A few minutes later, we’re approaching the airport. “There!” I point to a corner. “There’s grandma.” Riley parks next to her and I jump out of his car. “Hey! Where’s Charlotte?” I ask her. Right then someone clears their throat. I look sideways. Charlotte Ames has just appeared beside grandma. I take a deep breath and extend my hand out to her. “Hello, I’m Paige Evans. Nice to meet you.”
Charlotte regards my outstretched hand curiously. She looks up at me and smirks. Before she says anything, she engulfs me in a hug. “Emily would have been so proud.”
I fight the urge to cry. It was so amazing to have my mother’s best friend tell me that. I hug her back fiercely. “Thank you.” I look at grandma. She’s smiling so wide, her cheeks must be hurting. “Do you guys want to go now? My boyfriend is waiting in the car.” I gesture to Riley and he waves. “Where are your bags?”
We load Charlotte’s bags into the trunk—thank goodness there was enough room for them— and all pile in the car. I ride shotgun while grandma and Charlotte sit quietly at the back.
“So,” Charlotte begins to make conversation. “Are you excited for your birthday?”
I twist in my seat so that I can face her. “I guess. The part planning is really stressful. I actually want to get this over with.”
She nods. “You know, when your mom and I were kids we used to have our birthday parties together. Even though she was born in April and I in June, we always celebrated them together.”
I imagine them both younger. I imagine Charlotte in a sparkly blue dress and my mom in a similar pink one. I can see them dancing happily around and refusing to eat cake unless the other one had a piece. I smile. “That’s cool.”
Charlotte grins at the memory. “One time, I got sick and your mother was visiting me. When she got home, she saw that your grandmother had thrown her a party. She sulked in the corner because she didn’t want to celebrate without me.”
I laugh and look at Riley. “She did?”
“Yup.” Charlotte nods. “Emily was like that. She always wanted things to be fair.” She looks at grandma. “Rob too.”
After that, we drive in silence. At least, Riley drives in silence. Gram and Charlotte begin talking quietly and I can’t make out the words.
We reach home and everyone helps with the luggage. I grunt a little. Charlotte is only staying here for a few days. How many things could she need? Riley sees me struggling and offers to help me but I push him away. He’s carrying a heavier bag than me. I don’t want him to have a harder time.
“So!” Charlotte claps her hands together once I reach the door. “Do you have any plans tonight, Paige?”
I’m about to say no when Riley wraps his arms around me. “We’re having dinner with my parents.”
My eyes widen. I was not informed of this. I try to tell that to Riley but he’s smiling at Charlotte. “I mean, is that okay? I promise you can have her all to yourself tomorrow.”
Charlotte smiles at me. “It’s not problem. I’ll help your grandma in planning for a while. You deserve a day off.”
I nod. I do not know what is happening. Riley ushers me out of the house and into the car. He does not start the engine. I know he’s waiting for me to speak.
“What?” I ask.
Riley looks at me sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I sprung it on you.”
“You should be!” I’m panicking. The last times I went over to the Crawford’s, Riley’s parents wasted no effort in telling me all about Carly, the girl they wanted for Riley. “I’m not going to endure another hour of your parents telling me I’m not good enough for you. “ I look away and try really hard not to cry.
“Hey,” Riley takes my chin and makes me look at him. “My dad and I talked about it. I promise he won’t do that. I promise that the minute he does, we’ll walk out of there.”
I stare at him for a few minutes. He’s not dead so I know he’s talked to his dad. I put on a brave smile. “Sure. Do I look good enough?”
“Babe, you look beautiful.” He says gunning the car to life.
I’m holding on to Riley’s hand very tightly.
“Paige,” Chase Crawford begins. “Are you excited for your birthday?”
I feel a pang of irritation. Almost everyone today has asked me that. “I’m excited to get it over with.” I answer honestly.
Riley’s dad raises his eyebrows. “Care to elaborate on that?”
“The planning is very stressful. I would like to have the party already just so that I can breathe easily, sir.”
I squeeze Riley’s hand from under the table harder. I want to get out of here, I’m saying. He squeezes back. No, he’s saying. I sigh. “This was a lovely dinner.” I tell his mother. She smiles tightly. “May I use the bathroom?”
Riley lets go off my hand. “Sure. You know where it is right?” I nod and he lets me go.
I’m looking at my reflection. “Okay.” I tell myself. “So far, so good. They haven’t insulted you yet. I’m sure you can make it through this night. For Riley.” I smile. That was a good pep talk. I feel better now.
“Carly came over today.” I hear just as exit the bathroom. I stopped. I debate whether or not to go back in the dining room and interrupting them. I listen to them some more.
“So?” Riley asks. “I was out with Paige.” I feel really smug that he sounds uninterested in stupid Carly.
“I know. She was asking me what she should wear to Paige’s birthday. You should’ve seen her. She looks great in all the clothes she brought over today but I the outfit she finally chose makes her look gorgeous.”
”Carly isn’t coming to Paige’s party, mom. You know that they don’t like each other. Why the hell would you do that?”
“Language, Riley.” I hear his dad say. “The boy is right, Camille. Why are you inviting Carly to Paige’s party? Do you want something to happen?”
“What’s going to happen is that Carly is just going to attend Paige’s party. The invitation said I could bring someone else and Carly is who I want to bring.” She pauses then takes on a snooty tone. “Is your girlfriend really that insecure? She has you, doesn’t she? Is she afraid of competition?" Tears start brimming around my eyes. I knew it.
“Mom, I love Paige. She’s my girlfriend. I really wished you’d accept my decisions. God, she didn’t even want to come over because of you. I thought you’d get over this but I guess you can’t.” I hear a chair scraping against the floor and I scramble to move back to the bathroom. It’s too late. Riley sees me.
He quickly engulfs me in a hug. “You heard that, didn’t you?” He sighs when I nod. “I’m so sorry Paige. I thought mom could control herself this time. Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Riley didn’t even have to ask if I wanted to go home. We drove around for hours. There were some moments when he’s try to talk to me but I wouldn’t respond. I just wanted to be alone with my thought for a while. After a while, we end up on our driveway.
“Paige, say something.” He has an anxious look on his face. I can see annoyance in his eyes. I wonder if it’s from his conversation with his mother or because I wouldn’t talk about it. Perhaps it’s both.
“What do you want me to say?” I whisper.
“You can curse my parents if you want to. I’ll even curse along with you.”
“They’re still your parents, Riles. My Gram raised me to be respectful even if some people aren’t.”
“I wish Gram raised me too.” He admits.
I laugh. “But then we’d treat each other like siblings and it would be awkward.” He laughs too but a thought occurs to me and I scowl. “You might end up dating Carly.”
His laughter dies and he looks at me seriously. “Carly can’t compare to you. You’re like Sirius and she’s just a plain old star.”
“She still shines bright.” I mumble.
He takes my face in his hands and plants a kiss. Usually, our kisses are light but this one isn’t. I felt that he was trying to convey into the kiss what he just couldn’t explain to me. I think that’s what he was doing. My heart is beating so erratically. He pulls away when he has to gather some breath. He kisses me again before I can protest. The kiss is a light one this time.
“Carly can never make me feel the way you do, Paige. I’ll love you forever.”
I smile. “Okay.”
“Okay? I kiss you like that and all you have to say is okay?”
He kisses me again. “I love you.”