Randie picked up Gram after her nap and drove her to Lucas’s house on Sunday. Their cooking had gone from three people having fun in the kitchen to a five-person event. Randie decided to keep it simple with smothered pork chops, roasted potatoes and vegetables, and sautéed apples. She bought lettuce and Romaine for a salad and a brownie mix for dessert. She knew Kelli loved brownies.
Toby was already at Lucas’s when they got there. Randie had met him when he came to pick Jordy up after school, so they knew each other. He came off as the rowdy brother. Gram was entranced.
“You’re the naughty boy of the family, aren’t you?” she teased. “You have that twinkle in your eyes. Are you the baby?”
He nodded. “Of the boys. How did you know? Dulcey’s younger than I am.”
“But she’s a girl. She was probably the princess, but I bet your brothers covered for you a lot when you got in trouble.”
Toby glanced at Lucas with a grin. “Did she nail me or what?”
“Pecking order,” Gram said. “It makes a difference.”
Gram got them organized. She put Lucas and Randie on pork chop duty. “It takes them an hour to simmer to get tender.”
Gram and Toby chopped potatoes to roast. When Kelli came a half hour later, Gram gave her the box of brownies and said, “Good luck.”
Kelli sniffed. “I know how to make these.”
“Good, then you and Toby can chop the vegetables and peel apples to sauté.”
Kelli picked up what looked like a white carrot. “What happened to this guy? No sun?”
Gram laughed. “A parsnip.”
“And overgrown radishes?” Kelli looked at the variety of produce on the kitchen island.
“Turnips,” Gram corrected her.
“Who eats stuff like this?” Kelli peeked in the refrigerator and reached for a bottle of wine. “Is this for us, Randie?”
“I started without you.” Randie nodded at her glass. “Help yourself. By the way, this is Lucas’s brother Toby.”
When Kelli looked his way, Toby said, “Lucas is babying me. We met my mom’s new husband Friday night, and if we ever see Mom again, it will be a miracle.”
Kelli looked sympathetic. “Ouch. That had to hurt.”
Toby went to get a glass for her wine. “We should have seen it coming. It was worse than we expected, though. Lucas said you just went through a divorce.”
Kelli let out a long breath. “Yeah, I’m a cast-off. Curtis couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. I’m here because Randie’s trying to help me over the doldrums.”
Toby raised his beer bottle to clink with her glass of wine. “May we both heal.”
The chemistry between the two of them crackled. Toby wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous like Lucas, but he had flair—charisma. Randie could tell he interested Kelli. It was too soon for anything to come of it, but her friend tilted her head in a flirty manner and smiled more than she had lately. And what man wouldn’t look twice at Kelli with her long, blonde hair and model figure? Add her wicked humor and she could keep things lively. Toby was sure giving her his full attention.
Gram’s lips turned up. She noticed it, too. “Well, enough small talk and more work. I’m going to sit while you four finish up here. Supper should be on the table in a little over an hour.”
Lucas got Gram comfortable on the couch and handed her the remote, then returned to help with the meal. Randie reached out to touch his arm. “Thanks for helping her.”
“She’s your grandma. That’s more than enough reason for me.”
A knot formed in Randie’s throat. Lord, she loved this man. Her breath caught. She’d used the L-word. And she realized she did love Lucas. Fear settled in the pit of her stomach. Dating and sleeping with him was one thing. Love made you vulnerable. Was she ready for that? Or should she run now and avoid that kind of risk?
She looked up, and he was watching her. Had her thoughts flitted across her face? Did he know? She forced a smile. “We’ve made the rub for the pork chops. Let’s slice the onions and get everything in the pan.”
She made sure to include Toby and Kelli in their chit-chat as they worked. Safer that way. She and Lucas added chicken broth to the pork chop pan at the same time Kelli and Toby slid their potatoes and vegetables into the oven. Perfect timing. Then they all started on the sautéed apples and the mixed salad.
The hour went fast and when Gram came back into the kitchen, it was time to dish up. She scowled. “Where are your serving platters and dishes?”
Lucas spread his hands in defeat. “My brothers and I just dish up at the stove.”
Gram raised an eyebrow. “Please tell me that you have five matching plates.”
“I have eight.” He opened one of his cupboards.
Gram let out a dissatisfied sigh. “Plastic? Really?”
“They don’t break if you drop them.” He hurried to add, “Since you’re cooking here, though, what if I buy some new ones?”
Gram crossed her arms over her chest. “Take Randie with you. She can give you tips on what’s good and what to avoid.”
Gram gave him a long, hard stare. “Were you mocking me?”
“Nope, any reason to spend time with Randie works for me. She can buy whatever she wants. If she likes it, I’ll love it.”
Gram threw back her head and laughed. “You’re a fast learner, boy! Just for the record, I like stoneware for every day. It’s durable.”
Lucas glanced at Randie, and she nodded. That settled, he handed each of them a plastic plate and they lined up at the stove. Gram looked at his serving spoons and said, “You need these, too. The ones you have are pitiful.”
Randie had to give him credit. He didn’t try to defend himself.
“If you say so. What else?”
“New silverware. Glasses.”
Randie interrupted. “Gram! He’s letting us use his kitchen to cook once a week.”
Gram gave her silverware a dirty look. “I’d buy him new everything if he’d let me, but he got all grumpy when I brought in the pots and pans.”
“I can buy my own kitchenware,” Lucas told her.
“Do you want to adopt me?” Toby asked. “I’d let you move in with me if you’d redo my kitchen.”
“You’re shameful!” But Gram got a kick out of his remark, Randie could tell. “Do you have a big kitchen?”
They all settled at the long trestle table in the dining room to eat. Toby shook his head. “I have a brick bungalow about ten minutes from here, one and a half stories. The kitchen’s at the back of the house, sort of galley-style.”
“I’ve always liked bungalows,” Kelli said. “Curtis picked our house—all for show. I’m thinking about selling it.”
Randie stared, surprised. “Don’t people advise divorcees to wait a while before they make any big decisions?”
Kelli shrugged. “Those people didn’t have to live with Curtis. I never liked that house. It’s all for status.”
Randie couldn’t argue with that. She’d never liked the house either, but she’d never have admitted that to her friend.
Kelli straightened her shoulders. “I’d like to put it on the market and look for someplace else, but I don’t know anything about foundations or roofing. I could end up with all kinds of problems.”
“I know that stuff,” Toby said. “I’d be happy to go with you.”
Kelli pursed her lips, studying him. “Can I see your house first? See what a real bungalow is like?”
He laughed. “If you have a big, fancy house, you’re not going to be impressed, but sure. Why not? What if you come for tacos on Friday night? I live close to a Taco Bell.”
Randie finished her meal and pushed her empty plate out of the way. “Taco Bell?”
“Hey, don’t knock it.” Kelli spooned up the last of the sauce from her pork chop. “Tacos are high on my list of favorites.”
Toby glanced at the stove. “There’s more food, right?”
Gram nodded. “Help yourself. I like a boy with a healthy appetite.”
Before he pushed away from the table, he looked at Kelli. “Six o’clock, Friday?”
“It’s a date.” Kelli flushed bright red. “Not a real date. I just meant . . . “
Toby gave her a thumbs-up. “No worries. I won’t get the wrong idea. I could use a friend right now. So could you. What if we befriend each other?”
Kelli looked relieved. “No pressure? Just someone to hang out with?”
“I’m so ready for that. The dating scene sucks.”
“Tell me about it. That’s how I ended up with Curtis. I got tired of kissing frogs.” Kelli laughed. “Friends, it is.”
Lucas glanced at Randie. He looked as thrown off balance as she felt. His brother and her friend had flown through start-up issues faster than anyone she’d known. Heck, she and Lucas were still doing the How Serious Should We Get awkward rituals.
Gram beamed at all of them. “How was supper?”
“Delicious.” Toby went to nab the last pork chop and still had room for three brownies with ice cream. Randie watched him eat and shook her head. Why didn’t the man weigh a thousand pounds? He must have his metabolism dialed to super speed.
With the four of them, clean-up was fast and easy. Before she knew it, everyone was saying their goodbyes. She didn’t want to leave. She wouldn’t see Lucas again for an entire week. But once holiday get-togethers were out of the way, she intended to camp out on his porch if she had to, so that she could spend time with him. She and Lucas were going to share more than tacos.