Recap: Shep and Lyle are attending a party thrown by their mutual friends, Tom and Irene. In the last chapter, Lyle fretted over the possibility of running into his former girlfriend, Annabelle, at the party.
The door flew open. “Hey!” Irene said, throwing up her arms. She was short and heavy-set with round-rimmed spectacles, and she held a glass of white wine in one hand. “It’s Shep and Lyle! How great to see you guys! Come in, come in!
“I see you brought wine, too,” she said, as Shep and Lyle stepped into the foyer. “You guys must know I’m a connoisseur. They look positively divine. Thank you both — you guys are so polite.”
“I’m sure they’re nothing special,” Shep said. “I got them cheap at the liquor store.”
“I assure you, they’re not,” Irene said. “I was just being polite.
“So,” she said, motioning to the living room, “feel free to jump in. We have a bar and a buffet. With my cooking, you can guess which is more popular. One thing I have to ask, though, is if you guys would mind taking off your shoes? Tom and I had the carpets steam-cleaned only yesterday, and we’re trying to keep them from getting worn.”
“Not a problem,” Shep said, slipping out of his loafers. He kicked them aside into a large pile by the door.
“Take off my shoes?” Lyle asked.
Irene nodded. “That’s right. If you wouldn’t mind.”
“Well,” Lyle said, licking his lips, “that’s the thing. I actually do mind.”
“Lyle,” Shep said, groaning. “C’mon.”
“You see, I bought these shoes especially for the party,” Lyle said. “They weren’t exactly cheap.”
Irene nodded. “I know, and I can appreciate that. But you see, we had the carpets steam-cleaned only yesterday, and that wasn’t exactly cheap, either.”
“Why would you have your carpets steam-cleaned before the party?” Lyle asked. “Why wouldn’t you have them steam-cleaned after the party, after everyone’s walked on them?”
“Please, Lyle,” Shep said.
“What?” Lyle raised his arms. “It’s a fair question. What if someone spills food or wine? With so many people, it’s almost guaranteed. I think a wine stain will cause more lasting damage than the bottoms of my new shoes.”
“No one’s spilled anything yet,” Irene said.
“Yeah, but the party’s just getting started. Wait till the wine starts flowing. I bet you’ll have red stains all over the place before the night’s through. It’ll look like a crime scene.”
“It’s going to look like a crime scene if you don’t shut up and take off your shoes,” Shep said.
“I don’t want to take off my shoes!” Lyle said. “Shoes are the first thing a woman notices about a man. How can I meet a woman if I’m in my stocking feet?”
“If you smile and show her your teeth, then maybe she won’t notice,” Shep said.
“Do you have a foot-odor problem, Lyle?” Irene asked. “Is that what this is about?”
“No, I don’t have a foot-odor problem!” Lyle said. “I’m just uncomfortable walking around with no shoes on. It’s demeaning and disgusting. I mean, wouldn’t you rather have shoes on your carpet than people’s bare, stinking feet?”
“No one else here has a foot-odor problem,” Irene said.
“Lyle, c’mon,” Shep said. “Lose the shoes.”
Lyle folded his arms. “They’re brand-new. They’re not going to hurt anything.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t make any exceptions to the no-shoes policy,” Irene said. “If one person keeps their shoes on, then everyone else will want theirs, too. It’ll be total anarchy.”
Lyle frowned. “I never heard of footwear undermining the rule of law.”
“Everyone else took theirs off,” Shep said. “Why can’t you be reasonable and take yours off, too?”
“Ninety-nine bucks plus $29.99 shipping and handling — that’s why,” Lyle said. “Money like that dissolves my ability to reason.”
Shep frowned. “So your budget doesn’t allow for rent, but it allows that much for shoes? You want to know something? You’re not wearing those things in my apartment, either.”
“Wait a minute — I just thought of something,” Irene said. “Tom has a pair of bedroom slippers upstairs, in the bedroom. Those wouldn’t hurt the carpet because they’re thin-soled. What do you say, Lyle? Interested?”
“See, there you go,” Shep said. “That’s a very reasonable compromise.”
“And you could even keep them, if you want,” Irene said. “Tom wouldn’t want them back after you’ve worn them. He wouldn’t want to develop a foot-odor problem.”
“You know what — never mind.” Lyle yanked off the shoes and flung them into the pile. “I’ll take them off, all right? There you go; I give up. You happy now?”
“Gross.” Shep pinched his nose. “What’s that smell?”
Irene grinned. “Thank you, Lyle. I really mean it. I know it’s nit-picky, but I want the carpet to maintain its integrity.”
“At least someone will have some.”
“Lyle, be nice,” Shep said. He turned to Irene. “You’ll have to excuse his behavior. His whole sense of self-worth tonight was based on those shoes.”
Irene laughed. “Sounds like Tom’s slippers aren’t the only things that are thin-soled.”
“I wanted to make a good impression,” Lyle said. “Shoes are the first thing a woman judges a man by.”
“Unless they’re English teachers and frown upon ending a sentences with a preposition,” Shep said.
“Wait a minute.” Irene frowned at Lyle. “That’s the second time you mentioned impressing a woman. I thought you were joking the first time. How come you’re not with Annabelle? Are you two—”
“They broke up,” Shep said. “Wait! I mean … up, they broke.” He frowned. “How do you not end that with a preposition?”
“Thanks,” Lyle said, glaring. “While you’re at it, why don’t you broadcast it on public access?”
“Who watches public access?” Shep asked.
“Oh my god,” Irene said. “I knew something was wrong. I knew it. I sensed something was up the moment I saw her.”
Lyle’s eyes widened. “The moment you saw her? Is Annabelle … is she here?”
Irene nodded. “Yeah. She’s out back, on the lawn.”
“In her stocking feet?” Shep asked. “Won’t she track stuff in? I mean, in won’t she track … stuff?”