This time, when Cole arrived at home, there were no huge surprises or welcome home parties, it was just his family and grandparents. He was grateful for the lack of fanfare and the time to spend alone with his family. Instead, his mom made Chicken Saltimbocca and they all sat down to dinner together. It was nice. Something he hoped he would be doing himself in a few years.
“So Cole, do you plan to join me at work for the next few weeks?” asked Ben, looking hopeful.
“Yes,” replied Cole, “I can start tomorrow since I won’t be here as long. I can’t wait to see what has changed since I was here last year.”
“Good,” said Ben with a proud smile, “I will get Avery to work with you on some of the contracts that are coming in. Show you how she manages it.”
Leroy spoke up, “I’m finally retiring this year,” he said and shot a glance at his wife, “Before I get nagged to death.”
“I don’t nag!” protested Kaitlin, and everyone at the table had to stifle their giggles.
“Of course not Kate,” said Leroy, “My mistake. You highly recommend.” This time everyone laughed. Kaitlin just smiled at her husband.
Cole looked curiously at his dad. “Dad, what are you going to do for help?” he asked.
“Avery and Noah are stepping up. Noah is running the construction sites really well, and Avery is managing the new contracts. It leaves a lot of the marketing and managing the books to me. I do have Helen to help out. So we are doing alright.”
Cole thought once again that Yasmine would be a good addition to C&M Development. She was majoring in marketing and had mad accounting skills. But maybe she wanted something more glamorous. He didn’t know. She never really wanted to discuss her future except to remind him he wasn’t part of the plan.
That evening, as Cole settled into the guest bedroom and got ready for bed, he thought a little more about his future. He knew his folks wouldn’t mind him moving back in for a little while, should he wind up in Willow Creek after graduation. But that wasn’t likely to happen. And it made him a little sad. He would probably wind up with a job at a clinic somewhere like San Myshuno or a larger city. There wasn’t a demand for Vets in Willow Creek. Doc owned the market.
Of course, as fast as Newcrest was growing, he dared believe that maybe Yasmine would want to work for C&M and then he could open a small clinic in Newcrest. He wondered if she would be happy doing that. Then he chastised himself for planning a future with someone that wouldn’t even kiss him. Although she didn’t say anything when he kissed her cheek.
He walked back into the bedroom and picked up the phone to call her. He needed to hear her voice, even if he feared what would greet him on the other end of the line.
“Hi Cole,” she said sweetly.
She sounded really good and Cole breathed a sigh of relief. “Hey Yasmine. I already miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
“You do? Really?” he asked, unable to stop the corners of mouth from turning up.
“Yes. It sucks. Duke misses you too. I took him for a walk, but it’s not the same when you’re not with us.”
“What about you? How are you doing?”
“I’m fine,” replied Yasmine, “you don’t need to worry about me Cole.”
“I can’t help it. Please call me if you need to talk, or at least talk to Blake.”
“Cole, you sound like someone that cares too much.”
“You are my friend, so I do care if you aren’t okay.” Because I think I am falling in love with you he added silently.
They talked effortlessly about meaningless topics for the next 20 minutes before finally saying goodnight.
“Call me next week, okay?” Yasmine asked before she disconnected.
It made him ridiculously happy that she asked him to call her. “You can count on it,” he said and hung up smiling.
Cole laid back in bed and thought about the phone call. He felt better about the direction of their relationship than he had in the past two years. She seemed to be letting him in – if only a tiny bit at a time – she even said she missed him. And it felt like she missed him just as much as he was missing her. Much different from before.
Cole went to the bar to get his sister a root beer float. He looked around the room. It was weird to see relatives he barely knew. Kaitlin had decided to throw a retirement party for Leroy before Cole went back to school, so he could attend.
Sitting with Gigi and Papa were his parents and his father’s older brother and his wife. He hadn’t seen Reese in a very long time. Reese still lived in Twinbrook where his father’s family grew up.
The other table was occupied by his dad’s sisters and their husbands. He hadn’t seen them in years either. Not since they all married and moved to different cities. They were all laughing and telling stories. It looked like they were enjoying catching up.
Cole sat down with Ami’s root beer float at what they had deemed the “kids” table. It was even off in the corner apart from the ‘adult’ tables. His sister, Avery and Noah were the youngest ones in attendance. Other than the four of them at the kiddie table, the only other invitees were Leroy’s and Kaitlin’s children and their spouses.
Cole and Ami were there, because they were going to inherit the family business. Noah and Avery had been invited because they worked for Leroy. It was especially fitting that they held the party in the large meeting room at C&M Development’s offices.
The four of them made a game out of watching everyone, and guessing who was who and who was with who. “Damn Cole, you do have a big ass family,” said Noah laughing. “Remind me to only have one kid, if I am stupid enough to have any.”
“I don’t agree,” said Ami, “it wouldn’t be the same without my brother.”
Cole grinned. “Awww, you do love me.”
“Don’t push it Coleman,” she shot back playfully, “Just sayin, it would be nice to have a couple of kids, maybe closer in age than you and me.” Then she turned to Avery who was quietly taking in the conversation. “Avery, do you have any brothers or sisters?”
Avery seemed startled to be included. “Uh, no…no I was an only child. And, you’re right Ami, I sometimes wished I would have had a sibling that I was close to. Being an only can get lonely sometimes, or even if there is a huge gap in ages I suppose.”
“Well, I’m thankful I didn’t have any brothers or sisters,” said Noah with disgust, “It was hell growing up like I did, and I wouldn’t have wished that crap on anybody.”
Ami looked at Noah and put her hand on his arm affectionately. “But you and Cole were like brothers. I was even jealous sometimes.”
Cole couldn’t believe Ami. “Why would you be jealous?” asked Cole, “You and Aubrie are joined at the hip. I’m actually surprised she’s not here.”
Ami and rolled her eyes. “I asked if she could come and Mom said I had to socialize with the family, and if Aubrie was here I wouldn’t.”
Noah laughed. “Well, you attached yourself to your brother. I don’t think that’s what she had in mind either.”
“Well, none of my cousins are here,” she complained, “It’s just all old people.”
Avery stifled a giggle and Noah outright laughed. “Agreed,” he said, and in a more serious tone added, “But they are your family. You should be polite.”
“I’ll stay right here, thank you,” said Ami defiantly. “They just want to talk to each other anyway.”
Avery and Cole exchanged a glance at the exchange between Noah and Ami. It was probably the longest civil conversation they ever had. But Ami had a point, everyone there was probably close to 40 and up. Not a fun crowd for a teenager.
Noah continued talking, “Well, I, for one, need to go shake your grandfather’s hand. He’s a good man. If it weren’t for him and your dad, I might not be where I am today. They gave me a chance. So come on Amelia, get up and go with me, we can mingle and make your mom happy.”
After they walked off, Cole looked at Avery as she took a sip of her wine. “What just happened there?”
“I’m not sure. Either Noah just adopted Ami, or she has a major crush on him. How old is she?” asked Avery, while Cole watched the unlikely duo talking to Leroy.
“Fifteen,” replied Cole with a grimace.
“Ohhh. Cole, I hate to break it to you, but I think it’s a crush. And Noah, he does look nice dressed up. All I ever see him in is a T-shirt and jeans. I’ll warn him to be careful. I am sure he has no clue and is just being nice.”
Just about then, their table was descended upon by three of Cole’s Aunts. “Cole!” they all said in unison. He jumped up when he saw Maddy, Hailey and Dakota grinning at him. His babysitters from when he was little. He groaned because he just knew what was coming next….
Kaitlin had a photographer setup in the hallway so everyone took their turn getting their pictures made. Leroy and Kaitlin went first.
Then Ben and Sofia.…
Reese Murdock and his wife Brooke (Reese is Ben’s older brother)….
Maddy Murdock and her husband Tyler (Maddy is Ben’s little sister)….
Hailey Chapman and her husband Ron (Hailey is Ben’s half-sister – Leroy’s daughter with Kaitlin)…
Dakota Chapman and her husband Max (Ben’s adopted sister – Max is Ben’s college friend)….
And finally….Cole and Ami….