Dating Trouble (Grover Beach Team Book 5) (8 page)

BOOK: Dating Trouble (Grover Beach Team Book 5)
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Ethan laughed. “Hopefully play
Mario Kart
, because that’s what I was thinking.”

My mouth stretched to a broad grin. “Let’s go!”

Ethan got up and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. He tossed a few dollars on the table for our drinks plus tip and offered me his arm. Laughing, I looped mine through his.

“Your place or mine?” he asked.

My place was out of question because of the fighting we’d get from my parents, but this time at least I had a proper excuse. “I don’t have a Wii.”

“So it’ll be my place. If we’re lucky”—he cast a glance at his watch—“we’ll be just in time for dinner, too. Are you hungry? I’m always hungry,” he ended with a guilty look.

With the nervousness gone, I realized I actually
was
hungry and smiled. “As long as it isn’t spinach or liver.”

A noticeable quiver fizzed through Ethan. “God forbid.”

Even though it was a two-mile walk to his house, the time flew by way too fast for me. He hadn’t let my hand slip away from his arm even once, and I relished the nearness. His body, so warm and firm next to mine, made me think I had reached my own personal heaven.

As soon as he opened the front door of his house and ushered me through, he called over my head, “Mom, we’ve got a guest for dinner. Is that okay?”

Mrs. Donovan came out of the kitchen and brought a spicy smell with her. “Of course,” she said and offered me her hand with a smile. “Sorry, I was in a bit of a rush last time we met. I’m Beverly.”

“This is Susan,” Ethan told her before I could introduce myself, so all I said was, “Nice to meet you.”

“Come on.” Ethan tugged at my hand. “Let’s have a race before dinner is ready.”

I followed him to the back of the house, but before we reached his room, the door at the very end of the hallway opened and, to my total surprise, Lauren, the black-haired supermodel came out. Of course, Chris slipped out right after her and he laced their fingers.

His hair was a mess and so was his shirt. He’d obviously been distracted while buttoning it up.
Jerk
! Could he be any more obvious and disgusting? He would
so
not get me next with that kind of stuff, I thought, rolling my eyes. But then a different image crossed my mind. My hands in this chaos of hair as he kissed me deeply. Oh no, not him but Ethan…when Ethan kissed me deeply. A strange heat lit my body at that visual and suddenly I had trouble breathing.

In a dreamlike haze, I’d stopped in the hallway when Ethan was already inside his room, not even caring about greeting his brother or his friend. My inability to take my eyes off Chris as he passed me right after Lauren made me want to kick myself awake.

Aware of my staring, Chris winked at me. My knees buckled, but it was all I needed to realize my mistake, and I hurried after Ethan, banging the door shut a tad too hard.

Ethan was already on his bed, a controller in the shape of a steering wheel in his hand, holding a second one out to me.
Mario Kart
.
Right!
I made myself comfortable next to him, but no matter how much fun this game was and no matter how much Ethan and I laughed while he totally brought me to my knees, the visual of my hands in Chris’s—no, no, in Ethan’s!—hair haunted me. God, sooner or later this twin issue was going to drive me insane.

Ethan had just beaten me for the fourth time in a row when a knock rattled the door and Chris called from the other side, “Feeding time!” We stopped the game and joined him and Beverly in the kitchen, which was also the dining room, with a round, cherry wood table at one side. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but realizing that Chris must have taken Lauren to the door to see her off when we’d met them in the hallway earlier was a relief. It would feel awkward to face his catch of the week after how grossly he’d hit on me today.

I had to give him credit for playing the innocent son and nice brother in front of his family. He didn’t let slip one word about how he intended to add me to his long list of bad rep, and I appreciated it. I didn’t think I could handle sitting through dinner with his
normal
self. A shiver rattled me. Then again, maybe he had a real liking for Lauren and had forgotten about our challenge already.

I made myself useful by carrying the plates and cutlery that Beverly had placed on the island unit over to the table and laying it out for four people. No one bothered to bring in a fifth chair and a fifth plate was missing, too. Warily, I sided up to Ethan, who put down a bowl filled with potatoes. “Isn’t your father coming home for dinner?”

Ethan gave a bitter laugh. He didn’t bother to keep his voice low like mine when he told me, “My father lives in L.A. with his former secretary. He hasn’t been home for dinner in almost six years now.”

“Oh,” I breathed, turning a little hot in the face.

“No worries,” he said, playing it off. “Take a seat.”

I sat down and was about to reach for the glass of water near my plate, when Chris came around the table and took my hand. Without a word, he pulled me up, moved me one seat to the left, and sat down in the chair I had vacated. Okay, every house had its own rules, I guessed, grimacing as I looked at Ethan, who lowered on Chris’s other side, across from me. He shook his head and smiled, easing my trepidation.

Beverly dished out fried fish and buttered slices of toasted baguette for everyone. When she took the seat to my left, we started eating. The boys immediately fell into easy conversation, telling their mother about their day at school. So this was what a normal family did when they ate together. It was the most relaxing thing to just listen to them and for once not have to deal with arguments and death glares at the dinner table. Jeez, it had been so long since we had peace in my house that I’d totally forgotten what it felt like.

Of course, the time came when Beverly started grilling me, but in a friendly way. She was most interested in how and when her son and I met and, funnily enough, in what kind of house I lived. It was a challenge to describe our two-story house to her so she’d get a real visual.

“Don’t mind her,” Ethan told me when I reached my limit trying to come up with a year of construction. He handed me the basket with the bread slices to grab another. “She’s like that with everyone. Mom’s a real estate agent, always on the hunt for houses to sell.”

“Wow, that’s a cool job,” I said to her. “Must be awesome to see so many houses from the inside.”

“It’s the best job in the world. I love houses,” she rhapsodized.

“Me, too.” Especially the quiet ones, but I didn’t say that out loud.

We kept chatting long after we’d all finished eating. I felt like I’d been part of this cozy little group forever—another sign that Ethan and I were meant to be together. And if Chris continued behaving like that, I might even get used to him as the brother of my future boyfriend.

When a grandfather clock chimed eight somewhere in the house, Beverly rose from the table and clapped her hands once. “All right, guys. Dishes to do. Go play it out.”

What kind of cryptic announcement was that? But obviously the twins knew what she meant, and Ethan complained, “Oh, come on, Mom. I’ve got a guest.”

“Yeah, right,” Chris backed him up, giving me a mocking smirk. “
She
can do the dishes.”

“Your brother’s girlfriend won’t be doing your chores,” Beverly told him off with a finger pointed at his face.

My breath caught in my lungs as I shot a glance at her and noticed from the corner of my eye that Ethan did the same. We looked at each other then, and I gulped. Ethan’s cheeks turned an adorable shade of lovely. “Mom, she’s not my girlfriend,” he murmured.

“See? She’s not his girlfriend.” Chris rose from his chair. “She
can
do the dishes.” He tried to slip out of the room, but Beverly caught him by the collar of his black shirt, which he’d buttoned correctly by now, and pulled him back, laughing.

“No way, buddy. You do your job first.”

“Ah, all right, I’ll do it,” he surrendered and chuckled. He started to pile the plates on the table. When he winked at me as he grabbed mine, I knew he was just taunting me all along. And it was okay. Nice, even. What in the world had happened to the jackass I met at school? Did he store his insufferable outdoor manners in the closet as soon as he got home?

Chris carried the dishes to the sink and shouted over his shoulder, “Dessert in twenty!”

That was the cue for Ethan to rise, and I followed suit. He pulled me back into his room for another game of
Mario Kart
.

“What did your mom mean by ‘play it out’?” I asked while I picked my character for the race.

“We have a deal in this house. When Chris and I cook, she has to clean the kitchen afterward, and when she cooks, one of us has to. Usually, we play a game of basketball in the backyard.” He grinned. “Loser has to do the dishes.”

That was so sweet my heart melted a little for this family, but what really caught my attention was something different. “Wait. Did you say when you and Chris cook?”

“Yeah. It’s something I enjoy a lot. We both do.” Ethan waited for the red light on the screen to switch to green, then we both raced off, and he continued, “A couple of years ago, we actually had this plan to open a restaurant together one day and call it
The Twin Chefs
or something.”

“That’s a great idea.”

He nodded. “I’d still love to do that, but I think Chris is more into basketball than cooking now. He wants to play in college, maybe go pro.”

The sad note in Ethan’s voice loomed over us like fog over San Francisco, so I suggested, “But you can do that restaurant thing on your own, as well. You could be
One Amazing Half of the Twin Chefs
.”

“Right, and you could come test my food.”

“I’d be there every evening, I swear.” Quickly, I crossed my heart before I grabbed the wireless steering wheel again and tried to beat Ethan in this race. Not a chance. “Well, if your dream of the restaurant doesn’t work out,” I said, “you can always pursue a career in car racing.”

“And spray the name Super Mario on my cart?” He laughed.

I shrugged and put my controller down. That was enough defeat for one evening. “Where’s the bathroom?”

“Past the kitchen, second door on the right.” Ethan pulled back his legs so I could get off the bed, while he started a single player race.

Out in the hallway, music drifted to me from the kitchen. I sneaked a peek inside on my way. Instead of the mount of dishes getting smaller in there, it seemed the stack had doubled after dinner. Chris was pouring what looked like cream into four dessert bowls on the kitchen island, singing along to Sam Smith’s “Stay.” He didn’t notice me at all. His body moved gently, as though he was tapping his heel to the rhythm. Next, he grabbed some fruits from a bowl behind him, started to peel them, and I went to find the bathroom.

I could hear his singing even in here. It gave me goosebumps of fascination. Ethan had been right; busying themselves in the kitchen gave the twins a happy time. This was so weird because it was so different from how I pictured them—especially Chris. Maybe I was wrong and he wasn’t an insufferable moron after all? To say he confused me was the understatement of the year.

On my way back to Ethan’s room, I slowed my steps, only because I hoped I could listen to Chris’s singing a little more. Maybe that was a mistake, because when I dared another glimpse into the kitchen, he looked up. Never stopping his singing, he crooked a finger at me and beckoned me to come to him.

Why I followed his invitation, I don’t know.

His black shirt hung over the backrest of one of the kitchen chairs and the t-shirt he was wearing now was a snug fit, showing off his dancing muscles while he cut more fruit. The dessert bowls he was preparing each had a different name painted on it.
Ethan
was scrawled on the green one. The blue one spelled
Christopher
, but somebody had crossed out the
opher
with a sharpie and written
ian
above. The yellow bowl was for
The best mom in the world
, and tonight I was obviously
Milk
.

When I stopped across from him at the island unit, he sang to me, “
Oh, won’t you…stayyy with meee… ’cause you’re…aaall I need,
” and dipped a slice of peach into the cream in his own bowl. When he held it out to me with a tempting look, I shook my head. I didn’t like peaches.

Unimpressed, Chris shrugged his shoulders and bit off the creamed tip. He put the peach slice away and reached for another fruit. I could do nothing about it when the corners of my mouth tilted up as his hand hovered above a kiwi wedge, and Chris noticed. Knowing he’d finally found my week spot, he smiled, too. He kept singing, “
This ain’t love, it’s clear to see, but darling, stay with me,
” while he dipped that little piece of fruit into his bowl. He held it out to me across the kitchen island once more.

With the cream on it, there was no chance I could take it from him with my hands. But that was probably not his intention anyway. If I wanted it, I had to let him feed it to me. My mouth watered. That was okay, considering it was kiwi, my favorite fruit, he was offering. But why my heart had flung itself into a beating race was unclear to me. Our gazes locked above his outstretched arm. He was patiently waiting for my next move which, frankly, could have been an off remark as well as me catching the kiwi with my teeth.

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