Pretending Ch. 08
(C) 2009 All rights reserved
Emily proved prophetic. Despite Simon's grandiose claims, John had wiped out both him and Edward in a few short hands. He was more than happy to see Emily and Connie return. Lydia came in a few moments later, and headed into the kitchen to make coffee and tea to go with their pumpkin pie. Overstuffed from dinner, there had been unanimous agreement to save the pie until it could be properly enjoyed.
John pulled Emily to the sofa and refused to let her go, so Connie went to help her mother.
"Things going well between you and Simon?" asked Lydia.
Connie nodded, her guard up. She wasn't sure how to handle these questions, so she needed to answer carefully. "Yes. It's been very nice." That much was true.
"It seemed rather sudden." Lydia's voice was light as she switched on the coffee maker. "I mean, you've shared the apartment for so long but nothing's happened before." She stopped and looked at her daughter. "Has it?"
"What?" Connie was startled. "No, nothing before. We were just . . . I don't know. Just talking one night and we decided to take a chance on it." Okay, that's a half-truth, Connie comforted herself. We were talking. And I will take a chance on something.
"Ben's nice, don't you think?" Her mother changed the subject abruptly. "He's handled his injury so well."
"He seemed in good spirits about it." Connie was wary. Where was this going?
"I always thought you and Ben would make a good couple. Especially now."
"Why now?" She and Ben hadn't been close, but they'd been friends. She'd never had any interest in dating him, nor he her, as far as she knew.
"Well, you know." Lydia reached for a tray. "His injury, your injury. You both must know what it's like to go through something difficult like that. That's not an experience everyone shares."
"Um, yeah." Connie had an ugly suspicion where the conversation was heading, and hoped she was wrong.
"Simon is very handsome."
What is it with the non sequiturs? Connie wondered in frustration.
Out loud she said, "Yes, he is. I've always thought so."
"Do you think you'll have some pie?" her mom asked. "I mean, you must be watching your weight more than ever now."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Simon, of course." Her mother laid dessert plates on the tray. "You want to look your best for him, don't you?"
"He likes me the way I am," Connie managed to sputter out.
"Of course, he does, dear," said Lydia. "But it never hurts to be in shape. Women do a lot to keep men happy, you know. I go to the gym every day to keep fit for your father. Clothes, too. We should go shopping while you're here." She poured cream from a carton into a pitcher and set it on the tray.
"Right." The implications made Connie feel ill. You're not pretty enough for Simon, her mother was saying. Better dress the part if you don't want to lose him.
"I think long dresses are back in style," Lydia went on. "And I've seen some lovely slacks and outfits in the stores. I know you don't go in for short styles, and I understand."
Connie, near tears, said nothing. She doesn't know, Connie thought. She doesn't know how hurtful this sounds. It's twisted, but she's just saying these things because she thinks they'll help me. She clung to those thoughts while getting out dessert forks for the pie.
"Ben doesn't strike me as the type who cares about those things," Lydia went on. "He seems very laid-back, very accepting of things. Of course, I'm sure being in a war zone gives you a perspective on things that the average person doesn't get."
"Knock it off, Mom, for God's sake!" Emily's voice startled both of them and they spun around.
"Emily!" Connie heard the sharp edge in her mother's voice, as much from surprise as hurt.
"Can't you see how much you're hurting Connie's feelings?" Emily demanded, walking into the kitchen. "What is it with you, Mom? Simon cares about her, and she cares about him. There's no need for Connie to change or hide anything about herself."
"Emily." Lydia was calmer now. "I've been around longer. You two always saw through rose-colored glasses. I've seen how things work. People with figures like Connie--and me--have a harder time than more slender people. People with visible disfigurements also have difficulties, let's not pretend they don't."
"Connie has a scar on her leg from an accident, Mom." Emily's eyes, green like Connie's but lighter, sparked in anger. "She's hardly the elephant man. And while she may not be a size two, she's very pretty and Simon loves her for it. It's also insulting to Ben," Emily continued. "He may have lost an arm but he's got no less right to happiness than anyone else. Whether they have scars or not."
"I never said otherwise," Lydia pointed out, her voice level but heated. Her eyes were narrowed, and it was obvious she and her older daughter were ready to keep going at it.
"Just let it go, Em," Connie spoke up. "It's all right. Let's just go eat. Please, the guys are waiting."
The other two women stared at each other for a moment longer, then nodded wordlessly. Emily went to round up the men, and Connie and her mother arranged the food and dishes on trays to carry in.
"Connie," said Lydia, "you know--"
"Don't, Mom." Connie sighed and turned to look at her mother. "I know you probably don't realize it, Mom, but when you say things like that, it really hurts me."
"I'm only--" Lydia began, but Connie shook her head.
"I know," said Connie. "You're only trying to help. You're only saying these things because you care. I understand. The problem is, they don't help, and I don't know if you understand.
"How do you think I felt," Connie asked, "knowing that you were trying to get Ben and me together, when Simon was sitting right there?" Her temper was rising but she held it in check. Angry words wouldn't help anything. "Knowing that you think I'm not good enough for Simon? That he'll drop me for a prettier girl?" Connie shook her head. "How do you think it feels, Mom, to know that you think I'm just not good enough?"
"That's not what I think, sweetie," Lydia said quietly. "I'm just trying to protect you. Simon is a wonderful man, we've always liked him. But sometimes, things just don't work out."
Connie sighed again. This was useless. She loved her mother, but this was the last time she would have this discussion. "Please, I don't want to talk about it any more," she said.
Simon could tell something was up. He heard some raised voices in the kitchen after Emily had gone in but couldn't make out words.
Emily came out to announce dessert, and although she was friendly enough about it, she seemed disturbed by something. Connie and Lydia brought out the pie, coffee, tea and plates and laid them on the table. Neither said anything. There was a definite undercurrent of tension as everyone sat around the table.
Connie sipped at her tea and picked at her piece of pie. She loved pumpkin pie, but the conversation with her mother had killed her appetite. It seemed like every insecurity she ever had, and some she didn't know of, were eating her alive. Funny, she thought, how we grow up, but in some ways, we're still the little kid looking for approval.
She looked over at Simon, who gave her a smile and squeezed her hand. The little gesture made her feel better. She was torn between believing Emily and believing her mother. She wanted to believe her sister. Out of habit, it seemed she was falling for what her mother said. Not fair, she thought. Not fair at all.
She forced herself out of her thoughts. It was a holiday, she was with family for the first time in a while, and Simon was there. Even if it was just pretending, it was good to be with him.
Edward made a remark about babies, and the talk turned to baby names, room colors and baby necessities. The tension seemed to dissipate a bit, if not entirely, and soon they were all yawning.
"Well, this baby is wearing me out already," said Emily. "I'm going to bed." She stood and John rose to join her. They said their good nights and went upstairs.
Connie saw that her parents looked beat. Her mom had been cooking a lot of the day, and her father had been running errands. "Why don't you two go up?" Connie said. "I'll take care of these dishes. I'm not quite tired yet."
Simon raised an eyebrow at that, but said nothing.
"Are you sure, hon?" asked her mother. "You could leave them until the morning. They aren't going anywhere, after all." Connie recognized the peace offering.
"No, it's okay, Mom," she said. "It'll be nicer for you to wake up to a clean kitchen. Besides, you did all the cooking. I can at least clean up."
"Well, thanks, sweetie," said Lydia. "I won't look a gift horse in the mouth." She came over and hugged her daughter. "I love you, Connie. I'm so glad you came home."
"Me, too," Connie said. Her dad kissed her on the cheek and they went to their room.
"So, looks like it's just you and me," Simon said.
"Great," said Connie, "you can help with the dishes." She smiled and started piling plates on the trays. Simon helped and they took them into the kitchen. Connie loaded what she could into the dishwasher, but washed the china plates by hand.
"You know, we need to talk." Simon caught her hand in his when they were finished. "I've been wanting to talk all day, but we've been busy."
"I know," said Connie. "I've wanted to talk to you, too. Let's go upstairs, okay? I want a quick shower first."
"Okay," said Simon. He stared at her for a moment, and Connie was sure he would kiss her. Instead, he stepped back and said, "Go on, I'll come up when you're done."
Connie nodded, then started up the steps. She put her fingers over her mouth, imagining the kiss she hadn't received.
To be continued...