Thursday, July 17, 2014

Act Your Age Ch 02: Dinner

Later that same day I was defragmenting my computer when there was a knock on the front door of the house.  Both my parents were home and I was used to at least one of them answering it, but then I thought about Mr. Grant.  I got up from my desk and looked out the window to his house where I saw the porch light was on.  I crossed back through my room, opened my bedroom door and was halfway in the hallway when I heard someone open the door.  It was too late.

“Hello there,” my mother said.

“Hi,” Mr. Grant said.  “I’m your next door neighbor, Nicholas Grant.”

My parents introduced themselves.  It sounded polite, forgettable but I wasn’t sure what he would say about me and I felt like I needed to try and make a better impression on him, or else be there to defend myself.  I went back and picked up my cane and headed downstairs.  Mr. Grant was in the living room with my parents.  My father was pouring him a snifter of brandy.  I stepped into the room and looked to Mr. Grant who smiled back.

He suddenly looked older than when I saw him earlier as he was dressed in a sweater, slacks, and a pair of dress shoes.  He crossed his legs and I saw his black socks.  He crinkled his nose and I looked to his jaw line.  Did his hair have streaks of gray or maybe was it too black?  Did he dye his hair too?

“Hi there,” he said.  “Shane right?”

I nodded and looked to both of my parents in turn.  My mother smiled.  She was delighted because she had a guest, the neighbor.  She could assess him, question him, and then she would have something to gossip about when she talked to all of her friends.  Was he a widow?  Was he a bachelor?  Or worse, was he divorced?  Did he have kids from a previous marriage?  But most importantly where did he work and how much did he earn? 

My father would want to know if he was a man’s man.  Did he watch football on Sunday?  Did he drink his weight in cheap beer?  Because my father hated those things.  My father was a grown up nerd.  He liked Star Wars, played D&D as a teen, and argued about politics and religion.  He was the enlightened bourgeois who lived for comfort.  He shopped at gourmet stores, drove a BMW, and got his eyebrows waxed regularly along with a manicure.

“I was just going to tell your parents you came over to say hello and I was pretty rude to you.  I wanted to apologize and ask you all over to supper tomorrow night.”

“That’s so nice,” my mother said.

“We have unpredictable schedules, sometimes I have to stay late at the office and Greta has to work a double,” my father said.

“And we don’t know about Shane’s classes,” my mother said.

I gulped as I suddenly felt nervous.

“Well, we could dine about seven o’clock?  It would give me time to get home and cook something.  I have some meetings tomorrow myself.”

“You cook?” my mother asked.

“More than a frozen dinner?” my father asked.

“I’m actually a chef by training.  I just invested in a new restaurant in the city.  It’s still in the works though or else I’d invite you there.”

“Oh,” my mother said, “how nice.”

“Seven o’clock sounds great,” my father said.

I smiled.  There was nothing I could do.  I wanted to say that I had to study but I felt like me being there would be better than not being there, and again, I wanted to defend myself.  I nodded and said I looked forward to it. 

“Say, do you smoke cigars?” my father asked.

Mr. Grant looked to me and furrowed his eyebrow before he said that he did.

“Let me show you my office,” my father said.

The two of them walked away, further into the house, away from me.  I looked to my mother who smiled and began to tidy things up before she left for the kitchen.  I followed after her feeling like a lost puppy.  I wanted to go join the men in my father’s office but I hadn’t been invited.  The cigar I had smoked, it wasn’t mine.  I thought about the way I offered cigarettes to Mr. Grant and the way he refused to give me alcohol.  I felt shame about the whole scenario.

“Everything okay?” my mother asked.

“Yeah,” I lied.

“Mr. Grant seems nice.”

The way she said it winded me.

“Yeah,” I said.  “He had three moving trucks today.  I would have helped but, you know.”  I raised up my cane briefly.

“You can’t keep using that as an excuse,” my mother said.  “It’s more of a prop now than anything else.”

I felt as if she were ripping me apart.  I heard laughter from the office.  I moved to the stool and sat.

“Do you want me to make you a snack?” she asked.

Sometimes I had let her, asked her, to fix me a snack at times like this, but if Mr. Grant walked back in while she was doing it, while she was serving it, I would have felt completely humiliated.  And even though I could barely make myself an egg I told her I didn’t need anything.  She left the kitchen and I continued to listen for more laughter but there was none and instead there was the closing of the door.  They were smoking cigars, I thought, and having another drink. 

I put my face in my hands and sat there for a while until I felt some of the anger was gone and then I made my way upstairs to my room where I turned on some music, closed my bedroom door, opened a window, and sat in the windowsill to have a cigarette.  It was less than coincidence that I picked a window with a view of Mr. Grant’s front door. 

Eventually I gave up and went to my computer where I continued to smoke and play a video game instead of doing my homework.

The next day was easy enough until I got home.  I was able to do my homework in the morning before class, not my best but good.  I had lunch with some friends from class and afternoon class was a lecture.  We got assigned a paper on feminism which I felt comfortable addressing but knew I needed to do some research.  I wasn’t getting my best grades but I had only a few more courses.  I was having senioritis. 

But when I got home the reality of going to supper with my parents at Mr. Grant’s house felt overwhelming.  I was still dressed in my clothes I wore to campus, a teal button down shirt, brown slacks, and sneakers.  A mix of casual and formal that I felt made me look professional until someone looked at my feet.  I would have worn better shoes but they never fit me correctly.  They always wore away the skin on the back of my heel.  I felt over dressed because I wanted to be friends with him, or at least not look like I dressed up just for supper, but then I remembered my parents coming from work and how they would be dressed. 

When my mother got home it always felt like she brought the whole office with her.  She had this confidence, this boldness that usually took a while to fade.  That night was no exception.  My father too, had his good days and his bad days, sometimes he came home so drained he went right to his bedroom to nap and be alone.  That night he was in rare form.  And I suddenly felt like I was being dragged along.

They took care of the few things around the house they needed to do before we headed over to Mr. Grant’s house.  The sun was setting.  There was cool wind in the air that pushed around the tree branches that made me think of Fall.  I loved Fall.  I loved Halloween, dressing in sweaters, and the holidays.  But I cleared my mind of sentimental thoughts as Mr. Grant opened the front door of his house and invited us inside. 

In just one day the interior of his house had changed completely.  Each piece of furniture was exactly where it should be.  There were picture frames out.  The windows had curtains.  There were paintings hanging on the walls.  I saw a few landscape paintings and smiled.  Mr. Grant stood watching us.  My mother was the first to see it.

“Oh my,” she said.

We all looked.  There on the wall was a nude male portrait.  His penis was small, uncircumcised but it was still there.  We were all looking at a nude man.  We were all able to see his penis. 

“Don’t worry, it’s not me,” Mr. Grant said.

My mother laughed.  My father laughed.  And I looked around uncomfortably.

“I bought it some years ago.  I was trying to help support an artist.”

My parents looked to each other and I tried to make some distance between us.  I stepped into the living room and I ended up in front of the recliner where only the day prior I had been sitting.  I thought again about the cigarettes and the beer.  I wanted to apologize.  I wanted to say something but it was not a good time.  There was no good time for something like that.

“I’ll get us some drinks,” he said.  “Are you okay with martinis?”

My parents said they were.  I don’t know why I said what I said.  Maybe I was trying to look older, mature, and independent.

“Extra olives,” I said.

Mr. Grant looked back to me, to my parents as if to check if it were okay, but they weren’t paying any attention to him or to us, they were looking at his possessions.  He walked away.  My parents began to drift through the room, pick up things.  My father went to the bookshelf.  My mother focused on the picture frames.

“Oliver look at this,” she said.

I played with my cane and thought about sitting but it felt weird.  I wasn’t sure if we would be heading into the dining room or what we would be doing next.  My father walked to where my mother stood as she picked up a picture.  What was she showing him?  I didn’t know and she hadn’t invited me to see.  I felt out of place.  I wanted to go home.  I began to think of excuses I could use when Mr. Grant walked into the room carrying a tray of drinks.

“Oh, I’m sorry, go ahead and sit down.  I thought we’d talk for a little bit before we eat, unless, I mean you’re both from work.  Maybe a snack?”

“That would be good,” my mother said.  “Something to go with the drinks.”

“Of course,” Mr. Grant said.

Mr. Grant gave a drink to each of my parents when he saw the picture in my mother’s hands. 

“Oh, that’s one of my favorites,” he said.

I still didn’t know what they were talking about.  Mr. Grant walked away from them and I saw them look at each other then to me.  What could they know?  Was it something more than the tasteful nude that confirmed he was gay?  It had to be.

He held the tray out for me and there on the silver reflective surface was a bottle I mistook for a beer at first until I turned it and saw it was in fact root beer in a glass bottle.  I looked to Mr. Grant who smirked as I took the drink.  He took a martini of his own from the tray and raised it.

“To new things,” he said.

They all drank.  My mother a little more than either of them.  I drank from my bottle and sat down in the recliner.  Mr. Grant left the room and my parents made their way to the couch after my mother set down the picture frame.

“What was it?” I asked in a whispered voice.

My mother leaned forward as if she about to say something but stopped when Mr. Grant stepped into the room carrying his tray.  He set it down and there was an awkward silence that seemed to amplify as we each took turns looking over what he had brought.  There on the tray was brie, crackers, and a fig spread.  My mother broke the silence by beginning to help herself.

“How was the move?” she asked.

“Good,” Mr. Grant said.  “Not everything has arrived yet and I still have to go make some purchases.  I was thinking about a flat screen television for in here.”

“On the wall there?” she asked pointing behind me to an empty spot.

“Yeah,” he said.

After some more small talk we eventually made our way into his dining room.  The lights were brighter in there and it felt as if we had all been refreshed.  Or maybe it was the drinks my parents had both finished.  They were looser than I had seen them in a long time.  Mr. Grant got them a second one after making a joke about walking home instead of driving.  They made conversation easily until there was a break and Mr. Grant feeling like I had been left out looked to me.

“So what are you studying at college?” he asked.

I looked to him.  I was surprised that he would ask me a question.

“Communications,” I said.  I looked to my parents, my plate.  “But I really want to study film theory.”

“Cinema,” Mr. Grant said.

“Yeah,” I replied.  I readied my fork and knife as if I was changing the subject. 

“I like film,” he said, “not a lot of modern Hollywood stuff, that’s all glitz and glamour but movies from the 1970’s were great.  I have a collection, even some obscure things you’ve probably never seen.”

I thought about my subscription and how I tracked down films on torrent sites.  He probably thought I just went to the movie theater, I thought, just like all the other kids my age.  I thought about challenging him, letting him know I wasn’t dumb and typical but I stopped myself.  I got into too many arguments that way.

“That’s cool,” I said.

“Classes are good there?”

I blushed at the question.  Was he asking me about my grades in front of my parents?  I hadn’t been doing so good, not the A’s I once achieved.  But then I thought about his question.  He was asking about the quality and for once I had a way of showing up my parents, maybe breaking the friendship between him and my parents.

“It’s not great.  There isn’t really a film major, nothing to be really passionate about.  My classmates are kind of immature.”

He smiled at me.  My mother looked to me but it was my father who did the dirty work.  He cleared his throat and readied himself for a speech.

“Well, if your grades had been better coming out of high school and you had a little more ambition, then you could have gone to the State school or maybe another college,” he said.

And like that I had been defeated, punched in the nose.  I cut off a piece of steak and looked to the curtained windows as a passing car light shined across the glass.

Chapter 1 , Chapter 3 , Chapter 4 , Chapter 5 , Chapter 6 , Chapter 7

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