"There she is." Dad smiled and opened his arms, offering himself to me as soon as I'd stepped out of the car. I gave him a big hug and he kissed me on the forehead. "Christine..." he murmured, " ... we missed you."
"Oh, I was so worried. They said there was a lot of snow in the passes." Mom was right there too and worrying was her job. "You should have taken an airplane."
"Hi, Mom." I hugged her tight and kissed her cheek. "It was okay. I got through alright."
"Welcome home, dear." Mom kissed me again, all of us smiling happily. "Come on, let's go inside. I fixed everything up for you."
"She fixed everything up six years ago," Dad said with a chuckle.
"Oh you!" Mom rolled her eyes at him and they were still in love.
Dad looked like he'd gained a little weight, but that was okay. Having just turned sixty on the button, he deserved a little padding and it looked good on him. My dad worked for the Post-Intelligencer as one of the copy editors and I'd gotten my love of words from him.
I'd gotten my looks from Mom though and a lot of people, older friends and relatives who'd known her thirty years ago, said I could have been her twin sister. I took it as a compliment and even at fifty-six, she was still a good looking woman. While her once lustrous black hair had now gone to gray, Mom's bright blue eyes were still clear and full of life.
I'd turned twenty-four the previous spring and was now coming home for the first time in a long time, and for more than a few days. I'd been living and working in Chicago mostly, but I missed Seattle and with my new book commission I could afford to write wherever I wanted. That's one of the good things about being a little successful; it afforded me some freedom for a change.
"Hold on a second," I said, turning back to my car. "Let me get my stuff."
"Oh, leave it. Come inside and relax for a while first," Mom told me. "You had a long drive and all by yourself too. What kind of car is that?" she wondered with a frown. "It doesn't look very practical."
"Uh, well..." I laughed self-consciously, " ... it isn't, Mom. I have to get Brandon anyway."
"Who?" She narrowed her eyes and I smiled.
"I wasn't really by myself."
"Who's Brandon?" My dad looked at me and then at my mom, and then they both looked at my small black Porsche.
"My boyfriend," I said with a giggle, just teasing them the way I hadn't in years.
A few seconds later I opened the passenger door and Brandon practically knocked me down as he scrambled out of the front seat. He hated sitting in the car by himself and ran around the yard excitedly, stretching his legs and barking with joy. I reached behind the seats to find my purse and the old gym bag into which I'd carelessly packed my essentials. Everything else could wait.
"Oh my," Mom said and she looked a bit nervous as I walked back up the few short steps from the driveway. "He's big."
Brandon seemed to be enjoying himself, getting familiar with the large front yard while my parents watched. He was pretty good sized, I suppose, although I hardly noticed really. He was a three-year-old Boxer and very handsome in my opinion, almost noble when he wasn't fooling around. The dog weighed as much as I did at something over a hundred pounds, maybe even a little more than me, although he stood somewhat shorter, of course. Brandy was strong too, with a lot of muscle and not much fat, although I spoiled him constantly. I enjoyed the way his short black hair seemed to ripple over his powerful body as he moved. I stood there watching him with my parents, feeling very proud.
"When you said you had a dog, I didn't know you meant a horse." My dad shook his head.
"Does he bite?" Mom asked, going into full tilt worry mode.
"No! Of course not." I gave her a quick look of annoyance that she didn't notice. "Brandy! Come here, boy," I called and he ran across the lawn with his long, red tongue flapping. "Sit," I told him and he did, even though he didn't want to. "Good boy." I smiled and rubbed his neck.
"Well, uh ... I guess he's trained anyway," Dad offered my mom and then looked at me. "Right?"
"Oh yeah, Brandon's really good." I smiled at my parents, trying to reassure them. "He's a great dog, you'll see."
They'd never been much for dogs, or animals of any sort really. I'd grown up living in the upper-middle class suburbs of Seattle where having a dog wasn't a big deal, but my parents had never gotten one, no matter how much I'd cried when I was younger. So they might have been thinking this was my revenge, coming home after six years and bringing a rather large dog with me, but it wasn't. Not at all. It's just the way things had worked out.
"Well, okay." Mom finally smiled, weakly, and tried to make the best of it. "Let's go inside now. It's getting chilly."
Brandon followed me, naturally, and I expected my parents to say something when I let him come in the house, but they didn't. They just gave me some funny looks, like I should have known better.
"He'll be fine," I said. "He won't get on the furniture or anything, I promise. He can sleep in my room; you won't even know he's around, seriously. He's a good dog."
I'd actually worked out a little speech for that situation, knowing it would come up, but I'd forgotten most of it. I had to rely more upon my parents' happiness to have their only child home again, rather than any argument I might make to let me keep my dog. But I did feel like I was thirteen again, coming home with another stray.
We had some coffee in the kitchen. Mom sliced a pumpkin pie, serving it with whipped cream because I did love that stuff a lot and she hadn't forgotten. Thanksgiving had always been my favorite holiday just because I could eat as much pumpkin pie as I wanted. Now I had to watch what I was eating though, so I ate my piece slowly, knowing I couldn't have seconds.
"You're so thin! Isn't Chrissie thin, Robert?" Mom asked with a frown.
"Oh, not so bad." Dad smiled at me, knowing Mom would have said I was thin if I'd come home weighing 200 pounds and dressed in a purple muumuu.
"So, do you have a boyfriend?" Mom asked, glancing at Brandon who sat next to me with his big square head on my lap. "A real one, I mean."
"Ummm..." I sighed. "No, not a real one." I answered slowly and that had always been a sticky point.
Mom and Dad had married sort of late, in their thirties, and I think Mom always regretted that a little. Like she'd missed some years she might have spent with her husband if they'd married sooner. But of course she hadn't even known Dad when she'd been in her twenties and there was an abstract argument there, about waiting for the right man at the right time, but Mom never really listened anyway. She'd always been a practical woman, except when it came to me and my love life.
"Don't you worry about it." Dad shrugged, as if I was the one worrying. "There's plenty of time for that."
I think he might have been concerned that I'd turned into a lesbian or something, although he'd never say anything, of course. But the fact remained that I'd never had a boyfriend, even in high school. I'd had boy friends, but never the real deal, and that must have seemed very suspicious, especially for an attractive, intelligent girl like me.
I'd had offers, to be sure, and sometimes I'd even been tempted, but the few dates I'd gone on hadn't done a whole lot for me. They may have been fun occasionally, but I always ended up wishing I'd done something a little more constructive that evening, like homework or painting my toenails maybe. I'd gone out with a girl too, but only once and just in case I really was a lesbian. I seriously hadn't known what I was or if I even had to be anything at all. Anyway, it had felt about the same as going out with a man, except she'd taken me to a better movie. So, I had no real answers for my parents one way or the other, even if they'd known what to ask.
"Yeah, Daddy. I'm sure Prince Charming is out there someplace." I smiled and fed a little pie to Brandy with my fork, letting him lick it clean for a second before I used it to cut another small bite for myself.
"Uh, dear..." Mom pursed her lips.
"Oh!" I laughed and shrugged, even though my mouth was full of pie. I swallowed quickly. "Its okay, Mom. He's had his shots and everything."
I hadn't really thought about it. Brandon and I shared the same forks and spoons all the time, but I reminded myself that my parents weren't quite so fond of him as I was, at least not yet.
Since I hadn't been around for much more than a couple holidays here and there after I'd left for college, we had a lot of catching up to do. I'd left home at eighteen and called often enough to keep Mom happy. My dad was the last of the great letter writers and I'd saved them all, but it wasn't the same as sitting face to face. I told them about Harvard, but that was really old news and they'd come out for my graduation anyway, spending a weekend in Cambridge. It seemed a good place to start though, especially since Dad had always been very proud of me for not only getting in, but for getting out with honors as well.
We tracked my life through and beyond college. Inevitably the conversation came around to my book, a topic I'd expected a little sooner actually, but was happy to put off as long as I could.
"I read your book, dear," Mom said with a nod, which seemed so completely at odds with her opinion that it was perfect. "I didn't understand it."
"Sex and the Practical Woman?" Dad chimed in. "What does that mean?"
.... There is more of this story ...