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Fiction

    Julie made her way slowly round the table, plonking down silverware, unaware of her brother’s approach. She shrieked as he sneaked up behind and whirled her off her feet, knives and forks clattering as they fell.

    “You nearly gave me a heart attack,” she said, trying to look angry as he laughed, but grinning despite herself. Their mother Ethel appeared in the doorway, looking harried.

    “What happened? Did something break?” she said, pushing her hair back from her sweaty face with her wrist. Dan picked his mother up for a bear hug as easily as he had Julie. Ethel swatted at him ineffectually.

     “Don’t play the fool, Dan. I’ve got a million things to do and they’ll be here soon,” she said, out of breath. She scurried back to the kitchen. Julie shrugged as Dan gave her a questioning look.

     “I offered to help, but she doesn’t want me in the kitchen. I’m flattered she thinks I can set the table.”

Dan rolled his eyes.

      “I see. Whose idea was it for Dad to introduce the new trophy wife to the family on Thanksgiving?”

     “His, said Julie. “Mom let him have his way as usual. She’s so conflict-averse it makes me mad. Have you met number two?”

     “No. I haven’t seen him since the great departure,” Dan said. “He’s tried calling me a few times, but I haven’t been in the mood to listen to the excuses for his mid-life crisis.”

    “He invited me for lunch one day, but he came alone. I should have suspected there was someone else when I saw he’d dyed his hair and bought new clothes. Do you think Mom knew?”

     “I don’t know. She’d die before talking about stuff like that with us. You know how private she is.”

     “I know what a good, meek little wife she’s been. Look where that got her,” Julie said. “It’s been so humiliating for her. She doesn’t go to the golf club or see any of the friends they had from before. The men pretty much took his side, and the women are afraid their men will get ideas about trading in for younger models.”

     The conversation stopped abruptly as Ethel entered, looking relieved.

     “I think everything’s under control now,” she said. “Thank you both for coming; I know it must seem awkward. Do me a favor and put the food on the table while I freshen up.”

     Dan and Julie raised their eyebrows when Ethel reappeared in a sleek new dress.

     “Do you think it’s too much?” she said anxiously. “I lost a lot of weight with all the drama. My lawyer called it the divorce diet. Nothing I had fit anymore, so I decided to try a new style.”

     “You look terrific,” said Dan. Julie nodded in agreement. She stepped back and looked at her mother.

     “Something else is different,” she said. “Wait, you’ve had your hair colored.”

 Ethel smiled shyly. At that moment, the doorbell rang. The three of them looked at each other.

      “Here goes,” said Ethel, taking a deep breath.

         She opened the front door. Her ex-husband ushered in a nervous looking petite blonde about the same age as Julie. As she stepped forward, it was obvious she was heavily pregnant.

      “Hello, you must be Allie,” Ethel said politely. She smiled at the blonde. Julie elbowed Dan. “Come in and sit down. Frank, you should have told us that there's a new member of the family on the way. That’s a nice surprise.”

Frank stepped forward as if to embrace his children but stopped when he saw their cool expressions. He cleared his throat, and awkwardly introduced Allie. He raised his eyebrows when he looked at Esther.

       “You’re looking well,” he said. Ethel smiled tranquilly.

       “The single life suits me,” she said. “I’m taking better care of myself than I have for a long time.”

They settled in at the table and began to pass dishes around. Allie looked miserable.

     “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sure everything is delicious, but I can’t eat much at the moment.”  

       “You have my sympathies,” said Ethel. “It’s hard to remember sometimes that babies are a blessing when you’ve got morning sickness and feel like a blimp. Men get the easy part. When’s your due date?”

      “In a month. Frank has been a great support,” Allie said. “He’s been to all the pre-natal classes with me.”

Frank stared down at the table as Ethel, Dan and Julie looked at him askance.

       “My, apparently even dinosaurs evolve,” Dan said. Frank glared at him angrily.

       “Set the alarm to go off at random intervals all night. Good practice for the sleep you’re going to lose,” said Ethel, laughing. “Modern fatherhood is wonderful. You’ll have to be patient with him though, Allie. He didn’t get much baby care practice first time around. I hope you’re putting pennies in the college fund piggybank, Frank. You used to talk about retiring to play golf at about this age, but I assume that’s on the back burner now.”

He grimaced.

       “No need to remind me,” he said.

        “She looks like our mother, but I don’t know who this woman is,” Julie muttered to Dan.

        “Not as downtrodden as you thought?” he whispered back with a grin.

Replete after the meal, they were relaxing in the sitting room when the doorbell rang. Ethel hurried to the door as the others looked up curiously. She returned beaming, followed by a distinguished looking man.

         “I didn’t want to say anything in case my friend Rob couldn’t make it,” she said. “Rob is a surgeon and was on call for part of the day.”

Rob nodded in a friendly way to everyone. Ethel went around refreshing drinks, before sitting down next to him on the couch.

         “Good news,” Rob said. “I got the tickets today.”

          “We’re going on a trip to a wildlife refuge in Costa Rica where they rehab injured animals,” Ethel said, smiling at Rob.

Julie shook her head in disbelief. Dan laughed. Frank looked at Ethel incredulously.

         “You used to be afraid of spiders,” Frank said. “I can’t believe it.”

          “I thought you gave me lemons when you left,” Ethel said, looking directly at him. “I know it’s a cliché, but I decided to make lemonade. I didn’t want to be the bitter ex-wife. Life has turned out to be remarkably interesting and full of unexpected turns, good and bad. So, let’s drink a toast to new beginnings for all of us. Cheers!”

November 27, 2020 23:25

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