“Dinner was wonderful, Mrs. Rosebrook.” Josh smiled kindly at Jade from across the table. “Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome.” She replied, returning his smile.
Stefan had to suppress a chuckle as Tobi’s sigh of annoyance reached his ears. He peeked around Josh and watched as Jocelyne tugged sharply at her father’s sleeve, gazing up at him hopefully.
“Er hat gesagt, das Abendessen war sehr gut.” Tobi whispered to the little girl.
She promptly passed the message along to her brother, who in turn muttered it across the table to Clara.
Tobi had been acting as an interpreter for the kids the entire evening – every single word out of Josh’s mouth, the trio of six-year-olds had insisted on knowing. At first it was very cute, then a bit annoying, and now it was just plain funny.
Or at least, it was to Stefan. He was fairly certain his brother had never passed the “annoying” phase.
“All done?” Mari asked softly, appearing at Stefan’s side. Without waiting for a response, she leaned forward and reached across him, lifting the empty plate from the table.
Stefan nodded. “Thanks, Mama.” He muttered.
Josh pushed back from the table, picking up his plate. “Can I help, Mari?”
“No, you can’t.” She reached forward and grabbed the plate from Josh’s hands with a bit more force than necessary. “Thanks.” Mari added, sounding anything but grateful.
Josh’s brows furrowed into a slight frown as he lowered himself back into his chair. He looked back and forth between the twins helplessly. Tobi gave a small shrug of apology.
Stefan stared down at the table.
Overall, the dinner had gone much more smoothly than he’d been expecting. Of course, there was some initial awkwardness, at first – especially between Josh and Jonas. But everyone seemed to move past it fairly quickly.
Everyone except Mari.
She’d barely spoken the entire meal, and Stefan was fairly certain she hadn’t made eye contact with Josh, even once. He’d been waiting the entire meal, hoping and hoping that things would get better. But they never did.
“So, Josh…” Jonas’ voice broke through the uncomfortable silence as his wife continued to clear the table. “I hear the baseball season is over now?”
Josh nodded and looked at the other man. He appeared almost grateful for the distraction. “It is.”
“Do you have anything special planned with your family now that you have more free time?” Jonas continued, smiling. “I know Tobi loves to take advantage of the off-season.” He gave a little nod in his son’s direction as he spoke.
Josh smiled. “I do, actually. My wife and I are planning to take the kids camping in Granite Falls after I get home. We went with Sofia, Owen, and Cora a few years ago, but Liana hasn’t been yet.”
While Tobi whispered a quick translation for the children, Stefan watched with interest as an almost wistful look came to his grandfather’s face.
“Granite Falls…” Alex’s lips stretched into a smile. “Now that takes me back.” He laughed. “That place was always really special to my family. Jade and I even took Mari and her sisters there once. How old were you, honey?” He asked his daughter as she headed back toward the table. “Sixteen? Seventeen?”
Mari shrugged. “I think seventeen?” She replied weakly. “It was a long time ago.”
“You never told us you went to Granite Falls, Mama.” Tobi said, surprised. “I would have loved to go when I was a kid… I’m sure Liana will love it, Josh.”
“I’m sure she will. Granite Falls played a part in your book, right, Mr. Rosebrook?” He smiled with chagrin. “Admittedly, I haven’t read it. I’m not much of a reader. But I’ve seen the movie, and Nora has talked my ear off about it enough.”
“Oh God…” Alex laughed heartily. “Don’t get me started on that movie… My poor grandfather would be rolling in his grave if he ever saw that thing…”
Stefan could not help but notice the way his mother’s eyes narrowed when she sat back down beside her husband.
As Alex continued his rant about the flaws in Dust to Dust’s film adaptation, a bit further down the table, word seemed to have reached Clara about Granite Falls.
“Granite Falls?!” The little girl’s cry caught the attention of everyone at the table. “I wanna go!”
Stefan heard Tobi mutter softly to Josh, resuming his role as interpreter.
“Maybe someday, Clara.” Mari smiled gently at her daughter.
The little girl rose to her feet. “I betcha Josh would take me!” She looked down the table at the slightly bewildered man. “This is NO fair! I wish you were MY new Papa too.”
“Clara Elisabeth Klein!” In an instant, Mari was on her feet as well.
Stefan felt his heart sink. Poor Clara… She doesn’t know what she’s saying. He just wished his mother could understand that too. “Mama…” He said softly.
Mari ignored her son. “What did you just say?” She asked Clara with narrowed eyes.
Jonas pushed his chair back from the table. “I think maybe it’s time to get ready for bed.” He said softly.
Alex nodded as he rose from his chair, beckoning for his wife to do the same. “Whoever makes it up the stairs the quickest gets to pick the bedtime story!” He promised.
None of the children moved. “But we don’t wanna go to bed yet.” Lucas whined softly.
Beside him, his twin nodded eagerly. “We wanna stay and talk to Mr. Yuen!” Jocelyne agreed.
Across the table, Mari’s scowl darkened.
Stefan watched as Colette and Tobi exchanged a significant glance. “It’s getting late.” The young woman said gently. “And you have school tomorrow. Come on, let’s go upstairs.”
“Say goodnight to Mr. Yuen. I’m sure you’ll see him again before he heads back home.”
The twins sighed in resignation. “Goodnight, Mr. Yuen.” They each said in turn, pronouncing the English very carefully.
“Let’s go, Clara. You too.” Jonas said gently. He bent down and pressed his lips gently against the top of her head.
This time, the little girl did not argue. Sniffling softly, she wiped away a few of her tears and choked out a tiny “goodnight” of her own before joining Jocelyne and Lucas in the hallway. Colette, Alex, and Jade followed close behind.
“Don’t worry about it, honey.” Jonas said gently, breaking the silence as he reached out a hand for his wife’s shoulder. “We both know she didn’t mean it.”
“Do we?” Mari countered sharply. “Because she’s been pretty damn obsessed about this guy ever since he got here…” Her eyes flicked toward Josh as she spoke.
Jesus, Mama. He’s sitting right here… Not that he has any idea what’s going on. Stefan shook his head slightly. “Sorry.” He muttered softly to Josh as his mother and Jonas continued speaking in hushed tones. “Clara said she wished you were her new dad,” He explained. “And I guess Mama took it the wrong way…”
Josh glanced over at Mari before looking back at Stefan and said in a hushed voice, “Well, shit, she’s only six. Your mother can’t seriously expect her to understand what’s going on, can she?”
“I know. This is just really hard for Mama, and I don’t think she’s –”
“Y’know, I do speak English, in case you’ve forgotten.” Mari’s harsh voice cut off her son’s words.
Oh shit. “We know, but Mama…” He shrugged slightly. “Josh doesn’t speak German. Did you forget that?”
To his surprise, his mother’s face softened for a moment. “You’re right.” She agreed, almost reluctantly. “Sorry.” Mari muttered, turning her eyes to Josh at last. “I was just telling my husband that our daughter’s been going on and on about you, ever since you arrived.” Her tone was curt, and almost formal.
“I’m sorry I’m such a disturbance,” Josh said sincerely. He smiled, trying to alleviate the tension. “My youngest doesn’t really understand either; Liana thinks she has two moms now.”
“Cute.” Mari almost sounded like she meant it. “Funny how some people don’t understand… One of each parent is all you need.” Her eyes narrowed as she spoke.
“Well, my lesbian aunt might disagree, but I got your point,” Josh said, a bite in his tone.
Both Tobi and Stefan looked helplessly at one another for a moment. He’s getting mad too… This isn’t gonna end well… Stefan felt his heart sink.
It was like Jonas could read his mind. “Y’know, it’s getting pretty late, and Mari and I should really help put Clara to bed… Maybe it’s time for you two to take Josh back to his hotel.” He gave his stepsons a significant look.
Stefan didn’t need telling twice. He rose to his feet immediately, and beside him, Tobi and Josh did the same.
“Jonas is right.” Mari agreed. “I think it’s time for you to go.” It sounded almost like a threat.
Josh narrowed his eyes at her. “Perhaps you’re right. I wouldn’t want to overstay my welcome, would I? You’ll have to thank your parents again for having me. Jonas, it was good to talk to you. I’d like to say the same of you, Mari, but I can’t.”
Stefan winced inwardly at Josh’s words. God, can’t they just leave this alone?
“Wow.” Mari’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Is that how all guests in America speak to their hosts?” She let out a short, bitter laugh.
“Oh, no.” Josh corrected her. “Just any host that acts like a raging bitch.” He snapped.
Stefan had never heard a silence so absolute in his entire life. He felt like he was going to be sick. Did he SERIOUSLY just call my Mama a…?
“Fuck.” Immediately, Josh’s expression turned horrified. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
Mari shook her head slowly. It almost looked like someone had slapped her. “Yes, you did.” She managed to choke out. “Now get the fuck out of my house.”
Color leeching out of his face, Josh backed towards the hall. “I really am sorry.”
“Please.” Jonas narrowed his eyes at the other man. “Just go.”
They had barely made it over the threshold before the sound of Mari’s sobs reached their ears.
“Jesus, Josh.” Tobi hissed. “That’s our mother.”
“Christ, I know.” Josh rubbed his face. “I’d deck anyone who called my mother a bitch. Feel free to take a swing at me.”
For one wild moment, Tobi almost looked tempted. But instead he simply walked toward the front door and out into the cool night air, Stefan and Josh following close behind.
None of them spoke the entire way to the hotel.
It wasn’t until afterwards, on the long drive home, that Stefan finally found his voice.
“I’m sorry.” He said weakly. “This is all my fault. This whole dinner thing was a terrible idea… and I should never have talked everyone into it.”
Tobi did not immediately reply. “Maybe you shouldn’t have.” He said at last. “But you can’t blame yourself for this one…” The young man shook his head, tightening his grip on the steering wheel. “God, this is such a fucking mess.”
Stefan just sighed, dropping his face into his hands. “Tell me about it.”
All of Josh’s actions and dialogue were written by JoieWilder