For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
Home For The Holidays
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The word spoken, has taken shape from your warmest memories and has been made visual in it’s finest accoutrement and you are there, standing in the mess of it, too many senses engaged at once but because the term home has been with us from the womb, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
When Scott stepped into the version of home represented by the Betty Bee household, he was immediately transported away from the winter world of the highway and his thoughts of himself and his world. From a full, welcoming hug to the warmth of a real fireplace and the smell of sweets baking in an oven, the soft, cushy steps on carpeting in his stocking feet and the sounds, scents, and estrogen-laced energy, the house full of Betty and her three daughters took him captive in that moment. He was taken hostage to warm attention and ministrations of kindness and unwarranted familiarity.
Turning from the stove, Betty placed a mug of steaming, sweetened ginseng tea in front of Scott who was seated at a solid oak table with lathe-turned legs and chairs to match. There was a large ceramic fruit and leaf-festooned serving plate of freshly baked and aromatic goodies directly in front of him. On it were warm chocolate chip cookies, the chips melted and glistening, ringed by powder-sugared brownies. Scott openly stared at the treats with a ravenous desire and he secretly wanted to eat every one of them and more until he was on the verge of throwing up. He began stuffing them into his mouth, one after the other as Betty watched in amusement.
The middle girl, Beth, set a matching large platter over on the counter and Scott watched with a mix of horror and lust as he recognized that it held a rich and heavily moist Stalin just like the kind Scott’s mother used to make and that he coveted so many years before. He could smell its golden almond fragrance above the fresh cookies dwindling in front of him and even as he was chewing on one. It was almost too much to take in. He thought, “Tomorrow morning!”
The other two girls, Jeannie and Erin, leaned against the counter and watched Scott, both smiling and eager to see him eat. Jeannie was nineteen now, and held a gathering arm around fourteen year old Erin’s shoulders.
The kitchen they were all assembled in was entirely different from the modest rental house they had lived in back in Fairview, but it had the same feel and many of the same decorations and equipment. And it was still the hub and center of their home.
Way back, during the two subsequent sessions Scott had returned for, Betty had shared a bit of her background and he knew that she had owned a bakery on Cape Cod before moving to the Midwest.
“Oh, Betty - thanks! Wow. This is too much,” Scott said with an undeserving tone.
“There’s more. What else can I get you?” Betty asked, ready to move.
“Nothing. Please! This is great.”
Sitting, Betty explained, “We don’t have a lot, but the girls and I can always bake up a storm. And for what you’re doing for us, there is nothing we wouldn’t do, you know.”
Scott’s mouth was full, so he just shrugged and nodded. The two younger girls chimed in with their agreement. Jeannie held back, letting the others speak for her, the expression on her face one of apprehensive anticipation, or more accurately, hope. Betty looked to the younger two, then to Jeannie, while she spoke to Scott, then smiled at Jeannie. Scott sipped his tea, taking in the aroma.
Betty continued, “This will make all the difference in the world for Jeannie. She’s accepted at three universities but there’s no scholarship money for average people anymore it seems.” Betty’s smile faded momentarily as she remembered their predicament. Jeannie put on a brave smile when Scott looked up to her.
Scott had a momentary glimpse into the kitchen’s shrinking universe, each of the inhabitants having passed the peak of their buoyancy and were now feeling the gravitational pull toward their warm beds and retreat into sleep. It was late. Winter solstice was approaching. Rocky Butte, and more significantly, Scott’s destination, would soon experience the earth’s maximum tilt away from the sun, its warmth and light dwindling with each day becoming shorter and further from Los Alamos. Scott’s gaze slowly rotated back to Betty.
“You just let me know what everything costs you and I’ll wire you the money.”
“Betty, I can put the supplies on...” Scott started, wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“No. I will find it. You’re already sacrificing so much. Just leave it to me.” Betty reached to cover Scott’s hand with her own when he placed it back on the table, still clutching the crumpled tissue now smeared with chocolate and crumbs - evidence of the hospitality that permeated the Bee home.
Just then, sitting there, Scott remembered that he never paid Betty for his sessions with her. She had never asked him about it. He remembered now that Dan had said it was by donation only, but that Betty probably could use it, raising the three girls and all. Why hadn’t he remembered it before now? Was it a case of selective memory? Given the way he was being treated in this home, he was overcome with guilt. He opened his mouth to speak but Betty was watching him and knowingly took away his chance to come clean.
She said, “You have a big day ahead of you. Let’s get us all to beddy-bye before we become zombies and start eating each other’s flesh!”
The girls giggled and laughed and chastised her with a “Mom!” in unison. But Scott had seen what she’d done and wasn’t even sure if he would have gone through with an apology and offer to repay her. He immediately saw where that would probably have gone and gave up on it.
Scott could see that they were all flagging and made to heartily agree with Betty, rising and taking up his plate. She again interrupted him.
“Please, Scott, I’ll get that.”
As Betty slowly rose to clear the table, Jeannie quickly stepped in close to take Scott’s plate.
“Mom, I’ll get it.”, she said. “You can go get Scott set for tonight.” Jeannie’s eyes met Scott’s for the briefest of moments before dropping her gaze to the table, her face flushing. Scott shifted to look at Betty and yes, she had noticed the fleeting exchange and he also felt a rush of heat in his neck and cheeks, averting his own view to sweep across the room, coming to the other two girls who had paused in cleaning up, having noticed as well.
“I’ll get my stuff from the Jeep,” he said, quickly turning to escape the room. Betty chuckled, shaking her head as he walked from the kitchen toward the front door.