Bonus Chapter [1.2]
I know we look suspicious, but can’t you pretend like you didn’t see anything? I begged her silently.
She tapped her chin and stared both of us down. “No one is going to propose, right?”
“No,” I shook my head hurriedly before Alex did something stupid. It had taken a whole year to get Ron to finally agree to move in, I wasn’t about to let him jeopardize that. “Of course, we’re not.”
“I could propose if you want,” he said anyway, pushing me aside so that he was facing her directly. “What kind of ring would you like?”
I glared at him. “Alex!”
“Do you want me to propose to you too?” He seemed to be really considering the idea.
I really felt like shaking the sense back into him but I knew him well enough to know that words were the best way to get through to him. “Today is Ron’s birthday. Not propose-to-everyone day.”
“Saffron isn’t everyone,” he said pointedly. “And you’re not everyone. So why can’t I?”
“You can,” I gave up on trying to explain why you couldn’t just propose out of the blue, “just not today.”
He frowned but stayed silent.
Relieved, I turned back to Ron. She was frowning too, her nails clutching the silver hoop dangling from her left ear in a death grip.
She blinked and her gaze focused on me. In a matter of moments, her expression smoothened out but the tension was still there. “Learn to control your lover, Kay.”
I fixed a smile on my lips and tried to lighten the atmosphere. “He’s your lover too, Ron.”
She made a pained sound and pressed a hand to the side of her face. “You didn’t have to remind me.”
We both watched her take a seat at the kitchen counter.
“I guess this was the wrong time to give her this,” Alex said quietly, now that Ron was out of earshot.
I sighed and looked down at the bejeweled ring sitting in the center of his palm. “You’re really. . .”
“I told you not to do it,” I said instead, not letting frustration win over my calm. We had gotten the ring together months ago, but only because of his persistence and my inability to say no to him everyday for one month.
For me, the gift idea had sounded no different than a ticking time bomb, but—as surprising as it sounded—out of the three of us, Alex was the most eager to have a wedding.
A big wedding, I reminded myself, thinking back to the day I had walked in on him planning the thing, even though we have no one to invite.
I placed my hand on his arm and he looked at me.
Not able to stand the defeat in his gaze, I swallowed what I was about to say and hugged him. “At least, she didn’t say no.”
“She didn’t say yes.”
“You didn’t propose,” I corrected him then pulled away. “Why don’t you give her your other present?”
He thought for a moment before nodding and walking off to the kitchen.
I gave the two of them enough time to get the conversation rolling, counting to sixty in my head before crossing the room to join them.
“. . .so you can have a week off,” Alex had just finished saying when he turned to me. “Right, Kayden?”
I nodded and rested my hands on Ron’s shoulders. “You’ve been stressed lately. A break would be nice. We could have a week-long vacation.”
Ron tilted her head to let her cheek rest on the back of my hand. “If we all leave, who’s going to run the gang?”
“Harrison,” Alex and I said at the same time.
Ron laughed and drummed her fingers on the counter. ”Harrison?”
“He can handle it,” Alex said. “And you like him.”
“You remember his name,” I interjected, “and that’s more than we can say for anyone else.”
“And you made him my assistant two years ago,” Alex added.
“You two planned this, didn’t you?” Ron laughed again, but this time around the sound was more light-hearted. “How did you convince the Amaris to turn down the Carmosinos and partner with us?”
“Alex gave them a discount on a wedding dress he designed,” I answered with a knowing grin. “They couldn’t resist.”
She raised an eyebrow then shook her head. “I’m not even going to ask.”
Alex rested his elbows on the counter and peered at the both of us through his dark fringes. “Are you going to take a break now?”
“Without this deal, the Carmosinos won’t have the money to fund their operations,” Ron said, “so I guess I can rest easy now.”
“We can have our revenge later,” I rested my chin on her head and half of my face practically sunk into her afro, “they really went too far last time.”
Ron leaned back and our gazes met. “So what did you get me?”
I grinned. “I’m cooking lunch.”
“Aw, Kay,” she spun in the chair to face me, “this is why you’re my favorite.”
“Alex got you better gifts,” I managed to catch the hurt in his eyes right before his face morphed into an emotionless mask, “he should be your favorite.”
“But you know that the way to my heart is through good food,” she pressed her face into my shirt. “Thank you.”
I felt warmth creep up my neck but at the same time guilt ate at my heart. My actions were never held to the same standard Ron used to judge Alex so I got away with a lot more. It wasn’t fair but I couldn’t do anything about it, being the peacekeeper between the two of them seemed to be the best I could do.
“Uh. . .” I tried to think of a way to repair the damage Ron’s words had caused but my mind was blank.
It turned out that I didn’t need to say anything after all.
Alex grabbed her hand and she turned to him, her glossy lips pursed in annoyance. “Alexiares, you—”
“I don’t care if you want this or not but it’s yours now.” He slid the ring on her finger then dropped her hand and walked to the sink.
“I’ll wash the vegetables,” he announced with an unnecessarily loud voice, then proceeded to do just that as silence filled the spot he once occupied.
I took my gaze off him and looked down at Ron. I didn’t know which of them I needed to comfort more and the silence was eating me alive.
One of you. . . Please say something.
“Saffron?” I watched her twist the ring round her finger, but she didn’t take it off. It was a golden ring that had gemstones in each color of the rainbow embedded in its shank.
It wasn’t a typical engagement ring, but it was pretty in the sense that it matched Ron’s vibrant aesthetic. Right now, it went well with the wisterias embroidered down the front of her blouse, the neon in her nails and the golden studs decorating the rim of her right ear.
“I like it,” she said quietly.
“That’s. . .good?”
She got to her feet and walked around the counter to the sink where Alex stood.
“Thank you, Alexiares,” she said the moment she reached his side, but he didn’t look up from the water rushing out of the tap.
When he finally nodded in acknowledgement, Saffron reached out and hugged him.
I took my eyes off them and sank into the chair she had been sitting in, not able to hide my smile. I placed my arms on the counter and buried my face into them. Today really was good day.
“Oh, look, Kayden is blushing.”
When I looked up, I found Ron’s head right beside mine. “I’m not.”
“You were,” Alex said. He was now behind me.
“Now, you’re lying.”
I turned to glare at him. “I’m not.”
“Saffron wants to hug you,” he said, amused.
I looked at Ron and she shrugged. “And,” I returned my attention to him, “what does that have to do with you?”
“What doesn’t it?”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“Ah, boys,” Ron placed a hand on both our shoulders, “stop fighting.”
In reply, Alex took my hand and dragged me to my feet. “Ron said we should stop fighting.”
“She was talking to you,” I told him as he wrapped his arms around me, “not me.”
“Okay,” he chuckled, “you win.”
Ron took a step in our direction. “Kay, what are you making for lunch?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“You can save yourself the stress and just give yourself to me,” she crossed the gap between us, a coy smile on her lips, “I won’t mind.”
“I’m cooking real food,” I said, trying to focus on something other than Alex’s fingers creeping up my shirt. “The both of you should let me do that or we’ll all starve.”
“I can go a day without food.” She wrapped her arms around Alex, trapping me between the two of them. “Or we could just go out.”
“No, I planned exactly what to make,” I swung my head in Alex’s direction just in time to see him smile, “neither of you are ruining this for me.”
Ron laughed and kissed my jaw. “Isn’t it supposed to be my birthday, Kay?”
“But what?” She leaned back but didn’t break the hug. Alex held me tighter and braced himself so we didn’t all go toppling forward. “Alex said you could be my present.”
“Traitor.” I stepped on his foot as hard as I could and hoped he felt it through his shoes. If he did, he didn’t show it.
“I think this is my best birthday till date,” Ron yelled loudly then kissed him over my shoulder.
I rolled my eyes and squirmed in the little space left between them. “Get a room, you two.”
“I own the building,” Alex said, and I felt the rumble of his words along the length of my spine.
Before I could look at him, Ron grabbed me by the chin and forced our gazes to meet. “Don’t be jealous.”
“Lying again,” Alex whispered by ear.
I felt Ron’s hands replace his around me. The coolness of her bracelets seeped through my shirt and suddenly the room felt warmer. Much warmer.
“Best birthday present ever,” she said, and my gaze snapped back to her, “and luckily a week has been cleared from my schedule.”
Alex hugged us both and rested his chin on my shoulder. “You’re welcome.”
“Let’s skip lunch and go to bed right now.” Ron grinned.
“Yes,” he agreed.
“I’m not tired,” I argued.
They ignored me.
Ron took a step back and watched the both of us with a content smile. “I feel like taking a picture.”
I pulled Alex’s arms off me, glad to have something else to do. “We all should.”
Ron grabbed my sleeve before I could make my way back to the bedroom and get my camera.
She tugged me forward, placed her hands on my shoulders and pressed her lips to mine.
It was a short kiss, maybe just two seconds long, but it froze me in place.
She grinned and raised a phone. “Now.”
Alex pounced on me and the camera flashed just before I tried to escape the bear hug.
Ron looked down at the phone and her smile grew. “Perfect.”
Alex let go of me immediately and walked to her side, nodding in approval the whole time. “New wallpaper.”
I wrapped my arms around myself and narrowed my eyes at them. “You two are crazy.”
Ron snapped her fingers and aimed a finger at me. “Consider it punishment for you two fooling around when I wasn’t here.”
This time around, Alex froze with me.
She walked towards me and placed a hand on my chest. When her other hand brushed my collar, I understood immediately and did the first button of the shirt.
When I glared at Alex, he smiled sheepishly and ran his hand through his hair. “Sorry,” he mouthed silently.
“Don’t leave hickeys where they’re so easy to see next time,” Ron said, but I had no idea which one of us she was talking to.
“There won’t be a next time,” I told her in the most serious voice I could. It was harder to do when staring at Alex’s exaggeratedly grave expression.
Serves you right.
“No,” she crossed her arms, “there won’t.”
She turned to Alex with a deep frown. “Next time, when I tell you to keep your paws off him, you will. Kayden will be sleeping in my room from now on, until you learn to keep it in your pants.”
Ouch. I flinched. I felt that one.
Before I could even begin to revel in the feeling, Ron spun to face me. ”You. . .”
I blinked, resisting the urge to point at myself or turn around and see if she was talking to someone else. “I’m innocent.”
“Sure, you are.” She laughed and turned me towards the kitchen. “Go make lunch while Alexiares attempts to redeem himself.”
I walked to the counter without saying a word, my mind already occupied by the feast I had planned on cooking today.
Thoughtful as always, Alex had put a chopping board and an empty bowl beside the basket of vegetables so all I needed to get now was a knife.
While reaching for the knife block, my eyes drifted to the living room and I caught sight of Ron and Alex cuddling on one of the couches.
I looked away before either of them noticed but there was nothing I could do about my smile.
I poised the edge of the knife over a tomato I had set on the chopping board but halfway through slicing the fruit my gaze fell on my left hand...and the silver band that now encircled the finger beside my pinky.
I let go of the knife and raised my hand to my eyes, still not able to believe it. I hadn’t even noticed when Alex put it on me, and I hadn’t expected it either.
I turned back to the living room, surprised that he had also gotten me a ring, but stopped myself before I said anything. Don’t ruin their moment.
“Today’s a good day,” I whispered to myself then turned back to the chopping board to finish dicing the tomato. “A very very good day.”