I’m switching to fiction for the next three months. Why? Because it’s becoming a tradition for me to do this near the end of the year. And because I want to. I have three installments of a short story that borrows a few peripheral characters from my next book (Romance Arts #3). Don’t worry, there are no spoilers. This is part 1.
There was a sheet blocking the doorway into the kitchen.
“Is this really necessary?” Katie called through it.
“Is what necessary?” came her mom’s voice from behind it.
“Yes!” Noah yelled. He was also behind it. “Don’t come in.”
“It’s fine,” Mom said.
Fine wasn’t the same as necessary, but Katie knew the answer meant she needed to respect the barrier.
“They won’t let anyone in,” Liz said.
Katie had been upstairs doing homework. It was Dad’s birthday. She knew her youngest sibling, Noah, had talked their mom into letting him help with dinner in honor of the occasion. Because she was in high school and he was only eight, she had already been closed in her room when he got home from school and didn’t know there was a big reveal in the works.
Michael had several papers spread out on the floor for his homework, and Liz was reading a book. Katie wondered where Cecelia was. Surely the most emotional member of the family would be less calm about being left out of the loop. She heard clinking from the dining room and found her youngest sister setting the table.
“It’s almost ready,” Cecelia said.
Katie asked her if she knew what Mom and Noah were making.
“No, but it’s almost ready.” Cecelia smiled. She appeared satisfied to at least know more than Katie.
Another sheet was over the entrance to the kitchen on this side, too. Noah’s head popped out near the edge with his hand clutching the sheet under his chin. “Go get Dad,” he said. “We’re bringing it out.”
Cecelia dashed off at the request, calling the names of everyone in the family as she went.
They gathered around the table to a meal of spaghetti. At least, it sort of looked like spaghetti. The noodles seemed almost crumbly and the sauce was… the color was off. Katie concluded that they’d used a different recipe than usual. After the food was blessed, the family waited for the birthday guy to sample the first bite.
His mouth puckered in the weirdest expression. He didn’t look displeased, just confused. Then he started laughing and said, “This is not spaghetti.”
Katie took a tentative taste of her food and found that instead of tomato, it was strawberry. Apparently, it was crepes and strawberry sauce in the shape of spaghetti. Once she got past the odd appearance, it was delicious.
Cecelia was poking at hers with her fork. “I’m not eating this until someone tells me what it is.”
“You’ll like it,” Liz assured her.
Cecelia sent a glare around the table at everyone enjoying the meal without her before she carefully touched one tine to her tongue. She pressed her lips together, then took a slightly larger sample. “Okay, I’ll eat it,” she said.
Noah was grinning at all the reactions. He’d recently pulled off a few minor pranks, and it was starting to look like he couldn’t get enough.
“Mom, are you sure you want to encourage him?” Katie asked.
Mom only smiled indulgently at her youngest. “It’s a little harmless fun.”
“Eat up,” Noah said. “We made cookies for dessert.”
“Are they really cookies?” Michael looked between Noah and Mom as though he wasn’t entirely sure who would be honest. “Because if they’re actually dog biscuits or something, that won’t be funny.”
“Ew!” Cecelia nearly dropped her fork at the idea. “Is there anything in this that isn’t food?”
Noah frowned at her. “You said it was good.”
“I said I would eat it,” she countered. But she took another big bite as soon as Mom assured her it was food.
They skipped the candles but sang “Happy Birthday” as Noah proudly brought out a plate of what Katie hoped was chocolate chip cookies. He seemed pleased that people eyed them suspiciously as he passed them out. Michael smelled his, which seemed to convince him to take a healthy bite. Katie left hers on her plate because she noticed that Noah paused after setting one in front of Mom.
She gasped at her first bite. “Hey! When did you put mint in these?”
Noah laughed and said, “Noah strikes again!”
“Seriously,” Mom said. “These are delicious, but I was right there. How did I not see you put mint in the batter?”
“I’m good,” Noah said, pumping his fist.
“Do you still think the pranks are harmless fun?” Katie asked.
Mom shrugged at her. “I like surprises. And mint.”
Katie did not like surprises so she was still wary that this phase would not end well. But she had to agree that the mint was a good addition to the cookie.