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The Stepdaughter MAG
It was a working woman's dinner: spaghetti from a blue boxand vegetables from a plastic baggie in the freezer. But I couldn't blame her,the way we showed up, Annie with her, "Surprise!" and Travis with his,"Patty, Patty, Patty!" I just hung back on the sidewalk, hands shoveddeep into the pockets of my wool pea coat. I was always cold, despite the Arizonasun.
Annie introduced me as the "stepdaughter," but it didn'tfaze me. It was what I was, and it wasn't like I wanted to be her realdaughter.
Patty flashed a phony smile at my half-brother as he racedaround the tiled hallways. Still in her work clothes, her heels clicked as shebustled around the kitchen. Feeling entirely out of place, I busied myself with abowl of sugar snap peas.
"So," Annie began, reaching for a peapod, "How's Steve?" Patty's face lit up as she answered. You'd think hewas some kind of god, the way she talked about him. "Steve fixed this,"or "It was all Steve's idea ... " For some reason I found it funny.Steve. I even found the name entertaining. It reminded me of some dorky cartooncharacter with big black glasses, braces and buck teeth.
"Hey,Travis, would you like to watch a movie?" Patty offered, in her squeakyvoice. Travis sat down in front of the big-screen television and"Fantasia." Every so often, he would come tromping down the hallway,screeching, "Mommy! Come watch this part!" Annie would excuse herself,and follow him to the family room. That left me alone at the table, breakingsmall pea pods in two and popping them into my mouth.
Patty was at thestove, pulling her thick gray-blond hair away from her face. She ripped open theblue box and dumped its contents into the bubbling water. She peered at me withnervous blue eyes, obviously feeling obligated to start a conversation with theteenager who had suddenly become part of her best friend's family.
Ibroke another pod, and waited for the, "So, how'sschool?"
"So, what did you do this summer?" A variation.They all ask the same questions. She poured herself a cup of tea, and sat downacross from me. I put on a fake smile and said, "Well, I worked this summer,and ... "
She seemed pleased with that, and began chatting away aboutnothing in particular - her dogs and Steve. I zoned out.
Patty was thetype of woman who could have a conversation with a mime. All she needed was somekind of facial expression and she just kept on talking. My smile and nod becameinvoluntary actions and, bored with listening, I began to study her face.
On opposite sides of her large, protruding nose, small blue eyes were pushedback into her head. It gave her a pig-like look. Her teeth were like piano keys,much too big for her mouth. Maybe a little wrinkle cream, some blush, liner forthose thin red lips; there was room for improvement.
Annie interrupted mythoughts as she entered the kitchen, rolling up her sleeves.
"Whatthree-year-olds find funny," she chuckled. Patty laughed hysterically, ahigh-pitched, hyena laugh.
"So, Pat, how do you like your newjob?" Annie started, dipping a spoon into the pot of Ragu sauce. "Mmm,this is simply fabulous!"
"Steve made it," Patty responded,pushing back her chair and heading toward the stove. I ducked my head, trying tohide my smile behind a curtain of dark hair.
"It's going okay, Iguess ... "
I began daydreaming about what it would be like to livein this immense, Spanish-style house. It was so elegant! Patty did have a knackfor decorating. I glanced at the sidewall. Well, except for one thing.
Inthe cab on the way here, Annie had proclaimed Patty's art collection "simplyfabulous." To Annie, everything is simply fabulous, so that didn't say much.Looking at that wall, I just didn't see the point in spending thousands ofdollars on a painting of a block of cheese.
"But I don't know if theywere planning on selling or not. It just went back and forth between yes and no,and I really couldn't take it anymore!"
"That's too bad, suchstress!"
"I know! And it took forever to close the Milleraccount ... "
There were no more pea pods in the bowl. Getting upfrom the table, I sauntered down the hallway to the TV room.
"Hey, Travis, whatcha doing?" I found it kind of funny: I was leavingtwo 40-somethings to seek intelligent conversation with a three-year-old.
Hippos and alligators danced across the screen. Travis cracked up, giggling. Hehad the sweetest laugh, much more pleasant than Patty the hyena. I sat him on mylap, and we watched together until Annie appeared at the door.
"Dinner!" she sang sweetly. "Wow, the picture on this TV is simplyfabulous!" We walked to the kitchen. Sitting at the wooden table, I took abite of my spaghetti. It was a little hard. I peered across the table at Patty,who was looking eagerly to see our reactions. I glanced down at the food.
It was a working woman's dinner; I couldn't blame her.