Bev’s tea is always so much hotter. It’s because she boils her water in a stainless steel kettle over a big gas range. As she slices carrots through the floral veil drifting up from my mug, I half listen while she chirps and chops.
“As for Dan, well I mean, he’s an idiot. That’s all there is to it.”
I contemplate responding, but before I have time to decide it would be useless, she’s talking again.
“I mean, ‘where’s my green shirt’ like I’m supposed to know where every damn thing in this house is. So, I say; Listen Dan, the key word in that question is my. Not green, not shirt, but my. It’s your damn shirt, Dan. You find it.”
I could suggest that perhaps Dan thought she’d taken it to the cleaners or folded it into a drawer instead of hanging it up, but I know Bev too well. It won’t matter what I say. She wants to be angry. She wants to rant. God knows I love her, but she hasn’t changed since we were kids.
Two clicks and a flame ignites under the pot she’s scraped chunks of bloody beef into. There is an immediate sizzle.
“So, what about you?” You and Ducky okay?”
There is a quick flash of Ryan, his chubby legs tangled in a hooded towel, his wet skin slick in the light of the lamp. “Ducky, ducky!” He’d shouted, madly crawling towards the yellow plastic duck he’d thrown out of the bath moments before.
“His first word!” Bev had squealed! “And I witnessed it!”
“Bev, he’s fifteen now. He hates Ducky. It’s Ryan. Besides, for the millionth time, you know that was not his first word.
“Well, it was the first one I heard.”
She slides the carrots, onions and potatoes from the thick cutting board into the pot, then mixes the jumble with a large stainless spoon.
“We’re alright, I suppose. “Ryan’s never home, really. It’s like I live alone.” I instantly bite the inside of my cheek, cursing myself for unleashing what will undoubtedly become a lashing.
Her head’s sealed in an envelope of steam but I can see her hands spritzing dashes of oregano and thyme, basil and pepper. The salty fusion wafts through the air and just about has me rethinking vegetarianism.
“And you will be soon enough. Alone, that is.”
I know what’s coming and to stall, I take a sip of my still scalding tea.
“Hmm?” I murmur deep into the cup.
“You need to find someone, Beth. You need help, someone to be a father figure to Ducky. Fifteen? No Dad? You’re asking for trouble.
I think about Ryan. Him telling me that he once again wouldn’t be home for dinner because he’d be working the late shift after school. Him explaining the horrifying reasons he didn’t want to go to any of the house parties he was invited to. The little list of chores he kept taped to the back of his computer monitor; a secret reminder of what he could do to help me out around the house. And, I think of why I’ve come to Bev’s today.
“Beth. Bethany! Are you even listening to me?” Bev’s hand is on her hip, the other still stirring the brew now bubbling on the stove. “I was just saying that Dan, when he can find the time, could have a chat with Duck.”
“It’s Ryan,” I interrupt. “He’d like to be called Ryan.”
She tsks and continues. “He could use a little guidance and Dan, despite the jackass he is when it comes to, well, most things, would at least be a male to talk to. I mean, it’s mostly me parenting, but I have to admit Dan has managed not to screw Stephen up. He’s such a great kid.”
I realize my hands are scorched and I loosen my tight grip on the mug. Stephen is Ryan’s eighteen-year-old cousin. He’d tried to sell Ryan some pills yesterday. Said he was trying to make money to get out of the house. He told him he kept his stash in a compartment under the steering wheel of his car in case Ryan ever changed his mind.
“Ryan and I are just fine on our own,” I tell her. “Listen, I gotta get going, but you should really take Steve’s car into the mechanic. Ryan said the steering wheel was shaking yesterday. He worries.”
“It’s Stephen!” She calls as I gently close the door behind me.