Recap: In the previous chapter, Lyle was horrified to learn that Annabelle’s parents have invited them for dinner on Saturday night. Annabelle’s sister is coming home after a recent breakup, and the family is getting together to cheer her up. Lyle’s not sure how he’s going to survive the ordeal … but it’s likely the solution will involve “a hearty dose of alcohol.”
The ringing phone jolted me awake. I sat up in bed; a mess of beer cans clanked to the floor. The room was dark, but a hint of dawn glistened outside.
I moaned, holding my head. The room swam. I squinted my eyes and looked at the clock. Seven a.m., Saturday.
The phone kept ringing. I reached over to my nightstand and picked up the receiver.
“This better be good.”
“Lyle, it’s Annabelle. You awake?”
“What?” I closed my eyes and massaged the tender spot between my eyeballs.
“You sound asleep. Did I wake you?”
“Oh, sorry. You sound hung over. Did you drink last night?”
“Why would you assume I’m hung over?” I asked. “I just woke up. I’m groggy.”
“You have that hung-over voice.”
I frowned, leaning my head against the receiver. “And what’s my hung-over voice?”
“The voice you’re talking with now. It’s all hoarse and throaty, like you’re going cough up a wad of green goop.”
“I might have had a few beers last night. Why — am I in trouble?”
“No,” Annabelle said. “I need a favor.”
“At seven in the morning?”
“I need you to come over to my place early, if possible. I’m bringing some stuff to dinner, and I need help carrying it to the car.”
“Oh, no,” I said.
“What are you bringing to dinner, exactly?”
“Just a couple of pies,” Annabelle said. “I promised my mother.”
“And that’s it? Two pies?”
“Yeah. My sister’s going to be there, as well as my brother and maybe a couple of his friends.”
“But you said a ‘couple’ of pies. ‘Three’ isn’t a couple; ‘three’ is a few. How many pies do we need to bring to this thing?”
“I just told you — three. A pumpkin, an apple and a cherry. My mom hates the consistency of pumpkin, my dad hates cherry because he always gets a pit in his mouth and my sister hates apple because cinnamon nauseates her. This way, there’s something for everyone.”
“Your sister nauseates me, and you don’t see me complaining,” I said. “And besides, can’t I have a preference? I like berry pie.”
“I don’t … well …” Annabelle said.
“No,” I said. “No. I was just kidding.”
“I can make you a berry pie.”
“No, forget it. I told you, I was joking.”
“No seriously. You like berry pie, and maybe my family will, too. I’ll make one.”
“C’mon, Annabelle,” I said. “Please. You don’t need to bring four pies to dinner. That’s idiotic.”
“No, it’s not. I haven’t made you a berry pie for a long time.”
“So make it some other time. I don’t care.”
“I’ve made up my mind,” Annabelle said. “I’ll put frozen berries on the list. I’m running to the store in a few minutes. We also should bring some drinks, don’t you think?”
I sighed. “How much are we bringing to this thing?”
“Don’t worry about that: I’m doing the shopping. I just need you to help me wrap up the food and carry it to the car. Can you think of anything else we should bring?”
“My appetite. That’s about it.”
“No, seriously, Lyle. I got to get going.”
I let out a breath. My temples pulsated. “I don’t know.”
“Maybe I’ll get some flowers.” Annabelle’s voice was distant and distracted; I could tell she was writing a list.
I closed my eyes. “Flowers?”
“For my mom. You can give them to her, and we’ll say they’re from you. She’d love it.”
“But they’re not from me; they’re from you.”
“So? She won’t know.”
“But I’m not the one getting the flowers.”
“It doesn’t matter — it’s the thought that counts.”
I gripped the receiver tightly in my hand. “But I’m not the one who had the thought! You did!”
“Lyle, relax,” Annabelle said. “I’ll get some roses. She loves roses, and she’ll love you for giving them to her.”
“All right,” I said, closing my eyes. “Get some roses.”
“And you need some coffee,” Annabelle said. “You’re grouchy when you’re hungover.”
I was already poking the floor with my foot, prodding the pile of beer cans, looking for a full one. I didn’t need coffee — I needed a Saturday-morning pick-me-up.
“When you said a ‘berry’ pie, did you mean blueberry or mixed berry?”
“But which one? I’ve made you both — I’m not sure which is your favorite.”
“Go with the blueberry.”
“Do you like the blueberry filling, or would you prefer actual blueberries? Like I said, I can get them frozen.”
“Annabelle,” I said, “it’s way too early for this.”
“OK — I’m sorry,” she said. “See you at noon? And get some coffee — you need it.”
“All right,” I said, grumbling. “See you at noon.” I hung up.
As I replaced the receiver, my hand brushed against a full can of beer. I smiled. Already, my mood had improved.