In which Trystene and Robbie entertain
“So what are we taking for dessert?” Claire asked Emma as they got ready to leave for Trystene’s house.
“Well, I tried the dessert we had at Cinghiale but it didn’t set right. Aunt Martha and I tried to fix it, but in the end I went with the turtle brownies. Everybody likes turtle brownies, and they’re easy to transport. Plus I saved a few for us.”
“You are my brilliant child. I guess it’s time to go.”
Trystene and Robbie lived on the outskirts of town, on the other side of the river and down a considerable freeway. Claire and Emma missed the worse of the Friday night traffic, but they did have some good car talk time. They caught up on school for Emma and church for Claire.
“Mom, is Bill Hill going to die?”
“We’re all going to die, but he might die before we’d like, honey. The kind of cancer he has is pretty aggressive. The odds aren’t in his favor, but as Trystene said to me the other day, if anyone can beat cancer, Bill Hill can.”
“I hope he doesn’t die. I mean, what would Gladys do without him? Not that she needs him; I mean, she’s totally able to do everything. But they love each other so much. They just like being with each other, you know?”
“I know. If you ever get married, marry someone that you love to be with. You couldn’t do much better than having Bill and Gladys as role models.”
“Do you ever think about getting married again?”
“Sometimes. It’s not like I feel my life is incomplete – with you and Rex and the church, it really feels kind of full. But especially since we moved and I don’t have any good friends nearby, I miss having a deep friendship, whether it’s with someone like Martha or with someone I could fall in love with.”
“Mom, did you and Aunt Martha have a fight or something? It was weird that day she arrived. I mean, it seemed like you weren’t all that happy to see her.”
The perils of having a perceptive kid, Claire thought.
“We had had a disagreement and that was the first time we had talked or seen each other since the disagreement. We worked most of it out while she was visiting, though. Martha will always be a part of both of our lives. I just need to figure out what it means to be friends when we live thousands of miles apart. And you need to figure out what it means to have an honorary aunt who lives thousands of miles away.”
“Yeah, but there’s email and Skype.”
“Yes, and airplanes. We’ll figure it out. Okay, here’s our exit. Are you ready for Robbie?”
There was nothing fancy about Trystene’s house. It was a simple ranch built in a subdivision of other simple ranch houses in the 1970’s. But the lawn was mowed and potted plants dotted the doorway. Claire had the sense that it wasn’t just a house but Trystene’s home.
“You made it! Come on in. I thought maybe I should’ve asked you over for Saturday when the traffic’s not so bad, but I think maybe Saturday nights aren’t so good for pastors. Anyway, I’m really glad you’re both here. Emma, Robbie is going to feel a little shy at first so go easy on him, okay? What’s that –brownies? Listen, he’s in the living room. Take him a brownie – take one for yourself too. That should break the ice.”
“Thanks, Trystene. Which way do I go?”
Trystene pointed down the hall. “So Claire, I know it’s November and a little chilly but I made my specialty drink for us. The Kiwitini. I have this kiwi vine in the back and in the summer it is out of control. When the last fruits ripen, I peel them and freeze them so that all winter long I can enjoy my favorite cocktail. Are you game?”
“Sure. I will admit I’ve never had one, but I’m in an adventurous mood!”
Claire sat on a stool at the kitchen island; Emma and Robbie were in the room on the other side of the dining room. She heard low voices and then some laughter. Okay, they’re good.
“Can I help with anything?”
“My mom says this is a one-butt kitchen – small, but it gets the job done! No, I’m fine. What do think of the Kiwitini?”
“It’s quite good but I think I need to pace myself!”
“Don’t worry – I only made enough for each of us to have one and a half. Don’t need my boss landing in jail.”
Trystene was perfectly at ease entertaining the boss in her one-butt kitchen. She’s such a genuine person, Claire thought. She knows who she is; she doesn’t pretend to be anything she’s not. I’m glad I get to work with her.
“I thought I’d keep it simple tonight – mac and cheese – the REAL kind, not that crap out of the box. Green salad. Green beans, ‘cause Robbie loves them. The brownies will be the perfect end.”
“It sounds great. You’re very kind to have us over, Trystene.”
“We get so busy at work I thought it might be a nice way to get to know each other. So what do you think of all of this?”
They talked through the grating of the cheese, the boiling of the noodles, the assembling of the casserole, and the browning of the top. By the time dinner was ready, Claire knew all about Trystene – a native of the city who had her AA degree in desktop publishing. Robbie was twelve when Trystene divorced her “cheating son-of-a-bitch” husband, who paid no child support and sent Robbie $20 on his birthday and Christmas. She had lots of family around – parents, brothers, cousins, nieces and nephews.
“Robbie! Emma! Dinner’s ready! What do you think those two have been up to?”
The kids entered the room laughing. “Mom, guess what? Emma’s a Harry Potter geek too! We made up this totally fun game. Rock-paper-scissors Harry Potter. Emma, let’s show them.”
They faced each other and said together, “Rock paper scissors –
Robbie said, “Molly Weasley” as Emma said, “Pansy Parkinson.”
Emma laughed. “Molly Weasley would totally take Pansy Parkinson. You win that round.”
They sat down and served family style. Trystene gave Robbie and look and then waited. Claire gave Emma a look and waited. Finally Emma said, “Um, is someone supposed to pray?”
“Not me,” Robbie said.
Claire said a quick grace and they dug into the mac and cheese.
“Oh my God, Trystene, this is so much better than that junk from the box. Did you put mustard powder in it?”
“Just a bit, and a little garlic powder too.”
The conversation was lively, and after dinner Robbie and Emma started in on a vicious game of Harry Potter trivia. Claire asked if she could help with the dishes, and Trystene reminded her there was room for only one butt.
“So Claire, if you don’t mind my asking, what happened to your ex-husband? Was he a lying, cheating bastard like mine?”
“Actually, Trystene, he died when Emma was a baby.”
“Oh Jesus. I’m sorry. I mean I’m sorry for saying ‘oh Jesus’ and I’m sorry for putting my big foot in my big mouth. I had no idea. God, that must have been hard.”
“It was not the best time of my life, no. But we’ve managed.”
As they drove home, Claire asked Emma if she had a good time.
“Much better than I thought I would. Robbie’s kind of a doof, but he’s really sweet and he knows Harry Potter stuff better than I do. I think he could be my friend. I mean, not like a boyfriend friend but a friend. His dad sounds kinda like a dick, though.”
“Come on, Mom – it’s not like you don’t know the word. I’m just saying he doesn’t seem to care about his kid at all. Twenty dollars at Christmas. Jeez.”
“Not everyone is meant to be a father, I guess.”
“That’s such a pastor thing to say. Why can’t you just admit he’s a jerk?”
“Because, honey, I don’t know the man. I don’t know his story. I believe that Robbie and Trystene have been really hurt by him. But maybe there’s a reason he is the way he is.”
“What was my dad like? You don’t really talk about him much.”
“Do you remember him at all?”
“No. I just have that one picture.”
“We were young when we got married. He was charming and smart and a smart ass. He was always a good time, and as the saying goes, women wanted to be with him and men wanted to be him.”
“I hate that he died when I was a baby.”