The longer we talk with Christopher’s friends, the more I realise how little I know him. And the more I learn about him, the more I think my parents really did try to find me a match I might actually like.
Almost an hour after we sat down to speak with them, they are still making fun of Christopher with stories from his youth.
“Oh! Remember when you thought the rat was lonely and brought it home?” Josh was telling the more embarrassing stories Christopher probably didn’t want spread around to his new wife.
“It was not a rat!” Christopher protested, “It was a squirrel.”
I burst out laughing, “You brought a squirrel home and into your house?”
“Yes!” Josh breaks in before Christopher can answer. “And I think his mom almost died. I heard her scream all the way down the block.”
“I was an adventurous kid,” he smiles, “I guess I lost it over time.” There’s something sad in his eyes when he says that last part. If anyone else notices it, they don’t say anything. I’ll have to try to remember to ask him about that later.
“Oh, I’m loving the stories, though,” I say after taking a sip of my drink. “I think we should spend more time with your friends.”
He leans over to me and wraps his arm around my shoulder. I start to tense up until I remember we are supposed to be acting married, so I turn my head to kiss his cheek.
When I turn back to face his friends, they all cheer the kiss as he whispers in my ear, “I think they like you, too. We might have to stay friends for their sake. They’ll be crushed if they never see you again.”
“Right,” I say without thinking, “they will miss me.”
I can’t see his face, but I know I shouldn’t have said that. He’s doing everything he can to help me, and it can’t be easy that his only shot at marriage wants to walk away. I really should learn to be more sensitive.
“Sorry,” I whisper, “I shouldn’t make fun.”
He kisses my hair before joining the conversation with his friends. I can still feel the heat in my cheeks, though I’m not sure if it’s from embarrassment or the drinks.
I manage to engage with his friends as they continue to tell stories about their childhoods and ask me questions about mine. It doesn’t last long, though, before Christopher’s mom comes over to us and asks me to help her in the kitchen.
I look at Christopher, desperation in my eyes, hoping he will help me get out of this or at least come with me.
She must have seen the look because she added, “You can call me Eloise, and I promise I won’t do anything to hurt you.”
“Of course, Eloise,” I stand up from my chair and give Christopher a hug before following her into the house.
“I’m glad I had some time to get you all by yourself,” she smiles and hands me an apron, “and not just because I hear you know your way around the kitchen.”
How much had my parents lied about me when they sold me to his parents?
“Oh, I’m not sure what my parents told you,” I start, but she interrupts me.
“Your parents didn’t tell me anything. Christopher did.”
Well, that’s a shock.
“So, shall we start making salad while we get to know each other?” she asks as she ties on her own apron.
“Yeah, sounds good,” I try to smile, but she probably has that mom skill where she can tell I’m lying.
“So, tell me about yourself,” she hands me a knife and a cucumber, so I get to work cutting it.
“Well, you probably know all about me already,” I say as we work, “I’m sure my parents told you all about my skills and interests when they made the match.” I hope they did, anyway.
“Of course, dear,” the way she is brandishing the knife is a little unsettling, but I think she is just talking with her hands. “I mean what can you tell me about you that your parents wouldn’t have told me?”
“I really like food,” I offer it as a question rather than a statement. Fortunately, she laughs.
“Then you are in the right place. You and Christopher certainly have that in common.”
“Did you teach him how to cook?” I ask because I am curious, but it seems intrusive now.
She points to a recipe book on the counter, “Take a look, dear.”
I put the knife down and walk around the large island to pick up the recipe book she pointed at. As I flip the pages, there are dozens of recipes all written in a lovely script and each one is coloured all over with crayon or doodled on with a pen. It feels like such a personal thing for me to intrude on, but there is no way to tell her that without admitting I don’t want to be married to her son, so I play along.
“I want you two to have that,” she smiles at me and I feel a deep sense that she already considers me her daughter. “One day you can make them with your own children. And then one day they can get married and you can pass it on to them.”
I open my mouth to protest, but she waves her hand at me, “I really won’t take no for an answer. I want you both to have it. Consider it a wedding present.”
Thankfully, I am spared having to answer her when Christopher’s dad walks into the kitchen. “I thought we were leaving the reception talk for now,” he winks at me as he walks past. “So how can I help? Our guests are getting hungry.”
Eloise directs her husband in the tasks she needs completed. I stand there, staring at the book in my hands until she calls out to me.
“Aubrey, why don’t you head out and find Christopher to bring him back here? I’d like you to both be at the family table today.”
Asking them to dissolve my marriage was going to be harder than I thought.