"Just be yourself, they'll love you." She says before pushing me out into the foyer. To the wolves.
My grandparents look nervous too. Well thats something at least.
"Hi." I smile standing there awkwardly. Where the hell is Andras!? Where did Christian go? I'll take anybody right now!
"Hi, you must be Grace. Im Ronald, your grandfather." The man says. Hes tall like Andras with the same green eyes and dark hair as me. The woman next to me looks like mom so much it hurts.
"Hello dear, im Diane, your grandmother." She smiles nervously. Her smile is different from moms. Soft instead of cruel. Actually all of Diane looks softer than mom, kinder. She is well fed and she takes care of herself. Mom was always thin and twitching. Her brown hair was thin and greasy where Diane's is full and shiny.
At first glance they may look alike but it is very clear that they are very different people. Thank God!
"Its nice to meet you. Andras said he's going to be a bit late at work so we can start without him." I blabber.
"You dont call him uncle?" Diane asks.
"Uh... well to be honest its only been like three days of knowing I had other family. Im still kind of adjusting. He hasn't said anything about it so I just assumed it was ok." I explain.
"I was just curious. No judgement." She says with a smile. Richard smiles at me giving me some silent support. Hes awesome.
He leads us to the dining room where Ruby has the table set at one end of the long wooden table. We devolve into awkward silence immediately. Great start Grace.
"So, what do you do for a living?" I ask. Thats a normal question right?
"We're retired, sweetie." Diane states. "What about you? Do you have a part time job?" Well that backfired.
"Um... ya, I fight." I mumble.
"Im sorry?" They ask at the same time. Oh boy.
"I...uh... fight? Well, thats what I did before I came here. I have a fight friday too." I explain.
"Like boxing?" Ronald asks.
"More of a mixed martial arts situation." I clarify. A slow smile spreads across his face making me fucking terrified.
"I used to box. Thats how I met your grandmother." He beams. Yay bonding over violence! That, I can do.
"Really?" I ask.
"Oh yes. He was very handsome. I was working as a bartender at Rudy's when we were in college." She smiles fondly at her husband.
"Rudy's? Downtown?" I ask.
"Yes do you know it?"
"Ya, thats where I fight! He added a gym behind the bar about ten years ago. I used to clean it in exchange for training." I say excitedly.
"How long have you been training?" Ronald asks.
"About five years?" I say thinking back.
"Oh wow you started early! What made you go into fighting?" And here comes the awkward.
"Uh... I was originally looking for self defense." I say quietly.
"At twelve? Thats... smart. But I feel like there's more to this than just wanting to protect yourself." Diane hedges.
"There is." I admit.
"Did that bastard hurt you?" Ronald roars.
"Listen, I dont want to tell you bad things today." I hedge. I see Diane turn cold looking like mom again.
"It was both of them wasn't it?" She asks in a low voice.
"Yes, ma'am." I whisper. In an instant Ronald is up and storming out of the room and Diane is silently seething in her seat. Ruby chooses this time to bring out dinner. Poor thing.
"Thank you." I smile awkwardly as she dishes me a small helping.
"Of course sweetie. Is everything ok?" She asks.
"It will be." I assure her.
"If you're sure." She says kissing the top of my head before dishing up Diane and Ronald's plates.
"Ruby seems quite taken with you." Diane observes with what looks like approval.
"Its mutual." I smile.
"Good. You deserve a strong female influence." She nods stabbing a noodle with her fork.
"So, what did you go to college for?" I ask trying to wrestle the conversation back to a safe topic.
"I was a doctor. I specialized in addictions." Well, there goes that plan.
"What about...Grandpa?" I try again. Judging by the small smile on her face i did the right thing. Hooray!
"He was a lawyer like Andras."
"A defense attorney?" I ask.
"Cool. So what do you do now that youre retired?" I ask.
"Well we usually putter and travel a lot. Have you traveled much?" She asks.
"No but ive always wanted to." I admit.
"Well, when you graduate maybe we'll take you on a trip." She offers. "Where would you like to visit if you could?"
"Everywhere." I chuckle.
"Ah you have my nomadic soul. I dont like staying in one spot for too long either." She says with a wink as Ronald walks back inside with bloody knuckles and Christian and Andras on his heels looking concerned.
"I'll grab some more plates." I say standing up and heading to the kitchen. I take a deep breath as I grab two extra settings and try to calm myself down.
Ruby finds me and starts swatting at me again pushing me back into the tense dining room so I stumble. I have no plates now but Ruby is right behind me muttering about stubborn girls and blessing my heart.
"So, I hear you've driven your grandfather to the gym already. What happened?" Andras asks with a smirk.
"You have a gym here too?" I ask incredulously making him chuckle and nod.
"Nice try. Dont change the subject." He smiles.
"Worth a shot. Mom came up in the conversation." I confess.
"Oh. Got it." He nods dishing up himself and Christian some food.
"Im sorry sweetheart. Whats your name?" Diane asks Christian. He stands up and offers his hand to both of them.
"Christian Bianchi. I work for your son." He smiles.
"I offered him food since his father is busy with work." Shit. Mr. Bianchi must have taken my advice about cleaning house. Probably for the best. A man like that can't have any weak links in his circle.
"Oh of course. I was just curious." She smiles i dont miss her glance between Christian and I. I can practically feel her plotting. Dear God. Leave it alone woman!
"So Grace and I were just talking about taking her on a trip after graduation." She continues.
"Oh. Where?" Andras asks.
"We were just discussing that."
"Oh! Grace i forgot to tell you. We got a hold of your ID from your old house." He throws at me.
"They actually kept it?" I ask.
"It seems so. Officer Torrez took me over there yesterday." He says looking pale. I know what he found. Filth. I can still smell the hellhole I grew up in.
"Oh. Well I guess I can get rid of my fake one then." I smile.
"A fake ID?" Grandpa asks. I think they'll get a laugh out of it. So I fish it out of my pocket and hand it over. He booms out a laugh before passing it to grandma. She cackles loudly and passes it along. Everyone is laughing in no time.
The obnoxious looking photo of me with the name Toni Soprano on the card is comedy gold. Ray's buddy Craig did it for me. We all had a laugh making it.
"Why Toni Soprano?" Andras asks.
"There may have been alcohol involved." I admit.
"Did she tell you she fights at Rudy's too?" Grandpa asks proudly.
"No. Why are you fighting?" He asks.
"A girls gotta eat." I shrug. "I have a fight friday too...and a tattoo appointment."
"A tattoo?" Diane chokes.
"It will be my third." I smile.
"You are quite surprising." Diane smiles. You have no idea!
"Whats your other tattoo?" Christian asks. "Ive seen the crow. What else?"
"Its kind of sentimental. I dont like showing it off." I explain. He nods with a small smile.
"Where do you go? I wanted another one soon." He smiles.
"My buddy Gabe. What do you have?" I ask. I know I shouldn't have but I need to know!
"I have a bunch." He evades. I nod understanding he doesn't want to show them all off at the dinner table. I just really wanted him to take his shirt off. Bad Grace!
"So, how's rudy doing these days?" Grandpa asks.
"Crazy. Someone opened a pizza joint down the road from the gym and now he's addicted to their chicken wings. He should be due for an intervention pretty soon." I chuckle.
"Ya, that sounds like him." He nods. "I want to see you fight so bad."
"Oh! Hold on! I'll ask Ray to send a video. He usually films my fights." I explain sending him a text.
"Whos Ray? A boyfriend?" Andras asks.
"No. Hes my best friend." I snort. We finish our dinner with idle chit chat until Ray sends me the video. I pass it to grandpa and watch as they all huddle around the screen to watch. I didn't think Christian would want to see that. I'm nervous he's going to recognize me.
Grandpa lets out a low whistle.
"Girlie you are vicious." He says proudly.
"I take back what I said earlier. You are the strong female influence in your life. Im proud of you." Grandma beams making my face heat.
"Youre so tiny!" Christian chuckles. Andras has his brows pinched together concentrating on the video.
"Youre good. Really good." He comments stiffly handing me the phone back.
"Thank you." I mumble. I'll have to talk to him later.
I sit at the pub my dad owns as Dylan laughs at me. Some best friend.
"You said what? Hold on! Mr. McConnell! You have to hear this!" Dylan howls. Asshole. My dad does not need to hear about my failure of a love life.
I did everything right. I asked her uncle, I was respectful, I called him sir. He even said I could ask her. Then I looked in her gorgeous green eyes and I fucking blew it. I had a plan. I fucking practiced it. I never do that.
Its never been that important. Grace matters. That day in gym class was great. Shes funny and nice and tough as nails. So many scars, so much she has survived. I am in awe of her. Kennedy said she went through hell before she came to live with her uncle.
She deserves the best and maybe thats not me but I gotta give it a shot.
"What did you do?" Dad asks.
"He... he.. oh God." Dylan gasps. I heave a large sigh.
"I tried to ask a girl I like out. It didn't go well." I admit.
"Didn't go well is an understatement!" Dylan cackles. "He basically said her uncle gave her to him!"
"Ya ya I fucked up." I growl into my beer.
"What girl? I'll have a talk with her." Dad threatens.
"No! I'll get her. I just messed up the first time. Don't get involved!" I plead.
"Fine. Whats this girl like?" He says pouring a pint of beer for himself. "Dylan, fuck off."
Dylan leaves still chuckling to himself.
"So? Whats she like? She must be something if you're drinking over her." He observes.
"Ya, she is. Her name is Grace."
"How did you meet her?" He asks.
"I watched her threaten some jackass from school." I smirk remembering that vicious little grin at the diner.
"That sounds like something Ace would do." He laughs. "If it doesn't work out with this Grace girl maybe think about Ace. She would make a good partner when you take over."
"I dont even know her."
"Well, I have to call her tonight to help with some information. Maybe stay and get to know her." He shrugs.