The awkward silence filling the room has everyone shifting uncomfortably in their seats. Their eyes dart around the room, pausing on family photos to examine them as if they hold great importance. Nobody wants to bring up the white elephant in the room, but it's obvious that's all anyone can think about.
The white elephant, unfortunately, is me, and the faded bruise on my cheek. Thank God they can't see my stomach and the ugly yellowish-purple one that takes up most of it.
So I wait, twirling my straight, shoulder length, golden-brown hair around my finger, chewing on my bottom lip. Waiting for the moment when a family member's curiosity gets the best of them and the questions begin.
The sound of heels clipping the hardwood floor becomes everyone's new area of focus.
My mom enters and smiles, holding up a tray full of appetizers, “Who wants some mini quiche?”
The murmur of pleases and thank-yous hums around the room as my mom goes person to person, offering them a napkin and a pre-feast snack.
The last person is served and she leaves the tray on the coffee table, retreating back to the kitchen. I want to scream at her to come back and not leave me alone with these people and their prying eyes, but instead I remain silent, watching her as she deserts me. I'm hoping maternal instinct will kick in and she'll sense my unease and come back to rescue me.
No such luck.
I let out a sigh and go back to twisting my hair and staring at an invisible spot on the floor. The silence is irritating me now. Somebody say something, anything!
“So,” Uncle Ned speaks up, clearing his throat. “Would it bother anyone if I turned on the game?”
Nobody minds and I want to kiss my uncle for giving everyone a distraction and noise to drown out the silence. We all become overly absorbed in the game. Occasionally, one of them will glance my way. I don't acknowledge them because I will be faced with expressions of concern (a look I'm beginning to loathe), and curious eyes not wanting to ask but dying to know what happened.
We all know the minute my aunt Lisa arrives; it's impossible not to. My aunt comes in two volumes: loud, and obnoxiously loud.
“Margret!” She cries from a distant spot in the house, but she might as well have been standing in the living room with how clearly we can hear her. “Where should I put the casserole? You look lovely! It's not fair that we are only two years apart yet you look ten years younger!”
My mom replies, but it's hard to make out what she says. I can tell when they reach the kitchen because my aunt starts yammering on about the food and wanting to make sure she isn't overcooking the ham (she wasn't being rude, my mom overcooks it every year).
A few moments later (after my mom and her older sister finish pleasantries) my aunt comes to the living room. The minute she sees me a deep, saddened frown is placed on her lips.
Here we go.
“Oh, Lily.” She hurries over and pulls me into her arms for a hug, “Oh sweetie, I'm so sorry. How are you holding up?”
“Fine,” I mumble into her over-teased permed hair, trying not to choke on the overpowering stench of too much hairspray.
She holds me out at arms length, her fake nails digging into my shoulders, and searches my face for the signs of misery only a broken, damaged heart can bring.
She can look as deep as she wants, but she won't find anything.
“Really, I'm okay,” I reassure her, patting her on the arm.
“Of course you are, dear,” Aunt Lisa returns a sympathetic pat on my shoulder. She doesn't believe me; it's written all over her face.