“Pink sangria,” she says again. “Not red. Not white. Is that a northerner thing?” she asks. I don’t answer because she doesn’t wait for me to. “I’m sure it’s so . . . yummy,” says Wendy, as she pushes the whole dispenser back five inches on the table and pulls her own a bit farther up, as though there’s some imaginary potluck spotlight I’m stealing. “But don’t take it personally if no one drinks it. It’s not about you; it’s about tradition. The parents ask me to bring my recipe every year, and I can’t say no, though I’m as busy as ever this time of year.”
My smile falters just a tiny bit. “Isn’t sangria just opening bottles and tipping them in?” I ask. “I mean, unless you use hard-to-find ingredients. But that didn’t even take that long—a month to special order is all.”
She shrugs casually. “Maybe my sangria is so popular because it’s light enough to drink a glass or two before you tip over. I mean, this is a family event. Vodka in sangria!” she now says to herself. “Now that’s a party right there.” She says more quietly: “A party you regret the next day.”
Hmph. I hardly think my sangria is going to land someone in the ER. But before my very eyes, Wendy fishes around in her purse, pulls out a black Sharpie, and adds with vodka on the label of my sangria. The stenciled label I painted on myself. I guess this dispenser is a one-trick pony now.
“That was chalkboard paint,” I tell her, not exactly sure why. She can’t un-Sharpie it, can she?
She looks at me. “So cute,” she says. “I’ve seen those labels in the dollar section at Target every summer. I just never have the time to be so crafty.”
I give her a look that roughly translates to !!
She ignores the look entirely. “Oh, Celeste, chalkboard paint, infused vodka—you’re so full of ideas. I wish I could be more like you.”
How on earth can she say those words and still make it sound like an insult? I smile tightly. “Maybe I should put this away,” I say. “The sangria. We could just hold it under the table for when we run out of yours.” Not that anyone in their right mind would care if there were two kinds of sangria at a potluck. No one but Wendy Charles.
“No, no, that’s silly. It’s already here. It’s just . . .” Her voice fades.
“What?” I demand.
“Well, I think you were assigned the vegetarian appetizer course.”
“Assigned?” I ask. Is that a thing now—assigned potluck dishes? I grew up clutching a four-dollar Little Caesars pizza on the way to every church potluck, just like half the other kids I knew. We somehow got by.
“On the Google Doc?” Wendy goes on. “Don’t tell me you’re not in our softball-parents Google group yet, Celeste!”
I know nothing about a Google group. I know about All-Sports because one of the other moms told me about it in passing. “I thought people just brought whatever they wanted to most potlucks.”
Wendy looks at me like I’m a complete moron. “Well, then we’d be eating nothing but cantaloupe and deviled eggs if that were the case. Think about it. Everyone would only bring the cheap foods.”
I frown and wish I hadn’t labeled the eggs with my telltale swirly handwriting. It’s true: I did gravitate toward the eggs for cheap protein. You can’t take the Little Caesars out of the girl, no matter how much birch-sap-infused vodka I try to pull off.
“Never mind it,” Wendy says. “We’ll get you signed up, and y’all’s family will be up to speed in no time. It helps loads, the docs. I mean, game snacks alone. We’d be duplicating efforts.”
Game snacks? I wonder, hoisting Joy into my arms and absently playing patty-cake with her. Samuel’s school soccer team gave me a twenty-dollar bill at the beginning of the season, and I brought cut-up orange slices to every game. On the last day, I brought cupcakes decorated like soccer balls. I sort of figured this would be the same thing, only with less black frosting. Why does everything related to Wendy Charles have to be so complicated?
There’s a quiet coming over the pavilion, and aside from a few people milling by some bacon-wrapped dates, I see that most of the parents are gathering toward the front of the tables. “What’s this?” I ask Wendy, because she’s standing closest to me. Because both of us are refilling our sangria glasses with our own respective sangrias, I notice reluctantly.
“Oh, this is the fundraiser,” she says. “Maybe the whole point, to be honest.” I look around at our kids, all romping joyfully in the large park, playing soccer, digging in the sandbox, or playing on the climbing frame and swings. That seems like the whole point to me. But I don’t say that.
“Before everyone eats,” Wendy explains, “you can go bid on a chance to visit the dessert table.” She gestures to the far side of the food options, where brownies, cookies, cakes, and doughnuts are piled high. “The top fifty bidders win an all-you-can-stack dessert plate. So we all go hog wild to win our kiddos a plate, and the teams make a mint.”
“Whoa, really? There must be way more than fifty kids here, though.”
Wendy nods. “Course, the kids are crushed if you don’t bid high enough, with all those sweets out on full display while you try to get them to eat a piece of broccoli covered in ranch.”
“The kids would be crushed?” I ask incredulously. “I’ll be crushed. I love lemon squares.”
Wendy gives me a good-natured—for her—smile. “Lucky you. I don’t mind telling you, Hugh seems every bit as sweet as marshmallow fluff. Whereas Seth lets me know when I gain so much as an ounce. I can’t even look at a lemon square.”
I smile. “Hugh is so sweet,” I say, though I don’t quite understand what that has to do with my love of desserts. Oh! Wait! I get it: He’s sweet to love me even though I’m curvy, I suppose. I guess only the nicest sort of fellow could bear to look at this body unclothed. Stung, I add, “But I’m sure Seth indulges you in his own way.” Meaning at least Hugh doesn’t have to live with a sangria-obsessed b-word-that-rhymes-with-witch.
“I’ll give you a tip,” says Wendy, missing my sorry attempt at a sick burn. “Just bid twenty dollars per kid. You can’t see what others have bid, which the committee always hopes will make people go crazy and overbid. And for a few people it does. But most of the crowd just bid five to ten bucks, because that’s all they can see a plate of cookies being worth. So you come down right in the middle.”
“Can’t they just let everyone have a cookie each and take donations?”
Wendy shakes her head. “Doesn’t work. Same as the cantaloupe and deviled eggs. This is what works. This is how we raise enough so that every kid will get a uniform, a helmet, whatever they need, no matter their means.”
I reach right over Wendy, pull my sangria container back to the front of the table, and pour myself a too-big glass. “Even though the same kids who need uniforms probably won’t be able to afford cookies.”
Wendy just shrugs sadly. “Those kids probably aren’t even here.”
Right, because who would invite their parents to the Google group? “What happens to the leftover desserts?” I ask.
More shrugging. I want to shake her by those apathetic shoulders.
All at once, though I was doing fine before, I feel the sangria start to hit home. In a surge of tipsy insecurity, I wish Hugh were here rather than in the company box of the Braves game schmoozing important clients. Hugh is brilliantly personable, a people person if ever there was one. But he doesn’t truck with this sort of snobbish nonsense, not at all. He’d tell our kids we were going out for ice cream later and refuse to bid on dessert. He’d personally buy ten uniforms for kids in need rather than play along with this dumb stunt. He’d tell this Wendy with her perfectly colored hair and small, flat little body what he thought of her red sangria and then eat every bite of cantaloupe and deviled eggs in the place personally.
Is it any wonder I married the man?
But without Hugh, I can only just simmer. I simmer and pour myself yet another pink sangria (with vodka). Then, fortified, I stomp over to the bidding table and write down not four but six dessert-plate bids, at twenty dollars each. Three are for my kids, though they are not going to be eating more than a couple of sweets each, because in my family we can respect healthy limits. One is for me and means that yes, I will eat twenty dollars’ worth of lemon squares or die trying. And as for the last two bids, well, I put them in for Bridget and Linus, the long-suffering children of Wendy the Sangria Shrew, so that they can know that at least one person in their neighborhood knows what it’s like to be generous.
Or maybe I do it just so I can watch Wendy’s face when her kids each get two plates piled high with sweets thirty minutes after their regular bedtime. Maybe—sorry, Mom—preemptive apologizing isn’t nearly as satisfying as the sweet flavor of artisanal vodka infused with passive-aggressive revenge.