“I wasn’t going to say anything,” her mother said, “but you look like you’ve put on a couple pounds. You need to make sure you get enough exercise. You can’t expect to find a man if you don’t take care of yourself. You aren’t getting any younger, you know.” Julia had just walked into the door of her parent’s house. All she wanted to do was turn around and walk out.
“I do exercise,” Julia said as she put down her bag, “and, besides, I’m not even looking for a man.”
“Yes, that’s the problem. You need to look. You can’t just expect a man to fall from the sky. You think Prince Charming is going to simply show up on your doorstep one day and whisk you away.”
“I think no such thing. I don’t want a man at all. With the possible exception of Dad, men are overrated. I’m happy being single.”
“Stop lying to yourself. Nobody could be happy the way you are,” she said. “Anyway, I think I have solved your problem. You should thank me.”
These were words that Julia hated to hear. They usually meant that her mother had done something she was definitely not going to want to thank her for.
“I went out to lunch the other day with Mrs. Stuart. You remember her, don’t you?”
Samantha Stuart had been her mother’s friend from the day her parents had moved into their home as newlyweds. She lived three doors down and was tall and anorexically thin. Her most prominent feature was a large pointy nose that she always seemed to look down on people with. She wore too much makeup, too tight clothes, and reeked of perfume which caused Julia to sneeze compulsively in her presence.
The only thing worse than Mrs. Stuart was her son. Steve Stuart was a year older than Julia, but he had been held back in kindergarten and as a result, she had suffered through the great misfortune of spending twelve years of school with him.
He seemed to have made it his special mission to torment Julia. He pulled on her ponytails when she was young and followed her around when she was in high school like a stray puppy lusting after a bone. After school, he would hang out in her backyard.
Katie was always more outgoing and, not having just endured six hours of school with him, would attempt to get him to play. She figured that if he was going to be there, he might as well be of use in their adventures. Except, he wouldn’t play. No matter how much Katie tried to convince him, he never wanted to swing or go down the slide or even explore the woods behind the Manning home. No – he just sat and stared at Julia. No matter where she was, she could feel his eyes on her. Just the thought of it still gave her the heebie-jeebies. Steve also didn’t talk. When asked a question, he usually provided a monosyllabic answer, and he never volunteered any information at all. Julia had met rocks that were more interesting.
Amazingly, he had managed to graduate from high school, college and law school. He had, much to Julia’s relief, moved a few towns away. Last she had heard, he was supposed to be getting married, a fact that Julia firmly believed served as evidence that miracles could still happen.
“Well, then, you must remember her son Steve also,” her mother said in a tone that immediately made Julia fear where this conversation might be going.
“How could I forget? He used to be my living shadow.”
“You were always too hard on that boy,” her mother continued. “He had a crush on you. He just didn’t know how to show it. Perhaps if you had paid more attention to him, instead of that other boy, you wouldn’t be in the predicament you are in now.”
“Mom, I’m single. It is not a predicament. It is not a disease. It simply means that I am not married.”
Her mother ignored her. “Steve has grown into a very successful and handsome man.”
While it was true that Steve had been spared the misfortune of inheriting his mother’s nose, handsome was not a word that Julia would have ever used to describe him. Regardless, his looks were never the issue. He was just odd. Julia didn’t wish him ill. She was simply more than happy for them to peacefully coexist twenty miles away from each other.
“And it is your lucky day,” her mother continued, “because Steve is newly single. His fiancé decided that she needed to go find herself.” Her mother air-quoted the last two words. “I don’t know what is wrong with you young people today. Are you all lost?”
Yes, Julia had known it was too good to be true. Miracles clearly did not still happen in the twenty-first century.
“Anyway, as soon as we heard, Samantha and I decided to fix the two of you up. When you were just babies in diapers we dreamed of you growing up and getting married, and now it really has the chance to happen. We’re both so excited.
And I’m about to vomit. “Mom, how could you?”
“Oh, dear, it’s perfect. We have it all arranged. You have reservations at six o’clock on Saturday at Le Bella, that new Italian place in Smithsfield. Sam said that she has been there and it is so romantic and the food is to die for. She simply couldn’t think of a better place for you two to start your life together, and I trust her judgment completely.”
Julia clunked her head on the table. She had to be stuck in some horrible nightmare and if she could only open her eyes, she would wake up and it would all be over.
“What’s wrong with you? You should be excited. An opportunity like this doesn’t come along every day.”
Julia reluctantly raised her head. Clearly, the nightmare wasn’t over yet.
“Now we must go shopping,” her mother said with entirely too much enthusiasm.”You need something new to wear. I know Steve was enamored with you when you were young, but, let’s face it, the years have not been kind and we need you to make a good impression.”
Julia had obviously been transported to a little slice of hell.
From The Rose Ring