The Thing About Leftovers (20 page)

BOOK: The Thing About Leftovers
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Mom stopped pushing the room service cart and stood up straight. “Did you say ‘leftover'?”

I hadn't realized I'd said it, but I had. I nodded. Then I explained the thing about leftover spaghetti and leftover kids.

Tears filled Mom's eyes as she stood frozen and she was quiet for a good long while.

Then she said, “I guess you are a kind of leftover, Fizzy, but you're certainly not spaghetti. If you're a leftover, then you're lasagna. You get better every day. You learn every day—sometimes by making mistakes—and you get better.”

It's true that lasagna gets better every day that it sits in the fridge. I have no idea how or why this works, but it does. Even so, I had never considered lasagna leftovers; I thought of “refrigerate for twenty-four hours” more like the last step in the process of making really excellent lasagna. But I guessed that twenty-four hours in the refrigerator technically made anything leftovers—even lasagna. Who knew?

Mom continued, “Think about it, Fizzy. Just a year ago, you were merely experimenting with our dinners, and today you are a
Southern Living
Cook-Off winner.”

I nodded.

Mom sat down beside me on the edge of the bed and covered my hand with hers. “But none of that has anything to do with how much I love you or why,” she said. “Fizzy, I love you just because you're mine. You don't have to do anything to earn it. It just is . . . it always will be. Okay?”

Relieved, I exhaled and said, “Okay.”

Mom smiled, patted my hand, and stood. “Go get ready for bed now.”

I thought about what Mom had said and couldn't help wondering if the reason Keene
didn't
love me was just because I
wasn't
his—because that wouldn't be my fault—right? That's what I was thinking as I rooted around in my bathroom bag, looking for toothpaste. When I came across a big, black plastic spider, I plucked it out and held it. Did Suzanne love me a little bit? Even though I wasn't hers? I thought she might, and not in a way that was forced—by Dad. I thought Suzanne might actually love me, all on her own, just because she found me . . . lovable. It
was
hard to believe, but . . . if true, then . . .

Maybe, in time, Keene would love me, too. And if he didn't, well, that probably wouldn't be my fault—and that's what's important.

Chapter 39

On the last
Sunday of summer vacation, I was at Dad's, holding Baby Robert and humming his favorite lullaby, “Nenneko yo.”

Now that Baby Robert was past all that awful colic, he was happy. He
always
smiled with pure delight when he saw me—like when Aunt Liz sees me. With Baby Robert, there was no question that I belonged; he made me feel like part of the family—an
important
part of the family. I loved him for that, and for his cheerful chirpy sounds, his warm, sweet baby smell, his fat pink cheeks. I just loved him.

Dad took Baby Robert from my arms and I let him—even though I didn't really want to—while Suzanne continued to clear our dishes from the table. Then he sent me upstairs to collect my suitcase and stuff.

I did as I was told, but on my way back down, I stopped in Dad and Suzanne's bedroom. As I stood there looking at the picture of Dad, Suzanne, and Baby Robert, I decided once and for all not to ask Dad about it. I'd given it a lot of thought: What did I hope to get out of it? What could Dad do or say to make me feel better? Nothing. I mean, if having a picture of the three of them—the three people who lived in their house and were part
of their family every day—made Dad and Suzanne happy, then I wanted them to have the picture. I wanted them to be happy, because I love them. Both of them.

But even if I hadn't cared about their happiness, making them take down the picture wouldn't change the reason they put it up in the first place. It wouldn't change who I am or how they feel about me or the way I feel about them any more than winning a cooking contest had—which is not at all. I mean, if Dad and Suzanne love Baby Robert way more than they love me, there isn't much I can do about that, is there? Besides, I could understand: Baby Robert really is the best thing since cupcakes.

I guessed I could've asked Dad about this, but I really didn't want to know
for sure
that he loves Baby Robert more than me. And if he said he didn't, would I believe him? I mean, what kind of parent tells you he loves your brother way more than he loves you?

That's what I was thinking when Dad snuck up behind me and cleared his throat to announce himself.

I lowered my head, feeling somehow ashamed that I'd been caught looking at the picture.

Dad placed a warm hand on each of my shoulders and said, “Sometimes, when you love somebody, and you know they love you, you let little things pass.”

I nodded at the rug.

“Suzanne said she didn't see the point of buying and hanging two identical photos any more than she would see the point of buying and hanging two identical paintings in the house.”

I thought about this.

Again, Dad said, “Sometimes, when you love somebody and you know they love you, you let little things pass. You know we love you, right?”

I decided to let it pass. I wasn't going to think about it anymore. I really wasn't. Because family doesn't keep score, which is why I also tore all Suzanne- and Keene-related lists out of my journal and threw them away—because they're family.

• • •

On the way home, Dad stopped and took me shopping for school supplies. Now, there is a big difference between shopping with my mom and shopping with my dad. Mom is practical. She wants things that are well made and built to last. But Dad just wants to be done. So he didn't inspect the things I picked out. He barely even looked at them. Instead, he just kept saying, “Put it in the cart.” And that is how I got the coolest school supplies ever!

Keene was out of town on business, but I told him about my supplies when he called, and he sounded happy for me. Then he asked where my shoes were.

I panicked as I tried to think:
Were they by the front door? Again?

“Fizzy—” Keene started, but I interrupted him.

“Keep your earrings on,” I said. “I'll put them away as soon as I hang up.”

Keene chuckled. Mom and I say “keep your earrings on” all the time now—instead of “keep your panties on” or “calm down”—and Keene is in on the joke.

I put all of my shoes away as soon as we hung up.

After that, Zach called to say he was having a campfire in his backyard tonight and there would be roasted hot dogs and s'mores. He wanted to know if I could come.

“Is Miyoko coming?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“Anybody else?”

“Like who?”

“Like . . . I don't know . . . Buffy Lawson?” I teased.

“Fizzy, I gave you an
alarm clock
,” Zach said, as if “alarm clock” and “engagement ring” meant exactly the same thing.

I smiled and said, “I bet you give alarm clocks to all the girls.”

“Just you,” Zach said.

I agreed to come, so long as Zach agreed not to build the campfire without me. I've learned lots of fire-building techniques from
Survivor Steve
, and I figured this was my big chance to try some of them out.

Keene, Mom, and I watch
Survivor Steve
together now. According to Survivor Steve, I'm a survivor, too, because I accept change, adapt to it, and move forward—quickly—and I'm getting better at it.

Even Mom seems to recognize this. She let me buy my own phone with some of my cook-off winnings because she said that I'd already learned to accept that I can't always get what I want “in other ways.” I also bought two pairs of designer jeans and some new flannel shirts. But Mom wouldn't let me buy any—mini-miracle—makeup. She said that I'm still too young for makeup and that I don't need it. So, the rest of the money went into a college fund for me—which, of course, is really a culinary
school fund—but I've accepted, adapted, and moved forward. I now think of
college
as the code word for “culinary school.”

So, for the most part, things are pretty good. I cook dinner twice a week, and Mom and I do the grocery shopping—just the two of us—every other Saturday morning. Granted, though, the ugly, puke-green recliner is still in our living room and I still hate it. But maybe it'll grow on me—or match something someday. Things change.

Even I change. I actually
like
leftovers now. I've liked them ever since I discovered this website where I can type in all the ingredients I have—leftovers—and then it spits out all the new meals I can make with them. Some of the best, most beautiful meals I've created lately have been leftovers! Yesterday, for example, I chopped up our leftover chicken and made the best chicken salad in chicken-salad history, with diced pickles and grapes, which are the perfect balance of sweet and sour—who would've guessed?—and toasted slivered almonds to add a crunchy texture! And I love brussels sprouts—when they're tossed in olive oil, garlic, and spicy mustard, roasted until crisp, and then salted—they're best salty and hot, like French fries.

When I'm happy, I try to really pay attention, because things are bound to change. When I'm unhappy, I try to wait it out, because things are bound to change.

But at all times, I try to keep my list of Notes to Self in mind:

1) Church shoes are important to Dad, too—remember them—nobody likes Sunday sneakers!

2) Chewing gum is not only unattractive, it's dangerous!

3) When you're scared, don't talk—you'll probably say something obnoxious.

4) It's never smart to mess with a girl who has a pimple with an eyeball—or her friends.

5) Everybody else is too worried about their own Ogles to notice yours. Probably.

6) Suitcases don't have to say, “My family is a big, broken mess and so am I!” They can also say, “I am a totally normal person who has friends, and I'm sleeping over with one of them! Yay!”

7) Makeup is a mini-miracle. Get some. (As soon as you turn sixteen, Mom says.)

8) If you're ever standing in your front yard—or anywhere, really—wearing only your underpants, DO NOT SCREAM! Because anybody who isn't looking will start.

9) More cakes and less mistakes. (Just do your best, Mom says.)

10) Punishing others by not allowing them to help you isn't a good punishment—for them—it's a great punishment for YOU.

11) Fix the problem, not the blame. (I learned this Japanese proverb from my karate teacher, who says, “Figuring out who to blame doesn't solve the problem; figure out how to solve the problem instead.” He is very
smart.)

Acknowledgments

To me,
this book is (more) proof that if you give God your ashes, He'll grow something beautiful in them; my heart overflows with joy and gratitude at all He has done in me, through me, and for me.

I remain grateful for and to my amazing family, friends, and colleagues. Words cannot adequately express my love and appreciation to my husband, Mark; my daughter, Laurel Grace; my niece, Airen; my sister, Sarah; and my parents (all of them), who generously read and reread for me, and to Dr. Susan Couzens, cold-reader, soothsayer, pray-er, and friend extraordinaire. In addition to reading for me repeatedly, all of these people believed in me so strongly that when my own belief was lagging, theirs carried me forward.

Likewise, my agent, Emily van Beek, also believed, and her confidence in me literally changed my life. I'm pretty sure that without Emily, all my novels would be confined to shoe boxes under my bed . . . well, except for the rare occasion when I might get one out to try trading it for something slightly more useful—like a bucket of chicken. Thank you, Emily, for not only finding a house for my books, but for finding a house that feels like home.

It was in Nancy Paulsen's house that
The Thing About Leftovers
became the book it is today. Nancy knows when to ask questions, when to give answers, when to push forward, when to pull back, and when to let go—and she does it all while being encouraging! She also knows when to laugh—the importance of this quality cannot be overstated. Somehow, Nancy made me love writing even more—I didn't know that was possible! I will always be grateful to Nancy and to everyone in her house who
lent their time, talent, and skills to this book, including Sara LaFleur, Cindy Howle, Anne Heausler, Jeanine Henderson Murch, Irene Vandervoort, and Annie Ericsson.

A big thank-you to R. David Clark, who is always ready and willing to give me information about the legal system.

Thanks to my friend Jennifer Releford, who coined the phrase “Big Booty Judy,” who always makes me laugh, and who keeps me looking (relatively) presentable—by doing my hair.

Thanks to Alaine Carpenter, Jennifer Owen, and Katrina Williams, three of the best friends a book—and an author—could ever have.

Thanks to Fizzy Ramsey, P.A., who kindly agreed to share her first name with my main character.

Last but certainly not least, I thank YOU, my friend and reader, for taking this journey with Fizzy and me. We couldn't do it without you. Really, we couldn't. At all. So thank you, thank you, thank you!

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BOOK: The Thing About Leftovers
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