Thanksgiving was a long day. I wasn't looking forward to it, because Meg couldn't be there, and she's generally my saving grace at these big family functions: she and Wade decided to spend the holiday with his family, given they tend to spend more time with hers. We tend to cling to each other like live preservers in these situations, but I guess we're still here for a while yet, these situations are bound to come up. Besides, I figured, my life has such a high level of background awkwardness I didn't think it could get that intolerable.
It began the night before when Susan told me to lay out a nice outfit. Now, it's true early on in this gig I "girled up" pretty well, to the point of doing that pageant... I was following this impulse to "be" Lauren as best I could, but it exhausted me by the end of the summer and since the beginning of the semester I have been getting more and more accustomed to just not giving a shit about my appearance, from wearing clothes that clearly weren't meant to go together, looking frumpy and un-made-up, and generally not doing anything noteworthy with my hair besides a bun or a ponytail. It was easy and fine to get by with for the duration of the play, when I was working as a stagehand and functionality was a plus, and it had the side-bonus of acting as a shield against guys who might think, if I paid too much attention to my appearance, that it was for their benefit.
(The exception being Mark, who, bless his soul, was seemingly more attracted to my personality... poor kid.)
But okay. I'm making concessions to this family gathering thing, so I can slip on a pair of tights and a dress. Now granted, I don't really understand dresses where the zipper is in the back and you literally need someone else in the room to zip you up, but Kylie helped me out with that. As I mentioned a while ago, I think, Kylie and I have been sharing a room, because Sue and Paul realized that she and her twin brother were getting to the age where one would be menstruating and one would be masturbating and they had to put space between them. I suggested Paul could renovate the basement to the point where I could use it as a room, and it looks like he's been considering it.
We drove about 40 minutes out to an imposing house where we've had a few Sunday dinners since I've been here. I dunno if Paul comes from money or if it's just my upbringing that makes me think these people had quite a bit in the bank.
So I'm there, looking like a floral-clad loser, at the home of these relatives who not only do I barely know, but I don't think Lauren really knows, because again they're Paul's side of the family, where his parents and siblings were hosting the day. I shook a few hands and listened to a few anecdotes, then quietly slipped away. I found an unused bedroom to sit quietly and read the book I brought, Catch-22, which I'm reading for English class.
After about twenty minutes I see the door open and a familiar face poke in. Phil, the nephew of Paul's that I met back during our trip to Erie. And I should mention that at this point, I was so irritated by my clothes that I had actually stripped down and gotten under the covers, figuring - really stupidly - that I could just stay there for a little bit without anyone noticing, then quickly dress myself when it was time for dinner. You'll remember that this is a stupid plan, because I was wearing a dress I just explained that I needed help getting into.
So imagine a simultaneous high-pitched scream of terror, and a gruff male shout of "holy shit!" upon seeing a relatively pretty blonde girl (who is not biologically related) with the covers just pulled up to her armpits.
I threw my book at him and wrapped myself in blankets: "Get out, get out!"
"What the fuck are you doing?" He said, standing against the door with his eyes covered instead of leaving like I asked.
"Reading!" I said, reaching over for my bra. "What are you doing in here?"
"I left my phone in here," he said, gesturing over to a bag of luggage in the corner. "Jesus, what is seriously wrong with you?"
"I don't know!" I said, slipping my dress on, "I was uncomfortable in my dress, so I thought I'd... damnit, forget it. Okay, I need you to do me a favour right now. Keep your eyes closed, but... ugh... can you zip my dress up?"
He was confused, but he obliged, fumbling around my lower back for the zipper (shudder) for a moment. I could tell he was taking his sweet time, too. And then once I was satisfied that all un-seeable parts of me were covered, I let him open his eyes.
"Okay, I am really embarrassed, please tell nobody what you saw."
"Sure, sure," he said, "But the last time we met you were in a bikini, so I'm not sure how this is any different."
I gritted my teeth: there was a difference, but I wasn't really in any place to complain because the whole embarrassing situation was my own doing, and I was right beside myself. "I dunno what I was thinking," I said, trying to force a laugh about it, "I just wanted to get comfortable, y'know?"
"So that's how you get comfy? Get naked at family Thanksgiving?"
"Not usually," I said, "I kinda just wanted to forget people were out there? Like, I don't do well in these situations lately, and I got carried away. It made sense when I started."
"So you were hiding," he said, "And you figured as long as you were hiding, you'd strip down for a minute."
"Yeah, it's... ironically I was more comfortable, at least for the moment."
"Well, now I want to hide," he said.
"No way, man!" I said, "They're your family."
"Your family too!" he was quick to retort. "Your mom's been married to my uncle for what, ten years?"
"More," I scowled, although I couldn't in the moment remember how much more.
"Dinner's still an hour away, and I just can't have any more conversations about my first year at college," he said, "So we're either hiding together, or I'm telling everyone what I saw."
I stared him down. He didn't seem to be bluffing.
"All right," I said, "But I'm really trying to read here so don't distract me."
"Whatever," he said, putting some headphones on "Can I sit on the bed at least?"
I rolled my eyes. "Fine."
And then we just sat there for an hour, quietly, and it was... kinda nice. The first time I met Phil, I thought he was a loudmouth wannabe player who couldn't stop hitting on me. Here he had the upper hand and decided to play nice.
Don't get me wrong, I saw him shift his eyes over to me every so often so it wasn't hard to imagine what he was thinking (I'm literally the only person there not related to him, I'm in his age range, I'm technically "available" and he'd seen most of my body.) So there was still this unshakeable feeling of grossness... which kept flashing through my mind over dinner... I think we covered fine but there seemed to be some murmurs of "Oh Lauren and Phil seemed to be getting along." But hey, what's Thanksgiving without some family awkwardness?
I was lucky in the sense that, as an outsider to the family and a teenager, people are keen to give me space as compared to Kylie and Kevin or some of the other extended relations. I got to enjoy a fairly nice Thanksgiving meal in more or less peace, occasionally thinking back to the Thanksgivings of my youth which were nowhere near this done up and certainly didn't have this many in attendance. Besides all the chaos, it's actually kind of nice to be surrounded by people at times. They're not bad, I'm just within my rights to be bitter about it. The food was good, and I ate as much of it as I could (I'm still grappling with the fact that my eyes are bigger than Lauren's stomach, but we're slowly coming into sync on that.)
After dinner, Phil and I kind of rescued each other from having to put up with prying relatives. I had had enough of my book so we ended up having a talk. He mentioned college not being as exciting as he imagined - a lot of work and not much social life. But he was hoping to become a lawyer and maybe even a politician, so hard work was his lot. I didn't peg him as the ambitious type, but it made a certain kinda sense given his occasionally belligerent personality, especially when we first met.
He mentioned I seemed very distant compared to the outgoing girl everyone seemed to think I was. I gave my stock answer that I was "Finding myself," and mentioned doing the backstage work at the play. That made him scoff: "not a lot of money in that." I told him not everything was about money. He put his hand on my knee and told me I was being naive.
His fucking hand. Was on. My fucking knee.
I could see him start to lean in. There was a moment where I could have moved, could have said something, but instead I froze and let it happen. He pressed his lips to mine.
I let them linger for a second and just as he started to increase the pressure from a peck to a full-on French or whatever, I moved away.
My heart was beating fast. My face was flushed with embarrassment. It's easy to imagine what it looked like, a 19-or-so year-old boy planting a harmless kiss on a 17-year-old girl, but remember in reality that boy was kissing a grown man of 30.
"No," I said after it was done. His hand was still on my knee. In fact it was moving up the hem of my dress. I wanted to snap that hand off at the wrist. Despite his size and strength advantage I think I might have been able to do it, too.
"Why not?" he asked, somehow offended, "I thought we were--"
"There's a lot of reasons," I said, "And I'm sorry you got the wrong idea."
I stood and made some distance between us. He stood too - I noticed the distinct bulge in his pants, not that I begrudge him that. He was between me and the door.
I shuffled around the bed.
"Phil," I said in the deepest, most intimidating voice I could muster (which was not very much) "What happens in the next 30 seconds is going to determine exactly what kind of guy you are."
I reached for the door knob. He rocked on his heel for a second as if he was seriously unsure if he was going to let me leave. But he did move away. He asked "Is it because of, like, the family?"
"No," I said with a heavy sigh, "There's more to it than that."
He shrugged like he didn't see my point but was letting me have it anyway. "I put my number in your phone," he said. I just said "Okay" in response because I really did not know what to think about that. As soon as I was out of the room, I marched down the hallway and looked myself in the mirror. A light trace of tears could be seen on my cheeks, I dabbed them away. "Don't," I tried to command myself. Don't what exactly, I am not sure.
The rest of the evening didn't last too long. On the car ride home I kept re-playing the scene in my mind. I wondered what part I played in that little moment. Yes, I had been getting along with him, and maybe there was an undertone of (ugh) flirtatiousness to it. Whatever part of me has been transformed, wherever my interests lie, I have the right to excuse myself from those situations. The logical part of my brain tried to settle me down: "I let it happen, then I stopped it as soon as I felt it was wrong." It should be a clean-cut issue. But there's more to it, isn't there... I just felt, and feel, so sick about it.
When I got home, I looked through my contacts and sure enough, there was Phil. I scrolled past that, though, to "Tasha," and typed in "Hey, how was your Turkey Day?" putting on as much of a chipper facade as I could.