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16th – Family dinner is on tonight, and vegetarian shepherd’s pie is the special.

“And the Quakers success continued today with our Field Hockey girls, who delivered their best offensive effort of the season to beat Appalachian State 5 to 2. Catch the next news update at 7 o’clock; we’re passing you over now to James at Quaker Football Central.”

The red light on the camera facing me switched off, and I stretched out in my seat, breathing a sigh of relief. Next to me, my co-host, Zane, spun around in his wheely chair once before hopping to his feet.

“Great broadcast, guys,” our producer said. “You nailed it.”

I grinned. “We always do.”

“Always?”

“Well... 90% of the time. We can’t help it if one of our guest stars goes a little off-book,” I said, all of remembering the incident two weeks ago in which a linebacker spent five minutes talking about how he deserved to be captain, and that our current quarterback was ‘fucked’. It wasn’t the Sports Report’s best moment.

I stood up and grabbed my bag, no time to waste hanging around the studio. “I’ll see you at the production meeting on Wednesday,” I called to the guys. They grunted in response as I left for Tom’s place to pick him up for his first-ever Sunday night dinner.

“Do I look okay?”

Tom stood in the doorway, dressed in a light blue shirt with thin white stripes tucked into his expensive jeans. I smiled, stepping towards him and fixing up his collar slightly, placing my hands on his shoulders.

“You look kinda gay.”

He frowned, and I laughed. “It’s a compliment”

“You give weird compliments, Hales.”

I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him, pulling him back so I was leaning against the doorframe. After a few seconds, he pulled away.

“Don’t we have to go?”

“Fine,” I huffed. “I thought you’d be happy to see me.”

Tom laughed. “Of course I am. I just don’t want to be late and make a bad impression on your family.”

Driving over to Fairmount, everyone was already waiting - Ruby had arrived before us, and my parents were dressed and ready to go. It wasn’t like Tom and I were late, they were just chronically early. Just as we’d stepped in the door, Brennan came in after us, his hair messy and shirt untucked. I looked at my mother, who was about ready to faint at all the untidiness. 

“Ruby, you can ride with us,” I said, grabbing my sister and pulling her outside before all the yelling started. 

“So,” she said to Tom as we pulled out into the street, “your first family dinner.”

“Yup.” He’d been busy with baseball in the previous weeks, but now that the season had ended, he could finally experience the madness.

“I hope you’re prepared.”

“I’ve met some of the family before... you, your parents and brother, Adaline and Edita...”

“And you’re dating the craziest one of all,” she said, flashing me a smile. I rolled my eyes, ignoring her.

When we arrived, about half the family was there already. We always made a point to never sit in the same seat two weeks in a row, so everyone was always shuffling around. Taking a seat at one end of the table, I introduced Tom to a few family members; he was sitting between myself and Kenan, who was looking at him with wide eyes. I knew he was a huge Phillies fan, so I made a point to get Tom to talk to him.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to this charming young man?” a nasal, sing-songy voice asked, clamping her hands on Tom’s shoulders. Desiree stood above him, a stupid smile on her face. 

I really didn’t want to, but everyone was looking at me.

“Tom, this is Desiree,” I muttered. Heidi, Fraser and Daly walked in behind her, and I waved them over quickly, hoping they’d take the attention off their mother. The Youngs arrived at the same time, sitting almost across from us at the table.

“New boyfriend?” Jessica asked, smiling.

I grinned at Tom, sliding my fingers through his. “Not that new, just his first time at dinner.”

Francesca rolled her eyes, texting someone furiously.

“Is that the one you fight with?” Tom asked, murmuring in my ear.

“Yeah. Stay away from her.”

“She seems... nice?”

I glared at him. “No.”

Clara took a seat next to Kenan, who was still starstruck, and ignored her. Within minutes, the whole family was sitting around the table, and the waiters who knew us like their own family started bringing out dinner. Our grandparents, at the head of the table, said grace before we all began passing the food around, scooping it onto our plates. It wasn’t long before a fight broke out next to us.

Pulling out a pocket mirror, Clara was checking her reflection. Kenan scoffed. “What’s the point?” he asked her. “You look ugly anyway.”

“Shut up!” she screeched.

“You have something on your shoulders... oh, it’s just your ugly head,” he laughed. Clara looked down, looking like she was blinking away tears. I knew how much Kenan tormented her. My own brother had done the same to me.

“Clara, don’t listen to him,” I said soothingly. “You look beautiful.”

Tom nudged Kenan. “Hey, man, don’t say that to your sister.”

Immediately, Kenan looked embarrassed. He’d just been told off by one of his sporting heroes. “Sorry, Clara,” he muttered.

I beamed, grabbing Tom’s hand again and kissing his cheek. “You just solved a Whitaker family problem.” For a few hours, at least.”

“Ugh,” Francesca said across the table. “Leave the PDA elsewhere.”

“Francesca,” my grandmother scolded her. “Be nice to our guests.”

“I can see why you like her so much,” Tom said quietly.

“You have no idea.”
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