Burnt Toast

Things had been rough going the past couple of weeks. Thankfully, the barbecue was easing the tension between me and Alex.


I hated to say it, but all the hustle and bustle that went with preparing for Red’s special day was just as therapeutic as visiting the doctor’s office. Things actually seemed to be getting back to normal.



“Red’s going to be happy that you did all this,” Alex said, as he came up behind me in the kitchen. “He’s been trying to pry the menu out of me for days.”



I laughed and continued basting the next pile of ribs to be sent to the grill. “You got Red confused. He’d eat anything that’s put in front of him.”



Alex chuckled. “I can’t argue that. Wait, can Jean cook?”



“I think so. If not, I’ll teach her.” I turned back to the stove and added in a much lower tone, “As long as they keep coming around and watching AJ for us, that is.”



“Darn, speaking of AJ, let me get back out there, before something flies off with him.”



“Yeah, you’d better be doing that,” I said, grateful for one less body in the kitchen, especially one that was trying to eat everything in sight.



“I see you’re doing what you do best, cooking for an army,” my mother chirped, entering the kitchen.



Just great! What I thought was going to be a peaceful afternoon turned stressful in seconds. I hadn’t even heard my mother come inside, which meant somebody must’ve let her in. I put on my best smile. “Hey, mama. How are you?”



“Where’s my grandson?” she demanded, snooping inside the pots on the stove.



“Outside with his father.” I sighed. “May I help you?” I asked, shooing her away from the food.



“OK, OK, Starlet Marie. No need for the hissy fits. Is that what you’re learning in therapy?” she asked, chuckling.



Her remark brought my blood to a fast boil, but instead of blowing up, I reminded myself that it was Red’s day and counted to ten instead. “No, mama,” I said, teeth firmly clenched. “Last week we spoke about the importance of patience. And it’s a good thing.”



I took a deep breath. “Why don’t you go on outside? The happy couple will be here any minute.” With that I went back to preparing the feast of the century.



Less than an hour after the table was laid, blessed and folks had eaten, everyone was lounging around with full bellies. I sat off to the side, rocking AJ to sleep since I had just nursed him.



Sheldon caught my eye as he stood up and walked over to the DJ’s booth. He said something to the DJ, who quickly brought the music down to a soft, almost inaudible level.



Sheldon nodded and banged on his glass, waking everyone from their food-induced comas. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to make a toast to the happy couple,” he said, raising a glass of champagne. “May you have many years of bliss, and may you find a way to handle anything that comes your way.”



“Here, here,” we all said in unison.



“May I also say,” he continued, his glass still raised high, “how wonderful it is to be here with all of you today, seeing all the love on full display.”



He tilted the glass in Yanni’s direction, acknowledging her and Terry. “Here’s to new beginnings and engagements.” He paused, and then added, “Including my own.”



“What?” Mason growled.



“That’s right, son. Your mother has done me the honor of agreeing to be my wife.” He looked down at Karla, who sat there blushing. “And she’s having my baby.”



Everyone sat there slack-jawed, unsure as to whether to congratulate the couple, or prepare for Mason’s wrath. He sat in stunned silence for a second, before rising from the table and stomping away.



I breathed a sigh of relief. At least he was keeping his promise not to ruin Red’s day. Karla started after him, but Sheldon gently pulled her back. “Let him go, babe. He’ll be all right.”



After calming Karla, Sheldon stood once again, smiling broadly from one of us to the other. Not knowing what to do, I smiled back.



“And to the wonderful couple who invited us to their lovely house today, thank you,” he began. “Starlet, the food was delicious. And, Alex, thank you for making me feel welcome. I dig you, man. I really do.” He let out a snort. “Seeing you with your beautiful family, taking care of them and your friends makes me feel even worse for having to do what I did six years ago.”



“Six years ago? What happened six years ago?” Alex asked, confused.



“Don’t you remember?” Sheldon took a swig of the champagne.



I glanced up at Alex, who had grown quiet. His twitching jaw muscle was my cue that something wasn’t right. “Starlet, take the baby and go,” he ordered.



“But, Alex—” From the look on his face, I knew better than to finish my thought. Instead, I hugged AJ tightly and rushed toward the house. A split second later, just as I was about to turn the corner, Alex leaped across the table at Sheldon.



Everyone scattered: Red pulled Jean and Karla out of the way; Yanni, Terry and my mom darted to safety. And Mason, who must have heard the noise, came flying around the corner toward the fray, not knowing what was going on but gladly jumping in.



Not knowing what else to do, I rushed toward the gate. A glimpse of a familiar face brought my feet to a halt. Was it? It couldn’t be. What was he doing here?



"Perhaps, this is a bad time?" Mr. Taylor asked, appearing just as unnerved as I was by the unfolding events behind me.