“Who’s your latest victim?” I bumped his chair as I passed.
Darren flashed a twenty-tooth grin and I rolled my eyes. He’d inherited the blonde hair, blue eyes, and undeniable good looks that had served so many in my family well. His man-beauty was so dazzling that at times it was easy for even me to forget that at twenty-five years old, he was a college dropout who worked at a cell phone store in the mall and chased women who were barely old enough to have a legal drink. Darren had no intention of ever settling down, which added to the pressure my mother thrust upon me to remarry and procreate as quickly as possible. In my last birthday card, she’d suggested freezing my eggs.
Well, at least I had the procreation thing in the bag. That was something.
“Her name is Pandi, and she’s a dancer.” He announced this with pride. As if he were announcing he’d caught the Loch Ness Monster.
“What kind of a name is Pandi? Is she a large black and white bear?” I snatched a piece of stale candy out of the dish sitting on my mother’s counter and popped it in my mouth, instantly inducing a wave of nausea. Fifteen-year-old ribbon candy was officially off the list of edible first trimester foods.
“No. She’s stacked, though.” Darren waggled his eyebrows and went back to his texting.
“Ugh. You’re a pig.” I flared my nostrils at him. “Mom, how did you manage to raise such a pig?”
“Breast milk,” she announced definitively, stirring the pot of soup.
“Geez, Ma! We’re about to eat.” Darren twisted his handsome face.
I heard Corbin and Andrea snickering and poked them both on the shoulder. “Don’t encourage her. I don’t want to hear about Mom’s boobs anymore than the rest of you.”
My mother gave me a pointed look over the top of the pink-lensed glasses. “Ha, ha, ha. Laugh it up, but it’s a fact. He’s the only one of you kids I didn’t breastfeed. Now look at him. Completely unable to commit.”
“I can commit,” Darren said defensively. “I just choose not to.”
Corbin looked up from the lettuce he was chopping. “So what kind of dancer is this Pandi-bear?”
Andrea raised an eyebrow at him. “I think we both know the answer to that.”
“I’m with your wife on this one.” I leaned on the countertop and snatched a piece of celery.
“She studied ballet. Before.” Darren’s phone beeped and he chuckled quietly at whatever the text said.
“Before what?” I asked around my bite.
“Before dancing in the cage at the Lusty Lass.” Corbin nudged me.
“Would you two stop it?” My mother snapped a towel at us. “She could be the one.”
“So you want Darren to marry a stripper, Ma?” Corbin laughed.
“It’s honest work.” She shook her head.
I poked my oldest brother in the ribs. “You just wish you moved as good as the girls who work at the Lusty Lass.”
Corbin stared off in the distance dreamily. “That’s the truth.”
My mom and Andrea exchanged a smirk, and I rolled my eyes. Like me, Corbin inherited our late father’s red hair and fair skin. Unfortunately for both of us, we’d skipped the rhythm gene as well, so it was inevitable that we were always the whitest and least coordinated people on the dance floor at every family wedding. Sad, really.
“I think you all need to support your little brother.” My mother ignored the face Corbin made at me. “You never know. This Candi—”
“Pandi,” Andrea corrected.
“Pandi,” she said with a shake of her head. “Could be your sister-in-law someday—”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Ma,” Darren called.
“And since you aren’t dating anyone, Lexie, someone has to give me grandkids.” She hoisted the soup pot off of the stovetop and lugged it to the table, nodding at Corbin and Andrea. “No offense, dears.”
My brother’s and his wife’s faces both dropped, making my heart clench. When my mother whisked out of the room, leaving behind the faded aroma of Red Door perfume, Corbin rubbed Andrea on the back. My hands instinctively went to my lower abdomen. It felt like something warm and glowing was nestled deeply in there. It felt wrong for my brother and his wife to crave parenthood as vehemently as they did, and I’d managed to stumble upon my pregnancy the same way others discovered that they’d found a crumpled twenty-dollar bill in the bottom of their washing machine.
“Come on,” Andrea said, wiping her nose. She plucked the ceramic bowl of salad up and followed my mother’s trail to the dining room. “Dinner’s about to start.”
We sat down around the table, Darren’s thumbs furiously punching his phone while we all started passing the food around.
“Darren Kyle Baump, put that phone down and pay attention to your family,” my mother barked from her spot at the head of the table. We all served ourselves and dug in.
“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.”