Theo was so good helping me get through my grandfather's funeral. And to take my mind off things, he begged me to finally meet his parents who live in Newcrest right after we visited with my granddad. I'd been putting off meeting them for a while because of what had happened the last time I met parents. But Theo's parents weren't Pongan. They didn't have weird superstitions or arranged marriages. I was being silly and I knew it. So, I finally caved.
When we drove up to the house, my mouth fell open.
"You said you grew up in a modest home in Newcrest." I crossed my arms. "Liar."
Walking me to the door, he said, "This is modest compared to your standards."
"Theo...this is a mansion. It's way bigger than anything I've ever lived in."
"That swanky penthouse of your father's alone costs five times as much as this house. And you had maids, butlers and cooks. My mama did all the cooking growing up and worked full time. Naw...this is how real people live."
"Really rich people. Who are you kidding?"
Cupping my face in his hands, he said, "Did you know you're cute when you argue with me?" He kissed me tenderly sending butterflies through me. He was such a sweet boyfriend.
Two sweeping grand staircases greeted us in the enormous entryway and I spotted his family's portrait.
"Aww...your family is gorgeous, Theo. When did you get that done? Looks recent."
"Mama likes to have a new one done every two years. We just took that last month." He bent down and whispered in my ear, "Next time, I think I'll have my arm wrapped around a blonde in it."
"Theo," I complained. He knew I didn't like to talk about marriage. Not after what happened with Seth. If I'd have taken things slower, I wouldn't have gotten so hurt. We would have just been dating when he flew back into Io's arms. No...Theo and I were going to date for years before he could utter the word marriage to me.
"A man can dream, can't he?" he countered. "There's no law against it. And besides, girlfriends can make the family portrait. Special girlfriends whom my parents will love."
He started nuzzling my ear, driving me crazy, but I heard the clicking of footsteps and I pulled away. "Theo, stop! I think they're coming."
"Don't worry. My dad does worse stuff to my mom right in front of us."
"Well, you're not." I tried to get away but he was too strong and wouldn't let go.
"Welcome, Siobhan, to our home," his mother's rich, pretty voice rang out. "So nice to meet you finally."
"Hello, Siobhan. Remember me?" His dad asked.
"Yes, I do remember you, Mr. Wolff. Gosh, it's been so long. Either you shrunk or I grew. I remember you were like this giant tree of a man when I was little."
"Ha ha...age will shrink you. But I think you grew."
We all laughed. I was feeling warm already.
"Come with me to the kitchen, Siobhan," Theo's mom said. "I'll get you something to drink. Theo, go say hello to your cousins. They're in the living room."
The nervous jitters appeared again in my stomach. I didn't think I'd be alone with Mrs. Wolff so quickly. I still wanted to stay with Theo. What if she grilled me?
I noticed a cook sprinkling something on some delicious smelling food. Looked like his family had a cook as well. Theo didn't know a thing about living poorly. Not like Julien. If only Theo could see that cracked walled apartment and the holes with the cockroaches crawling all over the place. I, at least, know how real people lived. We were very lucky to be blessed with so much.
"Would you like some juice, Siobhan?"
"Sure. Thank you, Mrs. Wolff."
"Just call me Alisa. We don't do formalities around here."
"Okay....Alisa." That sounded strange to my ears. She was Mrs. Wolff to me still.
"So, I hear you're going to build a gym and spa with my son. Are you sure that's wise? Theo can be a handful to work with."
Cocking my head, I said, "What do you mean?"
"I love my son very much, but he's a perfectionist. He can get overbearing sometimes."
This was news to me. Theo? Overbearing? "Um...I think we must be talking about a different person. The Theo I know is the most easygoing guy I've ever been with."
Shrugging and flashing that familiar gaptoothed smile, she said, "Maybe he hasn't shown his real self to you. My Theo is very particular about everything. You should have seen his bedroom growing up. He couldn't have a Lego piece out of place and he categorized all of his voidcritters by type. Have you seen his closet?"
Come to think of it, I'd never opened his closet. "What are you trying to say, Alisa?"
"Just that he better treat you right. You just come to me if he gets out of line. Okay?"
I chuckled and pointed. "Okay. It's a deal. But your son is the sweetest man I know. You raised a great one."
"Oh yes, he's wonderful. But you get him on a task and he won't quit until it's done well. Sometimes he won't even sleep. You know he's going to be full up in law school next year. I hope you won't feel neglected."
Nodding, I said, "We've discussed this. I'll be busy anyway with our gym. We believe it's going to take two years to finish. You don't have to worry. I'm not a needy girlfriend."
"Sounds like my son has a keeper," Alisa said with a wink.
After a delicious dinner of roast pork, mashed potatoes, and green beans, we all went into the living room to chat. I really liked his cousin, Cam and his wife, Ana. Ana was so beautiful and she was a graphic designer--something I'd have loved to go into if it weren't for fashion and business.
The only problem was Theo's sister, Eliza. She'd been throwing me dirty looks all night. I had no clue what I'd done to her or what I'd said. I remember her from high school, but we ran in different circles. Could she have something against me from way back then? But what? I had no dealings with her.
Sitting down next to Theo, we all chatted for a bit.
"So, Theo," Ana said, "how did you catch such a sweet and beautiful girl? Last I checked, you were a certified geek."
Everyone laughed except Eliza. She just glared even worse at me.
"If you must know, I begged her to go out with me and she got so tired of me whining that she finally gave in."
Ana and Theo's parents laughed at Theo's joking around, but Cam scratched his chin. "So, she didn't really like you at first."
"That's not true," I said. "Theo has been my great friend all last semester. I just didn't realize what I had right next to me all this time. I wished we had dated sooner."
"So, in other words, you didn't feel he was good enough for you at first," Eliza retorted, voice laced with derision.
"No...that wasn't it at all," I said, feeling as if I was on trial. "We just started out as good friends."
"Eliza...what the hell are you getting at?" Theo squeezed my hand in support.
"I'm sorry, Theo, but I know her. I went to school with her, remember? I'm good friends with her ex, Julien Murillo. You should have seen what she did to him. And he's still not over it. I'll be damned if I'll watch her do the same thing to you."
"Really?" Cam said. "Wow...dude. That's not cool."
"Cam!" his wife exclaimed. "Stop being rude."
"It's not rude to try to protect the ones you love," Eliza said. "I'm sorry, Theo, but I don't trust her. People don't change."
Mouth dry at these accusations, I shook my head. "I'm sorry if I made mistakes in my past. You're right. I hurt Julien, but it was more complicated than I guess what he's told you."
Theo tapped my hand. "You don't need to explain yourself to her, baby. She should apologize. Now, Eliza."
"Yes, now," Theo's father exclaimed. "We do not treat our guests like this."
Eliza stood up and crossed her arms. "I won't apologize for saying the truth. That's what you always taught us isn't it, Daddy? I am sorry if this makes you uncomfortable, but I won't trust you until you earn that trust. You've been warned." She turned on her heel and left the room.
My face flushed red hot, I was so embarrassed.
Standing, Theo grabbed my hand and muttered, "We're leaving."
Herding me to the door, his parents followed with his father pleading, "Son, wait! Please don't leave like this."
"Yes, " his mother agreed. "Don't listen to Eliza. You know she's a drama queen. Come back and sit down, both of you."
But Theo was too angry to even look back at them. I must admit that I couldn't leave fast enough.
Tears overwhelmed me as he ushered me into his car. All I could think about was what happened when I met Seth's parents and now this. I wasn't sure if I could be a part of Theo's family one day. Not if his sister hated me. And Cam, his cousin, who was also his best friend--I could tell he was just holding back his real thoughts of me.
Cam hated me, too.
Siobhan was beside herself all the way back to my place. What was with my sister acting like that? Sure, Eliza was outspoken and fiery, but never rude. I knew about Julien. The guy was a druggie. And Eliza was friends with him? Well, it didn't matter. She was out of line and now I was in deep shit with my girl. I had to fix everything. She didn't need another hit. Not right after suffering the loss of her grandfather.
Walking in the door, Siobhan said, "I'm tired. I just want to go to bed."
Gripping her arm, I whipped her around. "No way, baby. You're not shutting me out. You can't listen to my sister. She's just making trouble. She's always been like that. Center of attention."
"But you heard her, Theo. She hates me."
Rubbing her arms, I said, "She doesn't hate you. She just ignorant. There's a difference. I'm going to have a long talk with her. She will apologize to you."
"I don't want you to force her to apologize."
"Listen, Eliza won't do what I tell her to. She's going to feel bad when I explain why you ditched that loser. God, Siobhan. You know how much you mean to me. I won't let anyone say anything against you. Especially my family. Don't worry about tonight. Please."
Tears tumbling down her cheeks, she nodded.
"That's my baby doll." I gathered her up in my arms, rocking her. "We won't think any more about it. Okay? I love you."
Sniffing, she whispered, "Just never let me go, Theo. Don't leave me."
"Aw, baby, you don't have to worry about that. I'm not going anywhere."