My mind, needing to take five from the quagmire sitting in the front room, chose this moment to focus on fashion or the lack thereof present in my wardrobe. On the upside, the absence of couture from my closet meant I landed on a palette pretty quickly – basic black. It covers nearly every contingency…right? From date night’s little black dress to a cat burglar’s costume to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s work uniform – the color arising from the absence of light has range.
(Plus, it doesn’t show bloodstains…should any stabby feelings get out of hand…)
Pulling out a nearly new black scoop neck t-shirt, jet colored jeans, and matching inky accoutrements from my dresser, it didn’t take long before I was attempting a three-pointer with my balled-up pj’s (using my hamper as the basket).
Standing at the end of my bed, toeing on my tangerine tinted sneaker (because a girls gotta have some flare) without bothering to undo the laces, my eyes fell on the magnificence of Squiddy ensconced betwixt two un-cracked classics penned by Melville and Verne, respectively. Lifting him from his place of honor, I rubbed the stitches of a random arm ruminatively for an indeterminate amount of time before absentmindedly settling him on my head and exiting my room.
The fact I’d only managed to shove my right shoe on didn’t register until I was halfway down the hallway.
Whereupon, the wintery chill radiating up from my unshod left foot finally overrode my preoccupation enough to reorient my attention onto the frostbitten slice of the back garden… Made visible by the wide yawn of the front door. Warmed by the magma surging from my heart to the surface of my skin, the heat continued to intensify in response to the string of four-letter words I used to describe Little Ben. Darting forward to (presumably) help Beatrice stop him from leaving the Lavender Lady, I nearly tripped over my own feet, skidding to a stop as the pair darkened our doorstep.
Breath bellowing around the assortment of file boxes piled up past their eyes, they huffed and puffed their way back inside – Beatrice hooking an ankle along the bottom corner of the door and pulling it closed. Neither noticed me gaping at them, thanks to their sky-high burdens and conversation.
“…she’s just like Pop. They’d both rather loose a limb than sell a square inch of Nevermore.”
“Someone wants to buy Nevermore?” Beatrice’s distaste shown clearly in her voice.
“The city, they sent over an offer yesterday. That’s why I’m here. Because selling is the only solution the Board of Managers is willing to entertain and the loan’s due on Monday…”
This new sliver of data slipped seamlessly into the larger mosaic I’d constructed in my mind. Causing the rest of their exchange to skim over my eardrums without sending a single syllable up to my brain – because I could finally, almost, see the forest for the trees. Fiddling with Squiddy’s tentacle, I soon found myself staring at the brass borderline that separate hardwood of the hallway from the luxurious rug of the living room.
“Phoebe, are you alright?”
Jerking my eyes upward, I found Little Ben’s face wearing an odd assortment of expressions (concern amongst them). Beatrice, on the other hand, looked highly amused.
“Um, what? I’m fine.” Giving her an absent nod, I transferred my attention to Little Ben – who took the opportunity (probably buoyed up by the distinct lack of shouting, cursing, and visible disappointment) to start stammering out an apology.
“Look, Morticia, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
Holding up my index finger, I pressed onwards past his regret onto more pertinent matters. “Ben, this loan that’s put Nevermore in harm’s way, it wouldn’t be from Western Regional Bank, would it?
“How did you know?”
Unable to stymie a sly smile from creeping across my face, it met Beatrice’s raised eyebrow and grew a bit wider still. “Do you think Mr. John Dupree would be willing to come over and work with us? ASAP?”
“You’ve got it?”
“Not exactly, but I see our first two moves.” Beatrice returned my sly smile with a smirk of her own.
“Good enough for me, I’ll make a call. Though you might want to lose the hat gnawing on your eyebrows and find your other shoe before Dupree arrives.….” Stepping away from the heap of boxes at her hip, she strode across the hall into her office – only this time shutting the door firmly behind her.
Shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, Little Ben waited until after Beatrice left to start peppering me with questions. “Who is this Dupree fellow, why do we need him, and what have you got?”
Following my roommate’s advice, I slid the cephalopod, who’d quietly dipped low enough on my forehead to cover my eyebrows, off my head. Contemplating the stitches binding Squiddy’s fin to the rest of his body, I searched for the proper tone and phrase for my next set of words.
“Here’s the deal Ben, I don’t know if we can hold Nevermore together, but we’re going to try.”
Looking more relieved than he ought to since I could only barely make out the forest, Little Ben started tripping over his words again. “I…You…Thank you, Morticia. It’s more than…I’ve got all the loan documents here, and I brought every scrap of paper from Pop’s desk and his safe. I didn’t know if they could help, but….”
“Super, we’ll start looking them over in a minute.” Giving the file boxes the barest of glances, I moved on to address the elephant in light leather shoes teetering precariously on the highwire stretching between us.
“But first things first, Ben, you need to make me Nevermore’s Caretaker again.”