Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Disclaimer: I do not own MIOBI.
I've been kinda unproductive this week (at least with regards to fic writing - been getting started on ethics approval, which is all kinds of fun) and haven't written nearly as much as I intended (mostly just edited what I'd already written). Still, there's only about 2-3 chapters left in this, so I figure I can relinquish this chapter and give myself a week to catch up.
Just to clarify, because it does seem to be raising some confusion, Payson and Sasha aren't together at this point in time (which is November 2013). Payson's family (and Sasha's in about a months time) just think they are.
Summary: 16x8 Universe. Sasha had never actually celebrated Thanksgiving and his first experience was beyond memorable. What with crotchety old men, mischievous little sisters, and well meaning parents . . . all of whom believe he's in an inappropriate relationship with his most prized gymnast.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner – Breaking Bread
~ Thanksgiving, late afternoon
Becca watched from her bed as Payson pinned her hair up in a demure chignon. It was the style she tended to favour for occasions involving Grandpa Rob, with Payson seeming to feel the need to look like the demure, perfect granddaughter whenever he was around. Becca felt almost scruffy in comparison.
Her sister had always been something of an enigma to her. Payson could be so confident and sure in some aspects of her life, and yet appear so uncertain at other times, nervous at the prospect of a meal with their family.
"I'm sure Grandpa Rob won't be too awful," she offered consolingly, her smile weak. "If anything, it's Maxine you should be worried about."
Payson turned away from her own reflection, sending an equally weak smile over her shoulder. "I suppose it would be too much to ask for a nice quiet family dinner," she said with a sigh. "Sasha'll be put off the whole thing for life."
Becca grinned. For all the ways that Payson was so completely beyond normal, there were some things that made her just like everyone else. And being nervous about your family's first formal introduction to your boyfriend was just one of them.
"I don't think Sasha scares that easily," she said assuredly. "Although I don't doubt that Grandpa Rob and Maxine will leave an impression."
"No doubt," Payson agreed sardonically.
Becca bounced off her bed, wrapping Payson in a tight hug. "It'll be fine," she promised, squeezing her sister tightly before letting her go. "Mom and Dad love Sasha, and I think they always knew it was gonna end up like this."
Payson frowned, and Becca continued all the same.
"Grandpa Rob will just have to get over it," she finished with a nonchalant shrug and a bright smile. On that note she left Payson to finish getting ready, making her way to the dining room where Grandpa Rob was already seated at the head of the table, looking moodier than he had earlier that day.
Becca opened her mouth to question what was going on, but Grandpa Rob got in first, directing a damning glare towards Mom and Dad. "What are you doing letting her gallivant around with a man twice her age?" he questioned in a harsh whisper, voice lowered for proprieties sake.
Mom and Dad were laying dishes on the table, both of them looking like they were doing their best not to react defensively. Dad scoffed at the hypocrisy and Mom nudged him with her elbow, keeping him from pointing it out.
"Sasha isn't that old," Becca offered, realizing almost immediately that there were better ways she could have put it. "I mean, he's only like thirty. It's not that old."
"Thirty-one," Mom corrected almost reluctantly.
Becca could see how some people could have a problem with that. But it wasn't a huge age gap, and when it cam to Payson it seemed almost trifling. Payson wasn't your typical twenty-year-old – she'd had a career, seen the world, been through so much. She was so much more mature and wouldn't know how to cut loose and act her age if her life depended on it. She'd have no clue how to interact with a normal guy her own age. It was why Sasha made so much sense.
"I say to each their own," Maxine said loftily, as though she totally wasn't the one to go tattling to grandpa about how Payson's new boyfriends was at least a decade older than her. "Age is just a number. All that matters is a person's soul."
Becca wanted to gag.
Grandpa Rob ignored Maxine's clichéd false sentiments, instead keeping at his interrogation. "How long has she known him?"
Oh, Becca could only imagine how well that little tidbit would go over. If Grandpa was getting like this over a ten-year age gap, he certainly wasn't going to like the fact that Sasha had been Payson's coach up until just over a year ago.
Mom was suitably vague on that information, telling Grandpa that they'd known each other awhile and leaving it at that.
"Sasha used to be a gymnast," Becca put in before Grandpa Rob could start pushing for more information that might lead to some unfortunate implications about the nature of Payson's relationship. The change in the relationship was new, but Payson and Sasha had spent every day of their lives together for three years straight and had always been amazingly close. The change itself was a long time coming.
It seemed a reasonable enough explanation for how their paths might cross, but only seemed to incense Grandpa all the more. "I told you nothing but trouble would come from this gymnastics business," he said, voice full of disapproval.
"Dad," Kim said plaintively.
"I told you, Kim," Grandpa Rob continued unadmonished. "I told you that you were giving her too much rope. You were never firm enough with that girl, and now look at where it's led her. Doing god knows what with some man on the other side of the country who's old enough to be her . . ." He lost his wind a little as he struggled to come up with an appropriate short-hand. "It's exactly the sort of thing that's bound to happen when you let her get involved with the wrong sorts. Just letting her do what she wants and to hell with the consequences when she should've been focusing on school and her future."
Dad looked furious by the end of it, his knuckles turning white as he clutched the back of the chair in his hands. This time Mom didn't stop him from responding.
"This 'gymnastics business' made her an Olympic Champion," Dad said, his voice chilling. "And I will not let you make her ashamed of that. Or of Sasha.
"He makes her happy, and that's all you need to know about it," Dad said with a sense of finality, practically daring Grandpa Rob to say something in response.
Becca smiled proudly at her father as Grandpa Rob silently stewed.
Some things just had to be said.
"What on earth are you wearing?"
Sasha frowned, at first taken aback by the unexpected question and then taking offence at his content. He thought he'd done a rather alright job of getting himself ready for the evening. He was freshly shaved, his hair was tidy and slightly styled, and he'd finished It all off with his dark grey suit and a burgundy silk tie.
"What's wrong with what I'm wearing?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at Payson in return. She just laughed in reply.
"You're overdressed," she eventually explained with the sort of gentle expression you gave a confused puppy. "It's just Thanksgiving. The suit is a bit overkill."
Sasha gave a small groan of frustration, turning back into the bedroom he'd just come from. "You couldn't have given me the dress code before hand," he complained good naturedly, sending a disgruntled look over his shoulder as she followed after him.
"If I'd known you were going to dress up, I would have," she said with a small shrug. "What you were wearing earlier was fine."
"But you told me to change," Sasha noted, eying her suspiciously. She just shrugged as he sighed, shucking the jacket off his shoulders and throwing it down on the bed.
"You're gonna show the rest of us up," she teased him, taking a step closer as she began fiddling with the silk bonds of his tie and sliding it from his neck. She popped open the top button of his shirt and then began work on his shirtsleeves, rolling them up to his elbows.
"Done," she said brightly, admiring her work. Not that she'd actually done anything to improve on his overall appearance, but he did look more casual now and less like he was heading to a courtroom.
He caught himself looking back for a moment too long – admiring the way she still managed to look so beautiful in just a simple skirt and blouse – and coughed awkwardly to avoid the building tension. "So . . . have you decided what you're thankful for?" he asked, providing a necessary change of subject and letting out a silent sigh of relief as she let him do so.
"You really have no idea about Thanksgiving, do you," she accused with an affectionate laugh.
"I know it had something to do with the Pilgrims," he offered in reply, shrugging his shoulders rather than admitting that everything he knew about the American practice of Thanksgiving was taken from really bad American sitcoms. "You know we kicked that lot out of England for a reason."
"Oh, so now you're English," she answered with a smirk, a familiar lightness seeping into their conversation.
"When it comes to matters of treason," he said with a serious nod. Payson sighed exasperatedly, knowing she should have expected such a reply.
"C'mon," she said, giving another sigh. She hooked her arm through his, half-leaning against his shoulder as she walked them out of the room. "Time for dinner."
"I thought you'd be more excited," he noted with some concern. She suddenly seemed very tired, losing the playfulness of earlier.
"You haven't met my grandpa yet," she offered in explanation. "He disapproves," she added when Sasha indicated that further explanation was needed.
"Of everything," Payson replied drolly.
"And gymnastics?" he guessed, sensing that he was about to meet one of those relatives. He suspected most families had them, including his own despite something of a pedigree in the sport. There was always at least one family member that disagreed with their decision to follow a dream with such negligible chance of success. And such dissenters tended to become more incensed the greater your successes.
Payson shook her head, smiling weakly to reassure him. That wasn't the problem. "Not especially," she said, her nose wrinkling slightly. "He's just . . . he's not an easy man to get along with, so consider yourself warned."
Sasha just eyed her incredulously. "You have met my dad, haven't you?"
"Yes," Payson nodded. "Your dad's sweet. I don't know what you're complaining about."
"That's because he likes you," Sasha pointed out. "I doubt very few people would agree with your assessment of him."
She shrugged and stood by her description. She'd only encountered his dad a couple of times (three tops), and Dmitri had always been firm but kind on those occasions. Sasha would even go as far to say that Dmitri had a soft spot when it came to Payson.
"Your dad's hard on the outside, but just a big softie underneath," she assured him, adding teasingly, "You're a lot more like your dad than you think."
Sasha opened his mouth in rebuttal, but stopped as they entered the almost eerily quiet dining room. It felt suspiciously like they'd just walked in on a conversation about themselves, words dropping off quite suddenly upon their appearance and Payson's grandfather looking especially grim. And why on earth was that woman still looking at him like a particularly delectable piece of meat? He reflexively stepped a little bit closer to Payson, although he'd never admit to using her as a shield.
Payson shifted awkwardly in the sudden silence, not sure where to go from there. It felt like years since he'd last seen her look so uncomfortable in a situation – not since she'd finally bought into his plan to make her into an artistic gymnast. He sought to try and cut through the awkwardness as soon as possible by offering his hand to the only unfamiliar figure at the table. "You must be Payson and Becca's granddad," he said politely. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr Wilson."
Robert Wilson glared at the hand before him for a few even more awkward moments before eventually accepting it with a gingerly handshake.
Eyes narrowed, Robert Wilson gave Sasha a thorough once over. After a moment he gave an unimpressed scoff, dropped Sasha's hand and turned back to the rest of the table, his stern expression suggesting it was time to begin. Sasha sent a questioning glance towards Payson and she gave him a tiered smile while touching his arm reassuringly to let him know he'd done the best that could be expected of him in the circumstances.
He helped her into her seat next to Becca before taking the empty seat to her left at bottom of the table. The man continued to glare at Sasha from the top of the table, pausing only to give Mark Keeler a disgruntled look as he stood to carve the turkey. Conversation was sparse as the dishes were passed around the table. Sasha had questioned a couple of the side dishes (the sweet smelling yam casserole), but allowed Payson to serve him a generous helping anyway before passing the dish along.
"I'd like to lead us in grace," Maxine said as she sent what was probably intended to be an alluring look across the table. She opened her hands, palms up facing to indicate that she wanted them to hold hands while she led them in prayer, which was rather unfortunate for Sasha who'd been given the seat opposite her. She looked at him expectantly until he complied, his need to grimace as he did so quelled only by Payson's delicately hand in his own giving a small, apologetic squeeze.
Maxine closed her eyes dramatically and began. "Dear Heavenly Father," she began reverently. "We thank you for all the things that you have brought to us today. For the people you have brought into our lives," she said, smiling meaningfully. "For the . . ."
"I have no idea why she's doing this," Payson whispered, leaning towards Sasha once she was sure her grandfather wouldn't notice. "Especially seeing as she's supposed to be Buddhist."
"Taoism," Rebecca corrected, stealthily moving towards the conversation and speaking in a very low tone.
"Although I can guess why," Payson added lowly, grimacing on Sasha's behalf as Maxine tried to fondle his hand in her own.
"Is grace supposed to go on this long?" Sasha whispered back, his voice a little louder than the hushed tones that she and Becca had been using. Mark snickered across from them and Maxine's seemingly endless platitudes came to an abrupt halt.
"So, Sasha," Maxine began after everyone had settled down to the meal. "What part of Russia are you from?"
He grimaced a little, but answered in a cool tone. "I'm not from Russia."
"No. But what about your name?" Maxine pushed, not picking up on the suggestion in his tone of voice that the topic be dropped. He was rarely candid about where he had come from, and especially not with someone he'd only just met. "I just haven't met anyone with that name that wasn't Russian."
"It's common in Europe," he answered bluntly, leaving little room to take the topic further. Payson helped, switching the conversation to Maxine and whatever business she was in so that he didn't have to explain how exactly a Romanian man ended up with a Russian diminutive. Things stayed relatively light and superficial for a while as Maxine took great pains to inform them all of the increasingly mundane intricacies of her life.
Eventually Maxine ran out of things to say, and Kim was able to use the slight lull in conversation to get in her own question. "How's everything in Seattle?" she asked with a gentle, imploring expression.
Payson sent him a look that clearly said 'I told you so' before responding to her mother. "It's good," she assured. "I'm really enjoying my classes and I'm feeling pretty confident for the upcoming exams." He wondered how long she'd spent rehearsing those words.
"Sasha?" Kim pressed, just as Payson had predicted.
"It's . . . been wetter than I expected," he began, which made Payson grin and titter beside him. "I don't know what I would have done without Payson," he added genuinely, turning his head to send her a warm smile. "She helped me set up the flat and has been making sure I eat something other than cereal."
"Cereal and instant noodles," Payson corrected.
Kim looked across at them with a warm, motherly expression. "I'm glad you're taking care of each other," she said softly, nodding her approval.
Payson's grandfather, who had been silently stewing up to that point, gave an incredulous snort. "Shouldn't you be old enough to look after yourself?" he asked with a sneer.
"That's enough, dad," Kim shushed with a scowl. She forced a smile, turning her attention back to Sasha. "So what do you think of the Huskies' chances this year?"
Sasha took the hint for a change in conversation, rattling off gymnastics stats with Payson adding her own commentary where appropriate.
The remainder of the meal seemed to go by without incident, although Thanksgiving wasn't over quite yet.
~ to be continued ~
Had to get Becca's perspective in there, seeing as she's one of my favourites, although writing seventeen year old Becca did prove to be somewhat difficult when I'm used to fourteen/fifteen Becca.
Let me know what you think.