"Dinner? Niobe, I don't think..."
"Oh, come on, Lolita. It might be fun."
"Might?" I was skeptical about staying with these two. I'm still quite sure that Gladys hates my guts, so she might try to poison me. That is, if she's daring enough. Gladys had floated away to dust more random things to occupy her time; obviously ignoring my presence. She would have dusted me if not for the fact she knew I was here.
"Fine," I gave up. "I'll stay. But only if you cook, Niobe. I don't think I can trust your mother, no offense." Niobe looked around nervously. "I'm not much of a cook, you see," she began, nervously biting her lower lip. "I can only cook things if the package says "Instant" on it and there are no extra ingredients to be added." She tapped her fingers together innocently. I rolled my eyes. "You can't even muster up decent sandwiches?"
"What kind of dinner is sandwiches?"
I sighed. I really wish she wouldn't answer my questions with more of her own, I thought. "No-one said this had to be formal, did it?" Niobe chewed her lips thoughtfully again. "But, I want you to have a nice dinner, Lolita." I sighed. "Fine. How long will this take, anyway?" Niobe wandered into the kitchen and began digging through the fridge. "Oh, I don't know...Depends on what I'm gonna cook..." She pulled out a loaf of bread, a few plastic containers, and a block of extra sharp cheddar cheese. I raised my eyebrows. We're going to eat that? I wondered. Niobe shoved all of the food back into the refrigerator and slammed the door. "Mo-om! Don't we have anything good for dinner?"
"I don't know; this is your house, dear."
Niobe cursed under her breath. "Um, I can go get something if you want, Niobe..." I offered. "No, no, no, no, no. I'm doing this for you. Remember?" I sighed. "Yes, I know..."
"So I'm cooking and I'm buying the food."
"Yes, I know."
"So that means you go sit."
I grumbled and shuffled into the living room. I really wish she wouldn't do all of this for me, I thought. I lay my head down on the armrest of the pure, white couch. It was soft and satiny, and it reminded me of when I was little. When my mother was still alive. When she would hold me close and when she would read me faerie tales and nursery rhymes. It was so long ago. I could barely remember her face, but her voice could echo through my ears like she was still alive, like she'd never left me:
"My little Loli."
It made my stomach roll over to think of her nickname for me. I nuzzled my head deeper into the couch's material, inhaling deeply and trying my damnedest not to cry. I sighed, and before I knew it, I was sleeping like a baby.
I heard Niobe slam the door and I sat bolt upright. I looked around, delirious from my deep sleep. I could feel her eyes on my own, my own eyes which I could not open. The eyelashes seemed to be fused together by the dried tears in my eyes. "Miss Lolita? You okay?" Niobe asked. By the sound of it, she was carrying several plastic bags. "Err...Yeah, I-I think I'm fine..." I said, reaching up to wipe the sleep from my eyes. I inhaled and exhaled deeply and looked up at Niobe, whose red hair was tangled from the wind. Her eyes were fixed in a worried stare, and their exuberant glow seemed to be gone. Niobe's mouth hung open ever so slightly, showing just a glimpse of those pearly whites. I smiled as wide as I could, trying to illustrate the point that, yeah, I'm quite all right.
"O...Okay, if you're sure...Loli, dinner'll be ready in..." I didn't hear the rest of her sentence. What did she call me? Did she really say that? Did she call me Loli? Loli? Loli? It can't be! That's impossible! My nickname, my nickname which made me sick to my stomach whenever I thought of it. But somehow, when she said it, it was okay. There was a warm feeling inside of me, like someone had lit a match in the pit of my stomach. My breath became ragged, as if I was just running a marathon. I drew my hands up to my stomach and clutched it.
"Loli? Loli! Loli!" Niobe cried, dropping her bags and running over to me, falling to her knees. "Loli? What's wrong? Are you sick? You're so pale...Loli. Loli! It's okay, it's okay, it's okay!" She repeated those two words and cradled my head in her palms. "It's okay. It's okay...Everything's okay...Loli..." I could've sworn Niobe was crying as she released my head and in turn clutched me in her warm embrace. I wondered why she was crying. Nothing was wrong with me, it's just that word struck my heart in a way that only my mother's could. I began to breathe normally; Niobe must have noticed because she slowly began to inch away from me, but I hugged her closer. "Niobe," I began in a hoarse whisper.
"Please...Please don't call me that."
"O...Okay...Miss Lolita." I released her and she stood. Just as I thought, tears were running from her somewhat-swollen red eyes.
"You're positively sure you're okay."
"That I am."
She chuckled and began to gather up the food that had fallen from the plastic bags. Luckily, most of it was either in cans or other bags, so nothing was ruined or spilt on the floor. "Need any help?" She shook her head and walked back to the kitchen. "No, Lol...I mean, Miss Lolita. You go back to sleep, 'kay?" I nodded even though she couldn't see me and reclined on the satiny couch. I wondered what she had bought. I wondered how long it would take. I finally noticed the hunger that must have washed over me when I was asleep. My stomach rumbled and I groaned. I tossed and turned, trying to ignore that nagging feeling.
Mrs. McGuirk fluttered about the room with her duster. I watched her a bit, humming a mindless tune with her eyes glazed over like a zombie. The ruffles of her old-time-y skirt brushed together and made somewhat of a scratching noise. However soft it was, it was still annoying. I threw one arm over my eyes, blocking everything from sight. I could hear boiling water in the other room, and Gladys and her infernal humming. I grumbled under my breath and squeezed my eyes shut, trying to force myself to sleep once more. I began to breathe slowly, and repeat the "ohm" sound you always hear those meditating people in movies mumble in my head. I relaxed my eyes and continued to breathe deeply, trying my best to fall asleep; to fall into a realm in which Gladys and Niobe are not.
It was when I finally dozed off when I realized just how wrong I was. Niobe once more raided my sleepy thoughts and scampered about that sunny field of hers, giggling like a small girl in a sweets shop. She wore a wide-rimmed straw hat and a sunny, yellow strapless dress. The wind blew her hair this way and that when she playfully romped about the field, and the sun reflected off of her toothy grin and bright eyes so perfectly, she seemed to shine like an angel fallen to earth. But this angel was different from the rest; she was happy she was gone from the wondrous palace that is Heaven; happy to be among the living even if she is not living herself. She stopped playing and looked at me with the innocent look as if to say, I didn't do anything. Niobe opened her mouth and garbled speech came out. A pause, then the same garbled speech. Niobe dashed over to me and shook my shoulders, shouting the same gibberish over and over and over, each time quicker than the last before the sky turned red, and the ground black, and Niobe into an old woman with frizzy grey locks, a battered old hat, and a faded yellow dress. What was left of the noise was just a high-pitched squeak.
"Lolita! Lolita! Lolita!" Niobe was shouting and shaking me. I growled and sat up. "What the hell is wrong with you!?" I yelled, throwing my arms up in the air. She looked at me with her innocent face and said, "I thought you had passed out, or something..." her voice was soft and sorrowful, as if I had hurt her with my stinging words. I'm sure I had. I took in a sharp breath and pointed my nose upwards. "Just...Don't do it again." She nodded and stood. "Dinner." She simply stated and started for the dining room. I just noticed the warm smell of some kind of meat and vegetables wafting through the air. I stood quickly and an overwhelming sense of dizziness washed over me and I sat down again. I held my head. Niobe turned back towards me. "You coming, lazy girl?" I growled under my breath. "Don't call me that; and yes I am."
"Whoa..." I muttered in amazement, gazing down upon the fantastic-looking stew Niobe had conjured up and divided into three bowls. I grinned. "You made this. You made this?" I said in disbelief. "What, you didn't think I could cook or something?"
"No, it's just...Wow. Like, like something out of a commercial or something."
Niobe gave a laugh and told me to sit, which I promptly did. I chuckled a bit and pulled a bowl closer to me. Just as I was about to take a spoonful to my lips, Niobe stopped me. "Wa-a-ait, we have to say grace." I blinked. I never knew Niobe was so religious, I thought. "O...Kay." I said hesitantly, as if to question if she was serious. Niobe and Mrs. McGuirk bowed their heads and clasped their hands together. I did the same, peeking up just a bit to make sure I was mimicking them exactly. "Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this bounty we are about to receive. Thank you for letting Mother and Lolita be here to share with me..."
I toned her out and looked down at my stew. How long could this go on? I mused. I hummed a tuneless little song in my head when I thought I felt eyes boring into me. "Loli...Ta?" I snapped into a more normal-looking position. "Uh...Sorry." I grinned sheepishly. Gladys looked over to her daughter as if to ask, Is this how she always is? Niobe shrugged in return and motioned with her hand to show me that it was now okay to eat. I tasted the stew, chewing the meat and vegetables slowly. Niobe and Gladys stared at me, judging my reactions. I stopped and they leaned forward, as if watching a suspenseful movie. I waited for one of them to ask me, "Well?"
"It's...Good," I began. "No, scratch that; it's really good. Really, really good. I mean it. Best thing I've ever tasted." And it wasn't a lie. It was fantastic, almost much too fantastic. I thought for a moment about if she had slipped any drugs or anything in there, but then decided that was stupid. "And you said you could only cook things with 'Instant' on the package," I laughed, pointing my spoon at her. She laughed sheepishly. "Yeah..."
"Is it...Is it instant?"
"No! No...Just an old recipe."
I raised my eyebrows suspiciously and took another bite. Niobe looked over to her mother, who was quietly eating and not saying a word, keeping her eyes focused on her bowl. "She made this, didn't she!?" Mrs. McGuirk and Niobe both looked up at me. Niobe chuckled nervously and mumbled, "Yeah...Yeah, she did." She saw my disgusted face and assured me that she had watched her mother make it and she didn't put any arsenic or bleach into the mix. "Maybe I did it just to her bowl..." muttered Gladys bitterly. "Hey!" Niobe and I shouted in unison. "I'm kidding, jeez."
I took another bite and sloshed it around in my mouth, as if to check it. Didn't taste funny. Not at all. "Nio, let me taste yours..." I said, reaching across the table with my spoon and dipped it into her bowl. "Hey-y-y, that's rude! And don't call me Nio. If you want a nickname for me, call me Bebe."
"Fine, fine, I'm sorry." I said apathetically. I stuck the spoon into my mouth, then took another spoonful of mine to judge. They tasted the same. "Okay...Let me taste yours, Gladys!" She edged her bowl away. "No. You should be more trustful of your elders." That's respectful, I thought. Not trustful. I snorted and settled back into my chair. The stew was good, I'll admit, but I was still unsure if Gladys had slipped anything into our bowls.
"Bebe, I think you should take Lolita home."
"Mom, so soon? But we just got done eating."
"Take her home."
"Do as I say, Bebe!"
"This is my house!"
I listened to the two bicker and forget all about me. They went over how I was company and should be shown hospitality, but not while she's here. But it wasn't her house, but she was her daughter and she knew what was best for her... It was like listening to two stubborn teens fight. Part of me wanted to yell at them both to shut up, but another thought this was funny and wanted the two to keep quarreling.
"Look, stop fighting. If you want to get rid of me so soon, then I'll leave. Niobe, if you want to talk or something, we can drive around for awhile."
"And leave her alone?"
"And leave me alone?"
I groaned. "You don't even like me Gladys! Why would you--Oh, just forget it! Niobe, I want to go home." I felt like a child saying that, but it was true. I just couldn't stand Gladys and I couldn't stand seeing Niobe not being her happy, peppy self. "Please take me home."
"Fine. Mom, just stay here. You can leave too, if you'd like; or you can stay the night. Whichever is fine. I made the guest bed all up just how you like it. Okay?" Gladys nodded and gave me one last snotty look before she turned on her heel and sauntered off to the guest bedroom.
"Niobe, I'm sorry, really I am, but your mother hates my guts--"
"I know, Miss Lolita. Don't worry about it. She doesn't like change; you should've seen her bawl when I moved out." Niobe laughed and grabbed her keys from a table near the front door. "C'mon. Let's go." She unlocked the front door and we stepped out into the chilly night. Niobe pressed a button on her key ring and the slick, black Camry's lights flickered on and off to show the car was now unlocked.
The leather interior of the Camry was cold and somewhat slippery when I sat in the shotgun seat. Niobe started the car and the radio came to life, blasting some soft rock. So much for soft rock, I thought as Niobe clicked the radio off. "Where do you live again?" Niobe enquired, backing out from the driveway and turning left. "Um, Graves Boulevard." I said, pointing to our opposite. There was a pause and Niobe drove back into her driveway and backed out, turning right this time. "Oh."
I sneaked a peek at Niobe, who was not exactly her happiest. Her lips were pursed into a thin, tight line and her eyes were focused on the road and nothing else. She was quiet, obviously thinking about something. She must've felt my eyes boring into her, for she looked over at me quickly, her mouth hanging over ever so slightly. Niobe turned back to look at the road again and asked quietly,
"Why're you looking at me?"
"Mmm...No reason. You're just so quiet and docile right now. It's not like you."
She mouthed something: 'You can't know what's like me when you've only known me for two days.' She was right.
I looked out the windows into the bright lights of the apartments, restaurants, stores, and other buildings. I sighed. "Turn left here." I said as soon as the car stopped at a stoplight. "Turn left again," I instructed. "And keep going straight. My apartment building is right...up...here. There! Stop!" I'm sure Niobe was annoyed by my constant instructions, but she was able to drop me off with a smile. "'Bye, Lolita." There was a short pause, then "Wait! Hold on. Don't go." I stood in the freezing parking lot as Niobe rummaged through her glove compartment, withdrawing a pen and a pad of sticky notes. She hurriedly scribbled something down and handed it to me. "Here ya go. See you sometime later, 'kay?"
After she drove off into the night, I looked at the paper. It was a phone number. She had given me her phone number! I was sure she wasn't too pissed with me if she gave me her number.