“No, Grandma, this is Neil’s friend, Afric, and her brother, Billy,” Rosie introduced. “Neil mentioned the book club to Afric, and she was kind enough to come along. I asked them to dinner to thank them.” She paused to glance at Billy and me. “This is my grandma, Philomena.”
“But you can call me Phil,” Neil’s grandmother amended as she came to greet me. “It’s so lovely to meet you, Afric. Neil has mentioned you a few times, though he didn’t tell me quite how pretty you are.”
I placed a hand on my hip. “Are you trying to butter me up, Phil?”
She gave a hoot of a laugh. “Oh, I like you,” she replied before turning her attention to Billy. “And you’re a fine-looking chap, though you look like you could do with a good meal. Come on into the kitchen. I’ve made chicken, roast potatoes, carrots, and green beans.”
“Sounds delicious,” I said as we all followed her into a well-appointed kitchen, with a table in the far corner for dining. Billy and I sat while Rosie helped her grandma dish up the food. I couldn’t resist pulling out my phone and shooting off a quick text to Neil.
Afric: Don’t freak out, but I’m in your grandma’s house right now about to have dinner.
Neil: What? Please tell me you’re joking.
Afric: Not joking. Rosie invited Billy and me back after the book club to thank us for coming.
Neil: My sister is too nice for her own good sometimes. You’d better behave.
Afric: Hey! I’ll have you know I’m on my best behaviour. Phil and I have really hit it off.
Neil: Dear lord …
Afric: Relax. I’ll be good as gold. I promise.
Neil: Why do I get the impression you’re smiling mischievously right now?
Afric: Probably because I’m already figuring out a subtle way to suggest we peruse your baby pictures?
Neil: I’m going to murder Rosie for this.
Grinning, I slid my phone into my pocket just as a plate heaped with steaming, delicious-smelling food appeared in front of me. Phil placed a large jug of gravy in the centre of the table before taking a seat next to Rosie.
“So, remind me, how did you and my Neil meet again?” she asked, directing her question at me. Something in her smile told me she already knew the answer to this. Perhaps she was fishing for extra details her grandson might’ve purposefully left out.
“His co-worker, Michaela, is one of my closest friends. We used to live together before she moved in with her boyfriend, James,” I explained. “I was meeting her for lunch one day, and Neil tagged along. Let’s just say, we didn’t hit it off right away. He wasn’t too fond of me that first time we met. I have a bad habit of teasing people who I find interesting.”
“If you grew up in our family, you’d know that teasing is practically an Olympic sport,” Billy put in.
“Obviously,” I went on. “It’s my fault that Neil was unimpressed with me that first time. Then our paths crossed again a few weeks later, and it went a little better. I think he realised I wasn’t as bad as he first thought. Anyway, we’ve been pals ever since.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear you two found a way to get along,” Phil said. “I must admit I have seen a bit of a change in Neil since you two became friends. He can be somewhat uptight.”
“Grandma!” Rosie exclaimed. “That’s not fair. You know Neil feels responsible for taking care of us. It’s why he works so hard.”
“Yes, and I love him for that,” Phil agreed. “All I’m saying is that Neil has been acting like a thirty-year-old since he was only a boy. Lately, I’ve noticed him be a little less strict with himself, and I suspect it might be your doing, Afric.”
“Well, I’m not sure if it’s all down to me, but Neil’s been a good influence on me, too. He’s certainly taught me how to be more responsible, especially with my finances.”
“Oh, yes, he did mention something about assisting you with your accounts.”
“He’s an absolute whizz,” I said. “I’d have been lost without him.”
“Then I’m glad you both managed to make your friendship work,” Phil said. “I think we often avoid those who aren’t the same as us, but if we just gave those people a chance, we’d realise how inconsequential the differences are in comparison to how much they can improve our lives.”
“Here, here,” Billy said. “My life has certainly been improved by this gravy. What on earth do you put in it to make it taste so good?”
Phil tapped the side of her nose. “It’s a secret family recipe. I’m afraid I can’t reveal it. Though, you are welcome to come back for dinner any time. Rosie and I love having guests. It’s always just the two of us when Neil travels for work.”