A light snow began drifting down through the headlights as we drove to the house. Nicole reached over from the passenger seat captured my hand to hold in hers. I couldn’t help but smile. Snow always put her in the mood to snuggle.
The smooth baritone of Bing Crosby serenaded us all the way into my parent’s driveway. She probably didn’t notice it, but her hand squeezed mine a little tighter when we arrived. I knew she was nervous, but mentioning it would only get me punched in the arm. Truth be told, I was a little nervous too. But not for my own sake.
“You ready?” I asked her.
She made some last minute mental preparations as she bunched her lips up to one side and stared at me with her chocolate brown eyes. I bit my lower lip trying to hold back a laugh, but she knew me well enough to know what that meant and released my hand to deliver a backhanded slap to my arm.
“Don’t worry. They are gonna love you.”
I got out and walked around the car to open her door. The snow had not gathered enough to crunch as we walked to the bright red door my father had painted when he went through his I-am-a-handy-kind-of-guy-even-though-I-don’t-know-how-to-fix-anything mid-life crisis a few years back. Mom had hung a live wreath on it and I stopped for a moment to take in the pine scent.
She grabbed my hand as I reached for the gold handle and opened the door. It swung open without a sound. A light WD-40 smell hung in the entrance and I smiled. Guess my dad was not quite finished with his crisis yet. Most of the lights were out and I could see a soft glow from the living room at the end of the entrance hall. My parents were probably in the middle of one of their “shows”. Sometime in the last year they had learned how to use their DVR and it had a similar effect on them as when a thirteen year-old boy first discovers internet porn.
With Nicole in tow, I headed down the short hallway toward the light. Just before reaching the corner I called out, “I hope no one is making out in there…”
An explosion of giggles that could only come from my mother greeted me seconds before her large arms wrapped around me. Mom was surprisingly quick for a larger woman. My dad was slowly getting up from the couch with that crooked smile on his face.
“We haven’t made out in years son. We do stuff that’s way more fun now.”
He winked at me just before my mother turned around to scold him with a single word.
Apparently my parents had discovered Viagra now too. I made a mental note to find out who keeps teaching them all these new things and make them stop.
My dad meandered over and gave me our traditional handshake hug.
“Mom, Dad, this is Nicole.”
My mom smiled a smile that only I knew was fake and shook her hand. I barely caught the raise of her eyebrow as she turned to my father to silently communicate. Being her only child, my mother is a bit… protective over me. Like a friendly bear with a cub cornered by a hunter. Only the hunter’s gun is out of bullets and the bear is very hungry.
It probably doesn’t help that I haven’t dated much. She hasn’t been given very many opportunities to learn how to share me. I’m not exactly shy, but… I think it’s just one of those fears that the longer you avoid it the harder it is to conquer. My mom spoke up first after her silent conversation with my dad.
“Have you guys eaten yet? Why don’t we go out for dinner?”
I told you. Mama bear is hungry.
Nicole spoke too soon trying to make a good impression by agreeing.
“That sounds great!”
She might as well have said, “I have seasoned myself with a blend of seven herbs and spices!” But there was still hope for Nicole. I just needed my mom to ask one little question.
We all piled into dad’s Mercedes and after a few pointless minutes of “Where should we eat?” and “What do you feel like?” we headed to the same place we always go.
Vinny’s Pasta Palace was far from a palace. I’m not sure I have seen a single thing change about the place since we stared going there when I was a kid. Vinyl red and white checkered table cloths covered cheap wooden tables and chairs. The menu was still printed at Vinny’s house. But Vinny always made my parents feel like honored guests and that meant more to my dad than 60″ flat screens on every wall and an “A” rating from the health department.
We were ushered over to “the best seat in the house” which was really just the only booth without tears in the vinyl seating. Normally I would let a lady sit on the inside, but I thought it might be good to keep as much distance between Nicole and my mom as possible.
Nicole looked over the menu with suspicion while my mom and dad peppered me with questions about college life and work. Vinny emerged from the kitchen to greet us personally and take our order. Nicole ordered fettuccini alfredo, I got the lasagna, and my dad ordered a veal parmesan to split with my mom. She cocked her head and looked at him questioningly. They always split the spaghetti.
“I thought we could try something different tonight.”
Dad looked at me and winked. For years I never knew if he could see mom’s bear side. I started to wonder if he ordered a meat dish to help satisfy her taste for blood.
Vinny walked away and mom began to direct her questions to Nicole. She liked to start off heavy and work her way back. Her first question was, “What do you want to do with your life dear?”
Nicole kept a smile on her face as she answered each question sent her way, but under the table she squeezed all the blood out of my hand. Then it happened.
“So how did you two meet?”
This was our chance. I began to tell the story.
“Well there is this little coffee shop on campus called How Brewed! I like to go there Saturday mornings to study. Sometimes I would see this girl that worked there that I thought was really cute. I heard other employees talking to her and learned her name was Casey. One day the guy in front me orders his drink, but when he reaches for his wallet he realized that he didn’t have it with him. Casey was behind the counter that day and she just smiled and told him that this one was on the house. They hadn’t started making his drink yet so it would have been just as easy to cancel it, but instead she decided to be kind. A beautiful girl with character… you know I love that. But when I got up to the counter I noticed that she had an engagement ring.
“I kept seeing her there and I felt bad because I was really attracted to her. She always seemed genuinely kind to people and grew more beautiful each week. One day when she was making drinks she called out my drink and I went to get it, but it had someone else’s name on it.”
At this point Nicole took over the story.
“He said, ‘I think this is my drink, but it’s got someone else’s name on it. It says Nicole.’ I told him ‘That’s my name.’ He looked confused and told me, ‘Everyone here calls you Casey?’ I told him that Casey was my last name. And I slid down the sleeve to show him where I had written my phone number. His eyes darted to my left hand. I knew he liked me from the way he was always staring at me…”
“I did not stare!” I interrupted.
Nicole laughed and said, “Oh yes you did. But you would always look down at my ring.”
She turned her attention back to my parents.
“It was like a reminder to him and he never flirted with me. That was one of the things that really attracted me to him. He always respected that boundary. I told him, ‘It’s a promise ring. My dad gave it to me.’ A big smile broke out on his face. He just stood there not saying anything for a while. Eventually I took pity on him and told him, ‘I have to get back to making drinks now, but feel free to call me sometime.”
As she finished telling the story my dad chuckled and shook his head. I had heard the story a hundred times of how my mom and dad met.
In college my dad was walking through the quad when he bumped into my mom. Both their books went flying and after picking them all up he accidentally got one of hers. Except the “accident” had been planned by my mom for weeks. It was not hard for him to find her again since she had written her name and phone number on the first fifty pages of every book she had that semester.
I watched my mom sniff the air as if trying to decide if this girl was a dangerous hunter or one of her kind.
Before anyone could say anything more Vinny arrived with our plates balanced across his arms. He placed each one down and offered an enthusiastic, “Enjoy!” before wiping his hands on his dirty apron and shuffling back to the kitchen.
After needlessly readjusting my plate in front of me I looked up at my mom again. She still sat there expressionless as my dad shuffled half of his meal onto a separate plate for her. When he finished Nicole folded her hands and bowed her head waiting for someone to pray.
My mom smiled before bowing her own head and I knew it was genuine. As my dad blessed our meal I let out a sigh of relief and thanked God silently for the cow that had sacrificed its young life for their meal. It would be the only blood shed for my mama bear that night.
Author’s Note: Recently I have not been able to keep up with my 1 Story A Week deadline. I apologize, but I would like to use this opportunity to share some exciting news with you all. I am preparing to take a leap in my writing career by moving to spend a year attempting to publish a book of short stories, write a novel, and hopefully get published. In preparation for this I am remodeling my house so that I can sell it. All of this, in addition to my current job, has significantly decreased the amount of writing time I have. Please be patient with me over the next couple of months as I try to balance all of this. I am extremely excited and scared about the journey ahead of me. It is a great risk but if you do not dare greatly how can you expect to do great things? Wish me luck.