Annie looked out the window for Jake. He wasn’t late. He said he’d be there around 11 am and that was still a half hour away. She’d decided to wait until the last minute to tell her parents that someone was coming over. But she didn’t want to wait until he was pulling in the driveway either.
It wasn’t that she was worried her parents would embarrass her, or Jake. They were fairly reasonable people. Coming to meet the parents gave a date vibe to the situation that she didn’t want because it wasn’t a date. She wished she’d been clearer with Jake about that. Now she was hoping that if she waited long enough to say something, the rest of her family would conveniently need to run an errand right before he showed up.
Annie came away from the window and soon found her mom flipping through the pages of a magazine. Her ten-year-old brother was slumped against her arm, sound asleep. Annie took a seat across the room from them and picked up a puzzle book from the coffee table. Restlessness kept it closed in her lap. She fiddled with the cover as she watched the minutes slink past. If she waited much longer, Jake could be early and show up before she warned anyone.
Diana looked up at her daughter.
“I just wanted to let you know that I’m going out for lunch. A friend from school is coming to pick me up soon.”
“Oh!” Diana smiled with interest. “What’s his name?”
Annie wanted to scowl at her mom for assuming the friend was a guy. But she was trying to act as though that didn’t matter. “Jake,” she said.
“How long have you know him?”
“He’s part of the study group we started from church this year.”
“And what is he studying?”
“Mom, you don’t have to grill me. He’s just a friend. We’re just having lunch. Please don’t treat him like a date when he gets here.”
“When who gets here?” Annie’s dad, Cliff, had walked into the room while she was talking.
Diana smiled up at her husband. “A boy from school is coming to take Annie out to lunch.”
“Really?” Cliff pulled himself up straight as he folded his arms across his chest. “Do I know this boy?”
“You can meet him when he gets here,” Annie said, “as long as you don’t act like that.”
He breathed in to puff up his chest. “Like what? I need to be sure this boy knows how to treat my baby.”
“I’m not a baby. He’s a nice guy. And it’s not a date.”
Diana reached up and patted her husband’s arm. “It does sound as though she’s known him for a while.”
Annie’s dad continued his intimidating posture. She thought he might only be doing it to tease her, but she wasn’t positive. Before she could decide which approach to use to get him to cooperate, another person entered the room, her 13-year-old brother William.
“Hey,” he said. “A car just pulled into the driveway.”
“Annie is expecting a friend to take her to lunch,” Diana explained.
“Can I come!?”
His mom chuckled. “I don’t think Annie wants you tagging along on her date.”
“It’s not a date,” Annie hissed. And it certainly wouldn’t be if she brought her little brother. “Sure, William, you can come.”
“Cool,” he said. “I got to find my shoes.”
The doorbell rang as he ran up the stairs.
“I’ll get it,” Annie said, before anyone else could make a move. Her eyes pleaded with her dad to relax as she walked away. He frowned a bit deeper.
The first thing she noticed when she opened the door was that Jake was holding a bunch of small colorful flowers.
“Hi,” he said. He seemed to follow her eyes and lowered the bouquet to make his other had more prominent. It was holding a package of M&Ms. “These are for you.” He handed her the M&Ms, which she knew he got because he’d seen her snacking on them at the study group.
“Thanks,” she said.
“You didn’t sound excited about flowers, but I brought some because you said it was your mom’s birthday.” He lowered his voice to a whisper. “Does she like flowers?”
Annie nodded. It wasn’t going to do him any good to ingratiate himself with her parents. But her mom did like flowers. “Come on in.” She motioned Jake to follow her to the living room. She made very quick introductions before she said, “And he brought birthday flowers for mom.”
“Oh, how nice.” Diana got up to take the flowers. Michael woke up as she pulled herself out from under him.
Cliff had refolded his arms after he shook Jake’s hand. He was silently staring at him.
“Dad,” Annie said, “can you please tone it down? I’m sure Jake would answer a few questions if you like and that would be more productive than you trying to look scary.”
Cliff slowly cracked a smile as he lowered his arms. “I suppose I don’t need to be intimidating since you’re bringing a chaperone.”
Jake looked at Annie for clarification.
“My brother wanted to come with us,” she said, “and I told him that was okay. I hope you don’t mind.”
“No. No, that’s fine.” Jake looked at Michael. “You’re coming to lunch with us?”
Michael grinned as he said, “I’m hungry.”
He was still rising from the couch as William bounded into the room and flung open a hall closet to grab his coat.
Jake glanced between them and seemed to realize his mistake.
Annie smiled as his expression seemed to waver between overwhelmed and entertained. “I guess we’re all going,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll pay for the boys.”
“No, I can—”
Jake was cut off by Annie’s mom. “Michael and William can stay home.”
“But Annie said I could go,” William protested.
“I think taking both boys is a great idea,” Cliff said.
Diana shot him a disapproving look.
“So do I.” Jake nodded as he caught up with the situation. “I’d like to know Annie better, and I’m sure her brothers have lots of good stories.”
“Oh, I can tell you about the time Annie dropped the lasagna on the door of the oven,” William said. “Face down.”
Annie had already grabbed her coat and Michael’s. She was helping Michael into his. An afternoon of listening to William list her mistakes didn’t exactly sound fun. But it probably wasn’t what Jake had in mind either. Surely this would give him the hint to back off.
Diana handed Annie a small envelope. “You’ll need his noon pills if you’re sure you want to take him.”
Jake and William were halfway out the front door, chatting like old friends. Annie put on her own coat and pushed Michael’s meds securely to the bottom of her pocket. Her mom was looking at her with great sympathy. Her dad was nodding approvingly at the turn of events. Annie couldn’t decide which of them was being more annoying. She put on a big smile and waved at both of them.
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