Virginia’s running the big hotdog cookout and, of course, I go, having already promised to help her with it as well as her recurring car problems.
When I enter the grounds this big beefy kid evidently acting as security scrutinizes me warily. He looks vaguely like a younger edition of Virginia’s father – can this be the nephew I’ve never met? – but he lets me in without a word, either recognizing me or cowed by my determination.
There’s a couple of long serving tables set up with Virginia at the very end of the last one. Everybody’s there, dishing up the typical picnic fare, all the usual suspects, laughing and being quite ostentatiously jolly, seemingly more and more animated the closer they are to Virginia, the guy next to her, David W., practically capering as he chats her up.
Jesus I think She doesn’t need me barging in here and sidle off to the margins, but soon enough she excuses herself and comes up. So how’s my car? Thanks for taking it in.
Not so good, I say. They have to order parts. It won’t be ready until Tuesday or Wednesday, more likely. Could come to some money.
Oh, damn, she says, looking back at the line where David is already beckoning frantically.
I’d offer you a ride home after, but it doesn’t look like you’ll have any trouble finding one.
Come on, Charlie, she says. Listen, I asked you here because I want to see you, of course, but right now I really, really need your help with something else.
Sure, anything, I say, as usual.
It’s the pots and pans. They need to get scrubbed and none of these guys want to do it. I would myself but I have to be out here in front.
So I get the most thankless and tedious job, along with much derision from the fun crowd, who so enjoy coming into the clubhouse kitchen and dumping a seemingly endless supply into my sink, each one more encrusted than the last.
Finally I’m done and fling down my soaked apron and stumble out of the clubhouse, exhausted, my hands red and wrinkled. Outside it’s dark and deserted, napkins and cups blowing around, but here she is, sitting on a picnic table, smoking a cigarette. Hey. You promised to give me a ride home, right?
I’m still silent and stewing in the car, but she turns to me and puts her hand on the back of my neck. Don’t be like this, Charlie. You know it’s never going to be the way you want it to be between us, but, believe me, I honestly need you. Nobody else takes me seriously the way you do. The rest of those guys, they’re not bad guys, you know, but in the end I’m just another bitch they can boast on, right? When I need somebody, really need somebody, you’re the only one that ever shows up and you always have.
And, fuck me, I always will.