Brian Davis was coming over for dinner. The new quarterback at Georgia was promptly forgotten. Daddy stopped talking about the monster trout he caught three years ago. Had I told them I was crowned Miss America the family would be less impressed. My folks seemed to have this strange notion that Brian Davis chose to voluntarily surrender his evening to the antics of their quiet domesticity instead of necking with me. In their way of thinking, I was somehow responsible for this.
It was my birthday. I favored a dinner for just the two of us, steaks at Clancy’s, a couple of drinks, a turn on the floor and a moonlit drive, with me just tipsy enough to have a good time. But Mother had other ideas. She said Mr. Davis was a real gentleman to respect my family and eat with us on my special day. No steaks, no dancing, and no moonlit drives. Aspic was reserved for Mother’s most honored and revered persons and she was relishing the opportunity to make one. Aspic didn’t seem like the kind of food to feed a man, and it vaguely reminded me of Aunt Dory. I think we served it at Auntie’s funeral last year. I guess people don’t die often enough, because no amount of argument could move Mother to surrender her salad molds.
Daddy sat in his armchair dispensing manly counsel regarding my sense of style. “Shorter shorts,” he said. “Wear some jewelry,” and “Do you have anything pink?” With half a dozen blouses now on the floor, four pairs of shorts flung over the chair, and a terse argument regarding two different sets of earrings, I was declared fit and marriage material.
“He isn’t coming over to propose,” I said.
“Every man is a walking proposal,” Granny said. “You’re the one who decides if he’s done looking or not.”
I sulked in the hammock for the remainder of the afternoon, my mind alternating between the approaching family dinner and the dreamless consciousness of a summertime doze. The murmuring hum of Brian’s truck began its climb up the gravel drive. Reflecting upon a fragment of Granny’s advice, I restrained the roaring impulse to rise up and greet him. Instead I focused on the aspic and managed, I think, to look on with passive interest as he approached.
He helped me to my feet. Never once did his eyes stray to the dangling earrings borrowed from Mother’s jewelry box, nor did they take in my lean tanned legs. Indeed, his eyes never strayed from my face. And for the first time I knew with quiet assurance what my folks knew instinctively. “He’s a keeper,” I thought.
His manners were exquisite; I’d never noticed. Cold jellied celery balanced on his fork with ease. Utensils were no quarry tools for him, a means to shovel food from one location to another; instead his fork lay in his hands like a pencil, loosely gripped. Daddy couldn’t help but notice that Brian changed his knife from right to left with graceful comfort, unlike Europeans who were plain unnatural. Brian seemed unaware of Daddy’s keen eyes. He thoughtfully chewed his food and laughed at Mother’s small jokes. And when dessert was served, he retrained from taking even the smallest bite until Mother retuned to the table, unlike Abner Schnell at last summer’s Memorial Day picnic, who put away his pie and mine before I even finished applying lipstick in the ladies’ room.
I looked to Granny with new admiration. There might be something in this marriage business after all. Imagining a lifetime of evening meals like these was no affront to my girlish illusions of matrimonial charm. Brian surpassed any other young man I ever brought home; and somehow, the whole family had known it before they even met him. Mother worried that I was past my prime and that the good ones were getting away. Well, tonight she could see the best one was waiting right here for me all along. Brian, a man I originally considered only good for a couple of months of dinners and dates, rose ever higher in my estimation.
But as the evening wore on, Brian’s eyes rose in estimation of something quite different. He played checkers with Granny, a generally benign ritual she required of every guest who passed our summer porch, and although he played well enough, his eyes were absent from the board. I watched as his eyes darted here and there, and I could see he was looking with great difficulty and skill everywhere, while at the same time managing to look only at my Granny’s bosom, directly across from him, in plain sight.
At first he took a slight peek askance, as if to question what he saw. Mother didn’t notice, she was busy brewing coffee. Again he looked, this time a little longer, still curious, but confident that what he saw was really there. Father didn’t notice, he was busy playing cards. Brian’s gaze remained firm and fixed, going only from the checkerboard to Granny’s bust. Granny didn’t notice, she was besting him in checkers. Again and again she won the game, the board would clear, and they would begin all over again.
It wasn’t odd that she was winning; Granny always won at checkers. I’d never seen her lose. Most guests stopped at one game. Judge Parker usually played twice, and so did Reverend Calvert. But Brian wouldn’t stop playing, and Granny never stopped winning, and Brian’s eyes never left Granny’s cottony pullover.
Later in the evening, Daddy passed drinks all around. I tilted my head and gave a charming smile. I fingered the pearls at my throat. I slanted my long legs like an old time movie star, but to no avail. Nothing demure could bring to his eyes the look of allure I had detected earlier in the evening. The folks said goodbye and left Brian and me to say our good nights in the damp heat of night. I walked Brian to his truck, no longer thinking of evenings spent parked in his truck at Devil’s Point.
He kissed me gently. “I think I love you,” he said.
“I know,” I replied. A moment passed, and he waited. I knew what he wanted me to say. And I almost said it, but I’ve never been any good at reading the middle of the book before the end. I like to know what’s coming. “You want to ask me a question, don’t you?”
“It’s a little soon for questions like that,” he replied.
“I don’t think so. After all, I’ve been asked several times before.”
He looked up at me, wondering at my casual apathy. “I thought you had class,” he said.
“But I do have class,” I responded. “And I think you do too. That’s why I’m going to give you an answer, even though you haven’t asked the question yet, because I don’t think you ever will.
“I watched you all night, and I know what you’re thinking. I know that you’re longing to ask, ‘Are those real?’” Brian’s head jerked in surprise. “The answer is this. Granny was feeling a little low after her spell with cancer and being a personal friend of Doctor Pruitt, he gave her a little tummy tuck and shifted her proportions some. None of us were prepared for how they’d look. Everyone notices them. Good night, Brian. Now that your curiosity is satiated, perchance those roving eyes can find a more fitting recipient. If so, we may get along real fine.”