I walked into the living room, Caleb running ahead of me.
“There you are!” Mom said, rising to her feet to pull me into a hug. “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
I smiled and hugged her back. “Thanks, Mom.” I couldn’t help but shake my head at her though. “But really, a party? I’m twenty-four.”
Mom’s eyes twinkled. “You’re my kid. I can throw you a party if I want to.” She arched a brow, glancing towards the hallway. “Nobody else is coming with you?”
What? She can’t know about Parker. “What? Mom, of course not. It’s just me and Caleb like always.”
“Hmm.” She looked at me, eyes questioning. In response, I glanced away.
There’s no way she could know, I assured myself. We’d only been dating for a few weeks, and I hadn’t told anybody, not even Loralee. Although, if I could get some alone time with her tonight, that was on the agenda.
“So,” I said, just a little too brightly. “Can I help with anything?”
Mom waved me off. “Not at all. I told you to show up later anyway; birthday girls aren’t supposed to show up before all the guests.”
“Yeah, Mama,” Caleb parroted.
I laughed quietly and sat down. “Well, excuse me. I was hoping to be of help.”
Theresa came downstairs. “Hey guys! Look at you, munchkin!” She walked over to Caleb and tousled his hair.
Not far behind her, Nathan stepped off the last stair. He dropped down onto the couch next to me. “So, am I just an angsty teenager or is this lame?”
“Pretty lame,” I agreed.
“I heard that!” Mom called from the kitchen.
Theresa snorted and sat down. “I don’t know. I think it’s nice. When’s the last time we all got together?” She had a point. Though we’d gotten together for Christmas, that hadn’t included the extended family, plus that had been months ago. It’d be nice to have everyone together.
The front door opened and a moment later, my step father appeared. He smiled at us all, but his greeting was interrupted by Caleb’s small body launching itself at him.
“Hi, Grampa! Did you meet any big stars today?”
Carter laughed and hugged Caleb. “No. I told you, I’m old and boring.” He did small shows at clubs and hotels in the area. I knew that once his dream had been much grander, but he’d put family ahead of that. I’d never asked him, but he seemed happy with his choices.
He turned around when the doorbell rang. “Shirley, hey.” I heard a couple of feminine voices before Aunts Shirley and Camille came into the room.
I smiled and got to my feet, hugging them both. “Hey, where’s Luc? Is he not coming?”
“Oh, he is,” Camille said. “He’s coming with Alison. Haven’t you heard? They’ve moved in together.”
My eyes widened in surprise. “Really?” They’d only been dating, what, six months? Call me a prude, but that seemed kind of fast.
Shirley stole my seat, sitting down next to Nathan. “Believe me, we tried to talk him out of it.” She shook her head. “But it was what he wanted.”
I sat down to talk to them while steadily more people arrived. Next it was Alison and Luc, seemingly as happy as could be. Their arrival spurred Carter to get the folding chairs out of the basement. Then it was Loralee and Tommy, unfortunately without Logan. They’d evidently decided that a crowded party wasn’t the best place for an infant, which, probably, was a smart idea. Finally, there was no one missing but Josh.
“Where is he,” Mom muttered, looking at the time. “I asked him yesterday, and he said he’d – “ She cut off when the front door opened. “Oh, there he is.”
Josh walked into the room…accompanied by a woman. He’s got a date? I mean, it wasn’t surprising he had a date. Every time I turned around, he was dating a new girl. But he’d never brought any of his string of girlfriend’s home to meet Mom, much less a house full of our family. And his ex girlfriend. When’s the last time they were even in the same room together, I wondered.
“Hey, Mom,” Josh said with an easy smile. He kissed her on the cheek. “This is Krys. Krys, this is my mom, Hadley Harrison.”
Mom recovered from her surprise and shook hands with the woman. “It’s nice to meet you, Krys. Please, make yourself at home.”
I got up and went over to them. “Doth mine eyes deceive me or has my brother actually brought a girl to this shark pit?”
Josh snorted and hugged me with one arm. “Nora, this is Krys. Krys, my little sister, Nora.”
Krys smiled at me. “It’s nice to finally meet you. Josh has told me a lot about you. Happy birthday, by the way.”
“Thank you.” I smiled between them. “I’ve got to say, this is a surprise. Is this about…?” I gestured towards Alison, who was sitting next to Luc, though her focus seemed to be on us.
Krys was the one to answer. “It was my idea,” she said in a conspiratorial whisper. She leaned up and laid one on Josh’s cheek. “We’ll show her for being all happy and shit.”
I laughed in a quick burst. I liked her already. “Keep this one, Josh. I’m serious.” My brother could use someone with a sense of humor.
A few presents got handed out (even though I’d asked Mom to tell everyone not to get me anything) and then there was cake, which, admittedly, I’d been looking forward to. My aunts left first, as Aunt Shirley had an early surgery. I took that as my cue to get Loralee alone before the party fully wound down.
I grabbed Loralee’s arm and hauled her into my old room, which now belonged to Theresa, as evidenced by the abundance of pink. “Okay, I need to talk to you.”
Loralee arched her brow and sat down on the bed next to me. “What is it?”
I’d been waiting until I could talk to her face to face, but, now that the moment was upon me, I wasn’t sure how to say it. Finally, I took a calming breath. “So…I’m seeing someone.”
Loralee’s eyes nearly bugged out of her skull. “You’re what?” she asked, her voice jumping a couple of octaves.
I waved my hands at her. “Shh! If I wanted everyone to know I’d have announced it out there.”
“Sorry. It’s just – well, hell, it’s you. I thought you were practically ready to sign up for a convent.”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Very funny.”
She grinned at me. “Spill, woman! Who is he? How did you meet him? Why didn’t you bring him?”
I couldn’t withhold a grin; I always seemed to smile these days, whenever I thought about Parker. “His name is Parker Jennings. I met him at the library; he was playing guitar and singing for the kids.”
“Well if that isn’t freaking adorable.” Loralee smiled and grabbed my arm, squeezing tightly in excitement. “Is he cute? Seriously, why didn’t you bring him tonight? This is exactly why your mom organized this in the first place; she knew something was up.”
“I couldn’t spring my whole family on him like this.” I had been tempted to bring him, but we’d have both been swarmed the whole night. “We’ve barely started dating. And I’m taking this slow.” Snails would break speed records before this relationship did if I had my way.
“Gah, I want to meet him. He has to be off the charts amazing for you to have finally un-sworn off men.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” I laughed at her. Then I admitted, “He is really cute. But that’s not really why I’m with him.” I let out a soft sigh – had that been a dreamy sigh? “He writes kid’s books.”
“He really is perfect for you,” she said with a smile. She put her arm around me and squeezed. “I’m so happy for you, Nora. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”
“You haven’t even met him. I barely know him.”
She shook her head. “Doesn’t matter. It’s just like I told you, Nora. I always said you’d find one of the good ones.”
I truly hoped she was right.