Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 45byrpsuch©
The next day we were talking about how to tell his parents, when I found myself confused over a small, yet important detail.
"Jeff, did one of us propose?"
He thought about it. He started shaking his head slowly. His shoulders came up in an unhurried shrug.
Finally, he answered. "I don't think so."
"Hmmm," I hummed.
"Ashley, will you marry me?"
I smiled. "Jeff, will you marry me?"
We both laughed and I buried my head in his chest.
"So, how do we do this?" I asked.
"Dinner at my house. What's your poison?"
"Ohhh, I loved Sam's chili. Can you make that?"
He smiled. "We can make that. Do you have any plans for tomorrow?"
"No, but what's wrong with tonight? I can't wait. The anticipation is making my nerves raw."
I realized I was bouncing.
"The beans have to soak a long time."
"What about canned beans? Let's go to the ACME."
"Too much sodium," he said.
I was bouncing even more determinedly.
"Enjoy the anticipation. Tonight, we'll get together and have a nice leisurely -"
"Dinner," I said.
"Looking forward to it?"
"Am I ever."
"Let's just do it now and get it over with," he said.
I stopped bouncing. He'd never said it quite like that. I was disappointed.
"You'd rather wait?" he asked in a seductive voice. "You have the enjoyment of anticipating it and then the enjoyment of enjoying it?"
I gave him a frown.
"Can't you ever just tell me something, instead of making me answer it myself?"
"It's not as memorable, nor as much fun. Let's take a ride."
At Produce Junction we bought red peppers, large onions and a lot of garlic. At ACME we bought six pounds of crushed tomatoes, three pounds of tomato sauce, three pounds of dried kidney beans, three pounds of ground beef and three pounds of ground turkey.
I kept looking at Jeff in a funny way. Finally, he was unable to take it.
"What?" he said.
"Are we feeding the homeless? All the homeless?"
"Sam worked out this recipe while he was on the commune. His recipe is for twenty four without the meat. There were more people than that to feed, but that was the size of the pot.
"Nobody's ever tried to convert it to an actual family. We make it and freeze whatever's left."
"That's good, because I'm not that hungry."
"If you ever get that hungry we'll be coming up with names for quintuplets."
Back at Jeff's house, he took out a large pot and covered the beans with water almost to the top. He said you needed around three inches over the beans or they'll be poking out when they've absorbed all the water they can.
"That's it for today," said Jeff. "Now it's time to go have dinner and then consummate the engagement."
"I've never heard of consummating the engagement."
"It's a very old tradition."
"How old?" I asked.
He looked at his watch. "I'd say it started in about three hours."
He estimated it correctly.
We were trying not to be too obvious, so we each slept at home.
Sandy let me in around ten, as always with the big hug.
"Jeff's in the kitchen." She sang it.
The beans were boiling and he was skimming off some foamy white stuff with a big spoon.
"What is that?" I asked.
"Jeff! That's not you. Where did that come from?"
"That's what Sam calls it. It's actually the oligosaccharides, which are -"
"Okay, it's the farts."
Does the rest of his family find these long explanations interesting and endearing? Or do they sometimes want to scream, like I do?
After two or three minutes there were no more farts collecting at the top.
Jeff laid out the plan for cutting up the peppers and onions and sautéing them. He had his own version of The Joy of Cooking, which he demonstrated.
I started to cut a pepper and Jeff proceeded to show me the proper method. He moved behind me. More accurately, he pressed himself into me. He slid his hands down my arms to my hands. He kissed my neck.
I'm sure that's an important part of the technique, I just can't explain why.
He held my left hand on a halved pepper, and moved my right hand, the one holding the large vegetable knife, to cut it into strips. He had my left hand turn the strips ninety degrees. Then, he nibbled my ear.
"Never try to cut anything while you're doing this," he said.
He gave me a moment to recover and then placed the tip of the knife on the cutting board.
We slashed the blade down without moving the tip. He advanced my left hand to move the strips under the knife and slashed down again. Suddenly, we were done.
"That took like two seconds," I said.
"How long is it supposed to take?"
Jeff released my hands and put his hands on my hips. He pulled me tight against him. Then he put his arms around my waist and squeezed.
"What are you trying to do" I asked.
"Hold you closer."
Was he setting this up on purpose?
"If you hold me any closer, I'll be in back of you," I said, without the cigar and the impression.
"Groucho. A Day at the Races," he said without hesitation.
He playfully nibbled my neck. He moved his arms up, around my shoulders and rocked.
"You are an exquisite human being."
He buried his nose behind my ear and nuzzled my hair.
"And that is how we work in the kitchen. If you're a good girl, later I'll show you how to cut onions."
Between us we made quick work of the peppers.
I squeezed by him, placing my hands on his shoulders and dragged my breasts across his back as I slowly moved toward the refrigerator.
"I'm going to get something to drink," I explained.
"Yeah, it can be pretty hard to squeeze by here with only twenty feet between your back and the wall. Not that I'm complaining."
"It's part of my culinary technique."
"You have good technique," he said.
Jeff took the pot of beans to the sink and poured it into a colander. He rinsed them and poured the beans back into the pot and ran cold water to cover it up.
He put the pot back on the stove, the lid back on the pot and started up the flame.
He saw my look.
"Not all the farts were in the foam. They were in the water, too. This will take care of the remnants and finish the beans."
Oh, my God, a short answer!
I squeezed by him to get to my cutting board for the onions.
It turned out there were two techniques for cutting the onions, both ending with chopping them the way we did the peppers. Each involved touching me a slightly different way to help me understand the technique.
I expressed suspicion that these were not legitimate teaching aids, but Jeff assured me he had read about them. He wouldn't lie to me, would he?
Jeff learned my approach as well, squeezing by me each time he needed to get to the sink.
We sautéed the onions and peppers in a large frying pan. Eight large red peppers and five large onions take up a lot of space. They also needed more time than the garlic.
I turned down the flame so I could watch Jeff prepare the garlic.
"I want to keep this relatively mild, so I'm only going to use one head of garlic," he said.
I had no idea at the time how much that was.
"Even with the skin, you can break it into bulbs which can be difficult to peel. So…"
He laid down a clove on the cutting board and brought the vegetable knife down hard on it, holding the knife sideways.
"See how easy it is to remove the skin?"
It almost peeled itself. Then he smacked the knife down on the clove even harder, twice. It was shmushed up.
"I think you get a lot more flavor doing it this way than cutting it into tiny pieces," he said.
He gathered it up and dropped it in the frying pan.
"Would you like to try it?"
He washed his hands and got behind me again to guide me. It was helpful to have him guide me in understanding how hard to bring down the knife.
I didn't think we needed quite so much contact, but he was the one with the experience.
After the garlic had a little time, we dumped the vegetables into a very deep sauce pot. Six pounds of crushed tomatoes, three pounds of tomato sauce and the beans quickly followed and he put on the lid.
He microwaved the ground turkey and ground beef to "melt out a bunch of the fat," and we cooked the rest in the frying pan, poured off the fat, and dumped it in the large sauce pot with everything else.
"Are we done?" I asked.
"Twelve teaspoons of chili powder, six of ground cumin and it's a mild chili. Everything over that heats it up. It depends on how you like it. I'm going to go fifteen and six."
And he did.
"So we're done?"
"No. It has to be stirred fairly frequently to avoid stuff sticking to the bottom of the pot."
"Stuff? Is that the official name?" I asked.
"I don't know. I suppose you could call it sediment."
"Ugh. Sounds disgusting."
"That's why we stir."
"So, are we here all afternoon?"
My displeasure at this thought was evident.
"No. I've enlisted the rest of the family to switch off since we did most of the work."
"Got any plans?" I asked seductively as I squeezed past him.
"Yes, and it doesn't include that."
I pretended to pout.
"I realized we don't have a ring."
Alright, that was pretty seductive on its own.
"Our plans were for how to get your father to cooperate. Then suddenly we were engaged. I'd like to get you a ring that makes you happy."
I smiled and ran the back of my hand down his cheek.
"And then I'm out of it," he said.
I crossed my arms over my chest and gave him a reproving look.
"You know what I mean."
I did. I smiled.
"Let's surf. We can see way more than if we went bricks and mortar. You can show me the kind of things you like and we can figure out what to get you."
"Jeff, you're completely misunderstanding the process. Buying the ring is just the anticlimax. The true essence of getting the ring is walking hand in hand, or your arm around me would do just fine, from store to store.
"It's a leisurely, lengthy process which would be spoiled by getting the perfect ring too quickly. I'll point to something and say, 'Oh, I like that one.'
"And you'll say, 'It's really nice.'
"Then I say, 'But I don't know. Let's look some more. Oh, what about that one over there?'
"That is the joy, the Gestalt of acquiring an engagement ring."
Jeff had a funny look on his face.
"This is another joke, right? You don't deliberately find the hardest way to pick out what you want. You're …"
He saw my look and didn't need to finish.
"Oh," I said.
He had a pained, cautious look on his face, like he wanted to say something but didn't it want to be a red flag waved at a bull.
"Would it be okay if after we do all that looking, I propose something, non-traditional?"
"Absolutely. As long as I don't have to do it."
"We could still look online to get some ideas," he said.
"No, we can't."
This would be my ring. I guess this was our engagement and our marriage and, ultimately, our money.
But girls don't grow up thinking of the ring as anything other than something he buys, which magically, after an extended browsing process becomes her perfect ring almost as if he could read her mind.
We couldn't think of it differently any more than we could think of it as our wedding, as opposed to my wedding.
We might refer to it that way for his benefit, but if there is ever a decision on which we disagree, it's my wedding, not his.
"How would you like to go for a walk?" he asked.
I took his hand.