Chapter 6

Competition

I awoke the next morning to loud music booming from another room. I rolled over and noticed that the clock said nine. I groggily got up and looked for something to wear. I put on a summer dress and some flip-flops, fixed my hair, and went to the living room. When I didn't see anyone I searched the kitchen and the foyer. I saw the dogs lying lazily by the door, but they quickly jumped up and came running over to me and knocked me down.

"Monty! Maxwell!" I laughed as they covered me in drool. "Get off!" I pushed Monty back a little and Maxwell backed up enough for me to sit up. Once they calmed down I got up and walked outside on the veranda. I looked up at the light grey covering, with small holes in it where the sun persisted through. I spun around once quickly and smiled to myself at the promise of a rain storm.

"Hey, Lori!" I turned and Kevin was smiling at me. "I hope you're not wearing that today.

"Yeah. Why?"

"We're working today. If you don't have any old clothes, go to Carol's room and borrow some. She's awake, so go on in." He smiled.

"Okay." I said and walked back into the house and into Carol's room. She was sitting on her bed with her laptop typing up, what I guess was a research paper.

"Hey, Lori. You need some clothes too?" she asked, not looking up from her computer.

"Yeah. Kevin said that you might have some to fit me." She nodded.

"My old clothes are in the closet in a box on the left-hand side." She said, still typing away. I walked over to her closet and found a small cardboard box where she said it was. I opened it and saw a toddler shirt that said "I'm the big sister" and it had two little puppies on it. I looked through the box and saw more child clothes. There was another box nearby so I grabbed it and opened it to find a bunch of jeans. I picked out a pair that was my size and began looking for shirts. I came across yet another box that read "pictures" on it. I stacked it on top of the other two boxes and found the box with the shirts in it. I found a shirt, stood up, and accidentally ran into the boxes. I knocked the one with the pictures on the floor and Carol rushed over to see what had happened.

"Are you alright?" She asked. I nodded and began spilling out apologies about knocking over her boxes. She smiled and waved it off and we started picking up the pictures that had scattered on the floor. The first picture had two boys and a girl on it. Carol glanced over at the picture.

"That was a long time ago. " She said, taking the picture from me and studying it. "I was four, Nick was three, Kevin was two, and Tom was nine…It was Nick's birthday party and Frank snuck a lick of frosting just before we ate it and Kevin got upset because his piece of cake had a chunk of icing missing. He was so upset, in tears and everything. Frank's mom made him apologize and they bought him a little toy to make him feel better. It was a little monkey."She laughed. "He named it Mr. Tutu!" We both started laughing and then I picked up another picture, this one of Frank, Nathan, and Nick on a playground. They were on the slide. Frank was sliding down, Nick was at the top, and Nathan was still climbing up the ladder. Carol glanced and laughed a little.

"That was fun!" She smiled. "Nathan was so scared of that slide. He thought it was huge and was scared to climb up, but Nick managed to convince him to try. Nick being Nick." She smiled. "Well, we better get you dressed and out there with everybody else." She smiled. I went into the bathroom and changed. I ran outside to where Carol said they were waiting and hopped on the Jeep.

"You dress so slow." Kevin said from the driver's seat. "Sorry, me and Carol were looking at baby pictures of you and Mr. Tutu." I said, smiling.

"Kevin? Who's Mr. Tutu?" Jenna asked. Kevin was silent at the reference to the stuffed animal.

"Aw! Is poor little Kevin embarrassed by Mr. Tutu?" I asked pinching his cheek.

"Not while I'm driving, Lori." He said and pushed my hand away. I laughed.

"Just to let you know, you're adorable in a tutu." Kevin slammed on the brakes and turned around with an angry expression on his face.

"What pictures did Carol show you?" He said darkly.

"You were in a tutu, swinging Mr. Tutu around. It was so cute!" I smiled. We all laughed, except for Kevin. Nick sat quietly in the corner, scowling. I glanced over at him, but he turned away. A few minutes later we reached the strawberry patch. Kevin handed each of us a basket and looked at his watch.

"Pick as many strawberries as you can before twelve." He told us. We all went in different rows and started picking the red berries. I looked up and saw Danna sneaking a few.

"Danna! You're supposed to pick them—not eat them!" I laughed. She smiled.

"I am! They just go into my stomach afterwards." She smiled, shoving another in her mouth.

"Aren't they supposed to be going in your basket?" She smiled and put a few strawberries in her basket. We kept picking until twelve when we took the strawberries back to the house. Carol came out long enough to help us wash the strawberries and make a few jars of jam.

"These sandwiches are delicious! Lacey said, taking a bite out of her PB&J. I smiled from my seat and took a big bite out of my sandwich.

"Wow! These are really good!" I smiled and took another bite. Kevin started laughing at me.

"What's so funny?" I asked, clueless.

"You have jam on your mouth." He said and wiped it from the corner of my mouth. After lunch I cleaned up the kitchen a little and noticed Kevin and Nick talking, heatedly, about something. I decided to stay out of it and put away the last glass and walked onto the veranda. I walked outside and felt the wind blow my bangs around, furiously.

"What are you doing out here?" I turned around, startled. Nick stood by the door, looking at me.

"Just needed some fresh air." I said, turning back to the scenery. I leaned on the railing and Nick mimicked me.

"You know," he started. "Kevin has a small crush on you." He said.

"I don't know why. I'm just average." I said softly.

"Jenna has a crush on Kevin." He said. We were silent for a while before he spoke again. "Jenna…Jenna was Zoe's cousin." He said. I turned toward him, eager to hear of the girl in the picture. "They were really close, so I'm really close to Jenna. Kevin is completely oblivious to her. I hate it for her, but I can't make him love her. And knowing her, I think she would rather he not love her than if he loved her because someone made him." He looked at the sky. "I loved her. I loved her for a long time before she even noticed me. Jenna helped me out, so I sort of owe her one." His face was downcast now. "When she died…I was torn. I didn't want to fall in love again. I didn't want anything serious…" He looked at me. "But…something changed." He stared in my eyes. I was trapped by those amber pools and I couldn't, nor did I want to, look away. He leaned in and placed his lips against my cheek. "Please…don't let Jenna hurt like I'm hurting now. She doesn't deserve it…" He turned and walked away from me. Something told me that life was about to get extremely complicated. And with that type of feeling, I knew I was right.

It was the next morning when I ran into Carol that my suspicions were confirmed. Carol was getting home from a class she had taken early that morning and I was walking to the kitchen.

"Hey, Lori." She said and smiled a slightly worn smile on her face.

"Hi." I said. We almost passed each other, but I called out to her at the last minute. "Carol. I need some advice…" We sat on the stairs and I explained everything.

"Knowing my brother, he only sees what he wants. Unfortunately for Jenna, she isn't what he wants. We sat for a few silent moments. "It'll all be ok. People get hurt and they move on. It's just life. People move, people stay. Everyone is destined for different things and sometimes there's someone who will help you to your goal, and sometimes people get in your way. But in order to determine what to do, you need to figure out what the problem is." She said.

"But I don't know what the problem is. I'm concerned about Nick because he said that he's hurting and I don't want him to hurt."

"Then stop his pain." She said.

"But I don't know how to." I said.

"Then find out what the problem is so you can figure out how."

"But he won't tell me directly. He bounces around it and gives me cryptic interpretations."

"Nick is a difficult person to figure out."

"I want to figure him out."

"Why?" She asked.

"I don't know!" I said, frustrated.

"Um…Lori?" I turned around and saw Kevin standing by the staircase. "Is this a bad time?" I shook my head, flustered. "Okay. Would you mind walking with me for a little bit?" I nodded. I waved bye to Carol and walked down the hallway with Kevin. He stopped at one of the hall balconies and I followed him through the French doors.

"You know, Lori…I've really enjoyed having you over these past couple days." He started. "I feel like I've known you for a lot longer than I have…" He was quiet for a while, looking up at the clouds. "Lori," he said, turning towards me. "I'm falling in love with you."

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