Despite a busy career, three sons, and a loving husband, Brittany still managed to set out a nice dinner every night. Tonight it was fried chicken and mac & cheese, two platters from her frozen food line, Fixinz. Over the years, Brittany had licensed over 20 brands with her smiling face in the industries of clothing, food, workout DVDs; even a line of pet accessories. And like she told her audience, what you see is what you get. She really did eat that frozen food because, despite their high fat content and lack of nutritional value, the meals contained such small portions that eating them wouldn’t get in the way of her stomach/ body/ brand. And let’s be clear— Brittany was her brand.
Brittany and Jax’s dining room was, like the rest of their house in the Valley, farmhouse-chic, with exposed wooden beams, sliding barn doors and a table made completely from Brittany’s Kentucky chicken coop. At dinner, Brittany wore a striped blue and white maxi dress and golden sandals, her long hair flowing over one shoulder. The only makeup she wore was foundation and concealer and eyeliner and mascara. She sat across from Jax with their 12-year old, Judah, on one side, and their 17-year old, Jayden, on the other.
Oh, and there was Ashley, Jayden’s little friend right next to him in what was usually Jace’s seat (he had had a prior engagement). Brittany’s eyebrow vein twitched as she served the young girl her deck of cards-sized chicken breast. The girl, whose hair was purple this week, looked up at her and bared her off-white teeth.
“Thank you so much, Mrs. Taylor,” she said, her skinny collarbones jutting out from her old-fashioned cardigan. Is that what the young girls dressed like these days? She looked at her handsome son Jayden, who was staring out the window as if he expected to see an alien invasion. Brittany couldn’t help but beam with pride at his cornflower hair, his sky blue eyes, and his easy, sideways smile. If she was only 20 years younger!
To say that Jayden was the favorite child would be an understatement. Even though she had produced three healthy sons, Jayden was the only one going out for sports teams, picking on weaker kids at school and bringing girls home. Usually, they were pretty, generic versions of each other, Jessicas and Madisons and Katies with blonde and light brown hair. But Ashley was different. This wasn’t the first time Brittany had met her, but the fourth, a new record. And while she was by no means hideous, she just didn’t seem like the kind of girl that Jayden wanted. She was Eastern European for god’s sake, just like those girls in porn flicks that you watch without subtitles because their words don’t matter.
“Oh, thank you, honey, and it’s Brittany to you,” Brittany said, sitting down now that everybody was served. She turned to Jax, who was opening and closing Instagram, his eyes as glazed as doughnuts. “Honey, do you want to say grace?”
Jayden, Ashley, Brittany, Jax, and Judah, bowed their heads as Jax thanked the Lord for all their blessings, as he had everyday for the past 20 years. Christianity and Loving God was a really big part of Brittany and Jax’s brands. In fact, they had named Judah Judah because they wanted to get in with what their agent called “high-income Evangelicals”. The year he was born, they partnered with the pastor of their megachurch and did a 15-city tour, discussing their own experience as parents, husband and wife, influencers and entrepreneurs, and of course, worshipers of the Lord. Boy had they raked it in that year. Jax had bought a Jaguar on his Cameo commissions alone.
Once Jax was done with his prayer, he cleared his throat and started to eat, prompting the rest of the dinner guests to do the same. With her sons shoveling food into their mouths like it was the last night they would ever eat, Brittany put on a beam and turned to Ashley.
“So Ashley, what year in school are you?” she said. Her voice curled like papers on a hot day, although even she didn’t know if the Southern accent was still real or not.
“I’m a sophomore. Two more years to go!”. She laughed weakly. Jax zoned out, wondering if she was one of those skinny girls with an ass or not. Judah dropped his fork with a clatter and pushed his chair out.
“May I be excused?”
“May I…oh, wait, you said may I. Well, did you eat your food?” Brittany said, peering over his spotless plate. The entire meal was only 300 calories, perfect if you’re looking to lose weight, which, let’s be honest, most women usually are. Judah rolled his eyes through his thick black frames and gestured below.
“Son, why don’t you stay and watch us eat? You can read a book if you want,” said Jax, familiar with his youngest son’s habits. Judah blew air out of his lips but pulled out a paperback out from his hoodie, slouching back in his chair. He knew the drill. Brittany picked up her conversation with Ashley.
“Well, that’s awesome, Ashley. High school was the best time of my life. And I know that my son Jayden is having the time of his life, too.” She smiled mischievously as if to say, “boys will be boys,” and also, “don’t think you’re the only girl around here, honey”. Ashley giggled in response, making Brittany like her a little bit more. She turned to her son, the one not reading a book in the middle of dinner.
“So Jayden, honey, how’s school going for you this year? I feel like we hardly get to see you anymore, between the hockey practices and hockey games!”
“It’s okay. Mr. Grayer’s being a bitch in chem” he said, pushing around his mac and cheese back and forth on his plte.
“Hey, language,” Jax said, not looking up from a woman in a thong in Costco.
“Did you talk to him about it?” Brittany said. It’s amazing what you can get away with if you have a smile on your face. Jayden grunted a grunt that Brittany believed to mean “yes”.
“Well, is he going to bring your grades up? What did he say?”
“He said I should spend more time studying the material,” Jayden said with a groan. Jax’s head snapped to attention.
“It’s ridiculous. They put so much pressure on kids these days. You know, when I was in high school, they just gave all the athletes A’s for the good of the team. But I guess that’s not “politically correct” anymore, right?”
Brittany nodded, not wanting to argue in front of company. Ashley and Jayden communicated via under-the-table foot taps. Judah flipped a page, engrossed in whatever weirdo sci-fi fantasy book he was reading this week. It was true what they told her— you can’t choose your kids!
“Anyways, you gonna miss Jayden next year?” Brittany said to Ashley.
“Moooom!” Jayden said, crouching down in his chair with his hands over his face.
“What? Can’t I ask a question?” Ashley smiled and stroked Jayden’s back reassuringly. She turned to Brittany.
“We’re actually not planning on breaking up, Mrs. Taylor. At least, that’s what Jayden said when we talked about it,” the young girl said, looking up at her boyfriend who blushed and smiled, looking in the opposite direction.
“Oh, so you’re going to visit him at St. Cloud? Are you sure you can afford that, honey?” Brittany said, her voice higher and louder than she had expected. Jax put his hand over hers on the table. Brittany put on her extra-sugary voice and got five notches more quiet.
“Well, it’s just that I know your parents are recent immigrants and run a convenience store. I’m not trying to be mean, I just don’t want you to be disappointed”.
“Mom, she has a fucking tennis court at her house,” said Jayden. Ashley’s eyes filled up with tears as her face scrunched up like a cat, which was not a pretty look, Brittany thought.
“Hey, language” Jax told his middle son. At this point it was just a reflex.
Want more? Read 20 Years Later: Part Four