I wonder what we must look like from the skylight above the foyer: two families forming a ring around me, the pupil of a blonde eye. The guest list includes me, my fiancé, and his parents, hosted by an adult family, the closest friends of my in-laws. The hostess, along with the other father, the other sons, the wives of those sons, have stiff smiles as if no one is unlike the others. Tonight’s is a casual formality before I am brought into this community permanently.
As we settle in the living room, the hostess pours wine for the young wives, Father-in-law, the other father, and then raises the bottle to Mother-in-law with questioning eyes; Mother shakes her head, and Hostess shoves the cork in the bottle’s mouth while forgoing my following gaze.
The parents reminisce about when the three young men were boys, how they camped in living rooms, slept in their parents’ beds for far too long, and forever remain nestled in the creases of their mothers’ hearts. I grow bored and sneak off to the kitchen to pick at the appetizers. I chew on chips and salsa that taste like cold, canned tomato chunks.
Hostess beckons me to a conversation she’s having with Mother-in-law.
Hostess asks, “Do you like those tortilla chips? They’re sold in little traditional Mexican bags at the farmers market, but you know what I’m talking about, right?”
I release a loose-jaw laugh. Tortilla chips–Mexican like me. Bonded by having come from women who kneaded cornflour before the sun woke.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say coldly. I excuse myself, retreat to my fiancé looming over the desserts, and quietly fill him in on the tortilla comment.
“Maybe that comment wasn’t so off-color,” he says, grabbing a lemon bar and eyeing me cautiously.
“Off-color?” I narrow my eyes on him hopefully.“Is that a double entendre?” But there is no humor in his eyes although they are brighter tonight. He is comfortable and nostalgic.
He neatly kisses my forehead, asks, “Let’s blame ignorance?”
“Honestly, do I remind you of a corn chip?” He giggles as the other sons approach us.
Their eager eyes are those of competitive boys who have argued over a quarter-inch height difference all their lives. They gesture towards the living room, insisting we play a card game. While we play, Hostess and Mother-in-law gossip across from me on the couch.
“The students in my last school couch-surfed constantly,” Hostess tells Mother-in-law. “It was difficult to teach when they didn’t have consistency at home. The parents’ phones were always disconnected when I called. No emergency contact numbers.” She sips. Mother-in-law warmly squeezes Hostess’s freckled arm. “That school was roach-infested and highly diverse. I couldn’t do it forever.” The women pout and then hold hands meaningfully.
As I excuse myself to the bathroom, Father-in-law receives a phone call and leaves the room after signaling with a head tilt for the other father to join.
In the bathroom, I hear Father-in-law complain to the other father in the hallway.
“We have these tenants bugging the hell out of me,” he says. His retirement plan, commercial real estate, allows he and Mother-in-law to buy and rent homes to families on the other side of town.
The other father asks, “That Mexican family?”
These two men are who my fiancé admires most. They discuss the stock market daily, travel together for business, and will tie my partner and me into generational wealth.
Father-in-law nods and explains, “We were talking about money, and at the same time, they’re whispering to each other in Spanish.” They pause to drink. “That tells me something is being kept from me.” The other father laughs and then their voices muffle. “…no accent…he loves that brown girl…” I sigh and wash my clammy hands, feeling I never arrived this evening.
During the drive home, my in-laws are cheerful, warmed by the reunion while I weigh my future. I could slink through this life in kitten heels, host specialty dinners in celebration of new investments, and pour bottles of flat champagne down the drain.
I press my forehead against the edge of the lowered window and gaze at the dented single-cab truck cruising beside us. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, imagining that I am driving past the city limits, following bumpy county rounds south, listening to gentle Spanish music.
Cameron Bocanegra is a queer Texan. She studied English education and journalism at Baylor University and graduated in 2020. She draws inspiration from nature, children, her culture, and experiences as a former Catholic and current atheist. She is inspired by the work of Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, and Sandra Cisneros.