I stare at the door. So much promise. So much potential for utter failure.
I continue my stolid stance as Michael cheerfully unlocks the door, whistling to himself. I look back up at Paul. He shoots me a loving glance. I return a weak smile. I feel my senses numbing, in preparation for anything.
What if they try to embarrass me? What if they don’t like Paul? What if they disapprove of our relationship?
I take a deep breath and as I get ready to take a second, the door abruptly opens to reveal my two apprehensive parents and a bouncing Cordelia.
Cordelia’s pretty, sparkling eyes are electrified. Her usually braided brown hair is heavily teased and I’m almost certain I spot a smear of pink lipstick coloring her lips. She’s wearing one of my purple sweaters that I hadn’t taken for my apartment and her old pair of pedal-pushers. Although only eight, her outfit does seem to make her seem almost ten.
Well, at least someone has been looking forward to this moment.
As I gingerly step inside I finally gain enough strength to look at my parents.
Mother’s hazel eyes seem dimly lit and I notice several new wrinkles that have begun to form around her forehead and at the corners of her mouth. A few recent grey hairs have sprinkled themselves throughout my mother’s beautiful strawberry blonde mane. She’s wearing a rather formal navy blue dress that wraps perfectly around her slender waist. If it were not for those few traces of age one might still assume she was no older than thirty-eight.
Father’s brown eyes retain a similar dull look and I notice that his bald spot has grown since the last time I have seen him. He’s wearing a brown sweater and black pants. His arms cross his protruding, slightly overweight stomach, eyes fixed on Paul.
Paul follows me in and Michael closes the door behind us. An icy silence quiets my breath. Michael moves to break the silence but Cordelia shatters it before he can take a single breath.
Cordelia’s contained excitement explodes in her eyes and they twinkle.
She opens her mouth with a loud gasp. “OH MY G—“ and yet abruptly shuts it, quickly shooting me a glance of embarrassment, trying to regain her usual poise of maturity. She pushes her gaze to the ground and bites her lip.
I can feel my parents tearing apart Paul with their eyes, ripping at his “ape-like” hair, “probably filthy” hands, and “treacherous good-looks.” The evil beast that has taken their precious daughter for prey, already having broken her heart once.
I smile nervously. “Mom, Dad, it’s so great to see you.” I walk stiffly up to each and give them a hug. I then look down to Cordelia and give her a grin. “It’s great to see you, too.” I give her a kiss on the cheek and she looks up undoubtedly happy.
“Wonderful to see you too, honey.” Mom and Dad chime together.
My parents’ eyes are still locked on Paul and I take a step back to join him. Cloe scurries into the room and runs to sniff Paul’s shoes. Seemingly pleased, she stands on her hind legs and jumps to paw at his knees. Paul leans down to pet her.
Michael creeps out from behind Paul with an exaggerated smile. “So, is Stephanie home?”
“She’s in the kitchen,” my mother says, not taking her eyes off Paul.
“Oh, I guess I’ll wait then,” Michael says.
I take a side-glance at Paul and suddenly he bounces into life. He walks forward in Autopilot McCartney charm gear.
“Hello, Mr. Anderson, Mrs. Anderson. I’m Paul. It’s fantastic to be meeting you. Julia’s told me so much about you.” His British accent echoes off the walls. “It’s a lovely house you’ve got here. And of course,”—he sends me a sincere grin—“a fabulous daughter.” He turns to Cordelia and smiles. “Daughters.”
Cordelia turns scarlet and looks about ready to faint.
He shakes my mother’s hand, to which she nods silently, and then my father’s. Paul’s knuckles turn white from my father’s grip.
I walk between, smiling as sweetly as possible. “Mom, do you have anything to eat? We’re rather hungry you know.”
Mom smiles back, clearly distracted. “Yes honey, it’s in the kitchen. Here, let me bring you there.” She laughs. “What kind of hostess would I be if I didn’t offer food?”
I grab Paul’s hand, it’s freezing. I look up at him and he catches me with the corner of his eyes. He’s miserable.
The kitchen is covered with an array of appetizers and drinks. Despite the cold greeting they certainly must care as much about today as I do. Michael wasn’t kidding when he said they went crazy preparing food.
A beautifully arranged crudité sits in the middle of the kitchen table, surrounded by various cheeses, crackers, deli meats, and stuffed mushrooms. A plate of sliced fruit sits on the counter, clearly designed by Cordelia and sprinkled with coconut. The island holds a series of soda bottles, juice containers, milk, chips, pretzels, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and artichoke hearts.
Mom smiles meekly as she overlooks the incredible array of snacks. “We weren’t sure what you might like so we decided to prepare a few choices.”
Paul’s smile grows into a laugh. “All this, for me?”
“Well, we’d know what to make for Julia,” Mom chuckles.
Cordelia bursts with pride, “I made the fruit dish.”
“I’ll make sure that’s the first thing I try then,” Paul says.
Suddenly a breathy voice from the corner of the kitchen says, “Please, sit down.”
I look up to notice a rather attractive girl with curly blonde locks and brown eyes sitting on one of the kitchen table chairs. I figure she’s Stephanie and although I know she had directed her statement solely towards Paul, I join him at the table nonetheless. Her teasing gaze towards him burns me.
If she dares go near him I could still technically attack her. I don’t officially know that she’s Stephanie yet—I could plead complete innocence to her identity and say I had simply mistaken her for dangerous competition. Purely self-defense.
Michael jumps the gun. “Julia, Paul, this beautiful flower of a girl, is Stephanie.”
Well, there goes that plan. Now I know she’s going to be family.
We shake hands and all are seated at the table: Dad, Mom, Cordelia, Stephanie, Michael, Paul, and me.
Paul is offered a plate and reaches for Cordelia’s fruit dish.
“What a gorgeous display. Hate to destroy it luv, but I’m a bit hungry.”
He picks up a few strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and coconut bits, placing them on his plate. He takes a little of everything else available and silence prevails as “The Great Paul’s” verdict on Cordelia’s effort is awaited.
He smiles at all the attention and tastes a strawberry and coconut scraping. “Cor! Mmm Cordelia, I’ve never tasted a better strawberry. It’s fabulous! Absolutely fantastic! And of course, the wonderful addition of the coconut makes the dish simply superb.”
He knows his audience. Cordelia’s grin reaches from ear to ear and everyone can’t help but smile at the incredible impression he’s made on her, even my father who cracks a half-smile.
Paul enjoys the receptive smiles and moves on to compliment my mother’s “amazing mushrooms” and “wonderful selection of cheeses.”
My mother seems to have gained a more positive attitude and starts a conversation. “So how have you been enjoying New York?”
“Oh it’s gear. But then again, I’d enjoy being anywhere with Julia.”
“Gear?” my mother asks.
“GREAT Mom! It means GREAT! Don’t you listen to ANYTHING I ever tell you? All the interviews—“
“Cordelia!” Dad booms.
“It’s quite alright,” Paul says. “I sometimes forget that not everything I say is easily understood in America. But it’s certainly great that you know that Cordelia luv. Actually, just the other day Julia took me to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
My parents’ faces light up.
“Really? Which artists do you like the most?” Mom asks.
“I can appreciate almost anything but I do enjoy Picasso and Van Gogh a great deal.”
“What about Rembrandt?” Stephanie juts in, lying her cheek on her hand as leans forward on the table.
“Oh, yes. Rembrandt as well.”
Stephanie seems contented by this. “That’s really nice to hear. But wow, I still can’t believe that I’m sitting no more than three feet away from the Paul McCartney, the last bachelor Beatle. I mean, I just love your music. I’m a really big fan of yours. You make the Beatles.”
If she doesn’t stop, she’ll be much more than three feet away—call it six feet under.
Paul seems uncomfortable with her flirting and adjusts his collar. “Well, I certainly am. But today I’d just like to remain Paul. Plain Paul.” He coughs and adjusts his voice to a singsong tone. “After all, you and Michael should be the ones in the spotlight, you are the married-couple-to-be.”
Stephanie sits up seemingly a bit embarrassed. She glances towards Michael and smiles sheepishly. He sends her a puzzled glance.
Paul’s statement shakes me into reality as well.
Michael and Stephanie are the engaged couple. Paul and I are not. Paul may love me and say it openly and sincerely but no talk of marriage has been made. He would love to be with me “every waking and sleeping hour” and yet the legal bond has yet to seem a necessity to him. I’m going to be asking for my parents permission to go on tour, with no promise of commitment, while simultaneously being compared to my beloved cousin Michael and his ever-wonderful fiancée. Great. Simply “gear.”
Michael takes Stephanie’s hand in his and grins. “Yes, we are the married-couple-to-be.”
Mom and Dad turn to them smiling. I glance at Cordelia, whose dreamy gaze is predictably fixed on Paul and return my sight to the “married-couple-to-be,” wishing that Paul and I could have that honor. I glance towards Paul and realize he looking at me.
Michael directs his eyes toward me as well. “Paul got to see Julia perform as Juliet, you know.”
A newfound interest surrounds my presence and all eyes are on me.
“Oh really? I would have liked to have seen that myself,” says Dad.
“Yes and so would I, but Julia here wouldn’t let us.” Mom’s glance holds on me a moment and then moves to Paul. “Now tell me Paul, was there really anything that incredibly racy or provocative in it that her parents couldn’t see her doing? I mean it wasn’t Romeo and Juliet striptease was it?”
My mind flashes to Charlie kissing me; Paul dropping his wilted Lotus flower. I wish Michael hadn’t brought it up.
Paul shoots me an amused glance. “No, I’m pretty certain there was nothing in that performance that would have prevented a set of parents from being extra-proud of their daughter.”
Mom smiles. “Of course, we’re just joking.” She turns to me. “We understand you like to keep your theater friends to yourself. You’re too ‘cool’ for us now. We’re no longer ‘hip’ enough for you. Which reminds me, how are your friends Lydia and, oh, what's-his-face, Charlie, was it, doing?"
they’re great,” I say.
“Yes, but Lydia, has she found a boyfriend yet?”
I notice Paul’s shoulders rise slightly at the question and wonder why.
“Well no, not that I know of,” I answer.
“She’s a nice girl, don’t you think, Raymond?”
“Oh yes, certainly,” Dad says.
Stephanie seems revived from whatever embarrassment she had and perks up again. “Is it true that John came with you to New York?”
“Why yes, yes it is,” Paul says.
“Aw poor thing, did you just leave him there alone?”
“Oh no, he has company actually,” Paul says.
“Really who? Ringo or George?”
“Actually no, Julia’s friend, Lydia.”
“But I thought he was married.”
Paul’s shoulders rise up again. “He is. He has a beautiful wife Cyn, and a son, named Julian. But since Lydia is Julia’s friend she’s been showing him the city. Friendly stuff and such.” He chuckles. “Wouldn’t want you to get to the wrong impression.”
Something in his voice startles me. Something I know only I can detect. He’s lying.
Hours of tedious conversation pass and finally dinner arrives.
Paul is in the living room with Michael, Stephanie, Cloe, and Dad, while Cordelia and I help Mom in the kitchen.
“You’re dating a Beatle!” Cordelia whispers as I hand her a plate to dry.
“Yes Cordy, I know.”
“Is he as nice as he acts? He’s adorable!”
“Cordelia, please. Quiet down,” Mom says. She reaches down to open the oven and pulls out a turkey. The aroma fills the kitchen.
“Mom, I love turkey. But really, at the end of March?”
She grapples with the huge pan and I run to help her. We manage to get it on top of the stove. She rests her left elbow on the counter and reaches for her back with her gloved right hand, smiling. “I chose it because I know you like it. I also know a twenty-nine pound turkey may be the only thing that will fill the stomachs of seven people. It was either that or pasta and pasta isn’t enough for the greeting of two new romantic interests of our family.”
“Ooo! Romantic interests!” Cordelia squeals, drying the plate I had handed her.
“Cordelia sweetie, why don’t you go in and entertain our company?”
“You mean I can talk to Paul?”
“Yes, as long as you remember what I told you,” Mom says.
“You mean not to mention any pre-ma-ri-tal sex?”
“Honey! We discussed nothing of the sort with you.”
“Yea you were talking with Michael and Stephanie last night. I just sort of listened in.”
“You’re not supposed to eavesdrop. That’s just rude.”
“Sorry Mom.” She places the plate and dish towel on the counter.
“I had meant you’re not supposed to overreact to seeing Paul. You’re just supposed to treat him as you would Stephanie.”
“Good, now go run along.”
Cordelia fixes her hair and adjusts her pedal pushers before walking out of the kitchen.
Mom turns to me, embarrassed, “Well, uh, by a discussion on premarital sex, she meant—“
“It’s all right, Mom, I understand.”
“Good. Now as you help me with the stuffing, would you like to hear what I think of your current love?”
“Well, I guess. If it’s good—“
Mom smiles. “Of course it’s good, honey.” She lifts the turkey onto the cutting board. “We’ll have that wait for your father.” She turns to the stove and shovels the stuffing out of the pan and into two bowls. “Well? Are you going to help me or not?”
I put down the pot I am washing, clean my hands, and walk over. “Of course.”
I stand there as she continues to put more stuffing into the bowls.
“He’s a very handsome young man.” Some stuffing falls onto the counter. “Oops, can you get that honey?
“Sure.” I pick it up and throw it out.
“And I like him very much. Very gentlemanly. Very charming. And that accent! It’s no wonder you’re crazy about him.” She runs out of stuffing and picks up the pan, taking it over to the sink. “But darling, sweetie, do you really see yourself marrying him?”
She’s got me. I don’t have an answer.
“Julia, I don’t mean, has he asked you yet because clearly he hasn’t. But I mean, if he did ask you, could you see yourself saying, ‘Yes’?” She places the pan into the sink.
“Do you think it’s the kind of relationship that would last?”
I open my mouth to speak but she stops me.
She grins. “Sweetie, if you’re not certain now it doesn’t matter. You can just have fun dating him, doing whatever you’re doing. It’s all right with me. But I just want you to keep your mind focused on the fact that someday you will want to be getting married. I don’t want to be rushing you. You still have graduate school waiting, even. I just want you to keep your goals in mind. That’s all. Think about whether or not this is the right man to be raising your children with.”
“What is that supposed to mean? You know he hasn’t proposed yet….”
“Yes but you probably know better than most people of this man’s faults. Are you sure you’d want this man to be raising your children?”
“Mom, I love this man. I know he’d be a wonderful father.”
“But are you sure of that? Are you absolutely certain that a drunken, smoking, rock and roller is the best choice for a father?”
Father? What about a husband? He hasn’t even proposed yet!
“Are you suggesting I give up dating Paul so I can scout out a better man to raise my children?”
“Well, not exactly.…”
“Mom, I can’t believe you are saying this to me. You are being wholly unfair. He is a beautiful, talented, intelligent man and I think he would be absolutely perfectly suited as a father.”
“What about responsible?”
“Stop! Mom stop! Yes, he’s responsible.”
“Responsible enough to get your home address and number before you left London?”
“Are you trying to break us up?”
“Of course not, honey, of course not.”
Stephanie enters. “I was wondering if I might help make myself useful.”
Mom faces her. “Certainly, why don’t you carry these in? And if you have time, maybe bring in a few glasses.” She points to the bowls of stuffing and then the cabinet with the glasses.
“Great, that’s wonderful. Oh, well now that everyone’s busy, I do believe I will go up and use the lady’s room. Please excuse me.”
“Of course,” says Stephanie.
I ignore Stephanie and turn on the faucet to clean the turkey pan. Stephanie walks up to the side of me. “I’m sorry, but where do you keep your glasses again?”
I point to the cabinet to the left of me. She opens it and reaches in, smiling. “Would you mind helping me?”
“No, not at all.” I grab a glass.
“That’s a wonderful fiancé you’ve got there. He’s so enchanting…and conversational.”
“He’s not my fiancé.”
She mocks pity. She moves her glass into her right hand and reaches for a second. “Oh, you poor thing. You mean he doesn’t love you?”
I look up.
“I mean the second I knew I was in love with Michael, he proposed to me. He’s such a darling, Michael, that is.”
“Yes, he’s a great cousin.”
“I’m sure he is, beautiful build, lovely eyes. But nowhere near as sexy as that Paul of yours.”
“Oh really?” I pretend I didn’t hear her, reaching into the cabinet for a second glass.
“Yes, but that’s a real shame. That he hasn’t asked you to marry to him. How funny, you know, you’d expect if a guy really loved a girl he’d propose. But then again, mutual affection is so hard to find.”
The glass slips from my hand. It crashes against the tiles and shards scatter across the floor. I gasp.
She got to me. I shouldn’t have let her get to me.
“That’s a shame. Here, let me help you.”
Paul rushes in, Peter not far behind. “You alright luv?” Paul comes behind me.
I look around, startled. “Yes, I’m fine.”
He smiles and puts his arms around my waist. He kisses my cheek. “Good.” He glances up to see Stephanie still facing me with a distinct look of upset on her face. “Oh, and how about you?”
“Oh, I’m…fine,” she says.
Michael walks up to her, keeping a distance of about two feet. “You sure you’re both okay?”
“Yes,” she smiles, expecting Michael to walk up to her. He doesn’t.
“Glad to hear it.” He walks out.
That’s pretty unusual for a supposedly “lovingly engaged couple.”
Paul gives me one more peck on the cheek. “Need help picking it up luv?”
I blush. “No, it’s quite all right. I can do it.”
“No, I insist. Here, Stephanie luv, why don’t you go inside. I’ll take over your job, I’m sure Michael would love to spend some more time with you.”
“I’m sure he would luv.” Paul grins.
“Well, maybe you’re right.” She walks out.
Paul steps back a few feet and spins me around, pulling me towards him. “I love you.”
I smile. “I love you too.”
He presses his forehead against mine and stares into my eyes. “And don’t you forget it.”
He kisses me. “Good, now that that’s squared away, let me help you with this.”
We pick up all the pieces and carry all the glasses into the dining room. We return to the kitchen for the stuffing.
As Paul picks up one of the bowls, I lean my back against the edge of the counter. He faces me.
I whisper, “Paul, why were you lying about Lydia and John?”
“What do you mean?”
“I could tell, you were lying. Up until now I’ve known there has been no ‘romantic interactions’ between the two of them but you seem to know something I don’t. What?”
Paul looks at the floor. “Well…”
He places the bowl back onto the counter. “I saw them. When I returned to get my clothes for the night here. I saw them, in that honeymooners heart-shaped bed, full on.” He looks up at me.
My eyes open wide. “Are you serious?”
“Would I joke about this? The room filled with smoke,” his voice falls to a whisper, “…pot luv. And they’re screaming and wailing away. I felt terrible interrupting.”
Pot? As in marijuana? Am I all that surprised? I knew she would do it eventually. It’s her own choice. But sleeping with John? Why do all my friends seem to forget that he’s married?
“Yea well. Don’t think about it too much. Things will sort themselves out, just one thing I want you absolutely certain on is that we’re in this together. Tonight when you ask your parents about the tour, I’ll be right there with you, unless you prefer I’m not, and then I’ll just be sitting in that little place in your heart, waiting. All right luv?”
I smile. “All right.”
He leans down and kisses me. We stand kissing for a few moments until Mom enters the kitchen.
She reaches past Paul and smiles at me as we pull away. “Just wanted the stuffing…that’s all. Dinner will be ready in a moment.”
Paul returns a nervous smile and we prepare for dinner.
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