This story deals with some delicate issues, please be warned. And, the title is a tribute to the X Files, which is going to get a second movie!
"Okay, yeah sure, I guess I'll see you next week," Emily commented into her cell phone. Matt was watching her talk as he approached their cubicle; she had that look on her face, the one where she's clearly thinking very hard about something, something she doesn't like much. It's the same look she gets when a negotiation isn't going well, and she's struggling for a way to turn it around before Cheryl gives Frank a green light. "Yes, Wednesday night, I promise…yes, I'll try…okay, bye."
He watched as she hung up, still wearing that same expression, looking stressed. Her hand came to rest over her mouth, as she contemplated her phone call, then she noticed Matt watching her. Normally her expression would have changed to a wickedly playful one, and she would have begun teasing him for watching her. But, now she just looked tired.
"Matt, do you have any plans for Thanksgiving?"
"Uh no, my dad goes to his sister's in Tucson for Thanksgiving, why?"
"I'm going back to Albany to see my parents, and my brother, I would love it if you came…please?" Her eyes held a slightly desperate look, as if her destination was a dangerous place she didn't want to go alone.
He was shocked initially, meeting the parents? God, he hated that. But, he couldn't deny the need written all over her face. He smiled. "Of course, I'd love to go."
"Matt, I can tell when you're lying remember? Meeting my parents is the last thing you want to do." She raised an eyebrow, loving that he cared enough to pretend to want to go.
He sighed, clearly defeated. "I…it…well, meeting parents never goes well for me."
"Don't worry, I see my parents once every couple of years, so it doesn't matter if they hate you or love you." It was sad, but she didn't see her parents often, and she didn't want to anyway.
"One, it does matter; I love you and it's important to me, and two, why do I sense that you want to go even less than I do?" She seemed bummed by the idea of going home.
"Because Thanksgiving dinner with my family is four hours of struggling to make conversation around the things we don't talk about." Her exasperation was obvious, but Matt wanted her to open up more.
"Oh, damned if I know; it's just always been this way, even when I was growing up. But, football and the weather are generally safe topics."
"So then you don't want to see your parents?" It wasn't easy to get Emily to do anything she didn't want to do.
"No, I do, it's just not easy at family gatherings. Growing up it always felt cold, there was always a distance between everyone, and this feeling of…I don't know an elephant in the room I guess…You'll see." It wasn't a threat, more a bitter promise from a woman exhausted with her situation, and trying to explain it.
He nodded, rubbing her arm comfortingly, wondering, not for the first time, about the environment she grew up in. Then he had a sudden thought, "Em, do your parents know we live together now?"
"Yeah, I told my mother the last time I talked to her, why?"
His expression became pained suddenly, "fathers don't like men who shack up with their daughters, they usually prefer wedding rings first."
Emily smiled at his worrying, "it's fine, my dad stopped thinking I was a virgin long ago."
"Doesn't matter. All he's going to see is a man sleeping with his daughter and not marrying her."
"Matt, trust me, it doesn't matter. My family has too many other issues to deal with the normal ones." She pecked him on the lips quickly, before turning her chair back toward her computer, determined to get a little work done.
"Fine, but I'll be keeping the car keys in case he decides to come at me with a weapon." He told her seriously, imagining running full speed out of her parent's house, crazy man behind him with a very sturdy wooden bat.
Emily grinned as she flipped through her paperwork, amused at how worried he was. She saw her family rarely, their colorful past too omnipresent when they were together to make gatherings anything but awkward; it hardly mattered that they thought of her life at this point. Though she had to admit, she did hope they'd like Matt, because she loved him and planned to keep him around for a long time.
Thursday Morning- Marriott Hotel in Albany, New York
"Do you really think these pants are okay?" Matt straightened himself nervously in the mirror, unbuttoning and buttoning his top two buttons over and over again. Emily had already assured him that his blue jeans and neat black button down were fine, both that morning and packing the evening before, but his nerves were turning him into a teenage girl on her first date.
"Yes, you look very nice, just the kind of guy I can bring home to mom and dad," she grinned teasingly.
"Not funny, I haven't been this nervous since Kristi took that pregnancy test our senior year…god I didn't know I could sweat this much." He finally left the collar button on his shirt undone, the chocking feeling making him more nervous.
"Matt, just relax okay? Not a big deal." She insisted, kissing him firmly.
"Yes, it is, it's a very big deal Emily. I've never managed to get a girlfriend's parents to like me and I didn't try very hard, but this time, it's important, I need them to like me." He told her, arms wrapped around her waist, looking into her face.
"Oh yeah? Why's that?" She asked it jokingly, wondering how much he'd admit, but not really expecting an answer.
"Because, I plan on being in your life for a very long time." He kissed her, ignoring her shocked face, and grabbed both their coats, helping her with hers. Before he got the door open, Emily pulled him back toward her, and crushed her mouth against his, offering her agreement to his comment.
Emily drove through the snow covered roads; a good inch and a half had fallen during the very early morning, offering them a white Thanksgiving. Poor Matt wasn't used to the cold, and was sitting in the passengers seat, stock still, a human popsicle. When they had stepped off the plane, his eyes bugged out and arms immediately wrapped around his body, completely shocked by the temperature change. Emily rubbed her arms, but was otherwise unfazed, familiar with the cold from a childhood of icy winters.
The house was on the outskirts of the city, medium sized, painted nicely, and fully decked out for the holiday. It looked the perfect picture of a happy, middle class American home, almost cookie-cutter, but with slight differences with its neighbors. There was a pathway to the house with decorative stones, shrubs lining the sides, and even a fake little wishing well. Up on the porch there was a bench swing, a harvest wreath on the door, and a welcome mat with a fruit and vegetables pouring out in a cornucopia. Matt shifted nervously beside Emily, as she pressed the round button by the door, which set off a series of harmonious chimes.
"Oh sweetheart I was wondering when you'd get here! I've missed you!" A woman with short gray hair appeared at the door, older than Matt expected, throwing her arms around Emily.
"Hey mom, good to see you. This is Matt." He swallowed and stepped closer, offering his hand, which she accepted with a beaming smile.
"It's nice to finally meet you, Matt."
"Likewise Mrs. Lehman, and thank you for inviting me." He beamed back at her; okay, he could do this.
"Oh of course, I'm just so happy to meet the man that makes my little girl so happy." Emily raised her eyebrows at him, as if to say: I told you it would be easy.
"Hey is that my baby sister at the door?" A man in his forties with red tinged brown hair joined Emily's mother at the door, wrapping Emily in a hug as Matt closed the door behind him.
"Hey Brian, I missed you," she squeezed him tightly, the only member of her family she really ever felt close to.
"Me too, you're too far away, you haven't seen my kids in over two years." He held her at arms length studying her, as she did the same.
"God, I can't wait to see them, but first, I want you to meet Matt." She slid her hand back in his, and pulled him closer.
"Happy to meet you Matt, I've heard good things about you."
"That's a relief," Matt smiled and shook his hand, slightly less nervous than he had been.
"Daddy!" A six year-old girl ran for Brian's legs, grabbing on and looking shyly at the couple.
"Hello Sunshine," he greeted, pulling her up into his arms as she giggled. "Kayla, I know you haven't seen her in a couple years, but you remember Aunt Emily right?"
She nodded. "We rode on horses." On Emily's last trip home in September 2005, Brian and Emily had taken the little girl on a trail ride, while her mother relaxed at home, with her feet up, pregnancy exhausting her.
"Yes we did, and you didn't ever want to get off that pretty horse." Emily grinned at her.
"Nope," she said proudly. "Daddy takes me now once a month."
"Yes, and those horses aren't cheap. But, now that you remember your aunt, this is her special friend, Matt."
"It's very nice to meet you, Kayla," Matt smiled and shook her hand playfully, the six year-old giggling.
"Aren't all friends special Daddy?" The adults tried poorly to mask amused grins at Kayla's question.
"Yes they are, but some are special in a different way than others." She nodded at that, satisfied for the moment.
"So where is my nephew, and Bridgett?"
"Right here," Bridgett came in, carrying a two year-old boy in her arms and kissed her sister-in-law on the cheek and shook hands with Matt. "It's good to see you again Emily, and nice to meet you Matt."
"He's beautiful Bridgett," Emily gushed over the little boy.
"You want him for a while, my arms are killing me," she gently passed him to Emily, without waiting for an answer.
"Where's dad?" Emily asked, shifting Billy in her arms, playing with him.
"Watching the game, where else?" Brian gestured toward the den, as Matt nerves became considerably worse. Fathers, god how he hated meeting fathers; he swallowed and felt suddenly ill.
Brian started laughing suddenly, "Man, Matt you just turned five shades whiter. Don't worry, he's pretty laid back."
"Are you okay?" Emily studied him, concern shadowing her face.
"Yeah, now or never right?" He tried to grin self-mockingly.
She rolled her eyes, and led the way, Billy still sitting contentedly in her arms.
"Hey Dad, Happy Thanksgiving." She leaned over and kissed him.
"Happy Turkey Day, sweetie, and you are Matt I presume?" He raised himself off the couch and shook hands with Matt, whose heart was pounding full force.
"Pleasure to meet you, sir."
"Sir? What, are we in the military? Call me Tom."
"Of course,…Tom."Okay, not so bad, seems like a nice guy, doesn't appear to have any weapons hidden nearby, it's all good. Matt thought, heart rate slowing down.
"Is he alright Emily, he looks a little pale?" Tom Lehman gestured to Matt, eyebrows knit in concern. Emily struggled not to laugh.
"He's fine Dad." The older man nodded, and was about to sit down when his wife's voice called from the dining room.
"Dinner is done!"
"Excellent, I'm starved," he smiled enthusiastically, leading the way to the food.
Twenty minutes later everyone was settled with a plate and glass of wine, chatting with some difficulty.
"So, you two have any interesting cases lately?" Brian wondered.
"We finished a kidnapping on Tuesday, little girl about seven-years old." Emily answered, recalling their four-day marathon trying to get her home.
"Really, that was you two? We heard about that over here, she was a Senator's daughter or something right?" Carol Lehman was quite impressed.
"Actually, his niece. Her mother was a top partner at LA's second largest firm, and the Senator's sister." Matt explained.
"Yes, that's it. Her name was Rebecca right? Rebecca Bernhardt…I remember because those photos they showed on the news, they look so much like Emily at that age."
"Really?" Matt asked surprised, she hadn't mentioned anything, and in the two photos they were using the little girl looked sad.
"Yes, I'll have to bring out a photo album after dinner, and show you."
"I don't know, that little girl has the same hair color, and that look in her eyes that Emily always had, but that's it. No dimples either." Brian squinted, trying to picture the two girls side-by-side in his head.
"Bridgett, I'm done, can I go play?" Kayla asked her step-mother quietly, but loud enough for Matt to hear and look puzzled.
"Yes, but don't wonder too far okay?"
"Okay, I'm going to go watch TV." She hurried out to the den, intent on switching from football to cartoons. Brian soon noticed Matt look clearly confused, apparently unfamiliar with his family's history.
"She's my daughter, but not by Bridgett. Her mother was a youthful indiscretion, a junkie who went back to coke two days after Kayla was born. I met Bridgett a year later." He explained, sparing Matt from having to sit all night wondering, rather than risk offending by asking.
"She knows I'm not her mother by blood, but I love her like she was my own." Bridgett clearly had great affection for the little girl.
"Doesn't that confuse her?" The question was out of Matt's mouth before he realized it, and he grimaced, hoping he didn't upset anyone.
"At first it did, but I won't lie to my daughter her whole life." He looked pointedly at his parents as he said that, who had become more interested in their food.
"Have you heard from Selena recently?" Emily took the opportunity of the rare open door, before her parents tried to shut it.
"No, but my friend Jimmy from high school, he's a cop now and told me she was booked a few months ago for prostitution."
"Anybody want more turkey?" Carol quickly jumped in, clearly upset by the topic of conversation.
"Mom, it's fine, for once stop trying to hide the ugly stuff." Brian's tone carried the hostility of three decades with it.
"She's not in our lives anymore, there's no reason to discuss her." She looked sternly at her son, before returning her focus to her sweet potato, clearly ending the conversation.
"She gave me Kayla, and I wouldn't change that for all the money in the world."
"And, I'm not saying that at all. I love my granddaughter." She did love the little girl, but nonetheless her expression was tense.
"Yeah, it only took you four years to look like you mean that."
"Brian, I don't know what you're talking about." She gave him an icy glance, her voice growing shrill, obviously upset as their secrets became unraveled. Emily was shaking her head in resignation, at least Matt would know why she didn't like going home now. Matt was trying to melt into his seat, and feeling horribly guilty, after all the conversation had started because of him.
"On please mom, for the first four years of her life you looked at her the same way you look at-" Brian cut himself off, earning the wide-eyed looks of people afraid their secret's about to be spilled from his parents, and confusion from Emily, who was looking back and forth between them. Matt was still trying to melt into his seat and found new interest in his turkey, and Bridgette was sipping her wine, the only calm one in the room.
Brian shook his head shaking his head, determination flickering in his eyes, making a decision to finish that sentence. "The same way you looked at Emily when she was a kid."
Emily's eyes widened in surprise; the fears she had as a child were finally being recognized. Matt's head began looking back and fourth among them all, disturbed by what he was hearing.
"Brian, don't you dare go there," Tom Lehman finally opened his mouth, and growled from the end of the table.
"No Dad, I think that's exactly where I should go, and it's about damn time." He glared back.
"Brian Carter Lehman, you listen to your father, and leave well enough alone." Carol warned him.
"What the hell is going on?" Emily suddenly blurted, confused and almost frightened by the looks her parents and brother were shooting at each other.
"Nothing dear, everything is fine." Carol's voice and eyes warmed, reassuring her, and Emily began to relax for a moment.
"No, it's damn time she knows." Her brother's harsh tone set her heart beating faster; he'd grown tired of perpetuating a lie for so many years, and angry at how his parents had treated Emily the first eighteen years of her life.
"That I know what?" She always figured the elephant in the room revolved around Ally, but it was really about her? She felt around for Matt's hand, finding it easily, and holding it tightly, sweat already making it difficulty.
"There is no easy way to tell you this Emily."
"Then don't tell her at all," Tom growled again. Emily could feel her heart beating in every vein in her body, and unwillingly felt a chill travel up her spine. What the hell where they talking about?
"They forged your birth certificate Emily, they aren't your parents." Matt's eyes bugged out, but Emily's shock didn't last long; she glared at her brother.
"Don't screw with me Brian." He was the only one that made her feel loved as a child, that paid her any attention, and now he was pulling this?
"I'm not Em, I swear. We're related, but not the way you think."
"Then how?" It was clear she still didn't believe him.
"You know Ally was raped when she was a kid, well she was eleven Em, she'd already starting getting her period a few months before, and he didn't use a condom."
Emily suddenly felt sick, "what are you saying?" Though she already knew.
"Ally got pregnant, so my mother took her to a convent school in Canada. Four months later I went with mom back up there, and we stayed until the baby was born. Dad told the neighbors we were spending time with mom's parents while mom was pregnant. The nuns had their own doctors and nurses to take care of the girls that went there, and they performed a c-section on Ally, because it was too dangerous to let an eleven year old try and deliver a full term baby. Three days later we took a train back home, and brought a healthy baby girl to Albany Memorial Hospital. Mom told them it was a home birth a few days earlier, and listed Carol and Thomas Lehman as parents on the birth certificate, while the nurses examined newborn Emily Elizabeth."
Emily felt like she couldn't breath, but managed to stutter out a sentence. "You're lying."
"No I'm not. I was nine at the time, and remember it all very clearly. I sat holding you, scared to death that I drop you, while mom helped Ally pack. I saw Ally struggle over the next six years trying to figure out how she was supposed to feel about you, until she finally walked out. And, I spent the next eight years playing with you after school, because they couldn't look at you without seeing their daughter being raped. I'm sorry, Emily."
She shook her head back and forth vigorously, unable to believe what he was saying. "I can't b-believe…it's not true…jesus mom, tell him it's not true." She plead helplessly, but her Carol Lehman didn't open her mouth to deny it. Emily's head was spinning dangerously, as she looked at Tom Lehman with pain and horror in her eyes, and begged. "Dad, please?"
He shook his head, unwilling to deny it, now that she knew the truth. Emily pushed away suddenly and rose from the table, stomach twisted in painful knots, unable to sit there any longer, unable to comprehend the magnitude of what she'd just been told. She rushed to the closet in the parlor, and yanked out her coats, just as Bridgett rushed up to her. Matt went to run after her, but Brian had stopped him in the hallway.
"Emily, don't hate Brian. He's wanted to tell you for years, but his parents had forbid it. It's why he refuses to lie to Kayla about who her birth mother is." She explained gently, already familiar with the difficult story that haunted her husband.
"He still lied, he helped them lie, he—I can't do this now, Brigett, I just can't." Emily struggled to get her coat on with shaking, frantic hands, desperate to leave the house that now made her feel choked.
In the hallway, a pained Brian was trying to drop some words of wisdom on Matt, who really just wanted to find his girlfriend. His own mind was reeling at what he'd just heard, and his heart pounded with worry about Emily.
"Matt, would you do something for me?"
"I won't try and convince her not to hate all of you, if she wants to, I think she's entitled."
"That's not it." He frowned, wondering if Matt was going to stick around after this. "If you mean it, tell Emily that you love her often; she'll never admit it, but she needs to hear it. She didn't hear that enough as a kid."
"Believe it or not, I figured that out a while ago, and I make sure she knows how I feel about her." Matt was impatient and unhappy with him, and he wasn't hiding it. Brian nodded, and allowed him to go, and Matt just barely got a hand on his coat as Emily walked through the door.
He struggled horribly to get them through the snowy ground, never having driven on it before, but Emily was in no shape to try and drive. They didn't say a word on the ride to the hotel, or going up in the elevator, Matt didn't want to push. As soon as he got the door open she walked inside, dropped her purse on the bed and made for the bathroom. He heard her vomiting through the door, heaving as if trying to rid herself of the awful truth she'd just been told. He waited for the noise to stop, the water to run as she cleaned herself up, and expected the door to open; it didn't. He knocked gently before pushing it open, and found Emily sitting on the floor, leaning up against the walls, knees pressed tightly to her chest, a tears trickling down each cheek.
She stared up at him, looking incredibly lost, and asked, her voice heavy, "why are you still here?"
Matt was puzzled. "Where else should I be?"
"Running as far away from me and my fucked up family as you can possibly get," she spit bitterly.
"Emily, you can't help who your family is, or what they did before, or even after you were born. And, I would never hold that against you." He promised her, sliding down the wall beside her.
"My father likes to rape little girls, my mother is in prison for selling drugs, my grandparents could have made a career of lying, and my brother…my brother isn't even my brother he's my uncle." She paused, and started laughing. "And, my cousins are two and six years-old."
"And, I'm still hopelessly in love with you." With his sweet confession, her laughter stopped, and became tears again, falling now in a rush down her reddened cheeks. He pulled her close to him, wrapping his arms tightly around her, as she rested her head on his chest. Matt kissed the top of her head, and knew that what he was most thankful for Thanksgiving 2007, was the woman curled beside him, regardless of how she came into existence. And, at the same moment, Emily had long forgotten it was Thanksgiving, but was nonetheless thankful for her human pillow; that he was strong enough to learn the truth with her and not run screaming. She was going to need him badly while coming to terms with the lies she'd been told her whole life.
Okay, so not your traditional feel good Thanksgiving story, but promise to write a happier Christmas one. I was thinking of writing a sequel to this on how Emily copes, but I'm not sure how this story line will be received, so if you're interested, let me know. Thanks for reading! Happy Thanksgiving!