Darwin Cooper took a small roasting chicken out of the oven and wiggled the right drumstick. The juices ran clear and, just as his nose had predicted, it was ready. He set it on top of the stove and mashed the potatoes methodically with an ancient looking mashing tool. The mixed vegetables were steaming in a pot behind them with one of those stainless steel fanned out steamers inserted in the saucepan. He set the potatoes to one side and wrestled the chicken onto a carving plate before he began the gravy ritual with cornstarch, water and flour. Darwin had done this so many times he was running on autopilot. He looked pleased with himself nonetheless and set the table to serve and share the small farmer’s feast. He had grown and raised most everything in the meal. He settled in and his place and then looked between his daughter’s vacant chair and the clock with a small sigh. It was six o’clock. The food was perfect right now and she was late.
At six thirty the sound of his old truck roaring into the gravel driveway signalled her arrival home. She slammed the truck door and raced into the house. There was a scuffle of shoes being kicked off before the fast padding of bare feet to the small bathroom in the hall. She shouted to the kitchen and dining room as she washed up “Sorry Dad. My interview ran late.”
The sound of cutlery on a plate and a muffled “Mmhmm.” met her apology.
Samantha sunk into her chair with her soft strawberry blonde curls bouncing back down to her shoulders and smiled “Oh good chicken!”
Darwin took the lids off the potatoes and vegetables “Might be a bit cold. Did you get it?”
Samantha beamed and nodded as she scooped potatoes onto her plate “Yes. I start tomorrow at ten o'clock. Can I use the truck?”
Darwin laughed and nodded “Congratulations Tip Top waitress. Guess I can’t come in for a coffee if you’re driving in.”
Samantha looked apologetic “We’ll figure it out on days when you need to drive. Stacey wants to come stay for a bit. She has a car too. Maybe she can drive me when she’s here.”
Darwin frowned pensively and then gestured in the air with his fork as if trying to work something out mathematically in the air “So her parents and brother moved to the big city so she could live with them and go to college and she wants to come back here for the summer?”
Samantha looked exasperatedly at her father “It’s complicated. All our friends are here Dad. Of course she wants to come back. I mean we’ve met some people at school too but this is home.”
Darwin shrugged and took another bite. When he had chewed and swallowed he said “Speaking of friends, that boy of yours got himself in trouble with the law last week. Some kind of scuffle with out of towners at the Hartwell. The Stern kid was in it too.”
Samantha froze with her fork full of food in mid air and her eyes wide “What? Are they ok!?”
“I dunno. I think so. Are you and Dave…..?” Darwin trailed off in a careful tone.
Samantha looked like she was struggling with her reply “It’s complicated.”
Darwin dabbed at the side of his mouth with a napkin and then muttered “Yeah I read that on your Facebook too. Seems to be a lot of that going around with you kids.”
Samantha rolled her eyes “Dad!” She took out her phone and began scrolling.
Darwin stared her down from the head of the table “I still have a rule about that at meals Sam. I don’t care how old you are.”
Samantha looked pleadingly up from her phone “I need to know that Dave and Malcolm are OK!”
Darwin mumbled something inaudible as he cleared his own plate and put it in the sink. He poured himself a glass of water and returned to the table with it watching his daughter tapping away at her iPhone. He had never wrapped his head around one of those funny little screen devices. Samantha kept suggesting he get one so she could “text” him and the idea frankly horrified him. Darwin was in no way too old to adapt to the technology but his world has always been one of the outdoors.
Samantha let out a long breath of relief and made a point of setting the phone on the table screen side down “Sorry Dad. They’re not locked up or hurt beyond bruises. Dave was defending a guy who was getting really beat up though and Malcolm jumped in to help.”
Darwin nodded “Like I said, out of towners. We don’t see a lot of brawls in our local bars with local folks.”
Samantha poured a potato lake’s worth of gravy onto her plate and stirred it around “I wonder what the fight was about in the first place.”
“Probably people drinking and talking stupid. Isn’t that how it goes?”
She laughed “I guess so. Listen Dad, when you’re not too busy snooping into my love life on Facebook, are you meeting anyone yourself?”
Darwin shifted uncomfortably in his seat “Now why would I need to do that?”
Samantha smiled at her father “Eventually I’m going to finish this degree and get a job that’s not just waitressing part time and move out. I don’t want to leave you all alone. It’s time to get out there. It would probably help your chances with the ladies if you took off your wedding ring and put it in the dish with Mom’s. I know you still love her and that’s OK Dad. But you can love more than one person in your lifetime.”
Darwin protectively reached down to smooth his fingertips over the simple gold band on his left hand and said resignedly “Samantha, it’s complicated.”