“Uh-huh,” he says. “And?” He starts serving and passing plates around the table. When I get mine, it’s got a lot of brussels sprouts on it. If I don’t eat them all, Tina will say something. I just know it.
“And . . . I’ve mostly been floating from city to city as of late. The Pacific Northwest for a bit. New York, too.”
“Gabby said you were living in New York,” Tina says, starting to take a bite of her steak. “Was it fabulous? Did you see any Broadway shows?”
I laugh slightly, but I don’t mean to. “No,” I say. “Not much of that.”
I don’t want to get into anything about Michael. I don’t want to admit to them the mess I got myself in. They may not be my parents, but Carl and Tina are incredibly parental. I care deeply what they think of me.
“New York wasn’t for me,” I say, sipping the wine they put in front of me and then immediately putting it back down on the table. It smells awful. I don’t like it.
Gabby, seeing my discomfort, steps in. “Hannah is a West Coast girl, you know? She belongs back with us.”
“Amen to that,” Carl says, cutting his steak and taking a bite. He chews with his mouth open sometimes. “I’ve always said, go where the sunshine is. Anyone who heads for snowier climates is a moron.” Tina rolls her eyes at him. He looks at Mark. “Mark, what are you doing drinking wine with a steak like this?”
Mark starts to stumble a little bit. I realize for the first time that Mark is slightly intimidated by Carl. It’s not hard to see why. He’s a formidable man to have as a father-in-law.
“It’s what was in front of me,” Mark says, laughing. “I’m not too discerning.”
Carl gets up from the table and goes into the kitchen. He comes back and puts a beer in front of Mark.
Mark laughs. “All right!” he says. He seems genuinely much more interested in drinking the beer than the wine Tina gave him, but I don’t know if that’s just a show for Carl. He’s also scratching his wrists and the back of his neck pretty aggressively. Must be Barker.
Carl sits back down. “Men drink beer,” Carl says, sipping his own. “Simple as that.”
“Dad,” Gabby says, “gender has absolutely nothing to do with someone’s preference for a drink. Some men like appletinis. Some women like bourbon. It’s irrelevant.”
“While I admit I have no idea what an appletini is, you’re absolutely right,” Carl says thoughtfully. “I was being reductionist, and I’m sorry.”
Now that I’m back in their home, I remember where it comes from. Where she gets the need to speak clearly and as accurately as possible about gender politics. It’s Carl. He will have these antiquated ideas about men and women, but then he routinely corrects himself about them when Gabby brings it up.
“So, Hannah,” Tina says, redirecting the conversation, “what’s the plan? Are you staying in L.A. for a while?”
I swallow the piece of steak I’m chewing. “Yeah,” I say. “I’m hoping to.”
“Do you have a job lined up?” Carl asks.
Gabby steps in to defend me. “Dad, don’t.”
He looks defensive. “I’m just asking a question.”
I shake my head. “No,” I say, “I don’t.” I look at the wineglass in front of me. I can’t bring myself to drink any more of it. I don’t want to have to smell it again. I grab the water next to it and sip. “But I will!” I add. “That’s on my list. Car. Job. Apartment. You know, the basic tenets of a functioning life.”
“Do you have money for a car?” Carl asks.
“Dad!” Gabby says. “C’mon.”
Mark stays out of it. He’s too busy scratching his arms. Also, I get the impression that Mark usually stays out of a lot of things.
“Gabby! The girl lived with us for almost two years. She’s practically my long-lost daughter. I can ask her if she needs money for a car.” Carl turns to me. “Can’t I?”
It’s a weird relationship I have with the Hudsons. On the one hand, they are not my parents. They didn’t really raise me, and they don’t check in on me regularly. On the other hand, if I needed anything, I’ve always known they would step in. They took care of me during one of the most formative times in my life. And the truth is, my parents aren’t here. My parents haven’t been here for a while.
“It’s fine,” I say. “I have some money saved. I have enough for a down payment on a car or first, last, and security on an apartment. If I can find a cheap option for each, then I could maybe swing both.”
“You’re saying you have about five thousand dollars, give or take,” Carl says.
Gabby shakes her head. Mark is smiling. Maybe he’s just glad the heat is off him for now.
Tina pipes up before I can. “Carl, why don’t we save the hard stuff for after dinner?”
“Hannah,” he says directly to me, “am I making you uncomfortable? Is this bothering you?”
C’mon! What am I supposed to say to that? Yes, talking about how broke and unprepared for life I am makes me a little uncomfortable. But who on this planet, when asked directly if they are uncomfortable, admits they are? It’s an impossible question. It forces you to make the other person feel better about invading your personal space.
“It’s fine,” I say. “Really.”
Carl turns to Gabby and Tina. “She says it’s fine.”
“OK, OK,” Tina says. “Who wants more wine?”
Gabby raises her glass. Mine is untouched. “I’m good,” I say.
Tina looks at my plate. “Are you done?” she asks. Everyone else’s plate is fairly clean except for a bite here or there. Mine is empty except for all of the brussels sprouts. “I have a fabulous dessert to bring out.”
I know it’s childish, but I’m honestly worried she will judge me for eating dessert without finishing my vegetables. I start casually eating them quickly. “Sounds great,” I say between bites. “I’m almost done.”
Tina leaves and heads into the kitchen. Carl has started to ask Mark how the dental practice is going when Tina calls for Carl to help her get another bottle of wine open.
“I’m sorry my dad is hounding you,” Gabby says once both Carl and Tina are out of earshot.
I take the last of the brussels sprouts on my fork and cram them into my mouth. I chew quickly and swallow them down. “It’s fine,” I say. “I’m much less worried about your dad’s questions than I am about your mom’s judgment if I don’t finish my vegetables.”
Gabby laughs. “You’re right to be worried.”
Mark joins in. “One time, I didn’t put any of her cooked carrots on my plate, and she pulled me aside later and asked if I was at all concerned about a vitamin A deficiency.”
I take another sip of my water. I may have overshot it with the brussels sprouts. My stomach is starting to feel bloated and nauseated.
“I shouldn’t have eaten them so quickly,” I say, rubbing my stomach. “I suddenly feel . . . ugh.”
“Oh, I’ve learned that one before,” Gabby says, laughing.
“No, this is . . . I really don’t feel well all of a sudden.”
“Queasy or what?” Mark says.
“Yeah,” I say. I burp. I actually burp. “Very queasy.”
Tina and Carl come out, Tina with wine, Carl with a very large, very gooey, very aromatic batch of cinnamon rolls.
I smile wide as Tina winks at me.
“Do we know Hannah, or do we know Hannah?” Carl says.
He puts it down in front of me. “You get first dibs. I would expect nothing less of you than to pick the one with the most icing.”
I inhale deeply, getting the smell of the cinnamon and the sugar. And then, suddenly, I have to get out of here.
I slam my chair out from under me and run toward the hallway bathroom, shutting the door behind me. I’m just in front of the toilet when it all comes back up. I feel faint and a little dizzy. I’m exhausted.
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