“Ethan?” Grace appeared in the door frame to his office.
“Hmm?” he looked up.
“You have a visitor. Nicholas Gray is here to see you.”
“Nick’s here? Send him in!”
“Hey, you beanstalk! I am sending myself in.” Nick just walked right past Grace, giving her one of his confident smiles, which she returned.
Ethan rose from his chair and bro-hugged Nick.
“Whoa, look who got a haircut! And you finally found your razor and plowed through that hair jungle that was about to swallow your face. Oh, Nick, this is Grace …”
“Yeah, I know. Met her at your housewarming and a few dozen times after you senile Muppet. We already exchanged updates, right Grace?”
“Sure have. Anything to drink, Nick?”
“Doubt you have what I really want.”
“His mother has a bar in her office.”
“I may go check in on my lovely mother-in-law on my way out then …” Ethan knew that Nick was only joking, ever since his rehab years ago he had not touched a drop of alcohol.
Grace snickered and left.
“So what brings you here?” Ethan asked after both of them sat down at his desk.
“Inviting your ass to the grand opening of my very own law practice. Friday. And truthfully, I already invited Grace, your mom and Blythe so you are going regardless. I got the ladies on ya now.”
“So you are ready to open for business? Wow. That’s big.” Ethan said humbled.
“Yup, being my own boss – well, at least whenever your sister isn’t around. Can you imagine that shit?! Opening Monday. Thanks again for helping me design and build and shit.”
“EC Architects at your service. How’s the family?” Ethan was all business.
“How’s the family?! Are you for real, bruh? We just saw each other two days ago and I am not one of your clients. Well, guess I am but first of all I am your best friend, man. Either way, Ally is great and beautiful, Ezzy is beautiful and .. well .. pissed at me. What else is new, right? Not so secret talent of mine.”
“Again? What did you do now?” Ethan pulled a face.
“Told her no. You know how your sister gets when you tell her no.” Nick shrugged.
“Do I even want to know what you said ‘no’ to?”
“Surprised she hasn’t told you already as close as you ‘girls’ are. She wants another kid.” Nick smirked, then frowned.
“So – not gonna happen. The end.”
“Why not? You are uber-crazy about your daughter. Everybody thought you’d have about a dozen kids by now as much as you and Ez ….. do … that what I don’t want to hear about.”
“I am crazy about Ally. She is the apple of my eye. If we could order us a baby from the stork, you are damn right, we’d be running after a new one every year. But since it would fall on Ez to hatch the fruit of our loins, it will be a big fat no for eternity from me. I am not going through all that again.” Nick paused, fighting with his emotions and a lump in his throat.
When he continued, he kept shaking his head for the rhetorical question he asked next
“Or do you want to stare at your sister’s lifeless body in a coma for a couple years again, and that was even the best case scenario compared to the alternative?” Nick’s facial expression spoke of the painful memories.
“Nick … that was an exception, not the rule. Some complications during the birth. But I do get it. Why don’t you two consult a specialist who can kick Ezzy’s tires and see if another pregnancy would be off the table?”
“No. I am not going to chance it! Before I let that happen I’ll chop my own twig and berries off. My fear is that this crazy sister of yours will just go rogue on me and stop birth control without telling me. So I am wrapping my goods up again every time we get jiggy wit it. That shit gets annoying and expensive, too. Plus, I thought once you slap a ring on a girl you move well past that. Yet, here we go again with the individually wrapped ‘fun interrupters’ before the show can reach its crescendo.”
Ethan frowned at the words and visuals.
“Thank you, I needed to hear that. Always love hearing about my sister’s intimate life with my best friend. URGH!”
“Aim to please, bro, aim to please. So what’s new with you?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Sounds juicy. If any of it needs legal counsel, remember me. Here, I’ll give you a few of my business cards hot off the presses …”
Nick placed a small stack on Ethan’s desk.
“I don’t need your damn business card! I have known you since we were 13 and we literally live 10 mins away from each other with both legs tied together and blindfolded! You’re my best friend AND brother-in-law for Pete’s sake!”
“You can hand them out then. Maybe Grace needs to sue you for sexual harassment.” Nick chuckled.
“And I ‘d give her your card to do that? Man, you really don’t have a high opinion of me, huh?” Ethan’s response was little amused.
“Well, you already know I do custody cases fairly successfully after helping you with the legal side of keeping Blake where he belongs, but I can also help you with a potential paternity case, you wannabe homewrecker. Just saying…”
“Of course Ezzy told you.”
Ethan collapsed onto his arms on the desk.
“That was fucking stupid though, bruh. I mean, I knew you were still attached to Amy, but she’s remarried, man. Screwing the ex is never a good idea, even less so when there is a new husband and then to be even more reckless … not your best moment.”
“You don’t say … ”
“Any news yet on whether that baby is yours or not?”
“Any serious dating on the radar? Ez has been driving me nuts about going out with you, the three of us, but that’s kinda sucky for you. Was hoping you got some new chick at the starting lines.”
“Nope. I was over dating, then changed my mind when I realized someone incredible really cares about me in that way, but I am too late and she doesn’t want me anymore. Oh man, shoot me now!”
“Do I need you tell you the tale of Nick and Esmée again? And how perseverance …” Nick started but Ethan cut him off.
“Please don’t. The girl I want has another dude already and told me flat out, thanks but no thanks. Followed eventually by the blah blah blah friends spiel.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Perseverance! Change her mind. Make her realize it is YOU she wants, not Mr. X. Put some effort to it, bruh.”
“She is pretty dead set on him … and to her, I don’t exactly smell of roses after all my fails to show sound judgement of late.”
“Do I know her?”
“Oh what the hell … yup you do. It’s Grace.”
“Grace, as in your secretary Grace? Duuude, I’ll handle that for you right now.” Nick jumped up, as die Ethan.
“Don’t you dare!” his tone was warning and begging Nick at the same time.
“You sit, and let the adults talk.” Nick shrugged him off.
“NO! Nick, I beg you, don’t. I am dead serious, not a good idea! Especially not right now.”
“Sounds to me like you already struck out.”
“You wouldn’t believe how badly.”
“Ok, fine. I gotta go, taking your sister, our daughter and the fruit of your lonely loins out for ice cream while I still can. Once I am back at work again, that will be over. So, tootles beanstalk!”
“Yeah, bye Nick. Tell Blake daddy loves him. Oh – and refrain from using words that end in -uck for the time being. We are ironing out another one of my fails.”
Nick left laughing loudly.
On a late afternoon a few days later Ethan walked over to place some signed documents on Grace’s desk, she wasn’t there, but a bouquet of flowers was and a framed picture of her and that … Alex.
Ethan’s mood dropped quickly well below freezing point.
“What the flying ….?!” he mumbled to himself.
Things had been tense between him and Grace since that night he went to confess his feelings to her, but found her kissing another man instead. As much as both of them tried to be professional despite of it all, it just wasn’t the usual level of comfort anymore.
Knowing about Alex was one thing, but being so visually confronted with him by the flowers and picture ruined the evening for Ethan before it had even begun. He needed to get away for a moment, so he went downstairs to the cafe to wallow in his feelings, away from the office for a while.
Watching his coffee get cold over him trying to ponder his life’s choices and the repetitively unsatisfactory outcomes.
Here he was running an ever growing successful family business with his mother, literally down the street from his home and almost everybody he cared about.
Still. Things just felt … lacking.
After some undetermined amount of time he felt someone behind him, then his eyes were covered by their hands. Delicate, feminine ones.
Recognizing her perfume he greeted Blythe.
“Aww, party pooper! Speaking of party, why are you still sitting here? We need to leave. Now.” she said at the failed attempt to mess with Ethan.
“Leave?” Ethan was confused.
“Nick’s grand opening.” she told him with urgency.
“Oh crap!” Ethan jumped up right away and hurried over to the location with Blythe.
Luckily Nick’s law firm was very close, so close that Ethan could see it from his window.
They arrived when the party was already in full swing. Esmée was downstairs and saw them through the window, let them in, locking the door again behind them, while complaining to Ethan right off the bat.
“There you are! Blythe saved your butt from a severe spanking by me! I really thought I’d have to go over there and kick your hiney from all the way over there to all the way over here!” Ezzy told him.
Then she hugged Blythe …
… while embracing her twin brother she told them
“They’re upstairs in the meeting room.”
There was music, laughter and people mingling, laughing, talking … filling Ethan momentarily with a warm feeling of homecoming.
It lasted until he saw Grace with Alex.
His mood sank, reflecting on his face.
At some point Ethan felt Nick grab him by the arm and drag him along to his office, shoving him into a chair, then sitting down in his desk chair facing him.
“Look man, you gotta make up your mind here. That shit is getting deep up there and all you do is sit there and stare like an old teddy bear. Go in for the win or let it all go, but if you do, mean it.”
“Right Nick. Let me get my white stallion, which I parked around the corner in anticipation of this glorious event, burst into the meeting room, sweep her up into my lap, ride over to Willow Creek to pick up her sick grandma, who cannot be alone for too long, to be back in time for the sun to set to ride into it. All three of us. Happy, happy ending.”
“Sarcastic prick. No, you ask her out, then dazzle her with your masculinity and charm until she cannot help but remember why she had her panties rotating over you in the first place. Cause the entire world, minus one Ethan Cameron, always saw THAT too.”
“Sure. And I’ll just drop off Blake and that boyfriend, who happens to be her neighbor, with you and Ezzy to watch, while I take his girlfriend out for a date.”
“Man, I wanna stuff a handful of anti-depressants down your throat. You weren’t this doomy and gloomy after your divorce!”
“Thanks for bringing that up. On the bright side, found out Amy’s kid isn’t mine.”
“Fantastic, in light of those bright news let’s celebrate with less talk and lots more action now. Go upstairs and ask her or I will ask her out for you.”
“Ask her out? How am I gonna do that exactly, Nick?! Go and see if she’d mind that I just hit on her in front of her cop boyfriend, to embarrass her and me both? Even if she were to say yes, are you offering to watch her grandma during the date with the angry neighbor boyfriend glancing at you through the windows? Because I sure as heck am not going to expose my grandparents to that drama. Nah, thanks. Hard pass.”
“Get that ass up to the party – NOW and do something productive with this situation, or I will make it embarrassing for ya.” Nick grumbled at him.
Ethan went back up, mingled, faked some smiles, meant others, listened to speeches, including one by his grandpa Everett, talking about how proud he was of Nick not without throwing in what a great job EC Architects did designing the law firm building.
Then more cheering, celebrating, mingling and music.
Eventually sitting down at a table with some food he never touched, Grace ended up next to him, Alex next to her, while Nick’s loud and carrying voice told entertaining memories of him, Esmée and Ethan in college.
Grace and Ethan made a few attempts at small talk, each time interrupted by Alex, until Ethan asked her to dance, to which she agreed quickly.
As he was leading her to where there was enough room to dance, Alex tried to jump up, but was nudged back into his chair by Nick.
“Hey!” he protested.
“Sit! We don’t charge for it. That’s a big deal, coming from a lawyer, so take advantage.” he grinned at him, but there was a sense of warning not to challenge him.
“Take your hands off me. That is MY girlfriend and he does not need to be dancing with her.” Alex complained angrily.
“That’s my best friend over there and I say you keep your ass in that seat and leave them be. Here, have some more food to keep those gums from flapping at me. My ears are starting to bleed, you needy thang, you.” Nick spoke, as he was placing various scoops of the food offerings on the table before them on Alex’s plate.
“I’ll have you know I work for the Greater San Myshuno Police Department …” Alex told him, sounding more than upset.
“Yeah, as a desk jockey in the IT department, you benchwarmer. Oh, I have my resources, too, and got a little curious about you. Didn’t quite make it into the academy, did we, huh, so instead we firewall the shit out of the police station, do we now? Fighting the virtual fight, right you keyboard warrior? Bet you had many a terrifying injury, like broken nails and blisters on the fingertips … I am so impressed. Wonder if Grace knows you are not quite the super-cop you probably painted for her … ” Nick’s smirked arrogantly at a paling Alex.
While Nick was keeping Alex reeled in, Ethan and Grace were dancing, the music had slowed down ever since they started.
They continued, neither of them speaking until Grace looked up to him.
Ethan just shook his head while they danced more.
“No need to say anything, Grace.”
“I need some fresh air. Go with me?” Grace whispered near his ear, Ethan nodded and they left.
Standing outside around back, neither of them speaking, Grace suddenly turned to Ethan and …
… to be continued …