chapter 11 - i'm in

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"Dad, did you hear about the restaurant on the moon?" I push a pea around on my plate with a fork, next to the golden-brown crust of the steak and ale pie. It's a recipe my mom forced out of Nan (Dad's side) over a glitchy video call because she was suddenly craving it. The last time we had this pie was during Christmas vacation last year, sitting at Nan's worn table, the yeasty smell of her kitchen blending with the salty tang of the sea air coming through the window.

Nan and Grandad used to live in the States from when my dad was five years old to when he met Mom and graduated college. He even lost his English accent after living here for so long. But then, right after he finished law school, they decided to head back across the pond to get settled for retirement.

My parents went to the same high school, and despite walking the same halls for years, their paths never crossed. Then, at their five-year reunion, sparks ignited. Maybe it was nostalgia, or maybe my dad put on the charm, but things moved fast. Mom found herself pregnant, and before her baby bump grew any bigger, they tied the knot. At the age of thirty-eight, we welcomed Jasmine into the world.

Dad, halfway through a mouthful of mashed potatoes, pauses. "No, Elle. Tell me."

"Great food," I deadpanned, "but no atmosphere."

A groan escapes my mother, but a smile eventually tugs at her lips. Jasmine erupts in giggles, but not from my joke; she's busy smashing her peas in between her chubby little fingers.

I press on desperately, delaying the inevitable. "What do you call a fish with no eyes?"

"Fsh!" Jasmine lets out a delighted shriek.

I lean towards Jasmine and smile since I've told her that joke before. "Close. Fsh." I repeat, drawing out the word in the correct tone.

"Is something going on, Elle? You've been throwing out terrible puns like confetti." Mom seems to take notice of my odd behavior. I turn my attention to Mom and meet her gaze.

"Okay, about Mr. Daniels' proposition..." I blurt out with a rush of breath. "I'm thinking about doing it."

"Honey," Mom begins gently. "We talked about this. You didn't seem comfortable with the idea."

I take a deep breath and fiddle with the frayed hem of my favorite t-shirt. "I wasn't, but things have changed."

That's not entirely true.

I'm not going to tell them that the truth is that Ace's arrogant attitude fueled a fire in me and that this might be the way to knock him off his pedestal. But revenge isn't a good enough reason to potentially wreck my life, my family's, or the Daniels'. Also, it definitely won't win me any "Good Daughter" awards.

"What suddenly changed?" Dad chimes in with a suspicious glint in his eyes.

Time to spin the narrative. "You know how Jade and I've become good friends? Well, spending time with her has also meant getting to know Ace a little better." I say as I try to sound casual, "And seeing their family on the brink of disaster because of these tabloid rumors... just doesn't sit well with me if there is something I can do to help."

"Elle, you're an eighteen-year-old high school student. This isn't some movie where you swoop in and save the day." There's a flicker of disappointment in his voice, but also a hint of understanding. "Ultimately, the decision is yours. This isn't some legal case where I make the final call. But remember, if you choose this path, you have to be prepared for the scrutiny and potential backlash that comes with being in the public eye."

I knew he would hate the idea, considering it's a reflection of his own experiences with media scrutiny after losing a high-profile case. But the reason I look up to my dad is that he isn't one to back down from a fight, especially when he believes in something or someone. Even if the odds were stacked against him, he would see it through.

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