Today, February 24, is National Tortilla Chip Day. A standard on every supermarket shelf and the appetizer of choice at many restaurants, tortilla chips could almost be classed as an American institution. I remembered using them in a scene from The Showboat Affair, so in honor of the day, I’m sharing the scene here.
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Jean was eating her dinner in front of the television in the sunroom when Nick Cameron called.
“Are you still busy with your granddaughter”
“Then I’m not interrupting anything.”
“Not at all.”
“I know this is short notice, but I was wondering if we could have dinner tonight.”
“I’m eating mine now. I’m sorry.”
“Oh. Well, it is short notice.”
“I’m really sorry. Maybe…” She hesitated. I don’t want him to think I’m so desperate I’m throwing myself at him.
“Maybe we could meet for a drink?” he finished for her. “Yes.” “That would be nice. I’m in Bellaire. Where are you?”
“River Oaks.” “Do you know Sherlock’s Baker Street Pub on West Gray?”
“Yes. What time?”
“Eight-thirty, if that’s not too late.”
“It’s perfect. So I’ll see you in a bit.” Suddenly she wasn’t hungry anymore, just excited. She took her plate into the kitchen and covered the unfinished dinner with plastic wrap before putting it into the refrigerator. Then she ran up the back stairs to get ready.
Jean cleaned her face and started from scratch with her makeup. From her decimated closet, she chose a casual beige linen dress, which she brightened with a cream and yellow floral scarf. Switching her essentials into a purse matching her dress, and adding medium-heeled sandals for a bit of height, she took one last look at herself in the mirror. “Not bad,” she said aloud. “Not too shabby at all.”
She smoothed the dress over her slender hips, turned to glance at her appealingly flat profile, and took a cream-colored sweater from a drawer in case the bar had its air conditioning going full blast.
She saw Nick, wearing pressed khakis and a blue oxford cloth shirt, open at the neck, standing by the door of Sherlock’s as she pulled into the half-empty parking lot. He hurried to open the door of her car.
“It’s not too busy on a Sunday night.”
“No, there wasn’t much traffic either.”
“I’m glad you came.” She couldn’t look at him and didn’t reply. He asked the waiter for a table toward the back and held her chair as she sat down. “What do you like?” “A Cosmopolitan.”
“A Cosmopolitan and a Tom Collins,” he said to the waiter. “And some tortilla chips—the Triple Dipper.” He leaned toward Jean. “They’re not something to indulge in regularly if you’re watching your waistline.” Then he frowned. “Not that I meant…”
Jean laughed. “I know what you meant. I’ve always been able to eat anything and never gain an ounce, although I’ve heard that can change as one gets older.”
“Maybe not. So I guess you enjoyed your weekend with your granddaughter.”
“She enjoyed it most of all. A fourth-floor terrace is no place for a child to play.”
“No, children need a yard. Charlie stayed outside more than he stayed in.” Nick bit his lip. Charlie had preferred the yard over the house as his mother got sicker. “I don’t have time to keep up a yard now. I really need to sell the house and move closer downtown.”
“That’s where your office is?”
“Here on West Gray.”
“So you have quite a commute.”
“It’s not so bad.” He paused. “But I really should move.”
“You’re still in the same house you shared with your wife.”
“How did you know that?” he asked, frowning.
Jean smiled. “That’s why you haven’t moved, isn’t it?”
“I guess it is.”
“Well, that’s all right if you’re happy there.”
“What about you?” he interrupted. “Are you going to stay where you are?”
“After the divorce? No. I have an appointment with a realtor tomorrow. As soon as Rand puts the house in my name, I’m going to sell it.” She took a chip from the basket the waiter brought and selected the artichoke dip. “My daughter came back from her weekend jaunt with the idea she and her husband would move in with me.”
Nick’s eyebrows went up. “I take it you don’t like the idea.”
“I told Juliana I’d sell her the house at market value. Her idea might be better for Claire, of course, but not for me. Certainly not for me.” She plunged another chip into the cheese dip.
“That seems a reasonable offer.”
“Juliana didn’t think so. She walked out and left me with the entire pan of chicken Alfredo my housekeeper made. That’s what I was working on when you called.”
“Living with your children isn’t always a good thing for anyone concerned.”
“How close to you does your son live?”
“He and Dixie have a house in West University. They’d like me to buy near them, but…” He nodded at the waiter who stopped to check on them. “We’re fine, thank you.” A tortilla chip dangled from his fingers as he considered his choice of dipping sauces. “I bought the house in Bellaire when I finished law school. It’s small, but it was enough for the three of us then, and I don’t really need more space for myself.”
“It holds a lot of memories for you.”
“Yes, it does, and maybe I’ve lived with memories too long. My daughter-in-law, Dixie, thinks so.”
“Well, when you’re ready to move on, you will.”
His mouth twisted slightly. “I should do it.” He decided on the spinach dip. “What about you? Where will you go?”
“I was thinking of a condo somewhere convenient to town but not right in it.”
“You should be able to find that.”
“With a room for Claire. I need to spend more time with her.”
“Maybe a patio with some landscaping and a patch of grass.”
“So you’ll move and get settled in a new home. Then what?”
“Then I don’t know. I have a degree in interior design, but I’ve never used it, and it seems rather late to start.”
“It’s never too late.”
“I’m fifty-three years old, and I only did a short internship after I finished college.”
“You got married.”
“Right. So I’m not really employable.”
“You might be surprised.”
“I’d be very surprised.”
They sat sipping their drinks, refreshed once, and eating chips until the waiter approached their table with the unasked-for check. Jean looked around.
“The place is empty.” Nick appeared surprised. “I guess we closed them down.” He took out his wallet, tossed a couple of bills on the table, and stood up. “I didn’t realize it was so late.”
Outside, they stood for a moment in the dimmed lights. “I’m glad you called, Nick.”
He smiled. “I’m glad I called, too.”
“Just out of curiosity, why did you? I mean, we were hardly introduced in Greg’s office.”
“There was our time at the Galleria.” “Yes, but what made you even ask me to sit at the ice rink with you?”
He hesitated. “I…maybe you looked as lonely as I felt.”
The words, almost lost in the wail of a police siren, hit Jean like a fist. For a moment, a very brief moment, her anger flared but burned out quickly in Nick’s steady gaze. “I see.” She knew her reply was trite, but it was all she could manage.
“You’re starting over. I should have done it years ago.”
Jean nodded. “I don’t even know who I am after all these years. I have to find out.”
“You will.” He touched her elbow and guided her to her car. “May I call you again?”
“I hope you will.”
“Are you…that is, am I cutting in on Greg Thorne?”
“Greg’s a good friend, that’s all.” She put out her hand, and when he took it, her stomach churned in a way she’d forgotten. “Goodnight, Nick.”
“Goodnight.” He waited until she slid into her car and locked the door before he turned toward his own.