Peach - *Book Four*

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Twelve

Jack

“And you’re sure you want to make it official today?” I briefly look over to Emma who sits in the passenger seat of my car as I drive into Queens.

It’s the following weekend, and Emma and I are on our way to my niece’s birthday party like I offered her Monday when we talked long into the night. And we continued to talk a lot over the past week, getting to know each other better, as friends. But what we didn’t talk about was how we said we liked each other—or the kiss. It was barely a kiss anyway, and to be honest, I’m not sure it meant anything to her at all.

I have to say it was a surprise when she told me she was pregnant. Not knowing what else to do, I offered her my friendship, because she sure can’t use someone like me hitting on her in her current situation. I still don’t know what it is about her that cast a spell on me, but I find myself attracted to her in ways that are all new and unfamiliar to me. She’s even the reason I’m seeing my therapist again. And to my surprise, the fact that she’s carrying someone else’s baby doesn’t change anything. But she sure has more pressing matters to worry about which means I have to ignore the feelings I still have for her, at least for now. For now, I’m going to try to be her friend. And as a friend, I’m going to officially introduce her to my sister today, so she has someone to talk to about pregnancy and everything that goes with it.

Emma turns her head to look at me after my question, and before I direct my gaze back to the street, I see her smile at me. A smile that makes me take a deep breath because it’s so sweet and sexy that I want to forget about my earlier resolutions. She makes me feel all these incredible things.

“Yes, I’m sure. It’s time to take the next step. I think you mentioned that Paul is gonna be there? It’s time I told my friends.” She takes a deep breath. “And then I have to tell my family.”

These past days she told me more about her family, especially her mom who sounds like a person I don’t want to meet. That was another reason I offered her my support. She will undoubtedly need a friend once she decides to face her mom.

When we walk into my sister’s house a little while later, we can hear the laughter and music coming from the living room. We make our way to the source of the noise, and I laugh once we enter what seems like another universe. Balloons and a sparkling “Happy Birthday”-banner decorate the walls, indicating that this, in fact, is a unicorn party. They are everywhere: On the cups and plates, and on the napkins. And of course, on the cake that sits in the center of the tablecloth-covered table with—correct—more sparkling unicorns on it.

“Oh, wow!” Emma gasps next to me, obviously impressed with Liv’s party planning skills. “Can I hire your sister for my next birthday?”

I chuckle. “Sure, she’d probably love that.”

“Hey, guys!” Paul shows up behind us, looking rather funny with the unicorn cup in his hand. “Welcome to the party of the year!” He raises his cup before he takes a sip.

Emma laughs. “I didn’t know you were into this glittery, girly stuff.”

“Hey, Hank is the one who was officially invited, I’m just his chauffeur and here for the food.” He points to the group of kids that just put a sparkling party hat on his poor dog’s head. But Hank seems to enjoy the attention. “Okay, see you later. I’m gonna go get some cake now,” Paul says and takes off.

Just then my sister joins us. “Hey, guys! Welcome!”

I smile at her. “Hey, Liv. You remember Emma?”

She nods and beams at her. “Sure! From the ER. Hi, Emma. How are you?”

Emma smiles back at her. “I’m fine, thanks. And how are you? How’s your shoulder?”

“It’s okay,” she sighs. “Once this party is over, I can rest.”

"By the way,” Emma says, “this looks awesome. How old is Lucy?”

“Thanks,” Liv says, obviously proud of her accomplishments. “She’s five.”

Emma gives her a surprised look. “Five? I hope you don’t mind me saying-you were pretty young when you had Lucy, weren’t you?”

Liv chuckles. “Yes, I was seventeen when I got pregnant.” She gives me a challenging look. “That’s what happens when you grow up with two overprotective brothers.”

I snort. “Please, that had nothing to do with Will and me looking out for you. You were always the rebellious one.”

She smirks at me. “Yeah, always doing what you forbid me to do.”

I turn to Emma. “This is a really bad case of big brother’s best friend like in one of those cheesy romance novels.”

Emma laughs. “Really?”

“Yeah. Ethan, my husband and Lucy’s father, is my other brother Will’s best friend,” Liv explains. “They weren’t friends for a while though. When he found out that Ethan got me pregnant, he was close to beating the shit out of him. But when we announced the pregnancy and thus made it official, it slowly sank in that we were really in love.”

I snort. “In love. Pff! How long had you been together when you got pregnant? A month?”

Liv waves off my question. “Oh, please! We started dating secretly when I was fifteen. And by the time I got pregnant, we had been fucking behind your back for over a year.”

I groan and cover my ears. “Too much information!”

Emma laughs. “Oh, you guys. This is hilarious!” And when Liv joins in, I glare at them.

“Yeah, really funny. Talking of which, where are they all? Are Dad and Will here yet?”

Liv nods. “They’re in the backyard, getting the barbecue started as men should.”

“Great. Real food. Can’t wait. Or are you serving unicorn tenderloin?” I smirk at my sister.

“Shut up you idiot,” she says and hits me on my chest.

“Glad to! Why don’t you girls chat a little more while I join the men outside?” I look at Emma expectantly, silently asking her if she’s all right with it. She nods and gives me that sweet smile again, the same she gave me in the car earlier, and again it does funny things to me.

“Good idea,” Liv says and links her arm with Emma’s. “Come on. You have to see the cake I made.”

I look after them with a probably very goofy smile on my face before I go over to my niece to wish her a happy birthday. She’s so busy that she only has time for a quick hello. So I walk outside where I indeed find all the men gathered around the barbecue.

“Jack!” My brother Will is the first to see me, and at his greeting, everyone else turns around and smiles at me.

“Hello, son!” My dad gives my brother a friendly shove to move past him. I take a deep breath because I know what’s coming. Once he’s reached me, he wraps his arms around me, and just like with my mom I endure his hug. “How are you, Jack?” he asks when he pulls back and I let out the breath I was holding.

“I’m good. How about you?”

And in no time, we’re talking about ways to grill the perfect burger. Just manly stuff.

After a while, Paul turns to me. “Hey, can I ask you a question?” He gestures for me to move to the side so the others can’t hear us. “Why did you bring Emma here?” he asks once we are out of earshot. “Are you two a thing now?”

I shake my head. “No, and that’s probably not going to happen.”

He raises his eyebrows in surprise. “Why not?”

I shrug. “I don’t think she wants me.”

“For someone who doesn’t want you, she sure looks at you funny,” he chuckles.

I sigh. I guess I can tell him now. “She’s pregnant.”

“What?” He stares at me wide-eyed. “Why? How?”

I laugh. “Well, I don’t think I need to give you the details. It was some drunken one-night stand three months ago.”

"Oh wow.” Paul lets out a long breath. “That sure changes things. Now what?”

I let out a long, frustrated sigh. “I don’t know. I told her she could count on me as a friend.”

“But you want more,” he states. He’s not even asking; he knows.

“Yeah.” I avert my gaze and direct it at something in the distance. “I’m seeing Dr. Jeffries again.”

“Really? Wow. You are serious about her.”

I shrug. “I guess. But right now it can’t happen. So I’m just gonna work on my issues.”

Paul gives me a compassionate look. “Ah damn,” he sighs. “Come on, let’s go get some cake and drown your sorrows in lemonade.”

Paul and I walk back inside just as my mother emerges from the kitchen with a tray in her hands. She puts it down on the table, and all the kids eagerly grab what’s on it: Popsicles.

I watch how Liv introduces Emma to my mother, and she must have said something like “friend of Jack’s” because my mother’s eyes search mine and when she spots me, a huge grin forms on her lips. Ah damn, I know exactly what she’s thinking.

My mom turns back to Emma and hands her a popsicle too, which she accepts with a laugh. And that’s when my ordeal begins. I can’t tear my gaze away from Emma as she starts licking the ice cream, and when she puts it in her mouth, I groan.

Paul gives me a puzzled look. “What is it?” he asks.

I point my head over to where Emma is currently challenging my self-control. The way she lets her tongue run over the bright red ice on a stick and—what’s even worse—when it disappears in her mouth... that evokes thoughts of the dirtiest kind. “Damn, whose idea was it to serve popsicles?”

Paul covers his mouth with his hand to suppress a loud laugh.

I squeeze my eyes shut and lower my head. “Please, kill me now! You think my sister serves booze?”

“Uh, no.” Paul still tries not to laugh out loud.

“Sorry, I can’t watch this any longer.” I turn and walk outside where I join the guys at the barbecue for some more manly talk. Anything that serves as a distraction. And luckily, once we talk about work and my dad’s health, those thoughts from earlier disappear.

While we’re talking about my dad’s upcoming minor knee surgery, Liv brings out the burger patties. “Here you go! Knock yourselves out!”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone else walk through the French doors out onto the terrace. I turn my head, and when I recognize her, I gasp.

I grab my sister’s arm as she is about to go back inside. “Liv, what the fuck is Kate doing here?” I ask through clenched teeth.

She turns her head too and looks at the woman in question. “Oh, she’s back in town. I ran into her and invited her.” She frowns. “Is this weird? Especially now that you’re here with Emma?”

I shake my head. “It’s not like that between Emma and me.”

She rolls her eyes. “Sure. That’s why you’re looking at her like that.”

“Has she told you yet?”

“What? That she’s pregnant? Yes. But I saw the longing look you gave her, so I thought it didn’t matter to you.”

“It doesn’t. But for now, I’m trying to be her friend.”

That’s when Kate sees us and comes rushing over. “Jack!” she screeches before she falls around my neck. “How are you? It’s been forever!”

She takes a step back and gives me her widest smile. Wow, seeing her causes all kinds of confusing feelings. “Hey, Kate!” I say with a small smile. “You’re back in New York?”

She nods. “Yes, I was transferred back. I’m so glad I caught you here today! I’m just gonna say a quick hi, and then I’m off again. But maybe we can go out sometime and catch up?” She gives me a hopeful look.

“Sure, I’d like that,” I tell her with a somewhat forced smile.

“Okay, sorry, I have to leave again. I’m just gonna say hi to the rest of the family, but I’ll call you, and then we’ll arrange dinner or something.”

“Sounds great.”

She hesitates for a second before she comes closer to whisper in my ear, “It was great seeing you.” She gives me a peck on my cheek and hugs me again. When I put my arms around her waist and return the hug, memories of us flood my mind. I close my eyes and let her hug me and run her fingers through my hair like she always used to do.

I look after her when she lets go of me and walks over to Ethan, Will, and my dad.

Next to me, my sister clears her throat. I look at her, and she tilts her head toward the French doors.

I follow her gaze, and my heart stops when I see Emma standing next to Paul, staring in my direction with a look of utter disbelief on her face.

Fuck.

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