I will not cry.
“You stupid, fat—”
With every word Parker says, my shoulders tighten. What did I say to start this fight? I wish I could disappear. Would he notice? Would he be glad I was gone? I know I would be. The tiny metal noose lands in my lap, still hot from his body heat.
“No one else will want you. And don’t play with your ring at dinner, London. I don’t want your parents to see the green mark.”
“Could we, maybe, get a different ring?” I say. The cheap tin flexes between my fingers as I slip it on.
“Sure, honey, if you want to pay for it.”
Parker gets out, slamming the driver’s side door and stomping, head down, to my parent’s house. On their welcome mat, he straightens his back and turns to me with an inviting smile. He lifts his hand, curling a finger to call me over.
I fumble out of my seatbelt and hurry up the walkway.
A drop of rain crashes onto my neck making me cringe and he practically crushes my hand.
“Smile, princess,” he says, pressing the bell.
Mom answers the door and nearly knocks me over when she throws her arms around me.
“London! My sweet little baby.”
With all her usual dramatic ooo-ing and ahh-ing over my outfit, she ushers us inside.
“And who is this?” She says, grinning at Parker.
Dad slinks around the corner, fists in his pockets.
Parker holds up my left hand and shows her the ring and her eyebrows arch as she looks to Dad.
“His name is Parker Everet Housner,” I say.
“You know,” Dad puts his elbow on Parker’s shoulder, “it’s a tradition in this family for me to know my daughter’s boyfriends before a ring is involved.”
“She’s had other boyfriends?” His nostrils flare.
Mom reaches for my ring and Parker immediately smothers my hand in both of his.
Dad wraps his arm around her shoulders, the two looking at me for an answer, but what can I say?
I clear my throat. “Is dinner ready?”
Nodding, Mom forces a smile and pats my cheek. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
When I try to follow her, Parker tightens his grip.
“I’m going to see if she wants help with dinner,” I say.
He seems to think for a second before looking at Dad and letting go.
I hear Dad’s low chortle and a whisper before I hear Parker yelp. My stomach flips as I remember Dad’s favorite hand buzzer. I should have warned him about that.
When I reach the kitchen, Mom is waiting for me, her foot tapping out the morse code of worry.
“When did this happen?” She says.
Picking up a mallet, she starts pounding a chicken breast. “How did you meet him?”
I grab a few carrots from the bunch in the sink and begin slicing it. “I met him at school.”
“I said how, not where, sweetheart.”
I gulp. “At my friend Hannah’s party last month.”
She hammers a bit faster, hissing through her teeth. “You’ve only known him for a few weeks?”
“He’s very smart. He’s on the dean’s list, and he’s set to work at his uncle’s corporation when he graduates next year.”
“How did Hannah meet him?”
“He’s a friend of her brother’s.
She purses her lips, taking a deep breath. “Where does he go to church?”
The knife slips in my sweating hand and I catch the tip of my middle knuckle with the blade. I stuff the bleeding finger in my mouth. “He doesn’t.”
Mom stops pounding. “What?” Her mouth hangs open.
I leave my knuckle in my mouth, sucking on it for dear life.
“Honey,” she licks her lips, “I know you’re an adult, but you still owe me the courtesy of an answer.”
Slowly, I lower my hand. “He was raised in church.”
“And now?” Her foot resumes its dots and dashes.
“He believes religion is evil.”
Her mouth twists and she turns back to the meat, placing it in a baking dish. “Jesus hated the law of religion too, it’s a yoke free of grace, but I think your man is throwing the cross out with the hypocrites.”
“It’s his choice, and that’s that.” Picking up the knife, I use it to help me scoop the carrots into the pan.
“What about your faith?” She says.
I fall into her arms before I really know what’s happening. “I’m still me.” My voice seems horse, half stuck in my throat.
She holds me tightly, her vanilla and lavender shampoo reminding me of the countless boogeymen she’d saved me from before. “Are you happy?”
I wait for a moment to answer her, scared of if I’ll speak or sob. “I want what you and Daddy have,” I say.
Kissing my cheek, she whispers in my ear, “I want that for you too, Sweetpea.”
Dinner cooks without anymore interrogation and I’m able to pull myself together.
At the table, Parker takes my hand and bows his head when Dad prays.
I smile at him in gratitude and squeeze his fingers.
“So,” Dad says, breaking the silence as we fill our plates, “how did you two meet?”
I cough, feeling my throat close. “I already told Mom,” I say.
He puts his elbows on the table and laces his fingers, resting his chin there. “Okay, so she knows. I don’t. Tell me, Parker.”
I go to speak again, but Parker reaches under the table and pinches the skin in the crook of my arm. I bite my tongue to keep from yelling.
He mimics Dad’s posture, leaning forward. “We haven’t known each other long, sir, but your daughter is unique. And when I saw her that night, I had to be with her.”
I feel sweat spring up on my back.
“Where did you meet?” Dad says.
My head begins to ache from the pounding of my heart.
“At The Lake.”
Mom frowns, and I nearly knock over my tea glass.
“There aren’t any lakes around the college,” she says.
Parker smiles, squeezing my shoulder. “It’s a bar, ma’am.”
Mom stops her glass of sparkling water halfway to her mouth.
“I’d never seen someone down so much beer in one night,” he laughs.
Dad slowly swallows a bite of chicken and Mom reaches for my hand.
I catch my reflection in a silver spoon and see my cheeks beaming red.
Lacing his fingers once more, Dad thinks. “Let me make sure I have this right, you’re marrying my little girl because she can hold her alcohol?”
“Oh, no, sir!” Parker’s lips pull back baring his teeth. “I’m marrying her for the sake of the child.”
My head begins to tingle, my heart feeling like it might explode
Parker places a hand on my belly. “Your daughter is really something else, but don’t worry, she was a good girl up until that night.”
Mom’s face whitens, Dad’s eyes brimming with tears.
It takes everything in me not to scream the truth at the top of my lungs. To say he’d raped me. But, for the sake of the life hiding under his hand, I can’t.
Thank you all so much for reading! have a question you’d like to “ask” London? Leave it in a comment below and I’ll be sure to add it to my next character interview.