Coleslaw

Linda McMullen

My best friend Jen texted, We should definitely get everyone together one last time!  How’s August 12? – and my heart constricted.  

I texted back, Sounds great!

She responded, Dad says we can use the backyard for a cookout.

Then added, I’m thinking hot dogs, hamburgers.

Next, Do you think we should go old school and do S’Mores too?

And, Hey, is everything OK?

I wrote, We should get black bean burgers for Sara and Kelsey.

She replied, <3

Mom, tight-lipped, said, “Well, Kaitlyn, are you ready?”

“Let’s go,” I said.  I grabbed a cardigan; Dr. Jansen’s office was consistently over-air conditioned and the wait times in the pink paper gowns skewed long.

In the run-up to the party, I helped Jen confirm attendance (Sara, Kelsey, Derek, Tom, Naomi, Makayla, Terrence, and Quinn said they could come; the Ryland twins were off camping), purchase cheesy decorations at the dollar store, and discuss the menu.  “I’m thinking we want to go uber-traditional,” she said.  “Sodas, chips, a fruit salad, corn on the cob, a green salad, coleslaw…”

The very idea of mayonnaise turned my stomach.  “Um… sounds good.”

“Cupcakes or s’mores?”

“Cupcakes,” I said.  Those always went down easily.  

Jen said, “Awesome.  Oh, I meant to tell you, I got an email from my future roommate today!”

One more thing I wouldn’t… “Wow,” I said.  “Does she seem nice?”

“A little churchy, but fine.”  Jen peered at me.  “I mean, she can’t replace you.”

I smiled.  “Ah, I wasn’t worried about that.”

“So remind me about your major?” asked Jen’s mom, as I put the finishing touches on the beverage table.  I fidgeted with the ice bucket – then an almighty crash sounded within the house.  “Jason!” screamed Jen’s mom.  “Your sister’s having a party, do you have to –”

The doorbell rang, and I said, “I’ll get it, Mrs. Lewandowski.”

It was Derek.  He grunted, “You OK?”

I shrugged.

Makayla turned up then, with ice cream, so I helped her Tetris-repack the 

Lewandowskis’ overstuffed freezer.  The others arrived.  Jen’s dad manned the grill and only offered a couple of derogatory remarks ending in veggie burgers.  

Quinn had put together a nostalgia-tinged playlist, starting with Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You”; Kelsey and Terrence were dancing and pretending they weren’t in earnest.  Talk turned to college – majors, clubs, whether or not to go Greek.  I nodded along.

Then Jen’s mom came out to check on us.  I was deciding between a slice of watermelon and some grapes when she said, “Oh, Kaitlyn, honey, you’ve hardly got anything!  Let me help you out!” and she piled coleslaw onto my plate.

Vomit rose in my throat; I turned to sprint toward the bathroom.  I didn’t make it more than four feet through the Lewandowskis’ yard.

Shock, horror, then the inevitable fluttering: paper towels / cup of water / have a seat.  Derek volunteered to sit with me in the Lewandowskis’ cool living room while Jen went to find a new shirt for me to borrow.  “So that’s still happening,” he said.

“It doesn’t necessarily stop the minute the first trimester ends,” I muttered.

  Jen brought down a slithery tank top I’d long admired.  I bit my lip.  “I’m so sorry,” I said.  “I don’t think it’s going to fit anymore.”

She looked from the top, to me, to the grim-faced Derek kneeling beside me, and paled.  “Kaitlyn…”

“Yes,” I said, brusquely.  “Four months in.  Due in January.  Not going to school.”

“Not now,” Derek interjected.  “I’ll go first, and then…”

And then.  The future laid itself out so clearly.  He’d go, making a pretense of fathering, especially in front of his own parents.  I’d watch the baby all day, then work for just above minimum wage taking overnight inventory while my parents split diaper duty.  The siren calls of nightclubs, beer, and twerking coeds would prove more alluring to Derek than a colicky infant and a residual high school relationship.  We’d split, officially.  He’d drop out of college, ostensibly to start earning “for the kid”, but he’d make me sweat for every dollar of child support.  His parents would white-knuckle through babysitting duty while I studied.  

Because of one poorly-thought-out night.  

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” I said to Kaitlin.  

She nodded, still dazed.

I glanced through the screen door, to the party outside, to Kelsey and Terrence beaming at one another, Makayla inviting Naomi to come visit her during the fall break, Quinn putting on “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”.  That’s wrong, I thought.  They’ve all got beautiful futures lined up right in front of them.  Then I noticed Mrs. Lewandowski through the screen door, cleaning up the sick.  

“Jen,” I said, “I think I might… waddle home.  Can you please just tell your mom it wasn’t her coleslaw?”

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories and the occasional poem have appeared in over ninety literary magazines. She received Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations in 2020. She may be found on Twitter: @LindaCMcMullen.