So back before I decided to become a chef, I got my degree in English from Hampden–Sydney College, with hopes of possibly either teaching or writing. Well, after college I applied to some grad schools for creative writing, then took some classes to get certified to teach; long story short, I’ve been in restaurants ever since. So I thought it would be fun to post my short story that was published while I was in college the first time, 14 years ago. Wow, 14 years really? Enjoy, the story is entitled “Follow Us,”a semi-autobiographical look at a wealthy Southern family.
“Hey Ben, thanks for letting me crash at your place for Thanksgiving.”
“No problem, I get tired of spending so much time alone with my parents. You should have fun though. My cousin Henry once said we put the fun in dysfunctional.”
Thanksgiving my friend Harrison was coming home to Raleigh to have dinner with our family because his mom and her new husband moved to Texas, and he didn’t want to pay for a plane ticket to go home for a few days. Harrison didn’t like his stepdad because he wouldn’t pay off his Visa for him (my dad wouldn’t either), and Harrison had to buy his own books at school. Harrison and I had known each other since we were freshman. We weren’t best friends, by a long shot, but he thought he was a cool guy to hang out with. He was from northern Virginia, and would always brag about the DC traffic. Harrison was 6’4″ with shaggy brown hair, but he put gel in it and slicked it back for some reason. He always wore flip flops, even during winter. I warned him about my family, because they could be dangerous.
After class on Tuesday, Harrison came over to my room and we loaded up my green Accord with our suitcases and other junk. I had two duffel bags full of laundry because I was too lazy to do it myself. Harrison asked me if it would be a problem if he brought some laundry to my house, and I told him not to worry because Lawanda would do our laundry.
“Who’s Lawanda, Ben?”
“Oh, she’s been working at our house since I was eleven or twelve. She’s actually pretty cool; she’s going to a community college in town.”
“We had a woman who did laundry and stuff when I was a kid, but my parents divorced.” “It’s great having one; I never have to do my laundry or anything.” “It’s great having Lawanda, she even helped me out with homework in high school.”
After we finished loading up, we pulled out, heading down Highway 15 for Raleigh. I would rather have had a new Explorer, but I got the Accord because my parents thought sport utility vehicles were dangerous. We had to get gas first, so we stopped at Poogie’s Mini Mart. I looked in my wallet to see it I had enough money for gas and I remembered that I forgot to cash a check.
“Hey Harrison, do you think you can get the gas? I forgot to cash a check.” “Sure thing, Ben, just pay me back when we get to Raleigh.”
“Thanks; will you get me one of those convenience store sandwiches– make it two chicken salad. Oh yeah, and a Pepsi also.”
“Fine, just make sure you pay me back.”
“I will, I’ll just ask my old man for some money.”
While I was driving, I gave Harrison the edited-version about holidays with my family, and how sharing our beach cottage with my aunt and uncle was great. The truth was I hated sharing a cottage with my aunt and her side of the family. I explained about how my sister would always drink too many screwdrivers and get in fights with my cousin. I also explained in detail how everyone on my aunt’s side of the family did not smoke, so they would always bitch about second hand smoke and how their lungs were being harmed.
The only way to get to Raleigh was to take Highway 15 South. It cut through Stovall and Bullock, towns with no stoplights but with convenience stores with names like Uppy’s. One of them had an enormous sign that said RUCK PARKING. A couple of black teenagers in baggy jeans were standing outside of a gas station in Bullock dribbling a basketball.
As we neared Clarksville, we were both getting hungry. We pulled into the drive-thru window at McDonald’s. I ordered a Big Mac Extra Value meal with a super sized Coke. Harrison told me to order him a small french fry and a medium coke. I gave the woman a ten Harrison handed me and she said I was short a dollar. Luckily, I had four quarters in my change compartment. After we got our food, I started the story again.
Once in Raleigh, I noticed all the new apartment complexes and offices being built. Harrison made a comment that there must be a lot of Mexicans in Raleigh with all the construction. As we neared my house, I got behind a black BMW, with three high school girls inside. Two of them were brunettes, and the third was a blonde. We crawled to a stop at a red light and the girls were looking at us and smiling. One of them appeared to grab something at her feet. She held up a sign that read “Follow Us.”
“Hey, I think they want us to follow them, Harrison,”
“Yeah, but aren’t your parents expecting us?”
“Who cares? Those girls are hot.”
The red light turned green and we followed them for about ten minutes. They signaled to turn right and they pulled into a Texaco. We followed and parked.
“Hey guys, we are lost. We need directions to Six Forks Road,” said the blonde.
“All you need to do is keep going straight, then take your third right.”
“Thanks so much, my boyfriend is expecting me,” smiled the blonde as she wrote down the directions.
One of the brunettes, whose name I think she said was Jenny or Jennifer, asked for Harrison’s number. I was mad that she didn’t ask me for my number, but I told Harrison my number so she could call him.
We pulled up the steep circular driveway of my house and I saw that Jake was mowing our lawn. He looked tired, and his torn green t-shirt had sweat stains underneath his armpits. Harrison commented on the size of my house. He said it was enormous. The house was a brick, Georgian style home with four Doric columns on the front porch, two ivy plants in black urns beside the front door, and a fountain in the middle of the front yard. Our home was where my grandparent’s house once.was. My grandparent’s house was one of the oldest in Raleigh, but my parents decided the land and location were too valuable, so they tore the house down and built their dream house.
I opened my car door and Harrison went to grab his bags. I told him to leave them in the car, that Lawanda would get them. I saw my mom and she sat her glass of Glen Ellen sauvignon blanc down and smiled as she saw me. My dad, Richard, wanted to buy stock in Glen Ellen because he said he could make a fortune. My mom gave me a hug and said it was good to have me home.
“So, Ben tells me you are from New Jersey?”
“No m’am, I’m from Northern Virginia.”
“Ben, you could have at least given me the right information.”
“I did, I said he was from Northern Virginia.”
“No you didn’t, I would have remembered if you had.”
Lawanda brought in our bags and dropped them on the hardwood floor as we were talking to my mom. I asked where dad was and she said he was in court today. My mom suggested I show Harrison around the house, so I began with the first floor. After showing him all the antiques my mom wanted to show off, I suggested we go upstairs.
“Do you want to take the stairs or the elevator?”
“I think I can manage the stairs, Ben. Thanks.”
After showing Harrison the shoe closet Emelda Marcos would be jealous of, the kitchen with a twelve burner stove, and the five car garage, we went out to the backyard. In the middle of the yard was a wrought iron arbor with greenery entangled in the iron. I worked in the yard last summer with Jake and hated every minute of it.
“Ben, so who lives here besides your alcoholic parents?”
“Very funny, Harrison, During the school year, just them. But during the summer and breaks, it’s me and my parents.”
“It sure is a lot of room just for two people.”
“You think so?”
“Yeah, I really do.”
Thanksgiving Day my sister Cathy, the screwdriver sister, arrived around eleven. She’s twenty-seven, and a waitress at an Italian restaurant my parents loved. Cathy was seeing some loser who was in his thirties, who claimed to be a restaurateur. He was actually one of those guys who calls when you are eating dinner and wants to sell you a new security system. My parents hated him because he wasn’t the type of guy they were hoping for. You know, college graduate, business suit, country club type.
As Cathy hugged me, I could smell the cigarettes. No wonder she had a boyfriend who was a telemarketer. She kissed me on the cheek and asked if I was still failing out of school. I introduced Harrison and she said she hoped he wasn’t sleeping in her bedroom. Cathy no longer lived with us, but during the holidays she would spend the night because she would usually be in no condition to drive home. We all went into the kitchen where my mom and dad were sipping on their first hard alcoholic beverage of the day. My dad was drinking a rum and diet coke with a lime. You could always tell how many drinks he had because of the number of limes in his glass. Some nights, his glass had more limes than ice cubes. The kitchen smelled of roasting turkey and stuffing, with a hint of candied yams. Harrison was quiet, just standing in the kitchen. My parents said they were expecting my Aunt Laura, and Uncle James, and my cousin Henry momentarily. Henry was in the twenties, about the same age as Cathy. He said he was going to be an architect, but always was one class short of the degree. I was the youngest, so when I was growing up I always sat at the children’s table with Henry and Cathy, who would get me in trouble by blaming everything on me. One Christmas they started a food fight, but of course I got the punishment.
As we were standing around the kitchen I heard a car horn beep a few times. It was my Aunt Laura and Uncle James, and Henry. They were loud as they were climbing out my uncle’s new Mercedes, bringing creamed corn, green beans, and other vegetables in the house. My uncle walked into the kitchen and wanted to know where the whiskey was. Uncle James was in his fifties, and owned his own construction company. Despite his apparent wealth, he was very cheap, When the whole family went out to dinner at four star restaurants, he would avoid the bill. However, if only a few of us went out and the meal was cheap, he would jump at the opportunity to pay the bill. The family was going be at our house for Thanksgiving dinner because last year it was it my aunt and uncle’s house in Henderson. A small town near the Virginia border, it was famous for its Wal-Mart Super Center. I hated going to their house for Thanksgiving, and especially Christmas. Even though it was only an hour away, I liked staying at home and sleeping in my own bed.
After everyone took off their coats and set the food down, they headed lit the bar. My dad had set out a bucket of ice with a silver scooper. A cutting Word full of sliced lemons and limes was beside the bucket of ice. Bottles of Bacardi, Stoli, and Jim Beam were sitting by themselves near the cutting board. A couple of bottles of club soda and tonic water were ready to be opened. The sound of the club soda opening was like a fresh can of tennis balls popping open.
As everyone was sipping on their drinks, we snacked on brie and port wine cheese with stone wheat crackers. Everyone would stand around and talk about work, or a new stock, or whatever else. Harrison seemed to loosen up as he had a few rum and cokes. My dad began grilling Harrison about what his major was, what his parents did, and what he wanted to do after college.
“So Harrison, do you play any golf?”
“Yeah, all the time. I’m on the golf team at school.”
“Really? We need to play while you are here. I would like to play more, but Ben doesn’t play golf. He thinks it is too boring. He prefers watching sports rather than participating.”
“Name the time, Sir, I’ll be ready.”
After my dad and Harrison finished talking about golf, my dad invited Harrison into his study to show him his collection of Civil War memorabilia—Old uniforms, rifles, bullets, flags, and other old junk. I was shocked, because my dad never showed his collection, certainly not to me. I was getting hungry, so I asked morn when dinner would be ready. She said whenever Lawanda said it was.
Around four, everyone sat down at the dining room table to eat dinner. The table was decorated beautifully, with a new set of china my mom bought especially for Thanksgiving. The turkey was sitting in the middle of the table, between two silver candelabras. Everything looked wonderful, too perfect to even touch, let alone eat. Uncle James said grace and we began passing around bowls of green beans and corn, as well as plates of sliced turkey and dinner rolls. I put a heaping portion of stuffing on my plate.
“Mom, the stuffing is cold.”
“I think it tastes wonderful. It’s a new recipe I read in Southern Living.”
I took another bite of the stuffing and took a helping of corn from a bowl beside me. I heard a crash and looked over at Harrison. He had spilled his goblet of red wine all over the white table cloth.
“I’m so sorry. It was an accident.”.
“It’s okay, Harrison,” my mom said as she walked over to where he was sitting. “It will come out.”
Harrison went into the kitchen and took a roll of paper towels and began to sop up all the wine.
“Hey Ben, see what you can learn from Harrison?” My dad said as he took a bite of turkey.
After dinner, Lawanda began picking up plates. Harrison grabbed his plate and went to take my mother’s plate into the kitchen. My morn smiled and thanked Harrison for taking her plate;
“Ben, Harrison has such wonderful manners, you should take note.”
“Mom, my manners are fine.”
“They could use a little work.”
My dad got up and went into the kitchen and asked Harrison if he wanted to go into by his study and have an Amaretto or a glass of scotch. Harrison followed my dad into his study. I was getting really annoyed. I heard a loud thump, followed by a yell. Everyone ran to the kitchen to see what happened, and my sister had fallen down and she was holding her wrist. Beside her was a broken glass with a splash of orange juice and vodka.
“Lawanda must have waxed the floors this week because they are slippery.”
“No, she waxed them a few weeks ago,” my mom said as she kneeled down.
Cathy was crying, “Mom, I think I broke my wrist.”
“Let me have a look at it,” Harrison said. He bent down examining her wrist. He asked her if it hurt here, then moved his hands and asked if it hurt another place.
“It appears that it is just a sprain, but l can’t be sure.”
“How do you know? You are just pre-med,” said my sister as mascara began to run-down her face.
“Well, I’ve been on the volunteer fire department at school for the last three years.
“Don’t even say anything, mom, I know you wanted me to do that.”
“What are you talking about, dear?”
My dad and Harrison drove Cathy to the hospital to get x-rays. I stayed at home and watched the NC State football game on ESPN. Later that night Cathy came home with a soft cast on her wrist. Harrison had been right. It wasn’t broken, just sprained.
Harrison and my dad went golfing early the next morning. My dad asked if I wanted to go because they needed a caddy. I declined. Cathy laid on the couch all day, and I waited on her all day. One minute she wanted a glass of water. The next she needed an ash tray. I was about to go nuts. They could keep Harrison.
Eventually, Sunday arrived and I packed up my clean laundry. I was hoping to leave around ten in the morning, but Harrison and my dad had another golf date. They came home around two, when I had the car already loaded up. Harrison took a shower and packed up his stuff. He came into the kitchen with bags in hand and began to thank my parents.
“Thank you for having me for Thanksgiving, I had a wonderful time. I was wondering, can I have your recipe for the stuffing, I want to give it to my mother.”
“Of course, Harrison, let me go get it,” My mom said as she hugged Harrison.
“I am very sorry about the tablecloth. I want to pay for the cleaners.”
“It was very nice having you. Thanks for all you did to help Cathy. If you had not been here I don’t know what we would have done. Don’t worry about the tablecloth, Harrison. We’ll get Ben to drop it off at the cleaners.”
As we were heading towards the front door, the phone rang.
“Harrison, the phone is for you. It sounds like a young lady.” My mom smiled as she handed him the phone.
“Harrison, it’s Susan. We met the other day.”
“Hey, how are you doing? It’s great you called.” Harrison put the phone on his shoulder to muffle the sound. “Ben, I’ll just be a few minutes, if that’s okay.”
Hope you enjoyed my first attempt at writing fiction. 27 blog posts later and I’m still going at it. Cheers foodies!