Fiction: The Great Man-to-Man Talk
by James Bow
This story was written after some fellow writers, critiquing Fathom Five, questioned whether it was realistic that Rosemary’s father would so shamelessly tease Peter about being Rosemary’s boyfriend. Would a father so gleefully encourage a young man to become romantically attached to his daughter, they asked?
Well, my answer was that Rosemary’s father was teasing Peter and Rosemary because, while they were close, they weren’t romantically attached. That attitude would likely change once he realized that Peter and Rosemary were serious. But how so? Given that Rosemary’s father liked to play the cliche of the father asking potential suiters ‘what are your intentions toward my daughter’, I thought his reaction would be something like this:
(This story is set about six months after the events of Fathom Five)
Peter hummed to himself as he eased the car into Rosemary’s driveway, parked and got out. It felt good to have his own set of wheels (well, technically his uncle’s set of wheels, but since he wasn’t using them and had given Peter permission to, Peter felt he could get away with calling the wheels ‘his’). It was amazing how good freedom felt when you didn’t realize it had been missing.
He was almost an adult, now, with a car, a girlfriend, and an after-school job to pay for entertaining her. No more begging for rides like a little kid. He was playing in the big leagues.
He checked his appearance in the car mirror, then straightened up, smiling. He walked up the front walkway towards Rosemary’s house, then stopped when he heard a voice from above.
“Peter!” the voice hissed. He looked up. Rosemary was leaning out her bedroom window, waving at him frantically.
“Run!” she whispered. “Get back in the car and go!”
“But what about our date—”
Rosemary cast a furtive glance into her room, then looked back at Peter. “I’ll meet you at the drive in,” she said. “Go!”
“It’s miles away!” exclaimed Peter. “You can’t walk that far—”
“Keep your voice down!” Rosemary hissed. “You’ve got to go now, before my Dad—”
“Peter!” The front door burst open, and Peter suddenly found himself flanked by Rosemary’s father, and her brother Theo. Peter looked up, and saw Rosemary smacking her palm to her forehead before withdrawing to her bedroom.
Theo, still taller than him, and broader, stood with arms folded, while Mr. Watson clapped a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Peter!” he said again. “You know, we’ve never really had a chance to talk.”
“Um,” Peter swallowed. “Talk… sir?”
“Yes,” said Mr. Watson, beaming, but with a dark edge behind it. “So let us talk…” He threw his arm around Peter’s shoulder and squeezed with such force that Peter’s breath left him. “…as men do.”
Peter found himself hauled into the house, his feet not touching the front steps or even the threshold. Mr. Watson and Theo swept him into a chair by the dining room table, and stood on either side of him.
Peter swallowed. “What do you want to talk about… sir?”
“Well,” said Mr. Watson grandly. “How you are doing. How things are at school. Your job. Things like that.”
“But…” Peter’s throat was dry. “Rosemary and I— Uh… Movie?”
“Oh, I understand,” said Mr. Watson. “I know you’re pressed for time. But we should arrange something, a chance to get to know each other better. Just you and me, and perhaps Theo. A hunting trip, perhaps.”
“Um… you hunt?”
“I’m thinking of taking it up,” said Mr. Watson. “Getting myself a nice big gun collection.”
Peter swallowed. “Um… guns, sir?” Peter’s brain scrabbled to keep up, to try and get ahead of this conversation. Yes, Rosemary’s father was… intimidating him! Deliberately! Why would he do that?
Because he is Rosemary’s father, and you’re dating Rosemary.
But, his mind spluttered, he always teases us about being boyfriend and girlfriend. Why the sudden change now?
Because now it’s for real between us two.
Oh, God, as if he didn’t have enough to worry about.
“Sir,” he struggled. “If you’re worried about me and Rosemary, I—”
“Now why would I be worried about that?” said Mr. Watson.
Peter caught himself before he fell into that trap. “Um! No reason.”
“Tell me, Peter,” said Theo conversationally. “Do you like your kneecaps?”
“Now, Peter,” said Mr. Watson genially. “We’re not saying that you’d hurt Rosemary.”
“You know that she could knock you out cold if you did anything stupid,” said Theo.
“But we love our girl,” said Mr. Watson. “And if she’s upset, we’re upset.”
“And you wouldn’t like us when we’re upset,” said Theo.
Peter pictured Theo big and green. He already had the muscles; when had he found time to work out?
“Look, sir,” he said, desperately. He took a deep breath and drove on. “I love Rosemary! I really do. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt her. I promise!”
Mr. Watson and Theo looked down at him, their arms folded across their chests.
Mr. Watson and Theo glanced at each other appraisingly, weighing Peter’s words. Then Mr. Watson looked back at Peter, and raised an eyebrow. “So, we understand each other?”
“Yes, sir, we do.”
Mr. Watson smiled, but his face kept its grim edge. He patted Peter on the shoulder. Theo patted Peter’s other shoulder, putting far more weight in it, Peter noticed. Then the two went off to the kitchen. Once the door closed behind them, Peter was sure he heard a burst of snickering laughter from within.
Peter pushed away from the dining room table and stood up cautiously.
“You’re in trouble,” said a little voice behind him.
He turned and saw Rosemary’s little sister, Trish, standing by the front door, sucking on a lollypop.
“No, I’m not,” he said, blushing fiercely. “Just your father letting me know what’s what, okay?”
Trish mimed a handgun and mimicked the sound of a gunshot.
Peter glared. “Don’t you have planes to play with?”
Trisha threw her arms wide and swept past him, making engine noises.
He heard the creak of stairs and looked up. He beamed as Rosemary descended. His smile faded as her mother came down behind her.
“Hello, Peter,” said Mrs. Watson, with steel behind her smile.
Peter swallowed. “Hi, Mrs. Watson. Um…”
“Have fun,” she said.
The kitchen door swung open and Mr. Watson popped out. “Have my daughter back home by ten!”
“Now, now, Alex,” said Mrs. Watson kindly. “The movies aren’t even finished by then.”
“Five past ten, then,” said Mr. Watson.
“Alex,” said Mrs. Watson firmly.
He rolled his eyes. “Eleven, then. Or I go hunting.”
Peter felt the colour draining from his cheeks. “Sir, I—”
Rosemary grabbed up her coat and strode for the front door. She grabbed Peter’s elbow and pulled. “Come on.”
Peter looked back and saw Rosemary’s parents, Theo and Trish standing by the kitchen door. All with arms folded across their chests. He turned and ran.
They drove out of town in silence. Peter kept his eyes on the road and Rosemary stared out the side window. Peter pulled into the drive in gate, rolled down his window, and bought their tickets. Then he eased the car into the parking lot, looking for a good spot. Rosemary reached out to touch his shoulder, but Peter leaned away.
“Nope!” he said. “I’m not touching you.”
“Peter!” she yelled, hurt.
“Make sure your brother isn’t hiding in the back seat, first.”
Her mouth quirked. She snorted.
“Or in the trunk.”
Now she laughed. “My parents aren’t following us, silly.” She glanced through the rear window just to make sure. “We’re going to be alone. Well, as alone as one is at a drive in. It’s okay to… kiss and stuff.”
He smiled at the ‘and stuff’ part, and then had an image of Theo’s hand bursting through the window at them. He glanced at her. “Check for hidden cameras.”
She hit him.
“Hey, driving, here!”
She gave his arm a warm squeeze, then settled back in her seat. As they found their spot and Peter parked the car, she added, “Well, you think you had it hard.”
“Rosemary!” He gave her a sharp glance. “Did you hear your father threaten me?”
“There are worse things than that,” said Rosemary. “Mom talked to me.”
Peter swallowed. “Did she threaten you too?”
“No,” said Rosemary. “That wouldn’t have been bad. That’s what a mom is supposed to do, to keep her daughter in line. But not my mom. No. My mom’s a liberated woman. More importantly, she’s a doctor.” She gave him a long, grim look while Peter worked out the implications in his brain.
The colour drained from Peter’s cheeks. “No!”
She looked away, her cheeks very red. “Pills. Condoms. The facts of life. Everything I might have wanted to know, but would never in a million years have asked, all of it coming from my Mom!” Her last words came as a squeak as she buried her face in her hands.
Peter flung his head back against the headrest. “Oh, you poor, poor girl!”
After a moment of silence, they looked at each other. Peter took Rosemary’s hand.
“Why do they do this to us?” he asked.
“You know my father likes to play the cliches,” said Rosemary. “But they just want us to be careful. They love us, and want to be sure we’re okay.”
“Do they have anything to worry about?”
“We’re teenagers, they’re parents. Of course they do.”
Peter looked at her. Rosemary looked back. Peter’s throat went dry. “I see. So… what do you want to do, now?”
“Is your life insurance paid up in full?”
He stared at her. Rosemary looked back salaciously. The silence and the stare lengthened, and Rosemary fought to maintain her expression. Then she burst out laughing. Despite himself, Peter laughed too.
“Let’s get some snacks; the movie’s about to start.”
When they returned, they piled into the back seat and arranged the popcorn and drinks. Finally, they eased into each other as the screen lit up. They glanced at each other, and shared a quick, but warm kiss.
“I love you, Rosemary.”
She beamed. “I love you too, Peter.”
“And you’re going to be the death of me.”
As she leaned her head on Peter’s shoulder and felt him put his arm around her, Rosemary decided that now wasn’t a good time to mention that she had picked pills, and her mother had written her a prescription.