Dinnertime

R was cooking a steak on the little hibachi grill I bought a garage sale last summer for six bucks.  It was the only grill I owned; my mother had never, ever cooked outside on a grill, so I had never learned how to do so either.   I watched him through the kitchen window while I prepared a salad and Z set the kitchen table.

We’d spent all day with his friend moving in R’s things.  He didn’t have much in the way of furniture (most of what he’d used at his apartment had turned out to be his roommate’s), but what he did have was tucked away in the basement bedroom, turning it into kind of a den.  I thought that was a good idea; it would give R a place of his own to go and chill out and be alone.  I’d finally moved some of my things into Zach’s bedroom closet (he certainly didn’t need all of the space) to make room in my closet for R.

It seemed strange to me that I still hadn’t met any of his family even though he was moving in with me.  R had told me that his parents lived about forty five minutes from where I did, that they were both college professors, and that he had a large extended family.  His father taught at an entirely different university in the summers, somewhere in Vermont, and R thought that it might make more sense to meet everyone all at the same time, after his father returned.    I suppose this should have bothered me more at the time, but since my own family was disjointed, spread out and fairly dysfunctional, I didn’t think that much about it.

“Are you ready for the best steak of your life, Z?” R asked my son as he came in with a warm plate full of meat, holding it reverently in front of him.

“Sure,” Z answered, going along with the game, but I could hear the question in his voice.  We hardly ever ate steak.  It was expensive and I’d never mastered the art of cooking it under the broiler as my mother had always done.   I tried to think back and remember the last time Z would have tried it.  Maybe out East with my family at some point.

We all sat down together at the table.  R poured red wine in small glasses for him and I; a glass of milk sat at Z’s spot.  A loaf of Italian bread had been cut up and put into a basket.  All of these things were foreign to Z and myself; I had never drank wine with dinner before unless I was eating at a restaurant.  But R explained in his family, there was always wine at dinner.  Bread on the table was another staple that I had never considered essential but that was his custom.  He’d happily recounted to me his favorite New Year’s Eve meal had been when his roommate had come home with a big block of cheese, a good French baguette and a bottle of wine for dinner.

I was intrigued by all of the differences between R’s way of doing things and my own.   It felt borne of years and years of dinners at a table with a cloth, drinks in glasses with stems and real chairs.  The majority of my meals growing up  included TV tables parked in front of sitcoms, drinks in plastic cups or perhaps the glasses that McDonald’s had given away that month with their Happy Meals, and more recently, stools at a breakfast bar rather than sitting at a real table.    I liked the idea that perhaps both Z and I were going to have something different in our experience than what we’d had so far.

I lifted my glass of wine.  “Cheers!” I said, offering to clink my glass with Z and R.  “We’re glad you’re here with us.”

R smiled and clinked back.  “I’m glad too,” he answered.

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