Dinner is a casual thing, just the six of us, Mom, Dad, Stacey, Ford, Tammy and me sitting around the table with endless drinks and good food.  We should be out on the porch enjoying the sunshine, but the humidity has pulled us inside so we eat at the huge wooden table in the area just between the kitchen and the living room.  I sit next to Tammy and I can tell that she's nervous.  When I'm finished with my meal I put an arm around the back of her chair and touch her back.  No one really notices, but I see how she's startled by the action and moves away from my fingertips.  I move my hand away and we sit the rest of the meal silently next to each other almost like we don't know each other.

When Mom asks Ford, Dad and me to make sure the the barbeque is cleaned up I go outside with my dad.  It's not normally something I love to do, but after the slight tension during dinner

"I like her," he says right off.

"What?" I say not sure why this has come up.  I mean he's never said anything like that before, just come out to me and said that he liked someone that I was with.

"I like Tammy," he repeated.  "She seems like a nice girl."

"She is," I say.

"She seems a bit nervous," Ford says, "What'd you tell her about us?  That we were mean?"

Ford never had any trouble like someone that I date might have.  He's know Stacey since basically preschool and they've dated for most of their high school and college years.  He's been basically my brother for my whole life.

"No," I say and try to explain all of this carefully.  "This is the first time we've really been a couple outside of Los Angeles--hell, outside of our apartment or JC's house or Justin's or well--you know how that goes.  It's been hard because we're in the same industry but on totally opposite sides sometimes."

"Everything ok?" Ford asks looking through the windows.

Tammy is with Mom and Stacey looking almost like she's fitting in.  I can tell though that she's nervous.  She touches her hair a lot, pushes it back out of her face and the she's leaving a lot of room between her and Mom and Stacey as if she doesn't want to touch them.  She's being her own little security force and keeps glancing at the exits as if she might need them later.

"Yeah," I say, "Pretty much.  It's just a battle to be a couple--"  I take a drink of my drink.  "She can't be in the spotlight and keep her job the way she wants it and I can't really sneak away from my job so we struggle to figure out how things are going to go with us in the future."

"This isn't going to turn into another--" My father says.

"No. no," I say knowing full well that he's talking about the drama that went on between me and Carrah.  I don't really even speak to her now because of it.  I hate that.  I hate that I went from being her friend to her lover and then became a stranger.  It was because of the job, because of the schedule, and because of me and her and the lifestyle we both thought we should have that clearly didn't become a reality.  "Nothing like that."

Ford does the only thing he knows how to do and reminds me that I am home and that I probably will have to deal with this issue since I'm here.  "Have you talked to her in a while?"

"What Carrah?"  I look at my father and can see the disappointment in his eyes.  Everyone around me thought that Carrah and I were going to be the perfect little couple and when it didn't happen everyone was let down by it.  "No.  I haven't seen her in a few months now other than for a minute or two during services at Christmas."

My father takes a deep breath.  "She's in town you know."

I wince.  This isn't going to be fun.  I know that I'm supposed to be the more mature one, but really having my current lover meet my ex-lover isn't really something that I'd consider a party.  "I know, or rather, I expected that she would be."

Again Ford has to put in his opinion on things.  "How's that going to go down?"

I'm not allowed to answer.  It seems that the theme of the day would be to interupt any kind of interaction I'm having with another person because soon Stacey is jumping out onto the back porch and throwing her arms around me.  "Lance!  My little baby brother has come home!"

"Jesus," I say forgetting for a moment where I am.  "You just saw me like two seconds ago."

"I know, but now I have your full attention," she said with a laugh.

"Where'd my woman go?" I ask.

"Your woman?" Mom gives me a hard look as she comes out the door with Tammy right behind her.  "Your woman and I were getting desert ready for you."

"What'd ya make?"

"You know Lance you should really get your mother to teach you to cook.  Her apple pie is amazing."  Tammy hands me a plate with a slice of pie and ice cream on it as Mom hands Ford his plate and Dad his plate.

How sickenly sweet is this?  Family and apple pie and ice cream.  Seriously it doesn't get any more Norman Rockwell than this.

******

“James.”

I open my eyes and find my mother leaning over me with her hand on my right arm.  I hadn’t even realized that I’d fallen asleep.  We’d all been sitting around on the couch watching movies after dinner and I’d felt my eyes get a little heavy, but figured I’d just close them for a moment.  That moment must have lasted a lot longer than I thought because the room is now empty, television off and it’s now dark outside.  I’m completely stretched out on the couch with my feet on the coffee table.  Tammy’s head is on a pillow on top of my thigh.  She’s turned on her side facing the television, but I can tell that she’s asleep from her even breathing.  My left arm is lying on her shoulder and she’s reached up and linked our hands together causing my fingers to now be asleep from the way I’m holding them.

“What’s up?” I ask still trying to figure out how I’d slipped to sleep so easily.

“You and Tammy both fell asleep,” she says in a hushed voice.  She’s got a smirk on her face and I know that she’s finding this all very funny.  She always makes fun of me when I come home from being away for a while.  There is something about being in my parent’s house that puts me to sleep.  I guess it’s the comfort level that I have here.  I know where everything is and don’t ever really feel like I’m visiting.  In my head I’m fifteen again and have just come home from summer camp after a few weeks away and am just making up for the fact that there has been a stretch of time between now and when I last fell asleep in front of the tv.  “Why don’t you wake her up and take her next door?  The both of you will be more comfortable in a real bed instead of stretched out over here.”

I run my tongue over my teeth.  Gross.  Beer taste stuck in my mouth and I can’t get it out.  I nod to my mother and notice that she’s already dressed for bed.  Unlike Seven who wears almost nothing to bed, my mother is wrapped in a white robe with a big W on the front of it.  I brought it back for her from a trip to New York last year when we stayed at the W Hotel and she wears it like it’s her favorite outfit.

“Thanks.”

It’s ok honey,” she says with a nod.

“What time is it?” I ask trying to pry my eyes open when they start to slide closed again.  For an instant my body thinks it’s late for something, but then my mind catches up slowly and I realize that I’m on vacation.  Suddenly my body and mind realize that I don’t have to overcompensate for my fatigue and my whole body feels a million times heavier than it really is.  It’s that jet lag-traveling funk that runs over me for the first day of any trip I take and it seems to have waited until after my nap to hit me.  I was fine before I sat down on the couch earlier.

“Just after ten,” she says after turning to look at the clock on the television, “Your dad and I were going to watch a movie upstairs so we thought we’d kick you out.  Stacey and Ford left a while ago.  Stacey says that she’ll save you a seat for the Easter Egg hunt before services on Sunday.”

I’m still a bit dazed and feel like I should apologize for being such a bad guest.  I come home and flop on the couch and don’t really even pay attention to my family.  “Sorry to have fallen—“

“Honey, we don’t mind,” she says, “But you’ll probably wake up all sore tomorrow if you stay here like this.”

“Yeah,” I say.  “Thanks again.”

“Just close up the house when you leave.  I’m going to go upstairs.”  She leans and gives me a kiss on the lips real quick.  I love my mother.  She’s an amazing woman to put up with my bullshit.  When I was young and she had to be on the road with me and away from dad she became the only other world outside of the performing I was doing.  I miss that now and I realize that I hate LA not because it’s LA really, but because it isn’t really home, not like the home I have here in Mississippi. “Just call over tomorrow if you are up in time for breakfast and we can eat together.”

“Ok.”  I wait until she’s gone before I try to wake up Tammy.  If I could I’d leave her there.  She looks so peaceful, but I know that Mom is right and that we should go next door.  “Seven,” I say in the dark room.  “Seven, honey, wake up so we can go next door and go to sleep.”

“Hmm?” she says and curls deeper into the pillow.  “I don’t wanna.”

I move my legs from the coffee table and slide the pillow that she’s sleeping on off of my thigh before I get my fingers out of her grasp.  I push myself up off the couch and decide to leave her be for a moment while I use the rest room.

I’m only gone for a few minutes and when I return she’s sitting up rubbing her eyes.  “Where’d you go?”

“Bathroom,” I say, “You want to head next door and get to sleep?”

She nods and keeps rubbing her eye sleepily.

“Come on Seven,” I say and pull her up.  She instantly leans against me so I pull my arms around her and hold her there for a moment.  She’s warm and snuggly.  I like when she gets like this.  When she stops moving and actually lets all the tension out of her body and speaks to me without thinking about who we are and what we do for a living.  “Do you want to take a shower when we get back or do you want to just go to bed?”

“Bed, hmmm, bath maybe?” She mumbles as she rubs her cheek against my shirt.  Her arms curl around me and tuck under my shirt on my back and she shivers.  She’s probably just a little cold in the air conditioning after being curled up a bit on the couch.  She stands on her tiptoes pressing her lips against my neck, kissing me just below my ear.  I move and look down at her and she leans and kisses me.  “Sorry I fell asleep.  Your mom must think I’m insanely rude.”

“I doubt it,” I say with a smile and kiss her again, “I fell asleep too.  My mom had to wake me up a minute ago to tell me to go home.”

“What time is it?” she asks leaning her head against my shoulder. 

“It’s early still.”  We sway a little, almost a slow dance and I rub her back to warm her up.  “Let’s get out of here.  We’ll go next door, get in pajamas and turn on a movie and go back to sleep.”

She nods and breaks away from me and now I’m the one that shivers.  We both shuffle off towards the front door, her going first and holding onto my hand, pulling me along as we go.  I watch her walk carefully.  It’s dark and I’m hoping she doesn’t stub her toes or trip.

“Don’t open the door just yet.”  I set the code on the pad on the front door and then when the system is beeping I open up the door, turn the lock then close the door behind us.  The dew has hit so I’m careful to keep her on the walkway as we go next door.

Inside the house I set my alarm and we make our way upstairs.  Her suggestion of a bath sounds good and the Jacuzzi tub here definitely encourages that kind of relaxation.

I don’t even have to ask her what her plan is for the rest of the night.  She lifts her shirt over her head and kicks off her shoes then turns back towards me.  “Do you have any bubble bath?”

 “Yeah,” I say with a tired smile.  “There should be a bottle of it in the corner of the tub in that basket.”

 “Good,” she says now a little more awake.  “Mind if I take a bath?”

 “Go right ahead,” I say.

"You wanna come with me?" she asks with a wink.

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