“You know, after that last place you took me, this really isn’t what I was expecting,” Krys said, a wry smile on her face.
I grinned and gestured to the open-air restaurant. “What? Bob’s Burger Bar isn’t as fancy as La Bonne Bouquet?”
She laughed. “Not exactly.” She leaned up and pressed a kiss to my cheek. “You’re learning.”
“See? I told you I’m trainable.” For our first real date, I’d taken her to dinner at probably the fanciest place in Willow Creek. She’d admired it and claimed to enjoy the food, but I could tell that it wasn’t her style. Our second date had been a walk around the woods and a picnic lunch. When we stopped for lunch, she’d pulled out a folding easel and painted the scenery around us. Bob’s Burger Bar wasn’t exactly as picturesque as our nature walk, but it seemed that she liked it anyway.
We found a table and sat down. “You’ve been here before, right?’
She rolled her eyes. “Who lives in Willow Creek and hasn’t been here?” She called over the waitress, not even bothering with the menu, and ordered a burger for herself.
I nodded at the waitress. “The same for me, thanks. Extra bacon.”
“Oh, that sounds good. Mine too.”
This woman is perfect. So many girls he’d gone out with had hemmed and hawed over the menu – no matter where he’d taken them – before ordering a salad and nothing else. He wasn’t sure if they were actually watching their weight or just afraid to eat like a real person in front of someone they were dating.
“So my mother is planning a birthday party for my sister. Who is turning twenty-four.”
Krys arched a brow. “It sounds like she needs to cut the apron strings. No offense.”
I snorted. “No, I agree. I think it’s because Nora’s been acting squirrely the last couple of weeks. She’s got it in her head that Nora is seeing someone and, if she throws her a party, she might bring that someone along.”
“Only my sister would never do that. Even if she were dating someone.” As much as I wanted my little sister to be happy, I would only believe she was dating someone when she told me herself. “She’s not the kind of person who likes attention on her.”
Krys nodded understandingly. “Well, hopefully it’ll be a fun party anyway.”
I shrugged. “I don’t think I’m going to go. They can have their family gathering and eat cake without me.”
Krys smiled at the waitress as she sat their food down before turning her attention back to me. “Not go? Why?”
“My ex is going to be there. I’m over her, but it’s still…”
“Awkward,” Krys finished for me.
“Yeah, very awkward. It doesn’t help that she’s dating my cousin now.” And is also my step-aunt.
“Has anyone ever told you that you have a very complicated family?”
I looked at her and said, completely deadpan. “She’s also my step-father’s sister.”
Krys looked at me for a moment before bursting into laughter. “Wait, wait, you dated your – your step-aunt?” Then she started making banjo sounds.
I tossed a French fry at her. “It’s not like we were raised as family.”
Her laughter devolved into snorts, and she had to wipe her eyes. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. This is super serious.” She put on a straight face.
I rolled my eyes at her, but a smile curled my lips. It felt good to laugh about the whole thing. Really, it was kind of funny, in a fucked up kind of way. “So, anyway, that’s why I’m not going.”
“I don’t think that’s what you should do.” Krys grinned and leaned across the table. “I think what you should do is take me with you. I’ll hang all over you and be overtly, grossly affectionate so everyone will see you’re happily moved on.”
“You don’t need to do that. I know it’s still a little early for family introductions.”
“Hey, I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t want to go. I totally want to meet your crazy, complicated family.”
“Well,” I said with a smile, “if you mean it, sure. You and my mom will love each other.”
After we left the restaurant, we took a walk by the river. In the distance there were the sounds of people and cars, but they were muted by the dense trees along the path.
“Josh, can I ask what happened with you and Alison?” Krys looked up at me. “You don’t have to tell me. It’s your private business.”
I shook my head. “I don’t mind. When we were kids, Alison was my best friend. We knew each other for a while even before my mom met her brother. Even after Mom and Carter got married, I never thought of her as family. And at some point, I fell in love with her. We were together for years, but we should’ve broken up a lot sooner than we did.” I looked out over the water, remembering all the fights we’d had. “I was too stubborn to let it go, though. In the end, we pretty much imploded.”
“What caused the implosion?”
“We didn’t want the same things anymore.” I looked over at her. If she doesn’t want what I want, am I strong enough to walk away? “Namely a family – kids.”
Krys smiled tenderly. “Well, that’s a good sign for us.”