"Have you heard from Elizabeth?"
"No. Why? Is Mom asking again?"
"Your sister is here. For dinner. Again."
"Again? Why? Jessica?"
"Yes, again. I don't know. And yes, who else would it be? Steven, I don't know how much longer I can take this. Your parents tell her to hang out with friends, she comes over, your parents tell her to look for a job, she comes over, your parents give her money to order a takeaway, and she comes over. You know what she said? She told me that Barney was "helping her get a gooder education"."
"The purple dinosaur?"
"Yes. I don't understand why they let her leave school! I managed to finish, didn't I? I could have a career, couldn't I? Your sister was getting a degree in art history. Art history, Steven."
"I know. You have to admit, though, that you and Jessica, you're different. You wanted to finish school. Jessica just wants to sit on the couch and watch Barney. With our four year old."
Steven Wakefield kissed his wife as went to hang up his suit jacket and briefcase. This had been a fairly typical occurrence for them, at least ever since Elizabeth had gotten it into her head that in order to be taken seriously as a writer, she'd have to move to New York City. This, quite frankly, was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard of. Really. He'd even had had to hack into his poor mother's Facebook to block her from seeing Elizabeth's photos. He had a feeling seeing Liz's apartment would, quite literally, cause her to faint.
That, of course, would be messy. And a potential disaster. His mother would either faint or have a nervous breakdown, neither of which was good. Instead, he'd just deal with dinner with his irritating sister, call her a cab, and try to figure out where all of her friends had wandered off to. It was a taxing life, wasn't it?
"Do you want me to order something? A Chinese, maybe?"
"Fine. Get the money from your sister."
Now, that would indeed be unpleasant. Jessica tended to be in the foulest moods, especially when their mother actually made her do things. The time that they'd run into each other at the grocery had been priceless. Just priceless. He and Billie had laughed about it for weeks.
"Hey, remember that time Jess caused a huge scene in front of the Patmans' caterers and chucked a whole gallon of milk all over herself?"
"Yes. Yes, I do. It was strawberry milk. And your mother was furious."
They kissed again and he wrapped his arms around her, giving her a tight squeeze.
"I think that Jessica is obviously upset because Elizabeth left."
"You think? Honey, she couldn't even hack it as your father's secretary's secretary's secretary! He had to fire her!"
"I know. That was funny too."
He chuckled quietly, looping an arm around her waist, remembering the disastrous six months that Jessica had worked at his father's law firm. Honestly, his father had spent five of those six months trying to get rid of her. It was the most effort he'd ever seen his father put in to his law practice. He was a lawyer there now, too. He wasn't a partner yet, but he had a feeling that he'd eventually take his father's place. Cruises were easier to take without a pesky day job, after all.
It had been tough to finish college and go to law school once the baby had been born, but they'd managed, and he and Billie both had degrees, though she was a stay at home mother. He liked that, and he liked that she liked it, because he shuddered to think of the alternative, which would have been his mother or sister watching Alison. And she was a handful as it was. An adorable handful, but a handful nonetheless.
"Anyways, do you think we could do something with her?"
"Like what? Take in a movie?"
"No! Get rid of her, please, dear. Please get rid of her. I can't take it anymore! She's been here for over two hours! Two hours. They've been watching Barney-oh, hey, sweetie. How's time with Auntie Jess?"
Steven picked up their daughter.
"Daddy, why's she here?"
"Well, 'cause she's your aunt."
"I don't wanna watch Barney anymore."
"Oh, you don't? Wanna stay out here with Mommy and me? We're ordering Chinese."
"Mommy gave me pigtails today, Daddy!"
"I see that, princess. You look very pretty today."
"Thank you. Stay with you."
He shifted her so she was more comfortable to hold, letting her lay her head on his shoulder; just like her mother liked to. He liked this. He liked being a husband, being a father, he really did. He even wanted another one or two, or maybe even more, but he didn't dare mention that, due to the circumstances. Alison was four, and she was great, but even she found his family to be quite annoying. She just tended to vocalize it more.
"Allie, come back! Come play with me! We can play dress up!"
"Go play with your aunt. Okay?"
"I don't wanna!"
"I know. Please? For me and your mother?"
"Okay, Daddy. I love you."
"I love you too."
Alison trudged back into the living room, a most dour expression on her face, one that in fact matched Billie's exactly.
"I know. I'm sorry too."
"I'll talk to her about finding a job. Okay?"
"Okay. Have you heard from Elizabeth, though?"
"Really? I ran into L-i-l-a and B-r-u-c-e earlier today, and they mentioned she called him all the time. At the oddest hours, too."
She offered him a cookie and he took a bite out of it, before responding.
"What do you mean?"
"She thinks that they're 'best friends'. Meanwhile, you haven't heard from her at all?"
"She called the office a few days ago to talk to Dad."
"I still think that magazine she runs is a sham."
"Yeah. I think she's being screwed over."
"She's an adult. She needs to find things like that out for herself."
"You're right. What kind of Chinese food do you want?"
"The usual. That okay with you?"
"Yeah. What about Jessica?"
"She can suck it."
"What? She came to our house, she eats what we want."
At that moment, Jessica came out of the living room, clad in a perfectly nice relatively expensive dress that Billie had bought to wear to parties and events associated with the law firm, which made his little sister look like she was a dark purple bleached blonde sausage. His wife had always been slightly thinner than the twins, and the pounds that his sister had packed on did nothing at all to help matters.
"Take that off!"
"Nope! Me and Alison are pretty princesses!"
"Jessica! That is an expensive dress! You're going to ruin it!"
"No I won't!"
"Take it off now or no dinner!"
"Fine. I don't understand why you have to be a size four, anyways."
Jessica, thankfully, flounced out of the room, tossing the dress on the floor. He picked it up and laid it over a chair, rolling his eyes.
"I guess it's okay."
"Yeah.. We just have to deal with her."
"Your sister is planning on writing a book."
"What? Elizabeth is?"
"No, not Elizabeth. I meant Jessica."
"Yep. A tell all. She's planning on calling it something daft. Sweet Valley Confidential, I think. We can blame your mother."
"My mother? Why?"
"It's her fault. She suggested it! Oh, it's just awful!"
"It can't be that bad!"
"You think? Allow me to dissuade you of that misconception: Elizabeth didn't hurry. Slow, with purpose. Slow, giving the internal anger and hurt time to shoot from zero to a hundred. It needed only seconds, like the start-up speed of a Maserati. Except it was never at zero. Not anymore. Hadn't been for the last eight months. And she couldn't imagine a time when it would ever be there again."
"What is that?"
"Part of chapter one! She's asked me to EDIT it! Like I don't have anything else to do!"
"Does she even know what a Maserati is?"
"She thinks it's a roller coaster. I swear, Steven, when we married-"
"A roller coaster?"
"-when we married, I didn't just get a husband, I got two freak shows for sister-in-laws and a drugged up mother-in-law and a sketchy father-in-law-"
"Do you know what it's like? Today I went over to your mother's house to return Jessica's flip flop and they were arguing over the existence of unicorns! Unicorns! And your mother says that she's just a free spirit and that she doesn't need to be gainfully employed!"
"It's not your fault."
Steven kissed her on the lips, softly at first, before deepening it as she leaned in to him. She let him pull her closer, his hands resting comfortably on her waist, and she let out a sigh, admitting a partial defeat. After all, this had indeed been somewhat her fault. She'd been the one to suggest that Jessica get another job. This was, at least, partially her doing.
"Why are you sighing?"
"I dunno. Maybe it was selfish of me to make Jessica attempt to get her act together. Maybe it's selfish of me to get angry at your mother when she forces Jessica on us-"
"It's not selfish. You're a mom. You should just be able to concentrate on just that. How much longer is Alison still at school?"
"A couple more hours. She's in extended day today. She asked to be."
"I don't blame her. The other four year olds are much more mature than her auntie."
"Yeah. So, we actually have this place to ourselves for a bit. What do you want to do?"
"I don't know. You have anything in mind?"
"Maybe in a bit. I think we should just talk for a while."
"I want to. But later. Okay?"
She kissed him, again, before sitting down on the couch. She patted the spot next to her, which he quickly took. She did indeed want to 'practice', as she and Steven sometimes jokingly referred to having sex, but not right away. First she wanted to enjoy the unexpected quality alone time with her husband. It had been a while.
"I still can't believe your father sent you home early."
"He and Ms. West had an 'emergency meeting', if you get my drift."
"Of course. He calls her 'Miss Annie'."
"Lovely. I'm sure your father will enjoy the fact that his daughter is writing a memoir immensely."
Billie rolled her eyes, snuggling up against Steven, wondering, as she often did, how they'd managed to become the normal ones. The ones who'd 'had to get married'. The ones who'd been 'living in sin'. The ones that both (and this was the only thing their extended families agreed on) the Wakefields and the Winklers looked down upon. They'd turned out okay. Unlike the double-mint identical twins who couldn't be in the same state anymore. Jessica had dropped out of college halfway through her junior year and Elizabeth had had the 'distinguished' honor of being firedfrom the Sweet Valley Times. Steven was a lawyer, and she'd gotten her bachelor's degree-in Economics-on time, due to some credits she'd already gotten in high school and some summer courses the summer she'd been pregnant. They even owned their condo, unlike Jessica, who lived with Ned and Alice, and Elizabeth, who lived in a studio apartment in Staten Island, which most certainly was not off off Broadway.
"I was thinking-do we have to be in it? I mean, I love my sister and I think it's great she's doing this but-"
"You don't want to be involved?"
"No. I can't bear it."
"I don't blame you. I suppose I could edit us out..."
He pinned her down on the couch, covering her with kisses. She halfheartedly pawed at him, giving up after a few moments.
"You'd do that for me?"
"Of course. Why wouldn't I?"
"You're the best." "Thanks."
"I mean it. Come on, I'll make you something to eat."
"You don't have to. I can cook."
"I know. You always cook. Let me, for once."
"Well...okay...you can cook. I suppose I need to work on this shit."
"What? Eleven pages, Steven. I'd rather be in labor again-even with your mother cleaning around me!"
"She's written eleven pages? Jessica?"
"I didn't say they were decent, did I?"
She handed him the sheaf of papers, wincing as he read some of it. His eyes widened, and she cringed further.
"Elizabeth cries after orgasms? How does-why-what on earth?"
"Oh, God! What is Jessica writing about?"
"I don't know!"
She kissed him, taking the stack of paper from him and shoving it into a book she'd never finish reading-some stupid book that had been edited by that idiot Tracy Brezinski (Chas had mailed it to her-she still didn't know how he'd gotten her address). Needless to say, it had been some contrived version of feminism that Tracy and her dumb clinic had subscribed to, the 'it's your body and no one else's' bullshit. She couldn't believe that they'd toyed with her emotions like that-especially since Chas was supposed to be her friend.
"Chas keeps trying to chat with me."
"On Facebook. He's starting to piss me off. He still won't acknowledge Alison."
"I'm sorry. What do you want me to do?"
"I dunno. Defend me, I guess."
"Okay. I'll do whatever you want me to."
"Okay. Let's give him something to talk about. If you know what I mean."
She kissed him, leaning dangerously close.
"Alison's old enough. You're secure in your job. I'm happy staying at home. Let's really practice tonight. Don't you want to?"
"You wanna make a baby?"
"Yeah. Of course. I want to make another baby with you. Wanna start now?"
She caught a glimpse of the clock.
"I want to, but I should leave to get Alison soon."
"Let me go with you."
"You want to?"
"Yeah. Course I do. I'm her dad, after all."
"Of course you are. Come on, let's go."
"Yeah. We can get a bite to eat first. Since you never made lunch."