Coach is already grimacing at me when we turn the corner to find him and a slender blonde standing at the counter picking at a cheese plate.
I gulp. “Uh, hey, Coach.”
“What are you doing here, Edwards?” Coach growls. “If Davenport’s in jail again, tell him he’s spending the night. I’m not bailing him out agai—” He halts when he catches sight of Taylor.
The blonde raises an eyebrow at her daughter.
“Hey, Mom. This is Conor. Conor, this is my mom. Doctor Iris Marsh.”
“Nice to meet you, Doctor Mom—I mean Doctor Marsh. Fuck.”
“Language!” Brenna chides me, and it takes all my willpower not to flip up my middle finger.
After the awkward introductions, the women go to the dining room while I help Coach in the kitchen. I’m not sure how I’m ever going to recover from calling Iris Doctor Mom to her face. I haven’t done the whole meet-the-parents thing since middle school. And that was just Daphne Cane’s dad chasing me out of his driveway for using his trashcans as a skate ramp.
“How ’bout a beer,” I say, opening the fridge.
He yanks it from my hand and shoves the door closed. “Don’t be a dumbass tonight, Edwards.” Man, he and Brenna are so much alike. It’s scary.
“I’m twenty-one,” I drawl. “You know that.”
“Don’t care.” Coach brusquely drags a hand over his buzz cut. He’s dressed in a suit and tie, with a hint of cologne and aftershave wafting off him. It’s his standard uniform every time there’s a stodgy campus grip-and-grin to attend. Not sure what I expected Coach on a date to look like, but it wasn’t this.
“Only thing going down your throat tonight is water or juice or my fist,” he warns.
A death glare hits me square in the eye. “Edwards. I don’t know why I’ve been cursed with sitting through this dinner with one of you knuckleheads—I assume I ran over a unicorn or set fire to an orphanage in a past life—but if you act like an idiot tonight I’m going to have you doing bag skates every day until graduation.”
There goes any hope I had of Coach being my ally in surviving this night.
I keep my mouth shut. Hell, I don’t even comment on his weird unicorn murder fantasies, because I’ll do anything to avoid bag skate punishment. I’ve never puked so much in my life as the time the team showed up late and hungover to practice after driving to Rhode Island to prank Providence College by hoisting their equipment trailer onto the roof of their arena. Coach Jensen had us on the ice until midnight skating suicides. Poor Bucky tripped and fell into our puke bin. Next time I show up at practice and there’s a huge plastic garbage can in the middle of the ice, I’m just leaving the country.
For his part, Coach looks nervous while he shuffles around the kitchen hunting for serving bowls and tongs. He’s got platters laid out with leafy garnishes like something out of an ’80s cookbook you’d find in a used bookstore. Although I can’t deny the kitchen smells good. Like smoky barbecue. I wonder if he’s cooking ribs.
“What can I help with?” I ask, because he seems a little scattered.
“Grab some serving spoons. Second drawer over there.”
As I wander toward the drawers, I try to make conversation. “So this thing with you and Dr. Marsh—is it serious?”
“None of your damned business,” is the response.
I promptly stop making conversation.
The timer on the oven beeps.
“Get that, will ya?” he says and tosses a dishrag at me.
I open the oven and a blast of hot air smacks me across the face. I don’t even have a second to consider my eyebrows may have been singed off before the fire alarm blares.
“Fucking hell!” Coach thunders, lunging toward the oven.
I’m not sure what stops me from just throwing the door closed. Probably the thick cloud of smoke pouring out and distorting my field of vision.
“Oh my God! Dad! THIS IS WHY I DON’T LET YOU COOK!”
Brenna bursts into the kitchen shouting over the piercing alarm with her hands over her ears, just as Coach grabs an oven mitt and picks up the roasting dish, burning his other hand.
He jolts, tilting the tray, which splashes scalding hot juices onto the bottom of the oven that ignite on the red-hot heating element.
Flames burst out of the ferocious black mouth.
While Brenna runs her dad’s hand under the cold faucet, I heroically beat the flames back with the dishrag, trying to get close enough to shut the damn door. But the heat is almost suffocating and the fire is only getting bigger.
“Babe, move,” someone orders, and suddenly Taylor rushes in front of me and tosses a heap of mashed potatoes on the source of the flare-up.
The oven coughs out a plume of smoke and we all rush outside to the sound of the fire engine approaching and the sight of red lights bouncing off the trees.
“Who’s up for Thai, am I right?”
“Not now, Brenna,” growls Coach. Cradling his injured hand, he watches as firefighters run into the house to survey the situation.
The flashing lights twinkle across the worry on Iris Marsh’s face. She pries Coach’s hand from his chest to inspect the damage.
“Oh, Chad. You should get the EMTs to look at that.”
Before he can protest, she waves her hand and a woman with a big duffel bag comes rushing over to tend to his burns.
Beside me, Taylor entwines her fingers with mine and cradles my arm for warmth. We’re pathetic, a shivering and embarrassed spectacle on the front lawn of 42 Manchester Road. Neighbors peer out their windows and stand in their driveways wondering what the commotion’s all about.
“I’m sorry, Coach,” I tell him, wincing at his red palm. “I should’ve tried to close the oven door.”
He barely flinches while the EMT pokes at his burn. “Not your fault, Edwards. Turns out I’m the dumbass.”
“You know,” Iris says, “Thai sounds great.”
A couple hours later, we’re the last ones in the Thai restaurant that just reopened a few months ago after—appropriately—a fire.
Coach has ditched his coat, Taylor let me leave my tie in the Jeep, and Brenna is still wearing the bright red lipstick she dons for all occasions.
“I appreciate the quick thinking,” Coach tells Taylor while reaching for another spring roll with his good hand. The other one is now bandaged up like a boxing glove.
“I don’t know what made me go for the potatoes,” she says sheepishly. “I went in there thinking about looking under the sink for a fire extinguisher. That’s where they always put them in apartments. But then I saw the bowl of potatoes and was, like, let’s see what happens.”
“I might have killed us all,” he says, laughing at himself. “Good thing you were there.”
The damage to the Jensen kitchen wasn’t too bad, thankfully. Scorch marks being the worst of it. It’ll be a hell of a mess to clean up after the firefighters went in there to make sure it didn’t flare up again, but I told Coach I’d get the guys to come help out after the insurance people have their say.