“Come, Jill dear.” Ethan’s mom handed her a plate of cookies to set on the coffee table. The plastic looking smile on the woman’s face said it all. Jill returned a genuine smile, but she felt pummeled by the woman’s stiff formality as much as the woman’s words and attitude. It would not have been so bad if the woman did not keep trying to give Jill orders disguised as sage advice. “When you reach my age,” the woman kept saying, and Jill kept biting her lip.
Jill walked from the kitchen to the dining room and slowly let her breath out through gritted teeth.
“Cookies!” Melanie shouted.
“Wonderful!” Ethan’s dad heard the word “cookies” over the sound of the football game. In Jill’s mind, Ethan’s dad balanced things a little with his Lazy-boy approach to life. “I love those cookies,” he said and leaned up to grab a good handful. “Do you like football?” He crunched and said how lucky Ethan was for the millionth time, though his eyes remained attached to the big screen.
“Dad likes anything with sugar.” Ethan’s little sister, Melanie had planted herself on the couch between Jill and Ethan and acted much like the referee for everyone in the room. Ethan mostly kept his mouth closed. That was probably for the best.
“So how is work?” Ethan’s dad asked during one commercial.
“Fine,” Ethan said. “I’ve been working with new stuff lately, and that keeps it interesting.” He knew one word would not suffice, but as he told Jill, he also knew he did not have to say everything.
“Do tell.” Dad leaned in Ethan’s direction. “Wait, commercial’s over.”
“Just as well. Nothing I can talk about,” Ethan said.
“Ooo. Secret stuff.” Melanie nudged her brother. She heard, even if Dad did not.
“And what do you do, dear?” Mom sat in the comfy chair that put the coffee table between herself and her husband. That was on Jill’s side of the couch, like it was the women’s side of the room, and it was where Mom could innocently grill Jill down to the bones.
“Research and Development,” Jill said, and then paused with a look at Ethan and one hand on a cookie. She did promise to work on her honesty so she needed to give it her best shot. “I am presently working on a Guardian Angel program designed to protect places from unlawful intrusion.” Ethan looked over and grinned. She would have done well in public relations if she ever decided to switch jobs.
“Hmm. Government money I suppose,” Mom said. She hated to hear about how the government spent money and she always thought it was all a waste of her hard-earned tax dollars, no matter the cause. Even if she never really worked a day in her life or hard-earned anything herself, it was still her hard-earned tax money they were wasting.
“No,” Jill said pleasantly. “My work is privately funded.”
Melanie nudged Ethan as he reached for a cookie, but he still held his tongue.
“I see,” Mom said, a bit miffed at having her thunder taken away. “And what is it you do? Secretarial? Administrative assistant? You must keep the men on their toes.” She tried to suggest that even lowly work could be seen in a positive light, and she assumed that Jill had to be doing some lowly work, like she was a file clerk or something.
“Mom.” Ethan just had to interrupt at that point. “Jill is the project director. She has advanced degrees and even taught at the University, er, briefly, before coming to work for the Company.”
“I see.” Mom’s whole face pulled back a little. She had something to think about now. She had to find a new avenue to approach this intruder in her house and into her son’s life. This woman had to be put in her proper place, somehow.
Ethan wiped his brow as Jill avoided giggling nervously by nursing the punch in her hand and keeping it by her lips. She hardly looked old enough to have spent years teaching at the University, though she did. Ethan almost let too much slip, but it was a nice recovery.
“You run things?” Melanie looked up.
“Yes.” Jill admitted. “And when you are older, maybe Ethan and I can take you with us some time and show you.”
Ethan waved his hands to suggest that it would not be a good idea, but Melanie, all of twelve years old, kicked the coffee table and got everyone’s attention.
“Hey!” Dad shouted without shifting his eyes from the television.
“Melanie!” Mom scolded Melanie just by saying her name in the right tone of voice.
“Why is everything when I’m stupid older?” Melanie flopped back and folded her arms even as there was a knock on the front door.
“Door!” Dad shouted. He was not getting up when his team was in the red zone.
“I’ll get it.” Mom got up and gave her husband a look which said he should darn well get the door after dark and she did not care if his team was in the pink zone. “Can I help you?” She stared at the strange, big black man, and stepped back a little. It was not what she expected.
“Evening.” The man said as he tipped his hat. “I am Doctor Lucas’ driver. The Doctor and Mister Hill have a big day at the office in the morning, mam.” Manomar had practiced that speech a thousand times that evening.
“Mister Manomar.” Ethan stood and rushed for his and Jill’s coats. Jill got caught by surprise. “Come on honey, we have to go.”
“Hey, Hey!” Dad shouted. His team scored, but he gave up the instant replay to get out of his chair and give Jill a genuine hug. “Welcome to the family,” he said with all the warmth and sincerity that was in him before he rushed back to his chair. Ethan and Jill had said they were engaged, which technically they were.
Mom put her hand on Jill’s shoulder in something in between a hug and making sure that Jill did not get too close. She puckered her lips and made a sound, but never touched Jill’s cheek with her kiss. “Wonderful to meet you. Come again,” she said in a voice that dripped with politeness. Jill refrained from grabbing the woman by the collar and slapping her around while yelling, “Snap out of it!” She did not think Ethan would appreciate that, and besides, Melanie was hugging her.
“I like you much better than Susan,” Melanie whispered.
“I like you, too,” Jill said, and it was true.
“Call me.” Mom spoke to Ethan from the doorway as Ethan hustled off with Jill and Manomar. “You could call once a week at least. It wouldn’t hurt.”
“Bye.” Jill, Ethan and at least Melanie waved.
“Hey, Hey!” They heard the noise from the other room as they walked around the corner and out of sight. The team must have made the extra point.
Manomar led them a short distance down the street, as if the car was parked there. “Was that acceptable, masters?” He asked.
“No masters here, remember?” Ethan said. “And that was about perfect timing.”
“You set this up?” Jill understood well enough.
“My family needs to be taken in limited doses,” Ethan suggested.
Jill took his arm. “I like your sister,” she said, with a grin. “She told me all of your secrets.”
Ethan made the door, and the three entered the ship. “Yeah,” he said. “And some of them may even be true.”