"Hello, boys!" Cassie greeted with a grin, swinging the door open wide to invite Ravi and his father in. "Nice to see you again, Victor! Long time no see, eh?"
"Yep," Ravi's dad replied amicably. "Happy Labor Day, Cassie."
"You too, Vic. So, Ravi, how've you been? What's going on at school?" Ravi stepped inside and wiped his shoes on the mat, more as a polite gesture than to get any real debris off, before following Cassie into the kitchen with his bowl of gazpacho cradled carefully in his arms.
"I've had a bit of a weird week, but school's okay overall. Hey, is Khadija here? I'd love to meet her."
"Yeah, she and Zeshan are out playing cornhole with Lauren's kids," Cass responded, gesturing towards the glass-plated back door. "You got my scoop chips? Just put them on the counter here." she pointed towards the stove, where a plate of fruit kabobs and a fully loaded vegetarian pizza already sat.
"This looks great, Cassie." Victor said, running his fingers through his hair a bit awkwardly as he surveyed the multitude of other dishes assembled on the dining table.
"Least I could do, with all the family coming over," Cass responded. "How are things at the office, hm? Did the AC ever get fixed?" Ravi took the hint to move on, flashing Cassie a thankful smile as he ducked out the back door. Out in the yard, fallen leaves crunched under his feet as he skirted the edge of the grass, careful to keep clear of the flying beanbags.
"Hi, Ravi!" Alex called, waving excitedly to her cousin. Alex was a fairly weighted girl of around 14, her rich beige complexion standing out from the rest of the family's darker hues. Her father, David, was a charming white man who'd married Lauren, the sister to Cassie and Ravi's late mother. Lauren was a sweet round-faced woman, and a devoted Muslim; it was rare to see her in something besides a burka, and today was no exception.
"Hey, Alex," Ravi responded automatically with a smile. "Hi, Lauren. Love your hijab." Lauren smiled mellowly and waved politely at her nephew. "So, what are the scores?"
"Alex is killing it," groaned Zeshan, tossing a beanbag halfheartedly. "Ugh, it slid off again! What's your secret!?"
"I'll never tell!" Alex shot back with a cackle, hurling yet another bean bag as Zeshan fruitlessly studied her form. Ravi just chuckled under his breath, taking a seat next to Zeshan on the pavement to raid his cousin's plate of chips and queso.
"Leave some of that for me," Zeshan clipped, trying an underhand throw for a change of pace. It slid gracefully across the board and into the hole, and Zeshan pumped his fist in silent victory. "Just eleven more points…"
"What are you guys playing to?" Ravi queried over a mouthful of chips.
"20," Alex supplied, as her beanbag landed with a thunk on the board. "And that, my dear cousin, was 22." Zeshan groaned and muttered something incomprehensible under his breath, to which Ravi responded with an empathetic pat on the back before turning to saunter back to the kitchen, waving hello to Alex's 6 year old brother as he passed.
Ravi had barely made it into the house before he was tackled in a bear hug, his attacker being a tall and slim girl, her loosely curled hair splayed over her back and shoulders.
"Hi Aaliyah," he greeted, giving his younger cousin a pat on the back. "What did I miss?" Aaliyah pulled back with a beaming grin, bouncing on the balls of her feet with excitement.
"Ravi, I did it! I asked her out!" she squealed.
"The girl from school?" Ravi gasped. "Catherine was her name, right?"
"Yeah! She's the really pretty brunette in my theater class, she's so nice, and she said yes!" hints of a blush peeked out from under her rich brown skin, though her beaming grin all but drowned it out.
"Hey, congrats! How long have you been going?" Ravi queried, unable to keep a smile off his face.
"Couple of weeks, we've gone out to get coffee a couple times and done some shows together. We've got another one coming up this next weekend, do you think you can come and see?"
"Maybe, I'll have to check with my dad and see if I can borrow his car," Ravi mused. "Becker High does some great shows though, I'd be happy to come if I can."
"Great, maybe you can meet Catherine then! Hey, have you seen Anushka's apple tarts? Come look, come look!" Aaliyah grabbed Ravi by the wrist and dragged him after her into the dining room, chatting all the way.
Cassie watched them go, chuckling at the antics of her youngest daughter before turning back to Victor with a contented sigh. "Kids, huh? 14, and she's already got a girlfriend."
"Yeah," Victor agreed absentmindedly, gaze lazily wandering the kitchen. "Hey, I haven't seen David in a while, is he around?"
"He was grilling some burgers, last time I checked," Cassie supplied, gesturing for Victor to follow her into the yard. "Chrissa likes to stuff them with mushrooms and cheese, they're so good; can you believe she's in her twenties already?"
"Anushka… these are beautiful," Ravi deadpanned, staring awestruck at the picturesque tray of tarts in the center of the table.
"They'd better be, I worked on them for hours," Anushka joked, thumbs hooked in the pockets of her cornflower jeans. Her long dark hair was braided with a strip of silver ribbon, and her multiple beaded bracelets clinked as she straightened up, pushing off from where she had been leaning against the wall. "So, how are things at school? Any exciting gossip I should know about?"
"Not particularly," Ravi admitted with a shrug. "Met some nice people, learned all the secret spots in the courtyard…" He trailed off as a memory surfaced, of a silver-blue figure perched on a worn wooden fence. "Hey, kind of off topic, but you knew my mom when you were little, right? Before she died?" Anushka raised an eyebrow at the unexpected change of pace, but nodded regardless.
"Yeah, I think I was 6 when she died. Why, have you been thinking about her recently?"
"Something like that," Ravi admitted. "What was she like?"
"Sweet," Anushka replied wistfully. "She loved kids, she was so excited when she got pregnant with you. Every time she came here, she'd bring a new board game to teach us, Zeshan and me. Sometimes Chrissa would be there too, whenever David and Lauren came over; Alex and Jason hadn't even been born yet, and neither had Aaliyah." Anushka paused, taking in the attentive curiosity in Ravi's eye before saying, "She would have loved you; she was so excited to be a mother."
"I wish I could've met her," Ravi muttered sombrely. "What did she look like?"
"She didn't like taking pictures, but…" Anushka glanced around like she was sharing some big secret, before gesturing for Ravi to follow as she headed for the stairs with a smile. Ravi obliged excitedly, creeping carefully after her as his older cousin scaled the creaky old steps and pointed to a picture sitting unassumingly on a hallway shelf. The image was small, framed carefully and set unassumingly between two landscape portraits; one of the old farmhouse Ravi's grandmother had lived, and one of a younger-looking Cassie balanced precariously on a worn grey boulder in the woods. The little picture was taken on a sunny day, light flitting through the trees and flower petals strewn throughout the grass. Two figures stood, smiling brightly and holding hands; one Ravi's father, dressed in a deep black suit and neatly pressed slacks, and the other was a tall raven-haired woman, with the same hazel eyes and soft features as Aunt Cass and Lauren. Her rich scarlet gown was splayed over the grass behind her; both figures were barefoot, shoes laying forgotten to the side as they danced.
"That was on their wedding day," Anushka said, smiling wistfully. "I'd never seen her so happy before."
Hello again! Sorry for skipping last week, Thanksgiving prep was INSANE and we also had to move all our furniture to get the carpets steam-cleaned. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed, please Favorite, Follow or Review for more!
Update, January 25: Sorry guys, just some edits on this chapter. I may not be able to update chapters as regularly as I did before, but hopefully soon I'l be able to get back to writing and get a few chapters up each month. Thank you so much for your patience!