Julia jumped into her jeans, forcing them all the way up over her hips and then sucking in her stomach a little to make sure the button and zipper were secure.
"You stealing my pants?" Peter asked. He had walked passed the open door to watch this display and had a goofy grin plastered across his face.
"No. I'm meeting Alice's family."
"Oh, that's a big deal then," Peter invited himself into the room and sat down on the mustard chair.
"I guess. Just trying not to think about it." Julia said, picking up a necklace but deciding against it.
"That was pretty," Peter said, standing to help her put the necklace on. "Show off a little."
Alice picked Julia up and Alice kissed her hello, but they were mostly silent for the ride. Julia looked out the window but wasn't paying very much attention until they drove up to a short stone wall that tastefully said "no thank you" even though the sign said "welcome." Julia perked up and then heard Alice sigh deeply. Julia looked over to see what was wrong, but Alice kept her eyes on the road. Now Julia was looking at the perfectly pruned bed of flowers that lined the gravel road, and then the long lines of vegetable beds that filled the pastures. Julia didn't have time to comment before the vegetable beds turned into bright white wood fences with sheep and goats mulling around their pasture. Julia convinced herself this was normal until she saw the house.
The house was sitting up on a green hill with a perfectly shabby English garden situated in the large round driveway. It was a tall brick house with old fashioned white columns and the addition on the back which served as Alice's apartment.
"Oh shit." Julia sighed. She immediately felt underdressed and approaching white trash status.
Alice stopped the truck when they were still down at the bottom of the driveway and put it in park. Julia looked over at Alice, waiting.
"Look. I thought I would have some time to prepare you for this."
Julia's mind raced. "You come from a lot of money and your parents are going to hate me." She couldn't stop the words from tumbling out of her mouth.
"Mom is a senator."
"A senator. A state senator. She works in Washington. And built all this stuff so she would be able to make living on a farm seem luxurious and classy."
"Is she here tonight?"
"Yes." Alice put the truck back into gear and drove forward slowly, parking behind her apartment. "I just don't want you to expect some kind of old money, plantation style treatment. We're not those people, I swear."
Alice walked through the kitchen door of the house and Julia could tell Alice was trying to avoid showing Julia anything too grand or overdone.
"Mom? Daddy?" Alice called through the house.
Julia walked behind Alice taking in the Norman Rockwell pictures on the wall situated next to landscapes of rolling hills and placid looking farm animals. As though putting those pictures up would make farm life as romantic as city dwellers would like it to be.
"Alice!" Mr. Carter walked into the kitchen with a big smile and open arms.
The two of them hugged and Alice's face broke into a huge smile. Once the hug was over, however, her smile faded.
Their kitchen was something out of a magazine. Stone detailing, granite countertops, professional stove and huge butcher's block island made the room look like a movie set rather than a place where real people cooked.
"Where's Mom?" Alice asked.
"Taking a call in the office. She'll be out soon. You must be Julia." Mr. Carter turned to Julia and smiled, extending his hand for her to shake. "Now, Alice made sure to tell us you were vegan so we are going to have potatoes, green beans and Alice's marinated, baked tofu."
"That sounds delicious." Julia said.
"Good! We also have some berries for dessert. Fresh from our own gardens."
"I didn't know you farmed produce, but the gardens look beautiful."
"Tom? Are they here?" Mrs. Carter walked in from the office. She was wearing a suit and heels and stood next to her husband who was wearing jeans and a slightly rumpled button up shirt. They didn't quite fit as a couple and Julia wondered how they made this arrangement work. "Oh, hello." She said, seeing Julia. "I'm Catherin Carter," She held out her hand, but the gesture seemed cool, rather than Mr. Carter's warm inviting feel. "Alice, go get your brother."
Alice left the room silently and walked upstairs to get Tucker. Julia stood awkwardly in front of the Carters and wished she could follow Alice up the stairs. Mr. Carter walked back over to the stove and poured the green beans from the steamer into a serving bowl and then walked out to the dining room. Mrs. Carter's phone buzzed somewhere in the back room and she rushed off to get it.
"Are we actually going to eat? Or is this just so she can – Oh, hello." Tucker said, seeing Julia in the kitchen.
"Hello," Julia smiled and hoped she looked normal enough, "It's nice to meet you officially." Tucker gave a long, confused look. "I was downtown when you had one of your shows. It was good. You were good." Julia looked to Alice for some kind of back up.
Alice didn't speak, but guided Tucker to the counter so he could take the dishes out to the dining room. Mr. Carter took a large serving plate out of the oven and walked out to the dining room. Alice took this moment alone to glide across the kitchen and put an arm around Julia's waist and kiss her on the cheek. Julia felt herself relax a little and breathed out a heavy sigh she didn't know she'd been holding.
"It seems like your Mom's going to be on the phone for a while so I think it'll be safe to start without her." Mr. Carter smiled and the creases around his eyes appeared, but there was no happiness in his face.
Alice led Julia by the hand into the dining room and they all sat. The dining room was decorated like a museum. Dishes sat in a tall glass front cabinet and pictures with large ornate frames were lined up scrupulously on the wall. The thick, plush carpet under Julia's feet got stuck on the spindly old chair legs and no one seemed to want to discuss how uncomfortable the chairs were. Instead everyone passed around the dishes and listened to the clink of silverware for a while.
"So, Julia. Alice says you went in to talk to Merrium. How did that go for you?"
Julia looked at Alice, not knowing how to feel, but turned back to Mr. Carter "Um, it was alright." Julia looked down at her green beans, but then had a surge of uncharacteristic confidence. "Well, no it wasn't. It was actually kind of an awful experience. I thought my mother would kind of work out a deal with Merrium, you know? Since they're friends and all, I figured she would carry our wool just for the hell of it. Mom didn't think that was the right decision though, so I went in and bombed."
"Yeah. Merrium is like that. Very hard to deal with the first time out. The first time I met her she said I wouldn't be able to deal with the stress of owning a farm. That was twenty five years ago though, and we're good friends now. I didn't see you at her dinner party the other night. That's really the best way to get her on your good side."
"Not that her 'parties' are any fun anyway." Tucker told his potatoes.
"Tucker," Mr. Carter said. But his tone wasn't harsh and he didn't correct his son.
Mrs. Carter didn't join the meal and Julia was a little grateful for it.
"That was very good. Thank you so much." Julia said as she brought the last dishes into the kitchen.
"It's our pleasure. You can come back any time, but I'm sure that right now you want to get back to your regular life."
"Yes please," Tucker said from the doorway. "Nice meeting you, Julia. See you guys later." With that he bounded out the front door and down the driveway.
"Well, I guess someone already had plans for tonight." Mr. Carter said, smiling. "You two should go do something fun too." He leaned forward and kissed Alice on the forehead and put a hand on Julia's shoulder. "It was very nice to meet you, Julia."
"You too. Thank you again for dinner."
"Well, I think you did a really good job tonight. Dad hates bullshit and you were really in top no bullshit form." Alice handed Julia a beer from her fridge.
"Thanks. Can we not talk about it now? I think I've OD-ed on family stuff for a little while. But, Alice?"
"Yeah?" Alice took a long sip of beer.
"You don't have to be embarrassed about having money. I don't want you to feel like I'm judging you. Ever." Julia tried to keep her gaze on Alice steady, but it was hard to look into her steely eyes for too long.
"Just don't want you to think I'm a complete ass. And I know you're having trouble being the new girl, but it gets better and Merrium will get better and your Mom will get used to you being here and it'll all even out. You know?"
"Yeah. Okay, now we can be done with the talking." Julia laughed.
"Sorry. I don't want you to get scared off." Alice led the way into her living area and sank down onto the couch.
"Scared off?" Julia sat and pulled Alice's legs up onto her lap.
"God, look at what has happened in the past few days your sister comes, says she's pregnant and engaged to some loser. She catches us making out. Your Mom throws you to Merrium with no prep and is pissed you were making out with me. Peter punched your sister's fiancée and we still have not done your fences because Dad's been too concerned with Mom's bullshit. That's a little too much to handle all at once, you know?" Alice ended sounding a little winded and took a long sip of her beer before resting her head back and sliding her eyes shut.
Julia rubbed her eyes and mulled over what Alice had just said, "You're right."
"What?" Alice looked back at Julia.
"I should just leave right now, shouldn't I? Look at what a mess this all is. And it's all because I couldn't leave well enough alone and just go get a normal job." Julia shook her head now and laughed to herself.
Alice stared at Julia, deciding if this was an act or a real declaration. She couldn't decide, so she stayed quiet.
"Amelia had it all figured out. You latch on to someone who's going to leave and then you make a new life for yourself. I thought this was my new life, but it's not, is it?" Julia looked at Alice for confirmation, but Alice stared back blankly.
"No, that's not what I meant," Alice finally said, putting a hand on Julia's arm. "I mean it's rough right now and living with your parents when you're a legal adult is hard and everyone has to adjust. But eventually it will all calm down."
"I bet my mother's not going to talk to me for months. She hasn't talked to me since Peter punched Kyle. And I'm not talking to her because I support what Peter did. One hundred percent."
There was a soft knock at the door and then Tucker appeared in the doorway, "Sorry. But can I borrow your truck tonight?"
"What for?" Alice asked. "You know I'm going to have to drive Julia back eventually, right?"
"Yeah, I know. I won't be out late. I just need to go into town."
"Did Dad already say 'no'?" Alice gave Tucker a half smile.
"He said he needs his truck here because there might be an emergency at the shelter."
"Yeah, alright. Keys are in the tray on the counter. Be back before the sun comes up, please. And be careful."
"Thanks." Tucker took the keys and then turned to them both lounging on the couch, "And, Julia, you've got to be the coolest girl Alice has ever brought here. Don't let my parents freak you out."
Julia smiled, "Thanks. Go have fun."
"See," Alice said once Tucker had left, "He's really the only who has an opinion who matters anyway," She leaned forward and kissed Julia.