ALLISON DECIDED TO mention nothing about what went on in the restroom. As she sat back down at the table, the appetizing main course came in good time to aid her false display of contentment by stealing everyone’s attention.
“Anything else I may get you, sir?” Azarel asked Elton in his Bahamian accent.
“Not at the moment. Everything looks marvelous. Please give Chef Maya my best regards.”
“Certainly,” he said, and gave a little bow before retreating into the background.
The family then held hands in prayer. During the time Elton asked for blessings on their union, everyone kept their eyes closed except Allison, looking across at Daniel, who gradually opened his as well halfway through the intercession to sneak a peek at her. The two ended up exchanging a soft smile.
After the brief ritual, they dug into their food steaming with enchanting aromas. Brenda bragged about her smoked oysters, and Elton his perfectly seasoned lobster tails. For every ingredient was so faultlessly executed with great balance of flavors, even Daniel, the only person among them who was not too fond of seafood to begin with, enjoyed his shrimp scampi. Following a satisfying meal, they ate their desserts with equal delight. The champagne never stopped flowing. Meanwhile, they drank, chattered, and laughed about all sorts of trivial matters.
“… Talking about India, it reminds me of this Sikh man your father and I ran into on the streets of New Delhi.”
“Which man?” asked Elton and then drank from his glass.
“Remember that guy with an outrageously long beard? I swear kids, it was the longest I’ve ever seen. It went all the way down to his knees if not farther.”
“Oh yes. Now I remember him. Exactly why do women fancy men in beards anyway?”
“Uh. I don’t think he grew his beard out to attract women,” Allison pointed out.
“I know that, but I mean men in the whole western world. You hear beautiful women on TV raving about leading men in movies and their bushy facial hair. But in reality, whenever we lean in to kiss our ladies, most of you would scream at the tiny bristles scraping against your fair skin after the damage is done.”
“I don’t do that.”
“Ahem. Yes you do,” Daniel chimed in. “Just maybe not every time.”
“Okay… that may be so, but I honestly don’t hate it, really. Men’s beards are symbolic of knowledge and manhood. They best exemplify masculinity and majesty which women of the world are adapted to admire ever since Adam and Eve.”
“Even a goatee?” Elton teased her.
“I’m just saying they mean more than just a trend hipsters follow these days.”
Daniel was not falling for her ideology. “Going back to your lecture just now, where did you get all that?”
“I once had a discussion in my literature class back at the university.”
“That’s quite an exaggeration, don’t you think?”
“No, there are actual facts about it written in the textbook.”
“By textbook you mean a women’s magazine.”
She just rolled her eyes.
“It just sounds more like some made-up fantasy instead of ideas based off of legitimate facts. I would like to see this textbook of yours when we get home.”
“Perhaps — all this masculinity talk describes male genitals better than it does beards…” Elton added, barely holding down a chuckle.
While the two men broke into a good laugh at their own witty comments, Brenda intended to interrupt them. “I agree with Allie though. I mean, beards do naturally make a man look manlier, that’s just the way it is. And we women are inherently attracted to manly men with which I see nothing wrong. Who’s a good example… ah, like that actor starring in the popular TV series Hurricanes in the eighties. What’s his name again?”
“Tom Skye,” Elton filled her in.
“Yeah, him. My father used to maintain a handsome mustache like Tom’s that my mom just absolutely adored. During the period he had it, he received praise from both men and women. So, as long as you gentlemen are willing to take the time to give your rough stubble a nice comb and shampoo every once in a while, you are more than welcome to let it grow out. Otherwise, if you leave it be, after a while it’s just ew!”
“Geez. It’s only hair after all, you don’t have to be so obsessed about it like you are with shoes,” Daniel joked around continuously, upon which Elton again burst into laughter.
Brenda frowned, not seriously but rather as a protest. “Alright. I’ve had it with the sarcasm. Can’t we move on to talk about something more productive?”
Right then, Elton beckoned Azarel over so as to order himself a Scotch neat.
“Daddy, haven’t you had enough to drink?” Allison reminded him, once again concerned for his health.
“Everyone’s still having a good time, why spoil the moment? Danny, would you care for one too? Or do you prefer a shot of something else?”
“Thank you for the offer, sir, but I’m good.”
“Save it, Allie. I have warned your father about a million times. He’s just going to do what he wants to do,” said Brenda, shooting her husband a stare.
Wanting to deviate his drinking habit from being the subject of discussion, Elton, out of the blue, asked Daniel about his family. “So, Danny, how are your folks doing up north?”
“Uh… I suppose they are doing okay. Haven’t really gotten a chance to talk to them since the funeral.”
Knowing how drastically things could go south when it came to her parents, and that was to say nothing of the influence of alcohol, Allison was immediately cautious, jumping in to speak on Daniel’s behalf. “Dan’s sister’s funeral. I left Mom a message a few weeks ago to tell her about it. Thought she might have mentioned it to you.”
“Oh yeah, so I’ve heard. How did that go?”
“It was fine. Everything went accordingly. There was a memorial held for her, a small but nice one.”
“It’s Margaret right? Sorry that we couldn’t be there. Give your folks my best,” he said, half looking at Daniel and half behind him at Azarel who was returning with his glass of Scotch on a tray.
“It’s actually Megan, sir.” Daniel found the need to correct him. “But I will.”
Brenda gave them each a glance and went on to comment deliberately ruthlessly, “Margaret or Megan, po-ta-to or po-tah-to, they are all the same.” Straight after, she picked up her glass of champagne, slowly sipping on it till it was gone, in the meantime, observing her son-in-law’s reaction.
Daniel was bothered by her ignorant remark but decided to ignore it. Elton on the other hand, did not seem to mind walking on thin ice. In part, it was really the booze talking. “Didn’t we meet her at your place last Thanksgiving? She was the young lady who came with a special, little boy. What was the kid’s name again?”
“Yes, Karl. Anyway, when I first saw them, initially I thought he was her son. Until she approached us and did a little introduction —”
“She approached us? I don’t remember that,” Brenda argued.
“Oh… right. You were off powdering your nose I believe when they arrived. Anyhow, to be quite honest, I was a bit put off by her referring to the boy as her ‘soul mate.’ Even if she meant it jokingly, I found it rather inappropriate given the circumstances, and in front of strangers she had just met. The conversation got awkward from there, and I never pursued further their relation. As I recall at dinner, the two only kept to themselves when everyone else was having a blast getting to know one another. I could understand she felt obligated to entertain the kid, still, she was an adult, and should know to behave adequately instead of putting up a do-not-talk-to-me attitude. After all, she was a guest at someone else’s house.”
“She was just being shy. Since we don’t have a lot of relatives, every big holiday we used to only spend with our immediate family,” Daniel explained to him.
“Well, in any case, I thought it was still sort of… rude, if I may say, for them to leave right after they had their meals, claiming they had to attend some… uh —”
“Yes! That. It would only have been courteous to the host for them to stick around for a bit longer.”
“She would have if it wasn’t for the church performance upcoming that Sunday. They had to rehearse for it early the next morning. Because it was such a long drive back, she was just being thoughtful so that Karl could make it before his bedtime.”
“Is that so?”
“Very much. She was working for a non-profit organization back in Blue Port at the time, as a teacher for children with learning disabilities. Karl was one of the many kids she cared for a great deal.”
“That’s an interesting career for a young lady,” Elton remarked, and gulped down a big mouthful of his whisky.
“Rewarding, as she would have said,” Daniel added, a smile flew over his face. Meanwhile, Brenda was sick of listening to him glorifying the woman with whom he had a fling, and so, set out to strip him of that pleasure.
“I happen to feel bad for the kids,” she interjected, acting as if speaking casually, “It wasn’t like those children had a choice of who should be their teacher. Personally if I had little ones, I wouldn’t let her come near them.”
Much as Daniel would like to keep pretending, whenever somebody, anybody, chose to speak poorly of his “Meg,” it was like attacking him with high-speed darts that each time pierced through his heart without miss. Allison sensed the tension uprising between them and knew it was now or never to settle the fight before it ever began. “Must we continue to talk about her? Can’t we change the subject? Daddy?”
Unconcerned, Elton shrugged his shoulders in neglecting his daughter’s signal for help. “I got nothing, sweetpea,” he told her and then kept on drinking from his glass till it was empty.
“Well then… it’s getting late anyway, Dan and I should probably —”
“What do you mean, Brenda?” Daniel cut in suddenly, destructing her mission for peace, looking for trouble.
“Meg was a kind, loving person. She was very good at what she did, and I can guarantee that you won’t find another caregiver who is as devoted as she was to her job.”
“Humph. I seriously doubt that.”
“What? I do. Is that really so hard to believe?”
Agitated by her condescending attitude, Daniel aimed to wipe that smirk off her face. “Then, out with it, give me one reason that makes you think otherwise. Go ahead.”
It was a bad idea, since his acrid tone of voice did not intimidate Brenda in the least. In turn, she moved in closer to stare him straight in the face, raising her eyebrows and chin in disdain, and let the ugliness fly out of her mouth. “I just don’t trust a whore to do anything, period.”
Her derogatory utterance, momentarily, shut up the three of them and the few guests at the next table who overheard it and turned their heads. Allison looked over at Daniel getting bent out of shape, for the first time, she honestly thought had the comment come from a man, he might have punched him in the face. Even so, as rude as was her mother, neither she, nor her father was willing to step in to correct what had been said. For they knew perfectly well her basis for labeling Megan with such a disgraceful title, in absolute truth, they both thought her audacious judgment was bold but just.
The lethal silence maintained for a half minute until Daniel stood up abruptly and muttered an excuse. He made his sharp exit out of the restaurant all before Allison could think up something to help the situation.
“Thanks guys. Couldn’t have done it without you,” she said sarcastically to her parents, grabbing her clutch and hurrying after him.
Since the bittersweet end to the night, she got back to the hotel room alone, only to find Daniel sitting in bed, fully engrossed in his laptop.
She went to sit by him. “My mother obviously had too much champagne. You can’t possibly take her serious —”
“I’m flying back to Minneapolis first thing tomorrow,” he right out told her, his eyes remained glued to the computer screen.
“You are joking.”
“I’ve just purchased a return ticket for 8 a.m..”
“You are doing this all because of what she said?”
He did not snap back nor admit to it, a look of determination on his face. Allison quickly perceived nothing she said now was going to change his mind — not that she wanted him to anyway. The good times basically ended here, as she knew it.
“I’m coming with you then,” she told him earnestly.
“I think it’s best that you stay.”
“Because you don’t have to leave just because I do.”
“I know, but I want to. There’s really no reason for me to spend another day here if you aren’t going to be here.”
He shifted his eyes off the screen, considered for a few seconds, and then finally looked at her. “Fine. Do whatever you want,” he said in an irritated tone, slamming shut his laptop and starting to pack.
The rest of the night, they did not speak.