36. Cat? Meet Bag
“Mom?” Nate seemed stunned and pulled away from Leila. Not much, just enough to turn to meet his mother’s gaze with one hand still on Leila’s waist.
Leila shifted as if to move away, but Nate pulled her into him, tucking her into his side. He figured if this was going to happen now, there was no point beating around the bush.
“I’m glad I only had two children,” Mathilde said slowly, face inscrutable. “I seem to keep creeping up on them when they’re kissing someone I had no idea they were involved with.” She turned to Leila. “Lovely to see you, dear.”
Mathilde smiled at Leila, gave side eye to Nate as if thinking and when were you going to tell me about this?
Nate seemed to cotton on to her thinking, knowing his mother all too well.
“If it makes you feel any better, you’re the first to know about us,” he told her, squaring away a stupid grin.
“Since when?” Mathilde asked, her eyes flickering from Nate’s to Leila’s, then back to Nate’s.
“We’ve been seeing each other for about a month,” Leila said. “We just decided to come clean before you... happened by.”
“The wedding? Is that where you two went off to?” the older woman asked. “I for sure thought it was only your fear of being center of attention, Leila. Nate hates it as well. Big gatherings aren’t really his thing.”
“We didn’t want to say anything today if you don’t mind,” Nate said. “It’s Mason’s first birthday and we didn’t want to steal his thunder, but I was planning on letting you all know. Soon.”
“Why keep it a secret at all? It’s not like it was when Carl was concealing his relationship with your sister,” Mattie stated matter-of-factly.
“Leila’s still Violet’s best friend,” Nate reminded his mother. “She was afraid of what Violet would say.”
Mattie scoffed, rolling her eyes.
“Violet would be the last one to say anything after all that went down with her father and Carl. If that’s your only excuse, it’s a mighty pathetic one.”
“We also wanted to see if it would work out,” Leila offered up. “No use making anyone feel uncomfortable if this didn’t work out.”
“Please. After Carl and Violet, this is like a passing breeze. Gentle and completely harmless,” Mathilde stated. “What’s really uncomfortable is knowing that your son in law’s man bits are sporting jewelry. That is excruciatingly uncomfortable. It’s like knowing your pastor’s love life is filled with BDSM and Daddy issues.”
Leila laughed, cut it off and cleared her throat. She schooled her features to look serene. The Daddy thing was too much on the money and she hadn’t been able to keep the laugh back.
Mathilde cocked her head a bit at Leila, shook her head and looked back at Nate.
“You’ll tell them after the party,” Mathilde said. “Or I will. I won’t have this happening like last time. A whole week went by and the damned anxiety of it put me off my food and made my bowels quite irritable.”
“Good grief, Mom,” Nate said, pinching his eyes together. “Can we not talk about bowel movements and such.” He blinked. “And penis piercings. This conversation is awkward enough without it.”
Mathilde shrugged her shoulders elegantly. “As you wish. Honestly, you’d think I raised the two prudest children on the planet. You’re 25, Nathan, almost 26. If you haven’t had some sort of sexual experience before this you wouldn’t be with Leila.”
Mathilde blinked and looked over at Leila.
“No offense, dear.”
“None taken,” Leila said with a smirk. Mathilde was well aware of Leila’s reputation.
“Fine,” Nate said, eager to get off the subject of sex with his mother. Well, not sex with his mother but...
You get my drift.
“You’ll tell them all at the end of the party,” Mathilde said, not posing it as a question.
“Yes, Mother,” Nate grumbled. “After the party.”
Mathilde gave both of them a brilliant smile and winked at Leila before turning around and heading off down the hall.
The woman looked positively thrilled.
Children. You could let loose a hundred toddlers on the streets of New York City and they would destroy that town faster than a marauding pack of wild dogs.
Fortunately for Mathilde and Harry, all the destruction was outside in the backyard. Little pieces of fake flowers from the ‘impromptu’ magic show, bits of grass torn where wobbly knees met the ground, and food. Food everywhere. It was a wonder any of the kids actually ingested any nutrients at all.
Safeway and Lucky’s was going to run out of Wet Wipes sometimes later today.
Leila and Nate helped clean up the mess in the backyard. Mathilde and Harry had retired to inside the house, of course. Carl, Aiden, Constance, and Violet all helped out with cleaning while Ramon and Mariana put the smaller children to bed. They’d be out later to help clean up. Unfortunately, it was taking longer for them since Little Lizzie and Mason were high on a sugar rush.
And Mason had wanted to open and play with every toy before taking his nap. The look of righteous indignation when his mother said the word ‘nap’ was pretty fucking priceless. It was as if she had said ‘no desserts for the remainder of your lifetime’ instead.
“Violet?” Leila asked, picking up a rogue piece of wrapping paper she didn’t recognize. It had somehow become lodged under a table leg and she was struggling to pull it out.
“Yeah?” Violet asked from her bent position to try to pick up a discarded plate of food. Again, under a table.
“This is awkward to tell you, so I’m just going to blurt it out there,” Leila said. She took Violet’s silence as the go ahead. “Your brother and I are dating.”
There was a quick yip and a loud thud as Violet’s head hit the hard underside of the table she was crawling beneath.
“Geez, Leila!” Violet said as she emerged from under the table and rubbed at her head. “You couldn’t tell me something like that when I was not knees to the ground with a hard surface hovering over my head?”
“Uhm, it was easier to say when you weren’t looking at me,” Leila said with a half-shrug. “You’re not pissed?”
“Why would I be pissed?” Violet asked, her face screwing up in confusion. “If you and my brother are making like bunnies, it’s no concern of mine. I married one of my father’s best friends and kept it from everyone for months.”
“And got pregnant out of wedlock,” Leila reminded with a smirk.
“It’s the 20th century, Mother Teresa,” Violet said. “It’s almost the norm to get pregnant before getting hitched nowadays.”
They both stopped and thought of that, Violet finally shaking off whatever thought she had spinning through her grey matter.
“Is it serious? Like I should start looking at venues and bridesmaids dresses serious?” Violet asked.
“God,” Leila blanched. “I mean, yes it’s serious, but I don’t go into the whole $10,000 dollar wedding dresses, 200 guests and wedding planner thing. You know me, Vi. I like small. Intimate.”
“You’re not running off to Vegas with my brother to get hitched.” Violet cut her with a glare.
Leila only laughed.
“We’ve been dating a month, not a year,” Leila said, shaking her head. “We’re in the beginning stages. Nowhere near being ready to say vows so you can cool your jets.”
“Why didn’t you say anything sooner?”
Leila was tired of hearing that question. It was on everyone’s lips.
“Vi, you know me,” Leila said. “Better than almost anyone. I don’t like big productions and I don’t like attention. I usually don’t ‘date’ in the most common sense of the word. And I didn’t know if this would last, to be honest. Didn’t know if I could do long-term and monogamous.”
“It is foreign territory for you,” Violet said with a cocked brow. “A rarity. It’s kind of like watching a National Geographic special on some rare tribe in the Amazon.”
Violet’s face screwed up again as she thought of something.
“I thought you two hated each other,” Vi said. “You’ve been at each other’s throats for something like six years.”
“I know, it’s like some RomCom cliche,” Leila said shaking her head.
“You said it, not me.”
Everyone pretty much took the news in stride. Not that anyone would have cared anyway. And sure as shit’s brown, once Carl knew, everyone was quick to be informed of the situation.
The man should have studied journalism instead of business. TMZ must be missing Carlton Smith.
Ramon acted like he had known all along and just shrugged his shoulders, taking the news in stride. Prick.
Nate and Leila kept the PDA to a minimum, though they left hand in hand. It was with a sigh of relief they got into Nate’s car just as the sun was started to crest the horizon.
“You didn’t tell your father?” Leila asked.
Nate simply scoffed.
“If my mom knows, Dad knows too,” Nate said. “She’s got about the loosest lips of anyone I know.”
“She gives Carl a real run for his money.”
They were relatively silent on the first half of the ride home. The radio played as background, a throwback station that played the hits of the ’80s, 90’s and early 2000s. It was comforting instead of corny.
“I hear you surprised Vi with the news,” Nate said, smiling a little. A little sibling one-upmanship was always a good entertainment for him.
“Yeah, she was crawling around under a table when I told her. She bumped her head on it when I let the cat out of the bag,” Leila said, stifling a chuckle.
“She should be used to having a bruised scalp. I’m sure Carl fucks her into the headboard often enough.”
“Really?” Leila said with a you’ve got to be kidding me, that’s your sister you’re talking about look.
“Embrace the kink, sweetheart,” Nate told her. “After finding out he’s ‘Daddy’ in bed, nothing’s sacred anymore.”
“Well, he’s also ‘Daddy’ outside of the bedroom. There’s Mason to consider.”
“He can’t speak so it has yet to get weird,” Nate offered.
“Most kids say ‘da-da’ anyways. Easier on the tongue.”
“And they could always train him to say Dad instead of Daddy.”
“True.” Leila sounded far off. “Jared will be so upset he no longer has the Nate-slash-Leila exclusive.”
“We’ll have to give him something else to sink his teeth into.” Nate smiled.
“No go, unfortunately,” Leila sighed. “He’s all but given me the Helen Keller treatment since he went out for drinks with Mickey.”
“He doesn’t hear me- unless I’m talking work, doesn’t say anything- again unless it’s work-related, and he’s practically blind unless I’m up in his face about something at the office.”
“Yeah, it’s completely unlike him,” Leila said. “It’s like someone cut out Mario Cantone’s vocal cords and now we only see the wacky faces he makes.”
“He can still clutch his pearls if he wants.”
“And does. Daily.”
When they both got back to their duplex ten minutes later, Nate parked out front. Miraculously, there was a space directly in front of the house and Leila thanked the Baby Jesus, Buddha, and threw in a quick Amen to the parking Gods while she was at it. She was absolutely exhausted.
Nate put a weary hand on her back and escorted her to the front door. Leila walked up to her floor in silence. The day had been, not so much physically, but mentally draining. It was like going 12 rounds with a priest in a confessional booth.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
Or something along those lines.
I have spent most of my adulthood running from intimacy. True, I fucked a lot of men, but I never let them get close to me. What is my penance for having a closed off heart?
Something told Leila that the imaginary priest in this situation would have been more concerned about her fucking a staggering number of men than her closed off heart.
FIfty Hail Mary’s and a fuck-ton of Our Father’s. Don’t have a number in mind. Just keep repeating it ’til you can’t feel your lips anymore.
“Will you be coming down later?” Nate asked, from his place at the front door to his apartment.
“Yeah,” Leila said, sighing. “I just want to get into something comfortable and we can catch up on crappy Saturday evening TV.”
“Sounds good,” Nate said with a smile. Even crappy TV with Leila was better than great TV alone. “I also want to talk to you about something.”
Leila raised her eyebrows.
“Nothing too major,” Nate soothed. “Just want to talk about something my father spoke to me in regards to the whole Lorelei fiasco.”
“You think she’s in it for the money, right?” Leila asked.
“I think her parents are still pissed at my father and the whole Violet/Liam thing,” Nate told her. “It almost looked like they’d get over when I started seeing Lorelei, but once we broke up, who the fuck knows where their heads are at now?”
“Do they know why you two broke up?”
“Don’t know, don’t really care,” Nate said offhandedly. “If Lorelei wants to make this a fucking production, she better bring her A game. I’m not bowing down to her manipulations and scheming. Even if we hadn’t been together for a time, I’d still give the bitch hell.”
“I wouldn’t expect any less of you.” Leila smiled down at and started up the stairs, a bit more pep in her step.