I held my passport in my hands. Ever since I had gotten it back from the embassy I had trouble putting it down. Cara wrapped her arms around my waist and rested her chin on my shoulder.
“Are you going to tell them?” I hesitated before answering her question.
“I-I haven't decided yet.” I felt her sigh. She tightened her arms around me as we stood in silence, the words we weren't saying filling the empty space around us. It wasn't going to be easy, regardless of what I chose.
I took my time packing up my Impreza. “You sure you don't want to come?” I asked, trying and failing to disguise the hope in my voice.
Cara shook her head. She gave me a wry smile. “And listen to your mother talk about how nice your ‘friend’ is while simultaneously trying to pimp you out to every single thirty-something she knows? I'll pass.”
“I'll miss you.”
“I know.” Our goodbye kiss ended in a lingering hug.
It was a good day for a driver. The sky was clear save for a few fluffy clouds and as I drove south more leaves appeared, clinging needily onto their branches. Traffic was light for a holiday, and for that I was thankful. The drive would be long enough without any additional hurdles.
The smells of baking pies overwhelmed me when I walked in the door. Pies, a typical staple of Thanksgiving. Knowing my mom there’d undoubtedly be at least three, apple, pecan, and pumpkin. Maybe a sweet potato. I knew there’d most likely be extra desserts as well. My brother’s new girlfriend was joining us and since she was pregnant, she’d always be part of the family one way or another.
I headed to the kitchen after placing my bags down in the corner of the foyer. My sister Hannah was at the island spiking a glass of Coke with Smirnoff. She widened her eyes and cocked her head toward our mom when we made eye contact. Our signal.
“-since Ashlynn is coming,” my mom was saying, her back turned toward the doorway. “I want her to know Kevin was raised better. He comes from a good, Christian household.”
“Hi mom,” I interrupted. She turned around in surprise and I could see a broad streak of flour across her forehead.
“Honey!” She exclaimed. She broke into a broad smile. “I’m so glad you made it. I invited Gloria for dinner tonight. You remember Gloria? She’s the one from church with the three boys? Well, her lawyer son recently got engaged, but I believe her other two boys are still single.” Hannah made a gagging noise and Mom turned and glared at her.
“Not everyone is as determined to be miserable as you are,” she snapped. She sighed dramatically. “Emma, I suppose you heard about your sister’s latest episode? I nearly had a stroke when I heard…” I stifled a smirk as Mom launched into the story of how my sister broke up with her most recent boyfriend. Hannah had always had a flair for the dramatic. And now she was great at leveraging her status as middle child and a third year medical student to get away with it.
There was nothing wrong with Gloria from church if you didn’t mind obnoxious, nosy, and entitled middle aged women. Not being ones to suffer fools gladly, dinner with Gloria became quite painful for Hannah and me. Luckily, only Gloria and her husband came for dinner. I guess the lawyer son was too busy with his fiance and his brothers both had better things to do. Or, my mother opted not to invite them.
Dinner could have been worse. By the end of the meal my shin was most likely bruised from all the times Hannah kicked me under the table, but it went both ways as I had pinched her thigh at regular intervals as well. My mother, of course, spent much of the meal gushing over the social media pictures of lawyer son’s fiance’s engagement ring and asking about the wedding. From what I gathered, the couple had only been engaged for about a month and had not made any plans, but that did not stop my mother and Gloria from voicing their multitude of opinions.
I didn’t care much about the engagement ring and wedding plans but I did nearly choke on my drink when I realized lawyer son’s fiance was my first kiss. We only ever had that one kiss because it happened behind the bleachers on the last day of eighth grade and her family moved to another part of the state that summer. Turns out, she and lawyer son had met at university. What a small world.
“Emma,” Gloria said after dinner. “I’m so glad you’re growing your hair out. It’s so much better than that short style you used to have. I know they call them pixie cuts to make it sound better, but women with short hair always look like lesbians to me. And it’s such a turnoff for men. Don’t forget my Jeremy is still single. While you’re home you two should get together!” I forced myself to smile. “That would be nice,” I responded through clenched teeth. Gloria smiled and enveloped me in a hug. Her perfume lingered after she let go and I had to fight the impulse not to run and immediately shower.
My mother called me into the kitchen to help her clean up.
“You know,” she said. “Jeremy would be a great catch. He comes from a good family, he has a fulltime job. He’s not as ambitious as his brothers, but Gloria and Jeff will certainly make sure he’s set up for life.”
“Okay,” I responded. I let the lid of the garbage can slam when I finished scraping food into the bag.
“You could show a little more interest you know,” my mother said sharply. I could hear exasperation in her voice.
“Mom. I-” She held up her hand.
“I know what you’re going to say Emma. I just can’t believe you’re still behaving this way at your age. I thought you’d outgrow this phase by now.” I felt my blood run cold. Phase? Was she seriously still thinking that? Feeling hurt, I left her to finish cleaning by herself.
I slept in for as long as possible on Thanksgiving. I heard the noise of Mom cooking and the others up, but opted to remain in bed, listening. Mom had been distracted with Gloria and the engagement the day before but I knew there would be other conversations. Reluctantly, I got up and drank coffee with Hannah in silence on the screened in porch. As I stood to head back inside Hannah tugged on my sleeve.
“Are you going to tell them?” She asked. I sighed.
“I suppose I have to.” She nodded and stared out at the woods that began just beyond our property.
“I don’t know why they aren’t focusing on Kevin. You’d think they’d give it to him.”
“Hannah, you know they don’t think he’s responsible enough. And you’re in med school, which leaves me”
It was a small store but it had provided my father with a good living. At 63, my mother was pushing him to retire and pass on the business. Passing it on to us had always been talked about, but never seriously. But now, with Hannah in medical school and Kevin...Kevin, it had become the elephant in the room. I did not want the business. I had never wanted the business. I did not want to leave my new home in New York to come home to the small town in Virginia where I grew up. Cara and I had plans to teach English in Thailand. I hadn’t said anything to my family because I wanted to make sure the visa came through first. I thought of my passport, safe in a drawer in the apartment in New York. All that was left was letting the landlord know we weren’t renewing the lease and booking our flights. And telling my family.
“There’s my girl,” my father said warmly as I entered the kitchen. I smiled.
“Hi, dad.” He gave me a tight hug.
“We’ve certainly missed you around here,” he said. “I hate to do this to you, especially in the morning, but your mom and I need to talk to you about something. Probably best to do it now, before Ashlynn comes over later and whatnot.”
As if on cue, my mom strode over. “Your friend will be able to handle the rent on her own when you move back here, right?”
My dad coughed. “Debbie, we hadn’t quite gotten to that yet.” I looked at them both. They returned my gaze, expectation in their eyes. Seeing them this way, in pajamas with chipped coffee mugs clutched in their now-wrinkly hands, made the pangs of guilt start. This wasn’t exactly how I had wanted the conversation to go. I took a deep breath.
“Mom, Dad, there’s something you should know.”