Jane exited the car quickly, waited by the front for her mother and Wings. A gust of November wind blew suddenly, as if calling for attention. Jane saw oak leaves fly through the air, some waving chaotically in the wind, others scritching along the grey driveway. Mice, Jane thought — the leaves, especially the ones with their edges curled inward and pointing down, looked like mice scurrying across the hard surface, looking desperately for shelter from the cold wind. The door to the home opened, and Gary appeared, stepping back to allow the door to avoid hitting his round belly. He greeted Jane and her mother warmly, then offered his fleshy right hand in Wing’s direction. “You must be Tasha?”
The slender young woman blinked, and smiled, taking Gary’s hand. “Call me Wings.”
Gary laughed. “Oh, yes! When Jane said she was bringing Wings tonight, the first thing I thought was, Mild or Spicy?” The three women laughed heartily at the joke as they stepped into Gary’s home and began removing their jackets.
Wings gave her jacket to Gary, then pointed with both hands to the side of her head. “It’s the hair, the way it sticks out. It’s always been like this — one day my momma said it looked like I had wings sprouting out my head, and the name’s stuck ever since.”
Hilda looked up at the entry room’s ceiling. “Haven’t seen your new home yet, Gary. How long you been here?”
“Two years.” Gary closed the door of the closet where he had hung the women’s jackets. “And if they ever make me a partner, I’ll actually be able to afford it!”
Gary escorted the women into the dining room, Dr. Patel rising from a chair to greet them. Jane noticed the room had been rearranged — the large oak table had been pushed from the center of the room to the room’s longest wall, and leaves had been removed to change its shape from long rectangular to large circle. Bowls of snack foods — chips, salsa, raw vegetables, crackers, cheese — were spread decorously across the table. The table’s eight oak chairs were arranged around the carpeted room, each no more than a few feet from a wall. The large glass light fixture (Gary didn’t like calling it a chandelier, because only old people had chandeliers) — seeing Dr. Patel walk underneath it, Jane guessed that it must have been raised for their meeting this evening.
Dr. Patel asked if everyone was there, and Gary replied that Arjie had texted him 30 minutes ago that he was leaving his apartment. “That means he won’t be much longer.”
Hilda pulled Dr. Patel to the side of the room, spoke to him in urgent hushed tones. Assuming her mother was speaking to the doctor about her, Jane turned her attention to Gary and Wings, standing under the large light fixture in the center of the carpeted dining room. He asked Wings about her dance career; Wings replied enthusiastically. Jane stepped forward to join the conversation, when an object on the wall caught her attention.