The Val & Kit Mystery Series

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Thanksgiving 1975)

“Mom!” I ran into the kitchen, where my mother was stirring cranberries in a small pan. “Buddy says you invited his friend for Thanksgiving.”

My mother looked up. “Why aren’t you dressed, Valerie?”

“I’m dressed,” I said, running my hand over my new, and totally awesome, polyester pants, which not only looked terrific but were so comfortable. “And why didn’t you tell me you were inviting Tom Haskins?”

“Oh, excuse me,” she said, not taking her eyes from the dark-red glob to which she was now adding walnuts. “I didn’t realize I had to check with my fourteen-year-old daughter before extending invitations to my very own house.” Was she being sarcastic? If so, it was a new side of her, and one I didn’t like.

“Mom, are you sure you meant to invite Tom?” I tried a new approach. “He’s wild, you know.” I knew she hated wildness, in any form, but prayed she didn’t want an example of Tom’s particular wildness, because I’d be hard-pressed to come up with one.

“How so, Valerie?” she asked. “Because I find that hard to believe. When he was here on Saturday, he helped me bring groceries in from the car, without my asking, and it was such a pleasure—especially since I have to pay my own children a small fortune in order to get them to lift a finger around here.” Okay, that surely was sarcasm, or maybe it was cynicism; either way, it was totally untrue.

Last Saturday, when I had watched my brother, Buddy, and his pal Tom from my bedroom window, I had hoped they wouldn’t linger. I was in no shape to be seen by Tom. My new winged hairstyle, à la Farrah Fawcett, refused to flip back correctly, even though I had clipped it in place while sleeping.

“And your hair?” my mother continued. “What is that supposed to be? Why is it sticking out?”

“It’s not done yet,” I said, although it was more than done. But if Tom Haskins was coming to dinner, I'd have to redo it.

My mother poured the cranberry contents from the pan into a glass dish shaped like a swan. “Go change, Valerie,” she said. “Wear a dress or a skirt, not pants.”

An hour later I reappeared in the kitchen, where my Mom was now peeling potatoes. I was wearing my fabulous new brown corduroy jumper and cream-colored turtleneck. “That’s a little better,” she said, glancing in my direction. “Now go start setting the table.”

She’d already set the table, of course, probably the night before, while I was in my room listening to “Born to Run,” which actually belonged to my brother, and talking on the phone to Kit, my best friend. But now I wandered around the dining room imagining Tom Haskins eating turkey and green bean casserole in my house.

No doubt about it, Tom was the coolest boy in our school. Even if he did make me very nervous whenever he spoke directly to me, which wasn’t that often. I tried to make it sound like no big deal to the other girls at school that he was best friends with my brother, but I knew that gave me a little extra clout. With everyone except Kit, of course, who told me she thought he was obnoxious.

“What is that smell?” My mother wrinkled her nose as she came into the dining room with an empty bread basket. Obviously, she was referring to my Charlie perfume, which I may have gone a little overboard with; but I loved it so.

“Where shall we seat Tom?” I asked, ignoring her still-wrinkled nose. “In between Buddy and me,” I answered my own question, but I immediately began feeling even more nervous. What would I talk about?

“For heaven’s sake, he can sit anywhere he wants, although he might need a surgical face mask to combat that cologne you’re wearing.”

In the remaining few hours before our guests (fourteen in total) were due to arrive, I scoured my dad’s newspaper for interesting topics to chat with Tom about, changed clothes twice (settling on my mom’s new Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, which was a little too tight for me, but pleased my mother), and then for good measure, I resprayed some more Charlie.

At two o’clock, the appointed hour, everyone had arrived except Buddy and his pal. When I heard the back door in the kitchen open, I elegantly made my way toward it, tugging at my mother’s dress, which I noticed rode up unflatteringly when I sat down.

Buddy was alone.

“Where’s Tom?” I tried not to appear disappointed. “I thought he was with you.”

“Yeah,” Buddy said. “He couldn’t make it.”

First, I let out a huge sigh of relief, then immediately regretted the time I’d wasted learning interesting facts about the Vietnam War, Patty Hearst, and the plot of Jaws. “He’s not coming?” I asked.

“He went skiing. Last-minute thing. No big deal.

“How rude,” I said. But I was already heading up to my bedroom to change back into my polyester pants.