When her mother finally leaves, Eleanor calls Justin's house, and reaches Zach. He's already been informed about the dinner, but he has no idea about her mother's matrimonial plans for him: he's just looking forward to spending more time with her father. "Is Justin home?" she asks. Justin has been out all morning, which Eleanor knew, he had a full schedule of appointments today. So she tells Zach she'll pick him up after work, and sits down to email Justin. She keeps her message vague, not mentioning Zach or giving any real details, only saying she'll be out with her parents that evening & she's not sure when she'll be home. She tries to call him before she leaves work to pick up her parents, but this time no one answers at all.
Eleanor's mother usually rules dinner conversation, but Ambika Chaudhri dominates at her own table. Eleanor is grateful to not have to listen to her mother's strident tone for a full hour & savors every bite of a meal she can eat without being nagged at.
Ambika has a lot to say about her son, Ram, a rising young businessman, praising his obedience to his parents' wishes. Eleanor only knows the vaguest details about this family: her father doesn't spread as much dirt as her mother, but she is aware of some of the subtext of the mother's praise for her son: there is another son, one who wasn't so obedient, who went off to do his own thing...Eleanor's mother uses her first chance to respond to comment that it must be wonderful to have children who will do what's best for them, as their parents wish, and throws in some praise for arranged marriages to boot. Eleanor has never seen Zach sneer in disgust before & she cringes & blushes. She's even worse than I thought, Eleanor sighs to herself, even Zach hates her.
After dinner Helen corners Zach, babbles on about her political involvements & connections. Obviously, since Eleanor won't step up to plate, her mother will have to do it for her. Eleanor hates her more than anything, trying to interfere with her life this way.
Eleanor decides to rescue Zach, an pulls him away from her mother. "This must be where you developed your taste for Indian food," she comments. "Yes," he answers, "I can't thank you enough for getting Justin to make that dinner or me." Eleanor gives herself a mental kick for bringing it up to him: like her father, Zach completely forgets when he isn't supposed to mention certain things, and is in fact almost bound to put you in an uncomfortable situation if you even skirt around a taboo subject. She can hear her mother hmmphing at the sound of Justin's name: Eleanor knows she'll hear about this on the ride home, if not sooner.
Zach turns away to join his own kind, the band of physicists, and Eleanor has to face the stare alone.
"You're hiding something from me, child. Don't think you can lie to me..." Eleanor shakes her head, looks her mother in the eyes & says "I'm not hiding anything, I don't know what you're talking about." Her mother tries to stare her down, but Eleanor holds firm, summoning up the courage from the spot on the base of her spine where Justin pressed his hands & told her she was strong. Her mother finally looks away with a dissatisfied hmmph. "I know you couldn't look me in the face and lie," she says & Eleanor feels the rush of victory, "But child, I've seen the way that...person..looks at you. You shouldn't be asking people like that for favors, not even for Zach. They always want something in return." Eleanor would like to laugh at her mother's misinterpretation of the facts, and she'd like to slap her for speaking of Justin in that sneering tone.
But Eleanor does neither: she decides to drop it, change the subject entirely, talk about the weather. Arguing with her is futile, she won't even say Justin's name, referring to him as 'that person', she'll never accept him even as just her friend let alone her companion. Once Eleanor is on her own she can do as she wishes: in the meantime she just has to try to avoid the subject, bide her time until she's done with school & can live on her own.