“Do uh, do you want to come meet my family? I totally forgot I promised them a dinner this week.” Atticus’s mouth is running as soon as I open the door and I’m already tired. Wait, did he say meet his family?
“Atticus, it’s been two weeks-aren’t you kind of jumping the shark a little?” Grabbing my purse off the receiving table I lock the door behind me as he reflectively reaches for my hand. I like this, how touchy he is, it’s a nice change.
“I know I am, but, they get kind of pissy when I don’t stop by, plus, when I told them I had a new girlfriend, they asked to meet you.” He’s hopelessly optimistic that I’m going to say yes, ****, I’m going to say yes.
“How many people are going to be there?” If it’s more than four, I’m bolting. Holding up our entwined hands he counts off on my fingers, there’s a Tennessee education at work for you.
“Well, Mom, Dad, Beau and Laurel his wife and Duke, plus you and me.” Proud of his counting skills he smiles easily while I tense up, that’s a lot of people.
“Beau?” There’s no way that’s his real name, I mean, yeah, they’ve got a kid named Atticus, but that’s literary…
“Yeah, his name’s Beauregard but we call him, Beau, much less pretentious.” Wait, Atticus, Beauregard? Maybe this will be a fun family dinner after all.
“That’s, you have a big family.” I mean, I knew he had a family, I just didn’t know he had that much family. Shrugging he leads me to the truck, leaning against the driver’s side door he steeples his hands, uh oh, now we’re on to begging and bargaining.
“My brothers are super nice and really excited to meet you-please, please? We can do whatever you want next time.” Blushing at my suggestive glance he looks over my shoulder, struggling to keep a straight face as I screw mine up, do I really want to do this?
“Okay, when are you going?” It’s Friday, so he’s probably going next week if he’s asking me now.
“Um, like, right now?” That son of a bit- “I’m going to need to change.” Plucking the keys from his hands I switch into defense mode, I’ll curse him out creatively later, right now, I need to change.
“Seriously rethinking this,” I heave as we pull up to a modest two-story home, my stomach is in knots and I’m about two seconds away from throwing up, there’s no way this will end well. Throwing the truck into park he offers me an easy smile, is, is that supposed to be reassuring? Because I’m really not good with new people.
“They won’t even talk to you if you don’t want-you’ll just be that girl they kind of know eating my Mother’s pot roast.” Snorting with laughter I put my face in my hands, this is doing nothing for my anxiety, but I like the thought. “You don’t have to worry, Willa.” Taking my hands from my face he holds them solemnly, “she’s a terrible cook, there’s no way s**** make pot roast.” Unable to keep a straight face he bursts into laughter as I swat at him, what an *******. “But seriously, we don’t have to go in, you know-I’ll say we got a flat or didn’t want to come, I’m happy with either.” Pulling away from him I see he’s now 100% not joking, aw ****, now I have to go in.
“No, it’s okay, I’m okay.” Offering him a big, cheery fake smile, he gives me a real one, at least someone’s happy about this. Sliding across the seat his truck is ridiculously high and practically obscene to get out of in a skirt, which is why I always wear one. Clinging to his arms even when I’m on solid ground he sighs heavily.
“Wills, come on, they’re not lion’s.” How bad could it possibly be, right? Grabbing his hand, we go up the walkway. Yeah, I can do this normal ****, no problem.
“TEE!” Flying down the walkway towards us a tall, skinny, high school age boy with floppy blonde hair throws himself at Atticus.
“DUDE!” Atticus yells back as the howler monkey of a child attaches himself to my boyfriend, talking a mile a minute in a language I can only assume is English he hugs Atticus. “Dude, slow down-I’m here all night.”
Lord have mercy on my evening.
“Duke, okay, get off me.” As he peels the kid off of him I can see he’s about… 16? An oversized blue sweater hangs off of him as he bounces on bare feet, and there are heel sized holes in the back of his oversized brown corduroy-does anyone ever buy this kid clothes that fit? His eyes finally landing on me he lights up, looking between the two of us as an uncontrollable smile breaks out across his face.
“What? Dude! Look at your girlfriend! You look like Dory! Or like, a really pretty elf.” Groaning, Atticus tips his head back as Duke comes towards me; reaching out to touch my blue hair. Atticus, sensing the fear rolling off me in waves, takes one broad step, putting his body between me and the howler monkey.
“What is your problem? Did you take your Adderall? Ten bucks says you didn’t.” Saying this all with the utmost affection and smugness, he claps the younger boy on the shoulder. Scoffing, the kid crosses his arms faux confidently giving me a ‘can you believe this guy’ kind of look I like him already.
“I’m a totally chill human being, and if Mom asks, you can tell her I took my Adderall, and I will give you ten dollars because that’s what brothers do.” Duke retorts, laughing; Atticus just shakes his head.
“Come on Tee, I want to meet her,” he says, jumping around his older brother to get a look at me I staunch a giggle with my hand, I’m beginning to like this one.
“Okay, you can meet my terrified girlfriend now, but only if you promise to act like a human being.” Peeking out over his shoulder I see he’s faking a disappointed look, while making an obviously concerted effort to keep both feet on the ground.
“Willa, this is my younger brother Duke. Duke, this is my girlfriend, Willa.” Pulling me out from behind him he drapes an arm protectively over my shoulder.
“Look at you two! And her all pretty, did he pay you?” Duke starts “because there’s no way you would come willingly to one of these things, it’s already a zoo-“ Clapping his hand over his brother’s mouth Atticus gives him a hard shove into some nasty looking rose bushes.
“Don’t listen to him, fool didn’t take his meds.” Marching me past his protesting brother in the bushes I feel guilty and sick at the same time.
“I know, he terrified you and now you don’t want to go in.” Cutting me off he talks until we reach the door. “But it’s going to be great, my Dad will get drunk and fall asleep watching football and my Mother will make that face that means she’s harboring years of resentment and my brothers will pepper you with inappropriate questions about our love life and they are going to love you!” Throwing in some false pep, he braces both hands on my shoulders, his skin looking *******, I decide to think about him instead of worry, easier this way.
“Baby, are you okay? You don’t look so good.” Standing on my tiptoes I attempt to reach his forehead but he dodges me easily by extending to his full height, jerk.
“I’m fine, I think Duke might be hurt, but he fell, so everything’s fine, it’s not my fault it’s fine.” Pushing open the door he doesn’t even let me react to that one-probably better that way. “MOM?” Kicking the door shut behind us his eyes nervously scans the room, he’s all raw nerve, guess I’m not the only nervous one.
“In the kitchen!” A folksy southern voice calls back, rejoining our hands together I look down at my outfit one last time, there’s nothing I can change, but there’s still time to fret about it. I hope I make a good impression. I braided my hair and put on a sock cap in an effort to tone down the blue, I wouldn’t have dyed it on Friday if I knew I was going to be meeting someone’s parents on Sunday.
Pulling me along with him I take in the pictures on the wall as we speed past. Years, decades even of evidence line the walls, my vision blurring as I attempt to take them all in but we’re going way too fast, the staircase to my right is lined with school photos in descending order, I could spend all day in this hallway.
“Well, look who finally decided to show up.” That’s, ominous-rounding the corner into a brightly lit and warm kitchen a heavy set woman narrows her eyes at me, guess this is Mommy dearest, she sounded so nice before I met her.
“Sorry, got caught up with work.” Dropping my hand he reaches out to give her a quick hug, her eyes watching me over his shoulder I squirm uncomfortably, this is already so great. “Mom, this is my girlfriend Willa, Willa, this is my mother, Mrs. Gray.” Pulling away from the embrace he stands by my side as I awkwardly extend my hand to her, there isn’t a trace of Southern hospitality to be seen, she must have faked the accent.
“It’s lovely to finally meet you, Mrs. Gray.” Putting on my most polite nonvolatile tone I can feel Atticus giving her a look over my head, drying her hands on her apron she gives me a forced, chilly handshake, this is great, she’s practically calling me daughter. Eyeing my hair critically she offers a distasteful look, ****, I guess the cap isn’t doing as much good as I thought it would.
“Atticus, you didn’t tell us you had a new girlfriend, whatever happened to Lindsey? She was such a sweet girl,” skimming right over me I feel small and overlooked. I shrink back into him as he grits his teeth, guess I’m not the only one suffering.
“Mom, we broke up a while ago, remember?” Eyeing the wine on the counter he sets out to find some glasses, we’re going to need a lot of that before the evening’s over.
“Now darling, there’s no need to be dramatic.” His mother says lightly, plucking the wine from his hand she puts it behind her, out of reach he sighs, is this what a normal family interaction looks like? I’m starting to think my family wasn’t actually that weird, maybe I’m just over exaggerating the whole situation. “Your father wants to see you.” Her tone holding a hint of a threat we both tense, I’ve been on the receiving end of that tone far too many tones, maybe we aren’t that different after all.
“Is it- Did I- Why?” Stuttering his way through the sentence I’m taken aback by his vulnerability, I’ve never seen Atticus like this before, it’s, off putting. Laughing humorlessly his Mother leans back against the counter, giving him a smug grin she shakes her head ominously.
“Come on, Willa, let’s go meet my brother.” Grabbing me by the arm he steers me from the kitchen, hopefully to less hostile company. Struggling to keep up with his long limbs I take in the small but well-kept house as I sweep by it-he knows he has a full foot on me, doesn’t he? His legs are practically as long as my body so when he gets mad, I feel like a sprinter.
“I see you saw Mom.” A sly male voice comments as we storm into the dining room, well, he storms, I’m just caught up in it, like a leaf in a hurricane. Sitting at the dining table with a pretty brunette perched on his lap he eyes me critically, great, more family members. He’s striking, with dark grey eyes and sandy blonde hair he’s got broad shoulders and a chiseled jaw, oh boy, I hope the rest of them look like this.
“What the **** is wrong with her tonight?” His grip on my arm loosening he folds his arms over his chest, leaving me to look awkwardly at my feet, this is going great.
“Hi, are you Willa? I’m Laurel, aren’t these neanderthals just wonderfully hospitable?” Sliding off the boy’s lap she makes her way warmly to me, her stretchy black sweater fits tightly over a previously unnoticed baby bump. Holding her hand out to me she smiles encouragingly as Atticus and his brother protest the name calling.
“I am, it’s really nice to meet you…” Looking over her shoulder at the guy, I assume they’re married, but really, who the **** knows?
“My husband Beau, the strong and silent type.” She quips dryly, I giggle behind my hand. Atticus looks peeved, some kind of family loyalty? “You must come find me after you meet their Father, I’ll mix you a stiff drink and watch you drink it.” She promises cheekily, I love early alliances, maybe this night won’t be so bad after all.
“I protest to everything she just said,” Beau tells me over Laurel’s shoulder, rolling her eyes she settles in the chair next to him, leaning on his shoulder he looks quizzically at Atticus.
“Hey, have you seen the kid?” Um, wait, who? How many **** brothers do they have? I’m starting to understand why their Mothers such a *****. Scratching his neck uncomfortably he grins sheepishly.
“Yeah, he’s in the bushes outside, taking him a long time to get up though.” Clucking her tongue Laurel scuttles out to check on him. If he really did hurt himself I’m glad someone’s looking out for him. “He’s fine, I told you, he fell.” Explaining to me, then to Beau, who shakes his head. …Is Beau the oldest?
“Well, it’s nice to finally meet my younger brothers girlfriend, nice hair.” Reaching across the table to shake my hand I **** my head at the comment, compliment? Shaking his rough, bear paw of a hand I feel like a little kid, what’s in their genetics to make them so tall?
“Nice to meet you too,” the handshake finally ending, Atticus wraps his arm territory around my shoulder as Beau smiles wickedly. I’m not sure I like how he’s riling up my boyfriend.
“Beau’s the oldest, that’s why he’s got the wife and the whole legacy thing going on.” Gotcha, old, wife, baby-he’s got the whole caboodle. “Anyway, Dad in the living room?” Jerking his head to the far light of a tv coming through an archway into another room Beau crosses his arms over his chest.
“Where else?” Ooh, there’s some contention, I want to unravel all these strange, family secrets, but alas, I only have until Dinner’s over-if I last that long. Shaking his head distastefully Atticus pulls me towards the living room,
“Come on, Willa, let’s go meet the bear.” There’s no way that’s a good sign, maybe it’s just, like, an affectionate nickname? Someone raised all these kids right, one of the parents has to be cool, right?
“Good luck,” Beau calls softly after us as we cross the threshold into the dark living room, I wouldn’t realize how much weight those words carried until much later.