If they knew why I was really coughing, I’d be in trouble. I was panicking. What had I just admitted to myself? Was it true? Did I like Dylan more than Eddie? Was there even a comparison? I knew very little about Dylan, and I’d been in love with Eddie for years. I needed time to process this.
“Here, let me get you something to drink,” Dylan said, ducking into the kitchen.
Mrs. Walter pulled me forward to the patio table and offered me a chair.
Eddie patted me on the back.
All this fuss. I slumped into the chair and tried to control the coughing attack that threatened my tightening chest.
Eddie crouched in front of me and took one of my hands in his. “Are you okay, babe?”
I nodded then looked up to Dylan handing me a water bottle.
“Thanks.” I opened the bottle and took a sip, shooing them all away from me. “I’m fine, you guys, really.”
“Mom, those steaks smell amazing.” Dylan stepped over to the grill and lifted the lid. Nice distraction. I almost wanted to thank him.
I took another couple of deep breaths and sips of water, composing myself so I could face the next few hours.
First I had to face the next few minutes. Dinner with Dylan’s mom. I wanted to enjoy getting to know her. I wanted to relax but I couldn’t. I was afraid I would slip up.
“How did you pull this together so quickly?” I asked, sliding into an elegant dining room chair. The steaks looked amazing. Cooked to just the right amount of pink on the inside and seared on the outside. There was salad and glazed potatoes and warm dinner rolls with butter.
“Sylvie helped me,” Mrs. Walter said, nodding to a beautiful older woman carrying a dish of sliced fruit salad.
“They just keep me around because I cook and clean for them,” Sylvie responded, setting the fruit on the table. She sat in the chair across from me then stage whispered, “But I stay because they pay me very handsomely.”
Mrs. Walton and Dylan chuckled along with Sylvie, and the other three of us sat wide-eyed. Carl’s hand was halfway to his mouth with a piece of steak waiting on the end.
“Sylvie pretty much helped raise me,” Dylan explained. “She’s like a grandma.”
“That’s so sweet.” I smiled over at Sylvie, torn between wanting to learn more about Dylan’s family and the need to remember who my real boyfriend was.
Dylan kept telling his mom and Sylvie cool things that we’d done in the gym or in geology class. They seemed to know a lot about me already.
Eddie was oblivious to my nervousness. He and Carl scarfed down steak and potatoes like only two teenage boys can.
When most of the food was gone, Eddie turned to me and whispered close to my ear. “Are you ready for that walk on the beach now?”
“That sounds great.” Dylan answered the question intended for me, and pushed back his chair, dropping his cloth napkin on the seat. “We can have desert when we come back in.”
“Bundle up,” Mrs. Walter said as the rest of us kids rose from our chairs. “It’s cold out there, and the wind really whips off the lake.”
“Thank you for a lovely dinner, Mrs. Walter,” I said, then nodded to Sylvie as well.
“I’m so glad you’ve come to visit, Christine.” The sincerity in Mrs. Walter’s voice was telling. She knew Dylan liked me as more than a friend and tutor.
“I’ll get some hot cocoa started for when you come back inside,” Sylvie said, standing to clear dishes from the table.
“You comin’, Chris?” Eddie called to me from the mud room. I turned quickly to follow after the boys.
The walk didn’t last long. Eddie kept complaining about Carl and Dylan tagging along on our walk. Plus, Mrs. Walter had been right. It was cold.
We came inside to the most heavenly chocolate smells in the warmth of a cozy kitchen that had seemed so formal just a short hour ago.
When we’d unwrapped from our coats and boots, Dylan led us to a relaxed family room with a large screen television that seemed to melt into the wall, like part of the decorations. Dylan handed Carl the remote and suggested he pick something for us to watch while we warmed up and sipped our hot cocoa.
“Could I use your restroom?” I was still standing near the entrance to the room. Dylan smiled over at me.
“Sure, follow me.”
The small bathroom was on the other side of the kitchen and I was surprised to see Dylan still waiting there when I came back out.
“I could have found my way back,” I said. “You didn’t have to wait.”
“I wanted to talk to you…” he gulped and stepped closer. “Alone.”
“Okay.” I took as step back. “What about?”
“I have a favor to ask.” Dylan’s voice was soft but confident and insistent. “Please don’t do anything you’ll regret tonight. Even if you are thinking of me at the time.”
“You presumptuous, cocky—” My statement was halted by his lips on mine as he gently pushed me up against the kitchen counter, one arm around my waist and the other with his hand at the nape of my neck, threading into my hair in a way that gave me goosebumps. He pulled away much too soon but stared into my eyes as I whispered the rest of my thought. “—jerk.”
Dylan chuckled and released me then grabbed a carafe of what I assumed was hot cocoa from the countertop, calling over his shoulder, “Can you grab that bag of marshmallows?”