Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 54byrpsuch©
I left for Jeff's at noon. I said, "See you later," as I headed for the door.
"Wait a second, Ashley," my mother called.
"I know. I'm going there now," I said.
My father had an annoyed look on his face.
Good. I wanted to spend time with the rest of the family. Pissing off my father was just a bonus.
Harri and Sam gushed over their trip. Sam was excited by what he learned about the cooking. Harri was amazed at the sense of community, the many similarities to living on their commune.
They replayed large portions of the trip and seemed as excited telling it as they must have been living it.
The mood changed as Harri intertwined the fingers of her left hand with my right. She put her right hand on top.
"Ashley, Jeff is terrific and he's only going to get better as he matures. But Jeff is the lucky one. Women with your mind and your heart are very rare. If I had the opportunity to magically pick out a woman for Jeff from all the women I've ever known, and I've known a lot of very wonderful women, you're the one I would pick. I feel as strongly about you for Jeff as I did when I picked my Sam for me."
"I'm still here, you know," said Sam.
I don't know when the first tear started to slide down my cheek, but I had a few now and felt on the precipice of a deluge.
"So you know how I feel about you when I say this," she continued. "Sweetie, your mom and dad are the only parents you'll ever have. I'm not saying they've done a good job. I'm not saying you should forgive anything they've done. I'm just reminding you: they're it.
"That's an important relationship for most people. They may not recognize it and they may not have any plans to repair it; I don't know.
"We just want you to remember that you have the ability to change it. You may not be able to change them, but you can change yourself and that will change the relationship."
"You don't have to do anything," said Sam. "We just believe that when a relationship is troubled, you don't have to wait for something magical to happen. You can talk about it. You can decide what you want from it and you can do something to make that happen.
"You won't always succeed. But you won't have to live with the regret you could have done something if you had only tried."
Harri lifted her right hand and ran it down my hair.
"We love you, sweetie. We'll help you any way we can. Just ask."
I started to cry and collapsed into her embrace. Sam's reassuring hand pressed lightly on my back.
When I settled down, Harri said, "It's time for Ashley and me to talk about a ring."
Sam got the message and left us alone.
"For a project like this, I like the ring to say something about you, about Jeff and about your relationship.
"Most people like to pick out their favorite metals, or jewels or symbols, but I feel if you're going to the effort of designing your own statement, it should be a statement about who you are - not what you like.
"But, it's your ring. I'll make suggestions and ask questions, but who cares what I think? In the end, it's up to you."
I guess it was like the way this family treated misbehavior: We talked about it. Next!
It would take some getting used to.
Harri left me to think about my ring. We'd talk again over the break.
I wandered out into the front hall. Louis was putting on a coat.
"Ashley, would you like to take a walk with me? I've got an exercise program now."
I considered it, nodded slightly and said, "Don't mind if I do."
The air was crisp and the day was bright. We walked briskly.
"You've come a long way Louis. It really scared me, waiting to see how you were and seeing you looking so fragile."
"It meant a lot to me that you came and had such a worried look on your face."
I laughed. "I've had a strong connection with you," I held up my left hand, "since you got me my ring."
"The first time Jeff asked you out and came home so crushed, I was pretty angry. You didn't have to be so callous. But, the truth was, Jeff made a rookie mistake.
"You were so different when he brought you home last Thanksgiving. And with the way you took Sandy under your wing, it was impossible for us not to love you."
I felt my cheeks get hot, no doubt from the physical exertion.
"We're on your side," he said. "If you need to reconnect with your parents, that's fine. If you need to disconnect, that's fine. If you need mediation and we can help, that's fine, we'll help."
Was I going to get this pep talk from each member of the family?
Then we shared one of the most intense forms of communication. We didn't say anything. We just walked and breathed heavily from the effort, understanding that choosing to do this together was a sufficient statement without the addition of conversation.
When we got back to the house, held out his arms and we hugged.
"Thank you for joining me, Ashley. I enjoyed our walk."
I showered, then took my clothes to Sandy's room. I poked my head in and asked if I could change in there.
Nobody would have minded if I changed in Jeff's room; we had been living together for more than half a year in total and it wasn't a secret.
But, the familiarity hadn't dulled our passion for each other. He would look at my naked body. I would look at him looking at my naked body. He would see my interest.
It's one thing to be comfortable with everyone knowing I was changing in front of Jeff. It's quite another to be moved to close the door and be passionate enough that the entire family could not help but know what we were doing.
"Of course you can come in," said Sandy. "You don't even need to ask. You're my friend, my sister.
"God, you invited me up for Jeff's graduation. I can't begin to tell you how that made me feel. But if you need me to, I will begin."
I looked at her askance as I tried to decide if she was serious. The corners of her mouth twitched upward.
"A nerd with a sense of humor," I said.
"We all have a sense of humor. It's just that very often we're the only ones who understand what we're saying."
We both laughed. It wasn't quite true. She was wrong about how often. There was a lot of Jeff in her.
"So, sis, have you got time this weekend for your second annual makeup training seminar?" I asked.
"Absolutely," she said.
"Good. Plan on lunch and a few additional hours. I want you to help me pick out your belated sixteenth birthday present."
"Oh boy, that's exciting. For now, I'd better get changed. Your parents should be coming over very soon."
"I'll let you do that." I left to find Sunny or Jeff, the two I hadn't seen today.
I found them along with Sam working in the kitchen.
Sunny noticed me first.
"Sorry I haven't been out to see you," she said. "We'll be done here in a few minutes."
Before those few minutes had passed, the doorbell rang. I sure wasn't going to answer it.