Max and I had gone to meet our new neighbors with a welcome casserole. But all was not well. The neighbor was Baron Fitzgerald, a food critic, who had prevented Max from getting his sixth Golden Radish Award. His wife, Regina Berry-Fitzgerald was a slender, statuesque woman who appreciated not working. I tried to remain positive but Max had his grumpy face on.
When Max had sarcastically suggested to Baron if he would like to critique the casserole, Baron said laughing, “Max, you sharp tongued devil. I would never critique a gift.”
I caught Max gaze. Mine said, “Don’t be rude!”
Baron and Regina, Max and I sat on the deck of the Olympic sized pool at a table, the casserole between us. Regina peeled back the aluminum foil.
‘Ummmm,” she said, twitching her nose, “smells good. What kind of cheese is blanketing everything?” She examined it closely as if inspecting a lab specimen.
Regina peeled back the aluminum foil covering the casserole. “Ummmmm,” she said, twitching her nose, “smells good. What kind of cheese is blanketing everything?” She examined it closely as if inspecting a lab specimen.
I said, “Since this is a Mexican chicken vegetable casserole, I used Oaxaca.”
“And chicken?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, my nails digging into my palms, “that’s why it’s called Mexican chicken vegetable casserole.”
Regina said, tucking the foil back, “My favorite casserole is made with duck and brie but chicken and Oaxaca are serviceable in this case. Of course, I never go into the kitchen. I trained my cook to follow all the recipes I find amusing. It allows me time to lounge by the pool.”
“Well, Sylvia,” Baron said, “I can tell by looking at this dish you have talent and a love for food.”
Since food is how Max and I made a living for 35 years, it’s a good thing. I felt like a child who just got a gold star for my project and the casserole would be pinned up on the fridge for everyone to see.
“Let’s not fuss with the casserole now,” Regina said, standing up. “Let’s toast with champagne. Dom Perignon O.K.? Baron and I think it’s the yummiest. We’d love to share!”
Max and I looked at each other. Now we knew what it’s like when the lord and lady of the manor pass out largesse to their humble subjects.
Max said, “We are truly blessed to have such benevolence close to our door.”
I watched Regina mince toward the bar in her slender jeans and high-heeled sandals to retrieve a bottle from the mini fridge. I looked down. My flowing blouse and loose fitting pants felt like a tent.
Setting a silver tray with crystal flutes on the table, she said, smacking her lips, “Champagne tastes so luscious in Baccarat. So …..what have you two busy little bees been up to? Still catering other people’s parties?”
Max finished his champagne in one gulp. “I’m looking into being an arms dealer.”
Wide eyed, Regina said, “Not really?”
Max snickered. “Not really. I’m really riding my brother-in-law’s bike around town selling hot fruit muffins.”
‘No! You’re not!”
“You naughty boy!” she said, shaking a finger. “I don’t know when you’re teasing.”
“That’s part of my charm.” Max glanced at his watch. “Fiddle dee dee, Sylvia, look at the time – 2:00. We have an appointment to discuss catering a big New York mob wedding.”
When we were outside the door, I punched Max in the arm. “You are sooooo nasty!” Then I guffawed and shook my head. “Those people are our new neighbors and no matter how irritating they are, stay open minded.”
Max chortled. “They would fly first class expecting the best champagne, caviar, and pate. They probably think of us as traveling in the hold with the luggage munching stale dinner rolls, apples, and a hot non-alcoholic drink to keep out the chill.”
I took his arm as we headed home. “My dear, we will dance into the sunshine out of the rain. For now, let’s sit by our weensy pool, guzzle cheap champagne and wolf down some lunchmeat.”
“Sylvia, I’m shocked! We’ve never gone that low. It’ll be medium quality champagne on sale and canned albacore tuna.”
Listening to the fountain by the pool, Salsa in my lap, Max said, “Let’s have them over for brunch soon.”
I stopped stroking Salsa’s soft head. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
Max said grinning, “My treat.”
I was suspicious of the way he said treat. “Let them unpack and settle in. I need to get used to the idea first.”