Chapter 2After landing in Chicago, Nick stood with Keri at the luggage return. "I want to wait to make sure you get home okay," he said.
"Are you sure about this? My dad's coming to get me."
"Yeah." He glanced around the big area and blew out a breath. "I don't trust some of the people here and can't leave you alone. I'd worry about you."
"Keri?" She knew who belonged to the loud voice before she even turned.
She leaned closer to Nick. "It's my mom. Don't tell her you massaged my feet, or Charise, that clerk in Florida, will be my bridesmaid."
Nick laughed and they both turned around.
"Hi, Mom," she said, and nodded. "Dad."
Her mother ran to Keri, her diamonds and jewelry jingling as she pulled Keri in for a hug. "My sweet daughter that never visits." She backed away and looked down at Keri's slim frame. "Put on a few pounds?"
"No, I lost weight," Keri said, rolling her eyes.
"Was it that awful man, Josh, who dumped you last month?"
Keri glanced at Nick's smile. "Don't laugh. It's not what you think."
Keri's mother's face turned surprised as she faced Nick. "Are you her latest flame?"
"No," he said. "We just flew in together. She has my niece in school."
The woman reached out her hand. "I'm Paula and this is my husband Bill." She pointed toward Keri's dad. Paula took Nick's arm and moved beside him. "So what do you do for a living?"
"I'm a doctor in the Army in Germany."
"Oh. A doctor? And your niece is in sixth grade. So why are you here?"
"Mom, don't," Keri said. "Dr. Albright was just leaving."
"It's okay," Nick said, and then turned toward Paula. "I'm here for my dad. He's dying and I'll probably have to bury him alone."
"Oh, my," Paula said, her hand flying to her neck. "So what are you going to do for Thanksgiving? A military man like yourself shouldn't be alone."
"I have no plans, other than my dad and a funeral."
Paula turned toward Bill, who was eyeing Nick up and down with narrowed eyes. "Bill, we can have him over, right? We always have more than enough food."
"I don't know. What's your dad do?"
"Sir, he was a taxi driver. He and Mom did the best they could with us two kids. Mom had a small bakery before she died two years back, of cancer."
"Taxi Drivers." Bill harrumphed. "They're the bane of my existence." He turned and stomped off, making Keri wonder what planet he was from.
"I'm so sorry," Keri said. "He's got a real chip on his shoulder."
Nick just sighed.
"You'll have to excuse him," Paula said to Nick. "He hates everyone. You're more than welcome to join us."
Nick glanced toward Keri. She wanted to tell him they'd go out somewhere else. But she was pulled between wanting to be with Nick and having to play nice with her family.
"We'll see," Nick said, backing away. "I have to go see my dad."
Keri took a step forward. "Let me know?"
But she didn't see the same spark in his eyes. Her father had interrupted her love life once again.
As he walked away, she realized she didn't have his phone number, but when she saw his shoulders droop, she knew to stay away. She wanted to run to him. She wanted to tell him she was sorry—but what would that do? What an opportunity lost.
Bill grabbed Keri's one suitcase and took it to the car while Keri kept quiet. She knew better than to say anything when her dad was in a mood like this.
On the way to her parent's large home, Paula turned from the passenger's seat. "Are you okay?"
"I'm just tired."
"Well, tomorrow, we're baking all day long. Your aunt Clara's coming to the house, so we have to cook a feast…"
Keri tuned her out. Same old Thanksgiving celebration for Thursday. She didn't like Aunt Clara—her dad's sister—and now with the way her father behaved, she really didn't like any of them. Next year, she'd be busy all year long so she wouldn't have to spend the time or money to come home. She only had to endure questions about her ex-boyfriend, Josh, and she could go back home to her life on Sunday. Going home to loneliness was a lot better than dealing with her dad and his side of the family.
They arrived at her family's home, where she saw both her sister's car and her brother's family car. She knew they'd both be staying overnight, even though they didn't live that far away. It was tradition.
Keri wished she'd stayed home in Florida. She'd been back to Chicago the summer of the previous year with Josh. Now she had to deal with them making fun of her for being alone.
As soon as Bill parked and stormed away from the car, Keri grabbed her suitcase and walked with Paula, listening to her bring Keri up to speed on the gossip. Keri answered when appropriate, trying to sound interested, but worried about Nick. She wondered what he was going through and if his dad was even alive.
Keri went inside and greeted her sister, Brittany—who was texting while saying hello—and her brother Walter, his wife Karen, and their two children. Chloe, who was in third grade, and Zac, in first grade. The kids were nicer than their parents, so Keri sat on the floor and played with them instead of dealing with their parents.
"How's school going?" she asked Chloe.
"It's okay. I'm at the top of my class for everything and they're thinking of putting me a grade ahead. Mommy is pushing for it. She wants me to be the best at everything."
So much for letting someone be themselves.
Keri watched the kids play, wishing she was with someone who really needed her. Her brother sat on the couch and watched TV and refused to talk. Her sister was constantly on the phone to one of her six men. Her parents did their own thing without even talking to her. She was definitely the odd one out. Another fun night at the Matthews' family home.