I wait ten minutes, staring up at the tree and wondering why he wanted me to wait here and how long he wants me to wait. Just as I'm starting to feel insecure, I see a silhouette running toward me.

I'd recognize Caleb anywhere. My heart soars.


He stands in front of me, toe-to-toe, totally out of breath. He's wearing ripped jeans and a stained white T-shirt. He looks like he hasn't shaved in a week, and his hair is disheveled.

"I'm so sorry I'm late." He reaches out and fingers my hair, which is long now since I haven't cut it in almost a year. "You look great, Maggie. Different."

"Thanks," I say. "You do, too."

I reach up and put my arms around his neck, not caring that I'm being bold. I don't want to hold back. "I missed you," I tell him.

His hands go around my waist and he pulls me close. "I have so many questions to ask you. But first..."

I think we're going to kiss, but instead he pulls something out of his pocket and holds it up. It's a bandanna.

"What's that for?" I ask.

"Turn around."

I cock an eyebrow.

"Trust me, Maggie."

I do as he says. "I was going to kiss you," I tell him.

He gently positions the bandanna over my eyes and ties it in the back. "You will. I promise. Just ... be patient."

I'm not patient.

While I was in Spain, my feelings for Caleb grew infinitely stronger. I had guy friends my roommate and I would go out with, but none of them made me shiver with excitement. I get excited just thinking about being in Caleb's arms again.

"I can't see anything," I announce as I'm led across the park and into a car.

"That's pretty much the point, sweetheart."

I feel us winding through streets until we come to a stop. He opens the door and leads me out of the car. He chuckles as he puts his hands on my waist and urges me forward to who knows where.

"Where are we?" I ask, wondering how long it will be before the suspense is over.

"You'll know soon enough. Okay, stop."

"Can I take the blindfold off?"

"Nope. Not yet." In one swift movement, Caleb picks me up and cradles me in his arms.

I wrap my arms around his neck for support. "The last time you held me like this you dunked me in water."

He walks forward. "Trust me, Maggie."

"I do. But I've got to be honest and say you smell like a sweaty guy from the gym."

"I've been working. I promise to take a shower after I show you something.

He walks a little more, then suddenly stops. "Okay, pull off the blindfold."

When I do, I realize where we are immediately. In Mrs. Reynolds' gazebo. The entire floor is covered in cushions and little twinkling lights outline the perimeter. On top of the cushions are thousands of little white and red rose petals.

"It's perfect," I say breathlessly as I slide my sandals off and walk onto the cushions. "Where are Lenny and Julio?" I ask. I know Lou took the house off the market and pretty much considers it a haven for Caleb and his friends. As long as they're employed and don't get in trouble, they've got a roof over their head.

"I told them to sleep out tonight. Tonight I wanted to be alone with you."

I swallow, hard. "Alone?" Racy thoughts a girl shouldn't have clutter my mind. I smile. "Really?"

"Yeah. It's been so damn long I was afraid you were gonna return to Paradise and tell me you never wanted to see me again."

"I was afraid of the same thing about you," I admit.

We both laugh, and for some reason it makes me feel better that we're both cautious and nervous.

"Have you seen Kendra and Brian's new baby recently?" I ask. He told me he's been going out with Brian and his high school buddies on occasion.

"Yeah. Cute kid, although I've got a feeling Kendra's gonna raise her as a little diva."

"How's their relationship?" I ask.

"Rocky, but they're trying. Last time I saw Kendra, she hardly spoke to me. I suspect she realizes I'm not looking at her like she's the goddess she wants everyone to think she is."


"Maggie, I want to tell you something," he says in a serious tone, as we settle down into the plush cushions.

I shake my head. "No. Let me say what I have to say first." This is not going to be easy. I take a deep breath, gathering the courage to put everything on the line. There are things that I've held back because I was scared, but I learned something in Spain this year. One of my professors said if you tiptoe into cold water, you're missing out on the rush of plunging in headfirst.

I'm going to plunge in, without worrying about the consequences. I look at Caleb, at the twinkling lights, and at the beautiful petals surrounding us.

"I've been holding back because I've been scared. You can crush my heart like my dad did with my mom. You have power over me." A tear escapes my eye. "I still love you, Caleb. I fell in love with you right here in this backyard, and I never stopped. Being apart this year hasn't changed anything."

Caleb looks around, as if he's thinking of something to say but doesn't know how to put it into words. "Ever since we got locked in Mrs. Reynolds' attic, I knew I'd been missing out on a girl who really cared about me and wasn't self-absorbed. I was so blind for so long."

"What happens when I leave for college in the fall?"

"I'll come visit you whenever I can. U of I isn't far away." He touches my nose. "I want to kiss you, but I need to take a quick shower first." Hopping up off the cushions, Caleb starts walking toward the house. "Just ... wait here and don't move until I get back. I have a surprise for you," he says with a nervous edge to his voice.

I'm confused, but I promise not to move until he comes back. I lean back on the cushions. It's just right, being back in Paradise with Caleb again. I know he's working construction and trying to save up for college. He can do it. I'm sure of it.

He comes back ten minutes later, all cleaned up. His shirt outlines his arm muscles, which are bigger since the last time I saw him. I'm sure it's from working construction all day.

He looks at me with an intense expression. In the past, every time I caught him looking at me like that, I wanted to pinch myself. I thought the only way Caleb Becker would ever look at me like that was if I was dreaming or if he had an agenda.

I don't know when the switch happened. I think it was after Kendra stayed late at his house, talking. Afterward, he told me to trust him and asked me to be his girlfriend.

That was the moment.

The side of his mouth quirks up. "What're you thinking about?"


"I hope it's good."

I smile. "It is." I pat the cushions. We still haven't kissed, and I'm not interested in being patient right now. In fact, at this point I'd have no problem kissing a sweaty, rugged, smelly Caleb. "Come sit with me."

Instead of sitting with me, he holds out his hand. "I have a surprise for you."

He helps me up and hands me what looks like a remote control switch.

"You're not going to blindfold me again, are you?" I ask.

"No." He leads me behind the garage. I can barely see the outline of some kind of big structure. I can't make out what it is. Standing behind me, his arms holding me tight, Caleb whispers, "Push the button."

When I do, the entire structure lights up with twinkling lights ... in the outline of... "A castle?"

A castle. A bigger version of that castle on the playground.

"I was finishing up the last-minute touches when your plane landed and lost track of time," Caleb says.

I can't believe I didn't notice it before. I don't know what to say... "It's a castle. I can't believe you made me a castle."

He takes my hand and leads me inside the structure. There are more petals strewn all over the wooden floor, surrounding a bunch of pillows and blankets in the middle.

"This is like heaven," I murmur as I look up into the open sky above us. It's just like it was at the park, but this is better. This time we aren't running away from anything or anyone.

Caleb sits down on the pillows. "Heaven, huh?"

"Definitely." I'm in shock as I sink down next to him. "This is amazing, Caleb. Did you build it yourself?"

"Lenny and Julio helped, but I designed it."

I look at the boy-turned-man who's the love of my life. I fish out a little box from my purse and hand it to him. "Here. It's a gift I brought back for you."

As he takes the top off and peers inside, I add, "I took a jewelry-making class." He pulls out the leather string and attached pendant. "It's a sword," I tell him.

He laughs. "I can tell what it is. It's really cool. I like it." He hangs it around his neck. I like that he's wearing something I made for him.

"It symbolizes strength," I say. "It reminds me of you."

In a surprise move, Caleb kneels in front of me. My heart just about leaps out of my chest.

He clears his throat.

He takes a deep breath and straightens his shoulders. "Okay, here's the deal. It was hell being apart from you this past year. Every day there was something that I did that reminded me of you."

I hold his face in my hands. When my lips are a whisper away from his, I ask, "Do you think we'll make it, Caleb? Do you think we'll last?"

"We've been to hell and back again. We're gonna make it. I love you, Maggie Armstrong, and always will."

"You promise?"

We lie back on the pillows together, and he places small, slow kisses across my neck. "Trust me," he whispers against my lips. "Maggie, you're my paradise."