Takes place after the series
Meghan Brooks was rarely flustered. Braeden had known her for a long time and seen her in stressful situations on more than one occasion, and she’d always seemed unflappable. The only time he’d really seen her as freaked out as she was now was when she found out she’d gotten married during a bachelorette trip to Vegas.
He watched his friend nearly jog from one side of the banquet room at Arrow to the other, then back again a few times before he truly knew he needed to take action. The tables, including the decorations, centerpieces, and cutlery, were already set up. Decorations covered nearly every wall, bar top, and even the stage, transforming the room from boring to charity fundraiser perfect. He’d done everything she’d asked him to do. Now, it was time he did one of the things he did best. Take care of his friends.
She shook her head as she sped by him. “I don’t have time, Braeden.”
He watched her talk to Nora, her hands waving wildly around her while the event planner took notes on her tablet. She looked stressed and tired, and he knew what those two things could do to her. As much as he wanted to support her, he also didn’t want to watch one of his closest friends wear herself into the ground for a fundraiser, no matter how near and dear the charity was.
His voice echoed through the empty room, startling his friend. Nora, the poor innocent bystander, jumped, fumbling her tablet.
“Nice save, Nora.”
“Damn it, Braeden. What the hell is wrong with you?”
A question he’d been asked more than once in his life. Hell, he’d probably been asked that very question by his wife that morning. How was it his fault the women in his life needed him to act out to get their attention? They were the ones who only listened to him when he was annoying the hell out of them. If they’d listened sooner, then he wouldn’t have to yell their names at the top of his lungs and scare them.
“The better question is, what’s wrong with you? You’re obviously upset. And you’re wearing yourself down. We both know that’s not good for you. There’s a reason you have Nora and me here today. We are at your disposal.”
Meghan’s face fell. The glare she’d been leveling at him only seconds ago was replaced by the look of a woman near the end of her rope. The exhaustion he’d only seen hints of before weighed down on her shoulders.
“Meghan,” he mocked. “You know I could just stand here and say your name back to you over and over. But how about we get the point of the conversation? You tell me what you need. I’ll tell you I can get it for you. And then you go home and rest up for your big night tonight.”
“I don’t have time for that, Braeden.”
He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Say what?”
“I don’t have time to rest, and you can’t get me what I need. So just go home, leave me be, and I’ll see you tonight. Thank you for all the help you gave us getting this place set up. You did a great job.”
Braeden preened at the praise for his work for half a second before he realized what his friend was trying to do. She knew him well. She knew exactly how to distract him and get him to shift his focus from her to himself.
“Nope. Not gonna fall for it. I’m on to you.”
“What are you talking about now?” Meghan asked, her voice carrying a tint of annoyance mixed with anger but completely weighed down by how tired she was.
“You can’t distract me with praise, Meghan. I know you need my help, and we both know there’s nothing I can’t do. So lay it on me, hot stuff. Tell me what your best buddy Braeden can do for you.”
“You’re infuriating,” Meghan grumbled.
“Well, duh. But you love me anyway.”
Nora snickered next to them. “He might be able to help, Meghan. And I don’t want to talk out of turn here, but he’s right. You need to get some rest. You look like you’re about to drop.”
Braeden would have hugged Nora if he didn’t think she’d punch him in the throat. Having someone else validate his observation proved he wasn’t crazy. At least not this time. Meghan might be able to convince him he was seeing things, but he couldn’t convince both of them that they were having the same delusion.
Braeden chuckled, not caring that if looks could kill, he’d be a dead man. No matter how hard she fought, Meghan knew she would lose. Now it was time to pull out the big guns.
“Tell me what you need and go home on your own, or I’ll call Oliver.”
Meghan gasped. “You wouldn’t.”
“Are you sure about that, bestie? I love you too much to let you wear yourself down. And we both know that if your husband gets even a hint of what you’re feeling right now, he’ll lock you up and throw away the key.”
After everything that Oliver and Meghan had been through, Braeden couldn’t blame his childhood friend for overreacting regarding his wife’s health. If Andi had fought through something as hellish as Meghan, Braeden would be just as obnoxious. As it was, he did what he could to protect his two best friends, even if that meant being a bit of a bully when the woman glaring at him didn’t look out for herself.
“Fine. Just know I really don’t like you very much right now, and that feeling probably won’t go away anytime soon.”
“That’s what you think, but we both know my charm will wear you down sooner than you think. Plus, we’ve got an appointment for pedicures next weekend, so you’ll have to be done being mad at me by then anyway. Now, be a good girl and tell me what disaster I need to tackle.”
A heavy sigh left Meghan’s body as she picked up a clipboard from the table behind her. “One of the guys for the auction canceled on me this morning, and I haven’t been able to find a replacement.”
“Easy. I can do it.”
Meghan rolled her eyes. “Not so easy there, my very married friend. This is a bachelor and bachelorette auction. Single people only.”
“Isn’t that a little old-fashioned and weird? Are you expecting these people to hook up with whoever buys them?”
“Then why does it matter if they’re ‘single’? And yes, I put that word in air quotes because I know for a fact one of your bachelors has a girlfriend.”
A squeak from the woman standing next to him had Braeden glancing over at the event planner, his eyebrow raised. It took him a second to realize what he’d done. Before he could apologize, Meghan dove back into trying to talk him out of the best plan ever.
“Braeden, do you honestly think Andi would be okay with you going on a date with someone else?”
“Of course, she would, especially if it’s for charity. Plus, you said so yourself, it’s not a real date. It’s just a woman paying to spend time with me. Maybe, I could even play the role I was basically put on this earth to play.”
“Nope. Not going to happen. Never, never, never. Don’t even think about it.”
“Am I missing something here?” Nora asked though Braeden could tell she wasn’t sure if she should or not.
He looked over at her and smiled, but before he could say anything, Meghan beat him to it.
“People have told him far too many times that he looks like Chris Evans, so now he thinks he could be an impersonator or something. Maybe even dress up like Captain America and take pictures with kids.”
Meghan shook her head. “Don’t get him started, Nora. Please. He might look similar to the man, but not enough to pretend to be him.”
“Hey, I wouldn’t pretend to be him. I mean, look at all the Elvis impersonators in Vegas. Half of those guys look nothing like the King, but they make people happy by pretending to be him. I could do that. I could make people happy, Meghan. Why don’t you want people to be happy?”
A ding from Nora’s tablet interrupted whatever nonsense Meghan was going to say, which was fine by Braeden. He didn’t want to hear her naysaying. Sometimes she could be a real stick in the mud, especially when she was tired. Just one more reason she needed to head home and get some rest. She was no fun when she was run down.
“Well, it looks like the crisis has been averted,” Nora said, causing both Braeden and Meghan to turn in her direction. “Jason’s teammate has agreed to be part of the auction.”
“Oooh, so we’re getting not just one famous athlete, we’re getting two? This is going to be amazing. Thank you, Nora. You’re a godsend. Truly.”
“Hey, what about me? I was more than willing to do whatever it took to help out,” Braeden reminded her.
“You’re a giant pain in my ass, but I do love you. Thanks for your help today. Now go away.”
“Not until you’re ready to leave. I’m going to walk you to your car, and then I’m going to call your husband and tell him you’re on your way home.”
Meghan muttered a few words under her breath. Braeden didn’t need to hear them to know what they were. She was irritated with him for bringing Oliver into the mix, but she still loved him and always would.
Once she reluctantly agreed to his terms, he waited while she wrapped a few things up with Nora and then followed up on his promise. As soon as she was driving away, he called Oliver to let him know Meghan was on her way home and that he should make sure she got enough rest before she had to head back to Arrow. Then it was his turn to head home so he could spend time with his wife and daughters before he and Andi dropped the girls off with their pseudo-grandparents, Michael and Rebecca St. James.
While he was excited about the night out with his wife, it was the next part of his day that Braeden was the most excited about. Family was the most important thing in his life. Both the family he made for himself and the one he chose. For years, he’d been alone, but now he was surrounded by people who loved him…even when he annoyed the crap out of them.