SEVENTEEN

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Bernice Abernathy wouldn't stop raining me in kisses.

It hasn't been that long, has it? Then again, she only has one son. So, that means I'm her only daughter-in-law. In other words, she treats me like the daughter she's never had—because it's true. She's never had one.

"It's about time, you've come to see your old man," Malcolm stated profoundly. A playful edge masked his voice as he puffed up his chest.

John laughed. "Dad, you're not scaring anyone. What are you doing?"

We entered the house side by side, his parents barely giving us enough time to walk through the door. Pumpkin pie and cinnamon buns frazzled my nose. The faint smell trailed from the kitchen, leaking into the living room where a small group of people flocked. Most of which, I'd never seen before. Hmm, I'd go off on a whim to say they're co-workers or maybe old friends of John's parents. But a few of them seemed to have recognized John at first glance. And somehow, I lost my husband to old folk conversation.

I blew out a reluctant huff, eyeing his head in the crowd gathering around him. They were like a purge of zombies going in for the kill. And my poor husband got stuck in the middle. My feet led me closer to the crowd but it was no use. My attempt to save him failed, as he was long gone now. And there was no way I was going to fight through that group to get to him.

"Ah, Angie! I'm surprised you two made it here before your parents. They're always early," Bernice's' silvery voice met my ears. I bent my head to the side, my eyes meeting hers. A twinkle dazzled in her gaze as she beamed at me with all her kindness.

"Yeah, that they are. They're probably stuck in traffic or something. I'm sure they'll be here soon," I replied.

"Oh, right! That's very likely with the conditions going on right now. Well, you can help yourself to some food while we wait. Most of our guests are already here. We're not expecting many. Appetizers are on the table and there's some food sitting on the stove. Don't be a stranger while you're here! You know Malcolm and I welcome you into our home with open arms always!" She slapped the edge of my arm playfully. A small smile wrinkled my features.

As I went to nod, one word struck me in the heap of the moment. Conditions. What did she mean by the conditions going on right now? When John drove us here, everything was fine. Was there an accident we weren't aware of on the main road? Or maybe they took the freeway and something occurred there.

"Hey, Berni—"

"And this is my wife, Angie. I don't believe you've met her yet Aunt Crystal," John's voice cut in. 

I could feel my shoulders slump drastically. He brought his conversation near me until rays of body heat were close enough to my own. My only chance at answers stalked away with a happy, unaware expression on her face. I frowned slightly, annoyance etching my brows.

"Finally, I'm meeting the infamous Angie—wife of my nephew," a voice said. 

I did a full 360 turn around. The forced smile on my face lengthened. A woman of extreme height stood before me, a tight smile ridiculing her face. Clearly, there was a reason she hasn't met me yet. The I'm better than you glint poked fun at me from a distance. John's mom's side of the family had always been humble. His father's side . . . not so much. But Cory and I always knew that and made the best of their judgments. After all, they're not the ones we had to lay eyes on most of the time.

Her nasal tone rubbed my ears the wrong way. I couldn't tell if she was trying to breathe. Is she congested or is that how she naturally sounds? I wouldn't doubt both options as a factor. Her heaving chest exploited her heavy breathing.

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