Unexpected tears tickled the backs of my eyes, and I blinked a few times to keep from choking up in the middle of the mall. The last thing I needed to do was cry again. My hormones were so unpredictable, I’d actually cried while picking out a new lip balm at the pharmacy the other day.
“Aw, Ma. Thanks.” I mumbled, my throat tight.
She looped her arm through mine. “You know that’s all I’ve ever wanted for you, Lexie. A good job, a cute family, a lovely home.” She paused for a beat. Then added, “A nice man to take care of you.”
We passed a store whose window filled with lingerie in sizes I’d long since outgrown. “I don’t need a man to take care of me.”
She patted my hand. “Every woman wants a man to take care of her, sweetie.”
“Well, sure,” I agreed reluctantly. “Single, straight women do usually want a man to love them and care about them. But most smart women don’t necessarily sit around praying for Prince Charming to show up and pay the bills. I’ve got a good job. My own business. I don’t need a sugar daddy.”
She stared at me through her thick pink-tinted glasses. “But you want someone to love you. And love the baby, right?”
I hesitated, and we passed through a gaggle of giggling teenage girls gathered around a cell phone. As soon as they were out of earshot, I replied, “Yes. Of course I do, but—”
“And the baby’s father is out of the picture completely?” she pressed.
The ever-present nausea in my stomach quickly dissipated into irritation. I was so sick of this question. Really and truly. I’d only told one person who the father was, and that was the father himself, and it hadn’t ended well at all. “Yes. I’ve told you that. He’s gone. Over. The end. Not in my life whatsoever.”
She paused right outside a shoe store. “Oh good Lord in heaven, you didn’t use a sperm donor and a turkey baster, did you?”
“Ma!” I looked around to make sure nobody heard her. “Geez. No. What if I had?”
She pressed a hand to her ample bosom, and breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, I don’t know. Let’s just deal with the issue at hand, shall we?”
“What issue?” I stumbled behind her as she started walking again. “There’s no issue.”
“Well, honey, of course there’s an issue.” The needlepoint bunny rabbits along the bottom hem of the shirt danced atop her round bottom as she guided me towards a custom knife store. “You’re pregnant and unmarried. I mean, I know, I know. You’ve got your little catering thing going on, and you’ve got the whole, you know, girl power thing happening. But you admitted it yourself. You want a man in your life.”
I rubbed my eyes. I was suddenly tired. “Mom—”
“That’s why I brought you here!” She gestured to a store where the door was decorated with faux grey blocks and silver suits of armor. The ornate black lettering above the door read Round Table Cutlery, and the clerks inside were dressed in Renaissance garb. It was the type of store I never would have gone into on my own.
Come to think of it, it wasn’t exactly my mother’s type of store, either.
“You brought me to a knife store?” I said flatly. “Why are you shopping for knives? And what does that have to do with me?”
Mom bounced in place. “Norman goes to church with me, which you’d know if you ever came to services anymore.”
My blood chilled. “Mom, you didn’t.”
“Shush,” she scolded. “He’s a wonderful man. He owns his own business. He’s forty three, never been married, and absolutely loves kids.”
“No, Ma. No. I’m not doing this.” I tried to take a step backwards, but her grip was strong. We shuffled through the doorway, where a stout man in a court jester costume was rocking back and forth on his heels with an excited grin.
My mom’s voice dropped to an unnecessarily loud whisper. “Listen to me, Lexie. This is your chance. Norman is a good man. He’s agreed to take you out, and he doesn’t even care that you’re…” Her eyes flicked down to my stomach. “You know. Pregnant with another man’s baby.”
If the court jester, and all of his employees, couldn’t hear what she was saying, they were deaf as doorknobs. I noticed large pit marks stained the shiny fabric underneath Norman’s arms.
“He agreed to take me out?”
The moment I spoke, my mother’s smile dropped. Norman’s face turned red, and his eyes darted to the floor. Great. Now I’d upset the guy wearing a three-pointed satin hat with bells.
“What the hell are you thinking?” I hissed at my mother, squirming out of her grip.
“I’m just trying to help.” She laughed nervously, and glanced at Norman. “She’s hormonal. What are you gonna do?”
Thrusting the bags into her hands, I backed away. “This is humiliating.”
“Lexie, dear, I didn’t mean—”