“Just be yourself.”
“If you weren’t seriously inept at social interaction.”
This wasn’t going to go well. Leave it to me to find a girlfriend with possibly the richest family in Passerine County. By possibly, I mean probably, and by probably I mean her name is Eliza Passerine.
Eliza slid her hand into mine.
“You’re making me nervous,” she said. “Turn left.”
“Why would you think I’m nervous? Just because they own more than half of the stores in this town and they have a live-in chef named freakin’ Osworth while I’m on a first name basis with the overnight workers at Quickie Burgers. Why? Do I look nervous?”
“No, but you tend to ramble when you’re nervous – turn here.”
We approached a silver ornate gate with an enormous metal box attached to the left side.
“Roll your window down.”
From the box a gruff voice rang out, “we’ve already gotten our mail today.”
My voice caught in my throat. I looked at Eliza at a loss. Eliza reached over from the passenger seat. “Max! Hey! It’s me, Eliza. Open the gate.”
“Miss Passerine? How are you – sorry. Letting you in now.”
The gate trembled then split apart. I drove through, my knuckles whitening against the steering wheel. Ahead of the gate was a long, unending road flanked by tall overpowering forests on both sides.
“Klaus…are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Why is this road so long? Why are there so many trees? – I thought the Earth was dying. This looks like a loading screen for a horror game. I feel like I’ve seen this scene in a movie before, and let me tell you it doesn’t end well for the boyfriend…”
“What? I’m fine. Why was this Max person so stern-sounding? What if I were a mailman? Those people are national heroes. I order my boxers online, and I always get my mail on time.”
Eliza covered her face with her hands. “Oh, no.”
“Oh, no,” I said, looking ahead.
The path broke into a wide concrete space. The mansion, if it could even be called that, was one of hugest, brightest, most luxurious-looking buildings I had ever seen in my life. That wasn’t even the best part. Her parents were standing outside waiting for us.
I parked near the fountain to give myself time to calm down before we reached the front door.
We got out of the car and started walking hand-in-hand.
Suddenly, Eliza started to speak rapidly, “Okay, listen to me. I thought I would try to downplay how bad they are so you wouldn’t freak out, but you’re already freaking out – Klaus, they’re really bad. If they don’t like you, they will make my life an intolerable hell. Our best chance is you avoid talking. Answer when they speak to you, but try to keep it brief. And Klaus, do – not – make – jokes. They won’t laugh.”
I blinked at her.
“Mom!” She abandoned my hand and went to hug her mother.
That left the father to visually assault me. He peered at me with no expression at all like a lion quietly wondering whether this particular zebra was worthy of sinking his teeth into.
“So how long have you been two together now?” said her father as we all sat down at the table the size of my kitchen.
“A little bit over a year.”
“A long time, “ her father nodded. He turned to me. “She’s a exemplary woman, isn’t she?”
“I would let her take a bullet for me, sir.”
He nodded, and then stopped. “What?”
“I would take a bullet for her.”
Eliza squeezed my hand under the table while still looking ahead. I started sweating. The servers started removing the service plate covers and a cascade of smells smashed into my nose. My eyes landed on a Gouda platter.
“Oh, I love gouda.”
Eliza squeezed again.
“I do, too,” smiled her father. I smiled back.
“If you don’t like Gouda, you can Gouda hell, am I right?”
His lips tightened so much they reverted back into his mouth. “Mrs. Passerine is lactose intolerant.”
“Ah, of course she is,” I laughed, reddening. “That was so inconsiderate of me. Why wouldn’t I assume she –”
“— Mom! Did you hear Helena got married?”
“Oh, I did not like Helena not one bit,” said her mother, patting her mouth with a napkin. “She was one of your worst friends. Always lying about everything. Claiming her parents really owned stock in –”
“I agree completely,” I said, while Eliza squeezed. “Liars are the worst. I had a grandma who used to say ‘spread butter, not lies.’”
The mother cast me a wary look. “Had? Has the poor soul passed?”
“All I’ll say is she didn’t die peacefully in her bed because of, you know, all that butter, but at least she died an honest woman!”
J.R. Night is a recent graduate from The University of Maryland. He likes to write, draw, and exercise, all of which leave him breathless and annoyed.