At suppertime, the four of us ate in the dining room. Caleb took small and careful bites as Emmanuel watched him from beneath his brows, while Noel was tense as a coiled spring he waited to calm any rifts between them.
After the soup had been cleared away and Willie had placed the main course on the table, I decided I’d had enough. “Mrs. Bell is teaching me to cook.”
Three forks paused in mid-air.
I said, “I mean, I knew how to cook already — my mother taught me French cuisine — but it’s not the same as Southern food.” I said to Emmanuel, “Did you ever have any real French cooking while you were overseas, Mr. Thibodeaux?”
There was a pause. “Some.”
“When the weather gets colder I want to make you all ratatouille,” I said.
Noel said, “The weather doesn’t get very cold here, even in winter. I imagine even San Francisco gets colder.”
“It probably does. It’s not a hot city.” I drank some water. “What about you, Noel? Did you get to try any Japanese food while you were in the Pacific?”
“A little,” Noel said, “though more when I was stationed in Honolulu in the beginning than while we were island-hopping. Then it was all K-rations and MREs.” He added, to Caleb’s quizzical look, “That means meals ready-to-eat.”
“Being a soldier is not very glamorous,” I said. Caleb gave me a look that said, I know that, dopey, and I grinned at him.
“Now that we’ve covered all of our adventures in foreign food, can we actually eat?” Emmanuel said.
“Sorry, sir,” I said. “Many families eat and talk at the same time. I thought we might want to try it.”
Emmanuel scowled at me, while across the table Noel looked like he was trying very hard not to smile.
We managed to finish supper without much more conversation or interruptions. Once Caleb’s plate was clean and we were having coffee while Caleb sipped one more glass of milk, Noel said, “Caleb, I brought you something from the city. Would you like to see it?”
Caleb nodded eagerly, then glanced at Emmanuel as if he expected Emmanuel to forbid whatever the gift was. Emmanuel slurped his coffee loudly, his only protest.
Noel called, “Willie?” and when Willie came into the dining room, there was a tiny, fluffy, gray and white kitten in the crook of his arm. Caleb’s eyes grew enormous and he hopped out of his chair to run to Willie, where he stared at the kitten reverently. Willie chuckled as he stroked the kitten’s fur.
I raised an eyebrow at Noel, and he shrugged in return. “Dr. Dufresne says pets are good for children.”
“That they are,” I said, and stayed at the table as Noel went to Caleb and Willie and took the kitten. He knelt down so he was eye level with Caleb.
“What do you think of her? Do you want to hold her?”
Caleb took the kitten carefully. The kitten meowed, a tiny sound, and clung to Caleb’s sleeve with her needle-like claws. Caleb beamed at us all in turn.
“I’m glad you like her,” Noel murmured, stroking Caleb’s hair. “What shall we call her?” He glanced at me, a smile lurking on his lips. “Should we name her after one of the planets? Venus, maybe, or Europa?”
“How about ‘Damned Nuisance?'” put in Emmanuel.
“Maybe something from the book we’re reading,” I said. “Like Lucy or Susan, the girls in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.”
“I’m glad you like that book,” Noel said.
Emmanuel snorted. “Witches and fairy land.”