Title: Home Sweet Home
Summary: Parents can be so embarrassing.
Max dragged his feet as his mother invited Regina and himself inside. As much as he loved his family, they had an innate talent for doing everything in the exact way that would most drive him absolutely crazy. Regina burst through the door, as perky as ever, but came to a sudden halt. Her eyes went wide and she blinked a few times as they glazed over. Max didn’t need to follow her gaze to know what she was staring at.
Despite his daughters’ pleas, Pa Johns refused to take down what was affectionately known to friends and family as the “Wall O’ Deer.” Even with the assortment of hats and scarves that someone added, Max had to admit the collection of mounted and stuffed buck heads was a macabre sight.
“Are those real?” Regina asked in a small voice.
Uh oh. “Of course not, sweetie,” Max answered with an extremely fake sounding laugh. His mother gave him a sharp look, but he maneuvered Regina to sit on the well-worn sofa facing the opposite side of the room. He started to plop down next to her, but another glare from his mother as she seated herself and he sat down in the matching armchair instead.
A strawberry blonde head popped through the doorway to the kitchen as the three sat in awkward silence. “B.B!” his older sister said excitedly. “Should I put up a pot of coffee?”
“No thanks, May, we’ll probably just go straight to bed,” Max said.
“And this would be Regina?” May came around Max’s chair to greet the guest. “Nice to meet you, sugar.”
“Princess, this is my big sis’, May,” Max said.
“Princess?” May asked with a slight smirk. “You sound like you’re whipped, boy.”
A forced cough from his mother brought that conversation to a screeching halt. “Y’all are staying her tonight, right?” the pink-haired matron asked imperiously.
“Actually, Mama, we have a room in town…” her son trailed off as he received ‘the look.’ “I’ll go cancel that now, then,” he said. After digging around for a few moments, he pulled out his rhinestone covered cellphone and wandered into the kitchen to make the call.
When he came back into the sitting room, Regina was grinning cluelessly as his mother did her best impression of a police interrogator. “Mama, Regina’s probably as tuckered out as I am. Why don’t I just show her where we’ll be sleeping and you can get to know her in the morning,” he suggested hopefully.
Regina piped up with a perky, “I’m not tired,” but it was his mother that took his attention.
“You will be sleeping with DJ in your old room. We’ve made up an extra bed in May and June’s room for Regina.”
“But Mama, it will be too crowded with May and June and Rose,” Max argued.
“Would you like to sleep down here on the sofa with DJ?” Ma Johns asked.
“No Mama, it’s just…” he sighed dramatically. This was why he had gotten a room in the only hotel in town after all. He was probably lucky that his Ma wasn’t demanding that his Princess sleep in the next town over. He briefly thought about sneaking out to the hotel once everyone was asleep, but he didn’t even want to think about the aftermath of a stunt like that.
“Max and I could sleep on the couch,” Regina reasoned. Max cringed as he anticipated her next remark. “We like sleeping together.”
His sister snickered quietly as his mother slowly turned the color of her hair. “She means it literally, Ma,” Max said quickly. “We’ve got separate boys’ and girls’ wings in the circus dorms.”
His mother’s white knuckled grip on her rocking chair told him that the damage control wasn’t working, so he tried to change the subject to his youngest sister, Rose. Instead of the desired effect, bringing up Rose only made his mother turn so purple that he was afraid she was going to have a stroke right there in her chair. Regina was staring at the enraged woman like a deer in headlights, so he decided it would be a good idea to take her to the girls’ bedroom.
May decided to follow them, leaving their mother to calm down before she spat fire. “Way to go, B.B.,” she whispered as they headed up the rickety old stairs to the second floor.
“It’s not my fault she’s stuck in the last century,” Max said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Damn. Our bags are still in the car.”
May looked back down the stairs at the unmoving form in the living room. “If I were you, Billy-boy, I’d consider sleeping in my underpants. It’s plenty warm enough. Regina here can borrow some of our old things.”
Upon hearing her name, Regina spoke up. “Is she always like that?”
“No, sugar, she wasn’t half this bad until Rose came home and…” May trailed off.
“And what,” Max demanded, but May busied herself with getting some towels from the linen closet.
“Oh, and I’d catch as much sleep as I could, B.B. Ma will want you to help with the chores,” she said as she handed each of the other two a towel.
Max rolled his eyes, but the effect was lost as May led Regina away to point out the bathroom and her bed. He slung the towel over his shoulders and climbed the aging ladder to the share the attic with his brother.
It was hard, but Max decided that there just wasn’t going to be time to get fabulous before breakfast, especially not if DJ was going to continue letting him do all the work. He had resigned himself to the fact he was going to be woken up before dawn, but he had managed to retain some hope that he might be able to sneak in a shower before Ma Johns tried to force feed him pancakes.
As he scraped the cow pie off of his boots, he tried to ask his little brother about Rose, but DJ was decidedly mum on the subject. Instead, his brother merely pointed out that Max’s hair was looked decided less than fabulous and more like a bright pink version of The Bride of Frankenstein. Unfortunately, Ma walked in just as he smacked the little trouble-maker upside the head and he got an earful of ‘respect for one’s siblings’ and ‘proper decorum for adults’ before he even managed to wash up for the table.
Ma was in a decidedly foul mood and over the course of eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, muffins and pie, he got a lecture on ‘not eating enough’, his ‘unchristian like costume’, ‘proper table manners’ and ‘close the door young man, you weren’t raised in a barn.’ Pa Johns was conspicuously absent and Max could only imagine that he was getting only a small fraction of the pent up rage that his mother was saving for her husband.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Regina pushing her eggs around the plate in an attempt to disguise their existence from the tyrannical chef. As soon as his mother paused for breath, he pushed his plate away and announced that he and Regina were going to go for a walk.
“Walk? You aren’t even dressed yet,” his mother protested, but he was spared the ‘keeping up appearances’ lecture by the timely appearance of one stumbling-drunk Pa Johns.
Before Regina could ask what was going on, Max had his Princess halfway up the stairs. “Maxie, I still need my things,” she pointed out over the banging and screaming in the kitchen.
“You can borrow something of mine, darlin’. You do not want to go back downstairs if you can help it.” The rest of the Johns siblings were joining Max in a mass retreat.
“Thanks, May,” Max replied. He correctly himself when he heard her sigh. “Sorry June, you know I can’t tell you apart.”
“If you wore your glasses once in awhile it wouldn’t be a problem,” June chided him. “Honestly, we don’t even look that much alike anymore.”
“Pssht… B.B. wouldn’t let a little thing like near blindness get in the way of his vanity,” May added.
Max was about to retort, but he caught sight of something he hadn’t seen under the kitchen table. “Damn Rose, what happened to you?” Either Mama was over-feeding her youngest, or she was going to be a grandmother soon.
Rose merely turned her namesake color and hurried past the crowd to the powder room.
May kicked out and caught Max in the shins. “Real smooth there.”
“Seriously, what do ya think happened to our baby sister,” DJ said from the back of the group.
“That little shit from down the road knocked her up, didn’t he?” Max stared down his little brother. “Why isn’t his head on a stake in the front yard?”
“Pa hasn’t caught him on our property yet.” DJ shrugged. “And everything Pa talks about going after him, the waterworks start.”
“What’s going on?” Regina asked curiously, obviously not following the conversation at all. “Who did what to Rose?”
Max kissed the top of her head. “Nothing you have to worry about, sweetie.” DJ pretended to gag, but June elbowed him shortly in the rips. “Why don’t you get dressed and then I’ll show you around the farm.”