When I lived in Gastonia, my social life was Charlotte based. It consisted of recreational league co-ed volleyball, duplicate bridge club, festivals, establishments that served alcohol, midnight bike rides, and even the occasional blind date.
After every game, we’d gather at a local dive bar and commiserate over that night’s loss. When our losing streak reached three games, I decided that the team’s morale needed a boost and invited all ten members of our co-ed volleyball team to cross the Catawba River and come to my house for a cookout on Sunday.
Bridgett immediately accepted the offer, showing that her social life was as dormant as mine. The rest of the team controlled their enthusiasm and told me they’d let me know. Calls from the other team members straggled in over the next few days. Everyone had some excuse for not being able to attend the bash. Was our Esprit De Corps that bad? Perhaps I should have given more than three days-notice.
This party was going to be so much smaller than I’d intended with only one guest. I called Bridgett to tell her the bad news.
“Hey, Bridgett. No one else is able to make it on Sunday.”
“Oh, I don’t care. I’ll be there at two unless you don’t want me to come anymore.”
I paused and considered truthfulness before I responded. “Umm, no it’s alright if you really want to travel all the way to Gastonia in this heat.”
“Great, I’ll see you Sunday. Do you want me to bring a salad or anything else? I make really good deviled eggs.”
“Just bring a tennis racket. There’s a court next door. I’ve already done the shopping and have all the food covered.”
What I really meant was that I’d already bought a four-pound steak in anticipation of the volleyball soiree. Hell, budget be damned, I’d also splurged and bought a case of three-dollars-a-bottle Romanian wine. This had been my liquid sustenance in law school even though all of the law students who wanted to work in big law firms drank Scotch. I drank the Eastern European version of Two-Buck Chuck wine, which pretty much said it all.
On Sunday, Bridgett arrived five minutes early wearing green shorts and a red and yellow checkered shirt. I didn’t know if she was color blind or just trying to dress like a traffic light. In any event, she gave new meaning to the phrase “dressed to kill.” Jenny, my 12-year- old Irish Setter, scrambled off the porch to greet her and immediately shed some of her orange red hair on Bridgett’s conversation-ending shorts. I thought that her luminescent attire looked better with Jenny’s red hair blotches, although Bridgett hid her appreciation of her canine altered look.
Ten minutes later, when the small talk became silence, I suggested that we play tennis on the court that was on the adjoining church property. I hadn’t played in ten years but was so bad that I never had to worry about the loss of muscle memory. Anything over the net was considered a success and the chances of my hitting a shot that didn’t have the arc of a rainbow were as likely as finding four leaf clovers in the desert.
As soon as Bridgett swung, I knew we were well paired… for tennis. The altitude of our shots was conducive to three-shot rallies which lasted almost a minute, long enough to increase my appetite for both food and air-conditioning. After thirty minutes, I’d had enough.
When Bridgett came to the net to shake my hand after the match, I gave her the highest compliment that I could think of. “You know, you have the potential to be an adequate tennis player.”
Bridgett smiled at me as if she’d never gotten such praise. “I usually play to the level of my opponent.”
It only took me four years before I realized that she’d been speaking about life, not just tennis.
“Are you ready for me to start cooking?”
“Sure, what are you going to have?”
“I bought this huge steak and I’ll cook it on the hibachi that’s on the porch. I’ve also got potato chips and canned green beans. I figured that meat and two sides were the way to go.”
“I’d have been happy to bring a salad.”
“I knew that you would, but I wanted to make the whole dinner. I figured I should reward you for making the forty-five minute drive from Charlotte. After all, no one else came.”
“Thanks. You really didn’t have to go all out.”
Encouraged by her enthusiasm, I strode outside to light the hibachi. Since I’d been using this cooking method since law school, I knew to move the cooker away from the house before I doused the coals with lighter fluid. As soon as the flames subsided, I returned the grills to the hibachi, slung down the salted slab of meat and stood back to admire my work.
Bridgett immediately reminded me of why I was single. “Wow. You didn’t clean the grills. They are coated with dog hair. It looks like Jenny’s slept on them.” That was my first clue that Bridgett was going to be high maintenance. “Bridgett, I always cook this way. The dog hair will burn off in just a minute.”
She gave me a look that I mistakenly took for ardor and went inside to pour herself another glass of wine. I did the same just to appear polite. After five minutes of prattle about when she lived in Gastonia, I remembered that I needed to prepare the rest of the feast. Bridgett would have nothing of it.
“I’ll do this,” said Bridgett as she tore open the bag of chips and inserted the can opener into the container of green beans.
“I’m impressed. Where did you learn such culinary skills?”
“In first grade.”
I decided to change the topic.
Since I was an early adopter of healthy eating, I flipped the meat numerous times in an effort to keep it from being charred, but the hour on the grill betrayed my best efforts.
“Bridgett, what do you think? Is it ready?”
“I don’t know about ready, but it certainly looks done. I don’t think I’ve ever seen meat so black”.
When the cooked chunk of protein proved impervious to a fork, I shoveled the meat onto a plate and brought it to the table to be sliced. I’ve always had unrealistic expectations.
My cutlery collection consisted of butter knives, steak knives, and a large carving knife, which if had it been created in the South, would have been used on a fresh-killed wild boar.
After the first two steak knives broke, I suggested that we amplify our means of attack and use the carving knife. Bridgett had another idea.
“Let me try the Boy Scout knife in my purse. My dad gave it to me when I was thirteen. He was worried that I was going to be too much of a girly girl.”
While Bridgett, poked, prodded and pierced the steak into four pieces, I slid over to the garbage pail and fished out the meat wrapper. I don’t know how I missed the words “chuck roast.”