The fam filed up to the door in the usual order. Jacob and Payton shuffling with gloveless hands shoved deeply into their Carhartts while Amber and her husband Sean followed in business casual clothes. Payton’s wife, Ashley, alongside Bilhah, Jacob’s live in of twenty years, carried boxes of food as they progressed to the house from the tail position.
John had stood to the side as Joni opened the front door. Being Midwesterners, even under these terrible circumstances, no one felt obligated to hug or kiss Joni -they’d just seen her the day before! -but John was a different subject. Jacob nodded three times, circled his tongue counter-clockwise twice around his upper fourth tooth, aka first molar, and extended his beefy paw.
When John had met Jacob twenty years ago Joni had warned him about Jacob’s hand-shaking, or, as she had warned, “hand-breaking,” style. John had heeded his future wife’s advice and responded with what he’d thought was an extremely firm hand-shake. The force of Jacob’s grip had literally caused John to yelp the first time he’d shaken with Jacob.
A firm believer in the hackneyed, “Learning from one’s mistakes is a sure sign of intelligence,” cliché in all intervening encounters John had made a concentrated effort to push his hand as deeply into his brother-in-law’s mitt as was humanly possible and to apply pressure commensurate with changing coal to diamonds.
He always detested the macho machinations that was, as he’d later dubbed it for Joni’s entertainment, ‘a hand-break with Jake,’ but at least now when he faced his brother-in-law he was as forearmed as forewarned and he stood ready to do corporeal combat vis-à-vis a hand crush. Eyes searching John’s, Jacob extended his hand which John took. John entered the iron trap, gave as well as he could, responded to the greeting of, “John. Good to see you. Been too long.”
With his own, “Jacob. You too. So sorry about the circumstances. Your mom was one special lady. She’ll be sorely missed.”
Jacob released the vice, nodded and said, “Damn right,” and moved on.
“John,” Payton said, greeting him with both a handshake and a simultaneous, traditional, three strikes to the back bro hug. “Glad you could make it. Looking good, my friend, looking good.”
“Thanks, Payton. Thanks for saying so. You too, buddy.”
Amber entered, smiled at John, said simply, “John,” and air kissed his cheek without actually touching him. Husband Sean followed, shaking John’s hand in a style reminiscent of a funeral director. He echoed his wife’s, “John,” and moved on.
Ashley entered with a crooked half smile. Joni relieved her of her burden, commenting simply, “This smells delicious.” Ashley made her way over to John and wordlessly hugged him. After a long, silent embrace the two separated enough to look one another in tear filled eyes and then shared a chaste, lip to lip kiss. Neither tried to speak and Ashley stepped further into the house to make way for Bilhah.
Technically speaking John and Bilhah went back farther than he and any of the Hagans; even Joni. They had attended Kennedy High School together and been in marching band the fall when he was a freshman and she a senior. Shaking her head, she reached her right hand out to pat his cheek, and then drew him to her to deliver a tears falling, lingering, though still sisterly, kiss. “Hey, hot shot,” she said, moving her box of food to her left side so she could deliver a one-armed hug. “Great to see you. You bring your saxophone with you?”
Her unexpectedly warm greeting rendered John incapable of speech so instead he chose to merely shake his head minutely back and forth a half dozen times as he blinked back his tears. After a long five seconds of looking in each other’s eyes she winked at him and hollered to Jacob, “Hey! Butt head! Come get this food won’t ‘cha? What am I, darker than you?”