Release Date: December 11th
A College love story. They’ve been madly in love since they were freshman and had to push through the ups and downs of college years, but Talon’s got a big surprise for Charlotte. You hear that? Sounds like wedding bells…
“We’re not going to make it on time,” Charlotte said from the passenger seat.
Her hands were wringing in her lap. I clamped my hand over hers to still her nervous fidgeting, and I gave her a comforting squeeze.
“We’ve got plenty of time, gorgeous,” I said. “Your parents just barely landed.”
“But we’re not even moving, Mike,” she pouted, pursing her cute, pink lips in a way that made me want to lean over and kiss her.
I would have, but the airport traffic was a nightmare. Crazy taxi drivers zoomed between cars with just inches to spare. Crazier Uber drivers did the same thing, but with less skill. Then, there were the regular folks like Charlotte and me, just trying to make it to the baggage claim area to pick up their loved ones without getting into a wreck.
“It’s the holidays,” I said. “That’s the only problem with your parents flying in to spend Christmas break with us. Everyone else is flying in and out around this time, too. I told you we should have made them take a cab.”
Charlotte made an offended sound. “I could never do that to them.”
I grinned at her. “You know that was a joke. I like your parents. Your mom is still, like, super hot.”
Charlotte groaned. “Not this again.”
I smiled. “Your father is a lucky man.”
She slapped my arm. “Keep it up, mister, and I’m going to tell her you said that.”
I put on a fake, dreamy expression. “Please do. I only started dating you to get to her.”
Charlotte laughed. “You’re so gross. I’m definitely telling her what you said as soon as I see her.”
“I’m just saying, I know where you get your good looks from.” I waggled my eyebrows up and down at her suggestively.
Charlotte looked over at me with her deep brown eyes, her expression softening. “Well, okay, then. That’s better.”
We pushed our way through the line of cars until we pulled up in front of Baggage Claim C. Mr. and Mrs. Jordan were just walking through the automatic doors, pulling their luggage behind them.
Charlotte’s father Bob was a bear of a man. Age had done nothing to diminish his stature. We were around the same height, but he was twice as wide as me. Years of building furniture by hand had made him as tough as old oak. I’d been intimidated the first time I met him when he gave me the “If you hurt my daughter, I’ll bury you” speech. He’d warmed up to me since then, or at least, I hoped he had.
His wife Gloria was beautiful, although I didn’t actually find her attractive. That was just a joke I knew got under Charlotte’s skin. She had the same light brown hair as her daughter, perfectly styled whenever I saw her. She was elegantly dressed as always. Charlotte never dressed up nearly as much, but she was always well put together, even in jeans and a t-shirt.
Charlotte lowered her window, letting in a rush of cool winter air, and she waved at her parents. Their eyes brightened when they saw her, and they both waved. I pulled to a stop at the curb, put my SUV in park, and hopped out. Charlotte was ahead of me, running over to her parents and wrapping them both in a hug. They hugged her back with one arm on either side. All of the Jordans were together again, and it warmed my heart to see Charlotte so happy.
I gave them a moment while I went to the back of my SUV and pulled open the back hatch door. I took some extra time, pretending to move stuff around in the back. It was always a little weird for me to see Charlotte with her family. They were so close and loving, something I wasn’t used to.
My own family wasn’t shitty or anything. My parents had done their best with my two brothers and me. They just weren’t warm and fuzzy like Charlotte’s parents. My father was stern and distant, too interested in numbers and accounting to form any real connection with me. And my mother, while sweet, had her hands full keeping my brothers and me in line, so she was more like our prison warden than our friend. I thought that was how all families were until I met the Jordans.
They all came over to the SUV, smiling happily. I greeted her parents with handshakes instead of hugs, packed their bags in the vehicle, and we headed for their hotel.
Charlotte twisted around in the passenger seat so she could look at her parents in the back. She chattered away about everything and nothing, clearly thrilled to see them. I chimed in every now and again, but mostly, I let them talk and catch up.
We arrived at the Windsor Hotel, right by the convention center. It was a tall, stately building that looked nicer than any place I’d ever stayed at. The lobby was all polished marble and brass fixtures. The man behind the front desk was well-dressed and perfectly groomed. I immediately felt out of place.
Charlotte’s parents checked in, and we all headed up to the room so they could get settled.
“Holy crap,” Charlotte said when we walked into the room. “You guys went all out. This room is super nice.”
Her mom smiled. “Well, your father and I don’t travel much. We figured we could splurge a little on this trip.”
Her father nodded. “We’re going to be here for a couple of weeks. Might as well be comfortable. Plus, they’ve got a nice restaurant downstairs where your mother and I can have our morning coffee.”
“Speaking of restaurants,” I said. “Are you folks hungry? Charlotte and I wanted to take you out for dinner.”
Gloria smiled. “That sounds lovely.”
Bob shrugged. “I can always eat. But you have to let me pay. I don’t want you broke college kids to spend your money on us.”
I was about to protest, but Charlotte chimed in first. “Deal.”
We went to the restaurant downstairs, located just off the lobby. The place was as fancy as the rest of the hotel. It had crisp, white linen tablecloths, flickering candles on the tables, and menus without any prices on it. Suddenly, I was glad Bob had insisted on paying. I wasn’t poor by any means, but with Christmas right around the corner, I needed to save my pennies.
We ordered, and I grabbed a piece of bread and buttered it while we waited, mostly for something to do. I wasn’t usually so awkward around people, but these were Charlotte’s parents. I always felt the need to impress them and prove I was good enough for their daughter.
Bob broke the silence at the table. “So, have you decided if you’re getting married yet?”
I choked on my piece of bread and started coughing. Charlotte shot me a glance and turned to her father.
“Daddy! What kind of question is that?”
He spread his hands innocently. “It’s a perfectly legitimate question. You two have been dating since freshman year, and you’re seniors now. I’m just curious.”
Charlotte kept glancing furtively in my direction and looking away, as if she were curious to have the question answered, too. I swallowed the difficult piece of bread and forced a smile. I refused to have this conversation right now, and I was pissed that her father had brought it up, although I wouldn’t let them know that.
I couldn’t answer that question, so I sidestepped it as best as I could.
“We’ll see, Bob,” I said with a laugh, even though there was nothing funny about what I’d just said. “But in the meantime, we should figure out what we’re doing while you two are here in town. Charlotte and I are going to have our hands full with finals for the next few days. I hope you won’t get bored waiting around for us.”
Bob was giving me an appraising look, like he saw through my bullshit, but his wife jumped in seamlessly. “Don’t you worry about us. Just worry about acing those tests. We’ll be fine. Bob and I are going to the zoo.”
I nodded. “You know, Gloria, I’ve been here four years, and I’ve never been to the zoo.”
“Well,” she said. “We’ll let you know if it lives up to the hype.”
The conversation continued with lighter topics, and I breathed an internal sigh of relief that the big question had been successfully avoided. Still, I noticed Charlotte giving me funny looks throughout the rest of dinner.
Once we said goodbye to her parents and headed back to our apartment, Charlotte turned to me.
“I’m sorry that my father put you on the spot like that,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing exactly what she meant.
“With the marriage thing,” she said. “I’m sorry if he made you uncomfortable.”
I shrugged and grinned. “Don’t be silly. It didn’t bother me at all.”
She looked down at her lap. “It’s just that you changed the subject really quickly,” she said quietly. “I just figured it bugged you.”
“No, of course not,” I said. “But I could tell you were uncomfortable with it, so I was trying to switch up the conversation and lighten things up.”
Charlotte looked at me like she was trying to decide if I was telling her the truth. Finally, she nodded, accepting my answer.
I hated lying to Charlotte, but telling her the truth wasn’t an option.