“I’m getting married, everybody!”

Aeva Daltrar held out her left hand to reveal a shining one-carat diamond ring. She wiggled her fingers so the light of the living room would reflect off of the diamonds all around the ring.

Her mother, Leslie, and her Aunt Colleen both let out girlish squeals, immediately rushing to her side. “It’s so beautiful, Aeva,” Aunt Colleen purred. “This is the perfect ring for you!”

“You’re getting married! My baby’s getting married—Joel, can you believe it?”

Joel Daltrar smiled from his seat on the couch opposite the women. “I’m very happy for you, Aeva. Very happy.” His smile faded once he saw the look on his oldest child’s face.

Joelle stood frozen in the doorway of the kitchen. Her grip on the cup in her hand seemed loose, and her eyes showed confusion and shock.

Aeva turned around, offering her hand to her sister for approval. “Jojo, what do you think? It’s gorgeous, right?”

She swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded. “I-It’s cute, Aeva. Really, it is.”

“Cute?” her sister echoed, her brown eyes wide. “My engagement ring is cute?”

Sensing an incoming argument, their father stood. “Before we get all caught up in the engagement excitement, Aeva, would you mind telling us who the young man is that wants to marry you?”

The youngest daughter grinned. “Oh, Daddy. You’re going to love him. His name is Michael Simms. He’s 23—just a year older than me—and he’s a culinary student.”

“Aww. He cooks?” Leslie cooed. “That’s perfect for you, sweetheart.”

“Right? Anyway, his dad founded Simms Soul Food in Shreveport, so they do pretty well for themselves.”

Aunt Colleen’s eyes narrowed as she racked her brain. “Simms Soul Food? I can’t say I’ve ever heard of it before. And you know I’m always in Lousiana. ”

Aeva nodded. “It’s a pretty small business, but they do well for themselves. Michael says his dad’s practically famous for his oxtail soup,” she said smugly. “Like I said, you guys are going to love him.”

The three women chatted excitedly amongst themselves, not even noticing that Joelle was still frozen in place. She was still in shock, staring at the ring that her mother and aunt were oohing and ahhing over.

Aeva…her little sister…engaged? To be married?

At only 22 years old, Aeva had gotten a marriage proposal. Who knew how long she’d been dating this Michael guy, anyway? It couldn’t have been long. Definitely not as long as the time she’d spent with Jaxson. Three years, and she hadn’t gotten anything close to a proposal. Instead, Joelle received the old ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line and a friendly pat on the back. Two weeks later, she’d gotten everything Jaxson had ever borrowed from her in the mail. Oddly enough, he hadn’t asked for his stuff back. At least not yet.

“Jo?” her father’s voice brought her back to reality. He was looking at her with concern, as though he could see the painful memories racing through her mind. Of course, he couldn’t. He didn’t know about the breakup…no one did. “Is everything alright, baby girl?”

She nodded, choking back the words that contradicted the fake smile on her face. “No, I’m fine, Daddy. I just have a lot going on right now. I’m really busy, and I have to go back to work–”

Aeva shot to her feet angrily. “What’s your problem, Joelle? Can’t you just be happy for me?”
“What? What are you talking about, Aeva?”

Her sister held out her left hand, forcing Joelle to stare at it. “You called my engagement ring ‘cute,’ Joelle. You’re acting as though you could care less about this. What’s your problem?”

Joelle sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I don’t have a problem, Aeva. I’m happy for you, really.”

“Are you? Did you hear anything I said about Michael?”

Joelle heard everything. “I heard. He’s rich—just your type right?”

Everyone looked at her with wide eyes. “Joelle Henriette Daltrar,” her mother said sharply. “How can you say something like that? What is wrong with you?”

“That came out wrong. I didn’t mean it like that, Aeva. Sorry.”

Aeva shook her head, glaring accusingly at her older sister. “No, you’re not sorry. You’re jealous.”

“Excuse me?” Joelle cocked her head to the side to make sure she’d heard correctly. “I’m what?”

“Jealous of my ring, of my fiance, of the fact that I got a proposal before you. I can practically see you turning green with envy right now.”

“Oh really, Aeva? I’m jealous of your dinky little engagement ring?!”

“Joelle!” her mother snapped. “Stop it! Why can’t you just be happy for her? It’s not her fault that she was able to get a ring before you.”

The entire room fell silent as though Leslie’s words had cast a spell on everyone. “Jo,” Joel started, reaching for his oldest daughter. Her mother had gone too far with her criticism.

Joelle moved away from him quickly. “You’re right, Mom. It’s not her fault that I’m not engaged. It’s not Jaxson’s fault, either, so it must be me who’s the problem.”

“Now you’re just putting words in my mouth. I never said it was your fault.”

“You didn’t have to say it,” Joelle shot back, grabbing her purse from the coffee table. “You never have to say it.” Her eyes were burning from the hot tears of embarrassment that threatened to spill, but Joelle willed them back. She would not give her mother the chance to see that her words truly hit home. “I have to go. I have a lot of stuff to do.”

Without as much as another word, Joelle fled from her parents’ home to her car, where she leaned against the steering wheel and cried.

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