Things I Never Told You(2)

By: Beth Vogt

“You’ve got to admit he’s easy on the eyes.”

Easy on the eyes? Who said stuff like that anymore? “Not that he’s around very often for anyone to get a look at him.”

“If I don’t mind being in a long-distance relationship, I don’t see why you should be so critical.” Johanna’s stilettos tapped a sharp staccato on the wood floor, her platinum-blonde hair caught up in a tight ponytail that swished down between her shoulder blades.

“I’m not criticizing. Just mentioning that Beckett plays the role of the Invisible Man quite well.”

“You’re almost as funny as Geoff.” Ice frosted Johanna’s words.

Time to change the subject again unless I wanted a full-blown argument with one sister during my other sister’s party. Not that I could think of a topic Johanna and I agreed on. “Isn’t it odd? You and Beckett have been engaged for over two years now. Shouldn’t we be planning your wedding so Jillian and Geoff don’t beat you two down the aisle?”

“It’s not a race. Beckett’s stationed in Wyoming and I don’t want to give up my job to move there—”

“Did I know Beckett was in Wyoming?”

“Honestly, Payton, he’s been there for a year.” Johanna sniffed. “But then, it’s not like we chat every other day, is it? You and Pepper were the close ones—”

Heat flushed my neck. My face. “There’s no need to bring Pepper into the conversation, is there?”

“Why, after all this time, are you still so sensitive about talking about her?”

“I’m not sensitive. I just don’t see why you had to mention Pepper when we were talking about you and Beckett—”

The sound of voices rose once again as the kitchen door opened. Poor Kimberlee. She didn’t know she’d have to assume Jillian’s usual position as the neutral zone between Johanna and me.

“Have you seen Jillian?”

Not Kimberlee. Mom, who was also an expert human buffer.

“Isn’t she with Geoff?” I removed the cling wrap from the cheesecake.

“She was a few moments ago, but now I can’t find her.” Mom circled the island as if she expected to find her middle daughter crouching down hiding from her. “Isn’t it almost time for dessert? And aren’t we supposed to open gifts after that? They certainly received a lot of presents, didn’t they?”

“Yes. It’s a great turnout.” If only the kitchen didn’t feel like a revolving three-ring circus. How would Johanna like it if our family showed up at the hospital pharmacy where she was in charge?

Before I could say anything else, Kimberlee, the one person I’d been waiting for, joined the crowd. “Are we all set in here, Payton?”

“Just about.” I swallowed back the words “if people would stay out of my kitchen.” This wasn’t my kitchen. And family or not, Mom was a client, at least for tonight, and needed to be treated like one. And I’d been dealing with Johanna for years. If I wanted tonight to be a success, the less said, the better.

“Mom, why don’t you and Johanna join the guests?” I removed the classic cheesecake from the fridge. “I’ll find Jillian while Kimberlee makes the announcement about dessert and Jillian and Geoff opening their gifts.”

As Johanna and Mom left, I faced my business partner, shook my head, and sighed. “Family. And before that, a longtime family friend wandered in, asking for the crab dip recipe.”

“It comes with working for relatives.” Kimberlee took the cheesecake from me, the eclectic assortment of rings on her fingers sparkling under the kitchen lights. “But honestly, everything has gone beautifully. There’s hardly any food left.”

“That’s because I know how to plan portions.”

“It’s because we know how to throw a good party.”

“Well, let’s keep things going and get this dessert set up.”

Once the trio of cheesecakes was arranged on the table in my parents’ dining room, I nodded to Kimberlee. “I’ve got to go find our bride-to-be.”

“No problem. I can handle this.” Kimberlee smoothed a wrinkle from the white tablecloth and repositioned the vase filled with bright-red poppies, my mother’s favorite flowers.

“It’s not like she wandered far. She’s probably in the bathroom touching up her makeup.”

Not that Jillian was a “refresh her makeup” kind of gal. Mascara and a little bit of basic eyeliner was her usual routine. Lipstick was reserved for fancier affairs. She’d probably be cajoled by the photographer into wearing some on her wedding day.