Jayden grimaced, feeling his thighs burn. His t-shirt was soaked in sweat despite the early morning fog and autumn chill. What he wouldn’t give to stop.
“Trouble keeping up, little brother?” Eric turned around, a smirk on his face.
Jayden scowled. “I can’t believe you talked me into running with you. I hate running.”
Eric’s shirt was equally soaked with perspiration and his forehead, beaded with sweat. But despite the 40 minutes they had already put in, he looked like he was just getting warmed up. He slowed down his pace so Jayden could catch up.
“You don’t seem to have trouble running on the basketball court.”
“That’s because running only works for me when points and a ball are involved.”
“No wonder basketball is the only exercise you get. You’re at the court like every other evening.”
“When I’m not at the pool. So, I’m getting plenty exercise, thank you very much. Just don’t make me do this again.” He fixed his glasses, glancing up at Eric who shook his head at him.
“You were saying something before you ran out of breath and fell behind me.” Eric gave him a sideways look.
Jayden filled his lungs with air. “Yeah. I was saying about Kim.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
Jayden ignored his brother. “Well, yesterday she seemed really pleased when I gave her the print of her I took in the forest. Oh and did you know she’s into the classics? She loves Emma. And when I drove her home, she wasn’t all uptight like she usually is.”
Eric looked at him with raised brows, “You told me already. Last night when you got home.”
Jayden tilted his head to the side. “Really? I thought it was Terrie I told.”
“Yeah, you told her too while cleaning up after dinner. I heard that conversation as well.” Eric gave him a look. “Seriously little brother, you’re acting weirder than usual.”
Jayden looked up, ready to throw Eric a retort, when his eye caught another runner headed their direction. She wore black running tights and a pink long sleeve hoodie, with dark black hair tied in a ponytail. Her gaze was fixed on the iPod in her hands. Jayden’s heart almost stopped.
“Oh no. Eric, let’s turn around.”
Eric shot him a look. “Why?”
“Let’s turn around, bro.”
“No. What’s gotten into you, weirdo?”
Jayden pinned his gaze to the pavement. “It’s h-her. Headed our w-way. It’s Kim.”
Eric didn’t speak for a bit. He looked ahead in Kim’s direction then turned to his little brother, a grin slowly taking its place on his face. “Oh, this is gonna be good. Can’t turn around now, little brother. She spotted us.”
Jayden made himself look up. Sure enough, Kim had slowed down her pace, her eyes on them.
“Behave yourself.” Jayden narrowed his eyes at his brother.
Eric chuckled. “What? I have no idea what you think I’ll do…or say. This is me we’re talking about. Always well-behaved.” He shot Jayden his wide mischievous smile.
Jayden’s heart sank. He wanted to run in the other direction.
Too late. They had reached Kim and slowly came to a halt. Her face bore no make-up, her hair looked like it could use a good brushing and strands of hair stuck to the sides of her face with perspiration. Yet, she was still beautiful. He held his breath, drinking in all he could of her face. She stared back at him with dark eyes that relayed warmth.
“Hey, Oreo Thief.” He smiled.
“Hey yourself.” She offered him a shy smile.
Jayden stood awkwardly, not knowing what to say until he suddenly heard Eric clear his throat beside him.
“Er…Kim, this is my older brother, Eric.”
Eric grinned, showing off his dimples, “Finally nice to meet you, Kim. Jay here has been talking about you. Now I see why.”
Jayden watched Kim’s eyes widen as she stared at Eric. Her gaze traveled right down to his feet and up again. And then she suddenly appeared embarrassed, tucking in strands of her hair behind her ear self-consciously.
Jayden rolled his eyes.
“Talking about me?” Kim glanced at Jayden but hurriedly turned back to Eric as if afraid he would disappear should she look away too long. “Well, I don’t know what Jayden’s said but I hope with time you can make your own opinion.”
Eric grinned. “He’s actually said pretty nice things. But, I’m sure I will.”
Kim discreetly took a step forward. “Well, that’s good to know.” Her voice flowed like honey, keeping perfect eye contact with Eric as she inadvertently twirled her ponytail.
Eric took her in and looked at Jayden, an amused smile dancing on his lips.
“Did you get my text this morning? About the shop being closed today? I forgot to tell you yesterday.” Jayden finally spoke.
Kim turned to him as if only just remembering his presence. “No. I mean, I haven’t really checked my phone this morning. Why is the shop closed?”
Jayden never thought he’d be relieved to hear her stiff professional tone again.
“The Finnegan clan is having family time.”
Kim’s brows slowly lowered in confusion.
“We take that very seriously when everyone happens to be around and unoccupied on a Saturday. So the shops are closed today. Which means you have the day off.”
Kim frowned and placed a hand on her hip. “That’s not a very wise business decision. I’ll need to talk to Cassan-I mean, Mrs. Finnegan about this.”
Jayden shrugged. “She’ll still give you the day off.”
Kim shifted her weight from one leg to the other. Then she restlessly passed a hand through her hair. Something close to anxiety or distress appeared in her eyes. “I don’t want the day off. I could open up the shop. I really don’t mind. The clothes store should definitely open on a Saturday. That’s when most people go shopping. It’s really a business fail to not open today.”
“Kim, I couldn’t ask you to be at the store alone. Carol and Gina both have the day off. It would just be you. You wouldn’t be able to handle the Saturday rush. I assure you, you’ll get paid along with the others.”
Kim scoffed. “Do I look like I need the money?” She snapped. She sighed, took a deep breath and put a hand to her face. “Sorry.” Her voice came out low, strained.
Jayden had no idea what to say to calm her.
“Hey, Kim, how are your basketball skills?” Eric jumped in, giving Jayden a look – as if saying his little brother could’ve handled that whole conversation better.
Kim turned to Eric, confusion stamped on her face. “Excuse me?”
“Do you play?”
She shrugged. “I get around.”
“Great! Come on over. We’re having a basketball game. You should definitely join.”
Kim hesitated. She opened her mouth to speak but Eric cut her off. “We take basketball extremely seriously in our family. That’s how we resolve family feuds. Even if you don’t play, you don’t want to miss this.”
Kim’s eyes were filled with uncertainty. “No, I shouldn’t.”
“Why?” Eric folded his arms across his broad chest, a smirk on his face.
Kim opened her mouth to speak but appeared to be at a loss for words. “Ok. Well, maybe I’ll drop by.”
“Awesome!” Eric clasped his hands together. “Why don’t you join us for breakfast now? We’ll have breakfast then head straight to the court.”
“Oh, I couldn’t. I should get home…I look…”
“You look great. And you could borrow one of Terrie’s clothes, or Ana’s.”
Kim seemed out of words again.
“That’s settled then!” Eric said, his trademark mischievous grin on his face.
Just then, his cell phone began to ring. He excused himself and walked a few steps away to take the call, one hand in the pocket of his basketball shorts.
Kim followed Eric with her eyes, gaze fixed on him as he spoke on the phone.
Jayden wanted to roll his eyes again. He walked right next to her and leaned in. “You know, Eric’s engaged.”
Oh, the satisfaction he got from seeing the embarrassment that took up residence on her face.
“And for some reason, I’m not surprised.” She turned to him. “I am curious however, as to why you think I needed that little piece of information.”
“Oh, just the simple fact that you were shamelessly checking out my brother.”
She gasped. “What? No!”
“Awww. Well, isn’t that adorable? Your eyelids do this fluttering thing when you lie.”
She eyed him, obviously doing her best to keep a straight face. “You just made that up.”
“No, there’s been a pattern I noticed. Don’t believe me? Why don’t we put my theory to the test?”
“I’d rather not.”
“Just as I thought.” He couldn’t help the smug look on his face. “And you’re actually in sneakers. There I was thinking you did everything in heels.”
She looked down at herself and smoothed her pink zipped up long sleeve hoodie. “Shut up, Jayden.”
He smiled, enjoying taunting her.
“And bright pink? Doesn’t really fit the overly professional image I’m used to.”
She looked down at herself again and a crease appeared on her forehead. “I should go home and change, shouldn’t I? I’m covered in sweat. And my face –” She stopped, horror-stricken. “I am definitely going home to change. I can drive over to your place in no time. If I go now…”
Jayden took her by the arm, before she could run off – she seemed agitated enough to do just that. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Relax, I was just teasing you. Besides –” He held her gaze. “You look…you’re beautiful.”
Kim stared, her eyes searching his for what seemed like forever. “The glasses suit you.” She finally spoke tearing her gaze away from him and resting them on the floor.
He put his hands to his glasses. He’d forgotten he had them on. “Didn’t have time to put my contacts on.”
Kim looked up and slightly smiled and he matched her smile.
“Hope I’m not interrupting?” Eric joined them. He pocketed his phone, looking down at Jayden’s hand on Kim’s arm.
Jayden quickly let go.
“We should head on back to the house.” Eric looked from one to the other and back.
They made their way to the forest and walked through it since it was the quickest way to the house. Wet autumn leaves stuck to their shoes as they interrupted the early morning stillness. Memories of times spent here harassed Jayden. He shut his eyes and breathed in the cold air. Now that they had stopped running, he found himself slightly shivering against the cold. Eric and Kim walked on ahead, engaged in what appeared to be light banter about the clothes store. He didn’t mind. Instead, he found himself saying a prayer in his head: “Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish”. He repeated it over and over, wanting to feel lighter, free.
They walked to the back of the house and entered through the kitchen glass doors. Mum, Dad, Terrie and Ana sat at the breakfast table having a vegetable omelet, avocado, fruit and toast.
They all looked up and stopped their banter at the sight of them but seemed to freeze when they laid eyes on Kim who appeared to be glued beside Eric – making her discomfort apparent.
“Look who we found,” Eric announced. “Can we keep her?” He grinned at Kim.
Mum chuckled. “Eric behave. Nice to have you with us, Kim.” She shone her warm smile towards Kim who awkwardly responded with a smile of her own.
“Thank you Mrs. Finnegan.”
Jayden could feel Terrie’s and Dad’s eyes on him. They both had on that intense concerned look he knew too well.
He pretended not to notice and cleared his throat as if to clear the air. “Er…Kim, you’ve already met Terrie, the crazy sister. This here is Ana, crazy sister number two. And the one person who brings a little sanity into our lives, Dad. The coolest person I know. Apart from Mum, of course.”
Dad smiled, revealing perfectly straight teeth. He looked slightly tired from his trip, with bags under his gray eyes. His blond hair however, was as neat as he always wore it.
“Not sure I deserved that introduction.” Dad pretended to roll his eyes. “Nice to meet you, Kim. My wife’s told me good things about you.”
“You too. I’m sorry I’m not a little bit more presentable.” Kim brushed a hand through her hair.
Mum chuckled. “Ana’s still in her pajamas. No one can beat that.”
“Mum!” Ana protested.
“Kim, please, join us for breakfast.” Mum said.
“Oh, I should probably go freshen up a little first but that omelet looks delicious Mrs. Finnegan.”
Her statement immediately caused everyone to burst out laughing. Except Mum herself.
“Dad made breakfast.” Ana said.
“Mum couldn’t have made that if she had a magic wand.” Eric affectionately wrapped his arms around Mum’s shoulders from behind.
Mum made a face. “I will surprise you all one day. You watch. And then who’ll be laughing?”
Everyone at the table exchanged looks of alarm. “Not just today, Mum. Eric and I are handling lunch. Really.” Jayden said.
“To be completely fair, your mother did cut the fruit.” Dad said, obviously doing his best to sound serous. Another round of laughter filled the room.
“Terrie, could Kim borrow something of yours to change into?” Jayden asked.
Terrie beamed. “Of course. You can take her on up to my room. You’ll need something to wear for basketball. My sports things are in the top right of my wardrobe.”
Kim smiled her thanks and with a hand on her back, Jayden led her out of the kitchen and up the stairs to Terrie’s room.
Although she had moved out, Terrie had left most of her things at home. Her room was as lively as always with some of Jayden’s own shots decorating the walls.
“Her sports things should be right here.” Jayden opened up the wardrobe on the far side of the room and pointed to the top right shelf. He pointed to the door on his right. “Also, here’s her bathroom.”
He turned around and the sight before him knocked the breath out of him. He swallowed.
Kim had removed her pink long sleeve hoodie and only had on a black crop running top that covered her chest but revealed her abdomen.
She froze when she saw the look on his face. “Oh. I’m so sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I just wanted to get out of that long sleeve.” She suddenly looked mortified. She awkwardly crossed her arms across her stomach as if to cover her bare skin.
“Er…don’t worry about it. I’ll just…er, I’ll just…I m-mean, I’ll just leave you to it.”
Except, he had to walk past where she stood at the foot of the bed to get to the door. Getting past her was all sorts of awkward. While hurriedly trying to get out of his way, she ended up stepping right in front of him. When he moved to the right, she unintentionally did the same. Also blocking his path when he moved to the left. She looked like she would about die of embarrassment.
He chuckled nervously, unable to meet her eyes.
“Er…” He put his two hands on her almost-bare shoulders and shifted her to the side. “There.” He looked up at her and forced a smile. A smile which immediately faded when he saw the way she looked at him. Beautiful. Unguarded. Transparent. Exposed.
Her chest heaved a little more rapidly, matching his now speeding heart. Her eyes seemed to slowly take him in, before they rested on his lips. Jayden let his hand slowly slide down her back until it reached the bare skin of the small of her back. She pressed a palm against his chest, the other she gently placed on his cheek. At her touch, his heart accelerated. He drew her closer to himself and leaned forward. She leaned in, their breaths mingling. Had her lips always been this appealing? He hadn’t noticed. She slightly parted her lips and at the invitation, he lowered his mouth towards hers.
What was he doing? What had gotten into him?
He pulled away. Quickly removed his hand from her bare waist.
If she’d looked like she would die of embarrassment before, now she looked like she would melt in shame. She could hardly look at him.
“Er…I r-really should g-get going” Smooth. Real smooth. He wanted to strangle himself.
Kim nodded and turned away.
He couldn’t have made it faster to the door. He turned around. She had her back to him, a hand on her forehead. He stepped out and shut the door, leaning his back against it and sinking to the ground. He had to be the biggest idiot on the planet. He got up, knocked his head on the opposite wall. At this rate, he could win jerk award of the year. He had to get his act together. Whatever was going on – whatever attraction there was between them – he’d better get over it. Fast. Because this wasn’t supposed to happen. He was supposed to just be a friend to her. Besides, she wouldn’t date a photographer.
Kim rode in Eric’s silver Peugeot with Ana as they headed to the court. She wasn’t sure if she’d been the one that made sure to end up in Eric’s car or if it was the result of Jayden suddenly avoiding her like the plague and suggesting Eric give her a ride.
She wanted to forget the whole almost-kiss incident ever happened. But it was seared in her mind. The masculine smell of him. His hard hand on her bare back. The deep longing in his eyes. Then it’d all disappeared.
What was wrong with her? And what was it with this guy that made her act different? That made her drop her guard? What was it about him that made her want to relish the feel of his lips against her own? She was losing her mind. That had to be it. Sure, he was good-looking. But so were a thousand other guys, like Eric. Eric was definitely a stunner but her mind controlled itself around him. Why couldn’t it do the same with Jayden? What would Chad think? The thought made her stomach turn.
“You Ok back there?” Eric looked at her through the rearview mirror.
She wanted to go home. But instead of voicing the thought, she forced a smile. “Yeah, thanks.”
“You haven’t said much since…” Eric paused. “Come to think of it, Jayden…” Eric stopped and raised a brow.
She swallowed and looked away.
Eric was obviously very perceptive.
He didn’t say much to her after that, but instead continued his chatter with Ana. He and the youngest sibling seemed to get along exceptionally well. Sure, he was constantly teasing her and she pretended he got on her nerves but there was a strong sibling bond there that reminded her of Raelynn. She really wanted to go home.
They got to the court in no time. Jayden’s dark blue Jeep Wagoneer was already parked. Mr. and Mrs. Finnegan’s car pulled up beside them.
She got out of the car and immediately recognized Gina on the court holding the hand of a little black boy. Probably her son. He must be six? Seven? Another black girl with flowing thin braids stood beside Gina and waved to them all, a big smile on her face. She walked towards the group and Eric closed the distance to lift her up into the air, her arms wrapped around his neck before pulling her into a sweet romantic kiss.
Kim looked away, a heaviness in her chest. Her eyes met Jayden’s. He quickly looked in the other direction.
“Let me guess, you haven’t seen each other since…yesterday.” Ana rolled her eyes.
The black girl bit her lower lip and grinned at Eric. “How long has it been?”
Eric looked at his watch. “Mmm…9 hours and approximately 43 minutes.”
“You’re pathetic” Ana feigned annoyance although she proceeded to wrap her brother’s fiancée in a hug.
The rest of the family joined them and greeted her more than warmly. She and Jayden shared a hip handshake.
“Er…Lucille, this is Kim. The new managing director of Mum’s businesses.” Jayden did the introduction without even glancing at Kim.
Lucille turned to Kim. She was beautiful with full lips and an amazingly radiant smile. She was small in stature, much like Terrie.
“Hi Kim. Glad you could join the Finns for basketball.”
Eric slipped a hand around Lucille’s waist. “Hopefully we won’t scare her away too soon and she’ll join us for lunch.”
Before Kim could answer, Gina and her little boy joined the group.
“Hey Tyler!” Jayden lifted the little boy up in the air and up on his shoulders, then he took off running around in a circle making airplane noises with his mouth, arms stretched out. He came back with a laughing Tyler he set back on the ground.
“Gina!” Eric gave her a hug, before bending down to scoop Tyler in his arms. “Hey buddy!”
Terrie and Gina appeared to be great friends, seeing as they had lots to talk about. Mr. and Mrs. Finnegan also asked after her family and seemed to know a lot more about her than one would a mere employee. Kim could see what Jayden meant when he’d told her Gina was “practically family”.
“Hi Gina.” She tried to offer her biggest smile.
Gina looked at her and forced a tight smile. “Hi Kim. Wasn’t expecting to see you here. I’m glad you came.”
She was sincere. Although Kim couldn’t imagine why. Shouldn’t Gina hate her for threatening to fire her?
“Mummy, whose voice was that?” Tyler looked up towards his mother.
Gina placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Her name’s Kim, sweetie. She’s my new boss.”
Tyler nodded and smiled looking around, his eyes not really focusing on anyone. “She has a pretty voice. She must be really pretty.”
Gina looked down at her son, a slight hint of embarrassment in her eyes. “Tyler, she can hear you.”
Tyler smiled and kept looking around as if looking for her although Kim stood just diagonally from him.
“Well, she sure is pretty, bud.” Kim was surprised to hear Jayden speak. She turned to him but he seemed determined not to look at her.
Gina gave Kim an apologetic smile. “He can’t see you.” She explained.
Kim looked at Tyler’s unfocused eyes and something inside of her broke for the little boy and his mother. She felt like someone had just punched her in the gut. Her conscience assaulted her. She could barely look Gina in the eye after that.
Playing basketball with the Finnegans was like nothing Kim had ever experienced. Everyone except Mrs. Finnegan played because of her broken ankle but she and Tyler cheered everyone on from the side. With the way they all played with zero mercy, Kim was surprised no one else broke anything. Jayden and Terrie were the most ruthless but everyone else almost matched their energy. Sweet Lucille obviously also didn’t joke with the game. It didn’t matter that her fiancé was on the other team, for as long as the game lasted, it was like she and Eric were strangers. Mr. Finnegan and Ana also put up such a fight and Gina was definitely in her element. In fact, Kim was sure that Mrs. Finnegan would’ve been just as merciless had she been able to run across the court. Even with a broken ankle, she would’ve fit in a lot more than Kim did. Kim had never felt so out of place in her life despite the fact they were all probably taking it easy on her. Sure, it was fun. But she barely ever had the ball for two seconds before someone else snatched it from her. She couldn’t have been more relieved when they decided to take a break and everyone headed for the cool box filled with bottled water.
Kim stood on the court, looking up at the sky and enjoying the cool autumn breeze. She was grateful to have brushed her hair, washed her face and changed into tracks back in Terrie’s room otherwise, in addition to feeling useless on the court, she would also feel like a pauper. She almost laughed out loud at herself. She shut her eyes, arms out and let the cold rush of the wind cool her. Raelynn would’ve loved this.
Kim opened her eyes to find herself looking straight into Jayden’s eyes. She must’ve caught him off guard, because he quickly took another swig from his drink and turned his attention to Lucille, which meant turning his back to her.
“Here, you look like you could use this.” Gina walked up to her on the court and handed her a bottle.
“Thank you.” Kim smiled her gratitude.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of playing with the Finns. Word of advice though, be quick and trust no one from the other team.” Gina offered a small smile.
“I’ll remember that.” Kim chuckled and followed Gina’s gaze to Tyler who seemed to be assisting Eric in pouring water all over a shrieking Ana.
“What happened?” Kim asked, “Was he born blind?”
Gina turned back to Kim, obviously holding back a great deal of emotion. “No. He was born extremely healthy. Eric’s his godfather. His father, Charles, and Eric were best friends since grade school.” Gina paused and looked down at her water bottle in her hands. “Three years ago on a Saturday, Charles volunteered to watch Tyler at home and insisted I go out and take a break. He complained I never did anything fun anymore and made sure I went out for lunch with a friend. After lunch as I was driving back home I heard a firefighter truck rush by, then an ambulance. Five minutes later my phone rang. The moment I saw Eric’s number on the screen I knew something had happened.”
Gina looked up, her eyes filled with a sorrow Kim knew too well. Mum and Dad had that look in their eyes whenever they got the courage to mention Raelynn’s name.
“Eric was one of the paramedics on sight when I got there. I would’ve ran into the burning building myself but Eric held me back. Then Charles showed up at the upstairs window carrying 4 year old Tyler. He was coughing a lot but he said he had to throw Tyler down because he didn’t think the firefighters would get to them on time. And so the paramedics got a cloth to catch him with. Tyler wouldn’t stop screaming for his father to come with him. But just then there was an explosion and they were both trapped. The explosion eventually caused Tyler’s blindness. He can still see very blurry shapes but it doesn’t help him much.”
Kim wasn’t sure whether to ask…“And Charles?”
Gina looked down at her feet. “They got him out. He’d used himself to shield Tyler. But he got too many burns and took in too much fumes. He died a couple of hours later.” She swallowed, teary eyed. “I should’ve known about the gas leak in the house. If I’d paid more attention…”
“You couldn’t have known, Gina.” Kim heaved a breath. “I lost my twin in an accident. My Mum and I were out of town and I kept asking myself if things would’ve been different if I’d insisted she come out of town with us. Chances are, they would be but I couldn’t have made Raelynn do anything.” She put her hands in her pockets and bounced on her soles. “It’s weird because she died thanksgiving weekend two years ago. Usually, for thanksgiving, she loved going to visit Mum’s sister’s family with us. My Mum’s sister has a big family and Raelynn loved that. She loved catching up with our cousins. But two years ago she wouldn’t come. She said she had to sort something out and she’d tell me about it when we got back. She never got a chance. Why didn’t she just come with us?” Kim heard her own voice break with emotion. She looked up to realize the others were making their way back on the court.
Gina put an arm around Kim’s shoulder. “I’m sorry about your sister. I remember, it was all over the news.”
Kim’s chest tightened. She could almost see Raelynn there with her, a reassuring smile on her face, telling her she preferred to stay behind for the weekend. The emptiness she knew so well opened up a flood of questions and sorrow in her chest.
“You know, I think I’ll sit this game out.”
She walked past Jayden, walked past Mrs. Finnegan and Tyler where they sat on a bench and made it to Eric’s silver Peugeot. Inside, she broke down in tears, releasing the great tight weight in her chest. She considered taking off in Eric’s car but Eric had done nothing to deserve that. And so she sat there until Eric and Ana made it back to the car with Lucille. She was in no mood to talk to anyone so she found she didn’t have the strength to argue when Eric invited her to lunch. He offered to drop her home and actually waited for her to change. Kim spent ten minutes in the shower then donned on jeans, heeled boots and a black long sleeve. Eric and the others didn’t seem to mind the 25 minute wait. Back at the cottage, she mostly kept to herself. Responding politely when spoken to. Smiling on cue.
When most of the group made it to the living room for a game of Wii she stayed in the kitchen with Mrs. Finnegan and Lucille. But while the two ladies went through bridal magazines looking for the perfect wedding dress for Lucille, she watched Eric and Jayden make lunch. She’d never seen anyone handle knives the way they did. Flipping them in the air and cutting things at an incredible speed. It was mind boggling. Hardly speaking, they would throw needed ingredients to each other from across the kitchen and get back to work in perfect sync. It was beautiful to watch. Almost like an art. Jayden was still ignoring her but she didn’t really care much. Or at least she told herself.
“What do you think about this dress, Kim?” Lucille turned to her with sparkling dark eyes.
Kim peered over her shoulder at the magazine to see an elegant dress decked with pearls along the front…so many pearls.
“Well…I like it. But…” She looked at Lucille. Her simple jeans. Her plain white t-shirt. She was absolutely stunning that way. “But I think something simpler would look a lot better on you.”
A wide grin formed on Lucille’s face. “I know, right? But my Mum wants to go all out.” She sighed. “I’ve dreamt of my wedding day for as long as I can remember and this dress just doesn’t fit that dream.” Lucille slumped her shoulders and sighed again.
“Well I hope I fit that dream or we might have a problem.” Eric shot her a dimpled smile that could make any girl melt.
“You are that dream.” Lucille answered, eyes locked on Eric.
“Erm…the rest of us are still here and its getting a little awkward.” Jayden pretended to roll his eyes as he rinsed some vegetables.
Mrs. Finnegan laughed. “Find yourself a girl, Jay.” She spoke.
Eric sniggered. “When he does find her, he’ll probably mess it up by being a complete and utter dweeb.” He glared at his brother obviously trying to pass a message across. Jayden stopped doing what he was doing and stared at Eric. Then the two seemed to engage in a staring contest.
Kim could only assume there was a lot more going on than what was actually being said.
“Ever dream of your wedding day, Kim?” Curiosity oozed out of Lucille as if the answer to the question was essential to getting to know someone.
Kim shrugged. “Um…Yes. No. Not really.” She saw the confusion in Mrs. Finnegan and Lucille’s eyes. “Well, my twin sister did all the dreaming for me. She was the romantic one. One day she drew this great big sketch of a bride walking down the aisle with a beautiful flowing dress. The groom stood at the altar his back to the congregation. Lynn gave me the sketch. She said I was the bride and the fun part would be finding out who the groom is.” Kim chuckled. “The sketch is absolutely beautiful. So I guess I adopted that as my dream.”
“Well, I think you’ll be a stunning bride, Kim.” Mrs. Finnegan touched her hand across the table. “And he’ll be a lucky man.”
“He’ll also have to be a millionaire.” No one could miss the spitefulness in Jayden’s words as he stirred the soup on the stove.
Kim turned to him. “I never said I wanted a millionaire.”
Jayden shrugged nonchalantly. “Didn’t you?”
“What, so you’re talking to me now?” The words were out of her mouth before she could hold them back.
“Technically, I wasn’t talking to you. I was adding to what Mum said.”
“Snide remarks? Really Jayden? Why aren’t I surprised?” She glowered at him.
“What’s that mean?”
She shook her head at him and said nothing.
An uncomfortable silence fell on them all like a blanket. Mrs. Finnegan appeared to glare at her son. Lucille stared towards Jayden, a question mark on her face.
“What d’you mean, Kim?” Kim heard Jayden’s low soft voice but refused to look up.
She shook her head. “I mean, you can be extremely infuriating. And hurtful.” She looked up at him.
Jayden swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
“One too many apologies, Jay. Besides, what are you apologizing for? The unnecessary snide remark, ignoring me, or walking out?”
Jayden stared at her for a long time. “Would you have rather I stayed?” His gaze intensified.
Kim’s heart suddenly assaulted her ribcage.
“What did you want, Kim?” He searched her eyes.
Kim bit her lower lip. “Why’d you walk out?” Her voice came out a whisper. And she hated that she sounded so hurt.
Kim locked glances with him. The muscles in his jaw twitched.
“Can we do this later?” He cast a furtive glance towards Lucille and his mother who pretended to stare intently at a bridal magazine. Eric cleared his throat and quickly got back to checking the chicken in the oven.
Kim scoffed. “Just forget about it.” She got up and joined the cheerful crowd in the living room. Now, if only she could do just that. Forget.
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