The grey Honda spun gravel as it traversed the winding driveway before coming to a stop in front of the sprawling three-story cabin.
Now that they had actually arrived, spending the evening with his parents was starting to seem like one of the worst ideas he could’ve said yes to.
Michael shook his head and sighed wearily.
“I need to tell you something about my family…”
He loved her. He’d even told her so several times. Now they were talking about marriage and even family. It seemed only right that she meet his family. But now, staring up at his parents’ home, the guilt and fear were beginning to settle. He hadn’t told her everything. The only thing he wanted to do was find someplace to hide.
Even without looking at her, he could feel her shift slightly.
“Well, not my entire family, just my dad really…”
“What do you need to tell me?”
“My dad’s not exactly…normal,” he said.
“Does he wear clothes?”
“Does he touch your girlfriends inappropriately?”
“No!” That idea disgusted Michael.
Jo leaned toward the passenger seat and put a reassuring hand on Michael’s shoulder.
“Then our relationship is still leaps and bounds ahead of anything else I’ve experienced.”
Michael shook his head.
“Jo, you are supportive and understanding, and ridiculously caring in a society filled with closeted sociopaths, but I need you to know that my father… is strange.”
Jo was quiet for a moment before nodding her head.
“Okay, so when you use the word “strange” what does that mean?”
Michael felt as if he was divulging a family secret. And that made sense, considering this was the one aspect of his father’s personality that actually embarrassed him, an aspect he never talked about to anyone.
“My dad… thinks he’s funny.”
Jo looked at Michael quizzically, thoroughly confused.
“That’s what you think of as strange?” She was having a hard time controlling her urge to laugh.
“Jo, I love my dad, but for my sake would you please just act as if he’s normal? For me? Please?”
It was obvious that Michael was serious, but why this one fact bothered him was unclear.
“He always starts the same–’would you like to hear a rib-tickling joke’–then he attempts to tell a joke he can only halfway remember. And he never gets the punchline right. It’s so–”
Jo placed her hand on Michael’s shoulder, completely unclear as to why his father’s inability to tell a joke was so troubling, but wanting to comfort him anyway.
“Michael, everyone’s got some weirdness in their family,” she said. “And when you meet my family we’ll have this same conversation, only I’ll be in the passengers seat begging you to be kind to my parents when they smother yo in kisses.”
“Our parents are who they are and we love them anyway,” she said. “When we were weird and awkward, they did the same for us.”
She grabbed his hand.
“Let’s go meet the parents, shall we,” she said with a grin.
Michael loved that smile. It always calmed him.
He felt less anxious as they made their way to the front door. It was pulled wide open before they could even knock. His parents and four older brothers were standing in the doorway peering out at them. He wondered where his younger sisters were hiding.
The nerves returned as he realized his family’s awkwardness was about to be witnessed by someone who was under no obligation to stay with him. Despite his sweating palms, Jo squeezed his hand tightly.
“Oh come on in here!” Micheal’s mom, who was at least a foot taller than Jo, was embracing her in a hug before she even made it into the foyer. Jo’s legs swung loosely as she submitted to the thorough hugging process.
“Put her down, Mary,” Michael’s father chided. “We’ve got to welcome her properly.”
Mr. Finny bowed low with a dramatic wave of his hand as if he were about to serve Jo tea and crumpets.
“Jo, we are pleased to make the acquaintance of the little woman that has our Mikey all in a swirl,” he said.
“Well, your Louis May Alcott reference is not lost on this book lover, Mr. Finny, so 10 bonus points for you,” she said with a laugh.
His dad laughed heartily, his ample belly quivering.
“You’re quick and I can tell you have a keen sense of humor, young lady,” he said.
Michael’s dad leaned toward Jo.
“Would you like to hear a rib-tickling joke?”