“I’m going to throw up.”
Although I’d told Brooke a thousand times my parents would absolutely adore her, as we walked up the steps of the house where I’d grown up, I could feel her hand grow clammy.
“Everyone loves you,” I said, “including me. I don’t get why you’re so scared.”
She stuck out her hand. “I am wearing your grandmother’s ring.”
Did Brooke even realize she’d stopped walking?
“Yes,” I said slowly, “you are.”
She looked at me as if I were daft. “Seriously? You don’t get it?”
I tried to put myself in her shoes. Brooke had video-chatted with them on multiple occasions. My brothers adored her. Even Min, though they hadn’t gotten a chance to get to know each other before she left, couldn’t stop talking about Brooke.
But she was truly nervous, so instead of telling her not to be, I said, “You don’t think you can live up to that.” I nodded to the ring. “And are worried about what my parents think of us getting engaged so quickly?”
“Yes,” she agreed, looking up at me with eyes so wide it took everything in me not to turn us around so Brooke wouldn’t be so worried. Instead, I did just the opposite.
Tugging on her hand, I said, “There’s only one way to show you otherwise.” I pulled her up the remaining stairs. “Let’s do this.”
The minute we walked inside, my sister screamed. And damned if she didn’t run right to Brooke as if I hadn’t been the one to hold the girl’s hair back the first time she threw up after drinking too much. Min hugged Brooke, muttering something about congratulations.
Letting go of Brooke’s hand, I went to my mom first. Squeezing her, I whispered, “Welcome back.” Then I turned to Dad, whose hand I planned to shake. Instead, he pulled me in for a hug too. It was good to see them both.
“Congratulations, son,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, watching as my mother went straight to Brooke. If my fiancée didn’t like hugs, she really was marrying into the wrong family. I was glad to see Marco solo. I’d not been a fan of his latest girlfriend. According to Brooke, they had broken up the night before, and it looked like that might be true. Looking around the kitchen, I spotted Neo first, sitting at the table, and then Marco, who I was glad to see had come solo, as if I hadn’t just seen them earlier in the day, I greeted Thayle. “Sup, little sis?”
“The sky,” she said, impertinent as usual.
At work, I never used the nickname. Didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. But here, Thayle was almost as much a little sister to me as Dominica.
“Tell us all about your trip,” Marco said, pouring glasses of champagne. “I’m going to want to get on a plane tomorrow, aren’t I?”
“Tonight,” Min corrected. “It’s so unbelievably amazing. Like going home, if that makes sense.”
“We’ll tell you everything,” my mother said once everyone’s glasses were full. “But first, something much more important.” When she looked at Brooke, I made my way to her and, with my free hand, grabbed hers and squeezed.
When my fiancée squeezed back, I wondered how I could possibly have gotten so lucky. To be standing here, with my whole family, with Brooke by my side.
“I know,” Marco said, “you want to talk about everything I did this summer.”
“Not one person here,” Thayle said, “wants to talk about your string of girlfriends.”
“Burn.” Neo fist-pumped Thayle as Marco narrowed his eyes at her. She didn’t bat an eye.
“First, a toast,” my mother continued. “To the woman who made my son smile bigger than I’d ever seen him smile before. To someone brave enough to take a chance,” she said to Brooke. “And all of us are so happy you did. That you not only came to Grado Valley, but fell in love with it. And with our son.”
“Salute,” my father added, “to Brooke and Cosimo. May you be as happy and fulfilled as your mother and I have been these many years.”
“Salute,” everyone chimed in. We drank, and when Brooke turned to look at me, I imagined us in this very spot, fifty years from now, toasting to the next generation of Grados who would take over the estate.
But for now, it was our turn. And we’d do it the best way possible.
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