His mom finally showed up close to three. By then, Lucas and the kids had two dozen chocolate chip cookies stowed in a plastic container. They would have had more, but they kept eating them as they worked. Their baking wouldn’t win any awards. Jordy started out well enough with small balls of dough to bake. But the longer their efforts went, the bigger his dough balls grew, while Beth’s got smaller over time. Needless to say, some cookies were perfect, some were burned, and some were soft in the middle.
“They all taste good, though,” Jordy told him after sampling a couple of each.
Black bottoms didn’t appeal to Lucas, but if Jordy liked them, that’s all that was important. Lucas looked at his kitchen and decided bakeries served an important function in life. No clean-up. And perfect products.
His mom took one look at their mess and gasped. “What were you thinking?”
“We wanted to learn to bake cookies,” Jordy explained.
“Do you know how to make peanut butter ones?” Beth asked.
“No clue.” And she sounded happy about that. “If you’re coming with me, get your stuff. I have a friend coming over soon, and I rented you some movies.”
She was telling them to entertain themselves and stay out of her way. Grandmother of the year. The kids knew the drill, though, so they grabbed their duffle bags with their pajamas and toothbrushes, and trailed after her.
Lucas shrugged. Kids didn’t get top billing twenty-four/seven, so maybe being knocked down to peon status wasn’t the worst that could happen. He spent the next hour cleaning up his kitchen. His brothers would show up in three hours, so he started working on his version of chili. Nothing fancy, but his brothers liked it, and so did he. Once it simmered in its pot, he put a box of crackers on the counter and wandered into the living room. Time to chill.
He should kick himself, but he’d DVR’d the Foodnetwork. The Pioneer Woman was making dishes for big events, like carry-ins and get-togethers. The hosts for The Kitchen showed dishes to make when you had friends over for an evening. He didn’t entertain, but he picked up tips as they made one dish after another. Maybe he’d take the kids to the bookstore tomorrow. The Pioneer Woman had a new cookbook that showed how to cook dishes, step by step. Helpful for a guy who’d never watched his mother in the kitchen, mostly because she avoided it as much as possible.
Hercules lay with him on the sofa, happy to have the house back to normal. It wouldn’t last long. His mom would bring the kids back as early as possible on Sunday. His brothers would invade them soon.
An hour before supper, he got up and stirred together a pan of cornbread to put in the oven. He opened a bag of salad and poured it into a bowl, along with a bunch of toppings he’d bought in the produce section—dried cranberries, croutons, and candied walnuts. His brothers wouldn’t be impressed, but he liked them.
Finally, he saw Toby’s van park in the drive and Dylan’s pull close behind. They walked into the house together.
“Smells good,” Toby said. But then, his brother liked any food that was free.
Dylan inhaled, too. “A perfect day for chili.”
“There’s beer in the fridge.” Lucas motioned to the bowls stacked on the counter, close to the stove. “Help yourselves.”
“Did Mom finally come to get the kids?” Toby asked. “I called her after one and she was still partying with her friends.”
“She got here at three.” Lucas sprinkled some cheese over his chili.
Dylan shook his head. “She’s always been lame, but she’s worse than usual this time.” Dylan was a couple inches taller than Lucas—the lanky brother—and the quietest of the three of them. Unless it was just the three of them together. Then he could speak his mind.
Toby finished his first bowl of chili and went for another. “I think she’s seeing a guy. If she’s met a live one with money, we might as well crawl away and die. She’ll wash her hands of us and go for the thrill ride.”
Lucas stared. “Do you think Mom would remarry?” She and Dad had been so miserable together, he thought she’d avoid hooking up with anyone else.
Toby waved his spoon in the air. “If a guy took her out and bought her presents, he’d look better than a piñata. Mom likes to be spoiled and have fun. And she can be fun, if he keeps putting coins in her purse.”
Lucas couldn’t blame her. Dad invested in himself and anything that interested him, but always tied the purse strings tight when it came to his family. If Dad hadn’t been so self-absorbed, would Mom have been more loving? He wasn’t sure. Mom was pretty self-absorbed, too. But if she met a man who doted on her?
Dylan took a swig of his beer. “Mom might find her happy-ever-after before we do.”
They looked at each other. Why hadn’t they hooked up with someone by now? But Lucas had invested seven years in Mariah. They’d dated for two years before they moved in together, and then they’d lived together for five years. Toby had bounced from one woman to the next. And Dylan? He’d kept to himself like Miss Doore.
Toby went for his third bowl of chili and mounded it with shredded Cheddar. “What’s this Miss Doore like? Jordy’s been pushing me to marry her. The kid would donate his liver to her if she needed one.”
Dylan smiled. “He’s been bugging me, too. He keeps telling me that she loves to spend time with family and she’s a great cook.”
They both looked at Lucas.
“She’s great,” he told them. “Beautiful. Smart. And nice. Her tire went flat yesterday, and when I changed it for her, she invited me to her apartment for lasagna. Then we stayed to play Chutes and Ladders. Jordy was in heaven.”
“And you?” Toby’s dark eyes sparkled with devilment. Lucas knew that look. His brother was gearing up to poke fun at him. “Have your hormones died, or are you going to go for it?”
“I’m interested. I admit it. But she’s not interested in me. She has an anti-man prejudice, and when I try to sneak through it, I run smack into a wall. I’m not her type, but one of you might be.”
Toby grinned. “Both of us are more captivating than you are. You have that first-born gene—the responsibility of the world sits on your shoulders. Glad that only happens once, right, Dylan? I’m the third boy. No one expected much from me.”
Dylan shrugged. “I’m the middle son. I didn’t get enough love.”
Lucas rolled his eyes. “You both got off easy. Give me a break.”
Dylan grew serious. “Mom and Dad did shove a lot on you early. You always watched out for us.”
Lucas got up to carry his bowl to the sink and get another beer. “You guys made it easy. So did Dulcey.”
“It doesn’t sound like our sister’s coming home any time soon,” Toby said.
“She wants us to have Thanksgiving in her house.” Dylan took his bowl to the sink, too, and returned with one of the good chocolate chip cookies.
“Where did you find that?” Toby was on his feet.
“Leave a few for the kids,” Lucas warned. He thought he’d tucked the plastic container in the corner, out of sight, but he should have known better. He frowned at Dylan. “She must not think she’ll be back in time. Why her house? Why not mine?”
“Beth asked her if it would be all right. She misses her mom, but she misses being home, too.” Dylan bit into the cookie, smiled, and popped the rest into his mouth.
“Doubter. You thought it might taste awful, didn’t you? Miss Doore showed us the recipe when we bumped into her at the store.”
Toby stared. “Miss Doore shares recipes with you now?”
Lucas gave him a look. “She feels sorry for us. I asked her how to make a turkey, in case I had to come up with something for Thanksgiving.”
Toby grimaced. “Maybe Mom will help us cook.”
Dylan went for another cookie. He had a sweet tooth. “Do you remember Mom’s turkeys? Beef jerky is moister.”
Toby thought about that. “Did Miss Doore volunteer to walk you through it?”
“She’s going to print out step-by-step directions, and I’m buying two cookbooks. They have step-by-step pictures. I should be able to come up with something.”
“We’ll help you,” Dylan said.
“You and Toby never cook.”
“We can follow steps. We’ll meet you at Dulcey’s house early in the morning. The kids can disappear in the basement with all the toys they’ve missed while we cook.”
They agreed on that and moved to the kitchen to rinse dirty dishes and load them in the dishwasher. While they worked, Lucas told them about meeting Mariah at the Gas House.
Toby snorted. “After all the crap she put you through, now she wants you back?”
“That’s what she thinks. She’s wrong. We’d bomb again this time.”
Dylan nodded. “You two aren’t right for each other.”
Toby gave his brother a long, measuring look. “I keep trying to picture the girl who’s going to snag you. Keep coming up empty. What are you looking for?”
Dylan finished wiping down the table. “No idea. I don’t think about it. If it happens, it happens. What about you? You’ve dated every girl who’s wrong for you. Are you afraid of finding the right one?”
“Damn right, I am. I don’t want to be like Mom and Dad.”
“None of us do. That’s why we’re all single.” Dylan dried his hands on the dish towel and headed to the living room. They’d visit a little more, and his brothers would leave early. They never stayed late, but they liked to touch base on Saturdays when they could.
The conversation turned to jobs and sports, and when they left, Toby was heading to a bar to meet friends and Dylan was going home to relax. Lucas stretched in his recliner and Hercules nuzzled against him. He reached for the remote and searched for something to watch on Netflix. He’d go to bed early tonight, because his mom would bring the kids back early on Sunday morning.
His mom. Could she really be seeing someone? He’d always assumed the “friend” she met often was female. He had to chuckle. Would he have a new step-dad soon?