How to Not Fall for Your Best Friend
PEYTON ABERNATHY HEFTED her insulated bag of cold food items onto her dad’s kitchen table. Her dad bent to grab the bag of pantry items, but she slapped his hand away. “Daddy. Your heart attack was barely two weeks ago. Obey your doctors.”
“So I can’t even lift a heavy bag for my little girl anymore?”
“Soon. Be patient.”
Peyton started unloading the ingredients in her bag onto the kitchen counter, and her dad helped. He pulled out the two small spaghetti squashes and a head of broccoli and then peeked into the bag at the rest of the produce. “Are you really going to make me eat this many vegetables?”
Peyton smiled. When she had come over a week ago, right after he’d gotten out of the hospital, she made him heart-healthy meals and he’d complained just as much. He never seemed to complain after eating them, though. “You’ll like what I do to them. Are you doing your exercises?”
“Yes. My nurse makes sure of it.”
He heaved a sigh once the bags were unloaded and sat down at the table. “I think my doctor is being overly cautious. It’s time to get back to work. I’ve spent more time ‘taking it easy’ over the past two weeks than I have in the past ten years.”
“Exactly,” she said as she started taking the items out of the bags. “Which is why you had the heart attack in the first place.” Her dad had always been a force. But since his heart attack, he had been sitting less tall and hadn’t seemed larger than life quite as much.
“The firm needs me.”
“They are handling things just fine on their own.”
He let out a long, slow breath. She couldn’t see his legs under the table, but she could feel the slight tremor in the hardwood floor to know that his leg was bouncing. “I hate that people have to come to the house and help me. Flora shouldn’t have to come. And I should be taking care of you, not the other way around.”
She’d been as scared as jumping out of an airplane when he’d first gone to the hospital and during those first few days after his surgery. She wasn’t airplane-jumping scared now. More like bungee-jumping scared. “Your nurse will only have to come for another week or so. And if it helps, don’t think of it as me coming to take care of you, think of it as me just coming over for a regular old daddy-daughter chat.”
He leaned back in his chair, his arms folded, a smile on his face. “Okay, then, Sugar Bug. Let’s chat. How is work? Are you dating anyone new?”
She rolled her eyes as she got out the pans she would need. Her dad took any opportunity he got to ask about her dating life. “Not dating anyone, but I do have a story about work.” Since being home all day with no work, he had turned into the best listener. And since she figured the term “laughter is the best medicine” hadn’t been around so long for no reason, she saved her most embarrassing stories for him.
Well, not all of her most embarrassing stories. She wasn’t about to tell him about how she tried on a fitted shirt at Sloan’s a couple of days ago, and had forgotten there was a back clasp when it came time to take it off. She had gotten the shirt halfway up, and, arms above her head, she got stuck. The shirt trapped her arms tight against her head, leaving her unable to get the shirt up or down. She’d had to come out of the dressing room and search for someone to help free her. Which wasn’t so easy, considering the fact that she could barely see through the shirt that covered her face. So she bumped into an embarrassingly large number of things, including a carousel of bracelets that had crashed to the ground, until someone came running to the sound and saved her.
She would keep that story to herself.
As she washed the spaghetti squash, cut it in half, and then scooped out all the seeds, she said, “I got a brand new client this past week. Her name is Lavender, like the plant. Or the color, I guess. Anyway, she was a referral from another client, and we talked over the phone quite a bit and I created a menu for her and got all my things together.”
She turned the heat on a cast iron skillet and started peeling and slivering enough garlic for the marinara sauce and the Thai turkey lettuce wraps she was going to make next. “So I arrive at the woman’s apartment building with all my bags and get in the elevator and push the button for the fourth floor.
Right before the doors close, this good-looking guy, who was probably about my age, gets in and smiles at me. So, of course, I smile back. He was all trim muscles and nicely dressed. Smelled nice, too. It was a pretty small elevator, so we were pretty close. Actually, he was really good-looking.”
Her dad was smiling, like he was expecting this story to involve the exchanging of phone numbers and future dates.
She poured some olive oil in the pan, and then added the garlic and the whole canned tomatoes she had crushed. Then she added red pepper flakes, oregano, and a sprig of basil. “So, we are just passing the third floor, and the guy says, ‘I’m going to miss you.’”
Her dad’s eyebrows shot up.
“Right? But hey, who am I to judge if someone feels affection toward other people so quickly? And it’s not like I’m going to be rude.”
She got out the broccoli and started cutting it into small florets. “So I say back, ‘I’m going to miss you, too.’ Because it’s the polite thing to do. Then, the guy turns to face me fully with a weird expression on his face and points at his Bluetooth headphones. He was on a phone call! Which, he probably should’ve let me know if he was going to be saying words that would make things uncomfortable if his elevator mate responded. Then he says to the person on the phone, ‘I love you, too. See you in a week.’
“So at this point, I’m sure my cheeks are flaming red, because they feel like they’re on fire. And that’s when I notice the wedding ring.”
Her dad was shaking his head and chuckling now.
“I probably should’ve noticed that earlier. But once I did notice, I thought, Aww! He and his wife are so sweet to each other! And I felt bad that they weren’t going to see each other for a full week.” As she mixed together the Romano cheese, cottage cheese, salt, pepper, and broccoli, she continued her story. “Then the doors opened for the fourth floor, and we both got off, and we both started walking down the hall, which was kind of awkward. But not as awkward as it was when we both stopped in front of the same apartment! So he gets out his keys to unlock his door, and gives me this look like I must be some kind of crazy stalker and I’ve followed him home and am about to announce that I live there now, too. But he still opens the door. And then he just looks at me, like he’s about to pop some popcorn and just watch to see what shocking thing I’m going to do next.”
“I can’t blame the guy,” her dad said. “I’m wishing for a bowl of it in front of me right now just listening.”
As the marinara simmered and the squash continued to cook in the microwave, she started adding the cilantro sauce ingredients to the blender for the lettuce wraps. “I was about to pull out my phone to verify that I got the right apartment when Lavender comes to the door and says, ‘Oh, you must be Peyton! Come in! And I see you’ve met my husband already.’
“At this point, the guy hasn’t said one single word to me—not even ‘Hi.’ And all I’ve said to him is ‘I’ll miss you, too.’ But we both know that I know that he just told a woman that he loves her and will see her in a week. A woman who I now know is not his wife! And then he wraps his arms around Lavender and kisses her and tells her he loves her.”
Her dad’s eyes narrowed. “What a dirtbag.”
“That’s what I was thinking. Lavender sat down at the table in front of her laptop, because she’s on a huge deadline and that’s why I was cooking for her. The guy gives me a nod and heads to some rooms behind the kitchen.” She put the blender on its base and turned it on, then pulled the spaghetti squash halves out of the microwave. Once the blender finished, she turned it off so they could talk again, and started the ground turkey browning in a pan for the lettuce wraps. She used a fork to scrape up most of the squash strands before layering the cheeses and marinara sauce in
“So I got out all of my supplies and started preparing their meals. A few minutes later, the guy comes out wearing lounge pants and a t-shirt, and goes over to Lavender and starts massaging her shoulders. His wife closes her eyes and leans back into it, and the whole time, all I can think about is how this guy is cheating on his wife and she doesn’t even know! And I’m thinking, this is totally a guilt massage. In fact, all of his affectionate gestures are probably out of guilt! Because he’s a dirty rotten cheater!
“So, I’m grating an apple and an onion and tossing them with flour in their slow cooker, making the honey mustard sauce and putting in with the pork, carrots, and thyme sprigs on top, and all the time I’m glaring at this awful, awful man.” She realized that just thinking about it again was making her cut up a jalapeño and grate some ginger a little too forcefully. Now that she had grated easily twice the ginger she needed and practically pulverized the jalapeño, she added them to the ground turkey.
“So, did you say something?”
“Not until I had finished preparing the I’m Sorry Your Husband Is Cheating on You spinach rice to go with the honey mustard pork and made an It’s Too Bad He’s Such a Jerk spring minestrone soup and had it on the stove cooking.
“Then, when I was about to start the next meal, the guy left to go to the restroom. So I gathered up my nerves, went around the kitchen island, and sat down at the table next to Lavender and told her that her husband was cheating on her. I was in such a cooking rush, probably because of being fueled by my indignation at the husband, that I might have just spit it out instead of easing her into the news. So, of course, she was pretty alarmed, and wanted to know how I knew. So I told her everything.”
She stopped telling her dad the story for a minute while she added the lime juice and measured out the soy sauce—low sodium, of course. Her dad just had a heart attack, after all—and added it to the Thai turkey lettuce wrap filling.
“And? I’m pretty sure my doctor would tell you not to keep me in suspense. I’m recovering from a heart attack, you know.”
She smiled at her dad’s eagerness. It was why she liked telling him stories so much. But she also liked to make him good food, too, so sometimes that took precedence. She started grilling tomatillo halves and some tilapia, and then got out the cabbage for the fish tacos she was making for their dinner tonight and started slicing it.
“Okay, so Lavender gets up, grabs her husband’s phone and opens the phone app to the recent calls. Then she holds the phone out for me to see and says, ‘He was talking to his twin sister, who’s moving to Philadelphia. He’s going on a business trip nearby next week and is going to help her get settled.’
“Dad, I was so embarrassed. I was so convinced he was cheating on her! And what kind of person would I be if I didn’t tell her? Then the guy comes out of the bathroom or wherever he was, catches the end of the conversation, and finally says the first words he’s said to me, which are, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to assume things.’ Which, okay, was totally true. But he did not say it in a nice way at all.”
“Uh, oh. Did they fire you?”
Peyton shook her head. “No. That didn’t happen until the spring minestrone soup on the stove started boiling over while we were talking. I had totally forgotten about it. In my rush from the table and around the island to get to it, I tripped over their dog, who apparently was also a ninja, because I didn’t even know they had a dog and definitely hadn’t heard him come into the room. He wasn’t a very big dog, and in my attempt not to injure him—or me—I got way off balance and grabbed the only thing nearby, which just happened to be the edge of a decorative fabric doily-type thing on a lower counter and brought her great-great-grandma’s china bowl crashing to the tile floor.”
“I’m so sorry, Sugar Bug.”
Peyton waved away his concern. “Don’t worry. When I left, the honey mustard pork was still in the crockpot and the spinach rice I had made was still on the counter. After they ate
it, they called me back to see if I could please be their personal chef again.”
“That’s my girl.”
“I just won’t be cooking at their apartment because apparently the husband likes me about as much as a flat tire in a downpour, which is totally fine with me. About half my clients have me cook at the inn because their house is chaotic, they feel like they have to super clean if I go to their house, or their kitchen is small. So it’s no big deal. There’s so much more space at the inn anyway.”
As the two meals she made him for later in the week cooled, she cut up the softened tomatillos and tossed them in a bowl with lime juice, red onion, pineapple, jalapeno, and pepper.
“Oh, I got something for you.” Her dad got up and rifled through some papers he had on the counter. He smiled when he found what he was looking for, and held a business card out to her.
Peyton looked closely at the card. This one was for Pete and June’s Dry Cleaning. She had started collecting business cards when she was ten, and had an entire wall in her childhood bedroom covered in them. Someday, when she had her own office, she hoped to have enough to basically wallpaper the entire room with them. Business cards just seemed to be filled to the top with people’s hopes and dreams, and it was as though they powered her own hopes and dreams. “Thank you, Daddy.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek.
As the tortillas were warming, her dad set the table and she moved all of the dinner items to it. When they sat down, her dad held her hand as he said grace, like he always did. And, like always, he blessed the food and the hands that prepared it. He always, always ended the prayer after saying only that part. But this time, he paused, and then added, “And please help Peyton to find a husband.”
After they said amen, she just looked at her dad. She didn’t know if she wanted to roll her eyes, chuckle, give him a gold star for practically doubling his normal length of prayer, or worry that he might be more concerned about his health than he was letting on.
“What?” he said, trying to make his voice come out innocent but failing miserably. He pulled the tortillas toward him, and then he lifted the cloth and held the container out to her. “I just don’t want you to be alone.”
A hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, exclamation points. You think you’re going to die!”
He let out a deep breath, then, apparently giving up on waiting for her to grab a tortilla, put one on her plate for her. Then he put one on his own plate. “I’m not going to die, Sugar Bug. Not until I’m too old to make it to the bathroom on my own. I just want you to have someone in your life.”
She let out a breath of relief, then put some fish on her tortilla and passed the dish to her dad. “I have people in my life. I have you, I have three amazing roommates, I have great clients, and I have Max.”
“A best friend is not the same as a partner in life.”
“I do date, Daddy. I just haven’t found anyone recently that I’m interested in.”
“If this heart attack has taught me anything, it’s the importance of the relationships in your life. And the most important relationship you can have is with a spouse. The person who will be there for you in thick and thin, the good times and the bad, in times of health or heart attack. I want that for you.”
“Aww.” She reached out and gave her dad’s hand a squeeze. “I want that for me, too.” She grabbed the pineapple and tomatillo salsa and put some on her taco, then handed it to her dad and grabbed the shredded cabbage.
He didn’t put the salsa on his taco, though—he just stared at her intently enough that she looked up from where she was placing the cabbage on her taco in the most perfect mound. “I’m serious about this.”
“I know.” Peyton’s mom died eight years ago, when she was eighteen, and since then, her dad had been married twice more. Neither of the two marriages lasted more than two years, and he wasn’t currently married. She liked how happy her dad was when he was dating someone seriously or getting married to them. “Do you know what? You should date someone again. It’s been four months since you and Meleah divorced. Maybe it’s time.”
“We’re talking about you, Sugar Bug.”
“You know, you’re not exactly walking your talk.” She winked to let him know that she wasn’t being rude—she was just directing the conversation away from her non-existent date life.
“I did walk my talk. With your mom. She was my everything, and I relished every moment we had together. I want that kind of relationship for you.”
“Don’t worry, Daddy. The right person for me will come along eventually. I’m sure of it.”
“I only got nineteen-and-a-half years with your mom. If I had known I would only get that long, I wouldn’t have waited until after law school and getting settled in my practice to find her. I would’ve dropped everything and searched five years sooner just so I could’ve had that much longer with her.”
Peyton just stared into her dad’s eyes, seeing in them the love he had for her mom, soaking in the feeling of her mom being in the room with them for a small moment. The truth was, she wanted exactly what he wanted for her. She wanted what her parents had had. She wanted a man who would have that look in his eyes when he talked about her. She always had.
“Don’t just sit around and wait—get out there and find him. Don’t waste any of the years you could have together.”
She didn’t sit around, waiting, so much as she stood around, waiting. She was always standing in the middle of the metaphorical dating street where she could be seen, willing to talk to anyone who came out of their metaphorical houses and walked up to her. But maybe he was right, and it was time to start going door-to-door, knocking. She hadn’t ever done that. Did she even know how?
“Like I said, I don’t plan on dying anytime soon. But the chances of having a second, larger, much more devastating heart attack after the first are pretty high. I just want to see my little girl married before I go.”
The thought of him not being around forever felt like a skewer to her stomach, so she dropped the thought faster than a hot pan. Her dad’s doctor had already told her the statistics of how often heart attack patients had a second, much worse heart attack. Her dad was granite, though. It didn’t seem like anything would be able to take him down. He’d been assuring her all along that he still had a lot to do on this planet, and wasn’t anywhere close to leaving it.
But the fact that he’d actually said, out loud, that the chances of a second heart attack were there meant that he was worried. That, or he was just plenty serious about wanting her to find love. Whatever the reason, she could tell by the look in his eyes that it was important to him.
She should take his advice. If it was something that was worrying him so much, maybe if she started seriously trying to find the right guy, then it would actually help him to be less likely to have a second heart attack. And she would do anything to lessen those odds.
It wasn’t easy, but she worked to replace the worried feeling in her gut with a determination to do all she could to help the process along of finding her true love. She had absolutely no clue how she would accomplish that daunting task, but she suddenly found herself with oodles of determination, and hoped that would be enough.
“Don’t you worry, Daddy. I’m going to go out and I’m going to find Mr. Perfectly Right for Me.”
He smiled, gave her hand a squeeze, then grabbed the pineapple and tomatillo salsa and put it on his taco. “That’s my girl.”