“Oh my goodness, what smells so good in here?”
I lift my gaze from the cucumber I’m cutting up for the salad and inevitably smile as I see the wide grin on my aunt’s face when she enters the kitchen, where I’ve been working for the past hour to make lunch.
“I already know we’re in for a real treat,” she says. She stands on the other side of the kitchen isle and takes a piece of the vegetable. “What are we having?”
“Pesto and Parmesan Chicken,” I answer. “It’s in the oven and almost ready. And the cookies for later are cooling on that rack over there.” I point behind me to the chocolate chip cookies I made earlier.
“Ah, Kaitlyn, you spoil me. I’m inclined to stay home after all and have you cook for me all summer.”
“No, Aunt Jannie,” I laugh. “You will go on your wildlife trip, and I will enjoy the peace and quiet here—and do some sightseeing.”
She chuckles. “About time, I’d say. How many times have you visited me? And you still haven’t been to Coney Island or the Statue of Liberty.”
I chuckle. “Yeah, I know. It’s on my list.”
Jannie walks over to the rack with the cookies and takes one. “Hmmm,” she murmurs after she’s taken a bite. “Delicious! You’re such an awesome cook and baker. I seriously can’t believe how you’re still single.”
I shrug. “I just haven’t found the one who’s worthy of my awesome food.”
She winks at me. “That guy’s gonna be one lucky bastard.”
I laugh out loud. “Oh, I don’t know about that. But that Nan lived with us all my life sure had its perks. I learned everything I know from her.”
“Yeah,” Aunt Jannie agrees. “Mom is a great cook. You certainly inherited her talent.” Even though she smiles when she says it, I see the sadness in her eyes. This is a sensitive topic; I know that. My family is very close; my dad and my aunt are twins and at fifty-one the youngest of five kids. My whole family lives in the same town in rural North Carolina, and I grew up in the same house my grandparents live in.
Aunt Jannie is the only exception. She never married and never had kids. She was the first to move to another state, and she was the first to choose a job that my grandparents considered unsteady and unpredictable—she picked a career in wildlife photography. It caused a little bit of an outrage, and for many years, she was the black sheep of the family.
I was one of the few people who kept in close touch with her. But with time, my grandparents—and the rest of the family—came to accept her life choices. They still don’t talk a lot, but they are on good terms. It probably helped that Aunt Jannie is excellent at what she does, and she’s very successful too. This summer, she’s going on a two-and-a-half month long wildlife tour throughout South America.
“Jannie?” a voice coming from the front door interrupts us.
“Kitchen!” my aunt yells back, and a moment later, Philip walks in. He’s my aunt’s next-door neighbor, and I’ve met him a couple of times when I visited Jannie. He’s a middle-aged guy who comes to see my aunt quite often. I’ve always suspected him to have a crush on her, which she secretly returns, but she, of course, denies it.
Philip is a widower and has two grown sons. Other than that, I don’t know much about him, but he seems to be a nice guy.
“Hey, Phil!” Jannie beams at him, which makes me chuckle quietly. “You’ve met my niece, haven’t you?”
He stretches out his hand. “Yeah, I think so. Kaitlyn, right?”
I wipe my hands on the kitchen towel to shake his. “Yes. Hi, Philip.”
“Are you hungry?” Jannie asks. “Lunch is almost ready.”
“What are you having?”
“Pesto and Parmesan Chicken,” I tell him. “And this salad.”
Philip frowns. “Oh, damn. It smells amazing, but I’m not sure I should eat this.” He looks at me and explains, “I have diabetes.”
“Oh, really?” I raise my eyebrows and smile. “I know lots of dishes that would be great for you. I used to cook for my granddad all the time. He had diabetes too.”
He sighs appreciatively. “That sounds awesome. I know plenty of those, actually, but I’m usually too lazy to cook.”
Jannie laughs. “Yeah, that’s why you always show up here at lunchtime.”
Philip joins in with her laughter. “You got me there.”
“So you’re staying?” my aunt asks.
He shrugs. “Sure. You know I can’t say no to a pretty lady—let alone two.” He winks at Jannie, and her cheeks tinge with a tiny bit of pink.
"Aw, cut it out, you big flirt,” she says with a chuckle, and I can hardly suppress a loud laugh. Ah, young love! I guess it’s always the same, no matter if you’re in your twenties or your fifties.
Luckily, before they start tickling and playfully shoving each other, the kitchen timer goes off, and while I check on the chicken, Phil and my aunt set the table. Once I’m sure the food is done, we all sit down in the dining room and dig in.
“Wow, Kaitlyn, this is delicious,” Philip says after he’s taken the first couple of bites.
“It is, isn’t it?” Jannie beams at me. “My niece here is quite talented in the kitchen.”
Philip nods. “I agree. You’ve got some serious competition, Jan.” He turns to me. “How long are you staying? Am I gonna be able to enjoy more of your awesome cooking?”
I roll my eyes with a laugh. “Stop it, guys. You’re making my ego swell. But to answer your question: I’m spending my summer break here. I’m gonna house-sit for Jannie while she’s gone.”
“Ah, yes, your job thing,” Philip says with a frown. “What am I gonna do without you all summer?”
Jannie laughs. “I’m sure you’ll survive. Invite the kids over; they’ll keep you busy.”
“I will. Once Ben and Amy are back from their honeymoon.”
“Ah, that’s right. You never told me about the wedding.” Jannie pouts. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.”
Philip shrugs. “I understand; you had to work. The wedding was beautiful. And guess what?” He suddenly beams at my aunt. “They’re expecting another baby.”
Jannie smiles widely. “Oh, how wonderful! Your grandchildren will surely keep you on your toes.” She turns to me. “You haven’t met Bella, have you? Phil’s one-year-old granddaughter?”
I shake my head in between bites. “I don’t think I have.”
“She’s the cutest little girl,” my aunt says. “I’m sure you’ll love her. Where did you say did they go for their honeymoon?” she asks Philip.
“Aruba. But they’re only gone for a week,” he explains, “because they didn’t take Bella with them. Amy’s parents are looking after her while they’re away.”
We continue chatting throughout the meal, and it becomes more and more obvious how comfortable my aunt and Philip are with each other. They make a great pair, and I’m sure it won’t be long until they admit it to themselves as well.
We clean up after lunch and sit down on the porch with a cold drink. It’s unusually warm for mid-June, so this summer is bound to be a hot one.
“Ugh, too bad we can’t use your pool right now,” Aunt Jannie groans. “When is Aaron coming by to fix the filter system?”
Philip shrugs. ”Sometime in the next few days. Probably not before you leave, though.”
Jannie grimaces. “Hm, might as well get used to the heat and lack of cooling now because that’s what I’ll most probably have to expect on my trip. But good for you, Kaitlyn,” she says with a wide smile. “Whenever it’s too hot, I’m sure you’re welcome to use Phil’s pool.”
"Of course! You can come by anytime. And feel free to bring cookies,” he says with a mischievous smile.
“If that’s the only payment, I’ll be happy to do that,” I tell him with a smile of my own.
Jannie laughs. “That way you’re gonna meet Ben and Aaron too—his sons.” She points to Phil, who nods.
"Certainly,” he says with another wide smile. “I’ll be glad to introduce you next time they come to visit.”
“They’re your age,” my aunt adds. “I’m sure you’ll like them. Ben’s wife, Amy, is amazing; she can show you the best places to go shopping or do other girly stuff. Right, Phil?”
“Yup,” he agrees. “She’s a doll. She’ll have loads of ideas for things to do over the summer.” He studies me for a moment. “How come you’re spending two-and-a-half months here anyway? What do you do?”
“I’m an elementary school teacher,” I answer. “I didn’t want to spend the summer tutoring, and I needed to get out of North Carolina. So I jumped at the chance to house-sit for Jannie while she’s gone.”
“Don’t forget you’re writing a book as well,” my aunt throws in.
“You’re a writer?” Philip asks wide-eyed.
I shrug. “I wouldn’t call myself that yet. It’s more of a hobby.”
“A hobby?” Janie snorts. “Dear, you have an offer from an agent, which is awesome considering the fact that you’re only twenty-six.”
“I don’t know yet if I’m gonna accept that offer.”
Well, technically, that’s a lie. I already have accepted the offer, but I haven’t told my parents yet. Along with my best friend, my aunt is the only one who knows about it. Mostly because I know my parents won’t be happy. Their daughter, a writer? No way! And they won’t be happy either that I’ve already quit my job at the elementary school. I expect this to cause a similar scene as my aunt’s decision to become a photographer.
I’ve only worked in my job for a year, but writing is and always has been my true passion. I know I should gain some more work experience before I even start considering being a full-time writer, but this offer dropped into my lap, and I couldn’t refuse it. All my life, I did what my parents expected of me—like my aunt did until she was in her mid-twenties. And I know I feel like she did then, which is why she’s the one I confided in.
As my parents are both teachers, it was a given that this was going to be my profession as well. Don’t get me wrong; I loved my job, and I will continue to do some tutoring to earn some extra money, but I love writing even more. So on the spur of the moment, I decided to do something totally uncharacteristic for me. I’ve never taken any risks; I’ve always played it safe. I’ve never left my comfort zone, and I always followed the rules. It’s time to change that. Now I have to figure out a way to break the news to my family.
But I have all summer to do that.