Chapter 41

The following day, I sat at the counter at work, studying for a test coming up. The door to Paul's office opened and Laura came out, hustling her kids with her. "I'm engaged!" she exclaimed, holding out her hand with a ring on it.

Wow that was fast. "Wow." I blurted out and then quickly added, "Congratulations."

"Thanks," she beamed back at me and then herded her kids out the door.

Paul came out a few minutes later, clearing his throat, smile on his face. I forced myself not to make a face. "I popped the question," he "confided" in me.

"Yeah, Laura just told me." I answered, forcing myself to smile.

"I know it's soon…" he leaned against the counter. "But I really like her… I mean, we're going to be taking it slow, long engagement, but I'm crazy about her," he told me seriously.

"That's great." I nodded diligently.

"Well I guess you wouldn't really know how it feels, to be really crazy about someone," he announced grandly.

I read between the lines of that remark and couldn't help but ask, "Excuse me?"

He looked at me sharply and then smiled an almost sympathetic smile. "I mean, I know that you don't have a girlfriend right now…"

"Actually I do." I replied, somehow managing to keep the bite out of my voice. Pompous, assuming, rude, son of a bitch…

"Oh really?" he asked, looking surprised. "Oh I thought…" he began and then trailed off, looking… disappointed? I suddenly realized that it had probably been a huge ego booster for him to have a girlfriend when I, who was younger and way more attractive then him, didn't.

"Yeah. Have a girlfriend." I answered briskly. "Are you leaving for the day?"

"Yes. Make sure to lock up," he quickly exited the store and I breathed a sigh of relief.

"He's finally gone." Christine surprised me by coming out of one of the aisles.

"Hey!" I smiled at her. "When did you come in?"

"You were talking to Laura," she answered with a shrug. "I figured I'd say something once you were alone."

"Oh. Okay." I smiled back and then leaned across the counter. She smiled back and we kissed.

The door opened so I pulled back quickly. "Am I interrupting?" Jake wiggled his eyebrows at us.

"I thought you were hungover." I answered, surprised to see him. "The last time I saw you, you were dry-heaving over the sink."

He shrugged as he tossed his return down on the counter. "Slept a lot, ate a little, threw up three times-"

"Ew." Christine interjected, looking thoroughly grossed out.

"I'm better now," he shrugged nonchalantly, looking at the new releases. "Got anything new?"

"Maybe." I answered, shaking my head as he wandered off.

"His resilience amazes me." Christine shook her head with a smile.

"I rule at life." Jake answered from the shelves.

The door opened again. Cassie entered with a small smile. "Hey." I smiled at her.

"Hey," she smiled a little more back.

"Cassie?" Jake popped out of the shelves. "Haven't seen your lovely face around lately," he glided over smoothly.

Cassie looked pained. "Jake-" she began with a sigh.

"Leave her alone, Jake." I said patiently.

"Dude, how many times do I have to ask you to hook it up?" Jake complained as Cassie slowly inched away.

"Many more since my answer is still no." I replied sweetly.

"That's the jealousy talking." Jake smirked before retreating back into the shelves.

"I'm just returning a movie." Cassie held up a movie then set it down on the counter.

"Thanks." I answered.

"Hey Christine," she smiled at Christine in a clear effort to make nice.

"Hey." Christine smiled back.

"Well I have some studying to do. See ya." Cassie left.

I sighed and dropped my face into my arms on the counter. I felt a small cool hand touch my arm gently and peeked out. Christine smiled at me and said quietly, "It will get better."

"I hope so." I mumbled back, words muffled by my arms.

The door opened again so I popped back up… only to see Alexandra coming in, holding a little girl in her arms. "Hey." I said, surprised.

"Hey," she answered, pushing her sunglasses on top of her head. She looked thoroughly uncomfortable.

"I'm going to go look for a movie." Christine breezed away.

I waited for Alexandra to speak, not eager to piss her off, knowing that we were on fragile ground already.

"So… how's business been?" Alexandra asked in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. I saw Jake come out of the shelves, clearly about to pose a question, and then stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of Alexandra. He blatantly stared at her. I tried to ignore him.

"Good." I nodded a few times. "Who's this?" I asked, smiling at the little girl, who was clearly related to Alexandra. She had the same pale blond hair and green eyes.

"This is my daughter Caitlyn," she answered and then looked down, smiling softly at her daughter. "Caitlyn, this is my friend Erik." Caitlyn smiled back shyly.

"She's cute." I told her softly.

"Yeah she is." Alexandra smoothed her daughter's hair down and then looked up at me. "I just came by to drop this off," she handed me an envelope. "Give it to Paul, please?"

"Sure." I nodded.

"I'll see you around," she smiled one more time and then left the store.

"That was Alexandra Grayson." Christine popped out of the shelves the minute the door shut.

"Yeah." I agreed.

"Dude who was that, she was hot." Jake said faintly.

"She used to work here." I answered.

"She was the hot blond girl?" he demanded. "Wow too bad I didn't catch her when she still worked here," he shook his head and headed back into the shelves.

"Wow… she looked good." Christine muttered, almost to herself, as she came over to the counter.

"What do you mean?" I asked, not used to my girlfriend saying when other girls looked good.

"Last time I saw her, she was a mess… pregnant and just kicked out of her house." Christine mused softly.

"What?" I demanded.

"Yeah, there was something with drugs too," she answered distractedly and then looked at me. "You didn't know?"

"No." I answered, still stunned.

"Yeah, her dad works with mine." I caught the small grimace at the mention of her dad but didn't comment on it. "It was a huge scandal two years ago when Robert Grayson's daughter was knocked up and on drugs. Well at least according to my mom and her stupid country club friends."

"Wow." I mused quietly.

The door flew open and Paul came in, looking annoyed. "Forgot my wallet," he grumbled, pissed off.

"Hey, this is for you." I handed him the envelope from Alexandra.

"What's this for?" he asked, looking at me suspiciously as he ripped open the envelope, even more annoyed at being derailed from his apparently busy schedule.

"Alexandra came by and dropped it off." I answered.

"What, she wants to apologize for walking off her damn shift?" he muttered, mostly to himself, as he pulled out a single folded piece of paper. He frowned and pulled a check in his other hand as he read the letter and then read the check. "Did you know about this?" he demanded, thrusting the letter at me.

I took the letter, read it, and then stared at it in shock. I was in so much shock that I didn't even register Paul snapping at Christine, asking her if she didn't have any place better to be.

The letter read that Alexandra had been the reason why the window had been smashed by that brick a few weeks ago. She had an addiction to drugs, she didn't specify what, but she had gotten in a bunch of trouble with it. She would be entering rehab the following day for her addiction but her father thought that Paul was entitled to getting money for the window that had been smashed because of her. Enclosed was check for 1,000 dollars.

I set the letter and check down on the counter, shocked.

"Did you know about this?" Paul demanded again.

"No, of course not." I answered honestly.

He eyed me for a moment and then snatched them both up. "Whatever. Got money out of the situation," he said, mostly to himself, dropped it off in his office, and then stormed out.

"What is it?" Christine asked once he finally left. I told her. "Wow," her eyes widened. "Well… I'm not really surprised…"

I thought back to the night of the window smashing… I remembered how unusually rattled Alexandra had been about it. "It makes sense now…" I mused quietly to myself out loud.

"What does?" Christine asked curiously.

"The night the window was smashed, she was really upset… like more upset then someone would be." I answered.

"Hmm…" she muttered thoughtfully.

The door opened again. Mrs. Carlson and the clan bustled in. I saw Jake come out of the shelves and then turn right back around. It probably would've been better for him to announce his presence or try to sneak out but… whatever. "Hey Erik." Mrs. C said cheerfully.

"Ewik! Ewik! Ewik!" Aidan yelled, reaching out for me.

"Hey buddy." I smiled back and took him when Mrs. C handed him to me. Christine smiled, clearly touched, as Aidan grinned at me. He jammed three of his fingers in my ear of course but I patiently pulled them out.

"How are you, dear?" Mrs. C asked.

"Good." I answered. "Have you met my girlfriend, Christine?"

"I've met you before but I don't remember her being your girlfriend." Mrs. C answered, turning, and smiling at Christine.

"Yeah we weren't dating then." I replied.

"Well I'm glad that Erik seems to have found him a nice girl." Mrs. C smiled kindly.

"Thank you." Christine smiled back.

The clan had run back into the shelves. "Jake, Jake, Jake!" they shouted ecstatically when they found their big brother.

"Hey guys." I heard Jake mumble.

"Jacob?" Mrs. C whirled around, eyes narrowing. The kids dragged Jake out of the stacks, chattering excitedly to their favorite older brother.

"Just returning a movie, Mom." Jake said with a sigh.

"And you didn't come out and say hi when I came in?" she demanded, indignant.

"Mom-" Jake began, beginning to get annoyed.

"Are you sleeping enough?" she asked him critically.

"Yeah Mom," he answered wearily.

"Because you have dark circles under your eyes, it doesn't look like you've really been sleeping," she answered, sounding concerned.

"I was up late last night," well that was somewhat of the truth.

"Were you drinking last night, Jacob?" Mrs. C asked, voice dangerous.

Wingman time! "We were up late celebrating my birthday, Mrs. C." I jumped in, pulling Aidan's fingers out of my nose.

She turned around and looked at me, eyes narrowed, which gave Jake an opportunity to send me a grateful look. I smiled back sweetly at Mrs. C. "All right…" she said slowly and then turned back around to Jake. "You should come around the house more often, we miss you."

"I can tell." Jake answered dryly.

"You know why I needle you, don't you?" Mrs. C demanded, exasperated. "It's because I miss you!"

"Well I'd miss you more if you weren't ragging on me so much!" he snapped back, picking up one of his little sisters who had been tugging on his t-shirt.

Mrs. C paused and seemed to consider his words. "I only rag on you because I want only the best for you," she finally said softly.

He softened at her quiet words. "Ma… I quit school," he blurted out softly. Way to tell her at a random moment, Jake.

I braced myself for the explosion… that never came. "What?" Mrs. C whispered, stunned. "But… why?"

The kids all went quiet at Mrs. C's quiet words… I suspected that they knew something was wrong when Mrs. C was quiet. Aidan even stopped trying to lodge his fingers into my ear.

"I hated it… I don't know what I want to be," he shrugged, not looking her in the eye.

"What have you been doing all this time?" she demanded, voice still quietly stunned.

"Working," he answered.

She stared at him for a long time before finally saying quietly, "We'll talk about this when you come over for dinner tomorrow night. You'd better be there," she grabbed all the kids and herded them out the door.

Jake sighed and looked defeated. "She had to find out sometime… right?" I asked him softly.

"I thought she was going to blow a gasket," he admitted.

"Me too… she took it… well not good but not bad either." I answered. He looked depressed so I said, "Come on buddy… it'll all work out."

"Sure," he said softly and then changed the subject by asking, "Do you have Terminator 2 in?" as he disappeared back into the Action movie shelf.

He left after renting Terminator 2. Christine hung around a little while longer before heading home herself.

I locked up the store later that night and stood on the little porch outside the store, staring at the bare trees lit up by the moon light.

I'd changed… a lot had changed in the last couple of weeks. Had it been a good change?

I walked over to my car, lost in thought. I was stunned to see Alexandra leaning against her parked car next to mine.

"Hey." I said, surprised.

"Paul called my father a few hours ago and thanked him for the check," she said softly. "He talked to me too and told me that he'd showed you the letter and the check too."

"Yeah." I nodded.

"I guess I have explaining to do," she said softly, stuffing her hands into her sweatshirt pockets.

"You don't have to explain anything." I told her quietly.

She looked up at me and then I saw her face crumple. I thought I'd see pigs fly before I saw Alexandra Grayson cry. "My life is such a mess," she began to bitterly sob.

"Hey-" I made a move to hold her.

"No wait," she pushed me away, trying to control herself. "I keep myself so guarded, so unattached… you were just trying to be a nice guy and every time I said too much, I…" she shook her head and sobbed a few times.

I gently grabbed her shoulders and, when she didn't push me away again, pulled her to my chest. She wrapped her arms around me, sobs muffled by my sweatshirt. When she was finally quiet after a long time of tears, I pulled her back quietly, and smiled, wiping away her tears. "You're going tomorrow?" I asked her softly.

She nodded slowly, sniffing as she wiped her tears away quickly. "My dad is making me go."

"You should go because you want to go… trust me, being forced to go doesn't always work." I replied grimly.

"No, no, I need to go. I need to go for Caitlyn," she answered softly. "But I just came to thank you."

"Thank me?" I asked.

"For being such a nice guy," she told me.

I paused for a moment and then told her with a little smile, "You know, I used to hate being called that. I don't think it's so bad anymore."

"It could be worse," she told me, stepping back. "You could be called an asshole all the time."

"That's true." I smiled back.

"Well I have to get home…" she said softly.

"Good luck." I told her.

"Thanks," she smiled faintly, got into her car, and drove away.

That was the last time I ever heard from her.

I drove across town, lost in thought, not really thinking about where I was going. I finally ended up in front of an apartment complex. I parked and climbed out, walking through the apartments.

I knocked on the door. There was a pause, then soft footsteps, and then the door opened. Christine smiled at the sight of me, surprised. "Hey!" she smiled. "This is a surprise!"

"I was going to call…" I half smiled back and then trailed off.

"What's wrong?" she asked after a few minutes pause.

"Come here." I said softly, holding out my arms. She shut the door and put her arms around me. I pulled her close and held her for a few minutes and then pulled back. She looked worried. "Don't worry, I'm fine… it's just been an interesting day."

"What do you mean?" she asked. "Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked.

"Sure." I agreed.

We sat down on the porch step and I began telling her everything about the encounter with Alexandra. She remained surprised and quiet through the whole thing before finally saying, "Wow."

"Wow is right." I nodded in agreement.

She looked at me, tilting her head, and then smiled. "You really are a nice guy."

"Thanks." I smiled back faintly.

She slid her arm through mine and rested her head on my shoulder. I kissed the top of her head and smoothed her hair. "I don't deserve you," her whisper carried with the wind.

"Hey." I said softly, lifting her chin up to meet my eyes. "There shouldn't be a question about deserving each other."

She smiled back after a few minutes pause and then kissed me. "So is it true, what they say?" she asked.

"What who says?" I asked.

"Which do nice guys finish, last or first?" she asked me.

I snorted at the cliché. "I just like to say that nice guys finish, who cares what place it is. At least we make it."

"You're right," she leaned up and kissed me.

Somehow I knew, in that kiss, that we would make it.


A/N: yep... that was the end. it's been a good one.

things you might be thinking about:

1) wow paul and laura are engaged? but they only met a few weeks ago!

yep... they're engaged. yeah sure they only met a few weeks ago but how much longer is it going to take laura to figure out that paul's an asshole? he probably wants to hop on it.

2) jake's ending was sad! and that whole thing about him not going to school was random!

yep. but it was realistic. if everyone ended happily... meh. and i've kinda gotten the vibe that some readers don't like mrs. c. first of all, i wanted readers to see that mrs. c nags because she cares. sure it drives him crazy but she wouldn't do it if she didn't care about him as much as she does. trust me, my mother drives me crazy with the nagging sometimes (not as critical as mrs. c but she still gets to me sometimes) but she says that stuff because she cares. second of all, i wanted to show mrs. c not blowing up at jake for once. plus it's pretty realistic for jake not to know what he wants to do with his life at this age. they say about 60 of college students change their major. jake will figure it out, he's a smart guy.

3) heeeeeeey alexandra's ending was melodramatic!

meh. i couldn't leave her in all that mystery she cloaked herself in. i just thought it was unfitting and left the readers with too many questions. plus erik comforting her in the parking lot once again shows that erik's a nice guy. that brick had to be explained too.

4) ugh, christine and erik, gross, nasty, i hate that bitch, ugh

hey, she acknowledges she doesn't deserve erik. but erik really cares about her. sometimes you can't choose who you fall in love with.

5) what's next for you? i love you! woot!

hey i love you too! isabella's story is next in the agenda.

6) what's it called?

not a clue.

7) what's it about?

izzy trying to find a guy that doesn't treat her like crap and keep said guy. we all know she goes through boys like water.

8) when's it starting?

depends. maybe in the next couple of days, maybe next week. so... soon. when i feel like it.

9) when are you fixing the shadow?

ha. not a clue. when i feel like it. it's gonna take a lot of time and energy to do it.

10) the ending was SAPPY

meh. what were you expecting?

a bomb to go off in the apartment, blowing ben to bits?

for jake to be on top of adam's broken body, sobbing his eyes out?

for a car to drive away from the apartment with erik's not dead after all mother behind the wheel, grinning evilly?

this ain't alias, kids. (PS alias RULES)

11) are there going to be more stories like ana, erik, and isabella's?

negative. izzy's the final one. i'll be moving on to other plots.

a special and yet necessary shoutout and a holler to my reviewers that have been there since the beginning. i love my reviewers, even if they haven't always agreed with me. they point out my flaws, they build me up... basically you guys rule.
a few review answers:

sexy paperclip: i'm glad you liked the new update. yes erik's happy with christine. definitely interesting with izzy.

smoothed out: yes yes yes. i'm afraid it's been done. i know i'm glad to see that he's grown a backbone. hahaha yes adam giggling, i love writing about those two crazy kids, hahaha. i DO rule, woot!

umm you guys are the bomb diggity. champagne for my real friends, pain for my sham friends (ha. fall out boy PS).

love, a smile that explodes