Ahhh, dinner at the Plum's.
I looked at Hector and rolled my eyes. "Oh, this is not good," I groaned.
He smiled at me and got out of the car. He opened the passenger door for me and held out his hand to help me out. As he did, he slid one arm around my waist and kissed me. Right there in front of God and the Burg. Then he winked at me, whispered no habla and took my hand, lacing our fingers together for the walk up to the porch.
"Hey, baby girl!" Grandma called out.
My mother just stood there stone-faced. I couldn't tell about dad. He never expressed much emotion one way or the other. But he never, ever met anyone on the porch.
Much to my surprise and to the horror of my mother, dad stepped off the porch and extended his hand to Hector, and greeted him in Spanish!
My eyes widened as dad and Hector shook hands and exchanged Spanish pleasantries. I stifled a smirk at the shock on mom's face. I think I managed to raise one eyebrow. Grandma, for once, was speechless.
Maybe this night would be entertaining after all!
Dad turned to me and gave me a hug. "Hey, pumpkin. It's so good to see you. Ladies, shall we go into the house?" He stepped up on the porch and held the door open for us.
Mom made a dash for the door, followed by grandma and then me. Hector took over door duty and motioned for dad to enter before him.
This is the point where grandma would normally make a grab for a Merry Man's ass. I held my breath. Hector turned and calmly shook his head at her. She grinned and trotted after mom who was heading toward the kitchen. Dad motioned Hector into the living room. I stood there blinking. Where were we? The Twilight Zone?
The dining room table was already set. Not the good china, I noticed.
Dad cleared his throat and said, "Helen, let's go into the living room and visit with Stephanie and her friend. We haven't seen her for quite a while. I'm sure dinner can wait a bit. How about you bring a couple of beers for us and a glass of wine for Stephanie?"
Shit. What was dad up to? Between him and grandma I was sure hell was going to freeze over right here and now in the Burg tonight. And it would all be my fault.
Mom mumbled something about checking the roast and went into the kitchen. I widened my eyes and looked at dad. He just gave me a 'what?' look back. Shit, shit, shit.
I went into the living room and sat on the couch next to Hector. I grabbed for his hand with a death grip. Mom and grandma appeared with a couple bottles of beer. Grandma had a glass of wine for me and herself. Mom had her glass of Jack. Dad took a beer and handed the other one to Hector.
Once everyone was seated, dad said, "Well, pumpkin, how is your job going?"
I shot a glance at Hector and then said, "OK, you know, same old. Bad guys skip bail, we go get them."
"You still working for RangeMan? I see you are driving one of their cars," Dad said. "I know you are good at helping them."
"Um, yeah, I work full time there now." I said cautiously. This was so bizarre. My family never had 'conversations'. And never about my job! Surely, aliens had abducted my family and replaced them with clones. "I do the background searches for them and help with the skips and the clients. Hector handles all the security system installations."
Mom snorted. "I don't know how you can call that a job! That car is probably stolen. You work with thugs and criminals! They dress all in black and they carry guns and knives."
"And they are hot!" Grandma piped up, wagging her eyebrows.
Nope. No alien abductions. Damn.
"Mother! There is nothing about those men that is admirable," mom snapped at her. "This one doesn't even speak English!" Mom turned to me and asked, "Is he a citizen? When you come to this country, you need to learn English! He is probably illegal! He looks like he is in a gang! He has tattoos all over and he is carrying weapons!"
"Helen!" Dad said sharply. "Stephanie and her friend are guests in our home. You will not disrespect them! Joe Morelli carried weapons in this house all the time and I never heard you say a word about that!"
Mom snorted and stood up. She turned and stomped into the kitchen.
I sighed and said, "It's OK, dad. I knew this would be a disaster. I don't know why we agreed to come over. We clearly are not welcome here. Hector, we need to leave."
"Pumpkin, please stay for dinner. I want you here and your grandmother wants you here."
"That's the extent of it, dad. You and grandma. Not mom. She doesn't want me here or any of my friends anywhere close to this house."
Dad grimaced in understanding and shook his head and pushed on. "I hear you were shopping today. Hector, would you mind telling me where you and Stephanie are living?"
Hector rattled off the address in Spanish and dad nodded in appreciation. "I know that neighborhood. It is all pre-war. There are some very nice houses with nice large lots. People living there have done a great job keeping the neighborhood growing." Dad said.
I smiled at dad and said, "It is very nice, dad. Hector has remodeled the house for his mother and built our apartment upstairs."
"Pumpkin, go check on your mother to make sure she doesn't burn the roast. I really hate a burnt roast, don't you, Hector?"
I rolled my eyes at Hector when he replied to dad in perfect English. "Yes, sir, I do really hate a dry roast."
Grandma cackled and drained her wine glass. She grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the kitchen. "Come on, baby girl. Your father wants to talk to Hector."
Once we were out of earshot, dad turned to Hector. "You don't have a military background do you, son?"
Hector smiled and said, "No. I am the only one, sir. Your wife is right. I was in a gang. That was many years ago. But what I lack in training, I make up for with brains." He tapped his forehead. "I want you to know Estephania is very much a part of RangeMan. We could not do our jobs as well without her. All of the men care for her."
"I'm going to play the father card here, Hector. What are your intentions toward my daughter?"
Hector looked down at the beer in his hands for a few seconds and then raised his head. "I love her, sir. With all of my heart. I do not know if she will have me but I would like to marry her, if you will allow it. I will do everything I can to protect her and keep her safe for the rest of my life."
Dad smiled and said, "Call me Frank, son. You realize you are in for the ride of your life, don't you?"
I could hear the two men laughing all the way in the kitchen. Geez. I rolled my eyes.
Mom was mashing the potatoes while grandma started making the gravy. I saw mom's glass of her old friend, Jack, on the counter top.
"Do you need some help, mom?" I asked casually. I opened the refrigerator and pulled out the bottle of wine. I uncorked it and refilled my glass. I took a big gulp and turned to face her.
Right on cue, mom whirled around and glared at me. "Who is this man? Why are you doing this to me? You insist on hanging out with criminals just to spite me! All I ever wanted is for you to live a normal life with Joseph. What is wrong with you?"
I took another drink of my wine and eyed her over the rim of the glass. Grandma was watching both of us, her eyes going back and forth between us like she was watching a tennis match. I thought of mama and her acceptance of me and her zest for life. I smiled, gaining strength from that little firecracker of a woman.
"Well, mother, what is wrong with you? Why do you keep trying to make me into something I'm not? As far as I'm concerned, my life is normal. For me," I replied and shrugged.
As long as we were venturing into another dimension, let's add some more weirdness to the Plum family dinner. Dad poked his head in the kitchen. "Helen, is everything OK in here? Is dinner ready? A man could die of hunger out here."
Mom jerked into action. "Of course, Frank, everything is fine! Please go and sit down. We will bring everything out!"
Mom pulled a platter out of the cupboard and opened the oven. She took out the roast and carefully placed it on the platter. "Mother, get the potatoes and vegetables. Stephanie, get the gravy! Come on! Your father is waiting for his dinner!"
I grabbed the bottle of wine from the refrigerator and the bowl of gravy. I followed mom out of the kitchen with grandma on my heels.
Suddenly, mom tripped.
If this was a movie, the action would be shot in slow motion. My mother falling, her mouth open in a silent scream. The platter leaving her hands and the roast flying across the room hitting the wall with a big splat.
Errrrrrck. Back to reality. With lightning speed, Hector grabbed the platter with one hand and my mom's arm with his other hand preventing what could have been the Burg incident of the century.
It all happened in a split second. No one said a word. We were just staring wide-eyed at mom. Hector calmly set the platter on the table while mom patted her hair and straightened her dress.
"Oh, my goodness," mom murmured while she looked down and twisted her hands in her skirt. "Stephanie, please tell him thank you."
I looked at her with my own version of a blank face. I turned to Hector and said, "Honey, mom says thank you."
Hector grinned at mom and said, "You are welcome."
Mom sputtered a few seconds. "He can speak English?"
"His name is Hector, Helen," dad said. "Let's sit down now, OK?"
Mom stood there blinking. It took a few more seconds before she regained her composure. "I'll be right back." She made a dash for the kitchen and returned a minute later with a full glass of Jack.
"To think I almost went to bingo tonight!" Grandma giggled with glee. Mom shot her a Burg glare and proceeded to slice the roast before passing the platter to dad.
For the next half hour, things actually went quite smoothly. We ate and made polite small talk. It was eerily normal?
Wait for it…..
"What about your apartment, baby girl? Do you think I can move there?" grandma asked.
I took another drink of wine and replied, "Sure, you already know most of the tenants there and you have a lot in common with them. RangeMan has the rent and utilities paid up for several months. I can help you out after that. I need to get the linens washed and take them back over there. You can move in anytime. It might take a while for the crazies to realize I don't live there anymore but Hector installed a security system and RangeMan has the building on regular patrols."
"Mother, that is exactly why you don't need to move there with those thugs hanging around. Who knows what kind of trouble that place will be! What is wrong with staying here with Frank and me?" mom asked her.
"Well, for one, you're a pain in the ass and I'm getting mighty tired of it," grandma said.
"Mother! Watch your mouth!" mom snapped at her.
Grandma narrowed her eyes at mom. "See, there you go with your attitude again. I don't like it and I don't like the way you treat Stephanie!"
"Mother, we can talk about this later," mom said evenly while she concentrated on her dinner plate.
"No, we'll talk about it now. You've been ragging on her for years. Just because she dumped that Morelli horse's patoot, you think something is wrong with her. When are you going to learn that Stephanie is just fine! She has a good job and a hot boyfriend to boot! You listen to me, Helen Plum, you need to pull your head out and see what a wonderful person she is or you'll lose her forever! And I'll go right along with her!"
Mom turned to dad and demanded, "Frank! Are you going to just sit there and not say anything?"
Dad grimaced and shrugged. "No need for me to jump in here. Edna's doing just fine. She's right on all counts."
"Honestly! I don't know why all of you are treating me this way. Stephanie, this is all your fault. If you would have married Joseph, none of this would be happening!" mom sniffed.
I gritted my teeth, looked at her and said, "Mom, no one is doing anything to you. I didn't want to marry Joe in spite of all your interference. My life is mine. What I do is my business. I am not purposely doing anything to you! I am happy. My job is great. Hector and I love each other and we live in a very nice place! And by the way, the car is mine!"