"Laila! Use your inhaler if you need it!" Sterling reprimanded her as he helped her up the last steps of the Eiffel Tower.
"Not till we get to the top," his girlfriend said, her voice as shallow as her breaths.
"No. Now." Sterling turned around and blocked her way, smiling down at her.
"Fine," Laila said with a smile. She pulled out her inhaler from her purse and held it to her lips.
Sterling waited until he heard her breathing return to normal until he allowed her to pass him and skip up the remaining stairs. He knew Laila had always wanted to climb the Eiffel Tower, but the last time they had been there she had forgotten her inhaler at the hotel and Alistair had deemed it too touristy. He was glad they had done it now. Laila's face was a delicate shade of pink, her eyes bright and animated as she ran to the edge and looked down.
"Isn't this beautiful?" Laila whispered, feeling Sterling wrap his arm around her shoulder as he joined her by the railing.
"Amazing," he replied, his voice not as excited as hers had been.
But nothing could put a damper on Laila's mood. Her eyes were wide as she took in her surroundings. The sky was a crystal blue, the people below looked like tiny figurines, the city looked tranquil, almost serene. Glancing around at the other tourists flocking to the iconic landmark, her eyes fell on a bride and groom. The photographer was snapping candid shots as the newlyweds smiled at each other and stared with starry eyes out over all of Paris.
"We could do it, you know?" Sterling whispered in her ear, kissing her neck.
"What's up with you and wanting to have sex in high places?" Laila asked, turning to face her boyfriend.
Sterling laughed out loud and pulled her into tight hug. "I meant we could get married," he clarified, kissing the top of her head. He felt Laila nuzzling into his chest, most likely blushing bright red. He ran his fingers through her hair for a few moments, letting her contemplate what he had just said.
"You want to announce our engagement?" Laila asked in a shy voice, craning her neck to look up Sterling.
Sterling smiled down at her. She looked so beautiful and felt so amazing pressed so close to him. "We can announce it, or we could just get married."
Laila laughed. "Just like that?"
"Just like that," Sterling confirmed. "We could do it before I leave for London next week."
Laila laughed again, thinking he was teasing her. "I don't think any judge in Paris is going to marry two kids from America."
"I'm sure we could find someone to do it," Sterling insisted, kissing her on the lips.
Sterling dipped Laila into his arms as he kissed her. It wasn't indecent, but Laila could feel the passion behind his kiss. "Oh my God. You're being serious," Laila exclaimed, pulling away from him and looking at him in disbelief.
"Don't you want to marry me?" Sterling asked, a mischievous look in his eye.
"Of course I want to marry you." Laila blushed just at the thought. "But not right now. Not in Paris."
"Why not?" He asked, half teasing her, half believing they should really get married. "It would be romantic."
"Because we should wait so we can plan a big wedding so all of our friends can be there."
But Sterling shook his head, still smiling at her. "I don't want a big wedding. I just want you."
Laila giggled at his persistence. "Well there are other people we need to think about."
"Like who? It's our wedding."
"I can't believe we are even talking about this," she said in giddy disbelief. "For one, there are our parents, who will kill us both if we just go off and elope. My dad would be absolutely heartbroken if he didn't get to walk me down the aisle."
"He'd get over it."
"There's Tate and Tennille. She'll hate me forever if she doesn't get to be a bridesmaid."
"That wouldn't be the end of the world." Sterling leaned down to kiss her again but Laila dodged his lips.
"Sterling, please be serious. I really…"
"Laila, I am being serious," he insisted. Sure, he had been teasing at first, but having Laila as his wife was an idea that was quickly growing on him. An overwhelming impatience had entered his conscious mind whenever he thought about the two of them together and he hadn't been able to shake it. "I want to marry you. Not tonight, but soon. I don't see the point in waiting in longer."
Laila opened her mouth and blinked her eyes, shocked by Sterling's determination. "The point is we are only 20 years old and I want my family and friends at my wedding."
Laila smiled. "Our wedding," she agreed.
"You really want to wait?" Sterling asked, not ready to admit defeat but willing to concede this battle.
"Yes," she answered softly, resting her hands on his chest as he held her. "We can announce our engagement over New Year's when you come to California. Then we can start planning a wedding for the summer after we graduate." Just that thought was making her pulse race with excitement. Marrying Sterling would be a dream come true.
"Next summer," Sterling insisted with a smile. "If we are going to get married, you are going to have to learn to compromise."
Laila laughed. "How is that compromising?"
"Well, I want to get married now and you, for whatever reason, want to wait another 20 months."
Laila laughed. "We'd be married for our last year of college," she pointed out.
"So?" Sterling laughed at her logic. "You'll be living with me anyway."
Laila laughed again.
"What?" Sterling asked defensively. "Piper and Alistair are going to move in together next year. I know you don't want to live with Luanne again and if you lived by yourself you know you would get bored and be at my place all the time anyway."
Laila blinked. She knew he was right. "Just because there is a possibility of us living together, and there is a huge emphasis on the possible part, doesn't mean that we should just get married."
"You're right," Sterling agreed. "We should get married because we know it's the right thing to do."
"It will be the right thing to do after we graduate."
Sterling just shook his head and smiled at her stubbornness. He knew she was right. They were still young and there were a million other reasons why they should wait. But he didn't care. He wanted her as his wife, not in 20 months, not even in 20 days. The sooner he could call her Mrs. Sterling Pierce, the better.
"We'll see," was all he offered in response. Laila looked up at him with a challenging glint in her eye. He knew she would marry him - eventually.
"Let's walk around," Laila suggested, wiggling out of his arms and taking his hand. She could feel the ring she wore pressing against her skin as Sterling's fingers interlaced with hers. It was easy to imagine being Sterling's wife. Ever since he had given her the ring almost two years ago, she had been daydreaming about their wedding. She imagined herself in a white gown with tons of fabric, Sterling looking completely sexy in his black tux, all their friends and family gathered to see them. They would honeymoon somewhere exotic, somewhere they could be alone and secluded, enjoying their first weeks of marriage. And then they would settle down into a little house just outside of Boston or along the northern California coast, and live happily ever after. Sure, it sounded a little too perfect, even for Laila, but it was only a daydream.
She looked up at Sterling. His lips were smiling but she could tell from his eyes that his mind was still preoccupied. Did he really want to marry her that badly? He had made a valid argument, they should get married because it was the right thing to do. But getting married to Sterling wasn't going to be a spontaneous decision and therefore shouldn't be a spontaneous event. She could wait, they could wait until after graduation. She squeezed his hand a little tighter, knowing that in less than two years she would be taking his last name. Laila Pierce. That sounded wonderful.