Chapter 28 The family dinner

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Sean

Flora stayed for too long at my house. When dinnertime came and my parents generously asked her to join us, I couldn't find a reason to oppose to it.

I supposed I could hold a grudge against her for her infidelity. However, since it was almost a year, a pair of crutches and one Leslie later, when I thought of her what once felt like bitterness had slowly lost its flavor and transformed into something like a guilty pleasure. It shouldn't be wrong to indulge myself. I could handle a little bit of flirting as well as minimal extent of physical contact.

I could forgive her, I decided, since Flora was in a lot of ways similar to a child. It was easy to believe what she did to me was nothing personal, that she was never ready for a serious relationship, and although it had hurt at the time, I knew I was above that. I would make peace with the foul memory and accept her again, because having a friend is always better than having an enemy, not to mention a gorgeous one in short skirts.

I just had to be careful about not being dazzled by her charm again.

We all sat down like one big happy family, me, my ex-girlfriend who I had an insignificant crush on, my sister who worshiped her, and my parents who acted like they'd eagerly give their blessings if I told them we were getting married tomorrow. I couldn't think of a more disturbing scene.

Flora started off by asking how everyone's day was, and we had the most heated discussion in the history of our family dinners. Usually my parents would talk to each other about work, my sister would whine about anything that crossed paths with her, and I would say what happened at school but leave out all the important stuff, but when Flora was here we were suddenly met with a lot of feedback.

"So you're working on a project together?" my dad asked.

"Yeah, it's for history class. We have to do an oral presentation," I replied. I thought that was enough of an explanation, but clearly anything counted as an ice-breaker for Flora.

"I actually want your opinion on that," she said, directing this at everyone as her eyes ran from one person to the next, like she was running a support group. She went on to describe our play in every little detail, and needless to say my whole family were on her side. They acted like they had never before heard of the concept of a play and they couldn't believe how brilliant it was.

"That's a wonderful idea, Flora," my mom said. "I'm glad Sean got you as a history partner."

I know, totally. Riding on a paper horse and reciting medieval pickup lines was my lifelong dream.

"Actually the pleasure is all mine," Flora said. "Sean is so organized! I'm really lucky to be paired with him. If it'd been anyone else, we wouldn't have started until the very last minute!"

"I'm going to record this," I said.

"I mean I can't believe I'm actually going to get an A for something other than Phys Ed and I owe it all to him," Flora continued. She was her own little shop of enthusiasm right there, with so much excitement gushing out of her like we were talking about a rock concert instead of school work. "You must be so proud of him. He's so well-rounded and he's perfect at everything he does."

That was pushing it a bit far.

"Well, we never have to worry about him much," my dad said, grinning, "but he has his cranky teenager moments. Remember how bitter and cynical you were in middle school?"

"Dad! I may doubt the world sometimes, but I was never bitter." My face felt hot. I wished dinner was over.

"He's pretty bitter to me." Linda found her perfect opening. "It was Flora who guided me in school because Sean couldn't care less about me. If I dropped dead suddenly, he wouldn't even know."

I gave Linda a dark look. "I should be so lucky. But it's true, Flora's really been an amazing friend to Linda."

"That's really nice of you," my dad said. He passed the remaining potato salad in front of Flora even though it was his favorite dish.

"I didn't really do that much," Flora said, "and it's only in the beginning. Linda has a bunch of her friends now."

Actually Linda had exactly one friend/boyfriend, but we all knew not to mention that. Flora took a bite into the grilled fish we had for dinner, chewing with the immaculate table manners she was so proud of. "I once went with my parents to this Michelin restaurant, Guy Savoy, and they did this amazing whole grilled sea bass which tasted like a dream. I just can't get over how soft and melty it was," she said. "The reason I'm mentioning this now, Mrs. Foster, is because this tastes just as delicious as that."

My mom chuckled in surprised delight. "You're exaggerating." I knew that compliment hit home, though, because it was her signature dish.

"Maybe you should stop going to Michelin restaurants if you can't tell the difference," I said.

"Guy Savoy just stuck his head in the oven and killed himself, whoever he is," Linda added.

My mom shook her head. "No one appreciates my talent around this house."

"I don't lie about food," Flora said, "and I think home-cooked meals are such a luxury. In my house, you're lucky to get a PB&J sandwich."

"You're welcomed for dinner any time," my mom said. I hoped she didn't mean that.

When Flora polished off her fish, she asked my parents what hobbies they had. They looked at each other and smiled.

"Well, nowadays we don't do much of anything," my dad said. "We're both so swamped with work we just lie in front of the TV and see whatever is on, but we used to like going to jazz concerts."

"Yes, that's how we met, actually. In a jazz bar in Brussels, —"

"—while we were both backpacking across Europe."

That's every teenage boy's dream, of course, hearing about how his parents met for the eleven thousandth time. Flora nodded with what looked like sincere interest, and my parents happily told the story one more time, then they went on to discuss about trips to Europe.

"I did the backpacker thing once with my brothers," Flora said after my parents finished. "We had to stay at a mixed dorm and listen to people snore the whole night. The hostel is fun to try once but I'm never staying in one again for the rest of my life. I've also reestablished myself as a suitcaser. The backpack crashes with my style."

Only Flora would call staying in a hostel a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but my parents didn't seem to view her as a rich snob and instead laughed at her honesty.

The dinner continued on, and nobody was in a hurry to leave the table. By the time it was finally over, Flora jumped up and offered to clear the dishes. I knew there was a single question that lingered in everyone's mind but was kindly left unasked.

Why in the world did Sean break up with this wonderful girl?

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