STAY MINE AGAIN

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Chapter 7

Chapter 7:

What can I say it’s complicated

No matter how much I try, it’s all intoxicated.

I want to breathe a wisp of fresh air

With a tiny hope and a petite dream, I swear

Even though I’m damaged beyond repair.

Megan

It was lunch time when Amber arrived to the shop. There was some glow in her face that I couldn’t point my finger at. She took her every step with a hop as she came and sat next to me.

“What’s happened to you?” I asked, jotting down the expenses in the book. “How are your parents?”

“They are fab.” She said with a giant smile on her face. “Infact they are celebrating.”

“Why?” I asked curiously. “Did you say that you would never visit them?”

She rolled her eyes at me. “You are just being mean.”

I smiled at her and scribbled down on the finance book doing our monthly calculation.

“Where’s that kid?” she asked surveying the shop. “Never makes here on time, does he? He was late today too, right?”

“He’s studying, Amb.” I said, not looking at her. “Let him breathe.”

“He called you and said he couldn’t come, didn’t he?” her eyes widened for a fraction, analyzing me if I was telling the truth to her.

“Of course, he came.” I said. “He had classes at eleven and he left early. I completed all the deliveries by then.”

“Don’t believe him when he says he has classes at eleven.” Amber said, taking a seat next to me. “I once caught him with a girl when he had actually told me that he had classes.”

I laughed as Amber put her hand in the air, emphasizing her words. “Does that mean you are free for the day?” She asked as if she had found the key to her cookie jar.

“Just because the deliveries are over, doesn’t mean that the customers would stop swinging by our shop.” I said, rolling my eyes.

Amber made a face at me, keeping her hand next to the book I was writing. I lifted my head up and looked at her. Her brown curls dangled and I could tell that there was something she was hiding from me.

“Seriously,” I said, closing my book. What’s happened to her and why is she acting so weird? “What’s with you? You are starting to creep me out now.”

“I just wanted to take you shopping.” She said rolling her eyes, but I could still point at that eerie smile on her face. “It’s been so long since we went out together.”

“Amber,” I sighed, rubbing my temples. “You know how much I hate shopping. The last time I went with Pamela, I had to endure a head-ache for the whole day.”

“I was thinking, you know—” Amber started to persuade.

“You can go with Zack.” I completed, but Amber was still going on with her rambling.

“How could Zack come along to buy my bride’s maid dress?” She folded her hand across her chest pouting in a cute fashion.

“Bride’s what?” I turned my head to watch her, my eyes were so wide that it would resemble an eye of an owl. I was sure anyone who watched me now would think that I have thyroid problems. “Zack… he proposed?”

“And I said yes!” she screamed, jumping up and down the whole shop.

“What!” I said, with a big smile on my face. “I am so happy. Wow! That is such a great news. Wow! I need some water.”

Amber ignored me and did a happy dance around our work table. I joined her within few minutes, running behind her, with my hand on her shoulder. I pulled her into my arms forcing her to stop her dance and hugged her from behind.

“I’m so happy for you!” I said. “I’ll go through that shopping extravaganza just for you.”

Amber laughed. “You are so blind, you know that?” she said pulling away from me. Her light green eyes twinkled with a mischievous hint.

“How am I supposed to know about that?” I asked with a frown, tucking my lose strands behind my ear.

“I was showing you my ring this whole time and you didn’t even pick any clues.” she laughed, her head bobbing every now and then.

“What?” I pulled her hand towards me to examine her hand. It was a simple but elegant ring with a small ruby craved in it. “It’s so beautiful.”

“He’s got it engraved too.” She said, removing her ring from her finger. “See, it says always.”

I let out a happy grunt as I slid my fingers through the inscription. “He loves you so much.” I said, giving her ring back.

“Of course, he does.” She said, flipping her hair. Within seconds we were both laughing.

~~~

“Zack proposed Amber!” Laura shouted on the phone, as I picked it when Amber had completed her talks. “She’s going to be a married woman now.”

I laughed. “Yes, I don’t know how that title suits her.”

Laura was shouting so loudly that I could hear her voice standing two feet away from the phone. Amber who sat across me, threw a napkin at me and stuck her tongue out.

As soon as Amber told me about her proposal, she had called Laura. After about half an hour of talking with Amber alone, she shifted her attention to me.

“I’m sure she’s going to be wonders at it.” Laura said as Amber’s face turned to a light pink shade. I hardly see Amber blush and now she’s been blushing the whole day.

“Ladies.” Thomas greeted as he entered the shop and gave a weird look at us. “What’s happening?”

“I’m getting married, nothing special.” Amber rolled her eyes at him.

“My sincere condolences to the groom.” Thomas said, making me giggle.

“Who’s that?” Laura asked, still on the phone. I walked outside the shop so that I could hear properly over the cat-fight Thomas and Amber had.

“That’s Thomas.” I said. “He came just now.”

“Oh,” Laura said. “Anyway, it’s the first time something happy is going on after such a long time, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, tugging at my white tank top. “I wish this happy season never ends.”

“It won’t, Megan.” Laura said in a serious tone. “Hey, and listen, it’s your turn for babysitting Emerald today.”

I rolled my eyes. Emerald is fun and all, but she always gets bored so easily that I run out of all the fun things that I decide to play with her.

“What time is your date?” I asked.

“We are going for lunch.” Laura said in a low voice. “Will you be okay coming over? I could ask her nana to do that.”

“That’s okay.” I said. “It’s been long since I saw her. I’ll be there.”

“You are a life savior, Meg.” She said, “See you soon then. Love you.”

“Love you too.” I said as I cut the call.

It was a little chilly outside and I shivered before I went inside. Thomas and Amber were still fighting when I entered the shop.

“I’m sure you just threatened him to give you the ring.” Thomas said, as he sprinkled water on the plants. “Poor guy, you see the pressure on him?”

“That’s it.” Amber stamped her foot on the ground like a kindergarten kid and closed her eyes before replying. “You are fired. Don’t you ever show your face to me.”

“Guys,” I said as I walked over. “Guys, chill. Thomas just do your work and shut your big mouth.”

“She was the one who started it.” Thomas complained.

“She’s the bride-to-be.” I said as I walked over to the table to retrieve my bag before I leave to Laura’s. “I don’t want you making fun of her. Got it?”

Thomas put his head away without another word and did his work.

“Thank you,” Amber said with a satisfied grin on her face.

“And you, I don’t want to starting any argument with him while I’m gone.” I said, slinging my bad on my shoulder. “I’m going to Laura’s to watch over Em.”

“Oh,” Amber covered her mouth to avoid me seeing her laugh. “Good luck with that.”

I rolled my eyes at her as I walked out towards my SUV. I had met Emerald precisely two times after her birthday party. She was one of the hyperactive kids who never slept and wanted to play all the time. By the time, Laura and Mark would come, I would be the one tired and asleep rather than her.

I drove my way to Laura’s place. The beautiful gardens welcomed me as I entered their lawn to reach for the door. When I put my hand up to knock the door, the door opened revealing Mark.

“Hey Meg.” He greeted, pulling me to a friendly hug. “How you doing? Hope we didn’t cause you any trouble by asking you to be here.”

“Nah,” I waved my hand in the air. “Where are your girls?”

“One’s with a color pencil somewhere near our bedroom while the other is still brushing her makeup.” He rolled his eyes.

“When will you guys will be back?” I asked, sensing that it was lunch, they would be come back soon around three, I hoped. “I owe Amber a dinner and I’m stealing one of your girls tonight.”

“Oh,” Mark rubbed his neck tentatively. “Actually, Em would not be okay if Laura is not here by her bed time.”

“I’ll make sure that she’ll be there by then.” I clapped my hands together awkwardly, getting a snort from Mark. “I’ll push her out even if she says that she wants to have a sleepover.”

“I put my whole trust on you then.” He giggled.

I fake saluted him. “Yes boss. I’ll be in charge and will carry out my duties faithfully.”

We both fell into a fist of laughter as Laura made her slow-motion appearance from her bedroom which was two staircases away, with little Emerald trekking down behind her, careful not to fall down.

“Amber is getting married!” she practically shouted, pulling me into a bone crushing hug. “AHHHHH”

“Honey, you are scaring our daughter.” Mark said, pulling Emerald into his arms with a sly grin on his face. “Mommy has not gone mad, dear. She’s just excited.” He spoke to Emerald cautiously, meaning his every word.

I did my best to hide my laughter, while Laura rolled her eyes, with a small smile of her own playing at her lips. “Do you know when?” she asked, despite the cocky smile Mark threw at her.

“Laura,” I laughed at her ridiculous question. “Zack only proposed today.”

“So?”

“Isn’t mommy too fast, Emmy?” I asked tickling the young girl who was hiding behind the muscular arms of her Dad.

Emerald faced me with a shy smile and nodded her head giving us a yes. We all burst out laughing, and even though Em didn’t know what was happening, she joined in the fun.

“Okay, my love.” Laura said, once we had settled down with our laughs, facing Emerald, who was still protectively held under Mark’s care. “Daddy and I are going out. Meg has come all the way to play with you. You want to play with her?”

“Yes!” she said, clapping her hands animatedly. “You have got me chocoate?”

“Of course,” I said, running my hands inside my hideous bag where I always kept a chocolate, just for the times like these. As I fruitfully took the chocolate out of my bag, I placed it on the extended hand of Emerald, pinching her bubbly cheeks. “There you go, sweetie.”

“We will leave now and will be back soon, okay?” Mark said, placing Emerald on the ground. “Don’t trouble her just like you did with nana.”

Emerald was so busy with opening the chocolate wrapper that she was hardly paying any attention to him. But Mark was as stubborn as her and he continued. I wondered, if it was him who, so generously contributed his genes with all the stubbornness to her.

“… if you do, then she won’t be coming here just like nana.” He said and tapped her head, to get her attention. “Okay?”

“Okay daddy.” She said not looking at him. “We will be good.”

Laura laughed at her daughter’s innocence. “Let’s get going Mark, or else we won’t be making it on time to return.”

“And you are having dinner with us girls tonight.” I chimed in. “I’ve gotten your permission, just need your presence.”

Laura rolled her eyes, with a smile on her face. “I guess the dinners on you?”

“Yes.” I beamed. “So, enjoy it while you can. It’s a rare occasion that one.”

Laura smiled shaking her head. “Okay, let’s get going. Be nice.” She warned her daughter before Mark and Laura left for their reserved lunch, placing a kiss on their daughter’s forehead.

I closed the door behind Laura waving goodbyes to the couple. “Come on, sweetie,” I called Emerald, seeing that she had already finished off her chocolate, licking the remaining syrup from her fingers. “Let’s get you washed up and clean, okay?”

“Do you have another chocoate, Meg?” she asked, with her innocent eyes twinkling with hope.

“I’m sorry. I don’t have any.” I said, making a sad face. “But we can search in your mother’s stash in the kitchen.”

Her eyes widened with excitement, before running off. Her pretty frock waved in the air as she sprinted off.

“We are still going to wash your hands first.” I said, walking behind her, matching her pace. Emerald ignored my words and managed to climb the kitchen slab with her sticky hands.

I pulled her into my arms, careful not to get my hands in mess, during the process. “Let’s get you cleaned. You don’t want mommy to know about this right?.” Emerald pouted in a cute fashion of her own and obliged when I stretched her arms to the pouring water beneath the sink. “See, it’s all clean now.”

“Let me climb now.” She wriggled out of my hold and started climbing the kitchen slabs, placing her tiny legs on the drawer handles. Each time she missed, I caught her on time, making sure that she won’t hurt herself in the process.

When she finally managed to get on the slab, there was a genuine smile on her face, of her success in climbing the slab. She gave one of her toothy grins though she missed the front two. “Did you see that?” she asked, making me giggle.

She reached for the cupboards to complete her chocolate hunt. But the cupboard was out of her reach and she started to tiptoe on her feet trying to reach them.

I put my arms around her with a few inches of gap in between just to make sure that she was not going to get hurt in the process. With many failed attempts, she seemed to look a bit disappointed and gave me a pout. I could see the tears that were starting to form.

“Try, you can do it.” I encouraged as she stood on her tiptoes angling her head to open the cupboard. She put her hand high up above her head but it was still inches away from her destination. “Do you think, chocolates are hidden there?” I asked feigning innocence.

“Mommy always keeps it there.” She said, tilting her head higher. And suddenly, she swung around in the kitchen slab and made a small jump which I was not at all expecting, hitting her head to the cupboards that was just above her. “Ahhhhhh.”

Everything from that second seemed to be muted. I could only hear her cries and shouting with pain. I had heard that it was very difficult to handle Emerald when she goes into the crying mode, but I was never there to experience it. The way Laura had made it seem, got me on my nerves and I started to panic.

I pulled her into my arms, talking soothing words, but it was all going into vane. “Oh, Em. It’s starting to swell.” I didn’t want to call Laura and ask for advice as it will just make her anxious and spoil their date.

I took her to the living room and made her sit on the mat, scared that she might fall off if I placed her on the couch, when I went to get the medicines.

It was all new for me and I was never the one to mingle with kids below a certain age especially a kid who needed babysitting. But this was Emerald, the daughter of my best friend, who stood by me like a backbone in all my times. Besides Emerald was cute. Who could say no to spending time with cute kids like her?

I had baby sat for Emerald thrice already and we had all had come to a conclusion that I was good with kids as this situation never came up. And now, I had clearly no idea what to do and what not. Whether it’s a good idea to apply the bam on her head or just keep the ice cubes till the swelling comes down.

“It’s okay, Emmy.” I chose to speak to her in a calm voice, in spite that I was internally freaking out. Thankfully there was no bleeding and was just a minor swell. “It will be alright, I’ll just apply ice on it. It will all be okay.”

“I-it h-hurts.” She cried. “I need m-mommy.” She stuttered, clutching her head in her hands trying to reduce the pain.

“No, don’t hold it like that, dear.” I said, as I gently placed her hand away from her head. “Can you stay here till I get it?”

She only responded with more of crying and shouting and I just heaved a sigh and went to the bathroom to get fresh towels. I reached for the ice pack in the kitchen and promptly came back for her.

She was still howling in pain, but the sobs had reduced, with only hiccups that followed occasionally in the silent living room. I switched the television, putting her favorite series of Doraemon, to get her attention from the fact that she fell.

I slowly reached for her, pulling her into my lap as I squat on the floor next to her. At the sound of Doraemon getting a few gadgets from his kangaroo like pocket, the sobs had finally come down. I put the ice pack on top of the towel and held it towards her head where she had got hurt.

She laughed at the television, in spite of the tears that filled her eyes till the brim, when the so said character rolled out of bed. I wiped her eyes and kissed her gently, laughing along with her.

“Who’s that, Emmy?” I asked, her eyes fully trained on the television. I was sure that Laura must have made her watch this about a hundred times already but the interest of the little Em watching the characters run about, still remained.

“Its Doreamon!” she announced clapping her hands, making me smile as I placed another kiss on her cheek. I cuddled her in my arms, and found a comforting position as I made myself at home watching cartoon with her.

Just then, the doorbell rang, making me wonder who it was. I don’t remember Mark or Laura telling me that they were expecting anyone. I reluctantly placed Emerald, on the floor, keeping the towel out of reach for her and went to the door which rang again.

I slowly creaked the door open, ready to push it back, just in case. But to my horror, I saw a familiar face, which made me halt in my step. It was as if, I had been poured with ice cold water over my face without any notice.

It was Miles.

~~~

Miles.

The first thought that occurred to me, when I saw her was that, I was hallucinating and I definitely needed a doctor. I mean seriously?

I had seen her in front of her shop few hours ago and I was expecting her to go have her fun-filled chat with the guy with whom I saw smiling with. But what was she doing here?

I was sure, my face looked as if I had been whip lashed. Why was I ending up with her, one way or the other? I wondered, if my horoscopes were in my favour or did I had to make many more charity donations to get them all right.

I had driven away from her shop, feeling stupid that I had even assumed that she would be hurt because of me while she was all-so-smiley with someone down her shop. I felt like a moron for even thinking about that.

I had gone to my restaurant next, to get my head all right, but I sat in the car, hiding myself from the world. I needed some off-time. I didn’t need any more advice from Joe or Dill. And the only person that came to mind was Mark. I had never actually met him after the party and I thought I might as well surprise him when I’m here, talk and get my head out of my ass and think straight. But who was I kidding? There was a big surprise waiting for me!

Here I was, still messed up, looking right into the person whom I was trying to avoid for all the time I stayed in town. I was sure, my eyes were still popping out.

Yet, she stood there, clearly not expecting me to be the one knocking at the doorstep. Her eyes were strained and looked worried. Her white tank top was slightly drenched and I wondered if Laura left her to do laundry. Her loose curls dangled down her shoulders, as she peeked at me through the slight creak of the door.

I cleared my throat first. “Mark home?” I said awkwardly, running my fingers through my hair. I had never seen her in person since the party—which reminds me that I had fled off from her after the… kiss.

She put her head down for a second and widened the door, revealing herself. She pulled her curls and tucked behind her hair. “Uh… um… they have gone out.”

“Oh,” I said, shifting my weight to my right leg.

“I was just babysitting Emerald.” She explained herself, not looking in my direction.

I let out a nervous laugh, running my fingers through my hairs again. “Wrong timing, I guess.” I turned around, making my way towards the car.

“Mice?” I heard the familiar name and I winced in realization. “You are eaving?”

There was a slight hurt in her voice and turned around to see her. Emerald stood behind Megan with only her head popping while her whole body hid behind her. As I looked at her with a small smile that involuntarily crept on my face, I saw a purple color at looked prominent.

“What’s happened to your head?” I asked taking a few steps towards her. She hid her face behind Megan.

“I was searching chocoate.” She said, her voice barely above a whisper.

“She hit her head to the cupboards, while she was searching for it.” Megan said, caressing Emerald’s cheek with a grin on her own. I hardly saw that grin anymore and I wondered how much I did miss even after all these years.

“You are okay now, sweetheart?” I asked, ignoring Megan as I went on my knees, reaching for the kid. “Come here, let me look at it.”

Emerald came forward and, before I could inspect her head, she put her hand around my neck for a hug. I smiled and returned her hugs kissing her cheeks as she pulled away. “You didn’t come at all.” She pouted at me.

“I was busy, sweet pea.” I said, as I gently ran my fingers across the purple swelling. “That looks bad, does it hurt?”

“Meg put ice on it.” She said, looking at Megan and then turned back to me. “Oh, I forgot, Doreamon is still run, come let’s watch.”

I grit my teeth, scratching my head to come up with a better excuse, to just get out of there. “I was just leaving.” I said in all honesty. “I’ll come back later okay?”

“No,” She said crossing her arms across her chest, just like Laura did when she used to fight with Mark. That brought a small smile on my face as I stared at her. “Come.” She pouted.

“Doreamon and I had a fight.” I said, “I don’t think it’s okay to meet him now.”

From the corner of my eyes, I could see that Megan shifted uncomfortably in her position, involuntarily tucking her invisible curls.

“He must be busy, honey.” She said, ruffling Emerald’s hair. “You can meet him some other time.”

“No,” she said, moving away from us. “I want him to play with me.” Emerald reasoned. “He and Doraemon can be friends again.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat, this was just the opposite of what I wanted to happen. I sighed, finally. “I’ll come next week, I’ll even get you a pink pony, your favorite.” I bribed. But the little demon was not the one to budge.

I got up from my kneeling position and stood up, dusting my coat. “Bye, love.” I said, as I turned.

“Mice!” Emerald’s voice broke. “Please stay.” She said, in a low voice which was merely above a whisper and suddenly, I was transformed to that day when I had called for Megan, just like little Em, begging and pleading for Megan to stay.

But I didn’t want to leave. I was never the one to leave. “Okay, okay,” I said, walking back to the apartment, taking the kid in my arms. Her eyes were already filled with tears and as she saw me holding her back, she gave me a toothy grin. “You don’t have to cry for that.”

She clung to me, pressing her little face to my neck. I tickled her and took her inside. “Meg, come on.” She shouted as the door behind me clicked shut.

Oh, this will be one hell of an afternoon.

Five hours of her cartoon, two hours of playing dead with her doctor set, and six rounds of being her horse to ride, I was tired. I slid my seat next to Emerald who was fast asleep, her head resting on Megan’s lap.

I crouched next to them, resting my head on the couch that supported our backs. I turned towards the two girls who were asleep. My eyes finally settled on Megan. Though she was smiling and laughing at my lame comebacks with Emerald, there was something she hid. Perhaps her actual self.

Her face seemed to have lost its color, tension lines always found its way on her forehead. I wondered, if I had dated the same Megan years back. My hand seemed to move involuntarily towards her, pushing her curls away from her face. She shivered a little, but relaxed just a second later. I stroked her cheek, my fingers lingering there for a minute longer.

As I retreated my hand, shaking my head that what effect she still had on me, I felt a water droplet on my hand. I lifted my chin up to see her, and was taken aback to see a tear trickle down her eyes. But her eyes were still closed—she was sleeping. How—why?

I lifted my hand towards her again, to erase the tear down her eyes, and suddenly realized that she was still drawing me to her. I took my hand back with more force than necessary. I should just go and save myself. Anyway it’s the best time—Emerald and Megan both are asleep.

I slowly got up and switched off the cartoon that was running lightly in the background. I took my coat and walked out of the house, with little noise as possible. When I was finally out, I let out a breath that I didn’t know I was holding.

As I lightly clicked the door shut behind me, I turned to see two curious pair of eyes looking at me in wonder.

“Miles, we didn’t know you were visiting.” Mark said, one of his hand around Laura’s waist.

“Come in.” Laura chimed in. “It’s been so long since I saw you.”

“Yeah.” I said, rubbing my neck. “I’ve a flight to catch and I should be going. Other time?”I didn’t wait for their response as I turned around to walk away from them.

“Emerald and… um… Megan?” Laura asked.

“They are both sleeping.” I said, not looking at them as I made my way towards the car.

~~~

“We have a better trouble shooting procedures.” I argued with the authorities. “You can even have a look at our history.”

“But we have changed our matters about them with—” Gregory stated just as there was a knock on the French doors.

The whole meeting members looked at the person who was in question. It was my personal secretary poking his head at the door.

“What is it?” the executive head spoke, before I could respond.

“Um… sorry for disturbing.” He said, looking at me. “There’s a message for Mr Jackson.”

“Later, Steve.” I said dismissing him, with my hand. I turned my chair around to look at the other member and as I started. Steve spoke again.

“It’s Amber and she says its urgent.” That made me stop in my tracks.

Amber had a message for me? About what exactly? Is… is Megan alright? Did my suspicion about Gregory hurting something of mine, came actually true? I looked at Gregory and saw him smiling at me. My legs automatically seemed to do its job.

“Mr Jackson you know that’s it’s our last meeting about this contract.” Gregory spoke much to my irritation. “I’m sure they won’t waste their time for setting up another one just for you.”

“Well, then it’s all yours.” I threw my coat over my shoulders as I made my way out. I really have a hunch that he was responsible for this urgency.

But, what’s the urgency? I felt my pulse quicken as I made my way out.

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