Left. Right. Duck. Dodge. The tall brunette man threw all of his strength and power into the punches, landing each into the sturdy leather bag with intent. Loud music played through his earbuds, the fast-paced, angry beat fueling his drive. He was practically dripping in sweat and was certain that his muscles would be sore later. But, he didn't care. He needed this, needed to let off some steam. And since that time of year, the local skating rink was more for romantic ice skating dates than intense hockey training, he had no choice but to use the hotel gym. Wesley's high school captain days were long over, and he was certainly a bit more out of practice than he liked to be. But he stilled played regularly, hosting once a month games with some old college buddies. Had Parker lived closer, he would most certainly have asked his best friend to join. How that guy was living in an iceless place, Wes never quite understood.
"Son of a bitch," he cursed, throwing one final hard punch into the bag. It was a little wild, he could admit. But the bag still swang like a satisfying pendulum, and that was enough for him. Wes pulled his earbuds out, slipping them back into his gym bag before grabbing a small towel to wipe away the moisture from his forehead. His heart was racing, but he felt good, productive, yet strangely relaxed. Working out had always seemed to do that for him, creating a way to let off some steam while replicating some semblance of violence. And for a guy with a temper like his, that was necessary. Grabbing his water bottle from the bag as well, Wesley nearly downed the whole thing, glancing around the room. It was fairly empty except for a small group of women on the recumbent bicycles in the corner. They were easily 20 years old than him, and most certainly not shy about their oogling. After all, he knew he wasn't that bad to look at.
Wes tossed his water bottle and towel back into his bag, sliding the strap over his shoulder before heading towards the door. He nodded at the women as he passed, offering them a grin and a "Morning, ladies," as a greeting. They erupted into a series of whispers, but the businessman didn't stick around long enough to listen to what they were saying, and he probably didn't want to anyway. Climbing the stairs to his hotel room, he couldn't help but pause just inside the door. Ever since he was a child, Wesley had gotten used to extravagance. The most expensive foods and clothes, wait staff to tend to his every need, and enough money to buy whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. While it was a life of luxury, it was still lonely. He most certainly didn't need a kitchenette suite for a few night's stay in his hometown, but he could quite shake the habit.
Crossing over to the nightstand, Wesley picked up his phone to check his messages, completely unsurprised to find a series of texts and emails from his team. He had tried to make it very clear that he should only be contacted in the event of an emergency. But that was being largely ignored. Because, as much as he wished he could have a vacation, work always came first for the Frosts, even in the event of such a tragedy as a friend's death. Wes wished he could learn to have some semblance of a work-life balance, maybe take advantage of the spotty cell signal in the mountains. But he knew that his job would find a loophole in that as well. So, he spent the next hour getting ready to leave on their trip while simultaneously answering all of the incoming messages and emails that demanded his attention.
"Checking out so soon, Mr. Frost?" the receptionist asked a bit later as the now showered-and-dressed man sat his key card on the counter. "Unfortunately so," Wes answered, "Business to attend to." While his answer wasn't entirely truthful, it was better than explaining to some stranger the intricacies of Anna and how she planned this whole cabin trip for their old group to get back together again after her death. Besides, he was fairly certain the woman was just being polite and didn't actually care about his time there. "There's a car waiting for you out front. We hope you stay with us again soon," she continued, gesturing to the door. It sounded rehearsed. But Wes nevertheless offered her a smile in thanks before walking through the automatic doors and getting into the black town car.
The drive through the town was rather nostalgic, reminded him of places he had once been or things he had once sing. It seemed like forever ago, but it had really been only a few years. Time seemed to both fly by and drag on at the same time. Unfortunately, the sight-seeing down memory lane was short-lived, and It wasn't long before the car pulled into the almost empty parking lot of the high school. Wes peered up at the brick building for a moment, remembering how it had once been his place of freedom from life within the Frost family. It had been some of the best times of his life, and Wes found that he was actually pretty excited to potentially reignite some of those memories. The car parked alongside a black van, signifying their arrival. "Keep the change," the businessman said almost absentmindedly, handing the driver a $100 bill as a tip. Without waiting to hear a response, he slipped from the seat onto the snowy ground with his suitcase in hand.
The day came for Ava to leave for the cabin and she had to be ready. Looking around her old room, she had to laugh. All those trinkets that used to be so important to her, midnight blue sash hanging from a large mirror, stating she was the prom queen of her class, topped with a fake silvery tiara, pictures of her and Wes when they actually won, pictures from graduation when they were all together and happy. And one she still held dear. Picture of them all together, one of the graduation series but it was one where she was not looking at the camera. Her eyes found another person just when the shutter clicked. And the best part? Parker looked at her at that very moment. And though it was just another picture, Ava liked to think it meant more. Was this all worth it though? Coming back, opening old wounds, trying to restore something that might be long gone. Was it?
Ava was thinking long and hard about it. Should she actually go? Was she even a part of the group? There certainly were times she didn’t feel like it. Like the others only tolerated her because of Anna. And maybe those were just old insecure thoughts of a girl who always aimed for the stars. Once she even shared her concerns with Anna but the brunette assured her that the others liked her as well. But was it really true? Even after those years, Ava felt those insecurities eating at her. Wasn’t it ironic?
“Whit? You ready? We gotta go.” Ava knocked gently on the open door of her sister’s room. “I’ll wait in the car.” she added and went to grab her stuff, double-checked everything and walked downstairs, right outside, loading her suitcase to the trunk of her car. She could have ubered but driving was going to keep her mind occupied and she wanted to do that for as long as it was possible. The brunette was still a little uncertain whether she should have come home. Let alone going to the trip. Ben flooded her with texts and kept doing it ever since the funeral. Naturally, her phone was off in the church so she missed all the phone calls and his twisted mind understood it in his own way. Ava called him last night, trying to smooth things over but it was in vain. He was already convinced she was going rogue as a wife and the threats were placed. Thank god she never told him where the cabin was. Or that she was going for that matter. Knowing she was risking a lot, her stomach was tied in a million little knots and she gripped the wheel hard, thankful the gloves hid her white knuckles.
Once Whitney was in the car, Ava pulled away from the curb and did her best to smile. She needed that. She needed to be surrounded by other people than Ben and his obnoxious old money family. Or alone in their penthouse suite. The whole ride, she kept convincing herself that it was going to be good, even played some music and sang along. Those depressive moods had to go. No one wanted to see a buzzkill and Ava most certainly wasn’t that. “I’m glad I came, Whit. I had my doubts but…I think it’s good that we’re here. Even after…you know…she’s gone…Anna is still right.” Ava smiled and as they pulled over to the school, overcome with nostalgia, Ava parked on the very same spot she used to back at high school. Fixing her hair and lipstick in the rear mirror, Ava really felt, for the tiniest second, that they were just coming back to school and that Anna was going to wait for them at “their” stairs to share the newest gossip. Well, no such thing. She got out of the car, picked up her suitcase and locked the car that was going to wait for her here. Fixing her smile, she waited for Whitney to be ready and the sisters approached the van together. “Morning.” Ava greeted Evie and Wes, taking her luggage to the back of the van. “Do we know who’s driving this thing?”
“Thank you for doing this, Ronnie. I know it’s asking too much. With Christmas and all.” Jace spoke to a tall blonde at the door of her small apartment. He felt like the biggest asshole for leaving Riley before Christmas but if things went as he planned them, Riley would be coming to the cabin for Christmas. At least for a few days. “All good, Jace. Really. You helped us so many times, this is the least I can do.” the girl smiled, pulling Jace in a hug. Riley was already inside, playing with his kindergarten pals and judging by the sounds, they were trying to bring the house down. “Oh, also…I feel I should tell you. Riley picked up this new vocab he now likes to use and I cannot get it out of him. If you find a way how to stop him from yelling ‘Holy fuck’ over and over again, I’ll love you forever.” Jace said, rubbing his face and tired eyes. “He heard it from my old buddy and now we cannot get rid of it.”
Ronnie burst out laughing and could hardly contain herself. She was already crying and snorted several times before she was able to speak again. “Okay…okay, I’ll…I’ll see what I can do.” she said, trying to keep her face straight. Jace groaned, tucking his hands in the pockets of his light gray jeans. He rolled his eyes and was about to say something when the said phrase echoed from inside the apartment. The already classic howy fuck reached Jace’s ears and Ronnie was taken over by another salve of laughter. “See? Ugh, christ.” Jace sighed and turned around. “Anyway. Just make sure he is always with you until I get to come and pick him up. He leaves with no one but me, okay?”
Jace felt he needed to repeat it over and over again only because of a nasty phone call from the night before. Riley was already fast asleep and Jace was going to bed when his phone went off. Unknown number but Jace was dumb enough to pick up. Imagine his surprise when he heard Trisha’s voice. She used her overly saccharine voice on him and Jace already knew something was up. She kept talking about their past and how she regretted leaving and how she should have stayed and all that shit. After a while, Jace became fed up and asked her to cut to the chase. Well, fucking figures. She was broke (again) and wanted to return “home.” Jace almost fainted, hearing that word from her lips. “You have no home with us, Trisha. You left the second you handed Riley to me. We’re done.” he said and after fifteen more minutes of pleas, she fired the shots. She was filing for getting full custody of Riley and Jace’s blood froze. Naturally, he sent her to hell but her words resonated in him quite a lot.
Leaving Ronnie’s, Jace decided to walk because the school was not too far. His big duffel bag was hanging from his shoulder, hiding everything he would need at the cabin. But his head was swimming with thoughts and those were filling him with dread. Could she actually do it? Could she take Riley away from him? And why the fuck now? Where was the bitch for four years? Jace was out of him mind with fear which was pretty unusual sigh for such a big guy. The school appeared in front of him soon and his thoughts shifted further down the memory lane, back to high school which actually brought a smile to his lips. Maybe he could just let go for a few days, forget all his trouble and enjoy those days with his friends. And maybe, just maybe, he could reconnect with a certain blonde. Though he was a little disappointed when he didn’t see her at the van. “Hey, morning!” he smiled and lifted his hand in greeting. Since back at church, he and Wes only saw each other briefly, Jace offered a handshake. Well, they were not at high school anymore, right? “Where are the others? We should get this party started, hm?” he grinned and pointed at a large paper bag he was carrying, full of liquid sweaters.
Cameron left the church feeling like shit, though admittedly, she had more butterflies in her stomach than she did before she arrived. Even as she climbed into her car, yanking her heels off of her feet and throwing them into the passenger seat, she remembered how it felt to have Jace's arms wrapped around her, holding her close. Even if he was just being nice, a girl could dream, couldn't she? Unfortunately, she had to fast track it back to reality, as she was supposed to have dinner with her parents that evening. She was definitely not looking forward to it.
As she expected, the dinner did not go well. She had some time to kill beforehand, and so she'd ended up at a local coffee shop, where she ordered Anna's favorite drink: a salted caramel frappuccino, heavy on the caramel. It tasted much better than it normally did, and she wasn't sure whether that was because of how much she already missed Anna, or because she was still dreaming about Jace. She'd managed to convince herself over the last five years that she'd moved on, but apparently, that was the furthest thing from the truth.
Arriving at her parents, she sat uncomfortably in a chair in the living room while she waited for them to finish their work and come to even say hi. There were the generic questions, like how have you been and what have you been doing that she could tell they didn't really want the answers to. Then, after sitting down to eat, they started in on her about school, and when she was planning on going back. The words I'm a stripper came to mind, but they faltered on the tip of her tongue and she just told them maybe next semester. They obviously weren't happy about that, which didn't surprise her.
After a good half an hour of her father berating her, she just stood to leave. That caused her mother to start in on her in her demeaning fashion, and Cam just lost it. She snapped and yelled, even broke a vase on her way out. When the morning came to depart, Cameron just dressed in silence in her hotel room, leaving the key behind as she brought everything with her. She drove to the school parking lot, her stomach twisting as she saw the others already there. Cameron parked, pretending to be busy for a few moments before she gathered the courage to get out, dragging her suitcase with her. "Hey, guys. Morning."
There were definitely multiple reasons that Caleb left this place five years ago with no intentions on returning. Evie was a big part of that, but there were other reasons as well. Finding out that Evie had hooked up with Jace, that had been enough to set him over the edge. He still vividly remembered the brawl between him and Jace, though why he ever thought it was a good idea to go against him, he didn't know. It was the anger and the adrenaline that had done it, he knew that now. Still, by the time he showed up at Evie's, he was a bloody mess.
That kiss, though... it had almost made him doubt leaving. Almost. But he couldn't stay. Though he and Jace had been civil at the funeral, the last time they'd seen each other it was at the ends of their fists, and Caleb wasn't sure how long they could stay that way. All of that aside, though, he'd made more than a few shady deals back in the day in this town. He had quite a few people who were angry with him and wanted to be next in line after Jace, so Caleb figured the best thing to do was skip town. And honestly, it'd been five years now, he didn't expect people to remember.
But apparently, drug users and addicts don't forget that easily, which is kinda surprising. Caleb was staying in one of those motels with the outside doors, and he heard a knock on his door first thing this morning upon waking up. In his sleepy state, he fumbled to the door and opened it, only to be met with a fist to his right eye. He went down, wide the fuck awake, but the person on the other side of the door was quick. He managed to fight them off, but not without taking a few hits. Even with delivering a few of his own, he was going to have a nice shiner for a day or two.
After he ran that guy off, he took a quick shower and changed, then packed his shit and left. He'd been parked at the school ever since this morning, but he'd fallen asleep, snoring in his backseat. When he popped up a few hours later, he blinked away the sleep and noticed the van and his friends gathering around it. "Oh, shit." Grabbing his shirt to throw back on, he opened the door and almost fell in his haste to get out of the car. "Guys!" He called, looking back to see what he'd tripped on. Kicking the jacket, he grabbed the stuff he wanted to take with him and headed for the van. "Don't leave me! Hey!" He grinned as he approached, slightly out of breath.
All I wanna do is let you in
But good guys never win
Part of Whitney wished she had forgotten to call Sebastian like she had promised to before heading to the cabin. Sure, things likely would have turned out the same way, but at least her morning wouldn’t have gotten off to such a rough start. The brunette was still half asleep and trying to get ready as she rang her boyfriend, imagining it would just be a quick call to say goodbye before she lost cell reception in the mountains. That was not the case though, and Whitney nearly stabbed herself in the eye with her mascara wand when Sebastian told her she needed to come back to New Hampshire immediately. The law firm had just received a high profile case that required all hands on deck... including her.
Whitney’s stomach sank as she told Sebastian that she couldn’t just leave now, and explained that her trip wasn’t just for fun. It was for Anna. High school friendships and honoring the dead meant little to the male lawyer though, and the two argued for a while before Whitney was given an ultimatum. Either get on the next plane home to do her job, or Sebastian’s father would have to fire her. Hurt and angry that Sebastian couldn’t muster any sympathy or understanding for the tough situation she was being put in, Whitney countered with her own ultimatum of sorts. If Sebastian and his father weren’t able to find it in their hearts to allow her two weeks off, over the holidays no less, then she couldn’t find it in her heart to join their family business.
Sebastian fell silent on the other end of the line for a few moments, and Whitney was prepared to wait for his answer, but Ava’s knock at her door signaled that time had run out. “Yeah, I’ll be down in a few minutes...” Whitney called back to her sister. Taking a deep breath, Whitney ended her call, her job and her relationship with a few simple words. “My answer is no, Sebastian. Goodbye.”
Whit threw her phone on her bed, heart pounding and hands shaking. Her future had just blown up in the matter of minutes, but there was no time to dwell on it now. If these next two weeks were worth more to her than all she just gave up, then she couldn’t waste them being upset. There’d be plenty of time for that in the New Year once she got back to the East Coast.
Scrambling to grab all her things and pull on her boots, Whitney rushed to meet Ava down in the car. “Sorry about that.” Whitney said breathlessly as she threw her stuff in the trunk and slid into the passenger seat. Whitney returned Ava’s smile, nodding. “I’m glad too, Av. I’m excited to catch up with everyone,” The younger Jeffries sister replied, hiding her troubles with Sebastian just like Ava was hiding her own troubles. The sisters may have been opposites growing up, but they were more alike than one might think.
“And it’s been forever since you and I did anything together without the family... or Ben.” She added, trying not to grimace saying his name. “No surprise Anna is still taking care of us even from the beyond.” Whit added, a genuine smile replacing her forced one when they pulled into the parking lot and some of their friends came into view. She waved getting out of the car, following behind Ava as they walked over to the van.
“Hey guys,“ She greeted, relieved that this time the group wasn’t all dressed for a funeral or meeting in a church. “So who has the keys?” She asked, adding onto Ava’s question about who was driving. Jace’s comment about getting the party started was music to Whitney’s ears. Being with the group was already a good distraction from her recent drama, but a little alcohol couldn’t hurt either. With Caleb and Cal’s arrival, they were just waiting on Parker, who arrived only moments later.
Parker was kicking himself all evening after not getting a chance to talk to Ava. By the time he and Caleb were done paying their respects to Anna's coffin, Ava had escaped from the church without a word. Not that he blamed her though. Parker also had practically run from the godly building himself.
The rest of the day had passed uneventfully for Parker, at least until he got a call from Anna's mother. He felt guilty for not talking to Anna's parents at the church, but Mrs. Watts seemed to understand when he apologized for his rudeness. The reason for her call wasn't to make him feel bad though, she assured him, but rather to ask him to stop by their house in the morning to grab the keys for the van that had been left at the high school for the group to take to the cabin. Parker agreed and offered his condolences to the Watts family, before ending the call with an awkward goodbye.
Anna's parents had always been very kind to Parker and he had a fondness for them as well. After so many years had passed though, Parker felt like a stranger to them, especially considering the circumstances under which he was meeting with them again. He couldn't imagine how they were coping with the loss of their incredible daughter, and wished there was something he could do for them. Unfortunately, Parker didn't even know how to help himself deal with Anna's death, so what possible help could he be to the Watts?
Parker didn't get the best sleep that night, and was tempted to knock himself out with a bottle of whisky, but reminded himself that he wasn't his father. Alcohol would not be a crutch for him, and Parker had a rule of never drinking alone. Eventually he managed to drift to sleep, and before he knew it his alarm was alerting him that it was time to get moving.
As usual, Parker underestimated how long it would take him to grab the keys from Mr. and Mrs. Watts, and as such, was running late... again. By some miracle Parker had gotten through his interaction with Anna's parents without cracking a nervous grin or poorly timed joke. Mrs. Watts hugged him multiple times, both before and after passing off the keys, and thanked him for being such a good friend to Anna. The Watts told Parker to pass along their gratefulness to the rest of the group, and wished them a good trip. Apparently Anna had told her parents about her posthumous plans for her friends and they had helped make the preparations. In addition to the keys, they gave Parker a package to bring to the cabin with the instructions not to open it right away.
Bidding the Watts goodbye, Parker got back into his car and made his way to the rental company to return his vehicle. Luckily, the local rental shop was near the high school, so Parker didn't have to lug his bags far after losing his ride. Slipping the package from Anna into his bag, Parker made his way to the meeting spot. It was no surprise to Parker to see that he was the last to arrive as he approached the group. Arriving just in time to hear Whitney's question about the keys, he pulled them from his pocket, dangling them in the air.
"I've got them." He replied, a little out of breath from the cold air and walking with his duffel bag. Clicking the remote, Parker unlocked the van so bags could be loaded inside. "Heads up!" Parker added, tossing the keys in Caleb's direction, to avoid getting stuck driving the van.
"Hey y'all." He greeted officially, opening the back of the van and tossing his bag inside. Glancing over to Ava, he smiled, holding out his hand to offer to take her bag so he could lift it into the van as well. "Missed you yesterday Ava, I mean, talking to you yesterday." He said with a boyish grin. "Been a while..." Sure, this wasn't the reunion Parker had imagined in his head on the flight to Montana, but with the entire group as an audience, he figured it was best to make it casual. "Wes, Whit, Evie... same goes for you." He added, realizing he hadn't gotten a chance to talk to any of them yesterday either.
After helping to pack Ava's suitcase into the van, Parker turned his attention to the other bags as well, taking it upon himself to be the luggage boy since he was late and holding up the group. As the last bag was loaded in, he shut the back door and slapped the van a couple times. "Alright, time to load in? Does anyone need to use the bathroom before we head out?" He asked teasingly, grinning as he stretched a little to ease the burn of his arms from lifting all the heavy luggage. What all had the girls packed? Geez!
Checking her phone for what seemed like the millionth time, the brunette baker quickly realized that the time hadn't really changed. She shivered again, crossing her arms over her chest and debating whether or not to open her suitcase to pull out her jacket. Her grey sweater was thick and warm, yes. But the chilly Montana breeze seemed to cut right through it. Evelyn was just about to test the van door to try and get out of the cold when the sound of wheels against pavement caught her attention. Turning her forest green gaze towards the sound, the approaching Wesley Frost caught her attention. They hadn't been that close in high school, their relationship never moving beyond a friend-of-a-friend situation. But Evie had always appreciated his drive and poise, seeing it even then as he approached in what she could only describe as 'winter business casual.'
"Hey, Wes. Nice to see you again," she said, nodding to him. Had she not been so cold, she would have removed her hands from her pockets to give him a platonic side hug. Nevertheless, Wesley nodded in response, saying a quick "You too." They probably would have stood in comfortable silence for longer had it not been for the arrival of the Jeffries sisters. Evelyn glanced at the van at Ava's question, tilting her head. She had spent many days traveling to wedding venues in a similar van, driving like a grandmother to prevent the super expensive cake in the back from falling over. But that didn't mean she felt comfortable driving other people, not after what happened to her parents. Turning her gaze back to the lawyer, she answered, "I'd rather not."
Jace showed up next, and there was some relief in seeing him amongst their group. Out of their shrinking group, she had become the closest with him since high school. Evelyn offered him a wave, eyes zeroing in on the paper bag in his hand. "I swear, Jace Christiansen. If there is not a bottle of gin in that bag just for me, I might just freeze to death," she said, crossing over to peer inside. A smile instantly appeared on her face when she saw her favorite brand inside, and Evie immediately pulled it out to crack open. Taken a small sip directly from the bottle, her green eyes found her friend, and, in a teasing tone, she remarked, "Huh, you really do know me."
Cam, Caleb, and Parker arrived shortly thereafter, and it seemed as though their little group was complete. Taking another sip from the bottle, the burning Christmas-flavored liquid slid down her throat, effectively warming her from the inside out. While Evie didn't consider herself an alcoholic, she certainly used a cocktail every now and again to deal with her anxieties. She nodded to Parker's greeting as one of her own, thanking him for loading her suitcase into the van. She momentarily focused on Caleb, seeing the faded discoloration of a bruise forming beneath one eye. Almost giving herself whiplash, she was immediately taken back to that moment in her home, when he showed up out of the blue, bloodied and angry. That was the last time she had seen him... At least, before Anna's funeral anyway.
Forcing that memory to the back of her mind, the baker turner her attention back to Parker, smiling at his question. "Let's get this show on the road! I'm freezing, and gin can only do so much to remedy that." Raising the paper bag she held in one hand, Evelyn added, "I brought breakfast, and I call shotgun!" Without waiting for a response, she approached the van's front passenger door and pulled it open. It's safe to say that Evie hadn't realized who Parker had tossed the keys to because, if she had, she most certainly would have made a different seating choice. Nevertheless, the brunette climbed into the van and sat the paper bag containing a couple of boxes of her famous cinnamon rolls in the space between the two seats. It was going to be an interesting ride.
Money wasn't an object for Wesley Frost, and it never had been. As far as he knew, a $100 tip for a ten-minute drive from the hotel to the parking lot was normal. Hell, he tipped his drivers in the city far more, simply because they were sitting in traffic with him. In high school, he had flaunted it a bit, wearing all designer clothes, having the latest versions of everything. Even though he hadn't given up on those things as an adult, he certainly didn't brag about them or show off. The businessman had become more mature, his princely party boy ways seemingly gone. He was strong, stern, intimidating, known as the younger version of his father in many ways. Those he had never come straight out and said it, Wes hated that comparison with all his being.
Zachariah Frost was a mogul who put his work above all else, including his marriage and his family, and Wes never wanted to be that. He hoped that when he had a wife and family someday, that he would be in a place where work was a part of his life, but not the only part of his life. It was strange, considering he had never considered marrying any of the girls he had been with. Sure, he had been expected to marry Ava when they dated in high school. But it had never seemed real, like it was something that would actually happen. These were the thoughts consuming his mind when Evelyn greeted him, causing him to simply nod and say, "You too," in response.
Wes could feel his phone vibrate in his pocket, pulling him from his thoughts. No doubt it was either his assistant at work or his team at his ghost corporation, attempting to run something by him that truly didn't need to be. He decided to let it go voicemail, reaching into his pocket to turn the phone's ringer completely silent. They could wait, he was sure. At the arrival of Ava, Whitney, and Jace, he grinned and answered, "Morning, guys." In high school, he and Jace had been anything but friends. They were both alpha males in different ways and, because of that, butt heads nine times out of ten. Since then, however, it was clear to see that they both had grown up. So, Wesley didn't hesitate to take Jace's offered hand for a shake.
Cam showed up shortly thereafter, followed by Caleb in true Caleb fashion. "We're not going to leave you, buddy," Wes responded with a chuckle, wrapping an arm around his old friend's shoulder, "Though we may make you drive. It's only fair since you ditched us." Almost as if on cue, Parker, who had shown up shortly after, tossed the keys in the stoner's direction, causing Wes to release his shoulders to allow him to catch them. Clapping his hands together in excitement, the businessman nodded in agreement with Evie's exclamation. "To the cabin we go then!" Wes pulled open the van's side door, pausing only to grab a cinnamon roll from the box before climbing into the second row from the back. At least the van was spacious.
“And it’s been forever since you and I did anything together without the family... or Ben.”
This sentence kept resonating in Ava’s head as the sisters were driving to the meeting point and just had to admit. Whitney was right. At least for the last three years, she was always with Ben, never leaving his side, always going everywhere with him. Granted, they mostly went where he and his family wanted to go but to Ava, it seemed alright. But since Whitney pointed it out, Ava had to agree. “It seems like she did know us the best.” she replied to Whitney’s comment about Anna. “Like we just…cannot take care of ourselves without her.” It was true, wasn’t it? Because while they all hung out together around Anna, everything seemed to be absolutely fine, everything made sense and they all were happy, right?
The two then arrived and slowly but surely the whole gang appeared. Jace brought a full bag of alcohol, Caleb arrived in his own typical way and Parker was the last one to arrive, bringing the keys. Her lips automatically curled in a soft smile as she greeted him. As he spoke to her, telling her he missed her, Ava somehow knew what it meant even if he then spoke to the others. “Same. It’s great to see you. You look well, Parker.” she spoke, handing him her suitcase. As he reached for it, their fingers touched and Ava felt the pleasant jolt of electricity course through her body. Her eyes shot up to look at him but she stepped away fast to make way for the others.
With her heart suddenly beating so fast, she was glad for Evie to suggest leaving. And after the baker got in, Ava was not waiting for too long and slid the door open, hopping on the seat at the window, right behind the driver. Making herself comfortable, she took her coat and scarf off, folding them neatly next to her. The seat by her right side was empty and she half expected Whitney to take it but there was no time to examine that since her bag buzzed. A frown formed on her face because she told everyone to forget her number for a few weeks but she still fished the phone from the depth of her shopper. The name on the screen made her heart skip a beat and not in a good way.
Using the moment when everyone was still either outside or getting in, she picked up, turning her body a bit more to face the window. “Hey, honey.” she spoke in the sweetest voice she was able to muster at that point but a ball of bile was formed in her throat. “No…no, we’re just getting everything loaded, leaving in a few…yeah, why?” There he was, typical jealous Benjamin Novak, making Ava tremble even when he was a few states away from her. “Of course, but…I never…” Biting back the tears from his speech on how he half-expected her to cheat on him and how he was warning her not to make that mistake, Ava took a quiet shaky breath. “Don’t do this now, Ben…you know I’d never…” And he hung up, leaving Ava speechless.
Being used to situations like these, it only took Ava a moment to recover and start her game of fake it till you make it. Taking another deep breath, she put a learned smile on her face, she turned to face the others. “I think we should all start this trip by taking shots. Well, not you, Caleb, but... that just means you’ll have catching up to do once we arrive. Pass the bottles, Jace!”
There were quite a few things Jace remembered about high school and one tiny little detail was everyone’s favorite drink. Even if he was not exactly the best friend with everyone (he still remembered the fight with Caleb and he and Wes never really saw eye to eye), he still knew what those guys liked to drink and he delivered. At least for the beginning. Sure, this was not enough for the whole time but they could always just go and get more. This paper bag was mostly to get them started and make them throw all the inhibitions around each other so their evenings would not be as awkward as some of the first meetings at the church. Hell, he was even going to propose a game of Spin the bottle if it got them back to the jolly bunch they used to be.
As he arrived, greeting the people already gathered at the van. A tad warmer smile went to Evie but only because she was the closest thing he had to a proper family. She was his sister from another mister and even though his own parents were still around, he didn’t really meet with them often. And they were not interested either. Not even in their grandson. And that was alright with Jace, he was not exactly thrilled to bring his son to the house where his own childhood was completely fucked up. As far as he was concerned, Riley was going to get the best life Jace could give him.
“…and we don’t want you to freeze, right?” he grinned at his baker friend, offering her the bag. She looked inside and Jace noticed that satisfied smile when she saw her favorite bottle. “I would never forget about that, hun.” he winked and watched her to drink right from the bottle. Just like good old times. Who needed fancy glasses? Or even those little shot glasses? Bottom’s up, that was the best way to do it anyway.
Once Parker arrived, it was time to load the van and go. The keys were passed, luggage loaded and Jace also threw his jacket on top of the suitcases to be free of it inside. True to his self, he immediately took the very back seat in the van, setting the paper bag between his feet. Looking around, he noticed Cam and waved at her. “Hop on, saved you a seat.” he smirked, patting the seat next to him.
One more time he checked the phone, seeing a message from Ronnie stating that Riley was alright, he texted her back, thanking her one more time and tried to let go of the fact that he was the worst father ever. Ava’s voice hit him just in time as he himself was about to start the party. With a smirk, he handed Ava a bottle of tequila. “Are we all doing tequila or you guys want something else? Hi, I’m Jace, I’ll be your bartender tonight!”
Too late, Cameron realized she should have gotten a coffee or something on her way to the school, but the thought hadn't even crossed her mind until just now. Maybe they could stop on the way, though she decided not to ask. Since it seemed Caleb would be driving-- dear god-- maybe she'd just lean on someone's shoulder and sleep. Her sleeping pattern had been an absolute wreck lately, and after dinner with her parents and the funeral and everything, Cameron was just exhausted. She was sure she wasn't the only one who felt that way, though looking around, she realized that she saw at least some excitement in everyone's eyes.
This brought a smile to her face. She handed her bags to Parker to put in the back of the van along with everyone elses, she headed for the door to climb in. Evie had called shotgun, and Cameron couldn't hide the smirk that appeared on her face as she realized the girl would be spending the entire trip next to Caleb. Ava had taken the seat right behind where Caleb would be, and she had her body turned away from the door, talking on the phone. Wes sat in the seat behind Ava, and when her eyes slid to the back, she spotted Jace in the very back row.
He caught her looking and patted the seat next to him, inviting her there. Trying to ignore the butterflies in her stomach and the smile threatening to appear on her face, she climbed in and settled in next to him, automatically pulling her feet up to sit cross-legged beside him. His presence next to her was more than noticeable, but she tried to focus on the others as they piled in. Caleb was last, hopping into the drivers seat and making a comment to Evie that Cam couldn't quite make out.
Jace was playing bartender, and Cameron instantly had a flashback to five or so years ago during a scenerio that was almost similar. The biggest difference was their age and the fact that Anna was there. She remembered how she'd refused one of the mini bottles at the time because of her good girl nature, and the fact that nobody should be drinking and in a vehicle at all. But she wasn't that girl anymore, and so she reached into the bag blindly and pulled out a bottle of tequila. Shrugging, she twisted off the cap and took a pretty big sip. "Go, Caleb, go!" She called up to the driver as he started the van finally.
Caleb wasn't concerned with leaving his car in the school parking lot. Even if the kids were in school right now, no one would mess with it, because honestly-- it was a piece of junk. People might make fun of it or even kick it a few times, but that was nothing Caleb hadn't done himself. At least it worked. And who knows, maybe if they broke a window and went through it, they'd find a roach or something. Have a good time. Caleb wasn't against that. He kicked the jacket from between his feet, slammed the door, and headed for the gathering group.
Relieved at Wes' words, Caleb grinned as he caught up to them, trying to catch his breath. "Fucking rad." He grinned, though the grin slid from his face as he heard Parker's words and saw something in his peripheral flying at his face. "Fuck!" He dropped his backpack that he'd been holding, catching the keys as the bag crashed to the ground. "Man, at least I didn't have anything breakable in there." He paused. "I hope." Twirling the keys on his fingers, he grabbed his bag and headed for the back of the van, flinging his stuff in there.
By the time he made it back around, everyone was getting in, and he spotted Evie in the front seat. Even through his black eye, he grinned, though he wished Jace hadn't climbed in so fast so he could sneak one of those bottles. The last person was getting in now, it was too late, so he just groaned and made his way to the drivers seat. Hopping in, he looked over at Evie, a grin tugging at his lips as he looked at her. "Just like old times, right?"
Hearing Cam from the back, he just laughed and started the van. "I'm going, I'm going. Who's sharing their bottle with me?" He looked in the rearview mirror, rolling his eyes as no one said anything. "So I have to make this trip sober while you all get fucked up? Tell me how that's fair." He fiddled with the radio for a moment, then gave up. "Find something good, please." He begged Evie as he started out of the lot, and onto the road, heading for the highway.
All I wanna do is let you in
But good guys never win
The group began loading into the car, and Whitney's stomach fluttered with excited butterflies. A pleasant change from the knots her stomach had been twisted in earlier on her call with Sebastian. Determined to enjoy this trip to its fullest, Whit turned her phone off completely and pushed it down to the bottom of her purse to prevent her from being tempted to check for texts or calls from her newly ex-boyfriend. As she cut herself off from the world of communication, everyone managed to find seats in the van, and Whitney found herself the last to load into the back as Caleb made his way around to the front seat.
Whitney likely would have chosen the seat next to Ava, but that spot had been taken by Parker, who looked all too happy to be sitting next to her older sister. Hiding a small grin as she recalled how Ava and Parker seemed to have a spark between them in high school, Whitney took a seat behind Parker in the open spot next to Wes. While there wasn't anyone that she wouldn't have been happy to sit by, Whit was particularly glad to find herself next to the dark haired man. Sure she'd sat next to him during the funeral yesterday, but this situation was far less depressing and already promised to be a good time. At least if Jace and his paper bag of booze had anything to do with it.
Cameron called from the back for Caleb to go, and he quickly followed suit, starting up the van and hitting the road. Whit shed her top layer and hat to avoid overheating in the van, and set them on top of her purse, before stretching a little to get comfy. A bottle of tequila was passed up to Ava and Cameron pulled out one as well. Twisting in her seat momentarily to glance in the back, she smiled a little at Jace.
"What else do you have in that bag of yours Bartender?" She asked, sticking her hand into the bag when Jace offered it, and pulling out a bottle of Malibu Rum. Whit couldn't help but laugh, recalling her drink of choice from high school. She'd been a bit of a wuss when it came to drinking back then, being more than a year younger than everyone, so had always settled on one of the easiest liquors to drink- coconut rum. "God, this bring back memories, thanks Jace!" She added, turning back around and sliding down into her seat.
Following suit with everyone else, Whitney unscrewed the cap and took a quick drink of the rum, doing her best to minimize the face she was still prone to making after a shot. Some things never change. Laughing at her adolescent choice of drink, Whitney glanced over at Wes. Doing her best to ignore the shyness that kept taking over when she tried to talk to Wes, yesterday and now here in the car, Whit gestured to the bottle of rum a little. "I'd offer you some, but something tells me your taste is a little more refined." She said teasingly.
Of the group, Wes definitely at least looked the most refined in his classy peacoat and collared shirt. It was undeniable that Wes had matured into an even more handsome man, but Whitney hoped his parents hadn't managed to completely turn him into the serious businessman they'd been grooming him to become. He'd been fun in high school when she'd been the third wheel with him and Ava, so it would be a shame if he'd become as stern as he looked in his proper attire. "Not too refined though, I hope...?" She added with a small smile, trying to read where Wes landed these days on the spectrum of high school prince to Mr. Frost.
Realizing that she was falling into her old habit of overthinking and overanalyzing everything, Whit glanced away and took another pull of Malibu, hoping it would shake off some of the nerves and slow her mind down. Her attention was caught when Parker turned around in his seat and asked about when Cameron and Jace had gotten married, and Whitney glanced up at the class clown with wide eyes.
Remembering that Wes had said that the couple in the back weren't actually a couple, Whitney tried to discreetly signal to Parker that he was venturing into dangerous territory, but the poor guy was not taking the hint. Whitney could feel the secondhand embarrassment rising within her and she had to bite her lip to keep from giggling at the awkward situation Parker had now created in the van. Resisting the temptation to pull her turtleneck up over her face, Whit glanced at Wes to see if he was going to try to save his old best friend from putting his foot in his mouth, or let the scene play out.
Parker shot Caleb an apologetic look when the stoner dropped his bag in order to catch the keys. "Sorry dude," He replied before turning his attention to loading the van. The smile that Ava gave him when he greeted her made his grin widen and for a moment he forgot about playing it cool. Especially when their fingers brushed as he took her bag. "You look great..." Parker began to say as her eyes met his, but Ava was quick to move away, "...too." He finished, mostly to himself as he watched her hurry to get in the van. There had been a spark, he was sure of it, but per usual Ava was unavailable and he couldn't openly act on it.
Pulling himself together, Parker helped the others load their luggage as well. They all filed into the van until only Parker and Whitney were left to get into the back. Typically, Parker would have been a gentleman and have allowed Whitney to climb in first, but when he saw that the seat beside Ava was still open, Parker decided to hell with manners. He knew the Jeffries sisters were likely to sit together now that Ava wasn't dating Wes, so if he wanted the chance to sit by Ava, he needed to beat Whitney to the punch. Besides, it made more sense if each row had a girl and a guy in it. Sure Wes was his best friend, but he wasn't exactly thrilled at the idea of sharing a bench seat with the tall man for the next few hours. There'd be more room for everyone this way.
Climbing in with an extra spring in his step, Parker took the seat next to Ava just as she was finishing up a phone call. At first Parker thought it was likely her husband, but despite Ava's smile when she addressed the group, her body language seemed to suggest it wasn't a happy call. Maybe it was work calling her then? Whoever it was, Parker was determined to make Ava forget about the call and whatever was secretly upsetting her by the time they reached the cabin. He might not be able to be with Ava, but he could be there for her.
A small smile tugged at the corner of Parker's mouth when Ava suggested they all start the trip by taking shots, and a bottle was passed up to her. "Think you could spare a couple swigs?" Parker asked, nodding to the tequila bottle in Ava's hand. "Or are we more of a two bottle kind of row?" He smirked, indirectly asking if she'd share. "I'd have grabbed the limes and salt out of my bag if I knew y'all were going to start the party off right away." Parker mused, happy to let Jace take over the bartending role for the ride over. Once they went through Jace's supply, there was plenty more stashed in Parker's duffel for the cabin.
While he waited for Ava to take her shots of tequila, Parker turned around, standing on his knees and leaning on the back of the seat so he could see Jace and Cameron. "Well, since we're all breaking out the drinks, should we have a belated congratulatory toast?" He asked, glancing between the two in the back of the van. Whitney squirmed a little in the row between, and Parker frowned trying to decipher the strange look she was giving him for a moment, before giving up. Maybe the Malibu was already getting to her, he thought, dismissing her attempts to save him.
"So when did you guys tie the knot? How old is Riley? Come on, catch us all up guys!" Parker grinned, meaning well and genuinely happy for his friends, even if they didn't invite him to the wedding or baby shower. "No need to be shy or weird about it." He added, seeing the expressions on Jace and Cameron's faces as he asked all his questions.
Evelyn wasn't really the type of girl to get 'morning drunk.' Most of her mornings were spent prepping the bakery for the day of sales. Decorating cakes, drizzling cinnamon rolls, frosting cupcakes, all of those things required fairly decent hand-eye coordination that would undoubtedly be impaired by alcohol. So, aside from the occasional mimosa at a wedding cake consultation over brunch, the baker kept her drinking to the evenings after work. That morning, as they all climbed into the passenger van, was obviously far from normal. She along with several old friends, some of whom she hadn't talked to in years, were on their way to a cabin in the middle of nowhere for a few weeks, paid for by their now-dead friend. If that wasn't the plot to some weird romantic comedy, she wasn't sure what was.
Briefly sitting her bottle in the cup holder, Evelyn buckled herself in to the van, turning so her back leaned against the door. She was comfortable, but only for a moment when she realized who was climbing in to the driver's seat. She immediately felt her body tense up, and glanced over the seat to see if there was another seat open she could slip in to. Much to her dismay, Wes leaned over Whitney and pulled the door shut. Everyone had picked their seats, and she had nowhere to go. Evie let out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding, slumping back against the door in defeat. She grabbed the bottle of gin and took a large swig, making a face as the burning liquid slid down her throat. It burned going down, but her entire body immediately began to warm. If she was going to get through this drive, she was going to have to be at least somewhat intoxicated.
Maybe she shouldn't have drank so much in such a short amount of time on a relatively empty stomach, especially considering she was kind of a lightweight as it was. But there was no going back now. Things already seemed a tiny bit fuzzy. Pulled from her thoughts by a familiar voice, Evelyn glanced over at Caleb, not returning his grin. Sure, she remembered all the old times when they would drive around for hours, talking about everything and nothing at the same time. And maybe she missed those times. But Evie was still angry with him, hurt by how things were left and how he disappeared. So, instead of some nice response, she simply responded with, "Sure."
Before too long, they were on the road. Everyone seemed to have a bottle in hand, passing them around like candy. Well, except Caleb anyway. The last thing they need was a driver under the influence.... If he wasn't already, anyway. Alcohol had a way of letting people break free from their inhibitions. For Evie, that particularly meant her mental filter, the thing that kept her from saying something stupid or otherwise not completely thought through. So, when Caleb said something about being the only sober one in van of fucked-up individuals, the brunette baker couldn't help but scoff, "How the tables have turned." Realizing what she had said, Evelyn felt her cheeks warm in embarrassment. Sure, she had been thinking it. But that didn't mean she wanted to say it out loud.
Wes spoke up then, either to ease the tension or in response to Parker's call for a toast. He raised his bottle, making things serious for just a moment before ending on a light-hearted note. Evie reached back to clink her bottle against a few others before taking another large sip. The beauty, and eventual detriment, of alcohol was that it made her anxieties and worries simply melt away. She fiddled with the radio for a bit, finally landing on a station playing that 'Jet' song from the 2000s that they had all seemed to like in high school. It was a staple at every sports game and school dance, and it seemed perfect for the beginning of their no doubt nostalgia-filled trip. Leaning back, Evelyn settling into her seat again, a small smile on her face as she watched the gorgeous Montana scenery flow by.
Just being around his old friends caused Wes to start feeling like his old self again. In high school, he had been a bit more outgoing, known as the Prince of the school. Everyone knew his name, both due to his wealth and his charming nature. He was captain of the hockey team, Prom King, class president, 'Most Likely to Succeed,' everything. It had been a lot of pressure on his shoulders, as everyone expected him to be the best at everything he did. But Wesley dealt with it as his father did: bottling up his anxiety and forcing it down until he squashed it into the recesses of his mind. After all, winners didn't have time to waste on failures. Unfortunately, Wesley had fell into the clutches of prescriptions that weren't his, pills that allowed him to stay up late and wake up early all while focusing on the tasks at hand. It was the basis of his friendship with Caleb.
When Wes had left for college, he realized he no longer had a supplier for his addiction. Caleb had disappeared and, while he was sure it wouldn't necessarily be hard to find a new one, he decided to change. He was finally away from his parents, at least somewhat out from under their overly discerning eyes. He got more serious about working out, made closer friends, joined a fraternity, partied a bit, and started up his only little tech company. It was small, a group of business and computer tech students creating an app. But it was his own, something he created and was in charge of. And Wesley was proud of that. Since its inception, it had grown quite a bit. He had become more of ghost partner since he was the CMO at Frost, but it was still his passion project.
The businessman bit into the cinnamon roll, having never had one of Evie's baked goods before. He grinned and finished off the whole thing rather rapidly. He didn't often eat sweets, but it was damn good. The rest filed in to the van, and Wes turned slightly in his seat so his back was against the window, making sure to leave enough space for someone to sit alongside him. Almost as if on cue, Whitney took the seat, and Wesley couldn't help but offer her his charming grin. They only got to talk a tiny bit at the funeral, and he certainly wanted to catch up much more. Unlike some of the others, the pair hadn't completely fallen out of touch. He sent her a text every now and again under the guise of asking a question about math or law or something. Really, though, he just wanted to know how she was doing.
Whitney turned around to glance into Jace's bag, and Wesley couldn't help but follow suit. He was pleasantly surprised by the assortment, finding that there was something for everyone. Who knew that Jace knew them so well? Wes reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of scotch, appraising it. It wasn't super fancy, not the hundreds of dollars bottles that his father drank. But, it was one of his favorites, what he drank back in high school when he wanted to seem mature. "Thanks, Jace," he nodded to the tattooed man, raising the bottom to him before popping it open for a shot. Whit gestured to her own bottle, the sweetened coconut rum that was her favorite back in high school. "I'll let you hold on to that," he said, gesturing to his own bottle, "Don't worry though. I think there's still some that prince from high school underneath this coat."
Wesley wanted to talk with Whitney more, but Parker turned around to face the back two rows, mentioning a celebratory toast. The brunette businessman felt Whitney squirm alongside him and realized what was happening: Parker still thought that Cam and Jace were married with a son. A grin broke out on his face, and he stifled a chuckle at the whole thing. Letting Parker speak for a moment, Wes shook his head and said, "Before you ask all your probing questions, bud, we should toast to this." He raised his bottle, nodding for the others to do the same, before he began, "To Anna, for bringing all of us back together again. Who knows how far we would have drifted without her. To us, for taking the time to go on this trip despite our hectic lives. And to alcohol, who will no doubt betray us with hangovers tomorrow morning." Wesley clinked his bottle against the others before throwing back a large gulp. Letting out a breath, he put on a playful smirk as he glanced between Parker and Cam. "Alright, now we can get back to 20 questions."
This whole trip was about reinvention. Maybe in more ways than one. And as Ava held that fake smile for a while, it ran through her mind that whatever was bothering her, whatever was awaiting her at home, it was not important. She knew she needed to let go. For the sake of her friends and for her own. So she could finally have some fun and enjoy this trip. If she let the thoughts of Ben and his jealousy fits torture her mind this whole time, she might as well get out of that van and bid all her friends farewell. What happened to the strong-willed opinionated IT girl? And how come she could stand her ground and ooze confidence only in the court room these days? No, no way was Ben going to define who she was, no way was she going to let her husband ruin this trip for her. He was far away from her and the cell phone reception was not going to be great at the cabin. And she could totally just cut herself off the real world and just focus on her friends. She could, right?
Finishing the phone call, Ava turned to the rest of the group and couldn’t help the heart skip that hit her when her gaze fell upon Parker taking a seat by her side. Her cheeks went a little rouge as she expected Whitney to sit by her. No complaints though, of course. Until this very day, Ava was very much aware that Parker was her one that got away. The boy that never happened. And should have happened very much. Why she never told him what she felt, that was beyond her. Well, she tried once. Back at the fair. He just won her that cute stuffed dog while they waited for Wes and she was about to finally speak up when her boyfriend appeared. Talk about timing. But since then…she was stupid for being quiet. All those years…
Well, it was gonna do no good to dwell on the past so Ava proposed shots for everyone. A bottle of her favorite tequila landed in her hand and she smirked, slowly loosening up. Jace remembered very well. “I can share, of course. But you want to tell me we’re not gonna handle two bottles?” she winked at Parker after his questions and opened her bottle, taking a healthy swig. She was no stranger to tequila, unfortunately. It was the remedy the got her through all that shit. That or wine. Depending on how low she was. And so the liquor ran down her throat easily, almost didn’t burn. And when Wes proposed a toast, he brought her bottle to the middle, clinking it with all the others. “To Anna.” she smiled but this time, it was not a forced melancholic lip curl. Ava was really starting to feel her old self.
More tequila disappeared down her throat as she passed the bottle to Parker. He was already on his knees, interrogating the happy couple in the back but looking at their faces, something was telling Ava that the messy-haired boy was quite far away from the truth. But considering she was not exactly in touch with anyone but Whitney, Ava wouldn’t know. In her curiosity, she grabbed one of the cinnamon rolls and smirked. “Yeah, how come we never got the wedding invitations? Not fair, you know?” she asked, teasing them more before her teeth sank into the sweet pastry. “Oh my god, Evie! These are divine!” she exclaimed almost immediately because it was probably the best damn cinnamon roll she’d ever eaten.
There were a lot of words to describe Jace Christiansen but idiot was not one of them. He had that cold reserved demeanor and maybe many people thought he was nothing but a dumb thug, judging by the muscle mass and tattoos. But Jace never corrected them, let everyone underestimate him as that was his greatest weapon. Once they did underestimate him, he could surprise them when they expected it the least. And also, the fact that he was not completely dumb let him not only remember everyone’s favorite bottle of alcohol, even though he was sure many of them were drinking much finer stuff these days, but he also remembered crushes and all that jazz.
He almost chuckled, remembering how Caleb thought it was a good idea to pick up a fight with him once the stoner found out how Jace and Evie hooked up. Once. Just once. And they immediately knew they were not a good fit to become a couple. But rather than a booty call, Jace kept Evie close and she became like a sister to him. However, Caleb, saw it differently. And Jace also saw the looks between Ava and Parker and Wes and Whitney though he could never really put his finger on it. He was good but not that good to guess what was happening between those four. Yet it was very interesting to see this seating chart in the van and something was telling him it was not an accident it worked out this way.
And then there was Cam. Sweet, gorgeous Cam. The girl he lost all those years ago because he was seen as not a good fit for her. Her dad made sure Jace realized it and that was the event that actually launched the avalanche of not taking Cam to homecoming, sleeping with Evie and fighting with Caleb. But now, maybe…just maybe, this could be the time to make amends. A smile was sent her way as she grabbed a bottle of tequila and took a nice healthy swig. “Slow down, blondie. I don’t remember you being this courageous.” Jace laughed, teasing the petite girl a little. As the bottles were distributed, Jace grabbed his own whiskey and opened it. He would have talked to Cam more, was even about to but them Parker’s grin appeared in his sight and the guy rapid fired all those questions.
Thank god, Wes broke that with his toast and Jace cheerfully hit all those bottles with his, toasting to Anna and them and the whole trip because god knew they all needed this. Hoping that Parker would let it go proved to be in vain because Wes himself resumed “20 questions”, as he called it. With a wince in his face, Jace took a long, several-gulp long drink of whiskey and shook his head. “Dude, we’re not…” but before he managed to finish, Ava added her two cents, making Jace groaned. “Okay, the easy question first. Riley is four. Second, we are not married, okay? We never got married. There were no invitations because there was simply no wedding. We clear?” he explained, drinking again. “Fucking christ…” he grumbled himself, wondering how he just became the hottest topic in the van.
Despite how absolutely depressing Anna's funeral had been, Cameron was actually really looking forward to this trip, and she was grateful to their late friend for arranging this. She was also glad everyone had actually shown up and decided to come, because their group may be forever incomplete but it'd be worse if one of the eight of them had backed out. From the front of the van to the back, Cameron could sense all sorts of emotions, plus feel her own. The alcohol was definitely helping break the ice, for everyone but Caleb, who needed to stay sober while he drove. Or as sober as he'd arrived, anyway.
She felt her cheeks flush some when she heard what Jace said to her, about how he didn't remember her being this courageous. "Maybe I've changed." She shrugged one delicate shoulder as she took another swig of tequila, almost spitting it out on Whitney in front of her as Parker started his rapid fire line of questioning. She slapped her hand over her mouth at the last minute, forcing herself to swallow the burning liquid as her eyes darted over to Jace. Wes distracted everyone for a moment with a toast, that Cameron and her burning cheeks were happy to oblige to.
But afterwards, the questions were back on. Thankfully Jace answered the questions, or at least the easy one before starting in on a tirade about how they were not married, had never gotten married, and there was no wedding. "I think they got it, Jace." Cameron mumbled, feeling her cheeks burning again as she took another sip of the tequila. She was well on her way to getting tipsy before they even left the area, but at this point, she needed something to hide behind. Why was her face so red? Well, she was flushed from the tequila. Why was she so uncomfortable with the questions? Well because she did like Jace, always had, but he'd made it clear he didn't feel the same, both back when he ditched her on prom night and now, in the van.
Lowering the bottle, she brought her legs up onto the bench, leaning back in her seat some. The van was filled with the voices of her friends, and Caleb had even turned on the radio, though it wouldn't be long before that turned into nothing but static. She was content sipping on her alcohol and not thinking about how fiercely Jace had said they weren't married. Because that totally wasn't on her mind at all. Twirling her hair around her finger, she glanced up as she heard Caleb mention something about a game. Truth or dare? Oh, hell.
Caleb couldn't help but notice how Evie didn't seem happy to see him climb into the drivers seat, but honestly, that was 100% Parker's fault. He could have driven, but noooo, he threw the keys at Caleb. Despite that, Caleb decided to keep his trap shut because even if Evie wasn't happy to see him, he was happy to see her. Not that he'd admit that out loud. Starting the van, he left the parking lot, begging Evie to find something good on the radio. He knew it wouldn't last long before it turned into static, but he hated not having music playing in the background.
"Oh, fuck yeah, I love this song. Cheers, bitches!" Caleb shot to the others, holding up his imaginary bottle of liquor and taking a sip. He could totally control himself and have a few sips while driving, but apparently, that wasn't an option. So with an eye roll, he settled back into the seat, singing the lyrics softly to the Jet song that he still rocked out to on his own. He could hear the others talking, and his eyes glanced in the rearview mirror every so often, looking at his friends. Evie included, even as she seemed content to stare out of the window at the scenery.
"See anything interesting?" He asked himself before he could stop himself, looking forward automatically after he asked, pursing his lips slightly. What a great conversation opener, you dolt. Biting down on the inside of his cheek, he picked up singing again under his breath, navigating the van where it needed to go. They hadn't been driving long when the idea occurred to him, and with a grin he lowered the volume of the already soft music, glancing back at the others. "Why don't we play a game?" He ventured, making sure everyone heard him before he continued.
"I'm thinking... truth or dare?" Waggling his eyebrows, he smirked as he looked over at Evie. Everyone was drinking, which he knew would either make this game alot of fun or a huge disaster. But Jace had started the icebreaker with the liquor, now it was Caleb's turn with a game. "Anyone can venture the truth or dare, just like old times. Nothing that will get us killed, though!" He laughed before he beat the steering wheel a few times, bouncing on the seat with a huge grin on his face. "I say... Ava, you're first. Truth or dare, and again, anyone can lay it on her once she decides."
All I wanna do is let you in
But good guys never win
Parker glanced between Cam and Jace, expecting an answer to his queries, but Wes derailed the line of questions for a moment with a necessary and well said toast to Anna, themselves and booze. "Cheers!" Parker grinned, taking the bottle that Whitney'd grabbed from Jace's bag and passed forward so he could join the toast. He and Ava would end up being a two bottle row after all. He clinked his bottle against the rest, making sure to lean forward to cheers with Evie as well. He took a big swig of the whiskey, feeling the warm liquid slide down his throat. As the burn subsided, the clown's attention returned to the pair in the back row.
As Jace explained that Riley was four, but that he and Cam were not married, Parker realized he had put his foot in his mouth a bit. Especially since Cameron's expression fell a little after Jace denied their marriage. Oops. "Oh, my bad guys, I totally didn't mean to... ugh..." Parker felt like a jerk and didn't know how to fix the awkward situation. Luckily, Caleb came to the rescue and suggested they play a game.
Using the opportunity to escape from his awkward questions, Parker fell back on his clownish ways. "On that note..." Parker said sheepishly as he pretended to push an elevator button. Miming the elevator descending, Parker slid down in his seat, disappearing from the view of those in the back. "Fuck. Wake me up when we're there A, so I don't mess any shit up." He said melodramatically, face palming as he laid down across the bench seat, his head falling in Ava's lap.
When Caleb continued laying out his idea, suggesting that the game they play be truth and dare and that Ava should go first, Parker removed his hand from his face and grinned looking up at the beautiful brunette. "Ooh, what's it gonna be?" He said teasingly as the game was kicked off. The ice breaker was a welcomed change of pace, and Parker hoped it would cheer Cameron up, feeling guilty as he recalled the crestfallen look on her face. While Ava was his favorite person to cheer up, Parker didn't like seeing any of his friends down.
Ava ended up picking dare, and Parker immediately jumped in. "I dare you to go the rest of the day without checking or using your phone." He said, sitting back up and looking over to Ava seriously, but playfully. If her phone call earlier had put a bad taste in her mouth, then Parker would just remove the source from the equation entirely. Once Ava gave in to the dare, handing her phone over to Whitney for safe keeping, the rounds of Truth and Dare and shots continued.
As more alcohol was consumed and people loosened up, the atmosphere in the van soon became light hearted and full of laughter. After choosing Truth, Wes admitted that he once went streaking at a frat party and Jace revealed the actual mother of Riley. The girls chose dares, which resulted in Evie taking a shot for each time she couldn't remember a member of the group's middle name; Cam having to sing aloud to the entire gas station when they stopped for fuel and Whitney having to down a cup composed of a mixture of each of the alcohols that everyone brought.
With the group happily tipsy-verging on drunk, a few questionable dares were completed, one of which resulting in Caleb being dared to use his knees to control the steering wheel for a mile. Luckily he was sober, and completed his task without incident. Time began to slip by quickly, and the closer they got to the cabin, the closer the group became. Had Anna been with them, it almost would have felt like old times. The radio had long turned into static but nobody seemed to mind. As Caleb pulled into the cabin's driveway, Parker was just finishing a round of truth, admitting that he used to have an imaginary friend when he was growing up named Johnny Jokester and would speak in a British accent whenever he talked to his invisible pal.
"Hell yeah guys!" Parker cheered as Caleb killed the engine, jumping up from his seat and smacking his head on the roof of the van. "Fuck!" He cursed reflexively, the alcohol softening the blow, at least until Parker sobers up. "Thanks for driving dude! Now somebody get this man a shot!" He added, clapping Caleb on the shoulder, before sliding the van door open and practically falling out.
The grin that Wes greeted Whitney with as she sat next to him was likely in part to blame for her newfound loss of words when around the dark haired man. She'd never been shy around him when he was dating Ava, but now... Well, now hopefully the alcohol would help solve the problem. It was a relief to hear that despite his polished appearance, there was still some of the Wes that she used to know in there. And true to the prince's charming ways back in school, Wes momentarily deflected Parker's questions with a unifying and eloquent toast to the group and their late friend.
Whitney quickly leaned back over their seat, grabbing the last bottle of whisky from Jace's bag and passing it up to Parker so he could be a part of the toast. As the group all clinked their bottles against each other, Whitney couldn't help but smile, even as a few sentimental tears were quickly blinked away at the mention of Anna. Tossing back another pull of Malibu, Whitney could already feel the first couple sips taking effect. Relaxing back into the seat, Whitney watched the events between Jace, Cam and Parker unfold, her secondhand embarrassment now eased.
Things in the van were in danger of taking an awkward turn when Jace finally settled the question of whether or not he and Cam were together, but Caleb shifted the mood into a different, almost equally dangerous direction- Truth or Dare. Luckily, this game was exactly what the group needed to start breaking the ice and get more comfortable with each other after years of being apart.
Right off the bat, Whitney ended up becoming the keeper of Ava’s phone, taking it from her sister and stowing it at the bottom of her purse along with her own phone. If anyone needed to contact either of the Jeffries sisters, they were sorely out of luck. Laughter soon filled the van as truths were revealed, dares were completed and bottles were drained. It didn’t take long for the alcohol to start kicking in and allow the eclectic group to loosen up.
When Wes admitted that he once went streaking at a frat party, Whitney's alcohol influenced mind found its way into the gutter as she imagined the scene. Catching herself checking out Wes as her thoughts wandered, Whitney's cheeks flushed from more than just the booze and she had to look out the window for a few minutes to recompose herself. "Get yourself together, Whit. Wes is Ava's..." She thought. "...Or, was Ava's." Her mischievous side corrected. The brunette chanced another glance at Wes, watching him laugh at something someone said, before shaking away her thoughts. "As if!" The Malibu might have temporarily erased the memory of Sebastian, but it couldn’t erase the fact that Wes was, and likely would always be, the archetypal prince and she was just a nerd. "Keep dreaming, Whit."
A few rounds of Truth or Dare later, and Whitney found it to be her turn. Afraid of what she might have to reveal by choosing truth, the brunette elected to complete a dare. Though as she choked down a concoction of all the alcohols in the vehicle combined, Whitney wondered if admitting her darkest secrets wouldn't have been better. Her eyes watered from the horrendous taste and burning of her throat, but she managed to finish off the poison without spitting it out. Nonetheless, Whitney hung onto the cup, even after she was finished, in case her dare decided to come back up. It never did, but the last hour of the ride was just a blur to Whitney as the alcohol kicked in.
Before she knew it, Caleb was parking the van and Parker was sliding the rear passenger door open and calling for someone to get Caleb a drink. Whit waited for Ava to follow out after Parker, before getting up herself. On her way out of the van, a tipsy Whitney leaned over to the driver's seat. "Our hero!" She smiled, giving Caleb an innocent kiss on the cheek in gratitude for his driving, before pushing her Malibu bottle into his hands. "It tastes like a tropical island..." She giggled a little, not caring that no one besides her probably drank Malibu anymore. If Caleb wanted to catch up, he shouldn't be too picky at this point.
Hopping out of the van, Whitney looked over to the cabin and smiled. It looked like it had been updated a little since their last trip, but otherwise was a blast from the past. The icy air felt good against her warmed cheeks and she spent a couple moments blowing out intermittent puffs of air to see her breath. Parker had gone around to the back of the van and began pulling out the suitcases, careful to avoid putting them down in the patches of snow that scattered the mostly cleared driveway. Whit grabbed her bag and with some minor imbalance, managed to roll it up to the cabin porch. "I call a top bunk!" She announced to the group with a grin as she turned around to watch them unload.
It had taken quite some time for Evelyn to get over her fears of riding in vehicles. After the car accident that killed her parents, she had to pretty much be sedated, high, or drunk to be a passenger in a car with someone else. Thankfully, the Montana town that she moved to was just small enough that she could ride her bike or walk wherever she pleased. At first, Evelyn hadn't tried to fix her issues, had bottled them up, and hidden them away from the people around her, even her aunt. Anna, however, could see right through her. She noticed the flinches and mini bottles of booze before every bus ride field trip, paid attention to the excuses of not needing a ride to that night's party or group event. And, in true Anna fashion, she was not shy about confronting Evie with her concerns.
Anna was the reason that Evelyn finally went to therapy and talked about her issues, which was exactly the help she needed to get over her fears. The baker still saw her therapist once a week, though that would have to be a phone call given there was service while she was away in the mountains. Even though she still preferred to walk or ride her bike places, Anna and therapy were the reasons she could sit in the passenger seat of that van without constant anxiety and a major panic attack. Well, the gin was certainly helping as well. Her eyes darted between the trees and plants flicking by before glancing up at the clouds, attempting to make out images or pictures in the fluffy masses.
"Hmm?" Evelyn hummed, pulled from her thoughts by Caleb's words. She turned her forest green gaze to the brunette man sitting alongside her, taking a moment to process what he had asked. Her head was a bit fuzzy from the gin and, though she was still guarded against him, was less standoffish than she had been before. "Not much," she answered, turning to look out the window again and tilting her head against the glass. Time passed, and it wasn't long before everyone, aside from Caleb, was feeling far less inhibited than they started out as. The suggestion of Truth or Dare seemed like something straight out of high school, and absolutely perfect for the type of vacation Evie expected them to have. With a grin, she chimed, "I'm in!"
A slew of truths and dares were thrown around the van over the next few hours, some more interesting than others. Wes admitted he had streaked at a frat party, which Evie couldn't deny fit him. Caleb drove with his knees for a bit, which the baker had to look out the window to avoid freaking out about. Jace talked about Riley's mom, Ava gave up her phone, Whitney drank a cocktail of death, Cam sang to the gas station, and Evie took a shot for every middle name she didn't remember, which was quite a few. Before they knew it, they were at the cabin. Evelyn pushed the door open, hopping out with the gin bottle in hand and nearly falling on her butt from the slick snow. She caught herself and stared at the cabin in awe, a rush of excitement flooding through her veins from being there once again.
Grabbing her suitcase from Parker, Evelyn followed Whitney up the porch with a grin on her face. "You can most certainly have it. I'm taking a bottom," she answered, reaching for the door handle and finding it already unlocked. Whoever they were renting it from must have already set everything up for them. Making sure to kick the snow off her boots, Evie walked inside, an influx of memories flashing through her mind. The kitchen counter where she had made breakfast for everyone, the spiral staircase they had slid down, the fire pit in back where they had sat and gotten real with one another. These were some of the happiest memories of her life, and she couldn't believe that, for a few years, she had entirely forgotten about them.
Evelyn walked into one of the rooms to toss her suitcase onto a bed before returning to the living room. Taking a swig from her bottle of gin, which had steadily lost about a quarter of the liquor on the trip over, she set it down on the coffee table as she looked at the fireplace. It wasn't on and, though the cabin wasn't cold, it wasn't exactly warm either. Crouching in front of it, she grabbed a match to light the pilot, watching it flick up around the logs that were already inside. Proud of herself, Evie turned and plopped down on the familiar black leather couch to wait for the others to join, hugging a throw pillow to her abdomen.
While Wesley wasn't entirely sure what his cousin had been up to over the past five years, he was sure that she hadn't gotten married to Jace. Hell, as far as he knew, she hadn't really talked to the man in all that time either. That being said, Wes's life was quite insane. He spent most of his time at the office and barely any in his apartment. He only made time for family events that were required and often business-related. Otherwise, he usually didn't have time in his busy schedule for a social life. So, where Cam was working and how she was feeling generally was unknown to him. To be completely honest, he felt bad about that. Growing up, she had always been like a little sister to him, and Wes was annoyed with himself that he had let that drift over the past few years.
His suspicions were confirmed, however, when Jace responded in a not-so-sensitive explanation of their lack of relationship. Cam looked rather uncomfortable alongside him, and Wes was sure he caught a look of sadness in her pretty hazel eyes. Deciding it better not to point it out, Wesley took another drink from the bottle of scotch. Relationships were not easy for people like them. Cam, the daughter of a CEO and a lawyer, and Wes, the son of an attorney and a supermodel, constantly had the pressures of living up to their parents' otherworldly expectations. The straight-A's, leadership positions, and groups of extracurriculars were never enough to avert their stony gazes. They were both micromanagers and absent parents at the same time.
Pulled from his thoughts by the recommendation of Truth or Dare, Wesley was excited to participate. He wanted to know more about what his friends had been up to, but he also wanted to break the ice with some drunken dares. Laughter filled the van as secrets were told, his own being about his fraternity hazing disguised as another game of Truth or Dare. Wes had always been a fairly confident guy, at least in his physicality. He was more than willing to strip absolutely naked and run down the street for all to see. As he told his story, the businessman glanced at Whitney just as she looked away, barely seeing the tint of a blush on her cheeks.
Several truths and dares later, and the van pulled into the nearly snow-cleared driveway of their old cabin. It wasn't super large, with two rooms filled with bunk beds, a kitchen and living room combination, and a back patio area comprised of a hot tub and fire pit. But it was what nine high school kids could afford with their allowances, part-time jobs, and a little help from parents. Wesley waited for Whitney to exit, following her out of the van and stretching as soon as his feet hit the ground. But confined to a seat so long wasn't ideal, but the result was definitely worth it. Taking another swig from the scotch bottle to warm himself from the sudden cold, Wes thanked Parker for his bag before following the two brunette women up the stairs.
Pausing just outside the front door with Whitney, Wes couldn't help but grin at her announcement. "Damn, I wanted the top bunk," he answered before taking a bit of a step closer. Was he drunk? Not entirely. Was the alcohol making him a bit braver when it came to Whitney? It would seem so. Leaning a bit so he was at eye level with her, he smirked and continued, "I guess we'll just have to share." With a wink, Wesley continued into the cabin behind Evie, tossing his bag and coat haphazardly onto a few bottom bunk in one of the rooms before joining her in the living room. He sat down on the loveseat adjacent to the couch, remembering the last time they had been there and he had sat in that exact spot. Had he known then that their return trip would be on such bittersweet terms, he might have down things a bit differently. But, the scotch in his hand wasn't about to let him be sad. Instead, he called out, "Hurry up so we can keep this party going!"