“So, tell me why you stayed less than an hour at one barbeque only to come home to have one of your own? Food suck or something?” he asked while sneaking another bite of the salad before she returned it to the fridge. “Or was there a family smack down?”
“It’s complicated,” she finally said.
“What’s so complicated about a family barbeque?”
“Just drop it. My grandmother is coming here with her helper. Actually, she should be here by now, but knowing her she stopped at store to get all her favorites.”
His brows flew up. “Your grandmother’s coming here? I didn’t think any of your family ever came to visit you.”
She gave him a sly smile. “Been spying on me have you?”
“Not really. I just picked up on things. I’m an observant guy after all.”
“Well, my grandmother comes here several times a year. I usually invite her when I know you’ll be out of town.”
“Afraid I’ll embarrass you?” he asked teasingly.
“Nope. Afraid she might kill you.”
“Puhlease, she’ll love me. Every woman loves and wants me,” he said sincerely.
She chuckled softly. “I’m glad to see you’re so humble.”
“That I am,” he said as Haley began to load his arms up with plates of food to take out to the grill. “So, you mentioned inviting her down. I’m guessing you’re close to her.”
“I am. She raised me off and on until I was ten and then took over full time,” she said, opening the screen door for him. "Anyway, I decided to cut my visit to my parent's home short today."
“Because I told her to. That’s why,” a woman’s crisp voice said.
Jason looked up to see an old woman in a wheel chair being pushed towards them by a wiry man with thinning gray hair. By the look of the man he was Haley’s grandmother helper or caregiver.
“Are you my Haley’s boyfriend?” her grandmother demanded. Wow, she was a no nonsense woman. Just like Haley, once she was out of her shell of course.
Haley felt her face burn as she waited for the earth to open beneath her and drag her under. Prayed for it was more like it.
“No, Grandma, he’s not my boyfriend. He’s my friend from next door.”
Grandma’s eyes narrowed on Jason. Haley was about to tell her Grandmother to cut it out. That look had sent many friends and boyfriends running scared, but to her complete surprise Jason didn’t cower.
He reached over and shook her hand. “My name is Jason Bradford. I’m the neighbor from hell.”
Grandma’s lips twitched. She looked over at her companion. “Chris, be a dear and go get the items we picked up.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, leaving Grandma with them. He sent Haley a smile before he hurried away. No doubt he was expecting Grandma to tear into Jason. Hell, that’s exactly what she was waiting for.
“You also work with my granddaughter, Mr. Bradford. Isn’t that correct?”
Without asking Jason pushed Grandma carefully to the table and locked the chair. “Yup, I make her life a living hell there as well.”
“You sound proud,” Grandma noted.
Jason walked over to the grill and started placing the meat on the grill. “I am,” he said, smiling.
Grandma did something she’d only heard when it was just the two of them. She laughed. It was soft and musical and immediately brought memories of a happy childhood to her mind making her smile in return. Jason caught her eye and winked.
“I like you,” Grandma announced.
“Thank you, Mrs.-”
“You may call me Grandma,” she said in a tone that let him know she would not tolerate him calling her anything else.
Haley sat there stunned. She was the only one allowed to call her Grandma. The rest of the grandchildren called her grandmother when they started to take after their parents.
“Okay, Grandma it is,” Jason said with an easy smile. Wow the man really did have a way with women.
Chris stepped out from the house, no doubt where he just put away an enormous amount of groceries that had nothing to do with a barbeque. It was one of Grandma’s sneaky ways of helping her out since she refused to accept financial help from her family. Grandma had her ways.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, ma’am, but it seems some of the guests from the last barbeque have followed us here,” Chris said softly.
“Who is it?” Haley asked.
“Your cousins and a few aunts. I believe one or both of your sisters as well, Miss. Haley,” Chris said.
Grandma waved a dismissive hand towards the front of the house. “Well, they can leave because there isn’t enough food,” she said even though she hadn’t looked at the grill.
“I can put some more on if you want,” Jason offered.
“No!” Haley and Grandma said at once, startling Jason.
Chris cleared his throat. “They’re rather insistent about joining, ma’am.”
“Tell them to go away or I’ll write them out of my will in the morning,” Grandma said firmly.
Chris hid his smile as he turned to do just that.
Jason gave them all a curious look before shrugging. Apparently he really didn’t care enough to be bothered, which was a good thing for her. She earned her way in life and didn’t want anyone thinking any differently. All her friends knew she came from money and none of them cared. She was just Haley to them and she planned to keep it that way.
“What did you think of your father’s birthday gift, Haley?” Grandma asked.
Jason frowned. “I missed your birthday?”
“It was months ago,” Haley said with a shrug.
“He just remembered today?” Jason asked in disbelief.
“It’s no big deal,” Haley said, giving him a tight smile.
Jason scoffed. “If you say so.”
“Ah, children? If I may interrupt? Haley, have you looked at your gift?” Grandma asked.
“Not yet.” There was no rush. She already knew what was in there since her father thought she was twenty-five there would be twenty-five hundred dollar bills in an unsigned card.
“Well, go get it,” Grandma said.
With a sigh she went into the house, rolling her eyes at the overfilled bags of groceries that covered her kitchen counters and table and retrieved the envelope from her purse. She carried it out and sat down with it.