“You’re getting married?”
“I am! Will you be my best man?”
Ezekiel looked at Gabriel incredulously. Was he being serious? He felt a wave of both honor and anxiety rush over him. He hadn’t been home from his appointment with Isabelle for even a half hour when Gabriel showed up with the news.
Gabriel stood their smiling, “Well?” He bounced excitedly, “What do you think?”
“Gabriel...” Ezekiel leaned back on his heels, watching Cole chase after Ira in the backyard, “You know me and crowds, I don’t know if I’ll be good for the job...” He could already feel the cold sweat on the back of his neck.
“I can’t think of asking anyone else, Zeke. You know it’ll be small, only my family and Val’s,” Gabriel gently nudged Ezekiel’s arm, “You’re like my big brother, Zeke, who else could I possibly ask to stand with me on my big day?”
There it was. Ezekiel knew after that sentiment there was no way he could turn the man down. He nodded, “Of course I’ll be your best man. I’ll be there.”
Gabriel grinned, “Thank you, Zeke.” He hugged him then quickly backed up, “The girls are already planning a bachelorette party,” He chuckled, “Since the wedding is next month.”
“Next month!?” Ezekiel’s jaw dropped, “What is Valery pregnant or something!?”
Face immediately flushing red, Gabriel shook his head vigorously, “No, no! Nothing like that! We’re just excited and want to have the wedding as soon as possible. Plus,” He ducked his head, “My mom doesn’t like that we are living together and already have a child,” His hand went behind his neck in embarrassment, “Her dad’s pulling it together pretty quickly. Isabelle offered to help as well as a wedding gift.” He smiled sheepishly.
Ezekiel swallowed thickly, “I need to have a bachelor party for you, and write a speech too...” He could feel his face going pale at the thought. His heart began skipping beats threatening a panic attack.
“You don’t have to do anything,” Gabriel reassured him, “Just be there for me. We’ll go get suits this weekend, and rehearsal is the Friday before the wedding,” He pulled out his phone and began scrolling through the calendar, “I think that’s it.”
Shaking his head, Ezekiel ran his hand through his hair, “If the girls are having a bachelorette party, then you have to have a bachelor party. We’ll do it here at my place. Invite whoever you want.” He looked over his shoulder at his house, then nodded confident of his decision.
Gabriel smiled, “Really?” He said excitedly looking up from his phone.
“Yeah, why not? Bring Ira, him and Cole can play,” Ezekiel shrugged, “We’ll make it a game night. I’ll grab some beers and whatever you want to eat.”
“That sounds good,” Gabriel hesitated, giving him a worried look, “Let’s do soda instead, dry party.”
Ezekiel felt confused for a moment.
It must’ve shown on his face because Gabriel held up his hands apologetically, “It’s just, you know,” He stumbled, his face turning red, “You’re doing so good lately staying clean…”
Oh, Ezekiel thought bitterly, That. He straightened up, “You don’t need to have a dry party because of me,” He folded his arms over his chest, “You should be able to have fun.”
“It’ll be fun without it,” Gabriel shrugged, “I don’t want to leave you out,” He said over his now ringing phone, “Hang on, it’s Val.” He smiled answering the phone, “Hey!” He turned slightly, looking out at Ira and Cole catching bugs at the tree line.
Ezekiel frowned slightly, trying to push away his embarrassment at Gabriel’s choice about the party, Am I really that bad that he can’t trust me? He thought looking up at the sky. He raised an eyebrow noticing he could hear Valery suddenly talking loudly on the phone. A couple other voices started yelling over hers excitedly.
“Uh... Wait, what?” Gabriel turned to him giving him an amused look, “I can’t hear you over... Is that Isabelle?”
His eyes widened and he pulled the phone away from his ear as Isabelle’s voice screeched through, “Do it!” Followed by Raine’s quieter, more distant voice, “You guys!”
“Whoa!” Gabriel winced, shaking his head, cautiously putting the phone back to his ear, “Val?”
Ezekiel exchanged confused looks with him, before Gabriel broke out laughing, “You guys!” He yelled, turning away from Ezekiel, “I’m hanging out with Ezekiel right now-” He looked up at Ezekiel and shrugged, “Yeah, I think so... Yes,” He chuckled, “It’s not a problem. Don’t worry... Yeah, I’ll ask him.”
“What.” Ezekiel looked at Gabriel skeptically as the younger man pulled the phone from his ear smiling.
“Val wants to try out some new restaurant with her friends and the guys, want to come along?”
Ezekiel shook his head, “Not really.” He knew that meant being around a lot of people, including Vince, and neither thing sounded at all appealing to him.
“Come on, Zeke,” Gabriel pouted slightly, “We’re getting a sitter for Ira, they can watch Cole too and you can get dinner with us.” Something felt fishy about the whole thing; Gabriel wasn’t one to beg. Ezekiel narrowed his eyes, giving Gabriel a look that made the younger man falter slightly.
“I mean...” Gabriel rubbed at the back of his neck, “You don’t have too,” He looked up at Ezekiel with wide eyes, “But it’d be nice. We’re celebrating our engagement.” He smiled.
Shifting uneasily, Ezekiel sighed, “Fine,” He relented, unable to say no to the weird puppy eyes Gabriel was giving him, “As long as you stop looking at me like that.”
Gabriel grinned, pressing the phone back to his ear, “Ezekiel’s going to come too,” He laughed, “Okay, love you too, see you soon.” He hung up, shoving his phone into his pocket and clapped his hands together, “Let’s get ready!”
Ezekiel frowned, immediately regretting his decision.
The restaurant was a lot fancier than Ezekiel had expected. It was one of those places where they cooked at the table in front of everyone, something he had only ever heard about. The girls all gasped and giggled in excitement about being there. Ezekiel felt like he was going to be sick with the group surrounding him. He backed up away from everyone, and hung around near the wall while they waited to be seated. The waitress, a tall blue Drakon with long braided black hair past her butt, walked up to the group smiling warmly.
“Right this way please,” She lead the group towards the back of the room, to a large table with four other people already seated with their drinks, “My name’s Xadel, I’ll be your waitress tonight. What can I get everyone to drink?”
Ezekiel watched with curiosity as everyone rearranged themselves so that Raine was next to him at the end of the table. She looked at him shyly, her face tinged red as she quickly looked away.
“I’d like whatever you have on tap.” Vince spoke up, looking over his menu boredly.
Gabriel nodded, “Same please.”
“I’ll take your fruitiest drink, anything with pineapple.” Isabelle piped up, setting her menu on the table.
Valery nodded, “Oh, yes, me too!” She grinned at Isabelle, “That sounds really good.” She laughed, leaning back into
Gabriel as his arm wrapped around her waist.
Raine smiled at them, laughing softly under her breath, “I’ll just have water, please.” She said softly, startling slightly when her knee bumped Ezekiel’s, “Sorry.” She winced, scooting away as much as she could, which wasn’t much at the cramped table.
Ezekiel considered ordering a sake out of spite for earlier, but decided against it. He really couldn’t take that risk, and the drama he’d get wasn’t worth it either. He felt Raine’s leg brush his and noticed her immediate discomfort, “I’ll take a water too.” He flashed an apologetic smile at Raine as he scooted back a little to give her room.
Xadel smiled at him, “Gotchya,” She looked back at the table, “I’ll be back in a moment to take your orders.” She said, quickly walking away to get their drinks.
“This all looks so good!” Valery said excitedly, looking down the table at Isabelle and Raine, “What are you guys getting?”
Isabelle closed her menu, “I’m getting the kasai deluxe filet mignon with scallops,” She paused for a moment, cracking open the menu again, “Oh, with an egg sushi, Philly and Cali roll. Yum! Oh, I’m buying by the way.” She added, leaning back slightly in her chair. Raine and Valery exchanged looks before quickly looking back at their menus.
Xadel returned with a tray full of drinks, carefully handing them out, “Is everyone ready to order?” She asked the group, starting at the other side with the four who had been there before.
“I have no idea what to get,” Raine whispered to Ezekiel, “What are you getting?”
Ezekiel shrugged, “What Isabelle said sounded good, but maybe just the filet mignon and some sushi.”
Raine nodded, “If I order some cucumber avocado rolls will you split them with me?” She smiled nervously.
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Ezekiel nodded glancing up from his menu to Raine who quickly looked away. He raised his eyebrows, Why’s she being so shy? He wondered, It’s not like we haven’t ever hung out before… He looked away, or maybe he was wrong. In all the years he had known the girl, he really hadn’t spent much time with her, aside from Joseph’s birthday party. Not like he really had the chance, he glanced back at her looking at her menu, she had been in that relationship. Her boyfriend, or maybe he was her ex now, didn’t like to do much of anything. That meant she wasn’t able to do much of anything either, and when she did, he was there keeping her within arm’s reach. Ezekiel’s eyebrows furrowed, thinking back about it, it wasn’t a very good relationship.
“Okay guys,” Xadel sidled up to Ezekiel, “What can I get ya?”
Isabelle took Vince’s menu, making him growl in protest, “We’ll take two of the kasai deluxe filet mignons, one with scallops, one with lobster, and deep fried Philly rolls, some egg sushi, and Cali rolls please!” She said pushing Vince’s hands away from the menu.
Vince folded his arms over his chest, “Really woman, I could have ordered for myself.” He growled, narrowing his eyes at her.
Isabelle stuck her tongue out at him, “Shush,” She grinned, kissing him on the cheek, “You know you love me.” She said sweetly.
Gabriel laughed at the two, turning his attention to Valery and the waitress, “Did you want the deluxe seafood thing?” He asked Valery.
Valery nodded, “Yeah, we’ll get the shrimp, scallops, and lobster with grilled vegetables.”
“Very good,” Xadel wrote the order down, turning to Raine, “And for you?” She tilted her head slightly.
Raine closed her menu, “Can I get the filet mignon and some avocado cucumber rolls, please?” She handed Xadel the menu. Raine’s eyes widened as she was suddenly bombarded by her friend’s menus being passed down onto her. She rolled her eyes at her friends, receiving cheeky grins in return, and handed the collected menus to Xadel with a smile.
“I’ll do the filet mignon as well.” Ezekiel handed her the menu, startling when Isabelle jumped up.
“Make sure my Philly roll is deep fried correctly!” She shouted, trying to move around the table to the waitress, only to be stopped by Vince.
“Sit down, woman!” Vince growled, pulling her down into her seat, “I’m sure they know how to make your damn sushi rolls, crazy!”
Isabelle looked at him sharply, “Not all the places deep fry the rolls, and when you ask at a place that doesn’t, they don’t put the crispy bits on the outside like the crunchy roll!” She turned towards where she saw Xadel disappear, “You hear me!” She yelled, “CRUNCHY!!”
“Are these alcoholic?” Valery lifted her drink taking a sip, “I didn’t think they were,” She took a sip of Isabelle’s, “Nope.”
Isabelle looked at her wild eyed, “I haven’t even taken a drink of mine yet.” She sat back down with a huff.
Raine giggled, “That’s just Izzy,” She sank in her chair a little as Isabelle jumped up, dodged Vince’s hand, and went to the front of the restaurant, “She’s a little crazy.” She whispered to Ezekiel.
Ezekiel pressed his lips together, watching Isabelle talk to someone from the kitchen, “I see that.” He made a face, shifting uneasily in his seat.
“So, what do you do?” Raine asked, taking a sip of her water.
Folding his arms across his chest, Ezekiel shrugged, “I work from home mostly. Computer stuff.”
Raine leaned against the table, “Computer stuff?” She lifted an eyebrow, brushing her bangs from her face.
Ezekiel nodded, “Yeah, whatever the company needs, I do.” He looked away distractedly, watching Gabriel and Valery talk quietly.
Isabelle came back, sitting with a loud sigh, throwing her hands up in the air, “It’s really not that hard!” She shook her head, making both Valery and Raine laugh nervously, exchanging looks with each other and the boys.
“She always like this?” Ezekiel asked, smirking slightly at the nod he received from Raine, “Isn’t she your best friend?”
Raine perked up, “Yeah,” She smiled, “Well... We’re all pretty close,” She nodded towards Valery, “We were really close with Val before she disappeared. It’s been like nothing’s changed since she came back.”
“It’s taken a load off of Gabe.” He said softly, lifting his glass of water to his mouth. It had been a long time since he had seen the young man look completely relaxed and happy; it made him feel happy for him.
Raine relaxed slightly at the small smile on Ezekiel’s face. She caught the quick encouraging look both Isabelle and Valery gave her, and felt her face immediately heat up.
Ezekiel’s ears twitched back with concern, “Are you okay?”
“Huh?” Raine looked up at him, overhearing both Isabelle and Valery giggling at her blush, “Yeah, I’m okay.” She ducked her head, taking a sip of her ice water.
Trying to figure out what he missed Ezekiel looked at the other two women. The girls immediately looked away suspiciously, mischievous smiles pulling at their faces. Did I do something wrong? Anxiety began creeping up in his chest. He looked back to Raine, “So,” He cleared his throat, noticing Isabelle and Valery simultaneously glance up at them, “What do you do?”
Setting her glass down, Raine nervously played with the straw, “I’m uh... I’m a receptionist at Deku City hospital,” She folded her hands in her lap, “Just got the job last month.” She smiled proudly, making Ezekiel feel like smiling back.
Xadel came back with their sushi, soups and salads, handing them out quickly. Raine watched her with slight amazement, wondering how she was able to carry so much at one time.
Warily handing Isabelle her sushi rolls, Xadel gave her a cautious look while backing up, “Is that okay?” She asked, turning slightly to give Raine her food. As she stepped back, her foot caught on the leg of the chair making her stumble. Trying to steady herself, the tray slipped out of her hands onto Ezekiel.
Ezekiel jumped up, knocking his chair over in the process, “Shit!” He hissed, swiping at the hot soup making his shirt cling to his skin.
“Oh my god!” Xadel gasped, grabbing napkins from her apron, “I’m so sorry!” She cried, trying to help wipe him off.
Ezekiel recoiled away from the contact, “It’s fine! It’s fine!” He snapped, backing away, trying to keep everyone in front of himself. In a panic, he turned on his heel and made his way outside. He walked around the side of the building, gasping for air and pulling at his shirt like it was suffocating him.
“Ah, fuck.” He growled, his stomach turning, making him dry heave.
“Hey, Zeke? Ezekiel?” Raine walked around the corner of the building wincing at the condition he was in, “Oh, man... Are you okay?” She asked softly, slowly stepping closer to him.
Taking a deep breath, Ezekiel nodded, “F-fine.” He scowled, annoyed with how obviously shaken up he appeared to be.
Raine reached for his shirt, then stopped and took a step back, “You’re not burned, are you?” She dropped her hand to her side.
“No,” Ezekiel pulled at his shirt again, “It just shocked me is all.” He took another deep breath, his nerves starting to settle.
“Okay, good,” Raine let out a slow breath, “Stay here, okay? I’ll be right back.”
Ezekiel watched her walk away quizzically, then slowly sank down onto the curb. He mentally berated himself for allowing Gabriel to talk him into going out. Nothing ever seemed to go right when he went anywhere. He frowned, shaking his head, Don’t do that to yourself. He rolled his eyes up to the sky. You can’t fall into that cycle of thought again. The last time he talked himself out of doing anything, he ended up locked in his house for almost six months. It took nearly starving to death, and Gabriel’s insistent badgering to get him to leave. Dropping his head into his arms, he closed his eyes, trying to clear his thoughts. I can’t do that again.
He looked up at Raine holding a clean white shirt and a pair of black slacks, “Where’d you get those?” He raised an eyebrow, climbing to his feet.
Raine laughed nervously, “Izzy keeps a spare change of clothes for her and Vince in the car, just in case,” At the puzzled look, she shrugged, “They do a lot of social events. If they ever mess up an outfit, they have a backup. They won’t miss them. They have like three or four pairs in there.”
Feeling a mixture of quizzical and amusement, Ezekiel took the offered clothes, “How’d you get into her car?” He asked, following her back into the restaurant.
Raine held up a pair of keys, “She loses her keys a lot, so I have a spare.” She walked with him to the bathrooms, “I’m glad you came to hang out, I know it’s hard for you,” She tilted her head towards the other restroom, “I’m going to clean up... Will you go back to the table with me?”
Ezekiel looked down at her for a moment then nodded, “Sure.”
She smiled at him, backing up shyly, “Great.” She said going into the women’s restroom.
Ezekiel turned, heading into the men’s room. He stepped into a stall and sighed looking down at himself. He was a mess. After changing, he walked out of the stall and looked himself over in the mirror. The sleeves stopped just short of his wrists, but the pants were at least long enough. He rolled the sleeves up and contemplated dumping his clothes in the trash. Folding them, he carried them with him out into the hall finding Raine waiting for him.
“You look nice,” She looked him over, “They fit okay?”
Ezekiel shrugged, “A little tight, but it works. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Still okay with heading back?” She tilted her head in the direction of the table, looking up at him hopefully.
He tucked his clothes under his arm and nodded, “Yeah, I’m actually kind of hungry now.” He offered her a small smile, trying to shake off the remaining feeling of anxiety. She smiled back at him, her cheeks flushing lightly. He followed her back to the table, dropping his clothes to the floor under his feet. The chef was already at the table doing his little show while cooking.
Ezekiel watched absently, his mind running circles. He glanced about the table at Gabriel and Valery, then Vince and Isabelle, then Raine... And... Him.
Wait… Was this a date? Realization of what was going on dawned on him, made even more obvious with Isabelle’s quick look at them and smile. Gabriel had tricked him into a date with Raine. He looked at Raine who made eye contact with him before looking away nervously.
Shit, Guilt immediately washed over him, I’m so stupid. She doesn’t deserve a date like me. What in the world has gotten into Gabriel to ever think setting her up with me would be a good idea? He immediately felt embarrassed for her, anxiety rushing through him all over again.
After their meal, the group wandered outside towards their cars. Isabelle, Valery and Raine lost deep in a conversation about the wedding, walked towards Isabelle’s car. Vince and Gabriel hung back near Ezekiel, quietly watching their women talk excitedly about flowers and other various wedding related things.
“You have your hands full, Gabe,” Vince grunted, a slow smirk working its way across his face, “Doesn’t sound like this is going to be the small wedding you had hoped for now.”
Gabriel shrugged, “I’m happy with whatever she wants, it’s her day too,” He smiled happily, his eyes sliding over to Ezekiel, “Are you okay?” The smile dropped from his face.
Ezekiel nodded, “I’m fine,” He looked at him curiously, “Why?”
“Worried you might’ve gotten burned... That waitress didn’t come back again after she spilled everything on you. I kind of feel bad, that had to of been embarrassing.” Gabriel frowned slightly, pausing by his car.
Vince rolled his eyes, “She should have been embarrassed,” He shook his head, “Someone that clumsy should not have been carrying that much food.” He folded his arms, walking away towards his car.
Ezekiel watched Vince walk away nonplussed, “I thought about leaving, but Raine convinced me to stay.”
Perking up, Gabriel looked over his shoulder at the girls standing near Raine’s car talking, “Honestly,” He looked back at Ezekiel, “When I saw you take off, I thought for sure you were gone. I’m glad you stayed.”
“Yeah,” Ezekiel folded his arms across his chest, “You were trying to set me up with Raine.”
Gabriel’s face flushed bright red, “What!? Why... Why would you think that?” He stammered, backing up a step right into his car.
Shaking his head, Ezekiel started away, “I thought so,” He stopped, looking over his shoulder at his friend, “That was a bad idea... Why would you want to embarrass her like that?” Anger was beginning to well up in the pit of Ezekiel’s stomach.
Looking at his shoes guiltily, “I’m sorry,” Gabriel started to say then furrowed his eyebrows, “Wait,” He looked up at Ezekiel in confusion, “I wasn’t trying to embarrass anyone.”
Ezekiel gave him a sharp look, “You know-” He started to say, then hesitated as Valery and Raine waved goodbye to Isabelle while heading back to them.
“I don’t,” Gabriel frowned, looking quickly over his shoulder at Valery and Raine walking towards him, “I thought it went well,” He looked back to Ezekiel, “You looked like you were having fun. The girls came up with this idea. They wanted you to come along.”
Ezekiel shook his head, barely able to follow Gabriel over the anxiety building up, “You know me Gabriel. I’m not good for her. I don’t think it’d work out.” He froze as the girls walked up, Raine looking at him curiously.
“Are you riding back with us?” Gabriel asked, hoping Ezekiel would take up the offer and he could talk to him more about it.
“No,” Ezekiel shook his head, looking for a way out to clear his mind, “I’ll fly back and get Cole. I’ll talk to you later.” He nodded to the girls before turning and jumping up into the sky.
Gabriel sighed, looking apologetically at Raine, “I’m sorry,” He looked between the girls, “I honestly don’t know what happened. He felt like you were embarrassed... I’m not sure he realized you wanted to be here.”
Raine frowned slightly, “Me?” She looked at Valery, her face flushing, “I told you this was a bad idea.” She mumbled softly, backing up, feeling flustered.
“But...” Valery faltered, looking to Gabriel for help, “I thought he had a good time? You know, after the whole... Spill thing...” She grimaced.
Gabriel lifted a shoulder, “I really don’t know. He looked like he was having fun.”
“Guys, it’s okay,” Raine cut in, stepping back with her hands up, “Don’t worry about it. It was a bad idea, it happens.” She smiled weakly at Valery, “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
Valery looked at her worriedly, “Raine, are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah!” Raine yelled over her shoulder, hurrying back to her car and climbed in. She fumbled with her keys for a moment, took a deep breath and stuck them in the ignition, starting the car. She waved to Gabriel and Valery as she drove past them, trying to smile, but once she passed them, she fell apart. She pulled her phone out of her purse, while trying to keep her eyes on the road.
Tapping on Isabelle’s picture, she held the phone up to her ear, “Belle, have a minute?” She blurted out as soon as Isabelle answered, her eyes welling up with tears, “I feel really stupid.” She cried, pulling the car over into an empty parking lot.
“What’s wrong!?” Isabelle replied worriedly. Vince mumbled something in the background followed by a grunt, then a laugh.
Raine rubbed at her eyes, trying desperately to compose herself so she could drive home, “Can you come over? I’m heading home,” She bit her lip, “I told you this was a bad idea.” Hot tears ran down her face, making her feel even more embarrassed with herself.
“I’ll be right there!” Isabelle said quickly, “Are you driving? Do I need to pick you up?”
Raine sniffled, “I can drive. Thank you. See you soon.” She hung up before Isabelle could respond and took a deep breath to compose herself. She felt disappointed and embarrassed. Not that she expected Ezekiel to like her, but she had hoped to at least become friends with the man. Losing herself in her thoughts of what she could have done wrong that lead him to believe she didn’t have a good time, she drove home.
Isabelle was inside the apartment waiting for her when she arrived. Raine tossed her purse on the table, shut and locked the door, and turned towards Isabelle quietly.
“Well?” Isabelle questioned, standing up from the couch and moving to the little kitchen for a drink.
Raine kicked her shoes off, scooting them next to the wall, “He looked eager to leave,” She disappeared into her bedroom and reappeared in a pair of pj pants, “I thought he was having fun, but I’m guessing he figured out he was set up and didn’t like the idea of being on a date with me.” She moved into the kitchen, accepting the glass of orange juice Isabelle offered her, “I told you it was a bad idea.” She went to take a drink, only to have Isabelle take the glass from her.
“No!” Isabelle set the glass down on the counter, “You can’t give up!”
Raine picked up her glass again, “Okay, crazy,” She rolled her eyes, moving into the living room while taking a sip of the juice, “I don’t really think there’s anything else I can do. If he doesn’t like me, he doesn’t like me.” She sat down on the couch with a shrug, trying to avoid Isabelle’s prying eyes.
Isabelle leaned against the wall near the couch, “Were you not just crying ten... Twenty minutes ago?” She folded her arms, giving Raine a skeptical look.
Raine bit her lip to keep herself from frowning, “No?” She hesitantly looked up at Isabelle flinching at the look she was given, “Izzy.” She looked away tipping her cup side to side.
“Bullshit!” Isabelle snapped, moving to the couch and flopped down next to Raine, “You’re so full of shit!”
“Thank you?” Raine startled, “What!?”
Isabelle looked at her sternly, “I saw how he looked at you tonight. He didn’t dip out because of you.”
Raine leaned back into the couch, “I don’t know… Maybe,” She sighed, putting the cup between her legs, “I feel really stupid for crying.”
“Don’t feel stupid,” Isabelle nudged her gently, “We’re girls, we cry.”
“Not me,” Raine ran her hand through her hair, pausing to take it out of the ponytail she had it pulled up into, “I didn’t use to anyway. I’m not very girly,” She looked at Isabelle sadly, “The only hairstyle I can even do to myself is this stupid ponytail. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t like me.” She said dryly, tucking her hair behind her ears.
Isabelle patted Raine on the shoulder, “You’re still a girl, hon, and you’re not listening to me,” She smiled sympathetically at the look Raine gave her and wrapped her arm around the younger girl’s shoulders, “I know you like him, but you knew it was going to take some time.”
Sighing heavily, Raine nodded, “I did. But,” She looked at Isabelle with slight annoyance, “It was you and Valery who insisted on this double... Triple... Date thing. Maybe that wasn’t the best idea.”
“Yeah,” Isabelle nodded, “You’re probably right. But we did it because we love you.”
Raine smirked in amusement, “Right,” She laughed under her breath, her face falling, “I’m sorry,” She bowed her head, “I really wanted him to like me, and I feel like I kind of blew it.”
Biting her lip, Raine shook her head, trying to stop the tears already falling again, “Damn it, I didn’t want to cry again!” She covered her face.
Isabelle hugged her, tears welling up in her own eyes, “Then stop crying!”
“Are you crying too?” Raine cried half laughing.
Nodding, Isabelle wiped at her eyes, “You know if you cry then I’ll cry too!” She laughed sadly then frowned, “Hon, you didn’t blow anything... Unfortunately,” Raine’s jaw drop, making Isabelle giggle and hug her again, “It was just a weird... Date.” She stood up, patting Raine on the shoulder again.
Raine wiped her eyes on her sleeve, “Was it even a date?” She sniffled, “I’m so awkward and shy. I could barely talk to him. I don’t think we even talked after that waitress spilled everything on him.”
Isabelle disappeared into the bathroom, reappearing with tissues, “You got him to stay though,” She handed her a tissue, “Where did you get those clothes for him, anyway?”
Laughing softly, Raine wiped her nose, “Your car.” She grinned.
“I thought they looked familiar!” Isabelle sat down, playfully punching Raine’s arm, “Looked good on him though.”
“Right!?” Raine giggled, “Oh...” She crumpled the tissue up in her hand, “I hope I didn’t ruin anything.”
Leaning against her, Isabelle gave her a one armed hug, “You didn’t ruin anything. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Nodding, Raine leaned into the hug, “I’ll try not to be,” She sighed, “I can’t help but wonder what it was that I did wrong.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Isabelle tilted her head back in thought, “He might’ve had an anxiety attack.”
Raine furrowed her eyebrows, thinking back to how Ezekiel looked before he left, “He looked upset before he left,” Her shoulders slumped forward, “Dinner was probably a bad idea.”
Tapping Raine’s shoulder, Isabelle leaned forward, “Don’t stress about it, Rainey, we can’t predict everything that’ll happen.” She took Raine’s drink and took a sip.
“Okay...” Raine pressed her lips together, then looked at her thoughtfully, “You know, we need to get dresses for Valery’s wedding.” She shifted subjects, tired of trying to wrap her mind around what could have possibly happened.
Isabelle’s face lit up, “We do!”
“Zeke? Are you okay?” Gabriel asked worriedly. The plan had been to head over to Isabelle’s to get Ira, and hopefully run into Ezekiel picking up Cole. He didn’t expect Ezekiel to be waiting for him outside Isabelle’s house looking wild eyed and panicked.
Valery shot Gabriel a worried look, “I’ll go find Isabelle.” She whispered to him, gently squeezing his arm, before hurrying into the house.
“I can’t take Cole home,” Ezekiel ran his hands shakily through his hair, looking like he was about to break down and cry at any moment, “I feel like I’m losing it.”
Gabriel held his hands up in front of himself, “What’s going on?” He hung back, giving the older man some space as he paced, “Why do you feel like you’re going to lose it?”
Sinking down onto the porch steps, Ezekiel half laughed, half cried breathlessly, “I can’t get my mind to stop. About dinner, the waitress,” His hand went to his chest where the hot soup had been spilled, “The mess... And Raine,” A thoughtful look crossed his face before quickly dropping back to the look of panic, “Why did you guys want to set her up with me? Did she know that’s what was going on? Why would she even want to go out with someone like me?”
Gabriel sat down next to him, “Zeke,” He said calmly, “You’re a great person to know, and she wanted to get to know you better.” He leaned back onto his hands, looking up at the darkening sky, “You know, now with Cole, you could use more friends. Raine is a good person. You two could really get along if you gave her a chance.”
Snorting, Ezekiel took another deep breath, “I don’t need friends, Gabe.” He unbuttoned the top three buttons of his shirt.
“I know you’re talking to Isabelle now, and I’m really glad you are, but one more friend would not hurt you. You can’t lock yourself in and drink away the pain, not when you have Cole now. That little boy needs you.”
Ezekiel frowned remembering the last extreme panic attack that brought upon a serious case of agoraphobia. He couldn’t leave his house without an attack. Alcohol felt like the only thing that could combat it. Gabriel found him locked in his bathroom unconscious. Empty bottles of the strongest thing he could find were surrounding him and scattered throughout the house. He heard from Daniel that Gabriel called him in hysterics thinking he was dead.
He climbed to his feet and paced a couple steps forward and back, “I know,” He said finally, stopping to look up at the night sky, “I know,” He repeated, looking off in the distance, “I’m really screwed up, Gabe. I’m a mess… What would she want with an alcoholic like me?”
“Zeke,” Gabriel smiled sadly, “You’re getting help, and that’s a hell of a lot better than what you used to do.” His face fell at the memory, “And,” He tilted his head, “Here you are, sober. You had a chance to stop and drink away your anxiety, but you didn’t. You came here.”
Turning to the younger man, Ezekiel snorted softly, “You’re right,” He said gruffly, “I didn’t stop. I couldn’t do that to Cole,” He shook his head slowly, “I don’t think Raine would want to be friends with someone like me, not after tonight. I’m not a good friend... Look at the shit I’ve put you through.” He sighed, his ears laying back. They sat in silence for a moment, both watching the stars faintly appear above them.
Gabriel stood up finally, shoving his hands into his pockets, “If she doesn’t want to be your friend, then she’ll miss out on a good friend,” He lifted and lowered his shoulders, “Even with the crap you seem to think you’ve put me through, you’ve still been a good friend to me. I don’t think it’ll come to that though,” He smiled reassuringly at Ezekiel, “I think she’ll be interested in seeing you again.”
“You seem so sure of yourself,” Ezekiel grumbled, scratching at the back of his neck, “I’m glad the war didn’t mess you up as much as it has me. I’m constantly worried I’m going to mess Cole up, or worse.” He winced, “I don’t like people near me, I feel like I’m on high alert all the time, and then the nightmares and anxiety,” He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Gabe, but I couldn’t put another person through this.”
Gabriel listened to Ezekiel sympathetically, frowning slightly at his words, “Having a friend doesn’t mean you’re putting them through anything. You’re not forcing me to be your friend, you’re not forcing me to do anything,” He rocked back onto his heels then forward onto the balls of his feet, “I’m here because I care about you, that’s what being a friend is. Just like when you were there for me when Val left. I know I was not pleasant to be around back then either. It’s a two way street. It’s give and take.”
Ezekiel nodded tiredly, “Yeah...”
“You’re making a lot of excuses to distance yourself,” Gabriel nudged him, “Give yourself a break. Come on, let’s go get our sons.” He winked, turning for the door.
“Gabe?” The younger man paused, looking over his shoulder at him, “Thanks.” Ezekiel mumbled, looking away in embarrassment.
Gabriel smiled, “Anytime, Zeke.”