Erin: Well it's been a while since I last posted mostly due to the fact I've been running a prompt blog. Feel free to go check it out. It's alwaysandforeverwriting on tumblr. It's where this story was originally posted. This fic is also posted on AO3.
Prompt: Joel x Elena – Elena meets Joel's family
Disclaimer – I do not own Saving Hope or The Vampire Diaries. I would change so so so many things if I did.
Joel and his parents weren't close. Sure he talked to them once a week, who was he kidding? Once a month. He had just never seen eye-to-eye with them. His parents lived in a small very traditional town. They where the type of people who went to church every Sunday, expected abstinence until marriage, a nine to five job, and for him to be married by thirty with 2.5 kids in a house with a white picket fence. Unfortunately for them Joel had been a one night stand type of guy, who while being a doctor was a surgeon and not a family practitioner or GP meaning he didn't work normal hours, and a family? Yeah not really in the cards. Plus the last time he had gone to church was right before he left for college and his parents forced him.
So to say they didn't get along might be a bit of an understatement. His mother always tried to guilt him into becoming the type of man she expected him to be and his father, well, his favorite lecture was the "I'm disappointed in you son". Still he called once a month like a good son to check in. Even if the last time he saw them was when he graduated from med school.
They are his parents and he does love them.
Things changed however when he met Elena. First it was, I don't want us to see other people, not that he was he later realized. Then it was can I take you out on a real date? Next thing he knew they were living together and he hadn't even looked at another woman in at least a year. He was even considering marriage.
He might have possibly looked at some rings but he was only looking it's not like he bought them.
To Elena family was everything. Her parents died in a car crash causing her aunt Jenna to move in with her and her brother Jeremy. They were close talking practically every day if not on the phone by e-mail. She was also very close to Alaric, Jenna's husband. Joel loved to listen to her talk about her family. He loved to watch her on the phone with one of them. It made him realize that though he and his parents weren't close he still wanted her to meet them because family was important.
This is what lead to him calling them up and telling them he wanted to introduce them to his girlfriend Elena. He hadn't even considered introducing Alex to them when they were together. His mother was thrilled. She had been nagging him about finding a wife. Even his Dad seemed pleased. Now all he had to do was keep them from finding out that he and Elena where living together, had sex regularly, and she had no intention of being some stay at home Mom. Sure she wanted kids. In the future. Far in the future if Joel could help it. And she is a novelist meaning she worked mostly from home but she wasn't going to stop working just because she had kids. Which is what his parents would expect.
Pulling up to their house (a traditional farm house with a white picket fence and everything) he was beginning to regret his decision to introduce them. He had this deep seeded feeling that everything was about to go wrong. Glancing over to Elena he could see the excitement and nerves warring inside her. It was going to be fine. They were just staying the weekend.
At least Joel had rented a car in case they needed to make a break for the airport.
Elena took his hand. "It's going to be fine."
Joel had warned her about his parents. He knew she could handle herself but still this was such a bad idea.
"Yeah," he swallowed. "Yeah."
They were barely out of the car before his mom burst through the front door rushing out to meet them.
"Sweetheart!" she tossed her arms around him. "I'm so happy to see you."
"Hi, Mom." Joel returned the hug. He had missed her he realized.
She back up just to arms length. "Let me look at you." She gazed up and down her son. "You're grown so much," she cooed. "Though you could use a good shave." He frowned not sure why he expected anything differently. She turned on Elena. Like a predator on it's prey. "And you must be Elena! You're more gorgeous than I imagined. You know he's never brought home a girl before. You must be something special."
She yanked Elena into a tight hug. Elena took it in stride hugging her back just as tightly.
"It's so wonderful to meet you. Joel's told me a lot about you," Elena returned.
"Don't believe everything he's said," she joked.
Joel heard the sound of the porch squeak and he glanced up to find his dad standing at the steps.
"Hey Dad," Joel greeted.
"Son," he nodded.
"You two must be exhausted from your trip. Come inside. I'll show you to your rooms," she ushered them in.
Joel's father finally came down the steps when Joel opened the trunk to pull out their bags taking one.
"It's good to see you," he muttered. "I hope everything's been going well."
"Everything's great." It was true. Joel couldn't remember a time his life he had been so happy.
He closed the trunk seeing as Elena was pushed inside the house by his mother. He repressed a sigh. This was going to be a long weekend.
"You coming?" his father questioned stopping at the steps.
"Yeah." He forced his feet to move.
So the first hour they where there went off without a hitch. Luckily they had arrived late enough in the day that dinner was close meaning his mother expected them to freshen up maybe even take a nap. She had shown them to their rooms. Joel was in his old one now converted to his mothers sewing room which had a pull out couch and Elena was in the guest bedroom.
Joel was currently napping on the bed having let Elena take the bathroom first for a shower. A soft hand pulled him back from his light dozen. Joel opened his eyes to find Elena kneeling beside the bed.
"Bathroom's all yours," she informed him.
Joel smiled lazily reaching out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. He was so tempted to pull her down onto the bed and snuggle into her fresh clean skin. Kiss her long and slow. Take his time to enjoy her. Instead he pulled back.
"Thanks," he mumbled grabbing his bag closing the bathroom door behind him. Something he hadn't done in years.
Dinner was at seven sharp. It was finally time to face the music. Neither he nor Elena had really spoken to his parents. By the time they had both taken showers and changed into nicer clothes a couple of hours had passed. Neither had been in a rush to start the interrogation.
Joel remembered when Elena had taken him home for dinner. The fifty questions. The silent threats. The not so silent ones. And they had been relatively normal up-to-the-times people. Not like his folks who where set in their ways.
"Oh wow this looks lovely," Elena gushed.
Neither was particularly used to a full course meal. Joel was the cook between them but with his job he didn't have much time to.
"Thank you sweetheart. Do you cook?" And so it began.
Elena smile never wavered even though Joel internally cringed. "No sadly I inherited my mother's gift in the kitchen. The talent to burn everything black. My father was the cook."
Joel didn't miss the looks passed between his parents.
"I'm sure you could learn. You just need the right teacher. I would be more than happy to show you the ropes," his mother responded.
"Oh that would be wonderful but I wouldn't dare step into your kitchen. It's lovely and I would feel terrible if my skills where to damage it," Elena replied easily.
"Nonsense dear. Let me worry about that," she waved off.
Elena nodded. "Well than how can I refuse?"
Joel decided in that moment Elena was a saint.
"Shall we say grace?" his father interrupted.
"Yes dear." His mother clasped her hand together bowing her head. Elena and Joel following suit.
"Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts, which we are about to receive from your bounty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen," his father recited.
A course of "Amen's" went around the table and they all lifted their heads. Food was passed around and the meal remained quiet until everyone was served.
"So Elena," his father began. It took a lot of effort for Joel to swallow his food. "What is it you do?"
"I'm an author," Elena answered.
"You've been published?" he questioned.
"I've published six books, two are from a single series I'm writing, and I'm current working on my seventh, the third book," Elena informed him taking a bite of her food.
"I bet they've sold well," his mother announced.
"Enough to keep publishing them," she joked.
"Elena's just being modest," Joel cut in. "She's had book tours and readings. Her last book made it on the best seller list." Elena blushed.
"How wonderful!" she exclaimed. "We'll will have to read them. Won't we hon?"
He grunted in agreement.
Both Joel and Elena exchanged a look of horror.
"So Joel dear, when are you going to ask Elena to marry you?"
Joel has no idea how he manages not to choke. "Mom!"
"Oh come now. It's serious enough to bring her home you must be planning on marrying her." His mother turned to Elena. "Elena tell me what are your thoughts on children?"
"Hush now." She waved him off.
"I've always wanted children," Elena confessed. "Someday."
Their eyes met and Joel felt his heart pound in his chest. They hadn't really talked about any of this.
"Wonderful. You should move back here. It's a wonderful environment to raise children. We have a lovely church, the houses have large yards for them to play, and I'm sure Joel could get a job at the hospital in the town over."
"Actually we're going to stay in the city. Joel is Chef of Surgery now. We couldn't possibly move," Elena directed the conversation towards Joel.
"Chef of Surgery? Congratulations." His father clasped him on the shoulder.
"Wonderful honey. I'm so proud of you." His mother beamed.
"He's an amazing doctor." Elena smirked taking a sip of her ice tea.
"I hope it's not too much work," his mother seemed to realize. "After all you need time for your family."
"It's no nine to five," Joel admitted. "But I'm getting better at balancing."
"I knew what I was getting into when we started dating." Elena winked at him.
"So understanding," his mother cooed.
"Tell us about your family," his father ordered.
Joel was tempted to say something about his tone but Elena was already answering, "I have a younger brother, Jeremy, my Aunt Jenna, and her husband Alaric."
"Where are your parents?" his mom asked.
"They died in a car crash when I was in high school," Elena answered.
She gasped covering her mouth.
"I'm sorry for your loose," his father spoke. "At least they're in a better place."
"Thank you." Elena never flinched when asked about her parents in the time he had known her. She told him once it was just something you got used to. The gasps, the condolences, and the questions.
"Is your family close?" his mother questioned.
"We are. I talk to one of them every day."
"That's good. Family is important."
Elena nodded in agreement. "It is."
"You're christen I'm assuming. I can't wait to introduce you to our pastor this Sunday. He in a wonderful man. You remember him Joel?" She turned to her son.
Joel nodded. "Of course."
"I'll get to introduce you to everyone. Joel the Chef of Surgery and his fiancé," she sighed dreamily.
"Mom, we're not engaged," Joel reminded her.
"Perhaps you should ask her," his father pointed out.
Joel fought the urge to slam his head into the table.
Dinner continued on in this fashion. His parents trying to push their ways on them. Elena handling things so much better than him. Elena offering to do the dishes. Dessert and more questions. By nine o'clock everyone was turning in because his parents where strict in their schedule which meant they had to be too. Joel already wanted to pack up his bag and go home.
Lying in bed he found himself tossing and turning. This was the first night he'd slept alone in almost two years not including crashing in the on call room. He glanced at the clock to find it was after midnight and he was still no closer to sleep.
Making a decision Joel crawled out of bed carefully making it to the room next door without so much as a squeaky floorboard. Even after all this time he remembered everything about this house even how to open the door without making a sound. Closing it behind him with a soft click. He made his way over to the bed.
"Couldn't sleep either?" Elena voice caused him to jump a foot in the air.
"Shit," he hissed quietly. "Don't do that."
Elena chuckled scooting over in bed. Joel crawled in beside her. Elena curled into him head resting on his shoulder.
"You can't stay," she reminded him.
Joel sighed. "I know. Just give me a minute."
Elena nodded. "Okay."
The silence was deafening. Out in the country the only sounds where from the wind. No cars, no dogs barking, no trains, nothing.
"I can't sleep without you."
He could feel Elena smile against his skin.
Elena is woken up by a knocking on the door. "Breakfast."
She groaned at realizing she was not in her own bed and was still in Pleasantville. She was tempted to pull the covers and stay locked away but that wouldn't leave the best impression on Joel's parents. She knows they're not close and they disapprove of most (okay all) of his life choices.
A shift in the bed beside her causes Elena to freeze. Then the memories of last night come flooding back. Joel sneaking into her room because he couldn't sleep. They must have passed out.
Elena whacks him on the arm. "Wake up!" she hisses as loudly as she dares.
Joel just groans burrowing further into the mattress.
"We fell asleep," she tells him.
"That's what we do in bed," he mumbled. "Or half of what we do."
She rolled her eyes. "Yeah but don't you remember where we fucking are?" She's panicking. She knows she is but if they catch them all hell will break loose.
Joel shoots up wide awake. "Fuck fucking fuck." Neither of them are cursers but this is a time for cursing.
"What do we do?" Elena is on the verge of a panic attack because really this is the worst thing that could ever possibly happen. Okay not the worst but right now it feels that way.
"It's okay," Joel tried to calm her down or himself. She wasn't sure. "Dad will be at the kitchen table drinking his coffee and Mom should be in the kitchen. They're downstairs. Just go to the bathroom check to make sure the coast is clear and I'll sneak back into my room. It'll be fine."
Somehow Elena doubted that but really what choice did they have? So the two of them got out of bed. Elena opened the door stepping out into the hallway. It was empty. Stepping out further she leaned over the railing to find the living room empty as well and sounds coming from the kitchen.
She turned back to Joel ushering him forward. He slipped out of her room and into his own opening the door and then closing it with a light click. Elena headed for the bathroom finally letting her pounding heart settle once she was safely inside.
Leaning against the door all Elena could think about was the fact it was only Saturday and their flight didn't leave until tomorrow night at ten, thirty-nine long hours away.
Joel and Elena tried not to exchange too many looks over breakfast but it seemed as if they had gotten away with sleeping together though Elena was not willing to try that again. This weekend was already far more stressful than she had imagined. Joel had described them as very religious and traditional but she had thought that he had been exaggerating. He in fact hadn't.
Breakfast was large and consisted of scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, sausage, grits, toast, orange juice, and coffee. Typically breakfast in their home was coffee and as much as looking at all that food was completely unappealing Elena forced herself to eat. Joel on the other hand was pushing his food around his plate.
"Joel dear eat up," his mother scolded.
Joel held back an eyeroll but took a pointed bite of his pancake.
His mother ignored the obvious bait. "After breakfast I want to take you two into town. I want to show you around. I know it's small but it's such a good place for having a family. We just love it here."
She looked over to her husband who was reading the paper. He just grunted in agreement. She frowned.
"That sounds wonderful. I'd love to get the whole tour," Elena agreed mostly just to get out of this house.
"Sure mother whatever you want." It's not like they had anything better to do.
She clasped her hands together. "Wonderful!"
Small was an understatement. The sign listed the town's population at 736. Considering it was a farm town and everyone was spread out over anchors of land it made it seem every smaller. The only concentrated area was the actual town. There was a single bar, library, diner, supposedly romantic restaurant, theater (one of those old traditional types that plays one movie a week), and a little farmers market. That was it. Of course there were a few shops. Clothing and such in between these "major locations". They had passed the school which was the elementary, middle, and high school all rolled into one. It was on the outskirts of town surrounded by the football and baseball fields. Apparently the only sports they play around here.
Elena had managed to get a layout as they drove into the town. All the homes located far enough away that driving was the only real way to get into town. Or riding a bike. She was already missing the big city. Elena thought Mystic Falls had been small. Now that was huge compared to this.
Joel's Mom suggested they park and just walk around. Elena figured that would only kill maybe an hour of their time. What she didn't expect was how every single person they passed would stop and talk to them. Mrs. Goran knew each and every one of them introducing them to Elena. Even Joel seemed to recognize most of them. Elena had known most of Mystic Falls but she couldn't claim to know all of them. She didn't even know everyone in her High School.
"Well well, look who came back. Weren't you the one who said you were going to get out of here and never come back?" a very feminine voice spoke from behind them.
They turned around Joel raising an eyebrow at her. "I'm just visiting my folks."
"Really?" she asked doubt clear in her voice. "And who's this?"
"This is Elena my girlfriend. Elena this is Sarah-Anne. We went to high school together," Joel introduced.
"Nice to meet you." Elena held out her hand.
"What a polite little thing you are." She laughed in a way that made Elena dislike her. She had probably been the popular girl in school. "Joel you make it sound so informal. I was the head cheerleader and he was the captain of the baseball team. You know how it goes. We dated of course."
"What have you been up to?" Joel obviously changed the subject.
"Nothing much. Got married, had a kid, divorced. What about you? Heard you're a big surgeon now." She clicked her tongue to the roof of her mouth as she talked red lipstick obnoxiously bright.
"Chief of Surgery now," Joel answered.
"Oh wow! You really did it didn't you? Got out of here and made a life for yourself." She placed a hand on his arms leaning in too close for comfort.
"Sara-Anne we must be on our way," the seething in her voice told Elena Joel's mother was not a fan of her. "I want to stop by the market and pick up some things for dinner but we have a list of things to do before then."
"Oh of course," she backed off. "I wouldn't dream of holding you up." She turned back to Joel. "It's wonderful to see you again Joel. Look me up if you have time." She shot a glare at Elena before walking off in heels so high Elena wondered how she didn't fall right over.
"Ignore her honey." Elena turned her attention back to Mrs. Goran. "She's not proper. Got pregnant out of wedlock you see then her husband stepped out of her with some young thing." Small town gossip.
Elena nodded eyes flickering back in the direction she went. Joel draped an arm over her shoulders.
"Mom's right, Ignore her. She was that much of a bitch in High School too," he whispered into her ear. "I hooked up with pretty much every girl in school." Elena snorted typical Joel. "Just stuck around with her longer because it was expected of me."
Elena let any thoughts of Sarah-Anne fall away as Joel's mother led them down the street.
"Are you hungry?" Joel's mother asked. "I'm sure you are with all this walking around and breakfast was hours ago. We should eat at the diner."
Joel and Elena exchanged a look as both realized it didn't matter what either of them said. At this point they were just following her around.
The diner was what any typical dinner looks like. Cheap red leather booths, metal stools at the counter, and the waitress wearing the common pale green uniform.
Their waitresses name tag said her name was Margret. She was an older woman hair tied up and a bright smile across her face. "Oh my goodness this can't be who I think it is!" She glanced between Mrs. Goran and Joel. "Don't tell me this is Joel!" she gasped.
"Maggie," Joel smiled back as he greeted her.
"Well my word look at you all grown up! Always such a handsome young boy and just as handsome of a man. You broke all those girls' hearts." She sighed shaking her head. "And who is this beautiful young lady you have with you?"
"That's Elena she's his fiancée," Joel's mother cut in before either could say a word.
"Girlfriend," they corrected though she just waved them off like she had been doing the entire day.
"Well you must be special either way for Joel to bring you home. Now what can I get you? A cheese burger with extra fries and a chocolate milkshake?" Her obvious look at Joel told Elena that was his usual meal.
Joel smiled and nodded.
"Make that two," Elena replied.
"And the usual for you?" she directed at Joel's mother.
"You know me," she laughed.
"Alright coming right up." She spun on her heel and was off.
"Why must you keep lying to everyone?" Joel finally asked.
"Come now if you weren't planning on marrying her one day you wouldn't have brought her around. Let me enjoy my bragging rights. I haven't had a one up on anyone around here since you graduated med school and became a surgeon," she scoffed.
"I never understood why everyone around here needs to be better than everyone else. Better Christian, better children, better marriage, better house, better car," Joel ground out.
"Don't be ridiculous Joel. It's nothing like that."
"Another reason I had to get out of this town," Joel muttered under his breath.
If she heard she gave nothing away. It didn't matter anyways as Maggie had returned with their lunch.
"Extra whip cream just how you like it," Maggie set the chocolate milkshake in front of him.
Joel took the cherry off the top of his milkshake dropping it onto Elena's. Maggie raised a questioning eyebrow. "Elena like's the cherries." He shrugged.
"How adorable!" Maggie broke out into an even brighter smile if that was possible. "You two are just so cute!"
Elena blushed madly. "Thanks."
"Holler if you need anything." Maggie winked before trudging off again.
Mrs. Goran gave Joel a look but said nothing on it. "After this I was us to head down to the high school they're having the science fair and this way Joel can show you all around his old stomping grounds." She took a bite of her fries.
"So this is your school." Elena stared up at the rather… small school. Elena thought her school was tiny. This was ridiculous.
"I know it's small and all the grades are in one building except kindergarten." Joel was practically, no he was, glaring at the building.
"It nice. I'm sure you all got to know each other really well," Elena tried.
Joel snorted. "That was the problem. Everyone knew everyone and everyone's business. There's no such thing as privacy in a small town."
"Come on you two! Let's go see the school," Mrs. Goran called from the front doors.
"You heard your mother." Elena took his hand dragging him into the brick building.
The science fair was set up in the gym. Not surprising. Also not surprisingly half of them where volcanoes.
"This is incredible." Elena kneeled down to look inside the tank.
"It's a perfect replica of a swamp environment. The plants, insects, and mud are all what you would find there," the boy with adorably large glasses told them.
"This is so much better than any volcano." Elena watched as the nats swarmed around the tank.
"I've won the science fair every year I've participated in," he announced proudly.
"Nerds will rule the world." Elena winked at him causing the boy to flush a bright shade of red.
After taking a tour through the fair (they had lost Joel's mother to a group of women) Elena had demanded that Joel show her the school. She wanted to know all about his high school life.
"Please tell me you where that boy who took girls under the bleachers," Elena exclaimed giddily.
Joel rolled his eyes.
"Oh you where!"
"Really Elena," Joel groaned.
"You have always been such a player!"
"Not always." Elena raised a brow. "Fine. But that was before you."
Elena's heart began pounding in her chest her face flushed. "Yes well…"
Joel let her off the hook by gesturing to the glass case down the hall. "That's where we keep all the trophies and team pictures."
Elena took the out making a beeline straight for the case. "Baseball right?"
"Yeah. Can you find me?" Joel smirked leaning against the glass watching her.
"Oh my God you where so adorable," Elena exclaimed finding him amount the crowd. He had a baby smooth face with no scruff and hair Elena could twist her fingers in. "No wonder all the girls loved you."
Joel wrapped his arms around her waist resting his chin atop her head. "I was a little shit. I knew how I looked and used it."
"You still do," Elena reminded.
"I did. No anymore." Joel began nuzzling her cheek. "I have everything I need right here." He nipped at her neck knowing just how Elena's body would react and she melted into him. "I only used the bleachers during school hours. Afterwards I used the art room. Would you like to see?"
This was such a bad idea. "Yeah."
Neither was sure how they managed to make it to the art room all Elena knew was one moment she was pressed into the glass case and the next moment she was being lifted onto one of the tables wrapping her legs around his waist. Joel ground into her hard and dirty. Elena moaned. She felt like she was in high school again humping each other kissing rough and messy with teeth. That thought alone almost made her laugh except Joel cupped her ass hands literally inside her pants to angle her into him. Elena slid her hands under his shirt dragging her nails down his back.
"What in the world?!" Both of them froze. "And to think I had thought that you had finally grown up." Joel's mother stood in the doorway of the classroom a look of pure fury on her face.
"Mom!" Joel was off Elena in an instant.
"Still living in sin," she spat out through gritted teach.
"You don't understand," he began but she cut him off before he could get another word out.
"I understand well enough. You are not married. I tried to teach you. I tried to keep you from this life. You rebelled against us in high school taking all those girls down the path of damnation with you. Here I thought with you bringing Elena here you had finally saw the way back. Yet still you shun Gods laws." They could see the disgust and disappointment in her eyes.
"Mom this isn't the 1800s or even fifty years ago. I get you grew up in a time where all this seemed like it was life or death but it's not. This is different. I didn't love those girls in high school. I didn't love the girl in college or med school. They didn't matter to me. But Elena's different. She's special because I love her. This isn't sex or fornication or whatever you want to call it. We're making love. That's what makes this different. We're not married but that doesn't matter because I don't plan on being with anyone else. She's it. And I believe that God won't damn me not when my heart is pure. Elena is good. She's the best person I know," Joel tried to make her understand.
She shook her head. "Did you learn nothing from the Father? From all you're lesions? You're heart may be true but you're actions are not. You never learned."
She spun on her heel leaving them in the empty classroom.
"Joel." Elena reached out grasping his arm.
"Don't." He shook his head. "Don't apologize. You did nothing wrong."
"I don't want to be a wedge between you," Elena told him.
"Trust me this is a whole lot bigger than you," Joel assured her. "You're the reason I came home in the first place. I wanted them to see the incredible person I'm in love with. They might be my family by blood but you're my family by choice. That means so much more."
Elena wrapped her arms around him burying her face the crook of his throat. "I love you."
They caught up to Joel's mother by the car. She said nothing to them instead opening the door and getting inside only waiting long enough for them to buckle up before she was peeling out of the parking lot.
Dinner was a silent affair without Joel's mother to ask a million questions. Joel's father seemed content to just let it be somehow oblivious to the obvious tension. The only time anyone spoke was to remind Joel and Elena that mass was at eight sharp so they had to be out of the house by no later than seven-thirty.
Elena was relieved to escape up to her room. She never went to bed this early but she'd rather stare at the ceiling than remain downstairs in that icebox. Even with Joel's words the guilt was eating at her. His family was so much more different than the people she was used to. She only wished there was a way to fix things between them.
The sound of the door opening and closing caused Elena to sit up. She wasn't surprised to find Joel sneaking into her room.
"You can't stay." They were already on thin ice as it was.
"I know." He sat on the edge of the bed. She reached out taking his hand between her two. "I forgot how much I hated it here." Elena didn't say anything letting him take the lead. "I never understood them. They never understood me." He sighed. "It's just after meeting your family, becoming a part of your family I just wanted you to be a part of mine. I thought maybe if they met you if they saw how well I was doing we could put aside our differences. Religion and God and traditions, they've always mattered more to them than me."
"You can't change them just as much as they can't change you," Elena finally spoke. "Maybe we can find some common ground." Joel nodded but she could see how little faith he had in that. Even she wasn't sure if it was possible. "Maybe we won't. But you'll still have me. You'll always have me."
Joel leaned in their lips sliding together effortlessly. He sighed letting the tension seep from his body.
"I love you," he whispered into the space between them.
Elena smiled. "I love you too." She stroked his cheek. "We leave tomorrow night. We just have to get through tomorrow."
"Yeah." Joel stood up and slipped out of the room back into his own.
Lying on the pull out couch he wondered how he could be so different from them. He just wanted them to understand. To see him without the goggles of sin. They always seemed to see the darkness in everything, the evil. Maybe he had too for a while but now he could see the good. The good in people, the world, the miracles he witnessed everyday at the hospital.
He loved them. They are his parents and he always will but he wasn't going to live his life for them. He was going to live his life for himself. He wanted them to be a part of that life but he wouldn't force them and he wouldn't sacrifice himself for them either.
Once again Elena was woken to a knock on the doors to telling her to get dressed for Church. Elena sighed staring up at the ceiling. Everything was going to be fine. All they had to do was survive until they left for their eleven o'clock flight. That meant what thirteen fourteen hours until they had to leave? Not so bad right? Only the previous days Joel's mother hadn't been giving her a death glare and possibly wishing God's wrath to rain down on her in her head.
Joel was already in the bathroom brushing his teeth still groggy with sleep. Elena always found him adorable this way. She leaned up pressing a kiss to his cheek before reaching for her own tooth brush. They went through their normal morning routines minus the showering while the other person was in the room. They did not need any more Mrs. Goran furry.
Elena had especially bought a dress one with flowers and lace around the edges. Joel had told her that they would be going to Church and while the only time she ever went was for funerals she planned to look her best. Hopefully she would make amends with his mother.
"You look lovely," Joel's father greeted her as she joined them for breakfast. He stood up taking her hand examining her thoroughly. "Doesn't she sweetheart?"
Mrs. Goran pursed her lips before giving an abrupt nod. "Yes she does. She'll make all the other girls jealous."
"You'll have something to brag about. Your future daughter is not only a bestselling author but just gorgeous as well." He winked.
Elena laughed bright feeling some of the anxiety wash off her. This was actually the most she had ever spoken to Mr. Goran in a single sitting. His wife usually did most of the talking.
"Stop flirting Dad," Joel scolded stepping into the room but the glint in his eyes gave away the teasing.
"I'm old not dead," was his gruff reply. "Come eat. We don't want to be late."
Joel's father finished reading the paper as he ate. Elena managed to snatch up the comics from him. It made breakfast more bearable especially with the looks Joel's mother kept shooting her. Elena placed a hand over Joel's and squeezed reassuringly.
They arrived at church early but apparently so did everyone else. Elena recognized many of the faces from their trip into town. Mrs. Goran stopped to chat with them while Mr. Goran seemed to just follow his wife ignoring the crowd like many of the other husbands.
A tug on her dress caused her to glance down only to be met with a familiar the bright smile. "I won the science fair."
Elena knelt down to his level. "I knew it. You had the best one by far."
"I'm Jonathan," he introduced himself.
"I'm Elena," she replied.
"You're pretty." He flushed scarlet.
"So are you."
"I can't be pretty I'm a boy."
"Of course you can. Boys and girls can be pretty."
"They can?" He cocked his head to the side.
She nodded. "I think Joel's very pretty don't you?"
Jonathan turned to stare at him with a very critical expression. "Yeah. He is."
"Jonathan let's go. You can talk to her afterwards we need to take our seats," a woman, Elena assumed was his mother lead him in.
Elena stood up to find Joel's mother giving her a rather strange look. The instant their eyes locked though she turned away as if she hadn't just been staring.
The service was as you'd expect. The priest was rather old and talked slowly. Joel had told her that he had been there since before he was born. She tried her best to pay attention but he reminded her of a professor she once had. He was old, he had a monotone voice, and no matter how hard she tried to pay attention she was asleep by the end of it. She couldn't be more grateful when it was over. Falling asleep in church was so much more worse than falling asleep in class.
"He's just as dry as I remember," Joel whispered in her ear.
Elena had to bite the inside of her mouth just to keep from laughing.
Coffee and sweets where offered in a reception type area where everyone flocked to once the service was over. Elena had a feeling everyone only came to mingle afterward and exchange gossip that happened during the week. Joel's father disappeared with a cup of coffee to sit with the other husbands. Joel's mother directed them to a group of women she played bridge with. Elena couldn't help but wonder if this town would get even more stereotyped. What with the white picket fence, everyone knows each other, church on Sunday, and the big events around here where home games with the sports team.
"Joel you've found yourself such a lovely girl. Here we all thought you've knock up Sarah-Anne before you graduated high school but here you are a doctor with a beautiful fiancé on your arm," one of the woman chuckled patting his arm.
"I've been very lucky." Joel smiled back planting a kiss on Elena's temple.
"How precious," another one of them cooed.
"I hear you're an author," one of them began.
"You're doing well?"
"I was on the best seller list."
"What about your parents? Has Joel met them yet?"
"No, my parents died when I was in high school. My Aunt Jenna took me in. Joel's already met her and my brother."
"Oh horrible. I'm so sorry for your loss," the group all exclaimed.
"I miss them but they're always in my heart."
"Of course they are. You have a brother?"
"Yes, younger. His names Jeremy."
"What does he do?"
"He's an artist."
"Really is he any good?"
"When's the wedding?" luckily the barrage of questions was cut to a halt when another tug on her skirt caught Elena's attention.
"Will you come play?" those big chocolate eyes stared up at her.
Elena melted. "I'd love to." She turned back to them. "I'm sorry ladies but this young man requires my attention." She pressed a quick peck to Joel's lips before letting herself be dragged off.
"Planning on having kids?" Joel was asked. He internally groaned.
After a ten minute long interrogation about his life Joel managed to slip away from them. What was it about the older women who just wanted to know every single detail about your life?
He was just going to look for Elena when a flirty voice spoke from behind him, "Hey there handsome."
"Sarah-Anne," he greeted through gritted teach. "How are you?"
"Much better now that I've finally gotten a moment to talk with you. Those old bats just can't shut up." She flicked her hair over her shoulder.
"They're not so bad." She snorted in obvious disagreement. "Where's your son?"
"Off playing with the other kids." She waved in a general direction. "When are you leaving?"
"Tonight," Joel answered.
"That soon?" she gasped.
"I have to be at the hospital in the morning."
"Maybe I can come visit you some time." She laid a hand on his arm.
"I'm pretty busy. The hospital doesn't leave me a lot of time so I spend what I can with Elena."
"Elena," the name was like acid on her tongue. "She doesn't seem like your type."
Joel just shrugged before heading towards the churches playground where Elena most likely would be. Sarah-Anne was undeterred following after him.
"She's so polite and innocent looking," she continued. "I mean from what I can remember you liked uncomplicated and commitment free."
"That was before her." Joel finally spotted Elena pushing Jonathan on the swing.
"What is it about her?" Sarah-Anne grabbed his arm yanking him around to face her. "What made you want to settle down with her?"
"You mean why not you?" Joel retorted. He sighed turning to her when he realized he wasn't going to get rid of her until he made things very clear. "Just look at her. How can I not love her? She's kind and smart. She listens and never judges. She'll stand by me no matter what. She's the person I look forward to going home to. She's the first person I care about more than the hospital. The first person I've thought about marriage, a family. She completes me without even trying. My life is better with her in it. That's why. When you find someone like that you'll understand. There's no one who can compete with that."
Sarah-Anne just stared at him gaping. Joel took the opportunity to make his way over to the swings. Elena glanced up spotting him and smiled waving. Joel raised his hand returning the gesture before leaning against the slide and watching her push Jonathan to his delighted shouts of "higher! Higher!". Just watching them Joel knew that she would be a spectacular mother. He could imagine her swollen belly, the first time she held her child, rocking her baby to sleep at night, reading him or her bedtime stories in the funny voices. He knew in that moment that he wanted that baby that future baby to be their baby. His mother was right and he was going to ask her to marry him.
When they arrived home the first thing everyone did was change out of their Sunday best. Joel never liked wearing suits. He was always happy to get out of the damn thing. He's pretty sure his mother was the one to ruin suits for him. Every Sunday shoving him into one adjusting his tie, his collar, thirty times before being satisfied. It was always so suffocating.
"Much better," Elena commented causing Joel to almost jump in surprise. "You've never looked at ease in a suit. I like you like this." She wrapped her arms around his waist chin resting on his chest she gazed up at him.
"When you spend most of your times in scrubs a suit feels like a bit much," he shrugged.
"You seem happier," Elena noted.
"I just realized something," he replied.
"And what's that?"
"How much I love you." He pressed long shallow kiss to her lips.
"I love you too." Elena pulled away. "Come on. We better go join them."
Elena took his hand leading him down the stairs.
They found Joel's mother was in the kitchen making lunch.
Elena stopped them just inside the doorway turning to Joel. "Go talk to her. She's your mom and I know she loves you."
She brushed her fingers through his head. Joel nodded reluctantly. "Okay."
"It'll be fine," she assured him. "Even if you don't make up now you will."
Elena left heading out the back to join his father on the porch. Joel swallowed nervously. He had to act in life or death situations daily. He could handle talking to his mom.
Elena closed the door lightly trying not to disturbed Joel's father who was reading a book in one of the chairs.
"Come sit." Joel's father gestured to the seat beside him never glancing up from his book. Elena moved to do as instructed. He didn't speak again until she was settled. "I know my wife thinks I'm blind. She thinks I don't notice the glares and the pointed comments. She doesn't need to tell me anything. She's an open book to me. We've been married forty three years I know what she's thinking before she does." He chuckled and then sighed. "I know that she caught the two of you in some sort of compromising position. And knowing her it could be something relatively minor or something rather large." He looked to her. "She has the tendency to overreact." He smirked. "I also know that you two live together." Elena gaped at him. "Don't look so surprised I know my son and the way you two are together only a couple living together for a while have."
Elena opened her mouth to say something but a raised hand stopped her.
"It doesn't matter. I'm old. And getting older causes you to look back on your life. I've made a lot of mistakes and a lot more where Joel's concerned. Truth is some things are more important than a set of beliefs and traditions. Times are changing. I should have been easier on him. I know I pushed him away. I had this idea of who he should be and when he turned into someone completely different well I was angry. But he's his own man. He's the Chief of Surgery at a great hospital, he's got a beautiful kind girl he loves, and most importantly he's happy. That's all I could ever want from him. He's turned into a great man and just because he doesn't conform to my beliefs doesn't mean I love him any less." He sighed. "My wife's very set in her beliefs but I know she'll come around. Just give her some time."
Elena cleared her throat. "If I may. Perhaps you should be telling Joel all this."
He chuckled. "Perhaps you're right."
Joel stood there awkwardly for a good five minutes just watching his mom trying to figure out what to say. How to talk to her. With his dad actions spoke louder than words. He had always been the strong silent type. Up with the sun working the fields every day of his life. it was probably one of the reasons they clashed so much. He considered it an honest good job being a farmer but Joel he couldn't stand the routine. He wanted a life full of excitement. Not a wife with 2.5 kids and a plot of land to work. But just because it wasn't the life he wanted didn't mean he didn't understand his dad.
His mom though, she was so religious, so strict. He never knew how to talk to her. How to get through to her and make her understand. Not a thirteen and not at thirty. Elena was right though she always loved him and he loves her. He was just going to have to try.
"Can I help?" Joel asked breaking the silence.
His mother didn't even blink. She always did have eyes in the back of her head. "Wash and cut up the fruit." She point towards the strawberries and watermelon.
Joel did so without hesitation moving about the kitchen just as easily as ever. Something you don't forget.
"You where right," Joel spoke as he began cutting up the fruit with the precision of a surgeon.
"About?" she questioned never looking to him instead focusing on the sandwiches.
"I'm going to ask Elena to marry me," he told her.
He was met with silence. Joel watched her trying to determine her reaction.
She finally replied, "Of course you are. I see the way you look at her."
Joel smile just a light turn up of his lips. He separated the strawberries from the trash sweeping them up and dumping them into the bowl. He reached for the watermelon next.
"She's very good with children," his mother commented.
"Yeah. They always seem to flock to her." He cut the watermelon into thin slices. "She told me she wants like thirty of them." He chuckled. "I told her let's just take it one at a time."
"I thought you didn't want kids?" her voice held a bit of bitterness at the fact.
"I didn't," he replied. "Only with her."
"That's how love works. You do things you never thought you'd do. Care about things that never mattered before."
The lapsed into silence again the only sounds where of the knife to the cutting board.
"I never understood how she could be so patient with me, put up with all my issues." Joel put down the knife turning to his mom. "She never once pushed me or tried to make me into someone else. She's always just been there for me. Loved me without question."
The unspoken words unlike you hung in the air between them.
"It's hard, being a parent. They never tell you how hard it is. You love them, you pray for the best, but you have no control. You can't stop the heartache, the pain, you can't make the choices for them, and you can't really do anything at all. All you can do is pray for God to watch over them. And he did. Look at you Joel. You're a doctor with a beautiful woman you're going to marry, you're safe, and you're happy. He answered my prayers. I know you never understood my faith but this to me is God's grace. He blessed my son with happiness." She finally turned to look at him.
"I understood Mom. That was never the problem. What I never understood was how you could use it to scare me, to push us apart. That's what I never understood."
She looked to him with sad eyes. "That wasn't my intention. I just wanted to protect you."
"I know." Joel leaned back against the counter. "I don't want us to fight anymore and I don't want you to hate me. But this is who I am. I'm not going to change."
"I don't hate you. I don't understand you most of the time but I could never hate you." She stepped forward. "And just so you know. You have changed. That girl," she gestured out the window to where Elena and his dad where sitting, "has already changed you." She turned back to the sandwiches. "Lunch is ready set the table."
Joel smiled. "Yes Mom."
That was her way of saying she approved of Elena. So maybe they would never see eye to eye but they would always be family.
"Oh my God! Look at him! He's so adorable," Elena practically squealed.
"Mom!" Joel cried.
"Come now sweetheart you where such an adorable little baby," his mother smirk practically evilly. She's a cruel cruel woman.
"You where such a chubby baby." Elena pulled the photo albums close.
"I hate you," Joel mutter.
Elena only smile blowing him a kiss. Joel slid further down into his seat.
"He was a lady's man even as a boy," Joel's father chuckled. "Always had women crowding around him."
"Oh! He was a pumpkin!" she giggled. "I want copies of all of them!"
"Of course dear," Joel's mother agreed.
"No!" Joel jumped to his feet.
Elena grabbed his arm yanking him back down. "Relax babe I'm only teasing." She kissed his cheek.
Joel frowned harder grumbling.
"Elena dear will you help me make dinner?" Joel's mother requested.
"Are you sure you want that? Because I am a walking disaster when it comes to cooking," Elena warned.
"I can teach anyone to cook," she assured her.
Elena looked at her with doubt but none the less pushed herself off the cough. "I warned you."
Joel and his Dad watched a game show. Joel wasn't particularly interested in it. He thought about saying something. But he wasn't sure what to say. It had always been about action with his father. It probably had something to do with why he was so bad with words. Luckily Elena always seemed to know what it was he was trying to say.
"I'm proud of you," his father's voice broke through his thoughts.
"What?" because there was no way his father said what he thinks he said.
"You've done good with your life and I'm proud of you," he repeated never taking his eyes off the television.
Joel swallowed the knot in his throat. "I… You are?"
His dad sighed finally looking away from the television. "I know I've been hard on you. I was always so strict. When you left for college it wasn't on good terms. I wanted you to take over the farm and you wanted more with your life. Truth is thinking on it now I'm glad you didn't stay. You would have been an awful farmer." Joel snorted with laughter. "But you're an amazing doctor and I'm proud of you and the life you made for yourself."
"Thank Dad." He smiled.
Elena managed to cut herself enough times that Joel's mother took the knife away from her and put her to work mashing the potatoes. Elena tried her hardest to keep more potatoes in the bowl than out of it.
"I think I've finally met someone I can't teach to cook," she sighed.
"I warned you," Elena joked.
She chuckled. "You did. Luckily Joel can cook so the two of you won't starve." She reached into a cabinet taking out the plates. "How about you set the table?"
"I can do that." Elena took them from her.
"You're good for my son," she told Elena when she came back into the room. Elena paused not really sure what to say. "The last time I saw him he was a stubborn kid who only cared about himself. He didn't care who he hurt and he broke a lot of hearts. I mean he did care. You can't be a doctor and not care on some level but caring about if someone's in pain or dies is different than caring about their feelings." She dumped the potatoes into a bowl. "He does now and I know that you're to do with it. You've made him a better man than I ever could. Thank you for that."
Elena stepped forward. "I may have made him a better man but you raised him. I just brought out what was already there you did all the hard work."
She smiled and handed Elena the bowl. "You're a sweet girl. I'll be proud to call you family."
Elena blushed completely at a loss for wards.
Dinner was different. It wasn't the interrogation of the first night or the silent glares of the second but rather it was loud and full of laughter. Elena listened to the embarrassing tales of young Joel while he begged his parents to stop. Even a grown man becomes a teenage boy when with his parents.
Elena ate way too much food and still managed to eat desert. But it was really good. She hadn't had a home cooked meal in… Wow she did not remember.
Too soon where they cleaning up and packing their bags loading them into the car in order to catch their flight.
"You'll make sure he keeps in touch?" Joel's mother made Elena promise.
"I will call you myself if that's what it takes," Elena assured her.
"Good girl." She wrapped Elena up in a tight hug. "Maybe next time we'll come out and visit you."
Elena smiled. "I'd like that."
"Try to stay out of trouble," Joel's Dad instructed him.
"Don't worry Elena will make sure of that," Joel chuckled.
"Make sure to treat her right. Not many girls like her out there."
Joel glanced over at Elena who was adamantly listening to his mothers every word. "She's one of a kind."
"Call more," he muttered.
Joel smiled. "I can do that."
Joel's father pulled him in for a quick tight hug before releasing him.
"Oh I'm going to miss you sweetheart. Try not to stay away so long this time," Joel's mother told him eyes watering just a little bit.
"I won't Mom." He pulled her into a hug burying his face in her hair. "Love you."
"Love you too." She squeezed back.
"Keep him on the straight and narrow," Joel's father nodded towards his son.
"I already do that."
"I know you do." He turned back to Elena. "Come here hon."
Elena happily hugged him.
"We better get going. We have a plane to catch." Joel shuffled his feet.
"Be safe," his mother told them.
They finally slid into the car. Maybe they hadn't worked out all their issues but this was a start. Joel hadn't been sure bringing Elena home would be a good idea but now leaving again with the beginnings of a new relationship with his parents and Elena's hand in his own he can safely say this was one of the best and worst weekends of his life. He couldn't wait to do it again.
Joel watched his parents until they disappeared in the review mirror. There's no place like home.
Erin: Please review if you could. This is my bread and butter.