(Perhaps Elmo’s transformation was spurred on by the rock’n’roll and drink beyond these doors…)
Leo (tossing a chicken bone onto his plate): “What a bench.”
Robbie (looking trepidatious): “What happened next? Please tell me you didn’t stick your fingers in your ears and hum…”
Me (laughing at Robbie’s allusion to my failed schoolyard strategy): “Just keep listening. This is where things get interesting.”
This is also the moment I’m supremely relieved the microphone sticks strictly to audio cues…Not only on account of how foolish it feels to admit, even to myself, that I had a Tickle-Me-Elmo inspired epiphany at my age. But also due to the serious bender, my subconscious sent that Little Red Menace on to secure said epiphany. Because not only did he pop into my head at that moment but in a blink of my mind’s eye, that sweet little giggling red muppet bopping around Sesame Street transformed into a lanky, scruffy, hedonistic beasty cavorting in an enchanted forest… Setting fires for fun or at the Goblin King’s command…Goblin King…O’Goblin King….damn I always forget that line….
The multitude of buttons on Josie’s jacket tapped softly against the center console, e-brake lever, and my half-empty coffee cup as she opened her coat. Our eyes briefly met as I rotated back forward and put the Princess into drive. I’ve no clue what expression my woefully poor poker face wore as my neurons flickered and fired during my Elmo inspired epiphany, but whatever it was prompted her to pull out an old chestnut.
“Dear Lord, I had no idea you were still so sensitive. How on earth do you manage? Would a generous tip smooth those ruffled feathers of yours?”
She has no power over me.
The sudden insight came and went in a flash and left me feeling lighter than freshly whipped meringue.
Even better, my silence only lasted a few heartbeats and was entirely overshadowed by Josie’s sharp squawks of protest when I stomped on the brake and shut off the Princess’s engine in the middle of the Happy Planet parking lot.
Allowing her outrage peter itself out, I let the peace and quiet unspool between us for four or five seconds more before dropping the stack of claim slips in her lap. “Josie, you’ve got two choices, either I can engage another FLYT driver for you this evening, or I can drive you home. Choose one or the other. It doesn’t matter which, but one way or another, we’re done.”
Robbie (fist bumping me): “Hooray!!!”
“You heard me.”
In an all-business tone, she picked up the claim slips off her lap and crumpled them in a tight fist. “That’s not going to work, I’ve too much to do before dad’s big party.”
“Not my problem.”
Jerking open her purse, Josie yanked out and unsnapped her wallet. “What’s it going to take?”
Staring her in the eye, I let my distaste shine in my reply. “Let me make this crystal clear Josie, I am not for sale. So either give me your address or get out.”
Shoving her wallet back into her bag. “Fine, take me home.”
As our voices were equally vehement and firm, neither our words nor tone was lost in the tumult of my tugging the phone free of its dashboard perch.
“You know where I live.”
“I’d say under Iron Creek Bridge, but that seems a little too on the nose.”
“Seriously, you’re going to play dumb?”
“You’re claiming not to know where I live after you practically Moon Bathed on my front doorstep the other night? That’s rich.”
“Fantastic, you live near Remembrance Park. Now a hint about your house number wouldn’t go amiss right about now….”
Her retort was rendered nearly, but not quite, unintelligible due to my tapping and swiping around in the FLYT ap. Followed by my phone resuming its roost and the unmistakable sound of the engine turning over.
“Am I supposed to believe you weren’t spying on me?”
“For the love of Peter Parker, I was there on a lark, eating good food and trying to contact Edmund Wynter using a spirit board. Not trying to catch a glimpse of you what…drunk as a skunk? Cheating on your boyfriend? Howling at the moon? Get over yourself, you’re not that interesting.”
The rhythmic bounce of her leg told me my barb hit home, as did her ceaseless fiddling with the claim slips during the tense silence that reigned supreme until I pulled against the curb of Remembrance Park a few minutes later.
“Hopefully, this is close enough for government work, since you’ve still not given me your address.”
Deliberately gathering her things at a snail’s pace, Josie took full advantage of her extra time in the Princess. Speaking in a voice carefully modulated into a convincing counterfeit of warmth and sincerity… “Speaking of work, yours not mine, don’t count on any further business from myself or my friends.”
Continuing on as if I hadn’t spoken. “It’s obvious you’re still holding onto hard feelings over a few minor pranks, and I can’t in good conscience expose them to your profound negativity.”
“Yeah, my refusal to listen to your steady stream of bile tonight must stem from that time you persuaded Sylvia Hershel to sprinkle itching powder in my gym clothes sophomore year.” In an attempt to expedite our parting, I slipped the Princess’s key out of the ignition and into my vest pocket. “Now that that’s all cleared up, let me grab your laundry, and we’ll settle up. Shall we?”
Unfortunately, the recording picked up neither Josie’s scathing look nor her rigid smile, though it did register the simultaneous squeak of the Princess’s doors as we exited the car. Followed by my seat moving forward, and the swishing sound of silk sliding inside diaphanous plastic dry cleaning bags as I removed the dazzling dresses from the Princess’s backseat.
The last words picked up by the mic was my automatic, “Have a good night.”
Me (turning off my phone): “The recording pretty much peters out at this point.”
Robbie: “Did she say anything else outside of mic range?”
Me (wryly): “Not a word, I do believe she thought her hair flip and three-cent tip rebuttal enough.”
Leo (interjecting): “Were you in the park to spy on her, Boss?”
Me (shaking my head): “Hand on heart, no, no, I wasn’t.”
Ira (looking thoughtful): “But isn’t it interesting that she accuses you doing so…”
Me (swirling my lemonade in my glass): “Not as interesting as the fact she didn’t actually think I was.”
Ira (brow creasing): “Then why was she trying to goad you into admitting you knew where she lived?”
Me: “Because, if I knew where she lived, then she’d know I’d seen Sarah leaving her house.”
This statement was met by a torrent of questions, all starting with the letter ‘W’ from Robbie and Leo. Ira no less curious, let them take point, mostly because getting a word in edgewise would’ve been well-nigh impossible. Beatrice, having already helped me piece together the whole rigmarole, stood and started gathering up everyone’s silverware into the empty drumette dish.
Beatrice (exchanging a smile Ira while absconding with his fork, interrupted Robbie): “Phoebe, why don’t you read everyone onto the same page while I clean up? The worksheets and papers are next to the radio under the Conventions and my laptop.”
Robbie (collecting everyone’s napkins and placemats): “Worksheets?”
Leo (standing stock-still in the middle of the kitchen and thus in nearly everyone’s way): “Forget the worksheets, you found a copy of the unabridged Conventions?”