Even though Ben had teased Sofia with the offer of some really good Tiramisu, they had already promised their friends they would meet at the Tavern after dinner. Ben hugged Cole, said goodbye to Leroy and Kaitlin and the couple left the park to join their friends.
They arrived at the Tavern and joined the party already in progress. “We ordered a round for you,” called out Nick when he saw Ben heading for the bar. “Red wine, right?”
Ben nodded his affirmation. He gave Sofia’s hand a little squeeze for reassurance before they sat down. As soon as they were seated, Nick proposed a toast. “To my sister. Congratulations for making this former dick-hay-ud my soon to be brother-in-law!”
Everyone including Sofia laughed and clinked their glasses.
Ben shot a look at Emma. She gave him a warm smile, tears shimmering in her eyes. The two of them had a special bond. He could tell she was truly happy for him. They would be lifelong friends.
Nick bent over to a Ben. “You did notice I said former. Seriously dude, you have come a long way since you proclaimed you were going to buy a fishing boat and pick up chicks.” Nick looked over at Sofia and grimaced. “Sorry sis.”
Rachael chimed in, “Yes Ben. I almost like you now!”
Ben rolled his eyes, used to being the butt of everyone’s jokes. But Sofia didn’t appreciate it. She glared at her brother. “Nick, none of us are perfect. Even you. Ben wouldn’t say why, but I think I know the reason he started a grow room. A certain broke-ass college freshman needed a cheap source of weed.”
Oh shit, thought Ben. He was touched because she was defending him, but he didn’t want an all out war. Ben put his hand on Sofia’s arm. “Pia,” he said gently, “It’s not his fault sweetheart. It’s on me – and it’s over. So let’s drop it and have a good time, okay?”
Rachael looked mortified and tried to help Ben diffuse the sister/brother argument. Probably because part of it was her fault. “Honey, let me see that ring,” she said to Sofia, then looked pointedly at Nick, “I wouldn’t know what one looks like.”
Sofia bit her bottom lip and giggled. Ben mouthed ‘thank you’ to Rachael as Sofia held her hand out to show her the engagement ring.
Nick, however, looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him whole. First Sofia and now Rachael we’re firing darts at him. Ben felt sorry for him, kinda.
Paybacks are hell, thought Ben unable to resist stirring the pot since he was no longer the target. “Nick, when are you and Rachael getting married?” he asked his friend.
Rachael cocked an eyebrow at Nick. Nick looked up at Ben smirking. “Touché Ben,” he said, his tone mocking, “I apologize for making jokes at your expense. Here I am, still in school and you are already starting your life. You have a cute as hell kid, a great job and a gorgeous fiancé. Have you two set a date?”
Sofia’s frown had slowly turned into a smirk at her brother’s sarcastic speech. “Actually we did talk about it,” she said to Nick. “I think I only need about 6 months to get everything together. Mom is not going to let us do this small. You know how she is Nick.”
Emma spoke up. “Oh, I love weddings!”
“Emmaaaa,” gushed Sofia, “I would looove for you to be a bridesmaid.” Then she turned to Rachael, “And Rachael, would you be my maid of honor?”
“Oh yes, of course,” said both Rachael and Emma simultaneously.
Ben looked over at Casey, who hadn’t said a word all night as per usual. “Casey, sorry dude,” he said apologetically, “I have to ask my brother Reese to be a groomsman and I’ve already asked Nick to be my best man. If Reese tells me to take a flying leap, would you mind being a backup?”
“Well, hell,” deadpanned Casey, “always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Shit, not even a bridesmaid, a fucking backup bridesmaid.”
The entire table started laughing, all of the earlier tension gone. Nick finally recovered enough to talk. “Just for that dumbass remark Casey, you get to host the bachelor party!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Three weeks later, Ben, Sofia and Cole made the trip to Twinbrook to meet with Sofia’s parents. Ben hadn’t been back in Twinbrook since he left for college more three years ago. Everything seemed so old compared to Willow Creek with all of the new construction. Willow Creek, once a sleepy little town had become a prime suburb of San Myshuno and was growing like wildfire, hence the Newcrest development.
When they entered the Hamlin’s home, both Ben and Sofia were engulfed in hugs from her parents. Ben was shocked at the age difference of Sofia’s parents and his. Sofia and Nick were late in life children, so her parents were already in their 60’s while his were in their 40’s.
Cole was clinging to Ben until Sofia’s mother gave him a toy to play with. “Ben, he’s adorable. Sofia told me about the dedication to his mother. That’s so touching.”
Ben smiled at Sofia. “It was Sofia’s idea. I’m very lucky to have her.”
“Let’s have a seat and catch up,” said Mr. Hamlin, “I know you must be tired from the long drive.”
“Well, I am glad you two found your way to each other,” said Mrs. Hamlin once they were settled. Ben could swear she was glowing. “When you two were in school, I always hoped you would wind up together. When Nick told me you had gotten married and had a baby, why, I was afraid she might wind up with Jesse. Oh…I’m so sorry Ben. I didn’t mean…”
“That’s okay,” said Ben to save her from further embarrassment.
She took that as her queue to continue her Jesse rant. “Anyway, I am so happy you two are together. That Jesse, I never trusted him.”
Sofia’s father spoke up interrupting her. “Victoria!”
“Edmund, it’s true. He was too ‘nice’, if you know what I mean – a real Eddie Haskell.”
Ben needed to change the subject. “Pia, show your mother your ring.”
She gave him a grateful look. “Mom, look. Isn’t it beautiful.”
“Oh, it is! Good job Ben. How long are you going to be here? I thought we could go dress shopping and start planning the wedding. I’m so excited.”
“Right now?” asked Sofia giving Ben an apologetic look.
“No time like the present sweetie. So, yes. If you are getting married in 5 months we need to find a dress now, so they can alter it. And we can pick out your bridesmaid dresses while we are there. And check on photographers, flowers, food – oh and a cake and invitations. And the venue. I know the perfect place. There is just SOOO much to be done. Oh, Sofia, let me show you what I found in one of the magazines. I have it in the kitchen.”
Ben’s head was spinning listening to Sofia’s mother go on about the wedding. When he and Grace got married, he just put on tie and showed up. He didn’t even have to buy rings.
When Sofia and her mother got up and walked into the other room, it was as if he had ceased to exist. Mr. Hamlin noticed Ben’s panicked look and laughed. “Well, it looks like this little affair is gonna cost me a pretty penny. At least all I have to do is pay for it and we just show up!”
Ben felt awful. “Oh no, we can pay….”
Edmund shook his head. “No son. It’s my little girl.” His voice was thick as he continued. “Her mother has dreamed of this day since the day she was born. I am doing this – for Victoria – as much as I am for Sofia.”
He paused and and swallowed hard. Then he gave Ben a conspiratorial look, “Little secret. When Sofia asks you for your opinion on something, and she will, you can give it. But when she disagrees, and she will, and says ‘Well, I kinda thought this might be better’ agree with her. And you better damn well make sure she believes you like it so much better than your idea. Son, you have zero say in what happens in the next 5 months. Trust me. But she will ask and there is no right answer.” Then he laughed a deep belly laugh.
Ben looked at his future father-in-law like he was crazy. “But…”
“Trust me,” he repeated and then called out to his wife and daughter, “Go ahead you two. Have fun. Us boys will be fine.”
Sofia ran in and kissed Ben on the cheek. “Thanks Ben,” she said and turned to her father. She kissed him as well, “Bye Daddy.”
Mr. Hamlin looked at Ben. “And so it begins,” he said.
Ben laughed this time. He could tell Sofia was in a whole other world with her mother. “Your wedding was like this?” he asked.
“Oh yes. I had to learn the hard way. But once I figured it out, it was whole lot easier.”
Ben picked up Cole. “Thanks so much for the advice. If you don’t mind, I’m going to go visit my brother. I haven’t seen him in a while. I won’t be gone too long. I can bring back take out for lunch if you like. My treat. I think I owe you big time.”
“Sure son. You know, your brother is a hard worker, just like you. I’m proud the Murdock’s and the Hamlin’s will be related. Reese’s little girl is about the same age as Cole isn’t she?”
“Yes, they are only about a year apart. I feel terrible I haven’t met her yet.”
“Well, you best get going then!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Ben?!” said Brooke when she answered the door, “Oh! And this must be Cole. He is so big! Please come in. Reese will be here any minute. He ran to the store to pick up a six pack since you were coming.”
“Ben?” said a deep voice behind him that sounded just like his father. Ben turned around and sure enough it was his older brother. He was surprised at how much Reese had changed since he had last seen him. But then, so had Brooke. They looked like responsible adults. They had gone through a lot. It was a miracle they were still together and had even added another child to their family. He fleetingly wondered if he had also changed, looked older maybe.
Reese sat down his grocery bag and walked over to Ben. “It’s really you.”
“Yeah. About damn time huh?” replied Ben.
“Daddy!” squealed a mini Brooke running towards Reese. She stopped in her tracks when she saw Cole. “Who’s that? Can he play?”
Reese picked up Robyn, his 4-year-old daughter, and introduced the cousins. Then they walked inside to let the kids play and talk.
“Beer?” offered Reese once they were seated.
“No thanks. I’m driving, you go ahead.”
Reese opened a beer and took a long drink. “So how have you been? I understand you and Sofia Hamlin are getting married. Damn. I remember your graduation party.” Reese chuckled before continuing. “She rode back with me and Brooke. She didn’t say a word all the way home. And now…look at her. Who would have ever dreamed.”
“Mom tell you?”
“Oh yes. Mom and Sofia’s Dad. I work for him. You knew that, right? As for Mom, I have to talk to her once a week or I’m in trouble,” said Reese with a laugh.
Ben chuckled, “Yes, Mom’s a little crazy. I get to see her nearly every day so I feel your pain. She can be a bit…much….” Ben thought about how much she had done for him lately and amended his statement. “But she always means well and sometimes, she really does have good ideas.”
“Mom always tries too hard. I’m glad she has the girls to keep her busy and Leroy to help her manage it all.”
Ben was thankful Reese had no idea what happened with Sofia and Jesse. “Yes, she has her hands full. I just left the Hamlin’s. I really like Sofia’s dad. He said good things about you too. When Sofia and her mother took off on a shopping spree for the wedding, Mr. Hamlin just laughed it off. He’s totally prepared to spend a fortune on this wedding. And…” Ben sighed…
“Speaking of my wedding …. I sorta asked Nick to be my best man. I’m sorry I….”
Reese held up his hand. “Ben stop. We haven’t been close for a long time. I am sure you and Nick are more like brothers than we are.”
“I’m sorry Reese. You tried to tell me about Dad. I just didn’t want to hear it. And frankly, I was jealous.” Ben grimaced and glanced at Brooke. “Sorry Brooke,” he said before readdressing his brother. “I was jealous of Brooke and your kids. They took you away from me.”
“I’m sorry too Ben.”
“Why?” asked Ben confused. As far as he was concerned, Reese had done nothing to be sorry about. He knew exactly how hard raising a baby could be. He was the selfish one.
“Because I just got mad and didn’t try,” said Reese, the sadness evident in his voice, “I should have helped you more.”
“You know what Reese,” replied Ben, “let’s just forget it. I am over it. It was an awful time in our lives. And it’s over. I’m getting a new beginning with Sofia. I don’t want to relive the past anymore. It seems like that’s all I’ve done for the last couple of years.”
Reese suddenly got serious. “You had therapy? Mom didn’t tell me.”
Ben laughed him off. “No. Feels like it though. But finally, things are good. Really, really good. So Reese, even though you aren’t my best man, will you mind being a groomsman for me?”
Reese looked at him and swallowed hard. When he spoke his voice was thick with emotion. “Sure Ben. I’d be honored.”
Ben was so relieved. He didn’t realize how much it meant to him that Reese would say yes. He looked at Brooke, and she was smiling too. “Thanks man,” he said, “We should try to get together more. Get to know each other all over again. Since Sofia’s parents live here, I am sure we will probably be down more. Hell, Dad and Uncle Reid are here too.” He knew he was rambling.
“That would be nice Ben,” said Brooke.
“Yes, we should get to Willow Creek too,” said Reese, “I mean, Mom, Leroy and the girls are there and now you too. You’re right, we have a lot of catching up to do.”
Ben stood up. “We do. But right now, I need to go pick up Sofia. We have a long drive back. Thanks Reese, Brooke.”
Brooke hugged him then went to fetch the toddlers from the playroom.
Reese hugged him too. “I’m glad you came by. Thanks. You didn’t deserve all the shit that happened to you.”
Ben tensed up. “You mean Grace?”
“Grace and Dad. Why? Is there more?”
He breathed a sigh of relief. “One day, we should talk over a beer – or ten. But for now, thank you for understanding. Oh, I almost forgot, we need a flower girl and Sofia suggested Robyn. Do you think she will be okay to do it?”
“Sure,” said Brooke answering for her husband. She laughed and said, “Look at them…they will be so cute.”