The Dinner Club, Part 2
As the tables clear out and things wind down in the back, I catch Veva’s eye, her sun gold smile that of a true friend.
“I’m so glad you’re here, Katey.”
“I’m glad you’re here,” I say.
Veva laughs through her smile, this full and deep laugh that is totally her own, and it could be winter two years ago, Eichelberger at her side and a bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey to spike the tea. But we’re both two years older, a few heartbreaks a piece under our belts since then and successes in clay and writing as well. It would be a mistake to put us back there, into the past, but that is what my mind wants to do because what I want more than anything in this moment that I’m listening to her laugh is to believe that she doesn’t have breast cancer.
“Veva—“ I pause. “Veva—the world dances at your feet!”
“I’m dancing over here!” Lindsay shouts from the station of toaster ovens. “This meal is en fuego,” She points at Veva and winks. “En fuego.”
When only one table remains, community members who’ve finished their meal and are just sipping their wine, enjoying the atmosphere, Veva decides that it is time for us to eat. “Katey, go back in the dishroom and get everybody. Tell them we’re going to eat family style out in the dining area.”
I nod and spread the word and sometime around 10 p.m. we sit down to dinner. There’s about ten of us but we all squeeze around one table and fill our plates. “A toast!” somebody says, and Pablo raises his glass. “A toast, to our meandering paths and the times they get to cross and bring us all together”
And then it is quiet all but the sound of cutlery on plates and a few oohs and aahs. “I was wondering what all our customers were experiencing all night,” says Cristina. “This tastes amazing!”
“Another toast,” I say. “To the woman of the hour!”
“To the woman of the hour!” a chorus replies.
“We love you Veva,” Linsday says.
“To Veva,” I say. “And her beautiful smile.”
“Chin, chin! Salud! Cheers! Chin, chin!”
It’s not until we start in on the sorbet that Cristina remembers the raffle.
“Ok everybody,” she says, rising from her seat. “You’re each going to draw a name out of the bucket and we’re going to have a throwing contest.”
“A what?” says Matt.
“Whoever can throw their raffle ticket the farthest, well, that’s the ticket that wins. You can fold them, crumple them, I don’t know—whatever. But you have two minutes, so, GO!”
Ery and I start folding our tickets into paper airplanes immediately. On my right, Matt’s folding his into a triangle-shaped football for flicking. There’s not time to see what others are planning and before I know it we’ve all got our backs against the wall and Cristina is counting down, “Three! Two! One! THROW!”
Ross leaps from the line to be the judge and we think we have a winner, Matt’s flicking method far outserving the rest of us.
“Over there, wait!” Ery says. “Behind the door, Ross. Mine went behind the door.”
Indeed, the last raffle and the farthest raffle had slid along the floor, under the seam of the door and into the back corner of the room, outdistancing Matt’s by a good foot. Ross unfolds the paper airplane ticket and as if the evening weren’t perfect enough: “Veva wins!” he shouts. “It’s Veva’s raffle ticket!”
We clean until midnight and I think my favorite moment is finding Ross, relieved of dish duty, dancing with Casper the dog in the dining area. He’s got the music cranked impossibly loud and I come around the corner with a broom and nearly run right into him. In a flat second we’re face to face, Casper nipping at our toes as we dance to Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab:” They tried to make go to rehab, I said No, no, no. Ross closes his eyes and raises his arms, singing at the top of his lungs, and we could be gospel on the mountaintop.
When the last light is turned off, everybody piles down the porch steps and into the parking lot. Some stay on campus for a dance party further up the ridge, others head back home to families. Veva ‘s in the passenger seat of Cristina’s car and she opens the door, reaching for a hug. Her flight leaves tomorrow from and this is the last time I’ll see her for a while.
“I love you, Katey,” she says. “I love you. Thank you for everything. I’m so glad we got to spend time together.”
She’s holding my hand and I bring my other hand to her breast, raising it up to where the lump is. And there, right there, I cup my hand and imagine all the heat and heart and health I have in me. I imagine it, like clear, white light, pouring through my palm and into her body. It’s completely dark out and the intimacy of this gesture cannot be seen by anyone else in the car. I lean down to kiss her and I am not sad, only determined. “Look at all of this that’s come together because of you. Look at all this liveliness, this energy. Even the colors of the food, the generous cause, the way everything just flowed. You made that happen. That’s what you’re good at. It’s what you give back to the world. Do you see it? Do you see all this life?”
She’s sniffling now, but I can just make out the edges of her smile. “Yes,” she says. “Yes.”
I bring my other hand to her breast. “That’s you. Life.”
“Life,” she says, and when I close the door to wave goodbye, I watch the headlights all the way down the road, like two eyes glowing, determined to cut through the darkness, and I know that she will make it home. Safe and sound. I know that she will find her way.