Chapter 18 – Wherever We Find Them

"We must take care of our families wherever we find them."

– Elizabeth Gilbert

They were able to go on three more dates before Jade "requested" she meet Freddie. If they did not meet her demands, she was willing to stalk him at St. Anne's and grill him on her own – sans supervision. Tori decided it was probably better to have them meet while Beck was around to keep his wife from interrogating and intimidating the poor man too much. So, she invited Freddie to the next Sunday dinner.

"Why do I feel like I'm going to meet your parents?" He asked, his hands sweating as he removed a bouquet of flowers from his car. Tori had met him in the driveway and given him a quick peck on the lips.

"Because this is as close as I have," Tori told him. "Trust me – Jade and Beck care a whole hell of a lot more about what I do than my parents ever did."

"That's not helping me," he said in a panicked voice.

"Relax," Tori said softly. "I like you – which means you've already won Beck over. Cat will love you – she loves generally everyone. Lily and Violet already like you. Trina won't say anything – I actually don't even think she's coming. The only one you need to worry about is Jade."

"I am worried," he said with an attempted laugh.

"You'll be fine. Just be honest – and if she smiles in a scary way or glares – stop talking. It means you've said something she doesn't like – Beck or I will calm her down."

"You make her sound very frightening," he said.

"Only to people she finds tedious – or threatening. And you're neither – you'll be fine." She looked at the flowers he'd brought. "Those are for Jade?" He nodded. She rooted around in the arrangement and pulled several daisies from the bunch, throwing them into the side yard.

"She really hates daisies," Tori said softly. "Come on – you'll be fine." She dragged him in the front door and they were greeted almost immediately by Violet and Lily. They both hugged Tori. "Hey, pretty girls. You remember Mr. Benson, right?" They both nodded.

"At home you can call him Freddie – but only at home." Violet grinned – she thought it was a pretty funny name. Lily smiled happily; she already had permission to call him by his first name at home. Beck appeared quickly behind the girls and kissed Tori on the cheek.

"She is in rare form," he whispered in warning. He straightened up and held out his hand. "Freddie, welcome. It's great to meet you. I'm Beck."

"Nice to meet you too," he answered. Beck looked at the flowers in his other hand.

"Are those for Jade?" Freddie nodded and Beck quickly took them. "Nice idea," the taller man said in a strained voice. "Bad day. Let me take these –" he disappeared into the basement and Tori pulled Freddie further into the door. Violet dragged Lily away, telling Tori they were going to play in her bedroom. Andre appeared then, Coral in his arms.

"Hey, Tori," he said brightly. She smiled – though she wasn't expecting him. It really was supposed to be a small dinner to make Freddie more comfortable. And, she wasn't quite sure she was ready to have Andre meeting Freddie.

"Andre," she said cheerfully. "Andre – this is Freddie. Freddie, Andre – one of my best friends in the world. And this little beauty is Coral – Jade and Beck's middle daughter." Andre shook Freddie's hand.

"It's nice to meet you, man. Welcome, welcome. It should be a good evening. You'll have to forgive the craziness. Our hostess is a bit possessed today. By the ghost of mean-girls past," he said, eyes wide when he looked at Tori. They all looked up in surprise when they heard something crash in the kitchen, followed by Jade's cry of outrage. She forwent any expletives; she at least remembered the kids were in the house.

Andre walked over to the piano and started playing the witch's tune from The Wizard of Oz. "Shut it, Andre!" Jade screamed from the kitchen.

"Why would you do that?" Tori asked.

"My job is to keep the heat off of you two. You're welcome," he said, bowing dramatically. Tori laughed. She put a hand on Freddie's arm.

"I'm going to talk to Jade – I'm sure she's just overwhelmed. Andre – show Freddie around." Tori headed into the kitchen where she found Jade alone – for good reason. She looked like her blood was boiling. Tori couldn't remember the last time she'd seen her so angry.

"What is wrong with you?" Tori demanded. "You're the one who wanted me to bring him over. You need to calm down and be nice."

"It's not you," Jade told her, dropping a cookie sheet full of garlic bread on top of the oven. "I can't talk about it right now. I'm sorry. I'm trying to get myself together – but I might have to kill Robbie before the end of the evening. Do you think you could keep the kids away? I don't want them witnessing a murder." Tori knew it was a good sign she was joking – it meant she was simmering down. But the fact that she was this riled up was troubling.

"Why are you killing Robbie?"

"Used condoms in Cat's wastebasket," Jade told her quietly, in a voice she was sure that no one else could hear. Tori sighed and sat at one of the counter stools.

"He didn't learn the first time?"

"Apparently not," Jade told her. Tori could see her distress in her movements – her usual graceful manner was replaced by shaky hands and heavy footsteps. She did calm down a bit after talking to Tori.

Luckily for them all though, Tori snuck out and made a phone call to ensure that Robbie knew that he was uninvited to dinner – warning him to stay the hell away. He asked why and she was short with him, telling him they would talk about it later. Jade did settle down by the time the food was on the table and was perfectly nice to Freddie.

She smiled and shook his hand and thanked him for coming.

"Thank you for the invite, Mrs. Oliver."

"Call me Jade. Mrs. Oliver sounds weird." Once everyone was seated, the real interrogation that Tori feared began.

"So, Freddie, how did you end up in LA?"

"My friend Gibby and his brother Guppy opened a restaurant – The Brothers G – and they wanted help on the organizational end of things. I came down last summer to help – and never went back. The job opened at St. Anne's – I took that as a sign."

"I love that restaurant!" Cat cried. She had appeared just before dinner and already won Freddie over with her bubbly personality. "Gibby is fun."

"You've met Gibby?" Freddie asked. Cat nodded with a bright smile.

"Do you like it at St. Anne's?" Jade asked, just before spearing a potato and raising it to her lips.

Freddie nodded and smiled. "I do. I taught at a public school in Seattle – I was looking for a change of pace – something more challenging. The kids at St. Anne's are heads above kids in the public schools – and the more advanced they are, the more cool stuff we can do."

"We built a robot last week!" Violet added. So, she was listening. Tori and Jade both took note. Not that they weren't normally careful – but the older Violet became, the more they had to watch what was said. Freddie smiled and nodded at Violet's excitement.

"Did you always want to teach?"

"Jade," Tori said softly, trying to impress that she should back off. She didn't want Freddie to feel uncomfortable – and the dark songstress was running him through the gambit.

"It's okay," Freddie answered. "I don't mind." He looked at Jade again. "I started off in the private sector," he said. "I created a few software products in high school that were bought out by Microsoft – then I started working for Google once I graduated. It was a great job – but I didn't want to be working 80 hour weeks. So, my old principal invited me to interview for the technology teaching job at Ridgeway middle school – and I've been teaching ever since."

Freddie passed muster with Jade – Tori knew not only from Jade's expression, but also from the fact that she invited him back – told him he was welcome any time. It was a relief. Although Tori knew logically that she could date whomever she chose – she knew in her heart that she would never be able to include anyone in her life that didn't mesh with Jade West and Beck Oliver.

After dinner, Freddie walked Tori and Lily to their house. Tori knelt next to her daughter and kissed her on the cheek. "Go ahead upstairs and pick out pajamas and a book – I'll be up in a few minutes." Lily said goodnight to Freddie and headed to her room.

"Good night, Lily," Freddie answered with a smile. After she was gone, he kissed Tori gently. She was still stunned that she let him – every time. There had been nothing more than very chaste kissing – but it was more than Tori ever thought would be possible. "Good night, Tori," he whispered gently against her lips.

"If you don't mind waiting while I put her to bed – we can have coffee or cocoa or – "

"I can wait," Freddie answered, smiling gently. Her understood her nerves, and never pushed. Tori invited him inside and disappeared up the stairs. Freddie wandered into the living room and sat on the sofa to wait for Tori. Freddie sat on the sofa, reading the newspaper on Tori's tablet. He had been waiting for about twenty minutes when the front door opened and an unknown brunette walked in on sparkly purple heels that simply could not be comfortable.

"Hi," she said hesitantly.

"Hi," he said with a smile. He stood and held out his hand. "You must be Trina." She shook his hand. "I'm Freddie Benson."

"I figured," Trina answered. "Where is my sister?"

"Upstairs – putting Lily to bed."

"And you are?"

"Reading the Times," he said, holding up the tablet that was still in his left hand. "She asked me to wait."

"I'm very skilled in martial arts," Trina told him.

"I think Tori mentioned that."

"If you hurt my sister, I'll hurt you much worse."

"If I hurt your sister, I'll let you," he answered simply. Trina nodded in a sign of acceptance and disappeared up the stairs.

When Tori returned, they made cocoa and sat in the living room, talking for over two hours. The evening ended with Freddie offering her another sweet kiss and promising to call her the next day.

After dinner was over at the Oliver home, Jade followed Cat out into the backyard. The redhead walked to the back of the yard where a swing was hung from a tree – something she did most nights. She liked being outside and was just as happy to stare up at the stars as she was to soak in the sun. Jade watched her from the deck for a long time before biting the bullet and joining her in the yard.

"Cat, what's been going on with you? We haven't had a chance to talk a lot lately." Jade sat in the grass against the tree, out of the path of Cat's trajectory.

"You've been busy," Cat responded simply. She understood; she had watched Jade being busy for years – and she knew when to stay out of the way. And she wasn't jealous – she loved the little girls who had taken up a majority of Jade's time over the years.

"That doesn't mean you can't talk to me. If you need to talk, you just have to tell me."

"I'm fine," Cat told her.

"Are you dating Robbie again?" There was silence between them. Cat wasn't moving her legs, so the swing stopped eventually. Her bare feet rested against the ground. "Come sit with me," Jade said softly. Cat did, curling her legs under the skirt of her dress as she leaned against the brunette.

"I'm sorry," Cat whispered.

"You don't have to be sorry," Jade told her. "I'm not angry. I just want to understand."

"I felt bad because he was lonely. And I was lonely – and he said it would help."

"Did it help?"

"No," Cat said sullenly. "It just hurt – and it was scary. But Robbie likes it – and I don't want him to be sad." Jade lifted her chin so their eyes met.

Her voice remained soft, but it was firm. "You don't ever need to do something that hurts or is scary to make someone else feel better. Got it?" Cat nodded but her discomfort was tangible. She pulled away, her fingers searching for something to play with. She settled for the black lace ruffle edging Jade's sweater. Jade put her arms around the smaller woman; she had no idea what to do now. This was wrong. Cat did not understand the intricacies – the emotions and feelings – behind sex.

"Cat, when you feel lonely, you need to talk to me," Jade told her.

"I don't want you to be sad."

"I won't be sad," Jade promised. "But I will try to help."

By the time Beck found them, Cat was sleeping. He helped Jade to her feet then lifted the redhead and carried her to her room. "What happened?" He asked, standing outside Cat's bedroom door.

"Robbie had sex with her again," Jade told him calmly – the calm in her voice surprised them both. She shook her head and looked up at her husband with utter loss and worry in her eyes. "I don't know what to do."

"Did she say no?"

"I don't think so – but she doesn't have the ability to consent – it doesn't matter. He shouldn't be doing it – he knows that. When did they get alone time? Beck, what are we supposed to do?"

He took her into his arms and held her, wishing he had an answer.

Two days later, Robbie appeared at their house, asking to come in to say goodbye. Beck allowed him in and he walked to the dining room where everyone was gathered for dinner. Jade was surprised to see him. She reached out beneath the table and grabbed Cat's hand.

"I just wanted to tell you guys that I took a job with Saturday Night Live. They've been offering me a place as a writer for a few years, and there's a slot opening next month."

"That's great, Robbie," Tori said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. She was still incredibly angry with him. Jade said nothing but observed the shadow of a black eye that she knew could be found under his male makeup.

"When do you leave?" Jade asked finally, setting her napkin beside her plate.

"My flight is first thing in the morning," he answered. Cat said nothing, but Jade could see she was conflicted.

"I didn't want to leave without saying goodbye." Trina and Tori each stood and hugged him, wishing him luck. Beck reached out to shake his hand and Jade saw Robbie work very hard to hold back a flinch.

"Why don't you wait in the living room," Jade suggested, feeling Cat's hand trembling in hers. Once he was gone, Jade led Cat into the kitchen.

"Did you do this?" Cat asked shakily.

"I didn't," Jade told her. "I promise I didn't." However, she knew exactly who had. She had been married to him for over ten years – and she had never seen him so angry before. He had hidden it well from the rest of the adults – and certainly from the children – but Jade knew what it looked like when Beck was caging his anger.

Jade sat at the piano while Cat said goodbye to Robbie. He had wanted privacy, but Cat had told her she could stay. Cat took priority – Cat always did.

"Don't be angry with me," Beck told her later that night, once she walked into their bedroom to shower and change. She had stayed with Cat for three hours while the redhead cried herself to sleep. She pulled a pair of pajamas from her drawers and threw them on the bed.

"I'm not angry," she told him, pulling her blouse off and kicking off her jeans, throwing them both into the laundry basket in their closet. "I'm relieved that you made the decision so I didn't have to." She may not have been angry, but she did a good job of avoiding him for the next few days. He knew – even if she never told him – that any visible anger on his part frightened her. She trusted him – but in the few times that he'd lost visible control of his temper, something in her had panicked.

That night, she slept with Cat. The redhead woke and cried several more times – she wasn't sure about Robbie, but she also didn't want him to be gone. Now, the decision was no longer hers.

I can't apologize enough for the delay - so I won't try. Long story short, life is getting in the way of things. But I do plan to finish this story - the ending is already written - it is the next few chapters before the ending that are giving me trouble. I'm not trying to beat a dead horse with the Robbie thing - but I needed to get rid of him - and he was completely non-repentant for his actions before, so this part just sort of happened. Please let me know what you think!