“You’re putting that much sugar in?”
“It’s what the recipe says! Two cups of—”
“That’s way too much! At least halve it.”
“Jo, there is no way I’m halving!”
“It’s not healthy to—”
“There’s literally nothing healthy about double chocolate chip cookies,” Anne Maria declares. “Suck it up, babe.”
“Isn’t baking about experimenting?”
“That’s cooking,” Cameron pipes up from his perch at the kitchen island. “You really don’t want to randomly change quantities in baking. It’s based in chemistry a lot more than cooking is.”
Jo points a wooden spoon at him. “Why are you here again?”
“Because Anne Maria invited you, which meant I could invite Mike, and where Mike and Zoey go, Cam goes as well,” Zoey replies. “We’re a package deal.”
“That must make date night fun,” Jo mutters.
Next to Cameron, Mike chuckles awkwardly.
“B and I have finished with the wet ingredients,” Dawn announces, sliding off the kitchen counter. After disconnecting the stand mixer, B holds up the bowl triumphantly.
“Anyone know what we do now?” Zoey asks.
“We?” Jo raises an eyebrow. “Since when have you been helping—any of you three?”
“I made a playlist!” Zoey protests.
“And I’ve been providing useful insights on the scientific components of baking,” Cameron says.
Mike shrugs. “I’m just happy to be here.”
“Eugh, there’s gunk under my nails,” Anne Maria says, placing her bowl of dry ingredients next to B’s bowl. “So whatta we do now, just dump it in together?”
“No!” Zoey, Mike, and Cameron shout.
“Spoilsports,” Jo says, hopping up to sit on the kitchen island. “Where’s the stupid recipe?”
B points to the door, and Dawn translates. “Courtney has it.”
“Sorry about our tardiness,” Brick says as soon as Courtney opens the front door. “Traffic got a bit out of hand with the weather.”
“No kidding,” Courtney says, ushering him and Scott inside before she ends up soaked by the heavy rainstorm.
Scott grumbles, running a hand through his wet hair. “I feel like a drowned rat. And not the good kind.”
“There’s such thing as a good drowned rat?” Courtney can’t help but ask.
“Yeah, ‘cause they’re dead.”
“…Right,” Courtney says, deciding to nip this line of questioning in the bud while she still has the chance. “Shoes off by the door, and I’ll show you where the kitchen is.”
“Yes ma’am,” Brick and Scott chorus. They glance at one another with a strange expression before kicking their shoes off and following Courtney down the hallway.
“Jo, I swear to Gawd if you drop that on the floor—”
“I’m not gonna! Have a little faith!”
“Nobody is dropping anything on this clean floor,” Courtney calls, leading Brick and Scott into the kitchen. She’s met with the sight of Jo holding the bowl of wet ingredients high up over her head, Anne Maria reaching for it but struggling at her height, Dawn watching them with mild interest, B fiddling with the oven, unbothered, and Zoey, Mike, and Cameron all in various stages of “cowering behind the kitchen isle while trying not to look like they’re cowering”. None of them are particularly successful.
“I’m serious,” Courtney says, “put the bowl down, Jo.”
Rolling her eyes, Jo obliges. “I was just bored. None of us know what to do next.”
“You have the recipe, right?” Cameron asks.
“Yep,” Courtney pulls out her phone. “You guys have already separately mixed the wet and dry ingredients, right?”
“Right,” Zoey chirps.
“Good. So the next step is to mix them together—”
“I told you so,” Anne Maria mutters.
“—and stir in the chocolate chips.”
Brick snaps to attention. “I can do that!”
“Go ahead,” Dawn says, “but don’t feel that you have to do it to make up for arriving late. It’s not a big deal to any of us, we’re just happy to spend time together as friends.”
“Uh, thanks Dawn.”
“Beside, the storm outside is quite intense. Mother Nature is doing a lot of cleansing today.”
“If that’s what you call drowning rats,” Scott says.
“What is it with you and rats?” Mike asks.
“I fucking hate them.”
Brick looks up from his enthusiastic mixing job. “By the way, what are we making?”
“Chocolate chocolate chip cookies,” Courtney says. “Did someone remember to preheat the oven?”
Jo, Anne Maria, Zoey, Mike, Cameron, and Dawn look around awkwardly. Brick keeps mixing.
“Hey, I only just got here,” Scott says.
B raises his hand.
“Don’t worry, B remembered,” Dawn says, a barely noticeable hint of relief in her voice. “What’s our next step?”
Courtney glances down at her phone.
“Drop spoonfuls onto the cookie sheets,” she reads, before frowning. “Spoonfuls? Do they mean tablespoons, or regular spoons? And if they do mean regular spoons, how do I know that their spoons are the same size as my spoons? These are terrible instructions, now I don’t know how big—”
“Court, it doesn’t matter,” Anne Maria cuts her off. “They’re cookies. Don’t need to be perfect.”
“Right.” Courtney nods, taking a deep breath. “Right. Doesn’t need to be perfect.”
Zoey places a gentle hand on her arm. “Why don’t we use tablespoons? That way they’ll all be close to the same size.”
“Good idea,” Courtney says. “I’ll go get a tablespoon.”
“Why bother? We’ve got one right here.”
Everyone follows Scott’s pointed finger to the wooden spoon lying on the dining room table.
“That’s a serving spoon, not a tablespoon,” Cameron says. “Tablespoons are a lot smaller.”
“No, it’s a mixing spoon,” Anne Maria says. “I used it for the dry ingredients.”
“Well, that’s what you used it for, but a serving spoon—”
Courtney grabs an actual tablespoon out of a drawer and hands it to Zoey. “Here you go.”
“About time you did something, Red,” Jo says, as Zoey trots over to the cookie dough.
“Jo, it’s not some kind of team effort,” Mike says. “We’re just baking cookies and hanging out with friends.”
“It’s always a team effort.”
Dawn shakes her head. “Just because you see the world as—”
“Gonna stop you there,” Jo says. “I’m not in the mood for psychoanalysis.”
B points at the oven, having reached the desired temperature.
“Oh, table spoon,” Brick says loudly, cutting through the chatter. He laughs. “I get it!”
“At least someone has a brain,” Scott grumbles, shoving his hands in his pockets. His cheeks are red.
Anne Maria nudges Zoey. “You seeing what I’m seeing?”
“Looks like someone got over their freshman year crush on Courtney,” Zoey giggles.
“I did not have a crush on Courtney!” Scott yells from across the room.
“You certainly did,” Dawn says, “it was written all over your aura. But now you—”
Scott throws the wooden spoon at her. Yelping, Dawn ducks as B snatches it out of the air.
“Thanks, B,” Dawn says, patting down her hair.
Jo snickers at the display. “Y’know, some of us have the guts to actually ask out the people we like.”
“You did a hundred pushups in under two minutes ’n yelled at me to get froyo with you,” Anne Maria reminds her.
“Exactly! And here we are now.”
“The only PDA allowed in my kitchen is my personal digital assistant,” Courtney says, as Jo and Anne Maria exchange a kiss. She gestures at the tray of cookie dough blobs in Zoey’s hand. “Now are we gonna bake these, or what?”
Her question is immediately met with a clap of rolling thunder.
“Mother Nature says yes,” Dawn announces.
Miraculously, the cookies get baked without incident, and Courtney is able to hold back a horde of ravenous sophomores (mostly just Jo and Scott) from eating them before they cool. The ten teenagers end up settling in Courtney’s living room with a plate stacked high with cookies. Of course, the minute Anne Maria spotted the copy of Just Dance in the TV cabinet, the cookies were abandoned.
Having just won the dance to “U Can’t Touch This”, Courtney offers her remote to Mike. “You wanna give it a try? Beating Jo is tough, but it’s possible. As I just proved.”
“No thanks,” Mike says. “I think I’d have to let Svetlana take the wheel for that, and I’m good as just Mike for now.”
Cameron, sitting next to Mike, doesn’t wait for Courtney’s query before shaking his head. Dawn does the same, so Courtney turns to the next couch.
“How about you, Scott?”
“Pfft, no way.”
“He’s just scared ‘cause he knows he’ll lose,” Jo taunts.
Scott rolls his eyes, snatching the remote from Courtney. “Oh, please, you’re going down. How hard could this be?”
“Let’s do ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’!” Zoey exclaims, flipping through the selection screen. Groaning, Scott resolutely takes his place in front of the TV.
“Sure,” Anne Maria says. “I’ll smoke you all for breakfast.”
“I love it when you talk like that,” Jo says.
As the song begins, Courtney takes Scott’s spot on the couch, in between Brick and B. At her sigh, the latter taps her shoulder, points at her, and shrugs.
“I’m good,” Courtney answers. “Just didn’t expect this many people, that’s all.”
Brick pulls his eyes away from Scott’s jerky dancing and frowns. “Is that okay? I mean, I know it was just gonna be the five of us, but once Anne Maria and Zoey started inviting people, I guess B and I figured—”
“Try and keep up, Jo-baby!”
“I’ll show you what keeping up looks like!”
“Guys, the song’s about having fun!” Zoey squeaks.
“This is not fun,” Scott wheezes. “This is torture.”
“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to,” Cameron reminds him.
“And let Jo win? No way!”
Courtney can’t help but smile at the mild chaos.
“No, this is okay,” she tells Brick. “I’ve missed…”
Having friends. Having fun. Not feeling lonely and suffocated. Being happy.
“…this,” Courtney finishes, and hopes it’s enough.
Brick smiles at her, and she thinks it is.
“We’re gonna miss you next year,” he says, and B nods. “It’s crazy to think you’re graduating in a month.”
“It really is a month, isn’t it?”
“Hey, time flies.”
“It really does,” Courtney says. “I mean, after the cheating and the breakup and everyone in my grade turning against me—ugh, you know. After that. I’ve been dying to finally leave, but you guys—”
And she looks around the room, where Anne Maria and Jo are bickering over their final score, where Zoey is flopping down in between Mike and Cameron, where Scott lies on the ground panting and insisting “No, Dawn, I don’t need water, I’m fine!” while B watches with an amused expression. She looks around the room, and her chest aches.
“—you guys make it hard,” Courtney finishes, “but that’s just because you make it better.”
Brick smiles at her. “That just means we’ve done our job, ma’am.”
“And a good job you’ve done, soldier,” she says seriously, before elbowing him. “It’s not like I’m gonna be across the country, though. Just three hours away. And since you all will be juniors soon, you need to call me with questions about college applications. I have so much advice to give.”
“Trust me, we definitely will.”
Courtney beams at him.
“Brick, get up here!” Jo calls. “We’re doing ‘Eye of the Tiger’!”
“Duty calls,” Brick says, standing up, but he doesn’t make it two steps toward the TV before Scott latches onto his ankle.
“Don’t do it,” Scott gasps. “It’s horrible.”
“You underestimate my dancing skills.”
Courtney leans down and whispers in Scott’s ear. “Get up and let him have a go. Don’t you want to watch him dancing?”
“Shut up,” Scott mumbles, releasing Brick and trudging back to the couch.
Anne Maria holds up a spare remote. “We need one more person—Courtney, you down?”
“Definitely. I’m going to obliterate all of you.”
“Finally, a challenge,” Jo quips, ducking when Anne Maria goes to flick her head. “Hey! Those nails are a lethal weapon!”
Everyone titters, and Courtney takes her position next to Brick, smiling.