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They had eaten in the living room, sitting scooted onto the edges of the furniture—a pair of couches, an easy chair, an ottoman, a quartet of wooden chairs that Greg had carried in from the dining room. They had eaten off paper plates balanced delicately on their knees, rested their plastic cups atop the thick gray carpet. Melissa’s father had kicked over a cup of soda getting up for seconds. Just ginger-ale, thank goodness. It could have been worse; she and Jenny were both drinking red wine. After they’d finished Ken and Alex had taken their chairs into the kitchen to teach Jonathan and Caleb to play blackjack and seven-card stud. Mr. Brubaker had gotten a set of poker chips down from the attic in case anyone wanted to play cards. “Kids,” Ken had said after they had played a couple of hands, “it’s now time for me to instruct you in the dark art of no-limit Texas hold ‘em.”
“It’s so nice having Linda and Mel so close by,” Mrs. Brubaker had said as they put away the leftovers from dinner. “For them, too, you know, with the kids and all. There’s always someone there to help watch them if they need it.”
“How about your parents?” Mrs. Brubaker had asked her. “I’m sure they just love it when you and Jonathan come visit.”
After they had finished cleaning up she and Jenny and Linda had stuck thirty candles into the cake which Linda then carried into the dining room where Melissa blew them out in the dark with the customary single breath. Mr. Brubaker and Greg stood on either side of the table catching it all with their digital cameras. Mrs. Brubaker stood in the doorway with her hand on the switch, waiting until the candles were out to flip the lights back on.
“Shall we give her our gift?” Jenny had asked.
“Oh, that reminds me,” Alex had said, and excused himself while he went out to his car.
“Mel, why don’t you show everyone Greg’s present,” Mrs. Brubaker had said. “I’m sure they would love to see them.”
Greg had bought Melissa a pair of pearl earrings which he had given to her that morning.
“He made her breakfast in bed!” Mrs. Brubaker said.
“French toast,” Melissa said. “It was very nice, honey.”
Then she had passed around the earrings, which everyone agreed were, without question, very, very beautiful, and Greg sat at the end of the table eating cake and looking relieved.
She and Jenny had gotten Melissa a gift certificate to a spa. “We can all go together!” Jenny had said. Alex had gotten her what looked like a basket of soaps he had found at a drug store. “Nice gift, jackass,” Ken had muttered. “Hey, at least I tried,” Alex said.
They had started a movie for the kids in the living room. Linda had gone in to see how they were doing. “Jonathan is asleep,” she told her when she came back to the table. She had whispered it, holding an index finger over her lips as she spoke—like a librarian, or a kindergarten teacher. “Honey,” she said to Dale, “Caleb looks like he might be getting sleepy, too.” She had their other son—eight months old she had said—cradled in the crook of her arm. “Maybe we had better get ready to go.”