CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: AN APOLOGETIC MORON
You say stick with me,
You know that you should,
'Cause its gotta get bad before it gets good,
- Bad Before Good, Day One
Jorgé was going to kill me.
When I woke up, that was the first thought that jumped into my barely awake brain. Jace and I completely destroyed Jorgé's masterpiece, and I had a feeling our twenty-five percent discount vanished into thin air the second Tara decided to cancel the wedding.
I got up, and headed for the kitchen. Marcus sat in the dining table, his head in his hands. Frankly, my next-to-perfect brother looked like shit. Large purple bags were under his eyes, and his normally well-kept hair stuck all over his head. An untouched cup of coffee lay in front of him.
Without saying anything, I grabbed a frying pan and started cooking breakfast for the two of us.
Marcus didn't look up. He stared at his coffee cup like Tara was going to jump out of it.
When I heaped a sizzling plate of bacon in front of him, he pushed it away.
"Eat," I ordered. "You need it."
Marcus buried his head in his arms.
I bit on a piece of toast, wondering what I was going to do with him. The Ongpauco siblings sure did a number on us both. Jace turned me into a complete sap, and Tara destroyed what was left of Marcus's pride.
"I'm an ass," Marcus muttered, his head still hidden in his arms.
"A good night's sleep tends to put things into perspective." I reached out to rub his arm.
Marcus raised his head, and looked at me for the first time that morning. "Jesus, is it just me or are you really all grown up now?" I opened my mouth to say something, but Marcus went on. "It seems like yesterday. You were five and I was chasing you out of my room, screaming at you for doodling on my homework. And now you have a boyfriend."
"And you're getting married," I said.
Marcus sighed. "Not anymore."
I stood up, and walked over to hug him around the shoulders. "Tara loves you. If you apologize, I'm sure she'll give you another chance."
"I don't know, Gab." Marcus shook his head, and turned to me. "Don't think we're finished with the whole Jace issue."
"I was hoping you wouldn't say that," I said.
"I don't like the look of that kid." My brother wagged a finger in my face. "He's too smooth."
"Like his sister?" I raised an eyebrow at him.
My brother's mouth pursed into a stubborn line. "Tara's different."
"Are you hearing yourself?" I scoffed.
"I—" Marcus started and stopped, a smile breaking out on his face. "You've got a point."
"Of course, I take after you," I said. "Seriously, Marcus, you need to apologize to Tara."
"I know," Marcus said. "I'm just going to take my sweet time about it."
"Your choice," I said.
I just hoped he wouldn't wait too long, because then it might be too late.
Jace and I faced each other.
We sat at a table in the Lotus Pond, a steaming plate of fried rice and dumplings in front of us. I didn't make a move to touch the food, and neither did he. I stared at him from across the table, a stony silence between us.
Seeing that I wasn't going to be the first to speak, Jace broke the silence. "My sister's locked herself in her room, because her fiancé—"
"My brother," I cut him off.
"Because your brother is a dumbass," Jace finished.
We glared at each other. Marcus was at fault, but I now understood where he was coming from. He saw his only sister making out with a seemingly untrustworthy, not to mention hormone-filled, teenage boy, and his overprotective instincts kicked in. If I had a little sister, I would have done the same thing.
"He's lucky he's related to you, or else I would have kicked his ass," Jace said.
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "You're lucky you're related to Tara, or he would have kicked your ass."
"Because I kissed you," Jace said.
His words hit me like a punch, but I recovered. "That's not the point."
"That's exactly the point." Jace's voice was as steely as Tara's.
I stared at him for a long time, realizing the Jace who kissed me at prom was gone. The assholish Jace had taken over. Figuratively cracking my knuckles, I got ready for a fight. The sweet version of Jace made my knees quiver and turned my brain cells into mush, but I could handle the asshole.
"Look, we have to help them get back together," I said. "My brother's miserable and so is your sister. The wedding has to go as planned."
Jace leaned back on his chair. "What if I don't want to help you?"
"What if I don't want them to get back together?"
My fingers clenched into a fist, itching to punch him again. I gritted my teeth and said, "Why not?"
"How can I be sure that Marcus won't make Tara miserable again?" Jace said, enunciating every word.
"You can't," I said. "Nobody can be sure."
"Somebody as close-minded as Marcus isn't good enough for my sister," Jace said.
If he slapped me, I wouldn't have been more shocked. Before I could even think about it, Tara's words flew out of my mouth. "Then I guess I'm not good enough for you either."
I stood up, and made my way out of the restaurant. Shit. I couldn't cry, not now when Jace could still see me. I had to hold it in. I could cry all I want when I got home. Jesus, was I stupid or what? Didn't I keep telling myself that Jace and I would end in disaster again? But, no, I didn't listen to my stupid brain, and let my heart take over instead. So, there I was, walking away from Jace, my heart breaking with every step I took.
Run after me! the voice in my head screamed.
I wiped away my traitorous tears with the back of my head, and took the final step out of Lotus Pond. Jace didn't run after me, like I didn't run after him. We were ov—
A pair of arms wrapped around my waist, and pulled me back. My back slammed against a muscular chest, and I shivered. Jace's voice whispered in my ear, "You're more than good enough for me. You're the only one I want."
Damn my knees for shaking.
A week later, Marcus stopped in front of the Ongpauco residence, a humungous bouquet of red roses in his arms. I stood behind him, pushing him to walk through the gate and up the path that led to the front door.
"Stop it, Gabby," Marcus said through clenched teeth.
"Just go in already," I said. "You're a grown man, Marcus. Don't act like you're about to ask a girl out for the first time."
"This is different, okay?" Marcus shook my hands off. "We're two mature individuals and a bouquet isn't going to cut it."
"Then, apologize like the mature individual that you are."
Marcus straightened his shoulders, preparing himself for what was about to come. He started walking toward the house. "Stay right behind me."
When we reached the front door, Marcus shifted the bouquet in his arms and rang the doorbell. I heard a few footsteps from inside the house, and the door opened.
Jace stood framed in the doorway, smirking at my brother. "What do we have here?"
Marcus jabbed a finger in his face. "Listen, you little—"
I pulled on Marcus's shirt. "Be nice."
Marcus exhaled, trying to calm himself, and looked at Jace. "I don't like what's going on between you and my sister, but I can't do anything about it. If you hurt her—"
"—I'm going to beat the living shit out of you," Jace continued. "My sentiments regarding you and Tara exactly."
"Glad that we understand each other," Marcus said, peeking inside the house. "Where's your sister?"
"She's inside." Jace leaned against the doorway, looking like he had all day to wait around.
"Why don't you go get her?" Marcus said.
"Why? So you can make her cry again?" Jace looked up at him, the smirk gone.
"She's crying?" Marcus's expression softened, and his arms went lip, almost dropping the bouquet.
"Of course she is. Are you stupid or—" Jace's gaze landed on me.
I narrowed my eyes at him.
Jace cleared his throat. "Wait here, I'll go get her."
He was quicker than I thought, because Tara came stomping to the front door a minute later. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the doorway, looking so much like Jace it was a wonder I didn't notice they were related at first. She was in pajamas, and her trademark pearls were nowhere in sight.
"What do you want?" Tara practically spat at my brother.
"These are for you." Marcus handed her the bouquet.
Or at least he tried to.
Tara looked at the bouquet like it contained vipers instead of roses. She took it, her fingers crushing the stems.
"I've come to apologize," Marcus said.
Tara raised an eyebrow at him. "Oh, really?"
"I was an ass."
To my surprise, Marcus kneeled down, and took Tara's hand in his. "I was also an idiot for letting you walk out of my apartment, out of my life. So, here I am, asking for the second time if you'll marry me."
I held my breath, crossing my fingers that Tara was going to say yes. She had to. They were perfect for each other, and we could all see it. I willed her to say yes, but I never saw what she did next coming.
Tara's grip tightened on the bouquet, and, before I could even blink, slapped Marcus on the face with it. Red petals flew up into the air, and Tara slapped him again. Only the green stems were left after that.
"How dare you come here and ask me to marry you again?" Tara's voice was cold and even.
Marcus blinked up at her, unable to process what just happened. "I… I…"
"You never gave me roses the whole time we were together. You didn't even give me roses when you proposed to me," Tara went on. "And you decide to get me a bouquet after saying my family wasn't good enough? After acting like a complete—"
"Asshole," Jace supplied from behind Tara.
"—moron," Tara finished.
"I was a complete moron, like you said, but I'm an apologetic moron," Marcus said, spitting out a few petals. "And you're not perfect either."
"That's rich," Tara said.
"You hog the remote every time we watch TV," Marcus went on like he didn't hear her. "You made me watch all the seasons of Gilmore Girls with you, and I hugged you when you cried because Lorelai and Luke broke up. You're bossy, and you can be cold when you want to be."
"Your point is?"
"But I love you anyway," Marcus said. "Sure, I can live without you, but I don't want to. So, please change your mind and say you'll marry me."
Tara looked stunned. "I…"
She sighed. "You're an ass, but I'll… I'll marry you."
Marcus reached for her and pulled her into his arms. I didn't know whether Tara was crying or laughing as she linked her hands around his neck. Maybe both.
Jace sidled up beside me. "Well, this is…"
"Awkward?" I said.
"Definitely." Jace nodded, and faced me. "If I kiss you right now, do you think they'll notice?"
I blushed, and said, "Probably."
"I'll have to settle with holding your hand then," Jace said.
And, when he laced his fingers through mine, all I could do was sigh.
I suck, don't I? I apologize to all of you for making you wait for a month. So sorry. I got caught up with school stuff, my thesis in particular. Please read and review. I value even the most miniscule of reviews. Bye! I'm off to write the epilogue.