Meet The Family
"Whose house is this?" Emery peered through the windshield at the small family home where I grew up.
"This? This is my parent's house."
Her head jolted to me. "Wait. Your home? You lived twenty minutes away, and you decided to move on campus!"
"No, not home. Home is where the heart is." I cleared my throat. "Now, let's go."
I exited the car with Emery following me to the front door. When I stepped in, I could smell my mom cooking in the kitchen. It's only been a week or so since I've been here, but I still miss it. "Mom! We made it."
That beautiful, olive-skinned woman with black hair stepped out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on the front of the colorful apron I made her when I was in grade school. I can't believe she kept it all this time.
"Oh! My baby!" She rushed into my arms, squeezing me with hers. She caresses my cheek in her endearing way. She peeked around me. "And who's this?"
"This is Emery, Mom."
"Emery! The Emery? You didn't tell me Emery was the friend you were bringing." She pushed me aside and tugged Emery into a hug, making her have to bend to accommodate my mom's slightly shorter stature. Emery laughed awkwardly while returning the hug. "I feel like I've known you for years. You're like family around here. It's nice to meet you finally. You're beautiful."
Emery looked perplexed, her blush rushing to her cheeks. "It's nice to meet you too, ma'am."
"You can call me Olivia. Now, you two go get washed up. Dinner's almost ready." She shooed and started toward the kitchen.
"Hey, Mom?" she stopped in her path, "Where's Casey and Austen?"
"Casey! Austen! Your brother's here, and he brought his girlfriend," she slowly sang out 'girlfriend' before chuckling her way into the kitchen. I rolled my eyes at her antics. I heard their pounding feet coming down the stairs that weren't visible from where we stood by the door.
"Girlfriend? Why didn't you tell me we were coming here. Now I feel like an ass for not knowing much about them as they apparently know about me," Emery whispered.
I shrugged my shoulders and nervously rubbed the back of my neck. "You wouldn't have agreed to come."
"Roman!" Casey screamed, jumping into my arms. I lifted her light eight-year-old body into my arms and hugged her tightly. Her twin brother stood a little further back with his arms folded.
"Too old for hugs now?" Austen dropped his arms and ran into mine for a hug. I missed them.
"Is this Emery?" Casey asked, smiling from ear to ear.
"Yes. This is Emery."
Emery squatted in front of Casey, tilting her head to the side. "I feel bad because everyone knows me, but I don't know too much about you guys."
"It's okay. Roman's a pretty private person. I'm Casey, and that's Austen. We're twins!" Austen gave her a nod.
"Well, it's very nice to meet you guys."
"You're very pretty." Casey stroked Emery's hair.
"Thank you. You are pretty, too. I like your hair bows."
"Mom did it!" Casey side glanced at me then leaned in closer to Emery. "Is it true that Roman beat that Lewis's ass."
"Casey! Go wash up for dinner! Now!"
She smacked her lips and rolled her eyes. "Fine. It's not like you made me pinky promise," she whined. Austen walked off with his sister to go wash up.
"I see we have a lot to discuss. Why didn't you tell me you had a brother and sister? And why does everyone keep saying I'm your girlfriend? And why would you tell your little sister about Lewis?"
"They're just joking."
"Right. Everyone knows Lewis," she rolled her eyes at me.
"Just follow me."
After washing our hands in the upstairs bathroom, Emery wandered off while I was still drying. I walked in the hall to listen for a sign to where Emery snuck off. When I heard a small clang, I walked to my room to see the door cracked open. I peeked in to see her looking around, her fingers tracing the plaque of every trophy on the shelf, her eyes roaming all the math and science posters covering my walls.
"You look shocked."
She jumped at the sudden interruption of silence. She looked over my room one last time before her eyes landed on me, leaning in the door frame. It baffles me how beautiful she is, and the blush creeping to her cheeks let me know I was staring a little too long. She tangled her fingers as she always did when she was nervous.
"No. I'm..uh... I'm impressed." She cleared her throat, not looking at me, pointing to the trophies.
"Come on. Let's eat." I nodded towards the stairs. I waited for her to exit then closed the door behind her. I found the perfect opportunity to make her squirm. I lightly slapped her butt before we entered the dining room. She was ready to tear me a new one, but she stopped when she heard Casey giggle. She walked to one of the three empty seats left. I took the one right beside her.
"He's working late tonight. Again," Mom answered. I know he's been working a lot since Nathan died. Mom looked worried for a split second but quickly masked it with a smile. "So, Emery, how are classes so far?"
"It's tough but interesting. It keeps me busy, and I love the challenge," Emery answered, placing a slice of lasagna on her plate along with some garlic bread. I grabbed some for myself.
"Good. You're going to need practice with that one. He's the real challenge." Mom pointed her fork at me. Emery laughed, bumping my shoulder with hers.
Emery and my mom were deep into their conversation. It flowed so smoothly, and they laughed with each other like old friends. I felt a hard kick to my shin. I looked up to see Casey giving me a look and some dramatic head movements. I made sure no one else was listening.
"What?" I whispered.
"You're staring at her," she whispered back.
"No. I'm not."
"Yeah. Whatever," Casey said, rolling her eyes, with a smile plastered on her face.
I couldn't help it. They were getting along so well, and I haven't seen my mom smile this much since Nathan died. I haven't felt much need to be friendly since then, yet Emery seems to pull so much out of me. She brightens the lives of the people around her. Even Austin was laughing at her lame jokes. I placed my hand on her thigh under the table, making her jump.
"So, are you staying here or guys going back to school?" Mom asked. I rubbed her knee, and she tried to knock my hand off without, but I wasn't letting up.
"I'm going to take Emery to Mount Danver."
"Mount Danver?" Emery looked around for answers. She was so cute when she was confused.
Casey's eyes lit up. "Mount Danver is-"
"A surprise," I cut in. I stood up. "Speaking of, we need to leave before it gets too dark."
"Oh! Um.. Okay." Emery stood as well. I took our plates to the kitchen, returning to find my mom engulfing Emery in a hug.
"Ready?" She slowly pulled away from my mom, nodding her head.
"Yeah." Her eyes were glassy. "Let's go." Bye, Casey. Bye, Austin."
"Let Dad know I'll catch him later." Austin waved bye. He was going to be a man of few words. Casey raced around the table, jumping into Emery's arms as she did me, surprising her, making her stumble a little. She hugged her back as I bid my goodbyes.
The sun was just setting as we got into the car. Mount Danver was only about ten minutes away. I knew she was going to love it. She was quiet. No smart remarks. No questioning me about my family calling her my girlfriend. She just looked out the window at the passing trees. It made me wonder what mom said to her.
I turned down the dirt road leading to my destination. Trees began to surround us the further I drove. When the lake appears, I park in the small clearing. It was now dark outside. Emery is still looking out the window.
"Emery? You okay?"
She looked at me as if she just realized I was here. "Uh...Yeah. Yeah. I'm fine. Where are we?" She looked at our surroundings.
"Are you going to kill me and throw my body in the lake?" Her eyes turned to slits.
"Yeah. That's why I brought you here." I cut the engine and opened my door. "You said I'm such a mystery. I want to share some of my secrets." She sat there slack-jawed as I got out of the car. "You coming?"