alexis morgan



Alexis Morgan
© 2023.


Tripp Blackston looked around the restaurant and sighed. It was incredibly sad to learn that even the best barbecued ribs for miles around couldn't fix awkward situations. Deciding it was time to give up and go back home, he ripped open one of the handy wipes provided by Owen Quinn, the restaurant's owner, and cleaned the last bit of spice and greasy barbecue sauce off his fingers.

Tossing the wipe down on top of the pile of rib bones on his plate, he pondered whether he should even bother ordering dessert. That he would even considering giving a hard pass to a piece of Frannie's Dutch apple pie was a clear indication that things weren't going at all well tonight. He'd have to make sure Owen explained the situation to Frannie. She was the often irascible owner of the local diner and the baker of said pie. If she decided that he and Abby had somehow disrespected her baked goods, they could end up banned from her diner for the foreseeable future, a tragedy for sure.

Both he and Abby had thought taking his parents to dinner for some of Owen's best barbecue would be a good way to introduce them to Tripp's life in Snowberry Creek. For starters, not only was the food excellent, but they were bound to run into some people they knew over the course of the evening. The hope was that his parents would see why Tripp had developed strong connections to the town. Considering that was the last thing his folks wanted to hear, he guessed he shouldn't be surprised their reaction to meeting some of his friends had been lackluster at best. Not even Pastor Jack had been able to engage them in meaningful conversation.

Abby had also done her best to draw them out, but to no avail. That said, she'd shown a lot more patience with their monosyllabic answers than he would have. Right now, he wanted to drag them back down to the airport and shove them on the first plane that went anywhere near his hometown. Unfortunately, that wouldn't solve the problem for the long term.

The door from the restaurant kitchen opened, and Owen stepped out. After a brief hesitation, he turned in their direction and took another swing past their table. Giving Tripp's parents a curious look, he asked, "Would anyone like to look at the dessert menu?"

Knowing Tripp as well as he did, he wouldn't have even bothered to ask the question. He would've simply had huge slices of pie delivered to everyone at the table, but he'd clearly picked up on the growing tension at the table. When everyone shook their heads, Abby gave their host an apologetic look. "Sorry, not tonight, Owen. We'll just take the check."

Owen briefly glanced at Tripp and then offered smiles all around. "Nope, no check. Dinner's on me tonight."

Tripp watched as his parents look at the remains of the huge meal in bewilderment. His father immediately reached for his wallet. "Nonsense. Our son might be a poor college student, but we can afford to pay our bill."

Upon hearing his father's description of Tripp, Owen's friendly smile took on a harder edge. "It isn't a matter of money, Mr. Blackston. I'm engaged to Abby's mother, which makes Abby and Tripp family. One of the privileges of family is taking care of the people we care the most about. So, like I said, dinner is on me."

His mother entered the conversation, which didn't help the situation. "That explains why you consider Abby family, Mr. Quinn. but I don't understand why her being our son's landlady would make him family, too."

By that point, Owen was staring at both of Tripp's parents as if they were speaking gibberish. "I could explain it, Mrs. Blackston, but I think it would better if you asked your son to do the honors."

He abruptly turned back to Tripp. "I hope to see you at the veterans meeting tomorrow morning. I'll be bringing goodies from Bridey's shop. And speaking of goodies, I left a pie boxed up to go for you at the front counter. Enjoy."

Tripp's parents exchanged looks as Owen walked away. "He's an odd one, isn't he?"

Abby immediately leapt to Owen's defense. "No, actually he's not, Mrs. Blackston. What he is, though, is protective of his friends like your son."

Turning back to Tripp, she added, "We should leave."

At that point, she stood up, pushed her chair back up to the table, and walked away.

Shooting his parents a disgusted look, Tripp tossed several bills down on the table to cover the tip before hustling to catch up with Abby. He knew he should say something to his parents about their behavior, but not here. Now, that would wait until they were somewhere more private.

As he passed by, the hostess held out the pie. "Here you go, Tripp. It's your favorite—Dutch apple."

The thought of all that apple and cinnamon goodness brightened his bleak mood. "Thanks, Heather. Tell Owen I really appreciate it."

Abby waited for him over by her car. "I suppose it would be rude to give your folks the car keys and walk home without them."

"All things considered, they should be the ones who have to walk." He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close. "I'm so sorry about how they're acting. I know it's probably hard to believe, but I swear it's out of character for them."

She burrowed in closer to him. "I just wish I knew what I'd done to make them dislike me so much."

Tripp's temper flashed hotter. "Not a darn thing, Abby. This is all on them, and I'll be having a talk with them when we get home."

Which in itself might be a problem. Abby had graciously offered to let them stay in her guest room, but that was obviously not a good idea. "I'm going to make them stay in my place. I'll crash on your couch."

That's where he slept whenever Abby needed protection. He just never expected that it his parents would present any kind of threat to her.

His father must have stopped to use the restroom on the way out, but they had just walked out of the restaurant. After Abby handed Tripp her keys, he opened the passenger door for her. After handing her the pie to hold, he walked around to the driver's side and got in.

The silence in the car on the way home was oppressive, but at least it was only a short drive back to the house. Once again, he played the gentleman and opened Abby's door for her and then escorted her to the back door. He brushed a lock of her hair back from her face. "I'll be back over in a little while."

When she gently stroked his cheek, he kissed her palm. That earned him a small smile as she said, "I'm going to change shoes and take Zeke for a short walk. We won't be gone long."

He would have asked her to wait for him, but he didn't blame her if she wanted to take a break from the Blackston clan. "Give Zeke a treat for me."

Abby looked past him toward his house. "Your folks can still use my guest room if you think they'd be more comfortable there."

"Even if they would be, I don't care. Evidently I can't trust them to be civil around you and my friends. Their behavior embarrassed me tonight, and I'm going make it clear that they either start behaving like the parents I've always known and loved, or they can go home."

She winced. "I've had my own issues with my mother as you well know. It's never easy when your parents somehow forget we're adults and can make our own choices. Mom never expected me to end up here in Snowberry Creek, but she's come to accept and even understand why I'm happy here. Hopefully your parents will do the same."

"It isn't entirely their fault. I should have told them ages ago that this isn't just where I'm going to school. This is my home." He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Abby's, needing that small connection. "I've told you before that they've always wanted me to move back home. The problem is they want the boy they remember, not the man I've become."

"Then let them meet the man, Tripp. Tell them your hopes and dreams and why Snowberry Creek is not just where you want to be but where you need to be."

Then she stepped back and shook her finger at him. "But if you tell them what you're majoring in at the college before you tell me, there will be dire consequences."

That had been an ongoing joke between them for a long time. He grabbed her hand and gave it a squeeze. "I'm majoring in psychology, hoping to become a counselor working with veterans."

Then he backed away and took off running, leaving Abby sputtering on the porch.