Everyone laughs at this, and Theo lets out a groaning “Dad, no.”
Ricky turns to his son. “Are you kidding me? You got a call from a girl the other day and couldn’t remember who she was.”
“I didn—!” Theo starts, but Ricky holds up a hand.
“When we were here over Thanksgiving, what did you have hiding in your closet after Grandma left?”
Both Andrew and I go very, very still.
Theo closes his eyes, pretending to be embarrassed by this. “A woman.”
“A woman,” Ricky repeats. “Just hanging out in your closet waiting for us to finish eating.” Surprised laughter breaks out at the table, but inside, I feel like I’ve dodged the world’s largest bullet. “Theo, you are in no way prepared to give me shit about anything.”
“Earmuffs,” Aaron mutters to the twins, who belatedly clap their hands over their ears.
Miles is the last to get over his laughter about all of this, and Theo turns to him, teasing, “At least I’ve got game, bro.”
To my brother’s credit, he doesn’t look fazed by this in the slightest. “I’m seventeen. Am I supposed to be hiding people in my closet?”
“No,” Mom and Dad say in unison.
“Mae and Andrew are awfully quiet over there . . .” Lisa singsongs.
The entire room goes still, and every gaze swings our way. I look up from where I’m cutting my spaghetti into smaller clumps and realize Andrew is making nearly the same Who, me? expression to my right.
“I’m sorry, what?” Andrew says through a bite of salad.
“Oh, we’re just talking about how above reproach you two are,” Dad says, and Mom looks undeniably proud.
“These two certainly aren’t sneaking around, hiding booty calls in their bedrooms,” Ricky chides Theo.
While I struggle to swallow down a bite of gluey noodles, Andrew nonchalantly spears a piece of lettuce, saying, “That is technically correct.”
“Mae would have to date for that to happen,” Miles says, and I glare at him.
“Your sister is not interested in ‘booty calls,’ ” Dad says, bringing a forkful of spaghetti to his mouth before reconsidering.
My brother drops his fork in disgust. “Can everyone stop saying ‘booty call’?”
I feel Andrew’s foot come over mine under the table and am suddenly very, very interested in the composition of the meat sauce, blurting, “This is so unique, Theo, how did you make it?”
Flattered, he waxes happily about frying the meat, dumping in canned tomatoes, finding some dried herbs in the pantry. The conversation moves on, and I’m able to mostly tune it out . . . which is good because it’s taking nearly all of my energy to not be completely focused on Andrew’s every movement next to me. I would not be good for any conversation right now.
I think he’s intentionally brushing elbows with me, but it’s hard to know, because he’s left-handed and I’m right-handed. But then I’m thinking about hands, and fingers, and the way he gripped my leg, pulling it over his hip before rocking against me.
I’m thinking about those hands sliding under my shirt, up over my ribs. I’m thinking about those fingers pulling the button on my jeans free, teasingly tugging down my zipper. I’m thinking about that mouth moving breathlessly down my body, over my—
“Mae?” Mom’s voice rises over the noise.
“Mm?” I look up, realizing again that everyone is watching me. Apparently, I’ve missed a direct question.
Her brows furrow. “Are you okay, honey?”
With horror, I realize my entire face and neck are flushed. “Yeah, sorry, was just chowing on my dinner.”
Theo leans on his elbows. “I called Professor Plum, and you didn’t even blink.”
“Oh.” I wave my fork. “I’ll be whoever’s left.”
I can feel the ripples of shock make their way around the table. I am laid-back about few things, it’s true, and none of those things are Professor Plum. Like any self-respecting woman of twenty-six, I take my Clue very seriously.
“What’s the big deal, guys?” I ask. “Sometimes a little change is good.”
• • •
I’ll have you know that Colonel Mustard won Clue tonight, and Professor Plum is already off to bed, pouting that not only did I take the good luck juju with me to a new character, but Professor Plum himself was the murderer, in the conservatory, with the rope. I don’t think Theo enjoys my victory dance, but Andrew sure seems to.
He and I pack up the game pieces in the living room while everyone else wanders off to their corners—bedrooms for the grown-ups, basement for the kid-ups, and then it’s just us, standing together with the fire crackling down to embers and the sexual tension roaring, wondering what comes next.
At least, that’s what I’m wondering. I’m not remotely tired and therefore I’m not remotely interested in going down to the basement. I definitely have some more making out in me tonight.
With a tiny tilt of his head, Andrew leads me to the kitchen—where I think we both plan to escape outside and to the Boathouse, but instead we find that there is still a sink full of dishes to do.
“Oh, right.” Dreams of imminently ripping the flannel shirt from his upper body die a sad, quiet death. “I said we’d do these.”
Andrew rolls up his sleeves and gives me a playfully annoyed look. “‘Let’s help out more,’ she said. ‘We need to be grown-ups,’ she said.”
Laughing, I put my mostly full glass of cider near him on the counter and turn to collect stray dishes from the table. “Sorry.”
“You really are a terrible drinker,” he observes, dumping the contents of the glass down the sink and slotting it into the dishwasher.
“I know.” I watch him close the dishwasher and then wash his hands at the sink. “But so are you.”
Andrew grins over his shoulder at me. “I make impulsive decisions when I’m drunk. Like, I’m probably only ever one to two drinks away from getting a bad music quote tattoo.”
This makes me laugh and I clap a hand over my mouth to keep the sound from echoing past where we stand in the quiet kitchen. The last thing I want is Miles or Theo coming back upstairs to join us. “You mean you wouldn’t get a parrot?”
A full-body shiver worms through him, and he plugs one side of the sink to fill it with soapy, warm water. “The thing I can’t get past is why a parrot?”
I shrug, biting my lips. “Why not a parrot?”
“A cool parrot on your arm or back? Maybe.” He points finger guns down at his crotch. “But a parrot—here? Right next to your dick? Why?”
I’d respond, but this has fried the part of my brain that makes words. As soon as Andrew looks up at me, he can see it all over my face. “Did I fluster the lady?”
“A bit.” I reach for a dish towel, intent on drying the dishes I assume he’s going to start washing, but he takes two steps closer, cupping my face.
“You’re making this expression like you’re not sure this is really happening.”
“That is a frighteningly accurate assessment.”
He rests his lips on mine, smiling.
“We have dishes to do,” I mumble against his mouth.
“We’ll do them in the morning,” he mumbles back.
“We aren’t going to want to do them in the morning.”
Nipping at my bottom lip, he growls and turns away. “Fine. Be logical.”
He moves over to Ricky’s old cassette-playing radio on the counter and snaps a tape into place, hitting play with a clunky click. Sam Cooke filters from the small speakers, quiet enough that I’m pretty sure it doesn’t make its way down- or upstairs, and even if it does, it’s Sam Cooke, not Ozzy Osbourne; we’re probably safe to assume we’ll be left alone.
Don’t know much about history . . .
Andrew sings quietly, washing the dishes, and the first couple of times he hands me something to dry he gives me a flirty smile, but then we get into a quiet rhythm after a few minutes; we settle into the best combination of lifelong friends and new lovers.
He rinses his favorite unicorn mug and hands it to me to dry. “You want to hear a story about this?” I ask.
“Hell yes I do.”
“When I painted it, I wrote ‘Mae plus Andrew’ in white and then painted over the whole thing in pink.”
He gapes at me, taking it back and immediately flipping it over. “You did not.”
He holds it to the light, squinting. “Oh my God, there it is!”
We lean together and he points, outlining the letters with his index finger. He’s right. The raised shapes of the letters in thick paint are barely visible.
“I knew it was my favorite mug for a good reason.”
I laugh. “So dorky.”
“Uh, no, Mae, it’s awesome.” He leans over, kissing my cheek. “So I guess you weren’t kidding,” he says, “about your crush.”
“Of course I wasn’t kidding.” When I turn to look at him, he leans in again, brushing his mouth over mine.
And if this one could be with you . . .
We fall back into a rhythm with the dishes, and I don’t realize we’ve shifted so that we’re touching until his arm slides down mine as he reaches into the sink to wash the final platter, but we make eye contact afterward. I’m infatuated with him beyond distraction. This is everything I’ve always wanted: to be here, exactly like this with him—and maybe we aren’t “together” in a defined sense of the word, but we’re already undeniably more.
A second thought sinks into me like a weight dropping in a warm lake: I am happy. I have never been this happy in my entire life. Maybe Benny was right and I’m finally being me.
I lean over and kiss his neck. “Let that dish dry in the rack, I’m going to put away the spices and stuff.”