Chapter 29, Part 1
“Oh, come on, it’s not going to be that bad!” Mariah nudged Kyle as they left the med center. Kyle shoved his hands into the pockets of his new jeans and frowned.
“Easy for you to say,” he mumbled.
“Cassie’s not freaking out about you anymore, and she’s pretty much the only one you had to worry about. The others will be nice,” she reassured him, hoping it would be the case. They’d all heard her story, so they had the benefit of hearing about Kyle from her before they got Cassie’s version. Anyway, they’d all agreed to be welcoming to Kyle. His fate was still up in the air, but Mariah was secretly hoping that Captain Santos would have him stay at the base. She was afraid wouldn’t do so well out on his own without someone to talk to him when the depression hit.
“So Caleb made pizza for lunch and Abby decided to make cookies. I wasn’t really sure what you liked of either, so we just went with the regular,” she said.
“Never really had much of either, so I don’t even know what I like,” he said. Mariah resisted the urge to hug him.
“Well don’t tell Caleb that, or he’ll feed you pizza until you hate it.” She grinned.
Mariah thought she might have to forcibly drag him through the kitchen doors, but he followed her, his posture so rigid she half-expected him to start emitting sparks. They entered to organized chaos. Caleb was trying to snap Josh with a rolled up towel as he waited for the oven timer to beep. Cassie was trying to get plates and cups out on the table, dodging around Caleb’s vain attempts and where Sam was helping Abby scoop out cookies onto waiting pans. Declan had his boots up on the table where Luke was mixing lemonade, sipping his tea and watching everything with an amused expression. Kyle just looked overwhelmed.
“Ow!” Cassie yelped as Caleb accidentally smacked her instead. The cups wobbled in their stack and started to fall until Josh was there in a blur to steady them.
“I still think I should be able to throw things at you for training purposes,” Declan said.
“I agree!” Luke high fived him.
Cassie caught sight of them and plunked the cups down. “Hey!”
Everyone else turned and stared as Kyle shifted nervously.
“Hey, guys,” Mariah took the lead and started introductions.
There was a moment of awkward silence when she finished until the oven timer beeped.
“Sweet! You like pizza, Kyle?” Caleb whisked his latest creation out of the oven.
Mariah knew Caleb was trying hard not to look offended as he slid it onto a cutting board.
“Caleb! I thought we agreed just regular pepperoni!” she yelped, looking at the crust piled high with pepperoni, sausage, cheese, peppers, and onions.
“I know! But my meat lovers pizza!” he pleaded, pulling another pizza from the double oven.
He stuck his tongue out at her. Cassie relieved him of the knife and sliced the pizzas, allowing everyone to dish up on their own after a quick blessing. She tossed a bag of carrot sticks on the table as she put the knife in the sink.
“C’mon, Cas! Veggies? Really? I put some on the pizza!” Caleb complained. Cassie narrowed her eyes at him and he crunched a carrot loudly in her direction. “Happy?”
“You’ll survive. And take it easy on the soda, heathen,” Cassie retorted.
“How did you survive with him for as long as you did?” Josh asked Cassie with a smirk.
“He’s the one who almost didn’t survive,” Cassie grinned and wrinkled her nose at Caleb as he stuck his tongue out. “You need anything, Kyle?”
He looked a little startled at being addressed, but shook his head. “No. This is really good.”
“Ha!” Caleb pointed triumphantly at Mariah. “And you wanted plain ol’ pepperoni. He can stay. I’ve even converted Declan.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Declan warned around his second slice. “I’m never going to understand the pineapple thing.”
“You’re dissing pineapple and the bacon of my people?” Caleb widened his eyes in mock horror.
“You’re actually going to take credit for that excuse for meat?” Declan smirked.
“Who wants my crust?” Abby piped up. Sam scooped the nibbled edge of the pizza slice off her plate before Caleb could move.
“Is it always like this?” Kyle nudged Mariah.
“Pretty much. It takes some getting used to.” She poured herself some more lemonade.
“Some?” Declan overheard their conversation. Mariah slid the pitcher down to him as he reached for it. “It’s a madhouse most days.”
“Whatever, you like it here.” Mariah retorted. The Irishman grinned and winked.
“I just stick around for Abby’s cookies,” he said.
As if on cue, the oven beeped and Abby hurried over to pull out her first batch. Mariah noticed she did it herself. That’s new. Usually she or Cassie had to take the pans out. Abby scooped them onto a plate and held it out to Kyle.
“It’s a new combination I tried. Peanut butter and toffee. I hope you like them.”
Mariah resisted the urge to smack her forehead. Why had she even bothered trying to have them make normal food? But she changed her mind as soon as she bit into the soft cookie.
“I think you have a point,” Kyle told Declan.
Declan swiped another two for him and Kyle, earning a grin from Abby.
Two down, another half if you count Cassie, and four more to go. Mariah thought. She briefly wondered if this was what it would have been like had her family lived and she’d brought home a boyfriend.
As soon as dinner finished and the dishes were cleared and the last of the cookies put on the plate, the kitchen was vacated in favor of movie night in the upstairs rec room. Mariah hung back with Kyle as they trailed after the others.
“Doing okay so far?” she asked.
“Yeah. I’m still surprised they were okay with me staying.”
“I told you. I’m very persuasive.”
He chuckled and pushed the door open for her. “Thanks for, you know…sticking up for me.”
“No problem, Sparky.” She lightly punched his arm. “Welcome to the family.”