A Family Affair
Rob Loveless © 2020
All Rights Reserved
Cal Adams sat at his desk and shuffled through some papers as he eyed the clock: 5:47 p.m. A mixture of excitement and anxiety churned uneasily in his stomach as the seconds hand ticked away. In thirteen minutes, he would relinquish his work responsibilities and prepare for what was sure to be a big night. A few days earlier, Cal’s parents had called to invite him to dinner Friday night for a special occasion—his baby sister would be home from college for the weekend.
Claire Adams was a senior in college and only three and a half years younger than Cal, yet he couldn’t help but refer to her as his baby sister; perhaps that was part of being a big brother. As Claire’s older brother and only sibling, Cal was a bit on edge about that night’s family dinner. After all, Claire wasn’t just coming home to visit; she was bringing along her new boyfriend to meet the family.
Cal tuned out the clinking of weight machines and the grunts of fatigued gym patrons as he sat in his office and concentrated on the circumstance at hand. His sister hadn’t had a boyfriend meet their parents since her junior year of high school, which meant this was serious. Cal and Claire had become very close in recent years, but he had not heard much about this boyfriend, including his name. Claire had always been one to maintain a low profile on social media, and only acknowledged she was “in a relationship” a month or so ago—without posting any photos. From what Cal had been able to gather from his phone calls with her, Claire and her boyfriend had only been seeing each other for about six months. So they hadn’t been together that long. Still, this was serious, which worried Cal a bit.
Being the big brother, Cal was somewhat protective of his sister, but he was happy for Claire, and he was sure he’d love her boyfriend. After all, Claire had a good head on her shoulders. However, this whole situation made Cal uneasy since it made him reflect on his own lack of success in the relationship department.
As the eldest sibling, Cal had always anticipated he would be the first to settle down. However, being twenty-five years old and never having been in a serious relationship, he often felt frustrated and unfulfilled—like something was missing in his life.
It wasn’t that Cal was undateable. On the contrary, he was quite attractive, with medium-length, dark-brown hair, piercing gray eyes, sharp features, and a lean build. He was successful, independent, and had an easygoing, fun-loving personality. In fact, he went on plenty of dates, but nothing ever seemed to pan out. Either the chemistry wasn’t there or things just didn’t advance. Cal hadn’t experienced genuine feelings for anyone since—
“Hey,” a friendly voice chimed, which snapped Cal’s attention back to work. A petite young woman with a pretty, freckled face and long, ginger tresses appeared at his office door.
“Hi, Sophie,” Cal greeted. “Getting ready to head out?”
“Yeah, my six o’clock canceled on me,” she informed him.
Sophie was a personal trainer at the gym Cal managed and also one of his closest friends. Sophie was a year his senior, and the two had been friends since childhood. They knew everything about each other’s lives: the good, the not-so-good, and the bad.
Cal glanced at the clock: nearly six now. “I’ll be leaving in a few too.”
“Any fun weekend plans?” Sophie asked.
“Well, I have that family dinner tonight, but I’m not sure if I would call it fun.”
“Ohh, that’s right!” she said. “Claire’s bringing home the boyfriend. What do you know about him?”
“Nothing,” Cal replied. “Honestly, I don’t even think my parents know much about him.”
“So this is a pretty big deal,” Sophie stated. “It sounds serious.”
“Yeah, it does,” he sighed with a lack of enthusiasm before he shut off his computer.
“Uh oh, sounds like someone’s big brother senses are tingling,” she teased.
“It’s not that. I’m sure this guy is great. And I’m happy for Claire, I really am. But I’m twenty-five years old and—”
“Cal, you can’t keep thinking like that. You’re young, and you’ll find someone.”
“That’s what all my friends say, but you guys are all in relationships,” Cal countered. “You and Rich have been together for years.”
“Believe me, you’re gonna find someone. Soon. I’m sure of it,” Sophie reassured him as she gave his arm a squeeze. “By the way, I forgot to ask, how did the date go with that guy last night?”
“Eh, it was fine…at first.”
“At first?” she questioned.
“Yeah, I mean, he was cute. We just grabbed a coffee. And he seemed to have a good personality.”
“So what happened?”
“He started talking about how he loves popping molly.”
“Oh yeah. And then he told me Lana Del Rey’s music makes him horny. Those were his exact words.”
“What!” Sophie gasped in disbelief. “He did not!”
“I’m telling you I can’t make this stuff up,” Cal chuckled as he shook his head in disbelief. “And really, Lana Del Rey? I didn’t know melancholic songs could get someone all hot and bothered.”
“You’re such a normal guy. How come you always find these crazies?”
“I don’t know, I guess they’re drawn to me,” he joked. “But, in all seriousness, I hate these stupid dating apps. I wish I didn’t have to use them, but I don’t know how else to meet someone. Every time I do meet someone from the apps though, they’re crazy or—”
“Or you don’t feel the spark.”
“No. At least not like I had with—”
“Hey”—Sophie interrupted in a soft voice—“it’s been over three years.”
“I know. I know,” Cal stated. He stood from his desk and grabbed his charcoal peacoat. “And I’m over it—believe me—I am. I just get scared that—”
“Don’t be. You’ll have those feelings again. You’ll find that spark.”
“Yeah, I know,” he sighed with a slight shrug before he hit the lights and left his office with Sophie. The two exited the gym in silence and were soon embraced by the crisp air of late November.
“Hey, are you going to be okay?” Sophie finally asked. Cal could see misty wisps of breath swirl in front of her as she spoke.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. He had spent a great deal of time rehearsing that line to assure everyone—including himself—that he was, in fact, fine.
“All right. Well, I’m parked down the street. Let me know how tonight goes.”
“I will,” Cal replied before he began walking in the opposite direction toward his own car.
Cal hated when people asked if he was going to be okay. He knew he was going to be fine. No, he was fine…wasn’t he? He had hit a little bump in the road a while ago, but he was back on his feet, and he was fine. Probably.
About three years earlier, Cal had encountered a bit of a rough patch. He had graduated college a semester early with honors and immediately received a job offer within his field from a prestigious corporation. Everyone thought he was on the fast track toward success, but Cal was miserable.
His job had required that he relocate hours away from his friends and family, which isolated him. Day in and day out, Cal went to work at a job he was never quite interested in and then came home to an empty apartment. Despite his amiable personality, Cal felt insecure and shy living in an unfamiliar town. As a result, he often retreated to his apartment which prevented him from being able to meet new people, and his coworkers were distant and standoffish. Cal felt an enormous pressure to meet everyone’s expectations—at least, the expectations he assumed had been set for him—without regard for his own well-being. And to top it all off, Cal had gone through a bad breakup right before graduating and taking the job.
Well, technically, you can’t break up with someone you were never really with.
He pulled his coat tight as he shuddered from a combination of the frigid weather and the thought of what could’ve been and what never was. A gust of icy wind slapped Cal’s clean-shaven face before tiny snow flakes began to dance through the night sky, which indicated winter was approaching.
Cal had always loved the winter—he still did. But now as an adult, an irrational sense of dread accompanied it, probably because it reminded him of when he lost it all. Within a month of starting that job, Cal felt lost and alone as a result of relocating and began seeing a psychiatrist to treat him for depression.
Cal wanted to be happy and knew he had much to be thankful for: he was independent, graduated early, and had a job. Still, he couldn’t help feeling gray. He knew that gray wasn’t an actual emotion, but that’s how Cal described his feelings to the shrink.
He grew more and more hopeless as each day passed. Every day, Cal came home from work and either wanted to bawl his eyes out or punch a hole in the wall of his dreary apartment; most days he did the former. His depression escalated to the point where he could no longer eat, and his already thin body soon became even more slight.
After eight lonely months, Cal finally realized he could not put his life on standby any longer. He had always been a rational person, which resulted in him putting practicality before his own happiness. He had taken this job not because he wanted to, but because he had been expected to. However, the time had come for Cal to reclaim his life.
After a particularly stressful day of work, Cal decided he’d had enough. He walked into his supervisor’s office and quit his job abruptly, saying that he would not return the next day. Within a week, he packed up his apartment, and moved back home to live with his parents. Not the ideal postgrad scenario, but Cal knew it was necessary to his mental well-being. His parents were more than happy to have him home, especially since Claire had just moved several hours away to begin her freshman year of college in an area only a short distance from Cal’s alma mater. Cal hadn’t moved back to be coddled by his parents, but he just needed to be someplace where he could rebuild his life and focus on what he wanted.
One of the perks of moving back home was that Cal was able to reconnect with Sophie. Though the two had texted each other almost daily, he was able to see her on a regular basis. Sophie started bringing Cal to the gym where she worked and helped him get back in shape. Working out not only restored him to a healthy physique, but it also released endorphins which helped to alleviate his depression.
After a few months, Sophie heard of a job opening at the gym, and she encouraged Cal to apply for the position. Within a few days, he was interviewed, offered the job, and was able to put his business management degree to use. And two years later, here he was in the best shape of his life and employed at a job he loved. Prior to graduating, he would never have envisioned this to be his life, but now that it was, he was happy. He was fine.
Cal was grateful for the slight warmth provided by the concrete walls of the parking garage, which shielded him from the blustery winter gust, as he strode toward his car. He stepped into the aging vehicle, started its engine, and waited impatiently for the heat to kick in. Cal had owned this car since his freshman year of college, and it had seen better days. The vehicle’s clunky body was marked with several scratches and the unimpressive silver paint was chipped in places. Still, it drove well, so Cal was unwilling to upgrade to a newer model just yet.
Snow flurries grew thicker as Cal pulled out of the parking garage. Fortunately his apartment was a short distance from the gym and the snow did not appear to be sticking to the ground. Cal arrived home just after 6:15 p.m. and hustled to get ready. His mother insisted on him arriving at seven o’clock sharp, and his childhood home was about twenty-five minutes away from his current apartment.
He slipped out of his business-casual work attire and pulled on a fashionable black sweater and a pair of dark-washed jeans. Then, he grabbed an unopened bottle of Merlot from the kitchen and headed out the door.
When he arrived at his parents’ house, Cal parked his car in the driveway and took a deep breath to prepare himself for the evening ahead. He reminded himself that this was Claire’s night and he should be happy for his younger sister instead of focusing on his own love life—or lack thereof. With one last calming inhale, he stepped out of the car.
As Cal approached the front door, he could hear metal pans clanking in the kitchen and muffled voices calling out from inside. He grasped the icy doorknob and paused for a moment before entering the house; this was it.
“Todd, are you in the bathroom?” Martha Adams shouted from the heated kitchen.
“What?” her husband’s muffled voice responded from the second floor.
“I said are you in the bathroom?” she repeated louder. The scent of garlic and various roasted vegetables pervaded Cal’s nostrils as he hung up his coat in the foyer. Upstairs, a door creaked open followed by his father’s agitated voice which was much clearer now.
“For Christ’s sake, Martha, I can’t hear you. I’m in the bathroom!”
“All right, well that’s what I was asking!” she hollered back over the sound of the oven door creaking open. “Come down when you’re finished. I need your help.” The bathroom door upstairs slammed shut.
“Hi, Mom,” Cal greeted as he stepped into the kitchen, his presence still unnoticed by his mother.
“Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph!” she exclaimed, jumping up from her position by the oven door and clutching her chest. “Are you trying to give your mother a heart attack? You’re early.”
“You told me to be here for seven,” he replied as he hugged his mother and glanced at the clock: 7:01.
“You feel skinny,” she noted as she patted his ribs. “Have you lost weight?”
“Not since I saw you last week at Thanksgiving,” Cal said with a roll of his eyes. What was it about Italian women always insisting that everyone was too skinny?
“Calvin Adams, I don’t care how old you are. If you roll your eyes at me I’m gonna smack them right out of your head,” his mother scolded before she checked her dish in the oven.
“Sorry,” Cal said. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Yes. Can you grab some veggies from the fridge and make the salad?”
“Sure.” Cal gathered an assortment of crisp vegetables and retrieved a plastic cutting board from one of the stained-wood cabinets. As he began dicing up a juicy tomato, he ruminated on his own relationship failures. No, he couldn’t allow himself to think like that—this was Claire’s night.
“Hey, Mom,” Cal said as he turned his attention toward several thick carrots, which he started to chop. “What do you know about Claire’s boyfriend?”
“Well, let’s see,” she began, while searching through the spice rack for dried oregano. “He’s a few years older than her—they met at school. I forget what he’s going for, but it’s some five-year program, so he’ll be finishing up in May.”
“Does it sound serious?”
“I think so,” his mother said as she leaned against the oven and smiled. “She really likes this guy.”
“Oh,” Cal replied flatly before he returned his attention to preparing the salad. “That’s great.”
“So, how about you?” she asked. “Anybody special in your life?”
“Mom, please,” he dismissed her, while his face flushed with slight embarrassment.
“What? Is it wrong for me to be asking? I mean, look at you. You’re an attractive and successful young man. Any guy would be lucky to be with you.”
“No, I’m not seeing anyone. Okay?” Cal retorted, feeling a bit defensive. He always felt awkward and self-conscious whenever his parents pried into his dating life. As his mother was about to add something else to the uncomfortable conversation, the doorbell rang.
“Oh jeez, my lasagna isn’t ready yet, and your father’s still in the can, and they’re here,” his mother stammered as she began to hurry around the kitchen. “Are you finished with the salad, hon?”
“Yeah,” Cal responded as he handed the bowl over to his mother.
“Todd, hurry up! They’re here,” she bellowed upstairs before turning back to Cal. “Can you get the door?”
“Sure,” he said as he left his frantic mother in the kitchen and entered the foyer. As he approached the door, he began to grow anxious. A family dinner with his sister’s boyfriend was a serious occasion, and the gravity of the situation was beginning to dawn on Cal. Would he ever have a serious boyfriend to introduce to his family?
Cal pushed this thought out of his mind as he grasped the handle with a clammy hand and swung the front door open.