It felt like my eyes had just closed when my alarm went off again. I hit snooze a few times and then finally dragged my ass out of bed to get ready. I took a quick shower, lotioned up, and then stared into my closet for something suitable. I finally settled on a dark forest green long-sleeve jersey dress that Fela forced me to buy a while ago. It was dressy enough for Grey, but the material was comfortable enough not to make me too miserable. I stepped into the dress and struggled with the zipper before turning into the mirror. It wasn’t too bad, but I needed different underwear. The material was slightly clingy, and you could see the sacrilegious panty lines of my boy shorts. I hunt around for some of the expensive seamless panties that Fela swore by and switched them out. Checking again, I was happy to see that the lines disappeared. I pulled my heavy black hair into a messy bun, swiped on some mascara and clear gloss. I’m ready. Grabbing a pair of black pumps, I slipped on my winter boots and ran down the stairs. I was cutting it close on time. My phone beeps with a message from Fela that she and Michael were already on their way. They live slightly closer than me, which means I need to book it. I gather up all stuff I’m bringing for apology gifts and run out of the house. Throwing everything into the passenger seat, I back out of my parking space and into traffic. I shoot Fela and Stacey a quick group text that I am on my way to. Stacey responds with a thumbs up and says that she and Paulie are also leaving.
Traffic isn’t too bad, so I make perfect time to Kenilworth. I use my clicker and drive through the gates. There are several cars parked already, and I can see that Felice and Michael had already arrived. I change my shoes and round the car to the passenger side. A car pulls up next to me, and I see Stacey waving excitedly at me. I wave back, grinning and wink at Paul.
“Hey, Stranger!” Stacey pulls me in for a hug. It’s been a few weeks since I’d seen her. Maybe since that freaky gallery opening, but I had missed my girl. Her auburn hair was in a soft cloud around her pretty face, and her breath puffed out in the cold. In my weak ass attempt to avoid Nicholas, I’d also stayed away from Stacey and Paul. I hugged her again in apology.
“Why are you hugging out here? Let’s hug inside.” Paul helps me carry the bags and flowers I brought with me, and I link arms with Stacey.
“I have so much to tell you,” I whisper to her. I won’t tell her about The Sex, but I will tell her everything else.
“Ohhhh, like what? What have I missed?” Her blue eyes are bright and dancing. I did miss her. “You look beautiful by the way,” she tells me as I roll my eyes. Stacey is always telling people that they look beautiful. She means it because she is the sweetest thing in the world, but I know that beautiful is the last thing I am. I clean up ok though, so I kiss her on the cheek.
“Like the fact that I had a full-on tantrum in front of the family and basically assaulted Nicholas. He said some really foul shit and I lost it. Then Charles gave him the business, and he had to come and apologize.” I rush it all out before we get inside. Her mouth is wide open, and her eyes are saucers.
“Waahhhat? How could you not tell me this sooner? What happened?” Her cheeks turn a little red in anger. She is the cutest thing.
“Tell you what?” Paulie asks his wife suspiciously.
We both clam up as Mrs. Elin opens the door for us and the smell of pies baking greets us. She takes our coats and leads us into the library where the family is enjoying wine and soft music.
The first person I see is Grey, who immediately stops her conversation with a distant cousin and rushes up to me. I sent her a few paltry apologies this past week, but I was too chicken to call her directly. Grey’s one goal in my life is to lady me up, and I’m sure my typhoon of emotion on Sunday had disgusted her. Before I can open my mouth to say sorry, she yanks me into a tight hug. “Sweetheart, I am so happy to see you. I was so worried about you,” she whispers in my ear. “Don’t you dare apologize to me. I understand completely. Charles told me everything, and it’s all behind us now.”
She pulls back and looks into my eyes, nodding. I blink away tears and point at the giant bouquet of flowers that Paulie is holding. “Those are for you.” She glances briefly at them, before looking over my face intently. “You look tired. Are you eating?” She gently touches the area under my eyes where I know a whole set of luggage is parked.
“Yeah, I’ve been eating. I just got into the groove, you know.” I shrug. “I need to get past the next couple of weeks. I can sleep when I’m dead. ” She clucks her tongue and kisses me on both eyelids. Squeezing my shoulders, she moves on to greet Paul and Stacey. Conversation over. That’s how Grey operates. She makes her point, and that’s it— no debate welcome. She is refusing to let me feel guilty, instead making me feel guilty about feeling guilty. Ugh. She’s a master at this.
I glance around the room and spot Charles to my right, near the makeshift bar. He’s speaking to Phillip and another relative that I met a while ago. I narrow my eyes in memory that the guy smelled like black licorice, which I think is disgusting. I also remember that he stared at my left nipple the entire time he was talking to me as if it was part of the conversation. Yeah, I sure as fuck wasn’t going over there. A sudden yank on my neck spins me around, and I’m engulfed in a tight floral filled embrace.
I immediately recognize Felice’s perfume and hug her back. I pull back and see Michael standing behind her, holding my chubby little gremlin. I push her to the side and snatch Mia right out of his arms. She is wearing a fluffy winter themed dress dripping with lace and crystals. There is an exaggerated sparkly crinoline, and her little feet have matching shoes on. Jesus. I know she has to be miserable in this thing. She looks like ugly an Christmas ornament. There is an overly large bow on her curly head, and I swear she looks at me and mouths “rescue me.” I kiss her all over her sweet face and whisper “Don’t worry, I gotcha girl.” Felice stares at me suspiciously and straightens Mia’s dress. I’ll wait until no one is looking and then tear this godawful thing off of her. Rich people are so weird.
“I love this dress on you, Kenna. You even did your hair.” Felice smirks at me, as I continue to kiss Mia all over.
“I told her she looked beautiful too. I think I even see some mascara.” Stacey chimes in as I roll my eyes at both of them.
“Screw both of you. I can follow directions. Best believe that after picture time, I’m putting on jeans and sneakers. My feet already hurt from these damn heels.” I poke my foot out and swirl it around. I straighten up and look around the room for you-know-who. I don’t see him, which is a relief. I managed to pep talk myself out of any potential awkwardness, but now that I’m here, that confidence is running away from me.
“He’s not here yet, so you can relax, slugger.” Felice is on a roll today. Did she take a sassy pill this morning? She’s been around me too long.
“I wasn’t looking for him. I was just looking around. I told you that we made friends.” Did we ever.
“Uh-huh. I know you did. But I also know that today is bound to be awkward for both of you. My mom already called him and gave him a pep talk before you got here.” Oh gosh. He must have loved that. “He said the same thing that you said. That you guys were on good terms and for her not to worry.”
“I still need to know what happened. Can someone fill me in here?” Stacey is fidgeting in curiosity. Felice quietly starts to fill her in, and I decide to do a lap around the room to greet everyone. I don’t need to re-hash the whole thing all over again. I say hello to a few of the in-laws from Grey’s side, and air-kiss Grey’s older than dirt Aunt Maggie. She’s a hoot usually, but today she seems a little tired. I ask her gently if she’s ok, and she regally brushes me off. I side-eye her and take note to ask Grey if anything is going on with her health.
I continue saying hello to the various folks and eventually make my way to Charles. Phillip greets me with a cold nod of his head and then moves away quickly. I can’t blame him; I did attack his only son a few days ago. The creepy licorice dude leers at me and leans in for a wet kiss. I turn my head, and he gets half of my cheek. Gag. I manage to maneuver the baby between us and laughingly grimace. Charles clears his throat and excusing us, steers me by the elbow a few feet away.
“Thanks,” I whisper as I wipe my face against my shoulder. I can smell the licorice and my stomach heaves. Gross. Charles chuckles loudly and whips out his handkerchief. He finishes cleaning my face and wipes my shoulder off too. “He has always been a bit effusive around the ladies.” I nod gingerly and kiss him on the cheek. He smiles at me gently and looks me deep in the eyes. His smile grows a bit as he looks over my head to the front of the room. “Showtime, darling,” he whispers. I whip around and freeze.
Nicholas has arrived.
A punch in the chest.
That’s what it felt like seeing her standing there.
My aunt had called me this morning and given me an earful about being kind to MacKenna and behaving like a gentleman. I promised her that I would greet her cordially and then ignore her for the rest of the night. Not in a mean way, but out of pure self preservation. That thought went out of the window when I saw my fucking cousin Roth drooling ll over her. She looked uncomfortable and mildly panicked before Charles moved her away. I didn’t miss the way Roth stared at her ass in that clingy dress she had on, either. He’s always been a grope-y freak, even when we were kids.
I made a mental note to have a chat with him, man to man. I saw my uncle say something to her and then she swung around and caught me staring at her. Her amber colored eyes twitched and a wobbly smile touched her full mouth. She looked both nervous and embarrassed. I belatedly noticed that she was holding Mia, whose little body was lost amid a giant pile of lace and fluff. Poor kid. A grim look of determination crossed her beautiful face, and after leaving Charles with a nod, she made her way across the room to where I was standing. I pushed my hands into my pockets and waited. I could have met her halfway, but I like watching her come to me. Her body was covered from neck to wrist, but you’d have to be blind not to see the sublimeness of her curves. She had on sexy as hell black heels and her thick hair was piled up on her head. A small curl of her tattoo peeked out from her neck. As she moved closer I could smell her distinctive scent; something with vanilla, but still floral. She was biting on her bottom lip, which made my dick twitch and push my hands further into my pockets. She stopped about one foot away from me, and she and Mia looked up at me. They both looked sweet as hell.
“Hi.” She blinked and then waved one of the baby’s hands at me. “Mia says hi too.” Her eyes pleaded with me not to make this awkward. That tightness in my chest that I had been battling on and off all week returned with a vengeance. I could see the whole family watching us out of the corner of my eye. I had to make this convincing, but not noticeable.
“Hello to you, too. Miss Mia, how are you?” I bent over and gave her chubby cheek a soft kiss. She gurgled and gave me her famous one tooth smile. I leaned in and gave Kenna brief kiss on her cheek as well. Her quick intake of breath let me know that I wasn’t the only one struggling. I pulled back and looked her in the eye, noticing her pink cheeks and deep swallow.
Her eyes darted from one of mine to the other. “Um, well I’m going to find Felice and see if Mia needs to be changed. Talk soon, k?” She spun around and quickly made her way back to my aunt and cousin. I let out a deep chuckle and force myself to look away and not watch her juicy ass, or the sway of her hips as she walked away.
I can’t believe that he kissed me. I mean it wasn’t a kiss-kiss, but it was still a kiss. It wasn’t a big deal, right? I’ve kissed about two dozen people since I got here. Of course, none of them looked at me like the way he looked at me. It’s a pure fucking miracle that I didn’t trip over my own feet when I crossed the room to greet him. I wanted to be the one to make the first move, to prove to everyone that we were really ok and that they should stop worrying.
But he just stood there in all his fucking gorgeousness, body wrapped in a perfectly cut suit; hair slicked back into a tight bun, full pink lips parted in a smirk and watched me. My panties practically flew off my body and landed on his face. Somehow I held it together, and I would have kept it together if he hadn’t kissed me. It was a peck, half of a Hershey’s kiss, a lick of a sugar cube. Then he had to go and give me The Sex look, and that was it. I sprinted away from him and hid behind Stacey and Felice until I could get myself under control.
This was going to be a disaster.
“That went well, right?” Felice asked me happily. All I could do was nod and smile at her anemically. Stacey was watching my face curiously, not entirely buying what I was selling. I shrugged at her and handed over the baby, while I wiped my now sweaty hands on my dress. The nervous gesture was not lost on Stacey, and her eyes narrowed in speculation. Shit. This bitch was way smarter than people gave her credit. I was gonna have to work extra hard to hide this from her.
Mrs. Elin appeared and announced that dinner was ready. Mia’s nanny materialized and whisked her away while we all made our way to the dining room. The table was beautifully laid out with golden plates and flatware. The bouquet that I’d brought for Grey was the centerpiece, and there were dozens of tea lights twinkling by the place settings. I noticed right away that Licorice Larry was seated next to me, and looked up as Nicholas sat directly across from me. He smiled at me, but it quickly faded into a scowl when he noticed his cousin helping me into my seat. What was that all about? I glanced at this place card and saw that his name was Roth. Ugh, that’s right. I remember calling him “Moth” in my head when I first met him because he was so annoying. He moved his chair over a few inches until his thigh was pressed up against mine. I looked at him out the corner of my eye, and he was staring straight at me, a toothy grin spread across his face. On my other side was one half of a married couple and they were already turned toward each other chatting quietly. I was caught. I felt like standing up and screaming “It’s a trap!” but I don’t think anyone would get the joke, except maybe Michael. I glance back at Nicholas who is watching RothMoth, while absently speaking to his dinner partner. I bend my head and pray that dinner will be quick.
The first course was served— a yummy little cranberry brie thing. There was a quiet conversation going around the table, and I hear Michael ask me a question from the other side of the table. “What was that?”
“I asked you how your project was going?”
Oh boy. “It’s going well. Should be done with most of it soon, about a week or so.” I reach for my wine glass and take a healthy swig.
“What is it that you do again?” RothMoth asks me. He taps the top of my hand, and I can feel the dampness of his palms. Ew.
“I work in publishing.” I take another sip of wine. I glance at Nicholas who is staring at me with one of his thick eyebrows raised. I can feel my face heat up again. I feel like I am in an airport security scanner. You can see all of me, all into my insides, nothing hidden.
“Publishing?” His voice purrs at me. “How fascinating. What genre?” If possible, his thigh moves closer.
“Um, all kinds. It’s boring really,” I turn toward Michael. “I have an ARC for you. Remind me to give it to you before I leave tonight.” His face lights up, and he nods happily.
“Darling, you aren’t staying over tonight? You know how I hate it when you drive home so late. Especially after you have had some wine and the weather is so poor,” Grey pouts at me from the head of the table.
“I’m still on a deadline, Grey. I need to get home and get cracking on it. I promise I won’t have any more to drink though, if that makes you feel better. ” I push my wineglass away, forlornly.
“I’d be happy to drive you home, MacKenna. I live downtown, too.” RothMoth’s toothy grin is back. I would rather put on underwear full of fire ants than let this weirdo drive me home. No, ma’am.
“How sweet of you, Roth.” Grey smiles proudly. I open my mouth to decline when a deep voice cuts me off politely.
“That won’t be necessary, Roth. I’ve already agreed to have my driver take Kenna home. Remember?” He looks at me pointedly, while I try to pick my jaw up off of the floor.
“Um, oh yes. I forgot. Thank you though, Mo-Roth.” I swipe my wine glass up and drain the contents. I can see him glaring at Nicholas, who snarls right back. Grey steers the conversation in another direction, and the next course is served. A shallow bowl of clear sweet potato soup is placed in front of me, and I see Nicholas tap his spoon teasingly against the table. I bite my lip to hold back my laughter and daintily taste it.
A honey and cinnamon glazed salmon dish is served next, and it takes everything in me not to fall on it like a savage. I get the whole pomp of all these courses, but I’m still starving. All these little plates are teasing me. Stacey jokes me that the creepy artist from the gallery show had rung her and asked for my phone number. “For what, bail money?” I ask.
The salad course is served next, and I swear several sets of eyes fall upon me as the plate is put in front of me. I look up at my family, and mysteriously none of them are looking at me. Except for Nicholas who is grinning like a jackal. I hurriedly finish everything on my plate and smirk at him.
Finally, the turkey is brought out, and with a big ceremony, Charles asks Nicholas to slice it. He smiles slightly and walks to the head of the table where Phillip and his uncle are sitting. Nicholas rubs the carving tools together and cuts into the juicy bird, before handing it off to Charles and Mrs. Elin. He sidles back to his seat, plucking Paul on the back of his head on the way. Paul calls him a pithy name and chuckles. I smile at their interaction when suddenly Mothman stands up and grabs my hand.
“MacKenna, will you please go out with me? Anywhere you want to go, anything you want to do. I just want to take you out. I think you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and all I want to do is spend more time with you. Please? Say yes.” Every eye in the room is upon us, and I can feel my face go up in flames.
Oh. Hell. No.
What’s the cousin version of murder? Cousincide? Whatever it is, I’m about to commit it.
My mouth is still hanging open when Charles comes to the rescue again. “Roth Cecil Grant, sit down. You don’t put a lady on the spot like that, especially at a family dinner. MacKenna, darling girl, you don’t have to accept that. Roth, I said sit down.” Charles gestures to his chair and Roth sits down angrily. I am deathly afraid to look at Nicholas, so instead, I look at a Stacey whose face is tucked behind a napkin as she chokes back laughter. Felice is in a similar state and Michael’s face is red but placid. I glance timidly around the table and see that Phillip is glaring at me in mild disgust. I sigh internally. That man really hates me.
The conversation picks back up, and Roth doesn’t say anything else to me for the rest of the meal. My other seat mate turns to me in pity and grudgingly says a few words to me. I finally work up the nerve to look across the table, but Nicholas is chatting animatedly with the lady next to him. My shoulders relax and by the time dessert is brought out, I’m back to normal. Of course the two extra glasses wine I drank didn’t hurt. After dinner, everyone dutifully poses for pictures and then splits into groups— staking out different parts of the house. Stacey grabs Felice and me, and we escape upstairs to the bedroom I use when I’m sleeping over.
“Well, I give him points for putting himself out there like that. It takes balls to ask a girl out in front of her family,” Stacey snickers. I pin her with a dirty look, and she giggles even more.
“Well, I don’t want him, his balls or anything else he’s got, anywhere near me. That was fucking mortifying.” I hike up my dress and sit cross-legged on the floor. I grab a pillow from the bed and hold in my lap. “I’m gonna start doing drive-bys, instead of staying for dinner. Obviously, me and family meals do not go together.”
Felice tosses a smaller decorative pillow at me. “Don’t you dare. Thank god we only see that side of the family at holidays.” She braces her silky blonde head up on one hand, her blue eyes blink at me innocently. “It was nice of Nick to stick up for you. I’m so happy that you two have worked everything out.”
I squirm a little and nod. I have a very sneaky suspicion that his sticking up for me was some sort of dominance thing. I refuse to go down that line of thought. We both agreed that it was over and that was that. Stacey is staring straight at me and I sit up and shake off my discomfort. “Yeah I told you we squashed the beef. It’s all good now. So what do y’all want for Christmas this year?”
Felice immediately launches into a rhapsodizing account of the outfit that she wants Mia to wear for her first holiday pictures. I wince when I hear her say the words “train” and “red velvet”.
Poor baby. I excuse myself to use the phone, but I really sneak into the nursery and quickly strip Mia out of that godawful dress they have her strapped in to. She gurgles happily when I take her tights off and kicks her chubby little legs in the air. I swiftly button her into the onesie I brought with me and her nanny laughs when she sees it. I grin evilly and slobber all over her for a few more minutes. Handing her over, I slip back into the room where the girls are looking at pictures of a dress that Fela wants to order for New Years Eve.
I roll my eyes and peek over her shoulder. It’s a sassy little number for sure; she’ll look hot as hell in it. “That’s a make me-a-nephew dress right there.” She slaps at my arm and pulls me down onto the bed. “Cut that out. Last time you said that in front of Michael, he played husband-as-a-caveman and dragged me straight to the bedroom. I missed a charity luncheon and everything.” Her little mouth makes a moue, and Stacey and I laugh at her.
“Poor thing, your husband loves you. Must realllllly suck to be you.”
“Speaking of husbands, what’s up with you and Masen? Have you heard from him since Mom’s party?”
I scrunch up my nose at her hopeful look. “Yeah, we are supposed to go the movies next week. Strictly as friends. He’s a nice guy, but there was no chemistry whatsoever. I think he’ll be a good friend, though.” I pat her hand and lay back. “I don’t think that a husband and kids are in the cards for me. I’m too weird. Not to mention I travel so much and my work makes me unavailable. I’m ok with it though. I’ll be the best aunt that your babies will ever have.” I look over and see that both of my girls have sad expressions on their faces.
Felice has a glimmer of tears in her eyes, and Stacey’s smooth cheeks are pink. “Stop that shit right now. Don’t feel bad for me. I’m cool, I swear.”
I will never admit to them that some nights, when I’m alone and the emptiness of my house feels claustrophobic, that I briefly wish for someone who would just be mine. Someone who would be supportive and not threatened. Who would stand by me and promise to never leave me? But then the thought leaves me and my old insecurities rear their ugly head. It’s better this way they whisper. And then I roll over and go to sleep.
“I’m not feeling sorry for you, Ken. I just think that you are seriously amazing and I want you to be happy. You’re funny and loyal, and when you decide to be, you are absolutely gorgeous. Any guy would be lucky to be with you. I know that you are fine on your own, but it’s natural to want to be with someone, right? I know that’s how Mom feels. She just wants you to be happy.” Felice sits up and looks at me, her azure blue eyes serious and still a little glossy. “Don’t give up ok? There is a guy out there who will be perfect for you.”
I open my mouth to contradict her when there’s a brief knock on the door. It swings open, and Nicholas’ tall, imposing form fills the doorway. A swirl of his cologne hits my nose, and his green eyes zero in on my face.
“Ready to go? My driver is pulling the car around.”
Wait. He was serious? Alone in a car with Nicholas?