Comfort food, p.27
Comfort Food, p.27Kate Jacobs
The kids scurried up, making more noise than he could have imagined possible. Like a little herd of elephants.
“Pull back and swing,” Hannah said, marching up and down behind them like a drill sergeant. She waved her arm over her head to gesture to Troy to go to the other side.
“Here,” she said, putting her hand on one young girl’s. “Grip the racket like this. And when the ball comes over the net, smack it like you mean it!”
The little girl giggled. “You’re funny, you know that?”
“And I’m also good at tennis,” said Hannah. “So who’s next? Get in line and hit ’em as they come over. Troy, serve!”
They played for a long time, until even Hannah, who thought she would never be able to get enough when she’d first stepped onto the court that day, owned up to being exhausted. The kids handed the rackets back to her reluctantly.
“Thanks, lady,” they said.
“Too tired for car shopping, then?” teased Troy.
“I’m not ready to trade in my Miata,” she said as she put the rackets back into her case. “I’m going to master that sucker with just a few more lessons, I know it. Same time next week?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” said Troy. “I’ll bring my own racket this time.”
On the edge of the court, the “crowd” went wild with cheers.
Gus heard the toot of a horn in front of the house and raced outside, dragginga suitcase behind her. She was in a breezy blue dress and carried a light cotton wrap over her arm, though it had actually been challenging to figure out what to wear for the day’s events. She’d had to ask Sabrina for some input, and she advised avoiding green and opting for something comfortable.
“Though that’s just off the top of my head, Mom,” she said. “I’ve never heard of fashion for meeting the Feds.”
Indeed. The call had come in only a few days before: the FBI, intensely pursuing David Fazio, wanted her to come in to make a statement and offer whatever information she might have.
“But I don’t know anything,” she explained for the umpteenth time to the agent over the phone. Still, he persisted, setting up an appointment and requesting that she bring documents. Oliver had encouraged her to go, and Aimee had offered to meet her at Federal Plaza in downtown New York, where the interview was set to take place.
“It just makes it all feel even worse,” she told them. “Not only has my money gone missing but the government is going to walk me, step by step, through how I was so stupid.”
“Or they’ll catch him and maybe get some of it back,” Aimee pointed out. “Either way, you have to stand up for yourself, even if it hurts.”
She locked the door to the manor house behind her as Joe, the car servicedriver who’d taken her to the Today show, grabbed her rolling bag and placed it in the trunk of the car.
“That’s heavy,” he said. “What you got in there? Gold bricks?”
“Something like that,” she said. “A lot of papers.”
Joe held open the door as she climbed into the backseat and reached behind herself to put on her seat belt.
“Aha,” he said. “Good for you.”
Gus was nervous, no doubt about it. She hadn’t even made anything for Hannah to eat that morning.
“No chow?” Hannah had said, looking forlornly at the counter when she came over at seven-thirty. “People stop feeding stray cats when they don’t want them to come by.”
“It’s not that, Hannah,” Gus said, though she did feel a bit guilty because she’d been spending a lot of time with Oliver and not bringing dinner over to Hannah as often as she used to. “I’m just preoccupied.”
“You look nice,” said Hannah. “More relaxed than usual.”
“Thank you. Your tracksuit looks stellar, as always.”
“Yeah, about that,” said Hannah. “I was thinking maybe it’s time I invested in a new wardrobe. Nothing earth-shattering, maybe just somethingthat can’t double as workout clothes.”
“What about your gray jacket-dress?” Gus said absentmindedly as she rechecked her purse. “It’s what you’ve always worn before.”
“Do you have time to take me shopping?” asked Hannah. “I know you have all this stuff going on, but I was hoping.” She waited but Gus didn’t respond.
“I’ll drive,” offered Hannah.
Gus looked up. “Oh, definitely not that,” she teased. And then a thought came to her: what about Sabrina? She could probably do a much better job outfitting Hannah than Gus could.
She put two slices of bread in the toaster.
“Finally, some food,” cried Hannah.
“You could have done this yourself. You’re not the least bit helpless.”
Hannah pulled out a Reese’s peanut butter cup. “I love peanut butter on toast,” she said, biting into the candy bar while she waited. “Yum!”
“See there? You even had your own. Right there in your pocket.”
“I’ve been giving some thought to Priya.”
“Oh, goodness, I’ve been getting an earful from Carmen. The meetings at the CookingChannel have been very screechy.”
“No, not about her coming to the cookout show,” said Hannah. “Her health. I think I’ve figured it out.”
“Hannah,” Gus said, not hiding her irritation very well. “You’re always diagnosing, even characters on TV shows. You’re not actually a doctor.”
“I’m right this time,” Hannah said confidently. Indeed, something about Priya had lingered in her mind after the show, though she hadn’t been able to put a finger on what it was. “It was the eyebrows,” she explained now.
“Priya Patel is just a fortysomething mom with too much to do. It’s like that when you’ve got a young family.”
“Ouch.” Hannah made a face. “But that’s not her problem, I’m telling you.”
“You can’t go around barging in other people’s lives,” insisted Gus, who caught the expression on Hannah’s face very well. “No comment from the peanut butter cup gallery, thank you very much.”
“Okay there, Ms. I’ve-never-butted-in-anywhere,” said Hannah. “Look, she’s got a thyroid problem, Gus, and she doesn’t even know it.”
“I hope you’re not planning on ambushing Priya at the Fourth party?”
“Of course not,” Hannah said, as though Gus was being ridiculous. “I contacted Porter for her email address.”
Joe had arrived with the car then, and Gus left Hannah to her toast, pulling the rolling bag of bank statements behind her. She had felt a rising dread as they drove down FDR Drive, watching the UN, the NYU medical center, and the Williamsburg Bridge as they nudged their way down the road, just one of endless cars heading into Manhattan. Off to work, off to play, off to go talk to the FBI.
Aimee was standing on the sidewalk as the car pulled up close to Federal Plaza, waiting to walk with her inside. She’d taken the day off, for which Gus was very grateful, and had told her so.
A line of people stretched around the block.
“Oh no,” said Gus, “We’ll never make our appointment now.”
“That’s the immigration line, Mom,” Aimee said, grabbing the suitcase. “We go in over here.”
After a short line at the security area—it was just like the airport with its security screeners—they took an elevator upstairs.
“Hello,” said the brown-haired man who came into the waiting room. He was of medium build, a little bit shorter than six feet, wearing wireless glasses and a dark blue suit. His expression was solemn but he was younger than Gus had expected after hearing the deep voice on the phone.
“I’m Jeremy Brewer,” he said, shaking her hand firmly. “I spoke with you earlier, Mrs. Simpson.”
“No need to be nervous,” Agent Brewer said, handing both of them his card. “I’m a forensic accountant. My weapon of choice is a calculator.”
Aimee laughed. Gus did not.
They made their way to a small office, and Gus spent several hours drinkin
“Let’s take a break.” Agent Brewer stood up. “Get some lunch and re-convene.”
“I didn’t think I’d have anything much to say,” said Gus.
“But you knew this guy for a decade, professionally and socially,” he said, moving to open the office door. “People often are aware of much more than they realize.”
“Knock knock,” said a voice belonging to a tall woman in a dark suit. “Saw that you were breaking and thought I’d take my chance to say hello to the Gus Simpson.” She whipped out a cookbook from behind her back. “And I was hoping . . .”
“Of course,” Gus said, accepting a pen and moving back into the office to sit down again. “Now who shall I make it out to?”
“She’ll be busy with that for a few minutes,” Aimee said, good-naturedly. “Probably made her feel a little better.”
“Great,” said Agent Brewer. “Though I have to confess I’ve never watched any of those food television shows.”
“You’ve never even seen my mom?”
“No offense intended.”
“And none taken.” She beamed from ear to ear.
“So tell me about this UN stuff,” said Agent Brewer. “Sounds like interestingwork.” He reached into his pocket to give her a card.
“You already gave me one,” said Aimee.
“Did I?” he said, feigning surprise. “Well, here’s another one. Just want to make sure you have my number.”
“Yeah?” said Aimee.
Every year since she started on the CookingChannel, Gus had hosted her entire cast and crew for a wonderful wrap party. But, with the future of the show still uncertain, she didn’t want to wait until everything was wrapped. She could imagine all sorts of downcast faces if she put off the celebrations until the end of the season and it turned out the program was not to be renewed. No, far better to use the occasion of the Fourth of July to thank everyone for their hard work and commitment, when spirits—and hopes—remained high.
Her theme was obvious: eat, drink, and be merry. The menu? Crab cake ciabatta rolls, bollos preñados—chorizo “hot dogs”—for a Spanish homage, tomato-watermelon cubes on toothpicks, and a chilled green papaya salad. It was different working with Oliver in the kitchen now but the two of them, although giddy and often caressing a cheek or enjoying a deep kiss in private,made a point to be professional and discreet in public.
Everyone’s families had been invited, including Priya Patel’s, and Gus gleefully anticipated having loads of kids running around her backyard. In preparation, she purchased a handful of remote control boats that could be raced in the pond and a box of sidewalk chalk for patio doodling, and she set out a series of rented picnic tables on the lawn so there would be lots of room for every guest to relax. It wasn’t as lavish as many occasions she’d thrown, but seemed appropriate given the uncertainty surrounding the show. Most of all, it was heartfelt. And that, Gus knew, was the most important ingredientof all.
The house was already half-full by the time the first guests arrived; Sabrina and Aimee had come up to stay for the weekend, and Hannah, as usual, helped Gus greet the day with a cup of steaming coffee and a chat. The difference, however, was that for once Hannah had moved beyond her well-worn tracksuitcollection and was dressed, of all things, in an aubergine-colored skirt and a simple white top that Sabrina had helped her to choose. Her feet, out of sneakers for the first time in decades, were very pale inside a pair of metallic sandals, her toes painted a deep coral. And her red hair, free of its ponytail, shone (thanks to a conditioning treatment from Sabrina) in a sleek new cut.
There was something that made the manor house come alive when there were so many voices, Gus thought, and she loved having her rooms full. Porter and his wife, Ellie, rang the bell at 4 PM on the dot, their new grandchild in tow, and Gary Rose—yes, she’d even invited the facilitator from the retreat—followed soon after, then the grip, the gaffer, the sound guy, and the camera operator, all accompanied by spouses and significant others. Alan Holt made an unexpected appearance, too, carrying a bottle of champagne, which he handed to her at the door.
“I just heard from Porter the other day that Sabrina is getting married,” he said, kissing Gus on the check. “Congratulations!”
He handed her the bottle, a vintage Henri Giraud, Fût de Chêne, and steered her into the dining room.
“Look, now that we’ve got a moment,” he said, “I wanted to talk to you. ’Cause I’ve just had a stellar idea I’d like to run by you—”
The doorbell rang and more guests arrived, including members of the CookingChannel publicity department assigned to the show and the Web site editor. Then Priya was on the step, wearing a deep pink sari and bindi, introducing her brood with pride to Gus: Bina, Chitt, and Kiran.
“You look stunning, Priya,” Gus said, forgetting her own anger for a moment. “Your clothes, yes, but it’s something else about you that’s quite different. You seem brighter somehow.”
“I must thank Hannah,” Priya replied, pushing Kiran forward to hand Gus a platter of badam pista rolls and jalebi. “She sent me an email that very much changed my life.”
“And I am very happy about it,” said her husband, Raj, stepping across the threshold to shake Gus’s hand. “If it weren’t for your show, Mrs. Simpson,Priya would never have met this Hannah. She doesn’t even know it but she is quite a friend to the Patel family.”
“I hope you tell her that.” Gus ushered them inside. Later, she planned to surprise Priya by giving her the grand tour, just because she knew it would make her feel special. For now, she directed her to the pond, where Hannah was organizing competitive remote control boat races.
But the get-together had its challenges, as well.
Sabrina had very elaborately tried to keep Billy and Troy from meeting during the festivities. She recognized that Troy deserved to be there, and even wanted him to enjoy himself, but didn’t relish any sort of showdown. What she hadn’t counted on, however, was that Troy was just as desperate to steer clear of her fiancé.
And then it happened, the moment he had strenuously avoided throughout the entire evening. Meeting William Angle. At the door to Gus’s powder room.
“Hi,” said the broad-shouldered man. “I’m Billy.” He looked like a deer caught in headlights, but he didn’t back away.
There was a drawn-out silence as both men considered their next move. And then Troy did something he never expected or imagined he was capableof. “Congratulations,” he said. And he meant it.
“Thanks,” said Billy, who looked as though a weight had lifted. “Sabrina’s a great girl.”
Troy nodded thoughtfully. “Yes,” he said. “She is.”
Then he strolled casually away, his back straight and stiff. That was enough for him; he lacked the ability and the inclination to play buddy-buddywith Sabrina’s fiancé. He had wanted the girl and he’d lost. Though that wasn’t quite the end of the story. He hoped she’d figured it out, finally, had sorted through her options and made a choice she could stick with. He could see Sabrina’s future—her new future—better than he suspected she could. And he very much hoped it would be happy. Troy had realized, when they were at the retreat, that what he once saw as Sabrina’s amazing spontaneitynow struck him as indecision and a lack of impulse control. He loved her. But he didn’t want to be with her.
The timing had been off. That was all. They’d moved in different directions,and by chasing her, he’d gotten himself a little lost in the process.
Out the kitchen window he could see Sabrina on the patio, animatedly acting out some anecdote to a laughing Priya and Ellie. He thought to himselfthat she seemed both lighter, somehow, than the day she walked into his office and swept him off his fe
Troy wondered, as he watched his former girlfriend, her glossy black hair pinned loosely atop her head and wearing a cobalt blue sundress, when enough time and distance would have passed between them, in its natural way, that they would no longer be on a first-name-only basis. When he’d have to use his last name if ever he called her mother to discuss FarmFresh and Sabrina answered the line.
“Hello,” he imagined himself saying. “It’s Troy. Troy Park.”
And there would be a pause and then a warmth in her voice as she said hello, hello, Troy, remembering—as he would—the special moments they’d shared.
"Gather round, friends,” Alan was saying, as the sky grew dark and the guests were contentedly tired, full of watermelon and punch and Gus’s fresh strawberry shortcake piled high with vanilla-flavored whipped cream. Amid all the hubbub, the Eat Drink and Be team had managed to sneak in a live show of Oliver showing Troy how to grill fruit and make a sweet yogurt and honey dipping sauce, Gus mixing cake in the kitchen, and Carmen explainingthe wonderful spiciness of chorizo, interspersed with real-time action from the party. The crew had been delighted to have their loved ones finally see what it is they actually did on set, and the lightheartedness of the cast had made the episode a joy to film.
Even Alan had had a good time.
“It’s been such a thrill to literally be a part of an episode,” he was saying now. “You have all impressed me this season with how hard you’ve worked, and I know, with two episodes left to go on the schedule, you’ll no doubt race it to the finish line.”
No one picked up on the comment, too eager to hear what the president was about to say. Would the series be renewed?
“We have two episodes of Eat Drink and Be left, and Gus has already informed me that your final scheduled show is going to be a wonderful selectionof family favorites,” he said. “And I’ve just learned that Gus’s daughter Sabrina is getting married, to this fine gentleman, Billy. I call him a fine gentleman though in fact I’ve only just met him.”
Comfort Food by Kate Jacobs / Romance & Love have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes