“I’m not sure if I’ll recognize her—” Jillian said, biting her fingernails, holding on to Jax’s arm. “I haven’t seen her since my younger sister’s wedding.”
“From what you’ve told me about your mother, we’ll just walk around until we smell sulfur,” Jax replied, looking down his nose, over his glasses. He was at least a foot taller than she was.
“Oh Jax, I was venting about my mother. She’s not that bad.”
“She’s not that good. Why am I even here?”
“Because you love me,” she said, squeezing his arm.
“I do love you,” he kissed the top of her forehead. “I’ll be your new mom.”
“That would be preferable,” Jillian sighed. She smoothed her frizzy hair the best she could.
“Natural curls are naturally beautiful,” Jax said, smiling at her, squinching up the ringlets around her face.
“It’s 90% humidity, Jax. These aren’t curls.”
“Natural frizz is naturally frizzy . . .” he tried again. He booped her nose.
“JILLIAN ROSE—” cried a shrill voice from across the hotel lobby. Who appeared to be a petite version of Jillian cut effortlessly through the lobby, dressed in an ivory jacquard Chanel suit, click-clacking on spectator pumps. Her arms were mechanically raised for an awkward hug.
“HI MOM—” Jillian matched her mother’s tone and frozen smile. They embraced, almost without touching.
Jax covered his mouth with all of his fingertips, desperately trying not to say anything. It didn’t work. “Is it cold in here, or is it just me?” he whispered loudly to a passing bellman.
“AND WHO IS THIS YOUNG MAN—” Jillian’s mother greeted Jax, arm and hand fully extended. Jax briefly wondered if she had elbows.
“I’m Jax, Jillian’s friend—” he said with what he hoped was a pleasant smile.
“I’m always happy to meet Jillian’s boy friends,” Jillian’s mother coyly replied.
“I’m always happy to meet . . . well, boyfriends,” Jax joked, throwing jazz hands so as not to offend.
Jillian’s mother tilted her head back to give an impressive fake laugh.
“SO HOW LONG ARE YOU IN TOWN,” Jillian asked.
“Jillian, why are you yelling?” Jillian’s mother asked, one eyebrow arched.
“I’M NOT—I’m not yelling. I—” Jillian didn’t know how to finish her sentence.
“I take it you are joining us for lunch, Mr. Jax?” Jillan’s mother boldly flirted, looping her arm through his.
“Depends on who’s buying.” With that, both Jax and Jillian’s mother tilted their heads back in tandem, Jax expertly mimicking her airy chuckle. He looked at Jillian and widened his eyes in mock horror while patting her mother’s arm.
Jillian trailed behind them both into the hotel’s brasserie.
By the time the waiter took their lunch orders and retrieved their menus, Jillian’s mother had already poured her second glass of Chardonnay.
“I hate that word. Mom. Mom. Mooooom. It’s like a cow just mooing in a field. Beastly,” she took a hearty swig.
“Well, what would you like to be called?” Jax cut in, diplomatically. Jillian looked at him with pure gratitude.
“You may call me by my first name,” Jillian’s mother purred.
“And . . . do I have to guess your first name?” Jax played along. “Is it Rumpelstiltskin?”
“It’s Jillian,” Jillian’s mother replied. Jillian covered her eyes.
Jax grinned. “Come again?”
“I’m Jillian Fleur, and I named my daughter Jillian Rose. Her older sister is Jillian Aster and her younger sister is Jillian Lily-of-the-Valley. When Jillian Rose has her own daughters, she will continue the tradition.”
“The daughters, the daughters! Tradition!” Jax stood up in the middle of the restaurant and sang, doing his best Chaim Topol impersonation. “Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do!” To the patrons who stopped mid-forkful, he threw jazz hands again and bowed magnanimously. He flicked his white napkin overhead and barked a final, “Tradition!” before sitting down and finishing his Diet Coke with lime. Oddly there was a smattering of applause.
“Jillian Fleur,” Jillian started to address her mother. There was so much to say.
“Good God, Jillian Rose. Do you have any respect for me at all? I am still your mother. You may call me mother.” Jillian’s mother motioned the waiter for another bottle of wine. The salads hadn’t been served yet.
Jax continued eating the basket of bread.
“M—mother, I know things have been difficult since Jillian Lily-of-the-Valley’s wedding . . .”
“Was there really no other flower . . . I mean, that’s like three hyphens,” Jax mused aloud.
“I’m not here to talk about the wedding,” Jillian’s mother imperiously decreed.
“I think we need to talk about the wedding,” Jillian shakily held her ground. “It’s important we clarify a few things.”
“Oh, absolutely. Let’s do this,” Jax pushed his chair closer to the table, if possible.
Mother and daughter were almost oblivious to Jax’s antics, their eyes locked on one another.
“First, my bridesmaid’s dress. I told you I was a size 16, not a size 6,” Jillian muttered, low at first. But with Jax pantomiming a boxer’s stance, she took courage.
“Jillian Rose, if I had known there was such a thing, I would have ordered it for you. I just didn’t realize any of my daughters wore double digit dress sizes.”
“Jillian Fleur, trust me. I’m sort of in fashion? The average is now 18,” Jax said, buttering the last piece of bread on the table.
“SIZE 18,” Jax mocked Jillian’s mother’s initial tone and frozen smile.
“Good God, Jax. You don’t mean—”
“Yes, I’m usually mean, unlike Jillian Rose who is a total sweetheart. Does she take after her father?”
“EXCUSE ME,” Jillian’s mother said.
“I’m working on an excuse for you, but . . . ” Jax shrugged and continued. “As for women wearing size 18 dresses? Yes, it’s very common. Sorry. Your generation failed at properly transmitting eating disorders. But—Anxiety? Check. Depression? Double check. But we are all self-medicating and doing just fine.” Jax reached over to give Jillian’s mother a boop on the nose.
“And another thing, mother—” Jillian seemed to be picking up steam. “I didn’t need your help meeting eligible bachelors. You sat me at a table with NINE. SINGLE. MEN. Ages 18-58. I have never been more embarrassed than being displayed like a—”
“Cow?” Jax added helpfully.
“Oh, Jillian Rose, what are you really upset about? That you aren’t settled like your sisters? Is that it?”
Jillian sat back in her seat. Exhausted.
“Well,” Jax said. “I was going to wait until dessert, but—darn it—now is as good a time as any.” He stood up and walked over to Jillian, getting down on one knee. He took her hands in his.
“Jillian Rose Tulip Chrysanthemum, would you make me the happiest man in the world and be my straight girl friend?”
“I do,” Jillian stood, throwing her hands around Jax’s neck. He swept her off her feet just as Jillian’s mother drained her wine glass.
“Love lift us up where we belong—goodbye Jillian Fleur-de-lis—ooo more hyphens!” Jax pointedly looked at Jillian’s mother.
“Where the eagles cry . . . On a mountain high . . .” sang Jillian Rose, sliding out of Jax’s arms. They stood and waved to the horribly embarrassed woman in a size four ivory jacquard Chanel suit.
They both threw jazz hands on the way out of the door, so as not to offend.