“Yeah, uh huh…” She trailed off. It’s not like she wanted to be having this conversation anyway, especially with this person and especially today.
“But Stevie, you know you’re the only one who I can trust, “ the voice came down the line, somehow slurring even more than just a few minutes ago. “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t care.” Stevie didn’t know how that logic worked, but there was no point in pressing that; it’s not like she’d get an answer.
“Okay, fine, I’ll go to Elmdale first thing in the morning and wire it over,” Stevie replied tightly, rolling her eyes. “I can’t send as much as you want, so you’ll get what you get.”
“Oh thank you, sweetheart! I knew you’d come through! You’re my sweet girl…” Stevie couldn’t listen to this right now.
“Okay, yeah, you’re welcome. Bye!” She cut the conversation off, jabbing at the End Call button so viciously that it actually hurt. She really wished the call had come in on the motel phone so she could slam the receiver down. It would be much more satisfying.
Unsure how to process the last ten minutes and or what to do next, Stevie sat on her stool behind the desk and stared aimlessly across the room. She hadn’t been expecting this call, per se, but at the same time she felt like she kind of has been. It was only a matter of time before the town gossip chain reached that far and news that the motel was thriving- to borrow one of David’s favorite words- would get out. Speaking of David…
Stevie: I’m hungry.
David: I’m always hungry.
Stevie: That’s a shocker.
David: I try to be as surprising as possible. Keeps the mystery alive.
Stevie: Cafe in 15?
David: I think I could pull that off.
She shot off a text to Johnny to let him know it was his turn to cover the desk, shoved her arms into her coat sleeves with a bit more force than was necessary, and slung her bag over her head. Feeling around in her pocket, she emerged with her favorite red toque and jammed it on her head. At least it wasn’t snowing. She trudged through the snow towards the cafe, aiming a kick at a snowbank that spilled over. Ow. That was a poor life choice, she thought, as her toe, already inappropriately shod for cold and snow, came into contact with ice. I guess it’s not a lot different from any other life choice.
By the time she arrived at the cafe, Stevie was throwing herself a full blown pity party. She was glad she was seeing David, though, because he always had a way of snapping her out of it. After all these years they had developed almost a language of their own through their sarcastic banter that included thinly veiled sincerity and fondness. She’d never admit it to anyone, especially him, but she actually didn’t know what she’d do without him. She pulled the door open and was met with warm air and the comforting smell of coffee. David was already seated at their usual booth, wrapped in a cozy sweater and scrolling on his phone with such deep concentration, she wondered if he’d notice her.
“Hey,” she said, approaching the booth. She pulled off her hat and bag, slid out of her coat, and tossed them into the corner of the booth, sliding in after them. David smiled up at her with his usual smirk and laid his phone down on the table.
“Hi there, Nanook of the North,” he snarked.
“Okay, David, for the last time, just because I wear a coat that’s appropriate for winter in rural Ontario does not make me a target for mocking. If anything, I should be mocking you for being perpetually freezing because it would offend your sartorial sensibilities to actually be warm.” Stevie gave her best pointed glare, trying and probably failing to hide her affection for this weirdo.
Fortunately, David was also failing to hide his affection, so they just grinned at each other for a minute until Twyla arrived to take their orders.
Lunch with David was everything Stevie was hoping for. She got to sit and listen as David mocked the clothes on the latest Real Housewives episode- who, she didn’t know, but that didn’t matter- and then she got her turn to rant about whatever truly bizarre thing Roland did at the motel the last few days. David had finished his pie and was eyeing hers with his fork poised towards it threateningly when both of their phones buzzed at the same time. Picking them up, they noticed they both had a text on the Rose family text chain.
Johnny: hey kids we are doing hanukkah tonight in our room wed love for you to join us there will be wine and snacks lets show this town our jewish pride
“Wow,” David mused. “Someday my dad will learn how to do capital letters and punctuation in text messaging, but today is clearly not that day.” He looked up to see Stevie still staring at her phone. “Something wrong?”
“No,” she finally responded. “I’m not Jewish, though.” David shrugged.
“Yeah, that’s just like my dad to assume that just because he wants to do something, everybody else should too.” His threw his hands in the air, phone waving wildly and slightly precariously. “Like insisting last year that we re-institute the family Christmas party!” Stevie felt a sudden stab of annoyance at that remark. Even though last year’s party started out as kind of a Royal Command Performance, it had turned into a really lovely evening that everybody enjoyed enough to replicate this year. And she wasn’t just thinking that because of all the wine that was served. But David was off on his rant now.
“And we just did Christmas a few days ago! What is he thinking? There’s no way we’re going out to buy Hanukkah gifts now, after spending all that money. And we might have had plans! But did he think of that? No!” Stevie’s annoyance was building; if she didn’t nip it in the bud it would turn into actual anger. Very briefly she wondered why David’s ranting, something she could usually brush off, was getting to her.
“David, get a grip. I’m so sorry your dad actually wants to spend time with you doing family holiday things.” She rolled her eyes hard at that, and this time it was devoid of her usual affection. It was enough to get David to stop in his tracks and give her a slightly baffled look. This was outside their usual back and forth.
“What’s up with you?” The question was also devoid of his usual snark, which threw her off even more. A sudden urge to cry welled up in her, only magnifying her anger. She didn’t really know what was up with her, but right now she didn’t really care. She didn’t know why, but David’s attitude was seriously pissing her off.
“You know, David, I get that your family is weird and intense and demanding, but you know what? You have one. And you have parents who actually want to spend time with you. Like, for you. And yeah, maybe they spent a lot of years fucking up, but they’re trying. They’re not perfect, like, I know, not even close to perfect, but they’re there, and they’re yours. Fuck you. Go to your fucking Hanukkah party and be grateful.” The two friends just stared at each other for a few seconds, Stevie breathing hard and trying her damndest not to cry (and, frankly, failing) and David in bewildered disbelief. Neither of them knew what to say or do next. They were used to calling each other out on their bullshit, but not like this. Finally, Stevie couldn’t take it anymore. She grabbed her coat and bag and slid out of the booth.
“You can have my pie,” was the only thing she said before tears finally began to fall. She turned on her heel and rushed out of the cafe without even pulling her coat on, leaving David in stunned and confused silence.
She was so incensed that she got all the way back to the motel before she realized she was carrying her coat and shivering. She stopped short of the office door and just looked at it for a moment. She wasn’t exactly sure why, but she really wasn’t in the mood to go back in right now. After a few seconds consideration, she pulled her coat on and dug in her bag for her car keys. Now was as good a time as any to go wire that money. Sliding into the car and turning the key, she pulled out of the parking lot and aimed her car towards Elmdale. Her phoned buzzed with text messages, but even if she wasn’t driving, she wasn’t in the mood to deal with them. She knew it was David, but had no idea what to say. Part of her was still angry, but part of her was embarrassed by how she had reacted, and she didn’t know how to walk that back right now.
Money wiring done, she found the diner down the street and sat at the end of the counter. She wasn’t hungry, but she also didn’t want to head home yet. With a steaming cup of mediocre coffee in front of her and a piece of sketchy pie to pick at, she finally picked up her phone to check her messages.
David: Are you ok?
David: Stevie, are you ok?
David: Whatever I did, I’m sorry
David: Ugh. You were right.
David: Don’t tell anyone I said that
David: I know I’m lucky to have my family here
David: And you’re part of it
David: So come tonight
David: It won’t be fancy and it will probably be awkward, but there will be wine
David: I know that for sure because Patrick is bullying me into bringing it
David: So come, at least we can get drunk together
“David, I’m so pissed you’re making me cry again,” she muttered, glancing around to see if anyone had noticed her talking to herself. She took an angry swipe at her cheeks. She supposed she wasn’t the strangest customer a small-town diner had seen, just speaking off her own experiences in small-town diners. After awhile she just sent back a text that said “ok”.
Pushing her half-eaten pie away, she signaled for the check. Struck by sudden inspiration, she quickly perused something on her phone while she waited, and after paying headed back to her car, now a woman on a mission.
By the time she finished her errands and returned to the motel, the sun was long down. It hadn’t been easy to find what little she was able to scrape together, but she was determined to contribute something to the celebration. Since David and Patrick had the wine covered, this was what she could come up with. She hesitated at the door of room 6 for a second before raising one hand and knocking timidly. The door opened almost immediately with David’s gentle smile on the other side.
“Hi,” he almost whispered.
“Hi,” she replied, a little chagrined. She knew he wasn’t going to bring up her outburst at lunch unless she said something, but she was still a little embarrassed. Maybe later, after a copious amount of wine had been consumed, she’d tell him all about the phone call she’d gotten earlier. For now, she handed him the boxes she was carrying.
“What’s this?” He took them gingerly, turning to place them on the table inside.
“Well, it’s just potato pancakes from that Amish restaurant off of highway 6, and end-of-the-day jelly donuts from that place in Elmdale, but it’s what I could find at the last minute. I couldn’t track down any chocolate coins, but here is my Aunt Maureen’s penny jar. I figured you could keep it for next year too, if you wanted, since pennies are obsolete now.” She handed the jar to Patrick, who had come up behind David, looking dangerously close to hugging her. She wouldn’t be up for hugging until at least her third glass of wine. Third large glass of wine.
“Stevie, just in time! We’re about to light the menorah! Here, you should do the honors. As soon as Ted Skypes in we’ll get started.” Johnny took her arm and gently steered her towards the dresser where a full unlit menorah stood.
“Oh no,” she shook her head. “I’m not even Jewish. Someone else should do it, who knows what they’re doing.” Johnny just smiled, a crooked smile that reminded her of David.
“Nonsense! You’re the only one of the kids who hasn’t had a chance to do it- except the future in-laws, of course. Besides, it’s tradition to invite friends outside the faith to light the menorah!" Stevie shrugged casually, trying to be as nonchalant as possible.
“Oh sure, why not?” Not only was it hard to argue with Johnny, but she found that she actually kind of wanted to do it. She tried valiantly to remember what her ten minutes of phone research earlier had taught her about lighting the menorah candles.
“Okay, everybody, Ted’s on the iPad!” Stevie startled slightly at Alexis’ shrill announcement as Stevie shucked her coat, dropping it on Alexis’ bed. She couldn’t help but notice that her red toque was sitting on David’s nightstand. She must have left it in the booth while she made her abrupt exit from the cafe at lunch.
After a quick round of greetings to Ted, Johnny gently began directing Stevie on lighting the candles. She complied quickly, but with a reverence that was unusual in her life. As she got to the second candle, she could hear Alexis softly chanting a blessing off-key. On the next candle she could hear David mutter “She’s butchering the tune AND the words, someone stop her” and Patrick shushing him. By candle six, she was crying again (dammit, Stevie, she thought, you can’t get this dehydrated if you’re going to drink wine tonight), but it was a different kind of crying than she’d been doing all day. This time, she wasn’t ashamed of it, although she surreptitiously tried to wipe her cheeks. Nobody here needed to see that right now.
Alexis finished her chanting with a squeal and a clap just as Stevie gently lit the eighth candle. She put the shammash back in its holder, and looked up at those around her. She saw Alexis standing next to her, with the iPad containing Ted’s dorky (but sweet, Stevie admitted to herself) face on it. Moira was next, leaning on Johnny with both of her arms wrapped around one of his, his hands stuck casually into the pockets of his suit trousers. Next to Johnny, David had draped himself dramatically over Patrick’s back, with his chin on Patrick’s shoulder and Patrick’s arms folded over David’s. David’s eyes were bright with unshed tears. They all stood and looked at each other for a moment in silence, before exploding with action. Food was unboxed, a dreidel was produced, and David swooped in yo hand her a blessedly full glass of wine. “Here,“ he murmured. “There’s no way I could drink all this wine myself.” The solemn look in his eye gave way to a twinkle as they tapped their glasses together, and David wandered off to the food table.
“You did a perfect job with that, Stevie.” Johnny materialized at her elbow, holding his own glass of wine. “Next year you can teach Patrick how to do it.” Stevie just grinned at him, and they both turned to watch the others in companionable silence. After a minute or two, she tilted her head and rested it briefly on his shoulder. It was just a couple seconds, but he seemed to understand what she was trying to convey. He reached over and laid a hand on her arm for just a second, giving it a quick squeeze before he left her side to refill Moira’s drink.
She couldn’t wait till next year.