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Green Tea and Pink Apples

R. Cooper

Smashwords Edition

©2018 R. Cooper

Cover art by Erin Gamble

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Content warnings:

References to alcohol, alcohol abuse

Mild homophobia

Unhealthy familial relationships

Author’s Note

Every year around my birthday, if I have time, I try to write a fun little something for fun and post it online so people can read it for free. This year the story got… a little out of hand. But I decided to post it anyway. Because it’s free, and for fun, it’s not professionally edited and the cover is a simple one. Please keep that in mind. This is a gift. Thank you!

Green Tea and Pink Apples

With a sigh, Matt finally changed out of the comfortable, brushed cotton t-shirt he wore when lazing around the house and pulled on a respectable pale green Oxford. He combed his hair into a neat side part and stifled another sigh with the ease of practice. Then, at the very last moment, his phone buzzing in his back pocket with impatient inquiries from either his mother or his siblings, he stepped into some well-shined shoes to make his look the epitome of dressy casual and walked out the door.

He didn’t lock it. The family house was on a vast property, surrounded by fields and fields of grape vines—the middle of nowhere, as far as thieves were probably concerned. And the small guest house where he lived was tucked away behind a short row of citrus trees and the back end of the pool house. Most people forgot the guest house was even there, which was fine with Matt.

He stopped to appreciate the scent from the trees—and procrastinate a little—and then carried on down the lit path to the pool and then the main house.

With the party this evening, every single light on this side of the main house seemed to be on, making the tiny lamps along the path more decorative than necessary. The pool was drained and covered, ready for winter although it was still fall. The sun had set, but if the house hadn’t been in the way, Matt would have been able to make out the mountain in the distance, a jagged, dark shape eclipsing the stars.

The air was verging on crisp and he hoped it put some color in his cheeks as he went up to a door at the back of the house and slipped inside the kitchen.

To his eyes, the kitchen was chaos, but it was probably orderly to everyone there, which was Miss Cathy, their housekeeper, Willi, his mother’s assistant, and several uniformed catering people buzzing in and out of the doors.

Willi spotted Matt first and gave him a once over that might have been to make sure he was presentable but lingered despite that. Light green did wonders for the specks of olive in Matt’s hazel eyes, and his pants had been tailored. Matt smiled merrily at her and then winked at Miss Cathy, who winked back but shooed him out of the kitchen. Because Matt respected Miss Cathy so much, he didn’t even snatch an artfully arranged crudités from one of the serving platters.

He skipped the dining room and headed out toward the noise, with a moment’s pause for the small bar in his dad’s office that would be unused and quiet on a night like this. He’d left Netflix and his e-reader for this. The temptation of a few more minutes of peace was almost too much.

“Matty.” His mother’s voice stopped him cold, though he had a smile on his face as he turned around. His mom was close behind him, silent somehow, even in heels.

“Mom.” He bent to kiss her cheek as though he hadn’t seen her in years and not a day or two.

“You had to be late?” She tilted her head to accept the kiss. She had pearls in her dark brown hair and around the apricot skin of her throat, but her dress was black and simple. “Did you come straight from work?” she asked, looking him up and down. She patted his hair, the same shining brown as hers, with hopefully the same resistance to going gray at an early age. “Why do you smell like espresso?”

“I had espresso before I left work,” Matt answered honestly, though he had brushed his teeth and his breath should be fine. “I ground the beans myself. Maybe the coffee scent is on my skin.”

His mom sighed the sigh of Atlas. “It’s not that you are not talented in the shop,” she began, referring to the family’s tasting room in town where Matt sold wine and bourbon and cheese and olive oil and gourmet meats—anything with the Del Prete label on it or the label of any other local family deemed good enough. “But of all the things you could be doing.” She cut herself off, for once, possibly because of the party going on just out of sight. She firmed her lips and drew her shoulders back.

Matt tensed preemptively. “So I should go say hello to—”

His mom ignored this. “Your sisters are greeting everyone. Paul and his wife are kindly entertaining your father’s sisters. Your father is with your cousin Richie and his fiancée.” She paused. “Sweet girl, Ella, but could use some travel. Your nieces and nephews should be in the game room. Obviously, everyone took the time from their busy schedules for family.”

Matt’s smile got a little more fixed.

“I ask this of you because it won’t even be a chore. Perhaps it will even give you time to observe the happy couple and think of your own future. Thirty-two and not a serious girlfriend in sight, much less grandchildren? I’m worried, Matty. You’re my youngest, my sensitive boy who has always needed time to himself. Your father asks me to be understanding, but even he is beginning to wonder if we were right to leave you alone.”

Matt had not been left alone in over three decades.

He did his best impression of leer. “Is there a beautiful thing out there waiting for me? And it’s not even my birthday.”

Matty,” his mom said in a scolding tone, but for one moment, her face cracked with a relieved smile.

Matt rubbed away the pain in his chest and kept up his grin. “Is this about the Foundation? I just went to one of the high school’s games.” The Del Prete Foundation gave back to the local community mostly through gifts to the schools. Matt had been to three science fairs and countless basketball games. He didn’t mind those. But he hadn’t missed anything and didn’t deserve to get in trouble for it. “If this is about the 4-H thing….” Matt had no interest in farming, but the kids had asked nicely and been adorable. “I know it’s supposed to come out of the Foundation and not through me, for tax purposes, but it was simpler to write a check, and—”

“What?” His mom drew her eyebrows together. “What are you talking about? No. I was waiting to see if you brought anyone in spite of all past experience saying you wouldn’t, and for once, I am not disappointed to see you alone. You’ll be perfect.”

“Just tell me what fate you’ve decided for me.” He didn’t snap. He would never snap. But when he looked back after glancing away, his mother’s eyebrows were high.

“You’d think I was forcing you into something.” She reached up again to smooth his hair. “So handsome. The most handsome of my boys—don’t tell your brothers. You should have a girl on each arm. Instead, you’re here by yourself. That’s why this has to be you. Don’t worry. It won’t be difficult. All you have to do is be charming and agreeable, and you already do that all day.”

Matt wasn’t fooled. “Are you setting me up?”

She swatted his arm. “So suspicious. All I need you to do is to spend the evening with Santi. Keep an eye on him—but don’t make it seem like you’re keeping an eye on him. Have fun. You two do that all the time.”

Matt nearly asked her if he and Santi were supposed to go play with the other children—which was really the last time he and Santi had hung out and ‘had fun’ in the way she seemed to imagine. Matt and Santi got along. They were friendly. They talked at these things, which Santi was always invited to even though he wasn’t related, because his mom and Matt’s mom had been best friends since childhood. Also because they lived in a small town, in its way, booming wine industry or not. Matt and Santi ran into each other semi-frequently. But they were both a few years past camping out in the yard or sharing comics in the Santi’s treehouse.

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