Excerpt time! I keep getting reviews from readers saying they loved Lexie's family dynamic. Here's just a taste of the mayhem she puts up with during family dinners....
“Mom, the soup is great as always.” Corbin wiped his mouth with a napkin. “When are you going to share your recipe with me so I can make it for Andrea at home?”
My mother shifted in her seat, and she patted her blonde helmet proudly. Flattery got people everywhere with my mom. “It’s a secret.”
“I realize that.” Corbin took another bite and closed his eyes. “But I’m thirty-five now. Don’t you think I’m old enough to be trusted with the sacred family recipes?”
Andrea nodded. “Like the pumpkin cheesecake recipe.”
I pointed my fork at my mother. “And the potato salad.”
Darren stopped shoveling food into his mouth, and looked up from his bowl. “And the finger jello.”
Corbin stared at him. “Of all of Mom’s recipes, you want the one for finger jello?”
“Finger jello is awesome.” Darren wiggled his eyebrows. “Jello shots, dude.”
Rolling my eyes, I went back to my soup. “You’re a child.”
“No, I’m not.” He shoved another bite in. “A child cannot legally drink. I, on the other hand, can.” Darren focused his attention on me. “Why are you acting so old, anyway, Lex? It’s not like you’ve got all these responsibilities to keep you home. You should come out with me and Pandi sometime. Do a few shots yourself and loosen up.”
“I don’t need to loosen up.” I put my spoon down slowly. My stomach had turned into merry-go-round. Good Lord, was I ever going to be able to eat a meal without wanting to yak again?
“Yes, you do.” Darren laughed. “You’re wound tight. Seriously, come out with me this weekend. My friend, Spoons, thinks you’re cute.”
“Spoons?” Andrea chuckled. “Do I even want to know where someone gets the nickname of Spoons?”
Corbin choked on his soup. “I say go for it, Lex. Go out with Spoons, and let Pandi and Darren show you a good time.”
“Do you have any friends with normal names?” I asked my little brother, who’d pulled his phone out again, and was texting under the table.
“Yes,” he said. “Barry. Joe. Axel. Rosco.”
Corbin, Andrea, and I all dissolved into giggles, and my mom just shook her head. “Your friends have terrible names,” she sighed. “Lexie, did you know that Andrea and Corbin bought a new house to flip on the South Hill?”
The South Hill was one of Spokane’s most coveted neighborhoods. With its hills, mature pine and maple trees lining the center of the roads in between the lanes, and turn of the century homes, I’d been dreaming about living there for years. “Really?” I asked, pushing my bowl back. “No kidding, guys? Where at?”
Corbin squeezed his wife’s hand. “It’s on Elm, and it is completely made of brick, with paned windows and a tiny courtyard out front.”
“It’s gorgeous. Apparently the owner died five years ago, and it’s been empty ever since. His children finally decided to sell, since it’s gone into such disrepair.” Andrea grinned.
She and Corbin’s reputation in the world of real estate around these parts was impressive, to say the least. The local realtors loved telling their buyers that they were selling a “Baump Home.” The name was synonymous with exceptional quality and high-end finishings. No corners cut by Corbin and Andrea. They took pride in their work, and it showed.
“We’re going to bring it back to life.” Corbin nodded affirmatively. “The plan is to have it done in three or four months. Why don’t you buy it, Lex? That should be enough time for you to put in notice at your apartment and arrange for financing.”
“It’s the perfect house for you.” Andrea helped herself to more soup. “It’s a buyers’ market right now, you know.”
My mother laughed breezily. “What? You want Alexandria to buy a house? On her own? Alone?”
Darren looked up from his phone. “That means the same thing, Ma.”
“Hush.” She scolded him. “Now, Lexie, you’re not seriously considering this, are you?”
I gaped at her. “I just found out about it. I’m not seriously considering anything right now. Don’t you think it’s a good idea?” An image of the little flashing heart I’d seen on my ultrasound earlier, and my chest expanded. “I’m thirty. It’s probably time I put down some roots somewhere.”
My mother waved my words away like a fly. “Oh, shush. You’re not even married.”
My cheeks heated. “Last time I checked, they give home loans to single women, too.”
“I know, but you wouldn’t want to be a homeowner without a man around.” She gestured all around her. “It’s a horrible headache to have something need repair with no husband around to fix it.”
“Oh, come on. You just call Pastor Irm to fix it,” Darren said, not bothering to look up.
“I do not.” Embarrassment pinked my mother’s round cheeks.
My mother tried very unsuccessfully to hide that she was in love with the pastor, and had been for a long time. Yet she was on every committee the church offered that required her to work directly with the pastor, and ate dinner with him at least twice a week.
My brothers and I referred to it as evidence. She referred to it as stewardship. We all silently agreed not to discuss it.
“Well, we could help Lexie if something went wrong,” Corbin said.
“That’s right.” Andrea smiled at me across the table. “What’s the point in having two carpenters in the family if you don’t use them?”
“But you didn’t get your first house until you’d married my Corbin.” My mother blinked a few times. “Would you really have wanted to do it alone?”
Andrea shrugged. “If that’s the way my life had turned out, then yes.”
My mom snorted. “It’s ludicrous. Come on, Lexie. Find yourself a good man. Someone much more mature than that Nate, and settle down. You’ll get a house and a gaggle of kids to care for.”
I ignored the way she’d said my ex husband’s name like it was dripping in acid and burning her tongue, and smiled patiently at her. “Did you just use the term ‘gaggle’?”
“Yes, I did.” She took another bite. “Now, let’s talk about you. What have you been up to lately, dear?”
All eyes rolled over to me, and I felt the sonogram pictures in my jeans pocket start to burn a hole. I was on the verge of dropping a double whammy on my family, and it was contributing to my nausea. My mother’s reaction, which I was predicting would be exceptionally theatrical, would be nothing compared to the disappointment on Corbin’s and Andrea’s faces.
“Well, like I said when I got here.” I swallowed, and avoided my mother’s probing eyes. “I went to the doctor today.”
“What for?” my mother demanded.
“That’s all you have to tell us?” Darren rolled his eyes. “Seriously. Get out more.”
“Can it,” I hissed. “So anyway, there’s something I need to tell you all.”
Corbin leaned forward, resting his elbows on the tabletop. “Are you okay?”
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in Jerusalem, she’s got cancer!” My mother pressed a hand to her ample bosom and choked on immediate tears. “I knew it. I knew it. When your dad had the aneurysm, I knew that it would strike one of you kids next. I just knew it.”
“She didn’t have an aneurysm,” Darren pointed out. “She’s sitting right here.”
“Then it’s cancer!” Mom bellowed.
Andrea jumped out of her chair and went to put her arm around my mom’s shoulders. “Shhh, Patsy. Relax. Lexie hasn’t even told us what she went to the doctor for.”
“Or what kind of a doctor she went to see.” Darren scoffed, grabbing another roll. “She could have gone to a woman doctor or something.”
My mother yowled. “Ovarian cancer!”
My head flopped into my hands and I grit my teeth. “Seriously, Mom. I don’t have cancer, all right? Can you take a breath and let me finish my damn announcement?”
Her tears immediately stopped. “There’s no need for language.”
“Just… everybody relax, all right?” Corbin touched my arm, offering a one-shouldered shrug, as if to say, our mom…what a looney, right? “Go ahead, Lexie.”
Well, here goes nothing, I thought to myself, my hand going into my jeans pocket, and holding the picture underneath the tabletop the same way my brother had tried to hide his phone. “Actually, Darren was right. I went to the woman doctor.”
“Really? Gross. Don’t share that with us,” Darren said around a mouthful of roll.
“Grow up,” Corbin said in his most fatherly voice, which he’d been perfecting since our own dad’s death thirteen years earlier.
“What’s going on?” My mother dissolved into fake tears again. “Ovarian cyst? I’ve had three myself, and they’re horribly painful. Endometriosis? Your Aunt Dory had that. Oh my word, I always knew one of you children would be sick, and I’d have to care for you. Don’t worry, dear, I’ll be here for you. You can move back into your room, and—”
I shook my head. “I’m not moving back in. I don’t have an ovarian cyst or endometriosis, either.”
“Well, for hell’s sake, what’s going on with you?” she demanded, pushing up her glasses and turning off her tears for a second time.
Darren sniggered. “No need for language.”
“Hush.” She swatted her napkin at him, and knocked a roll out of his hand.
Corbin took off his wire-rimmed glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I think we all just need to calm—”
My voice seemed to echo, despite the walls being lined with plush toys. Maybe it just sounded that way in my head. I couldn’t be sure.
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