Cole was happy his dad suggested coming to the office with him. It was sorta like a summer job. Sometimes his grandfather joined them too. He soon realized, this was the most time he had spent with his father since he was little. And he loved it. His dad had so many stories. A lot of them involved his Uncle Nick, since they were best friends in high school and college.
Today, when he got in, Avery was already there. “Hi Cole!” she said warmly. “I spoke to Noah. This weekend works for him and Lindsey.”
“That’s perfect,” replied Cole. He was looking forward to getting to know Avery better and spending some time with Noah.
“Great….oh, here are my clients. Talk to you later,” she said and greeted a couple that just walked in.
At the same time, his dad walked out of his office. “Hey Cole, glad you are already here. I need to go check on some things at the park and you can ride along.”
When they pulled up to the park in his Dad’s convertible, Cole was surprised at the memories that assaulted him.
It only got worse as they walked through the park towards the clubhouse.
“I remember playing on these slides when I was a kid, having parties at the clubhouse, swimming, watching movies in the summer. I didn’t realize how much time I actually spent here growing up,” said Cole as they walked. Making out with Nicky, more than that with Laney, Noah’s ‘Head in the Hedges”, he thought but didn’t say. “It’s sorta weird though. It’s like everything that happened was a lifetime ago. And yet, it wasn’t really that long ago.”
His dad smiled. “I’m really glad you have fond memories of your youth. It means a lot to me that this park was a big part of it.”
“Well, some are bittersweet I guess. Laney and I spent a lot of time here,” he admitted.
Ben chuckled. “Yes, I know,” he replied, giving Cole a knowing look.
“You knew?” asked Cole. He could feel the burn of embarrassment run up his neck and into his face as he recalled some of the things he and Laney had done in the game room.
Ben chuckled. “Cole. We have security. Remember Mickey’s dad? We hired his company to install it because we were getting broken into. We couldn’t have kids breaking in and stealing us blind, or worse, getting into the pool and drowning.”
“But I used my key,” explained Cole so his dad didn’t think he was sneaking, which he totally was.
“How do you think we knew who it was? That, and the security cameras, just to be sure.
“Shit…” mumbled Cole.
Ben busted out laughing and slapped Cole on the back. “Don’t worry son, we didn’t watch. I turned off the game room cameras.”
“We….?” asked Cole sheepishly, now completely humiliated.
“Me and Mom,” said Ben barely holding back the laughter that danced on his face.
“Fuck….Dad, please don’t tell her I know….I’ll never be able to look at Mom again. This is payback for telling Ami about Tiramisu isn’t it?”
Ben smirked. “Maybe…. Don’t worry though, I won’t tell mom. She would kill me. But hey, at least we knew where you were, and that you were safe.”
“I always knew Mom had eyes in the back of her head, but I didn’t realize she had tech support!”
Both men laughed at Cole’s remarks and continued inside to check on the broken ice maker in the clubhouse.
“This is something I would normally ask Noah to do,” said Ben, as he stuck his head in the refrigerator, “but he’s been so busy I figured I would check on it for him and maybe fix it.”
“I guess I never realized how much is involved in running a business. Even the little stuff is important,” said Cole as he watched his father wrestle with the ice-maker. Cole was gaining a whole new appreciation for his father, and what it really took to for him to run C&M. He was very glad he had taken the time this summer to spend with him.
When Noah, Cole and Lindsey walked into Avery’s home on Saturday evening, he was immediately greeted by Harley.
While he petted the big dog, Lindsey squealed with delight. “You’ve done an excellent job with the decorations,” she gushed.
“Thanks!” said Avery, “Would you guys like the grand tour? I promise it will take all of two minutes!”
“Sure,” replied Lindsey immediately.
“I’ll open the wine while you two take a look,” offered Noah and held up the bottle he brought, “I’ve had the tour and then some.”
“I’ll help Noah, you girls go ahead,” said Cole. He wanted to spend some time alone with his friend.
“Hot damn Noah,” said Cole when the girls were out of earshot, “She’s a looker. You sure know how to pick’em.”
“She is at that,” said Noah with a smirk, “but it’s not serious.”
“Hmm, looks like she has a different perception of that than you,” said Cole, thinking his situation was totally the opposite.
“You think so? Maybe I need to cool it. I mean she’s nice enough. She’s a hairdresser – cut my hair even. But she’s very superficial. There is no way I could ever settle down with someone like that. So, I’ll enjoy her company until she figures out I’m not made out of money.”
“What about Avery? I mean the two of you could team up and make a fortune buying and flipping houses,” suggested Cole.
“Ha! We are both waaay too busy with Newcrest to consider doing something like that. And besides, your old man would kill us! Avery keeps it professional at work – keeps her private life private. I think maybe she has a boyfriend. I see her talking on the phone and laughing sometimes, like it’s personal, you know what I mean? But she never mentions anyone. She doesn’t have any personal pictures either. In fact, this is the first time we have socialized outside of work.” He smirked at Cole before continuing. “Maybe she has her eye on the bosses son. So, how are things with Yasmine?”
Ugh. He didn’t want think about Yasmine, another potentially failed relationship. He hadn’t spoken to her since drunk phone call. He needed some time to process it and figure out what he wanted to do. “Yasmine is a friend. Nothing more. I tried to call her the other day and she was out partying with another guy.”
“Fuck Cole. You seemed to be into her. Maybe you and Avery then? Now that would be a team. Once your old man retires the two of you could run this business and kick some ass.”
“Oh wine!” exclaimed Lindsey, interrupting their conversation, “Thanks Noah!”
Cole and Noah exchanged a quick glance. Noah simply shrugged and grinned.
“Thanks,” said Avery as she took the offered glass from Cole and sat in the empty chair next to him. Lindsey did the same and started chatting up everyone.
The more wine she drank the more she talked. She even offered to style Cole’s hair. He looked at Noah and Noah once again shrugged.
Finally Avery interrupted the Lindsey show. “I have the meat ready to put on. Who is the grill master?”
Noah bowed. “I would be happy to do the honors and show off my mad grilling skills. Cole, my man, pay attention.”
“Alrighty then. Here you go Chef Redcliffe,” said Avery with a laugh and handed him a spatula.
The girls took a seat around a bistro table, drinks in hand, while Noah went to work on the burgers. He played with Harley to avoid further questioning and a possible haircut from Lindsey.
Before long the wine and burgers were gone and Noah and Lindsey left. Cole declined a ride, opting to hang with Avery a little longer. It was only a five block walk and he wasn’t ready to go back to his ‘guest room‘ and think about Yasmine.
Avery brought another bottle of wine outside and poured them each a glass. It was cool now that the sun had gone down. “It’s nice and quiet here. You can hear the insects making noises,” said Cole as he sat back and enjoyed his wine.
“Yes. Right now it is. During the day the construction noises are a bit annoying.”
“But that’s only temporary. Right?” countered Cole.
“Yes,” she said and sighed softly as she picked up her glass, “but then, the night time sounds will be replaced by cars, loud music, kids playing and dogs barking.”
“Is that so bad? It’s the sounds of life isn’t it.”
“Yes. I suppose….” she said and looked at him. “You are such a half glass full guy aren’t you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. What about you? You enjoy working for my dad,” said Cole. It was more of a question than statement. He wanted to know more about this beautiful, yet mysterious woman that had become an invaluable asset to his father.
She smiled at the mention of his dad. “Ben and Leroy have been awesome, although I do miss having Leroy there as much. Ever since he had that episode, he has been cutting way back.”
“Wait. What episode?” said Cole suddenly concerned and sitting up.
She downed the rest of her glass before answering. “You didn’t know? Maybe I wasn’t supposed to say. They probably didn’t want you to worry, so never said anything. He got dizzy at work and they rushed him to the hospital. It turned out to be nothing, just dehydration.
“Anyway, Kaitlin, well, she went nuts and insisted that he slow down. I think he’s going to sell his share of the business to Ben. Ever since then Ben’s been working hard trying to show that he can handle it. I think he’s done a fantastic job.”
One more thing he didn’t know about. “Fuck. How can so much change in one year. It’s like – everything went on without me.” Cole tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice but was unsuccessful.
“Oh…Cole. That’s not true,” said Avery sympathetically, “They didn’t tell you so that you could focus on school and not worry about things back home that you couldn’t control. Honestly, if they had told you Leroy was ill, what would you have done?”
“I could have called him and let him know I love him, and wish him well,” said Cole angrily. “They didn’t even give me that opportunity.”
Avery leaned in and put her hand on his arm, shocking him into silence. “Cole, I promise, your grandfather knows how you feel about him,” she said gently.
He could only stare at her trying to process everything that happened since he’d been home. The new house, his grandfather’s illness and apparently Yasmine finding someone else to warm her bed. The only thing he was sure of, was that he was going to get a degree in Veterinary Medicine. Otherwise, he felt lost.
Avery was being sweet, but even that made it worse. This beautiful stranger knew more about his family, was more involved in their lives, than he was.
He pulled away from her touch. “I’m sorry Avery,” he said swiping his hands across his face, “I’m just not adjusting to being gone as well as I thought. Maybe it’s true, you can’t go home.”
“Well, regardless of what you think, it must be nice having such a loving, supportive family. And they do love you. All you have to do is watch they way the look at you. You can tell a lot from the way people look at each other.”
“Well, from the looks of it, I think they have adopted you as an honorary cousin or something,” he said, trying to lighten the mood.
Avery smiled sweetly. “Well, Ben and Leroy have been generous, that is for sure. I have learned a lot from them, and Noah too.”
Cole unsuccessfully tried to hide a yawn and Avery laughed. “I guess I’m boring you,” she said.
“Not at all. In fact, I really enjoyed this evening,” said Cole.
“Good. I don’t get a chance to entertain very often. I really did have a nice time too. Need a lift home?”
“All five blocks of it? I should walk off the wine and those burgers.”
“No. It’s late. Come on, I’ll take you,” said Avery.
It was Monday and Cole was back at his dad’s office. He had tried to call Yasmine the rest of the weekend and it went to voicemail. He was glad in a way, because he still wasn’t sure what to say to her. So when the phone rang and it was her, he wasn’t sure if he was ready yet.
“I gotta take this Dad, be right back,” said Cole and Ben‘s eyebrow shot up.
Cole walked into the break room for privacy and reluctantly answered the call before the last ring. “Hi Yas,” said Cole.
“Hi Cole….Listen, I’m so sorry about the other night. I was sooo drunk.”
“No shit,” said Cole, still pissed.
“I said I’m sorry,” snapped Yasmine.
He was surprised at her tone. Did she expect him to just laugh it off? “I guess it doesn’t really matter does it? Did you sleep with Jay?”
“It’s none of your business,” she shot back.
“So you did.”
“Cole, I told you, no strings,” she said, softening her tone, “You said okay. I was lonely. You were gone.”
“So you just jump the first guy that comes along? I miss you too, but I’m not looking for a quickie replacement. That’s all I am to you isn’t it? A quick fuck?” Shit–shit–shit….this is not how you fight for her. But he was so hurt and angry and she was acting like it was no big deal.
“Cole, please don’t . . .” she begged.
“Don’t what? Say the truth? Why do you even care what I think?” He was baiting her, hoping she would tell him she cared.
“Because you’re my friend,” she said softly, “and I care what you think of me.”
Not friend! he screamed in his head. “Friend,” he spit the word back at her like it disgusting, “That’s bullshit Yasmine. Friends don’t treat friends like garbage.”
“Cole, don’t do this…I’m…”
“You’re what? Sorry? You already said that. You made it clear. It’s my fault for believing you cared.” He knew he needed to calm down. But he couldn’t breathe or think straight.
“Cole,” she said and involuntarily sucked in a breath, “I really am sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
Cole knew she was crying and now he felt like shit for yelling at her. If she was crying, maybe she really did care, right? He took a deep breath before replying to calm down. “But you did Yasmine. I just need time to think. I didn’t mean to yell. I’ll call you next week when I’m not so upset.”
“Okay,” she said sadly, “I still want to be friends.”
“Yas, sweetheart, so do I,” he lied. Not friends Yasmine, more, but he knew he was going to have to settle for friends in order to eventually have more. “Don’t cry. I’ll call you next week.”
He disconnected the call and turned around, nearly running over Avery. Crap. “You heard that?”
Avery looked embarrassed. “I was going to the ladies room. I’m really sorry. Sounds like your not–serious–relationship just got a lot less not–serious.”
“It’s complicated,” replied Cole with a shrug.
“It always is,” she said with a sad smile, “I’m here if you ever want to talk about it.”
“Sure. Excuse me, I uh. . . I need to get back to Dad.”