Category Archives: Dourwood

2.25.b Today Only! A Three For One Special!

IMG_5519(The corner doesn’t allow photography….)

Why am I standing on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet? 

Again.

Today was supposed to be nothing but fun, food, and home movies – not no-win scenarios. Though I guess most people who find themselves standing under this streetlamp often wonder how things went sideways so fast. (Jake Gittes, Hamlet, and Captain Kirk habitually find themselves here – in case you’re wondering).

The impossible choice facing me today? Either I place Wood at risk, or I risk damaging our friendship.  

For one hot second, I thought about putting pen to paper without harboring any intention of abiding by the agreement. However, the same little voice in my head, which caused me to confess in the first place, wondered what kind of friend perpetuated that kind of fraud on another. 

It also pointed out that that level of deceit guaranteed a visit to the Corner of Bitter and Sweet every time I spoke to, hung out with, or thought of Wood. Until I either I confessed to my sins (and hoped he didn’t unfriend me) or we stopped hanging out all together, drifted apart and stopped being friends.

Both my conscience and I agreed all those eventualities sucked. 

Walking over to where Wood was sitting by the window, I dropped bonelessly into the chair opposite his.

Me: “Can I think about it overnight?”

Wood: “Nope. Either sign it and let me into the weird frontier or don’t.”

Me (speaking slowly due to a brainwave): “Then, there are a few stipulations I’d like to include.”

Wood (leaning forward, eyes gleaming): “Let’s hear them.”

We haggled, finagled, dickered, bickered, bartered, and bargained, but eventually, we hammered out an agreement we both found acceptable. 

Wood’s original terms remained unaltered, though he did manage to wrangle an addendum out of me. Should he be out of town or sick when I needed help, either I enlist a stand-in or wait until he could participate. (Thus closing a loophole that hadn’t occurred to me.)

In return, I managed to pry two significant concessions from Wood. 

First, while accompanying me on an outing, he needs to follow my instructions, even if they sound mad, to the letter. Second, I could decline to answer any question he poses without any followups or pouting. 

Violating my terms will require the forfeiture of his vintage volume of Sherlock Holmes published in 1892. 

Fair’s, fair after all.

It wasn’t until the hopping herd of hares (Laney, Beatrice, and Sarah) started setting out the spread that Wood and I noticed ninety minutes ticked off the clock during our wheedling and dealing. However, rather than trying to talk his way out of the Office, Wood leaned back in his chair and gave me an impish grin.

Wood: “Do you think they’ve finished prepping for the party?”

Me (pausing mid pen stroke): “Wait, is that why you were early? Did you know about our party before you arrived?”

Wood’s grin turned wicked. 

Me (placing a note of warning in my voice): “Dourwood Utley, did you know?”

Wood (plucking the signed document out of my hand): “Just thought I’d allow you to clear your conscience.”

Me (aghast): “You tricked me into coming clean?”

Wood (inking his name below mine): “Morticia, I know you did your best to keep your promise. I also know you’d beat yourself up until you ended up confessing, apologizing, and forking over the book anyway. I don’t ever want to make you unhappy. So I figured out a way to fast-forward your process by a couple of months and give you a do-over.”

Taking a deep breath, I held it until the count of twelve, then steadily released it. (Trying to tamp down the heartburn and indignation his statement filled my chest with. It didn’t help he made a valid point. Drat him.) 

Wood: “Forgive me?”

Me (sighing): “Maybe…But how did you figure out I broke our original agreement?”

Wood: “I saw the Princess parked in front of The Alter.” 

Me (rolling my eyes): “Of course you did. And the party?”

Wood (now grinning): “The Smurf Spectacular part Two? I’m not telling.”

Me (wicked smile of my own spreading across my face): “Oh, our party doesn’t feature Smurfs.”

Wood (looking dubious): “But Laney said….”

Me (holding out my hand): “Gentleman’s agreement, I’ll forgive you and tell you about our theme. If you promise not to complain about today’s feature presentation and tell me how you found out.”

Wood (suspicion plain upon his face): “Deal.”

Ignoring the groans my explanation of today’s entertainment produced, as Wood’s not particularly keen on watching his Gran’s home movies, I moved on. (For him they are akin to Aunt Pearl’s appallingly stylized holiday family photos. The difference being in his Gran’s videos she coos over Wood’s performance the entire time and interjects random stories, which may or may not be relevant to what’s happening.

Me: “Your turn spill, how did you find out?”

Wood (looking at his feet ruefully): “Laney talks in her sleep.”

Me (laughing): “Well, that explains a few things.”

2.25.a Kobayashi Maru

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(Our first agreement…seems a bit tattered…)

Me (ignoring his glee): “I pulled my bookshelves apart looking for something yesterday, but if we work together, it shouldn’t take too long to locate Chamber of Secrets.”

On the upside, at least I found a sliver of a silver lining to the mystifying vanishing act pulled by my copy of Nevermore’s Conventions. It will take well over an hour to excavate the aforementioned book from the jumbled up piles currently cluttering up most of my bedroom floor (especially if I’m only helpful adjacent). 

Hip, Hip, Hooray for my hapless housekeeping!

Wood (leaning against the desk): “Do you really want to break your set?”

Me (shrugging): “Not particularly. But a deal’s a deal.”

Wood (looking frighteningly thoughtful): “Well, you did do pretty well following doctor’s orders….”

Me (tilting my head): “Except when I didn’t.”

Wood (ignoring me): “…and I don’t want an incomplete set either…”

Me (squinting): “Does one book really count as a set?”

Wood (still ignoring me): “…perhaps our first deal wasn’t entirely equitable since you were under the influence of painkillers and hurt at the time…”

Me (eyes goggling): “First deal? That implies there’s a second…..wait, are you saying you want to make another deal?”

Wood (snapping his fingers at me): “That sounds like a great idea!”

Letting me stew, Wood pulled a documents folder from beneath his Gladstone, unzipped it, and handed me a crisp sheet of paper.

Me: “Ummm…..”

Wood (giving me a tight grin): “Here it is, either we stick our original bargain, and you can grab me Dobby’s first adventure with Harry Potter while I head to the kitchen to see what smells so good. Or we sign this new deal, and I’ll stay in here until the cabal decides they’re ready for me to join the party.”

Me (mind working at warp speed): “You came prepared with a new deal? You couldn’t know I was going to confess. I didn’t know. I might have tied you to a chair.”

Wood: “Do you own any rope?”

Me (narrowing my eyes): “Not the point…Wait…You knew I broke our deal before you got here today, didn’t you.” 

Wood (giving me a smile that nearly reached his eyes): “Sure did.”

Me: “How?”

Wood (chuckling): “Later. Now read my proposal.”

Me (wrinkling my nose): “Fine, Mephistopheles.”

Wood settled into the window seat to wait with his feet up while I paced the length of the room, evaluating the particulars and subtext layered into the few short sentences.

At first glance, his deal sounds chillingly reasonable. Should I ever find myself entering a situation where I know – ahead of time – I might come to harm. I am required to bring Wood along as backup. No questions asked. If I break said deal, I forfeit my entire run of signed first print Harry Potters to him.

Putting a pin in the fact, Wood’s incapable of restraining himself from asking questions and my lack of discretionary income (blowing twenty to thirty grand rebuilding the set if I lose it isn’t in the cards).

Accepting the proposal means potentially; placing him in harm’s way if I misjudge a situation and/or causing irreparable damage to his professional reputation should we get caught performing marginally illegal, supremely weird, or inexplicable acts. (Which, if you haven’t already figured it out yet, occur more often than not when Nevermore requires my aid.)

Neither of my points adjusted his attitude a whit. He simply stated he understood the risks, has complete faith in me and then reminded me his reputation isn’t mine to manage. (To a man who went Trick-or-Treating for the hell of it last July, I wasn’t surprised he brushed aside my appeal to his professionalism.)

Then there’s the delightful chance my extracurricular activities will convince him I’m a lunatic. (Because I don’t think telling him I’m ‘rehearsing for my improv group’ is going cut it now – especially if we’re standing in the middle of Nevermore at midnight and I look like I’m talking to myself.)

On the other hand, if I decide keeping my secrets is more important -there’s a distinct possibility my refusal will plop a permanent blot on our friendship. 

His earlier waggishness belied tension I could see radiating from his frame. Coupled with the fact a salmon would find it tough to swim against the undercurrents in the room, tells me he’d take an opt-out as a sign that I don’t trust him. (I don’t think he’ll find a shred of comfort in the fact he’s the only one I’ve ever come close to telling about my Knack, Nevermore and the Residents.)

Never mind the fact if I don’t sign, he’ll walk straight into the kitchen and ruin our surprise…

Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath…and dug my nails into my palms – finally figuring out exactly where this document places me.

Crap.

2.24.b Falling on my Sword

(Turns out Yarn is the closest to rope we had in our apartment…)

Wood: “You going to give me a hint about what’s happening here?”

Me (plastering on a serene smile): “Nope.”

Wood (walking into the Office while giving me the stink eye): “You know the drill.”

Thank the gods above and below for Beatrice’s contribution to today’s soiree was airpots of strong black coffee and jam-filled pastries from The Alter. I’m going to need every iota of sugar and caffeine present in my bloodstream to fast-talk Wood into staying put. 

Especially since I knew that he knew, we’d actively conspired against him (in the nicest possible way). 

Wood immediately started the familiar routine of unpacking his instruments on the side table, loudly not asking any more questions about why the apartment not only smelled of chicken but of bacon, barbecue and brisket as well. He also visibly restrained himself from questioning our decision to relocate our kitchen table to the living room and dress it in its Sunday best. Even the ringing doorbell and the words ’special delivery’ which carried clearly through the Office door a minute later (heralding the arrival of the twelve tubs of mac’n’cheese from the Rare Records Room) failed to elicit any comment. 

While we followed the familiar checkup routine I wracked my brain for a bright idea on how to stall Wood for forty-five minutes: he already knew how to solve the Chinese finger trap in the pen/pencil mug; locking him in the office set a poor precedent (plus he could always just climb out the window); slipping him a mickey won’t work because neither Beatrice nor I own a bottle of knock drops, and bonking him on the head is just plain rude. 

After entertaining and rejecting each ludicrous notion in turn, positive if Wood placed the cool disc of his stethoscope against my temple, all he’d hear was static, my conscience finally proffered the perfect solution.

Wood (patting me on the shoulder): “I pronounce you fit for FLYT.”

Hopping off the desk, I pulled my blouse on over my tank, closed my eye, took a deep breath…and fell on my sword.

Me (blurting to his back): “I broke our agreement. I left the house, drove to Nevermore, and ran around before you okayed it.”

The night I showed up bruised and battered on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s doorstep, I scared the ever-loving crap out of them, and they (unsurprisingly) required an explanation for said injuries. Whilst the incomplete (but truthful) account I gave Wood, was enough for him, we both knew it wouldn’t cut the mustard with either Uncle or Aunt Pearl. 

Which meant I needed to secure the silver-tongued services of Wood…and they didn’t come cheap.

In exchange for persuading Uncle & Aunt Pearl not to call Earl (family friend and Rye police detective), I promised to follow every order, suggestion, and hint made by him until he pronounced me sound in wind and limb. Well acquainted with my inability to layabout idly (even when sick as a dog), he requested I put up my signed copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as collateral (the second book in my complete run of signed first British prints).

And here we are.

Wood (turning towards me, a sly smile lighting his face): “Man, you really don’t want me going out there yet, do you.”

2.24.a Surprises and Smurfs

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(The Smurf represents Wood and the Dinosaur is the rest of us…)

Have you ever tried throwing a surprise party? 

More to the point have you ever tried throwing a surprise party for a man who, upon discovering said party is occurring (he never did tell us how), sneaks into the venue and changes it from black-tie affair to a Smurf motif in order to hoodwink his own friends & family? 

To accomplish this feat, he let loose a rowdy of corgis (who thought it was an absolute gas to play chase) to get us out of the room. 

After we ‘sorted things out’ (i.e., two dozen formally clad guests, hunched over, sprinting after and corralling thirteen maniacally perky pooches), we discovered we were ‘accidentally’ locked out of the banquet room. After forty minutes of fuming and fretting in the lobby, thanking the gods above and below Wood was running late, the manager ‘finally found’ the door key.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the locked door…

The man himself, the caterers, and hotel staff worked at a fevered pitch to shift the decor from cream-colored tapers, blushing roses, and dry champagne to evergreen boughs, Smurf figurines, and an enormous red-and-white spotted toadstool cake. 

Upon re-entry into the room, Wood yelled ‘Surprise’ – pleased as punch he’d hornswoggled all of us.

Admittedly, it was a hilariously well-played prank, but Laney and I had yet to even the score – and we’d been wracking our brains for TEN YEARS trying to figure out how to outflank and confound him – without an iota of success. 

Until today. 

How did our payback come to pass? It all started two weeks ago over oxtail soup. 

During my recovery Laney (lovely, lovely Laney) decided to take me on a culinary world tour. How? She went hither, thither, and yon grabbing takeout from every different country and/or culinary tradition she could find within a twenty-mile radius of Rye. However, one Saturday, Wood got called into work ridiculously early and unable to fall back asleep after he left – Laney got a wild hair and decided to make her mother’s oxtail soup, fresh bread, and lemon pie. 

Not wanting to cook or eat by herself, Laney landed on the Lavender Lady’s doorstep (without warning) at six am pots, pans, and groceries in hand and proceeded to take over our kitchen. Once capable of rational conversation/thought, thanks to copious cups of coffee, she drafted a bleary-eyed Beatrice and I as her sous-chefs. 

During the subsequent chopping, kneading, rolling, and stirring, we started chatting about this and that. Eventually, our meandering gabfest wandered onto the topic of high school, crepe paper dances, and Wood’s flirtation with ballet. 

Laney, aware of her husband’s history in dance, astoundingly occupied the same boat Beatrice and I did. She, like us, had never seen him do a single pirouette. 

At this point, we started comparing notes about other significant events in Wood’s life we’d witnessed or missed. Turns out neither Laney nor Beatrice knew much about the epic game leading to Wood securing a college soccer scholarship (where he met them). I missed his only appearance in the College Cup Final due to an ill-timed bout of pneumonia. 

So we decided to kill two birds with one stone. 

Ostensibly, Wood was coming by today to pronounce me fit as the proverbial fiddle, allowing me to return work. In reality, we were going to watch the greatest hits of his life as caught on tape by his loving Gran. Tickled pink to hoodwink her grandson, she’d lent us nine hours of home videos, including the two aforementioned soccer matches, a favorite pee-wee soccer game and seven of his best ballet performances/recitals.

Due to the veritable treasure trove of film on loan to us, we did need to tell one little white lie to get Wood to the Lavender Lady early enough to view each and every frame.

Unfortunately, this fib created two unforeseen consequences. 

Deciding we needed to ‘sell our subterfuge’ – Beatrice littered our entryway with her brimming baggage, hefty carry-on, and bulky purse. (She was leaving for a book convention in New York on Monday morning, not Sunday as we told Wood.) 

And what do you get when you combine an epic inability to walk over a stable flat surface in a straight line with erratically placed obstacles?

Instant karma. 

Swallowing the string of curses on the tip of my tongue, after nailing my big toe against a suitcase wheel, I limped the last few feet to the front door. Yanking it open, I found the second unintended consequence standing on my doormat, in the form of an apologetic Laney – fifty-seven minutes earlier than planned.

Me (stating the obvious): “You’re early!”

Laney (giving me a quick hug): “Wood wanted to make sure you had enough time to get Bee to the airport and for a full checkup. I delayed as long as I could…but you know…can you try stalling him?”

All I could do was nod before the man himself strode up the walk and cut our conversation short (of course, he came early – he just wanted to help). 

Wood (Gladstone bag & folder in hand): “Morticia, I knew you’d be up! You ready to settle your tab?”

Before I could respond, my phone started warbling Time Warp from the kitchen.

Sarah (calling out): “Phoebe, you want me to pull the pans out of the oven?”

Laney (brushing past her husband): “I’ll head back and help.”

Wood: “Sarah’s here?”

Me (ignoring Wood): “Go ahead and pull the pans out if the outsides look crisp, otherwise give them two or three more minutes.”

Laney (shooting me a thumbs up): “No problem!”

Wood (his gaze bouncing between Laney and I): “Morticia, why does your house smell of chicken at seven-fifteen in the morning?”

Me (hollering at the swinging door): “If you could give the pots on the stove a stir, I’d appreciate it.”

After a muffled okey-dokey from the other side, securing the safety of my sauces, I turned back to my highly suspicious best friend. 

Wood (eyes narrowing): “Morticia, what’s happening in your kitchen?”

Me (walking up the hallway to the door with the word ‘Office’ etched on the glass): “Come on, let’s do the whole doctor thing so you can find out.”

2.03 The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

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So Wood took ballet. 

I wonder if his Gran taped his recitals…I bet she did. 

The glimmerings of a party started percolating. We could watch all of Wood’s performances in sequence while eating potato salad, pasta, and wings. The wings would, of course, require a plethora of sauces, Thai sweet chili, Kansas City bbq, Hawaiian, Korean bbq, teriyaki, maple-chipotle, ginger-scallion, mole, tandoori, honey-mustard…

Pulling myself physically from the visions of plum sauce dancing in my head, my mind slid back to the man winding cotton around my wounds. 

Do they teach conversational wizardry in medical school? Sounds like a class Wood would ace, it’s probably an elective. Because trading truth for truth feels like a tactic discovered by Hippocrates (Father of Western Medicine). Which he then handed down to his students, who handed it down to their students, and on thru generations until it landed in a modern medical text as Chapter Seventeen – Securing The Truth: Ten Ways to Sway Your Patient.

What’s worse? It’s working.

The thought of paying Wood’s twenty-year-old Twinkle-Toes Revelation with a bunch of lame excuses made me feel rotten to the core. Especially since I’ve kept my knack a secret from him since the day we met…

Me (sighing): “How did you know I’d gotten hurt at Nevermore tonight?”

Wood: “Logic. It’s the only place where you wouldn’t call anyone for help. Sit still for a minute.”

With a snick of his scissors, he finished up my new wrappings. 

Me: “You’re right, I did happen at Nevermore.”

While I cast about for a way, to tell the truth, without telling the whole truth. Wood continued to ride the silence stretching between us (another tip from chapter seventeen, I’m sure). 

Me (watching him clean up): “So here’s the thing, I can’t tell you what happened.”

Yanking (and thankfully cracking) a can of cola from the fridge, he thumped it down in front of me, then dropped some impressively large pills next to it.

Wood (curtly): “Take these.”

Me: “But I can tell you why.”

Wood, after handing me my button-up, sat down and started balancing his chair on its back legs (a habit which Aunt Pearl’s been trying to break for years) while watching me thru narrow eyes. 

Me (fumbling with my sleeve): “Ever wonder why I’m still trying to save Nevermore from Little Ben? And Little Ben From himself?”

Wood: “Loyalty to his father?”

Me (now floundering with my buttons): “That’s part of it…”

Wood (softly): “Because you’re related to some of the residents there?”

He knew about the Residents? Panic lanced thru my stomach until it struck me who Wood was tactfully alluding too. Blinking rapidly, I focused on our different definitions of the word, which permitted the knots in my middle to slacken.

Me (deciding I’d buttoned enough buttons to pass muster, I chuckled without any humor): “That’s where it started, a newly minted nine-year-old’s melodramatic promise, to always take care of them, the best I could.”

Wood (lowering his chair onto all fours): “Those were extenuating circumstances…”

Me (wondering if a bruise turns colors when you blush): “Yes. Well. I never forgot about it. So when Big Ben put me in charge of Nevermore’s internal operations, basically everyone above and below ground, my promise expanded with my promotion. Which includes, no matter how annoying he is, Little Ben.”

Wood started to say something – but I cut him off – if I stopped now, I’d never have the courage to sail this close to the whole truth again.

Me (rushing): “I know what you’re thinking, but I can’t just abandon my promise just because Little Ben handed me walking papers. That’s not how it works. Tonight, these {waving hands} happened seeing those promise thru, and before you ask, I can’t promise you it won’t happen again.”

Leaning back, Wood stared at the ceiling processing. I tried and failed to rest my head on my crossed arms (seems bending at the waist isn’t for me at the moment, this should make picking up groceries/luggage/cat carriers for my FLYT fares exciting).

Wood (leaning towards me): “These promises, they’re what really prompted your sudden need to hike up Pumpkin Mountain?” 

Crap. Crap. Crap. Did he make the connection between the Fall Foliage Tour and Tiffany Grindle’s anonymous tipster? It didn’t matter, he’d know if I lied. 

Me (sighing): “Yes.”

Wood (nodding): “Okay.”

Me (wary): “Okay?”

Wood (meeting my gaze): “I’ll smooth thing over with Uncle and Aunt” Pearl.

Relief swept thru me (or perhaps the painkillers kicked in – it could go either way) and put a smile onto my face.

Wood (returning mine with a small sly one of his own): “Oh, don’t thank me yet, we still need to settle your tab.”

2.02 The Twinkle Toes Review

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(I imagine these were the cliffs Wood imagined I was pushed off of…)

Wood: “Sit. Tell me what happened.”

Following his directive, I took a seat on the table and stared at the floor while Wood did the doctor thing. First listening to my heart and lungs, then testing my ribs, making sure nothing was broken, and finally examining the bruise.

Me: “Wood, I fell…”

Wood (snorting): “Really? Who pushed you off the cliff?”

He continued his examination and waited for my response. Since I had no way of adequately explaining a bruise of this magnitude, I continued to flounder.

Wood (prodding me): “I’m your best friend first and your doctor second – I won’t rat you out. But I am also not going to tell your Aunt and Uncle there’s nothing to worry about if you don’t tell me the truth.”

He waited for a beat for my response. 

Wood: “This happened at Nevermore, didn’t it.”

Inspiration (or perspiration, hard to tell at the moment) struck, perhaps there’s a workaround…

Me (looking him in the eye): “Do you remember when we were fifteen, and you sprained your ankle really bad? But you wouldn’t tell me how it happened? You just asked me to trust you that it was a silly accident?”

Still pressing on various portions of my anatomy and asking ‘if that hurt.’ Which of course it did because my torso sported a bruise approximately the size of Montana.

Wood (guardedly): “I do.” 

Me: “I’m asking you to trust me. This isn’t a case of abuse or something worse. The goose egg and black eye happened when I slipped on some rock salt, which caused me to lose my balance and my face to bounce off a door. My hands got messed up when I got up from where I landed in the salt.”

Wood (starting to unwind my wraps): “And the bruise on your torso? It certainly didn’t happen by getting your foot caught in a coil of rope while practicing a pirouette right before your ballet recital. And who bandaged you up? Were they hoping you’d audition for The Mummy?”

Joseph was rather exuberant in his bandaging job.

Me: “That’s an oddly specific reference. Wait, are you trying to tell me you took ballet? That’s how you nearly broke your ankle? Ow!”

Concentrating very hard on the gauze pads on my palms (hopefully attempting to remove them with as little pain as possible – but I wasn’t holding my breath), his answer to my question sounded distracted. 

Wood: “It helped me with my footwork on the soccer pitch.” 

Curiosity ate me up.

Me: “How long did you stick with it? Why didn’t you tell me? I would have come and cheered you on! OW! What are you doing to my hand?” 

Gently prodding, the now oozing divots, he looked thoughtful.

Wood: “There’s something in this one. I took ballet for five years, Gran was the only one who knew, and I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think your homemade foam finger would be appreciated by the rest of the audience.”

Me (loftily stating fact): “My foam finger was epic and appreciated by all.”

When he started excavating into my flesh, all I could say/yell was ‘OW!’ which caused Aunt Pearl to inquire, thru the door, if Wood needed help torturing the truth from me. (Can you believe the woman teaches Sunday School?)

Me (trying to distract myself from what Wood was doing): “Hold on, when did you go to ballet class? How did….were they on Sundays? When Uncle and I went on our Safaris?”

Wood (holding what he found in my palm up to the light and inspecting it): “Yes.”

Proving how much the rest of me ached, I hadn’t noticed the extra sting of the leftover salt until Wood relieved me of it.

Me: “Seriously, why didn’t you tell me?”

Wood (a ghost of a smile passed over his lips while he concentrated on cleaning my wound): “I was a freshman in high school, the starting forward on the varsity soccer team and angling for a college scholarship. I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously if they knew the secret to my success.”

Me: “But I could have helped! Choosing music or making costumes! We could have had so much fun! I wouldn’t have told anyone, you know that!”

I saw the trap snap closed the second the words left my mouth. 

Conversational. Wizard.

Wood (carefully applying ointment): “Well, that bit you in the ass, didn’t it.”

Me: “Little bit.”

2.01 What The Cat Dragged In

2.01 no promis of fun tonight pic

Mr. Nelson (excitedly babbling): “…your niece and I were passing Nevermore when we saw him…”

Opening the front door, I heard Mr. Nelson’s enthusiastically recounting his sighting of The Grey Man to my Uncle. When he referenced my part in the story, Aunt Pearl stuck her head around the corner. She took one look at me, stepped into the hall, and picked up the phone.

Aunt Pearl (calling into the living room): “Dear, can you take Phoebe into the kitchen? She looks like a mouse the cat played with too long.”

Me (hoping to stop her dialing): “I’m fine…”

Aunt Pearl (into the phone, completely ignoring me): “Can you come over right away? Phoebe looks like she fell down a well….”

The grim set of my Uncle’s mouth when he crossed the threshold distracted me from the unflattering comparisons my Aunt continued to reel off into the phone. Without a word, he tipped his head towards the kitchen. The weight of his gaze was palatable as I shuffled past. 

Uncle (calling over his shoulder): “Help yourself to a bottle in the living room Jordie, I’ll be right back.” 

Mr. Nelson, sensing he no longer commanded anyone’s attention, attempted to follow us into the kitchen.

Uncle (rebuffing him at the door): “We’ll talk after I speak with Phoebe.”

Well, there goes all hope that they’ll let this go.

Uncle (swinging the door shut – I think on Mr. Nelson’s nose – he turned towards me): “Do I need to call Earl?”

I know the bandages on my hands made me look like the walking wounded, but why would he think I needed to talk to Earl? (Earl being a family friend and a detective for the Rye police department.) Please don’t let him be who Aunt Pearl jumped on the phone too…

Me (wearily): “What’s the fuss? I fell down and skinned my hands, like a little old lady, but other than that, I’m fine.”

Uncle (leaning against the kitchen counter and crossing his arms): “That’s the story you’re sticking with?”

Squirming like a twelve-year-old caught stealing apples from the neighbor’s tree (not that I know what that feels like), I nodded.

Uncle: “Go, look at yourself in the mirror.”

Walking over to the pantry door, I opened and stared out my reflection (the day Aunt Pearl went shopping, while wearing her blouse inside-out, saw the installation of mirrors near every exit). How on earth I was going to explain what happened without Uncle calling Earl himself?

The entire left side of my neck, above my collar, was a nasty dark purple color, and I had a feeling I knew exactly how far the bruise extended. To round out my rather colorful look, I had a goose egg on right my temple (where my face smacked into the door?) and the beginnings of quite a shiner just below it. With the white gauze currently obscuring the ends of my arms – I was quite a sight. 

Crap.

Uncle (colorlessly): “Did someone do this to you?”

Me: “I fell. I know it sounds lame, but I promise I’m fine.”

Uncle considered my words. If he didn’t believe me, I knew Aunt Pearl and Earl would feature prominently in my near future. Of course, my Aunt may have jumped the gun if the commotion coming from the front door was any indication. When Wood burst into the room, Gladstone bag in hand, relief, and trepidation (in equal parts) sang thru me.

Uncle (pushing off the counter): “Convince him, I’ll go take care of your Aunt.”

He walked out of the room and left me alone with a very angry Wood.

Wood (quickly surveying the situation): “Take off your shirt.”

Me (flabbergasted): “Excuse me?”

Wood (tightly): “You heard me. Take. Off. Your. Shirt.” 

Me (incredulous): “You are not my doctor.”

That earned me a withering look. 

Wood: “It’s either the hospital or me. Your Aunt will be thrilled to drive you there.”

Me (sulking): “I’m not taking off my bra.”

Knowing that he’d won the battle, he ignored me and started taking medical stuff out of the bag he’d placed on the kitchen table. Stepping slightly behind him, pretending I had some dignity, I grappled with my black vest and button-up. When he turned around, his doctor face was on, but I knew he was absolutely livid. Looking down at my own chest, I understood why. The vivid purple bruise on my neck morphed to an ugly blackish color. It covered almost my entire left side – from shoulder to just below my ribs and halfway across my chest. The delicate pink lacy bra I was wearing (everyone deserves to feel pretty) made the color look even more malignant.

There wouldn’t be any Guaranteed Fun tonight.

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