William and I were an odd pair of friends, given how little we had in common. We met in our dorm's kitchen: I liked to cook, and William liked to complain about the cafeteria food. The smell of what I cooked attracted him: he said it smelled like I could become a chef at a five star restaurant. My mama had ensured that all seven of her sons knew how to cook well. She used to say, what's the point of doing it, if you don't do it well. I offered to teach William how to cook, but he was not interested in learning. In fact, that was a pretty consistent description of his whole college career. Something else we had in common: neither of us really wanted to be there.
I would have rather had staid in the army, but can't break a promise to one who already rests in peace, and cannot take it back. Not that my mama would have likely taken it back even if she had lived. She was not a woman to change her mind, and she was looking forward to one son of hers being the first in our family to graduate college. When she had found out about the army scholarship program, that's when she had made me promise I would take advantage of this opportunity. In her eyes, if I had not it would have been a loss of a huge fortune for our family, since college cost a huge fortune, and thanks to the military it was as if I had gotten this fortune handed to me, as long as I applied and studied and did it well.
The army had been a good fit for me. In part thanks to my old man teaching me how to defend myself even before I joined. I was not someone to mess with, at least no one messed with me twice.
I marveled at how naive William seemed at times, like he had lived on the moon these past couple of decades. No skills to speak of other than his charm. He was the third generation in his family to attend this alma mater, and his family had made a donation that had earned them a plaque on the new school of business administration building. If there was one thing William was good at was making friends, ensuring he got invited to all the parties. He seemed a likable sort, and quickly persuaded me that cooking for two was not more of a hardship than cooking for one. My mama and the army had both taught me to share with those who were in my family or my unit, so sharing with a fellow student came naturally for me. Usually he did not have time to stay and chat long though, but would grab his food and go to his next social obligation. I used to jokingly ask whether he could find enough time to study between parties, and his answer was usually just a laugh and a wave.
Given how we were not all that close, I was surprised when William approached me about joining him at his family estate for a long weekend. His parents were away for a cruise, and we could have the huge house all to ourselves. He told me about the gourmet grocery store nearby, and how he would take me there, and I could choose any ingredients I liked, his treat, to make those dishes I had always wished I could afford to make. We would have plenty of booze, a comfortable couch, and his basement featured a large screen TV with surround sound stereo. To help us eat all the goodies I prepared, he would invite a few friends over. But not to worry, since he knew I was not a party animal unlike him, I could just chill in the basement, watch TV, eat and drink, while he entertained upstairs. That way we could both get what we wanted, no?
It was true that I preferred a more quiet entertainment. It was not due to PTSD, no problems there. But having grown up in a large family, I learned to appreciate the quiet when I could get it, which growing up had been almost never. That's part of what I enjoyed in the army, the quiet times when my mates and I prepared and worked alongside eachother without any need for exchanging words. I knew that was not William's preference, he never could stay quiet, but somehow that did not bother me so much, most of the time his chatter could blend into the background noise, since his interests were not mine, but both of us knew it, there was no expectation that I actually listen to his chatter, which suited me just fine.
So I accepted his plan for the weekend. The first part of it went as planned. The gourmet store had all I could desire and more. The cooking in the well stocked kitchen of his parent's mansion was a special treat, I admit.
It was close to halftime in the game I had been watching when she came down. She took one look at me, sitting there, eating and drinking and watching. She didn't say a word to me, but instead turned around and addressed him, "Billy dear, the help is here watching your TV and helping himself to your stuff, while we are running out of cocktail shrimp upstairs!" At first I was almost willing to forgive the mistake the bimbo made, obviously she had seen the color of my skin and my non-designer clothes so obviously out of place, and I figured William had failed to mention that I was his friend and how come he happened to have this great food.
Back in the field we had learned to make similar assumptions, also based on color of skin, and on what they were not wearing (U.S. Army uniforms). Of course, if they had come running toward us with a machine gun pointed toward us, that had made their identity extra clear with no need to ask further questions. Similarly the deer in the headlights look I was faced with now made the situation extra clear too, with no need to ask. My mistake, it was I who had made the wrong assumption here, not the bimbo, who in hindsight had not seemed surprised to see me, just surprised about my activities.
"More cocktail shrimp, ma'am. Coming right up, ma'am." If there had been anyone there who knew me, they would have heard the dangerous undertone in my voice. With the fluid motion of a trained soldier, I got off the couch, passed the statue of her boyfriend continuing to just stand there on the stairs, into the kitchen, and out the back door. One thing the army had taught me was to always know my exit route, just in case.
You need to be logged in to comment