Kim had that feeling where the heart constricts with the happiness it is unable to contain, a sense she was not quite accustomed to. She felt happy, content with what she was looking at — her apartment filled and bustling with family and friends, all there to celebrate with her. Her mom, Judith, stood by the door with a couple of old family friends, deep in conversation. I am sure she is taking some investment advice from Uncle Keith, Kim thought and nodded.
And then there was Bill Mackey, leaning against the doorframe of the living room with Beth Morin in front of him, and talking to Cheryl. His thin frame and casually tasseled dirty blond hair gave him an eternal boyish look, which was quite contrary to how he was in person. Simply put, he was a solid guy and a solid friend to have around at all times.
Right now, he had a Corona in one hand, and the other was wrapped around Beth’s waist. Her cream-hued dress flattered her mixed-ancestry skin, ending just above her knees to reveal the mile-long legs she had. Beth, like her name, was old-fashioned at heart, especially when it came to love. The two looked as much in love today as they looked so many years ago. Who could say they had been together for eleven years, but engaged only for a little over a year, and getting married soon?
Uncomplicated, comfortable and open, their relationship was just like one of those feel-good rom-com movies but was as real as the sun and the moon. Kim had been a witness to their love for almost all of those eleven years. And Cheryl, Cheryl Arnold, had often made Kim wonder where this woman got her strength and sense of humor from. To be a single woman by choice was easy for her, but in love had come as a surprise. That had happened when Pete had convinced her to give love a try. Of all the men who had come and gone in Cheryl’s life, Pete Lawrence was the only person who was man enough to handle a woman as strong as Cheryl.
Sam was huddled together with ‘the guys’. Judging by the look on her little sister’s face, Kim could tell that Dave was once again giving her one of those fatherly/big-brotherly nuggets of advice about how she should look to settle down. Even after everything that had happened, Dave still took it upon himself to be the man of the Noyes family. Perhaps that was because he couldn’t help himself, but that just showed how much he truly cared for the family and Kim could not have been more grateful to him.
These are the people who have seen me fall and rise, and at my worst but have loved me nonetheless. Loved me, cared for me, supported me, she thought. Her heart gave a tight squeeze, and a few happy tears began to pool in her eyes.
But then she was jolted out of her thoughts, as Cheryl came up and took one of the platters from her hand. Glowering at her, Cheryl said, “We know you are a superwoman, but you must know that it is okay to ask for help once in a while. It makes us lowly humans feel good about ourselves, you know?”
Kim stacked the Coronas in the cooler by the corner table and gave Cheryl a sheepish smile. Then she winked at her, and they went around offering the spicy Afghan kebabs to the guests.
“These are delicious, Kim! I didn’t know you could cook so well! You have to tell Simi the recipe. I am gonna ask her to make these every day,” Bosco shouted from the other end of the room. Bosco Tate was Kim’s loud and almost obnoxious, but very kind neighbor who lived upstairs.
The next moment, his wife Simi joined him. Simi was in her late forties and yet looked ravishing. She was not so much of a fitness freak but was health-conscious, and she was a yogi in the truest sense.
“I am glad you like it, honey, but that’s not going to help the perpetual pregnant belly you have sworn to trim down this year, and it’s already mid-May.”
Simi took the plate from Bosco’s hands and gave him a glass of clear water with a lemon wedge. She was in complete contrast to her husband. She was fit and always very well-put together. Looking at her, one would feel that she spent a lot of her time and energy in getting ready, but she insisted that when one has two toddlers and a husband who need more supervision than the kids, they have no option than to get ready within the blink of an eye. It was Simi’s father who would always refuse to take her and her siblings out if they would take any longer than ten minutes to get ready when they had been younger. She recounted the numerous occasions when, on family outings, her father had refused to take them out because she had taken a little longer to get ready. It reminded Kim so much of her own father — how she had hated him for the longest time for canning family outings because her mom or she would take a long time to get ready. Fresh into her teens, Kim had refused to give in to her father’s military-like rule to be ready at short notice and not take time.
“You were never even in the army. Why do you insist we get ready as if there was a time-bomb going to explode?” Kim had once screamed when her father had refused to take them to the mall for this reason.
But that habit, no matter how unwillingly Kim had taken to, had stayed, for which now she always thanked him. And, looking at Simi, it felt like a blessing she would need in future. Kim could never imagine how these two ever got together and had two adorable little kids as proof of their undying love for each other. Perhaps it’s not always looks and money that keeps a relationship going. It takes a lot more than that, and Kim knew that very well by now.
“It’s nice you liked the kebabs, Bosco, but the recipe will not be shared. Don’t get agitated now! That’s part of my support towards your health goal!” Kim promised him.
She gave the empty platters to Cheryl, who took them out to the terrace to get a fresh batch of kebabs. “I’ve laid the main course on the table. This will be the last batch of kebabs. Just put them on the table with the rest once you guys have closed the grill outside. I’ll go, splash some water on my face and be back,” Kim instructed Cheryl and made a beeline to the washroom.
As the cool water hit her face, she asked her mind to calm down and enjoy the day. Fretting over little things could not help anyone, and it was the antithesis to the whole point of having this get-together at her place.
However, it was not in Kim’s nature to be calm, and she needed to remind herself of it constantly, though it was getting easier now. Dabbing her face with the towel, she stared at her reflection smiling back at her. She couldn’t remember when she had ever been so comfortable as to look so deep into her own eyes. She couldn’t remember being so effortless. Her smile broadened. Such an open smile!
The yellow light above the mirror made her honey-colored skin glow. At five feet seven inches, her once-flabby body had now been fit and toned for over eight months. Her long deep brunette hair neatly tied at the nape of her neck with a thin band that held the bangs away from her face. The light yellow dress made her chestnut eyes sparkle brightly under the light. She rested her palms flat at the sink and looked at her reflection a little longer. Never had she loved herself more and it showed. With all that had happened in the last couple of years, it had taken Kim a long time to look in a mirror and see herself without hating the person in the reflection she saw. But she had come a long way. She was here now, happy… happy with herself… happy to be herself.
“Hurry!” An insistent knock at the washroom door brought Kim back. She quickly tidied herself and came out.
“Sam?” Kim looked at her sister covered in the green chutney. Holding back her laugh, Kim began, “How did you...”
“Help, please!” Sam squeaked and rushed into the washroom.
“How did you manage to spill this all over yourself?” Kim asked with a chuckle as she helped Sam wash the chutney off her dress under cold running water. “I mean, these things are expected of ME!” She winked at Sam.
Sam was always perfect — never a thing out of place, always sure everything was right, and that everything happened at the right time. But here she stood in front of her elder sister all covered in the green chutney that she had painstakingly prepared for the star dish of the evening, i.e. the Afghan kebabs, Sam’s biggest and only contribution in the preparation that went into this get-together. Kim wanted to laugh at the sight but knew better, so she stiffened her smile and helped Sam get as much of the stain off as possible, but the damage was irreversible.
“Sammy, why don’t you get out of this? I am sure there will be something in my closet that would fit you.”
“Ah! I am so glad you said that. I stink of cilantro.” Sam jumped at the offer.
“Mind telling me how you managed to spill this all over yourself?” Kim asked as they left for her room.
Kimberly and Samantha were just a year and a half apart in age, but Sam was treated like the eternal baby, something that Sam had resisted and fought about. But, over the years, she had just accepted that as long as she walked the earth, she was going to be treated as an incapable, impotent child. Whereas, Kim was put in the guardian role ever since Sam was born, which she herself had often resented. She always thought of how it would feel to be able not to care about everything all the time and have someone else be in charge.
Kim quickly ran her fingers through the dresses hanging in her closet and pulled out her Arctic blue dress. “Sam, will this do?” she asked.
“Phew! Anything will do right now!” Sam grabbed the dress from Kim’s hands and ran back to the washroom to change. “Kim, my savior!” she yelled. Kim smiled and thought to herself as she made her way back to the hall — Wow! Sam has grown up all of a sudden, with the steady job and a steady relationship, taking care of herself and Mom. Perhaps she was always this way; maybe we never let her be herself all this time. The last year has been so kind. I hope this year is kind too. Her thoughts faded away as she saw Dave at the other end of the hall.
Dave had been her rock for as long as she could remember. Her eyes met his and for a few seconds, their gazes locked. She could read his thoughts — He is going to yell out for me. But, even before she could finish the sentence in her head, he yelled out for her.
“Kim!” he yelled and let out a chuckle, “Bill here is crashing. You better hurry here before he crashes and burns.” He gestured for her to join him in the verbal ass-kicking, which was something that he truly enjoyed.
Kim made her way to the duo with the stance of saving Bill, though she knew that Bill did not need to be saved from Dave. Definitely not from Dave. The two had been partners at work and in crime as they so proudly liked to mention. Dave Bower was a very likable person — a very thoughtful and caring person who loved his jokes and leg-pulling sessions — and somehow no one ever minded this. Everyone just loved Dave. He was the kind of person you would depend on, your go-to guy, the guy you want to have as a lifelong friend. And though he was not a great looker — well, he wasn’t all that bad — but once you were in his company, you just couldn’t resist him. He was a guy’s guy and a perfect ladies’ man when he wanted to be. He was one of those who could charm even the strictest parents into letting their daughters date him and would often drop by the house, just to chill with the parents.
Kim was no different; she couldn’t resist his charms either. But the ease with which she fell for him had sometimes scared her, and it wasn’t long before her fears were realized. The pangs of September’s evening chills of 2012 stung hard every time her thoughts reared back to that evening when she had walked out on him, Dave on one knee, and her family and friends watching.