I grab Sash by the back of her shirt in an attempt to stop her. She shoves her elbow backward into my stomach in response, knocking the wind out of me. Lea jumps on my back at the same time, preventing me from breathing, never mind me getting to the door in time.
"Welcome, welcome!" I hear Sash greet my apparent girlfriend after first opening the door for her. "Wow, AJ! I forgot how pretty you are. You just reminded me that your way out of my brother's league. If only he'd remember too."
Lea snickers at my expense, jumping off from my back before making her way over to the front door too. "Hi, AJ," I hear her say after Sash, leaving me to get my breath back. "Please mind my brother. He's gotten fatter since you last saw him...even if that was like a day ago or so."
AJ laughs, causing my pulse to race. I think it might just be the humiliation setting in. I have a feeling that it's permanent.
Laura shakes her head at them as she comes to stand beside me. "Our siblings are jerks." She pats me on the back, sympathetic.
"Thank you," I exclaim in exasperation, appreciative that someone is on my side for once. "I thought-"
"I better go join them and say something terrible about you too!" Laura cuts me off, skipping over to AJ and my other two sisters, disappointing me in the process.
I sigh. Sometimes, I want to trade families.
I straighten up and approach AJ with the last of my dignity in tact. "Hi."
She smiles up at me in confidence, taking my breath away. "Hey, Ben."
"Hi, darling!" My mother pushes me out of the way to greet her. She wraps AJ up in one of her motherly hugs that, personally, I could do less with. "I'm so glad you could make it."
"Thank you for the invite," AJ replies politely, in a good mood as per usual.
"Nonsense!" Ma waves her off. "Your Benjy's girlfriend. We want to get to know you better. Benjy's done a good job at hiding you and keeping the relationship low-key."
"Apparently not a good enough job," I mutter under my breath, everyone catching it.
AJ's expression falls as a result, her smile wavering.
My dad elbows me in the side, sending me a look. "Don't listen to my boy, AJ. I'm sorry. He can be abrasive at times in order to protect himself."
My father is always the one who is able to read me.
"I've noticed," AJ answers, her gaze shifting to me accusingly.
I avoid her stare. She shouldn't even be here right now.
"He does it when he feels strongly about something," my dad adds, clearly ashamed of my cold behavior toward my 'girlfriend'.
"Or someone." Sash winks at AJ.
My father nods. "It's true." He's supposed to be on my side. "That's why he can't stop staring at you."
It's in that moment that I realize I've been staring at her whenever I think she's not looking. I can't help it. She cleans up nice. She usually wears a tight top and jeans, not that there's anything wrong with that, but, right now, she's wearing a blue fitted dress. It brings out the blue in her eyes and shows off her long legs and attractive curves. If anything, she looks more gorgeous than usual.
My gaze snaps up from her legs and to her eyes at hearing the truth in my father's words. To my surprise, her cheeks tinge pink. When I don't stop staring, she looks down and shyly hides her face behind her dark hair.
Hmm... that's new.
AJ laughs along with my bratty sisters, all four incredibly amused by the pictures in front of them.
It's after lunch and my sisters decided it would be a great idea to show AJ a photo album of me as a child – I wasn't a looker like I am now, to put it bluntly.
"And here's a picture of him eating mud in his undies," Lea tells AJ, flipping over to the next page of the book.
"This is unacceptable, Ma," I say, staring at the four from afar. "I'm going to burn that book of horrendous memories. I went to the bathroom and came back to this!"
"They don't waste opportunities, Son," my dad teases as he passes us by and enters the kitchen. "Learn from them!" He calls over his shoulder, uncaring.
"Benjy..." Ma drawls, giggling, "she's going to be your wife in any case. Get used to her seeing you in your undies."
"I'm a briefs guy." I flush red when she laughs louder. "I'm done talking to you!" I snap at her before angrily marching over to my girlfriend and my obnoxiously loud sisters.
AJ looks up from the book and grins mockingly at me. "Ben, you were a hideous child! Like hideous-hideous! Like super ugly! Like revoltingly-"
"Thanks," I cut her off abruptly, cringing in embarrassment, "I get it." I glare at my sisters, now furious. "Stop influencing her."
Laura blatantly ignores me, flipping to the next page. "And as you can see here, we've reached my brother's dorky high school phase."
AJ bursts out laughing at the picture of skinny me with zits, long hair and braces. Past me must have thought that looking like a girl was cool.
"That's it!" I slam the book shut. "This is not on."
"Neither were your undies in that one picture of you as a four-year-old!" Sash snickers, aware that her sisters will follow her example in taunting me. She's the ringleader and she knows it. The other two are not quite as bright. However, there's always a way to dismantle a pyramid scheme and unfortunately for Sash, I know exactly how.
"Hey, Sash, aren't those your earrings?" I ask innocently, pointing to Lea's ears.
Sash whips her head to Lea and glowers at her, turning on her. "Why do you have my earrings? You didn't even ask."
"Laura accidentally used your toothbrush this morning!" Lea immediately rats Laura out.
It's then that Sash, in rage, lunges for the both of them, all three forgetting about me in the process. This is the kind of catfight that I appreciate most in life, the catfight that distracts my little sisters from embarrassing me in front of pretty girls.
My dad shoots me a thumbs-up just as Ma shakes her head at me.
I smirk anyway, satisfied with the outcome.