A HARD CALL TO MAKE
by Kristine Sarasin
Before she got to the restaurant Shyanne had thought that a pair of dark wash jeans, tiny black heels, and a white crop top was a perfectly fine outfit for going out to dinner. They were normal fucking clothes. Nothing outstanding about them. At least, that’s what she had assumed after hurriedly getting dressed after her 8-hour shift at the deli and the quickest shower of her life.
Her hair was hanging limply around her face. She’d been forced to choose between hair and makeup since she’d already been running late. So, she’d chosen the most makeup she could apply in five minutes. That ended up just being foundation and mascara, but she felt like it was better than nothing. She didn’t want Emily’s parents to see the massive dark circles under her eyes. Plus, this way the two pimples by her nose weren’t visible. Despite her shower she wasn’t entirely sure she was able to escape the smell of the deli. She’d scrubbed at her skin and had quickly shampooed her hair, but the deli just clung to her. She kept catching whiffs of pastrami on her drive to the restaurant.
Maybe she would have had time to do both if she hadn’t wasted so much time checking her phone and deleting voicemails. She wanted to put her phone on airplane mode, but she couldn’t take the chance of missing a call from Emily. The consequence of that was that she suffered through a bombardment of incoming texts and phone calls as she got ready for dinner. Her mother and sister hadn’t stopped calling her the past couple of days. She’d gone home to visit them last week and had found herself ambushed. They really needed to drop the topic as her mind was made up. And they certainly needed to stop leaving her voicemails on the subject. She didn’t know how she could make it any clearer to them. She didn’t want to tell them to go fuck themselves, that seemed overly rude, but she felt like it was nearing that point. She didn’t want to see the miserable bastard. They should be able to respect that. She wasn’t trying to keep them from him, so why did they think it was okay to try and force her to see him?
The ride to the restaurant was miserable. It took her a few tries to get the aux cord in the exact right position. The cord was clearly reaching the end of its life and the wires were exposed, but she continued to fiddle with it. When she finally got the cord to work, she eagerly pulled up her Spotify Weekly playlist. She wanted to have new music blasting so loudly she could forget about the mess that she was trying to avoid. But the frayed aux cord wasn’t working well and the songs weren’t playing clearly. It also didn’t help that every other song was being interrupted by incoming phone calls.
Her hands tightened around the steering wheel when her sister called for the third time. This was completely inappropriate. And when she finally had the energy for it, she was going to put a stop to this. She was going to let her sister and mother know just how absolutely not okay this all was. The phone was ringing again with one of the default tones that she’d never brought herself to change, and she nearly hung up on it without even looking at who was calling. She tried to focus her gaze on the road ahead of her.
She couldn’t help but glance down at the screen as she went to send the call to voicemail. It was then she realized it was Emily calling. Fuck. It wasn’t exactly like she could ignore this one. With a sigh, she hit the accept button.
“Hey. Look, I’m not trying to rush you or anything baby, but we’re at the restaurant already.” Emily’s voice was warm as always, but there were obvious threads of irritation.
Shyanne considered slamming on the horn in frustration. It wouldn’t be fair to the cars in front of her. But it was tempting nonetheless. It wasn’t like she could start screaming while she was on the phone with her girlfriend. “I’m really sorry. Work got out late. And I couldn’t show up without showering first.”
“It’s fine. I just kind of need to know where you are? I’ll need to meet you when you get here. It’s a maze in there, you’d never find our table.”
“Um. Well, I’m passing into like… the rich area of town now.” She cringed at how the words tumbled out. Did she sound like a hick? She didn’t want to. But also, how else could she describe where she was? She had just passed into the richer part of town. The buildings were less run down, in fact most of the buildings were really nice, the roads were paved better, and the cars passing her were nicer, and newer, than the cars she’d seen just 15 minutes back.
“What?” Emily genuinely sounded confused. It would be cute if it didn’t make Shyanne feel so embarrassed. Of course, Emily didn’t realize where she was.
She tried again. “I just passed that jewelry store. You know, the one you got me that bracelet at?”
Two months ago, Shyanne had absentmindedly commented on a silver bracelet with a tree of life charm on it, and Emily had bought it with seemingly no thought whatsoever. She’d said it was an early four-month anniversary gift. The bracelet had been lovely but the price tag made Shyanne’s skin crawl. She could only stare at Emily in a dazed confusion as she purchased it.
“Ohhh. Yeah, okay. Okay. So you’re only a few minutes away. Wait, you’re not holding the phone, are you? We have hands-free driving laws. Please don’t get pulled over.” A moment passed and Emily laughed. “Or you know, die? I want you to finally meet my parents. Can’t do that if you’re dead.” She sounded amused, but also like she was craving a cigarette. She’d spent the whole day with her parents and Shyanne was sure that Emily didn’t have either the time or space to smoke. It was her little, and perhaps only, secret from them.
“Don’t worry. My hands are very much free. You’re on speaker. And um, they could always come to the funeral?” She wasn’t looking forward to meeting them and there was no way to get around that. She was sure that she’d do something wrong at dinner. They’d probably find her “quaint” or some other condescending thing that rich people always seemed to think about regular people. The idea of them attending her funeral was actually preferable to having to sit down with them.
“Shyanne. Seriously though. It’s been six months and you still haven’t met them. Please get here soon, okay? I just… I’m really excited about this. They’re going to love you.”
Shyanne found herself wishing that her girlfriend wasn’t quite so earnest sometimes. It made letting her down so much worse. It also made saying no feel like the worst thing in the world. Besides, Shyanne reminded herself, it was just meeting Emily’s parents. Even if her parents were rich. It was still a normal dating thing. Totally normal. Just wasn’t something she’d done before. Well, not since high school, and she didn’t really count the few guys that she had dated her junior and senior year. It wasn’t exactly meeting someone’s parents when you’d gone to the same school as their son since preschool and they were already familiar with you from plays and recitals.
She thought about closing her eyes and swerving off the road when her phone started vibrating aggressively with another incoming call. She declined the call, exhaled deeply, and brought her attention back to Emily. “I’ll be there soon. I promise. It will be great.” She sounded chipper and enthusiastic. She almost believed herself and she had no doubts that Emily would too. They exchanged a quick goodbye before Emily hung up. Shyanne found herself heaving out a sigh of relief. She really didn’t want to disappoint anyone. But everyone seemed to want just a little too much from her.
She cautiously pulled into a parking lot near the restaurant, and backed into the first spot she saw. She took another deep breath and closed her eyes in the silence of the parked car. This night would be fine. She was just overthinking things. Emily was perfectly nice, and her parents probably were too. Everything Emily said about them seemed to point to that. They donated a lot, they were involved in their community, and they voted democrat every election.
Shyanne looked at the cars surrounding her and let out a harsh laugh. The cars were nice, to say the least. She doubted anyone in the lot had ever taken a car mudding before. Mudding was one of the few things that she found herself missing about her father. She’d spent the first ten springs of her life going mudding with her dad as often as possible. Occasionally in high school she had gone with friends, but it was never quite the same. In this parking lot filled with Mercedes’ and Lexus’ it felt like mudding was offensive to even think about.
Her pre-owned Saturn stood out in stark contrast to all the other cars. She had no doubt that it was oldest car in the lot. It was certainly the least sleek and the least stylish thing compared to the others. She was alone, but she still felt her cheeks redden. She loved her clunky, occasionally unreliable wagon. She really did. It was the first big thing that she had ever saved up for and gotten for herself. But here it just felt embarrassing. She wondered if that’s what Emily thought every time she got into the car.
Her phone rang again. She sighed before picking the phone up, only to hesitate when she saw that it was her grandmother. Something might be seriously wrong, she might’ve slipped in the shower or tripped over something in the living room. Or maybe she was just pushing an agenda too. But if something was wrong and she just ignored the call…. well, how was she supposed to forgive herself?
“Hi, Nana. Is everything okay?” She kept her tone as neutral as possible. The time on her phone glared back at her. God, she was so late. She was already making an awful impression on Emily’s parents.
“Hi dear. No need to panic, I’m okay, I promise. I just wanted to talk to you about your father.” Her grandmother’s voice always reminded her of fur. It was rich and soft. But right now, she really did not have the time or patience for this.
“I’m late to something really important, so I need to go.”
“You’ll regret it if you don’t see him.” Her grandmother’s voice was stern. There was no room for argument. Except for the glaring fact that she was wrong.
“I don’t think-”
“No one is denying his problems. But my son doesn’t deserve to die without getting to say goodbye to his family.” Shyanne didn’t appreciate the sharpness of her grandmother’s tone. Or the implication that she needed to do something for the man who had constantly let her family down and hurt her time and time again. She wasn’t willing to have this conversation with yet another person.
“I have to go. Love you.” She hung up. A second later she realized that she’d hung up on her grandmother and she felt like an absolute monster. It wasn’t like she had time to call back and apologize. And in her defense, she really didn’t want to talk about her father anymore with anyone. As far as she was concerned, he was already dead. She had wanted to talk to Emily about everything going on, but she was terrified that she would just agree with everyone else and try to convince Shyanne to forgive him. She couldn’t take that chance.
As she shoved her phone into her pants pocket and walked towards the restaurant, she saw Emily waiting at the door for her. She pasted a smile onto her face, waved, and tried to push down her rising anxiety. As she got closer, she paused when she saw how Emily was dressed. Her long, black hair was straightened and her bangs were pinned back. She was wearing a black cardigan over a dark green dress that went past her knees and nude heels that had to have been at least four inches. Typically, she preferred jeans, tank tops, and combat boots. In that same moment she saw Emily’s smile falter as her gaze landed on Shyanne. They stood awkwardly in front of each other for a moment, Emily looking like she was trying to think of something to say, and Shyanne ready to slam her head against a wall.
“I’m glad you were able to find it.” Emily’s smile was back in place but there was a strain in it that was obvious. She shifted uncomfortably on her feet. “Look, baby, I promise that I’m not trying to be an asshole, but do you maybe want my sweater?”
Shyanne nodded. “I’m sorry. I thought… I mean I didn’t think…” She trailed off, unsure of what exactly to say.
It was now obvious that a crop top had been an inappropriate choice. She should have known better. All Emily had said about tonight was: “We’re getting dinner with my parents Friday night. My favorite restaurant actually. I can’t wait for you to meet them.”
But Shyanne had been an absolute moron and hadn’t used any semblance of her critical thinking skills. Of course, Emily’s favorite restaurant was going to be an incredibly nice one. Why wouldn’t it be? It was what she’d grown up with. And of course, she wouldn’t think to mention anything about how to dress. It was just so obvious to Emily.
Shyanne’s favorite restaurant was an Irish Pub that her father used to take her to for special occasions. Before he cheated on her mother. Before he drunkenly slapped Shyanne once, and then a lot more than once. Before he cried on the kitchen floor, begging for her to forgive him. Before he left them two years ago for some woman he probably met at a bar in a blackout. Before he only got in contact with them again because he was sick and sorry. Her outfit was perfectly suited for that Irish Pub. Not so much this.
Emily promised Shyanne that it was okay and lead her to their seats after Shyanne put the cardigan on, but she still felt shame coiled at the bottom of her stomach. Shyanne couldn’t believe how beautiful the Italian restaurant was. She thought it might be the most beautiful restaurant she’d ever been to. Not that she’d exactly been to many nice restaurants like this. Rack upon rack of imported wines lined the back walls and a beautiful stone wall was to her left. Emily had been right about the place being maze-like, but somehow that only added to the appeal.
Emily’s parents, Brett and Charlotte, both offered her wide smiles and shook her hand. Nothing was said about how she was dressed, but she saw the look of disdain that crossed Charlotte’s face.
“It’s so nice to finally meet you. We’ve been looking forward to this.” Brett had a voice that didn’t suit him. It was rich and deep, and didn’t look it should come from a balding 5’9 man.
“Oh, thank you. It’s really uh great getting to meet you guys too. I’m so sorry about being late.” Shyanne internally kicked herself for how intensely awkward she sounded. Emily pulled out Shyanne’s chair for her which Shyanne thought was equal parts sweet and silly. Either way, she sat down eagerly.
“Emily told us that you got out of work late. Please don’t apologize for it. These things happen.” Shyanne was surprised by how genuine Emily’s mother sounded.
Shyanne smiled weakly at her. Emily’s parents began talking to Emily about her internship at the Connecticut Museum of Natural History and Shyanne found herself tuning out. She tugged down her shirt repeatedly, but anytime she shifted in her seat whatsoever it began to move up her body again. Her stomach was exposed and there was no way to get around that. Shyanne stared at the napkin in her lap. She wasn’t sure what was whiter, the crisply folded cloth or her stomach in these early days of spring.
“So, Shyanne, what do you do? Emily’s mentioned that you’re an English major.” Charlotte sipped at her glass of water.
“I work at the campus library and at a supermarket.” She tried to sound confident.
“It pays the bills. They both have their perks.” She tried to smile again. Her face hurt from all of the smiling at this point. Her fingers tapped against her right leg with no sense of rhythm. She looked down at her nails and tried not to frown. Her nails were gnawed at and stubby looking. The ring she wore on her left index finger looked tarnished. Her grandmother had given it to her for her 16th birthday; it was a slim rose gold band with three tiny diamonds. It had been such a special gift. She still wasn’t sure how Nana had afforded it. She knew that this had been much more than Nana should have gotten her from the moment she saw it. One of the diamonds was missing now. Shyanne was saving up to replace it but doubted it would be anytime soon. She knew she could ask Emily for help, but that just felt wrong. The ring she wore on her right pointer finger looked cheap. The silver hadn’t shined for years and she was suddenly embarrassed by the turquoise in the middle of it. Her nails were nothing like the finely manicured nails of every other woman in the restaurant. It looked as though every single woman had just gone and gotten their nails done. They were all perfectly filled in and had the sheen of fresh shellac. She doubted that their nails were ever bare or chewed upon.
Emily glanced over at her before squeezing her hand under the table. Emily looked completely unbothered by the conversation, company, or restaurant. In fact, she looked like she belonged here. In the soft lighting of the restaurant she looked elegant and stunning.
“Yeah, Shyanne works incredibly hard. That supermarket would fall apart without her.” Emily spoke with pride, even though Shyanne didn’t think she did anything particularly impressive.
Shyanne wanted so badly to check her phone. Refraining from doing so was almost physically painful. She rested her hand on the front pocket of her jeans. She could feel the shape of her phone. It was calling out to her. She could technically check it under the napkin. But that would be incredibly rude and she was better than that, or so she hoped. She just wanted to know if Nana had called back. Guilt was gnawing at her over that. Perhaps it wasn’t her finest moment.
Emily had ordered a Manhattan and sipped at it absentmindedly before ordering an appetizer. This was a common practice for her and Shyanne knew that, yet it still took her off guard every single time. It occasionally would happen when Shyanne was the one paying for a date night and it always managed to fill her with a wild sense of panic. She saw where she’d picked up the habit, though, as her parents did the same thing; they each ordered both a drink and an appetizer. They didn’t seem to think anything of it.
In fact, it seemed like no one in this restaurant was thinking anything of it. She saw people talking and laughing with relaxed postures as tray after tray of food was brought to them. She didn’t see anyone looking at the check and then a flash of panic crossing their face. She didn’t see anyone taking out their phone to transfer the precious last dollars from savings into checkings. She didn’t see any parents whispering to each other and already regretting their decision to treat themselves.
Shyanne crossed her legs and uncrossed them nervously. She was pretty sure she was the only person wearing jeans in this entire place. Her face felt warm. She wished it was time to leave already. Charlotte kept looking at her from the corner of her eye. A gleam of curiosity and judgment flickered behind the rims of her sleek, navy blue designer glasses. Shyanne pretended not to notice.
Finally, she blurted out: “I need to go to the bathroom, I’ll be right back.”
“Do you want me to go with you? The bathroom is kinda hard to find.” Emily popped an olive from her antipasto salad into her mouth.
“Oh, I got it. But thank you.” She squeezed Emily’s shoulder as she slipped behind her chair.
It turned out that she was wrong about being able to find the bathroom on her own. She looped around the restaurant twice without finding any trace of a bathroom, and she couldn’t bring herself to ask any of the waiters. It was bad enough that she looked so out of place. She didn’t want to sound dumb on top of that. She gave up on the bathroom and instead slipped outside.
The nighttime air was cool and she shivered without her coat. She touched her front pocket again and paused. She pulled out her phone and looked at it with a frown. Nana had tried calling back twice, her mother had left another voicemail and she had 3 texts from her sister. She rolled her shoulders backward and the loud cracking that accompanied it was almost comforting.
She looked at the phone for a long moment. She needed to go back inside soon. It was rude to be late and then missing for so long.
With a deep breath that was meant to calm her, but only made her feel nearly dizzy, she called her mother back. The phone only rang once before it was picked up. It seemed like her mother had been waiting for this call for days.
“Thank you for calling back.”
“Mom. I love you.”
“But what you’re asking of me isn’t fair.” She tried to leave no room for argument in her tone.
Her mother sighed deeply. Her irritation with Shyanne was obvious. “I’m asking you to do this for yourself, Shyanne.”
Shyanne snorted. When her mother didn’t say anything more, she spoke: “I don’t want to though.”
“I know. But you’ll regret it if you don’t.” That was her “mother knows best” tone. Shyanne fucking hated that voice.
Shyanne felt her temper flare. She didn’t want to be full named. She wanted her feelings to be fucking respected. “I’m serious. What role has he played in my life? He’s just a drunk that freeloaded off of you for years. And you know, liked to hit me when he got too drunk. Does no one else remember that? Is it just me?” Her voice wavered with anger.
Her mother didn’t respond for a moment. “He’s dying. No one is saying that he was the father of the year. But he is dying Shyanne.”
“So?” She could feel herself getting more agitated. She paced in front of the doors and ran a hand through her hair. She felt tempted to rip a clump of it out.
“So, you should see him. Before he passes.”
There was a firmness in her mother’s words that only further angered Shyanne. “You should be relieved he’s dying.”
“Don’t talk that way. That’s a disgusting thing to say.” A flicker of irritation was more than obvious now.
“What? Am I wrong?”
“I’m not asking you to do this for him. Or for me. I’m asking you to do it for yourself.” It sounded like she believed the words she was saying.
“No. You’re really not. I have made it more than clear that I don’t want to say goodbye. He’s not in my life and I like it that way.” She wished she had a cigarette. Or an entire bottle of wine. Either would do.
“I hope your children are more forgiving than you are.” The words stung.
Her nose flared. She shook her head in frustration. “I won’t give them so many things to forgive me for.”
“You’re better than this.”
“I. Don’t. Want. To. See. Him.” She kept her words measured and attempted to keep her volume low. She wanted to scream. She wanted to cry. She wanted someone to be on her side about this.
“He’s been asking about you.” She said it softly. Shyanne couldn’t believe that her mother had been visiting him. There was no reason for her to, except the fact that no matter what, she still loved him. It disgusted Shyanne.
“Cool. My therapist asks me a lot about him. So, I guess it evens out.”
“Why are you being so damn difficult.”
“Because you won’t listen to me.”
“Call me tomorrow, okay? We can talk about it more then.”
“There’s nothing more to talk-” She blinked and looked down at her phone. Her mother had hung up on her. She shook her head again and shoved her phone into her back pocket. She stared at the ground for a moment, not entirely sure of what had just happened.
“This doesn’t look like the bathroom.”
Shyanne whirled around, feeling panic spread throughout her body. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it after a second. She didn’t know where to begin. She shrugged and asked, “Why are you out here?”
Emily leisurely crossed over to where Shyanne was standing. “I really fucking need a cigarette. I think I might be a little addicted.” She let the words linger, smiling over at Shyanne who rolled her eyes. “I told my parents I was going to check on you though, so I guess I didn’t end up lying to them like I thought I did.”
Shyanne let out a huff of laughter at that.
“You gonna tell me why you’re out here? Because I saw you hang up the phone.” Emily took out a pack of Marlboro Reds from her clutch and lit one up. She took a deep inhale, her eyes closing in pleasure.
“Family stuff. That’s all.” Shyanne hoped that would be enough.
“Your dad?” Emily glanced over at Shyanne before turning her head away to blow out smoke.
Shyanne froze. It took her a minute to think straight again. “What makes you ask that?”
“You were talking about him the other night. When we went out with Kara.” Emily offered Shyanne a cigarette.
Shyanne snatched it away before Emily could change her mind. She fumbled with the lighter for the moment, unsure of what to say. She usually avoided alcohol, the daughter of an alcoholic knew better than to play that game. But the other night they’d all gone out and Shyanne had a few too many shots. She didn’t remember most of the night, but she’d been under the impression that nothing wild had happened.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you?” Emily’s voice dripped with concern as she turned to look at Shyanne.
“No, no, it isn’t that. I just didn’t know I told you about all that stuff.”
Emily snorted in response.
“Not like in a bad way.” She took a long drag and avoided Emily’s gaze.
“I mean, you only told me because you were drunk.”
“I don’t want to see him, Em.” She hated how small her voice sounded.
Shyanne looked over to Emily. There was no judgement in her voice, or any sort of disappointment. “Like at all. Even though he’s sick.”
“Yeah, I know, baby.” Emily switched her cigarette to her other hand. “It’s okay.”
“What?” Shyanne cocked her head to the side.
“It’s okay that you don’t want to see him. No one should be trying to bully you into it.”
Shyanne stared at Emily. She could barely process the words.
“You really think that?” Her heart was racing and she wasn’t really sure why.
“Of course. It’s a decision you need to make for yourself. And it’s really okay if you don’t want to see someone who hurt you that much.”
Shyanne reached out to grab Emily’s hand. Her throat felt tight and even if she wanted to say something, she didn’t know what she could possibly say. Instead, she squeezed Emily’s hand tightly. Emily squeezed it back before putting out her cigarette. Shyanne shook her head before taking a final drag of her cigarette. She let it drop to the ground and squashed her heel over it. The red sparks faded away. She glanced over at Emily, self-conscious again, it wasn’t exactly classy to use her one good pair of heels to put out a cigarette. Emily didn’t appear phased in the slightest.
“Ready to go back in? It’s okay if not.”
“I think I’m ready. But dear god, I hope your parents don’t ask about my family.” Shyanne smiled, though she was serious.
Emily laughed and held open the door of the restaurant. Shyanne stepped inside only after putting her phone on airplane mode.
About the Author:
Kristen Sarasin was born and raised in New Hampshire. She is currently a student at the University of Maine at Farmington. Her work has previously appeared in Ripple, and her work was produced in the 2019 Newburyport Firehouse Center’s Festival of New Works.