Everleigh’s smile felt like a lie, while she watched Cailean and Tyler exchange those certain looks and steal kisses when they felt unwatched.
It could not be any more uncomfortable if they all tried, as most of the Cameron clan, all the cousins and Cailean’s parents had a celebratory dinner at the Abernathy’s Windenburg home. The occasion should be a happy one, Cailean and Tyler’s engagement party.
The problem was that Tyler had been Everleigh’s first boyfriend and their split up had not been the fondest of memories. While away at college Evey had heard that they started dating, but had problems of her own to focus on.
When all the cousins came back to Brindleton Bay to celebrate their grandparents’ anniversary, the invite to the engagement dinner arrived. Tyler seemed nice enough and everybody loved him, but Evey was glad to get out once dessert and coffee had been finished. If only KC had been there. He was working at the bar for his new job as a bartender, something he seemed to really enjoy.
Evey’s little brother, Joshua, usually called Josh, was now a school child, a sweet boy, very funny and smart. In Evey’s mind though, he would probably always be the wide eyed toddler .. even though that was now long in the past.
Her parents were very busy with him, her father still working at his architect office, her mother still running the office administration. But both parents insisted on frequent family meals together, whenever Evey would be home from college.
KC was still sore about Heath and both young men continuously avoided each other. Evey was still friends with both and this was hardest on her. She had regretted her rash decision about not wanting to live with KC anymore more than once but was glad she had not let it snowball into a break up, although they had probably come close.
Looking at it from a distance, and realizing how many glances by other girls KC earned whenever they went out, plus knowing her impulsive cousin Isabelle, Evey knew it had really not been KC’s fault.
“OMG – you should have heard grandpa. But I totally do not care. I love him, love, love, love him and he totally gets me. I mean, he is from generations of actors too, so he totally knows what it is like to have the entire world watching you 24/7 and the pressure to always look good cos someone ALWAYS takes pictures of you….”
The rest of Isabelle’s rant faded into a dull roar while Evey zoned out, angrily thinking ‘blah blah blah me me me me me ~ Signed Isabelle…’
Thoughts of the past, happy and funny times with all the cousins as kids, then meeting Heath, meeting KC, all the drama after that up until the stress now at college, her final year now.
When she realized she was not paying any attention to Isabelle but probably should be, her eyes met Cameron’s, Belle’s brother, who smiled knowingly across the table looking equally bored.
He had always been her secret favorite of the cousins, and was such an opposite to his outgoing party girl sister. Whenever Cam dated, it had always been sweet, simple girls, never anyone pretentious and most of them did not find out who he really was until he could be sure about their intentions.
He wore simple clothes and was solid as a rock. Always had been.
The quiet, steady type.
The rest of the cousins sat and intensely listened to Isabelle’s dramatic update of her latest boyfriend. The oldest Rosenstein son, named Samuel, sounded to be a male version of Isabelle.
His father was a typical actor gone producer and manager, and had played their grandfather Liam dirty when Liam had insisted on dedicating more time to his wife and their four children many years ago. After the threats had not worked on Liam, Rosenstein Sr. had fired him and left him mostly unemployable by not letting him out of a ten year contract signed with Rosenstein’s studio with a muzzle clause prohibiting Liam to work for any other film studio.
Unfortunately for Rosenstein had Liam been smart with his earnings and could live of them comfortably and he ended up helping his own daughter Natalie, Isabelle and Cameron’s mother, with her career.
Payback’s a walk on the beach.
However, learning that his own granddaughter was now dating the son of the man who had tried to ruin him had been too much for Liam, who as an adult was generally very fair, calm and composed. A fight ensued between Natalie, Isabelle and Liam, with Rhys, Cameron and Leonie trying to calm the fronts. The more Liam vetoed Isabelle’s choice, the more she dug in her heels. At this point, none of the cousins would be surprised to find out in a few weeks that she secretly married him just out of spite only to get bored and have it annulled a few days later.
Now the cousins all met at a restaurant to hear all about everybody’s updates. Except for the two Ferrer kids everybody was still attending college.
Cameron Ferrer already had graduated and Isabelle had famously dropped out. Currently, she was getting on Evey’s last nerve with her strange attitude. Had she always been so annoying or did it only seem magnified since the KC incident?
“Anywho … so, I am just waiting for Samuel to find the right moment so he can propose – which I am sure he will, probably still researching rings although I already dropped plenty of hints – better safe than end up having to exchange the engagement ring, I mean HELLO? how embarrassing, right? – and they all of you can fly out to the Valley and we all go out to some REALLY awesome member-only clubs. You can meet real celebs there, I mean like seriously famous and current. Maybe you all can help me find a girl for the big bro. And if we get you hooked up, all the girls including your new flame can go wedding dress shopping with me. Actually, no. I am totally gonna have someone design something for me that nobody else has. Maybe I can go talk to Aunt Vivian, she has all the connections in the fashion industry ….”
“Belle, if I wanted to date, I would date. Focusing on my career first.” her older brother Cameron grumbled into her flood of plans now involving him.
“Yeah, why DON’T you date? I mean, come on now, you even have your own house, unlike me having to live with the parents. Mom and dad are so unreasonable… Just because you are the oldest you got freedom. If I were you, I’d have a party every day.”
“I don’t party, cos like most people, I have to work during the week. You are old enough. Get a job and buy your own house, Belle. Quit mooching off mom and dad and you get to make your own choices. Pretty obvious.” the tone of his voice barely hid the tension inside him now.
“Why? Mom and dad bought yours … and they have all that money, impossible to spend all of it themselves, so why would I need to make more? Makes zero sense, duh!”
“The house was a graduation gift. I graduated with honors. To people in the real world, that is a pretty big deal. And while a house is pretty out there, every once in a while I remember that I am a son of wealthy parents too. So why not a house? At least it’s functional. I didn’t ask for THAT one, mom bought it because it used to be grandpa’s first house in Del Sol Valley when he and grandma were not even married. So not like it’s super-fancy.”
“I didn’t get a graduation house.” she pouted.
“Because you didn’t graduate! You didn’t even finish college. Barely even attended a class. No graduation, no grad gift. Duh!” he stayed admirably calm. At least on the outside.
“I graduated high school.”
“Can somebody please change the topic before I tear my hair out?!” Cameron moaned.
“I can! Ty and I are moving in together. Finally found a little apartment, just signed the lease this morning!” Cailean beamed and squealed excited.
“Dayum girl! Engagement yesterday, move in today, tomorrow we all get the text you are knocked up.” Massimo chuckled.
“Nope. We have a plan. Graduation first, then Ty will work with his dad in his law firm, I will work with mom and dad for a while at the restaurant, then we will get married save up for a little house in the suburbs and then a baby. When the baby is out of diapers, another baby. Then we’re done. We both want to be young parents.” Cailean rattled down her list.
“Whatever floats your boat.” Massimo, was nowhere near wanting to settle, even though the rest of the Auditores were already breathing down his neck as the oldest great-grandchild to Ezio and heir to the empire, all of which impressed him fairly little.
Technically, he was not even a direct cousin to the Cameron kids, him being Vivian’s grandson. Still, all were the same age and had grown up together.
“What about you? Not even a girlfriend? Haven’t seen you with the usual arm candy of late.” Jordan asked him his soft brown eyes focused on the deep blue ones of his cousin.
“Nah, Sharon and I broke up few weeks ago, I am still recovering from that psycho. Not sure I am ever gonna get married. Nobody needs THAT kinda cray-cray without a way out unless you want to go through some messy divorce. I’ll be a happy single till I die.” Massimo frowned.
“With YOUR dad, grandpa and great-grandpa?! I bet you 100 bucks that you will be married and pop out a male Auditore heir before you are 25.” Jordan told him.
“We’ll see. Grea-gramps is too occupied with the James drama. Not sure if you all heard but my uncle James eloped with a girl nobody met before. Huge drama at the Auditore Mansion and the whole fam-damily is in a tizzy about it. I am totally flying under the radar currently. I swear I could go to the family Sunday dinners in a unicorn outfit without anybody noticing right now.” Massimo smiled.
“Niki and I are planning to move in together too. No wedding bells, not yet. But we’re both ready for that next step and see how we do. We’ve been looking at an apartment in San Myshuno too. Wondering if we couldn’t just move in with grandma and grandpa, their house is gigantic and pretty much empty since KC moved out and nobody ever sees creepy Heath anymore. Yeah, what IS up with all that Evey? Eve? HEY EVEY! Update please. EVEY!”
Everleigh had zoned out again until Jordan now nudged her hard. He repeated his question, making her shrug.
“Nothing’s up. Heath is more of a loner and KC is living at and learning from grea-grands. He’s pretty good on the guitar now and mixes all sorts of fancy drinks. If he isn’t strumming or mixing alc, he is fangirling Blaine’s achievements and wants to be like him, which grandpa totally fuels.”
“Are you guys okay?” Cameron asked.
“Sure, why wouldn’t we be?” Everleigh didn’t even sound convincing to herself.
Everybody just stared at Evey.
“Yes, we are still together if that is what you all are wondering.” she said while shooting eye daggers at Isabelle, who did not even notice it. Self-absorption seems to be a great shield from guilt, Evey thought sarcastically looking at Isabelle’s perfect smile.
“But you are not moving back in together?” Jordan asked.
“Just be careful. He is seriously hawt … better keep an eye on him, especially if he gets lonely chicks drunk at that bar he works at now. Alcohol mixed with his hotness equals cheater’s paradise … just sayin’ … ” Isabelle said, pouring gasoline in the already open fire of anger within Evey.
“Turns out, Isabelle, that I have to worry more about my own family trying to steal my boyfriend from me than other chicks.” Evey hissed at her, then jumped up and ran outside.
She was still sore about Isabelle’s indiscretion and nonchalance about it. Hurt twice as much coming from one of her beloved cousins.
She heard someone behind her.
“Leave me alone!” she said.
“Come on, Evey. You know Belle is a bitch sometimes, but we both know she didn’t mean to hurt you with that. Just a spoiled brat, we all know she is.”
She heard Cameron’s deep voice and felt his hands on her upper arms, let him turn her around to face him then pull her against his chest, where she sniffled.
“It really hurt bad, Cam.”
“I know. There is a reason I put dating on hold. Belle has a bad habit of instigating trouble when I bring home a girl. Just not worth it and I really want to work on my career first. You take your time with KC. He isn’t going anywhere, that dude really likes you … a lot. He’s a good one.”
“I thought you can’t stand him?”
“I can’t, but I am not the one having to date him. He’s right for you. And don’t worry about my sister. She’s found a new toy to create drama with. But as long as that Heath keeps circling you like a hyena, you and KC will always have issues.”
“Not you too, Cam. Heath is a sweetie. He just does not know some things because his father kept him from normal life. And he is not circling anything, least of all me.”
Hearing her own words out loud, Evey knew they were lies, and Cam’s snorted laugh told her she was not fooling him.
Once her tears had dried they went back inside to join the others until everybody had to go home.
Laying in her bed that night, sleep took a long time to come for Everleigh, while she was trying to sort out her true feelings.
Evey woke up in her bed at her childhood home. Sitting up she smiled looking at the sun breaking through the twilight outside her window.
Today was KC’s birthday and also their anniversary. Three years together. She had been 18 and he had just turned 21 when they spent their first night together and became a couple officially. So much had happened in those three years.
The plan was to spend the entire day together. He had taken the night off at the bar and they would go out on a romantic dinner and a movie later.
She got up, took a shower, it took a dozen outfits until she felt pretty enough. The wardrobe of a poor college student was not meant for blinding your date with sheer elegance. But this one would do. Once downstairs sipping her first coffee of the day she saw KC’s Jeep pull up to the house. It made her smile, the smile still lasted when she met him outside.
“Up with the chickens, Mr. McCoy? Really couldn’t wait, huh?” she told him as she ran into his embrace.
“Nope! Good morning baby. You’re all ready to go, I see, looks like I wasn’t the only one eager here…” he said into their kiss.
“I am always excited to see you. Happy birthday!” she beamed up at him.
“Great. Let’s go then.”
“What about mom, dad and Joshua?”
“I didn’t think we’d take them on my birthday -slash- our anniversary date…”
“No, but I need to at least leave them a note…we all thought we’d meet later today not at the crack of dawn.” she ran in, scribbled down a note when her dad came down the stairs.
A quick hug and kiss on the cheek for Everett as she told him the newly improvised plan.
He suppressed his frown best he could. Rett still wasn’t KC’s biggest fan, but saw his daughter was happy with him, so he kept his complaints to himself. Still, while looking on from the kitchen window as his beloved daughter ran down the stairs to the young man leaning up against his Jeep, who then gallantly opened the passenger door for Everleigh, which she had to pay for with a kiss, Everett mumbled to himself grimacing
“Good thing my other kid is a boy! No more of this!”
Once Evey watched KC from he passenger seat as he steered the Jeep down onto the main road she asked
“So, where are we going?”
“Surprise.” he grinned, a quick side-glance at Evey.
“How about a hint?”
“Nope, you’re gonna have to wait.”
They went to a sweet little cafe in Windenburg, where they watched the rest of the sunrise over breakfast.
Afterwards they strolled down the promenade by the water’s edge. From there they took the first ferry of the day over to Windenburg island and walked along the scenic coast, all the way to the bluffs, where KC suddenly stopped her, placing kisses all over her face and neck, then he looked at her and something changed in his eyes.
“Evey, I have something I have been really eager to talk to you about. Couldn’t find the right words, then didn’t know how. Figured today and right here would be perfect.
Baby, you and I have already been through so much together, you and your family have helped me so very much and truly given me a life worth living. I have a long way still to go but I could not imagine taking a single step of it without you.”
He fondled around in his pocket while lowering to one knee in front of her, Evey felt heat and blood shoot into her cheeks and heard a rushing sound in her ears, unable to figure out what and how she felt as he continued
“Everleigh Rose Cameron, will you make me the happiest, luckiest man in the world and marry me?”
Bam! There it was.
Evey felt like she could no longer breathe, felt the ground move beneath her, unsure whether it was the shock, happiness or dread as she looked down at KC expectantly looking up at her, waiting for her answer.
She swallowed hard, knowing she should say something. But what? Should she accept? But she was barely even 21, and not even sure she ever wanted to get married, let alone in the foreseeable future. Pretty sure she did not.
So what to do?
Say yes and just roll with it, hoping for the best?
Say yes, and once the dust settled, change her mind and break off the engagement?
Or ruin this perfectly romantic day, say no and break KC’s heart? On his own birthday?
And what about Heath?