The past week had been rough. The Clinic was the only thing keeping Cole sane. He had just seen his last patient and was busying himself with paperwork in his office when his phone rang.
It was Avery. He wondered what she could possibly want. “Hi Avery,” he said with zero enthusiasm.
“Hey Cole. Ami and Noah told me what happened. I’m so sorry. We figured you could use some company tonight.”
“I’m not good company right now Avery. It’s been a shitty few weeks, which you already know, so I’ll pass.” He figured she also wanted to say ‘I told you so’ about Yasmine.
“All the more reason for us to come cheer you up,” she said. “Noah and Ami are sitting right here with me and they’re worried about you. Here, I’ll put them speaker so they can say ‘hi’.”
“Hi Cole,” said Ami cheerfully, immediately followed by Noah grunting out “Hey.”
“Oh great, a fucking party.” Cole knew if Noah was in on it, he would come no matter what. “Sure,” he finally said, completely outnumbered and outvoted.
“Wow, you really do need to have some fun,” said Avery, “We’ll see you around 6:30 then with wine and hamburgers. Or would you prefer beer?”
Cole sighed. “I really don’t care. See you tonight.”
Noah busied himself with the burgers while the others sat down to chat.
When the burgers were done, Noah handed them out, along with a beer for each of them. When Ami reached for her beer, Cole stopped her. “Hey, you aren’t old enough to drink,” he said.
“I am too! I’m 18 and starting SMU this fall, in case you don’t remember,” she said smugly.
“The last time I looked, the legal drinking age was 21,” argued back Cole.
“Let her have one, or two,” said Noah, “I’m sure it’s not her first. Hell, you were drinking at 16.”
Cole looked at his sister. Really looked at her. She had always been his baby sister, but now, he realized, she had grown up. She was no longer the scrawny teenager he remembered, getting embarrassed about Tiramisu. “When did you grow up?” he asked her.
“When you were at BBU,” retorted Ami.
“Toast everyone!” said Avery, interrupting the brother/sister feud. “To growing up?” she said it as more of a question than statement.
“To growing the fuck up!” amended Noah as he winked at Ami and clinked her beer bottle with his.
That broke the tension and they all laughed. “Cheers!” they all said and took a swig of their beer. Cole watched Ami to see how she handled it. Yep, he thought, Noah was likely right. This wasn’t her first beer, or she was a damn good actress.
“So Cole,” said Avery, and smiled deviously, “did you know C&M is hosting a fundraiser for the local Heart Association? Ben agreed to donate the use of the meeting rooms at C&M, plus he is making a sizable monetary donation. It will be give us positive publicity and maybe noticed by some of the more affluent who might want to move into the community.”
Avery took a drink and continued talking excitedly about the fundraiser. “You see, the second phase is just getting underway and those lots are a lot bigger and nicer. And eventually the third phase will have luxury homes built on them. For our contribution, Ben gets to give a short speech about C&M, explaining what we have done for Newcrest and our plans for expansion. It might even attract some retail to move in, which will definitely help our sales.”
“I heard Mom mention it a while back. I don’t plan to go so I didn’t pay much attention,” said Cole. “But, it sounds like a win-win. Advertising dollars going to a good cause.”
“Well, I’m glad you think so, because you are going,” said Avery and grinned. “When I told Ben we were coming over to see you, he told me to drag you if I had to. You’re now a well respected member of the Willow Creek community. A lot of people know you. That will help them put their trust in Ben. Goodwill. It’s a real thing for a business.”
“This sounds like a formal affair,” said Cole and frowned, “Tuxes and shit?”
“Tuxes and shit,” Avery repeated, mimicking him. “When did you get to have such a potty mouth?”
Cole pointed to Noah. “It’s his damn fault.”
Noah shrugged and grinned at Ami who was giggling, then clinked Ami’s beer bottle again conspiratorially.
Avery rolled her eyes at Noah, clearly unimpressed, then looked back at Cole. “So yes, Cole,” she continued, “tuxes. And formal gowns for the ladies. You can be my date. And Noah, why don’t you take our new grown up here to her first grown up formal affair? You two seem about the same age.”
“Oh, yes Noah! Would you? Please?” asked Ami, totally missing, or maybe choosing to ignore Avery’s barb.
“Fuck no,” shot back Noah looking mortified.
Ami stuck out her bottom lip, “That’s just mean,” said Ami frowning at Noah.
“No, my dear, it’s self preservation,” replied Noah, very matter of fact, “Your old man would kill me if he even thought I might be looking at you, much less dating you. Nope, not gonna happen. I like my balls and my job too much.”
Avery and Cole laughed. “You know he’s right Ami,” said Cole, actually feeling a little sorry for her, “Dad likes Noah, but, Dad also knows Noah.”
“That’s such crap,” whined Ami, “Dad scares off every boy that I try to date!”
“Ummm….man,” clarified Noah crossing his muscled arms over his chest and puffing it out.
“Muscles do not a man make,” said Avery, sarcasm dripping from her words.
Cole was doing his best not to laugh. He bet she and Noah did this all day long at work.
“Okay,” continued Avery, her tone now excited, “so as not to rile up Benjamin, and to keep Noah’s balls safe,” she stopped and rolled her eyes at Noah again before continuing, “we don’t have to go as dates. We can go together as a group of friends – no pairing up.”
“Since I’m going to be expected to go anyway, fine then,” said Noah then looked at Ami. “Ami, looks like we have a not-a-date-date. We’ll go together – as a group of friends. Please, make that perfectly clear to Ben.”
“Good,” said Avery seemingly satisfied with herself, “It’s settled then. We’ll go as friends to the Charity Ball. No harm, no foul.” Then she turned to Ami and added in a sing-song voice, “I need to go shopping! Girl, we should go together.”
“Yes!” said Ami, enthusiastically, “Avery, there’s this great little shop…..”
Noah and Cole looked at each other. Cole motioned indoors and the two of them got up, clearly invisible now that the girls were talking about shopping, and went inside.
They got another beer and sat down together. “You know, you look like hell Cole,” said Noah somberly, “You gonna see how long you can grow that damn beard?”
Cole felt his face. He hadn’t bothered to shave since he had put Duke down, really since the reunion and it was pretty scraggly. He just didn’t care. “No. I guess I just it just didn’t seem to be important.”
“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. How are you really doing?” asked Noah seriously.
Cole let how a slow long breath thinking about his answer. “I’m okay, I guess,” he said honestly, “It’s just so quiet and lonely. At least I had Duke to keep me company. Now it’s just rough. I have been going into the clinic on the weekends just to have something to do.”
“You going to get another pet?” asked Noah.
“Probably, but I need a little time. It’s like every decision I make is the wrong damn one, but at the time feels so right,” said Cole, “so I’m going to wait.”
“Have you heard from Dannie?” asked Noah gently.
Cole sucked in a breath and let it out. Dannie was a subject he would prefer not to talk about. “She texted me to tell me she and Ryker were okay, and not to worry, that we were still friends,” then he let out a sad laugh, “You know, when we were dancing, she asked if I ever wondered what would have happened if we would have hooked up. Guess I got my answer.” Cole shook his head. “Not a damn thing, except all of this pain and guilt.”
“Well, maybe your not-a-date with Avery might lead somewhere,” suggested Noah.
“Oh God, Noah. Please – don’t try to hook me up,” begged Cole.
“All I’m saying is, you and Avery get along and she knows that business almost as well as Ben. You guys would be an amazing team.”
“That’s funny, because I always thought you two should get together.”
“Hell no. She is too foo-foo for me. You can do foo-foo, I can’t. Look how she dresses. Always put together and ‘on’. This is the most relaxed I have ever seen her. Anyway, she only tolerates me because of you and Ben. I need someone more like…well…like your sister. No offense, but she seems more like ‘what you see is what you get’. I think Avery has lots and lots of layers and I am not interested in playing games.”
“Whoa, hold on there Romeo. I’m not my dad, but I know you too, Mr. ‘Head in the Hedges’, so keep away from Ami. You’re my friend, but if you hurt her, you’ll have not only Dad to worry about, but me too.
“Dammit Cole, I was serious. You don’t have to worry about me and Ami. I’m not stupid. But what the hell are you talking about?” asked Noah confused.
Cole proceeded to tell him about the time he and Dannie overheard him with whoever it was he was dating at the time. He tried not to laugh, but couldn’t help it. “And by the way,” added Cole, “if you ever try that again, be careful. I found out, Dad had security cameras put up everywhere in the park and at C&M.”
Noah was laughing so much he couldn’t even respond to Cole.
When Noah started laughing, Cole lost it too and laughed along with him. It was the first time since he was with Dannie, that he had been able to really laugh. Maybe he would be able to have fun again. He was grateful for Noah. Perhaps, he should try to be more like his friend and stay away from serious relationships – just try to have fun.