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Stories from the Verse
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Chapter 20: Takano 19
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Hastings 192
The week went smoothly. Tommy varied the lunch each day, doing grilled ham and cheese with soup once, cold cut sandwiches once, and peanut butter and jelly twice. She thought about making tuna salad or egg salad or egg sandwiches, but decided not to be too adventurous the first week.
When Missus Billings got home Friday, she broke her usual routine, taking Tammy directly to the bath and dressing her in nicer clothes than her usual day play clothes. Then she sat and called Tommy over.
“We’re going out to dinner tonight. I’m not sure what we’re celebrating--some work thing for Mister Billings. Anyway, that means I won’t be making supper. Would you like to join us? Or you can stay here and fend for yourself.”
“Oh, well, I’m going to need my money to buy some clothes--I didn’t really pack for working a job like this, and my travel clothes aren’t really the best choice for a lot of things.”
“Oh, don’t be silly, our treat.”
“Are you sure?”
“You’re nearly family at this point. Of course you can come.”
“That’s very kind of you. I’ll go get changed. I did pack one dress; I hope it’s appropriate.”
Tommy took the opportunity to wash quickly in the shower, and then tossed on her party dress and sandals. She wished she had a sweater or cover of some sort to go over her shoulders, as this was not exactly a family dinner dress, but she only had what she had.
She returned to the kitchen, and found that Mister Billings was having a beer. “I hope this is all right,” she said, indicating her clothes. Missus Billings may have raised an eyebrow, but Tommy continued, “I didn’t really pack for this; once I get paid I’ll try to find a place where I can buy clothes more appropriate to the job.”
Mister Billings eyed her thoughtfully. “It’s very attractive,” he finally said. “I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it, although it looks like something women wear to clubs in the city. Anyway, it will do.”
Then he took out his wallet, and pulled out a few bills. “Speaking of getting paid, I promised you fifty dollars a week, and here’s this week.” He handed her five ten-dollar bills. She went to hand one back.
“You’ve overpaid me,” she explained. “I was already paid for Monday.”
“Oh, that’s right, you were. My mistake. Well, I won’t make that mistake next week; keep it.” He smiled as if it were not a mistake, and perhaps that it was a test of her honesty which she had passed. She wasn’t going to argue, particularly as in her time sixty dollars didn’t buy a lot of clothes, and she wasn’t sure what she was going to need or what it was likely to cost.
Riding in the car she was surprised not only that Tammy didn’t ride in a car seat but that there were no seat belts. Her own father had so trained her to wearing them that she was a bit uncomfortable riding without one, but she didn’t say anything. Tammy played on the back seat with a couple of stuffed animals she had brought with her, and moved around like it was the floor of the living room, sometimes kneeling, or standing on the floor. Her parents did not seem to think this at all odd or dangerous. The restaurant was less than ten minutes by car. It was a diner that looked like a railroad car with a shiny metal exterior.
Looking at the menu, she was surprised at the low prices on everything. It reminded her that she was very much out of her own time, and she had no idea what constituted “expensive” in this world. Nor, she realized, had she any clear guideline as to what would be an acceptable amount for her to spend. She could try to follow Missus Billing’s lead, but probably she wouldn’t know what anyone was ordering until they ordered, at which point she would have to have decided.
“What’s good here?” she asked, figuring that was about the best way she would get a clue as to what they expected her to order.
“What do you like?” Missus Billings asked in response.
“Oh, lots of things. Seafood, steak, hamburgers, pork chops, chicken. I don’t care for liver, and meat loaf has to be good. I get breakfast every day, so I don’t fancy it for dinner, and I’ve learned that restaurants don’t usually do Italian food very well, unless they really are Italian restaurants.”
“Don’t get the seafood here,” Mister Billings suggested. “There’s a good seafood restaurant a few towns over that does a much better job on it, and we’ll make a point of eating there maybe next week or so.”
Tammy nodded, and looked back at the menu. Then she thought of another question.
“What’s for dinner tomorrow?”
“Roast beef,” Missus Billings answered. “Why?”
“Well, if you’re making roast beef tomorrow night, I probably don’t want their poorer version tonight.”
“Clever girl,” Mister Billings said. “I’m going to have the sirloin steak, and you certainly can have steak if you want it, but I’ve had the roast turkey and stuffing, and it’s quite good, if you like turkey when it’s not the holidays. But most of what they make here is good.”
Tommy nodded, muttered a “Thank you,” and considered whether she liked turkey enough to eat it at a restaurant. There was also a roast chicken plate that looked to be similar. She decided on the turkey. It sounded good enough, and anyway she thought that it would look better if having asked for advice she took it. There was a choice of a salad or either of two soups, and she went with the salad; dressings were limited to Italian, French, Russian (which was apparently Thousand Island), and Bleu Cheese, and she took the Russian. She was not offered potato because she got stuffing, but of the three vegetables she chose green beans. It was all almost more than she could eat, and she declined the offer of dessert, but did have a cup of coffee. (Missus Billings commented about not knowing Tommy drank coffee, to which Tommy replied that she didn’t drink it often, but it seemed the best way to finish this meal.)
During dinner Mister Billings raised the dreaded question: “So, tell us about your trip.”
Having been through it before, Tommy had some ideas.
“Near the beginning I saw an exhibit of modern technology, but it wasn’t well organized and I don’t think I learned much from it. From there, I’ve spent most of my time traveling through wilderness--parks and such. I’ve stayed with a few people who live in the forests, and did a lot of camping. I was in a city briefly, but the police picked me up to question me--I guess I didn’t look right or something. I was released when some emergency hit, a bomb scare or something, and then I wandered out here to your neighborhood. That’s pretty much the whole of it.”
“You didn’t say the eagle,” Tammy said. Tommy laughed.
“Oh, yes, in the forest I got a pretty close look at an eagle perched on a low rock near the ground in a clearing. You rarely ever see them in Delaware, other than in zoos, so this was a treat. I saw some other animals, too, but most of them I couldn’t tell you what they were.”
“Yes,” Mister Billings said. “Wild animals do tend to vanish quickly when they see people.”
“So,” Tommy said, “what are we celebrating, and what do you do?”
As Mister Billings launched into a description of his job, Tommy feigned interest. It had something to do with financial analysis and planning for a shipping company that apparently did imports and exports. She suppressed a smile as she envisioned herself asking will this be on the test? However, letting her host rattle on about boring details of accounting work was better than finding herself trying to explain who she was and where she had traveled over the past few weeks, and besides, it let her eat. The food was good.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with five other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #359: Characters Engage. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: