I wrote this one for the reedsy prompt. “Write a story where a meal or dinner goes horribly wrong.” It is the story of Ellie, who is Aro/Ace and walks into the worst dinner party ever with some well intentioned but rather ignorant family members.
Ellie was running late. She had considered canceling when she realized, but knew that would raise questions that she did not want to answer. Instead she arrived home, late, and exhausted. She changed into an “appropriate” outfit and headed out the door. She cursed as she almost got her dress stuck in the door of the car. It wasn’t a new drew, but she didn’t wear this kind of thing often, and between the dress and heels she felt off balance.
She was still out of sorts when she grasped the ornate door knocker, just in time to be almost pulled over by the door swinging open.
“You are late.” Her mother accused, and then turned and walked back into the house. The sound of her heels clacking against the ceramic flooring drowned out Ellie’s attempt at an explanation.
She took a deep breath in, and then let it out. And so it begins.
When she stepped into the dining room, it went silent and everyone turned towards her. She fought the urge to flee, to wither under their stares and said simply, “Hello.” not making eye contact with anyone as she walked towards her empty chair and sat down. She spread a cloth napkin over her lap, and then looked upwards at the chandelier as if it somehow was completely entertaining.
“Oh, Elanor,” Her Aunt Greta started. “You missed introductions earlier,” Greta paused a moment there to let the ‘because you were late’ that she did not say resonate. “This is Joseph, he works with your uncle Thomas. He’s new in town, and so we invited him to join us all for dinner tonight.”
Ellie made the mistake of turning to look at Thomas. He appeared to be her age, was nice enough looking in a well tailored suit, and oh, no. She looked around at the expectant smiles and felt her heart plummet as she recognized the set up for what it was. No wonder her mother was so adamant that she must come to this month’s big family dinner.
She gave a polite hello, and then answered each of the prompting questions from her well-meaning relatives as they attempted to force the get to know you phase of the evening. She lifted the napkin ring, and turned it over and over again in her hands in an attempt to keep herself calm as the onslaught continued. Why had she come? Her mother brought out the bread as if she had actually cooked it, but Ellie’s appetite was gone the second she realized that they only wanted her here to fix her up. Fix her, really.
To coin her mother’s favorite guilt trip, she wasn’t angry, she was disappointed. Last month she had sat her mother down and explained that was okay, happy even, alone. It wasn’t the first time she had done so, but she had thought that it had sunk in this time. That they had all understood that this was who she was, and there wouldn’t be any son-in-laws, or grandbabies in her future.
There was an attractive man in his mid-thirties sitting beside her though. This told her whatever message they had taken from the conversation; it most certainly was not the right one. She starting bouncing a foot on the floor under the table as her anxiety mounted. The way everyone was looking at her, they all knew. Obviously not the truth, but whatever her mother had spun. They all knew and were trying to fix it. It would be heartwarming if it weren’t so unbelievably sad.
She picked at her food through what seemed like an endless number of courses. She couldn’t have named a single thing she ate though, it all tasted like cardboard. With each new round a food her family got a fresh wave of encouragement to “help” her with Thomas. It was humiliating.
Dessert was the breaking point. She was going to say something.
“Elanor dear, would you join me in the kitchen to help bring out the coffee?” Her mother said, like she didn’t have two people working in the kitchen who could carry it our for her. Well they couldn’t really, not without ruining the illusion that she had cooked.
Elanor froze, she knew what awaited her in the kitchen.
“Please, let me help.” Thomas volunteered. “After all, its the least I can do after you have so graciously invited me into your home.” Thomas completed with a 1000-watt smile. If she were looking for a guy, this one really did seem to be a keeper.
“Oh, no, Thomas, please you are our guest.” Her mother tried, but Thomas was relentless.
“Really, please. Elanor already worked two jobs today, it doesn’t seem fair to make her serve coffee after that.” Thomas said, and it was her mothers turn to freeze. She couldn’t ask Ellie to help her again without being rude, and at the same time the last place she wanted a guest was the kitchen.
Ellie hid a smile as Aunt Great leapt up. “I am retired, and so I have not worked at all today. I can definitely serve up some coffee.” With the family distracted by the outburst, Ellie took the opportunity to sneak a peak at Thomas.
He gave her a conspiratorial smile as he leaned over and whispered under his breath. “Me being here, complete ambush? Take a sip of water for yes.”
She reached out and picked up the crystal goblet of water, taking a long drag. Had she seen that her mother had gotten out the good crystal before she had sat down she would have realized that the woman was up to something.
Thomas let out a small huff of a laugh, as her mother and Aunt Greta returned with the coffee. Aunt Greta sat down, and her mother went back for the dessert as everyone fixed their coffee
Thomas took advantage of this to continue. “So do you want me to play along, get food poisoning, or suddenly remember that I am actually quite gay?”
Ellie who had been taking a sip of her coffee at that moment, answered the only way she could given the circumstances. She choked a little, and then spit out her coffee. Spit was an understatement, as was spray, given the range of it. Jets of coffee left her mouth, coating the table. The other cups of coffee caught in the cross-fire as the lions share of struck Aunt Greta’s lovely white suit jacket. How could so little coffee go so far?
There was half a moment of silence and then pandemonium. Aunt Greta leapt up with a screech her chair toppling over under the momentum. Her mother chose that moment to step out of the kitchen taking the chair to her midsection. The cake, and a large bowl of chocolate pudding flew from her mother’s hands in what felt like slow motion before finally crashing into the table.
The cake seemed to explode on impact, gobs of icing propelled like shrapnel into Thomas, Ellie, and her two cousins. The pudding bowl hit on an angle and went careening down the table on its side, with small bits of pudding firing off like buck shot covering Aunt Greta, her mother, and everyone on the other side of the table. Her stern Uncle Henry, the only one spared, shouted. “Why I’ve never!” and Ellie watched in horror as he brought his fist down in his customary table strike. He missed the table and hit the side of Aunt Sarah’s plate, knocking over his wine glass, leaving him drenched in a nice Pinot Noir.
Ellie cringed as her mother turned red. She started to shrink back into her seat, to brace herself against the coming blow when Thomas let out a loud laugh.
“Sorry to eat and run, but I do have to get going. You have a lovely house, and an even lovelier daughter. If I were not completely gay, I would be enamored.” He stood, and then turned frowning a little as her looked at Ellie.
“Did you drive here?” he asked suddenly.
“Uh, ya.’ She stammered.
“Perfect. Would you by chance be able to give me a lift home? Or to the nearest tube stop? Or, no, what is it you call them, subway stations? It would save me the bus.” He said with a smile.
She froze, wanting to say no, but the look in his eyes stopped her. She followed his gaze as it darted to her angry mother and back. She realized with a rush of relief that he was offering her an out.
She tried to give a confident smile. “Of course I can give you a ride. Public transportation is SO slow, it would take you half the night to go home. Its not a problem, is it mum?”
Ellie could practically hear her mother teeth grinding, ass she forced out “Of course not dear. We will talk later.” Ellie ignored the threat; she would be steering clear of her family for a while after this.
She walked out the door with Thomas. She half ran to her car down the street and when she got to it she turned, looked at Thomas, and promptly burst into laughter. Thomas joined in, and they laughed until Ellie couldn’t breathe.
Finally Thomas spoke up. “You really don’t have to give me a ride.”
“After that rescue, I owe it to you.” She replied, unlocking the car. They drove to Thomas’ apartment in near silence. It was actually on her way home, so it only took her a few minutes out of the way.
Thomas thanked her as he got out, and then stopped with a sheepish expression on his face. “I know its rude, and you don’t have to answer, but.” She interrupted him.
“Aro/Ace. Told them for the fourth time last month. They aren’t anti -…well anything. They just don’t get it.” She said resigned.
He pulled something out of his pocket. “Ah. Well, I really am gay, but I also am new to the area. So if you ever want to do something.” He handed over a business card. “My personal number and email are on that. I really did have a good time tonight. I have to admit, I was dreading it when I got the invite, and when I showed. I understand if you never want to see me again, but if you do, well. Anywho, good luck.”
She smiled at him, “Thanks, you too.” And she tucked the card away into her purse. All in all, it wasn’t the worst family dinner she had ever been to.
Take a look at the reedsy contest take a look here for more prompts. https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/. It runs weekly Friday to Friday!