the lake, I'd be mighty pleased." He held out an elbow for her to take.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes with a smile. "Well, if it would mightily please you," she said as she took his arm. She leaned up and kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Jack, for what you did just now." His confusion must've shown on his face, for she continued on, "I know Charles has been a difficult topic between us. I worried after he left that you'd think I wasn't firm with him when I previously told him our love was not and would not be anything more than platonic. I think he knew when he saw me that I was not going to accept. In fact, based on what he said after my response, he may have known all along. Thinking about it now, the ideas seemed rather rehearsed, but the language was clearly embellished by my firm response."
He waited until he was sure she'd finished, then placed a kiss to her temple. "Elizabeth, I love you. You've said the same to me, and I know enough to know that you honor your word. I'll confess, seeing Charles heading out of this school house did cause some panic. I suspect there will always be a part of me that worries about the life you could have in Hamilton. That's my cross to bear because I know what you've said, and I trust your word." He used his free hand to squeeze the hand that rested on his forearm.
"I do love you Jack Thornton. And I will never let you stop believing that Hope Valley, with you, is my home." She piled her free hand on top of his as they made their way out of the schoolhouse.
He knew he'd find another time to propose. Now he just needed a new plan. And maybe the green suit next time.