Taylor walked across the campus, enjoying the slightly cooler weather. There had been a heat wave in DC the past few days and she was relieved to know that it hadn't moved further north yet. Abbie was driving in later from New York, as Taylor had had to stay in DC an extra day for a last minute committee vote and had missed her flight back to Manhattan. She hadn't bothered to tell Dani about the change in plans though, hoping to surprise her. But as she walked toward her daughter's house, she came up short. That was definitely her daughter curled up under the tree just ahead and she definitely wasn't alone. Taylor cleared her throat as she got closer. "Dani..."
Eli's eyes went wide as soon as she saw the face to go with the voice, and she quickly pulled her hand out from under Dani's shirt. She hadn't been touching anything but ribs, but there was a United States senator, who happened to be Dani's mother, staring down at them. Eli had seen pretty frightening angry faces on her parents, but she couldn't tell what Senator Hamilton was feeling...and that worried her. "I thought your parents were coming later," she hissed before smiling up at the Senator, trying to be endearing.
Dani pulled out of Eli's arms and stood up as quickly as she could. "Mother, I, uh, thought you weren't getting here until later..." She shifted uncomfortably for a minute before she threw herself at Taylor. She didn't have any idea how the Senator would feel about catching her making out with her girlfriend, but she had still missed her a lot and not hugging her was just too hard.
Eli slowly got to her feet and shoved her hands into the pockets of her jeans. She was blushing. Alex or Patrice walking in on her was one thing. This was someone else's parent...someone else's probably really normal parent.
Taylor smiled as she hugged Dani back, rubbing her back slightly, just like she had when Dani was small. "I got stuck in DC and had to fly up. Abbie should be here in a couple of hours." She let Dani go and smiled at her companion. "So, are you going to introduce me?" Normally she would just introduce herself, but she didn't want to upset Dani with the presumption.
"Um, yeah. Sorry." Dani tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Mother, this is Eli." She looked at Eli awkwardly. "Eli, this is my mom. um, Taylor Hamilton." Even though Eli already knew that.
"Senator..." Eli stepped forward and extended her hand, smiling warmly and with more confidence than she was feeling right at that moment. "It's really a pleasure to meet you. I'm...well, I'm sorry that..." She blushed slightly. "Welcome to campus."
Taylor shook her hand. "It's just Taylor, really." The number of people that she could actually get to use her first name seemed to diminish with every election that she won, and she wondered if Eli would be one of them. Still, she had to give her daughter credit, her girlfriend was both attractive and assertive. "And there's no need to apologize. Clearly," she shot Dani a look, "I should have called when I got here."
Eli licked her lips and debated her next move. She knew Alex and Patrice wanted to meet Dani, even though she'd been pretty coy about her. And she knew they would probably be even more impressed if they met the Senator. Impressing them was a game that she played with herself, but she didn't want to say what she was about to say and have Dani think she was using her for some purpose. But she only hesitated for a moment, thinking she could make it up to the brunette later if that was the case. "My parents will be here in a few hours, and we were going to dinner. I'm sure that they'd love to have you and Dani join us...and your partner, of course."
"Then you'll have to let me take the two of you to lunch now." Taylor smiled at the audacity and looked to Dani, hoping that her daughter was okay with it. Dani was blushing and she looked like she might want to disappear into the ground, but she didn't seem like she was objecting either.
Eli was tapping her foot, arms crossed as she waited for Alex and Patrice to pull into the parking lot. This would be the first time that Theo couldn't come with them, and she found herself already missing him. Between lunch and then, Eli had taken some time, gotten some things done in preparation for her parents getting there. And she had changed from jeans to slacks and a pair of low heels. She didn't know where Alex and Patrice wanted to go, but she figured that her outfit would probably do. And when she saw the car pull in, she smiled. She was nervous, though, and it was her own fault. It was her bright idea to invite everyone to dinner, as if she and Dani were planning a wedding or something rather than fucking every chance they got. But as soon as they pulled into a spot, she hurried over, already opening the driver's side door.
Before Patrice could barely get the car into park, it seemed like Eli was dragging her into an almost too excited hug. She returned it anyway, kissing her daughter 's cheek before leaning back to take in her demeanor. Patrice gave her a knowing look, "What's up Eli?" She laughed a little, "And what's it going to cost us? Because if it's got more than two zeros, ask me after my first drink at dinner."
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Patrice," Eli said, smirking and turning to Alex as she rounded the car. She gave her other mother a much more reserved hug, but a tight and long one nonetheless. Eli knew their preferences and had grown up having no issues going back and forth between Alex's reserve and Patrice's energy. She watched Alex cock her head, knowing the gesture well. "I think Patrice is right...something's up, and I'm guessing it's more than where you want to go to dinner."
"Well...I know that you know I have a girlfriend." She looked from one of them to the other, and she decided to take Patrice's hands as she bit her lip. "And rather than listen to twenty questions or either of you lobbying to meet her, I just...invited her and her parents to dinner with us."
Patrice really tried not to laugh at Eli's speech. It wasn't exactly the evening she'd been expecting, but they'd definitely never met any of their daughter's girlfriend's parents before. She looked over at Alex, whose eyebrows were raised even as she was shrugging in bemusement, "Okay, sure Eli, I don't think we'd say no to that." She shook her head at the young woman, recovering from the surprise, "We'd be excited to meet them. Is Viva still good? I'll call and change the reservation, 7:30?" They still had to go check in to their hotel, and now that plans had changed, Patrice wanted to re-think what she was wearing.
"Yes, awesome..." Eli was grinning. This was either a great plan or a really stupid one, but she was excited that her parents had reacted well. And she was excited to be able to spend more time with Dani that weekend than they'd actually planned. "You. Are awesome." She kissed Patrice's cheek, then Alex's. "Why don't I just come with you guys to the hotel—you haven't checked in yet, right?—and I'll have Dani and her moms meet us there..." And as if anticipating that, Eli watched Alex round the car, already getting back in.
Abbie glanced at herself in the lobby mirror on her way out. She hadn't had too much time to change, and she smoothed her dress before moving to the door. Taylor had said something about meeting Dani's girlfriend at dinner, but had gotten cut off before she got the rest of the details. Apparently the middle of Western Massachusetts wasn't the greatest place for cell reception. But Taylor's voice had been amused sounding, and Abbie headed up the street to meet them on campus before heading to dinner.
The few times she'd been there before, she'd liked the quaint little town, though it was nothing like what she was used to. The brunette glanced at the storefronts, and pulled her light coat around her as a pleasant chill started to tinge the early fall air. A few moments later and she was ringing the bell to Dani's house, and smiling as the girl came to open the door for her. Abbie caught the girl in her arms, hugging her before holding her at arm's length to look her over, "Have you been eating enough?" It was always her first comment when she hadn't seen her daughter in more than a week, though the girl's appetite was even better than her own.
Dani grinned at the usual question, happy that the routine had returned, even if was only temporary. "Three meals a day plus snacks." That was basically true. If she was thin, it wasn't from lack of eating. "Mother's waiting inside, but we should probably get going." She looked over her shoulder to see Taylor coming up behind her.
Abbie glanced up from one last skeptical look at her daughter's slender frame, and smiled at Taylor, "Yes, in one minute. I haven't seen your mother in a week." The brunette could almost sense her daughter's eyes rolling as she stepped over and kissed Taylor, "Hey...glad to see you too."
"Mmm." Taylor wrapped her arms around Abbie, returning the light kiss. "Sorry I missed my flight and couldn't drive up with you." She lightly brushed her nose against Abbie's, something she would only do when she was certain there wasn't anyone around to witness it. "But," she said as she stepped back, "it did give me the opportunity to catch our daughter and her girlfriend making out on the front lawn." She couldn't resist teasing Dani. It was part of her duty as a parent, really.
"Is that so?" Abbie raised her eyebrow at Dani. "And we're going to meet this girl?" She was already starting for the door, "You're full of surprises this visit aren't you?" They headed toward the edge of campus, and Abbie couldn't help picking up her best Texas accent, the one she used to tease Dani, "So, Danielle, do tell me about her, what does her father do?"
Dani blushed and glared at Abbie as they walked toward the restaurant. "She doesn't have a father. Her mothers are both lawyers," she said, her tone taking on a defiant edge. There wasn't anything that either of her parents could say about lawyers without being hypocrites.
Abbie almost laughed, almost wanted to make a 'dating yourself' joke, but she wouldn't do that to her daughter, who she was sure was already nervous. They crossed the street, and Dani led them into a small restaurant. The hostess smiled, "Three?"
"Six, actually." Taylor corrected the hostess. "Though I think there's a reservation." It only occurred to her then that she didn't know what name that reservation might be under.
Dani started looking around the restaurant for Eli, or for anyone that looked like her, and frowned when she didn't see her.
Eli had been fidgeting and looking at her phone until Alex told her to put it away, that she was sure Eli could tell them a little bit about how the semester had been going before they got caught up in the social interactions of the night. But Eli stopped mid sentence when she saw the hostess leading Dani and her family downstairs and she smiled brightly, waving.
Alex followed her daughter's eyes to their object, a smile already forming on her lips until she really got a better look at the young woman. She half opened her mouth to speak and simply moved her hand over Patrice's, squeezing it. She would know that face, those features only just softened, anywhere, and as she followed the line's natural course, her eyes fell on Abbie. She found herself standing, not trusting herself to speak. Of course. Of course her daughter would find Abbie Carmichael's daughter and start dating her. Of course.
And it was as Alex stood that Abbie notice her as well, though it took her quite some time to realize that they were headed to her table. She stopped a few feet away, watching as her daughter smiled innocently at the young lithe blonde next to her. "My God." Abbie wasn't one for theatrics, but she was vaguely anticipating some kind of very early April fools'. It was only when she caught a breath that she felt Taylor stop next to her, fingers pressing her lower back, encouraging her forward the last few steps, "Alex...you're...here."
"Abbie..." Alex found her voice but her throat felt dry. She needed another glass of wine. Eli was looking between them, furrowing her brow in a very good imitation of just the way Patrice did it, but she seemed to know better than to try to ask questions. Alex was rounding the table and she paused before pulling Abbie into a cautious hug, forgetting their children for the moment.
Abbie didn't know the protocol for being hugged after learning your daughter was dating the daughter of a woman whose funeral you went to as the grieving girlfriend, and so she just returned it. So very many thoughts were going through her head, and at that moment she saw the other blonde woman stand, offering her hand as Alex stepped away.
"Patrice LaRue, and I seem to be missing quite a bit here." Abbie numbly shook the offered hand, "Abbie Carmichael." She stepped aside as Taylor reached for the woman's hand as well, "And this is my partner, Taylor Hamilton." Then she fell silent, remembering why they were there in the first place, and glancing at Danielle almost apologetically.
Dani looked between her parents and Eli's, not understanding anything that was going on. She looked to Eli for some sort of clue, but it looked like Eli was just as confused as she was. The Senator, however, didn't seem to be quite as caught up, so Dani leaned into her. "You're gonna explain how you know each other, right?"
Taylor could only smile reassuringly at Dani as her hand returned to the small of Abbie's back. "We all worked in the DA's office together." It wasn't the entire truth, but it was a place to start explaining things to both the children and Patrice. And really, she wasn't sure that Dani needed all of the details.
"Yes..." Alex found her voice and came back to herself. She gave an apologetic look to Patrice, knowing that she would have to explain later and trusting that Patrice would understand why she hadn't talked about it before. "A lifetime ago," she said, forcing a smile as she returned to Patrice's side. "But this must be your daughter...Eli's girlfriend...God, what a coincidence..." She was moving them all to the table, numbly sitting down. Somewhere in the years together, she had inherited Patrice's tendency to babble sometimes.
Abbie nodded and sat, thinking she needed a drink, and felt Taylor's hand go immediately to her leg. It wasn't suggestive, simply grounding, and she started to relax.
"Right..." The word was flat, and Eli didn't realize just how much she sounded like Alex. She took a deep breath and smiled to Dani. "Well, Alex, Patrice...this is Dani. Uhm...surprise."
Patrice, not being a stranger to tense situations, just nodded across the table at the young brunette, thinking it was no great secret whose child she was out of the couple. "It's nice to meet you Dani." About that time was when the confusion faded enough to place the other blonde next to her, and she turned her smile to Taylor, "I think I still have one of your campaign stickers at home." Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Alex reaching for her drink, and she relaxed slightly.
As she thought back to it, Alex realized that it was probably strange that nothing had come up during the last campaign. Patrice and Eli were both ardent supporters of Taylor, and Alex had simply let the past be what it was...so much to the point that she simply hadn't even thought about that one night or the nights she watched Taylor and sometimes Taylor and Abbie while she was in Wisconsin.
"Well, thank you for the support." Taylor smiled genuinely as she picked up her menu. She was glad that the tension seemed to be dissipating, as she knew that Dani would pick up on it if it didn't, and that would leave her uncomfortable for the rest of the night. "So," Taylor turned to Eli, "you're a senior, right? What are you studying?"
"Oh, I'm pre-law," Eli answered readily. It didn't bother her at all that she was sitting at a table full of lawyers. It was a surprise that their parents knew each other, but Eli let it go. What bothered her was the way Alex reacted versus the way Patrice reacted. She wanted to find out about that later. "Just finishing everything up this year," she finished, smiling.
Abbie was starting to center herself, helped largely by having flagged down a waiter and ordering them drinks. She sipped hers while she considered the situation more rationally. She had known for a long time that Alex was alive and living her life. But she knew it in the same way she knew that her cousin Steve was alive and living his life after that second by-pass somewhere around San Antonio: It wasn't something she had expected to really come back into her life at a moment's notice. Still, she realized she wasn't jealous or really hurt anymore. Abbie was too happy and too many years had gone by for that.
She looked across the table thoughtfully. Patrice seemed sweet and maybe a shade or two warmer than someone she'd have expected Alex to end up with. The young woman sitting next to her clearly had inherited the woman's gift of banter, even if her features aligned more closely with Alex's. Soon Abbie had to stop herself from smiling too openly as she saw Danielle, usually more careful with her expressions, like Taylor, look at Eli with clear admiration and care. It was enough to make Abbie invested in the night going well, and she answered the young woman, "Congratulations in advance then. Are you thinking of going right on to school in the fall?"
Abbie's ease, whether real or not, made Alex breath easier and she pursed her lips as she swirled her refreshed glass of wine. "I certainly hope so. We spent most of the summer tramping around campuses. When it seems clear that she should be going to..." A look from Patrice made Alex pause, and the waitress taking their orders cut her off completely. Eli looked eternally grateful for that and was quick to speak up, leaning in and pursing her own lips. "Yes. I'm just finishing all of my applications."
Taylor had no desire to open the can of worms that seemed to now be sitting on the table, so she didn't ask just where Eli was thinking about. "Getting things done early is always good, though I know how you feel," she said to Alex. "It still causes me mortal pain that Dani isn't at the Naval Academy." She smiled at Dani, making sure she knew that she was kidding. The long running debate between them had turned into a joke.
Dani groaned and rolled her eyes. "Mother, please..." She flashed an apologetic smile to Patrice and Alex. "Nobody wants to hear about that." She squeezed Eli's hand under the table, and Eli picked up the conversation as if on cue. "So, if you guys used to work together, then you won't mind hanging out this weekend instead of doing some of the lame activities on campus..."
Abbie coughed slightly, setting her drink down, "Oh, I suppose we hadn't gotten that far." She smirked lightly at Taylor, "Someone missed their flight, something about business of the nation or some other excuse." She saw Dani looking hopeful, "I'm sure we can work something out."
Patrice looked over at the, admittedly striking, brunette and nodded, "Sure. though I'd hate to make the Senator miss the riveting tree tour of campus, or whatever they call it." She could see Alex giving her a look but largely ignored it. Either her partner would have to explain later or face the consequences.
Eli was relieved when the food got there, and she did her best to steer the conversation, asking Abbie about being a US attorney and making small talk about school and Manhattan. From what she could tell, there was definitely something weird between Alex and Abbie, but she was annoyed that she couldn't tell just what. And it wasn't like Alex would tell her...or Patrice knew to tell her. She'd have to discuss this with Theo, see if he could find anything out from Alex later. "I think I'm too full for dessert," she said as the waitress took their plates away. She put her hand on Dani's shoulder and smiled. It hadn't been catastrophic...unexpected, but not catastrophic.
"Yeah." Dani leaned into the hand, having to stop herself from putting her head on Eli's shoulder in front of their parents. She would ask the Senator just what had been going on when they went for their run the next morning, but trying to figure it out that night just wasn't going to happen.
Patrice looked at the two young women and smiled. She hadn't seen Eli so seemingly relaxed with anyone before, and Dani seemed obviously to be a sweet girl, and Patrice could tell, driven as well, though in a quieter way than Eli. The group slowly gathered themselves and moved out of the restaurant. When they reached the street, she could see the two young women immediately edging toward the campus. "I suppose we should let these two get some sleep." She chuckled, "They look like they've been putting in some hours in the library." Still, it wasn't too late, and she wondered if the rest of them might enjoy a drink to try and clear whatever was hanging in the air.
Dani tried not to sigh in relief at the obvious escape and she squeezed Eli's hand, which had somehow wound up in hers as they had left the restaurant, though she wasn't entirely sure how. "Yeah. I've actually got a project I need to finish." Dani desperately hoped that no one asked her about it. "But I'll drop by the hotel around eight for our run, Mom." Eight was pushing it a bit, but she hoped that her parents not having seen each other for a week might give her a chance to sleep in.
Taylor smiled and nodded. "Make it 7:30. I've got a conference call over breakfast."
Not to be outdone, Alex leaned in and kissed Eli's forehead before hugging her quickly. "Breakfast or brunch...call me when you wake up." Eli indicated that she would, knowing that Alex or Patrice would probably call her first because they didn't sleep until seven or eight like normal people. But if Dani had to be up at 7:30, it didn't really matter. They took their leave, each indicating how nice it was to meet the other's parents, and Eli had to admit that she breathed a little sigh of relief once they got out of earshot.
What they were leaving behind had a heaviness that she knew was not theirs the bear. There was something flicking in Alex's eyes that night that she had not seen before, and she would wager Dani would say the same of her mother. But before they disappeared, she simply glanced back, satisfied to see that their parents were moving down the sidewalk together.