As far back as Amy could remember, almost every major event in the Gray house started or ended in the kitchen. When they were lucky, it was good news and the celebrations that followed; when luck wasn't on their side (as, more often than not, it wasn't) it was bad news and the comfort food, crying, and discussions that came along with it. In both situations, even if the news wasn't delivered in the kitchen, at some point they almost always all ended up there, sitting (or standing) around the island, talking.
The kitchen was the epicenter of pretty much every natural and man-made disaster that struck the Gray household. And the fallout therefrom.
On this particular morning - there was fallout. Which, in Amy's mind, was always the worst. Amy couldn't even begin to quantify the amount of time (and energy) she had spent putting forth the extra effort required to avoid her mother in the kitchen every time they had a fight. In those moments, when they were avoiding each other (either by brushing past without talking, or, as was often the case - stomping around), it didn't matter who was right or wrong - it was all about who was going to give in first. And given the stubborn streak found in both Gray women, the stand-offs could go on for days.
Amy snagged her toast as it popped up from the toaster, narrowly avoiding bumping hands with Maxine as she went for a knife, and thought about how they had reached this point - again. This time it had started with a relatively small incident - a fight that ended the same way they usually did, with Maxine questioning Amy's competence, not only as a mother but also as a judge. The part that always hurt Amy the most was the implication that Amy couldn't do her job and be a good mother - that implication hurt. And it was totally crap. She was good at her job (she was doing a damn fine job as judge), and she was an excellent mother (well, a mostly excellent mother - she was willing to admit she had made a few missteps since moving home - but only a few.) The problem was, as it always was when her mother was involved, that Amy wasn't always doing it how Maxine would do it.
It's not that Amy couldn't take the criticism (though she had to admit, it always stung a little) and she had been criticized by her former colleagues (some people just didn't understand why she would quit her high-powered job and move back in with her mother), her colleagues on the bench (they didn't think she was capable of making the tough decisions), her soon-to-be ex-husband (she didn't even want to start listing those - if you asked Michael, her faults were never-ending), ex-lovers (but never about her performance in bed), lawyers that appeared in front of her (she was still stinging from Stu's appeal of her decision to overturn the jury verdict, even though the appellate court had upheld her decision). No, when Amy got right down to it, nothing hurt quite as much as when Maxine criticized her. No one could really twist the knife quite like Maxine. It went both ways though - Amy was pretty sure she got to Maxine just as much (though Maxine would never admit it.)
Really, it was probably Amy's own insecurities over her ability to be a both a good mother and a judge that caused her to lash out at Maxine, and then for Maxine to stab right back. Last night had been no different. Work had gotten in the way and Amy had forgotten to make cookies for Lauren for school. And Maxine, she couldn't just volunteer to help, no - she had to volunteer in that TONE. The one that in Amy's mind said that if Amy was better - more efficient - she could balance her home life and her work life.
And she could - it was just that sometimes . . . sometimes, life got in the way. Amy had a complicated relationship with perfection. She had been the perfect wife and mother in New York, and look where that had landed her: back in the world of kitchen freeze-outs with her mother. On some level, she knew that perfection was boring and that her mother loved her and that she didn't have to be perfect and all that other crap you told people to make them feel better when things don't go according to plan. But it didn't make it burn any less when something fell through the cracks. This time it was just baked goods, so she stayed up late to make three dozen chocolate chip cookies (and was crossing her fingers no one came home with food poisoning.)
Thinking about long hours making cookies brought her back to the kitchen, where she was currently trying to avoid (and not avoid) Maxine. It was in this very kitchen that Lauren threw her tantrum the night before, screaming at Amy that she was a horrible mother and if they were still in New York she would have already made the cookies (though if they were in New York, Amy probably would have bought the cookies, but that was beside the point.)
Then Maxine got involved, volunteering to help make the cookies, which, of course, caused Amy to snap, and then, of course, Maxine had to snap back in the never-ending cycle of Gray hardheadedness.
Which lead Amy back to the here-and-now: two stubborn, strong-willed ladies avoiding each other over their morning coffee. Amy knew she should apologize for snapping - Maxine really had only been trying to help. But when Amy had rebuffed her attempts, Maxine just had to make a crack about Amy's job. As usual, Maxine hadn't agreed with a decision Amy had made and had no problem telling her. Amy might have started the argument, but Maxine hadn't been the bigger person. Besides, there wasn't time for apologies this morning: Lauren was running late and they had to go.
"Lauren. You're going to be late! Get down here!" Amy shouted up the stairs, breaking the silence.
"I'm coming. GOD." Lauren screamed shrilly, causing Amy to wince a little. Lauren certainly had gotten the Gray vocal cords. If she wasn't furious at her mom (and herself) she would have looked up and shared the thought with Maxine - but Amy wasn't ready to give in yet.
"She inherited your lungs, didn't she?" Maxine commented without looking up from her paper.
It wasn't quite an olive branch, but it was as close as Maxine would get. "Yes, she did. Though I don't remember sounding that shrill." Amy commented as she got up to pour coffee in her travel mug.
"Oh, you did." Maxine said as she flipped though the paper, still not looking up, but Amy could see a small smile on her face.
"Mom... I - " Amy wasn't even really sure what to say - or if she even really wanted to apologize. Amy opened her mouth to muddle through the mess when Lauren came bounding down the stairs, grabbing the pop tart and OJ Amy had left on the counter for her, and running to the door.
"Come on, Mom! I'm going to be late. Let's go!" Lauren stomped out the door, forgetting to grab the cookies Amy had stayed up half the night baking. Amy rubbed her temples. Raising a Gray was almost as hard as being raised by one. Amy sighed, grabbed the cookies, and headed for the door. She didn't want to start the conversation now, not when they wouldn't have time to finish it. She'd run into Maxine in the kitchen later, and they could talk then.
She had just pulled the door open when she heard Maxine speak. "I know, Amy. It's okay."
It wasn't so much the words, but the tone of Maxine's voice that let Amy know that everything was - and was going to be - okay. She could almost guarantee they would have another blow-out - they wouldn't be themselves if they didn't - but when it all sorted out they were family. And family loved you and stood by and supported you no matter what.
Amy turned back to face Maxine, ignoring Lauren's shouts from the car, and smiled at her. This wasn't their first fight, and it wouldn't be their last, but for today they were fine. And in the grand scheme of things that was perfectly acceptable to Amy.