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Gathering

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She didn’t know why she kept sacrificing her Sundays for this.

She could be anywhere in the world right now – she could be floating down the Nile on a barge in a leopard-print pantsuit to the tune of Tangerine Dream’s classic tune Cloudburst Flight. But no, tragically, she’s standing on her mother’s doorstep with a store bought box of Danish, listening to Charles sing along to his father’s unharmonious rendition of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” The sun was obnoxiously bright and forcing her temples to beat hideously, her hangover making her guts churn.

What was this Faustian hell called? It was brunch at the Linetti-Boyle house. AKA: a typical Sunday afternoon for Gina.

The door swung open, and she and her mother exchanged air kisses. “You look gorgeous!” Darlene said. “Come on in, Lynn made a pitcher of virgin bloody marys and I’m just getting the quiche out of the oven.”

Gina’s stomach lurched. “Ugh. Are there any words in the English language more disgusting than ‘virgin bloody mary?”

“Hey Gina!” Charles piped up from the living room. “Dad and I are battling it out on the karaoke machine! Want to play spoiler and see if you can do better than his best Cher impression?”

“That wasn’t a question, universe,” she muttered, and slumped her way into the house proper.

Charles selected “I Got You Babe” and held out his hand. “Come on! If we beat them we get pool privileges for a whole month!”

“I already have access to several pools, a Jacuzzi and a pond. You own your own beachfront house!”

“Sure, but it’s not as cool as our folks’ pool!” protested Charles.

“It’s even cooler now that we figured out what was leaving that skunk smell in the aerator!” Lynn interjected.

“Ugh I don’t know…” Gina said.

“Come on,” Charles insisted. “If you stop having fun, you can have all of my boar and scallion strata.”

“Damn you and your delicious egg concoctions, Charles Boyle,” sighed Gina, who took his hand, stood up, and seized the microphone with authority.

She could work with this. Cher was her boo, and ‘I Found Someone’ was one of her all-time favorite karaoke tunes. Harmonizing with Charles left a bit to be desired, but she totally nailed that ‘when I’m sad’ long note. She wasn’t enough of a bass to get everything really deep-throated going, but hey – who could when they weren’t the Goddess Cher? When the song finished, a round of applause filled the room, and Charles actually hopped up and down like a nerd.

“YOU’RE GOING DOWN DAD! DOWN STRAIGHT TO HELL!” Charles yelled, then instantly grew regretful. “Pardon my French.”

“No,” Lynn said, “I deserved that. Come on, Darlene, let’s prove it to these kids that we’ve got what it takes!”

They did “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” in what was perhaps the most disturbingly sexually-charged manner Gina had ever seen. It ended with a full-on make-out session that only ended when Charles broke into tearful applause.

“That was so beautiful!” he said. “Some day I hope I know love like that.”

“If it’s good enough for the bonobos it’s good enough for you,” Gina said, sipping her disgustingly vodka-free bloody mary.

#

Brunch was, at least, sumptuous enough to make up for the humiliation of the karaoke party. Gina found herself digging into her mother’s incredible quiche and Charles had made dulce de leche cinnamon rolls to round out the meal. She sank her teeth into one with a sigh and flopped down into place next to Charles.

“Gina, honey, are you seeing anybody special?” her mother asked suddenly.

She almost choked on her role. “Noo, I don’t want to disgrace the joy of this morn with talk of my dating exploits! If I make Charles green with envy he’ll probably start spitting pea soup.”

“Hah! If I spit up anything it would be pea consommé with a light sprinkling of fried pork belly…”

She replied with her most arch, deadpan expression. “I don’t believe I allowed you access to the sacred temple of my womanhood.”

“You did, and it was fantastic,” Charles reminded her lightly.

“I’m not seeing anybody. And no, please, please don’t set me up with anyone Lynn or mom.”

“But I know a guy who’d be great for you! He loves epic poetry, motorcycles, dance, exotic dancing…” Charles said.

“Please, please no,” Gina said.

“Fine,” Charles said. “But I bet by the end of brunch you’re going to be begging me for his number.”

#

She was nowhere close to begging for anyone’s number as she watched Charles clear the table. Though 911 would be preferable. Sweet, sweet emergency services, take me away, she thought to herself. Charles had brought the photo albums out and soon she was staring at pictures of him dressed up as a puppy dog, of old Halloweens and awkward school plays. The last picture on the page, though, really got her going. Not in a good way.

“Why are you lying on a bearskin rug?”

“Didn’t your mom take pictures of you like that?” Lynn asked.

“Yes, when I was a baby! Charles is…Eww I can see his butt.”

“Oh, it’s nothing you haven’t seen already,” said Charles. Gina moaned and covered her eyes, praying for a meteor.

All she got was a large cup of tea. “Let me show you Gina’s,” said Darlene.

“Um, I had all of my baby pictures burned for a reason.”

“That’s why I made copies.”

“NO!” Gina cried to the uncaring, oblivious sky. But the universe continued to ignore her.

#

Two hours later she was free once more. Charles insisted on walking her to her subway stop to her everlasting regret, and Gina rued the day she’d agreed to go anywhere with him.

“I’m really glad you come out here every Sunday,” Charles said.

“Why? I do nothing but complain and get so divinely drunk,” Gina said.

“Because,” Charles said, “you could be anywhere on a day like this – but you chose to be here, with our family, even though you can’t stand them. That means a lot, Gina.”

He smiled his stupid goofy Charles smile and left her standing there – feeling like a generous sublime goddess. And a little tiny bit guilty, but she’d forget that feeling soon enough.