David found the midterms to be too easy. Of course, he was taking classes that he loved. Now if he was taking math right now it would be a different story.
It was Wednesday before Thanksgiving break and he only had one more test before Friday. Too easy.
The hard part was coming. He had just found out from Gretchen that she was staying on campus during the break. Of course she was. She wouldn’t go back to Innsmouth. He was such an idiot. He should have realized it sooner.
Now he had the pleasure/torture of inviting Gretchen to his family’s house for Thanksgiving. Would she think this was some kind of signal that all women understood and men didn’t that he was “ready for the next step?” Whatever that was.
He didn’t want her to think that this was a proposal, but some girls get weirded out when asked to meet the parents. He had never been far enough in a relationship to ask that so he had no experience with it, but his friends have had odd experiences. One of his buddies from the army had a girl dump him because he asked her to come over for dinner to meet his parents.
But then he had to look at who he was dealing with. He couldn’t imagine Gretchen getting weirded out by anything.
He found Gretchen and Beth in the cafeteria and went over to sit with them. He had had to pay to get in and got a plate of nachos.
He sat down and picked at his nachos. He needed to speak with Gretchen alone.
“Give me and G a few minutes,” he texted to Beth.
She just gave him a nod and a smile.
“Hey, guys, I’ll catch up later. I gotta go turn something in,” Beth said and winked at him as she left.
He looked across the table at Gretchen. He now had a girlfriend that had bought him a gun, wanted to kiss more often than a hormonal teenager and was perhaps one of the most intelligent people he had ever met.
Her family was horrible and she had seen some pretty awful things in her life, including people being killed. He had seen that as well. No one comes back from a war unchanged.
“What are you going to do during Thanksgiving break?” He asked.
She shrugged her shoulders, something she’d been doing more of lately.
“I don’t know, perhaps watch movies on my laptop and read some books.”
He adjusted his chair and cleared his throat.
“Yes, well, I was wondering if you’d like to come with me down to my family in Virginia and spend Thanksgiving with us. You, know, I’d hate for you to be all alone here. At least this way you’ll get a good dinner out of it.”
She cocked her head to the side.
“You want me to meet your parents?” She asked.
Great. Here it comes. Time for the “we’re not at that stage in the relationship” speech that every woman seemed to have memorized.
“Yeah. It’ll be fun. I promise they won’t force you to play Monopoly,” he said.
“Really? I won’t embarrass you?”
“Embarrass me? No, not at all.”
She smiled, another thing she did more of lately.
“I’d love to spend Thanksgiving with you and your family,” she said with a look on her face that told him she probably would have curtsied if the opportunity had been there.
“Awesome,” he said. “When’s your last mid-term?”
“Friday morning at eight.”
“Okay, then after your exam we’ll pack my car and drive down to Virginia.”
“I’ve never been out of the state before.”
“If you don’t count the dream world.”
“That might count.”
“Great. I’ll call my folks and let them know you’re coming.”
The rest of the week went by quickly. Except for his last exam he spent most of his time playing Space Marine and Skyrim. Gretchen took her studies seriously and he saw very little of her or Beth that week.
At nine in the morning on Friday he drove to Gretchen’s dorm and found her packing an old fashioned suitcase.
“I’m almost ready,” she said.
She was dressed in her gray old fashioned clothes as well. Perhaps she thought this was all more formal than it really was.
Gretchen wasn’t smiling and looked more like her old sullen self. Her mouth was closed like it always was and her large, silver eyes seemed to take everything in. She stood there a minute with a finger to her lips in her “I’m thinking” pose.
“I do hope I’m not forgetting something,” she said.
“If you are, we’ll just buy whatever you need.”
“Does your hometown have plenty of stores?”
“I live in Richmond. It’s a big city.”
“Bigger than Arkham?”
She nodded and closed her suitcase.
They walked down to where his car waited and he helped her with her two-ton suitcase. Did women always bring their cinder block collection with them? Seriously, how could they pack so much stuff?
“You ready?” He asked.
“I can’t wait to meet your family,” she said. A smile started to form on the ends of her lips.
“You’ll like them, though they may be boring by your standards. No demons, dark gods or dream worlds.”
“That sounds particularly nice.”
His younger brothers would probably spend most of the time in front of the TV watching endless football games. No wonder they all passed out after the meal. Was anything more boring than watching sports on TV?
They were silent as he drove through Arkham and got on the freeway heading south. Then he turned on his iPod and handed it to her.
“You’re the DJ this trip. Your call what we listen to,” he said.
She switched it to a “Birthday Massacre” song and put set it down on “Random.”
“Did you hear that Dr. Nelson is listed as missing?” She asked.
“Yeah, saw it on the school’s website.”
“I have to assume that Nylarthotep dealt with him and Hecate.”
“I hope he isn’t following me,” he said after a few moments.
“He knows who you are, the question is: does he care enough to do anything about it? I don’t believe so.”
“I don’t like those odds.”
She put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a brief smile.
“What’s third base?”
He shouldn’t be surprised at the question. Then he started to imagine what she might say at dinner. Gretchen’s idea of polite conversation could prove embarrassing. ‘What animals do you sacrifice for Thanksgiving,’ could be a little awkward.
“Third base is…we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
“When does that bridge get crossed? Will I know it?”
This was getting weird.
“Well, Gretchen, you’re now participating in the great American tradition of a road trip. To make it complete we’ll have to stop for greasy food, snacks and listen to good music.”
“What else does this road trip entail?”
“That’s about it.”
“We get to see America.”
“My family wasn’t the most patriotic of people.”
They drove south along 95 and watched the scenery pass by. They stopped by for some fast food bacon cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes.
Gretchen sat formally in her seat with both hands on her shake and stared out the window. When he firs met her that day in class, he’d never imagine that she’d be his girlfriend. He had kissed those pale lips and touched that slender neck. She was beautiful and could look at her all day.
“What’s been your favorite movie you’ve watched this semester?” He asked.
She thought about it a moment.
“The Ring, I think.”
“30 Days of Night or Pandorum.”
“I enjoyed both of those. Before I came to the University the only movies I’d seen were the ones they showed in school.”
“Not the best choices I take it.”
“They were all too happy. The world doesn’t have happy endings.”
“You might have one.”
She looked down at her shake.
“I doubt it,” she said.
They stopped for gas and he got them some beef jerky and Mountain Dew. Gretchen looked through the assortment of chips. The way she moved about and looked over everything, reading their labels, she looked like she was seeing everything for the first time.
She bought some Oreos and they got back on the road. The billboards and unknown cities passed by and song after song played over the stereo.
They talked about his childhood and she told him of hers. It sounded like one long nightmare after another. It also sounded like she didn’t get along with her half sister. She’d witness strangers being run out of town, kidnapped and worse. Hell of a childhood.
He told her all about the war from mobilization to his final coming home. That took a while. She told him of the mythology surrounding Nylarthotep, Cthulhu and other, unsavory deities.
It was a wonder how she managed to be at least partially sane after living with all this. He grew up with teachings of a loving, kind Jesus that died for mankind’s sins. Instead she grew up with a god that would one day wake up and destroy the world with the care and love of an SS officer.
Cthulhu wants you for a sunbeam? That probably wasn’t a popular song in Innsmouth.
After seven hours even Gretchen was starting to lose her proper posture and she leaned the seat back.
“You can put your feet up on the dash,” he said.
She took her large black boots off and put her small, white feet up on the dash. Her toenails were painted black. He pointed to them.
“Beth did it,” Gretchen said.
They drove into Richmond around eight o’clock and he pulled off of 95 at the Cary St. exit.
“I’ll have to show you Cary Street. You’ll like it. Lots of interesting stores, music, movies, antique clothes.”
She pointed out the window.
“A Thai resteraunt? I’ve never had Thai food,” she said.
“Then we’ll take care of that as well.”
His parents’ house was a few blocks from Cary St. in what some people might call a mansion. His father was a corporate big wig and mom was a doctor. Plastic surgery. They had money. Of course, they hadn’t been the closest of families.
He pulled up to the large white house with a circular driveway. The lights were on and his brothers’ cars were there.
She strapped her boots back on and sat there, not moving.
“You okay?” He asked.
“I believe I’m nervous.”
“What do you have to be nervous about?”
“What if they see that I’m a freak?”
He reached over and caressed her cheek.
“You’re not a freak. You’re beautiful, you’re smart, you’re unique.”
She gave him a smile and got out of the car.
His mom answered the door. She looked as young as she had since he’d been eight years old. The woman didn’t age and never used plastic surgery on herself. She hugged him and then looked over at Gretchen. He saw her face freeze in an unreadable expression he hadn’t seen on her before. Then the moment was gone and mom’s perpetual smile was back on.
“You must be Gretchen. Welcome. Come on in!”
Mom ushered them in. The entry way had a giant staircase curving up to the second floor. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling and antique oil paintings with frames costing more than most people’s cars hung on the walls. Mom liked the antique look.
“Are you two hungry?” Mom asked.
“Starving,” he said.
“Just leave your things there. We’ll eat first then show you to your room,” mom said.
They walked to the dinning room and mom sat them down and hurried off to the kitchen.
Dad came in holding his newspaper. He looked at both of them with a disapproving expression.
“Thought I heard something,” Dad said. “Gretchen?”
“Yes, this is Gretchen Marsh.”
“She your girlfriend?” Dad asked.
Great, and the embarrassment starts. Gretch was worried about him being embarrassed by her, but he was more worried about his family be embarrassing.
“Yes, she’s my girlfriend.”
Gretchen coughed and she glanced at him with surprised eyes. He just gave her a wink.
Dad sat down and opened his newspaper again.
“How’s school coming?” Dad asked.
“Well. Finished my midterms. I got a handle on it.”
“Good. You’ve wasted enough time in the army. About time you started working for your future.”
“Yes, serving my country was a waste of time,” he said as sarcastically as he could.
“You’re capable of better things. Let the GED dropouts fight the wars,” Dad said.
Gretchen sat there with her hands folded in her lap looking somewhat uncomfortable with the topic.
“I should have played football and got a scholarship, right?” David said.
“You would have been graduated by now.”
“I know this is crazy, but some things are more important than money.”
“Your future is important.”
Mom came back in with steaming enchiladas on expensive plates. She always brought out the good stuff for guests.
“Mom’s famous recipe. You’ll find them a little better than the cafeteria’s enchiladas,” David said.
“Thank you Mrs. Taliafero,” Gretchen said.
“A girl with manners,” Mom said with a warm smile directed at him. “Not bad for the first girl you’ve brought home.”
This wasn’t going to be an easy week.