to have it done before you came in!” Elizabeth said unhappily. “Zach, I’m so glad to see you! I’ve brought you a few things—listen, you just sit down. I’ll get you some iced tea. In the living room, there’s no walking on the kitchen floor just yet. Not that you can’t if you want to,” she added hastily. “It’s just that—”
“You’re looking great, Liz,” he interjected as soon as she stopped to draw breath. His exasperation faded a little. He really was pleased to see the animated enthusiasm on his mother-in-law’s face, and he would undoubtedly find the patience to listen to her steady stream of chatter once he got his business taken care of. Elizabeth was just—Elizabeth.
He refused the offer of iced tea three times, listened to the story of her drive from Milwaukee, stood obediently in the doorway, gathered after several hurt looks that he was supposed to comment on the floor and did so dutifully, and finally got a word in. “Where’s Bett?”
Elizabeth motioned vaguely toward the refrigerator. “But you’re sure I can’t get you some coffee, then?” she asked worriedly. “Zach, you work so hard; you must need a little refreshment…”
He shook his head, took a step toward the freestanding refrigerator and stopped at the expression of horror on Elizabeth’s face. He stepped back, pushing off one boot and then the other. He ventured in, past the pail and rag, around the corner of the refrigerator. If he hadn’t spotted the crown of yellow hair, he would have kept on going. As it was, he paused in shock and leaned over the counter.
Bett was trapped between the back of the refrigerator and the wall. She looked up at him from on her hands and knees, a toothbrush in one hand.
“What the Sam Hill are you doing?” he mouthed.
“Hi,” she mouthed back. She was damp, hot, frustrated and irritable…but the bewildered look on Zach’s face almost made her chuckle. She made motions to show what she was doing—the toothbrush, the small bowl of pasty-looking cleanser and water, and the corner—and shot him a mischievous grin. “Zach, you know I always clean behind the refrigerator once a week,” she said aloud.
“Hmm,” he commented noncommittally, and reached down as she reached up for a quick kiss. “Caruso’s out there. He claims he told you he wanted twenty more bushels.”
She grinned again. “He always says that when the produce is good. It usually means he’s irritated that he didn’t order more because he knows he can sell it. You told him you always wanted that Mercedes of his?”
Zach looked blank. “No.”
“And the grandchildren, Zach. He talks about the grandsons, but it’s the granddaughter who’s the apple of his eye. And after that, you mention that Joe Cranston offered you a quarter more per bushel than he did.”
Zach heaved a sigh. “Two bits, who the hell is Joe Cranston?”
Bett shook her head sadly. “Sweetheart,” she said with exasperation, “Joe Cranston is a figment of my imagination, of course. I swear, Zach, you’re incurably honest.”
And Bett, Zach thought idly, was incurably winsome. Her rainwashed hair had dried in a flyaway halo; her small frame was tucked quite comfortably into that tiny square; and the blue eyes staring up at him were clearly inviting. “Come out of there and say that,” he suggested threateningly.
“You two,” Elizabeth said affectionately. Zach straightened up, only to see his mother-in-law swabbing at his footprints with a rag. Guiltily, he backed up, and by the time he reached the doorway, Elizabeth was handing him his boots.
“I want to talk to you before you go back to work,” she whispered as they walked toward the front door. “Zach, I…I’m very grateful you were willing to ask me here. I want to tell that I’ll be very, very careful not to get in your way. I want you and Brittany to just go on and do things exactly as you always do…”
Elizabeth was on the eccentric side; she could
A. Meredith Walters, 12 NA's of Christmas