“Nice to meet you, Mike,” Tristan replied.
“What happened to Richard?” I whispered toward Mama.
“It didn’t work out,” she replied.
“So, Mike and I were hoping we could stay the night here. I mean, we could get a hotel room but…I thought it would be nice for us all to have a dinner together and hang out.”
“Mama, tonight is my birthday party. Emma is going over to Kathy and Lincoln’s place for the night.” I frowned. “You should’ve called.”
“You wouldn’t answer.” Her cheeks blushed over, and she fiddled with her fingers, almost as if she was embarrassed. “You wouldn’t answer, Liz.”
And just like that, I felt like the crappiest daughter ever. “We can still do dinner, though…I can cook your favorite meal if you want. And you can watch Emma. I can call and cancel the plans with Kathy.”
Her cheeks rose, and her smile stretched. “That would be wonderful! Tick—er—Tristan, you should join us for dinner.” Her eyes rolled over his body once with a look of disappointment. “Though maybe you should shower first.”
“You still make the best chicken parmesan I’d ever had, Liz,” Mama complimented me as we sat around the dining room table.
“She’s not lying, this is amazing,” Mike agreed. I gave him a tight smile and thanked them both. Mike seemed nice, which was a big improvement from the last creep I’d seen Mama with. Every now and then he would reach across the table and hold Mama’s hand, which actually made me feel bad for the guy. He looked at her with such lovey-dovey eyes; I was sure it was only a matter of time before she hurt him.
“So, Mike, what do you do?” Tristan asked.
“Oh, I’m a dentist. I’m in the process of taking over the family business because my dad is retiring in a year.”
That makes sense. Mama had a way of choosing men who had bigger wallets than most.
“Very cool,” Tristan replied. Everyone kept chatting, but I stopped listening; my eyes were glued to Mike massaging Mama’s hand. How did she never feel guilty about using men the way she did? How did it never get to her?
“So how did you two meet?” I blurted out, making everyone’s stare turn to me. My chest felt tight, and my mind felt tired from seeing Mama using yet another man. “Sorry, just curious. Because last I heard Mama was seeing a man named Roger.”
“Richard,” Mama corrected me. “His name was Richard. And frankly I don’t like the tone in your voice, Liz.” Her face was turning red, either from embarrassment or from anger, and I knew she would scold me in private soon enough.
Mike squeezed Mama’s hand. “It’s okay, Hannah.” Mama took a deep breath, as if his words were all she needed to hear to calm her down. Her shoulders relaxed, and the redness on her cheeks began to fade. “Your mother and I actually met at my office. Richard was one of my patients, and she came with him while he was getting a root canal.”
“Figures,” I muttered. She’d already been scoping around for another man while still with one.
“It’s not what you think.” Mike smiled.
“Trust me, Mike. I know my mother; it is what I think.”
Mama’s eyes watered over, and Mike kept squeezing her hand. He looked at her, and it was almost as if they had a complete conversation without any words needed. She shook her head once, and Mike looked my way. “Anyway, that doesn’t matter. What matters is right now, we are happy. Right now things are good.”
“In fact, things are so good in that…we’re getting married,” Mama said.
“What?” I hollered, all color draining from my face.
“No, I heard you the first time.” I turned to Emma and smiled brightly. “Baby, you want to go pick out some pajamas for tonight?” She complained for a while before hopping out of her seat and heading to her bedroom. “What do you mean you’re getting married?” I said to the apparently engaged couple, completely flabbergasted.
There were two things Mama never did:
1. Fell in love.
2. Talked about marriage.
“We’re in love, Liz,” Mama said.
“It’s kind of why we came down here,” Mike explained. “We wanted to tell you face to face.” He laughed, nervously. “And now it’s awkward.”
“I think the word of the day is awkward.” Tristan nodded.
I twisted toward Mama and whispered, “How much debt are you in?”
“Elizabeth!” she hissed. “Stop it.”
“Are you losing the house? If you needed money you could’ve asked me.” My throat tightened and I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sick, Mama? Is there something wrong?”
“Lizzie,” Tristan said, reaching out to touch my hand, but I snatched it away.
“I’m just saying,”—I chuckled, running my hands through my hair—“I just can’t think of any reason why you would rush into something like this if you weren’t in debt or dying.”
“Maybe because I’m in love!” she cried, her voice shaky. She pushed herself up from the table. “And maybe, just maybe, I wanted my daughter to be happy for me, but that seems to be too much to ask for. Don’t worry, go to your party tonight and when morning comes I will be out of your hair forever!”
She stormed off to the guest room and slammed the door behind her. Mike gave me a tight smile before excusing himself to go check on her.