Who Likes Who
A novel by Ash Skyler and Kiki Rhodes
Chapter 1. Derick and Kelly
Synopsis. Eleven different people living eleven different lives and dealing with different struggles, find themselves face to face with one common goal. To save the old FairView Hotel from demolition. But when the economy takes a turn for the worst, many are forced from their jobs, homes, and families, and have no one to turn to but each other. Through struggles in their own lives, and through the continued restoration of the old building, eleven very different people become eleven very close friends. One by one, they learn the importance of forgiveness, the meaning of being a family. Join these eleven as they try to recover the spark that had once been in their relationships. And find out how an ordinary building can sometimes be a little magic.

That didn't mean she wanted people seeing her cry. No, that was something she kept very private. This particular evening was no different. She'd just arrived home from work, a dead end job at a little diner off sixth street and brown. Right next to the Books-a-Million and across the street from a record store. As if anyone actually knew what records were anymore... The dying music culture was not why she was crying, although it did sometimes bring up the desire to be sick. She was crying because of the little white stick in her hand. The one she'd used that morning to decide her fate. How messed up was that? Letting her fate be decided by some pink lines on a stick. After a long day of dealing with rude, inconsiderate costumers, having her life defined by this one... or three... stupid sticks. This was not how she'd seen her day play out.

Kelly was twenty-two, struggling to finish college one class at a time while she payed her part in rent and gas and groceries. She'd used her last bit of cash to buy these stupid sticks. Dumb little tests with a fifty percent chance of passing or failing and she'd failed. All. Three. Times. Derick was going to kill her. She just knew it. He was trying to take care of his mom on top of his share of all life's expenses, and his Walmart job wasn't any better than hers. At least she got tips. How were they going to afford this? Would he even want this? Did she?

A noisy sputtering car engine pulled up, then stopped. She'd know that engine anywhere. Derick's truck hadn't been to a shop in six years, and he wasn't as good a mechanic as he thought he was. She swallowed, tossed the tests away, then wiped her eyes quickly and tried to reapply a bit of make up. She still looked a complete mess, but at least it was more of a "bad day at work" mess than a "guess what test I took today" mess. Maybe he wouldn't notice. That would at least give her enough time to figure out how she felt about all this and how she was going to tell him... Slowly leaving the bathroom, she walked back down the hall to the bedroom she shared with her boyfriend of four years. Kelly closed the door and sat on the corner of their bed. She had a few minutes until he'd come up, and she took those moments alone to let the news sink in. To really understand what she'd just been told by two pink lines on a stick.

"I'm pregnant..."

Walmart hadn't been his chosen career field in middle school. That was when his school system had started administering those career placement test things. You got a half-day off of school to take the test and a week later found out whether you were destined to be a fashion designer, a microbiologist, or a postman. Because those were the only three options anyone ever got. Derick? He'd gotten postman. In seventh grade he had laughed at it and thrown the test results into the trash. Because of course he was going to go pro football or baseball or something involving balls and scores. And he'd get a huge house in Malibu and marry the Olsen twins and have five kids who all helped cure cancer. It was the same plan every seventh-grade boy had. Just... they'd all figured out their real plans before they graduated from high school. And Derick hadn't. Which was all the explanation needed for someone to understand why he was 23 and still working at the same Walmart job he got when he was 15.

Derick could make all kinds of excuses. The one other people used for him all the time was, "Your mom has been sick. Of course you can't go to college or travel or do anything other young men your age are doing. Don't feel bad, it just means you're more mature!" Good. God. If he heard that one more time he was going to burn this mother down. Derick didn't wanna hear about how mature he was. He wanted to hear a hot blonde calling his name from his truck so they could run off to Miami for an impromptu weekend. He wanted to hear people chanting "Chug!" as he downed as much alcohol as he could in one minute. He was so sick of having to take care of his mom all the time like this. He was sick of doctors telling him she didn't have long, sick of needing to stick her with needles three times a day, sick of... Of all of it! There were no excuses for this kind of life! He had been an idiot, a flat-out idiot. If he had gotten his grades up and gone to college, or at least taken classes at the community college, maybe he just... Maybe he just wouldn't be in this screwed up cesspit that was his life.

And this was why he hated the drive home from shifts. The longer the shift, the more pissed off he was, the more poisonous his thoughts got on the way home. And Kelly always cried and he knew she was close to her period so that meant she would probably cry if her socks didn't match. He drew in a deep breath as he turned into the driveway off the little side road their house was on. He knew he had to get a grip of himself before he went inside. As he braked and shifted the gear from drive to park, he imagined he was loading up a weapon of war. It might seem violent but to him it was such a mechanized, processed thing that it forced all his thoughts to come into line and settle down. Like soldiers in a regiment. And that reminded him. Tonight, he had to tell her. There was no hiding it anymore. Hopefully... signing up would be something Kelly could understand...

Kelly sat for almost ten minutes alone in her room. She knew she looked better now because she could see that her eyes weren't as swollen and her nose wasn't red. She didn't look like she'd been crying, but instead looked tired. And she was, but that wasn't going to help her get to sleep tonight. Too many fears and worried swirled through her head to let her rest while awake. They wouldn't shut off just because it was time for her to sleep. If only she could somehow evolve an on and off switch for her brain...

The door opened without warning. Kelly felt a moment of panic. Oh no. Did he know? Could he tell? Was she ready? She wasn't ready. What was she going to say to him?! Somehow, despite her brain's inability to form a complete thought, she heard herself say a soft and simple "Hi, Honey. How was work?" Slowly, following the automatic greeting, she stood from the bed and went to hug the man she'd loved for so many years. His strong chest was warm and welcoming, as it always had been, and he put his arms around her in a comforting embrace. He somehow had the uncanny ability to shut her brain off, like a switch, and let her relax for a moment in his arms.

Derick kissed her forehead the way he always did. She could tell he was on auto-pilot too by his response. "Fine," he said as he released her from the brief embrace and moved past her into the room. She knew work wasn't "fine" because work was never "fine." Something was wrong. Kelly followed him into the room. "And how was your mom today?" Derick moved through the room in a matter someone might push through a room filled with jello, in a slow labored fashion. He dropped his keys and wallet on the desk and carried himself to the bed. In a heap he collapsed on it, answering her second question with another "Fine." She wished she's stop asking things. Couldn't she tell he was tired?

Kelly walked to her side of the bed while Derick kicked his shoes off. She crawled up next to him and rested her head next to his on his pillow. Derick hated when she did that. He loved Kelly, but there was such a thing as personal space, damn it. He sat up.

"I got a bonus today," she told him, sitting up as well, hoping talking about extra money might help cheer him up. It certainly did her. Derick hardly reacted at all.

"Oh really," he mused emptily. "Why's that?" Kelly could tell the question was one to be polite. He didn't really care all that much. There were bigger things on his mind.

She answer with an equally empty, "Overtime," then rested back into her own pillow. She'd already changed into her sweatpants and tank-top. Any minute Derick would change into sweatpants, maybe a t-shirt if he planned on going downstairs, but usually he didn't. They might watch a movie or eat a small supper, but it was late and they were both tired. Neither really wanted to do anything but sleep and avoid the subject on their minds. The secrets they both needed to share.

Kelly finally moved away from him, back to her own pillow. For good measure, Derick pulled his an inch or two to the right. Just to make sure she didn't try to slide over again. As he knew she would, she let out a sad, deep sigh in response. And in response to that, he gritted his teeth against a groan of frustration. She always took things like that to mean he didn't want to be close to her anymore or that he was pulling away from the relationship. That wasn't what he was doing at all! Derick was not a subtle man, if he wanted to pull away from the relationship there'd be no mistaking it. All he wanted was his own pillow. His own sleeping space, free of someone else's arms and long hair strangling him in his sleep. Was that too much to ask of her? He went to stupid romantic comedy movies and paid for her half of the gas and used money he didn't have to make sure she always got a new charm for her charm bracelet every single Christmas. He did all of that... and she still wanted his pillow?! God, sometimes it was all he could do not to kick her out of bed! Out of the room! Out of the house!

In the two seconds it took for him to clench and relax his teeth, those thoughts shot through his head, and as had been happening with increasing frequency lately he saw bright red flash in front of his eyes. But as quickly as it came it passed. He let out a deep breath and shook his head a little, reminding himself that thinking those things wasn't going to do any good. Saying them would do even less. It would just lead to a pointless fight that got nothing done, and eventually one of them would crawl over with their tail between their legs and beg for forgiveness. Derick hated when it was him - he rarely thought he'd ever actually been in the wrong. But he hated it when it was Kelly too.

He just hated this whole entire mess. And he didn't know how many more times he could think that to himself before he cracked.

Derick sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, even though he'd lain down not three minutes ago. He ran a hand through his hair, then took a breath and let it out and said, "How much of a bonus did you get?"

She sat up as well and hugged her knees, answering quietly, "Not much, actually... But we can eat real meat this month!" It was an attempt at a good-natured joke. They both knew it was, but neither of them laughed. Derick stood and pulled a change of clothes from the single banged up dresser they had, then answered vaguely.

"So... I have some news too... I mean, it isn't major or anything. So no crying. Please..."

News... She had news... Big news...

"I don't always cry." she insisted, sitting up in the center of the bed. He gave her a look she was sure meant 'Of course you do.' But she wasn't about to argue with a look. "Alright, I promise. I won't cry."

Derick ran a hand through his dark blonde hair. He sighed. Stood and walked across the room. Not good signs. He rested his hands on the top of the dresser and stared at her assortment of generic brand lotions and body sprays. "You know I've been applying for different jobs."

Kelly nodded. She knew he'd wanted a new job ever since she'd met him. She'd even helped him look and apply for places in the hopes of maybe getting at least a second job. They could use the income. Especially now...

"Well. I heard back from one." Derick knew she'd be excited about that. He hoped that would help soften the blow. Putting it in the light of a new job, better pay. It worked in movies and tv shows. ... At least, he thought it did. Most of the time... In fact the more Derick thought about it the more he could feel that cold tightening knot in his stomach. It sent a dreading chill up his spine and made it feel like his hair was turning white. As Kelly leaned forward on the bed with a surprised and hopeful, "Oh my gosh! Really? Which one? What's it for?" Derick felt the feeling spread into his throat and block all words.

When he turned to face her all he could say to her was a brief, "It's like a manual labor type job."

Kelly blinked at that and tilted her head like a kitten might, "Manual labor... Like... Building houses?" She thought that might be good for him. He liked using his hands, and tasks like that always came easily to him. Plus she rather liked the idea of him coming home all tanned and sweaty and dusty and...

But Derick shook his head, "Nope. More like... like... Like lots of running and exercise stuff."

He saw her eyes blink and narrow a little. She was getting suspicious. God, Derick just didn't want to deal with a breakdown right now. If she would just stop asking questions...! But Kelly couldn't stop. She couldn't figure out what he was talking about. None of the jobs they'd applied for involved physical fitness. At least, not the ones she knew of. So what was it...?

If there was some way any of this could be avoided, Derick would have gladly taken that road to the one he was facing now. He'd started, so there was no going back. That didn't make the task at hand any easier.

"Kelly, just shut up for ten seconds and let me tell you!" he snapped at her incessant questioning. Kelly instantly shut down. She knew when he got like this there was nothing she could do but obey. Not doing what he said would cause a fight, and that would cause insults to start flying, and eventually it would end in her crying and begging for forgiveness. But this time, a fight had the potential to end in something much worse. She could accidentally blurt out her big news and mess the whole thing up. He'd be angry with her for not telling him sooner, or for telling him in such a hostile way, or for having the news to give at all! Not that it was only her fault... Babies took two to make, after all...

The silence was relief to Derick. He had a second to actually think. He needed to just say it. There was no better way than to rip off the band-aid, and right now they were doing more light tugging than quick pulling. So with a deep breath, he tensed his shoulder to brace for the impact of her reaction and said simply "I joined the army."

Kelly's body went cold.

"The..." she took a deep breath and forced herself to repeat it. "The army." The words in her throat made her want to gag. Or maybe that was morning sickness. She couldn't tell. All she could tell for sure was that he'd just told her he was leaving for many long periods of time, and he decided to tell her this on the very day she found out she'd be needing him more than ever. Without thinking further than that, she cut off what he'd been about to say to expose her own secret. "Derick, I'm pregnant."