I swallowed hard, still trying to get down the half-eaten food, not sure what to do. Picking up my glass of iced tea, I tried not to look at him, but my eyes deceived me, flicking back to him. There was genuine hurt in his eyes and on his face, but I didn’t know what to say. What could I do? I wanted to explain it all to him, but it was the wrong place at the wrong time. I was busted and he was very angry.
“Well, isn’t that special!” The smile on his lips didn’t touch the anger in his tone. He picked up his fork and started eating. He was eating like I was, just shoveling the food in quickly. “Everything’s good, mom.”
Arching a brow at him – most likely about how his demeanor changed – Maureen blinked. “Honey, are you okay?”
“I’m just peachy.”
She looked at Mike, then me, and then back to Corey. “You don’t sound peachy.”
“I’ve just had problems at work.”
“What about you? Are you seeing anyone special these days?” Mike asked, taking a bite of food. “…or are you a confirmed bachelor?”
He would ask that question. I tried not to be obvious, looking at him as I shoveled another mouthful of salad into my mouth. I wished I could shrink down into the holes in the wooden floor beneath me. If only I could just shrink from existence. Now would be a great time for heart failure, or so I thought.
“Me?” He glanced at me before looking back at Mike. “No, sad to say there’s no one special in my life. I did meet a woman…” He paused, looking up at the ceiling. “Oh… I think it was in June. I believe. I met her on the beach. She was the one I had been waiting for. I really thought she was the one for me.”
Mike winced. “Uh oh. What happened?”
He sighed. “We were perfect together. We had so much that we agreed on, and both had the same likes and dislikes. I thought about proposing to her after just one week of knowing her.”
“I know. I had finally found the reason to get up in the morning and there was a method to the madness.” He shook his head. “One day, she just up and left me without a word, not even a goodbye.” He stared at me after he said that.
I shoveled more food into my mouth, glancing down at my plate. I acted like I was starving, but I really wasn’t. I needed one of those aircraft barf bags at this point.
Mike nodded. “Ah. See that was your fault. You should’ve told her how you felt. Hell, I knew I wanted Elyse from the first time I saw her. I made sure I told her that every day for a year until she agreed to marry me.”
“Well, some of us don’t think that fast, I guess. It only took one week and I knew that she was the one for me. Then she was just gone. No number… no note… no nothing… just gone. She cleaned my house before she left. She emptied the beer bottles, the ashtrays, and even cleaned the shower tiles.”
“Damn, are you sure you weren’t dating a maid?”
Suddenly, all the guilt flooded back to me. So, he did care! He did miss me! I could’ve just turned around and went back to him and we would’ve been happy all this time.
Choking on that last mouthful, I stood up. When I did, my chair turned over as it pushed back, slamming hard to the floor. Everyone jumped, looking at me in confused surprise.
Maureen looked alarm. “Heavens, child, are you okay?”
Leaning over, I quickly picked it back up. After finishing chewing what was in my mouth, I cleared my throat, looking around the table. I avoided the cold stare of Corey. “If you’ll excuse me, it’s just so hot in here.”
“Oh dear, would you like me to turn on the air conditioner?” Maureen started to rise.
Mike shook his head. “Mother, sit down. It’s not hot in here. I told you that you weren’t eating enough. You’re getting skinnier and it’s making you pale.”
I didn’t want them to make a big fuss, and I wanted to smack Mike for his snide comment. We went over this, a million times about his control issues. Instead, I shook my head. “I’m gonna go out to the car an’ grab a smoke.”
“You’re going to go out for a smoke, but you haven’t finished your food. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Did they not see me eating all that food? How much did they think one person could eat?
I looked over, kissing his cheek. “I’m fine. It’s just the diet effects, I guess.” That and I really had to puke! I leaned over, kissing Logan on the head and the neck, making him laugh. I looked into his eyes, running my fingers gently through his hair. He was worth it. He was worth the pain and suffering I was about to be put through. “Mommy be right back, okay? Mm, Mommy loves you.”
Logan cooed, banging his spoon around.
Maureen shook her head. “Mommy, don’t get him all excited. Logan needs to eat so that he can be big and strong like daddy. I think you should eat something instead of smoking.”
Her too? Maybe no one else noticed me shoveling food in my mouth like cows in the pasture. My stomach knew it. “I’m fine. I had two bowls of salad. Time for a smoke.”
Corey smiled, looking at Logan. I could see that he knew Logan was his. There was no missing the look of recognition when he looked into his own eyes. “Yeah, need those strong bones boy, just like your pop.”
It… was a mess.
“Uncle Corey’s funny, isn’t he?” Maureen said, wiping Logan’s mouth from the drool. “This kid can drool.”
“Yeah, remember when I used to do that? You had to keep bibs around because I was a regular drool machine. I don’t remember you doing that, Mike.”
“It’s because he’s teething,” Mike told him.
He leaned over, kissing Logan on the head. “You’re in good company kid, keep drooling.”
“I read how some kids drool a lot while teething.”
“I won’t be long,” I told them, bolting out the door like a coward, racing for my car. I knew I over ate as it came back up. I barely hit the bushes before all that salad made an exit. When I finished, I continued across the street to my car.
Opening the door, I reached into the glovebox taking out a napkin as well as a mint. Taking out my cell phone, I lit a cigarette. Pacing back and forth, I smoked like I was a chimney stack, using the cigarette as if it were oxygen. One drag after the other. Oh, that too was going to make me sicker than a dog, but for now, it was all I could do to remain calm.
I counted the rings impatiently… two… three… “Come on… answer the damn phone.”