There was about a month or so between Rayen and my pregnancies, but she was at least as big as me. When I’d asked her about it she’d told me you start to show earlier after your first because your muscles have already been stretched. I just took another bite of cheesecake.
“Oh, that looks good.” I looked around to see a pair of big blue eyes devouring my dessert. These eyes were accompanied by an attractive fade cut topped with a stylish mop of mousy brown hair and a guileless smile that brought all the boys to the yard. At least it had in high school.
“Raiden?” I asked, stunned. I hadn’t seen him since he’d left town right out of high school saying he was going to make it big as an actor. We’d been best friends but we hadn’t really kept in touch, me for obvious reasons and him because he was never really good at long distance.
“Ashley,” he exclaimed, bouncing on his toes which made his hair flop. His smile went from radiant to blinding as he squealed and threw his arms around me. “Oh my goddess, you have to tell me everything. But first, that cheesecake looks divine. Haven, let’s quick run a plate through the buffet.” He turned away and for the first time I noticed he had a blue rope attached to his wrist that linked him to Haven. Haven opened his mouth to say something but Raiden had taken his connected arm in both of his, clasping it to his chest and pouting outrageously. “Please-please-please-please-please. I want some cheesecake before it’s all gone.” I raised an eyebrow at the use of his old tricks.
Haven gave me a strained smile and said through his teeth, “We’ll be right back.”
As they left, I heard Rayen growl and turned to her questioningly. She shrugged with a grimace. “They broke up last year. That little bitch was just playing with my brother until he found some guitarist that could buy him more pretty things.” She snorted derisively. “Wonder why he’s back.”
This speech didn’t really line up with what I remembered of him. He’d had a string of boyfriends, as well as a couple girlfriends, between middle school and high school, which made him flighty but he’d not been materialistic. Mostly they’d broken up with him for being too clingy and capricious. His tastes had seemed to change depending on who he was dating, but surely he knew himself by now. Okay, so maybe it did line up, especially if he’d had a lot of Hollywood beau.
When they came back Raiden was holding an overloaded plate, more like platter at this point, with just the fingertips of an expert hand while the other held tightly to Haven’s. I had to swallow at the sight. I had to take a moment to lock my jealousy into a closet before I noticed Haven’s face was blank and the hand that was in Raiden’s hung limp, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the Love Me Knot would have put them together even if I’d participated as well. Legally I couldn’t, since the higher likelihood of hospitalization for pregnant individuals made the forcible attachment to another person risky. Yet, they looked good together.
I shrugged my shoulders to ease the tension that had settled there.
“I do hope you’ll all help me eat this, as I sure couldn’t finish it alone,” he beamed around the table as he set the plate in the center. Rayen just glared at the offending desserts and food was starting to taste like mulch to me so I declined. Raiden’s face drooped a little until Alex joined the table a moment later hailing him as the greatest host alive, pulling the platter over to himself and digging in.
“I don’t understand where you put it all,” Basil said as he took a seat beside Alex, one knee over the other and hands folded on top. Alex just grinned like a five-year-old, chocolate covered teeth and all. I did my best to avoid looking at Haven, letting my eyes wander around the gathering and noticed Levi sitting between a few of the local guards. He was hunkered between his shoulderblades as he worked in his drawing pad. They were probably giving him grief over who his father was.
“So, Ash, how’ve you- woah,” Raiden cut off when I swung my leg over the bench to head to Liam’s aid. I turned my face back to him with an apology about leaving so soon dying on my lips as I followed his gaze to my distended stomach. “Oh, my god, that’s so amazing!” He seemed to vibrate with energy. “How far along are you? Do you get morning sickness? Have you felt it kick? Is it a boy or a girl?” His eyes widened, “Oh, my gawd, who is the patriarch? Is it someone I know?”
He hadn’t given me any time to answer each question until the last one, when he paused with an eerily knowing grin. I took breath, feeling a flush creep up my neck, and couldn’t stop myself from briefly meeting Haven’s eyes before I responded. “Uh, yeah. You know him. Sorry, I have to go talk to someone for a second for, um,” another glance at Haven, “personal reasons.”
Without waiting for his reaction or more questions, I stood and wove through the crowd to Liam. As I approached I heard the Guardsmen discussing a homeless drunk that’d been found passed out on a farm somewhere to the south.
“You know, four leaf clovers were once cultivated by tanuki and human witches in an attempt to create good luck,” I said over his shoulder as he doodled a clover that reminded me of Dr. Seuss books in that it had tiny people going about their days on it. It looked like a continuation of what he’d been drawing the other night and I wondered if, “do you like Dr. Seuss?”
He whipped his head toward me, eyes wide. The three Guardsmen around the table looked up at me at the same time. Two of them grimaced while the third rolled his eyes and they moved a few tables down..
“Um, huh?” Liam looked from me to the departing men with consternation.
“It looked like you were building a city on a clover. That sounds like something Dr. Seuss would do.”
“Oh, uh. Yeah.”
“Is it a happy city?”
“Yeah.” He nodded, his eyes sad.
“Who’s hand was holding the clover? Yours?” He didn’t respond or even look at me, but I had a feeling I was right. It had to be his hand there. He felt like an outsider looking in, like he didn’t fit. I knew the feeling. I smiled at him when he looked over at me. “Who wants to fit in anyway? It’s better to just be yourself.”
Was that guilt I saw? Before I could think much on it George walked up.
“Hey, they’re setting up for the three legged race,” he grinned.
I looked at his wrists and then glanced around pointedly, raising an eyebrow at him. “Where’s your partner?”
“What, you think I’d show my face before the Love Me Knot is untied? You must take me for a fool.” He shook his head slowly with mock condescension. I punched his shoulder and he winced.
“Come on,” I said turning a grin onto Liam. “Let’s go watch people be fools.”
He responded with a small lopsided smile. As we walked over to the roped off competition area, I secretly hoped my dear sweet friend Raiden tripped and fell on his face. He did. But it was a sour victory as he’d brought Haven down too, landing right on top of him. Well, not completely. Haven had caught himself, one hand on either side of Raiden. My blood seemed to have an odd icy-hot thing going at the moment as jealousy warred with hurt.