Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Year of Sundays, ch 4 pt 1


Chapter 4 - May 22

Part 1 of 2

Silas was supposed to bring Jeremy, so absolutely everyone was here: Elizabeth and her husband, Eric; Melanie with her ten year old son, Caleb; my husband, Sam, and our nine year old daughter, Annabelle; and, of course, Josie. The whole fam-damily had turned out to meet The Boyfriend.

We hadn't gathered large like this for a while. By March, Mom was fading like a week-old helium balloon. She had no energy for new people, and saved the little she had for her children, grandchildren, and her closest friends.

There was the sound of a car outside. Drum roll... and...

It wasn't them.

Elizabeth kept herself busy in the kitchen. She decided we should feast on homemade lasagna, garlic bread, and salad. Every time I went in to offer to help, her scowl of disapproval seemed deeper. I felt sad that this was so hard on her, but when I tried to talk to her, I didn't get anywhere. "It's no different, Sis, than if we did or didn't like a guy one of us was dating. We check him out this week, and tell Silas what we think next week. Same as we've always done for each other."

"Silas already knows what I think," she said, practically spitting the words across the kitchen. "It's not the same at all. In fact, I can't believe you and Melanie are willing to expose your children to their behavior."

"Um. What behavior would that be?"

"Gay behavior – you know what I mean."

"Well, honestly, I doubt they're going to have anal sex on the dining room table right in the middle of dinner."

"That's disgusting. What I mean is I can't believe you all are just going to act like this is normal."

I really didn't want to touch this line of conversation, but it would have to be addressed at some point, so this was as good a time as any. "Gay people don't hide anymore, Sis – it is normal. My kid isn't going to turn out gay because she met her gay uncle's boyfriend when she was nine. Just... remember that they're human, okay? I mean, Silas and Jeremy aren't bugs in a pond. They're people, and they have joys and hurts like everyone else. They bleed, same as the rest of us, inside and out. And Silas is the same brother we loved when we were kids. Being gay doesn't change that, does it?"

"I don't know yet, Jessie. I haven't even got time to get used to the idea, and now you all want to throw this... this person... into my face. This is my family, too – and I'll do my best to be nice – but I have standards and morals that the rest of you don't have, and I'm not going to be made to feel sorry for it."
 
Before I could answer, Josie's light, musical voice sang out. "They're here! And he's absolutely adorable!"

I left the kitchen and sat down at the dining room table to nibble some peanuts. The husbands and Melanie were in the den watching a ball game. Caleb and Annabelle were exploring the attic. They'd never been allowed to play up there before, and it was nice to have them happily occupied. Josie joined me at the table. None of us went to the door. Sundays were mandatory in this family, but they weren't formal.

Silas came into the room first, and he looked cranky. He set two bottles of wine in front of me. "My two youngest sisters, Jessie and Josie," he said, pointing at us in turn. Then he pointed at Jeremy. "The pain in my ass."

Josie and I both laughed, and greeted him in unison.

"We've heard so little about you," I told him. "But welcome to Sacred Sunday."

Josie was right about absolutely adorable. Jeremy was a full head shorter than Si, with merry blue eyes, blonder than blond hair, and a pretty smile with even, white teeth. He looked all of twelve years old. Elizabeth was going to have a stroke.

Jeremy said, "Hi," to us, reaching in turn to shake our hands. Then, "Wow, big turn out."  He looked at Silas. "I thought you said everybody would be here?"

I pointed to the den. "Boys and Melanie are in there, watching some game or another."

"Twins game?" Jeremy asked.

"Not a clue," I said. "I don't watch television, so if you have any juicy political gossip, feel free to fill me in."

Silas said, "I believe my sister, Elizabeth, is the one crashing pans around in the kitchen, and being very insulted that I'm gay. Consider yourself warned."

He took Jeremy into the den to meet Sam, Eric, and Melanie. I set one wine bottle in the middle of the table, and brought the other into the kitchen and put it in the fridge. "He's young, but cute," I told Elizabeth. She just sighed.

When I returned to the dining room, Silas and Jeremy were sitting side by side at the table. "They're watching NASCAR," Jeremy told me.

"God help us all," Silas said with a smirk.

I couldn't stop staring at my brother. It was like he was altogether a different person than the man I was accustomed to. I was used to him lurking quietly in the background, tense like a slingshot, ready to fling mean comments like stones at a moment's notice. But he was not in the background now. Oh, no. He filled the room with a weird energy that I couldn't identify, eyes flashing, mouth twitching with amusement. The comments were there, but some of the edge was off, like they were meant to entertain, not hurt.

"You can stop staring at me, Jessie," Silas said. "We're not going to do anything naughty, I promise."

"Well, damn, that's disappointing."

"I might do something naughty," Jeremy said with a cute little grin, and leaned up to whisper something in Silas's ear.

Silas cuffed the side of Jeremy's head. "You wouldn't dare."

"Are you daring me?"

"I don't know about him, but I double-dare you," Josie said, grinning.

"Don't egg him on," Silas ordered. "The easier we can make this whole thing on Liz, the better. If you two, er, three, behave, you'll be my favorite girls of all time."

Josie and I hooted at that, and raised eyebrows at each other, and she stage-whispered, "Well, I guess we know which one's the bottom."

Silas shook his head. "I knew better than to bring him here. What on earth was I thinking?"  He groaned loudly. "Sisters, damn it. I have way too many sisters."

Elizabeth came out of the kitchen, wearing oven mitts and carrying a lasagna pan. She dropped it to the table with a thud, said, "We can eat," and fled back into the kitchen, managing not to look at either Silas or Jeremy.

"Josie, can you call the kids? I better help her," I said, and followed Elizabeth.

"Isn't he cute?" I asked, picking up the salad bowl and a basket of garlic bread.

"My God, Jessie, he's two!" she exclaimed.

"Nah. At least twelve."

She sighed. "I don't know if I can deal with this. I didn't picture him so young."

"Just try. He seems very nice," I told her. "Really."

The adults, including Josie and Jeremy, sat at the dining room table. I set up a card table for Caleb and Annabelle, and Caleb was instantly annoyed. "Why do I have to sit at the baby table?"
 
Annabelle would have been fine, if Caleb hadn't complained, but she took offense to the word 'baby.' "We’re not babies!"

"Deal with it, kids," I said. "The big table is full."  I fixed their plates, and poured their milk. They could have fixed their own plates, but Annabelle still spills more often than not. "Remember to use your napkins, please."

We adults passed food around and filled our plates in a stiff silence that seemed to last for hours. Silas popped the cork on the wine, and the bottle started its way around the table, also in silence. It would have been deadly except for Annabelle's constant commentary, mostly directed at Caleb. "Ooh, lasagna. Don't you just love lasagna, Caleb? Well, spaghetti's my favorite, except for garlic bread – garlic bread is really my favorite, except for the crust, I don't really like the crust."

It was Elizabeth, finally, who spoke. "Forgive me for asking, Jeremy, but how old are you?"

He stopped inhaling food to answer. "I'm twenty-two. Man, this lasagna is great. Can I have some more?"

The lasagna pan made its way along the table to him.

But he wasn't off Elizabeth's hook yet. "And what do you do?"

"I just graduated from the Main U with a degree in Entrepreneurial Management. I'm checking out graduate programs up here."

"You're planning to move from Minneapolis to Duluth?" Josie asked, surprised. "Everybody I know wants to do the opposite."

"I love it up here," Jeremy said.

Silas snorted.

Jeremy looked sideways at Silas and batted long, pretty eyelashes at him. "What?"

Silas widened his eyes, apparently in an effort to look innocent. "Stalking me in two cities isn't enough, you have to add a third?"

Jeremy stuck his tongue out at Silas, then asked, "So what does everybody else do?" before attacking his plate again.

The boy liked his food. I suspected the questions were a ploy to get someone else talking so he could eat. After all, he still had garlic bread and salad to devour.

Silas ran down the quick and dirty details, sister by sister.

"Elizabeth is a church secretary, and only God knows what her husband, Eric, does – I've never been able to figure it out."

"I'm the head of business operations for St. Mary's Medical Center," Eric said in a droll voice. "I make sure the paper-pushers push paper in a timely and efficient manner."

"There you go," Silas said, spreading his arms. "Something you can do with your little degree in business, Jeremy, it's all coming clear to me now.

"Melanie," he went on, "is momentarily unemployed, but she's got a degree in psychology, so she knows all about the dangers of staying in the closet. If you're having head problems, she's your girl."

"Hmm, so far I haven't had any trouble with that head."

Elizabeth cleared her throat. "Could we not have penis jokes at the dinner table?"

Jeremy had the grace to look embarrassed. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"Moving right along," Silas continued, "Jessie – well. Jessie doesn't really work. She writes books that she doesn't publish."

"Hey!" I defended myself. "It's not for lack of trying."

"Well, you should write something people want to read." 

"What do you write?" Jeremy asked.

"Mostly gay vampire novels," I said.

"I'd read that," he said with a cute, sassy smile.

"I'll get you a copy."

"Cool."

"She's gayer than we are."  Silas told him, winking at me. "She's also the family secret-keeper. Jessie knows more about everyone than anyone suspects.

"Jessie's husband," Silas nodded at Sam, "owns a towing company. He doesn't come to Sundays very often, but I guess he has a good excuse. Today must be an extra-special occasion."

"Excuse, my ass," I said. "It's a cop-out, pure and simple. Sam is terrible at sitting still and doing nothing, so he chooses to work all the time."

"I choose to work all the time," Sam countered, "because you choose not to. Somebody's got to pay for everything, and it sure isn't you, Slacker."

Everybody laughed, because it's been well-discussed around this table how much I hate being tied to a real job, especially one that has regular hours and requires getting up in the morning. "I'll sell something one of these days. Maybe I'll write the next selection for Oprah's book club."

Si groaned. "From gay vampires to Oprah – now that's versatile."

"I do aim to please," I said.

"Okay, okay," he said. "It's Josie's turn now. My baby sister is a college student at UMD. I forget what you're going for, Jo-Jo."

"Communications."

"That's it. Josie will become an expert at communicating."

Silas had a tone during all of this that was condescending, and clearly not nice.

"Stop it, Si, your arrogance is not attractive," I said. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," he said. "Not a fucking thing."

"This is Mother's table," Elizabeth said with a scowl. "And there are children present. You can please watch your language." 

"Sorry, Liz," Silas said, but he didn't look sorry.

"The food is good, Elizabeth, thanks for cooking."  Melanie, the peace-keeper, attempted to distract us.

"You're welcome."

"And what do you do again?"  Jeremy asked Silas, with a wicked sly smile.

Eric's fork clattered against his plate. "You don't know? But you're... um. Well, you know, dating or whatever."

"Yeah, but I only see him on weekends. And it's not like we do all that much talking. I mean, I'm young, and I have a voracious need for – "

Silas cut him off with a voice like steel. "Jeremy, that's enough."  His eyes were on Elizabeth, who stared at her plate, face pinched.

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