Without waiting to learn if the innocent young girl was perceptive enough to detect the boy’s thinly-disguised vampire tendencies, Delaney clicked off the television movie and turned to wait as her mother descended the stairs to their basement apartment.
“So how was the shopping in beautiful downtown Tanner?” she asked as Kathy paused to set her packages on the sofa. “Were the specials as special as they seemed in the paper?”
“They were even better. And I’m afraid your Grandma got a little carried away. She outdid herself at Nordstrom’s. And then on the way home she went overboard at Safeway.
"I hope you like broccoli. She bought enough to have it on the menu all week. She wouldn’t have done that if Dad was here. He won’t touch the stuff.” Kathy stood before the wall mirror, running a comb through her hair, reminding herself that her father had been gone nearly a week.
“How’s Grandma doing?” Delaney asked, stepping up beside her mother, making eye contact in the mirror. Speaking directly to the reflected face, she explained, “It’s kind of hard for me to tell sometimes. She doesn’t give too many clues. I know she misses him, but it’s like she doesn’t want to let it show.”
“She seemed fine to me,” Kathy replied. “Maybe that’s because I’m not too good at reading between the lines. Anyway, it’s something she has to deal with. It’s been almost a week. She can’t just wish it away.”
“I suppose not,” the girl nodded, ready to shift conversational gears. “Anyway, do you suppose if I offered something even more special than broccoli, you would do me a favor?
It was Saturday afternoon, the first quiet moment in Kathy’s normally-hectic weekend. After spending the week in Newport she was looking forward to some quality time with her daughter. Hopefully that was part of Delaney’s ‘favor.’ Still, she knew better than to agree without hearing the details.
“Better than broccoli? That would have to be pretty special.”
“How about a pineapple milkshake? A really good one....real thin, the way you like it. Would that be special enough?”
“That sounds so special I’m wondering if it qualifies as a bribe.” Kathy’s raised-eyebrow frown reflected her next question. “Why don’t you tell me what kind of favor is worth a milkshake?”
By then Delaney had deciphered signs of interest. Her mother was willing to consider her offer. She appreciated that, although there was still the matter of explaining what she wanted, without having to explain the reason why.
“I’ll have to admit,” the girl continued. “The milkshake part wasn’t my idea. Antonio suggested that. He’s been bragging about a place they call the Shake Shack. He says they make the best shakes ever.”
“And Antonio wants to buy me a milkshake? That seems rather unlikely.” Kathy sensed the need for a better explanation. “Why would he do that? He’s the lawn-mower boy, isn’t he? I’ve never even met him.”
There was no avoiding what came next. It was confession time. Hopefully her mother would see the humor in it. “Actually,” Delaney began. “He doesn’t exactly know that you’re coming. He called while you were at the Mall, to invite me out for a milkshake. I told him him I could do that. But since he bought lunch the last time, I told him I’d spring for the shakes.”
“My, that was big of you. And I’m guessing you don’t have enough money to be buying milkshakes. Am I close?”
“That’s part of it.”
“So why don’t I just send a few dollars with you? You could pretend you were a big spender.”
Indeed, Kathy had correctly identified Delaney’s fiscal dilemma. That was not surprising, since it happened so often. What she had not seen coming was the rest of the girl’s unasked favor. Perhaps that was because it was so foreign that Delaney herself could not remember ever having it cross her mind.
The anxious questions had first surfaced just minutes after she made her milkshake date with Antonio. By itself, an afternoon walk to downtown Tanner was not a particularly daunting matter.
But that same walk, along the main thoroughfare....past the skateboard park....was a different matter. The chances of Martin Copeland making an unexpected appearance were probably slim, but certainly possible. Though Delaney was disappointed in herself for thinking such thoughts, another confrontation with young Marco was something she would rather avoid.
“You need money, and more?” Kathy was asking. “That’s something new. Usually a few dollars will do the job. So what else does it take to make me part of your milkshake party? If your Antonio friend is like most guys, he’d probably rather have ‘Mom’ stay home.”
“To begin with,” Delaney said through her sheepish grin. “I’d like you to meet him. After all, you need to have some Tanner friends too. You’re just as lonely here as I am.”
“Tanner friends? You mean like a school boy who mows lawns and has a thing for my daughter?” She stopped right there, wondering if perhaps that might be a good idea. It couldn’t hurt, getting acquainted with the boy who had a ‘thing’ for Delaney, if indeed he did. “Okay. So you think I should meet Antonio.”
“Yeah, I do. And you’d also have a chance to to see what he calls his ‘shop,’ where he has his little business, in their apartment.”
Kathy sensed the plot thickening, becoming more involved. A milkshake was one thing. A tour of the boy’s business, in his apartment no less, was definitely something else. Was her daughter put off by the prospect of being alone with Antonio? She could not remember Delaney ever asking for a chaperone.
“Do you think your Antonio friend wants Mom tagging along for a tour of his business? Or would you like me there for moral support?”
For the sake of avoiding a possible Marco incident, the girl’s simple milkshake date was becoming more complicated by the minute.
“I certainly don’t need any ‘moral support.’ Antonio’s a good guy. I’d be safe as can be with him. What I do need is a ride to town and back. It’s a long way. I was hoping a milkshake, a chance to meet Antonio, and a tour of his business would be enough for you to take me. Does that sound like a deal to you?”
Something was not quite right. Kathy’s mothering instincts were telling her that much. It seemed that her normally free-spirited, hyper-independent daughter had suddenly turned conservative. Still, on a day she hoped would include some up-close and personal time with Delaney, there was no reason not to take advantage of the girl’s offer. Especially not when it included a pineapple milkshake
Kathy had accepted Delaney’s out-of-the-blue invitation to the Shake Shack without knowing what to expect. She would be meeting young Antonio Calle for the first time. That was a given.
Beyond that, she had some idea of how two teenagers, who appeared to like each other, might be constrained by her parental presence. So why was she surprised when, after the necessary introductions at their Shake Shack meeting, Delaney turned first to the business aspects of their milkshake visit?
“So you got the deal with the photography store?” Delaney asked Antonio as they carried their shakes to an outside table in the slightly-unkept courtyard behind the Shake Shack. “Were they willing to pay what you wanted?”
“That and a little more,” Antonio answered. Looking up from his drink a wide grin confirmed his words. “They’re going to run a special ad in the Sunday paper, sort of like a sale. Of course, it won’t say who’s doing the actual work, but hopefully it will generate some interest.”
“Why don’t you tell Mom what it is you do. I don’t think I explained it very well.”
By then Antonio was again wondering how Delaney’s mother had become a part of their milkshake outing. The girl had not mentioned that before. Still, it seemed he was not particularly troubled by her presence. Though a more private time with Delaney would have been nice, including Kathy did not change his plans at all.
At that moment, however, he was not sure how to address his unexpected guest. The lady had never married Delaney’s father. He knew that much. Did that make her Ms. Padgett, or Kathy, or Mom? In the end he decided to dispense with a name. After all, if he was talking directly to her she would know who she was.
“What I do, ma’am, is take old photographs and slides that no one looks at any more and turn them into brand-new pictures that can be printed, or put on a disc....something you can watch on your computer or television.”
“And you do all that at home? That sounds ambitious. It must take quite a darkroom set-up to do all that.”
Antonio was grinning at her all-too-common question. “Not at all,” he said. “It’s not really about photography. That’s the old- fashioned way. I work with scanners, software, and printers. Every part of it is a computer process.”
“He’s been telling me all about it, Mom. But I’m not sure I understand. That’s why I wanted to see it. And since you bought the milkshakes you’re invited too. If that’s okay with him.”
“So that’s how it works.” Antonio countered, laughing as Delaney explained how she had won her mother’s assistance. “That’s probably why I’m a long time between milkshakes. My mom’s not a soft touch like yours.” Glancing in Kathy’s direction, he was looking for hints of upset.
“It sounds like your mom is too busy working to take milkshake breaks.” Delaney replied as she turned to explain to her mother. “His mom and sister both have jobs. And Antonio’s saving for college. He says he’s a cheapskate. I think he’s just frugal.”
“Saving for college,” Kathy nodded at her daughter. “Now there’s an idea I’d like to see catch on,” Then to Antonio, “So your mother is a busy lady, eh?”
“She sure is....has two, sometimes three jobs. During the summer though, she has a few hours off in the afternoon. She’s an Instructional Assistant at Southside High. They cut back her hours in July and August.”
“And your father?” Kathy asked, letting her natural curiosity pull her along. “What does he do?”
“I don’t know.” Antonio paused, wondering how much detail was appropriate. “Whatever it is, he does it somewhere in Mexico. He took off not long after my sister Erica was born. Since then it’s been just Sis, Mom, and me.”
“Oh.” Kathy said, wondering why she had allowed herself to ask that question.
“I’ll tell you what,” Antonio offered, effectively rescuing them from a conversational dead end. He was pushing himself away from the table as he suggested, “Why don’t we go check out my lab?”