It took a minute, but eventually, my dad got my mom’s attention off my cleaning habits, and onto one of the few things she loved more than ridiculing me—food. And I don’t mean your regular cheeseburgers-and-fries type food, but actual cuisine; like the type you’d get at a five-star restaurant. That was her thing, and the success of her highly rated catering business proved just how good she was at it.
So when my dad suggested we go out to eat, and I recommended a restaurant with a menu even she would approve of, I figured it would change her tone, at least a little. But what I didn’t see coming was this decision, providing the perfect ammo for a new round of attacks.
I sat in the booth across from them; my phone underneath the table, scrolling through an afternoon’s worth of unread notifications. They were busy still, looking over the menu, discussing drink options and appetizers, so I used this little moment of freedom to check my texts.
There were two, delivered just a few minutes apart. The first was from Salim; a gif of a dancing panda with the words ‘good luck’ floating above its head. Aww. I love pandas. The second was from Amir; saying he has something for me. Ooh. I love surprises.
I replied to them both; a gif of two pandas hugging for Salim, and a short but sweet ‘can’t wait’ to Amir.
We placed our orders with the waiter and by the time he reached the table behind us, that attack I mentioned had already commenced.
“You eat here often, Cami?” My mom asked.
I put my phone away. “Oh… yeah.” I nodded. “They have really good seafood.”
“I’m surprised to hear that,” she replied sarcastically. “I thought for sure you were living exclusively off of chips, Hot Pockets, and grape soda.”
Orange soda. I don’t even like grape soda like that.
“Hold on, now.” My dad chimed in. “There’s nothing wrong with Hot Pockets. You know how much I love the steak and cheddar.”
Steak and cheddar’s the best.
He winked in my direction, but the small gesture meant to signify our alliance caught her attention.
She narrowed her eyes at him. The most she ever does when he dares to disagree with her.
I wish that was all I got.
“There is something wrong with it, James, when that’s all you consume.”
Her concern for my eating habits was a newer issue that started when I was in college. I was home for the holidays, and for lunch, instead of making something she would have, like some fancy French sandwich, I microwaved a pizza and grabbed a bag of chips. For dinner, I passed up honey roasted duck for chicken nuggets and fries.
As a professionally trained chef, watching her only child fill up on junk food for a week straight hurt just as bad as the hypothetical news of that same child succumbing to a life of crime. So three years later, she was still mourning the destruction of my diet—and getting on my damn nerves about it.
I was so close to telling her that too, but by the time the words transcended from my brain to my lips, I had already backed down—like I always do. “That’s not all I eat, though…” I mumbled under my breath.
My dad, who must’ve been as sick of my mom’s nit-picking as I was, changed the subject before she could contest my response. “So how’s work been?”
That question may have been for me, but his attention was focused solely on the troublemaker in the chair beside him. They faced each other, eyes locked in a staring contest so tense, even I considered ducking for cover.
With an exasperated sigh, he told her to chill and stop being so confrontational. That they were here to visit, not argue. And with a very visible frown, she told him he’s being dramatic and that she’s allowed to inquire about her daughter’s life choices—
At least… I think that’s what they would’ve said had they used actual words; but since they were sitting in silence, staring each other down, I had to rely on my imagination, which I’m pretty sure was accurate.
See, when I was little, they argued telepathically all the time—especially when I was the topic of discussion. So whenever my mom made the mistake of saying something crazy in front of my dad, he’d pull her to the side; and for the next few minutes, the only communication between them was through expressive eyebrows, animated sighs, and exaggerated faces.
By the time I was like seven, I had learned the meanings behind each expression, and was able to piece together what they were really saying without them ever actually saying it.
I guess they never outgrew it.
Add that to the list, right next to ‘trying to control my life—for one of them, anyway.
I waited a minute, hoping they would put an end to this childish feud—seeing as we were in public and the staring thing’s kinda weird—but they didn’t; so I lifted my drink and plopped it down hard on the table. The loud clanking of glass against wood, powerful enough to break their gaze and make them stare… at… me…
Maybe I should’ve left them alone.
My dad sighed. “I’m sorry, Pumpkin. What were you saying?”
He put on his best I-can’t-wait-to-hear-what-you’re-about-to-say face as he waited for my response.
“Oh…” I glanced at my mom—who couldn’t have been interested in my response. Not with the way she was facing the other tables, silent, with her arms folded across her chest, and her eyebrows all scrunched up. For her, this kind of angry silence had to mean either; she was plotting her next move, or my dad had finally gotten her to shut up for once.
My money was on the first one.
“I was just saying that…”
“What, Cami?” she snatched her head around like she had just read my thoughts. “Are you going to answer his question or not?”
Is it too early to cash out my bet?
“It’s fine,” I said, sparing any actual details, since I’m sure that would be a problem, too.
“I’m glad to hear that.” My dad smiled.
My mom, on the other hand, was not smiling because she, predictably so, was not glad to hear that.
“Since everything’s fine,” she said, her voice perfectly mimicking mine. “Does that mean you aren’t planning on getting back into graphic design? And actually putting your degree to use?”
Haven’t figured that out yet— Not because I don’t want to. It’s on my to-do list— like, right at the top. I’ve just been… busy…
“I’m… working on it.”
She gave me her famous I’m-not-buying-this-shit face. “Working on it, huh? Let me guess. You’ve been busy?”
How did she—
Our food arrived, and just in time too, because the urge to get away from this table was becoming harder to suppress—especially after that last question. I grabbed the waiter’s attention, and as a last-ditch effort to prolong the inevitable, got him talking about desserts.
He handed me a menu, and as he detailed every cheesecake topping imaginable, she sat across from me, impatiently waiting; her glare practically searing a hole into my forehead.
I raised the menu slowly, blocking her view, while I pretended to think over my options.
When I didn’t seem wowed by their endless selection of cheesecake, he moved on to the brownies, and that’s when her patience tank hit E.
With one look, she sent him scrambling away from the table—along with my paper shield—leaving me exposed.
My dad, who until this point, was lost in his own world of filet mignon, garlic mashed potatoes, and sautéed vegetables, noticed the waiter’s sudden disappearance, and tried to spark up a new conversation. My mom, though—wasn’t done with me yet.
“When’s the last time you heard from Brandon?” she asked.
Finally, an easy one.
“Before I changed my number.”
Best decision of my life.
My dad nodded, his face beaming with pride. “I’m glad to hear you’ve moved on, Pumpkin.”
But she didn’t react at all. Instead, she moved on to her follow-up question. “So since Brandon’s out the picture, does that mean you’re dating again?”
“No!” I blurted out like a fucking idiot.
This… I already knew what she was going to say, but I mean… I’m not really dating— not if you want to get technical ‘cause like… I’ve only been on one date, and that wasn’t even a date-date, so what I said technically wasn’t a lie. Not really.
“I’m not…” I said, hoping to undo the damage my hasty response had already caused.
It didn’t work.
She sighed in that way she does whenever I disappoint her. “What’s his name, Cami?”
“She said she’s not seeing anyone, Bridgette.” My dad tried to defend me, but she wasn’t trying to hear it.
“That’s what’s got you so distracted you can’t do what you came out here to do, right?” she asked. “I bet you’re not even drawing anymore, either. Are you?”
Now, she’s just jumping to conclusions because I have— I am… just… not as much as I— Whatever.
“You’re going to keep letting your life revolve around these boys, Cami, and when things don’t turn out the way you want, you’re gonna find yourself starting over—again.”
“I’m not, though…”
She unwrapped her napkin, completely ignoring my response. “You better figure your stuff out girl, ‘cause whatever you’re looking for, I guarantee you it’s not in no boy.”
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