Chapter 2: Cell Mate
"What deal?" I demanded; Both women ignored me.
"Do you still have the contract?" Bessie asked, her elbows on the table and her fingers laced together.
Winifred pulled out a neatly folded, slightly yellowed piece of paper. It unfolded into a hand-written contract.
Oh, that contract... I was starting to become impatient.
Winifred cleared her throat, "Let me read it aloud for our grandchildren."
"Oh yes, that would be appropriate, as it does concern them..." Bessie snickered; it was odd coming from an old person.
"Right, I suppose its time I introduce you to my granddaughter," she shifted slightly in her chair and called out behind her, "Catherine?"
"Coming..." said a dispirited voice from the cash register. The first thing I noticed about her was her behind. And the way her jeans curved around it. I shook the thought out of my head when she turned around.
Sure, she was pretty, but there was something else about her face that caught my attention; her high cheek bones, her delicately pointed face, the brown-black of her hair. It was all too familiar.
Oh! I stuck my tongue against my cheek to keep myself from laughing as she sat down.
Meet Cathy Vuong; She's mixed, Vietnamese and Polish; A Cancer as crabby as they come. We attended Duncann CI together back in 2003.
More importantly, we dated for four and a half months. I had been her first kiss back in grade 10, but she hadn't been mine. We had broken up because she accused me of telling my friends that I was with her 'cause she was hot and dumb. I had told them that. But I hadn't really meant it.
I watched her, waiting for her to catch my eye. I wondered if she was still holding a grudge after all of these years.
"Introducing Catherine Winifred Donalbain," Winifred announced proudly, "My lovely granddaughter."
I coughed into a closed fist. 'Catherine'. I remembered two things vividly from our relationship: the day her Vietnamese grandfather had died and she told me that she no longer had any living grandparents; and how much she hated being called by her full name.
The latter proved 'Winifred' didn't know Cathy at all - at least not at a personal level. And the first proved that Cathy had been tricked by a crazy old lady just like I had been. I grinned. We were in the same, sinking boat.
Cathy finally recognized me. And, as expected, she didn't look happy about it. I kept myself from grinning too smugly.
She grudgingly slid cappuccinos to each of us in turn.
"It seems you met your end of the bargain; marrying a Chinese man," Bessie laughed.
Cathy's facial expression shot back her obvious answer, Vietnamese!
"And you yours; your boy has wild, African hair," Winifred chuckled.
She did not just say that.
"It's quite lovely!" she quickly added.
Better call it lovely, you racist little pile of-...
Apparently, after all of these years, Cathy still made a really dumb face when she was trying to keep herself from laughing.
"The contract, dear," reminded Bessie.
"Of course," Winifred cleared her throat, "Let me start by explaining how this contrast developed. It was senior year in high school back in '54. And you know, Bessie and I had been best friends since we were kids!"
How long ago that had been. Sixty years?
Bessie picked up the story, "Yes, the very best of friends… That year, we both had our eyes on one attractive young man… What was his name again?"
"Benjie… Fitz-something…?" Winifred threw in.
"Benjamin Fitz-something… Check the contract, it's in there."
"Here it is, Benjamin Fitzgerald. He was the reason we started this whole deal," Winifred sighed, gently running the tips of her wrinkled fingers over the contract.
"Well, read it, why don't you! Winnie!" Bessie complained impatiently.
"Okay, don't lose your wig over it!" hissed Winifred.
"It's real! Just read!" she pushed her short curled hair further up, making it look more like a beehive than it already did.
I had to admit, I was getting really impatient with their bickering too.
"'May 3rd, 1954,'" she cleared her throat, "'This contract hereby states that as best friends, Bessie Trudeau and Winifred Donalbain shall both refrain from courting the named, Benjamin Fitzgerald.'Well, you know, there's actually background story behind this..."
I sighed. Read my face, lady, I don't care!
I glanced up, catching Cathy's eye. She looked away quickly, her cup of cappuccino slipping and stumbling out of her fingers. It landed standing, shuddering slightly. She grabbed it quickly to hold it still.
"Oh yes," Bessie cut in, "You see, we'd both been trying to catch Benjie's eye for months. But he didn't give us a second thought. He said we were as racist as they come... Us! Can you believe that? See, he was a liberal and a bit of an extreme one at that."
"So we decided that year to come up with a contract to prove how... racially accepting we are!" Winifred said, struggling over the words.
"And we said we'd both marry someone... of colour," Bessie continued with a whisper, "To accentuate that..."
"Of course, I never actually thought Bessie here would keep her end of the bargain!"
"Well, I did!" Bessie shot back, her wrinkled hands curling over the arm rests of her wheelchair in agitation, " I was sure you were lying on the phone last week about having mixed grandchildren! I just had to see for myself!"
"Yes, well, now you see!" Winifred stated, "She's lovely isn't she, my Catherine." She looked fondly at Cathy, who politely smiled back.
'My Catherine'. That bothered me, even after five years. She probably met Cathy half an hour ago and tricked her with pity manipulation. Old ladies were famous for that.
"Jeremy is quite handsome too," Bessie added. Okay, maybe this lady wasn't completely crazy, "And to think I was worried the deal would be hard on these two!"
"What deal, exactly?" Cathy finally spoke. Her voice had barely changed.
"Oh. Sorry. Must have forgotten to mention it..." Bessie paused, "The main part of the deal was... that... um... Winnie, you read it!"
"Haha... um... here it is: ...Upon meeting the earlier marital conditions of this contract, and under the condition that our grandchildren are within the same age group; We, Bessie Trudeau and Winifred Donalbain, agree to get the oldest of our grandchildren wed."
...To each other??
Cathy, who was unfortunately in the middle of sipping her cappuccino, burst into a coughing fit.
"Drink slowly, sweet heart," Winifred said, handing her a napkin from the napkin holder on the table. As if that was the problem.
"I'm glad you guys don't seem against it," Bessie started.
Actually, we're still in the silent shock phase. Give us a minute, we'll get back to you...
"We just figured that the world should be a more colourful place! And this way, bringing our grandchildren together, Winnie and I get nice bonding time between old friends too!"
"Great! Isn't it?" Winifred threw in.
Yeah sure, if we were your real grandchildren and not penny pinching students that you paid to do your bidding...
"Actually-" I started. Bessie's walking stick collided with my knee under the table. Sh-... moth-... OW!
Even mental-swearing in front of old women - however sinister they may be - sent up a red flag in my head.
She passed me a napkin under the table.
'Raise, $11.50 an hour, if you play along - 3 weeks max!' she had written on it.
Damn this lady was cunning... She'd drawn a flower with a smiley face next to her note ... Not to mention creepy.
$11.50... Damn it... I was cheap. Well, you can't technically get married in three weeks... But you can make a good amount of money! Sorry, Cathy, three against one.
"Haha," I gave in, "So Cath-...erine, you wanna give it a shot?"
She glanced from Winifred back to me.
"Yeah, it'd be nice to get to know you," she replied, with a tight smile, "I've had some bad experiences..."
She narrowed her eyes at me. I grinned just a little.
"Well, sweetheart, my boy's different," Bessie added, patting my arm.
"Yeah," I said smiling. I hoped she could still read the look I gave her. Not different at all.
"Great! This settles it!" Winifred clapped excitedly, "Why don't we have a tea party at my house next Saturday!"
"That would be lovely!" Bessie said.
I had plans... The walking stick met my knee again.
"Yeah..." I grumbled, "Lovely..."