Tales of food, sex and friendship




Season 5: Episode 9

March 13, 2012

Johnny tested a mouthful of the cooked barley thoughtfully. It needed more lemon. He added another slug of olive oil and some black pepper too for good measure, tasting it again. Perfect. Or at least, it would be, he thought, if I were making if for people that I liked. Or even knew.

He looked across his small kitchen to where Cecelia was standing, chopping lettuce to make a green salad. She was humming to herself and glanced up, beaming at him. Johnny smiled stiffly back. For about the millionth time he wondered why he had agreed to today at all; hosting her entire family for lunch was not his idea of fun. But, Cecelia was pregnant, he was the baby dada, and this was just one of those things that came with the territory.

If someone had told Johnny a year ago that this is where he would be now he would have laughed in their face. He wasn’t  stupid enough to get someone pregnant! Let alone someone he barely knew, who was adamantly opposed to abortion, and who would be disowned from her very traditional catholic family when they discovered she was with child but without husband.

She’d wanted to get married, but Johnny knew he couldn’t. “I’m just not the marrying type,” he’d said when she’d pushed him for a reason. Not to you, anyway, he thought. He felt no connection to Cecelia or their child, but despite this, he couldn’t forget his own childhood and how hard it had been. With absent parents and estranged grandparents, Johnny had grown up almost alone. If it wasn’t for his older sister looking out for him, there was no way he would have made it to where he was now. He had always been envious of people who had large families and no matter how he felt about the current situation, he wouldn’t – couldn’t – subject his child to the same thing. So, he and Cecelia had come to an arrangement of sorts: They would tell her family they were engaged, planning to marry within the year. In a month or so the happy couple would be shocked – but delighted, of course – to find out Cecelia was with child, nearing the end of her first trimester.

Being engaged and pregnant was apparently not as bad as the other options.

The happy – and now expecting – couple would announce they were postponing the wedding until well after the birth, by which time it would be too late, and they would break up. They would blame the demise of their relationship on the pressures of having a child and decide – amicably – to part ways. Cecelia’s family would put up a fight, but they would be so besotted with their first grandchild that it wouldn’t last for long. Cecelia would move interstate to be with her family, Johnny would get his life back and everyone would live happily ever after. The End.

It wasn’t a perfect plan, but at least it seemed to be working. For now.

Johnny didn’t expect anyone else to understand his decision. He had picked up the phone so many times to call Mia and tell her everything, but couldn’t go through with it. After all, what the hell was he meant to say? “Hey Mia. Could you put your life on hold waiting for me while I fake an engagement in order to help out another woman who is going to give birth to my first child?”

Johnny shook his head wryly at the thought. Even he knew that was going a bit far. All he could do was hope that – at the end of it all – Mia would be there and find it in her heart to forgive him.

He sighed as he finished chopping the parsley to go with the warm barley and cauliflower salad. Today he would play the part of the newly engaged fiancé in order to keep his child from being ostracised from its extended family.

It’s for the best, he told himself over and over again, wishing that he actually believed that.

***

“Earth to Johnny,” Cecelia said, laughing. “The salad is done. What’s next?”

“Oh right.” Johnny dragged himself back to the present, glad that Cecelia couldn’t read his thoughts. Even though they were in a fake relationship, he didn’t think she’d appreciate him thinking about another woman. “I’ll set the table. Why don’t you just relax?”

Cecelia flashed him another brilliant smile. “You’re the best fiancé ever.”

Johnny shot her a warning look.

“Fake fiancé,” she added quickly, not wanting Johnny to fall into another one of his moods just before he met her family for the first time.

She sat, thinking yet again how gorgeous and lovely Johnny was and how lucky she had been to get him. Well, sort of get him. She absently played with the trinket on her finger, daydreaming about how great a father he was going to be.

Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny saw something sparkle. He felt his blood turn cold. “What the hell is that?” he said, pointing to Cecelia’s left hand.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said hurriedly, putting her hand behind her back. “It’s just… well, if we were really engaged I’d have a ring.”

“So you just bought yourself one?” he said. “Without talking to me about it?”

“It’s not a big deal” she said, dismissing it casually. “It’s not even a real diamond.”

Cecelia of course had other ideas about the outcome of this arrangement. Perhaps it was from watching every romantic comedy out there or reading one too many Danielle Steele books, but she was convinced that it was only a matter of time before Johnny realised he was deeply in love with her, and the fake diamond on her finger would be exchanged for a real one. She glanced at the ring on her hand again, smiling at the thought. She had chosen a copy of exactly what she wanted her real engagement ring to look like. Beyonce had said it best: If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it. Sometimes boys just needed a little encouragement to figure out what they liked. And what type of ring they should put on it when they decided they did like it.

 ***

Within the hour, Johnny’s small apartment was jammed full of Cecelia’s relatives, all of whom had flown in from interstate to meet her new fiancé. They were hugging and kissing and crying, squealing as they admired the ring and telling Johnny how handsome he was.

“Tell us exactly how you proposed,” one of the aunts gushed. “We want every single detail!”

“Ummmm…” Shit, Johnny thought. Should have seen that one coming.

Thankfully the doorbell rang again, and he excused himself, letting Cecelia think of an answer. He pulled the door open, wondering how on earth he was going to cram more people into his apartment. His jaw dropped when he saw who it was.

“Mia!” Johnny glanced behind him and walked outside, pulling the door slightly closed so that Mia couldn’t see in.  “What are you doing here?”

“I need to tell you something,” she said. She was fidgeting and looked very nervous.

“Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, at work or something?”

“What? Oh, I got fired,” she mumbled. “But that’s not why I came to see…”

“Hang on,” Johnny said, cutting her off. “Fired? Why?”

“It’s a long story,” she said, waving her hand dismissively, “and it’s not important. What is important is you. I mean us. I mean…” she groaned. Honestly, she had planned what she was going to say, it just wasn’t exactly coming out right. “What I mean is that you and I… the way I feel about you is… good. I feel very good about you. About us. I’ve never felt anything like it before. And I think that you feel the same way. About us.”

The words came out in a gush. They didn’t really make sense, but Johnny didn’t care. He had been waiting for so long to hear the truth about how she felt. And here she was, saying words that he had wanted to say so many times before, but hadn’t, for fear that he’d scare her off. More than anything he wanted to throw his arms around Mia and tell her that yes, he felt exactly the same way and had done for as long as he could remember.

It was just that, right now, her timing was so, so awful.

“Don’t you feel the same way?” she said in a small voice, when he didn’t answer immediately.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how I feel,” he whispered, staring deep into her eyes. “But, right now, I can’t talk. Can we meet up later tonight?”

Mia shook her head. “No. If I don’t say it now, then I never will and I’ll regret it forever.” She took a deep breath. “The thing is Johnny, that I am completely and utterly in lo…”

“Johnny?” Cecelia stuck her head around the door, scowling when she saw Mia. “What do you want?” she said.

Mia looked warily at Cecelia. “I just needed to… tell Johnny something.”

“He’s busy right now,” Cecelia said. She put her hand possessively on Johnny’s shoulder. A brilliant flash of diamond nearly blinded Mia.

“No…” Mia whispered, feeling suddenly nauseous. “You’re not…?”

Johnny looked down and shook Cecelia’s hand off, groaning. Fuck.

“It’s not what you think,” he said, trying to get away from Cecelia.

“But you don’t love her,” Mia said dangerously close to tears. “I know you don’t.”

“I can’t talk about this now,” Johnny said, begging Mia with his eyes to understand.

“It’s because of the baby, isn’t it,” Mia said suddenly. “You don’t have to marry her, Johnny… Not in this day and age. People raise kids separately all the time. I’ll help you,” she pleaded, desperate.

“Where’s our future son-in-law?”Cecelia’s father pushed open the door, holding out his hand warmly when he saw Mia. “Ah, you must be one of Cecelia’s friends come to give your congratulations to the happy couple! Well, come inside,” he boomed, grinning. “We’re about to open the champagne!”

Mia looked wildly from Johnny to Cecelia. I’m too late, she thought, her heart sinking. I’ve lost him for good. She willed the tears to stay where they were.

“No thank you,” she said as brightly as she could to Cecelia’s father. “I just wanted to stop past and say… congratulations.” She touched Johnny’s arm lightly, adding “you’re going to make a great dad.”

Then she turned and fled, the tears she had been holding back streaming down her face.

Cecelia’s father looked from Johnny to his daughter’s slightly bulging stomach. “A great dad?” he repeated, realisation dawning on his face.

Johnny closed his eyes. Fuck. Why could nothing just go to plan?