The guests are arriving. The photographer has taken pictures of our parents. All is ready. Now, I need to decide if I’m going through with this or not.
The first strains of a classical melody drifted in from the sanctuary, the signal to Annie’s brothers to seat the guests. Her mother was putting the final touches on Cameron’s flower basket.
Annie frowned at the thought of her daughter. The five-year-old disliked Jeff but surely that was jealousy. Understandable for a young child suddenly having to share her mommy with someone new.
At first Cameron took to Jeff and he reciprocated, taking her on outings and buying her special toys. But as Annie and Jeff became closer, the child’s hostility grew. Her mother said Cameron was just spoiled.
In every other way, her relationship with Jeff was perfect. Annie could not believe she had found someone so caring. There had never been so much as a minor disagreement between them. Jeff brushed away every concern with a reasonable explanation … and a kiss.
Until last night. Right after the rehearsal dinner Annie’s maid of honor came to her with a story that was circulating. Rumors of accusations by a member of Jeff’s soccer team.
Though it was late, Annie called him. They needed to talk about this. Again, he took her in his arms and calmed her.
“Don’t say you believe this!” he sounded incredulous. “She’s just a kid. Who believes a kid.”
Now sitting in the bride’s room at the church, her friends and family gathering upstairs, she realized it was at that moment she first thought of cancelling her wedding.
Who believes a kid? She’d heard those exact words before.
She was six or seven. Uncle Joe had taken all the kids on a nature walk. Everyone said how sweet that Joe loved children … what a pity he had none of his own. He let them away from the others at the picnic. Then he taught them the Touching Game. He called it a secret game. They all played until one little girl began to cry. Joe scolded her, calling her a baby. He said something terrible would happen if anyone told their secret. Then, he laughed. “Even if you tell, no one will believe you. Who believes a kid?”
In spite of Joe’s warning Annie had tried to tell. A week after the picnic, she said to her mother, “I don’t like Uncle Joe.”
“Of course you do. Uncle Joe is a kind man who loves children. He’s our blood relative and I don’t ever want to hear you say you don’t like one of your own kin.”
So, Annie didn’t speak of it again. Uncle Joe never came to another reunion. Annie had no idea why. Maybe one of the other children told. Maybe a grown-up listened.
Annie stared into the mirror with horror. What had she said to Cameron when the child told her she didn’t like Jeff? Was her daughter wanting to tell her more? Needing her to ask the right question, Why? Why doesn’t Cameron like Jeff?
She stood and ran from the room. Holding up the satin skirt, she took the stairs two at a time. She needed to find her daughter. And ask the question.
Excerpted from “The Right Question”, Everyday a New Day and other short stories. (c) 2006
Freeda Baker Nichols says
Good short story from your collection.
pat laster says
Ooh! Too real! Good writing. p