Just With You

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Pulling into my parents’ driveway, I park alongside Drew’s black F150 and look over at Stella. “Ready to do this?”

“Absolutely.” Her smile is infectious and makes one spread over my own face.

Grabbing the container of brownies off the back seat, I climb out of the car and go around to let her out. Handing her the glass container, I take her free hand and walk her up the front steps.

“Oh, it looks so pretty,” she gushes, seeing the hanging annuals I bought for my mom. The flowers have all bloomed, and my mom has done a fine job of keeping them alive.

“You should have heard how mad she was that I just dropped it off without seeing her. Momma ’bout gave me a damn ass whooping for that.”

“I like her already,” Stella says with a wink.

Shaking my head at her, I push the front door open and usher her inside.

“We’re here!” I shout, walking Stella toward the back of the house where the giant kitchen sits, finding my parents and Drew sitting at the table. Drew hops up from his seat and rushes to give Stella a huge hug.

“Watch it, bro,” I growl at him, and he just rolls his eyes.

“You know she isn’t my type, right?”

“Don’t care.”

“Oh chillax, Jace.” Drew holds a hand out, and we give each other a half hug. I make sure to smack him extra hard on the back before releasing him, then sling my arm over Stella’s shoulders as my parents stand to greet her.

“Mom, Dad, this is Stella Cole. Stella, these are my parents, Anna and Clint.”

Stella stretches her arm out to shake Dad’s hand and he kisses the back of it, but Mom just grabs her for a quick hug.

“Sweetheart, we’re thrilled you’re here with us. We’ve heard so much about you from Jace.” Mom smiles over at me, and I lean down to kiss her cheek.

Stella hands the container of brownies to Dad, and he immediately opens it up to take a whiff.

“Jace said you liked them with walnuts, so I put in extra.”

“You need to marry this one, son. She’s perfect.” Dad pulls a brownie out and takes a bite from it, Mom slapping him on the arm.

“Stella, can I give you a tour?” Mom asks, and when Stella nods, they link arms and walk out of the room, my girl blowing a kiss in my direction.

Drew and I both wait till they’re safely far enough away, and then we each grab a brownie of our own.

“Fuck, man. Dad’s right. Marry her. Now,” Drew mumbles around a mouthful of food.

“She’s the best,” I say, groaning when I get a bite of the chocolate goodness she baked.

“You know Mom is probably in the living room showing your girl all the embarrassing baby photos of you, right?” Drew jokes, brushes his hands on his shorts.

Shrugging, I walk over to the fridge and pull the door open, looking for a beer. My dad seems to know what I’m doing, and he comes over to set the brownies on the island.

“Come with me, bud.”

Drew and I look at each other with our eyebrows raised and follow dad out onto the porch. As soon as we’re outside, we see exactly what’s going on.

“Holy shit!” Drew shouts, and I whistle. Next to the huge inground pool they’ve had for decades is a brand-new state-of-the-art outdoor grill. Set in stones and concrete, there’s a four-burner gas grill and a mini fridge on the other side with an attached sink.

“Damn. Someone upgraded, huh?” I say, running my hand along the top of it. Drew reaches into the fridge and pulls out three beers, twisting the tops off them and handing one each to me and Dad. We all hold them up and clink them together.

“About time you got this, Pop. You’ve wanted it forever.”

“Your mother has been saving since before retirement for this, and she just surprised me with it yesterday morning. You’re lucky your dad’s still standing.” Dad takes a sip of his beer, and I walk over toward the pool. It seems they also got a bigger patio set. We all take a seat around the table, and Drew kicks his bare feet up onto it. Dad knocks his legs off a second later, and we laugh when we realize it’s because Mom and Stella are on their way over to us.

Stella sits down next to me, and I kiss her on the cheek. “So, how many childhood photos did you get to see?” I joke. She holds up her thumb and pointer finger before putting her arms out wide. “Thanks, Momma.”

“You’re welcome, Jace,” Mom teases me. I just shake my head before taking a pull from my bottle. She motions to my dad, and he excuses himself and then follows after her.

“How’s work, Stella?” Drew asks.

She leans back in her seat, and I drape my arm over the back of her chair. Resting her hand on my leg, she smiles.

“It’s been good. Closed a few cases, opened one. A lot of long days, but it’s the only way these kids get the best possible chance at a better life.”

“She’s incredible,” I tell my brother, and Stella squeezes my leg.

Drew smirks. “She puts up with your ass, so she must be.”

“Shut the hell up.”

Drew just laughs and gets up from the table, heading back toward the grill. Coming back over to us, he hands Stella a beer and she thanks him, taking a sip from it.

“Look at you, being all gentlemanly and shit. Who would have thought?” I say, laughing when Drew chucks his beer cap toward me.

“How old are you guys?” Stella asks with an eye roll.

I wave her off. “Oh please, babe. We’re grown-ups.”

“More like grown-up babies,” Stella cracks, and Drew scoffs at her.

I just shake my head at the two of them and drink my beer. My parents come back outside a few minutes later, Mom holding a platter and bowl. When she sets down her homemade guacamole and a plate of chips, my stomach growls, and Stella laughs at me.

“Are you ever not hungry?”

“What’s that?” She rolls her eyes at me, and I steal a quick kiss from her, causing Drew to pretend to gag.

“Boys, knock it off,” Mom scolds us. Drew apologizes, but we all know it’s just in fun. Drew and I have never been able to be together without giving the other one shit the whole time. It’s just the way our relationship works, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Stella holds out a chip loaded with some guac and I take it from her, popping it in my mouth with a groan. Mom and Dad take a seat at the other end of the table, and Dad turns his attention to Stella.

“So, we never got the story from Jace, but how did you two meet again?”

And with that, we all settle down to enjoy the afternoon.

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