Elegy - Cover


Copyright© 2023 by Lumpy

Chapter 7

Saturday the snow continued to fall, turning the world into a winter wonderland. The main roads were salted, but driving still felt treacherous and the drive home the night before was a nightmare. My inexperience, coupled with the difficulty I’d had driving yesterday, all added to my already frazzled nerves thinking of the meal I was about to have with Sydney’s family. On the whole drive over it felt like a pit had formed in my stomach, threatening to gnaw its way to the outside.

I parked at the curb and made my way up the walkway, being careful not to slip as the wind threatened to push me over. I’d just gotten to their front door when Mrs. Gibbs opened it without me knocking or ringing the bell.

“Charlie! Come on in, it’s freezing out there!”

“Hi. Uhh, I brought a pie,” I said, holding it out to her as I stamped the snow off my boots.

“Oh, how thoughtful,” she said, taking the pie and ushering me inside. “Hang up your coat here.”

“My mom always told me to bring something when you’re invited to someone’s house. They usually brought wine, but I thought a pie might be more appropriate.”

“That was a good call,” she chuckled. “Come on in. Sydney and Judy are in the dining room, setting the table.”

I followed her into the dining room, where Sydney and her little sister were laying out plates and silverware. The house smelled amazing, with the aroma of something rich and savory filling the air. I hadn’t had a chance to grab breakfast, both because I’d been busy getting some work on my new song done, and because of my nerves. My mouth started to water at the smells.

“Hey, Charlie,” Sydney said, putting down the plates and coming around to me.

I saw her father standing in the doorway to the kitchen and blocked Sydney from giving me a hug, feeling awkward as his eyes bore into me.

“Uhh ... hey,” I said, nervously, putting my hand on her side, keeping her at literal arm’s length.

“Daddy,” Sydney chided, turning to look at her father. “Stop glaring. You’re making him nervous.”

“Good,” he replied, his voice deadpan.

I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, but Mrs. Gibbs stepped in to save the day. “Don’t mind him. You kids go ahead and sit down. We put a chair next to where Sydney normally sits, so you’ll be by her. I’ll be right in with the food. Joel, stop intimidating everyone and come help me in the kitchen.”

I followed Sydney around the table and sat next to her while her sister sat across from us. I hadn’t really ever said more than a few words to her sister before, and didn’t really know her. She was several years younger than Sydney, close to Sam’s age, and I guessed she was probably in fourth or fifth grade.

Sheriff Gibbs came back in carrying a large, overflowing glass casserole dish, the top a golden brown with dark, crispy edges. The mouthwatering aroma hit me instantly. Mrs. Gibbs followed behind him with salad and garlic bread, setting everything down in the middle of the table.

The food looked and smelled so good that I excitedly picked up my plate to serve myself, but Sydney kicked my foot gently. I looked up to find everyone staring at me like I’d violated some unspoken rule.

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Judy, will you say grace?” Sydney’s mom asked.

Feeling foolish, I quietly set my plate back down. I wasn’t used to saying grace. We’d never been religious growing up. The very rare times we sat down as a family, we’d all dig in like it was a race to get something before it all disappeared. Mrs. Phillips had us say grace when we all ate together, but all of our schedules were so busy that it was pretty uncommon, so I still hadn’t gotten into the habit.

“So, Charlie,” Mrs. Gibbs said when Judy finished, as she started serving food to everyone. “You’ve got a little more than a year left of school. I know a lot of kids are looking at colleges about now. Have you given any thought to where you’re going to go?”

“Honestly, no,” I admitted. “Probably somewhere in state. UNC maybe. They have a pretty good music program.”

“That’s where I want to go to,” Sydeny said. “They’ve got a really good business school, and I heard that since they recruited Kat, if she gets into the Olympics they’re going to put more funding into the swimming program, which I’d like to keep doing in college.”

“Well, we’re not writing off the University of Pennsylvania just yet,” her mom interjected. “I know a lot of your friends are thinking about UNC, but you’re a legacy so you should be able to get into UPenn, and if you want to talk about good business schools, they have Wharton.”

“Mom went to UPenn and decided that’s where we were going to go the day we were born. We even had little UPenn onesies when we were babies,” Sydney joked.

“I’m not saying you have to go there,” Mrs. Gibbs clarified. “I just think you should give it some consideration before just deciding to go somewhere with your friends. College is about setting up the rest of your life, not just having fun.”

“What do you plan on doing with a music degree?” Sheriff Gibbs asked, cutting into the conversation.

“Uhh ... Well, I was looking at theory and composition, although I haven’t completely ruled out music production. Composition will help me in my actual music career, but production could be more practical and has more fallback options, which I know my mom would prefer I have.”

“Is there any work you could get with a degree in songwriting? I can’t imagine there’s a lot of money in that.”

“I’m already making decent money with my songwriting, and I’ve just started, so I think there’s potential,” I shot back.

“That’s a big gamble. There are a lot of people playing on street corners for pennies who thought they could make it big in music. And I don’t imagine being a music teacher pays well.”

“Maybe not, but if that’s where I end up, I’d probably still be happy. That’s what matters, isn’t it?” I argued.

“Providing for your family is what matters,” he insisted. “Dreams of fame and fortune are a distraction from becoming the kind of man who can do what his family needs. That’s what a real man does.”

“Daddy, Charlie is doing really well, though. He’s playing at this huge spring break concert in Florida this year, and he has a show that seats more than a thousand people in Philadelphia. Those aren’t just dreams.”

“Sure they are. Fame is fleeting. Do you know how many famous people end up dying alone and penniless? Do you think that’s a coincidence?”

Sydney didn’t say anything. She was the quintessential daddy’s girl and didn’t like arguing with him. Whenever he put his foot down, she would just do what he told her and stay quiet, regardless of what she thought. It wasn’t pathological like it was for Kat, but it was still noticeable, and so different from how she was with anyone else. I was actually astounded when she had talked back to her father in the first place. I’d always thought that was partially the reason he didn’t like me since dating me was the first major thing she’d disobeyed him on.

“Maybe, but there are lots of entrepreneurs who end up the same way. I feel like I’ve done well for myself so far, and I’m still just starting out. It’s not like I’ve just gotten lucky. I’ve put in hard work; both to get where I am skill-wise, and to do the work necessary before and after getting my contract. This isn’t a pipe dream for me. It’s actually happening.”

“It’s still not a real career,” her father said, refusing to hear anything I had to say.

I clenched my jaw, biting my tongue to prevent a response I’d end up regretting. I had hoped this lunch would mend some bridges, especially after witnessing the crap I was going through at school. Instead, he chose this moment to interrogate me about my life choices. If I wanted this, I could’ve driven down to the county jail and had lunch with my own father.

Not being able to control myself, I was about to respond when Mrs. Gibbs interrupted us both, “So I hear your friend Kat is going to try out for the Olympics. That’s very exciting.”

Sydney saw what her mother was trying to do and chimed in, pulling me into the conversation. I felt a pang of guilt for her. She just wanted her father and me to get along, but we’d barely gotten five minutes into lunch before arguing. He had definitely instigated it, but I shared some blame. I’d tried to be reasonable, but I knew there wasn’t a way to reason with him. He’d always find the worst way to interpret my words. I could’ve disengaged, focusing on Mrs. Gibbs instead. I had to admit, I was ready to escalate things. If I didn’t learn to keep my temper in check, it would get the better of me someday.

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