“Emily, stop fidgeting.” JJ demanded from the driver’s seat, looking over at her girlfriend who had a thumbnail lodged firmly between her teeth and a leg bouncing up and down rapidly.
“I can’t help it,” Emily insisted. “I’m nervous.”
“What do you have to be nervous about?”
“Oh I don’t know, Jayje, it’s only that I’m meeting your whole damn family that you’re not even out to.”
JJ snorted and shook her head. “Don’t be melodramatic. Everyone who matters knows, it’s just the extended family that doesn’t.”
“The extended family that’s going to be there the whole vacation” Emily grumbled petulantly.
They were on their way to a small borough in Allegheny County called East McKeesport where JJ had grown up for the triannual Jareau Family Reunion. It wouldn’t be so terrible if Emily hadn’t had a very detailed scope of just how large JJ’s family was. JJ had four older brothers who were all married with children and JJ’s father was the middle child out of seven who all had their own families that JJ had excitedly told her would be in attendance. It was bad enough that Emily had been running through photo albums trying to memorize names and familial connections (a fruitless task), but the last time there had been a family reunion, JJ had brought her then boyfriend. To show up with someone new was one thing but to show up with another woman was a horse of a different colour entirely.
East McKeesport was small, tiny by Emily’s standards having only a little over two thousand people, and with small towns came small town mentalities. JJ had assured her that she had been out and proud since she was thirteen and her brother Thomas caught her making out with her first girlfriend in the barn; anyone who didn’t know didn’t matter at that point. But—there was always a ‘but’—they couldn’t be ‘obvious.’ After all, this reunion was more special than the others—it was Grams Jareau’s 95th birthday celebration and being that 95-year-olds were decidedly from a ‘different time’ JJ didn’t want to be the reason Grams had a heart attack and didn’t make it to her 96th birthday.
Emily hadn’t even wanted to go, but the blue and silver invitation that arrived at their apartment had been addressed to them both along with Sandy Jareau’s bubbled scrawl at the bottom declaring that it would be so nice to see them again. So reluctantly, Emily agreed to take the long Veteran’s Day weekend to go with JJ to the place of her birth and meet up with the rest of her family. JJ had tried to put a positive spin on it, she had brought the last guy to the family function to scare him off a bit (and to get her folks off her back about settling down), but she was bringing Emily because she was sure of her future with her. It was flattering but it didn’t do anything to ebb the terror gnawing at her stomach.
“Look, this is my street.” JJ announced, breaking into Emily’s worry-fest.
“It’s not too late to turn around.”
“Ha-ha, yes it is.” JJ parked in front of the white clapboard house that she called home for eighteen years and shut the engine off, leaning over into Emily’s personal space and nuzzling into her neck. “It’ll be fine, it’s only three days.”
Emily sighed and turned her head so she could press a kiss to JJ’s crown. “At least I get to defile you in your childhood bedroom.”
JJ laughed and pulled back. “Yeah, about that…”
“Oh what?! No way!”
“Sorry, babe, we’re sharing the room with two of my cousins. The house is full up.”
Emily grumbled under her breath as she got out of the car and followed JJ up the walkway. This was the opposite of her idea of a good time
The first night at the Jareau’s house hadn’t been so terrible; it was certainly less awful than she thought it was going to be but that had been before the bulk of the clan had started pouring in. It had been a never ending parade of family members and their spouses from the time they had woken up to that afternoon. Emily quickly discovered that ‘not being obvious’ meant acting like she and JJ were nothing more than close friends. It was infuriating but Emily could understand it. Small towns, small minds, right? Emily quickly got into a groove of quelling her natural actions around JJ; she stopped laying comforting touches on her shoulder, stopped reaching out to squeeze her hand…not everyone there had been disagreeable, but it was enough to where Emily was consciously modifying her behaviour. And it was impossible to be alone anywhere. There were at least fifty people there with the main party going on that day.
Judging from the looks she’d been exchanging with her girlfriend throughout the day, Emily was certain that if they hadn’t told Sandy they were going to stay for the long weekend (and if they both weren’t so stubborn), one of them would have suggested they leave already. Emily had escaped the never-ending niceties and being referred to as JJ’s ‘friend’ or ‘roommate’ by volunteering herself to go to the basement to find the vinyl tablecloths Sandy had been looking for. Once down in the cluttered space, she hopped up on the washing machine and breathed deeply, shaking her head.
“I love JJ.” She muttered, closing her eyes. “I love JJ and it’s only two more days. I love JJ.”
“JJ loves you too.”
Emily jumped at the sound of her girlfriend’s voice and opened her eyes to find the blonde grinning at her and holding up a clear package containing a vinyl tablecloth. “I didn’t hear you come down.”
“I know how to skip all the creaky steps. I had to or Jason would have followed me down here.”
Emily tilted her head to one side trying to remember Jason and called up an image of a tiny blonde boy with grass stains on his shirt who was simply enamored with his Aunt JJ and had been in her shadow since he’d gotten there. “You knew I was down here?”
JJ hummed in the affirmative and stepped between Emily’s legs. “I asked mom where you were and she said she sent you down to get the tablecloths five minutes ago. I knew they weren’t that hard to find so I figured you were hiding out.”
“Yep.” JJ agreed kissing along Emily’s jawline.
“Your family is…a lot to take in.”
“They’re driving me crazy, Jayje.”
“Yep. Me too.” JJ admitted with a giggle. “Now stop complaining and kiss me before someone realizes we’re both gone and we cause a scandal.”
“Yes ma’am.” Emily bent her head down and met JJ’s lips with her own. They were just getting to the point where they were lost in each other, Emily’s hands tangled in JJ’s hair and JJ’s hands in Emily’s back pockets when they hear the creak of the wooden stairs and jump apart just in time to see JJ’s brother Thomas clomp down with a grin on his face.
“Looks like I’m just destined to catch you makin time with the ladies, huh Jenny?” he declared.
“Get lost!” JJ demanded, rolling her eyes and throwing the tablecloth package at him, which hit him squarely in the chest.
“No such luck, Jenny! Burgers are almost done and Aunt May wants to say grace. Ma sent me to come find you cause she figured you’d be off in the corner someplace suckin face.”
“Go to hell, Tom.” JJ said with a laugh.
“You first!” he said turning around on the stairs. “Bring up some extra lawn chairs while you’re down here.” He gave them a wink before thundering back up the stairs.
JJ wasted exactly zero time before kissing Emily again, pulling her off the washer and into her. Emily managed to find her voice as JJ dragged her lips down Emily’s neck.
“We should get the fuck out of here.” Emily all but moaned.
JJ hummed and nipped at the skin on Emily’s neck.
“We could stay at a hotel in town instead.”
“No good, the motel is tiny and it’s fully of my family.”
“We…oh god…we could just go home and salvage the weekend?”
“I wish.” JJ admitted, pressing a final kiss to Emily’s collarbone. “I hardly ever get to come to these things though. And besides, sneaking around like this? It’s kind of hot.”
Emily laughed and followed JJ up the stairs where Jason immediately collided with JJ’s legs, tugging her to go follow him. Emily watched them go before a well-meaning aunt who wanted to include ‘JJ’s friend’ in conversation swept her herself up. Nearly two hours later, Emily managed to shake loose the Jareau clan and wander around the edge of the property to have a cigarette.
Emily normally wasn’t a smoker except post-coitally, but these people were fucking killing her and she couldn’t even use her favourite way to decompress because it was impossible to be alone with JJ in that house (God, why was her family so huge?) so sneaking a smoke out by the edge of the property was what she was doing. She came upon a rusted out burn barrel near a copse of trees and decided that was as good a place as any to have her smoke and clearly others thought that way too because there was an elderly woman who looked to be in her early eighties smoking a fat cigar.
Emily debated on whether or not to turn around and find someplace else to smoke since it was mostly the older relatives who had been giving her the cold shoulder but before she can make up her mind, the old woman waved her over to a nearby chair so Emily smiled tightly and decided she wasn’t going to engage the woman in conversation. Just smoke and find someplace to air out so she doesn’t smell like cigarettes anymore since JJ would murder her (not that JJ was against Emily’s occasional indulgence but since she had the habit of smoking only after sex, at this point in their relationship there was an almost Pavlovian response in the blonde and Emily so didn’t need to be wound up).
So the early evening found Emily smoking in silence with this old woman and she’s perfectly content to let the silence persist when the old woman pulled out a flask and stretched out an arm towards her. Emily politely shook her head and startled when the old woman laughed heartily.
“S’matter?” she asked. “You afraid of my ‘straight germs’? Have a drink, girl, you look like you need more than that cigarette.”
“I can’t really argue with that.” Emily agreed, accepting the flask and taking a swig out of it. Immediately, her eyes started to water and she sputtered as it felt like her throat was on fire and while she was coughing the air back into her lungs, the old lady was cackling. “What the hell is that?” Emily asked, still coughing and handing the flask back.
“Moonshine!” the woman declared proudly. “Made it myself! Not strictly legal!” she leant over, her expression turned serious but there was still a laugh in her eyes when she said, “you drank it and you’re part of it now, kid. No arresting me.”
Emily finished her coughing fit and broke out into a wide smile before taking a drag of her cigarette. “Don’t worry, I already promised JJ no one would end up in handcuffs this weekend.”
“Pity.” The woman said, the innuendo clear.
Emily laughed. “Honestly.”
“Oh I know who you are. JJ’s girlfriend.”
“Or roommate.” Emily muttered.
Violet chuckled and took a swig of moonshine, wincing a bit before handing the flask back to Emily. “You know, when I was little, this land we’re on all used to be forest.”
And thus started the unlikely friendship between Emily and Violet. She learnt that Violet’s father was a French immigrant and proceeded to delight Violet with her perfect French (she could never get any of her children to hang onto the language past being able to tell when they’re being cussed at). They’re halfway into the flask when the conversation turned towards her relationship with JJ.
“Don’t mind people being rude to you gals. Simple folks have simple minds and anything they’re unaccustomed to means it has to do with the devil or some such nonsense.” She waved a hand dismissively and took another swig of whiskey. “Fucking idiots, really.”
Emily laughed and accepted the flask again, deciding she really liked this woman. “You took the words right out of my mouth.”
“Hell, if they knew what I’d been up to in my early twenties when the War was on, their hair would curl and they’d fall over dead. You and Jenny are perfectly respectable.”
JJ found Emily a little red in the face and laughing at something else Violet had said and she smiled, happy Emily seemed to be enjoying herself. She rolled her eyes as she watched Emily cough down another swallow of whiskey and slunk over to her, taking Emily’s cigarette and taking a drag off of it (because her family is fucking killing her) before handing it back, keeping a respectable distance away from her lover.
Violet rolled her eyes fondly at JJ and the physical distance between her relative and her newfound friend and said, “Jennifer, honey, just kiss her before you fall over from all the damn anxiety.”
JJ blinked her wide eyes at Violet like she had just been delivered shocking news. “What?”
“Are you worried about me, Jenny? I had ten kids and I was here when all the men shipped off during the War; I’m more offended you think I’d care.” JJ shifted her weight from foot to foot, still unsure and sputtering so Violet leant over to Emily. “Emily, it’s up to you then.”
And Emily was laughing and a little buzzed and flushed and she was so charmed by this raunchy old lady who smokes cigars and doesn’t care what people think so she takes Violet’s advice and jerked JJ down into her lap and kissed her senseless. They’re both grinning stupidly at each other when they pull apart and Emily asks, “what brought you out here anyway?”
“I was charged with a mission to find Grams. Since it’s her birthday we’re celebrating and everyone wants to do presents now because the kids are being annoying about eating cake.” JJ said as she got off of Emily’s lap and took the last swig of the flask that Violet handed out to her and pulled Emily up out of her chair before they both helped Violet up (who didn’t need it but she knew young people like to feel useful). “If I’dda known you’d be out by the burn barrel getting hammered with Grams and smoking, I would have been out here a lot sooner, trust me.”
And that was how Emily found out she’d just made best friends with JJ’s 95-year-old great-grandmother who complained the whole way back to the house that if someone gave her another afghan this year, she was putting it right in the dog bed for her basset hound. Emily and JJ had been holding hands up to the house but as soon as they saw the disapproving glare of Aunt May, they uncoupled and stepped away from each other. Violet sighed and held up a wrinkled hand, effectively silencing the chatter of the outdoor congregation.
“I just want to say,” she started, throwing a glance over her shoulder at JJ and giving her a wink. “Y’all can go to hell. These two young ladies are perfectly fine doing their own thing and being brave enough to come out here with you lot and show that they love each other. Jenny deserves to be happy and if you can’t see that or appreciate this beautiful woman she’s brought with her then you ain’t no kin of mine.”
There was a stunned silence for an almost painfully awkward five seconds before Violet shrugged and conversation resumed. Violet’s declaration had had the desired effect though and relatives who were previously chilly warmed up, even Aunt May, and it turned out that once people got to know Emily, they absolutely loved her. After presents and cake, a bunch of the children whisk Emily away because she had promised to show the older kids how to shoot a gun. It was just an old BB gun, but they were excited to see a real life FBI agent shooting it (JJ pointed out that she was a real life FBI agent but apparently that wasn’t the same)
JJ watched the whole ordeal grinning from ear to ear because Emily is a natural with the children and she had always had this nebulous idea of being a mother in her head but it was usually so far in the future that she rarely thought about it, but watching her girlfriend just made the idea seem that much more tangible. Later on that night, they’re sitting on the porch together, swinging on the porch swing when JJ said, “have you ever thought about it?”
Emily put her arm over JJ’s shoulder and looked over at her. “Thought about what?”
Emily tilted her head in thought. “I never really thought about it before, but…” she trailed off and didn’t move to continue.
“I could see it.” JJ smiled. “Maybe, I don’t know…with me?”
A slow smile spreads across Emily’s face and she nods her head. “I never really thought about it before,” she repeated. “But I can see it with you.”
JJ nuzzled further into Emily and they lapse into silence except for the creak of the chain of the porch swing when the door opens and Violet came out with a blanket to wrap around them. “I hope you too had a good day.”
“We did,” Emily said with a smile. “Thank you Violet.”
“Yeah, thanks Grams.”
“Anything for you, honey.” Violet said, patting JJ on the shoulder. “This was probably my best birthday in a while.”
“Glad to hear it.”
“You know,” Violet chuckled, giving a wink. “I’m not getting any younger, I expect to see a wedding invitation before I’m dead.”
“What? You can’t fault an old lady for trying.”
Emily laughed and hugged JJ to her side. “I don’t think that’s an impossible dream, do you Jayje?”
JJ looked up at Emily and kissed the underside of her jaw briefly. “No, I really don’t either.”