Mashing sweet potatoes was all Phoebe’s mother allowed her to work on, she was much too distracted for anything else. Sentenced to the breakfast nook with a bowl, a pound of boiled sweet potatoes and her Aunt Belinda’s potato masher, Phoebe got to work. In the kitchen, her mother and aunt bickered over the main menu while out in the backyard, Uncle Harry and her father attempted to put the deep-fryer to work.

She had a perfect view of the two men, standing around the funny-looking equipment. If she wasn’t sulking over her menial task, Phoebe would’ve laughed at their puzzled expressions or at least offered to help.

Then she thought of the brothers in the Teka home, wondering what they were doing for Thanksgiving. Phoebe frowned at the thought of either Darah or Geraldine cooking. Her fingers stilled on the masher.

“Now now,” Aunt Belinda spoke up. “That is certainly not the way Mama used to do it.”

Phoebe turned to see the sisters standing over the stove, arguing over a silly pot of greens. She rolled her eyes and turned away.

“I’m not trying to do it like Mama. Give me the spoon, Bel.”

“Marsha, I’ll be darned if I let you taint Mama’s greens.”

“For goodness’ sake! It’s my kitchen, my stove! I can do whatever I want with my greens.”

Phoebe sighed heavily. So much for some peace and quiet. She mashed the last potato and set it aside before standing. “I’m gonna help Dad and Uncle.”

The women paid her no attention, now criticizing each other’s cooking. Shaking her head, Phoebe put the bowl on the counter and moved to the back door.

“You sure we should use Crisco?” Uncle Harry muttered, assessing the bottle of oil. “Bel’s on a strict diet.”

“Then she’ll eat greens,” her father answered.

Phoebe held back a smile, closing the door. “Need some help, fellas?”

Both men looked up and her father gave her a distracted smile before looking away.

Uncle Harry studied her carefully. “And how will you help?”

Phoebe arched a brow, coming to stand beside them. “Looks like you need all the help you can get, Uncle. It’s been almost an hour and you’ve still not put it together.”

Uncle Harry tugged on her puffy ponytail and flashed her a grin. “That’s all on your dad.”

“Like you’re doing anything but staring at me.”

“I said we should print out the instructions.”

Phoebe smirked. “Daddy seems to think frying a bird requires no instructions.”

“It doesn’t,” Clint replied, setting down the container on its stand. “Our forefathers deep-fried turkeys and chickens long ago. Don’t think anyone sat down to write some dumb instructions. Harry, hand me that screwdriver.”

Harry shook his head but reached down to collect the tool. “Hope you guys have an extra bird in the oven, just in case.”

Phoebe winked conspiratorially. “It’s covered.”

“O ye of little faith.” Clint squatted. “Just watch. When I’m through pulverizing this bird, you’re not having any of it.”

“Pulverized doesn’t sound tasty.” Harry regarded his niece. “You okay?”

Phoebe nodded with a smile. “Mashed potatoes ready for your favorite pie.”

His lips twitched, though his expression remained serious. “I meant about your guy.”

Cheeks on fire, Phoebe glanced once at her father before looking back at her uncle. “Err…”

“She’s got no guy until he meets my approval,” Clint groused.

Harry chortled. “The girl’s twenty-eight, Clint. Too old for show and tell.”

“Thank you!” Phoebe scooted close to her ally and wrapped an arm around him. She rested her chin on his shoulder and smiled.

He winked at her. “Besides, I got a good look at him. He’s a decent fellow.”

Phoebe gave him a weak smile. Though relieved that he liked Abe’s character, it didn’t change the fact that Abe didn’t want anything to do with her.

“I’d be the judge of that,” Clint grumbled from his squatting position. “Where’s the gas?”

Harry sighed and dislodged himself from Phoebe to retrieve the gas cylinder. “You sure about this, Clint?”

“Yup. Got it covered.” Clint accepted the cylinder.

Harry took Phoebe’s hand in his. “When he lights it, you and I run for the door.”

“Ha-ha, very funny.”

Phoebe stifled a giggle and rested her cheek against Uncle Harry’s shoulder. They turned to watch her father hook the gas cylinder and she held her breath. But only for a moment. There was a distinct hissing sound and then flames under the open container that would hold the thawing bird sitting on the open grill. No explosions, not spontaneous combustion. She relaxed against her uncle.

“Well I’ll be,” Harry breathed in awe. “I think you’ve got something here, Clint.”

Clint flashed a smug grin. “Told you.” He stood and walked around them to the grill.

The door opened behind them and a frowning Aunt Belinda stepped out. Her frown eased at the sight of blue flames under the open cylinder. “It worked?”

“Of course it did,” Clint answered, stepping around the container retrieve the turkey. “Now we just wait for the Crisco to warm up and–”

Crisco oil?” Belinda’s frown returned. “Clinton, I can’t eat with that!”

Clint snorted and Harry shook his head. “I told you so.”

Phoebe held back a smile and started to step aside, intending on returning inside to assist her mother. Uncle Harry squeezed her hand, pulling her attention back to him.

“Let’s talk.”

Her heart skipped a beat. Those words, even at the age of twenty-eight, didn’t bode well for her.

So when they came to stand on the side of the house, Phoebe acted quickly. “I’m sorry, Uncle Harry!” she burst out. “I should’ve stayed away, should’ve told him and you–”

Harry shook his head. “Enough of that. It was an honest mistake, and sheer coincidence that I would be there.”

She blinked. “You’re not upset?”

He sighed. “I was upset because you jeopardized their chance…”

Phoebe hung her head. “I know.”

“But they’ve got someone scheduled for their place tomorrow, so it’s fine.”

She looked up, smiling. “That’s great!”

He regarded her with a puzzled smile on his face. “I can see why you’d find it hard to stay away. They’re a good family.”

Phoebe looked down again, sighing. “Yeah… they are.”

“And they seem to like you as much as you like them.”

She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the aching feeling in her gut.

“Why don’t you go to them? It’s the holidays.” He reached for her hand, willing her to look up. His expression was kind, understanding.

Her eyes watered. “I wish I could, Uncle Harry. You have no idea just how much.” The tears fell free when Uncle Harry pulled her close.

<<Chapter 11 || Chapter 13>>