“Congratulations, both of you!” Winnie’s father, Warren LaFleur held up a glass of champagne, toasting to his daughter and son-in-law’s graduation from one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the University of Michigan.
“Here, here!” Joel’s father, Dean Anderson raised his glass in solidarity. The Andersons had flown in from California the day before graduation and were staying at Winnie’s parents’ elegant home in Farmington Hills. This gave Winnie and Joel a place to celebrate with both families without needing to brave a crowded restaurant, and without Joel’s parents having to stay in a hotel.
Winnie was grateful for her parents’ hospitality and excited to get reacquainted with Joel’s family, Lynnette in particular. They’d had a fun discussion in the kitchen while the women were cooking.
“You look healthier than the last time I saw you,” Lynnette had said, nudging Winnie’s shoulder. “Good to see some color in your cheeks and a sparkle in your eyes.”
“It’s amazing what happens when you’re able to keep food down,” Winnie said, knowing what question was coming next.
“And I’m assuming things in the bedroom are going better.” Lynnette wiggled her eyebrows up and down.
“A thousand percent better.” Winnie felt her cheeks heat with embarrassment at talking with her mother-in-law about sex. “Thank you again for your advice.”
“Okay, wait a minute”—Winnie’s mom, Teri, interrupted—“When were you sick, and why didn’t you tell me all this? I’m your mother.” Jealously laced her words.
“We were at the Anderson’s house right after our wedding, so Lynnette helped me with a major challenge Joel and I were having.” Winnie lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whispered. “It hurt to even try.”
“Oh, well, you need some lubricant.” Her mom waved her hand dismissively and took another sip from her glass of wine.
“That’s what Lynnette said. And she took me right to the store.” Winnie draped her arm through her mother-in-law’s arm in solidarity. “From now on I’m giving that as a gift at every bridal shower I attend. Women need to know about this before they ruin an otherwise beautiful moment on their wedding night. Not that I had any fun on our wedding night.” Winnie shuttered, remembering the horror.
“What happened on your wedding night?”
“I spent the whole night puking up the rich food from the reception,” she told her mom, embarrassed that she’d never shared the story with her. “I think the first full meal I kept down was the spaghetti Lynnette made for me four days later.”
“What is it with you and food?” Her mom asked rhetorically. “If you would just eat like a normal person, you wouldn’t be so affected like that. There was nothing wrong with the food at your wedding.”
“Some foods just don’t agree with my body,” Winnie defended. “I don’t eat this way because I’m trying to be difficult. I eat this way because I know what makes me sick and what keeps me healthy.”
“Well, you look a lot healthier than you did.” Lynnette wrapped her arm around Winnie’s shoulders. “And have you started seeing a doctor yet?”
Winnie knew what Lynnette was really asking without coming out and saying as much in front of Winnie’s mom. She wanted to know if Winnie had gotten treatment for her eating disorder. “No, I’m fine as long as I eat the right foods.”
Lynnette pursed her lips and creased her brow but let her off the hook. “Promise me you’ll talk to someone if you get sick again.”
“I promise.” Winnie could tell Lynnette wasn’t going to let this go but was thankful she hadn’t pushed the subject in front of her mother.
A question from her father brought Winnie back to the present. “Can you hand me your plate so I can dish you up a piece of lasagna?”
Winnie clung to her plate with both hands, pressing the fine china into the table as if someone was going to snatch the plate away from her and contaminate the space with something she knew she wouldn’t eat. “No, thank you, Daddy. I’ll stick with salad and breadsticks.”
“I made vegetable lasagna specifically for you.” Her mom’s voice rose with emotion. “You’re not even going to eat the meal I prepared?”
“Your recipe contains beef stock, Mom,” Winnie said. “I watched you pour it into the sauce.”
“It’s just a cup of broth in the whole pan of sauce.” Her mom dismissed Winnie’s concern. “I don’t understand what the big deal is. How much longer are you going to stick with this vegetarian nonsense? You used to love my cooking.”
All conversation at the table had stopped and Joel rested his arm across the top of Winnie’s chair but didn’t try to rescue her from the interrogation. Winnie appreciated that. She wanted her husband’s support but didn’t want him trying to fix her problems. Winnie lifted her chin with confidence. “I’ll be a vegetarian for the rest of my life, Mom.”
“Of course, you will.” Joel leaned over and kissed the side of Winnie’s head. “Maybe someday your mom will understand. In the meantime, I’ll take Winnie’s portion.” Joel held out his plate to his father-in-law with a forced smile.
Her mom pursed her lips but didn’t say anything else.
Joel’s dad changed the subject. “So, what are you kids’ plans now that you’ve graduated? Joel, you’re starting med school in the fall, right? Winnie, have you chosen a career?”
“We’re going to New York City for the summer, actually.” Winnie’s whole countenance shifted with excitement, not only thankful for the distraction from her eating habits, but also for a transition into her favorite topic of conversation. “We’d like to see if I can get hired by a theatre to dance.”
“She’s very talented.” Joel smiled and winked at her. “They’d be crazy not to have you in their company, if not a lead.”
“She is very talented,” Lynnette said. “I was blown away by the video she showed us from December. You must be very proud of your daughter.” Lynnette turned to Winnie’s parents.
“We are,” her dad said, lifting his chest with pride. “For lots of reasons.”
“We recognized her talent when she was very little,” her mom added, excitement in her tone. “She always wanted to dress in pretty costumes and spin around the house, leaping through the air, posing and bowing to her imaginary audience. She was adorable.”
Winnie couldn’t help beam at her parents’ and in-laws’ praise. This was why she was heading to New York City. She’d wanted this all her life. She was a dancer. And she was going to dance forever. She took another bite of her salad, excited for her future.