"Hey, honey." My Mom envelops me in a hug. "Glad you could make it from college, after all."
I smile. "So am I. Seriously, I thought Professor Walker was going to keep me there, was it only to annoy me." I take my coat off and throw it over the rack and dump my overnight bag by the stairs. "Gabe and Noa here yet?"
Mom shakes her head as I follow her to the kitchen, where my Dad is standing at his regular spot. Right behind the stove. "Gabe called that he and Nessa are going to be late; you know how traffic can be this time of day. And Noa isn't coming until after dinner."
My Dad's eyes lit up when he sees me. "Well, well, the lost daughter has finally returned home."
I walk around our kitchen island to hug him. "Hey, Daddy."
"Hey, baby." He kisses the top of my head. "How was Philly?"
Pulling myself up on a stool. I steal a tomato from the salad bowl. "I'm still breathing. It's a great city, really, but I thought that Professor Casey could exaggerate a bit. I mean, we spent almost three hours with Liberty Bell. Not that I'm complaining or anything, because it's great for my history, but I was more interested in the Declaration that my parents saved about twenty-two years ago."
Mom and Dad grin at each other and then shake their heads at me. "You didn't tell him that, did you?"
I shake my head. "I wouldn't dare. Well, I haven't told him…"
Dad stirs in the pasta sauce, and arches an eyebrow at me. "Who have you told?"
"Oh, only Mara and Tia, really," I shrug. "Maybe that some others know, too."
Before my parents can start to lecture me, my two younger siblings storm into the kitchen. At seventeen, Ben looks every bit like Dad. Same features, same eyes, same killer smile, as I've heard my friends say…
Shanae, who just had her fifteenth birthday, strolls in after him. For some strange reason, she looks like the both of them. Nae is really a mix between my parents.
"Reen!" Ben throws his arms around my neck and gives me a hug. "You're home!"
I grin as I wrap my arms around my brother's waist. "Hey, little brother." He's such a great guy. Total softie, just like Dad.
"Hey, Reen." Shanae kisses my cheek. "How was Philadelphia?"
And I tell the story all over again. About my two crazy history professors, Walker and Casey, about the tiny stunt Mara, Tia and I pulled, and about that awesome party Milo and Chase gave yesterday. Then I listen to Ben latest song, (the guy is a singer/songwriter in the making, I swear), and Shanae uses me as a model for the dress she's making. The one I'm going to need for the Senator's ball in two weeks. That's what you get when your parents are close with the Senator; the whole family gets invited to the ball… Not that I mind playing dress up.
Gabe and Vanessa arrive right before we start dinner, and it's great to see my big brother again. They had to come from Belleville, because they're living in Grams' farm now. Dad tried to sell the farm after Grams' died, but Mom and Grandma Trish wouldn't hear of it, so now Gabe is living there with Nessa.
I look around the table and smile. This is my family the way I've always known it. Two amazingly loving parents, who are still totally in love with each other (and show it) after twenty years of marriage, a big brother and sister, and two younger siblings. Gabe told me stories about what life was like for him and Noa before they came to live with Mom and Dad. He sometimes gets this distant gaze in his eyes, as he remembers what he had to go through the first five years of his life. He and Noa always tell me that I'm so lucky that I only know Mom and Dad as my parents.
And I am. We are. I remember all those hours Mom and Dad held each and everyone of us, after Noa got diagnosed with cancer when she was fifteen, after Grams died, after all our broken hearts, when Gabe and Nessa got married, and when all three of us graduated... We got through it, all of it, and Noa got better, thankfully.
The doorbell rings, and there she is. Soaked from top to bottom. Hugs Mom and Dad, and then looks at me. "You got any spare clothes, Reen?"
I grin. Noa and I are about the same size and I take her upstairs to give her some fresh clothes. "You survived your first week away with David?" I ask, as I pull a pair of jeans out of the closet.
"It was an assignment, Reen, not a holiday." But she grins at me.
I shake my head. "Oh, for heaven's sake, Noa. You guys are co-workers; he's not your boss. And besides, even if he was, what are you going to do about it?"
She dries her hair with a towel and kicks her pumps off. Falls on the bed. "Nothing, really. But right now, things are… complicated."
I sigh and roll my eyes. "Complicated? Dave's in love with you, you are in love with Dave. I don't see how that is complicated."
Noa pulls her sweater over her head and looks up to me. "Reen, just because you are in love with someone doesn't mean things are just simple. I've got a career to think of, and a million other things. I don't think that getting involved with someone is the wise thing to do right now."
I lean against the doorpost of my room as Noa changes. "Noa, if you're going to wait for the right time, it's never going to happen."
Noa pulls her hair up in a ponytail and ruffles my hair as she passes me. "That's easy for you to say, little sister. You already have a boyfriend."
"Yeah, so? Like everything in my life is simple, or easy. Like everything in Quincy's life is simple or easy. Sometimes you just have to let things happen."
Again, Noa rolls her eyes, as we get down the stairs to the living room. "You should study psychology instead of history, Reen."
I shake my head and stick my tongue out to her. "Whatever."
Reaching the living room, I smell something very familiar. My eyes travel to Mom, who is sitting in the favorite chair, practically in Dad's lap. "You made apple pie again?"
She grins at me. "Yup."
"That apple pie is going to be the death of me, someday," I mutter on my way to the kitchen to get a piece. I already see Gabe with his camera. He smiles at me as I walk passed him to the kitchen island. "Hey, little sis."
"Hey, big brother." I look over his shoulder to the camera. "Snapping pictures again?"
"It's what I do for a living, Reen." He winks and shows me a picture. "Look at this."
It's a picture of Mom and Dad, just the way they are. Sitting close to each other, holding hands and this look of complete happiness in their eyes. It's my parents as I know them. It's the way they are, and always will be. No matter what people are going to do or say, this is how my parents are.
If there's one thing life told me, it's to cherish the people that you love, and hold them close to your heart, and absolutely don't take them for granted. Not ever. Always count yourself lucky, when you look over your shoulder and see people who love you and will stand by you, no matter what.
"Reen?" Gabe waves his hand in front of my face. "What are you thinking about, Reen?"
I shake my head and pour myself a cup of coffee. Then I look from my family in the living room to my big brother who is standing next to me. "Nothing. Just counting myself lucky to have all of you."
Gabe grins as he looks to the others in the living room. "We are lucky to have them, aren't we?"
I take a sip of my coffee and walk to the doorway of the kitchen. Then back at Gabe. "You know, I think I know the most important word in the world."
Gabe joins me. "Really? What's that?"
Looking at my parents, Ben, Shanae, Noa and my sister-in-law, Vanessa, I smile and nod to them.

"Family, Gabe."

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