Epilogue: Valentine's Special
"Your hair is getting longer," Charlotte and I are staring at each other in the mirror of Denise's salon; Miss Congeniality.
Charlotte has hair steamer on, over her head. It makes me wonder how can she stand sitting here for forty minutes with that one-hundred-ten-volts-times-a-thousand-watts of head microwave on without getting her brain fried? Apparently, that's one of the things on her to-do list when she stops by Miss Congeniality; to get her hair steamed once in a month. It's like a staple practice for her. She says it helps her hair retain more moisture and makes her natural curls more livelier than before.
"Well," Denise smiles, testing the weight of my hair in her hand. "Lucky you, there are so many things we can do to long hair."
"No mini bangs!" I say quickly, my hand flies to my forehead on its own volition. "God knows how hard it is to grow out mini bangs."
I've experimented with mini bangs before and I must say, they did not look good on me. Are you kidding me? I look like a total dork with it! I thought I've always been a total dork- but mini bangs pegs me as the dorkiest of dorks, if dorkiest is even an existing word in Oxford dictionary which I've one-hundred-percent postulated that it will never exist.
"Maybe cut them a little?" Charlotte suggests, her eyes are on me in the mirror but her fingers are busy leafing through a copy of People's magazine. "And I don't mean just your bangs. Your hair is longer than that japanese ghost from that movie...shoot, what's the name of that movie..." she snaps her fingers repeatedly, "what's that horror movie with Naomi Watts in it?"
"Who's Naomi Watts?" I ask feebly.
"The Ring?" Denise utters, still playing around with my hair.
"Yes! That's it! The Ring!" Charlotte is excited all of a sudden, her butt choose this moment to rise up from its seat and her head is almost sucked into the microwave steamer hovering on top of her head. "Yeah, Evey, you know, sometimes when I see you from afar and you're ducking your head and your hair is all over you, you look almost like a real-life manifestation of Sadoko...or is it Sodaku? Soda...?"
"Sudoku?" I say, tucking my hair back behind my shoulders.
"Sadako," Denise is correcting us. "You know sweetie, I think it's almost an agony for you to have such long hair. Sometimes you have that habit where you tilt your head to one side like you have neck-pain or something, but I just thought maybe your hair has gotten heavier than your head."
"I do not," I make a scrunch-up face- and to add my growing horror, my head automatically cocks a little. "Oh my god. I've been doing this a lot, right?" and they both give affirmative, sort of sad nod.
My hair is getting longer each day, almost past my waistline now- and I haven't gotten a decent haircut for almost four months. It's funny because my stepmother owns a hair salon and I'm just too lazy to demand a haircut, although I like to waltz in playing with arsenals of nail colors and smelling the vanilla candles. Dad always reminds me that I should thank my mom- my real mom, for great hair. Despite blue eyes, I have silky-smooth dark hair- almost black, like my mom's.
Denise smiles at me in the mirror, playing with my hair and trying to find the perfect shape. I don't really spend time looking in the mirror if I can help it. I have this idea of what I look like in my head, and every time I catch a glimpse of myself, I'm always a little surprised at the person staring back. I know I'm not ugly, but I'm not beautiful either- and my hair can't seem to decide if it would rather be straight or curly.
I'm sure Adam won't mind if I have long, short, straight or curly hair- because he always says I look beautiful, which is really sweet of him to say considering that he's probably trying to make me feel less insecure about other girls at school who harbor typical irrational, school-girl crush on him.
And every time he looks at me with those warm brown eyes of his, I feel beautiful...
"A trim should be alright," Denise is saying, cutting me off my thoughts. "And...do you want me to straighten it? Maybe add few highlights?"
"Do your magic," I try to imitate this one TV-host from a makeover program I saw the other night. "You guys know I'm not really a style conformist."
"Curl looks great on Evey," Charlotte says over the magazine she's reading.
"I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda girl," I tell them, "Just don't make me look as if I'm legit enough to be vilified as one of those celebrity poseurs."
"Okay," Denise claps her hands. "Now close your eyes and I'll give you your scalp treatment."
Before the shampoo routine, Denise always gives her customers a five minute head-and-shoulder massage that she calls a scalp treatment. First, she starts with your shoulders, kneading them till they go all soft like Silly Putty. Then she works up your neck, and her fingers slide behind your ears and into your hair as she massages the cricks right out of your neck and head. When she's done, people open their eyes and blink like they're just waking up from the best sleep ever. That's the magic of her scalp treatment. Sometimes they can't talk until the cool rinse revives them a little. Denise is that good.
"I bet Adam would like a massage therapy from you," Charlotte says, half-giggling. "It's valentine's day."
"Valentine's day is tomorrow," I reiterate, feeling warm blush rushing up to my neck and cheeks. "I'm not giving him a massage."
"Sweetie, men love massages," Denise is working up my neck. Great, I think she can feel my blood hot under her fingers now.
"Erotic massages," Charlotte is purring like a kitten to me. I swear as she says that, my cheeks are getting hotter than the steam billowing out of that microwave heater over her head.
"Charlotte!" I try to swat her knee from where I'm sitting but she shifts a little and sticks her tongue out at me.
"Aww you're still shy like a virgin. How cute!" she laughs.
"When you work your magic fingers on him, his jaw will go all slack," it's Denise turn to woe me now.
"Yeah and if he enjoys it, he might drool, like a lot," Charlotte is giggling again, and then high-five Denise. She stops working her magic fingers on me only to join the cluster of girly giggles with Charlotte.
Despite the feeling that my ears being put on a stove and my whole head is being jammed into the head steamer from the neck up, I really can't believe Denise is actually being open talking about eroticism and coquettish-ness with me and Charlotte. I will definitely self-combust any time from now, I mean she's my stepmother and it's sort of taunting having a little sex chat with her. According to them, my shyness is just ridiculous for my age since we're all adults now.
I know Charlotte might have had sexual experiences with Junior (God! I don't even want to imagine my best friend and my stepbrother frolicking in their love shack, or whatever they call it!) but I'm still new in this art of sensuality. I still don't know how to give a proper kiss or how to turn on a guy- even though I've seen ample evidence that I might have made Adam quite horny on several occasions- and how his touch and kisses been filling my body with unadulterated sensations.
He knows what he's doing, but I'm still clueless on how to pursue him further.
Have I mentioned about how I really look like in my head- and every time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I'm always surprised at the person staring back at me? Well, that's how I feel like when I look in the mirror after Denise massacred my hair for four hours. She had cut my hair. Instead of waist-length, my hair is now touching my elbows. My new curls are mostly at the back and underneath just like Charlotte pleased. Denise has given me some golden brown highlights and wispy bangs too, and she advised me to swipe a bottle of super-hold gel specially formulated for wavy hair on every ends of my locks. It smells like jellybeans, the scent I've been accustomed to ever since she started giving me free samples of hair products from her salon- and also the kind of scent that Adam likes so much when he burrows his face into my hair.
I think I look almost pretty.
"Gosh," Charlotte sounds like she's radiating an admiration when she looks at me. Her honey-blond curls bouncing against her shoulders. "You're like a lush representation of something that is elegant and strongly sexual in the context of..." she looks thoughtful at the moment, "Oh I don't know. I just think you look sexy with your new hair."
"Sexy?" I want to laugh. "Definitely not me!" I turn to the mirror again, fiddling the ends of my locks. "I look eighteen. More mature I think, like a grown-up."
Charlotte looks furtive for a moment, then she pulls out her phone out of her purse and snaps a picture of us in the mirror. Her fingers are moving frantically over the touch-screen keyboards. "You just got gram-ed. I'm so going to upload our pic on Instagram."
"Tag me," I say. I don't really do selfies. My Instagram account is full of random photos of books, kittens, loafers, music sheets, Ethan and my sole achievement in cooking department. There's only about two or three pictures of myself in there and usually accompanied by another human being; either Charlotte, Junior or Adam. I don't really like to upload my own selfie in social network, because who knows- there are so many maniacs and identity thefts online.
"Just wait until Adam sees you," she squeezes my shoulders and giving me a coy smile. "I mean in real life of course, not on Instagram."
The funny thing is I can't wait to see his reaction on my new hair too.
Where the hell is the remote control? I've been pawing through jumble of stuff in the TV room and I can't find the damn thing. How are we supposed to watch TV with no sound on? Then Junior stomped in- with Ethan sitting on his shoulders.
"Looks like you're in trouble," Ethan exclaims as Junior settles him down. He's wearing his superhero costume for pre-school costume party next weekend.
Junior has helped with the costume design- inspired by this one character from the Marvel comics he used to read when he was in eighth grade, while I've been the one doing all the sewing. Ethan wanted to be The Incredible Hulk but Junior said he had to bathe in disgusting green gunk to turn himself green and that idea was just appalling even to a four-year-old. In the end, we made this blue suit with giant star on the chest surrounded by all sorts of American flag colors- and Ethan insisted wearing a cape for heaven's sake. He said every superhero should own a cape.
"Yes, Super Ethan, I need your superpower to help me find the remote control," I turn to glare at Junior, my hands are on my hips, "I believe it is being held by the evil couch monster."
"Don't look at me, lady," Junior holds up both hands, palms out. "I believe it's hidden somewhere in the fortress of solitude."
Ethan starts doing his superhero dance, then plunking down on his search to find the remote control around the TV room. I dismiss Junior's remark, cleaning up the last spool of thread I've been using earlier to alter Ethan's costume.
"Your hair is different," Junior says, looking at me through Ethan's mini binoculars.
"Good different or bad different?" I ask him.
"Good different. You look..." he looks thoughtful for a moment.
I glare at him, "Ugly?"
Then all of a sudden, he snorts out this giant guffaw I think a booger is going to come out from one of his nostrils. Jerk! He's really making fun of me! No way will he ever compliment my new look. Junior never told me I'm pretty, cute yes, but not pretty. It is quite underwhelming.
"You're the biggest moron in the history of real morons," I give a haughty huff.
"Hey, Evey," Junior cracks his annoying cackle, "Ask me; in five years, have I ever get tired of making fun of you? Ask me. Come on, ask me."
I roll my eyes, "In five years, have you ever..."
I hit him with Ethan's Spongebob plushy. Super Ethan chooses this moment becoming the idiot savant by picking up one of his plushies and lobbing it to Junior- and it hit him square in the head.
"Okay, okay, sorry," Junior apologizes, trying to catch his breath. "Hey, honestly, you look great. I'm being honest. At least, you don't look like a thirteen-year-old anymore."
"You thought I used to look like a kid before?"
"Pre-pubescent teen," he replies airily. "If you walk around with Adam in your new hairdo, I'm sure nobody is going to think he's a pedo."
Egh! Only sick people would think that. And I certainly did not look like a kid before...did I? "People suck," I say.
"Don't feel bad kiddo," he gives my shoulder a light bump with his fist. "You look great now. More mature and womanly I guess."
As far as stepbrother goes, Junior isn't that bad. Of course, we pick on each other a lot but in the end, we don't really take it to the heart. After my mom's death, I spent five years being alone and I didn't have anyone, a brother or sister, to talk to at home- and I was quite flummoxed when I learned that my dad was getting married again and the prospect of me getting step-siblings made me very anxious.
When Junior came along, he wasn't really like what I expected. He was very friendly and it didn't take me long to get along with him, but yeah just like boys around his age at that time, I got bullied a lot- only that it hadn't been so torturous and I always knew my evil way to get back at him.
Over the course of five years, there's never been a day he would hurt me for real. We've shared laughter, screams and tears together- and I'm definitely going to miss him when we go to college soon.
Feeling a bit nostalgic, I smile a little. If I hadn't known him, I would've never met Adam...
I turn to Junior and he's watching Law & Order, but there's no sound I thought there's something wrong with our TV. "Why are we watching TV without sound?"
"Brian muted the TV last night. He's been practicing lip reading whatever the hell that's for," he says.
Dad is always doing something weird, jiggering up his nutso gizmo every now and then. He's got wild ideas that make some weirdos like Junior seem rational.
"Dad," I sigh. "What now? At least it's not one of his conspiracy projects where he's trying to gather conclusive evidence that the government is deliberately blocking reception of advanced-civilization alien broadcasts, or the fact that maybe there's a secret broadcast secretly sending frequency to the covert operatives and update them about secret organizations that secretly manipulate people's mind and really run the world."
Junior blinks at me. "Whatever. Maybe you left your head inside the hair steamer a little too long. Spare me that odd story, will ya?" then his eyes flick toward the TV. "I'm not really an expert in lip-reading but I think they're talking about brownies...or brown rice..." he squints at the TV, "...brown thighs?"
I watch one of the female characters is yelling over the detective- they're all moving frantically but everything is in silent. I feel as if we're watching one of those Charlie Chaplin's silent movie. "I think they're talking about nuts."
"There are so many nuts in this world, man," he sniffs. "Cashew nuts, almond nuts, hazelnuts..."
"Speaking of Nutella, what are you guys going to do on valentine's day?" I ask amiably. Charlotte hasn't told me anything about her plans with Junior on v-day. She said everyday is valentine's day- so it doesn't matter if Junior is getting her a trained monkey and wraps it in giant ribbons. And it's not really that often I ask Junior on dating advise or stuff like that.
"I don't have special plan for Charlie," his eyes are still training on TV as the scene transpires into something more intense. "Maybe we'll have dinner at her favorite place, then I'll surprise her with a can of worm," he chuckles.
I just blink at him, mostly because I'm not getting his jokes.
He turns to me, "you know one of those cans that looks like it contains candies but really contains coiled springs that pops out whenever you open the can..."
"I know that," I roll my eyes at him. "It's just that...I don't really know what to get Adam..."
"Well, you knitted a scarf and made Oreo cheesecake for him on Christmas, and did you see his goofy ass smile?" Junior raises an eyebrow. "He looked like a kid who'd just gotten a present from Santa because he spent the rest of his childhood wondering why Santa skipped his house every year."
I do remember my first Christmas together with Adam not long ago, I almost cried because I didn't get him anything near as good as the silver ring from Pandora he'd gotten me. The ring is really beautiful, it has a small heart-shaped stone with my name engraved on the back of it. I didn't ask him how much it costs because I knew it would cost a lot when you demand a customized jewelry.
He'd probably thought how lame I'd been as a girlfriend for giving him a lame red scarf that was of my own lame handwork, and I even cried when I gave it to him, but then I saw that silly grin on his face before he pulled me into his arms and mouthed 'Thank you' to me. His tone was soft, genuine and emotional that I had no doubt he was feigning it just to make me feel better.
I love Adam- and everything I do for him, I pour my heart to it. A heartfelt gesture does not even compare to physical expensive things.
"Evey, things we can buy with money is actually worthless because they can't fill the void in our heart, which some people manifested into a desire for physical objects." That's what Adam told me. I knew he means well because he's been through some phases in his life where someone he loves the most been tossing guilt cash on his way to make up for things they've missed doing together. Money itself doesn't make the world goes around.
"It doesn't matter what you do," Junior adds. "He's going to appreciate it as long as it comes from the heart. It's the thought that counts and he loves you. I bet your fart even smells flowery to him."
I close my eyes and smile. It's all about the heart...
The voice booms out of the TV. Ethan has found the remote control. I guess my little brother got bored playing superhero when he starts climbing onto my lap, leaning against me and just sitting here sucking his grubby thumb- being a four-year-old kid again instead of superhero. In my current affectionate quandary, I smile and wrap my arms around his small body. "Thanks, my little hero," I murmur, stroking Ethan's plump cheek and kissing the top of his head.
Normally I'm the kind of guy who digs watching people play basketball, especially when they're trying out for the team. My team. Spotting new talents can be such a rush. There's nothing like seeing some fresh-faced kid jumping up in the air for slam dunk- and nailing it, right over the net. But today, it's kind of different. New talents came in a package of three-and-a-half-to-four-feet tall, no-confounded, no-nonsense kids.
"Double dribble!" I call out. "Carlos gets the ball."
"Oh man!" the frustrated little Timmy slams the ball against the court.
The slick move pretty much sums up the mini basketball game the kids are having; there's Carlos and Aster for Team Carlos and Timmy and Tom for Team Timmy. It isn't exactly a game. Instead of two-on-two, it seems more like one-on-two. With the amount of mistakes and fouls Timmy keeps making for his own team, maybe more like minus-two-on-two.
In my own assessment, Timmy is really good at 'stealing'. The little guy is pretty stealthy and he's only about four-feet tall. As soon as Carlos starts dribbling the ball around the perimeter, Timmy steps in out of nowhere and knocks the ball away. Then he grabs the ball and takes three steps toward Tom- still holding on to the ball.
I blow the whistle. "Traveling! Team Carlos gets the ball back."
Timmy looks really bummed now. Man, that's sad. But I have to give the little dude kudos for trying.
"How many is that, Timmy?" Being the only tough girl in all-boys team, Aster is teasing the poor little boy.
"Let's just say he had more fouls than he and Tom have points," Carlos laughs.
"Dude! Are you playing or what?" the flustered Tom asks Timmy, grabbing the bouncing ball and tossing it to me.
"Guys, give him a break. He's in the middle of a snip right now, okay?" I say, kneeling to Timmy's side. He looks kind of beat and out of sorts too. "Hey man," I give his shoulder a gentle pat. "Don't feel so bad okay? Basketball takes a lot of practice, years or so. Good thing is you're a fast runner. I bet you can win a race match."
Timmy turns to me with this dazed smile, he looks so grateful like he's going to hug me. I smile back and give his tousled hair a ruffle.
It's been a good day although it's about less than ten degrees outside. When Poppy and Delia emerge out of the house, wearing about five layers of clothing, the other kids stop playing basketball and break into stumbling run, soon they're engaged in snowball fight.
Lily dawdles behind them, doesn't seem interested in playing a ball of packed snow, instead picking up twigs and curled-up dead leaves. She's wearing a nubby knitted cap pulled down to her ears, her skin looks grayish like clay, but she smiles as she watches her friends throwing snowballs at each other. When she spots me straddling the bench not far away from their playground, she raises her hand, waving at me. I smile and wave back, arm fanning the sky, inviting gusts of icy cool particles to slab my skin.
The doctor said it's a miracle that the kids are making such huge progress. The surrounding malignant cells might have not zapped altogether completely, but it's not like they're whining about how bad it is. Even if things are bad, I've never even once caught them with their face crumpled like there's no hope for living.
At such a young age they've already come to terms with one of life's harshest lesson: That life isn't fair...of all the people in the world, why them? But when I look at them I see smiles, like there's always a silver lining. They cling to the hope that not everyone relapses, and not everyone dies. Somehow they end up being the strong ones who make other people feel better.
What I'm able to learn from these kids is that; sometimes you need a little hardship in life to get the blood flowing.
And not long ago, I realized that my ass had been such an ungrateful bastard. I know mom and Nonna won't be happy if they knew what I was up to when dad wasn't around...when he hadn't been around my life. Dad had been nothing but shadows, he was there- but really like he wasn't even there for me and the only way to hurl his sorry ass away was to toss guilt cash my way. Physically and financially, I was filled- but I didn't do well in emotional department.
As I watch the kids laughing and make real run from the snow detonator- some are hiding behind the makeshift fortress, a twinge of envy creeping up inside me. I never had real childhood, I spent four years dividing my time between New York and Philadelphia before the divorce and before I met Owen Jr. Stuff did get a little crazy for a while, but it didn't last long, and I think it was mostly in my head anyway. I had a bunch of things going on then; there was the class election, the basketball team, secret admirers, dad and Owen. But there was Evey too.
If I think about it now, I do remember the first time I actually noticed her, months before the flagpole incident, she sat next to me in seventh grade English class. I thought she was beautiful, with dark hair that contrast nicely with her baby blue eyes and skin sort of milky white. She didn't have freckles and pimples or blotches like some of the girls had when they hit puberty. When I looked over, she was bending back up from putting something under her seat. A wave of hair went loose at the moment and fell from behind her ear across her cheek. The ceiling light flashed right off her hair and made it shine like a splash of dark golden or something. Then I caught a little scent of her in the air as she moved- oh man, it was like the smell of fruit. When she looked up, maybe at the clock, I turned away. I didn't talk to her that day. I didn't actually talk to her until the flagpole incident.
Just thinking about Evey is making me smile. Man, I wish she was here with me, but she insisted me to spend some time with my dad. It's one of the things I love about her, that she's so thoughtful and selfless.
"So, what gives?" dad hands me a bottle of Bud Light. "Your head's been up in the dark cloud. And for you, that's saying a lot."
"Dad, come on man, you know I can't drink," I say, "yet."
He slid onto a seat next to me, "You're not going to tell me you've never even once touched a drop of liquor. Wanna talk about how my Vodka stock made cutbacks when I wasn't around?"
Shit. "You knew?"
"Of course. But I'm not going to harp on at it. I figure you're old enough to know better."
"It was just one time, dad, and I can assure you I was being responsible at it."
There isn't even a note of alarm on dad's face. "I know, that's why I'm offering Bud Light to you. It's light."
I'm not really a fan of light beer and Bud Light is sort of awful. It almost reminds me of seltzer water. But it's chilly out here so I might need something to warm myself up. "Thanks, dad."
"You know, your grandpa would never allow me to drink beer when I was your age," he tells me. "I was miserable. I hated him, and I hated myself for hating him."
I don't really know much about my grandfather. Judging from how dad talks about him, I'm sensing grandpa is not really the kind of typical doting father. Maybe the whole grandpa's emotionless streak had gotten into dad's head that he didn't have any use for his own emotional distraught son. Dad earned his own fortune enough by working harder than anyone else, just so he could prove to grandpa that he wasn't a slacker; it's one of the things I deeply admire about dad.
"I'm so glad that you didn't really turn out to be like me," dad is saying, sipping his beer.
"What do you mean?"
"You probably took after your mother. Definitely not me," he replies with a smile as he looks over the kids playing on the expanse of snowfield not far from us. "I've seen you with these children and I knew you're nothing like me. You've shown love to these kids and your mom, Nonna and Evey. I know I don't really deserve being loved after how I treated you, but it's fair knowing that you've grown up becoming the man in ways that made me incredibly proud of you."
I look down, tracing the brim of the beer bottle with my finger. I'm thinking why? Why does everything dad says sort of tearing at my gut? There is pain, but there's something else too. "Dad, I'm sorry..." I can't hide the wobbling in my voice, but I'm not about to cry either. I refuse to cry.
Suddenly, I'm that little boy again who'd been told that daddy is too busy to play with him. But when I feel his hand on my shoulder, the little boy in me is smiling again- because his old man decides to ditch work and starts building birdhouse with him.
Inside the house is much warmer, mom cranks up the radiator as advised by the doctor. The kids hardly looking beat. They even rope me in to play roughhousing with them in the living room just before dinner time.
"Thirty-two, thirty-three..." I'm doing push-ups with three kids weighed about 100 pounds altogether, straddling my back.
It's fun, but doesn't seem far-fetched. When Tom spots us, he makes a real run toward me- and so does the others; Timmy, Carlos and Poppy.
"No, no! Wait!" The next thing I know I'm on the floor, lying on my stomach, with seven kids hogging around my back. Tom used to be this one chubby guy before the whole leukemic thing, but after two years of enduring surgery, therapy and on-going recovery, the little dude has gained weight and when he climbs on me, man it feels like I'm carrying a bag of cement on my back. I fake dying, eyes closed and tongue out.
"Adam?" Timmy is trying to shake my body, it's really a monumental effort for him when he tries to lift my arm.
"Oh no! Is he dead?" I hear Aster's voice hovering over.
"Kids! Dinner time!" mom's bellow coming from the hallway.
I can make sounds of footsteps bounding, leaving me alone in the living room and when I open my eyes, Delia is still here- crouching and looking over me. I smile and wink at her, and her face breaks into this radiant, plump-cheeked grin, the tip of her tongue poking out through the gap of her missing front teeth. I raise my index finger to my cheek and Delia knows exactly what the gesture means, she leans to me and kisses my cheek.
"Thank you for the kiss, princess," I say as I spring onto my feet. "As a reward, I'll give you a piggyback ride to the dining hall." She giggles, getting on my back and we file to the dining room.
"Do you want more mashers, dear?" mom is asking Lily when I set Delia on a seat next to her. I watch both my mom and dad filling up the kids plates with heaps of mashed potatoes and fried chicken. Dad is having a crack at striking a conversation with Carlos, seems like a half-heartened attempt- but Carlos is a kind of kid that pretty much gets along with everyone, so stuff doesn't look so awkward after all.
Mom smiles at me, "Nonna might needs some help in the kitchen."
I push open the door and almost bumped into Nonna, who comes no higher than my chest. Wisps gray-shot brown hair tumbling out of her kitchen hairnet. "Vi aspetto, bello. I thought you are just going to ignore me here."
"Nonna," I simply grin, wrapping my arms around her shoulders from behind. "You know I love you."
"Si dice ogne volta. You're such a charmer," I can feel Nonna's body rumbling, like she's going to crack up soon. "Fetch me that stack of cod, bello."
"Si," I grab the large cutting board of fresh cod fillets and set them next to the stove where Nonna has a large-cast iron kettle filled with hot oil for frying. Battering several fillets, I lower each piece into the hot oil with a pair of tongs, the resounding sizzle and crackle wave through the kitchen.
"I hope you didn't give your padre a hard time," she says.
"I don't know what you mean, Nonna," I give her a frown.
"Things didn't go really well between you and him. You know he's been trying really hard," she points to a stack of plates, "pull those down."
I set the fry screen atop the pot and settle the large fried slabs of fillets on the plain white plates. "Dad can quit trying. Non sono. It's not like I'm mad at him anymore..."
Nonna's face breaks into a smile, a heartfelt one. I can't help flashing her a grin, it sometimes help to soothe her frazzled nerves. "You're a good boy, bello."
"Well, I don't know about good. Spectacular more like it," I joke, grabbing several plates of food on the kitchen counter, balancing them across my forearm, and lift two more with my free hand.
The dim interior of the dining room and the smell of food billowing around somehow gives that comfort, homely feel. And I realize as I glance around the table, with mom and dad talking to each other in ways they talk like old friends, Nonna feeding Delia and helping Tom scooping up some of the fried chips- and the other kids humming happily as they eat, it really feels like I'm in a real home, with a real family.
"The most important thing is, he's there with you now."
As I lay back on the pillow and stare up at the ceiling of the attic bedroom, I can see the tiny insect cocoon being trapped in a spider's web. Know how you feel, buddy, I message silently to the trapped insect, but then Evey's sweet voice and cheery pep talk over the line makes me feel less chewed up.
"I know, baby," I crack a smile. Evey's the best, hearing her voice over the line after a long day really makes me feel a whole lot better. It doesn't matter how hard I try to hide my feelings, she can always sense something is wrong and I feel propelled to spew everything out, and it eventually makes me feel a lot better in the end because she has that typical be-positive thing down. Her being so sweet and supportive, it makes me feel confided. After all, she's the one who helps me get through all these irrational emotions I feel toward my dad. "And I know how lucky I am to have you in my life."
"Stop being a cheeseball!" I can hear her soft giggle. "Just because I'm your girlfriend, you shouldn't be biased."
"But I'm telling you the truth," another smile threatening to spread across the corners of my mouth. "I mean who could be a better girlfriend than you? You're smart, nice, loving and very pretty..."
"Okay. Stop," Evey is laughing. Hearing her laugh is another thing, it's kind of contagious. Some days when I feel like my insides are being stapled together, she's always been the one to cheer me up.
A knot a size of baseball form in my stomach. "I can't wait to see you tomorrow, Evey," my voice jangly with longing.
"Me too," her voice soft like a caress- and it makes my longing for her touch swells up even more.
After we hung up, I close my eyes and the image of her smiling at me is the last thing that conjures up in my mind before I drift further into the deep slumber.
So, today is Valentine's Day.
There's a winter carnival going on around the town. Adam is still on his way home from Fairfield visit with his dad, so he's going to run late. Meanwhile, I'm ready to rumble with Junior and Charlotte as we make our way down the gilded bridge leading to the colorful booths. All the stands have been elaborately fanciful, exploding with color. Most of the booth signs are lit with sparklers, and men and women beckon to carnival-goers from their stalls as they offer their wares.
"I'm hungry," Junior says, miming his stomach being queasy.
Charlotte glances up at him, laughing, "Babe, do you ever think of anything besides your stomach?"
"I'm still a growing boy," he jokes.
"Look, there's a barbecue booth right next to the refreshment stand," I gesture at a vantage point where the nearest grill stall is located. It doesn't take long for that sweet smell of grilled meat luring us to the barbecue booth.
I study the wares. Everything is edible, but I can't really bring myself to scarf them down my throat- it reminds me of the flaky turnover that turned out to be rabbit meat I ate once when I went to the Octoberfest carnival with Max few months back. Speaking of Max, he's been doing well now- he starts showing up at school and doing well in art class. Judging from his latest update on Instagram a couple of hours ago, it seems like he's spending his valentine's day with a redhead beauty from his art class. Peachy.
I turn to Charlotte and Junior, they're feeding each other and being all gooey and cheesy it's just too horrible to look at. "Get a room you two," I joke when I feel my cellphone vibrated inside a pooch on my winter jacket.
"Hey babe :) Just hit the town. Where are u?"
I smile. It's a text from Adam. I told him to meet me at Kelly's, a quaint bistro not far from the hustle and bustle of the carnival.
As soon as I step into Kelly's, I'm surrounded by artificial heat. The radiators turn up too high. Feeling warm, I take off my coat and head to a table nearby the alcove window. I pause to admire my reflection in the window. Not only my new hair gives away the old innocent, kiddy look of my old self, but my dress too. It's pulling tight, showing off the figure that I've never once realized I have. Let me tell you, I didn't pick this one right away, the lady in the store did. She told me I was size four petite, and I was like 'What? That couldn't be me' and she picked this dress for me to try on and once I slipped this on, she was blatantly gushing me about how pretty and sexy I look in the dress over and over again- that I'd feel guilty not purchasing it in the first place. My conscience-stricken mind told me I have to purchase the dress- not because it looks too good to pass on, but because the lady in the store been really nice to me that I'd feel bad if I don't return her time-investment on me.
Now I feel kind of anxious because people keep chancing a double-take at me twice and I know it's not the hair, it's the dress unfortunately. It's nude in color. I'm not even sure if people can distinguish my pallor with the dress I'm wearing because somehow I feel naked in it. Maybe I should put my coat back on.
Part of me feels excited that I apparently look different. Although I'm not quite sure that Adam agrees when I finally see him entering the bistro, nose and cheeks red from the cold outside. He's wearing the scarf I made for him, it makes my heart does this familiar funny, zingy feels. And it's not just because of the scarf, it's the fact that he's so...here. When he walks into a room, he doesn't just walk into it…I feel like as if he fills it. When he kisses me, he has to stoop way down to reach my lips, and a lot of the time, he cups my face in his hands to hold it steady…
It's super hot. But not as hot as the way he looks at me sometimes…like now, for instance.
But then he walks right past me, as if he's looking for someone else. I turn from my seat to call him but when he does a double-take at me, I can tell he's really surprised that the girl he just walked past is really me, his girlfriend.
I can't tell if Adam likes my new look or not, I mean he's smiling as he approaches me- but that doesn't really mean anything because he always smiles when he sees me.
"Evey, hey, wow you look different," he cocks his head to one side, looking at me.
I feel my face warm under his scrutiny. It's not just the hair I think, the dress must have caught his attention more. I mean, I don't have big boobs—or little ones, really. Just normal-sized, but I guess it's obvious that this dress is tight and it makes what boobies I do have stick out more than usual…plus it has a V-neck, so it definitely shows more cleavage than what I usually wear.
Which might explain why, when Adam finally recognizes me, his gaze goes straight to my chest.
"I like your dress," he says when he finally slides onto a seat next to me- not across from me, and still looking at my chest.
"That's really obvious," I'm surprised I can actually hide the jittery in my voice.
His hand reaches out and I really thought he's going to touch my boob...only then his fingers tug at a loose curl that fell over my chest.
"I also like your hair," his voice is a hoarse whisper, trailing the back of his fingers against the swell of my breast.
Heat closing in on me at his closeness and the sensation his touch provokes, wholeheartedly shakes me to my core. "T-thanks..."
His eyes finally meet mine. "Beautiful..." Those chocolate brown orbs look smoldering with familiar gleam that I instantly recognize. His another hand closes around mine- warm, slightly calloused and bigger than mine, fingers idly stroking the ring he gave me. A familiar rush of warm sensation comes coursing through my body, and my skin feels all soft and loose and elastic- as if it's being made of silly putty. With every passing moment and every caress of his hands, an even greater desire builds within me.
"I don't really know how to kiss..." I mumble, hot blush flooding my entire being, "...passionately..."
Adam's eyes half-lidded, burning into mine, "I think you know," he put his arms around me, touching my lips with his, "your kisses always got me hot and bothered."
I quiver at his touch, at the light in his eyes, at our closeness, at my breasts brushing his chest and his hands resting on my back. Everything is a blur today. I don't remember much about having fun at the carnival- and how time flies by, or has it been a nick of time that we blow off the carnival and somehow end up holed behind the closed door of his bedroom- on his bed? A switch snaps on in my head when I feel Adam licking my lips.
"Do you want me to show you?" he whispers against my mouth, another light sweep of the tip of his tongue makes heat creeping over my skin.
"Yes, please," I lick my own lips when he pulls away, not wanting to miss the taste of him.
His mouth comes on mine again with sublime sweetness, lips warm and rough velvet, seducing mine. He nibbles at each lip, his teeth teasing around the shape of my mouth, his tongue touching each tiny bite. He rubs his lips against mine, then draws in my bottom lip and suck on it gently. I wring my arms around his neck and kiss him back, dabbing tentatively with my tongue. He licks my lips and I lick his. My bones feel like wax and I feel like I'm going liquid, my brain feel fuzzy and I want this kiss to go on forever.
His tongue presses against the seam of my slightly parted lips, and I open for him, knowing how good he tasted. The warm, moist velvety flesh sweeps inside my mouth, stirring the nerves on every inner surface. Not an inch is left untouched, the roof of my mouth, the insides of my teeth and cheeks, the pebbled surface of my own tongue. I stretch it out to touch his and in seconds our tongues tangle together. I feel my body weightless, I'm breathless- as if every breath of air is trapped in my throat. But not like it's a bad thing. The fire inside me is already growing- that natural passion threatens to overcome myself.
Adam's lips move down my neck, making me feel more liquid. "I forgot to tell you," he blows softly, tugging the hem of my dress. "You look naked in this dress...and it's driving me crazy. It took a huge amount of restrain not to make love to you on top of the table at Kelly's."
Hearing those words stifling him, my desire flickers, licking through my breasts, my belly and my thighs. I clench his hair in my fist and guide his mouth back on mine, my tongue becomes bolder, running it over the raspy skin of his upper lip, nip at it and then suck the bottom lip. His hands roaming my back- and I wish I can feel them against my bare skin, the hell with this goddamn dress. As our kiss continues to spiral, he pulls me hard against him- and I'm straddling him, wantonly so as the hem of my dress hiked up to show my simple white cotton panties. And I'm also aware of the fact that his intimate part is poking mine.
I blush and squirm out of his embrace, panting, noticing his arousal. "Y-you're erect..." my whole body flaming in embarrassment, although I shouldn't be since I'm not the one showing signs of obvious, blatant arousal on my body. And this isn't the first time Adam shows his 'excitement' toward me...but this is definitely the first time he doesn't back away...
He chuckles. "I want you to see what you do to me…" My eyes trail over him, his muscular shoulders, his tight biceps and down his sculpted abs, the top button of his jeans undone- and his hand is squeezing his bulge through the fabric of his jeans, pulling on it, half closing his eyes. "I've always imagined you doing this to me...it feels good."
I suck in a sharp breath, his voice and hand send tremors of need shimmering through me. My pulse quickens, the beat of my heart trips over itself. Again, inbred desire rears and skitters up throughout my body.
Tentatively, I unfasten the front button of my dress, all the while watching him as his heated gaze travels slowly over my exposed body- growing hotter with appreciation, moistening his lips and his hand is still working its wonder to his male part.
I reach out for his hand, guiding it up to the apex of my thighs, "Show me," I whisper to him despite my hot cheeks, hoping he'd catch a hint.
"Evey...are you sure?" he sounds a bit breathless, and a hooded desire lit in his eyes giving way to an intense heat blazing through my body.
"It's okay," I say softly, touching my lips to his throat. "I love you."
"I love you too," he's kissing me again, dropping soft butterfly kisses from my mouth to my ear, to my throat, while his hand wandering my skin slowly, unbearably, sliding over my most sensitive spot.
I know what I really want this Valentine's Day; him.
I'm not really the most romantic guy on the face of the planet, but I'd do everything to make the woman I love feel special on valentine's day. I used to think that Vikki likes to make such fuss over nothing when it comes to valentine's day, that only girls and a bunch of pussy-whipped pansies are into it...but I get it now. So much for ambivalent thoughts.
As I light the last candle, the scent of lavender fills the room. It's only after seven in the evening. Man, I'd be caught dead if Owen or any of my friends found out about this. But who fucking cares? I'm doing this for Evey and no one else.
I look around the romantic scene, not thinking this can be such a flop. The candles cast a soft glow over the room, lilting winter breeze tickling my cheek- and I crank up the jacuzzi water heater to warm the water with rose petals dancing around. It's one of the rooms in my house that me and my dad rarely used, surrounded by wall-to-wall glass windows with a small hot tub placed right in the middle of the room. I cross over to the music player and fiddling with the remote, the music flips to passionate strain of romantic sax piece. Okay, not really my best choice of music- but anything to build up the romantic ambiance.
I head back to my room, picking up the clothes we scattered earlier and hang them on a chair. I reach for Evey's dress- and a surge of heat flaring throughout my body. It's nude in color and definitely showing off more of her. People used to make fun of her due to her small-ish stature. But I know better, I've seen and felt those curves of hers and I know they don't belong to a kid.
Immediately, barrage of images setting off in my mind at what took place earlier; she's far more beautiful than what I've had imagined her before, the feel of smooth creamy skin under my hands, the soft scent that's uniquely hers, the way her lips move under mine- so sweet, the way she closes her eyes and her head falls back as I bring her to ecstasy...and damn they play with my testosterone and give me instant, raging boner.
I watch closely as my beautiful angel is sleeping on my bed. Her hair is spread out across the pillow, the new color and tantalizing locks mesmerized me- spilling down her shoulder and across her neck. Her eyes are closed, but there's a smile spread across her lips. I lean forward and lightly kiss them. When she doesn't stir a bit, I kiss my way down to her jawline. Pausing between kisses, I rub my nose against her neck, breathing her sweet scent.
Evey's eyes flutter open, an identified emotion lights up her blue orbs. She glances up at me and smiles, then buries her face in the pillow.
"Hey," I say softly, kissing her exposed shoulder that's poking out of the bedsheet.
"Hi," she lifts her face off the pillow. Her cheeks a deeper shade of red, making my stomach feels airy.
I kiss her scarlet cheek. "I have a surprise for you."
She's looking at me now, curiosity engraved on her lovely face. "A surprise? For me?"
"Yeah. But I need you to close your eyes, promise me?"
"Okay," anticipation tinges her voice and I wrap the blanket over her, covering her naked body.
I sweep her up into my arms and a giggle stifles her as I take a slow, dramatic step out of my bedroom. I lean my head down and my heart gives a tug, looking down at this beautiful angel in my arms. I kiss her lips, warm and soft against mine, making my heart leaps. "Remember to close your eyes okay?" I whisper softly and she nods, closing her eyes and burying her face into my neck. As if I can actually walk when her lips brushing my collarbone.
I walk across the hall, legs feeling wobbly- but not because Evey is heavy, she's as light as a skipole. But man, if she doesn't stop teasing me with those kisses on my neck and across my throat, my testosterone-crazed mind will take over me again and I might take her down right on the floor of my living room.
I finally make it to the jacuzzi room despite the wobbling, a faint sound of music and scent of lavender greeting us. I sneak a peek at Evey, she still has her eyes closed, nose nuzzling my collarbone. "Don't open your eyes just yet," I say as I head to the hot tub.
I sit on the edge carefully, and slowly dipping her toe into the warm water. A smile tips up the corner of her mouth and she leans to my bare chest. Seeing her reaction, as if the water tickling her senses, makes me smile too. I kiss her forehead, the surge of love and affection for her closing in on me, "Open your eyes, sweetie."
Evey blinks her eyes open, taking in the room and its surrounding. "This...it looks wonderful," she's almost breathless again, almost choking, "oh Adam..." a single tear trickles down her cheek- but she's smiling and I know she's not really crying.
I lick the salty tear away. "I know it isn't much, apparently this came on last minute. But I do hope you like it. I love you, Evey," I brush my lips across hers softly. "Happy valentine's day."
"I love you too," she wraps her arms around my neck, a smile of delight lighting her beauty. "Thanks. I love everything in here, Adam. And the truth is...you don't really have to do anything. Having you with me is enough."
A rush of pleasure and emotions bombard me at her words. Love doesn't have to be hurtful, just because it did shatter me in the past, doesn't mean it will be in the future- especially right now, when I feel contented with the love I have and get from this incredible young woman. Man! I couldn't believe my own luck. You big guy up there, if you hear me, thank you man. Thank you so much. You've given me a life I've never had before and a reason for me to live happily. I claim her mouth when she cuddles close to me. "My love..."
"Mmm..." Evey cups my face, kissing the tip of my nose, "My love."
I push the blanket up to her knees, freeing her bare legs. I cup the warm water and let it run down her legs, all the while I'm mesmerized by the sight of the rivulets traveling down the smooth creamy skin of her. And when she plants her lips on my chin, I can't resist returning her a kiss. Looks like we're going to spend the rest of our night in the wonderfully warm water.
So that was long! I'm sorry it took me long to write this. I've had several ideas in my head before this one came to me and I wrote this about few weeks ago, but then decided to upload before the big v-day to get the mood going. I thought about posting this chapter a day before v-day but then I'll probably be busy by that time. Anyway, I can't believe I've completed this series! *dancing happily* Obviously, some editing needs to be done- so I'mma go through this when I have time. Thank you sooooooooooo much to those of you came long way giving me continuous support! It's been kinda hard for me knowing that the story is coming to an end but I don't really want it to end (do you get that feeling often?), so yeah not that I don't want A&E to end...I just have this weird feeling that this story holds a sentimental value for me, because it came close to my real life and how my first love actually turns out to be my fiance now. Anywho, enough with the nostalgic note! I hope you enjoyed this long final chapter and yes it's a wrap! Happy Valentine's Day in advance everyone!
I don't know about doing a sequel for this but if I do, it will come out in series of one-shots...hehe...just a hint.
Thanks for reviewing chapter 34: hirokiri9, for3v3rstron9, Guest, Wolflover08, Fallcolours, leavemeialone, adam bella, JJsMommy29, DesireeDouglas64, BinkyBaby, snowpops, mindequalblown, summerpalace, UMadeMyLifeComplete, NikitaEden298, AlanisBRAVO, Reena, multicrazybabygirl, sunkissed-skin, Audrey, heal me forever, ilovedyouforever, ForeverinDelirium, zooey will, innoc3nc3cuti3, LisAngel83 and foreternity.
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