Sera's parents yelled, popping crackers and throwing streamers her way.
"I can't believe my little one is now a full grown woman! I mean, you were a woman before, but now, with a university education, you can get a job, you might even find a man at your new job, get married oh my gosh, things are getting crazy!" Her mother massaged her temples, unable to realize that reality.
"Ma, I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself, and Pop, thanks for buying the cake!" Sera smiled as she watched her parents beam with pride, Pop with a camera in hand zooming in, making sure not to miss a single moment.
Sera went on:"I've already found a job, I'm going to be a call center rep, remember? It's not easy finding a job, especially with this economy. As for getting married, well, I don't think that would happen anytime soon..." Her smile faded, as tears began to well up in her eyes.
"Now, now, honey, marriage is a little too early for my munchkin" Pop said, as he consoled her.
"I'm sorry baby, I got too excited." Ma began to look upset. She hadn't meant to make her precious daughter cry like this today, especially not today.
It had slipped her mind, that whenever marriage, or even dating for that matter, was brought up, Sera would go silent, her face sad and pale.
Still, it was better than the all-out bawling Sera had done when she first came home. She cried at the smallest things, from the dinosaur pancakes Pop had made to seeing Ma come out of the shower with a towel turban around her head. Sera never spoke of what happened to her the week she had disappeared. Pop and Ma tried, but the hurt on her face made it harder and harder to ask. Though they never spoke of it to Sera, her parents were hurting too.
Their only daughter, raised with so much care and tenderness, the apple of their eye, gone missing for a whole week. No texts or phone calls from her. Then she suddenly appears back on their doorstep after a week. A physical check-up shows stretch-marks on her belly. It was incomprehensible to them. Sera, their daughter, disappeared and back with the marks of a mother, but no child or husband. It seemed a terrible thing had befallen their precious daughter. Sera said nothing of it, so they chose not to press her. Luckily or not, the psychological examination showed no results of her being a rape victim. The whole while, Pop and Ma knit their lips, keeping silent to nurture their healing daughter.
Her parents always would put her first. Sera dried her tears, and did her best to cheer up her family. They were more important to her than anything in the world. She wasn't going to let her tears ruin all the hard work her parents had put in to make this graduation party.
They sat down to eat at the table laden with Ma's home-cooking, the wooden legs of the table almost groaning under the combined weight of all the food Ma had gone all-out to cook.Pop, Ma, and Sera. The happy trio talked and laughed, watching old home videos and just enjoying the time spent together. Soon, it grew late, and Pop and Ma kissed Sera on the cheek, said congratulations one last time, and went to bed.
Sera, full on delicious food, was sleepy as well, but she didn't sleep. She didn't want to. At night, she could hear his voice calling out her name.
She could hear the cry of an infant, wailing
The guilt, longing, and shame, weighed on Sera like a heavy cloak. It wasn't like she could go back in time, and do things differently, make it right. How do you even know how to make it right? A simple contract for her to get in, and get out. Love made it complicated. The love between her and Lucian just happened, flaring up quick and bright, embers that stirred into a roaring flame. Except for the little insecurities that gnawed at her, and that thing happened.
It was all just too much to bear, memories haunting her late at night. Pop and Ma thought she had worked through the sadness well, though they didn't know what caused it. That was wrong.
Sera had gotten better at hiding it. Yes, she still cried at an off-hand comment, but she no longer kept her parents up at night with her sobs. To her, that was a big accomplishment. Being broken, but looking fine. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world.
".....I'm sorry" She whispered into her pillow. If she could just see them again one more time, she would apologize. It had been so hard, suddenly being torn from her family and thrown into a strange new world.
Pop pocked his head into her room, and Sera did her best to seem like she was ok.
"Hi Pop! What's up?" She asked with a overly bright voice.
"Don't worry about what your mother said today about marriage ok? We love you, and we want what's best for you" Pop said, unusually seriously, instead of his usual jolly exuberance.
"I know you met someone. That time, when you disappeared. ...He broke your heart didn't he?"
"..................." Sera looked down, unsure of how to answer.
"W-What makes you think so Pop? I never told you what happened to me while I was gone"Pop sighed. "It's that face. Your grandma had that same look when your grandpa died. You don't know it, but it's there."
Grandma and Grandpa had been famous for their big romance. As young teenagers, one look at grandma in the town swimming pool, and grandpa was a goner. He'd chased after her, making moon eyes at her until she finally fell. They've been together ever since. A strong, steady love, taking them through a miscarriage, changing jobs, and a unstable era. They were the talk of the town, and everyone greeted them when they were out buying groceries together holding hands. Most people drove over to sit in the front lawn while Grandpa would play the violin and Grandma sang, out on the creaky porch together. They were perfect for each other. When Sera's grandpa had died, the whole town had mourned. To think that Sera had that same look.