The rental car drove as fast as it could down the road, slipping a little each time it came to a patch of black ice. Parker cursed under his breath for the hundredth time, gripping the steering wheel and glancing at the clock. He was running late, and felt like an asshole. Being late typically didn't bother him, but in this case, the idea of arriving after Anna's funeral had already started, as Parker was now sure to do, was causing knots in his stomach. After all Anna had done for him, he couldn't even manage to be on time for her service.
Parker knew he should have flown in the night before, but money was already tight enough as it was with his flight, rental car and whatever spending money he'd need for the two weeks at the cabin. An extra hotel night was not an option, so Parker had gambled on flying in the day of. Gambled and lost. A storm in the north had delayed his flight, and now he was trying to make up for lost time by speeding down the highway. Hopefully his old friends wouldn't be attending two funerals today, he mused grimly.
The thought of his old group of friends distracted Parker from the immense guilt he was feeling at the moment, and he let his mind wander down memory lane. Parker wondered if everyone would show up. It was hard to imagine any of the old group refusing Anna's dying wish to take one last vacation together, but he knew that it was hard to drop everything now that they were in adulthood. So far he'd talked to Wes and knew that he was coming, but didn’t know about anyone else. Parker had been tempted to ask Wes if he’d heard whether Ava was coming or not, but thought that might be a weird door to open since they were now exes. Nonetheless, it would be good to spend some time with his high school best friend at least, even if the circumstances were a bit morbid. Poor Anna...
Parker's thoughts started to darken, circling the drain of sadness that was inevitable every time he thought of his late friend. Shaking his head, he reminded himself again that funerals were also about remembering the good times too, and celebrating Anna's life, however short it had been. She wouldn't have wanted only tears, she'd have wanted them to smile at the memories too.
Right, smile... That was also what Parker was nervous about. He'd been cursed with the unnatural reaction of smiling or laughing when put in uncomfortable or sad situations. Parker didn't know what was wrong with him, it wasn't like he was happy about any of it, but it was his body's coping mechanism. A twitch that he disdained, especially today, likely brought on by the anxiety these kinds of situations caused.
The exit Parker needed to take was coming up, and he took the off ramp that would lead to their small town. He was close, but the clock told him that he wasn't close enough. Drumming his thumbs on the steering wheel, Parker tried to convince himself that it was out of his control now. No use dwelling on his tardiness. There were more important things happening today. He glanced at the bouquet of flowers on the passenger seat that he'd bought at a gift shop in the airport. Unfamiliar with the significance behind flowers, he hoped the white lilies would be okay. Parker imagined roses would have been better, but the shop had only had red ones, and even the class clown knew that those would definitely send the wrong message.
The car slipped a little on some ice, and Parker gripped the steering wheel harder, his focus returning to the road ahead. The last thing he needed was to crash the car and miss the funeral completely. If everyone else was there, he didn't want to be the one to let Anna down. He felt like he already had anyways by moving away and not staying in touch with her as well as he should have. Parker hadn't even known she was ill- some friend he'd been in Anna's final years. Even though it meant missing out on his big break, Parker didn't regret emptying his bank account to attend the funeral and cabin trip. If he could just hurry up and get there, that is...
People were already filing into the town's church by the time Whitney and Ava arrived. It didn't surprise Whitney that Anna had touched this many people's lives, but it was surprising to see the number embodied, especially when the church was comparatively small. Whitney's eyes burned a little as she tried to keep the tears from welling up again, having already cried a couple times while getting ready for the funeral. Her purse was stuffed with tissues, but Whitney knew those would be needed for Anna's service. Surely she could manage to at least get into the church before breaking out the Kleenex. A bouquet of white roses in hand, Whitney got out of the passenger side of the car, shivering a little when she was met by the chilly December air.
The melodic chime of Whitney's cellphone reminded her that she hadn't silenced the ringer yet, and the brunette pulled her phone out of her purse, nearly spilling out all the tissues in the process. Her brows furrowed a little, seeing that it was Sebastian calling. It was tempting to just let his call go to voicemail, but Whitney had completely forgotten to call him earlier like she said, and didn't want to be cruel on the day of Anna's funeral. "Hey, I'll catch up with you inside Av, save me a seat if you find one!" Whitney said, glancing over at her sister and gesturing to the ringing phone as she answered it.
"Hey, sorry I didn't call earlier..." Whitney began as soon as the call connected, walking in the opposite direction of the people filing into the church so she could hear better. Reception in Montana had always been spotty to begin with, and Whitney didn't want to battle bad cell service on top of loud background noise. "I can't talk long, the service is about to start and -- ...No, I don't think I'll be able to talk tonight either. It'll be late for you by time everything is over and I don't -- ...Yeah I can call you in the morning before we head to the mountain. I promise I won't forget this time." Whitney replied, pacing in the parking lot distractedly as she spoke on the phone.
The brunette felt a little guilty for not wanting to talk to Sebastian, but she'd hoped this trip back home would give her some space from him so she could think things over. And celebrate the life of her dear high school friend, of course. Which was another reason Whitney was anxious to end the call. Today was supposed to be about Anna, and Whitney should be in the church right now instead of on the phone. Glancing back at the people gathering in the entryway and on the lawn, the Brunette scanned the crowd for any familiar faces.
"Huh? Sorry, I'm starting to lose you a little bit, Seb." Whitney said, only half listening. "I have to go anyways though, the service is going to start soon." She added. "Yeah, you too. Talk to you tomorrow. Bye."
Hanging up before Sebastian could say anything else, Whitney exhaled slowly, her breath visible in the cold air. She hugged her peacoat tighter, and started heading back towards the church. Whitney hoped that Ava had found somewhere to sit, already regretting her decision to wear heels and dreading the idea of having to stand for the funeral in them. That said, she'd do anything for Anna, and putting up with aching feet was the least she could do if need be.
It was surreal, to say the least, to be attending the funeral of someone her own age, let alone the funeral of Anna of all people. Whitney still couldn’t believe that Anna was gone. She’d been so full of life the last they’d spent time together during one of Whitney’s visits home, but now the brunette wondered if Anna had already known then that her time in this life was running out. If she had, Whitney had been blind to her friend’s heartbreaking reality. Tears began pooling in Whitney’s eyes again at the thought, and she blinked quickly to prevent them from running down her cheek as she reached the church entrance.
Death of a loved one could never possibly get easier, no matter how many funerals, crying family members, or grief counseling sessions one had been through. A person that holds a special piece of one's heart takes it with them when they pass, leaving behind an empty hole and someone frantically trying to fill it. What makes matters worse is that no one knows what lies beyond death, if that person is somewhere better or simply no longer existant. Who's to say whether or not they are somewhere happy and at peace. Whatever the case, at least Anna was no longer suffering. Evelyn Ryder placed the final tray of baked goods on the table, eyeing the spread she had created. When Anna's mother had called and asked her to cater the funeral, there was no way that Evie could say no, not that she wanted to to begin with.
The silver trays atop a white tablecloth were piled high with salted caramel swirl brownies, mini quiche florentines, and, of course, her semi-famous cinnamon rolls. She may have over-compensated a bit. But her best friend was lying in that casket, and she deserved the absolute best. "These all look delicious, Evelyn," a familiar voice behind her caught Evie's attention, the tone soft and slightly wavering. The brunette baker turned to find Anna's mother there, dressed to the nines in a perfectly pressed black skirt suit. "Mrs. Watts," she said, smiling sadly at the woman, "Thank you. It's the least I can do." The older woman, whom Evie had come to love as her own family, encircled her in a tight hug. Pulling back, Evelyn quietly murmured, "If you need anything else, don't hesitate to ask." Mrs. Watts nodded before turning to mingle with the rest of the crowd once again.
It wasn't a surprise that nearly half of their small Montana town had turned up to Anna's memorial. She was the type of person that everyone liked. She was generous and kind, truly cared about people and brought them together in way that Evelyn would never understand. Hell, in the worst part of her life, Anna had pulled her from isolation, welcomed her, and introduced her to some of her closest friends. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Since then, Evie had started her own bakery, invested her money in some important causes, and truly begun to make a life for herself. So when she had heard of Anna's illness, it was too late for her to try to do anything to help. A few days later, she received that letter in the mail, and knew there was no way she could turn down Anna's dying wish.
Letting out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding, Evelyn absentmindedly smoothed the skirt of her black lace dress. Her forest green eyes scanned the party in search of a familiar face, but hadn't yet found one. Her expression was sad but stoic, having cried all of her tears in private like she was used to. She wondered who all received the same letter that she did, and who would show up to the funeral. It would be nice to see some familiar faces, get back in touch with the few she hadn't spoken to in a while, or avoid them depending on how things were left. Deciding she needed a bit of a nicotine kick to deal with the oncoming anxiety, the baker clandestinely slid out a side door of the church. She didn't smoke often, just when she was overwhelmingly stressed. Nevertheless, Evie pulled a slim cigarette from her purse, lighting it between her lips and letting the smoke lift into the air above her. Only a few more hours to go.
"I trust you to hold down the fort while I'm gone. I have my laptop, and my phone will be on my person at all times. I expect progress reports each morning in my inbox, and updates as you see fit. All decisions must be run by me first, is that understood?" The brunette man behind the wheel of a brand new charcoal Tesla Model X spoke easily into the in-car Bluetooth, his tone commanding and stern. Wesley Frost was nothing if not a leader and, even though he wasn't at the top of the food chain within Frost Enterprises, he certainly acted like he was. Since his appointment to the chief of the marketing department, business had practically skyrocketed. Every side corporation and subsidiary within the enterprise had made profit numbers the company hadn't seen before. And though it was largely due to his ideas and their execution, his father would never assign him the credit, believing it built character.
At his coworker's affirmation of Wesley's requests, he answered a quick, "Thank you," before hanging up. That was enough of work. That day was about Anna Watts. His hands tightened around the steering wheel at the thought of never hearing her "You work too much, you need some time off" speech again. She would no longer be checking in with him and catching him up on all the hometown news and gossip. "Fuck," Wes muttered under his breath, his heat clenching as he refused to let any tears fall. Anna never cared about his money and she saw directly through his charming facade. When she asked him what was wrong, "I'm fine" was never good enough, and he loved that about her.
Pulling into his hometown was bittersweet. He had returned on a couple of occasions since leaving for college but had otherwise stayed away. Though his parents still lived there, enjoying the the quiet as they let their chief officers run their empire, he was in the city where business was booming and things were always moving. Wes pulled into the parking lot of the church, staring up at it with a frown. He hadn't been inside a church in over a decade, not since his grandfather passed. It was strange to do so then, but he ignored the feeling. Stepping from his vehicle, Wesley made sure to lock the doors as his bags for the trip were stowed away in the trunk. It wasn't as if he thought anyway was going to take them, more so a force of habit from living in the city. The businessman straightened his tie before slipping his hands into the pockets of his designer black slacks, Italian leather shoes crunching against the pavement as he made his way up the steps towards the front door.
His clothing combined with the silver Rolex on his wrist and the fancy car he drove exuded wealth and power, but it wasn't intentional. That was the way the Frosts lived, with their large home atop the highest hill in their town, looking down on everything below. Wesley did his best to not let it go to his head, but he wasn't always successful. Once inside the church, he made his way into the large visitation room, shaking hands and greeting those he knew as he moved about. A large photo collage of Anna was presented in a corner, and Wes paused to look at it. Pictures of Anna in her brightest moments, sports games, school dances, sleepovers. But at the center of it all was a group photo, all of their friends arm in arm on graduation day, one of the happiest moments in their lives. Wesley trailed his fingertips across the photo, only hoping that everyone would show up to pay respects to the glue that held their little group together to begin with. "Rest in peace, Anna."
Ava’s gloved hands squeezed the wheel of her parents’ Audi as she was driving towards the church. She was in that car with her younger sister Whit but silence had fallen on the two of them. Suddenly there were no words to be said. Ava was not one of those who would cry a lot. And maybe she had already cried all the tears out and there were none left. It might very well be the case as her evenings often included a bottle of wine or two, a box of tissues and cigarettes. And maybe a sad movie so she could blame the tears on that plot. Tears became a part of her daily routine some time ago and now she was just…out.
Maybe the waterfall would hit her later when the real deal would be happening. Maybe it was going to happen once she saw the old gang together again. The question was, were they all coming? Ava did, or rather didn’t do something that might be classified as unforgivable. She never contacted any of her friends once her feet left the rads of this town. The only person she remained in contact with was her sister because the Jeffries’ girls went to Yale together and both even majored in law. But the others, Ava barely knew what happened to them. Until the message came. Ava could positively say that her blood froze at that moment. She was heading to the meeting but decided to go through her mail before that and found the one from Anna. No need to say that no meeting happened that day.
And then Ava remembered everything. Everyone. Anna’s smile, her warm personality and the way how that girl managed to put together a group of people who would never really get together back at high school. But with her, around her, they were all friends. They all cared about each other, listened to griefs and sorrows, joys, laughed together and knew what they all had new. Ava just…left right after the graduation and then, her world started to turn around other things and other people.
Today, Ava was coming back as a different person. She left as the resident IT girl, praised and damned at the same time. Now she was coming back as Ava Novak, a successful attorney at law, married woman, member of one of the oldest families and her husband was Benjamin Novak. A name known to most people from the business sphere. And she was not happy. Not. One. Bit.
The car parked in front of the church and the sisters got out, both squeezing a bouquet of white roses in their hands. Ava started to walk towards the entrance when Whitney’s phone went off and she went ahead to pick it up, asking Ava to save her a seat. The older sister simply nodded and walked in. Her heels clicked on the marble floor, echoing in the tall building of the local church. A few people were already there but Ava still walked to the corner where a presentation of Anna’s life was built. Someone was already there but Ava ignored the person until she came closer and recognized the man examining a nice group picture. “I can’t believe she’s really gone.” she whispered, standing next to her ex boyfriend who she had to admit, matured really nicely. “It still seems like it was yesterday. Even after some time.” Ava pointed at the graduation picture. And looked at Wes, offering him a sad smile. Still no tears but a ball of bitter formed in her throat, making her unable to say anything else.
“Come on, little dude, we gotta go soon!” Jace called out for his son and soon, stomp of tiny feet was to be heard, running across the apartment. Riley ran out from around the corner and was only stopped by Jace’s legs when he hit them face first, bursting out in laughter. Jace smiled and the look in his eyes softened a little, seeing his little son being as goofy as always. “Okay, but remember what I told you?” he asked and knelt down to fix that leather jacket on his son. “Yesh, no mocky businesh today.” Riley repeated and it made Jace laugh this time.
“Monkey business, you genius. No monkey business. It’s a serious thing and we need to stay quiet and listen, okay?” Jace repeated his instructions and took the sunglasses off of Riley. “Plus you won’t be needing those.” That action brought a little pout on little guy’s face which remained there until the moment they were leaving the apartment. Riley tried to snatch his favorite piece of accessories on their way out but Jace knew him too well and prevented that from happening.
Everyone, who knew Jace Christiansen from school, would now be surprised, seeing this tall, tattooed hulk of a man all soft over a three-year-old. But Jace loved that boy more than he loved himself. Ever since that first moment Trisha appeared on his doorstep so many years ago, handing him a little bundle, and ever since Jace looked down at his child and Riley’s tiny fingers wrapped around his index finger, he fell in love. His crappy random hookup of a girl never even bothered to name the boy and so everything was up to Jace.
Of course, first he made sure it was really his kid. Excuse him for being suspicious but Trisha was a bitch who was sleeping around and went through men as through pages in a book. But Riley really was Jace’s and so the big hunk had to learn how to raise a child. It took many long nights of not sleeping, many failed attempts to change a diaper or feed the baby. Jace’s life turned upside down and it became even more of a mess than it used to be. But seeing the little guy grow up was the most rewarding thing Jace could ever think of. Now he couldn’t even imagine his life without Riley in it.
Hand in hand, the two were walking down the street towards the church. It was the advantage of living in the same town for all those years. Moreover, it would also be Riley’s daily walk and it might just get him tired so he would fall asleep soon tonight. The whole walk, Riley was babbling about everything he saw and seemed to be pretty content with Jace’s briefs “uhms” and “goods” as his answers. Jace’s mind was honestly elsewhere. With Anna. As much as he was trying to wrap his mind around it, he couldn’t. Was she really gone? Was he really walking to attend her funeral? The idea itself seemed incredibly far-fetched and yet, here he was, about to bury the best person he ever knew.
Anna meant to him more than Jace would be willing to admit. She was the only person that ever really saw him for more than just a troublemaking asshole. And at first, he had to admit he was crushing hard on that girl with big doe eyes and plump lips. But she made it clear that it was not that path the two would walk so Jace backed out. Instead, the two became almost like siblings. Only Anna knew everything about Jace, about his shitty home life and how he earned money to get his own place. And now, she was gone. Just like that.
Riley was engaged in his little quiet monologue when the two arrived to the church. Jace asked him to be quiet from now on and just hold on, in the end, he had to bribe him with a promise of his favorite cinnamon roll from auntie Evie and lifted his son up. A little hesitant to enter, Jace looked around, looking for any familiar face in the crowd, actually hoping beyond hope to see the whole old gang together. Maybe it would help him push away the gloomy thoughts. But then again, was it possible to put the old gang together now that…that….Anna…? And also, was everyone going to come to that trip Anna wanted them to? It was her last wish so they should honor it, right? But did it mean everyone was really coming? ‘Okay, dude, you’re overthinking this too much.’ Riley in his arms was curiously looking around, probably looking for Evie with his cinnamon role now and Jace decided to stick around outside for a while to see if someone else would join him before walking inside of the church.
When Cameron had been asked to sing at the funeral, she'd been too numb to say no to Mrs. Watts. She'd been shellshocked still by the fact that Anna was dead... that her friend was dead. One of her very best friends. Despite the fact they hadn't talked in some time, Cameron still considered Anna one of her nearest and dearest, and finding out that she'd been sick and Cameron hadn't even known... and that she was gone... it was heartbreaking. Cam's first instinct had been to call someone. Anyone. But who? The only person she'd even seen out of their old friend group was Evie a few times at her bakery when Cam had come to visit. And there was that one time Jace had been there, but she wasn't thinking about that.
All the others-- Caleb, Whitney, Ava, Wes, Parker-- she'd fallen out of touch with. Would they even recognize each other now? It'd been five years since they were together last. Alot can change in five years, she mused. She certainly had. But what part of her own change was the biggest? The heels sitting in her passenger seat, waiting to be adorned? The blonde hair that was loose and in waves framing her face, and not pulled back into a ponytail or a bun? Or the fact that she had practically been disowned by her successful parents because she couldn't keep her grades up at college? Her reasoning for that was honestly all over the place, but nothing short of straight A's would have been good enough for them.
All of that aside, no one knew how she was making a living now that she wasn't in school. When her parents withdrew their monetary support, Cameron could have gone the route of student loans and part time classes, but she didn't. But her secret started months before that, when she'd needed a break from the norm. With going to school full time and having a part time job as an assistant manager at an engraving store, plus all of the years of pressure before that, she'd reached a breaking point. She'd been let go from her job, but she still needed some sort of income that was her own. When she'd driven past the dirty old strip club, she'd actually passed it and gotten down the street some before she whipped a u-turn and parked in front of the place.
She'd just meant to get a job as a waitress, but the manager who interviewed her on the spot wanted her to dance. At first, she refused, but after seeing the amount of money those girls brought in for tips, and with some encouragement from the girls themselves, Cameron gave it a shot. And she was good. Fast forward to when her grades started to slip, her parents noticed, and now here they were. It was honestly embarrassing to the girl, but she didn't plan on that secret coming to light. Granted, the heels that were sitting in her passenger seat as she drove in just her stockings to the church were not something she would have worn before, that didn't automatically lead to stripper. She hoped.
"Fuck." Blowing out a sharp sigh, Cameron pulled into the church and parked near the back, staring at the building for a few minutes before she finally shut the car off. Pushing open the door, she twisted in her seat and grabbed her shoes before she turned the other way, sliding the heels onto her feet. Twisting again, she reached for her bag, grabbed her keys and then stood. Shutting the door with her free hand, she started for the large building, hitting the lock button on the key fob to lock her doors. Tucking the keys into her bag, she run her fingers through the underside of her hair, fluffing it some. Maybe she wouldn't even be recognized, and she could just sit in the back and sneak on by.
Except for the fact that one, she was performing and two, the letter. Anna's last dying wish was for her friends to all get together one last time. But was that even going to happen? Cam had no idea, and to be honest, she was afraid to find out. Dropping her hands, Cam was in the process of walking towards the front of the church while simultaneously digging in her bag for her phone, knowing she needed to silence it. Not looking ahead of her, she nearly toppled over when something small yet awfully forceful ran into her legs. "Whoa, there, killer." Cameron automatically steadied herself and reached out to steady the kid as well, who seemed barely phased. Kneeling down in front of him, she offered him a small smile. "Where's your mom, hun? Or your dad?"
"Why, Anna? Why did you have to die?" Caleb had never planned on returning to this fucking town. Even though his family was here-- his spineless mother and his little sister, so full of life the last time he'd seen her-- he hadn't wanted to come back. He missed the two of them terribly, but the fact of the matter was that he felt like a cheap, deadbeat loser. He'd been slinging drugs back in high school to provide for them because their mother couldn't figure out how, but he'd been found out. Surprisingly enough, though, only one person had found out in all of that time, and he'd sworn her to secrecy. As far as he knew, she'd kept his secret.
But he'd walked out on his family, and her too. He could still picture her face the last time he saw her, and it still pained him, five years later. "Christ, Anna. I wish you were here." But of course, if she were here, he would not be. Lowering his head, Caleb sighed, slumping down in the seat of his classic Camaro. Glancing over at the roach in the ashtray, he reached for it and picked it up, twirling it between his fingers. There was hardly enough left to smoke of it, and he didn't really want to light a new one right now. He didn't want to go into Anna's service smelling of the devil's lettuce. That would be disrespectful to his former friend.
Sniffling, he threw the roach back into the ashtray and decided he could go for a cigarette instead. Rolling down the window, he pulled a smoke from the soft pack beside him, snagging a lighter from the cupholder. Placing the cigarette filter between his lips, he lit the lighter and brought the flame to the other end, inhaling deeply. Dropping the lighter back into the cupholder, he sighed as he exhaled a steady stream of smoke, looking over again at the church. He'd been sitting in the back of the parking lot for some time now, and he knew he needed to suck it up and go inside. But he wasn't ready.
He didn't even look the same. He kept his hair cut short now, so different than the long brown locks he used to have. The ones that always made him look young, or so his sister had told him. Would she be here? His mother? Any of his former friends? An image of the letter flashed in his mind and he cursed again, thinking of Anna's dying wish. Sure, Caleb had nothing else going on really, but he wasn't sure he could grant her her wish. Taking another drag from the cigarette, he ashed the thing out of the open window, pursing his lips some as he pondered how a trip to the old cabin would go.
A few seconds later, he just shook his head. There was no way possible, especially not after all this time. Finishing his cigarette in just a few more puffs, he flicked the thing from his hand as he reached to shut the car off. In just a few seconds time, he was out of the car and headed to the church, hands tucked into his pockets. He kept his head down, not making eye contact as he headed inside, though he was careful not to bump into anyone. He felt his throat tighten as he reached the area outside of the visitation room. "Nope." He immediately turned on his heel, heading back to the door, spotting a familiar face on the way.
"Whitney." He breathed, staring for a few seconds before his feet started to move. Before he knew it, he was standing in front of her, still staring. "Whitney." He repeated, almost as though he were making sure it was her. After a moment, his face relaxed into a smile, and he automatically pulled her into a hug. "Jesus, thank god. I thought I was gonna be the only one." He whispered into her hair, pulling back a moment later. "Come on. I could use a smoke. Care to join me?" He started towards the door again, pulling her outside with him as he started down the steps. He was so excited to see one of his old friends, which was a shock enough, but nothing compared to what he felt when he bumped into someone. "Shit, sorry-" He stopped dead when he looked up and spotted yet another familiar face. The familiar face. "Evie. Hey."
All I wanna do is let you in
But good guys never win
Whitney was foolish to think she’d be able to keep the tears at bay as she entered the church. It was ridiculous, but for a split second Whitney sought Anna’s familiar face in the crowd of all Anna’s friends and family. But Anna wasn’t there, and Whitney would never again get to see her friend’s warm smile and kind eyes. Anna really was gone. Being in the church amongst the other mourners solidified the heartbreaking truth, and the tears escaped despite Whitney’s best effort to hold them back.
Up to this point in her life, Whitney was fortunate enough to have had little experience with death. Save a distant relative or two, no one close to Whitney had passed away... until Anna. The finality of death was a new concept that Whitney was grappling with and trying to process. The loss of Anna left a hole in Whitney’s heart that could never be filled again- how did others deal with this? Or was there no way to fix the pain and life was just learning how to live as your heart irreparably turned into Swiss cheese?
Sure, Whitney had’t seen Anna much the past 5 years and had been able to live happily without her friend’s presence. But in the back of her mind, Whitney always knew that Anna was just a text, phone call or plane ride away. When they’d say goodbye after one of Whitney’s visits home it was never permanent, at least Whitney hadn’t thought it would be. But now...
Her vision becoming blurry, Whitney quickly fumbled around in her purse to grab one of her stashed tissues. As she dabbed her eyes dry, Whitney took slow breaths to regain composure and delay another round of waterworks. Needing a mission to distract herself from the sorrow, the brunette looked around to see if there was a designated area for the flowers. Before Whitney could find somewhere to put her bouquet though, she spotted Ava over by one of the tables.
Whitney was about to go over to meet back up with her sister and seek solace, but stopped when she noticed that Ava was not alone. Beside her was... Wes. Seeing the two of them standing together was like a blast from the past. A past where Anna was still alive and well. They’d both matured over the last few years of course, but from afar they still looked like the high school sweethearts they were know as in school. Whitney was glad to see that Wes had returned for the funeral, hopeful that meant he’d be going to the cabin as well, but she didn’t want to interrupt his moment with Ava to say hi. As far as Whitney knew, Ava and Wes had an amicable breakup, but still, it was probably best to let them catch up without her being a third wheel like in the old days.
With a sigh, Whitney turned her attention away from Ava and Wes, suddenly feeling like the awkward nerd from yesteryear again with no one to talk to. Luckily, the nostalgic feelings didn’t last long, when Whitney was rescued from her solitude by another familiar face.
“Caleb?!” Whitney replied when she suddenly found her old friend standing before her. Or at least she was pretty sure it was Caleb- though his hair was different and he was no longer the lanky boy she remembered. When he pulled her in for a hug though, Whitney was certain it was him, and hugged back with her free hand. “It’s so good to see you!” She replied, his hug making the tears from a few moments ago a distant memory for now.
Before she had time to even respond to Caleb’s invitation for a smoke, she was being pulled along with him back outside. Not that she minded. Caleb was a welcome distraction and Whitney was thrilled to see him. Yes, Anna had left them, but she’d also left them the gift of friendship. Whitney wouldn’t let her sadness ruin Anna’s present of the old group’s reunion.
“It’s been so long, I don’t even know where to begin- “ She started to say to Caleb as they walked down the stairs, before being cut short when he bumped into someone. Whitney had to come to a quick stop to avoid running into the back of Caleb and causing a domino effect, nearly rolling an ankle in her heels in the process. Yep, heels were definitely a mistake.
Stepping up to the side of Caleb, Whitney spotted who he ran into and her eyes lit up. “Evie! Hi!” She said, echoing Caleb but in a contrasting tone. The hole Anna left in Whitney’s heart was still there, but with each familiar face from the old days, the hole began to hurt a little less. At least for now. Maybe when Anna made her last request for them all to reconnect, their dearly departed friend knew this would be the case...?
Smoking was a habit that Evelyn had picked up just after the death of her parents, a way of forcing herself to take a moment and forget about whatever was overwhelming her. While it wasn't the best way to deal with the stress, it was the only thing she could think of that she knew worked. One of her earliest memories from her childhood was the smell of her father smoking his pipe. He claimed it was classic, like his favorite literature, and helped him to get more into the novels that he read. Evie wasn't quite sure that was true, but she appreciated the sentiment. In a way, cigarettes were a way for her to still be close to her father, to remember him. The nicotine kick was just a fun perk.
Taking another drag from her cigarette, Evelyn watched as the smoke that slipped through her parted lips dissipated into the Montana air. It was quiet outside the church, peaceful, a no-pun-intended breath of fresh air on a day that was otherwise upsetting. She would rather stay outside by herself, mourn the loss of her friend alone. But that would be rude and disrespectful, so she decided against it. Inhaling once more from the cigarette, Evie dropped the butt to the ground and stamped it out beneath her gold strappy stiletto. Just as she turned to head back inside, a large mass ran directly into her. The brunette baker stumbled back, barely catching herself before crumbling to the ground. "I'm sorry, I didn't see-" she began. But everything froze when she recognized his face.
Caleb Thompson. Older, more cleaned up. But it was definitely him. It had been five years since she had seen or heard from her, and still the rush of emotions came back. She had no idea where he had been, what he had been doing, and was ultimately surprised that he had come back to begin with. Evelyn wanted to hug him then slap him across the face as hard as she could. But she did neither. Instead, she kept herself composed, settling her icy green gaze on him as she crossed her arms over her chest. Evie pushed all those emotions down, forcing herself into apathy. Her tone was even as she simply responded with, "Caleb."
It was that she hated him, she doubted that she ever could. But the brunette was definitely angry with him, and she didn't know if she could ever forgive him, let alone if she wanted to. Thankfully, someone she actually enjoyed the presence of stepped around him. Evelyn's face immediately brightened at the sight of Whitney Jeffries, pulling her friend into a quick hug. "Whitney, hi! I haven't seen you at the bakery in a while," she said, smiling as she pulled back from the girl. The two had lost contact in the more recent years for some reason, but there weren't any hard feelings. "How are you doing? What have you been up to lately?"
In the grand scheme of things, five years didn't really seem like that long of a time. But for Wes, it seemed like a lifetime. So much had changed. In just five years, one of the world's brightest lights had dimmed and been extinguished. He had lost contact with nearly every person he had known from his life in that tiny town. He had gone off to college, graduated, and been appointed to one of the highest hierarchical positions in his father's company. He had started his own company, a small start-up he had been working on alone in his free time, what little free time he had. Thinking back, Anna had been the one to encourage him to pursue his own ideas and creativity. And he never got to really thank her for that.
Wesley dropped his hand back to his side, slipping it into his pocket once again. His stormy blue eyes slide across the pictures once again, until landing on prom night. He remembered it well, the night of his coronation alongside Ava. It had been such a fun night, well spent with friends. And the after party wasn't too bad either, or what he remembered of it. He had been much more carefree in high school, without the burden of his parents' expectations baring down on him as much. Sure, he still graduated near the top of his class and was part of several extracurriculars. But most of that was his choice, the latter to stay in shape and the former because he spent so much time with a particular tutor.
Turning to glance around the funeral once again, Wes briefly wondered if Whitney was there. He couldn't imagine that she would turn down Anna's request. They hadn't spoken in nearly five years, and he knew that was partially his fault. The businessman hadn't really attempted to reach out, to either Whitney or Ava. A familiar voice sounded from along side him, pulling Wes from his thoughts and back into the present. The brunette beauty he had come to know so well in school stood alongside him, his ex-girlfriend Ava. "I know, right?" he answered, his tone tinged in sadness, "It's almost like we've come full circle. We were so excited then to go on that cabin trip to celebrate and now..." Wes paused, not really sure what the trip would be. A celebration of life? A memorial? Or just getting to know each other once again. Glancing down at Ava, the brunette man asked, "You're going on the trip, aren't you?"
When Ava decided to go and check the presentation of Anna’s life, she had no idea there would be someone else standing. But the moment she realized who that someone was, her head went on a crazy reel. Why? That was beyond her. When the two broke up, no bad blood remained, nothing. It was nice and calm, no blowout and honestly, to Ava it felt like a large burden was lifted off of her shoulders. The elephant, that had been sitting on her chest for years, now finally moved his ass elsewhere and Ava was free to breath. Not that she didn’t like Wes. She just didn’t like him…that way. So why was she suddenly all flustered when approaching him?
Thankfully, her occupation had taught her a thing or two. Hence the most perfect poker face was sitting on her face, despite the insides raging. Wesley’s voice was firm but Ava could hear hints of grief, she used to know him well, regardless of her never loving him for real. Of you date, or even fake date, someone for years, you learn a lot about that person. What surprised her though was that she still remembered how his voice sounded when he was sad. “And now there were six.” Ava whispered, finishing the sentence he had started.
Hearing his question about the cabin, she hesitated for a moment. Her bags were packed, sitting on the bed in her old bedroom in her parents’ house, just waiting to be loaded in the trunk of a car. But she would be lying if she said there were no second thoughts. Being here, so close to home, and now so close to her old group of friends, it brought certain memories. Memories of how things used to be. And though her life now was just a shred of all glamour and happiness she always imagined to have, it was kind of easier to hide in her expensive penthouse suite where no one else so the failure she was.
And yet, hearing the question now, hanging in the air over her head, Ava couldn’t answer differently. “Yeah…yeah, I’m going. I suppose you’re going too, right?” she asked quietly and hugged her torso with her arms as if trying to protect herself with a sudden surge of emotions she felt as her eyes kept jumping from one picture to another. Combined with all the memories this town held, even the Ice Queen felt her insides move. “Well…how have you been? It’s been quite a while, hm?” she asked, trying to change the topic a little bit. Ava was never really sappy and though she was not an unemotional robot, she was always doing the best job of hiding it, repeating to herself that she was a diamond. No one could break her. But was it really true? After all those years, not even Ava was sure about that.
There were so many people around the church already. It seemed that everyone wanted to say their last goodbye to the resident sweetheart. Anna truly touched so many hearts it was unbelievable. Jace kept looking around to see if there was someone else he knew or someone he could join. Mostly he was just looking for Evie because out of the whole group, he was the one Jace kept meeting with the most. She was like a little sister to him and Jace felt some kind of responsibility to her. Maybe it was just his single dad part or something but he felt strongly towards the pretty baker.
And not only Jace. Riley loved her too and always asked when he could go to see Evie though Jace suspected that a free cinnamon roll was playing a huge part in this relationship as well. But the truth was that the two stopped by the bakery quite often. Usually because Riley was getting restless and sometimes Jace didn’t know what to do with him so the walk helped. Maybe bribing the lively kid with additional sugar wasn’t the best idea ever but Jace never claimed to be a super dad, did he?
Speak of the devil, Riley was becoming more and more restless in Jace’s arms and the man was trying to hold him and calm him down. In addition, his phone beeped with a text so he set the kid down and told him not to run too far before he checked the phone. Of course, this was a new place and Riley just had to explore. But the crowd was becoming a bit confusing and suddenly, not even knowing how, he couldn’t see his dad. Jace looked up from the phone only to see his son was nowhere to be seen and panic took over him. Weaving through the crowd, he started to look for him, calling his name out loud and the longer he couldn’t see him, the more panicked he was.
It was around five minutes later that he finally noticed the tiny human and felt more relieved than ever before. “Riley! Christ, what did I tell you?” he asked and lifted him up again, determined not to let him down again. “Pwetty!” Riley exclaimed excitedly and pointed to the woman whom Jace noticed for the first time now and his heart skipped a beat or two. He expected his old group to return but somehow, he never gave a thought to what he would do if Cam came as well. “Hey, Cam.” he smiled at her and his eyes softened. “As much as the circumstances are shit, I’m really glad to see you. You look great.” he breathed and looked at Riley. “And this little rascal, who assaulted you, is Riley. My son.”
Although Cameron had no kids of her own, she adored them and hoped to one day have a family of her own. Seeing this little boy with such a scared look on his face made her heart hurt, and she quickly cast a glance around, hoping that she would see someone with an equally panicked look on their face. Someone somewhere was looking for this little boy, she just knew it. Sliding her gaze down to him again, she realized that he had a slightly familiar face, but that didn't make any sense. He couldn't be more than five years old at the most, and she was sure she hadn't seen him here on any of her trips in the last few years.
"Hey, what's your name?" She held out her hand to him for him to take, and he sniffled as he slid his hand into hers. But before she could get an answer out of him, she heard someone shouting. Looking up, Cameron had to do a double take when she saw Jace. The blood drained from her face, though that probably went unnoticed as Jace swept the little boy into his arms. Pushing herself back to her feet, she felt her knees wobble some as she stood in front of her teenage crush, who was definitely not just a boy anymore. In fact, he'd definitely become quite the man.
“Pwetty!” Hearing the little boy speak, Cameron shot him a slightly uneasy smile before she looked back at Jace. The circumstances were indeed shit, as they were at their former friends funeral. "You look..." She trailed off, but he just continued, introducing the little man in his arms as Riley. His son. She'd glanced back at Riley again, but hearing the word son, her head jerked back in Jace's direction. "Your...?" Apparently, her English failed her as she stood there in her stilettos, in the freezing cold, with the only man she'd ever really loved at their shared friends viewing.
Jesus Christ. Five years had really changed alot. Swallowing heavily, she stretched out her hand to Riley again. "Well, Riley. It's nice to meet you. I'm Cam." The little boy happily took her hand, shaking it enthusiastically as he grinned. "Come on. I'm sure you're freezing out here. Wanna go in?" Though the question was directed at Riley, Cam looked back at Jace as she spoke, nodding towards the front doors. As they turned to head inside, Cameron hugged herself, focusing on her steps so as to not fall. "Have you seen anyone else?" She asked, trying to make conversation without it being awkward.
Caleb knew that coming here, he was bound to run into his old friends. Were they even friends anymore? Would they consider him a friend? He doubted it, especially after the way he'd left town. None of them knew he was leaving... none except for Evie. To everyone else, he'd just disappeared, and he hadn't called or texted in five years. And now, here he was, back for Anna's funeral. He at least had the decency to do that. She deserved that much, even from him. She hadn't even deserved to get the illness she had. She was the purest of them all, the golden sunshine and the glue that held them together. Fuck, he was getting too sentimental.
Leading Whitney outside, though, he hadn't expected to run smack into Evie. And his reaction, he knew, was not the greatest. He'd froze both internally and out when he saw her, and he heard his name tumble out of his lips in a way more casual way than he felt. He could still feel how her lips had tasted when he'd kissed her, mixed with some of the blood he tasted from his wounds. That had been right before he left, and he hadn't seen her since then. Not until this fucking moment. She crossed her arms over her chest, and the uttering of his name from her lips was like ice.
But then her face brightened, and for a moment he thought all was well. Then he realized that her face had only changed because she'd seen Whitney. He stepped aside to let the girls hug and reunite, glancing around somewhat awkwardly. Realizing he hadn't even lit up, he felt around for his smokes, realizing a few seconds later that he'd left them in the car. He spun around to look at his car in the distance, squinting some before he sighed heavily and turned around. "Evie... got another one of those?" He nodded to her cancer stick, offering her a small and somewhat sheepish smile.
Fuck, why did he turn into a pile of mush around her? She was just as beautiful as she'd been all those years ago, and he was utterly fucked. Maybe she'd just tell him to fuck off, and he could go back to his car and smoke. More than a cigarette. Although if he did that, he knew he wouldn't come back to the church. Anna didn't deserve that, but at this point, he didn't feel like he deserved the ice treatment from the ice queen. Still, he wanted to let bygones be bygones, if she did. "I left mine in the car." He pulled a lighter from his pocket, holding it up to show them. "But I have this, at least."
All I wanna do is let you in
But good guys never win
Five more miles. That was all that lay between Parker and Anna's funeral... and hopefully his friends. They would be the only solace during this trip. His mother and stepfather had moved to a new city a couple years ago, so the only ties he still had to the little town was his group of friends. And even then, half of them had moved away. If Anna was able to bring him back though, hopefully she could bring the others back as well, albeit from the grave.
Parker paled a little at the thought of Anna being buried, unable to stomach the image of the smiling and kind girl being lost to the world beneath the dirt. Or, perhaps she was already lost and her family had cremated her... That thought also sent a shiver down Parker's spine and he tried to think of less morbid things. He had never been to a funeral before. No one from his life that had died was loved enough to deserve one. His father had been cremated and buried within the same day in some old cemetery on the edge of town. Parker hadn't even bothered to get the address from his mom, having no intentions of visiting his asshole father.
But with Anna... Parker made a promise to himself that he'd come visit Anna's grave, at least once more in the future. She wouldn't be forgotten. Not by him, and surely not by everyone else that she had touched with her good nature and caring ways. Only the good die young...
The church came into view ahead, and Parker slowed his car as he approached the turn into the parking lot. He was late, but it didn't look like any formal part of the service had started yet since people were still lingering outside of the church. The parking lot was almost full, but Parker managed to find a spot at the far end of the lot. He killed the engine of his car, and grabbed the flowers from the passenger seat.
Hesitating for a moment, Parker looked out the window at the small church that was filled with Anna's friends and family. He'd grown up in this town, but in this moment, he felt very foreign. These people had probably continued to spend time with Anna and be a part of her life. He had run away to pursue silly dreams in Hollywood, and only kept in touch with Anna via occasional texts. Parker felt like he didn't deserve to be here. To be amongst the people most important to Anna. But... She had sent the letter. She had asked him to come before there was even a funeral to come to. Anna was expecting her old group of friends to come together once more, sadly without her, to celebrate her life and their friendship. Parker might not have been able to make Anna laugh anymore in this life, but he could still make the others laugh, and they all needed that to get through the pain.
With a deep breath, Parker exited his car and started to make his way through the chilly air towards the church entrance. And with his arrival, all of Anna's most cherished friends from high school were all in one place for the first time in five years.
Five years ago, Evelyn was still in a rather rough place in life. Her parents had only been gone about a year at that time and, though she had been going to therapy to help, she couldn't shake the feeling that their death was still her fault. After all, if she hadn't forgotten her things at the diner, they wouldn't have been at that intersection at that time. They wouldn't have gotten into that car wreck, her parents would still be alive, and she would probably be a student in the literature department at her father's alma mater. Her whole life had gone up in flames because she had made one stupid mistake. And so, Evie locked herself away, vowed that she would not get close to anyone so that she couldn't get hurt again.
But then, Anna came along. Beautiful, perfect Anna. She saw her for what she was, broken and alone, and she did anything she could to make Evie whole again. Like introducing her to Caleb. He had been her sounding board for the better part of the year, one of the only people she felt as though she could talk to about anything and not worry about getting judged. She would've done almost anything for him. Hell, she bailed him out of jail. When they kissed, she thought things were finally going to fall into place. But then he was gone, and she was left alone, abandoned again.
And there she stood, five years later, her best friend gone as well. Everything she cared about seemed to disappear, and she was tired of hurting because of it. It was time to go back to her original beliefs and keep everyone at a distance. Evelyn didn't want to deal with any more pain. Her green eyes flickered from Whitney to Caleb again, taking a step back from the pair. Her name fell from his lips again and Evelyn resisted the urge to shiver. It was so strange, not hearing from him for so long and all of a sudden he was back again like nothing was wrong. He nodded to the pack of cigarettes in her palm, asking for one. She wanted to be petty and tell him 'no,' but found that she just couldn't.
"Yeah, I guess another couldn't hurt," the brunette answered, pulling a cigarette out of the case before passing it to Caleb. She pulled her own lighter from her pocket, flicking on the flame to burn the end of the cancer stick between her lips. She inhaled the bitter smoke, letting it move around in her longs before finally exhaling again. The nicotine from her previous cigarette had begun to move through her veins, giving her a small sense of relaxation. Evelyn shivered slightly, a chilly Montana breeze sliding across her exposed skin. She wished she had brought a jacket but had been in such a rush that morning that she hadn't thought about it. The baker turned her green gaze back on her friend, smiling at Whitney once again, "How is law going? Have you gotten into a firm? I don't think we've talked since before you graduated."
Wes still remembered the trip to that old log cabin rather fondly, despite its outcome. Sure, that trip had been the nail in the coffin of his romantic relationship with Ava. But to be completely honest, their relationship wasn't all that romantic to begin with. Ava was gorgeous, smart, driven, everything most guys would want in a girl. But there just wasn't a spark between them. They were expected to date because she was the It Girl, queen bee on campus. And he was the hockey team's captain, the Prince of the school. They were prom royalty, the two people that everyone wanted to be. Their parents were so intent on making sure they made it to the top that even they wanted the two to be together. But Wesley just didn't feel it with Ava, not like that. Not like Whitney.
He wasn't quite sure what had happened there. At first, it was innocent tutoring. But then, he found himself seeking her out to 'tutor' him, just to get to spend some more time with her. He knew it couldn't happen, it wouldn't. After all, he had been dating her sister at the time. But that didn't mean he couldn't crush from afar. Anna always had a sixth sense about those types of things, knew when he was faking it for the cameras, so to speak. She had figured him out so easily, knew exactly how he felt without him having to say a word. It was the most frustrating and amazing thing. Even though she knew about his little crush on Whitney, she had sworn not to say a thing. He wondered if she had kept that promise all those years. Was Whitney there, at the funeral?
Hearing Ava's words, Wes pulled himself from his thoughts and nodded. "If all six showed up anyway," he couldn't imagine that any of them wouldn't, even Caleb who no one had heard from in years. Nevertheless, it was a possibility. "Yeah, I'm going to go. Not that work is happy about me taking a long vacation on such short notice. But they will have to just deal with it. Perks of being the CEO's son, I suppose," he replied with a sheepish grin, a bit of sarcasm tinging his voice during the latter sentence. Wesley turned his body to face Ava, no longer wanted to start at photos of memories that only made him sad now. "I've been good. Took a job at my parents' company after graduation, just been keeping my nose to the grindstone there. Not much time to do anything else. How about you? How's law?"
It was certainly a little strange to stand there and talk to Wesley. Not necessarily bad but it bore this little strange veil that Ava was not really sure how to define. But it certainly felt a bit easier now that the two were not burdened by this little fake relationship. Ava still remembered how her parents told her she should be with him, how great it was not only for her image but the image of her family and how the two belonged together. It was easy at first, just walking around, holding hands, smiling, sharing an occasional kiss or two. But the longer they kept pretending, the harder it was. Imagine you can’t even fall in love, not for real. Simply because you are tasked to date a boy you like but only as a friend, not more.
That’s how Ava got in trouble in the first place. Of course, not everything could be blamed on this forced arranged relationship, it was also her own poor judgement. But not being able to choose her own love led her straight to the arms of that frat guy whose name she didn’t remember anymore. Technically, she cheated on Wes. But was it really cheating if the two never really…anything. Not that they didn’t try. Ava was honestly doing her best at first. But the feelings simply weren’t there.
But talking to Wes now, despite the grave situation, was far easier and her initial anxiety vanished as fast as it hit her. Maybe also because she decided to draw the attention away from the sad reason they all were back. “That sounds very busy.” Ava offered a slight smile and nodded. It was exactly something she would expect Wes to do, considering who his family was. But he looked good. Maybe even happy. Though his question pinched her guts and Ava had to hold her breath for a second or two not to show her renewed anxiety attack. Thank god it was December, chilly outside and they were at the funeral. At least she could blame her pale face on that.
“It’s been good…good.” she spoke carefully and lifted her hand with the exquisite piece of rock on her ring finger. Benjamin and his family never half-asses anything, that was for sure. “I got married. I’m Ava Novak now. My husband’s family got me a job in their company. I mean…corporate law is not what I intended to do but I got used to it. And it’s a good job. Steady. I’m not bored. Not at all.” she added and for a moment, she stopped, thinking who was she trying to convince. Wes or herself. “Though they are also not happy about me going away for vacation now. But I just…couldn’t not come. You know.” Ava’s voice got a bit quieter and her eyes found the graduation picture again. “Do you think we should go find some seats? Rather at the front, I guess?” Definitely at the front. Ava owed Anna that much. To be there, to say proper goodbye. And not hide in the back like a coward she became.
Looking for Riley in the crowd and not seeing the little dude anywhere was the single most terrifying thing that ever happened to Jace. Ever since he became full-time parent, something changed in him. Things that concerned Riley were now the most important to him and everything else was secondary. Riley was a good kid, it was almost unbelievable that a fucked-up guy like Jace, coming from a broken family, could raise a kid like the little boy. But he was also incredibly curious and Jace knew that no matter how good it could be, it might mean Riley was going to get in a lot of trouble, one way or another.
As Jace was weaving through the crowd, he noticed his son and when he then noticed the woman, he almost choked on his own air. Cam. Cameron Hale. Just as if someone swished a magic wand, memories started to flood back. The good ones where Jace started to feel for her, how it felt like she was going to be the one person to set him on straight path. How he was ready to take her to the homecoming. Fuck, he had no idea what to do and how those things went but he went as far as borrowing his brother’s tux though he swore never to wear that shit. And then her father ruined it all. Jace was still not ready to forgive the old man to stomp over this little blooming piece of paradise. Granted, if he would have gotten together with Cam, Riley would have never happened. But Jace was still bitter.
And now she was standing in front of him. A grown woman, blonde hair framing her face perfectly, no tight bun in sight. She grew up beautifully and Jace caught himself staring at her for quite a while before looking back at Riley. The kid was right, she definitely was pretty. Yet when Jace introduced him as his son, he couldn’t not see how surprised and taken aback Cam was. Well, it was what it was. Riley was his and there was no point in hiding the fact. Not that Jace ever would. But seeing the expression on Cam’s face, he felt that unpleasant pinch in his guts and for some reason, he just wanted to wrap his arms around that tiny girl and hold her for a while.
Riley, on the other hand, was having a grand time. He took Cam’s hand and giggled, repeating her name with his childish accent. He didn’t butcher her name since it was fairly easy for him to pronounce. “Yeah, let’s go.” Jace agreed and waited for Cam to move before he turned to the church, walking towards the entrance. “And you…” he looked at Riley are not leaving my side, clear?” he spoke in a strict tone, hoping the boy understood. But it was not necessary. Riley took a liking to Cam and while she was around, he was not going anyway either. He kept looking at her, completely mesmerized. “I think you got yourself a fan.” Jace told her, flashing a little amused smirk.
Hearing Cam’s question, Jace thought for a moment. “No, I haven’t. You’re first. Do you think they’re coming though?” he asked something that was eating at him as well. “How about this trip? You going too?”
Cameron really thought that things wouldn't have changed much in the five years she'd been gone, but apparently, she was dead wrong. Although Jace was the only person she'd run across so far, the change in him was quite obvious. She could see tattoos on the backs of his hands and peeking out from his shirt, traveling up his neck, that she was damn sure he didn't have five years ago. Giving him a onceover as he stood there holding his son, Cameron could see a tiny bit of color poking out from behind a tear in his jeans as well, and her mind instantly wondered what other ink he was hiding behind his clothes.
Blushing furiously at the direction her thoughts had gone, she turned away, hoping he wouldn't notice as she started up the steps. She felt a tiny hand slip into hers and looked down in shock, only to find Riley now attached to her. A small smile crept onto her still warm face as she helped him up the stairs, grateful for the balance she had in heels now that she surely didn't have five years ago. Maybe she should have expected change more than she had, though even if she had, she didn't think she would have seen a child in Jace's future. Maybe one of the others, but not his.
They reached the doors and Cam paused as Jace gave Riley a quick but stern talking to, and Cameron couldn't help but be mesmerized by his dad voice. Jesus, what the fuck was wrong with her? Riley hadn't looked away from her, so she gave him an encouraging smile as they headed inside, into the warmth. A soft laugh escaped her at Jace's comment and she glanced down at Riley again. "He's the cutest little fan I could ever have." She loved the way Riley's face brightened when she said that, and the more she looked at him, the more of Jace she could see. "God, he really looks like you." She breathed, her eyes flickering back up to Jace.
She felt the hurt still there from all that time ago, when he'd asked her to prom and then backed out. She still didn't know why he'd changed his mind, but damn if it didn't still hurt. But that was so long ago, she knew she should let it go. They moved further into the place, and Cameron stopped at the edge of the room where Anna's coffin lay. "I think they will." She answered Jace's question, her eyes only shifting back to him at his last question. "I... yes." She finished sort of lamely, biting her lip as she fought with herself whether or not to ask him back. Finally, the urge to ask won out. "Are you?" Her eyes drifted to Riley again, unsure if he'd be able to go because of... other responsibilities.
Caleb could swear he saw hesitation in Evie's eyes when he asked her for a smoke, and for a moment, he thought she might actually say no. But then she spoke, and pulled her case from her pocket, handing him one and then placing another between her perfect lips. He remembered what it felt like to kiss those lips, and he so badly wanted to do so again. In fact, the urge was so strong that for a moment, he just stood there with the unlit cigarette between his fingers, staring at her, even as she turned back to Whitney to ask her about school. God, he felt like an ass, he hadn't even acted like he cared about how Whitney had been. Fuck.
Realizing he was staring, he tore his gaze from the girls to focus on the cigarette. Placing the filter between his lips, he lifted his lighter and flicked it a couple times before actually getting it to light. Inhaling the nicotine calmed him almost instantly, though he always wondered if it was just a sort of placebo effect. Whatever. It didn't matter. He tucked the lighter back into his pocket, noticing Evie shiver some. He felt like he should say or do something, but what? It wasn't like he was wearing a jacket, either, just a suit he'd managed to dig up and honestly, the jacket was not that warm.
He was so lost in his thoughts, he managed to smoke the whole cigarette, burning his fingers as he took one last drag and the filter lit up. "Fuck!" He cursed loudly, dropping the hot filter to the ground below. He looked up only to realize that people were staring, and he narrowed his eyes in their direction. "What?" He snapped, though not very loudly as he crossed his arms, looking back at the girls. "We should... head in, maybe?" His eyes drifted from Whitney to Evie, lingering there longer than they should have, though he told himself he just wanted to know if she was done with her smoke.
When both girls were ready, he gestured for them to go ahead, following them inside the church. He glanced skyward as they did, wondering if he was going to be struck by lightning just for stepping foot in here. When nothing happened, he breathed a sigh of relief and glanced back at the other two. "When does the service part actually start?" He felt uncomfortable, and it most definitely showed on his face. He hated funerals, hated death. Hospitals, too. "And how long do you think it might last?" He wasn't trying to disrespect Anna, but damn if he didn't want to drag this out.
All I wanna do is let you in
But good guys never win
Parker walked quickly towards the church from the parking lot, spurred on by both the cold Montana weather and the desire not to miss any more of Anna's funeral than he already had. He might not have been as late as he thought, but he didn't want to squander that by sluggishly making his way in, even if he wasn't terribly keen on finding himself in a church. He wasn't religious at all, considering himself agnostic at most, but in this moment, Parker hoped for Anna's sake that there was some kind of afterlife. She deserved to be in heaven, or paradise, or whatever good place awaited someone after they'd passed. Though if God did exist, fuck him or her for taking Anna so soon.
Walking up the steps to the church, Parker did his best to keep his doubts on religion to himself and not scowl at the large cross. He was here for Anna. He was here for Anna. Parker kept repeating that thought in his head as he walked through the church doors, finding himself amongst the crowd of mourners. The class clown wasn't really sure what the protocol was for a funeral, or where he should go, or what he should do... So he just made his way to the edge of the room, working his way along the perimeter of the church until he was further in. Unfortunately, this only led him to Anna's coffin, which really would have freaked Parker out, if not for another more shocking distraction.
Parker was stopped in his tracks as he came upon what appeared to be a cute little family of three that looked familiar enough that he had to do a double take. Sure enough, the mom and dad were no other than Cameron and Jace! And between them stood a little boy, happily hanging onto Cameron's hand as the adults talked. Parker knew he hadn't been the best about keeping up with the lives of his old friends, but surely if Cam and Jace had gotten married or ended up together they could have at least let him know! A lot sure had changed in 5 years.
"Holy fuck, you guys have a kid?" Parker exclaimed before he could stop himself, glancing from Cam and Jace down to Rylie. Realizing he had just cursed in front of a kid, in a church no less, Parker winced and shot Cam and Jace an apologetic look. "Sorry." He whispered, rubbing the back of his head with his free hand. "But seriously, what the he-" Parker caught himself this time before another curse came out, and cleared his throat. "I mean, why didn't you tell me?" He asked, a little hurt that he'd been kept out of the loop.
Sure, Parker should have checked in on them after graduation, but he hadn't had much news of his own to share and life got away from him. On the other hand, having a kid was definitely newsworthy. He could see Jace keeping things to himself. Of all the people in the group Parker and Jace hadn't been particularly close, especially since Jace and Wes often butted heads. But Cameron... why hadn't she told him? They could have at least sent one of those family Christmas cards. Oh well, the cat was out of the bag now.
As his initial shock started to wear off, Parker finally offered his friends a genuine smile, happy for them despite their secrecy. "But congratulations, this is awesome!" He said, glancing between Cam and Jace.
Oblivious to Caleb and Evie's cold greetings to one another, Whitney hugged Evie back tightly, happy to see her. "I know, I'm sorry, I haven't been back home as often lately, and when I am home my parents have been so strict about their diet that they'd shoot me if I brought home any baked goods." She replied, stepping back from Evie and taking in her old friend. Evie looked amazing, and from what Whitney had heard, the bakery was flourishing. Falling out of contact with Evie had been an unfortunate side effect of growing older and becoming busy with their own things, but Whitney was excited to catch up on the trip. That is, if Evie and Caleb were going. She hoped they were.
Whitney glanced between Caleb and Evie when the former asked if he could bum a cigarette, and she had to suppress the urge to rattle off facts about how bad smoking was for her friends. She knew the last thing they needed to hear now was her nerdy, know-it-all views on tabacco. Their friend had died, and if a few cigarettes offered Cam and Caleb some relief, Whitney figured a quick smoke was justifiable, and she'd just turn a blind eye to the potential lung damage.
What Whitney couldn't turn a blind eye to though was the way Caleb's attention kept going back to Evie and how his gaze lingered on the beautiful baker. Whitney knew that Caleb and Evie had been really close in high school, but the way the two were acting around each other right now made Whit feel like she had missed something. Whitney could have been abducted by aliens and Caleb probably wouldn't have noticed, too focussed on Evie. Meanwhile Evie seemed to be avoiding talking to Caleb as much as possible by asking Whitney questions. Maybe the former was just rude, and maybe the latter was really just interested about what Whitney had been up to, but the nerd wasn't so sure. It seemed like something was off between the other two. Though it wasn’t really Whit’s business.
"Things are going well enough. I'm in my second year of law school now, and I'm interning at one of the top firms in the area so that's good, I guess." Whitney said, responding to Evie's question. As of this moment, everything Whitney said was true, though she wasn't sure how much longer her internship was going to last. Brushing off concerns better left for another time, Whitney returned the query. "And you? Ready to open a second bakery somewhere yet and start blessing other towns with your delicious treats?" Whiney asked, smiling at Evie and leaving Caleb to smoke in peace.
Whitney noticed Evie shiver, and was going to suggest they head inside once they were done with their cigarettes, before Caleb's curse from burning his fingers caught her attention. He seemed to suddenly be in a bit of a surly mood, snapping at those around them that had looked over after his exclamation, but Whitney felt like it was best not to mention it. Luckily though, Caleb suggested they head inside and Whitney nodded in agreement. If she was cold while wearing her jacket, she couldn't imagine how chilly Evie was, and Caleb's suit jacket didn't look very heavy.
"It should be starting shortly I think. We should probably find seats..." Whitney replied as she walked into the church, thankful for the immediate warmth. She scanned the crowd to see if she could find Ava again, wondering if she'd found a place to sit yet. "No idea how long it lasts though. I think every funeral is a little different, so just depends on what Anna's family has planned." Spotting her sister, Whitney began moving in Ava's general direction. "I saw Ava and Wes together earlier, we should try to get seats with them." She suggested.