“Well, you can’t use my kitchen. I have a husband to cook for. See, I’m a wife who cooks for the man she loves,” Rose said.
Shadow stepped forward when a thing swooped down from below. That is the best way to describe it. You’re probably scratching your head thinking things swoop from above and rise from below, but this thing had not bubbled or boiled forward, but rose like a bird right up out of a place inside me that I had no name for.
“August 18, 1982, five ten in the evening, you Rose, said to me, Jesse, while wearing a red shirt and blue jeans, and holding,” Whatever it was walked across the room and grabbed an old wooden spoon that sat on the counter. “This spoon, said to me Jesse, that and I quote, ‘A man needs to not have to depend on his wife to cook a meal. He needs to be able to cook for himself sometimes.’”
“What?” Rose said. She stared at me as if I was insane. See, this was not Shadow, Guardian, Servant or anything, or anyone, that she had ever encountered before. She could only stare wide-eyed as he continued.
His voice was dry, monotone and without passion when he continued.
“March 11, six thirty-one in the evening, you Rose, said to me, Jesse, that, and I quote. ‘A real man needs to be able to make his woman feel special by occasionally cooking a meal for her. Something simple, you know, it doesn’t have to be crazy. I’m not talking about lobster or anything, but a real man can cook something simple for his wife.’ End quote.”
“What?” Rose stammered. “What did you say?” She grabbed the counter and shook her head. “Is that true? You can’t know that for certain. It is 1997.” She stepped back, seemed scared as she stared at him. She pulled back and shook her head. “No one can remember things like that. That is not true. It can’t be.”
Then with a sigh and a twitch he was gone.
“I love her, she is going to be my wife and I want to make her dinner. Are you going to let me use your kitchen or not?” Guardian said.
“What?” Rose asked again still staring.
“My kitchen is a joke. I want to make her dinner. Can I cook in yours for a little while?”
She straightened her hair and blinked. She shook her head and took the wooden spoon from my hand. “She is the one who is supposed to be cooking dinner here. Not you. And why can’t she cook for you every now and then?” Rose snapped. “And what would you cook for her anyway? She is a Lynch, they eat fancy dinners. Nothing you make is going to satisfy her. She needs Fancy Feast,” Rose said as she walked around the kitchen with her hand over her head, mimicking what I had no idea.
“Something with Grey Poupon,” Mumble mumbled.
“That would be perfect!” Rose said. She shook her head. “No darling, anything you cook for her will not be enough. What would you even make?”
“Tuna Casserole,” Guardian said.
They both laughed. “Tuna Casserole?” Rose said. “You want to cook Tuna Casserole for a Lynch Girl? I ought to let you do it just to see the look on her face.”
Shadow, hot and burning, “Let? Did you say let me do it?”
“Don’t get that tone with me, mister. I’m The Mom. And why would you pick that of all things?”
“It’s my favorite meal. It’s not easy, it has steps. It is simple, and it is the kind of meal I plan on making her for the rest of her life. This is not a date, Mother; this is a flash into the life we will be living. She comes home from work…” Shadow turned for the door. He was going to savor this next part. He grabbed the handle and opened it. “And while she was at work, I will have cooked her dinner.”
I actually heard my mother’s jaw hit the carpeted floor. Heard her gasp through the outside door. By the time I was half way across the big driveway that separated our house I could imagine the fire she was breathing. I grabbed the phone, called up my Droog.
“Hey, Bell, I need a favor,” I said.
“I can’t. I’m headed to work,” Bell said.
“Headed to work at five in the evening. The pool closes in two hours. You have the day off.”
“Emergency. A guy had to go home sick. They need me, I gotta go. Can’t help you, my Droog, sorry.”
I could just take her out to dinner at any restaurant in town. There were plenty, and I had the money, but tonight had to be special. Rose would ask me tomorrow how my tuna had been received. I could not tell her I changed my mind.
I grabbed the phone and called Bliss. “My darling sister-in-law, how goes it?”
“Busy, what do you need?”
“Rides all over hell and back. Patience and a bit of magic. Can you help me?”
“I have homework,” she said.
“It’s gonna knock your sister’s socks off,” I said.
Pause. Bliss loved nothing more than Bekah.
“She is going to go crazy,” I said.
“What do you have in that twisted little brain of yours?”
“Twisted, sure a little I guess.” I laughed. “Imagine you come to your fiancé’s house after a tough week at school and he has prepared for you a homecooked meal.”
“This guy can cook,” I said. “And he is romantic. And charming and he can make the night special and—”
“What are you making for her?” Judgment. I was getting a lot of judgment from Bliss these days.
“Dinner. I need to move fast; I have no time. We have to run all over creation to get it. I have to make the meal, bake the meal. I have to pull this off. We are wasting time.” I hung up and hoped she would come.
She pulled up and we ran. By the time she got to my house it was six.
I bought a blue bottle. It was the size of a wine bottle but very fancy. I bought Dr. Pepper to put in it. I got a bear. I had always wanted to get her a teddy bear and I had a cool idea of how to incorporate it into my casserole.
I can see the look on your face. Don’t think I’m not enjoying you trying to figure out how a stuffed bear helps with casserole. Does he chop the bear up and mix it in with the noodles? Does he, in some odd way, stir the casserole with the bear? This guy is clearly insane. What use can he have for a stuffed bear? Well, if you would just keep reading you will find out. It is actually pretty cool.
So, groceries, I had to buy everything. I had nothing. My house was filled with cans of soup and chips. With Pizza Rolls and sandwich stuff. I had no ingredients. Not one onion in the house. So, I needed everything.
I had exactly a square foot of counter space. For some reason I always gloss over that part when I tell this story. I wonder why I do that. That was a hurdle. I had all the pots and pans, all the knives I could need. All of that. That was not an issue. But I had to buy the food stuffs.
When I got back to the house with Bliss, it was seven forty-five. Bekah was supposed to be home at eight thirty.
“You need my help,” Bliss said.
“You, my dear, were wonderful. I have it taken care of. Go now. And thanks.”
“You have a lot to do. Let me help.” Bliss looked worried.
But Guardian loved cooking. He used to cook for Less and Grasp when he was a young latchkey kid. Cooking relaxed him and helped him think. “Thanks, Bliss. Really, I owe you.”
“You owe me nothing. However, you never did tell me what you are making my sister.”
“Goodnight, Bliss,” Guardian said.
I opened the door and all the windows even though it was November and it was freezing. I had never used the oven before and evidently the guy who lived here before had used it at least once because whatever he cooked had bubbled over so bad that when I used it years later, whatever had been baked on filled my house with smoke. I did not panic. Guardian is kinda incapable of panicking.
She walked up to the house and I was sitting on the love seat. She saw the place, smelled burnt-oven disaster, and looked at me with a questioning grin. She knew something was up.
“Hey honey,” she said, and took a step forward.
I held my hand up and she froze. “Check your coat and your hat with the Maître d’ and tell him that you have a reservation, but the man you are here to meet is probably already here.”
“What?” She looked at me so confused. I pointed at the chair by the door.
“The Maître d’ awaits.” I pointed at the stuffed bear with a rose leaning against his nose.
She squealed. “You carried out!”
“Kinda,” I said. “Come, sit.” I had one kitchen chair that butted right up to the refrigerator and a table in front of it that was old and about three feet by three feet. If I had a guest, they had to sit on the arm of the loveseat. I pulled the chair out as best as I could, and she sat. I acted like I was pushing her forward but we both knew that the chair could not move, there was no room.
I pulled out my mix-and-match plates and I set a poor man’s meal in front of her. I set a simple meal in front of her. I set my first dish in front of the first girl I ever cooked for.
“Oh my God, you cooked for me!” she said. It was partly a scream for sure, but there was a bunch of squeals in there with a fair amount of awe.
“This is tuna casserole. I’ll make it for you for the rest of your life if you let me,” I said. She looked up at me and I kissed her. She hugged her bear and we were happy.
She felt loved and treasured. She had a souvenir of our first home cooked meal, and she knew now I could cook.
But I should not have had to fight so hard for it. I should not have had to face my mother and fight it out with her. I should not have had the judgmental sister glaring at me when she got there and pressing me for every detail to see if it was good enough for her sister. It was not supposed to be this hard. Love was supposed to be a good thing. It was supposed to make the ones around me happy, to see me with my soulmate. But it only brought out the worst in everyone. Bekah and I brought out the worst in everyone in our lives.
Everyone but us.