From Vain to Dandy

Chapter 27

Chapter 27
Jacquie Parke was mesmerized.
That particular morning, the young girl woke up to the sight of her father’s sleeping
face. She smiled and watched him without restraint. Yes, Blaine West was indeed
handsome. But to Jacquie, she could not understand why anyone would argue that he was
more attractive than her father. Under the sunlight, his gentle expression looked heavenly
like he was finally at peace after fighting a war for so long. The young girl clasped his hand
and squeezed it affectionately. After all this time, she returned to her father’s side and she
had no plans of ever leaving him again despite her doctorate waiting for her sometime in
her immediate future.
“Ah... Jacquie...”
With a wide smile on her face, Jacquie observed her father’s blinking brown eyes
carefully. “Good morning, Father!”
“You look so much like her.”
At his soft mutter, Jacquie averted her eyes. “We do look identical.” Jacquie
clutched her father’s hand and released a heavy sigh. “Father, there are too many pictures
of Mother on your laptop and your cell phone...”
“You saw?” Jake asked.
Jacquie nodded reluctantly. “I don’t know what to think sometimes. Whenever I
visit you, I see her everywhere but... I keep reminding myself that I am not allowed to see
her in person and I must live with this for the rest of my life.”
Finally, Jake struggled to sit up straight in his bed and finally managed with his
daughter’s help. “You want to meet her that much?”
“I know I shouldn’t,” Jacquie started slowly. “And it’s illogical and dangerous...”
“But you can’t help yourself.”
“But I also don’t want to waste Father’s efforts in hiding me all these years either,”
said Jacquie quickly, reddening. “So... I shouldn’t be selfish.”
“Jacquie, listen,” says Jake, resting his head against the bedframe. “You’re one of
the smartest twelve-year-olds on the planet.” Jacquie tilted her head at him. “If you want to
meet and talk with your mother without her knowing it’s you, you can probably figure out a
way to pull it off.” Jake paused and dropped his head in resignation. “I... won’t try to stop
At first, a look of delight spread over Jacquie’s face until she noticed the fallen
expression on Jake’s face. She suppressed her happiness. “Father, you are always thinking
about my safety and my happiness. What about yours?”
“What about mine?”
“If I am as smart as you say, Father,” Jacquie said carefully. “I should be able to
fulfill your wishes and bring you happiness, too.”
Jake smiled and embraced Jacquie against his chest. “By being by my side, you have
done just that. Don’t worry your pretty head about it anymore, Jacquie. Just be happy for


“I know all that. I really do.”
The girl held her father even closer. “It’s not enough for you, is it?”
Surprised, Jake released her and observed her face closely. “Why...”
“Father,” said Jacquie. “You are not exactly hard to read.” Jacquie glanced over at
the desk where there were stacks of photographs and only of one subject. Her throat felt
dry. “Is it because of me? Is my birth the reason why you and mother don’t live together
“No,” Jake answered promptly.
“But the timing...”
“I know what the timing looks like,” said Jake, sighing. “But it’s not like that. I
promise you this. Cross my heart.”
Jacquie reached for her father’s hand and clasped it. The sunlight crept through the
gaps in the windowsill and lingered on their shared bed. “Doesn’t Mother love us, Father?
Does she love someone else?”
At Jacquie’s next list of questions, Jake chuckled, almost in relief. “You know me too
well, my love.” Jake lowered his head and kissed her hands lightly. “Today, your mother
should be back from Florida already and she’s supposed to meet me to discuss our
relationship from now on.”
“Ah,” said Jacquie.
“But I haven’t heard from her and I probably won’t,” Jake continued. He grimaced
at the sight of Jacquie’s obvious pity for him. “It’s fine. I have already readied my mind,
heart, and soul for this outcome so there’s nothing to worry about. This is how it’s been for
the past couple of years now.” Jake’s hands trembled in Jacquie’s. “I need to stop ignoring
the facts before my eyes- she’s incapable of loving me.”
“Incapable? How?”
Jake remained silent for a few seconds. “The way you look at Harvey Hunt... your
mother isn’t able to do that towards any man. She wasn’t born that way.” Jacquie still
looked confused. “You’ll understand when you’re older Jacquie.”
“I won’t ask you to explain it to me then.”
“I appreciate it, precious.”
Jacquie wrinkled her nose. “You sound really sure about this, Father. I guess there is
nothing we can do about it then?” Suddenly, Jacquie grinned and hopped onto Jake’s lap.
With her back to his chest, Jacquie reached up to pull him down in an unusual hug. “But
even without Mother, you can still be happy! It’s no coincidence that I’m back with you on
this day right?” Jacquie laughed and kissed Jake’s cheek multiple times without restraint. “I
will take care of you, Father.”
“You will?” Jake asked in a joking tone.
“I will take Mother’s place and love you every day!”
“What about Harvey Hunt?”
Jacquie blinked. “I may love Harvey, but I love you the most. It’s not even close!”
Laughing, Jake rubbed his cheek affectionately on top of Jacquie’s head. “Sometimes,
I forget that you’re only twelve...”

“What are you trying to say, Father?” Jacquie asked with a pout.
“One day, your emotional capacity will mature. Then, you’ll understand what it
means to love someone more than your father.”
Shocked, Jacquie shook her head frantically. “Never.”
After the father and daughter pair finished their morning conversation about the
missing mother, Jake offered to cook Jacquie some breakfast, but the young girl insisted
that her father should head to work instead. For the duration of that day, Jacquie would
occupy herself with locking herself in Jake’s room and composing her next collection of
poetry. Maybe if she has time leftover, she could sneak in some drawing and painting. Her
father’s room was the best place to accomplish such tasks.
Feeling a slight stir next to her, Mandy Monroe fluttered her eyes and turned her
head away from the sun. What a sight to behold this early in the day! There she was- Nicki
Chantelle sitting up on the other half of the bed while adjusting her bra strap. Nicki
stretched her arms behind her neck when she finally noticed Mandy watching her with
bright eyes and wide smile. Nicki smiled back. Pouting, Mandy reached for Nicki’s waist
and hugged it against her chest.
“You wake up early, Nicki,” Mandy said.
“I need to shower,” said Nicki, removing Mandy’s arms and getting off the bed. Nicki
picked up her clothes from the floor and placed them in a neat pile next to her night lamp.
“It’s best if I do it before the boys wake up.”
“Oh... There’s only one bathroom?”
Nicki chuckled. “Yeah. I’ll see you soon, beautiful.”
“Wait,” said Mandy, throwing the sheets off her. “I’m coming with you.”
“To the shower?”
“Why not?”
Nicki thought about it for a second. “Yeah, there’s no reason not to.”
“We can save water,” said Mandy, jumping off the bed. She shivered at the touch of
the wooden floor. “Ugh, naked floors. Do you have slippers?”
“Nope. You’ll either have to live or I will have to carry you.”
Mandy’s eyes sparkled from the other side of the bed. “One option definitely sounds
better than the other.”
“If I drop you, it’s your fault,” said Nicki, shrugging. Despite her outward attitude,
Nicki smiled secretly behind Mandy's back.
A few minutes later, Nicole and Mandy shared a shower. Neither said anything
while they took care of their hair and the rest of their body, but before they entered the
bathroom, Nicki made a big deal of how light Mandy was to carry. Nicki wondered if
Mandy even worked out half as much as Nicki herself to maintain such a body. Her guess?
Not even close with how much traveling Mandy seemed to do on a yearly basis. Mandy
liked to remind everyone that she had amazing genes and Nicki was beginning to not
question Mandy’s baseless declarations anymore. In a way, there seemed to be a punch of
truth to them, if not the whole truth.
“Do you want me to make breakfast?” Mandy asked Nicki as the shorter haired girl
dried her hair with a towel. The two were still in the bathroom.

“There’s not much to cook with,” Nicki answered.
Mandy laughed. “Who do you think I am? I’m Mandy Monroe!”
“So the great Mandy can cook with minimal ingredients? That’s a convenient and
practical superpower.”
“Oh, Nicki,” said Mandy, beaming. “You don’t have to compliment me so!” Mandy
glanced away. “You’ll make me blush too much!”
“Good luck, then,” said Nicki.
Like Mandy promised Nicki, she managed to fill the table with food with all the
leftover ingredients Nicki still had left in the refrigerator. Mandy was surprised by how
many items there were despite Nicki’s warning. However, the first person to enter the
kitchen that morning was not Nicki. Instead, it was her younger brother Devin. The boy
blinked several times at the beautiful stranger in the kitchen with their apron on. He woke
up just a few minutes ago and followed his nose to where the food was. At the unbelievable
sight, Devin rubbed his eyes, but the girl was not disappearing.
“Hi,” Mandy greeted. “You must be Devin Chantelle?”
Devin peered at her, confused. “Hello Miss. Are you... one of Blaine’s lady friends?”
Mandy laughed. “Then, where is Blaine? Is he around?”
“For once, I actually don’t know where Blaine West is,” said Mandy thoughtfully,
tapping a finger against her cheek. “Yes, I am his friend you can say, but I’m here on behalf
of your sister.”
“Why is Blaine’s lady friends all pretty?” Devin asked himself, scratching the back of
his head and sitting down at the table. “Thank you for breakfast, Lady!”
“You can call me Mandy!”
“Thanks for the food, Mandy!”
“Devin?” Nicki joined them in the kitchen. “Why are you awake already?”
“I smell food,” said Devin innocently.
Mandy sat across from him. “Your brother is so cute!”
Nicki sat next to Mandy and gasped at the sight before her while Devin started filling
his plate. “Mandy! This is too much! How did you manage all this?”
“I want breakfast to be extra special today,” said Mandy, smiling.
“Don’t waste food next time, okay?” Nicki scowled.
“Aw, come on, Nicki!” Devin interrupted them as he waved his fork around between
swallows. “You need to liven up a little! You’re always stressing over us! Enjoy yourself for
once! It’s just food! We can always buy more!”
Nicki sighed. “You’re so simple-minded.”
“I like him,” Mandy said to Nicki.
“Yeah,” Nicki grimaced. “You guys are getting along well already.”
“Where are your other brothers?” Mandy asked, standing up abruptly. “Should I
summon them to join us for breakfast?”
Nicki glanced at the time. “We can leave them for another fifteen minutes.”
“Sounds good,” said Mandy, turning her eyes to Devin now. “How do you like the food,
Devin? How is Mandy’s cooking?’
Devin looked up. “Extremely delicious!” Mandy and Devin exchanged a mutual happy
look. “Can you come and cook for us again, Miss Mandy?”

“Devin!” Nicki cried, shaking her head.
“Sure,” Mandy said. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of me.”
Devin paused in his devouring. “Are you moving in with us like Uncle Justin did that
one time? Do you have money troubles too?”
“Oh no!” Mandy laughed. “I never have money problems anymore!”
“Listen, Devin,” Nicki said at long last in an exasperated voice. “I have something
important to tell you.”
“Listening,” said Devin, looking back and forth between Nicki and Mandy.
Nicki stared with unwavering eyes at Devin. “I will just say it straight out.” Devin
nodded in understanding. “This is Mandy Monroe. We are sort of in a relationship or
whatever you’re supposed to call it when two people are supposed to spend time
together... which I do not have unfortunately.”
“Everything’s fine, Nicki,” said Mandy to Nicki. “Just send me your schedule and I’ll
figure something out for you.” Mandy paused and clapped her hands. “Let’s share a
calendar! That should solve all our problems!”
“Wait, Mandy,” said Nicki, placing her hand on Mandy’s shoulder. “Before you get
ahead of yourself, I need to make sure Devin and my other brothers are okay with it.” Nicki
shifted her attention back to Devin, who had gone quiet. “Devin? Are you upset?”
“No, no, I’m not,” Devin said quickly. “I’m happy for you, Nicki.”
“You are?” Nicki smiled at her brother.
“You deserve to be happy after mother left us.”
Nicki’s smile widened. “Thank you, Devin.”
“This just came out of nowhere but yeah,” said Devin slowly.
Despite being across the table from the younger boy, Mandy reached over and clasped
his left hand. “Devin, I am so sorry for shocking you this early in the morning. But,” Mandy
squeezed his hand, “I can swear on my good name as Mandy Monroe that I’ll take good
care of your sister. She’ll always be your sister. I’ll just be popping up around here more
often than you’re used to.”
“Miss Mandy, you’re really pretty,” Devin said, blushing and dropping his eyes at his
food instead of at her. “Like Blaine’s-regular-girlfriend pretty. No, cross that.” Devin shook
his head. “You’re prettier than any of his girlfriends. I just don’t get why you’re with my
sister instead of him...”
Mandy observed his face closely. “Well, Devin, that’s a fair question!” Mandy tossed
Nicki an affectionate look. “I’m not sure how to answer that exactly except that sometimes,
you’re brought up to be something greater than the world can ever imagine, but it doesn’t
work out that way. Life is unpredictable.”
Nicki frowned. “Mandy, what are you...”
Keeping her eyes on Devin still, Mandy continued in her cheerful voice, “Devin, I
guess the short answer is I can’t love Blaine that way even if I want to.” Mandy laughed
after a short period of silence. “It’s hard to explain! But I make the most of my life anyways.
Right, Nicki?”
The frown vanished from Nicki’s face as she nodded. “Yeah. Every day.” Devin
glanced back and forth between the two women before he finished his last bite and
excused himself from the room. He knew it was no longer his place to say anything. Nicki

took a hold of Mandy's hand the moment her brother was out of the room. “You have to
talk to Jake.”
Mandy squeezed Nicki's hand. “When?”
“As soon as possible,” Nicki said in a stern, yet concerned tone. “It is not fair to
either of you. He knows the truth. I know he knows it.” Nicki sighed. “But he needs to hear
you say it.”
Before Mandy could respond, Nicki's two younger brothers poked their heads in
with one clearly hidden behind the other. They greeted with good mornings but barely
audible. Unaffected, Mandy wore a bright smile and approached them immediately.
“Happy every day, my love.”
“Happy every day to you too, darling.”
Timothy Patrick imitated a kissing sound before he continued in his usual serious
voice again, “So... I heard that you're not back in Florida yet?”
There was a short pause before Asia laughed on the other line. “Nothing escapes
you, Timmy dear. Why do you even bother asking hmm?”
“Common courtesy dictates I should be worried about your current whereabouts.
You are my girlfriend last I checked.”
“Oh hush,” said Asia in an amused tone. Tim could almost imagined her wide smile
on top of a white, soft pillow. “Actually... I'm with someone.”
“Oh?” said Tim, unable to hide the surprise in his voice. “Yet you picked up my
phone call rather quickly...”
Asia laughed again. “I have nothing to be afraid of, darling.”
Tim leaned back on his love-seat in his private office and pondered her words for a
few seconds. For as long as he had known Asia, she had random tendencies to reveal half
of the truth and not the whole truth. Sometimes, it was because of a silly reason like a
secret birthday party. But other times, it was something more difficult to understand. Like
was she being playful? Was she boasting? Was she hiding something dangerous from him?
At her giggle though, he dismissed all these useless thoughts and refocused on why he
called her in the first place.
“Anyways,” said Tim. “I have quite a scoop while you've gone missing.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
The sultriness in her voice against his ears made Tim cleared his throat and
continued slowly, “As competitive as I am towards you, my dear, I value fair play as well. I
feel like you should at least be informed on this latest development on our beloved
“Well, thank you darling. I do appreciate you so. Now... what is it?”
Tim picked up a report from his coffee table and observed the photograph of a
young girl with black hair and blue eyes. “Our founder has a living and breathing
A short silence followed. Then, Asia laughed uncontrollably. “Really Timmy! It's too
early in the morning for such jokes!”
“I am dead serious,” said Tim in a low growl. “I even have photographic evidence
from West and the resemblance is uncanny. I'll text it to you after this phone call.”

Asia stopped laughing abruptly. “But... that's not possible.”
“What is not possible?”
“Our Mandy has never given birth before,” said Asia with a hint of panic in her voice
now. “No, no, no! That's just not possible! I refuse to believe it!”
Tim sighed. “First, let's calm down.”
“I will not calm down!” Asia cried. “I don't care what photographic evidence you
may have or what Andrews thought he saw or whatever it is that you guys found while
snooping around Eduardo's center, but,” Asia took a deep breath and continued, “she
can't possibly be our Mandy's daughter.”
Timothy chuckled at his girlfriend's stance. “Maybe you should see the photo
yourself? Should I hang up now and do that?”
“I've seen her naked,” said Asia proudly. “Have you?”
“Is this a trick question?”
At the playfulness in Tim's tone, Asia grumbled. “Point is, I know what women look
like after giving birth and our Mandy definitely has never given birth before. I can bet all my
money on this.”
Tim hummed in thought. “Is this your woman's intuition again?”
“My intuition has always been sound, thank you,” said Asia, fuming. Tim was not
taking her any more seriously with every passing minute. “But it is more than that. I know
human bodies, both female and male, at least better than anyone at One Heart and I can
bet on my good name as Sabrina Paige that her daughter is not her biological daughter.”
“Her name is Jacquie Park.”
Tim cold hear Asia stopped breathing for a second. After all, his girlfriend was a
heavy breather and she had been breathing pretty hard the entire phone call. “Ah... so Jake
is the father...”
“This Jacquie Park... she is a remarkable lady, Asia,” said Tim, moving the
photograph aside to reveal a report behind it. “She is a child prodigy who excels at literally
everything she has attempted. She graduated last year at the age of eleven from University
of Oxford. She took a year off and traveled all over Europe with Harvey Hunt from the New
Mexico branch.”
“Wait...” said Asia, interrupting. “She is the same young lady from that unusual case
a year ago then? The one who wanted all the conversationalists to take a survey to become
her traveling companion for a year?”
“The very one.”
“How did she get away with just a pseudonym?” asked Asia, appalled. “Our
background checks have always been thorough.”
Tim relaxed in his seat with the report still in hand. “How else? I bet her father
worked the system somehow.”
“Not surprised,” said Asia. “Parke is quite bright when he's not, well you know,
At the mention of this, Tim remembered a time when he would actually converse
with Joel Eduardo at their annual New Years party about how their respective centers were
developing. One of Joel's favorite topics to talk about was his lazy, unproductive co-worker
Jake Parke. Even someone like Tim would not wish to deal with such a worker every day.

However, there was no denying that Jake was invaluable to the organization. After all, Tim
could see the numbers before his very eyes whenever he checked the membership count.
Although Tim had no real opinions on Jake despite meeting him a couple of times, he
respected what the romantic brought with him.
“Indeed, he should not be underestimated,” said Tim before he cleared his throat
and placed the report down on the coffee table. “Listen, my love. You know what this
developments means for us in particular, don't you?”
“What else? The future of One Heart is at stake.”
Tim smiled at her quick response. “Maybe this Jacquie Parke is the missing puzzle
piece this entire time. Maybe Blaine West was never necessary for the growth of One Heart
and that Miss Mandy Monroe was too shortsighted and biased to see what an asset her
own daughter can be to the company.”
“Or maybe she doesn't want to turn One Heart into a family business?”
“Come on, Asia,” said Tim, frowning. “You can't be serious.”
“No,” said Asia admittedly. She inhaled sharply. “But after meeting Blaine West in
person, I can't help but believe that he is the future of One Heart, not some unconfirmed
Mandy 2.0.” Asia breathed out heavily and gulped. “I mean, for all we know, this might be
some grand scheme on Parke's part to take the company for his daughter.”
“Now you are speaking nonsense,” said Tim, lifting an eye at her random noises.
“Jake Parke might be the cream of the crop when it comes to socializing with our members,
but he doesn't own a scheming bone in that body of his. On the contrary, he is too honest
and pure for my liking.”
“I was only joking, darling,” said Asia in a cute voice. “Though... it is the ones you
least expect that you should worry about.”
“In any case,” said Tim, feeling uncomfortable at her change in tone. “I am
surprised at how much you are advocating for Blaine West. He must have done a number
on you. How many times did he bed you?” Tim ignored Asia's mocking laughter. “Time will
tell the outcome of this company, but if I were to bet on Blaine West or Jacquie Park
succeeding One Heart, the choice is obvious.”
“Hm...” said Asia. “What if we make it a real bet, darling?”
Timothy sat up straight. “I'm listening.”
“I already gave Blaine some training,” Asia revealed. Tim gave no response. “How
about you try giving Mandy 2.0 a lesson or two? Maybe take her out for a challenge? I bet
that she will still pale in comparison to Blaine West and trust me, it's not due to age
“Intriguing. You're on.”
“So, darling, what do I get if I win?” said Asia with a purr.
Timothy stared out the window and noticed how high the sun was in the sky. “We'll
go on a month-long vacation, just the two of us, and I'll pay for everything. You can pick
wherever you want to go.”
“Oh? But you never take a vacation.”
Tim smirked. “That is how much I know I am going to win.”
“Of course, of course!” said Asia in dismissal. She giggled. “Now what do you want if
you win?”

“You, my love, have to work at my center for a month.”
Tim could imagine her giggles gone and her face full of frowns as she said, “You
answered way too fast, my love. Do you miss me that much?”
“Always, but I've chitchatted long enough,” said Tim, standing up straight and
heading toward his desk. “Work calls. I'll call you later my exotic and beautiful Asia.” He
ended the call with the same kissing sound.
The minute Asia removed her phone from her ear, she blurted out loud in a playful,
yet sharp tone, “Silverstone, you should stop while you're ahead.”
Contrary to his last name, there was nothing bright about the man who poked his
head from under the sheets in between Asia's legs. He had short, black, curly hair and an
aftershave that fit him as if he were born with it. With a wide, toothy grin above his square
jaw, he gazed into Asia's eyes with a twinkle in his gray eyes and leaned in to give her a
quick peck on the cheek. She pouted in response and pushed him off her before she
hopped off her bed and grabbed her lingerie from the ground. He stayed in bed,
underneath the sheets, and watched her with his chin against the back of his hand.
“Enjoying the view?” asked Asia, glancing back at him.
His smile widened. “I am indeed. It's quite lovely.”
“Don't you have work to go to?”
At the question, his smile vanished as quickly as it came. He wore a pondering
expression. “Ah, yes, in time my dear. But... don't I get a pay raise for all the fun we had last
“Unfortunately,” said Asia, amused. She finished wearing her bra and underwear.
“That rule only applies to our founder.”
“Pity,” he said as his eyes lingered on her back as she searched around the room for
other articles of clothing. “Surely, you're not leaving so soon?”
“I am a branch manager for a reason, Steele Silverstone,” said Asia, placing her
hands on her hips and facing him. “Please say hello to LeDuke for me. He is always a
delight to be around.”
“If so,” said Steele, forcing himself to leave the bed and pulled her dress from
underneath the bed. “Perhaps you should greet him yourself, no?” Before Asia could
respond, Steele checked her sparkling white dress carefully in his hands and continued,
“Since you're in town for once, might as well attend our after work get together tonight.”
“I heard that the New Mexico branch is tight knit,” said Asia in awe. She went over
and swiped her dress away from Steele. “I am quite envious.” Asia leaned in towards him
and danced her fingers against his abs. “As much as I would love to drink with all the lovely
men of your branch, I have a flight to catch in a couple of hours. Maybe next time,
“Such a shame,” said Steele, picking up her hand and tracing circles around her
knuckles with affection. “Tonight is a celebration you don't want to miss. It is no ordinary
Asia lifted a brow. “Oh? What are you celebrating?”
“The return of our Harvey Hunt. Interested?”
“Starting to.”
“This Mandy 2.0 you speak of on the phone,” said Steele slowly and carefully. His

eyes bore into Asia's. “If anyone knows her well, it should be Mister Hunt from our branch.
Are you sure you want to waste this opportunity?” Steele watched as Asia heard her phone
vibrate from the bed and picked it up. “Is it the photograph your boyfriend promised you?”
“Yes,” said Asia in a serious tone.
Steele raised her hand and kissed her knuckles. “I shall pick you up then.”
Despite all the pretty words he left to keep his daughter’s mind at peace, Jake Parke
was in no mood to work that day. Instead of driving directly to the center, Jake parked
outside of Mandy’s mansion and gazed at the black gate stopping him from taking a step
closer to her. Jake waited and waited until his stomach growled to wake him up from his
stupor. Sighing, Jake glanced at the clock. It was already one o’clock in the afternoon.
There were no missed calls from Joel Eduardo or more importantly, Mandy. Jake placed his
head against the steering wheel as his eyelids drooped. Last night, he did not get a wink of
sleep, but he didn’t want to worry Jacquie either. He had to pretend for her sake.
“What the hell is wrong with me?”
Jake turned on the engine and used all the energy he had left to drive to One Heart.
His mind was filled with memories of Mandy, like from the first time his eyes laid on her
and he knew from that moment on, he would never look at another woman the same way,
to the last time they spoke to each other before she escaped to Florida. He thought about
all those years no one knew about her except for him. Mandy didn’t want to talk or be
without anyone but him. At one point, he even believed that she was as much in love with
him as he was with her and that this world they created for themselves was perfect.
“Stupid,” Jake said out loud, laughing and turning on the car engine. “Stupid, stupid.”
After arriving at One Heart and parking at his usual spot, Jake dragged himself out of
his car and locked the door. He yawned loudly. He wanted to nap more than anything. But
with a slightly conscious mind, Jake walked inside the center through the front door, went
into the locker room to change, and struggled up one flight of stairs. Before Jake could
make it to his office and collapse, he passed by Joel Eduardo’s office. Immediately, Joel
Eduardo slammed the phone down and shouted Jake’s name.
“Sorry, Boss,” Jake said automatically, poking his head in with a weak smile. “I’ll get
back to work after I drop something off at my office first.”
“I haven’t taken my lunch break yet.”
Jake blinked at Joel. “Okay?”
Joel stood up from his seat. “Inability to comprehend an obvious invitation. Check.
Red eyes. Check. Tired tone. Check. Slow reaction time. Check. No Miss Mandy Monroe
attached to your arm. Check again.” Joel smirked. “You haven’t slept or eaten anything for
a half a day now, have you Jake Parke?”
Sighing, Jake dropped his head. “Please, just leave me alone, Bossman...”
“I’ll cook,” Joel said, leaving his office and closing the door behind him. He gripped
Jake's arm firmly. “Come with me. We need to discuss your superb punctuality and
positive attitude over some salmon.”
Jake sighed again. “Yes, sir...”
“Complete compliance,” Joel said as the two walked off towards the kitchen. Joel
nodded to himself. “I can get used to this side of you, Jake Parke.”