Chapter 27

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Friday, October 17th

A small yellow parrot perches on a branch above my head and stares down at me expectantly. I'm sure that it spoke. But what did it say?
"What?" I whisper, pulling out a dagger.
"You have been chosen, Kutsu." It says in a deep voice.
I raise an eyebrow and my eyes widen. "What the..."-
"Lee-yuh!" Someone is sitting on my back, bouncing up and down.
"Jonah!" I groan, trying to roll over. He jumps up and lands on me again, hard. "Oof!"
He slides off the bed and tugs on the sleeve of my T-shirt. "Lee-yuh!"
"What?" I moan, sitting up, and then hanging my legs off the side of the bed. "What is it?"
I watch him run out of the room and slam the door hard behind him.
"Jonah?" I inquire, as I stand slowly, stretch carefully, and walk to the closed door. I sure hope that Mom didn't wake up when Jonah slammed that door. "Mom?" I open the door tentatively.
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LEAH!" I stare around me, mouth agape, trying to process this one little detail.
How many people are here? I look down at my rumpled PJs and back at the many faces filing up our hallway. Nope.
I pull head back through the doorway and slam the door, hyperventilating. 
"Leah?" I hear Joshua call through the door, "Can I come in?"
"No! There are people out there! I'm not dressed-" I tug on my tangled hair as I rummage through my dresser for a pair of jeans, "just a minute!"
He chuckles. "Okay."
I pull on some jeans and a hoodie, leaving the hood over my nest of hair, and crack the door. "Are you the only one out there? Am I going to be ambushed?"
He doesn't finish his sentence before Bailey jerks the door open and tries to strangle me with a hug.
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!" She screeches something unintelligible, and jumps up and down, still holding me so tight I can't hardly breathe, "You're seventeen, Leah!!!"
"I know!!!" I exclaim, hugging her back and excusing myself to hug Joshua. "Who is here?"
He grins. "Bailey's parents and siblings, my dad and sisters, your mom's parents, your aunts, uncles, and cousins, your dad's parents, and your aunts and cousins from that side too." he chuckles when he sees my look of absolute horror. Those people all saw my hair and PJs. Oh my fish. "Dr Frank." He adds slowly, his eyes searching mine.
Bailey puts her hand on my shoulder, "He just came to say happy birthday."
"Did Cora find out about-?"
"No. He's either a very good actor or he isn't actually involved with your mom."
"That's good to know." I breath a sigh a sigh of relief. Now that I'm not freaking out, I can hear all of the people, and just the noise is crazy. I can hear little cousins jabbering, a baby crying, and lots of adults catching up on the last year's events. I have a huge family, my mom had three brothers and two sisters, and my dad had five brothers, who don't ever come over because of the tension in our family. But their wives and our cousins do.
I walk down the hall and into the living room.
My Grandma Minnie comes up and pulls me into a hug. "Happy birthday, honey."
"Thanks, Grandma." I give her a kiss on the cheek.
She smiles wide, then turns from me to Josh, then back to me. "I've already met Joshua, here."
"Yeah?" I smile at her, and look at him. He looks happy.
"Yes. I like him, Leah-girl. He's a sweet boy." She pats his arm. "Nicer than that fart, Erik."
"Yes, he is nicer than Erik." I nod, suppressing any kind of reaction that would show fear. Josh's eyes met mine over the top of Grandma Minnie's salon-curled hair. "Are you okay?" he mouths. I nod slightly. 
A pair of strong arms grabs me from behind, and I squeal.
My uncles have always been this way. No respect for personal space at all.
"Ready for your birthday spanking?" Uncle Rick asks jokingly as he throws me over his shoulder.
"Put me down!" I gasp, laughing. "Please! Put me down!"
He sets me down, and I'm quickly surrounded by one of uncle Rueben's choking hugs.
"I-can't-breathe-" I squeak.
He releases me. "Happy birthday, Leah! How old are you again? Thirty-two, or thirty-three? I can't ever remember."
I glare at him playfully. "Seventeen, actually. I know my gray hairs speak otherwise, but it's true." I hold up a strand of my very obviously brown hair for emphasis, giving him wide, innocent eyes.
He ruffles my hair. "And still a smart-alec , as always."
"Is your family always like this?" Josh asks, obviously amused.
"No. Just on the weekends and workdays."
He leans forward. "Really?"
I shrug. "What? I'm the queen of sarcasm."
"My queen of sarcasm." He corrects.
"Hmm... Nope. That ruins the affect." I grin at him teasingly.
He leans even closer, his eyes sparkling with mischief. "You keep mouthing off like this, I'll start to wonder if you want your birthday kiss."
I give him a sincere smile. "Actually, I'd like nothing better."
So just like that, with everyone around, not necessarily paying attention, but still around, he kisses me. And I know at that moment that I'll never give him up.

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