Wilson mopped up the sauce on his plate with a slice of white bread and helped himself to more of everything. “So what do you girls think?” he asked. “Not too bad for an ice cream man?” He cringed at the words coming out of him.
“Good meatballs, Dad,” Ally said.
Lana nodded unenthusiastically in agreement. She was pushing food around her plate. Wilson asked what position she played on the team.
“That’s wonderful, the playmaker,” Wilson said.
“She’s really good,” Ally said. “She was invited to a lacrosse camp for the summer.”
Lana smiled and nudged Ally. “She’s way better than me. She’d be going too if she didn’t have to go to Philly.”
Ally flushed. She buried her chin in the crook of her collarbone.
“You didn’t tell me about any camp,” Wilson said. “Is it around here? Maybe we can get your mother to let you go?”
“It’s fine,” Ally said. “I didn’t want to go anyway. Besides, I’m sure you could use a break from me.”
The words surprised Wilson. He’d never heard Ally speak so casually about leaving before. In fact, it was a topic they rarely broached, and he wondered what had brought about the change, if it was she who wanted the break from him.
He wiped his mouth and laughed. “Never, sweetheart,” he said.
The two girls exchanged knowing looks.
“Well, I’m finished,” Ally said. “Can we be excused?”
The girls put their dishes in the sink and thanked Wilson for the meal, then disappeared to Ally’s room once again. Wilson sat for a while. He watched as the leftovers grew cold and congealed. He considered the vacant table; he could see his wan reflection in the kitchen window across from him. Muffled music filtered downstairs through the insulation.
They fell into an easy rhythm, Elle in front, Wilson in the rear. The water was dappled, rippling beneath a piebald clouded sky as they glided down the Charles in Elle’s blue double-scull. Elle had rowed on the Varsity Eight at Wellesley (only the fourth Asian woman to do so) and Wilson watched as the sinewy muscles in her shoulders stretched and contracted with the force of the movement.
“All right back there?” she asked.
“Doing fine,” Wilson answered.
They had launched out in Waltham early that morning and were cresting the bend before Cambridge. It was warm, the sweat beading off them like mercury, and as the green cupola of Eliot House came into view they pulled their oars in for a rest.
“I was chatting with one of the other scientists last week,” Elle said. “And we got on the topic of ice cream.”
Wilson braced himself for the usual deluge of information.
“Did you know ice cream has a colloidal structure?” she said. “Milk fat along with ice crystals and air bubbles are dispersed within water. Initially, this fat exists as individual globules but as the process continues they come together to form a new structure. The egg yolks in your blend serve as an emulsifier, and when you whip air in and freeze it, the separate globules coalesce into networks that give the ice cream its richness and consistency.”
“Well shit,” Wilson said. “I just thought you pushed a button.”
“Make all the fun you want. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”
Wilson laughed. “I’ll leave the wonders of the invisible world to you,” he said, trailing his fingers through the water.
“So Ally was telling me she might bring her new friend over,” Elle said.
“She told you that, huh?”
“She tells me a lot of things.”
“I hope not too much.” He played back the previous night’s dinner in his head. “She tell you I met her already?”
“No,” Elle said. “Not yet. What’s the verdict?”
“If I’m honest, I don’t like her much. Something about her puts me off.”