67 • Levis
If anyone had asked, Will couldn’t have recalled how he found himself standing in the street in front of Cameron’s house later that evening.
He had, in fact, come home from work planning to warm up a plate of mashed potatoes and beef tips from the freezer, then turn on his new television for the first time and fall asleep early. It occurred to him that now that he was paying for cable, he ought to at least discover what channels he had available besides Major League Baseball.
When he rolled into the driveway, Joe was out the door and on the back porch before he even got the truck turned off. The door creaked as he pushed it open with his foot, leaning sideways to reach his briefcase from the passenger side.
“Will!” Joe was waving his arms as though he were trying to flag him down in a crowded airport, not the only person standing on an open porch Will would have had to walk right past to get to the stairs to his apartment. “Over here, Will!”
“Hey, Joe.” Will smiled and shook his head, pushing the door shut behind him. “I see you there.”
“Oh, good. I wanted to catch you before you went up.” Joe thumbed over his shoulder toward the door. “Pearl found a delightful recipe for butternut squash we’re trying out. We set a place for you. ”
The man lives here now. It’s like he’s an extension of Pearl, Will thought.
“Did you, now.” Will motioned toward the stairs with the briefcase in his hand. “Listen, I’ll be down in a minute. Let me run upstairs first.”
Will didn’t run up the stairs. He didn’t even jog. It would be fair to say he trudged, thinking he was finally going to get a quiet night all by himself, and now, he was not. These people… He started to think, and then stopped, not knowing what exactly it was he wanted to think about these people.
He dropped the briefcase on the counter in the kitchenette and went into the bathroom. He bent over the sink and splashed water on his face, then reached for a towel, refusing to even look at himself in the mirror. I already know I need a haircut.
In his bedroom, Will filed through the plaid shirts hanging in the closet in dutiful rows, knowing Pearl would expect him to put on a clean shirt. And what was it about a clean shirt, anyway? He was in his office all day. He didn’t dribble soup down the front at lunch, and he wasn’t’ steeped in beer smell or covered in dirt from crawling under a house. Why should he have to change?
Clean shirts, he decided, were sorely overrated.
He unbuttoned his red plaid and eyed a blue plaid before opening his dresser drawer and pulling out a soft, if mildly tattered, gray sweatshirt, cracked white emblazoned across the front spelling HARVARD, the front leg of the H peeled off. He put the sweatshirt to his face and took a deep breath, then pulled it on over his t-shirt.
Unsure if it was defiance or the old sweatshirt’s comfort he was feeling, Will kicked off his boots, unbuckled his jeans and let them fall, stepping into another pair of Levis, faded to near white in spots and worn through in some inopportune others. He sat on his bed, feeling oddly content, and reached down to put his boots back on. Bent over with the laces in his hand, he saw the white toe of his Chuck Taylors poking out from under a rumpled T-shirt that hung over the side of his laundry basket in the closet. He let his boot drop to the floor and went to the closet for his black low-tops and sat down on the wood floor to put them on.
Will mused that he felt almost spry when he got himself up from the floor. He reached under his sweatshirt to tuck the T-shirt into the top of his jeans. It is possible that at least one of his steps out of his room toward the stairs had a skip in it. No one will ever know for sure without surveillance video, he answered the creaking step as he passed by the high stained glass.
Turning the corner to the dining room, he met the smell of Pearl’s butternut squash coming from the kitchen. “What kind of people eat butternut squash this time of year anyway?”
“Usually the best kind.”
Will jumped, thinking Pearl and Joe were in the kitchen. He looked up and saw her reflection across the table in the buffet mirror.
“Hello, Will.” Cameron stood. “We’re looking casual tonight.”
“I, uh. Well.” He smoothed the front of his jeans, which were not wrinkled and in need of smoothing. He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t think I knew you would be here.”
“Clearly you did not.” The door swung open from the butler’s pantry and Pearl walked in carrying a casserole dish between two flowered oven mitts. “You came down for dinner? I can’t quite tell if you’re here to join us or if you’re on your way to one of those old man little league games.”
“Pearl.” Will hurried across the room. “Let me get that for you.” He grabbed for the dish and Pearl yanked it away.
“Be careful, young man. This is hot. We don’t want you burning yourself.”
Will let his arm fall to his side. “Of course. We don’t want that.” He slipped his hands into his back pockets so his elbows stuck out behind him like a chicken.
Pearl tipped her head toward the table. “Do you think I could put this down now?”
Will was flushed now, and stepped back. “Yeah. Yes, let me get out of the way.” He stepped around Pearl and into the kitchen. “Let me see if Joe needs anything else.”
The door swung behind him and he found Joe wiping down the counter with a dish towel.
“Thanks for the heads-up, Joe.”
“Heads up?” Joe turned around. He looked at Will from head to toe and started to laugh. “Pearl has her expectations about decorum for a reason, you know. Come ready and you’ll be ready. No advance notice needed.”
“Yeah, well, the one time . . .”
“It’s been just this one time, eh?”
“Actually, yes. Believe it or not.”
“I believe it.” Joe set the towel next to the sink. “I have seen you and rules.” He pointed to the pitcher on the counter, condensation dripping down the side. “Grab that, would you?”
Will picked up the pitcher and turned to go back into the dining room.
He leaned into the door with his shoulder. “Yeah?”
“Word to the wise.” He pointed a finger. “Don’t turn your back to Pearl tonight.”
(to be continued)