Are You Adaptable (part two)
If it were possible for a knock to seem unfamiliar, this one did, coming louder. Beloye fluffed hair from the collar of her dress. (Still one earring.) She edged by the footrest of Dan’s recliner, and he tapped her hip with a toe in a sock. He had yet to slide into shoes. He wore his grey sweatshirt, cargo shorts.
She’d have to try. “Hon, put some jeans on.”
“See if it’s them!” Heidi called out. Glass and silverware clinked in the kitchenette.
“Hey, here we are!”
Pushing in as the door swung back, Nola blocked Beloye’s view. Or wanted to. Her companion’s head stood well above her own, a pleasant face, but not Arnold’s. Nola had said this cheerful thing with widening eyes that telegraphed: “Be normal, please.”
The man coming in on the heels of Arnold’s wife carried two boxes.
Dan, who liked and approved of pizza, galvanized to his feet, laid on a possessive clamp, mumbling, “get those”, his eyes narrow in disapproval.
“I’ll get plates.”
“Why plates? We don’t need plates.”
“Some people,” said Heidi, “might want plates.”
“This is Stenner,” Nola told Beloye. He offered his hand. Yes, a nice looking man.
“I’m Beloye, that’s Dan. Arnold’s brother.”
Heidi clattered, pulling down from an overhead cabinet glasses she’d put away minutes ago. And if body language could express anything so direct, Beloye thought Heidi’s noise, her compression of shoulders and lips, expressed, “Beloye! Shut up!”
Stenner smiled patiently. He tugged back his hand.
Dan, arm draped over the refrigerator door: “Cripes sake, Mom, what for? Glasses!”
Am I a member of this family? Beloye asked herself. She caught Stenner’s eye, having meant only to duck her head out of sight while rolling her own. The two of them waited on the periphery.
“Beloye,” Stenner said. “You might like some of this.” He slid a paper bag onto the bartop. She found herself at eye level with its upper third.
Here was the name of an emporium unknown to her: Captina, sans-serif, taupe on olive. Stenner extracted a four-bottle carton, lower-case, one letter to a stripe of olive, one to a stripe of taupe—
f a r m h o u s e a l e
And logoed with a cloud…or rather…she peered…fatuous smile, black dot of nose…
Using one hand, he picked up two wine glasses. With his other, he picked up one bottle of ale. “You may,” Stenner said, moving into the living room and placing glasses and ale on the coffee table, pulling a Swiss army knife from an inside pocket of his jacket, practicedly flipping out the opener, “notice nuances of Boysenberry.”
“I notice them,” she told him, sipping. She might herself have called it cabbagey. But she had no frame of reference for Boysenberry in a small taste of warm ale.
“Maybe,” Dan said, “you should take my chair, Mom. Cause there’s no room on the sofa. Unless someone moves.”
Beloye scooted tight against the armrest. Next to her Stenner shrugged equably and spread. Nola darted in, knelt to the table. Breathing with exertion, Heidi edged around Dan. She dropped, gusting a sigh, next to Stenner.
“You’re Nola’s friend,” she told him.
“We decided…” Nola reached behind and caught a barstool by the lower rung.
“…why not come over here instead, if we’re just having pizza?”
We decided, Beloye thought. Heidi and Nola on the phone. Dan smug in his schlumpy gear; Heidi her pink sweat suit. Nola, wearing jeans, a poncho. Beloye, the fool in the room as usual, dressed to go out. At least Stenner was wearing a sports jacket.
Of course, to be fair, home life for Nola might be awkward just now.
“I guess,” she ventured, using this prompt to pry a little intelligence, “if we came over, it might be awkward.”
Dan chewed brooding, hunched in his La-Z-Boy. “Awkward,” he repeated, scorn spewed with a divot of pepperoni.
“Let me tell you my graveyard story,” Stenner said. “And you all can tell me what you make of it.”
His mother, Stenner told them, was recovering from surgery. He was caring for her Pom, Trinket.
“You’re looking after your mother’s dog, that’s good.”
“Shut up, Mom.”
“I cut him off at three pm, for food, then take him for a dump just before bedtime. Not my Mom’s schedule. In my place, boot camp. Little bastard needs to learn discipline. So, about eleven last night, before I turned in, I put Trinket on the leash.”
Used to being carried, the dog lagged and flopped, but under cover of dark Stenner made progress, two blocks tugging and toting. He decided to cut through Green Mount Cemetery. “Yeah, I confess, I don’t like pooper-scooping. I was up to no good.”
Are You Adaptable
Are You Stories
(2015, 2018, Stephanie Foster)