Chapter 3 – Main Street
Orientation went from exciting and new to boring and dreadful after lunch. The heavy and greasy pizza stuck right to everyone’s ribs, and the soda buzz wore off too quickly. As the clock neared, five p.m. everyone was anxiously zipping up purses and backpacks and inching their way out of their seats.
I pressed the home button on my iPhone to check how many minutes are left when I notice a text notification. My eyes glance up at Gloria who is softly explaining yet another security procedure. She was the only person still as excited as she was during the day as she was now. With her eyes glued to the presentation before her, I clicked my text message button and opened the new message. It’s from my mother stating she’s in town.
My stomach drops and rolling nausea forces me to close my eyes. I try and keep my composure for the next few minutes, seven to be exact. They tick away slowly as we finally stand to form a line out the door. As we pass through, Gloria hands us each our uniform shirts and our upcoming schedule. My feet hit the pavement, once I’m outside and I walk so fast I feel like I’m practically running. Before seeing my mother’s text, I had decided to stay in the area a little longer.
Charles’ was located in a crowded plaza. Filled with various restaurants, clothing, furniture, video game and bookstores, the square named The North End Plaza was one of the biggest and popular in the area. It was the primary place Amber had continued to recommend when I had begun my job hunt. I had been skeptical at first. I wanted, no, needed a job but the idea of being in one of the busiest parts of the area seemed like a social nightmare. But I applied, and they had called.
I look up at the green street light and slow to a complete stop, waiting until it turns red so I can cross.
“Hey! Wait up!”
I hear Paige calling out behind me. I turn and see him jogging in my direction. I try to smile, but I’m too preoccupied with the message from my mother to make it seem sincere.
“You ran off so quick. Class couldn’t have been so bad.” He chuckled, stopping beside me. I notice he’s not out of breath and wonder when he actually started after me.
“Oh, sorry. I just have to catch the next bus, and I wanted to make sure I got to the stop on time.”
I eye the traffic light, seeing it make its change to yellow and then quickly red. I react, stepping off the sidewalk after a quick check for cars and away from Paige without another word. I beat feet, crossing the street and heading over to the stop. A crowd of people are already waiting, and as I turn, I notice the bus only a few car lengths away before it begins to crawl forward.
Paige is still waiting across the street. He gives me a little wave before the bus blocks my view and the doors open. I hop on, sliding my bus pass through the payment slot and make my way through the aisle to find a seat. Through the window, I see Paige has turned and is making his way back toward Charles. I give a little sigh at how rude I just was, but I’m relieved he didn’t hop on the bus with me.
Sliding my phone out of my pocket, I take another look at the text my mom sent I’m in Rivers Peak. We need to talk, let’s meet for dinner at Counter Tops tonight. 7pm.
Counter Tops was a restaurant across town, a family owned business and the place that Amber had taken me too when I first came to New Jersey to visit her. There was no other way that my mother would know about the place or where I was staying if she hadn’t reached out to my best friend. My blood is boiling by the time we’ve made it to my stop, and I find myself stomping down the bus stairs, dialing Amber’s number as I walk up the street toward the condo.
The sun is still beating down and just as warm as it was during my break at the supermarket. I enjoy the walk, holding the phone up to my ear acknowledging the fact that my friend is most likely ignoring my call because she knows she’s going to get an earful from me. It goes to voicemail, but I don’t leave one. There is no point in leaving an angry message, Amber already knows she’s crossed the line.
I had moved out of my parents’ house and New York, in general, to get away from my family, my fiancé and even some of my friends. I was supposed to be living like I was in the witness protection program. Instead, I had just been dimed out by one of the bureaus’ agents.
The streets are crowded as I make my way through people hanging about on the main road. As early as it was in the afternoon, many people had already found their spot at the local bars and coffee shops that would have events for the evening and night. The condo had the perfect location, slightly off the main street and away from the noise of the area but close enough to walk to and enjoy the perks of living on the main street filled with bars, restaurants, small business shops and public transportation.
As I turn the corner onto Jeffersonville Street and the condo, my phone begins to ring. I answer it, without looking at the caller ID and instantly respond.
“You have some nerve.”
“I know, I’m sorry, but she kept calling and she’s worried about you.”
“About me? You’re kidding yourself. You know how she is Amber and you know why I moved away. I can’t believe I have to put up with this shit tonight.”
There is silence on the other side of the phone for a few beats. I manage to make it to the condo’s steps and take out my keys. Before I’m over the threshold to the foyer, Amber responds.
“She said it was an emergency and that she had something important to tell you and you weren’t answering any of her calls or texts. It sounded, urgent.”
I’m the silent one now, taking the steps without a word and wondering what could possibly be so important my mother did make the drive out to New Jersey to see me.
“Is she alone?”
“From what she told me – and you didn’t hear this from me, she doesn’t even want your dad to know she coming or that she’s coming to see you.”
I put the key in the door and unlock it. The door seems heavier than usual as I push it open and I’m not sure if it’s an illusion or just the weight of the evening trying to make an excuse to stay home.
“Fine. Fine, I’ll go.” The clock in the kitchen reads 5:45 pm and I sigh into the phone. “I’ll change and head right back out.”
Amber seems pleased by the time we say goodbye. I promise to call her when I get home and convince her I’ll keep my cool over dinner. With only a max of fifteen minutes to change and head back up to Main Street and the bus stop, I change my shirt from business casual to more evening casual and my shoes from flats to heels. There’s no point in trying to do my makeup and no time to do anything else with my hair. My mother, the ever-ready Barbie would be in full glam and regardless find a way to disapprove of my outfit, hair or makeup even if I tried. With ten minutes clocked, I head back out of the condo and lock up behind me.
Counter Tops is in full swing as I pull the door open and head inside. I had texted my mother that I was on my way and she had replied that she was already there at a table and waiting. She was fifteen minutes early, and I was surprised. She lived fashionably late. I watch as the hostess grabs a menu and asks me to follow her. We walk through the crowded and loud restaurant much deeper than I had ever been in it before. Toward a quiet area in the back, I see the silhouette of my mother her back toward us with a glass of water in her hand.
“Your daughter has arrived.” The hostess announces, and I watch my mother turn, her eyes meeting mine before she stands up arms wide. Not wanting to embarrass either of us, I step into her open arms and hug her. She smells like Coco Chanel, and for a moment, I realize she still hasn’t let go. This hug is genuine and as I think back to what Amber said about this dinner being the announcement of an emergency; I’m filled with anxiety.
When she finally let’s go, I walk around the table and take the seat opposite of my mother. There is hardly anyone around us, and I wonder if she’s paid to have the tables reserved to give us privacy. That’s the thing that’s bothered me over the years. Money to my family has meant everything, even if it inconvenienced others. The hostess announces that our waiter will be with us shortly and walks away. I place the menu she’s handed to me down and look at my mother.
Marianne Harding was fifty and fabulous. She looked much more like my sister than my mother and had an hourglass figure that was the envy of many of her friends. I had watched her over the years count calories, exercise regularly and starve herself when she wasn’t hitting her goals. My father had mistresses over those same years, and my mother had always competed not only with herself but with them, but she never had to. With short brown hair, blue eyes and her physic I was sure my mother could have had any catch of the sea if she had wanted. She was wearing a form-fitting dress, but it was hidden behind a blazer. It looked like she had come straight from one of her charity offices or had at least told my father that’s where she would be.
“Well.” I start, watching her sip away nervously at her water.
She looked away from me for a moment before putting the glass down. “Let’s wait until we order.”
“I don’t want to wait. You know I needed a break from everyone, and both you and Amber clearly don’t care.”
“Evie, please. Let’s not start off on the wrong foot.”
“We’ve been on the wrong foot for years, mother. Just tell me why you’re here so I can decide if I even want to order or if I should just leave.”
The waiter is feet away from the table when I watched my mom’s hand go up to stop him. He does, turning right around and heading back to the hostess booth until he is summoned. I roll my eyes. She has paid for the privacy, and from the waiter’s obedience, it had been enough for them to know she was somebody.
“I really wanted us to be able to have a nice meal and be able to talk like adults, Evie. This anger you have inside you, we need to clear it up. I want you back home with us.”
I fall back into the seat, my arms folding in front of me. I knew this was what the dinner was going to be about and I already regret making my way into town to hear it.
“Back home for what? So you and dad can continue trying to run my life, try and force me back into a marriage with Connor?”
“No, Evie.” I watch her hand come across the table, she’s holding it out hoping that I will take it. “I want you home to be with us, spend time with me.”
I look down at her hand and then back up at her. “Since when?”
“You’ve always been a hardheaded girl, a fighter.” She says, pulling her hand back and regaining her composure. For a brief minute she had let go and now as she sat across from me, she was back to the stern mother I remembered. “I have cancer.”
Copyright © 2018 by Elly V
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