Chapter Fifty-eight: New Way of Living
Wow, what did I just do? Gloria leaned back against the front door, dazzled in body and soul. I have never been kissed like that before.
Her first kiss had been in her freshman year in high school, a sloppy first attempt under the bleachers at a soccer game, and the memory of it made her wish that it had never happened. She never spoke to the boy again. Subsequent smootches with subsequent boyfriends or dates got better, but nothing to move her heart, not really. She'd come to believe that world-shaking kisses were a Hollywood fantasy, and that if a 'kiss' didn't end up with her face feeling mauled, she was fortunate.
Not tonight. Steve's kiss had been as gentle as his smile, light, measured, unhurried, and more sensual than anything Gloria had ever experienced. It was an invitation, a query, an introduction, a promise, a wish -- it was an entire conversation collapsed into one gesture; one chaste meeting of lips, his hand touching her chin, that was nevertheless so erotic that Gloria was left trembling and aching to follow him home.
I've been changed. Suddenly she didn't want anyone to see her and ask her why she was wide-eyed and breathing deeply, didn't want to try to explain all the things Steve had just come to mean to her, didn't want her brother to joke about her state of mind, didn't want Lolo or her mother to try to compare what she'd felt to their relationships with men. She pushed herself off the door, went to her room, and curled up on her bed, in the dark, to try to come to grips with the new Gloria she had become.
He didn't say anything when that damned cab pulled up. Not one word. Just smiled and walked away. Did he think that I was unaffected because I didn't cling to him? But clinging to him would have somehow diminished what had happened. Did he know that he'd drive me to the brink of crazed desire by kissing me that way? She was glad she'd drunk as much wine as she had and could not safely drive, otherwise she'd call him and tell him she was coming to find him and discover what else he knew how to do. Would a cold shower actually help? Do I want anything to help me get rid of this feeling?
The answer was no. She hugged her pillow, shut her eyes, and drifted off to sleep, imagining that Steve would be there to wake her in the morning.
The motion-detecting lights in the back yard came on at 6:15, startling Gloria as she sat in the dark kitchen with her cup of tea. She saw the neighbor's cat, a fat fluffy orange fellow, slink across the grass in the thick haze of fog, leap up on the opposite fence and disappear. About two minutes later, she heard the shower turn on. Ben was awake. Time to put on the day's game face and get moving. She pulled the big skillet from under the counter and poured a couple tablespoons of oil into it, turning the burner on to medium to heat it. She clicked the range hood light, knowing the motion-sensor lights would turn off quickly, but still not wanting to shine the bright lights of the kitchen into her eyes, or clearly show another person her face, which would surely indicate that she had awakened crazy in love.
The shower was off. Gloria tossed a tiny piece of bread into the frying pan and watched it waltz across the oil, sizzling. She dumped the last of the cubed frozen potatoes into the skillet. Got to make some more of those today.
Ben prowled into the kitchen in his socks. "You like the dark this morning?"
"No, not at all. Just the dark, the dark and the fog feel like wintertime should feel. By June the sun will be up and baking at six. I wanted to savor the season today."
"You went to bed early. I wondered if you and Steve had a fight, or what." He took a piece of beef roast from the refrigerator and put it on a cutting board.
He snorted. "You must have been some sound asleep, then, because Mom and I got into one when she finally rolled into town at ten."
"Get me the eggs," she ordered, turning the potatoes. "And tell me, so she doesn't come out all Attila the Hun on me while I don't know what's happening."
"She got home, didn't say word one about where she was or what she did all day. So I asked her, 'What did you decide about the house?' She looked at me like I was from the Klingon homeworld, and said, 'What?' I reminded her that she'd said they were going to go over all the options of what to do with the house. She said, 'Oh, we didn't come to any decisions yet,' but she sounded like she was lying. You know, she gets that little edge in her voice."
Gloria nodded, broke three eggs onto the frying potatoes.
"So I asked her, 'What decision are you leaning towards?' and she ups and snaps, 'I come in the door and have to answer to my own son? You've been taking lessons from Gloria on being bossy, young man.' You know, I've just about had enough of her secret life thing, so I said, 'Well, I do live here, just like you do, for as long as you've lived here, too, so maybe I would just like to know if we're going to have a Christmas tree in the living room or if I'm going to look at a Charlie Brown weed in some apartment, with a sock full of coal lying on the floor beside it.'"
"Oh, no, you didn't really say that to her ..."
"I did. She exploded, of course, and sent me to my room, which she has not done since I was twelve."
"Which meant she didn't have to answer your question."
She flipped the eggs gently. "Can you get two plates and heat them up? So we know nothing new."
He put two plates in the microwave, set it to twenty seconds. "Nada. But whatever she's planning, she knows we're not going to like it, and that's why she's not telling us."
"But what wouldn't we like? Here's your eggs. We were okay with moving to an apartment when we thought we'd lose the house, and we were resigned to even going to a homeless shelter if we had to. We'd have moved to damn Colorado if Aunt Nedda had offered to take us in. What could be worse than that?"
"I don't know. Maybe Aunt Nedda has made the offer, and Mom knows we don't want to move now. I mean, Will and you have your jobs, I have my business ..."
"Aunt Nedda wouldn't keep her out until ten at night -- unless Mom's partying while she can because she'd never have a chance to do it at Nedda's house." The fog was dark gray outside the door to the back yard. Was Steve awake yet?
"If she leaves the house today -- and she's left by or before ten every day she's been off since she started the earlier shift -- you should get in the car and shadow her, see where she goes."
"Right. Like she wouldn't recognize my car. Besides, I'm cooking that turkey today. Should be done by the time you get home from school, then you can have a turkey sandwich this evening, too. Won't be as good as Mom's turkey, but it's what we've got."
"It'll be fine. Use some of that chicken base stuff and rub it inside, then mix some chicken base with olive oil and baste it outside with that." He finished his eggs and hash browns, mopping the last of the yolk with a piece of bread.
"How do you know to do that?" Gloria asked, a hint of grumpiness falling on her shoulders from being coached by her youngest brother.
"I'm intuitive. You bitch about your frozen turkey not having the flavor of the fresh turkey Mom buys. So add some flavor. I'm not saying slather the chicken base on, just a hint. Or don't. You made that mayonnaise turkey taste great, so don't worry about it." Ben loaded his dish into the dishwasher. "Thanks for the breakfast, Frizzter."
"How'd you do with your room, by the way, since I fell asleep so early?"
With a wave of his arm, he led her back the hall to his room.
Ben had been a tidy sort of kid since he was eleven, and had discovered, when he put a shoe on, a giant brown wood roach in the toe of it. Hearing his scream, his mother had run to his room, hunted down the bug and killed it. She had taken advantage of the teachable moment and told her son, "Get used to it! That's the kind of thing that happens when you can't be bothered to clean up after yourself." After that, he insisted on a hanging shoe tree for his closet, and made sure every inch of his floor was visible, or at least accessible for weekly vacuuming.
In imitation of his older brother and sister, Ben had gone through his possessions with a vengeance, discarding anything in poor condition, sorting books and music. Most of his bookcase was now repurposed as a shelving unit for his eBay endeavors and his electronics. The closet was only half full of clothes. "I can't pare down to Will's level -- I need too much stuff for school and my computers. You might need two trips to the thrift store, though."
Looking around at the simplicity of the bedroom, Gloria turned to her brother. "We're ready for whatever happens."
Ben gathered up his books for school. "I'm off. It's too soupy out there to ride my bike, so it'll take me longer to walk. No, I don't think you should drive me to school ... but if you wanted to pick me up after, I wouldn't turn you down."
"Yeah, I can do that. I'll just mash the potatoes when we get back home." They headed back towards the hall to the kitchen, stopped when they heard a cell phone ring. It didn't ring long. Gloria and Ben looked at each other.
"That's not Lolo's ring tone. Whose phone was that?"
Gloria frowned. "Is it just me, or did that sound like it came from Mom's room?"
"As in Mom of the Melton Household, which owns no cell phones any more? Sure sounded like it to me. You gotta keep an eye on her, Glory. She's weirding me out."