As Evelyn inhaled her nicotine high, she couldn't help but think about what she was doing. Anna had just passed away, and there she was, subjecting herself to something that was known to cause illness. As stressed as she was and as much as she relied on those cigarettes to get through her day-to-day life, Anna had never put her down because of it. Hell, the only one who really had was her aunt. Thankfully, however, Evie no longer lived with her. It wasn't that she didn't appreciate her aunt taking her in after her parents' deaths. But she wasn't the most accepting or understanding person. And so, Evelyn moved out on her own, using the money she had leftover to make a better life for herself, one that she wanted rather than one that was expected of her. And so far, it had been going well. But good things always come to an end.
The cigarette began to taste bitter, wrong, and Evelyn took one last inhale before dropping it to the ground. She stamped it out below the ball of her strappy stiletto heel, though she was sure the dry Montana air and cool climate wouldn't allow it to catch. Evie tried to keep her attention on Whitney, she really did. But the hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end, and she could feel his eyes on her. Her emerald eyes flicked to him once again, but Caleb quickly looked away, moving to light his own cigarette. Others had begun to mill about nearby, chatting quietly in their own groups. Whitney's voice caught her attention, and Evie smiled, a faint blush tinting her cheeks, "I don't know about a second bakery anytime soon. I can barely keep up with the one I have."
The business had certainly been booming lately. Wedding season seemed to be every season that year, and she wasn't quite sure the last time she had a week without a wedding cake to make. Caleb's loud curse pulled Evelyn from her thoughts, her eyes narrowed at the man nearby. He seemed to have burned his fingers, and she wondered if he had gotten distracted by something. Her immediate instinct was to take his hand, check out the burn. But she resisted, shivering again at the breeze. Instead, Evie lifted her gaze and met Caleb's evenly, that being the first time she really looked at him. He had certainly grown up a lot, cut off his mop of hair, and filled out a bit. He was cute before, but now he was handsome. Evelyn pulled her gaze away and nodded. "Yeah, I could use some warmth," she stated, rubbing her arms in an attempt to heat up her skin.
Moving alongside Whitney into the building, she was relieved that it had insulation and central heat. The goosebumps that had begun to raise on her skin diminished thankfully. She was a little uncomfortable in the crowd of people but ignored the feeling. Anna was more important than her comfort. "Oh, I see Wes over there," Evie stated, gesturing to where the tall brunette man stood near near the front of the seating area. He had certainly changed quite a bit, no longer appearing to be the outgoing, Letterman's-jacket-wearing popular Prince. Instead, he was dressed to the nines in a suit that looked far more expensive than anything she owned, his rigid yet confident stance most likely intimidating those that didn't know him. As Evelyn moved closer, she also noticed Ava nearby. Whitney's sister was always a little harsh for her liking, and so they never really got to know one another. The baker stopped as she neared them, standing in the first row of pews. "Hey guys, nice to see you again."
As he had gotten older, Wesley had learned little about love, at least in the romantic sense. He dated around throughout college and after graduation. But nothing lasted longer than a couple of weeks. Most of the girls were in it for his money, expecting to be pampered with lavish gifts and fancy dinners. Even so, there were a couple that he felt actually wanted to get to know him. But then, things kept getting in the way. Whether it was work or classes or his parents, Wes was never able to enjoy being in a relationship. If he was being honest with himself, Ava was the only girl he had ever truly dated, and even that was some arrangement their parents had put together with dreams of big business and profit. Looking back, Wes understood now how sad that was, that his parents were more worried about making money off of him and his love life rather than wanting to see him actually happy.
Pulled from his thoughts by Ava lifting her hand, his cerulean eyes focused in on the stone that adorned her hand. "Wow, that's gorgeous," Wesley commented, offering her a teasing smile. "I wasn't quite sure I'd ever see the dad when Ava Jeffries let a man marry her. He must be one hell of a guy." It was a strange feeling, seeing that she was taken. If things had gone according to plan, that would have been him putting that rock on her finger, and he couldn't quite place the feeling he had knowing it wasn't. Confusion, maybe. Relief? Sure, but not in a bad way. Any guy would be absolutely lucky to be with a woman like Ava. He just couldn't see it for himself and, based on their break-up all those years ago, the feeling was mutual.
"I can only imagine there isn't a dull day in the life of corporate law," the businessman continued, slipping his hands into the pockets of his suit pants. "My father certainly likes to keep his lawyers on his toes. I don't think there's been a month without a court date as long as I've been working there. All minor settlements, but probably annoying nonetheless." Almost as if on cue, his phone vibrated fiercly in his pocket. Out of habit, Wes pulled it out to glance at the screen, revealing a few missed calls and several texts. He couldn't help but furrow his brow in slight anger, having told his team the important of where he was and that they should only contact him if it were an emergency that day. Based on the words in the messages, it most certainly wasn't an emergency. Nevertheless, he responded, fingertips flying across the screen as he typed. Wesley didn't realize until he pressed 'Send' that he had been distracted, a faint blush tinging his cheeks in embarrassment.
"Sorry about that. My team at work just had a few questions and..." he trailed off, unsure of who he was apologizing to entirely, Ava or Anna.... or both. Wesley was a workaholic, he knew that. He spent nearly 12 hours a day at the office, doing his own job while also cleaning up after others. It wasn't simply because he liked his job. But moreso that he needed to prove to his parents that he deserved his position, deserved to take over the family business one day. Even though, given recent events, that might not be entirely what he wanted. Wes was a perfectionist in all aspects of his life, but work especially. Offering Ava a grin, he nodded towards the rows of church pews. "The front sounds perfect." The brunette man led the way to the very front row opposite Anna's casket. He couldn't bring himself to approach it quite yet, and was saved by the bell of a familiar voice that had approached. "Evelyn, it's good to see you again."
The second Ava lifted her hand decorated with that heavy rock on her ring finger, her stomach churned. Why was she the way she was? A million-dollar question. Somehow, for some reason, she wanted (or needed?) her friends to see that her life was picture perfect, that it was the fairy tale she always dreamed about. As if she simply needed to play this charade until the bitter end. But was there actually an end? Was there an end to her façade of the happy wife and successful lawyer? It was only Wes’ teasing smile that brought her back to reality and his comment put a wide smile on her face. Smile followed by a sharp sting of guilt as if she shouldn’t be doing that in church. “I mean…when you know, you know, right?” she spoke and hated herself more and more with every passing second.
Her arms subconsciously hugged her torso and burning sensation sprung up on her arms, spreading around the skin under the dress. Those parts where the pale skin of her body turned into purple and yellow blotches, staining her skin like painful puddles. Those were not for anyone to see, just her later when she would be peeling the funeral dress off, looking at her bruised body in a mirror. But the real bruise reached far deeper. That feeling of betrayal, of breaking the trust she had put into Benjamin when she said those word “I do”, when she agreed to love him forever until death do them part. Just a mere gesture, just a tiny remark that made her smile, also made her relive all those times she felt like crap, like she was worth nothing, curled on the bedroom ground with tears running down her face, smearing her eyeliner and creating a spider web on her cheeks. The damage of skin was ugly. But it was the damage of her mind that was going to take far longer to heal.
As they talked for a while, a vibration interrupted them and it took Ava a second to realize it was Wesley’s phone. He pulled it out and started to tap furiously which made Ava’s lips part in wonder. She remembered Wes as a school jock, the rich kid very much like herself but this version in front of her was a grownup man, a businessman first and then everything else. “Is alright.” she smiled after he was done and put the phone away. Then again, she knew how it felt not to have one minute for herself. For now, her phone was in her purse but turned off because no matter how many times she had said that she was not going to be available, work would call anyway, if only to ask where were the folders for the latest procurement case.
The pair then walked to the front together. Honestly, Ava was afraid of those seats but it would not be fair to sit anywhere else. Anna deserved as much as all of them to sit right there, saying their last goodbye. A voice caught her attention and when she turned, Evelyn was standing there with Whitney and, wow, Caleb? Was it him? Ava’s eyes went over them all. “Hey, guys.” she spoke softly, mostly to Evie and Caleb since she and Whit had arrived together from home. It was definitely strange to see them, all grown up, mature. Caleb’s hair cut and jaw covered in a small stubble, Evie taller, hair a bit longer, growing into a gorgeous woman. The two never really saw eye to eye before, but what was true was true.
The front pew was all empty except a few seats for the immediate family but Ava still opted for the second one. The service was about the begin and the talk was more hushed now. Ava moved to the middle of the pew so the others could sit there too. Her hands were folded in her lap and gaze stuck on the casket as if she was half-awaiting that all of this was just a bad joke.
Jace couldn’t but notice the soft pinkish hue that suddenly appeared on Cam’s cheeks but he was not going to comment on that. He was still the asshat he used to be but having a kid helped a little and he was not that rough around the edges as he used to be. Back at high school, he would have already three sly comments ready on that blush but the girl and the situation at hand stopped him this time. He also imagined that she was kind of shocked too. Last time they saw each other, he was buffed and had a few tattoos already but in last five years, he covered his whole body with ink and it became his second skin now. And then there was Riley which Jace imagined was the biggest shock of all. He didn’t suppose that either of his friends would expect him of all people to be a single dad.
When Riley slipped his tiny hand into Cam’s, Jace noticed it as well and he had to smile. Riley was a good kid, friendly but he was not so warm to everyone. He usually took his own time to measure the person properly before he trusted them but apparently, he liked Cameron immediately since he was already holding her hand. As she commented he was the cutest fan, Riley grinned widely and squealed in joy since the pretty lady liked him back. “Does he really though?” Jace lifted his eyebrows over Cam saying Riley looked like him. He kind of thought he resembled Trisha more but if this was how others saw it, Jace would not be against it. After all, he didn’t want anything to do with that bitch.
The conversation shifted to the trip and the rest of their friends and when Cam said she was going to the trip, Jace felt some sort of warmth spilling inside of him. He himself couldn’t really understand what it was just yet but for some reason, he felt better knowing that Cam was going to be sharing a house with him for two weeks. And maybe he just wanted to make up for the lost time from the senior year. Her daddy dearest made sure they were not seeing each other more than necessary and it made Jace so angry that after the homecoming, he got way too drunk and hooked up with Evie. Not that it was ever serious. Just another hookup after which they both realized they were not looking for anything serious and became friends instead. At least something good came from how daddy Hale interfered with Jace’s plan because Evie was now like a sister to him.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m going. Riley is staying with my friend’s family for that time. They have kids as well and Riley knows them from the day care so he will be fine, won’t you, little dude?” he smiled and Riley nodded furiously to prove he was a big boy. But before he managed to say anything else, an exclamation cut through the air and Jace froze for a second. He himself was rather foul-mouthed but made sure he never swore in front of Riley. And there was Parker, coming in, thinking that the three of them were a nice cute little family. “Hey, man.” Jace looked at him and offered a handshake. But when Parker congratulated them on the accomplishment, Jace shook his head. “We’re not…” But he never got further because from the corner of his eye, he saw Riley turn to him, eyes wide open, that typical mischievous grin on his face. “Howy fuck!” he exclaimed in giggles, his voice echoing in the church, and Jace let out an exasperated sigh, squeezing the root of his nose between his thumb and index finger. “Yeah, thanks a lot dude.”
With Riley's hand in hers and her high school crush on his other side, the trio made their way into the warmth of the church. Breathing a sigh of relief at being out of the cold, Cameron glanced down at the little man beside her, hearing Jace's question. A slow smile spread on her face and she studied him for a moment, while he was content to look around at everyone around them. Finally, she lifted her gaze to Jace, giving him a soft nod. "Of course he does. He's handsome... just like you." She had no idea where the sudden boldness had come from, but thankfully, the conversation shifted to the trip.
A wave of something passed over her as Jace told her that Riley would be staying with family friends and that he would be going. Relief? Excitement? Anxiety? She wasn't sure what it was, but she still smiled at him. Before she could say a word, though, a loud voice and a curse broke through the air, and her eyes widened while her head simultaneously turned to look at the source. Parker was approaching, and Cameron recognized him instantly. "Parker!" She exclaimed, turning to fully face him, giving him a quick hug when he actually reached them. She almost regretted it though as what he'd said registered in her mind.
"What? No-" She started to try and explain, but he just pressed on to congratulate them and Cameron's face turned bright red as her eyes flicked towards Jace and then down to Riley. She was trying to find the words, trying to figure out how to explain that she'd only just met the little boy holding her hand when it happened. Riley let out the cutest curse she'd ever heard, and she had to bite down on the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing, especially upon seeing Jace's reaction. Turning her head away to let out a few silent laughs, she quickly tried to regain her composure before looking back at the others.
"We'll explain later, Parker. Come on, I think the service is going to start soon." She gave Riley's hand a small squeeze as she turned them around to head for the main room. She felt her heart clench as she saw the casket in the front of the room, but that vice grip only got tighter when she recognized the others in the front. Steeling herself as best she could, she looked over her shoulder at Jace and Parker before she started down the aisle to the front. "Hey, you guys." She breathed when she reached the second row, offering them all a smile. "Mind if we sit, too?"
Caleb was definitely far from comfortable here. He didn't want to be here at all, in fact. The high from the blunt he'd smoked earlier was definitely gone, and he felt far too grounded to be here. He was already regretting not smoking in the car, because now he needed it. But fuck, the nicotine from the cigarette he'd borrowed from Evie was going to have to do. For now. With a soft sigh, he followed the other two girls inside the church, whisper-asking how long the service would be and when it was supposed to start. He hoped Anna couldn't hear him wherever she was, because she'd probably find a way to come back to smack him.
When he heard Whitney whisper back that she'd seen Ava and Wes, though, Caleb perked up some. Despite the shitty situation, he was actually looking forward to seeing his old friends. He'd missed them... all of them. He nodded, following yet again as the other two started for the pews. "The front?" He sounded a tad bit horrified as they kept walking, but then he spotted everyone else there. "Damn, Wes, you still look the same." He grinned as he stepped towards his old friend, reaching out to clasp him on the back. Looking past him, he saw Ava, and grinned. "Ava, beautiful as ever."
He slid into a seat, making sure Evie and Whitney had room, and then the final three showed up. Four, actually, though Caleb didn't realize there was a small human there until he followed Cam's arm and saw his hand and body attached to her. "Cameron?!" He lifted his eyes to the blonde, then back to Jace, and finally, Parker. "Oh, fu-" He chomped down on his lip, standing again to give Cam a quick hug, and then a shake to each of the guys. Leaning in close to Jace, he couldn't hide the smirk on his face as he spoke low enough that only he and maybe Parker would hear. "You actually did it, man? You locked her down and had a kid with her? Props to you, man."
Leaning back, he sat back down, scooting down some so the others would have room to sit. He ended up next to Cameron, Riley on her other side, and Jace and Parker beside her. Leaning forward some, he watched Riley for a second as he shifted in the seat, though Caleb honestly wasn't sure if he was dancing or just uncomfortable. Quirking a brow, he just shook his head and leaned back, glancing forward as the preacher stepped up to the podium to start the service. He felt his breath catch in his throat as he saw the casket, an enlarged picture of Anna right beside it, surrounded by flowers. It was gorgeous. Hell, she'd been gorgeous, though. Inside and out. "Fuck." He muttered, slumping back some.
All I wanna do is let you in
But good guys never win
Parker grinned as he shook Jace's hand and then returned Cam's hug. He was glad to see his friends, especially since they seemed to be doing so well. The pair was a little awkward when he congratulated them on their family, but Parker interpreted the unease as embarrassment from him calling them out for keeping their relationship a secret. Jace and Cameron's attempts to deny being together overlapped each other, making it hard to make out what they were saying, before they were cut off entirely by Riley's sudden curse. "Howy Fuck!"
The grin on Parker's face was replaced by a sheepish smile, and he shrugged a little. "Kids say the darndest things..." He commented guiltily, trying to laugh off his mistake. Jace did not look amused though, and Parker felt a little bad for teaching his friends' kid a new phrase. Even if it was a great one. "Sorry man. Sorry Cam. I'm not around kids much..."
Glancing down at the giggling Riley, Parker winked and gave the kid a small "o-kay" gesture with his hand. "Excellent comedic timing though little dude." He grinned.
Cameron didn't seem too upset at least, and Parker nodded when she said they should grab seats before the service started. "After you guys..." He said, following behind the little family as Cam led them to the second row.
Up ahead Parker could already see the rest of the old group- well, the rest of them minus Anna who now laid in a coffin a few meters away- and he was relieved to see that everyone had come after all. They had all grown up, and though the changes from the last five years were apparent in each of them, no one looked unrecognizable from the teens Parker used to know. It was a comforting sentiment in this trying and sorrow-filled time. As he scanned his group of friends, Parker's eyes lingered on Ava for a moment. She was as beautiful as ever, if not more. And while her somber expression as she stared at Anna's casket was to be expected, Parker still felt the same urge to make her smile that he did back in high school.
For now though, Ava was too far away, and Parker turned his attention to those closer to the end of the pew. He smiled when Caleb noticed the four of them approaching, offering a wave to him and the others in the second row. Caleb's reaction was much like Parkers when he noticed the child with Jace and Cam, but Parker was disappointed when Caleb stopped himself before completely dropping the F-bomb. It would have been nice if someone else had made the same mistake so the blame wouldn't fully land on Parker for Riley's new word. Oh well. Parker shook Caleb's hand, and chuckled a little overhearing him congratulate Jace on locking down Cam. At least he wasn't the only one who had been left out of the loop.
Taking a seat at the end of the pew next to Jace, Parker looked ahead at Anna's casket and her framed picture. This was it. The girl responsible for bringing them together in highschool, had now brought them together once more with her death. The preacher stood at the podium, waiting for the room to fall silent and everyone to take their seats. Parker could hear the dull thumping of his heartbeat in his ears, the heaviness of the moment suddenly hitting him hard. He'd momentarily been distracted by the presence of his friends. but he couldn't hide from the truth of Anna's permanent absence any longer. His mouth twitched, and he did everything in his power to suppress the urge to smile. His twisted coping mechanism had no place at her funeral. He'd have to deal with the impossible emotions and anxiety a different way.
After Whitney spotted Ava, Evie noted that she saw Wes, and sure enough the two were conveniently still together and had found seats near the front. Just like old times. Almost. Now Ava was married to someone else and Wes... Well, Whitney wasn't entirely sure what his romantic life consisted of after Ava, but she didn't think he was married. Even if Wes hadn’t mention anything about getting married to her or the group, surely Whitney's parents would have said something about it. They'd always been so set on Ava and Wes ending up together that his marriage to someone else would have been quite the gossip.
Once the trio of Evie, Caleb and Whitney made their way over to the pews, Whit stood back while the other two greeted Ava and Wes. She'd come with her sister, so she didn't really need to say hi to her again and figured she'd just be in the way. Whitney had always been the third wheel with Ava and Wes, and had started to feel that way again while outside with Evie and Caleb. Now she felt a little bit like the fifth wheel, and her gaze travelled over to Anna's casket. Anna had always been there for Whitney, and had a knack for knowing when the nerd was feeling excluded or awkward amongst the other pairs in the group. Oh how Whitney missed Anna terribly. Her absence keenly felt in this moment.
The arrival of more people brought Whitney out of her thoughts and she glanced over to see Cameron, Jace and Parker standing at the end of the pew. And was that a child? Whitney stepped out of the way when Caleb moved over to greet their other friends, just watching all the interactions for a moment without inserting herself. Even though these people were once the ones she was closest to, Whit could feel her wallflower tendencies from high school returning as the group became larger.
She was curious about the child though, wondering if he belonged to Cameron, or Jace or both of them. And that curiosity was enough to make Whitney shake off her insecurities and rejoin the conversations. “Did you know they had a kid? Or were even together?” She asked the person beside her in a whispered tone, before glancing over at them. “Oh...” Whitney breathed out, surprised to find it was Wes standing where she thought Evie had been a minute ago.
Whitney had meant to say hi to Wes before just diving into conversation about the personal lives of their friends, but it was too late for that now. The brunette glanced up at the man Wes had grown into, a little lost for words. He’d always been attractive, but he’d definitely matured exceptionally well. Whit had been relatively immune to Wes’s good looks in high school since he was her sister’s boyfriend and she could never entertain the idea of him being anything other than Ava’s beau. But now... now he wasn’t. And she... well she wasn’t immune any longer.
“Hi Wes.” Whitney said, finding her voice again. “Long time no see.” Seriously? Long time no see. That was the best she could come up with? Whitney opened her mouth to try and recover from her cheesy line, but the preacher walked up to the podium and a hush started to fall over the church.
It was time for the funeral to begin, and Whit’s attempted reunion with Wes to end. Taking a seat between Ava and the guy she used to tutor, Whitney turned her attention back to the front of the church where Anna’s portrait smiled out at her friends and family. It was surreal, and Whitney had to look away immediately to keep from tearing up again.
Whit glanced over at Ava to see how her sister was doing and reached over to give her hand a squeeze. Ava was always the stronger one of the two of them, but Whitney knew Anna’s death was hard on her, whether she outwardly showed it or not. Anna’s death was hard on all of them.
Senior year of high school was rough for a variety of reasons, some obvious and some not so. The death of her parents, planning a funeral, moving halfway across the country, all of it was so much stress. But as Evelyn stood near the front of that church, she would have given anything to go back, not only so that she could spend more time with Anna, but also so she could spend more time with her friends. It was blatantly apparent to her how much all of them had changed since that year. Wesley seemed different, his once charming and fun presence now transformed into a suave, sophisticated businessman. There wasn't a hair out of place or a wrinkle in his suit. She could honestly say the same about Ava, who looked gorgeous in her full-sleeve lace dress. Judging by the fancy watch around his wrist, and the large rock on her finger, it was clear to see that both of them had changed immensely. Though, if it was for the better was yet to be determined.
Nevertheless, Evelyn offered them both a smile and said, "You look great, it's nice to see you both again." While she and Ava had not really talked much or really gotten along, despite all of Anna's attempts, she had never really hated Ava. Mostly Evie just thought she had negative energy that she really didn't enjoy being around. She would have liked to catch up with them a bit. But before she could, another small group approached them. It was Cameron, Parker, Jace, and her most favorite human under 4 feet tall, Riley. "Hey, Jace," she greeted the man that was practically her brother, leaning over to place a platonic peck on his cheek. "Hey, guys. Yeah, of course, take a seat. It's nice to see you all again," she greeted, glancing between them before focusing back on Riley. He looked absolutely adorable with his hand locked in Cam's. Evelyn kneeled in front of the little boy so that she was at eye level. "How's my little Ry Guy? Looks like you made a new friend."
Evelyn couldn't help but glance up at Cam, a smirk playing on her lips. Like father, like son or so they say. If that turned out to be true, Jace was certainly in for a handful. It hadn't really occurred to her that the others might not know about Riley. Given the sibling-like relationship between her and Jace, they had stayed in contact after high school and were still really close. Riley caught her attention once again as an excited smile spread on his face. "Auntie Evie, did you bring the cinnamon rolls?" The way the kid stumbled over the word 'cinnamon' was adorable, and Evie had to stifle a laugh. She had heard him say it so many times, but every time, her heart still clenched in joy. "Of course I did, silly. I knew you and your dad were coming, I wouldn't forget," she answered with a wink, "How about if you act really good during the service, you and I will go grab one after, yeah?" Riley eagerly nodded in agreement, hold up his little fist. Evie bumped hers gently against his with a light laugh and said, "It's a deal then."
Standing back up, the brunette baker wanted to talk a little bit, catch up with the rest of the group. But the room had begun to fall silent, and a preacher approached the podium, standing alongside the large, smiling picture of Anna. Evie moved down the aisle, taking a seat at the far end with Wes on the other side of her. The further away from Caleb, the better. Her eyes found Anna's mother's as the older woman took a seat. She seemed to glance down the row of Anna's friends, the happiness of seeing them all attend clear in her eyes. It made Evelyn's heart clench, and she drew in a sharp breath. Holding it for a moment, she forced back the tears that were threatening to spill on to her cheeks. She couldn't cry, not in front of all of these people, not in front of her friends and Anna's mom. No, she would save that for later, so that she could wallow alone in peace.
It was rather comforting to know that he wasn't the only person who had grown up since graduating high school. Ava had gotten married, which was a surprise in and of itself. But here was Evelyn, with slightly longer hair and a more mature frame. She wore a dress and shoes that he knew were from a designer brand and no doubt expensive, and he briefly wondered if the bakery business was doing better than she had let on. Deeming it impolite to ask, Wes decided not to dwell. After all, she could have borrowed the dress or just decided to splurge on herself one day. It was entirely popular her outfit had no reflection on her financial situation. Alongside her was Caleb, more cleaned up and less stoned at the moment, but Caleb all the same. Despite their different backgrounds and the fact that Wes had bought drugs from him, they had become fairly decent friends in school.
"Do my eyes deceive me?" Wesley commented, clasping Caleb on the back and pulling him into one of those manly 'bro hugs.' Stepping back, he patted his friend on the shoulder with a teasing smirk. "Is that Caleb Thompson? I never thought I'd see the day when you returned back here, let alone step foot in a church. It's nice to see you, man." With the arrival of the final members, their little group was finally complete. Well, with a plus one of someone's child. Wes appraised the child for a moment, wondering if he belonged to Cam, who was currently holding his hand. Or someone else in the group. He was sure, however, that his cousin would have invited him to the baby shower if she was having a kid, let alone tell him she was pregnant at all. It wasn't like they had fallen out of touch, and even if they had, his parents probably would have kept him in the loop, just like they do about everything else in the family.
A large presence approached behind Cam, and Wesley almost didn't recognize Jace. His skin was littered with tattoos, peeking out from underneath his sleeves and shirt collar. Seeing him made Wes realize almost instantly that the child belonged to him, almost a spitting image. Though it had saddened Anna, the two of them had never gotten along. Something about two alpha males from entirely different worlds kept them constantly butting heads. Had he still been in high school, Wesley probably would have just ignored Jace. However, growing up in the corporate world had taught him to at least be cordial, especially with those he disliked. With a slight nod towards the pair, he greeted, "Hi Cam, Jace." And last but certainly not least, his best friend/partner-in-crime was with them. With all of them being in the same room, a feeling of nostalgia washed over him, and the brunette lightly punched Parker in the arm as a greeting, like old times in school. "Parker, glad you're here."
Unfortunately, the semi-awkward small talk and catching up on what has been going on in their lives for the last five years would have to wait. The preacher approached the podium and everyone quieted, settling into their seats. Somehow, in the midst of it all, he had taken a seat alongside Whitney, and his breath caught in his throat when she spoke to him. For a moment, Wes hadn't even comprehended the words that she had said, taking in being so close to her again. Realizing what she had said, he grinned and shook his head. "Trust me, I don't think they are," Wesley said, glancing at Cam once again before meeting Whitney's gaze. "Hey, Whit." Unfortunately, their conversation was cut short. The preacher began his sermon, talking about the type of person that Anna was, her character and personality. How she built people up and brought them together. For some reason, it made Wesley a bit angry. That preacher didn't know Anna, didn't have sentimental stories supporting the words he was saying about her. Forcing himself to remain calm, Wes's hand clenched into fists in his lap, hoping it would be over soon.
After all the previous events and meeting people from the past, Ava’s attention was a bit shifted. Only when they came closer to the front and she noticed the casket, the dark-haired girl returned back to the reality. At some point, she knew she needed to go and pay her respects to her friend there because if she didn’t, if she let herself being overwhelmed by her own inner voices, it would not only look bad in front of everyone else. What was more important, she would be the worst friend ever. Anna was there any time Ava needed, every…single…time. And even during that one time Ava needed a shoulder to cry on, words of support when her world crumbled down, Anna was there. And Ava owed her that much.
Once the other three approached them, Ava went to find her seat. It was about time for the service to begin. The rest of their group came from the other side and Ava’s eyes narrowed, seeing Cam coming hands in hands with a small boy. Did she…? Wow. That pinch in the pit of her stomach was so strong. Ava was not exactly the person you imagine when talking about mothers but that didn’t mean she lacked heart and never wanted her own. It simply wasn’t written in her stars. But only when they came close, she noticed that the kid looked like Jace’s mirror image. This was certainly something she had to ask about later.
Simply because her gaze fell upon the last person, closing their little circle. Was that…Parker? It most definitely was. And aging up had been good to him. Goosebumps covered all her body and the lawyer was grateful for wearing long-sleeved dress so no-one could see. He was way too far for now for Ava to talk to him and the preached started the service already anyway. But there was going to be time for them to talk after. Hopefully. Hopefully he was also coming to that trip. Suddenly, Ava felt something she hadn’t felt in a long time. That butterfly effect in her stomach. The one she used to feel before, back at high school when around Parker. The one she never said anything about because she was Wes’ girlfriend and Parker was his best friend.
Her eyes found the flower-framer picture of Anna. Some sort of bulge grew in her throat, the one people feel when they are about to cry. But there were still no tears on Ava’s face. Nothing. Not a sign. The words uttered by the preacher, echoing in the tall building of the local church, were lost on her, Ava turned them off and her thoughts ran back to the past when everything was basically peachy and her greatest problem was having the best prom gown. Touch on her hand startled her and tore her train of thoughts completely. She looked at Whit beside her and offered a small sad smile. All color was gone from her face and the skin, usually pale, was almost transparent. Ava hated churches, they gave her creepy crawlies. And now, she was sitting here only because of Anna. At least she was surrounded by friends now. Her hand squeezed Whitney’s back and the sisters remained like that for the rest of the service.
Hearing Riley utter the F-bomb, Jace knew that this was not going away any time soon and that “Howy fuck” was going to become a thing. Even more so since Riley was going to Jenna’s for the time Jace was going to be away with his friends. If he was going to teach those kids his new vocab entry, Jenna was definitely not going to be happy and Jace was gonna keep hearing about it for weeks. “Riley, look at me. We don’t say that, champ, okay?” Riley looked at him with those big gullible eyes, tilting his head curiously. “What? Howy f…”
“A-tut-tut!” Jace made a gesture that for Riley meant to zip it and the small group rather went to find their friends and sit with them. Parker was going to hear his share after the service. But apparently the whole kid talk was not over and Jace should have expected it. Caleb was as loud as Parker but he was smart enough to bite down the cuss word. “Dude…let’s talk after, okay?” Thank got for Evie. As soon as Riley saw her, he headed towards her and Jace went after him to greet Evie and hold her in a hug. "Hey, Evie. You good?" She was like the sister he never had and the only one from their old group he was in a real contact with. The two grew extremely close and Riley loved her, considered her his aunt.
Riley absolutely loved the attention and nodded eagerly when Evie asked about his new friend. “She is pwetty.” he announced proudly and talked to his auntie for a while longer. Jace had to smile upon seeing that, basically expecting the cinnamon roll question. He was not the greatest with all the words just yet but it only added to his cuteness. Evie knew how to talk to the kid and bribed him with the cinnamon sweet treat which was definitely going to guarantee that Riley was not going to even peep during the service. Jace had to laugh but his kid was cheep like that. Just like Jace himself was. Then again, Evie’s cinnamon rolls were definitely worth it.
The two went to sit and Jace pulled his son up to sit between him and Cam. After all, he would exchange her only for a cinnamon roll now. The service was long. At least it seemed so to Jace. He was not a religious man and didn’t raise his son that way either. He kept staring at his feet because looking at that beautiful picture of Anna, smiling wide, spark in her eyes, full of life, was absolutely unbearable. He kept trying to filter everything and just sit through. It was hard and even the tall hulk of a man like him was having a hard time not to crumble. “I miss you, Anna.” he whispered quietly for himself. His eyes burned and it felt like a couple of tears wanted to fall. For the first time in his life, Jace might have been crying.
Cameron was not looking forward to the service, and she thought the reason might be obvious. She'd never been great at controlling her emotions, but here, she was going to have to. Not only did she have a song to sing, but she wanted to be strong for her friends. Each and every one of them meant something special to her, and she could see the pain in their eyes as she saw them all for the first time again in so long. She could also see that they were mostly fairly happy to see each other again... mostly. There were a few exceptions.
Feeling Riley's hand tugging on hers, she looked down at the Jace lookalike, seeing that he was looking at something else. Glancing up, she noticed Evie just as she knelt in front of him, her words bringing a grin to Riley's face and a smile even to Cameron's. Bribing the kid with a cinnamon roll, Cameron let out a small laugh as she greeted Evie as well. It wasn't much longer after that that the preacher stepped up to the podium, and everyone took their seats. Cameron was surprised to find that the cinnamon roll bribe worked, and Riley was quiet.
Lifting her gaze to Jace, she did a double take when she saw the tears in his gaze. Her heart cracked as she watched him, realizing a few seconds later that she was staring. Tearing her gaze away, she felt Riley lean against her. Wrapping an arm around him, she pulled him closer, rocking him slightly as the preacher spoke. Anna's parents were next, along with a few readings from the Bible and a few hymns. The song that Cam had chosen to sing had been a favorite of Anna's, and it was too fitting. Honestly, Cam didn't know if she'd be able to make it through.
"Last on the list, we have someone coming up to sing one more song. I've been told this girl was a close friend to Anna's, and that Anna herself adored this song."
Knowing that was her cue, Cameron disentangled herself from Riley, promising him quietly that she'd be back. Standing, she exited the pew and headed up to the front, her heart racing as she turned and faced the people in the church, trying to avoid looking at her friends. The music started and she closed her eyes, picturing Anna's smiling face as the words started to pour out of her lips, seeming to come from her very core.
"If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song..."
Riding the roller coaster of emotions was giving Caleb a high, alright, but not the good kind. He'd prefer the worst type of weed to this shit, any day. It was obvious to him that Evie still hated him, which he couldn't really blame her for. But at the same time, couldn't she just let it go? He had. Okay maybe not really, considering how badly he wanted to just pull her to him now, but still. He'd let go of the anger, at least, and that was something. Even as they all seated themselves, he noticed how she refused to sit next to him. It stung, but he said nothing as the service was starting.
For the most part, he didn't pay attention to what the preacher was saying. He just wasn't a christian, or catholic, or anything of the sort. He didn't sing along to the hymns, he didn't say amen at the end of the bible verses. He just stared at that picture of Anna, remembering any happy memory of her that he could, trying to resist the watering of his eyes. He did sneak a look at his friends more than once, but mostly, he just stared. He knew he probably looked disinterested as hell, and he wasn't trying to, but he also wasn't concerned with the jesus aspect of this funeral.
Hearing that there was only one song to go, he felt a wave of relief wash over him. Thank god. He muttered, casting his eyes skyward. Feeling the pew shift underneath of him, he looked back down, noticing that Cameron was standing. Why the fuck--? He watched as she whispered something to the kid, then started up front, and he realized too late that the last song would be sung by her. He recognized the tune to the song right away, because it had been one of Anna's favorites. She played it often, and it was so fucking sad Caleb could never stand it.
But hearing the words come out of Cameron was something different, because they were directed to Anna. The amount of water in his eyes doubled, and he cursed under his breath again as he hastily reached up to wipe them away. The bench shifted again just after Caleb covered his eyes with his forefinger and thumb, and when he looked again, the kid was running up to the little stage. Cameron didn't miss a beat, not really, though there was a catch in her voice as the kid reached out to take her hand. Something about that just made it worse, and if Caleb had anything on him now, he would have lit up. Church be damned.
The entire congregation stayed still until she finished, and as she sang the last note, she knelt down and gave the kid a hug. That was Caleb's breaking point, and he lowered his head, squeezing his eyes shut again as he felt his shoulders start to shake. He missed how Cameron looked up from her hug with Riley, standing to lead him back towards his father. But instead of coming in the row to sit back down, her lower lip trembled just as Caleb looked up. And she turned and walked swiftly from the room, Caleb watching her until she disappeared before he looked back at Jace. "Dude... your wife needs you."
All I wanna do is let you in
But good guys never win
When Wes grinned and said that he didn't think Cam and Jace were together, Whitney wanted to ask more, but couldn't find the words. She had always found it easy to talk to Wes before, so why was she overthinking everything now? Luckily the beginning of the preacher's speech saved her from awkwardly stumbling over her sudden bashfulness, and Whitney redirected her focus to Anna. As the memory of Anna filled her thoughts, everything else faded away. Whitney was no longer acutely aware of how close Wes was in the seat next to her, or how happy she was to see all her old friends again. Her grip on Ava's hand was the only tether to the physical world as she got lost in the remembrance of times past. Times she could never revisit with Anna.
Whitney was doing the best she could to keep from crying, taking slow breaths in and out to calm her emotions or glancing at the ceiling every now and then to blink away the tears. But when Anna's parents took the stage to honor their beloved daughter, it was no use. Whitney was not religious, but the emotion in Anna's parents' voices as they recited passages and hymns from the Bible was heartbreaking. The first tear silently rolled down Whitney's cheek, and then another... And another. The brunette squeezed Ava's hand tighter as she set the bouquet she brought for Anna on the ground against the pew in front of them, and fished a tissue out of her purse with her now free hand. Using it to dry her cheeks and dab her eyes, Whitney just accepted that she still had tears left to shed for her lost friend. Normally Whitney hated crying in front of people, but right now, she didn't care. Tears for Anna were nothing to be ashamed of, and couldn't be helped anyways.
Thinking the hardest part was over when Anna's parent's finished, Whitney let out a long slow breath and tried to gather herself. One more song. Whitney watched as Cameron stood from her seat and made her way up to the stage, and Whit's heart clenched when the music started playing. Not this song. Not sung by Cameron. As the blonde's beautiful voice filled the church with the words of Anna's favorite, and darkly fitting, song, Whitney had to look away. She couldn't watch Cameron, as much as she wanted to, she just couldn't. Not with Anna's casket behind the blonde and the eerily predictive words of the song seeming to be written for Anna herself.
A rumble of whispers and muted gasps suddenly rippled through the church, and Whitney glanced up to see Riley running onto the stage to join Cameron. More tears burned in Whitney's eyes at the sight of him taking Cameron's hand, and she had to grab another tissue. When Cameron's song finally came to a beautiful end, she knelt and hugged the boy, before leaving the stage. Whitney's eyes followed Cameron as she made her way back to the pew, but instead of rejoining the group, Cameron turned and walked swiftly away. Reflexively Whitney stood up with the intention of following Cam to comfort her, before realizing that she wouldn't be able to pass by all the others in the pew to get out. Sitting back down, Whitney looked expectantly at Jace. Even if Wes had said that they weren't a family, for some reason it still felt like Jace needed to be the one to go after Cameron.
The preacher returned to the podium and said a few final words to officially end the funeral service, and the church started to be filled with voices once again as people broke the silence that had befallen the room. Whitney let go of Ava's hand, wiping away the rest of her tears before grabbing the bouquet of roses again from where she'd set them. "I don't know how Cameron got through that song without crying..." She uttered, her gaze turned in the direction of where Cameron had disappeared. It was understandable that their friend needed a moment after her performance.
Parker was lost in his own thoughts for much of the service. He was here, in this church, for Anna, but no matter how hard he tried to listen to the preacher, or the hymns, or the Bible passages, he couldn't do it with a straight face. He found the funeral wildly uncomfortable, and his anxiety was rising. To combat his desire to make an early escape, Parker held his own "service" for Anna in his head. Honoring her by remembering her at her best, Parker drowned out all the words about her passing. He wondered what Anna would be saying right now if she could see this service, and soon Parker found himself having a make believe conversation with Anna in his head while her parents spoke about her on stage.
It wasn't until Cameron rose in the pew that Parker was brought back to reality. Standing up, Parker made room for Cameron to pass by, before taking his seat again. The music for "If I Die Young" began playing, and Parker immediately recognized the song and the irony of it's words all at once. Even in high school, this song had been Anna's favorite, and at the time it had seemed an innocent enough song to like. Parker never in a million years would have thought that Cameron would be performing it for Anna at her funeral though. Suddenly the song had a whole new meaning.
Wrapped up in Cameron's performance, Parker didn't notice that Riley was making a break for it until he was running past him and out into the aisle. In an attempt to stop the little boy, Parker reached out trying to grab the kid, but only caught air and fell out of the pew a little bit. Scrambling back into his seat, Parker decided that any further attempts to catch Riley would just be more distracting than whatever the little boy was getting up to. Luckily, Riley's intent was only to join "his mom" on stage, and the little boy earned heartfelt whispers from the church occupants as he took Cam's hand. Parker had never been big on children, but he had to admit Jace and Cam's son sure was cute.
Cameron finished her song and hugged Riley before the pair started to walk back to the pew. Parker stood up again to let them pass, but instead of retaking her seat, Cameron quickly hurried away. For a moment Parker just stood there, not sure what to do, before he heard Caleb tell Jace that his wife needed him. Turning to look at Jace, Parker gestured in the direction that Cameron disappeared in.
"Are you going to go after her?" Parker asked Jace. This seemed like Jace's territory, and Parker didn't want to overstep by chasing after another man's wife to comfort her. Even if he was already standing and the one on the end of the pew. Parker stepped out of the way to make room for Jace to exit if he wanted to, and as he looked in Jace's direction, his gaze fell on Ava a couple people over. Her face was pale and forlorn, and Parker had the immediate urge to change that. To make her smile or to make her laugh... or anything to take away the sad look in her eyes. Ava was good at pretending that things didn't both her, probably the best at it out of the group, but Parker never quite believed the happy front she put up. Even in high school. And some things never changed.
If he wasn't separated from Ava by Jace and Caleb, Parker would have said something, anything, to her... but then he noticed Wes further down the pew, and he was reminded of the complicated reason that he'd never been able to tell Ava how he felt. Not that this was anytime or place to be reminiscing about things like that. Parker felt immediately guilty for his wandering thoughts as the preacher closed the funeral services with a few last words. Anna's funeral hadn't even officially ended and he'd already let his thoughts drift to someone else. He was definitely going to hell if it existed.
Everything about that moment was overwhelming, bringing back painful memories of the last time she had sat near the front row of a church, mourning the dead. Her mind flashed back when she was 17, staring at two cherry wood caskets sat side-by-side, the large, flower-framed photographs of her smiling parents sat next to them. She had refused to cry that day, even though she was surrounded by family and friends. They were probably expecting her to break down, but she couldn't, believing somewhere in the recesses of her mind that her parents wouldn't have wanted her to be so weak. Instead, she stood and gave a speech, her tone only wavering a bit. She placed the first rose on each of their caskets, watched as they were lowered into their adjacent graves, and tossed in the first handfuls of dirt. She went through their things, packed up, and sold their house. And then she left.
It had been six years since their death, and Evelyn had yet to return to their graves, let alone the town she grew up in. She wasn't sure if she could ever go back. Realizing her mind had wandered, she focused forest green eyes back on the preacher, though his words didn't truly sink in. She had never been one for religion, finding herself to be more generally spiritual and questioning than anything else. Though she didn't know what the great beyond held, a small part of her hoped that Anna was still out there, watching over them and happy that they had all gotten back together again. Tears began to burn at the corners of her eyes again, and Evie bit the inside of her cheek, using the pain to keep them at bay. Thankfully, the preacher's words came to an end, and she let out a breath of relief, thinking the ceremony was over. But she was very wrong.
Cameron stood from her place in the pew, standing in front of the crowd. The music played and Evie froze. Anna had loved that song, played it practically on repeat. Something about it caused her chest to tighten painfully, only worsened by her little Ry Guy hopping up from his seat to latch on to the blonde. Evelyn looked away, squeezing her hands into fists and her eyes shut in an attempt to prevent the waterfalls that were threatening to spill over. She stayed that way, motionless until the song can to an end. Finally able to look up again, a single tear snuck out and slid down her cheek as she almost silently muttered a single, "Fuck." Cam left the stage, walking Riley back to the group before disappearing down the aisle. Evelyn could only assume that if that song had such an effect on all of them, it most certainly affected her even more.
The baker couldn't help but glance over at Caleb, seeing the sad look in his eyes as he raised his head once again. That funeral had certainly put them all through the ringer and, for a moment, she wanted to go to him and pull him into a hug, not only for his comfort but for her own as well. Nevertheless, she resisted the urge. Despite what they had just sat through, hearing the idea from Caleb that Jace and Cam were married caused a smirk to turn up the corners of her lips. They would certainly make a cute couple, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. Before Evie could comment, however, she felt a familiar tugging at her hand. Glancing down, her green eyes met those of Riley, a smile on his face. How it must feel to be young and oblivious. "Auntie Evie, I was good right? Do I get my cinnamon roll now?" he asked, his lower lip sticking out in a pout. There was no way she could ever resist that face. Taking his hand in hers, Evie responded, "Sure, Ry Guy." She quickly made eye contact with Jace, letting him know she was watching Riley, before leading the adorable little kid over to the sweets table.
Church was not something new to Wesley. The Frosts were certainly not the religious types in the traditional sense. From what he had been told, his father had been raised in a heavily Catholic family complete with weekly mass, confessionals, and bible school. While Mr. Frost had moved away from that life in his adult years, Wes was still required as a child to attend mass with his grandparents on all the major holidays. For a while, he just went with the flow, believed in what he was told to believe in. But, as he grew older, the world around him made him begin to question those teachings until eventually, Wes was no longer sure what he believed. After all, what kind of omniscient being could take such an amazing light like Anna from this world so young?
Throughout the ceremony, Wes noticed Whitney looking up to the ceiling every now and again. She held hands with her sister, hopefully comforting each other as the ceremony progressed. Ava had always been strong, tenacious. But Whitney was a bit more quiet, shy, kind. Hell, she had even brought a bouquet of flowers to the funeral, whereas Wes had forgotten. Thankfully, though, his assistant had sent some on his behalf. As her tears fell down her cheeks, Wes had to look away, his heart clenching as a few tears of his own spilled over. Five years ago, they had been on top of the world, graduating from high school and venturing off into their life paths. But now, they were all in the same place again, all experience what felt like the low of the lows.
With the preacher's final words, Wes immediately let out a breath of relief that he hadn't realized he had been holding. It wasn't that he was being disrespectful. He just wasn't sure how much more of that he or the rest of their group could take. Hearing Whitney speak from alongside him, blue eyes glanced over to where his cousin had disappeared to, wondering if he should go after her. Parker and Caleb seemed to think that Jace should. But then again, they also still seemed to think he was her husband. Unable to really get out of the pew even if he wanted to, Wesley sighed and placed his hands in his pockets again. As he looked at the ground, his eyes found the bouquet of roses again, knowing that they were for Anna. Nodding to them, the brunette man returned his attention to Whitney and asked, "Want me to go with you to put those on the casket?"
It was Whitney’s hand that kept Ava grounded at this point. The whole setting, the environment, the occasion, it was making her sick to the stomach and the brunette just wanted to get out, have a smoke, a shot and calm her nerves. The fact that there were no tears until this point only proved to her what everyone else thought. She was apparently a stone-cold bitch. Looking around, even Jace, the hardest guy she ever met, was wiping his eyes so why couldn’t she? Every normal person would shed a tear or two for their dear friend but Ava just stared at the beautiful, flower-framed picture of Anna and thought of all those times they planned the future, lived, loved, laughed. Anna was the person to help Ava when she hit the rock bottom. It was so unbelievable that the girl was gone that Ava squeezed Whitney’s hand a bit harder than intended.
When the preacher announced the song, Ava perked up and watched Cameron take the stage. And with the first tones of the song, she knew exactly where it was going. Anna’s favorite. It was expectable and yet it hit the lawyer like a bag of bricks. Cam’s voice filled the tall church building, a beautiful voice indeed. Filled with grief and emotion. But if people thought that was the peak, they were in for a surprise. Seeing a kid running towards Cam, Ava’s gut was hit hard by all the feels. Especially when the blonde wrapped her arms around the tiny body.
No one expected Cam to take off right after the performance, right after bringing Riley back to Jace. And one part of Ava felt like she should have done the same. Like she really shouldn’t have stayed for so long because she felt like an intruder at this point. Only because her face, a myriad of emotions, couldn’t really grieve their friend. Jace walked right after her and Ava’s eyes rested on Parker. Her brain took her down the memory lane when their group was just hanging out, nothing bothered them, they were just young people having all the fun in the world. And Ava remembered how she laughed. Leaning against Wes, because the appearances had to be kept, she laughed at Parker’s jokes, no matter how dumb they sometimes were. But he was the one person who could put a smile on her face under any circumstances. She just never really told him. Why though?
Realizing she was staring, Ava tore her eyes away from the man and looked back to the front where the preacher ended the service. People started to stand up, bring flowers to the front, everyone was getting ready for the last farewell. For letting the casket disappear in the ground. But Ava couldn’t just yet. She remained seated despite her friends standing up as well and held Anna’s gaze in the picture. “I miss you already…so much.” she whispered and felt her right hand shaking. Unmistakable sign of her addiction showing up. She gripped her purse to mask the shake and finally stood up, determined to find the way out and finally refill her lungs with nicotine.
Tears were not something Jace was used to. People never saw anything like that on him despite his story. There were so many opportunities to cry in his life. His father took care of it properly when he beat the shit out of him or mom or any of his brothers or came home drunk as fuck and trashed the household. Jace never cried. He held his tears in because the boy believed that if he was going to withstand that, if he was going to be strong, it all would go away. It just never really did. Never did his father take someone else into consideration besides himself. It just took time for Jace to understand it. And now, this was the first time his tears ran down his face in public. Not that he was ashamed. It just took him by surprise.
But apparently, surprised were not over yet because shortly after, Cam took the stage and filled the church with her song, the song Anna loved the most, the song that squeezed hearts of every single person in that church. Jace’s hand rested around Riley but his attention belonged solely to Cam. Only soft wiggles under his arm tore his eyes away from the woman and in his current mood, Jace was too slow. Riley hopped down from the pew and beelined to the front, right to Cam. Saying that Jace was taken aback would be an understatement. Riley never liked someone this fast and the whole scene touch Jace on so many levels.
When the two of them returned, he was ready to compliment Cam for her performance, to say anything really. Anything that remained untold for all those years. But she ran away. It was almost like a shadow. She brought Riley back to him and off she went. People turned their heads after her and so did Jace, frozen in his seat for a moment. Only when Caleb spoke about his wife needing him, Jace furrowed his brows. “My w---” and then it hit him. Did they all think he and Cam were married? Jesus!
But after Parker’s question, Jace finally moved. “Listen up, go to Evie, okay? And stay with her until I return. Be good, champ.” he leaned to Riley who nodded eagerly and his short legs brought him to his auntie with a vision of the cinnamon roll. Jace himself darted after Cameron shortening the distance with a few long strides. He found her outside and realized that he had no idea what to say. How was he supposed to comfort someone without having the slightest idea what to do? Dude, come on, you raised a kid without knowing how. Instinct, huh? And so the tall hunk of a man approached the petite girl with a deep breath and wrapped his arms around her, hiding her in his broad chest. “I like to think she’s in much better place now. Wherever that is.” he muttered, holding Cam tight, hoping he was helping at least a little bit.
Cameron had known that this funeral wasn't going to be easy. They never were, but having one that touched so close to home just made things that much worse. Seeing all of her old friends again was bittersweet, considering she'd missed them all like crazy but knew they weren't coming together for happy reasons. Anna should have been here with them, bringing them all together for more laughs and good times. Not this. As Cameron sang the lyrics to the hauntingly beautiful song, she saw all of those times in her mind. A smiling Anna, the glue of their group, wanting them all to be happy and the best versions of themselves. Were they, though? Cameron danced now to make ends meet because her own family had pretty much disowned her. What about the others?
Before she knew it, she was singing the last note and she could hardly hold the tears in. Riley nearly broke her when he ran up to her, taking her hand, giving her the strength to finish the song without breaking down. Afterwards, she knew she had to return him to his father, but she couldn't just go back in the pew and pretend like nothing was going on in her heart. So she hugged Riley, returned him to Jace, and then disappeared from the church. Her heeled feet carried her outside, back into the cold, but she didn't mind the temperature. She barely felt it as she stopped at the bottom of the steps, the first tear escaping.
By the time Jace found her a few seconds later, she was fully crying, and he just wrapped her in his arms and pulled her close. She couldn't stop the waterworks now, especially as she inhaled Jace's familiar scent. She felt selfish for thinking of herself, being angry and upset for what had happened all those years ago, but she couldn't lie and say that she still didn't think about how it hurt that he'd never shown up. Hearing his soft words, she just nodded as she cried into his chest, her heels making up some of the height distance between them. She gripped his shirt with her hands, unaware of just how long they stayed like that before she felt the tears subside some.
"It's going to be weird." She whispered finally, tilting her tear-stained face back some to look up at him. "Being at the cabin without her." Cameron still wanted to go, but she hoped that the trip could be good for the eight of them and not make things worse. Silence settled between them for a few moments, and Cam realized she'd never quite let go of him. Doing so now, she stepped back, reaching up to carefully wipe under her eyes. She already knew whatever makeup she'd put on that morning was destroyed, but hopefully she didn't look too much like a raccoon. "What did you do with Riley?"
Caleb had never been the type to want to show his emotions or wear them on his sleeve, unless that emotion was anger. He was definitely a hothead, had flown off the handle many times throughout the years. Anna had never faulted him for that, though, and she'd always been there to help him come back down. But no longer. He'd left here five years ago with no intentions of coming back. But he'd never thought that Anna would die like this, either. She had always been a beautiful soul, and now she was gone, taken from this world too soon. The unfairness of it was what struck him and made it hard to keep it together. It should have been him, if anyone. But it wasn't, and he couldn't change that. Couldn't bring her back or trade places with her.
Cameron's song was beautiful, though it was less her voice and more the memories of the song that hit a chord within Caleb. By the end he was definitely crying, wiping his tears away hastily as though he could pretend they were never there. Cameron brought Riley back to Jace and then dipped, and of course he had to tell Jace to go after her. He left Riley with Evie and then went to do just that, and Caleb's eyes drifted back to Evie. The service ended and people started to get up to go up to the casket to say their last goodbyes. Caleb sat in his seat, his eyes on the casket. He knew he'd go up there, just... not now.
Hearing Riley ask Evie about the cinnoman roll, Caleb's attention turned back to the two of them. Jace was gone, and now Evie was leading Riley over to the sweets table. Drawing in a shaky breath, Caleb didn't know what he felt more anxiety about: saying goodbye to a corpse or talking to the one girl he'd never quite been able to shake his feelings for. Standing, he grabbed Parker's shirt and practically dragged him to the line to say goodbye to Anna. For a moment, he didn't say anything, his eyes still on Evie and Riley. He'd meant to go that way, to say something to her, something other than a curse or asking if he could bum a smoke.
The line moved and Caleb walked up a few paces, then finally turned to Parker. "Are you looking forward to this?" He asked him, realizing too late that he hadn't specified. "Not this, I mean." He gestured to the line ahead of them. "But to the trip, I mean." Letting his gaze shift back to the others, he nudged Parker then, nodding towards Ava. "She's still beautiful as ever, don't you think, Parks?" He couldn't stop himself from smirking as he walked forward again. They were almost at the casket now, and here he was, cracking jokes at Parker's expense. Wouldn't Anna be proud?
All I wanna do is let you in
But good guys never win
The moment his gaze met Ava's was brief, but to Parker it felt like time slowed some. Jace was chasing after Cam, Evie was babysitting Rylie... But Parker's gaze had fallen back on Ava, despite Wes still being a couple people further down. Not that Wes being around was anything new. Any time that Parker got to spend with Ava was usually because she was with his best friend. For a while it was rare to be with Wes without Ava, or vice versa. Parker wasn't convinced that Wes and Ava were meant to be together, especially with the way Ava would laugh at his jokes, but it had never been Parker's place to come between the dream couple. Not that he would betray his best friend like that anyways.
Things were different now though. Ava wasn't with Wes anymore, so Parker might have been able to finally tell Ava how he felt... if it weren't for her husband. Sure, Parker didn't feel any loyalty towards the man who now held Ava's affection, but wrecking a marriage wasn't high on Parker's to-do list. Still... he could look forward to stealing moments with Ava while at the cabin right? Enjoy making her laugh like he used to...
Parker was about to make his way over to Ava now that the pew was clearing out, but Caleb got to Parker before he could get to her. Finding himself being dragged to the line of people waiting to see Anna's casket, Parker cast one more glance in Ava's direction, before turning his attention to Caleb. The stoner's attention, however, was still on Evie for a few more moments, and Parker wondered where those two stood these days. Plenty of time to figure it out at the cabin though. Not here.
Once they were in line, Caleb asked if Parker was looking forward to this, and at first Parker wasn't sure what Caleb meant. He definitely wasn't looking forward to paying tribute to Anna's casket, and he could already feel the awkward smile trying to creep onto his face. "Ugh..." But then Caleb clarified, and Parker chuckled a little at the misunderstanding. "Yeah, I am actually. It'll be nice to catch up with everybody." He replied.
It was as if Caleb could read Parker's mind and knew that by "everybody" he particularly meant Ava, because the stoner nodded in her direction and commented how beautiful she was. Parker cast a careful glance at Ava as well, trying not to betray his thoughts. "Yeah... yeah she is." He replied with a small smile. "Everyone looks great though." He added, trying to seem unbiased. "You even turned out okay." Parker joked, smirking at his friend teasingly.
When Ava's grip tightened on Whitney's hand, she glanced at her sister. Whitney wasn't surprised by Ava's lack of tears, unable to really remember a time she'd seen the older Jeffries girl cry in private, let alone public. However, the younger sister knew that the absence of tears did not correlate to an absence of grief, and that Ava was feeling Anna's death just as strongly as the rest of them. If her sister needed to let some of that grief out by squeezing her hand tightly instead, Whitney wouldn't flinch or pull her hand away. The small discomfort was nothing compared to the pain they were all collectively feeling. Only when the preacher concluded the ceremony after Cam's song, did Whitney give Ava's hand one last little squeeze, before slipping it out of her hold and rising from the pew.
Whitney was relieved to see that Jace was going after Cameron, though she had to remind herself again that Wes had said they weren't married. Even so, of all the people at that end of the pew, it still seemed most fitting for him to go after her. The rest of the group of friends all began scattering as well after Cam and Jace's departure, with Evie taking Riley off to get cinnamon rolls and Parker and Caleb heading to pay their respects to Anna.
Whitney grabbed the bouquet of flowers she'd brought for Anna, and glanced down at them for a moment when Wes offered to go with her to place them on Anna's casket. To be honest, Whitney knew it was typically custom to bring flowers to a funeral, but hadn't been terribly sure what she was supposed to do with the bouquet once there. It wasn't until Wes mentioned putting them on the casket that Whitney realized that's where others were depositing the blooms to honor Anna. Glancing up at Wes, Whitney nodded, grateful that she'd not have to pay her final respects to Anna alone.
"Yes please." Whitney replied with a sad smile. Had he not offered to go with her, Whintey wasn't sure if she would have been able to go near Anna's casket at all. A quick glance at Ava told Whitney that her sister had reached her capacity for being in the church and would likely want to escape as soon as possible. "We're going to go give the flowers to Anna, if you want to come with us Av..." She offered, leaving it up to her sister if she wanted to join.
Taking a deep breath, Whitney left the pew with Wes, getting in line with the others waiting to pay their respects. Parker and Caleb were a few people up ahead, but a funeral hardly seemed like the place to cut in line. Besides, Whitney wasn't in a terrible rush to find herself beside one of her best friend's coffin. She'd thought the worst part was over when the ceremony ended, but once again, the worst seemed to wait.
Trying to distract herself and avoid all thought of more tears, Whitney looked over at Wes. She'd sat next to him for what seemed like ages during the funeral, but hadn't really gotten the chance to talk to him beyond her butchered reunion. "Five years ago if anyone had told me we'd be here right now, I wouldn't have believed them..." Whitney sighed quietly, casting her gaze around the church, her eyes falling on each of their visible friends. "I also wouldn't have believed that this would be the first time we'd all be together again after the graduation trip." She added, a pang of sadness rippling through her as she added, "Well, almost all of us."
The brunette hadn't meant for the conversation to take such a sad route, but it was hard to be cheerful after sitting through over a half hour of grief. "You're going to the cabin again though, right?" She asked, looking up at Wes hopefully. The cabin retreat was the only potentially good thing to come from such a heartbreaking turn of events in their lives.
"But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo," the melodic sounds of the Radiohead classic projected from a small speaker in the corner of the kitchen, filling the room. It was early, before the sun had even risen. A large, five-tiered cake sat on a spinning pedestal in the middle of the counter, a beautiful array of delicate piping and flowers flowing down the side like a waterfall. The brunette moved around the cake with ease, her body swaying to the music as she softly sang along. This was her meditation, her way to focus on a singular task and forget about all the craziness in the world around her, just for a moment. Ever since the death of her parents, Evelyn savored her moments in the kitchen as her sort of therapy. It kept her from falling into the clutches of a worse vice. And with Anna gone, she needed that now more than ever.
Just as the song crescendoed into its cathartic bridge, the bell over the bakery door rang, signaling someone's arrival. Evie pressed the button on the speaker to turn it down, careful not to smear the gorgeous amethyst purple icing everywhere. A familiar face passed through the swinging doors into the kitchen, setting her bag in the cubby in the corner. It was Jennifer, her assistant baker and cake decorator. The pretty blonde was pretty much the only person Evie could entrust the bakery to while she was away. But, aside from working together, the pair wasn't all that close. "Evelyn, I didn't think you would be in today. Aren't you supposed to leave for your trip soon?" Jenn asked, tilting her head curiously before eyeing the cake. "Wow, is that for the Sierra wedding? It looks amazing. I wish I would've known, I wouldn't have come in so early."
Evelyn reached out to place the final flower on the cake, taking a step back to admire her work. "Thanks. Yeah, sorry. I knew the wedding was later today. And you know how purple icing has to be done on the same day so it doesn't oxidize. Plus, I couldn't get to sleep so..." she rambled, trailing off at the end. It was true. Ever since Anna died, the baker had had trouble falling and staying asleep. When she did close her eyes, all she could see were flashbacks of her parent's car wreck. Her therapist said it was going through the death of a friend that brought up old trauma. Whatever the reason, Evie hadn't quite figured out how to deal with the images. So she opted for staying awake, pulling all-nighters at the bakery, anything to keep the memories at bay. Thankfully, Jennifer didn't comment, instead shrugging her shoulders and moving towards the pantry to start prep for the day. That was one of the things Evelyn liked about their work relationship: they kept to themselves.
Pulled from her thoughts by the ringing of her phone, Evelyn glanced down at the alarm. It was time to go meet her old classmates to head up to the cabin. "Alright, well, I'm going to head out. Cell service is a bit spotty up there, but I remember there being WiFi. If you need anything, shoot me an email. I'll try to respond as soon as I can." Jennifer simply nodded, continuing what she was doing without a spoken reply. Evelyn took one last look at the completed cake, snapping a picture to post later, before grabbing her things and stepping out into the chilly Montana air. The space she rented for her bakery wasn't that far from the old high school where they decided to meet, carefully chosen so that everyone on their way to work or school in the morning might stop and grab a pastry for breakfast. And the loft apartment above the bakery was enough for her to call home. So, her walk was thankfully short given the cool temperatures.
Evie quickly spotted the black passenger van as it was pretty much the only vehicle in the parking lot. School was out for winter break, pretty much turning the place into a ghost town. For a moment, she thought it creepy to approach a seemingly abandoned vehicle with no one around. But then again, she lived in a tiny town where the worst crimes were usually neighbor disputes over grass length and teenagers stealing candy bars from the corner store. And besides, Evelyn had taken quite a few self defense classes over the years. So she would probably be alright in any case. Pausing just outside the van, the brunette glanced around, not seeing any of her old friends. Was she the first? Shivering, she couldn't help but hope the others arrived soon. No matter how long she lived in Montana, she just couldn't quite get used to the arctic air.