Between the intensity of the conversation and my zeroed in concentration on the cutting board, I nearly lopped off my own fingertip when the buzzer above the oven sounded off. Beatrice, leaving the place settings on the counter, strode over to the stove and picked up the red hot orange pot. Setting aside the bloodthirsty blade, I scooted around Beatrice trivet in hand, placing it on the table where she wanted to set our sweet-smelling supper.
No longer able to maintain my feeble facade of non-existence, I wordlessly started shepherding the arroz con pollo trimmings (I’d already sampled for quality assurance purposes) to the table.
Beatrice began setting it – for two.
Ms. Hettie, who’d fallen silent after Beatrice’s cryptic observation, swirled her scotch and eyed me for a moment before shifting her gaze onto her great-niece.
Ms. Hettie (scour-pad voice scraping across the eardrum): “I know my bible-thumping sister and the rest of her brood are a bunch of nogoodniks Beatrice, but Grace is facing prison.”
Beatrice (thumping a plate onto the table): “A predicament that didn’t interest them the least when it was mine.”
Ms. Hettie: “Just think about it.”
Draining her glass in a single swallow, Ms. Hettie (who was wearing a sky blue sweatshirt with kittens chasing silver snowflakes across her bosoms today) levered herself out of the chair, casting significant looks at each of us before ambling out of the kitchen. The sound of the front door opening and closing followed a few seconds later.
Beatrice (dropping bonelessly into a chair): “Sorry, I didn’t think she’d keep hounding me if you were here.”
Me (placing spoons in the sides): “No worries, I’ve been on the receiving end of my fair share of familial guilt trips.”
Beatrice (rubbing her temples): “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about it.”
Watching Beatrice, I realized her gaze was fixed sightlessly on the glass of Oban Ms. Hettie had been sipping during their ‘discussion’. Unsure my liver had fully recovered from the last time we hit a bottle I caste about for a distraction.
Me (sitting down across from her): “Don’t worry about it. I’d rather not give Ms. Hettie the satisfaction.”
Beatrice (her hand pausing halfway to the bottle): “Satisfaction?”
Me (smiling): “She named the puppy. So I’d ask questions we’d talk and hopefully, in the end, convince you to do whatever it is she wants you to do. As I’m not interested in doing her dirty work, you needn’t explain a thing to me.”
Beatrice (flicking a glance at the three-quarter full bottle): “Damned, I always forget how good she is.”
Me (catching sight of the dull gold strip peaking out my pack next to me): “Funnily enough, Ms. Hettie’s not the only one hoping for your help tonight.”
Quirking an eyebrow at me, Beatrice waited a moment for me to elaborate. However, due to the proximity of the fragrant arroz con pollo – plus the knot of containers filled with lettuce, queso fresco, tomatoes, black beans, avocado, and steaming tortillas – my stomach chose that moment to issue a long and LOUD complaint.
Beatrice (corners of her mouth twitching): “Why don’t you explain after you’ve sated the beast.”
Feeling the tips of my ears grow hot, I simply nodded and started dishing up. After my first helping made a cameo appearance on my plate, my hands stopped shaking, and the hangries receded enough to resume polite conversation.
Leaning to the left slightly, I pulled the brown paper wrapped book from my pack and handed it to her. Pushing aside her plate and the nearest containers, she wiped the table with her napkin before carefully opening the cover and gently leafing thru the first few pages.
Me (speaking around a bite of beans and cheese): “I was hoping you’d have better luck deciphering it than I am currently. The handwriting gives me a splitting headache after ten minutes.”
Beatrice (eyebrows drew together in concentration): “Why not just stop reading it?”
Me (holding my breath for a second): “Because that’s the only copy of the Nevermore Conventions I can lay my hands on at the moment. As all the others, including mine, have disappeared. I’m hoping the reason why is somewhere inside.”
Beatrice (tilting her head and looking up at me): “And a bit more besides?”
Me (smiling wryly): “Yes.”
Beatrice (wrinkling her nose): “And the sooner I finish it, the better?”
Me (deflating slightly): “I know it’s a lot to ask…”
Beatrice (nodding once): “No problem.”
Beatrice (an edge of her mouth tipping upwards a little): “Consider it a thank-you for not falling into Ms. Hettie’s trap.”
Me (grinning): “Can I push my luck and borrow your laptop again?”
Beatrice (shrugging): “Sure. Why?”
Me: “I need to organize my thoughts and that mind-mapping program you’ve got looked like an excellent way to do it.”
Beatrice (looking very much like her Great-Aunt for a moment): “These events wouldn’t include Sarah ratting us out to Little Ben the night of the Brace Affair, would it?”
Well crap, so much for me not being an awful friend.