Drawn by the smell of Italian food – garlic and tomato and bell pepper – Drew drifted into the kitchen. That afternoon Suzie had said the hamburger in the glorified crock pot would be supper. He guessed she’d turned it into spaghetti and meatballs.
She stood at the sink, spilling the contents of a stockpot into a strainer. Spaghetti. Bingo. But where were the meat balls?
Though her arms held steady, they were trim enough to make her look delicate, matching the gently curved, slim body. Her cotton dress with the small flower print lent even greater vulnerability to her appearance. He could see she wasn’t helpless, yet found himself compelled to rescue her from the weight of the large pot.
“Here. Let me help.” He took the stockpot from her hands. Too late. She’d already dumped out all the water. He ended up foolishly holding an empty pot. Some big hero he made.
“Put it in the dishwasher.” She waved a hand toward the appliance without looking up from the sink. With quick, efficient movements she transferred the spaghetti noodles from the strainer to a bowl. “We can run a load right after supper. We’ll be eating in a few minutes. Would you mind calling the others to the dining room?”
“Certainly.” He upended the stock pot, which just barely fit in the dishwasher, it’s bottom scraping against the top shelf. Then he walked through the central hall of the house to the base of the stair case and bellowed “Dinner!”
When that got no response, he started calling names until people appeared. Suzie popped her head around the corner to look down the hall with a strange expression on her face. She didn’t really expect him to tramp up the stairs and issue a personal invitation to each person, did she? If so, she didn’t say anything, merely popped back around the corner.
They all tramped into the dining room through the door at the base of the staircase. It looked like Suzie was expecting a dinner party. There was an antique, mahogany dinner table in the middle of the room set with a light yellow cloth, Suzie’s second best china, linen napkins, and bowls of food. There was a lot of space around the table, so he was sure she’d removed a few leaves from it. The chairs were all mahogany carved to match the table. He felt under dressed in his blue work shirt and slacks.
Funny, she didn’t seem the least frazzled now. She had seemed stressed out at lunch time when everything had been much more casual. You’d think having gone to so much effort would have her on edge. It looked like the food was going to be better, though the soup hadn’t been bad. It certainly smelled good.
Suzie set a salad down on the table, then waved toward the chairs placed around the table. “Be seated.” She took the foot of the table, which was closest to the kitchen.
He and Vin went around to the far side of the table while Miranda and Ben took the other, all leaving the head of the table empty. Within minutes the only sound to be heard with the click of silverware on china, the gentle thud of glasses hitting the table, and the occasional slurps or the contended smacking of a well fed guest.
Which was wrong. All wrong. They weren’t guests. They were boarders. They should be getting boiled cabbage and yelled at to pay the rent by a hatchet faced landlady. Not fêted by a beauty.
“This is more like it,” Miranda said. “Much better than lunch. So what’s for lunch tomorrow?”
“You’re planning on lunch tomorrow?” Suzie looked at a loss. “Isn’t it easier to eat at work? I suppose I could put together a sack lunch.” She didn’t look the least enthusiastic with the idea.
“Sure. Can you get a nice lunch box for me? I don’t want to brown bag it.”
Suzie’s eyes narrowed. “You know, I never once said meals were included.”
“Well of course they are included. Why wouldn’t they be?” Miranda looked completely perplexed, clearly seeing no problem with lumping the job on her friend’s shoulders.
“Because it’s a lot of extra work,” Drew said reasonably.
“Well… No…” Suzie countered him. “I mean I’d be cooking dinners for Ben anyway. Half the time Miranda drops in and Vin too sometimes. So it’s only a matter of making more of it. But…” They all waited with baited breath for her to explain herself. “I’m not that good!”
Vin and Miranda looked surprised, then both burst out laughing.
“The woman wins bake off competitions constantly. She puts head chef at The Fess to shame. No one is a better cook.”
“Not all the time! What if I flop? Remember the egg plant and celery medley?”
Miranda nodded gravely. “That was awful. But so what? It’s not like we haven’t eaten your flops before.”
“But that was before, when you weren’t paying me for it. Now I have to be professional about it. I just don’t know if I can do that.”
Drew considered for a while. “I have a suggestion. I think Suzie should only be expected to make supper. For every other meal we fend for ourselves. And each of us will take one day a week in which we will be the cook.”
Suzie looked at Miranda and shuddered.
Miranda took no notice. “All right, but she cooks both lunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday.”
“Unless she has other plans. It isn’t fair to tie her so tightly to the house that she never gets to go out or have any fun.” Drew looked around the table to see if he was making his point.
“He’s got you there, Miranda,” Vin put in. “Sounds fair to me.”
“Suzie? What do you think?” Drew asked.
Almost grudgingly Suzie nodded. “All right. So long as no one complains when I cook something they don’t like.”
“Aww, Mom,” Ben said. “You take all the fun out of eating.”
“You’re on Tuesday, boy.” Suzie pointed a spoon at her son.
Miranda and Vin started arguing over which of them would get Wednesday. While they were distracted Suzie gave Drew a wan smile.
“Standing up for me.”
Drew nodded warmly and smiled. He suspected Suzie would need a champion in the days ahead. His smile broadened.