Chapter Thirty-three: Inventorying
"I got no problem with this," Maria was saying as Gloria came downstairs. "Steve gets one of the couches -- probably the upstairs one so he can smooch with your sister until 2 am, you and Will can fight over the other couch and the recliner. You got to clear it with your mother, though," she told Ben sternly.
"I have an advocate," Ben replied. "Excuse me, I have a phone call to make." He stood from the table and left the room.
"All I have to do is go out to the ranch and get a change of clothes and my sleeping bag. I'll call Mr. Van Duyken and let him know I'm staying here for a couple nights, let Carmen know so she doesn't worry."
Gloria looked quizzically at Maria and Steve as the boys left. "We got the full house," Maria explained. "Maybe. Depends on Philli-Mae. They stay tonight and New Year's Eve. We make food, play the card game that Ben promises I can learn to play. Don't know about that, never played a card game except solitaire since I was a girl."
"A house party!" Gloria exclaimed. "This could be great! All we need is the food, however, since we don't keep a lot of stuff on hand. All that turkey is frozen now, isn't it?"
"I got an idea for that, watching cooking shows like my new obsession. Let's wait and see if Ben can convince his mother that his sister won't teach him to do drugs and mess around with dirty women. Is Lolo okay?"
"Yes, she wanted to unpack her stuff so she could wake up in the morning and know everything was going to be all right again. She put on a good act, but living in that creepy dump was wearing on her."
"Don't know how she did it," Maria said. "Not much better than living like the homeless people, just her and her sofa and a chair, a place out of the cold and the rain, with horrible people just waiting to rob and attack. Was it that bad with family that she couldn't go back to them?"
"She said that she couldn't stand the bigotry or the violence there. And that nothing that she had to say about solving the problems was of any value. Being a woman meant she was supposed to shut her mouth and have babies to grow up to be soldiers for the gang wars. She left it all behind."
Maria said nothing, but Gloria could guess that she was thinking, I should have been able to do that.
Ben buzzed through, jingling his car keys. "Be back in a little bit, just picking up a change of clothes and a sleeping bag. Tell you all about it later."
"Be careful, you twit. Don't hurry anywhere in this rain." Gloria turned to Maria. "So, house party it is. And your idea ...?"
"We need food for tonight, tomorrow, and New Year's Day morning. We all go to the supermarket together, each get two things that we think we want to eat, meet back up and figure out the menu from there. Get what else we need, cook together, talk together, take naps, sit on porch and freeze ... got upstairs parlor now so we can get away if we think someone cheats at cards."
"Absolute brilliance," Steve said. "I can fund the groceries."
"Some of it," Gloria nodded. "My brothers are both rolling in dough, so they are also going to kick in, big time. If Ben comes back from shopping with a rack of lamb, he's paying for it."
"He's a kid," Steve said, puzzled.
"He's a kid who has a very lucrative computer business, and probably makes more money at it than I do with my job."
"That young man could sell anybody anything," Maria said in a low voice. "Is probably why he and Lolo get along so well."
Laughing, Gloria nodded. "Hey, I'm going to poke Lolo and get her to return her truck while the boys are gone. Then we can all be on the same time schedule." She trotted up the stairs.
They watched Gloria go upstairs. "What do you think you'll get?" Steve asked Maria.
"Lasagna noodles and hamburger. I'm going to dust off my muffin tins and make Will some lasagna cupcakes. Get Gloria to help me with Italian spices, just need some tomato sauce to finish. Well, I'll need some mozzarella, too." She glared at him. "Don't have to tell me, I can do mathematics. That's four things. My friend Elsie left me Italian seasonings."
"I'm not going to argue with your math. But with what you say you're going to make, I'm going to choose a big loaf of French bread. Maybe two. And some deli ham, come to think of it, for breakfast. See, this is how budgets get out of hand."
Gloria and Lolo ran down the steps cheerfully. "Be back in a few minutes," Gloria called, and they threw themselves out the front door.
"Come," Maria ordered him. "We do inventory, see what I need for a working household. All these years, I keep nothing, eat at Baker kitchen, go to sleep when I get home. I should have a pantry with food in it without having to run to the store every time someone needs to eat. And Lolo doesn't cook, but she needs food besides fast food garbage -- she wasn't cooking anything good in that hot pot she had in her room."
They opened the pantry door. "Look at this pathetic thing," Maria said, holding up a large plastic container, empty but for some dusting of flour. "I wash this out, first thing. Need a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, need pepper, cumin -- in case Gloria makes another one of those pork roasts -- vanilla, corn starch, cayenne. Elsie left me with oregano and garlic and onion powder. Hmm. Four cans of black beans, four of white beans. Hey," she stopped, "I need to write this down."
Steve held up his phone. "Got it all here. What else?"
"A couple boxes of pasta, a couple cans of chicken, in case of emergency." She opened the refrigerator. "Butter. Four pounds. Good for everything. Quart of milk, quart of cream. Saltine crackers, bag of polenta, not for fridge, for pantry. Back to fridge -- potatoes, don't know why anyone doesn't have potatoes in her refrigerator, must have been sick."
"Onions," Steve suggested.
"Good thinking, not as much of an idiot as I thought. Yellow onions and white onions, one each. Celery then, too. Make soup base to get us through January." She stopped and looked at the sink. "Dishwashing detergent. Don't know we have enough to get us through New Year's."
"What about the freezer? Do you need to stock up on stuff?"
"No, we'll shop the sales. Gloria has a point, her brothers have money to buy food if they want to cook it here. Always nice to have some chicken on hand, if you get it at a good price. But we don't need to live out of the freezer, thanks to Bakers." Maria clapped her hands together, twice. "Now I know what I need. Of course, I have to rely on you, for your phone list."
"I don't want to be replaced," he said.
"My cousin Duarte had three daughters. He died, his wife married off the old one. She never even had a chance to try to live life after her father died in April, she got married in June. She is what they call psychotic nut job, ran off and left her husband and kid, no one knows where she is anymore. Last they heard of her was that she couldn't handle knowing her Pae was gone and family never talked to her about she felt. Told them all to go to Hell and leave her alone." She turned to Steve. "Gloria has no other man in her life but you. Be patient. She and her brothers need to think about their dad for a while."
He nodded. "That's what Ben said, too, said that Gloria living here would give them a chance to talk about their father -- said they just didn't talk about him after the funeral. I don't know how to talk about a close family member who dies, either, to tell the truth. Both my parents are alive and healthy..."
"And you love them."
"I do. They taught me that being kind, and loving people is the right way to live."
"See, you are lucky. I didn't have that. We were all about 'Shut up and get to work.' I cried when Mae died, and when Pae died, but I think I was most sad because I knew nothing about them in their hearts, what they really thought, what they really felt. And they never asked me about my heart, or my thoughts. I think these Melton kids are going to grow up different -- they are going to know each other good enough to be ... like an army of redheads. You mind your steps."
"I will. Kind of want to be the first recruit to join their army. But you know, this is good. I'm already thinking of things I want to talk with my parents about. They've always talked to me about their experiences, but maybe I listened with only half an ear. All of a sudden, I'm thinking of things I might have wanted to ask them about their lives."
"Then ask them. I been thinking along the same lines, don't know what my kids think about their lives or their families, we just all say the nice thing when we get together, and I don't know anything about my daughters-in-law except that they are the mothers of my grandchildren. Are they artists? Do they want their children to grow up to be doctors or astronauts? Something about Gloria makes me think I should talk to them, find out who they are.
"As for joining Melton army, too late for you, I am their first recruit. You can be second recruit. Or maybe Lolo is the first, me the second, you the turd."
Steve's jaw dropped.
"Oh, wait, wrong pronunciation. 'Third' is what I meant."
She turned away, unable to keep from chuckling.
"Maria, you just wait until we're playing cards. You are going to be fried."
"Stevo, you ate three pieces of that fried chicken we made at Bakers,' and tried to get Bobby to give you one of his, him trying to decide if he's a vegetarian if there isn't fried chicken or beef stew. Don't try to tell me that 'fried' isn't a good thing. Never played this card game, but maybe I end up being the best thing at the table."