“My mom’s favorite is Bonnie Raitt. I mean, so much that she named me after her. You guys knew that, right?”
“I always thought she’s cool, your mom.”
“Yeah, she is, isn’t she? And, you know — that’s not something I would ever think, let alone admit, just a few years ago.”
The three young women in the back of my cab were chatting about the musical preferences of their respective parents. Sitting shotgun next to me was a tall, good-looking guy, with short, curly black hair and a rangy, athletic build. His dark eyes, I noticed, were piercing and intelligent, like those of a high-flying raptor. The two of us boys were eavesdropping on the conversation among the women, exchanging smiles at the funny parts.
“I remember once — I must have been, like, 10 — a Phil Collins song came on the car radio. I turned to my mom and said, ‘What’s this?’ She says, ‘That’s Phil Collins, honey.’ I’m, like, ‘No, Mom — I mean, like, what kind of music is it?’ ‘Oh, I see what you’re asking,’ she says. ‘Sweetie, it’s soft rock.’ And, I’m, like, ‘Oooh — I like soft rock.’”
Everyone laughed at the sweet story. This is just a nice group of people, I thought as we headed over to the Riverwatch Apartments off Riverside Avenue. So many people, young and old, seem so bitter these days about, well, everything. Forget about the swine flu — the anger bug may prove the more dangerous affliction of the modern age. Perhaps the more contagious, as well. By contrast, this circle of friends had a relaxed camaraderie about them that was a pleasure to experience, if only as their cabdriver on a short hop down the road.
“So, Valentine’s Day is in a couple weeks,” said the girl sitting in the middle. She had high, rosy cheekbones and, on this frigid night, was wearing a bright-green fleece ear warmer imprinted with a UVM logo. “Another opportunity for Todd to totally let me down.”
“Bonnie, you know what I think,” said the friend sitting to her left, directly behind me. This girl was compact and feisty, with short, spiky brunette hair. A thick woolen scarf was wrapped around her neck and extended above her chin, giving her the look of an extremely cute Mutant Ninja Turtle. “We’re too old to put up with guys like that anymore. It’s one thing when we were, like, still in college. But those days are over, sister. You deserve a man you can, like, count on.”
“I know you’re right,” Bonnie said, “but he’s, like, so pretty. I just can’t help myself. Oh, my God — what have I become? Am I, like, that shallow?”
“Bonnie, don’t you be listening to Caitlin,” the girl to her right said, speaking up for the first time and placing a hand on Bonnie’s thigh. She was Asian and looked utterly adorable in a puffy white down jacket with a fur-lined hood that framed her face. “Todd’s a good man, maybe even husband material. You just keep working on him, girl. He’ll get there.”
They all laughed, and Caitlin said, “Sure, Amy — it’s so easy for you to say. You bagged yourself the perfect guy. And don’t think we’re not jealous.”
I watched a big smile spread across Amy’s face as she reached forward to give my seatmate’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze. He smiled, too, and covered her hand with his. She said, “Blake, are you ready for the party at my folks’ tomorrow night?”
“You bet, honey,” Blake replied. “I love hanging out with your parents. They’re a trip.”
“Well, they love you. It’s so funny, though, the way my mom keeps calling you ‘Brake’.”
“Yeah, that’s great. Her accent does seem to get stronger whenever she talks to me. What’s up with that? And your dad, what does he call me — ‘Flake’? That’s what it sounds like, anyway. Am I being paranoid? I know I’m not exactly the Korean doctor or lawyer they had penciled in for you.”
“I gotta talk to that guy. I mean — he’s not even trying! Don’t take it personally. I know deep down my dad really likes you. Not that he’s actually going to show it. I mean, God forbid.” Amy paused to sigh. “Of course, that’s a whole other story.”
“Hey, you,” Blake said, pivoting in his seat to gain eye-to-eye contact with Amy. “Your parents can call me anything they like.” The two lovers smiled at each other in a way that lit up the whole vehicle. “Anything,” he repeated. “I don’t mind one bit.”
We found the entrance to Caitlin’s apartment at Riverwatch, their hang-out spot for the evening. Blake said, “Go ahead, girls — I got this one.” The women exited and Blake counted out the fare. I said, “You’re a lucky man. Your girlfriend seems like a honey.”
Blake glanced out the window to see the girls entering the building and said, “Don’t think I don’t know it, man. Look what I picked up today.” He reached in his coat pocket and extracted a small paper bag. Inside was a little white box, just the size and shape to hold an engagement ring.
“Wow! Good for you, brother. Does she know about it?”
“Well, we’ve talked, but she’ll be surprised. I was thinking about Valentine’s Day, but I don’t want to wait two weeks. So I’m gearing up for this coming weekend. I figure I’ll have her over for a romantic dinner.”
“Oh, that’s perfect. Good planning. Jeez, what about her parents?”
“Tomorrow night I plan on talking to her father when I get the chance. I mean, her family is nothing if not traditional. So, wish me luck.”
“You know what, Brake?” I offered with a grin. “I don’t think you’re really gonna need it.”