“So, John, how long you in town for?” Jacob asked from his spot at the head of the dining room table.
Before answering John chewed twice, swallowed, then brought his left hand to his mouth to cover it and hide any food remaining inside. “To stay, actually. Well, if that’s what Joni winds up doing; staying I mean. No more separation for us.”
Bilhah placed Joni’s refilled wine glass at its spot on the right of her place setting and looked at John, a huge grin filling her face. “You are kidding!? That’s fantastic! Just fan-tas-tic! Congrats!
“Careful with that glass, Joni,” she continued, “It’s full,” she said with a wink and a head jerk toward Amber to her right.
Joni smiled up at Bilhah.
“Well,” Amber said, “that is,” short pause, “good news?”
“Course it is!” Jacob said. Bilhah returned to her place and sat. Jake pointed with his thumb to Bilhah and added, “She just said so, didn’t she?
“My turn,” he continued. “Beer? John? Payton? Anybody?”
Payton pointed to his chewing mouth and nodded vigorously. “Okay, that’s a yes for big P. Anybody else?”
“I’m fine,” John replied.
“Great. And, no! That’s great news, buddy,” Jacob said to John as he walked by him on the way to the back patio. “When did you decide that?”
“Recently. Really since Lottie passed,” John added. “I just finally realized that being with Joni is where I should have been the last fifteen years.”
“That is great, isn’t it, Payton?” Ashley said. “So,” long pause, “are you going to head back to New Orleans or?” she trailed off.
“We were just discussing the logistics. We’re not sure,” Joni answered.
Payton swallowed and said, “Yeah. Good news. That’s great as a matter of fact. I’ve kinda missed having your ugly mug around.”
“Thanks?” John replied, grinning and shaking his head.
“Don’t mention it,” Payton said, putting another forkful of food into his mouth.
Amber asked, “Have you really been married fifteen years? It doesn’t seem that long.”
“Fifteen in May,” Joni said with a smile and small shrug. “Close enough,” she added, reaching over to squeeze John’s hand.
“That’s right,” Sean said, “you two were married first, weren’t you!? Then Payton and Ashley and then Amber and I. I forgot.”
Jake sat down and placed a can of Busch Light next to Payton’s plate. “Well you weren’t around, hot shot. And me and Bilhah have been together for more’n twenty years. Been good as married since ninety-five,” he declared, popping the top of his beer.
“Well, sure, sure,” Sean replied, nodding his head vigorously. “I was just doing the math. I married Amber June of eleven and we started dating in January, so we’ve been together five years; right?” he directed the last comment to his wife.
“Yes, dear,” Amber said with a sour expression. “That’s correct. Five, glorious, years: Right?”
Sean tilted his head down and to the left, thus looking at his wife from the tops of his eyes only. “Of course, my honey colored camphor. Five. Glorious. Years,” he said icily.
“So these are pretty momentous anniversaries for you guys, huh?” Bilhah asked. “Fifteen for the Jone-ster and Johnny-boy and five for you and Amby-pamby. Jakey-wakey and I celebrated twenty last May. And what, Ash? Two years in March?”
“Yep. The fifteenth.”
“’Beware the Ides of March,’” John whispered.
“What was that, Honey?” Ashely asked.
John smiled and shook his head minutely and rapidly five times. “Nothing. Just quoting Shakespeare? ‘Beware the Ides of March’?”
Jake asked, “Didn’t they sing that old song?” Singing, he continued, “’I’m a friendly stranger in a black sedan, won’t you hop inside my car’?”
“Woah!” Bilhah exclaimed. “If you’re singing then I’m cutting you off!”
“Cutting me off? Beer, or sex?”
Bilhah barked a single, loud, “Ha! Both, if you’re not good,” she said with a big smile.
“Oh, I’m good. That’s why you keep coming back for more.”
“Yuck!” Amber declared. “TMI! Stop!”
“Now, John,” Jake drawled, “I don’t have to worry about you bird-dogging my baby now, do I?”
Shocked by the question John asked, “Pardon me?!”
“Come on, son! You can’t fool me!” Jake said with a hearty laugh and a knowing wink. “I know you were sweet on my girl back in high school.”
Though his face colored slightly John laughed in return. “I’m gonna plead the fifth, but if I was, and I’m not saying that I was, then that was a long, long time ago. Jiminy, Billie, how old were we?”
“You were a freshman and I was senior, so, what? Fourteen and seventeen? Good God, you were the same age as Dan is now. Jesus, we’re getting old!”
“Speak for yourself, Bil,” Amber replied with a hair flip and half smirk. “Some of us are still in our twenties.”
Joni coughed and spat out a sip of wine. “Sorry,” she said, gasping. “Wrong pipe. And, Amber? You turn thirty in what? Three months? ‘Under thirty,’ my ass!”
Amber’s nostrils flared as she stared at her sister. “Three and a half, thank you. And at least I have three more months, don’t I?”