“It’s amazing how much you can grow in two years,” Kathy began. “When I first showed up in San Luis after high school I was just a kid who’d never spent any time away from home, and in two more years I’ll be making my way out into the world.”
“Ever think about going for a master’s?” David asked.
“One challenge at a time,” Kathy replied.
“I say go for it,” Jason suggested. “It’s tough out there in the world.”
“Yeah, people keep telling me that,” Kathy said, “but I do have my general ed out of the way so now I can really concentrate on my major,” she added optimistically. “I’ll be able to do more work in the lab, and in a year I can intern.”
Jason, Christine, and David sat to one side of Kathy at the dining room table, mother and father were at the other side. Food and drink crowded the table.
“That sounds wonderful, dear,” mother said, then looked up wistfully. “You know, sometimes I wonder how I would have done in college.”
“You would’ve done great, Mom,” Kathy assured.
“Certainly better than Dan Quayle,” father said, and everyone laughed.
“I would’ve made the dean’s list compared to him,” mother joked as the laughter subsided.
“So since you’re done with general ed, aren’t your classes going to get harder?” Christine asked.
“That’s what they say, but I’ve built a good foundation,” Kathy said. “There will probably be some overlap anyway.”
“My buddy Rick’s older brother went to Cal Poly,” David chimed in. “One time he went down there for spring break, he said there was a huge kegger in every house.”
“That’s a good way to spend the weekend,” Jason commented.
“And then he said someone started a fire in a dumpster,” David went on, “and everybody was rolling it down the street. Got so crazy that the police had to show up in riot gear and break it up.”
“Sounds out of control down there,” father said warily.
“Wasn’t me,” Kathy said with mock innocence.
“Right,” Jason said facetiously.
“I swear!” Kathy pleaded. “I was studying that night.”
“You missed out on all the fun,” David laughed.
“I missed out on the possibility of getting arrested,” Kathy pointed out.
Jason no longer noticed the foreign texture of the chicken enchiladas as he ate. He looked at the pan of enchiladas at the center of the table surrounded by a large bowl of salad, plates of side dishes, drinks, and tried to remember the last time there was so much food on the table.
“So who’s this guy that started the fire?” Christine asked.
“Don’t know, I wasn’t out that night,” Kathy said. “Could have been anyone.”
“I meant the one in the dorm,” Christine said.
“There was a fire in your dormitory?” mother said alarmingly.
“It was no big deal,” Kathy reassured.
“Yes, it is a big deal,” mother asserted.
“Okay, this is what happened. Some idiot in one of the rooms took some regular popcorn, poured it in a paper sack, tried to microwave it, and it caught on fire. That’s all,” Kathy explained. “It wasn’t like the whole building burned down.”
“Wow, I thought only smart people went to college,” Jason quipped.
“Guess they’ll let anyone in,” father added humorously.
“I’ve had professors who can teach the most advanced math and science but still don’t know how to work a coffee maker,” Kathy said. “Go figure.”
“Was that pyromaniac kicked out of the dorms?” Christine asked.
“He promised not to do it again, but we’ll see.” Kathy continued to eat intently. “God, it is so good to eat a home cooked meal after dorm food. Thanks, Mom.”
“Isn’t there any way you can cook for yourself?” mother asked.
“Actually,” Kathy began, “I have these friends that live off campus, and they have a kitchen, washer, dryer, a bathroom they don’t have to share with a bunch of people, and I was thinking of moving out of the dorms and living with them. And it won’t cost any more.”
“What’s the neighborhood like?” mother asked.
“Yeah, is it safe?” father demanded.
“Of course it’s safe, Dad. You think I’d move to a bad neighborhood?” Kathy said. “It’s a small town, cops everywhere, it’s not like I’m going to USC. Nothing to worry about.”
“It takes big money to go there,” mother said.
“Nothing to worry about?” father said indignantly. “Wait until you’re a parent.”
“Should be all right as long as there’s no microwave fires,” Jason kidded.
“Do a lot of girls go to Cal Poly?” David asked.
“At that age, they’re called women,” Jason corrected.
“Of course, it’s a big campus,” Kathy said. “So whatever happened with Teresa?”
David looked down. “Didn’t work out.”
“She left David for some lunkhead on the football team,” mother said quietly to Kathy.
“Oh my god!” Kathy exclaimed. “I’m so sorry!”
“I’ll be all right,” David moped.
“Don’t let her get you down,” Kathy said to David. “You can do better than her. She’s totally shallow anyhow.”
“She seemed like a nice girl,” mother said.
“Probably just an act,”Kathy surmised.
“Well she seem to lack a sense of humor,” mother admitted.
“Yeah, she was kind of superficial,” father added.
“She’ll probably end up being some rich guy’s trophy wife,” mother joked.
“See? You’re better off without her,” Kathy said to David.
“Yeah, I know,” David said. “It just sucks, that’s all.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” mother remarked.
“It may hurt now, but you’ll get through this,” Kathy encouraged.
“That’s right, Dave,” Jason agreed. “And someone better always comes along.” He felt Christine grab his knee affectionately underneath the table.
“I’m sure there are plenty of nice girls at school,” mother said helpfully.
“You should try to get with one of the cheerleaders,” Jason advised.
“Good idea,” father reiterated.
The familiar, casual banter continued as Jason looked around the table affectionately at Christine and his family. He thought back to the last time the entire family was eating together around the dinner table and tried to remember the occasion. Must have been when Kathy was up here for spring break, he recalled. We used to eat together every night, he reminisced, now it’s only on special occasions. A wave of memories came over him and he felt the pull of nostalgia. He took in the entire scene all at once into a single image and tried to capture it in his memory before it was gone.
“I’m going to see Aunt Delia tomorrow,” mother said to Kathy. “Want to come along?”
“Oh, I already made plans with Heather and Tina,” Kathy said apologetically. “We’re going to check out that new, big mall in Milpitas.”
“Where the Ford plant used to be,” father remarked.
“Busy, busy,” mother said.
Kathy gripped mother’s hand. “Mom, I promise we’ll do something together. I just need to catch up with a few friends, that’s all,” she explained as she let go. “I’ll be around all summer.”
“Once again we’re a full house,” mother observed.
“Too bad we only have two bathrooms,” Jason kidded.
“And just like in the old days you three are going to have to share one,” father decreed.
“Hope the hot water heater holds up,” Kathy said.
“No more long showers for you,” Jason said to David.
“Who, me?” David said innocently.
“I don’t want to know,” mother said as she held up her hand.
“Did you miss all this delightful dinner table conversation?” Christine asked Kathy.
“Actually I did.”
“That’s a surprise,” Jason kidded.
“Really, I did,” Kathy said earnestly, “and I sure missed all of you,” she beamed as she looked around the table. “There really is no place like home.”
“Ah, you’re having the time of your life,” Jason said.
“Yeah, but you really do get a new appreciation for home after you’ve been away,” Kathy articulated, “especially when you have to do everything on your own for the first time ever. Funny all the things you take for granted.”
“You’re welcome,” mother said.
“And I swear that I will never complain to you about anything ever again,” Kathy promised mother, “and I mean it this time.”
“That’s why I moved back,” Jason said.
“Maybe I should stay here for as long as I can,” David wondered.
“Maybe you should start paying rent,” father suggested, and everyone laughed.
“So what are you two doing anything tomorrow?” Kathy asked Jason and Christine.
“I told Randy we’d go see a movie,” Jason said. “Maybe some of the other guys will tag along.”
“Randy,” Kathy said nostalgically. “How’s he doing?”
“Oh, you know, same old Randy,” Jason answered as he tried to sound nonchalant.
“I don’t think I’ve seen Randy, or Brian, or Todd, or Alex, or any of your friends for a year or more,” Kathy recalled, “used to see them regularly. How are they all doing?”
“Doing all right,” Jason said.
“They’re always asking how you’re doing,” Christine said to Kathy.
“Yeah, they’re the best,” Kathy reminisced, “but nobody was as fun as Randy. Remember that time when I got stood up on a date, and Randy wanted to avenge me? ‘I’ll find that sonofabitch and kick his ass!’” she imitated.
“Such language,” mother said drolly.
“Heh heh, our little girl sure has grown up,” father added.
“If I don’t get a chance to see Randy or any of the other guys, can you say hi for me?” Kathy asked.
“I’ll do that,” Jason said.
©2016 Robert Kirkendall
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