Todd Wanted to Meet Dahlia's Family
By Kimberly Vargas
By Kimberly Vargas
Todd Golden wanted to meet Dahlia Moore’s family, and there was no getting around it. Dahlia had been so opposed to the idea that for a while it gave him a complex. This was because Todd was the son of the wealthiest couple in town, and Dahlia only knew Todd because her family worked for his. She and Todd had fallen for each other and were now having to deal with their glaring differences.
Mrs. Moore was on cloud nine once her daughter nervously asked if she would like to have dinner with Todd sometime. No rush, Dahlia had said. Next year would be totally fine. However, to Dahlia’s dismay, this dinner became the priority of her mother’s life. Mrs. Moore had gone stark raving mad with the opportunity to spend time with the boy she hoped her daughter would marry. She scheduled the event for Valentine’s Day. She insisted upon inviting not just the immediate family, but also even the most distant relations. Mrs. Moore reserved the private room of Smokey’s Pit Barbecue for the occasion. This was the type of establishment where the guests were furnished with peanuts. It was common practice to throw the peanut shells on the floor. Dahlia tried to compare it to the last place Todd had taken her. The contrast in parallel thinking made her feel faint.
“I don’t think it’s the best place for us to be going,” began her attempt to negotiate a more suitable locale.
Her father gave her a disapproving look. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
“You know how the Goldens are, Dad. Give me a break.”
“You’re the one who decided to date that kid. You’d probably be better off dating Damian from The Omen. Maybe it’s not good enough for the Golden boy, but it’s the best place near our house. He’s got to accept all of you, not just the parts he likes.”
“Can’t we at least go to a chain restaurant with accepted standards, practices and health codes?” begged Dahlia.
Joe Moore was no pushover. He realized he was intellectually superior to the Goldens, even if they were the most successful people in the area, and he was not about to kowtow. Besides, he wanted to throw up a few Herculean challenges for any guy who tried to take his daughter away. They were going to have to earn her and prove their intentions were admirable. It was hard for him to deny his daughter anything but this was for her own good. “Forget it. We’re not driving thirty miles away and over the Paradise Skyway bridge for Todd Golden. He can punt on that. Let him come to us if he’s so crazy about you.” Then he returned his attention to the Miami Dolphins and his beer. Dahlia shuddered at the thought of Todd’s reaction to seeing her father drinking a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
The night of the occasion (anticipated by some with enthusiasm and others with dread) was clear and warm. Todd met the Moores at the restaurant since it was quite a hike and he didn’t want to delay them. Florida traffic is always a wild card. Dahlia, Clay, her parents and grandparents arrived at seven that night. Several of her aunts and uncles were there. One aunt in attendance didn’t exactly have dementia, but she was definitely touched in the head from her husband beating her senseless over the years. There was one cousin there who had recently been released from prison (grand theft auto), and he received congratulations all around on his newfound freedom. Uncle Bob apologized for hitting another mourner during Uncle Fred’s wake, because it just wasn’t appropriate. After assessing the pending damage, Dahlia prayed that Todd’s car would get a flat tire or catch on fire. Anything would be better than him seeing her amongst this motley crew.
No such luck. Todd walked through the door and Dahlia could tell he was doing his best to smile graciously and not to look disturbed. He took in the décor, which was random antiques displayed all over the walls amongst a serious collection of neon beer signs. He thought it was the most distasteful place he’d ever seen in his life, but he looked over at Dahlia and didn’t care anymore. He walked boldly over and shook her father’s hand.
“Nice to see you, Mr. Moore. I’m Todd.”
“You can call me Joe,” said Mr. Moore. Joe Moore gave Todd a once over and thought he was a good-looking kid. A good-looking kid whose parents own about 10% of Florida. What the hell does he want with Dahlia? I can’t believe he actually showed up. Guess he really does like her.
Outside in the parking lot, Dahlia’s friend Jack Burton was sitting in his car. He could see the Moore family inside. Jack had been dying to meet the rest of Dahlia’s family. He figured if he could get to know them better, maybe he’d stand a better chance with her. Seeing Todd Golden through the window surprised him. Jack felt sure he wouldn’t really make the trip to Tomahawk, but there he was. Jack felt like throwing a brick through the window of Todd’s BMW but realized it wasn’t going to solve his problem. He saw the way Dahlia looked at Todd and it made him nauseous.
Inside the restaurant, Todd tried not to slip on the peanut shells all over the floor. Dahlia had to use the bathroom but was terrified to leave the object of her affection alone with her family. She finally gave in, rushing the whole time. She returned to find her nightmare scenario. Aunt Yolanda had cornered Todd.
“In our family, there’s always been really big babies,” Aunt Yolanda told wide-eyed Todd. “Like twelve or thirteen pounds, some of ‘em.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Todd responded with a furrowed brow, as though conducting analysis with a faulty calculator.
“Nope. It’s God’s honest truth. Some of the c-sections the women in our family have had nearly killed ‘em,” Yolanda continued babbling. Dahlia tried to interrupt them, but her brother Clay pulled her aside.
“Let go of me! I have to get him away from Aunt Yolanda!” she hissed.
“No. He’s going to see us for who we are, warts and all. If he can pass the Yolanda test, then I was wrong about him.” Clay gave his sister a you-know-I’m-right look.
“Please- please- can’t it be something he might actually pass, like climbing Everest or finding his way out of that hedge from The Shining?”
“Wouldn’t you rather know now than ten years from now?” he asked her quietly.
“No. Because then I’d at least have the ten years,” she told him honestly. “I can’t even believe I’ve had it for ten minutes.”
Clay appeared as though a death in the family had just been announced. “It’s already too late for you. You’re a goner. You’re flying too close to the sun. You’re headed for a fall.”
Dahlia shook off Clay’s warning and walked back towards Todd. Yolanda had moved to a new topic of conversation. “If you really want your hair to grow, now, you have to eat a lot of sugar. That’s cause sugar makes your hair grow.” She displayed two prominently missing teeth. She was wearing a t-shirt that said All This and Brains Too.
Dahlia linked arms with Todd, asked to borrow him for a moment and strolled with him outside. He looked shaken. There was a sagging swing set behind the property. Thinking that might be a little more peaceful, they decided to take a chance that the swings would hold up under their weight. For a moment, they sat in silence. As Todd was about to speak, a group of children ran up to them. They were Dahlia’s three cousins, aged four, seven and eight. They were the offspring of Uncle Tom, Mrs. Moore’s n’er do well brother. Dahlia groaned. She realized this could actually be worse than the Aunt Yolanda experience.
“Hey Dahlia, is that your boyfriend?” one of them screamed.
“Aunt Jean says you guys are getting married. Is that true? Because I heard Todd is really rich!” crowed another.
“Hey, if you’re rich, will you buy me roller blades?” another one asked. “Because my daddy said he lost all his money in Vegas and can’t buy me none.”
Dahlia buried her head in her hands. This was even worse than she had expected. Their relationship, fragile egg that it was, had just been cracked and scrambled.
Todd’s brain was feeling a bit cracked and scrambled as well. He took things literally and had a pretty active imagination. Mental pictures of writing checks to these three dirty children had already been etched there.
“I’m not rich. Who told you I was rich?” he asked, trying to smile.
“Everybody’s saying that!” an eight-year old redheaded girl informed him before shoving her index finger squarely in her nose.
“Where are your shoes?” Todd heard himself ask, even though he knew it was impolite. After all, this was hardly polite society.
“Kids, why don’t you go inside?” Dahlia suggested. “I think they’ve got a monkey in the private room.”
The children all scampered away to find the monkey.
Todd was bewildered. “They have a monkey? Is that legal?” He wanted to know.
“No. The monkey was my own invention.”
“Too bad. That would have been the high point of the evening. I like monkeys. They sure don’t smell like roses, though.” He handed her a little package that was in his pocket. “It’s a necklace. Happy Valentine’s Day.” Before she even could open it, Todd was exhaling loudly. He was never one to suffer in silence or hide his feelings. “I don’t think I can do this, Dahlia. Ay, carumba. What the hell is wrong with your Aunt and those nasty kids?”
“We hardly ever see them. I don’t even know why my mom invited them,” she said sullenly.
“Oh, your mom told me why. She said she wanted everyone to meet ‘the guy Dahlia’s in love with.’ This is probably out of line to say, but I genuinely think she would sell you to me for forty shekels of silver.” Todd laughed quietly.
Dahlia didn’t have the energy to dispute his statement, particularly since she felt it was accurate. She could pretty much handle anything, no matter how brutal, as long as it was true. “Clay said it’s better you see it now than later. And I never told my mom I was in love with you. Don’t listen to her. She’s a frustrated actress.”
Todd dug his Cole-Haans in the sand. “I don’t know, honey. I don’t know. Maybe we have even less in common than I thought. It’s not fair of me. I’ve treated the situation like you were an angel who dropped out of the sky for me, and never in the context of your life.”
“I’m not planning on this being the extent of my life, Todd,” she snapped. “I don’t have any control over where I came from, only where I’m going. Remember when you told me that your parents’ home was their home, and it didn’t have anything to do with who you are as a person? I don’t think you know yourself very well.” She got up out of the swing. They were on the path of a military airline strip, and a B-52 was flying overhead. “Please determine if you can accept me or not, because it’s kind of the cornerstone of any relationship. If you can’t accept this, and believe me, no judgments, I need you to stay away from me and let me start to get over you.” She wiped a tear from her eye.
“Holy shit Dahlia, don’t start crying. You’ve got a ready-made lynch mob fifty feet away. I’ll never make it out alive.” He was only halfway joking.
“Go ahead and go,” she whispered. “I know you want to. Go ahead and go.” He hesitated a moment and walked out to his car. In the parking lot was Jack Burton, watching the evening unfold.
“Todd Golden, right?” Jack asked. “Hi. I’m Jack. I’m a friend of Dahlia’s. Are you leaving already?”
Todd sighed and took a silver flask of whiskey and offered it to Jack, who declined. He took a long swig of it. “I guess. I don’t know what the hell to do.”
“About what?” Jack asked, wondering how he could permanently paint Todd into a corner.
“About Dahlia, that’s what.” Todd hit the flask again. “I’ve got it bad, really bad for her. But what’s the point? We can’t penetrate the other’s worlds. We only exist in our own. It’s only good when we’re alone, and that’s no good, right?” He had no idea why he was opening up to a total stranger, but he was glad Jack was there.
“You’re right. That’s no good,” Jack agreed. “You can’t sustain that.”
“Exactly. Have you met Aunt Yolanda?”
“What the F, dude? How do you deal with that shit?” Todd sighed deeply. “How am I supposed to sit there and deal with all that?”
“If you were really into it, it wouldn’t be an issue,” Jack shrugged.
Todd laughed cynically. “Yeah, right. Apparently you haven’t met Aunt Yolanda.”
“Au contraire. I take Aunt Yolanda to her volunteer shift at the Sugarville Boys and Girls Club kitchen every Tuesday,” Jack said quietly.
“You ride in a car with that whack job for almost two hours a week? Wouldn’t you prefer to just take a beating?”
Jack nodded. “Well, sure, sometimes. For example, she said her husband’s diabetes was instantly cured when he was hit by a car. She also claims that her breasts get bigger in the shower, and she offered to prove it.”
Todd laughed out loud in response. “Okay, so why do you do that?” He marveled. “Are you looking to get sainted?”
“No. Not that,” Jack responded.
“Because it helps Dahlia.”
“To do that, you must be in love with her or something…” Todd’s voice trailed off as he realized he’d hit the nail on the head.
Jack just stood there staring at him for a meaningful pause. “Thanks to you, my Valentine’s Day is looking up.” He smiled and walked towards where Dahlia was still sitting alone in the children’s playground, oblivious to the conversation between the two young men.
Todd hesitated. He hadn’t considered that Dahlia had other suitors. Of course she did. And was he really going to leave her with one of them? Apparently, yes. He had to get out of that place.
He started his car and drove across the Paradise Skyway to the Sugarville Microbrewery. They had 50 beers on tap. Maybe he would try all of them. Maybe that would make him feel better. He certainly had to do something.
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