Flash-forward from Richard's dinner party for his job
Richard arrived with a stem of red orchids for Erica and early sunflowers for the table. Rachel served them a dinner of rye-crust pizza with morels and artichoke hearts and tomato slices. She uncorked a bottle of red wine and excused herself for a night out. Richard commented on the figurine, saying the two of their mothers would get along, his mother a New Age therapist in Santa Fe. "I love the flowers," Erica said, holding the small branch and turning it slowly. "I go to the botany department's greenhouse at school to look at the orchids."
"Do you study botany?"
"Spanish," she lulled, "just home from a year in Mexico City. I'd like to go back another year, but the degree only gives credit for one, en España o en México."
"Do they offer it for South America?"
"They do for the cultural studies program, but the Spanish major is language and literature."
"I took French in high school but I haven't used it since then."
"Did you take a language in college?"
"The BA requires it but I went the BS route, and then the same degree as your mum."
"Yes," Richard laughed, "it's a mouthful." Asking about her interests, Erica said she liked classical and alternative country and contemporary Jamaican reggae. Richard wondered about the former. "Mainly Jolie Holland and Hank Williams and Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zandt." She placed the branch of orchids into the vase with the sunflowers. "I like Americana, too. Normally it means alternative country, but the picture is larger, say, North American." Richard laughed again and Erica blushed imperceptibly. "My mom says you like the ballet."
"I do, yes," he said.
"That was the first thing she told me about you."
"She must have said good things, since I’m here."
Erica smiled with warmth, sipping her wine. "I took ballet classes for two years," she said, pointing to a picture of herself in the fifth grade wearing a tutu. "Yes," Richard said, "I saw the photos at the dinner party when your mom hired me. You are very lovely."
Erica was silent, sipping her wine. Richard commented on the pizza. "My mom makes a lot of vegetarian pizza," she said. "I think the sauce is some kind of garlic butter and sour cream, so I guess it's not really vegan with the dairy stuff."
"Are you vegetarian?"
"Always," she said, finding a cheese-coated morsel on the pizza and placing it in her mouth, then asking Richard if he liked baseball. "I followed it as a kid," he said, “but I’m not a big sports fan anymore."
"My dad was drafted by the White Sox, then by the war."
"Ouch," Richard said. "What happened?"
"He went to war."
"Did he come back?"
"Did he get to play afterwards?"
"What does he do?"
"He runs an airport and crop dusting business in Kansas. Next week I'm sailing to Belize with him and his new girlfriend."
"Sounds like fun."
"Hum," she said. "What about you? Your mom does therapy?"
"Spiritual, new age energy therapy. Most of her clients feel good, just want to feel even better. Nice work if you can get it. My dad runs a construction company in Phoenix. They divorced when I was ten."
"I took a class on marriage in grad school," Richard said, making a stoic face. "By my favorite professor, so I knew it was worth it."
After dinner, Erica put music on in the front room, seating herself on the couch by Richard. Outside in the street, the neighbor boys were skateboarding, attempting to jump the boards vertically, tottering and falling, rocketing the boards back to the curb. "I used to babysit them when they were little," she said. The boys’ mother looked up from a book and a lawn chair, waved at Erica, the late afternoon sun falling on her through the window. She waved back and Richard stood beside her. The boys in the street looked and waved excitedly, one of them flexing his small, bare torso like a bodybuilder, grinning fiercely at her.
She opened the front door and stepped out on the porch with Richard, greeted the boys as they ran up the steps, their mother following from across the street, introducing herself to Richard. "Look how strong I am," said the boy, flexing again. His mother laughed. "You boys go back and play," then asking Erica about her year in Mexico, then asking about Richard. "It's a blind date," Erica said. "My mom set us up." The woman laughed, saying she'd have to grab Rachel for the whole story sometime, and wishing them a good evening, went back to her book.
Richard wanted Erica to walk around the neighborhood. She went in to change her shoes. "What do you think?" she said, returning, lifting her left foot in a sandal made of canvas straps and used bicycle tires. "I bought them on the street in Mexico City."
"I like it," Richard said. "Looks like a day's work."
"It would surprise you,” she laughed. “There is no end.”
"My mom calls Mexico the gateway to the universe."
"Why is that?"
"I don't know."
"That’s interesting." She and Richard began to walk, the boys making woo sounds at them. There was a park by a pond in the middle of the neighborhood where they sat and talked for an hour or more, making it back to her doorstep by dusk. "Could I see you again?" asked Richard.
"Yes," she said. "When is it?"
Richard kissed her. Erica embraced him.