The Riverfront Walk
The tuxedo Morgan wore was just a bit tighter than it used to be, and he hoped it was because he had gotten more muscular and not fatter.
Joey and Jane were carrying in their hands multiple video games and books that would keep them occupied at Old Man Cherokee's while Morgan attended Ben's aunt's wedding. He was filled with nervous energy over the prospect of meeting Ben's family. He had never done anything like this before. Would they like him? He hoped they would like him.
Joey rapped on the door and a few seconds later, the old man was greeting them with a large smile, round belly, and loud red Hawaiian shirt.
"Ah, the twin terrors! Wonderful. I can't wait to get into all sorts of shenanigans today," Helaku stated, rubbing his hands together evilly and chuckling darkly. This in turn made Joey and Jane mimic the hand rubbing and sinister cackling.
Morgan resisted the urge to sigh – he honestly was raising a couple of future supervillains.
A few seconds later, Rayen squeezed in next to her grandfather and grinned when she saw the twins. "If it isn't my favorite twins in the world!" she exclaimed, sliding past the old man and wrapping the kids in her arms who hugged her back with equal ferocity. "Oh, I wish I could stay home and play with you both but I have to work in an hour."
"You might be home before I am, Rayen," Morgan started. "I'm not sure how long this wedding and the reception afterwards will run. But please make sure these little pains are in bed by nine, OK? No staying up late."
Rayen and Helaku grinned, nodding and mumbling promises that didn't sound genuine. Morgan knew these kids were going to be up late no matter what tonight.
"So, Morgan, who's wedding is it you're going to?" the old man asked, moving aside to let the twins rush past him. Rayen lingered by her grandfather's side.
"Ben's aunt's. You met Ben, remember?"
Helaku nodded, smiling at the memory of meeting Ben for the first time. "I remember. He's a good kid." He motioned to Rayen. "And Ray was telling me she met him too. She thinks he's nice."
Rayen smiled. "That I do," she said, eyeing Morgan closely. "Are you sure this 'wedding for his aunt' isn't actually just a cover for his and your elopement?"
Helaku brightened, wide smile spreading from ear to ear. "Elopement? What is she talking about, Morgan?" He gasped, grin never lessening. "You and Ben… you got a thing together?"
A bark of laughter escaped him involuntarily and said, "Don't listen to your granddaughter, old man. She'll fill your head with nonsense."
Rayen stuck her tongue out at him, leaning on Old Man Cherokee's arm. "Oh, shut up," she chided playfully. Her eyes twinkled when she spoke. "Whenever you're around each other you both flirt so much. It's too sweet; I get cavities."
Morgan waved her off because he and Ben definitely did not flirt. He called for the twins to give him a hug and kiss goodbye, and not three seconds later the little ones were pushing past Rayen and Helaku once more.
Joey and Jane spread their arms wide and Morgan leaned down to envelop them both. "Alright you two," he began, pulling back and kissing them on their foreheads. This caused Jane to smile and Joey to grimace. "Remember to behave and do what Helaku and Rayen tell you to, OK? Eat your dinner, and do not stay up too late." At this he gave a stern eye to the babysitters. Both of them gave each other knowing, mischievous looks. "And I will try to be home at a reasonable hour."
Jane smoothed down his hair with her tiny fingers. "Are you and Ben really going to elope?" she asked sweetly, her bulky glasses nearly falling off her face.
"What? No," he replied, glancing up at Rayen who was tittering behind her hand. "You shouldn't eavesdrop on people's conversations, and more than that don't believe everything that comes out of Rayen's mouth."
Joey frowned, and Morgan resisted the urge to hug his brother against his chest. He was too cute sometimes. "If we shouldn't believe everything she says, then how are we going to listen to her?" he asked.
Jane cleared her throat and clarified, "You said that we should listen to Helaku and Rayen tonight. If you tell us not to believe what she says, how can we do as she says?"
"Like, if she tells us to go to bed, is she really lying and wants us to stay up?" Joey asked.
"Or if she says to eat more succotash even though we don't want anymore."
At this, Rayen looked put out. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared down at the two kids. "I thought you guys liked my succotash!" she whined.
Joey and Jane looked at her, blinking their big blues but not saying anything. After a few moments of silence, she gave an offended noise and slunk into the background.
Morgan chuckled and focused his attention back on his siblings. He clucked his tongue and said, "Well, how about you just listen to the old man, OK? Forget about Rayen."
The twins grinned. "OK!" they chorused and jumped on Morgan, hugging him tightly. He gave them a quick hug as well before they let go and scampered off inside Helaku's apartment, probably to go pop in a video game or watch the Discovery channel.
Morgan stood up, brushing off his pants. Old Man Cherokee was smiling warmly, hands folded on his big belly. "I'll take care of the twins. Have fun at the wedding," he promised, reaching out and patting the blonde on the back.
"Thanks, Helaku," he said, patting the old man on the back as well. "Call me if you need anything."
Helaku nodded. "Of course, Morgan." His brows shot up suddenly. "Do you want some chipa before you go? We have some left over from breakfast. You can munch on them as you drive."
Morgan chuckled but shook his head, though the cheese buns did sound good. "No thanks, old man. I have to get going. See ya!"
Rayen popped her head out the doorway as Morgan began to turn towards the stairs. "Bye Morgan," she called, and he waved to her. "Say 'hi' to Ben for me, OK?"
"Anything for you, Ray!" he called back and saw her grin.
In his van, Morgan examined himself in the rearview mirror. He was buzzing head to toe with anxiety, and it was because he was going to meet Ben's family.
Oh, god, why was he so nervous? This wasn't a date or anything – Ben was his friend!
But what if his family didn't like Morgan? Ben's Aunt Karen meant so much to him, but what if she thought Morgan was some dirty, sarcastic asshole? And what about his mom and dad? And Meredith?
The rampant thoughts were terrifying, and Morgan wiped the sweat steadily forming on his brow. He just needed to play it cool. Take a breath and put on a smile for them. Try not to say anything offending. He could do that, right? Yeah, he could totally do that.
One look in the mirror, and his slick blonde hair, black droopy eyes, and plastered on smile made him look like a shifty hit man.
A sigh left him in a rush.
The dark gray waistcoat was very flattering on Ben.
He inspected himself in the mirror, the lighter gray of his dress shirt underneath his vest complimenting the vest itself. Ben smiled at how good he looked, and an idle thought popped into his head running along the lines of: Will Morgan like it?
But he shut that thought down as quickly as it came. Distracting himself, he reached for his black bowtie and quickly laced it around his neck.
"Ben!" his mother called from upstairs. "Ben, please tell me you're getting dressed and not playing video games."
Just as she finished her rant, he straightened his bow tie and called back up, "Yes, I'm ready." Giving one last look at himself in the mirror, he nodded appreciatively and headed upstairs.
Already it was a madhouse, even if there were only four people in it. Dad was rushing back and forth for some reason, getting things here and there and putting them somewhere. He wore a grey tuxedo and looked well enough – for a father at least.
Just as he was heading into the foyer, Meredith was descending the stairs. She wore a green dress with a high neckline and no sleeves that swept the ground elegantly. The click of her heels were steady as they rapped on the hardwood. Her golden brown hair was swept up in an elegant bun with a sliver of hair escaping, framing her face nicely.
She was busy adjusting her earrings as she passed him, looking at him weirdly for staring.
"We'll get to this wedding sometime," Dad said, the tension in his voice palpable. He paced back and forth in the kitchen as Meredith and Ben joined him.
"Dad, relax. Mom's almost done," Meredith tried to soothe, coming up and kissing Dad on the cheek. This made their father smile.
Ben grabbed an apple out of the fruit bowl on the counter and continued, "The wedding isn't for another two hours. We have time."
Dad ran a hand through his hair, beginning to pace again. "I know! But Karen's already at the riverfront getting ready and I feel like we should have been there an hour ago!"
There was no use in trying to calm Dad down. Of the many things he liked to stress about, time was the worse. Meredith tried to relax him to no avail. Ben busied himself eating his apple.
A couple minutes later, his phone buzzed in his pocket and he fished it out. Looking at the screen, he saw that Morgan had texted him.
I'm outside, it read. Should I come in and meet the parentals?
Ben sucked bits of apple out of his teeth as he watched Dad nearly tear his hair out from stress as Meredith offered calming words that had no effect.
He quickly texted back, Nope. I'll be out in a second.
"Morgan's here, so I'm leaving," he announced to the kitchen and began to make his way into the hallway. "Meet you guys down at the riverfront."
He was almost to the door when Meredith came stomping into the hallway and shouted, "What?! You're not even going to ride with your family to the wedding?"
Ben's hand halted on the doorknob as he looked back. Meredith wore a look of clear disdain on her perfectly makeup-ed face. Rolling his eyes, he said, "No. Like I said, Morgan's outside. I have to go." He went back to opening the door.
Meredith gave a scoff of disgust. "So is Morgan more important than us now?"
He sighed heavily as his hand fell from the doorknob again. Turning around, he made sure that Meredith could see his look of repugnance at her clinginess. "Literally we are talking about me riding in a small-ass vehicle with three other people. It's not like I'm fighting a war for some other feudal lord. Please kindly fuck off, Meredith, and I will see you at the wedding."
Before he could turn around once again, Mom came down the stairs in her dress that looked exactly like Meredith's. After all, they were both bridesmaids.
"We don't even get to meet Morgan before the wedding?" Mom asked, disappointment clear in her voice and the way her brows upturned. Her expression was in stark contrast to Meredith's angry one.
Ben groaned. "Oh, god. Please stop treating him like he's my boyfriend or something. You'll meet him at the wedding. Jesus Christ."
"Ben!" Dad exclaimed, joining everyone in the foyer. "Watch your mouth!"
Great, Ben thought, another one come to roast me.
"Can I please just go? I feel like I'm sixteen again and you're all grilling me about who I'm hanging out with!"
Mom and Dad shared a knowing look. "Well," Mom began, "your friends have always been peculiar. You can't blame us for wanting to meet them to see if they're…" She trailed off.
Ben glared. "To see if they're what?"
"Not jerks," Meredith finished, narrowing her eyes at him. He gave her a mean look.
Dad cleared his throat, setting a hand on Meredith's shoulder to ease her into the background. "You can't blame us, son. After all, that Keontre fellow was always…" His father shook his head back and forth, looking for the right adjective to describe Key.
Meredith beat him to the punch. "He was gross, that's what. You know he tried flirting with me all the time! And the way he looked at me… Ugh."
Ben couldn't argue with that. Key always had a thing for Meredith, and Ben always threatened Key with a good ass kicking if he ever touched Meredith. His friend was a right pervert, yes, so he would give his father and sister that much.
"OK, you have a point with him," Ben conceded and then sighed. "Can I go now?"
"No!" Meredith exclaimed, looking at Mom and Dad for support. "You're our family! You need to ride with us to the wedding."
"Grow up, Meredith! It's a car ride!"
Suddenly, Mom put a hand on his sister's shoulder. She smiled warmly at her and said, "It's OK, Mere. We'll see him at the wedding. After all, it will get a little hot and stuffy in that tiny car with all four of us."
Meredith looked put out, and she went from looking like a kicked puppy at Mom to an enraged junkyard dog at Ben. "But, Mom, come on… We don't even know Morgan."
Dad patted her shoulder as well. "It's OK, baby doll. I'm sure Ben knows how to choose his friends. Don't be so overprotective all the time."
Yeah, overprotective. If that's what he wanted to call it. In reality, Ben thought it was more of the fact that Meredith wanted to have every little thing and every little one under her thumb. If she couldn't control who Ben befriended, then she would throw a fit. Even over something as dumb as a car ride.
But she resigned herself and gave a quick, pained look at Ben – which baffled him – and stomped off into the kitchen. Mom and Dad sighed loudly, pinching the bridge of their noses simultaneously.
As they were busy doing that, Ben made a quick escape outside.
It was sunny without a cloud in sight – a perfect day for a wedding. Ben breathed the spring air in deeply as he made his way down the steps and out of the gate; and when he looked to see Morgan standing in front of his van in a rather formfitting black tux… To say Ben's heart skipped a beat would be an understatement. It damn near jumped out of his chest.
When Morgan noticed him, he grinned and stepped forward. And damn was Ben's heart racing just looking at the blonde. That black tux and pants certainly fit him well enough – he definitely cut a handsome figure. His blonde hair was gelled back and the light stubble adorning his jaw was trimmed – not completely gone but that was OK. Ben preferred it that way. He kind of liked the scratchiness.
Ben's eyes widened at that thought. He stopped and coughed awkwardly, his face too hot for his own good. That was one hell of a gay thought just there. As Morgan came up to guide him to the van, Ben tried to push away the annoying, intrusive thoughts. Especially the ones about how attractive Morgan was.
"You look good, Benny," Morgan said softly, the low baritone of his voice caressing Ben's nerves. He opened the door to the van and motioned for him to get in. "After you."
"Enough with the gay shit," Ben sighed unsteadily, wiping his palms on his pants. He maneuvered into the vehicle. "Opening doors for me… What the hell?"
Morgan grinned and shrugged. "Just trying to be a gentleman, you know. Cut a guy some slack." After, he winked and shut the door, leaving Ben feeling twitchy and self-conscious. When the older man got into the driver's side and shut the door, he said, "Also, I didn't meet your parents. Or Meredith. I had thought…"
Ben looked at him, seeing Morgan starting the car with a distraught expression on his face. This made Ben sigh and lean his head against the window. "Not you, too…"
"What?" Morgan frowned.
He threw his hands into the air. "Everybody wants to meet everybody! My parents, you, Meredith… Fuck, we will all meet each other at the wedding, OK? You all are acting like we have to have introductions right the fuck away."
Ben was on edge. After dealing with his parents and sister, he needed desperate time away from them. Morgan usually was the remedy to that, but right now he was being just as annoying as they had been.
Morgan eyed him oddly, putting the van in gear before pulling away. "Uh-huh…" he started slowly, waiting until Ben looked at him. "You stressed or what, broseph?"
"You have no fucking idea." He groaned gravely and turned up the radio. "I need a drink."
"I'm guessing alcoholic beverages will be served at this event?"
"Champagne for days, my friend. Champagne for days."
Morgan chuckled at this, glancing at Ben who looked too exhausted in his seat. "Well," he started, punching the younger boy lightly on the shoulder. "We need to get some of that in your system ASAP. I need you to have a good time."
The blonde nodded. "For my sake and yours."
"My sake. Huh." Ben grinned. "Stop worrying about my sake."
"Too late. You're no fun like this. I need my Benny fun."
"Your Benny only comes medium-rare, I'm afraid," Ben joked, grinning from ear to ear.
Morgan looked at him funnily. His brows were raised high and something dark swirled in those black eyes as they trailed down Ben's body so quickly, he wondered if it had really happened. And it almost looked like… Ben swallowed as the older man looked away.
It had looked like Morgan was checking him out.
There was a brief moment of awkward silence as the radio filled the air. Ben sat straighter, rubbing his neck to relieve tension and making it a point to definitely not look at the other boy. But after a while, Morgan broke the silence, and when he did, his voice was quiet and throaty.
"You test me, Ben. You really do."
The riverfront was gorgeous in spring. Tall trees lined a cobblestone walkway just in front of the circular area with a large gazebo and a bunch of chairs. Spanning out in front of Morgan was the river, beautifully clear and blue as sailboats galore dotted it in the distance. There were already guests here, some talking over by the railing that kept people from falling into the water while others were getting the decorations and chairs set up perfectly.
As Morgan and Ben made their way towards the area, music could be heard. It was soft and melodic and came from just outside the gazebo. Morgan looked and saw the band consisting of a guitarist, saxophonist, pianist, and drummer. The drummer didn't have a full drum set; instead he had a djembe, held between his legs as he tapped on it.
Ben led Morgan towards the gazebo. It was tall, wooden, and hexagonal in shape. The chestnut color contrasted nicely against the blue river behind it. Pink and red flowers scaled the pillars as white lace draped from the top of the gazebo and flowed downward. It was so beautiful.
"Naturally this is where Karen and Khosi will get married," Ben informed, motioning towards the gazebo with a small smile on his face. "It's all decked out as you can see. And look–" he motioned towards the white chairs with vines of flowers wrapped around the legs and backs "–even the guests' chairs are coordinated."
Morgan laughed as they moved past the gazebo and towards the railing in front of the river. The cityscape shined on the other side, tall buildings mixing with short buildings, sleek metal diverging red brick. Red, blue, and yellow sailboats floated on the water gently, and soft laughter could be heard coming from them if he listened close enough.
It was a peaceful scene. Morgan hadn't been to too many weddings, so he wasn't an expert or anything. But he knew this one was special. He was overcome with such serenity, it should have been illegal.
Ben chuckled and bumped into him gently, causing Morgan to look at the brunette. Ben's face danced with shadows from the trees above, yet his eyes still shone brightly. The kid's creamy skin looked paler, illuminating a spattering of freckles along his nose and cheeks. His hair was extremely wavy – bordering downright curly – and looked soft to touch. And he smelled nice – something strong and fresh and crisp tickled Morgan's nose pleasantly.
Before he knew it, Morgan's heart was thumping like a rabbit's foot inside his chest. So hard, in fact, he feared it would beat right out of his torso.
"You're smiling, you know?" Ben said, eyes roaming over Morgan's mouth then up to his eyes again. "Do you like weddings that much?"
Morgan looked behind him and saw the whole of the riverfront. More guests were filtering in from the parking decks across the street, dressed nicely. They brought flowers and gifts, smiles on their faces. They looked happy.
"I haven't been to too many," Morgan admitted, looking back at Ben who hadn't taken his eyes off of him, "but this one is nice. It's beautiful. Peaceful." He shook his head, looking over at the gazebo with the white lace swinging gently in the breeze. "So peaceful."
"It took a lot to plan this wedding." Ben sighed, looking over at the giant white tent to the left. "But Karen is a genius, and a superhero. She practically did all this herself and still remained as calm and collected as ever."
"Can I meet her?" Morgan asked suddenly, leaning forward.
Ben looked back at him, eyes twitching back and forth as they gazed deep into Morgan's onyx eyes. The blonde man got awfully close, his own eyes roaming over Ben's delicate features. The urge to touch the kid's pink lips were strong, but Morgan had enough self-control to hold back.
"You will," Ben said after a while, eyes dropping towards Morgan's mouth. At this look, Morgan swallowed hard, his heart hammering. "Have patience, young one. In due time, I promise, you will meet my family."
Morgan grinned, looking away briefly before he felt a thumb slide against his jawline. His head was angled to look back, and he saw Ben smiling widely as well. The kid was thumbing his jaw slowly, fingers catching on Morgan's beard every now and then.
After a few moments of silence, Ben mumbled with pink cheeks, "Have I told you how much I like this stubble?"
Morgan's fingers twitched to reach out and grab Ben and… And…
And do what?
"Oh, yeah?" he said playfully, his head leaning involuntarily into the kid's touch. "This is news to me."
Ben chuckled, and it was low and pleasant. "Well I do like it. It looks good on you."
"I was actually thinking of shaving, but I suppose I'll keep it just for you."
Ben's eyes found his, and they were the perfect shade of cherry brown. Golden flecks spread from the pupil like a lava lamp, long dark lashes obscuring most of it.
They were really close. Too close since Morgan could examine what the hell Ben's irises looked like.
But Ben didn't seem too perturbed by the closeness. In fact – as he leaned against the railing and traced Morgan's jawline – he seemed to notice nothing but what was right in front of him. That was to say – Morgan.
"Good," Ben whispered. A strong breeze blew through the area, tousling his and Morgan's hair. This caused Ben's hand to fall from the other man's face, much to the disappointment of Morgan. They separated after that, patting down their hair and clothes.
After a few moments, Ben cleared his throat and took a step away from the blonde. Morgan felt the loss of proximity very deeply, frowning only slightly.
"Anyway, I'm going to go visit Karen in her tent," he said, looking over at the giant white tent set up away from the wedding area. "She's no doubt still getting ready."
"Should I go with you?" Morgan asked politely.
Ben shook his head. "No. I'm only going to talk to her for a minute and then I'll be back. I promise."
Morgan hummed in thought and then tried to adopt his best disappointed face. "You know, Ben, I think at this point you just don't want me to meet your family."
This made the younger boy grin. He lightly pushed Morgan away. "And have you learn all my dirty secrets?" he said, biting his lip. "It's a definite possibility."
Morgan watched him start to leave. He shook his head in amusement. "I wouldn't mind knowing all your dirty secrets, Ben."
Ben blinked, and then grinned. "I'm sure you wouldn't." Then he turned around and made his way to Karen's tent. Watching him go, Morgan leaned against the railing behind him and sighed. Were his hands shaking?
Taking a deep breath, Ben shook off the buzzing feeling Morgan caused inside him and entered the tent.
It was packed. Naturally.
Faces flew towards him, and he smiled.
"Oh, Ben!" Grandma Catarina exclaimed, hobbling up and taking his head between her hands. She kissed him all over, smelling of baby powder and lipstick. "I haven't seen you in so long!"
Ben chuckled. "Nice to see you too, Grandma Cat," he said, pulling away before he too smelled of babies and makeup. "I came to see Karen."
He looked over and saw his cousins Hailey and Stephanie waving at him. They were twins, and were oddly creepy. Which was funny. Creepy twin trope? Stanley Kubrick already did that.
"Hey, Ben," they chorused together, effectively causing shivers to run down his spine.
"What's up, Hailey? Stephanie?" He nodded towards them, seeing them watch him as he journeyed further into the crowd of family. Joey and Jane were definitely cuter.
Suddenly, a loud voice boomed out, "Hal! Steph! Stop with that creepy twin bullshit! Jesus, I raise six other perfectly normal kids, but these two are the ones that turn out like this? God forbid."
The voice belonged to none other than his Aunt Holly, his father and Karen's eldest sister. Moving more towards where Karen sat having her makeup done, Holly was right next to her – baby Isaac on her hip – her blonde hair curly and frazzled, just like Meg Ryan's. She wore the green bridesmaid's dress identical to Mom and Meredith's. She looked stressed, tight lines on her face and bulging blue eyes. Even still, she was pretty in a very mom-ish way.
Ben entered her line of sight and immediately she sighed and handed Isaac over to him. Reluctantly, he took the child and examined it.
Definitely a baby, he thought, seeing Isaac stare open-mouthed as his brown eyes bore a hole into him. He smelled like Grandma Catarina – baby powder. Although he didn't smell like lipstick, he did smell like drool.
"Thank the Lord above you're here, Ben," Holly said, running a hand through her unkempt hair. "I'm in a fit. Your cousins are on my last nerve."
Ben chuckled, bouncing Isaac on his hip. "Who? Just Hailey and Steph?"
Holly rolled her eyes. "No. All of them. You see them out there running around?" He actually hadn't, and he told her this. It only served to stress her out more, as seen by her throwing her head back and groaning in frustration. "The Lord is testing me."
"God is good," Aunt Karen said, and Ben looked at her. "And so are your children. Take a breath sometime, Holly. I don't need you blowing a gasket at my wedding."
Aunt Holly opened her mouth to say something – something snarky no doubt – before rethinking it and shutting her mouth tightly. She made the sign of the cross and muttered under her breath, taking Isaac from Ben.
"See you out there, Ben," she said, fixing her infant on her hip and puckering her lips to kiss him. He leaned down so she had better access, and her lips found his cheek. "I need some air."
"Love ya, Holly," he said as she cut throw the crowd surrounding Karen.
Afterward, he looked at Karen and saw she looked as beautiful as she always did, but today it was more pronounced. Her dark hair was braided in an updo, a couple strands of hair falling around her face. He couldn't really see her dress since she was sitting down in front of a vanity, but he could tell it suited her. Not to mention her makeup was minimal but pretty, even though it still wasn't finished.
Karen looked at him through the vanity mirror. She grinned even as one of his cousins did her lipstick. "Holly's on a roll," she joked, causing him and the others in the tent to laugh.
Ben pushed his hands in his pockets and said, "Isn't she always? That woman needs to relax on an island with a drink in her hand."
"Holly? Relaxing?" Karen hmphed. "I don't think she knows the meaning." She gave him an appraising look. "Anyway, where's your mom and Meredith? I need my bridesmaids."
A sour memory popped into his head about the confrontation earlier. He would rather not relive it, though Karen would make sure that he absolutely did. "They'll be along soon. I came ahead of them."
Karen gave him a skeptical look. "With what car?"
"Morgan drove me here."
Mumbles of "Morgan?" and "who's Morgan?" rose up among the crowd, and Ben had to remind himself to be charming and not roll his eyes. Instead, he took a breath and addressed his family, "He's my friend. He brought me here."
"To a wedding?"
"Is he your date?"
His family bombarded him with questions, each of them turning a critical eye on him. When did he become the center of attention? He felt like he was going to suffocate under their appraising gazes until Karen spoke up, shouting, "Everyone back off! Morgan is Ben's good friend, so shut up. It's my day, remember. Not his."
Though his family was not satisfied with that answer, they backed off, only grumbling a few of their protests.
Karen sighed, his cousin doing her makeup glaring at her to stay still. "Sorry!" she apologized.
Ben felt too closed-in in this tent, so he said quickly, "Anyway, I just came to wish you luck, Karen. You look beautiful, and I'm so proud of you." He grinned his best grin. "Khosi's lucky he has you."
Karen watched him for a while, her blue eyes examining him closely. Then she busted out in a smile of her own and stood up abruptly, his cousin nearly stumbling backwards with a makeup brush in her hand.
She moved past everyone until she was in front of Ben, smiling so widely it hurt him to look at. "Aw, Benny," she crooned, wiggling where she stood, "you're so kind. This is why you're my favorite nephew." There was some disappointed mutters from some of his male cousins in the tent, which made Ben's ego inflate. "I love you. Come here."
Ben watched as Karen extended her arms, wanting him to come hug her. He rolled his eyes at the display, seeing her stupid grin nearly tear her face in two. She shook her chest toward him like she was dancing and it made him laugh.
"Come on, Karen," he complained, seeing all the faces in the room smile at the display. "Stop being weird."
"No! Come hug me, boy!" Ben moved to leave, and Karen glared. "Everyone, do not let Ben Kingston leave this tent before he hugs me. Block him."
He was just about to break out into a run when hands grabbed him and pushed him toward Karen. "Are you serious? Guuuys…"
Karen closed in as he was propelled forward. He resigned himself with a heavy sigh just as he entered his aunt's personal space and she wrapped him in a hug.
"OK, OK," he said, hugging her back. "You got your hug. Now let me leave."
Aunt Karen chuckled, pulling away but not unwrapping herself. "You're a good boy, Benny," she said, smiling beautifully. "Thanks for coming."
Ben smiled back at her, rubbing her back. "Of course I would come. You're my family."
There were choruses of "aw's" that spread throughout the tent, which made Ben self-conscious. He tried to pull away, and Karen finally released her hold on him, but just as quick as she unwrapped herself, she delved in and grabbed his face. Then, she pulled it down to meet her lips and peppered him with kisses.
"Gross, Karen, come on…" he groaned, closing his eyes against the attack. Everyone laughed, patting him on the back for comfort.
When she was done littering his face with lipstick kisses, she pulled back and touched his nose with her finger. "OK, you can leave," she laughed. "I love you, Ben."
"Love you too, Karen."
She gave him one last kiss on the cheek before turning around and sitting back in the chair.
Ben was able to escape after that. When outside, he saw tons of family and friends – his and Khosi's – and searched for Morgan among the crowd. He saw the blonde where he left him over by the railing, so he started heading over there.
He was stopped multiple times, however, by people who were looking to chat, catch up, or just say "hello." It was all good and everything, but he would have liked to avoid them. After all, dealing with his family was exhausting. Especially when they bombarded him with questions about his future plans – college and jobs and relationships.
And, really, what was he going to say? That he wasn't in college, he wasn't in a relationship, and his "job" was porn? How well would that go over in conversation?
Sometime between answering questions about his ex-girlfriend, Kate, and Meredith's endeavors, Morgan had come to steal him away. Ben looked at him, seeing the small smile on the other man's lips as he placed his hand on Ben's back and led him away from the crowd.
"I have to borrow this one for a second," Morgan said with a smile, pushing Ben to walk alongside him. "You understand, guys."
The group of people who were previously interrogating Ben watched him go with both offended and astounded expressions. It was well worth it.
Ben started giggling when they were far enough away. "Thank you so much," he said, shaking his head as they walked towards the other end of the area. "They were bombarding me with life questions."
"The worst kind," Morgan offered, grin splitting his face.
"Though they seemed more concerned with how Meredith was doing than what I was doing." Ben frowned, feeling bitterness rise like heartburn. That was until Morgan's hand – which was still on his back – shifted to push them closer.
"Eh, don't worry about it so much. You're great. They're idiots if they don't want to know all about you."
Ben stared into those obsidian eyes, caught in what felt like a perpetual staring match until Morgan broke away. The older man's hand dropped from the small of Ben's back.
"Well, thanks," Ben said kindly as they walked along. Kids ran past them and a gentle breeze was blowing through the air. The river in the background sparkled immensely, and Morgan seemed to shine against it where he walked on Ben's side. "Though I recall you being so gung-ho about meeting my family."
Morgan shrugged, eyeing the younger boy carefully. "Only the ones that don't get under your skin."
Ben wasn't buying that. He pushed the blonde away, and Morgan started laughing. "Bullshit," Ben cried, laughing as his friend tried to round on him and push him back. "You want to meet Meredith, and she gets under my skin most of all."
"Yeah, but she's your sister," Morgan replied, shoving his hands in his pockets and swaggering along. Ben could not stop noticing how well that tuxedo fit him – hugging in all the right crevices and outlining the hard angles. Ugh, he needed to stop. "And also, you know… she looks like you."
Ben hummed thoughtfully, watching two people from Khosi's family kiss underneath a tree. Morgan nudged Ben playfully at the sight of them, and Ben tried to hide his face from the couple.
"Technically I look like her," he pointed out mock-condescendingly, sticking his tongue out at his friend. "Since she's older and stuff. And why would it matter if she looks like me anyway? Why does that make you want to meet her?"
Morgan shrugged, walking along in silence. Ben looked over to try to get some indication of an answer, but all he saw was a roughly guarded expression on a tan face and a clear avoidance of gazes.
Which wasn't going to fly at all.
He angled his head so Morgan had no choice but to look at him. When he did, Ben grinned and said, "I know you have an answer, so you better tell me."
Morgan let out a lengthy sigh. "I don't know," he started, throwing up a hand in frustration. "When I saw her the other day, it was like I was looking at your twin. It made me curious, so I wanted to meet her to see if she was anything like you."
"Well she's not."
"I'll be the judge of that."
"She might not like you," Ben mused, remembering how adamant Meredith was in not wanting Ben to go off with Morgan today. And whenever the blonde was mentioned in her presence, she got a sour, pondering look on her face that was baffling. Ben was good at uncovering meanings behind expressions, but Meredith's was a mystery.
Morgan stopped suddenly. This caused Ben to halt as well and look at his friend. The blonde looked worried, his hands now out of his pockets and rubbing together nervously. His black eyes were roaming Ben's face quickly, like they were looking for answers.
"Why wouldn't she like me?" Morgan asked quietly.
Ben blinked, thoroughly confused. "Well, I don't know," he responded honestly. "Meredith rarely likes any of my friends."
"But, like, why me? Specifically? I-I haven't even met her yet."
Did Ben pretend to know the inner workings of Meredith's mind? In some instances, yes. Yes, he did. It helped when he was blaming her for all the shitty things in his life. But why had Meredith disliked all his friends before? She didn't like Hayden, or Key, or barely even Erin. Why? It baffled him just as much as Morgan.
"You know," he contemplated, "I don't think it has to do with you in general. I think Meredith just has a problem with me befriending anyone. Who knows?"
This didn't seem to satisfy Morgan. He went to run a hand through his hair – a nervous tick – until he realized his hair was gelled and quickly let his hand fall. Instead he went back and forth squeezing his hands into fists.
"You haven't…" the blonde started, his face screwed up in anxiety. It was a sight to see – why was Morgan freaking out so hard? "Like… you haven't… said anything about me, right? Nothing bad?"
Ben pursed his lips, starting to feel offended. "What do you mean?" he asked edgily. "Do you think I'm sitting here all day talking shit about you? I do that pretty much to your face already."
"No. No! That's not what I meant." Morgan sighed and rubbed his neck. "You haven't told her we're… uh…" He looked around, making himself look like an idiot with a secret. When Morgan concluded no one was within earshot, he leaned in close and whispered, "…fucking, have you?"
If there was a powerful blast of air that could come through and sweep Ben into the river, he would have very much appreciated it at that moment. His face bloomed red and he crossed his arms over his chest, feeling very exposed and very loud.
"N-no! Why would I…? And we're not f-fu…" Ben stammered, looking back and forth to see if someone was walking up on them. This in turn made Morgan looked around nervously. Together, they looked like two kids who just broke a lamp and were waiting for punishment to find them. "We're not doing what you just said! It's – it's work! Not like we're casually… You know… doing things… just to do it!"
Morgan cleared his throat, red blotting his cheeks. "No, I know! I know. But… but… you haven't said anything, right?"
"Why would I?!" Ben felt like his face was on fire. This was such a dangerous place to talk about this! Did Morgan have no restraint? "I don't know why she doesn't like you! Ask her today if you feel so inclined. But I haven't said anything about you to her that was negative. I even said you were a good guy. So… so there!"
God, the stress was palpable. He took a deep breath and let it out as he began walking towards the railing. Morgan undoubtedly followed him, tripping over his words as he tried to formulate a response. By the time he did, they were leaning against the barrier.
"OK," Morgan sighed deeply, hanging his head. Ben's shoulders were tense as he glared down at the blonde. "It was a stupid question. I don't even know why I asked. But… Ben, I really don't want your sister to hate me."
Ben shook his head and looked out onto the river. With frustration in his voice, he ground out, "She won't hate you. Just a very strong dislike. Maybe. I don't know. Meredith is weird when it comes to my friends, and it probably has to do with all the shit we used to get into."
The list was long. Ben, Hayden, Key, and Erin were as thick as thieves in high school. They got into plenty of trouble, be it drinking or stealing or partying. But it was all harmless in the grand scheme of things – just kids being kids. Meredith didn't like it, though. She didn't understand – she never would, Ben supposed.
"My friends and I… we just got into a bunch of things kids – teenagers – get into. Dumb high school shit, you know?" He licked is lips and rolled his eyes. "But Meredith didn't approve, and therefore that's probably why she also didn't approve of who I hung out with. Now she probably thinks I'm the same as I was, and you're accommodating that side of me."
"But I'm not. We haven't done anything bad."
"Meredith will be Meredith," spoke with hopeless finality. He shrugged and looked upon the blonde. "When you meet her, you'll get it."
Morgan looked away, his dark eyes finding the water. His knuckles were white as his fists gripped the railing, and he honestly looked like his stare could evaporate the river.
A tense Morgan was not a fun one. And this conversation was getting tiring. So, Ben gently touched Morgan's shoulder and smiled when he looked at him. "It doesn't matter what she thinks, OK?" Ben began, letting his hand slide down Morgan's arm. "It only matters what I think, and I think you're great."
The lines set between Morgan's brows stayed for a while, until his expression lessened and a small smiled etched its way onto his lips. "You're right," he sighed, touching Ben's hand that lingered on Morgan's forearm. "I don't know why I'm freaking out. Just the thought of meeting your family today has got me…" He shook his head and shivered, laughing at his own reaction. "It's definitely got me nervous."
Ben could tell. "I can tell."
Morgan chuckled and shrugged. "Nothing gets past you, Benny," he joked, running a thumb along Ben's knuckles. "Ever perceptive."
This time Ben chuckled, sliding his hand down and away. Morgan took his hand back as well. "I see a great many things, Morgan," he said mysteriously, wiggling his fingers in front of his friend's face. "And I see… that you are… full of shit…"
Morgan glared at him for a while before they both broke out laughing. He pushed Ben on the shoulder, and Ben threw a hand over his stomach to stop the pain of laughter. When they both relaxed, he found Morgan gazing at him in what appeared to be awe.
He giggled. "What?"
The older man shook his head. "Nothing," he murmured, reaching out and thumbing the hollow of Ben's cheek. "You got lipstick on you. Did you know?"
"Mm. Karen. She attacked me in the tent, as did my grandmother and Aunt Holly."
Morgan grinned, continuing to clean Ben's face. "Who knew you were so popular with the ladies?"
Ben sighed, lifting his head up so Morgan's finger could move to a new spot to wipe. "I am of the lady-killing variety. It's quite the gift."
"You're so lucky," Morgan praised sarcastically, rolling his eyes. His thumb wiped a spot just below Ben's mouth, and Ben hummed at the roughness of skin. "My Ben the lady killer. You do a friend proud."
Ben chuckled, tilting his head to the right when Morgan tapped on his jaw to turn. The blonde continued cleaning him up, teasing him along the way, until his face was all tidied up. When done, Morgan examined his work and nodded.
"As good as new," Morgan proclaimed, skipping backwards a step and mock-curtsying.
This made Ben grin, and he mock-bowed in tandem. "You clean me up pretty well," Ben replied, straightening and watching as Morgan moved back into his space. "Why people waste ten bucks or more on makeup remover, I will never understand. Not when I have my very own Morgan to remove lipstick stains."
"I need to start a business. 'Morgan's Makeup Removal.' The tagline will read as 'I'm just a thumb away.'"
Ben snorted and shook his head.
The two boys began to walk on again. They chatted pleasantly about anything that came to their attention. Ben found his eyes lingering on Morgan more than once. The edge of his jaw – sharp and masculine. The broad shoulders, opaque yet mirthful eyes, and bronze skin all seemed defined as they walked by the river.
But why? Why today? And why was it making Ben feel weird? He felt like he should bury his face into his chest or cross his arms to make himself smaller. His heart pounded and his back tingled at their close proximity. Every time Morgan laughed or spoke or looked him directly in the eyes, Ben's stomach would go into a fit, and he wasn't sure if it was because he was nauseous or needed to giggle.
Ben had never giggled so much in his life.
Still, he was glad he had invited the older man. Ben was worried that he would have a hard time trying to be amiable – he would get so sick and tired of it; so sick and tired of pretending to be happy.
But that wasn't the case. Not with Morgan by his side. The smiles on his face and the laughter escaping past his lips were all real – all because of Morgan.
And the members of his family who all met Morgan as they approached them on the boys' walk all thought that Morgan was the charming one, and it was shocking. Morgan was nice and pleasant – not at all the sarcastic asshole Ben had come to know. Not that that was a bad thing, but Ben missed the quips and quarrels that were as natural as breathing to the blonde.
Though Ben knew – from how much he freaked over the possibility of Meredith not liking him – that Morgan was being good for him. Because he wanted to meet Ben's family, and he wanted to make a nice impression. He was being respectful for Ben.
That thought alone made his chest explode with a million butterflies.
As Ben was busy gazing at Morgan pointing at a sailboat, he heard his name being called.
Both boys looked over to see a man in a tuxedo waving them over.
"That's Khosi," Ben said as they began to walk towards the groom, "Karen's soon-to-be husband."
Morgan nodded. When they came to stand in front of Khosi, Ben examined him. He was about the same height as Ben but skinnier. His skin was a rich brown with a defined jaw and wide forehead. His black hair was cropped close and he carried himself with confidence. That's one thing Ben really liked about him – if you were going to be with Karen, you needed to be confident.
Khosi looked handsome in his tuxedo, which was black with an emerald green bow tie. A green flower stuck out of his lapel, but Ben wasn't sure exactly what it was.
"Ah, Ben!" Khosi greeted, pulling him into a quick hug. "Glad you're here, my friend. Our families are piling in. Can't believe my side left the Bay to come all the way here. It's quite amazing actually."
The groom was grinning widely, the gap between his two front teeth very pronounced. Karen said she found it charming, and Ben admitted it did add a youthful quirk to Khosi's overall look.
Morgan tilted his head curiously. "The 'Bay'?" he asked, needing clarification.
Khosi looked at him as if this was the first time seeing him. He said, "Port Elizabeth in South Africa. It's where I am from, as are many of my family members. My parents and siblings all came from there. Though I do have family coming from Johannesburg as well." He sighed, though his smile never lessened. "It is a madhouse but I love it. I love them. And I love Karen."
"And she loves you," Ben said, smiling. Khosi was a good man – kind, attentive, intelligent, and doting. Though Ben thought the man laid it on too thickly sometimes, Karen loved it. To each their own.
Khosi shook Ben's hand. The man was also very touchy-feely, but if he was going to be a part of the family, Ben would just have to learn to deal. After all, Karen was his favorite aunt. He would no doubt be seeing Khosi a lot.
"Thank you, Ben. But speaking of your aunt…"
The worry seeping out of his tone was enough to make Ben and Morgan glance at one another. Trouble lay thickly in the air, and Ben couldn't stop his heart from seizing up. If anything happened to halt this wedding, subsequently hurting Karen's feelings… Ben would make whoever was responsible pay.
"What?" he asked, his voice tight in his throat.
Khosi's rung his hands nervously. He avoided Ben's gaze, and bad thoughts ran rampant in his mind. It was enough to get him angry, but before he could outright shake the man down for information, Khosi spoke up, saying, "Your aunt… is she… Is she as nervous as I am?"
Ben blinked, and then looked at Morgan. The blonde offered no answers so he looked back to the groom. That was the problem? Nerves? God, Ben really needed to work on his anger issues. He was ready to tackle Khosi if the news had been bad.
He didn't get to reply, however, as Khosi kept going. "You know how Karen is. She's always so calm in stressful times. To be frank, it is quite unnerving. Whereas I am the opposite – I cannot handle such pressure." He licked his lips and furrowed his brows. "She planned this wedding practically all by herself. I think I dealt with flower arrangements. That's it. And even that frazzled me.
"You are her favorite nephew, Ben. You have always been close with her. Tell me – is she as nervous as I am?"
Now that was a mystery. It was hard to tell when Karen was nervous. Ever since he could remember, she had always been this immovable force with oil-like skin – everything just slid off her back, no problem. He wasn't sure if Karen was able to feel anxious – he may never know.
But one thing was clear, and he told Khosi this. "Honestly, I don't know. Karen is a tough read, but you shouldn't worry. She has thought of nothing else but you these past two years you've been together. And this wedding has only amplified the amount she thinks about you. To the point I can hardly stand to be around her. I swear, there is nothing and no one else but you on her radar.
"So whether or not she feels nervous, I can tell you that all she has on her mind is you, Khosi. Only you."
A large stretch of silence followed after his speech. Ben wasn't expecting that. He had said the truth, and if Karen was here she would have agreed wholeheartedly. He looked over at Morgan to gauge his reaction, but he only saw the blonde staring at him with soft eyes and a kind smile – kind and proud. It was a look that made Ben's knees shake, and he was glad he didn't fall down.
Khosi brought him back, saying, "Thank you, Ben. You always know just what to say." He chuckled, shaking his head fondly. "Karen always said you had a way with words. It looks like she was right."
Ben shrugged, glancing at Morgan again. The other boy continued to look at him. "You don't have to thank me, Khosi. It's only the truth."
"It still helps."
He nodded. "You're welcome then."
Khosi rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. He cleared his throat and said, "So, um, two years… You don't think that's too short a time to be married, right?"
"Not really," he replied honestly. "My Mom and Dad got married two years after knowing one another."
"Yes, but…" He laughed uncomfortably, shrugging. "I proposed to her six months after meeting her, and she accepted."
"So? Dad proposed to Mom eight months after knowing her. You guys just had a long engagement. I've heard of odder things."
"So, you don't think it's weird?"
"I think it's weird that you seek more confirmation even though I've already given it to you."
Khosi blinked, and then looked down. He gave another laugh and then nodded. "You're right. I'm sorry. I'm just nervous and excited and a lot of other things. Forgive me."
Ben shook his head. "You're OK," he soothed. "It's normal to be nervous. Maybe not for Karen, but for you…" He trailed off and started laughing, which drew Khosi into laughing as well.
Relaxed a little, Khosi cleared his throat and motioned to Morgan. "Anyway, enough about me. What about you? Are you Ben's…?" He looked at Ben for verification.
Which he quickly gave, saying, "This is Morgan Killam. He's my friend."
Khosi's eyes widened. "Ah, so this is Morgan. Karen's told me a lot."
Morgan squinted in confusion, though he smiled. "She has? Strange," he contemplated, smugly glancing at Ben. "I've never met her but she knows me?"
Before his head got too big, Ben droned, "Only from what I told her, and even then it wasn't a lot. Stuff that ego down."
"Well," Khosi interjected, reaching out to give Morgan a handshake. When he grabbed the blonde's hand, he gave a firm shake that left Morgan blinking in astonishment. "As you may have gathered, I am Khosi Mabaso."
Morgan chuckled uncomfortably and pried his hand away from the groom's tight grip. He cleared his throat and nodded. "Good to meet you, Khosi," he started politely, which made Ben smile a bit. Morgan was being super nice. "What do you do for a living?"
Khosi stood straighter, pride oozing from him in waves. "I am a pediatrician at Saint Francis downtown. I have been for the last year."
"Wow. You look so young to be a doctor. How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Not at all. I am twenty-five, but coming upon my twenty-sixth year in July."
"You must be wicked-smart to be so young and already in pediatrics."
At this, Khosi grinned and shook his head. "I'm not one to brag."
Ben snorted. "I am," he said, speaking to Morgan. "He's started college when he was thirteen. 'Smart' doesn't even begin to describe him."
They all laughed, but it was true. Khosi was a downright genius. Karen said that when she met him, he talked her ear off about "a bunch of medical shit I didn't understand," as she so phrased it. But she had been charmed by him nonetheless, his passions drawing her in and garnering her interest. Similarly, when Karen told him that she ran a blog about fashion, make up, and home living while also writing abstract literature, he seemed just as interested in her passions as she was his.
It truly was the match of a lifetime.
Morgan continued, "So, if you're in pediatrics, you must love kids, right?" He looked to Ben for confirmation. "I mean, you can't hate kids and deal with them all day."
Khosi nodded, his smile widening, if that was possible. "I get that question a lot. And, yes, I do love children. I always have. Maybe it is because I come from such a large family with many children."
"Would you like to kids one day?"
"You are assuming I don't have a few already."
What? Ben looked at him sharply as Morgan blinked in surprise. Khosi had kids? What the hell? Why didn't Ben know this? Did Karen know this? She didn't tell him! She told him everything! Or, at least, most things. Things that were important, and this was important! Maybe Karen didn't know, and this was the first time that this was coming to light. But only an hour away from the wedding? Seriously? They had already paid for the band! They couldn't cancel now because Khosi suddenly had children coming out of the metaphorical woodwork!
Just then, Khosi burst out into laughter, doubling over. Morgan tilted his head in confusion as Ben looked on with mouth agape.
"What?" Ben asked impatiently, eyes roaming over an incapacitated Khosi. "What the hell is so funny? You have kids, Khosi, and you didn't tell me? Have you at least told Karen?"
Morgan placed a stabilizing hand on Ben's bicep and glanced at the younger boy. Ben calmed a fraction but still looked at Karen's fiancé for answers.
Wiping a tear from his eye, Khosi straightened and patted down his suit. "Oh!" he sighed, chuckling a bit more. "Oh, Ben… Your reactions do humor me. It was but a joke. I do not have kids, but it was well worth the lie to see you so worked up. And honestly… touching. You care for your aunt a great deal, and it makes me proud that such a protective young man will become my nephew in a little while."
The anger in Ben quickly dissipated and in its place was a mixture of relief, embarrassment, and compassion. He groaned and ran a hand down his face, all the while Morgan chuckled by his side.
"Khosi," he started, laughing and shaking his head, "you definitely had me going. You're a real bastard sometimes, you know?"
"Indeed." Khosi patted him on the arm. "Karen tells me this often."
Ben bit the inside of his cheek and gave a final laugh. "Jesus… Good one. That's all I'm going to say. And, Khosi, we're already family, man. We've been family since Karen fell in love with you. I've been your nephew for a while, but don't think I'm going to throw out an 'uncle' in front of your name anytime soon."
Khosi shook his head. "Oh, agreed. The title of 'uncle' just sounds so old to me. You may call me Khosi, or Ko, if it so pleases you."
"It doesn't, so I'm just going to stick to 'Khosi.'"
The man laughed, nodding. "Fair enough," he said and looked to Morgan who was smiling at the exchange. "I am sorry, Morgan. I got off track teasing Ben, but to answer your question, I do want kids; however, Karen is on the fence. Understandable. If we were to want children, we would adopt."
That was probably the best course of action, considering Karen was pushing forty and greater risk was put on her and her unborn children if she ever decided to get knocked up.
Morgan nodded and said, "I wish you well in figuring it out."
"Thank you. Anyway, I still need to do much before this wedding happens. I hope you will forgive me, but I need to attend to them. It was nice meeting you, Morgan. Let us meet again at the reception and talk more."
"Goodbye." Khosi waved and turned around, sauntering away.
Ben and Morgan turned to each other, the former shaking his head in amusement. "What a jerk. Can't believe I have an uncle like that," he joked.
Morgan patted him on the back. "He's a good guy," he said. "I haven't met Karen, but I'm glad she ended up with him."
Ben hummed positively. "Me too."
The two decided to walk back to the wedding area, chatting the whole way.
Ben was busy talking Morgan's ear off about the newest video game he was playing when he saw her.
It was Meredith – Ben's sister – and she had her eyes on Morgan as well. She didn't look happy. In fact, she looked downright pissed.
Morgan swallowed harshly.
"Look," Ben rambled on, waving his hands around, "Thief does stealth gameplay justice. That's what I really liked about it, but the story just didn't intrigue me. However, the graphics were awesome – I was totally digging the gothic feel to it – so I guess I would give it another replay. Doesn't really hold a torch to the original, though, but then again what reboot does?"
He wasn't listening to the kid. Instead, he watched as the tall form of Meredith made her way over to them where they stood by the gazebo. She cut through the weaving of chairs like a snake through the grass, and Morgan prayed that he would be able to charm the socks off her, for Ben's sake.
With a lack of response, Ben looked at Morgan, and when he saw that the blonde was staring frightfully ahead, he looked to see his sister closing in on them.
"Oh, fuck," he mumbled, balling his hands into fists.
Oh, fuck indeed.
Meredith came to stand before them, crossing her arms over her chest. Morgan thought she looked pretty – light brown hair done up nicely with a long, sleeveless dress that was green and silky. But – damn – if she didn't look just like Ben. From those fleshy lips, pale skin with freckles, and almond-shaped eyes the color of mahogany. Even the upturned nose and standing height were the same.
But there was something inherently different between them. Morgan glanced at Ben, trying to gauge just what it was besides the obvious difference in genders.
Ben was sharper in a way. The way he held himself affirmed that. The kid crossed his arms, mirroring Meredith, but the motion was different. More stoic, more hidden fire underneath the skin. Meredith didn't have that fire, and when Morgan looked back to her, he found that her stance was softer but she was colder.
Fire and ice, Morgan thought comically. Cliché and fantastical.
"Ben," she started off, her voice low and dangerous. It was enough to send chills down Morgan's back. "How nice to see you again after you – you know – completely ditched your family."
Morgan glanced at Ben to see his reaction. The kid was outright gritting his teeth. Ben had been angry with Morgan before, but this… This was beyond anger. That molten look in Ben's eyes, the whiteness of knuckles curled into fists – yeah, this wasn't anger, not in the least. This was loathing. Loathing directed at his own flesh and blood.
"Could you not do what you're doing now for like ten seconds?" Ben suggested behind bared teeth. His voice was raw with barely contained fury. It was enough to make Morgan take a step away from him. "This is Karen's wedding."
It was obvious Meredith wanted to argue. She bit her lip to hold back what she wanted to say before inhaling deeply and letting it out slowly. Then, she let her gaze slide coolly over to Morgan, looking him up and down and inherently striking him as if she was saying unworthy.
"You going to introduce us, little brother? Or am I going to have to introduce myself to your…" her eyes narrowed "…friend?"
Such hostility… Morgan swallowed and shrunk where he stood. Never had he been met with such blatant dislike before. Even Gene was crafty about her aversion to him, but Meredith? It was like she was holding a big, neon sign reading I Do Not Like You.
Ben stepped closer to him, his body blocking him somewhat from her penetrating stare. This caused Meredith to look at her brother, and when she did, that hostility in her eyes for Morgan lessened, and something softer – something more sibling-like – took its place.
Well, it was easy to see she loved Ben. The same couldn't be said for Ben towards Meredith, however.
"I'll kindly ask you not to look at him like that, Meredith," Ben hissed, placing his hands on his hips, "or I'm going to get real pissed, real fast."
Meredith answered the threat with a sneer. "Look at you, all defensive," she teased with bitterness behind her words. She snorted. "Don't worry, Benny. I'm not looking at your pal any special way." She tilted her head, lips still caught in a sneer. "Now introduce us."
There was a moment of tense silence where the air was still and hot like before a tornado. Morgan felt like if he moved at that point, he would either get electrocuted from the negative energy or slowed down from how thick the atmosphere was. He wasn't willing to put either theories to the test, so he stayed put.
Moments later, Ben pushed a thumb behind him in the direction of Morgan. "Meredith, this is my friend, Morgan," he began the introduction, his voice on edge. He pointed at his sister. "And Morgan, this is my sister, Meredith."
She looked at Morgan again, her brown eyes boring into him like laser beams. His palms were sweating and he was on the verge of shivering at how cold her gaze was. Morgan wanted to be amiable, but damn it was hard when she was acting like this.
Meredith reached out a hand, the nails painted a silver color. Ben tensed when she got close to Morgan, and Morgan could only stare at the hand.
"Nice to meet you," Meredith crunched out, "Morgan."
It was pretty obvious that Meredith scared the living shit out of him. If he wasn't grown, he would be cowering behind something.
But he was adult, and thus was cowering behind someone. Ben.
"Shake her hand, Morgan," Ben mumbled.
Oh. Yeah. That's what he was supposed to do.
He reached out slowly before gripping her hand and giving it a slow shake. All the while she did not break eye contact. Morgan felt like a mouse that was getting descended upon by a hawk.
Meredith released his hand after a while and pulled back. He did the same, relief rushing over him and almost spilling out of his mouth in either a sigh or vomit.
"Well," she sighed, looking back at her brother, "it was nice meeting your friend, I suppose. Not much of a talker, is he? Not like your other ones. Whatever." She glanced behind her back. "Mom and Dad are in Karen's tent, which is where I need to be." She turned around and glared at Ben. "Which is where you should be, but by all means…" her eyes flicked briefly and coldly towards Morgan "…entertain other company."
"Thanks for the permission," Ben gritted out, grabbing Morgan suddenly by the arm and hauling him away from Meredith. "Let's go, Morgan."
He had no choice but to follow Ben, since he was literally being dragged by the kid. Morgan caught a fleeting glance at Meredith who was still glaring at him like he was nothing but scum on her silver heel. It was an intimidating and demeaning look, and all he could do was avert his eyes and swallow hard.
So much for being charismatic.
When they were far enough away, Ben let go of his arm and huffed a prolonged sigh. With his back still towards Morgan, he ran both hands through his hair until they rested on his neck. A moment of silence drifted between both boys, and guilt weighed heavily on Morgan's shoulders for some reason.
Well, not for some reason. He knew why.
He moved forward, determined to get Ben to look at him. "Ben? Hey, look," he said, moving around to get a view of the kid's face. "I'm sorry I wasn't good with your sister. She's fucking scary, and I froze up, and I know I shouldn't have but–"
Ben reached out and placed a slender hand on Morgan's jawline, effectively shutting the blonde up. He looked deeply into the older man's eyes, a look of disbelief on his face. "You honestly think this is your fault?" he breathed, shaking his head. "Morgan, no. This has nothing to do with you. That was just Meredith being who she is, and me responding in kind. She doesn't like any of my friends, but for some reason she's treating you worst of all." Ben looked away briefly, his eyes betraying his puzzlement. "And I don't know why. I just wish she didn't. I'm sorry, OK? This… this is not on you."
Morgan swallowed, grabbing Ben by the wrist that was connected to the hand on his face. "I wanted to be so kind and respectful to your family, but I fucked up royally with her." He shrugged, avoiding Ben's eyes. "I don't know. Maybe if I had said something – anything – it would have smoothed over things, but I didn't."
Because he was a coward, and Meredith was terrifying. It made Morgan think that if she could instill such terror in him, what was Ben capable of?
Ben wasn't having this. "No, do not think that, Morgan," he ordered, placing his other hand on Morgan's face as well. "You're awesome. You've been totally sweet today. I've warned you about Meredith, and I'm sorry we had to bump into her this way. Just don't blame yourself, OK? Look at me."
He did, and he was met with deep brown eyes that were curved and had a bushel of eyelashes ripe for the gazing. So, Morgan looked deep, trying to find whatever it was he was looking for – he didn't even know. But he knew if he looked hard enough he would find answers.
Fuck, now would be an excellent time to kiss Ben. He was close enough, and the mood… It felt like when they were doing their porn thing at FuckSquad. And right now… Ben's lips being so close… And the pounding in his chest… Oh, god…
For a moment, everything felt frozen. The wind, the music, the people chattering – all of it was still. The only thing in front of Morgan was Ben, who was beginning to look confused at the prolonged silence. But Morgan still stared, drinking in the lean figure of his friend who was all soft brown hair, coppery eyes, and boyish features.
There was something in Morgan, something warm and tingling and heavy right in the center of his chest, just under his ribs. The feeling quickly spread throughout his body, heating up his skin and making him as light as air.
He watched Ben's mouth form his name, entranced by the fluid movement in which those lips worked. When Morgan trailed Ben's face upwards and saw that questioning look, he was brought back to reality and everything started moving again. Suddenly, he could hear the wind, the music, and the people once more.
"Are you OK?" Ben asked, tilting his head a bit into Morgan's space, trying to get a better look at the blonde.
The close proximity had heat blooming in Morgan's cheeks, so he turned his head away in embarrassment. Clearing his throat, he muttered, "Yeah, I'm fine. Just…" Morgan trailed off, not knowing what to say. What could he say? That feeling just now… What was it? He had never felt it before, and it was strange.
But not unpleasant.
That thought had Morgan taking a step away from Ben. He looked at his friend, seeing the confusion upon the kid's face that still lingered. Morgan plastered on a smile and said with false bravado, "Don't worry about me. I'm good. Maybe later your sister and I can have a proper chat, but for now, let's find some seats. My feet are hurting in these horrible shoes."
Ben saw the slimy, fake smile and furrowed his brows. Morgan knew Ben was observant and could read him like a book, so to avoid the uncomfortable line of questioning they both seemed to be inevitably plummeting towards, Morgan turned away and started walking towards the rows of seats without a word.
A few seconds later, he felt Ben sidle up alongside him. Their shoulders brushed, causing jolts of electricity to shoot through Morgan's stomach.
"Morgan," Ben said softly, and it tickled the blonde's ears just enough for him to look at his friend. When he did, he saw Ben grinning. "You're right. Those are terrible shoes."
Dumbfounded, Morgan looked down at his dress shoes and then back up at Ben. He was still smiling.
Laughter bubbled up from Morgan and released in a rush of relief. Ben cackled next to him as Morgan pushed his friend gently. The two boys continued laughing all the way to their seats.
a/n: Sorry for the long wait, guys! but thanks to everyone who was understanding. hope you enjoyed this chapter! i most definitely enjoyed writing it. as always ben is a dramatic bitch and morgan is faithfully along for the ride.
see you next time, guys! love you!