"Remind me never, ever to cook again."
Mom, Aunt Leigh, Aunt Ellie, and I are standing in the kitchen, staring at the pan I put in the oven over two hours ago when I attempted to make lasagna. When the oven started smoking, we figured something must be wrong- none of us are cooks, and as we stood staring at the blackened rock that had once been dinner, we all simultaneously started laughing.
The front door opens and we hear voices as we move back into the living room.
"But I don't get it. Maddy was best friends with Chelsea, but now she's not because Chelsea wants to be best friends with Zoe?"
"Yes. We've covered this."
"But then why would Maddy still want to be friends with Chelsea? Chelsea ditched her for Zoe. They should both ditch Chelsea."
"Because she's mean."
We sent Ian to get Lily from three houses down, and he looks thoroughly exasperated- Lily just looks amused.
Ian looks up at us as we all smirk back.
"The lives of ten year olds are surprisingly dramatic."
Everyone laughs, and Lily peers into the kitchen.
"What is that?"
"Um, it used to be lasagna."
"Yeah, I'm never cooking again."
The doorbell rings and mom sighs.
"Everyone's coming over today, aren't they?"
"We're very popular." I add, and we all move towards the door. When it opens, Daniel Malone is looking back at us.
"Hi, Laura. And…everyone else."
We all wave, and I think he's scared to come into the house with this insane group of people.
"I…just wanted to check in, see how everyone's doing…I brought food."
This sends us all towards him to grab the bags he's carrying, filled with food that hasn't been completely burned in my culinary homicide.
An hour after Daniel Malone has brought us food, the entire group has settled into the living room- Ellie, Laura and I on the couch, Ian and Daniel on chairs, and Lily and Ava sitting on the floor on the other side of the coffee table.
"This is boring," Lily says, breaking the silence, "Let's do something."
"How about sleeping, because you have school tomorrow and it's nine o'clock." Laura says, grinning at her younger daughters glare back at her.
"But mom," she starts, and Laura puts a hand up to stop her.
"Bed. Go get your pajamas on and then come back down to say goodnight."
"Fine." She whines, trudging up the stairs.
Daniel stands, brushing off his pants. "Well, I should get going. I have to be at work at six tomorrow."
"Thank you for the food." Laura says, standing to open the door for him. "And for stopping by."
"Oh, no problem. I just wanted to make sure you were…holding up, and everything."
"I'm…" she sighs. "Getting there. We'll be okay." She forces a smile.
"I'll call later, to see how things are going."
"That's nice, thank you."
He waves to all of us and walks out the door, and Laura watches him drive away before settling back on the couch.
"He's nice." Ava says, shifting on the floor.
"Yes, he is." Laura says, nonchalantly.
None of us say anything, even though we can tell there's chemistry between Laura and Daniel, because it's just too soon to be even thinking about something like that, and I immediately curse myself when I remember that my brother is dead.
"I should probably go, too." Ian says, standing. "I've got a busy day tomorrow too."
"Thanks for coming over, Ian, and for picking up Lily tonight."
"You're welcome, it was a pleasure. She's a very well-spoken ten year old."
"That she is." Laura says, laughing.
"I guess I'll see you all later," he says, looking at me for a moment.
"You know what?" I say, standing myself, "I'll walk you out."
We walk out and as soon as the door shut behind us, he pushes me back against it, kissing me fervently.
I rest my forehead against his as we catch our breath and I lock my eyes with his.
"I…I'll call you." I manage.
"Okay." he says, and pulls back to walk towards his car.
"And for the record," he calls, looking at me over his shoulder, "I'm not going to push you into anything. We can take this slow because I know you need time and there's a lot on you mind right now, but I want you to know that I'm here for you."
"I…okay." I feel like I'm in high school all over again, the perfect guy walking away and smiling at me and saying that he's there for me, and of course I say something completely lame, but he drives away and waves out the window, and I smile as I walk back inside.
When I go back in, Ellie, Laura and Ava are still in the living room, staring at me.
"What was that?" Ellie asks, grinning.
"What was what?"
"I'll walk you out," she mocks, smiling dreamily at the ceiling.
"Funny." I say, glaring, and I sit back down on the couch. "It was nothing. It was the nice thing to do."
"There's something you're not telling me, and I want details."
I sigh. Ellie can read people like an open book.
Lily comes running down the stairs, pajama clad, and looks disappointed.
Saved by the bell.
"Everyone's gone." She says.
"Ian and Daniel had to go, but say goodnight to us anyway." Laura says, opening her arms to Lily.
"I wanted to say goodnight to Ian." Lily whines, but hugs her mother and the rest of us anyway.
As she walks up the stairs, she turns back to us, grinning.
"I decided I'm going to marry him one day."
We all laugh, and under her breath, Ellie says, "You might have some competition there."
I hit her in the arm, and she laughs. "Okay, okay. Hey, I never said it was you. Now, details."
Ava stands up, looking knowingly at me. "I'm going to take this opportunity to remove myself from this conversation. Goodnight, everyone."
Once she's gone, I sigh at look at Laura and Ellie, who are smiling and looking at me expectantly.
"Well…" I start, shifting my eyes around, "You know we got locked in upstairs, and Ava came up to let us in. Before you got home, though, she found an extra key and unlocked it, but she…um, relocked us in."
They look confused.
"Why?" Laura asked, turning to Ellie and then to me.
"Well, when Ava walked in we were kind of…in a compromising position."
"Oh my God, Montgomery, what did you do?" Ellie is grinning wickedly as Laura is sitting open-mouthed.
"We had clothes on and everything, it wasn't…well…okay, he said that I shouldn't pretend everything's fine and be strong for everyone all the time, and that he's there if I need to talk or anything, and then kissed me."
They don't say anything, and so I continue.
"And then Ava walked in an we froze, and she just rushed back out and we kissed again and then you came home. So we ran downstairs, and that was the end of it. When Ava came up to get us, she said she wouldn't tell anyone."
"Did you talk about what happened?" Laura looks more intrigued as she asks the question.
"Before we went downstairs I told him that I wasn't his girlfriend, and-"
"Why would you do that?" Ellie interrupts.
"Because I'm not…good at relationships. I didn't want him to think that we were together or anything."
"You were making out in the guest room of your sister's house. I think that constitutes being together."
I glare. "And when I walked him out, he said that he didn't want to push me or rush me, but he's there for me."
"That is the sweetest thing anyone could have ever said to you." Laura comments, smiling.
"And you let him leave?" Ellie is wide-eyed.
"What was I supposed to do, take him hostage?"
"Point taken. But do you like him?"
I can feel myself blushing, and Ellie points a finger at me.
"You do! Oh my God, this is crazy."
"No, Ellie, you are crazy."
I stand up, shaking my head at my crazy friend and equally crazy sister in law, who is laughing along with her.
"I'm going to bed." I say, walking upstairs.
Regardless of the fact that I'm exhausted, I sit in bed for another three hours with Ian's words repeating over and over again in my head.