Oscar was meeting Priscilla’s family. Technically, he was being reintroduced to most of them. The only people he hadn’t met yet were her older sister Cynthia and Cynthia’s husband. He’d even met Cynthia’s two children, Hilary and Harris, before. Mr. and Mrs. Cherry were hosting family dinner at their house in the west end of the city. It was the same house Priscilla had grown up in, the one quite close to Oscar’s own childhood home. Priscilla said her parents were thinking of downsizing, but had stayed in the house because they liked having spare rooms for their children and grandchildren to use when they visited. Seeing as all three of their daughters still lived in Roehampton, there was no real reason for any of them to sleep over, but apparently they frequently hosted Hilary and Harris. That seemed a frightening prospect to Oscar, who wasn’t great with children, but had also heard that Hilary and Harris were handfuls. Of course, they weren’t his grandchildren so there was a chance Mr. and Mrs. Cherry were capable of loving them more than he was.
Priscilla came over to Oscar’s apartment to extend the invitation her parents had given to her. At the time, Oscar was sitting in his living room with Bear and Ramsay, watching Seinfeld reruns. Frank was out with Piper, likely having the worst time. Oscar couldn’t understand why he was with her, her fabulous ass aside. She was truly horrible as far as human beings went.
“Your parents hate me,” was Oscar’s response to the invitation.
“In their defense, when they met you, you were very drunk and also pant-less,” Priscilla pointed out.
“In his defense, that was how he spent most of his time in university,” Bear offered, not being as helpful as he likely thought he was.
“That’s not a good defense,” Ramsay interjected, eyes never leaving the television. “That’s worse actually. That’s alcoholism.”
It was a fairly good point. It did nothing to sway Priscilla, however. She still told her parents that the two of them would love to come for dinner on Friday night and he still had to put on his nicest sweater and meet her at her apartment so that they could leave together, Tallulah trailing along behind them as they made their way onto the subway platform.
“It won’t be so bad,” Priscilla assured him, taking his hand.
“It’ll be terrible,” Tallulah told him a second later, which was not comforting at all.
“Oi, knock it off, Potato-Face!” Priscilla hissed at her.
“We have the same potato face!” Was Tallulah’s shouted reply. Oscar feared for the result of the evening.
The Cherries lived in a stately, yet cozy home in a wealthy residential area of Roehampton. They had two nice, modest cars sitting in the driveway and the yellow light flooding onto the snow-covered garden from inside was warm and inviting. Mrs. Cherry greeted them at the door with a smile and the smell of baking wafting out behind her. She was also surrounded by dogs. There were at least three that Oscar could quickly count, though they were all moving about so it was hard to know for certain.
“Come in! Come in!” Mrs. Cherry, Lou, ushered them inside. “Oh, hello, Oscar.”
It was still polite, but markedly less enthusiastic. Oscar smiled at her and then shot Priscilla a pointed look. One of the dogs began to feverishly lick his left hand. It was crowded in the already quite small front hall, and that was before Hilary literally dragged her younger brother into the mix. She stopped directly in front of Oscar and looked up at him with a stern expression on her small face. If anything, she was actually more intimidating than Priscilla’s parents.
“Who are you?” She demanded.
“Hilary!” Lou, Priscilla and Tallulah’s mother, admonished. “That isn’t polite. We say hello before we ask someone for their name.”
Hilary gave her grandmother a long, appraising look before turning her attention back to Oscar.
“Hello,” she said flatly. “Who are you?”
“This is my boyfriend Oscar,” Priscilla explained to Hilary. Harris was grabbing at the dogs. He wasn’t being very gentle either. Oscar half-expected one of them to turn around and nip him, but they seemed perfectly fine with it. They were probably used to being pulled and prodded by small hands. Oscar was still being licked by the giant white one. He looked over to find that it was a tall, extremely thin dog with a long nose, a deep torso, and silky white fur.
“Your niece is scarier than your mother,” Oscar hissed to Tallulah as Priscilla took Hilary and Harris by the hand and led them back in the direction they had come, most of the dogs following along behind them. Lou had taken their coats into another room, leaving only Oscar, Tallulah, the giant white alien dog, who was still licking Oscar’s hand.
“Yes,” Tallulah agreed, which wasn’t overly comforting. Then she addressed the dog. “Nina! Stop licking him! Jesus Christ, animal, sort it out!”
“Nina?” Oscar repeated helplessly as Tallulah began walking away, taking Nina the giant alien dog with her. Oscar had no choice but to follow along behind them both and pray for the best.
Oscar learned a lot about Priscilla’s family that night. He had known her parents for a while and had always wondered how Priscilla and Tallulah had turned out the way they had because Mr. and Mrs. Cherry were just so kind. He had thought that maybe their sister Cynthia was nicer, a better reflection of their parents, but that most definitely was not the case. Cynthia, as a whole, definitely explained a lot about her children, her terrifying and slightly alarming daughter in particular. Cynthia, three years Priscilla’s senior, asked a lot of very pointed and direct questions, most of which made Oscar want to die or crawl into a hole and never surface again. Her husband, meanwhile, was a rather complacent, gentle man. He paid little attention to what was happening around him and just let himself be pulled along with the tide, as it were. Together, the pair of them were a very apt representation of their two children. Oscar observed Hilary and Harris playing several times over the course of the evening and it always seemed to go the same way. Hilary would devise a game, drag Harris along for the ride, and, even though it usually involved him being used as some kind of bait, he accepted it blindly. Most of the time, it also included the dogs.
The Cherries had six dogs, as it turned out. They were very specific breeds. Nina, as Oscar learned, was a six year old borzoi. She had a younger sister, a significantly more aloof four year old borzoi named Clara. Then there was Hamish the Scottish wolfhound, who was positively enormous and had a grey beard, as well as Wolfgang the German shepherd, Edward the dalmatian, and Rachel, the sweetest golden retriever in the world. Rachel was twelve and liked to lie on people’s feet. She spent over an hour sleeping on Oscar’s socked feet, keeping them warm over dinner and he discovered that, in just one short evening, he had fallen in love with her.
“This is the single greatest dog I’ve ever met,” he informed Priscilla after dinner, petting Rachel behind the ears. They had moved to the living room for a short rest before the dessert course. Oscar had been reliably informed that it was pie.
“Yeah,” Priscilla agreed, also reaching down to pet Rachel. “She’s actually Tallulah’s. Tallulah got her when she was in high school and our parents have kept her at their house because they have the space.”
Oscar looked down at where Rachel had situated herself on the floor. She was partially on Oscar’s right foot, partially on Priscilla’s left, lying on her side. Harris had curled up in a ball between her front and back legs so that he was nestled into her golden tummy, sleeping. Both of them were snoring lightly. Oscar had a hard time believing that either of them had such a strong relationship to Tallulah, who was sitting on the floor next to Nina and Clara, trying to get them to play dead. It wasn’t working, not least of all because Tallulah kept describing their increasingly gruesome fake deaths to them, much to Hilary’s immense delight. Oscar would be concerned about the damage that was causing to Hilary’s young psyche if he hadn’t already seen her play a vibrantly realistic game of “hostages” with Harris earlier in the evening.
“Cynthia, are you aware that your children are deranged?” Priscilla asked her sister as Hilary laughed hysterically at Tallulah’s description of Clara getting lost at sea with a demented ghost fisherman.
“You have to be nice to me,” Cynthia told Priscilla immediately, pointing in her direction without looking up from the crossword puzzle she was doing. “I stopped Mom from calling you Ophelia.”
“You have to stop taking credit for that,” Priscilla told her firmly. “You were three years old and my name is still Priscilla!”
It was a very good point, all things considered.
By the time Oscar, Priscilla, and Tallulah were pulling their coats back on to go home for the evening, Oscar felt he had slightly won over Priscilla’s parents. Mrs. Cherry even sent him home with leftover pie, which he would have to hide in his room, lest Frank or Ramsay eat it.
“I think your parents like me better now,” Oscar told Priscilla and Tallulah on the subway on the way back to their apartment. “Not sure about Hilary, though.”
“You’d have an easier time trying to win over a rabid coyote,” Tallulah told him, which was honestly the first reassuring thing she’d said to him all evening.