I chose my clothes carefully, both modest and feminine, a floral button-up shirt, the look he preferred. That morning, a sickness in my gut stopped me from consuming my usual tea and toast, caused recurring bathroom visits. Peter even noticed, looking up from his Tin Tin comic in concern.
“What’s the matter, Mommy?” he said. My boy, I went over for a hug, inhaled his sweet smell, pushed him to get dressed and ready and out the door for the bus.
Driving there, I thought how strange, to be meeting my son’s father, a man he had never met and possibly would never meet. Still, I hoped. Maybe this is what this whole thing - the cryptic message sent through email, this rendezvous at a coffee shop at 10:30 AM on a Tuesday in October-was all about. Did Paul remember this was the month it began ten years ago? Was there a significance? Was this the day I dreamed of, the day he came to me and begged my forgiveness, the day he would leave his life and come back to us?
My hands sweated, gripped the steering wheel, remembering the day our attraction burst into a hurried lovemaking. He was the committee chair, I was a volunteer. Each time we met, I felt his blue eyes, now Peter’s, on me, my body, like being burned, in a warm, delicious way.
When I wrote the email revealing the pregnancy, he accused me of trying to trap him. “That age-old trick,” he said, cruelly. How could someone in his place in the world be so mean, so irresponsible, so soulless, I asked. How can he subject me to the shame of lying about the origin of my pregnancy, to my family, friends, to our child? “You will lie. Too much is at stake,” he replied.
And, the funny thing, the ridiculous thing is, I complied, because I loved him. I worshipped him.
“Paul?” I said, shaking, growing cold in my skin. He nodded in a kind of greeting, his eyes scanning my frame, noticing my weight gain, I was sure. He too had changed, his once dark brown hair gone grey. He moved his hands from the table-top to below where I imagined him nervously running them up and down his thighs. “It’s good to see you. Finally,” I said.
“Yes, well. I just wanted to run something by you,” his eyes surveilled the room behind me. I focused, my hands tight around the hot coffee cup, almost burning. Stay in control. Look calm.
“I just need to know that you’re faithful. Totally. To-the situation.” Now my mouth fell open and sickness rose in my throat. I swallowed hard against it. “I’m up for a promotion. To monsignor. It’s a big deal. I can’t have anything getting in the way of it. It’s a really big-”
“Fr. Paul!” a woman interrupted. She was thrilled to see him, as though recognizing a celebrity.
“Theresa!” he said, reaching out to shake her hand. “This is Margaret, a friend from high school.”
The woman shook my hand and laid another on Fr. Paul’s shoulder before walking away. Perhaps she too made love with him in the back room.
Despite the nag in my gut, the waves of anger and regret, I remained the good girl I’d always been. I promised him I would stay totally faithful to the situation, as he requested. I pulled on my jacket, hurried out the door, left the check unpaid on the table. He can cover my shitty coffee, I thought.
On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store, bought a bottle of wine and a small transformer toy for Peter. I would surprise my son with a treat, make him mac and cheese for dinner, count my blessing.