27 • Pie Math
“Rebroff. R-E-B-R-O-F-F. I’m sure our boy Will can help you look him up on the Internet.”
Will could hear Joe as he followed Cameron through the back door into the kitchen. “You’ll love him, Pearl, ” he called out. “Quite the voice.” He set the ice cream on the counter and opened a drawer to find Pearl’s scoop. “Sometime, you’ll have to ask Joe to play his concertina for you.”
“You don’t have to shout, Will. Good heavens. I’m right behind you.”
Will jumped, startled at Pearl’s silent arrival behind him. “Sorry, Pearl. Didn’t hear your usual bustle when you came in.” Pearl did not return his smile, but reached for a dish towel.
“Easy, now.” Will put his back to the counter and his hands in front of him as he moved to the other side of the sink. “Let me get the pie, okay? I couldn’t find the knife and ice cream scoop, so maybe you could grab them.”
Pearl let the towel dangle past her knee and twirled it slowly in the air forming a thick, white cotton rope. He questioned to himself the wisdom of putting a knife in her hand at just this moment.
“Cameron, Dear, ” she said without taking her eyes off Will. “Take some dessert plates from the cupboard behind you. Mr. Phillips and I will be along momentarily with the pie.”
Will looked over Pearl’s shoulder toward Cameron, pleading with his eyes and a smirk that curled into a curious mix of playfulness and fear. Cameron turned and opened the cupboard, lifted out four plates and closed the door softly. Then she turned to Will and smiled. She raised her free hand near her cheek and waved twice, then slipped out of the kitchen. “Was that Ivan Rebroff you and Pearl were talking about, Joe?” Her voice trailed off as the door to the butler’s pantry swung closed.
Will smiled his most boyish smile. “Now, Pearl. Let’s be reasonable. Bustle is such a lovely word, really. Chock full of energy and excitement.” He turned the corner at the end of the counter and sidestepped to the wall. Pearl swung the free end of the towel up, catching it in her left hand, and stepped toward him.
“Yes, I’m familiar with all the energetic fuss and rumpus, Mr. Phillips.”
“We agreed you would call me Will, remember?” he blurted as he grabbed the handle of the door to the back staircase, spun, and hopped up on the step.
Pearl rushed to the door and closed it on him. “I’m serving warm pie and ice cream in two minutes, Mr. Phillips. Don’t come back to the table without your manners. They’ve been absent all night.” She turned the lock and gave a firm nod of her head into the air, quietly amused at herself. Then she shook out the towel and wiped her hands on it, pulled a knife from the wood block with a flourish, and picked up the pie. She walked out of the kitchen, pushing the pantry door open with her hip and leaving Will stranded on the back servant’s stairs.
“Where’s Will?” Pearl asked as she set the pie on the table. “I thought he came ahead of me with the ice cream.”
Cameron stifled a snicker. Pearl raised an eyebrow in her direction.
“That man, ” Pearl said. “I imagine you are a good help in the kitchen, aren’t you Joe?”
“Evelyn and I used to cook together all the time, ” Joe said. “I don’t care so much for the kitchen these days.”
“We were talking about Ivan Rebroff, right?” Will walked briskly into the dining room from the hall, straightening his tie. He ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry about that. I just had to run upstairs and use the little boy’s room.” He looked around the table. “After all that bust—commotion—and we still don’t have ice cream?” He pointed to the kitchen. “I’ll get it.”
Pearl stood at the end of the table, hands on her hips and eyes following him to the door. “He’s a handful, Cameron, ” she said, almost, but not quite, under her breath. “I wonder if you’re up to it.”
“Excuse me?” Cameron said.
“Oh, nothing, Dear. Just thinking through my mouth.”
Will came back with the ice cream and a scoop and set them on the table. “Joe, Cameron, prepare yourselves.” He smiled at Pearl, showing all of his teeth. “Apple pie is Pearl’s true calling. What you’re about to experience is her labor of love, a deeply heartfelt gift to the world. When we’re done here, you’ll look at the few perfectly flaky crumbs left in this silver tin and be torn between the great tragedy of its emptiness and the deepest satisfaction your stomach—and heart—have ever known. I promise you: It will have you believing in the goodness of the world once again.”
He held out a hand toward Pearl. “May I?”
Pearl was blushing now, and tucked her chin toward her chest. She laid the knife across Will’s palm resting her own hand for the briefest moment on top of his. “Oh, Will. How you do redeem yourself, time and time again.”
“I am powerless against your apple pie, Milady.” He dipped his head.
Joe began to clap. Laughing, he said, “You two should take your show on the road. You’re really delightful together.”
Cameron raised her water glass into the air. “Agreed!” Then her face turned serious. “But could we please have pie first?”
Will cut the pie into eight pieces and dished it onto the four plates, leaving exactly half the pie in the pan. Once, during the Belinda Markway episode of Pearl’s “Match Made in Heaven Dinners, ” he’d cut only six pieces. Pearl was more patient, more hopeful in his future prospects in those days, and waited until after her guests had gone to explain the pie should be cut into eighths. “A proper young lady will think the slice is too large, and that you’d think of her as a horse for eating it all, so she will pick at it and not finish. An eighth, on the other hand, feels like just a sliver—in fact, that’s what she’ll often ask for—and then she’ll likely even take you up on seconds if you offer.”
Will had protested, saying that two-eighths was clearly more pie than one-sixth, but Pearl shushed him. “It’s pie math. Pie math is different. Look, if we’re going to get you hooked up with the girl of my dreams, you’re going to have to just trust me sometimes.”
Belinda Markway had tried to decline the pie, saying it was too much, but Will served it to her anyway, telling her to just eat a little if that’s all she wanted. She relented after the third time, but insisted on only a half scoop of ice cream. She poked at the pie with her fork, taking just a nibble here and a nibble there so that Pearl began to fret that her pie had somehow failed and asked Belinda no less than six times if there wasn’t something wrong with the pie, or if she could get her something else, anything, like an Oreo cookie since she didn’t happen to have any other desserts on hand. In time, Belinda ate the pie, and the ice cream, but never did return Will’s calls after that, which Pearl blamed to this day on the over-sized dessert and Will’s inability to do pie math.
He then discovered the added benefit of eight slices being that he might be called to Pearl’s kitchen later in the week for a leftover piece, warmed in the oven with a slightly melted scoop of vanilla ice cream dripping down the side. Of course, that was not bound to happen this week even if there were leftovers, if he couldn’t sufficiently make amends for his transgressions tonight.
Pearl placed a scoop of ice cream next to a slice of pie and passed the plate to Joe. “Thank you, Pearl. I’ve been looking forward to this all evening.” He set the plate in front of him and picked up his fork. “Now, were you all really wanting to hear about Rebroff’s music, or were we just using him to give my friend Will some cover?”
Cameron laughed. “It might have just been cover, Joe. But good cover it was.” She put her hand up as Pearl reached to set a plate in front of her. “No, really. Why don’t you let me have that next one. It looks smaller and I just want a sliver.”
Pearl turned to Will and smiled her best “See what I told you” smile, the one where she always kept her lips tightly closed, where her eyes sparkled and where she lifted her shoulders back. She set the plate in front of Will’s seat and pulled the sides of her sweater together in front of her chest, making a small, triumphant “Hmmph” sound. When she turned back to Cameron, Will rolled his eyes. He’d learned the lesson early enough with Belinda Markway, but Pearl found it necessary to remind him of it each and every time a woman wanted a small slice of pie. Just a sliver.
“It is a damned complicated ting, being a woman, ” he said, not realizing he’d said it aloud.
The others stopped what they were doing, Joe with a fork halfway to his mouth. Pearl picked up Will’s plate from the table. “Mr.” She paused. “Phillips.”
“I … umm …”
Joe set down his fork and put his hands together, index fingers touching and pointing together at Will. “As I was saying, ” he said. “Ivan Rebroff.”
Will put his hands in his pocket and turned around in a circle. “I’m afraid we might just have to call tonight a wash, Pearl. I’m sorry.”
She wiped her hands on her napkin and sat down, waving Will into his chair. She began to laugh with Cameron until Will and Joe joined in.
“I never know what’s going to happen when I have Mr. Phillips down for dinner. Maybe one of these days he’ll pick a girl and we can stop having these first encounters.”
Will shifted in his chair. “And on that encouraging note for Cameron, maybe Joe could tell us a little more about this Rebroff fella.”
Joe smiled. “Well, of course I could. But I’m not sure we’re all equally interested.”
“Say, ” Pearl said, pointing in the air at Joe with her fork. “While you kids were at the store, Mr. Murphy and I found a family connection. It’s really wonderful. Tell them, Joe.”
“Oh, yes. Wonderful.” Joe wiped his mouth and then folded his napkin and set it beside his plate. “Yes. Evelyn’s grandparents—on her mother’s side—had a farm near Graughton. That’s why this is the area she always wanted us to retire to. As a girl she visited twice a year, and stayed on the farm for two weeks every summer.”
Pearl chimed in. “And would you believe my Grandpa Tate had the grocery in Graughton? I used to spend a month there in the summers, and Grandpa always gave me little chores to do. I’m betting Evelyn came into the store when I was there.”
“That’s fantastic, ” Will said. “You two are connected from way back and had no clue. Did you ever come out this way with Evelyn, Joe?”
“Years ago. Before her grandparents sold the farm and moved to town. We’d been married just a couple of years then.”
“What was the family name again?” Pearl asked.
“Hafer, ” Joe said. “Evelyn’s granddad was named Jed Hafer.”
“Hafer.” Will’s brow furrowed lightly. “Had a claim for a Hafer out that way once. Bet you still have family there, Joe.”
(to be continued)