Chapter Description: Nina and Peter decide to host Nina's widowed mother, and undergo a few changes.
“I still don’t understand why we can’t just put your mom in a home,” Peter said in exasperation. “Didn’t you hate her?”
“Oh, I don’t exactly hate her...” Nina said, shuffling uneasily.
“Didn’t you say she was controlling and impossible to get along with?” Peter said.
“That’s when I was living under her roof!” Nina said. “Things are much more relaxed between us now that I’m living with you.”
“Okay… so help me understand why you invited her to come stay with us?” Peter said. “Even if you two are cool now, I’ve always gotten the sense she doesn’t like me.”
“She’s an old woman, Peter,” Nina said. “I don’t want her to die alone after dad…”
Peter could tell Nina was being overwhelmed by going over this sore spot, and he hugged her and kissed her on the forehead.
After Nina no longer seemed to be on the verge of tears, he said softly, “Alright, we can let her stay here for a month. If all goes well, she’ll be allowed to stay long term. But if you two start arguing again, or there’s a repeat of the last family reunion-”
“There won’t be!” Nina assured him. “I promise.”
“Alright,” Peter said. “Let’s give this a shot.”
* * *
Nina’s mom arrived that Friday. Peter went down that evening to pick her up from the airport.
“Oh, you two haven’t gotten a divorce yet, then?” were the first words she said upon seeing him.
Peter tried to ignore the insult, or the desire to point out that he and Nina had successfully raised three kids together, and said hello to his mother-in-law. Helena hadn’t changed a bit. She was over-dressed for the airport, wearing an elegant dress and carrying a designer bag. Years of botox and plastic surgery had given her a youthful, if stiff appearance, and old age hadn’t slowed down her mind or her razor-sharp tongue.
She somehow managed to make backhanded compliments of every statement on the car ride back. Peter’s car, his job, the careers and romantic lives of his grandkids, none of them seemed to be good enough for Helena.
“We’re here,” Peter finally said, through gritted teeth.
“Oh, is that really where you two chose to live?” Helena said. “How… quaint.”
Peter said nothing as he got out of the car, opened the door for Helena and helped her out, and went to the back to get the 20 million luggage bags she had decided to bring. Another little insult - Helena’s way of saying that she was sure their facilities would pale in comparison to those of her old house.
“Mom, it’s so good to see you!” Nina said, coming outside. She had her arms open for a hug, but Helena didn’t seem to notice as she breezed past her daughter and into the living room.
“Oh, you kept that awful rug your uncle gave you,” Helena said. “Well, no matter. Now that I’m here, I’m happy to earn my keep by helping you with interior design. No, no, I insist! It would be my pleasure!”
Nina and Peter tried to get a word in edgewise, but Helena went on and on, giving herself a self-guided tour of the house as they followed her, helpless to stop her from commenting on every speck of dust, on every piece of furniture or fixture, or the layouts, or, or…
“Ah, this will be the guest bedroom then,” Helena said. “I’m afraid I won’t be joining you for dinner. I’m on a special diet - my nutritionist insisted. He said it’d add 10 years to my life. Now, off you go.”
She closed the door behind her, leaving Nina and Peter standing outside. Peter gave Nina a look.
“It’s just one month,” Nina said. “I’m sure she’ll get better.”
However, Helena didn’t seem to get better. Although Nina tried to ease Helena into their routine, Helena always seemed to have her own plans, and got offended if Peter and Nina tried to back out of them. It was almost a relief when Monday rolled around, they both were promised the respite of work.
Peter’s job was in the city, and so he had already left by the time Nina was eating breakfast.
“Oh, mom! I didn’t think you’d be up so early,” Nina said. “Do you want me to make you some eggs and toast?”
“Oh, don’t trouble yourself, dear,” Helena said. “I’ve got materials for a breakfast smoothie.”
Nina continued to eat her meal, as her mom drifted around in the background getting a smoothie going. Nina’s back was to the main kitchen area, but she had the feeling that her mom was looking at her whenever her eyes weren’t on the blender.
Finally, the sound of the blender stopped, and Nina heard… sobbing?
“Oh, my Antonina!” Helena sputtered out. “You’re all I have left, you know! I still can’t believe he’s gone.”
Nina felt bad enough for her mom, that she didn’t remind her that she hated being called by her full name. It always dredged up memories of time out, and punishments. Of having done something wrong.
Nina was startled, when she felt her mom’s arms wrapping around her from behind. How long had it been since her mom had actually hugged her?
The sobbing continued, and Nina didn’t quite know what to say.
“Why weren’t you at the funeral, darling? Your dad would have wanted you there,” Helena cried, her tears starting to soak into Nina’s hair.
Nina tried to hug her mother’s arm, and did her best to make conciliatory sounds.
“Mom, you know we couldn’t. The lockdowns…” Nina said weakly.
Helena had stopped squeezing her daughter, and her hands were now lightly massaging Nina’s scalp.
“Oh, do you remember the summers, when your dad would be working the grill, and I would braid your hair. You used to look so cute back then, with your little pony tails.”
Nina wanted to say something as her mom started braiding her hair. She wanted to protest that she hadn’t worn her hair like that for a long time, that she had hated looking girly and wearing a dress. But she could tell that her mom was hurting, so she just let the old woman run her hands through her hair, braiding it like she used to in the good old days. When dad was still alive.
“There!” Helena said. “Now you look just like you did back then, Antonina. I even put some cute ties in there. They’ve got little plastic lotuses on them. You know the ancient Greeks had stories about lotuses helping let go of all your cares and worries.”
Nina tried not to frown. She was going to work soon, and it would be a lot of work undoing these braids. Nina stood up, hugged her mom tightly for a few seconds, before letting go.
“Mom, I’ve got to go to work. I’ll- I’ll be back soon.”
Nina put her plate in the dishwasher. When she got to the car, she pulled down the mirror to look at herself. She looked ridiculous.
Her hair had been braided into pigtails, ending in some flowery hair ties. Nina was a mother of three kids, and while she could have passed for a younger woman (she still got carded from time to time, though that had become rarer in the last year or two), she didn’t care for the way her hair looked with such girly hairstyles. Especially not when she was about to go to the office.
And it might have been her imagination, but she suddenly had a bit of a… headache? It was hard to describe, really. It felt a bit like a buzzing almost, and she could have almost sworn that it was coming from the flowers at the end of her hair, but she assumed it was just the pigtails being too tight or something. All the more reason to take them off!
She reached for the lotus hair ties, but just as she was about to remove them, she had second thoughts. Her hair was kind of cute, actually. Maybe he mom had had the right idea?
Nina shook her head, and went off to work. Work was a bit of a blur. She kept zoning off - the strange buzzing was making it hard to concentrate. Plus, the work was so boring! She didn’t know why she thought something like that. She had been working office jobs like this for several decades, and had always enjoyed her work, even if it wasn’t the most stimulating.
But for some reason, today she was feeling really antsy. She couldn’t sit still in her seat, and she was constantly fidgeting. It was like she had suddenly been granted a bunch of energy, and couldn’t sit still. She was happy when the day was finally done, and she could go home.
“Hi, mom!” Nina said brightly.
“Oh, dear, how was your day?” Helena asked.
“Oh, it was a little boring,” Nina admitted. “I might try to look for something else soon.”
“Stop slouching, Antonina, you know it will give you bad posture when you grow up.”
Nina rolled her eyes mom. “Come on, mom. I’m in my 40’s, when are you going to stop treating me like a child?”
Helena smiled. “You’ll never stop being my little girl.”
Peter arrived at just this time, and soon Nina and Peter were talking.
“What’s with the pigtails?” he asked. He whispered in her ear. “Are you going to do the cheerleader costume for me tonight?”
Nina blushed and pushed him away playfully. “Ew, no! My mom just did my hair.”
Peter was a little surprised by Nina’s reaction. She was hardly a prude after all their years together, but maybe she was just worried that her mom might have heard their dirty talk?
“Well, are you ready for our date tonight?” Peter asked.
“Oh, shoot, that was tonight?” Nina asked.
“Yeah, first Monday of the month, just like every month!” he said.
“I just thought we should try to include my mom in more stuff is all…” Nina said uncertainly.
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” Helena said, waving her hands. “You two have a good time, but don’t stay out too late, and don’t drink!”
“Don’t worry, mom! We’ll be good,” Nina said, as the two of them went off to the car.
“I know you will,” Helena called back after them.
Peter raised an eyebrow at Nina. “We’ll be good?” he said incredulously.
Nina blushed. “I don’t know why I said that. It just sort of came out.”
Peter hugged Nina.
“Don’t worry about your mom staying with us. You’ve been through this before, you don’t have to go through this again.”
They got to the restaurant, and Peter ordered some of their usual red wine. Halfway through the dinner, he noticed Nina had hardly touched hers.
“Not in the mood for drinking?” he asked.
“Um, sure,” she said unconvincingly. “You can have mine.”
He didn’t have a problem with this, and their romantic evening continued.
“Hey, I know you were embarrassed to talk about it in front of your mom,” he said. “But I did bring the school girl costume, in case you wanted to wear it. It would go well with your hair.”
Nina was flustered at the suggestion. “I, uh, do you think that’s a good idea?” she said, blushing.
Peter kissed her from across the table, then he went to whisper in her ear. “I think it’s a *very* good idea.”
They finished dinner, and Peter led Nina to the hotel he had checked out for the night. He handed her the bag, and told her to change.
“Uh, I think I’m going to change in the bathroom if that’s alright?” she said nervously.
“Oh course,” he said. “I can’t wait for the big reveal.”
Nina got undressed and wondered what she was doing. She was a good girl, she had told her mom she would behave herself. Was it really okay to fuck Peter in this seedy hotel?
She pulled on the school girl costume, and saw her reflection. If her mom saw her wearing something like this…
There was a knock at the door.
“You ready, babe?” he said through the door. “You’re taking a long time.”
“I’ll be right out!” she said. She took a deep breath. Okay, she could do this.
Nina burst out of the hotel bathroom, trying to put on a bubbly demeanor.
“You likey?” she said, giggling.
“Very much," he said. "I almost believe you’re still a high schooler.”
Nina shifted uneasily. It’s not like she was so much older than that, really…
Peter and Nina started making out, and Peter found himself more aroused than usual. There was something… different about Nina today. She was clearly turned on, but she seemed more uncertain, more submissive than usual. It gave Peter the opportunity to take the lead with her, which he greatly enjoyed.
As his hands started getting under her clothes, she suddenly stopped him.
“Stop, I- I don’t know if I’m ready for this tonight,” she said. “My mom-”
“Are you worried about your mom being alone?” he said.
That hadn’t been what she was worried about at all, but Nina was happy to have an excuse. She wasn’t ready to lose her virginity tonight.
“Yeah,” Nina said. “Maybe we should go back. I’m really, really sorry.”
“No, I understand,” Peter said. “I’m sorry for trying to force this. I just thought that after the last few months you could use a night like tonight. I’m sorry for trying to rush the grieving process.”
Nina was unhappy with how Peter had rushed, though she didn’t quite know what to make of the phrase “grieving process” there. She gave him a chaste peck on the cheek, and asked if they could go home now.
The two drove back in silence. When they arrived at the house, Nina looked bashfully over at Peter.
“Thank you for tonight,” she said. “I hope we can do this again sometime. Maybe next time…” she blushed.
“Oh, good!” Helena said. “You two lovebirds are back. Though, I wish you’d text me when you’re going to be late, Antonina!”
Antonina looked at her feet, “I’m sorry mom, I’ll be better about that in the future.”
“No worries dear, why don’t you go on inside? I want to have a word with your date.”
Antonina went up to her room to get ready for bed, while Peter stayed on the porch with Helena.
“Peter,” Helena said. “You know, I didn’t see it before, but I think I know what Antonina sees in you.”
“Oh?” Peter said, surprised. Was he actually going to get a compliment from Helena for once?
“Yes, I see it now. You’re so much like her father. Can I see your glasses?” she said.
“Uh, I guess,” he handed them over.
Helena took out an eyeglass cord. “This used to belong to Frank, before he passed…”
Helena attached the cord to Peter’s glasses.
“Oh, I wish you had gotten to spend more time with Frank,” Helena said. “He was so forgetful. He would have forgotten his head if it wasn’t attached. That’s why he needed this thing to keep his glasses where he could find them.”
“I’m sorry that I didn’t get to meet him,” Peter said solemnly.
“I’m sure you can imagine what he was like though,” Helena said, handing the glasses back to Peter. “So loving, so kind. Terrible with technology - he always had to ask little Antonina for help with things. And he loved sports. Do you like sports?”
Peter put his glasses on unconsciously.
“Uh, I watch them from time to time,” he lied. He didn’t even know why he was lying. He was about as far from a sports buff as anyone he knew.
“Oh, he loved to watch the Minesota Vikings,” Helena said. “Every time they were on - he had grown up in a little farm town in North Dakota, and he had loved the Vikings since he was a little kid.”
“I guess I should try watching them sometimes,” Peter said. “Out of remembrance for Frank.”
“You should do that,” Helena said. “In fact, why don’t I leave you with something?”
She pulled out a photo album from her designer bag, and handed it to Peter.
“You should look through that, see the kind of man Frank was.”
Peter nodded blankly, and walked to the living room. He sat down, and started pouring over the album. He was still there deep into the night.
* * *
The next day, Antonina woke up alone. She looked around, and noticed for a confused second that she had fallen asleep in the guest bedroom. But that hazy thought passed, and she remembered that her parents had just moved into a new house, and this was going to be her new room.
She couldn’t wait to paint it pink, and get a dollhouse, and some toys to play with.
She skipped downstairs, where mom and dad were already eating breakfast, and there was a plate ready for her.
“Hi mom, hi dad!” she said cheerily.
“Come here,” Frank said, pulling her into a loving hug. “How’s my favorite girl?”
Antonina had a strange moment, where she didn’t feel exactly daughterly feelings for her dad. She felt a rush of arousal, at his familiar, masculine scent. But after half a second the feeling passed. Of course she wasn’t attracted to her dad! She was just a little girl.
“I’m great,” she said. “I can’t wait for school today.”
“Oh, about that,” Helena said. “Your dad and I have been talking, and we both think it would be better if we started homeschooling you.”
“But mom,” Antonina pouted. “How am I going to make new friends if I just stay inside all day!”
“Oh, honey,” her dad said. “We’ll talk to the neighbors, maybe we can arrange some play dates for you with the neighborhood kids.”
This seemed to mollify Antonina a bit.
Helena sat down besides Frank, and kissed him, and Antonina was surprised when she felt a pang of anger and jealousy at the sight. That was her husband! Why was her mom kissing him?
But the buzzing feeling in Antonina’s head grew stronger, and suddenly she didn’t care about Peter-, no wait, daddy, like that.
“We’re going to have so much fun together,” Helena said. “Aren’t we Antonina?”
Antonina smiled. “Of course, mommy! We’re going to be a happy family forever and ever!”