God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and enough alcohol to get me through another Walsh family dinner.
I get out of my car and do a quick scan of the vehicles outside my parents’ house.
Crap. Looks like my older brother Joe isn’t here. What good is being the middle child and having both of your siblings married with kids if you can’t even count on them for distractions?
Plastering a smile on my face, I step through the front door. My younger sister Anna’s three-year-old twins, Colin and Colleen, immediately glom onto my legs. Thank God. In addition to being incredibly cute, they’re also great at running interference.
“Hi, Aunt Ellie!” Colleen, the more outspoken of the two, cries.
“Did you bring us presents?” She eyeballs the wine bottles in my hands with interest.
“Uh, no. These are for the adults.” Or maybe just me. Depends how the evening goes.
“Is that you, Eleanor?” Mom calls from the direction of the kitchen.
“Hi, Mom!” I head toward her voice, dragging the twins with me. “Geez, you guys are getting heavy. Soon you’ll be big enough to carry me.”
Anna shakes her head as I round the corner into the dining room. “Don’t remind me,” she says, distributing silverware around the table. “They’re growing like weeds. I can barely keep ‘em clothed as it is.”
“Uh-oh,” I say to the kids. “Not sure how Gran will feel about naked dinner parties.”
“There will be no nudity at my dinner table!” Mom tsks as she carries a water pitcher into the room. “Those yoga thingies you like to wear are bad enough.” To the twins she says, “Go tell Gramps that Eleanor’s here.”
I look down at said yoga thingies as the kids scamper off. “They’re pants, Mom. Yoga pants.”
“Pants shouldn’t cling to you like that.” She says “cling” like it’s a dirty word that leaves a bad taste in her mouth.
“Sorry. But I came straight from work. And this is what I wear.” Partly because as a yoga teacher it really is what I wear, and partly because I know how much it drives her nuts.
She huffs. “Well, all I’m saying is that wearing a dress every once in a while wouldn’t kill you.” She scrutinizes my apparel again. “Especially when you go out on dates. You don’t wear those, do you?”
“No, Mom. I don’t wear yoga pants.” I wink at Anna. “In fact, we don’t usually end up wearing much of anything at all.”
Mom’s mouth purses like it’s been cinched with a drawstring. “Eleanor. Honestly.” She shakes her head. “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”
“Hey,” Anna says. “Leave me out of this.”
I roll my eyes. “Yeah. Not all of us can wind up with our high school sweetheart, two kids, and a picket fence.”
Mom shakes her head. “Well, you could if you tried. I just don’t understand why you won’t try.”
“It’s not like I’m not trying. I’m just an acquired taste.”
“Yeah. Come on, Mom. Ellie’s like a fine wine. Or limburger cheese.” Anna ducks as I toss a napkin at her head.
“Hey!” Mom raises a finger in warning. “No messing with my table settings!” She picks up the napkin and quickly refolds it. “Well, be sure to wear something nice Friday night.”
“Why? What’s Friday night?” I steal a crouton from the bowl of salad and pop it in my mouth, deftly avoiding Mom’s hand swat.
“Oh, nothing. Just a little dinner party.”
“What kind of dinner party?”
Mom gives me an innocent look. “Nothing. Just a few people, that’s all.”
I glance at Anna, but she shrugs and shakes her head. Uh-oh. If it’s not a family thing… “I have a class that night.”
“No, you don’t,” Mom says. “I already checked with Aurora.”
Dammit. “Well, maybe I have a date.”
“Nope. I asked her that, too.”
Seriously? Who knew Mother Evasion Skills were something I should have been looking for when I hired my one and only employee?
“There wouldn’t happen to be any single men coming over, would there?” Anna cocks an eyebrow.
Mom busies herself filling the water glasses. “Maybe. Who knows?”
“You know, Mom. ‘Cause you did the inviting.”
She shrugs, carefully avoiding my glare. “Well,” she says, “I can’t really say for sure. But I did invite the Petersons. I don’t know for certain if their son’s coming or not.”
Ugh. Brandon Peterson. I know I’ve said that I’m done with bad boys, but Brandon is as boring as they come. He makes a yoga class consisting entirely of corpse pose look exciting. “Mom. I’m not interested in Brandon Peterson.”
She gives me one of her long-suffering smiles. “I know. But you’re both single. And neither of you is getting any younger. And one of these days I’d like some grandchildren.”
“You have grandchildren, Mom. Five of them.”
“And you never know. Maybe he’ll be the love of your life.
She raises her hands in the air. “Fine. Be that way.”
“Thank you. I will.”
“I just want to see you happy.”
“Mom. I am happy.”
“Well, can’t you be married and happy?”
“Nope. Not without a miracle.” In fact, I’m pretty sure me getting married would be the miracle in and of itself.
I give my mother an over-exaggerated smile, and she rolls her eyes, heaving a sigh. “Well then, I guess I’ll have to put your name back on the prayer chain.”
Now it’s my turn for an eye roll. Mom and her prayer chain. I know all of us kids have ended up on it at one time or another, but I’m pretty sure I’m the most frequent flyer. Although now that I think about it, maybe it’s not such a bad idea. Just not for the reason she thinks.
Dad shuffles into the dining room, wearing the giggling twins like leg warmers. “Last stop—everybody off! Hi, Eleanor.” He looks around the dining room. “Anyone else coming?”
Mom shakes her head. “No. Joe said the kids have them booked solid tonight between practices and rehearsals. And Sam’s working.”
“Ah, well, more food for us. And Oscar.”
As if on cue, my stomach lets out a loud rumble. My family has spent way more time than I’d care to admit trying to figure out what my hunger pangs sound like. Turns out they sound like the cry of an ocelot.
“And it gives me more time with my favorite daughters.”
“We’re your only daughters, Dad,” Anna chides.
“Thank goodness,” he says with a wink. He points to his salt and pepper hair as he speaks to the twins. “Your mom and aunt are responsible for this.”
“Da-ad.” Anna scoffs. “Like Joe was the perfect child.”
“Well, there’s a whole other level of worry with daughters. As you’ll come to find out. But hopefully now that you’re all grown, I won’t have to worry about my poor hair anymore.”
Mom gives me a pointed look. “Yeah, well, just because they’re grown doesn’t mean they don’t still cause trouble.”
Crap. Looks like she still has a firm grasp on the bullshit detector. She always was the more difficult of the two to get anything past. And while I’m pretty sure she’s still talking about the whole dating and marriage thing, I can’t help the niggling thought that maybe she knows there’s something else.
Dammit. I should’ve brought more wine.
“So, how’s things?” I scrub at a spot of stuck-on lasagna while Anna loads the dishwasher. Even though clean-up duty has never been something I enjoy, I have more of an appreciation for it now. Especially since it gives me a chance to talk with her while Mom and Dad entertain the twins. We don’t live far from each other, but she’s busy with her family, and I’m busy with my yoga studio.
Or trying to be, anyway.
She shrugs. “Good. Crazy. Did I tell you I had to take Colin to the doctor last week because he stuck a pea up his nose?”
“No. I’m guessing he’s okay though?”
“Oh, yeah. He’s fine. But now he won’t eat any vegetables. Says they’re bad for his health.”
“Wow. Smart kid.”
She huffs. “Not quite. He’s just repeating what Sam said.”
“Ah.” I suppress a chuckle. Despite the fact that I have no intentions of getting married, I have to admit that Sam’s a perfect match for Anna. Especially since he likes to get her riled up just as much as I do. “I don’t know how you do it.”
“What? Being married to a cop? Having twins?”
“All of it.”
She starts the dishwasher and leans against the counter. “I don’t know. You just do it. Like with you and your business. Things still good there?”
“Yeah.” Maybe if I keep pretending long enough, it’ll be fine. Like some of that “power of positive thinking” crap.
She chuckles and shakes her head.
“It’s just still so weird, you know? You and the whole yoga thing.”
“Tell me about it.” Of all the things I considered doing with my life when we were younger, teaching yoga and owning a business were nowhere even near the radar.
“I need to come to a class again. Get me out of the house.” An evil grin slides across her face. “Maybe I should bring Mom.”
I snort. When I first told my parents about the whole yoga thing, she’d performed the sign of the cross. It took several conversations with Father Thomas to convince her to take me off the prayer chain for that particular offense. “Good luck. You know what? I will pay you to bring Mom. Double if you get her to wear yoga pants.”
Anna barks out a laugh. “Deal.” She dries a couple of pots before speaking again. “So, you and Brandon Peterson, huh? Hot.”
“Shut up.” I flick her with my soapy water.
“Seriously, El. I’d figure something out pretty soon. Because if she’s already trotting out the likes of the Petersons, no telling who else she might have up her sleeve.”
Oh, God. She’s right. My mother’s network is nothing if not far-reaching. It’s a miracle I’ve escaped her clutches this long. Probably only because she was so busy trying to save me from yoga.
“What ever happened with that last guy you dated? What’s-his-face. The guy with all the piercings?”
“Yeah. Thought you guys were all hot and heavy.”
“We were. And then we weren’t.” I scrub at a spot on the pan that’s been present for as long as I can remember, pretending it’s Ace’s face.
“Because he’s a self-centered prick who treats women like shit just like all the other pricks I fall for.” I throw my scrubbie into the water. “What the hell is wrong with me? Why do I always fall for the bad boys? Why can’t I be attracted to someone nice and normal for a change?”
“Uh, because you’re not nice and normal?”
Anna rolls her eyes. “You know what I mean.”
“Maybe I should just lay low for a while longer. Take a break from the whole dating scene.” I’ve got enough to worry about without adding my horrible taste in men to the mix.
“Yeah. Good luck with that.”
“What? I am fully capable of being happily single.”
“It’s not you I’m worried about.”
Crap. She’s right. That would play right into Mom’s hands. “Can’t you hurry up and get pregnant again? Get Mom off my back?”
Anna’s nostrils flare, and her eyes widen in mock horror. “Shut your mouth. And don’t go giving her any ideas.”
“Some sister you are.”
“Oh, come on. You’ll be fine. Besides, you never know. Maybe Mom’s right. Maybe Brandon Peterson will be the love of your life.”
Oh, God. I thought things were already bad. But if Mom’s right about my love life, I really will have hit rock bottom.