Feisty Francesca

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#64 Big fan of change

Aston kisses the top of my head and then turns to Joshua, still keeping his arm around me. “Nice seeing you again, man. Can’t believe you snatched up this hottie.” He whacks my ass and laughs when I smack his arm.

“Your loss is my gain,” Joshua jokes, not bothered by Aston’s antics whatsoever. “Fran’s right, by the way. This place is amazing.” He walks into the kitchen and runs a hand over the granite countertop. “Is Annabel okay, by the way? If she’s not feeling well, we can leave.”

“I’m fine,” her voice sounds from the hallway, and she walks in looking a little pale, but beautiful nonetheless. At 20 weeks, she’s popped, and her baby bump is quite big by now. “Aston!” she yells when she sees her fiancé. “Why are you shirtless?”

He shrugs. “You threw up on my shirt.”

“You have more than one shirt, you dipshit!” She rolls her eyes. “He’s always doing this,” she tells me and Joshua with a sigh. “The neighbors have all seen him in his boxershorts by now. We’re the exhibitionists of the neighborhood, I guess.”

“I may like to walk around showing off my muscular body, but you’re the one who like shaving sex in public places,” Aston says, winking at her. “My little freak.”

Annabel walks over to whack him on the back of his head. “Stop talking about our sex life in front of other people. And put on a shirt. Now.”

He pulls her against him and kisses her hard, making her melt into him immediately. “Okay, dear,” he says with a grin when they break apart. “I will put on some clothes so I won’t tempt you all night long, or this very nice dinner party will end in an orgy.”

“You wish,” I comment dryly, laughing at Annabel’s incredulous expression. “Where are Shaughna and Dshawn, by the way? I thought we were late, but they’re not even here yet, are they?”

Annabel shrugs. “They’ll get here, I’m sure.” She extends her hand to Joshua. “I know we’ve met before, but we never really talked. I’m Annabel. You’re Joshua, right? The guitar player from the band that played at my birthday party? And Francesca’s boyfriend?”

“Yeah, that’s me.” He shakes her hand with a smile. “You’ve got a beautiful home.”

“Thanks.”

The two of them walk around the kitchen and talk about countertops and oven timers and other boring stuff, and I’m surprised at how easily Joshua adepts to all kinds of situations. He can chug a beer and joke around with Thomas, remain utterly unfazed by Aston’s brash nature, and talk to Annabel about boring grown-up stuff.

I know that technically, him and I are grown-ups too, but Annabel is 39 while we’re only 22 and 26. That’s a big difference. Listening to them chat and laugh, he doesn’t seem that much younger than her, though.

“You got yourself a good one this time,” Aston says when he pops up next to me, wearing a bright red shirt with I’m with the preggo printed on the front.

“Yeah, I did,” I agree. “Annabel is going to flip when she sees that shirt.”

He grins. “I know. I love riling her up.”

Right on cue, Annabel turns around at the sound of his voice and rolls her eyes at his choice of shirt. “Go change,” she orders. “Now.”

“I could just take it off,” he proposes, already tugging it up. “It’s this or my naked chest. You decide, honey.”

“Keep it on,” she grunts, but I can tell she’s more amused than angry. “You’re horrible.”

“And yet you love me,” he states.

“Yes,” she agrees with a fond smile. “I do.”

The doorbell rings right when they kiss, so I walk into the hallway to let Shaughna and Dshawn into the house. She’s got crazy sex hair, and he looks way too smug for his own good.

“Car sex?” I ask, wiggling my eyebrows.

Shaughna grins and pulls his fingers through her hair, trying to tame it and failing horribly. “Is it that obvious?”

“Yeah,” I say honestly. “Then again, it’s not like any of us are surprised when you show up smelling like sex. We know you, after all.”

Dshawn squeezes her ass and she lets out a shriek, smacking him playfully. We walk into the living room, where Aston is ordering pizzas on his laptop, rubbing Annabel’s back with one hand like it’s an unconscious motion, a habit he picked up somewhere along the way. It’s cute how they gravitate towards each other.

“Joshua!” Shaughna throws herself at Josh, hugging him tightly. “I’m so happy to see you!”

They start talking right away, catching up, so I turn to Dshawn, giving him a little smile. “Guess it’s just you and me,” I say, laughing. “Your girlfriend seems to be occupied with my boyfriend.”

“Perfect time for us to get a beer,” Dshawn decides, heading to the fridge. He curses and motions me over, showing me the inside of what’s got to be the fanciest fridge ever. It’s even got one of those ice cube thingies that I’ve always wanted. “Damn, Aston is all posh now,” he says, shaking his head.

“Yeah… I’m not sure about that…” I jerk my head in Aston’s direction, and Dshawn laughs along when he sees that Aston has his hand on Annabel’s ass while he pays for the pizzas online, his fingers inching further and further down while she squirms.

“Okay, yeah, he’s still Aston,” he agrees with me. “The only thing different is the fancy fridge.”

Looking around the room, I know that’s not true. A lot of things have changed, not just how luxurious the fridge is. Not that long ago, Aston was a player without any intension of settling down, I was throwing myself at him every chance I got. Shaughna was still denying her feelings for Dshawn. And Joshua… I didn’t even know him yet, let alone love him.

Things changed a whole damn lot, and as far I’m concerned, I’m a big fan of change.

***

I shiver when I step into the backyard with Aston. It’s quite cold out, and it’s late, but Aston is insisting on showing me his art studio, so I follow him into the dark garden. Our pizzas are completely devoured by now, and all the non-pregnant adults are buzzed. Well, all except for Joshua, who is driving us back home later, insisting that I deserve to cut loose and that he can cope not drinking more than one beer for the night. Shaughna and Dshawn are crashing here, and they’re both a little drunk, laughing at everything. Aston didn’t drink that much, to be honest. He’s a lot more responsible than he used to be. Way more responsible than I am, I guess, since I’m feeling the effects of all those beers quite clearly.

“What’s so important that I need to see it right now?” I ask when he unlocks the door of the shed they diverted into an art studio. “I’ve seen this shed before, you know.”

“It’s not the shed I want to show you.” He flicks on the light and steps aside so I can come in.

My eyes fill with tears when I see the canvas on the easel in the middle of the space. My father’s face looks radiant as he gazes down the small baby in his arms. That’s me. I’m that little baby. I know the picture well, since it’s one that has been on my living room wall for years now, and Mom has the same one on her nightstand.

It’s different seeing it painted like this, though. The love radiates off it in a way that it never did off the photograph. Aston painted my mother as well, her arm around my dad and her gaze on me as well. It’s the way she looked back when I was little, before she had tattoos. She isn’t in the original picture, but I do recognize the way she’s smiling. Aston must have used the picture of her at my parents’ wedding day as an example. He created an image that doesn’t exists in pictures, but that sure feels real.

“Aston,” I breathe. “How… why… when?”

He hugs me from the side, kissing the top of my head. “Your dad’s birthday is in two days, right? I just wanted to do something for you.”

“This is…” I can’t keep the tears at bay anymore. “I love it.”

“I hoped you would.” He pulls me against him and rubs my back while I sob. “It’s yours, obviously. You can take it home with you, if you want to.”

“Yes,” I sniffle. “I do. Thank you.”

We stay like that for a little while until I’ve stopped sobbing. I step out of Aston’s embrace and study the painting, amazed at how much love, energy and time Aston put into this. I love it. My dad feels so close right now, like he’s standing right in front of me.

“We should go back inside,” Aston says, putting a hand on the small of my back to guide me out of the studio and into the backyard. “I’ll wrap the painting for you later so it won’t get damaged in the car.”

I let him guide me through the dark garden, trying not to trip over my own feet. My sight is a little blurry from all those tears I just shed. I’m so lucky to have Aston for a friend. When I get back into the house, I open my mouth to tell the others what Aston did for me, but the words freeze on my tongue, unable to believe who is standing right in the middle of the living room.

No. Fucking. Way.

What is she doing here?

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