Well, Day 1 of my new life was about five years ago. Janey was off to her own new life in college, Sally Rae and I had adopted Li’l’ Billy, a throwaway kid that became the light of our lives, and we were happily married.
We swore to live happily ever after, serve the best chicken-fried steak in Texas, and never, ever serve raw fish, like those degenerates in Houston.
Lately, we were about as happy as ever, but busy, busy, busy. Dishes needed to be washed, Li’l’ Billy needed help with his homework, and our restaurant required about two more people than we could afford.
Lately. our initial awareness of each other had dissolved into being good partners. We had become mere friends in the same yoke, not lovers. Sally Rae almost snapped at me when we woke up this morning, and I did snap back. We both stopped, and she broke into tears.
It had been, well, how long, since we made love?
Not to belabor the subject, but we made a date, a time for ourselves at 3 that afternoon. All of a sudden, the special smiles were back. We shared an inside joke that we didn’t share with the rest of the world. I called the school and asked that Li’l’ Billy stay in after-school that day. Life was looking up.
And at 3 we hung out the “Closed” sign, and went upstairs, hand in hand. Did I mention that Sally Rae always smelled like fresh bluebonnets in springtime? That the sway of her hip as she walked away could make me lose my thought mid-sentence? That she had a natural grace that ballerinas studied for years to achieve?
We didn’t have long, but we didn’t rush. I traced the curve of her shoulder. I caressed the bumps of her spine. In a flash, the old hotness was there again ...
“Ring … ring … ring!” Our gosh-darn phone went crazy, and at a truly awful moment. However, if you have a kid, you just can’t ignore it. Kids must always come first.
Sally Rae stood up and answered that intrusive phone. I could hear the other end of the conversation, as I lay, half-angry and half-disconsolate, under the covers.
“Waterin’ Hole Café,” Sally Rae answered.
“Hi, girl. This is Mrs. General Forest. I have something really exciting for you ...”
So do I, I thought, and I was here, first.
“… you know that old East Terrace Place the General and I have been fixing up …”
I groaned. Once Mrs. General Millie got going, there was no stopping her.
“… well, we are going to have the most EXCITING wedding here this Saturday and I want you to cater it!”
“But this is Wednesday,” Sally Rae protested.
“I know, but those distasteful people in Culver City just canceled me! Can you IMAGINE! Just because of some old fire. Well, anyway…”
I looked at my Sally Rae, standing silhouetted in the window, my darling! and I felt a bolt of love just like the old days, as well as a bolt of pure hatred for Mrs. General Millie.
“… canapés, raspberry and blueberry only, and shrimp, fresh, not frozen, about 3 dozen, no make that 4 dozen, on pearl ice cubes …”
“Hold on just a minute, Miss Millie,” Sally Rae protested, “I need to write this down and I don’t have a pencil handy,” she said, rolling her eyes at me. “Why don’t I just stop by your place in about an hour. Dave can handle the dinner rush, this once.”
“Well I suppose so, at least he’s good for SOMETHING, I suppose.”
I gritted my teeth. She seemed to confuse me with her husband, who hadn’t seen a sober day since he retired. I guess, if I was married to her, I might be a drunk, too.
As gracefully as possible, Sally Rae eased her off the phone, promising to be there within the hour.
“Whee!” Sally Rae said, diving back into my arms. About two minutes later, we were down to some really serious business again.
“Ring…ring…ring!” the gosh-darn phone went again.
“Do you know how to make a pure white filling for the canapés? That would be so perfect to go with the red and the blue filling, you know, red, white and blue? One can’t be too patriotic you know, and CREAM, well, CREAM would certainly would ruin the whole thing!”
Sally Rae gritted her teeth.
“Of course; white it will be.”
“And can you make little white stars on the blue cake with red stripes around the edge? Perfectly straight lines, of course.”
I gnashed my teeth.
“I will there in one hour. Right now, something is burning.” That “something” was me. Sally Rae firmly hung up.
Moments later we were back in each other’s arms, oh the sweetness of it all, the pure pleasure of holding the one you love….
“Ring, ring, ring.”
This time I answered. I was ready to tell Mrs. General Millie where to put her red, white and blue canapés.
“This is Mrs. Barnes at Heartbreak Elementary. I’m calling to let you know that Li’l’ Billy has fallen and has a nasty cut on his left leg. We could call an ambulance, but I figured that you might want to save the cost and just take him to the doctor yourself.”
“I’ll be there in 15 minutes,” I answered.
I looked over at Sally Rae in deep consternation. She didn’t help my mood any by dying laughing.
On the day of the wedding we just closed down The Waterin’ Hole altogether. We are a small operation to begin with, and catering that wedding was big money. Thursday and Friday Sally Rae was so busy we could hardly share a smile, much less some private time.
“Now Dave,” Sally Rae lectured me, “I know you don’t care for Mrs. General Millie too much. Truth be told, neither do I, but we are going to make real money for once. We can’t afford to blow this opportunity, and just remember, her money is the same color green as everyone else’s.”
“I promise to behave better than she deserves,” I said, still recalcitrant.
“No, that’s not good enough. Behave like you are putting bread on your family’s table. She’s an old bat, but she’s a powerful old bat and we have to do well at this,” she said.
Sally Rae was right. She was usually right, and I was in a dark mood, so I promised to try extra hard.
The canapés were red, white, and blue, just as ordered. The shrimp were fresh. Had the crab rolls been any fresher, they would have crawled off the table. Dish after dish came out and was served, just the right temperature to maximize taste and freshness. Presentation would have worked for the White House. The General himself showed up, sober enough to (mostly) walk straight.
Flowers were everywhere. A band played in an outside tent. I’ll say this for Mrs. General Millie, she could organize an event.
The big old house she had spent most of the General’s retirement on was looking as pretty as the day it was finished, 106 years ago. It was covered in antiques. Many exhibits had been brought from the Beau Arts Museum (BAM) to show that true gentry knew how to live with (their version) of the past.
In addition to Jane Long’s thunder mug, she even managed to locate Jane Long’s old bed. It was in this bed that Jane Long, Mother of Texas, has conceived her daughter, before her husband marched off to get assassinated. Later that year she had given birth, unassisted, to her daughter.
Like the Alamo, it had a certain gravitas one just doesn’t find in the “made in China” instant antiques most stores try to push.
“Be careful when you lay the flowers on this bed,” Mrs. General Millie sternly ordered. “It is behind a purple cord for a reason. It is SO delicate, and it deserves our reverence.”
I nodded “yes” and arranged the flowers.
About 11 Mrs. General Millie called the wedding party together.
“We will all retire outside for an hour of dancing. Before we leave, take a moment and look at Mrs. Jane Long’s bed. Let it serve as a guide to your marriage. Let it inspire you and bless you!” Meanwhile, the help will tidy up inside.”
She said the last with an imperious nod of her head toward Sally Rae and me.
In an aside, Mrs. Millie called us over. “I am going to lock you inside while you clean. We have thousands of dollars of wedding gifts here. Don’t let ANYONE inside, clear?”
We got it.
The guests went outside for champagne and dancing while we, the lowly help, cleaned their mess.
Looking up at the same moment, Sally Rae and I caught each other’s eye.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” she asked.
“I sure am.”
With that, we took each other’s hand and walked over to Jane Long’s bed. Mrs. General Millie would never understand, but if Jane Long happened to peek down from heaven, I think she would have giggled.