In the midst of dinner KC suddenly spoke up after exchanging doom-and-gloom looks with Everleigh.
“Kids – and Jacob. We called you all together here today to have a candid talk with you. What we are going to tell you now is not easy for either of us, and we have worked very very hard trying to avoid it, but have to cut our losses before it gets too bad. We have come to the very, very hard decision that we will close down the shop at the end of April.”
“WHAT!?” Jacob said shocked.
“No way!” Ethan muttered.
“Oh my gawd!” was Esmee’s verbalization of surprise.Everleigh realized how hard this was on KC, so she continued.
“Yeah. As much as we love that shop – and we do – it is just not feasible to keep it. For the past year we have been bleeding money. My inheritance and payout from EC Architects have been melting like ice in the sunshine. People are just not buying enough wooden furniture and decor to offset the costs of owning the business. We are giving you as much advance notice as we can, Jacob, and we will have a decent severance pay for you. You will be excused for interviews and such whenever you need to be and of course we will be happy to give you glowing reviews and references.”
“Thanks, but that still SUCKS! I love working where I work. I hate this!” Jacob said.
“Tell me about it. Sucks big time for all of us.” Ezzy told him.“So what are you guys gonna do? What’s gonna happen to all of us?” Ethan asked.
“Uncle Josh offered me my old job at EC Architects back. Just so happened that one of the senior architects retired. Unfortunately will I have to start within the next two weeks, I hate leaving your dad hanging, but he is okay with it and there is really not much business going on anymore anyway. Your dad is still looking for work. Things may be a bit tight for a while, just to make sure we are not blowing through our savings before we can have a steady income again.” Everleigh said. She and KC had always been as open as they could be with their children.
“Are we going to lose the house?” Ezzy wanted to know.“Oh heavens no! Your grandparents gave that to us, it is paid off and nobody is going to sell this home. We tried that before and nobody was happy with it.” Everleigh said.
“So … no family vacation this year?” Ethan deduced.
“Unfortunately not. At least not with your dad and me, but we discussed that too and agreed it wouldn’t be fair to punish you kids for this, so grandma and grandpa will take you somewhere nearby for Spring break and something bigger for summer. They are actually quite excited. Cole will be going in summer too. Josh can’t get away then either.” Everleigh explained.
“Dad could coach again. Our coach sucks anyway!” Ethan suggested.“Maybe.” KC said. It was obvious he didn’t like this at all.
After dinner was over, more questions had been asked and answered, Jacob left, and the kids went upstairs.
“Hey. You okay?” Evey asked KC after they finished cleaning up.
“I hate this.” he said, as she turned to him and placed her hand on his chest.“I know baby. I am so sorry. At least we tried.”
“Wish I were an architect too. That is really the hardest part. I won’t get to work with you anymore. And I feel like a giant failure.”“You are not a failure, KC! You are the best thing that ever happened to me. We got this. Maybe we’ll enroll you in college and you can be my coworker again in a few years…”
“I am about as academically inclined as a feral donkey. Think Jacob and our kids will be okay?”
“Yeah. I am sure.”
“Then I am okay too. As long as I have you and the kids, I don’t care about the rest. You are my world, still. If you say I am not a failure, then I’ll take that.”
“Smart man! Finally realized it’s a good idea to listen to your wife, huh?”
Esmée stood in her room and looked around. She had a few pieces of new furniture, more grown up, and had packed up and donated all her ballet stuff, old toys. She had taken all posters and pictures off her walls, except a few of the people she loved the most, her parents, brother and grandparents.
Her mind was made up.
No friends would ever hurt her again. All of her friends, every single one of them had abandoned her when she needed them most. Now they all had tried to rekindle their friendship. Actually no, they hadn’t. They just suddenly tried to act like nothing ever happened, which angered Ezzy even more. Did they really expect her to just pick up where they left off after months of torture? And even Benny. Him she despised the most, along with Brylee.
But she’d be okay. She always had Ethan, her parents, grandparents. Her family. Except Cole. Him she had been avoiding for months, as he was still friends with Benny. No matter what Ethan and she said to him, he refused to end the friendship. So Ezzy never went over to her uncle’s home anymore, and luckily Benny never dared to show up at her home, like he had done before.
Initially she had wanted to hurt all who had done this to her, but then just didn’t feel anything at all anymore. When Ethan came with the last bit of news, offering revenge, she went numb and just didn’t want to even think about them at all. She wanted the next two and a half years to go by fast and forget about it all. Maybe college would be a fresh start. Maybe by then she’d consider friends again.
Then the news about her dad’s shop. Poor daddy. He loved that shop. So did she. It was a huge part of her childhood. Now it would go away in just a few weeks from now. Why?!
And for the first time in her and Ethan’s life there would be a family vacation without their parents? Yeah, grandparents were great, but why did every little thing have to be so different about her life all of a sudden? At least things couldn’t get any worse now.
A knock on the door, she answered, and in walked Forrest.
‘Oh look, they can get worse yet!’ she thought, as she was glancing at him.
“What the hell happened here? Did you get robbed? Looks like you just moved in. Not much into decorating, huh?” he started out , his critique upsetting her right off the bat.
“What do YOU want?”
“I want nothing, Ethan is ordering pizza, we’re having movie night. He wanted me to check if you want some too and what?”
“No, thanks. Just seeing you already put me off my appetite for the next three days.”
“Aww, you’re just trying to charm your way into my pants.”
“Your pants are the very last place I ever want to experience. I’d prefer hell. Probably the same thing anyway.” she growled at him.
“Never had any complaints before.” he told her grinning.
“Can you and your nasty pants leave my room now? I don’t want food or a movie. So bye now!”
“You want to watch us eat pizza then? Change of scenery from staring at the walls in your room all day dreaming about all the cats you will own one day?”
She pushed him out the door, slammed it shut and locked it.
“Gawd Ethan, really?! There are no other guys you could have been friends with except him?! Yuck!” Esmée said to herself.
After a while she got thirsty, while in the kitchen she peeked around the corner and saw the guys sitting on the edge of the couch, tensely following the action on the screen, fully focused and judging by the movie’s music it was building up to a scary scene.
With an evil grin she sneaked over and right at the crescendo of the killer getting another victim …
… she put her hands on each guy’s neck yelling “BOO!”
Both boys jumped up, clinging to one another, looking startled at her with big eyes, as Ezzy doubled over laughing, when the tirade of complaints began before Ethan warned“You are gonna pay for this!”
Still laughing she ran, the open floorplan of the house made it easy to evade the boys with her healthy headstart, looking over her shoulder at her brother landing on his butt after tripping over a dog toy, cursing.Suddenly she felt pulled then thrown up against a wall.All she could see were deep brown eyes, her heart was racing fast, from the running as she told herself.
Unable to move, she just stared into those eyes until suddenly she heard Ethan’s voice.“Oh good, you got her! You will be sorry for this, sis!”
Ethan started tickling her, until she begged for mercy, everybody in tears for laughter.Once Ethan let go of her she still felt very discombobulated. So much so that she didn’t even realize how it happened but suddenly she was sitting on the couch with the guys as Ethan rewound the movie to the point before they missed everything on account of Ezzy’s stunt.As if in a haze she felt herself drinking milk coffee, couldn’t remember how she got it.While Ethan’s eyes were glued to the screen Esmée looked past him at Forrest.
His eyes were so deep. And those long, thick lashes. He was tall too. Always a plus with guys in her book. Huh, plus with guys? Who cares? That was Forrest. YUCK!But his skin tone was amazing. Not pale and delicate as hers, inherited from her mom’s side of the family, a long line of pale people. Her brother took after their dad and inherited that deep, bronze-y complexion she had always envied him for. Forrest’s bi-racial background had given him that beautiful milk-coffee shade. She loved her milk-coffee. What? Why did she care about his skin tone? His skin could fall off right in front of her for all she cared.“Ha, that girl sounds just like you.” Forrest now laughed, turning his head to her, their eyes met, sending a flash of lightning through Esmée’s entire body as she just stared at him, then quickly looked down at the grown when she realized it.“Uh oh, I angered the beast again. Make sure you hold on to her, man. I can already see her leap across you to rip me into pieces.”
“As long as she cleans up the mess.” Ethan replied without ever taking his eyes off the TV.“Wow, I really pulled the ass-card with you as my friend.”
“You’re no prize either, dude. Now shut up and watch the damn movie. You are worse than Ez about babbling through it.”
“That’s the black in me. Don’t you know black people always talk in movies? For me it’s genetic.”
“Don’t make me put your half-black ass out on the patio. You can watch through the window!” Ethan told him. “Damn, dude!”
That night Esmée laid awake for hours. How did he manage to dominate her mind like that. She hated his guts. He was no different than Aaron. Same kind of douche-bag. Still she could not stop wondering what would have happened had Ethan not stumbled in when he did.
Would he have just continued to stare at her?
Would he have … kissed her?
What would that have felt like? As bad as Aaron’s? Forrest had these full, sensual lips, they just looked like he would be a good kisser.
WTH?! No! She didn’t want to think about him kissing. Especially not HER. Eeeew!
Oh gawd and her brother’s best friend too. Yuck. No.
He did smell good. No idea like what, but it smelled fresh and enticing and masculine …
Wait what? He smelled like men’s deodorant, that’s all. Dear lord, she had to be getting sick or something. All the stress … and her parents selling the shop.
THAT was it!
Of course, she was in shock. Obviously.
Traumatic situations made you react odd and think wacky stuff.
She’d be fine. No reason to worry or dwell.
Just the shock.Ezzy fell asleep soon after, a small smile turning the corners of her lips upward as she dreamed about dark brown eyes.For the next weeks they often hung out together, for movies, video games. A picture her mom took of them hanging out even made it onto her wall of fame. Right by her bed, a fact that didn’t even escape Forrest when one day he came to get her for lunch.“WOW, you even put my ass up there. What an honor!”
“Well, I like how Ethan and I looked and you just happened to be in it.”“Right.”“Right.”“I got it up on my wall too.”
“Really?”“Really. One of my favorite pictures ever.”Esmée smiled big as they went downstairs together for lunch, prepared by her mom.For the past years Forrest often had been over for lunch, as both of his parents worked too, but not in walking distance to home like her parents. So technically this was nothing unusual. Oddly though, it felt very different today.
Spring break came and the grandparents took their grandchildren camping, which knowing Everett in reality meant some luxury tree-house style cabin in the woods. Vacations with the grandparents were not unusual but this time to keep them away from seeing the woodworking shop open and close for the last time and to give their parents time to mourn that fact.
On day three of the camping trip Esmée – in a bout of courage – texted a selfie with trees – the forest – in the background to Forrest with a text message playing on his name, that was quickly answered and became a conversation.
Ezzy felt like she had to warn him. Nervously she dialed his number. Why was she calling him? She should have let Ethan handle that. He was his friend, not hers.
He answered and she felt jolts of lightning, as she cleared her throat.
“Be careful with the cheer team. They are … well, I overheard them … in the bathroom at school .. some of the girls … well, they … umm .. want to get with you. You know? Like …”
Ezzy’s stuttering was interrupted by hearty laughter throwing her off course.
“Is that supposed to scare me?” she heard Forrest ask, sounding amused.
“Well, not like they are serious about you or something … sounded more like using you.”
“Ezzy, I am a dude. What you just told me is the ideal scenario every guy our age dreams off.”
“He would, if he didn’t feel obligated to be some uber-dude because of you. Trust me, ALL of us guys want THAT.”
“Well, in that case, have fun then. And stock up on condoms.”
He laughed even louder.
“Oh my gawd, you are too much, Xena!”
“I gotta go. Grandma’s on her way back. She has this strict blackout policy, no technology allowed. If she catches me on my phone, she’ll sack it.”
“Ok bye! Stay away from the bears. No need for them to upset you and end up on the endangered species list after you run amok.”
They ended the call, Ezzy hung up. She had felt really good, until that last bit.
It bothered her to think of him with a cheerleader.
Or all of them.
On the second day back home after the vacation Ezzy was on her way downstairs to get something to drink when she heard Forrest’s voice along with Ethan’s.
She stopped short, smiled and ran back to her room to put on some makeup, change her hairstyle and to put on something cuter than just her casual house clothes.
Once she was satisfied she casually strolled back downstairs, barely able to hide her smile, heart racing, only to feel like it stopped when she turned the corner to the living room.
There he was, Forrest, talking and laughing with Ethan, his arm around some black girl Ezzy had never seen before. She looked gorgeous. Much more grown up than her, making Ezzy feel five years old.
“Hey, look what the cat dragged in. Welcome back from the jungle, Xena!” Forrest had spotted her, while the unknown girl looked at her with honey colored eyes, that looked so much much interesting against her dark skin than Esmée’s pale green ones against her pale skin making her feel even more inferior.
“Ez, come here, meet Naomi, Forrest’s girlfriend.” Ethan suggested so she mechanically walked closer.
Her brother’s words echoed in her head which felt like repeated daggers into her heart.
While she forced a smile and shook the girl’s hand as she noticed the perfect manicure, she felt numb all over, just wanted to turn, run and hide.
Which eventually after enough niceties had been exchanged, she did, under some excuse.
As soon as she got to her room she felt tears flow, unwilling and unable to admit why, but promising herself this was the very last time she would ever feel like this.
Would the heartbreak find NO end for her?
What had she ever done to deserve all this misery?