Chapter Fifty-seven: A Room in a Barn
In opposition to Ben's action plan, Gloria had no intention of moving her bed or dresser out of her room just to move them back in. Instead, she began with her closet; and that she did empty out completely.
Garment by garment, she laid them on the bed in three piles. One, got-to-keep-it; two, stuff-I-don't-need-for-the-foreseeable-future; and three, maybes.
All the cute clubby clothes, most of which were now too big for her anyway, went to the Don't Need pile. The oxford shirts and khakis were keepers. Two pairs of jeans joined them. One skirt, a black wool/polyester blend, ditto. That gave her a 'dress' component, and the rest -- some of them hangovers from high school -- went into the junk pile. Three sweaters with no wear marks and no pilling, yes. Another six -- six? -- went onto the floor; they weren't even decent enough to be donations. All of the flowery blouses she used to wear to classes -- yes, some of them from high school, too -- went to the donation pile.
Coats. Now that was another matter. Weather in the Central Valley ranged from freezing (rare) to the low sixties in winter. Realistically, she didn't need the heavy coat with faux fur. Nor did she need the light silk jacket, not with sweaters available. The two medium-weight jackets, one with a knit hood attached, the other a little dressier, those she would keep. There were several others, but she didn't even like them. Donation pile.
The same idea went for the dresser. Almost all the underwear stayed; some needed dumped on the floor to be thrown out, should have been thrown out months ago. T-shirts -- a couple would do, she only had two days off a week -- shorts, again, one to wear and one for the wash, even in the summer. Leisure time was not in the future's schedule.
The rest of the stuff in her dresser was from a life ago, when she hung out at the mall or lounged around the house, hoping for a reason to go slither around down town. Working full time, and not needing leisure wear past a couple pairs of pajamas, the dresser was only about half full. I can put all the shoes I need in there, and my bed linens.
A book of nursery rhymes that her father used to read to her when she was little fit in the dresser, too, along with her high school year book. The rest of her books -- there were some classics she loved, but those would be available at the library -- were driftwood, things she'd picked up and just allowed them to wash up onto the shore of her bookcase. In a small apartment, she could get herself a couple bookends if she felt she had to buy more books, and put them on top of the dresser. She and Ben could move the bookcase out to the garage for the time being when he got home from school, and she could smugly show him her progress.
Oh, crap, the garage. What all is out there? Wincing, she opened the connecting door from the house to the garage. Yet apart from the workbench her father had maintained, and shelving containing a myriad of cardboard boxes, it wasn't too bad. Some old appliances that Ben and Will kept to tear apart and look inside; an old television; Will's and her bicycles and Philli's exercise bike. Ben's big bags of recyclables, a lawn mower, some rakes and shovels; three buckets and a cabinet of automotive cleaners; and a garment rack with dresses and such in storage bags took up much of the room. There would be room for the bookcase, until such time as it was disposed of. A lot of what was out there was specifically for a four-bedroom house. Now how that was to be liquidated, Gloria did not know, but it wasn't going to be her problem alone. She pulled her roller skates off the shelves, went out the back door and gate, and put them in her car. Armed with two garbage bags, she returned to her room, packed up all the junky stuff from the floor and her desk, and hauled it to the front of the house and the garbage can, glad that it was garbage pickup day and that there was still room in the can.
The clothes and books for donation took several trips to the car, but when she had loaded them, she went back in and spent a moment in satisfaction; she loved the clean look of her room. And then, leaving herself no time to change her mind, she drove to the donation bin by the thrift shop, and handed it all over to the cheerful operators.
By the time Ben parked his bike in the garage after school, Gloria was ladling beef stew into freezer containers for upcoming meals. "Taste it, don't start chowing down on it," she warned him as he got a spoon.
"Just one little scoop," he wheedled. "I'm starving to death here."
"That's what happens when you make only one bologna and cheese sandwich for your lunch and nothing else. You could have taken an apple, too." She topped off a container. "Okay, you can have what's left. Not enough for another container."
He upended the pot into a bowl. "You know what would be good with this? A big, buttery chunk of French bread hot out of the oven."
Gloria snorted. "Have at it. I've never baked bread in my life. Neither has Mom."
"When I'm old enough, I'm going to hit on some of those ladies in the supermarket bakery -- get them to call me when the bread comes out of the kitchen." He added pepper to the dish of stew. "Ahh, perfect."
"I wonder if Maria knows how. Yet another question on my List of Things To Ask Maria. And if you can make your own bread, is it cost effective? You can get decent bread at Winco for about a dollar. I don't know what the price would be if you made your own." She put the empty pot in the sink, then washed her hands. "Listen, I need your help getting my bookcase into the garage. I got it out of my room, but I don't want to get stuck in the door and scratch it up."
"You're getting rid of your bookcase? Wait, what's that shit-eating grin about?"
"C'mon, let's move it."
They muscled the small bookcase out of the house without it falling on them or the door slamming on them. "Okay," Gloria said, "come see." She opened the door to her room. "Welcome to my room in the barn."
Ben stared at the tidy space, walked over and looked into the closet. "You couldn't have got all your stuff into the garbage can. Where is it?"
"Thrift store. Some of it did go out in the garbage today."
"I'm so jealous, I'm gonna develop a rash. This looks like a motel room, it's so empty."
"Yeah, and I like it. Looks so nice, I want a new bedspread for Christmas."
"Tell it to Santa, he's the only one with money this year. Do you need me for anything before Steve gets here? If you don't, I'm going to start on my own space."
A sixteen-year-old boy eager to clean his room? No way was Gloria get in the way of that. "Go ahead. Part of your dinner party thing was that we'll all prep and cook together, so all I need to do is clean up after my stew and make sure the fridge doesn't look like it has dysentery. If you're throwing stuff out, though, separate stuff that can be recycled, and put the garbage bag in the garage for next week."
Ben started for his room, then stopped. "I take it Mom didn't call and say what she decided about the house."
"Not while I was here, and there's nothing on the answering machine."
His lips pressed together, he nodded as though he'd known that would be the case, and then went into his bedroom.
Lolo was the next one in the door. She clicked into the kitchen on her high heels, pulled a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts from a grocery bag. "I got these for the chicken tacos. It's the right kind, isn't it? And a lot of tomatoes, too."
Gloria nodded, prompting a big smile from her erstwhile enemy. She looked at the clock for the millionth time since Ben came home, felt a little flutter in her stomach, thinking that Steve would be here within an hour.
"Good, I'm going to go shower and become myself, if you don't mind."
"Go. Everything's covered." Funny. She's going to wash makeup off, and I'm going to put just a little on. A hint of slate blue on the outside rim of my eyelid, a bit of mascara ...
Ben's take on a "dinner party" went over like the best tailgating party ever. With everyone clustered around the stove and counters, there were plenty of conversational topics, spices to cooking methods to combinations of foods. The meal was taco truck style tacos, tiny tortillas filled with chicken or shrimp; they made guacamole and fresh salsa and played with chili powder, cayenne, Mexican oregano, and fresh garlic, tasting meats and sauces, calling to each other, "Hey, try this! I love this!"
They stuffed themselves at dinner, and drank small icy glasses of white wine (all except Ben, of course), the company merry and upbeat. Then they jostled each other companionably at the sink for clean-up duty, washing and drying dishes, mopping table and counters, putting leftovers into containers.
As they were hanging dish towels over the oven door, Ben whipped decks of cards from his hip pockets. "Anyone care to be humiliated?"
The adults were cheerful enough to rise to the challenge.
The game was called "Kick Your Neighbor's Dog" and was a spiteful team rollick aimed at making one's opponents pick up extra cards while trying to minimize the cards in one's own hand, lowest team score wins, play until you can't stand it any more. Ben, who had learned the game in junior high, chose teams for them, guys versus girls, and as they played, Lolo became boldly competitive, making tart comments about the male team's ability to strategize. "What, are you trying to lose? You think these things are toilet paper?"
"Only because you play like shit," Ben replied comfortably, making Lolo gasp and laugh.
Yet in the end, Gloria and Lolo crushed Ben and Steve, in points and vocabulary, both women having grown up putting brothers in their place by insults and invective and ruthlessness.
A little after eight, Ben excused himself. "Still have a little homework to do tonight, and I want to make some more progress on my room in the barn. Good to see you, Steve."
Lolo looked quizzically after him. "Barn?" But she didn't pursue the question. "I'm going to make some coffee. Anyone want a cup? No? I have phone calls I should make, I need some caffeine so I don't remember the wine and card game and start to giggle."
"Let's move to the comfy chairs in the living room," Gloria suggested.
Steve collected the open bottle of wine and their glasses, and followed her. They sat at either end of the sofa, and as he poured, she asked him, "Are you sure that another glass of wine is a good idea?"
"Yeah. I do. This stuff is delicious. It's so good that I think I'll drive up to Sonoma this weekend and pester them at the winery." He held out his glass to toast.
"I meant, as in driving home." She tapped her glass gently against his.
He smiled, looking like the kindest of souls. "I'll be fine, Gloria. But thanks for the concern. I'm with Lolo, though -- what did Ben mean about the barn? He's not moving in with Will, is he?"
"No, but both he and I started going through our rooms today, getting rid of everything we don't need -- Mom's been talking to some realtor for weeks, and we think she's going to sell the house. Don't know for sure, but we want to be prepared. Will set us an example of how to live with the bare minimum; it was Ben who suggested we pretend we were Will, going to live in a single room in a barn."
He chuckled. "Kind of like the old question game about what ten things would you take to go live out in the woods for a month."
"It is! I've been playing that game in my head since September, only it hasn't been a game ... but it sure has changed my perspective on property and possessions. It was only when I thought we were going to lose everything that I began to understand the value of what was around me ... not just did I like this or that, or what it was good for, but also the cost of things, the working hours that go into a purchase, or a service, and the continuing cost of upkeep. Then I realized that when you have more than enough, you can forget what 'enough' is, forget what it takes to get the real 'enough.'
"A lot of people never figure that out. I think that's what makes you stand out. Beautiful and smart."
Gloria felt her face redden. "I don't know what to say to that."
He reached out and put his hand over hers on the back of the couch. "You don't have to say anything about that."
Silence stretched out between them; Gloria didn't move her hand away from his, watched him look at her eyes.
"And now neither one of us knows what to say. Listen, I'm going to step outside and make a phone call, then I'll come back and finish my wine, okay?"
Steve stood and walked out the front door, pulling his phone from his pocket. Jeeze, did I ever blow that one, Gloria thought, biting her lip. He's going to think I'm made out of wood.
"Well, that's the pits," he said as he came back in. "Cab's on its way, be here in a couple minutes. I thought I'd have a half hour or so to wait."
A cab! Oh, that's good. I didn't think of a cab --" She picked up her wine glass, handed him his. "Another toast -- to a great taco party."
"Wait," he answered. "Let's try that romantic linked arms wine sip you see on commercials and in the movies. I've always wanted to do that. To a great taco party."
They linked arms and more or less sipped, trying not to spill drops down their chins, beginning to laugh, unable to drink all of the wine at the bottom of their glasses. "Okay, that makes me glad I don't have a picture of that," Gloria laughed. She licked wine dribbles from her lips. "The only thing that could have made that more awkward would have been us gazing into each other's eyes beforehand and whispering 'Over the teeth and over the gums, look out tonsils, here it comes.'"
Steve laughed loudly. "You think it gets better with practice?"
"That was the last of the wine. We'll try it again the next time." She picked up his coat and handed it to him. "Let's wait outside, do you think?"
Wrapping a small throw around her shoulders, she led the way to the door, but let him step in front of it and open it for her. The night was brisk and fog was rising up; she was again relieved he wouldn't be driving.
They stood close to each other for warmth, and Gloria could not take her eyes from his face. "I really enjoyed tonight, Gloria. But if you keep staring at me, I'm going to do something crazy," he warned.
"Do you want me to look away, really?" she said in a low voice.
He shook his head slowly, leaned forward, and kissed her.