13. The Left-Over
I should have noticed that the dog didn’t do her usual freak-out when I arrived. Instead I kissed Alexander’s cheeks and brought forth my contributions from a large plastic SuperCor bag.
“I made lots of cookies, so whatever, you can put some in the freezer or something. And here’s some peanut butter -”
“You made it?” He looked at the label on the jar I’d reused; it said, “Tomate Frito.”
“Well of course. That’s the only way to get peanut butter around here.”
“My mom is sending me some, too,” he gloated, laughing.
“That’s awesome,” I said, feeling utterly superfluous. “Oh, and I had some chocolate left over from making the cookies, so, here you go.”
Once, to someone else, I had described Alexander thus: “Give that boy some chocolate and he’ll go immediately in search of a jar of peanut butter.”
“Wow,” he said now. “Thanks.
“Sure.” I smiled. I hadn’t expected the luxury of time to introduce my gifts. Tonight no Wendy-and-Lisa duo filled the tiny kitchen with their warm and expansive salad making.
“Sorry I’m so late,” I added. “I met a friend for intercambio and just when I said, ‘I have to go!’ she suddenly remembered a story she’d forgotten to tell me, in Spanish.”
“That’s great,” he said. “Well, no worries. We’re just getting started.”
I considered this a nice thing for him to say. It’s what I would have said.
In the doorway to the living room, I had to pause as ten or so relaxed and shining faces simultaneously regarded me with expectant delight. After I announced my name they each got up to kiss my cheeks, one by one around the low glass-topped table.
The first one, to my right, blurted, “I’m Ayala. I’m in the November intake, the one that started last year, before Alexander’s in April. So that’s the connection.”
She had no way of knowing that I never ask the type of question she had answered unprompted.
Admittedly, I also had prepared an answer, for the usual questions people ask me, but I would wait.
One chair stood empty, on the other side of Ryan from his lovely Spanish wife Isabella. I leaned Robert’s guitar outside the circle of guests, against a chest of drawers, and took my seat. Because Alexander had told me recently that he missed playing, I’d promised to bring along Robert’s spare guitar, which I was borrowing for a while.
I was asked where I’m from. Ryan had some inside information and scolded me for not admitting that I am from Jersey. Apparently he’s from Summit, in Union County.
“Oh, Central Jersey then,” I nodded. “It’s not that I’m not proud of Jersey. I just don’t feel like I’m from there. I feel like I’m from Boston.”
“I lived there for 8 years,” he said.
A discussion on Boston accents ensued. I was teaching Ayala, who sat exactly across the room from me, in the same chair Willow had occupied last June, how to say words ending in “-ers.”
“Crackiz,” Alexander said, threading his way swiftly among the chairs to provide me with a diminutive martini glass full of red wine. I thanked him. Then he was gone again, I think.
“Snickiz,” I said, looking at Ayala.
“I love Snickers bars,” she said passionately. She wore glasses, a green sweatshirt, and a brown ponytail. She told me she was from Nashville, and described the shit that she got from other people when she mentioned her origins. “They always want to know why I don’t have an accent.”
“Sometimes I get that too,” I nodded, “since I lack a Jersey accent.”
Then I turned to Ryan. “How long have you been playing bass?” I had some inside information on him as well.
He did not answer my question, and I realized it was because he was involved in conversation with his wife and the handsome couple on the couch, Colin and Xaviera.
My eyes roved around the circle, saying each name to myself, like a politician, though the constituent I wanted most was in the kitchen and I’d never win him over. I asked the gal to my right, a gorgeous and thin L’Oréal rep named Sera, about the remains of the appetizer at the center of the table. She told me it was good, something with cheese, so I got up to wash my hands.
I hadn’t done too badly tonight, looks-wise. It was a cold and damp evening, so wearing a hat seemed appropriate. My hair half curled, half frizzed around big hoop earrings, touching my dark-gray and light-gray striped scarf and the collar of my Son of a BIX jacket.
On the way back I finally noticed the dog, lying down behind my chair. “Hi sweetie.” Before I knew it I was sitting on the floor, lightly scrubbing the bridge of her nose, petting her head, even rubbing her chest.
During this interlude, the conversation had taken a passionate turn to professors and assignments. Much as I enjoyed the vehemence of their derisive comments, I decided I preferred to see what Alexander was up to. I would just take a peek.
Cradling my glass of wine, I poked my head just inside the kitchen doorway. Alexander was assiduously dredging raw chicken and placing it, piece by piece, in sizzling butter. The efficiency of his movements made my courage fail. I don’t like anyone to talk to me while in a concentrated state of cooking. I generally destest when people follow me into the kitchen and ask if they can help.