He finally finished the one in his hand, putting it on the pile. “In my house,” he said, “it was the opposite. You did everything you could to keep from eating.”
“After the divorce,” he said, picking up another one and, eyeing how I was doing it, ripping all the legs off at once, “my mom got into natural foods. Part of the whole cleanse your life, cleanse your body thing. Or something. No more hamburgers, no more hot dogs. It was lentil loaf and tofu salad, and that was a good day.”
“My dad was the total opposite,” I told him, starting another one. “He was a firm believer in the all-meat diet. To him, chicken was a vegetable.”
“I wish,” he said.
“Shrimp! I need shrimp!” Delia hissed from behind us. I scooped the pile in front of me onto a plate, then ran to the sink, rinsing them quickly and patting them dry as she hurriedly piled toothpicks, napkins, and cocktail sauce onto a platter.
“Those biscuits are going fast,” Kristy reported as she came back through the door, balancing her tray on her upturned palm. Today, she was in her most striking outfit yet: a black leather skirt and motorcycle boots paired with a loose white peasant blouse. Her hair was held back at the back of her head with a pair of red chopsticks. “That crowd is all professor types, and they’re so weird that way, ultra polite but really grabby at the same time. Like they say, ‘Oh, my, doesn’t that look tasty,’ and then clean out your whole tray.”
“Two and move,” I said.
“Don’t I know it.” She blew a piece of hair out of her face. “It’s just work, is all I’m saying.”
There was a crash from the other room, just as Delia handed off the shrimp tray. We all froze.
“Shit,” Delia said. “I mean, shoot. No, actually, I mean shit. I really do.”
Kristy eased open the door a tiny bit. “It wasn’t anything of theirs,” she reported, and I saw Delia visibly relax. “But a couple of wineglasses bit it on the carpet.”
“Red or white?” Delia asked.
“Ummm,” Kristy said. “Looks like red.”
“Shit,” Delia said again, crossing the room to the plastic Tupperware container she always brought with us. “And Bert would pick today to have other plans.”
I looked at Wes quizzically, and he said, “Bert’s a whiz with stains. He can get anything out of anything.”
“Really,” I said.
“Oh yeah.” Wes nodded, slowly de-shelling another shrimp. “He’s a legend.”
Delia yanked a bottle of carpet cleaner and a rag out of the container. “And how are you?” she asked me, handing them to me.
“How am I what?”
“At getting out stains.”
I looked down at the rag and cleaner in my hands, as Kristy pushed out the door.
“Um,” I said. Through the still open door, I could see Monica down on the floor, slowly picking up pieces of broken glass as the hostess of the party stood by, watching. “I’m not—”
“Good,” Delia said, pushing me through the door. “Go to it!” She’d given me such a nudge I actually stumbled over the threshold: luckily, I was able to catch myself right before doing a face plant into a nearby end table. I caught my breath, then crossed the room over to Monica, who’d made what looked like very little headway in the cleaning up effort.
“Hey,” I said, starting to kneel down beside her. “You okay?”
“Mmm-hmmm,” she said. But then she stood up, wiping her hands on her apron and starting across the floor to the kitchen, leaving me and the tray behind her. So much for teamwork, I thought, as I dropped the cloth and cleaner beside me and began to pick up the broken glass as fast as I could. I’d just gotten what I hoped was all of it and begun spraying the carpet when I heard a voice.
“Macy? Is that you?”
For a second, I just kept spraying, as if doing so long enough might remove not only the stain, but me and this entire situation as well. After I gave the carpet a good dousing, though, it was clear I had no choice but to look up.
“Hi,” I said to Mrs. Talbot, who was standing over me holding a napkin piled with shrimp. “How are you?”
“We’re well,” she said, glancing a bit hesitantly over at Mr. Talbot, who was helping himself to shrimp from Kristy’s tray as she tried, unsuccessfully, to move on. “Are you . . . working here?”
Even though I knew this was a valid question, the fact that I was wearing a Wish Catering apron, holding a rag, and on my knees on the carpet fighting a stain made me wonder if Mrs. Talbot was really all that smart after all. “Yes,” I said, tucking a piece of hair behind my ear. “I, um, just started.”
“But you’re still at the information desk,” she said, suddenly serious, and I could see Jason in her features, this automatic concern that all be As It Should. “Aren’t you?”
I nodded. “I’m just doing this occasionally,” I said. “For extra money.”
“Oh.” She glanced over again at Mr. Talbot, who was standing in place chewing, his napkin piled with what, to my eye, looked like a lot more than two shrimp. “Well. That’s wonderful.”
I ducked my head back down, and after a second a woman came up to her, asking about some research trip, and thankfully, they moved on. I’d been dousing, then patting, then dousing for a good five minutes when a pair of motorcycle boots appeared right at my eye level, foot tapping.
“You know,” Kristy said, her voice low, “it doesn’t look so good for you to be on the floor like this.”
“There’s a stain,” I said. “And Monica just abandoned me to deal with it.”
She squatted down across from me, moving her knees to one side in a surprisingly ladylike way. “It’s very hard for her,” she said to me, her voice serious. “She’s self-conscious about her clumsiness, so a lot of the times rather than acknowledge it she just shuts down. It’s a defense mechanism. You know, she’s very emotional, Monica. She really is.”
As she said this, Monica pushed through the door from the kitchen, carrying a trayful of goat cheese toasts. She started across the room, her face flat and expressionless, walking right past us without even a glance.
“See?” Kristy said. “She’s upset.”
“Macy,” a man’s voice boomed from over our heads. “Hello down there!”