Chapter Eight


"If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more."


"Hey!" Joe yelled as he crossed the mall corridor. Jules eyes widened and she rushed after him.

"Uh, Joe? What are you doing?"

"Hey!" He called again when neither Kevin nor Macy turned toward him. Stella's head shot up as Joe entered the arcade, and she quickly followed him.

Kevin turned when he heard Joe's voice and his eyes widened, "Joe?"

"Why are you here? Why are you NOT at the Zoo with Stella?" Joe asked suspiciously.

"We were at the Zoo, but then we came here for dinner and games and…um, stuff," Kevin said lamely.

"Yes, I see that, but why are you with MACY and not STELLA?" Joe asked with a thoughtful glare at his brother. "Did you ditch Stella? Cause, bro, if that's the case then--"

"No! I didn't ditch Stella," Kevin said quickly.

"It certainly looks like you did," Jules said as she turned a sympathetic glance on Kevin. Joe did not look happy.

Stella sighed as she joined the group, "Joe, calm down."

"How are you not upset about this?" Joe asked her. "He's here with Macy."

Kevin let loose a low growl, "Will you stop saying that?"

Everyone's surprised eyes turned toward Kevin.

"Saying what?" Joe asked warily.

"Saying Macy's name like that!" Kevin yelled. "And while you're stopping things, STOP telling me to get over Macy. I. Like. Macy. Joe, deal with it. And no, I'm not here with Stella. Stella has been helping figure out a way around you so that I could go out with Macy. She was my cover, okay? Now, please, leave my love life ALONE. Let's go, Macy, I'm suddenly bored with Skee Ball."

Macy smiled after Kevin in shock, and before they left she turned to the rest of the group with a grin, "Okay, THAT was HOT."

Stella chuckled at her best friend as she quickly caught up with Kevin. Jules cleared her throat to remind them of her presence.

She clicked her tongue awkwardly, "Well, I think I'm gonna head back to the restaurant. I'll, um, see you guys later."

Jules practically sprinted out of the arcade and away from Joe and Stella. Joe looked shocked and confused.

"Did Kevin just yell at me?" Joe asked.

Stella nodded, "Yes, I was wondering when he'd get sick of you belittling his feelings for Macy."

Joe sighed, "Is that really what I was doing?"

Stella chuckled dryly, "Yeah, Joe, it is."

"I didn't realize--I totally deserved to be yelled at."

"Yes, yes you did," Stella agreed.

He paused for a second before glaring at her, "Wait, wait just one second. You led me to believe you were dating my brother on purpose. Didn't you?"

Stella froze and her face went blank, "Why on Earth would I do that?"

"That's a good question," He said with a small smirk. "Why would you do that? Could it be to make me jealous?"

Stella blew a dry raspberry, "I don't care if you're jealous. That's ridiculous."

"Almost as ridiculous as me actually being jealous. I definitely did NOT stalk you and Kevin at school all week," Joe said dryly with a grin at Stella. "And I most certainly didn't torture myself with thoughts of you and Kevin on an actual date nor did I realize that I'm completely crazy about you."

Stella's eyes widened and she simply stared at him, "Wh-what?"

"Not a thing, Stells," Joe chuckled. "Not a thing."

It was her turn to glare at him, "Oh no you don't! Were you serious?"

"About things that DIDN'T happen this week? Totally."

Stella turned her back on him and walked away, "Fine, then I guess I'll just go home if you've got nothing to tell me."

He stuttered. This plan was backfiring. He followed Stella out, "Stella, wait. Just wait."

"For what? You have nothing to tell me, remember?"

He groaned, "You know perfectly well what I meant earlier."

Stella rolled her eyes, "I'm sick of reading between the lines, Joseph. Either tell me what you really mean or leave me alone."

He looked around the arcade before turning back to her, "Do we have to do this here? Can we go somewhere a little more private?"

Stella said nothing and continued to stand right where she was with one hand on her hip.

"I'll take that as a no."

The pair fell into an awkward silence. Stella huffed and spoke up, "Are you going to say anything or should I just leave?"

"You wouldn't ever really date Kevin, would you?"

Stella let out a short barking laugh, "Okay, that is not the first thing I expected you to say."

"It's been bugging me all week. No, not bugging me, torturing me all week. When I thought that you were—well, I didn't like it. But I couldn't show it because then I knew you would accuse me of not being supportive or not wanting you to be happy or some other nonsense, and for the longest time I didn't know WHY I didn't like it. Well, I guess I did on some level. Yes, Stella, I have more than one level. But, for some reason, I just couldn't admit it and then Nick asked me how I would feel if you and Kevin were engaged—"

"Engaged?" Stella asked with raised eyebrows.

"Yes, engaged, and my insides clenched. I'm not kidding. I felt like I couldn't move. The idea of watching you be happy with my some one else, even a great guy like Kevin, hurt," He finished with a sigh. "And, really, it's not that I don't want you to be happy…it's just that I want you to be happy with me."

Stella's expression immediately softened, and a small smile crept across her face, "Really?"

He nodded, but said nothing.

"Do you want to know why I got so angry with you the other day?" Stella asked.

"Which other day? There have been a lot of those lately."

Stella chuckled, "When Jules joined us for lunch."

"Ah, yes, the day you accused me of being both selfish and shallow," He said quietly with a weak grin.

Her eyes turned apologetic and she glanced down at the floor before looking back up at him, "Joe, I didn't mean that. I just said it because…I was jealous. I was angry with you because you didn't seem to see me. You kept chasing these other girls and I was right there. I was fed up with it. I've regretted that ever since I said it. See, the thing is, I want you to be happy with me too."

He smiled, "Yeah?"

She nodded, "Yes."

He sighed nervously and cleared his throat, "Is it okay if I kiss you now?"

Stella chuckled, "I'd smack you if you didn't."

Joe took a step forward and tentatively leaned down to press his lips to hers. He was startled and very pleased when Stella reached up and pulled him the rest of the way forcing his lips to crash into hers. Her arms traveled up and wrapped around his neck while his arms went around her waist. When they finally pulled apart they were both blushing heavily and wearing goofy smiles. Joe took her hand and led her out of the arcade.

"So, what would you like to do tonight?" Joe asked her.

"Get a couple of smoothies and talk?"

"Sounds perfect to me."

"You plan on apologizing to Kevin and Macy right?" Stella asked.

He nodded, "The very next time I see them both. I promise."

For Joe the very next time he saw them was that night when he got back to the Firehouse. He and Stella had gone out for smoothies and then sat on the swings at the elementary school's playground to talk. It had been a very good night for him. He'd driven her home (as she had ridden to the mall with Macy and Kevin) and then come back to the Firehouse to find Macy and Kevin watching a movie in their living room.

Both had turned their heads in his direction when they heard the door open and close, but only Macy had acknowledged him. She gave him a small smile and a wave. That action had weighed him down with guilt like he'd never felt before. Why had he been so determined to keep Kevin away from Macy? She was perfect for Kevin. He could see that now. She was very friendly, compassionate, and energetic. She found joy in the little things just like Kevin. He'd had no reason to treat her the way he had. She'd always been perfectly nice to him.

He stood behind the couch and touched Kevin's shoulder to get his attention, "Can we talk?"

"No."

Macy gave Kevin a stern glance, "Kev, talk to him."

"Why should I? He's done nothing but insult you."

"Kevin, he's your brother. Besides, I'm looking at him right now, and he looks terrible. I mean really terrible. Completely miserable."

"Gee, thanks, Macy," Joe said sarcastically.

She shrugged, "Well, you do."

Joe chuckled, "I guess I had that coming, huh?"

Macy smirked, "Oh no, you've got more than that coming…when you least expect it."

Joe's eyes widened, "I'm officially scared."

Macy smiled, "Oh don't worry, it won't be anything too bad. Just some light embarrassment."

"That makes me feel so much better," Joe said dryly.

"It should. You saw what I dug up on Fiona. You better believe that I could dig up so much worse on you. So you should feel grateful that I'm aiming for light embarrassment," Macy told him. She stood up and Kevin immediately looked up.

"Where are you going?"

"To the kitchen to get something to drink."

"I'll get it," Kevin offered.

"No, you stay here," She told him seriously. "Talk to your brother."

The two boys watched Macy walk away before Joe walked around the couch and sat down next to Kevin.

"So, what have you got to say for yourself?" Kevin asked stiffly.

"You were right," Joe told him. "I was being a jerk. I kept telling myself I was helping you, but really I was completely ignoring what you really wanted. Macy's perfect for you, Kev. I know that now. You chose better for yourself than I could ever choose for you."

Kevin's expression brightened slightly, "You really think so? You're not just saying that?"

"I mean it, man. I should have just left you alone to work this out by yourself. You didn't need my help at all," Joe answered.

"I wouldn't say that," Kevin offered. "I mean, if you hadn't interfered there's no way I would have asked Macy out so soon. It would have taken me forever to work up the nerve. So, you did unintentionally help a little bit."

Joe chuckled, "Well, glad to do it."

"Just don't do it again," Kevin told him with a smirk. "Seriously, stick to screwing up your own love life."

"Believe me, I'm done. Matchmaking is clearly not my calling. Besides, I don't think Stella would let me even if I wanted to," He grinned.

"You and Stella finally stopped living in denial, huh?" Kevin asked.

"Yep, I think we might have gone on our first date tonight," Joe said with a nod.

"Nice," Kevin said with a smile.

"So, are we good?" Joe asked.

Kevin nodded, "We're good."

Macy rejoined them on the couch with her glass of diet soda and turned to Joe, "Glad to hear it, you can leave now."

Joe's eyes widened, "Oh, can I?"

"Yes," She said with a smirk. "We're still on our date."

Joe grinned and leaned further back on the couch, "I don't know I might stick around. I've never seen this movie."

"If you stay light embarrassment will be upgraded to total humiliation."

"Right," Joe said as he immediately stood up. "You two kids have fun."


The next day the boys had Macy, Stella, and Amy over for a relaxing day full of nothing. They were going to eat junk food and watch cheesy older movies. They were all seated in the living room. The first order of business was to catch up Amy and Nick on the events of the previous night.

"So," Amy began. "Macy and Kevin are dating and Stella and Joe are dating?"

"Right," Nick answered.

"And this all happened last night?" Amy asked.

"Apparently," Nick told her.

"Wow, and all we did was have dinner."

Nick chuckled at the impressed expression on Amy's face, "It doesn't surprise me. Things often change very rapidly around here."

Amy laughed, "It's not just you. I think it's the nature of teenagers. Jules ran into Van Dyke at the mall last night and ended up having dinner with him. Guess where?"

"El Meat?" Stella asked knowingly.

Amy nodded, "Yep. She had some kind of rodent wrapped in bacon."

Everyone's noses scrunched up in disgust.

"She said she wouldn't have known it was rodent if Van Dyke hadn't told her," Amy told them.

"And Van Dyke would be the one person not disgusted by eating rodent," Joe said with a roll of his eyes.

"Joe, you're dating me now. You don't have to hate him anymore," Stella told Joe.

He smiled brightly, "Oh yeah, I forgot."

Macy chuckled, "Wait, you mean Van Dyke and Joe might actually start getting along now? Is the world going to explode?"

"I hope not! I haven't even started working on my bucket list!" Kevin exclaimed worriedly.

Macy laughed and patted Kevin's arm, "You have plenty of time for your bucket list, Kev. Hey! Stella, does this mean you can let go of your grudge against Maria now?"

Joe smirked, "Grudge against Maria, huh?"

"I never—"

"Don't lie, Stells," Joe chuckled.

She sighed, "Okay, so I had a slight grudge."

"Oh! Dudes! You know what I just remembered?" Joe said suddenly.

"What?" Nick asked worriedly.

"Shoe's coming for a visit next weekend."

Kevin smirked evilly, "Good! I can start marking things off my bucket list!"

Macy gave him a curious look, "Huh?"

"Smashing a lemon meringue pie into Shoe's face is on my bucket list," He told her.

Macy laughed lightly, "Of course it is."

A slow smile spread over Joe's face as he spoke, "You think Maria would go out with Sh—"

"No!" Kevin and Stella yelled.

"Joe, remember what we discussed?" Stella asked in a stern voice.

His shoulders sagged, "But you don't think that—"

"No," Stella said with a shake of her head. "I really don't."

"Neither do I," Kevin quickly agreed.

"Nope."

"No way."

"Definitely not."