By Hannah Newman

Jasper did not know how to love his mother. He had been living with her for all twenty-five years of his life and each day seemed to be more unbearable than the last. His brother, Shelby, quickly moved out at the age of twenty-one and has since been living with his girlfriend, Bianca (without their mother’s knowledge), and also working a very reasonable job in downtown Nashville as a hotel manager. Jasper didn’t have any of this. Once Shelby moved out, their mother suggested that the three of them should meet for dinner once a month, to catch up on things. Jasper was hesitant, of course, since he already lived with her. There was enough to catch up on as it is, but he agreed, knowing it would make her happy to see her little Shelby, who had not made much time for her since he moved out.

On the way to their first dinner, Jasper received a call from Shelby saying he wouldn’t be able to make it to Longhorn’s and that he was sorry. Work had to keep him. Shelby said he felt bad that the night couldn’t work out for the three of them, but that he was sure they could find out when to meet next. Jasper told his brother good luck and that he understood, but did not mention how not sorry Shelby sounded. That wasn’t necessary at the moment.

Now Jasper was left sitting in his busted Civic, contemplating whether he should just leave the Longhorn’s parking lot already. His mother was seventeen minutes late. When it turned to twenty minutes, he turned his engine on and was ready to reverse when he heard a car honking wildly behind him. Jasper looked out his window to see his mother peel into the empty parking spot next to his car, Civic to Civic, blasting Pat Benatar, and waving her entire arm at Jasper. She looked crazy.
His mother, Molly, left the car on as she dug through her purse and fished out her wild berry lipstick. Jasper honked his horn when she was done applying it and signaled with his hand for her to roll down her window. The music blasted out of her car, startling a family leaving the restaurant before she could turn it down.

“Shelby can’t make it. Something with work,” Jasper said out his window. He watched his mother’s face fall.
“But we’ve been planning this for weeks!” she said. “He couldn’t just say it was an emergency?” That’s not really how life works, Jasper thought.
“He did sound pretty busy,” Jasper said. His mother’s body began to hunch behind the steering wheel. “Should we just reschedule?”
“What? No! We’re not gonna let that ruin our supper.” Jasper watched in despair as she turned off her car and wrangled her purse. She stepped out of her Civic and pointed, purse in hand, at the Chili’s next door. “We haven’t been to Chili’s in awhile. Little bit cheaper than here,” she said. “Plus, I think they have one dollar margaritas or something. It’ll be fun.” He noticed how she tried to cover up her hurt with excitement.
“Shouldn’t we move our cars or something?” Jasper called out to her but she just waved her hand in her careless way.
Molly led them through the entrance and went straight up to the hostess, a teenage girl who clearly did not want to be working.
“Just two,” Molly said. The hostess slid two menus from her podium. She guided them through a sea of couples, past a few families and their pink-faced kids, and then seated them at a booth close to a window.
“I don’t mean to bother you, but could you clean this up for us a bit? The table looks sticky.” He watched his mother as she sat down and put her purse in her lap. Jasper looked up at the hostess to signal with his eyes that he had nothing to do with this, but she was already headed to the kitchen to grab a rag, her feet clopping like a horse.
“She doesn’t seem that happy,” his mother said. Jasper looked at her over his menu as she flipped through the desert section. “If you’re gonna work in customer service, you have to be welcoming. You just have to.”

The hostess came back and quickly wiped the table with a dirty rag. It was disgusting, but Jasper wasn’t bothered at all by it. He watched with a full heart as his mother’s mouth turned into a scowl. She watched the girl’s every move and sighed to see if that would do anything.

“Your waiter will be with you shortly,” the hostess said as she flung crumbs from her rag onto the floor and walked away. The table somehow looked worse than before–almost greasier. Jasper’s mother rolled her eyes.
“Honestly.” Jasper thought to remind his mom that they were eating at a fucking Chili’s but then decided against it as the waiter walked up to their table.
“Hi, welcome. My name’s Toby, I’ll be your waiter for the night. Can I get you guys started off with something to drink? An appetizer maybe?” Toby had a smile that looked too goofy for Jasper. He was large in height and weight but had slender arms. It made him look unnatural.
“Toby, what’s your favorite app on the menu?” Jasper’s mother asked this question to every waiter anywhere they went to eat. He believed she only did this to infuriate him.
“Why don’t you just get what you want, Mom?”
“I just want to know what Toby likes! He seems like a nice man,” she said. “Toby, do you prefer the chips and salsa or the fried pickles?”
“Well, ma’am, I’d say the chips and salsa.” He gave his smile.
“Yes, they are good, but the chips were kinda cold the last time I was here,” she said looking up at him, almost expecting an excuse. This seemed to catch him off guard.
“Oh. Well, I’m sorry about that. I’ll make sure they’re hot for you guys this time.” She sucked her teeth and waited an uncomfortable minute before giving her answer.
“We’ll take the fried pickles,” his mother finally said. Jasper wanted to kick her leg under the table.
“Great!” Toby said. “What would you guys like to drink?” He looked at Jasper.
“I’ll have a Stella, please.”
“Are you sure?” his mother asked, leaning forward. Jasper blinked.
“What do you mean are you sure?” he asked in disbelief. “I want a Stella.”
“I know that, but aren’t you going straight to work after this?” Toby shifted in his spot, growing more uncomfortable by the minute.
“Yes. I am,” Jasper said through gritted teeth. “One beer won’t hurt me.”
His mother looked up at Toby and gave a false smile.
“Give him a water, too,” she whispered. Jasper almost laughed at how ridiculous she was being. Toby waited on the mother as she looked at the drink menu, scanning her eyes over the margaritas before looking confused.
“What is it now?” Jasper asked.
“I thought you guys had one dollar margaritas?” she asked Toby. He looked at her and hesitated before saying,
“Uh, I think that was a promotion at Applebee’s, ma’am.”
“So, you guys aren’t doing that here?” she asked innocently. Jasper made a noise in his throat.
“Did you not just hear what he said?” he asked his mother in disbelief. “That was a promotion at a completely different restaurant. Not here.” She cut her eyes at him and then looked back up at their waiter, who was now standing at their table for entirely too long a time.
“I’ll just have a water, for now, thanks.”
“Oh, come on. Do you think he cares?  He doesn’t care,” Jasper said, raising his voice. Toby mumbled something about getting their drinks and that he’d check on them later.
“Look what you did,” said Jasper’s mother. “You scared him.”
“That was all you, Mother,” he said. Her eyes turned to fire.
“You know I hate when you call me that,” she spat, her head rearing over the table. Her hair seemed more wild than ever.
“And you know I hate when you try to order for me,” he said. They both sat back in their seats and fumed for a minute in silence. Jasper took a second to look at his mother, dressed in a white button up with a collar that was absolutely too pronounced for her neck. Her French manicure was at the point of lifting from her cuticles entirely. She had mismatched metal bracelets on her wrist because she had said some time ago, that it added character. Jasper thought it just made her look cheap.
“What are you getting?” he muttered at his mother. She sniffled and closed her menu.
“I’m not hungry,” she said like a child.
“Oh really? You’re not hungry?” he asked. “Then why are we even here?”

Right as he asked this, Jasper noticed a man who looked very similar to Shelby walked into the restaurant. He squinted and realized that it was indeed his younger brother. Shelby must have gotten out of work somehow to join them here and seen their cars in the parking lot over. Jasper was elated. As he was about to stand up to wave his brother over, he noticed Bianca clung to Shelby’s arm. Jasper was confused.

“What’s wrong? What are you looking at?” his mother asked. Jasper watched his brother signal the hostess that their party was for two. They were led to the opposite side of the restaurant, by a similar sea of families and pink-faced kids. Jasper’s heart sunk. He and his mother sat completely undetected. Molly shifted in her seat to turn around and see what her eldest son was looking at.

“Wait! Wait! I was just looking at the TV!” He grabbed his mom’s shoulder and forced her around, looking at her wide-eyed. She was shocked.
“Jasper, what the hell?” she scanned his eyes. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he breathed. “I’m fine. I just thought I saw someone I recognized.” This was, to Jasper’s horror, the worst thing to say because Molly then turned instantly, excited to see who he could’ve been talking about. She hoped to see a familiar friend of Jasper’s, but to her dismay, she saw her youngest son smiling with his girlfriend in a booth that he didn’t belong in. She whipped her head away as if she saw something she wasn’t supposed to see—like she had been peeking and prodding as a child, as one of her own.
“Did they see me?” she asked quietly. Jasper hadn’t seen despair on his mother’s face in awhile.
“No,” he said, returning the softness of her voice. “No. They didn’t.”  He felt like a kid again, seeing her shoulders heavy, her face looking at the table but not really staring at anything. Her thoughts were elsewhere, not in this world, and he contemplated whether he should speak or not. Some part of him loved seeing her hurt, but another part, a part he hadn’t felt in a very long time, wanted to wrap his arounds around her shoulders and protect her.
“He could’ve just said he was going out with Bianca,” her voice broke. She cleared her throat. “I would’ve understood. I can understand.” He stared at her for what felt like an eternity, his eyes shifting between her face and Shelby’s just beyond her.
“You’re right, mom. He could’ve at least told you.” Molly was quiet. “Do you want to leave? We can get our food to-go.” She shook her head.
“No, no. We’d have to walk past them and that—I just don’t want to bother them.” Jasper’s mother looked up. “We should get more fried pickles. I like them here.” Her eyes were pooling with liquid.
“Let’s wait until they leave,” Jasper offered. She nodded, thankful for the suggestion. They waited two hours for Shelby and Bianca to stop having fun and leave. Toby barely checked on Jasper and his mother, only stopping by to ask if they wanted drink refills or something else to pick at other than their fried pickles. They weren’t really that hungry for something substantial anymore. At around closing time, Jasper watched Shelby and Bianca slip out of their booth and out of the restaurant. He looked over at his mom and said it was time to go, that it was time to leave. As they were walking back to their cars, his mother checked her phone and gasped.
“Jasper, you had work! You were supposed to be at the gas station an hour ago!” He placed their third fried pickle order on top of his car.
“I texted Ben and said there was an emergency. He took my shift.”

His mother’s mouth opened slightly as her arms fell to her side. She didn’t know what to do as her emotions consumed her, fearful of making a wrong or bothersome move, hoping that only her tears would do the talking. Jasper, also never good with his words, gathered his momma and hugged her small shoulders hoping that this would help in some tiny way. They didn’t speak. Somewhere up in the sky, God’s reading lamp shone brightly over them in the Longhorn’s parking lot, giving them a darkness to hide in before they both parted ways to return to their home.

About the Author:

Hannah Newman is 24-year-old student working on her BA in English at Kennesaw State University. She currently works at her university’s writing center, where she tutors students on their writing process and helps lead the creative writing club, “Write Place.” In Spring 2020, she will begin working on her masters in Professional Writing, where she will continue crafting her passion.