Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 46byrpsuch©
My parents were not expecting me for dinner, not that they ever really did.
I made it a point to tell them I was having dinner with Jeff.
It was part of the strategy we had discussed. Put it out there repeatedly. Dinner with Jeff. A trip with Jeff. A concert with Jeff, classical no less, at the Mann.
My Father was usually unable to hide his displeasure with my decision, though he tried.
But he didn't know what to do, how to look or how to act when I told him about the concert. He had tried for years to get me interested in classical music and I always told him I wasn't going to listen unless it was accompanied by a cartoon.
Should he now be pleased, or distressed? It gave me a warm feeling.
Jeff's family was expecting us at five and that's when we got there.
Sandy came over to me and gave me her usual hug, as always accompanied by her "mmmm" of pleasure.
Sunny gave me a hug and said, "Well, Ashley, I guess this is your entry into membership in our family. Oh, my God, the look on your face. I didn't mean that you're forced to marry Jeff, just that you're now entitled to do the dishes when you don't make the meal. Goodness. I must have really scared you."
"No. It's just, I was, I thought you were, I, I, it just took me by surprise."
Surprise leading to panic. I laughed - nerves. Hercule Poirot would have had no trouble figuring it out.
Louis came out of the kitchen in an apron.
"Louis made the rice," said Sunny.
"Hence the apron," said Louis.
Sandy laughed. "Dad's not exactly at home in the kitchen. Sam says -"
"You can lead a horse to water, but you can't teach him to cook," said Louis, in a tone that indicated he had heard it way more times than it took for it to stop being funny.
But he took it in good humor.
"Sam says I have to wear the apron. It gets you into the spirit. It makes you feel 'cookish.' But, I'm forbidden to wear the chef's cap. Only Jeff and Sunny can do that."
"I'm getting close," said Sandy.
Except for the delightful dinner party Friday night with my parents and Jeff, this was more repartee than I heard in an entire year of meals at my house.
We sat down to eat and I noticed they mixed their chili with a bit of rice so I followed their example.
Sunny was the first to comment.
"This is really good. Very nice job guys."
"Nah. It was mostly -"
"She was great," said Jeff. "She taught me how to be more effective in the kitchen."
He left out, "But not at cooking."
"It is good," I said. "I'm used to it hotter, but this has a lot more flavor."
"Sam says spices are great, but if you make something too hot you cover up a lot of the natural flavors," said Sandy.
Jeff was always at the ready with interesting, extraneous information.
"You know, spices were originally used to cover up the fact that a lot of the meats people used to eat were going bad by the time they got them to dinner. They didn't have refrigeration. But enough pepper and you won't notice the steak is going rancid."
Lovely talk for a dinner table. It really encouraged a healthy appetite.
Sunny was looking forward to going back to school. It wasn't that she was bored during the summer; she really liked interacting with students.
Louis said that the only slowdowns he saw were when people went on vacation. Summer was slow for that reason as were holidays.
"I'm ambivalent about school," said Sandy. "I like the kids and I kind of like the work, but it isn't very challenging. I could try to work harder, but it wouldn't get me anywhere. I have a parent who doesn't believe in finishing high school in less than four years. What can I say?"
It was good-natured and made her point. But, all of us who knew Sunny understood there was no amount of ammunition Sandy could fire at Sunny that would make her change her mind on that.
"This is going to be a difficult year," said Jeff. "I'm going to be working very hard and it could be quite stressful. But I'm also looking forward to it being the best year of my life."
"Me, too," I said.
"Because," said Jeff and paused. We both stood.
"Ashley/Jeff has asked me to marry her/him," we said simultaneously. We took each others' hands. "And I said, 'yes,'" we said in unison.
Half a second elapsed before Sandy screamed. She shot up and rushed us.
Louis walked to us, put his arms around us, kissed me and drew Jeff in for an almost hug. I heard "wonderful," "congratulations," and "lucky." I don't know who they were directed at.
Sunny had a warm, yet wistful smile as she walked around the table.
"You know I love you both," she said. "In many ways you're both beyond your years. And in some ways you're as young as you are. It would be easier to start this when you're a little older, but I think you'll do just fine. And you'll be very happy."
You could always count on Sunny. She wouldn't tell you something just because you wanted to hear it.
I put my arms around Jeff. I wanted him to be part of this, too.
I said in his ear, "All in all, I think they took it better than Mom and Dad."
The Goldbergs are a wise family. They left it to us to tell them about my parents' excitement. If we didn't bring it upon our own, they were not going to make us talk about it.
"So, when is the big day?" asked Sunny.
"We haven't picked it yet," said Jeff. "We're thinking right after graduation."
"So, you're still planning to do it all in a year?" asked Sunny.
"I'm going to try," he said.
"What's the rush?" she asked.
"It gives me more flexibility to be with Ashley wherever she needs to be."
"You could always leave writing and defending your dissertation until later. You could just pop in and defend it and be back to wherever you're living in no time," said Sunny."
"I'll do that if I have to," said Jeff.
Shouldn't I be having this conversation with him? They probably discussed it while I was in Europe.
"I want to see the ring," said Sandy.
"No ring yet," said Jeff. "Ashley tells me there is an extended shopping ritual required before we get one."
Discussion moved to dessert.
Louis drew me aside.
"Ashley, I don't want to interfere in this and you can just tell me you'd rather not, and I'll understand. My mother had a very nice engagement ring that belonged to her grandmother before her.
"If you're going to take some time getting a ring, would you like to see it? Maybe you'd be interested in wearing it in the interim."
What a sweet man. He was also thoughtful enough to tell me alone so there wouldn't be any pressure.
We hadn't been planning on getting engaged quite so soon. But, as long as we were, as long as it was a nice ring, I wanted to start wearing one now.
"Sure. That's very nice of you, Louis."
"So, it's not going to be 'Dad' after all," he joked.
"In my house, 'Dad' is a pejorative."
"Sorry," he said. "Meet me upstairs in a few minutes. I'll get it so you can see it."
After a couple minutes I excused myself to go to the little girl's room and headed up the carpeted front stairs.
I didn't know where to meet Louis for our secret conspiracy. He was hiding in the middle of the hallway. At least that way we could tell when somebody was coming up.
He handed me the ring. It was simple yet exquisite. The thin shank was 14 karat gold. The hexagonal platinum setting dwarfed it. Inside the hexagon was another hexagon which contained another hexagon. Inside that was a European-cut, quarter-karat diamond which looked bigger than it was because of the design in which it was embedded.
I knew that if I looked at it through a jeweler's glass it would look like there was a hole at the bottom because the stone did not come to a point like the modern cuts. It wouldn't sparkle quite as much. But it would look like an engagement announcement on my finger rather than a boulder using my finger for support.
This might not be just a replacement. If we'd been out looking and I'd seen this ring, I might have picked it, though my family training might have kicked in and demanded a larger stone.
What also appealed to me was that it was distinctive. All the daughters of my parents' wealthy friends would be sporting massive rocks. None of them would have a ring like this.
"Oh, my God, yes," I said. "Can I have Jeff do it?"
"Of course." He indicated that I should give it back to him. "I'll go down first."
We entered the conversation easily.
At some point Sandy wanted to know, "Ashley, can you have more than one bachelorette party?"
"Sandy," Sunny admonished.
"No," I said to Sunny.
"I know I can't come to the one with the older girls," said Sandy, "the drinking and all. But I know I can put together something that will be really fun. Please, please. I really want to do this."
The worst that could possibly happen would be that she arranged some kind of math Olympics. But with her imagination, her intelligence and enthusiasm, she might come up with something truly spectacular. Her party might make all others pale in comparison.
"Do it," I said.
"But run the ideas by your Mom." Sandy looked disappointed. "She won't decide what you're going to do, just advise, so you don't go off the tracks."
"Thank you. Thank you. You're the best. You know I would have said that even if you had said 'no,' don't you?"
"Yes, I do, Sandy."
Louis stood up. We quieted down.
"As father of the groom, I'm nearly superfluous," he said.
"I will get to make a toast here and there, but, in reality, I'll do about as much as an appendix.
"But, I do have something for Jeff that might help comfort his nearly naked fiancé."
Jeff, Sunny and Sandy looked bemused. Jeff got up and walked over to his father. Louis handed him the ring, though it wasn't visible to the women.
Jeff gulped and paused for a moment.
He was unable to suppress a huge smile.
He turned and came back to me.
"Ashley, would you like to wear this while we're looking for your final ring?" he asked with some difficulty. "It belonged to Dad's mother, and his great grandmother. They were both very happily married."
"Louis showed it to me upstairs," I said. "I love it and I'd love to wear it."
I held out my finger and Jeff slipped it on me.
"It fits perfectly," I said. "We won't need to get it sized at all."
I leaned in and we kissed. It was sweet and sensual but not nearly the incendiary kiss of our second encounter. No onlooker could possibly misinterpret its meaning.
The Goldbergs were applauding. When we noticed, we broke it off.
I remember thinking that life couldn't get any better.
Then I remember thinking if it couldn't get any better, was it all downhill from here?
Then I remember thinking shut up! Stop worrying and enjoy yourself.
I seemed unable to prevent myself from seeing the negative side of every good situation the way Jeff seemed incapable of giving a short explanation.