Kristy and I both looked up at the same time. It was Mr. Talbot, of course, and he was smiling widely, although I assumed it had more to do with Kristy’s shrimp tray than us reuniting. As she and I both stood, he proved me right by immediately reaching for one and popping it into his mouth.
“Hi, Mr. Talbot,” I said, as Kristy looked on, annoyed. “It’s good to see you.”
“And you,” he replied. “Martha tells me you’ve taken on this job in addition to your library work. That’s very ambitious of you. I know Jason finds the information desk to be a full-time commitment.”
“Oh, well,” I said, bending down to retrieve my cleaner and rag, as the stain looked, miraculously, like it was actually fading, “I’m sure for him, it is.”
Mr. Talbot, reaching for another shrimp, raised his eyebrows.
“I mean,” I said, quickly, as Kristy switched her tray to the other hand, “that Jason just gives such a big commitment to everything. He’s very, you know, focused.”
“Ah, yes, he really is,” he said, nodding. Then he lowered his voice, adding, “I’m so glad that you understand that, considering the decision he had to make recently about your relationship.” He dabbed his lips with a napkin. “I mean, he is fond of you. But Jason just has so much on his plate. He has to be very careful not to get distracted from his goals.”
I just stood there, wondering how, exactly, he expected me to react to this. I was a distraction from his goals? I felt my face flush.
“At any rate,” Mr. Talbot continued, “I know he hopes, as we do, that you two can work things out once he returns.”
And with that, he started to reach for another shrimp. But as his fingers neared the edge of the tray, zeroing in, Kristy yanked it away with such force that a couple actually slid off the other side and hit the carpet, thud thud. Mr. Talbot looked confused. Then he looked at the shrimp on the floor, as if actually wondering if the two-second rule applied here.
“So sorry,” Kristy said smoothly, turning on her heel, “but we’re on goal to get out another round of appetizers, and we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted.”
“Kristy,” I hissed.
“Come on,” she said, and then she was starting across the floor, and there was really nothing I could think of to do but follow her. Which I did, not looking back, although whether it was to save my pride or save myself the sight of Mr. Talbot eating shrimp off the floor, I wasn’t sure.
Kristy knocked the kitchen door open, walked to the opposite counter, and put down her tray with a bang. Wes and Delia, who were arranging more wineglasses on two platters, looked up at us.
“You are not going to believe,” she said, “what just went down out there.”
“Did something else break or spill?” Delia asked. “God! What is going on today?”
“No,” Kristy said. Looking at her, I realized that I was upset, even hurt: but Kristy, she was pissed. “Do you know who’s out there?”
Delia looked at the door. “Monica?”
“No. Macy’s jerkwad boyfriend’s father. And do you know what he did out there, in front of God and me and everybody?”
This time, neither Wes nor Delia offered any theories, instead just looking at me, then back at Kristy. Outside, I heard Mrs. Talbot trilling again.
“He said,” she said, “that his stupid asshole son put their relationship on hold because she wasn’t in line with his goals.”
Delia raised her eyebrows. I had no idea what Wes’s reaction was, as I was making a concentrated effort not to look at him.
“And then,” Kristy continued, reaching full throttle, “he ate half my shrimp plate. He insults my friend—to her face!—and then tries to go for shrimp. I wanted to sock him.”
“But,” Delia said carefully, “you didn’t. Right?”
“No,” Kristy replied, as Delia visibly relaxed again, “but I did cut him off. He’s on crustacean restriction, from here on out. He tries another grab, he’s getting a foot stomp.”
“Oh, don’t do that,” Delia said, as I concentrated on a spot on the opposite wall, still trying to calm myself from the various shames that had been thrown my way in the last few minutes, “please God I’m begging you. Can’t you just avoid him?”
“It’s the principle of the thing,” Kristy replied, piling more shrimp on her tray by the handful, “and no, I can’t.”
The door swung open again, and Monica ambled in, blowing her bangs out of her face. “Shrimp,” she said flatly, looking at Kristy.
“I’m sure they do,” she shot back, plunking another container of cocktail sauce and some napkins onto her tray. “Bastards.”
“Kristy,” Delia said, but she was already pushing back out the door, her tray on her palm, rising to shoulder level. As it swung shut, Delia looked around, somewhat desperately, then picked up a tray of filled wineglasses, lifting it carefully with both hands.
“Just to be on the safe side,” she said, nudging the door open with her toe and glancing out at the living room, where I could see Kristy zipping past a group of people who were reaching, in vain, for her shrimp, “I’m going to make a pass around the room and keep an eye on her. Wes, grab that other tray of glasses. Monica, get another trayful of toasts out here. And Macy—”
I turned and looked at her, glad to have something else to focus on.
“I’m sorry,” she said, and smiled at me so kindly I felt like it was a third shame, the biggest of all, even though I knew that wasn’t how she intended it. Still, I felt something hurt in my heart as the door swung shut again, as if all the inadequacies I’d felt since Jason’s email were no longer hidden away inside me but were as clear on my face as if they were written there.
After Delia left, the room seemed to feel smaller. Monica was slowly moving toasts onto her tray, while Wes finished pouring the wine behind me. I could see out the kitchen door to the garden and the road beyond it, and for a second I considered just pushing it open and walking out, could almost feel the grass under my feet, the sun on my face as I just left this behind.
Monica picked up her tray, then brushed past me and out the door. As it swung open, I heard a second of party noises and voices, and then it was quiet again. When I turned around to look at Wes he was already lifting his tray, arranging the glasses on it, clearly more concerned with keeping them balanced than with my various shortcomings. But then he looked at me.