“You didn’t realize what was passing you by until you slowed down a little bit to get a better look.”–Karin Slaughter
Brindleton Bay Banks Residence Home to Justin, Everleigh and their kids 23-year-old Sarah and 19-year-old Aidan
With an unnerved sigh, Aria-Grace pulled up her brother’s sleeve to look at his wristwatch, when he slapped her hands away.
“Knock it off! What are you, four?!” he growled.
“Man, how many more speeches does this party need?!” she complained.
“As many as the bridal couple WANTS, AG. Their big day, not yours. If you want a say in this, get married yourself. Then it can be whatever you want it to be.”
“Great, thanks for THAT reminder that I am single again …” she pouted.
“AG … gimme a break here. People break up every day. YOU chose to break up with Rohan, and supposedly you both decided it was for the better and you wanted to be friends instead, at least that’s the bullshit you both fed me! So just remember it is what YOU wanted, it’s ‘for the better‘, so why does the rest of us have to pussyfoot around it? Now shush!”
“Don’t shush me! He’s my uncle too. Or whatever Jordan is to us again.”
“Well since he is neither mom’s nor dad’s brother, most likely NOT an uncle, Einstein. He’s one of grandpa’s cousins.”
“I know that, I meant honorably.”
“No, you meant honorary. What – if anything – do you actually retain from what they are teaching you in college? Starting to see why Bianca ended up in the penalty box.”
“Maybe I just misspoke and by the way, you are NOT funny. Her suspension is a pretty bitter pill, even for me. Because it really messes up our plans – and because of her dad, my ears are STILL ringing from his outburst. He sat me down too and included me in his lecture, I am not even his daughter, and I am not failing at all, nor did I even get into trouble at uni, that was all Bianca on her own. Yet, he calls BOTH of us every damn day now and beware if one of us doesn’t answer the phone to give a full report of our day! Does that man realize I am almost 20?! As is Bianca!”
“Tell me about it! He came to us as well; the walls were shaking when he was ‘telling‘ us about his gripes, but I did shut him down REAL quick when he was trying to blame me for your – and I quote – bad influence on his daughter. Then again, who would have guessed that from Bianca? I mean, her and probation, let alone suspension? Silent waters, man.”
“I don’t even want to imagine what it would have been like if her pregnancy scare had not only been a scare but for real.”
“Pregnancy?! Wait, what?!”
“I said scare. She’s not, Nick. We just feared for a moment there. A very VERY long moment.”
“Well, had she been pregnant, then there most definitely would have been a wedding you could help orchestrate to your liking. I guarantee you Auditore Senior would make that shotgun wedding thing very real for her and her baby daddy.”
“She doesn’t want to get pregnant nor to get married. At least not yet, if ever. Just like me, she wants to enjoy her freedom and when we get older, we’ll see. Really not that unheard of as a concept for being young.”
“First of all, AG, if THAT is how you feel, you should NEVER have accepted Rohan’s engagement ring – nor should you ever accept any other man’s, ESPECIALLY not that new guy you have been seeing. That ring isn’t just some pretty jewelry, AG, it’s also a promise, a big one, to spend the rest of your life with whomever gave it to you. Also, I am still not 100% sure if I like your new boyfriend or not. Besides, you really think Bianca will ever be free, with that father of hers? Look at all his other kids. Even married most are in his pocket, unless they did their thing and didn’t give a shit about being completely cut off from the big money, like Giulia & Grady.”
“Leave Austin alone, he is great. He is also NOT my boyfriend, we just started going out. Too early to say anything definite, I told you that at least a dozen times now! You just don’t like him because he is not Rohan. And yes, after college, Bianca will be free. Addy is free.”
“Wrong on all counts, AG. As for Austin, I am not sure whether or not to like him because I am not convinced yet if he likes you for YOU and not just your name and all that comes with it, fortune and fame. Once he proves to me he sees YOU, AG, not your status, I may change my mind about him. Until that happens, if you ever do level up with that one, you best believe I will have a prenup for him to sign. At gunpoint, if need be.” Nick’s tone was gloomy.
“Jeeze, surrogate daddy! I have NO fortune and no fame, mom does, so a prenup would be pretty stupid. Dad, you and I are only family of someone famous. Mom owns most of the money and property. Besides, Austin’s parents aren’t poor, and the money and fame thing never bothered you when it was Rohan. He’s not rich or he wouldn’t be living with you and Addy. So much for being free. If Rohan and I had gotten married, hypothetically, mom and dad would have had to be the ones buying us a place to live. Not exactly ideal or traditional.” AG argued.
“Difference being, I have known Rohan for over a decade, so have mom and dad, and we all know how hard he works to better himself; his unfortunate situation has always been completely out of his control. Besides, nothing is ever free, not even freedom. Plus, you are not the only undeserving non-relative on Auditore Senior’s daily harassment call list. Not a single day passes without him asking Addy and me about grandkids. That got old really fast, considering we’ve barely been married 6 months now.” Nick grumbled.
“My sentiment exactly!” Nick agreed.
“Just tell him you don’t want kids yet and done, right? Not like he can actually make you. Although, that man in the bedroom with you would be the best birth control ever.”
“We have told him that we both are very busy with running our businesses, which being a businessman himself, is definitely a language he understands well, but having Rohan and his toddler living with us and watching Aryelle quite often seriously set that argument on fire. His take is that if we can manage her, we can manage our own – with a nanny. He would even pay for one, he said.”
“So … are you gonna do it? A kid?”
“Not yet, at least not on purpose. So far, we managed to dodge that bullet, but I am a Cameron and Addy is from an extremely fertile family and we both work hard and long hours so sometimes the bedroom is the only alone time we have. If an accident were to happen, we’d embrace it, but no plans, not for a while.”
“Good, not sure I am ready to be an aunt yet.”
“Yeah, right. I’ll be sure to always include you in our future family planning, AG. All hail Aria-Grace.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. Do you think Rohan wants more kids?”
Nick’s head snapped around to AG so fast and hard, it startled her briefly.
“Where is THAT stupid-ass question coming from now? He is struggling with the one he has which he didn’t exactly ‘want‘ per se. So, logic dictates the answer here is no. Think before you speak, AG. And if this brilliant gem of an idea happens to be some plan about winning him back while trumping Esmée, I swear AG, I will spank your ass like a bratty toddler! Now shut up and clap.”
“First of, thank you for thinking so low of me! As if I would feel it necessary to trap any guy with a kid! Wow! Secondly, what would I be applauding? The fact Jordan finally finished his endless sappy banter about when Sarah was young? There is not even a beautiful wedding to swoon over. Why a backyard wedding in winter? I think drug deals on the wrong side of the tracks take longer than this was! I mean, they could have waited till it’s warmer and do a garden party, doesn’t have to be huge like yours was, but something longer than a commercial break. I mean, I asked her, and she isn’t pregnant, so why not have a real wedding, if you must tie the knot THIS young. Sarah is only a few years older than me.”
“Please tell me you did NOT really ask that!”
“Why not? Valid question.”
“I am afraid to ask. What did she say?”
“Platitudes. When you know, you know, and real love knows no age and he’s an orphan and so alone for so long and blah blah. I mean, so move in together. They already work together at that Science facility thing doing whatever.”
“Okay, here is my evaluation. They didn’t have a big wedding because they are probably house hunting, which costs a lot of money if it is not mommy and daddy footing it, which, I am sure Evey and Justin will help their daughter, but they just don’t have so much to give, financially. The only family Elliott has are the triplets, our cousins, but they have never been close with Elliott, so would you co-sign a mortgage for some half-sibling you barely know? If the answer is anything but ‘no’, slap yourself. You know AG, don’t take this the wrong way, but I am kinda glad you and Rohan broke up. I never paid much attention to how spoiled you are and how distorted your outlook on life and your expectations are. No way Rohan could even come close to fulfilling any of it, not sure any man will.” Nick grumbled.
AG watched her older brother turn towards the champagne bucket, grabbing one of the several filled glasses standing by it, downing it in one un-gentlemanly gulp, trying to whisper-yell at him without attracting attention.
“Why are you so bitchy and mean about something so hypothetical?! I am in college so I will be able to make my own money one day. And Rohan said he loves me, still, you think he would if I were as terrible as you make it sound?! I think you know I still love him too. I mean, nobody is perfect and what else could a relationship need than two people who love each other despite knowing their flaws. I know I am spoiled, he knows, still he fell for me. And we are just taking some time away from each other, exploring our options, the timing for a relationship is bad and all that.”
Nick grabbed another glass, downed it in one gulp again, then another, before answering
“That is stirred bullshit, AG. Timing has NOTHING to do with love. A good base for a relationship, for example, would be a girl who puts the man first, at least sometimes. Look at all Adrianna gave up for me, how she changed the entire direction of her life, to be with me. She could be living in some Italian mansion, not having to work, just living into her days going shopping, to spas, …all that. Yet, she chose to get a college degree and run one of her father’s businesses and live in a penthouse in San Myshuno with me, with the polluted air, hot summers and rainy winters. It ended up making her happier than anything, but there were no guarantees when she decided that. And I did the same for her. Still do. So much sacrifice and I regret nothing. When you are ready to sacrifice for a man who’s worth it, and who would do the same for you, IF you are ever ready to do that for anyone else, AG, THEN I am willing to consider it being real love, with whomever you say it is. All I know is that I have been in the middle of you and Rohan for months, no, almost a year now and it SUCKS! Watching you make each other so happy and so miserable at the same time, me feeling like the referee more than brother and friend, is not a place I want to be, AG. I didn’t sign up for that! But I am not gonna stand here listing to BS excuses about why you can’t be with him. Timing has NOTHING to do with it!” Nick ranted.
He downed another glass of champagne then reached for another when Adrianna appeared, smiling as she pulled the glass from his hand, then placed a kiss on his cheek, while whispering in his ear.
“Slow down, baby, you are doing again. We talked about your stress-drinking habit. Dance with me instead. Sorry AG, I need to borrow your handsome brother now.” Adrianna purred, generating a loving smile on Nick’s stern face, softening the tension.
“Oh no, borrow away. All yours. I am quite done getting lectured by big bro ‘daddy‘ until the ride home. Too bad he’s driving, or I could sit between him yelling one of my ears hot, while Rohan sits on the other side freezing me out. Fuckin’ fabulous.” AG mumbled the latter part to herself, while Nick and Addy were already starting to dance next to the newlyweds making out while moving around to the music. Just perfect. Everyone is soooo sickeningly in love, everyone but HER.
With a sigh, she remained to digest the conversation, which had definitely left a lasting impression with her. She grabbed for her own champagne, when her eyes wandered and fell on Esmée and Rohan talking with Aryelle looking happily between her two parents. AG instantly felt pangs of jealousy. Great, with HER he seemed to have plenty to say, while he barely said three words to AG ever since she arrived earlier that day for Sarah & Elliott’s wedding.
AG groaned and downed the alcohol, reaching for another glass, which she nearly spilled when someone behind her said
“Funny how such an idyl can leave such a bad aftertaste, isn’t it?” a deep, masculine, raspy voice spoke.
AG turned to find Michael Shaw, Esmée’s boyfriend.
“Yeah, no kidding. I never realized that you and I are in the same boat here, Michael. Well, actually you are the only one in that boat now, I kinda went ashore on the singles coast, I am sure Ezzy told you. Probably followed by a glee-fest, party horns and confetti, to celebrate my misery.”
“No, she hasn’t, and I am genuinely sorry to hear. You’d be surprised how little you and Rohan come up in our conversations, considering she and I only have limited time together and it’s usually not spent discussing her family affairs beyond the necessary planning, since she has a child, and her family seems to love nothing more than family dinners. And honestly, Ezzy would probably understand you now better than you’d think. My best friend plus child recently moved in with me after a bitter breakup. Spoiler alert: my house is pretty small, so it’s extra-cozy now when Ezzy comes over.”
“My best friend is female.”
“OH! Crap! Yikes!”
“Yup. So, I am not sure how long that will go well, it’s already rubbing Ezzy raw, but I can’t kick out my best friend and our … I mean … her toddler son. They have nowhere else to go. I HAVE to help them and don’t have money, so this is the best I can do for them.”
“So, you move in with Ezzy then. Problem solved. Everyone’s happy.” AG shrugged.
Michael gave AG a strange look, his eyebrows drawn, but chuckling.
“What?” she asked, impatiently.
“Nothing. I couldn’t tell if you were being serious or cynical. Have you MET Esmée?! She’s not exactly the move-in-together kinda gal. I think if I were to suggest that, she’d break up with me on the spot or at least pat me down for totally forbidden engagement ring paraphernalia. One time I mentioned something about engagements, not even about her and me, and had to sit through an hour long ‘Girl Power’ speech and how marriage was an outdated concept.”
“Yeah, I have met her, unfortunately am I also related to her, cousins or not, she and I don’t mix well, I have NO IDEA how anyone would want to date her, but you are screwing her, so evidently you like the whole condescending, bitter, bitchy workaholic chick thing. Good for you. But if she were so fem-powered, why couldn’t she figure out how NOT to get pregnant by Rohan, I wonder!? Anyway, if the situation can’t be fixed another way, obvious solution is you let your friend and that kid have your house for the time being and for Ezzy to let you bunk with her until the situation changes. Ezzy’s never home anyway, always at work. Plus, I didn’t say marry her. I don’t know you well enough to wish that upon you. Not sure I would wish that on my worst enemies, but one girl’s trash is another man’s treasure, I guess.”
Michael burst into hearty laughter.
“You are priceless, Aria-Grace. I thought you’d be such a stuck-up rich girl, but you are actually clever, brutally honest, unfiltered, funny and got spunk. I like it. Since you didn’t hold back, I have been wondering what a girl like you wants with that Rohan sleeping pill, but guess that question answered itself since you voted him off the island.”
“You are being rude, insensitive – and Rohan is NOT a sleeping pill! I didn’t vote him off any islands, we are still friends, just the timing … for a relationship wasn’t … favorable.” AG snarled at Michael, who looked taken aback.
“Whoa! Sore subject, I see. Pardon me, Miss. I didn’t mean to insult the beloved ex slash friend slash badly timed love thing. My bad.”
“What’s going on here? Is he bothering you, AG?” Connell appeared.
AG shook her head, while Michael rolled his eyes.
“You again? What are YOU even doing here?” he grumbled at Connell.
“I was invited, you mutt! Your girlfriend and my wife are sisters, remember? If she was invited, Emmy would be too. They both and Ewan are related to the groom. Duh! Come on AG, say hello to Emmy and my kids and bye to this … pesky puppy, before you start smelling like wet dog.” Connell’s suggestion was more a demand, as he stepped next to AG now, placed his arm around her waist and just pulled her with.
“Why’d you call him puppy? So random? He doesn’t smell bad at all, I actually like his cologne or whatever he’s wearing.”
“Well, let’s walk and talk – away from that guy. He is bad news, AG. As for his nickname, well, several reasons, for one he follows Ezzy around like a puppy. Second, he’s a mangy dog as far as I am concerned. I am not a fan of his, neither are my father or grandfather, and you do not need to fraternize with him.” Connell said, nearly tripping when AG stopped short.
“Oh good! Just what I needed! Someone else trying to be my dad! No, thank you, Connell! Go parent your kids and leave me be! And you being what you are trying to warn me about someone else being bad news is just extra-rich! You’re a friggin Vamp, that’s plenty bad news for most people, so how could Michael be any worse. Plus, I do not need any men padding their masculinity by trying to ‘protect’ me, occult or otherwise, thank you very much!” AG’s eyes nearly shot sparks at a shocked Connell, whom she usually got along very well with, but now her mood had definitely soured, and he was left to watch her rush out the front door.