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76 13 ~ Emily At dinner, I tried to forget Gina’s parting comment and concentrate on the story Anna was telling about her Family Life class. “So it was Derek’s turn to take a computer-baby home for the weekend.” Anna carried the plate of veggie burgers to the table. “I programmed the computer for a cranky Saturday night. To keep the doll from crying, Derek had to carry it back and forth across the lobby of the movie theater while his buddies watched a karate film.” “He missed the movie?” Zoe asked. Anna nodded. “He was terrific. The computer printout showed no rough handling , no shaking or locking the kid in the trunk of the car. He’ll be a great dad.” She grinned at Zoe and me. “In at least ten years, I hope.” “Bring a baby home for me next weekend,” Zoe begged, holding the ketchup bottle upside down over her plate and thumping the bottom. “I want a baby sister. Hey, this is empty. I need ketchup.” “Those babies are a lot of work.” Anna looked through the crusty-rimmed jars of jams and pickles and mustards on the refrigerator door. “Emily will help me take care of it, won’t you?” Anna was closing the refrigerator when the phone rang. She covered the mouthpiece with her hand. “Would you find Zoe some ketchup?” She carried the phone into the living room. I searched the cupboards. “Sorry. We’re all out, kiddo.” “Veggie patties are awful without ketchup.” Zoe pushed her plate away. “How about salsa?” I held the jar for Zoe to inspect. “Mexican patties?” “Only if you talk Spanish to me, okay?” “Si, señorita. Now eat, por favor.” I spooned a pile of salsa onto Zoe’s plate, careful not to let it touch the patty or the corn. I strained to hear the murmur of Anna’s voice Ellen Meeropol ~ 77 from the next room. It must be important. Anna had a firm rule about no phone conversations during dinner. “Do you think Mexican people eat veggie patties and salsa?” Zoe tugged on my sleeve until I turned back to her. “Don’t know. What do you think?” I wondered how Zoe and Josué would get along. Zoe would love his collection of miniature cars and trucks, and he would take her crutches in stride. But in a couple of months, when Josué was finished with therapy and was able to run around normally again, would he forget the time he used crutches? Would he become one of those kids in Zoe’s class who snubbed her on the playground, didn’t invite her to a birthday party because it was at the skating rink? Maybe I could introduce the two of them, before that happened. I could hear Chad’s voice in my head, the time I invited a lonely co-worker to our apartment for Thanksgiving. “You want to rescue all the misfits,” he’d said. Anna returned to the kitchen and placed the phone back on the charger. She stood between our chairs, put one hand on Zoe’s shoulder, the other rubbing along my spine. “ThatwasAuntRuth,”shesaid.“Yourgrandfatherdiedthisafternoon.I’msorry.” I was surprised at how forlorn I felt. I hadn’t seen Grandpa Ivan since high school graduation. Momma was gone by then, and Daddy in prison. My grandfather and Aunt Ruth’s family were there to congratulate me. After the ceremony, Grandpa Ivan shook my hand, then seemed to change his mind and gave me a quick hug in the stiff way of old men. His flannel shirt smelled of pipe tobacco and pine forest. His voice was gruff in my hair. “I’m proud of you, Emily,” he’d said. That was fourteen years ago and I’d left it all behind. I didn’t know why I felt bereft. But I knew I didn’t want to have the conversation that was coming next. I got up and started clearing the table even though Anna was still eating. “My grandpas are already dead.” Zoe looked at her mother. “Ivan was Emily’s grandpa,” Anna said, wiping salsa out of Zoe’s hair. “And my great uncle.” She put a bite of veggie burger into her mouth and stood behind me, hugging my unyielding shoulders and resting her head against mine. Anna and I are exactly the same height. “Leave the dishes.” I stacked the dishes in the sink, with Anna glommed onto my back...


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