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  • Shelly Desjarlais

"We can't mess up a picnic, right?"

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

“They’re going to hate me.”

“They are not going to hate you, Ginny,” Lea said for the fifth time.


Anxiously, Ginny gripped the steering wheel with both hands. They were only ten minutes from Lea’s childhood home. Ginny wanted to turn the car around and head right back to the airport. However, she knew she’d have to meet Lea’s family eventually. They couldn’t keep Ginny a secret forever.


“What cover story are we going with?” Ginny asked at the final stoplight.


Lea stuck her rings into the inner pocket of her purse. “We can call you my girlfriend around everyone except Nana. She’d have a heart attack if she knew I’m a lesbian. We’ll just say you’re my roommate when she’s in earshot. Rings.”


“Ah, the old ‘She’s my roommate’ trick. Works every time,” Ginny plucked the rings from her finger. She dropped them in Lea’s palm. “Do we plan on telling them we’re married anytime soon?”


“Not this visit. I want them to meet you a few times before we drop that bomb. They’re going to be furious with me.”


“Why? We love each other so much we couldn’t wait another second to get married. What’s so terrible about that?”


“My mom has been planning my wedding since I was six years old. It was a huge blow when she found out there wouldn’t be a man at the altar. It’s going to be even worse when she finds out there won’t be an altar at all. And, I also made you my wife before they knew you exist. Something tells me they would’ve wanted to be in on something so important.”


“Pin the whole thing on me. It was my idea.”


“Oh, I will. It’s all your fault.”


Upon reaching their destination, Ginny gave Lea a brisk kiss. “Guilty as charged. Let’s go inside before my nerves completely take over.”


“Relax. It’s just a Fourth of July picnic. We can’t mess up a picnic, right?”


Together, Lea and Ginny scaled the front walkway. Lea’s knuckle struck the front door several times while Ginny gulped. She could hear Lea’s father walking to the door. Lea gave Ginny a supportive smile when the knob began to turn. As the door slowly revealed Lea’s father, Ginny’s gut burned. The man had a permanent scowl on his wrinkled face. It was beyond intimidating.


“Dad, it’s great to see you. This is Ginny. She’s my girlfriend,” Lea introduced.


“Hello, Mr. Barnes. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Ginny extended her hand.


He glared. “Uh-huh. Good to have you home, Lea. Everyone can’t wait to hear about all the good work you’re doing. The food is in the back. We’ll have the pie eating contest in a bit. Your cousin went out for fireworks.”


“Fireworks? That’s neat. Very festive,” Ginny commented.


Mr. Barnes glared again before turning away. Lea patted Ginny reassuringly on the shoulder as they entered. Almost immediately, a rush of relatives came to greet Lea since she hadn’t visited home in over a year. Even though Lea tried to include Ginny in conversations, most people ignored Ginny entirely. Their visit didn’t seem to be going too well at that point, but it certainly wasn’t going poorly. Yet.


“I have a great idea,” Lea began. Usually, that phrase led to trouble. This would be no different. “You should help my mother in the kitchen. They probably need some help getting the pie eating contest ready.”


“What? You know how I am in the kitchen. I’m dangerous. I added powdered detergent to pancake batter instead of flour last month, remember?” Ginny argued.


“I doubt you’ll have to do any cooking, honey. You can just help her organize things. You know, do little chores here and there. It’ll be a great way to win her over. I haven’t introduced you yet anyway.”


Lea dragged Ginny to the kitchen by force. When Lea’s mother saw her, she dramatically threw open her arms. “Lea! My darling! Come give me some sugar, sweetie!”


“Mom,” Lea met her mother’s embrace. Then, she looked at Ginny. “This is Ginny. My girlfriend.”


“So, you’re the new model. Whatever happened to that rich girl? The one with the summer house in Florida. Kind of had an ugly face, but had perfect legs for pencil skirts,” Mrs. Barnes recalled.


Ginny smirked at the blush on Lea’s cheeks. “That was a long time ago, Mom. I’ve been with Ginny for over a year.”


“Oh. Too bad. That girl was loaded. What do you do, Ginny?”


“I work with Lea at the clinic in Ecuador. I’m one of the nurses.”


“How nice. If you’ll excuse me, I need to start setting up the pie contest,” Mrs. Barnes said.


Though Ginny tried to sneak out, Lea caught her by the wrist. “Ginny was just saying how she’d love to help out. It’d be a wonderful chance for you to get to know each other.”


“Well, I could use a hand. Will you help too?”


“No, I think I should head out back and say hi to everyone I haven’t seen yet. You two should get along famously,” Lea brightly smiled.


“Okay, Ginny. Come with me,” Mrs. Barnes ordered.


Awkwardly, Ginny followed Mrs. Barnes to the kitchen table. There were stacks and stacks of pies, and they were all covered with a top crust. That made it nearly impossible for Ginny to tell them apart. Mrs. Barnes spoke faster than Ginny liked. “We have three pies for the contest. We have blueberry pies there, bacon apple pies next to that, and cherry pies over there. Tiny Trent is allergic to blueberries, so you have to give him the apple pie. Delilah is a vegan, so we made a vegan cherry pie for her. That means the blueberry pie is for Sonny. We marked their spots at the table outside. You can start taking the pies out there. I’ll get the last out from the oven.”


Ginny felt a wave of relief wash over her. Lea was right. She didn’t have to cook anything after all. She didn’t even have to make conversation with Mrs. Barnes. Surely, it wouldn’t be hard to carry pies to the table. There was no way she could confuse something so simple.


Thus, she confidently took a stack of pies in her arms. She left the house to find the table in the backyard. It was clearly marked, as Mrs. Barnes had said. Ginny set the apple pies in front of the seat for Tiny Trent. She brought the cherry pies out next, placing them in front of Delilah’s chair. The blueberry pies were ready for Sonny. Ginny was pleased with her efforts. Mrs. Barnes appeared with the final pies.


“That stack is crooked,” Mrs. Barnes pointed at the pies for Tiny Trent.


"Better?” Ginny straightened it.


“Not really.”


Mrs. Barnes fixed it herself. Afterwards, she left Ginny standing there alone and somewhat deflated. Lea left a few cousins to check in. “Well? How’d it go?”


“We didn’t talk really. Unless you count her telling me that my stack of pies was crooked.”


“At least she likes you enough to criticize you. That’s a compliment. Like how my dad glared at you. He doesn’t glare at just anyone, you know.”


“Your family is weird.”


“That’s a surprise? Where did you think I got my weirdness from?”


“I figured I was rubbing off on you.”


Laughing, they wandered to the appetizer table. Ginny loaded a patriotic plate with potato salad and deviled eggs. Kids ran around the massive yard with lit sparklers as adults competed at cornhole. Lea worked on a red, white, and blue cupcake. The quiet sky would be lit with cheap fireworks when darkness came.


“Sweetheart, who’re they?” Ginny whispered.


A young man and a pretty brunette were tangled in a passionate kiss. They attempted to hide behind a shed, but the gap between the shed and the fence wasn’t deep enough. Half of their bodies were exposed to the open air. The angle still offered some discretion, but it wasn’t doing much for them.


“I think that’s my cousin Mal with his girlfriend. He should’ve taken her behind the oak tree. That’s where I’d take my girls.”


“Your girls? More rich girls with perfect legs?” Ginny teased.


Lea’s blush returned. “Don’t start with me, okay? Wait, I see Nana. I should go say hi to her. You shouldn’t come with me. Just hold on a second.”


“Okay, but I still want the story on Ms. Perfect Legs when you get back here.”


Rolling her eyes, Lea cut across the yard to see her ninety-two-year-old grandmother. Ginny added more potato salad to her plate while she waited. To her surprise, Mal appeared beside her. He stacked his plate with coleslaw and potato chips. As much as she hated to make small talk, Ginny figured she should try to be friendly. These people were her in-laws, after all.


“Hi. I’m Ginny. I’m here with your cousin, Lea,” Ginny opened.


“Hey. Nice to meet you. We were stoked when we heard Lea would be coming back to the States for a visit. It’s like she’s been gone forever. Did you meet her down there?”


“Not exactly. We joined the Peace Corps at the same time, so we went through training together. It just so happened they sent us both to the clinic.”


“Cool. I met my girlfriend at work too. I’ll have to introduce you to her. I have to find her first. I just got back here.”


Ginny paused. “Weren’t you just with her?”


“What? No. I went out for fireworks.”


“But Lea and I saw you with her behind the shed.”


In unison, Ginny and Mal looked at the shed. His girlfriend was there with a man who looked exactly like Mal. That was because it was his identical twin, Sal. Mal threw down his plate and ran to the shed. He yanked Sal off his girlfriend and tossed him to the ground. Directly, the fight began.


The family flocked to the loud scuffle. Lea darted to Ginny’s side. “What happened?”


“I may have accidentally revealed the fact that Mal’s girlfriend is cheating on him with who I’d guess is his identical twin…”


Mr. Barnes and Lea’s uncle pulled the young men apart. Sal pointed a livid finger at Ginny. “Thanks a lot for outing us, creep!”


“What’s that about, Ginny?” Mrs. Barnes asked.


“It’s nothing, Mom. Shouldn’t we have the pie eating contest? I bet that’ll calm everything down,” Lea intervened.


Her mother nodded in agreement. “Good idea. Everyone, let’s have the pie eating contest!”


The group gathered near the pies. Tiny Trent, Delilah, and Sonny took their seats. Mr. Barnes announced each of them and the rules. He had a timer prepped on his phone. When the time started, the three family members began to eat. Merely fifteen seconds in, madness broke out.


Tiny Trent bit into a blueberry pie. His allergic reaction was swift. His father, a cousin of Lea’s, ran to him with the EpiPen ready. Seconds later, Delilah spit out a hunk of bacon from the apple pie. The high-maintenance woman broke into fits of tears and rage. Mrs. Barnes slowly turned towards Ginny, sending a hard and knowing glare at Ginny’s head.


Swallowing dryly, Ginny whispered by Lea’s ear. “I think I might have mixed up the pies…”


Tiny Trent’s parents had to take him to the emergency room. Delilah gradually calmed down, but the family had to endure her hysterics for quite awhile. Sonny was not unaffected by the pie catastrophe. Given that he was capable of eating all three pies, he took it upon himself to eat every pie on the table. He did not want the food to be wasted. However, the human digestive system is not equipped to handle such noble pursuits. He had to excuse himself from the picnic and sprint to the bathroom.


With that upset winding down, the family could focus on the next event: The fireworks. Mr. Barnes went through the fireworks Mal had bought. He huffed and puffed. “Red was supposed to help me with these. Damn blueberries and EpiPens and ERs, taking him out of here. Who’s going to help me now?”


“How about Ginny?” Lea volunteered.


Ginny’s neck snapped back at her. She kept her voice down. “Seriously? I accidentally started a fight, almost killed a child, sent a vegan over the edge, and gave Sonny an excuse to eat his weight in pie fillings. You still want me to help around here?”


“I guess she’ll do as good as any,” Mr. Barnes said without hearing their conversation. His hand snagged her sleeve. “Come on, Ginger.”


Ginny, sir.”


“Whatever.”


Ginny went with him to the edge of the yard. She helped him set up his fireworks of choice, following his instructions to the letter. With the prep complete, the family assembled to watch the display. Ginny double checked the placement of the fireworks, as she knew they had to be securely on the ground. Yet, her careful prodding loosened one of the rockets without her realizing it.


“Go sit with everyone else. I’ll do the lighting,” Mr. Barnes declared.


Nodding, Ginny returned to Lea. Lea had a warm smile. “Great work, honey. It’s going to be spectacular.”


“We love fireworks! We love fireworks!” the children began to chant.


Mr. Barnes set off the first firework with magnificent success. A few more followed. Everyone was enjoying the display a great deal. Then, Mr. Barnes lit the wobbly rocket. Rather than go straight up, it tilted downward. The lawn was struck with flame, along with Mr. Barnes’ foot. He yelped and the grass burned.


The next ten minutes went by in a blur. Someone threw the contents of the ice cooler on the flames, someone else tossed the entire punch bowl at the fire, and two of the cousins tried to roll out the garden hose. It didn’t go far enough, so they sprayed what they could from afar. Sirens howled in the distance. A throng of firefighters crashed onto the scene.


Ginny covered her face with her palms, and Lea set comforting hands on Ginny’s neck. “This wasn’t your fault. The wind probably knocked it over.”

“I didn’t secure it properly. That’s what happened. I almost set the neighborhood and your father on fire,” Ginny replied. She exhaled shakily. “Let’s face it. I’ve wrecked almost everything.”


“Don’t talk like that, Ginny. Accidents happen. That’s all.”


“No, I have seriously made a mess of things. The only way I could mess tonight up worse is if I walked right up to your grandmother and said: ‘Hey, I’m not Lea’s roommate. Lea is actually a lesbian!’ I wanted to…” Ginny trailed off. An expression of pure horror was scrawled on Lea’s face. Her wide eyes looked at something over Ginny’s shoulder. Ginny realized what she had done. “Your grandmother is right behind me, isn’t she?”


Lea slowly nodded. Ginny glanced behind her. The ninety-two-year-old woman’s jaw was hanging open. Her eyes rolled into her head, and she began to fall backwards. Lea scrambled to catch her. Luckily, the paramedics were still there after treating Mr. Barnes’ burn wounds. Lea walked her grandmother to the nearest paramedic to be examined.


Ginny retreated to a quiet table away from the firefighters and family members. The fire was extinguished, and the remaining fireworks were safely discarded. Lea soon joined Ginny at the table. They gently held hands, waiting for the chaos to subside.


“Nana will be fine. They took her into the house to lie down. She was going to figure it out eventually, so don’t feel too bad. I think she knew on some level. I’ll be interested to see what she says when she gets over the shock.”


“I’m glad she’s okay. I was worried about her. Lea, your parents are glaring at me again,” Ginny gestured to Mr. and Mrs. Barnes.


Sure enough, they were glaring at them from the other side of the yard. Lea sighed at the sight. “Ignore it. I think they like you.”


“I wish I had your optimism. I’m terrified about how they’re going to react when they find out we got married.”


“Well, don’t worry about it too much. They aren’t going to know about it for awhile.”


“Yeah. I hate not being able to call you my wife, though.”


“I hate it too.”


A small throat cleared. Ginny and Lea realized a little girl was standing by their table. Her smile was mischievous. “You’re married?”


“Jeanie, sweetie, you didn’t hear us say that,” Lea told her niece.


“I heard you say you got married and you’re hiding it,” Jeanie challenged.


“You can’t tell anybody, okay? Please,” Lea replied.


“Got any money?” Jeanie asked.


Ginny and Lea exchanged glances. Quickly, Ginny went through her wallet. When she didn’t find cash, her posture slumped. “Do you take credit cards?”


“Hey! Everyone! Guess what!” Jeanie shouted.


“Didn’t think so,” Ginny grumbled.


Jeanie skipped to the family members as Lea growled. “I thought growing up with my brother was the worst thing ever. Turns out, his kid is even worse than he ever was. Looks like she’s telling everyone.”


“Looks that way. The entire family is looking over here. Are you ready?”


“No. Let’s get it over with anyway.”


Frowning, Ginny and Lea wandered towards the curious crowd. Mrs. Barnes shoved her way to the front. “Is Jeanie telling the truth? Are the two of you married?”


“Yes. We got married three months ago. You didn’t miss a wedding, I promise. It was only a priest and the two of us at a chapel in Ecuador. It was Ginny’s idea. I just went along with it because I happen to love her more than life itself. Which is also her fault. She’s too damn charming.”


“Why didn’t you tell us?” Mr. Barnes wondered.


“I thought that you’d be upset with me. Getting married is a huge thing in life, and I didn’t even introduce you to my wife before we did it. I figured that you wouldn’t be as mad about it after you got to know Ginny a little bit. We just couldn’t wait to get married.”


“What about a real wedding?” Mrs. Barnes demanded.


“We’re not having one,” Ginny said.


Mrs. Barnes held her chest. “Someone get the paramedics back here! I can’t handle it!”


“Mom, you don’t have to be so dramatic. I married the woman I love, and we are insanely happy. Isn’t that the most important thing?”


“But tradition! It’s tradition!” Mrs. Barnes squeaked.


“I’ve never been traditional. Neither has Ginny. We are who we are, and it works. I’d really like you to like your daughter-in-law, so can we focus on the fact that she’s with me? Not how she’s with me?” Lea hoped.


“That woman has destroyed our picnic,” Mrs. Barnes hissed.


“If that’s how you feel, we’ll go,” Lea decided. She gripped Ginny’s hand. “Come on, honey. We’ll change our flight.”


“What? Don’t you go anywhere,” Mr. Barnes said. “Ginny, you just made this the most interesting family get-together we’ve had since the Great Brawl of Thanksgiving 1993.”


“Is that a good thing, sir?” Ginny uncertainly asked.


“Heck yeah, it is. I don’t want my daughter to be with some boring girl. She better have married herself a troublemaker. Life is too short to be perfect.”


Ginny smiled. “You don’t have to worry about perfection from me.”


“Good. I say we go in and see if we can catch the fireworks show on the television,” Mr. Barnes decided.


Mrs. Barnes couldn’t believe it. “You’re okay with this? Our daughter married without telling us anything!”


“Well, it’s not like we can change it. Besides, I’m enjoying being kept on my toes. Even if they have a char now. Inside, everyone.”


Mr. Barnes led most of the family into the house. Ginny, Lea, and Mrs. Barnes remained in the yard. Mrs. Barnes folded her arms. “Try not to touch anything in the house, Ginny. I don’t want another catastrophe to hit our Fourth of July celebration. I’ve taken all I can take today.”


“Yes, ma’am. I’ll do my best,” Ginny said.


With that, Mrs. Barnes went into the house. Lea excitedly leapt up and down. “It went so well! I’m so relieved. I thought for sure they’d give us a major problem. Maybe they’ve mellowed out since I left.”


“If this is the way your mom acts mellowed out, I’m really glad I didn’t meet her before today.”


“Me too. Now, let’s have a relaxing night with my family and the fireworks on the TV. There’s no way for you to mess that up.”


“Why’d you have to say that?”


Inside, everyone sat in front of the television. Mr. Barnes noticed Ginny and Lea were about to join them. He gestured to a spot on the wall. “Hey, Ginny, can you turn the light off? It’ll be easier to see the screen. Switch is right by you.”


“I can do that,” Ginny said.


She flipped the switch and the room fell into darkness. Lea easily found the way to the sofa. Ginny was not so lucky. She did not see the television cord in front of her. Her foot caught the cord, and it jerked the television set from wall to the floor. When it broke in half, all eyes fell on Ginny.


“Sorry,” Ginny coughed.


Fury filled the room like a thick fog. There was no coming back from destroying the television. That was something Lea and Ginny both knew.


“Well, on that note, I think we should go to our hotel. Something tells me we may have outstayed our welcome here,” Lea said as her family glowered. Lea gave them a wave. “Happy Fourth of July, everyone. I’ll be back with my wife to destroy a few more things tomorrow.”


“What she said,” Ginny clumsily added.


Abruptly, the couple left. Mrs. Barnes grumbled. “We better hide all our nice things before they come back.”


“Yep,” Mr. Barnes sighed. “I can’t wait to see what Thanksgiving is going to be like this year…”

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