My mom believed strongly that all her kids should be able to cook for themselves. We were her sous-chefs before we could talk, and even Dax can manage a good dinner if he bothers to try. For some things, though, I still need her to walk me through it.
“Now, this next bit is tricky, a leanbh,” she said from the phone. “Are you ready?”
“Oui,” I said, a lot more confidently than I felt.
“When the batter starts bubbling, you’re going to flip it over. Sans spatula. Use the pan.”
She switched to soothing French. “Like a crêpe. You can do it.”
“You’re confusing me with Keegan,” I told her. “I can’t flip a crêpe.”
“Yes, you can! Have confidence, my darling. One smooth motion, no hesitation.”
I took a deep breath. “Okay. D’accord. It’s bubbling. Un, deux… trois!” Saying a prayer, I tried my best to imitate the way I’d seen Mom do this countless times. “YES, I did it!!”
With my heart in my throat, I spun around and glared at Zain, who was leaning against the other side of the peninsula, across the kitchen. “Why are you up?! You should be sleeping still!”
“Yeah, like I could sleep with you making all this racket,” he said, grinning at me. “Plus the whole house smells delicious. What are you cooking?” He craned to see around me while I tried to block his view of the stove. “OH MY GOD, ARE THOSE PANCAKES?”
“No! Go away, I’m not ready!” I picked up the spatula I hadn’t needed to use and waved it at him menacingly. “Go for your run or something!”
“You want me to go running when there’s pancakes? Do you know me at all?”
“Out!” I started toward him with every intention of swatting him to the door, and he laughed and danced away from me.
“Okay, fine, I won’t ruin the surprise. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes. Will that be enough time?”
“Yes. Bye.” I waited for him to go out the front, and then checked through the window to make sure he was truly gone before turning back to the pan and speaking into the phone again. “Sorry, Zain walked in and was refusing to leave. Merde, I hope he didn’t make me burn this one.”
“Just serve it with the burnt side down and a lot of syrup,” my mother suggested. “He’ll never know.”
“No, it’s fine, thank gods,” I said, as I slid it out onto the waiting plate.
“Magnifique. Now, I have to go to the market. You can do the rest. Remember: confidence and butter. Give Zain my wishes.”
“I will. Merci beaucoup, Mom.” I ended the call, picked up the squeeze bottle filled with the darker-colored batter, and started to carefully pour it into the pan.
By the time Zain came back, I had four passable pancakes, along with toppings, laid out on the dining table.
“I really hope you don’t expect me to shower fir-” He stopped in the middle of his sentence, staring with his jaw hanging open, and all the hassle was worth it. “You… made me Mickey Mouse pancakes,” he said, like he was actually a little dumbfounded.
I bit my lip to keep from laughing. “Yep.”
“Ohhhh, you are SO getting laid today.”
Snorting, I said, “Wouldn’t I anyway?”
“Yeah, but for this, you get to come. Like, twice, minimum.”
I flushed. The few days he’d been keeping me wanting felt like forever.
He smiled at me. “C’mere, my boy.”
“This is indecent,” I said, even as I obeyed. “Mickey should not be hearing this conversation.”
Ignoring that, he grabbed me as soon as I was close enough and kissed me until I felt lightheaded. When he drew back, I was clinging to his shoulders, and I had to wait a second to regain my breath before I could speak.
“Happy birthday, Z.”