Family Dinner.

She was exhausted. Madeline had just gotten off a 12 hour shift, and she had another one starting at 8 am the next day, and all she wanted to do was kick off her shoes, grab some popcorn, and veg on the couch and watch a movie. Instead, she started chopping tomatoes for a salad. Her parents were coming for dinner tonight, staying the night on the way to her mother’s work conference another days drive further on.

They didn’t really expect her to cook for them. Her mother didn’t cook, and didn’t want to. While her dad enjoyed it, he loved to make those elaborate creations that wowed everyone at family get-togethers, and he was content to otherwise order takeout. Madeline had practiced cooking in her free time, now that she was on her own, partly because she enjoyed it too, and partly because she simply couldn’t afford takeout every night the way her parents could.

And so, Madeline wandered around the kitchen, preparing bits and pieces of their meal. She had a roast simmering away in the crockpot, the one she’d found in her parents basement, still in its original packaging from when they’d received it as a wedding gift. To her mother it was the representation of servitude, that women were still expected to home-cook meals while holding down a job just like their men. To her, it meant she could have good, cheap food ready when she got home, so she didn’t have to be on her feet a minute longer. Her mother had rebelled against social norms, well before it was popular to do so, and Madeline found it funny that she would have a daughter who so enjoyed domesticity for its own sake. 

For this reason, when her parents arrived, Madeline had the table set with her nice tablecloth, (a gift from her grandmother,) and cloth napkins by each plate. There was a bouquet of flowers in the center of the table, some that Madeline had grabbed in the hospital gift shop on her way out. Madeline had even turned on her favorite jazz album, Jaimee Paul’s album, At Last.

Her mother walked in first, looked around, and rolled her eyes. She gave Madeline a hug though, and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Her father came in next, hauling her mother’s and his bags. He dropped them in the doorway and wrapped Madeline in a bear hug, picked her up off the floor, and planted a loud smacking kiss on her cheek.

“Maddy! It is good to see you. What smells so delicious?” Madeline laughed as her father followed his nose to the kitchen, peeking under pot lids and tasting the pudding setting up on the stove.

“Madeline, dear, you know we would have taken you out to dinner! You didn’t have to cook for us!” Her mother looked a bit dismayed at how well she’d laid out the table.

“Mom, I simply didn’t have the energy to go out tonight. It’s been a long day, and I’d rather settle in here with you. Speaking of which, I’m going to go change, back in a moment.” When Madeline came back in the room, freshly out of scrubs, and into a nice blouse and jeans, her mother rolled her eyes again.

“Are we meeting your man tonight, dear? Why all the effort?” Madeline smiled.

“Only three places set Mom, and no man in sight. My parents are here, why not the effort?” She walked into the kitchen and her father gave her another kiss on the cheek.

“Maddy, this all looks delicious. When do we eat?” Madeline hadn’t seen her father so excited for a pot roast in a long time.

“Now. Dad, why don’t you dish up?”

After dinner, her father put their bags in her room, as they’d be using the one bed in the apartment that night and Madeline would be taking the couch. Her mother complained while he moved them in, “I don’t see why we couldn’t just get a hotel. There’s no need ousting her out of her own bed!”

Madeline just smiled wearily, and said “Mom, its ok. I don’t mind. I’d rather you be here. I hardly get to see you, this way I get as long as possible. Now, do you want to watch a movie?”

They settled on to the couch, discussed various choices, and settled on a family favorite, High Society. Well, it was her father's and her favorite. Her mother wasn’t terribly fond of how it all ended, but she did appreciate the jazz. Madeline was so tired at this point, she fell asleep twenty minutes in.

She woke the next morning at six, tucked in, to the smell of eggs and bacon for breakfast. Her father heard her stir, and turned and winked at her.

“Good morning, sleepyhead! Get enough rest? Your mother is out for her morning jog.” Madeline sat up, quickly combed her hair down with her fingers, and stood. Louis Armstrong streamed quietly through her kitchen speakers. Her father had a stack of perfect looking french toast next to him, under a few paper towels to trap the warmth. The maple syrup bottle was warming in a saucepan filled with water, and eggs were being stirred around in the leftover bacon fat from the mountain of bacon just behind the french toast, draining on more paper towels. Her father was wearing her apron as he cooked, the pink one with white stripes down the front and lace around the edges, a gift from a friend. She kissed his cheek and stole a strip of bacon.

“I don’t normally get a fry-up like this for breakfast.” She smiled.

“Neither do I! Your mother prefers a protein smoothie after her jog, and I don’t see the point in doing all this for just me.”

“What’s going on with Mom? She doesn’t seem terribly happy to see me.” Madeline leaned back against the kitchen island while her father spooned the cooked eggs into a large bowl.

“Oh, Maddy, she loves seeing you! You know how she is. She assumes that you must not be happy if you’re putting all this work in at home. She doesn’t see the pleasure in it, and she worries about you. She loves you though. She just wants whats best, and  she doesn’t see how any way but hers can be best.” It was the first time Madeline had heard her father disagree with her mother, if only indirectly. “Maddy, you are happy, right?”

“Of course! I could do with a bit of romance sometimes, but mostly I like my life here.” Her father kissed her forehead.

“Good. Then don’t worry about your mother. I’ll talk with her, and she’ll see that in time. You know how stubborn she is.” He smiled, and they heard the front door open.

“Hi Mom! How was your run?” Madeline called around the corner. Her mother walked in, toweling her forehead and smiling.

“Such a relief to be able to do that. I hate traveling when I have to miss my jog.” Her hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail, and she looked more relaxed than Madeline had seen her in years.

“Maybe next time you’re here I could go with you?” Her mother grinned.

“Sounds perfect. It’s a date.”

After breakfast her parents packed their bags, and Madeline walked them down to the car, so she could leave for work as they left. She gave each of her parents a tight hug. 

“Come back soon!”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, my dear.” Her mom hugged her again, and her father winked at her. She waved as they drove away, and then climbed into her own car, and left.