Building a Future
“Your parents are going to hate me.” Stella frets, covering her face with her hands after I’ve parked outside my mom’s house. She’s clutching my hand like a lifeline, keeping me rooted to the seat of my truck. Tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, and Stella promised she’d spend Christmas with me.
“My mother will love you. She’s been asking me for years when I’m going to bring a girl home to meet her.” I sigh, glancing at my childhood home. It’s full of good memories and bad, and I’m honestly kind of nervous about introducing Stella to my family. Almost six months we’ve been together, and the only person in my family she’s met is Gunnar.
It’s only been six months, but I already know that this girl was made specifically for me. She’s funny, caring, charming, loving, brilliant, and beyond beautiful. I’ve never seen anyone care or throw so much of herself into her classes, and then still have time for a social life. She can cook anything I can imagine, draw anything she can imagine, and let me tell you that she has one hell of an imagination in the bedroom. I can’t get enough of this strong, independent woman who could be running the world right now if she chose to, but by some miracle she chose me. God, I love this woman.
“You mean you don’t just bring every random girl you meet home to your mother?” She teases, kissing my cheek and bringing me out of my thoughts about her, easing my nerves, even though I should be the one easing hers.
“Absolutely not.” I smile, pressing a soft kiss to her lips before I finally climb out of the truck, dragging her with me. I grab both of our duffels and clutch her hand as I open the front door and am greeted with a hug from my mother, aunt, and grandmother. Great. I’ve just walked into a woman infestation. I knew my aunt moved in about a year ago because she and my mom are both middle-aged divorcees who are going on an anti-men kick, and I wish beyond anything that Gunnar was here to be the buffer before Mom and me.
“Hi, Mom.” I mutter, taking in the martini glasses on the glass coffee table that’s new. Actually, glancing around the interior space of the house, everything has been updated and refurbished. Probably using Dad’s credit card. I can almost feel my fingers turning blue from the death grip Stella has on my hand, but I gently tug her from where she’s hiding behind me, so she can meet my mother.
“And who might this be? You didn’t mention a girlfriend when we discussed the dinner menu last week!” My mother exclaims gripping my shoulders as she takes in Stella – more like she’s sizing her up. I squeeze Stella’s hand in an encouraging gesture, but I’m not sure she noticed.
I glance behind me at an extremely red-faced and embarrassed Stella, and decide I probably need to introduce them. “Mom, this is Stella Hawkley, the absolute love of my life. Stel, this is my mother, Dorothy.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Dorothy.” Stella whispers, and I’ve never seen this girl be shy in the six months I’ve known her, but for some reason my mother makes her nervous. I glance down at the death grip she has on my fingers when my mom pulls her into a hug, and chuckle before retrieving my girlfriend from her grasps.
“Mom, don’t scare her away.”
“Oh! Sorry dear. It’s just been, well, forever, since Beau has brought home a girl and I’m just so excited to meet you!” Mom smiles, the crinkles not really reaching her eyes though, finally releasing Stella and allowing her to return to her place beside me.
While I allow blood to return to the tips of my fingers, I wrap my hand around her waist, tugging her close as I introduce her to my Aunt Presley and Grandma Rose. They both greet her with warm smiles and a hug, while I take in the renovations mom has done in the last year. Our house used to have such a nice little homey feel to it, but now Mom’s turned the entire back wall of the house into glass, has turned the kitchen into a chef’s kitchen even though she only knows how to make steamed veggies in the microwave, and redone the carpet floors into expensive-looking hardwood. Not to mention the fact that the old brown leather couches that had so many childhood memories are missing, and clean, white plush couches sit in their place. I frown as I imagine what my room could possibly look like, praying that she hasn’t touched it as I gently guide Stella down the hallway and to my old room. I push the door open, only to find that everything has been touched. The framed pictures I had of various friends and family hanging on my walls have all been placed in a box on my dresser that is completely void of the collection of arrowheads that grandpa and I would find when we’d go fishing at the river. I start to panic when I don’t see them, and release Stella to go maker herself at home on a gray comforter that is definitely not the blue one I left here. I dig through the box of my things that has been left on my dresser, still not finding the arrowheads.
“Mom!” I yell through the house, extremely angry that she touched my stuff without asking or warning me.
“What dear?” She asks, appearing in my doorway, completely unfazed by the way my room looks.
“Where is my arrowhead collection?” I ask through gritted teeth.
“Oh, I sold them to a collector on eBay.” She smiles, seemingly proud of destroying my childhood. I can’t do anything but hang my mouth open as I stare at her, trying to not tear up over the fact that she destroyed one of the last physical pieces I had of my grandfather. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Mind? Why would I mind you selling one of my last pieces of Grandpa?” I seethe, knowing my face is turning bright red.
“Well I figured you didn’t want them anymore since you left them here just strewn across your dresser.”
“They were not strewn. They were sorted. And why would I take something like that with me and risk losing them in all the moving I’ve done through COLLEGE, Mom? I can’t believe you would do something like that. You knew how much those arrowheads meant to me.” I grumble, before kicking my mother out of my room and shutting the door. I turn and crawl onto the bed, gladly pressing my cheek into the pillow and allowing Stella to gently rub my shoulders.
“I’m sorry, Beau.” She whispers, leaning down and pressing her cheek into my shoulder blade and wrapping her arm around my waist, holding me tightly.
“There’s nothing I can do about it now, I guess.” I sigh, and enjoy her comforting arms.
“This is a lovely house though, Beau. I couldn’t imagine growing up in a place like this.”
“This is not the house I grew up in anymore. The house I grew up in was warm and cozy. Now she’s turned it into a cold, white, sterile place, void of any memories. That couch my aunt and grandma were sitting on? I don’t know where it came from, but the couch I remember was old, brown leather that could have told some stories. It was uncomfortable as hell to sleep on, but it was the center of the home, you know?” I sigh, reaching my arm back to grab her hand and pull it up so I can hold it more comfortably.
“What can I do to make it better?” She asks, softly pressing her lips into the skin of my neck.
“Just you being here is already making it better.”
“I love you, Beau.”
“I love you more, Stel. Now, I suppose we should go back out so you can get to know my mom’s family. Honestly, Aunt Presley is great, and Grandma Rose is a hoot if you can get her telling jokes.” I smile, raising up onto my elbows before pushing myself so I’m sitting in my bed, wrapping my arms around Stella’s shoulders.
“What if they don’t like me once they get to know me?” She whispers, reaching up and grabbing my forearm, looking up at me with tearing eyes.
“What’s there to not like?” I ask, brushing a stray hair away from her face before resting my palm against her cheek. “Even if they don’t like you, I like you enough to make up for them.”
“That’s not exactly helpful.” She chuckles, reaching up to brush a stray tear from her cheek.
“Come on, I’ll be right there with you. I won’t let anything happen to you.” I assure her, grabbing her hand and squeezing it before she allows me to stand up and we walk hand-in-hand out the door, back to the living room.
“Sorry we disappeared for a while. Someone needed a little time to adjust to meeting all three of you at once.” I tease my aunt and Grandma when we reenter the living room, and Aunt Presley stands up and pulls me into a hug.
“Well I for one, don’t blame her one bit.” Grandma says, also standing up and waddling over to give Stella a welcoming hug. “Don’t mind us, darlin’. We’re just two old ladies who like our alcohol a little too much.”
“Hey, speak for yourself, mother!” Aunt Presley gasps with a laugh.
“I know that feeling.” Stella quietly murmurs, and I see my mom’s head snap towards her, eyeing her with what isn’t quite a glare, but pretty damn close.
“Would you like one, dear?” Grandma asks, sitting back down and holding up her martini glass.
“Oh, no thank you. I’m not 21 yet.” Stel politely declines, and I debate whether or not I can leave her here so I can grab us real drinks from the kitchen. Ultimately I decide she’s safe with Aunt Presley sitting there, so I make my dash to the kitchen, returning only a few minutes later to find Stella telling Aunt Presley all about her ceramics. She’s sitting in the big armchair that thankfully hasn’t changed since I was young, and I gently tug her up so I can sit down and she can sit on my lap while she’s still talking about clay. Honestly, Aunt Presley looks completely intrigued by the thought of working with clay, and seems genuinely interested in what is coming out of Stella’s mouth. I glance at my mother who has fully contorted her face into a glare, but she’s instead staring at the black TV, taking in Stella’s words. I frown at my mother, upset that she’s not even giving Stella a chance. Grandma, on the other hand, has a fresh martini in one hand and the latest gossip magazine spread across her lap, flipping through the pages.
“So what are you planning on doing with your life, Sabrina?” Mom asks rather rudely interrupting Stella as she’s telling Aunt Presley about one of her features at the Savannah Art Museum.
“It’s Stella, and I’m hoping to be able to pursue a career somehow working with clay. I’d like to be able to make a living just from selling my pieces, but I’d also like to maybe teach it.” Stella answers, still beaming as she talks about her passion, not even batting an eye that my mother pretended to not know her name. If Stella could see the glare I’m sending my mother, she’d probably pinch the sensitive skin under my arm that she accidentally found a couple months ago while we were in bed.
“Wow.” Mom says, standing up and heading to the kitchen, mumbling under her breath. I manage to catch a few words she’s saying, and it takes everything I have to not jump out of my seat and tell my mom to fuck off. “She’s 18, has no real plans for a real career, drinks alcohol, has ‘hick’ basically written all over her, and somehow he sees something in her.”
I grit my teeth and close my eyes, focusing on Stella’s voice, praying that it’ll get me through this god-awful week. Oh, how I wish Gunnar was here. He always has a way of making everything better. I watch Stella’s face for any sign that she may have heard Mom’s muttering, but her face is still as bright as the sun as she’s moved onto telling Aunt Presley about Zeus.
Eventually I hear Gunnar’s truck pulls up, and the next thing I know Mom has a smile plastered to her face and is hugging Gunnar and his girlfriend, Isabella. I wonder what kind of judgmental things Mom’s going to say about Isabella when she thinks nobody can hear her?
“Hey man.” Gunnar says, before tugging Stella off my lap and wrapping her in a hug while allowing me to stand up so I can hug him too.
“My, my, I think you’ve gotten prettier since I saw you last.” Gunnar winks at my girlfriend, earning a soft punch from Isabella, and a slap upside the head from me as I’m tugging him into a hug.
“No hitting on my girlfriend, dick.” I grin, and then hug Isabella, even though I’ve never met her before.
“Yeah, especially not in front of your girlfriend.” Isabella grins as Gunnar wraps his arm around her shoulders and introduces her to Stella, and then to our family. Apparently Isabella fits the image Mom had pictured as a girlfriend for one of her sons, because she immediately welcomes Isabella into the family. I guess a sundress in December and heels is what my mother had pictured for us instead of the jeans and pink plaid tunic top – I wouldn’t have known that had Stella not fretted about a ‘tunic’ or ‘cardigan’ for an hour before we left – Stella’s rocking right now. Whatever. Mom can get over it if she wants me in her life.
“Hi Stella, I’m Bella. Isn’t that lovely? Our names rhyme!” Isabella grins a huge, white-toothed grin, and hooks arms with Stella as she leads my girlfriend over to the other couch that Aunt Presley and Grandma aren’t occupying.
“She sounds great.” I chuckle to Gunnar as I sink back into my chair, immediately missing being able to wrap my arms around Stella’s waist.
“Dude, she is.” Gunnar grins as he hugs Aunt Presley and then kisses Grandma Rose’s cheek before sitting between them. He starts talking about football for a while, before producing 6 tickets to the Cactus Bowl that he and his team are playing in the day after New Year’s.
“Well since you never got us tickets to any of your big baseball games in college, I’m making up for it right now. We were all given 10 tickets at the 50-yard line, and since I’m the quarterback, I got y’all the front row tickets. You can thank me later.”
“Hey, I’m sorry we sucked and didn’t make it to the College World Series.” I grin and toss the remote at him.
“Your words, not mine.” He jokes, and then I glance outside for the first time since we got here, thinking that we could eat outside if it’s nice enough. I stand up and head to the large glass window that didn’t used to be here and stare at the patio that was also redone. Why couldn’t she have just bought a sports car like Dad did? She had to go and ruin all of my childhood memories. “You thinking what I’m thinking, man?”
I jump a little when Gunnar arm slaps around my shoulders. “Well if you were thinking that our childhood has been ruined, then yeah, we’re thinking the same thing.”
“No, man – well, yeah – but I meant that we should eat outside or at least light a fire in that very expensive looking new pit that seems to be the center of attention.” Gunnar laughs, and somehow my little brother always has a way of making me feel better. We turn around and I hold my hand out, hoping Stella would catch the message and Gunnar nods his head towards the door when they both look at us, giggling. Stella stands up first, tugging Bella to her feet as they head towards us. I open the sliding glass door and gladly take in the upper 50s that we’re having right now. There are several patio chairs surrounding the fire pit, and Gunnar goes right to work making a nice little fire to keep us warm.
I sit down in one of the chairs, and Stella quickly crawls onto my lap, wrapping her arm around my neck and softly kissing me while Gunnar and Bella aren’t paying attention. “Why didn’t we come out here earlier? It’s wonderful out here.” Stella sighs, resting her temple against mine as she takes in my backyard where I’ve played catch too many times to count. “Although it is kinda chilly.”
“I can go grab a blanket from inside if you’d like.” I offer, praying she says no so I don’t have to leave her.
“Actually, that would be wonderful.” She sighs, kissing my cheek. I sigh and allow her to stand up before I head back inside to grab a few blankets and ask when supper’s going to be ready.
“-the girl is nothing but a hick! Who does she think she is, hanging all over Beau like that?” I hear my mom before I even open the sliding door, and I quickly freeze so I can continue listening.
“I don’t know, Dorothy. I think the girl is really sweet, and Beau seems to like her a lot.” Aunt Presley butts in, and I say a silent thank you to her.
“I don’t care if he ‘seems to like her’ because she’s too young for him! Seriously? He’s already graduated college and she’s barely out of high school. Plus, from what I’ve gathered is that she’s practically an alcoholic from her comments earlier about the martinis. And not to mention that she has absolutely no plans for an actual career. Who plans on making art for a living? Who does she think she is, Picasso?” Mom rants, holding a glass of wine as she sits in the chair I was previously occupying, dissing on my girlfriend, and waving her hands around as she talks to Aunt Presley and Grandma.
“Dorothy, you’re just getting your panties in a bunch. You know good and well that I was 10 years younger than your father, and that I loved him very much. You also know that Beau didn’t wait until he was 21 to drink a little bit, and Stella’s comments in no way made her seem like an alcoholic. I mean, the girl seemed like she was just trying to break the ice because of the way you were constantly glaring at her when they got here. It’s no wonder Beau hasn’t ever brought a girl home before. And the fact that he’s brought this one home speaks volumes for how he feels about her!” Grandma Rose steps up to defend Stella, and my heart immediately surges with love for my grandma and how much I wish Grandpa was here to meet Stella. Oh, he’d absolutely adore her.
“Mom, you grew up in an entirely different generation where it was okay to have a greater then two or three-year gap. Beau’s about to turn 23. Stella said earlier that she’s only 18. That’s 5 years, Mom! Gah, I don’t know what he sees in her besides the blonde hair and skinny body.” Mom scoffs, and that’s when my blood starts boiling and I finally make an entrance.
“How dare you?” I accuse, nearly slapping the back of her chair as I march into the living room.
“What’s wrong, honey?” Mom asks, slapping a concerned, confused look on her face as she turns around in the chair.
“Oh, don’t play dumb with me, Mom. I heard every word of it. I don’t know why you think you have the right to judge my girlfriend as much as you are right now, but I just want you to know that if you’d have gotten to know her for who she actually is, then you’d realize how perfect she is for me, or how perfect she is in general. And it has absolutely nothing to do with her beautiful face. She’s a beautiful person on the inside. I’ve seen her do more things for others in the past six months than I’ve seen you do in the last 23 years. She works her ass off every day to help her father, and then goes in to see the only person who she has left of any of her grandparents, her grandma’s best friend who has Alzheimer’s and is in the nursing home and doesn’t remember her 90 percent of the time. How many times did you go and see Grandpa when he was in the early stages of dementia, Mom? None. Stella goes almost every day to see someone she’s not even related to. Not to mention the fact that she’s so dedicated to helping her father that she chose a school only an hour and a half from him so she could go home and help him, and I wasn’t even a thought in the back of her head when she made that decision.”
“Beau, I –”
“No, Mom. Save it. I don’t need to hear some sorry excuse for why you seem to think you’re better than everyone else in the world just because you still have Dad’s credit card and seem to think you can ruin everything I grew up with. Stella might be a few years younger than what you were expecting, but she’s twice the person you’ll ever be.” I shake my head and turn to see Stella, Gunnar, and Bella all standing at the door staring at me. Woops, I guess I forgot to shut the door behind me. Stella has tears falling down her face when I turn back to my mother. “If you can’t accept Stella, then you can accept me anymore, Mother. We’re leaving.”
“Beau, I’m sorry.” Mom says, and I softly grab Stella’s hand, pulling her towards me.
“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.” I glare, and Mom starts to turn to apologize to Stella, but then shuts her mouth and stands up and leaves the room.
“Stella, I’m so sorry for all of this.” Grandma Rose sighs, standing up and giving pulling Stella into a hug before I lean down and kiss her cheek.
“Thanks for saying what you did, Grandma. I love you.”
“You just hold onto this little firecracker and don’t worry about your mother. She’ll come around.” Grandma smiles at me, and then at Stella.
“At this point, I’m not sure I’ll be able to forgive her. She’s already ruined too much.” I sigh, glancing at the hallway where Mom has returned with our duffel bags.
I guess that means she’s kicking us out. Grabbing both of our bags, and Stella’s hand, I pull her out the door behind me and help her climb into my truck, where she collapses into my arms in full tears. “I heard it all, Beau. I heard what she said about me. How could she think those things?”
“I’m so sorry, babe. I had no idea she was going to be like that. She was way out of line and we never have to go back there.” I promise, pulling her hair out of her face and kissing the top of her head while she cries into my chest.
“But I – But I want you t-to have a relationsh-ship with your family.” She says between sniffles, and I shake my head.
“I can see Grandma Rose any time I want to, and Aunt Presley is just a phone call away. Mom was never really there for me growing up. I mean, sure she was THERE, but she was always more worried about looking like she was a good mom than actually being one. Her country club friends would always tell her how much their rich husbands shelled out for rings and necklaces and fancy pink golf carts and clubs for them, and then she got this crazy idea in her head that that’s what we were when clearly we weren’t. I’ll tell you – when I got my first tattoo when I was 17 after my dad signed off on it – it was the one for my grandpa in case I hadn’t told you – it was the last straw. Mom nearly had a heart attack. And when I kept working on my sleeve, she nearly disowned me when she saw it the first time. Anyway, the point is that the only relationship I care about is ours. Gunnar’s stuck with me no matter what, though, and he can keep Mom informed about my life. Stel, I love you. I couldn’t care less what the rest of my family, or the rest of the world for that matter, thinks. You’re my girl and I’d give up steak for you if I had to – and you know how much I love my steak.” I grin at her, hoping I put some ease in her mind. All I get in return is a slight nod and a bunch of hiccups, so I turn the key and head back to Savannah so we can spend Christmas Eve by ourselves. I didn’t want to give her her gift in front of anyone else, anyway.
“Stel, we said no gifts, remember.” I laugh when she climbs on the couch with a big box in her hands, holding it out to me.
“I know, but I already had this ordered when we said that, so it doesn’t count. Now open it.” She grins, putting the box on my lap and putting her chin on her hands as she grins at me until I take the top off the box and reveal a brand new black Stetson with a teal and yellow brow band.
“Wow, Stel. This must have cost a lot.” I say in awe as I turn it over and see my name embroidered in the silk on the inside.
“I know you have that old hat that you always wear, but I figured that you needed a nice hat for when we go out or have to make a public appearance.” She grins, and I put the box beside me and tug her onto my lap so I can kiss her.
“I love it, thank you, baby.” After a few seconds of kissing her, I pull back and look at her. “I got you something, too.”
“What about the no gifts pact?” She teases, waving her finger in my face as I dig in my pocket for her gift.
“Stella, I know I’ve only known you for 6 months, but damn if they haven’t been the best six months of my life. If I’m being honest, I swear I’ll never be able to look at another girl again without comparing her to you, and I know they’ll all fall short, because you’re perfect. You’re perfect for me. Now, I know that you’re way too young to be thinking about marriage, but I wanted to show you how much you mean to me.” I grin at her confused, slightly panicked face when I mention marriage, and open my hand to show her the beautiful garnet promise ring I had designed for her. “No, it’s not a proposal – I mean, I’d get down on one knee and have a box for that – but I do promise that I’m planning on loving you for a long, long time.” I kiss her cheek as she snatches the ring out of my hand and holding it up so she can look at it.
“It’s beautiful, Beau.” She sighs, and allows me to help her slip it on her finger. “I love you so much.”
And with that, we end up sleeping on the couch in front of her fireplace, thankful that Gemma went back to Italy with Fernando.