Terms & Conditions 14.

The heat of outside shocked me as we walked from the front door of Lance's house, out the driveway, down the walkway and up the driveway next door to his parents door.  It seems dumb to walk all the way down to the sidewalk then back up again.  The walk was less than fifty feet, and I'm not one to usually cut corners, but with the sluggish southern heat and humidity made it seem as if the extra fifty feet were really fifty miles.

Before he went to open the door Lance stopped and turned half towards me.  His shoulders are tense and he's been quiet since we came down after changing clothes.  "You ok?  I know that I was an ass to force you to come down here--"

My hand moves to my t-shirt and I smooth it down.  I thought that I should dress up a little, but Lance insisted that I didn't.  He went into a lengthy explanation that the only time we needed to dress up was when we went to church on Sunday and that flip flops, jean shorts, and a t-shirt would be ok.  I nod silently and smile.  "I'm fine."  I nervously fiddle with my shirt.  "Of course.  Of course!"  I take a deep breath and make sure my voice is fairly low.  "I've just had sex in the shower with my boyfriend and now I'm going to walk into a houseful of his relatives and try not to think about it.  Perfectly fine."

"It's not going to be bad."  Gotta love the way he speaks so easily.  It does make me feel better that he's trying to stay calm about this, but really I just want to strangle him for thinking that this is al so easy.

Of course it's going to go ok for him.  It's his family.  I'm the one that is walking into a room of strangers.  Yeah...I know I should be comfortable because of my job, but meeting Lance's parents really isn't something that anyone can prepare for.  Meeting the president of SAG or the executives from Universal Studios is one thing--you just figure out what they like and don't like, hell they give you a list--but no one can prepare to meet someone's parents face to face.  Yes, I have a slight advantage because I've spoken them to a few dozen times over the last few months coordinating Lance's travel plans--drop offs and pick ups and scheduling our lives--but for the most part these people don't know me and I don't know them.

"I think I'm going to throw up," I mumble and take a deep breath.  I never really knew that I could get this nervous.  When I work I guess I'm used to the pressure, but pressure like this in personal situations hasn't come up in a while so I'm not sure how to handle it.  If it was work I'd have plans and strategies to deal with everything coming my way, but today I have nothing.  I have no plan.  I have no experience with this.  The only parents I've ever met with were guy friends, not boyfriend's, or lover's and I swear that my t-shirt says "I'm sleeping with your son" across the front of it.

When Lance opens the door he knocks and yells into the house, "Mom.  Dad.  We're here."  The inside of the house is completely cool.  The breezy sound of the air conditioner fills the air and a cool breeze is coming down from the second floor balcony just a few feet into the house.  There are no overhead lights on since the outside light of the house is illuminating the house properly. 

"Come on in James."  Her voice is gentle, but I still feel like I'm about to be burned at the steak for falling in love with her son.  She doesn't appear and that makes me nervous.  Lance walks into the tiny hall that leads to the back of the house.

When she appears at the edge of where I imagine the kitchen goes off towards the left side of the house she's holding a towel in her hands.  I can see the excitement in her eyes and I can tell that she wants to run and hug him, but is trying to hold back a bit.   My own mom did this when I went home last time.  She's worried about me being three thousand miles away, but I'm too independent to be mommy's little girl for the rest of my life.

"Hey Mom," Lance says and walks towards her.  He's in cargo shorts and a t-shirt and seems comfortable as he flip flaps his way across the light colored hard wood flooring towards the kitchen, pulling me along with him.  He hugs his mom with his free arm then pulls me in front of him.  "Mom.  This is Tammy.  Tammy, this is my mom, Diane."

"Hi," I say softly and reach to shake her hand.

"Come on in and grab a beer or a soda and hang out."  She smiles widely at both of us and keeps her eyes on Lance for a longer time than me.  She's missed him.  I can tell.  My mother looks at me the same way when I'm first home on vacation.  "Jim just went to the store to grab hamburger buns.  We forgot them earlier when we went out."

"Ok."  Lance is the one that answers.

I know I should feel more comfortable here, but I'm still trying to figure out how I'm supposed to act.  I have the job and the lifestyle I have for a reason.  I've always been behind the scenes.  Of course I dream about walking down that red carpet on Lance's arm, but truthfully I don't think I could stand up to the pressure of it.  Having people constantly watch my every move isn't what I signed up for.

"Seven, you want a drink?"

My head snaps up from where I've been thinking to glare at him.  I don't like that he uses that nickname with me in front of his family.  I don't like that he uses it anywhere outside our house.  It's too personal, too much for anyone else to be listening to. 

"No thanks,"  I take a seat at the breakfast bar and lean against the counter for barely the blink of an eye.  "Do you need any help?"

"No thanks sweetie," Diane speaks with an even tone.  Normal.  This is all just a little bit too normal.  "This is your vacation."

I blush.  "I know.  I just thought I'd lighten the load since you're going to have everyone over tonight."

"Maybe next time," Diane smiles, "I just have pasta salad to throw together then I should be done."  She looks at the clock.  "That is if my husband didn't get lost on the way to the store."

Her hands pulled together pasta, asparagus, yellow squash, red pepper, chicken, and cashews into a bowl then took a dressing out of the refrigerator to toss the salad.  As her hands worked she seems to almost hum with excitement.  "So how was the flight out?"

Lance laughs.  "She read a book on Clinton and Jackson and told me all the vitals that I need to know about the town."

"Lance--"  I'm shocked that he's making fun of me in front of his mother.  I wish that he wouldn't.  I don't want to draw too much attention to myself and my horribly dorky habits.  I feel that since I've graduated from school that I seem to have too much free time when I travel.  This trip wasn't for work so instead of going over paperwork for projects I'd picked up a book about Lance's home town.

His mother puts her hands on her hips and gives him a slightly stern look, "Honey.  Don't embarrass her.  She's gonna think we're all mean if you act that way."

"I'm not," he says in defense of himself, "It's not mean.  It's true.  She had her nose in the book the whole time."

His mother rolls her eyes and I find her rolling her eyes.  "James."

"Fine.  Fine."  He grabs his drink and heads towards the back door.  "I'm going to start the barbeque."

When the sliding back door is closed and Lance is outside alone Diane turns her attention towards me.  I swallow hard and try not to seem too nervous as she smiles at me comfortably.  "It's really hot out there.  I hope he's not going to stay out there too long."

"He's addicted to the barbeque in California."  I take a deep breath and try to stop my talk about California.  I don't know what Lance's parents' opinion on his moving in with me.  They've never been rude about it, but I suspect that most southern young men don't move in with their lovers before marriage.  Hell I suspect that most of them don't have lovers in the first place.  "I swear if I ever lose him I know where to find him."

Diane took a seat next to her at the breakfast bar and turned halfway to look at her son outside.  Lance was poking at the fire and drinking his beer.  "I think that's a Bass male trait.  His father and grandfather are the same way."

"My brothers and fathers are always into their business."  Thinking of home makes me nervous.  I didn't tell Timothy that I was going to be out of town.  When he finds out I'm gone he'll probably hire someone to track me down.  I hate that this is so complicated.  "If they have a free minute they're always in my father's office talking shop."

"Lance was that way a few years ago."  I heard a story once about how much the guys got worked when they were first starting out.  "I finally had to put my foot down and tell him to stop.  He got himself sick and in the hospital for a week or so when the group first started to get big."  I swear when I talk to him about this he avoids it as if more went on in the weeks surrounding his hospital stay than meets the eye.  "I nag him about it now.  I usually run him out of the room so now I think when he's out there at the barbeque, he's working it all out in his head and trying to just look as if he's not working."

I look outside and find him staring off into space.  His weight is being shifted from one foot to another and his fingers are moved against the bottle in his hand, tapping out a rhythm.  "I'll have to watch him on that.  I think he's working right now."

She sighs.  "Go pull him back in here.  I'll call Jim on the cell phone and we'll get him back here and start up dinner.  I think Stacey and Ford will be here in a while.  They ran over to her friend's house.  Wendy's got a new baby that they haven't seen."

"Sure," I say and move out of the kitchen to the back porch.

Lance is seriously in la la land when I move to stand next to him.  He's staring out at their pool with this intent look on his face and I can almost see the notes of a song and the contracts he'll be signing for his new deals running across his corneas.  "Honey?"

"Hmm?" he turns and looks at me and smiles a strange smile then takes a deep breath before realizing he has a drink in his hand.  He takes a long swig of beer.  "Is my dad back yet?"

"No."  I speak softly and nudge his elbow with mine.  "Your mother thinks you're working out here too hard and said for you to come in."  I wave a hand in front of my face and try to get a breeze going.  "We both agreed that you spend too much time out by the barbeque.  She suspects that you're doing business deals in your head out here."

He looks at the bottle then up at me.  "Yeah.  I guess I am."

"I love the way your mom calls you James.  I think that's the only time I've ever heard anyone call you by your real name."

"Yeah," he said with a laugh, "She likes to rub that in a little around guests.  Sometimes she gets people totally confused."  He looked down at the ground for a moment before continuing.  "I'm James, my father is Jim unless he's in trouble too then he's James Senior."

"I love how you talk about your family," I say noticing the smile that has come to his lips and hasn't left in a long while.  "You smile and can't help it."

"Yeah well."  He stares off towards the pool again.  "They're important to me."

Silence fills the air and I'm almost scared to bother him about it.  There aren't many times when I've seen him get this serious.  He's normally very laid back about everything.

"What's wrong?" I ask not seeing him perk up the way that I think that he should.

"Nothing."  He pulls me in for a hug and as much as I love to be held by him in ninety degree weather with sixty percent humidity it really isn't the most comfortable place to be.  "I'm just trying to figure out how my new work schedule and your work schedule are going to--"  He smiled.  "--work out."

"Lance, we're on vacation. You're supposed to be relaxing and making my life a living hell by torturing me with your parents.  You aren't supposed to be thinking about Los Angeles."

"I can't not think about it," he said suddenly, but was stopped when his father came out the door.

"Hey kiddo."  His father walks out onto the porch with a paperbag full of things with him.  He seems completely comfortable with the situation, as if Lance is always with people that his family doesn't know and as if those unknown people are instantly welcome in his home.  "Working on the barbeque for me?"

"Yeah," Lance says and moves towards the barbeque then hugs his dad.  "Dad.  This is Tammy.  Tammy this is my dad Jim."

"You can call me Jim too," Jim Bass says with a smile and pulls me into a hug.  "It's good to finally put a face with a name.  I mean Lance has sent us a few pictures of you two together--the age of digital cameras and email is amazing--but it's nice to finally see you as a living breathing person."

"Thanks," I say and back away a little and move to the far side of where they are standing.

"Honey here is the steaks and the chicken."  Diane leans out the door with two plates and Lance comes over after putting his bottle down on the table next to the barbeque.

"I hope that's ok for dinner," she says looking at me.  "You aren't a vegetarian are you?"

"No," I say, "Chicken and steak is fine."

Lance leans and kisses me on the cheek and smiles, "She's not very picky when it comes to barbeque."

"Or other things, for that matter," Jim says with a laugh, "Or she wouldn't be with you."

"Thanks dad."  Lance laughs.  "Don't believe a word he says."

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