#56 Dinner with the family
I’ve never been so nervous to cook for someone, and I’m not even technically cooking. Kieran offered to make something for me to heat up, so we’re eating his world-famous lasagna tonight. Or well, I don’t know if it’s famous, but it tastes damn good. All I have to do is make sure the oven is on the right setting, and make the side salad. Easy enough, you’d think, but I manage to cut my finger, drop three tomatoes on the floor, turn the oven off after twenty minutes, and just generally be a nervous mess.
Mom and Dad are coming over for dinner. Together. At the same time. And Mom is bringing her boyfriend. The last time they were all together in the same room was after my high school graduation, and that night ended with me running to Melchior, bawling my eyes out. That night was the night I moved into his place. If tonight goes the same way… Let’s just hope it doesn’t.
“Have a glass of wine,” Dshawn says after he’s put a bandage on my bleeding finger. “They’re just your parents. It’ll be okay. It was their idea to come over at the same time, remember? Maybe they get along now.”
“The only thing they agree on is how much of a mess I’m making of my life,” I grunt, taking a gulp of chardonnay. Being tipsy might make this night more bearable. “Please don’t leave me after tonight,” I tell him, pointing at him with a frown. “I’m warning you, Dshawn Davis. You’re the one making me do this. I just wanted to pretend to not be home. Or hide out at Caroline’s or something. You better stick around, even after you see what a nuisance my mother is.”
“She can’t be that bad,” he insists. “My father is in jail, remember? It can’t be worse than that.”
I scoff. “You’ve got Terryl. I wish I could trade my mother for Asia. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s my mother and I love her, but… Just wait and see. And you didn’t even promise not to leave me!”
“I won’t leave you,” he vows, dropping to his knees in front of my chair so he can look up at me with his big brown eyes, laughing at me ever so slightly. “I love you, Shaughna. Now put on your big-girl pants, drink your wine and set the table. You’re not allowed near the oven or the knives anymore. I’m not a great cook, but I think I can manage a side salad.”
Twenty minutes later, I’m on my second glass of wine, Dshawn has everything completely and utterly under control, and the doorbell rings. It’s showtime.
“Hi honey!” Mom says the moment I open the door. “So great to see you! Last time was… Christmas, wasn’t it? You should visit your old mother more often!”
Great. She’s not even inside yet and she’s already making me feel guilty about being a crappy daughter. It’s not like she calls me more than once a month.
“Hi Mom, hi Walter.” I smile at my mother’s boyfriend, the oh-so-amazing dentist. He’s got a million-watt smile, of course, completely fake and bleached. His hairline used to be receding, but after a hair transplant, he’s got a proper head of hair again. His tummy is tucked, his ears pinned back, he wears contacts, his nails are neatly trimmed, and he’s wearing one of his godawful brown suits. What does my mother see in that guy?
“Hi Shaughna,” Walter says in his hoarse voice. He sounds like he used to smoke a pack a day, but he swears he never touched a cigarette in his life.
I take their coats and put them away before showing them to the living room, where Dshawn is standing with a polite smile on his face. He wanted to look good tonight, because he knows that my mother will be trying to decide if she approves of him, but I forbade him from putting on a suit, so he’s in dark blue jeans and a red button-up shirt. He looks sexy, as he always does, but a little more polished than on a usual Wednesday evening.
“You must be Dshawn!” my mother says, beaming at him. “It’s so nice to finally meet you.” She pulls him in for a hug and then drags him over to Walter, who is standing awkwardly by my side. “Walter, this is Dshawn, Shaughna’s boyfriend. Dshawn, this is Walter Jameson, my husband.”
“Oh, Dr. Jameson!” Dshawn says, surprising everyone. “That’s a coincidence!” When Dshawn catches my surprised look, he laughs. “Your mother’s husband is my dentist.”
Of course he is. Just great. I don’t like it when parts of my life overlap like this. I like to keep my family life separated from everything else, because whenever Mom and Dad get involved, everything goes to crap. And the one time that I needed them to get involved, back when I lived with Melchior, they didn’t. They didn’t try hard enough to help me, to really get to the bottom of things. I know that it’s not technically their fault, but I still blame them for leaving it to Caroline to be the one to get me out of there and make sure I actually went to college and lived in the dorms.
My mother and Walter sit down at the dinner table while Dshawn and I check on dinner.
“I thought you said he was her boyfriend?” he whispers while he peeks into the oven. “She just said husband, right?”
I roll my eyes. “Yeah, I guess. She pressured him into it a year ago. I’m so used to calling him her boyfriend that I just forgot, I guess.”
“Dr. Jameson is a pretty great dentist,” he says to my annoyance. “Why do you hate him?”
“Oh, you’ll see,” I promise him darkly. “Just wait and see.”
Dad arrives a few minutes later and he hugs me at the door before walking in to greet the others. Mom and Dad are remarkably civil, shaking hands and everything. Walter and Dad just nod at each other, and Dshawn does get a half-hug with a harsh pat on the back. Okay. So far so good.
Dshawn managed to save dinner, so five minutes later, we’re all enjoying Kieran’s tasty lasagna and the subpar salad we made on our own.
“This tastes wonderful, honey,” Mom says, flipping her blonde hair over shoulder. Her hair and blue eyes are the only thing I inherited from her, thank God. “But of course, what we’re really here for is to get to know you new man. So, Dshawn, tell me about yourself.”
Okay, we’re diving right in, apparently. I don’t like that she calls him my new man, like there were dozens before him. Sure, I slept with over a hundred guys, but Mom doesn’t know that, and I haven’t had a boyfriend in seven years, so Dshawn is just my man, not my new man.
“I work at Tech Wiz,” Dshawn starts, sipping his water. “I design websites for large corporations, but also for small start-up companies. And I’ve recently been developing an app for Amtriz so customers can ask questions more easily and file their documents by just snapping a picture.”
“Oh wow, that sounds fascinating,” Mom says, nodding along. “Doesn’t it, Walter?”
“Yes,” Walter says immediately. “Fascinating.”
“How long have you been working there?” Mom asks intently.
“About a year,” Dshawn says. “I used to work at a phone store.”
“A phone store?” She purses her lips. “You must have had trouble paying the pills back then.”
“At least he had a job, Mom,” I say with my sweetest smile. I’m not going to sit here and let her insult my boyfriend. “Not everyone manages to snag a dentist, after all.”
“That’s so rude, Shaughna!” Mom clacks her tongue. “Walter, isn’t that rude?”
“Yes,” he agrees listlessly. “Very rude.”
“I’m happy you found a proper job,” Mom tells Dshawn. “It’s important for a man to have a good job to support his family. Tech Wiz is a big company, right? You must earn good money there.”
“Yes,” Dshawn says, shooting me a look that screams save me. “I can’t complain.”
“Good. Our little ShaSha needs that. She’s only a waitress, after all.” Mom turns to my father before I can respond to that. “I don’t get why you said that this boy isn’t right for Shaughna. Sure, he’s black, but that doesn’t really matter. At least he’s got a good job.” She gestures around us. “And he’s got a nice apartment. This neighborhood is alright, too.”
“Did you just comment on Dshawn’s skin color?” I ask, dumbstruck. I knew my mother was a bitch, but I wasn’t raised by a racist.
“No, no, I said that it doesn’t matter. Statistics show that black people are less likely to finish high school, go to college and end up in a neighborhood like this. They are more likely to go to jail and to end up pregnant at a young age, but obviously Dshawn turned out great.” She beams, like she’s giving him praise.
Dshawn’s face falls, and I hate my mother for making him feel like this. His mother got pregnant during high school, after all, and his father is in jail. And his dad, Asia and Terryl all didn’t go to college. He’s a walking, talking statistic.
“Don’t be a twat, Olivia,” Dad bites out, looking angry now. “The boy will think you’re a racist. I don’t give a shit that he’s black or what the statistics say. He basically told me that he doesn’t want to marry our little girl and that he won’t provide for her. That’s why we’re here. To right that wrong.”
“I knew it!” I exclaim, slamming my hand on the table. “I knew that there had to be a reason for the two of you to finally be in the same room again. I can’t believe this! Or actually, I can, which is even worse.”
“We’re just worried, baby,” Mom says, tilting her head to the side with a pout on her face. “Aren’t we, Walter?”
“Yes, dear,” he says, “very worried.”
Dshawn puts a hand on my knee under the table, squeezing softly in support. If he wasn’t here, I’d already be flipping over tables. I try to channel Caroline. She’d stay calm and just be true to herself. She would have told her parents a long time ago that the crap they think is right is just… well, crap. Maybe I need to be just as blunt as she is and just come out and say it. From this moment on, I am just going to be firm, direct and honest. If they want to know how I feel about marriage, I’m just going to come out and tell them. Fuck this.
“Mom, Dad,” I say, taken a deep breath. “Dshawn and I are never getting married.”
“Yeah, we know,” Dad grunts, “that’s why we’re here. To either convince the boy to do right by you, or to make sure that you get out of this dead-end relationship. Why didn’t you introduce us to us sooner, ShaSha? Surely we have a right to know what kind of man you’re living with?”
“Deep breaths,” Dshawn mutters next to me. “In… Out…”
I do as he says, but not because I’m about to have a panic attack. I’m just do damn mad that I’m ready to start throwing plates at their heads.