LATER, AS we were wrapped in thick, fuzzy robes and getting pedicures, Nana asked a question I didn’t see coming. I should have known she had ulterior motives. She was a devious woman. “How’s your love life?”
I groaned, and not because the woman at my feet was a master with a loofah. “I don’t believe I need to answer that question.”
She scoffed before sipping on her mimosa. “Of course you do. It’s the reason I brought you here.”
If looks could kill, she’d… well, she’d probably survive that too. Nana was going to outlive us all. Thankfully. “The truth has finally been revealed. You minx.”
She laughed. It was a thin, rusty sound that I adored. “You’re cute, Corey, but I don’t need to get a couple’s massage with you. I have plenty of gentlemen callers more than willing to rub me if I need it in the privacy of my daughter’s home.”
As if today could get any worse. “There are things we don’t need to say out loud. Less is more.”
She waved a hand at me derisively. “Honey, if we don’t say what’s on our minds, nothing will ever get done. Tell him, Larry.”
Larry Auster leaned forward from his chair on the other side of her. He was wearing a pink robe (by choice, god love him) and drinking a fruity cocktail with an umbrella in it. It was his third. His face was a little flushed. “She’s got a point.”
“Sometimes she has a point,” Matty Auster said from her chair next to me. Her robe had flowers on it, and she had white wine. Her eyes had cucumbers on them, which reminded me that I was hungry. “It just so happens that this happens to be one of those times.”
“Traitors,” I muttered. “You planned this, didn’t you? This is entrapment. I know my rights.”
“Of course not,” Matty said. “This was a gift for you for finishing your second-to-last year of school.”
“And also entrapment,” Nana said.
“You’re very good at this,” Larry told the woman who lifted his feet from the soaker. “I think I’d like another one of these whatever-they-are. Would that be possible?” He looked down at his glass. “I don’t know how I keep drinking them so fast.”
“Your husband is a lush,” I told Matty.
She smiled. “I know. He’s so silly when he’s toasted. It’s one of the things I love about him.”
“We just want to make sure you’re happy,” Nana said. “We know it can be tough. Paul and Vince have found love in a hopeless place—”
“Jesus Christ,” I muttered. “I am never downloading music for you again.”
“—and Sandy and Darren are bumping uglies and being disgusting.”
That was true. They were disgusting. If you’d told me last year that Sanford Stewart and Darren Mayne would be some weird power couple, I would have laughed in your face before kicking you in the balls for even considering such a thing. But here we were.
“And,” Nana continued, “your Vietnamese friend got him some cop love like the heroine of a torrid romance novel.”
I rolled my eyes. “Vegetarian, Nana. Ty is vegetarian, not Vietnamese.”
She frowned. “Oh. Are you sure? I could have sworn he was Vietnamese.”
“Well, regardless. With all of your friends coupling up around you, it can be tough when you’re the only single one left.”
“Not all my friends. I have other friends!”
“You do?” Larry asked as he was handed another cocktail. “Really?”
“Name two,” Matty said.
Meddlesome bitches. “There’s—like. Okay. Hold on. Um.”
“Exactly,” Nana said, as if that solved everything. “You don’t have any other friends. Which is sad, yes, but that’s another intervention entirely.”
“I knew it! I knew this was an intervention!”
“Jig is up,” Larry said, poking himself in the eye with the umbrella.
Matty sighed as she sat up, the cucumbers falling on her chest. “We were doing so well too.”
Now I was grumpy. “Who cares if all my friends are dating each other? I don’t. So what if Paul and Vince are on their honeymoon? And so what if at the same time, Sandy and Darren decided they needed two weeks away in Las Vegas? Who the hell spends two weeks in Vegas? And so what if Dom went all stupidly romantic and now he and Ty are going to be together forever in Seafare? I’m fine.”
“Are you?” Nana asked gently.
I crossed my arms, feeling strangely claustrophobic. “Yes. I’m happy for them. They got everything they ever wanted. And they deserve it, especially after all the crap they’ve been through. Besides, they’re all old. I’m only twenty-three.”
“Hoo boy,” Larry said. “I remember saying that when I was twenty-three. And now look at me.” He grinned. His teeth were stained blue.
I groaned as I put my face in my hands.
I felt a hand on my shoulder, squeezing gently. “A lot of things changed quickly,” Matty said. “We just want to make sure you’re okay with all of it. We worry about all of our children this way.”
That caused a tiny ache in my chest. I had fit in with the Auster family almost from the very beginning. Matty and Larry made sure I knew I was one of theirs. It’d been weird at first, since I wasn’t used to parental figures acting… parental. I’d been on my own longer than I cared to think about, and there was an adjustment period where I’d been unsure of their motives. But I learned that with the Austers, motives were the furthest things from their minds.
Except for times like right now.
And all the other times.
I dropped my hands and laid my head back against the chair. “I’m fine,” I said again, and this time I tried to make it sound like they could believe me. “Really. I promise. And even if I wasn’t, it’s not like I have time for anything more right now. I’ve got my future to think about. Plans to make.”
“You’re very driven,” Larry agreed. “It’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”
Damn him and his ability to make me feel things while my cuticles were getting worked on! “Thank you. So you see, there’s nothing you have to worry about. Let’s talk about something else.”
“Yes,” Nana said. “Let’s. How’s Daddy Charlie doing?”
I blinked. I hadn’t expected her to fold so easily. “Good. I took him to the doctor last week, though he bitched the entire time he could drive himself.”
“Getting his blood pressure under control?” Matty asked.
“Yeah. He’s on the right medication now. Healthy as a horse, or so he says. I’m keeping my eye on him, though. We all are.”
“Nasty business, getting old,” Nana said, a strange note in her voice I couldn’t quite place. “But I’m glad to hear he’s doing better. He’s got that new beau. Nothing helps you feel young again like finding someone to spend your time with.”
This felt dangerous. Surely they didn’t know anything, right? Paul and Sandy swore they’d keep their mouths shut. They swore. “I guess,” I said slowly. “Robert’s good for him. Charlie’s grumpy as always, but I think it’s just a front now. I’ve seen him smile more in the last few months than in the past year.”
“Good, good,” Larry said, crunching on ice. His drink was almost empty again. “We can’t wait to meet this… this Robert.”
I was starting to sweat. I told myself it was because I was wearing a robe in Arizona at the beginning of June. I almost believed it. “I’m sure it will happen sooner rather than later.”
“Oh, I imagine it will,” Matty said, munching on one of her eye cucumbers. “In fact, I suggested to Paul before he and Vince left that we should have a barbeque at some point this summer. Invite Charlie and Robert. Very casual.”
I wiped a trickle of sweat from my brow. Had the air-conditioning failed? This was barbaric! “That sounds good.”
“I wonder who else we should invite?” Nana asked as she stroked the single hair on her chin. “Is there anyone else that we could think of that should be present at a meet-the-family barbeque?” Her eyes widened comically as she gasped. “Oh! Didn’t I hear Robert has a son?”
I needed to get out of here. If I had to run out the front doors in a short robe, I would. I’d done worse things for a lot less.
“That’s right,” Larry said, eyes twinkling. “A son. What was his name?”
“I have no idea,” I grunted. “Hey, are any of you hungry? I’m hungry. I could sure use a sandwich. Maybe I could just go home and make us all one and bring it back. Yes. That sounds like a good idea. I’ll do just—”
Matty shook her head. “I’m not hungry at all. And now that I think about it, I do recall hearing Robert had a son. Jerome. Jerry? Jackson?”
“Jeremy,” I said without thinking. And then I squeaked uncontrollably as I slapped a hand over my mouth.
They all turned slowly to look at me. Even the nail technicians.
“Jeremy,” Nana said.
I shook my head. “Nope. Nope. No. Nein. Nyet. Non. I absolutely will not have this discussion with—you know what? Hold that thought. First and foremost, who’s gonna get it? Give me a name, because I’m going to murder them.”
And it was about that time that my masseuse, Tanya, was walking by. She stopped and stared at me. “Hibbity bip,” she breathed. “I knew it was real.”
“No, Tanya!” I yelled. “No hibbity bip! Murder is bad!”
She hurried away. Goddammit. I was going to get so subpoenaed.
I stood up, pulling my robe tighter, and stepped out of the foot-soaking tub. Water droplets splashed on the floor, and I almost slipped. I managed to save myself and turned to stare fiercely at my family. I put my hands on my hips so they knew I meant business.
“So precious,” Nana whispered.
“Now see here,” I said sternly. “I don’t know who opened their fat mouths, but I have an idea—”
“Darren and Vince,” Matty supplied helpfully.
“—but I… wait. What. Really? Darren and Vince? What the fuck?”
“Language,” Larry scolded. “Especially while I’m getting my nails done.”
I threw up my hands. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I don’t know what they told you, but it isn’t true. Professor Olsen is great, but I don’t think of him that way.”
“Uh-huh,” Matty said.
“He’s hot for teacher,” Nana told her technician.
“I even looked up the charter for the U of A,” Larry said. “It’s not against the rules for a teacher to get involved with—”
“Why are you like this?” I demanded.
Matty snorted. “Sweetheart, you knew what you were getting into a long time ago. You just didn’t realize it would swing your way eventually while you were gleefully meddling in the background. That’s not on us. That’s on you. It’s your time to shine.”
Ugh. That sounded terrible. “I’m leaving,” I announced grandly. “I bid you good day.”
“I drove you here in the limo I forgot to give back after Paul’s bachelor party,” Nana reminded me.
“I said good—oh. Right. Dammit. Why the hell don’t I have a car?”
“Because you won’t let us buy you one as an early graduation present,” Larry reminded me.
“I like riding the bus,” I retorted.
“No one likes riding the bus,” Matty said. “Not even the bus drivers.”
“Keys,” I demanded, holding out my hand. “I’ll drive myself.”
Nana snorted. “Like hell I’m going to let you drive my stolen limo. I’ll take you home.”
Larry frowned. “Are we letting you drive again? I thought after you hit all those mailboxes, they took your license away.”
“Run!” Nana yelled, kicking her feet out of the soaker and spraying her technician in the face.
And we did just that.