The sky was colorless; so was the neighborhood. As Jim's rented midsize gently navigated the right turn onto Shadyway Lane, Bronte was pretty sure she was making the biggest mistake of her life. If she only knew.
Jim glowed with barely-suppressed excitement as Bronte let him drag her along to the Plainfield Plenary (as his family insisted upon calling their annual confab). As they approached the end of their journey, the gleam in his eye finally made sense to her: not eagerness but naivete; not clarity but callowness. Her curiosity about his innocence died utterly as she spied what was obviously their destination halfway down to the cul de sac. It had to be the house with two cars parked in the driveway and two more at the curb in front. None of the others had so much as a bicycle on the porch. The Plainfield front yard also boasted a reflecting globe and a fake birdhouse. These were not, in Bronte's eyes, good signs.
Jim was bouncing on his pleather seat as they pulled up to the curb. "Sugar, you're gonna love my family. Salt of the earth, they are. You'll see. I can't wait to show you off to them." He ran around to open her door for her, an affectation that had already begun to tire her when he had arrived to take her to the airport that morning. He'd acted all gallant as he superfluously guided her into their cab but that was six long hours of travel ago. Now she was booger-eyed and sour-breathed; her back was sore and her legs tingled with lethargy. All she really wanted was a tall G&T and a dim room in which to sip it in peace. She doubted she'd find it here.
She scuffed her way up the concrete walk, glancing from the reflecting globe on its pedestal (yes, it made her look fat, shimmering with its total lack of irony) to the rubberized doormat that offered an undiscriminating "welcome" to anyone willing to trod upon it. With every step of her patent black high heel boots she felt more sure that she should have broken up with Jim two weeks ago rather than to have taken him up on his offer of a Florida vacation. It had sounded fun at first blush but every subsequent revelation about it had diminished the luster - central Florida with nary a beach to be visited; a small town with nothing going on anywhere nearby; every day dedicated primarily to catching up with a family she'd never met before. Hell, she'd spent 27 years getting away from her own damn family. She'd only been seeing Jim for a couple of months now, more out of boredom than anything else, and he'd roped her into this boondoggle of a reunion (oops, "plenary") before she'd realized how pointless it all was going to be. Now she was good and stuck.
The doorbell chimed inside the house and a muted many-throated cry of delight reached her ears. She automatically rehashed the names he'd been drilling her on ever since she'd agreed to come here with him: there were Mom and Pop - Mildred and Richard, though she'd been strongly cautioned not to refer to either of them by name, which would somehow inject unwarranted formality into the proceedings while depriving them of their proper familial honorifics. The eldest of their offspring was Richard Jr, or "Little Ricky" as he, incredibly, apparently preferred to be called - an actuary living, as it were, in Tulsa. He was married to someone or other - Bronte couldn't be bothered to keep spouses straight. Jim was the #2 son, and there were also two sisters - Stacy, a homemaker in the greater Texas buttfuck region, and Mary, who was in hospitality grad school, whatever the hell that was, and who had hooked herself up with a college sweetheart with nauseating traditionalism. Richard (oops, "Pop") had earned his nut as an insurance exec of some mid-level sort, and he and his ever-widening wife had dedicated themselves to raising offspring who, judging from Bronte's knowledge to date of Jim and her impressions of the fleet parked in front of the house, made up in conventionality what they lacked in imagination. She could already smell butter cookies and mayo as she stood on the porch, waiting with fatalistic resignation for the front door to open.
Glancing down, she noticed that one of her black stockings had twisted on her calf during the drive. Automatically she bent to adjust it. The door opened and a lardy voice called out, "Jimmy!" Bronte stood up again, expecting from the timber of the salutation to see Mom at the door - but instead it was Pop, all beaming smile and florid jowl, reaching out to embrace his sub-prodigal. Pop wore a short-sleeve polo shirt in dusty rose, tucked into well-ironed pleated khaki shorts from which his ropey calves emerged like skittle-pins. Shortly behind him, blocking Bronte's view into the house, Mom hovered with eager delight, dressed in a sea-foam green smock under a - good god - baby blue, lace-trimmed apron. Her face and her husband's could have been interchanged without seriously affecting either of their looks. The foyer in which they stood contained an occasional table and a framed reproduction of scriptural art. The walls were three tones of beige.
Mom and Pop embraced Jim with appreciative squeals and then fell back to meet Bronte with restrained enthusiasm, her black frock and stockings and shiny pointy boots apparently putting their corn-fed hospitality to the test. "How nice to meet you, dear," one of them mumbled. Bronte stood with her arms dangling at her sides, distinctly conscious of the passing of time. Then Mom and Pop sidled back into the living room, and Bronte started paying closer attention.
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I seem to write stories that are just getting started when I stop. This one was inspired by, but NOT based on, a family reunion trip I recently took.