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Fiction Horror

“You just had to bring him home, didn’t you Barb.” Tom’s lips are so close to my ear the words tickle.


“It’s what you do when a relationship hits a certain point. I met his parents at Thanksgiving so I’m bringing home to meet Mom and Dad.”


“And me.” Tom’s eyes danced the same way they did when we were little and he would tease me.


“You going to introduce him to Nana?”


“Don’t be stupid!”


“I’m not the one being stupid.”


“I think he wants to ask Dad’s permission to marry me.”


“We definitely need those parking genes in the family. You sure he has a driver’s license?”


“Be nice for once in your life.”


“Found your escape hatch then? Just going to cut and run.”


“I’m not spending the rest of my life with Mom and Dad, like you. I’m going to have a life.”


“Some of us don’t catch breaks.”


“You haven’t even tried.”


“If Jack meets Nana you won’t be getting a ring.”


“We are here for one day, please don’t ruin this for me.” Tom’s features begin to blur.


“So what’s the plan? After today do we never see you again?”


“Thought that would make you happy.”


“What are you two talking about?”


I blink back tears as Jack joins us. I look at the front of the house that looks duller and older than I remember. The whole town looks old and tired. Was it always old and tired?


“Baby sister wants me to act like a normal human being for once.” Tom stretchs his hand out to shake Jack’s hand, buying me time. “I’m the reason she hasn’t brought you home before. I’m Tom, the black sheep of the family.”


“I am the black sheep of my family too. I am the only one who is not going into medicine.”


I smile a smile I hope looks more natural than it feels while willing my muscles to relax. We just need to make it through a few hours and then we will be back on the road heading to The Lodge for a skiing holiday with Jack’s family.


“What do you say we take a stroll around the neighborhood? I can show you my old hangouts.”


“We just got here. We have not said hello to your parents yet.”


“Just stretch our legs after the drive.”


“Come on Sis, you can stretch your legs here and show Jack all of your real hangouts,” Tom said.

“Barb was a homebody with her nose always in a book.”


Jack and Tom share a laugh. I bristled remembering all the studying I did knowing a scholarship was my only way out. I’m not athletically gifted so studying was my only hope.


“Let’s get out of the cold. Dad’s in the living room ranting at the TV as usual.”


“God damn it! This is why the working man can’t catch a break now a days. There was a time when a working man was respected, but not anymore. God damn.”


“Hi Dad. This is Jack.”


“Who?”


“Jack, my boyfriend. I told Mom he was coming for Christmas dinner.


“Hm.”


“It is a pleasure to meet you sir.”


“Here let me take those presents Jack. I’ll put them under the tree,” Tom takes the gift bags and dumps them under the tree. The same artificial tree they’ve had as long as I can remember. The one they store in Nana’s room the rest of the year.


“Sir, it is a real pleasure to meet you Mr. Simpson.” Jack steps forward to shake Dad’s hand.


“Sir? At least this one has some manners. Not like most kids these days. There’s no respect for a working man these days John.”


“Jack, Dad. His name is Jack.”


“Uh, Jack then. Good solid name, Jack.”


“Thank you sir, I want you to know that while I am getting a degree in business I have every respect for the men who really make the world function.”


“Well trained.” Tom whispers in my ear.


“I like this one Barb.”


“Not that Sis has brought many guys home to meet Dad.”


“Take off your coats and stay awhile.”


The sound of something shattering in the kitchen makes me jump. A plate or bowl or mug just ended its useful life.


“I’ll hang up your coat Sis,” Tom helps me slip out of it. “You can go help Mom in the kitchen.


*****


“I don’t think I can do this.” Mom’s standing over the remains of a mug.


“Mom, it’s ok. Get the broom while I pick up the bigger pieces.”


“I can’t do this Barb. What were you thinking bringing that boy here?”


“I’m thinking he’s going to ask permission to marry me.”


“You didn’t need to bring him here for that.”


“It would be a little awkward to meet up at the local pizza shop and expect Jack to ask Dad with all of us around the table.”


Mom hands me the dust pan to hold while she sweeps up the smaller shards.


“Jack took me to meet his folks; I think to get the nod. I had to invite him home. We’re only here for a few hours and then we’ll head to The Lodge.”


“His family has money?”


“They aren’t moguls but they are comfortable.”


“Comfortable is good. Comfortable would be nice.”


“Everything is going to be just fine. Once we get married we’ll host you for the holidays. That will be nice, won’t it?”


“Oh, I hope you are right. I can’t cope otherwise.”


“What were you getting the mugs down for?”


“I thought a mug of hot cider would be nice after your drive. You know your Dad hates eggnog.”


“I’m not fond of eggnog either.” Possibly the only thing I have in common with Dad. “Let me help you.”


*****


“Look what Mom made.” I have the mugs of cider balanced on the oval tray with the fruit painted on it. The same tray Mom would bring my meals on when I was sick in bed. The tray handed down from Nana’s mom.


“Mom’s really rolling out the red carpet for you Jack,” Tom lifts two mugs from the same side of the tray unbalancing it.


“Thank you Mrs. Simpson. I just want to say how much I appreciate being included in your Christmas celebrations.”


“Oh, I just hope my cooking is good enough.”


“Nothing wrong with some good working man food.”


“I think a homemade meal made with love is the best tasting thing in the world, Mrs. Simpson.”


“Wonder if that movie is on where that kid dresses up as a rabbit before shooting his eye out.”


“They have it on channel 28 Bill. We looked it up last night.”


“I know! I know. Just wondering if Jack here likes the simpler thing.”


“I triple dog dare you to put A Christmas Story on.” A smile of approval plays across Dad’s lips.


“Well, as much fun as this is I think I’ll head out for a walk.” Tom finishes his cider in one gulp.


“Going to find your connection?”


“I don’t use Dad, you know that.”


“You’re just the one poisoning all the other guys so when a decent job opens up they can’t pass a piss test.”


“Later.” Tom calls over his shoulder as he heads out the door slipping on his jean jacket.


“Why don’t you go help your Mom in the kitchen while us men watch the movie.”


“That’s a good idea Bill. It should be done when the movie ends.”


“Uh, Jack?”


“We’ll be fine little girl.” Dad motions to the chair by him. “Sit in this chair Jack. It’s a better view of the TV.”


“Thank you, Mr. Simpson.”


*****


“Barb, you have got to get that boy out of here.”


“Mom, everything is fine.”


“My nerves can’t take this.”


“We can’t leave until we eat.”


“You’re right, but then you have to leave.”


“We have to open presents.”


“Do we?”


“Yes. We will eat, open presents, and then we’ll hit the road.”


“Oh Barb! My nerves can’t take this.”


“Everything alright in there? Need any help?”


“Everything’s fine Jack. All under control.”


“I just can’t do this.”


“Did you take the medicine the doctor prescribed for you?”


“No. With everything going up we can’t afford it.”


“I see Dad still has his smokes.”


“He’s switched to generic Barb. He’s trying.”


“I could have sent you some money.”


“I’m not begging off my little girl.”


“If the medicine was helping…”


“All it did was slow me down and make my mind slow.” Mom glances in the direction of Nana’s room. “It didn’t help. No medicine can really help.”


“I wish I knew a way out.”


“You have a way out Barb. Jack seems like a really good boy.”


“He is Mom. He’s a real good man.”


“His family has money?”


“Mom, I told you they are comfortable.”


“Oh, yes. Sorry. It’s just my nerves. Comfortable is good. Comfortable would be nice.”


“Is it too soon to put the potatoes on?”


*****


Do you think the movie is over?”


“Give it a few more minutes, then we can dish everything into the bowls. I’m using Aunt Sylvia’s china, I hope that’s ok.”


“Thank you for being so supportive.”


“Only want the best for my kids. You know that.”


“I’ll help you wash up afterwards.”


“No!” Mom grasps my hand hard enough to make me pull away. “No, you promise me you will get that boy out of here. Please.”


“Ok Mom. I’ll tell Jack we need to go so we don’t get caught in a storm.”


“My nerves can’t take it Barb. My nerves can’t take it.”


“Can a working man get a meal around here?”


“The movie’s done Barb. Start getting the potatoes and green beans in their bowls. I’ll get the ham.”


“Let me do that Mom. Go tell them it’s coming out.”


*****


Dad is in his chair at the head of the table while Mom is half in and half out of her chair at the foot of the table. This is the first meal I can remember where Mom isn’t the one bringing the food in from the kitchen. I bring the ham in last along with the carving knife and place it in front of Dad. Tom is on his side of the table just like when we were kids while Jack and I are on my side with Jack sitting by Mom.


“So how was the movie? Did they sneak in a surprise ending?” I ask to break the silence.


“No, they stuck with the Chinese turkey ending,” Jack said. “Everything smells good Mrs. Simpson.”


“Oh, it’s nothing special.”


“Don’t mock a classic movie little girl. That movie will still be showing long after we are pushing up daisies.”


“If we make it that far,” Tom said.


“Oh, God! I’m so sorry!”


“It’s ok Mom. I’ll go get the rolls.”


“Yes, the rolls. I’m so sorry, my mind seems to be somewhere else.”


“Doc gave her a prescription for her nerves but now a days a working man can’t afford to take medicine and put food on the table.”


“Mom’s just worried Jack and I will get caught in a storm on our way to The Lodge. She thinks we should head out after dinner.”


“Yes! Yes, you should go after dinner.”


“There were no storms in the forecast when I checked. We can stay as long as we want.”


“Awe Jack, if my wife says there’s going to be a storm, there’s going to be a storm. She can feel the weather in her bones. She’s more reliable than those weather people. Besides, it would be a shame to wait for an answer,” Dad said with a wink.


“Answer to what?” I ask.


“Mrs. Simpson, I really would like to spend some time with you.”


“You’re spending time with us right now son. You go ahead and get Barb to The Lodge. We ain’t going nowhere.


“If you insist Mr. Simpson.”


“Call me Bill.”


“Sorry, Bill.”


“That’s that then.”


“What about presents?” Tom asks.


“We will open them during desert. We having your apple pie?”


Mom blushes. She knows the way to Dad’s heart.


*****


“You drive careful now. Have a good time.” Mrs. Simpson waives as the car disappears around the corner.


“They’re hardly likely to have a bad time at a place called The Lodge,” Tom said.


“You never know.”


“That boy is going to ask our little girl to marry him.”


“Oh, Bill! Really Bill?”


“Yes. Took him most of the movie but he finally came out with it. I made him sweat a little asking about his prospects.”


“Oh Bill, Barb says his family is comfortable.”


“A site more than comfortable I’d say. Maybe they pass as comfortable in their world.”


“Comfortable is good. Comfortable would be nice.”


“There was a time a working man could provide a comfortable living for his family.”


“I need to go for a walk,” Tom said.


“You are not going anywhere until we toast Christmas with Nana.”


“The wine and glasses are on the counter in the kitchen. I’ll get them.”


“Let Tom get them.”


Tom walks to the kitchen. The bottle is already open. He laces the three wine glasses through his fingers then picks up the bottle with the other. Mr. Simpson leads the way through the house to the end of the hall stopping at the closed door.


Mr. Simpson knocks three times then opens the door without waiting for a reply. One by one they slip into the room and take their positions at the foot of the bed. The light streams into the room from the hall casting their shadows over the bed.


“I’ll pour,” Mr. Simpson said.


When all three glasses are charged they raise them in unison. The unison obtained through repeating a ritual.


“To Nana on the seventeenth anniversary of her death. Merry Christmas from your loving family.”


All three take a sip from their glasses.


“Now you two can get about your business. I’ll fill Ma in on the news.” Mr. Simpson moves to the chair by the head of the bed and flips on the light on the nightstand. Mrs. Simpson turns away to avoid looking on her mother-in-law’s mummified body.


“At least Barb won’t need to keep her mother-in-law around for her Social Security check,” Tom said as he closes the door behind them.


“Comfortable is good. Comfortable would be nice.”

October 22, 2020 16:45

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6 comments

Julia Janus
22:21 Nov 03, 2020

I enjoyed the story, thought it had an amazing story line. I did get confused who was talking though. Also, you jumped back and forth a lot I don’t know how you would have made it roll better though. Other than that, I kept asking what are they hiding and then it made sense at the end. When they went into the room I thought it was creepy, creepy is good! Loved the names they are older and I think older names are pretty.

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Andrea Kepple
17:50 Nov 06, 2020

Thank you for your feedback.

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Frank Lester
04:03 Oct 29, 2020

A very good story with a great twist at the end. I was a little confused at times with the dialog and who was speaking. A few strategically placed tags would quickly clear that up. Very nice. Good job. Stay well.

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Andrea Kepple
16:30 Oct 29, 2020

Thank you for the feedback.

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13:47 Oct 27, 2020

Andrea great story! I was on the edge of my seat wondering what the heck was going on with Nana the whole time! Very creepy and totally unexpected. I was definitely waiting for a ghost or something. You did this incredibly well - thank you for sharing!

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Andrea Kepple
19:00 Oct 27, 2020

Thank you for the feedback!!!

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