“It looks like the shutters on the windows were freshly painted,” Elizabeth said as she got out of the car, stretched, and took a good look at the house.
“Had them done last week,” Mrs. Robbins said as she walked around from the side of the house. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore a white t-shirt covered in paint and dirt underneath what might have once been a blue pair of denim overalls. She had a slight glisten of sweat on her brow, but she was grinning.
"Forgive me if I don’t hug you all just yet. I was just doing a bit of gardening.
“Are Rick, Amanda, and the girls here?” asked Elizabeth.
“Yes, they’re inside helping me by preparing lunch. It should be almost ready now. Why don’t you follow me in.”
“Might as well get this over with,” Drew thought to himself.
“That sounds lovely,” Elizabeth said, and followed Mrs. Robbins inside.
“This is all new!” Elizabeth exclaimed, seeing the newly furnished room. The carpet had been pulled up and he hardwood floors given a brilliant polish. The walls of the living room were painted peach, which went nicely with the oak cabinets and dining room set. A young girl wearing a light blue, knee-length cotton sundress with auburn hair pulled back into a tight ponytail was setting places at the table.
“Emma!” Jenn cried, recognizing her cousin whom she’d only seen in pictures for the last five years.
“Jenny!” Emma exclaimed when she saw who it was. She dropped the silverware on the table with a clank and ran to hug her cousin.
Hearing the commotion, Rick, Amanda, and Nicole filed out of the kitchen and came to a halt in the dining room. Tension darkened the room as all eyes were on the two brothers who hadn’t spoken for five years.
Rick offered his hand and Drew, though hesitant, eventually shook it, at which point the house let out a sigh of relief. Amanda, Lizzie, and the girls began gushing about how good everyone looked, how the girls had grown, and trying to cram five years worth of catching up into five minutes.
“Now that that’s settled, I’m going to freshen up real quick,” Mrs. Robbins said.
“It’s nice to see that Emma knows how to act like a big girl at least,” Drew thought with a self-satisfied smirk that he kept to himself. “Maybe after a couple of days with Jenny and Nicole, she’ll want to grow up properly.”
“Can I help with anything Mom?” Amanda called into Mrs. Robbins’ bedroom.
“Actually, yes, darling, you can,” Mrs. Robbins called back. The peas, corn, mashed potatoes, and the gravy boat are all ready to go out onto the table."
“Jenny, Nicole, a little help please,” Elizabeth said, addressing her daughters, who sighed in unison but got up to help nonetheless.
“Drew, would you like to slice the roast beef?” Amanda asked.
“Sure thing,” Drew said, and he headed for the kitchen.
Once the meat was sliced and laid out on a platter, it was placed in the center of the table with a serving fork laid across it.
“I think that’s everything,” Mrs. Robbins said, reappearing wearing a blue blouse with daisies on it as well as a pair of khaki dress slacks. "Now, if you’ll all be seated, Emma has volunteered to say grace for us.
Emma cleared her throat. “Heavenly Father,” she began. “We thank you for family and for the opportunity to come together and start anew with fresh and open eyes and clear minds. I thank you for bringing us together to be with Grandma as she prepares to celebrate her eightieth birthday, and ask you to watch over all of us during the year to come. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
“That was lovely, Emma,” Elizabeth said.
“Thank you, Aunt Lizzie.”
“Well, don’t be bashful, tuck in!” Mrs. Robbins said, taking the meat platter and the serving fork.
“So, Nicole,” Rick said, “you’re fourteen now?”
“Yes,” Nicole said.
“How’s school treating you?”
“Eh, it’s all right. I’ve got a really wacky English teacher. She’s really passionate, which is great, but she’s a dreadful teacher.”
“My condolences,” Rick laughed. “Can you pass the corn, Jenny?”
“Sure, Uncle Rick,” Jenny said, picking up the bowl of corn sitting to her right and passing it to Rick by way of Nicole.
“So, Drew, you’ve been awfully quiet today. What have you been up to?”
“Oh, the usual,” Drew said slowly, as if warming up. “I’m teaching still. The department chair position is opening up at the end of this year. I’m still debating on whether or not I’ll submit my resume.”
“That’s great. I think you should,” Rick said.
“I may. I’m trying to decide if I think all the extra work is worth the little extra pay.”
“Are you still at the same school district?” Amanda asked.
“Yes, ten years now.”
“Congratulations on that.”
“What about you, Rick?” Lizzie asked. “How are you keeping busy these days?”
“Oh, a little of this, a little of that,” Rick smiled.
“Rick has been commissioned to help rewrite the New Orleans travel guide for Frommer’s,” Amanda beamed. "As soon as the kids are out of school we’re packing up and heading down there for a couple of months.’
“Oh you’ll love it down there,” Elizabeth said, “but you may never want to come back.”
“Congratulations on that, Rick,” Drew said earnestly. “That’s really great.”
“Thanks, Drew,” Rick said. “That means a lot.”
“So do you get to write about what you want to write about or are you just going to update their existing information?”
“A little of both, really. Some things are reopening in the wake of Katrina and some aren’t. The goal is to find out the most up to date information we can to provide to our readers, not that the minute it gets printed it won’t be out of date.”
“I also heard Emma’s being courted by Columbia and Yale,” Elizabeth said, admiringly.
“Yes, those Ivys are banging down our mailbox. I have to beat them off with a stick,” Rick laughed.
“What do you want to study, Emma?” Elizabeth asked.
“I really want to study comparative literature,” Emma said.
“Really?” Drew sat up straight and paid attention properly to his niece for the first time.
'Yes, although Dad says I shouldn’t overspecialize in my undergraduate," Emma said.
“Comparative lit is an interesting field, but there’s hardly any market for it unless you want a PhD to be a professor, and even then you have to practice saying ‘would you like fries with that?’ as a backup plan.”
Emma laughed. “That’s true…which is kind of why I think it’d be okay to get my bachelor’s in comparative lit and then do something useful for my master’s, like education so I can afford things like food and shelter.”
“Sounds like you might be on to something there,” Drew smiled. “Good luck with that.”
“What about you, Danielle?” Lizzie asked.’
“Oh you know, the breathtaking adventures of being a freshman in high school. Nothing quite as exciting as comparative literature, unless you count the ninjas,” she grinned.
“Ninjas?” Jenn asked incredulously.
“Yeah…they’re my failsafe plot device. Guaranteed to grab anyone’s attention or your money back. They’re how I keep up with my sister,” Danielle grinned.
“I think it’s time we bring out the dessert,” Mrs. Robbins said with a smile. “Emma, Jenn, would you please lend me a hand?”