The Thing About Leftovers (10 page)

BOOK: The Thing About Leftovers
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Chapter 20

I saw Suzanne's stomach
before I saw her. She was lying on the couch looking like she might be trapped underneath it.


Wow,
” I said. I didn't mean to. It just slipped out because, great gravy, that thing had gotten
huge
! It's true that Suzanne was going to have a baby . . . although, come to think of it, she had been eating a lot of ice cream lately. A lot. For a few seconds, I wondered if maybe Suzanne's belly was really just full of Choc-o-Chunk—her favorite ice cream—because if so, that belly was a real accomplishment and . . . an
expense
(food is money, Mom says). But I decided there was probably a baby in there—swimming in melted ice cream.

“I know,” Suzanne said. “Wow is right. I've really popped! I'd get up but . . .” She looked at her belly, then at us, and with her eyes she seemed to ask,
How?

“No, no, you just relax,” Dad said. “I'll get dinner started.”

I turned to stare at Dad like he was an alien, like he'd said, “I'm from the planet Crotuplkniat,” instead of “I'll get dinner started.”

“What?” Dad said when he noticed me looking at him like that.

“Nothing,” I said quickly. I risked a quick glance at Suzanne.

She smiled and winked at me like we shared a secret, and I guess we did: We both knew that Dad didn't cook.

“Maybe Fizzy could help you,” Suzanne suggested.

I nodded.

“Sure,” Dad said. “What do you feel like having?”

Suzanne thought about it and then said, “Chili.”

Dad's eyes widened. “Suzanne . . . Suze . . . honey, it's eighty-five degrees outside.”

“Soooooo?” Suzanne said, drawing the word out, making it sound like a dare.

Dad cleared his throat. “So chili will be perfect . . . won't it, Fizzy?”

“Perfect,” I repeated, wondering who in the world this guy was. I mean, he looked like my dad, and he sounded like my dad, but he sure didn't
act
like my dad.

Like I said, for starters, Dad didn't cook—had never even
tried
to cook as far as I knew. Also, I'd never known him to back down on a dare or an argument or anything like that. And lastly, if Dad thought it was ridiculous for his family to eat chili in April, I would've bet that nobody in his family would be eating chili. Period. But suddenly, I had no doubt that we would all be eating chili on this hot April evening, including Dad. Weird.

“Um, I just have to change my clothes,” I said.

“You look pretty!” Suzanne called after me.

You should've seen me without the freckles,
I thought.

• • •

I made chili for dinner that night, using steak cut up into little pieces instead of ground beef. Dad even added a cup of red wine when I asked him—the alcohol cooks out, but the layer of flavor remains. Unfortunately, he also added a little too much salt.

“That's okay,” I told Dad. “Just peel a potato and drop it in the pot.”

Dad got the potato and washed it, but then he hesitated. “Are you sure about this, Fizzy? I've never had chili with potatoes in it.”

I turned from the stove. “You won't tonight either. The potato's just going to soak up some salt, and then we'll take it—and the extra salt—out of the pot.”

Dad didn't ask any more questions after that. He did whatever I said, which was almost as much fun for me as the cooking. At one point, I was tempted to say something like,
Now hop three times on your left foot,
but I didn't because I wanted him to trust me in the kitchen.

I suddenly felt nervous when we were all seated at the table for dinner. I watched as Dad took his first bite of chili, and hoped he wouldn't say,
What did you put in this?
I knew from past experience—with Mom—that when he asked that, what he really meant was,
What did you put in this . . . to ruin it?
This seemingly innocent question had started many fights between my parents—fights that, in the end, weren't really about food at all.

But Dad smiled at me and said nothing.

Then Suzanne tasted my chili and said, “Oh my gosh! This chili is so good, I could
cry
!” And then tears filled her eyes.

I didn't know what to say:
Thank you? You're welcome? I'm sorry?
I looked at Dad.

He gave me a thumbs-up, so I figured everything was okay.

And it was. The chili was such a success that Dad and I made dinner together every night while I was at his house. And by that I mean
I
made dinner every night and—when he got home—Dad supervised my use of all major appliances. (Parents don't forget things like coming home to fire trucks with red flashing lights in the driveway.) I didn't mind. I love making dinner, any dinner, under just about any circumstances. I
missed
making dinner.

I hadn't gotten to do much cooking at Mom's lately because Mom had been doing most of the cooking. Keene would mention that he remembered eating—and loving—a certain something when he was a kid, and the next thing you knew, Mom was making that certain something, and had invited Keene to dinner. To make matters worse, I didn't usually like the certain something.
At all.

But even when Keene hadn't been at our house and I'd been allowed to cook, my options were very limited due to the Wedding Diet that Mom was on—the Wedding Diet consists of baked, broiled, or grilled chicken or fish with steamed vegetables or salad.

But Suzanne wasn't on the Wedding Diet; she was on the Pregnant Diet. On the Pregnant Diet, you can eat anything you want—apparently. And what Suzanne wanted was rich, heavy foods and sauces, with complex flavors that take time
to develop. So making dinner for Suzanne and Dad took hours, but it was my favorite part of being at their house.

The rest of the time was sort of boring. Dad went to work while Suzanne stayed home, decorated the baby's room, ate, and napped.

I watched a lot of TV. Well, except for on my last day, which was a Monday—an in-service day at school, for teachers only. On that Monday, Suzanne sort of went crazy over the baby's room. First, she decided the room wasn't clean enough—it looked clean to me. Then, she decided the color of the walls was all wrong and that we were going to repaint. Today. Right now, as in, “Fizzy Russo, turn off that TV and get in here!” It was sort of scary.

Even scarier, my dad left work in the middle of the day to buy paint and bring it to us. Now, my dad never leaves work in the middle of the day. But there he was, standing in the kitchen, in the middle of a Monday.

“You bought ‘Garland Green,' right?” Suzanne said. “‘
Garland
Green'?”

Dad nodded, but he looked anxious as he pried open the paint can to show Suzanne the muted kale-green color.

She said, “Oh yes, that's much better. I don't know why we didn't go with that in the first place.”

Dad exhaled. “I've got to get back to the office.”

I followed Dad out to his car, where I informed him, “That paint is the same color that's already on the walls in the baby's room.”

“No, it's a different green,” Dad said.

“But it looks
exactly
the same!” I insisted.

Dad ran a rough hand through his hair in a frustrated gesture. “I know,” he finally admitted. “But please don't say that to Suzanne, okay?”

I shrugged.

“Okay?” Dad demanded.

“Okay, okay—good gravy!”

Dad nodded once and got into his car, while I stood barefooted on the warm concrete, shaking my head.
Who are you?
I thought as I looked at him.
And why are you wearing my dad's face?

• • •

I found Suzanne upstairs, already rolling the new paint onto the walls in the baby's room. There was an extra rolling brush for me, so I picked it up and started painting. Every few minutes, Suzanne gave me instructions on painting, and I tried hard to do what she said. I mean, you never know what a crazy person might do if you make a mistake, right?

After a while, I asked, “How come you didn't ask Aunt Liz to decorate the nursery?”

“I wanted to do it myself” was the answer.

We did some more painting.

Then I asked, “How come we don't know whether you're having a boy or a girl? My math teacher's pregnant and everybody knows she's having a girl.”

“I don't want to know,” Suzanne said, still painting.

“Why not?”

Suzanne stopped and turned to look at me. “There are a
few very precious moments in life, Fizzy, moments you never get to have again, you know?”

“Um, not really.”

Most grown-ups probably would've said something like,
You'll understand in time.
But one of the things I liked about Suzanne was that she hardly ever said stuff like that to me. Instead, she tried to explain things so I could understand them
now
—I'd have to remember to add that to her Like List.

“The day you get engaged, for instance,” Suzanne said, “your wedding day, the day you give birth to your first child—those are moments you never get to repeat in life, not really.”

“Okay,” I said, “but I still don't understand why we can't know whether the baby's a boy or a girl.”

“Because I want that moment to hold as much joy and surprise as possible—like Christmas morning. Do you understand?”

“I think so . . . yeah . . . you don't want it to be like Christmas when I was seven.”

“What happened when you were seven?”

“I was out shopping with my . . . well, anyway, I was out shopping.”

“With your mom?” Suzanne guessed—and she seemed okay with it.

“Yes, ma'am, and I fell in love with this beautiful ballerina doll, but it was too late then to be adding stuff to my list. I knew it was too late, but all of a sudden, I didn't want anything else—just this ballerina.”

Suzanne nodded.

“So my . . . um, mom said she'd think about getting the doll, but I kept worrying about it and wondering if she'd gotten it yet—I was afraid the ballerina would be gone when she went back to the store.”

“So what did you do?”

“I started sneaking around the house looking for my doll, and sure enough, I found her hidden away. But that wasn't enough.”

“Why not?”

“Because then I wanted to play with her. I mean, she was
right there
in my house with me, and nobody was even playing with her!”

Suzanne laughed.

“So I snuck and played with her every chance I got, and by the time Christmas came, I was tired of the ballerina—that Christmas wasn't as exciting as the other ones.”

“Precisely!” Suzanne said, picking up her rolling brush again.

I smiled and picked up my brush, too. “Well, I hope I get a half sister instead of a half brother.”

“What?” Suzanne said.

Stupidly, I repeated, “I hope I get a half sister instead of a half brother.” When I looked over at Suzanne, I knew I'd made a mistake.

“Fizzy,” she said, frowning, “this baby is not a
half
anything. Calling the baby a
half
makes it sound like a lesser person, a lesser family member. This baby is a whole person, a whole family member,
your
sister or brother.”

I got so nervous, I dropped my paintbrush and a little paint splattered onto the new rug.

Suzanne said a curse word.

She never cursed, so I was sure I'd heard her wrong.

But then she said it again,
three
times!

As Suzanne crouched to clean up my mess, I backed slowly out of the room.

I felt sad and worried that Suzanne and Dad were both losing their minds.

Chapter 21

Daffodils, tulips, pansies, forsythia,
and cherry blossoms—there were explosions of yellow and pink and purple everywhere as Dad drove me home to Mom's. But even so, lots of ladies were already out planting more flowers in preparation for the Kentucky Derby—which is when people from all over the world descend on our city wearing their finest clothes and fanciest hats, to watch a two-minute horse race. The flower fireworks made me feel hopeful and happy for some reason.

But then I guess I must've sprung a leak because the closer we got to the town house, the less happy I felt. For a minute, I imagined our car leaking happiness all along the road, like oil—except that I'm pretty sure happiness is yellow, like butter. In cooking and eating, happiness
is
butter. And sugar.

“Fizzy?” Dad said. “Is something wrong?”

“No, sir,” I said.

When we came to a red light, Dad turned and stared at me.

I looked out the window some more.

As the light turned green and we began moving again, he said, “Tell me what's going on.”

I shrugged one shoulder.

“Tell me,” he commanded.

“I don't know,” I said. “I guess it's just that everything . . . every
one
 . . . is changing.”

“I'm not,” Dad said quickly.

I turned to stare at him. “Are you kidding? You've changed more than anybody.”

“What're you talking about? I haven't changed a bit.”

I rolled my eyes. “You clean, you cook, you leave work in the middle of the day to buy paint that you already have, and you run to the store in the middle of the night to buy Choc-o-Chunk.”

Dad smiled. After a minute or two he said, “Uh . . . pregnant women can be a little demanding and unpredictable sometimes.”

I was really surprised—and relieved—to hear Dad say this. “I thought it was just Suzanne,” I confided.

“No,” Dad said. “The chemicals in a pregnant woman's body go a little haywire. Add to that the fact that they're hungry and nauseous, often at the same time. They're tired, but uncomfortable, so they don't sleep well. It's all those things and more—it's an exciting but also frustrating and frightening time in life.”

“So you're scared of Suzanne?” I said.

“Of course not,” Dad said. He chuckled to himself. “Well, maybe a little, but only in her current condition.”

“Me too,” I said. “I'm scared of her, too—she cries over chili . . . she goes crazy over paint . . .”
And she cusses,
I thought, but I didn't tell Dad what Suzanne had said, and I hoped she wouldn't tell him what I'd said either—about having a
half
sister or brother.

Dad laughed again. And then I did, too. I laughed even more when I remembered the plastic snake coiled under Suzanne's neatly folded pajamas, inside the overnight bag she'd packed for the hospital—for when the baby was coming.

For a few minutes, I felt better. Then I arrived home.

• • •

At first, I thought I'd walked into the wrong house, but then I saw Mom.

“Oh, Fizzy, I missed you so much!” she gushed, rushing to hug me.

I hugged back but didn't say anything. I was still busy gawking. I couldn't believe how different everything looked. The couch had been moved to one side and a big puke-colored recliner chair sat right smack in front of the TV, where
I
usually sat! I couldn't believe Mom had allowed this. Was it possible she hadn't noticed the ugly chair yet?

Mom pulled back from the hug and looked at me. “Well?”

“Where're all our photo albums?” I asked, noticing an empty-looking bookshelf that held a few knickknacks, but used to be jam-packed with family photo albums.

“Oh, I'm sure they're here somewhere,” Mom said vaguely, working to maintain her smile.

“Where?” I said.

She lowered her eyes and her voice. “In a box, in storage—they're fine, Fizzy.”

“I want them.”

Mom turned and glanced at the stairs, and then said softly, “All right, I'll get them for you . . . later . . . on one condition.”

I looked at her.

“They can't come out of your room,” she said.

“Why not?”

“Shhh—because it would hurt Keene to see pictures of me as another man's wife—knowing and seeing are two different things.”

Does it hurt him to see you as the mother of another man's child?
I wondered. But I didn't ask. I figured I already knew the answer because I already knew that I wasn't exactly a cherished member of the Adams family. I'd known that I was Russo leftovers long before now. What I hadn't known was that in addition to the fact that the Russos and I were officially no longer part of Mom's family, we were also going to pretend that we'd
never
been a family—because that's why we were hiding the photo albums, right?

And it wasn't just the albums. I already knew from experience—with Dad and Suzanne—that I couldn't say things like “Hey, Mom, remember that time you and Dad and I went to Myrtle Beach?” over dinner with Keene. Because that would make Keene feel excluded, like an outsider—like me—which I can tell you
is
upsetting.

Ten years of history, gone, never to be mentioned again,
I thought, but all I said was, “I understand.”

Mom instantly brightened. “Good. Now, what do you think of the house?”

I thought I hated it, but knew I couldn't say so. “Um . . . you didn't redo
my
room, did you?”

Mom's face fell. “No—why? Don't you like what we've done?”

“Sure,” I said, remembering:
It's best for everybody if you just say whatever the adults want to hear.
“Um . . . did I get any mail?”

Mom smiled knowingly. “Not yet, but I'm sure you'll hear from
Southern Living
soon—don't worry.”

I spent the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening, too, in my room, having a little pity party for myself: no mail from
Southern Living
; a whole decade of my life and my family erased like the big fat mistake it was; and a house that was barely recognizable as my home. Well, at least my room still felt like mine.

• • •

When Mom called me down for dinner and I learned that we were just having smoked turkey sandwiches and chips, I asked if I could eat in my room.

Mom stopped assembling sandwiches and turned to look at me.

I looked away.

Keene pushed off from the counter he was leaning against and said, “C'mon, Cecily. Why not? It's been a long week for everybody.”

“All right, all right,” Mom said, and then she went back to the sandwiches.

I never took my plate back to the kitchen that night. I never went back downstairs for any reason. If Mom and Keene
noticed, they didn't seem to mind. They were probably busy kissing each other, I told myself. Yuck.

When I knew I couldn't put off unpacking any longer, I swung my suitcase up onto my bed and unzipped it. A small box wrapped in yellow polka-dotted paper with a smushed white bow sat on top of my clothes in the suitcase. I sat down on the bed and opened it. Inside the cardboard box, I found a black velvet jewelry box and one of dad's business cards:
ROBERT S. RUSSO, D.M.D.
I turned the card over. On the back, Dad had written:

Remember that you have a heavenly Father, too, and He is always with you.

Love, Dad

The velvet box held the tiniest, most delicate gold cross necklace I'd ever seen.

I was struck with all kinds of thoughts and feelings. At first, they floated down out of nowhere like multicolored sprinkles:
Plink. Plink. Plink.
But then the sifty lid popped off, and they poured down fast and heavy on me. Too heavy.

Surprise and gratitude and even a little happiness struck first. Then anger hit me, along with the thought
This is not enough.
Even so, I was relieved that someone seemed to understand how worried and alone I felt. But the fact that that someone was Dad—who ordinarily wouldn't shop, buy me a gift for no reason, or write me a note—told me three things: 1) He was
worried about Keene's presence; 2) he was worried about his own absence; and 3) he was worried about me.

Dad's worries made mine seem justified, which made me even more worried—downright scared.

Still, I put the necklace on and resolved never to take it off.

Then I put on a favorite old T-shirt to sleep in. When I remembered Keene was staying, I decided to sleep in some old shorts, too. And just as I'd thought, none of it was enough. I didn't feel any better—or any less scared.

BOOK: The Thing About Leftovers
3.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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