In a pleasant house slightly north of Santa Cruz's downtown, grey-walled and rose-gardened, a brother and a sister had their weekly meeting, as well as the discussion they'd had every time they met for the last two months, and would probably continue to have until the family reunion two weeks hence.
“George, I can’t invite him to dinner. Mother will kill me.” Eline turned to her brother in despair, cell phone clenched in her hands.
“Well, she’s already bent on killing me for not going home this weekend. Might as well make it a double murder and accompany each other to the hereafter.” He stretched himself out on the sofa and toyed with a lapel of his jacket. Eline choked out a laugh.
“I live to please.” He flipped up a cushion with his feet, caught it and stuffed it behind his head. His brown hair lay like an inverted halo on the white linen.
“Well, I’ll call in a little while. You’re here now. Can I get you something to drink?” She walked into the kitchen, flipflops clopping against the floor and her brown feet.
“Anything with caffeine in it!” He closed his eyes and stretched, so his arms and shins stuck out over either armrest of the couch.
“Have you called him yet?” asked George through a mouthful of salad-wrap, a week later. Eline wrinkled her nose at the bits of lettuce sprinkling her sandwich. He didn't seem to mind the passersby ambling by their table.
“No, not yet. I’ve been rather busy.” She took a bite so she didn’t have to say anything else. This was not a topic for a Pacific Street terrace, she felt.
He snorted “At this rate, you’ll end up like those lovers in the operas you play, kissing each other after twenty songs on how wretched you are without each other and how life is perfect when you look in his eyes.” He drained his cup of coffee and signaled for a refill. “Claptrap it is. Just call him.” He waved his arms around. “Look where you are. Some of these people don't even believe in marriage, and others are miserable with love because they've watched too many romantic comedies and think they should be walking over the beach every Saturday. Don't buy into it. Live your life, like, for real.”
“I will, if you give me the time to.” She avoided her brother’s eyes.
Around another bite of salad wrap, he said, “You've had more than enough time.”
“And?” George entered the kitchen with a swish around the pillar supporting the bar. It was the grand day of the family reunion.
“And what?” Eline dried her hands on the tea towel. Her brown hair was already curled for the party, but she still had her jeans and blouse on.
“Is he coming?” He leanded against the bar, pushing the button on the coffee machine. He had exchanged his customary jacket for a neater red one, but had made no further concessions to the occasion.
“Not so loud, mother will hear!” she hissed. Her eyes widened when the machine gurgled. “That still needs a cup, you idiot.” She grabbed one from the drying rack.
“No soap suds in my ambrosia!” He pulled it away, wiped it on the tea towel hanging over his sister’s shoulder and put it back underneath in time to catch the first drops.
She crossed her arms. “Nectar’s the drink, ambrosia’s the food.”
He blinked. “Whatever. Is he coming?” He hunted around in the closet above the furnace for the cinnamon syrup. He had to settle for caramel.
“Yes.” She turned back to the pile of plates and cups she'd just cleaned, drying towl in hand.
He twirled a finger around. “Go on.”
“Hmph.” She stacked another plate in the sink cupboard.
“Please?” Silence. “For your baby brother?” When she turned around to glare, he hit her with a megawatt puppy-eyes stare.
“Alright!” She whacked him with the towel. “I called him, eventually. He said he loved to come over, that he’d bring the best wine he could find, and he promised he’d behave himself.”
Twenty shades of disbelief crossed his face. “You made your boyfriend promise to behave himself?”
“Well, yes. I’m introducing him to my family, aren’t I?” One eyebrow was cranked up, a nonverbal sign of code orange.
“After four years of steady dating, you ask a mature guy to behave himself?” George's
“Yes,” Eline said, and the second eyebrow joined the first.
“Well, this is truly an epic romance, then, if he loves you so much he’d take that into stride.” George turned to the coffee machine. And sputtered out his amusement when he could no longer control it. Eline pushed him out of the kitchen, coffee cup, impetuous grin and all.
An hour later, Eline allowed him to enter the kitchen again. “How late will he be here?”
“In a few minutes. In fact,” she said when the doorbell rang, “that’ll be him.” She ran her hands over her dress, the same red as her brother's jacket.
Before either of them could reach the door, however, Eline’s mother’d already opened the door and hugged the man outside. “Frank! What are you doing here. George, Eline, allow me to introduce you to my saintly handyman.”
Eline froze. “Handyman.” George was holding his stomach, the tears streaming over his face. He “G-g-g-g-guck”ed and sat down on the hallway stool. That thawed her enough to whack him upside the head. “Mum…Frank is my boyfriend.” With a deep breath, she stepped forward to stand next to the blank-faced blond.