“Q! What are you doing, are you crazy? My child doesn’t need any more treats!” Ava exclaimed exasperatedly. She had turned her back for one minute. One minute to look at the bread only to turn back around to see her pride & joy sitting in the front child seat of the grocery cart where she put her, munching on a soft sugar cookie with pink frosting and sprinkles from the bakery.
“What are you talking about, of course she does” Q responded with laughter in his eyes. “All children need treats, especially from uncle Q.”
“There is a limit to just how many this one should have and you know it. She’s had a milkshake, ice cream, and now a cookie. Do I need to remind you who she takes after?” Q grinned innocently and slid his arm around Ava and kissed her cheek affectionately. “She has a lot of her sweetheart mommy in her too you know. I would know. I’ve known you since you were just a kid yourself.” Ava huffed but otherwise hugged the man who has put all of his effort into guarding her since the beginning.
“Suck up,” She told him softly. “I love you, but you’re not off the hook.”
“She has a lot of her stubborn mommy in her as well,” Denise spoke up in amusement. “I would know that too.”
“I know, I know, you never let me forget it” Ava responded, smiling also and she placed herself at the grocery cart in front of her daughter again and continued shopping knowing they have a schedule to keep. They have to be back in enough time to relax with Nick before the show.
“So…daughter of mine, what is all of this for anyway huh?” Denise probed Ava knowingly.
“Nothing…” Ava answered innocently, avoiding eye contact and Denise smiled in amusement.
“Nothing huh…? And I suppose you asked Brian to distract Nick tonight all for nothing too, right?”
“That’s right” Ava answered, smiling a little and Denise laughed.
“All right, I will let you have your secrets. I will however ask, do you want childcare service tonight while this nothing is going on?”
“No not this time, I want her with me” Ava answered after a moment and she turned away from her mother while she grabbed at things on the shelves to hide the slight fear in her eyes. She doesn’t want her to know that she needs her daughter to hide behind tonight. She knows deep down inside that Nick would never beat her, but what she has planned tonight is a big step and she doesn’t want to do it alone. “Ever since I left David I can’t stand it when she’s away from me even for a short time,” She added after a moment, making up a quick cover story. But Denise can see right through her. She sees everything when it comes to her. “Besides, we’re a family now I’m kind of enjoying doing the family thing right now and so is Nick.”
“All right, well you know I am just right down the hall if you change your mind.”
“On the phone with Ava again, Nick?” Brian interrogated Nick playfully when he entered their tour bus and discovered Nick just getting off the phone. “She really hasn’t been gone for that long, bro.”
“A whole day, but who is keeping track?” Nick asked while plopping down on the couch looking thoroughly bored and lovesick. “And no, it wasn’t Ava.” Brian raised his eyebrow and eyed Nick with a look that clearly stated he doesn’t believe a word of it.
“Who else could it have been? Everybody else is just a walk away.”
“People working on things for me at home…and then people working on things for me here too” Nick answered evasively. “So how about we end this interrogation of yours and go see if anyone else wants to go play some basketball?”
“All right,” Brian replied after eyeing him curiously. “You and Ava sure are keeping a lot of secrets lately though” he added before getting up and heading for the door. Nick got up and followed him, but otherwise didn’t respond to Brian’s probing. He had to take care of something that is long overdue and he’s not ready to share it with anyone yet. Not until later on. When they walked into the backstage area they discovered AJ walking around with Tierja’s hand in his own talking on the phone and making plans for them later, while everybody kind of did their own thing. Luke was nowhere to be seen, but Nick suspects that’s probably a good thing. He heard from Raven and Kathryn that AJ looked like he might punch him earlier.
“Who is up for a game of basketball? Nicky here is bored and needs us to entertain him until Ava can come home and take over” Brian spoke up jokingly. Nick gave Brian a look that clearly stated don’t make me hit you and Brian rolled his eyes playfully.
“What? It’s the truth.”
“I’m in” Kevin spoke up.
“Me too” Howie added.
“Tier and I will go if you stop talking about my sister being Nick’s entertainment” AJ informed when he hung up his phone. “It’s not something a big brother likes to hear and I don’t feel like beating him up right now.”
“You don’t feel like beating him up right now?” Howie asked, arching his eyebrow as they headed out of the arena, women, security and all - Brian with his basketball under one arm and toting Zara under the other. “You live for beating him up what’s wrong with you?” AJ shrugged his shoulders and pulled Tierja under his arm lovingly.
“Better things on my mind right now, I guess.” Everybody was quiet as they took in this new behavior of AJ and Tierja quietly rested her head against AJ’s shoulder. As far as she’s concerned, Luke should’ve came into their lives and made him jealous a long time ago. She looked over at Brian when she felt him looking at her, and he gave her a small grin and winked at her. He’d like to think he helped a little bit when he confronted AJ about things earlier. He’d give anything to help make both of his struggling friends happy, because they deserve it more than anything. When they arrived at the park, Zara reached for Raven who gently took her daughter from Brian and hugged her close.
“Mommy, come push me on the swings! Please?”
“Sure sweetheart, as long as Kat and Tierja come with me” She told her gently and Zara eyed the two women she loves with a sweet angelic look that no one could ever say no to and Kathryn laughed.
“Aw, who could possibly say no to that sweet little face?” She asked while cupping the little girl’s cheeks in her hands and leaning forward and kissing her. Zara giggled.
“Of course we’re coming” Tierja added and after receiving a quick but meaningful kiss from AJ she followed her two best friends over to the swings with Drew following close behind them and the boys and rest of security headed on over to the basketball courts.
“Was that Nick you were just on the phone with?” Ava asked Q when he rejoined her side as she led her group into the alcohol section of the store. He had stepped away from her for a few moments when he received a phone call and Demyan and Stefan took his place in guarding her. “It sounded like it might be him before you walked away.” Q chuckled softly.
“How would you know that when you were standing a couple of feet away from me sweetheart…do you have Nick Radar or something?”
“Well it is my best friend we’re talking about here…I would know the sound of his voice a mile away” Ava answered while eyeing all of the wines on the shelves.
“Yes it was Nick. He was checking up on you of course…he misses you. They just got back from the park where they let Zara play for a little bit while the boys played some basketball and he wanted to know when you were going to be back.”
“I’m almost done…you didn’t tell him where we were did you?” Ava asked, looking from the shelves to her big strong protector and she gave him a hopeful look.
“I did, but I didn’t tell him why. Your secret is safe with me sweetheart, don’t worry” He reassured, winking at her. She gave him a small nervous smile and continued looking at the wine. The more she thinks about her plans for tonight, the more scared she becomes. She wants to believe that Nick would never treat her the way David did. She’s known him for the majority of her life; you would think she’d know this without a doubt. But David has put so much hurt and fear into her that she doubts everything, including herself. What if she messes up tonight? Maybe her mother should take Jade after all…
“Mommy, that’s the drink that David always drinks…” Jade announced suddenly, spotting the beer bottles on the shelf across the way. She would know that alcoholic beverage anywhere. Not only were they always sitting around the home that she begrudgingly lived in for the past four years of her life, but David made her fetch it for him a lot too. “What are we doing in this aisle?” She asked, looking at her mommy with slight apprehension in her eyes.
“Alcohol is okay for grownups to drink if done in moderation honey…with family and friends during a get together, celebrations, and occasionally with dinner. Not everybody who drinks it becomes a monster.” Ava explained gently and she grabbed a bottle of Moscato off the shelf and put it in her cart. “Mommy likes a little bit of wine every now and then with dinner, that’s all” she added and she leaned over and kissed Jade on the forehead. When she saw that Jade was reassured and felt safe again she moved on, heading over to one of the lines to check out. When they had only one person in line ahead of them and room on the counter, she grabbed a divider and proceeded to put everything up on it when suddenly something caught her eye and she froze. Over at the bench next to the ice machine across the way, the same man from the toy store with long blonde hair – now worn down, sat reading a newspaper. He’s wearing different clothes, but she knows it’s him. Her entire body became stiff and suddenly she couldn’t breathe.
“Ava what is it?” Denise asked concerned when she noticed. When she didn’t answer her, she felt Q touch her shoulder.
“Sweetheart what’s wrong?”
“I want Nick and Alex…now.” Ava announced after a moment, working very hard not to have a panic attack - especially in front of Jade.
“You have to tell us what’s wrong” Stefan insisted seriously. Ava looked pointedly at Jade, making it perfectly clear that she will not be talking about anything in front of her daughter. Denise gently gathered her out of the cart and with Demyan at her side, she walked a little ways away but remained in seeing sight of Ava, knowing how important it is to her that she sees Jade at all times.
“That man…” Ava spoke when she was sure Jade was out of hearing point. “He was in the toy store earlier too. He has his hair down now and is wearing different clothes, but I swear to god it’s him.” Stefan and Q looked over at the bench discretely.
“I believe you…I remember him too. Just act normal,” Stefan instructed gently.
“We have to walk by him on the way out and everything. What if he tries to get Jade?” she asked, looking at Stefan tearfully. “I want Nick and Alex to come get us…please.” Stefan stepped closer to her and gently placed his hands to her shoulders and looked into her eyes seriously.
“You need to trust me Ava….neither of us are going to let anything happen to either one of you, I promise. Just act normal and pay for the groceries.” Ava, with her eyes clouded with tears nodded and turned her attention back on the groceries and continued putting them all on the counter. Denise returned at her side and began to help her and move things along a little more quickly. The whole time she felt Q’s hand on her back and it was helping her to keep her breathing under control. While Q was doing that, Demyan stood next to the cart holding Jade now and Stefan remained close by ready to grab Ava if anything should happen.
As soon as everything was up on the counter and by the time they were finally next in line, Ava had managed to stop her tears and did her best to act like nothing was wrong as the lady rung everything up and chatted with her. When everything was in bags and in the cart again, Ava gently took Jade from Demyan, desperately needing to hold her and she hugged her close to her protectively.
Denise grabbed the cart and Stefan gently positioned Ava between him and Demyan while Q walked behind her and they headed out to the car that way, all of them noticing the man trying not to look like he is watching them behind his newspaper. When they were outside they discovered Drake at the curb waiting in their car and while Stefan and Demyan worked on getting Ava and Jade safely in the car, Denise and Q hurriedly loaded the groceries before getting in themselves and Drake quickly got them out of there.
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