Story 1: Tessa’s Hunger-1
STORY 1: TESSA’S HUNGER“I’m really looking forward to meeting your parents,” Tessa said.
Her fiancé smiled. “I’m sure they’ll love you, Just like I do.”
Her face glowed as they stepped out of the BMW. But behind the glow, Tessa didn’t feel so good. The thought of meeting Anton’s parents made her stomach quiver. With her violin case tucked under her arm, she grabbed her suitcase from the trunk, then stopped and stared at the marvelous mansion before her. She gasped. Growing up in a poor enclave of Russian immigrants, Tessa had only seen this kind of opulence in the movies. “Wow, what a wonderful house.”
Anton smirked as he stepped up the driveway. “Yes, I suppose it’ll do until the renovations are done. Those columns are looking awfully ragged.”
Tessa took choppy steps toward up the driveway to join her fiancé at the front door. Anton took her hand, but that didn’t do much to relax her. She had a bad feeling about this week.
After ringing the bell, they waited as Tessa’s envious glare crept up the Victorian brick wall. “I bet a place this huge takes forever for your parents to clean.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Well, you see –“
The door swung open, revealing a smiling lady in her fifties. Tessa reached for a handshake. “Please to meet you, Mrs. Brooks. My name is Tessa.”
The lady stared back, head tilted and eyes bugged.
Again Anton chuckled. “This is Mavis, our housekeeper.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see her in a uniform, so I assumed –“
Anton swept past the woman as is she were a lamppost on the road. “Yes, it is so difficult these days to find help that is willing to wear uniforms. Apparently they find such things demeaning. These days, finding one that speaks English is challenge enough.”
The remark slapped Tessa off-guard. She recalled her the days of her mother working as a domestic, her English skills still spotty. Watching her mother come home exhausted and eager to leap out of her uniform left an imprint on Tessa and her sisters. She’d gotten a glimpse of a life she never wanted. Before Mavis scurried away, Tessa gave her hand a gentle tap.
Now alone in the living room with Anton, Tessa had a chance to gawk at the luxurious surroundings. The antique desk against the wall looked at least two centuries old and the plush white couch and matching chairs seemed a million times more expensive than the furniture she grew up around. Along the wall, she spotted photographs of distinguished people clad in ritzy attire. “Man!” she said to Anton. “If my family had furniture this nice, they would have never taken off the plastic.”
The joke got a puzzled reaction from her fiancé. “I don’t understand. Why would there be plastic on furniture?”
After giving him a pat on the back, she said, “Never mind.”
A set of footsteps on the hardwood floor caught the couple’s attention. An elegant lady approached, her arms outstretched. The man next to her wore a smoking jacket and puffed on a pipe. “Hello, there!” they said in unison.
“Mother! So wonderful to meet you.” Anton gave his mother an air-kiss and shared a warm handshake with the man. “Father, so wonderful you could tear yourself away from your Hawthorne.”
They all laughed and sent a collective look to Tessa’s confused face. “What’s a Hawthorne?” she asked.
The man said, “He’s referring to Nathanial Hawthorne, dear. The legendary New England scribe.”
“Father is an English professor,” Anton said. “And he often spends Saturday mornings immersed in the classics.”
Tessa offered a weak smile. “I see.”
“Mother, father, this is my fiancé, Tessa.”
She reached for a hug from Anton’s mother, but only got a limp hand. She got the same from his father. As they lead her and Anton toward the kitchen, a million thoughts raced through her head – none of them pleasant. She braced herself for a long weekend.
After a few minutes of uneasy chit-chat, it was announced that dinner would soon be served. Tessa took the opportunity to slip into the guest bathroom and breathe for the first time since she and her husband-to-be had arrived at the stately Connecticut home.
Staring into the mirror, Tessa gave her clothes a quick scan before joining the family at the dinner table. After meeting Anton’s parents, it seemed her funky purple blouse was inappropriate. She even recalled getting a disapproving grumble from Anton when she put it on. But she ignored him – as she usually did when he didn’t like the clothes she wore.
The more she thought about it, the more she realized how similar her fiancé was to his stuffy, judgmental parents. She didn’t like that side of his personality. It took a while for her think about what side of his personality she did like. A conversation with her friend Bonnie-Jean forced her to think about it.
“Guess what, BJ, I’m getting engaged!” she had announced over the phone.
“To Anton?” her friend replied.
“Ha ha ha. Of course, to Anton. Who else have I been dating for the last year?”
“Nobody. But I figured it was just a matter of time before you corrected that.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Look, Tessa, I never said this before because I didn’t want to hurt you. But I think there’s only one reason you’re dating this man.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Okay, let me put it another way. There’s two hundred thousand reasons you’re dating him.”
“Yes, he has lots of money, but –“
“Funny, that was the first thing out of your mouth when you told me about this new guy you were dating, remember? You mentioned that he was a really successful real estate owner. And that was the only thing you mentioned. Not his handsome face, his mind. Not his soul.”
“Yeah, but there was also…”
“Also what?” Bonnie Jean asked. “What else do you love about him? Name one thing.”
Tessa was stuck. She thought about his face, his height, his body, everything he had ever said or done for her and she couldn’t think of a single thing. Unable to answer her friend’s question, her cheeks grew red. “Look, BJ, I don’t need your judgment right now. You don’t understand what it’s like to be raised in poverty and have parents who are constantly encouraging you to find a rich, successful man to settle down with!”
“I get it, Tessa, but – “
“No, you don’t get it. I’m about get married and you won’t give me any support. Why not?”
After a pause, Bonnie Jean calmly answered. “Because you’re making a huge mistake.”
And Tessa hung up. The two of them hadn’t talked in six months.
Tessa stared in the mirror, wiping a tear from her eye as the conversation’s memory flooded her head. A knock at the door startled her. “Uh… yes?”
“What’s the hold up, honey?” Anton asked from outside.
“I’ll be right there.”
Tessa joined the dinner table, hoping nobody would notice her reddened eyes. “Mmm, looks lovely,” she said, taking a seat next to Anton.
“Yes, Cornish hen is a favorite in the Redgrave clan,” Anton said.
Tessa could barely get a bite of her first piece before the awkward questions began.
“So… Anton tells us you’re a musician,” Mr. Redgrave said.
“Well… not as a career or anything. I just goof around on violin.”
“Yes, I noticed the case,” Mrs. Redgrave said. “I adore music myself. We saw a lovely performance of Vivaldi last April.”
“Oh, really?” Tessa asked. “You mean Devon Vivaldi, the guy who opened for Naked Toaster last year?”
Mrs. Redgrave nearly went flush. “No, Dear. I’m referring to the baroque composer.”
“He’s broke? Man, that’s too bad,” Tessa said. “I didn’t make that much money myself playing violin. Just a little change while I was busking on the streets.”
The faces of both of Anton’s parents shriveled up like rotting fruit. “You mean, you played right there on the streets?” Mrs. Redgrave asked. “Around those unhygienic homeless people and everything?”
“Yeah. It was cool.”
A minute of silence followed. Then Mr. Redgrave had another question. “Do you mind if we inquire as to your background, my dear?”
“You mean, my musical background? Well, I’m really into rock music and a little bit of hip-hop –“
“No, no, no. Your family’s background.”
“Well, my parents were Russian immigrants who came over after the breakup of the Soviet Union.”
“I see.” Anton’s parents traded leery glances.
Tessa studied their faces. Unhappy with what she saw, she said, “Um, will you excuse me? I really need to get some fresh air.”
“Certainly,” Mr. Redgrave said.
Tess stepped away, barely able to contain her rage until storming out of the front door.
She paced across the front walk, muttering a jumble of angry words to herself.
Five minutes later, Anton followed her out. “What’s going on?”
“What’s going on is me doing the best I can do to keep from killing your parents. Why are they being so judgmental?”
He waved the question away. “It’s nothing. That’s just their way.”
“Well, their way sucks. I don’t understand why they need to know about my background.”
“I’m afraid you simply don’t understand the ways of the rich, my dear.”
Eyebrows arched and hands on her hips, Tessa said, “You’re right. I don’t. Help this poor peasant girl understand.”
“My parents tend to be a bit… suspicious, if you will, when any of their children are dating someone from a… shall we say, unprivileged background. They know that the world is full of young opportunistic women who are eager to get their hands on a man of wealth.”
Tessa said nothing. She just stared into Anton’s eyes remembering the argument they’d had – the one about how she really felt about him. She wanted to believe Bonnie Jean was wrong. But searching deep in his eyes, she felt nothing.
Anton said, “And we both know that isn’t true of you. Right?”
She paused, struggling to find the words. The correct way to answer the question would have been, that’s right, honey. I don’t care anything about your wealth. I love you for you. But the words stayed lodged in her throat.
After several uncomfortable seconds, it occurred to her that this would have been a good time to admit the truth. After all, they had a week to go before the wedding. Calling things off after tying the knot would have been cruel. “Well… here’s the thing –“
But her cell phone rang before she could get to her confession. She scooped it out of her pocket and instantly recognized the number. Mama. “I really should get this. It could be important.”
After a kiss on the forehead, Anton stepped back into the house. Tessa braced for anything and answered the phone. “”Hello, Mama!”
“Yes, my dear. All is going good, yes?”
“Yes, it’s going well. We’re at his parents’ house. It’s lovely.”
“Ahhh, that is very good. Tell me, Tessa. Are you very much looking forward to your time of marriage?”
“Well, Mama…” Just as she had a second earlier, she wanted to come clean. But this would not be easy.
“I know exactly what you mean to say.”
“This is correct. I can hear in your voice much excitement and joy. And I now tell that…” Mama was choking up, unable to speak. “I cry at this time many tears of happiness. When your father and me came from our homeland to United States, we always dream our daughters would find strong providers and get married. We wanted for you to not live the lives we had to live. All the hard work. All the suffering.”
Tessa was now choked up herself. The confession would have to wait.
“This is what you were wanting to say, yes?”
“Yes, Mama. That’s it. I love you.”
“I am loving you, my little Tessa. Goodbye.”
After hanging up, she wiped the tears away and stepped back inside. When she had rejoined the dinner table, they were having lemon meringue pie. She gobbled down the last piece of Cornish hen just as everyone was leaving the table.
Once night had fallen, Mrs. Redgrave graciously led her guests to their bedrooms. Giving her hands a majestic wave, she motioned her son to a room and Tessa to another. “I hope the two of you have a restful night. We will see you in the morning.”
After she moved down the hallway, Anton whispered to his wife-to-be. “Mother’s a bit old-fashioned about sleeping arrangements. After all, we’re not yet legal.”