“So now that I have my general ed out of the way I can really concentrate on my major,” Kathy said at the dining room table. “I’ll be able to do more work in the lab, in a year I can intern.” Jason, Christine, and David sat at one side to Kathy while mother and father were at the other and circled the table crowded with food and drink.
“That sounds wonderful, dear,” mother said.
“No more taking classes I don’t need to take,” Kathy said with relief.
“Rick’s older brother went to Cal Poly,” David said eagerly. “One time he went down there for spring break, he said there was a huge kegger in every house. Then someone started a fire in a dumpster 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.
“I swear!” Kathy pleaded. “I was studying that night.”
Jason no longer noticed the foreign texture of the chicken enchiladas as he ate. A platter of enchiladas were at the center of the table surrounded by a large bowl of salad, dishes of rice, beans, and rolls, and drinks.
“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 when the building you’re living in catches on fire,” mother countered.
“No, the building didn’t catch on fire,” Kathy explained. “All that happened was some moron in one of the rooms tried to microwave regular popcorn in a paper sack and it caught on fire, that’s all. It wasn’t like the whole building burned down.” She ate 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. I’ve already looked into it, it’d be cheaper than a dorm.”
“Well what’s the neighborhood like?” mother asked.
“Yeah, is it safe?” father added.
“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 USC. Nothing to worry about.”
“It takes big money to go there,” mother said.
“Nothing to worry about?” father responded. “Wait until you’re a parent.”
“Should be all right as long as there’s no microwave fires,” Jason added.
“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. “She dumped me.”
“She left David for the class president,” mother said quietly to Kathy.
“Oh my god!” Kathy exclaimed. “I’m so sorry!”
“Still hurts,” David moped.
“Don’t let her get you down,” Kathy said to David. “You can do better than her. She’s kind of a bitch anyhow.”
“Katherine, you’re at the dinner table,” mother reminded.
“But don’t you agree?” Kathy asked.
“Well, she did strike me as a bit shallow,” mother admitted.
“I thought she was 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.
“Don’t worry, Dave, someone better always comes along,” Jason said, then felt Christine grab his knee affectionately underneath the table.
“That’s right,” mother said. “I’m sure there are a lot of nice girls at school.”
“You should try to get with one of the cheerleaders,” Jason said.
“Good idea,” father agreed.
The familiar, casual banter continued while Jason looked around the entire table at Christine and his family and took in the whole scene as he remembered back to the last time the whole family was eating together. A wave of memories came over him and he felt a tug of nostalgia. He took in everything all at once into a single picture captured in his memory before it was gone.
“Kathy, I’m going to Aunt Delia’s tomorrow,” mother said. “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 asked pointedly.
“Busy, busy,” mother said.
“Don’t worry,” Kathy gripped her mother’s hand, “we’ll do something together, I promise,” she emphasized then let go. “I just need to catch up with a few friends, that’s all. I’ll be around all summer.”
“We’ll be a full house one again,” mother observed humorously.
“Too bad we only have two bathrooms,” Jason kidded.
“I sure did miss all of you,” Kathy said 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 do get a new appreciation for home once you’re away for awhile,” Kathy said, “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.
“I promise that I will never complain to you about anything ever again,” Kathy said to mother, “and I mean it this time.”
“That’s why I moved back,” Jason said.
“Maybe I should stay,” David wondered.
“Maybe you should start paying rent,” father said, then everyone laughed except David.
“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 wistfully. “How’s he doing?”
“Oh, you know, same old Randy,” Jason said as he felt himself pulled back into reality.
“God, I haven’t seen Randy, or Brian, or Todd, or Alex, or any of your friends for a year or more,” Kathy reminisced. “How’s everyone doing?”
“Doing fine,” Jason said.
“They’re always asking how you’re doing,” Christine said to Kathy.
“Yeah, they’re the best,” Kathy said, “but nobody was as fun as Randy. Remember that time when I got stood up on a date, and Randy wanted to kick the guy’s ass for me?”
“Didn’t I just say something about watching our language at the dinner table?” mother scolded.
“Our little girl sure has grown up,” father said humorously.
“If I don’t get a chance to see Randy, can you say hi for me?” Kathy asked.
“I’ll do that,” Jason said.
©2016 Robert Kirkendall