This Juniper Street duplex apartment on the second floor was becoming home away from home for Gina Archer. Stefan’s Bar and Grill was about a mile away on Riverside Drive. She mounted the steps now behind Denise, who had posed with her and Dixie for pictures shot by Martin just a week or two before. Denise had apparently fallen in love with the Archer family after working with the girls and visiting everyone at their home. She found there a warm sense of belonging and friendliness. It was, considering the brief triangle that developed during her troubles with Martin, an unexpected benevolence.
Denise paused to take up the bonsai tree left to sun on the porch. Gina offered to take it while Denise fumbled for the house key to the place. She’d just moved in upon agreement with Martin and Lewis two months after they became roommates. She was pleased her new job had brought with it new friends. Their seemingly instant closeness had provided some placid vibes in her sometimes self-torturing existence.
“I’m just glad to have the day off!” Denise sighed, upon entering the kitchen. “We were so slow last night until right up til closing. Two orders five minutes before…but you know what? I have every intention of starting an angel food cake and maybe some homemade spaghetti sauce. Cooking’s just in my blood!”
Denise busied herself laying out the bunt cake pan and mixing bowl. She waxed enthusiastically over her recent visit to the Archer home and life in their kitchen.
“It was so great, talking to your Dad while he made chili,” she beamed. “And while he’s telling me his prison guard stories, you sisters break out singing together…and your Mom comes shuffling in to pour herself a Coke. Just such a wonderful atmosphere!”
“Yah,” agreed Gina, “I guess we were all singing and talking too loudly or she would’ve just called out from the living room for someone to fix her drink for her. She calls all three girls’ names no matter which one of us she’s calling, usually.”
“That’s hilarious!” said Denise, as she opened a bag of flour and began sifting. “Your Dad sounds like he became a counselor as much as a guard.”
“He was maybe too good at it,” said Gina, siding up gingerly. “He would befriend these wayward women, and some of them would start calling the house, even in the middle of the night, trying to get his help. Mama was NOT a fan of that.”
“I’ll bet not!” exclaimed Denise while churning away at the drifting white powder. “He told me she used to go on rides with him when he had to transport women to Northwest Regional.”
“The psychiatric hospital. Yes, they would call her up when there was no lady cop available, so they would have a female riding along, y’know…one of those things. No sexual misconduct could be claimed…or be done! Hahah. They’d ask because she was his wife. Small towns.”
“Never thought of it---hmmph!” said Denise, refilling the sifter. “Makes sense, though…they could make up anything in their heads and really believe it.”
It was best, Gina realized, while absent-mindedly rinsing out dishes in the sink, that she had closed the book on her feelings for Martin, outside of friendship. The passionless kiss decided her even before he broke the news to her. It was too much like her lack of appetite; going through the motions on something as important as a relationship just added to the hollowness of her attempts to find love before. She hoped this new friendship would work. It had been a mixture of strange and comforting, upon her last visit.
All three of them had been hanging out together. Denise had earlier suggested Gina spend the night, instead of them taking her home. Then her suggestion evolved into having Gina stay in their tent, which she and Martin had been erecting in their bedroom for the eccentric purpose of renewing their romance and sense of fun, to remind them of good times before. Since the tent seemed too much trouble to put back up, Denise said she should just sleep in the bed with them. Gina had planned on relying on a sleeping bag, but the bed was so huge, and Gina already was used to sharing a bed with her sisters, all her life. It didn’t seem so strange at the time, because as she lied there, no sexual attentions or any kind of tension arose. Not much different than a group of puppies.
Denise disturbed the reverie by cracking an egg on the counter. “My brother’s home, too. He tends to keep to himself a bit when he’s not at work, lately. I wonder sometimes if he’s still grieving this girl he used to date; he never hears from her. I hope he’s letting go. I saw him with a couple of other girls since then, but nothing that stuck. He was a really fun and thoughtful person before that. Well, I guess he’s still thoughtful. He’s been bringing home library books when he’s not practicing guitar or playing cd’s as he sits out the window on the roof of the front porch in front of the house.
As if on cue, Lewis came out, with a thick book in his hand, in sock feet. “Oh, hey, Denise! Thought you were home. Martin’s not back from mountain biking.” He smiled at Gina. “I thought I might break hermitage to say hello to everyone. It’s funny how you can get used to your own company.” Gina smiled back as Denise set the oven to pre-heat.
Lewis sees how painfully thin Gina is. He remembers peeping out at her one time before when she came over. He’d actually come out to talk to Dixie on another occasion; her boisterous manner had made her easy to approach, the kind of person you might have a beer with. Besides, he’d heard she was into girls, so he didn’t feel conflicted about hitting on his sister’s friend. On the other hand, Denise had gravitated to a couple of his, along the way, though living here with Martin was the most serious relationship she’d had. Denise talks about Martin’s delivery cart he’d built to tow with his bike for local orders from Stefan’s.
Lewis left music playing from his room for entertainment. After the cake goes into the oven, the trio migrated to the living room. Gina noticed the book he read was Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. He apparently shared Martin’s penchant for serious reading; it was probably their original bond.
Nothing serious was discussed today, however; Denise pulled out the old game system to challenge everyone to a few rounds of Clayfighter. After her Mr. Frosty proved unstoppable, a giddy game broke out, something like tag. After tasting adulthood, this household had made an embrace of keeping the big kid inside alive, as though childhood were already some nostalgic distance past.
Soon, they’d begun a rough housing game of sorts, falling over the back of the couch. They took turns pushing each other over the edge and tumbling over the white elephant furniture. It reminded Denise of games she and Lewis used to play growing up, rushing at the couch while the other defended the “attack” with a cushion, then bouncing off and laughing.
At one point, Gina landed square in Lewis’ lap. They made no effort to pull apart. It just felt natural. Martin then ascended the stairwell to the doorway, where Denise greeted him with a kiss. The two migrated into the kitchen to talk, after he wheeled his Giant into the bedroom. As they sat quietly, Gina found her hand slipping naturally into Lewis’s palm. They simply sat holding hands while Neil Young’s first solo album played from a mix out his open bedroom door.
Dixie came by to pick up her sister just before dinner. Lewis watched everyone go out to the car, then walked in, saw the cake was done, and turned off the stove.