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Drama LGBTQ+ Contemporary

I shuddered a sigh in the dark. Tears stung my eyes, wetting my pillow from the steady flow of lingering grief. Diana stirred beside me, her chestnut hair framed her face as she turned over to look at me.

Concern colored her tired voice. “Leah? Are you ok?” 

“I don’t know,” I breathed. The admission was a hammer to my heart. I curled up against her chest and she kissed my hair.

“My love, I’m here,” her hand traveled my upper arm in slow, methodical squeezes. I focused on her touch and tried not to imagine the mahogany casket of my father in the dull funeral home parlor. My loving, kind, accepting father, laying there; a dressed up doll displayed for almost strangers to come to give their condolences. Most of them had not seen him in years. He was ice cold when I'd reached for his cheek. Shame reddened mine with regret that I was afraid of being alone. That ice followed me home as the dusk closed in from the passenger seat window while Bastille’s Pompeii played on the radio. 

Diana’s hand moved to my face and brushed away strands of hair plastered by my tears. Her touch grounded me back to Earth and I buried my face in her neck. 

“Did you make a decision?” she asked drowsily, her soft voice soothing my aching chest.

“No,” I said before I slowly shook my head, retracting my words.“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her since I was fifteen. She left us, why should I welcome her back.” 

“You don't need to welcome her back, Love. But it might give you closure. You can meet in a public place. I can go with you.”

My eyes opened with the thought, eyelashes brushing against her skin. I imagined walking hand-in-hand with Diana to meet her. I knew she only reached out because dad died, but a part of my heart hoped there was more to her sudden desire to see me than just to grieve. 

“Thank you,” I lifted my head and she kissed me, her lips a balm on my thoughts and my mind was filled with only her. 

###

The Bistro’s patio was almost empty with the end-of-lunch rush and the pre-dinner lull to give us enough privacy to meet an almost stranger; the woman who birthed me. Diana chose this place so that she and Rileigh could sit a few tables over under the hanging garden to give us a chance to talk.

We arrived first, my mother predictably late, and I took a table for just the two of us to sit at. Rileigh’s tiny eyebrows furrowed as she looked at me puzzled. She pointed and asked Diana why I’m so far away as her short legs swung, hitting the chair with her heels. She was just grown enough now to sit without a booster. Diana leaned in and whispered to her, and Rileigh gave me such a smile it took my breath away.

“Leah, how are you?” 

My head snapped to the voice and a woman in jeggings and a loose fitting blouse peered down at me. Her blonde hair was casual perfection as if she spent the day in the sun at the beach, with sunglasses perched on her head revealing sky blue eyes that mirrored my own. 

“Grace?” I didn’t immediately recognize her. I hadn’t seen this face in more than a decade and a half and her disingenuous familiarity made my insides squirm.  

Grace sat across from me, her back to Diana and Rileigh, and looked me over. “It’s been a long time.” 

I bit back a quip about Captain Obvious. The waiter mercifully chose that time to make an entrance and took our order. The brief interruption gave me a chance to take in the little details of the woman who birthed me. She was older than my memory served, but there was a glow about her that told me she was active and healthy, at least on the surface. When the waiter left us alone the weight of the space he occupied made me wish he would come back; I didn’t have an excuse to not talk anymore. 

“It has," I scrunch my face at my lack of response, but why should I need to lead the conversation? She asked me here. 

“You look so grown up! I hardly recognize you!” 

I bit my lip. Her words stung. She should recognize me. Of course, she didn’t mean anything by it, but she absolutely, out of all the humans on this planet, should recognize me. 

“Yes, I’m grown,” I paused to let the waiter put drinks on the table that I was sure now I wouldn’t touch as my stomach flip-flopped. I watched the waiter leave us once again. She took a sip and the anxious squeeze in my chest was the deciding factor for my next words.

 “Why are you here? You only ever called for birthdays and holidays and when-when dad died. I don’t understand why you wanted to see me now.” 

She leveled me with a look that flipped my stomach again. She sat forward slowly and held her iced tea in her cupped hands on the table. Rileigh’s peals of laughter in the background split me into two worlds; one where I was happy, loved, and one where I was trapped talking to the woman who abandoned me. 

She pursed her lips and leaned forward. “I’ll be perfectly honest, when your father died, I realized we are all we have. I’ve made a very good life after I left him, and I understand that you may never want to hear that, but your father and I were not happy. He was a loving, amazing human being, but he could not give me what I needed and, yes, I did a very terrible thing by leaving the way I did. At the time,” for the first time, Grace furrowed her brow and I saw regret paint her features in deep lines and worn eyes. “I thought I was doing what was best for you-for us. My parents were divorced and I had a miserable time shuffling back and forth, losing friends and missing events to fit my life in their schedule. I didn’t want that for you. But I-I messed up. I meant to call, to write, to be more involved.” 

I searched her face, looking for the lie and found none. So far, she seemed as genuine as I'd ever seen her, but her messed up logic twisted my stomach in knots. 

“I have a daughter,” I blurted, my anger barely checked, “and I would never, ever, do that to her.”

Grace’s eyes met mine with an expression I couldn’t decipher. It was certainly not regret this time, but a challenge, as if she was considering my words without emotion. 

“No, I don't suppose you would,” She leaned back as her eyes still held mine, “and that is why I wanted to see you.” 

“I don’t follow.”

“I never wanted to be a mother, Leah. It wasn’t in me to nurture you or anyone. But I regret my actions all the same."

Anger seethed my insides. I wanted to get up, grab Diana and Rileigh and leave. Her words were pins and needles and every second I sat with this woman drove them further into my aching heart.

She considered me, her head tilted. “You’re a better person than me. Your father raised you well. I’m here now because I want to show you the opportunities I found to empower myself to come to you today. I want to share my journey with you.” 

I startled at her sudden praise. My mouth parched, I stared at my water, but my stomach was flipping so dangerously I didn’t dare drink. The waiter appeared again as her words hung in the air between us. He laid a salad down for each of us. I didn’t remember what I ordered. I had chosen the cheapest thing on the menu to just order something, and now the sight of food made me sick. 

Grace did not touch hers either as the waiter left us. She reached a hand out on the table, palm-side up. “I don’t expect you to welcome me back with open arms, Leah. I know how hard the funeral has been, how hard it is to see me after such a long time. I see you have a lovely family and don’t really need me. But I also see the potential we could have, and I want to be a part of your life again. Part of your daughter's life, too, if you want me.” 

I swallowed, my mouth thick with words I couldn’t form. I glanced behind Grace to see Diana twirling Rileigh on the patio with one hand. Diana watched me from across the tables, her expression lined with concern and I realized she’d been keeping an eye on me the whole conversation, waiting to step in at a moment's notice. Rileigh laughed with abandon, oblivious to the tension between her mothers and Grace. My chest grew heavy with the weight of decision. Do I deny Grace her chance to make things right? Or do I accept her and perhaps give Rileigh a grandparent who will not shun us at holidays for loving in a way they don’t approve? A need for familial normalcy stung my eyes. I hated this woman for years but had wanted her, more than anyone, to come to me like this so I could shut her out to her face. And now, the hurt teenager in me had grown into an adult; a wife, a mother, who wanted to live in peace and avoid the pain of losing more family. 

“What I want,” I said slowly, choosing words as I went along, “I want to give it a try. But,” I held up a hand as the smile spread across Grace’s lips, “I want to do this slowly. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. I think it’s best if we get to know each other first, before you meet Rileigh. You popped into my life so suddenly, and I don’t want her to feel the same stress I did if it doesn’t work out.” 

Grace nodded, eagerly. The light in her eyes brightened with a hope I was hesitant to give her. 

We spent a few more moments talking, but my mind chewed over my decision, rolling it over, feeling it out. She paid the bill with no arguments from me and we stood up, preparing to say our goodbyes. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Diana waiting patiently in the wings for me to signal for her to come. Grace awkwardly started forward as if to hug me, but thought better of it and pulled her purse on her shoulder instead. 

“I’m so happy you’ve decided this, Leah. Would you like to come over next week? I’m throwing a party for my business and it would make me very happy to have you there.” 

“A party?” I rolled the idea in my mind. It seemed odd she’d invite me to a party instead of meeting alone again, “You own a business?” 

“Oh yes! Here,” she pulled out a tiny bottle of lavender oil. She put it in my outstretched palm and I stared at it, processing as she continued. “It does wonders for stress. You can rub a little between your hands and rub it on your temples at night for better sleep.”

“I-thanks-but I think I’m good,” I handed her back the bottle and although she took it her smile faltered before the mask came back. 

“Well, if you change your mind, I have many different types of oils. I sell tinctures as well, for health. If you take CBD, I have a few different formulas.” 

“I don’t, but thanks,” I said, feeling more confused as the conversation started to slide into a sales pitch. 

“That’s OK, I would love you to come still. I want to show you the financial freedom I’ve gained over the past few years. My journey started with essential oils and has grown into an amazing business. The group of ladies I work with are fantastic and know their holistic health. I have a big team, but it’s an amazing opportunity that is open to anyone. You get discounts on products up to 20% and there’s an annual convention that is just so fun, it’s like a spa experience. I earned two cruise trips before my second year, and I did it all from home!” 

My stomach lurched, the ground I stood on was less solid than it had been a few moments ago when I opened my heart to Grace . My eyes darted back to Diana, her expression inquisitive and reality hit me square in the chest. This is how it starts. First, it’s little things that grow and grow until guilt holds you captive and you can’t wriggle out of it’s grasp. Grace didn’t come here to meet with me, her estranged daughter, after almost two decades of ignoring me. 

Grace came here to recruit me. 

“Goodbye, Grace.” I managed to say, only sparing her a final glance. 

Grace smiled as she put on her sunglasses. “Talk to you later?” 

I watched her go without answering. I turned to the sight of Diana and Rileigh. My true family. We are a whole as we are. A modern family built with love. No Grace needed here.


February 03, 2021 15:26

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2 comments

Karen McDermott
22:57 Feb 07, 2021

I had a similar lurching in my stomach when it became a sales pitch. Really well written and the dialogue flows seamlessly (despite the awkwardness of the situation). Great work!

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Gwyn Everett
02:52 Feb 09, 2021

Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it :)

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