Karen’s last day at work until after the wedding was hectic. She had a rather complex if repetitive job, but by 4:30 she had things sewn up. It was going to be a big night what with meeting Kurt’s parents for the first time at her house for dinner. He had repeatedly told her they could just go out, but Karen was determined to show them how competent and charming she was by working all day and then being the perfect hostess. They would bless the day that Kurt found such an amazing bride among the melons in Food Faire!
“Hell’s bells!” Karen thought when the phone rang at 4:58. She was already locking up her desk and checking her lipstick. And of all people in the universe it was Chad, he who had dumped her unceremoniously over a soggy salad eleven months ago. She brusquely told him she was on her way out and asked what he wanted. (Maybe I should be nicer? she thought.) “I need to see you. Can you meet me at the Joint. Please come. Just a few minutes. At 5:20?” Karen nearly told him she was engaged and the wedding was next week, but she wisely thought that there is absolutely no reason to reveal anything. No discussions, please! In and out. That’s it! And then she felt guilty because really he wasn’t so bad. They’d had happy, tender moments. He’s just a selfish jerk, but even jerks deserve two minutes of kindness, don’t they? It couldn’t hurt. How about real closure too? He had sort of dumped and trucked that day. Did she need more? Where was Oprah when you could use her?
“Okay. I have exactly two minutes for you. Don’t order me a coffee. I have plans and HAVE to go.” She put down the phone and immediately wondered if she’d regret this (possibly) or laugh about it later (probably) or tell Kurt (of course!) or not (maybe?). See how upsetting Chad could be? How lucky she was to be through with this loser!
The Java Joint was their old haunt. Chad was at a tiny table near the door where they had sat a zillion times, and his face was imploring and penitent, about as serious as Chad could muster with his tiny emotional capacity, Karen thought. Be nice, girl! “Hey, Karen, you look great! Thanks for coming. I’ve missed you so much. So much.” Not starting well, thought Karen.
“So what’s up, Chad? I have to go.” Karen looked at her watch and, half-listening to him when he started talking, calculated how she could save a few moments later with her party countdown.
“Karen, just give me a sec. You know, you were really the best thing that ever happened in my stupid life. I was so wrong to dump you. I have a new job at Belwyn’s Tires and I’m doing really well. If only you’d give me another shot, baby. I am so much wiser now. I still love you. Always have.” He cocked his head slightly like a spaniel.
Most of the prep was done already. Table set, lasagna made, clothes picked out and pressed, her mind droned on another moment like this checking mental boxes when she realized Chad had stopped talking and was staring at her, now with some hope in his puppy eyes. Goodness, did he think she was listening seriously to him? But she had heard him like background noise. “Listen, Chad. I’m so flattered, but I know you’ll find a nice girl soon. Maybe buying tires or something. Great news about the job. I have to go now, really I do.” She reached out and patted his left hand. Ciao, baby! she thought.
Before she could make it to the door, Chad grabbed her shoulders from the back, quickly turned her, and pulled her in for a kiss for which she was totally unprepared. Her purse fell from her shoulder to her elbow, she was half twisted at the torso, and he smacked her right on the lips. You gotta be kidding, thought Karen. She wriggled free and turned with a jerk, running right into an older couple coming through the door. “So sorry!” Karen cried out, blushing instantly. “Well, Honey, don’t just leave him standing there! Take him with you!” the woman cooed to Karen. “Oh, no! So sorry! This was nothing. Sorry!” Karen fled; that was the only word for it.
Kurt arrived at 6:15 to help her and see if she needed calming down. But Karen (who it turned out did not mention Chad to him) was determined and ready (amazing! she thought) to be a calm, confident, convivial hostess and future in-law. Everything seemed just perfect (as it always is with Kurt! she thought!): Her hair had stayed up where she put it (more sophisticated), her simple dress and tiny necklace (but see how sweet I am too!), the smell of lasagna baking (so domestic as well!), and the ironed napkins and tiny bouquet on the table (such taste!). He opened a bottle of red he had brought, polished four wine glasses carefully, and got a tray of artisanal cheeses (a splurge) from the fridge. “Everything looks great, Angel, and so do you, my luscious darling! My parents are going to love you.” His smile could raise the sun at midnight she thought.
“You know, I’m not nervous at all. Weird for me, huh? I just love you so much.” Karen beamed and Kurt grabbed her for a kiss.
The lasagna was resting on the kitchen counter in all its perfection, but Karen felt a wave of panic when the doorbell rang. She dashed from the kitchen to grab Kurt’s hand and haul him to the door. “Bombs away!” Kurt said as she squeezed that hand.
Karen opened the door with Kurt at her side and was saying “Welcome!” in her most smoothly cordial voice when she froze like a scared possum. Holy Moly! It’s them!
“Well, we meet again,” said Kurt’s father with a bemused smile, and Kurt’s face went all puzzled. “It’s you,” his incredulous mother intoned like a psychic! “Where’s your other friend?” asked Daddy.
“Karen, what is it? You know my parents?”
Someday I’m going to laugh about this, I just know it. We all will.