Mackenzie gazes at the floor.
I grasp her chin and tilt her face up. “How’s it been around here?”
She sighs. “Dramatic.”
I glance down the hall. “Yeah, I’m sensing that.”
“That’s parents for you.” She shrugs. “Can’t live with ’em, but emancipation is a costly and complicated process.”
I chuckle. “You know my door’s always open, right? There’s a spare room with your name on it.”
She glances at Thomas. “But that would leave Thomas holding down the fort. He’s just a little kid.”
“And what are you?”
Blue eyes stare up at me—wise beyond their years. “I’m the big sister.”
I lean over and kiss her forehead. Then I whisper, “This weekend will be good for them, I promise. Like a mini vacation. And I’ll talk to them—knock their heads together.”
She gives me a soft smile, as if she appreciates my effort but doesn’t quite believe it’ll do any good. “Okay, Uncle Drew.”
Matthew walks over, oblivious of everything but Mackenzie. “There’s my girl!”
She looks back at him and the smile free-falls from her face. She raises her nose and folds her arms. Did you feel the temperature drop? That’d be from my niece’s cold shoulder.
“Mr. Fisher, how nice to see you again. You’re looking well.”
Matthew groans and drops to his knees. Even though he’s over six foot, with a boxer’s frame, he looks almost diminutive when faced with my niece’s displeasure. “Mackenzie, you’re killing me, baby.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
He pushes a frustrated hand through his light brown hair. “Are you ever going to forgive me?”
“Forgive you? For what? For depriving me of growing up with female companionship? For leaving me wallowing in a forest of penises? Is that what I should forgive you for, Mr. Fisher?”
Having babies is contagious—like mono. Once a friend or a relative has one, everyone wants one just like it. At Thanksgiving dinner, the year after James was born, Matthew and Dee-Dee announced that they were having a baby. That they were adopting a baby.
Brangelina? Get it now?
After they proclaimed their intentions, everyone was happy for them.
Well . . . almost everyone:
“What do you mean, you’re adopting a baby?” asks Frank Fisher, as he sits at the dining-room table of my parents’ country house on Thanksgiving Day.
Still holding his wife’s hand, Matthew faces his father. “What do you mean, what do I mean? We’re adopting a little boy! The paperwork is filed, and we’re waiting on the final approval, but the agency says that’s just a formality. Dee and I have passed all the big hurdles. He’s almost two months old—he’s healthy and gorgeous.” Matthew turns to Estelle. “I can’t wait for you to see him, Mom.”
Estelle beams back at her son with budding tears of joy. But Frank asks, “Is something wrong with your wife? Is she barren?”
Matthew’s smile falters. Before he can answer, Delores retorts, “No, Frank, I’m not barren. This is something Matthew and I have talked about doing since we were married.”
Frank wipes his mouth with his cloth napkin, tosses it down on his plate, and pushes back from the table. The air shifts—like a summer afternoon when the sun is shining, but the wind picks up and you can feel the storm that’s about to burst over your head.
“Why the hell would you want to raise a child that isn’t yours, Matthew?”
My best friend frowns. “Because he will be ours.”
“No,” Frank argues, “that’s my point—he won’t be. You have no idea where this kid comes from, what kind of garbage his real parents are. He could grow up to have mental problems, health issues—and you’ll be stuck dealing with that for the rest of your life.”
Although part of me suspects my father agrees with him, he still tries to get Frank to lighten up. “That’s a defeatist view, Frank. Cases like that are rare when you look at the millions of children who are adopted each year.”
By this time I’m on my feet, positioning myself closer to Matthew. Because I suspect this pot is about to boil the f**k over. In looks, Matthew resembles his father, but in personality he takes more after Estelle. Not much bothers him—he has a long fuse. But when he blows? It’s like the finale at the Macy’s fireworks extravaganza.
Then Frank does the one thing that’s sure to light Matthew’s fuse: he lays into Dee-Dee. “This is your doing, isn’t it? You and your liberal, new age bullshit!”
“Frank, please,” Estelle pleads softly.
“You’re too self-centered to take time from your career to fulfill your duties as a wife.”
“My duties?” Delores shouts from behind Matthew. “What year are you living in, Frank?”
“Doesn’t matter the year—a woman is a woman, and a mother is a mother. Unless she physically can’t, a good woman gives her husband children. If you’re not up to the task, young lady, then my son would be smart to replace you with a woman who is.”
Hello, shit. Meet fan.
Matthew steps forward, the urge to put his father right through my mother’s professionally painted mural wall written all over his face. “Don’t ever f**king talk to her like that again!”