My fine, possibly feathered, friends at Flash Fiction Friday have challenged us to write about meeting the parents. I looked at the prompt a little differently, and what emerged is this, which I call "The Hurricane".
Shari looked at the hostess, a tall, slim woman with her hair pulled smartly back into a ballet dancer's bun. We probably look like the letter "b", she thought.
"Mr. Thompson said he was running a little late, and he'd be right along. Can I start you with a drink?," the woman said. She was dressed all in black- blouse, skirt, long, opaque tights and heels. Her makeup was a little overdone, making her look a bit skeletal. Shari felt a pang of envy at her flat stomach and visible hipbones.
Shari's mouth was dry. She cleared her throat softly. "Mineral water, please. With lemon."
"Right away," she said, bustling off.
Shari pulled the chair out farther, then sat down, arranging herself as best she could in her borrowed dress. She could feel the eyes of other diners on her. That was one of the many things she would not miss. Along with the aching back, the intense emotional waves, the sore feet and ill fitting clothes, she would not miss the feeling of being on stage. No matter where she walked, she felt their judgement. No ring. No accompanying male. "Tramp," she felt them thinking. That, or something worse.
They didn't understand. Nobody did. Only somebody who had been through it would understand, and most people who did wouldn't talk about it. They couldn't grasp her inner life, the way she had punished herself a thousand times over for a moment's weakness. They didn't know how fervently she wished it to be untrue, prayed she could somehow put the genie back in the bottle and undo this. She felt their gaze, preying on her roundness, seeing her young face and coming to conclusions, calling her heedless and wanton and foolish inside their perfectly ordered lives, not realizing they couldn't call her anything she hadn't called herself, with sheets balled in her fists as pain or nausea was her only companion through a sleepless night.
The whole process she had informally named the "Hurricane of Suck," the single, stupid act leading to weeks of wishing it wasn't so. When it became too obvious for her to deny, she checked out her options, but she simply couldn't do what everyone else did, and before too much longer, her fate was sealed. She saw a phone number in the back of a magazine, called it, and was brought into the protective embrace of Hank Thompson, Esquire.
What followed was blizzards of phone calls and emails, forms and more forms, letters and photos to review, and finally, at long last, this dinner. Shari tried to beg off, and Mr. Thompson had made it clear to her that she didn't have to come. But in the end, she agreed to his pleas, and she was sitting here, watching the faces circulate around here, wondering which one would be them.
A young man came up with a glass tumbler of water with lemon stuck on the rim. His voice was sweet, with a hint of Spanish at the edges. Her heart pounded for a moment, gazing at his strong features and olive skin. Then Shari reminded herself who she was, and more importantly, how she looked and what she was.
"Water for you, miss?," he said smoothly.
"Yes, thank you," she said. She felt woefully underdressed. When she wasn't in sweatpants, she survived on what she could borrow and Goodwill. She was wearing a dress that her overweight friend Liz found too loose, a blue one with faint white stripes, and the only shoes that still fit, faded espadrilles. Shari thought about the goddess who sat her, and this statue as well. Was everyone who worked here beautiful?
"Would you like some bread until your party arrives?"
"That would be fine," she said, pretending to be calm.
The waiter whisked off, wearing all black as well, and Shari watched him walk. God, she thought. What I wouldn't do to not be...me.
She thought about bolting again. She didn't really want to meet these people. She would see their faces before she closed her eyes every night, wondering if her boy was OK with these strangers. Was he warm? Happy? Sad? Safe? Brave? Did they teach him about life? Bake cookies for his class? What were they doing at 3:30 in the afternoon? She felt out of place, like everyone was staring. She felt panicky, the thought of simply walking out consuming her, just walking straight to the bus stop, then riding back to her room. Then crying, no doubt, crying until her shudders faded into a restless sleep. Sleep. The only thing she really enjoyed these days.
Shari sipped the water. The lemon lent it a tiny edge of sourness. There were days water was all she could stand, but her stomach growled in response to the coldness. Today wasn't one of those days. She was suddenly ravenous, and she felt a stirring inside of her, followed by a solid thump of a kick. She took another sip, and then another. OK, Thompson, she was beginning to tell herself, if you're not here by the time I finish this, I'm out of here.
Just then she saw his face, his graying hair plastered straight back with gel. He was always smiling. Shari wondered just how he could manage that as she began to extricate herself from her seat.
"Shari! So glad you made it! This is-," the lawyer began.
"Oh, sweetie, don't get up!," a woman said, coming around over Thompson's right shoulder. Her hair was cut short, almost like a boy, and she was wearing a suit with a long navy skirt and a soft creamy blouse. "I'm Janet, and this is my husband Mike, and-"
Shari started to sit back down. The woman gasped.
"Oh, honey. You're so beautiful. You're just- you're GLOWING!," she said loud enough for everyone to hear. Shari had heard the word before, but never in reference to herself. The older woman fluttered and cooed, asking questions without waiting for the answers.
"Now, Jan," Mike said. His voice was smooth and buttery, suitable for his classic good looks. He smiled, showing laugh lines. "Back off! You're going to scare the poor girl!"
Nonplussed, she continued, "But I just want you to know, hun, that we are just so overwhelmingly grateful that you would do this for us-"
Shari sat down, her vision beginning to blur. Janet was continuing to talk, and Shari was aware enough to be able to nod and smile earnestly. Was she doing it for them? For herself? Who was this about, anyway? Becoming pregnant wasn't something she did, it was something that happened, and she was dealing with it the best way she could. Shari looked at the two adults' faces, beaming with an inner light, grateful for something she was giving them, and something they were taking from her.