Chapter 4 – It’s like an oven in here
It was as if the air had been sucked out of the restaurant. I had been staring into space for as long as it took the waiter to be snapped back, literally by my mother’s fingers, back into motion with our drink orders. She ordered a scotch on the rocks, while a water with lemon was placed in front of me. I felt betrayed; if anyone needed liquor at the table, it was me.
Unable to create a coherent sentence, my mother continued to bark orders at the waiter until our appetizers and entrée orders were placed and he was asked to flag our attention before coming over again. Although the movement was done in real time, everything’s seemed to be in slow motion.
“Evelyn, you need to drink some water. You’re in shock.”
My mother pushes the glass closer to me. I take it mechanically and bring it up to my lips for a sip. Before I put it down, I take it to my lips again and drain it.
“Feel better.” She asks I shake my head.
“How can I feel better when you just told me you have cancer?”
Her eyes widen and she looks around quickly, “Keep your voice down!” She growls and I roll my eyes.
“Of course,” I whisper “God-forbid the media finds out the family is human.”
I watch her circle the wine in her glass before she responds. It’s cool and collected with a deadly undertone.
“You know Evelyn, you really have no idea what’s happening here and it would be in your best interest to start paying attention. It’s too late for me but you can save yourself.”
I stay quiet for a beat, trying to understand what she’s just said.
“It’s not too late for you, we have – you and dad have money to hire the best doctors around. Find the best treatment.”
She shakes her head and I can see tears forming in her eyes. “I wish I had seen it sooner, been able to protect you.”
I take a cloth napkin off the table and hand it to her discreetly, “What are you talking about?”
“You leaving, breaking off the engagement to Hugo it’s started a chain of events back home.”
“Is that why you didn’t want dad to know you’re here?”
She sighs, closing her eyes in the process. I see the waiter frantically waving his arms from across the room and signal him over. I tap on the table softly, bringing my mom back from wherever her thoughts had taken her. Gracefully, she takes the napkin and pats her eyes then her face and forehead. The waiter looks at her briefly, nervously, as he places our side salads down.
“It’s like an oven in here, you know.” She chastises, making a dramatic gesture of wiping at her face again.
I see exactly what she’s doing, dabbing at her eyes and taking away some running tears without the boy noticing any difference. I smirk, taking another napkin off the table and placing it in my lap. The tension between us is so strong, I want to make a joke about the salad in front of me and my weight. A defense mechanism I use when I’m uncomfortable. Tearing myself apart to entertain and amuse. Since I see another tear roll down my mother’s cheek before she’s able to touch her salad fork, I don’t; this is much more serious then I’m imagining.
The waiter and a few other staff run around opening windows and flicking switches for a few overhead fans. In seconds the room is chilly, a bit colder than my outfit anticipated but I have to keep up the charade my mother has created.
“I should have never told your friend that, or that I was coming but you didn’t leave me any choice. You ran off, changed your number and didn’t give an address. Honestly, Evelyn; you could have been dead and the family wouldn’t have known. It was sheer luck I was able to get your friends contact information from a private investigator without your father’s knowledge.”
She’s cutting at her salad as she speaks and I’m encouraged to do the same, even if my appetite is none existent.
“I needed to get away – put some distance between me and everything.”
“I understand but you should have told me, confided in me. You never tell me what you’re thinking or feeling, ever since you were a child you’ve pushed me away. If I had known what you were going to do, I could have warned you to stay.”
“Warned me? You’re acting as if I’ve started a war. I caught my fiancé cheating and broke off the engagement. To get away from the embarrassment and harassment from my father to forgive and forget, I couldn’t tell anyone. Especially you, you’ve always taken his side. Always. That’s why I never tell you things.”
I take a deep breath and calm myself. Inside I’m ready to throw my fork down, bang my hands against the table and demand for once and for all to be left alone but I see that my mother has stopped eating. She’s staring across the table at me, her face rocked with emotions I don’t understand because I’ve never seen her emotional before.
The truth was, we had never been close. I had multiple nannies who raised me, my mother had been background noise. She came in every once in a while and checked in but had never been fully present. She and my father had a business to run, tasks to attend to and meetings to facilitate. We took one family trip a year and it always ended early or turned solo since I was the only one who had made the free time to enjoy them.
I see a level of pain in her eyes and I shut my mouth. The news can’t be of shock to her, she’s had to have known that our relationship wasn’t the definition of mother-daughter bonding. She nods slowly, accepting the words and continues to speak; this time in a hushed manner.
“I know I haven’t been the greatest mother. That is something I will wrestle with forever in my grave but I want to try and make some of my downfalls right before my time is up.”
“Stop it!” I scream, my hand slamming down on the table. Her eyes are wide and I’m as shocked as she is. But I can’t stand one more minute of her talking like she’s dying at my feet. “I’m sorry, it’s just – I don’t want to hear you talk about your time being up, your grave or what you want to be wearing when you’re buried.”
“Chanel of course.” She chimes in teasingly but I don’t laugh or acknowledge her small smirk. It’s my turn to be serious in the conversation and I’m not liking where it’s headed. “Evelyn, things are going to get tough. Your father, the skeletons of our family are all going to come out over the next few days. Some have already started thanks to you.”
Although it doesn’t sound accusatory, I flinch. She notices and continues to stir her salad with her fork. Neither of us has taken a bite and the waiter is looming around the entrance of our secluded area waiting to bring out our entrees. The front of the restaurant has gotten crowded and the sounds of laughter and conversation make it easier for us to speak without having to whisper but I can see it’s also made my mother tense.
“What are you so afraid of?” I ask because it’s clear from her tense shoulders, her eyes continuously panning the room and the suspicious gaze she gives the waiter that there is much more she isn’t telling me.
She looks me in the eye and puts her arm on the table, her palms up; an invitation to hold her for either comfort or to brace herself to speak the words.
“Your father was once the love of my life,” She started once I placed my right hand in hers. Her palms were sweaty and her hands ice cold. “Over the years with the business, friends that he’s made and the lifestyle he’s chosen he became someone else completely.”
I swallowed hard, knowing just how much my father had changed over the years myself. We used to spend time together when I was a child. Most of my favorite moments with my father were all from the years between my second birthday and my tenth. After that our love hadn’t been the same, as I got older I realized theirs had changed also.
“What he’s done to himself and what he had tried to do to you – what he’s trying to do to you, it’s unforgiving.”
I give her hand a small squeeze, a comforting touch to get her to continue and also a way for me to calm myself down. A million questions are forming in my head. What had my father tried to do to me, what was he still planning behind my back? I needed the answers and I knew my mother had them. In just a few moments, if I kept my composure, I was sure she would tell me.
Without notice, the waiter was by our side. We both jumped, our hands detangling and rejoining our own sides of the table. I could see the irritation all over my mother’s face but she didn’t speak a word. Instead, she allowed the waiter to clear the untouched salads and place down our soon to be untouched entrees. I knew it for two reasons; one, because she had ordered salmon, something neither of us ate and two, before the waiter was even out of our view she began talking in a tone much more rushed than before.
“Listen to me Evelyn,” She looked around again, leaning across the table and waving her hands to inch me forward as well. “You need to be careful, watch your surroundings and keep to yourself. Do you understand me?”
“You sound – this is,” I stop because I don’t want to say the words crazy. Like a slap in the face, I would be talking to her the same way my father did. Putting her down instead of validating her feelings. Sitting across from her and seeing her in form so rare, I remembered all the times I had treated her the way he did and I instantly regretted it. “Please mom, just tell me what’s happening.”
“I can’t,” she said matter of fact before she pushed her chair and standing up. I panicked, I was losing her and she was going to walk out of this restaurant and leave me with questions unanswered.
“No, please. Come back to my place, we can talk privately there.”
Pushing me back down into my seat, my mother came close to my ear and whispered “You will see a grey Cadillac, the doors will be open and the keys to the trunk will be in the glove. Take the box, read everything. Anything you need to know is in there.”
She kissed me on the cheek before pulling away. Like a snowman, frozen in place I watched her turn and walk away from me. My hand instinctively went up to the warm spot where her lips had been and I closed my eyes. I felt sick as she crossed over the threshold and into the busy part of the restaurant then out of my line of view.
What the fuck just happened. I thought to myself, unable to move out of my seat to rush after her. The waiter came back, his eyes full of concern and asked if I was okay. I shook my head and asked for the check, which he quickly informed me had been taken care of already. I should have known. After serval minutes watching him clear off our table, my legs managed to steady themselves enough to get up out of my chair and head for the bathroom.
The waiter directed me back to the front of the restaurant and to the left of the front doors. I took my time, pushing softly passed people standing up at the bar and the tables of those seated behind them. I made it inches in front of the door before I heard my name being called behind me.
I turned, my vision is blurry from the tears that were fighting to push over the brim and slide down my cheeks. As I blinked viciously to overcome them, I noticed Paige waving to me from the bar. Beside him were two other coworkers I had met in orientation, Barbara, and KelliAnn. I wave back as the two girls focus their attention on me and wave me over.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Paige starts pulling me into an uncomfortable hug. I hug him back to play the part but move over and hug the girls as well to ensure he’s aware, I am not interested.
“Yeah, I was having dinner with my mom. She came into town to visit.”
“Please tell me it was that fabulous looking woman who walked out with her million dollar heiress sunglasses on!” KelliAnn squealed. She was wearing a halter top that snuggled her in all the right places, her jeans also did. Without the business casual look from orientation on her, she looked more of a party girl than I had imagined she would be. As for Barbara, she didn’t seem as if she changed before going out. Her business casual look wasn’t suited for the night out but she still looked good. Considering they had both been snickering about Paige the full day of training, it was no surprise to see them all out celebrating together.
“Unfortunately, yeah that was her.”
They all sucked in a shocked breath.
“She looked so regal, wow. You’re so lucky, my mom still dresses like she’s in the seventies.” Barbara jokes, grabbing the drink she ordered out of the bartender’s hand behind her and putting it up to her lips. “I said sugar not salt, you idiot.” I watched her shove the drink back into the bartender’s hand before turning back to us. “So are you going to stay? Hang out?”
“No, no. I wish I could but I have someplace else to be.”
All three of them protest loudly, begging me to stay for at least one drink before heading off. I declined as politely as I could before I was able to hug them all goodbye, skip the bathroom entirely and rush out the front door. The cool night air caressed my face. My lungs took in every ounce, burning as they did. Holding back all my tears had rocked my body and I felt more tired than I had in days.
I began walking, hurrying out of the restaurant’s large front windows before any of the three musketeers decided to come out and try to convince me to stay again. They all seemed nice but the words my mother had spoken about being careful were ringing in the back of my mind and making me paranoid. Taking my phone out of my purse, I saw two missed calls; one from an unknown number and the other my mother.
Quicker than I could process I heard the dial-tone and begged for her to pick up. The missed call happened minutes after I had stood up to go to the restroom, right when I was in conversation with my coworkers. I cursed myself internally for not having heard the ringtone or felt the vibration but as I took one step in front of the other toward home, all I wanted was for her to pick up.
“Mom! What happened, are you okay? Why did you call?”
There was silence on the other line but I could hear her breathing, I wanted to ask again but I left the pregnant pause to go on until she was ready to speak.
“I just wanted to say I was sorry – I didn’t say it at the restaurant.”
“You don’t have to be sorry, there is nothing to be sorry for.”
I’m leaning against the side of a building just blocks away from the bus stop I will have to take to make it home. The bus is streets away and I know I’ll miss it if I don’t keep walking but I don’t want to cut this conversation short. Something is going on and I need to get to the bottom of it.
“Do as I said, okay? Be careful and keep an eye out.”
“I will, mom. I promise but please, tell me what’s happening.” More silence fills the receiver and I’m beginning to let my frustration override my anxiety. “What the fuck is going on? Tell me!”
I heard the sharp intake of her breath at my words and I notice a couple walking down the street cross over to the other sidewalk and away from me. I must look and sound crazy, a woman at the end of her rope.
“Your engagement was planned.”
I shake my head in disbelief, “Planned? How can that be, I met Hugo on a ski trip.”
“A trip your father planned.”
My mind is racing. I had met my ex-fiancé during one of our family vacations. He had been at the resort with friends, celebrating a bachelor party.
“He was planted there by your father. The rest – you’ll see.”
The call disconnects and I realize she’s hung up. I feel dizzy and use the wall to steady myself. Down the street, the bus is making its way to the stop and my adrenaline kicks in. Shifting into gear, I push myself off the wall and run up the street, determined to make it to the bus before it closes its doors.
Copyright © 2018 by Elly V
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