“Sure is good of you to come to dinner like this.”
Amanda, hunched over her aching belly, smiled. She’d had misgivings, of course, but Kieran was good. They understood each other.
Her older sister Eliza had never gotten that part. She’d had plenty of boyfriends, men tended to be attracted to women who raged like fires, but in Amanda’s world it was quality, not quantity that set the standard.
Not like that had mattered to her. Lizzie, recipient of a little genetic…problem, had never put much truck in social niceties. Each time her father related a new emergency from Lizzie’s end, he’d point at Amanda and say, “don’t you ever be like that.”
And Amanda wasn’t. She starved and preened and bent herself into the good girl shape society left for her. That’s what it took. Even when the genetic curse struck her too, she kept to the wall. She was on her way to meet Kieran’s family, wearing a dress and a bow in her hair (a bow!) and even a hint of makeup. She could do this. Yes.
The waxing moon followed the car, puffing out its pale cheeks at her.
Kieran’s mother opened the door. She brushed kisses to either side of Amanda’s face and pronounced her the prettied thing under the sun. Amanda smiled back and willed herself not to scratch the spot where she’d waxed the unibrow away.
Kieran’s older brother and wife were there, and Kieran’s uncle, and Kieran’s father. Amanda’s smile went to all the right places in her face. She was properly demure. She laughed at off-color jokes. She let Kieran’s sister-in-law admire her nails, which always grew long and straight.
The first rumble of trouble was very much disguised as a well-meaning jest.
Kieran’s mother, a plump woman who didn’t look like she’d skipped a meal in her life, asked, “so when are you and Kieran going to give us kids?”
Amanda stopped and flushed. She hadn’t expected this so soon.
Kieran came to the rescue. “Mom it’s too early to be thinking about this.”
“Sure, sure, but when,” the old bitch prodded.
Amanda realized she was drooling and dabbed daintily at her mouth with her napkin.
“Actually,” her voice broke. She cleared her throat. “I have a genetic condition. I just as soon wouldn’t pass that down to anyone.”
The family blinked as if she’d spoken in a different language.
“You know, they do wonders with IVF these days,” Kieran’s uncle put in, “I bet you could season your turkey and cook it in another pot.”
“Oh, Bill,” Kieran’s mother said.
Amanda was on edge now. The questions picked at her like biting ants. She went to school where? Her family was from where? She was getting a job when? All the while a tingle and burn in her abdomen. She could do this. She could do this. Normal people did this all the time.
She was salivating excessively now. She thought to excuse herself from the table, but Kieran’s mother misunderstood it as a gesture to help clean. She ordered Amanda back down.
“Mom, it’s not that,” Kieran said, picking up on her body language. God bless that boy. “She’s got real intense monthlies, you know?”
“Oh dear.” His mother smiled widely at Amanda. “You know, a girlfirend of mine switched to soy? Never had cramps again.”
Amanda smiled tightly as she got up from the table. The bathroom was alarmingly neat, like no one had ever used it for its intended purpose. She went to rub her eye and—too late!—remembered her eyeshadow. Then she wasted clumps of wet toilet paper trying to scrub it off.
Someone knocked at the door. “Sweetie, are you almost done in there?”
She hadn’t been in here that long, had she? Amanda looked at her face in the mirror. God, she had really botched the removal job. And, yes, when she leaned in for a better look, she could see the unibrow was already trying to re-assert itself.
Kieran’s sister-in-law looked surprised when Amanda finally opened the door. She rallied, but Amanda had seen it.
Her skin was flush and felt prickly. God.
Kieran was conversing in the dining room over beers with the men in his family. He was just so good-looking and sweet it made her ache for a minute.
Kieran caught her gaze. He came to her, free and easy.
“I’m sorry sweetie,” she whispered as her stomach constricted, “but I’m going to have to go. Tell your family I’m sorry, okay?”
Kieran shook his head. “No.”
Amanda gulped down panic. No, not you. You were so good. “Sweetheart, I mean it. You agreed to let me go when I said go.”
But now Kieran was blocking her way, shaking his head and setting his beer aside to take her hand.
“You don’t get to walk out,” he said gently, “it’s family time. You’re always telling me on how you’ve run from family your whole life. Well it’s time to stop running.”
Amanda bent double with a twinge. “Not my family,” she managed through a constricted throat.
“Well they will be. So take an ibuprofen or two and lay on my mom’s bed, but you’re staying,” he lovingly ordered.
A thin drool ran from her mouth. No keeping it in any more.
Amanda lashed out with her free hand, slashing Kieran’s throat clean through.
Kieran was more surprised than anything. He put his hand to the blood at his throat and then looked at it, as if unsure what had just transpired.
Kieran’s mother happened to look down the hall at precisely the wrong moment. She dropped a dish. Her face was round and plump, her cheeks fat white moons that mocked Amanda.
Amanda threw back her head and howled.
Lizzie shut the door on her truck. “Jeeziz, smells like my bachelorette party.”
Amanda was on the stoop, smoking a cigarette. “It’s not funny. I thought it would be okay.”
“Ah, everyone thinks that. One more shot of whisky, one more hit, I’ll be okay.” Lizzie had embraced her monthly hirsuteness, scratching one hairy forearm with long nails. “You can’t get with someone normal and expect it to fix you. S’what I learned with Andrew.”
“Is he the guy dad liked?”
“No, that guy was actually a coke dealer.” Lizzie snorted through her nose as she surveyed the carnage within the house. “What have you done, Mandy Jane, Mandy Jane?”
“Lizzie Ann, Lizzie Anne, I done a shame,” Amanda said back.
Lizzie scrubbed her eyes with a sleeve. “That’s my girl. Now up and at ‘em, it’s gotta look like a wild dog let loose in there.”
“You won’t tell dad?”
“I won’t if you won’t.”