"Now that you've seen some people you know, do you feel better?" Lisa asked as she and Daniel worked their way through the crowds toward one of the tables bordering the dance floor.
"I do," Daniel said, giving her a tentative smile. "Though I'm still a little nervous about meeting your mom."
"You have nothing to worry about," Lisa said, taking his arm. "My aunt is way harder to impress than my mom, and she likes you."
Daniel swallowed audibly. "Your mom?"
"My mom," Lisa confirmed. She turned to smile at her mother, who was wearing a gorgeous blue dress. "Mom, you look amazing!"
"So do you, sweetie," Lisa's mom said, giving her a hug. "And you must be Daniel."
"I hope so," Daniel said, giving Lisa's mother an awkward little wave.
Lisa's mom chuckled. "I've heard a lot about you. I'm Debbie."
Daniel shook Lisa's mom's hand. "Nice to meet you, ma'am."
Lisa's mom gave Lisa an approving glance, clearly appreciating Daniel's manners. Lisa made a mental note to tell Daniel about that later. "Lisa tells me you met during an evening out?"
Daniel smiled at the memory. "We were at a networking event for young professionals. I saw Lisa standing to one side of the room, so I went over to her and asked her if I was networking correctly. It wasn't the most elegant introduction, but she was pretty and I was nervous." He gave Lisa an affectionate look, which she returned as she rested a hand on his back. He might feel lucky that she was the one he'd chosen to talk to, but she felt the same way.
Lisa's mom nodded. "And are you from New York?"
"Oh, no," Daniel said. "I'm from Indianapolis originally."
Lisa's mom brightened. "Really? I spent some time there."
"You did?" Daniel said.
"You did?" Lisa asked. She'd known her mother had traveled when she was younger, but her mom talked less about the places she'd been and more about the people she'd met.
"You weren't born yet, honey. Remember when I told you about that year I spent as a long-term substitute teacher because Flora was out on maternity leave?" Lisa's mom said.
"Of course," Lisa said. Her mother had a story for every kid in her class from that year.
"Well, Flora was living in Indianapolis at the time, so that's where I taught," Lisa's mom said. "I still miss those sour cream fries."
Daniel looked even more delighted. "At the Peppy Grill?"
"That's right," Lisa's mom said, surprised. "You've been there?"
"Sure," Daniel said. "I haven't thought about those fries in a long time."
Lisa was watching this exchange, trying to hide a smile. She'd known Daniel and her mother would have plenty to talk about, but this was even better than she'd imagined. Daniel was so excited to talk about his hometown that he'd forgotten to be nervous. She loved those moments when his enthusiasm overran his self-consciousness; it was completely adorable.
"It's so nice to hear about what's going on in Indianapolis! I haven't met anyone from there in a while. Tell me, the department store downtown--L.S. Ayres--do they still have those beautiful displays in their windows at Christmas time?" Lisa's mom asked.
Daniel shook his head. "No, they closed when I was ten."
Lisa's mom tsked. "Such a shame."
"Did you ever go to the Tea Room?" Daniel asked. He turned to Lisa to explain. "L.S. Ayres had this restaurant called the Tea Room on...I think it was the eighth floor."
Lisa hadn't known Indianapolis had stores that size. "Eight floors? That's almost as big as Macy's."
"A lot of department stores were like that then," Lisa's mom said. "They'd take up a whole building. I think you're right--the Tea Room was on the eighth floor. I had lunch there once or twice; they had this delicious chicken soup. But if the store's closed, the restaurant must be closed too."
"Sort of. They built a replica of the Tea Room in the Indiana State Museum--it's open for the winter holidays," Daniel said. "You can get a lot of the same food the old Tea Room had. I think they still make that soup."
"I'm not surprised. It's too good to let go of," Lisa's mom said.
Daniel turned to Lisa, smiling shyly. "If you're interested, someday I'd like to take you with me for a visit. So I can take you places like the Tea Room, and show you what it's like where I grew up."
Lisa loved that Daniel wanted to share his childhood with her. "I'd like that. Maybe we could go to that shoe store too, the one you thought was so cool with the shoe transportation system?"
Daniel laughed. "I think I just liked watching the baskets flying along the ceiling."
"Good to hear Stout's is still in business," Lisa's mom said. "I should probably catch up with the rest of the family, but it's been great talking with you both." She gave Lisa a hug, then looked at Daniel. "Do you hug?"
"I do," Daniel said, giving Lisa's mom a brief hug. "Thanks for asking."
She smiled at him. "Good to meet you, Daniel."
"Good to meet you too," Daniel said.
After Lisa's mom was out of earshot, Daniel turned to Lisa anxiously. "That seemed not terrible. Did it seem not terrible to you?"
"I've never seen her hug one of my boyfriends before," Lisa said. "I'd say that's a lot better than not terrible. And you thought you wouldn't have anything to talk about!"
"You really didn't know she lived in Indianapolis?" Daniel asked.
"I really didn't," Lisa said. "I half expected you to say she was your kindergarten teacher or something."
"That would be a coincidence," Daniel said. "Although..." He stared off into space, looking thoughtful.
Lisa stared at him. "You're kidding."
Daniel looked at her, a mischievous smile lifting the corners of his mouth. "Yeah, I'm completely kidding."
Lisa laughed. "It almost wouldn't surprise me, given how many people in my family you already know."
"Gotta admit, I wasn't expecting that," Daniel agreed.
Lisa rested her hands on his shoulders. "So are you finally starting to feel comfortable now?"
"I finally am," Daniel said, resting his hands on hers and moving closer to her. "Although I think that has more to do with who I'm with."
"Ooh, sweet talker," Lisa said.
Daniel smiled. "Every once in a while." He kissed her. "Thank you for getting me through this."
"You got yourself through this," Lisa said. "I was just moral support."
He kissed her again. "Then thank you for the moral support."
Lisa smiled at Daniel. "Anytime." She took his hand and pulled him in the direction of a few empty chairs. "Come on. Let's sit down, and you can introduce me to my family."
The sound of Daniel's laughter followed her, and so did he.