“Never put them first, if you always come last.
Never give your all, if you only get half.”
Senator Suites Penthouse
14-months-old Aryelle was cranky, repeatedly tossing her food bowl and sippy cup off the highchair, which Aria-Grace tried to remedy with verbal support by Rohan from the kitchen, who was trying to not burn their food, all this creating a chaos which would turn out to become a fateful night. AG was visiting from college and just in for the weekend.
“No no no Miss Aryelle! No more of this. Look at the mess you made. Bad little angel!” AG told the toddler, wagging her finger at her while picking up the plasticware, heading back to the kitchen with it, where Rohan was cooking them dinner.
He hectically turned around from the stove at the same time AG was trying to rush by, they frontally crashed into each other, AG giggled, trying to steal a kiss, while Rohan’s eyes went to Aryelle and got big.
“Esmée – watch out!” he pushed AG aside, ran to the dining area and grabbed the toddler who somehow had managed to pull out of the seat and was already dangling halfway off the side of the highchair in danger of falling.
Rocking the now crying baby in his arms, AG walked over, hands on hips.
“What did you just call me?!” she asked, her tone combative.
“What?” Rohan wondered irritated, with Aryelle complaining in his ear.
“You called me Esmée! What the actual fuck, Rohan?!”
“Did I? Sorry. Honest mistake, probably because I was texting with her earlier about the arrangements for Aryelle’s next visit with her mother. I am tired AG. I worked two days of double shifts in a row, swapping with colleagues so we can have the weekend together. I barely know my own name right now.” Rohan blew the matter off.
“Or mine, evidently! Any girl’s name I could forgive, but Esmée! You gotta be kidding me! This just confirms everything!”
“Confirms what, AG?! That I am dog-tired?! Aryelle is teething, had Colics earlier this week meaning no sleep for her or me, and then straight into two days’ worth of double-shifts for me in which we had one emergency after the next. Then rush to the daycare to get her, get home only to find the sitter stood me up, cancelling literally at the very last minute, Nick was in offsite meetings, meaning Addy had to leave work early to come home and watch her, so I could get to the airport to get you.” Rohan defended himself, his tone annoyed.
“And you were still over an hour late! You could have just brought Aryelle, even a cranky toddler would have still been better than leaving me to sit there like damaged goods, everyone staring at me like a reject!” AG fought back.
“AG! Give me a damn break please! All you had to do today was get your butt out of class and into the first-class seat of a plane for a few hours, while I ran around like a chicken with the head cut off! Be realistic! I did all this for you, and you give me the ten degrees of AG for a tired slip of the tongue and being a measly hour late to pick you up!” Rohan bemoaned her complaint.
“Don’t downplay it to make me look like a bitch, Rohan! Your ‘slip of the tongue’ just so happened to be the name of the mother of your kid, so there is or was definitely something there, enough to have made a child with her. I always suspected her to be in your head a lot more than you admit, and who knows where else she is on you when I am not here and Nick’s at work! Besides, an hour is a long time if you are waiting without knowing if it’s a delay or if you were forgotten, cos you didn’t answer ANY my calls or texts either! I was literally parked and left clueless!”
“I was driving through rush hour traffic to pick you up and super-tired already! Did you want me to have an accident just to reply to your 50 texts, half of them just Emojis?!” Rohan yelled back.
“All you had to sent was ONE text. ONE! ‘Running late, be there in 10’, or whatever! And maybe throw in a ‘love you’ for good measure! Unless that’s reserved for Esmée now!”
“You are being immature!” Rohan grumbled.
“Ah, and here it is, when in doubt, use my age against me! Fine, and you know what you are? An inconsiderate asshole! Oh – and also a very hearty FUCK YOU!”
AG ran off, up the stairs, while Aryelle’s cranky cries turned into full on wailing, Rohan cursed colorfully, very unusual for him, which was the exact moment Nick walked in.
“Whoa – am I in the wrong penthouse or is it opposite day?! I’ve known you half my life and didn’t even think you knew any curse words!” he said, chuckling.
“Not in the mood for jokes.” Rohan grumbled.
Nick instantly realized something was very wrong, instead of arguing with his best friend about his behavior, he realized Rohan had reached the end of his rope, so he grabbed the crying toddler from his best friend and within moments had her go from crying to quiet to giggling at his faces, then gave her his keys to play with, when Adrianna came down the stairs, kissed her husband then took the child from him.
“Come to auntie Addy, la mia principessa (Italian for ‘my princess’). How about some of that ointment for your aching gums and a splashy-splash bath, little Miss Cranky-Pants? And you, Nick, need to go talk to your sister. It’s bad. I tried, but she is besides herself and won’t listen to me at all. When I heard you come home, I decided I’ll let you deal with her, I rather take care of the cranky toddler. And you need to turn off the stove and lie down for a bit, Rohan. You are about to collapse! You had quite enough for today, sweetie. Go to bed.” with Aryelle in her arms Addy pointed at the smoking pan in the kitchen and both men ran to fix the situation.
Nick took the pan from Rohan’s hands, when he tried to clean up the disaster, getting more and more frantic.
“Stop! I’ll do that later. Addy’s right, you are hanging by a thread, you are way past your breaking point. Go upstairs and go to sleep. Aryelle can sleep with Addy and me tonight. And I will deal with my sister, but if Addy says it’s bad, I need to know exactly what happened, can’t walk in blindly. Your side please, with all the gory details.”
Rohan told him everything he could remember, Nick listened carefully, grimacing and sighing.
“Oh shit. It IS bad. Okay, I’ll try to see what I can rescue there. You definitely need to go to sleep, no offense, but there is no use tonight for you to try fix this, it would only get worse at this point.”
With a resigned sigh, Rohan nodded and obliged, he could barely think straight anymore but knew Nick was right, he went upstairs, with almost mechanic motions getting undressed and ready for bed, the moment his head hit the pillow he was out cold. At the same time downstairs, Nick inhaled, exhaled, went to the liquor cart and downed a glass of strong Bourbon, then made his way to AG’s room, where he found her sobbing by her packed bags.
As soon as he entered her room, she threw herself into his arms where she cried for a while, which broke Nick’s heart, while he held her tight, rocking her gently. Aria-Grace may have a tendency to be a bit of a drama-queen, but this was real. She was hurting.
“AG … let’s calm down, breathe and relax. Maybe go to bed and after a good night’s rest …” Nick finally tried when he felt she was ready to listen.
“No, Nick. I can’t … I thought I could handle all this, but I can’t. No more. This is torture. Do you know what I realized? Rohan never once came to see me on campus. Not one single time. You are busy too, so is Addy, you both came many times. Mom and dad too, both sets of grandparents, even Chase and Hailey have been there with Connor a bunch of time, Colton, Maddie and Keira, … everyone has. Everyone but him, my fiancé couldn’t be bothered. I am in my third semester now, and not ONE time has Rohan visited. Not ONCE. This is bullshit! I have options, Nick, you know?”
“Of course, AG, you are beautiful, at least you are when you are not ugly-crying and yelling at me.” Nick smiled at her, trying to steer the discussion towards a lighter side.
“I am not in the mood for joking, Nick!”
“Not even a Nicky?”
“Not a Nicky moment, Nick. This is bad. REALLY bad. It hurts. So much. I know what you are trying to do, you are trying to make me laugh, but it won’t work, not this time. This is serious, Nick. VERY serious.”
“Okay, look, AG. He told me what happened, and I agree, it’s dogshit on a cracker, but it was just a slip of the tongue. You KNOW Ezzy has a new dude, they are all over each other, we’ve met him several times now, he was even at my wedding, and I think we can agree that he and Rohan couldn’t be any more different if both tried, so clearly, if THAT is her type, you have nothing to worry about. There is 100% nothing going on with Rohan. Okay? You forget I live with the man. I would have noticed if he and Ezzy snuck around.”
“That doesn’t disprove anything, Nick! She may love that Michael guy, but that doesn’t mean Rohan is over her too, maybe it’s just unrequited. Just like he always drooled over Sheridan. Always someone else, never me. I am at best his third choice, Nick, even though I was always there, he just didn’t see me. I think I am too good to be someone’s rebound chick.”
“AG, that’s not fair. You were a little girl when Rohan and I became friends. You grew up into a young woman in between his crushes. And dating someone’s sister or even liking her in a romantic way is always iffy, especially for someone with Rohan’s social anxiety thing and shyness. Honestly, it still is iffy for me, even though I am generally cool with it. Bro code, AG. And you don’t propose to rebound chicks, Aria-Grace. No man does that.”
“Maybe a man strapped for cash would, considering I am not just any 19-year-old college student, but a wealthy heiress, daughter of pop icon ViVa? I would have never thought that of Rohan, but now I am just not so sure what to think anymore. All I am sure of is that I don’t wanna be someone’s afterthought anymore, left at the airport without knowing how long I may have to wait or if I was forgotten completely. I didn’t know what was going on, Nick, he didn’t tell me about double-shifts and Colics, and he didn’t text about running late, nor did he answer my calls or texts. All I knew was that everyone around me was being picked up while I just stood there like a reject. 60 minutes may not be a long time in the grand scheme of things, but sure feels like an eternity when you don’t know if anyone is coming at all.”
“Okay, I get that. That does make a lot of sense. And I agree, he should have texted. If that ever happens again, you call or text me and I will be there ASAP. Being stranded like that definitely sucks, especially for a young woman, that should never happen, and I don’t like that either and an hour IS a long time. You are right about that, you are not just any girl, you are from a notoriously famous background and there have been abduction attempts before, so that is absolutely not acceptable. I will definitely bring that up to him.” Nick told her calmly.
“Don’t bother on my account. I think I have been very understanding with him being a single dad, even though that is not really the case, is it? He has you and Addy, Esmée and her new dude are in the picture, as is her family … I have tried to make this Esmée back in the picture thing work, I get it, it’s what’s best for Aryelle, but what about me? Anyone ever think about me? I feel like I am always on the back burner, Nick. I felt that way before, even told him so, and he gave me the ring. I was such an idiot, totally rose-colored-glasses blind and in Lala-Land, now I know it was just to shut me up and keep stringing me along. I know he has a lot to deal with, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt when it’s always at my cost. And I think you of all people would hear me when I say this: I am lonely, Nick. So damn lonely. Everyone at uni has someone, even Bianca is going on dates. I can’t, because technically I have someone, who is just never there. I wanna enjoy life, be young, experience uni-life, I wanna party and dance, but am afraid it would look bad if I danced with another boy. I feel guilty going to parties. I think I am done feeling guilty for simple things, when he never feels guilty about forgetting about me.”
“AG, you got this so wrong. He does bend over backwards to make it all work. He is still in the final year of residency at the hospital and doesn’t get a lot of say in his shifts and all. Addy and I sent him to bed as he was about to fall over, completely exhausted. He tries really hard to be a good dad and a good boyfriend or fiancé, but you have to remember, he has just as little experience with relationships as you do.”
“I do know all that. Like you said, this is my first relationship too and I knew not to blow him off and be understanding and accommodating. But I am done now, Nick.”
“AG … what are you saying?” Nick sounded worried.
“I think you know what I am saying, Nick.”
A few hours later, it was just before the crack of the dawn of a new day, a Saturday, the Skyline Club across the plaza from the penthouse had just shut down for the night. Rohan was in the kitchen when Nick walked in. It wasn’t unusual to find the young doctor up at all hours these days. Many sudden nightshifts had messed up his sleeping routine, as had taking care of a baby.
“Where have you been? I thought everyone else was asleep in bed! Did you go out for a run in the middle of the night?” Rohan wondered.
“Not exactly. You look better, brother.” Nick said.
“I feel better, Nick. So much better. More like myself again. Man, I was a zombie, I couldn’t not think straight at all anymore. Thank you, Nick. To Addy too. I really don’t know what I would do without you guys. You both are literal lifesavers.”
“It’s what friends do; I know you’d do the same for me, for us. Let’s go to the living room, I need a drink and we need to talk.”
Nick nodded, then walked over to the booze cart with Rohan, poured them both drinks, handing one to Rohan, who shook his head.
“Drink the goddamn booze, Rohan! I need it and you will too. You asked me where I had been. I was at the airport, dropping off my sister for a redeye flight back to Britchester. Bianca’s picking her up in an Uber.”
Rohan closed his eyes, looking defeated, nodded, then downed the drink in one gulp.
“Nick, I am sorry I ruined the weekend.”
“Not as bad as I am about to ruin yours, brother. My sister is so much like our mom, it’s not even funny anymore. I am really sorry man. I want you to know that I tried, I really did, but her mind was made up. So now, here I am, in the middle of this mess left to rip my best friend’s heart out.”
Nick bit his bottom lip, then reached into his pocket, handing something to Rohan.
Rohan took the item, realizing it was the engagement ring he had given Aria-Grace …