Thunderbeck’s Machine (3 of 3)


I notice when Sandy tries to get Liz gossiping (“Do you hear what they’re talking about? Can you believe it?”) and Liz does too. Sandy is clearly homophobic and definitely bad at whispering; she is forever being overheard. Liz must have felt for Stephanie, cause she shuts Sandy up by leaving the table abruptly. She covers her movement by advising Charlie to start some hot dogs for the kids, and she joins me and Stephanie while Charlie gets to work.

I contribute to the social salvage. “So how are you doing?” I ask Liz. “Charlie tells me you love to entertain.”

“Say what?”

“You mean I was misinformed?”

“I wish my time at home could be for me. Every time I turn around, Charlie’s inviting people over. Now it’s his brother’s family, but it can be visitors at work, acquaintances who were once college friends but he hasn’t seen in fifteen years, whatever. He needs people to like him; he’s got to be the superhost. And he expects me to be his partner in all of it.” She shifts her weight from leg to leg, as if she were barefoot on hot sand. She gulps her margarita.

“Is he still working as hard as he was? Or did you give him Hank’s number?”

“Still working. Oh, I’m not going to tell him about Hank’s deal. I know Hank too well. Charlie would not like him. There’s no point in even telling Charlie about that job. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

From what I’ve heard, the job with Hank would be great for Charlie. I’m thinking Liz may be underestimating Charlie’s ability to deal with different personalities. I feel sorry that she’s filtering for him. But I take a moment to come up with a nice way to say that (instead of my usual blurt), and while I do, the conversation shifts.

“Look at the puppies,” Stephanie coos. Tristan has tempted Anya to resume play, and the dogs are starting to frolic around on the lawn.

“Maybe the smell of cooking meat revived them,” I suggest, and that becomes my exit line as I cross the deck to Charlie. He’s brought out a big plate of franks and he’s poking half a dozen of them around on the rack of the barbecue. The others wait on a low table behind him.

“These are for the kids, Tommy.”

“Maybe some, but you and I are still kids enough to need ‘em too.” We watch the franks start to blister, and we salivate. “You know,” I continue, “I think I actually prefer the dogs to the burgers. It’s true I don’t know what’s in them, but I like the neatness of the package. I always know what size they’ll be.” Or maybe it’s just that Charlie, with his usual expansiveness, makes the burgers too big. He’s definitely a more-is-better guy. I don’t say that.

“You’re right. Let’s have some. Liz says we should wait for my parents, but I want a hot dog.” He sounds almost petulant. “Shit. My brother comes early. My parents come late. Liz is in a mood and she’s about to hit the vodka. I need more pot.” Charlie turns the franks again. They’re bulging all around and almost ready. He puts six buns on the grill.

“Candace has a theory.” I’ve stepped to the cooler and hand him an open Red Rock. “She says if it’s true that there’s an impulse gene, then there’s probably a patience gene too. She thinks different people live at different rates. We’ve been talking about it a lot lately. I think she may have something. We all know about respecting another’s space, but what about respecting the rate at which another feels?”

Charlie looks at me like I’ve lost it. “You and Candace have strange chats,” he says, as he inserts each hot dog into a toasted sesame bun. He calls Brad and Scott over and gives them two apiece. He hands one to me and takes the last one himself. We hear Liz complain to Stephanie about her hot feet as we take our first bites. Reduced fat oozes deliciously. While we savor our food, Tristan and Anya move quietly behind us and eat all the uncooked franks.

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