The noise in the restaurant swirls around me but there seems to be a bubble of silence around our table. Mum and Dad sit opposite me, he perusing the menu, she sipping wine and watching the people passing in the street outside. I wish Laura was beside me, she’d know what to say, she’d tell some amusing anecdote or ask an insightful question. But we agreed that this was best done by myself. I was twenty-four, for goodness sake, you’d think I’d be able to have a conversation with my parents by myself. But I’m nervous about what I am going to tell them and they can sense my anxiety. I fiddle with my napkin, take a sip of water, straighten my necklace.
“What is it, Emma?” Mum asks, looking at me directly. “Whatever it is, tell us now and then we can relax and enjoy dinner.”
Dad looks up from the menu just as the waiter comes to take our order. Once we have done so and he’s left again, Mum reaches for my hand.
“What’s wrong?” she asks. Her grey hair falls softly around her face, her brown eyes kind, concerned. Dad places his hand over Mum’s, over mine.
I take back my hand, place them both in my lap, clenched around the napkin. They wait with patience. I can feel the words I want to say stuck in my throat. I’ve practiced them so many times, they should easily roll off my tongue but my mouth refuses to open, my voice trapped.
“Is it work?” Mum asks gently. I shake my head.
“Are your housemates still OK?” Dad asks. I nod.
“I’ve met someone.” The words croak reluctantly from between parched lips, my stomach twisted into knots.
“Oh.” Mum sits back in her chair, regards me closely.
“I thought you were going to say something bad,” Dad smiles at me.
The speech I’ve memorised is lodged in my throat, swelling as the seconds tick past, my ears roaring as my pulse thunders. The people sat at the table next to ours start singing happy birthday. A waitress brings out a cake adorned with lit candles. Other tables turn to look and the whole restaurant joins in. I let out my breath in a sigh and take a hasty sip of water.
“Well, what’s his name?” Mum says enthusiastically once the birthday candles have been extinguished and attention returned elsewhere.
“When can we meet him? What’s he like?” Dad asks, his expression a mix between fatherly protectiveness and, I think, relief that I’ve finally met someone that I like enough to mention to them.
I look down at the table, away from their expectant faces.
“Her name’s Laura,” I say quietly.
There’s a heartbeat of silence, as if the whole restaurant, the whole town has fallen silent at my announcement. It feels as if it stretches for eons but I’m sure it’s not so long. I dare to look up but my panicked brain is unable to decipher their expressions.
“Is that what you were so worried about telling us?” Mum asks.
I nod, unwanted tears gathering in my eyes.
She stands up and walks around to my side of the table. She crouches down, her pink flower-print skirt settling around her. She reaches out and enfolds me in a hug. For a moment, I am too startled to react and then my arms move around her back and I hide my face against her shoulder. Dad joins us and I scoot back my chair so he can wrap his arms around both me and Mum. I’m sure that other diners are staring at us, the three of us in a huddle on the floor, but I don’t register them. I breathe in my Mum’s familiar perfume, feeling safe and protected in my parent’s arms. My speech is forgotten; that mix of defiance and desire for acceptance, independence and understanding, not required.
Without any words, they tell me that I am loved, accepted.
Eventually, Mum stands up and follows Dad back around the table to their seats. She dabs at her eyes with her napkin. There’s a damp patch on her blouse where she dried my tears.
“So, when do we get to meet Laura, then?” Dad asks.
“Tomorrow? She suggested going for a walk along the seafront.”
“Good,” Dad nods.
“Does she make you happy?” Mum asks.
“More than anything.”
“Then you’re lucky to have found her, and she you.”
Mum reaches for Dad’s hand, their wedding rings catching the overhead lights.
“Thank you for telling us,” Mum says. “I’m so glad you’ve met someone who makes you happy.”
“We love you no matter what,” Dad says.
The fear which had been clenching my stomach tight eases and I take a deep breath. Mum reaches for one of my hands and Dad holds the other.
“You know I’m a romantic at heart,” Dad states. “The evening I met your mother-”
“Not this story again, Dad.”
“No, let me tell you…”
Mum watches his face with eyes full of love and I smile, his voice reminding me of bedtime stories when I was little. I hold their hands tight, so grateful for their acceptance, their love. Laura had been right and I was glad.