Over the past year or two, I have fallen in love with a particular family. I’ve cried with them through their pain and heartache. I’ve celebrated with them in their times of joy. I’ve cheered for their accomplishments. And from what I’ve heard, others are falling in love with them, too. No, I’m not speaking about the Pearsons of This is Us fame, though I truly love them as well. I’m talking about the Middleton and Kelly families, and if you’ve read my award-winning novel, Island of Miracles, then you know exactly to whom I’m referring.
As soon as they got home, Kayla instructed the boys to do their homework, and she went right to work in the kitchen. She stirred the pot pie filling and started putting together the dough. She lost herself in the task, making her signature dish without a recipe and without having to think about the ingredients or the steps. Kayla was on autopilot, and she loved it. She reveled in the feeling of the smooth pie crust as she kneaded it beneath her palms. She stirred the thick filling again, tasted it, added more seasoning, and then tasted it again. It was perfect, and she allowed herself to take pride in her work.
This was what she missed, what kept her grounded. She loved Second Helpings and didn’t want to have to give it up, but she didn’t love the hectic pace at which she had to cook the meals. By providing dinner for sometimes as many as five or six families each night, she had lost the passion for cooking. She had forgotten how it felt to let the seasonings slowly run through her fingers as she dropped them into the pan, to knead dough until it was smooth and shiny, to place a beautifully prepared dish on the table and watch everyone enjoy their meal. She thought that she could have all of that and share it with others, but now she saw that all she was doing was hurrying through the process in order to have everything ready for pick-up. She was cooking her beloved recipes but without the love.
Using her palm, Kayla slowly rolled the dough into two perfect balls, setting one aside, and flattening the other onto the counter. She was in a trance, unable to see anything beyond the pate brisee as she rolled it out to the perfect size for the round baking dish.
“Did you not get enough to eat at your mother’s?” Zach asked, his voice soft and low.
Kayla’s trance was broken. She slowly looked up at him, feeling as if she was awaking from a dream. A dream where she was doing her favorite thing, with Zach lazily watching her as he leaned against the doorjamb, a look of pure love and admiration on his face. She blushed, realizing that she was not dreaming, and that that was exactly how Zach was looking at her.
“I’m sorry,” she said, hoping the catch in her voice didn’t give away the rapidity of her pulse. “I didn’t know you were there.”
“I could tell. You looked… peaceful.” He pushed away from his stance against the wall and walked toward the island where she rolled the dough. He spread his hands apart and placed them on the hard surface, surveying her work.
“I was remembering how much I love to cook, especially when there’s a special reason.”
He cocked his head to the side. “And the special reason?”
“It’s for Justine and Hank. Anne organized a meal calendar. She asked if I would donate a gift card or have a pizza delivered.” Kayla shook her head and smiled. “She should have known better than that.”
“She should have. You’d never send someone a pizza.”
Kayla looked up and saw the humor in his expression. He was teasing her, and it sure felt better than him feeling sorry for her. So often these days, she felt like everyone was looking at her with pity or trepidation. She much preferred being teased.
“How’s Nick settling in?” she asked as she rolled the dough over the thick, marble rolling pin and lifted it to the baking dish. She gently set it down over the dish and unwrapped the dough so that it fit perfectly inside the hollow of the dish.
Zach watched her with appreciation, and it made Kayla feel good. She was in her element, and she knew it.
“So far, so good. He’s checking the listings in the paper, circling potential jobs, and coming up with his plan of attack.”
Kayla turned to stir the filling and watched Zach, from the corner of her eye, break a small piece of dough off from the second ball and pop it in his mouth.
“I saw that,” she said without turning around.
“Man, I forgot that all moms have eyes in the back of their heads.”
“We do,” she said as she returned to the island. She pressed the dough onto the counter, sprinkled flour over it, and began to roll it out. “So, what brings you over, other than to steal a piece of pie crust. You can’t be hungry after Mom’s Sunday spread.”
“You’d be surprised,” he said, moving behind her to enjoy a giant inhalation of the pie filling.
“Don’t touch that,” Kayla commanded as Zach picked up the spoon.
“How did you—”
“Eyes in the back of my head,” she reminded him. “You didn’t answer me.” She finished rolling out the top of the pot pie before returning to the stove and turning off the flame under the filling.
Zach watched as she poured the filling into the pie shell and proceeded to cover the top with the dough, using the same maneuver she had used to lay the bottom crust in the dish.
“I wanted to make sure you don’t need anything before tomorrow.”
“You asked me at mom’s if I was ready.” She crimped the edges of the crust and poked three holes in the top of the pie.
“That’s not the same,” he said, opening the oven for her.
After placing the pie in the oven, Kayla noted the time and began cleaning up her cooking tools.
“I suppose it’s not,” she said, turning toward him and resting her back against the kitchen sink. “I’m good. The boys need to pack for Dad’s, but otherwise, there’s not really anything to do.”
“And you’re still holding off on telling them what’s going on?”
“Until I have a diagnosis, there’s really nothing to tell.”
“So, the boys have to pack. What about you?” Kayla felt a chill run down her back as he looked at her with such intensity that she felt naked.
“I’m good,” she faltered. “There’s not much for me to do.”
“How about that dinner?” He gestured toward the oven. “Can I take it to Justine and Hank for you?”
Kayla looked at the oven and thought for a moment before shaking her head. “I want to take it and let them know that I’m thinking of them. But…” She hesitated and lowered her voice. “Maybe you could go with me? Under the circumstances, I’m not sure I want to go alone. Todd is very close to Henry and wants to go with me. I’m afraid it might be difficult. I don’t even want to imagine what they’re going through.” She shuddered and glanced toward the den where the boys did their homework.
“Of course, we’ll all go together. What about EJ?”
“Well, he’s going to fight us, but I don’t think I can leave him home alone. I know he’s old enough to stay by himself, but until we know what happened to Henry…”
“I understand. I’ll talk to him. He’s Todd’s big brother and can take some responsibility for looking out for his little brother. Don’t you think?”
Kayla knew exactly where he was going with that and agreed wholeheartedly. If EJ thought he was helping his mom and being given the responsibility to look out for Todd, he’d take the task very seriously.
“Perfect,” she said. “The pot pie will be ready in about forty-five minutes. Should we meet at the truck, or would you prefer we take my car?”
“The truck is fine. I’ll talk to EJ and then go let Nick know what’s up.”
Kayla watched him go and let out a breath. As much as she hated to admit it, having Zach in her life felt a lot better than not having him around at all. But she knew better than to put her trust in him. He was still holding something back, and she needed assurance that they could count on him to be there when it matters. With her impending diagnosis and Henry’s disappearance, she realized all the more that you never know what the future will hold or if there will be a future at all.