Lizzy knocked on the front door and pushed it open quietly. “Hello?”
“Come in,” her mother called unenthusiastically.
Lizzy set down the carrying case she was holding, out of view in the foyer, hung up her jacket on the coat rack, and stepped into the living room, where everyone was sitting silently on couches, drinking tea.
She stopped for a moment and surveyed the room, deciding who to sit next to.
Her mother and father were a no-go; they were the only two on their couch, but there was a space in between them, and only an amueter would be so dumb as to sit there.
John, Hannah, and Alice, the cousins, were crammed onto a two-cushioned couch, all of them with a phone in hand. Hannah was holding a glistening Starbucks cup, balancing it on her leg, drops of condensation darkening her pants in a wet ring.
That left Rose and Damien, sitting next to each other across from the parents, and Jared, boredly biting his nail, curled up on the arm of their couch.
Lizzy, finding no satisfactory place to sit, dropped to the carpeted floor, easily twisting herself into a cross-legged position and leaning back on her hands. “Sorry to keep everyone waiting. Happy birthday, Rose.”
Rose nodded her head cordially and took a drink out of her mug of chai. One of the cats, Timothy, was rubbing his head against her foot. She petted him absentmindedly.
“Well, it’s nice see you all,” Lizzy’s mother began stiffly. “We haven’t had all of us in one place since Christmas. I can’t believe it’s been that long.”
“Many of you might have noticed the new addition, Charcoal,” her father added, indicating a black-haired, green-eyed cat in a circle on his lap. “We got her two weeks ago.”
Everyone nodded solemnly.
“But that’s about all our news,” her mother continued. “Before we get to presents, does anyone else have something to share?”
“I’m dating someone,” Hannah said around a mouthful of frappuccino. “He’s majoring in business.”
“That pays well,” said Lizzy’s father, scratching Charcoal behind the ears. “I’m happy for you.”
And they left it at that.
“I’m getting my license soon,” John offered, looking up from his phone. “I just need to pass the road test.”
“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” her mother told him. She looked around. “Anyone else?”
Before anyone had a chance to respond, Lizzy interjected, “I’ve got something, actually.”
“What is it, Elizabeth?” her mother asked.
Lizzy cleared her throat. “I left it in the foyer. I’ll go get it.” She stood up and walked behind the wall that concealed her from view of the living room.
She opened the creaky door to the carrying case and took something soft out of it. She walked back into the living room and set the ball of brown and white fur on the ground. “This is Oregano.”
A moment of shocked silence, then a teacup shattered.
Everyone started shouting.
The beagle cowered, confused, between Lizzy’s ankles. Lizzy picked him up and stroked his head, trying to decipher everyone’s screaming.
It went so fast she couldn’t.
“A dog! What right does she have? Thinking she can bring a dog into this establishment? This house! The nerve of that girl! We ought to--”
“I can’t believe this is happening. Elizabeth, my own daughter, the girl I raised--”
“This is all your fault! If you hadn’t befriended that stupid dog-lover a year ago, none of this would ever have happened! You’re rubbing off on her! Get out of here, now!”
“To be fair, it is kind of cute--”
“Ohhh, so you’re on her side now! Get away from me, you filthy--”
“I wasn’t saying that! I’m just saying, maybe it isn’t so big of a--”
“What? A deal? That this cowardly, bubbly, friendly, and extroverted on top of all that, young woman brings a dog--a dog--into this house? Do you see her shirt? She’s wearing yellow! Yellow. In our presence. With a dog! What right does she think she has--”
The shouting continued, all of it about but none directed at her. Lizzy cradled Oregano and wondered if her eardrums would suffer permanent damage.
After about two minutes, her mother stood up from the couch and stormed over to Lizzy. “Are you insane?” she screamed, tears streaming, shaking her finger in Lizzy’s face. “Where is Elizabeth? Elizabeth would never ruin this family’s reputation. Elizabeth would always consider the honor this house has forever held. Elizabeth wouldn’t wear yellow, and Elizabeth certainly would not have the nerve or possess the stupidity to own a dog!”
Lizzy shrugged. “I go by Lizzy now.”
Her mother reeled, holding her hand to her forehead, faint with disbelief. “ELIZABETH!”
Lizzy’s father didn’t even move to help his wife. He was pacing around the room. He stopped in front of Lizzy and spoke menacingly. “You are never to speak of this night again. Every trace of this dog will be eliminated. You are to take a shower and we are to burn your clothes. I am to get my shotgun and end this dog’s life, quickly. We are to book a carpet cleaning service and repaint the room. You are to get rid of every hint of this dog’s existence and never, never think about it again. Do I make myself clear?”
Lizzy watched Rose out of the corner of her eye. She was sobbing into Damien’s shoulder. “And on my birthday--she made me look at a dog on my own birthday--”
LIzzy looked back at her father. His face was a few inches from hers, his dark eyes dark with fury. He was shooting threatening looks at the dog buried in Lizzy’s sweater. She looked her father in the eyes and said, clearly, one simple word.
His face burned. “Have we not instilled in you tradition since the day you were born? Have we not taught you to ignore your cat allergies, which we were all reluctant to overcome but dismissed, and become one with felines? Have we not surrounded you with cats in your childhood and sent you away with cats when you moved out? Have we not done all these things, and more? What have we done to deserve this?”
Lizzy didn’t know how she knew, but someone, she knew her father was about to grab Oregano. She shifted back a bit, then bolted for the foyer.
More screams, and then pounding footsteps followed her. Lizzy ran out the door, leaving her coat, and made her way down the front walkway towards her car. Frantically, she unlocked the door, got in the car, and slammed the door shut. She threw Oregano into the passenger’s seat and jammed her key in the ignition.
Her family ran towards her.
Lizzy jerked the car into reverse and swerved down the driveway, her headlights off, her seatbelt ignored. She made it out into the road, threw it into drive, and zoomed away.
She could hear her family’s cries behind her. “You’re disowned! You are a disgrace! I swear I will find that dog and--”
Lizzy kept her foot on the gas and drove away into the night.