Chapter Fifty-Nine: “Dad’s concerned because your new boyfriend looks like John the Baptist, only less clean”

Tallulah met a guy at a bar. His name was Chad Hamilton, which was a ridiculous name. Priscilla told her as much. Tallulah agreed, but Chad was also the least Chad-like person she’d ever met. He had an enormous beard, a serious fade, and a couple animal and nature-themed line tattoos. Essentially, he was a hipster, but he was also a hipster in taco-printed Vans and really well-fitting black jeans. She gave him her number, messaged with him all day, everyday for the following week, then they started dating in earnest.

Chad began spending a lot of time at the apartment because, as he put it, his idiot roommate Ian was clingy and annoying. Ian also, apparently, spent an inordinate amount of his time partying and then subsequently vomiting. Chad complained that he often couldn’t access his own bathroom because Ian was constantly puking in their shower.

“Why the shower?” Tallulah asked, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

“Because he’s an idiot,” Chad answered matter-of-factly. “I think he thinks it’s acceptable so long as he finds a drain, but vomit doesn’t actually go down a shower very well. Have you ever used drain cleaner on vomit clogs? I wouldn’t recommend. The smell will literally drive you from your home.”

Tallulah had never been so horrified in her life.

There were two problems with Chad’s constant presence at the apartment, not that Tallulah necessarily agreed with the first, which was that the already crowded apartment grew even more crowded. Lawrence was still over nearly every day of the week. Jemima really did come over every day of the week. And Oscar was still spending large quantities of time at their home to avoid his own terrible, boiling, bug-infested apartment. With Chad around all the time, they ran out of seating. The day Priscilla had to eat dinner on the floor while they watched Arrested Development re-runs very well could’ve ended in someone’s death. She was an incredibly violent woman.

The second issue was that Tallulah and Pricilla’s parents, Tom and Lou Cherry, had a tendency to drop by unannounced and unexpected. They did just that one weekend when Chad was over, sprawled on the couch with Bernie, debating the usefulness of hair catchers in shower drains. Bernie thought they were a necessity, having to share a shower with two other long-haired women. Chad thought they were the work of the devil, having had to pick barf up from where it had congealed around a hair catcher a multitude of times. Oscar was also over, but he was lying on the living room floor, as per usual, with his hands clasped behind his head. Priscilla was resting her feet on his stomach, which he had protested initially, but not for very long. He tended not to stick to his convictions with any kind of real enthusiasm for extended periods of time, which made it very easy for people to get away with things, such as using his prone body as a footrest.

Tallulah answered the door to her parents, who had come bearing both a freshly baked cherry pie and their older sister Cynthia’s two children, Harris and Hilary. Her parents always brought some sort of baked good with them when they came, partly because their mother Lou, short for Louisa, loved to bake, but mostly because both of them thought it was cute and funny to bring cherry-flavoured baked goods with them because of their last name. Tom and Lou thought their last name was charming and quirky. Their daughters thought it made them sound like strippers. Cynthia felt that way less so since she’d gotten married to a man whose last name was Hoogendorn. At that point, she had decided she really quite liked the last name Cherry and that she wanted to keep it. As she claimed, she was attached to it. In reality, she actually just didn’t want to be named Cynthia Hoogendorn.

“Oh my, are you kids having a party?” Tom asked as Tallulah let them in. It was ten o’clock on a Saturday morning.

“Hello, Bernice!” Lou called, waving at Bernie with the hand that wasn’t holding the pie. Bernie smiled back weakly. Ever since Priscilla and Bernie had begun working together three years previously and then moved in together, Lou had been calling her Bernice. Lou claimed that Bernie’s parents had named her Bernice for a reason and if they had wanted her to go through life being called Bernie, or any other short form for that matter, they would’ve named her that instead. It was a bold statement coming from a woman who preferred to be called a short form of her real name. Tallulah had once pointed out the irony to a very stern frown and some tutting.

“Bernice,” Oscar snorted and Bernie kicked him in the side. As it was, he shouldn’t have drawn attention to himself because all it did was garner some very disappointed looks from Tallulah and Priscilla’s parents. Since he had gone to high school with them, the Cherries had initially known Oscar the way they knew all of the girls’ classmates; vaguely and from a distance. Every friend Tallulah brought home that she hadn’t known since grade school, her father called “what’s-her-face” while snapping his fingers like he was searching the deep recesses of his brain in an effort to remember. Sometimes he would tack on a descriptor, such as “what’s-her-face with the braces” or “what’s-her-face who plays hockey” or even memorably once “what’s-her-face that looks like a goat”. To them, Oscar had been “what’s-his-face in the gym shorts” because Oscar had worn gym shorts nearly every day in high school.

But then, one fateful evening, Tom had been called just before midnight to come pick up Priscilla at a house party at Iggy’s house that had gotten out of control, only to arrive at the scene in his teal 2002 Toyota Sienna minivan to find Oscar sitting on the curb at the end of the driveway in his boxers with a bottle of schnapps in his hand, throwing up into Mrs. Brooker’s prize-winning, imported begonias. And then he had been formally known as “that boy” at the Cherry household.

“Oh, it’s you,” Tom said, turning to look down at Oscar, both figuratively and literally. Bernie cackled vindictively.

“I don’t think I’ve met you,” Lou said, looking at Chad. Harris and Hilary, meanwhile, had begun wandering around the apartment, looking for something to occupy their attention, which was a dangerous game. The last time they’d come to visit, Hilary had ended up using Bernie’s lavender-scented shaving cream to give her younger brother a lavender-scented foam beard.

“I’m Chad,” Chad replied, standing up to shake Tom and Lou’s hands. “I’m a friend of Tallulah’s.”

Tallulah narrowed her eyes at him. Both Oscar and Bernie scoffed from their respective places in the living room.

“Bad call, buddy,” Oscar said under his breath and Bernie snorted a laugh.

“Chad,” Tom repeated. “Chad. I’m never going to remember that.”

“Dad, it’s a one-syllable name,” Priscilla pointed out.

“Yes, but it’s too unique,” Tom explained. “You don’t get very many Chads these days.”

“For good reason,” Oscar cut in snidely. Lou shot him a disapproving look, the same look that had effectively prevented her daughters from misbehaving growing up, and that shut him up quickly. For his part, Chad didn’t look very offended by the comment. He wasn’t fond of his name anyway. He said it made him sound like a frat bro. Tallulah had helpfully added that it also made him seem like a Bachelorette contestant. According to him, that was even less favourable.

“It’s boring here,” Hilary announced, emerging from Tallulah’s bedroom, Harris trailing behind her. In the five or so minutes that they were gone, Hilary had managed to wrap her younger brother in roughly ten of Tallulah’s scarves. One of them was tied around most of his face, blocking his vision. He bumped into the doorframe to the bedroom and also a bookshelf and an end table.

“It’s nice to see you too,” Tallulah returned to Hilary, who stuck her tongue out at her.

“Hilary-billary!” Tom admonished jokingly. “You best keep that tongue in your mouth, young lady.”

“I’m not a young lady,” Hilary protested. “I’m seven.”

Behind her, Harris tripped over the end of a scarf and tumbled headfirst into Oscar’s kneecaps. Oscar began to swear, cut himself off at the aghast gasp of Lou, and then had to fend off questions from Hilary about why he had just yelled “mother” very loudly. At the same time, Harris used Oscar’s crotch to push himself back up and then tottered away unbothered, bumping into Bernie’s legs and the coffee table.

Tom, Lou, and the grandkids stayed for forty minutes and a slice of pie each. Lou shot frowns at Oscar the entire time as he made a valiant effort to ignore it. Bernie grimaced every time Tom or Lou called her by her full name, Hilary wiped cherry pie filling on Harris’ face, and Chad made the mistake of putting his arm around Tallulah’s shoulders so that her parents knew he was more than just her “friend”.

A couple days later, Tallulah came home from work to Priscilla and Bernie watching TV in the living room. Tallulah shrugged off her coat, kicked off her boots, and came to join them on the couch. Bernie was enthralled because they were watching The Back-up Plan.

“Dad’s concerned because your new boyfriend looks like John the Baptist, only less clean,” Priscilla said as Tallulah got settled and took some chips from the bowl sitting in Bernie’s lap. She didn’t even notice. “Those weren’t his exact words, of course. What he actually said was ‘your sister’s dating another unwashed degenerate. He looks like a heretic’.”

“It’s interesting that you had that conversation with Dad, because Mum called me yesterday to voice her concerns about your budding relationship with Oscar,” Tallulah returned.

“Of course,” Priscilla rolled her eyes.

“She thinks he’s going to lead you astray,” Tallulah continued. “Actually, what she really said to me was that she was concerned he was going to use you for a fling and that you’d find yourself flung into illegitimate pregnancy with a man who has a back problem.”

Priscilla, who had started off scoffing indignantly, cocked her head to the side in confusion, frowning slightly.

“He has a back problem?” She asked after a while.

“I think that’s why she thinks he was lying on the ground,” Tallulah replied.

“I’m not dating Oscar, for the record,” Priscilla said after another moment.

“I know,” Tallulah replied.

“You could date Oscar,” Bernie cut in, not looking away from the television, but making an unusual show of interest and participation considering the movie. “He’s got a little something-something.”

“Really? What?” Tallulah asked, purely out of curiosity to see what Bernie would come up with.

“Well, he’s passionate,” Bernie shrugged after struggling for a minute.

“He’s bitter as hell,” Tallulah corrected.

“Also true,” Bernie agreed.

“Fantastic,” Priscilla rolled her eyes. “I can only imagine what Dad will say about it.”

“At the very least, it might force him to learn his name,” Tallulah said. “He might even stop calling him ‘what’s-his-face the begonia ruiner’.”

“Wouldn’t that be delightful,” Priscilla returned dryly.

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