Celebrate Good Times
AN: So, this is Ella's engagement party. (Ella being the eldest daughter of Rory and Tristan from my WHW series). It gives background into other WHW universe one shots that exist after the main stories. It's a shot of Trory with more explanation of what led into Jules/Jake and more info on the Yale gang and such. I love these characters and I'd always intended to get to writing this. Hope you guys enjoy the extra info.
Ella Dugrey stood in front of the bathroom mirror, easing her index finger along the top line of her lip, smoothing any errant lipstick that might have been out of place. She pressed her lips together once more for effect and, once satisfied with her appearance, turned her blue eyes to the reflection of her best friend, Rosa Langley.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Ella asked in a nonchalant manner as Rosa scrunched her face up at the way she'd just twisted her hair up. She'd immediately torn it down, unsatisfied at the outcome and Ella felt it was her duty as best friend to not let Rosa rip her hair out, if only to relieve her frustration. There were better ways of dealing with stress, and there would be enough alcohol available that night to make Rosa forget her troubles, if only for that evening. Besides, Ella was ready to celebrate, and she'd be damned if everyone around her wasn't going to have a good time as well. She had to be sensitive; after all, informing Rosa that she wasn't going to rain on her rather long-awaited and well-deserved parade seemed cold and ill-mannered.
"No," Rosa said with firm resolution, taking another fistful of hair up and managing to both yank and twist it back at the same time. Ella winced in the mirror as she witnessed the brutality.
"Here, let me try," Ella soothed, stepping behind her beautiful friend and picked up the brush that lay on the counter in front of Rosa and began to gently comb out her beautiful, silky black hair.
"Thanks. I guess I'm a little frustrated," Rosa relented as her features relaxed.
Ella bit her freshly coated bottom lip and met her friend's eyes in the mirror as she continued the soothing action of brushing. "Did he ask you again?"
Rosa groaned. "He's such a stupid boy. Why are boys so stupid?"
Ella shrugged easily. "Got me. But you're doing the right thing," she promised.
Rosa blinked and locked eyes with Ella in the mirror again. "You think?"
"Why do you think I put Grey off for so long?" Ella reasoned. "It wasn't because I didn't love him."
Rosa nodded at her soon-to-be sister-in-law. "I know. And he knew that too."
"He wanted to get back together right away because he missed me. I missed him too, but I knew it was too soon, and that he wasn't ready. I didn't want to jump the gun and end up hating each other. We barely made it through the first break-up," Ella remembered with a shudder as she tried to focus on her friend's hair. She took up a section and began to weave her hair together in a partial up-do.
"He told me all about the night you changed your mind," Rosa said with a twinkle in her eyes.
"And just what night are you referring to?" Ella said with a knowing smile.
"Please. Like you forgot the very magical night in Africa? Out under the open sky, with a fire going? It sounded amazing," Rosa informed her.
"It was, even if he was a completely sneaky, lying bastard to lure me to Africa like he did," Ella remembered. He'd played it up as a group trip, but by the time she realized that everyone else hadn't simply missed their connecting flights, it was too late to do anything but give him the silent treatment for the remainder of the flight. Which hadn't been insignificant, as it was a good sixteen hours to their destination. "But that wasn't the night I changed my mind."
Rosa's eyebrow rose. "Oh, really?"
Ella narrowed her gaze. "You can't tell anyone. I haven't actually ever told Grey about this."
"Was he at least there?" Rosa teased.
Ella rolled her eyes. "Of course he was there," she laughed. "I knew I was going to give him a second chance when we were in the Hamptons after finals last year."
"Wait, that was a month before you went to Africa."
Ella nodded. "Yeah. We were the last two standing, one night at that club, remember, you got a headache and Pax took you home. Jasper left with some girl he met on the dance floor, and I was determined not to leave just because it was just me and him, you know?"
"You were both oddly weird about that at the time. Like you were both determined to prove that you were fine around the other one. I felt awful leaving you two alone," Rosa remembered.
"Yeah, well, I went to the bathroom and when I came back, he'd ordered me a drink and there was something about the way he was just sitting there, waiting for me. It hit me, that that's really what he was doing, and he had been for so long—he was just waiting for me to come to him. And I don't know, it's like it clicked. If it hadn't been for that night, I would have never agreed to go to Africa."
Rosa let out a sigh. "Is this where you tell me that Pax is waiting for me and I belong with him and it'll all work out in the end?"
Ella made a noise. "Please. I have no such knowledge. All I know is that he does love you, or he wouldn't constantly be proposing marriage. I mean, even if he's not ready, he must at least really love you to keep making such grand gestures."
"Or it means he's just a stupid, stupid boy," Rosa groaned again.
"There," Ella said, finishing the hair-do. "Much better."
The door opened and Rory Dugrey walked in. "Pretty!" she said, also inspecting Rosa's hair.
"Thanks," Rosa smiled wanly. "Ella did it."
Ella turned to her mother. "She was trying to rip it out by the handful."
Rory's expression was that of instant understanding. "He did it again?"
"Why are boys so stupid?" Rosa asked.
Rory laughed. "I wish I knew."
Ella shook her head and made a slicing motion across her throat with her index finger. "Not helpful, Mom," Ella admonished.
Rory cringed. "Sorry. I'm sure it'll get better soon. At least he won't propose tonight, right? No way would he steal his best friend's thunder like that."
Rosa paled as she looked at Ella. "Ohmygod. I'm so sorry. Don't worry, I won't let him ruin this night."
Ella put her hands on her friend's shoulders. "Don't worry about it. Grey and Jasper will be on him. If he so much as looks at you with longing, they'll kneecap him."
Rosa nodded and let out a breath. "Okay. It's okay. I'm forgetting about my boy drama. You're engaged!"
Ella nodded and smiled. "I am!"
"My little girl," Rory said with a happy sigh.
"Mom," Ella groaned. "Not again."
Rory frowned, a bit put out. "I'm sorry. I just can't believe it. I'm about to attend my own daughter's engagement party."
"Is Jake here yet? We need to get going," Ella said.
"Your dad called. Apparently your brother is riding in with Ambrose and Jules. And Tristan had some stuff to finish up, so instead of coming home, he's just going to stay in the city and meet us there."
"Let's go, then," Ella said with excitement.
"Why are we even going to this thing?" Ambrose asked as he drummed on the steering wheel.
"Because it's my sister," Jake answered, his mood light in contrast to Ambrose's dark annoyance. "And she's getting married."
"That's why people have weddings. But do people really have to throw a party just because they get engaged? I mean, she already got a giant diamond on her finger, isn't that enough?" Ambrose continued.
Jules lifted her eyes off the page she was reading, attempting to be a world away from the midtown traffic that her brother was slowly navigating them through. "Don't listen to him. He just got dumped."
"I did not get dumped," Ambrose barked. He thought better of the volume of his voice and lowered it. "We just stopped seeing each other. There's a difference. Back me up," he said to Jake.
Jake raised his hands up defensively. "Do not drag me into this. What are you reading?" he said, lifting his chin up to catch Jules' reflection in the rearview mirror.
She lifted the cover for him to see. "The Weird Sisters."
"You like it?" he asked, still keeping his eyes on her as she was curled up in the backseat, at ease despite the frantic way the city was going on all around them—not to mention her brother's foul mood.
She nodded. "You can borrow it when I'm done, if you want."
"Why would he want to read chick lit?" Ambrose asked.
"Just because a woman wrote it, that doesn't make it chick lit," Jules defended. "Unless you'd like to debate Harper Lee and Edith Wharton again."
"I stand by my comments on Jane Austen," Ambrose grumbled.
"Pride and Prejudice is a snapshot into a culture, frozen in time," Jules groaned from the backseat at her brother's ignorance.
"And that makes it different from Bridget Jones' Diary how? Different stupid clothes?" Ambrose asked, not to be swayed.
"You read Bridget Jones' Diary?" Jake asked Ambrose, dumbfounded.
Jules gave a snort of laughter from the back. "Yes, Am, what is your basis of knowledge on the subject? Did you root for her and Mark, or where you pulling for that cad, Daniel?"
"Shut up," Ambrose glowered as he tightened his grip on the wheel and inched the car forward behind the taxi in front of him.
"Must have been some break up," Jake said under his breath.
"And your love life is so perfect?" Ambrose turned on his friend a little, not finding comfort in any other means in that car.
"I'm not in a funk like you, so I guess it could be worse," Jake said pointedly. He couldn't help but glance back at the figure in the mirror. Despite her fancy dress, which fell just above her knees when she was standing, she'd kicked off her shoes and tucked her legs underneath her, seated at an angle with the seat belt tucked under one arm, and the hem had ridden halfway up her thighs. He swallowed and tore his eyes from the image.
"Yeah, well, I still don't see why we have to go to this thing," Ambrose said sulkily.
"Free booze?" Jake offered.
Ambrose considered the comment. "Yeah, alright."
"Won't that girl you like be there? Rosa?" Jules said, not looking up from her book.
The sound of her voice drew Jake's eyes up the mirror again. Her hair was falling down over her shoulder and sweeping into her face. She pushed it back behind her ear so she could see the printed words more clearly. He saw a small, rather shiny studded earring in her ear, and he knew instantly they were the pair her father had gifted to her on her sixteenth birthday. Jules didn't wear a lot of jewelry, but usually when she did, it was something that meant something to her. She had a tendency to wear her mother's turquoise necklace when she missed her mom, who had moved out to California a few years ago. He knew her tells. He knew her better than almost anyone.
"She is the maid of honor. Ella's best friend and Grey's sister. Do you still have a thing for her?" Jake asked.
Ambrose sighed. "I don't have a thing for anyone. I'm busy enough looking for a decent job, or even a crappy job at this point, as long as it's remotely related to my degree; I don't need a relationship."
Jules raised both eyebrows at that declaration, but said nothing. She knew her brother didn't need to be provoked on every single front right now. He didn't talk a lot about his feelings, but she knew he was freaking out a little. He'd graduated last month, and was sending out resumes like crazy. Their dad had even offered to help him out with rent money if he needed it. Jess was pretty hands off with his older kids, but he wasn't about to let them end up on the streets. He'd been through it, and had made it clear to both of them that they could always come to him, no matter what the circumstances.
"Good. Then we can go and have a good time," Jake summarized.
"Exactly. I guess a night of drinking could be fun," Ambrose said, almost upbeat for the first time since they'd all piled in the car.
"Yeah, fun," Jake said, his eyes once again trained on the woman whose image was in front of him, but who was in reality right behind him. He wondered if it was some kind of omen. He knew he hoped it was.
Tristan took a moment to take in the scene that had all come together, mostly thanks to his wife's insane level of planning and his daughter's very specific wishes. He was fairly sure Grey's tastes were taken into account in some form, but as he'd already informed his soon-to-be son-in-law, his primary concern in life was from here on out to make sure Ella was happy.
"So, did you have the talk with the kid?" Jess Mariano asked, coming up beside Tristan while nursing a beer.
"Where did you get beer?" Tristan asked, surprised.
Jess took a long, satisfying sip from the glass bottle. "The bar. Where else would I have gotten it? The invitation didn't say BYOB."
"I didn't realize we had anything other than wine and champagne," Tristan elaborated.
"I'm happy to enlighten you on the topic," Jess said before taking another sip. "Did you talk to him?"
Tristan nodded. "He proposed to my daughter. Of course I talked to him."
Jess smirked. "And?"
Tristan paused. "I get the feeling that Ella got to him before I did."
Jess frowned. "She softened the blow? You must be losing your touch," he chided.
Tristan shook his head. "I don't mean that at all. I mean, I think she threatened him in a way I couldn't quite manage. He was very genuine and almost accepting of my threats to his person for any future transgressions against my daughter."
Jess considered this. "Good for her. Though it does make sense, I guess."
"Because I raised her right?" Tristan asked.
Jess blew out a laugh. "No. Because the kid screwed up once. No way is Ella not going to make damn sure that he knows she's doing him a favor by letting him have a second chance."
"Well, there's that, too."
"I'm surprised Rory's on board with all this. Ella was a mess when they broke up," Jess said, looking around for their wives.
Tristan tensed. "Yeah, she was. But if anything, he was worse. And I know I should be completely on my kid's side, but what he did wasn't that bad. I've been in that situation more times than I can count. It seems rude sometimes, not to take a phone number. It's way more polite to toss it once you're alone. Some guys can't help that beautiful women hit on them. It's not like he acted on it."
Jess chortled. "You're saying you and Grey share the heavy burden of women hitting on you?"
"It's not really a big deal," Tristan said with false modesty.
Jess nodded. "Sure it's not. And what exactly would you do if you saw Rory being polite as you put it and taking some guy's phone number?"
Tristan gave pause at that point. "I need a beer."
Jess smiled. "That's what I thought."
"You're here!" Ella exclaimed, rushing but not quite running into her fiancé's arms.
Grey smiled and picked her up, twirling her slightly thanks to her oncoming momentum. "You thought I wouldn't show up?"
She kissed him lightly. "Not unless you've developed some kind of death wish. I just missed you. How was Spain?"
"Spanish," he answered vaguely.
She raised an eyebrow. "Meaning you drank a lot and took naps in the middle of the day?" she surmised.
He grinned widely. "Actually one of us did far less drinking this time."
Ella studied him. "You?"
He shook his head. "Nope. I missed you too much. Next time you're coming with me. We can run with the bulls."
She hesitated. "I'm not much of a runner."
He laughed. "We can watch from a balcony, then."
"Deal. So, who's on the wagon?"
"Jasper. He met a princess and stayed sober enough to attempt to woo her."
Ella paused and glanced at Rosa. "Like a Jersey Princess?"
Rosa burst into a fit of giggles, which Ella quickly caught. Grey shook his head at his sister and bride-to-be. "No. I mean the Princess of the sovereign nation of Lichtenstein."
"As in, there was a coronation and everything? A real, honest-to-God, tiara-wearing, balcony-waving princess?" Ella asked, in shock.
"Jealous?" Grey asked knowingly.
"Just… a little," she said sheepishly. "I have a thing for tiaras."
"I'll get you a tiara," he promised.
She glanced at him, attempting to discern just how sarcastic he was being. "Really?"
"You have to wear something on your head at the wedding. Why not a tiara?" he posed.
She smiled. "I knew marrying you was the right decision."
"I have a theory that she only said yes so she could officially be my sister," Rosa interjected.
Grey grinned knowingly at Ella and gave her a kiss, just to provoke his sister. Once he was done, he turned and did his best to give his sister a very innocent expression. "Paxton is looking for you."
Rosa's whole demeanor changed. "I need a drink."
She walked off, leaving Ella stifling a giggle and a harsh look, both caused by her fiancé's behavior. "That was mean."
"What? He is looking for her. For God's sake, she was all he talked about, the entire trip. You know what I love to hear about, twenty-four seven? How lovesick Huntzberger is for my sister," he said with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
"You have told him to quit proposing, haven't you? He has to stop," she said with emphasis.
"Yes, I've told him. I've told him, Rosa's told him, hell, even Jasper told him. My mother had it done on a sampler for him. Problem is, he saw how well things worked out for us, and he's citing renewed faith and hope in the power of love."
"So, he's Huey Lewis?" she offered.
"Something like that," he said before kissing her on the cheek.
"Well, it's either that, or we're to blame for Rosa's pain."
He thought for a moment. "I'm okay with that. But seriously, she is going to give him another chance, right?"
Ella gave a heavy sigh. "I don't know. I hope so. I don't know what she's waiting for."
Grey brushed his lips over her forehead. "Come on. Let's go get you a drink and remember why we're here."
She beamed. "Sounds like an excellent plan."
Jake sat down at the table where Jules was seated alone, a fancy goblet of club soda in front of her. "Want some of mine?"
She looked up and smiled. "Seriously?"
He slid it in front of her. "It tastes better than club soda. And you're not driving. I know your dad doesn't care, he let us have beer in a supervised fashion before we were twenty-one," Jake said.
"This is supervised, what with all the adults in our lives here," Jules agreed, taking his drink and taking a sip. "Thanks."
"My pleasure. Where did Am go?" he asked, looking around for signs of his best friend and roommate.
"No clue. With his attitude, I wasn't exactly hoping to hang out with him all night," she admitted. "Gwen says he got all of Dad's broodiness."
Jake laughed. "And then some. I guess it's just us, huh?"
She took another sip of his drink before handing it back. "I guess so. Ella looks happy."
"Yeah, it's kind of nice. She isn't on my back about anything. Well, other than if I'm bringing anyone to the wedding. As if I can plan that far into the future. Mom wants to know if I'm bringing anyone to Martha's Vineyard next month, and I don't have an answer for her, either."
Jules bit her lip, taking a moment to think. "You aren't seeing anyone?"
He shrugged. "Not really. You know," he said vaguely.
"Yeah," she said, with equal vagueness, not giving him any indication as to whether she herself would have anyone with her at either function.
"Are you going to the Vineyard with us?" he asked.
"Of course, we always go. I love that house," she said. "It's always nice to get out of the city in the middle of summer."
"Yeah," he agreed. "Ella's not sure she's going to be there. She and Mom had some argument about how they're trying to monopolize all of Ella and Grey's family time. Apparently weddings are fun for everyone," he said with an eye roll.
"I don't know, it seems like everyone's enjoying tonight. It can't be all a waste of time, or no one would do it," Jules argued.
"Most people have a good time when they're drunk or dancing," he said, scanning the crowd and seeing mostly familiar faces, save for Ambrose who had vanished from sight.
"And which are you going to aspire to this evening?" she asked, fully bemused.
He turned and considered her. His gaze was intense enough that she began to wonder just what about her face was so different than it ever had been every other time he'd seen it. He'd seen her enough times not to have to take notice of her like that. The intensity in his eyes made her stomach flutter. "Which would you rather do?" he asked.
"It might be nice," she began, trying to quell her stomach, "to dance a little."
He put his drink down and stood up. "Okay," he said as he offered his hand out to her.
She couldn't help but smile as she took his hand and watched him curiously as they walked out to join the others on the dance floor. Maybe she'd seen him a million times before, but there was definitely something different about him of late.
Ambrose stood at the back of the cramped hall, near the service entrance, with a nearly empty bottle of beer. He closed his eyes and gave a long exhale. There were too many happy people in one place for his liking, all with jobs or significant others or whatever else made people satisfied with their stations in life.
It was starting to get to him. He thought about taking a walk, but he knew from past experience that cops tended to frown on walking around on the street with booze and beer was the only thing relieving his foul mood. That is, until he opened his eyes and saw a certain dark-haired beauty standing in front of him.
"Do you still smoke?"
He smiled, wide and slow at her. "I thought that was a filthy and vile habit," he said, quoted her from what seemed like a long time ago.
Rosa put her hand on her hip. "Yeah, well, there's just a little too much love and happiness going on in here, so I drank too much too fast, and sometimes when I drink I need nicotine. So, do you have a spare cigarette on you, or do I have to find some other man to come to my aid?" she asked, he assumed knowing full well that he would give her whatever she wanted, even if he had to work to get it.
"Manipulator," he said, digging into his pants pocket and pulling out a mostly full pack.
She smiled, pleased with his readiness to comply. "I seem to remember you only smoking under stress. Didn't think this would be a good party?" she asked as she slipped a single smoke out and waited for him to give her a light.
"I got some stuff going on. You?" he asked as the tip of her cigarette lit up in an amber glow.
"Same here," she said, blowing out the smoke and pointing to the service entrance. "Let's go out there. Mom will kill me if she finds us not only smoking but breaking the law by doing it inside."
"I find it a shame that our generation will never know the joy of being able to smoke in a goddamn bar."
She leaned against the brick exterior and looked up to the sky, where the stars should be. "Lots of things don't make sense to me lately."
"Yeah?" he asked, more than curious as to the inner workings of her mind.
She turned to him and leaned in to feel the heat of his body as opposed to the heat of the brick or the still-warm night air. "Yeah."
He cleared his throat. "You here alone?"
She looked up into his chocolate brown eyes. Staring into his eyes had nearly been her downfall on a number of occasions, but she'd managed to pull herself back from the edge each time. She knew that they weren't going to end up together, and knowing that was the only thing that held her back where he was concerned. It wasn't fair to him; hell, it wasn't fair to her either, to give one another a taste of something they could never really have. But one of her greatest flaws was wanting things that she couldn't really have. So little had been denied her in life—and at her own hand.
"I was. Now I'm here with you," she said, not wanting to deny herself anything simply because it wasn't good for her that night. First came too much alcohol, and then had come cigarettes. She set her sights on this boy and suddenly it seemed no worse, if anything so much better, than the rush that either alcohol or nicotine could give her.
"You sure?" he asked, his breath caught somewhere deep in this throat. His eyes searched her whole face for signs, though surely he didn't need her to tell him that she was interested, given the way her body had gravitated to his. She was pressed against him in the most intimate of places.
"Please don't ask me that," she said softly, but sternly. "Just kiss me."
He knew better than to argue, not that he ever made a case against a woman as beautiful as she when it came to kissing. He flicked his cigarette to the ground and stubbed it out with his shoe as he used his two free hands to tangle up in her hair, letting his lips brush against hers. It was the first time all night that he'd been glad to be a part of the celebration. In fact, he couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else at the moment her lips parted against his tongue.
Jules lifted her eyes to Jake's face, to do her best to ascertain just what was running through his mind as he slid one strong arm so easily around her waist and pulled her in against his chest. She was glad he was a good lead, as she was fairly sure her legs had temporarily ceased working properly. He smiled at her, and she ducked her head against his shoulder, allowing her to inhale the scent of his aftershave and his skin. She tried to remind herself that they'd been that close to one another on a number of occasions in the past, but she failed to recall when they'd ever danced so intimately before in her life. They'd always spent time in one another's presence, but lately he'd seemed more focused on her, whereas in the past he'd functioned as her brother's friend first and hers as well. The last few months, she'd found herself stopping by her brother's apartment to hang out, but staying even when Ambrose was off doing other things and at some point she had overtaken the position carried by her brother. Though she was one hundred percent certain Jake and Ambrose had never experienced anything akin to what she was feeling as she let herself be led around the dance floor pressed against Jake Dugrey. She wasn't sure she'd ever felt anything that strong in her life, either.
"You okay?" Jake asked, taking note of her preoccupation.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Not very graceful, I'm afraid," she said, indicating the fact that he was doing all the work in the partnered activity.
"You're a great partner," he said, with great enough authority that she closed her mouth and did her best to move along with him. It wasn't hard; she'd always been told that a strong male lead was the key to any partnered dance. Jake had clearly mastered the skill, but there was something else that made it feel so easy; the way his hand fit against the small of her back, the way her head met his shoulder, the smile he gave her every time she peeked at his face.
"Are you taking more summer classes?" she asked, desperate to find a conversation to take her mind off how his body felt against hers.
"Yeah. I sat down with my advisor last year when I added the second major and he said the only way I'd make it out on my preferred time table was to double up during the summer and max out my credit hours during the year," he explained.
"I don't know how you do it. I feel hassled whenever I go over fifteen credits a semester," she admitted.
"You could do anything you set your mind to," he assured her. "Mom says I'm too stubborn and it's going to bite me in the ass."
"You, stubborn?" she mocked.
"Very funny," he relented. "But it's a common trait in our circle."
"I'm going to assume you mean my brother," she said coquettishly.
"Assumptions are often dangerous," he said, though his tone led her to think that he wasn't just referring to the current conversation.
"Then perhaps you should just insult me outright," she teased lightly, to ease any underlying issue. She couldn't imagine he'd be upset with her; they'd been spending enough time together lately, and she'd never once gotten the impression he was anything other than happy in her company. She certainly had enjoyed their recent increase in time together.
Of course, she was also finding that to be something of a complication in and of itself. Jake Dugrey wasn't someone she could just act impulsively with, given the recent change in feelings she was experiencing. She also couldn't ask him for advice on the matter, as she'd do if it were anyone else she was attracted to. Going to anyone she was close to felt weird; whether or not they'd encourage her to act on her growing attraction to him didn't matter—rather their shared history just made it too overwhelming to comprehend. Stealing a kiss to see what happened; it seemed out of the question to her as she'd always known him and would always know him. Messing up what they had was a huge risk. That did not make it any easier to suppress, especially as his grip tightened around her waist. He was holding her flush against his chest, so that their bodies were melded against one another, but she wasn't about to complain. She could have had issue drawing a full breath and wouldn't have uttered a protest, while still in his arms.
"I don't think I could find a bad word to say about you," he said, his blue eyes piercing into her.
She did not duck her head or shirk away in any form. She could only smile at the boy that she so badly wanted to kiss in that moment as she swayed in his arms. If they hadn't been in direct view of both their sets of parents, she might have given into baser urges at that moment. Everything about his body language seemed inviting, and she could feel her heart and her mind in agreement on the matter.
"Jake," she began, wanting to convey that despite everything she was feeling, the way her body was reacting to his, that this wasn't the time or place. Instead, she found herself just looking into his eyes again. Words, with which she was normally gifted, seemed insufficient.
"It's okay, I get it," he said with a light sigh.
She furrowed her brow at him, wondering if he could in fact read her thoughts. "You do?"
He nodded. "Of course. We're friends, right?"
Disappointment swelled in her chest. "Right."
"But you know I'm around, if you need anything, don't you?"
Her disappointment was over swept by more confusion and, heaven help her, hope. "Yeah. I've always known that."
He smiled. "Good."
She looked over his shoulder, seeing her father dancing with her stepmother on the other side of the dance floor. They looked so happy and carefree, happy for a night off of parenting her much younger brother. They were surrounded with people in love in the most carefree of manners. She put her head against Jake's shoulder and let him continue to move her around the room effortlessly, as if pretending they were one of those carefree couples.
"Have you seen Rosa?" Pax asked the happy couple as they danced.
Ella stopped moving and her eyes cut to Grey, indicating he should handle the situation.
"She's around somewhere. You know her, always off looking to make things more interesting," Grey played off her lack of visibility.
"Did she say anything to you guys?" Pax asked, this time setting his gaze on Ella. The best friend always had the most information. She swore in her head.
"Pax, she just needs time. And if you propose to her again tonight, I'll cut you," she added for good measure.
"This is stupid. She wants to be with me," he insisted.
"That's what most stalkers say," Grey teased him, his face giving a perfect deadpan delivery.
"She does love you, Pax, but she's not ready. So go find some other girl and dance. And if you can't do that, then go home and pout there," Ella suggested.
"I can have a good time without her. But I was hoping to have a good time with her tonight," Pax explained, rather suggestively.
"Are my ears bleeding?" Grey asked, turning to Ella and purposely ignoring Pax.
"I think you'll live," she said with an eye roll. "Both of you. We need Jasper to distract you. When is he getting here?"
Grey and Pax shared a look. "You didn't tell her?"
"Tell me what?" Ella asked, turning to Grey again. "Is this about the princess?"
"Yeah… he didn't just meet her. He was actually successful in his wooing."
Ella glanced from Grey to Pax. "So she likes him too?"
Pax smirked. "Well, she agreed to marry him, so I'd say she likes him, wouldn't you?" he asked Grey.
"Jasper's getting married? To a princess?" Ella squeaked, her eyes as wide as saucers. "And you didn't tell me?"
"It happened pretty fast. And there was all that wine and so many siestas," he shrugged. "But we are invited to the wedding. It's next month."
"Next month? Please, please tell me Jasper didn't knock up a princess," she said with her eyes squeezed shut.
Pax barked out a laugh, and Grey's shoulders shook with laughter. "No. They are both claiming spontaneity and something about not wanting to interfere with some honored festival that happens in the fall. There were details, but again, there was also wine and siestas. And we rarely pay much attention when Jasper's going on about the girl he likes. There's usually a lot of embellishment."
"But surprisingly little this time around," Pax pointed out.
Grey nodded. "True."
"Wow. I know it's usually go big or go home with you guys, but … wow."
There was a brief pause in conversation as the three mulled over their good friend's sudden good news. Pax was the first to speak again. "So, do you think a romantic trip to Lichtenstein is a good place to propose?"
"He? Is hopeless," Ella said, speaking about Pax as if he weren't right there.
"He knows," Grey said, equally disregarding his friend's continued presence.
Her back was against the brick exterior and her skirt was hiked up higher than was proper, especially given that they were outside. Granted, they were in a back alley and obstructed from the street by a number of giant dumpsters located a good block away, but still. His hand was caressing her upper thigh in a manner that showed no signs of backing off or slowing down.
Her breath was coming harder as his tongue met the sensitive skin of her neck. She could feel him pressing into her hip, where his pants were too tight and in need of immediate relief. She appreciated that his reaction to her was as strong as hers to him. She had not given any thought to just how far they could let this continue, but apparently he was intent to press on as far as she was willing to let him. His hand was under her dress now, and his fingers played along the edge of her panties.
"Ambrose," she breathed his name out, and his grip tightened. She'd meant to catch his attention, not further arouse him.
"Hey," she said, nudging her nose into his cheek, which only caused him to turn into her mouth, and he took any words as well as her breath away as their lips met once more. She forgot to worry about what his hand was doing against her underwear until she felt a whole new sensation that caused her to gasp against his mouth.
"We're in an alley," she managed, about a half a second after she remembered herself.
"We could go to my place," he said quickly, willing to continue their current activities just about anywhere she'd agree to. He was fine in the goddamn alley, to be honest. The only requirement for him at the moment that she be wherever he was.
"I shouldn't," she groaned, as his hands tried to convince her otherwise. "It's my best friend and brother in there," she said, easing his mind a little. He could talk her out of niceties. Or if he couldn't talk her out of it, he could convince her in other ways.
"So what?" he asked, wondering just how much of a sticking point this was going to be for her. He didn't retreat from her at all, save for disengaging his lips from hers.
"It's not that I don't want to," she said, her eyes pleading in a way that made him believe her.
"So let's just go. I'll bring you back. Have you seen how they look at each other? They're not going to notice if anyone slips out for a while," he said with confidence.
"Other people will notice. My parents. Your dad," she said, leaving out one other person who was most definitely trying to find her as well.
"Is that all?" he asked with a certain level of annoyance.
"Ambrose," she said again, this time with less desire and more sadness.
"You're out here with me. That has to mean something," he pointed out.
"It does. It means that I'm attracted to you, even if it's not fair of me to tell you that or act on it."
"On the contrary. I'd prefer you convey that message to me in any way, shape, or form you wish," he said playfully and met her lips with his again, in a manner that made certain parts of her roar to life.
When the pulled apart, she groaned. "So. Not. Fair."
"You're not going to tell me that the other guy can give you everything you want and I'm just some kid that would amount to not much more than a few notches on your headboard, are you?"
She raised her eyebrow. "A few?"
He fixed her with a knowing stare. "Trust me."
She blushed. "It's not like that. He does want to marry me. And there's no way," she began, but cut off when she saw the irritation in his eyes.
"No way what?" he demanded.
"No way that I would ever put you in the position to feel compelled to compete with any of that. I admit, there's something between us," she said through heavy lashes.
He shifted against her. "Funny."
"No," she put her hand to his chest and gripped his shirt. "Possibly something great. But our timing," she shook her head.
"I'm not asking you to pledge to spend the rest of your life with me," he said, trying to find his in.
"You'd be okay with just one night together?" she challenged.
He smiled, though he was playing chicken. "If you are."
She hesitated. He put on a good show, but she wasn't sure just what she'd find as she delved in deeper to this boy. His body felt like that of a man, but he'd never had a serious girlfriend, and he was just leaving college to enter the working world in a real way. She wondered if what they wanted was really so different in life. She might never get the chance to find out. But she had to take him on his word. If he said he was fine with just a night, then… "I'm in."
His lips sealed to hers in the next breath, without warning. She melted against his chest and wound her arms up around his shoulders.
"May I cut in?"
Jake and Jules stopped dancing and separated like someone had shot a gun next to them. Her father stared at them as if they'd gone insane.
"Everything okay?" he asked as Jake stepped further away from his daughter.
"Great. I'm going to go get another drink," Jake said, nodding to Jules.
Jules nodded weakly and took hold of her father's shoulder as he gripped her hand and started to move back and forth—in a much less formal manner than Jake had, despite the fact that she stood several inches further away from her father than she had to Jake.
"Having a bad time?" Jess asked.
"It's not so bad. The music's pretty good," she managed.
"Mmm. So what was that all about?" he asked.
She looked up at him innocently. "What was what about?"
He shrugged as they danced. "The two of you, you shot apart pretty quick when I asked to cut in."
"Oh, nothing. I mean, we'd been dancing for a while," she said vaguely.
"Mmmhmmm," he said, not quite buying her attempt to play it off. "You still seeing that guy?"
Jules thought for a moment. "Oh, Rick? No, I broke up with him after Ambrose's graduation. He was weird."
"Good, I didn't like him. He kept calling me Mr. Mariano."
She rolled her eyes. "That's your name, Dad."
He shrugged. "It was the way he said it."
"Are you having a good time?" she shifted the topic of conversation.
"I'm dancing with my daughter, of course I'm having a good time."
"Lame? Ouch. Clearly I need to reclaim my lost youth."
"Please don't," Jules asked pleadingly.
He smirked at her. "Spoil sport. You'll tell me if there's something I should know?"
"If it's important, then you'll know. Nothing is happening. Ambrose sort of took off, and he's our ride, so we're just hanging out until he shows up."
"Did you call him?" Jess asked.
Jules wrinkled her nose. "He's all broody."
Jess rolled his eyes and pulled out his wallet. "Here."
"Dad," she began, then stopped. It was best to put up a bit of a fight when he offered her money, so he wouldn't feel like he was being milked of it all the time, but she wasn't stupid enough to actually turn it down.
"Cab money. So you're not dependent on your broody brother."
"I can't keep depending on him anyway. He said he's going to sell his car," she said.
Jess frowned. "Why?"
"Because it's New York and no one needs a car," she parroted, "at least, that's what he says. I think he's freaking out about not having a job yet."
Jess nodded. "He doesn't need a car. He's young and in one of the best cities for public transportation. I'll talk to him about the job thing. This should free you from being at his mercy tonight anyhow."
"Thanks, Dad," she said gratefully. "You could have just offered to take me home," she reminded.
He shook his head and smiled at her. "Nope. I'm on a date with my wife. No kids allowed," he said with a kiss to her cheek. "Don't drink too much of Jake's beer, even if you are taking a cab."
She cringed, having been caught. "I promise."
He nodded, taking faith in his only daughter. "Good girl."
He left her alone and she stashed the cash into her purse. She bit her lip and scanned the room for either her brother's return or Jake. When she saw him, she grabbed her purse and made a beeline for him.
Lorelai sat down in a chair next to her daughter, who was drinking something very pink from a martini glass. "Good party."
Rory smiled wistfully. "It is, isn't it?"
Lorelai nodded. "For sure. Though no one has gotten naked or danced on an elevated surface. And there's no open mic, thus preventing someone's inevitable demise to embarrass themselves publically."
"Ella just wanted music and dancing and drinks," Rory said. "This is all her."
Lorelai inspected her daughter's posture. "You're still sad?"
Rory sat up straighter. "I'm not sad! I'm happy for her."
Lorelai smiled knowingly. "I was sad, when you got married."
Rory looked interested. "You were?"
Lorelai nodded. "Of course. You and I were pals, for the longest time it was you and me before anyone else. Then you got married and it was you and him."
"Uh, Mom, you married Luke before I married Tristan," Rory pointed out.
"Yeah, but Luke knew that you and I came first. He was never going to interrupt movie nights or Sephora Saturdays or week-long birthday celebrations."
"Ella and I haven't had a movie night in a long time," Rory said nostalgically.
"Then have one," Lorelai suggested.
"What?" Rory asked. "She's so busy with the wedding plans and work," she began.
"Too busy to watch Kevin Bacon shake it in what should always be known as the only Footloose worth watching? Of course a viewing of the other one should be enforced purely for mocking purposes," Lorelai extrapolated.
"Sounds like fun. How could she say no to both Kevin Bacon and Red Vines?"
"If you throw in cheesy bread, she'd be stupid to say no," Lorelai declared.
"I'll ask her later. I hate to interrupt. They look so happy, don't they?" Rory asked as they cast their eyes on Ella and Grey, across the room, laughing together with his parents.
"They are happy. You should be glad she found someone as great as him. That's what I focused on when you married Tristan. You both found great guys."
"It's what I'm here for. At least since there's no open mic to go along with the free booze."
"It's getting late. Have you seen Ambrose?" Jake asked as Jules walked up to him after talking to her dad.
She shook her head. "He must have taken off."
"Geez, I know he's in a funk lately, but I didn't think he'd leave his sister and best friend behind," he muttered, taking a drink.
She felt flush as he uttered the words. Jake was her brother's best friend. She'd known him her entire life in that capacity. What she'd come over to say felt too brazen and brass suddenly. What she managed to say sounded far less seductive and way more platonic than had been her original intent.
"Want to get out of here? I have cab fare," she offered.
"Sure," he accepted easily, as it wasn't as if they hadn't arrived together. Leaving together, even after their ride disappeared, didn't seem anything other than normal.
They said no goodbyes, as the room was far too crowded to bother. They escaped out into the night air and he made short work of hailing a cab. He opened the door for her and waited for her to ease in and climbed in after her as she was still readjusting her skirt around her knees.
"One stop or two?" the cabbie asked.
"One," she said quickly, without glancing at Jake. He settled back and watched her, curiously. She turned to meet his eyes, in the back of the darkened cab. She gave the address to his apartment.
"You can have my bed, if you want to stay at our place," he said finally.
"Lia had a date tonight," she explained. "I wanted to give her some space. And yelling at Ambrose when he finally shows up is a contributing factor," she informed him.
"He'll be fine once he gets a job. He's never been that upset over any girl," Jake said assuredly.
"You don't have to give me your bed," she said.
"I don't mind," he said quickly. "I'm fine on the couch."
On the couch. She closed her eyes. Once upon a time, when they were much younger, they used to cram into the same bed and read or talk or watch movies. It had never been seen as anything other than cute, as it had all been fairly platonic. Sure, she'd had a childhood crush on him, but never had she thought of acting on it. At least, not until recently. She tried to picture what it would be like, to share a bed with him now. A blush crept over her face.
"I don't mean to displace you," she began again. "It's not a big deal, or something we haven't done before."
There was a long pause. She wasn't sure he'd actually heard her, after a time, or if he was just refusing to continue the conversation. She could hear the sound of her own heart beating, even over the noise of their cab on the busy streets.
"That was a long time ago," he said at last.
"I thought you said we're friends," she said in a challenging tone.
"We are, but Jules," he began as the cab pulled to a stop. The cabbie announced their fee and stared at them in the rearview window as they stared at each other.
"Is anyone getting out?" he barked.
"I can go home," she said quietly.
"No," he shook his head. "Come up. Stay."
She nodded and shoved money to the driver, exiting the vehicle behind Jake. He held the door to his building for her after he punched in a code, and they made for the stairs. It felt like the longest walk up of her life.
"Not much of a view," Rosa mused as she sat on the edge of the bed and looked out the window of Ambrose's room. It was just big enough to shove a bed and a dresser into, and the only thing he saw from his window was the building across the street.
"You should see it at two in the morning."
"What happens at two in the morning?" she asked, knowing that she'd probably never see the sight with her own eyes.
He smirked at her from his relaxed position on his back in the middle of his bed. "The tranny hookers take their corners and cat call to each other until they get picked up. It's like an off Broadway production some nights."
She turned from her perch and curled back up against him. "Sounds like choice entertainment."
He stroked her arm with his thumb. "You know New York, it's all about location."
She studied him as if she were trying to uncover some hidden truth or perhaps to memorize this side of him. He was relaxed, despite knowing that whatever they were sharing was about to be over and not likely to be repeated. She wondered how he could be so content with that notion. She wasn't sure she was so accepting. "You like living in the city?"
He shrugged. "It's what I know. I can't see myself leaving."
"Not even for work?" she posed.
He stared her evenly in the eyes. "Never say never, but what is New York if not the hub of the news industry?"
"What about for a girl?" she asked, her eyes wavering for a moment.
"That's assuming I could fall for a woman who doesn't enjoy New York?" he postulated, teasing her a little.
"You know what I mean," she said as she poked her finger into the skin over his ribs. Her hand flattened out after that and eased over to his smooth and toned stomach.
He put his hand over hers and held it against him. "You want to know what I'd do to be with a woman," he surmised.
She bit her lip. "Maybe."
He gave a heavy sigh. "Are you asking me to fight for your honor?"
She shook her head. "Of course not. I'm not asking you to do anything."
"Hah," he said, as if she'd made a joke.
"I'm not. I'm just curious."
"If I thought it would make a difference," he said with hesitation. "I'd fight for you."
"But?" she asked, knowing what came next.
"But I think we both know how that would turn out. I'm not the better guy in that fight."
She frowned and eased up to raise her face to his. Her hand went to his cheek. "You're a great guy."
"But I didn't get there first," he concluded.
She pressed her forehead against his. "I guess you didn't."
He kissed her then, which brought her to the point of tears. She didn't want to cry for him. Not that he wasn't worthy of her tears, but their time together had been perfect. She didn't want to be sad about it.
"You shouldn't be nice to me," she said finally.
"Yeah, well," he said with a shrug. "If you couldn't already tell, I find it hard to say no to you."
She smiled then. And somehow she instigated round two.
Grey groaned and Ella patted his arm dismissively. "She probably just got a headache."
Pax shook his head. "She's avoiding me."
Grey narrowed his gaze. "Can you blame her?"
"I thought women liked being proposed to," Pax grumbled.
Ella turned to make eye contact him. "What would you have done if she'd said yes at any point?"
Pax frowned. "That's not a serious question, is it?"
Grey sat up, interested in the turn. "I'd like to hear the answer to that."
"If she said yes, we'd get married."
"Really? You're ready, right now, to get married?" Ella pushed.
Pax frowned in consternation. "You two are doing it," he said, as if that was the only reason he needed.
"And he wonders why she keeps saying no," Ella shook her head sadly at Grey.
"What does that mean?" Pax demanded.
"That means that we didn't rush into anything to heal our bruised egos," Grey explained. "When I fucked up," he began.
"See how easily he admits that?" Ella said, pointing at her intended.
"I admitted it. I accepted the consequences and I put in the time and effort of earning the position of being the man in her life again."
"I'd like to think I did my part in getting us there," she mused.
"If I'd just have shown up on her door, desperate with a ring, she would have slammed the door in my face."
"But showing up drunk with a key to her place allowed you entrance into her bed, if I recall," Pax glowered, his pride still injured.
"Like you and Rosa haven't had several lapses in that area," Ella defended her moments of weakness.
"I'm saying that if you are really interested in getting back with my sister and staying with her, you can't just keep badgering her to skip to the final step. You have to show her that you're willing to put in the work."
"I should leave her alone?" he summarized.
"Maybe for now," Ella said gently. "Give her space. Don't hound her. You might have to be the one that keeps showing up while she gets some things out of her system. Maybe she keeps telling you that you're not ready because really she's not ready."
Pax was quiet for a moment. "I guess."
"But for whatever it's worth, man, we've always thought that you two will get back together," Grey said.
"Really?" Pax asked, warily.
"Well, I've always known it and he knows better than to bet against me," Ella said with a smile and a side-glance to Grey.
"I'm happy for you guys. And Jasper," Pax said with great effort.
"Jasper was due his fairy tale, I suppose," Ella mused. "It'll happen for you guys. Just maybe not tonight."
"It's not our time. I can live with that," Pax said uneasily.
"Good. Now, if you'll excuse us, we have a private after-party to attend," Grey said with a sly smirk at his friend.
That earned him another groan from his down-on-his-luck friend and he eagerly grabbed Ella's hand and pulled her up and toward the exit.
Jules leaned against the hallway and stared at Jake, who was taking in the state of his front door. "Should we go in?"
Jake scratched the back of his neck. "I have no way of knowing who put it on the door," he admitted, indicating the menu from the Thai restaurant that no longer existed that served as an 'occupied' sign for the male roommates. "I'd feel responsible if it was your brother and you walked into that situation. Some things can't be unseen, if you get my drift."
"Who on earth could he have met at the party and brought home? You don't think it's one of the tranny hookers, do you?" she asked with a glint in her eyes.
He shook his head. "It's too early. And I'm almost sure he was joking about that."
Jules let out a sigh. "So what do we do now?"
Jake thought for a moment. "There's only one place I can think of. Come on. We need to get to the subway."
"I told you, Lia's entertaining. And while I'm supportive of the whole lesbian thing, I don't need to hear it with my own ears. What's the opposite of sound-proof? Because that's what our walls are."
He shook his head. "Do you trust me?"
She couldn't suppress a smile. "Of course."
"Then let's get out of here. I know exactly the place we should go."
Twenty minutes later, they were sitting in the old plush seats of a small midtown theater, watching black and white visions of Cary Grant flicker on the big screen for a midnight showing. He'd sprung for popcorn, which gave them something to do with their hands, for which she was grateful. They were each careful about giving the other a wide berth in the tub, never digging for a handful before the other had extracted their share. It wasn't until the movie had fully absorbed their attention that Jules slid her hand into the tub and grazed his stilled hand instead of a layer of popped kernels. Instead of pulling back from her, he turned his hand up toward hers and slid it slowly across her palm, inciting a shock of nerves to come alive and race up her arm.
She wasn't sure what she expected to happen next. She turned her chin into her shoulder in his direction and lifted her eyes up to gaze at him in the dimly lit theater. His attention had shifted from the larger than life characters on the screen to her. The way he was watching her made her feel like the main attraction.
"Sorry," she whispered, due to the fact that they were in a semi-crowded shared space and that his ear was so close to her lips.
"Don't be," he responded in kind, yet again causing her heart and stomach to flip in an unnatural way.
She smiled at him and he smiled at her. They continued to watch the movie, but from that point out they were far less concerned about avoiding the other's touch as they finished off the container.
Ella came out of her bedroom, hair mussed and robe pulled tightly around her trim body. She made for the coffee pot, which was smartly set on a timer, and groped for her usual mug in the cabinet before removing the pot and filling it to the top. She wasn't quite halfway done with her initial swig when the front door opened and in walked her roommate, who sported last night's party clothes and other indicators of the legendary walk of shame.
"Well, well, well," Ella said smugly, to which Rosa signaled her displeasure with a single finger.
"I'm going to bed."
"Haven't you already been in someone's bed?" Ella asked, ready for the full juicy details. What else were best friends, especially single best friends, for if not for a little vicarious living. Not that she wasn't thrilled to be done with most aspects of the single life. Being content with Grey had nothing to do with enjoying the tales of the occasional wild night out that Rosa experienced.
"I don't want to talk about it," Rosa said stiffly as she grabbed another mug and poured her own coffee. Before she took a drink, she paused. "Did you make this or Grey?"
"Please," Ella said with a wrinkled nose. "Like I'd let him near my coffee maker. The only coffee he's allowed to get for me comes from Starbucks, or God-willing, Luke's," she assured her friend. "Now, juicy details, please."
Rosa shook her head. "I can't. I promised."
"Promised whom?" Ella pushed.
Rosa took another sip and looked around. "Is Grey still here?"
Ella nodded. "He and Pax are going to go back over to Lichtenstein to see Jasper tomorrow, so he's spending the morning with me—that is, if he ever gets up. We had a late night last night, but apparently not as late as you. Come on, whom did you disappear with?"
Rosa thought back to her evening and how they'd promised one another that as dawn broke, it was like the end of some magical night. She wasn't even left with a glass slipper. "It doesn't matter."
Ella snorted. "Tell that to Pax. When he realized you weren't there," Ella began with a shake of her head.
"Was he mad?" Rosa asked.
"Hey, you two aren't dating. You don't owe him any explanations," Ella said out of allegiance to her friend.
Rosa put the mug down and turned in on the table between her hands. "I know. But at the same time, it's not that simple."
"Because you love him."
Rosa nodded. "I do. I just wanted to have a night, one night, that was mine. Away from him and all of it. Does that make sense?"
Ella nodded. "Completely. Did you get that?"
Rosa smiled, a happy and wistful smile at the memory that she knew she'd always carry close to her. "I did."
Ella leaned forward. "Who was it?" she whispered.
Rosa shook her head. "Trust me. You don't want to know."
Grey opened the bedroom door and stepped out, wearing only his boxer shorts and gave a big yawn as he walked over in bare feet to join the pair in the kitchen. He found another mug and considered the two women as he leaned easily against the counter.
"Can't you wear clothes?" Rosa groaned at her brother.
"I put on boxers," he reasoned.
Rosa glared at him, horrified. "That's… not …. Ugh."
She left the remainder of her coffee in the mug on the table and got up, retiring to her room to get more sleep and get away from her brother. Ella cleared the mug and refilled her own.
"What's her problem?"
"She just got in, she's probably tired."
Grey frowned. "Did she finally find Pax?"
Ella bit her lip. "I don't think so."
Grey thought about that for longer than it should have taken him. He blamed the early hour and the exertion they'd engaged in the night before. "Who was she with?"
Ella shrugged a shoulder. "She won't say."
"But she told you, right?" he reasoned.
She shook her head. She was still surprised herself that Rosa hadn't caved. "Nope."
He finished his coffee and put the mug next to his sister's in the sink. He stepped over to slip his arms around her waist. "She's determined to mess it up with Pax, isn't she?"
"I don't think that's what last night was about," Ella said sagely.
"I know what last night was about for us," he said in her ear, making her tingle from the inside out. "How about we go back to bed for an encore?"
She turned in his arms and smiled up at him. "Race you."
Ambrose came out of his room, unable to get back to sleep once his overnight guest had vacated his bed, and made for the kitchen. He stopped short once he saw his father seated at the small table that the boys used mainly for storage and cleared off only for poker games. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he was seeing the image presented to him correctly and proceeded to stumble toward the coffee maker.
"You're up early."
Ambrose grunted at the dregs of the beverage left in the pot. He wondered if it was from the previous day. None of the guys was good at cleaning out the used carafe and making it easily usable for the next day, except his best friend Jake, who had recently began a strike of household duties out of principle, as opposed to laziness like all the others.
"Not as early as you."
"I thought we could use some father-son time. Looks like you could use a good meal and some coffee, and the price is a little conversation."
Ambrose groaned inwardly. He'd known that he'd pay for the previous night's activities. It'd almost been too easy, and definitely too pleasurable. If the topic of Rosa came up, it wouldn't be his choice. He planned on that being solely for him. "I'm going to say that this is why people get jobs, so they can be busy enough to avoid these kinds of conversations."
Jess smirked. "Hey, some of us are gainfully employed. If our kids weren't exhibiting signs of troubled behavior, we could all go our own ways. Except those freaks that actually seem to enjoy spending time together."
Ambrose gave his father a cursory glance. "Fine. But I'm only going for the free breakfast and coffee. It's hard to pound the pavement and keep having doors slammed in my face without actual sustenance."
Jess nodded. "Let's go."
Ambrose jerked his thumb toward his room. "I'll just throw on clothes."
Jess stood and nodded, moving through the bachelor apartment with ease. The state of the living quarters wasn't troubling to him—that many guys without women to anchor them looked exactly like his son's apartment. What was troubling to him was his son's recent attitude. He knew that attitude well, and it hadn't served him in the least. He wasn't going to spend time wondering what would have happened if his own father had been around to give him the benefit of his own similar experiences, but he didn't have the time anyhow. While Ambrose was pulling on whatever was least dirty from his room, Jake's door opened and his own daughter appeared in the doorway.
It was Jess' turn to blink at the image before him, rubbing his own eyes to hope that he was just momentarily mistaking his daughter for Jake—a feat that not even a bottle of whiskey could manage, he was guessing.
She was wearing her own clothes, which was the only reason his heart had skipped just one beat. He knew she was grown—in college and capable of living her own life for the most part. However, it didn't stop the situation from being less awkward.
"Oh, hi, Dad."
Ambrose stepped out of his room and surveyed the situation. Relief at the fact that his father's lecture might be saved for another time surfaced. "Hey, sis."
She rolled her eyes at her brother. "I'm hoping Dad's here to ream you out for leaving us stranded last night?"
"I'm guessing he'd much rather hear about why you spent the night in Jake's room," Ambrose said.
Jake came out of the bathroom at that point, freshly showered and wearing old jeans and a t-shirt. "Because I'm a gentleman and I refused to let her even take a nap on our couch. I let her sleep in my room after we got back and found the coast to be clear. Just who was in your room all of last night?" Jake asked, pinning the blame back on Ambrose.
Jess turned back to his son at the flood of information. Ambrose froze as his father, sister, and best friend were staring at him with varying degrees of interest.
"Yeah. I don't want to talk about that."
"We're going to breakfast, if the two of you want to come along while I beat some information out of my son," Jess said to Jules and Jake.
Jules smiled brilliantly. "We'll be right behind you," she assured her dad.
Ambrose and Jess began bickering between them as they headed through the front door, leaving Jules and Jake alone in the front room.
"Thanks for entertaining me last night," Jules said with a soft smile.
Jake looked at her with something akin to bemusement or wonder. "Not a problem. Did you get any sleep?"
She thought back to being under the covers in his bed—how the pillow smelled faintly of him and how she'd felt so warm and comfortable, and most of all how it had almost been as if he were in the bed with her. She'd fallen asleep so quickly, though part of her had hoped that he might break down and join her after an attempt to sleep on the lumpy couch. She appreciated and rued the fact that he was too much of a gentleman to have taken such liberties.
He shrugged. "I don't need much sleep."
"That must be how you're managing all your classes," she pointed out.
"Probably," he agreed. "You want me to cut out, so you can have breakfast with your family?"
She shook her head instantly and aggressively. She knew it would be a struggle to make her feelings for him clear, and she knew being near him more often was only a start. "No, you should come. It would be weird if you didn't."
He smiled at her. "Okay."
She nodded and smiled back. It was definitely a start. "Okay then. Let's go."
He followed a pace behind her, locking the door behind them.
Tristan closed the refrigerator door to find his wife standing in the entry of the kitchen. He raised an eyebrow and held up the container of juice.
She nodded, but didn't uncross her arms or take a step further into the kitchen. "Is Jake seeing anyone?"
Tristan shook his head. "No one specific that he's mentioned to me. Why?"
Rory let out a breath and approached the table where he'd poured out two glasses full of juice. The toaster popped up with two slices of golden brown bread, and he tended to their retrieval as she stood with her hands now pressed down on the top of the back of one chair. "I just got off the phone with Jess."
"He's not trying to set Jake up, is he?" Tristan asked, astonished at the very thought. Jess didn't even like to interfere with his own kids' love lives, unless it was to keep his daughter more chaste. That was less of a specific desire of the one man, but Tristan knew it was rather a fatherly instinct in general.
Rory shook her head slowly. "No. But he went over to talk to Ambrose this morning, and Jules came out of Jake's room."
Tristan took a bite of toast, which he'd now slathered with peanut butter. "So?"
Rory hitched one shoulder up. "You don't think there could be something between the two of them, do you?"
Tristan shook his head. "Was Jake with her?"
"Jess said Jake had slept on the couch, at least, that was the agreed upon story."
Tristan chewed thoughtfully before answering. "Then I'm sure she just crashed. It wouldn't be the first time. And they're all friends."
Rory nodded. "Yeah. I guess."
Tristan smiled at his wife. "Where you hoping something was going on?"
Rory shrugged. "He's happy when he's around her. I want him to be happy."
"I know you do. He'll find someone, eventually. He's busy with school; he keeps saying he doesn't have time for much else right now."
Rory reached for the second piece of toast. "I guess. I talked to Ella, too."
"Now she's happy," Tristan said with confidence. "Right?"
Rory nodded. "She's coming home next weekend, for a full on girls' night."
"That's short notice."
"Yeah, I guess Grey and Pax are going to Europe to plan Jasper's wedding. Ella and Rosa are booking a flight next month for the ceremony. Apparently she's now in crisis over just what to wear to a royal wedding," Rory explained.
Tristan stared at his wife in wonder. "Wait. Is she going to miss out on the Hamptons for the annual July fourth trip?"
"For a royal wedding? I'm pretty sure they'll have better fireworks than we do."
Tristan rolled his eyes. "Sounds like Jake will need to get a girlfriend, to cover Ella's spot in the volleyball game if they want to retain the title."
"I think somehow they'll still manage to beat you guys," she laughed as he rinsed out his glass and put it in the sink.
He came around to kiss her on the cheek. He lingered and she slid her arms around his waist. "You know, pretty soon they'll both be out of college and busy with royalty and such," he said in a low tone that made her wish they weren't both about to rush off to work.
"Seems like it," she agreed, looking up into his playful blue eyes.
"Which means we will be able to focus even more on us."
She had certainly never felt that they'd really denied themselves in that department, but she did enjoy where his line of thought was leading. "Oh, really?"
He nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe we should practice."
"Practice, huh?" she asked, her voice encouraging.
He kissed her suddenly, but took his time in executing the act once his lips had made contact with hers. He pulled her in tighter, most likely wrinkling her dress shirt, and she could already feel her fingers itching to unbutton the small buttons that lined the middle of his own shirt. It wasn't long before she gave in to the temptation. Years of practice had definitely made perfect as each stroke of his hands on her skin reminded her just why she'd fallen in love with him in the first place. Their kids would figure out their own lives; they on the other hand would benefit from the wisdom of their years—and be a little later getting into the office that particular day.