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Chapter 75

“There are friends, there’s family, and then there are friends that become family.”
~Unknown


Annalise

“Cheers!” I exclaimed. Mia and Everly clinked their champagne glasses against mine, echoing my declaration. We knocked back our drinks and refilled them, enjoying the subtle sea breeze, the warmth of the setting sun, and the stunning view of the Amalfi coast. I never imagined I’d ever stay in a five-star hotel in Sorrento, let alone ever being able to afford flying here in the first place. But Everly booked and planned the entire thing when Mia and I brought up the idea, and we had four days in this beautiful place.

“I can’t believe we’re here,” Mia said, staring out at the turquoise waters. “We’re going swimming tomorrow, right?”

“There’s no way we’re not,” Everly replied. “Although, with how much I plan on drinking, you might not get me out of bed until noon.”

“You won’t be alone,” I promised. “I’ve never been drunk in my life, and if it’s going to happen, there’s no one I trust more than you two when it does.”

“What do you say we head up to our suite, order a shit ton of wine and desserts, and watch chick flicks?”

“That sounds amazing,” Mia said. I agreed, and after paying for dinner, the three of us stumbled back to our hotel, slightly buzzed from the two flutes of champagne and four cocktails we’d drank. On the way, we came across a liquor store, where we bought everything from wine to Fireball to peach schnapps. I’d never done anything like this in my life. I never had a chance, and I never felt the urge. However, being with Mia and Everly and feeling giddy with my life, a daring spirit settled into my bones.

“Hey, hey girls,” Everly said as we entered our suite and set down our alcoholic purchases. “I have a joke. What did one butt cheek say to the other butt cheek?”

“What?” Mia and I asked simultaneously.

“Don’t talk to the middle guy; he’s an asshole!” We burst into a fit of uncontrollable giggles, tears filling our eyes as we sank to the floor. The joke was funny, but not to the degree we found it, which is how I knew we were definitely more than a little inebriated. Everly grinned and exclaimed, “Wait! Wait! I got another one! A pirate walks into a bar-”

My ringing phone cut her off, and wiping away the tears from my eyes, I hit answer. Will’s smile quickly faded when he saw my face. “Are you crying? Are you okay? Everly! What did you do to my girlfriend?!”

“Nothing! I told a joke!” Everly shouted back, placing her head on my shoulder and joining me on screen. Mia crawled next to me and set her head on my other shoulder. Everly continued, “I was about to tell another before you- Mark! Baby!”

“Hey, Evie,” Mark greeted, his eyes twinkling with amusement.

“Do I hear our girls?” James’s voice floated from somewhere behind Will’s phone before appearing next to my boyfriend. “I do!”

“That’s what Everly and Mark will be saying soon!” Mia gasped. “Oh my god, I can’t wait for your wedding!”

“Right?! It’s gonna be fucking amazing!” Everly slumped against the cabinets. “Just like the joke I was about to tell before someone interrupted me.”

Will sighed. “What was the joke, Ev?”

Everly lit up. “Okay. A pirate walked into a bar with his ship’s steering wheel in his pants. He goes up to the bar and orders a beer. The bartender says, ‘sir, you realize you have a steering wheel in your pants, right?’ The pirate nods and replies, ‘Aargh! Yes! It’s driving me nuts!’”

While the boys had a much more mild reaction, Everly, Mia, and I fell over, tears streaming down our faces once more. I barely registered my phone slipping from my hand, only picking it up when Will yelled my name.

Mark howled in the background with James while Will wore a smile from ear to ear. He asked, “How much have you had to drink?”

“We had some cocktails, which were really strong,” I said.

“Yeah, because the bartender asked ‘one or two,’ but you were so amazed by the coast, you went ‘surprise me,’ and God only knows how much alcohol he actually put in our drinks,” Everly replied.

“It’s was definitely more than two shots,” Mia remarked.

“I agree with Mia on this, for sure,” James said.

“We’ll leave you be. We just wanted to check in and make sure you were all doing okay,” Will added. “Although it looks like we had nothing to worry about.”

“How are you guys doing?” I asked, staring at Will’s face and wondering how the hell I’d gone from hating him to unable to imagine my life without him.

“We’re fine. Reid’s asleep and has been an angel. The Griffiths, Stewarts, and Wallaces are taking turns watching him when we can’t, but for the most part, he’s always with one of us. You enjoy your girl’s trip, and we’ll see you soon. I love you, Annie.”

“I love you, too, honey,” I replied. Mia and Everly shared the same sentiments with James and Mark before we hung up. The moment the call ended, we each grabbed a bottle of wine and made our way to the couch.

I noticed Mia check her phone out of the corner of my eye, her eyes widening before hurriedly typing away. It made me ask, “What did James send you?”

My sister snapped her head up. “What?”

“What was the face for?”

“Oh, no. Nothing. He didn’t send me anything. No, it was-” she took a swig of her drink- “uh, it was a surprising grade I got on a paper. I thought I failed it.”

“Please, Mia, you’re the smartest person in your class. You’re going to be valedictorian. Mark my words.”

“Maybe… there are so many smart kids around, and I’m no different than them. They’ve all been affected by some horrible disease or infection that inspired them to go to medical school.”

“None of them beat cancer and the paparazzi at the same time,” Everly said. “Or battled it right after losing their parents, or managed to continue school during the entirety of it. You overcame a lot more than you give yourself credit for. Never sell yourself short.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Annalise agreed.

“Hey, same goes for you!” Everly patted Annalise’s knee. “You supported yourself and your sister and never complained once. You just… did whatever you had to do, and you did it with grace and composure that would put kings and queens to shame.”

“Good practice if you ever become queen,” Mia mused. She shifted on the couch, craning her head over its arm and staring at me upside down. “Do you want to be queen?”

I shrugged, sipping slowly out of my wine bottle, pondering the question. “I don’t know. It’s certainly not something I ever imagined I’d be or something I set out to be, and I don’t know the first thing about being a queen either.”

“What if Will asks you to marry him?”

I whipped my head around to look at her, and my world spun slightly. “Has he talked to you about it?”

Mia snorted in amusement. “God, no. I wouldn’t be able to keep that a secret from you.”

“Oh, please, says the girl who kept her relationship with James a secret for months-”

“Which you figured out.”

“I guessed, and I turned out to be right.”

“Okay, but that doesn’t answer her question,” Everly pointed out, poking me with her toe. “Would you say yes if he asked?”

I thought back to everything the two of us had been through, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, and I made up my mind. “Yeah, I would. I’m not expecting him to anytime soon since we’ve only been dating for a few months, but we’ve known each other for six years. Except for the year-long break we had, I feel like I know him like the back of my hand. So many people thought we were dating before the break; it makes me wonder if maybe we kind of were but without the label of girlfriend and boyfriend and without the kissing and sleeping together. I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I know what I’m trying to say, but I’m not verbalizing it well.”

“For someone who’s had as much to drink as you have, you’re doing a hell of a lot better than most,” Mia responded, sipping from her bottle. “Hey, I’m really glad we did this. I think we all needed it.”

“Me, too,” Everly agreed, stretching out. “We needed a girl’s weekend. Although, can I say, as much as I love the peace and quiet, I really miss home? Not the chaos, but the people?”

“No, I get it,” I said. “Our family is back there. We all finally found and made a good one. We want to be with them as much as possible now.”

Everly held out her wine bottle. “A toast! To the sisters I never had, but always dreamed of!”

“To all the kicking ass and taking names we did over the past year!” Mia chimed in, clinking her bottle against Everly’s and holding it there. They turned to me expectantly.

“To friends who became family!” I clinked my bottle against theirs, and we took a giant swig. I shook my head as I swallowed the wine. “Anyone else’s world spinning?”

“Yep. That means it’s working. Anyone hungry?” Everly queried. Mia raised her hand. “Want to order a shit ton of desserts from room service?”

“It’s not like we can walk down and get it,” Mia slurred slightly. “We’d trip over our own two feets… two feet. Not feets.”

I snorted. “Who’s sober enough to call? Obviously, not Mia.”

“Hey!”

“Annalise, you do it. You’re the mother figure here,” Everly said.

“But you’re an actual mother,” I pointed out.

“Only to my son. And sometimes to my fiancé because he acts like a manchild.”

“Don’t they all?” Mia quipped.

“All right, all right, I’ll do it. What do we want to order?” I asked, pulling out my phone and typing the list. We all named as much as we could think of, and I made the call.

The rest of the night passed in fits of laughter, eating, and more drinking. It was the last time any of us would be able to let loose in a long time. After this weekend ended, Will’s coronation was right around the corner.

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