Some of the most poisonous people come disguised as friends and family.
The mood overall was tense.
If it weren’t for the loud voices of Janelle Harris and her son Jamaal telling anecdotes, you could have heard everybody chew.
Besides Nick’s parents Kaila and Philip Gray, who were hosting this dinner at their home, there were 6 guests total.
Nick and Esmée, in whose honor this dinner took place, to celebrate their impending wedding and to introduce Ezzy to Nick’s family.
Then there were Janelle and Jamaal Harris, who were Kaila’s mother and youngest brother, and therefore Nick’s maternal grandmother and uncle.
Aaron and Alena Gray, Philip’s mother and father, which made them Nick’s paternal grandparents.
Nick and Esmée had arrived first to help with the final preparations.
Kaila’s dominant mother Janelle Harris and big mouthed, stand-offish Jamaal barely even acknowledged Ezzy or Nick’s existence beyond a nod as a greeting when they walked in, utterly ignoring them the rest of the time.
In stark contrast to the loud dominance of the Harris’ were Philip Gray’s parents, both quiet like their son.
While it was never discussed, Ezzy deduced from the context that Nick’s dad Philip Gray was also an only child, while Kaila had several more brothers, all absent except for Jamaal much like her father, who was apparently still married to Janelle but had not been around since Jamaal’s birth and he looked in his late 20s. It was also not hard to realize that there was no love lost between Janelle, Jamaal and the rest of all present.
Not the kind of family dinners Ezzy was used to, where the atmosphere was always welcoming and warm. No wonder Nick had spent so much time with them growing up, Ezzy thought, then felt guilty at the irony that there had been many times when they were young where she hated him always being there. Had anybody told her back then that one day she would end up marrying her brother’s annoying friend, she would have passed out laughing. You really never knew.
“So what do you do again, Es-may?” Nick’s grandmother now addressed Ezzy, over-enunciating her name as she had all night, surprising Ezzy.
“I … umm … help Nick …” Ezzy stuttered.
“She works with me at the law firm, grandma.” Nick clarified.
“So the career type, huh? Is that why you don’t have a child yet?” Nick’s grandmother’s tone was disapproving.
“We want to wait until after the wedding.” Nick stated plainly.
“Oh yeah, the big wedding, I forgot. Your grandfather and I never had a big wedding, nor did any of your uncles. But if you have the money to throw around…. Maybe that’s what you need to keep a skinny white girl happy. You would know, right Phil?” Janelle’s tone was testing and probing.
“MOTHER!” Kaila was horrified and Philip Gray froze in his tracks and was obviously very affected by the words.
Ezzy was shocked at the hostile environment between the Gray and Harris families and the obviously painful verbal ammunition Kaila Gray’s mother used to slap her son-in-law around for fun.
“Ma – I told ya, men are not made to be with only one woman. Something in the genetics or some shit like that. Speaking of shit, why is he drinking juice? You pregnant?” Jamaal addressed the latter part at Nick.
“Nick is getting over some stomach bug and not supposed to drink alcohol yet.” Ezzy lied. No way she would out Nick in front of that guy for being a recovering alcoholic.
“What a pussy! All men should be able to drink and fuck whenever. Also just male nature.” Jamaal educated the table.
“That only means you are animals, Jamaal!” Kaila said sharply.
“Nah, means we are superior. Look at it Kai – you women are down for it for at least 9 months after you get yourself knocked up, we men can drink and fuck all we want. So we do. Only natural.” Jamaal said.
“You are disgusting!” Kaila Gray looked appalled and humiliated.
“Your sister would not know about that. She does not do pregnancies well.”
“I gave birth to a healthy, beautiful boy!” Kaila defended herself.
“Took you almost ten times or something. And then you were barren. For good. After only one kid. Does not make you an expert. I gave birth to 8 children, all living and with children of their own who have children. Well, all except you. You have one kid and he has none. And by the looks of it, that won’t change anytime soon.”
Nick and Ezzy froze for a moment, Kaila Gray looked near tears, her husband looked deflated and Ezzy felt sorry for her. With a mother like that, no wonder she was an overprotective bitch.
“A miscarriage is not something to be used as ammunition, Mrs. Harris!” Ezzy hissed, earning shocked looks by Nick and Philip Gray.
“Sounds like you would know. Well, no surprise there, nobody expected you would be the one giving me grandkids. You look like a 12 year old boy and are probably about as fertile.”
“Grandma! Enough! Ezzy is beautiful and the love of my life! We are just in no rush, that’s all!” Nick came to her rescue.
“Bruh – c’mon!” Jamaal snorted a laugh from next to Nick.
“Oh, you want to forbid me to speak now? My own grandson? What right do you have?!” Janelle growled at Nick, glaring at him angrily.
“He has the right, this is his home!” Kaila hissed.
“How dare you all talk to me this way? Disrespecting the elder!” Janelle diverted her anger at her daughter.
“My grandma always says ‘respect is earned, not just given’ and also that ‘it echoes out of a forest however you called in.'” Ezzy said.
“Sounds like your grandmother needs to mind her own business.” Janelle told her.
“What?!” Ezzy was about to fly off the handle now, shooting eye daggers at Janelle Harris.
“Ez.” Nick looked at her, shaking his head, his eyes begging her to let it go, so instead Ezzy just glared at his grandma.
“Damn, this shit is all messed up!” Jamaal added unnecessarily.
When finally the dinner was over and Nick’s grandmother and uncle left along with the Nick’s paternal grandparents, Nick grinned at Ezzy as they were helping clean up.
“If you say some idiotic crap like ‘that went well’ now, I will slap you, I swear!” she told him, still fuming at some more of Janelle Harris’ marvels.
“I’d actually help you.” Kaila agreed from the sink.
“Nah, I was thinking about the wedding. I am scared!” he chuckled.
“They won’t be invited. My family won’t. His can come of course.” Kaila Gray said plainly, pointing at Philip for the last part of her words.
“What?” Nick was shocked.
“I do not want them there. Bad enough I had to suffer her all my life, Phil had to, I am not exposing my son and future daughter-in-law to that abuse. Especially not on their big day. No. This was her being nice. It does get worse. Much worse.” Kaila said.
“Ok, mom, since we are being honest here right now; what was that about dad and skinny white women?” Nick asked.
“Forrest…” Kaila rubbed her temples.
“I have cheated on your mother when she needed me most.” Philip finally spoke.
“Phil. Let’s not …” Kaila interrupted, but Philip only shook his head and continued
“The boy should know. We have kept so much from him. Yes, your father cheated on your mother, for a little over a year when your mother needed me the most, right after the last miscarriage I let her down. With someone from work, who happened to be a very slender and petite white woman. Your mother found out when the woman’s husband somehow found us out and called her to tell her about it, complete with photos and everything. It was a very long and rocky road, but I am the lucky one that your mother decided to give me another try.”
“I don’t even know what to say here.” Nick looked like someone pulled a rug out from underneath him.
“Doesn’t need to be commented. Just remember this if you – or you Esmée – ever feel the urge to stray. Whatever the outcome, it changes everybody involved. Just food for thought. Now kids, I do not mean to be rude but this was a long day and we all have work tomorrow. It was great seeing you Forrest … and you too Esmée, but I need to excuse myself now. Have a safe drive home. Oh, and for whatever it may be worth: welcome to the family, Esmée.”
Ezzy was so surprised and shocked that she basically remained quiet and on auto-pilot until they were back home.
Ezzy’s frequent health check ups confirmed what they already knew. She was gaining weight and keeping it on, at a relatively slow but healthy rate. By now, months since the fateful day of them ending up at the hospital together to face the second miscarriage, her weight was almost at the low end of the healthy spectrum. The doctor branded her condition a variation of stress-induced anorexia nervosa, not as detrimental as the usual kind, but something that needed to be monitored.
So Ezzy began to shop for wedding gowns, accompanied by her mom Everleigh and brother Ethan.
“Aww, are you the lucky guy?” the sales clerk cooed at Ethan.
“Nah, the unlucky brother who gets dragged along.”
“That’s just because you have great taste and your sister values your opinion, honey. I am the mother.” Evey said giggling.
“Oh really? I would have pegged you for the sister!” the sales lady chirped.
Ethan rolled his eyes as he went towards the changing rooms.
“Ez?! Where the hell are you?”
“You’re not supposed to be back here! I am changing!”
“Not like I am coming into the rooms! Duh! But why did you have to take me along? Why not Amy? Or Ava? Or dad? Or Nick!? Or literally ANYBODY else but me?!””
“Because you are Ethan! You are part of me and you have to be part of this. And I helped you pick out your suit for your wedding.”
“That is different. They are all the same, you just had to point to the one with the frills you liked the best!”
“Oh, quit your bitching, sweet brother of mine!”
She opened the door now and when she stepped out, Ethan’s mouth fell open.
“Thank you, that tells me everything I needed to know. I feel the same about this one.” Ezzy told him smiling.
“Will you actually go out in this one and show mom before she begins a love affair with the sales lady? It was getting too deep in there, was about to puke!” he told her.
“I was not going to go out there in a dud. I told both of you that. I’d try them on and show you if I really like one, not just run out in everything like a brain-dead model”
“You look great, Ez. Really great. Even without that dress. Wait, what? Eww, not like that! I meant, not so super-skinny like a skeleton. You look … happy.” Ethan told her very serious.
“I AM happy, Ethan. Really truly happy.”
“Good! So is he.”
“Nick said that?”
“Nick said that, but doesn’t have to, he is making all of us sick with his heart-shaped pupils shooting hearts whenever anybody mentions your name.”
“Not awww … nothing like trying to watch sports or movies with the guys, while one of them is sending heart Emojis on his phone missing all the action. Nick is currently purely decorative. Can’t wait for that wedding to be over and things to get back to normal so Nick turns into a real dude again.”
“Sorry, Eth-y.” she giggled.
“Come on, not shitty nicknames now too! Get that butt out there and let’s make mom really happy. She’ll flip if she sees you in this. Probably will end up making dad renew their vows or something … hahahaha…”
And then finally they found the perfect location. Ethan bowed out of this one, since he didn’t want to be separated from a meanwhile very pregnant Amy for too long and Amy just couldn’t do all the walking required to scout several dozen locations at close to a full term pregnancy now.
So instead, Everleigh and KC went along.
All four knew they found the one when they walked up, but especially during the full tour with the demonstration of the decor that would be used for the actual wedding.
Even KC and Evey got carried away by the romantic mood of the place.
“Nick, we have a place, we now have a date, I have a dress, … we are actually doing this, aren’t we?”
“Oh, you betcha! You are not getting out of this one now, babe! And not just because of a very big deposit to book this place.” Nick grinned, teasing her.
“Well, YOU are not getting out of this one either, so don’t even try pulling another amnesia stunt or anything like that.” Ezzy warned him teasing back.
“No worries there, because I booked our surprise honeymoon and we are going!”
“Not even a hint?” Ezzy tried the puppy eyes.
“Not even a hint until that ring is on your finger!”