They arrived at Agape, and Mary signed her name in the log and then handed the pen to Carter.
He looked at it. "What do I do with it?"
"You can just sign your name here, honey.” Ms. Nancy pointed to the logbook.
"Oh." Carefully, he took the pen from Mary. He held it awkwardly at first. Then he managed to scrawl something into the empty space below Mary's name.
"Huh, that's funny," Mary said.
"What is?" he asked.
"The way you did your 'C.' It looks similar to the way this other guy signed his name.”
Carter put the pen down and followed Mary inside. Ba was in the courtyard working on a painting of a vase. Mary walked around to her front and instructed Carter to do the same.
Ba beamed. "Hello, Con. And who is this handsome young man?"
"This is Carter. He goes to my school."
"How nice to meet you. Mary never brings friends to see me.” She stretched her hand out to shake his.
But rather than take it, Carter slightly bowed from the waist and said, "Chào Bà."
Ba's eyes brightened. "À, cậu nói tiếng Việt hả?"
He nodded. "Da ̣vâng, thưa Bà."
They exchanged a few more words in Vietnamese while Mary's jaw dangled towards the Earth.
"I didn't know you could speak Viet."
"You never asked," he said.
They sat down and Carter and Ba kept talking. Mary tried to catch words she understood, but it was hard. Her head just wasn't wired for languages. She had enough trouble with English, as her grades demonstrated. But she understood enough to know that Carter's speech was flawless.
When dinnertime came, Ba asked Carter to join them. Mary hadn't planned to stay for dinner. But since Carter was, she didn't want to leave Ba alone with him. George, Emma, and Julia also met them in the dining room.
"So nice to meet you, Carter," Emma said. "Tell us about yourself."
"Myself?" he asked.
"Yea," George said. "Whaya want with Mary?"
"George!" Julia cried.
"Wha?" George said. They were eating veggie lasagna, so he didn't have his teeth again. "He look like wunnah them—what'd my grandson call 'em? Oh yeah. Players. You a player, son?"
Oh God. Maybe this wasn't a good idea to stay.
"I played basketball," Carter said. "Is that what you mean?"
George squinted. "You makin' fun of me, boy?"
Carter looked surprised. "No sir. I—"
"I fought in Korea!" George growled, brandishing his plastic fork. "Don't mess with me!"
"Calm down, George," Emma said gently. "The boy's all right. He wasn't making fun of you at all."
George turned back to his lasagna with a scowl on his face.
Carter looked at the elder man. "You have many great stories from your life. Don't you?"
"Don't get him telling one, though," Julia said. "George'll talk your ear off."
Emma chuckled. "We all got stories, Carter. It's one of the few things we old people got that hasn’t broken down with time."
"Speak for yourself," Ba laughed as she tapped her head. Ba seemed to be the only one who could make fun of her condition and it be okay. "I'm doing my best to hold onto mine."
"Can you tell me?" Carter asked. "I'd like to hear all of them."
Emma chuckled. "Baby Boy, you'd be here forever. Why, just us sitting at this table got a few hundred years of stories between us."
"And that's without the Pennys," Julia added with a laugh. "Add on another two hundred years for them."
Carter laughed with all of them. "Well, can I hear one? Perhaps from you, Mr. George?"
George slurped up a lasagna noodle. Tomato sauce dribbled down his chin. "Me?"
Carter nodded eagerly. "Yes. What did you do before you went to Korea?"
George looked at him from the corner of his eye. Then he shrugged. "Well, I was about your age when I started workin' at my granddaddy's farm. And lemme tell ya…"