"I can't believe you said that to him in church," Andersol guffawed. "Are you in the deep stages of PMS or what?"
"I just got so mad that Mary was match-making that I couldn't see straight," I told her. "Everything looked like it was in a red tunnel." We had gone to the supermarket in town to shop early in the morning, and I had my hands tucked into the pockets of my jacket while Andersol pushed a cart. "I was embarrassed later, but when I saw her smirking about us, I just forgot every manner my mother drilled into my head."
"So what's he like?" Andersol prodded. "Is he a jerk?"
"No, not really," I said, pinching cucumbers in the produce department. I bagged three cucumbers and put them in the cart. "Kind of defensive, I guess. He thinks Gabe is wonderful, and Gabe slobbered all over him. Tomatoes, we need tomatoes. I have this vision of tomatoes and cucumbers in a garlic vinaigrette."
"Well, if Gabe likes him, that's all we need to know. Should we be inviting him and Mary to lunch with us?"
"Why, do you have the hots for him?" I asked. A woman selecting onions from a big open bin turned and looked at us accusingly. I clapped my hand over my mouth and walked away, with Andersol following, giggling like a fool. I turned to her and whispered, "Do you need to add a policeman to your collection of action figures?"
She bent over the cart, laughing open-mouthed, uninhibited as the first proto-man watching his companion slipping on a banana peel. I smiled as I watched her laugh, thinking that I had never laughed hard since I was a little girl until I met her and Bodie. Gusts of giggles, yes, now and then, but not belly-laughs, the kind that leave you feeling like you've had a massage, knees wobbly and every muscle relaxed. Bodie and Andersol laughed like that frequently. They would observe something together, look at each other, and bray laughter that seemed to originate in their shoes. I wondered what it would have been like, to have someone with whom I could have laughed such laughs all my life. No wonder they refused to consider lives apart from each other.
"He's too skinny for me," said Andersol. "And Mary's setting him up with you, not me, anyway." She wiped at her eyes. "God, you're funny. You don't even let up when you're caught in the act!"
"What? Caught at what?"
"You saw that lady look at you, but you had to keep going with the joke. You couldn't drop the subject if you were in front of a judge!"
I frowned; why would I have dropped the subject because someone looked at me? "What else do we need for lunch, and I'm not being set up with anyone, and if you don't want to pounce on John LeMay, let's just keep this lunch to the three of us, okay?" I added a pair of oranges to the cart. "What are you saying about me, that I can't leave a subject alone, or that I can't pass up a joke?"
"Sully, you won't back down on anything."
"That's not true. Last night I backed down from eating a second bowl of ice cream."
"You know what I mean. When did you back away from anything once you took a stand?" To my silent review of my attitude she said, "See?"
Was there any issue that I changed my mind over? Last week? Last month? Last year? What did that mean in terms of my relationships with people? People! That's the ticket! "In point of fact, Miss Andersol, I did change my mind just a couple days ago. I went from thinking Mary's son was probably a waste to thinking he's all right."
"That's not the kind of thing I'm talking about. I'll ask Bodie, maybe he can explain it." She grabbed a bag of potato chips as we walked towards the checkout.
"Have I been driving you guys nuts?" I asked, suddenly worried that I had some character flaw that desperately needed repairs.
"Jeeze, no. It's one of the things we liked about you from the beginning. What you see is what you get. No being two-faced. I'm just saying that you're a rock, old girl."
"Hello, how are you today," said the cashier automatically, weighing the tomatoes.
"I'm a rock, today," I told him in a serious tone of voice. "Yesterday I was a human being, but today I'm a rock."
"Do rocks like paper or plastic?" he said without hesitation.
Good job, kid, I thought. "Paper wins over rock," I said. "You're just lucky you didn't say 'scissors'."
"Oh, we're not allowed to say 'scissors'", he told me, bagging the vegetables. "Saying things like 'scissors' or 'hand grenade' can get you fired on the spot. No, ma'am, you won't ever catch me saying the word 'scissors.'"
In ten years my nieces and nephews will be about his age, I thought as he rang up Andersol's half of the shopping cart. But they're so rich they won't have to take jobs like this to earn money for college. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Back at our houses, I said, "See you at twelve-thirty," and went in my front door. Gabe greeted me with his usual adoring rubbing against my legs, and watched hopefully as I diced up the tomatoes and cucumbers. I made a garlic vinaigrette and poured it over the red and green cubes, then put them in the refrigerator. I let Gabe out briefly while I changed shirts and then it was time for me to go to work. When I walked out to the van, I saw John LeMay on his mother's porch, staring at the thick fog that had lifted only to rooftop level this morning. He waved, and I waved; I got in my car and drove downtown to the office to add up bills and check office needs. It's only mid-December and I'm already tired of winter fog, I thought. I'm ready for a new year and sunshine. I knew that being with the kids would help, and thank God, that treat was only a few days away.
Of course I thought about what Andersol had said the entire time I was at work. Was I really rigid as a rock? Neither she nor Bodie brought up the subject when we had lunch together, however, as there was a more important topic: the fog.
"I am so sick of fog already that I think I am growing fungus," Bodie said.
"Use your own bathroom," replied Andersol, "and stay out of mine."
"I propose," he said, holding his fork aloft like a scepter, "that we organize an escape."
"Mountains or coast?" asked Andersol.
"Coast!" I voted, having come to hate the memory of snow and slush more with every passing year.
"Coast," said Bodie. "I already have people lined up to take up our shifts ... shall we bust out tomorrow?"
"My brother's a genius, did I ever tell you that?" Andersol beamed.
"Perfect timing," I said, "middle of the week, just before the holidays -- I can handle that. What's the weather in the Bay Area?"
"Mostly sunny, and about fifty-five degrees."
"Yep, he's a genius." I turned to Andersol. "Now can you get him to relinquish the salt and pepper?"
When I returned home from work that evening, darkness already fallen on the world. The lawyers for whom I worked had little problem with me taking the next day off; I stayed an extra hour and brought some other paperwork home with me. I found a message on my answering machine, from my sister: an imperious "Call me!" and nothing more. I was annoyed by the tone and decided that she could wait until the morning.
In the three months since my brother-in-law's death, Jesse had grown steadily more irritable. Charles had made her his sole heir; and so with his passing she not only inherited his fortune, but also the estate and its management, the household management, the fortune's management, and his aging parents, both of whom were in their eighties at least. The fortune and her ties to Port Laughton University were tools she was easily able to wield into a teaching position, but the rest -- well, the rest of the burden was all those things she never, ever, considered she might have to do. Charles' father had to step in and pick up the reins, so to speak, and was trying to teach Jesse about stock portfolios and Workers' Compensation, and whom she would have to entertain on a regular basis, and she hated it all.
"Thank God that Nanny has some inkling about the kids' homework," she told me one weekend as we sat in the red upstairs study after the children had gone to bed. "What ever happened to mathematics and reading assignments? Marca and Oesha are supposed to be collecting magazine and newspaper clippings about good citizenship (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) and the first graders are making dyed pasta necklaces for their secret friends. Secret friends? Did you have to draw names for a secret friend when you were in first grade? Isn't that kind of stupid?"
"We went to public schools, Jesse, a long, long time ago. I even remember "Dick and Jane."
"Would a public school be better for them?" she asked, really not knowing.
"Are the kids happy with their school?"
"Yes, they seem to be."
"Then probably a public school wouldn't be better. Most of what they learn about life is going to be from home, anyway."
"Oh, right," she said with a bitter edge to her voice. "Like I learned at home that the far side of the world is the best place to be."
No, on a December evening just before a day playing shopping season hooky, I really didn't want to hear her complaints and hints that I should move to the estate and help her take care of it. I could sympathize with her feeling out of her depth, but it was her choice in the first place, not mine. In the wake of wanting to avoid my sister's unpleasant attitude, I thought about my reaction to meeting John LeMay. There he was, a stranger in a strange land, and I practically told him that he was an insignificant piece of dung in the road. How unkind, and how unbending. Promising myself that I would change into comfortable sweats as soon as I got back to my house, I went next door to Mary's, and invited John to join us in our romp to San Francisco. How could I not, when he had been gracious enough to overlook my rudeness?
"You want me to go out with The Incest Duo?"
"They're not incestuous, not at all." I said, regretting my offer.
"They act like they are. Every time I see them, they're petting each other." John grumped.
"They do that to tease you, because you're staring at them. I told them to quit it. They're okay people, John. Ask your mother."
"No. I already heard that He fixed her flat tire and She goes to the same gym as Ma does. Why do I want to go to San Francisco, anyway? I'm from New York, it's a hundred times as big!"
"But San Francisco is a hundred times more beautiful. We're just going down to bop around and smell Christmas, get out of the fog here in the valley for a day. Do you want to come along or not?" Maybe he would leave his heart in San Francisco and be transformed into a love child of the sixties. Maybe he would make my dreams come true and just say no, thanks.
"Yeah, I'll go. Get Ma off my back about seeing some of California, anyhow. What time?"
What a lovely attitude! I hoped Bodie and Andersol wouldn't be upset that I invited him. I didn't want his gloominess to spoil a holiday trip. In spite of my concern, walking back to my house in the thick fog I thought of the sound of a cable-car bell and began to smile. Mentally I began going through my closets wondering what to wear, knowing that I would probably change my mind in the morning after I'd talked to Andersol. My smile grew as I thought of their smiles, too, and how they made any trip so much fun, let alone a visit to that amorous, beguiling, inviting, and tolerant-beautiful-bountiful-happy-and-a-great-place-to-dine San Francisco!