Tessa pulled her hair off her neck and sighed, having no doubt that Hawaii was the hottest place ever visited by mankind. She had been outside no more then five minutes and already she could fell herself beginning to sweat, her clothes beginning to stick to her skin.
As she stood in the growing line for lunch, Tessa let her eyes roam down the beach in front of her, which was crowded with people who didn't appear to mind the scorching sun above them. Ashlee seemed to be one of those people, running around the pale white sand with a trio of children who had taken it upon themselves to draw Ashlee into one of their childish games.
Tessa couldn't help but grin as she watched her sister take a dive for the sand, attempting to avoid being tagged by a girl no more then seven; promptly, all the children tackled her sister, climbing over her like a jungle-gym. Despite being driven into the sand, Ashlee looked happy, something that rarely happened; maybe she'd finally be able to retain what was left of her own childhood.
With two plates piled with shrimp and fried rice finally in her hands, Tessa turned away from the lunch line and headed for one of the few empty tables left in the unofficial employee lunchroom. Once she had set the plates down, Tessa squinted her eyes against the sun and scanned the beach, finally picking Ashlee out among the children that were currently tugging her toward the tide line, shouting about making a sand-castle. "Ashlee!" She shouted, getting her sister's attention. "Come eat lunch." Never in her life had she felt more like a mother and Tessa couldn't help but feel slightly uncomfortable; was that how her life was going to be now? Pretending to be a mother to her little sister, trying to send her off to school for her senior year, sitting down for parent-teacher conferences and meeting prospective boyfriends? Just what was she getting herself into by letting Ashlee stay with her?
Ashlee untangled herself from the children, promising to return later, and jogged toward the table her sister had chosen. Tessa watched her closely, for a moment no longer seeing her as a sister but as a grown child, someone she was now responsible for. She quickly pushed those thoughts away; Ashlee was still her sister and she'd been more of a mother to the younger girl then anyone else ever had.
"You look serious Tess." Ashlee observed as she took a bite of her rice. "What's the matter?"
Tessa waved her hand dismissively. "Nothing." She assured her sister. She reached for her water bottle, unscrewing the top just as the bottle slipped from her hands and landed in her lap, soaking her skirt before she could snatch the bottle away. "Damn it." She snapped, frustrated. Now she was going to have to use her already too short lunch break to go home and change.
Ashlee handed her some napkins but Tessa tossed them aside, standing up. "I've got to change." She mumbled wearily. "I'll be back soon, don't be late to work." She commanded as she turned away, trudging slowly down the beach toward the parking lot.
The taxi ride to her apartment building took no more then ten minutes but Tessa was already worried that she wasn't going to have enough time to change and get back to work without being late.
However, all those thoughts vanished from her mind when she reached her apartment, finding the door ajar, something it had not been when she had left earlier that morning. Cautiously, she nudged the door open the rest of the way and peered inside; her apartment appeared to be in shape, with nothing missing. Not that she had anything to steal.
Tessa stepped inside, checking the bathroom and finding it empty, something that made her even more confused. Nothing was missing, even Ashlee's temporary bed on the floor hadn't been touched, though it appeared at her apartment had been 'broken into.'
Suddenly, it hit her. Something was missing. That stupid dog was gone. Tessa leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. "Shit."
Ashlee was polishing the check-in desk when Tessa came storming into the lobby of the Grand Waimea, her eyes scanning the crowd rapidly. Her gaze rested on her sister and she hurried over to where the teenager was cleaning under the watchful eye of Nicole. If Ashlee had known anything about the missing dog at that moment, she would have attributed Nicole's constant attention as a guarantee that she would be around whenever Tessa returned from her apartment. But, since she was currently oblivious, Ashlee had yet to think anything of being followed by the brunette.
Tessa captured Ashlee's attention even before she reached the desk by calling her sister's name, causing her to pause in her feverish polishing. "Tess, what's the matter?" Ashlee questioned, looking at her sister with worry in her eyes. She also noted that Tessa hadn't changed out of her damp skirt, which only increased her concern. "What's going on?"
"You remember that dog, the one that we were supposed to be watching?" Tessa questioned, leaning close to her sister so as not to be over-heard.
Ashlee's brow knitted. "Yeah. Why?" She hardly doubted that the dog could cause this much concern. She was also a little annoyed; Tessa had her all worked up for nothing it seemed.
"It's missing." Tessa said without further pause. "It's gone, did you do something with it?"
Ashlee shook her head. "No. When would I have done something with it? And what do you mean missing?" She questioned, unable to grasp to complete story as it flew from her sister's mouth.
Tessa inched closer to her sister. "I went back to change and the door to the apartment was open and the dog was gone." She explained. "I think someone took it."
"Why would someone take Chili?" Ashlee asked. "He probably just ran away when the door was left open."
"But why was the door open in the first place?" Tessa pressed. "I closed it when we left this morning. It doesn't make sense, I think someone-" She stopped speaking abruptly, her eyes drifting away from her sister.
Ashlee turned to see what Tessa was staring at and saw Nicole heading in their direction, a faint smile on her face that she quickly managed to replace with a look of concern. Tessa straightened herself and fixed the brunette with a cold stare. "Is everything all right?" Nicole questioned once she reached the sisters.
"Everything's fine." Tessa answered. "Couldn't be better." She turned to go.
Nicole cleared her throat. "Then what's this I hear about a missing dog?" Tessa whirled back to look at her. "The missing dog isn't the one that I asked you to keep track of, is it?" Tessa didn't answer. "Because, if it is, we have a serious problem." She couldn't seem to keep a slight, sinister smile from passing across her lips.
Tessa narrowed her eyes and stepped closer to Nicole. "What did you do?" She questioned. There was no doubt in her mind that, after seeing the way the brunette had smiled at her, that she wasn't to blame in the disappearance of the dog. "What did you do with the dog?"
Nicole feigned innocent. "I have no idea what you're talking about, I didn't do anything with that stupid dog." She remarked. "This is the second time today you've accused me of something that I had nothing to do with."
Tessa lashed out and grabbed Nicole's wrist so suddenly that even Ashlee jumped in surprise; she yanked the brunette closer to her. "Look, I'm tired of your little games, so whatever grudge you're holding, you should just let it go." She hissed, her voice low and her face inches from Nicole's. "And just give me back that stupid dog."
Nicole tried to jerk her wrist free. "Take your hands off of me." She commanded, icily, when she couldn't free herself. "Or I will have you fired and that's a promise."
Tessa had to commend Nicole for her strong words and her firm posture, the girl seemed to have gotten a backbone since the night before. But she didn't do as Nicole asked. "It's not as though you aren't trying to do that all ready, you just need a reason."
Ashlee put her hand on her sister's shoulder. "Don't give her one, Tessa, because she really will fire you." She suggested. Tessa nudged Ashlee's hand away and the girl stepped back, suddenly worried at the direction this confrontation was heading.
Nicole held Tessa's gaze steadily. "You should listen to your sister." She advised. "She seems to be the only one with some sense around here."
Tessa and Nicole were so intent on each other that neither one of them saw Jason and Vincent approaching, just having left Vincent's office, discussing the troubles that seemed to surround the Grand Waimea. Jason stopped speaking when he saw Tessa and Nicole and felt as though something bad was about to happen. It really would be the perfect end to a perfect day.
"You don't seem to have any sense either, so I guess you're right." Tessa was saying. "Otherwise, you'd know enough to leave me alone and let me do my job."
Nicole finally pulled away, trying to ignore the aching in her wrist. "You'll be out a job before you know it." She threatened. "And besides, that's probably for the best; we don't need you screwing up the Grand Waimea again."
Tessa rolled her eyes. "C'mon, Nicky," she said teasingly, "don't you believe in second chances?"
Nicole fixed her with a sinister grin. "Sluts don't get a second chance." She remarked.
Before anyone could react, Tessa had struck out a Nicole, striking her across the face with such force that she stumbled backward. Nicole cried out as she tried to get her footing and keep herself from falling, her hand flying reflexively to her split lip as she blinked, attempting to clear her pounding head.
"Bitch." Nicole spat and rushed at Tessa, slapping her across the face. She fingers snatched for her hair but Tessa hit her across the face once more, shoving her into the ground.
Nicole didn't have the chance to react before Tessa was kneeing her in the ribs, straddling her and pinning her arms to the ground. She was vaguely aware of Ashlee shouting for her sister to stop and someone else, Jason if she wasn't mistaken, calling Tessa's name, as she attempted to free herself from Tessa's grip.
Tessa was preparing to hit Nicole across the face again when someone wrapped their arms around her waist and yanked her off Nicole. She turned to see Jason holding her tightly, dragging her away from the brunette, who was attempting to pull herself into a sitting position. She tried to pull away from Jason but he held her tighter, almost too tightly and Tessa was forced to be content with just glaring at the bloody Nicole.
Ashlee was standing where she had been when the fight had started, looking for Tessa to Nicole and back again, nervously and unsure of what to do. Nicole finally managed to struggle to her and feet and lunged at Tessa, as though forgetting that she was being held by Jason or perhaps because of that but Jason turned away, taking Tessa with him and leaving Nicole with nothing to attack.
"Stop!" Vincent shouted, finally reaching the group with several security guards in tow. "Do not move another inch." Nicole reluctantly remained were she was, glaring at Tessa.
Jason looked down at Tessa. "What the hell are you doing?" He snapped. "What were you thinking?"
Tessa pulled away from him. "She deserved everything she got." She snapped.
Ashlee shook her head. "Not the best way to go, Tess." She remarked, remaining where she was, complete with a cleaning rag in her hands.
Vincent cleared his throat. "I demand to know what is going on here." He commanded, growing red in the face. With all that he was already dealing with, this was just too much; what had he done to deserve this?
Nicole looked at her boss. "Tessa just started attacking me." She explained, trying to make herself look that the helpless victim. "I don't-"
"Because you called me a slut." Tessa accused before Nicole could continue with her innocent spiel.
Nicole whirled to face her. "Because you are." She snapped before her better judgment could kick in.
Tessa slapped Nicole across the face before Jason could restrain her, looking as though she was going to do it again before her sister shouted for her to stop. Nicole took a step back, deciding to take the defensive because she was clearly no good at the offensive and even went so far as she position herself behind Ashlee.
Vincent stared at Tessa for a moment, so frustrated that he couldn't form any words. "Get out of my hotel this instant." He commanded when he could finally speak. "And don't think about coming back here."
Tessa lifted her head, brushed her hair aside and headed for the entrance of the hotel, not giving a backwards glance to anyone, intent on strolling out of the hotel with her dignity still intact.
Vincent took a deep breath, attempting to gain some sort of control over himself. "That woman is not to be allowed in here ever again." He told the security guards beside him. "The last thing to Grand Waimea needs right now is another immature cat-fight."
Jason turned toward his boss. "Don't you think you're reacting a little quickly, Vincent?" He questioned. "Maybe we should get the whole story."
Vincent glared at him. "I'm not interested in the whole story, Mr. Matthews, I could care less about the whole story. What I care about is this hotel." He said, his voice level. "But, if you would like to question Miss. Booth then be my guest, but don't think you can interest me on the whole story."
With that said, he turned away and headed back for his office, the two security guards following closely after him. Jason turned back to Nicole and Ashlee, who were both watching him closely; he couldn't help but see how worried Ashlee looked, her wide eyes brimming with tears. He understood how she felt, unwilling to believe that Tessa was completely to blame in what had happened; he had learned his lesson about selling her short before and was too deep into his blooming relationship with Tessa to ignore it now.
"So," Jason said, still looking at Ashlee. "Just what is the whole story?"
Ashlee opened her mouth to give him what he desired but Nicole started speaking before she had the chance. "All I did was come over and ask Tessa if she had lost the dog that she was supposed to be keeping an eye on and she just lost it." She explained, making no move to hide the exasperation in her voice. "I guess she's been under a lot of stress lately."
Ashlee rolled her eyes and even Jason had to agree that Nicole went a little too far with that comment. "Okay, fine." Jason remarked, rubbing his temples. "Get cleaned up, Nicole." He advised before heading back toward the employee offices, motioning for Ashlee to follow him.
Nicole glared at Ashlee as she passed, hurrying to follow Jason, before turning toward the elevators. Morgan wasn't going to be happy to here about this. Ashlee followed Jason into his own office, only slightly smaller then Vincent's, and sat down as he shut the door behind them.
"Okay," Jason said once they had all the privacy they could. "What really happened?"
It didn't take Ashlee long to explain the events that had lead up to the fight but filling Jason in on the moments of the previous days that had gotten them to where they were, including the conversation she had heard between Nicole and Morgan her first night in Hawaii and what she had heard hours earlier.
Jason sighed and dropped into his chair, burying his face in his hands. "I can't believe that Nicole would let Morgan do something like this." He mumbled, sighing deeply. "I can't believe he could get away with this."
"We have to find the dog, that way we can at least prove that Tessa didn't loose it." Ashlee remarked. "Then maybe we can convince Vincent to re-hire her."
Jason looked up at the girl. "Somehow, I don't think it'll be that easy." He sighed. "I doubt he'll be willing to give Tessa the benefit of the doubt."
Ashlee watched him closely. "You really like my sister, don't you?" She questioned suddenly, catching Jason off guard. He looked at her, surprised, and his lack of answer was more then enough to convince Ashlee. "Of course you do. Tessa's the best."
Jason smiled slightly, Ashlee wasn't wrong there. "I know that if I want to have any future with her, I can't abandon her without even trying." He said, surprising himself. "I know that Nicole provoked Tessa, that's in her nature but Vincent won't be so willing to believe that."
"Then you have to make him believe it." Ashlee said with such assurance that Jason wondered if she knew something that he didn't.
Jason studied her for a moment. "And how are we supposed to do that?" He questioned finally. Not even he had that much sway over Vincent when he had made up his mind about something.
Ashlee shrugged. "How am I supposed to know, I've only been here a few days." She reminded. "But I do know that we need to find that dog and I'm almost sure that Nicole has it."
"How are we supposed to get the dog if we don't even know where it might be?" Jason questioned, somehow unwilling to believe that Nicole really had anything to do with what was going on. Morgan he could definitely believe but not Nicole.
Ashlee smiled. "I think I have an idea."
When Jason and Ashlee were finally about to locate Nicole, they found her in the massage room, enjoying a rub-down, compliments of Morgan, who was standing against the wall, checking something on his Palm Pilot. When he noticed Jason and Ashlee, he wrinkled his nose, making no move to hide his disdain, shaking his head before going back to whatever was on his screen.
"Hey Nicole." Jason's sudden voice made the brunette jump, bringing about a fresh wave of pain in her bruised ribs. "I just came to see if you were okay."
Nicole didn't open her eyes. "I'm fine." She snapped. "No thanks to your new girlfriend."
Ashlee headed over to where Morgan was standing and attempted to peek at his Palm Pilot, leaning against him. "What are you writing?" She questioned as Morgan nudged her roughly aside.
"None of your business." Morgan snapped, shutting his Palm Pilot. "Why don't you go bother someone else?"
Ashlee glared at him. "Fine." She retorted. "I'm sure there are plenty of up-tight businessmen with sticks up their asses to bother in this hotel." She remarked, heading for the door.
After wishing Nicole a quick 'recovery', Jason followed Ashlee out of the room, and shut the door behind him. "What was that all about?" He questioned. "I thought you were going to find out if they have the dog."
Ashlee grinned. "We are." She told him, holding out the white hotel key she had taken from Morgan's pocket. Jason looked at her, honestly impressed. "So, let's go."
"You've got to teach me that trick." Jason remarked as he and Ashlee headed for the elevators.
Ashlee swiped the key-card into the lock and opened the door to Morgan and Nicole's suite. She turned back to Jason. "You stand guard and if someone comes, make a sound like a dying giraffe."
Jason looked at her strangely. "What are you talking about?" He questioned, not quite sure what dying jungle animals had to do with anything. "A giraffe?"
"Haven't you ever seen South Park?" Ashlee questioned, shrugging when Jason didn't answer. "Fine, just knock on the wall."
That was better. "What are you going to do if Morgan comes back?" Jason questioned, unable to help himself.
Ashlee stared at him. "Get caught." She answered, before slipping into the suite and shutting the door behind her. She let her eyes scan the suite, looking for the white dog, but there was nothing more then unkempt suitcases and nice furniture.
"Chili." Ashlee called. "Here boy." Her words were answered by yipping and scratching, coming from behind the bathroom door. She turned in the direction and saw that the bathroom had been closed off, no doubt to keep a purloined puppy inside.
Ashlee opened the bathroom door and the dog came bounding out instantly, barking and jumping around her feet. She had just scooped the dog up and was heading to the door when she heard banging on the wall, a signal from Jason.
The door opened just as Ashlee pressed herself against the wall, attempting to fumble her way into closet behind her. She finally managed to duck inside and shut the door as Morgan entered the room, immediately beginning to search around, mumbling to himself about a missing key.
Ashlee opened the door slightly and peeked out from behind the crack, watching Morgan. He was rummaging through everything spread across the bed and the floor, no doubt trying to find the room key that she had snatched moments earlier. Once he had abandoned his search, he turned toward the table beside the large glass window and retrieved his laptop, heading for the door once more.
For nearly ten minutes, Ashlee remained in the closet, as to be sure that Morgan had decided that his laptop was the only thing he needed. But, once Chili began gnawing on her fingers, she decided she had waited long enough and finally emerged, making a break for the door.
Jason was waiting farther down the hallway when Ashlee finally emerged and turned in her direction, looking relieved to see her. "I wondered what happened to you." He said once they had joined up again. "But when Morgan didn't come out, dragging her behind him, I figured you must have gotten away."
Ashlee shrugged. "You don't become a perfect little thief and not know how to hide." She remarked before shoving the dog in his direction. "Here, I found him."
Jason took the dog was some disdain. "Great." He remarked, sounding as though it was anything but. "Hopefully this will be enough to convince Vincent to re-hire Tessa."
At first, Vincent wasn't even interested in seeing or hearing what Jason had to offer, but by some way of good faith, the general manager managed to convince his boss to hear him out. Vincent eyed the dog that Ashlee held without curiosity, just impatience. "What the hell is that thing?"
"This is the dog that Nicole said Tessa lost." Jason explained. "We found it." Ashlee looked at him, silently urging him to say more but he remained silent and so she did too. Jason looked a little uncomfortable about leaving out a seemingly vital piece of information but kept silent; it would only complicate matters to bring up Nicole and take Vincent's focus away from re-hiring Tessa.
Vincent studied him curiously. "I didn't even know there was a missing dog." He said. "I don't care about a missing dog, that has nothing to do with what Tessa did earlier. So if you're here to convince me to let her come back, you're not going to get very far Jason."
Jason, however, didn't appear to be interested in his words. "Listen Vincent, I wouldn't be asking you to give Tessa back her job if I wasn't sure that what happened wasn't entirely her fault. The future and success of this hotel is important to me, you know that and it's important to Tessa too."
Vincent looked at him an scoffed, trying to figure out if Jason really had the audacity to tell him that his newest hire cared about anything but herself. "Please." He mumbled. "Jason I've got a lot of work to do-"
"You know Tessa's kept this hotel from going under more times then you care to admit." Jason interrupted. Vincent was silent. "I think that earns her a second chance."
"I've given her several second chances." Vincent snapped. "More then I should have. Now she's putting this hotel in jeopardy."
Jason shrugged. "So give her another second chance, you know she deserves it." He studied Vincent closely.
Vincent was silent for a while, as though trying to ignore everything Jason had just said. Finally, he remarked, "I know no such thing." He sighed. "But the second she even looks at Nicole the wrong way, she's out of here, with no more second chances."
Ashlee couldn't help but smile and Jason did as well, though he hid it better then the younger girl. "I'll make sure of that, Vincent." He assured his boss.
Vincent didn't look very much like smiling. "You'd best do so." He advised. "Now get out of here, I have actual work to do."
Needing no further invitation, Jason and Ashlee hurriedly left Vincent's office before the man could change his mind. Once they were out of ear-shot, Ashlee turned toward Jason and asked, "Why didn't you tell him where we found the dog? Why didn't you tell him about Morgan and Nicole?"
Jason sighed. "I didn't see the point." He mumbled, not in the mood to tell Ashlee just why he really hadn't given his ex-girlfriend willingly to the slaughter. He didn't expect Ashlee to understand, or to even try.
Ashlee stared at him. "The point is," she said after a moment's pause, "that they've done something wrong and they deserve to be punished." Lord knew she'd been punished enough for all the wrong she had been forced to do in her life.
Another sigh escaped Jason's lips. "It's not always that simple, Ashlee." He said. "Life isn't always black and white, the bad don't always get punished and the good aren't always rewarded. Sometimes, you have to pick your battles." He stared at the teenager, knowing that behind her cold eyes, she understood what he was saying.
"It's not always perfect, is that what you're telling me?" Ashlee asked. "Well, you're preaching to the choir, Jason." She started down the hallway again, heading for the lobby of the hotel.
Jason remained where he was for a moment, watching the teenager before following after her; at least she had Tessa, they both did.
In the lobby, Jason spotted Morgan heading in their direction, not looking too pleased. "Just ignore him." He advised Ashlee, who seemed pleased to do as he said, keeping her gaze straight ahead.
Morgan glared down at the dog in Ashlee's hands, stepping in front of the girl and keeping her from going any farther. "I should have you arrested for breaking and entering." He snapped. "And I'm sure it wouldn't be the first night you'd spent in prison."
Ashlee looked at him. "You're right, it wouldn't be." She answered coolly. "But they usually give you more then one night for first degree murder."
For a moment, Morgan looked taken aback, as though he wasn't quite sure he should believe what Ashlee had said. Deciding against engaging in any further conversation with Ashlee, he turned toward Jason instead, who appeared to be waiting for his remarks. "So, I heard your hooker got fired, does that mean that she's returning to her previous vocation of standing on street corners?" He questioned. "Because I might just have to look her up for a few hours."
Without a thought, Jason punched Morgan in the face, catching the man by surprise and knocking him to the ground. Jason smiled, having the satisfaction of feeling Morgan's nose crack beneath his fist. "A word of advice, Morgan," He said to the man clutching his nose. "Leave my girlfriend and my hotel alone."
"You're gonna pay for that, Matthews." Morgan mumbled from behind his hands, trying to blink away the tears in his eyes.
Ashlee grinned at him and, wordless, tossed him the key to his room before following Jason out of the hotel. "That was impressive." She told him, the smile still on her face. "I think you broke his nose."
Jason smiled as well. "Maybe he'll finally get the message."
Tessa was laying on her bed, channel surfing and trying not to feel sorry for herself when the door to her apartment opened and the little white dog came bounding in. She was so shocked to see it that she could do nothing but stare at the little canine as it jumped on her bed, trying to figure out where it had come from.
That question was answered when Ashlee appeared seconds later with Jason following close behind her. Tessa looked over at him, no less surprised now as she had been earlier. Her eyes were fixed on Jason. "What are you doing here?" She questioned.
Ashlee smiled. "Jason got you your job back." She told her sister. "And he punched Morgan."
Jason shrugged wordlessly, as though these things were no big deal. Tessa slipped off her bed and headed over to him, studying him closely. "Why did you do that, Jason? You could have gotten fired." There was so much more she wanted to say, but somehow, the right words wouldn't come out. No one had ever risked themselves like that for her and Tessa was at a loss for words.
"It was no big deal." Jason remarked. "He had it coming anyway." He started to say more but Tessa threw her arms around his shoulders, silencing him with a kiss. When the kiss was broken, Jason grinned at her. "You certainly bring a lot of drama around with you." He said and Tessa raised an eyebrow, smiling slightly. "Just another day in paradise right?"
Tessa kissed him again, feeling happy and utterly content. When the kiss was broken once again, her smile grew wider. "It is now."