"Start slow and taper off."
I knew from the moment I woke up and smelled pancakes that my dad had told my mom he was getting married. I sighed, took my time getting dressed, then headed downstairs to face whatever emotional hellscape was waiting for me.
“Good morning, Hana,” my mom said, a forced casualness to her words. “I made pancakes.”
“I see that,” I said, more observational than harsh. “Any particular reason?” I ventured.
Kim shrugged. “Just thought I’d do something nice for you. We never spend time together anymore.” I took a plate of pancakes and feared for what she was going to say next. “I took the day off and thought maybe we could do something.”
“Uh,” I replied. There was a look in her eyes that kept me from making up any wild excuses. Despite the little smile which looked unnatural on her usually serious face, there was a glint of moisture in her eyes. I was afraid that if I said no, she would start crying. If there was one thing I hated more than awkward bonding time with my mom, it was tears. “Sure.”
She smiled with relief and slid me a cup of coffee. “Great,” Kim said. “I was thinking maybe we could go to the mall, then to lunch. Or watch a movie. Whatever you want.”
“You pick,” I said, cutting into my pancakes and slathering them with syrup. I resigned myself to the torture of treading lightly around the subject of my father and yet dying to bring it up and get it out in the open.
We both lasted until lunchtime. As we sat in the little Chinese restaurant, my mom’s smile started to falter, and I could see the flickers of emotion behind her eyes. Usually so well hidden, this emotion was what threw me the most. I couldn’t take the denial any longer.
“He told you, didn’t he,” I asked quietly after we had finished our meal.
“Who told me what?” Kim replied, still trying to feign ignorance.
I knew her game. “Dad. He told you.”
My mom’s smile slipped from her face as she dumped a fifth pack of sugar into her little tea cup. Her motions were stiff and automatic like a robot whose only purpose was to make that drink so sweet it hurt. “Yes, he called last night.”
“And?” I prompted.
I tried to be patient. “And how are you doing?”
She tried valiantly to smile again, but it didn’t quite make it to more than a watery grimace. “I’m fine.” Kim reached out and patted my hand where it lay on the table. It was so out of character for her that I almost flinched. “I’ve got you.”
This time, it was I who had to force a smile. “Yeah,” I said, trying to sound reassuring. “How about we go home and watch a movie?”
“Great idea,” Kim said, pulling out her card to pay the check. Neither of us mentioned that it was only so she wouldn’t break into tears in a public place, even if we both knew it. Hiding her emotions was a full time job for my mother, and every now and then it would just become too much. I had only seen her cry maybe twice in my lifetime, but there was no doubt she was heading for a third that day.
Physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, we headed home and put on one of the Lifetime movies my mother liked to watch - probably one of the ones that turned me off movies altogether. As many Lifetime movies went, the husband in this film was the bad guy. It seemed to make my mom feel a little better until the very end when the protagonist ended up with her handsome savior and they rode off into the metaphorical sunset.
That was when the tears started.
I passed my mom a box of tissues, but made no other move to comfort her because I was awkward and hugs and physical contact weren’t something we did. Uncomfortable, I asked, “Uh, are you okay?”
“Yes,” she sniffed, though I didn’t believe her. I would have bet money that even she didn’t believe herself. “I just thought that… I always thought I’d move on before he did. That I’d find someone new and successful and… and he would be where I am.” Kim sniffed and dabbed at her eyes, tucking a stray bit of hair behind her ear. “I’m almost fifty, Hana. And you’re going to move out soon, and I’m going to be left here alone.” She burst into a fresh round of tears, and I let her cry. There was nothing I could say.
Eventually, she seemed to cry herself out, and fell asleep against the arm of the couch. I covered her with a blanket, dropped Romeo to curl up in the crook of her legs, then headed to my room. It was almost evening at this point, but I was too restless to do anything productive. I pulled out my phone and texted Sebastian.
Hana Lau-Shaw 7:43 PM: Please tell me you’re not busy tonight
Sebastian Reynolds 7:46 PM: Hana Lau-Shaw texting first? Do I believe my eyes?
Hana Lau-Shaw 7:47 PM: Be quiet, it’s been a long day
Hana Lau-Shaw 7:47 PM: You free tonight? I need to get out of my house
Sebastian Reynolds 7:48 PM: I will be in an hourish. What are you thinking?
Hana Lau-Shaw 7:48 PM: you pick
Sebastian Reynolds 7:49 PM: :)
I didn’t care where we went. I just didn’t want to be alone. Around nine, I headed outside and laid down on the warm cement of my driveway. The stars were few and far between; perhaps it was the moon or the light pollution from the street lamps, but I could only make out a few dozen. Maybe that was okay.
After a little while, Sebastian’s face came into my vision, leaning over me. I hadn’t heard him approach. “Hey,” he said. “Trying to blend into the concrete?”
I looked down at my gray tank top and white shorts. “I guess,” I replied. He offered his hand, and I took it, pulling myself up.
“So, how are you?” Sebastian was looking at me like I had his undivided attention, but I didn’t have anything to say.
“I’ve been better. Let’s go somewhere.”
Sebastian’s lips split into a grin. “There’s that adventuring spirit I like to see. Come on, I know a place.”