Word Count: 4,255
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather spend Christmas at Matty’s house?” Taylor asked.
“Rather? I don’t know the answer to that, but we can’t avoid my parents forever, and I was supposed to spend Christmas with them. New Year’s in New York.”
“At least there’s that.”
“We’ll be able to ring in the New Year newlywed style.”
“What would stop us from doing that here?”
“You’re going to have sex in your parents’ house?”
“Oh,” she said.
“Yeah, oh,” he said with a light laugh. He kissed her before finding their way to the rental car kiosk. Her dad offered to pick them up, but she knew that Taylor wanted a car of his own just in case things exploded. The damage was already done, though.
He’d rented a convertible so the ride to her parents’ house was fun since it was an ideal California day. As nervous as she was to see her parents, she couldn’t wait to see Lyle. She felt bad for him with her getting so much of her dad’s attention because of her ability. He never said anything, but she’d mentioned taking him to Disneyland for a day and Taylor had been all for it. That was assuming her parents would let him out of the house with her.
“I’m a little surprised they’re still having me for Christmas.”
“What? Why wouldn’t they?”
“My dad was pretty mad.”
“Sure he was, but you’re still his daughter. He’s not going to disinvite you to Christmas, Claire. I don’t even think my dad would do something like that.”
“I don’t know.”
“Babe, everything’s going to be okay. I know I’m not going to wow him with my charming personality and good looks, but I’ll do the best I can.”
“You’ve got good looks.”
“Yeah, if you like the type of looks that go with someone who’s seen the wrong end of knives and bottles.”
“You look fine to me,” she said.
“I believe you when you say it, but I don’t understand it. Especially when I saw that Justin guy.”
“What about him,” she said with a frown.
“He looks nothing like me. Neither does Adam.”
“And every one of your previous girlfriends looked like me?”
“Well, no, but what I’m talking about, body type, they’ve all been pretty similar if you know what I mean.”
“Well, I’m with you not Justin.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“And I’ll be there for every fight I can be. I’m not ashamed of you or what you do, Taylor.”
“I know that, too. In fact, I thought of something.”
“I want you to start working out with me.”
“Not like fighting working out, not that boxing isn’t a good workout. It is and there are some women at the gym who box. No, I mean, just working out, being able to defend yourself. I can’t be with you every second of every day, and you may not be able to die but that doesn’t mean I want you to get your ass kicked by some moron. I don’t think I could take seeing you bloodied up even knowing you’ll be fine in a little while.”
“Nothing sweet about it. People are weird when they see people’s names in the news. Who knows what whackos this type of information will bring out. Some nut job that envies you for being Nathan’s daughter might stalk you. Some adoptee jealous that your reunion has gone as well might threaten you. We just don’t know. Justin pissed that he was close to the gravy train.”
“Think about it, but it couldn’t hurt you.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Silence for a while as they both seemed content with watching the scenery as they drove.
“What do you do when you’re going to your parents’ house for the first time after eloping?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, this isn’t the house I grew up in. I lived here for a few months before college. Do I just walk in? Do I ring the bell?”
“You’re thinking too much on this, really. You’re still their daughter, it doesn’t matter if you grew up here or not.”
“You rang your mom’s bell.”
“Well, yeah, sure, but I haven’t lived with her in years. You were, until a month ago anyway, going to come back here next summer to stay.”
“Ring the bell if it makes you feel better,” he said as he parked at the end of the driveway. “I’ll get our stuff.”
“No, it can wait.”
“No, I have a feeling I’ll need something to keep me occupied.”
He shook his head. “Nothing, I’ll get our stuff.”
“Okay,” she said, grabbing her purse and her carry-on before walking to the door. She felt crazily nervous. She had no idea what to do or say to make things right. Her father was mad, probably beyond mad, but she wasn’t going to undo it. It may not have been conventional or the way people usually did things, but she did love Taylor.
Her mother answered the door before Claire even had the chance to decide whether she’d ring the bell or just walk in.
“There you are. We thought you’d gotten lost.”
“No, our flight was a little delayed out of Minneapolis because of weather is all.”
“Well, good, I was worried you wouldn’t find it driving by yourself.”
“The car has GPS, so it was pretty simple.”
“Well, good,” she said, giving her a hug. Mr. Muggles was by her feet, barking impatiently for Claire to show him some attention.
“Hi Lyle,” she said, reaching down to pick up Mr. Muggles as she stepped inside.
“Hey,” her brother said, as if she came home with a husband every day.
Her dad wasn’t in the living room, but Claire imagined he wasn’t too far away.
“Claire’s father didn’t describe you nearly as accurately as he could have,” she heard her mom say.
“I hope that’s a good thing, Mrs. Bennet,” Taylor said from the doorway.
“Oh, Sandra, please.”
“All right, Sandra.”
“Claire tells me you’re Jewish.”
“She didn’t mention anything about your diet, so assume anything but pork is all right.”
“Okay, good, she wasn’t sure what I was asking when I asked if your diet was stricter.”
“Don’t go through any trouble on my account, really.”
“It was no trouble at all, I just wanted to be sure I planned meals right.”
“Whatever you make will be fine.”
“Where’s Dad?” Claire asked.
“Lyle,” her father said from the kitchen, answering Claire’s question. “Show Mr. Reese where to bring his things upstairs.”
“Yeah, okay,” Lyle said, not sounding at all unhappy about getting out of the living room.
“It was nice to meet you, Sandra,” Taylor said. “Mr. Bennet,” he said with a nod in her father’s direction before heading upstairs with her brother.
“Hi Dad,” Claire said, feeling a little uncomfortable under his close scrutiny. He’d never looked at her like this, as if he was analyzing her, deciding what to do with her. She wasn’t sure she liked this look. She hadn’t done anything wrong. Not really. Hurtful perhaps, but that hadn’t been her intention.
“I’m surprised you came.”
“Why wouldn’t I? You’re still my parents and it’s Christmas.”
“It would seem you’ve decided you don’t need us anymore.”
“Dad, that’s not true.”
“Sure seems that way.”
“I’ll always need you.”
“You seem capable enough of making decisions without consulting us.”
“There wasn’t a lot of time, Dad.”
“And getting married was the only option?”
“That made sense, yes. In a way, it has helped. Since the lease on our house in Iowa is in Taylor’s name and I didn’t tell my roommates where I was moving, no one’s been able to find me yet. Next semester I’m going to register under Taylor’s last name, so I should fall off the grid pretty well until they find the marriage certificate. They’ve been kicked off campus the few times they’ve managed to sneak on since it’s not really news.”
“A phone call wasn’t warranted?”
“To say what, Dad? I’d been outed so Taylor and I are getting married?”
“I knew you’d object.”
“Only because you’re too young.”
“I’m not much younger than Mom was.”
“That was different.”
“How? Mom didn’t have to deal with the stuff I’ve had to deal with.”
“No, she didn’t. I know in some ways you’ve grown up faster than most, but you’re still my little girl.”
She put Mr. Muggles down and walked to her dad.
“Dad, nothing’s ever going to change that. Ever. Not marriage or kids or careers. Not even when I look like your great granddaughter instead of your daughter. Can we please not argue? I know you’re upset. Hurt even. It is what it is. I’m not undoing it. Taylor’s promised me that we’ll have a party in the summer, a reception and everything so I’ll still get to dance with you and stuff. He just wants me safe, and I can’t argue with him. We really have no idea what’s going to happen.”
“I wish I knew how the information was leaked.”
“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. “It doesn’t really matter, does it? The damage is done, and I’m glad I have Taylor with me. Come on, you can’t tell me that you don’t feel somewhat better knowing he’s looking out for me.”
“He could have done it without marrying you.”
“Not and put his foot down about attending the press conference convincingly. Nathan’s an old-fashioned guy, Dad, you know that. He wasn’t going to listen to my boyfriend object. Adam either.”
“You might be right, but you didn’t even try.”
“I had to act immediately. The press conference was that afternoon. We had someone there who could do us a tremendous favor.”
“Yeah, about that. You’re all right with that?”
“Who his friends are?”
“You should talk.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know what it means,” she said. His friends and associates weren’t exactly squeaky clean either. “If you want us to leave.”
“I never said that. We’re your parents, I just wasn’t sure you remembered that.”
“Of course I do. People elope, Dad, it doesn’t mean they don’t love their parents.”
“The most important thing is that you’re safe and happy.”
“I am both of those things.”
“You’re not pregnant, are you?”
“No,” she said.
“Wow, thanks. Lack of confidence in me much.”
“No, I just meant, that’s not a reason to start a life with someone.”
“We didn’t. We aren’t.”
“You can tell him he can come down now and meet your mother and me properly.”
“Yeah, okay,” she said. “Where is he?”
“I know that,” she said.
“You made it sound like you’d put him in the guest room.”
“I wanted to, but your mother insisted that was going too far.”
“Don’t thank me just yet.”
“I haven’t talked to you; don’t think you’re done just because your father’s had his words. There’s plenty of time for that while you’re here, but just know I have some things to say on this subject, too.”
“I assumed you would,” she said. She went upstairs to get Taylor then; kind of disappointed her dad hadn’t hugged her or anything. It was the first time in a long time she could remember he hadn’t after they’d been apart.
“Doesn’t sound like anything got broken,” Taylor said.
“I think Mom hid everything Dad could throw while he was sleeping last night,” Lyle said and Claire laughed, because it was something her mother would do.
“They’re mad. Hurt, too, but they’ll get over it eventually,” Claire said. “Thank you for keeping Taylor company.”
“It’s cool,” Lyle said. “He said I could come see him fight sometime.”
“Sure you can,” Claire said. “You can come visit us any time. You know that. If you don’t or have thought you couldn’t, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine. I just wasn’t sure.”
“You’re my brother, Lyle. Brothers and sisters visit one another all of the time. So, pick a weekend or spring break or whatever and come visit.”
“I’ll warn you, Iowa in the winter isn’t that exciting.”
“I already mentioned to your sister the three of us hitting Disneyland or something while we’re here. You think you’d like that?”
“Yeah, that’d be cool.”
“Good, think about what you’d like to do. Both of you. And we’ll make it happen. If you follow basketball, my friend is a sports agent and could probably hook us up with some Lakers or Clippers tickets if either is in town.”
“Disney sounds cool.”
“So, Mom and Dad want to meet you now. Officially,” Claire said.
“Yeah, all right,” Taylor said, running a hand along his head. “I’m not good at this part.”
“We’ll make it work,” Claire said, kissing him. “You coming down, Lyle?”
“Nah, I’m meeting up with a friend in a few to play a game.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll see you when you get home then.”
“I’ll be here. We’re meeting online.”
“Oh, right, okay.”
“Nice meeting you, Lyle.”
“Yeah, you, too,” Lyle said, though Claire could tell he wasn’t entirely sure. He was a teenaged guy, so he didn’t really care in a manner of speaking. He just knew Claire had done something to throw their family off kilter. Again.
“So, this is what your room really looks like.”
“The room I grew up in, yeah. It’s a little different. A lot of my stuff is still in boxes in my closet or the attic. I didn’t put the boy band posters on the wall here that I had in Texas.”
“Yeah, I bet you didn’t,” he said with a chuckle.
He hugged her; still sitting on the bed as he was he rested his head against her abdomen holding onto her tight.
“You okay,” he asked.
“Yeah. I hate fighting with them. Disappointing them in any way.”
“I know. They love you, clearly. You’re lucky you’ve been surrounded by that your whole life.”
“I guess I am, I never knew any different.”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Okay, let’s go make nice before they think I’m being lecherous with you up here or something.”
“Save that for later.”
“Yeah?” he said, glancing up at her, his eyes glimmering with what she recognized as teasing.
“How much later?”
“At least until everyone else is in bed.”
“I can hold out that long.”
“Good to know,” she said, leaning down to kiss him.
She laughed. “Don’t sound so surprised.”
“I’m making no promises, but you know I always want to.”
“Yeah, I’m coming to find that out. It makes me wonder.”
“You’re going to look this way forever, right? Cells constantly regenerating you to this age.”
“So does that mean you’re going to have the appetites you do now forever? You might kill me when I’m in my fifties if that’s the case.”
She gave a soft laugh. “I don’t know, I really don’t. I could ask Adam.”
“No, that’s all right, I don’t need him thinking about your sex drive. I’ll figure it out as times goes by.”
“Would you mind?”
“No. Baby. If I have to die I’d rather it be that way than most any other way I can come up with.”
He stood from the bed not letting go of his hold on her so she had no choice but to wrap her legs around him. He winced a little at the sound her bed made at the movement.
“Yeah, I’m guessing that rules out my getting lucky later,” he murmured before kissing her.
She nipped at his ear. “Last I checked floors are quiet.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
He released her then, watching as she fixed her shirt.
“Maybe you could take me out later.”
“Where’d you have in mind?”
“I don’t know. There are a few places not too far and if it’s nice enough we could leave the top down on the car and just drive.”
“I’m game. Alone time would be welcome this week any time I can get it.”
Her dad wasn’t too bad once they got downstairs. Her mother asked all sorts of questions, which Claire expected. Her father seemed to listen rather intently to his answers, but didn’t ask too many of his own. That made Claire wonder what he already knew about Taylor.
The week went by fast. They took her brother to Disneyland, staying out way too late when they decided to catch a movie at the last minute. Taylor had been right, time just the two of them wasn’t easy to come by except in her room at bedtime and in the morning before they went downstairs to join her family for the day.
At the house they lived in in Iowa Claire used their second bedroom for her closet so until this week it wasn’t a habit to get dressed and undressed in front of him. He seemed to like watching her do both, though the undressing was by far his favorite.
Had he won her parents’ over? She wasn’t sure yet, but felt confident that they saw they were legitimately happy together. And that Taylor really did love and care for her. She suspected that was probably where her father’s concern really rested, his daughter getting hurt.
Before they left, Lyle made arrangements to visit her over his Easter break. Her parents’ seemed okay with the idea. She wondered when the last time they’d been completely alone together on a holiday had been. She invited them to come along, but they said no. Her dad’s job and Mr. Muggles were convenient excuses, but she suspected they weren’t quite ready to have their daughter cook a holiday dinner for them.
They hadn’t been able to work a visit to Matty and Buffy into their trip because Taylor’s best friend and his family were already in New York. They spent Christmas with his dad and were staying until after New Year’s.
So, that meant their New Year’s Eve plans changed a little, not that Claire minded. Instead of staying at Taylor’s house, the two couples got rooms in Times Square. Another example of the Demarat name and money getting things done that normal people couldn’t. She knew there was no way two hotel rooms just happened to be available in the same hotel.
Claire was getting dressed for the night, nervous as all get out because she was meeting not just the infamous Chris she’d heard so much about but a whole bunch of people Taylor knew. His friends had a private party at a bar not too far from their hotel that one of them owned; evidently it was something they did every year. First was Nathan’s dinner party. She had to go, but they’d bow out early and come back here to Taylor’s party well before midnight.
“You look gorgeous,” Taylor said from behind her. Hands at her hips, he slid them forward as he watched in the mirror.
“Thank you. I feel a little weird. This is way different than any of the dresses I wore to Nathan’s dinner parties.”
“Yeah. Well, we only have one first New Year’s Eve together. I wanted it to be special and memorable.”
“It already is.”
“Looking like that it will be even more. You forgot something, though.”
“What? Everything from the store was in the bag.”
He smirked, reaching into his pocket. “I’ve been told every bride deserves pearls. I’m not much of a traditionalist, and don’t know any woman who’s ever turned down a diamond so I hope this will do.”
“Taylor,” she said as she opened the box. “Oh my God. It’s too much.”
“It’s a gift from my mother actually. Her dressmaker at the store where you shopped told her about the dress you were wearing and she wanted you to have these.”
“Yeah, I told her you’d object. She said to tell you to wear them tonight and put them away safely for our daughter one day and you’d know how much pleasure she got in passing this down to you.”
“That’s so sweet.”
“Put it on me.”
“Would love to,” he said, reaching around her to do just that. The earrings she did on her own. It was a simple chain with a drop pendant on it. The drop pendant, though, had to have the hugest diamond Claire had ever seen. It was beautiful.
“Now I know how Buffy feels wearing that ring.”
“Like she needs insurance just to go outside.”
“Where we’re going tonight no one’s going to steal your necklace. I promise.”
He slid his hand into hers; bringing it to his lips so he could kiss it.
“You saying Buffy’s ring is nicer than yours?”
“No,” she said adamantly. He’d given her a bridal set for Christmas. The plain gold band she wore on her right hand. “You have very good taste.”
“Obviously, I chose you.”
“I don’t think I was joking.”
“Well, anyway. I just meant, I remember seeing her ring the first time I met her and thinking how weird it would be wearing that out every day.”
“I get it. You ready then?”
“Yes. I’m glad Buffy and Matty are coming with us to Nathan’s party.”
“I figured that’d ease you into things a bit.”
“Thank you. It’s a good thing they knew someone who could babysit.”
“Sweetheart, there’s no shortage of teenaged girls around the Demarat’s who are willing to babysit.”
“Good to know.”
“That your way of telling me something?”
“Oh,” he said, sounding a little disappointed. His one night of no condoms had turned into the entire weekend without them. After that she felt kind of bad making him use them again. They were married now and everything.
“I don’t think I’d know this soon anyway. It’s only been a month.”
“You’re probably right. Don’t overdo the champagne just in case.”
“Like I would anyway.”
“Right.” He said, glancing at his watch. “The car should be downstairs so let’s go,” he said, helping her into her coat.
“You look incredibly hot,” she said, taking him in as she adjusted the collar of her coat.
“Then we’re a matched set.”
“I’d say so.”
Somehow while here she’d managed to spend time with Nathan and remain out of the direct line of fire of cameras. Understanding the reason for her camera shyness, Nathan assisted in making sure someone was always in the way of a direct picture. Glimpses were caught, but none were dead on close up headshots that would come back and haunt her fifty years from now when she looked the same. Angela probably wasn’t too pleased, but there wasn’t anything Claire could do about that. Not and endanger herself later in life anyway.
They split a bottle of champagne in the car on the way to the bar. Buffy had only a sip of Matty’s and Claire didn’t drink too much more than that either just in case. They get to the area about two hours before midnight with the car having to drop them off down the street from their destination because of all of the people in the area.
Taylor let Matty and Buffy walk ahead of them a bit, tugging Claire to his side. He turned to her, adjusting the collar on her coat. A thumb grazed one of her earrings. His mom’s earrings.
“Is something the matter?”
“No, just wanted to thank you for a great time tonight,” he said.
“Yeah,” he said with a shrug. “If someone had told me last New Year’s Eve I’d be spending this one with you and married to you not just out with you I would have laughed at them.”
“I just have to warn you, though, Chris can be a little rough.”
“Rougher than you?”
He laughed then. “Not in the same way, no. I mean, he thinks he’s God’s gift you know, and to most of the women in New York he is. He’s not too happy that it’s no longer just Matty settled down and neither of us in the area.”
“We’ll be back.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. After you finish college you may get a job somewhere that’s not here. I may have a boxing career that is better served with me being somewhere else. We don’t know. Eventually I hope we’ll get back here, but I moved to Iowa to be with you. Not Chris.”
“So he resents me?”
“And Buffy. Yeah. He wouldn’t say so, but he’s liable to lash out, say things that aren’t so nice. Remember, he’s the one I talked to in person for a while after we broke up.”
“He doesn’t know anything about you. I assure you. Your secret, I mean. Or Buffy’s. It’s just, he’ll probably have had a good amount to drink already and he may run his mouth.”
“Wow. Is Buffy getting this warning, too?”
“She’s met him before. You haven’t. She already knows how he is, and I wasn’t exactly the poster child for kindness when I met her the first time.”
“She told me about that,” Claire said with a laugh, leaning into him. “I promise I won’t hold anything he says against you.”
“Now, let’s go have a Happy New Year.”
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com