Getting to Me

Chapter Nineteen

The days seemed to go by even faster for Mandy and Zacky after they had confessed their feelings to one another. Brian Sr. and Suzy weren’t surprised when Mandy told them what Zacky had said to her, and they told him that he was welcome to stay in Mandy’s bedroom with her at night so long as they didn’t disturb McKenna’s sleep. Both of them knew what that meant, and they had both blushed as they agreed. Though they had told each other that they loved one another, neither of them thought that they were ready to take their relationship to that next level just yet.

It was now three days before Christmas, and Brian was due back to the ranch with Michelle any time now. Suzy was in the kitchen, getting some dinner ready for one another, while Brian Sr. sat in the recliner reading the day’s newspaper. McKenna was playing with her puppy, which she had decided to name Kit Kat, on the floor in front of the TV. Mandy had finished feeding and bedding the horses down for the night, but she was planning on checking on her horse again. She was showing the telltale signs of getting ready to have her foal, and Mandy wanted to be there for her when it happened. Zacky often went to the barn with her, having never seen a horse give birth before. She appreciated his company.

“Brian’s here!” McKenna’s loud voice rang out suddenly, jumping off of the floor and running towards the entryway. Brian had just walked inside of the house, Michelle following right behind him. She had definitely started showing her pregnancy more, and there was no denying that she was carrying a child, even with all of the heavy winter clothes that she was wearing.

Mandy smiled as she moved to stand in the entryway. She wasn’t sure whether or not Brian knew that she and Zacky were together just yet, but she didn’t let go of her boyfriend’s hand anyway. He would have to just deal with the fact that his best friend was dating his sister, regardless of whether or not he wanted to.

Brian grinned when he saw his sister and his friend, but then frowned when he saw that she was holding Zacky’s hand. “What’s going on?” He asked her, giving McKenna a quick hug before the ten-year-old ran off, leaving the three of them to discuss what had happened since Brian had gone back to Fargo. Michelle had already walked inside to the living room, knowing that Brian, Mandy, and Zacky would need some time to discuss things.

“Zacky is my boyfriend,” Mandy said with a frown, squeezing tighter on Zacky’s fingers as she met her older brother’s slightly disturbed frown. “He asked me a couple of weeks ago. And I’m not breaking up with him.”

Brian studied the two of them for another few minutes before nodding, moving to cross his arms over his chest as he looked down at Zacky. “You remember what I told you back in Fargo, man?” He asked his friend, looking Zacky directly in his eyes. Zacky nodded. When Brian saw this, he let a small smile form on his face, and then turned his attention to Mandy. “Well, I’ve been standing here for five minutes already. And you haven’t given me a hug yet. What’s wrong with that picture?”

Mandy grinned, happy that her older brother at least somewhat accepted her relationship with Brian, or he wouldn’t have been making a joke like that. She let go of Zacky’s fingers so that she could cross the few feet of space separating her and Brian, and wrapped her arms around his stomach as she hugged him.

“I missed you,” she told him, her words muffled by his thick black parka while he hugged her just as tightly. “How long are you home for?”

“We’re gonna head back to Fargo the day after New Years’ Day,” he told her, holding her shoulders as he met her eyes. “’Chelle needs to be close to her hospital, since she’s getting closer to her due date. Two more months,” he said with a nervous smile. Mandy grinned at her older brother and nodded.

“She’ll be fine, Bri,” she told him, a reassuring look on her face as the three of them walked in to the main part of the house. “You’ll be an amazing Dad, I just know it.”

Brian grinned at his younger sister’s words, and hugged her as they sat down on the couch. They continued making small chit chat about Michelle and the baby, talking about everything from baby names to the types of clothes Brian wanted him or her to wear. He and Michelle had decided against finding out if they were having a little girl or a baby boy, because they wanted to be surprised. Mandy thought it was cute, and she was just as excited to be an aunt as Brian and his girlfriend were to be parents.

“I hear Brent’s staying at his friend’s place?” Brian frowned after awhile, taking a sip out of the mug of hot cocoa that his mother had brought in from the kitchen for him. Mandy sighed before nodding.

“Yeah, I’m not quite sure what went on with that,” she told her eldest brother, shaking her head. “I don’t think he’s called Mom and Dad since he left, either. Robby’s parents called to let Mom know that Brent’s doing alright, though.”

“I think I’m gonna go over there tomorrow,” Brian muttered, looking at the floor with that frown on his face that Mandy knew all too well. If there was one thing that Brian was adamant about, it was that family should be with family at the holidays, not friends. It didn’t matter how angry or upset they were with one another, they all had to be together for Christmas if it was possible. He didn’t think it was right that Brent was being stubborn about whatever it was he’d gotten into a fight with their parents over, and Brian was going to make damn sure that his younger brother was here for dinner on Christmas Eve and to open gifts on Christmas morning, just like he always had been every other year.

“Don’t let Mom hear you saying that,” Mandy told her brother, giving him a small smile. She shared his view on things, and if she didn’t already know that Brent wouldn’t listen to her, she’d have gone over to Robby’s house to talk to her younger brother herself. She knew Brian could get through to the stubborn boy, though. He always managed to keep all of his younger siblings in line, and out of all of them Brent respected Brian the most. That didn’t mean his mother was going to tolerate Brian interfering, though. “She wants to give him his space,” she explained to the older man, a frown on her own face.

“He’s been out of the house for three or more weeks. That’s enough damn space,” Brian told her. “He missed Thanksgiving, and that’s bad enough. But I’m not gonna let him ruin Christmas for Mom, too. You know how much she loves having all of us here for those two days.”

“I know,” Mandy told her older brother, a small smile on her face as she leaned her head on Zacky’s shoulder, squeezing his hand with her fingers once again. Suzy walked into the living room a few minutes later, completely oblivious to the conversation that had just taken place, and she smiled around at all of them.

“Dinner’s ready, kids,” she said as she looked over at the table. “Michelle, I’ve got a chair with some pillows tied to the back for you, if that would be more comfortable,” she smiled at Brian’s girlfriend, a bright grin on her face as she saw Michelle’s prominent belly. The baby was definitely making itself known, and she couldn’t wait to be a grandma.

“Thank you,” Michelle said with a small smile, nodding as Brian led her over to the table, sitting her down across from his own chair. Zacky and Mandy sat next to each other as well, and McKenna sat at the end of the table near where her mother would sit. A few moments later, Brian Sr. walked in, and Suzy looked with a smile at her eldest son.

“Brian, would you do the honors of saying grace tonight?” She asked him, a small smile on her face. He nodded, holding in the sigh. None of the kids liked saying grace, considering none of them went to church with their parents any longer, but it made Brian Sr. and Suzy happy, and so they all did it regardless of how they felt.

“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed, amen,” he said as everyone connected hands. Mandy’s cheeks flushed as Zacky’s thumb rubbed circles into her palm while Brian spoke, and even after he’d finished saying the dinner prayer, he didn’t let go of her hand for several long seconds, until he had to pass a dish of vegetables down towards the other end of the table.

Dinner went by without incident, and conversation between the seven of them was pleasant. Mandy and Michelle got to know each other a little better, and if the eldest Haner sister hadn’t already thought that the woman was a good match for her oldest brother, she definitely thought so now. She learned that her brother’s girlfriend had a twin sister, and that she was dating Matt. Mandy remembered him from their earlier trip to Fargo, and she couldn’t help but think that if Michelle was this nice, that her sister must be just as nice.

Brian had enrolled in college once again, even if he didn’t want to. He told them that he realized that he needed at least some education if he was going to be able to provide for his family. He was getting a degree in music, and he already had a job lined up for a local high school in Fargo for when he graduated in about a year because of a friend of his. He was also working fulltime as a bartender at a bar during the nights that he didn’t have class, and he also worked occasionally on the weekends in a restaurant. He was doing the best he could to make sure that he, Michelle, and their baby would have a comfortable life, and Mandy respected her older brother a lot more than she already had been because of it.

Once the table had been cleared and the dishes had been washed, Brian asked Mandy if she wanted to go check on the horses with him. She knew that he was really saying that he wanted to talk in private with her, and she agreed. She had known all day that he’d want to have at least some kind of a conversation with her, and that it would most likely be about her relationship with Zacky. She was just hoping that he didn’t get angry about it, and that he didn’t tell her to break it off. Because if it came to that, they were going to be angry with each other over the Christmas holiday. She wasn’t going to break her relationship up with Zacky just because Brian might not be comfortable with it, and she wanted her older brother to realize that she was old enough to make her own mind up about dating.

He waited until they’d gotten to the barn until he turned to smile at her, his eyes shining as he pushed the old metal door open to the side, stepping aside so that she could get in before he pulled the door closed so the barn would stay warm for the horses.

“So, you and Zacky, huh?” He asked her, his voice quiet. Mandy noticed that he didn’t sound angry, and she took that as a hopeful sign that maybe he wasn’t going to yell at her about it after all.

“Yeah,” she nodded, her heart filling with love and adoration for the green-eyed, black-haired man that was sitting in the house, probably waiting for her to come back and tell him what Brian had wanted to talk about, worried that it was about him.

“I had a feeling it was gonna happen, without me here,” he muttered under his breath, kicking some straw before looking at his younger sister. “That day that you and him left me and ‘Chelle in Fargo, I had a talk with him. I told him not to hurt you. Judging by the way that you’re looking at him, he hasn’t.”

Mandy chuckled at her older brother’s protectiveness and shook her head, looking up at her older brother with a soft smile. She understood how protective of her that he was, and she loved him for it. But what he’d just said proved that he was learning to let her go, and to let her live her life. She hadn’t realized that her older brother was getting so mature about things, and she wanted to know when it had happened.

“Zacky hasn’t hurt me, Brian,” Mandy told her older brother. As she thought about what he’d told her earlier in day, before Brian had gotten home from his trip back from Fargo, a blush formed on her cheeks and she bit her bottom lip. “He told me he loved me,” she admitted to her older brother as she looked up at his chocolate-brown eyes, identical in shape and shade to her own.

“Do you believe him?” Brian asked her, crossing his arms over his chest as they made their way towards Sheba’s stall. He wasn’t asking in a rude, or doubtful way. He was honestly curious as to whether or not his younger sister believed his friend loved her. He knew that Zacky saying something like that was a big step for the green-eyed man, and that if he’d said it, he meant it.

“Yes,” Mandy nodded as she stopped outside of the bay animal’s stall, opening the door and stepping inside to look at the horse. She was standing patiently against the wall, her dark brown eyes blinking as she looked over at Mandy, whineying happily when she saw her human moving closer to her.

“She looks like she’s gonna pop any time now,” Brian told his younger sister, temporarily forgetting about Zacky for a moment as he smoothed his hand over the horse’s rounded stomach.

“I have a feeling she’s gonna wait ‘til Christmas,” Mandy said in a soothing voice, looking at her horse and smiling as she hugged the animal. She truly loved the animal, and she was both nervous and excited at the same time for the foal’s birth.

Brian chuckled, and then pulled Mandy in for a hug, rubbing her head with his fist lovingly and then leading her back out of the barn. “Let’s get back up to the house. It’s freezing out here, and I think Sheb’s gonna be alright for now,” he smiled at Mandy.

As they walked back towards the warm house, Mandy couldn’t help but feel glad that Brian was really okay with her dating Zacky, and that he wasn’t going to make it difficult for them at Christmastime. Things were going well, and she could only hope that her life continued being good for now. She knew that things wouldn’t be perfect, but that was fine with her. As long as she and Zacky were okay, and Brian was alright with that, she could handle whatever else was thrown her way.