Alternating between pacing around his living room and staring through the front window, Brian could not remember a time he ever felt more nervous than right now. The waiting was making it worse. He had been showered, shaved, and dressed for almost two hours. He had some sort of product in his hair to try to tame the bundle of knots that usually sat atop his head; he never did that. He was not even sure what it was or if he had used it correctly, he just found it in some long-forgotten corner of his roommate’s side of the medicine cabinet. On his next lap around the room he noticed he was having trouble breathing. He credited his wheezing less to nerves and more to the stiff collared shirt he was not used to wearing. He checked the window again.
He thought he saw her coming down the road this time. He squinted, trying to make out the details of the vehicle as its image passed between the between the leaves of the elm tree that took up most of the view in that direction. Finally! He rushed out of the front door. He took another look at the street; she had found a place by the curb and was pulling over. This was definitely Sarah. He started down the stairs, but had to back track to lock the door. He briskly walked to the car, when he got in he did not see his girlfriend glance at his hair and uncharacteristic outfit. He finally looked over at her, he saw her smile and felt self-conscious. “Is there something funny/” he asked as he looked himself over and even out of the window behind him hoping she was amused by something, anything else.
“No, I’m just smiling because I’m happy you’re here and were finally doing this. I like your tie.”
Brian chuckled, relieved, “Thanks, I think I’ve had it since high school.”
“Well, it makes you look even more handsome, if that’s even possible.” Brian detected that she was truly complementing, yet playfully patronizing him at the same time. It was their way.
“Well dear, I knew you would look ravishing as always so I wanted to make sure I dressed to impress as well.” Their dynamic always involved complements hidden within lighthearted banter. She seemed to accept this offering as she smiled and gave him one of those sideways glances to let him know that he chose the right words. She looked back over her left shoulder and pulled out onto the road.
“I’m surprised you were ready to go when I pulled up. I thought I was a little early.”
Brian just shrugged, “I had just gotten dressed and happened to glance out of the window to see you. Perfect timing I guess.” He knew that he was technically lying, but lies to make yourself seem more debonair are harmless and almost expected in the first year of a relationship. Although, he knew that she would not mind if she knew how nervous he really felt. Sarah was very realistic, that was one of the things he liked about her. Of course, she was also very cute, and that was a nice bonus that had not gone unnoticed by Brian.
“So, like I said last night, it will take about thirty minutes to get there, which isn’t too bad, right?”
“Sounds good to me. It gives us more prep time.” He mentioned the last part half-jokingly to see if Sarah would be able to detect his nervousness.
She giggled, “I told you, they are very laid back. My father is not going to be polishing his shotgun and sitting in his armchair or anything like that. They’re just nice people and they think, we think, it’s about time you met them.
Seven months? Is that the normal amount of time to date someone before you meet his or her parents? Brian had never been in a relationship long enough to know the rules this far into it so he had defaulted to Sarah’s judgment. “Yeah, not nervous or anything, I just really want to make a good first impression.
“And I appreciate that,” Sarah smiled back, “if it makes you feel better I can tell you more about them so you have good conversation material. You know I don’t mind talking about my family.” This was very true, she seemed to have a great relationship with them. She had brought them up in conversations since their first date. He didn’t mind, he liked to hear the stories; he just never had any great family stories of his own with which to reciprocate.
They drove past a community baseball field. “There is something,” Sarah stated, clearly proud of her ability to think of an outstanding conversation starter for her outwardly anxious sweetheart, “my father loves sports, especially baseball. You can talk about the last championship thingy they had.”
“The World Series?”
“Yeah! He watches baseball on TV almost every night.”
“Well, I know all the teams and the major players, but if he’s that much of an expert I might just make myself look foolish.”
“Hmm…,” Sarah furrowed her brow and stared intently straight down the road as she was obviously now deep in thought, searching for another great topic. “I’m trying to think of things you and my father have in common. He will be the most difficult to connect with. He’s a man of few words, it’s like talking to a slab of marble sometimes.”
“Have they gone on any vacations lately? People always like to talk about their travels. Maybe they will just show me a bunch of pictures and I can spend the whole evening smiling and nodding.”
“We rarely travel together, it is too hard for my parents to get off from work. The last family trip was three years ago. The only time they could plan it was during our finals that year so I wasn’t able to go. They flew on some horrible cut-rate airline anyway so I didn’t mind.”
Sarah trailed off at the end of her story. Brian assumed she was still secretly slightly resentful that her family went on a trip without her so he replied with a very sophisticated and matter-of-fact “oh.”
The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful. They were unable to create any better conversation ideas. Brian knew he was going to have to wing it. As they got further away from the city he knew the time was coming. The sun had already begun to set. It was late November after all.
Sarah stopped the car. Brian looked around and did not see a house. He could barely make-out anything because the sun was already below the horizon. However, from the little he could see he was certain that there were no manmade structures in sight. He could see that the asphalt ended in front of them and a very muddy driveway began. Off to the right was a grass-covered hill. “This is it! We should walk from here. Since it just rained I don’t want to risk going up the driveway and getting stuck here overnight.” Brian did not know how he was going to handle dinner, let alone an overnight stay, so he thought Sarah’s reasoning was sound.
Brian knew her family lived out in the country, but this seemed a little ridiculous. Sarah could read this in Brian’s expression. “Just to the top of the hill, less than 100 yards. I promise.” He looked up the hill and could not see a house. Brian thought maybe he saw a fence and thought the house must be just over the crest.
They started making their way up. After a few steps Brian looked down and concentrated on his feet. It was not a tall hill, but it was steep. He judged that it was just steep enough for him to need to catch his breath at the top. He did not want to make his first impression unable to breath, so he focused on his breathing. Brian wasn’t paying any attention to where they were heading and just wanted to get up the hill without slipping and not too out of breath. Sarah finally chimed up and broke the trance. “Okay, what do you think?” Brian looked up and saw the black metal fence he had seen from the bottom of the hill. Then he looked beyond the shoulder high fence and then over to a grinning Sarah. He could tell she was intently watching his reaction, “Well, don’t just stand there, say hello!”
Brian looked around, he was shocked to say the least, but what else was there to do? He absently waved at the two pillars of lifeless granite, his mind racing, trying to comprehend and at the same time contemplating what to do next. Sarah just smiled on.