A.N: I edited some things into chapter two that I had forgotten to put in, so for those of you that have been reading this already you might want to go back and check that out. Okay, enjoy : )
Ben normally considered himself a fairly in-shape person. He exercised- when he remembered- and it wasn't like there was an ounce of visible body fat on him. But at the moment he felt like he had never picked up a barbell or run a mile in his life. He panted as his breath whooshed in and out passed his lips while a thick line of sweat dripped down his spine, causing his gray t-shirt to stick to his back. Beside him, Josh jogged in place with a giant smile plastered on his face.
Ben wanted to smack him.
"Getting a little old there, big brother?" Josh laughed and danced away when Ben reached out to grab him.
"Getting old, my ass." Ben muttered and guzzled water.
"Is that why you're so out of breath? C'mon that was only two miles." Josh said cheekily.
Ben glared at his little brother's laughing face but said nothing. They had been running for how long Ben wasn't sure, but he knew that he couldn't run anymore if he wanted his heart to stay in his chest. Sitting down on the bench, Ben leaned his forearms on his knees waiting for his breathing to even. Shit, maybe he was getting old Ben thought as he remembered a time when he could run circles around Josh.
Knowing what was going on in his older brother's head, Josh sat down on the bench next to him quietly chuckling to himself. Both men sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the other joggers pass by as there temperature cooled. And both sets of eyes watched as two leggy females jogged in front of them.
Josh whistled silently, his eyes still trained on the women now a few blocks down. "Did I mention how much I love running?"
Ben laughed. "You better get used to only looking, buddy. 'Cause that's all you're going to be doing for the rest of your life."
Josh smiled. "That's okay. Did you happen to see the woman I've got at home?" At that Ben's amusement faded but he forced himself to keep the smile on his face. Josh turned to look at him fully. "So, what about you Ben? There's never been a woman in New Orleans that made you consider settling down at all?"
Ben shifted in his seat. "No." He lied, and instantly felt guilty. He shrugged nonchalantly, "Besides, I'm perfectly happy being single. It leaves a lot more ground open for me to cover."
Josh leaned back, placing his arm on the back of the bench. "I hear you. It is great. I never would have thought I'd actually consider settling down, so soon at least, but when you find the right one I guess that stuff doesn't really matter anymore. But there has to be someone- wait a minute," Josh shifted to look at Ben as a thought occurred to him. "What ever happened to that girl that you were so crazy about? Remember, I think it was a few years ago but you were telling me about her and how you couldn't wait until I finally got to meet her. But you were so busy with work that you couldn't get away. Then you just stopped talking about her one day."
Josh looked at Ben, waiting for his response. But he had no idea what the say. Josh was completely oblivious that the woman he spoke of was actually now his fiancée. What was someone supposed to say to something like that? It was completely surreal.
Ben, seeing that his brother was still waiting for an answer, shrugged. "It just didn't work out." He said, hoping that would satisfy him.
Thankfully someone had answered Ben's silent plea, and Josh was cut off by a shrill ringing. Ben picked up his cell phone on the second ring, happy for the distraction. But a second later, he didn't know which was worse. The questioning coming from his brother or the voice coming through the phone.
"Benjamin Lawrence you've been in town for two whole days and it didn't cross your mind once to drop by and show your face to the person that brought you into this world?" She spoke loudly enough that he received a few curious looks from passing joggers and
Ben grimaced. "Hi, mom." He shot the bird at Josh who was laughing, and pointing, at him silently.
"Don't 'Hi mom' me, as if you've done nothing wrong. Are your fingers broken?"
Thrown off by the question, Ben raised an eyebrow. "No…"
"So you could have picked up the phone at least. Just to say 'hi I'm in town'?"
Ben cleared his throat. "I'm sorry. You're right, I should have called-"
But Ben couldn't even apologize in peace, as she cut him off once again, "Yes you should have. But I imagine you've been too busy with that brother of yours. I'm assuming his fingers are broken as well?"
Ben smiled slyly at Josh who was still grinning at him. "Why don't you ask him yourself? He's standing right here. Hold on," Ben passed his brother, who was now glaring, the phone with a smirk. "It's for you."
Ben wasn't sure how it had happened exactly, but their mother had somehow suckered them all into going to dinner. At her house. But then again, with their mom, you could have been suckered into petting a crocodile and wouldn't have realized it. His ears were still ringing from the earful he had received over the phone. And Ben had little doubt that Josh's ears were in the same condition, he thought with a grin.
He stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom, the door open, and lathered his face with shaving cream knowing that if he didn't shave he would probably never hear the end of that either. Josh walked into the bathroom, obviously unconcerned that Ben was currently shaving his face, and began rooting around in the small closet by the sink.
Ben paused with the razor halfway to his shaving-cream clad face. "What are you doing?"
But he was talking to his little brothers back seeing as his head, along with both arms, were currently buried in the closet. Josh didn't pull his head out from the cabinet and instead answered in a muffled voice, "Looking for my cologne."
Ben pulled his skin taunt and returned to shaving his face in long even movements. "Nothing can make you smell better, I don't know why you're bothering." He said as he rinsed his razor.
Josh finally emerged from the closet, a small bottle in his hand. "I really hope that razor doesn't slip, just so you know." The sarcasm dripped from his voice as he squirted himself with the spray.
Ben grinned and glanced at his watch. "Why are you leaving so early? Mom didn't say to be there until five."
"I'm going to pick up Thea. Want to come?"
"Not really." Ben said honestly and continued to shave.
He figured he'd have to deal with seeing her all throughout dinner, and most likely afterwards seeing as he was currently bunking on her couch, and he didn't think he could deal with more than he had to. Though he didn't like to admit it, seeing her still brought on memories he wasn't too happy remembering and he figured the least time he spent in her company, the better.
Oblivious to the thoughts swirling in his brother's head Josh went back out into the hallway, pitching his voice higher so he could be heard through the walls. "Quit being lazy. Take the ride that way you can drive Thea's car back so we don't have to go pick it up at the office later."
Ben frowned. "Why can't she just drive herself to moms?"
"Because," Josh answered shortly, walking back into view while pulling his belt through the loops of his jeans. "Why are you being such a pain in the ass? You could use the exercise anyway, remember?" He finished with a grin.
Ben rinsed the shaving cream off his face, and turned with a supercilious expression. "I could still kick your ass and you know it."
The grin didn't move from Josh's face. "Yeah, I could see that clearly after our run today. I'll meet you downstairs," He turned and grabbed his car keys. "By the way, you've got a glob of shaving cream on your ear."
Ben scowled at his retreating back.
Ben had been in plenty of offices throughout his career. Sometimes he even felt that he spent more time in people's offices than on the site of jobs, a rare thing to be heard from an architect. So he could honestly say that he had assumed he had seen it all as it pertained to office life. But nothing, he realized, could quite compare to what he witnessed when walking into Thea's.
It looked like any other office Ben was used to, if you could take notice of the décor through the swarms of people moving in and out of the large room, but the noise level was incredible. It was amazing that any work could be done through it. Phones were ringing off the hook, a television blared loudly from its perch on the wall, people were arguing and answering or asking questions, and- for reasons lost to Ben- there was a large plastic blow-up chicken in the corner, donning a multicolored jersey.
Ben stopped and stared at the doll for a moment and turned with his eyebrows wrinkled in confusion to ask his brother what in the world it was doing there, but Josh was already gone. Even more confused, Ben turned around trying to find his little brother through the crowd, but to no avail. Ben gave an agitated sigh. You would think they were in a stadium rather than an office. Turning around again, figuring he'd just wait in the car, he jolted as he bumped solidly into someone. He gripped the persons shoulders to steady them and only then noticed that the small frame he was holding onto belonged to none other than the last person he wanted to see; Thea.
Putting his hands in his pockets, he watched as her eyebrow shot up in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
He shrugged. "Looking for you."
Thea shifted the large stack of folders in her arms. "Why are you looking for me?"
"Josh dragged me with him to get you."
At that, she looked just as puzzled as he did when he saw the blow-up chicken. "We're supposed to be at our parent's house at five." He reminded her.
Recognition flashed on her features. "Damn, that dinner thing. I forgot." She looked around, running a hand through her already tousled hair. "I don't think I'm going to be able to get out of here."
Ben glanced around the room again, just in time to see a frazzled looking woman drop a stack of papers on the floor and a harried man go down like a ton of bricks after a short slide on one of the spare pages. He raised an eyebrow as the man landed on his butt in a heap. "Is it always this crazy?"
"Welcome to life at the San Francisco Gazette. We're always on a deadline, which means everyone's usually always about to pull their hair out. C'mon," She grabbed his arm and pulled him toward a cubicle toward the back of the room. When they came to stop at a cluttered desk, Ben saw Josh standing next to a tall dirty blonde haired woman. Thea walked over to where they were standing and, left with no choice, Ben followed.
Josh stopped talking and glanced over at them. "There you are," He said to Ben and was oblivious as Leila raised her eyebrows and gave him the once over. Ben, however, was not. "Where'd you go?" Josh questioned.
Ben shrugged, smiling at Leila. "I got distracted by the chicken." He said, as if that explained everything.
Josh's eyebrows shot up in confusion but before he could ask, Leila chuckled. "Yeah, it can be quite a shock. We can all thank Thea for that nice addition to the décor here."
Ben inclined his head. "It was a gift from a client; a life sized blow-up doll of their team mascot." Thea explained and Josh's hushed voice could be heard muttering, "Oh that chicken…"
"Nice gift." Ben responded, amused.
"I thought so." Thea answered.
Leila extended her hand toward Ben. "I'm Leila Malloy by the way. And you are?" Thea rolled her eyes, catching the interested, and flirtatious, glint in her best friend's eyes. But then again, she could hardly blame her. A blind woman would be attracted to Ben.
Ben smiled, shaking her hand in return. "Ben Lawrence. I'm Josh's brother."
Recognition lit on her face as it clicked and Leila let out a lengthy, "Oh." She turned to look at Thea with a look of disbelief, mouthing a "wow" in her direction.
Thea cleared her throat awkwardly and placed the folders she was holding on the already cluttered desk. "Right, well sorry to interrupt the introductions, fun as they are, but I don't think I'm going to be able to make it to dinner tonight. Deadline is in two days and, as you can see, its pretty crazy here."
Josh frowned. "But my mom is expecting us. If we don't show, she'll probably kill us."
Thea sighed. "I know but-"
"But nothing," Leila cut in. "Go ahead, I'll cover for you. Can't have the in-laws disappointed."
Josh grinned. "Thanks Leila, you're the best."
Leila grabbed Thea's purse and stuffed it in her face. "No problem." She said, and shot her best friend a look that clearly said to expect a very long phone call later that night.
Phil and Karen lived in a small two story house not too far from Josh and Thea's apartment. It looked like something straight out of a fairy tale, with its white trim and blue shutters around the windows. A large sycamore tree shaded the right side of the front lawn and a small brightly colored garden, Karen's pride and joy, followed the length of the house in a neat row.
Ben made his way into his childhood home, for the first time in almost four years. There was no real reason why he hadn't come home in so long, only that work had kept him busy. His family had visited him in New Orleans as often as possible but, he quickly realized, he still missed being home just as much. He glanced around. Little had changed but what had, he picked up on immediately.
Ben walked into the brightly lit kitchen. He took in the sight of the light yellow walls and the maple cabinets and matching table, the scent of something tangy simmering on the stove, and the muffled sound of the television coming from the living room. He watched his mother, a petite woman with curly brown hair, stirring whatever was in the large pot on the stove while humming quietly under her breath.
Smiling to himself, he crept closer trying not to make a sound and placed his hands on her sides. "Who is this gorgeous woman standing in my mother's kitchen?"
Karen jumped about a foot in the air in surprise. When she turned, her shocked look melted into a pleased one. "Don't think sweet talking me is going to get you out of the dog house, young man." Though she tried to keep her voice stern, her eyes were lit with laughter.
He grinned sheepishly. "Never."
She laughed and threw her arms around him and kissed his cheek soundly. He accepted the kiss, wrapping his arms around her small frame in a tight hug. He had forgotten how much he'd missed her, lectures and all. She patted his cheek and pulled back to just look at him. It still amazed her sometimes that her little boys were now men. If there was anything that proved to be the most important thing to Karen Connolly, it was her family.
She smiled. "You have to be the most handsome man I know."
Ben grinned. "I can't wait to tell Josh that."
She chuckled and glanced behind him. "Where is Josh?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. He was right behind me, but he probably stopped at the store or something." Ben walked over to the stove and lifted the pot cover of the enormous red pot she had been stirring and got his hand slapped for his trouble.
"Don't start poking around in my food. You'll have it in your stomach soon enough."
"Not here two minutes and you're already getting your wrists slapped, I see." A husky voice with a hint of a chuckle came from behind him, and Ben turned.
"Phil," Ben smiled and accepted the hand he was offered. Phil was a tall man with slightly graying hair and crinkles at the sides of his milk chocolate eyes. He pulled Ben into a hug and then pulled him back to look at him.
"How are you?"
Ben grinned. "Great. You look good."
Phil slipped his arm around his stepson's shoulder. "Never felt better. Work treating you alright?"
Ben shrugged. "Can't complain. Ah, here's Josh now." He said and gestured toward the door, stealing a slice of cheese from a plate on the table when his mother turned to look.
Josh walked in, all smiles as usual, and Thea followed behind with a large brown bag in her hand.
They all said their hellos and Thea handed Karen the bag. "I brought some wine. I wasn't sure what to bring."
Karen smiled. "This is lovely. Thank you."
Thea slipped easily into a light conversation, making Phil laugh and Karen beam. Ben saw instantly that his parents loved her. It seemed, Ben thought wryly, that everyone in the family found Thea hard to resist.
When they were all settled around the table and piling food onto their plates, Karen looked over and smiled at them. "So Phil, Josh was telling me that Ben and Thea were actually co-workers. Isn't that uncanny?"
"Wow. It really is a small world, huh?" Phil chuckled.
Ben shifted and picked up the salt shaker. "Yeah. What are the odds right? We used to work together," he glanced at Thea, who smiled weakly at him, as he said this.
Josh laughed. "In New Orleans, nonetheless. It is strange. I didn't even know Thea lived in New Orleans until a couple days ago." He said.
Thea wiped her mouth with her napkin. "I didn't really… I was only there for a few weeks. I was interning, just trying to get some experience under my belt." She lied, and felt guilt lodge in her stomach.
"I'm surprised there was anything to write about concerning sports after such a disaster." Karen said, referring to the hurricane.
"It wasn't so much for sports. It was just any type of work for a newspaper. I didn't really get into sports until I moved here." Thea explained, growing more uncomfortable by the minute.
"So how did you and Ben end up working together?" Phil asked, curious.
"Ah… Well, I…" Thea stuttered. She had no idea what to say! She thought, panicked.
Knowing she was about to get caught in her own lie Ben answered for her, "Thea worked part time at my firm, as a secretary."
Thea let out a breath. "Right. Right. Interns don't get paid much so I had to find part time work."
"Don't we all know that," Phil said kindly.
Thea took a hasty sip of her wine, ordering herself to calm down. Though she didn't look frazzled Karen could sense that something was wrong and studied Thea for a moment as she sipped her own wine. She placed her cup down and smiled kindly, hoping a change of subject would help. She didn't want her new daughter in-law to feel uncomfortable around them.
"You must be happy then, that you two already know each other for the wedding. Especially since Ben is going to be the best man." She said to Ben and Thea. "That puts awkward first introductions out of the picture, at least."
The thought of Ben standing at Josh's side while she said her "I do's" had Thea's stomach clenching and she said nothing.
Ben couldn't help it; he chuckled under his breath at the irony. "Yeah, Thea aren't we lucky?"
"Hah," she said as a means of agreement and her chair scraped against the floor as she pushed away from the table. "It looks like we need more napkins. I'll go get some."
Thea escaped to the kitchen, hoping she didn't make her exit look too rushed. When she was safely in the kitchen, she leaned against the sink and let out a long drawn out breath.
"What the hell am I doing?" she asked herself desperately.
The door to the kitchen swung open and Thea turned to see Ben stride in. Her spine snapped straight.
"Finding the napkins okay?" He asked, nodding toward her empty hands.
Thea clenched her fists and rounded on him, speaking in hushed tones. "Look, I didn't like lying to them in there any more than you did-"
"Then explain to me again why exactly we had to." Ben demanded.
"I already told you. I'd rather keep that part of our lives in the past, there's no reason to tell them-"
"Bullshit. You know damn well that the truth is going to come out sooner or later. People with as much baggage as we have-"
"Should keep it packed up where it belongs." She said firmly.
His jaw clenched and he stepped closer to her. "And why is that, Thea?"
The fact that whatever they felt for one another obviously wasn't packed up as well as they both would have liked, lay unspoken between them. And it hung heavily in the air.
Thea stuck her chin up. "Because I'm marrying Josh. And anything that happened between us in the past isn't going to change that."
Before he could respond she pushed passed him, forgetting all about the napkins.
Thea suffered through dessert and coffee, silently wishing she could just go home. The conversation between her and Ben was still fresh in her mind and no matter what they talked about she couldn't seem to wipe it out of her mind. So many questions badgered her. Should she just tell them the truth? Why was Ben so bothered anyway? And what exactly had she been feeling when he had stood no more than two inches from her in the kitchen?
But even with all the unanswered questions swarming inside of her head, she was fairly certain that getting up and leaving in the middle of Karen's apple pie dessert would seem a bit suspicious. So she laughed when appropriate and spoke only when asked a question and since no one seemed to be onto just how uncomfortable she was, besides Ben that is, she was sure all she had to do now was just wait it out.
And when Josh finally got up and stretched saying they should be heading home, Thea couldn't get out of the chair fast enough.
They had just made it to the door when Karen stopped them. "Oh, I almost forgot. Thea I have something for you. Come on, I think I left it in the living room." Curious, Thea followed the older woman. "A friend of mine gave me a number of a wedding planner that her daughter had hired. She says she's wonderful." Karen explained as she searched through a pile of papers on the coffee table. "I figured you might want some help with the wedding. Ah, here it is." She said, pulling a small white piece of paper out.
Thea smiled. "Thanks. I'll give her a call."
"Great." She held the card out to her, but didn't let go when Thea reached out for it. Karen paused. "You and Ben didn't work together back in New Orleans."
It wasn't a question so much as it was a statement. It was silent for a full minute as Thea debated with herself silently. She could lie to her, she thought, but Thea suddenly felt tired of lying. So going with instinct, she found herself telling the truth for the first time that night.
"No." She said slowly. "We didn't."
Karen nodded. "I hope you know what you're doing." She let go of the card with a smile. "Call that number. She's a miracle worker, I'm sure you'll love her."
Thea said nothing for a moment, just stared at the woman in front of her. She hadn't asked any questions. Even though she knew there was something else going on, she'd just nodded and gave her the number for a wedding planner. With a quiet sigh, Thea nodded.
And they both knew she wasn't only thanking her for the number.
A.N: hah, Thea almost got herself caught. I really enjoyed writing this chapter. Let me know what you thought, please :] and thanks so much for the reviews so far, I love reading them.