#47 Meeting the parents
Tonight is the night. I’m making what might be the fanciest three course meal I’ve ever made, we cleaned the entire apartment together, and the place has never smelled so amazing, thanks to the four bouquets of flowers that are scattered around the living room. Khiêm is even more nervous than I am about his parents coming over, which doesn’t really help ease my nerves.
“It’ll be fine,” I assure him for the millionth time, checking on dinner even though I know it’s all going to be ready in time, and the smell indicates it will be delicious.
“My parents hardly even come here,” Khiêm says, fluffing a pillow that has been fluffed at least ten times the past hour. “The last time was… I can’t even remember. Oh God, what’s wrong with me? I’m 26, for crying out loud. I make decent money, I know and like who I am, and I’m living with my amazing girlfriend. Who cares what my parents think?”
“You do,” I say softly, wrapping my arms around him and pressing a kiss to his lips. “That’s not a bad thing. Of course you want your parents to approve of your job, your life, your girl.”
“They will love you,” Khiêm promises me. “They’re not so hard on the people me and my sisters bring home anyway. They liked my exes just fine.”
Yeah… I doubt that’s true, but I don’t tell him that. If Khiêm’s sisters didn’t like any of the girls he brought home, why would his parents? That worries me a little. How will I know what they truly think of me if they’re not honest about things like that?
The doorbell sounds, and Khiêm breaks away from me, takes a deep breath and hurries into the hallway. I check on dinner again, put the bottle of wine Khiêm picked up on the table, and fix my hair. I’ve never met a guy’s parents before. Well, in high school, but that was because we were both 15 and our parents still drove us places back then. I’ve never done an official meet-the-parents dinner. I’m not sure if I’m the kind of girl parents like. I’m an uneducated 22-year-old with a web shop and an internship. Not exactly impressive stuff. Especially not considering how Khiêms parents feel about creativity.
The door opens and Khiêm walks in with a tall slender woman next to him. She’s wearing a floor length blue dress with a floral print. Behind them is a sturdy man a few inches shorter than his wife, wearing black slacks and a crisp white button-up shirt that strains over his protruding belly. They take in the room first, then settle on me.
“You must be Nia,” the woman says, walking over to shake my hand. “I’m Amy, and this is Quang.”
Of course, I already knew that. Khiêm has been prepping me all week. His mother is born and raised in America, and she was raised bilingual – English and Chinese. She has no accent whatsoever. She’s two years older than her husband Quang, who was raised in Vietnam and came to the States in his early twenties. He does have an accent, but it’s not as thick as I’d expected. Khiêm told me that his father likes to brag that it was his amazing personality that enabled him to snag a beautiful woman like Amy. I don’t know if Quang is right about his personality, but his wife sure is beautiful.
“Nice to meet you,” I reply, moving on to shake his father’s hand. Damn, he’s got a firm grip.
“How long have you been together?” Quang ask, his gaze moving to Khiêm.
“Two and a half months,” I reply. “Your son is amazing. He was obviously raised right.”
Amy’s lips move up into a small smile, which Khiêm told me is a rare thing. Okay, one point for Nia.
“How long have you been living together?” Quang asks next.
“Almost four months,” Khiêm replies. We agreed to be honest with his parents, since we knew they would ask us these questions. Lies aren’t a good basis for repairing their relationship. “Nia was my roommate before she became my girlfriend.”
“That’s… unusual,” Amy says with a small frown. Crap. Lost my point already.
Khiêm offers his parents a seat on the couch while I grab the wine glasses and pour all of us a glass.
“My favorite,” Amy says in a surprised tone of voice.
“Obviously I know how to get you on my good side,” Khiêm says, winking at his mother. “If only Dad was so easy.”
I hold my breath at that bold statement, but his parents don’t seem fazed in the slightest. They sip their wine and look around the apartment, not saying anything. They’re so different from my parents it’s crazy. My mother would have greeted Khiêm with a hug, and she’d be in the kitchen checking on the dinner I’m preparing, asking a million questions and ruffling my hair, while Dad would be trying to make Khiêm feel at ease, asking questions about his job and his favorite food and stuff.
“The place looks cozy,” Amy comments, smiling slightly again. “Less stale than last time we were here.”
“All Nia’s doing,” Khiêm replies right away. “She’s all about flower, candles and throw pillows. She’s also a great cook. Wait until you taste what she prepared for tonight.”
“I’m not that great,” I rush to say, not wanting them to expect a five-star meal. Yeah, I can cook, and I sure did my best to prepare something amazing for tonight, but that doesn’t mean I’m a professional chef or anything. I’m still a little scared the chicken will come out too dry.
“What do you do?” Quang asks, his steady gaze trained on me.
“I have an internship at a bridal boutique, sewing and helping with fittings and marketing,” I explain. “And I have my own web shop. I make clothes by order.”
Amy’s entire face lights up, and I can tell it takes Khiêm by surprise as well as me. “You can sew? You make your own clothes?”
“She made the dress she’s wearing right now,” Khiêm says, taking my hand in his and squeezing. “She’s amazing. She recently got 50 orders for her web shop even though it hasn’t been online that long, so she’s been quite busy to get it all ready.”
Amy’s eyes flit to the sewing machine in the corner of the room, covered by a white sheet. “Can I see?”
I get up and pull off the sheet. “It’s my old one. I don’t use it much anymore. My boss at the bridal boutique lets me use her professional equipment.”
Amy runs her hand over the top of the machine, a far-away look in her eyes. “My mother was a seamstress. She made all my clothes when I was a kid. She wanted to make my wedding dress, but she never got to finish it, because she died shortly after I got engaged. I didn’t want anyone else to finish the dress she was making for me, so I got married in an off-the-rack gown instead. Can I see what you’re working on?”
“Sure,” I reply, happy that she’s suddenly talking and smiling, and interested in me. Fashion has been one of the things to cause a rift between my mother and me, so it’s kind of exciting that it’s the thing to bring me and my boyfriend’s mother together.
I take Amy to my old bedroom. Since I haven’t slept in here since I got with Khiêm, we decided a few weeks ago to turn it into storage for my fashion projects. The sewing machine is still in the living room, because the lighting in the bedroom is crap. The bed that was in here is now gone, the parts in the storage unit in the basement of the apartment building. In its place are clothing racks, a huge closet full of supplies like beads, feathers, glue, and sequins.
“Oh wow,” Amy breathes, running her hand over a blue fairy dress I’ve been working on for one of my customers. It’s not done yet, but it does look rather stunning even with the bodice only half covered in sequins. Amy flicks through all the clothes, admiring them, her eyes alight. I’m quite surprised by her reaction. This is, after all, the woman who raised Khiêm to believe creativity isn’t something that should be part of your life, let alone your professional career.
“Khiêm has his studio here, right?” Amy asks almost nervously.
“Yeah, one door down,” I tell her. “Do you… do you want to see it?”
She purses her lips. “Maybe after dinner,” she decides, the light in her eyes dying down and her smile wiped off her face completely.
“Right, dinner, I should check on that,” I realize, turning off the light and rushing back to the kitchen.
Khiêm and his father are quietly sipping their wine when I walk in with Amy in tow. Khiêm looks extremely relieved that I’m back. The ten minutes that I need to get the appetizers on the table, Amy and Khiêm make polite conversation, but Quang doesn’t talk. At all. It’s a little unsettling.
When I motion for Khiêm to invite them to the table, he gets up and they all walk over with their glasses of wine in hand. “Baked brie with caramelized onions and bacon,” I announce, putting the basket of bread to go with it in the middle of the table. “Never made it before, so I hope it tastes good.”
“It looks delicious,” Amy assures me with another one of her rare smiles. I guess they might be as rare as Khiêm led me to believe. Or maybe she actually likes me. Who knows with these people?
We all sit down, and Quang immediately puts a whole lotta brie on a piece of bread, bites off a piece and makes a low grunting noise that I think means he likes it. To my complete and utter surprise, Quang actually talks to me when he has swallowed his big bite. “That is amazing,” he says with what looks like… a smile?
Khiêm looks like he might faint, and even Amy seems surprised.
“Thank you,” I reply softly, not sure what to do with myself. Fucking hell, these people are intimidating. I am so lucky to be raised by the two weirdos that are my parents. When this night is over, I’m going to call Mom and Dad and tell them I love them. They have their faults, but they never make me feel like this and they made Khiêm feel more than comfortable when I took him to my Dad’s birthday before we were even a couple.
“Should we talk about… what happened?” Amy proposes softly after the appetizers have all disappeared into our stomachs.
“Look, Dad, I’m sorry,” Khiêm says, his hand gripping mine under the table. “I shouldn’t have blamed you or Mom for me not having a better relationship with my sisters. That wasn’t fair. I won’t talk about our family on my podcasts, vlogs or streams ever again.”
I know that Khiêm has been contemplating what to say all week, changing his mind about whether or not to apologize multiple times a day. In the end, he decided to be the bigger man and take the high road. I know he’s not truly sorry for what he said, because it’s the truth, but I love that he’s trying so hard to find common ground with his dad and make things right again.
“I won’t allow you to disgrace our family name,” Quang says sharply, his hand tightening around the stem of his wineglass.
“That’s not what I was trying to do, but I will make sure it won’t happen again,” Khiêm promises.
“Okay,” his dad replies.
I wait from the next words out of anyone’s mouths, but I guess this is it. No one talks. They all just… stare at each other. Fucking hell, what is it with this family? I clear my throat and get up from my chair to take the main course out of the oven. It’s a French chicken casserole with baby potatoes, creamy sauce that has a dash of white wine in it, mushrooms, celery, and lots of herbs.
“That smells good,” Quang comments when I carry two plates over to the table. “Khiêm, shouldn’t you be helping her?”
“Oh no, he’s not allowed in the kitchen,” I reply, rushing back to grab the plates for me and Khiêm. “The guy has no cooking skills whatsoever. He can barely even manage to fry an egg without burning down the apartment. I’m scared he’ll ruin dinner just by looking at it.”
It’s quiet for a moment, and I wonder if I should tell them that I was kidding – sort of – but then Amy laughs. A real, bubbling laugh that lights up the whole room. Even Quang smiles, looking less stern for a few seconds.
“I swear I tried,” Amy tells me, wiping her eyes on her napkin. “I tried to learn all my kids how to cook, but Khiêm is…”
“A natural disaster when it comes to preparing food,” I finish for her.
“Hey!” Khiêm exclaims, grinning. “That’s not… okay, fine, it’s totally true.”
“You cook for him?” Quang asks me, digging into his chicken. “Every day?”
“Yes, I do,” I reply. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
He takes a bite of the food, nods in approval, and then turns to his son. “You,” his father tells Khiêm with a serious look in his eyes. “You are a very lucky man. Your girlfriend can cook, and she doesn’t mind that you are useless in the kitchen. When I found a woman like that, I married her.”
Oh wow, what the fuck is happening?
Amy laughs again, putting a hand on her husband’s arm. “Nia, you can still run. I’m stuck with this one, but you’re young. You could try to find a man who can cook.”
“I’d rather keep this one,” I reply, my mind reeling. Are they seriously both approving of me for their son? They’re laughing, and eating, and suddenly the conversation is flowing. Not the way it would if my mom and dad were here, but Quang is telling us a story about how he once set off the smoke alarm trying to make breakfast in bed for Amy, and Amy chimes in with loving remarks about how it’s the thought that counts.
Judging by the look on Khiêm’s face, he just died and went to heaven.
Of course, there is still dessert to fuck up this night completely. The second I put four pieces of chocolate hazelnut ice cream cheesecake in front of us, the mood somehow shifts to be as icy as the food on the table.
“Now that you found yourself a good woman, are you going to stop streaming?” Quang asks without preamble.
“Quang…” Amy sighs, adding a few words in Chinese.
He replies in what I think it Vietnamese, and it can’t be very nice, because Khiêm grunts and Amy frowns. “All this internet stuff is not a real job,” he says in plain old English, his attention on me now. “You must want him to find a normal job as well. If he keeps living this… dream… he won’t be able to provide for you and your future children.”
“Dad, this is not up for discussion,” Khiêm says before I can answer. “I’m sorry for upsetting you, and I won’t talk about you online ever again, but I’m not going to suddenly get a job like Phuong and Ngoc. I’d be miserable.”
“Life is about more than joy,” his father states sternly.
“Yes, but I make money doing what I love, so I don’t see why I’d stop doing that.”
Cue a stare-off that feels like it might never end.
“Khiêm makes enough money to provide for both of us.” I’m not sure if it’s wise for me to speak up, but I can’t just sit here and say nothing. “Of course I pitch in, and I’ve been helping him with his merch, so he’s been earning even more lately. Basically, he’s been putting a roof over my head for four months now. Besides, it’s not his job to provide for me or any future kids anyway. Either my web shop is going to take off, or I will get a job after my internship. I am going to pay my dues. But I don’t have to right now, which should be evidence of how well he’s doing for himself.”
“You can provide for her with your streaming… things?” Quang asks, sounding baffled.
“Yes,” Khiêm says, sighing. “I’ve been telling you for years that I don’t need an office job to earn money, Dad. I work hard. I can pay rent. I have savings – some, not much, I will give you that – and I’m happy.”
“You have savings?” his father asks, still flabbergasted.
“Do you want to see my financial statements?” Khiêm bites out.
Of course, his father nods, which annoys Khiêm to no end, but he pulls out his phone and logs into his bank account anyway, handing it to his father. Quang’s eyes almost pop out of his head, and he shows the screen to Amy, who looks taken-aback as well.
“As you can see, my job may not be traditional, but it pays the bills,” Khiêm says in a tight voice. “Now can I have my phone back and will you stop trying to convince me to switch careers?”
Quang hesitantly gives back his son’s phone. “I want to see,” he says, his tone definite.
“See what?” Khiêm asks, looking at me in confusion, but I can’t help him. I’m lost as well.
“I want to see your job. Tomorrow. What time do you start?”
Khiêm is at loss for words, so I jump in. “Nine, usually. Right after breakfast. He goes on till midnight, or even later, so make sure to get lots of sleep tonight. We’ll show you what a normal day looks like for us, if you want.”
Quang nods. “Very well. Let’s have dessert and then we’ll go home so I can sleep.”
Silence stretches out again, and Khiêm is squeezing my hand so hard it hurts. Fifteen minutes later, his parents leave, and Amy even hugs me before they take off.
“What the fuck just happened?” Khiêm breaths, leaning heavily against the closed front door.
“Progress,” I state simply.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but if tonight is any indication, I think Quang and Amy night surprise us.