Karen Sees Through The Confusion

“Guess what, Karen? I was in line at the 7-Eleven on Weatherbee paying for gas and getting an Almond Joy and I met this great guy. Tall, handsome, funny, and seems very sweet. He’s in town on a visit and we just clicked. He gave me his number and said to call him; he’d be here 4-5 days. I’m going to wait until tomorrow so I don’t seem needy. But then, what the heck am I doing? I don’t know anything about him and I didn’t even get his name, which is really dumb, but we were flirting and bantering about sandwiches in crinkly plastic. What future is there in a gas station romance? Am I nuts, Karen, or is this how it happens?”  

“You never know, Molly! My Aunt Zinnia met Uncle Albert at a feed store, and I met my Kurty at the supermarket. Call the guy. Since he’s only here a few days call tonight! You are going to meet him someplace public, right?” Karen was all for mystery and romance but not too much into risk. She’d had enough of a thrill with her own first date with Kurt, who could have been a killer, but, of course, wasn’t!  

Karen’s friendship with Molly Milman was new. Though she’d worked at Milman’s Mortuary for over a year, she’d only recently met Mr. Milman’s daughter who was in her late 20’s like herself and worked at a title company. A single, pretty (if you liked dimples which actually Karen did not), brunette, with better taste in clothes than in men it seemed. Molly had chronicled her boyfriends in the last three years for Karen, and it was a list of possible, probable, and total losers. Molly also was a bit of a hothead, but lots of fun. She and Karen had hit it off but hadn’t spent that much time together after they had met at Mr. Milmans’ brother’s funeral. Karen had met all the Millmans (Milmen, she wondered?) that day.

Walking home from work Karen answered a call from Kurt. “Hey, Darling, guess who’s in town for a few days?” he sang out. Obviously having a good day at work, thought Karen! “Ken! He’s between assignments and flying to Peru next week from DFW. He’ll probably be at the house anytime. Are you working late?”

“No, Sweetheart, I’m practically there now. Will you be home on time? And can we go out to dinner? I don’t have enough of anything for three.” Karen could do crackers and cheese and some wine with her husband’s rather unwelcome twin until Kurt took him off her hands. She did not trust Kurt’s globetrotting, nature photographing, Don Juan-ish twin, and she did not relish spending several hours with him. Frankly, he gave her the creeps during his last visit, but she also knew that part of that could possibly be just having someone in her home identical in looks to her adorable spouse, but certainly not in temperament or manners. Too Twilight Zone. “Sure, Karrie, you pick a place and we’ll go out. I don’t care.”

When she came to her driveway she was glad not to see a rental car anywhere. Karen had time to change clothes, trash the junk mail, answer a text from Molly who had just pinged her with the news that she had caved and already texted Gas Station Boy who asked her to dinner tonight, any place she wanted. Exclamation points and the OMG and heart emoticons.

Of course she told Molly to be careful, and yeah, have fun. Karen hoped this would’t be classic Molly: exuberant, cock-eyed, impetuous Molly who was often disappointed and then got miffed! Karen had a kind of fuzzy bad feeling about the whole deal, but she sent back a heart and a four leaf clover just as there was a banging at the back door, a big, bearish, irritating knock like an obnoxious brother-in-law. It’s show time, thought Karen.

“Hi, Ken! What a surprise to see you back in Waco! I mean, Kurt called me, but we thought you were still busy in Asia until next year. C’mon in!” Karen bubbled and smiled, and could hear Aunt Zinnia’s voice in her head saying, “However you feel, he is a guest in your home. Do not forget that!” Karen’s favorite aunt was a Southerner whose middle name was “Hospitality,” or possibly “Grace Under Fire.”

Karen and Ken were finishing a short (on purpose by the warm but wary hostess) class of Pinot when Kurt came in, loosening his tie and crossing the living room to give his brother a manly hug. On his last visit to his brother’s home, the two men had resolved or dissolved  (which was it, Karen wondered?) old issues and seemed truly glad to see each other now. Ken did make an effort to be here, Karen thought. He could have gone a number of other places, like their parents’ or even some fun places with girlfriends whom she supposed he had all over the world. She knew that Waco was a great place to live, but not exactly a hot vacation destination.  

“Where shall we go for dinner, people?” asked Kurt after a change of clothes and a glass of the Pinot.

“Oh, I have plans for tonight. A sort of dinner thing I can’t get out of now, but I’ll be here four or five days!” Ken put an overlay of innocent sweetness on his face. Karen thought he really did look exactly like Kurt when he tried. “She’s a  Waconian? Waconite? What do you people say? Anyway, want to join us? It’s no big secret thing. Just someone I met.” Ken smiled a little too triumphantly, Karen thought.

Kurt was totally unsurprised (Ken was in and out of relationships like a squirrel running from tree to tree for nuts!). “It’s Wacoan, by the way, and yes, we’ll go; I’ve got a yen for Italian!”  Karen immediately had a funny feeling in her gut, but kept her trap shut and just followed along to Antonio’s (always her first choice!) for their excellent eggplant parmesan and chianti. Ken had texted his date the place and the three set out in two cars, just in case Ken’s evening swerved off without his brother and sister-in-law.

They snagged a good table (it was a Tuesday night after all) and ordered Chianti and four glasses. Karen was way more relaxed around Ken when Kurt was by her side. They settled into a conversation about Ken’s Mystery Date who indeed was a mystery since, as he now told them, when he had met her at the 7-Eleven he had forgotten to get her name. Kurt thought that was just ridiculous and said so just as Karen was thinking, “So I was right! What are the chances of this happening?” She smiled to herself when she remembered her Aunt Zinnia’s advice from years ago: “Always trust your feelings. There is something deeply intuitive that runs in this family,” she had intoned like a turbaned seer. It had made Karen laugh then and whenever she recalled it! Well, she could now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.   

When Kurt got a call from his office, he left the table nodding with the gotta-take-this grimace and headed outside. At the same time Molly was turning into Antonio’s parking lot and she waved eagerly to him. He gave a tiny wave but paid her no attention and was busy finishing his call.  

“Hi! How are you? Hungry?” Molly hailed him when she had parked and strolled over to him. She had taken a lot of care to get her hair to go right and she was glad she had. He was even more appealing than she had recalled while struggling with her dryer brush.

“Huh?” Kurt, just off his call, turned to face her squarely. “Oh, hello,” and he smiled politely. “Yes, I am hungry! Have a good evening,” and he turned his back to her and ambled off, leaving Molly with her feathers ruffled. What was that? She half decided to get back in her car and just show him! But she was angry and decided to go in and order Pasta Diavolo to go, with breadsticks!    

Back at the table Kurt joshed his twin, “Well, she’s just a few minutes late, Ken. She hasn’t stood you up. Yet.”    

“Fifteen minutes, going on twenty, is late in my book. And she could call or text. Or maybe she’s out front. I’ll go look, and then let’s order. I’m starved.” Ken was bored, miffed, and distinctly cool. He sprang up to leave the table.

In the lobby Molly was just paying for her Diavolo and picking up the white plastic bag when she heard, “You’re leaving? Thanks for the text.” Ken, looking beyond cold into tragically hip now, startled her.

“Oh, are you still here? Find someone at CVS to have dinner with?” Molly made herself taller and arched one eyebrow just a tad.

“I’ve been waiting for about twenty minutes, that’s what I’ve been doing. But l see you got yours to go. Good idea. Enjoy!” Ken strode off with a haughty swagger that said “See what you’ve missed!” Molly was now truly irked. She followed him two steps with a mind to flatten him with a scathing reply, but thought he wasn’t worth it. She turned and went out to her car.

On her way out the door she was closely followed by a twin again, on his cell with another business call. She saw him when she turned to open her car door. “Following me? Are you kidding?”

Kurt waved at her, covered his phone a sec, mouthed, “What?” and made the quizzical face with shoulders raised. As Molly backed her car out; Kurt hung up. Through her open window she spat out, “Enjoy your dinner, stranger. Adios.”

“I don’t know who you are or what I’ve done, but have a good evening.” Kurt turned to go inside. Molly yelled to his back, “What do you mean you don’t know who I am? Turkey jerky on rye? Gas station gastronomy? Got amnesia, buddy?” She then buzzed up her window and made it to the driveway where she saw her friend Karen who was dashing out to get her sweater in the car, all the while thinking that if Ken were a gentleman he would have gotten it for her! Karen waved at her pal and then walked over to see Molly who had buzzed down her window again. “See that guy over there, Karen? Walking toward the door. That is a Grade Double AA jerk. See you later, girl!”

Holy Moly! Karen started to laugh while waving one hand back and forth in front of her face in wordless glee.  

The dinner and the evening was saved but just barely. Molly brought in her take-out, and they all laughed about the trite, oh-so-Sheakspearean twin confusion. However, the chemistry between Ken and Molly was already a little burned around the edges. It was clearly just dinner for them.

In bed, exhausted at 11:30, Kurt opined, “Well, that was extremely weird, but it makes a tale!” Karen snuggled in and said, “But you gotta admit dinner was excellent! I love Antonio’s eggplant!”  

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