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"Is it ready yet?"

Ephram threatens Delia with a spatula.  "If you don't keep your fingers out of the pie someone's going to have a nasty utensil accident and cut one off."

"What's utensils?" she says, all wide-eyed and innocent.  Ephram snorts, and she shrugs.  "Fair enough.  I do need all ten of my fingers."

"Then you need to stay out of the cut apples, too."

She hops up onto one of their stools.  "When *will* it be ready?"

"I told you like a million times, Delia, we're eating at seven."

"And Nina and Sam are coming over?" she says, pathetically hopeful.

Ephram pauses to test something on the stove.  "Yes," and he turns it down.  "They're coming over."

"Can I ask if they'll come over now?"

"No, Delia, you still have to pick up in the living room--"

"I just remembered!" and she hops off the stool and races out of the kitchen.  

Ephram knows she's definitely not going to pick up in the living room.  But nothing's burned yet so he's calling it an upside.  The pie is the only thing left to go in the oven, and Ephram places the dough down on top carefully.  The edges press down like magic - and it goes in the oven to bake.

Nina pops her head in the doorway of the kitchen.  "It smells amazing," and he pulls the sauce off the stove, turns down the second oven, and surveys his work with a small smile.  Acceptable dinner, he thinks.  Amazing.  "You're a household god," Nina adds.

"It's only six thirty," Ephram tells her, "I thought you guys weren't coming over until seven."

"I thought I'd come over a little earlier, offer to help out," and she places a bottle of red wine on the counter - then produces a bottle of white and puts it next to the red.  "Also, I didn't know what we were having."

Ephram shrugs.  "Don't ask me what wine goes with pot roast."  He grins.  "I'm fifteen and innocent, remember?"

Nina grins, inhaling. "That smells like one hell of a pot roast."  She uncorks the red.  "Definitely red."

Delia wanders back into the kitchen.  "Oh, look! Nina's here! Where's Sam?"

Nina pours a glass of red wine for herself, and then half a glass and hands it to Ephram with a wink. "Don't tell your father."  She says to Delia, "I told him to wash his hands and change his shoes. He's been gardening all afternoon."

Ephram hands Delia a clean dishcloth, and when she pouts, he threatens her with the spatula again.  She sighs and heads for the dining room.  "She was supposed to pick up everything in the living room an hour ago," he tells Nina, by way of apology.

Nina pats his shoulder.  "I'm sure it's clean enough.  Hell, we all have kids."

"Yeah, but--"

Nina pats his shoulder again.  "I can take a quick look around, hide any truely gruesome messes before your father comes home."

She ignores Ephram's protests, going into the living room with her glass in hand.  Ephram glances at the clock - his dad should be home by now.  Six thirty, he should be home.  A little ball of worry forms in Ephram's belly; maybe his dad will be working late tonight.  Maybe Dr. Abbott and Colin and Nina will come over for nothing.  He takes a sip of wine, and the front door opens.

"What's going on?" Andy calls from the front hall, "I can smell food.  Food, by all that's holy."

Ephram pours him some wine, too, and goes to meet him. "Shut up," he says, but there's a smile on his face.  "Not all of us were blessed with your ability to burn macaroni."

He grins at his son.  "I'll have you know I made a mean box macaroni when I was in college."

"Just take your glass and sit down," Ephram replies quickly. "Everyone else should be here soon."

Andy goes to sit in the living room, where Nina's folding up a blanket.  Andy lowers himself into an armchair with a little sigh, and then fixes Ephram with his best I-know-something's-up gaze.  "Okay, you'd better tell me.  Who else?"  Ephram sips his wine again.  "And who gave you that?" Andy adds, but doesn't take it away.

Nina smiles, cheerful.  "Your son did an amazing thing, Andy," she tells him.  "He cooked dinner, tried to get his sister to clean up, and did something nice for you."

"Yes," Andy replies, "I'm starting to think that aliens replaced my son."

"Delia!" Ephram calls, "Is the table set yet?" To Andy, he answers, "Don't worry, there's glass in your food."

"There's my boy," Andy says, but it's with a wide grin.  "So who else is coming over to sample Ephram's culinary delights?"

Ephram glances at the clock.  Ten to seven.  No way with they have time to call the Abbotts and cancel.  "Colin," he starts, because his dad, for some reason, likes Colin, likes and respects him even.  "Edna and Irv," he adds, because he also likes Edna.

Delia appears.  "Edna's coming over!" she asks.  "But I thought she was busy--"

"She got un-busy when I told her what was going on."

Andy eyes Ephram, arms folded.  "Why am I getting the feeling you're not telling me something?"

The doorbell rings, and Nina gets up, patting Ephram's shoulder yet again.  "You've done enough. Make sure that pie doesn't burn, I can get the door."

She goes into the front hall, and says hello to someone.  Dr. Abbott's very distinctive voice answers.  "We're a little early."

Andy glares at Ephram.  "Ahhh," he says.

Ephram gets up to check on the pie.  "It'll burn," he says.  Delia just rolls her eyes.

"Good evening," Dr. Abbott says to Andy.  "My wife wished me to tell you that she wanted to come, but couldn't."  He sat down on the couch, crossed his legs.  "She had to work."

Andy grins, nodding.  "I almost had to work myself," he tells him.  "I understand."  Glances into the kitchen, where Ephram is fiddling around with things.  "Although, I guess it's Ephram who should hear that.  I just got home and found him cooking."

Bright and Amy were still taking their shoes off.  Harold raises his eyebrows.  "Your son cooked? Voluntarily?"

Andy laughs.  "You obviously haven't heard any of the stories about my own food."  He looks over to Ephram again.  "He's a fast learner, when it's box macaroni, pizza, or cereal."

Ephram glares at his dad from in the kitchen.  "I heard that."

Harold actually grins. "So that's the secret to getting your children to help out around the house?  Dire need?"

Bright and Amy sit down beside their dad.  Amy turns to Andy.  "Please don't tell him your secrets," she says.

Andy laughs again.  "It's true. Starving them does wonders for their household duties."

Bright makes a face, but Harold nods.  "I'll need to keep that in mind."  He turns to Amy.  "You hear that? The next time you don't vacuum, the two of you cook for yourselves."

Bright mutters, "man, now we're doomed."

Nina and Delia, with Sam, come in as well.  "Dinner's almost done," Nina says, "Ephram's just putting the food on the table."  As Delia stares at Bright, Nina lowers her voice.  "And anyone who makes any negative comments are going to find themselves very unhappy."

There's a knock on the door, just as everyone is shuffling out to the dining room.  Delia runs to answer it.  "Edna! Irv!" she cries.  "You made it!"

Edna strides into the house, motorcycle helmet under her arm.  "Can't turn down free food," she tells Delia.  "Plus I heard this was important."

Delia puts a finger to her mouth and says "Shhhh!"

Irv is just taking off his coat when Colin comes up.  While his dad is getting everyone drinks and dishing up, Ephram comes into the living room. "Uh, hi," he says to Colin.

Delia drags Irv and Edna into the food.  Colin closes the door carefully.  "Hey."  He stands for a minute, and then takes off his coat.  "I wasn't expecting this."

"Well," Ephram starts, and then shakes his head, grinning a little.  "Look, this is about my dad.  We're cool."

"Yeah," and Colin comes into the room.  "Okay."  He nods.  "I'm glad. that we're cool. Too."

"Okay." Ephram nods.  "Uh, your parents..?"

Colin looks at his feet for a minute. "Uh," and he winces.  "I didn't tell them."  He rubs the back of his head, still barely covered with peach fuzz.  "I didn't think."  He looks at Ephram.  "This is about your dad, right? and.  They're still not. y'know.  Entirely happy.  I didn't want them to ruin this. or whatever."

Ephram studies Colin for a moment.  Then, "Okay."  he nods.  "Uh, thanks.  But, let's eat. Cause I'm starving."

Colin grins, and the two of them go into the dining room.  Everyone else is already sitting down, dishing up potatoes and roast and broccoli and stuff.  Delia, Ephram notices, is avoiding the vegetables, and absently he puts some on her plate, ignoring her "hey!"

Ephram points Colin to the chair beside Bright, and then sits down himself.  Amy and Nina are laughing about something, Delia is trying to hide her broccoli, and his dad is looking right at him.  "All right, Ephram," his dad says, quietly.  "Going to tell us what this is about?"

Ephram clears his throat, and eventually everyone quiets down enough to listen to him.  "Uh," he says.  "I asked you all here for dinner," and Delia giggles.  "Because I thought that, my dad needed it. Something.  Uh. This."

He looks at his dad.  Ephram, very slowly, raises his glass. "To Dr. Brown."

Everyone else follows suit willingly, even Dr. Abbott.  Colin's eyes, Ephram notices, are a little wet.  He's not the only one.  His dad has a shocked look on his face, eyes definitely shiny.

Once everyone has drunk, Ephram rubs the back of his neck, embarrassed.  "Now, I cooked enough food for twenty people, and if you don't eat it it'll get cold.  So eat already."

Andy nods, wiping his eyes.  "Yes, let's see if my son can outdo me in the kitchen as well as he can on the piano."

Everyone laughs, and they start to eat.  Andy leans over, and says to Ephram, "thank you."

Ephram nods.  "It was nothing."

"No," Andy replies, "Thank you."  He pitches his voice quiet enough so that not even Delia, on his other side, can hear him.  "You always know how to tell me things are going to be okay."

Ephram shrugs, stuffing a piece of potato in his mouth.  "You needed it."

"I did," Andy says.