Just Friends

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David at Dinner

When David Mathers heard about his son dating Jasmine again, he was insistent that he finally meet the woman that changed Leo’s mind about his career path. That said, Leo was hesitant about introducing her to his father.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” he asked her for what had to have been the tenth time.

Jasmine rolled her eyes. “Are you nervous or something? I told you, I’m ready. I want to meet him, officially.”

Leo held her hand tight as they walked into the restaurant, the same one he met his father at nearly every time they met each other for dinner. David sat at their usual table, perusing the already-familiar menu until he noticed the figures walking towards him, so he set it down and stood up to greet them.

“Leo, why don’t you introduce us?” David said, gesturing towards Jasmine with a smile.

With a nod, Leo said, “Dad, this is Jasmine. My girlfriend.”

Jasmine stuck her hand out for a handshake and said, “It’s nice to see you, Mr. Mathers. I know it’s been a long time since we’ve seen one another.”

“You had to have been in middle school or high school, if I recall correctly,” David said. “I do remember it was some sort of academic awards ceremony. And please, you may call me David. Mr. Mathers seems far too formal.”

“Okay, David. Thanks. And yes, I think it was eighth grade,” she said with a nod. “I beat Leo’s GPA by only a decimal point, or something like that. He was so pissed at me.”

Leo laughed and nodded. “Yeah, I was not happy about that. I thought it was some sort of failure to be beaten by a girl, but let’s be honest, you are much smarter than I am.”

Jasmine smiled and said, “Yeah, I know. So, what’s good here?”

While they perused the menus and made small talk, David watched the couple with interest. It was clear that they were very comfortable with one another, and he liked that Jasmine wasn’t afraid to tease Leo. He also watched how Leo interacted with her, showing her affection and joking around with her, but not disrespecting her. It was a balanced relationship.

“So, Jasmine, I’m curious how you managed to have such an impact on my son. No doubt, you are an accomplished and intelligent woman.”

The subject change was a bit jarring, but she shrugged and said, “I guess I just have that effect. What are you referring to exactly, though?”

“Wait, no, let me guess,” Leo said. “The baking.”

David nodded. “Yes, the baking. I’m sure Leo has told you that I have agreed to support his efforts, though with the caveat that if he’s unsuccessful, he must return to medical school.”

“Yeah, he’s mentioned it,” she said.

“Well, I’m just curious how you managed to convince Leo to change careers,” David said.

Jasmine laughed nervously. “Well, it’s not like I intended to change his mind, but when I tasted his baking, it was delicious. When he told me that he enjoyed it more than medicine, it just became obvious to me that baking was more his thing, and isn’t it better to at least try to pursue your passions before you settle? Let me tell you, though, I don’t think he’s going to have to settle.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, for sure! Have you never tried his baking?” Jasmine asked.

David shook his head. “No, I can’t say I have.”

She immediately turned to Leo. “Babe, you need to make your doughnuts again. Please.”

“You do realize we’re literally at a restaurant right now, right?” Leo teased.

“Shut up. You know what I mean,” she said before turning back to David. “I swear, his doughnuts are amazing.”

“Thanks, Min,” Leo said, his ears turning pink at the compliment. “And yeah, Dad, I’ll make anything you want if you’re up to try any of it.”

His father smiled and nodded. “Yes, I believe I do need to try some doughnuts, especially if they’re getting such rave reviews.”

Jasmine nodded. “You do.”

Leo laughed and said, “Okay, it’s settled. I’ll make some doughnuts and you can try them this weekend.”

“And I’m sure it will be awkward at first, but I would love to invite you to a family dinner,” Jasmine said. “We randomly rotate the location from my parents’ house, my Uncle Hank and Aunt Gwen’s, and my Gran’s, but we have dinner every Thursday. This next week, we’re at Gran’s.”

David raised his eyebrows. “Oh, that’s quite an invitation. Your father will not like it.”

“Who cares?” Jasmine shrugged.

“Probably him,” David said with a laugh. “Do you even know why he hates me so much?”

With a nod, she said, “He claims that you’re the reason that you all lost the hockey championship game in college. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, though.”

“Oh, that’s a load of shit,” David said with a scoff. “Sorry. But Richard was just as responsible for that loss, and so was your Uncle Hank, actually.”

“Do tell,” Jasmine said.

With that, David launched into his story, explaining how, as a winger, he was responsible for scoring goals on the other team, same as Hank. Richard was the goalie, and therefore it was his responsibility to defend their own goal. In the championship game, David had been cornered by the other teams’ defense, so he attempted to pass the puck, only for it to be intercepted by the other team. Hank had tried to get the puck back, but instead had instigated a fight. Richard then left the goal to try and intercept the puck himself, which left an open net for the other team to score on.

When he had finished explaining, Jasmine had a grimace on her face. “Yeah, that’s not how he tells the story, but it makes sense. He doesn’t like to own up to his mistakes.”

“Something I’ve learned a long time ago,” David said with a nod.

“Do you still play hockey?” she asked him.

David shook his head. “No, I tore a ligament in my leg and it makes skating much more difficult. I’m not as agile as I once was.”

Leo snorted. “That’s an understatement.”

“Leo!” Jasmine hissed. “That’s your father!”

David, on the other hand, started laughing. “Making fun of your old man is going to bite you in the ass one day.”

“Yes, but don’t forget, you’re the one that said you were old this time, not me,” Leo said, grinning.

As they ate dinner, the three of them continued talking, touching on various subjects from careers to childhood memories, until Jasmine finally asked, “I don’t mean to pry, but do you mind telling me why you and Astrid got divorced? If it’s too much, I understand, but I’m just curious. You two are clearly very different people, but sometimes that works.”

He cleared his throat and was quiet for a moment, but eventually David spoke. “Astrid was a very free-spirited woman, and she still is. I always admired that about her, and I still hold a great deal of affection for her. Unfortunately, though, it was those differences that drove us apart. What had started out as a balance of ideals and habits became sources of resentment.”

“What do you mean?” Leo asked. “I know Mom’s side of this, but not yours.”

“Well, she was always more creative and lenient, but you know I’m much more structured. She began to interpret my desire for things to be orderly as a personal affront to her, and we fought constantly. I don’t know how much of that you remember, but it eventually began to affect you,” David said, addressing Leo directly. “Once you were showing signs of negative impact, your mother and I decided to get divorced. It only got ugly because she and I had signed a prenup, but she felt she deserved more because she was to be your primary guardian. I was more than happy to pay triple the child support, but she still wasn’t happy. It was just easier to cut ties.”

”Wow, that’s really sad,” Jasmine said. “It’s a shame you two didn’t at least stay friends.”

“I wanted to, but she’s a very passionate person, and she takes her grudges quite seriously,” David said with a chuckle. “We still talk when necessary, but she prefers to keep me at a distance.”

Leo let out a deep sigh and said, “That explains so much, honestly. I didn’t think it was something so simple, but it makes sense.”

“Well, I don’t know about your mother, but I didn’t think you needed to concern yourself with why we divorced, especially since it wasn’t anything to do with you,” David said.

“Yeah, you were very explicit about that.”

With the discomfort becoming palpable in the air, Jasmine cleared her throat and said, “Well, I’m sorry I brought up such a rough topic, but thank you for explaining. So, why don’t you tell me more about the stuff you do? I know you’re involved in a lot of industries, but I don’t think I’ve really heard about it.”

The subject change was welcomed by both of the men, and the rest of dinner was enjoyable for all three of them. When Jasmine and Leo left the restaurant, Leo turned to her and said, “Thank you. I think I was more nervous about this than you were, but I’m happy it went well.”

“Of course,” she said, kissing him on the cheek.


The next Thursday, David had texted Leo, accepting Jasmine’s invitation to the Winters-Parker family dinner. When he told Jasmine, she immediately pulled out her own phone to give her family a warning.

“Hello?” Helena asked as she answered the phone.

“Hey, Mom. I was just calling to let you know that I invited David Mathers to dinner,” Jasmine said. “You might want to tell Dad.”

She heard a sharp inhale. “Good call, honey. Are you sure he’s coming?”

“Yeah, he just let Leo know that he’s going to come.”

“And why did you think this was a good idea?” Helena asked.

Jasmine rolled her eyes, despite the fact that her mother couldn’t see it. “Because I’m dating Leo, and it would be nice for our families not to be at each other’s throats.”

Helena chuckled. “Well, good luck with that. I’ve been listening to your father rant about David for thirty-five years, I don’t think he’s going to let it go that easily.”

“Yeah, I know, Mom,” Jasmine said. “But it’s a start, right?”

“If you say so.”

“Okay, I’ll see you at dinner. Bye,” Jasmine said before hanging up the phone and turning to Leo. “So, the troops have been warned.”

Leo laughed and said, “Your dad still doesn’t know, though.”

She shrugged. “It’ll be better if my mom tells him, not me. Besides, she can distract him from his anger with food.”

“Right, your dad’s infinite pit of a stomach.”

“Exactly. Hey, should I invite Eliza?”

Leo shrugged and said, “Hey, why not? What’s one more person?”

When they arrived at Mary’s house, David’s car had just pulled up and he emerged from his car, holding a bottle of wine. “I hope your family enjoys wine.”

Jasmine’s eyes widened with an eager smile. “Yes, very much so, and I’m sure it will help my dad cope with your presence.”

“Are you sure I’m welcome?” David asked.

She shrugged. “Everyone else should be fine. If Dad is going to pout, that’s his problem.”

Leo put his arm over her shoulders and teased, “You’re so affectionate.”

“Shut up,” she said with a laugh before she planted a quick kiss on his lips. “Okay, are we all ready? Because we’re going in either way.”

“Wait!” they heard a voice shout before Jasmine turned around and saw Eliza approaching them. “I just left the station like twenty minutes ago, so I apologize if I’m all grimy and gross, but I didn’t want to miss out on dinner. It’s been a while since I’ve come to one of these.”

Quick introductions were made between Eliza and David, then Jasmine led the group inside, where they were overwhelmed by the smell of freshly cooked foods. As they walked deeper into the house, they found people in the living room, sitting around the couch and watching a hockey game, likely at Richard’s insistence.

“Hey, everyone, the party has arrived!” Eliza said, tearing their attention away from the television and walking over to Helena to give her a hug.

“Oh, sweetheart, I didn’t know you were coming tonight,” Helena said with a smile. “How is it over at the fire station?”

While they caught up, Jasmine approached her father, who had stubbornly remained focused on the television screen. “Hey, Dad. Mom told you about David coming tonight, right?”

“Yep.”

“And you’re going to be nice?” she asked.

“I’ll be civil.”

She smiled and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll take it.”

When Leo approached to shake Richard’s hand, he said, “Nice to see you, sir. How’s the game going?”

“Rangers are up by two.”

“Well, here’s hoping they keep that lead,” Leo said. “Min, want to go open the wine Dad brought?”

Jasmine nodded, then motioned for Eliza, Alex, Theo, and Henry to follow. Once in the kitchen, she asked, “Who wants to take bets on how long it takes Dad to start a fight with David?”

“Wait, what?” Leo asked.

“My dad said he’ll be civil, which means he’ll refrain from yelling as long as possible, but that limit is usually reached after about an hour,” Jasmine explained before turning to everyone else. “So, bets?”

Henry raised his hand. “Twenty minutes.”

“I’ll give him forty-five minutes,” Alex said.

“Fifteen,” Theo said.

“Oh, I’ll give him an hour exactly,” Eliza said. “He doesn’t want to upset Jas, so he’s going to try to hold it in as long as possible, then it’ll be a huge blow-up.”

Jasmine nodded and said, “Sounds good. I’ll give him thirty minutes. Leo?”

He shook his head and raised his hands, “No, I’m going to sit this one out. God forbid he hears about this, he’ll go back to hating me for sure.”

“If you’re sure, babe,” Jasmine said. “So is a five dollar bet good with everyone? Closest bet wins the pot.”

Everyone else nodded and dug five dollars out of their respective wallets, then handed it over to Jasmine, who stuck it all in a plastic baggie. Once they popped the bottle of wine open and poured some glasses, they returned to the living room, where they were confronted with the sight and sound of Richard and David shouting at each other.

“You would think the Rangers are the best team, wouldn’t you?” David yelled. “They haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1994. Clearly, the Blackhawks are the better team!”

Richard shook his head. “I’m not going to listen to your bullshit. It’s your fault we lost, and you’ve lost all right to share your opinion.”

Theo leaned over to Jasmine and whispered, “Sorry. You can give me my- how much was it? You can give me my twenty-five bucks later.”

“Yep.”

“Oh, that’s such horseshit,” David said. “You left the goal. You left it wide open and they were able to score on us, that’s why we lost.”

As they continued to argue, everyone else cleared the room and hid in the kitchen, where Mary was still cooking. “Hey, kids. I’m guessing it got too heated in there?”

Alex nodded. “Yep. Need any help, Gran?”

“No, I’m just about done in here,” she said. “You could pour me some of that wine, though.”

“On it.”

Jasmine turned to Leo and asked, “You regret not taking any bets?”

He grimaced and said, “I didn’t think it would be quite that bad.”

“Oh, you don’t remember from our childhood just how bad the fights were?” she asked.

“No, I thought I had imagined it all,” he said. “Maybe they need a mediator.”

Jasmine watched as her mother left the kitchen, clenching her fist. “I think we have one.”

Soon enough, they all heard Helena shouting. “You two are acting like children! That game was over thirty years ago, and you’re holding onto it like it happened last week. You’re adults. Grow the hell up and stop ruining this dinner!”

“At least it’s not us today,” Henry muttered, eliciting laughter from the rest of the kitchen.

They all waited for about five minutes, and when the yelling had stopped, they cautiously reentered the living room. Richard was refocused on the television, but now David sat beside him and Helena sat on his other side.

“Boys, what do you need to say to the family?” Helena prompted.

Simultaneously, Richard and David said, “Sorry.”

She nodded and then waved her hand. “For?”

“For acting like children,” David said.

“For yelling,” Richard said.

Seeing their fathers shamed was entertaining enough that both Leo and Jasmine struggled to contain their laughter, but when nobody else bothered to, they allowed themselves to laugh just as uproariously.

By the time everyone was seated around the dinner table, even Richard and David were in better moods, in part because Leo had provided them with glasses of wine.

Eliza had dominated the conversation with tales of her latest fire rescue, but then the conversation turned to when she met Jasmine. “So, I walked into the dorm and saw this mess of red hair. She turned around and looked at me with tears in her eyes, and asked me to help her cut her hair off. I didn’t realize it until I stepped closer, but she had a huge wad of gum in her hair.”

“Yep, a sad day for my luscious locks,” Jasmine said.

“She came home for Thanksgiving with her hair cut to her shoulders, and I nearly cried,” Helena said. “When I asked her about it, she actually did cry.”

Leo started laughing and said, “I can just imagine her sobbing over her hair, big dramatic tears.”

“Don’t push it, Lionel,” she muttered to him between her teeth.

The only one close enough to hear her was Eliza, who immediately choked on her drink and started laughing. “Sorry, what?”

“That’s just her nickname for me. Isn’t that right, Minnie?” Leo asked with a grin while Jasmine glared at him.

Eliza nodded, ignoring her best friend’s reaction, and said, “I like you.”

Leo reached around Jasmine to clink his wine glass against Eliza’s. “Thank you very much, I like you too. And I’m fairly certain Min will now murder both of us in our sleep.”

“Eh, if she hasn’t done it by now, I don’t think she’s gonna kill me,” Eliza said with a shrug.

Jasmine took a long sip of her wine. “You two are so lucky I love you too much to kill you tonight.”

“Love you too, babe,” Leo said, smiling as he pulled her close to kiss her on the head.

While her family continued to talk over one another, Jasmine watched as her father was willingly engaging in conversation with David. It seemed that he had moved on from yelling at him to bonding with him over their shared interest in hockey, and whenever he wasn’t engaged in the other conversations, her Uncle Hank joined in on those discussions as well. Watching them made her realize that, in their youth, the three of them had to have been friends at one point, and she wondered if things would be different between her and Leo if Richard and David hadn’t drifted apart.

When dinner was over, Jasmine had volunteered to help clean up the dishes, and while she was scrubbing a pan, Leo approached her from behind and wrapped his arms around her waist, planting a kiss on her neck. “Hey, Min.”

“Hi,” she said, turning her head to look at him with a smile. “Wanna help me?”

He nodded and grabbed a dish towel. “So how do you feel?”

“Good! You think your dad is doing okay with mine?” she asked.

Leo snorted and rolled his eyes. “They’re back to bickering about the championship game, but they aren’t yelling anymore. I think that’s as good as we’re going to get.”

She started laughing and said, “Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m just glad that they’re not at each other’s throats anymore.”

“Same.” They continued to wash the dishes in contented silence for a few minutes before Leo spoke up again, “So, I don’t know if you’d be up for it, but I have a proposition for you.”

She raised her eyebrow at him. “What?”

“Move in with me.”

“Wait, seriously?” she asked, setting down the sponge and turning to face him more fully. “I know I’ve been staying over a lot, but are you sure you want me to actually live with you?”

Leo nodded. “Yeah, Min. I mean, like you said, you’re over all the time anyway. You might as well move in because I don’t like when you’re not there.”

Jasmine smiled and bit her lip before nodding. “Yeah. I’ll do it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I will,” she said. “When?”

“As soon as you want.”

She started laughing and she wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him. When they pulled apart, she said, “I love you.”

Leo planted another kiss on her lips. “I love you too.”

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