So, I received some feedback in regards to my submission for last month's NYC Midnight Short Story Competition on the NYC Midnight Forum page. (Thanks Lee, Mari, Joe, and Julie!) But, I was informed that it's preferred that you post your submission on an outside source. So, voila here is my piece! I was designated the romantic comedy category and my subject was 'a first impression.' In my previous post I noted I went through a lot of false starts before sticking on something and even then I wasn't a huge fan. But I may like it more now than I did a couple weeks ago.
This is a first draft, or as Laini Taylor might say zero draft. Meaning that I wrote it, edited it down for word count and that was it. I didn't make many edits in terms of structure or characters or anything. I haven't looked at it since really. (Letting it marinate for the time being.) I tend to go over my stories with a fine tooth comb and then still not think they're good enough. So perhaps, when I decompress, I'll take a look and figure out how to make this work, but feedback is always and happily welcome! But if anything feel free to read and judge me internally too. Whatever works.
I present to you..."Family Dinner"...
Carol comes outside before I’m able to ring the doorbell. She hugs me tight, pulling me real close so I can feel every breath coming from her chest.
“I’m excited and nervous and I think I may vomit,” she says.
I look at her face, reddening and round. Her brown eyes wide as she bites her thick lips. Lips I’d like to kiss right now but have a feeling we’re being watched, hence her rushing outside to greet me.
She releases me from her death grip and attempts to smooth down her unruly dark curls then straighten her blouse.
I stand there admiring her, trying to pace my breathing and try to look as calm as I say I am. Tonight I’m introducing myself to her family as her girlfriend for the first time on top of the fact that they may not be ready to accept the divorce that became final several months ago. Either way I take a deep breath; raise the sparkling cider in one hand and the pie I have nestled in an eco-friendly bag in the other, and nod that I’m ready.
“Here goes,” she says. She opens the door and I plaster on a smile I have no intention of removing. With a slight side motion of her head she welcomes me in. The hallway is pristine with beige walls and carpeting. I’ve been here before, but never when everyone else has been around. As soon as I step in and look to my left inside the living room I see them, lined up, studying me.
Carol keeps herself a foot or so away from me. We established we won’t be touching, much, tonight. Going slow until everyone’s comfortable or at least seems so.
“Kids. This is Samantha…my girlfriend,” she states. Her smile is tight and her eyes linger on her three children. The kids look at her, me, and back at her waiting.
“Say ‘hello’,” she urges.
“Hey,” they mumble.
From what I’ve been told it seems they’re in age order. The youngest girl age six at one end, the middle one age eleven in his proper spot, and the eldest age thirteen at the other end. The two bookends look exactly like Carol with the dark eyes and hair and the cleft in their chins. The middle one is a red-head with a buzz cut and freckles and a bit pudgy compared to the little sister on his right and the older brother on his left. Not only does he stand out because he doesn’t look like the other two, but because his eyes are as big as Carol’s and he’s glaring at me with something I sense, no, know to be hatred. His mouth is skewed and pouty, his arms crossed like he’s expecting me to do magic or something to impress him.
“Sam, this is Becca, Bryan, and Jake.” Becca does a mock curtsy when she hears her name. The boys give me a semblance of a nod at theirs.
“Nice to meet you guys and gal. I brought sparkling cider and apple pie.”
The sound of a “pfft” goes by so fast I’m unable to catch from whose mouth it comes from, but Carol glares at Bryan suspecting him immediately.
“The cider has glitter?” Becca asks.
“No, it’s bubbly,” I say.
“How’s it sparkle?” she asks.
“Well, it doesn’t technically. It’s just bubbly, like soda.”
Becca scrunches up her face as if she doesn’t understand and tilts her head to the side. She looks over at Bryan then at her mother, I’m assuming for some guidance.
“I don’t get it,” she finally admits.
“How about we call it bubbly cider?”
She nods her acquiescence at this.
Carol claps her hands together. “Well, dinner’s ready. How about we sit down and have some bubbly cider.”
The kids give off shrugs and march in line with. I watch them go quietly through the living room into the dining room and take their seats.
Carol nudges my body with hers, says she thinks it’s going well.
The kids all sit on one side of the rectangular table, leaving me and Carol on the other. Carol had mentioned that she didn’t want us to sit at the heads of the table, it’d give the kids of a sense of having to adjust too quickly, especially since that’s how her and her ex-husband sat, him at the head near the kitchen, her at the other end near the doorway leading to the hallway and the kids spread between.
Carol made a nice spread of wax beans with garlic, roast chicken, and rosemary potatoes. As I settle in for a seat she takes my pie to the kitchen.
The kids look back at me and I start to wonder what’s going through their minds. Do they think me an interloper or a smiling idiot? She told me about the kids but wanted me to meet them for myself.
Jake looks bored. He flips open his cell phone every so often while Carol’s in the kitchen. As soon as we hear her voice from the kitchen he shuts it and looks up almost wanting to make sure no one is going to divulge his secret.
Becca’s a cutie pie, every few moments she smiles at me with closed lips than at her brothers at anyone who’ll notice and smile back. Carol mentioned she was inquisitive, always wanting to know specifics. It made it hard for Carol to try to tip-toe around her lesbianism.
And then there’s Bryan. He holds my gaze the whole while making me so uncomfortable that I’m the one who has to look away.
The food smells delicious and everyone’s sitting politely. The kids hands are folded in their laps and they look so pristine, like they just came out of a Hans Christian Andersen film.
“So, do you guys always dress up for dinner?”
Jake cuts his eyes at me. “No,” he snaps. And I realize I hit a nerve. Carol may have made them dress up for me, to make a good impression.
“You know you didn’t have to. I mean if you want to change your clothes into something more comfortable, that’d be fine with me.”
They all look at each other and shake their heads. “Doesn’t matter,” Jake says eyeing something in his lap rather than looking at me.
I reach for my glass of water, notice Bryan lean over and whisper in Becca’s ear. “Okay. I just want you to know that—“
“If you’re Mommy’s girlfriend, than you have relations?” Becca asks.
At that question my hand knocks the glass over and I can’t help but scream “shit” at the top of my lungs as I jump out of my seat.
Jake and Becca’s eyes widen, but Bryan sits calm, the same demeanor of him watching me, waiting. I think I see a slight curl in his lips at me being disheveled and cursing at the question his sister was made to ask.
“Your girlfriend said a bad word, Mommy!” Becca shouts.
Carol runs into the room with the cups in between her fingers, panic clear on her face.
“What happened is everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine.” I wipe away the water spilling into my lap and start to dab at the growing pool on the table. “I don’t know why I freaked out so much. It’s just water. Life’s natural lubricant.”
Carol stares at me for a moment before emitting a nervous laugh.
“Okay, well. Why don’t we all eat then?”
Carol and I settle down. She passes the cups out to the kids and pours them the cider. Becca reaches out for hers quickly looking at the bubbles floating to the top. She smiles at me and mouths “bubbly” then focuses back on the champagne-colored liquid.
“You didn’t answer Becca’s question.”
I look up to see Bryan still staring at me, his arms crossed as he leans back in his chair waiting.
“That’s a real personal question, Bryan. I don’t think I should answer it, especially here at the dinner table.”
“And I don’t want to know,” Jake chimes in.
“What doesn’t Jake want to know?” Carol asks.
“We can talk about it...” I trail off and end up announcing that we should eat. “Everything looks delicious.” I squeeze Carol’s arm before diving into my meal.
As I take a bite of her chicken, I see out of the corner of my eye Bryan poke Becca and nudge his head in Carol and my direction. Before I can swallow and shut down the her next question she screams “I asked about sex, Mommy!” as though it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Carol covers her mouth and I hear “oh Jesus” escape her lips.
Jake puts his hands over his ears and announces, “Seriously, if you guys talk about this, I’m leaving.”
“No one’s going to talk about it,” I assure him and glare at Bryan. “I think it’s great that Becca is curious, but we won’t talk about things like this at the dinner table or at all.”
“Lots of people do it,” Bryan states.
“I know that, Bryan.”
“So why can’t we talk about it?”
“Because it’s something that adults talk about and adults alone.”
Bryan lifts his hand and jabs his thumb towards his brother. “He talks about it all the time with his friends.”
Something clangs against the floor and Jake shoots up from his seat. “I do not!” he asserts to the whole table. To Bryan he promises a slow death.
“Calm down!” Carol shouts amidst the commotion.
“Like Sam said, sex is natural and it’s fine. I have no problem with talking about it. I promised all of you I’d be honest with you from now on and that’s a promise I intend to keep.” Carol looks to me and smiles, “No more secrets.”
While I admire her for wanting to be forthright with her family I feel my stomach rumbling and flopping around at whatever is about to take place at Carol’s insistence.
“When two people like each other, a lot, they are intimate and have…”
Becca finishes the sentence for her mom, “Relations!”
“That’s right. But you only have it,” she wags a finger at all three of her children, “when you love someone. Not when you don’t love them. And especially not when you don’t know them or like them.” Under her breath she hisses, “You understand me, Jake.”
He nods not meeting her eyes.
“And that’s that.”
“So you had relations with Daddy?” Becca asks.
“Yes, that’s how you three angels came about.”
Bryan pipes up. “So you stopped because you don’t love Dad anymore?”
“Oh…well. I told you guys it was a mutual thing.”
“That wasn’t mutual. Dad told us so!”
“He told you what?”
“He said you said you weren’t into marriage with a man anymore. And then you brought all these women around.”
At this point I can’t help but ask, “All these women?”
“It wasn’t a lot, I swear, Sam.”
“Can I be excused? I think I threw up in my mouth a little,” Jake says raising his hand like he’s in school.
“No! No one is leaving this table until some things get cleared up. One, never, ever have sex unless you’re married. Two, your father and I broke up because I realized we weren’t good together anymore. I love your father, he’s a good person, but we’re just not good together. Three, anyone you met before Sam doesn’t matter. Okay? Sam is here to get to know us as we are, a family, and that includes Daddy. So, are there any other questions or can we eat in peace?”
Bryan and Becca raise their hands just like Jake had.
Carol drops her fork and places her head in her hands. She lets out an exasperated sigh before asking the two what they want.
“Relations sound the same as when you and Dad had ‘em. And you weren’t married to those other people we met,” Bryan states.
Carol smacks the table. “You can leave the table, Bryan. Now.”
He points to his plate and Carol waves him away. He takes it with him into the living room. We hear the sounds of crashes and explosions come from the television in the living room within minutes. Without a word Jake follows Bryan’s lead taking his plate into the living room also. He thanks God on his way out.
Becca sits still with her hand in the air, she starts to wave it to get her mother’s attention.
“What is it, Becca?”
“Can I have ice cream?” she asks and smiles big, revealing a gap in her bottom front teeth.
“Yes, anything you want. Enjoy.”
Once we’re alone I turn to Carol and ask, “So exactly how many were there before me? And did they get action faster than I did?”
Carol’s head slides from her hands to the table and she narrowly misses her plate letting her forehead connect with the table with a thump.
Bryan’s sitting on the porch when I come out. He’s looking at his feet and swishing them to and fro.
“You aren’t cold out here?” I ask.
He doesn’t turn to look at me, keeps at what he’s doing.
“I know we didn’t have the best scene in there. And maybe your mom and I are just fooling ourselves in thinking that this would go smoothly. We needed to ease you kids into it.” I bend down so that we’re eye level. I see him for what he is. The odd one out protecting his family. Us getting together would probably mean edging him out in some way. I noticed the pictures of the family and Bryan is the one who’s closest to his father in looks and compatibility. I reach out to touch his spiky hair but just let my hand hover above his fiery mane and think better of it.
“I’m not here to edge anyone out. I just want everyone to be happy.”
He mutters something and when I ask him to repeat himself I hear the words, “That’s naive.”
I can’t help but laugh and agree with him by shaking my head.
“Yeah, it probably is. But I’m naïve. Naïve and idealistic.”
“Optimistic,” he adds.
We sit in silence for a bit he looks up to the sky and at his feet and around their front yard.
I slap my thighs and tell him I’ll be off. “See you around, I guess,” I say over my shoulder. As I pull out my car keys and click the remote to unlock the doors I hear Bryan call my name.
I turn around to see him standing up, one foot rubbing against the side of the opposite leg and he meets my eyes.
“You comin’ back?” he asks.
At this I shrug. “I guess.”
“Well, if you do. Chocolate goes a long way with me, lady.”
[(c) 2011 Jennifer Baker-Henry]