Jane Hind dropped by for dessert after Thanksgiving dinner with her boyfriend’s family. “There was chili on the turkey, chili in the stuffing, chili in the scalloped potatoes,” she told Gina while helping herself to a slice of sweet potato pie. “I couldn’t chance the pumpkin flan.”
Chris Beltran, after a quick hello, had hurried into the den where Charlie, Tom, and Frank watched the Seahawks game. Outside the kitchen, Teresa Chapman banged her thumbs against a shaking BlackBerry. Brushing past her, Jane mumbled “excuse me” between chews.
“I always thought this would taste like mashed potato pie… just, you know, with a different color.” She scooped up the velvety filling with her fork. “But it’s bomb.”
“Sara made it this morning,” Gina said. “She doesn’t add any of those awful Yankee touches.” She shuddered. “You can’t trust people who’d ruin a perfectly good pie with marshmallows.”
Teresa swore under her breath and looked ready to hurl the offending BlackBerry at the wall. “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” She turned to Gina. “I have to hop on a call.” She started toward Payton and Cody’s bedroom, which was closest, but the cold wind of Gina’s voice held her in place.
“Sara’s in there,” Gina explained. “She’s taking a little breather after dinner. Feel free to use the master suite. Charlie should have made the bed after his nap earlier.”
“Your sister-in-law looks stressed,” Jane noted after watching Teresa slam the bedroom door shut behind her.
“She always is,” Gina stated without sympathy. “She’s just not cut out for corporate life. She should rightly work in some low-pressure field — like a small-town librarian or a public schoolteacher.”
“Why doesn’t she?”
The ice in Gina’s glass rattled sharply as she motioned toward the far end of the living room.
“Didn’t you notice the von Trapp family over there? Someone’s gotta keep that sad little Multnomah roof over their heads.”
Jane looked up from her dessert plate. She picked out the small, ponytailed man wrangling the attending children as Teresa’s husband, Ray. He was rail thin except for a pot belly and flabby chest, which jiggled under his loose turtleneck sweater.
“What does her husband do?”
“Nothing,” Gina declared. “He stays home with the kids.”
“Typical,” Jane said. “Women had this whole movement so we could do what we want with our lives, and men swoop in and use it as an excuse to lie around and watch sports.”
“I don’t think he’s into sports,” Gina remarked, lifting a dark eyebrow. “He was a dance-theatre major at Reed.”
Jane shook her head, her tan face wearing a half-frown. “Then how did Teresa not know he was a deadbeat? That’s like betting on the Clippers.”
“It’s possible she thought he was the best of the lot. After all, she attended a college with no Greek system, no business major, no grades, not even an official ranking. It’s like I tell the girls: You have to be vigilant regarding your surroundings, both personally and professionally. Just because there’s a crop doesn’t mean there’s any cream.”
Jane flicked brown crumbs off her fingers.
“Maybe she’s happy,” Jane said as the muffled shouts of one side of a tense argument threatened to break down Charlie and Gina’s door. “I do caution my clients, though, not to anchor themselves to some fixer-upper. It’s almost always a waste of time and energy. Now, me and the world’s hottest man? He was turn-key ready when we met.”
“I suppose,” Gina said casually, and then more forcefully, “I assume you didn’t share this philosophy with Cindy Prior when you sold her that landfill in the Central District.”
Jane’s response was like a prerecorded message: “It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood.” She set her plate on a sideboard. “Look, Cindy was at the point in her life when it was now or never. I introduced her to the best available property within her reach. Now, she can say she’s a homeowner. You know what that means in the world? When you die, there’s an estate sale. When you’re a renter, the super just calls Goodwill.”
— from The Wrong Questions