"You told me twenty people," Emily said. "This is more like forty."
"Micky's friend is coming with his klezmer band," a voice called out, close to Emily's ear.
"I'm hearing that savory is the true challenge category," Eli said, joining them. "Somebody actually did mince. Is it secret ballot or a panel of judges?"
"Bits of paper with numbers in a hat and then we count them and see which pie got the most votes," Sherry said.
"I'm going to eat." Eli found a paper plate. "Secret ballot. I like that."
Sherry and Emily exchanged a smile. The other thing about Eli was that, at thirty-seven, he was still kind of a big kid. Though Emily was only thirty-two, she never felt younger than him. Sherry went away and Emily watched Eli spy on people as they tried out the pies. He was never far from her, and not more than a minute went by when he didn't at least have one arm around her. He liked to hold her high, his hand covering her ribs just below her breast. Or he would slide his hand low on her back. They could easily have gotten pulled away from each other. But it didn't happen. Instead, he knew her shyness and by staying where she could see him, he kept it from overwhelming her. He was there, guiding her, keeping her fresh and near and safe and happy. He didn't talk about it with her. He just knew.
Though people kept threatening that the klezmer band was minutes away, it hadn't yet arrived, so Sherry brought a speaker dock down from her apartment and someone plugged their phone into it. An old Neil Young song came on: "Sugar Mountain." Emily strained to listen to it. Outside, it had begun to rain and the sudden summer shower made the people standing by the open windows laugh and show off their wet shoulders. Emily told herself that Eli was like a Neil Young song she wanted to hear over and over again. People were still coming in. A short young woman with dark hair yanked the door open and threw herself inside. She had just the sort of long loose ringlets Emily didn't care for. Untamable creature, Emily thought, as the woman shook the water out of her hair and looked around. But that wasn't fair. The woman was beautiful, a beautiful mess. Emily tried to feel sympathetic. It would have been unbearable for her to arrive late and wet and empty-handed and have people look her over. The woman threw down a camouflage-patterned duffel bag and smiled wide at no one. Emily resisted an urge to tell her to put her bag somewhere farther from the door, so no stranger lurking on the street just outside the party would take the opportunity to reach a hand inside and steal it.
"Jenny?" Sherry called out. "Hi!" Sherry went over and hugged the woman, who was wearing a denim skirt and flip-flops and a billowy blue-and-white-striped sleeveless top that showed off her jangly breasts.
"Hey. I didn't bake anything. I literally just got out of a cab from Kennedy is why. But I am sure ready to chow down on some pie!"
"Jenny, this is my sister, Emily. Jenny's moving back from L.A. soon and this is, like, her scouting trip."
"Yeah, you know, like where I look for an apartment and a job." Jenny made a bummer face by rolling her eyes and frowning. Emily saw Eli come back toward them. He'd been pushing people to vote for his pie. There had been a lot of jokes about electioneering too near a polling place.
"We are looking good," he said. "Great feedback. I love that the chiles are making people sweat."
"And this is Eli Corelli, my brother-in-law."
Jenny raised her eyebrows. She'd already grabbed a plate and scooped up a piece of someone's pistachio-currant piea pie that had barely been touched.
"Roman Street Bicycles, right?" Jenny spoke with her mouth full. "I've totally heard of you. I've ridden your bikes."
"You have one?"
"No. I have an old beater I never use. In L.A. we don't get to ride enough to justify buying an RSB bike. I'm excited to start biking again."
Copyright © 2013 by Ben Schrank
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