“No, but I do know Christopher,” she said. “I had my reservations about that grill from the day we brought it home from the store. He went in there and just got bedazzled. As soon as the guy started talking about convection, he was gone.”
“Convection?” I said.
She sighed, pushing her hair out of her face. “It has to do with the heating process,” she explained. “Instead of the heat just rising up, it surrounds the food. That’s what got Christopher in. The guy just kept saying it, like a mantra. It surrounds the food. It surrounds the food.”
I snorted, and she glanced over at me, then smiled, almost tentatively, as if she had to check first to make sure I wasn’t making fun of her. Then we just stood there, both of us stacking meat products, for a second, until I decided we were on the verge of a Hallmark moment and had to take action.
“So anyway,” I said, “I’m wondering how we’re going to explain this last-minute menu substitution.”
“The steaks were bad,” she said simply. “They smelled off. And this is just so kitschy, all-American, burger and dogs. Your mom will love it.”
“Okay,” I said, picking up my plate of patties. She grabbed the buns and her plate, then started toward the door to the patio. I followed behind, glad to let her handle it.
We were halfway out the door when she turned her head, nodding to the front yard, and said, “Looks like your guest has arrived.”
I glanced out the window. Sure enough, there was Dexter, coming down the sidewalk, a good half hour late. He was carrying a bottle of wine (impressive) and wearing jeans and a clean white T-shirt (even more so). He was also holding a leash, the other end of which was attached to Monkey, who was charging ahead, tongue out, at a speed that seemed impressive considering his old age.
“Can you take this?” I asked Jennifer Anne, handing over my plate of patties.
“Sure,” she said. “See you outside.”
As I came down the driveway, the screen door slamming behind me, Dexter was tying Monkey’s leash to our mailbox. I could hear him talking to the dog as I came up, just as you would talk to anyone, and Monkey had his head cocked to the side, still panting, as if he was listening carefully and waiting for his turn to respond.
“… might not be into dogs, so you’ll just stay here, okay?” Dexter was saying, tying the leash into a knot, then another knot, as if Monkey, whose back leg was trembling even as he sat down, possessed some form of superhuman strength. “And then later, we’ll go find a pool so you can take a dip, and then maybe, if we’re really feeling crazy, we’ll take a ride in the van and you can put your head out the window. Okay?”
Monkey kept panting, closing his eyes as Dexter scratched under his chin. As I came closer he saw me and started wagging his tail, the sound a dull thump against the grass.
“Hey,” Dexter said, turning around. “Sorry I’m late. Had a little problem with the Monkster here.”
“A problem?” I said, squatting down beside him and letting Monkey sniff my hand.
“Well,” Dexter said, “I’ve been so busy with work and the gigs and all that, you know, I’ve kind of neglected him. He’s lonely. He doesn’t know any other dogs here, and he’s really quite social. He’s used to having a whole network of friends.”
I looked at him, then at Monkey, who was now busy chewing his own haunch. “I see,” I said.
“And I was getting ready to leave this afternoon, and he was following me around, all pathetic. Whining. Scratching at my shoes.” He rubbed his hand over the top of Monkey’s head, pulling on his ears in a way that looked painful but that the dog seemed to love, making a low, happy noise in his throat. “He can just stay out here, right?” Dexter asked me, standing up. Monkey wagged his tail hopefully, perking up his ears, the way he always seemed to do at the sound of Dexter’s voice. “He won’t cause any trouble.”
“It’s fine,” I said. “I’ll bring him some water.”
Dexter smiled at me, a nice smile, as if I’d surprised him. “Thanks,” he said, and then added, to Monkey, “See, I told you. She likes you.”
Monkey was back to chewing his haunch now, as if this last fact didn’t concern him much. Then I got him some water from the garage, Dexter double-checked the leash knot again, and we headed around the side of the house, where I could already smell hot dogs cooking.
My mother was deep in conversation with Patty when we walked up, but at the sight of Dexter she stopped talking, put a hand to her chest-a trademark fluttering gesture-and said, “Well, hello. You must be Dexter.”
“I am,” Dexter said, taking her hand as she extended it and shaking it.
“I recognize you from the wedding!” she said, as if just now putting this together, even though I’d told her at least twice about the connection. “What a wonderful singer you are!”
Dexter seemed pleased and somewhat embarrassed at this. My mother was still holding his hand. “Great wedding,” he said finally. “Congratulations.”
“Oh, you must have something to drink,” my mother said, glancing around for me, and of course, I was right there between them. “Remy, honey, offer Dexter a beer. Or some wine? Or a soft drink?”
“Beer would be fine,” Dexter said to me.
“Remy, sweetie, there’s some more cold in the fridge, okay?” My mother put a hand on my back, effectively steering me toward the kitchen, then hooked her arm in Dexter’s and said, “You have to meet Jorge, he’s just this brilliant decorator. Jorge! Come here, you absolutely have to meet Remy’s new boyfriend!”
Jorge started across the patio as my mother kept trilling about how fabulous everyone within a five-foot radius was. Meanwhile, I headed into the kitchen to fetch Dexter a beer, like hired help. By the time I brought it back out to him Don had joined the conversation and now everyone was discussing, for some weird reason, Milwaukee.
“Coldest weather I’ve ever felt,” Don was saying, popping a handful of imported nuts into his mouth. “The wind can rip you apart in five minutes there. Plus it’s murder on cars. Salt damage.”
“Great snow, though,” Dexter said, taking the beer as I handed it to him and managing, very subtly, to brush his fingers with mine as he did so. “And the local music scene is really coming on there. It’s early, but it’s there.”