10 Blind Dates - Ashley Elston

“Are you sure you won’t come with us?”

Mom hangs out of the passenger window and wraps me in a fierce hug for the tenth time in the last ten minutes. The pleading tone in her voice is doing its job. I’m an inch away from the first bit of freedom I’ve ever known, yet I’m only seconds from caving and jumping into the backseat. I hug her back, tighter than usual.

Dad leans forward, his face washed in the soft blue light from the dash. “Sophie, we really hate leaving you here for Christmas. Who’s going to make sure I get those fork marks in the peanut butter cookies just right? Not sure if I can be trusted to do it alone.”

I laugh and duck my head. “I’m sure,” I say. And I am. This saying good-bye part is hard, but there’s no way I can suffer through the next week and a half at Margot’s house staring at bloated appendages.

My parents are driving to Breaux Bridge, a small town in south Louisiana a little less than four hours away, to be with my sister and her husband. Margot is six weeks away from having her first baby, and she’s developed superimposed preeclampsia, whatever that means. All I know is that it’s made her feet swell to ridiculous sizes. And I know this because Margot is so bored out of her mind while she’s been stuck in her bed that she’s sent me pics of them from every conceivable angle.

“It’s not like I’m going to be by myself,” I continue. “I’ll have Nonna and Papa and the other twenty-five members of our family to keep me company.”

Dad rolls his eyes and mutters, “Don’t know why they all have to hang out in one house all the time.”

Mom pokes him in the ribs. The size of our extended family is no joke. Mom is one of eight, and pretty much all of her siblings have several kids of their own. My grandparents’ house is always full of people, but around the holidays it turns into Grand Central station. Beds and spots at the table are awarded based on age, so when my cousins and I were younger we always spent Christmas Eve stuffed into one big pallet on the floor of the den like sardines, and every meal was a balancing act between your plate, your red Solo cup, and your lap.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay with Lisa? It’ll be quieter at her house,” Mom suggests.

“I’m sure. I’ll be fine at Nonna and Papa’s.”

It would be a lot quieter at my aunt Lisa’s. She’s Mom’s twin, older by three minutes, but because of that she watches me as closely as Mom does. And that’s not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a little freedom. And some alone time with Griffin. Both are in short supply when you live in a small town and your dad is the chief of police.

“Okay. Dad and I should be back the afternoon of Nonna’s birthday party. We’ll open presents then.” Mom fidgets around in the front seat, clearly not ready to leave. “I mean, if Brad’s parents weren’t already going to be there, we wouldn’t have to go. You know how his mom always tries to rearrange Margot’s kitchen and move her furniture around. I don’t want Margot all worked up, wondering what that woman is doing while she’s stuck in bed.”

“And God forbid, his parents take care of your daughter,” I tease. Mom is overly protective of her children. All Margot had to do was mention that her husband’s parents were coming in and Mom started packing her bags.

“We could wait and go in the morning,” Mom suggests to Dad.

Dad’s shaking his head before she finishes. “We’ll make better time if we drive tonight. Tomorrow is the Saturday before Christmas. The roads will be a nightmare.” He leans forward once more, meeting my gaze. “Get your stuff and head straight to your grandparents’. Call them to let them know you’re on the way.”

That’s my dad—all business. This is the first time in years Dad will be away from the station for more than a few days.

“I will.” One more hug from Mom, and I blow a kiss to Dad. Then they’re gone.

The glowing red taillights of my parents’ SUV disappear down the road, and a flood of emotions rolls through me—thrilling anticipation, but also an ache that settles deep in my belly. I do my best to shake it off. It’s not