Lucas was glad he and his brothers had made chili, a pot roast, and pulled pork on Saturday, because Dulcey flew back home a week after Thanksgiving. She sounded wiped out when she talked to him on the phone.
“I only had a small graveside service for Earl. That’s what he wanted. He appointed someone at his bank as the executor of his will, for which I’m grateful. I don’t know much about stuff like that. He told me to take anything Garret or I might want, so I’m trying to pack things that might mean something to Garrett. I can’t wait to see the kids.”
She drove to pick them up at Toby’s on Thursday night, and Lucas could imagine how excited they’d be when they saw their mom walk through the door. He and his brothers had talked about greeting Dulcey there, but they’d decided she’d be tired and ready to just spend time with her kids. They’d catch her later.
He hadn’t seen Randie since the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. He’d been looking forward to seeing her on Friday, maybe asking her out, but he wouldn’t need to pick up the kids anymore.
He was thrilled Dulcey was home. He was glad the kids could be back in their own house. But he’d miss Jordy and Beth. He’d miss seeing Randie.
On Friday, when he left his job and drove straight home, the house felt empty. Hercules ran to greet him like always, but what was he supposed to do with the rest of the night? Would Randie still see him when there were no kids to use as a buffer?
He tried to think of an excuse that might entice her. Finally, he tapped her number on his cell phone and when she picked up, said, “Hi. This is Lucas. The kids’ mother’s back home, so I have an empty house right now, and it’s too quiet. I have lots of leftover ham and turkey, too. Any chance you’d come over and tell me how to use them up?”
She sounded happy to hear from him. “I have to meet Jonathan later tonight. I promised him we’d watch a movie together. He always gets down when he won’t see Priscilla for a few weeks.”
“I’d get depressed, too.” Lucas was scrambling to come up with ideas to keep seeing Randie. If they bombed, he’d be an unhappy man, also.
“Give me half an hour, and I’ll be there,” Randie said.
“Is there anything I need? Should I make a quick run to the store?”
“Your cupboards looked pretty stocked to me. Let’s play it by ear.”
“Okay, see you soon.”
He didn’t know what she had in mind, but he checked his refrigerator to make sure he had her favorite white zinfandel. No worries. He’d bought a half dozen bottles the last time he was at the store, but he hadn’t checked them since Thanksgiving. They were all there. He wondered if he should buy a better vintage next time. He was a beer drinker and didn’t know a thing about what wine went with what food.
He stared at his house. It was too cluttered. He raced around throwing away scattered newspapers and rearranging couch cushions. When she pulled in the drive, he went to the door to greet her.
“Hello.” She stopped to stand on tiptoe to kiss his cheek.
He liked that as an introduction for the night.
“I never called to tell you what a nice time we had eating our Thanksgiving meal in your house. Thank you again.”
“You left a note.”
She wrinkled her pretty nose. “I should have called.”
He shrugged and led her into the kitchen. Hercules ran around her legs, wanting attention. She bent to pet him. Her V-neck was more conservative tonight, but he still got a peek at some cleavage. He focused on her empty hands. “I don’t see a recipe.”
“I put it on my phone. Ready? I’m getting hungry.”
“What are we making?” He walked to the fridge. “A glass of wine?”
“Do you have zinfandel?”
He took out a bottle, opened it, and poured it into a short wine glass. He knew better than to try fancy glasses with stems. He always broke them. He got himself a beer, and Randie scrolled to the recipe on her phone.
“I thought we’d make gumbo. Let’s see if you have what I need. If you don’t, we’ll try something simpler.”
He was surprised. She knew what he had in stock better than he did.
“An onion, red pepper, and celery—yes. Creole seasoning—I brought some. Garlic and chicken broth—yes. Lots of shredded chicken—we’ll substitute the turkey. You don’t have andouille sausage either, but you have smoked. And you have shrimp.”
He usually didn’t, but he’d thought about taking shrimp cocktail to Thanksgiving, then changed his mind. He’d bought a big bag of frozen, tailless shrimp that he could boil. It was still in the freezer. She took it out and emptied it into colander, then ran water over it to thaw.
She took a sip of her wine and went to his cupboards. “We’ll start with a big soup pot and make a roux. Your flour and olive oil are in here, aren’t they?”
She’d know. She’d wanted to teach him how to make gravy from scratch, but that was a no go. He’d bought two jars of it instead.
She poured a half cup of oil into the pan, then measured out half a cup of flour. “For a roux, the amounts are always equal. We cook these together low and slow until they’re the same color as coffee.”
That took longer than he thought. He got impatient and wanted to crank up the heat, but she forbade it. While she stirred, he diced onions, a pepper, and celery. She sipped her wine and he drank his beer. The kitchen warmed up until his T-shirt stuck to him. When they put the veggies in the pot, the aromas smelled like happiness.
He poured her a second glass of wine. “How are your kids? Getting excited about Christmas?”
Whenever she talked about her students, she lit up. “We’re making a lot of art stuff right now to hang in the room. That always makes them happy. So far, we’re doing fine, but the week before vacation? It’s hard to keep their attention.” She looked around his house. “What about you? Do you decorate much for the holiday?”
He never had. Mariah wasn’t the sentimental sort. They went to so many holiday functions, they didn’t bother much with the house. And when she left him, he didn’t like to think about holidays.
He knew Randie probably put up a tree, did Christmas right. “I don’t do much at all,” he told her. “It always seems like a lot of bother.”
She stared at him. “Of course it is. It’s to celebrate.”
“My brothers and I go to Dulcey’s for that.”
She shook her head and tsked. She poured the chicken broth into the pot and started shredding leftover turkey. He’d failed the decorating test. She pushed two links of sausage to him to slice.
He wanted to change the topic. “Has your grandma found a new home?”
“Yes!” Her blue eyes sparkled with excitement. “She’s settled in. It’s perfect for her. She has her own room with a small kitchenette. She can eat in the dining room whenever she doesn’t want to cook, and she’s already joined a card group.”
“Still no room for a family dinner?”
Her expression sagged. “No, but I could cook things ahead in my apartment. We’ll think of something.”
“Why, when you can use my house? We always go to Dulcey’s for the holidays.”
“You mean we could come here again for Christmas?”
She turned and hugged him. He wrapped his arms around her, too, and bent to kiss the top of her head. She surprised him when she tilted her head. Her lips opened to welcome him, and the kiss deepened. When it ended, they both came up for air. He was bending down for more when her phone buzzed. She pulled a little away from him to glance at the I.D. With a frown, she stepped out of his arms.
“Hi, Jonathan! How’s it going?” She listened for a while, then nodded. “Sure, I can do that. Did you already call the pizza in?” Another pause. “No problem. I’ll stop and grab it at six-thirty. I’ll see you soon.”
When she put down her phone, she looked frustrated. “Jonathan decided we might as well eat together since I’m going to his place. We have to hurry to finish your gumbo.” She tossed in the slices of sausage, then checked the shrimp. Fully thawed. They went in, too.
“You only cook the shrimp till they turn pink. Usually about three minutes. Then they’re done.”
She washed her hands and started to the door. “I wish I could stay longer.” She gave him a long look. “Next time, invite me sooner, and I’ll make time for you.”
Halleluiah! He didn’t need an excuse to call her. “Next Friday?” he asked.
“If you can wait that long.”
He stared. “When are you free?”
“I was going to bring Gram to my apartment on Sunday to cook together, but she likes your kitchen better.”
He smiled. “Sunday, it is.”
He watched her back out of the drive and missed her already. But Sunday was only two days away. He’d have to be careful, though. She was bringing her gram. He’d have to behave.