Oh, man it feels SO good to get back to writing on a regular schedule! My left shoulder has been in ridiculous amounts of pain lately from not having a proper desk to write on (I end up slouching). But it's definitely not bad enough to stop me from writing!

PrincessCherokee01 - Keep reading and you'll find out!! I promise it gets better xD

I Quoth Nevermore - Oh, just wait. You'll love Jack. I can't wait to get him out on stage :)

Pronunciation:
Genny/Evie - "Jen-ee"/"Ee-vee"
(Just cause my beta said that may confuse y'all a little bit)

-VAR


THREE –
Family Nightmares

For most people, the family dinner is a way of bringing your relations closer together. The head of the household and breadwinner (usually the father) sits at the head of the table, with the doting wife and mother at his side. Likewise, the loyal and obedient offspring sit in accordance of age down the table and politely wait their turn for the food to be passed their way. Occasionally, during special occasions, grandparents or extended family may be present, sitting idly in the family room, waiting for dinner to be served. Throughout the consumption of the meal, members discuss their daily activities, tell jokes, and in general catch up with each other. This sounds like the traditional family gathering most people can recall with fond memories.

Not mine.

No, I'm not fortunate enough to be blessed with normalcy in any aspect of my life. Least of all, the family dinner.

My family treats the family dinner a little different. For one thing, my mother and father almost always argue over how to make some part of the meal, being that they're both experienced cooks. Secondly, my grandparents are always present, and usually at each other's throats for one reason or another. Thirdly, one or both of my brothers is being completely useless in assisting with any housework. And lastly, my great-grandpa completes the cycle of terror by crashing into every fragile object imaginable with his scooter. I, being the only one who has any remote understanding of what it is to be ordinary, am granted the unfortunate position of watching the phenomenon that is my catastrophe of a family with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart.

Today was no different. By the time my brother Philip and I had arrived, my mother was ready to divorce my father if he didn't get out of the kitchen. My grandmother had most likely been yelling at my grandfather for some time, because when I walked into the living room, he had already surpassed his previous high score in Tetris on his cell phone. Great-grandfather "Bobo" Peters had jammed himself into the hallway between the console table and a giant vase my mother picked up on one of her antiquing expeditions. I had the common sense to save the vase before mother walked in and popped a blood vessel. Per usual, Philip disappeared somewhere upstairs almost instantly to hang out with Chris who we knew was already here from his pick-up sitting in the driveway.

"Genevieve, sweetheart, will you help me with the rum cake? I'm almost done with the gravy here, and I need you to take it out of the oven," my mother said as I walked into the kitchen.

I nodded and slipped on the oven mitts. "Where's Dad?"

"Not allowed in here," she huffed. I cringed as I opened the oven door.

There was an obvious tension in the room as I carefully reached into the oven and pulled the rum cake towards me. It was easy to gauge how frustrated my mother was at that moment by the speed and force at which she stirred the gravy. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the frown etched in her brow. Any minute now she was going to—

"It would seem your father decided to tell me today that my recipe for egg salad was a smidgen too sour and suggested I not put onions in this time around," she started, furiously twisting the pepper grinder above the pot.

I blinked, "You mean you're prize-winning egg salad?"

"The very same one."

"Isn't that, like, blasphemy?" I asked.

Suddenly, my mother slammed the wooden spoon on the counter beside the stove and whipped around. "That's exactly what I said!" she cried. Startled, I ground my teeth as I barely escaped burning my forearm on the side of the oven. Did I mention my mother is rather adept at scaring the crap out of me?

"Well, not exactly, but I told him that it was nonsense! Then he told me that he wasn't asking me to change the whole recipe, just to take the onions out. I told him that it was the onions that give it the flavor. That's when he decided to admit"—and here my mother raised her hands and made little quotation marks beside her head—"that he didn't like onions. So when I asked him why he never told me this before, his reply was that I don't really make anything with onions, so he didn't feel the need to ever say anything. Seventeen years together, and he never felt the need to say anything. Who does that?"

I shrugged, not knowing what to say. This was already a strange topic to figure out and when it comes to my father, there are a variety of ways to describe him: reclusive, stoic, pessimistic, cynical, agitated, and all-around distrustful of most people. Where my mother is high-pitched and high-strung (and lacking in minor cerebral departments), my dad is booming, analytical, and critical. He only says things that he feels need to be said, and otherwise won't waste his breath on what he describes as 'trivial tendencies.' Obviously then, it's no laughing matter that he chose to make his dislike of a certain allium cepa known, for when he does decide something is worth saying, he's usually incredibly serious about it. The only problem there, is that my mother is also incredibly serious about her five-time first place winning potato salad—any mention she that edit, omit, or otherwise replace an ingredient is pure sacrilege.

"So…what did he do?" I asked, tentatively. My mother was in crisis mode and therefore all conversation with her had the possibility of reaching decibels likely to shatter glass.

"Oh, I don't know. He said something about just doing it this once and I told him it would change everything about the recipe so then he told me to just not make it. I said I couldn't not make it! It was a special occasion with Chris coming over so it had to be made. I finally just told him to get out of the kitchen or sleep with Barnaby tonight," she said, crossing her arms and leaning against the counter. I pulled off the oven mitts and set them beside the cooling cake. When I turned to look at mother, she was rubbing the bridge of her nose and taking a deep breath.

"Where did he go then?" I asked, peeking out the window above the sink to look into the backyard.

"I don't know; probably into the study. You'll have to go get him for me. The steaks are done marinating and are ready to be grilled." Moving to the center island in our kitchen, she picked up a platter wrapped in tinfoil and handed it to me. Taking it quietly, I nodded and headed towards the backdoor. I'd seen Dad through the window sitting on one of the lawn chairs in the backyard giving Barnaby a rubdown, so I headed that way. The minute I opened to door, my face was blasted with a wave of hot air. It was almost completely overcast today, with a small breeze that whispered by every now and then; however, that didn't stop the blessed Phoenix weather from dropping any lower than three digits. Walking to the grill, I set the platter down and then started towards Dad.

"Mom says the steaks are ready to grill."

Without turning or stopping, he grunted and rubbed Barnaby harder. At the sound of my voice, however, the big ball of fat rolled onto his legs and ambled towards me. Barnaby is our eight-year-old Rottweiler and he's as round as he tall. His tongue lolling out of his mouth, he jumped and dropped his front paws on my chest. Two hundred and ten pounds up against my one hundred and twenty is like a chicken up against a turkey; it doesn't bode well.

"Down, Barnaby," Dad said as he stood. He stalked past me silently, with his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his khakis. I noticed the slight slump of his shoulders before Barnaby took me down, successfully laying me out on our damp lawn. I yelped and tried to shove the beast off of me. Unfortunately, having the great disadvantage of being nearly half his weight, his tongue's assault on my face persisted, leaving my chin and hairline moist with dog drool. He took a step away from me, and after what I took to be observing his fine work, he waddled past me after my dad.

Attempting to wipe the profuse amount of dog spit off of my face with the hem of my tank top, I pushed myself up off the grass and jogged after Dad, who had already started the grill and was poking at the meat. Barnaby sat a few feet away, silent and of the plate of steaks watchful (and no doubt planning how he was going to snatch one for himself). I plopped myself into a patio chair beside the grill and pulled my leg up to wrap my arms around. The sunlight reflected off of Dad's glasses, obscuring what I could make of his eyes; but I didn't need to see them to know how my dad was feeling. As stoic and misunderstood as my dad is, he is incredibly easy to read. For one, he worships the ground my mother walks on, and any argument he has with my mother makes him visibly uncomfortable. Which I'm pretty sure is the reason he never told Mom that he doesn't like onions—he saw this coming.

"So…" I started, as I couldn't come up with anything intelligent to say to the poor man.

Dad was quiet as he reached up and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow. He swallowed and tried to clear his throat.

"How's school?'

"I'm not in school right now. It's summer."

"Oh," he stated. It was obvious he didn't want to talk, but felt obligated with me sitting here. "How's your vacation then?"

I shrugged. "Nothing exciting."

"And how are your friends?"

"As impulsive and troublemaking as always."

Dad grunted again and flipped one of the steaks over. I should point out that the man I'm talking about isn't my birth father, nor is he the father to either of my brothers—he's our stepfather. Granted, he's the only father I've ever known, how he came to be such a thing isn't entirely clear to me, but from what I gather, my mother left my birth father when Phil and I were still babies. She met my father a few years later, and after marrying her, he adopted us. So as far as my dad is concerned, he is Dad—any use of his given name or otherwise reference to his stepfather-ness will earn us a very loud, very passionate lecture.

"Dad," I sighed. "Is it really the onions?"

Dad paused for a fraction of a second as he started to flip another steak. His body tensed and he pushed his glasses a little farther up the bridge of his nose. I heard him swallow and stuff his free hand back into the pocket of his pants.

"Evie," he mumbled, using the nickname he used when I was little, "It's always the onions."

My eyebrow rose as I looked at him, somewhat confused.

"Well, what is it about the onions, this time?"

"Their texture."

I pursed my lips, thinking about what he just said. Dad was notorious for using euphemisms in conversations. I imagine it's a type of safety net for him, so in case he says something wrong, he can fall back on the notion that that wasn't what he was referring to. If it isn't already evident, my dad doesn't do well with matters of conflict. He's a people pleaser in spite of his persona as tall, dark and brooding.

Fiddling with a piece of hair, I looked at the split ends as I thought of another question to ask. "What's wrong with the texture of the onions?"

"They were old and bruised."

I stayed quiet, waiting for Dad to say something else. When he didn't, I asked, "And..? That's it? They were just 'old' and 'bruised?'"

Dad sighed heavily and pressed his lips together until they were nothing but a thin line.

"And…I just don't think they're good enough for you mother anymore…"

Ah… So that's what this was all about.

"What makes you say that?"

"They're useless. They crumble when she slices them… And they don't look as appealing as they used to be."

I forced myself not to smile, but to try and look concerned. "But Mom still uses them…She doesn't go out and buy new ones just cause the older aren't as spry as they used to be."

"She could," he mumbled. I noticed his brow furrow in mock concentration as he tried to look like he wasn't bothered with our conversation. I sighed.

"Maybe Mom likes the old onions. Maybe she thinks they're wiser and tastier than the newer onions because they've been on the counter longer."

Dad's shoulders slumped a bit as the flames under the grill licked the bottoms of the steaks. Barnaby had inched closer and closer until he was barely an arm's length from the plates of raw meat that Dad had yet to cook.

"Dad…Does Mom know it's really about the onions?"

After a brief moment of silence, he stopped poking at the steaks on the grill and just stood there. I watched as he looked at me out of the corner of his eye and put on my best smile.

"I think you should just get a good wine to sit down with mom and talk about the onions," I grinned. "A good aged wine."

My Dad's lips twitched at my suggestion and he turned his attention back to the steaks. "You think I should?" he muttered, a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

"Sure. I mean, you know how much Mom likes sparkling red wine. I think one good glass and she won't have any issues with old onions. In fact, I say to hell with new onions! They're stupid and immature anyways!" I dropped my legs I and pushed myself to stand, shaking a finger at the sky. "Nobody needs new onions! Fresh onions make you cry, and who wants to cry over onions?"

Dad's shoulders began to shake as he held a hand over his mouth, attempting to hide his laughter. Feeling successful, I raised my arms above me and stretched.

"Is she still making potato salad?" My dad asked as I walked behind him.

"Yep," I replied as I leaned in and gave my dad a peck on the cheek.

"Alright…"

I pushed my hair out of my face and stretched as I headed for the back door. Stopping on the steps, I turned and called after Dad. "Just to clarify, we are talking about you and Mom, right?"

Dad looked at me and nodded, waving a limp hand in my direction. I gave him a thumbs-up and turned back towards the door. As I made my way inside, Mom was shooting off orders to my grandmother, who in turn relayed those orders to my grandfather. Before I found myself tangled in the verbal mayhem, I grabbed the box of flatware and made my way into the dining room. Above me, I could hear the pounding of my brothers' footsteps as they headed downstairs. Chris meandered in first, with Phil close on his heels who sported a notably swollen cheek. I gave him a funny look when he walked by me. Instead of saying anything, he responded to my silent question with a glare and a head bob in Chris's direction. Taking that as my cue to drop any semblance of curiosity, I handed him the pile of napkins and motioned for him to help me set the table.

Dinner was relatively easygoing. Dad seemed to have eased up enough to laugh at a few of my grandfather's jokes. Grandma, on the other hand, was on the verge of an angry outburst most of the time, given that said jokes usually entailed something foolish she had said or done during the decades my grandparents were married. Still, they were in good spirit. Mom asked what happened to Phil's face, to which Chris instantly replied that it was an allergic reaction to intelligence. That cost him the last dinner roll as Phil immediately dove in like a hawk, snatching it from his plate. Before Chris had any time to react, Phil had already inhaled it. I remained the blissfully silent observer through all of this; not for lack of conversation, but because I prayed to God that conversation wouldn't be aimed in my direction. This is strictly due to the fact that any conversation that involved me, my mother somehow turned into a full family discussion about my love life (or lack thereof). It was the sole purpose I dreaded family dinners—and the very reason I felt embarrassed by my genetic relations.

"So Genevieve," my mother started. Instantly, I tensed, and the piece of half chewed steak in my mouth suddenly tasted sour. "Have you met anyone new, lately?"

Forcing a smile across my face, I looked at Mom and shook my head. "Nope, no one new. I'm trying to take it easy right now, in fact."

"Really?" she asked incredulously. "But it's summer. You should be out having fun, experiencing life."

"Oh, I am. My friends are making sure of that." I shot a dirty look at Chris, but it went to waste as he was busy attempting to steal a spoonful of mashed potatoes from Phil.

"Well, isn't that nice. Still,"—oh, dear Lord, here we go—"it would be nice to see you bring someone home with you. Not since that one boy, what was his name?"

"Chad," I muttered through clenched teeth. "Mom, Phil already told me—"

"That's him! He was such a nice boy. I still don't understand why you two broke up. But since Chad you haven't talked about anyone new—or at least you haven't told me about anyone," a crease formed in her brow as she stopped for barely a second to contemplate something. "It's been about a year, hasn't it? Don't you get lonely?"

"No, Mom. I don't get lonely. I'm trying to tell you—"

"Really? I know you have Jasmine and Lillian living with you, but doesn't that get old? I mean, sweetheart, you're young! You should be out enjoying yourself, if you know what I mean," she said with a wink.

Did my mother really just say that? In front of the family?!

"Mom—"

"Now, I know you said you could handle things all by yourself and that you had certain tastes when it came to the opposite sex, but—"

If there is a god in heaven, please, please strike me down now…Or Hell! The ground can open up and swallow me whole—just please get me out of here!

"Mom, please—" I groaned. The dinner table grew eerily silent.

"I thought you might enjoy a nice night out with a nice young man, something to help refresh you from being alone—"

"Mom, please don't talk about—"

"So I took the liberty of arranging a little get-together with someone I think you'll be happily surprised with and—"

"Mother—"

"Who is an incredibly sweet boy whom I think you'll have a marvelous time with. He's handsome and seems to be well-taken care of—something he pointed out that he accomplished all by himself."

"Jesus," I mumbled. "Mom, are you serious?"

My mother blinked at me, and tilted her head. "Of course I am, sweetheart. Why wouldn't I be?"

Remember that little remark I made about my mom having a certain lack of working cerebral departments? This is what I was talking about. As I noted before, she has certain neurotic tendencies that inadvertently spill into the lives of others. This being one of them. Hence, my lack of a healthy male specimen as my doting significant other is equivalent to (and possibly the reason of) her lacking of equally healthy, equally doting grandchildren. Never mind that I have my two brothers who are perfectly capable of bequeathing my young mother with an army of bouncing baby boys and girls. Maybe there is some psychological trigger of me being the only daughter that has turned my mother into the village matchmaker, but it's slowly grinding on my sanity.

"In case you don't remember, for one reason or another, my last two attempts at dating handsome, well-spoken men went down the toilet like the Titanic, not mention my last relationship was a complete and utter failure. So as flattered as I am by your honorable intentions, I'm going to have to decline."

"Oh, but you haven't heard the best part—"

"I don't want to."

"Genevieve, darling…I'm not asking you to run away and elope."

"Good, then—"

"I just want you to be happy."

I stiffened. The dreaded phrase had been spoken. My life, as I knew it, was hanging in a delicate balance. I could keeping going down the path I was and risk being verbally ostracized from my family; or I could turn around now and accept what God must had decided was my big fat joke of a life.

Any time my mother wants me or my brothers to do something we obviously and fervently do not want to do, she falls on her motherhood as backup. There is no way anyone in their right mind can refuse a phrase like that. It's the guilt-trip of guilt-trips and it makes your skin crawl the minute you comprehend the meaning of the words.

The table was dead silent as I stared down at my plate where I had haphazardly pushed my corn to the edges, away from my potatoes and gravy. I watched the mirth glitter in my brothers' eyes out of my peripherals as they fought to hide the matching grins that wanted to tear across their faces. My grandma laid her hand on my grandpa's hand and another on her heart, falling for my mother's blatant chicanery, as was her intention I presumed. I swallowed and looked up into my mother's eyes, eyes that shimmered with unshed tears waiting to make their escape towards victory. I should have seen this coming. There was no chance I would be able to discuss this with her in private now that she had openly brought up the topic with family present. I had been painted into a corner and trapped there with a shooting squad.

Closing my eyes, I sighed and resumed maneuvering the corn on my plate towards the edges.

"Fine... I'll do it."

"Oh, sweetheart, I knew you would," she smiled, clapping her hands together excitedly. "You are going to be so delighted when you meet him! He's just a joy to be around!"

"Yeah, Mom," I grumbled. "Absolutely delighted."

# # # # #

"Wow…so she basically nailed you to the cross."

"That's exactly what she did," I complained.

After dinner had ended, Phil and I stayed to help clean up for a few hours, and then headed back to our respective homes for the evening. However, in my state perpetual annoyance, Lillian took one look at me when I walked in the door and decided we needed to go out. So here I was, walking through the camping section at Super Target pushing the cart as Lillian picked out supplies for the trip next weekend. She was strangely good at selecting was what necessary and what seemed beyond ridiculous. Being that we were going with a group of guys who no doubt expelled any and all energy on the consumption of alcohol, I think Lillian was taking it upon herself to be well prepared in case one of them decided to do something stupid—an occurrence inevitably bound to happen.

I, on the other hand, was completely useless when it came to all outdoor activities. I detested sleeping on hard surfaces, was increasingly paranoid about strange noises outside (even at home) and was born with the uncanny ability to attract mosquitoes of frighteningly alien proportions. The very thought that I would be spending six days and five nights out in the wilderness with my heathen brothers and their friends gave me a sick feeling in the pit of stomach.

"And you couldn't just politely decline?" Lillian asked as she dropped a few propane tanks into the basket.

I leaned forward onto the handlebars of the basket, setting my chin on my forearms. "I tried, but politely declining my mother is like telling her that her favorite dress makes her look fat."

Toying with a box of tin cooking ware, she slipped it under the cart and straightened, putting her hands on her hips. "She's kind of melodramatic, don't you think?"

"Uh…Understatement of the century," I retorted.

"Well, on the bright side, you get to say 'I told you so' if things don't work out."

I sighed, "That's just it. I don't want to tell her that. I'd much rather she just leave me be and turn her attentions towards my brothers. They seem to have no trouble finding women to be willing participants in the act of baby-making."

Tossing a few fleece blankets, and a flashlight into the cart, she guided us around the corner and into the next aisle. "That's an incredibly gross mental image and I hope you never say that again."

"It's the truth," I shrugged.

As we made our way into an aisle filled with miniature tents laid around the shelves for display, Lillian ran her finger down the price tags, scanning the accessories available with each model. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and reached down to get it.

"How big do you think we should go?"

"Big enough I don't get kicked by Jazzy." As I looked down at the screen on the front of my phone, I smiled and flipped it open.

"Hi Dad."

"I'm sorry I didn't say anything at dinner." He sounded tired and a little depressed.

"It's okay… I mean, you think I'd be used to it by now."

"I'm not sure that's something you get used to, honey."

I shrugged, poking a miniature display tent beside me. According to the tag, it was a four bedroom tent, capable of sleeping six people comfortably. "Who knows, Dad. Maybe this one will be different. They say the third time's the charm, right?"

I could hear him sigh heavily on the other end. "Maybe I can find something to distract your mother enough to stop this foolishness."

Hearing that, I chuckled. "Don't worry about it, Dad. If it makes her happy, then I don't mind making a little bit of a sacrifice." Lillian waved at me and pointed to a large blue tent that not only had three rooms, but came with an "extended patio." I looked at her and my brow rose. She shrugged and tilted her head to the side. I nodded and turned back to the shopping cart.

"I guess. Just…don't do anything to get yourself hurt." As cynical and intimidating as my dad can be, he's an incredibly caring person, and has proven—numerous times—that he is not someone you piss off. Ever. Nevertheless, it was easy to hear how things like this stressed him out just from the tone of his voice. Like I said, the man wear's his heart on his sleeve.

"I won't Dad. By the way, how are those old onions?"

At that, I could hear my dad chuckle and then stop at the clamorous sound of something breaking.

"The onions are doing fine. I've got to let you go. Grandpa Bobo just crashed into the coffee table."

Cringing, I replied. "'Kay. Tell mom I love her.

"Will do, honey. Talk to you later." At that, I heard the phone click and the lines go dead. Snapping my cell phone shut, I slipped it back into my pocket and started pushing the basket towards Lillian, who looked to be comparing two different models of tents.

"I can't decide if we should get the three-bedroom with the canopy or the four-bedroom with a living area." Turning to me, she pointed out each model. I settled back into my previous position of elbows on the handle bar and rested my chin in my hand. As far as either of those looked, they were both ridiculous to me.

"Lilly, tell me. What are we going to need with four bedrooms out in the middle of the woods? We should just get a cabin. It would make things a helluva lot easier. Besides," I retorted, "which one of us is going to have the patience to put it together?"

Lillian turned to me and grinned, a twinkle in her eye. "Genny, didn't it occur to you that we won't have to lift a finger on this camping trip?"

My dropped a bit and I narrowed my eyes at her. "So we're using the guys as pack mules, then?"

"I wouldn't use such a crude term," she said, tapping her index finger against her lips as she winked at me. "After all, they're going to offer to do it."

Rolling my eyes, I sighed and pointed to the three-bedroom model. "Alright, fine. If we're going to play the damsel in distress card, I want my own room. Last time I shared any sleeping space with Jazzy or you, I woke up bruised and battered with a mouth full of your hair."

Grinning from ear to ear, Lillian reached down and hoisted the box into the cart. It was entirely obvious that all three of us were completely capable of putting the tent together ourselves, as well as most other jobs that called for physical labor. However, for Jazzy and Lillian, who were both experienced in the act of flirtation, the chance to perform such exhausting duties we very rarely called for, and any time that I suggested I do it myself, I usually found the job already done by a neighbor boy or—true story—the cable repair man. I guess it was an advantage to be grateful of, if not a little amused by it.

"So what did your dad have to say?" She asked as she started pulling the cart into the next aisle.

"He just wanted to apologize for not having my back at dinner."

"Talk about whipped," she replied, looking at me with wide eyes.

"Eh," I said, shrugging, "It's my mom. It's hard to say no to that woman."

"I guess that's a good thing right? I mean, you're mom and dad could be like mine and hate each other."

Lillian's parents were an odd sort. When Lillian was born, her father wasn't even in the picture. From what she tells me, he didn't even know he had a daughter until her mother got arrested for a drunk driving when she was seven and they called him as the emergency contact. Apparently, when her mother got pregnant, she just vanished. So when her dad found out about Lillian, he took her mother to court and got partial custody of her. She doesn't really like to talk about growing up, but it's become obvious she's closer to her father than her mother.

"Either way, I don't want to talk about it anymore. This whole thing is just a disaster waiting to happen."

"Hmm…it's like you're the red-headed stepchild…Except you're a brunette."

We'd turned into an aisle filled with camping chairs and sleeping bags. As I eyed the shelves, I caught site of the airbeds and nearly dove for the biggest one. "I want this one."

Turning to me, Lillian laughed and took the box from me. "A king? Genny are you planning something I don't know about?"

I looked at her and frowned. "No. Why?"

Smirking, she dropped the box in the cart and continued to search the camping chairs.

"I think you should plan something."

A child ran down my spine suddenly, and I eyed her carefully.

"Like what, exactly?"

She grinned, "I think you should plan to end up in the same tent as that guy your brother knows. You're mother did say you should be out 'having fun.' What was his name? Jake or something?"

I felt my eyes widen and my jaw drop instantly. Lord, not her too!

Swiftly shaking my head and waving my hand spastically in front of me, I walked back to the shopping cart and started pushing it to the end of the aisle. I could hear Lillian giggle behind me, and whipped around to face her, narrowing my eyes. "In case your brain was somewhere else for the last hour, let me remind you that my mother is attempting to set me up with a stranger—again—even though the last two times were beyond what you can call catastrophic. Not only that, but you and Jazzy succeeded in using me as your Barbie, and then proceeded to rope me into a camping trip—which is outdoors…which I hate—and you know that," I stopped to take a breath. "Now you want to try and set me up with a guy I barely know who associates himself with my older brother of all people, which by default means he more than likely has the brain capacity of gnat," I fumed.

Coming up to me, she reached out and patted my shoulders. "Oh, come on, Genny. He didn't seem that bad. I mean, he introduced himself, didn't he? That has to count for something, I think."

"That doesn't mean squat," I shook my head. "I swear… I'm surrounded by people who think my life is some sort of pathetic tragedy and that I'm in constant need of male companionship. What is it with the misconception that I am a failure at romance?"

Lillian shook her head and moved to stand beside me, wrapping around my waist and pulling me close. "It's not that anyone thinks you suck at life, we just think you suck at dating."

Growling, I pushed her away and turned back to the basket. "I may as well go drown myself because according to you and Jazzy and the rest of the world, there is no hope of recovering from my miserable existence!" I heaved. A women and her son walked by, both wide-eyed and silent. The little boy looked up, his jaw hanging open.

Glaring at him, he yelped and scurried past the shopping cart into the far aisle gripping his mother's hand. Behind me, I heard Lillian stifle her laughter. Looking at her over my shoulder, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.

Alright, so maybe I was overreacting a bit, but can you blame me? It's was true! Ever since I ended my last relationship, it seems my love-life has become prime news for the front page. I've become fairly positive that there isn't a day that goes by that someone I know—friend or family—finds it necessary to discuss my lack of male counterpart. Heaven knows I love my friends, and I love my mother, but God help me if I don't want to strangle them all right now!

Dumping a pile of folded camping chairs into the basket, Lillian pulled the basket into the main aisle and started for the grocery section. "I knew there was a reason I loved you."

Suddenly confused, I looked at the back of her head and huffed, "What?"

"You're so easy to poke at it's just too much fun to resist."

"So you were trying to make me snap?'

"Truthfully, no. But either way, it was hilarious to watch. I'm pretty sure that kid pissed himself."

Taking a deep breath, I rubbed my face and then raked my fingers through my hair. We were both quiet as Lillian scavenged for paper plates, cups, napkins and other necessary items for surviving outdoors for nearly a week. Deep down I could hear myself moaning and complaining, but after hearing what Lillian said, I attempted to bite my tongue. Nevertheless, it was obvious that wasn't going to last long—I'm a terrible liar, and therefore even worse at hiding my feelings. I am my father's daughter.

"His name was Jack."

I watched as the side of Lillian's lips twitched at my remark. "That's a nice name."

"I guess," I said flatly.

"Well…"

"Well, what?"

"What did you think of this Mr. Jack?"

Pursing my lips, I began to nibble on my bottom one before shrugging and toying with a bag of spoons. "I don't know. He seemed fine…but hell; I have terrible taste in men, so he could just as well be a sociopath for all we know."

"Mmm…I wonder if he comes in French?"

"What the hell do you mean by that?"

Looking at me with twinkling eyes, Lillian smiled crookedly. "Just where were you looking that you did not see that gorgeous face of his? And his size; he's gotta be ripped to be that tall and look that good in a t-shirt and jeans."

"Oh, please. Just because he looked hot, doesn't mean he has even a remote sense of what it is to be normal."

"And what if he does? If intelligence matters so much to you—and this guy has it—you are so screwed" Lillian looked at me over her shoulder, her brow raised, "literally and figuratively."

I blinked, feeling my face heat up before replying, "Let's face it, at this rate if someone I'm actually interested in likes me back, I'm going to die of surprise before I even get the chance to make out with them."

"I don't know about that. He looked pretty interested in you from what I could tell."

"What did he look like?" I asked, slightly baffled.

"Like he wanted to eat you."

My jaw dropped and I stared at Lillian. "No, he did not."

"Uhm…excuse me, but I believe it was you're brother that asked if he was done 'hitting on you'."

"That was just Chris being an asshole."

Shrugging, she grabbed a bag of paper towels and shoved it in the cart. "If you say so sweetheart. But I think you've got a chance with this one. He's going to be camping with us, so this is a perfect opportunity to test the water."

My mind was at a loss. For one thing, Lillian was right; all things considering, this was my chance to get to know him. Unfortunately, with my luck, he's going to turn out to be just as big as douchebag as the last guy, if not worse. I won't lie though; he was pretty damn fine. He was tall, and looked at me with an amazing pair of rich brown eyes. There was this exotically dark look about him that makes you want fall at his feet. Although that could be a bad thing if he knows it; after all, he could have a headboard full of notches and a panty drawer, and I very much refuse to be a conquest.

Is it starting to look obvious just how screwed in the head I am about relationships? Because I'm beginning to think I'll need to be committed if this obsessive mistrust of all things male keeps up. Having standards is a completely different thing than having paranoid tendencies towards the world's male population.

Geez, even my inner monologues confuse me.

Sighing, I straightened and pushed the basket to catch up to Lillian, who'd maneuvered her way into the canned food aisle. "I want to make a few things clear before I agree to anything," I started. Lillian turned to me, her eyebrows nearly reaching her hairline, and smiled politely. Rolling my eyes, I set my hands on my hips.

"If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it my way."

"That sounds fair—"

"That means that I don't need you're help. I'm going say what I want and act how I want. No plotting with Jazzy to get me shacked up with someone or doing something that is just going to force me to make an ass of myself."

Lillian giggled, "Oh, sweetheart, you're completely capable of doing that yourself. That's why we suggest what we do."

"Regardless," I emphasized, "I'm old enough to do this myself. I don't need training wheels."

Lillian was quiet, smiling at me with her weight shifted to one side and her hand on her hip. She pursed her lips and looked down at the ground, then brought her face back up, looking at me with a toothy grin.

"I can't wait to let Jazzy know," she said as she turned on her heel and started for the end of the aisle. I watched her back, her long black hair swaying in its ponytail. I looked up at the ceiling for a moment and then back down before pushing the shopping cart after her.

"You are possibly the most enthusiastic, likable bad influence I've ever met!"

All I got in response was a loud cackle.


This was a fun chapter to write, if not a little difficult. :) My wonderful beta did a fantastic job of catching all the little errors that I didn't and I love her for it!

If you want to keep track of how far along a certain chapter is for your favorite story, check out my livejournal and twitter; I update regularly regarding what's happening :D Links can be found on my profile page.

As always, constructive reviews are welcome and appreciated!
See you next chapter ;D

-VAR