Lora stood in the unfamiliar room, staring aimlessly at the indigo painted walls. She was asked to take off her shoes before entering the house, having to reveal that she was not wearing socks with her sneakers. She was given a pair before stepping onto the cold, hardwood floor of the foyer and then escorted to what they called "the guest suite". Now that she was alone, she flexed her toes in the comfortable socks and forced herself to move toward the bathroom and wash her face.
The water was ice cold, something she would usually run from, but today she didn't mind the sharp sensation on her skin. It helped her stay grounded in her reality, no matter how awful and uncharacteristically draining it was. Truthfully Lora had never really experienced such extreme emotions. She had never been in many extreme events; especially ones that ended with her in a complete stranger's guest room. Remembering that she, indeed, was in a stranger's house, thought that it wouldn't be good manners to just sit in this room all day.
Bracing herself for some awkward interactions, she crossed the threshold from the bedroom door, into the long hallway. The ivory painted walls were covered in framed, black and white photos of even more strangers. Infants, toddlers, children, teenagers, adults, and more infants. Lora smiled, enjoying the cycle of life displayed in the gallery. Before she knew it, the gallery had ended and she was at the end of the hallway, now facing a large kitchen and living area. She observed in silence while the elderly couple danced around the kitchen with little to no communication and prepared what Lora assumed to be dinner. She wasn't exactly sure of the time but her stomach sure remembered that it had been way too long since the salad she had nibbled on for lunch earlier. Her stomach grumbled, betraying her attempts to not be perceived for a while longer. Suddenly, two pairs of concerned brown eyes locked with her green ones. Silence ensued for many seconds until Lora cleared her throat to speak.
"You have a very lovely home," she said.
The couple smiled, and looking at each other once again, decided roles. The husband moved to the stove and took over the cooking while the wife approached Lora with a gentle but authoritative aura, and silently led her to the highchair located by the island. Close enough to interact with Lora and head back to the kitchen to help her husband.
"Thank you, we appreciate that!" she replied while opening a cupboard, revealing all kinds of mugs and glasses. "Would you like anything to drink? Water, juice, anything?" she asked Lora, her dark purple sweater rising slightly with her short arms.
"Water sounds great, thank you!" She replied quickly.
"Sure thing! honey?"
In an instant the cup was in her husband's hands and he was filling it from the water filter attached to the sink, handing it back to his waiting wife, who delivered it to Lora. Impressed and slightly jealous at their harmony, Lora spoke up to compliment them.
"You two are amazing! I mean, my parents have been together since forever but you guys are a well oiled machine," "Must be nice,
" she added subconsciously and immediately regretted it. She was too slow in filtering out the bitter coating on her words and was dreading having to explain herself.
"Yeah, that's what five kids and two house renovations will do to you!" the husband replied enthusiastically, kindly ignoring Lora's slip of the mind.
"Wow! Five kids is impressive! Were you back from visiting one of them? Is that why you were at the airport?" she asked, trying her hardest to shift the conversation anywhere but in her direction.
"No actually we were coming back from a vacation, just the two of us. The first in a long time," the wife responded with a wistful smile on her face. A beautiful, but uncommon expression on a weathered face, Lora thought. An uncomfortable silence hovered around the trio for a moment. The food was finishing off in the oven and the couple broke open a bottle of wine for themselves, taking a seat across from their guest. Finally the silence was broken by the elderly lady.
"Please understand that I don't mean to pry but...the way that you were crying in the airport, your lack of luggage, and the swollen feet, may I ask if y'all are okay?"
Hiding behind the thick marble slab, Lora clutched her abdomen. She would be in shock of this assumption if the woman across from her wasn't a mother of five.
"Uh, yes we are doing fine. It was more of an outside source that brought the train wreck you saw at the airport," Lora answered. Deep down she knew that her first response was sufficient enough to end the conversation. The couple most likely wanted to know the state of her and her baby, but the can of worms was open now; might as well empty it.
"My partner and I have been trying for a while now. It’s not like we were desperate or anything, but he was travelling for business soon…” her voice was cracking, the lump in her throat rising. She really didn’t want to cry. Like a timeout bell, the oven rang and gave Lora a needed break.
Once again, the machine couple maneuvered around the kitchen, grabbing plates and utensils, cutting meat and serving vegetables, having three full plates of food and refilled drinks ready in minutes. They ate in a slightly more comfortable silence, the sound of forks hitting plates breaking the tension. Lora was never a picky eater and she was thankful that neither was her unborn child. Having a food aversion to such a home cooked meal would have been unfortunate. The fact that she was starving and emotionally drained probably helped too. All too soon it was time for the plates to be hauled away, Lora’s buffer was gone and an intrigued couple sat in front of her. There were still some stragglers in the can. Taking a deep breath, she began again.
“I had known that I was pregnant for two weeks while he was away for work. Telling him in person was the only way I wanted to tell him so I waited. I went to two ultrasounds alone, bought my vitamins alone, watched my body change alone. Still, I had the perfect way to tell him etched in my brain and I wasn’t going to lose that along with everything else. When I asked him if I should pick him up from the airport, I thought that he was just being kind by saying no. We live an hour away from the airport. He said that he’d take an Uber and drop by the office. Still, I asked him for the time his plane would land. He lied. I came early to beat the traffic but apparently I had come right on time,”. Lora clenched her chest and brushed her dark brown baby hairs back with the other hand as her mind pushed forward the events of the day. Flowers in her hand and three pregnancy tests in her purse, she walked up to the waiting area only to find her husband smiling at another woman. The anger from that moment caused her to speak. The old couple listened intently.
“At first all I could register was that he was here so early. I was happy until I realized that he’d definitely lied to me. Still I pushed ahead, waving my arms best I could to get his attention. His eyes scanned the crowd like he was looking for someone and that’s when my heart dropped because I knew that he wasn’t looking for me. He’d lied to me!” she went on. "Anyway I waited to see who he could possibly be waiting for and it was another girl. I’m not the jealous type, but everything was coming together in the worst way possible. I finally cracked when they kissed,” Lora was interrupted by the strangers’ loud gasp. She looked up at them, amused.
“Sorry,” they apologized in unison. Lora giggled.
“No, that's pretty much where it ends. You saw how the rest went with your own eyes,” she concluded, holding her cup of water. The couple had found Lora gripping a pair of flowers, tears pouring down her face. She was stumbling and looked close to collapse. Speaking without using words, the couple approached the girl young enough to be their daughter.
“Are you alright?” the wife asked. Lora had been stumbling around the airport for ten minutes before she’d been acknowledged.
“I-I need to get out of here!” she had said.
“We don’t live too far from the airport-”
“Yes please I just can’t be seen here,” Lora struggled to respond in between tears.
“So, what do you plan to do? You’re welcome to stay here, of course. This house is empty except for the two of us,” the husband offered kindly and his wife nodded, her long earrings slapping her face with each head movement. Lora had thought this through already. She couldn’t stay.
“Thank you both so much for your kindness and your guest room looks incredibly cozy, but I can’t stay the night. I left my car at the airport and I need to be at work tomorrow,” she explained. The couple nodded in understanding.
“My husband will drop you off where you parked,”
“Thank you so much Mr. and Mrs. … “
“Oh you can call me Alla and my husband’s name is Ares,” she responded once realizing that they hadn’t made a real introduction.
“Well, thank you Alla and Ares. Truly, I appreciate it,” Lora said once again.
“Trust us, it is our pleasure. Now let’s get going before anyone starts to worry too much about you,” Ares said, grabbing his keys and jacket.
“Stay safe! And don’t hesitate to visit,” Alla shouted at the closing door, “you know where to find us!”