Jimmy Burdett knocked to announce his presence, but didn't wait for a response. He opened the back door to the Lunardi house and stepped into the laundry room. He'd been there a hundred times before. The smells coming from the kitchen—sweet chopped basil and chives, lasagna baking, toasted garlic bread, fresh-brewed coffee—were as familiar to him as his own home. "Jennifer," he shouted. "Jennifer!" He hurried into the kitchen waving the letter that had just arrived, eager to share his news. "I got the scholarship! I got the Wynbern Scholarship."
At the kitchen counter stood Mrs. Lunardi with her back to him, tossing a salad. She hadn't changed out of her work suit. The blue pin-striped jacket was draped over a kitchen chair and her matching pumps were on the floor beneath it. His eyes tracked up her well-toned legs to the hem of the pin-striped skirt halfway up her thighs. Her dark-patterned nylons always caught Jimmy's attention.
Ruth Lunardi, his girlfriend's mother, turned around. Her sheer white blouse was protected from spills by a thick white cotton apron. She always wore an apron when she made red sauce. When he chopped vegetables for her, she made him wear one, too.
Mrs. Lunardi held a Vadalia onion in one hand and a Wusthof paring knife in the other. Chopped chives rested on the cutting board, ready to be tossed with the salad. The apron was tied tightly around her waist, accenting her figure. She weighed thirty pounds more than his girlfriend, Jennifer, but the weight looked great on Ruth. She was shapely.
She was crying. "What's wrong, Mrs. Lunardi?"
Ruth leaned back against the counter. "She's gone, Jimmy. Jennifer's left us."
Jimmy stood in the middle of the kitchen trying to make sense of what she was saying. Mrs. Lunardi could be a drama queen sometimes, like the day when her husband moved out. Or when the divorce became final. But she could be a lot of fun, too, like when the three of them played Truth or Dare.
"How can she be gone? We're going to the Senior Banquet tonight. I bought a promise ring. We graduate on Sunday."
It wasn't until he said that, that Ruth noticed the three-piece brown suit he was wearing, the letter in his hand, and the flowers. "The promise ring is why Jennifer left," she said in disgust. Ruth put down the onion and the knife. "Neither of them gives a shit about graduation." She walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a nice Merino Syrah.
Jimmy sat down and set the letter on the table. He tossed the bouquet beside it. "Them?" he asked.
"My daughter and Dewey Hickman." Ruth uncorked the wine and inhaled its fruity aroma.
"Mr. Hickman? Jennifer's scrawny old soccer coach?"
She pulled out a wine glass. Stopped. Glanced over to Jimmy slumped at the table, and pulled out a second glass. "He's the one."
"Jennifer hated him!"
Ruth poured two generous glasses. It wasn't the first time she'd served the teenager a drink. His parents were Mormons, so when Jimmy had started dating Jennifer, he had a lot of catching up to do. Ruth helped.
She set a full glass in front of him before sipping from her own. "Of course she hated him." Ruth sat down at the table across from Jimmy. "He was a horseshit soccer coach."
Jimmy hesitated. "Forgive me if I'm out of line, Mrs. Lundardi. That's not why she hated him." Ruth raised her eyebrows. "It was because of you and Mr. Hickman. She knew where you went when you didn't come home some nights. We followed you a couple times."
"Followed me?" Ruth set down her glass, lifted her right foot, and began massaging it. She'd been in court most of the day. Her skirt rode up in the process but she made no effort to tug it back into place.
"It was Jennifer's idea."
"Of course it was." Ruth took another drink of wine. She noted that Jimmy's eyes were focused on the space between her thighs. She was amused when he tried to adjust himself without being obvious about it.
"Your daughter, Mrs. Lunardi, is a bit of a voyeur," he explained. "She wanted pictures, but you were very discrete."
"That's me. Discrete."
Jimmy looked up. He realized that she'd caught him staring. He tried to act casual by reaching for the wine and taking a drink. He crinkled his nose. "Too fruity." He set the glass back down. "Would you mind, Mrs. Lundardi, if I had a beer."
"Knock yourself out," she told him. "The wine won't go to waste."
Jimmy grabbed a Bent River Uncommon Stout from the refrigerator. He wanted something with body, something with authority. He popped the cap.
Ruth watched him take a pint glass from the shelf and pour the beer. Jimmy was tall with curly brown hair, broad shoulders, and a deep tan from working construction. He looked nice in a suit. Actually he also looked nice in tight jeans. And in a Speedo. But he was eighteen for god's sake.
That's when Mrs. Lunardi remembered why Jimmy had come over. To take her daughter to the Senior Banquet and give her a promise ring. He'd already started his summer construction job, working afternoons and weekends, to earn money for that stupid ring.
"Did you keep the receipt?"
"Did you keep the receipt for the ring?"
"Good man," she said. Ruth switched feet and began massaging the left one, spreading her legs in the process. She had his total attention, for what that was worth.
.... There is more of this story ...