The Barbecue

 All Silas could think about was their intense stares. Every single pair of eyes each maintaining a personal vendetta to tear apart his ego in front of the woman he loved. He could fool sweet Serena into believing he was this amazing man, fool her into loving him was not a difficult task. Every woman wants the man with the Ivy League education, the linguist, the well-rounded traveler with stories of backpacking throughout South America. Every woman wants to be swooned by the tall, olive-complexioned man making his race difficult to decipher offhand. Silas was the mysterious gentleman Serena was excited to finally introduce to her family. But Silas couldn’t shake the inevitably of what he would soon get into; Serena’s family would read through his impressive resume and dissect each and every one of his imperfections. The expiration date on Silas’ perfect persona was tonight and Serena would no longer love the shell of a man her family’s vicious questioning would leave behind. Thoughts of this compromised his composure as he privately paced from one end of their hotel room to the next as Serena readied herself in the bathroom. He wiped his sweaty palms and forehead with his handkerchief and glanced down at his watch. Six forty-three.

“My God, we’re already late,” he said to his watch. “Stop it,” Silas chastised to himself, “Get a hold of yourself man, this is crazy.” With that, he decided to focus his attention to Serena; she’d been in the bathroom for some time now. “Sweetheart,” he called to her while pouring a glass of scotch, “I thought you said this thing began at six?”
Nothing.
“… It’s six forty five already we really need to get going…”
With his scotch in tote he pressed his ear against the bathroom door and heard sounds of Serena humming along to low volume music. Must be listening to her IPod, he thought to himself. With three light knocks he entered the bathroom to a fully dressed Serena applying her makeup. “Hey you,” she says with a smile, “You ready?”
“Of course I am babe. It’s six forty five we’re really late.”
“Oh please,” she giggled while exiting the bathroom, “You’ve obviously never been to a Jamaican barbeque. People don’t start showing up until nine, by the time we get there we’ll be early.”
“This is easy for you,” Silas stated as he watched her put on her pearl earrings. “I need to make a good first impression and everything counts. I’m really not comfortable being late like this I’ve been pacing around this room for the past hour.”

Light-hearted Serena found Silas’ anxiety adorable yet unnecessary. He’s worried about meeting my family, the thought made her laugh to herself. “What’s so funny?” he asked and she replied with a mischievous smile. Although growing annoyed, Silas loved that smile Serena did whenever she knew something he didn’t. Serena was intensely excited to introduce Silas to her family especially at her father’s annual barbeque, an event she cherished more than Christmas. “Well I’m all ready now,” she announced rising from her chair. She put on her heels, grabbed her purse and took out a pair of dark round shades she quickly put on her face and smiled. “Ready!” With a deep sigh, Silas placed the empty scotch glass on the nightstand and glided toward the hotel door. “Let’s go then,” he said holding the door open for Serena. With the click of the door closing the thoughts of glaring eyes came back to him. Maybe I should have brought that scotch, he thought to himself.

As Serena predicted, at seven o’clock her home was still only full of those who still lived there. Her father, Patrick only recently started grilling as opposed to his wife, Clara, who had been cooking all day with their youngest daughter Maxine. The house vibrated in reaction to the high volume reggae playing from the backyard. “Everything is finished, really. All we need to do at this point is wait for the guests,” Clara announced. Maxine wiped her hands on her apron and happily threw it in the drawer. “I don’t even know why we’re doing this, Ma. Thank God all this cooking is finally over with, even without Valerie or Serena’s help.”
“Maxine just stop it,” she snapped, “Valerie cannot cook and Serena’s just coming back from Bogota with her friend. She can be a bit late if she wants too.”
“Please! Valerie could wash these dishes. And Serena could have came early and helped out. Damn, it’s always me who has to do the work around here,” she said while wiping the flour stains off her shirt, “Now I have to change.”
Dyammit Valerie yah whine to much. Chuh! If it matters to you so damned much then go find your sister and tell her to help you with these dishes. I’m going upstairs to change,” Clara said as she threw her sponge in the sink to head upstairs. “I have to change too.”

Maxine knew that sniping about her sisters was getting on her mothers’ nerves so instead she kept her mouth shut and searched for Valerie. Everything is done by me, she thought to herself. Serena was accepted to Syracuse University and Valerie to Pratt Institute. Unfortunately by the time Maxine went to college her parents could only afford state school. Maxine loves her sisters but surges of jealousy ran through her whenever her sacrifices went unnoticed, no matter how small.

I have to cook all this food, wash the dishes, and live in this house while everybody else gets to live their lives, Maxine thought. Serena gets to fall in love with random men from around the world and Valerie gets to work at an art gallery in Williamsburg while I’m here having to deal with Mommy and Daddy’s bullshit. I’m sick of people expecting me to do everything around here without even a thank you. No, instead I get snapped at.

“Valerie!” She calls out, looking for her sister.
Maxine wandered outside during her mental tirade, ignoring the few family members that arrived. She walks into a bare foot from above, hitting Maxine in the face.
“Valerie? What the hell are you doing? How long have you been up there? Mommy’s been looking for you, she needs help in the kitchen,” she said while staring straight up into the tree.
“Damn it Maxine. You know I try I to avoid you? Every time you come around you seem to bark some order at me that Mommy or Daddy asked. I can’t get any peace in that house, there’s a lot of negative vibes. This whole barbeque was just a terrible idea.” She exhaled a long trail of smoke and looked into the trees.
“You think I like being in that kitchen all morning? I don’t like setting this shit up by myself while you do whatever you want and Serena treks the globe. This ain’t fun for me.”
“I think you do like it, Max. You like it a lot. And don’t hate on Serena because she’s doing things with herself.”
After a moment of swallowing Valerie’s previous statement, Maxine yanked Valerie’s ankle causing her to fall out of the short tree, pissing off Valerie.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? I could have broken my damn leg!”
“Serena and I are two completely different people. So what if I chose to stay home? That damn sure was not my idea. I’m getting my degree aren’t I?”
This remark threw off, Valerie. Why on Earth is she bringing that up? She wondered.
“No one said anything about you being stupid for staying home, Max! Stop walking around here like some damn martyr please, it’s tired. You could have gone somewhere else by now for grad school but look. You decided to stay so save your breath, you’re not getting any sympathy from me.” Nothing except daring stares was traded from sister to sister.
“Look,” Maxine finally stated – defeated, “can you just do those damn dishes? I think having the barbeque this year just to keep Serena in her perfect little world is stupid also, but could you just help out please?”
“All you had to do was ask nicely.”

“Turn left here,” Serena pointed to the Fairfax Lane sign, the street she resided for most of her life. Just seeing the sign made her stomach flip with excitement and caused a permanent smile she couldn’t wipe from her face. Serena attempted to grab Silas’ hand to show her excitement and support but his sweating palms were grasped tightly around the steering wheel until his knuckles were pale.
“Are you okay, baby?” Serena asked in concern.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he responded confidently, grabbing her hand. He could have passed a polygraph from how he looked on the outside but inside he was unraveling. We’re over two hours late, he thought. How can her father let this slide? How am I going to talk to him seriously and be late? He’s going to believe I don’t care about this. Goddammit. Serena turned to Silas to share her excitement causing him to plaster on an immediate smile.

“Is this the house?” he pulled into a red brick, three story home with a full green lawn and could hear music from the backyard but didn’t see many cars. “Yes! We’re home! Come on,” she hopped out of the car, leaving her pocketbook. Silas took a moment to breathe before getting out, however. He was thankful she forgot her purse to give him a reason to stall.

She’s here, Wallace thought as he looked out of his bedroom curtain. Finally, we need to hurry up and end this shrade but Clara was right. She’s so happy to come home to a barbeque. He glared again as Silas stepped out of the car with Serena’s purse.
That must be Mr. Right, hmph. He looks nervous, good. Damn it, this was a mistake. I just want to see my baby again without the madness; nobody wants to have this party. People aren’t even showing up because it’s too awkward – “Clara!” he called his wife from the bathroom.
“What? Is Serena here?” she said as she rushed out.
“Yeah she just got here,”
“Oh my God!”
“Hold on a minute,” he says while grabbing her arm, “Clara…we shouldn’t do it this way,”
“Wallace, please! She’s here, this whole thing is for her I want to see her, move.”
“Clara! This is foolish, she is grown!”
“Just stop it, all of you need to stop it. Don’t embarrass me in front of her company, come downstairs.”
Clara rushed out of the room leaving her husband disappointed without thinking twice. Wallace exhaled feeling defeated, again.
“Mommyyyy!” Serena announced as she rushed to her mother. Clara screamed and enveloped her eldest child and smothered her with kisses while crying. “My baby’s home!” The entire ruckus attracted Valerie, Maxine, Wallace and some idle cousins to the foyer.
“Come here sweetheart, how was Bogota?”
“Serenaaaa! Where’s your man at? That’s who I want to see…”
“Good to see you in one piece big sis, welcome back!”
“Hey cuz! Seriously where’s your man at?”
“Serena! You decided to show!”
All forms of greeting from her family at once warmed Serena’s heart and without further notice invited Silas to come in, evoking many positive reactions from the women.
“Good evening, everyone. Mr. Norrington? It’s a pleasure to finally meet you,” he stated with his hand extended that Wallace grabbed firmly.
“It’s a pleasure to have you in my home, Silas. Come on Serena, everyone! Food’s ready let’s go back to the yard.”
“Daddy, is this everyone this year?” Serena questioned.
“Uhh, yeah it’s a little dead this year uhh… I guess people just weren’t up to it.” He said while scratching the back of his neck. This puzzled Serena. People always come, she thought. Something’s strange with Daddy’s answer.

“So Silas,” Wallace began, “Where is your family from?” He watched his every move at the picnic table. He watched his temples pulsate each time he chewed. He watched Silas look to Serena for comfort. He dissected his every mannerism.
“Umm,” he began, trying to finish what was in his mouth. “I’m Black by my father and have a Portuguese mother. I don’t know my exact ethnicity on my father’s side. I only know he was black.”
“Why don’t you know?”Clara asked curiously. She noticed Serena slightly lower her head after she asked this.
“Well, my father left us when I was younger. He didn’t leave any contact information so we didn’t know for a long time what happened to him,” Fuck, he thought. Why’d I leave that open. He looked up at Wallace and saw the question coming.
“Do you know what happened to him?”
“Daddy please,” Serena chimed in, “this is a sensitive subject for Silas.”
“Serena,” Silas cut in, “It’s not a sensitive subject it’s not like I knew the guy. He died of a blood disorder seven years ago.” There it’s settled, he thought. How do I move on to-?
“Is something like that hereditary?” Wallace asked while shoveling food into his mouth. This caused Silas’ pressure to drop.
“Daddy!”
“Wallace, eat your food. You’re behaving terribly,” Clara cut in.
“I’m asking him a simple question!” he said turning to his wife. The two turned their head away from the table to have a private battle. “Wallace, stop it. Look at what you’re doing to Serena!” “She’s fine, these are things she needs to know. Stop making everything I do into a big scene you’re embarrassing yourself as well –”
“Mom, Dad? Can we get back to reality please?” Maxine chimed in. These two can’t have a conversation for five minutes, she thought.

“Umm,” Silas began puzzled. Everyone directed their attention immediately to him. “Actually it is, sir. But my doctor said if I do my regular check ups and catch it early I should be fine.”
“Well, that’s all I wanted to know,” he said looking down at his plate, “Excuse me,” Wallace got up and headed to the house, leaving Serena confused.
“Dad? Mom, what was that? You two arguing?”
“It’s nothing sweetheart, your father’s just been irritable lately.”
“Please,” Maxine grumbled under her breath causing Valerie to knee her.
“I’m sorry about my husband, Silas. And your father, really.”
“It’s fine Mrs. Norrington. I actually will have to excuse myself as well, just to go to the bathroom I’ll be back.” After assuring Serena he was fine he headed for the house as well. During the walk, the eyes began to burden him once again. Do it now, Silas, while he’s alone, he thought. Damn it, I wish it wasn’t so awkward, fuck it. I need to ask him now –
“Mr. Norrington?” he called gently as he reunited again in the living room. In Wallace’s hand was a glass of scotch.
“Oh, hey Silas. I’m fine really. I didn’t mean any disrespect back there,”
“It’s okay sir I understand these are things you and Serena should know,”
“Did she know?”
“About the blood disorder?”
“Yes, but I don’t have it. It’s just something that’s been in my family, but I get routine check ups.”
“Yeah you mentioned that. That’s good. Responsible. You a scotch man?”
Relief. “Yes sir, I am. Thank you very much,” Wallace poured him a glass and gave a toast.
“To good health,”
“Mr. Norrington-”
“You could call me Wallace, Silas.”
“Thanks, sir. Wallace I actually needed to speak to you personally about something,”
“What’s that?” With this, Silas downed his drink.
“I love your daughter…I love your Serena with all of my being. Meeting her in Argentina and travelling with her was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. These past ten months have been amazing – I’m a good man Mr. Norrington. I’d be the best man I could be for Serena. Sir… Wallace…I want to marry her…I just needed your blessing…that’s why I decided to come here tonight – so I could ask you. It means a lot to me that the father knows first.”
His soul was out in the open to be judged by a stranger. The silences between the two men were long. Wallace walked past him to make himself another drink and gazed into the burning fireplace. The entire time Silas refused to breathe until he got a response.
“Silas,” he finally responded after polishing off his drink, “you seem like a good man. A good man for Serena. Serena needs that, and I’m going to make sure she has it. Based off your first impression, you seem like a good man. But Silas I cannot give you my daughter’s hand in marriage based off a first impression,” Silas’ chest deflated and felt his knees buckling. Oh no, he thought. Oh God, no.

Wallace continued, “There’s things even Serena is still learning about you, like that blood disorder for example. It’s terrible but very serious, Serena’s children inherit that. People… change Silas. The person you knew fifteen years ago…can change dramatically now. You’ve only known each other ten months and in South America. You two need more time to grow in the real world, trust me you won’t regret this. You have too…have too…give this relationship more time to progress so you could see each other’s true colors, don’t rush my boy. Please. If you love her like you say you do, give it more time, you two are young. I’m sorry if my words have ruined your evening.”
He’s sorry, Silas thought. He’s sorry? With that, Silas left Wallace to his lonesome. I know how I feel goddammit. I love that woman. He doesn’t get it. I should have just asked her myself, that asking parents shit is outdated for this very reason. They think they know what’s best for their children when they don’t know shit. They don’t know shit.
“Silas?” Serena asked walking into him in the backyard, “Are you okay?” She rubbed the back of his head, stroking his hair against the grain the way he liked. Not wanting to fess up to his recent humiliation, Silas only hugged her close and kissed her passionately – the first sign of affection he gave her all day. “I love you, Serena Norrington. Don’t let anybody ever convince you otherwise.”
“I – I love you too,” she said honestly yet very confused, “Baby, what happened inside?”

It was for there own good, Wallace thought. Those kids need more time, before they get themselves in the mess I’m in. Marriage is a trap. A damn trap, my babies deserve better. He drank another glass of scotch to this thought and toasted to himself. “To fatherhood,” poured another, “To marriage. Cheers,” he rose his glass up to Clara as she walked in.
“What the hell are you doing Wallace? You’re drinking? The party isn’t over,”
“What the hell kind of party is this if people aren’t drinking?” he asked as he downed his scotch. Clara quickly took the empty glass and scotch and locked the liquor cabinet.
“Dammit woman, you’re gunna drive me insane.”
“You the only one drinking it’s pathetic and-“
“Embarrassing? Since that’s what you care about most right? Not my mental and physical health, not how I feel inside. And Silas has been drinking with me too, so I was not alone.”
“And what did you say to Silas? He stormed out of the house like a madmen just now,”
“Well he could be drunk, or could be mad that I did the right thing. He wants to marry Serena. Can you believe it? I told him no way. They hardly know each other and we hardly know him, I said no – no way.”
This news destroyed Clara. How could he tell that boy no! He’s perfect for Serena and they’re obviously in love, she thought. He ruined this evening.

“You did that on purpose, Wallace,” she said in disgust, “On fucking purpose. Nobody wanted to have this barbeque – especially you! But since it happened when you didn’t want it too you made it your duty to ruin this for Serena, your eldest child. You know how much she loved these things! You just couldn’t give her a proper homecoming!”
Hearing the arguing escalating, Valerie and Maxine came in to calm them down but it was no good when Serena came in distraught.
“Daddy! Silas told me what you did! Why would you ruin my proposal like that?”
“Proposal? What?” Maxine chimed in.
“Silas asked your father for Serena’s hand in marriage but he turned him down and ruined the entire evening for everyone. Especially to those who it mattered too the most, I’m sorry baby.”
“Mom, come on. Daddy’s entitled to his opinion; they could still get married if they really love each other. This barbeque was bullshit anyway,” Valerie said.
“Valerie, shut up!” Clara yelled.
“I don’t want Serena to turn out like us, Clara!” Wallace broke out making the room go silent.
“…What?” Clara asked dumbfounded.
“Serena, sweetheart. Your mother and I are getting a divorce.”
“What? No you guys are just separated…” Maxine clarified.
“When did you two even get separated?” Serena asked on the verge of tears, “Why didn’t anybody tell me? I could have handled it, but not like this…”

“Maxine, Valerie, Serena. Your mother and I have nothing in common after twenty six years of marriage. She doesn’t want to hear anything I have to say anymore and is too focused on her reputation to give a damn about me at this point. We wasn’t going to even have the barbeque but your mother thought it’d be a good housewarming and so did I. But it was too close to the separation and divorce decision; I can’t stand to be near her. I didn’t know it would have been so awkward. I’m asking that you please Serena, please think about marriage and what it takes before you say yes to Silas, that’s all. Things change. Even after twenty six years…”
Wallace, with nothing left, fell into the couch and stared into space while Clara stood near her daughters crying. Valerie glanced to Serena and Silas who paralleled each other – looking like pillars. It was obvious Serena was going to break down at any moment.
“I’m going to tell who ever is here that the party is over,” Maxine announced. After a moment Silas told Clara and Wallace, “I think I should go back to the hotel…”
“I’m coming,” Serena choked out, “Mommy, Daddy we have to talk tomorrow,” and left. Left alone, Valerie witnessed what a twenty-six year relationship in ruins looked like as her mother wept standing silently to herself and father gazed into space.

Natsai Todd

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