We had noodles for New Year’s, even though that’s technically a tradition for Chinese New Year. I’m not complaining–Dad makes really good beef noodle soup.
“Hey guys,” I said about halfway through dinner. “When we go back to Columbus next week, I, um, I think I’d like you to meet Grace.”
Dad put his chopsticks down, but before he could say anything, Mom and Evelyn both went, “Ooooh!” Which is exactly what I thought they would do. I kicked at Evelyn under the table but missed.
“Be nice to your sister,” Dad warned, taking another bite of noodles.
“Please be cool, Mom,” I begged. “Please don’t wear your bun scrunchie.”
I saw Mom’s eyes widen. “I’m cool! I can totally be cool! I’m always voted coolest health teacher. I’m the only health teacher, but that’s beside the point. And what’s wrong with my scrunchie, huh? You can’t tell it’s fake.”
“Yeah, but you always take it out to show people who compliment your hair, which kind of ruins the effect.” Leave it to my sister to throw diplomacy out the window. Mom responds to teasing by doubling down, doesn’t Evie know that by now?
“Evelyn, go to your room,” Mon said, but she was smiling, “Okay, Ambrose. No scrunchies. Would you like to inspect our outfits too?”
“You might wanna.” No, Evie, don’t poke the bear! “You saw how they dressed for their wedding.”
“That suit was by Kenneth Cole, mind you,” Dad protested.
This is exactly what I was worried about. “Please just…be normal, okay?” All parents are weird, but I didn’t want Grace to freak out or get the wrong idea.
Mom set down her chopsticks and assumed what was supposed to be a regal air. “We will behave ourselves. Right, Eugene? Model minorities to the very end.”
I rolled my eyes at Mom’s favorite buzzphrase. “Can we not have the race conversation at the very first meeting?”
“Hey, I have to know if she’s woke. Have some more noodles, Ambrose!”
“Let’s drop off your things first so I can freshen up,” Mom said, squinting at her reflection in the rearview mirror.
“Don’t be nervous, Art, Ambrose already gave us the OK.”
“But we’ve been in the car for a long time. What if she sees us for the peasants we really are?”
I almost wished I hadn’t said anything about being cool. Dad was usually pretty chill but Mom had a tendency to try too hard when she was nervous.
“What’s Grace’s major? I’ve kept my promise and have not Googled her.” Mom was trying to redo her mascara but the car kept bouncing at the wrong time.
“Early childhood education.”
“Oh, how cute! Good for her, I couldn’t handle a room full of runny noses all day. I already did my time. And now I just try to prevent teenagers from making more babies.” She finally gave up and put the mascara away.
“Mom, please don’t give a contraception lecture the very first time you meet my girlfriend. Her dad’s a pastor. She knows what’s up.”
“Oh, I’d be surprised if she did, if her dad’s a pastor!” Mom said tartly.
I cursed myself silently. Shouldn’t have mentioned anything about Grace’s dad yet. Mom was pretty sensitive about religion.
Dad put the car in park, and Mom decided to drop the subject. As we unloaded the car and Mom used the bathroom, I texted Grace to meet us at Mirror Lake. We crossed campus relatively quickly since not everyone was back from break yet.
“We’ll say hi and have some coffee, and then leave you to your own devices,” said Dad. “We’ve got our own lovebird nostalgia tour planned.”
I walked faster as Mom and Dad grinned at each other. Nope, don’t need to know what you were doing in Knowlton Hall twenty-five years ago.
Grace was sitting on a bench by Mirror Lake and I jogged ahead of my parents to greet her. “Hey, babe.” I leaned in to kiss her, then paused. “Uh, are we doing this right now or should we–” I put an arm around her shoulder instead.
I looked up and saw my dad standing a respectable distance away. But Mom had stopped dead in her tracks several paces behind him. Her eyes were wide, her face pale, and she seemed rooted to the spot, staring at me and Grace. I released Grace and hurried over to my mom, trying to keep her expression out of Grace’s view.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” Please be normal, I added silently. When I touched her arm, she shook her head and seemed to snap out of it.
“Oh, I’m sorry, dear, I must have been reminiscing a bit and…I thought I saw…someone I know.” She blinked a few times then looked over my shoulder at Grace. “Please introduce us.”
I led Mom over to where Dad and Grace were standing They were standing closer than I’d left them so I guessed Dad had introduced himself.
“Mom, I want you to meet Grace Harrison. Grace, these are my parents, Artemis and Eugene Huang.” Everyone shook hands. Mom still looked kind of rattled.
“Forgive me if I’m totally off base, Grace, but are you related to a Peter or Andy Harrison?”
What is she talking about? Please just be normal, guys…
Grace looked startled but didn’t hesitate. “Oh, Andy Harrison is my dad! Do you know him?”
Mom was silent for just a beat longer than normal. I squeezed Grace’s hand to distract her from the awkward pause. “We went to school together. Right here at OSU.” Mom smiled, but not with her eyes. “You…you look just like him.”