Today's A to Z Blogging Challenge is U for a short story I've written, titled Ungrateful.
Olivia and Caroline sought out their usual table, nestled in the dimly lit corner of the cafe. Their monthly catch up was a long standing tradition for them. One that saw them through their awkward teens, anguished twenties and tempestuous thirties.
Sipping their coffee, Caroline observed her best friend. She seemed tense. “You're looking well, Olivia. What's new with you?”
“Well? Don’t lie, Caroline, I look like shit,” Olivia's cup clattered as she slammed it on the table. With a sigh of exasperation, she said, “Katie is driving me and Tony up the wall. She's such a spoiled brat. I don't know what I'm going to do with her. Last week, we took her and her friend, Megan, to the Sea-Life Centre. Katie wasn't interested in any of it. She walked right through, from one end to the other, without looking at the sea-life creatures. She said she was too scared!"
"Aww the poor dear," Caroline laughed.
"Poor? She's a wimp! And she shows no appreciation, whatsoever. Megan, on the other hand,” Olivia took another sip, “we couldn't tear her away from it! Poor thing doesn't get anything like this from her parents."
"That must be awf-“.
"They don't care about her the way we care about Katie,” Olivia cut in, “Megan always turns up at school with her clothes un-ironed; her hair messy; her nails dirty. Katie always has her clothes pressed, her hair perfect and clean as a whistle, and does she thank us?" she shook her head, "does she hell!"
She looked at her friend for a reaction, but Caroline sat expressionless. Olivia took this as a sign to continue.
"If you thought that was ungrateful, you should have heard her last night. I made her spaghetti bolognaise, and she didn't want it! She complained of a sore tummy, but I knew she was just lying because I wouldn't give her chocolate earlier in the day. Unappreciative little witch! She turns 8 in a few months. I just hope she grows out of this diva phase soon.”
Caroline took a sharp breath. “My goodness, 8 already? It seems like only yesterday I cradled her as a tiny baby," her eyes misted at the memory, making Olivia raise an eyebrow, confused. Pulling herself together, Caroline asked, "are you doing anything nice for her party?”
Olivia snorted “We've rented the Play Area down the road, but whether she deserves it or not is another matter. We had to book it 12 weeks in advance as well! I invited all her classmates the other day and she got upset. She said she didn't want to have a big party; that she just wanted to stay at home and read,” Olivia spat the last word out like it was poison, “I told her 'Katie, you've got to get out of this shy stage. Nobody will like you if your head is always stuck in a book. You should be grateful the other kids have even agreed to come along'. Honestly, she's turning into such a weirdo; I don't know where she gets it from." She took another sip of her coffee and looked at her friend for comfort; for reassurance. "Caroline... what's the matter?”
Caroline was no longer listening. She was staring into her cup, her eyes filled with tears.
“What is it, Caroline?”
“I have to go now, but please do me one favour", she got up and struggled to keep her voice under control, "please just love Katie for who she is and be thankful for every second you have with her. You might think she's ungrateful, but there may be people out there... who can't have children... who think you're being ungrateful.”
Olivia looked hurt. Offended. “I'm not ungrateful! I love Katie.”
Caroline's chair scraped back as she went to her friend. Bending down, she kissed Olivia's cheek. “Please make sure she knows it, every single day.”
She walked away, leaving Olivia speechless.
Later that night, Olivia told her husband, Tony, all about it, as they got ready for bed.
“Maybe she's been told she can't have kids.” he said.
“Maybe”, Olivia agreed, “but even so, that's hardly my fault, is it?”
“Exactly,” Tony nodded, “it's not fair to call you ungrateful 'cos she can't have kids. Maybe you should just phase her out of your life, darling. You’ve obviously outgrown her.”
And so she did.
After a few months, she was surprised to realise that Caroline hadn't tried to make contact with her either. Incensed that Caroline may have thought to phase her out too, she dialled her number.
It was Katie's birthday party that day, after all, and she'd be expecting a present from “Auntie Caroline.”
But she wasn't there. It was her mother who answered the phone.
Caroline had passed away, a fortnight ago. She'd been diagnosed with ovarian cancer only three months previously. “I'm really surprised you didn't know about it, I always thought you two were the best of friends” Caroline's mother said, through fresh tears.
As she hung up the phone, Tony appeared at the door, with Katie by his side, in her neatly-pressed tutu dress. She'd been crying and looked terrified about her upcoming party.
“Are you ready? We're going to be late.” Tony checked his watch, impatient.
Olivia reached out to her daughter and, wordlessly, folded her into her arms and squeezed her tight. She met Katie’s questioning eyes. “Would you prefer to go upstairs and read your book?”
The young girl looked cautious, as though being asked a trick question. She stayed silent, which pained Olivia's heart. Kissing her face repeatedly, her fresh tears meshed with her daughter's drying ones.
“Tony, call the party off. We’re doing whatever makes the birthday girl happy."
Katie had a wonderful birthday. And from that day onward, she was made to feel very loved. Every single day.
Today's song is Unfinished Sympathy from Massive Attack. Enjoy!