Don’t Miss Out on the Good Stuff

Laura opened the door wearing a yellow sun dress Sam had never seen before. It showed off her freckled shoulders. “Glad you could make it!” she greeted her brightly.

There were about a million people in the kitchen all busily slicing, mixing and tossing. Introductions were made as Sam put her chosen dessert of store bought cookies on the counter. They smiled at her politely and found a plate for her contribution.

“Anything I can do to help?” she offered hoping the answer would be “no”.  Most of her meals involved a microwave, frozen vegetables, and two slices of bread. She was on a first name basis with the entire staff at the bakery around the corner from her house.

“We’ve got it handled in here. You could start up the grill though,” Laura said. “My son-in-law, the barbeque king, will take over the cooking when he gets here. We should get things moving if we’re going to eat before midnight though. My sister Lynda is outside watching the kids and can show you where it is.”

“Uh, sure. Be glad to,” Sam hesitated.

A wave of shouting and splashing that had been muffled by the sliding glass door greeted her as she stepped onto the patio. She wondered which of the seemingly hundreds of kids were Laura’s. Then she wondered how chlorinated the pool was. She could hear the germs sloshing over the sides.

Sam greeted Aunt Lynda who pointed in the general direction of the grill without taking her eyes of the pool. She was thankful that it was on the far side of the house away from the pool area. She stood in front of it. It wasn’t propane. She wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing or bad thing since she didn’t have the slightest clue about grills in general. She picked up the bag of charcoal sitting nearby and found a lighter.

She poured the charcoal in and tried to light it. Nothing. She threw the bag on top and then thought that maybe they gave you the paper bag so you could put in underneath, but it was too late. Hopefully this would work. The metal grill itself was hard to get back into place, but she managed.

She lit either end of the bag until she was sure there was a fire and quickly closed the lid. She stood back wondering if the lid was supposed to be left open. Carefully, she lifted the lid from the handle with just her finger tips. The fire had gone out. Lid open apparently. She re-lit what was left of the bag and squirted on some lighter fluid for good measure. Good to go.

She walked back toward the pool and sat down to make small talk with Aunt Lynda. “So, you’re the designated pool watcher?”

“For now. We take turns,” Lynda replied not taking her eyes off the pool. “Do you have any kids?”

“Hell no! I mean, no. No, I don’t have any kids.” Sam swallowed hard and coughed a little.

“There are drinks in the coolers over there,” Lynda pointed eyeing her carefully now.

Sam was bent over searching for a beer and realizing that was probably was too much to ask. She reluctantly reached for a soda when one of the kids let out a blood curdling scream. She dropped the can on the cement. It burst near the tab and shot soda straight up into her face then spun like a firecracker spraying all over the side of the house as it twisted and turned.

“The tree is on fire!” One of the kids yelled.

Then all of the children started shouting and screaming. If Sam thought the noise before was loud before it was deafening now. She turned around in time to see kids spilling out of the pool like cockroaches from a drain. She bolted around the side of the house with Aunt Lynda on her heels.

The end branches of a nearby willow tree were alight and the grill itself looked like one of the levels from Dante’s Inferno. Flames shot well above the brick wall. Sam grabbed a beach towel from a nearby lawn chair. Dodging the heat, she ran to the side of the grill and slammed the lid shut. Flames shot out from the sides for several seconds before vanishing. Someone had already turned a water hose on the willow tree.

“How come you don’t do it that way, Mom?” a small voice said.

A boy with dark brown hair and eyes like his mother’s was grinning from ear to ear and looking up at Laura. On her other side was a small girl with strawberry-blonde piglets. She was holding onto to Laura’s leg for dear life, eyes like saucers.

There went any hope of a quiet introduction to Laura’s kids. Sam also decided that now probably wasn’t the best time to tell Laura’s family that she was a vegetarian.

The entire household had piled into the back yard by that time. Kids stood dripping from every inch as they hid behind the legs of adults or made exclamations of “Whoa! Did you see that? That was so cool!” Aunt Lynda was glancing nervously at the pool and counting heads to make sure everyone was accounted for.

“Well, I guess the grill’s ready,” a bearded man wearing a plain red t-shirt said slapping his hands together. “Let’s get the meat!” The missing son-in-law, Sam presumed, about ten minutes too late.

The crowd dispersed.  Some were shaking their heads and others had confused looks on their faces as they repeated, “What happened?” Most were doing their best to hide their amusement, including Laura, who was obviously suppressing a laugh. Aunt Lynda furrowed her brow with a bemused look before turning the corner with several of the small people in tow.  

Sam stood there trying to dry the soda off of her white blouse with a racing car beach towel. She felt something wet pounding against her thigh and looked down into the eyes of what had to be a child of no more than five. Laura’s daughter was slapping her small hand on her leg, to the best of her ability anyway. She was hindered by some sort of bright orange plastic monstrosities on either arm. Water dripped from her ponytails and something slimy was dripping from her nose.

“Are you going to do any more tricks?” the girl implored earnestly. “’Cuz if you are, I won’t go back swimming. I want to sit in the front this time.” The girl threw her hands up in the universal sign of life-is-so-not-fair. “I always miss the good stuff!”

Laura let the remainder of her laughter bubble to the surface and winked. Sam smiled down at the child. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I think from now we won’t be missing out on any of the good stuff.”