“CAN I take out the gazpacho now?” Izzy asks. “We ate our way through the cheese platter.”
I grab the oven mitts from the kitchen island. “Let me just take the roast out. It needs to rest so the juices recirculate.”
She wrinkles her nose. “Juices?”
I set the platter on the stove. The roast pork loin looks and smells perfect, a deep golden-brown crusted with fragrant garlic and rosemary. Drippings cover the crispy potatoes cooking around it. Paired with a peppery arugula salad studded with peaches and slivered almonds, it’ll be a perfect plate of food. “It was a cheese plate.”
“That thing was a platter. Seven different kinds of cheese?”
“I wanted to give everyone variety.” I check the temperature on the meat, and once I’m satisfied, glance at my sister. “How are they liking the drink?”
Izzy holds up her half-empty glass. “I could use a refill if you’re going to make another pitcher. What’s in it again? Bourbon?”
“Mia’s favorite, yeah. It’s blackberry bourbon lemonade with a brown sugar syrup.”
“Well, it’s fucking delicious.”
“Honey,” Mom calls. “Do you want help serving the gazpacho?”
She gives me a kiss on the cheek as she walks into the kitchen. I’m a sweaty mess, since I’ve been in the kitchen all day, but she looks lovely in her pink sundress, a new pair of earrings courtesy of Dad glimmering in her ears. “It smells amazing in here.”
“Thanks.” I consider the spread of food in front of me. The salad is ready to go, I’ll move the roast and potatoes to a platter as soon as they’re done, and the little cups of cold zucchini soup with crème fraîche and cilantro are perfect. The strawberry icebox cake is in the freezer, ready for later. “Yeah, why don’t you take out the soup, and I’ll make another pitcher of the cocktail while the roast rests. We’ll bring out that and the salad together.”
“Yessir,” Izzy says. She grabs two bowls of soup and brings them outside.
I shake my head fondly as I stare after her.
“I think she’s talking to someone,” Mom says.
I nearly slip as I turn to the freezer for more ice. “A guy?”
“She’s been giggling at her phone all afternoon.”
“I guess that’s fine,” I say, although my mind immediately starts running over the possibilities. She hasn’t mentioned anyone, but she could have met practically any guy in the world during her internship this summer. New York City is huge, after all.
Mom laughs. “James pouted when I told him the same thing.”
“She’s our little sister. It’s very serious business.”
She gives my forearm a squeeze. “Why don’t you go run upstairs and change? I’ll handle the cocktails.”
“I’d love to. Match the rest of us, it’s beautiful out on the patio.”
“Is Mia having fun?”
“She’s drinking a delicious cocktail courtesy of her boyfriend and talking to her best friend. I’d say she’s happy.”
I give Mom another kiss on the cheek. “Okay. See you in a moment.”
I hurry to my room—the room Mia and I are sharing this weekend, her first overnight at my parents’ place—and change into a short-sleeve button-down patterned with palm leaves. I swipe a comb through my hair and wash my face, too. By the time I make it back downstairs, Mom is ready to go with the pitcher.
“Why don’t you serve the roast outside?” she says. “That way you can sit and enjoy yourself. You’ve been working hard all day.”
I move the roast and potatoes to a serving platter. “I had fun with this one.”
“I had a spoonful of the gazpacho. It’s perfect, honey. You have such a talent for this.” She peers outside at the patio, where our family is sitting. Sunflowers decorate the middle of the table, which is done up in blues and whites; Izzy spent an hour making it perfect this morning. Dad sits at the head of the table with Kiwi in his lap, deep in conversation with James, Cooper, and Penny. Bex, Izzy, and Mia are laughing together over something on Izzy’s phone.
Mom watches as I admire Mia. “She’s wonderful.”
I look over. “Isn’t she?”
“It makes me happy to see you so happy,” she says. “And it’s clear that she makes you very happy.”
I keep my gaze on Mia as I walk outside. Her shoulder-length hair set in waves. She’s wearing her star pendant and her gold hoops, plus a white sundress that shows off her tan. Later, we’ll probably go swimming in the pool, and that’ll set off my desire for her in a whole new way. Right now, though, I’m content to just sit next to her with my hand on her knee, squeezing lightly. She keeps talking to Bex, but gives me a quick kiss mid-sentence.
Being here with my family means the world to me, but having the opportunity to cook for them is even better. Weeks ago, the draft came and went, and it was a blissfully ordinary day for me. I worked my new job at Vesuvio’s, cooked dinner with Mia, and ended the night watching a movie with her, Cooper, and Penny. Dad called, and we reminisced about baseball for a while before we talked about cooking programs. I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do next year in Europe, but the more research I do and the more I work at Vesuvio’s, the more certain I am that I’m meant to be in the food industry.
“Who are you texting?” I ask Izzy as I take a sip of my drink. She has her head buried in her phone, but at my question, she looks up quickly.
“No one,” she says.
I raise an eyebrow. “Oh?”
She snorts. “Believe me, it’s best kept a secret.”
I turn to Mia, but if she knows, she’s not telling. She eats a spoonful of the gazpacho, squeezing my thigh underneath the table. I kiss her again, just because I can.
“Why a secret?” I ask.
Izzy glances at the other end of the table, then leans over. “Cooper would totally flip.”
Before I have a chance to reply to that, Dad clears his throat.
“We should toast,” he says. “Does everyone have a drink?”
I raise my glass. He looks at all of us, making eye contact with me last. I sit a little straighter.
“It makes me so happy to see everyone around this table,” he says. “My beautiful wife, my children and their partners, Bex’s little one on the way. When Sandra and I bought this house, we hoped we would get here one day, and being able to witness it—it’s a joy. A complete and total joy.”
Sandra gives him a smile. “It’s everything.”
“And Sebastian—thank you for this meal. It looks incredible.”
I flush. “Thanks, Dad.”
“Can I add something?” Mia asks.
“Of course,” he says.
She turns to me with love in her eyes and pride in her smile.
“I just wanted to say thank you,” she says. “To you, Sebastian, of course, but to all of you as well. Thank you for welcoming me into this family. I never pictured this for myself, but I’m grateful I’m here.”
Dad raises his glass. “Cheers.”
As we follow suit, I glance at the sky. It’s early evening, so the stars haven’t come out yet, but I catch a sliver of the moon. Fireflies wink across the lawn.
Tonight, when it’s dark, we’ll take Mia’s old telescope to the beach. I’ll bring a blanket, so we can stay there all night.
And I’ll listen to my angel talk about the universe while I hold her in my arms.