Lord, please bless this food that I have prepared. Please make it delicious to those who eat it, and let it be nutritious, too. In your name I pray... Oh—Please keep me from laying unholy hands on that witch—oops, I mean... my mother-in-law. In Jesus name I pray, amen.
I tried to calm my nerves as I emptied a pot of freshly prepared mashed potatoes into a serving bowl and placed it on the dining room table, but it was to no avail. I was an emotional wreck. The Bible said to be anxious for nothing, but Sylvia Gardner was on her way to my house. How could I be calm?
Everything is going to go smoothly, Dana... Just don’t attack anyone...
“Don’t forget the big spoon, Mommy.”
“Huh?” I snapped out of my anxiety-filled thoughts long enough to acknowledge my step-son. “What’d you say, Jonathan?”
“Don’t forget the big spoon.”
I nodded and placed a kiss on his cheek before I retrieved the utensil. My sweet child had been by my side for the majority of the last nine hours, working hard to help me prepare an over-the-top meal for his grandmother. At this moment he was setting the dinner table, which I greatly appreciated. “The table looks good, honey,” I told him as I placed the spoon beside the mashed potatoes. “You’re doing a fantastic job.”
“Yeah, okay. But I’m starving up in here.”
I chuckled at the anxious seven-year-old now rubbing his stomach. He was so dramatic, looking just like his father with his light brown skin and adorable dimple on his left cheek. He’d been snacking all day. There was no way he could possibly be famished.
I helped him lay out the rest of the silverware, then straightened his clothes and sent him into the living room to watch TV until his grandmother arrived. As soon as he sat on the couch he loosened his necktie. If I hadn’t stopped him he would have kicked off his shoes, too. I knew he hated the semi-formal attire I’d dressed him in, but this dinner was important to me and I wanted him to look his best. I was about to tell him not to get his clothes wrinkled but became distracted by the sight of my husband entering the living room.
“Oh, shoot,” I sang as he crossed into the kitchen and joined me in the dining room. I nearly drooled as the tall, handsome man I was lucky enough to call my husband proudly spun around and showed off his clothes. “Looking good, Mr. Gardner.”
He placed a kiss on my forehead before fawning over the food in front of us.
“Dang, baby. Look at all of this!”
“I told you I was gonna do it big,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, but... Don’t you think this is a little much? It’s just Mama.”
I looked at the ten-pound pork roast sitting in the middle of the table and the surrounding side dishes. Mashed potatoes, spiced carrots, pan-seared asparagus, corn on the cob, peach cobbler, German chocolate cake, and lemon pound cake. There was also a tub of vanilla ice cream in the freezer. Maybe I did go a little overboard. But this meal was for his mother. I should have made a twenty-pound roast.
“I didn’t want to leave room for any complaints,” I told him.
“The only person you need to worry about impressing is me,” he claimed, and squeezed my behind as he pulled me close to him.
“Yeah, right.” I rolled my eyes and moved away, then went over the table setting again. Satisfied, I went into the kitchen and began to prepare the bread basket for the dinner rolls still baking in the oven.
“What was that?” Gavin asked from the spot I left him in.
“What was what?”
“You rolled your eyes at me.”
“Did I?” I asked, knowing fully well that I had. He knew exactly what it was about, but I wasn’t in the mood to entertain his intentional denial. We both knew his mother was an overly cynical, manipulative, envious, destructive, cold-hearted vampire behind the faux smile she laced her venomous attacks toward me with. I was just the only one truthful enough to admit it. Sylvia Gardner was the thorn in our marriage, but he refused to put her in her place the way a protective husband should have. I felt like Paul, repeatedly asking the Lord to take her away. She hadn’t learned to accept me yet, nor had she moved away or croaked over in death, so I had no choice but to put up with her for the time being. Her, and the disgusting way my husband acted like she could do no wrong. Every time I expressed to him the way she made me feel, he disregarded my complaints as simple misunderstandings and encouraged me to try harder to get along with her. But how was I supposed to get along with a woman who criticized me every chance she got and told me to my face that the only reason her son married me was because he needed an in-house caregiver for his son? Never mind the fact that Gavin and I had been together for months before he got full custody of Jonathan. Or the fact that her son actually loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. Nope. According to her, the only reason he asked for my hand in marriage was because he needed a full-time babysitter. How could that possibly be a simple misunderstanding?
I continued to prepare the bread basket and kept my mouth closed. If I verbally expressed my frustration with him over the way he continuously allowed his mother to openly berate me, things were going to get ugly. Right now I had to focus on the tasks at hand.
“Something on your mind?”
I sighed wearily. He wasn’t taking my silence as a hint that I didn’t want to talk, and I really needed him to. I wasn’t in the mood to argue. My feet hurt from standing up all day, and I was beginning to get a slight headache.
“Let’s just stay positive, okay? Your mother will be here in a few minutes.”
“I am positive. But I don’t like it when my wife rolls her eyes at me. What’s that all about?”
“You really don’t need me to tell you, do you?”
I’d been saying it for the past two and a half years. He wasn’t an ignorant person, and I didn’t appreciate him pretending to be one now. He knew what was bothering me. His mother and her fat mouth. But I suppose he wanted me to just pretend everything was fine and that I wasn’t putting on this ridiculous dinner to please him by getting back on good terms with her. She and I hadn’t seen each other in six weeks, and while I was perfectly fine with it, the silence on her end drove him crazy. Big ol’ mama’s boy. He just had to have her approval in everything, even if she treated me like a glorified girlfriend who needed to be replaced. He begged me to invite her over for dinner so we could make amends. Granted, he didn’t tell me to go over the top with what I prepared. No. The grandiosity was my idea. Since Sylvia always complained that I didn’t cook, I wanted to make a meal that would knock her socks off. Hopefully they’d end up in her mouth and shut her up for good.
“Can you get the pitcher of tea out of the fridge for me, please, and set it on the table? Thanks so much, babe.”
He did as I asked, then inquired, “Your attitude isn’t about that whole ‘in-house help’ comment Mama made, is it? I thought we’d moved on from that?”
“I’ll move on when I get an apology,” I told him. “And please don’t disregard my feelings again. I hate when you do that. I have a very valid reason for being upset.”
I prepared the butter dish and took it into the dining room, and immediately felt guilty for using the tone that I’d just taken with my husband. I shouldn’t have to apologize, though. He was wrong for letting things get to this point, and he knew it.
As I stood at the dining room table, Gavin approached and wrapped his arms around me, then kissed the side of my face.
“We’re not fighting tonight,” he whispered softly in my ear as he stood behind me. “We know what we have together, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else says. Let’s just pray for a good evening tonight. You’ve made this wonderful dinner and I want us all to enjoy it. Okay?”
I leaned against him and wished that I believed him, but my gut told me not to let my guard down. When I invited Sylvia over she put on a sweet front as if nothing had ever happened between us. From our past battles, I knew that meant she had something planned. There was always calm before her storms.
“I’ll behave if she will,” I told him.
He sighed, not happy with my response. “I thought this was supposed to be a peace offering?”
“It is,” I assured him. “But both sides have to want peace, Gavin. I can’t do this on my own.”
He knew I was telling the truth, and it saddened him. I turned around and gave him a kiss on his lips.
“What was that for?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Just wanted you to know that I still love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“I know,” I said, and kissed him again. “Your mom will be here soon and I still need to run upstairs and get dressed.”
He released me from his embrace and I hurried toward the stairs.
“If I come back down here and find any fingerprints in the frosting of my German chocolate cake, you will have problems,” I called to him over my shoulder. “Understand? And don’t try to blame it on Jonathan, either.”
Gavin was silent. I already knew that as soon as I hit our bedroom floor he was going to sneak a sample.
“Just don’t make it obvious,” I compromised. Halfway up the stairs I remembered the dinner rolls were still in the oven. “Shoot!” I fussed, and scurried back to the kitchen.
“What are you doing?” Gavin asked when he saw me. He had the lid of the cake tray in one hand and was licking frosting off the index finger of his opposite.
“Forgot the dinner rolls.”
“Go upstairs and get dressed. I’ll get them.”
I made a u-turn and headed toward the stairs again. As I rounded the corner I glanced out of the living room window and saw Sylvia’s Lincoln parked in the driveway. A second later she peered into the window, directly at me.
I knew she was going to say something about my clothes. I was dressed in a pair of old dingy sweats and a muscle top that I purchased during the ridiculous week I tried to implement a workout regimen into my daily routine. Slaving in the kitchen all day had left me a complete mess. Why was she here already? Our meal wasn’t supposed to start for another fifteen minutes.
She rang the doorbell.
“Grandma’s here!” Jonathan announced loudly, and ran to the front door. “Grandma!” he shrieked, and pounced on her with excitement as soon as he opened it.
“Jonathan!” I fussed as she struggled to hold herself up. “Get down, boy! You’re too big to keep jumping on her like that!”
“Oh, it’s all right,” the short and stocky woman told me, even though he was almost as tall as she was, and laughed. “I’m gonna hold him as long as I can, while I can. Soon he’ll be a man, and too in love with some woman to pay ol’ Grandma any attention.”
That last comment was a subtle dig at me, retaliation for marrying her son and taking him away from her, even though he was the one who proposed to me.
Let it slide, Dana... Let it slide...
“Hey, Mama,” Gavin greeted her as he joined us in the living room. He leaned over to give her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then took her purse from her and put it in the closet.
“Jonathan, baby,” she said. “Go on out there to the car and get Grandma’s bowl of banana pudding. It’s in the back seat, and I made it just for you.”
“All right!” the child hooted, and took her car keys from her and rushed out of the door.
I cleared my throat. “Sylvia, you made banana pudding?”
“Yes,” she smiled innocently. “You all know how much my grandbaby loves my banana pudding. I thought I’d make him a batch.”
“Yes, but when we talked on the phone I specifically told you not to bring anything,” I said as calmly as I could. “We have plenty of sweets here.”
“Oh, don’t make such a big deal about it,” she told me, and flung her hand in the air as if I were overreacting. “A little banana pudding never hurt anybody. It’s for the baby.”
No, it wasn’t. It was her devious way of sneaking her food into my dinner. As soon as someone ate one spoonful she was going to comment on how they chose her dessert over mine. Or worse, she’d demand that Gavin eat her dessert instead of one that I prepared, then boast that no one could ever satisfy his belly the way that she did, no matter how hard they tried. I wasn’t being paranoid. She had a plan, and a vicious one.
“It’s fine, babe,” Gavin told me from the closet door.
Sylvia smiled at me in a taunting fashion, proving what I already knew. She wasn’t innocent like she pretended to be. Gavin took her side, yet again, and she relished the victory.
“Yeah, it’s fine,” I pretended to agree.
“That’s right, dear. What you should really be focused on is your clothes,” she stated with a frown. “I thought this was semi-formal? Here I am in my Sunday best, and you have on this frump wear.”
Embarrassed, I explained that I’d been in the kitchen all day and was on my way upstairs to get ready when she arrived—fifteen minutes early.
“Uh huh, I see.” She pretended to understand, and tucked the ends of her curly wig behind her ears. “Dana, do you really think what you have on is appropriate to wear in front of your son? That shirt is a little revealing, don’t you think?”
Surprised, I looked down at my shirt for the inappropriateness, but found none.
“Why? Because it’s sleeveless?”
“I can see your navel,” she frowned.
I looked again and realized that half an inch of my stomach was exposed. I hadn’t noticed it before and looked to Gavin for support, but he chose to remain silent as he waited at the door for Jonathan to return.
“It’s pretty hot in the kitchen,” I told her. “I wanted to be as comfortable as possible.”
“Really? I’ve been cooking my entire life, and I’ve always managed to do so without being half naked in front of my child. But I suppose you modern women are a bit different.”
There she went again with that stupid argument. Was I supposed to feel bad that I was born in the 80s? She always tried to make it seem like my age was something to be ashamed of. It wasn’t my fault she was an old hag. Gavin was only a few years older than me, but did he get called a “modern man?” No, of course not. Ugh! She made me sick! Besides, my belly button barely peeked over my sweatpants. It wasn’t like I was showing my entire body. Jonathan had a navel, too. Didn’t we all?
“As I said, I’m on my way upstairs to change,” I told her, and quickly retreated to the bedroom. On the way I rolled my eyes at my husband again for being so silent while his mother tried to ridicule me.
Once upstairs I heard the front door close. “Here you go, Grandma,” I heard Jonathan say.
“Thank you, baby. Why don’t you go ahead and take it into the kitchen for me.”
A moment later Gavin asked, “Did you really have to bring banana pudding, Mama? This is Dana’s dinner, and she made it clear that she didn’t want you to bring anything.”
“Please don’t tell me that you’re offended,” she replied back. “I thought you would be happy I decided to bring something extra. It’s a safety dish, just in case what Dana prepared doesn’t turn out good.”
I knew it!
I grumbled under my breath, but told myself not to worry about it. At least this time my husband spoke up for me.
I took a quick shower to get the smell of sweat and food off of me, then put on the midnight blue sheath dress I’d laid out when I first got up this morning and a pair of low heels. I whipped my shoulder length hair into a bun, smeared a little makeup across my face, and put on a pair of earrings and a bracelet. The entire process took fifteen minutes—the exact amount of time I needed to get ready before Sylvia was supposed to show up.
I made my way back downstairs and found my family sitting on the sofa. Jonathan was sitting in Sylvia’s lap, and Gavin sat beside them, flipping through television channels with the remote.
“What’s that smell?” I asked as the stench of something burning filled my nose.
They seemed not to notice at first. Suddenly Gavin gasped and ran into the kitchen. I followed behind and watched as he pulled out the pan of charred dinner rolls he was supposed to take out of the oven a long time ago.
“Gavin!” I fussed.
He coughed as smoke filled the kitchen. I opened the window, then used a potholder to fan the smoke alarm that began to ring.
“Sorry, babe,” he apologized. “I forgot to take them out. The doorbell rang and I got distracted.”
I groaned and continued to help him. When the smoke cleared we looked up to see Sylvia standing at the entrance of the kitchen.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“Everything’s fine,” I told her. “We’re about to eat in a minute.”
“Everything doesn’t look fine. Do I need to call the fire department?”
Why would you call the fire department? Do you see a fire?!
“Absolutely positive. We’re just getting everything together, that’s all. You and Jonathan can go ahead and sit at the dinner table if you’d like.”
“I hope you’re not bringing those to the table.” She twisted her face in disdain as she pointed to the dinner rolls. “They look burnt.”
“Of course not,” I said with a fake laugh. The last thing I wanted was for her to know she was getting under my skin. Gavin had already given her a small victory. I was not about to let her have any more.
“Just making sure. I know you’re new to this whole cooking thing. I didn’t want you to think that was suitable.”
I opened my mouth to snap at her, but quickly returned it to a smile. Snapping was what she wanted me to do. I refused to give her the satisfaction.
“We’ll be right out, Sylvia,” I said as nicely as I could.
She hesitated for a moment, but finally left Gavin and me alone. I snatched the pan of burned dinner rolls away from him and threw them in the trash.
“It’s starting already,” I grumbled. “She’s giving me a hard time already, after I slaved in this kitchen all day to feed her evil behind.”
“Will you relax already? Goodness. You’re just tense because you’ve made such a big deal about this dinner, and it’s making you overreact.”
“Don’t try to act like that wasn’t malicious. You know that it was. And I heard what she said about her banana pudding, too. Her safety dish? Really?”
I turned around slowly to face him, a warning to be careful with his next words.
“She kinda has a point,” he stupidly agreed.
“You must want to eat those burned dinner rolls. I will take them out of the trash and put them on your plate.”
“Don’t start acting crazy. I’m just saying—”
“You’re just saying, once again, that she’s right and I’m wrong. I gave her very simple instructions, and she refused to follow them out of spite. You know I can cook. I’ve taught myself very well since we’ve been married, despite working sixty plus hours a week. But do you tell her that? No. You just agree with her that this dinner needs a safety dish, even though you were dipping your fingers in the dessert before she got her.”
“No one makes you work all those hours.”
I dropped the empty pan into the sink with a loud clang. “We’re not talking about work right now,” I told him. “We’re not starting that argument.”
“You’re the one who brought it up.”
“I was making a point. You know, the least you could have done was told her that you were the one who burned the rolls. You know she’s going to find some way to antagonize me about them. She’ll use them as yet another example of how I fail at being a wife and mother to you and Jonathan.”
He sighed heavily and rubbed his temples the way he always did when I started to get on his nerves. He was tired of hearing the drama between his mother and me, which I understood. However, it would all go away if he corrected Sylvia the way he needed to.
“Fine, I’ll be pleasant,” I told him. “For the sake of this dinner that you suggested I put on. But if she starts acting crazy and disrespecting me, you better have my back. I mean it. I’m sick of her crap.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, and gave my behind a firm smack of affectionate correction for being so short with him as I walked out of the kitchen.
I wanted to be mad at him, but the surprise of it made me blush. I both loved and hated being so weak for him. It made it difficult to stay angry with him when I needed to—like right now, because he burned the dinner rolls. But he was my husband, and being quick to forgive him proved how much in love with him I really was. They were, after all, just dinner rolls. Remaining peaceful with him was more important.
When Gavin and I entered the dining room I was irritated to see that Sylvia was sitting in my seat. Gavin didn’t seem to mind. He took his usual position at the head of the table, and Jonathan sat across from her, trying to be as patient as his little body would allow in front of a table full of food. He was nearly salivating.
“Dana, this spread looks absolutely wonderful,” Sylvia told me.
“Thank you,” I said, a bit surprised that she actually gave me a compliment. That was nice of her, but she still had to move. “I’m sorry, Sylvia, but you’re in my seat.”
Her face fell. “Your seat?”
“Yes, ma’am. I always sit next to Gavin. I was thinking you could sit here,” I told her, and tapped the remaining available seat.
“But I want to sit by you, dear,” she pouted at Gavin.
He smiled at her, then gave me sad eyes as if to plead with me not to break his mother’s heart.
I decided to play the guilt game, too.
“Baby,” I whined with a pout of my own, “don’t you want to sit next to me?”
He turned to Sylvia. “Mama, would you mind—”
“My knees, baby,” she complained. “And my back...” She winced as if she were in pain and began to rub herself. “You not gon’ make me get up, are you? Not after I drove all the way over here. You know how old I am. These bones are weary, son.”
He looked at me with the same pitiful eyes, but I pierced my own back at him. He saw that I was annoyed and suggested that Jonathan trade seats with me so that he and I could sit next to each other.
“Don’t make the boy move,” Sylvia stopped him. “He’s already seated. There’s no point in disrupting the child. Dana can sit where she is. It’s only one meal. What will it hurt?”
Gavin didn’t object. He shrugged as if there was nothing more that he could do and motioned for me to sit down. Feeling outnumbered, I reluctantly sat across from him.
“There you go,” Sylvia smiled at me. “See? Isn’t this nice?”
I gave her a fake smile and placed my napkin in my lap.
“Grandma, I set the table,” Jonathan boasted.
“Yeah. But Mommy made the food.”
“’Yeah?’” Gavin asked. “Is that how you talk to your grandmother?”
Jonathan leaned back in his seat and stared at Gavin with his face twisted, not understanding at all what his father was talking about.
“Remember the discussion we’ve been having about manners?” I tried to remind him. He always took correction from his father hard, and I wanted to spare his gentle feelings. He shook his head at me, though, not knowing what I was talking about, either.
“Yes, ma’am,” Gavin corrected him. “Your grandmother is not your homeboy. Speak to her with respect.”
“Oh,” he said. “Sorry, Grandma.”
“That’s all right, baby,” she said, and gave him an encouraging pat on the back. “Grandma knows your heart, sweetie.”
“So you know I’m hungry, too, right?”
We all laughed. I was thankful. His cuteness released some of the tension in the air.
“Yes, baby. I am, too,” Sylvia told him. “Let’s say grace so we can eat!”
We all joined hands and Gavin instructed us to bow our heads. Before he began to pray Sylvia asked him if she could. He agreed.
“Dear Lord, thank You for being You,” she began. “Thank You for allowing us to gather here today, in the lovely home that You have allowed my son to live in with his son and the woman that he married.”
My head snapped up and my eyes popped open. Everyone else continued to pray as if they hadn’t noticed that she just insulted me to Jesus.
“Let this food be nourishing to our bodies, Lord,” she continued. “And tasty, too, because we know that Dana really doesn’t know how to season all that well. We don’t want the meat to be too dry and choke us Lord, so please let it have some tenderness.”
Gavin’s head came up, too. He looked at me, then stared at his mother with disapproval, but she kept praying as if she hadn’t said anything offensive.
“We know she’s not a great cook, like me. But bless her for trying, Lord. Please protect our stomachs from anything that would harm us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
“Amen,” Jonathan said.
I kept my eyes on Gavin. If I looked at Sylvia I was going to slam her face into the bowl of mashed potatoes sitting in front of her.
Gavin cleared his throat. “Mama, that was an... interesting prayer.”
“The Lord knows my heart, dear,” she said firmly. “Shall we eat?”
Gavin was annoyed, but told her yes and stood up to slice the roast. I passed her the bowl of carrots sitting in front of me, then began to fix Jonathan’s plate.
“How’s the food, Mama?” Gavin asked once we all began to eat.
She frowned. “It’s a good try, but it’s a little bland.”
My eyebrows went up at her claim. “Excuse me?”
“Don’t be offended, Dana. It’s nothing that a little salt and pepper won’t fix. It’ll actually go a long way, if you use some.”
I dropped my fork and let it clang against my plate. “Salt and... Sylvia, this food is not bland,” I snapped. “I got this pork recipe from Emeril Lagasse, and the mashed potatoes from Gordon Ramsay. They’re world-renowned chefs, and I followed their recipes perfectly. All of the ingredients are organic and fresh.”
“Okay, and that’s fine, dear,” she told me. “I’m just saying that my plate could use a little salt and pepper.”
Angry, I picked up the salt and pepper shakers from the center of the table and sat them down firmly in front of her.
“Thank you,” she said a moment later, and began to douse her food with salt. “Would you like some, Gavin?”
“No,” I answered for him, and dared him with my eyes to defy me.
“I’m good, Mama,” he told her.
Jonathan tapped my hand. “I think it’s really good, Mommy.”
I thanked him. I really wanted to hug him, but didn’t want to fall apart completely at the table. He was the sweetest kid I knew, and always knew just what to say to make me feel better.
“I think it’s good, too,” Gavin told me. “Thank you for working so hard to make this meal for us, babe.”
“Yeah, thank you,” Jonathan added.
They both looked to Sylvia to do the same, but she only continued to season and sample her food as if she still weren’t satisfied. Finally she gave up and put her fork down, content with not eating, and asked Jonathan what he’d learned at school recently. While he gave her an elaborate answer I focused on my husband. My glare made him uncomfortable. He continued to eat nervously while I bit my tongue to keep it from becoming unruly.
Sylvia became excited once Jonathan finished talking to her. Her face lit up and she grabbed Gavin’s hand. “You will never guess who I ran into the other day!”
“Tanya...?” He waited for her to give a last name.
“Tibideaux. From back home,” she beamed.
Gavin’s face grew long, but he remained quiet while Sylvia continued to smile.
“Who’s Tanya?” Jonathan asked.
“One of your father’s friends from high school,” she answered.
“Eat your food, son,” Gavin told him quickly, and shook his head at me, discouraging me from asking any questions.
I knew then who she was talking about.
“Yes! I was at Macy’s, and I looked up, and there she was,” Sylvia continued. “She’s looking good, too, son. Just as beautiful as she’s always been.”
“Mama...” Gavin’s voice cracked as he looked down at his plate and continued to shake his head. He was clearly bothered, but Sylvia didn’t care to notice. She kept smiling as if she’d just delivered the best news in the world.
I was uncomfortable, too, and wondered about her mental state. What woman in her right mind would go on and on about her son’s ex-girlfriend in front of his wife? How could she possibly think that was okay? She probably thought she was going over my head and covertly relaying information to my husband unbeknownst to me. But that was stupid because Gavin and I knew each other’s pasts. I knew all about Tanya and the way she broke his heart. She was his first love. They were high school sweethearts and he wanted to marry her, but she broke up with him to be with someone else. Gavin shared with me that Sylvia had always treated her like a daughter up until that point.
“Isn’t it such a small world?” Sylvia continued, despite how uneasy he was. “It’s amazing how God will fix things for you. Just when you think you’ve lost it all, God will provide a ram in the bush.”
I stared at her in bewilderment. Did she even know what she was talking about? Or was this another instance of her cherry-picking scriptures and twisting them to fit her own ill-meaning interpretation?
“I haven’t lost anything, Mama,” Gavin said, to which she responded with a face full of doubt. “There’s no need for any rams in bushes because nothing is being sacrificed.”
“Well, not literally. But you know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t. But I can tell you who did sacrifice, though. Dana sacrificed her entire Sunday to make this meal for us. You know she has that big presentation to make at the hospital in the morning, and she could be focusing on that, but she went out of her way to make this meal for us.”
Sylvia looked my way, and for a split second I thought she was going to give all of my effort some type of positive acknowledgement, but she only sipped her tea and told us that it needed more sugar.
Gavin cleared his throat. “Dana, why don’t you tell Mama about your presentation in the morning?”
“Oh yes,” I agreed to with a smile, and proudly sat up straighter in my seat.
Last year I decided to expand my interior design business to include architecture as well. I became interested in it shortly after Gavin and I got married and decided to become licensed. Since then not much opportunity had come up in the area for me, until last month when it was announced that the local hospital was looking to reconstruct their west wing. I pounced on the opportunity, but because so many other firms in the area wanted the job I had to put a bid in. The hospital was interested, and since they let me know I’d been working tirelessly on the presentation I would give them tomorrow morning.
“I have come up with the most brilliant design for Daytown Memorial,” I told Sylvia. “You will love it. Everyone’s going to want to get sick just so they can see how spectacular it is. Honestly, it’s so fantastic, I wish I could just rebuild the entire hospital. When it’s finished, it’s actually going to look like a—”
“That’s nice, dear. Can I please have some sugar for my tea?” She took another sip of her drink and frowned. “Now, please? This honestly tastes like brown water with a few drops of lemon juice in it. You know, I keep a bowl of sugar on my table all the time when I have guests over.”
Of course you do, because you’re perfect and I’m not.
I couldn’t help but slouch. Sylvia wasn’t interested in reconciling with me at all. The woman hated me, and it showed.
“I’ll get it for you,” Jonathan told her.
“Thank you, sweetie,” she said, and waited patiently for him to get the bowl off the kitchen counter. “He loves his grandmother so much.”
He proved it by placing a kiss on her cheek, then returned to his food.
The doorbell rang suddenly. Gavin and I exchanged inquisitive glances as we tried to figure out who it could have been. We weren’t expecting any more guests.
“I’ll get it,” Gavin said.
“No, no. Let me,” I nearly begged, and stood up quickly. “You stay here and entertain... her.”
I ignored Sylvia’s offended scowl and went to the door. Through the peephole I observed a stranger standing on our porch. She seemed harmless enough. She was well put together and her long hair fell lightly around her shoulders and blew softly in the breeze. But why was she ringing my doorbell? Was she selling something? She couldn’t have been a Jehovah’s Witness. Not in that tight fitting dress. She was showing too much cleavage to be holy. Maybe she got into an accident off the main road and needed help. She looked like she had money, though. She was carrying a designer handbag. A woman with a bag like that surely had a cell phone inside. And AAA. Maybe she was simply at the wrong house.
“Yes?” I asked through the door as I watched her.
She stood up straighter when she heard my voice, and leaned closer to the door. “Sylvia? Is that you?”
Sylvia? Who in the world is looking for her at my house?
I opened the door slowly and poked my head out. “Can I help you?”
“Hi,” she smiled at me. “I’m not sure I’m at the right address. Is Sylvia Gardner here?”
“Tanya!” I heard Sylvia cheer from behind me.
I froze in horror as I realized who was standing on my doorstep.
Tanya. That Tanya. Here. At my house.
My mother-in-law rushed to the door and pushed me to the side so she could eagerly wrap her arms around this woman who had the audacity to show up at my house in full glam mode. Everything about her was fashion forward—from her makeup and full hair extensions to her dress and open-toed pumps. She had the nerve to have a fresh pedicure, too. And she was wearing Spanx. She had to be. Her arms were too fluffy for her waist to be that tight.
“Hi, Sylvia,” the intruder said as she hugged her back. “I made it.”
“It’s so good to see you, dear. Come on in,” Sylvia said, and pulled the woman into the house.
Tanya eagerly agreed, and smiled at me as they passed.
I stood at the door with my mouth open and felt like a complete fool. What the heck just happened? Did my husband’s ex-girlfriend from high school just show up at my house? Had my mother-in-law invited her? Did she really just push me out of the way to present her to my husband? In my own house?! After I slaved in the kitchen all day for her?! And did this chick just strut past me, ready to prance in front of my husband with painted toenails and Spanx on?!!! Without even introducing herself to me?!!!!!!!
I closed the door and returned to the dining room. Everyone was standing, except Jonathan, who was too busy eating to be bothered with the nonsense of grown folks.
“Mama, what’s going on?” Gavin asked nervously. As brown as he was, his face seemed to grow more pale with each second that passed.
“I know I surprised you, son,” Sylvia told him, and pulled Tanya close as she stood beside him. “But I thought it would be good for you two to see each other again. Isn’t this such a nice surprise?”
“Surprise!” Tanya beamed, and wrapped her arms around Gavin and gave him a strong squeeze, pressing her boobs that were big enough to feed the entire continent of Africa against him. He moved away quickly, but she was so happy to see him that she didn’t notice.
“Wow,” was all he could say, and he diverted his attention to me. He immediately saw how unamused I was. More like enraged. I was so angry that my ears burned. I could feel heat radiating from me, and it threatened to disintegrate the entire room. The sickening part was that Sylvia smiled with pride as if she’d just saved the world. She was so thrilled that she could barely contain herself. I’d never seen her so pleased.
“Mama, what’s going on, here?” Gavin demanded to know.
Sylvia played coy by not answering, which angered me more. Loud thumps burst into my ears each time she batted her wicked eyelashes. I could feel my heart beating faster the angrier I got, and I begged the Lord to keep me from jumping on Tanya and wrapping my hands around her throat.
She’s trying to replace me.
It had never been more clear to me than at this moment. Sylvia didn’t want me to be a part of her family. She wanted things back to the way they were before I came into the picture. There was no point in me even trying to form any type of relationship with her. I’d been married to her son for two years now, and it still hadn’t happened. I was never going to be good enough for Gavin in her eyes. I’d spent the entire day slaving in a hot kitchen to feed her, her son, and her grandson, and she thanked me by insulting the food and bringing a whore into my house. I didn’t deserve this. I was not a horrible wife, nor was I a horrible person, but she was for trying to destroy my family.
“Tanya’s been living in Dallas for about six months now,” Sylvia told Gavin. “After Katrina she and her family relocated to Houston, but now she’s in Dallas. Isn’t that something? This whole time she’s been so close.”
I cleared my throat to get their attention, but the attempt was ignored.
“She’s been here for a few months, but she still doesn’t know much about the area. I told her that you wouldn’t mind taking her around and showing her everything the area has to offer. I know you’re busy with work and the baby, but you can make time for an old friend, can’t you?”
“I, um... I...”
You better stand up for me, Gavin! You’re my husband! Put her in her place! Tell her you wouldn’t dare take this woman anywhere because married men don’t do disrespectful things like that!
“I... Mama, that’s...”
Ugh. He’ll never go against his precious mother.
Rage came over me. I wanted to grab both by their hair and drag them all over the house while they kicked and screamed and begged for mercy and forgiveness. They committed the ultimate crime, and I would see to it that they suffered the painful consequences. Sylvia, especially. She should have been on her knees every night thanking God for me. I was a good wife to her son. I was loyal, and faithful, and committed to our marriage, and had done absolutely nothing to deserve being treated this way. If she thought I was just going to stand to the side and watch while she tried to set my husband up on a date, she had another thing coming!
Sylvia continued to dote over Tanya while I watched with clenched fists. Tanya was just as bad, pretending to simply be an old friend. Clearly she came up to get Gavin back. No woman showed up unannounced at an ex’s house dressed like that if she wasn’t trying to get him. I wasn’t worried about her, though. She didn’t have a chance with Gavin. I was confident that I was the only woman he would give his devotion to. But Sylvia... She needed to be put in her place. Now.
I cleared my throat again to get their attention, but the only person who noticed this time was Jonathan. Though he was a child, he seemed to be the only one bright enough to realize that I was about to go off. He watched me with extreme worry and caution. I knew all of my bearings were about to escape me, so I sent him upstairs to his room, allowing him to take his food with him, and told him not to come out until I told him he could. At this point Gavin looked concerned, but not enough to tell Tanya to keep her hands off of him, or to chastise his mother for bringing her into our house.
“Excuse me, Tanya?”
She faced me and smiled like an idiot. “Yes?”
“You need to get out of my house.”
Her smile slowly went away, along with Sylvia’s. They both stared at me with shock.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
I moved closer so she could hear me better. Apparently, not only was she a home wrecker, but she was deaf, too.
“I said you need to get out of my house.”
“That is not the way you speak to a guest,” Sylvia scolded me.
“She’s not a guest. I didn’t invite her. You did, which is why you need to get out, too. Now.”
She gasped loudly while Tanya asked Gavin what was going on.
“Wait a minute,” Gavin tried to stop me. “Everybody, let’s just keep a cool head about this. Obviously there has been a misunderstanding, and before we let our emotions take control, let’s just—”
“Who are you?” Tanya asked me.
“I’m his wife.”
The news caught her off guard. Her eyes flared with shock, and she quickly turned them on Sylvia, accusing her of betrayal. Unable to handle it, Sylvia chose to focus on me.
“Don’t you dare take that tone of voice with me, young lady! Have some respect!”
“Respect?!” I nearly laughed in her face. “After you brought this tramp to my house? Are you freaking serious?!!! Are you trying to pimp your son out now, or what?!”
“I didn’t know you were married,” Tanya whispered to Gavin.
“Of course you didn’t,” I told her. “She thought she was going to be able to slide you in right under my nose because she thought I didn’t know you were my husband’s ex-girlfriend. But what she refuses to accept and respect is that we are married. We know each other’s pasts.”
Sylvia was frozen by her own horrific embarrassment. Her wicked plan was falling apart right before her eyes, and we all watched with severe judgment.
“Do something!” she pleaded to Gavin a moment later. “Don’t let her talk to me like that!”
He moved closer to me and tried to place his hand on my shoulder, but I shifted away from him. “Let’s just try to be rational about all of this, okay?”
I swatted his hand away as he reached for me again. “Don’t you dare. Not after this. You should be just as mad as I am!”
“There’s no need to become aggressive.”
“You want her here?” I asked, pointing to Tanya. Before he could answer, I warned him, “You better remember who you’re married to. I’m not playing this game with either one of them.”
“I’m just gonna go,” Tanya excused herself, and tiptoed toward the door.
“Wait,” Sylvia stopped her. “You don’t have to go.”
“Yes, she does!” I declared. “Both of you need to get out!”
“You can’t talk to my mama that way,” Gavin fussed at me.
“You heard what I said!” I yelled at all of them.
Tanya rolled her eyes and threw her hands up in the air as she left. Sylvia continued to beg her to stay while Gavin told me to let him handle things from now on.
“Are you happy now?” Sylvia snapped at me once it was clear Tanya wasn’t coming back. “She’s gone.”
“I’m half happy. You’re still standing here.”
“Dana!” Gavin rebuked me.
“How dare you talk to me like that!” she ranted. “Tanya has done nothing to you, and neither have I. If you are not secure enough in your marriage to meet one of his old friends without falling apart at the seams, then maybe you’re not as good a wife as you’d like to think. But don’t you ever try to take it out on me!”
“Oh, it’s my fault now?”
“You’re the one acting crazy.”
“Let me handle this,” Gavin begged me again, but I ignored him.
“I’m not crazy,” I continued. “You are if you thought I was just going to sit back and let you get away with that. You can play dumb all you want, but nobody believes that was innocent. If it was, you would have told us she was coming, but you didn’t. Why? Because you were trying to be slick, and I don’t appreciate it. It was asinine, and deplorable, and disgraceful, and disgusting, and downright sickening.”
“Ugh!” she screamed. “Who do you think you are?!”
“I know that I am his wife!” I screamed back.
“For right now! But I will always be his mother!”
Gavin gasped. “MAMA!”
I took a step back, wounded by her words. She may as well have kicked me in my face and spit on me.
“There it is,” I said as I clapped my hands and tried not to cry. “After all this time, you finally admit how you really feel. You want him to divorce me.”
“Dana, let me handle this,” Gavin begged.
“Well, you can forget about it,” I told her, “because nobody over here is getting divorced!”
“Dana!” Gavin yelled at me. “Let me handle it!”
“You never handle anything!” I snapped at him.
“You need to calm down!”
“NO! I will not calm down!” I screamed. Of all the times he should have had my back, right now was it. “Get her out of my house! RIGHT NOW! I’m sick of trying to be nice to her! TELL HER TO LEAVE!”
“Lower your voice,” he demanded, and grabbed me by my arm to show me how serious he was. “Don’t talk to me like that. I’m your husband.”
“But she can say whatever she wants to me?! What is wrong with you?!”
“ENOUGH!” Sylvia screamed.
The outburst startled us into silence. She’d said and done a lot of nasty things before, but I’d never heard her be so forceful before.
“Son, I love you,” Sylvia told Gavin as he let go of me. “I really do. But I will never allow a woman like this to talk down to me, so I’m leaving. I’ve tried to be nice, but I’m done trying to save you from your bad decisions. If you had any sense, you’d leave with me.”
My mouth hung open as she got her purse out of the closet and slammed the door behind herself as she walked out of the house.
“We will talk about this when I get back,” Gavin said sternly, and followed her outside.
When the door closed again I buried my face in my hands and screamed. I tried hard not to, but I was too angry to keep myself from crying. I knew Sylvia wanted me out of her life, but I never would have imagined she’d go to this extent, nor did I ever dream that Gavin would openly reprimand me for trying to defend our marriage. He swore up and down that I came first in his life, but instead of standing beside me, comforting me like he should have been, he was more concerned with his mother and her feelings. As. Always. Even after she did something so atrocious.
I forced myself to stop crying and began to clear the dining table. Dinner was most definitely over. After all the slaving I did, the food was only going to end up stored away in various containers in the fridge. Most of it would probably spoil and end up getting thrown out. Prayerfully, my marriage wouldn’t, too.
As I brought the food into the kitchen, my eyes fell on Sylvia’s bowl of banana pudding. I emptied it into the trash, then tossed the bowl in as well, and took the bag to the garage for Gavin to get rid of in the morning.
“No one in this house is ever eating banana pudding again!”
I went back into the house and washed my hands, then finished putting all of the food away. The sink was now piled high with stacks of dirty dishes from all of the labor I’d done, but I was in no mood to clean them. Twenty minutes had passed, and Gavin was still outside talking to his mother. The longer he stayed outside with her, the angrier I became. I felt like I was being cheated on. I was supposed to consume his love, loyalty, time, and dedication, especially after I was attacked. But instead he was giving all of that to her. What was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he see that he was just as wrong as she was?
Emotionally overwhelmed, I prepared a slice of cake and a glass of milk and sat down at the table.
“This is good,” I told myself after taking a bite, and thanked my brother Sean, the greatest baker I knew, for giving me the recipe. Over the past few years we’d grown closer to one another, and he knew how important this meal was to me. He really wanted me to wow Sylvia. For one, he knew how often she tried to criticize me for not being a great cook in her eyes, but he also loved Gavin and wanted our marriage to last. Both he and Leah, my sister, did. They were the only family I had, and they loved Gavin, and it hurt to know that his mother didn’t feel the same way about me.
I ate more cake and wished that Sylvia had gotten the chance to taste it. I’d had her banana pudding before, and it didn’t have anything on the chocolate goodness I’d baked. She would have bent over with envy and taken that ridiculous so-called “safety dish” and thrown it away herself. The humiliation she felt would have been so satisfying. But then again, she probably would have come up with something even more extreme than bringing her son’s ex to my house to get even with me. Maybe the German chocolate cake, as good as it was, wasn’t worth it.
“I’m not doing this anymore,” I said out loud, and tried to enjoy my cake as hot tears fell from my eyes. I couldn’t help but be hurt. How could she do something so mean and evil to me? What had I ever done to deserve my husband divorcing me? Nothing. She’d crossed the line, and I was done trying to make her happy. From now on I would only concern myself with Gavin, the person I shared a covenant with before God, and Jonathan. I was done with her.
The front door opened. I was too disgusted to even look at my husband. I dried my tears and ate the last of my cake, then asked, “Is she gone?”
He didn’t answer me. He was angry, which made me even angrier. How could he be upset with me? I didn’t bring that woman into this house. His mother did. But of course I was in the wrong. I always was when it came to her.
“I really wish you had let me handle it,” he finally said.
I turned my nose up at him and drank the rest of my milk.
“Don’t be rude.”
“Did you tell her that? Because what she did was definitely rude.”
“I’m not talking about her right now. I’m talking about you.”
“Sure you are. Because it’s my fault, isn’t it? She brought another woman in here, but I’m getting the lecture. Okay.”
“I understand why you’re upset. But you could have handled that better. She’s my mother. You didn’t have to talk to her that way.”
He’ll never get it. He’ll never understand.
I couldn’t talk to him anymore. At least not right now. I stood up and put my dishes in the sink, then walked past him and made my way to the stairs.
“We’re not gonna talk about this?”
“No,” I said, but then thought for a moment. “Tell me something, Gavin. How would you feel if my brother or sister brought J. Kameron to dinner, unannounced?”
The mention of my famous ex-fiancé left him speechless. He only stared at me with apologetic eyes, but his lips didn’t render the request for forgiveness that they should have.
“Thought so,” I said, and sadly walked up the stairs. “You wash the dishes,” I demanded over my shoulder, and went into our bedroom and closed the door.
Copyright ©️ 2017 by LaShanda Callahan