If Amber had to guess, she’d say this whole mess started back when they first visited Marina’s family. Or at least, that was what kicked off the tiny trickle that eventually snowballed into an avalanche of family drama and general awkwardness.
It’d been a couple months after she and Mare had become ‘official’. After Coachella, the two spent a few days checking out Los Angeles and San Diego. After that was a straight shot up to Colorado to… take care of a few things.
…The last of Gramps’ funeral expenses and medical debts.
It was all a very somber affair, though not quite as hard or painful as Amber might have expected. Of course, she’d had Marina holding her hand or wrapped around her shoulders like a security blanket the whole time.
To this day, Amber didn’t think she could describe just how much it helped; Marina just… being there. Taking Amber’s hand, hanging onto Amber’s shoulders… holding Amber close on those nights when she just couldn’t stop crying…
Surprisingly, the lingering expenses didn’t actually cut that far into the couple’s newly liquidated ‘Treasure Funds’, not even a quarter of it. Turned out Amber selling her and Gramps’ old house along with most of their stuff covered most of the bills. Even after giving the RV a few tune-ups and upgrades, they hadn’t even spent a third of the treasure money.
All told, Amber and Marina would spend a little under three weeks in Colorado before the various bits of ‘house-keeping’ were finished and they were ready to hit the road and really start their new lives together.
That was when Marina brought up visiting her family. While she’d accepted quickly enough, Amber couldn’t help feeling the growing apprehension she supposed was natural for one meeting their girlfriend’s parents. Especially when one had gotten together with said girlfriend under rather… unorthodox circumstances. Marina had done her best to calm Amber’s worries.
“Don’t worry, Amber! My family’s going to love you! Well… most of them will. I think. …I’m pretty sure Dad will like you!”
Weirdly enough, Marina’s uncertainty actually did help assuage some of Amber’s apprehension. Still…
“…You haven’t told them we’ve had sex, have you?”
“Oh GOD, NO! I don’t think I could EVER talk to Mom and Dad about that…”
Despite being the one who wanted to introduce Amber to her family, it was pretty obvious Marina wasn’t all that eager to go back to Carlsbad either. There was a reason it took them over a month to get from Colorado to New Mexico… by way of California.
On the plus side, both Amber and Marina managed to find a whole slew of fun and cool distractions along the way.
By the time the two of them had actually reached Carlsbad, Marina seemed to be getting just as antsy as Amber. It’d gotten to the point where Amber was about to ask Marina if she wanted to call this whole thing off and just turn around, but by then it seemed like Marina had quashed her anxiety as they reached her house.
Even so, it was pretty clear to Amber when they were holding hands all the way to the front door that Marina needed the confidence boost just as much as Amber did.
Personally, Amber thought the whole evening went… about as well as she could have hoped. Particularly considering the whole ‘from a certain point of view, I kinda-sorta kidnapped your daughter and now we’re dating’ thing.
Marina’s mom seemed to take the whole thing pretty well, though Amber got the distinct impression that Mrs. Hale didn’t take them very seriously. Like she wasn’t expecting their relationship to last very long. Still, she made it clear that she did like Amber, so Amber considered that a plus overall.
Surprisingly enough, Marina’s dad was actually fairly accepting of the whole situation. Mr. Hale certainly wasn’t all that thrilled about his daughter wandering all over the country in a motor home for the indefinite foreseeable future. But on the other hand, he seemed to completely approve of Amber. In fact, he was outright relieved that Marina had someone like Amber out there with her.
Those were his actual words.
At one point, when Marina wasn’t looking, Mr. Hale had pulled Amber aside for a ‘private talk’. But instead of some obligatory ‘girlfriend’s scary, overprotective dad’ spiel, he’d simply handed Amber his contact info and asked her:
“If you two are ever in trouble, give me a call, okay?”
Amber was acutely aware of the emphasis he’d placed on ‘you two’ rather than just saying ‘Marina’, and the sudden feeling she got from hearing it.
It was something she hadn’t felt in… a while.
Marina’s siblings on the other hand were a bit of a mixed bag. Three of them didn’t seem to care all that much, three of them liked Amber and the remaining two… didn’t.
Marina’s sister Alex didn’t seem to approve of Amber, but she mostly kept her disapproval to herself and seemed to at least (very begrudgingly) accept her sister’s choices.
Marina’s older brother Johnny on the other hand was much more vocal in his disapproval. Thankfully, it wasn’t the homophobic kind of disapproval, just the overly-protective older brother kind. Even so, Amber couldn’t deny she got sick of Johnny’s constantly claiming that Amber was probably a serial killer pretty quickly. The fact that he was really self-righteous and condescending about it didn’t help either. At least by the end of the night, most of the household was mocking him.
That didn’t mean the rest of the evening was easy for Amber. Even the members of the Hale household who liked her turned out to be a handful.
For example, Marina’s ten-year-old sister Kate had seemingly just found out what ‘lesbian’ meant, and apparently found the concept of ‘girls loving girls’ to be absolutely mindblowing. This led to Kate constantly pestering Amber and Marina with questions, developing a huge crush on Amber and declaring her intention to ‘steal Amber away from Marina’, before deciding that Amber wasn’t her type and that she probably wasn’t into girls. All over the course of about four hours.
And of course Marina had an annoying little twerp of a brother named Bobby who was just dying to know whether Amber and Marina were having sex, and strategically singled out the most inconvenient time to ask that question. Specifically, when Amber was taking a long sip of coffee during dinner.
Though he wasn’t able to get all that much satisfaction out of it, considering that Amber made sure the little shit was directly in the firing line of her resulting spit-take.
Frankly, the only one of Marina’s siblings Amber could get a handle on was her creepily quiet little brother Charlie, if nothing else than because he reminded Amber of a gender-swapped Tess.
And then there was Marina’s oldest brother Zach, who’d flown in from Utah for the evening. The same older brother who’s car had gotten stolen at the very beginning of Amber’s and Marina’s adventure. Thankfully, Zach was pretty cool about the whole thing, even joking that the car was such a hunk of junk that the people who stole it probably didn’t even get enough out of the car to cover the gas they spent towing it.
Admittedly, both Amber and Marina had agreed beforehand to not mention the fact that they ended up meeting the very people who stole Zach’s car and were now kinda-sorta friends with them.
Really, Amber was thinking Zach might actually have been the most… ‘normal’ of Marina’s siblings. Then he’d started talking about all the ‘adventures’ he’d had in that car. Usually involving girls.
At that point, Amber was actually glad when one of Marina’s younger sisters had come charging into the living room wearing a helmet made out of a watermelon and headbutted Zach in the stomach.
Despite the general shenanigans of the night Amber thought the meeting went okay. After all, eight out of ten family members not hating her had to be good, right?
Marina on the other hand, was actually quite a bit less pleased with the day’s events.
“GAAAHHH!!!” Marina flailed about in passenger seat as Amber drove them out of the suburb, clearly having a lot of pent up frustration to vent.
“You okay there, Marina?” Amber asked, a bit uneasy. Thankfully, Marina’s flailing passed quickly and was replaced with a long groan.
“…Amber, how long until you’re 21?”
“About a year and a half now.” Amber replied. It was easy to guess where this was going.
“Uugghh…” Marina groaned in frustration, “too long…”
“That bad, huh?” thankfully they were at a red light so Amber could reach over to give Marina comforting shoulder-rub. It seemed to help a little at least.
“They haven’t changed at all!” Marina moaned in exasperation.
“I guess your family’s always like that?” Amber asked.
“Worse.” Marina gave Amber an absolutely harrowed look. Amber was suddenly acutely reminded of the fact that Marina, just a few months out of high school, had pretty much jumped at the first reason she could find to get out of Carlsbad.
“I mean… I don’t hate them, obviously.” Marina relented, “It’s just that they’re all so… so…”
“Much?” Amber offered.
“YES! They’re just so MUCH!” Marina was back to flailing in frustration.
In the midst of Marina’s ranting, Amber had pulled the RV into an empty parking lot. This was shaping up to be something that needed all of her attention.
“And worst of all, everyone’s still treating me like I’m still a fucking kid!” Marina shouted, “What?! Just because I drink chocolate milk and like coloring books and watch cartoons, my life decisions don’t matter? I mean, did you hear Johnny’s condescending bullshit?!” At this point, it was obvious that Marina wasn’t talking to Amber so much as she was just venting a good decade’s worth of frustration.
Hearing this, Amber was reminded of the fact that she herself had called Marina ‘Kiddo’ a few times. In that moment, Amber swore to never do that again.
“It’s like they’re just expecting me to come crawling back home! Like this is all just some phase or something! It’s like they don’t ever take me seriously!” Marina shouted.
She then slumped forward against the seatbelt, utterly spent.
“It’s like… they don’t take us seriously…” she murmured. There looked to be moisture forming around her eyes…
“Hey…” Amber spoke up softly as she leaned over to pull Marina into a hug, “I’m not going anywhere. We’re in this together.” Amber put as much emphasis on the ‘We’ as she could.
“…Thanks.” Marina spoke softly, returning the hug.
The two held each other for what felt like a long time. In that moment, Amber was reminded of the times Marina had held her. Of those nights when Marina had held her close through all the tears and helped her through the pain. There might not be any tears this time, but Amber could feel how much Marina needed this all the same. Knowing what Marina had done for her, Amber was so happy that she could do the same for her.
After a while, Amber pulled back just enough for them to be face to face.
“…Yeah.” Marina whispered back, a smile spreading across her face before she leaned in, pressing her lips to Amber’s.
When the two pulled away, Marina had a rather satisfied grin.
“…Much better.” She amended.
In that moment, Amber knew she had the biggest, doofiest grin on her face.
Then a thought occurred to her.
“You know…” Amber rested her head against Marina’s, their eyes locked, “We never have to come back here again.”
“Really?” Marina gave Amber a hopeful look. Like she’d already knew that consciously, but just hearing someone tell her that was something she really needed.
“Just say the word and we can be anywhere in the country in 48 hours.” Amber pulled away just enough to gesture out the windshield, the interstate fully visible less than a quarter mile away.
Marina seemed to light right up at that, releasing a hand from the hug to tap her lip in contemplation. Amber was wondering if her next question would be ‘what’s the farthest place we can get from here?’.
“Hmm… What was that place with the one-hundred foot tall baseball bat?”
“…Pretty sure that’s Louisville.” Amber replied. Not exactly what she was expecting, but still a very ‘Marina’ idea. “…Kentucky.” She clarified to Marina, as someone who didn’t have all of the country’s major cities memorized yet.
“Ooh, that’s where all the horse-racing is too, right?” Marina was now fully perking back up.
“Yep. Also, its way farther away from here than anywhere else we’ve been so far.” Amber gave Marina a knowing grin.
“PERFECT!” Marina cheered, pumping her fist in the air before leaning back in to plant a big kiss on Amber’s lips, “Let’s do it!”