Episode 65: Vaca Frita
It’s sooo good to be home, Lana announces as she and Bettina walk up the stairs with their luggage. It’s an oven in the apartment, and Bettina opens the windows for a cross draft and turns on the A/C. Lana goes over and picks up the shotgun in the corner and brings it into her room, and unloads it. Then she wipes it down with a light coat of oil, and thumbs the shells back in, leaving it cruiser ready. She comes back out and puts it back in its place.
I’m going for a run before we head over to Daddy’s, Bettina announces. I’m going to make some scalloped potatoes to bring over, Lana replies. Bettina changes into her running outfit, and goes in the kitchen and gives Lana a kiss on the cheek as she peels potatoes. See you in a little bit. Lana sees that Bettina has her phone in a handstrap. You’re not taking Runt? It’s too humid. I’d have to call the fire department to put a sprinkler on a hydrant to keep him cool. Lana grins. Lana Radley! I meant at the playground, where the kids could enjoy it too. It would get rid of the press outside, Lana says grinning. Don’t you dare. I used to be a reporter too.
Bettina opens the outside door, and is jogging past the idling newsvans before the crews can rally to film her. She runs to the playground and gets a drink of water, and goes over to the monkey bars and swings back and forth a couple times, then gets another drink of water, and jogs around the neighborhood several times, before finally coming back into the apartment, completely drenched with sweat. The A/C has cooled down the apartment, and she goes straight into the bathroom in her sweat thru workout outfit, and strips down in the shower. She cools off and pulls back the shower curtain and sees that Lana has laid out a fresh towel for her. She emerges from the bathroom a minute later, goes into her room and puts on a tank top and a pair of shorts, then walks into the kitchen to make a recovery drink. Lana’s dish is sitting on top of the stove, cooling off. Went to the store to get some groceries. There’s a drawn heart, and the note on the counter is signed Lana. There’s a knock on the door. Bettina walks over. Who is it? Jax. She motions him to hurry inside to get out of the hot hallway. Hi! She tells him as she closes the door quickly behind him. He sees that she’s got her hand across her chest. Head into the kitchen and pour us some sun tea while I go put on my bra. She joins him a minute later and he hands her a cup of iced tea. There’s lemon slices in a Ziploc bag, she tells him as she sits down. He opens the fridge. Where? Side drawer. He hands her one - which she drops in her glass.
Lana just went to the store to get some groceries, Bettina says. She’ll be back any minute. What is daddy cooking for the party? BBQ ribs. Lana made scalloped potatoes. Sounds good. Bettina doesn’t say anything and studies Jax until he looks away. Lana’s become like you, and you’ve become like Lana, he comments. I like letting them air out after a shower, Bettina admits. That’s not what I meant, Jax says. Lana was really quiet and standoffish when I first met her. Now she’s a warm and caring person like you. And you’re more quiet and serious now. You hardly said a word when we were in the Hamptons. She looks at him and doesn’t reply for awhile. I’ve always been more of a nerd, Jax. It’s who I really am. My boyfriends would always complain about me geeking out.
What do you think of Levi working with Lana? He asks. I think Saul wants to protect Lana from the crazies, Bettina says. I think he wants to set them up, Jax comments. Bettina shakes her head no. He’s Jewish. So? Jax counters, his eyebrows raised. Rabbinic Judaism is a completely different belief system than Christianity. Even if they really liked each other, which they do, I don’t see how they could get past that. So I wouldn’t worry about it, Jax. Alright, he tells Bettina.
Lana comes in with several bags of groceries. Hello, she says, as she puts away her purchases in the fridge and cupboards. She pours herself a glass of water and sets it on the table, and then walks to her room without saying another word. She comes back out a minute later with a check for $10,000 made out to Winsome Capital, LP-LLC and puts it in front of Jax. What’s up? She asks them, sitting down. Do you want to go jetskiing with us at the lake? Bettina asks her. Lana shakes her head no. I’m still recharging. Jax reaches into his cargo shorts and pulls out a folded up notecard. You know what this is? He asks Lana. I got the idea from your dad. She looks at Bettina. My father carries around a verse from Proverbs in his pocket to meditate on and memorize. He calls it his pocket verse.
What does yours say? Bettina asks. “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD”. Proverbs 18:22. Bettina smiles at him, and they both grin at Lana. I’m going to go take a nap, she tells them. See you there then, Bettina says. I’m going to ride over with Jax, she adds.
Simon and Jax sit on the dock, watching Bettina pull a tube with some neighbor kids on her jetski. This is the good life, Simon says. Jax nods and sees Bettina jump her wake and spill her charges. She circles the machine back and idles it. One climbs back on the tube, but the other has had enough and swims over to the jetski. Jax grins as he sees the kid behind her hug her lifejacket and hang on for dear life, as she races away.
There’s a persistent knocking on the door of the apartment. Lana gets up out of bed and grabs her shotgun. She goes up to the door and pounds back. Then she racks her 870. Pleez open por La Dona, a male Hispanic voice says. She breeng Vaca Frita for Meez Lana. What did Pastor Larry preach on that Sunday? The Sixth Commandment, Lana hears Tia say from the hallway. Lana opens the door a crack and peeks. She sees Tia holding a covered dish in both hands. Just La Dona, Lana says in Spanish, and opens the door, using it to shield her.
Tia steps inside and Lana closes and locks the door behind her, holding the shotgun in her right hand, muzzle pointing at the floor. Tia notices that Lana isn’t wearing a bra when she empties the chamber of the shotgun and puts the shells back in the tube, then places the weapon back in its corner. Please head into the kitchen while I put something on, Lana says in Spanish.
Lana comes back ten seconds later wearing her short kimono tied and finds Tia standing in the kitchen with the covered dish still in her hands. Lana opens the fridge and moves some things around and takes it from Tia. Thank you. Please have a seat. She puts ice in two glasses and fills them with sun tea and then drops a lemon slice in each. And sits down at the kitchen table with Tia.
Tia looks over Lana without saying anything. She sees that Lana’s left hand is in her lap. Let me see it, she commands. Lana brings out her left hand and shows her the engagement ring. Tia looks at Lana and sees that she won’t meet her eyes, and just looks down at the table. What were you thinking? Tia asks her vehemently. Lana closes her eyes and then takes a deep breath and finally looks up at Tia. My parents insisted. When you’re blind, Dona, you’re completely dependent on others to lead you. You’re not blind anymore, Tia snaps. I promised Jax that I’d wear his ring until I had a chance to talk to my father. And when is that going to happen? When I’m ready, Lana says firmly and meets Tia’s eyes.
You studied psychology at university? Tia asks. Lana nods. I’ve learned something about human nature, Tia continues. Maybe you can put a name to it. Let’s say there’s an offer on the table, but should that offer be suddenly and unexpectedly withdrawn, then almost invariably, the other party caves and snatches at the withdrawn offer. What would be the name for that phenomenom? A mistake, Lana retorts. Win-win or no deal. Tia smiles coldly.
Raul is now off limits to you, Lana Radley. Lana leans forward and puts her arms on the table and stares intently at Tia. Why are you coming between us? I’m not, Tia responds, unable to meet Lana’s glare. Her head stays down for several seconds, then she finally sighs and looks up sadly. I’m just the messenger, Lana. She says softly. It’s one of the Jew’s terms for his consenting to Samantha marrying Ramon. Raul must forswear any claim on you. Lana closes her eyes and rubs her temples with her fingertips and then rests her head on her palms. Tia gets up and goes over and rubs Lana arm and shoulder gently. I’m so sorry, Lana. I didn’t know how you felt until…and she suddenly leaves without saying goodbye.
Two hours later, Lana shows up at Tom’s in her Volvo. And carries in both covered dishes, Emilie getting the door for her. Hi, Lana. Let me help you with those. She takes one from Lana and they go into the kitchen. Where everyone is gathered around. What did you bring, Lana? Simon asks. Scalloped pototoes and Vaca Frita and I need to use the bathroom, she says over her shoulder as she heads straight there. Vaca Frita? Simon asks Bettina. Fried cow, Bettina says with a shrug, as she puts the tinfoil covered dishes in the oven to warm up. Jon searches on his phone and finds it and shows Emilie. It’s a Cuban dish, she announces. Steak strips, sautéed onions, and black beans on rice. Jax licks his lips. Mmmm.
Lana comes back five minutes later, and joins everyone in the kitchen. Did you wash your hands? Simon asks her. Paper didn’t rip, she states matter of factly. Jon bursts out into loud guffaws, and everyone laughs along with him. Lana Radley! Bettina exclaims. You start us off, Lana. Tom tells her. Lana takes a rack of ribs and a spoonful of her scalloped potatoes, and walks over to the dining room table. She finds her name at a corner of the table and sits with her head bowed and her hands in her lap. Jax sits down next to her a minute later, and elbows her gently. I set the table, he whispers. Her head stays down, but he sees her Mona Lisa smile.
Join hands, everyone, Bettina says after they’re all seated. Lana takes Tom and Jax’s hands in hers. Lana, would you pray? For this bounty we are about to receive, we give Thee thanks, Amen. Amen, Simon and Tom echo.
Jax takes a bite of the Vaca Frita and chews it slowly. He closes his eyes. Whoa, he mutters softly. Bettina takes a bite of hers, and looks at Simon. Try this, she whispers, and feeds him a bite with her fork. He closes his eyes as he chews slowly. He opens his eyes and looks over at Lana incredulously. Who are you? Just a girl in a blue dress she says, extending out her intertwined arms and bringing her head to her shoulder in mock coyness. Everyone breaks out laughing at Lana’s histrionics. Lana, it’s so good to have you back, Tom says. Thank you, sir. She says, looking down. Lana, Emilie entones with a sigh, you have to give me this recipe. I would love to be able to cook something like this. I thought you were going to take a nap, Bettina comments, giving Lana a questioning look.
How did the jetskiing go? Lana asks Bettina. One of us learned a valuable lesson: that you have to accelerate to be able to steer, she says giving Simon a head nod. Jax laughs. He drove them right into a buoy. Lana looks at Simon. You okay? She whispers. He nods slightly. Have you ever been on one, Lana? Jax asks her. She shakes her head no. We’re going for a ride then after dinner, Bettina says. Lana looks at her. No brakes – No thanks. C’mon fearless Lana, Jax teases her. C’mon clueless Lana, ride the torpedo, Lana mimics. Everyone laughs. You are going to drive the torpedo, Bettina insists. Lana shakes her head no. Bettina frowns. I’ll go with you after dinner, Emilie says. I’d like to try it. Bettina beams at her, and then narrows her eyes at Lana.
Jax cleans his plate and then wipes his mouth with a napkin, and then puts it back in his lap and takes a sip of his water with his other hand. Tom grins at Lana as she knaws unselfconsciously on a rib with her elbows on the table. She startles when Jax puts a hand on her knee and starts kneading it. Her eyes get big, and she suddenly elbows him hard. He howls in pain. Now hands where I can see them, mister. Lana tells him. Busted! Simon exclaims, laughing. I was just doing some rehab, doctor’s orders, he proclaims innocently. Lana goes back to munching on her ribs, as Jax rubs his triceps.
Lana? Emilie asks. Lana looks across the table at her. Emilie stares at her intently. They’re normal now, but I swear I saw your eyes change when Jax startled you. Your pupils dilated like my cat’s. Don’t swear, Lana says softly, her head down. What kind of cat do you have, Emilie? Bettina asks, quickly changing the subject. A Siamese Persian mix. Is it a good mouser? Bettina follows up. Emilie bites her lips to keep from laughing, and just shakes her head no. The doorbell rings, and Bettina gets up from the table. She comes back a minute later with Tim in tow. I’ll get you a chair, Tim, Simon says getting up from the table. No, that’s alright. I can’t stay long; I just wanted to see Lana. Lana wipes her fingers on her napkin and then goes over and gives him a hug, squeezing him tightly. It’s so wonderful to see you again, Tim, she says with a smile, and then hugs him again, and rests her head on his shoulder for a moment and sighs deeply. Now, will you try my cooking? She asks him. I made scalloped potatoes. He looks at her and nods. She takes his arm and leads him into the kitchen.
Lana, sit down. Bettina orders her, when they come back in the dining room. I’m the hostess. What can I get you to drink, Tim? Water’s fine. We have Mormon beer, Tom announces. I guess, Tim says reluctantly. Simon breaks out laughing, and tells the story of how Lana got Rolf to come by promising “Legionnaire” Beer. Everyone grins at Lana, who has her head down. So where is he? Tim asks. That’s a good question. Tom echoes. Everyone looks at Lana. Well, Lana? Jax asks. Rolf has social anxiety, Lana says quietly. Jax snorts in disbelief. Jon glares at Jax until Emilie takes his hand and squeezes it. Well that explains a lot, Bettina says. Changing subjects, have you been getting out the vote for PJ? She asks Tim. I’m just back from a hunting trip. What were you after? Tom asks. Hogs. Simon breaks into dry heaves, and Bettina elbows him and gives him a look. Jax sees Lana smile down at the table. Well, did you get one? Tom asks. We got more than one, Tim admits proudly. Lana and Tim exchange a glance, and he nods slightly. Did you bring your 79 Ford F150? Lana asks him. Oh yeah. Stereo work? Lana asks. It only picks up country stations, Tim says with a big grin, and everyone laughs. Would you take me for a ride after? As long as your man is alright with it, Tim says looking at Jax. I appreciate that, Tim. Just bring her back safe. Jax replies. OR you could go jetskiing with us first, Bettina says eagerly. Never been, Tim admits. Neither has Emilie, and yet she’s not afraid to ride with me. Bettina says smiling at her. About that, Emilie says wincing, I don’t have a swimsuit and… You promised, Bettina says. Simon, did she not say that she would go with me? Indeed, she did, Simon says. But… You can just ride sidesaddle. Trust me, I won’t do anything crazy. I want you to come back.
Fifteen minutes later, Emilie puts on a lifejacket and steps gingerly off the dock and sits sidesaddle behind Bettina on the jetski and crosses her ankles. Hope you know how to swim, Simon tells her. Bettina squints at him, and takes off slowly and the guys watch as she putts along the bay. She soon stops several hundred yards out, and the girls just sit out there and talk. Show me your truck, Tim. Simon tells him. Jax follows them while Jon waits patiently on a bench on the dock. Eventually, he sees Emilie hike up her dress and sit directly behind Bettina, who fires up the jetski and floors it.
Lana helps Tom put away the ribs in several aluminum foil containers. Lana, what ever happened to the restaurant manager you were seeing before all of this? Raul, wasn’t it? Lana nods. He’s back home in Mexico, minding the family bodega. What happened? The short version is that events came between us. What’s the long version? Lana doesn’t answer. Got it, off limits, Tom says and looks out the window. Uh oh, he says. Lana looks out and sees Bettina idling alongside Emilie, who is in the water. Lana and Tom give each other a knowing glance.
Simon and Jax watch as Tim pops the hood of his truck. I cannot believe how much room there is, Simon says. Everything is so easy to get at. Yep, this was made so a man can do his own wrenching. No computers in this truck. Just a carbeurator and a distributor cap. An EMP goes off, and I’m still running, Tim tells Simon. Who nods thoughtfully.
Lana and Tom come out. Lana goes to her car and throws her phone, handgun, and flashlight in her handbag and then grabs a bottle of water from the case in the backseat. Emilie is in the water, Tom announces. Jax puts his palm on his head. Tim closes the hood and gets the door for Lana. Tim looks at Jax and jerks his head for him to go with her. Jax lopes over and opens the door with his left hand and gets in. Lana opens her quarter vent window as Jax heads down the street. So… he exclaims. That was one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted. I’m glad you liked it, Lana says, and looks out the window.
Are you mad at me? Jax asks after a minute of silence. No. Why the sharp elbows then? That really hurt. Your wounded hand is recovering, Lana notes, not dignifying the question. I still don’t have much grip strength or dexterity, Jax replies. Give it time, Jax.
May I pick you up tomorrow to go to your parents? I’d rather we all ride together. We can fit in my car. Are we going to talk about the upcoming wedding? Jax asks. My mother will be sure to bring it up, Jax. I meant now. I suppose.
What are your objections? Lana thinks about this in silence. Do you know the story of Samson in the Bible? The strong guy who falls for Delilah, Jax says. Lana, that was a one-off. I’m not going to allow myself to ever be put that situation again. That’s not what I’m thinking about, Lana replies. Twenty years before, he married a Philistine girl who caught his eye. After a seven day honeymoon, he left her with her father, and told the Philistines that she was a heifer. Jax looks over at her incredulously. Good night! I’m not a Bible character, Lana. Human nature hasn’t changed in thirty five hundred years, Jax. They drive in silence for while. What else? Jax finally asks. Your parents hate me, and for good reason. They’ll push you to get rid of me. Not after we’re married. Next. I have trust issues with you, and you are going to be tempted often. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice, Lana. Jax, buddy, listen to me, Lana says in a deep husky voice. Your only mistake was getting caught. Everybody cheats.
That happened before I said my wedding vows, buddy old pal, Jax responds. And you should have warned me. Lana looks out her window and they ride back in silence.
I left the keys in it. Appreciate it, Tim. Where’s Lana? She got in her car and left right when we got back. Well, that’s my cue to head out, Tim says. Thanks for supper. Take some ribs with you, Tim. Bettina says. She goes to the fridge and pulls out one of the foil packages and brings it to him. Thanks. He heads out without further ado.
How did it go? Tom asks Jax. Good. I actually got her to finally talk to me about our wedding. And? Bettina asks. Trust issues. She asked me if I knew who Samson was in the Bible. The strongest man who ever lived, Bettina says. Who fell for Delilah, Simon adds. Didn’t end well for him. Yeah, that’s where I thought she was taking it too, Jax says. But she said that twenty years prior to Delilah, Samson married a Philistine woman, and after a seven day honeymoon, he left her with her father and told everyone that she was a heifer. That must be from the Apocrypha, Bettina tells her dad. And holds up a finger for the guys to wait, as she heads up to her room to get her Bible. What’s the Apocrypha? Simon asks Tom. Non-canonical Scriptures of the Middle Ages; some Bibles have these books in an appendix. What did you tell her? Tom asks. That I’m not a Bible character; it was so out of left field. Bettina comes back downstairs a minute later, frowning. I was wrong, daddy. But the story is way more involved than her synopsis. Simon, will you read it aloud for us?