The story thus far: Due to Covid, Julie and Vanessa have swapped their weekly “wine, whine and dine” luncheons together at a local restaurant for “cold cuts, catch-up, and phone call” luncheons apart, with each at her own home. During their most recent call, Julie inadvertently volunteered to help Vanessa with an envelope-stuffing project, only to find Vanessa had anticipated her assistance and left the mailing supplies on her doorstep . . . along with an empty HoHos box.
Julie understood that Vanessa was swamped at work, and she didn't mind helping her . . . much. A full box of chocolate snack cakes would have gone a long way toward erasing that “much.” A bottle or two of wine would have made her downright glad to help out. An empty box of HoHos didn't do a thing to reduce her reluctance.
“So, about those HoHos, Van . . . .” Julie said, checking the box again. Nope. Still empty.
“You know that I love having Michael and Steve in my pandemic pod, right?”
Vanessa's ex-husband and his new husband had moved in with Vanessa when their home remodeling project encountered the same unexpected delays that plague every renovation. Then Covid hit, adding another level of delays and sending the whole thing off the rails.
“Yeah, yeah. No one gets left behind, no one drinks alone, and you split the cooking three ways,” Julie paused, certain she had stumbled across an explanation. “Oh my gosh! They finally realized you can't cook and they voted you off the island!”
“Pffft. My crock pot is better than any immunity idol. Nothing says comfort like slow cooker ham and hash brown casserole, or slow cooker hamburger and tater tot casserole. As long as there's not another potato famine or global shortage of cream of chicken soup, I'm golden.”
“But Michael has gourmet chef-level skills, and a palate to match.”
“Yes, and schedule that leaves him less time than a short-order cook. The classes he's teaching may be virtual, but the homework he grades isn't. He tries, or at least he tried to keep up with the cooking. During the first week of the shut down, Michael made his Zia Rosa's lasagna. We're talking homemade noodles, sauce that simmered on the stove all day, and fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese from an undisclosed, local farm."
"Sounds heavenly," Julie said, trying not to drool.
"Yeah, well, that was then. Last week he made a pyramid out of those single-serving, microwavable mac and cheese cups and told us to knock ourselves out.”
“And Steve . . . .”
“Steve is a stress baker. Steve bakes when stressed.”
“So he's been baking a lot?”
“No. Between the corporate board zoom meetings for his consulting gig, and zoom classes as an adjunct professor, Steve hasn't had time to stress bake. Do you know what happens when Steve can't stress bake? He gets stressed. And you know what happens when Steve gets stressed? Michael gets stressed. And when Michael and Steve are both stressed . . . .”
“They stress you out?” Julie guessed.
“They drive me friggin' crazy! I mean, I love those guys, but they need to calm the frig down.”
“O.K., so you're all too busy to cook. Much. That doesn't explain the empty HoHo box on my doorstep.”
“Steve spent all day yesterday preparing for a VIZ (Very Important Zoom) meeting early this morning. He was so stressed out he couldn't sleep. Normally, he'd whip up a batch of his Nana's cinnamon rolls to calm his nerves, but he didn't have time. Instead he snuck to the grocery store first thing this morning to buy a box of HoHos and a tube of store-brand frosting. He arranged the HoHos on a platter, piped some frosting down the center of each, artfully arranged M&Ms – 'm' side down – on the frosting, and passed them off as homemade chocolate eclairs.”
“You didn't say . . . .”
“Are you kidding? When I was growing up, Mom thought Little Debbie was the anti-Christ and the Keebler Elves were Satan's minions. The only time I got to enjoy junk food was when I was at your house.”
“I'm sure my mom would be . . . .”
“Michael and I gobbled up those HoHos like we were eight-year-olds high on red Kool-Aid . . . or like middle-aged adults strung out on stress and espresso.”
“But why do I have the box?”
“Steve is crap at subterfuge. I mean, he tried to bury it in the recycling bin, but yesterday was trash day, so it was a shallow grave. He has to know we know, but this gives us all plausible deniability, you know?”
“That was a sweet thing you did, Van. Weird, but sweet.”
“Besides, if we play dumb he might make us tiramisu out of Twinkies.”
Coming soon: How Muffy became the Machiavelli of face masks.