Nothing in the bread bowl had seemed appetizing, but that didn’t stop Carol from chewing through three Pumpernickel rolls before her parents showed up. Mr. and Mrs. Corwin, or “Stuart and Bonnie” as they preferred to be called, arrived at 8:02 pm in outfits that could only be described as intimidating.
Stuart wore a double-breasted suit, jet black and tailored, with a shirt the color of bleached bone and a burgundy tie in a Windsor knot; Bonnie wore an emerald-colored off-the-shoulder dress, and a string of pearls around her neck that could choke a hippo. Carol had chosen her best work outfit: a light grey pencil skirt, a pumpkin-colored blouse and a blazer she’d picked up at Marshall’s for $25.
“Hi Mom, Hi Dad” said Carol, rising from her seat and kissing both of her parents on the cheek.
“Hello Caroline,” said Stuart, pulling out Bonnie’s chair and then his own. “Lovely to see you again.”
“Will you look at that shirt, Stuart? Our daughter is positively glowing” said Bonnie, her white teeth flashing.
“Thanks Mom” said Carol, reaching for the bread bowl again before stopping herself. “You look great, as usual.”
“Oh this old thing? Just something your father picked up for me, I said it was too much but you know him. Always the gentleman.”
A waiter came by with the menus. Stuart ordered the duck confit with garlic potatoes for himself, and the herb-encrusted chicken for Bonnie. Carol asked for the lamb, and a glass of Cabernet. When the waiter left, Stuart adjusted his knife and fork so they sat perfectly parallel to the plate. “So, Caroline, how is Brian?”
Carol hesitated for a moment before saying, “He’s great. Fine, really.” The blue in her father’s eyes glittered like sapphires in the light of the candle on the table. “How have you two been?”
Before Stuart could respond, Bonnie jumped in. “Oh, you know how it is. One month we’re at home, the next month we’re on vacation in Bali; I’m sure Brian keeps you busy like that too.”
Carol stared down at her plate and said nothing. As if in response, the waiter came back with her wine, a long-stemmed piece of crystal filled nearly to the brim with inky crimson. Carol took a deep gulp and set the glass back down beside her plate.
“Actually, Brian’s the reason I asked you guys to have dinner with me tonight.” Carol took a long breath before saying the words she’d rehearsed in the mirror before leaving her apartment. “We’re getting a divorce.”
Bonnie’s face froze in a silent shriek. Stuart’s upper lip quivered for a microsecond, but remained firm. What felt like hours of silence passed, before Stuart broke it. “What did you do?”
Carol spun her eyes up to meet her father’s, stared at him with the sapphires he’d given her. “I didn’t do anything, we just… we can’t be together anymore.”
Her mother’s death mask softened, and she actually let herself laugh. “Oh honey, you’ve only been married a month! You’re still getting used to each other’s little quirks, it’s completely natural; your father and I hated each other for the first two months after our honeymoon. You need to give it time.”
Carol’s eyes began to water. “Brian doesn’t have any little quirks. It’s not about the honeymoon and it’s not about me, we just can’t be together anymore okay?”
Stuart stared at his daughter, before repeating himself. “Caroline, what did you do?”
She began to sob. “I didn’t… it’s not like that, dad!”
Bonnie had a brainstorm. “I think I know what this is. Carol, honey, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world if Brian cheated on you. It’s always hard when a good man cheats, but you can recover from this. Believe it or not, your father and I went through the same thing.” She entwined her fingers with Stuart’s, and said “If anything, it made our marriage stronger.”
Carol’s tears stopped, and her face “Brian didn’t cheat on me, mom; he beat me.”
Now it was Stuart’s turn to be shocked. He sat in silence, staring at the bombshell his daughter had just laid out before them. “He beat you?”
Just then, the food arrived. The waiter mixed up everyone’s order, giving Stuart’s duck to Carol, Bonnie’s chicken to Stuart and Carol’s lamb to her mother. Nobody corrected him, or even seemed to notice. “Bon appetit,” said the waiter.
“Yes dad, he beat me… with his fist. And before you ask, no, I don’t know what I did to deserve it.”
Bonnie was horrified, but this time Stuart cut her off. “How can you think I’d ask something like that? Is that what you think of me?”
“Really, dad? You can’t figure out why I’d think that’d be your next move? Maybe because it’s all been my fault, every bad thing that’s ever happened in my life. Isn’t that what you’ve always told me?”
Stuart’s upper lip trembled. “But not this… never this…”
“Oh, what-ever. Don’t break character now, it doesn’t suit you.” Carol looked down at the duck on the plate before her, sizzling sweetly in its own juices. It made her want to throw up. “I can’t do any more of this,” she said, getting up to leave.
“Don’t go honey, please” squeaked Bonnie, reaching for her daughter’s hand. Tears slipped from behind her eyes, loosening the mascara on her lashes. “We love you.”
Carol reached for her purse and stopped. “I know you do, mom. I came here to tell you guys, and I told you. I just can’t be around another screwed-up couple right now.” She turned to her father, whose penetrating blue gaze was nowhere to be seen. “Good job cheating on mom, by the way. I hope she fucks a cabana boy on your next trip to Bali.”