Back in the townhall I’m still fuming, inwardly cursing myself for enjoying that time with Jake and Kimmy before he decided to be an ass towards Miho.
Kimmy shuffles along next to me, I pay only half a mind to her. Jake’s presence is too much for me right now, every sound he makes, every move annoys me to no end.
Unfortunately I would be totally lost in these hallways so I can’t even just storm off without him. So I grit my teeth and follow him, answer to Kimmy’s question curtly, but I tell her it’s not her fault that I am so upset now. I can’t wait to get out of there and away from Jake.
Only that I can’t actually get away. He drove me there and he will be at the mayor’s home later. Just great.
Once we step through the door into the same small room we picked Kimmy up in she yelps and rushes forward, into the arms of a man I never saw before. He looks good, tall, broad shoulders, his hair just a tiny bit too long. Brown eyes look warmly at the child. She talks to him in a flurry of gestures and I can make out just enough to understand it’s her dad.
“Hello, sir, I’m Jacob Rosenfeldt.”
Caught up in the moment I keep translating although it’s not necessary, Kimmy’s father isn’t deaf after all.
“Ah, yes, the mayor told me about you. I’m Robert Pavel. Thank you for taking Kimmy out, I couldn’t make it sooner.” He has a nice voice and when his gaze sweeps over me I’m blushing lightly.
“I’m Jazz, I had the pleasure of talking to your daughter a bit today,” I introduce myself, hands still putting my words into signs.
Kimmy tells her father about our short outing, he repeatedly has to tell her to slow down to the point she turns to me with pleading eyes and I interpret for her. That’s why I’m here for anyway, I can keep doing it until the mayor relieves me of my duty. I should have asked if this is a paid favor, although I’m sure Mom will kick me out if I take any more money from Elias. After everything he has done for us, yada yada.
“Okay, Kimmy, say goodbye to your new friends, Mom is waiting for us already.”
She waves at us and I show Jake how to say ‘bye’ before I turn around and leave without another word. I can take a bus back.
Not going back is not an option. Too much is still not done and my list is longer than the walk to the bus stop. Halfway there Jake catches up with me. He has the audacity to ask why I’m running off like that and I would love to explain it to him in detail if it wasn’t for the fact that his father is my employer right now.
“Hey, I asked you a question! Why did you just run off?” His hand lands heavily on my shoulder, warm and far too real to ignore.
“I figured my service isn’t needed any longer so I want to get back to my actual work asap. Can’t let Maddie polish all those things, can I?”
His eyebrows shoot up, he blinks once, twice, just long enough for me to slip out of his grip.
“What the heck has gotten into you?”
“You!” No, wait, that sounds dirty. “I mean, that stupid stunt you pulled at the café.” He has no right to be angry now, I am the one pissed at him, not the other way around.
“What? That I paid for you? Are you one of those militant feminists? A walkure?”
My mouth opens and closes again, I bet I look like a fish out of water.
“There is – there is so much wrong with you and what you just said, I can’t even-” A frustrated squeal cuts off my short tirade and signals me it’s better to just leave now before I say something I actually regret. A deep breath and I manage to press out a ‘Nevermind, I make it back on my own’ and this time he doesn’t follow me.
Jake’s car is already in the driveway when I arrive, I march past it, ignore the sudden urge to kick it, knowing it would only hurt my foot.
The back door leads directly into the kitchen where I find Maddie and Ben busy with a list and the whole table covered with dishes, glasses and boxes filled with napkins and table clothes.
“There you are! You took so long, I thought you ditched me here!” Maddie is in my face the second I set a foot into the house.
“Well, looks like you found a good way to kill some time. What’s all this?”
“The caterer brought this over earlier. So they don’t have to carry it all in on the day of the party.” Ben grins and easily hoists up a huge box, sets it down next to a wall.
“Oh, good. Is this all clean or do we have to polish that, too?” I point to the plates and cutlery on the table, pray to every entity out there that the answer is in my favor.
“We? Who is we? If anyone cleans all this it’s you,” Maddie points out, much to my dismay. Like always Ben comes to my rescue.
“Don’t worry, it’s all clean and Sunday morning they will send some people here to get the preparations done.”
That’s a relief, but it’s short lived since Maddie pushes a rag into my hands and points towards the hallway.
“You still have to clean the windows and mirrors. I can’t take care of everything here on my own after all.”
Five minutes later and I’m convinced that she didn’t clean anything at all. I pick up where I left earlier, cleaning windows and mirrors all over the floor. One of my least favorite chores, I’m just saying.
“Bennie? Can you bring me the ladder, please?” I call into the general direction I believe him to be, stretch up as far as my arm can reach to get the upper edge of the mirror over the chimney sill. “Bennie?”
“Can you stop calling him that?”
It’s not Ben but Maddie, without the ladder of course.
“What? I call him Bennie ever since I was twelve. You want me to stop that now because…?”
I catch her expression in the reflection of the mirror, lips curled up in a snarl.
“Because he is MY fiance and I don’t like that familiarity.”
“Well, tough luck. As long as he doesn’t tell me to stop that, I won’t. He might be your fiance, but he’s also my friend.”
“Exactly, and that is all he will ever be to you.”
She looks as of she wants to spit on the floor to drive her point home, but luckily she doesn’t. I have just polished the wooden floors after all.
“I know. And I just asked my friend to bring me a ladder so I can finish my work here. If you are not going to get me one, you better tell him to do it. Because I’m so close to dropping this rag and leave you with all the cleaning. For real this time.” My patience is on its last leg, today already took more strength than I actually have.
“Your ladder, ma’am.”
Again it’s not Ben, but Jake. He acts as if nothing ever happened and sets the ladder down, winks at me.
“Ready to take orders, ma’am. What is my next task?”
“Just stay out of my way, that’s all,” I coolly dismiss him and roll my shoulder, my right arm is so heavy from all the cleaning and polishing already.
“Awww, are you still miffed? Next time you can pay, I promise.” He grins, completely at ease.
Maddie grunts, crosses her arms in front of her chest.
“Hey, where are you all?” Ben finds us in a tensed atmosphere, but oblivious to it – or deliberately ignoring – he stops next to Maddie, wraps an arm around her.
God, how I wish I could just disappear now so I don’t have to see her smug grin.
Well, it’s not exactly a hole in the floor but there is another exit opening up for me. My phone rings. I take it out of my pocket but my fingers are so cramped, I drop it. Cursing loudly I bend down to pick it up but Jake is faster, snatches it from me.
“Sam? Who is Sam?”
“Give me that!” My blood rushes once to my face and right back to my toes, the urgency in my voice not lost on Jake or the others.
“Ohhh, someone important? Hm, what do I get if I give you that?” Jake dangles my phone over my head, makes me jump for it.
“Jacob! Give it back!”
He keeps me away with one arm, the other still above us, holding my phone.
“Nope. First you have to say ‘pretty please’.”
“Dammit, Jake!” I struggle, the burning in my throat and behind my eyes not a good sign. Keep it together until you have the phone!
“Wrong. You can do that better.”
I hear Maddie’s snicker and Ben’s annoyed sigh, and in a desperate attempt I step on jake’s foot, hard. He cries out, his posture drops so I can grab my phone from his hand, just in time to see the display telling me that I missed a call.
“No…” My bottom lip trembles, I slump down on the floor, so tired of this day that isn’t even over yet.
“Geez, stop acting so dramatic. It’s only a call, you can call him back.” Maddie rolls her eyes, snuggles closer to Ben.
“Besides, can’t be that serious. I never heard you talking about that Sam before.”
“Because it’s none of your business,” I growl and wipe my nose with the back of my hand. Don’t cry now, don’t cry.
“Oh, come on. Aren’t we all friends here?” The way she says ‘friends’ could cut metal.
“Sam is kinda serious and so am I and that is all you need to know,” I snap back, trying not to actually yell. I can’t afford to rise to her bait, not after pissing Jake off already.
“And who is Sam? Does he have a last name? A job? Anything?”
“Why would you want to know? So you can stalk all the social media or what?”
Again that stupid smirk. “Maybe. I mean, we have to make sure that you don’t end up with some weirdo, don’t we? Or more that some nice guy doesn’t end up with you.”
“Mads, I think that’s enough,” Ben interrupts her interrogation/insults and comes over, offers me a hand to help me up on my feet again.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Ben is the younger brother. While he takes care of me Jake stands at the side, sulking.
“How about you try to call him back now? Don’t worry, we take care of the rest here.”
I stumble out of the room, stare at my phone. Should I really do it? What should I say? Is it even possible to fix what is broken between us? That’s exactly why I keep stalling and running away – too many questions, not enough answers. And the almost certain possibility that I won’t like the answers I could get.
“For someone who even got violent to get the phone back you don’t seem eager to make that call.”
Jake stands with his hands in his pockets, flashes me that grin that used to make Maddie’s knees weak before she rammed a pole far enough up her ass to also serve as hat rack.
“You,” I press out, my voice wavering while I still try to stay calm.
“Me?” he asks, pointedly looking around to make sure that yes, I’m talking to him.
“You braggadocious, banana-washing, weedcutting bighead! You think you are funny, snatching my phone like some third grader? That was a very important call for me and YOU kept me from it and NOW you have the audacity to judge my for not calling back?!”
“What’s wrong with you today? I tried to cheer you up since your mood is so damned sour and all you can do now is yell at me?” He snorts, eyes narrowing at me.
“I never asked you to ‘cheer me up’. I want you to stay away from me as far as possible!” My voice reaches a pitch that hurts my own ears but I’m not backing down now. “There’s a friggin’ heart emoji next to Sam’s name in my contact list! Even a blockhead like you should be able to figure out that it’s probably not my dentist calling!”
“You don’t need a dentist anyway, your teeth are perfect now!” he yells back , catching me off guard.
“What the heck is that supposed to mean? It doesn’t change the fact that you made me miss a call I was waiting almost a week for!” I’m not going to let him distract me with his random remarks, this is not a joke for me.
“Then go already and call him back! Dammit, this was the last time I tried to be nice to you.” He turns on his heel, storms back to his brother and future sister-in-law.
“Nice? NICE? You wouldn’t be able to be nice if – if – dammit!” The lack of a witty response has me yell in frustration and annoyance, in this state of mind I definitely can’t call Sam back. Constantly cursing under my breath I write a short text that I’m currently unable to talk but that I really, really want to have this conversation. Maybe later today?
Anxiety bubbles up in me while I stare at the screen, waiting for the little icon to tell me that Sam has at least read my message, albeit not answered.
A simple ‘OK’ has never given me so much joy before. I would love to call now, hear the familiar voice, but that would be the last straw today to simply break down. I can’t afford that, neither getting sloppy with work now nor not giving that conversation my whole, undivided attention. I better take some notes later so I won’t go unprepared into this battle for my relationship.
My resolve is strengthened and my emotions have calmed down enough so I can face the unholy trinity of temptation, annoyance and ignorance in the dining room again I pocket my phone and brace myself for whatever torture awaits me there. I’m sure that both Jake and Maddie won’t pass up the chance of making me run the gauntlet, but once I step back inside they are actually engaged in a lively – almost heated – discussion.
“That’s not your decision!” Maddie just shouts, chin jutted forwards, hands on her hips.
“Well, it’s not only your wedding after all.” Jake shrugs, looks at Ben for affirmation while he absentmindedly throws my rag from one hand into the other.
“You won’t get much cleaning done like that,” I point out, only to find myself under the glare of the squabblers and the much friendlier gaze of Ben. “What?”
“Nothing, we were just talking about you.” Maddie’s voice is icy, with a hint of accusation.
“Wow, that makes me feel better.” I roll my eyes, plop down on a chair. “Care to fill me in?”
“I was just thinking that maybe you want to come to our wedding if you are free that day,” Ben says and my jaw drops. I want that about as much as a root canal treatment without anesthesia.
One glance at Maddie tells me she feels the same about that.
“Benjamin!” I expect her to stomp her foot but she doesn’t, instead she throws her hands up. “Now that you said it we can’t just take it back.”
Don’t I have a say in this?
“Why should we? Jazz is a friend, why can’t we invite her?”
“You know why!” Maddie screeches, a very unpleasant sound even for my ears.
“Because it ruins your zen-like number of guests? How many are it so far? 120?” Jake mocks her, a loopsided grin on his face.
“If you keep talking to me in that tone you’re not invited either.”
The brothers share a short glance, a nod from Jake and a quick shake of his head from Ben replaces a whole conversation.
“Mads, this is also my wedding, you know? And I want my brother to be there, so could you please calm down a bit? Both of you?”
Poor Ben, trapped between them as voice of reason.
“You always take his side! I’m your fiancée, you should just agree with me.”
Watching this is better than some telenovela, at least as long as I’m not involved. I would love some popcorn now, but I dare not to breathe to draw no attention on my presence.
“Maddie, you got your way with everything else so. We booked the venue you wanted. There’s no limit for your dress. You will get your band and your menu, your cake and all the other things. So could you please let me at least invite the people I consider friends?”
And I’m back in the focus.
“But not her.” Maddie’s accusing finger trembles just a few inches away from my face.
“Attention: Bridezilla sighting in the dining room.” Even when he whispers, Jake can be heard clearly. Maddie’s head spins around, she glares at him, takes a step closer.
“What did you just call me?”
His hands raised in an appeasing manner Jake backs off, but Maddie doesn’t relent.
“I asked you a question! What did you call me?!”
“Nothing you actually want me to say again,” he points out, looks past her at Ben who hangs his head, shakes it lightly. A broken man.
Maddie is in full fury, spins back again to face her fiance. “Why do you let him talk to me like that? Why do you never defend me?!”
“Mads, I-” he tries to get a word in edgewise, to no avail.
“And stop calling me that! I hate that stupid nickname! And since you keep choosing other people above me, I guess you don’t even want to marry me!” The engagement ring hits the floor and bounces off with a dull sound, the carpet muffles the impact and I lose sight of the shiny metal and diamond while watching Maddie storm off.
“So she broke up with him? Over a fight whether or not you should get invited to the wedding?” The coffee Miho sets down in front of me holds a good swig of cream liquor.
“Yep. I officially ruined a marriage.” With my head on the counter I whimper into my sleeve. “This was not my plan for the day. Or, you know, at all.”
“But now the guy you crushed on during your school days is free again. Isn’t that a good thing?” On the other side of the counter Miho mimics my posture, rests her head on the polished surface.
“No, it’s not! Just because he’s free doesn’t mean that I have a chance and even if I had one, doesn’t mean I want it.”
How long might it take in a small town like ours before people start gossiping and point at me when I walk past? Not long enough.
“And how did Ben take it?”
“No idea. I guess he’s in shock.” He pretended that everything was fine, even told me that Maddie often overreacted and that she surely would reconsider. One or two days, a week at the longest. And then he went and made himself a sandwich, even asked me and Jake if we wanted one, too. That’s not what I tell Miho, though. Everyone has their own way of dealing with things after all.
“Didn’t you say they weren’t even engaged for long yet?” She straightens up again, stretches a bit.
“Does that matter? He wants to marry her, whether he put a ring on her finger a week or a year ago doesn’t change anything.”
I also perk up a bit when she slides a plate with cake over, pick at the creamy, chocolate-y ganache covering it with my fork.
“And Jake?” With her own fork she snatches a bite of my cake, grins when I scowl at her.
“Couldn’t stop smirking. No idea what his problem with Maddie is, but they don’t get along at all.” The bitterness of the chocolate and the sweet cream distract me for a second, I let the cake melt on my tongue, add some spiked coffee flavor. This is how my days should be, filled with cake and coffee instead of cleaning and drama.
“At least Maddie won’t bother you anymore,” Miho points out the bright side.
“Perfect timing, too. Tomorrow I have to scrub the toilets and bathrooms. And I don’t really want her commenting on that.”
Tomorrow is also the festival and a good chance to just enjoy some fun and games.
“By the way, do you know what job Jared has?”
I pick some more at the cake.
“No, just that he is working for some company. You haven’t really told me what happened today anyway.”
She perks up a bit, but still feigns some indifference.
“Well, obviously he’s working with or for the town hall on a regular basis. Water supply or something like that, according to Kimmy. Her mother is his co-worker AND it seems she’s the one who was in the club with him last night.”
“Huh…” A smile tugs at her lips, she covers it with another forkful of cake. She really has to learn to talk to people and not jump to conclusions, but to honest, I consider it funny how easily she’s thrown out of the loop by Jared when she’s still pretending to be not really interested.
“Are you going to the fair tomorrow?” I ask Miho between two bites of chocolate heaven.
“Nah, probably not. Too many people and I’m not that into greasy food and cheap games.”
“Too bad, I just wanted to ask you to come with me and watch me lose at can knockdown and whack-a-mole.”
Slightly tipsy but in a much better mood I make my way home. It’s time to tell Mom how much I love her and how grateful I am for everything she did for me. And of course I can’t wait to call Sam. When I told Miho about it, only the basics and not the full story with me kicking Jake to get my phone back and chickening out afterwards, she talked some confidence into me. I got my notes, I got my goal clear in sight and I got a light buzz – the perfect combination to win my lover back.
With a spring in my step I dance up the stairs, unlock the door and make a beeline into the living room where the lights are still on and voices indicate that Mom is watching TV. As a peace offering I brought a slice of Miho’s incredible cake, I swing the paper bag and waltz into the room just to stare at one of the most disturbing scenes I ever saw.
Mom, with her wrist bandaged up, sitting in a chair, eyes closed, head hanging low, moans and sighs at the very enthusiastic massage she is getting. From my father.
One of his hands is unfortunately not on her shoulders, but busy in the front of her blouse.
“Dad?” My head spins. “Mom?”
They jump apart, Mom sheepishly fixes her clothes, Dad simply beams at me.
“Jazzy-bee! How’s my big girl doing?”
My father is here. My father, the man who only remembers that I exist when he needs something. My father, who somehow manages to string Mom along for decades now. The same man who called me a few months ago to tell me about his latest business idea. And now he’s asking me how I am. So I tell him exactly how I feel.
“I think I’m getting sick.”