"I was just going to get a—"
"No, you're not. I want you to set the table—"
"It's Kev's night to set and clear. I'm on dish duty."
"Tonight you set and wash."
"How come I have to set and wash? I didn't invite some dopey girl to dinner."
"Because I said so. Set the table in the dining room. Use the good dishes."
"How come we're eating in there? It's not Thanksgiving."
"And the linen napkins," she added. "The ones with roses on them. Six place settings. Wash your hands first."
"Jeez. She's just a girl. You'd think the Queen of England or somebody was coming over."
He stalked to the sink, ran water while he curled his lip, exactly as his father had done. "I'm never bringing a girl over here."
"I'll remind you of that in a couple of years." Because the idea of her little boy bringing a girl home to dinner made her eyes sting, Anna sniffed and poured marinade over chicken breasts.
"I'll think twice about it myself," Seth muttered under his breath.
"I beg your pardon?"
He winced. "Nothing. It's just, well hell, Anna, I've brought girls over before. Dru even ate here before and you didn't go into a fit over it."
"That's different. She dropped by unexpectedly, and you barely knew her."
"And you may have brought girls here before, but you never invited the woman you're in love with to dinner before. Men don't understand anything. They understand nothing at all, and I don't know why I've been plagued by a herd of them."
"Don't cry. Oh man. Oh God. Please, don't do that."
"I'll cry if I want to. You just try to stop me."
"Nice going," Jake muttered and fled to the dining room.
"I'll make the chicken." Desperate, Seth abandoned his potatoes and rushed over to stroke Anna's hair. "You just tell me what you want me to do with it. And the rest of it, too. And I'll do the dishes after, and… " He stepped back. "I never said I was in love with Dru."
"What, now I'm blind and stupid?" She grabbed the olive oil and Dijon to mix up her special sauce for the potatoes. "Get me the damn Worcestershire sauce."
Instead, he took her hands, then ran his up her arms. "I barely finished telling her. How come you know this stuff?"
"Because, you stupid idiot, I love you. Get away from me. I'm busy."
He laid his cheek on hers, and sighed.
"Damn it." She threw her arms around him. "I want you to be happy. I want you to be so happy."
"I am." He pressed his face into her hair. "A little spooked along with it."
"It's not real if you're not a little spooked." She held tight another moment, then let go. "Now get out of here. Guest soaps, towels. Toilet seats down. And find a pair of jeans that doesn't have holes."
"I'm not sure I have any. And thanks, Anna."
"You're welcome. But you're still doing the dishes." From the dining room came Jake's enthusiastic woo-hoo.
"I APPRECIATE your letting me impose this way. Again."
Anna chose a dark blue vase for the cheerful black-eyed Susans Dru had brought her. "We're happy to have you. It's no trouble at all."
"I can't imagine a last-minute dinner guest, after you've worked all day, is no trouble at all."
"Oh, it's just chicken. Nothing fussy." Anna smiled thinly as Jake rolled his eyes dramatically behind Dru's back. "Is there something you want, Jake?"
"Just wondering when we're going to eat."
"You'll be the first to know." She set the flowers on the kitchen table. "Go tell Seth to come open this lovely wine Dru brought for us. We'll have a glass before dinner."
"People could starve around here," Jake complained—in a whisper—as he trooped out of the kitchen.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Dru asked. The kitchen smelled fantastic. Something, she assumed it was the chicken, was simmering in a covered skillet.
"We're under control, thanks." With a deft hand, Anna lifted the lid on the skillet, shook it lightly by the handle, poked with a kitchen fork, then set the lid back. "Do you cook?"
"Not like this. I've gotten very adept at boiling pasta, nuking up jarred sauce and mixing it together."
"Oh. My heart," Anna said, and laughed. "Raw clay. I love molding raw clay. One of these days I'll show you how to make a nice, basic red sauce, and see where we can go from there. Seth." Anna beamed at him when he came in. "Open the wine, will you? Pour Dru a glass. You can take her out and show her how my perennials are coming along while I finish putting dinner together."
"I'm glad to help," Dru protested. "I may not cook, but I follow instructions well."
"Next time. Just go out with Seth, enjoy your wine. We'll be ready in ten minutes."
Anna shooed them out, then, delighted with herself, rubbed her hands together before diving into the rest of the preparations.
In fifteen minutes, they were seated in the rarely used dining room, a half dozen tea lights flickering. The dog, Dru noted, had been banished.
"These are beautiful dishes," Dru commented.
"I love them. Cam and I bought them in Italy, on our honeymoon."
"If you break one," Jake put in as he attacked his chicken, "you get shackled in the basement so the rats can eat your ears."
"Jake!" With a baffled laugh, Anna passed the potatoes to her left. "What a thing to say. We don't even have a basement."
"That's what Dad said you'd do, even if you had to dig a basement. Right, Dad?"
"I don't know what you're talking about. Eat some asparagus."
"Do I have to?"
"If I have to, you have to."
"Neither of you have to." Anna prayed for patience.
"Cool, more for me." Kevin reached enthusiastically for the platter before he caught his mother's warning look. "What? I like it."
"Then ask for it, Mr. Smooth, instead of diving across the table. We don't let them out of the kennel very often," Cam told Dru.
"I always wanted brothers."
"What for?" Jake asked her. "They mostly just pound on you."
"Well, you do look pretty well battered," she considered. "I always thought it would be fun to have someone to talk to—and to pound on. Someone to take some of the heat when my parents were annoyed or irritated. When you're an only child, there's no one to diffuse the focus, if you know what I mean. And no one to eat the asparagus when you don't want it."
"Yeah, but Kev swiped half the good Halloween candy last year."
"Jeez, get over it."
Jake eyed his brother. "I never forget. All data is stored in my memory banks. And one day, candy pig, you will pay."
"You're such a geek."
"That's Jake's latest insult." Seth gestured with his wineglass. "A play on thespian, since Kev's into that."
"Rhymes with lesbo," Jake explained helpfully while Anna stifled a groan. "It's a slick way of calling him a girl."
"Clever. I enjoyed your school play last month," she said to Kevin. "I thought it was wonderfully done. Are you thinking of going on to study theater in college?"
"Yeah. I really like it. Plays are cool, but I like movies even better. The guys and I have made some really awesome videos. The last one we did, Slashed, was the best. It's about this one-armed psycho killer who stalks these hunters through the woods. Carves them up, one by one, in revenge because one of them shot off his arm in this freak hunting accident. It has flashbacks and everything. Want to see it?"
"I didn't know you went to Kevin's play."
Dru shifted her attention to Seth. "I like to keep up with community events. And I love little theater."
"We could've gone together."
She picked up her wine, smiled at him over it in a way that made Anna's heart swell. "Like a date?"
"Dru has a philosophical objection to dating," Seth said, with his eyes on hers. "Why is that?"
ause it often involves men who don't interest me. But primarily I haven't had time for that sort of socializing since I moved here. Starting up, then running the shop have been priorities."
"What made you decide to be a florist?" Anna asked her.
"I had to ask myself what I could do—then out of that, what I'd enjoy the most. I enjoyed flowers. I took some courses, and discovered I had a talent with them."
"It takes a lot of courage to start a business, and to come to a new place to do it."
"I'd have withered if I'd stayed in Washington. That sounds dramatic. I needed a new place. My own place. Everything I considered doing, everywhere I considered going, kept circling back around to Saint Christopher and a flower shop. A flower shop puts you right in the deep end of the pool."
"How is that?" Cam wondered.
"You become instantly intimate with the community. When you sell flowers, you know who's having a birthday, an anniversary. You know who's died, who's had a baby. Who's in love, or making up from a fight, who got a promotion, who's ill. And in a small town, like this one, you invariably get details along with it."
She thought for a moment, then spoke in a lazy Shore accent. "Old Mrs. Wilcox died—would've been eighty-nine come September. Came home from the market and had a stroke right there in the kitchen while she was putting away her canned goods. Too bad she didn't make things up with her sister before it was too late. They haven't spoke word one to each other in twelve years."