It was a hard invitation to decipher: meeting her parents at their home for a Chinese New Year’s dinner. At their home for a cultural holiday could imply intimacy. Or they could be practicing the American custom of taking in a stray for the holiday as Gregson had attempted at Thanksgiving and Bell at Yuletide. Or was it a large party with Watson encouraged to bring everyone she could lure in? No, Gregson and Bell would have been asked in that case. Was it the sort of dinner party where all must attend in matched male-female pairs? No, the invitation was too recent for that much planning and surely Watson would have warned him of that. She had advised him to praise her mother’s dumpling recipe and expect photo taking from her father.
They had arrived, therefore soon he would know. Still it was odd he did not know after sharing quarters with Watson for 5 months. She was a puzzle. He did not even know what her parents knew of their association. She was adamant about not speaking to them on the phone when he was present. But obviously they knew enough about him to invite him in some capacity.
They were inside: bright room with red pillows (for the occasion?) on the sofa, brilliant blue, enlarged photo of a butterfly above it. Expected.
“Mom, Dad, this is Sherlock.”
That was not very helpful, though better than the distance implied if she had used his full name. She hadn’t even introduced them to him. He was glad he knew their titles, or titles he could call them. Was she being deliberately informal?
Her father held out his hand. He grasped it and shook quickly. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Watson.” He was thrown off balance knowing he should have greeted her mother first. Unless there was a cultural or social cue he was missing here, that would not be unusual.
He turned and saw her just extending her hand. “Pleased to meet you, Professor Watson.”
“You as well,” she was answering. No cue to call either by their first name: could be disapproval, or professional habit, or formal manners. Mr. Watson greeting him first could have been a fatherly warning. It could be a warning he would give to anyone his child was making a professional alliance with, especially a child with previous professional problems.
Professor Watson continued, “we thought since you could be called away to consult at any time we would eat right away.”
He appreciated the deft skipping of the cocktail hour. Had Watson coached them or had they worked it out themselves? He was sure Watson brought no other clients here. Perhaps Liam? Yet another source of potential parental warnings and a sound one at that.
Mr. Watson had a tripod set up with a camera facing the sofa. Professor Watson sat at the left end and directed him to sit next to her. Then she told Joan to sit on his other side and urged her to leave plenty of room for Dad once he triggered the timer.
“That’s right Joan, I’m not as thin as I used to be,” Mr. Watson said.
Definitively coupled in the family photo album he itemized, as Watson did move closer to him.
A few clicks and jumps back and forth by Mr. Watson. He concentrated on looking if not presentable, then at least not demented.
Watson jumped up and headed for the dining room as soon as she could while he was still inclining his head to Professor Watson.
Watson was settled and her father was ladling soup out as he entered with Professor Watson. Not much to be gleaned from the seating pattern as there were only four of them and her parents’ ease of movement showed that they were in their customary seats. Watson was at ease as well so that was her place too. Perhaps he was a substitute for the absent son, or a buffer to family discussion, or even there to balance the table in some obscure form of feng shui.
There was no lingering as Professor Watson began to pass the rest of the dishes. “I’ve been researching the diet of the Inuit. I am attempting to discern if the relative lack of variety in their aboriginal diet is reflected in increased OCD or limiting of food choices today.”
“That does sound like an interesting study mother.”
“Won’t it be difficult to measure given how limited the types of fresh and affordable food stuffs in the Arctic remains?” Sherlock asked. Watson was giving him a look reminding him to behave. “Though if they got to eat these amazing dumplings I am sure they wouldn’t be picky.”
“As long as she does not attempt to feed me seal meat to test my limiting of food choices, I think it is an excellent area of study,” Mr. Watson joked.
They chatted, touching on Mr. Watson’s law practice, a bit about their detecting, and the mayor’s latest proposals. At least it seemed he would be spared personal interrogation here. Did they not care, did they know all Watson knew, were they too polite? He was thankful in any case. But soon the cups of tea began to be interminable. He was just about to fake a call from Gregson when his mobile rang. He pulled it out and saw the caller was actually Watson. It was obviously a pretext for them to leave. He claimed they were needed on a case matter.
He parents were polite but visibly relieved that the visit was over. Were they afraid he had deduced too much?
Ha, he still did not know what she had told her parents about their relationship. Every idea he had was about as substantial as candy floss. He had to know. “What did you tell them?”
“I didn’t actually mention your flying phobia; I just mentioned that the recent crash wasn’t an appropriate topic given the one we investigated on the beach.”
“So they may just assume I have some other sort of phobia?” he asked, exasperated.
“Sherlock, I don’t know what you’re so upset about. I thought you would tell them whatever you thought they needed to know.”
“How could I know what they need to know when I do not know what they think they do know, what relationship they consider you and me to have?”
“Yes, us. I assumed I was there as more than a former client but as what? Business partner? Friend? Lover? Potential romantic interest?”
“Oh … I guess … all of those though of course I haven’t explicitly told them we were lovers.”
“That is not something that even I would explicitly tell a parent. Are they going to be upset when we do not arrive at a conventional happily ever after wedding?”
“I’m 44. It’s a disappointment they’ve already dealt with. They are fine with my choices.”
“Excellent, perhaps they could convince my father if he ever deigned to show up and meet them.” He was still snippy.
“It’s all going to be alright Sherlock. Tell you what, when we get home I’ll tie you up nice and securely so you can be sure I’m staying.”