Monday, February 10, 2014
Head Over Heel
It was never spoken of or planned among the Ewing siblings, but simply understood: on days when they knew the Bighorn Diner would be busy, they’d stop by if they could and help out. Today Bo and Mary showed up after closing, to find Hannibal already clearing off tables. “So how did it go?” Bo asked.
Their mother, Elly McMahon, came out of the kitchen and flopped down into a booth, tired but smiling. “The Bighorn Valentine’s Day Breakfast Special was a huge success. I had more cooing couples and served up more plates of strawberry flapjacks than I normally do in a month. And more blueberry, sadly.”
Deaf-mute Mary signed, Blueberry?
“For the single folks,” Hannibal explained. “Not everybody’s like us. Some folks can’t get a date.”
Mary went to the register to close out. Bo started wiping down. “Yeah, it’s a tough day for some,” Bo said. “One of the bars out by the exit is having a contest. Tell a bad Valentine’s Day story and get a free sympathy beer.”
“You’re set, right?” Han asked his mother.
“Depends.” Elly wiped her forehead with a napkin. “Vern’s serving beef heart at the Grease ‘n’ Grill. No way I’m going near the place, and I told him not to come home until he’s had a shower. Ooof, what a morning. Maybe I should try out for that beer.”
Vernon’s not so bad, Mary signed. As long as he brushes his teeth.
“Not with that story. I had a sucky Valentine’s once. It involved your father.”
That got their attention. Hannibal set his dirty dishes aside, Bo dropped his cloth, and Mary came out from behind the counter. They crowded into the booth. Hannibal’s bulk successfully penned Elly in. “Spill,” Bo said. “What about Dad? I thought you two had a perfect marriage.”
“Marriage, yes. Dating, though … that got a little rocky.” Elly leaned her elbows on the tabletop and peered off into the past. “He was quite the ram back then. He came down from Canada to play American football. You’ve got his size,” she said to Han, “but he was built more like you,” she added to Bo. “With a quick temper and a hard head,” she finished wryly to Mary. “But then, we’ve all got that. Comes with the horns.
“Anyway, Jacques and I hit it off from the get-go. For months we were inseparable. But he was handsome and knew it, and there were always plenty of girls around who were more than willing to fawn all over the football hero. I knew he was slipping off to graze in other pastures. I gritted my teeth and put up with it because I was in love.
“Then Valentine’s Day rolled around. We had a date. I expected a romantic dinner and maybe a commitment. What I got was a phone call telling me he had practice and he’d see me when he was done.”
“Football practice?” Hannibal frowned. “In Montana? In February?”
“Exactly.” Elly nodded. “To say I was pissed would be an understatement. I’d been looking forward to this. I’d bought a new dress and everything. Well, I had some hawk friends, and they did an aerial recon and helped me track him down. He was having my romantic Valentine’s dinner at my favorite restaurant with some other girl. An elk, of all things. One of those long-faced cows with the big, bony knees. Well, that did it. I shifted right there in the restaurant. Ripped my dress and everything. I slammed him right in the gut and knocked Mr. Hotshot Football Hero flat on his ass.”
Bo whistled. “Whoa,” said Han.
“Yeah. Whoa. While he was lying there with spinach alfredo all over his best shirt, I shifted back and told him what a piece of shit he was and how I never wanted to see him again. Then I marched out of there. To thunderous applause, I might add.”
Did you get the elk too? Mary signed.
“Didn’t have to. She hightailed it when the table fell over. That cow wasn’t as stupid as she looked.”
“I’m assuming you and Dad got past that,” Hannibal said.
“Yeah. Funny thing. Seems getting publically butted by a PO’d bighorn ewe cleared your daddy’s head. The next morning he showed up at my house and begged my forgiveness. He was still wearing the shirt. It still had spinach on it. I slammed the door in his face. I did a lot of door-slamming over the next three weeks, but your daddy wouldn’t give up. Hard-headed, you know. My hawk buddies told me he wasn’t chasing any other girls. In fact, he was turning them down. So I decided to give him another chance. Now there was a courtship for the ages. Your dad could be quite the charmer when he wanted to be.
“Needless to say, our second Valentine’s Day went a helluva lot better than the first. That was the day I married him.” She patted Hannibal’s arm. “We almost made it three in a row, but you popped out a week early.”
Hannibal shrugged. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I don’t regret a single second of the life I had with your father. Especially once I found out he loved cooking as much as I do. This diner was his dream just as much as mine. And every Valentine’s Day he woke me with breakfast in bed. Strawberry flapjacks. His specialty.” She dabbed a napkin at her eyes. “Damn dry air. Forget the beer. I could go for a cup of coffee.”
Instantly Mary scrabbled out of the booth and headed for the pot. Hannibal hugged his mother. “Sit back and relax. We’ve got this.”
“Are you sure? You haven’t seen the kitchen yet.”
“Mary’ll get that,” Bo said. Mary turned around just in time to catch the movement of his lips. She stuck her tongue out at him.
“Careful there, sonny,” Elly said. “That girl butts like her mom. Now, which one of you fine young men wants to load the dishwasher?”
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