“These aren’t mine. They, well, yes they are in my drawer…but still that doesn’t mean. I don’t wear…nor would I be caught. Look, I know how they got here. My-” What the hell was I explaining any of this to Jagger for? Or make that trying to explain to him. I didn’t owe him any explanations for anything-even sexy lingerie.
Besides, he’d never believe that Stella Sokol sabotaged her single-make that never married-childless daughter like that.
I could hardly believe it.
With my hip, I shoved the drawer closed and walked to the door, being very careful not to even brush against any part of Jagger while I headed past him. Over my shoulder I said, “I have to go make dinner for my family.”
My legs barely got me down the stairs as my knees kept trying to buckle under the embarrassing scene I’d just lived through. But I knew if I even acknowledged it to Jagger, I’d be a goner.
He followed me downstairs, gave a quick hug to Spanky, and we were out the door in silence-thank the good Lord-and soon on the way to 171 David Drive.
And I thought the lingerie thing was a nightmare.
“I salted the pork just like you said, Mother,” I repeated as I rolled my eyes. If she told me one more thing about how to cook a meal, I might not be responsible for my actions.
She leaned over the aquamarine Formica counter. “More pepper.”
My teeth clamped down inside my lips so nothing could come out. I grabbed the pepper shaker and shook until the damn pork was speckled in so much black and gray that it was unrecognizable.
Jagger had the audacity to sit next to my mother, take a sip of his Budweiser and grin.
I shook the pepper shaker in the air above the pan and blew a bit in his direction.
Once he started sneezing, I felt much better.
Finally my mother gave me the okay to set the table while potatoes boiled, pork roasted, and corn sat at the ready to be heated. How I wanted to corner her and get the naughty lingerie truth out of her, but she made herself look so pathetic sitting on the counter stools next to Jagger, sipping her cream sherry while he helped her get comfortable with the pink cast.
I shook my head and politely excused myself before I exploded. When I went into the living room to find my purse, I smiled at a sleeping Uncle Walt on the couch and my father reading the newspaper (for the past three hours I might add) as if the most exciting things had happened around Hope Valley that day.
“Hey, Daddy.” I reached into my bag and got out my cell phone. From the corner of my eye I could see Jagger laughing with Stella Sokol and decided I had to do something.
Daddy muttered a few unintelligible words.
Uncle Walt snored, and I hurried down the hallway, opening the bathroom door and ducking inside. There on the back of the commode was what I needed.
Mother’s pine-scented Renuzit.
I sprayed a few puffs into the air and sat on the edge of the bathtub with phone in hand. Suddenly I felt a bit more relaxed, as if my Prozac had kicked in although I didn’t take Prozac or any other medication. As usual, the nostalgic pine scent did the trick.
When I searched through my cell phone book, I found Scarpello and Tonelli Insurance Company and poked the button.
Adele Girard, French Canadian and like a second mother to me although in a very different sort of way, still had a slight accent even though she’d lived in the States for some time. Actually this is where she’d spent years in prison-which was another story and one that always made me root for her even though she had broken the law to pay for her mother’s chemotherapy. Tough call, but a broken law was a broken law.
“Hey, Adele. It’s me. Pauline.”
“Oh, ch'eri, we miss you. How is it going in Newport?”
“Actually that’s why I called you. I need your help.” After I filled in Adele about Olivia Wheaton-Chandler and asked her to run any kind of check on the woman that she could find, I at least felt as if I was doing my job. Being the doll that she was, Adele assured me she would get right on it and not tell Fabio that I was back in town. She was excellent in her job, with contacts reaching far and wide. I could always rely on Adele.
I’m sure that wouldn’t sit well with Fabio since private investigators didn’t get weekends off.
After letting the pine scent waft around me, I gathered up what mental faculties I had left and went out into the kitchen.
Mother was instructing Jagger on how to set the table!
I stood in the doorway and watched, barely believing my eyes as he took each order in stride and did as told to perfection.
Why was it that Stella Sokol could get so much out of him while I couldn’t even find out if he had a last name or a first name? Well, I had to admit, now I was more determined to find out a lot more about one Jagger. A.k.a. Jagger.
“Don’t just stand there, Pauline. Start the gravy,” Mother said.
I looked at the pink cast and cursed in my head.
Jagger grinned at me. Yes, the man could read my mind. That fact, sad but true, was proven over and over with him.
“Sure, Mom.” I turned to hurry into the kitchen. Maybe I could get the gravy done before they came in.
The door swung open just as I was bending down to look in the cabinet below the counter. “Where is the gravy, Mom?”
I heard a throat clear and swung up just in time to smack my head on the counter. “Ouch!”
Jagger Whoever stood there, grinning yet again.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you if you make a face like that it will freeze?” I asked, rubbing my head to feel for a bump or fresh blood.
“Excuse me?” He walked closer until we were eye-to-eye.
“Never mind,” I said and started to bend down again, all the while rubbing the top of my head.
Jagger took my arm and pulled me back up. Then he touched the top of my head and said, “Sorry about that.”
For a second my usually brilliant mind turned to gravy. “The gravy!” I yelled, very thankful for the stupid diversion. “I have to find it before Mother comes in. Where is she anyway?” I leaned past him to see if the Gestapo mother was on her way in.
“Your mother is in the living room. She said she’d be here in a few minutes to help.” He smiled.
I pushed his hand away from my head before the top started to burn from his touch. How pathetic was I? Maybe I should start using the thongs. Geez, I couldn’t even think about those garments with Jagger so close. “I have to make the…”
What the hell was I going to do?
He looked at me, and I swear wanted to grin. “Gravy, Sherlock. You are in here to make some gravy. You know, that pork smells good. Think it’s done?”
I pushed at his chest. “Don’t you start. Don’t tell me how to cook. I know when a pork roast is done.”
“The longer you cook a pork roast, Pauline, the more tender it becomes,” Mother said, walking in.
I hoped she didn’t see me touching Jagger even if it was only a poke. “Right. Cook longer. Yeah, got it, Ma.”
“Mother,” she corrected and perched herself on the “observation” stool.
Jagger sat next to her.
I growled inside and bent down again, this time being very careful about my head. “So where is the gravy, Mother?”
I stuck my head out of the cabinet and repeated, “The gravy? I don’t see any.”
“Pauline Sokol. How could you see something you haven’t even made yet. I think that job is way too much for you. You need to go back to nursing, so you’ll remember you don’t find gravy under a counter.”
I shook my head and ignored Jagger’s look. “I’m happy in my job and thought you’d keep the cans of gravy down here with the cans of vegetables.”
Obviously in order not to grin like a fool, Jagger bit his lip. “Where I come from, gravy is made from scratch with the drippings from the meat,” he said.
I reached inside the cabinet for a can of anything to fling in his direction.
“Pauliiiiiiiine,” Mother said.
Soon my hand was back, empty, and I was standing up. “Okay, I give. How the hell do you make gravy?”
“Stop using that longshoreman language, Pauline, and I’ll walk you through it.”
For some reason I was more amazed that Stella Sokol used the term “walk you through it” than the fact that she thought “hell” was used by long-shoremen.
I stared at the tiny white lumps in the pan. Oh…my…God. Mother was not going to ever let me forget about this. When I took the spoon and started to poke at them, hoping against hope that they’d dissolve, I watched them pop back up like little inner tubs afloat in a sea of mud.
Pauline’s homemade gravy. Yum.
At least I’d been successful (and had the foresight) to shoo Jagger and my mother out of the room earlier with the pretense of having appetizers in the living room after throwing a few slices of cheese and crackers on Mom’s wooden cutting board.
Actually I think at least one of them was glad to leave.
Mother, however, kept kibitzing from the living room.
The gravy stared back at me and bubbled. Twice.
There had to be some secret, some trick that she deliberately didn’t tell me so I’d fail at this chore. Mother was not a vindictive person, far from it, but cooking was her life and her main function in this world-and I’d bet my last paycheck that she didn’t want anyone taking over the lead.
A splatter of gravy sputtered into the air, landing on the front of my top.
Mother had nothing to worry about.
“Pauline, I’m getting very hungry,” she said.
“Have another cracker and cheese, Ma.” Okay, I called her that deliberately so she’d start to fume in the living room and forget that I was in the kitchen from hell speckled in brown.
Suddenly I had an idea and grabbed my cell phone from my pocket. I hated to disturb anyone but this was an emergency.
“Miles, I need help now!” I whispered into the phone, still managing to sound as if I were drowning in the damn gravy.
“Oh, God. What is wrong, Pauline!”
“Sorry. I don’t mean to alarm you, Miles. Tell Gold hi for me. Hope you two are having a ball, but I have a food emergency-”
“Oh, Lord, Pauline. I never should have let you go to your mother’s house to help out cooking alone. It’s all my fault.” I could hear him interpreting every part of our call for Goldie in the background, who occasionally shrieked or gasped. And why wouldn’t he?
They knew my mother very well, and knew me even better.
After several minutes of Miles’s instructions on how to revive a dying pan of pork gravy, I searched through the kitchen for his suggestion of a strainer. Everything I found had holes that looked way too big for what I needed. The tiny clots of flour would just pass right through.
Wait. I had visions of working the renal unit back in my nursing days and thought about straining for kidney stones. Now a kidney stone was the size of an uncooked piece of rice that tried to pass through a piece of spaghetti-uncooked too. So that theory might apply here.
Maybe my nursing skills really were still useful.
I looked around the kitchen and found the only thing that seemed plausible to use. Mother’s white dish towel. Had to be cotton. Had to be clean as a whistle since it was in the drawer, and had to be dye-free since it was white.
I draped it over a bowl in the sink, poured the mess of clots into it, and stepped back.
“I’m guessing your family wants to eat this century.”
I swung around to see Jagger only inches away, looking at my invention.
“Dinner will be served in a few seconds.” I turned away and looked at the gravy.
Not one clot had budged. It seemed rather thick.
“Damn it, Jag-” I looked over my shoulder.
Once again my buddy had disappeared like the north wind.
After many minutes, which, of course, there at 171 David Drive felt like years, I threw in the towel. Literally. I threw the entire mess into the garbage and decided I was going to tell my folks that gravy had way too much fat in it and their cholesterol levels might skyrocket if they ate it, so I was cooking “heart healthy” tonight. Gravyless pork.
It looked naked on the serving platter.
I sucked in a breath, blew it out as if that would give me more courage, and started to shout, “Dinner is-”
“Going to be in five minutes,” Jagger finished from behind.
I swung around to chastise him when I looked at his hands.
Two cans of pork gravy.
Before I could think, I swung my arms around his neck, winced when the gravy cans poked into my chest but managed a smack of thanks on his lips…that I will always remember.
Mother tried to cut her meat using her cast-covered arm and following my instructions. She managed to get most of it cut since it was so overdone the pulled pork fell off the bones. I kept encouraging her to do things herself, knowing that I couldn’t stay any longer than tomorrow.
Thank the good Lord.
Daddy did his best to help, and before the meal was done and Uncle Walt had taken his usual nap at the dining room table, Stella Sokol had gone from wounded martyr mother to accomplished pink-cast-covered heroine who could care for her family despite rain, sleet, snow or fractured humerus.
You go girl!
And I could go too.
Mother, who was reaching for another helping of my “gravy,” looked at me. “None of those phone things at the table, Pauline. Where are your manners?”
The hours I’d slaved over the meal got to me. “I have perfect manners, Ma, but this is business.” I got up, took my phone and went toward the hallway. “Hey, Adele. What’s going on?”
Jagger must have heard me talking because before Adele could tell me about her daughter coming to town, he was at my back.
“So, ch'eri, you must meet Lilla. She is a darling-most of the time.”
I smiled to myself. “I’d love to. And about Mrs. Wheaton-Chandler?”
Damn, Fabio probably had the cheapest phone service available. “Adele? Adele?”
“I am here, ch'eri.”
“Oh, thought I’d lost the connection.” I turned my shoulder away from Jagger to give him the hint that this was a private conversation. Too eager to hear what Adele had to say, I didn’t want to argue with him right then. “So? What do you know about Olivia Wheaton-Chandler?”
“She didn’t exist twenty years ago.”