November 1, 2014, Saturday
When Kao tried to sneak out of bed for his morning workout, Erica held onto him and said she was cold. It was her way of asking him to spoon her. He could never resist. His chest warmed her cold spine. Kao put his face into her dark hair and kissed her on the back of the neck.
“I want to have another child,” Erica said.
“Yes, how do you feel about it?”
“Are you doing diaper-duty?”
“No, you have some catching up to do.”
Kao thought for a while and knew she was right; she did do the bulk of the parenting.
“Do you want to have another baby?” she asked.
“What’s that saying you Americans have? The more the merrier?”
“Of course. I’d do anything for you.”
She pulled his arms tight around her stomach.
“Good, because I’m pregnant.”
Elaine held the coffee mug to keep her hands warm and watched her step-mother scramble eggs. Olivia Brown Goodwin started dating Elaine’s father about a year after his wife passed when Elaine was six, and it took years before Elaine called her “mom”. And the first time she heard the words, she kept her tears. Instead, she hugged the girl and thanked her. This was, unknown to Elaine, a couple weeks after the doctors told Olivia she was barren.
“Who’s the boy?” Olivia asked.
“You’re still playing that game at your age?” Olivia had seen Elaine and Brandon walking around downtown. “He’s quite handsome.”
“I’m only hanging around because he’s a pretty good cook.”
“Better than your daddy?”
“Hmm, that’s still up for debate.”
“Well, when are you going to invite him over to make us dinner?”
“I’ll ask the next time I see him. How’s work? I feel like I haven’t seen you in weeks.”
“I’m sorry, sweetie.” She portioned the eggs evenly onto plates. “Last month was pretty good, but I’ve never liked November. No one in this town buys cars and the ones that do are cheap bastards. We’ll be okay though.”
“I met his mom.”
At his desk, Dennis went through his calendar. He had a few open houses and appointments for showings. He felt better than he had in a long time and tried to think of when he last went three nights without a drop of alcohol. It was before he turned twenty-one, but he hadn’t figured it out yet when his boss walked in with a box of donuts.
James Robinson was an extremely tall black man who was wary of doorways. He played basketball in high school with Kao and was the most highly touted college basketball player until he broke his leg in three places and shredded the ligaments in his knee during his sophomore year. It was one of the most cringe-inducing images on television, and networks only showed still pictures of him at the apex of the jump (He was so high off the ground.) and then on the ground with people blocking his leg. He never played competitively again.
“I need you to step up,” James said while holding open the box of donuts.
“I’ve always been one of your top guys.” Dennis picked a raspberry jelly.
“You should always be my top guy,” James said. “Give me a reason to promote you.”
“Why can’t you promote me now?”
“This is only the third morning in a row you’ve shown up without smelling like booze.”
Dennis wasn’t surprised James had noticed.
“Cologne and breath mints only do so much,” James said. “Or at least stick with vodka.”
“Tell me what you need me to do.”
“Top sales with top gross for each of the next three months and I’ll seriously consider giving you a team. That, and not smelling like you’re coming straight from the bar.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
James went to his office and returned with an envelope. “I saw your bonus, so pay me back when you get your check. You’re buying me lunch today.”
“Thanks, I really needed this.”
“Small town, man. Small town.”
Kristen and Brandon sat at the empty bar of The Cantina with their screwdrivers and watched Josh restock and prep for the day. Josh’s face was a pale canvas with puffy eyes, and he moved around quickly to keep the lack of sleep from catching up to him. They had both been in the same position at one time or another.
“I had no clue what a capon was until I read the book,” Kristen said.
“It made me think about how stupid people are when they make any joke about steers and queers.”
Kristen took a sip of her drink. “Oh, you’re right.”
“So I heard you talking about cooking last night.”
“Eavesdropping, eh. Yeah, I’m going to check out some of the kitchens. You look like you know your way around one. At least from seeing your pots and pans. How’d you learn?”
“Watching mom and dad and Youtube. I’m into following recipes. Not so good at coming up with my own ideas.”
Josh poured three shots of Rumple Minze and said, “Day shift called in sick today after getting bombed here last night.”
“Well, that’s nice. At least you know her excuse,” Kristen said.
“I might have to drink off my hangover. I was partying with her when she passed out last night.”
“She may have woken up in time for the six o’clock bars.”
The three lifted their glasses and Kristen said, “Here’s to day shift.”
“So would you go to culinary school?” Brandon asked.
“Not if I can avoid it. That shit is expensive. So I heard they have you on call now.”
“Yes, but it’s fine,” Brandon said.
Before Kao left Brandon’s loft last night, they came to an agreement about the autobiography.
From his balcony, Brandon watched people stumble out of the bars into the early morning fog. He had considered an origin story for Kao’s autobiography and was smoking to work out his thoughts. When he heard the banging on his door, he knew it was Dennis, whose eyes were bloodshot and smelled of whiskey and cigarettes.
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Brandon said and helped him to the couch.