So sorry it took so long to get this chapter out but RL happens and you just have to go with it. I know there are still a lot of question but a lot is coming up in the next three chapters I promise there's a method to the madness.

PTB thank you for being so kick ass with your group's beta skills.

Stephanie owns all things EJ, I own lots of Tylenol to deal with my RL craziness.

See ya at the bottom.

Chapter 5 Standing the Heat

The week passes quickly, and before I know it, it is Sunday. Things at The Shack are running smoothly. We're packed every night, and thankfully, only Jake and Seth have been at the bar with me. Everyone else is staying at the house, getting to know EJ. Every morning when I wake up, EJ rushes to tell me something new he's learned about his family. He's so happy, and I can't help but be happy for him. Coppertop is incredible with him. He spends hours with EJ, and when they are together, nothing else seems to exist. They gravitate towards each other. As for me and the others, well, I've been keeping a low profile when I'm home. Since Wednesday, I've done my best to avoid everything that doesn't relate to EJ or the bar. For the most part, I spend lots of time in my room writing or in the garage with Jake. I have spent two days in therapy and another two hours on the phone with my therapist. I'm just a little bit of a mess, but today is Sunday, and Sunday seems like a good day to just be okay.

Today is unseasonably hot, and as luck would have it, our AC is acting up in both houses. To make matters worse, I've barely slept these past few days. Seth is still angry with Glory and has been sleeping on the sofa in my sitting area. Between his, Jake's, and EJ's snoring, which can clearly be heard through the bathroom we share, I have a symphony going on in my room. So today, I wake up hot and tired; like I said, I'm a mess - a hot, fucking mess. I'm taking a cool shower to see if it'll help. I wish the stress of life were like the sweat that clings to my body - something that swirls down the drain as the water rains over me. I want to release it all, but according to my therapist, I'm conflicted; no shit, Sherlock. If this is what I'm paying almost $300 an hour to hear, then I think I need another opinion. I stay under the spray until I'm shivering.

Once back in my room, I change into a fitted, blue wife beater and a pair of blue polka dot sleep shorts. Not something I would normally wear with this amount of people in the house, but fuck it, this is my house, and it's hot as hell in here. I head down to the kitchen, and once I hit the bottom step, I hear the voices of our visitors and my boys. EJ and Jake are seated at the breakfast bar, laughing at something that Seth is doing at the stove. The rest of them are sitting at the table, talking about God only knows what. I walk up behind my boys to see what's so funny. Seth is attempting to cook...I think. There are eggs splattered on the floor and butter on my cabinets, and it looks like Seth is fighting with the frying pan. While he's muttering things that would make a sailor blush, I clear my throat, and he turns to face me.

"Morning, sis."

"Morning. What you doing over there?" I ask while eyeing the experiment in the pan.

"I'm making breakfast for everyone. I figured you could use a break this morning. What would you like in your omelet?"

Rooted at the breakfast bar, I look over Jake's shoulder into the pan on the stove. Those are not omelets. Since when do eggs look gray?

"You were going to feed this to us? You were going to feed this to my child?" I look down at EJ. "Have you done something horrible to your uncle that makes him want to poison us?" The three of us burst out laughing, and for a few moments, it's like it use to be, before all the stress came crashing into our world.

"Haha, yuck it up. See if I ever cook for you guys again."

"Can I have that in writing, because I don't think I can ever leave my son with you in good conscience if this is how you're going feed him."

"I'm hurt. Truly and deeply hurt," Seth says with a fake puppy dog look on his face. He can't hold the face for long, and soon the four of us are laughing. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice Coppertop looking at us, and he has a look of sad amusement on his face. Then Tanya puts her hand on his forearm, and he looks at her. It isn't a look of devotion or love, but it still causes my heart to ache, and I look back to the boys.

"Seth, put that crap in the garbage, and I'll make us breakfast. I appreciate the gesture, but I would like to live past breakfast."

"Fine, fine, I can take a hint."

I move around the counter but stop when Emmett lets out a very boisterous what the fuck. I turn around to see what happened, but all I see is Emmett staring at me and pointing.

"What? What the hell are you pointing at?"

"Dude, you have a tattoo?" I'm not sure if he meant to phrase it as a question, but that's the way it came out. I roll my eyes and go to start cooking.

"Yeah, Momma's got a few pieces; they're really cool. And Mom's got metal, too. Stick out your tongue, Mom."

My baby is too cute sometimes, and I lean over the counter to ruffle his already crazy hair.

"No can do, baby. I have a spacer in right now," I tell him. He looks a little confused because I never take out my piercings. "Dentist appointment tomorrow, and I don't want to hear another lecture on how I'm killing the enamel in my teeth."

Emmett comes bounding around the table and walks right up to me. I don't really like the invasion of my personal space, but there's not much I can do against a guy Emmett's size. He grabs my hand and starts to inspect the beautiful art that wraps around my wrist.

"You know you could've just bought a charm bracelet. Didn't have to have someone stab one into you."

"You hear that, Jake? You stabbed this into me. Next time, less jabbing, more rubbing. And I used to have a real charm bracelet. Jake bought me one as a push present after I had EJ, but it broke one night at the bar. This is the next best thing."

"He did this? And what do we have here? What's this little charm?"

I know what he's looking at before I even turn my attention back to him.

"That is what happens when you lose a bet against Carlisle."

On the inside of my wrist, next to my pulse point, I have a small Cullen crest. One stupid bet with Carlisle - one I was sure I was going to win - leaves me with that fucking crest on my wrist. Aren't I just a lucky, lucky girl? Along with the crest, I have a fork, a police badge, a heart shaped-emerald for EJ's birthstone, a small shack, and a few inches below my middle knuckle, a small russet-colored wolf, because as corny as it sounds, I know Jake like the back of my hand.

When we first moved out here, I went with Jake when he decided to get another tattoo. He had drawn it, and it caught the eye of the owner. After that night, the owner asked Jake if he was interested in an apprenticeship. He saw something in Jake, and it's worked out well for him.

That night, I fell in love with the process of inking. Jake's mentor, Darrin, did my first piece. I cried almost the entire time. It wasn't even because of the physical pain. I never knew getting a tattoo could be so cathartic. I've been addicted ever since, only now, Jake does all my ink.

Emmett is bouncing around me, trying to see where else I might have some ink. Imagine trying to make omelets with a gorilla on speed trying to paw at you. Did I happen to mention I'm a damn lucky girl? Yeah, that's me: a damn lucky girl. No matter how many times I swat him away, he just keeps coming back. Everyone else think it's hilarious, but I'm getting annoyed. If I thought it would help, I would hit him on the head with the skillet that is currently in my hand.

"Emmett, I swear, if you don't calm down, I will shove an egg down your throat. If you're that damn interested, I will show you some of them, but I'm going to cook for my son first."

"See, Bells, I knew you would come around," he says as he plops back down at the kitchen table. He watches me the entire time, like I'm going to run away. Yeah, not likely to happen. Once everyone has their food, I sit on the counter and dig into my own. I half-listen as everyone around me talks, and each time I look towards the table, there is Emmett, starring at me like a prized bull. I take my last bite, and I'm about to climb off the counter, and there is Emmett, ready to pounce. I just roll my eyes, turn my head to the side, and lift away a few stray hairs. Right behind my left ear is the first tattoo that Jake ever did for me; it's small and most people don't notice it there. It is in shaky letters: bite me.

Emmett starts laughing so hard that he falls back a few steps, and I'm able to hop off the counter and put my plate in the sink. Everyone else is looking between me and Emmett like we have lost our minds. I turn my back on them and pull my ear foreword. I know they will be able to see it, and based upon the snickers I'm getting, they understand why Emmett lost his shit.

The tattoo was something I got after a long night at The Shack. Sal and I were still trying to get along with one another. That night, he made a comment about how the sex must've been so bad that Edward had no choice but to leave. I told him to bite me, and he almost did. I don't know why, but in my twisted brain I figured if all I had to say was bite me, then maybe I needed to extended an open invitation. EJ was about six months old at the time, and I was still trying to adjust to all the changes in my life. I just figured if I was going to die anyway, I might as well see if I had any takers. Dumb, I know, but it's been a long five years. I've dealt with things as best as I could.

"That is freaking epic. Rosie, I so need to get one; that would totally look totally badass on me."

Rosalie just rolls her eyes at him before reminding him that he's a doofus, and his skin was impenetrable.

"Momma said I could get a piece done when I'm eighteen, as long as my skin isn't too hard by that time."

I wink at my son and go stand next to him. He's always loved my tattoos, and he loves being able to sit with his uncle and watch him sketch. I'm staring at my son when Emmett's nagging captures my attention.

I lift my right wrist and show him the writing between my two scars - La Tua Cantante.

"Come on, Bells, let's see more. What else are you hiding?" There's a million-dollar question if I've ever heard one.

I turn around and lift the hair from the back of my neck: a black swan. It is all black and made up of beautiful swirling lines. Jake has a matching tribal one in the same spot. He's Black, I'm Swan - it's us. While keeping my back to him, I lift my left foot. Wrapped around my Achilles heel is more writing. The most important writing in my life - Edward Jacob. My son's two namesakes. It is only right that I pay them homage properly. My son is my weakness; I would probably be the world's youngest cat lady if I didn't have him. Looking over my shoulder, I see Emmett standing there, gaping and staring at me. He opens his mouth a few times to say something, but the words never make it out. I put my foot back on the ground and start to put stuff away. What am I suppose to say to them? We aren't friends or a family, so I opt to change the subject.

"Okay, it is way too hot to be in this house for the entire day. I think that we should spend the day down by the lake. We can barbecue, swim, and just relax for the day. How does that sound?"

"I'm gonna go put on my suit, Momma."

"I'll take that as a yes. Jake, if you don't mind, I need you to pick some stuff up from the supermarket."

"Hey, Bells, I can always help you out with the cooking if you want," Seth says to me with a lazy grin on his face.

"Sure, little brother. Should I just eat the chicken out of the bag, or do you want it to get that blackened look first?"

Seth looks at me with an expression of mock hurt before he tells me to make my own damn chicken. I roll my eyes at him and turn my attention to Jake. It's then that I notice that EJ has already taken off to change into his swimming trunks.

"Jake, you don't mind running to the market, right? It's nothing major, just a few things to grill out back."

"Nah, its fine, Bells. I needed to stop by Darrin's new shop anyway to get some more bottles of ink. I'll stop off there first, and then you can text me what we need."

"Okay, thanks. Since you're heading that way, do you mind giving Darrin something for me? I finished the photos that he wants to put up in the shop. Just tell him to go through them, email the photo number, and I'll have them ready for him in a few days," I tell him as I walk into the living room to grab my portfolio.

I hand the book to Jake and tell him that he can go through them if he wants. Taking pictures is something I've always loved, and when I got to Dartmouth, I decided to take photography as my minor and do something just to make me happy. I never think that what I shoot is anything special, but I love it, and others seem to enjoy my work to. To each their own. When Darrin decided to open up another shop, he asked me to take some photos of girls, pin-up style. He wanted the shop to have an old school, 1950's rockabilly style, so with a few girls he's done some work on and my beast of a truck, we were able to put out some great pictures.

Jake is still going through the portfolio when he says something to me. "These look great, B, but didn't you have these done almost two weeks ago? Why didn't you drop these off to him sooner?"

I know exactly what he's doing, what he's trying to get me to admit, but before I can answer him, EJ comes bounding into the room. I stop myself from laughing; EJ is standing at the bottom of the steps in swimming trunks two sizes too small. I love my son because he's standing there with the biggest grin in the world, knowing those trunks are not going to work.

"I'm ready, Momma!"

"Um no, little man, you are so not ready. Where are the new trunks I bought you for the Fourth of July? I know I bought you at least three new pairs."

"Yeah, I know, and this was the largest one, Mom."

This is the constant battle of having a child that grows at an accelerated rate. I know that many kids grow quickly, but we can't even make it an entire season without having to buy EJ almost all new clothes. At the beginning of this year, I thought I was being so smart by buying at least two sizes bigger, but even that proved to be futile. Ever since he turned four, he's been growing even faster than the previous years. I really need to learn to sew like Maria in The Sound of Music. He could totally rock that blue and white paisley curtain in my room. Yeah, never going to happen. Good thing the Shack is doing well because at this rate, we otherwise would be in a cardboard box.

EJ is looking at me expectantly.

Jake laughs out loud while looking at the tiny shorts. "All right, kid, go back upstairs, change into some regular clothes, and you'll go with me into town. We'll pick up some clothes for you."

EJ thunders back upstairs, and I ask Jake if he's sure about taking him shopping.

"Bells, that's my godson up there, and I will be damned if he goes running around out back in something that tiny. Trust me; he'll thank me for this."

"Thank you, I appreciate this. Let me just grab my wallet. You can just use my debit-"

Jake cuts me off before I can continue.

"Take that out your wallet, and I will take you over my knee, little girl," Jake growls at me while putting an extra waggle in his eyebrows.

"Well then, I guess it's a good thing it's not in my wallet, little boy."

"Just put that shit away. I got this."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever you say, Wolfie. Take the Range Rover, so you have enough room for all the stuff you need to get. I'll get everything set up down by the lake, and we'll meet you guys down there."

Just as I finish that sentence, EJ comes bounding down the stairs and walks right up to Jake. After I needlessly remind EJ to listen to what his uncle says, they're out the door and on their way into town.

Seth is helping m me clean the kitchen when Glory and Sal arrive. Glory has been keeping her distance the last few days. I really wish these two would just talk because this is ridiculous. They're both miserable, but they would much rather avoid each other than talk about what's been going on. Imagine avoiding someone you love so you don't have some awkward conversation. Where do they get this stuff from?

Glory looks over at Seth while the rest of us stay where we are, trying not to look as awkward as we feel. With a nervous smile, Glory opens her mouth to say something but quickly closes it again. At her second attempt, it's Seth that finally speaks up.

"I'm not going to do this with you today, Glory. I just want to have a relaxing day and not be pissed off by all the bullshit that we have to deal with."

Glory bristles at Seth's sharp tone, but this time, she shows no signs of backing down.

"You have to talk to me, Sethie. You can't keep doing this to us. How can we move past this if you won't even speak to me? Eventually, you're going to push me so far that when you turn around, I won't be there anymore. Is that what you want? For me to be gone from your life?"

"I guess you gotta do what you gotta do. You always do anyway. As for me, I'm heading upstairs to change. Bells, I'll be back in a few, and then we can head down to the house and get the grill out."

I nod dumbly as he disappears to the upper level of the house. To hear my brother so cold and detached sends chills down my spine. This situation is getting out of hand, but it's up to them to resolve this.

"How can you just stand there and watch all of this unfold and not try and do something? I thought you loved your brother, but you stand there and do nothing," Glory spits at me. She's standing directly in front of me now, and I can see the venom spill from between her clenched teeth as she talks to me. I try to move around her, but she rests both her hands on the counter, caging me in so I can't move. I refuse to allow her to push this situation off on me. Enough is enough. Someone is going to get their head out of their ass, and it looks like I'm starting with Glory.

"I adore my brother, make no mistake about that, and trust me, I hate seeing him this way. But maybe if his girlfriend knew how to take responsibility for her actions, or if he would just tell you why he's so damn mad, you could move the hell on."

"He's only upset because he thinks me keeping this from him hurt you. If you would just tell him that everything is okay between us, then he wouldn't be upset with me anymore."

"If it were that simple, do you think that he would still be sleeping in my sitting room? Don't you think that maybe I already told him that because I hate to see him like this? You really need a reality check, little girl, because then, maybe you would realize that the reason he's upset has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that the woman he loves is a fucking hypocrite!"

"Hypocrite? What the hell are you talking about? How am I a hypocrite in this situation?"

"How can you not remember? Do you just conveniently choose to forget stuff? Well, allow me to refresh your memory." At this point I'm in her face, not giving a damn who's over hearing this. I am yelling and throwing my hands around wildly. Not that I even have to yell, but it feels damn good to do, and at this point, I'm beyond caring.

"Do you remember when you and Seth first started dating? Do you remember how upset you got two months in when you found out that Seth lied to Sam and told him that he was staying to look into school and not because he had found you? You told Seth that you couldn't be with him if he couldn't put you first. You told him that if he couldn't be honest with his family and his tribe, then there was no future for the two of you; that you wouldn't play second fiddle to anyone. Do you remember now, or is your memory still foggy?"

Glory won't meet my eyes, so I continue.

"As soon as you said that, Seth was out the door and didn't come home for two days, and since he never told you what happened during that time, allow me to enlighten you. Seth went back to La Push, and in front of the council, his family, and his tribe, he told them all about the woman he imprinted on. Do you know what they decided after he expressed to them that he was in love with a vampire? They told Seth that while he would always be a Quileute, he was no longer welcome on their land. My brother was called a traitor and told that if he was going to love a bloodsucker, then he could be under the same treaty as one. And do you know what he told them? What he said to elders who have watched him grow up and friends that he's had since the time he came out of the womb? He thanked them for their time and told them to go sit on something pointy and spin. He told them if they couldn't accept you and your relationship, then there was nothing more that he wanted from them. He then got on a plane, came home, called his mother, and introduced you two to each other over the phone.

"My brother was turned away from his entire culture just to move on with you. He doesn't regret it - hell, he thinks it's what he should've done from the beginning, and you won't even tell Sal that you refuse to lie to Seth. After all your talk about you two being one and not letting anything come between you guys, now he feels like he's the one playing second fiddle. He won't stand in Sal's shadow forever; maybe it's time you thought about where your priorities are."

"I didn't know...he never told me any of this," Glory stammers out. She's still looking at the floor, and then her head pops up, and she looks at something over my shoulder. I turn around, and Seth is standing there. I can't read the expression on his face, but I feel like I've said too much, like I've betrayed the trust he has in me.

"Seth, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have said anything without your permission. I just wanted her to see-"

I'm cut off by a bone crushing hug. For a few moments, he keeps me locked in his arms before he murmurs into my hair, "I can't stay here right now. I just need to go for a run and clear my head. I'm not mad at you; if anything, I'm really grateful. I love you, B, but I need to just run for a bit."

"Sure, just go, and be careful, and be aware of what's around you."

He doesn't answer me, and he doesn't acknowledge anyone else. He just runs out the front door, and within seconds, I hear his familiar howl.

I am getting ready to walk out of the kitchen when someone behind me gently brushes their fingers along my forearm. I turn around to see Glory shift around uncomfortably.

"I just want to make things right. How do I make it right?" Glory pleads with me.

"I don't know, but I hope you figure out something. You both owe it to each other to try and figure things out. For right now, just give him some space; he'll come around. You know Seth, he never stays mad for too long," I say while squeezing her hand, then I turn and walk out without another word. No matter how much I could stay and yell at that girl for what this is doing to my brother, I know her love for him runs deep. But one of them needs to take the next step and decide how much this is all worth.


Half an hour later, I am standing amongst piles of old clothes. I've emptied out most of my old drawers in hope that I will find a bathing suit that fits. The search is in vain because except for the clothes that I brought with me during the week, everything in here is from just after I had EJ. Good thing I have a good stock of swim suits at my house.

As I start to clean up the mess I made, I'm interrupted by a knock on my door.

"Come in!" I call.

"Do you need help with anything, dear?"

I turn, surprised by the unexpected, but very familiar, source of the voice.

"Um, I need a swim suit from my house and the grill on my back patio. I would usually ask Jake or Seth, but since they're not here and all, so, um, yeah, if you guys don't mind taking me to the house and then getting the grill, I'd appreciate it."

Sometimes I feel so inadequate and nervous around these people, I make my four-year old sound articulate. But Esme, being Esme, just smiles and tells me they'll be waiting for me downstairs when I'm ready.

I leave the rest of the clothes in their respective piles. I have no plans to ever wear these clothes again, especially the maternity clothes, so come Wednesday, I plan to put this stuff into boxes and donate this stuff. Why keep it when there's someone else that could use it?

Downstairs everyone is waiting for me in the living room, already dressed in their swimsuits. The place looks like a holding room for a run-way show. Stupid, beautiful people. I breeze past them and walk down the path to my house. The inside is just as I left it a few days ago. The vanilla and cinnamon scents that fill my home cause a pang in my chest that makes me miss its familiarity. It's the first home that was just for me and EJ, and thanks to that bitch Victoria, who doesn't know when to just let shit go, I had to uproot my son. Granted, the move is less than a hundred feet, but it's more the fact that she's always finding ways to disrupt my life.

I go into the kitchen and open up the window above the sink. I might as well air it out while I'm here. I'm heading up the hallway when I notice the answering machine blinking. I press play and keep walking; even with everyone here in my house, I have nothing to hide, so it doesn't matter to me if they hear the messages.

The first of my two new messages is from EJ's now former school, letting me know that I can pick up his tuition refund check any time this week. The next is one that I should've expected, and if so much hadn't been going on, I would've been prepared for it. I take back my last statement about not caring what these people hear; this is something I don't want anyone to hear, especially not these people.

I should be used to this by now because we go through this every month, but each and every time, this crap still gets to me.

"Isabella, do you really think that if you don't answer, I'll just go away? You listen to me, little girl, and you listen good. If you think for one minute that you won't be sending me my money, then you're even dumber than I thought. You and that little bastard do not want me to head over there. So, do us all a favor, Isabella, and do as you're told for once. You owe me this for ruining my life. So, be a good little girl for Mommy and send me my money, or next time we speak, it'll be me and Phil showing up on your doorstep."

I stand frozen at my bedroom door, unable to run back down the hall to end my mother's rant. She does this every few weeks, trying to get more money out of me each time. Neither she nor her husband have worked in almost two years, and despite the falling out we had when she found out I was pregnant, I was dumb enough to continue support her. At first, I didn't mind because she was my mother, and regardless of our differences, I still loved her, but all she's done is try to break me down. So, I'm done; it's over. I have way too much on my plate, and I'm sorry, Renee, but you're going to be what falls by the wayside. Finally catching my composure, I march into the kitchen, unplug the answering machine, and throw it into the garbage.

With the evil machine now in its rightful place, I walk back to my room without sparing a glance at anyone and go do what I came here to do. I close the door behind me and lean against the wood, allowing myself a moment to let the last few minutes sink in. The woman doesn't even deserve this much of my time, but the sting of hurt I feel at the hand of my own mother isn't so easily forgotten.

I walk over to my dresser and rummage through some of my bathing suit options. Since there's one tattoo that I don't allow others to see, I either have to go with a one piece or a high-waist bottom to keep most of it covered. The tattoo itself wouldn't make sense to most people, but the fact that it's so personal keeps me from wanting to explain its meaning. I opt for a high-waist two-piece with cute little cherries on it. It's one that I haven't had a chance to wear this summer, and the tags are still on. After slipping into it and pulling my hair back into a high ponytail, I feel like I've been time warped into the 50's. After having EJ, my body transformed into an almost Bettie Paige type figure. My hips and breasts are fuller, and I no longer feel like I am being passed over in the crowds. I now feel like I could hold my own with the Rosalie Hales of the world and do it with my head held high.

My cherry flip flops and white kitten sunglasses complete the look, and I walk back to my living room. This time, only Alice and Coppertop are there. They look up at me from the sofa and stare at me agape. I'm not the person that they're used to, but it's time to get over that and move the hell on. Since they want to sit there and stare at me, I keep walking toward the door. I am just putting my hand on the knob to leave when I hear Jacob and EJ approaching. The next second, Jacob is bursting through the door, arms filled with bags and a happy grin on his face.

"Let's get cooking, good looking."


Apparently, I must be what's cooking because in this heat, standing over my damn stove, I'm almost done to perfection. I've been stuck in this hot-ass kitchen, feeling like a roasted pig. How the hell did my fun-filled day by the lake turn into me trapped, cooking for four people? By now, I should know better than to send Jake to the store to buy anything, especially food. I sent him to get hamburgers and hotdogs; he came back with a rack of ribs, corn on the cob, all the fixings for my potato salad, and bratwurst. I would just say no to him, but he pulls out the puppy dog eyes, and I can't deny him.

It's been two hours, and thankfully Esme came in to help me with the food prep. Now, with the final bowls in hand, we head down to the grill to throw on the ribs, corn, and brats. Once everything is set up, I take in the activities around me. The ladies are lounging on the deck, seemingly sunbathing, even though their skin will never be colored by the sun. The boys are throwing around the football, and I watch as Emmett sends a pass to EJ, and Edward comes and scoops him up and throws him over his shoulder. The interaction between them makes my heart flutter, and I can feel the smile stretch across my face. The sun dances across both of their faces, and the sight is breathtaking.

I tear my eyes away from them because if I linger for too long, I fear my heart will need too much repair. I take the time to start slathering on some sun block. I'm not as lucky as the rest of these people and need to protect myself before I turn into a lobster. I cover as much of my skin as possible before I call Jake over to cover my back, as well.

"You know, burgers and hot dogs would've been just fine, and you would've been perfectly satisfied."

"But then I wouldn't be having your kick-ass potato salad and the sweet barbecue tanginess that is your ribs."

"True, but now you're the ass-hat that had me in a hot kitchen, slaving away, so you can get your taste buds off."

He steps in front of me, with a mischievous look on his face. No good has ever come from that look.

"Well, by all means, let's cool you down, my friend."

The next thing I know, I'm over Jake's shoulder and heading full speed into the water. Once the water is at Jake's waist, he raises me up higher, and I am flying through the air. When I surface, I charge toward him, and we start horsing around and laughing like we have no cares in the world. We start to slow down, and I glide in the water toward my best friend. After I throw my arm around his shoulder, we look at each other with matching goofy grins. It feels good to just be for a little while and be wrapped up in our own little bubble. Still bobbing around, I move and climb onto Jake's back, so he can swim me around. And in the midst of our playfulness - maybe I'm just hearing things - I swear I hear growling coming from the direction of the shore.

Too much... not enough... let me know.

Thnx for reading