“But you know I don’t do well with families, Chaz.”
"Yeah well, this isn’t your crazy shit family and it’s Christmas dinner for Christ’s sake.”
"Couldn’t you just come over after and we could do gifts then?”
He got this incredulous look on his face like I had completely missed the point. I was baffled. I’d met his sister once, when I went over to his apartment while she was there. That wasn’t so bad but the idea of meeting his whole family all at once was terrifying. I didn’t see why I had to go over there just to eat some food and exchange gifts. We could do that just as well here, alone.
“Fine.” He said. And walked out.
I stared after him, not really sure what exactly had just happened. He had never walked out before. We had fought and yelled many times but he had never just…given up. My chest tightened a bit at that thought. Was that a “fine, see you on Christmas” or a “fine, I never want to see you again” or some other version I couldn’t even think of?
I scrubbed my hand over my face and groaned. I had no idea how to be in a relationship. I am not even sure how I got into this one. But the sight of him walking out that door, not sure if he would be coming back through, that was almost as terrifying as Christmas dinner with the family. And hell if I knew how that had happened.
Two days later Chaz still wasn’t talking to me. That fear had settled in my gut like a stone. The fear that I would never see him again, never feel that little jump in my chest when he walked into the room or see that smile he got when he was playing with Lucy, Chloe, Charlie and Oscar or get to pick a fight with him just to watch him get all angry and beautiful.
Those thoughts churned in my head hour after hour as I made deliveries at work, as I fed the kittens, as I tried to sleep, until I realized I had to do something to make it better.
And I had no clue what.
It took me another day to gather the courage to make the call. I had no friends, no one to talk to help me figure this out. So I needed to call Val, Chaz’s sister. She was bubbly and frightening in the way that all 16 year old girls are but otherwise seemed pretty nice. I have no idea how her number ended up in my phone but there it was. A beacon of hope.
“Hi Job!!” She answered cheerfully.
“Hi Val.” I think I sounded like I was confronting a mob boss with a gun to my head, not my boyfriend’s 16 year old sister. I think I would have preferred the mob boss.
Somehow, over the next 15 minutes, Val dragged the whole story out of me. She seemed sympathetic but definitely agreed that I had some major making up to do. To that end I was instructed to meet her at her house after work that day.
As I drove through the typical suburban neighbor my palms started to sweat. The row after row of cookie cutter houses differing only in color was so much like where I had grown up that I felt like I was 15 years old again and heading home after soccer practice.
This was why I didn’t want to do the whole family experience.
I pulled up in front of Chaz’s parents house. It was red brick with white trim and shutters on the windows. There were two cars in the driveway and the front door had been thrown open before I even got out of my car.
Val was calling to me to come inside and I woodenly followed her instructions. She led me into the kitchen. It smelled of sugar cookies and cinnamon. There was a middle aged woman pulling a tray out of the oven. She had her gray streaked brown hair pulled up messily on top of her head. She wore a pair of loose pants and patterned Christmas themed shirt with an apron over top of it all. She put the tray on the counter and turned to look at me. Chaz’s eyes stared out at me from a slightly wrinkled but joy filled face that was smeared with flour.
She looked nothing like my mother who always had her blond hair pulled tightly back from her face, wore perfectly ironed dresses and would never be caught dead with flour smeared across her cheek. But, as Chaz’s mom smiled at me in greeting, she looked exactly like my mother, or at least like the mother I had thought I had. My heart started beating a wild staccato in my chest and I broke out into a full body sweat.
I couldn’t be here.
The last time I had thought I was part of family, it had broken me. I think I started to hyperventilate a bit but those next few minutes were kind of a blur as I lost myself in my panic. Eventually Val’s calming words broke through my consciousness.
“You okay, honey?” I heard from my other side. I felt Chaz’s mom, Cynthia… I think, put her hand on my shoulder. I was mortified. I can’t believe I'd had a break down in front of complete strangers. If I didn’t love Chaz, I think I would have…
Wait. Back track. Love.
Fuck, I was in love with Chaz.
I tensed up in preparation for panic attack number two.
It never came.
“I love him,” I whispered to myself with wonder. It had been so long since I loved someone that I wasn’t really sure what it felt like. Or what I was supposed to do with it. But I felt a grin spread across my face as I whispered, “I love him,” again.
“What’s that, honey?” Cynthia asked me, looking a little concerned that I was muttering to myself after having practically collapsed in her kitchen.
I looked up at her, still smiling, and declared, “I love him and I need to get him back.”
“Get him back?” I realized then, that I had never introduced myself.
I held out my hand. “I’m Job. I was stupid and Chaz is mad at me and Val helped me figure out a plan to fix it but I need your help.” I stopped there realizing I was babbling as bad as Chaz did when he got nervous.
She nodded and stood up, grabbing the wooden mixing spoon sitting nearby on the counter. She waved it at me, admonishing, “I’ll help but you better not hurt him again.”
“Hi Chaz. It’s Val. I’m just calling to say that you had better listen to whatever Job says in the message he is about to leave.”
I had just gotten out of the shower and noticed that a message had come through. I listened, mystified. When had Job talked to my sister? Why had Job talked to my sister? It had been 4 days since I had seen him and I was still mad at him. I couldn’t belive he wouldn’t go to Christmas dinner with me. I was almost ready to give up. He didn’t seem nearly as invested in the relationship as I was. I was falling fast and I really didn’t need another heartbreak right now.
I stared at the phone as I thought about my sister’s message. I was still staring as a text message arrived in my inbox.
Come to dinner tomorrow. My place, 7pm. Please.
I stared some more. He must have talked to Val at some point or she wouldn’t have called me. Which means he had made an effort. I still wasn’t sure where I would let it go, but I texted back, Okay.
I was more nervous than I probably should have been as I knocked on Job’s door. When he opened it I just stared in shock for a moment. He was in his typical jeans and blue work shirt. But over it was an apron. An apron that looked suspiciously like one of my mother’s aprons. He opened the door a little wider and waved me in like a butler or a hostess at a fancy restaurant.
Even as he was shutting the door I was having trouble comprehending what exactly was going on here. Job had set the table with real plates and silverware and lit candles. Something delicious smelling was cooking on the stove. It looked like a tornado had hit the kitchen.
“What is all this?” I asked, motioning around the room in general at the table and the chaos in the kitchen.
He looked nervous all of the sudden. “It’s…umm…Seafood Chowder. Your mom said it was your favorite. She even taught me how to make it.”
I boggled at that. “My mom?”
“Yeah, she was really nice, even when I pretty much had a panic attack in her kitchen.”
I was still having trouble catching up. “Panic attack?”
He looked nervous again.
“I think you better start from the beginning,” I told him.
As he was telling me everything he had done and been through the last few days, I felt myself grow lighter and lighter. My heart beat sped up and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. Job cared. He cared enough to call my sister and talk to my mom and learn to cook my favorite thing and the rest didn’t matter anymore.
I shut him up by kissing him. This time it took a few seconds for his brain to catch up to events. Then he pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me. I didn’t even realize we were moving until he slammed me back against the wall in the kitchen and started to devour my mouth like a man who had been starving for it. For me. Then I stopped thinking and just let myself be taken over by our passion.
Entirely too soon, we were interrupted by the incessant beeping of the cooking timer. I would have said screw food in order to screw Job, but he pulled back and looked at me with this ridiculously proud grin on his face. He dragged me over to the table and sat me down.
“It might not be as good as your mom’s but she did tell me her secret ingredient.” Job said with a nervous smile as he sat my bowl down in front me and turned to go and sit at the other side of the table.
I just smiled at him not believing he had gone through all this trouble just for me. Sometimes it amazed me how far Job had come from the taciturn moody loner I had met five months ago and then the words popped out before I even realized I was going to say them.
“I love you, Job.”
I heard his breath catch and saw his shoulders tense as he turned back around to face me. Shit. I was going to scare him off again. But then I saw his eyes. They were as open as I had ever seen them and they shone with a hope that was almost heartbreaking.
“Yeah?” he asked, barely in a whisper. He gave me courage. I stood up from my chair and walked the half step to be standing right in front of him. I looked him right in those deep wonderful eyes, ”Yeah, Jacob Obadiah Bain. I love you.”
He wrapped me in his arms again and seemed to collapse on me a bit. He buried his head in my neck and whispered in my ear, “I love you, too, Chaz.”
And that was the best Christmas present I could have gotten.
The End...for now.