Fifty Shades of Plaid

DSC_0684The dryer made a satisfyingly loud clang as it tumbled off the truck into the mound of scrap metal. Much to Cale’s surprise, though, it didn’t break. He wiped his hands on his jeans and looked at Roy.

“Thing held together better than I thought it would,” he said.

“Guess they finally made something you couldn’t break.” Roy slapped the old washer. “Let’s get this thing out of here. I’ve got stuff to do.” They grabbed the washer and waddled it toward the back of the truck.

“What do you have to do that’s so important?” Cale grunted as they slid the washer to the edge.

“We got to swing by the Hanson House and pick up some papers or something for Allie.” With a tremendous heave, they toppled the old washer from the tailgate. It landed upside down in an ungainly hump next to the dryer.

“Looks like you diving into a pool,” he added.

“Wait, I though you guys broke up.” Cale ignored Roy’s comment.

“We are. I’m just doing her a favor.” Roy jumped lightly from the truck.

“So we’re going to spend our Saturday night doing favors for your ex?” Cale leapt, not lightly, down next to Roy.

“As opposed to spending our Saturday night dumping old appliances for your cousin Cheryl.” Roy buttoned his coat. “Let’s go. I’m freezing my butt off out here.”

The Hanson house was an old rambling Victorian home that had been swallowed up by the university campus sometimes in the 1970’s. The university had bought the house and turned it into a place for campus organizations to meet. There was, of course, no parking available.

“Wait here in the truck while I run in and get the stuff.” Roy stopped in front of the fire hydrant. “Don’t get distracted by some girl and get me towed.”

“Oh, I think the girls will be distracted by me.” Cale grinned.

“By your smell, maybe,” Roy said and slammed the door. Cale scrolled through his phone while Roy ran up the creaky wooden stairs and into the house. Five minutes later Cale’s phone buzzed with a text message.

“Still waiting,” it read. Cale sighed as he watched the car in the parking lot in front him leave. How long did it take to pick up a paper anyway? Were all of Allie’s friends as flaky as she was? He slipped over to the driver’s side and pulled the truck into the empty spot. They didn’t need to pay on Saturdays and now he could go inside and use the restroom.

Roy stood in what had probably been called a parlor when the house was in its prime. His face looked a bit like the angry emoji that people used on their phones.

“Why did you leave the truck?” he demanded.

“Calm down, Nervous Nellie. I found a spot for it. We will not be towed.” Cale inhaled the wonderful smell of baking meat. “Wow, what is going on here?”

“How should I know?” Roy grumbled. “Is that what brought you in here, the smell of food? I should have known.”

“I got to take a leak, actually. Where’s the stuff or whatever?”

“The dude isn’t here yet. He should be here soon.” Roy’s face somehow got even redder. Cale decided not to tease his friend.

“Okay, well I’m going to find a restroom.” He wound down the narrow hall that went past the stairs, following the sound of clanging pans and the delicious smell until he found the kitchen. His stomach growled as he opened the flimsy wooden door.

Four people bustled around the too small kitchen and pots bubbled on every burner of a small stove. Steam rose up and dissipated in the light of a single naked bulb that hung down over a small table. Cale stood in the door watching the spectacle in wonder. A girl with fiery hair and a trace of freckles on her nose looked up at him.

“Are you just here to stare or did you come to help?” she asked, but her smile added kindness to her words. Cale took one look at her green eyes and knew there was only one right answer.

“I’m here to help.” He stepped forward. The bathroom could wait.

“Good.” Her smile got bigger. “Do you know anything about haggis?”

“Haggis?” Cale couldn’t hide the surprise in his voice. “It’s Scottish, right? There’s a sheep stomach or something.”

“He knows as much as we do.” A tall, balding man laughed. He towered over the stove, stirring something in a pot.

“At least we have the Internet.” A short brown-haired girl looked up from some dough she was kneading. He should get Roy, Cale thought. That girl was definitely Roy’s type. Any girl that made bread was all right with Cale.

“Can you help me a minute?” the red haired girl asked, and thoughts of Roy, or anything else, disappeared from his mind.

“Absolutely,” he said. “What do you need?”

“Can you get those pans up on that shelf?” She pointed. “We need to cook Alyssa’s bread after the haggis is done.” She smiled as he handed her the pizza pans.

“You don’t need bread pans?” Cale asked.

“What, are you a chef?” She laughed. “I don’t know, she just told me she needed these.” Cale laughed too. How was it possible for anyone’s eyes to be that green?

“So is this your first Burns’ supper?”

“Uh, yes, uh, yes it is.” Cale wasn’t sure if she’d said burnt supper or Burns’ supper. Nothing smelled burnt and he was an expert on burning his food, supper or otherwise. Burnt supper didn’t make sense anyway.

“I’m Blair, by the way.” She dropped her pans next to Alyssa. “This is Alyssa Gonzales. She’s making scones.”

“I’m Cale,” he said. “I’m a big fan of scones.” Alyssa laughed and wiped her forehead, leaving a smudge of flour.

“Do you know how to make them?” she said. “Because this the first time I’ve tried it.”

“Sorry, I can make cookies, but that’s about it.” He looked at Blair. “Are cookies part of a Burns’ supper?” He mumbled the “burns” part because he still wasn’t sure what she meant.

Blair shook her head. “I think as long as you have haggis you’re okay.” She looked over her shoulder at the tall man.

“What do you think?”

The tall man shrugged. “I don’t think it matters that much. I’m sure Robert Burns would enjoy any sort of cookie.” Everything clicked for Cale then. They were talking about Robert Burns, the poet. That certainly explained all the Scottish stuff, including the tall man’s kilt.

“We’re not going to have anything if you people don’t get to work,” a stocky middle-aged woman said. She did not look up from the onions she was chopping. At that moment the door opened and Roy stepped into the kitchen. Cale watched the scowl on his face disappear as he looked at Alyssa.

“What you doing there, Cale?”

“Helping with the Burns’ supper.” Cale tried to emphasize Burns, but Roy made the same mistake Cale had.

“You’re helping burn supper? Why?” He grinned, and surprisingly, Alyssa laughed. It was a pity laugh, Cale thought. Blair rolled her eyes.

“You will be relegated to setting the table if you keep making jokes like that,” the tall, kilted man said. The stocky woman did not bother acknowledging Roy’s presence.

“Seriously though, what is a—” Roy stepped further into the kitchen.

“Hey, did you get your paper?” Cale moved quickly in front of Roy.

“Uh, no not yet.” Roy gave Cale a quizzical look but didn’t say anything else. “I was looking for you.”

“I just thought we should help out a bit since we’re early for dinner.” Cale tried to use his eyes to tell Roy to roll with it. Roy looked around the kitchen, his eyes finding Alyssa.

“I suppose we should do our part,” he said. Both of them pitched in so eagerly that their mothers would have been proud. Of course, their mothers never could have gotten them to work so heartily. Six people proved more than the little kitchen could handle and so they quickly found themselves setting the table.

“What are you doing?” Roy asked when they were alone in the dining room.

“Getting us a free supper with some pretty girls.” Cale went on to fill Roy in on Robert Burns and what little he knew of a Burns’ supper.

“That’s all well and good, Wikipedia Brown, but what side does the knife and fork go on?” Roy put the last plate in its space. Cale had no idea either, but after several Google searches they managed a halfway decent job of it. Roy even arranged some fake flowers tastefully as a centerpiece.

Guests arrived shortly after they finished. They shrugged off heavy coats complaining about the cold. Roy thought about pointing out that wearing kilts in January was stupid, but decided to hold his tongue. Instead he went to the kitchen to help Alyssa with the scones while Cale helped Blair put the finishing touches on the haggis.

“So you made this from scratch?” he asked her as he dropped some garnish carefully into place.

“Oh no,” she said. “It came prepared. I just had to cook it. Hopefully I cooked it long enough. I don’t know.”

“I’m sure it’s fine.” Cale donned the oven mitts. “What could go wrong with sheep stomach?” Blair held open the door and he carried the steaming haggis into the dining room. The assembled crowd cheered as he placed it gently in the middle of the table.

“I see you wore your plaid on top.” A portly man pointed at Cale’s flannel shirt.

“I suppose I did.” Cale looked around for Blair but she’d disappeared somewhere. He hung back while the odd assemblage of people found their seats. There was barely enough room in the dining room for all of them, and Cale saw immediately that there weren’t enough chairs for him and Roy.

A moment later Blair reappeared, dressed in a plaid skirt and white blouse. She looked like Cale’s idea of a Scottish princess as she smiled at the compliments on the haggis.

“Cale helped me,” she said placing her hand briefly on his shoulder. This earned him a scowl from a big blond guy. Was that her boyfriend or just somebody who wanted to be her boyfriend? A moment later, Roy and Alyssa appeared, and the shortage of chairs became plain.

“Just use the piano bench from the back room,” an elderly lady in a feathered Scotch bonnet suggested. Cale scurried to the back room and in a moment found himself seated next to Blair on the piano bench. This development pleased him greatly and earned him another dark look from the blond guy.

The boys both enjoyed the prayer that thanked God for the meat. Any meal that started out thanking God for meat had to be good. After that a broad-shouldered old man rose from his chair.

“Welcome, welcome, honored guests, expected and unexpected.” He shot a meaningful glance at Roy and Cale. “Now it’s time to address the haggis.” He pulled a scrap of paper and put on reading glasses. Cale’s phone buzzed with a text from Roy as the man read off the paper.

“What is he saying?”

“I don’t know. It’s Scottish,” Cale sent back. The man finished and cut into the haggis. Blair leaned forward and Cale could feel her nervousness.

“A triumph.” The man brandished his knife. Blair smiled.

“Good job,” Cale whispered and she patted his forearm in thanks. The man sliced up the haggis as the rest of them passed the other dishes around the table. Everyone got a piece of the haggis.

“I don’t know about this.” Roy jabbed the haggis tentatively with his fork.

“Just try it,” Alyssa said. “It’s not that bad. You might actually like it.”

“You know what they make it out of, right?” Roy sliced off a small piece.

“You eat hot dogs. What are they made of?”

“Good point.” Roy popped some haggis in his mouth and swallowed it with a smile.

“See, I told you,” she said.

“You’re right.” Roy nodded and sliced off another piece. When she looked away, though, he fed it to the tiny Scottish terrier who sat on the elderly woman’s lap. Cale ate the haggis with gusto, earning smiles from Blair and making the blond guy glummer. The man at the head of the table produced a bottle of whisky.

“You’ve got to show me you’re 21,” he said, “and only two for our toasts. The university would frown upon me getting you people drunk.”

“That’s why I brought my big glass.” Another bald and kilted man put a comically large glass on the table. Everyone laughed. Cale was glad about the drinking limits. He’d never been much for whisky, and he didn’t want to look weak in front of Blair.

“I’m only twenty,” she said, and that made him feel better. At least she couldn’t outdrink him.

Several toasts and poetry recitals followed, and the man who’d brought the big glass grew louder with each round. His red face betrayed that he’d started his toasts earlier by himself. Cale saw him sneak a third refill during one of the poems. At last the leader rose to his feet again.

“Now, Dr. Bern will favor us with a tune from the bagpipes.” Dr. Bern, the red-faced man, got to his feet. He wobbled a moment and then made his way to a dresser, where a deflated bagpipe lay like a sleeping animal.

“Give me moment,” he said. A high-pitched squeal filled the room as he inflated the bag and blew a few notes. Roy’s eyes went wide at the sound, but everyone waited patiently.

“Okay, I’m ready.” He put his hand on Cale’s shoulder. “Could you pull that chair over for me?” Cale complied, and after another brief wobble, Dr. Bern stood on the chair. Somehow his face got even redder as he played “Scotland the Brave.” About halfway through the song, Dr. Bern’s eyes closed, and he tumbled sideways off the chair like a plaid tree.

For a brief panicked half second Cale watched him falling straight toward Blair. He jumped forward and grabbed Dr. Bern around his ample waist. They crashed together to the floor with Dr. Bern on top of him. The bagpipe let out a dying groan as Dr. Bern’s weight deflated it. People screamed and leaped from their seats.

“Is he okay?” someone asked. Cale gasped for breath and looked up from the floor. Dr. Bern’s kilt had flopped up over his back, revealing the fact that he was a traditionalist when it came to wearing anything under his kilt. Cale turned his horrified eyes to Blair who put her hand over her mouth.

The little terrier, which had been so quiet, launched himself from his master’s lap, yapping and whining. He vaulted across the table and landed with all four paws on Dr. Bern’s exposed backside. It worked better than any smelling salts. Dr. Bern sputtered, coughed, and lunged to his knees.

“What? What?” he shouted. Cale slithered out from under him, trying to purge the horrifying images from his memory. Chaos reigned for some time after that, and Roy and Cale decided it was time to go. Blair stood next to Cale as he slipped his coat on.

“I guess I should be honest with you,” she said. “I, uh, I was just using you to make my ex jealous.”

“The blond dude?” Cale said, already knowing the answer.

“Yes.” She looked at her feet. “I’m sorry. It was stupid and you’re such a nice guy.”

“And I kept the piper from falling on you.”

She laughed. “Yes, you saved my life.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek.

“Ae fond kiss and then we sever?” he said.

“Aye,” she said, and kissed him on the lips.

****

“Quite a shindig, huh?” Roy said as they pulled away in the truck.

“Could have done without the piper.” Cale laughed. “But I got a kiss and Alyssa’s scones.” He held up a small bag.

“Good for you,” Roy said. “I got her number.”

 

 

 

 

 

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