"I will make this up to you, Emily, I promise," Matt pled. Roses, chocolates, perfume, jewelry, he didn't think any of that could make up for having his very large family sprung on her all at once.
"You're serious, forty people?" Emily was still in disbelief at the sheer size of his family.
"Yeah, I'm estimating forty," Matt sighed. It sounded intimidating even to him, and he'd grown up with that. Emily's family was small, and barely around when she was a kid, this was bound to overwhelm her.
She swallowed, nodding absently, and straightening herself up, preparing for what was undoubtedly going to be an unpleasant experience. She grabbed Matt's hand, receiving instant comfort, just from contact with his skin. Matt kissed her cheek, and led the way from behind the corner, toward the table that held his extended family.
"Matty!" A tiny, grey-haired and heavily wrinkled old woman saw him first, and bounded toward them with speed a woman her age shouldn't possess.
"Grandma, how are you?" Matt embraced her, and it was almost comical. He wasn't a tall guy, but he was a good six inches taller than his grandmother.
"Blessed as always Mathew, though I'd be better if a certain one of my grandsons visited me more often." She gave him an accusing look, and Matt seemed to shrink slightly.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
"You can make up for it, and I'll be expecting you to, Matty." She shook a finger at him, then turned toward Emily, her face softening immediately. "Now dear, you must be Emily. It's lovely to meet you...though Matty's barely told us anything about you." She gave him another sharp look.
"It's wonderful to meet you too, Mrs. Flannery," Emily smiled sweetly, and offered her hand to the elderly woman.
"Oh my! That's Janie's ring! Are you kids engaged?" She looked back and forth between them. No qualms with jumping to conclusions for this grandmother.
Emily looked nervously toward Matt, who wasn't sure what they'd agreed upon earlier, and didn't want to say yes, if it would freak her out more. He stayed quiet, allowing her say whatever answer she was comfortable with. Emily went with the easy answer, what they wanted to hear, but what wasn't entirely true.
"Yes, we are." She smiled through her lie, hoping lying to sweet, little old ladies didn't send you to hell. She watched the tension in Matt's body begin to evaporate.
"Oh, congratulations!" She squealed at them, throwing her arms around Emily, whose eyes nearly bugged out of her head. Then she grabbed Matt, and squeezed him until he couldn't breathe, placing numerous kisses on both of his cheeks.
"Kiernan, you said they were living out of wedlock?" Kiernan smiled.
"I supposed I may have been mistaken, Nora. Congratulations Matty, Emily." He offered a curt nod to Matt, meaning clear. He knew exactly what happened, but he'd rather not upset his wife. It was like Matt telling Emily that the squirrel she ran over died instantly, and went to squirrel heaven. She knew that it wasn't entirely truthful, but she'd believe it anyway, and he wouldn't have to see her cry.
"Wonderful. Why don't you kids take a seat, and we'll order," Nora took her seat back by her husband, and Matt and Emily took the only open spots.
It took them a only twenty minutes to get the whole table ready to order, and two waitresses to get it all down. Then it was time to get to know Matty's girlfriend, and no one wanted to waste a second.
"So Emily, I'm Kate, Dylan's sister, Matty's aunt. How about you tell us where he's been hiding you all this time, you two have been dating a year?" Her hair was greyed, and her skin lining, but her eyes still looked young. Emily swallowed nervously.
"Uh, I don't know that he was hiding me." She kept a pleasant smile on her face, even as her stomach was churning violently inside her.
"Oh?" She smiled curiously.
"I wasn't hiding her," Matt insisted. "I was trying to protect her from this."
"Define this, Mathew?" A man who bore the same chin and nose as Cate, and hair as Dylan requested.
"Forty people giving her the third degree, Uncle Reese. You have to admit that's intimidating."
"If you'd told us anything about her, we wouldn't have to ask her a million questions," Reese pointed out.
"Yeah right. I could have given you the long version of her autobiography, and you still would have all had questions for her." Matt knew his family too well to believe they ever could restrain themselves. Emily sat quietly beside him, not sure what to say, and gripping his hand under the table.
"Well, if we have questions, we may as well start. So Matty, why didn't you tell us about her?" His uncle eyed him like a kid that had done something wrong.
"I think that's actually my fault," Emily surprised them. "I'm a little shy, not really good at this sort of thing, Matt was just trying to give me time."
The adults at the table seemed to consider that, Matt's aunts and uncles seemed to nod, seemingly approving. His male cousins looked dubiously, and his female cousins seemed to smile.
"So then Emily, why don't you tell us about yourself, you work with Matty, right?" The youngest of his aunts and uncles asked. His aunt Meg still had her dark hair, even if it was only from a bottle, and her face had only taken on a few wrinkles. She was only 52, the baby of the elder Flannerys.
"Yes, I do. We're partners actually."
"So, you're a negotiator then?"
"Yes, I've done negotiating and profiling." This she could do, work questions were easy.
"Do you carry a gun?" A small girl with curls a much lighter brown than many of her cousins, spoke to Emily.
"Melissa, that isn't an appropriate question," her mother chastised her. "Sorry Emily...oh, I'm Sandra, I'm married to Ryan, Cate's son."
Emily froze staring at her, suddenly realizing that she was never going to remember forty names. Sandra seemed to understand that.
"Don't worry about remembering names, there's a lot of us, it will take awhile." She smiled at Emily, understanding her worry, having been there herself.
"Keith what are you doing, you shouldn't have that at the table," the only blond man at the table admonished the young man beside him. The boy, in his early teens, had gotten his mothers dark hair, his father's blue eyes, and was pressing buttons on a cell phone.
"Hang on Dad, I'm taking a picture." His phone was pointed at Emily, who had no idea what was going on.
"Why are you taking a picture?" He held the patience only a parent can.
"Cause my friends will never believe without it that Uncle Matt's new girlfriend in really that hot." He grinned and snapped a picture, temporarily blinding Emily, whose eyes were wide, and mouth was open in shock.
"What?! Keith, show some manners!" His father was just as stunned, and very unhappy.
"What? She's a babe and she carries a gun, that's hot." He nodded, still smiling, seemingly pleased with himself.
Emily tried to melt into her chair, and trying not to blush. Matt just looked stunned and a little horrified.
"Damn it Keith, that's not appropriate. I don't want to hear that kind of talk from you!"
"What, you don't want me to like girls?"
"You can like girls, but you show them respect. You know what, you're coming outside with me for a minute." The blond man rose from the table, grabbed his son's arm and dragged him from the table. Emily was staring at the table, face pink, when the woman sitting beside the blond addressed her.
"I'm so sorry about that, Emily. Keith has just been so hard to deal with lately." She shook her head, looking as tired of fighting with her son as he was.
"Does he talk like that often?" Emily's curiosity was peaked, or at least the shrink in her. It helped her cheeks return to their normal color.
"God, it seems like all the time now. I thought it was rap or heavy metal music, but he doesn't listen to either."
"Does he spend a lot of time on the internet?" The table had gone quiet, and was listening to the exchange curiously.
"If he isn't eating, sleeping, or at school, he's on his computer." She was less than pleased about this.
"You might want to have a look at what he's been doing online. Doctors have discovered in recent years that chauvinistic behavior in teenage boys can be linked to over consumption of pornography, especially the violent kind." All her nerves disappeared as she lapsed into shrink mode, with Matt beside her caught between amused and alarmed. His cousin may not like to hear that.
"You're telling me my fifteen year-old son is spending hours at a time online watching...looking at...I can't say it, there are kids here." She shook her head, eyes closed, horrified at the thought.
"It teaches them to view women as less than human, more objects than people. With the advent of the internet it's becoming a more common problem."
Suddenly the table was looking at Matt, the same question on all their faces. He noticed and shrugged.
"Emily's a psychologist."
"Matty's dating a shrink, that's too easy," his cousin Ryan laughed; his other cousins joined while their parents looked on, unamused.
He was saved from having to comment, as a very unhappy Keith returned, his equally unhappy father behind him.
"Oh good, Danny, Emily is a psychologist." She turned to Emily. "Tell him what you said."
Emily suddenly grew very nervous will all attention so obviously on her. She squeezed Matt's hand harder, and understanding her discomfort, he lightly brushed his thumb back and forth across the back of her hand. The tension eased enough that she could ease into shrink mode, and hope it would work again to make her less nervous.
She explained to Danny, what she'd already told Shannon, Matt's cousin. He took it in calmly enough, seemed to think a moment, and then turned to his son, his voice very low and controlled.
"Is that what you've been doing on the computer you begged us to get you, looking at porn?"
Keith shrugged, like it was no big deal.
"Answer me Keith."
"Yeah, okay? Jeez, you act like I'm the only one doing it."
"We're having a very long conversation later, you behave yourself until then." Danny turned back toward the rest of the table, which had lapsed into silence. Emily felt like she'd screwed up big time, but Matt was still gently rubbing her hand under the table.
"So, Emily, where are you from?" Nora started the conversation back up, smiling at her future daughter-in-law.
"I grew up in New York, Albany."
"Really? All the way back east? How did you end up out here?" Nora continued.
"Well, uh work I guess. Everyone trains on the east coast, but then they just transfer where they need you. They just kept sending me west." Emily shrugged. Work again, work was good.
"So did you go to school in the east then?" Mark, Matt's uncle, who was married to Cate wondered.
"Yes, I did. NYU, and then grad school at Princeton, not to far from home." She was still gripping Matt's hand, but slowly she was easing into the conversation.
Suddenly there was a whistle and an accompanying laugh. "Damn Matt, you are way out of your league." Shane, his cousin, who was the same age commented.
"Oh Shane," his mother, Angela, Reese's wife, scolded him.
"Hey, I remember when Matty was too scared to ask Chelsea Lee to a school dance, and Chelsea wasn't nearly as impressive as Emily." He nodded to her, still grinning at his cousin.
"And, I remember when your idea of a date was dragging some poor girl up that rickety old treehouse to makeout. Mary's got more sense than that."
"Touché, touché. So we're both out of our league." He agreed, still smiling.
"You boys, you'd think you never grew up," Nora admonished them, shaking her head.
"Who says we ever did?" Shane asked.
"Oh god, we were all hoping," his old sister, Erin groaned, before turning to Emily. "It's our duty to warn you, these two were inseparable as kids, and caused all sorts of havoc. They also had a habit of yanking Chris and Claire into their plots."
"Oh, we weren't that bad, and Chris and Claire were willing participants. We're you Claire?" Matt asked his slightly younger cousin.
"Oh sometimes we were, but there were times we were the blunt of those plots too." Her brown eyes were sparking, her mouth in a knowing smirk. She remembered those days well.
"Oh please, you got your revenge," Shane admonished her, before continuing. "If I remember correctly, we let you play beauty shop with us when you were 12, I guess we would have been 15, 16. I ended up with pink finger and toe nails, and Matty's hair was teased so badly, he looked like a rockstar after a hard night." He turned to Emily to describe the part about Matt, who was shaking his head at the memory.
"Oh god, I remember that. I spent two hours fixing it." Megan, Claire's mother, rolled her eyes heavenward at the horror. They were all distracted by quiet giggling though, and turned to find Emily desperately trying to control her laughter.
"What are you laughing so hard about?" Matt asked in mock annoyance.
"I'm just picturing you with teased hair, and oh god, please, please tell me there's pictures." Emily was wiping tears from her eyes, she'd laughed so hard.
"You're enjoying my humiliation." He was trying not to smile, but failing. He liked that she was finally getting comfortable.
"Oh yes, very much. That image is going to stay with me for a long time." She trailed, still giggling, causing the whole table to laugh with her.
"So Emily," Megan began after they all managed to quell their laughter. "Do you have any siblings or cousins you got into trouble with?"
"I have a few cousins, but the last time I saw any of them, I was in college. And, my sister is in prison, so I don't really talk to her." It took all the courage she possessed for Emily to admit that, but they were going to find out someday, so it may as well be now.
The reaction wasn't negative as she suspected, just head nods here and there, as if they all already knew.
"That's right, several months back during that thing with that little boy, the press caught you guys leaving the prison she's in right?" Megan asked. It wasn't angry, or accusatory, just curious.
"Yeah, that was us," Matt answered quickly for her, knowing this was not one of her favorite topics.
"Yeah, I remember Pam shouting that Uncle Matt was on TV, she was very excited. She gets very excited every time she sees you, even if she doesn't understand the news reports." Mary smiled, stroking her three year-old daughter's head.
"Oh my." All attention went to Nora, as she covered her mouth, eyes wide. "Oh dear, oh goodness."
"Nora? What's wrong?" Kiernan looked at his wife worriedly, touching her shoulder gently.
"That must have been Matty on that video tape." She practically whispered the sentence.
"What tape?" Kiernan was confused, as was most of the rest of the table, except Matt and Emily, who had a sinking feeling they knew what she was referring to.
"That one they showed on TV," she paused and got very quiet. "The sex tape."
Half the table giggled at her whispering. Emily squeezed Matt's hand, and tried to seem small and unnoticeable.
"Hey Grandma, you know Matty wasn't a virgin before Emily, right?" Shane asked, half laughing.
"Oh for god's sake Shane," Reese, his father shook his head at his son, who would never grow up, no matter that he had children of his own.
"Of course, I know that Shane. It's the principle. They put my grandbaby on TV having sex." She paused, shaking her head.
"You know Grandma," Matt tried to say, before she cut him off.
"Hush up Matty, you'll always be my grandbaby, doesn't matter how old you get." She looked at him pointedly.
Matt held up his hands, knowing better than to argue, much to the amusement of his cousins, and Emily who was trying not to laugh again. When she should have been horrified with the conversation, and hiding under the table, she was barely keeping herself from laughing at Nora.
"And to do that to such an upstanding young lady, it's so shameful. That sort of thing isn't meant for public viewing." She was shaking her head again, when the whole table erupted in laughter. After her last sentence, they just couldn't hold it in any longer.
"Alright, alright, shush all of you. Down to business then." Kiernan quieted the table down, knowing any minute Nora would discuss those three important questions everyone gets when coming into the Flannery Clan.
"Oh god, poor Emily," Shane giggled into his arms, he knew what was coming, they all did.
Matt gave Emily's hand an extra squeeze, and he could feel her heartbeat speed up beside him. He began to rub the back of her hand with his thumb again.
"So Emily dear, with that hair and skin, you must have Irish in you somewhere. That's good, we're very proud of our heritage, don't know if Matty's told you that. Tell me dear, are you Catholic?" She seemed very benign sitting there, judging her future daughter-in-law, but everyone at that table knew better.
Emily's pulse was beating frantically in her throat, she had no idea what to say, except blatantly lying, as Matt instructed. But oh god, she felt bad doing that.
"Um, not yet, but I'm thinking about converting," she answered, her voice shaking. God, she'd been negotiating for years, and her voice never shook then. There was something a little disturbing about that.
"Oh you best if you're going to marry Matty. They won't let you marry in a church unless you're confirmed." Oh yeah, Nora had turned her all-business self on.
Emily did her best to smile and nod, but her stomach was suddenly churning violently. Wedding? Church? Suddenly it was like someone hit the light-speed gear, and they were zooming through.
"Wonderful. What about children, you want children, right?" Nora's face light up eagerly, while Emily's mouth suddenly went dry.
If Matt hadn't been holding her hand, it would have been shaking. Still, she swallowed, and plastered on a big smile.
"Oh yeah, I want a whole bushel."
Matt turned away, pretending to cough to cover the laughter that wanted to come out of him. Nothing could be further from the truth, and they both knew it.
Nora's smiled widened, and she looked at Kiernan, nodding her approval. He smiled back at her, and turned toward the table.
"Well Emily, welcome to the Flannery Clan." Kiernan declared, holding up his glass of wine.
Everyone else followed suit, and were about to end the traditional welcome toast with a sip, when Shane felt the need to add a comment.
"To the only one of Matty's girlfriends that doesn't make us all cringe." Many of the cousins tried unsuccessfully to stifle laughter, while their long-suffering parents just rolled their eyes.
"Thank you, and thanks." Emily thanked the table at large, and then thanked Shane, eyebrows raised at his comment.
"Come on man, my past girlfriends weren't that bad," Matt insisted, though he didn't miss them.
Half the table groaned.
"Matty, you have, without a doubt the worst taste in women of anyone I've ever met, present company excluded of course." Shane nodded toward Emily.
"Oh, of course," she smiled. She was definitely amused by Shane, he kind of reminded her of Matt.
The conversation continued in rowdy chatter as food came and went, and Emily got an earful of stories about Matt as a boy and a teenager. Many of which were of course horrendously embarrassing for him, and several of which were told loving by his grandfather.
Emily excused herself to the bathroom just after they all ordered coffee, children excluded, and on the way back ran in to Dylan Flannery, her potential father-in-law.
"Hello Emily, how are you holding up?"
He had the same soft brown eyes as Matt, and she couldn't help but smile when she saw him.
"I'm alright, thank you. You're awfully quiet tonight?" Dylan had barely uttered a word, just watched with an amused smile on his face.
"Well, I already had my turn at you," he told her grinning, a smile very similar to Matt's. "Really, it's times like these that I miss Matty's mom the most. I've just been watching, and wishing she couldn't have been here. It's a special night."
"Oh come on," Emily smiled at him, "I know I'm not the first girlfriend Matt's introduced to his family." That was a topic they'd actually discussed tonight.
"No, you aren't, but you're the one that going to stick," he told her, not a doubt or question in his eyes.
It took Emily by surprise, that he was so sure she was the one for his son. It took her a moment to shake the surprised look off her face, and pretend it hadn't startled her at all.
"There you are, I was getting a little worried." Matt found them outside the short hallway to the bathrooms.
"Well, I'll leave you kids to it." Dylan smiled and headed into the bathroom.
"I just stopped to talk to your father," Emily assured him.
"Yeah, I see. You doing okay? Not too overwhelmed?" He rubbed her arms up and down slowly.
"There were a few moments in there that I was ready to take off, but it's actually not so bad now." She was actually enjoying herself.
"Glad to hear it, you ready to head back in?"
"Oh no, we aren't going back in there together, and risking them all thinking we stepped out to have a booty call in the bathroom."
Matt laughed. "I love that, that's where your mind went."
"Yeah, I'll bet you do," she smirked.
Instead of offering a verbal response, Matt moved closer to her and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. Emily responded just the tiniest bit, the smallest indulgence, before reminding herself that his entire family was in the next room, and no way did she want anyone to catch them playing tonsil hockey by the bathrooms.
The short rest of the night went well, and when it came time for goodbyes, several of Matt's family members hugged Emily. She managed not to act too surprised or too uncomfortable. Her family hadn't been the type to dole out a lot of affection, so a dozen hugs in a row, and a kiss from his grandmother was a bit of a challenge for her. Matt, meanwhile, took it like a pro, even when his grandmother smooched both of his cheeks.
"So," Matt asked on the car ride home, "not so bad, right?"
"I lied to a sweet, little old lady, and told her I was going to become Catholic and give her a bushel of great-grandkids. But, no not so bad at all," she teased, grinning.
Matt turned to her with that cocky smile, and took her hand in his, resting them on the console between them.
Oh yeah, he'd be making this up to her for a while, but then, that could be fun for both of them.
I'm debating if I should keep writing more on this, or just leave it as is. But, thank you all who reviewed the first chapter, I hope this one was as much fun for you!