This story is by Jewel Eliese and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s supposed to be my favorite, this meal. The creamy sauce lays over noodles that were delicately made by professional hands. It’s technically perfect but, honestly, I think dad made it better. Either way, I simply can’t take one more bite, even in my current condition. Expectation is a heavy burden.
“You okay, Elle?” JP asks. I rub my growing belly and debate lying but I have enough fibs to tell this evening, lies that need to work.
“Fine, just can’t really eat. Guess our little prince isn’t hungry yet,” I say. JP lays his fork down but holds onto the silver knife, slowly twisting it on the mahogany table.
“Are your things packed?” he asks.
My heart stops, the baby inside kicks as if to revive it. How does he know?
“Your bag for the hospital stay, is it finished? I know it’s early, but it’s best to be prepared.” Relief fills me so I try one more noodle. He grins and though I’m over 20 weeks pregnant, I still want him. Lustful, mom would say. That smile, those eyes, sweet and dark as chocolate and hair that tends to fall into a curl above his eyebrow makes my center ache. My fiancé. My handsome prince; I wonder when he will kill me?
“Did you get the rest of your work done?” he asks. Work, ha. If doing my hair and nails daily to perfection could be counted as paid work, I would be as wealthy as him.
“Let’s see.” He stands and walks toward me dragging the knife across the table, the wood groaning like a lover with each new scratch, then leaves it by my still-full bowl.
I hold out my hands; they only shake a little as he raises them to his face, perfectly eye-level.
“Good, good.” He mumbles, checking my cuticles and nail beds from every angle. Then he stops. His chestnut eyes dim and he swipes away hair from his sight. Disappointment.
“What have I told you? You have to clean deeper into the nail.” My heart beats faster.
“I’m sorry! I thought I did.” He picks up the knife.
“You know, I don’t ask much of you,” he says, holding the silver blade by my face, “You don’t have to work, you get to live in this house where everything is taken care of for you. All I ask, dammit, is that you keep yourself clean, Elle.”
He presses the edge of the blade into the offending nail, the tip reaching far until the piece of dirt is gone. I know better than to cry out and quietly say, “Thank you. I’m so sorry I missed it.” My fingertips go numb from fear.
“You have to set the example for our son. He will not have the same poor habits as you, Elle. He’ll be perfect.”
“He will,” I say and look down at the floor. I realize my mistake too late.
“Don’t you roll your eyes at me.” He whispers in my ear and I gasp as the metal touches the skin on my arm. It’s cold like the goo the nurse used on my belly to see our son. I look directly into his eyes, my knees wobbling out of fear instead of wanting, and don’t move.
“You know you’re the light of my world,” he says and pushes the blade into the skin on my arm. I cry out and the baby jumps in objection. It’s shallow but the wound bleeds. He drew blood.
“Hurts?” he asks. “You know what hurts? When the person you love lies and wants to abandon you.” I try to speak but he shushes me, knife still in hand.
“How could you do that to me? You think I didn’t know about the extra things you packed? After everything I’ve done for you, how could you take our baby? This is not how my princess, my Cinderella, behaves.”
“Please, I’m so sorry,” I say through tears.
“Where were you even going to go? To your parents? You’re dead to them, remember? You’re their little slut now.”
“I don’t know.” I sob, still holding my swollen womb as he drags me to our bedroom upstairs. My stomach clenches. Probably a Braxton Hicks contraction but it scares me, especially this early. He’s stressing the baby.
Tears now drip down his perfect face, the remorse seeming so real that guilt settles in my heart. But I can’t be with him anymore.
I don’t say anything, grab the packed hospital bag, and walk out the bedroom door still wearing my green dinner gown. Deep breaths, in and out — much like those I learned for labor. The hair on my neck stands straight as I know JP is following me through each room and down the stairs, watching. Waiting.
Shoes. I just need to grab some shoes then I’m free to get a hotel and finally sleep like a beauty. I open the closet, ignoring him behind me and then stop breathing. It’s empty. Not one shoe, his or mine, is left. Not a sneaker, sexy heel or glass slipper remains. I check the bag and the key to the Lexus and money’s gone too. I growl and scream.
“You’re free to go, Elle. Go on Cinderella, run back home without a glass slipper to save you.” He says this with a knowing smirk and leaves me alone in the grand hall. So confident. He’s sure I won’t leave, or at least that I’ll come back. No car, no money, and no way my parents would take me home again. Staying would be so easy, so comfortable.
I turn around to find and make up with him, probably in bed like always but a drop of blood, as red as Snow White’s lips, falls to the floor. It was just a deep scratch on my arm this time, but what about the next? Would my little prince survive? The baby kicks again as if making my choice for me, kicking me into action. If he can fight to live before he’s taken his first breath, then so can I.
Without knowing where I’m going, I walk out the door in the heat of the July night, barefoot.
I should have known my naked toes would lead me here. I stare at the plain door as I wait, feet bloody and pounding along with the beat of my heart. This ‘princess’ feels like soot.
Footsteps, light and delicate. I smell her oak scent mixed with a hint of minty toothpaste before I see her stern face. Mom. She stops moving when she sees me, still as the wood she carves each day.
“Jess?” she says with a frown, voice low. My real name. Simple. Common.
This is it, she’ll tell me to leave now just like I always knew she would. And why shouldn’t she after how I treated them? I want to apologize for everything: for not trusting her or taking their advice, for abandoning them, and for the little prince now dancing inside me, my sin on display. But before I can start, she calls for dad.
“Honey, she’s back. She finally came back.” She sobs and attacks me with an overdue hug. A pan crashes on the linoleum and then another embrace is added. It’s not a horse riding off in the sunset moment or a kiss during fireworks ending, but I couldn’t ask for more. Well, except maybe for something to eat.
At last, the smell of pasta and cream sauce fills my senses once more as dad places my favorite meal on the chipped table. I take a bite.
I was right, dad does make it better.