New Year’s Eve – a cautionary tale

This is a quick sketch- excuse the errors in draft form…

Johanna  knew what Ben was going to ask of her- before he even opened his mouth. She could tell he was leading up to it. As they walked around town he was eager and more talkative. He suggested they browse in shops he would have normally avoided. He didn’t remain on the sidewalk staring down at his phone when she went into the bath shop. He kept encouraging her to buy something. “My treat” he said expansively and whipped out his credit card.

She saw his cell phone light up early this morning as she stumbled through the winter gloom to use the bathroom. He was standing behind the large olive oil bins at the Gourmet oil store texting furtively. When Johanna casually asked who he was texting, he muttered his sister’s name.

So Johanna waited through most of the trip home for Ben to tell her that their plans for New Year’s Eve were now shot to hell. She watched him clench his fingers so tight to the steering wheel his knuckles grew pale.

She saw the muscle in his jaw clench to the same rhythm her own stomach muscles tightened.

She refused to ask him what was going on. He was going to have to broach this himself.

When they returned home, Johanna put away their purchases and went into her work room to upload some photos she shot for an engagement session the day before. She was a free lance photographer by desire, a barrista at Bold Bean by necessity. Ben was a professional musician and together they often worked weddings, parties and bar mitzvahs. In his spare time, Ben taught piano to kids whose parents had given up on their own lessons too early and now wanted their children to keep from repeating their own mistakes. It rarely worked.

Ben knocked on her door and poked his head around the door jam- Hey you got a minute to talk about tonight?

Ok, what about tonight? I’ve got what we need for our dinner and a bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge.

Well, um, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. He put his finger up to his lips and bit down loudly on his thumbnail. Johanna sighed. He knew she hated to hear him bite his nails.

Well, what about tonight? Does this have anything to do with your mother’s phone call and your sister’s texts?

Um, yeah. My brother is getting into town today and they want to have a celebration over at Mom’s tonight and dinner tomorrow at my sister’s place.

And what about our plans? You told them we had plans, right?

Babe, we are just hanging out here tonight. We don’t really have firm plans.

What do you mean… she sputtered, eyes beginning to narrow.

You know we didn’t make plans, so you said, let’s hang out here and I said cool, and that’s not really a plan, it’s like a fall back idea, you know?

So you would rather go sit with your mother and your sister and Jim and your brother, whom you don’t really get along with.

Well, if I don’t go, their going to get their feelings hurt. I mean this is my family we’re talking about. It means a lot to my mom to get the whole family together.

So now we are going to play the guilt card. Good lord I can’t believe you just did that to me.

Babe, honey, listen. I would LOVE to new year’s with you. I would chose that over anything else, but I can’t let my family down. He’s only here once a year.

And if I say no? If I tell you I don’t relish spending new year’s eve making small talk with your sister who only talks about her job at the library and her ceramic frog collection. And Jim has no indoor voice to match his lack of filters. He decided to describe his last colonoscopy during Thanksgiving dinner.

I know. I know. I don’t have much in common with either of them, but babe they’re family.

And what about your brother? You don’t see eye to eye on anything. You told me he doesn’t like your career choice, your politics, your car, your religion or how often you go to the dentist. What’s not to like about this dude?

I know. You’re right. He’s basically an uptight prick, but he’s family.

Ok so tell me this- at what point do I become family? When do I get a choice about how much time we spend with your family?

What do you mean? We spend plenty of time together.

You mean working a bar mitzvah together? That doesn’t count that we work together. I mean when do we get to decide as a family how many birthdays, Christmases, Thanksgivings, Easters, 4th of July’s and all the rest we have to spend with YOUR family?

Now hold on, we don’t spend as many of those dates with them as we used to.

We spend more than our share.

What do you want from me? They’re my family. I should be able to spend time with my family.

Yes you should be able to spend some time with your family, but I want it on OUR terms, not when your family decides that ground hogs day must be celebrated together at your mother’s house.

And when we say thanks, but we have plans, that should be the end of it. I don’t like being guilted by your mother and your sister. It’s manipulative and you fall for it every time.

You’re right. I need to set some boundaries.

Good. Then we understand each other.

Yep. So what time should I tell them we’re coming over?

The end.

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