I try to curb my excitement at the thought of Matt walking through the doors of Mike’s Barbeque and Grill. In all our 17 years of marriage I’ve never thrown a shindig, let alone used the word.
“I think he’s going to be surprised,” I say for the umpteenth time.
"Thanks again for flying in to help me.”
“Stop thanking me, Sylvie. I told you when you moved you weren’t getting rid of me.”
I smile at her, grateful. Laura has stuck with me through thin and thinner. “They should start arriving any minute. Let’s switch the plates and utensils to the other end of the table.”
“Why? The serving line will start here. Will you relax?”
“I can’t.” I finger my single strand of pearls—the only jewelry outside of my wedding band and watch I wear. “I want to make a good impression. There’ll be church people and Matt’s work people and neighbors. I arranged it so Matt’s boss would be bringing him—he's using a job-related ruse.” I walk over to the far side of the table and pick up the paper plates. “I need it to be perfect.”
“Then you need to relax. Hey, where’s the karaoke machine?” She finishes tying balloons to the cake table then scans the exposed brick interior of Mike's party room. “I thought you said there’d be karaoke.”
“Nixed it.” I set the plates down and go back for the napkins and utensils. “We don’t need a bunch of Brittany Spears wannabees. I’m rationing beer and wine consumption, too.”
Laura drops her shoulders—way down. It seems to her knees. “I was going to sing you a song,” she says.
“Look, Sylvie, I’m not implying that the only way to have fun is with alcohol and up-beat music, but if you don’t stop trying to fit everyone into your box, things aren’t going to be different here. And I’m telling you that as your friend.”
“But that’s why I’m throwing this birthday party. I want people to know how much fun I am. On the invites I even wrote, come and enjoy spicy legs and tantalizing ribs. That’s fun, isn’t it? An event like this can make an impression.”
Laura looks at me oddly, but keeps quiet. I wonder if she’s remembering back to when I moved to her neighborhood and within a month held a sit-in at the elementary school in hopes of banning Maurice Sendak’s, In the Night Kitchen. That got me branded as the Morality Gestapo. “Do you think I alienate people?” I sit down in one of Mike’s ladder back chairs, my party mood gone.
“I’m just saying that it might be good to hold yourself to your standards. Try to meet others where they are.”
I check my watch. “No one’s coming anyway—so it’s a moot point.”
“It’s already quarter after, Laura. A hundred barbeque chicken halves and 75 pounds of ribbed beef are going up in smoke.”
“People are probably just running late.” Laura can be naively optimistic. “Or maybe they got confused between the time they should be here and the time Matt would arrive.”
“I don’t know. There’s an invitation next to my purse.” I put my head in my hands. Lord, all I ever wanted was to do my best, serve You the best I could.
“You have the time and date right,” says Laura.
A story comes to my mind. It’s the one where the traveler walks up to a gatekeeper and asks: what kind of people live in this city? The gatekeeper replies: what kind of people lived in the city where you came from? The traveler lifts his chin with contempt: they were rude. The gatekeeper ends the exchange: then those are the kind of people you will find here, too.
“I’m looking at these directions, though,” says Laura. “Exactly what did you MapQuest?”
“Mike’s Barbeque and Grill—or maybe I just plugged in Mike’s like I had on the invite—I’m not sure. Why?”
“I don’t think you’ll have to worry about being branded the Morality Gestapo here in Cleveland.”
“Because you sent out directions to Mike’s Bar and Girls.”
My innards tremble—a bona fide shudder for sure. Oh dear Lord, I knew I shouldn’t have added the part about the spicy legs and tantalizing ribs . . .
Brrrring-brrrring—where in God's Word does it say one is obligated to answer her cell phone?
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