Love Incorporated
By Elena Lane
Date: July 16, 2021
Ch. 22

Mark lightly slapped his husband’s arm, “Let’s not judge the son based on his parents; that’s not the kind of values we want out daughter to learn.” Mark was the moral compass of the family. While Kevin could lose himself in the heat of the moment, Mark was always calm, rational.

Tabitha cleared her throat to break through her parents’ chatter, “I’m nineteen. Whatever values I have now, I don’t think that they’re going to change. Besides, Braxton Decker is just like his parents. He was in a lot of my classes in high school. So, I know exactly how he is. Trust me, he’s a Decker through and through.”

“Wait,” Kevin said surprised, “He went to school with you? You never mentioned that. I thought that the Decker’s sent their kids to St. Margaret’s. If you would have told us about this, Tabitha, we would have made sure you never had to be in the same classes as that miscreant.” Kevin had no tolerance for the Decker family, none at all.

“He went to St. Margaret’s, I think, but he was expelled in tenth grade. So, he ended up at my school. It wasn’t that big of a deal.” Braxton and Tabitha had shared some classes, but they didn’t run in the same circles. So, they had very little direct contact, which surely was a blessing.

“That is a big deal. Headmaster Samson ensured me that his school did not permit bigotry or hate. Allowing a Decker into the school just encourages those things and that’s not something I wanted my daughter exposed to,” Kevin said with fire in his voice.

“Kevin, calm down,” Mark said softly. “It’s not like Braxton infected Tabitha with his family’s homophobic values. Obviously, there were no major issues. So, it’s silly to harbor on the past.”

Kevin bit his lip. He obviously had more to say on the manner, but he was staying silent to avoid getting into a petty argument with his husband, over the Decker’s nonetheless.

“Tabitha,” Mark continued, turning to his daughter, “I’m not saying to make prejudgments about the boy, but also keep in mind that parents often pass down their own values to their children. So, be weary of this fact and be sure that Braxton is nothing like his parents before spending time with this boy.”

“Don’t worry,” Tabitha scoffed, “I never plan on talking to him again, anyway.” At the time, she had meant every single world, but of course, fate had other plans. Tabitha would learn that she could run, she could hide, but unfortunately, she couldn’t avoid Braxton Decker.

Tabitha dressed up for that evening’s ball with a smile on her face. The Collins & Collins ball was one of her favorite events of the year. As she pulled up the lacey, pink dress, Tabitha felt like a princess. No matter how many of these dresses she had worn over the years, she still loved the feeling of whirling around in a lovely gown. She slipped her feet into a pair of delicate heels, feeling more than ever like Cinderella. She put in her diamond encrusted heart earrings that her dads had given her and slipped the matching bracelet delicately on her wrist. To complete the outfit, she made up her face with a layer of light makeup and put her hair into a braided up do. Tabitha looked at herself in the mirror and felt sure that the evening was going to be absolutely perfect.

Tabitha walked into the ballroom side by side with her dads. As they walked, every few inches, they would stop, greeting guests and making small talk. It was the part of the night that Tabitha dreaded most, but it surely was a necessary evil. She glanced around the room, seeing warm faces. Though it was tedious to have to make small talk with everyone, the familiarity of the people and the tradition of the ball gave Tabitha a fuzzy feeling in her stomach. In her pink dress, she felt so happy. That is until she saw Braxton Decker. Tabitha groaned to herself. How did he always manage to show up and ruin Tabitha’s day? He was persistent; Tabitha had to give Braxton that.

“What is he doing here?” Tabitha asked Mark. There was no way that any member of the Decker family would have been invited to the Collins and Collins ball.

Mark looked surprised. He always made sure his events were always perfectly ordered and nothing was left to chance; he was much like Tabitha in that way. They both liked to know exactly what was going to happen and for the most part, weren’t fans of surprises. This was a surprise that even seemed to bother Kevin, who normally preferred spontaneity to agendas.

“I don’t know, sweetheart,” Mark mused, “We certainly didn’t invite him. He must be somebody’s plus one.”

Kevin scoffed, “I think everybody knows by now that our families aren’t in the best of terms. I don’t know who would be foolish enough to bring that boy along.”

Then, Tabitha noticed something, rather someone, Kenzie Holland. Kenzie was a distant cousin of Tabitha’s whose father had a small, but not insignificant share of the company. Kenzie was notoriously ditzy; so, it wouldn’t be hard for Tabitha to believe that she would be stupid enough to bring a Decker as her date. Well, there was that and the fact that Kenzie was practically hanging all over Braxton, showing off her long legs and twirling her hair.

Tabitha and her fathers shared a look, all seeing the flirtatious girl in action. They all gave a small sigh and said in harmony, “Kenzie.”

Tabitha sighed again, “Is there any way we can get rid of him?” she asked.

Both Mark and Kevin looked unsure, but eventually Kevin spoke, “As much as I want to get rid of him, I think that doing so would disturb the whole event and bring unnecessary conflict.”

Mark agreed, “This is an important night for the company and stirring up drama with a nineteen-year-old just isn’t worth it. So, we’re just going to grit our teeth and deal with it and hope he doesn’t cause any trouble.”

Tabitha gave a small groan, “Fine, just as long as I don’t have to talk to him.”

Kevin gave her a smile, “That’s our girl.”

Then, she saw her dad’s give her a little look between each other, but she couldn’t quite understand what the look meant. Usually, they were fairly easy to read, but they were being especially cryptic.

“What is it?” Tabitha asked.

“Well,” Mark began, “We don’t want to force you into anything, but Jared Blakely is a fine young man and with his dad being the company’s CFO, we just thought that you two would, you know, hit it off.”

“So, you’re setting me up with Jared Blakely? I haven’t even talked to him in forever.”

“Which I find to be ridiculous. You both are always at these functions so you might as well make the most of it together.”

“I don’t know. Isn’t he like my cousin or something,” Tabitha joked. After all, Collins & Collins was primarily run by their actual family.

“No, Tabitha. Not everyone who works in the company is related to us. The Blakely’s just happen to be old family friends and are of no blood relation,” Mark said firmly.

Kevin added with a grin, “At least give it a shot for us. He’s not a bad looking kid. In fact, he pretty hot.”

“Ew,” Tabitha said scrunching her face, “Don’t say things like that, Dad. It’s weird. He’s a nineteen-year-old boy.”

“And,” Mark added, playfully giving Kevin a kiss, “You’re taken.”

Tabitha rolled her eyes. Her parents acted like such romantics sometimes, even though they had been together for over twenty years. “I’ll talk to him, I guess,” Tabitha conceded, “But don’t expect me to just fall in love with the boy. Love isn’t that simple.”

“Be on your way then. Have fun with people who aren’t old and gray like us,” Kevin said, chuckling deeply.

“Behave yourself and be safe,” Mark added sternly.

Tabitha rolled her eyes again. Technically, she was an adult, but her parents still insisted on giving her their input. “I always am,” she told them with a small smile before going off to talk to her friends.

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