Sweet Confections – Chapter Three

RACHEL PULLED INTO HER PARENTS’ driveway, turned off the car, then stared at the two-story stucco house looming in front of her. She gripped the steering wheel, trying to build up enough nerve to walk in. Through the window, faint shouts came from the backyard. Obviously her nephews were getting their energy out before being summoned to the dinner table.

She replayed the events of the last twenty-four hours in her mind. Nico’s declaration, her uncomfortable conversation in Graydon’s office, then staying up until the early morning hours with her best friend. She finally fell asleep, only to have dreams of Nico repeating, I’m married, over and over. She wished she could permanently forget she was single. How awesome would it be to never have anyone ask who she was dating or pat her hand and make some pitiful comment about today’s young men being blind? An escape seemed to be exactly what she needed.

Instead she and Kristen whipped up a dark chocolate cake and a batch of peanut butter icing. It certainly wasn’t the chocolate torte topped with fresh strawberries Kristen recommended, nor the Raspberry Jelly Roll sitting in her refrigerator at home. She contemplated going to her townhouse, but was afraid of what she might find when she got there.

That morning, Todd deleted over thirty-something text messages from Nico and erased all the messages in her cell’s voicemail. Because really, what could he say to make her feel any different about the situation? Did he think there was some excuse that would change her mind about pursuing a relationship with a married man?

Even if he did, he was dead wrong.

Pathetic. She turned her head and listened to her nephews’ shouts once more. She should have spent more time paying attention to guys during her college days. At least then there was a better variety to choose from. She never thought she’d end up as one of those older girls skimming through the left-overs, hoping for at least one good guy in the batch.

Rachel looked up at her parents’ house. She should get inside before someone discovered her sitting in the driveway. That would only cause questions to start flying before she was ready to answer them. She took a deep breath and exhaled. You can do this, she thought, walking up the sidewalk to the front door. It’s only dinner with my crazy family. They probably won’t even remember I had a date with Nico last night.

Just in case, she stopped with her hand on the knob and prayed God would be merciful and let her mother have temporary amnesia in regards to her social calendar for once. She straightened her shoulders and entered the house.

“Hi, everyone. I’m here!”

From the entry way, she could see her father and brothers—Christopher and Adam—squished together on the couch, shouting at something on the TV. She waved to them, trying to remember which sport played at the beginning of October. Soccer? Basketball? She could never keep them straight.

She passed the living room, went through the dining room and into the large sunny kitchen. Her mother removed a casserole dish from the oven and set it on the counter. From the wonderful smell, she guessed they were having either stuffed shells or her mother’s incredible manicotti. Her sister-in-law, Eva, pulled open the sliding glass doors and called for the boys to come in to wash their hands. Eva moved aside as Jordan, Malone, and Stockton ran through the door.

“Aunt Rachel!” Little five-year-old Stockton threw his arms around one of her legs.

“Whoa there, buddy! You almost knocked this super yummy cake out of my hands.” She ruffled his hair with her empty hand then inched toward the counter to set the cake down, all while her nephew continued with his monkey grip. As soon as both her hands were free, she pulled him into a bear hug, squeezing him as much as she could until he gasped for air. Not all kids with autism liked to be held, but Stockton craved it. It always calmed him down, and maybe he was on to something, because she started to feel better, too. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“More Aunt Rachel! More!” he begged. She gathered him close for another squeeze. When she released him, he leaned his head on her shoulder and giggled, running his dirty fingers through her loose auburn hair.

“How’s my favorite buddy doing?” she asked.

“Good. I love Thomas. I have a new James, too. Wanna see?” He was completely fascinated with Thomas the Tank Engine and had quite the collection going. He even named her car Percy because it was small and green.

“I’d love to see your new James, but right now I need to help Grandma get dinner ready. Can you show me after we eat?”

“Eat! Eat! I need to wash my hands.” Stockton scrambled back down then rushed off to the bathroom. Rachel saw her mother set the hot dishes on the table. Definitely manicotti. She could feel her mouth watering already.

“You’re late. Your mother’s been asking about you for the last hour,” said her other sister-in-law, Faith, as she handed her a green salad. “Toss that for me, please. I’ll grab the dressings out of the fridge. So, where were you?”

“I spent the day with Kristen’s family and lost track of time.” She shrugged, hoping it looked casual, then grabbed some tongs out of a drawer and tossed the salad a few times.

Faith got the dressings and came to stand next to her. “Hmm. Really?” Rachel could feel prickles on her back as Faith stared at her. Before she could ask anything else, Rachel changed the subject.

“How’s Emery? I didn’t see him when I came in.”

“He’s doing great! I can’t believe he’s three months old already. He did the most amazing thing yesterday. I was holding his rattle out to him, ‘cause you know he’s just been swinging his arms at it. But yesterday, he actually grabbed it! With both hands! And then he stuck it right in his mouth. It was so awesome, Rachel. I wish you could have seen it.”

She couldn’t help but smile as Faith’s excitement bubbled. They carried the salad and dressings to the table, then shooed the kids away from the rolls.

“Boys! It’s time for dinner,” her mother yelled over the sound of the TV. The game was promptly turned off—the magic of DVR meant they could pick up where they left off later—and her father and brothers appeared for the meal.

A brief chaotic scramble ensued while everyone found their seats. Once they were settled with one of her parents on each end and all their children and grandchildren sandwiched in between, her father said a blessing. Then the chaos started once again, but in a more organized manner. Dishes were passed as the family talked over each other, sharing about their week, fun stuff that happened at school and which teams were rising in the ranks.

“Go, Steelers!” Adam cheered, reminding her that it was football season. Of course, this started a whole round of booing from others as they each put in plugs for their favorites and made bets about which two teams would make it to the coveted Super Bowl. The cajoling continued through the majority of the meal and helped her relax. She thought her prayer had been answered until her mother asked the question she’d been dreading all night.

“So, Rachel, how is everything going with Nico?”

Rachel bobbled the plate she held and barely escaped with a few drips of sauce on the table cloth. She handed her nephew’s dinner back to him.

“Sorry, Jordan,” she said, then turned toward her mother. Time seemed to slow, but she knew nothing had changed. Everyone still talked over each other and continued to eat. She hoped to make it through this conversation with as little notice as possible. “I guess he’s doing okay. Actually, Nico and I aren’t seeing each other anymore.”

Disappointment crossed her mother’s face. “What do you mean?”

The conversation at the table grew quiet, although everyone continued to eat and listen. All the attention made her tongue thick and she stumbled over her words. “We just aren’t. Things didn’t work out.”

She hoped it would stop there, but as usual, her mother pushed the subject. “You aren’t getting any younger, you know. Maybe you can patch things up.”

Rachel sighed. She wasn’t going to be able to avoid it. “Actually, I didn’t have a choice. I found out Nico already has a wife and family back in Italy.”

Suddenly, all motion at the table stopped. Wide eyes turned toward her in a mixture of disbelief and wonder. Her father’s mouth gaped open. She hated it. Hated the feeling that it was all her fault. Knowing they wondered how she could be so stupid.

“Excuse me.” She hastily shoved out the chair and rushed into the kitchen, searching for her purse. She needed to leave, to escape before the weight of failure crushed her.

“Rachel, wait.”

Great, her mother had followed her. Would the torture never end? “I have to go. I’ll talk to you later.” She found her purse, but before she could leave, her mother took her arm, turned her around, then wrapped Rachel in a hug.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” she said.

Rachel gasped, then wrapped her arms around her mother and fought for control over the emotions rushing through her. This was not the reaction she’d expected. The good old Italian crossing, a little mama mia, and a rant that went on long enough for her children to all wish they had been born deaf. Yes, that was the typical Mom reaction at the Marconi house. But the hug, the warmth, and understanding undid her. Her mother stroked her hair and continued to murmur until Rachel calmed down. She pulled back and cupped her daughter’s face.

“It will be okay. You’ll figure this out. You’re like your father that way. Always moving forward, making nasty bumps into something good.” She brushed the hair back from Rachel’s face. “Why don’t you take a deep breath, then we’ll go back in.”

Rachel steeled herself to face the rest of the family. When they returned to the dining room, the kids were the only ones eating while the adults picked at their food.

“Eat.” Her mother motioned to the table. “I didn’t make all this food to go to waste.”

Her father cleared his throat. “So, I hear the Kansas City Coyotes had a good game last night.” It took a few seconds, but finally her brothers caught on.

“Yeah, I saw that game. They had a couple of great body slams,” Adam said.

“Hey, Grandpa! Did I tell you I start DG’s Hockey Camp next week?” asked Jordan.

Rachel didn’t even try to follow the conversation. Eva reached beneath the table and squeezed her hand, then joined the conversation with the rest of the boys. Her father winked and she gave him a little smile before returning to her dinner, although she didn’t have much appetite left.

The rest of dinner and dessert passed by in a blur. When the boys started to clear the table, Rachel grabbed her keys, said a quick round of goodbyes and slipped out of the house. She had just unlocked the car when she heard the front door slam. She sincerely hoped her mother had not followed her outside for another little chat.

“Hey, Rachel, hang on a second,” called Eva. Rachel turned and leaned back on the car door. “With all the craziness at dinner, I never got a chance to talk to you. I was wondering if you might be able to help us out in two weeks. The kids are out of school for Parent-Teacher Conferences. We had originally planned that I’d be home, but some work meetings were rearranged and our schedule got messed up. Anyway,” she said, taking a deep breath and sweeping her dark hair back from her face. “Jordan needs a ride to camp Thursday and Friday morning. Could you possibly help?”

“Sure, let me check my schedule.” Rachel dug in her purse and pulled out her phone. She scrolled through her week, looking at the number of cakes and other desserts she had scheduled. “It looks like it should be fine. I have some birthday and anniversary cakes, but the bulk of my work is for the Partridge wedding and that isn’t until Saturday evening. What time does he need to be at camp?”

“Check in is at 8:30. I hoped it would be early enough for you to run him to the arena then get to the shop without being too late.” Eva slid her hands into her back pockets.

She quickly typed the info and set a reminder alarm. “I’ll double check with Kristen, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Sounds good.”

Rachel nodded, then moved to open her car door. “Well, I’ll talk to you later then.”

Eva snagged Rachel’s shirt sleeve. “Hang on a sec. Are you okay?”

Her eyes stung as she avoided Eva’s gaze, focusing instead on the house across the street.

“I’m so sorry, Rachel. I don’t know how you found out, but he’s a first class jerk who doesn’t deserve any of your tears. I know that doesn’t make it any better, but it’s the truth.”

Rachel barely choked out thanks. Eva squeezed her upper arm, then stepped back. “You’re welcome. I better get back inside and hold down the fort before the boys get too crazy. I’ll call you later.”

Then Eva ran back to the house and Rachel slid into her car. On the drive home, a Carrie Underwood song came on. She cranked up the radio and sang along, wishing she could undo the past three months. When she arrived home, she cued the song up on her iPod, hit repeat and listened as it pounded out of the speakers. She grabbed a trash bag, went through each room and got rid of everything that reminded her of the cheating schmuck. Out with the pictures, postcards and movie stubs. She even tossed the fuzzy sweater he brought back from Italy. When the bag was full, she went out to the garage and threw it in the trash. Gone. Gone. Gone. Out of my life, she thought, letting the lid slam closed with a satisfying thud.

She went back into the kitchen, washed her hands, then poured herself a glass of lemonade. She curled up on a chair at the kitchen table with a notepad and holder full of pens, ready to put all this behind her and reprioritize her life.

My Goals

1. Check on my Food Network Challenge application. Hound them until I compete and WIN!

2. Ditch the romance novels and check out some new suspense authors.

3. Buy more Kick Butt music.

4. Consider dating again.

 

Rachel sat back to review the list. She grabbed a Sharpie out of her pen holder, then drew a thick red line through the last item on the list: Consider dating again. Finally satisfied, she recapped the pen, then lifted her glass in a toast to herself.

“To the new and improved, single, independent and awesome Rachel Marconi.”

 

WANT MORE? READ CHAPTER FOUR