Joel’s parents’ home was huge and perched on a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Winnie hadn’t taken much time to get to know the Andersons yet because she knew she’d be staying with them for four days. They nonetheless welcomed her with open arms.
Lynnette Anderson kept saying things like, “I don’t want to overstep my boundaries. You two need to make decisions together as a couple,” and “I should warn you that Joel has always been a momma’s boy, but I recognize that you are now the most important woman in his life.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Anderson, I appreciate that. I'll make sure he keeps in contact with his mother.”
“Wonderful,” Lynnette said, draping her arm through Winnie’s. “We’ve set up the lower level of the house for the two of you so you can have some privacy. The view is not as magnificent as the upstairs balconies, but the sliding glass doors in the basement open right up to a patio where you can watch the sunset.”
They walked down a long flight of stairs to a family room complete with a theater sized television screen, sectional sofas, and an incredible view out the sliders. Winnie was in awe.
“Over here is a private bedroom suite with a Jacuzzi tub. Perfect for late night rendezvous.”
“Oh my gosh, Mom, please. I don’t want to talk to you about our marital relationship.” Joel turned to Winnie. “Can you tell she’s a real estate agent for a living?”
Winnie giggled. “Personally, I’m looking forward to a late-night rendezvous in the hot tub. I don’t know what your problem is.”
“If we were talking to your mother you’d understand,” Joel said. “Let’s just get unpacked and look forward to… watching a nice sunset.”
“What are you guys hungry for? Shall I throw some steaks on the grill?”
“Winnie’s a vegetarian,” Joel told his mom. Winnie was grateful he stepped in right away.
“Well definitely not steaks then.” Lynnette chuckled. “Do you like spaghetti?”
“I love spaghetti. Thank you.”
“Garlic bread and salad?” Lynnette asked.
“That sounds wonderful.” Winnie already felt more at home around Joel’s family than she did her own. Maybe they were just putting on a good first impression for their son’s new bride, but Winnie appreciated the gesture.
“Everybody decent?” Dean Anderson called as he was bounding down the stairs. “Am I allowed to come say hello?”
“Seriously, Dad?” Joel shook his head about his father’s teasing. “Aren’t you guys a little over the top?”
“Hey, I was warned by the woman in charge—aka your mother—that I was not allowed to bother the newlyweds.”
“Do you remember what it was like to be a newlywed?” Lynnette asked Dean, wrapping her arms around his waist. “Would you have wanted to be around your in-laws?”
“I didn’t want to be around anyone.” Dean returned his wife’s hug.
“Okay, Mom, Dad, you’re grossing me out,” Joel said.
“Ah, my son, you’ve just been too busy with football and stuff since you’re wedding.”
And sick, Winnie added in her head.
“A couple needs time alone for a honeymoon,” Dean added, finishing his little spiel.
“We have the rest of our lives to be on our honeymoon,” Joel said, wrapping his arm around Winnie’s shoulders. “We’re only in California a few more days and want to spend time with family. I want you to get to know my new wife.”
“And we look forward to that,” Lynnette said.
Another person bounded down the stairs and Joel’s sister, Emilie came around the corner. “Am I allowed to come say hello?” Emilie was a senior in high school, tall and athletic like her brother and had a friendly smile like their mom.
Before anyone could answer, Joel’s phone binged with an incoming email. “Ooh! Got the email from Madame Jocie!” Joel released Winnie from his embrace and stepped over to where a television remote sat on a table.
“Why are you getting an email from my ballet mistress?” Winnie asked with suspicion.
“I asked her to send me a copy of your ballet performance from last month,” Joel said, pushing buttons on the remote. “I wanted to show my parents,”
“I want to see too,” Emilie said, plopping onto the sectional and pulling her legs underneath her.
“I haven’t seen my own performance, either.” Winnie’s stomach fluttered with excitement. This would either be morbidly embarrassing, or a confidence boost. She sank into the nearest sofa and perched on the edge, crossing her ankles and lifting her face to watch the screen. “I’ve already had two theaters in New York City invite me to audition for principals.”
“Wow, that’s really exciting.” Lynnette’s voice sounded impressed. She rounded the sofa and sat near Winnie.
Dean stood behind the sectional, which filled most of the middle of the family room, and Joel stood beside Winnie, remote control in hand. When he started the recording, Winnie gasped inwardly.
I look so fat! Winnie almost said out loud but refrained. No one in their right mind would look at the lithe ballerina on that stage and think she looked fat. She was being her own worst critic and she knew that. Logically, she knew that. Illogically, Winnie could barely watch herself. She wondered if anyone else in the room saw the woman on the screen the same way she was seeing herself.
Lynnette’s jaw was slack, and her brow creased. Joel and his dad both looked proud and oblivious. Emilie glanced over at Winnie and then back at the screen.
Tears filled Winnie’s eyes as she watched the performance of her life dancing across the screen. She understood why she’d gotten offers from talent scouts. She was an incredible dancer. She waited for the torture to be over and then she waited for the questions to begin. She didn’t have to wait long.
“Sweetie, have you been sick the past few weeks?” Lynnette moved closer and took Winnie’s hand.
“Yeah,” Winnie whispered, glancing down at her new mother-in-law’s hand clasping hers. “We didn’t want to say anything to anyone because we didn’t want anyone to worry.”
“Well, I’m worried now.” Lynnette scooted even closer.
Joel sat beside Winnie on the couch and wrapped his arm around her back. “We think it was all the rich foods at the wedding reception, or maybe food poisoning. She’s barely kept anything down for days.”
“I’ve felt a lot better the past couple of days,” Winnie defended herself. “I’m almost back to eating normally.”
“Well, if that’s eating normally, then you’re not normally eating enough,” Joel said, shaking his head.
“I’ve always eaten small, frequent meals,” Winnie said. “I don’t want to get overly full. You saw what happened when I ate too much at once. Madame Jocie has been telling us for years, ‘nutrition needs to stay in the body,’ and she’s right. She doesn’t want a bunch of bulimic dancers in her classes.”
“That’s admirable,” Dean said, rounding the sofa and sitting close to his wife. “Some ballet instructors want their dancers to be twigs.”
“Madame Jocie wants us to be healthy,” Winnie said. “Speaking of which, you promised me spaghetti. Could I help in the kitchen?” Winnie stood and reached her hand down to help her mother-in-law off the sofa, determined to force everyone’s minds away from her weight loss.
Lynnette took Winnie’s proffered hand and rose from the sofa but instead of leaving for the kitchen, Lynnette pulled Winnie into her arms. Her voice was compassionate. “I want you to be healthy too, so you let me know how I can help, okay?” Lynnette pulled away to hold Winnie at arm’s length.
“The best thing you can do is feed me like I’m a vegetarian and don’t overanalyze everything I put in my mouth like my mother does.”
“I will try my best.” Lynnette nodded definitively and offered a smile. “Now let me show you around my kitchen and see if there are any groceries we need to make your stay more comfortable.”
“Thank you.” Winnie pulled Lynnette back into a hug, treasuring whatever subtle perfume clung to her and feeling like she was home. As she looked over Lynnette’s shoulder, she met the gaze of her new husband and they smiled at one another.
Their honeymoon just improved immensely. This beautiful home perched on a mountain overlooking the Pacific Ocean was the perfect place to unwind. Maybe now they could relax and enjoy being married.
Book Club Discussion Questions: Have you ever looked back at pictures from months or years ago and thought, Wow! I was so fat/skinny back then! I know have. Do you think Winnie knows she has a problem that needs medical treatment? Or is she dismissing her eating disorder as just a little problem that will work itself out?