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(CH2) Chapter 22: Senior Year

Senior year arrived for Riane, it was hard to believe this would be her last year of college and then it would be time for the real world. Riane had switched her major to music and she already had a job of music teacher for a large instrument company though she was looking towards joining the symphony. She only had the confidence to teacher people because she had enjoyed teaching Zachary an instrument over the years.

Julian shocked everyone with a business major and planned on getting his MBA after his girlfriend finished her senior year. He had taken a year off but had helped his father from time to time with his work, but once Riane was settled in the city he would leave to finish up his schooling. Riane was disappointed they would have to have a long distance relationship if she couldn’t find a job near his chosen college.

Riane’s alarm on her phone went off and she turned it off before turning to the man laying in bed with her. Julian and she had moved into her bedroom last year after Nanette was tired of them pretending to not sneak off into each other’s rooms at night. She told them it made too much noise and to just pick a room. Julian’s old room had become the movie room.

Julian was already awake as she expected, he would normally wake before her and lay there as he slowly adjusted to consciousness.

“First day and the last year of college.” Riane told him.

He smiled, “For you.”

Sitting up, Riane got out of bed and headed for the bathroom to take a shower. “Are you going to escort me to school?” She watched him nod. “Get dressed.”

Julian preferred to bathe before going to bed which suited Riane’s schedule so she didn’t complain.

Getting out of bed, he tossed on some clothes from the hamper as he didn’t want to dig through the dresser to find some. He headed down stairs, where he found his mom setting the table in the dinning room.

Zachary was sitting at the table as well with some fruit in front of him. He had recently turned fifteen and this would be his first day of college. He completed high school because he wanted to go to prom and have senior pictures. At least, that is what he said, Riane believed he just loved being there.

“You’re going to wear that?” Julian teased his brother.

His younger brother was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt, nothing unreasonable. Zachary looked himself over and then back up to his brother. “What’s wrong with this?”

He shrugged, “Ok, I mean if you want to get beat up, go ahead.”

“Fuck you.”

Julian smacked the back of his brother’s head. “Language, there is a lady in the room.” He said referencing his mother.

Zachary smacked his brother back on the arm. “You cuss in front of Riane all the time. Guess she is not a lady.”

His older brother quickly put him into a headlock.

Nanette shook her head, “I miss Bryce being here to referee you two.”

Bryce had finished college and moved into the city. He was living in a nice apartment with his girlfriend he had met at work. He had gone into financing and was working as a financial analyst for Mitchell Corporation as the CEO liked to hire people from his alma mater.

With out him to stand up for Zachary, Julian had free range to mess with him. Though it appeared Zachary might actually become the tallest of the three brothers, as he was already slightly taller than Julian now.

Riane headed down the stairs with her hair in a towel and frowned at the rough housing. Nanette gave her a defeated look as she went back into the kitchen to get their breakfast.

“Really, you two.” Riane scolded.

They both laughed as they let each other go when Nanette returned with their oatmeal and fruit.

“Are you going to see Deidra and Russell this weekend?” She asked Riane, who was putting brown sugar in her oatmeal.

“Yes. I’ll probably stay the whole weekend, so Julian will be unsupervised.” Riane joked and everyone including Julian chuckled.

Deidra had been true to her word and divorced her father. She had moved into a small house and was enjoying being a mom for the time being. Simon didn’t fight custody for Russell, probably because he was afraid of the dirt Deidra had on him.

Riane never verified if the recording of Simon were true, but Simon believed it and that was enough for her.

“Also, Joe, Emma, Lacy, and I are going out to celebrate our first day of senior year, so you’ll have to find something to keep you busy tonight.” Riane told her boyfriend.

Julian nodded, “I know, we are planning a movie night at Dalen’s.”

“Lacy?” Zachary asked.

Riane furrowed her brows, “Dalen’s sister. I’ve told you about her several times.”

The younger brother shrugged uncaring he had just proved he didn’t listen.

Nanette sat down at the table and smiled between Julian and Zachary.

“What’s your deal, woman?” Zachary asked when he felt she was staring for far too long.

“I was just thinking I have one baby who is in her last year of college, and the other who is in his first year. Soon, you’ll graduate too and I’ll have no reason to live in this house anymore. I’ll have to move down state to be closer to your father’s job.” She sighed. “I wonder if we’ll keep this place, or just sell it.”

“Don’t sell it until I can buy it myself.” Julian demanded.

“Why would you need this house? There are no jobs around here for our chosen fields, dumb ass.” Riane rolled her eyes.

“Don’t call me a dumb ass, dumb ass.” He snapped back. “I don’t know. I just grew up here and I don’t want to lose it.”

“No need to argue over it right now, we still have time to figure everything out.” Nanette told them both. “Now, eat your breakfast so I can get a picture of your first days of a new year.”

“Ugh, again? Do we have to do it every damn year?” Zachary barked.
“This is Riane’s last year, you still have three more at the beginning and three at the end.” Julian teased and messed up his brother’s hair.

“You fucker!”

Nanette looked towards Riane and sighed deeply. “I’d hope Julian would have a child as difficult as he is, but I wouldn’t wish that on you.”

Riane chuckled, “I can handle him.”

Emma awoke in her bed and tossed the blankets off before heading to the bathroom to shower. She washed her hair and conditioned it and once it was done, she stood under the hot water for a long moment. It felt so good and she didn’t want to get out.

When she finally convinced herself this was enough, she put her hair up in a towel before patting herself dry and heading back into her bedroom. There she found some jeans and a blouse for her first day of senior year.

Heading down the hallway, she went to find out what she would be having for breakfast. The smell of coffee lingered in the air and it was followed by eggs and bacon. She smiled as she reached the end of the hallway, and could see Seth’s form in the kitchen.

They switched days on who would get up a half hour earlier to start breakfast. Today was his turn and as always his fried eggs looked perfect.

There was a small plate filled with six strips of bacon, and she took one while Seth’s back remained towards her.

“Nice and crispy.” She told him after eating one and he startled a bit not realizing she was behind him.

“Good morning.” He smiled, “It’s almost ready. Can you pour our coffee and put out the utensils.”

“Of course.” She walked into the kitchen and tried to stay out of his way, as she pulled mugs down and filled them with the dark liquid. Both of them drank it black, so she put it on the table before heading back into the kitchen for the forks and a butter knife.

The toaster popped and she scurried over to it and added two more slices after she removed the toasted ones.

“I like mine darker than that.” Seth told her.

“I know.” She rolled her eyes and she put her toast on a small plate and walked them over to the table. She hurried to butter them before the toast could cool and the butter wouldn’t melt.

“I can’t believe this will be the last year we will all be together. Time went by so quickly.” Seth sighed as he plated the eggs and then turned to the bacon plate. “Did you eat one?”

“I did.” She giggled, “I said nice and crispy.”

He frowned at her, “I didn’t realize you ate it. I thought you were just commented on the looks of it.”

She shrugged as she sat down and he placed her plate in front of her. “Don’t forget your toast.”

He nodded as he headed back to the toaster to put them down for another moment. He waited as it wouldn't take long and when they popped he went to his seat. Emma grabbed her two pieces off the paper towel lined plate in the center, and Seth his three.

They both poked the egg yolk and squeezed it out with a fork before smoothing the whole egg with it. Each bit of toast was accompanied by the egg.

It was a quiet meal but as usual Emma was finished first as she sipped on her coffee. “I wonder where everyone will end up. Four years together, we became a family so I don’t know how things will be in another four.”

Seth chewed his food before answering, “As long as we are together, we will figure the rest out.”

His words somewhat comforted him, but Ivy and Riane had become her close friends. Even Joe had softened towards her after Riane and she made up over what had happened.

“I just don’t want to lose my girlfriends too.”

He nodded, “Ivy will be staying here, and Riane is moving into the city. We could easily find some jobs there. Maybe live nearby.”

“The same apartment building, maybe? Like across the hall pals?” She said in a hopeful but questioning tone.

“I don’t know if I want to live that close to Julian, but if they want to, I don’t see why not.”

She clasped her hands together in happiness to his agreement.

A thought dawned on him and he cleared his throat, “Oh, but Julian’s getting his MBA somewhere so maybe living across from her while he is a way is a good idea. We wouldn’t want her all alone in the city.”

Emma smiled, “I swear you are always the worried little brother when it comes to her.”

“I’m a year older.”

She chuckled, “I know, and thanks. She is my best friend and I wouldn’t want to face the next two years alone.”

“She is my close friend too.”

Emma looked around the apartment, “I am going to miss this place.”

Seth nodded. His father had offered to buy them a larger apartment, but Seth decided just to move into Emma’s one bedroom. It was an adjustment living this tightly with another person for the last two years, but they eventually found their groove.

“Yeah, a lot of memories here.” He finally responded, “We still have a year to make a few more. It’s the first day of the school year not the last.”

“I know. I guess I am just feeling nostalgic. Maybe we should have a dinner party with Julian and Riane. I know it’s cramped, but it would be a fun thing to do. Don’t you think?” She looked at him hopefully.

“Well, I don’t see why not. If you want to make more memories before we go, then we should do it.”

Emma smirked at him, “Thanks for always humoring me.” She finished her coffee and kissed his forehead. “I’m going to pack my backpack, and head out. I’ll see you at lunch, alright?”

“Alright.” He told her as she headed into the bedroom to gather her items. He slowly finished his meal and then took all the dishes into the kitchen where he rinsed them, but left them for later in the day.

“I’m off! I love you!” Emma said from the front door.

“Love you!” Seth replied back, before heading into the living room to grab his laptop which was on the coffee table. He had taken a year off with Julian and Dalen, but he had been working on writing a novel.

As he threw the laptop case over his shoulder, he looked around the room. This year would disappear before he knew it, and then everything would change. Emma was right about that, but he wanted to hold onto whatever he could. He knew Dalen would go to Hurstmart headquarters which was too far to have Emma move away from her friends, but he supposed Julian was the next best option.

“Ah, now I am feeling nostalgic. Damn it, Emma.”
Riane, Julian, and Zachary all stood at the gate while they talked to him about his schedule and where he could locate his classes. Riane could see in Zachary’s eyes how insecure he was about this new experience, but he tried to be brave which made Riane ignore the worry in his eyes. She didn’t want to call out his fear and embarrass him.

“You want me to walk you to your first class?” Julian asked out of genuine concern for his brother; doing the exact opposite of Riane.

Zachary looked up from the schedule in his hand, “But then who would follow Riane around like a lost puppy?” He worriedly sighed, when all Julian and Riane did was frown.“What were classes like for you?”

Julian chuckled at his response as did Riane, though Zachary didn’t seem to get the joke.

“He never went to class.” Riane explained.

“I went to my business classes.” He snapped in faux offense, then looked at his brother. “But she’s right, I usually just read the book during the summer and then I did the homework and only go to class to turn it in and take tests.”

His younger brother looked baffled as if he didn’t realize his brother’s intelligence until that moment. “You don’t act that smart.” He finally added.

Julian crossed his arms, “Yeah, well… fuck you too, buddy.”

Riane with a smile on her lips looked up to meet Blake’s eyes. He was walking with his friends and gave her a wave as he entered into the campus. She waved back at him.

After she left their “engagement” things between them were different. They both realized together how dysfunctional they were, and decided it was best to put some space in between them. They ended their conversation saying if they were meant to be friends in the future one day they would be, until then it was time to move on.

“Hey, guys.” Dalen approached with a woman at his side, who everyone but Zachary knew as Lacy, Dalen’s sister.

Dalen had decided with the rest of his friends to take a year off, because he didn’t want to leave Lacy all alone in the mansion. He was probably going to wait until her senior year before he took his place at Hurstmart.

Zachary immediately flushed red at the sight of the tall, smiling, blonde who was impeccably clothed in a summer dress.

“Lacy, this is Julian’s little brother, Zachary.” Riane introduced her.

She smiled at him, “I’ve heard about you. Your a genius like your brother is. I hope you don’t have as bad of a personality.”

“Everyone is piling it on today, aren’t they?” Julian asked in exhaustion, but no one responded to him.

Zachary tried to recover but all he managed to say was, “Hi.”

Lacy looked confused by his reply, while Riane, Dalen, and Julian kept quiet about what they could obviously see from him.

“Ready for the last year?” Dalen asked Riane when she realized this would go no where fast for Zachary.

“I am.” She replied as she noticed that though he was smiling, there was some sadness in his eyes. A hurt he hadn’t been able to get over.

Dalen and Ivy dated for a couple years, but Ivy and Lacy never got along. Their fights were often epic and even a couple times police had shown up. Dalen didn’t want to give up his girlfriend, and so he sat by begging them both to try. They would often promise him they would, but no good would ever come of the agreement.

Even trying to keep them apart did nothing, because Lacy would always have a snide comment to make about Ivy whenever he went to see her. So the pressure remained on Dalen.

Eventually, Ivy knew this wouldn’t end well and she also knew Dalen would never pick her over his sister. It wasn’t as if she wanted him to have to pick, but it would be inevitable. She ended things with him and Dalen apologized for not doing it sooner. She still worked at the same store but as a manager now.

Dalen was still a little sore about the subject and practically forbade Lacy from mentioning Ivy. He couldn’t stand the way she talked about her, especially since Ivy had so maturely walked away from it. There would always be love there, but they knew this situation would not change until someone changed it.

“Come on, Lacy. Time to be a junior.” He told his sister as he put his hand over her shoulders and started to walk her away from the enraptured teenage boy.

Julian chuckled and shouldered his brother as he watched her walk away. “Sorry, Zack, you’ll have to wait three years to go after that.”

These words seemed to pull him out of his revere and turn another shade of red. “What? I’m not… Shut up!”

Riane and Julian both laughed. The more they laughed the redder his face would become.

“I’m going to class!” Zachary barked and rushed off into the crowd while readjusting his backpack.

“Don’t you want my help?” His older brother asked while still laughing, but trying his best to stop.

Zachary could barely be seen among the mess of people when he yelled back. “No, stay the fuck away.”

Julian continued to chuckle and then looked over to Riane, “Well, then, I guess I shall walk milady to her class today.” He offered out his arm.

“Oh, why thank you. Such a gentleman.” She wrapped her arm around his as they began their walk towards her first class.

“We should make sure Zachary knows to join us behind the gym for lunch. I’ll text him when I get into class.” Riane said with worry.

“You worry about your class and I’ll deal with the brat.” He told her as they effortlessly moved about the crowd.

When they arrived at the door, Riane dropped her arm to her side and smiled at him as she came to stand in front of him.

“Thanks for bringing me.” She gave him a quick peck on the lips. “Are you going to walk me to all of my classes?”

He shrugged, “If that’s what you want.”

She nodded with a smile.

“Then I’ll be here when you are done. Hurry, you don’t want to be late for your first class.” He watched her turn and walk into her classroom.

Turning around he found a stairwell and headed over to it so he could sit down. He would wait for her over the next hour just so he could walk her to her next classroom, as he had done every year.
Joe sat in the library in between classes as she did some homework which was assigned during her last class. Neil sat next to her and worked on a project of his own on his laptop. The little clinks of his keyboards made as he pressed each key carefully were almost like a meditative sound to her. In fact, she would look up whenever he stopped to think about what he was going to write.

Neil and Joe had ended their sexual relationship with one another after Neil wanted to get serious. Joe decided she needed to focus on herself and school before she would let that happen.

She saw how happy Riane and Julian were and they were capable of passing their classes, but she knew herself. It wasn’t the right time to get completely lost in another person which she would do with Neil.

He took it well enough and remained her friend and study buddy. However, he is still a little hesitant to tell her when he goes on dates, and honestly, Joe didn’t really want to hear about it. She worried he wouldn’t be available when she was ready, but she knew she had no right to hold him back. 

Looking up at the quiet keyboard, she smirked when she watched Neil reading the sheet of paper next to his laptop. His mouth moved along with the words. She discovered he did this whenever he had an issue with comprehending what he was actually reading.

Joe stretched out her arms as she looked at the finished homework sheet in front of her. That hadn’t been so hard.

Deciding she didn’t want to disturb Neil, she pulled out her phone and sent Riane a text message.

“So, did Julian abandon you to take care of his brother like you thought he would?” She asked with a gentle grin on her lips.

Riane replied back quickly. “No, he embarrassed Zack so he ran off. I hope he is finding his way around alright.”

She shook her head at her friend’s worry. “He’s a smart kid. I am sure your small campus won’t confuse him too much.”

“Small campus my ass, I got lost four times on my first day here. Blake had to come get me each time.” Her friend scoffed.

Joe rolled her eyes, she remembered Riane’s first day but the details were very different from how Riane seemed to recall it. She kept getting lost because of panic attacks, and it eventually turned into Blake just babysitting her all the time. 

She sighed, “Yeah, well you aren’t a smart kid.”

“Gee, thanks.” Riane replied back.

She snickered to herself.

After a couple of months, Joe had finally decided it was time to make up with Riane. She had gone over to visit her and had explained it was her that caused their break up. She knew Riane would lose her mind over it and it might end their relationship forever, but she didn’t want it coming from someone else in the future.

Riane didn’t get upset, however, instead she simply told her she figured it had been her. It took a few more months for her to really start talking to Joe again, and they both agreed to leave it in the past when the subject was broached.

Joe sighs for a moment before sending another text, “I know it’s a school night, but let’s take Emma out for a little bit.” She had been making an effort to get to know Emma and found she rather liked the girl.

“Sure, let’s bring Lacy too. Dalen has said she doesn’t have many friends.” Riane replied.
“Of course, the more, the merrier.” Joe quickly sent the text and then look up at Neil who was staring at her.

She often caught him doing it, and deep in her heart she knew why and it both hurt her heart and made her excited. “Making plans for girls’ night tonight.” She informed him even though he didn’t ask. It was mostly to play off she had noticed the longing in his eyes.

Neil to his credit immediately returned to himself and cleared his throat. “How are things going with Riane?”

“Things have changed and aren’t what I thought they would be, but I guess change isn’t always bad.” She looked back down at her phone briefly before setting it on the table.

“Are you talking about Emma?” He asked as he shut down his laptop, which made Joe look at the clock on the wall. It was almost time for her next class.

“Yeah, and now Riane wants to include Lacy, Dalen’s sister.” She sighed. “I know we didn’t date very long, but it’s kind of awkward hanging out with her. I mean she has never mentioned it to me, but she is still my ex-boyfriend’s sister.”

Neil nodded his head, “Afraid she is reporting back?” He teased a little bit with a wicked smile, but internally he was a little jealous she was still worried about her ex-boyfriend.

She cocked her head to the side playfully, “With Riane and Julian being an item, it’s impossible not to see him from time to time. I have to be cordial, so with Lacy around I have to be careful of what I say if he is ever brought up. Since Lacy seems to have a brother-complex that means he gets brought up all the time.”

“Is she really that bad?” He didn’t really believe she had this complex Joe was always going on about and thought maybe she was just extra sensitive whenever Dalen was mentioned.

“Yes, whenever I see her she gives me a blow by blow of what she did that day with her brother.” She rolls her eyes, “I’ve talked to Ivy, she did this with her too.”

“Is it like she is jealous of the women in his life then?” Neil chuckled, “That’ll be a problem for him in the future.”

“It’s a problem for him now. That’s why he and Ivy aren’t together anymore.” Joe retorted.

Neil had no idea why he said this, and he wanted to stop himself once the words were already spilling out of his lips. “Maybe by befriending her, you’ll get another chance with Dalen.”

Those words hurt her heart a little as if he was pushing her towards another man, but she refused to let him see the pain. She chuckled, “Maybe.”

Now it was Neil’s turn to have his heart beaten upon.
Behind the gym, everyone had a tray of food except for Emma who brought hers in a brown paper bag. They all sat in the cool dry grass while they prepared to eat their meals which meant opening cans and bottles mostly.

Emma and Seth sat side by side with their shoulders brushing against each other, while Julian sat across from them with Riane next to him. They weren’t sitting as close but they were near enough so it was intimate. 

Dalen, on the other hand, sat facing the group with Lacy sitting beside him with a big grin on her lips. She hadn’t really liked the idea of sharing her brother at lunch when this first started but when she realized the group was made of two couples and her brother she came around to the idea.

The three men in the group no longer attended the school, but Seth always came to have lunch with Emma. Since the three of them were taking the year off they had plenty of free time. 

Riane had wanted Julian to hang out with Seth and Dalen at home, but he insisted he follow her around her last year like he did before. Dalen would head home after dropping off his sister and return for lunch with Seth. They sat around and played video games most days.

“So, Julian,” Lacy began, “I hear you are going to abandon your girlfriend to go get your masters.”

“Lacy!” Dalen barked and looked at her in shock.

“Speaking of which,” Seth decided to use this as an opportunity to discuss something with Riane, and quite frankly he didn’t want to listen to another etiquette lecture from Dalen. “We were thinking when we move into the city, maybe we can get apartments next door to one another. That way Emma and I are close by if you need us.”

Riane smiled softly, “I would love that. Thank you for thinking of me.”

Emma smiled right back at her before patting Seth on the hand for making the offer. It showed her he really meant it when they discussed it. “It’ll be nice for Julian too because when he comes home to visit one of his friends is already nearby.”

“And I won’t have to worry too much about you, since they will be watching you.” Julian added. 

Dalen sighed at their conversation and once again felt like he was being left out of their friendship now that he was no longer part of a couple.

Riane turned to him with a smile, “Why don’t you get an apartment nearby too? That way we are all together.”

“Why don’t I just live with you? We can be roomies.” Dalen winked. He only said it because he knew it would provoke his friend.

Immediately, Julian tossed his arms over her shoulders and pulled her towards him. “My girlfriend is not living with another man.”

Riane chuckled as did Seth and Emma, but Lacy’s eyes narrowed slightly before she realized it was only a joke.

Dalen decided to continue, “You know I am a good cook, so I’ll make you wonderful meals every night. We can eat by candlelight if you want.”

Julian grit his teeth together, and spoke through them. “You are not having romantic meals with my girlfriend.” There was a look in his eyes which told everyone he knew this was meant to tease him and he was just sort of playing along. Though he was speaking the truth of how he felt.

His friend ignored him while still looking at Riane. “We can save money and get a one bedroom. I don’t mind sharing the bed.”

Those words made Riane burst out laughing, “You’re going to give him a heart attack, Dalen.”

Just then, Dalen looked up from Riane to his friend and found Julian’s playful look to have dissipated and replaced by true anger. “Oops, looks like I went one step too far.”

Emma and Seth who had been laughing along turned their attention to Julian, and they immediately felt the tension which killed their laughter. Lacy didn’t seem to think the joke was funny either and she crossed her arms in a pout.

Riane looked around at the group and then at Julian who was trying to glare a whole through Dalen. Suddenly, she began to laugh rather hard at the awkward tension. “You guys should see your faces.”

Her laughter jarred Julian back into reality and looked down at his laughing girlfriend whose cheeks were turning red the longer she smiled. This in turn made him smile which emptied out the tension as everyone else starting to relax and chuckle once again.

“Maybe you should move with me since this ass will be lurking about.” Julian spoke to Riane but kept his eyes on Dalen.

“You know full well I wouldn’t try to steal your girlfriend, and besides I highly doubt Riane would even consider cheating on you.” He snorted, “You should have more faith in her.”

“That’s what I keep telling him.” Riane spoke a little loud.

Julian dropped his hand from around Riane, and began eating his sandwich again, content in Dalen’s intentions.

Lacy was frowning, and then began to speak to her brother. “Are you really moving into the city next year?”

“Yes, mom and dad only let me have one year off. I know it is scary to live in the mansion alone, but that is why I keep telling you to make new friends.” Dalen looked down at his potato salad as he didn’t want to see his sister’s puppy dog eyes, which would tear right through him.

Julian seemed not to be interested in Lacy and Dalen’s conversation and began to speak. “Maybe we should get married before I head off to university.”

Riane was drinking a soda and choked on it briefly, everyone watched as some of the liquid came out her nose. She grabbed a napkin off her tray as she coughed while Julian patted her back.

When she was finally able to speak, her words were stern. “I told you no to that about a hundred times. Don’t nonchalantly propose in front of our friends when this subject has already been put to bed. Jerk!”

Julian didn’t seem phased by her anger and shrugged his shoulders. “It was worth a shot.”

The other four chuckled at the bickering couples display and shook their heads at Julian’s words.

The lunch was short lived and the rest of the day played out as normal, however at the end instead of coming home with Julian, Riane left with Joe and the other girls. He went straight to Dalen’s house even though he wanted so badly to follow her.

“Going to a club on a school night?” Julian grumbled as he tossed himself on the couch.

Seth was playing a racing game on the television, and Dalen was across the room on the other couch merely watching. Neither of them responded to Julian’s mumbling as they both knew it would only engage him to speak more of it.

However, their tactic was destined fail as Julian was dead set on complaining about his girlfriend’s outing.

“She hates crowds and I’ve never seen her dance, not once.” He looked between his two friends to see if they would answer him, but they remain quiet. So, he pulled the only friend with any skin in the game into the conversation. “Is Lacy even allowed in there since she is underage?” He looked to Dalen.

“Lacy just turned twenty one.” He replied even though he really wished he didn’t have to speak at all on the subject.

Julian folded his arms over his chest and sighed heavily.

“He’s just mad because his girlfriend has friends and other interests and he doesn’t.” Seth decided to tease him a little.

He took the bait, “I have friends.” He motioned to the two of them. “Really shitty friends who are useless, but friends nonetheless.”

Both Dalen and Seth chuckled at his insult.

They both had to admit it was odd for Riane to agree to go to a club, but she had been trying to have new experiences. In past conversations, the two had wondered if Julian thought those new experiences might include men other than him.

After all, he was her first boyfriend and she had many other firsts with him if Julian was to be believed. They had both come to the conclusion that Riane was far too loyal to ever do something like that, however it was fun to play with Julian about it.

“I wonder how she dressed up to go?” Dalen “wondered” out loud and looked to Seth for assistance, hoping he would catch on.

He immediately paused his game, “Most girls were miniskirts, right? I’m sure if Riane is trying to gain a new experiences she might wear the proper attire.”

Julian growled, “She would never wear a miniskirt. She’s too modest.”

Dalen pretended to look like he was thinking and then spoke again. “Yeah, but Seth is right. I mean when we met her she dressed like a guy and now she wears those cute dresses and kinda punky outfits. Also, her hair has gotten really long.” He looked towards Seth, “Remember when she used to spike it, now it’s to her shoulders.”

Seth nodded in agreement, “I agree. She’s starting to get a hold of her femininity. Miniskirts at a place where she is dancing and grinding with men doesn’t sound like that far off from what could be reality.”

Julian knew exactly what his friends were doing but that still didn’t stop the overwhelming jealousy burning in his chest. He hadn’t even thought she would be dancing with other men at the club. He immediately grabbed his phone and sent her a text telling her not to dance with strange men.

Though they didn’t know what he was texting, Seth and Dalen knew exactly who he was texting. They didn’t want to start laughing and end the teasing too early, so they just kept glancing at each other with amusement.

“Riane is not the type to grind against a stranger.” He told himself more than he was telling his friends. “She’s too shy.”

“There will be alcohol.” Dalen reminded him.

Julian looked at his phone to see if she had responded and there was no reply yet. He swallowed as he looked up at Dalen, “Stop trying to rile me up. Riane will be pissed if I show up there.” He turned his eyes to Seth, “And do you think Emma will be too pleased to find out you started it and ruined her evening?”

Seth cleared his throat and began to play his game again.

“Oh, come on, dude!” Dalen smack his friend’s knee.

He slowly shook his head, “No, Emma is terrifying when she’s pissed and she is really protective of Riane.”

Dalen rolled his eyes and slowly shook his head, “Uh, that is one of the nice things about being single.”

Julian looked at his phone and still there was no reply, so he sent another text asking her if she got his text.

“Remember before he befriended ‘Ryan’ and how he would harass him then talk mad shit about him afterward?” Dalen asked as he watched his friend check his phone. “He was so cruel to him. Hated him for no apparent reason other than he was an easy target.”

A pang of guilt filled Julian’s heart as he looked up to his friend to see where he was going with this.

Seth nodded, “I remember.”

“Now look at him. Waiting for a text from that same person so he is looking at his phone ever thirty seconds. Is the notification sounds not on? Its pretty loud from what I remember.” Dalen smirked.

Julian frowns deeply, “If this is how this night is going to go, I’m just going to play games at home.” He snapped before standing up and heading out the door.

Dalen chuckled, “Good, I didn’t want to have to listen about Riane all night.”

Seth smirked at him, “You know he gets super guilty when you bring up the bullying.”

“He should. He shoved the woman he loves down. I’ll never let him forget it.” He took a drink from a cup in front of him on the coffee table.

“How’s your secret girlfriend?” Seth decided to change the subject. No use sending Julian away and then talking about him when the whole point was to not have to focus on him.

“She’s not my girlfriend and we are just seeing each other occasionally. We aren’t trying to be anything serious.” Dalen answered calmly.

“You mean you are fuck buddies.” Seth sighed, “Whatever.”

Dalen leaned back on his couch and remembered his sister would be staying at Emma’s tonight. He didn’t know why she decided to do that other than perhaps to mess with Seth whom she didn’t particularly care for.

Taking out his phone, he texted the woman they had just been discussing.

Everyone loaded into Joe’s car and she began to drive towards the club. She wasn’t certain about the activities they had planned for the night, but decided the four of them could just dance with each other.

The girls were all dressed up. Emma wearing a tight red dress and Lacy in a tight blue one. Joe had decided to go with jeans and a leather jacket since she didn’t really feel like getting completely dressed up. Riane wore a cute pink dress that fell to her knees and puffed out a bit around the skirt area. It was odd to see her dressed in such a manner, but she looked quite lovely.

Lacy had done the make-up for all the girls except Joe, and they looked prepared for their evening.

“I’ve never been to a club before.” Lacy who was sitting the backseat with Riane told her.

Emma and Joe gave each other a knowing look. The two were not fans of her, and it seemed only Riane was capable of standing her. So, every time she spoke they would share a look which basically said, “So, fucking annoying.” It didn’t matter what she said.

Riane smiled at her, “Me too! I’m not much of a dancer though.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll show you some moves!” Lacy giggled. “I may not have gone to a club, but I’ve been to parties.”

“We have class tomorrow, so we need to moderate our drinking. We probably should have waited until Friday.” Joe sighed though she was a little excited to get out.

“Friday is date night. Julian isn’t letting me out of it any time soon.” Riane informed her.

“Then Saturday.”

“Saturday is my date night with Seth.” Emma explained. “It’s the one day of the week he goes all out for me, and I am not going to miss that.”

“Having boyfriends really cuts into your friend time, doesn’t it?” Lacy asked without really expecting an answer. There was a curt undertone as she turned her gaze towards Joe. “I guess being single is hard when your friends aren’t, right, Joe?”

Joe inwardly sighed and rolled her eyes, “You would know just as much as I do, Lacy.” She knew she shouldn’t provoke her, but there were sometimes when she just couldn’t let her little comments go.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to be in a relationship. Tying yourself down to one person this young makes for a loss of experience. Besides, I am busy enough dealing with my brother. We had lunch together with everyone behind the gym. It’s a pity you attend a community college and not the same school as us.” She spoke in a friendly manner but the bite was clear enough to Joe, who decided this was as far as it should go.

“Yes, a true pity.” She spoke with a smile and looked towards Emily, who looked as exasperated as she felt.

Riane, one the other hand, didn’t seem to notice Lacy was being a complete bitch, either that or she was good and trying to pretend she hadn’t noticed. However, Lacy had said something about being tied down too young, which is what Riane was doing to herself. Joe wondered if those words affected her.

“What do you mean by being tied down too young?” Riane asked which ended Joe’s wondering.

Lacy shrugged, “I’m sure it is fine for you, Riane. After all, you aren’t the kind for adventure and new experiences.” She cleared her voice before she continued, “However, for someone like me, I want to know a lot more about the world before I settle down and have kids. Know more than one man’s touch, you know? Maybe around the time I am thirty, I’ll have done enough.”

Riane blinked a couple times at her words, but it was hard to tell through the rear view mirror if she had taken offense or if she was reviewing Lacy’s words thoughtfully. “I suppose, I can understand that view point, but just because I am with one person doesn’t mean all the adventures as you call them will stop. Julian and I can have many experiences together and because we are together it means we will have shared memories. Memories like that can build the foundation of our relationship for years to come.”

This time it was Lacy who seemed to contemplate, “If that is what you want out of life than it seems like a good way to live.”

The answer surprised Joe who expected her to argue her case further, but Lacy simply smiled at Riane. It seemed they both silently agreed to disagree on the matter, but respect each others’ opinion.

Emma and Joe were both sitting quietly in the front seats as the two continued to talk about life philosophies. It was always like this when Riane got Lacy’s full attention. Even though Emma had never dated Dalen, it didn’t seem like Lacy cared too much for her in a similar manner to Ivy and Joe.

Considering she was dating Seth, it seemed odd she wouldn’t treat her the same as Riane. Knowing Lacy though, it was probably something Dalen said off handed which caused the woman to dislike her. It seemed she wasn’t too happy with Dalen giving other women compliments, though she didn’t seem to mind his faux flirting with Riane. At least, it didn’t have any lasting effects anyway.

“Are we going to dance with guys?” Lacy asked and sounded a little to excited about the idea.

“I thought we could all dance together in a group since it’s girl’s night.” Joe told her calmly though inside she was calling her all sorts of names and using a very unfriendly tone while doing so.

She pouted a little, but Riane came to the rescue with a gentle nudge of her elbow. “How are you going to teach me to dance if you are dancing with all the guys?”

Lacy chuckled, “Oh, that’s right. Of course, I can’t be bothered tonight by anything but my girlfriends.”

Again, Joe and Emma shared a knowing annoyed looked with each other and then both sighed internally.

Apparently, Riane knew how to manipulate the woman’s ego properly in order to get her to behave properly. It was a mystery how she managed it, but it was somewhat impressive.

Joe pulled into the parking lot and stopped the car. “You guys get out and get in line, I’ll park the car.”

The three women nodded at her and all piled out quickly before Joe pulled away. There wasn’t much of a line since it was a weekday, but they hurried to get into it.
Ivy looked at her phone briefly after it beeped, it was Riane who had sent her a text about how she was sad she wasn’t coming out with her tonight. She had really wanted to when she was invited, even though she couldn’t drink but unfortunately she had work tonight.

She was helping to stock some shelves with another assistant manager in the laundry detergent section of the large store. Heath was tall with long brown hair which he kept in a low ponytail while at work. He wore the green vests all the employees wore but somehow it looked nice on him. She felt like a green tomato wearing her own. He talked about his band a great deal and going out to bars to drink. This made her think of him as a bad boy at first and try to keep her distance but it turned out he was a genuinely nice guy.

When he tried to ask her out for drinks, she had declined and informed him she was a former alcoholic. He immediately apologized to her and offered a suggestion of dinner instead. She had thought it was sweet and decided it couldn’t hurt to get to know him a little better.

Even though they had only been on one date so far, he liked to find reasons he could work next to her. She worried he might get them in trouble at times, but for now his attempts to be close to her were endearing. Just today, he sent another employee to do another task so he could be in the isle with her.

Heath smiled widely at her when she looked out him out of the corner of her eye. She reddened at the thought she had been caught trying to get a glimpse of him. Though Heath was nice enough he wouldn’t tease her about it. Of course, she had caught him watching her more than once.

Though she wondered if he had plans to ask her out again considering their last date was over two weeks ago. He seemed perfectly content to just chase her around and flirt instead of actually doing anything with her. This made her slightly suspicious of him and she wondered if he was trying to keep her as some sort of secret work girlfriend or something. Her mind wandered to all sorts of different scenarios with him even though he seemed to be a rather genuine person.

Putting her phone back in her pocket, she returned to filling the shelves. She was racking her brain for something to say to him, but she was coming up blank.

“Boyfriend texting you?” Heath jested, he knew she wasn’t seeing anyone at the moment… other than him.

Ivy didn’t get the joke, however, and began to stutter. “No… I… I told you I don’t have one.”

He chuckled, “When you answer like that it seems like you are lying.” He punctuated his sentence with a wink.

“I’m not.”

Again, he laughed as he watch Ivy have a slight panic attack at his acquisition. “I’m only teasing you, Ivy.” He reached out and touched her shoulder briefly.

“My friends are going out to a dance club tonight and they wanted me to go.” She informed him. “It was just one of them saying she was sad I couldn’t make it.”

“Dance club? Should you really be putting yourself around all that drinking?” He said with slight concern.

“I am a big girl who makes my own decisions. I can be around people drinking and having a good time, and choose not to drink with them. I am responsible for myself not them.” Ivy frowned, she hated when people acted like she had no self control when it came to drugs or alcohol.

Heath’s concern melted and he smiled, “You’re right. I’m worried about something you can totally control. Sorry.”

That soothed her annoyance for the time being. She sighed gently before replying. “It’s alright.”

They returned to work in silence for several beats as the customers moved around them while taking items they were stocking off the shelves. Finally, when the isle was cleared, she decided to ask the question which had been on her mind for the last two weeks.

“Hey, Heath.” She began and he looked over at her silently, “Did you not like going out with me?”

He looked stunned by her question, “No, I had a great time! Why would you think I didn’t?”

“Well, it’s been two weeks and you haven’t asked me out again, and I was curious to know why.” She tried her best not to stutter through that sentence.

Heath smiled widely and he chuckled slightly, “Oh! I didn’t tell you?” He smacked himself in the forehead playfully. “There is this huge music festival coming up and my band gets to play on one of the smaller stages. We have been practicing every chance we get which doesn’t make room for socializing. That’s why I keep trying to get time with you here.”

Her heart fluttered at his last sentence. She didn’t know how to act around someone who was so open with his intentions and feelings. “That’s wonderful news, Heath. Congratulations.”

He continued his wide smile and blushed slightly before rubbing the back of his neck. “Thanks. We’ve been working at this for years, so it’s nice to have it pay off. Even if it is just a little.”

She just smiled at him as weeks of worry disappeared with his words.

“After it’s over though, be ready to be thoroughly asked out. I mean I am going to make you tired of seeing my face.” He motioned towards his face as he spoke.

“I doubt you could manage that.” She said in a reassuring manner.

Heath smiled wider, “Oh, are you issuing me a challenge? I take those very seriously, lady bug.”

“Lady bug?” She rose an eyebrow. “Are you suggesting I am an insect or that I bug you?”

He laughed and continued to smile, “No, it is just something that naturally slipped out. Don’t take it to heart.”

She nodded playfully but didn’t say anything.

“You didn’t answer my question. Are you challenging me?” He took a step closer to her.

“I thought it was a rhetorical question. What exactly would you like me to answer?” She told him as she folded her arms across her chest to make it look like she was shutting him down though she was just teasing him.

Heath flashed a brief frown before smiling again. “Say it’s a challenge, so I can have a reason to bother you endlessly with date requests.”

Her arms dropped to her side and she smiled, “Oh, I see, then it most definitely is a challenge.”
Joe watched from their standing table as the girls danced with one another. Riane seemed rather carefree which brought a smile to her face. She had decided to watch everyone’s drinks as she didn’t really feel like being on the dance floor among the crowd of people.

It wasn’t filled wall to wall like it would be on the weekends but it was busy enough, though there seemed to be more men lurking about than women. The music was rather loud but of course that was expected at a dance club.

In her hand her phone vibrated and she looked down at the screen of who was texting her. A slight smile came to her lips as she saw who the sender was.

“Julian left in a huff. I think he went home to wait for Riane. I hope anyway, he did threaten to go to the club and get her.” Dalen told her.

A giggle came to her lips, and she replied. “I believe he would try something like that. What are you doing?”

“Just playing games with Seth, but I’m sure Lacy will pass out as soon as she gets home if you want to sneak in.” He ended the text with a winking emoji.

Joe licked her bottom lip as she reread his text. She had been sneaking into Dalen’s house where the two would sleep together and then she would go home. The rush of it all kept her doing it even though she knew she shouldn’t be doing this with him. Not after everything they had gone through.

It had been going on for over a year now. They hadn’t put any labels on their relationship and though they did chat and share details about their lives, they never went out or brought up love.

She wondered how she felt towards him and knew how she felt towards Neil, and it was a similar feeling. Right now, she wasn’t involved with either of them, not seriously anyway. So, she had time to figure herself out.

It felt terrible to lie to Neil about what she was doing with Dalen, but she felt this was something private and he didn’t need to know. After all, he goes out and openly dates women in front of her. Why can’t she have something of her own too?

Yet, she couldn’t help but admit to herself that she enjoyed the moments she had with Dalen. Laying in his arms and basking in the after glow, and how he would look at her sweetly. Then a moment of anguish would pass over his eyes as if he were trying to not say something right on the tip of his tongue.

She knew what he wanted to say, but she pretended those words were not on his mind. He was told this was nothing but physical and he agreed to it without hesitation.

She remembered going over to his home to deliver a pair of earrings Riane had borrowed from Lacy. The latter wasn’t there but Dalen tried to keep her in conversation for a while, and before she knew it they were naked in bed together. She had wanted to pretend it would be a one time thing, but she already knew then it would be reoccurring even as she told him it wouldn’t.

She sighed as she looked at the text, “I’ll see you tonight then.” She replied and looked out at the dance floor, her friends were still dancing and laughing.

It felt a little odd having these trysts with Dalen and not telling her best friend about it, but she remembered how protective Riane had been of Dalen the last time the two of them tried something like this. She just didn’t need judging looks from her friend at least until she can figure out what she actually wanted.

After the song ended, the girls came back to the table to finish off their drinks. Lacy was looking a little more tipsy than the others, but she had drank three long island ice teas at this point, while Riane and Emma were sharing a bottle of wine. Joe wasn’t drinking at all since she had to take everyone home at the end of the night.

Lacy was definitely going to pass out as soon as she got home which made Joe smile a little to herself. In fact, she had encouraged her a little to drink earlier though she had not been invited over yet, she had hoped she would be.

“This is so much fun.” Riane smiled as she sipped on her white wine and nearly jumped up and down.

Lacy braced herself on the table and drank from her cup. “I know, we should definitely do this again.”

“I agree.” Emma replied and got an annoyed look from Lacy for her trouble. Obviously, Lacy was only speaking to Riane. Her dislike for Emma still coming from an unknown source, but perhaps she was jealous of their friendship.

Riane either ignored the look or didn’t see it and simply looked out onto the dance floor. “It be fun to do something like this with Julian.”

Joe chuckled at her friend’s comment. “Can’t stop thinking about him even for one moment, can you?”

Riane reddened a little before deciding to own her words. “Hey, he’s my boyfriend, of course I’ll want to do fun things with him.”

“Oh?” Emma said with a song in her voice, “What kind of fun things do the two of you do now?”

“The same kind of fun things I would suspect you and Seth do.” Riane retorted quickly.

It threw Emma off for a moment and then she blushed before laughing.

Joe shook her head at her tipsy friends, then looked over at Lacy who had her head resting on the table. “I think Lacy has had enough.”

Lacy lifted her head immediately, “I’m fine, just resting from dancing so much. I wish this table had stools.”

Riane smiled at the woman whose eyes were only half open and placed her hand on her shoulder. “No, I think it’s time to head home. You look like you could pass out at any moment.”

She sighed before looking at the dance floor once last time. “I guess you are right. I’m feeling a bit light headed and I don’t want to embarrass myself on the dance floor.”

Chuckling, Riane shook her shoulder, which made Lacy a little unsteady. “We already did that.”

“Speak for yourself!”

While they were talking Emma finished off the wine in the bottle as she rolled her eyes at the way Lacy was easily swayed by Riane. Joe was more than happy to leave as this had been a rather boring experience for her.

“Let’s go.” Lacy threw her arm over Riane’s shoulder and planted a quick kiss on her cheek before they hurried toward the exit, leaving Emma and Joe to scurry behind them.
She had dropped off Emma and Lacy at their homes, and next was Riane. After this, she would text Dalen to see if Lacy had nodded off so she could sneak in. As they pulled up to the Swithin residence, a familiar face sat on the front of the black luxury car in the drive way.

Riane’s blood ran cold upon seeing his face and she looked towards Joe for comfort. Her friend seemed to look as terrified as she was.

She didn’t have the strength to reach for the car door and merely sat in her seat, until Joe made the first move and exited the car. This pulled her out of her shock and she slowly opened the door and walked towards the man dressed in a dark blue suit and tie.

Simon was smoking a cigarette which he put out with this fingers as Riane approached him. There was a stern look on his face but it softened the closer his daughter came to him.

“Hello, Riane, you look very nice.” Simon looked over the pink dress with a smile before folding his arms.

Riane was reminded that she was wearing a dress though she had learned it wasn’t exactly a club dress and had wished her friends had said something to her. “What are you doing here?”

Joe stood in the background by her car as she was too afraid to come anywhere near the man.

Simon smiled at her too. “It’s good to see you too, Jolene.”

“Good evening, sir.” She tried to sound confident but her voice had been very weak.

Simon then looked back to his daughter, “After the night of the confrontation, I decided I wanted you to live without me if you could. I wanted to see if you could actually make things work with this boy. I didn’t think it would last, but I found myself being wrong every day.”

Riane continued to frown and glare at him but she felt like he was going somewhere with this, even if he was being somewhat insulting while doing it.

“I grew proud of you, but I decided to keep my distance. After a time, I realized how lonely I was and how much I missed my family. I contacted Deidra and though I had seen my son from time to time, it wasn’t nearly as much as I had wanted.” Simon could see the disdain in his daughter’s eyes. It had been there in the past as well, but he had simply ignored it. Now, it made him feel small and insecure. “I don’t know if Deidra told you this, but we are seeing each other again. This time she is not someone I chose just to hurt your mother, but someone I actually wish to have in my life. I am hoping to make it work, and Deidra assures me I have been changing.”

Deidra had not told her she was seeing Simon again. It felt like a bit of a betrayal, but she wondered if she had only kept it from her in order to see if things worked out before telling Riane. It could have also been in order to not argue with her.

“Who Deidra sees is none of my concern. Is that why you came here? You think you have Russell back as your hostage against me?”

Simon sighed audibly, “I deserve you thinking that of me. After all, I did it in the past, but no I am not attempting to withhold your brother from you nor am I trying to take you away from your boyfriend… fiance?”

“Without your forcing the issue, we are going with boyfriend for now.” Riane told him even though they already planned on getting married.

He nodded and noticed Joe had moved a step closer to the conversation. “I came here because I am trying my best to put my family back together and be the father I should have always been. Being alone gave me a great deal to think about, and I realized everything was my fault because I tried to control people who I had no right to control. However in putting my family back together, I realized there was still one piece missing.” He motioned towards her.

Riane’s shoulders eased ever so slight at his gesture.

“I am not asking you for forgiveness right now, but I am asking you to please give me a chance at forgiveness. Come to dinners and family events bring your boyfriend and friends if makes you more comfortable.” He swallowed, “I just want to prove to you I can be the good father I once was before everything happened with your mother. To show you my controlling and selfish ways are now behind me.”

Taking a deep breath Riane thought over his words carefully, as she was about to speak a screaming voice broke through the silence.

“What the fuck are you doing on my property?” Julian scurried over towards Riane and immediately put himself in front of her. “You are not invited here. Leave!”

Putting her hand on his shoulder, Julian looked towards her. “Julian, it’s alright. We are just having a conversation.”

“There is no telling what this monster wanted with you!” He fought her a little as she tried to step forwards but Riane shoulder checked him.

“I said I am speaking to my father, Julian! Stand down!” She barked and immediately the attack dog turned into a helpless puppy.

Simon smiled at the sudden change in attitude, “It is good to see you have such a devoted defender.”

“More like a hot headed idiot.” Riane grumbled.

Suddenly Simon began to laugh which cause Riane and Joe to laugh as well, while Julian looked between the three confused by the situation.

“I will try to muster up some of that forgiveness you were talking about, but it will take some time.”

Simon nodded, “Of course, it took Deidra months as well as Russell. You are a little more stubborn like me, so I’ll look forward to it in a year or so.” He was partially teasing.

Riane smirked, “Don’t set a date for it. I have no idea how this will go.”

“Of course, I am being presumptuous.” He chuckled before standing from the car he had been leaning on during the entire conversation. “Well, I will leave you to your evening. Please come to Thanksgiving this year. I had hoped you would consider my offer so I took the liberty of inviting your mother and her family. Of course, Deidra and Russell will also be there.” His eyes went to Julian, “Of course, you are invited as well.”

“I wouldn’t let her go anywhere near you without me.” He scowled.

Riane rolled her eyes at him suggesting he could stop her from doing something, but kept silent on the matter.

“Of course, but I should warn you. As someone who has controlled her before, it doesn’t end well.” Simon winked before holding out his hand to his daughter and when Riane shook it, he turned towards his car and climbed in.

As he drove off, Julian cackles were still up. “How dare he show up here unannounced!”

“Didn’t he knock on the door?” She asked him.

He shook his head. “I would have sent him on his way had he knocked.”

Riane wondered how he knew she was out for the evening and simply waited for her to return. Of course, he could have intended on waiting until he was spotted to see if she would come out.

Then she remembered the cigarette. It was something he did only when he was nervous or worried. A slight grin came to her face as she realized, he had been nervous to knock on the door and had been trying to calm himself down. In that moment, a little plant of forgiveness began to bloom.

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