It was that time of year again. Sam didn’t particularly like it. His family had annual gatherings, and Sam’s mother expected everyone’s presence. Unless you were on your death bed and in which case she would be there with you, Sam’s mother didn’t think there was an acceptable reason not to show up for the family gathering. She didn’t ask much of them, so honouring this would be the least they could do.
Sam didn’t like family gatherings for two reasons. He was thirty-seven and unmarried, and his family, especially his mother, took the opportunity to nag him about his marital status. Everyone in the family often complained that he worked too much at the expense of his social life. Having the family in one place amplified the nagging. Sam couldn’t understand why they insisted on the subject.
Secondly, his rocky relationship with his younger brother Andy made him dread family gatherings. Sam was the perfect older brother who made it hard to follow his act. He had been a star in school; excelled at sports and academics. Andy felt he lived in Sam’s shadow and resented him for it. He would often start baseless fights with Sam. Everything was a competition with Andy, and it wore out Sam. Were it not for their younger sister Christine, trying to broker peace between them and cultivate a relationship constantly, they would have denounced each other.
This family gathering was different for Sam, though. He had someone on his arm.
“I know we’ve just been seeing each other for three months but I want you to accompany me to our family gathering,” Sam told Wendy.
“Isn’t it too soon to meet your family?” Wendy asked Sam.
“I really think there’s something significant going on here,” Sam told her.
“In that case, I would be honoured to,” Wendy said as Sam kissed her.
Sam and Wendy had met at a business conference in Dubai. Wendy worked in the media and was there to write a piece about it. She also hoped to interview major players in the industry. On the other hand, Sam was one of the said, significant players. He was known for his razor-sharp mind and ruthless focus on business. He was also a private person, and very little was known of him outside of his professional life. Wendy was hoping to get an interview with him, but he declined and instead helped her get one with another big name.
When they bumped into each other at a restaurant later in the week, Wendy thanked him. Sam was impressed by how she carried herself and invited her to join him at the table. Her grasp on many issues challenged some of his perspectives–which didn’t often happen with women. As a successful man of a certain calibre, most of the women he interacted with seemed to have an agenda and imagined agreeing with his ideologies scoring them more points with him. Interacting with Wendy was refreshing. At the end of their dinner, he didn’t hesitate to ask her out again, and that was the beginning of a deep connection.
The day was finally here. Sam was eager to introduce Wendy to the rest of the family. He especially hoped that his sister Christine and mother would take to Wendy. The idea of popping the big question had crossed his mind, so their approval of Wendy would indicate that he was making the right decision.
They were the first to arrive at Sam’s parents’ home. Sam’s mother could not hide her excitement when she saw Sam arrive with a woman. She immediately made Wendy feel welcome, which made the interaction easy. Having been the first to arrive, there were still some remaining preparations, so Wendy went to help Sam’s mother after having a cup of tea. Wendy loved cooking, and luckily Sam’s mother didn’t micromanage the kitchen affairs, so Wendy had the chance to wow her with her skills.
Christine came an hour later and joined them in the kitchen. Wendy had just finished preparing a salad.
“So delicious! Sam wasn’t exaggerating when he sang praises of your culinary skills!” Christine told Wendy.
“Oh he’s been spreading rumours? I’m glad I didn’t disappoint otherwise it would have been embarrassing,” Wendy responded. They all laughed.
Sam walked in on them, laughing. “The three most important women in my life laughing together; should I be worried?” He joked.
“We know your secret,” Christine said jokingly.
“Where have you been hiding her?” Sam’s mother asked him as she touched Wendy’s shoulder.
“It was the wait,” Sam said proudly.
Sam’s mother was about to affirm her son’s choice when Andy entered the kitchen.
“I see the party is in the kitchen,” Andy chirped as he hugged his mother.
That was when their eyes met.
Colour flashed out of Wendy.
“Welcome son! Meet Sam’s girlfriend, Wendy,” Sam’s mother said to Andy.
They both froze for a minute before Wendy excused herself and ran out of the room.
“Wendy! Babe!” Sam ran after her.
“What is going on?” Christine asked, looking at Andy.
Sam caught up with Wendy, who had just left the gate.
“What’s going on?” Sam asked Wendy.
“ I don’t even know where to begin,” Wendy said in tears.
“How about we take a walk for you to calm down as you find the words,” Sam said, looking straight into her eyes.
They walked in silence for ten minutes. Sam led her to a place with trees he had loved in childhood. One of the trees had a curved branch that served as a seat.
“Calmer now?” Sam asked her.
“You are the kindest person I know. I don’t know how to tell you this, “Wendy said as tears started flowing down her cheeks again.
“Just start from the beginning.”
“I told you I hadn’t dated for years before we met.”
“Yeah, you mentioned having lived another kind of life,” Sam interjected.
“So, I was a party girl back then with a good job but without much focus. I met this guy and within a month of knowing each other I got knocked up.”
“Let me guess; the guy was Andy?” Sam asked, taking a step back from her.
“I knew him as Dre, but yeah.”
“So what happened to the kid?”
“I had a miscarriage two weeks after I found out I was pregnant.”
“I’m sorry about that,” said Sam.
“Well, it was my turning point,” said Wendy. She seemed lost in thoughts in a distant gaze, not looking at anything in particular.
“So what happened between you and Andy?”
“Do you want the truth?”
“Wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t want to know.”
“He ghosted me right after he asked how sure I was he was the father. I never heard from him again,” Wendy said with a hint of disdain.
“Sounds like him,” Sam scoffed softly.
“What did you say?” Wendy asked.
“It just had to be my brother!” Sam cursed out loud.
“I didn’t know you were brothers. You hardly talk about him.”
“I know. It doesn’t make this any easier,” Sam responded.
“I need to leave,” Wendy said in tears.
“You can take my car, I’ll find my way back,” Sam said. They walked back to the house.
They found everyone outside.
“I have to leave. Thank you for the hospitality, I’m sorry things turned out this way,” Wendy said and left.
The rest of the day was dull, with Sam and Andy avoiding each other. Andy had told the rest of the family what had transpired between Wendy and him. Christine, Sam’s sister, found Sam smoking outside.
“A penny for your thoughts?” Christine asked as she stretched out her hand for a smoke.
“Do you want mum to catch you and make her day even worse?” Sam said with a bit of a smile.
“She’d be so dramatic about it. It would be good comic relief.” They both laughed and imitated their mother.
“But seriously, Sam, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. I really love her. I could see myself spending the rest of my life with her, but this is huge. I don’t know how to get past it,” Sam said, looking so crushed.
“If it counts for anything, it was a mindless fling five years ago,” Andy said from behind.
“She was pregnant for you!”
“I know and I was an asshole to her, probably why the universe did its thing. Look, I know it can’t be easy man, but even ma’ with her high standards liked her,” Andy told Sam.
Christine offered to drop Sam at his place the following day. Before they left, the mother spoke to them together. She expressed her sadness. She blamed the animosity between her sons and suggested that if they were closer, they would have found out sooner before things got serious between Sam and Wendy.
The journey from home was filled with silence and pensive thoughts. Sam’s thoughts were interrupted by a message from Wendy.
“Hey, couldn’t do this face to face because it would hurt way too much. I left the car keys in your apartment and left my key at the usual place. I am sorry that my past ruined what we had. I wish you the very best. Love you always.”
Christine could tell it was bad news from the look on his face.
“What is it?” Christine asked Sam.
“Well, I guess I don’t have to worry about what to do anymore. She ended it.”
“It can’t be easy for her either. Are you okay with her decision?” Christine asked him.
“I don’t know sis. I love her but I’m not sure I could ever get over the idea of her and Andy,” Sam said with a sigh.
“I guess you have your answer.”
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