Food, Cats, and Being in Love

I don't want to think about it
I don't want to talk about it
When I kiss your lips
I want to sink down to the bottom
Of the sea

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30. Chapter Thirty

I stayed the night at Vincent’s house on Friday so we could drive the next day. He made himself a bed on the couch even though I told him I would sleep there, but it didn’t matter. The few times I’d crashed at his house he always took the couch. It was always difficult to sleep in his bed. It smelled like him and the sheets were soft and sometimes Duchess would hop onto the bed to sniff my nose and then determine I wasn’t Vincent. She would either stay with me or immediately run off to find him.

All I could think about was him. Sleeping on the couch. Alone. Cold. Well he wasn’t actually cold since he had decent heating. But it was normal for him to want to sleep in his own bed, right? I hated that I kicked him out of his bed when I wanted so badly for him to be lying next to me.

I ended up waking up early so I could make breakfast. I’d already packed lunches and snacks for the trip so we wouldn’t have to stop very much. But it was only a five-hour drive and the Kassem’s invited us over for a barbecue. Then we decided to rent a motel room and drive back the next morning.

Of course, I fell asleep within an hour of driving. But Vincent didn’t complain about it when I woke up the next time we stopped for gas. He just said I looked adorable sleeping with my mouth open and then I was kind of self-conscious after that. Luckily, I didn’t fall asleep again.

We finally got there in the late afternoon. Vincent had driven the route enough times to know where to go without directions. He pulled onto a suburban street full of manufactured condominiums and I felt my heart jump around in my chest.

“You look excited,” he noted as I looked at all of the pretty houses, wondering which one was hers and if she would be excited to see me and if she looked like Paige and if the Kassem family would think it was weird that Erin’s biological father was visiting with her biological aunt.

Did that make us family?

I didn’t know, but I wasn’t going to bring it up.

“I AM excited!” I told him. “And nervous.”

“Why are you nervous?”

“What if she doesn’t like me?” I turned to look at him, and his eyebrow rose a fraction.

“How could she not like you?”

“What if she thinks I’m dumb or doesn’t like the cookies I brought or thinks I’m weird?” He smiled.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who didn’t like you.”

“I’ve met kids who didn’t like me.”

“Name one.”

“Like this one kid…”

“Name one that wasn’t a kid while you were a kid.”

“Fine. There was this kid named um—Edward.”

“No there wasn’t.” I sighed.

“Fine, I made Edward up.”

“I know.”

“Phillip didn’t like me.”

“He’s your brother. He doesn’t count.” He pulled up alongside a curb and I got nervous again. He heard me take a deep breath and reached out to put his hand on my shoulder.

“She’s going to love you, Pip.” I turned to look at him and smiled back.

“You promise?” I asked. He glanced at my lips and I saw that look in his eyes again. Like he wanted to kiss me. God, I wanted him to kiss me.

“Cross my heart,” he said. And somehow it sounded weirdly sexual. Or maybe I was just slowly dying from being around him all the time.

Then he climbed out of the car. I did the same and went to the back to get the cookies I’d made while he stretched. I spent a whole day making them. They were sugar cookies shaped and frosted to look like ponies. He said she liked ponies. I was worried I’d gone overboard but he promised me that she’d love them.

I was still nervous though. We walked up to the door and he rang the bell and I stood there tapping my feet anxiously. He sent me another glance and then smiled right as the door opened.

I’d met Mrs. Kassem a couple of times before. When Paige was interviewing potential adoptive parents and when they came to the hospital to see Erin the day that she was born. She looked exactly as I remembered. Short and blonde. Almost like my mom. She smiled brightly when she saw us, even though she’d just barely caught the end of a shared smile.

“Vincent, hi!” she said. “And Piper. It’s so good to see you!” Then she pulled me into a hug and I felt kind of awkward but I hugged her back anyway.

“It’s good to see you too!” I said, but I couldn’t remember her name for anything in the world.

“Come on in. They’re out back in the yard already.”

“I made cookies!”

“Oh good! Vincent told me you’re a chef now.” I handed her the box and she lifted the lid to look them over. “Oh my gosh. These look amazing. Erin is going to love them. Come on in.” She turned back into the house and Vincent put his hand on my back and guided me forward.

The house was really nice. It looked like it was a more casual and comfortable version of my mom’s house. So while it was nice, it looked lived in instead of lavish, and there were toys and kid’s books on the floor in front of the TV, which my mom never would have allowed. It was the kind of home that was decorated for a family first and looks second.

I wondered what Erin would be like. Would she be like a mini-Paige? Would she like princesses and dresses and jewelry and all those girly things that Paige was always into? Would she think I was weird for making her pony cookies?

I knew the answer to that question the second we walked through the sliding glass door and into the backyard. I heard her scream at the top of her lungs. And not a high pitched scream like she was excited or in pain. But almost like a growl.

“VINCENT’S HERE!” she screamed, in a deepened growly voice.

Then a blur of purple and blonde shot from off of a swing set and hit the grass hard. Only it didn’t seem to bother her. She booked it and rushed at us, jumping right onto him and latching her arms around his waist and nearly knocking him back.

She was amazing.

She was wearing polka spot stockings that looked slightly too large. There were holes in the knees. Her shoes had Spider-Man on them and lit up when she ran. She was wearing a puffy jacket with a pony on it, and a beanie that looked like something straight out of my closet. Her hair was wildly curly like mine and she had no front teeth.

“Hey, kiddo,” he said scooping her right up into his arms and propping her up on his hip. She put her hand on his shoulder and then turned her hazel eyes on me and gave me the biggest, cheesiest grin I’ve ever seen. But my eyes were watering and I wanted to take a break before I spoke to her. “Do you know who this is?” he asked her, looking her over like she was the most amazing person he’d ever met in his life. She nodded vigorously, and his eyebrows rose. “Oh yeah? Who is this then?” She put a small finger on her chin and made sure we knew she was thinking. Her mom was standing close to us, watching with interest. She saw my eyes water and reached out to squeeze my shoulder. Her husband was busy cleaning the barbecue but waved hello.

“Um,” Erin started. “Batgirl,” she decided. My eyebrows rose now.

“Batgirl? That’s a first,” I said. She giggled.

“She likes Batgirl,” Vincent told me. “She likes most girl superheroes.”

“That just made my entire life.” She giggled again. “Unfortunately, I’m not Batgirl though. Or maybe that’s my secret identity. I’ll never tell. Shh.” I put my finger to my lips and she laughed again.

“Honey, this is Piper,” her mom explained to her. “She’s your birth mother’s sister.” I was surprised at how open and honest she was being with her. I mean, I always heard it was best to be open with children while they were young so they didn’t have anger issues when they were older. But I didn’t expect it.

“Oh, I know who you are!” Erin decided as she bounced in Vincent’s arms and he struggled to keep her from falling. “You’re Pip!” I gasped dramatically.

“I am Pip! How did you know?”

“Vinnie told me.” Since she didn’t have any front teeth it came out sounding like “Binnie.” That was the cutest thing I’d ever heard.

“She made you pony cookies, look,” her mom said as she opened the box to show her. Then she let out another blood curdling scream.

“APPLE JACK!” she shrieked. She pushed off of Vincent’s and jumped down to the ground. Then she started dancing around her mom begging for the Apple Jack cookie. I stepped back toward Vincent and he smiled at me.

“Told you she’d like them. And you,” he said. I was still trying not to burst into tears.

“You told her about me?” I asked.

“Of course. I told her about all of you.”

“She’s amazing.” He put his hand on my shoulder and I’d never wanted to kiss him more in my life.

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