“Really?” he asks, sounding as excited as his brother did moments ago.
“Am I or am I not the best aunt in the whole entire world?”
“You are.” He grins.
“Exactly, and I plan on keeping my spot.” I kiss his forehead, then let him go.
“Buying love, sis?”
I look at Noah, who looks just like a brown-eyed version of our dad—tall, thin, and handsome.
“I’m just doing what needs to be done.” I shrug, and he shakes his head and wraps his arms around me.
“Always.” I smile as he kisses the top of my head.
“Who’s the guy?” he asks quietly before he pulls away.
“A friend,” I reply just as quietly, and then I go to Angie and kiss her cheek before I introduce Tyler to everyone.
“So are you her boyfriend?” Owen asks, looking between Tyler and me.
“No, he’s just a friend.” I don’t look at Tyler or react to the hand that he places against my lower back. My eyes go to my mom’s, and I see her smirking at me.
“Boys, I need you to set the table,” Mom says, looking between Owen and Isaac, and they take off, probably wanting to get it done so they can go downstairs and play. She moves her gaze to my dad and brother. “I’m going to need you to drag up the spare table from the basement, along with a few extra chairs.”
“On it.” Dad stands and kisses the side of Mom’s head.
“I’ll help,” Tyler adds, stepping away from me and following my dad and brother out of the room.
“Okay, you need to spill. Who is he, and where did you find him?” Angie asks, watching the guys disappear.
“He’s my new neighbor and just a friend,” I tell her on my way into the kitchen.
“Girls and guys cannot be friends,” she informs me with authority.
“Yes, they can.”
“Okay, a girl who looks like you and a guy who looks like him cannot be friends.” She adjusts her stance, and I shake my head.
“I think my daughter is floating down the river Denial,” Mom chimes in. “Did you see the hand-on-her-back thing?” she asks.
“I saw it.” Angie nods.
“He was also holding her hand when they got here,” Mom informs her.
“Hand-holding is not friendly.” Angie looks at me.
“He always does it. He probably does it with everyone,” I say, picking up a deviled egg and eating it. I’m starving, or maybe I’m finally finding a way to keep my mouth closed.
“Grandma,” Isaac calls out from the doorway, saving me. “We’re done. Can we go down to the basement and play video games until dinner?”
“Sure.” She smiles at him; then her eyes come back to me.
Just as she’s about to open her mouth, the front door opens, and Ben shouts through the house that he’s here. I escape any further questions about Tyler and leave the kitchen. My brother Ben and his wife, Beth, both smile at me and laugh as Mia, my adorable four-year-old niece, screeches my name at the top of her lungs when she sees me.
“Hey, my beautiful girl.” I scoop her up and kiss her cheeks and neck, listening to her giggle. “I’ve missed you so much.” She doesn’t reply with actual words, but she does wrap her arms around my neck and hug me back tightly. “How’s my other niece doing?” I ask Beth, who is now five months pregnant.
She beams at me, then rests her hands on her swollen belly. “She’s still cooking.”
“You look beautiful.” I lean over and kiss her cheek, then accept a one-armed hug from my brother.
“How are you?” Ben asks, while Beth takes Mia, who’s asking for her grandma.
“I’ve been good, working lots. Same story, different day.”
His eyes look over my head, and he frowns slightly. “Who’s that?”
I turn and watch Tyler carry a set of chairs past the opening in the living room. “My friend Tyler. I’ll introduce you in a sec. He’s helping Dad and Noah bring up chairs from the basement. Grams is coming, and so is Chrissie. Mom needed more seating.”
“You said friend. He’s not your boyfriend?” He looks confused.
“He’s just a friend. I don’t know why that concept is so difficult for everyone to understand.” I let out an annoyed sigh. I should have called everyone before dinner so I could explain the concept of “just a friend” to them.
“You’ve never had a guy friend before,” he says, looking down at me. He looks a lot like Mom but is much taller with the same brown eyes as Noah and my exact hair color.
“Yes, I have.”
“Okay, name one.”
I try to think of one guy I’ve ever been just friends with, but I can’t. Have I really never been friends with a guy before?
“You’re an idiot.” He chuckles, then lowers his voice. “I’m just a little surprised. You’ve never brought anyone home for Sunday dinner besides Chrissie.”