The story continues!
Christmas Eve- Part 3
My father jumped out of his recliner as his favorite football team scored. “Go, go, go….yes! See, Brian, I told you! Pay up!”
Beside me, my future father-in-law shook his head. “That was just luck.” He dug into his wallet and pulled out the money to pay his debt.
“No, that was an athlete who knows how to play the game,” Dad said, laughing as he collected his winnings.
I dug into my pocket and gave my dad a dollar before glancing at Clarence. He appeared calm, even though his team was losing. The good-natured bets going back and forth between us was an easy way to study the temperament of my future father-in-law. After last night’s handshake, I was still on edge.
He sipped his beer and studied my father’s movie posters on the wall during the commercial break. “Nice man cave you’ve got here, Winfred. I’ve tried to get Anita to let me have one inside the house.” He shook his head. “You’d think after thirty years of paying the mortgage I would have earned a room. Instead, I got pushed out to the garage.”
Both men laughed.
“What we won’t do for the women we love, eh?” My dad supplied.
Clarence raised his bottle. “Here, here.”
Both men looked at me. I held my bottle up in agreement then gulped.
A soft knock on the door drew everyone’s attention. Ebony peeked into the room. “Excuse me, Brian, your mom would like you to run to the store before they close.” She held up a sheet of paper.
I tried to hide my relief. “Sure.”
If I was lucky, Ebony would be able to sneak away with me. After my mother’s invitation to spend the week at the house with everyone else, Ebony and I had gone to our respective homes and grabbed enough clothes for the week. Our original plan had been to spend the rest of the holiday at our new home.
Three weeks had passed since we signed the lease. Ebony came by periodically to help unpack and set things up. A few of her personal items had made their way over. Her official move-in date was a few days after Christmas. Regardless, my attempt to convince her to spend at least one night at our new home and come back in the morning hadn’t worked. She insisted on not disappointing our parents. In the end, not only had I slept alone, I slept in my childhood bed.
My mother insisted we sleep in separate rooms because we weren’t married. She knew we had sex, but my parents were old fashioned. ‘Unwed? No sex in my beds!’ was her motto.
Imagining my fiancée sleeping down the hall in addition to the intimidation of being in the same room with her father made a good night’s sleep hard to come by.
I joined Ebony in the hallway. “How are things in the kitchen?”
She walked over, slipped her arms around my waist, and laid her head against my chest. “Up until twenty minutes ago, fine.”
I caught the change in her voice; she was no longer as excited as she’d been at breakfast.
In need of physical connection as much as she apparently did, I held her tight. “What happened? Is everything okay?”
Before she could reply, I heard the door to the man-cave open behind me.
“Hey, Brian, do you mind if I ride with you? I could use a bit of fresh air.”
Clarence’s booming voice forced me to jump away from Ebony as if we were teenagers caught red handed. My back was turned to him so he couldn’t see my initial cringe as I squeezed my eyes shut. “Sure. I’ll be ready to leave in five minutes.”
“Let me grab my shoes.” Clarence walked by me, stopped at Ebony, who’d stepped away from me, and kissed her cheek before heading for the stairs.
Ebony watched as he disappeared, then turned to me. “I saw that look. Things aren’t going well in there either?”
I shrugged. “They’re getting along fine. Men are easy. Beer, sports, everything is all good.”
She cocked her head to the side, studying me. “What about you?”
“I’m hanging in there.” It was my turn to study her. “How about you? You guys seem to be getting along great. We can hear the laughter over the T.V.”
Ebony ran a hand over her head. “Woman can be touchy, especially when the subject of weddings and babies comes up.” She shuttered.
I was about to ask for details when I heard her father’s heavy footfalls on the stairs. I kissed her quick. “We’ll talk tonight after everyone goes to bed, okay?”
“Sounds like a plan. Be safe.” She kissed me again and headed for the kitchen.
“Ready to go?” Clarence said.
We were in my truck, merging into the main street traffic when Clarence spoke.
“Brian, I have to be honest. When my daughter told us she’d been dating a white man and that you were engaged, I had my reservations. Even after she told us about what you’ve done for her, I still was wary. Things were different when my wife and I got married, but times have changed. We raised our children to be open-minded, loving, and honest individuals. As a father, it’s hard to imagine your little girls growing up and being involved with a man. You worry about how well they’ll be treated and if the guy really loves them…” His voice drifted off as if in remembering something. “Then one day they say, ‘Pop, I’m getting married.’” You learn to handle it and move on, but it’s never easy.
“Ebony has always been strong minded, hard-headed, and determined to have what she wants. Ever since she was a little girl.” He chuckled. “I can’t tell you how many times she almost gave her mother a heart attack by bringing injured animals home and hiding them in the garage.”
I smiled, trying to picture Ebony doing those things. Then I felt Clarence staring at me. My smile dropped.
“You’ll have to forgive me if I’ve come off as rude. With everything my daughter has told us over the last few weeks, it was quite a shocker. What happened to her…what you did…the engagement…that was a lot of information to process at one time.”
“And the fact that I’m white.” I glanced over in time to see him crack a small smile and nod.
“And there’s that. Can’t lie and say we weren’t shocked.”
I braced myself for what he was about to say next.
“But since meeting you and your family, I can understand why she loves you. You’re a good man and come from a good family.”
My mouth fell open. I risked a glance as I drove to make sure I hadn’t heard incorrectly.
Clarence watched me, an enormous smile on his face.
“Thank you, sir,” I stammered.
His thunderous laugh reverberated in the car. “You were scared, huh? I must say, you did better than my other son-in-law. Poor boy nearly pissed his pants the first time he met me, and he’s black.”
I found myself laughing. “Well, I didn’t have problems with my bodily functions, but my hand still aches.”
“Sorry about that. I hope it’s not one you play with.”
I shook my head. “It’s fine. I’ve done a lot worse. When I first met Ebony, I did yard maintenance for a living. There were numerous times when I had cuts and bruises on my hands and had to go to the club to play that night. Professionals learn to do what you must for the show to go on.”
He nodded. “True. Which is what I want to talk to you about.”
Something about his words set me on edge. “What’s on your mind, sir?”
“You can call me Clarence, or Dad, whichever one you’re comfortable with.” He watched me nod. “My daughter comes from a family of hard workers. You’ve seen it for yourself. She’s worked hard to get where she is in her career.”
“Yes, sir. I support her with anything she wants to do. That’s one of the reasons why I fell in love with her.” I watched him nod with my peripheral vision.
“So I’ve heard. I understand you have a pretty good work ethic, too. You’re a musician and own your own business. How do you balance the two?”
“I’ve got family; my cousins are running the business for now. I join in when I have time. But working for the record company pays well, too.”
“How long do you plan on staying there?”
“Excuse me?” I gave him my full attention when we reached a red light.
“Musicians tend to move from job to job. It’s not like working for a corporation that pays for your health insurance and gives you a 401K. There’s no retirement fund. What happens when Ebony gets pregnant and you guys need a bigger place? What about when you have a second or third kid? Life won’t get easier. I know my daughter is going to get the job at the zoo she wants, but how long will she be able to work once she’s pregnant? What if she takes off from work and decides she’d rather stay home with the kids. Will you be able to handle the expense with the job you have now?”
Clarence looked at me full on. Nothing about his facial expression or body language said he disliked my choice of careers. He was asking real-world questions based on the reality of the commitment Ebony and I were going to make.
“To be honest…” I gripped the steering wheel. “I don’t know. I’ve thought about some of it, but right now, children are not high on our list.”
“Do you guys have a five-year plan? Ten year? Anything?”
I shook my head. The plans Ebony and I made were about our jobs and getting married. Now that I thought about it, even that was unfinished. We had yet to set a definite date.
“We’re moving in together this weekend.” My eyebrows furrowed. “I guess with everything that’s happened, we’ve skipped ahead a few steps.”
“I’m glad you’re willing to admit it,” Clarence said. “There’s one thing I want you to remember.” He paused, waiting for me to look in his direction. “Nothing is set in stone. Plans can be broken, updated, and reevaluated at any time. Trust me. I’ve been married to Ebony’s mother for over thirty years. Sometimes I knew where we were going in life. Other times, I was flying by the seat of my pants. I didn’t always share the ups and downs with Anita because the stress would have made her worry too much. There were times when I carried the burden alone. As men, that’s what we do to take care of our families. Remember that. But don’t just take my word for it, ask your father. I’m sure he’s got some stories he’ll be able to tell,” he chuckled, “especially when raising five kids. And four daughters?” He whistled. “Two was enough for me.”
I smiled then got lost in thought.
Clarence had given me a lot to think about. While Ebony said she was supportive of my career, how long would it last? We avoided the baby roulette game once, but what if it happened again? We’d welcome our baby, no doubt about it. But what about everything it would take to care for my family?
Insurance. Housing. Daycare. Stay-at-home mom? Could my current career handle all of that on one income?
Yes, Ebony and I were definitely going to talk tonight.
Come back tomorrow for Part 4!
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- Family for the Holiday: A Ebony and Brian Short Story- Part One (authormjkanebooks.wordpress.com)
- Spend the Holiday with Ebony and Brian! (authormjkanebooks.wordpress.com)
- Family for the Holiday: A Ebony and Brian Short Story- Part 2 (authormjkanebooks.wordpress.com)