Walking into the dining room, all eyes were on Joe and Savannah. She felt like a pariah already, because most of the looks weren’t pleasant – especially from Nick, who glared at the two of them with a raging look of disgust on his face. He was holding his now three-month-old daughter in his arms, but quickly passed her off to the hussy on his left. The sting of bitterness Savannah felt to see him with his daughter resonated within her, because only a short year ago, she imagined him being the father of her own children someday.
She and Joe quietly made their way to the table to sit down in two of the empty seats at the end. She couldn’t even look up at the people around them because she just felt so out of place.
“Savannah, hi!” She heard Kevin’s wife Danielle greet her, which caught her completely off guard.
“Hi!” Savannah said, finally looking up to see the beautiful brunette smiling excitedly at her. Savannah was so grateful to her for breaking the tension and couldn’t help when her own smile broke free on her face.
Tentatively, Savannah looked up at Nick, who seemed to be shooting daggers with his eyes at his sister-in-law.
“It’s so good to see you again. You look amazing!” Danielle praised her, making Savannah feel good and uncomfortable at the same time.
“Me? What about you, hot mama?” Savannah laughed, still unable to break the smile off her face.
“Oh, yeah right!” Danielle said, waving her compliment off with a sly grin on her face. Savannah couldn’t help but chuckle at her bashfulness.
“You have to meet Alena!” Danielle said, throwing her hands up in celebration.
“I can’t wait,” she said as she stood up to grab her daughter from her husband.
“Wait a second. Uncle Joe gets to meet her first!” Joe protested as Danielle made her way back to them with Alena in her arms. Joe stood up quickly to grab for his niece.
“Well, here you go, Uncle Joe,” Danielle said, smiling as she handed off the precious baby to her awaiting uncle.
“Oh, wowey. You are just getting to be such a big girl, now aren’t you?” Joe cooed at Alena as he grabbed her tiny little hand and bounced it around.
“I always tell her about her Uncle Joe. She was starting to believe you didn’t exist,” Kevin joked to his brother.
“Oh, I exist. And you know what, Alena? Outta all your uncles, I’m the best. You’re gonna learn that fast,” Joe cooed, smiling at the baby. Nick immediately let out a scoff that seemed to echo through the dining room. Joe only looked up to send Nick a glare before his focus went back to his niece.
“Alright. Dinner is served,” Denise said as she came from the kitchen carrying a massive tray of lasagna.
“It looks wonderful, darling,” Kevin Sr said, smiling at his wife.
“Sit, sit. We’ve got a lot of food to eat,” Denise told Joe, Kevin and Danielle.
“I’m meeting my niece for the first time,” Joe said, ignoring his mother’s request.
“And what about your other niece?” Denise chimed in, which earned a glare from Joe and an uncomfortable cough from Nick.
Everything got awkward in a matter of seconds. The tension between the two brothers was all Savannah could feel because she was right dead center in the middle of it.
“Alena is sitting with me,” Joe told Danielle and Kevin as he pulled the highchair next to his chair, then put the baby in before finally taking his seat.
“Okay,” Kevin laughed.
“Does Savannah even get to meet her?” Danielle giggled at Joe.
“Well, where are my manners, huh? Miss Alena, this is your Auntie Savannah—” Joe cooed, pointing at Savannah next to him.
Nick gave another uncomfortable cough and Joe looked up to glare at him again.
“Do you have something to say?” Joe snapped at Nick.
“Nope,” Nick said shortly, which caused Joe to scoff and shake his head.
“Anyway, this is your Auntie Savannah. She’s pretty great. Just like you,” Joe continued to talk to his niece.
“Hi, little one,” Savannah said, smiling at Alena, reaching over Joe to grab her hand, bouncing it a couple of times, which earned a squeal of excitement out of her.
“Oh, are you funny? Huh?” Joe cooed at the baby.
“She’s getting into that really playful stage. It’s been so much fun,” Kevin said, chuckling at his daughter.
“I’m so glad I get to finally meet her,” Joe said, looking up at his brother.
“I’m glad too,” Kevin replied, smiling back at him.
“Isn’t she just the most beautiful little baby ever?” Joe asked Savannah. Nick scoffed, but Joe ignored him this time.
“She is,” Savannah said, smiling at him.
Savannah couldn’t help but think his comment was a dig at Nick and his child. She was certain Joe was determined to make the tension even thicker between them. And he was doing a really fucking good job at it.
Throughout dinner Joe cooed and baby-talked with Alena, who immediately started giggling at her silly uncle. It was so sweet to see Joe with her. It made Savannah want to bear his children someday. And something about that feeling scared the shit out of her. Sure she loved Joe, but they were still so young. Seeing Kevin and Danielle with Alena, and even Nick with his own daughter was sometimes too hard to believe.
Dinner was… interesting. Savannah got completely ignored by most of the people at the table. She only had four allies there – Joe, Josh, Danielle, and Kevin. She wasn’t quite sure about Josh’s wife Angela. They hadn’t had a chance to really get to know each other. She spent the entire dinner talking with Denise, which seemed to mean they were pretty close, so Savannah didn’t really think she was going to win any popularity contests with her.
When Alena began to get fussy, Danielle went to feed her, leaving one less person to keep her mind off the fact that the other half of the table was all against her and Joe’s relationship – including the patriarch and matriarch of the family. Joe knew she was having a hard time, and he showed his support by keeping a firm grip on her knee under the table, trying to help steady her nerves, which she thoroughly appreciated. He was letting her know he was there for her just by giving her that one loving gesture.
As they sat around the table, Savannah let herself take one good long glance at the woman Nick replaced her with – or cheated on her, then replaced her with. Her stringy blonde hair. Her overly tanned skin. Too much make-up on her sunken in face. She looked almost anorexic. Didn’t this chick just give birth three months before? But the thing that really caught Savannah’s eye was the ring on her finger. It was her ring! That asshole gave Erica the same ring he gave her! Savannah was silently fuming in her seat. How could he even do that? And he thought he would just get away with it? And what? They were getting married now? How fucking sickening.
“Oh, give her to me. I just love her!” Denise cooed over-dramatically to Erica about her granddaughter, snapping Savannah out of her hostile thoughts.
“You hear that, Ruby? Your Grammy wants to hold you,” Savannah heard Erica say.
It was the first time she heard her speak and it was annoying and overbearing. And it was the same way she felt about her presence.
“Oh, she is so precious!” Denise cooed, cradling her granddaughter in her arms.
It was extremely annoying to hear Denise’s ridiculously excessive exclamations over Nick’s bastard child. For a lady claiming to be a faithful Christian, it seemed a bit hypocritical to be okay with her son having a baby out of wedlock with his mistress who he cheated with behind his fiancées back. Gag.
By the time dinner was over, Savannah’s mood went from appeasing to detestable. She had just about all she could take from this family for the night and it was only eight-thirty.
“Joe, I just want to go to bed,” Savannah whispered to him as he sat talking with Kevin at the table once dinner was finished. He turned to her, giving her a sad look before squeezing her knee again.
“Are you sure?” He asked lowly.
“Yeah,” she answered just as quietly.
“Okay,” he said, patting her knee.
“I think we’re going to go up to bed,” Joe announced to his older brother.
“Oh. Already?” Kevin asked, looking between the two of them.
“Yeah. It’s been a long day,” Joe told him as he stood up from his chair. Savannah quickly followed suit.
“Alright. We’ll see you in the morning then,” Kevin said as he held his sleeping daughter in his arms.
“Goodnight, you two,” Danielle said, giving them a cheerful smile. As for everyone else there was no response. Including Josh, who seemed to have disappeared with Frankie somewhere.
“Goodnight,” Joe huffed to the rest of his family as he grabbed Savannah’s hand in his.
“Goodnight, son,” Kevin Sr told him, breaking away from a conversation he was having with his brother Rich and his wife Bea, who were in from Texas for the Holiday.
“You’re not going to bed already, are you?” Denise asked Joe.
“It’s been a long day,” Joe told her.
“Remember the rules, Joe,” she chimed in, giving him the eye, implying that the two of them were not allowed to share a bed together under her roof.
“How could I forget?” Joe scoffed and rolled his eyes as he tugged Savannah with him toward the foyer.
“That was not necessary,” Joe grumbled under his breath, annoyed with his mother as he led Savannah up the staircase.
Savannah stayed quiet, trailing behind him. Honestly, she just wanted to go to bed so she could cry. These people made her feel worthless – less than that actually. She was the lowest of the low to them. And Erica, fuck, she was God’s gift because she birthed a grandchild? Blah!
Joe followed Savannah into the guest bedroom as she immediately went for her suitcase, digging her pajamas out. Joe shut the door behind him so she could change.
“Do you want me to sleep in here with you anyway?” Joe asked as Savannah pulled her shirt over her head and replaced it with a tank top.
“Yeah right! That is not going to happen. What if your mom sees that? She’ll actually have a valid reason to hate me – disobeying her one rule. Psssh!” Savannah said, flopping down on the mattress after she kicked out of her jeans and put on a pair of shorts to sleep in.
“Are you really going to bed right now… this soon?” Joe asked, quirking his eyebrow at her.
“I just… my brain hurts. This has been a lot to deal with, you know,” she told him, letting out a deep breath. Joe sighed, crossing the room to sit with her on the bed.
“I’m sorry, baby,” he said, wrapping his arms around her, placing a kiss on her head.
“I do it for you, because I love you,” she told him as she cuddled into him.
“And I love you. And seriously, Van, thank you,” he said, pulling back only enough to look into her eyes before he left a sweet kiss on her lips.
“I’m here and you’re here. That’s all that matters, right?” Savannah said as she squeezed him in her arms, resting her head against his chest.
“It’s all that matters, baby girl,” he cooed, kissing the top of her head again.
“Thank you for always being here for me,” she said quietly, pulling back to look up at him.
“Always,” he said, gently placing his hands on the sides of her face before kissing her again.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?” He questioned, giving her a suggestive smirk.
“What I want and reality are two very different things,” Savannah said, giving him a frown. Joe gave her a little smile, which she couldn’t help but return to him.
“Okay, babe. I’ll be just down the hallway if you need some smooches or snuggles,” Joe said, rubbing his nose against hers. Savannah giggled at his playful words.
“I love you, Joe,” she told him before she kissed his lips.
“I love you so much. And you’re so strong. Thank you for coming here with me. And I am really sorry about my family. I knew they would be harsh, but Jesus, my mom is really taking it to another level,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Yeah,” Savannah said, averting her gaze, feeling extremely uneasy about it.
“Hey, look at me,” Joe said, grabbing her chin to align their vision.
“It’s you and me,” he told her for about the hundredth time that day.
“Forever,” Savannah breathed before his lips crashed into hers.
“I’ll see you in the morning, beautiful,” Joe said, reluctantly getting up off of the bed.
“Goodnight,” Savannah said, hating to see him leave.
The second the door was closed behind him, tears were stinging her eyes. Being in there without Joe made her feel so alone. And to top it all off, the treatment she got from his parents was absolutely the worst feeling ever. She had never felt so low in her life.
“Savannah…” She heard, confusing her completely.
“Hmm, what?” She mumbled, waking up out of her cathartic sleep.
“Savannah…” She heard again and felt something caressing the exposed skin on her stomach.
“What do you want?” She asked. It was dark in the room and she was so confused on what was going on.
“Wake up,” she heard a voice that was definitely not Joe’s. Instead it was his brother and her ex-fiancée Nick.
“Nick! What the hell are you doing in here?” Savannah yelped, shooting straight up in bed. She quickly gripped the blankets in her fists, pulling them up the front of her body.
“Shhhh! You’re going to wake everyone up,” Nick shushed her, sitting next to her, wearing nothing but his boxer briefs.
“What are you doing in here?” She asked him through clenched teeth, annoyance apparent in her tone.
“Savannah, I don’t think you understand—” Nick said, his eyes staring straight into hers.
“Understand what?” She scoffed, cutting him off.
“How much I miss you,” he said, reaching out to rub her arm. What the hell was going on?
“Nick!” She yelped, pulling her arm away.
Was she in the Twilight Zone – an alternative reality? This was mirroring things that happened last year, but with the opposite brother. Seriously, what the hell was going on?