Craving Vera(5)

By: Nicole Jacquelyn

“You know your grandmother doesn’t like us to be late,” he chastised as he gestured for me to walk ahead of him. “I don’t know why you insist on procrastinating until the last minute.”

“It’s summer,” I said over my shoulder, keeping my tone light. I never knew which way my dad would take a joke, he could laugh it off or lose his mind. “It should be against the law to wake up before noon.”

“What should be against the law is the way teenagers sleep the day away,” he replied as we walked downstairs.

“Ready to go?” my mom asked. She was already standing by the front door, her purse hanging over one arm. “You know she doesn’t like us to be late.”

“All set, Joan,” my dad said, shooing us outside.

The drive to my grandma’s house for lunch took less than five minutes. She only lived a couple blocks over and it was considered walking distance when I went to help her with the yard or spend the night during the summer and no one would give me a ride. My parents would never walk, though, especially on Saturdays when we were expected to dress for lunch.

When I was little, we’d gone to Grandma’s after church for our weekly family dinner, but a lot had changed since then. When my father had gone from being the youth pastor to the head pastor of our church, his responsibility to the parishioners became more important than our mandatory family dinners and we’d switched days. It made it impossible for me to do anything on the weekends, and sleepovers with my friends were never allowed, not when I had responsibilities on both Saturday and Sunday. It was no wonder I’d rebelled, I thought bitterly, I never got to do anything. Of course rebelling had gotten me into the situation I was in and I was the only one to blame for that.

“Remember not to mention the mission trip,” my mom reminded me as we climbed out of the car in my grandma’s driveway. “Let your father steer the conversation in that direction.”

“I know, mom,” I replied.

“What was that?” Dad snapped, his eyes meeting mine over the hood of the car.

“Yes, ma’am,” I corrected myself, balling my hands into fists at my sides.

“It’s alright, Harry,” my mom said quietly, her hand meeting mine where his eyes couldn’t see and gently loosening my fingers.

“I’ll say when it’s alright,” my dad shot back.

I swallowed hard as he stared at us. He wouldn’t do anything, not here where anyone could see. But if the situation wasn’t settled before we walked inside, I knew that it would fester until we got home that afternoon.

“Sorry,” I murmured.

Dad nodded and headed toward the front door. With a small squeeze, Mom let go of my hand and followed him up the steps. I took my time walking inside while sneakily glancing at the neighbor’s house. It looked like no one was home, but I knew from experience that didn’t mean anything.

“Vera,” Dad called, holding open the door for me. “Stop dragging your feet.”

* * *

I pushed the mashed potatoes around on my plate and told myself over and over again that I didn’t feel nauseous, hoping that if I repeated it enough it would make it true. I knew that the nausea had more to do with nerves than morning sickness, I hadn’t even realized anything was wrong until a couple hours before, but I was terrified that at any moment my grandma or dad were going to look over and realize exactly why I hadn’t wolfed down my favorite food. Oh, God, did I look pregnant? I glanced down at my lap making sure that my stomach was still as flat as ever.

“That’s the stupidest damn thing I’ve ever heard,” my grandma snapped, jerking my attention from my lap. “You want your daughter to get killed or God knows what else?”

“The trip is all planned out,” my dad replied. Not for the first time, I wondered if my grandma noticed the thread of anger hidden just below the surface of his even tone. I’d never known my grandpa since he’d died before I was born, but I often wondered if he’d spoken calmly the way my father did, never showing his true feelings until you least expected it. Is that where my father had learned to hide his true nature? He sure as heck hadn’t learned it from my grandma who said whatever she wanted whenever she wanted.

“Not content to spread the word of God in America,” my grandma muttered, scoffing. “Oh, no, not my son. He’s gotta drag his family into the middle of nowhere to get raped and murdered in order to show his faithfulness.”

My heart thumped hard as I glanced at my dad under my lashes. He respected grandma, probably more than he respected anyone else, but there was still a limit to his patience.