Two weeks later, we’re on a plane to New York. Noah booked and purchased the tickets for us, even though I would have happily paid for mine. I’m sitting in first class for the first time ever, and I can see why people pay extra money for it. There is a ton more legroom, not that I need much, and the seats go back so far you can basically lay down. It’s pretty much heaven since I’m tired all the damn time now.
“Would you like to order a drink?” the flight attendant asks Noah and me once the plane is and has been firmly in the sky.
“Do you have ginger ale?” I know she’s probably asking if I want some wine or whatever, but obviously, that’s not a thing I can have anymore and I’m feeling queasy. It started pretty much right after Harper had her baby.
“Of course. And for you, sir?”
“A Coke is fine,” Noah replies. The flight attendant nods and pours our drinks in a plastic cup before handing them to us. She also gives us several bags of peanuts then goes on her way.
I eat my peanuts and drink my ginger ale before reclining the seat as far as it will go. I curl into a ball and lay on it, facing Noah. He does the same until we’re staring at each other as I drift to sleep.
I wake several hours later when we’re touching down at LaGuardia Airport. I’ve never left Florida before, and I’ve only flown when visiting other places in the state. Rich could have taken me places, but we never traveled further than to Key West that one summer.
I’m so excited to be in New York. It always seems so fancy, like this is the place to be. All the “Big Four” are from here originally before they moved across the U.S. so it must be an important place.
“Are we taking a cab? Like you’re going to put your hand out and whistle at a speeding cab before it stops abruptly in front of us?” I ask when Noah grabs our bags and we head to the exit.
“No, Evan’s picking us up,” Noah replies with a laugh.
“I thought New Yorkers didn’t drive,” I say a little crestfallen.
“I didn’t say he was driving. He’s got a driver.”
I don’t know why that astounds me. I’ve been around rich people. Drew’s family has got money and so does Rich’s, but they have nowhere near the net worth Evan does or Noah’s family. I Googled them so I know it’s like almost three times more than Rich’s and Drew’s families combined. They don’t have drivers. They have fancy cars they drive themselves, but not chauffeurs except for important events. Maybe it’s just the difference between New York and Florida, though. Lots of people don’t drive themselves or even own cars in New York.
Noah’s rolling both our suitcases behind him. I’m perfectly capable of doing it. I’m pregnant, not an invalid, but Noah insists and I won’t say no to the kind of chivalry. I’ve never known it before. When we get close to the exit, a very recognizable man in grey slacks, a light blue button-up shirt, and a navy peacoat is standing next to a tall blonde knockout. She looks like a freaking model and I can see her icy blue eyes from here.
I know this is Evan and Brooke. I’ve been on video chats with them before and I remember seeing them in the paper last year after their wedding. I remember thinking how in love they looked and realized Rich never looked at me the way Evan was looking at Brooke. I couldn’t believe it when Noah told me that wedding was arranged. You could tell they were in love though, whether they wanted to admit it or not.
Noah drops our suitcases when we get close to the devastatingly gorgeous couple. Noah is gorgeous like Evan but in a different way. Noah’s got a wilder bad boy look about him while Evan looks every bit the part of an heir to a multibillion-dollar company. Noah and I will never look like a power couple the way Evan and Brooke do. They both have this air of sophistication and power that I do not possess.
Noah’s several inches over six feet while I’m barely five feet. He has to bend way over just to kiss me and I look like a kid standing next to him. I don’t dress the way Brooke does. She wears sleek skinny jeans and an expensive sweater with high-heeled ankle boots. She looks fancy in a way I could never hope to.
Meanwhile, here I am in some boyfriend jeans that are ripped in the knees and thighs, in a fashionable way not because I can’t afford new ones, my teal Converse, and a Slytherin t-shirt. My curly hair is a mess from the nap I had on the plane, and I just look like a ragamuffin in comparison.
Noah wraps Evan up in the biggest bearhug I’ve ever seen. It’s like they’re squeezing the life out of each other. I look on with a smile because Noah is finally back with his family.
“Oh my God, Avery. I’m so excited to finally meet you!” Brooke says gliding toward me pulling me into a hug.
I’m too surprised at first to respond, but I quickly hug her back. When she pulls away, she wraps her arms around Noah and kisses his cheek.
“I’m so glad you could come,” Evan says. He doesn’t try to hug me, but he shakes my hand.
“Thanks for letting me tag along,” I respond.
Noah puts his arm back around my shoulders and kisses the side of my head. He grabs one suitcase while Evan grabs the other one. We walk towards where the car is waiting for us.
“When’s Sweets and Kris getting here?” Noah asks when the driver comes out to put our bags in the trunk. He’s dressed in a simple black suit. Evan thanks him before we get into the back of the black car.
“They’ll be here later tonight. You know how they are. They’ve got to make an entrance,” Evan says rolling his eyes, but I don’t miss the affectionate smile he has when speaking of them.
My eyes are glued out the window as we drive through the city. There’s traffic like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and it takes us a while to get into Manhattan. We pull up to the parking garage of a really nice apartment building.
Noah leads me behind Brooke and Evan towards the elevator. I want to ask about our bags, but it’s apparent that the driver will bring them up. It makes me feel weird to have someone do that for me, but everyone else is acting like it’s normal so it must be for them. Maybe this is what the driver gets paid for.
The elevator opens to a very airy open apartment. The walls on one side are just gigantic windows, like Noah’s house. Instead of a view of the beach, I’m met with a view of the city. It’s not as pretty as the beach view, but maybe this is the most beautiful place to them.
“Noah, dear, it’s so nice seeing you again.”
I look back to see an older woman hugging Noah. She’s short like me, so he has to bend over a lot. She’s got a motherly look to her, and I wonder who she belongs to. It must be Evan or Brooke’s mom. Maybe she lives with them. I know Evan’s mother is all alone after her husband got arrested.
I meander over so they can introduce me to this woman. She smiles at me kindly, and I feel more at ease than I have since we touched down in the city. Instead of shaking my hand, she pulls me into a hug I only wished my mom would give me once in my life. This is the kind of hug I hoped for when I told them I was pregnant. Instead, I got venomous words.
It takes everything I have in me to keep the tears from falling. It’s just the hormones and Noah wants to wait until Allie and Kristie get here to tell everyone the news so I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag too early.
“You must be Avery. Evan and Brooke haven’t been able to stop talking about the new lady in Noah’s life. When they told me you were coming for Summer’s birthday, I was over the moon. Just look at him! He looks so happy,” the woman says with an adoring smile as she talks about them all.
“Thank you,” I manage without choking. If I say anymore, I might still cry.
“I’m Mrs. Gibbons. You can call me Mrs. G. Everyone does. Let me know if you need anything before I leave for the night. I’ll go put away your things in Noah’s bedroom. Lovely to meet you, dear,” she says kissing my cheek then leading the driver who just came in, through a hallway.
“I thought that was your mom,” I say with a laugh. I realize now she must work for Evan and Brooke.
“She’s always been like a mother to me, but she’s our housekeeper,” Evan replies with a smile that suggests he’s telling the truth.
“Where’s my girl?” Noah asks, looking around. He must be talking about Summer.
“She’ll be home soon. My mom and sisters took her to the museum while we were picking you guys up,” Brooke answers. “Are you hungry?”
I look to Noah. I’m freaking starving all the damn time and not nauseous enough to curb the appetite, but I don’t want to be the only one eating. Noah gives me a faint smile because he knows how much I’ve been eating lately.
“Yeah, whatcha got?”
Evan and Noah lead the way to the kitchen while Brooke drops back to walk with me. She even walks elegantly with her heeled boots on in a way I never could. I hate wearing heels. Brooke gives me a brilliant smile full of straight white teeth. Just another reason to feel self-conscious around her. Some of my teeth are crooked despite an attempt with braces in middle school. They aren’t like jacked up but still not perfect like Brooke seems to be in every damn way.
“I love your shirt, by the way. And those shoes!” Brooke says, nudging my shoulder.
“Thank you! I have tons of Converse. They’re my favorite shoe so I buy different colors all the time. Basically enough to match any outfit or occasion,” I reply with a smile.
Converse make me happy. My dad bought me my first pair when I was seven. They were pink high-tops, and I wore them until they ripped. He bought me another pair, then every year for Christmas I’d get another pair. They were always different colors or patterns. I’ve kept all the ones that don’t fit me anymore. They are more like a collection I can wear. They remind me of my dad and the happy times we shared. Luckily, my feet stopped growing in like the eighth grade, so I’m able to wear most of them still.
“It was a thing my dad did. It became a tradition for him to get them for me. He died when I was fifteen, so I kept it going myself. Mom doesn’t understand, and she hates them. She loved my dad, but I think she was jealous of how close we were because she kind of shits on everything he and I did together.”
Wow, that was heavy for someone I just met. Jesus. I can feel my cheeks heating as I look up to Brooke to see what she thought about my word vomit, but she just gives me a sad smile. She puts her hand on my shoulder and pulls me in for a hug.
“I’m sorry about your dad. I can’t imagine what it feels like to lose a parent, let alone one you’re so close with. It sounds like you had a wonderful relationship with him. I’m jealous, really. I never had even an ounce of a relationship like that with either of my parents. Don’t be sad it’s gone. Be happy you had it while it lasted,” she says laying her cheek on my head like I’m a child.
Still, I feel comforted and I wish she was here to tell fifteen-year-old me that when I was standing next to his grave crying my eyes out. I’m on the verge of tears again. I blame it on the pregnancy hormones, but it’s probably more than that. I’ve never felt so accepted by so many people in my life. I can easily count on one hand how many people love me exactly the way I am. Now it seems I’ll need two hands.
“Thank you.” I don’t know what else to say once Brooke releases me.
I’m saved from having to figure it out when the front door opens. It’s either Summer coming home or Allie and Kristie have arrived. Noah’s head pops out of the kitchen at the sound. He’s got a Twinkie sticking out of his mouth. Brooke smiles widely at him as he runs to the front entry.
Evan, Brooke, and I follow. A little blonde girl with blue eyes nearly identical to Brooke’s lets go of her grandma’s hand to run full out, then springboards into Noah’s waiting arms. He wraps her tightly and spins her around.
“How is my princess?” Noah asks kissing her cheeks so much she’s laughing a twinkling laugh likes bells are going off.
Evan and Brooke are smiling at the exchange. You can see the absolute adoration and love they have for the little girl nuzzling into Noah’s neck, giving him a hug like she’s afraid he might disappear if she lets go.
I get choked up all over again, and this time I can’t stop the cascade of tears down my cheeks. Noah’s ridiculously good with her, and now I’m imagining a black-haired girl in Summer’s place. Everyone must hear me crying because they all look at me. Evan and Brooke’s looks are concerned, but Noah’s has a grin. He walks over with Summer still in his arms and wraps me into a side hug.
“Miss Summer. This is Avery. She’s my girlfriend,” Noah introduces.
“Hi! Do you want to see my room?” Summer asks me enthusiastically.
I can’t help a watery laugh and I nod my head. She wriggles her way out of Noah’s arms then takes my hand, pulling me towards the hallway that must lead to the bedrooms. I look back and see Noah’s wide grin still in place. I give him a small smile in return, then let myself be dragged by an almost six-year-old girl to see her room. It must be her favorite place in the world if that’s the first thing she wants people to see.