Comfort food, p.30
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       Comfort Food, p.30

           Kate Jacobs
 
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  “Were you in on it, Porter?”

  “Hell, no,” said Porter. “I’ve barely slept in six months for worrying.”

  “Water under the bridge,” said Alan. “Especially when I tell you, Porter, that you’ve just been promoted to head of programming for both channels.”

  “And a raise, I presume?”

  “A big, fat raise.”

  “Gus?” asked Porter.

  “Okay,” she said. “Another season.”

  “Fantastic,” Alan said. “I knew I hadn’t lost the touch.”

  “Oh?” said Gus. She was more than a little exasperated with Alan, and quite ready to send him out the door and curl up on the couch with Oliver, maybe with some of the fruit crisp, and sort through the day’s events. It had all been a bit much.

  “I’ve always been able to put together such winning combinations,” he said. “Carmen was the spice and Oliver was the beefcake.”

  “And what was I?”

  “You, Gus?” Alan said. “Well, you’ve always been the heart and soul.”

  30

  And then, after weeks of preparations that seemed to be mere moments, the day of Sabrina’s wedding finally arrived. A white tent had been erected in the backyard of Gus’s manor house, complete with a parquet tile dance floor and lights running up the tent poles. Gus arose even earlier than usual to awaken Sabrina and Aimee, whom she found sleeping together in the guest bedroom that overlooked the driveway. In just a few hours, thought Gus, watching her girls sleep for a few more moments, everything would change. The wedding dress, carefully chosen after endless try-ons, hung pressed inside a garment bag on the back of the bedroom door—the only spot high enough to hang it so that the skirt didn’t crumple—while Aimee’s strapless mauve gown waited inside the closet. Aimee had resisted her sister’s styling for as long as possible (she’d wanted to wear a simple businesssuit, had even suggested as much to Sabrina, who had been quite fussed over it all) but in the end she relented, agreeing even to the too-high heels she’d had to practice walking in for days.

  “Don’t galumph around like that when you’re coming down the aisle,” Sabrina had moaned at her sister the night before. “Be light on your feet and smile.”

  “I can’t smile and walk in these things at the same time,” Aimee insisted.

  “Just wear them for the ceremony and then change later,” Gus said, ready to broker a truce although her daughters, it appeared, were quite fine sorting things out between themselves.

  Now, hovering in the darkened bedroom listening to her no-longer-little girls breathe in their sleep, Gus was overwhelmed by the overlapping emotionsof excitement, nostalgia, and melancholy. Was this how every mother of the bride felt? she wondered. Somehow, Gus realized, she’d assumed that her girls would always be the same, and that she would stay that way, too. Without ever meaning to, Alan Holt had given her a wonderful gift when he forced Cooking with Gusto! to transform into Eat Drink and Be. His actions had ultimately reminded her that change is nothing to be afraid of, that taking risks sometimes leads to unexpected dividends, and that even her mistakes could result in welcome discoveries.

  Today was an auspicious day. Christopher would have been proud.

  Gus ran through a mental checklist in her mind: the hairstylist was coming at 9 AM, the florist at ten, and the catered food at eleven. By 2 PM the guests would start arriving, and by three o’clock the cameras would be on.

  What had she been thinking? No mother of the bride who wanted to keep her sanity would dream of hosting a live television program the same day her daughter was getting married. It was going to be a crazy day, thank you very much. At least there was Oliver to handle much of the meal preparation.He was quite useful, that fellow, in all sorts of ways.

  Gus and Aimee and Sabrina were upstairs getting ready when Oliver let himself in. He’d come up from the city on an early Metro-North train; Carmen and Troy were coming an hour later. Hannah was already in the kitchen, for once not waiting on Gus to make her breakfast, but nibbling on some peeled and sectioned oranges she’d found in the fridge. She was busy, too, having printed out several Heimlich maneuver posters that she thought could be taped up inside the tent and had brought along several extra fire extinguishers. Just in case.

  “Hey,” said Oliver. “You better not be eating what I think you are.” He didn’t look worried in the least.

  “It’s just some oranges,” said Hannah.

  “Don’t let Gus catch you,” he joked. “She’ll chop your fingers off. She and I prepared all of that last night to use in the fruit salad.”

  He went into the pantry and carried out a box of tomatoes, several cloves of fresh garlic, and green onions. He took Gus’s special scissors into the back garden and, a large tray in hand, began cutting fresh herbs to use in the day’s dishes.

  By the time Carmen, Troy, and Porter entered the kitchen, the area was prepped and ready for the few hors d’oeuvres they planned to make live on the air. The rest of the food for the 120 guests was on its way in a catering truck from the city. It was, for an episode of Eat Drink and Be, going to be a fairly easy day.

  Or so they thought.

  “Where’s the food?” Carmen asked Hannah a few hours before the show, as she was chopping tomatoes. The caterers had not arrived, and Oliver was talking animatedly into his cell phone on the patio. He rapped on the windowand waved at Carmen, Troy, and Hannah to come outside.

  “The catering truck blew a tire about two miles down the road,” he said. “The back door blew open and most of the meals that were going to be served are now covering I-95.”

  “We have no food for the reception?”

  “Pretty much,” said Oliver. “We don’t need to tell Gus yet—there’s nothingshe can do. We’re going to have to solve this one for ourselves.”

  “I’ll take Hannah’s car and see if there’s anything still good at the truck,” said Troy, who immediately ran with Hannah to her carriage house to get the keys.

  “From inside the truck, Troy,” Oliver shouted after him. “No five-second rule!”

  Carmen turned around and left the room.

  “Get back here,” muttered Oliver, being careful to keep his voice down so he wouldn’t be heard inside the house. He didn’t want to disturb Gus and her daughters.

  Carmen returned to the kitchen with a bag of potatoes in each hand. She very calmly opened drawers to find a peeler, not responding to Oliver’s queriesabout what she was doing, and then positioned herself near the sink.

  “Oliver,” she said, without looking up from her work. “Write out a list for Porter and send him to the store. Tell him to buy every shrimp he can find— any size at all—and if they have lobster or lamb, get that, too. We’re going to make the best selection of tapas anyone has ever put together in two hours, and Gus’s guests are never going to know the difference. I’m starting with potato galettes that we’ll cover with whatever different cheeses Porter brings back. This wedding reception will be spectacular.”

  “You’d really do that, Carmen?”

  “I owe her, Oliver,” she explained. “And I want to pay my debts.”

  Forty-five minutes later, Troy and Hannah returned with a speeding ticket, a pan of fresh salmon, one black truffle, three tins of caviar, a coveredbox of mushrooms, and twelve filet mignons that had originally been intended to be served with a spicy Gorgonzola sauce of shiitake mushrooms and chipotle chilies. That sauce now coated a good portion of the highway.

  “Start slicing the beef,” ordered Carmen, “and make it paper thin. We’re going to wrap it around the green onions we already have here, and God help me, we’re going to make it stretch.”

  The salmon was quickly thrown into the Aga to bake, then drizzled with a vanilla-infused vegetable oil and sprinkled with roe.

  “We’re going to run out of plates,” said Oliver.

  “Good thing I saw more potatoes in the pantry,” said Carmen. “We’ll make smaller galettes, and use them as though they were plat
es.”

  “What do you want me to do with these mushrooms?” Troy was rubbing each mushroom with a clean soft cloth, as Oliver had instructed him.

  “Get them started in a pan with a little olive oil, and we’ll brown them with some of our fresh garlic and the thyme from Gus’s garden,” said Carmen.“We’ll finish them with a few drops of sherry. Hannah!”

  Hannah waited for her marching orders.

  “Find those oranges I saw you pigging out on earlier, and bring them to the stovetop.”

  “And then what?” said Hannah.

  “Then it’s time for you to learn how to cook,” said Carmen. “You’re going to create a syrup from red wine, a little zest, cinnamon, and sugar, and let it simmer for a half hour. We’ll cool it in an ice bath and drench the oranges. You’ve never had anything like it.”

  Breathless, Porter ran into the kitchen, bags of groceries spilling out of his arms, as various members of his camera crew leaped in to help.

  “How’s it going, guys?” he asked.

  “Muy bien,” said Carmen, who was not in the least bit nervous. “We’re going to show our viewers how to make some of the best tapas in the world.”

  It was forty-five minutes before the show, and the Simpsons were almost ready. Gus’s hair was sleekly blown out, Aimee’s was straight and shiny, and Sabrina had an updo, with loose tendrils framing her face.

  “Aren’t we the gorgeous ones,” Gus said, as she unzipped the garment bag around Sabrina’s dress for a peek. The gown was elegantly simple, an off-the-shouldersilk sheath dress in the palest of pinks—it was like white that was a tad more excited. With great care, she helped Sabrina put it on.

  “And let’s not forget the purple people eater,” she teased, dancing around with Aimee’s dress.

  “It’s mauve, Mom,” said Sabrina. “Aimee is going to look lovely.”

  “Or something,” said Aimee, calculating just how many minutes she’d have to suffer in the damn shoes her sister had picked. Ah, well, it wasn’t every day her little sister got married. She smiled as her mother pinned flowersin Sabrina’s hair.

  “And now you’re a bride.” Gus smoothed out Sabrina’s veil and kissed her lightly on the cheek.

  “Ready to get hitched, Sabrina?” teased Aimee, going through Gus’s jewelrybox to pick out a pair of good earrings.

  “Yes,” Sabrina said, before turning around to face herself in the mirror. She saw the layers of lace and tulle and the glittering crystals beaded into the waistline. She’d never gotten this far before with any of her previous fiancés. This is real, she thought. This is definitely happening. I am going to marry Billy today. And in an instant her stomach constricted, her heart raced, and the air was squeezed out of her lungs even as she gasped for more.

  “I can barely breathe,” Sabrina said, and she began to hyperventilate, her eyes stinging. “I’m not. I’m not ready. I can’t do it.”

  31

  Get Billy. Those were the words her mother had said, and Aimee fairly flew down the stairs to look for him. In just over five minutes, Sabrina had morphed from a perky bride-to-be into a hysterical raving lunatic, alternately crying that maybe she really loved Troy after all to declaring that she would just never be ready. Billy, outfitted in a black tuxedo even though it was a daytime wedding—because that’s what Sabrina wanted and Gus recognized it was her right to choose no matter what etiquette dictated—beamed as Aimee drew nearer.

  “How are things upstairs?” he asked, before reading Aimee’s face and rapidly taking the stairs, two at a time, until he came upon Sabrina, crying on her mother’s shoulder.

  “Let’s give you two a few minutes,” Gus said, though she could hear Portercalling for everyone to remember their marks and get ready to go live in a half hour. She and Aimee waited anxiously in the hallway until Sabrina and Billy emerged, holding hands, about twenty minutes later.

  “So we’re back on,” shouted Gus, ecstatic.

  “No,” said Sabrina. “We’ve decided to call off the wedding.”

  “For now,” corrected Billy.

  “I’ve got cold feet, that’s true,” admitted Sabrina. “But mostly I just feel as though I’ve rushed things.”

  “We’re going to take some more time to get to know one another,” added Billy. “This is unorthodox, I know, but we feel it’s the right thing to do. Our guests will be disappointed, but our marriage isn’t simply about today.”

  “Oh, Sabrina,” said Gus. “As your mother, I support you one hundred percent. But as the host of a TV show going live in a few minutes, I could shake you.”

  Sabrina was sheepish, especially as Porter came up the stairs to find Gus, his energy electric. He could barely stand still.

  “This show is going to be phenomenal,” he said. “Carmen has saved the day, Gus. You wouldn’t believe it but we had a catering disaster. All fixed now—don’t worry. It’s delicious.”

  Gus hugged Porter.

  “So sorry to tell you this, old friend, but we’re not having a wedding today,” she said.

  Porter stopped moving and gaped at her.

  “Now what are we going to do?” he asked when he’d recovered his voice.

  Gus threw up her hands. “Who knows,” she said. “Let’s just take it as it comes. We’ll be having a party today, that much I know.”

  “So this is where you make fun of me, big sister,” said Sabrina. “Always a fiancée, never a bride.”

  “Oh, shut up,” Aimee said, though her tone was gentle. “You’re finally sticking with something, in your own weird way. If Billy’s okay with it, then so am I.”

  “And now someone’s got to go down and say something to our guests,” said Gus. “Not to mention our viewers.”

  “I’m a big girl,” said Sabrina. “I can make my own announcement.”

  Billy put his arm around her. “I’ll stand with you, too.”

  The day had been a roller coaster and Troy was exhausted, physically and emotionally. He would have expected to feel relieved about how things had unfolded, but he didn’t. Troy was hardly surprised, and more than a little concerned for Sabrina, but he wasn’t about to make another bid for her. He had really and truly moved forward.

  The show had been frenzied but fun, and the guests seemed to bounce back rapidly from their initial shock. Cushioned, no doubt, by the sense that Sabrina and Billy were merely postponing their big day, and by all the sumptuousdelights that Carmen had produced for them to enjoy. Personally, he’d eaten much more than his fair share, and he didn’t regret it one bit.

  He was ready to call it a night, though he needed to be polite and thank his host before leaving. He might also, if he could find her, say goodbye to Hannah.

  Out on the dance floor, Hannah was doing the Twist with Priya’s youngest,Kiran.

  "... and it goes like this,” she was singing to the little boy, her red hair flying with each shake of her hips, as Kiran copied her moves. She looked absolutely ridiculous, thought Troy, and completely oblivious.

  He strode onto the dance floor as the music was dying down and tapped Kiran on the shoulder.

  “May I cut in?” he asked.

  “I dunno,” said Kiran. “What’s that mean?”

  “I want to dance with Hannah,” said Troy.

  “Yeah, okay,” she said, her stomach jumping.

  The band started up a quick beat.

  “No wait,” Troy said, apparently changing his mind. “I want our first dance to be a slow one.”

  The cameras had long been turned off and several guests had left when Alan strolled up to the microphone to make a special announcementabout Carmen’s new show and the renewal of Eat Drink and Be. Such news wouldn’t have been appropriate at a wedding reception, of course, but seeing as how the marriage didn’t take place . . . Gus thought it was fine. She rather enjoyed Alan’s effusive praise of her years on the CookingChanneland his excitement about the program.

  “Gus, would you like to say a few words?” asked Alan.

&nbs
p; She jumped up the few steps to the dais.

  “Thank you for coming,” she said. “It’s been such a pleasure. But I’m afraid Alan’s wrong about one thing tonight, and that is the fact that I’m not going to be returning for another season of Eat Drink and Be. As much as I have loved working with all of you.”

  She caught Carmen’s eye. “With all of you,” she repeated. “But it’s time for me to go.”

  In the weeks following Alan’s offer of renewal, Gus initially felt as though she’d received exactly what she had wanted and she was relieved.But another idea nibbled at her, as well—the feeling that, with Sabrina and Aimee successfully living their own lives, she was suddenlyunburdened by the responsibilities she’d so long carried. And that’s when she knew: now was her opportunity to recapture and reinvent herself.

  “And I’m not only leaving the CookingChannel, which has been my home for twelve years,” Gus said, “but I am also leaving Rye and New York and this house, which has been such a special place. I’m hitting the road and touring the world.”

  Aimee and Sabrina looked at each other in shock; Hannah was dumbfounded,freezing in position with a shrimp halfway to her mouth.

  It was as though Gus had become a different person.

  “I didn’t say I’m disappearing,” Gus said, speaking directly to them even as she addressed everyone in the tent. “You’ll all be seeing more than enough of me, and getting a lot of calls and emails. But it’s time for some new adventuresin my life. It’s time to explore.”

  She stepped off the dais and was immediately surrounded by a mix of well-wishers and stunned CookingChannel colleagues. Within seconds, she felt Oliver’s hand on her arm, pulling her out of the crowd.

  “Gus,” he said. “What the hell? What am I? A little summer fun?”

  “Don’t demean yourself, Oliver,” Gus said emphatically. “You’ve made a huge difference in my life.”

  “That’s all well and good,” he said. “But I thought our relationship meant . . . something.”

 
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