Reposting of Redwood Summer chapter 8 after giving it a rewrite. It isn’t too different from earlier version, just more expanded. In this chapter, Jason, the character, is having dinner with his entire family and his girlfriend, and it’s the last truly happy moment for him in the novel. After this chapter, the downward descent begins.
“So now that I have my general ed out of the way I can really concentrate on my major,” Kathy said optimistically. “I’ll be able to do more work in the lab, and in a year I can intern.” Jason, Christine, and David sat at one side of Kathy at the dining room table, mother and father were at the other side, and the table was crowded with food and drink.
“That sounds wonderful, dear,” mother replied.
“No more taking classes that have nothing to do with my major,” Kathy said with relief.
“Aren’t your classes going to get harder?” Christine asked.
“That’s what they say, but I’ve built a good foundation,” Kathy assured. “There’ll be a lot of overlap anyway.”
“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 pointed out.
“Gave the firefighters something to do at least,” Kathy said offhandedly.
Jason no longer noticed the foreign texture of the chicken enchiladas as he ate. A large pan of enchiladas were at the center of the table surrounded by a large bowl of salad, rice, beans, 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!” mother countered.
“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 wryly.
“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 he 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. 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 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 USC. Nothing to worry about.”
“It takes big money to go there,” mother remarked.
“Nothing to worry about?” father responded indignantly. “Wait until you’re a parent.”
“Should be all right as long as there’s no microwave fires,” Jason added humorously.
“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 the team quarterback,” 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 kind of a bitch anyhow.”
“Must you talk that way at the dinner table?” mother scolded.
“But don’t you agree?” Kathy asked. “She definitely had no sense of humor.”
“Well, she did strike me as a bit shallow,” 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.
“I know it hurts now, but you’ll get through this,” Kathy said supportingly.
“That’s right, Dave,” Jason concurred, “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 agreed.
The familiar, casual banter continued around the table as Jason looked affectionately at Christine and his family. He took in the whole scene as he remembered back to the last time the entire family was eating together around the dinner table. Must have been when Kathy was up here for spring break, he recalled. We used to eat together every night, he thought wistfully, now it’s only on special occasions. A wave of memories came over him and he felt the tug of nostalgia. He took in the entire scene all at once into a single image and captured it 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 questioned.
“Busy, busy,” mother remarked.
Kathy gripped her 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 hold up,” Kathy said.
“No more long showers for you,” Jason said to David.
“Who, me?” David said innocently. “Why would I do that?”
Mother shook her head. “I don’t want to know.”
“Did you miss all this delightful dinner table conversation?” Christine humorously asked Kathy.
“I did actually, and I certainly missed all of you,” Kathy 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 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, 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 reminiscently. “How’s he doing?”
“Oh, you know, same old Randy,” Jason said tersely.
“God, I haven’t seen Randy, or Brian, or Todd, or Alex, or any of your friends for a year or more,” Kathy recalled. “How’s everyone doing?”
“Doing all right,” 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 reminded.
“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