Mrs. Miller’s demeanor cooled down noticeably after that.

“Friends of yours?” she asked with a chill in her voice.

“They’re Derek and Ryan’s girlllfrieeends!” the littlest one cackled, like she’d just gotten them in trouble.

Maybe she had. Mrs. Miller raised her eyebrows slightly.

“No we’re not, we just came over to hear them play,” I said nervously, and extended my hand. “I’m Kaitlyn.”

She took my hand and warmed up a little. “Hello, Kaitlyn.”

“I’m Shanna,” Shanna said. She waved half-heartedly, put her elbows on the countertop, and crossed her arms in front of her chest. She was no fool.

“Hello,” Mrs. Miller said a little less warmly, then turned to Ryan. “And will Derek and your friends be staying for dinner?”

“Uhhhhh… we hadn’t really discussed that,” Ryan said, looking at me.

“No. We don’t want to impose,” I said.

“Ah, come on. She feeds me all the time,” Derek said jovially.

“That’s true,” Mrs. Miller admitted, and gave him a playful scolding look. “And you’re eatin’ me out of house and home.”

“Noooooo, never,” Derek grinned back.

She smiled, then turned back to Ryan. “But I was going to fix spaghetti, and I don’t have enough hamburger meat and sauce for everybody.”

“We’ll get it,” Derek volunteered. “We can go to the store.”

“No, really,” I said, “that’s too much trouble – ”

“If y’all go get it, it’s no trouble at all,” Mrs. Miller said.

“Yaaaaayyyy!” the little girls cheered. “Derek’s gonna stay for dinner!”

“I guess we’re staying,” Shanna whispered.

I didn’t roll my eyes this time.


I drove us to the grocery store. Mrs. Miller had given Ryan some money and a shopping list – the spaghetti ingredients plus a few other things – and he and Shanna got a cart and started down an aisle.

“Aren’t you coming?” Ryan asked forlornly as Derek and I lagged behind.

If I didn’t know any better, I would have said he was crushing on me.

Which was super-awkward.

“We’ll follow along,” Derek said. “I want to have some time with my future giiirrrlfriennd.”

“Oh God,” I said as I closed my eyes, as though I was wearily annoyed.

In reality, his words sent pleasurable shivers down my spine.

Not good.

Shanna just laughed, hooked her arm through Ryan’s, and led him down the pasta aisle.

“You don’t mind staying for dinner?” Derek asked. “I mean, you didn’t have to study?”

“Well, I do have to study, but… no, dinner’s fine. I just didn’t want to put Ryan’s mom out.”

“She’s not put out by anything but Shanna’s boobs.”

I burst out laughing. “You noticed?”

“What, her boobs, or Mrs. Miller’s reaction?”

“Which were you looking at?”

“Well, you couldn’t miss either.”

I laughed again, though I was stung a little by what might have been jealousy. “Yeah, I think maybe Ryan ought to get a t-shirt for her.”

“That’s a good idea. If you thought Ryan’s mom was pissed earlier, wait till his dad starts sneaking glances at dinner.”

“Ewwwww,” I said, disgusted. Images of a pervy, leering old man flashed through my brain.

“Aaah, he’s not a bad guy. It’s just… they’re hard not to notice when they’re on display like that.”

“Yeah, I guess,” I admitted, then elbowed him in the ribs. “Does that mean you’re checking them out?”

“Like I said, when they’re in your face like that… besides, they’re the only ones I’m seeing lately. I’ve noticed you don’t dress too… shall we say, provocatively.”

“You want me to start?”

“HELL yeah.”

“Then I’m definitely not,” I teased.

“Dammit… I knew I shouldn’t have said anything…” he said in mock frustration.

We walked along in silence for a few seconds.

I was the one who broke it. “By the way, I think it’s really cool how you’re so nice to Ryan’s little sisters.”

“They’re great, aren’t they?” he asked with real affection.

“Yeah – and they’re totally in puppy love with you.”

He laughed. “Yeah, that was one of the reasons the Millers kicked me out.”

Wait – hang on a minute –

“What?” I asked.