The prompt was:
When the circus comes to town.
I sink down onto the edge of the bed and prop my elbows up on my knees, burying my face in my hands with a sigh. Jay doesn’t understand. Trying to explain the terror that claws at my brain at the mere thought of family gatherings is like trying to teach a dog to cook a gourmet meal. Besides, if he doesn’t want to understand, he won’t. It’s as simple as that.
I feel a hand against my back, lightly rubbing up and down between my shoulder blades. The mattress groans as he sits down beside me.
“Anne…” He speaks my name softly, but I don’t move. “Anne, please look at me.”
I lift my head slowly, running my fingers down my face as I do, until my chin rests in my palms. Tilting my face to look at him, I know he sees the dejection and surrender reflecting in my eyes.
“They can’t be all bad,” he says. I laugh. Jay doesn’t know them like I do. He doesn’t know them at all, actually.
“Trust me, they are. My relatives are just… I don’t even know what they are.” I know I’m rambling, but I can’t seem to find the words. I feel my temperature rising as I think of past holidays that saw my family all gathered in the same house. “They aren’t joyous or festive, that’s for sure. They’re terrible, backstabbing, evil, maniacal–”
“Okay, okay,” he interrupts, tossing his hands in the air defensively. “I get it, they’re bad. But if we’re going to get married, don’t you think I should at least meet them? Just once?”
He looks at me, unconvinced, with one brow raised skeptically. His features say, ‘I don’t accept that answer’. He’s lucky he’s so handsome, otherwise that look wouldn’t have had an effect on me.
“Maybe,” I concede. “But I’m stating for the record that you have been officially warned. Meet them at your own risk; if you don’t like them, too bad. You’re stuck with me.” I smile as I say the last sentence, partly to lighten the mood and partly in response to the twinkle that glimmers in his eyes.
“You don’t know what they’re like though,” I continue, standing up and pacing in front of the bed as I speak. “My nephews are destructive. They climb on ev-er-y-thing. I’m pretty sure they were swinging from the bedroom ceiling fan last time they were here.
“And of course my sister didn’t do a damn thing to stop them. She just sort of stood there directing them; ‘don’t do this, don’t do that, hey did everyone hear how great they are at destroying things?’ Yes, we all know. They are spoiled brats who get rewarded for the destruction they cause.”
He laughs, but I’m relieving a lot of my pent-up stress by finally venting. So I keep going.
“My mom brings her dogs along every year. She treats them better than she treats me! Those vicious little fur-demons. They chew holes in all my slippers and growl if I so much as look at them wrong. They’re the reason my mom gives me new slippers every Christmas. She knows they’re going to chew them. And she brings them anyways!” I run my hands through my hair, scrunching my fingers up tightly. The pain tugging at my scalp detracts from the frustration, and I take a deep breath before continuing.
“Then there’s my uncle. He’s such a creep. He always has this fake smile plastered across his face, and when he hugs me or my cousins he always pretends that his hands ‘slip’. But I swear to God if he so much as looks at my ass one more time I’ll paint his face with his own blood when I punch his nose in.”
He laughs again, mirthful and loud. My incredulous stare has little effect on him. I cross my arms in front of my chest, tapping my foot on the hardwood floor, waiting impatiently for him to explain himself. My anger is no laughing matter. He finishes out his laughter until it fades into silent content.
“Do you know what it sounds like?”
I don’t answer. I wonder if, perhaps, my fiery stare can burn a hole through his face—if he’s in the hospital, we can’t make it to Christmas dinner. I can only hope.
“It sounds like your family is a circus. Your nephews are the trapeze artists, the ringleader is your sister… your mother would have to be a lion-tamer, and those dogs of course would be the lions, although chihuahuas are a little small to be calling vicious. And your uncle… I suppose he’d have to be a clown, but not a friendly one. An overly-friendly one? But also creepy. Like, the reason people fear clowns.”
My eyebrows shoot up and my temper eases down. Seeing it from that perspective does have a ring of humor to it. I still keep silent, though.
“Do you know what I always loved about the circus when I was a kid?”
I roll my eyes. I just know he’s going to keep trying to convince me to let him meet my family. I really don’t want to hear a whole speech about nostalgia and making memories. But I know I’m about to hear one anyways.
From his sitting position on the edge of the bed, he reaches out his hands and takes hold of mine, directing me to stand in front of him. I can’t stop the exasperated sigh that escapes me as I consider withdrawing from his grasp. His hands are warm and comforting, though, so I reluctantly shrug my shoulders in response, prompting him to continue.
“When I was younger, the circus was exciting. It didn’t come around very often, so when we got to go, it was a big deal. It was amazing and crazy and the acts seemed really dangerous. It was always a mess though, trash and peanuts everywhere. But what made it special was the fact that I didn’t see it every day. If I would have been at the circus all the time, the trapeze would have become another boring stunt, the lion would have started to seem more like a kitten, and it would have gotten really boring really fast. Your family is like that. Laugh and worry when they’re in town, but take comfort in knowing that they won’t be there forever.”
“If my family is the circus, what does that make me?” I ask, curious and just a bit antagonizing. His lips curl up mischievously and he pulls me close, wrapping his arms around my waist and bringing his face just inches from my chest.
“Hm… sexy contortionist?” he offers, biting his bottom lip. I laugh and shove his head backwards slightly.
“Umm… let me think about that… no,” I say playfully, my frustration all but gone.
“It was worth a shot, right? But seriously.” He slides his arms back until his hands are on my hips, and he stares into my eyes for a moment. “I’m not going to suddenly stop loving you just because your family is a little crazy. If you think it’s that easy to scare me away, you must not know me very well. I’m not marrying them, anyways. I’m marrying you.”
I rest my hand on his cheek, touched by the love I feel from him—for him. He reaches up and holds my hand in his, turning his head to kiss my fingers; his eyes never leave mine.
He’s right. My family is only here for one week during the holidays. They’ll visit, we’ll laugh at the insanity, and then they’ll go home. I’m already looking forward to the day they leave, but as long as Jay is by my side, I know I can get through the week of anxiety and worry that I go through every year when the circus comes to town.
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