Authors: Tracy Kelleher
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction
“Anyone else you just hanging out with?” Matt Brown was a decent enough kid, but Mimi thought there had to be a bigger draw to travel this far.
Press turned on the car radio. Katy Perry music suddenly blasted at megawatt force. “Crap. Someone’s been fooling around with the stations while I was away. I told Noreen she should drive the car to keep the battery from going flat, but she must have let Brigid play with the dials.” Brigid was their eight-year-old half-sister. “I mean, you don’t see me going into her room and mixing up her Barbies.”
Mimi smiled at his frowning face. She remembered the spats she had with him when she’d come home from boarding school and found he had swiped some of her Beanie Babies. Not that as a teenager she still played with them. It was just the principle of the thing.
He continued to fiddle with the buttons, neatly avoiding any further conversation. That was okay with Mimi. They rounded the steep curve by the gardening store, crossed the canal and entered Grantham proper, passing some modest clapboard houses from the early nineteenth century, then the university golf course on the left and some office buildings on the right. They even made the light behind the university theater where Press deftly avoided a throng of students crossing against the light. They must have stuck around after exams to work at Reunions. The hours might be long, but the money was good and the beer was free.
No matter how long she was away, Mimi was always struck by how Grantham never seemed to change. Oh, the sign at the convenience store on the corner might be painted a different color and one stock brokerage firm might be replaced by another, but basically Grantham remained the same picturesque enclave with Colonial roots that was everyone’s ideal of a bucolic college town. Everyone’s but Mimi’s, that is.
She had always found the reverence for history and tradition stifling. Her quest growing up had been to fly away as far and as often as possible. But now two things were certain: Grantham was quiet, and it was safe. Right now, that was about as good as it got for her.
Press hung a right on Main Street and maneuvered around the cars turning left and those double-parked on the right. It was a slalom course for high-end European cars and the occasional Toyota. After they made the light at Adams Road, with the movie theater on the left and the university library on the right, Press pushed past the Catholic church and the flower stores before turning right into the parking lot opposite Hoagie Palace. They headed for the mecca of good, cheap greasy food that never, ever disappointed. It might be a weekday evening, but the line of customers was backed out the door.
Still, it moved quickly, and Mimi and Press were soon in the door, ready to lean over the high glass counter and give their orders to one of the cooks wearing the ubiquitous Hoagie Palace T-shirt.
“I’ve got this,” Mimi reminded her brother as they inched toward the cash register after placing their orders.
“I’m going to get an Arnold Palmer, as well.” Press elbowed his way to the cooler of soft drinks and bottled water on the side wall.
” The woman behind the cash register lifted the counter and came to the other side. She embraced him and kissed him on the cheek. “Trying to sneak by without giving me a proper hello?”
“Just testing your reflexes, Angie,” Press teased. Mimi was amazed to see that her brother—normally so reserved—returned the hug without hesitation.
“Carlos, take over the register, okay?” she called out. “Sal will be upset that he missed you. He’s just gone to the barbershop. I was complaining that he was starting to look shaggy.” Then she held Press at arm’s length, her gold bracelets jangling, and eyed him up and down. “Speaking of shaggy, I like the beard. It’s very sophisticated.” She rubbed it lovingly. “So when did you come in?”
“About two hours ago,” Press answered. “And I had to go pick up my sister Mimi. You remember her?” He nodded back to Mimi in the line.
Angie gave a hello nod. Mimi waved.
“Tell Sal not to worry. I promise I’ll stop by the house tonight.”
“Only if you’re not too tired. I know you, Press. You never get enough sleep,” she clucked over him.
“You only just got in?” Mimi tried to get his attention, but Press took no notice.
Angie held Press’s face in her hands. “I can’t tell you how upset I was to find out that Australia doesn’t allow any food—even in containers—to be shipped to the country. I worried that you would lose weight. And you did.”
Mimi shook her head. There was no point in trying to get his attention. He’d just gotten in after what? A twenty-hour trip? No wonder the kid looked exhausted.
The line moved along and she reached the cash register. “An Arnold Palmer to drink, and a chicken cheese steak hoagie and a meatball hoagie with two sides of fries,” she announced. Then she stretched her neck over the countertop and addressed the chef working on her hoagie. “And could you put some extra hot sauce on the meatball?” A meatball hoagie with sauce was straight out of her college days.
“For once we agree on something,” a male voice to her right declared.
Mimi turned. Blinked once. And didn’t blink again.
“That’s right.” Vic Golinski saluted her with one finger to his brow. “Only, this time, I’m the one with the container of water.” He showed her the large bottle he was carrying and unscrewed the top. “An open container of water.”
He raised his arm.
VIC TOOK A LARGE GULP, lowered the bottle and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Vic. Vic Golinski, in case you didn’t remember.”
Mimi raised her head, then raised it more. “Of course. You’re hard to miss.” She’d forgotten just how big, how imposing he was. Maybe he was a little fuller around the jaw line and not quite so pneumatically blown up in the shoulder area, but she was pretty sure he could still bench press everyone behind the counter, and maybe the counter, as well. She stared at his chest—the top button of his blue Oxford shirt undone, the striped tie loosened and casually tossed over his shoulder—and wondered what else he could press… .
“That’s fourteen ninety-nine,” Carlos announced. “Fourteen ninety-nine,” he repeated.
Mimi shook her head and held up her hand. “Sorry, that’ll be me.” Flustered, she reached for her shoulder bag—and didn’t feel it. She patted along her hip. Nothing. She looked down. “Oh, cripes.” She peered over her shoulder, seeking out her brother. “Press, hey, Press,” she called out.
He glanced over his shoulder at the sound of his name.
“Listen, it looks like I left my purse in the car.” She pointed outside. “I can run back and get it if you give me your keys. Or can you cover it, and I’ll pay you back?”
Press pushed toward her, shaking his head wearily. “I don’t have any cash, but I suppose I could use my debit card.”
“That’s all right, Press,” Angie said reassuringly as she reached his side. She motioned for Carlos to vacate his post at the register. “I know you’re good for it. You can pay me some other time.” She waited as her assistant raised the flap in the counter for her to come across.
“Please, allow me.” Vic pulled out two twenties. “Just add it to my bill. A meatball hoagie with hot sauce, side of fries and—” he raised his eyebrows at Mimi “—and one bottle of water—large and extremely wet.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll just run back to the car. It’s only across the street,” Mimi insisted. She waved away his hand.
He squeezed closer to the cash register. “She’d give you the shirt off her back—and trust me, I’ve seen her do it. But it’s probably faster if I take care of this.” He kept his arm outstretched with the bills.
Mimi nudged him away with her elbow. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She turned to Angie. “I’ll be right back, I promise.”
“Will someone make up their mind?” Press asked behind them.
Mimi and Vic turned their heads, she clockwise, he counterclockwise. Mimi raised her eyes. Vic lowered his. His nose almost grazed her forehead.
The cash register drawer opened with a loud ding.
Mimi and Vic turned back, she—lowering her head slightly, he—pulling back ever so much.
Angie reached out for Vic’s twenties and deposited the correct change in his hand at the same time. “Okay, big boy, let’s keep the line moving. We’ll call you when your orders are ready,” she said smartly, all five foot two of her substantial body imposing itself. One did not argue with Angie.
Needless to say, Mimi and Vic shuffled to the side and hovered as inconspicuously as possible against the side wall. Mimi pretended to look at the snapshots of patrons wearing Hoagie Palace T-shirts in places like Machu Picchu and the Parthenon in Greece. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Vic pocket his wallet and fold his arms across his chest.
Press sidled over and popped his can of Palmer iced tea. He eyed Vic skeptically. “Hey, do I know you?”
Vic uncrossed his arms. “Vic. Vic Golinski. I was a classmate of Mimi’s at the university.” He held out his hand to shake Press’s.
Mimi glanced over. “Oh, sorry. Vic, this is my half-brother, Press Lodge. He’s a Grantham grad, too,” Mimi said. Press might be almost as tall as Vic, but Vic had about sixty more pounds of muscle on him.
“Hi, there.” Press went through the handshake motions, then scratched his head. “Wait a minute. You used to play pro football, right?”
“I remember seeing you play at the Meadowlands.”
Mimi looked at Press. “You went to a game? With Dad?”
“No, of course not with Dad. It was a birthday party or something, and someone else’s parents took me.” He narrowed his eyes and considered Vic. “Yeah, I’m sure of it. It was a game against the Giants. There was this head-butting incident. And you were involved in it. Am I right?”
He shrugged. “That’s so long ago, it’s ancient history.”
“No, no.” Mimi shook her head. “Even I recall something about it. I mean, I was in Kuwait at the time, and the Armed Forces Radio was going bananas over this flagrant foul.” She looked at Vic. “I remember it being totally out of the blue. And it sounded absolutely malicious. Were you badly hurt?”
“Oh, darling sister of mine—” Press chimed in, sounding pretty pleased with himself “—before you offer any after-the-fact consoling, I do believe your buddy here was doing the butting, not the player on the receiving end.”
She opened her mouth. “Oh.”
“Oh, is right,” Press said with enthusiasm. “What a hit! And what a fine. If I remember correctly, it was a League-leading record at that time.” He seemed very ebullient, practically bouncing on the white soles of his beat-up boat shoes.
“Not one of my finer hours. How about we just drop it?” Vic said, his voice eerily soft.
Press closed his mouth and opened his eyes wide. “Sure, no problem.”
“A chicken cheesesteak, meatball with hot sauce, Arnold Palmer, another meatball with hot sauce and water,” Carlos shouted out.
“I’ll meet you guys outside with the orders,” Press offered. He clearly knew a way out when he saw one and lunged back to the counter.
“Shall we?” Vic offered, holding his hand out for her to lead the way.
She nodded, and she could sense the crowd part not so much for her as for the large set of shoulders sheltering her to one side.
They stepped out of the door. Mimi stretched out a tight-lipped smile. Vic made a similar face. She looked down where the sidewalk was heaving from the encroachment of a large tree root.
“So do you come back often?” “You live around here?” they asked at the same time.
“You first.” She nodded.
“No, you.” He held out his hand.
She smiled nervously. “No, I don’t get back much. But when I do it’s always great to get a hoagie first thing back. Kind of like Grantham’s version of
don’t you think?” She sounded pretentious, even to her ears, but here among the throng of people on the street she wasn’t relaxed. Not fearful, as she would have expected, but nervous—giddy nervous. Which was…well…unexpected.
“You know, Proust? How he smelled
—the little French butter cookies—which evoked all the memories of his past?” She stared up at Vic. Why the hell was she talking about some nineteenth-century author, who truthfully, she’d never read more than a few pages of, when what she really wanted to ask him was, “So you do remember me? In a really bad way? Or maybe just a bad way?”
Or maybe not at all.
Press forced himself through the doorway, leading with two large bags. “Here you go.” He peered in the bags and handed one to Vic. “Yours, I believe.” Then he slipped out a waxed paper covered hoagie for Mimi and a paper pouch of fries. “If you want ketchup for the French fries, I can muscle my way back in. Sorry, I forgot, but I’m happy to…” He cocked his head over his shoulder.
“No, I’m fine,” Vic said.