Journey to Love
Joe the Chef
Edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
I was surprised when we walked into the house and Joe was in the kitchen. “Joe, you mean you can cook?” I laughed as I gave him a hug.
“You better believe it, Lil' Bro. Tell them how you spent the summer,” DeAngelo said as he released Jayden and grabbed me in a bear hug.
“So, how did you spend your summer vacation, Joe?” I asked.
“In culinary arts classes. Did one on a dare and found I really loved it. Checked with the registrar and she sent me to see an adviser about changing my major. Will take an extra semester and summer school, but I'll get a degree in nutrition. I can go several ways from there, but I'm really interested in being a dietitian and working on making healthy or special diets taste good. I'll transfer to wherever Katrina gets accepted in law school for my advanced degree. With her grades and all, she should just about have her choice.”
“So you two are serious.”
“Yeah, about as serious as you can get. I proposed to her and she said, “Yes.” She's wearing my grandmother's engagement ring.”
“You should see that rock!” DeAngelo said.
“So how about you and Angelica?”
“Well, we're fine. I'd like to propose to her, but her family looks down their nose at me.”
“What's their problem?” Jayden asked.
“Well, I think it’s partly because I am too black ...”
“I guess I’d have to come in the back door then!” I was quite dark—Auntie said I look like I was carved out of dark chocolate—and DeAngelo was much lighter; sorta a rich coffee and cream.
“Yeah, no doubt, but there’s more. It’s also partly because I come from a poor family and partly because our family doesn't have degrees from Howard, Morehouse, Spellman etc., etc., etc. for ten generations.”
“Black snobbery at its best—or worst. Shit, DeAngelo, what does Angelica say about all that?” I asked.
“Well, at first she denied it, but then when her brother pulled her aside and asked her what she meant dating a common field nigger, she apologized to me and said she would never have thought her family were such bigoted snobs.”
“So what are you going to do about it?” Jayden asked.
“What can I do about it? I can't change the past and apparently the present doesn't count. To tell the truth, I don't know how a marriage can work when the partners are from two totally different worlds.”
“DeAngelo, the problem is not that you are from two different cultures,” Jayden said. “Look at Mr. Malik and Ms. Bianchi. For heaven's sake, look at your dads. No, the problem is two-fold. First it is because one of the cultures is not appreciated or, worse than that, is dismissed as producing inferior people. The second is a common Virginia disease, if I may be so bold. Someone once said Virginians were like common potatoes, the best part of them are under ground. It’s that stupid belief that somehow or other your worth is determined by those who are, for the most part, rotting in the ground, superior people springing from superior people. Well, that's bullshit. Look at you and my husband ...”
“Yeah, DeAngelo, your brother; my husband. Sure you had help along the way, a lot of help, to put you where you are and where you're going to be, but so did all of Angelica's snobbish parents and siblings. Who's paying for Angelica's and her siblings' supposedly superior education at the right colleges? You can bet your sweet ass they are spending money they did not earn. Snobbery pisses me off.”
“Yeah, Big Bro, don't let the shits put you down.”
“Well if you saw the rock Katrina is wearing ...”
“Shit, DeAngelo, just stop right there. You are playing their game. You'll never be able to match their degrees, their ancestors or be high yellow. Likewise, you'll not be able to afford an umpteen-carat diamond anytime soon, but if that's what is required for Angelica to accept your proposal, then, frankly, Big Bro, she's not worth your time.”
“Amen to that,” Sam said as he and Brad walked in from the garage. “Didn't hear the whole conversation, sons, son-in-law and best friend, but we heard enough. The truth of the matter is, DeAngelo, you are the one placing restrictions on your relationship, not Angelica. Do you really think she's the snob her family seems to be? I've never seen that. You're placing the restrictions on your relationship; Angelica is not.”
“Well, they just make me feel worthless.”
“Then that's your problem and you have to solve it, we can't and neither can Angelica.”
Joe placed an excellent meal on the table and after we had supper, we had coffee and sat around the table and talked. DeAngelo talked about his summer working with children under the supervision of a physical therapist. “Man, that is a job I was designed for! Sometimes it's depressing when you see kids who are suffering or crippled and you know they'll never be well, but then you give them a few minutes with less pain or help them walk a few steps and the world lights up.” DeAngelo himself lit up as he was talking. Clearly the man had found his calling.
Jayden and I talked about our summer and how being separated was not what we wanted, but the strengthening of our relationship made it worth the pain. “And, Dads, we're going to have a Navajo wedding when we can, but I think we are already married. Jayden really is my husband. Ms. Bianchi told me we should see a gay-friendly lawyer and get documents drawn up as you did.”
“Very good idea, Baby Boy,” Sam said. “No way you can make the situation the same as that of a heterosexual couple, but you can come closer than you would be without documents.
DeAngelo's phone rang, he glanced at the caller ID, asked to be excused and stepped just inside the office, leaving the door open. Half a minute later he shouted, “Yes! Hell, yes! Yes! Yes! Yes, a thousand time yes! He then talked quietly for a few minutes, folded the phone and came back to the table with a smile that threatened to do his face permanent injury it was so wide.
“Older son, I suspect you have some good news,” Brad said.
“Well, I guess it is,” DeAngelo said, trying hard not to smile broader. “That was Angelica and she said she guessed it was because I went to Monroe rather than that I was retarded, she had damn well waited long enough for me to wake up and since it didn't seem to be in the offing, she guessed she have to take the jock by the strap or whatever. 'DeAngelo Alonzo Wilson, will you marry me?' she asked. I guess you heard my answer.”
“Yes, along with the rest of Alexander County and south Harrisonville,” Joe laughed, hugging his best friend.
Sam got up and started out of the room saying, “I'll be back.” Brad got a grin on his face as if he knew what was going on. I guess he did because when Sam came back, he said, “DeAngelo, when my father asked my mother to marry him, he and his dad picked out a ring, with a sizable rock, for her. It hurt my grandmother because she had intended him to give mom her mother's ring, my great grandmother's. Dad asked Mom about it and she said it was just too old fashioned. Grandmother never gave up the idea that I would one day have a son. When she realized Brad and I were serious and had been married—she had no problem with that—she said, ‘Well, you can still have a son even if you have to buy one' and gave me my great grandmother's ring for my son. So, son, the ring is yours for your bride-to be.” He handed DeAngelo a dark blue velvet box.
DeAngelo just held the box, staring at it, tears running down his cheeks.
“Well, open it, dufus,” Joe said.
DeAngelo opened the box slowly, revealing one of the most stunningly beautiful rings I had ever seen. Victorian, it was platinum with a delicate flower and leaves, its petals filled with diamonds surrounding a center diamond which was approaching a carat, but in the setting, it looked delicate, very feminine, and beautiful.
“Dad, it's beautiful, gorgeous!” DeAngelo finally managed to say, then hugged Sam, then all of us.
“Son, was Angelica at the hospital when she called?” Brad asked.
“Yeah, she doesn't get off until midnight.”
“I bet she'd welcome a visit if you're up to driving.”
“Thanks, Dads,” DeAngelo said, and kissed our dads on the lips, something I had never seen him do before.
Thursday, Mom took a day off from her job and we spent it with her. DeAngelo had gone by to tell her the news after he had given Angelica the ring and she was very happy for him. She had misgivings about his marrying 'above his station,' but loved Angelica and said, “I really think it will work out or Angelica will, I think the expression is, 'kick some ass.'”
“Mom, such language,” I said in mock shock.
“Well, I just learned that from one of the kindergarteners last week,” she laughed.
We took Mom out to eat and had a long, leisurely lunch while we talked about our summer. Mom got a great kick out of hearing about Miss Carrie and Miss Lottie and their shotguns. Of course, I didn't tell her the whole story. She worried enough without giving her new reasons. She talked about how much she was enjoying both school and working with kids, but said when she got her degree, she wanted to work with middle-school or high-school kids. “Since I know ASL, I'll have a good chance at a teaching job at the school where I worked all those years. It’ll boost my state retirement as well.”
Mom had an appointment in Harrisonville at 2:30, so we drove her back home after lunch and told her Joe was doing a dinner Friday night and we would be leaving Saturday morning for Norfolk.
After we left Mom at her place, I called Mr. Manning and we went up to see him and had an enjoyable visit, this time with no crisis. Jeremy had been up to see him and Mr. Manning thought he was doing well.
Friday night, Joe did fix dinner. The family was there, of course, along with Mr. Manning and Stu, Mom's boyfriend Tim, Angelica and Katrina. Mom laughed and said three women hardly stood a chance against eight men, but Katrina said actually, she figured that was about an even match. The dinner was good and the company was good, but Jayden and I, Brad and Sam were in bed by 10:00. I didn't know when Joe and DeAngelo got in.
Jayden and I were up, showered and dressed by 7:00 and when we went down, Sam had breakfast almost ready. We ate with my dads, tossed our traveling bags in the car and were headed for Norfolk by 8:30. We planned to arrive before noon.
The day was beautiful, so we had the top down, the CD player going and were enjoying the ride.
“Beloved,” Jayden said, “we are going home, to our house. It's where we live, us, together.”
“Beautiful Navajo, I am ready for that, for us living together in our house.”
“We still need to talk about what we are going to do about the downstairs. Are we going to rent rooms to students? If so, what are the arrangements?”
“It's getting the cart before the horse, but if we decide to rent rooms, I don't want to bother with meals. They have been a real pain in the ass for Levi.”
“The pain comes from having the people in the house fix them. Some can't cook and some won't clean. Maybe we should either say you have to eat at the university or we could hire a caterer or a cook.”
“Something, just not the willy-nilly way Levi tried to do it. We'll talk to him. Maybe we can work out some kind of arrangement with him.”
We decided to have lunch at a nice place in Hampton, that Auntie had liked, before we went home. Lunch delayed us, so it was 1:30 when we finally pulled into the garage. We grabbed our traveling bags and went inside. Louis was waiting for us and helped us unload the car. When we had finished, we sat down to have a beer with him.
“How was the summer, Louis?” Jayden asked.
“Busy. I had two classes both sessions of summer school. Did get hired for next year. I'll be stuck with the classes no-one wants, especially the early morning ones, but I guess it'll be that way anywhere a new guy joins the staff. Man, Caroline and I really enjoyed this place. We're looking for an apartment, but haven't found one we like or, if we do, it costs too much. She is hoping an interview she had yesterday results in a job. If it does, we can afford a much nicer place than we could otherwise.”
“Louis. You and Caroline are welcome to stay in the living room upstairs for a while.”
“Thanks, we’ll take you up on that. I hope Caroline gets a job and we can move out soon. How was your summer?” Jayden and I gave him a very condensed version of our summer and promised more with photos later.
“I have a lot of queries from students who would like to live here. I told them I didn’t know if you were interested, but would post a notice for interviews if you decided to rent. I also kept a list of names, phone numbers and my impression of them, ranked them from one to ten. Anyone below ten you can ignore, but there are about twice as many tens as you have rooms. Made no promises you'd call. You are planning on renting rooms aren't you?”
“We talked about it and decided we would. We're definitely not going the Levi route with meals. Live and learn, and I have.”
“Wise decision. Neither is he this year. I guess you know people almost came to blows over the whole meal situation last year. Not sure what he's going to do.”
“No, he and Telvin have been traipsing around Asia somewhere. Jeremy is picking them up tomorrow. As a matter of fact, Jeremy has been the only one in the house since the last session of summer school. With Caroline and me moving out, only Philip is left from last year and Jeremy has been doing interviews. Frankly, I think he is doing a better job than Levi and Telvin did. His years as an army brat give him a pretty sharp eye and he can spot bullshit in the next county.”
“How's he in the girlfriend department?” Jayden asked.
“I think he's fine, but he and she would deny it. He has definitely decided on English and psychology double majors. He’s going for a teaching certificate, so he piled on the requirements this summer so he could get to work on his majors. I don’t know how he met Penny, but she was having a real struggle in a math class. He tutored her in math and she helped him with an education course he was taking. It wasn't that it was hard, in fact, his problem was it was so Mickey Mouse. The professor was so sure he knew all about high school students and Jeremy kept challenging him and making a D because of that. I couldn't get through to him, but Penny did and convinced him to do the Mickey Mouse projects and keep his mouth shut. He did and pulled a B out of the course. Started with them getting together three nights a week to study, then it was five nights a week and going out ‘just as friends’ Saturday nights. Before the summer was over they spent most weekends together and dropped back to studying together three nights a week, still just friends. I knew about Jeremy and the cadet and Caroline told me Penny had a really bad experience with a jackass, so both are pretty skittish about getting into a relationship. Weekend before last they went to Stanton.”
“Strange, Sergeant Major didn't mention a woman when I asked about Jeremy. In fact, no-one did.”
As Louis was leaving, Jeremy arrived. We caught up on the gossip and finally got around to talking about the rooms. “First off, as illogical as it seems, the library upstairs is off-limits to people living here except by invitation. Levi thought by providing a library on the same order as yours, he would be providing a decent study place. Without his constant supervision, it became a rec room. In spite of being told again and again no food in it, there were always half-empty drink cans and remains from snacks to be cleaned up. In fact, all of your upstairs needs to be off-limits except by invitation. That's important.
“Second, you don't want to mess with food. That was a total pain in the ass last year. Levi, Telvin and I debated engaging a catering service and that looked too expensive. We investigated hiring a cook and that's the route we're taking. He's responsible for preparing and serving breakfast and dinner and all the prep and clean-up. He and his wife own a ‘lunch only’ place, so his doing only breakfast and dinner works great. Looks like we can do that for little more than last year's arrangement and we'll have decent food, on time and things will be kept clean.”
We talked at length and Jeremy was proving to be an excellent innkeeper. Levi had asked him to take over management of the house and was giving him free rent and a small stipend to do so. Both were happy with the arrangement. “Would you like to take on a second house?” I asked.
“Maybe, but I'd recommend talking to Penny. She helped me a lot and is excellent. As a matter of fact, she's thinking about switching to the hospitality management program here.”
“And just who is Penny?” I asked as innocently as I could.
“She's a woman I met this summer. We studied together and all.”
“I want to hear about the 'and all,' best friend number two,” I said with a grin. Jeremy blushed. “I think the blush tells me all I need to know,” I laughed.
“Well, I think maybe she's getting to be more than just a friend. She did a practicum second half of summer school and was in Pittsburgh for most of the term. Man, I sure did miss her, and we are just good friends, but, Derek, you've dropped to friend number two as well.”
“Sounds serious to me,” Jayden laughed.
“Maybe,” Jeremy responded.
“On a lighter note, back to an earlier thought, would you ask Penny to drop by so we can talk about her managing the house?”
“Sure. As a matter of fact, I'm late now. See you guys later.”
Penny and Jeremy came by late in the afternoon. Penny was a rare combination. At first she seemed a prime example of the All-American girl next door, a cheerleader who dated the captain of the football team. As you started talking with her, she came across as a very warm person, the kind who would do well running a B & B. When she started talking about managing the house, it was obvious she had a head on her shoulders. In addition, she was beautiful in a way the glamorous women would never be and she would be beautiful when she was as old as Auntie had been. Later we would learn that while she was quiet, she was full of fun and had a wicked sense of humor. She was the perfect foil to Jeremy's happy puppy dog approach to life. Jeremy may not have recognized it yet, but a custom-designed partner could not have fit him half as well.
She said she would be delighted to take over management of the house with the same arrangement as Jeremy had with Levi. I gave her the list of pre-screened students Louis had prepared: she asked about men or women and I said either or both. She took the room at the back of the house and I made sure she knew she was welcome to use the library upstairs.
Jayden and I had discussed the housing question and decided that having a guest room standing vacant most of the time was foolish, especially since the living room upstairs made a nice guest room. After Penny chose a room, there were three left. By the end of the day, she had selected six students for the rooms, two couples, one straight and one gay and two straight guys. The gay couple were both grad students and the straight couple were juniors; the two straight guys were sophomores. The juniors were classmates from summer school she and Jeremy knew. The next day she asked Oscar, the cook at Levi's place, if he could recommend someone to do the same job at my place. She said he told her, “I can, the only person better for the job than I would be is my wife, Melyssa.”
“She will be by the end of the week.”
“Have her come see me,” Penny told him.
Penny hired her and having the husband and wife team was great as they worked together when needed, made purchases together, planned menus. As a matter of fact, about the only thing they didn't do together was cook, but even that was shared in some ways. Oscar was a far better baker than Melyssa and did all the baking. Melyssa was a salad maker/inventor you can only dream about and did all the salads, so there was always some carrying back and forth, but it worked and worked well. The fact of the matter was with paying Melyssa and Penny, the income from the rooms just about paid the cost of operating the house, but there certainly was none left over. That was okay because it meant Jayden and I had practically no real living expenses beyond clothing.
Louis had reworked my schedule after he talked with Drs. Bailey and Levey and redid Jayden's when Jayden told him he wanted a double major in English and child development with an emphasis on adolescents. Jeremy and his majors were similar in requirements, but Jeremy was ahead of Jayden, although they did have one class together.
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