"I thought we were going to the movies," Evangeline said as Michael pulled into Rodi's parking lot.
Moving back to Llanview had been a major chore. Buchanan Enterprises helped with the bulk of it by hiring movers and finding a temporary residence. In the end, her employers could only do so much. The tougher jobs landed squarely on her shoulders. When Michael invited her to check out the new Denzel Washington movie, she eagerly accepted his offer. The idea of simply relaxing sounded good. The thought of stopping at Rodi's made her tense. She wasn't in the mood for that atmosphere nor running into the red haired bartender who irritated her peace of mind.
"We are." He gallantly took her hand after he opened her door. "We have a few minutes before the movie starts."
"It's gotten good reviews. I'd hate for it to be sold out."
He gave her a bright smile as they neared Rodi's entrance. "Don't worry about it. If we miss this show, we can wait for the next one."
His enthusiasm prevented her from putting a damper on his plans. She enjoyed spending time with him. He made her laugh and he always seemed genuinely interested in her day. No one had ever been so attentive.
"It looks pretty dark in there," she commented. "Maybe they're having a private party."
"I guess we'll soon find out."
He pushed the door open. His hand to her back sent her over the threshold and straight into the very dark room.
Unease skyrocketed through her. She blindly reached for his hand. "Michael, we shouldó"
Light suddenly blared into the room. Noisemakers sounded. The familiar faces of family and friends greeted her with smiles and cheers.
Layla and their mother pushed their way through the crowd. Shock kept Evangeline still. What is all this?
"Surprise, Cookie!" Lisa closed her arms around Evangeline.
"Mom, hi," she said after their hug ended. She turned to her grinning sister. "What is going on?"
"Don't blame me," Layla laughed. "It was his idea!"
Michael stepped forward. "Guilty as charged. When you decided to come back, I decided that your return couldn't be a quiet one. We're all here to welcome you back to Llanview."
Heat rose to her cheeks. Not for the first time, she was grateful for her brown skin. She didn't do embarrassment well.
"You shouldn't have gone to all this trouble."
"I wanted to." He gently kissed her cheek.
Then, everyone stepped forward. The outpour of well wishes initially stunned her, but as more came and personally welcomed her back "home" she had no choice but to accept their sincerity.
- - -
"Okay, sister girl, the dust has settled. Your sister is enjoying herself. It's time for you and me to get down to business."
Layla cringed at her mother's no-nonsense tone. Ever since her mother's eyes darkened upon the introduction of her new son-in-law, Layla dreaded this moment. Why couldn't anything in her life be easy?
"Well? You don't have anything to say? No quick comeback line? No flippant response?" Lisa rested her hands on her waist while she waited for an answer.
Layla put on her brightest smile. "Mom, it's Evangeline's party. Let's just save this for later."
"No, you'll hear me out now." She directed her daughter to a secluded booth near the jukebox and pool table. "I don't appreciate being blindsided."
Layla shrugged. "No matter how I told you about Cristian, you would have been."
"How did his mother take the news?"
"She's standing over there with Hank Gannon. Why don't you ask her?"
"Don't get smart with me, Layla Kristine Williamsonó"
"Vega," Layla said. "Don't forget 'Vega.'"
Her mother sighed, but the glint in her eyes warned that her rant was far from over. "That's not funny."
"I wasn't trying to be," she answered honestly.
"Your father would turn over in his grave."
Layla frowned. "Don't bring Daddy into this. He might not like the elopement, but he'd like Cristian. Cris is a good man and he's been very good to me."
"Oh, really?" Lisa glared at a spot behind Layla. "Tell me. How good is he to that red head over there? She hasn't taken her eyes off him since we got here. Oh, look. Now, she's making her move and he's not walking away. Tell me about that, Layla Kristine Williamson Vega."
- - -
"What, Natalie?" Cristian bristled for her attack. He wasn't in the mood for her or anything she had to say. They'd already said it all. He had a new life now with Layla and that was all that mattered to him.
"You don't have to take that tone with me."
"It's the tone you always use with me." He pulled away from her hand on his arm and folded his arms across his chest. "What do you want? Hurry up. I want to dance with my wife."
"Your wife." She all but spat the words.
Sudden anger boiled in his gut. If she had been a man, he would have punched her. "Don't. If you know what's best for you, you'll stop now."
"Let's talk about what's best for you."
"As if you'd know that," he said. The very idea was laughable. "You don't know the first thing about me."
Hurt flickered across her face. "I know that you're making a mistake with that girl over there. She's not right for you. Your marriage will never work out."
"The only mistake I ever made was marrying you." Her sharp gasp failed to quiet him. She opened the vault of accusations. Now, she had to suffer the consequences. "Layla is a good woman and far less a girl than you are. She's not perfect, neither am I or anyone else. And finally, we're happy together. How our marriage turns out is none of your business."
"You didn't say one thing about love," she said.
His voice dropped to a low whisper. "You're not the one I'd say that to."
That said, he turned and walked away.
- - -
John waited for the hoopla to die down before approaching Evangeline. She plastered a smile for everyone, but he sensed all was not well. When she claimed a stool at the far end of the bar, he quickly moved to the vacant one beside her.
She gave him a hesitant smile. "Hey, yourself. Your brother throws one helluva party. He got me good."
"He's great at surprises. You didn't see this one coming."
She shook her head. Her long dark tresses kissed her cheeks in the most seductive way. He inhaled a quick breath and beckoned the bartender to send two beers.
"Not at all," she said. "I thought we were going to the movies."
"Oh." His jaw tightened. "I wondered how he was getting you here. So, you had a date."
The bartender placed two bottles near them. She took a long gulp. He followed suit. The liquid was cold and refreshing. Yet, it failed to tame the green-eyed monster begging to be unleashed from deep within.
"Have you ever been to a Philly's game?" He twirled his bottle around on the bar.
"Of course, it's baseball, America's national pastime. Where have you been, counselor?"
"Obviously, not on a baseball diamond." She laughed. "No, I've never been to a game. It's never crossed my mind before."
He decided to dive in without thinking twice. If fallout came, he'd deal with it later. "Now, that it's crossed your mind, would you go?"
The surprised look on her face entranced him. He liked how her brown eyes looked darker, like a river of chocolate. "Who with? With you?"
"Why are you looking at me like that? I'm not a vampire or something. Yeah, with me. What's wrong with me?"
"Nothing!" she blurted out. "It's just that... I never expected... You Like a date?"
Since he started it, he might as well go for it all the way. "Something like that, yeah. Well?"
"It's something to think about." She smiled, grabbed her bottle of beer and walked away.