"Dad!" Serena shrieks, "Why does that boy not have a Diego party hat? All boys must have a Diego party hat and all girls must have a Dora party hat. That's like your only job, geez!"

Mr. Jefferson rolls his eyes before chasing after the boy without the hat. Serena stood, clipboard in hand, surveying the impending chaos. Like a sergeant, she surveyed the 10 kids, calmly awaiting the 20 more that were due to arrive.

I had seen Mrs. Jefferson pop two Advils already and she is rubbing her temples as she talks on the phone, "What? Eddie asked if he could bring his cousin? Sure!"

"Alexandria!" Serena yells over the noise, "Please bring all the 'explorers' to the bouncy forest. Please and thank you." She then turns to Eric, "And Eric, can you please start with the music."

I slowly usher the kids out the back door and as soon as the catch sight of the inflatable bounce gum with inflatable palm trees on each side, they are running towards it.

"Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! This is extreme!" One small boy yells, in complete awe. I have to admit I am in awe too. The Jeffersons gave Serena carte blanche on the party and she used it. Dora and Diego mascots are scheduled to show up later this afternoon.

I see party planner in her future.

Nikki, who fortunately is fever-less now, tugs on my pant. With a big grin, she is holding up a Dora party hat. She squeals when I put in on.

There is a second of static and then the Dora theme song erupts onto the speakers placed strategically around the backyard. The noise startles some birds out of the trees, bringing more screams of excitement.

I hear a yell and turn around to see Eric with a young girl firmly attached to his leg. "You want to jump? Huh? Do you want to jump? Do you want cake?" He asks her as he drags his leg along towards the jumping gym.

She only gives him a toothy smile before holding on even tighter.

I watch in amusement as Eric manages to pull the girl and him onto the inflatable jungle gym. She promptly lets go of his legs and lets herself get bounced up and down.

"Alexandria!" Serena barks from inside the house.

"Yes M'am?" I salute her and jog up to the house. She makes a face at me, "Haha, hilarious." Checking off something on her clipboard she motions over to the kitchen, "Mom needs help setting up the table and the food."

Without even waiting for my reply, she yells for her dad and opens the door for an onslaught of new kids. "Welcome to Nikki's party!" Is the last thing I hear her say as I enter into the kitchen.

Mrs. Jefferson is carefully stacking a plate of pigs-in-a-blanket, right next to it is a vegetable replica of a forest that is supposedly featured in Dora the Explorer. She beams at me brightly, "Alexandria dear, could you please set up the cups. And the plates. And the cutleries. Oh and napkins too please."

Serena had managed to find several miniature tables that we had set together in a straight line. They were neon, had matching chairs and were currently spiraling around the kitchen like some fluorescent snake.

"Are you okay?" I ask Mrs. Jefferson as I set a cup down at each seat.

"Yes." She says quickly, then she stops to reflect on the question and answers again, "Yes, I'm just slightly nervous." She starts preparing tortillas, "I mean thirty kids; that's -- that's a lot. And some of them", She makes a face, "Not that I'm an expert or anything but some of them can be so rude! One child flat out told his mom and I that he didn't like Nikki and he wanted to go back home and play his Wii."

She shook her head, "And the mom brought him back! She didn't even apologize, just turned around and left."

"Oh well." I say brightly, "One less tantrum to worry about."

Mrs. Jefferson laughs lightly as the phone begins to ring. Wiping her hands off and a cloth, she rolls her eyes at me before picking it up.

I continue arranging the tables while eavesdropping on her conversation. "This is completely unacceptable, very unprofessional. No I do not want to rebook, when else could I possibly need your services? This is intolerable; I'll be expecting a full refund!"

"What?" I asked, when she hung up, "Who was that?"

"The actors for Dora and Diego aren't coming." She sighs, rubbing her temples frustrated, "Diego's mom just died and Dora's modeling career just took off and she has a photoshoot today."

Oh. Well that sucks.

"Serena's going to be so disappointed", she all but growled as she furiously began cleaning the kitchen. "I have the two costumes and no body to fill them!"

Which is how, ten minutes later, I was sweating my heart out in a thick Dora costume, saying "Hola!"

The kids clutter around my feet, screeching in delight. They're pulling my arms and my legs; they're hitting my thighs and trying to get my attention. I actually don't know why anyone would want to do this as a job, I've barely been in the costume for five minutes and I want to jump off the highest precipice.

There's someone on my back and next thing I know, I'm going down. I'm sinking to my hands and knees and more kids are climbing on top of me and I actually start believing my end has come. The voices start quieting down, and I close my eyes so I won't be blinded by the bright lights that are too come.

Then I hear, "Diego?" and the noise level rises and quadruples what it had been. I look up to see that there is in fact, a Diego costume waving some distance. Suddenly there aren't any more kids on me and they are all running towards Diego, who starts running around the background with thirty kids hot on his pursuit.

I stagger to my feet, only to be tackled down again by Diego and once again, I am engulfed by kids. Except this time there is Diego, who sound a lot like Eric, screaming with me.

"Time to eat!" I manage to hear Mrs. Jefferson holler through the buzzing of exited chatter. Once again, I am able to breathe as the kids stampede inside the house.

Eric -- I mean Diego -- helps me to my feet. "Are you okay?" He asks in a muzzled voice.

"Yes," I grunt, "Nikki's lucky we love her so much."

I can imagine him rolling his eyes as he laughs.

"Serena" I whine as I stumble back into the house, "Can I get out of this costume now. Please."

Serena scoffs, "Are you crazy? The kids love you guys. Once they finish eating, they practically going to pay me to bring you guys back." She paused, "Actually, maybe some of them have money on them now..."

"You're crazy." Eric pushed her aside with Diego's huge hips. "We're changing out of these stupid costumes now and you will not take any money from those kids." I quickly waddled after Eric, before Serena could find a valid reason to keep me dressed as Dora.

Together we wobble into the playroom and locked the door behind us. Diego's cranium came off to reveal a disheveled Eric. His head looked miniature compared to the costume. I noticed he was smirking and I scowled, "What?"

"Nothing, just looks like your head shrunk in the dryer."

"Oh, like you're Mr. Proportion." I snapped sarcastically.

Eric didn't say anything and we just stood there smiling at each other. Suddenly, before I even knew what I was doing, I was moving forward and giving him a hug. Well, something close to a hug, considering we both had stuffing the thickness of a mattress between us. "Thanks." I whispered softly.

"For what?" He asked, hugging me back.

"I don't know." I said truthfully, turning so he could unzip me from the costume.

Free of the torture devices, we left the playroom. "Hey" Eric stopped me as we separated; me towards the kitchen and him upstairs, I could already hear what sounded like the kids starting a mutiny. "Whenever you have a free moment, could you meet me upstairs?"

"Sure." I said distractedly, racing towards the kitchen. On the way in, I passed Mr. Jefferson running out. "I told you not to call me Marc, it's my daughter's birthday." He shot me an apologetic smile as he tried to talk over the loud chatter of thirty kids.

I barely set foot in the kitchen and I was already set to work as a waitress; filling the kid's cups and giving them their hotdogs. Within minutes the deafening roar is turns into a low murmur as the kids focus on chewing.

Serena leaned against a counter looking quite please with herself as Mrs. Jefferson tiredly fixes a strand of hair that got misplaced. "Take a twenty minute break." She says, surveying the kids, "We got this under control."

"Five minutes." Serena corrects her, "We'll be opening the presents in ten minutes and I think the kids will really get a kick out of it if D-O-R-A makes another appearance.

My horror must have shown on my face because Mrs. Jefferson calmly but firmly informed Serena that I would be having a thirty minute break and D-O-R-A was not going to be showing up. Ever again.

I ducked out of the kitchen and climbed the stairs two at a time to tell Eric the good news. He jumped when I opened the door, "Guess what?" I sang cheerfully, "Dora and Diego have officially retired."

"Damn." He said sarcastically, "No more Dora?"

I shook my head and pretended to wipe an imaginary tear.

There was a spark in the air and Eric's eyes slowly dragged over my body before he patted a spot next to him on his bed.

My brain told me to run.

But being mauled by thirty kids taught me something, it taught me life is short. I love mom, but I don't want to turn out like her; with regrets and an unhappy life.

So I sat down. Not next to him, because I was not that brave yet, but on the other side of the bed. Eric picked up his guitar and began to sing.

"She's cold and she's cruel, but she knows what she's doing." He gives me a half smirk his deep blue gaze intent on my face. "She pushed me in the pool at our last school reunion."

He's not ever going to let me forget that is he? I mean how many times does a girl have to apologize for losing her sanity and pushing someone into a pool?

"She laughs at my dreams"

I didn't laugh, I snorted and I'm sorry about that too. I was beginning to wonder if this song is just a list of the ways I've been a bitch to him but the next line actually made my heart jump.

"But I dream about her laughter. Strange as it seems, she's the one I'm after."

I clutch my heart because if I don't, it may just pump a hole through my chest. Is Eric really saying what I think he is? I try to read his face, find a joking smirk, but he's focusing intently on his guitar.

"Cause she's bittersweet, she knocks me off of my feet and I can't help myself, I don't want anyone else."

Goosebumps run farther up my skin with every word. I think I might be having an asthma attack... and a heart attack... I dunno, my brain is turning to goo.

"She's a mystery, she's too much for me. But I keep coming back for more, she's just the girl I'm looking for" I wanted to ask him to stop, to ask him why but my mouth was super glued shut. Until the end of the song, I couldn't bring myself to say anything.

"She can't keep a secret for more than an hour. She runs on 100 proof attitude power. And the more she ignores me, the more I adore her. What can I do? I'd do anything for her." As if I were drawn to him, I felt myself inch closer, till our knees were almost touching.

"And when she sees it's me, on her caller ID, she won't pick up the phone, she'd rather be alone." That made me laugh and Eric's lips quirked up in a smile. "But I can't give up just yet, cause every word she's ever said, is still ringing in my head. Still ringing in my head."

For the first time since he had begun the song, Eric looked up, "She's cold and she's cruel but she knows what she's doing." His deep blue gaze intense, he sang the next line with his trademark smirk, "Knows just what to say so my whole day is ruined."

"Hey!" I said with a mock glare.

"Cause she's bittersweet, she knocks me off of my feet and I can't help myself, I don't want anyone else."

I actually shivered and I know Eric saw it because he all but grinned arrogantly. I leveled my chin and meet his gaze straight on, no more flattering his male ego. "She's a mystery, she's too much for me. But I keep coming back for more."

I still can't help but be jealous, as he hits notes I've only dreamed of. "Oh, I keep coming back for more." His voice lowered as the song came to its end, "She's just the girl I'm looking for." And as he sang the last line, I do believe the great Eric Jefferson blushed. "Just the girl I'm looking for."

"That was amazing." I whisper as he pushes his guitar aside, my hand is resting on his knee though I don't even remember how it got there.

"Thanks." Eric says with mock seriousness, "I wrote it for Clara."

I clasp my hands together, "Oh really? That's so sweet." I say in a goopy sweet voice, "Cus smoker-wannabe-punk-dude is just looking hotter and hotter each day. Maybe we could double date!"

Before I even know what is happening, Eric runs his fingers across my jaw and cupped the behind my neck, "Don't even joke about that." He says, completely serious. Then he kissed me. On the lips. Eric Jefferson is brushing his lips against mine. I pull back confused, "About smoker-wannabe-punk-dude or double dating?"

"Guess." He murmurs and pulls me towards him. I gladly comply, crawling onto his lap and making him lean back against the headrest of his bed.

He gently pulls at my lower lip with his teeth, silently asking permission to deepen the kiss. I, in return, turn my head to kiss the line of his jaw and then nuzzle the crook of his neck.

Hey, just because things are on more than friendly terms doesn't mean I can't tease him a little.

His hands are gliding up from my waist, slipping under my shirt to gently rub my lower back. Then he lifts his hands up till his fingertips are barely touching the skin of my back and gently draws circle. I shiver and I can sense his smirk.

Propping my elbows on his shoulders, I stare at his handsome face while playing with his hair. "You know your jerk." I say with a smile. My face is so close I can feel his breath on my lips.

"Yeah?" He looks up at me with his usual confidence, "But you're still going to keep kissing me."

"I hate it when you're right." I murmur against his lips, and he takes the opportunity to deepen the kiss. I flattened myself against him, running my hands over his shoulders, down his arms and letting my fingers glide over the muscles of his back.

We broke apart, gasping for air and I rested my forehead against his. "I wasn't going to kiss you." Eric says suddenly. I must have given him a look because he elaborated, "One the couch, when we were looking for Nikki."

Oh, that day. I had managed to push it to the farthest corner of my brain. Do I really have to remember it? I would much rather burn that memory forever. "Yeah... about that..." I begin apologizing for my miny breakdown. My mouth ready for a slew of blubbering vomit but Eric pressed an open mouth against the base of my neck and my brain just kinda sizzled and died.

"I wasn't going to kiss you," He flicked his tongue against my skin, "but fuck I wanted to."

As I let my head roll back, I was fully ready to let Eric make me shiver from heat but when fragments of 'Happy Birthday' sung by a 5 year old chorus of 30 kids reached my ears, it kinda killed the mood.


"Eric! I got to go!" I half giggled half hissed, outside of his room on my third attempt to get downstairs.

"You're kissing me." I realized that indeed it was me who had him pined against the wall. However he didn't seem displeased with the situation. In fact, his hand was resting quiet possessively on my derriere.

I wanted to tell him it was because he was just so damn sexy. But the man doesn't need an ego flattering. I gave him one last peck, which turned into two…

When we finally made it downstairs, everyone was in the playroom. It seemed like Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson had given up on maintaining the chaos. Someone had turned on the stereo and some Disney singers

were blasting through the speakers. Kids were jumping and dancing everywhere they would probably be climbing on the TV if they could reach it.

Jordan was doing the robot alone in a corner and Serena was perfecting her clubbing dance; pouting lips and all. Nikki was just bobbing up and down. I finally spotted Mr. and Mrs. Jefferson, they were lounging (or rather cuddling) in the backyard, sharing a soda.

With a mock bow, Eric held out his hand. Suddenly shy, I grasped it and he pulled me close, chastely resting the other hand on my waist. Vanessa Hudgens came on which caused all the little girls to screech in delight. I winced as Eric and I moved to the music but I couldn't help but smile.

Amidst the screaming kids, this dysfunctional family and my equally psychotic past, everything was rather perfect.

Finally the end :D
I thank you all for your patience and for reading. More stories will be coming! Hopefully without the delay this one had. Thanks again for all the reviews and support.