"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?"
I narrowed my eyes at Dad, expecting a little better from him at least. I'd written a novel, my first, about a girl coming of age and falling in and out of love while she attends college. It wasn't autobiographical or anything, it was just a book and the title...
"It's a contradiction, Dad. Sex is rarely practical and the story is about how we have to grow and evolve and adjust to the persons we become. Did you read it?"
"I read it," he said. "It was good. You have real talent. I just..." he gestured sort of helplessly and I smiled.
"Well, you're not exactly my target audience, Dad." I reached over to pat his hand with my fingers.
"I thought it was pornographic," my mom said and I knew she'd never been one to mince words on a subject like that, but it still hurt a little.
"There's no sex in it," I tried to explain. "Just ... the reasons for it. I tried to describe why this girl was having sex when she was really looking for love, and..."
"She was playing with herself." Mom frowned and I seriously doubted the woman had ever masturbated in her life, which wasn't a thought I wanted very much.
I wasn't getting through to her at all. Any book which had a whole chapter devoted to a nineteen-year-old masturbating in a bathtub while remembering her very first kiss had to be pornographic, no matter how beautifully written it might be.
"Girls do that, Mom," I sighed. "Oprah liked it. Did you see me on her show?" But my mom wasn't much of an Oprah Winfrey fan either.
"You looked thin," she said and I rolled my eyes.
"Everyone looks thin next to Oprah, Mom."
"What's your next book going to be about?" Dad asked, trying to change the subject without really changing it very much at all.
"Well, my publisher wants me to do a follow-up, you know, stick with what works, but I'm kind of undecided." I shrugged. "I'd kind of like to do something a little more personal maybe."
My first book had been extremely personal, but not for any obvious reasons. I couldn't tell Mom that though or she would have assumed the worst, that I wasn't her perfect little virgin anymore. I'd spent a lot of time on the phone when my book first came out, trying to convince her that the character in my book wasn't me, at least insofar as having sex was concerned. Mom wanted to believe that, which helped quite a bit. I hoped that saying I wanted to get more personal would reinforce the idea a little more.
"So..." Dad looked at me.
"So, I don't know." I smiled. "That's why I'm here. I want to sleep in my old bed, look at my old stuff, and just think for a little bit, you know?"
"Well, it's all up there," Mom said, relaxing slightly and reminding herself that at least I was home to stay for awhile. "Why don't you lie down and take a rest? Your father can get the rest of your bags."
I nodded and went upstairs feeling more than a little relived that my homecoming had gone as well as it had. Between my book and my dog there'd been plenty of room for the same old problems. Mom had waited a long time for a daughter and she'd spent most of my life trying to perfect me, it wasn't like she was going to stop just because I'd grown up. I hoped that I'd asserted myself enough to show her I wasn't a little girl anymore, but I doubted it. She was just taking it easy until I really settled in, dropping hints like seeds and she'd reap the harvest when the time was ripe.
I rolled my eyes at myself as I undressed in my old bedroom. I was being a little over dramatic, I was sure. I felt nervous, that's all. I stretched with my arms over my head, still feeling tense from too many hours on the road. The Carerra was a great car, I loved it and I'd spent most of my first royalties check buying it, but for three long days in a row ... It was just too darned small to live in.
"Hey!" I grinned at Brandy as he started licking my right hip, looking for attention. His long, rough tongue tickled and I pushed him away playfully. I'd named him Brandon because he reminded me of Brendan Frazier, whom I'd always found incredibly attractive, but I'd taken to calling him Brandy, so his name had changed just slightly, and that was okay. If I ever got a female, I'd name her Brenda. Maybe.
There came a soft knock at the door and I grabbed my old bathrobe, hanging on the little brass hook on the back of the door as if I'd left it there yesterday. It smelled clean and fresh and I imagined my mom had washed everything when she'd heard I was coming home, probably two or three times. It still fit me pretty good too, but I'd stopped growing when I'd turned about seventeen anyway.
"What have you got in here? Rocks?" Dad smiled at me, hefting my suitcase in one hand and my laptop case in the other. The computer was what he was talking about, that thing weighed a ton.
"Just books, Dad." I laughed and moved out of the way so he could bring my stuff inside. "Thanks."
"No problem. I needed the exercise." He looked around. "Everything okay in here?"
"Yep." I nodded, looking around too. "Just perfect."
"Good." He gave me a hug. "Don't you worry about your mom."
"Oh, I'm not." I patted him on the back. "We'll be fine."
"I know, Chrissie." He took a deep breath and let me go. "And I thought your book was very good."
"Did you?" I smiled and he gave me a sincere look, nodding his head.
"Go ahead and get settled. We'll go out to eat tonight, okay?"
"Sure, Dad. I'm gonna take a shower and lie down a little bit, I think." I followed him to the door, closing it behind him and then waiting for a good ten seconds before I locked it. My shower could wait, I needed to relax first, and so did Brandy.
My room wasn't overly large, but call it good sized and that's one of the perks of being an only child. I had plenty of room, even with my big canopy bed draped with pink, satin curtains and tied with burgundy bows. I had a generous dresser with a mirror and a small vanity. My desk was right where I'd left it and my bookcase too, all from the Ethan Allen Collection. Timeless and ridiculously heavy furniture that tended to sit where it was planted for years at a time, but very comfortable and nice to come home to.
Everything else in the room, from the chintz wallpaper to the matted and framed pictures of horses and seascapes, screamed repressed youth. I'd grown up in a museum, I thought, or on the set of a 1950's sitcom, like Father Knows Best or something. I found my memories vaguely depressing and I remembered putting up a poster of the Smashing Pumpkins once when I'd been sixteen and my mom throwing a small fit over it. The cover of Siamese Dream was not something that belonged on her daughter's bedroom wall.
I smiled to myself, looking around and deciding that I'd have to go to the mall soon and find that exact same poster. It wouldn't come down this time, I promised myself with a soft giggle. This had been the room I'd slept in for some eighteen years, but now that I was home ... I was finally going to make it mine. Just a little.
"Okay, boy." I smiled at Brandon as he stuck his nose under the hem of my terry cloth robe, licking at my skin and working his way up my thigh. "Let's play," I said softly and he knew what that meant and answered me with a sharp bark. "Quietly!" I chided him, getting on my bed and fluffing the pillows a little. "Okay, come on..." I patted the thick comforter with its cream colored lilies on baby blue water.
Brandy jumped up and the bed bounced, but remained quiet as ever. Old Ethan knew how to build a bed! It had hardly squeaked at all when I'd been a child, no matter how hard I'd jumped on it. I'd always appreciated that and now more than ever.
"Come her, big boy ... Mmmm..." I'd undone my robe, but left it on while Brandy straddled my body.