Friday, April third, was the first day Cora lied to Hannah.
Cora twisted her ring around her middle finger, only stopping when the oven timer went off. She pulled open the oven door and was greeted by the awful, stifling heat. It needed more time. She needed more time. She shut the oven and returned to her seat at the kitchen table. She grabbed a handful of trail mix and shoved it into her mouth. The taste of salt made her wish she didn’t stress eat. Cora wiped the sweat off her forehead and absentmindedly skimmed through the recipe, her eyes dodging the tiny scribbles in the margins. When her dad gave her this recipe book, he’d written down little reminders for her on nearly every page.
Don’t forget to check the roast every ten minutes.
Make sure to baste the meat again while it’s cooking.
She had nearly all the reminders memorized. There were pages upon pages of dogeared recipes that were her favorites as a kid- including the roast she was making that night.
The timer went off again. Cora checked her watch, Hannah should be home in a few minutes.
“Oh no.” Cora whispered. She pulled out the roast, which was blacked at the top. With a sigh, Cora set the burned roast on the counter to cool and made her way to the back door.
“Daisy,” she cooed to the old basset hound flopping around in the grass, chasing after lizards. It was nearly as hot outside as it was inside. Daisy trotted into the house and shook the dirt off her back, spraying dirt across Cora’s clean floor and her pants. Cora sighed and leaned down to pet her dog. Daisy smelled like fresh dirt and pollen. She rubbed Daisy’s drooping ears and Daisy laid her head on Cora’s hand, pulled back her lips, and smiled up at her.
A few minutes later, Cora ran into her next problem. Cora paced her room, trying to decide whether she should wear the frilly dress her mother gave her for Easter mass or the nice blouse Hannah loved. Cora chewed her lip and weighed the pros and cons. Finally, she grabbed the frilly purple dress and pulled it on. Cora ran a brush through her short hair and ran her gelled fingers through it. Perfect.
“Cora, I’m home.” Hannah yelled out from the doorway. “You look nice,” Hannah said. Cora thanked her and greeted her with a peck on the lips and a long hug. Hannah was still dressed up in her pantsuit from work. “I got creamed spinach for your uncle Al and apple cider for Jeremy,” she said as she held up a canvas grocery bag. Hannah stepped away and scrunched up her nose. “What’s burning?”
Cora covered her face with her hands, “I burnt the roast.” She said sheepishly. Hannah shook her head and chuckled. “I messed up dinner,” Cora said pitifully. Hannah rubbed her hand across Cora’s arm.
“I’m sure it’s fine.” Hannah smiled. After a moment, Hannah seemed to realize the significance of the roast and her demeanor changed. She rang her hands and swallowed like there was something stuck in her throat, “so… what time is your family coming over?”
“Twenty minutes.” Cora said. Hannah nodded.
“Do… do you think they’ll like me?” Hannah asked. Cora paused and rubbed her nose.
“I’m sure they’ll love you.” Cora said with a smile.
“Okay,” Hannah seemed relieved.
The two stood in comfortable silence with each of their fingers curled warmly around the other’s. When Hannah started to yawn, Cora laughed and led Hannah to their room so she could lie down for a few minutes before Cora’s family arrived.
After the dirt from Daisy was cleaned up, the table was set, and the burnt bit of the roast was cut off, Cora’s grandmother arrived.
“Grandma Wilma! So great to see you,” Cora said with a big smile. Grandma Wilma hugged her tightly and complimented her dress before b-lining to the couch with her cane in hand. Her tiny poof of white curls seemed to bounce as she sat down. When grandma Wilma was comfortable, she politely asked, “did you hear father Paul’s sermon last Sunday? He did such a wonderful job.” Cora scratched her nose.
“Uh… yeah.” She nodded. She put a hand over her mouth. Before she could continue, someone else knocked on the door.
Uncle Al walked in, with his long beard sprawled across his chest and his fat face lit up with a red tint. His tie-dye shirt stank of weed and alcohol. “Hello hello!” He said enthusiastically. He looked a bit like Santa with his beer belly, long beard, and big, square reading glasses. If Santa was a hippie who loved protests and hot-boxing in his van. Uncle Al pulled Cora in close and told her he’d brought her a present. (Which was most certainly alcoholic.) Sure enough, he handed her a tall, thin gift bag with a cork sticking out the top.
“Thanks uncle Al.” Cora laughed. From across the room, grandma Wilma sneered at Al and pursed her lips into a tiny, deliberate frown.
“I hope you didn’t bring any of those awful drugs into Cora’s house. Especially with Jeremy coming over.” Wilma creased her brow and twisted her mouth into an ugly shape, “you know he’s a recovering alcoholic and-”
“Yes, I know he’s an alcoholic. I was at his one year clean party. Which you were not-” Uncle Al folded his hands in front of him with a flushed face. “You of all people have no room to judge.”
“Oh jeez,” Cora shook her head. She bit her lip, this night was not going as planned. From beyond the living room, she heard her bedroom door close. Cora brushed past uncle Al, who continued to talk- no, bite- grandma Wilma’s head off, and went to find Hannah. Hannah stood in the hallway, balanced against the door frame, with her hair in a mess and a sleepy look on her face.
Hannah rubbed her eyes, “what’s going on?” Cora gently led Hannah into their bedroom and sat down on the bed.
“Al and grandma Wilma are at it again.” Cora looked over at Hannah, her long brown hair falling in bunches over her shoulders, tangled into knots, with two sleepy blue eyes staring back at her. Cora took her hands. “You’re tired, you can stay in here, we can do this another day.” Cora told her. Hannah shook her head.
“No, no, no,” Hannah brushed Cora’s bangs out of her face and smiled at her, “I really want to meet them.” Hannah squeezed her hand. Hannah brushed her hair, straightened her blouse, and went out with Cora.
Cora led Hannah out of her room, her hand on the small of Hannah’s back, as she led them into a minefield.
Jeremy and Cora’s mother stood huddled by the door, her mom’s face as blank as her brother’s. Cora’s dad sat in the recliner, gazing up at Cora and Hannah with a knowing look in his eye.
Jeremy was in need of a haircut. Cora stared at the bits of blonde hair falling into her brother’s eyes instead of the purple elephant taking up the majority of the room.
“So… this is your roommate?” Grandma Wilma asked. Cora stood tall and tried to force a smile.
“No. This,” Cora gestured to Hannah, “is my fiance.” Hannah looked at her with smiling eyes. They both hated confrontation, but now that they were engaged, they had to tell Cora’s family about them. (Hannah’s family- largely liberals known for attending many rallies and pride parades- handled the news well. Cora’s family on the other hand…)
“Oh.” Wilma’s face paled. “You…?” Her question didn’t leave her throat. Her hands were curled tightly across her stomach. “You…”
“She’s a lesbian!” Uncle Al shouted. “Oh thank god! I was worried you were broken.” Uncle Al threw his head up and let out a loud laugh. From across the room, Jeremy had a small smile on his face. In Cora’s opinion, he looked almost proud.
“I’d like to make a toast-” Jeremy raised his glass of apple cider, “to my little sister.” He smiled proudly at Cora and clinked his glass against Uncle Al’s cup of coffee.
”I’m so glad you’ve found someone,“ her dad said with a smile. He stood up from his chair and tightly hugged Hannah, telling her, ”it’s so wonderful to meet you.“ Her dad took Cora’s hand told them, ”I’m so glad my daughter is happy.“
“I’m happy for you.” Cora’s mother echoed. She seemed stiff and a bit wide-eyed, but she still hugged Cora tightly. “What about that boy from your school? I thought you liked him. You went over to his house nearly every day after school.”
She asked. Cora smiled sadly and chuckled, “he had a very pretty sister.” Her mom’s mouth formed an ‘O’ shape and she nodded. The room got quiet as everyone digested the news.
“You know you’re going to hell, right?” Grandma Wilma said sternly. Cora furrowed her face as tears pricked her eyes. Her voice wouldn’t come out. Why did she need to ruin this moment? Cora wondered. Hannah, who hadn’t said more than two words since Cora’s family arrived, put a hand on her arm.
“Well, hell always needs some more angels.” Hannah said. She turned back to Cora with a victorious grin, “I love you.” She told her.
“I love you too.” Cora said.