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eric_foreman ([personal profile] eric_foreman) wrote in [community profile] alwaysright2010-11-11 09:25 pm

Thursday, November 29

Foreman woke up slowly, with a dry, sour mouth and a full bladder. Squinting his eyes open, the first thing he saw was the pile of suitcases, which brought back to mind where he was. He let out a quiet grunt, slightly put out as soon as he remembered he was going to have to spend another day--another two days, possibly--tiptoeing around and carefully not taking offense at anything that was said to him. And that included from Amber. Loving her wasn't much of a defense against her abrupt, thoughtless comments, that could hurt even when she didn't have her claws out. In fact, that's when it was worse; when Foreman knew she was angry, he battened down the hatches and rode out the gale. Other times, she could catch him completely off-guard.

Better to be prepared. Foreman had been joking about the tour last night, but now he realized he wasn't sure where the bathroom was, or how the Volakises would feel about him wandering the house in his t-shirt and shorts. Taking the cautious route, he got out his toiletry bag, pulled on fresh underwear, jeans, a t-shirt, and a Lions sweater. He found the bathroom on the second try, but fortunately for him, the first door had been a linen closet. Sounds from downstairs suggested the household was already awake or would be soon, so he took a lightning-quick shower, scrubbing down and shaving a lot less carefully than he ordinarily liked. He could take off the five o'clock shadow with his usual painstakingness before dinner. Once he'd taken a long piss, washed his hands and face and slapped on some aftershave, and brushed his teeth, he felt human enough to play his good guest role.

With relief, he found that breakfast was much less of a production than Thanksgiving dinner promised to be. The turkey was already in the oven, which left him feeling obscurely guilty; Kate had clearly woken up just to prep the bird and get it started. Chris was in the kitchen. He nodded hello to Foreman and pointed at the coffee maker. "As long as you get fed, I can promise Kate she doesn't need to cook breakfast," he said.

Foreman grinned, part of him relaxing to hear it. "Just some toast would be good," he said.

Chris told him where things were, and Foreman sat down across from him. "Everything all right last night?" Chris asked.

Foreman nearly choked on his bite of toast. Chris's dry humour was in full evidence, and Foreman had to force himself to answer courteously, as if it wasn't obvious that the whole family had heard them. Christ, he was never going to live that down. The first night he'd met the family. If he didn't know that he was just as much at fault, he'd be pinning the blame squarely on Amber for coming on to him in her parents' house. "Fine," he managed. "Just great. Good sleep."

Chris nodded. "Lions fan?" he asked.

Crap. That sounded like an even more loaded question than Did you sleep with my daughter under my roof last night? "Yeah," Foreman said, and hazarded a guess, "Packers fan?"

"Whole family is," Chris asserted.

Foreman had never heard Amber have an opinion on football before, but he suspected that family loyalty won against boyfriend loyalty in a case like this. "Gonna watch the game later?"

Chris gave him a smile that somehow reminded Foreman of Amber at her most shark-like. "Of course."

There was no more chance to discuss the teams, because Leila came in with a sleepy Madeleine, rubbing her eyes and asking for her stuffed ducky, which had apparently been left behind and only discovered at this moment when only a stuffed ducky would do. Leila tried her best to distract Madeleine with fruit and cereal, but she was still sniffling when Geoffrey came downstairs. "No breakfast?" he asked. "Let me whip up some pancakes."

"Your mother doesn't want the kitchen touched," Chris said phlegmatically, but Geoffrey waved him off.

"It's no trouble. Maddy loves pancakes."

Pancakes could have been the watchword for chaos. Geoffrey started opening cupboards and pulling out ingredients; apparently, it had to be pancakes from scratch, and a mix wouldn't do. Jude arrived halfway into the production and offered to make her patented scrambled eggs, as long as they were cooking. When Kate appeared, probably hearing the noise, she took one look around her kitchen, and Foreman felt like death rays would have been a kinder fate to all the breakfasters. He wished he'd gotten out sooner, so that he couldn't possibly have been included in 'people who touched an appliance without permission,' even if he'd only presumed so far as to use the toaster and not the waffle iron Geoffrey had found in the back of a bottom cupboard and was now dusting off. They were all herded into the living room, while Kate took over the pancakes and scrambled eggs both, all the while insisting that she'd planned a big breakfast in the first place, if they'd just give her room to work.

Just as they were sitting down to piping hot eggs and syrup-drenched pancakes, a knock came at the door. "That'll be Brian," Geoffrey said. "His timing has always been terrible."

"If I'd known he was getting a taxi, I could have cooked more pancakes," Kate fretted.

"You weren't planning to cook breakfast anyway," was Chris's daring contribution, which earned him a glare as Kate pushed her chair back to greet Brian at the door.

They were back a moment later, Brian grinning around the dining room, Kate with her arms crossed behind him. "Don't mind me, keep eating," he said, stealing a bite off Madeleine's plate with her fork. "Oh, no bacon?"

"Brian, your father was going to pick you up at the airport," Kate said.

"It was easier to just get a cab." Brian pulled in a chair from the other room and pushed in at the table. "Don't worry about me, Mom, I'll just help Maddy out a bit." He grinned at her, and Madeleine looked alternately like she'd burst out in a tantrum that he was going to eat all her food, and delighted giggles that someone had noticed her.

"You'll get your own plate!" Kate said. "You might as well have mine at this rate."

"I'll do the dishes," Brian promised. "You can take it out of my hide."

Foreman wanted nothing so much as to escape, but they were crammed in around the table since the leaves had been taken out after last night's dinner. Brian reached across the table and a pile of pancakes to shake his hand. "Eric? Brian. Good to meet you. Just like Amber to bring home--" The pause was infinitesimal, but unmistakable, and Brian's smirk said he knew it-- "a Lions fan." He took another bite off Madeleine's plate, grinning at her and mussing her hair. "God, after hours on a plane, I want to do anything but sit this afternoon. Dad, do we still have that old football?"

Chris nodded. "In the garage."

"Great. Four middle-aged guys trying to relive their glory days. Right, Eric?"

Foreman didn't know whether he wanted to strangle Brian or laugh, and from some of the looks around the table, it seemed like he wasn't alone. Somehow, Brian chivvied them all through breakfast, until mid-afternoon Geoffrey finally relented and said he'd go out and play touch, not tackle, two-on-two, if it would only shut Brian up.

Brian laughed and went out to find the football and get it firmed up with a bike pump. Foreman changed into sweats, keeping his Lions sweater as a point of pride. On the one hand, he couldn't believe he was going out to play football with Amber's brothers and father, and on the other, at least it would get him out of the house and doing something he was far more comfortable with than taking sides in the Volakises' long-established pecking order.

The back yard was fenced, but big enough for their purposes. Brian tried to cajole Geoffrey into letting Maddy play center, but Geoffrey said, "Certainly not," and already looked so out of place in the oversized sweater Chris had leant him that Brian didn't insist.

"All right, me and Dad, Geoffrey and Eric," Brian announced, holding up the football. "Averaging ages is only fair."

Foreman had no idea what was fair, but he let Geoffrey tug him across to their half of the lawn. "He is always like this," Geoffrey said, his face beginning to flush in the cold air, or maybe from competitive fury. "He thinks that some year I am going to let him win."

Foreman glanced over his shoulder. Brian and Geoffrey were both tall, but Brian was rangy where Geoffrey was solid and running to fat around his middle. "Is he any good?" he asked.

"You'll be receiver," Geoffrey said. "Man defense. I hope you can run."

Oh, God. What the hell had he gotten himself into? Geoffrey's florid face looked fiercely determined, and it was only a game of back yard touch. Brian had the manic grin of someone who had provoked a duel to the death just because he found the adrenaline of pistols at dawn refreshing. As for Chris, he had the air of an overlooked criminal mastermind who knew exactly what he'd unleashed on the world, and he was proud of it. Foreman lined up with the tree they'd chosen as the fifty-yard line, and looked around for someone to save him.

Nobody did. They took defense first, Brian lining up at center and Foreman starting as defensive lineman opposite him. Foreman expected the first snap to be light and easy, but he was disabused of that notion pretty much instantly. Brian shoved past him, and was on a breakaway to catch Chris's touchdown pass before Foreman had gotten his feet back under him.

Geoffrey yanked him back into their huddle after Brian had finished dancing in triumph. "Is that all you've got?" he asked. "I didn't want to mention Amber's standards, but..."

"Hey--" Foreman didn't know what to be pissed off at first, that Geoffrey's true judgement was based on how well Foreman could help him beat his brother in a game of football, that he was judging Amber based on Foreman's abilities, or that all of this was coming out in the place of his usual affable pompousness. Foreman clenched his jaw. If they thought they were the only competitive people in this yard, he'd show them.

After that, the game was a blur. Foreman shoved when he needed to shove and danced out of the way when he had the room. Brian was fast, but he committed to a route where Foreman was maneuverable. Which worked out, because Geoffrey's arm was shit. He couldn't get a pass within three yards of Foreman, and Foreman was forced to take dives, or leaps, and once he accidentally slammed into Chris, who he'd personally decided to keep his hands off for the entire game, since the last thing he wanted was to cause Amber's father to have a heart attack. But Chris just called the tackle, and took back possession as gloatingly as either of his sons.

Somewhere in the middle of it, after about their third TD, Foreman realized he was grinning with just as much fervour as Brian and Geoffrey, and celebrating just as loudly with each successful play. Geoffrey wasn't that bad, and they were up two majors, and Foreman might be sweaty, grass stained, and gasping for another breath of daggered, icy air, and he realized they were actually bonding. When he realized it, Foreman started laughing so hard that Brian slipped around his tackle (the two of them had given up the 'touch' rule pretty early on) and ran in for the score.

They were lining up for the next play, serious as the Superbowl, when Leila came out the back door. "Geoffrey, time's up. You know you're all going to need showers, and Kate wants us to sit down at seven."

"Of course," Geoffrey said instantly, standing up out of his crouch and walking off the field with as much dignity as he could muster, considering how badly he was hiding a limp. Foreman had an instant's dismay--he probably would have kept going until he'd collapsed--but a second later, he got it. They were ahead. Brian was already starting to protest, but by listening to Leila's summons as soon as they were given, Geoffrey was being mature and responsible, and in no way rubbing it in that he'd beat his little brother at football.

Yet.

Foreman shook his head sympathetically, and reached out to shake Brian's hand, with a much bigger grin than he'd managed at breakfast. "Hey, good game," he said, and shook Chris's hand too, for good measure.

"It's the first year in a long time we've managed a real one," Brian said, the stormy look on his face slowly fading as he walked ruefully to the door. "But hey, as long as Geoff's feeling it to the bone for the next week, right?"

Foreman laughed. "I'm going to be feeling it for a week."

"You deserve it too," Brian said. "So will I, but I won't show it. That's almost as good as a win."

They headed into the house, Brian delivering one last slap to Foreman's shoulder, right where a bruise was coming up (he'd run into a tree during a victory lap; God, he hoped no one had seen that). Foreman headed up the stairs, already feeling the ache in his legs. The house smelled absolutely delicious, and he realized how starved he was. By mutual agreement, they'd decided that Chris got the first shower, and Foreman sneaked in next by dint of being a guest. For the next few minutes, though, all he wanted to do was collapse on the squeaky bed and feel every one of his complaining muscles.

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