"She's moving in with you?" Sheila worked hard at controlling the shock that was bound to show on her face. She doubted it was working; Willow, from the age of thirteen, had known exactly what she was thinking.
"Yes, Mom." Willow wiped hair away from her face and shrugged. "She needed a place and we can provide one at the moment."
"I guess I'm surprised that you and Tara think it's reasonable to bring this girl into your house while you're 21 weeks pregnant." Sheila felt her words transform from the curious questions she had intended into accusation. A tension thickened between them in the kitchen.
Willow reached for her glass of iced tea. "We talked it over and decided that at the moment it will work just fine. If anything, having Lisa around will be useful. I'm getting a personal assistant for free," she joked.
Sheila tried to smile, as Willow held the chilled glass against her face and gave a loud, appreciative sigh. She realized that she had no idea how to go about persuading Willow to change her mind. If she said one wrong word, she knew Willow would stop listening. "Honey," she began, "if you have any doubts about having this girl stay, don't be afraid to tell me or Tara. I'm sure Tara will understand and she'll find somewhere else for her friend to stay. I bet she's got lots of contacts for refuge centers in her line of work."
Obviously, that had been the wrong thing to say. Willow fixed her wide eyes on Sheila. "Could you make it sound more dramatic?"
"Well, yes. I could have said that Lisa might turn out to be a sociopath and kill the three of you in your sleep." Sheila saw Willow relax and felt better. "Maybe I've been watching too many cop shows."
"In that case, maybe Tara should consider getting a weapon for the house. You know, with all those great contacts she has." Willow stuck her tongue out and Sheila chuckled.
"So, Willow," Sheila said, not wanting to risk losing the improved mood but determined to ask, "I just need to know that if things don't work out, you will…" She trailed off, unsure of what verb to use without offending Willow.
"If I start to have the nigglin' doubts one night, Tara will evict Lisa quicker than she would a house spider. Look, there's nothing to worry about, Mom. Tara is very protective. If Lisa even over-cooked my dinner, she'd be out on the street. Promise."
Sheila nodded at Willow's confident smile. Her daughter seemed so sure. "Okay, I'll hold you to that. So what's Lisa like, anyway?
"Typical teenage girl. No obvious traits of insanity or personality disorder. She likes rock music, tie-dyed soda and copious amounts of television."
"Tie-dyed soda?" Sheila wrinkled her nose. "Sounds nutritious."
"Tara invented it," Willow said proudly. "It's soda water and food coloring. 100% sugar free. She's helping Lisa limit her sugar addiction."
"Oh dear. She hasn't moved in yet and the word addiction has already come up," Sheila said. Willow giggled.
"You're in an awfully good mood," Sheila observed, giving Willow a quick motherly physical. She noticed that her daughter was practically gleaming with health. Her hair was wound up in a knot, with strands tucked behind each ear, and her clothing was new and flattering. She looked older and responsible, and Sheila felt a rush of pride. "I like your skirt," she said. The words failed to express anything even close to what she meant, but Willow looked pleased all the same.
"Thanks. I've been shopping in the trendy young mom stores." Willow lifted the edge of her skirt and held up the label for Sheila to see. "I get all these looks in the street," she said, smoothing her skirt back over her legs. "Some people smile, but some look at me like they're disgusted. Do you think I dress too scantily for a big mama?"
"Don't worry about them," Sheila replied, touching Willow's arm. "My friend Lauren's daughter, Shoshi, went swimming in a two-piece swimsuit last year when she was pregnant."
"There is actually a name for those. People these days call them bikinis," Willow pointed out.
"Whatever. Oh, god. Her mother-in-law wouldn't speak to her for a week."
"She told her that God hid the baby in her stomach for a reason, and that if He wanted the world to see it He would have configured the human body differently." Sheila laughed at her daughter's incredulous look.
Willow leaned back in her chair so that her head rested against the wall. "I haven't been swimming," she said. "I think of the baby having its cozy cave dipped into cold, salt water and feel too guilty."
Sheila laughed. "It lives in salty fluid, Willow," she said. "And it's not like the water can get through your naval."
Willow shuddered, holding her stomach protectively. "I can't do it."
"Are you going to go without showering from now on? What if some of that water gets in, too?" Sheila teased, enjoying the worried look that spread across Willow's face.
"Showers are hygienic," Willow protested. "And hygiene is good when babies are involved."
Ira walked in and sat at the table. "What are we discussing?"
Sheila noticed that Willow stiffened and looked over at her. She waited a moment in case Willow wanted to reply.
"Not much," Sheila said, after Willow remained quiet. "The conversation topics have ranged from bikinis to amniotic fluid."
Willow smiled, and Sheila felt a warmth spread through her. "She's not making that up, Dad," Willow added.
Sheila glanced at her daughter, wondering if she was waiting for her to give Ira the news. Willow nodded.
Reluctantly, she turned to face her husband. "Willow and Tara have some news. They're going to have a girl stay with them for a few weeks."
"What's this?" Ira asked.
Willow took a sip of tea. "I was telling Mom that a teenage girl we know is having some family problems. Tara and I have offered her our spare room for the next few weeks while she sorts things out."
"I don't like the sound of the family problems, Will," Ira said. Sheila saw that he was looking directly at her, wanting to know her opinion. She didn't know what her opinion was, honestly.
"What do you think is going to happen? That the baby might see Lisa as a role model and start partying and wearing eye makeup - inside my womb?" Willow's joking tone seemed forced.
"Willow," Sheila said, after Ira continued to stare at her, "I think he means that it might be an inappropriate time for a guest. What, is this girl going to massage your feet when they're sore and wash the carpet if you experience incontinence in your ninth month?"
"Too much information, Mom." Willow said. "Don't worry about it. She might not even be staying with us for long. Her mother moved out and she's not very comfortable staying at home with her father at the moment."
"Why?" Ira folded his arms. "You'd stay with me, wouldn't you? What's wrong with him?"
Sheila kicked her husband under the table. Willow hadn't given much detail but there were obvious possibilities for why Lisa might not want to stay at home. It annoyed Sheila that her husband couldn't pick up on these without asking. "You know," she murmured. She put her hand on her forehead, wishing they had never mentioned the situation. Willow's impatience showed and her smile had melted away.
"No, I don't know," Ira replied, sounding agitated. "What kind of person are we talking about here, Willow?"
"He's just not the nicest parent," Willow said, a frown beginning to form. "Can we let it go? I need to get home soon."
"It seems funny to me," Ira said.
"Mom?" Willow turned her attention onto Sheila.
"Yes, you go home and relax," Sheila answered. "I'll call you tomorrow."
"I just worry about you, sometimes," Ira said. "You know that." He reached for Willow's hand.
Willow touched his hand and stood up. "I know you do."
"See you later, honey." Sheila followed Willow to the front door and examined her face as they said goodbye. She couldn't help thinking that Willow looked younger, smaller, than she had moments earlier.
After Willow left, Sheila returned to the table. Ira poured her another glass of tea and they sat in silence. Sunlight trickled along the walls of the kitchen.
"Was it Tara's idea?" he asked.
Sheila nodded, but felt guilty. "I'm sure she feels she has to do something for the girl; you know that she had a hard time at home, too." She watched her husband struggle with the information.
"I hope Willow knows what she's doing. Her baby is going to have enough trouble with... with same-sex parents. They don't need to add insult to injury by letting troubled people into their lives." Ira said, with a frown that matched Willow's.
"She's a smart girl," Sheila said, getting out of her chair. "It'll be fine." She switched on the radio and a mournful song put an end to their discussion. She couldn't help thinking, though, once Ira left the room, that while Willow was a smart girl, Tara made her lose all rational thought.