The next week went quickly. Riley was surprisingly adept at being Braelyn’s assistant, often anticipating Braelyn’s needs before Braelyn even realized them. However, Braelyn and RIley treated each other like sisters rather than employer and employee. Most of Braelyn’s evenings, except for the nights that she had gigs, Braelyn spent in her apartment in the company of Riley and most of the time Mikey was there. Frankie came when he could. Ray was already at Krista’s family’s house for the holidays.
Gerard was there a lot, too, but he was going through some phase where he wasn’t sleeping during normal hours. He’d show up at like midnight and hangout until Riley and Braelyn had to leave the next morning. Sometimes Braelyn stayed up with him, but usually she went to bed. Sometimes, Gerard brought Quinn.
That was weird to Braelyn. She assumed that Gerard had adopted his new odd schedule because Quinn worked at the restaurant, so those were the hours she kept. So when she wasn’t there all the time, it made Braelyn wonder why Gerard would be up.
These were thoughts she had as she’d drop off to sleep, so she never gave them much thought.
Then Braelyn’s studio time wrapped until the new year. That afternoon, Braelyn and Mikey put Riley on a plane home so she could visit her parents until she came back for Braelyn’s New Year’s Eve performance in Times Square.
Then Braelyn and Mikey went back to the apartment where Gerard was waiting, lounging on the couch.
“Do you often show up, uninvited, in other people’s home?” Braelyn said, grinning and plopping down next to him.
“Yes,” was the answer he gave.
“What’s up?” Mikey asked, sitting down.
“Mom says she needs you to go home tonight. She needs your help with the tree.”
“Why can’t you go?” Mikey whined.
“You and mom both know I’m terrible at it.”
“But what about Braelyn?” Mikey said, “She’s got her last meeting tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll stay with her,” Gerard said, grinning at Braelyn. “We’ll drive down together tomorrow afternoon.”
“Is that ok?” Mikey asked Braelyn. “Mom and I pick out the tree every year.”
“Precious,” she replied, smiling up at him. “Of course you should go. Gee and I will hang out here and we’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Alright.” He stood up. “I’ll go grab my stuff, then.”
Mikey reappeared a few seconds later, his duffle bag in hand. Braelyn bounced up from her seat and wrapped her arms around Mikey’s neck. He pulled her close and she gave him a kiss.
“Have a safe drive. We’ll see ya tomorrow!”
“You two have fun.” Mikey kissed her cheek. “Let me know when you leave tomorrow. Love you.”
“Okay. Love you too.” She smiled up at him and he squeezed her.
“Bye brother,” Gerard said, waving from his seat.
A few minutes later Gerard and Braelyn were reclining on the couch, watching a bad made for tv movie, and waiting for their Chinese take-out.
“So are you excited for Way Family Christmas?” Gerard asked.
“Ya. Aren’t you?” Braelyn stretched, her shoulder pressed into his.
“I guess. It’s really just the same old, same old.” His arm went around her shoulders. “So, you love my brother, huh?”
Was that disappointment in his voice?
Braelyn smiled involuntarily. “Those words are true.”
The doorbell rang. Braelyn shrugged his arm, and the awkwardness, off. After paying the teenage delivery boy, Braelyn returned to the living room, choosing the comfy chair Mikey had occupied instead of sitting back on the couch. She busied herself with chewing her sesame chicken and rice so she could think.
Why would he be disappointed because she loved Mikey? Gerard was her friend. A mentor. He had Quinn. Memories flashed through her mind: a dance they shared in Miami, a look he gave her when they were up all night making videos in Vegas, Gerard carrying her to her bunk after she and Mikey and Frankie had gotten ridiculously drunk somewhere in Kansas.
She swallowed. “Quinn’s coming to Christmas, right? That’ll be nice to get to spend some time with her without her having to work.”
“She’s coming.” He didn’t exactly sound excited. “It’ll be fun, I guess.”
Braelyn nodded, looking down. Uh oh. She was in trouble now.
They were silent for the rest of the meal. Braelyn collected the empty take out containers and went to throw them away.
“Brae, come sit with me and watch a movie,” Gerard called from the other room.
Braelyn chewed her lip. That probably wasn’t a great idea, she had felt his eyes on her during the meal. She didn’t want to be arrogant and assume things that weren’t, but she had the very unsettling feeling that Gerard wasn’t so into Quinn and oh so into Braelyn.
But nothing had happened yet. Just friendly flirting. Braelyn meant to keep it that way.
“I can’t,” she said coming back into the room. “I’ve got to do some writing and I have an early meeting. Sorry, Gee.”
“That’s ok,” he said with a half smile.
“I’m gonna go to my room. Night.” She leaned down to hug him lightly.
He turned and kissed her cheek, lingering slightly. “Night.”
She managed a smile and left the room. Braelyn made it to her room and had shut the door before she allowed herself to freak out. Taking deep breaths, she tried to work through her options. What was she supposed to do? Tell Mikey? Tell Quinn?
No. Nothing had happened. No need to stir anything up. She’d just watch herself around him. Not give him any reason to think that anything was going to happen.
She did what she told Gerard she was going to do. She wrote for a while before turning in early.
The next morning, she got up, showered and went to her meeting. Braelyn returned around eleven to find Gerard still asleep on the couch. She shook him awake.
“Hey, I’m back. I’m gonna go pack and change and then we can go to Jersey, ok?”
He nodded, rubbing his eyes. “Do you need help?”
“Nope,” she said cheerfully, walking back to her room. “I’m good, thanks.”
Braelyn changed into jeans and her long, slouchy, red sweater and brown riding boots. She quickly packed for the week she’d be spending with Mikey’s family. Once finished, she pulled a white toboggan hat over her surprisingly well behaved, glossy curls, before dragging her bag to the front door and calling for Gerard. She was putting on her knee-length gray wool coat and a scarf as he came around the corner putting on his sweatshirt, pulling the hood up.
“It’s snowing out,” Braelyn said. “Are you gonna be warm enough?”
“I parked the car like two blocks away. I’ll be fine.” He grinned. “Ready?”
She was tugging on her gloves. “All set.”
“Let me take that.” Gerard picked her bag up and led the way out of the apartment.
Braelyn locked the door and followed him to the elevator. Once out on the street, Braelyn enjoyed the walk to the car. Living in Texas all her life, snow was exciting. The first snow of the season fell a week before and Braelyn had spent almost three hours just out in it. Plus she spent a lot of time watching it out the window. Snow was her new favorite thing.
They reached Gerard’s car and they climbed in. Gerard said, “We have to go pick up Quinn.”
“Oh good!” Braelyn was relieved. “I was wondering how she was gonna get there.”
A few minutes later, they were idling outside Quinn’s apartment where the girl was waiting for them on the curb. Braelyn moved to get out and sit in the backseat so Quinn could sit in the front with Gerard.
“Oh that’s ok,” Quinn said, politely.
“No, you should sit here. It’s fine,” Braelyn said, smiling.
It was Gerard who reached out and grabbed Braelyn’s arm. “You’re fine. Just stay.” Both girls looked at him, surprised, and Quinn looked a little hurt.
“No, really,” Braelyn said, diplomatically, “Quinn should sit with you.”
“Baby,” Gerard said with a touch of a patronizing tone, “Didn’t you say you worked until like 2 am? Don’t you want to sleep on the way there?”
The girls were in equally awkward positions, Braelyn half in and half out of the front seat, Gerard’s hand on her arm and Quinn standing on the curb, in the cold, staring.
“Whatever,” Quinn muttered, throwing her bag into the back and climbed in, closing the door rather forcefully.
Gerard started to drive and Braelyn looked back to Quinn, catching her eye. She mouthed ‘I’m sorry.’ Quinn rolled her eyes at Gerard and shrugged to Braelyn before yawning and stretching out on the backseat.
A/N: Abby, Izzy, and Nicole! I'm so glad you guys are still reading! I hope you keep enjoying the story! Lots of love. Everyone else, thanks for reading. Go review! Hearts, Corri