Her niece laughed in his face and squirmed out of his grasp and ran down the hall and slammed the bathroom door. Her fiancé stomped out of the room and she could hear him pounding on the bathroom door and her niece shrieking.
It was good, so good that they all got along.
Her brother, his wife, and her niece, particularly, seemed to like him, covering his eyes with her hands and making him guess the color of M&M’s she fed him.
Tying his shoelaces together.
Making him drink something- who knew what was in the glass- something that was making her laugh.
It was so good they all liked him. They acted maybe a little bit like he was the last hope of the world, making speeches about how she had never been so happy- which was true- but ok already. They were happy for her. And not a little relieved. At her age.
These big family gatherings had been just a shit sandwich until now, when there was, at last, a straight man sitting next to her, in the right kind of shirt and the right kind of shoes with the right kind of job.
It had happened so quickly, after taking so long.
This was what she’d been waiting for.
It was such a relief to join the world again.
And it was lovely that her niece liked to ride his foot like it was a horse under the table.
It made him feel welcome.
Kids were like that. They didn’t have the same rush of suspicions that adults had. It was wonderful when they could just tease someone immediately.
It meant that they liked him.
How good it felt to not be felt sorry for.
To know that they weren’t imagining she was putting on a brave face.
It was nice that her niece would put plastic ants in his pocket.
It was nice.
It was normal.
It was a sign of affection.
It meant welcome to the family.
And it was stupid of her to keep making sure that he didn’t let his hands linger too long in her niece’s hair.
It was silly to be sitting here, straining to hear what was going on down the hall, trying to tell if he had pulled her niece from the bathroom and was tickling her and chasing her into her room.
It was stupid to be watching to see if anyone thought it was strange.
It wasn’t strange.
It was great they got along.
She was too old to have children.
This was family life.
This was bliss.
The problem with bliss was how angry you got if anyone doubted it, especially you.
Risa Mickenberg is a writer living in New York. Her fiction has been published in The Baffler, Vice, Purple Magazine and The Utne Reader.