TARA HAWKINS WALKED in through the front door of her childhood home for the last time. She’d only been here a couple times since Mom’s funeral, and now the house had sold. Tomorrow, someone else would start a new life here.
But tonight, one last time, it was theirs.
The foyer was empty. No coats on the hall tree. No shoes distractedly kicked off. The living room beyond was just as empty. Everything was stripped from the walls. No pictures. No furniture. Only the curtains at the front window fluttering in the breeze. It looked abandoned.
Her running shoes slapped against the newly polished wood floor. She kept moving, hurrying down the hall to escape the emptiness that threatened to reach out and suck her in.
Tonight, everyone was supposed to be here—all five of her siblings, maybe a couple in-laws and at least one nephew, possibly two. She was the last to arrive—again. They’d all give her a rough time about it. As usual. But this time, she had an excuse. She didn’t want to be here. But then, neither did they. Not really.
They’d gather in the kitchen. The big kitchen had always represented home to Tara. She heard their voices in a harmonic flow that reached to her and soothed her grief.
Wyatt’s deep growl. Mandy’s high-pitched voice cooing to little Lucas. DJ’s laughter mingled with Jason’s soft chuckles. She didn’t hear Addie, which meant… Tara hustled down the hall.
Addie stood at the counter, a big glass bowl of cookie dough in front of her, and scattered tools that she’d obviously brought with her at her elbow. Addie made the best cookies. Looked like there would be one last batch made here in Mom’s kitchen.
Playful cheers went up as Tara entered. “About time,” DJ teased.
“I was hoping to get her share of the cookies,” Wyatt added with mock disappointment.
“Very funny.” Tara rolled her eyes as she snagged one of the folding chairs. The dining table was staying with the house, too big and heavy to move, and the new owner, according to Addie, was happy to have it. All the chairs, however, were gone. When Mom had passed away, the chairs had been precious reminders of home. They’d each taken theirs with them. Tara’s was in the spare bedroom of her apartment.
But she had plans for it. Such big plans. Her stomach flipped as she settled next to DJ. They didn’t know. Well, most of them didn’t know. Jason, her older brother and one of the smartest attorneys she’d ever met—and she was only slightly biased—knew. She’d consulted him and sworn him to secrecy. He’d never violate lawyer-client privilege—even for family.
He winked at her, and she mentally grinned. She sat back and watched Addie work, enthralled with her sister’s confident actions. Was that what Tara looked like in her own kitchen? She hoped so.
She’d grown up helping their mother cook, and it had been the one thing she’d shared with Mom. Her sisters helped with big meals like holidays, but mostly it had been just Tara and Mom. The ache in her chest eased just a bit as she watched her big sister step into Mom’s role.
“I’ve never asked you where you got that recipe.” It hadn’t been Mom’s.
Addie shrugged. “I made it up.”
“Yeah.” Addie looked over her shoulder and smiled at Tara’s surprise. “You’re not the only cook in the family.”
“I know that.” Tara tried to dismiss her sister’s teasing, accusatory comment.
“Oh, that reminds me.” Addie shoved a cookie sheet into the heated oven and set the timer before turning around. “I found this.” She pulled open the pantry door, lifted out a box that had definitely seen better days, then set it on the table.
“What’s that?” Tara and the others stared at the battered cardboard box.
“Open it.” Addie returned to the cookies.
Tara pushed the chair back as she stood and opened the flaps. Book spines. A rubber-banded stack of cards. Recipe cards. She gasped. “Where did you find them?” She pulled out the stack of stained, tattered cards. When was the last time she’d seen them? “Mom’s and Grandma’s?” She shuffled through them slowly, carefully—reverently.