I’d been fairly surprised to receive my own box of books from Hargrave this afternoon—why bother sending me a copy of the cover when I’d get to see the real thing twenty-four hours later? But it was no stranger than them overnighting me a set of giveaway pens for a book signing still weeks away, while they sent more important mail, like my contract, by Pony Express, using what I could only assume was a lame pony with no sense of direction. Publishing logic was a mystery to me.
The door of the two-story house swung open suddenly. Carrie stood on the other side, a confused expression on her round, pretty face and a twin balanced on one ample, khaki-clad hip. My sister-in-law is beautiful, but in a different way than Amanda. Carrie has this quintessential-woman glow about her that inspires men to take her home and try to make babies.
“What are you doing standing out here, sweetie? If you needed help with the box, you should have come in and asked Eric to get it.” She glanced over her shoulder past my parents’ living room. “Eric! For pity’s sake, get out here and help your sister.”
I started to tell her assistance wasn’t necessary when my brother, a middle-school teacher, appeared in the hallway behind her. He claims he’s put on a few pounds in the last couple of years, but they’re well disguised on his six-two form. We don’t look much alike, my brother and I. Aside from the height difference caused by my very average five foot four, Eric has Mom’s blue eyes, and his hair is a few shades darker than mine, so that it’s legitimately brown. Plus, I don’t have glasses. Or a goatee.
Eric held a small pink towel and dried his hands as he walked. “I was in the bathroom. Give a man a break.”
Carrie rolled her eyes, scooting out of the doorway. “You’re always in the bathroom. And that better not be one of your mother’s guest towels.”
Eric shot a guilty look at the scallop-edged terry cloth. “Technically, we’re guests.”
I lugged the books as far as the entryway floor, then shut the door behind me. My niece, a dimpled tow-headed cherub who looked like mini-Carrie in overalls, scrabbled down from her mother’s grasp and barreled toward me on unsteady legs. Coordination probably improves with age, but right now, my nieces are propelled by more enthusiasm than grace.
She tackled my legs in what was either a hug or a desperate attempt not to hit the floor. “Aunt Mi’am!”
I scooped her up, ninety-nine-point-nine percent sure this was Lyssa. Her identical sister, Lana, is just a fraction more reticent and, as such, my secret favorite though I would never vocalize a preference, even upon threat of pain. Or, worse, greasy fast food.
The four of us went toward the back of the house, past the staircase that led up to the bedrooms, following the murmur of the evening news and the sound of Lana giggling at my father’s tickle-monster growls. The large kitchen, which had given me some of my best memories in this house, took up the entire right half of the floor plan. To the left was the living room in which we’re actually allowed to sit. The fancy sofa in the front room still has plastic on it and, guests aside, Mom hasn’t allowed one of us to take a beverage in that room since the grape juice spill of 1986. My gregarious parents are free-spirited in many respects, but my mother was born and raised in the South and takes her visiting parlor seriously.
The crisp cinnamon aroma of warm apple pie greeted me at the same time as my mom, her face flushed. She tells everyone, strangers included, that she spends as much time cooking as possible so people will think she’s overheated from baking instead of menopausal hot flashes. “There she is! Our daughter, the soon-to-be-famous author.”
Or soon-to-be-infamous. “Hey, Mom. Thanks for asking me to dinner. I can’t believe you forbid me to bring anything.” Though she obviously needed no help on the dessert front, I would have been happy to bake some bread or whip up a special vinaigrette for the salad.
“When you invite Michelangelo over, you don’t ask him to paint your garage,” my father proclaimed, walking into the room with Lana on his shoulders. He was a hearty bear of a man, undiminished by age, and in his crimson university sweatshirt, he looked almost young. Except for the dashes of silver in his close-cut sandy blond hair.
My mother waved me toward a well-worn kitchen chair. “Sit, sit. Tell us more about this tour. You mentioned your consultant has come to town?”
“Oooh.” Carrie took the seat next to me. “Will you get your own hair and makeup people, too?”
“I don’t think it works exactly like that.” Hargrave had already invested in Dylan’s fee, which I knew was far more financial backing than many authors got. I was investing some of my own money in promotion and image, too, of course, but I was hoarding as much of the advance as possible, the specter of unemployment looming in the back of my mind. “He’s just here to help me polish my image before I go on television.”
My father lowered his granddaughter to play with her sister. With Lana in pigtails and yellow overalls and Lyssa in a ponytail and pink jumper, the girls looked like bookends.
He straightened, beaming at me. “Your mother and I plan to videotape every single appearance.”
Nothing said pressure like knowing any gaffe you made would be forever accessible through the modern miracle of rewind. “That’s…sweet of you guys. But not all of it will be local.”
Some of the cable shows—mostly of the Good Morning variety—were in neighboring states like North Carolina and Georgia and would only air within a certain radius. I was trying to wrap my mind around the task of being coherent at seven in the morning, much less sassy and sensual. Shudder.
Dad headed toward the stove, inhaling the fragrance of Mom’s slow-cook spaghetti sauce. When he picked up a spoon and nudged aside the blue pot lid, however, Mom brandished a plastic spatula at him. (So that’s where I get it from.)
“Stay out of there,” she ordered. “You’ll end up double-dipping and sharing your germs with everyone else.”
Nice to know my family drew the line at sharing something.
As we all pitched in to set the table, I answered questions about the book, even though most had already been asked on previous occasions. Yes, it would be available at all the major bookstores. No, I didn’t expect to become a household name. Yes, I was a little nervous about the interviews, and yes, I still planned to keep my job at Spicy Seas. Granted, that plan was growing more tenuous by the day, but I kept the thought to myself—a concept rarely witnessed under the Scott roof.
“You’re sure it’s such a good idea for you to work there?” my mom asked as she piled noodles on a daisy-print plate. “That Trevor broke your heart.”
“Not really,” I mumbled from the refrigerator, where I was pulling out store-bought salad dressings.
“No need to put on a brave face for us,” Carrie said. “If you ask me, he behaved like a complete j-e-r-k.”
I chuckled at her rated-E-for-everyone editing. If she was going to go to the trouble of spelling out the word, she might as well have used one of the doozies.
“But the two of you were together such a long time,” my mother pressed. “You were planning a wedding!”
“Planning to plan a wedding, Mom.” Sure, we’d been busy with the restaurant, but I saw now that he’d been in no hurry to take our relationship to the next level. Neither had I, to be honest.
“We’re here when you finally decide to talk about it,” my father chimed in as he buckled Lana into one of the two high chairs. My dad was an exception from a generation of men known for limiting conversation to grunted monosyllables during the commercials of televised sporting events.
“Thanks, Dad. But it’s been six months. I think I’m pretty well over it.”