Falling Home Ch. 03byMaryJane26©
The flight was long an uneventful. I thought about Natalie the entire way. By the time the plane touched down in Atlanta I had memorized everything about her and decided that I rather liked the way the corner of her eyes crinkled slightly when she smiled, showing lines that would deepen as she laughed her way into old age.
I was running through our brief time together for the umpteenth time when I heard, rather than saw, my mom. "Adrianne! Adi, over here Adi!"
Mom and dad were standing by the luggage carrousel with my bags. She was waving at me, the tinsel decorations of her Christmas earrings dancing in the light. I smiled at her and waved. She poked dad in the side and he walked to meet me.
"Lookin' good, pumpkin," he wrapped me in a big hug. Dad was tall and lanky. He had to stoop down to hug me and his arms wrapped around both me and my back pack.
"You look good too dad. I've missed you."
"I've missed you more."
Mom was still by my luggage looking as antsy as a kid waiting for Santa. She was bouncing on her heels and smiling hugely. She waved me forward with impatience. "I guess you better go hug your mother. She's going to have a fit if you don't."
Dad took my bag and I went to mom. She squeezed me and I could smell the salon-fresh scent of her hair. I stood back and smiled at her. "Did you get your hair done just to come pick me up?"
"Yes, I had it done this morning. I wanted them to cut it, but not a whole lot, and to add color. You see here," she pointed to the top of her head, "I had them put a deep red here so it would cover any grays and then I thought, 'what the heck' and had them do a whole range of colors to blend. It couldn't decide what to do with it. Can you see what they did there?" She turned around and pointed to the back of her neck.
"It looks really good."
"Yeah," I looked at dad. He shrugged slightly so mom wouldn't notice. Her hair looked the same as it did the last time we were standing in the Atlanta airport.
"It always looks nice," Dad said. He grabbed my other bag and began to move towards the exit. "We should get moving. When we get to the car I want to hear all about England."
"Oh yes. You have to tell us all about it. What it's like, the people, the food? I really want to hear about all your posh friends."
Mom kept talking until we reached the car. I never got a chance to get a word in to answer her. I don't think she really wanted an answer, anyway. We had pulled out of the parking lot and were well on the way home before she asked me the question I had been dreading.
"So, are you dating anyone?"
I sighed, "No."
"Well you have to try, you know. You're pretty, but you can't just sit around and read your books all day. You have to make and effort and meet people."
"I know, mom," I tried to placate her.
"How else are you going to get married?"
"Life's not all about getting married." I did not want to get into this before we even got home. It was bad enough that I was going to school to study something masculine like Literary Theory, but not to have married first; that was one of the 'cardinal sins according to mom'.
"Yes, but if you don't get married, you're going to be alone. You don't want to be alone. Do you?"
"Sometimes. Depends on the mood I'm in."
She didn't appreciate my joke. "I hope you're in the right mood while you're home; that's all I have to say."
"Why?" I asked. Mom sounded hopeful. Too hopeful.
"Dad, what's mom talking about?"
"Hmmm?" He acted like he wasn't following the conversation. Maybe he really was concentrating on the road, but I doubted it. Dad was more laid back than mom, but he still was very traditional and even though he has never said anything, I know he was disappointed when I decided not to stay home and run the shop and settle down, have a few kids.
"I asked what mom has up her sleeve."
Dad looked at me in the rearview mirror and smiled, "There's no telling what she has up those sleeves. Look at them. Do you really want to know?"
Mom playfully smacked dad in the arm and they both laughed. I was a bit worried, but ignored it as we pulled off onto our exit.
Coming home is an event. It always is, and there will always be some part of my extended family to take up my time. I was hardly in the door before the phone was ringing with various grandparents and cousins wanting to know when I was free.
I wasn't sure I wanted to be free.
Mom was chatting to grandmother Strum as I made faces indicating that I didn't want to talk and escaped to my room. I closed the door behind me and fell onto my bed. My room hadn't changed a since I'd left. This was going to be a long vacation.
I was falling asleep, thinking about Natalie, when mom burst through the door announcing that we would all be having dinner at 7:30 p.m.
"By all, who do you mean?" I asked, not bothering to sit up.
"You know; the family."
"So you, me, dad?"
"And Grandmother Strum, Grandmother and Grandfather Benson, your cousins Colton, Jane, Annie, Holly, Emma, Bonnie, Amanda, John and Clay. And, a few of their kids."
"You're kidding right?" I hoped to God she was kidding. She was looking in the mirror and ignoring the look of horror on my face.
"What? We always have a family get together." She was acting innocent, which made it worse.
"It's just that I feel like chilling out and not doing anything tonight. I had a long flight; I'm gross; I need a shower and I want to go to bed."
"You have a few hours, plenty of time to shower and have a quick nap."
"Where're we going?"
"We're having a little back-yard barbecue." I groaned; mom ignored me and continued to fluff her hair in the mirror. "You think this hair is alright? I'd hate to give your Grandma Strum a heat attack."
"If something as small as changing your hair gives her a heart attack, then God help her. It looks fine."
After mom left, I rolled off my bed and dug my cell phone out of my bag. I plugged it into the charger and called Kim, my best friend. I knew that after a family get together like mom had planned that I was going to need to go have more than a few drinks to relax and undo the trauma that repeating myself fourteen times would cause. In fact, I invited Kim to dinner.
It was nearing 7:30 p.m. and I couldn't hide in my room any longer. There was a soft knock on my door. "Come in."
Dad stuck his head in. He was wearing a goofy chef's hat and an apron from his butcher shop, stained pink from years of bloody chopping. "Hey," he wiggled some tongs at me, "Just letting you know that everyone's arriving and I'm about to start up the grill. You should probably think about coming down."
I smiled at him, "Okay dad, I'll be there in a minute."
I took the next five minutes to pack on extra concealer to cover the dark circles that were well formed under my eyes and added a bit of perfume to my neck. Shit. Grandmother Benson's allergic to practically everything.
I opened the door to my room and yelled down the hall, "Is grandma Benson coming?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Grandma Benson called back to me.
Shit. I went to the bathroom and began to scrub at my neck, trying to get all the perfume off that I could. I tossed some baby powder on my neck for good measure and hoped to God that she wasn't allergic to that too. Then I went down to face the crowd, red neck and all.
Grandma Benson met me at the bottom of the stairs with arms wide open. "Grandma!" I went into her arms.
"I was wondering when you would grace us with your presence," Grandma said.
"Yeah shorty, she was about to brave the stairs with her knees and come get you," Grandpa Benson laughed. He still looked the same. A few more gray hairs, but his belly, button up shirt and unlit cigar dangling from his mouth showed he was still the grandpa I knew and loved.
Grandma Benson released me and said, "You smell wonderful, Adi. What is that? Baby Powder?"
"Matter of fact, it is."
Grandpa held open his arms. I went into his massive hug and stayed there for as long as I could. He smelled of unlit tobacco and mint from the tin of Altos he kept in his pocket. Grandpa Benson was my favorite relative. He was much more relaxed and liberal than the rest of the family who generally ascribed to a Hell fire and damnation view of the world. I think family money gave him that luxury.
I missed getting to sit down and talk to Grandpa Benson. He used to take me fishing and tell me about the world. He was the one who inspired me to go abroad for my degree. Hell, he told me to get my degree anyway, when everyone else in the family expected me to just take over at the shop and move from weekend counter girl to full-time, small town butcher.
As I broke away from Grandpa Benson he winked at me. I winked back and turned around, quickly finding myself in another relative's embrace.
Around 8 p.m. dad was serving up the burgers and steaks from the grill. He grilled chicken just for me. I thanked him as I moved down the line and added salad, grilled vegetables and a roll to my plate.
I had almost given up hope for Kim when mom brought her through the back door and yelled, "Adi, Kim's here." She ushered Kim my way, but not before steering her through the line for food.
"I thought you were standing me up." I tried to look angry.
"You did not. I just wanted to give your family time to begin stuffing their faces before I showed up."
"I wish I could have done that." I led Kim under the large Pecan tree near the back of the yard, away from my crazy family. I put my food on the ground and took hers from her and did the same. "Hey," she started to object but I turned to her and wrapped her in a hug.
"Hey yourself," I said in her ear. "I missed you so much. Do you know what it's like to go around the world and not meet anyone that can come close to being as good a friend as you?"
"Aw, you're sweet. I missed you too Adi."
After we had finished eating and the family had begun to peter out and go back to their respective homes, Kim asked, "So, whatcha got in mind for tonight?"
"I was thinking that I need to go to the Turnbull."
"Good choice. You ready to go?"
"Since I landed."
I thanked mom and dad for the lovely welcome home barbecue. Then Kim and I made our way to the Turnbull, the local bar in our small town. Kim and I had spent many a drunken nights here. But living in such a small town made it hard to get too crazy without everyone dropping by your dad's shop to bend his ear a little; another reason I had to get away.
I was the lightweight; Kim was the drinker. I ordered myself a glass of red wine and Kim a pint of Guinness and took them to the corner table she nabbed for us. I sat her beer down in front of her, spilling a little on the table.
"Easy there, tiger. That's like spilling gold."
"Except you can't go have another pint of gold poured at the bar. Guess it's a good thing I'm not a waitress."
"Yeah, you definitely wouldn't get a tip from me." I smacked Kim in the arm.
"So tell me, how's life on the other side?"
Other side of what? Am I that obvious? Can she tell that I've been thinking of nothing but a girl that I only met last night? I need to say something.
I bit my tongue.
"Life's good. Busy, rainy, and cold, but I love it." Kim seemed to buy what I was telling her. "How's life over here? You still like your job?"
"Yeah, my job's not too bad. I guess that degree was pretty useless, but I like being a sales rep." She took a pull of her drink. "It's something different everyday. You know?"
"I know," I reassured her.
"And, I don't have to sit in a stuffy office. And, the company pays for my cell phone."
My purse buzzed at me. "Speaking of cell phones." I put down my wine and pulled out my cell; I flipped it open. It said, "One new message." I opened the text, it was from Natalie: I'm not sure if you'll get this, but I hope you had a safe trip and good holidays! <3 Natalie P.S. last night was great.
I stared at the screen for a while, too long, because Kim was trying to get my attention. "Wow," she said once I was paying attention, "That must be a hard core text for you to study it so long."
"No, it's just from a friend in London, wishing me happy holidays," I tried to act nonchalant, but inside my heart was racing.
"So who is this friend? Does my Adi have a new love interest that she hasn't told me about yet?"
I could feel the blush creeping up on my face. I quickly flipped my phone shut and drank some wine. "Me? A love interest? Hardly. You should know better than that Kim."
"Then why are you blushing like mad?"
Shit. "I uh..." I started to talk, but I couldn't get the words out.
"Come on. Tell me all about tall, dark and handsome."
"Really, it's nothing. No big deal."
"Never is, is it?" Kim swiped my cell phone and flipped it open. I reached for it and spilt her beer everywhere. Kim jumped up, cursing and went to the bathroom to dry off her shirt and pants. I grabbed napkins from the bar and mopped up the table. It was only then I realized that she had taken my phone with her.
I downed the rest of my wine and waited. A few minutes later Kim walked out and stopped at the bar. She carried a new beer over to the table and sat down. I didn't say anything. She pulled my phone out of her purse and made as if to hand it to me. Then jerked it back.
"You know I love you. But you've got some explaining to do." She handed me my phone. I fingered it and slid it into my purse and looked at Kim.
"Come on Adi. What's going on?"
I sighed, "I don't know. I mean. I just went to a bar last night and it turned out to be a gay bar. And we got to talking at the bar and then she kept turning up at all the right times to save me when someone would hit on me. And then we went to a coffee shop to get out of the smoke and I ended up going home with her..."
"But nothing happened. I slept on the sofa. She wouldn't let me take a bus back to my hostel at that time of the morning. Then I went to the airport this morning and that's it. I swear."
"Why don't I believe you?"
Cause I don't believe it myself? I tried to look genuine and like I wasn't holding something back. She wasn't buying it.
"What aren't you telling me?"
"I know you better than that. A girl you just met doesn't send texts across the Atlantic just to make sure you got home alright when she just met you. Pony up."
"It's just that, there's something there. Every time she touched me, innocent touching," I put my hands up to help make my case, "something shot through me. I don't know what's happening, but she does something to me." I looked down. I had barely been able to deal with this myself; I didn't know how my best friend would react.
I waited with bated breath. Kim didn't say anything. My eyes teared up. What if she hated me? What if she told my parents? What would happen then? I was beginning to freak out when I felt Kim's hand slide over mine.
"No matter what, I love you Adi. You're my best friend and if some chick makes you happy, that's okay with me, as long as you don't get hurt. Okay?"
"I..." I started to talk and then began to cry in earnest as my gratitude overwhelmed me. "I don't know what's going on with me. I've never... I mean I didn't think... what will people say? You won't tell anyone will you?"
"You're secret's safe with me," she said and handed me a damp napkin to wipe my tears. "Now stop crying. This is still a small town and tomorrow it'll be everywhere that I made you cry at the bar. Come on, cheer up."
I sniffed a bit and stopped crying. "I'm never this emotional; I'm just exhausted. We should get going."
Kim didn't move. I stood and waited for her to do the same. "We're not going anywhere till you text your girlfriend back and tell you got home safe and that you're thinking about her and that you love her and want to kiss her and..."
"Kim! I do not."
"Then text her."
"Fine." I sat back down and pulled out my phone and got ready to compose a message; then my mind went blank.
"I don't know what to say," I admitted.
"Tell her you made it home ok and that you hope she has a great holiday too."
"You are brilliant, what would I do without you?"
"There's no telling. Don't forget to tell her you want to see her soon and that you will dream of her."
"Kim, please," I admonished, but I knew that I would.
By the time Kim dropped me off at my parent's it was well past one in the morning. I was exhausted. I washed my face and changed clothes and fell into bed. I was almost asleep when my cell phone buzzed again from my purse.
I drug myself out of bed and retrieved my phone, not bothering to check the message until I was tucked under my covers again. It was from Natalie. "Email me sometime- Xoxo."
I closed my phone and tried to get some sleep.