Shooting Stars

November 27, 2011
By ashkash95 SILVER, New Hyde Park, New York
More by this author Follow ashkash95
ashkash95 SILVER, New Hyde Park, New York
9 articles 0 photos 99 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:8


The author's comments:
This chapter introduces the characters. It goes a little quickly and might seem confusing but it clears up as time goes on

“WE DID IT!” Penelope yells over the noise. You would think a local diner wouldn’t have the same volume as an Applebee’s but The Diner definitely shattered that thought.
“Penny, calm down!” I laugh.
“Oh, you know you’re excited, Liz!” Hayley, my best friend, teases me. I roll my eyes good naturedly at the truth of Hales’ comment.
“What I don’t get is why Penny’s so excited. I mean we used to come out here all the time,” Penny’s sister, Emily, points out.
“Em, go with the flow! It’s not like we’ve been here with you!” Hales’s sister, Jaime, responds.
“Yeah!” Brooke chimes in. “I’m getting married, so let’s have fun!” We laugh and decide to take her advice.
I can’t believe Brooke’s getting married. Brooke Thompson is the oldest of us at the ripe old age of twenty five. Her fiancée, David Turner, and she are going to be married in the middle of September. It’s going to be weird for her to belong to Dave and not to us. Brooke’s always taken care of us. Brooke’s always been the mom of the group. She ignores combing her wavy blond hair if it means clearing a disaster on one of our heads. She knows exactly what to say when we have a problem. She always smiles no matter how she’s feeling. If she even catches a glimpse of you with her dark blue eyes, she’ll smile.
“Would you guys mind if I call the planner?” Em asks while twisting her tousled auburn hair.
I’m surprised. Most of the time she isn’t this considerate.
“Yes!” we all yell.
Em’s boyfriend, Keith Walker, proposed a month ago, and she’s already thrown herself into planning a wedding taking place next year. Emily Strauss is our ultimate bridezilla. Even when we were kids, everyone knew Em would be a bridezilla. At twenty four years old, she’s proved us right. The thing is we didn’t realize how early it would show. She’s shut herself in her room for at least three hours every day trying to figure out a guest list and wedding party. If you walk in and say anything so much as “Hi,” she will widen her crystal blue eyes and start yelling. At this point, I think Penny’s the only bridesmaid and only because she’s her sister. We don’t like getting too close to her but we still love her. Em’s always been tough and a fighter. She has an attitude problem sometimes but she means well. Somehow, she manages to take care of herself, help everyone, and not get hurt. I have to commend her for it.
Jaime continues on while rolling her amber eyes, “You have the rest of your life to worry about you and Keith. Spend what time you have with us now!”
Jaime Keller is the most independent of us all because her boyfriend, Lucas Harp, have a long distance relationship. Jaime’s engaged to be engaged to Luke. He goes to grad school in another state, and they don’t want to get so serious when they’re that far apart. It works for them, though. They’ve been friends since birth, practically, so they don’t have separation anxiety. Jaime’s entering her last year at law school since she’s twenty four and needs to focus. Everyone knew Jaime would end up being a lawyer because that’s the attitude she has. Jaime can have fun but she gets frustrated if things aren’t rational enough for her. Even if her brown curls are out of order, she gets annoyed. If things make sense, she’s happy. If things get too messed up, she’s absolute hell to deal with.
Penny’s phone gets a text. She looks at it and giggles. “It’s Chase again.”
No one really knows about Penny Strauss and her boyfriend, Chase Knight. They’re definitely going out, possibly engaged to be engaged and already act like a married couple. They’re attached at the hip one moment and fighting the next. They “break up” at least once every two weeks over the stupidest things, but we still love them together. They would make the greatest reality show, way better than Speidi ever did. Even though Penny isn’t the youngest, she can act like such a baby sometimes. Chase can be mature enough for the both of them at times but mostly they’re immature together. Penny’s used to being babied since she’s the youngest in her family. She and Em get mistaken for twins, because they’re carbon copies of each other, until you get to know her and realize she’s most definitely younger. I still love her though. She’s my age, twenty three, and so much fun to be around. She can be a brat sometimes and will hold on to grudges, but she’s hilarious too.
Hales laughs at Penny’s emotions because she’s excited about being here with us but she also wants to be with Chase. Hayley Keller isn’t one to judge, though, because she and Scott hate being apart too. Right now, Hales thinks Scott Strauss is just her boyfriend. What she doesn’t know is that he’s planning on proposing on their one year anniversary which is in a little over a week. He’s already cleared it with her parents, broke the news to Em and Penny (his younger sisters), and went ring shopping. Penny, Jake, and I went with him because if he was on his own—well I won’t be mean enough to go there. Let’s just say living with Em and Penny hasn’t exactly improved his jewelry taste. It’s ironic that Hales is the one who went out with Scott because Scott is Penny’s older brother and Hales is the baby of our group. Hales is the one everyone watches out for. I never really got why. Hales isn’t the toughest on the outside, but she’s not fragile. If anything, she takes care of us. I would’ve been an even worse during my teenage years if Hales wasn’t around. Even though she is the baby, sarcastic, and can’t spell her way out of a paper bag, she’s a great listener and sometimes is very good at reasoning. I tend to have an overactive imagination and self esteem issues so, growing up, I thought everyone was always out to get me. Hales was the one who always had to convince me that the whole world didn’t hate me. She’s the simplest of us all. Her light brown hair always ends up in a ponytail by the end of the day. You’re lucky if you find her wearing anything on her amber eyes other than eyes shadow at an occasional wedding. Her typical attire is sweats or jeans. Her clothes reflect her attitude. Oh well, more drama queen to go around for us. I think we’re all grateful to Hales because she doesn’t go running. We all have our fair share of problems, but Hales puts up with that.
I know I’m grateful for Hales and all my friends that I’m surrounded by. I’m Elizabeth Fields, by the way, but I’m mostly known as Liz. I don’t have separation anxiety, a long distance relationship, or a ring, but I do miss my boyfriend, Jake Evans, a little. I love Jake. There’s no florid way of saying it. It’s pure and simple. He’s really sweet and really, really hot. That’s not the only reason I liked him, though. I don’t know why he likes me, with my wavy, uncooperative black hair and gray eyes. You could argue it’s my personality but I can be really weird or emotional. Jake’s an angel to put up with me for the past seven years. I don’t have insane mood swings, but you wouldn’t want to be around me when I’m PMSing.
Brooke asks, “How did you get your uncle to let us come?”
“We used to come out here all the time,” Em starts. “But after our cousins and we grew older, we stopped coming. Now, we just stay if we happen to be in the neighborhood.”
“When we started talking about getting a summer home, I thought we could stay here. We knew no one would be here and thought it would be perfect.”
“And it is,” I assure her.
The house really is amazing. It’s a conch house a few blocks away from the beach. The door opens to a foyer. On the sides of the foyer are rooms. To the right is the living room, straight ahead is the kitchen, and to the left is the dining room. Closer to the living room is a set of stairs leading to the second floor where all the bedrooms are. The dining room leads to another entrance to the kitchen. The recently renovated kitchen has a wrap around counter that separates it from the den. The welcoming den has a few couches and comfy chairs. It has a door that leads to the deck in the backyard. The deck is attached to the wraparound porch that surrounds the house. The house has a huge balcony that stretches across the front side. Each of our rooms upstairs has doors that open to the balcony. The only rooms upstairs that don’t have access to the balcony are the bathrooms and one guest room. The best part is that their basement was recently renovated to be a home theater. I have a feeling it’s going to be used a lot over this summer.
“I think we should do a toast,” Jaime states. I raise my eyebrow. “What? We’ve finally accomplished our dream of living together for a summer. We should do something to commemorate this very important moment!”
“Fine, fine,” I agree. “To this summer, to love, and to friendship.” I realize those are my hopes for the next two months, summed up in a fragment. It’s all we need. We need an amazing summer full of love and friendship. As I look around at these girls who are practically family, I am positive we can achieve it. We are on the road to the summer of our lives.

“Well it looks like someone finally got up,” Jaime says when I come into the kitchen.
Yawning, I reply, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hey, where’s everybody else?”
“Still asleep,” she admits. “When I said someone, I literally I meant someone. It’s so weird for this house to be quiet.”
“So true,” I agree. “But aren’t the guys coming out here?”
“Tell that to Hales. That girl freaks out every time she sees her boyfriend. She’s running around, putting on makeup, and changing her clothes when he’s five minutes away from the house, all while moaning about how she doesn’t have enough time. But does she get up earlier to get ready? No!” Jaime complains. Laughing, I can’t help but agree. Hales never gives herself enough time when Scott comes. Though I shouldn’t be one to judge. It’s not like I don’t wait until the last possible minute before getting ready to see Jake. But I made sure to get up before eleven this morning. I don’t have time for the five minute makeover today.
Within the next twenty minutes, Jaime and I managed to wake everyone up. It turns out that Em was already awake and trying to finalize colors for the weddings, which would last all of a week before she thinks it’s hideous, we’ve already been through three “final” color schemes. Brooke was pretty easy to wake up. That girl gives no grief to anyone, even in morning grogginess. Hales is pretty hard to wake up. Most of the time, she’ll wave her hand around trying to hit your face before groaning, rolling over, and falling back asleep. I literally dragged her out of bed. She proceeded to curse at me under her breath, until I threatened to let her sleep ‘til Scott gets here. That makes her have an (irrational) fear that he will see her as a mess and break up with her and find someone else. This threat doesn’t work out so well with Penny who, like her brother, could easily find someone new even if she doesn’t want to. She, Em, and Scott are always complimented on their looks. While Penny and Em are always mistaken for twins, everyone can tell Scott’s not a triplet. I wouldn’t know how to describe it. Maybe it’s the way he looks at you with those eyes, like he’s penetrating you and staring into your soul (definitely, Hales’s words. I’m not trying to steal her boyfriend). Or maybe it’s how he just looks more mature with his Chad Michael Murray circa Lucas and Peyton’s wedding on One Tree Hill hairstyle. Maybe it’s just the fact that he is a year older than Em and two older than Penny. Which is why it was pretty surprising that he and Hales, who is three years younger than him, got together.
You’re probably wondering how a twenty five year old guy almost ready to graduate from grad school started dating a twenty two year old girl who’s starting grad school who also happens to be his little sister’s best friend’s little sister. And no, this is not some weird perv story. I hate to say it, because Hales is the least clichéd person I know, their story is so beyond a fairytale that it’s scary. It goes something like this:
When Hales was fourteen, she was insanely “in like” with Scott. She claimed it was because he was hot (he does have an uncanny resemblance to Chad Michael Murray who is really hot) and there was no emotional connection seeing that they never talked before. I think she tried to outgrow her crush, but that failed. This time last year, Penny and Chase got into a big fight, and Jaime and Hales went to go console her. Hales was supposed to meet me at the mall after my shift to grab a bite to eat and stock up on all the ice cream and chocolate in the world for Penny. It’s around three, and Hales figured she should get going. Naturally, she asked Jaime to borrow her car seeing Jaime wasn’t heading anywhere.
Giving her an “are you kidding me?” look, Jaime replied, “Uh, no.”
“What the hell! You’re not going anywhere. Just give me the keys.”
“Hales, I’m not that stupid. There’s a reason no one will get in a car with you. No one trusts you driving. Not even Liz.” Sadly, this is true. I mean I love Hales. She’s my best friend. I also like my life enough to not get in a car with her. Hales is the one we used to joke about driving over a cliff.
“So?” she asked. “It’s not like you’re coming with me.”
“Yeah, but I also only have one car. I’m not letting you ruin it,” Jaime pointed out.
“Ugh,” Hales groaned. “Now how am I supposed to get to the mall? Someone has to go get comfort food. Besides, I’ve been here all day, and Penny’s still crying. Obviously, I’m not good at the comforting part.” Again, this is true. The only reason I ever stop crying around Hales is because she’s being too sarcastic to not be funny.
“I’ll go.” Jaime and Hales turn to see Scott at Penny’s doorway. They were both speechless, and even Penny was surprised. “I’ll take you,” Scott repeated.
“Oh, you don’t—” Hales started.
He smiled. Hales melted. “Hayley, it’s fine. I don’t mind.”
Hales stammered out a, “S-sure. As long as it’s not a problem.”
“Nah, no problem. C’mon,” Scott gestured. A very shocked Hales follows him outside while sending me an “OMG! No, way!” text. Being Hales, she finds this moment to be completely lacking in conversation skills.
“So. Uhm. Nice car,” she tried. Looking down at his near broken down car, Scott just gives her a look. “Okay. Not really.” Hales laughed.
Laughing along, he replied, “Yeah, that’s more like it. I’m going to wait ‘til after pharmacy school and a job to buy a nice car. I really want a Hummer. I was so upset when they discontinued them. That was my dream car.” Hales almost fainted.
“A Hummer?!”
He looked over cautiously. “Are you one of those environmentalists?”
“Well, yeah. I know it’s hypocritical but a Hummer was my dream car, too! Ask Liz, one time we went on a road trip after they discontinued them, and it’s all I talked about. I still go on about it.”
He laughed again. With twinkling eyes, he said, “Really.”
“Yes!” she said enthusiastically (and it wasn’t from being with Scott, she was very passionate when it came to Hummers, I’m not kidding). “But wait, you’re in pharmacy school? Do you like it?” By the way, do not let the question fool you. We were fully aware that Scott was in pharmacy school. She didn’t like this guy for a majority of her teenage years and know absolutely nothing about him.
“Yeah, I do,” he answered. “Why?”
“Oh, no reason.” Hales blushed. “Well, actually I’m applying.”
“Really?” he asked.
“Don’t ask so surprised! I wasn’t a druggie for nothing!” Seeing his bewildered, slightly horrified look, she laughed. “It’s a joke. Liz and I always found it funny that I was so good with drugs and Chemistry. I was the ‘druggie’ between the two of us. I was always high on life.”
He laughed (I honestly think laughing was the basis of their relationship. It’s all they do.). “Ah, I see. So are you guys close?” She giggled at his either apparent stupidity or desperate attempt to make conversation (or him trying to get to know her, which was my opinion). “What?!” he asked defensively.
“We’re best friends,” she explained, “we kinda thought everyone already knew that.”
“Well I didn’t,” he replied indignantly. After giving him a look, he admitted, “Okay, well I figured.”
“Hmm. I wonder how. Was it from the fact that we talk in code? Or how ‘bout the fact that we are a lot alike? Oh wait, what it was from the fact that we spend all our time together?! You realize that we sleep over at your house a lot. We always end up talking all night and half the time no one knows what we’re saying but us.”
“Okay, okay! I surrender!” he exclaimed, temporarily, throwing his hands in the air. Hales just shook her head and rolled her eyes.
When they got to the mall, I had a plan. Seeing them come into Barnes and Noble, where I was working, I rush up to them in fake panic. “Hales, you’re going to kill me. I feel so bad!”
“What is it?!” I felt kind of bad because she was genuinely worried. Then I saw Scott and remembered why I was doing this.
“I know it’s not really an emergency. But I felt bad cancelling on him!”
“Liz! Calm down! Tell me, what’s going on?”
“I kinda forgot that I had plans with Jake,” I admitted. She gave me a funny look, and I gave her a “don’t screw this up” look.
Getting the message, she “angrily” replied, “Liz! Penny needs us! You know I’m just going to end up getting lots of dark chocolate and coffee ice cream for me!”
“I know,” I said in fake worry. “I just didn’t want to call Jake this late to tell him I can’t come.” When Scott comes over, I asked him, “You know what Penny likes after a meltdown right?”
“Yeah,” he answered, confused.
“I hate to ask you since you drove Hales all this way, but could you help Hales get Penny’s stuff? I need to run, but Penny needs to be consoled.”
“But only if you don’t mind,” Hales hurriedly added.
“It’s fine.”
“You are a life saver!” I gushed. "Oh, Hales," I turned around to remind her. "Seeing that ice cream and popcorn probably won't be enough, make sure you get something to eat.” I winked and laughed to myself seeing her reaction to my suggestion as I ran off to my fake plans with Jake.
"So." Scott said after I left.
"So," was Hales's brilliant response.
"What should we get Penny?"
"You tell me! You told Liz you knew what to get her!" she cried.
"Yeah about that…" Scott mumbled. He smiled at her and continued, "I guess we can take our time trying to find the perfect remedy."
As they walked through the mall, they found plenty to talk about. "So if your best friends, why did she run out like that?" Scott asked.
Seeing that she couldn't obviously tell him the truth, that I rushed out so Hales can get some time to win Scott over, she improvised."She hardly ever does that. Most of the time, Liz will end up cancelling on Jake than on me or one of her friends. I would feel bad if she had to cancel this late. That's the one thing I'm always grateful for. No matter how much she loves Jake and loves spending time with him, she never puts hanging out with him over hanging out with me."
"Wow. She must really be a good friend. But it must be hard on Jake."
"She is the greatest best friend I could have. And Jake takes it pretty well. Anniversaries and such belong to him but other than that we really get Liz. If it's late, sometimes he'll tag along. I think he actually wanted to hang out tonight, but she refused to let movie night go. And he was okay with it! That's why I absolutely love them together. The fact that they're in love yet Liz always spends time with her friends and Jake's okay with it."
"Jake is a good guy. Even if he's a year younger than me, we're pretty close."
“Really?” She feigned surprise. I’ve been going out with Jake long enough for us to know that he and Scott are the equivalent of Hales and me.
“Yeah, he’s the brother I never had. And in the house I live in, you need a lot of those.”
“I’ll bet. I mean I love Em and Penny, but they can be VERY hormonal.”
Scott laughed. “You’re telling me! I know Em can take care of herself, but I’m protective of Penny. She’s my baby sister, you know? It was weird when she and Chase started going out. I’ve known Chase a really long time, too, and I just couldn’t believe it. I really, really didn’t like the idea. Over time, I got used to it. The problem with them is that they have so many random fights over the weirdest things. I think they like to fight and make up. I can’t do anything to Chase anymore; it’s just not worth it. It used to happen in the beginning. I’d threaten him or chase him away from the house while Penny’s crying. She’ll be all ‘Aww, thank you! I never want to see him again!’ one day. And then a few days later she’s storming into my room upset that I was mean to Chase when she was mad at him. It got hard to be protective of someone who only appreciated it in their time of need.” Hales just smiled at the big-brotherness we didn’t realize existed.

After they finished getting all the ice cream, chocolate and other sleepover food, Hales was ready to go back to the house. Scott wasn’t quite ready yet. “Let’s go get something to eat. I couldn’t let you go back to Liz without food. She did say to eat beforehand.”

She blushed at his acknowledgment about my hint. “Scott, its fine. There’s enough food for movie night. And I don’t have any extra money on me.”

“But it’s not real food, and I’ll pay. C’mon, Hales.”

She smiled at the sound of her very common nickname, one he hasn’t used before. “Fine.”

“Good. ‘Cause I wasn’t letting you go without a meal anyway. I have the keys. I know this great Chinese place.” Cue more inner fainting from my Chinese food obsessed best friend.

After eating a very filling meal, Hales was pretty sure she disgusted Scott. Piece of advice, if you’re a guy looking for a girl that eats, how do I put this, humanly, do not bring Hales to a Chinese food place. It’s a good thing Em and Penny love Chinese food, too, otherwise we may not have Hayley and Scott today. Reading his fortune, Scott looked up at Hales and just smiled. “What?” Hales asks suspiciously.

“Nothing. Nothing at all,” Scott replied with a small smile.

“Read me your fortune.”

“No. If I tell you my fortune, it might not come true.”

“But I know the Chinese word for happiness.”

“That you do,” he said turning the paper while covering the fortune, defeating Hales’s purpose. “I promise that I’ll tell you later. Just not now.”

“Fine,” she huffed. Looking at the clock on the wall, she realized the time. “Oh, crap. We’ve gotta go. Soon people will think you’re holding me hostage.”

“We wouldn’t want that would we,” he told her while getting up.

Once they got to the house, Scott shut himself in his room like he always does. I know Hales’s was disappointed, but she knew she had to pull it together for Penny’s sake. There was a lot of laughing. We watched enough chick flicks for a life time. We reminisced over old movie nights. And no matter how many times I asked her, her mouth claimed she was okay. But her eyes betrayed her. Not in that cheesy movie way. Not in the “your mouth says one thing but your eyes say another” way. It was the fact that every few minutes, I’d see her glance towards Scott’s room. Sometime around five in the morning we finally went to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, I saw a small piece of paper in her fingers.

“Hales,” I whispered, shaking her awake. She made a noise. “Hayley, wake up!”

“What?” she snapped groggily.

“There’s something in your hand.”

“There’s something—oh!” She looked down. “It’s the fortune.”

“The fortune?” Hales filled me in the night before.

“Uh huh. ‘You find treasures where others see nothing unusual,’” she read. On the back, it said “I hope you do.” His number was there too.

And that is how Hayley and Scott became Hayley and Scott. It hasn’t been easy. It’s not like Penny was overjoyed. She actually threatened to kill Hales and probably would’ve if Scott hadn’t stopped her. They’ve had fights. They don’t always agree. But even in their ups and downs, they are and always will be in love.

An hour later, Penny shouts, “They’re here!!” Hales and I are standing in the kitchen when Scott and Jake walk in. The minute they see each other, Hales and Scott, who hate to be separated, of course have to ignore all the spare oxygen in the room and share. I roll my eyes and hug Jake.
“Hey,” Jake whispers in my ear. I get the same butterflies I have every time I see him.
Jaime was the one who introduced us the summer I turned fourteen. He asked me out at the end of his senior year (which was the end of my junior year) and we’ve been together ever since. I’ve been in love with Jake for a few years and it never goes away. It’s incomprehensible to me because I always said I would be independent, but I can’t imagine my life without him. I’m not saying it’s been smooth sailing since then, but I’m happy and most importantly, I’m in love.
We also have a LOT less PDA than Hales and Scott. I mean, it can be cute sometimes. But not everyone thinks so: for example, Penny. Walking into the kitchen, she sees their make out session and tells her brother to, “Get a room.”
“You’re just upset Chase hasn’t come in,” Jaime teases her as Scott finally pulls away to hug his baby sister. Penny wasn’t really okay with Hales and Scott at first, but she’s gotten a lot better over the past year.
“Did I hear my name?” Chase asks.
“Chase!!!” Penny squeals. And she was grossed out by Hales and Scott.
“Miss me?” Keith walks in. Noticing that Em wasn’t around, she didn’t come down even for her fiancée, Keith asks, “She’s in her room?” We nod sympathetically as he trudges to face the wrath of Em.
Dave was having some “intense” discussion with Brooke in the living room. Honestly, he can be so annoying sometimes. He hasn’t seen his wife-to-be in a good three weeks and the first thing he does when he walks is turn to her and flatly say, “We need to talk.” They both work during the week, and he's always off with his friends of weekends now. At first, he was excited about the wedding but, lately, he's been leaving the "girly" details of a wedding to Brooke so he can have "some time with the guys." I don’t know what guys he’s talking about because the guys I know he’s friends with are always with us. It's been making the rest of us sympathetic, worried, and kind of angry. Brooke just brushes off his "quirks," as she calls them.
Dave used to be a nice, sweet guy. He just seemed like the perfect guy for her. He put up with her insane weirdness but he also made her more confident of herself. They’re the epitome of high school sweethearts. Suddenly, he’s just been more distant and very un-Dave like. The worst part he’s been making Brooke so unhappy. It’s like he built her up just to tear her back down. The really horrible thing he did had to do with the bridal party. Brooke has a little sister who is obviously her maid of honor. Dave has a sister, too, so Brooke put her in the wedding. She also put the rest of us in her wedding. That was fine. I mean seven bridesmaids is a lot, but her parents understood. Then all of a sudden, Dave suddenly tells her she has to put his cousin’s wife in the party. She wasn’t so sure seeing none of us know her. Dave said that he was in their wedding and that Mandy would be insulted. At first, he was okay when she said she wasn’t sure. Then a few days he came to her saying Brooke is putting Mandy in the wedding. He said that she was family and if Brooke was going to be family, too, she had better start acting like it. Through shock, Brooke finally consented to letting a near stranger be a bridesmaid. Her parents weren’t thrilled about it. They’re paying for most of the wedding and didn’t want to buy more than seven dresses. Brooke was devastated at the thought of not letting one of us share her happiest day with her. She managed to convince her parents to let us all do it because we are like family. For her shower, we decided to surprise her by paying for our dresses in addition to another gift. It’s the least we can do. Brooke’s always taken care of us. Yeah, she used to be completely abnormal. She used to be a lot more annoying. But we still loved her. She can always help us through all our irrelevant problems.
Our problems seem even more irrelevant when she walks into the room. Her eyes are red and tears are streaming down her face. She whispers, “He’s gone.” Jamie, Penny, Hales, and I immediately go into a mode that’s become more and more routine with Brooke lately. We sit her down and hug her in silence for a few seconds.
“We’ll go,” Chase tells us. Scott and Jake nod their heads and begin to leave the kitchen when Luke comes in.
“Well, we’ll have to take one of the girl’s cars. He took ours,” he tells us. Scott groans when he hears Dave ran off with his car again. I throw Jake my keys.
“Someone should take my car with Luke and go look in the opposite direction,” Jaime tells them. Luke gets Keith to go with him and the guys head out to find Dave.
“Em! BDE!” Hales calls from the bottom of the stairs. It’s sad that they’ve had so many problems we’ve codenamed them: Brooke-Dave Emergency. Em immediately runs down the stairs. It’s the only thing that will get her out of her wedding mode. We’ve moved Brooke to the couch in the den to tell us the story.
“He-he was saying,” Brooke sniffles, “that Mandy s-said that sh-she was feeling left out.”
“I swear I will kick that girl’s—” Penny starts out.
“Anyways, I told him that we’re still getting to know her,” Brooke continues. “He said we weren’t trying hard enough. He demanded that I move one of Jenny’s friends into the bridal party. I told him that I couldn’t. We don’t have that kind of budget.”
“And he got mad?!” I ask, shocked.
“He was upset. He said then I have to cut a bridesmaid so Trisha, Mandy’s friend, can be in the party.” We sit shock. Dave never would’ve said that a few months ago. He understands our relationship with each other. “I told him I couldn’t because I couldn’t cut Aly and I couldn’t let any of you go. You guys are my closest friends.”
“And he doesn’t understand that?” Hales asks angrily.
“He understands we’re friends. He just got mad that I don’t seem to understand that he has friends and family too. And I quote ‘my friends are just as important and, if you can’t comprehend that, maybe I’m not important enough to you either.’”
As we sit in stony silence, I can feel the tension in the room. While we’re angry, we’re not shocked. Dave’s become so different lately that we knew he would go overboard. We knew he was going to break Brooke. She hasn’t completely cracked yet, but if Dave does something like, oh, I don’t know, call off the wedding, she might get worse than any of us could ever imagine. It was time for an intervention.
"Brooke, I don't know if it's worth it," I tell her cautiously.
"What do you mean?"
"It's just that," Penny begins, "Dave hasn't been that great of a person lately."
"So?" Brooke asks confused. "It's not like you and Chase have the easiest thing relationship ever."
"What she means is," Jaime interrupts, casting a sidelong glance at Penny who's about to explode. "Dave’s been kind of a jerk lately. Especially to you."
“No, he hasn’t,” Brooke failingly tries to assure us. “He’s been perfectly reasonable. He’s just stressed because of the wedding.”
“He shouldn’t be stressed because of the wedding. He asked you to be his wife, nobody forced him,” Em reminds her.
“No one wants to see you hurt,” Hales sympathizes. “We don’t want you to be unhappy.”
“But I am happy!” Brooke exclaims. She sighs and goes on, “Dave’s just been upset. He’s not used to all this romantic stuff. Plus, Mandy is a pain. He knows that but doesn’t want any family drama.”

“Family drama?” I ask. “He’s putting your day after family drama?! Lots of couples deal with someone being unhappy! The people who are supposed to be happy are the couple!”

“But you know how important his family is to him!”

“You should be more important!” Jamie retorts.
A silence falls over us as Brooke lets the truth sink in. “I should?” We groan. It’s unrealistic trying to get through to her. I mean, we love it when she takes time out of what she’s doing to make us happy, but enough is enough. She needs to stop being a martyr and stand up for herself.
“Yeah, you should,” I answer. “Listen, Brooke. I know you love him. There’s no doubt of that. You guys are destined to be together. No one’s saying you need to call of the wedding or do something drastic. We’re just saying that you have to be in charge of yourself. You need to stand up to him and tell him what you want. It’s okay to go a little bridezilla. You have to tell him that you can’t put Trisha in the wedding. If he can’t wrap his head around the fact that you will not put this random girl in the wedding because there’s not enough money and you are not going to put a stranger over your closest friends in your wedding, then he doesn’t deserve you. It takes love to start a marriage. It takes more than love to make it last.”
“It takes communication to keep a relationship healthy,” Hales tells her, “at least, that’s what my middle school health teacher always said. Communication and love are the keys to a successful marriage.”
“And you’re the one he loves. You’re the one he’s marrying. You’re the one who’s going to be his family! NOT Mandy!” Em adds.

“Brooke. Just tell it to him as it is. You’re not having this random chick in your wedding,” Penny tells her.

“Yeah. I’m not. I don’t know her. And it’s my day. I should be the one who gets to be happy.”
Oh, thank you, Lord!
“But… ”
Wait, never mind.
“When should I tell him?”
Yeah, that “thank you” I took back? Here it is!

“As soon as possible!” Em tells her encouragement.

“Can it hold off until after lunch?” Jaime asks cautiously. When we give her indignant looks, she goes on, “What? I haven’t had quality time with Luke in a while. Wait until later tonight or tomorrow, when you’re, you know, alone.”

“As much as I hate for you to put it off, maybe you should wait until tomorrow or even the end of the weekend.” It has come into my mind that Scott is proposing tonight and this could be a slight turn off for Hales.
Catching on, Penny adds, “Yeah! End of the weekend! Do it then!” She proceeds to wink at me. It’s a really good thing Hales was paying attention to Brooke and Brooke wouldn’t notice the obviousness of Penny’s eye issues. The only one who doesn’t know about Scott’s plan, well other than Hales, is Brooke. We love her, but she wouldn’t be able to keep this from Hayley.

“You honestly think I should wait that long?” she asks, surprised.

“Uh, yeah. This way you have time to cool off. Dave can realize when he’s alone how much you mean to him,” Em supplies.

Brooke nods at that logic. “Okay, I’ll do it then. So what should I say in the meantime?”

“Just tell him that you’re thinking about it. That it’s a big decision and that you need to figure out budgets and things like that,” Hales suggests.

“Exactly. Brooke, all that matters in the end is that you’re happy,” Jaime tells her.

We hear the front door close. “You can do this,” I assure her. A sullen Dave walks into the room. “We’ll catch up with you guys later,” I say. We leave, letting Brooke do what she’s always needed to.

Leaving Brooke in the house and everyone else, Scott, Hales, Jake, and I headed out for a fun afternoon. We took the guys to all the fun spots in town. We ate lunch at a café, went shopping, and headed down to the beach. When we got back around six, Brooke and Dave were talking in her and Em’s bedroom.
“Are we clearing out?” I ask Jaime when I notice the locked bedroom door and the frustrated voices behind it.
“Yeah, we’re changing and leaving.”
“Ugh, I need my clothes,” Em whines.
“Just borrow something of mine,” Penny tells her. “They need to solve their problems.”
“I wonder what’s going on in there,” I say.
Hales gives me a devilish grin. “Let’s find out.” The five of us crowd around the closed door trying to hear what they were saying. They were pretty boring, just talking about budgets. Then Mandy’s name came up.
“What’s going on?” Jake suddenly asks. Em lets out a small scream.
“Shh, we’re spying on Brooke and Dave,” I whisper. He raises his eyebrows; I shrug. I suddenly get a text. It’s from Brooke. “She can hear us and wants us to leave.”
“You have a loud whisper,” Hales tells me and laughs at my expression.
“Hmph, Em screamed,” I retorted.
Everyone parts ways, and Hales leaves Jake and me alone. “Mmm. This is the only alone time we’ve got all day.”
“I know,” he replies and kisses me. We remain in the embrace for a while until Jake pulls away. “We have to go.”
“Remind me why,” I whisper with my eyes still closed.
“Because your best friend and her future fiancée are waiting outside.”
“Right,” I sigh, “Scott. Proposing. Now. Let’s go.”
We ate at The Diner and had reached the end of dock overlooking the ocean when Scott decided it was time. He told me that he was going to make a movie reference. I didn’t realize it was going to be a Disney Channel movie so I was surprised when he says, “The beach looks so nice. Like in that movie with Sterling Knight I watched with Penny a few years ago. What was it called? Oh, Starstruck!”

I give him a look. “Uh, yeah. The beach does look pretty. Jake, can you take me there? Again?” I ask, somewhat stupidly I must admit. He gave me a weird look until I blinked my eyes knowingly so he got the message.

“Ahh. Yeah, sure. Let’s go,” he agrees. Hales knew enough to stay where she way. In her mind, she was probably thinking that I just wanted a romantic moment with Jake. If only she knew.

“So do you know how Scott’s proposing?” he asks me.

“No. Do you?”

“He wouldn’t tell me the whole story. Probably because I’d tell you.” He smiles at me and continues, “But I do know it has something to do with Chinese food.”

I laugh and say, “Well then he can’t go wrong.”
We sit in a content silence for a few minutes, just looking at the water. I’m leaning against him thinking about how great of a moment this is. He buries his face in my hair and whispers, “How did I end up here with someone as amazing as you?”
I smile at his sweetness. “Well, one day a man and a woman were very much in love. They got married and—”
“Oh, shut up!” he laughs. Then his face contorts in disgust, “Okay, that’s a disturbing mental picture.
“Sorry. But thanks. The real question is how this could get any better,” I murmur.
“It can’t,” he whispers and gives me a slow kiss. “You know what? I love you,” he tells me.
A smile forms on my face. “I love you, too.”
A sudden squeal erupts from the boardwalk. Jake chuckles. “Speaking of love…”
“We should go back to the house,” I say.
He grins at me. “You’re dying to know what happened.”
“Well, yes,” I admit. He laughs. “What? Hales is my best friend. Now come on!”
***

Hales rushes into the house. “Scott proposed!” she exclaims. A huge smile forms on my face as I give her a hug. The air is full of congratulations. As everything calms down, she collapses onto the couch and whispers in bewilderment, “I’m getting married.”
***

When we had left, Scott immediately got to the point. “Hales, I love you.”

“I love you, too,” she replied unfazed. She looked out to the water. “It’s beautiful isn’t it?”

“It is,” he told her. “Hales, I have a question for you.”

“Yeah?”

“Will you—will you open this fortune?”

“Okay?” she answered, confused. Scott took out a fortune cookie and gave it to her. Hales opened the fortune and immediately saw the Chinese word for love. Flipping it over, she began flipping out.

“Will you marry me?” she read in a whisper. She looked up it shock.

Scott was down on one knee and pulled out a ring. “Hayley Audrey Keller, will you marry me?” In the moment of surprise, she was speechless. Scott went into worry mode. “Hales, I know it’s sudden. I know we’ve only been going out for a year. I know you’re only twenty two. It doesn’t matter if you were twenty two or twenty seven. It wouldn’t matter if we dated for ten years. I know I love you. I know we can—”

“Scott,” she cut him off. “Yes!”
***

“Aww, Hales. It’s absolutely perfect. And there’s no way you would say no. After all, Chinese food is the key to your heart.”

“I know!” she gushes and laughs. “I’m so excited. There’s so much to do. Do you think we can handle three engaged girls in this house?”

I laugh. “Most definitely. As long as you don’t go completely bridezilla on us, that is.”

“Of course not,” she assures me, “that’s what Em’s for! Speaking of which, I obviously need bridesmaids and you guys are all going to be them of course. But I have a favor to ask.”

“Yeah, shoot.”

Hales smiles at me and asks, “Will you be my maid of honor?”

I gasp. “Oh, Hales.” I start tearing before I can give her my answer.

“No, Liz, don’t do this! Don’t cry,” she commands, tears springing into her own eyes.

“It’s just so sweet!” I tell her, laughing through my happy tears. “But isn’t it supposed to be Emma? Or if not her then Penny?”
“I know everyone thinks it’s going to be Emma because she’s my little sister, but she won’t mind. As for Penny, she’ll understand. It’s not like I’ll be her maid of honor just because I’m going to be her sister-in-law; it’ll be Jaime. You’re my best friend and I couldn’t have it any other way.”
“Of course I’ll be your maid of honor,” I agree. I laugh again and tell her, “You realize now that you’re going to be related to Em and Penny.”
“Oh, joy,” she says dryly. She sighs a happy sigh. “But it’s worth it. Scott’s everything I could ask for and more. I love him. And no matter what I told Brooke, for me, that’s all that matters.”

It is raining the next afternoon. We try to get the guys to stay until it clears up, but they have work in the morning, and we are being forced to give our very sullen goodbyes. Jake gives me one last kiss before running into the storm while I half heartedly wave.

I sigh as I plop down on the couch in the den. “This is insane,” I complain. “We’re acting like a bunch of lovesick, dependent girls who can’t live without a guy in their life and have nothing better to do on a rainy day than sit around and mope.”

“Ahem. I believe you got together with Jake on a rainy day like this one,” Hales reminds me.

“Not really. He just found me crying in my car.”

“But I thought you met him before your junior year,” Brooke says, confused.

“Yeah, I met him the summer before freshman year.”

Jaime smiles at me. “You met him at our barbeque.”

Slowly, a big smile grows on my face as I remember that day. “Uh oh,” Penny groans. “Here she goes again.”
Jaime introduced us the summer I turned fourteen, and I fell head over heels for Jake. I still remember the minute I met Jake. It was at a Fourth of July barbeque at Jaime and Hales’s house.
“Hello?” I walked into the house while Mrs. Keller was talking to my mom outside.
“Hey!” Chelsea, a friend of ours, said.
“Hey. Where’s Hales? She’s not answering her texts.”
“She’s in her room,” a new voice said. I turned to the screen door that was closing. There, basking in the summer evening light was a very hot boy. I tried to absorb it all in, the tanned skin, wiry body, brunette hair, and twinkling green eyes.
“In her room?” I managed out while trying not to let my jaw drop.
“Yeah, I think,” this random, gorgeous guy I’ve never seen before said.
“Hey, Jake, where are those—” Jaime came in, shaking me out of the trance I was in. “Oh, hi, Liz.”
“I’m going to go find Hales,” I said and walked away dazed. Jake, Jake, Jake. So this is Jake. This is Jake, from North Carolina but moved to Florida. This is Jake, Chelsea’s cousin. This is Jake, who I’ve heard so much about from old stories but never in a million years thought would I meet. This is Jake, who Hales was accurate in saying was good looking.
I walked into her room. “Oh, my God. I met Jake.”
She laughed at the goofy grin on my face. “He’s hot.”
“He is BEYOND hot! He’s beautiful. He’s absolutely gorgeous.”
“And get this, he’s nice too.”
“Then let’s get outside!” I told her. She just shook her head and walked outside with me.
I was talking to Emma outside when I suddenly heard Jake scream, “LIZ!” I turned to see Jaime, Chelsea, and Jake laughing. I rolled my eyes and my faith in Jake faltered. If he’s going to be one of those guys that pointlessly scream your name, then he’s not worth it.
A little while later I went to where they were standing. Jake turned to me and apologized, “I’m sorry for screaming your name. Chelsea made me do it!”
I smiled stupidly and went, “Oh, it’s okay.”
“Liz, this is Jake. He’s Chelsea’s cousin,” Jaime introduced us. “Jake, Liz.”
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I replied.
The rest of that evening was pretty much devoted to making sure I got noticed while not looking like a stalker. When he’d go to get a drink, I would walk on the other side of the yard to get to the table. I’d talk to people who were near where he was standing. Though Jake said hi in passing, he made no effort to actually talk to me. But under the fireworks of a nearby park, I’d catch his eye and offered a small smile and, when he smiled back, let myself be filled with the slightest drop of hope.
That drop of hope was followed by others over the next month as we spent more time together. There was always some event planned that brought us into the same place at the same time. The day that really stands out was the Wednesday before my birthday.
“So, Liz, how much do you hate nursing homes?” Jaime asked me as she stirred the iced tea.
I groaned as Hales recited what I’ve had told her about my first volunteer job. “Waking up at 6:45 to go to a place where old ladies are named Buddha.”
“Not great,” I summarized while I grabbed a cookie from their kitchen.
“Are you old enough to volunteer?” Jake asked confused.
“Yeah, I’m fourteen. Well, I will be this weekend. My birthday’s August 15th, this Sunday.”
“Oh, well then happy birthday!”
I risk sounding weird and told him, “Tell me Friday.”
He just smiles. “Well in case I forget, happy early birthday.”
By the time Friday rolled around, I was ready to burst with excitement. The Kellers planned a picnic for us kids and invited all of their kids’ friends. We were packing up and, happening to see Jake folding a picnic blanket alone, I dragged Hales over to him with me to help him.
“Hey,” I said grabbing the other end of the picnic blanket.
“Hey,” he smiled. “Oh, happy birthday!”
Do you know that feeling when think you’re glowing with joy? I had that moment right there. “Oh, thanks,” I replied having genuinely forgotten that I told him to tell me happy birthday.
Even though I was happy that day, it was suddenly gone. Jake and his sister, Jessica, had gone back to Florida. For a while I liked him. Eventually, I just gave up. I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again or if he’d even remember me. Like a candle that’s blown out, my hope was gone.
It had been the last day of spring break when I heard Jaime say, “Jess and Jake came,” to her parents. I froze on their stairs and just looked at Hales. We made our way to her room, closed the door, and jumped up and down and squealed like you see in the movies. We squealed over a guy. This was intense. I only got a few glimpses of him that night, but hope revived. For some reason, just seeing him made me happier. I went to school on the Monday morning after spring break and smiled at 7:15. All day, no matter what anyone said, I was happy. It was weird.
That’s how it went on for the next year. I’d see him once in a while for breaks, I’d talk to him a little bit, and I’d be happy. I figured it was just hormones and gave up on liking him. Imagine my surprise when I found out that he was moving back the summer before his senior year started. I was dating this guy at the time so it didn’t really matter to me.
Of course the guy I was dating was a total jerk. He dumped me for his ex-girlfriend two weeks before school started. What a way to start junior year. The day Derek dumped me was a rainy day. I was driving home when I couldn’t distinguish between tears and rain. I pulled into a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot and just cried.
I heard someone tapping on my window and saw Jake. “Hey, you okay?” he asked when I unlocked the door. “This isn’t the Liz I’ve talked to this summer.”
“No,” I stated. “Derek dumped me. For his ex.”
“That sucks.”
“You think?” I replied bitterly. He looked down at the untouched iced latte and coffee cake in his hands and handed them to me. “No,” I told him, “it’s yours. Sorry for bothering you.”
“Liz, it’s fine. Take it. I’ll just go get another one,” he said while opening his eyes
“Jake,” I called out but he still ran out. I sat there, sipping my coffee, and realized that I was in a car with a very hot guy. How long does a girl have to wait before she likes a guy without it being a rebound? Is there a shorter time if you used to like the guy? Does Jake even like me that way? I pondered all this while waiting for him.
“I don’t think a parking lot is the greatest place ever. And let me drive; you’re not exactly a designated driver right now,” Jake said. When we got on the main road, he asked, “So, I’m not good with this whole breakup thing; Jess doesn’t tell me about these things.”
“Distract me,” I ordered him.
“Uhh, school?”

“One, it’s summer. Two, that’s not a distraction.”
“Fine.” He stops talking to think of something. “Do you remember the summer we met?”
I laughed. “Yeah. I sounded like an absolute idiot. An introvert and an idiot.”
“No, I did,” he corrected me.
“How?”
“I barely spoke two words to you the night we met. I wanted to say something but I couldn’t think of anything to say to a pretty girl.”
I gave him a good look. “Huh. I thought you said you didn’t know how to cheer up a girl.” He just smiled.
We spent more and more time together over the few months, and I remembered why I liked Jake in the first place. He can be sweet, sarcastic, and funny all at the same time. Even though we weren’t that close before, he listened to me when I vented about the weirdest things. He also told me when I was being stupid.
Soon, I realized that I liked Jake more than I knew possible. That smiling at 7:15 in the morning feeling came back because I realized that, no matter how early it was, I would see Jake. I never believed for a second that Jake liked me back. Why would a gorgeous senior like a random junior? Then again I was a dancer, I’m not that ugly, and we were friends. That’s beside the point. I had butterflies and those inexplicable skipped heartbeats.
Since I was so sure Jake didn’t like me, you can imagine how surprised I was when he kissed me. You read that correctly. It was a few weeks before prom. I was at my locker getting books just like any other morning. I saw Jake and waved. Just as I said, “Hey!” he kissed me. Didn’t say anything. Just walked up to me and kissed me. Then he walked away without a word.
“Did he—” I started asking.
“Was that—” Hales began. I turn to her confused and dazed. “I think Jake just kissed you.”
“Jake just kissed me,” I whispered in awe. Then I squealed.
That night was this annual showcase for charity. People would sing and dance, and all the money raised from the tickets would go to charity. We had a dance company in our school made up of different dance teams and most of the teams were performing. Jaime’s and my team just performed when the MC, who happened to be Jake, called me back on stage. “Everyone give it up for Liz who I know happened to have coordinated most of that last number!” I just rolled my eyes as Jake gave me one of his classic grins. Once the clapping died down, Jake asked, “So, Liz, will you go to prom with me?” I was beyond speechless. The room exploded with cheers. I glance at Hales, Penny, and Jaime on the side with huge smiles on their faces. I nod with a bigger smile on my face, and Jake hugs me.
Jake and I went to prom together and we’ve been together ever since. We’ve fought. Not a lot and not for long. We’ve had our fair share of issues. I used to think it was just hormones. It didn’t take long after prom to realize it wasn’t just hormones. I am completely and totally in love with Jake. And that’s how it’s going to stay.

“I still don’t get the chocolate taco thing!” I laugh with Hales, Jake, and Scott the next weekend. When we walk in after an afternoon of shopping, we find Penny pacing in the living room. “Hey, Penny, what’s wrong?” I ask without worry. “You look like you did that time you failed your AP Bio test.”

“This is kinda worse than that,” she tells us.

“What do you mean?” Scott asks with more concern.

She runs her hand through her hair and sighs. “You need to sit down.” She sits down next to Chase. He puts his arm around her, and they both put on a brave face. “I don’t know how to tell you this.”

“Penny, just say it. It can’t be that bad,” Hales assures her.

Penny takes a deep breath. “Okay, then. Chase and I are married.” The four of us are in shocked. Jake’s eyes widen. I open my mouth to say something but I’m speechless; I just give them a confused look. Hales’s eyes fly to Scott. Scott is hyperventilating.

His breath comes out shaky. In a furious voice, he asks, “You what?” He stands up. “You did what?”

In a small voice, his innocent baby sister says, “We got married.” Scott is shaking. Hales stands up to attempt to calm him down.

“Dude, run,” Jake commands Chase. Chase and Penny stand up too. Everyone else walks into the room.

Jaime sees what’s happening and immediately goes, “You told him.”

“Wait, you knew?” I ask shocked.

“Knew what?” a clueless Keith wonders aloud.

Jaime tells him, “Chase and Penny got married.”

“Dude, why?” Luke asks almost disgustedly.

Wait, what?

“Do you have a problem with long term relationships or commitments in general?” Jaime snaps.
Well, there’s my answer.

“I just don’t think there was a need for them to rush,” Luke retorts.

Scott throws his hands in the air. “Okay, this is crazy. I’m outta here.”

“Wait,” Penny cries. “That’s not it.”

Scott’s blank face looks at a near stranger. “What more could go wrong?”

She bites her lip and closes her eyes. “I’m pregnant.”
And that’s when Scott broke. Chase’s nose came close to breaking when Scott’s fist collided with it. That’s right. Scott attacked Penny’s boyfr—husband. Penny claps her hand over her mouth and tears spring into her eyes. I hug her while Jake pushes Scott out of the room. Chase goes to the bathroom with Luke and Keith to clean up his nose
“What?!” Jaime and Em shout simultaneously. Em goes on, “You. Are. PREGNANT?!”
“And you didn’t tell me?! You, butthead!” Jaime cries until she sees Penny’s face. “Oh, sorry.”
“You didn’t tell anyone but Chase you were pregnant?” I ask in confusion.
“Yeah,” she sighs. “I wanted Scott to be the first to know.”
“I knew you got married, but pregnant?! You left out that detail?!” Jaime goes on.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell us you got married!” Hales tells her.
“Why should she?” Jaime snaps.
“Maybe we could’ve stopped this. At least we would know what we would’ve been up against with Scott,” Hales replies sharply. That shut Jaime up.
“C’mon,” I gently nudge Hales out of the room before anything else can happen, “we should check on Scott.”
“I can’t believe they got married,” Hales whispers once we’re out of the room. “They’re the always breaking up couple.”
“I know,” I let out a tired sigh. “But no matter what happens, we have to support her. Scott will come around eventually but even now you have to side with Penny.”
“Liz,” she starts, but I cut her off.
“He’ll thank you for it later. Yes, we get where he’s coming from. Yes, we think this is sort of insane. And yes, we don’t know what came first the baby or the wedding. But in the end it’s Penny. She’s going to need us. You know what she’s like underneath the sarcasm and toughness. She’s going to need compassion. More importantly, she’s going to need her big brother. There’s no one better to bring him around than you. Penny needs Scott and she needs you to bring him around. He’ll get over it and he’s going to need you to do that. There’s no one else he’ll listen to right now.”

We walk into the room, and Hales sits next to Scott. “It’s going to be okay,” she assures him.

“No, it’s not,” he replies. Scott turns to look at her. “She got married. She’s pregnant.”

“She’s got married; she’s not dying,” Jake tells him.

“Why did she do something so stupid? How are they going to raise a family? How are they going to stay together? They break up every other week!”

“Therapy,” I tell Scott. “That’s how they’ll get through. Chase is smart; he’ll get a good job. Penny’s an amazing business person; she’ll start an amazing bakery.”

He looks at me doubtfully. “How can you be so sure?”

“Because it’s Penny and Chase. They’re more responsible than we all realize.”
“Scott,” Hales says, “do you remember when they started going out?”
“It’s a bit hazy,” Scott mutters.
Jake snorts. “I remember it clear as day. You almost attacked Chase like—well, like you attacked him now.”
We all remembered that day very well. The day Chase got the nerve to tell Scott he liked Penny was a few months before Scott and Hales started going out. The difference between the guys and us are that they’re less separated. Even though we’re attached at the hip, it’s clear whose best friend is whose. With the guys, they’re all just friends. But Scott, Jake, and Chase are like brothers. Chase knows how protective Scott is of Penny. He punched his best friend in the face for marrying his little sister and getting her pregnant. Luckily, he didn’t do the same when Chase asked Penny out. He came close but he didn’t do it. Scott’s a really sweet person except when you mess with him. And liking his baby sister is definitely messing with him. Chase was so scared when he told Scott. Actually, all of us were scared for him. Nonetheless, he dealt with the fact that Scott was going to be furious because he really likes Penny.
“Scott, can I ask you something?” Chase asked four years ago with fear in his voice.
“Yeah?” he replied confused.
“I like Penny,” Chase told him quietly hanging his head so his black mane falling in front of his dark brown eyes. We held our breath as we sat outside the door. There’s no way our group could’ve missed a moment like this.
“What?” Scott asked in shock. His friend liking his baby sister? Not cool.
“I like Penny.” He picked his head up with confidence. “And I’m going to ask her out. With or without your permission. It’s her decision to date me not yours. And I respect you because you’re my friend but I want to do this. And I’m going to do this. Actually, I already did. I just wanted you to be okay with it before she said yes. We didn’t want to put you in an awkward position. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t go out.”
Jake eyed both of them. “Scott, don’t hurt him. He has the right to ask Penny out.” Scott narrowed his eyes.
“I do have the right,” Chase reminded him. “I will never hurt her.”
“Scott, he knew you were going to be beyond mad. He still told you,” I remind him. “He fought for Penny then. You’re more scary than a pregnancy.”
Hales adds, “Yeah. If he had the nerve to go out with her even though you’re one of his best friends, you have to know he cares about her.”
“But they’re not ready,” Scott argues. “This is insane. They didn’t think it through.”
We go back and forth like this. Scott will provide some excuse why this is a terrible idea and the three of us will refute it. Eventually, Hales got fed up. “This is crazy. You’re acting like a baby!”

“What?”

“Scott, I love you. We’re engaged. But you don’t see Penny getting into a catfight with me. Em and Penny weren’t exactly our biggest supporters but they kept their mouths shut and got over it. Yeah, Penny and Chase fight a lot, but they love each other. They’ll find a way to make it work. We have a less likely chance to last. You’re my big sister’s best friend’s big brother, for crying out loud! Honestly, just get over it. ‘Cause I’m not putting up with it.” And she walked out. Hayley Fields, my best friend who is insanely in love with Scott Strauss, stormed out of the room. I don’t think she’s ever stormed out on him.

“Oh, my God,” I say in shock. I don’t even know if I should follow her that’s how confused I am.

“She’s right,” Jake tells him.

“She’s serious when she says she’s not going to put up with it. And you basically just told her that you’re relationship isn’t realistic or logical. Which, technically, it’s not. But you told her that you don’t believe in you guys. And that was a big mistake,” I say. He looks at me with a look that makes me realize he knows that. “Well, go after her.”

While we watch them make up, I can’t help but be happy Jake and I don’t have to deal with this stuff. I can’t even remember the last time we had a fight. We don’t deal with all the drama and we have it pretty easy. And I like it that way.

“You ready?” Jake asks, sticking his head into my room.

“Almost,” I reply, putting on a final coat of lip gloss. He’s about to leave when I remember what I needed to ask him. “Oh question. What was up with J. Luke?”

“What do you mean?”

“Their weird hostility from when Penny told us. They were having issues.”

He shrugs. “No idea. On the way here, Luke was excited. Now he’s pissed off.” Jake gives me a knowing look. “You want to find out.”

“Well—”

“I’ll go find Luke and find out his side,” Jake tells me. I smile.

“Hey, Jaime,” I say when I find her. “What’s up?”

She takes one look at me and knows I’m not wearing mascara to talk to her. “You want to know what happened to Luke and me today.”

“Yeah, basically,” I admit. “This morning you guys were fine.”

“Well, it was all a blur really—”

“J,” I say in a knowing tone.

“Fiiine,” she sighs. “If you really must know, Lucas does not want to get married. Ever.”

I stare at her in disbelief. “Luke doesn’t want to get married? But you guys are engaged to be engaged.”

“Apparently, that was as serious as it’s ever going to get.”

“And he told you he never wants to get married?” I ask skeptically.

She pauses. “Well, he didn’t say those words exactly.” I raise my eyebrow. “He just said he doesn’t want to get married in the near future.”

“But I thought that was the point of the whole engaged to be engaged thing. You guys are holding out until Luke gets back.”

“Near future is defined as the few years not the next few months.”

I widen my eyes. “Oh.”

“Yeah. It doesn’t take that long to become orthodontist.”
“I know. Wait, I’m so confused. What happened?”
Jaime sighs. “We were walking and talking about Hales and Scott. I simply said that they might not even get married soon and that it might be a long engagement. I might have added how it’s a pretty good idea.”
“And?” I prompt.
“He said he doesn’t want to rush into anything,” she tells me flatly.
“Oh. Isn’t that a good thing though? This way he’s beyond sincere.”
“That’s what I thought,” Jaime explains. “I was fine and asked if he would think we were rushing into things in a year or so. He snorted.”

“WHHAAAT?” I exclaim.
“Mhmm.” She nods. “He said that not anytime soon. Not in the next few years it seems.”
I sit in silence for a moment, not sure what to say. “I—” my voice falters. “I honestly don’t know. I mean Jake and I have talked before but not recently. I guess you have to just wait and see.”
“Uhm, I might not get that option. I kinda told Luke that what he said was crazy.”
“J!”
“I know, I know. I guess I was upset. I knew Hales was getting engaged and I’m happy for her. It’s just that she’s my little sister! I’m supposed to get married first. I don’t resent her and I’m not mad at her. I’m just upset because I always assumed Luke and I had a future together but it turns out we don’t.”
I sigh in a lack for words. “I have no advice. I’ve never heard anyone outright say that they want to be with a person but never marry them. Except on that one episode of What I Like About You. I’m pretty sure the girl almost got a tattoo afterwards so I’m not depending on that.”
A tear falls from Jaime’s eyes.

“But you guys are J. Luke!”

“Not anymore,” she replies sadly.

I can’t believe this. This is only slightly less shocking than Penny being married and pregnant. Jaime and Luke are the couple that everyone saw coming. They were such good friends ever since we were little and no one was surprised when they got together. The only shocking part was the fact that they didn’t tell anyone they were going out.

Penny, Hales, and I were going to a movie in the fall of my junior year. Of course we didn’t check the times and ended up getting to the theater half an hour after the movie started. Not wanting to see something else or wait for the next show, we decided to rent a movie and head back to Hales’s house to watch it. The house was quiet because everyone else was gone, and Jaime was studying. Or so we thought. When we went to their family room where the TV is, we found Jaime and Luke making out.

“Awwwkwaaard,” Penny said when Hales turned on the lights.

“Uh, I gotta go,” Luke mumbled when he realized they weren’t alone.

“Yeah,” Jaime agreed as she ran her hand through her hair.

When he left, Penny turned to her best friend and went, “Spill.”

“We’ve kinda been going out for a few weeks.”

“And you didn’t tell us?” I asked in shock.

“Yeah. We didn’t really know how to tell everyone.”

“Is it really so difficult to say ‘by the way guys, Luke and I are going out!’?” Hales retorted.

“Well, we were going to tell you before things got really serious!”

“It looked like things were getting serious tonight,” I teased while ducking from the pillow she threw.
So Jaime and Luke are the couple that was meant to be from birth practically. They were voted cutest couple and prom king and queen. They are the power couple. Even their looks complement each other. While Jaime is more dark, with her dark brown curls and amber eyes, Luke is more light, with sandy blonde hair and blue eyes. Sometimes, it’s like they’re night and day.
As for calling them J. Luke, that’s thanks to Scott. We used to call Jaime “J.” We’ve done it since we were little. Eventually, she got tired of us calling her that and forced us to use her real name. Now we call her that in passing or when she’s upset. Luke’s real name is Lucas. The only time anyone calls him that is when someone’s mad at him.
One day we were about to leave Penny and Hales called out, “J, Luke, we’re going!”
Scott was in the kitchen with us and remarked, “That’s a character on One Tree Hill.”
“Jaime is one of my favorite characters! Jackson Brundage is super cute,” I say. “But that’s funny. They call him J. Luke a lot on the show.”
“That would be the CUTEST couple name for Jaime and Luke!” Penny squealed.
Jaime suddenly sniffles, shaking me out of the memory. “I can’t do this, Liz. Be without him. That’s why I wanted to know. I could say it was just to make sure I wasn’t wasting my time. The reality is that I can’t bear to think of a life without him.”
“I get it, Jaime.”
“No offense, Liz, but it’s not the same with you and Jake. I know you guys are in love. But you lived the first fourteen years of your life without meeting him. I’ve known Luke since day one practically. He was one of my closest friends. I honestly don’t know a life where he’s not in it.”
Right then, I understand why this matters so much to Jaime. “It’s not that you need to get married. It’s the need to know he’s always going to be there.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” she agrees. “He never really had a choice before, you know? Either we were together as friends because we went to school together or our parents were close friends. Then when we started going out, he was around. And even when he went away to school, he would have to come back home eventually. But now, he’s free to go wherever he wants. That doesn’t mean I’m going to be there.”
“J, he’s never going to leave you. He may not want to get married now but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to be with you forever.”
“The thing is, Liz,” she replies, “I need to know. I can’t know for sure.”
I have no more words for her. I just hug Jaime in silence while pondering everything she told me. She needs to see a commitment that’s been written in invisible ink. Luke and Jaime know they’re going to be together forever, but, unless there’s a ring, I don’t know how long forever is going to last.
***
I find Jake in his room a little while later. “Sorry we didn’t go out.”
He gives me a half smile. “No big deal. The movie looked good but I’m used to it.”
I feel even worse when he says that. “How about we watch a movie here? We still have some movies from movie night, and they have a few movies. We have The Notebook!”
He laughs a little. “Liz, you can’t Notebook me. I’ve seen that episode of One Tree Hill with you.”
“Hmph.” I give him a look. “Who says I’m trying to Notebook you?”
He grins. “Because you’ve done a million times. I know the signs by now yet I still fall for it. We’ll miss something, you’ll feel bad, and then you give me that look. It’s all hopeful and sweet. And I can’t resist it.”
He leans in and kisses me. I smile with my eyes closed. “Mmm. Are you willing to not resist it one more time?”
“Yes.” We go to the den and watch one of the most amazing love stories ever. Jake whispers along with Ryan Gosling, “So it's not gonna be easy. It's gonna be really hard. We're gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever, you and me, every day.” I’m crying even more than Rachel McAdams because both Ryan Gosling and Jake are saying it. Jake chuckles softly, knowing my reaction to his quoting. If there’s any movie that can make me cry, it’s this one.
Throughout the movie, I keep thinking of how Jake said those words. He said it with such sincerity and honesty. He said it with conviction. He said it with love. Jake doesn’t mind staying home and watching a sappy love story. He doesn’t care that we didn’t go out and instead are watching The Notebook yet again. Jake gets that I help my friends. At least, he gets it for now.

“Dave’s coming tomorrow,” Brooke tells us a few days later.

“What?” Jaime and Em yell at the same time.

“Dave said he wanted to talk and that he’s coming here,” she says gravely.

“Oh, Brooke,” is all I can say to her.

When Brooke insisted that Trisha could not be in the wedding, Dave just left again. He called her the next day. Dave told her once again to put Trisha in the wedding. She refused. He told her that he thought she was insane. She asked why. He said that he couldn’t believe that his fiancée is excluding his family and his friends. He said he was questioning his choice to ask her to marry him. Needless to say, Brooke is heartbroken.

“He doesn’t deserve you,” I tell her.

“That’s so clichéd,” Hales complains. “It’s like she’s some prize to be won, so to speak. Just say it like it is. He’s being jerk and if he’s not going to be the normal guy we thought he was, you shouldn’t be with him. But that’s your decision to make. For all we know, you could love him so much you’re willing to look past that.”

“Trust me, I don’t. I would if he was willing to even consider not putting Trisha in, but he’s not. So I’m done,” she says firmly. “I think.”
***

When Dave rings the door the next afternoon, we make sure Brooke doesn’t answer it. Then he can get her alone and charm himself back into her life. No, if he truly loves her, then he’s going to have to go through us first.

“Let me see her,” he commands.

Penny raises her eyebrow. “That may work with Brooke but don’t bother with us.”

He sighs frustrated. “I know I messed up, okay? Why can’t you get over it?”

My jaw drops. “Are you serious right now? Do you honestly think you’re right? How dare you tell us to get over it when you broke Brooke’s heart. Who do you think you are?”

He remains stoic. “I think I’m her fiancée.”

Em snorts. “Are you kidding me? You think? You don’t even have the decency to know whether or not you love her?”

Dave turns to her and, with a pleading voice says, “I do love her. I love her with all my heart.”

“Well, you have a funny way of showing it,” Hales accuses. “You force your cousin into the bridal party. You try to force your cousin’s friend into the wedding. Then, you tell Brooke that you don’t want to marry her. Yeah, you really love her.”

“I love her.”

“You need to stop saying that and start showing it,” Jaime tells him.

“So I’m not even allowed to tell my story?”

“No,” all of us say in unison.

“Yes,” Brooke says softly. We all turn to her. She looks like a mess but she looks like she’s holding her own, which is all that matters. “I need to know why you’re not the same man I’m in love with. It just seems like lately you’re not who I know.”

Everyone can see the pain in Dave’s eyes when Brooke says this. He’s one small step closer to redemption. “Brooke, I was just nervous.”

“Really? That’s all you’ve got?” she asks with contempt.

“No.” He looks down at his shoes in shame. “I-I spent a little too much time with Mandy before I became who I’m not.”

Brooke’s eyes widen in horror. “Define ‘spent a little too much time.’”

He sees her mortification. “Oh, no! Not like that! I just was talking to her about welcoming you into the family and all. Then she went on and on about married life. She said how it’s all blessed out at first but then it gets worse. After a few months, it’s just a routine; there’s no more love.

“I didn’t know how to digest that. I tried to assume she was lying. But soon these little gaps in her own marriage showed me that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Somehow, she managed to take her own pain and transfer it into my life. Next thing I know, I’m paranoid.”

“That doesn’t explain your behavior!” she reminds him.

“I can’t explain my own behavior. I just figured that if I didn’t get caught up in all the details, I wouldn’t care as much if our marriage fell apart.”

Her eyes widen again. “So our marriage would fall apart? And you wouldn’t care? And the actual wedding is all that matters?”

Realizing he slipped, Dave tries to regain footing. “No, no, no! I’m not saying our marriage would’ve fallen apart! I’m not saying I wouldn’t care! I’m saying that maybe if we focused a little less on the wedding, we could focus more on our relationship.”

She gives him a caring look. “Dave, I wouldn’t care if we got married in a basement. I just want to be with you.” She pauses. “Bu-but I don’t know if I still can.”

“Brooke,” he says with smiling eyes, “don’t you remember when I first asked you out?”

“Of course,” she whispers with a small smile.

She was in her sophomore year at high school. Brooke ran into the room and told us, “Dave asked me out!”

“Who?” Hales asked confused.

“Dave! David Turner! In my English class!”

“The cute one?” Em asked with a grin.

Brooke rolled her eyes. “Yes, the cute one!”

“Well, what did you say?” Jaime asked.

Brooke looked down. She confessed, “I haven’t given him an answer yet.”

“Say yes!” Penny prompted.

“Yeah!” I agreed. “You liked the guy for the past few months. Just say yes!”

“Okay, okay!” Brooke laughed.
She said yes. It was funny, though. She was never sure about Dave. He was slightly headstrong but completely sweet. She didn’t want to fall too hard just to crash. However, with his white blonde hair and charming green eyes, there’s no way she could resist him. It didn’t take them long to fall in love. They’re high school sweethearts. The one thing no one can deny is that, at one point in their life, they were the Golden Couple.
“Brooke, you weren’t going to say yes then. You were too scared. You didn’t want to take that risk of falling in love. But you did. And now look, ten years later, we’re engaged. And no matter how rocky it may be, I will never give up on you. I will never let you say no. I will fight for you until you say yes or someone kills me!”
This is the Dave we know. The romantic Dave, who can use mere words to change Brooke’s mind. This is the Dave that really will fight for Brooke. This is the Dave Turner Brooke was meant to be with.
“I even told Mandy she couldn’t be in the wedding!” We stand there stricken. “What? I thought that’s what you wanted!” Brooke looks at him and starts laughing hysterically. “What is going on? What’s so funny?”
“Dave,” I say with a smile, “you can’t kick Mandy out. It’s too close to the wedding. Besides she already paid for her dress.”
“Oh.” His smile falls off his face. “Am I still in trouble?”
“No, Honey.” Brooke laughs and hugs him. “I believe you. We can’t put Trisha in the wedding, but Mandy will stay. And I don’t care whether or not she’s in the wedding. I just want you to make me happy.”
“Really?” Dave asks. Brooke nods with a smile and kisses him. He whispers into her ear, “Good. All I need is you. All I need is you, forever.”
Dave and Brooke really are the Golden Couple. Even when Dave screws up big time, Brooke finds it in her heart to forgive him. Even though she vowed she wouldn’t, she fell for Dave all over again. But Dave loves Brooke enough to realize his mistakes. The love they have for each other is unique. It makes them the people they are today. It makes them the people for each other.

“Why are you talking to me on while driving anyway? Em, you’re on the phone with the caterer too? Be careful! Fine, bye.” Brooke snaps her phone shut and rolls her eyes. “Em’s going to be late. Again.”
“What is taking her so long?” Jaime asks frustrated.

“What do you think?” I laugh. “Whatever store she went to was probably unsatisfactory so she went to five other ones before finding one that quote on quote respected her. Then she fell in love with it and spent the whole day there.”

“I know,” Jaime grumbles. “But she should be more aware of our needs!”

Penny rolls her eyes. “When has Em ever worked her schedule around someone else?” No one could think of a time. She goes on, “You would think she would show up on time to plan her own wedding, though. She did promise we would get a say in the bridesmaid dresses. She probably ‘forgot.’” Penny made air quotes.

“If she did forget, she probably picked out pretty dresses,” I try to ease Penny’s anger.

“It doesn’t matter,” she replies bitterly. “Even if she bought the most amazing bridesmaid dresses ever, it wouldn’t matter. Even if we really could just shorten it and wear it again, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that she follows through on her promise, which she most likely won’t. This is why I hate bridezillas.” We just stare at her. When Penny sees our shocked faces, she merely says, “I’m pregnant therefore hormonal therefore have the right to say whatever I want. It’s not my fault my sister has gone crazy.”

That’s when it hits me. Like I said before, even as kids we said Em would be the ultimate bridezilla. We said we wouldn’t go within a mile of her. We said we would feel bad for Penny. Except now that Em really is a bridezilla, we don’t feel bad for Penny. We haven’t sympathized with her. We’re dealing with Em now. But Penny will have to deal with her until her wedding.

“Pen, I’m so sorry,” I apologize. She gives me a questioning look. “You’re Em’s maid of honor. I don’t know how you’re going to do it! We should be more empathetic especially since you’re pregnant. Whenever you need to vent, we’re always here.” She gives me a grateful smile.

“Of course we’re here!” Hales agrees. “We’ve left you alone haven’t we? Come talk to me. This way I’ll know what not to do to Liz!”

“Please talk to her!” I laugh. “I can’t go through this one. She’s going to drive me insane.”

“Penny, there’s a reason I’m your best friend. I’m here to listen, not to judge,” Jaime adds.

“I would tell you to talk to me, but that would probably just turn me into a bridezilla too!” Brooke jokes.

Penny laughs. “Thanks you guys. I have a feeling I will be cashing in on those conversations very soon.”

“Speaking of soon, will Em be here in the next few minutes?” I ask.

“I think so. She said she was about ten minutes away when I called,” Brooke tells us.

“I guess she should be here soon. We should just order drinks right?” Hales asks. We agree and order our iced coffees as we wait for Em.

We’re sitting around talking when all of a sudden we hear a loud noise. “What was that?” I ask confused.

A distraught middle aged woman rushes into the café. “Someone got into a car accident! I already called 911. Does anyone know a girl with a black car and has reddish brownish hair?”

“You don’t think—” Penny starts.

“It’s a common description…” Jaime’s voice trails off.

“We should go check,” Hales decides worriedly.

I halt as we come to the scene. “No, no, no!” I whisper.

The damage is bad. The hoods of both cars have been completely destroyed. Em’s car crashed into a minivan. I see an unconscious woman in the front seat and tiny figures in the back. A baby is crying. Once the EMTs arrive, they pull out the two children, the same baby and a little boy who looks like he’s no more than seven years old. The scared child is dressed in a dirty, blue soccer uniform. As the EMTs pull out the injured woman, he cries out, “Mommy!”

I turn to see Em being pulled out. There’s blood coming out from a gash on her forehead. She doesn’t seem to be too mangled except for the cut and being unconscious. It breaks my heart to see Em, strong, resilient, impossible Em, to be in such a vulnerable state.

“Excuse me, Miss,” a police officer says to me. “Do you know this young woman?”

“Yeah, she’s our friend,” I tell him. “Her sister is right there.”

“Thank you,” he says and goes to talk to Penny.

“Wait,” I call out. He turns around. “Am I allowed to take things out of the car? I know she would be annoyed if we let her purse get taken away.” I give him a sheepish grin at the truth.

He gives me a slight smile. “Sure, go ahead. I hope your friend is okay.”

“Thank you,” I call out as I walk to Em’s door which was opened. I reach for her purse and see her phone on the floor. “That’s weird,” I mutter to myself. I grab it and notice that there’s a call in progress. It’s Em’s wedding planner. My eyes widen as I realize how Em probably got into the accident. Yes, she’s never been the best of drivers, but she’s never gotten into a serious accident because she’s focused on the road. I grimly press “End.” Em never gets into accidents because she always pays attention to the road. But what if she wasn’t paying attention?
***
“How is she?” Keith asks, rushing into the hospital waiting room a few hours later.
“She’s stable but unconscious. We’re just waiting for her to wake up,” Penny tells him and wearily leads him to Em’s room.
“Poor Keith. It’s so sad,” Brooke murmurs. Everyone nods.
Keith loves Em way too much for this to happen to them. I still remember how Keith asked Em out. Em has always been an independent type. She never needed anyone except her friends. Actually, she was pretty independent when it came to friends. Em was the type of girl who would rather have a few friends that she truly loved than a lot of friends who she never really trusted. Imagine being Keith and trying to ask a girl like Em out, a girl who hardly gives anyone the time of day and doesn’t pay much attention to you, not because she’s playing hard to get, but because she truly doesn’t care.

They met five years ago because Em’s cousin’s best friend’s big brother is Keith. One day, Em was babysitting her ten year old cousin, Josh. While Em didn’t really like kids when she was nineteen years old, Josh was one cute kid! So was his best friend, Matt, who happened to be Keith’s youngest brother. Even though Em always babysat Josh, she never babysat when Matt was there. Until that fateful winter afternoon, Em had never heard of Keith Walker.

There was a freak snowstorm outside but Keith still had to pick up his little brother. Em opened the door. “Uh, can I come in?” he asked.

Em narrowed her eyes. She was angry at this random guy who interrupted her reading. “I don’t know. Can you?”

Keith rolled his eyes. “May I come in?”

Em leaned against the door despite the cold air blowing inside. “Well, why should I let a complete stranger into my aunt’s house? For all I know, you could be a psychopath.”

Keith clenched his jaw. “Look. I’m Matt’s brother. It is freezing cold outside. Just let me in!”

“Fine.”
Keith couldn’t help but notice how pretty her blue eyes are when they flashed. He shook the snow out of his dirty blonde hair as he walks in along with the thought of liking this obnoxious girl. “So. Who are you? For all I know, you could be a crazy kidnapper,” he mocked as his light brown eyes twinkled.
Somehow, that was all it took to get Em hooked. Soon, Em was taking every opportunity to babysit Josh in case Matt was there too. The third time Keith saw Em, he asked her out. After got over being dumbfounded, she said yes. Keith wasn’t that nice. He was actually really mean. Except, he did it sarcastically. He was the guy version of Em. Everyone loved him despite the fact that he was always making fun of everyone. He just made you laugh. There was no way Em couldn’t fall for him.
I think the reason Em fell in love with him was the fact that he was a challenge for her. She loved everything about him, but he wasn’t scared of her. He didn’t put up with her demands. He didn’t go out of his way to please her. He was romantic, but she didn’t control him. She couldn’t control him. He wasn’t the weakling everyone thought Em would manipulate. We never expected the love of Em’s life to have such a backbone. Keith loves Em and he will do anything for her but he isn’t a doormat. It was that resistance that really captured Em’s heart.
Over the past five years, Em and Keith has become practically one person. They were perfect for each other. Completely and totally made for each other. The way they balanced each other was simply amazing. If Em was being rude, Keith evened it out by being nice and vice versa. They could both be sweet and kind yet obnoxious and cold but they were pieces of a puzzle, compensating for each other.
They don’t deserve to go through this. Nobody deserves to go through this pain. I sigh to myself, not wanting to think about Em being hurt or how she got hurt in the first place.
Penny runs. “She’s awake!”
***
“Em!” Brooke cries as she walks into the room. The room bursts into the noise of relieved friends. I stand off quietly, murmuring my gladness of her waking up. Brooke asks, “How did it happen?”
Em looks down. “I-I don’t really remember. I don’t have serious head trauma, but the doctor did say I might have slight amnesia and disorientation.” She’s looking at the ends of her hair as if searching for split ends. It’s the bright light that tells you she’s not saying the truth, but no one picks up on it now. I look away, not wanting to hear her lies.
I realize I need to confront Em alone. “Hey, guys, can you give me and Em two minutes alone? I need to talk to her.”
“Yeah, sure,” Hales agrees quizzically.
“Go,” Em whispers to Keith, and he kisses her before leaving. “So what do you want to talk to me about?”
“Em, how did the accident happen?”
“Liz, I already said—”
“Don’t give me that crap about amnesia. You and I both know that you weren’t completely focused on the road when you got into the accident.”
Em narrows her eyes at me. “Well, I would believe you except for the fact that, oh, right, you didn’t get in the accident!”
I narrowed my eyes back. I’ve known her too long to be intimidated by her façade. Em may mean it when she’s angry but that doesn’t mean she’s actually going to hurt you. “Yeah, but I did get your purse out of the car. I did pick up your phone. And I did notice that you were in the middle of a call with your wedding planner.”
Em’s face is wiped of the anger it once held. Now, it only possessed fear. “Liz, I-I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, you can start by asking about Evalynne.”
Regretfully, Em asks, “Who’s Evalynne?”
“Evalynne is,” I evenly tell her, “the woman you crashed into.” Em’s eyes widen. “Luckily, she’s okay. But she broke her right arm. Now, she can’t drive, cook, or hold her baby girl, Hope.”
Em looks down in disgrace. “I’m so sorry.”
I sigh. “I know. That’s why I recruited you to help her around for the next week until her husband gets back from a business trip.”
Em’s jaw drops. “How can you do—” Em stops protesting when I give her a death glare. She sighs. “I would be happy to help her.”
“Good. Now please explain to me why you were on the phone while driving in the first place.”
“I was talking to Laine,” she says.
I raise my eyebrow. “That’s an excuse not an explanation.”
“I’m freaking out, Liz,” Em confesses. “I need this wedding to be perfect. I need every single detail to work out the way it’s supposed to.”
“Why?” I ask in disbelief. “Why does it matter if everything isn’t exactly how you imagined it? What if everything isn’t perfect?”
Em refuses to look me in the eye. “Because what if it means Keith and I together aren’t perfect? What if it’s symbolic that we don’t belong together?”
“Is this what everything’s all about? This is why you’ve gone bridezilla on us?” Em nods. “Em, that is absolutely preposterous. It’s so messed up I used a word like preposterous!” She laughs slightly at that. “Em, Keith loves you and you love Keith. Nothing else matters.”
She looks up at me. “Nothing else does, does it?” I shake my head with a smile. “Good. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to be a bridezilla does it?”
I roll my eyes. “No, you can still be a bridezilla. Just don’t murder us!”
“I’ll think about it,” she tells me with a smile.
“Emily Strauss?” a woman calls faintly from the doorway.
I turn and see Evalynne. “Hi, Evalynne. This is Em.”
Em’s voice is full of remorse. “I should’ve paid more attention. Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine,” Evalynne says with a smile. “I’m just really grateful you’re willing to help me.”
“Why should you be grateful?” Em asks in shock. “It’s all my fault. I’ve been kind of out of it and crazy lately. But I’m working on changing that.” As I leave Em and Evalynne to talk alone, I have a good feeling Em really is going to work on changing.

“Hales,” Scott warns, “don’t take anything my cousin says too seriously.”
“Why?” Hales asks. We’ve heard a lot about their cousin and are waiting for her and her twin sister from Florida to arrive.
“Uh, well, she’s not exactly nice.”
Penny snorts. “She’s actually really mean. And cruel. And judgmental.
Scott gives her a look. “Penny, she’s your favorite cousin! She’s not that bad,” he assures Hales. “She’s just not supportive.”
“What exactly do you mean by not supportive?” I ask for Hales.
“She doesn’t like you,” Penny bluntly says.
“Penny!” Scott yells while hugging Hales whose eyes widen. “She doesn’t really like the age difference, marrying my baby sister’s best friend’s little sister thing. She doesn’t like Chase and Keith either.”
“But they like Hales the least. She’s more protective of Scott than I am,” Penny states with disgust. “And as for being my favorite cousin, she makes me look nice.”
“So what do I do when she starts insulting me?” Hales wails.
“Just ignore her,” Brooke suggests.
“Tell her off,” Jaime instructs.
“Pineapple,” I tell her. She gives me a confused look. “If you say pineapple, she’ll forget what she was talking about. When she remembers, the conversation would’ve moved on so she’ll look stupid if she brings it up again.”
Hales gives me a frustrated look. “That’s a great idea when someone’s about to sneeze. It would be great here, too, if I wouldn’t look stupid for randomly saying ‘pineapple.’”
“Oh, true.”
We continue giving Hales advice on how to deal with her future cousin when Em calls out, “They’re here!”
“Let the games begin,” Scott mutters under his breath. He plasters a fake smile on his face and opens the door.
“Scottie! Emmy! Penny!” a brunette squeals. I open my mouth, slightly confused at this girl’s outburst. She turns and sees Jake. I can’t help but notice how her eyes light up. “Jakie!”
Jake’s eyes widen. “Amber?” he asks uncomfortably. Wait, he knows her? I give him a death glare as she hugs him. When she finally lets go of him, he apologetically explains, “Amber and I dated, for a very short time, back when I lived in Florida.” He puts his arm around my shoulder, he tells Amber, “This is my girlfriend Liz.”
“Liz,” Amber repeats while sizing me up. “I think we’ve met before.”
“You came up here one summer,” Hales volunteers as she loops her arm through Scott’s.
“Yeah,” she absently agrees while giving me one last look. She asks, “And you are?”

Hales gives her a look and shows her ring. “Hayley, Scott’s fiancée.”

Amber’s eyes flash. “You’re Hayley.” Her expression goes from easily confident to unpleasantly surprised.

Hales smirks. “Yeah, I am.” Now Amber, with her blunt bangs and piercing blue eyes, could easily intimidate any girl. But she hasn’t gone up against Hales. Despite being the baby of the group, Hales doesn’t take crap from anyone. With their glaring standoff and the hatred radiating between me and Amber, you could cut the air with a knife. She hasn’t even met Chase yet.

“Hey, some help here?” a voice cries out. We turn to see a girl carrying bags in. She looks up and sees Jake. “Jake?”

I groan. “Don’t tell me you dated him too.” I instantly recognize the softer version of Amber. “Clara?”

“Liz?” Clara asks. Her face lights up when she realizes it’s me. “Hey! I haven’t seen you in forever!”

“I know!” I laugh and hug her.

“Wait, you two know each other?” Jake asks confused.

“Yeah! We used to come here to the house for summers with all our cousins but one year everyone decided to stay home,” Clara explains.

“You and Amber decided to come up here anyway to see Em and Penny!” I remember.

“I volunteered with Liz. I decided to not be a bum and get some volunteer hours in since Amber went back home to be with her new boyfriend. Who was it then?”

“Jake.” Amber smirks. Oh, this is awkward. “We were so in love and I never wanted to spend a minute away from him.” Oh, I really wish I could slap her right now. Jake shifts uncomfortably.

Clara gives her a confused look. “In love? Amber, you guys dated a few weeks before Jake got fed up with you.” Amber’s face darkens with embarrassment while I give Clara a grateful smile. “Anyways, who’s the girl that felt sorry enough to agree to marry my idiot of a cousin?”

Hales laughs. “That would be me.” Hales welcomes the hug from the nicer of the twins, and Scott lets out a breath of relief.

“Well, I would think Scott’s the stupid one,” Amber cuts in. The room quiets down in horror.

“Amber!” Scott says with reproach as we all stare at her in shock. Even Clara can’t find the words to put Amber in her place or excuse her. It takes all of Hales’ decency to not lash back.

“Aww, can’t poor Hayley baby think of a good enough response?” Amber taunts. Seeing our disgusted faces she just laughs, “Can’t you take a joke?

An awkward silence falls over us. I just want to get this slut away from my boyfriend and best friend before she can destroy them. Em has the same idea and suggests, “Why don’t you come see my color scheme?”

“Yeah,” Amber agrees absently. “I mean I can help you change the awful thing you must’ve picked out.” Em’s hands curl into fists and would’ve probably hit her if Keith hadn’t give her a look.

“Sure. I’m so incompetent,” Em agrees sarcastically.

“I know right?” Amber laughs with sincerity.
This girl is absolutely insane. She’s like a psychopath. Who talks to a family member like that, especially when they got into a car accident two weeks ago?

Hales and I are talking in our room a little later when Amber walks in and sits down on my bed. I have to burn the sheets when she leaves. She looks at me with contempt. “So you’re Jake’s new girlfriend.”

“Actually, we’ve been dating since the end of his senior year,” I correct her.

“Yeah, whatever. Jake’ll get bored. It’s a good thing I’m around to help him realize it.”

I narrow my eyes. “Okay, one, we’ve been dating for years. If he was going to get bored, it would’ve happened a long time ago. And two, I once punched a girl in the face when I was four and I’m really close to doing it again.”

“Oh, I’m so scared,” Amber taunts. I clench my jaw.
“Liz, calm down!” Hales tells me before I do something stupid.

Amber laughs at me. “Yeah, Liz, calm down. He’ll be in good hands, don’t worry!” My body tenses and I take a deep breath.

“I am in good hands, thank you very much,” Jake says walking into the room. He sits down next to me and gives me a kiss.
“Yeah, whatever,” Amber repeats with less conviction. I smirk at Amber’s frustration. She turns to Hales. “So what’s the deal with you and Scott? How did you con him into asking you out in the first place?”
“Excuse me?”
“Well, there’s no way he’d ask you out his own free will.”
“Why not?” I ask disgustedly.
“Because Hayley isn’t worth it.” We all give her an incredulous look. “What? Hayley, you know it’s true! No one in our family supports it.”
“That’s not true,” Clara refutes as she walks in. “I like Hales and I think it’s great they’re getting married.”
“You’re the only one.” Hales looks shocked at Amber’s revelation. “Even our parents think it’s a horrible idea. I mean you guys are three years apart. Sure, you grew up around each other, but Scott was like your big brother.”
“No, he wasn’t. Scott was rarely in the house when we were over there.”
“That doesn’t matter. You girls consider yourselves family. Liz, isn’t Hayley’s little sister like a sister to you too?”
I think about Emma for a second and reluctantly agree, “Yeah. But she was always with us.”
“Still,” Amber insists, “age is age. Whether he was like a brother to you or not, he’s old enough to be your brother.
“Okay this isn’t anything legit. You don’t like Scott and me together, fine, I don’t care,” Hales tells her while getting up to walk out.
“Well, you should. Didn’t Brooke’s fiancée get freaked out because of his cousin?” Hales freezes. My jaw drops.
“How do you know about that?” Hales asks quietly.
“Penny. She keeps me updated on all the drama in the house. That’s beside the point. The thing is Scott’s family. I used to be here all the time so if anyone can convince him to give up on this, it’s me.”
“What makes you think that?” We look to the doorway where Scott’s leaning with narrowed eyes. “What gave you any indication that anything you say can change my mind and the way I feel about Hales?”
Amber blushes but continues, “Grandpa.”
“Amber,” Clara cautions, “not now.”
“Amber, Clara, what does Grandpa have to do with any of this?”
“Scott, it’s no big deal. Forget about him,” Clara feebly tries to assure him. “Grandpa will be fine.”
“He’s going to disinherit you,” Amber states. A silence falls over the room.
Scott’s face is wiped of any emotion. “Fine. Let him disinherit me. Let him disown me, for all I care. Money’s not going to stop me.”
“Scott,” Clara reluctantly tells him, “it’s not just you. He was really mad about you getting married to someone he didn’t approve of. But he’s threatening to disinherit Em and Penny too.” Scott flinches slightly.
“The thing is,” Amber continues without empathy, “he doesn’t know Penny’s pregnant. He was so angry about you and Hales, so nobody told him about Penny.”
“Wait,” Hales cuts in, “why doesn’t your grandpa like me?”
Amber gets up and narrows her eyes at Scott. “Grandpa doesn’t like you because he doesn’t know you. Since he’s never met you, you can’t be perfect. Scott’s the first boy in the family so he deserves perfect. Grandpa had everything planned out. He had a perfect girl picked out at home. She’s a family friend. Grandpa was going to introduce you two the next time Scott came down to Florida. Grandpa never thought anything you two had was serious. He was so disappointed because Scott’s Grandpa’s favorite. At least, he was.” Amber spins around to glare at Hales. “And that’s thanks to you. Do you realize what you’ve done? This is all your fault!”
“Amber!” Clara cries
“You’re ruining Scott’s life!” Amber continues
“Amber, calm down!” Scott commands.
“You’re destroying everyone! Scott is better off without you!” Amber shouts.
“ENOUGH!” Penny appears at the door. Amber finally stops.
Amber looks vulnerable for the first time since she’s been here. “Penny, I—”
“No,” Hales interrupts Amber’s apology. “She’s right. Scott is better off without me.”
“Hales—” Scott starts.
“I can’t ask you to give up everything for me. I can’t ask you to give up for Em and Penny either. I have no right to do that. I can’t strip you of family approval. I know Liz told Brooke how family isn’t as important, but it does matter. Scott, I can’t let you do that.” Hales runs out of the room crying.
“Hayley!” Scott cries, but it’s no use.
Penny glares at Amber. “Get out!”
“Penny,” Amber responds with all sorrow gone, “even Hayley knows I’m right.”
“No, you’re not. Who are you to say who Scott is better off without? If anything he’s better off without you in his life. We all are.”
“But you of all people should understand. We’re close. You get it.”
“You know what I get? I get why I’m protective of Scott. I get why I wasn’t sure about Scott and Hales at first. I get that I know Scott. What I don’t get is why you think you have the right to tell him who he should be with. If anything, I should be the one who tells him that.”
“Yeah,” Scott agrees. “Wait, what?”
“Oh, relax,” she rolls her eyes with a smile, “I’m just kidding.” She turns back to Amber with contempt back in her eyes, “Now, leave.” Amber narrows her eyes and opens her mouth to refuse. “Amber, I’m serious. You obviously don’t understand that anything you say or do is going to change Scott’s mind. And don’t bother pulling the family card on me. Hales is my sister now. Even sister-in-law trumps cousin. When we were younger, we were protective of her. You were right in saying she’s family. So if you say one thing to her that you wouldn’t say to me, don’t bother talking to any of us. Good riddance.”
Amber purses her lips. “Fine. But if this is the last you want to hear of me, it’s the last you’ll hear of any of us.” She walks out of the room.
Clara gets up and gives Scott a hug. Apologetically, she assures, “It won’t be. I won’t let it. Grandpa will come around. Amber, not so much, but who really cares? You and Hales will be perfect together. I wish you all the best.”
“Thanks, Clara,” Scott replies. Clara waves as they leave. “Now, for Hales—”
“Scott, we’ll go.” Penny grabs my arm, and we leave the room. “Hales?” We go outside to find her on the deck.
“Are they gone?” she asks.
I nod. “Hales, what was up with that?”
Her face is stoic as she looks at the beach. “It is what it looks like. I can’t let him do it.”
“Do what?” Penny asks. When Hales gives her a confused look, she says, “It was rhetorical. Scott isn’t going to lose his family for you. They’re going to lose him. And that’s their loss. Scott’s a big boy; he makes his own decisions.”
“But I can’t let him do that to you or Em either!” Hales protests.
“Again, do what? Follow his heart? Be with the person he loves most in this world? After me, of course.” That makes Hales smile. “Hales, I can’t let him give up the person he’s in love with so I can get some money. That’s not what matters.”
“I can’t really speak for Em or Penny,” I continue. “But I know that you’re more important to Scott than you realize. Did you see his face when Amber told him what his grandfather was going to do? There was not even a split second of hesitation. There was no doubt when he said to let his grandpa disown him.”
“Yeah, but that’s now. In a few years, he’s going to regret all this. Family’s important!”
“But so are you,” Penny reminds her.
“I know. But I don’t want him to have to disappoint anyone just to be with me.”
Penny gives her a half smile. “Honey, he’s either going to disappoint someone or he’s going to disappoint himself. You know, you remind me a lot of me.” We both give her incredulous looks. “What? I’m not that bad!”
Hales rolls her eyes. “Yeah, ‘cause I eloped and am pregnant.”

Penny makes a face. “No, stupid. I meant, the way you think. When Chase proposed, I realized I would face the same thing Scott’s facing now. And I would face it with Scott and Em too. I knew Grandpa would be furious. It’s not just Scott he cares about; Dad is his firstborn. I knew he would send Amber to do the dirty work. Then I looked at Em. She’s gone crazy with all this wedding stuff. I was wondering if I’d end up like that, you know? Would I cause everyone to stay at least five feet away from me at all times? Then I thought about Scott. He was never happy about Chase. He got over it because Chase is one of his closest friends. He’s still my big brother, though. He’d never be happy. He’d say the things he said after he found out Chase and I got married. That’s why Chase and I eloped. This way, when he said those things, it wouldn’t matter. It would be too late.” She gives Hales an encouraging smile. “But you don’t have to worry about that. There is no way Amber is going to stop you and Scott from having the wedding you deserve.”

“She’s right. There’s no way any of us are going to let that happen,” I assure her.

Hales smiles. “You guys are kinda great. You know that, right?”

Penny vigorously nods. “Oh, we know.” I roll my eyes while laughing.

“Hales?” Scott tentatively asks when he steps onto the deck.

“Scott.”

“Are we still getting married?”

She gives him a smile. “That depends. Can we pretend Amber doesn’t exist?”

He grins. “Yes, yes we can.”
Just like that, everything’s solved. Sometimes it amazes me how perfect they are together. No matter what happens, they see it through. Even in their simplest gestures, they are one. They are perfect halves of each other. There’s no doubt in my mind that I love Jake with my whole heart, but I’m more positive Scott and Hales are soul mates than Jake and I are. While that sounds weird, it makes sense. I’m happy for them for that. To find someone that you’re made to be with is an amazing thing. They were truly meant to be together. And, for that, they’re lucky.

“You ready?” Jake asks me that evening.
“Well, don’t you look nice,” I tell him. He’s wearing a casual, light blue and white pinstripe button down shirt from American Eagle and nice jeans.
“So do you.” He smiles and gives me a kiss. I’m wearing a pale yellow and white sundress. We act as if he’s picking me up at my doorstep as opposed to down the hall. We pass by Penny and Jaime’s room and hear a small cry.
“Liz?” Penny’s voice whispers as we walk by.
Jake takes one look at me and sighs. “Liz, we have plans. She’ll be fine.”
“Please, Jake. Let me just see what’s wrong. Five minutes tops.”
“Fine. Go. I’ll be outside.”
“Thanks,” I tell him and squeeze his hand. I walk into the room and sit down next to a very sad Penny. “Pen, what happened?”
“I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” she cries.
“What do you mean?”
“How am I going to be a mom? I’m only twenty three. I’m supposed to be young and free! I’m not supposed to start raising a family.”
“Penny, maybe you should’ve thought of that before you got married to Chase. Hell, you should’ve thought of that before you went out with Chase. From day one, you were attached. I don’t think you could ever truly break up. The boy is madly in love with you. And I know you’re madly in love with him. It’s all in the eyes. I can look at you and see how insane you two are about each other.
“And as for the kid, don’t worry; you’ll have all of us. You will never have to raise that baby alone. You and Chase will have Brooke, Em, Jaime, Hales, Scott, Luke, Keith, and Dave. You can count on Jake to be there. As for me, I will always, always, always take care of you. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
***
“Sorry,” I apologize when I get outside. “Penny was having a breakdown.”

“Of course,” Jake states. The walk to the diner is silent. No talking, no laughing, no smiling. Jake doesn’t even hold my hand. His hands are in his pockets and he’s lost in his own mind. When he finally speaks, he tells me, “We missed our reservations.”

“But we don’t need reservations at the diner.”

“I, uh, made reservations at this restaurant right outside of town. They’re absolutely packed all the time and the reservations were at seven.”

I look at my phone; it’s 7:15. Even if we got the car and drove outside of town, it would be too late. “Jake, I’m so sorry. It’s just that it was Penny and everyone else was busy. I didn’t want her to get too stressed and something happening to the baby. You should’ve told me!”

He offers me a small smile. “Like you said, everyone else was busy. You wouldn’t have come.”

I stop walking and give him a weird look. “What’s that supposed to mean.”

“You just said that you didn’t want her to do anything drastic.”

I sound out the word, “Yes.”

“But she wouldn’t have done something harmful to herself if she couldn’t know what music to play to the kid or what kind of crib to buy. The thing is, Liz, it doesn’t matter what the problem is. It doesn’t matter how big or small or how important. All that matters is that someone has some issue.”

“And what’s your point?”

“My point is that it’s never about us. It’s always about them.”

“Excuse me?” I ask, shocked and slightly offended

“Okay, I get that they’re your friends. I get that you like helping them. And I get that you’re not going to put them below trivial things. But when did our relationship become something unimportant?”

“I never said—”

“You didn’t have to say it. Liz, no matter where we are or what we’re doing, one phone call from them can send you running. And I don’t mind most of the time. I love those girls. You know I understand how close you guys are, but this is ridiculous.”

“What do you mean?!” I ask, still confused.

“I had plans tonight. I had surprises. But I can’t have those anymore. Because if I tell anyone other than Hales, they’ll tell you. But if I don’t reserve you, I can’t spend time with you anymore.”

“What do you want from me, Jake? Do you want me to make it all about you? Do you want me to check with you before I do anything?”

“No!” he snaps. He runs his hand through his hair, frustrated. “This is why I never say anything. You side with them even when it’s against you. Admit it, if it was between us and them you would choose them.”

“Jake—”

“You know what I really admire about those girls. They put themselves first. You stopped doing that, Liz. You’ve put us on the backburner. We could be falling apart, and you would still take care of them first.”

“But we’re not falling apart.”

He gives me a mournful look. “Maybe not to you.”

“Jake, I love you!”

“Honey, I love you, too. But that’s not enough.”

“So you want me to choose. And you want me to choose you.”

“Liz,” he tells me, “we’re not some clichéd TV show. I would never ask you to choose. But when you figure out what you want, tell me. Until then, I can’t do this.” And Jake walks away and possibly out of my life.
***

I walk back into the house in a daze. Hayley and Scott are watching a movie. She looks up happily and says “Hey!” Taking one look at my face, Hales knows something’s wrong. “Where’s Jake?’

“I think,” I tell her, “that he just broke up with me.” A tear falls.

Hales and Scott look at each other confused. “But he said—” Hayley starts.

“He was gonna—” Scott says.

“It doesn’t matter what he was going to do or what he said because apparently, he can’t do this anymore.”

“Get the ice cream,” Hales orders Scott. They sit me down between them and explain what happened. When I’m done, they exchange a look. “Liz, you have to admit, you do put everyone else first.”

“I know!” I cry with tears and with my voice. “Jake said he gets that I’m close with everyone. But he’s tired of being second.”

“Where is Jake anyway?” Hayley asks.

“I don’t know; he just walked away.”

“Well, I better go find him. It’ll be okay, Liz. You guys will be fine,” Scott assures me.

“Thanks, Scott. The cookie dough ice cream is making it more believable,” I tell Hales.
She laughs as we walk to our room. “You guys will work everything out. I know you, Liz.”
I look down at my ice cream when I sit down on my bed. I confess, “I just don’t want to be like Brooke. I don’t want to give up everything I want and all my friends for love.”
Hales looks at me incredulously. “What happened to our hopeless romantic?! Liz, you know Jake would never get that bad or demanding.”
“We thought the same about Dave!”
“Yeah, but Jake knows I would kick his butt if he did that to you.” I smile. “Liz, you just have to trust him. You do put everyone else above yourself. You take care of everyone before taking care of you and Jake. But you can change that. And there’s not a person in this house who doesn’t think you deserve it. It’s about time we let it be about you.”
“Thanks, Hales.”
“Well, it looks like that ice cream is almost done. I’ll go get some more. And I’ll tell you when Jake’s around so you can hide in here until you’re ready to talk to him.”
I smile at her. “Yeah, it’ll be awhile before I can think of the right words to say.”
“You’ll find them. And then, you’ll find him.”
***
“Where is she?” Jake asks around eleven. I fake being asleep when Hales and Jake come into the room. He notes, “She crashed early.”
“Well, I’m not surprised,” Hales tells him coldly. “C’mon. I’m not letting you wake her up.” When they get outside, she orders him to sit down in front of the open door. I think she knows I’m not sleeping. “Now tell me, what were you thinking?”

“I was thinking that my girlfriend stopped caring about us.”

“Don’t give me that crap, Jake. You were going to propose tonight.” WHAT?! “I somehow managed to keep that secret. I expected my best friend to come home tonight engaged. Instead, she’s on the verge of tears! So what happened?”

“Em had some ‘crisis.’ We missed our reservations. I accidentally told her that she kinda gave up on us. One thing led to another and next thing I know I’m walking away from the love of my life.” It’s taking all of my willpower to not run out of the room and apologize for being a good friend.

“You broke her heart, Jake. This isn’t high school. You can’t just threaten to leave her because eventually she’s going to think you mean it. And of all people to break her heart. No one thought it would be you, Jake. She trusted you. She trusts you just as much and maybe even more than she trusts me. She trusted you with her emotions. She trusted you with her heart. But I don’t know if she will anymore. I don’t know if I will anymore.” And this is why I love my best friend.

“Hales, you know she stopped trusting me with her heart. She’s been pulling away.”

“No, Jake, I don’t know. If anything, she’s trusted you more. She trusted that you love her enough to not go running when she wasn’t paying attention. Yeah, I get that you need more time with her. I totally agree. But did you have to breakup with her to show her? Because that’s cruel.”

“Hayley, I would never do that to Liz. I wouldn’t break her heart to get my way. I’m just not sure that she really loves me anymore. Or that she loves me enough to be with me forever. She keeps running at the smallest cry so how can I expect her to focus on our love the rest of her life? She’s the love of my life but I don’t know if I’m hers.”

Hales sighs. “Just talk to her. She loves you. She wouldn’t have stayed in a relationship for seven years if she isn’t in love with you.”

“Maybe she only thinks she’s in love with me. It doesn’t matter. She doesn’t know what she wants and I can’t keep doing this. I can’t stay in love with someone who doesn’t want to be in love with me.”

Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. The fact that Jake was going to propose was amazing. The fact that he’s not sure I love him? Not so much. After a few hours of tossing and turning, listening to my iPod, and reading, I got bored. I walked on the beach, pajamas and all. I see a figure sitting in the sand and laugh.

“Funny meeting you here,” I say as I sit down next to Jake.

“Couldn’t sleep?” he asks me with a wry smile.

“I’m staying up till four in the morning and the tears are pourin’,” I quote Gwen Stefani. “No, my boyfriend and I got into a fight.”

“He seems rotten.”

“Nah,” I tell him, “he’s really sweet. I just get stupid sometimes.”

“Really? You don’t seem like an airhead.”

“I’m not. I just don’t see what’s right in front of me. I always had vision problems. I got Lasik surgery, you know.”

Jake laughs. “Actually, I do. I was the one who had to calm you down in the waiting room. And I had to assure you during the surgery that you weren’t going blind.”

“I know.” We sit in silence for a minute. “Jake—”

“Liz—” he begins at the same time. We smile. “You first.”

“Were you really going to propose tonight?”

“You heard?” I nod. “I was. Up until the moment you chose Penny over me, I was sure that we were going to spend our whole lives together. When you dealt with Penny’s problem, it made me think. Is this how our lives would be spent? You’re running at every beck and call. It’s one thing if you’re in the emergency room. It’s another when it’s your friends.”

“Jake, I love you. I know that I am completely and totally in love with you. I know I want to be with you for the rest of my life.”

He looks at me with a sad smile. “I believe you. But I also believe that you’re saying that only because I’m here and I’m pleading.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m not going to be here in tomorrow. I’m going home. And I’m not coming next weekend with the rest of the guys.”

“But you’re going to England the week after!”

“I know. And it’s two weeks. And I know that’s a long time. We’ve never been separated for that long. I’ll call you to say I got there safely. After that, I won’t be able to talk to you. We need that. You can figure out how you really feel. But for now, I can’t marry you. I can’t ask you to spend the rest of your life with me. And frankly, right now, I don’t know if I want you to.”

I try to absorb it all in. I’m on the beach, in the middle of the night, with my boyfriend who I’m irrevocably in love with. I should be happy yet my heart is breaking. “So you’re really not going to be there in the morning when I wake up.”

“No, I’m not.”

I sigh. “Come back with a British accent, okay?”

He gives me a half smile. “I’ll try.” He gets up to leave. “I’m going. You coming?”

“No, I’ll be in a little later.” I watch him walk into the shadows, a silhouette in the street light, knowing that I love him more than he knows.
But that doesn’t matter. He’s gone. When I wake up in the morning, he won’t be there to make me a much needed cup of coffee. Next weekend, I get to see all my friends be happy while I’m breaking down. And what will happen when he gets back. For all I know, he could be madly in love with some British girl. He made it clear that we’re not getting married anytime soon. The worst part is that this isn’t a movie. He’s not going to wake me up in an hour to say he’s changed his mind. He’s not going to come next weekend with another proposal. I’ve seen his plane ticket to see his family in England. I don’t know how he’s going to feel when he gets back. This could be our ending. And it’s not a fairytale.

I had a nightmare that Jake broke up with me. I wake up and realize that reality is that nightmare. I sigh and tears come to my eyes again. I hate fighting with Jake. The fact that he practically broke up with me only makes it worse. I have been in my room since I got back home last night. I hear Jake say bye to everyone. He pauses outside my door.

“Don’t,” Hales says softly. “You said what you had to say last night. Don’t make it even worse for her. Unless you changed your mind, leave it alone.” Jake sighs and walks away.

Hales comes into the room once the guys leave. “Hey, you okay?” she asks.

“No,” I groan into the pillow.

“Right. Stupid question.”

“Hales, what am I going to do?”

She sits down next to me and sighs. “I honestly don’t know. Your fights never last long enough to need my assistance. I barely remember you without Jake.”

I glare at her. “You’re no help.”

“You’ll be fine, Liz,” Penny assures me as she walks in. “Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not this week. Maybe not even this summer. Eventually, things will get better. You just have to brave the storm until then.”

“I know, I know. But what am I going to do now? My boyfriend of six years, the guy I love, just dumped me. It’s not exactly like I’m going to bounce back.”

“You’re not,” Hales says matter-of-factly. Penny gives her a shocked look. “What? It’s true. You love Jake. You shouldn’t be able to bounce back quickly. Once Jake realizes he isn’t exactly jumping for joy, he’ll come back. Until then, we’ll make sure you don’t completely fall apart.”

“Thanks,” I say sadly.

I really am grateful that my friends are planning on putting up with my moping in the middle of the summer. Still, they’re not who I need right now. I need Jake right now. But it seems like the one thing that I need is the one thing I can’t have.
***

A week later, I’m still a mess. The first thought I have after waking up is still that Jake and I aren’t together. I do not enjoy trial separation.
I’m alone in the house now because the guys came. Do I resent that my friends get to be happy and I don’t? No. Do I wish Jake was here right now? More than anything else.
I’m still moping in my room when Hales comes in a few hours later. “C’mon you need to get out of this room.”
“I don’t want to leave,” I complain into my pillow.
“Too bad,” she says while pulling my by the arm. “You don’t always get what you want in life.”
I give her a death glare. “Don’t you realize I already know that?” Her eyes soften, and I know she feels bad. I sigh, “It’s fine. Can we just watch TV?”
“Sure,” she agrees while plopping down in the couch in the living room.
We’re flipping through the channels, avoiding the romantic comedies and wedding shows I normally love watching. We end up watching The Parent Trap, a movie we’ve seen a thousand times, but at least it’s not overly romantic. We’re idly watching it when Jaime rushes into the house in excitement.
“Luke proposed!” I sit frozen. Luke proposed? What happened to not having a future? What happened to not wanting a commitment? Hales looks uneasily at me. Jaime stops exclaiming when she sees me. “Oh, Liz, I’m so sorry.”
I realize how ridiculous I must seem. “For what? This is amazing! I’m so happy for you two! Tell me all about it later, okay?” She breathes a sigh of relief and runs off to give Penny the details. I turn and fall into Hales’s hug.
“It’ll be okay,” she whispers so Jaime won’t hear.
As we walk into our room, I try explaining to her that I’m happy for Jaime. “I’m glad that Luke proposed. Jaime deserves to be happy even if I’m not. It’s not her fault. I’m not angry or bitter. I should be able to be happy for everyone
She raises an eyebrow. “You sure about that?”
“Yes!” I say with passion. I’m determined to prove to her that I can live without Jake. “I’m going to be happy. I don’t need him to fulfill me.”
She raises her eyebrow higher. “You sure about that?”
“Of course,” I tell her indignantly.
Hales rolls her eyes. “Yeah, ooohhhkay.”
“I will.” And while I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, I’m going to live happily with or without Jake.
***
“What are you doing?” Hales asks me a few days later. She leans lazily against the door and watches as I throw things into a large cardboard box on my bed.
“I,” I tell her, “am getting rid of him.”
“Sorry to tell you, Liz,” she smirks, “but Jake’s not here.”

I roll my eyes. “Obviously, I know that. I’m getting rid of everything he’s given me in the years we’ve been together. All of it has to go.”

She stands up straight. “Liz, I wasn’t serious. You can’t just throw out everything Jake’s given to you.”

“Actually, I can.” To prove my point, I throw a picture of Jake and me from prom into the box. “You might not have been serious but you were right. I can’t be happy without him if I’m always surrounded by him. So I’m not going to let myself live around these constant reminders.”

“Liz, this is absolutely insane. How is getting rid of everything Jake’s ever given you going to help? It’s not like your relationship was based on stuff.”

“So? This is one step closer to—to healing. That’s what it is!” I attempt to sound cheerful.
I continue to put things I once deemed meaningful into the box: a teddy bear that came with chocolate from a Valentine’s Day a few years ago, a rose he gave me from an anniversary, picture after picture of our relationship. Hales just watches me shove memories into a box. I grab a picture frame that’s sitting on the dresser and am about to throw it when I realize something. I stand stricken in front of the mirror.
“What?” Hales asks worriedly.
I put my hand up by my neck and finger the necklace. “Jake gave this to me.” I wince as I say his name. It’s a star. I say softly, “He told me that I was his star and that he was mine. He told me he wanted to make all my dreams come true. He told me he would be there. He gave it to me the day he told me he loved me.”
Hales already knows the story. I bite my lip, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. Then I take it off. I find lay it on the dresser as a tear escapes from my eye. Hales’s eyes widen. “Liz, what are you doing?”
In a shaky voice, I tell her, “Giving it back.” I find the jewelry box and place it gently in the box I’m giving him.
“I’ve never seen you without the necklace. You always wear it, even if it doesn’t match your outfit.”
“I know.” Another tear falls.
“So why?”
“Because,” I whisper, “everything has to go. Everything has to go.”
Hales gives me a scared look, almost as if I was losing myself, and she couldn’t do anything about it. “I’ll be right back. I need to make a phone call.”
I watch her walk down the stairs and outside before finding another significant piece of memorabilia. It’s a letter Jake wrote with the necklace. Actually, it’s a bunch of letters Jake’s written to me over the years. Whenever there was a significant moment in our relationship, an anniversary, birthday, or anything else, Jake would write me a letter. It wouldn’t be the best writing or the most florid of words but it was sweetly romantic. He would always remind me how much I mean to him and how he would always be there for me. He would always tell me he loves me.
I sit down for a while and read every single letter. While I smile and laugh at old memories, by the end I’m crying. These letters have meant so much to me, and the content in them was unimaginably loving. I realize what I need to do. I dial Jake’s number but it goes straight to voicemail.
“H-Hey, Jake. It’s me. I know you said you didn’t think we should talk or anything until you get back, but there’s something I need to tell you. You’re right. Not that I don’t love you, because I do more than you can ever imagine. But I do take you for granted. I was reading the letters and I realized how much I didn’t put focus on us.” I sniffle. “You said you would always be there for me, and I never reciprocated. But you’re right. And it’s about time I give you what you want. I’ll let go for now. I have a box of all the stuff you’ve given me. I’ll drive back, get the stuff from home, and give it to Jess for you. I’ll miss you. They say you put the person you love’s wants above your own, so, even though it’s killing me, I’ll let go. I’ll let you go because that’s what you want. I hope you have a great time in England. I love you.”
I end the call and lie down on my bed crying. Nobody said letting go was easy.

“So what is this I hear about you and Jake being officially over?” Jaime asks the next day in complete shock. I sadly nod. “What happened?”

“Well, he said I needed to figure out what I wanted.”

“What does this have to do with The Box or the voicemail you left him?”

“I don’t want him to resent me later. I don’t want him to feel like he’s tied down to a girl who doesn’t love him.”

“But you do love him!”

“I know that!” I cry. “But he doesn’t. And he never will. So it’s over. I said that he’s free to do whatever he wants. I told him that I’ll let him go because that’s what he wanted from me. He wants me to let him go to see if I love him. I think he just wants to know if I love him enough to let him go. Stupid Switchfoot song.”

“Hey! Don’t blame Switchfoot for your problems!” Hales jokes. I give her a small smile but sniffle.

Jaime looks at me and suddenly stands up. “We need a movie night.”
We both look at her incredulously. Movie nights are supposed to be sleepovers where we watch chick flicks with sarcastic commentary, reminisce, and laugh over how awesome our lives are. Now is definitely not the time for that. I don’t have enough fake smiles to get me through a whole night of girly fun.
“J, I don’t think I’m up for it,” I tell her.
“Yes, you are,” she replies firmly. “Liz, you’re upset but you need your friends more than ever right now. You just need a night of carelessness and pampering. You’ll still miss Jake but maybe you won’t be sad all the time.
“It sounds like a good idea,” Hales agrees softly. She looks at me. “Liz, you’ve never been this upset. I don’t want to see you so unhappy.”
I look at both of them, their faces full of concern and hope. “Well, it has been a while since we had a movie night,” I slowly consent and sigh. “Fine. We can do a movie night tomorrow.”
“Good.” Jaime smiles. “I’ll go tell the other girls and head out to the store. We’ll do it tonight and have some Friday night fun. What movies should I rent?”
“Get anything but don’t get anything that’s too chick flick-y. I can handle a romantic comedy but not The Notebook.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Jaime assures me and happily runs out of the room, shouting to everyone that we were having a movie night.
The next night I was still upset. I couldn’t deny everyone a movie night, though. I go down to the basement in my comfy pajamas and find myself in a home spa. The back of the room was transformed to have mani pedi and facials. This was definitely more than our average movie night. I laugh a little. “Guys, this is so much. Thank you.”
“Don’t,” Penny commands. “You deserve this.”
I roll my eyes but let myself be pampered. We watch Mean Girls and Bring It On, two classic, amazing, sleepover movies. Somehow, we get started talking.
“Do you remember watching Fired Up?” Hales laughs.
“’We are driving. We, we are driving!’” Penny quotes.
“That was like the stupidest movie ever!” Jaime giggles.
“We were pretty stupid that night I remember,” I remember.
“Oh, yeah! Especially, Penny!” Brooke laughs.
“Hey! What did I do?” she cries in retaliation.
“You don’t remember?” I ask. Penny shakes her head. “You forgot your inhaler!”
“Oh my god! You had to go get your Chinese paper fan and fan me to help me breathe!”
“I can’t believe you guys forgot your inhalers!” Hales exclaims. “You have horrible asthma!”
Penny gives her a look. “I wouldn’t be one to talk Miss I-put-eye drops-in-my-eye-with-my-contacts-still-in!”
“How was I supposed to know?” Hales cries.
“Hales, it said on the bottle, in big, red letters, not to use it when your contacts lenses are still in your eyes!” I laugh.
“See, you are stupider!” Penny grins.
Hales rolls her eyes. “Yeah, ‘cause me putting eye drops, which would only result in dry eyes, is so much better than you having dying in Liz’s basement!”
“Well, when you put it like that…”
We laugh and go on like this for the next few hours. We talk a lot. Talking, laughing, and having fun is what we do. We’re best friends. It’s funnier when the guys are around. We’ll reminisce, and they’ll add to memories they were in, but they don’t understand. We can go from talking about boys to talking about shampoo to talking about makeup in five minutes. We understand what it’s like to be in this mode. It’s a world only we can be in. It’s a world of girls.
***
We’re lying on the lawn a few hours later, staring up at the shooting stars. It’s truly amazing. Falling pieces of asteroids light up the night sky. It’s beautiful in a tragic kind of way.
“’Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars? I could really use a wish right now,’” Hales sings softly.
“I love that song,” I whisper. “I really could use a wish right now.” I close my eyes and wish for the one person I need the most.
A few minutes later, my phone vibrates. My eyes widen as I see the caller ID and pick up immediately. “Jake?” I ask, breathlessly. “Your phone works in England? Are you okay?”
“Liz, I’m fine. And I don’t know if my phone works in England.”
“Okay. Wait what?”
He laughs into the phone. “Just look to your right.”
I sit up and look over. “Jake,” I call out and see him smile. He gestures for me to come down. I run to him in a daze. “What are you doing here?! You’re supposed to be in England! I was so—” He sweeps me into a hug and kisses me before I can say anything else. I’m pretty sure I heard someone say, “Aww,” in the back but I don’t care.

“Oh, God, I’ve missed you,” he whispers in my ear. “I couldn’t take it anymore; I had to come.” I pinch myself to make sure this isn’t a dream.

“Jake,” I laugh. “You’re absolutely crazy.”

He laughs and shakes his head. “You’re so beautiful. Did I ever tell you that? Well, I never told you enough. It’s been too long.”

“Jake, it’s been two weeks. We’ve been apart for that long before.”

“Yeah, but I was a jerk the last time I was here. And you didn’t deserve that.”

“Yes, I did,” I say as we lie down in the grass, a little farther than the girls, looking up at the lit up sky. “You were right. I gave up on us without even realizing it.”

“That’s no excuse for me saying what I did. I was insane to think I could live without you.”

“Hold on, I’m so confused. You’re supposed to be in England. So what are you doing in North Carolina?!”

“Liz, I couldn’t do it. I packed everything I needed. I was pissed off and I thought I was ready to leave you behind. We flew to JFK, I was fine. But I got your voicemail. The thought of you letting me go the way you planned, because I said that’s what I wanted, it scared the hell out me. Then Hales called. She told me about the box. By then, I thought I had lost you. So I got on that plane. And I had a seven hour flight to think about what I lost. I was beating myself up about it. But I figured it was over.

“Well, I got to Heathrow. I was ready to hit the nearest bar and drink my problems away. But my cousin brings his girlfriend and her friend to greet me and cheer me up. And let me tell you, that girl was hot. Jess had called ahead of time to tell him I had a broken heart. Most guys would have looked at that girl and gone ‘I’m over what’s her name.’ I looked at her and all I could think is ‘she’s not Liz.’ I never made it out of the airport. I sent my cousin home, grabbed my bags, and bought a new ticket. Of course, it took some time to actually get a flight that was leaving in the next 24 hours. But it was worth it.

“So you better tell me you love me, Liz Fields. Because I’m not taking no for an answer!”

I laugh and turn my head to look at him. “Jake, I told you then and I’m telling you now, I love you. Always have, always will.”

“That’s good. I felt like I was dying when I left. I didn’t say what I meant and I didn’t get to change my mistake. And I can’t ever, ever do that again.”

We lie in silence for a few minutes. I look up at these shooting stars people wish on. I realize that despite my wish coming true, I never needed a falling star to make my life complete. I have a loving family, amazing friends, and, most of all, I have Jake. That’s all I need. This summer and all the things we experienced, all the bonds that grew stronger, all the belief in love, are all I need. Shooting stars are what people use to make wishes on but I already have that. All people in my life help make my dreams true. I have them with me whenever I need. I have my shooting stars.
***

“Jake?” I ask softly.
“Yeah?”
“You said you can’t ever leave me again. So how do you plan on us being together forever?” I whisper into the cool summer night.

He sits up with a grin on his face. “By getting married.”

“What?” I sit up, too, shocked. “But you said you couldn’t—”

Jake smiles and pulls out a ring box. “Liz, I didn’t mean it. Even though I thought I meant it then, I was so wrong. I could never mean it. So it’s up to you. Elizabeth Fields, will you marry me?”

“Oh, my God! Yes!” Jake gets up, slides the ring on my finger, and kisses me. I suddenly feel raindrops. No way… I think. I turn around to see Hales with a lawn sprinkler. She shrugs with a smile as I laugh. So I kiss my fiancée in the “rain” because, hey, every girl deserves her movie moment.



Similar books


JOIN THE DISCUSSION

This book has 0 comments.





MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!