Amy stared around the Zoom Room, a collective of young women two plaintive moans away from being called an Emergency Meeting. "So, do the fates just hate us, or shall we blame it on Capitalism?"
She winced at the barrage of 'pings' that heralded multiple GIFs, all on the theme of 'Both', and swigged down the last of her coffee. "All right, five more minutes to get it all out, then we strategize. It's only a few days, we just have to get through it without stabbing whichever moron thinks he's god's gift to womanhood."
Amy tapped the mute button, and went for a coffee refill and the emergency chocolate stash. From the other corner of the study, conveniently out of sight but well within hearing of the Zoom Meeting before Amy had switched to her headset, her fiancee, Finn, grinned over his shoulder. "Is it really all that bad?"
Splurging on a second kettle and a mini-fridge really had been an excellent use of her tax return this year. "It's times like this I'm reminded that you're a city boy with scandalous parents, and don't have to deal with all this nonsense."
Finn's parents had met and married during the Vietnam war, a soldier and a nurse, then returned home to discover that their families Had Opinions about an English/Irish union. Fins parents had wound up moving to a completely different continent to get away from it all, and made the sensible decision to avoid hypocricy when it came to their children's relationships.
Amy's parents had married during the same war, having been high school sweethearts beforehand, on one of her father's tickets of Leave, and done the proper small-town thing of settling down to raise a large family, just like their brothers and sisters. The result was that Amy could claim a family connection within three generations to a significant portion of the small country town she'd grown up in, and her parents seemed to be constantly trying to marry her off to the ones she wasn't related to.
About half of Amy's siblings and cousins had joined her in fleeing literally anywhere else after graduation, so the weeks before any holiday where they were expected to make an appearence back home were filled with what was fondly termed 'Mutual Defence Strategy Sessions", with the stated aim of not becoming their mothers.
So far, it was working. They settled in to strategise, to the soundtrack of muffled giggling from assorted partners and significant others.
Getting all the way from the airport to her childhood home without a bombardment of the names of the town's currently-single male residents had lulled Amy into a false sense of security.
It seemed her mother had taken last year's threat of throwing herself out of the car seriously, and waited until they were inside and couldn't escape as easily. "It's such a shame that Finn couldn't make, it, dear, but not to worry, you'll be far from alone."
Amy's mother was already steering her towards a the drinks table, where a cluster of young and not-so-young men in flannel shirts were gathered. Amy looked around frantically, and three cousins mobilised support. "Amy! Oh, it's been simply ages! You have to hear..."
The divide and conquor tactics were simple: two cousins diverted Amy's mother over to Great Aunt Mildred, who was always seeking an audience for stories about her cats and what the book-club had been doing, while the other steered Amy back into safer waters.
Amy spotted an older niece being herded toward the doomed bachelors, wide-eyed in a bad way, and they diverged to rescue her, before forming their own cluster on the other side of the room.
Seasonal Solidarity, indeed.
Occasionally, the singles convention at the drinks table would try to jolly up one of their number enough to try and approack the Very Uninterested Ladies.
They rarely made it more than halfway across the room before a collective unwelcoming stare sent them scurrying back to the safety of the masses, but the current candidate was apparently made of sterner stuff. He did, however, make an effort to look disarming and unthreatening as he approached, as if he were getting close to a wild animal or cornered fugitive.
He had a vaguely military appearence, perhaps recently discharged, and wasn't leering. It was a low bar to clear, but most of the other men hadn't even managed that. Amy opened her mouth to turn him down, but he spoke first, quiet and hurried, as if he didn't actually want to be there. "Look, I went to Military school; I know tactical manuvers when I see them. I'm only asking: is there someone we should be concerned about? That you don't feel safe being around?"
Amy blinked and re-evaluation how the situation must have looked from an outside perspective. She could see several of her cousins doing the same. "Not like that. Just... small town gossip circles are worse that Hollywood tabloids at seeing relationships everywhere."
Anabelle, who had the peaches-and-cream complexion of a porceline doll, and a temper reminicent of the horror movie character she'd been named after, backed down from a stance that suggested she had been about to unleash hell. "They'd have us all but engaged after a ten minute conversation, and unless things have changed drastically in the last twelve months, not many of them are all that good at standing up to their mothers."
The military school graduate relaxed. "In at least three cases, I can confirm that's why they're still single; you can have three people in a relationship, but it doesn't work when one of them is the potential mother in law."
Anabelle, who had broken up with her boyfriend around the middle of the year, and was taking a break from romance, raised her cup. "Cheers to that. And, no offense, but if I'm going to date anyone, I want it to be someone who's actually interested in me as a person, not as a solution to their relationship problems of life crisis."
Military boy grinned. "Got someone in mind? Mine moved away from their small town as a kid, and they've been trying to move back ever since. Their parents just aren't willing to allow a couples trip until there's a ring involved. I'm Jack, by the way. Jack Winters. "
Oh, good, he wasn't flirting. Amy forewent the obvious Jack Frost joke and ran an eye over the crowd at the drinks table, some of whom were leaning on each other as the drinks continued to flow. "I admit, I'm also getting Confirmed Bachelor vibes from more than a few of them."
Fiona, a redhead utterly lacking in the stereotypical temper, smirked. "Confirmed Bachelor, or 'Confirmed Bachelor', vibes?"
Amy shrugged. "Both. Besides, it's 2023, we don't out people until they're willing to do it themselves."
Finally, it was Sunday, and Amy could pack her bags and sneak out after breakfast with the excuse of having to be back at work the next morning.
She texted Finn as she settled into her seat, receiving a sleepy emoji in return. Oh, right, he'd been on the help desk last night. She made a note to text when she landed and hail a cab if he wasn't up to driving to meet her.
Sometimes, true love was letting your partner sleep, no matter how much you wanted someone to vent to.
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