I paced around the hall outside of my room, cellphone pressed against my ear. Something about talking on the phone always made me want to move around. “You don’t have to do that, Jean.” It didn’t feel right to call him “dad” or anything like that yet, maybe never. “If you want to come visit, Mama and Mom would be happy to pay.” They’d already offered to arrange future trips for me or Jean. “Don’t spend the money you’ve got saved.” He’d lost pretty much everything after his divorce last year.
“Non, non. I can pay my own way,” he insisted.
I tried to argue with him over it some more but to no avail. Finally, I had to throw up my hands with a huff of laughter. “You win. When do you want to come?”
“I can request vacation time for two weeks from now, oui?”
I smiled. “That sounds great. I’m looking forward to introducing you to everyone.”
I paced the living room, waiting for Jean’s cab to pull up outside. I had offered to pick him up, but he had insisted that he was fully capable of renting a car on his own. I was beginning to see where I got my stubborn streak from.
My heart leapt into my throat when I saw the taxi slow to a stop through the glass doors. I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous to see him again. We had spoken via email and telephone since my trip to Champs Les Sims, but this was different. This was my home. He was going to meet my family. I hoped they would all get along.
I went outside, smiling when I saw him. “Hey, Jean.” On the spur of the moment, I walked over and hugged him. He started in surprise for the briefest moment before hugging me back tightly.
He pulled back to smile at me. “It is good to see you again, Luc.”
I cleared my throat and nodded. “You too.” I looked towards the cab. “Do you have bags?”
He shook his head. “I went by the hotel first.” He turned back to the driver and paid him and a moment later the yellow car was pulling out onto the street again.
“Well, I guess let’s go inside then.” Taking a steadying breath, I led the way up the stairs and into the house. Someone must’ve seen the cab from the office window because my parents had now entered the living room. “Jean,” I said, looking between my birth father and my adoptive parents, “I’d like for you to meet my parents, Camille Thoreau and Shirley Hines.” Please let this go well.
Mama smiled politely and offered her hand to him. “It is nice to meet you, Monsieur Marchand.”
He smiled in return, though with a nervous edge. “S’il vous plait, call me Jean.” He shook her hand and then Mom’s. “I am so happy to meet the both of you. Merci – thank you so much for raising Luc. He could not have better parents, I know.”
Mom smiled kindly at him. “We couldn’t have asked for a better son.”
“Sorry we’re late!” Loralee called as she and Tommy walked through the front door. “I had to put in a couple of hours at the restaurant, and it ran late.”
“Rude,” I said with a grin. I gestured to Jean. “Jean, this is my sister, Loralee Thoreau, and her husband, Tommy Smithson.”
“It’s good to finally meet you, Jean,” Loralee said, shaking his hand. “Luc has told me a lot about you.”
Jean’s head bobbed as he nodded. “You as well, Loralee.”
“Well,” Mama said with a smile at the assembled group. “Shall we eat? I may not be a chef, but I’ve never heard any complaints.”
Loralee laughed softly, heading towards the table. “I’m hardly a chef.”
“Yet,” Mom said, taking a seat. “You will be.”
After everyone had been served, Jean said,” This home est tres belle. Is this where Luc was raised?”
Mama nodded. “Yes. I built this house shortly before I married my first husband.” She smiled fondly over at Mom. “The marriage was a failure, but, fortunately, the house wasn’t.”
“I had no idea video games were so lucratif.”
Mama chuckled softly. “I was very driven when I was younger. It’s amazing how much money you can accrue when you ignore everything else in your life.” She shook her head. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”
“What do you do, Jean?” Mom asked, looking at him with interest.
“Oh, nothing important. I work for a – what is the word? Landscaping? Oui, I work for a landscaping company.”
I was about to say something to try to alleviate the discomfort I could see on Jean’s face, but Tommy beat me to it, leaning forward to speak to him. “You know, my father is a construction worker. I worked with him all through high school.”
Loralee smiled. “I wish I had an eye for landscaping. Maybe then I could do something with our yard at home. Can you call it a yard if grass won’t grow?” She laughed looking over at Tommy. “Why I let you convince me to move to a desert, I will never know.”
“You love it there, and you know it.”
She leaned over and kissed him. “I’d love it better with grass.”
With the awkwardness passed, the conversation flowed throughout dinner and dessert and into the evening. As Jean was getting ready to head back to his hotel for the night, Mama attempted to insist that he stay in one of the guest rooms, but he, as I had expected, politely declined.
When he had gone, I turned to look back at my family. “So, what do you think?”
Mama smiled and pulled me into a hug. “I think you’ve got a pretty great father.”
Four days later, I met Alison outside of a café.
“Did Jean catch his flight okay?”
I nodded, walking inside with her. “Yeah. He’s headed back to France now.” I ordered a mocha and sat down at a table with her. “Are you liking your new apartment?” Just a couple of weeks ago, she’d finally moved into a new place – right here in Newcrest.
She smiled. “Oh, yeah. I’m really liking it. I just hope I can actually afford to like it. It’s probably nicer than I can really pay for with my job,” she said with a soft laugh.
“That’ll just motivate you to get raises.” I winked.
She snorted softly. “I guess so.”
I watched her sip her coffee, and a voice at the back of my mind whispered to me. Ask her out. She’s finally single. This is what you’ve been waiting for. I ignored that voice; maybe it was stupid, middle-grade level childish, but I didn’t want to be the rebound. Even though Alison had ended the relationship herself, she still needed to heal. I wanted to be the guy she stuck with, not the one she used to move on.
As it happened, it was a good thing I hadn’t opened my mouth.
“So,” Alison said slowly. “Did I tell you a guy from work asked me out?”
I almost swallowed my tongue. “No, you didn’t. That’s…good. For you, I mean.” Hadn’t I just been thinking that I didn’t want to be her rebound? This guy probably wouldn’t last long. The rebound stereotype existed for a reason. Unless this guy beat the odds.
“Yeah,” Alison smiled a little. “It’s weird to go out with someone. I’m kind of excited though, you know? Derek is nice and really funny.”
Just kill me now.