Billionaire's Peeping Piper

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XXXIV. The Giant

What is Jackson Martinez to me?

A friend?

No. You wouldn’t sleep with friends.

Friends with benefits?

No. Our feelings are much too strong to be that.

Lover?

No.

Who am I kidding?

We’re friends with benefits.

Well, at least that’s how society views us.

Jackson set a plate of steaks in front of me, “Now-” he places the tongs in the air, “this is my first time making steaks. So, go easy on me.” He clanks the tongs a few times.

“I won’t.” Crystal grabbed a piece, “Hot!” She flings it into the air.

“Smells good.” Walter grabbed a pair of chopsticks and stabbed it into the steak. He looked at me, “What?”

“You can use chopsticks. Why are you stabbing?”

“So, I can do this.” He stabs the other stick into the meat, “Here you go.” He gave it to Crystal, who blew on the meat.

Walter and Crystal ate it. They looked at each other and nodded. “Not bad,” they said at the same time.

“Let me try.” Arden grabbed a stick and stabbed it into the steak.

“Me too,” Hayden said.

I watch as the four of them clear the plates. Once they finished, they went back to playing basketball.

“I’m going to assume it tastes good since they didn’t leave a single piece for me,” I said.

Jackson chuckled, “I’m making another one right now.”

After basketball, the boys and Crystal complained about how hungry they are, so we threw out the steak I marinated a few days ago.

“Down,” Dustin said. He bounced on his high chair, “Down.” The grapes fell onto the ground. “Down.”

I grabbed Dustin and placed him on the ground. He rushed towards the small court with everyone else.

“You wanna play?” Hayden asked.

Dustin grabbed the ball from Hayden then rushed towards us. He stopped in front of Jackson, “Ball! Play?”

“Oh. I’m cooking right now, little dude.”

I put down the cherry tomato, “Go play with the kids. I’ll cook.”

“You sure?”

I grabbed the tongs from him, “Go.”

He looked at Dustin, “If mom says so.”

Dustin smiled and jumped in his spot. He grabbed Jackson’s pants and tugged him towards everyone. “Come! Come!”

I watch as Walter splits the group into two teams.

Walter, Hayden, and Crystal.

Jackson, Arden, and Dustin.

“Why do we get the baby?” Arden asked.

“You got the giant too!” Hayden responded.

Arden looked at Jackson, “Fair enough.” He tilted his head towards Dustin, “Make sure the giant doesn’t hold us back.”

Dustin nodded.

I watched as they dribbled the ball around. Walter passed it to Hayden, but it was stolen by Jackson, who gave it to Dustin. Dustin held the ball and ran towards Walter, who hesitantly stopped him.

“Sorry,” Walter said before he grabbed the ball from Dustin.

Crystal rushed towards Walter, who circled her. “Hey!”

Jackson stole the ball from Walter then passed it to Arden. Arden rushed towards the net only to be tripped by Crystal. “Hey!” Arden shouted. “That’s foul play!”

Crystal laughed and grabbed the ball, then ran towards the net. Jackson covered her. “Jackson?” She pouted.

He looked away, and she happily circled him.

“Which team are you on?!” Arden shouted.

Walter grabbed Crystal’s waist, and she flew towards the net. “Yay!” Walter, Hayden, and Crystal cheered.

I shook my head and went back to the steak.

“I want to switch!” Arden complained. “The giant is holding us back! Right, Dustin?”

Dustin nodded.

“Fine. Have Hayden.” Walter pushed Hayden towards him. “Giant. Come here.”

When Jackson moved towards Walter and Crystal, Dustin grabbed his pants. “No.”

Crystal grabbed Jackson’s hand. “What are you doing? He’s ours now!”

“No!” Dustin pulled Jackson’s pants.

“Let go!” Crystal pulled harder.

“Let go!” Dustin shouted.

Jackson stood there, as still as a stone.

“Since the kids want Jack so much,” Arden said. “Why don’t they just form a team?”

“Isn’t that kind of unfair?” Hayden question.

Kind of unfair?

It is unfair.

“What do you think?” Walter asked.

Jackson shrugged, “I’m fine with it.”

“But, we get to keep our point!” Crystal demanded.

Walter, Arden, and Hayden looked at each other. “Fine.”

You would think Jackson had the disadvantage with two kids on his team, but he proved otherwise.

Arden sniffed, “Here. You guys can have the ball.” He cockily hands Jackson the ball.

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright. Kids come here.” Jackson walked to the other side of the yard with Crystal and Dustin.

“What do you think they’re talking about?” Hayden asked.

“Who cares. He has two kids on his team. He’s going to lose.” Arden. Why do you sound so proud saying that?

“Alright! Break!” Crystal said, and the three of them clapped. She giggled and leaped slightly, “I’ve always wanted to say that.”

Crystal tied her hair into pigtails before she faced Arden. “Hello. I am your worst nightmare.”

Dustin stood in front of Hayden. “What am I supposed to do with him?”

“I don’t know? Block?” Walter responded.

Hayden went down on his knee and blocked Dustin with his arm. “Like this?”

“Alright! Let’s go!” Walter shouted.

Jackson dribbled the ball back and forth. Unlike earlier, his dribbles were much sharper and refined. Jackson smirked.

“Back up!” Walter screamed. “I need back up!”

“What about the kids?!” Hayden shouted.

“Forget the kids!” Walter responded.

Immediately, Crystal held onto Arden’s leg. “Let go!” Arden tried to shake her off.

“I will pull down your pants if you move!” She threatens.

When Hayden moved, Dustin grabbed his shirt and cried.

Jackson shot from his spot.

Wow.

“What are you doing?! I said I needed back up!”

Arden moved towards Walter while trying to hold up his pants.

Hayden comforted Dustin, “Aw. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.”

Into round three, Crystal made the shot.

Jackson had the ball, threw it to Crystal. When he managed to escape from Walter and Arden, he held Crystal like a football and had her shot.

Least to say, the brothers got defeated.

“We won!” Crystal danced in the court.

Arden huffed a deep breath, “You cheated!”

“But, we still won!” She’s okay with cheating as long as she wins. I can see the sportsmanship in her.

I laid the plate of food down, “Crystal.”

She stopped dancing and smiled, “Good game.”

The boys rushed towards the table and devoured the food. I’m surprised Amanda hasn’t bankrupted with how much her kids eat.

“Drink your water,” I said.

The five of them chugged down all the water.

Walter burped.

Arden burped.

And finally, Hayden.

Crystal and Dustin looked at each other before they burped along with them. They laughed.

“Boys!” I shouted.

“Sorry, Aunt Piper.” They continued to eat.

“Relax,” Jackson said. He rubbed my back, “Come on. Let’s eat.”

I huffed a breath and dropped the complaints. After our meal, the bonfire lit on. My hands roamed around the warmth.

“Be careful,” I told Crystal. “Blow on it. It’s still hot.”

Crystal blew on the s’mores with all her might before she took a bite. “Hot. Hot. Good hot.”

Jackson broke a s’more in half before he handed Dustin one. Despite the lack of heat, Dustin copied Crystal and blew the s’more. He took a bite, and his eyes widened before he gobbled up the rest. He tugged Jackson’s shirt, “More! More!”

Jackson handed him the other half before he grabbed another marshmallow and roasted it.

“Don’t give them too much,” I said. I wiped Dustin’s mouth, “Or else they’ll get nightmares tonight.”

“So-” Arden took a bit of his s’more, “Are you two together?”

I halted my actions.

“No,” Jackson said. “I’m your aunt’s friend.”

“Oh? Weird. Doesn’t feel like it.”

Walter hit Arden’s head.

“Ow! What did I do wrong?”

“Read the atmosphere...idiot,” Hayden mumbled.

“I am! That’s why I say they look like a couple.”

Walter and Hayden facepalms.

“Jackson and mommy aren’t a couple.” Crystal licked her fingers, “Jackson said he doesn’t like mommy that way.

Jackson and I made eye contact.

“They’re friends.”

“But-”

Walter hit his head, “Shut up. Shut up!"

Hayden smiled, “This is nice, Aunt Piper. We wished we had a bonfire in our backyard. Where did you get this?”

“Oh, um, Emerson got it a while ago. We didn’t have a chance to use it.”

Silence.

Walter hit Hayden’s head.

“Aunt Piper, may we have some napkins?” Walter asked.

I laid down the dirty napkin, “Sure.”

I loved bonfire night, which was the reason why Emerson got a bonfire. He said we could use it during summer times or even when it got chilly.

I remembered when he would come back with sticks and wood, saying he’s getting ready for the night where we would spend it together in the backyard.

That day never came.

The stack of woods is being burned right now, but the man who made it all happened is not here.

When I grabbed the paper towels, I noticed the potatoes on the corner of the room. It’s a nice time to use it. I wrapped the potatoes in tin foil.

Once I covered all the potatoes, I stared at the empty bowl.

Emerson loved eating potatoes, so I would always buy them for him.

A fresh stack of potatoes in the corner of the room - always available for use.

“What are you thinking?” I heard Jackson’s voice.

“I’m thinking it’s time for me to stop buying potatoes when no one really eats them.”

He leaned against the fridge and stared at me. “Sentimental value?”

“Emerson loves eating them.”

Jackson embraced me firmly before he kissed the top of my head. “You don’t have to stop.”

“I can’t continue to buy them forever.”

He kissed the top of my head before he exhaled sharply.

I know I can’t wait for Emerson forever. One day, I’m going to wake up and fully accept the reality that Emerson won’t come back.

He’s gone.

“I’ve been thinking-” I said, “of giving Emerson a proper burial.”

Jackson lifted my head, “Are you sure?”

“It’s been almost two years since he disappeared.”

Two years.

I still can’t believe it, even if it came out of my own mouth.

Two years.

“It’s almost been two years,” I mumbled.

The front door rang.

I removed myself from Jackson and made my way towards the front door. With a single eye looking through the peephole, I noticed an older man outside.

“Is it Amanda?” Jackson asked.

“No.” Amanda wouldn’t ring the bell since she has the key to my house.

I opened the door, “Hello? How may I help you?”

Crispy suit and white hair. His eyes flickered towards me - dark brown.

With both hands on the black cane, he said: “Piper Lun?”

My eyes went towards the two black cars in the background then towards the large men behind him. “Who’s asking?”

“My...Where are my manners?”

They say with every calm comes a storm. Just when life is finally falling back into order, an extrinsic event will arrive.

He smiled, “Good evening Piper. My name is Harrison Hanson.”

“So?” Is he someone important?

“I am Emerson’s father.”

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