Category Archives: Phoebe

2.37.b Your Presence is Requested

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(This was as far as we got unpacking the basket when the Beagle and his Human walked by the 1st time!)

Unfortunately, due to the diet of worst-case-scenarios, my subconscious fed my waking mind all day. Wood and I arrived at Remembrance Park ninety minutes earlier than anticipated. Add to that the number of dogs who apparently called this neighborhood home, Wood and I discovered a few more people lurking in and around the pocket-sized park than expected. 

All of whom eyed our plethora of provisions warily – the humans, not the dogs – the pooches didn’t bother to give us more than a passing sniff.

Due to the aforementioned number of canines out on their nightly constitutional, Wood and I wordlessly bypassed the park’s fringe of grass and set our supplies on the single picnic table it offered to its patrons. 

By the time I’d inflated the solar camping lanterns, using my mighty lung power, Wood had finished disseminating the acrylic blankets between our persons and the table. And one nosey neighbor worked up enough nerve to lazily paraded his beagle past us.

The Beagle’s Companion (pointedly glancing at his watch): “Evening.”

Me (giving him a friendly smile): “Evening.”

Wood, ignoring everything other than the nibbles, started making quiet nummy noises over the wax wrapped sandwiches, cartons of sides, and thermoses of coffee inside the hamper. From the corner of my eye, I watched the Beagle lead his Companion around the base of the statue, past a trashcan, and behind the diminutive gazebo. (While endeavoring to keep Wood from spooning all the baked beans onto his plate.) By the time the two reemerged on the other side, we’d finished doling out our spectacular spread.

The Beagle’s Companion (craning his neck ever so slightly to take in our heaving table): “Evening.”

Wood (bobbing his head): “Evening.”

The Beagle, apparently annoyed at the lackadaisical pace, strained against his leash towards the street. No longer occupied by laying the table and unable to face my plate or wait until the dog & his human walked out of sight, I wobbled off the bench.

Me (gathering up our debris): “You start, I’m going to get this out the way.”

Wood, who’d just taken a sizable bite of a chocolate cupcake, nodded. 

Putting my feet on auto-pilot. I followed the line the Beagle took around the statue to the trashcan, using my Knack to scan for the lingering Vita leftover from the unknown Errant’s Flare. What I read left me torn between engaging in a wild bout of weeping or succumbing to a fit of giggles. 

Either way, the knots in my stomach slackened.

Disposing of my handful of detritus in the trash, I continued around to the back of the dainty gazebo, pulling up only after I lost sight of Wood and the Beagle’s overly interested Companion. Working quickly, I pulled the pen knife out of my pocket and used its keen edge to prick both my thumbs. Stepping into the shadowy interior, carefully crossing its creaky floor, I paused for a moment at the park-side entrance to give the thread of lingering Vita a quick tug.

Me (my exhaled words bellowing in the cold air): “Abraham, please meet me here tonight.”

Pressing my bloody thumbs on the posts on either side of the entrance, I set the beacon. Finished, I danced a happy half jig all the way back to the picnic table.

Wood (turning in his seat at the sound of my shoes scuffing across the pavement, shot me a grin): “If we start dancing underneath the full moon, someone will definitely call the cops on us.”

Me (sitting down at the table): “Okay, no dancing.”

(Thankfully, Wood chose not to question what I cut my thumbs on – he just passed me his travel-sized first-aid kit.)

Wood (piecing on the morsels left on his plate): “So how did you plan on passing the time until your guy arrives? I assume you brought something in those bags…”

Me (replying thickly between bites of potato salad): “Parlor games.”

Wood: (in mock disappointment): “Parlor games? You invite me out for a spot of midnight Moon Bathing, and you brought tiddlywinks? Wow, Morticia….”

Me (grinning around a bite of bacon/beef/elk meatloaf sandwich): “Never fear Dourwood Utley I’ve devised something more diverting than tiddlywinks for you.”

2.37.a Moon Bathing

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Tooting the Princess horn, I waited for Wood to meet me in his drive. Restless, I pulled my phone out of its holder on the dash and dialed Big Ben’s number. Listening to the first note of the overly familiar out-of-service message start to play, I hung up, wishing I didn’t feel a little disappointed every time he didn’t answer. 

Tossing the phone in the cupholder, I closed my eyes, leaned back, and rested my palms against the steering wheel.

Visualizing Ira’s enigmatic envelope, I counted my breaths and tried to calm the fork down. Unfortunately, my brain took this as a cue to replayed the memory of the Woman In White’s hand plunging into my chest, trying to strip my Vita. Then, and more disturbingly, my mind morphed the memory into a nightmare – by showing me the Woman In White killing Wood instead. 

My brain wasn’t being remotely helpful presently – in case you’re wondering.

Tossing aside the advice of gently noting the negative thought, then letting it go, since my little grey cells decided to play the vision of Wood dying on a loop (quickly converting my insides into a mass of quivering jelly). I dove directly into the heart of the maelstrom instead. Reminding my troubled brain that an encounter with an Errant did not automatically lead to them trying to strip one’s Vita. A Woman In White of the caliber I encountered earlier this year is extraordinarily rare. And the majority of Errants aren’t mad as hatters. 

Even more promising, the Errant in Remembrance Park warned Orin off. 

Plus, I packed fifteen pounds of the purest salt in my pack….and stashed another fifteen pounds in the Princess’s trunk….

The rationalizing helped, the sheer quantity of salt on hand helped more – but neither completely dispel my wibble wobbles or made the memory of the Woman In White retreat entirely. 

Drat my brain.

Taking one last lung-busting breath, I held it until the count of six then slowly exhaled to the count of twelve. Whilst not precisely calm, I did manage to unlock my elbows, stop pressing my back against the seat, and unclenched my death grip on the steering wheel. 

Reopening my eyes, I caught a bit of movement in my peripheral vision, cracking my neck as I turned it, I found Wood waving at me. Leaning over, I unlocked the Princess’s door and let him in.

Me: “Why didn’t you knock?”

Wood: “You looked like you were having a moment.”

Nodding, because it was true, I started backing the Princess out of Wood’s drive. Wood scenting the air like a bloodhound, pivoting in place, then stared at the provisions I’d packed in the backseat. 

Wood: “We’re going on a picnic?”

Me: “Sort of, I thought I’d take you Moon Bathing.”

Wood (flatly): “Moon Bathing.”

Me (stepping on the gas): “It’s like sunbathing but safer?”

Feeling his eyes on me, I continued to concentrate on my driving. This morning on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s back porch, we’d managed to nail down the time and place I’d pick him up from for our nocturnal adventure. But before I told him the whys, my bleary-eyed cousins meandered into the kitchen and started bellowing for their children. The Niblings wisely evaporated into the wilderness I’d successfully hidden in the evening before. Leaving Wood and I to explain that yes, indeed, we made three kinds of pancakes, bacon, eggs, fruit, and coffee for breakfast. Bequeathing them, as is our family tradition, an unholy mess to mop up in exchange for our early morning culinary efforts. 

(They’d needed a stepladder to wipe up all the spatter.)

They were in a more forgiving state of mind after they’d sampled The Stack. Hopefully, so would Wood after he saw what I’d packed.

Wood (staring at me steadily): “Morticia, why are we Moon Bathing?”

Taking a deep breath, I gave Wood the exact level of truth I thought we’d both be comfortable with. (It’s also one of the reasons why I’d stuff the picnic basket with his most portable favorite foods).

Me (turning onto a side street): “I need to talk to a guy at Remembrance Park. The thing is I don’t know when he’ll turn up, and I didn’t want to wait alone. So I thought we could give Moon Bathing a try.”

Wood digested my explanation. He finally broke the thoughtful silence when I pulled the Princess next to the curb a half a block down from the park.

Wood (releasing his seatbelt): “This guy, does he have anything to do with our Agreement?”

Me (busying my hands): “Tangentially.”

Wood: “So, Moon Bathing is a smokescreen?”

Me (sighing): “Yes.”

Wood (bouncing out of the Princess): “Fantastic!” 

2.36.a Metaphorical Carrots

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(I do like theSudsy Bubble’s neon sign.)

The continuous rustling, scampering, and whispering outside Uncle’s office door woke me from my full stop sleep. Cracking an eye slowly open, the first thing to kiss my retinas was a weak grey light sidling thru the gap in the curtains. Groaning inwardly, I rapped a knuckle against the hardwood floor twice. 

The niblings giggled in response then scurried off towards the kitchen.

Taking a look at my watch, which read a ridiculously small single-digit number, I managed to heave one leg out from under the well-loved quilt and plant my barefoot on the cool floorboards.

I maintained this pose for the next two minutes.

(The late bedtime, beers, and bull shirting coupled with the absurd – but predictable – early rising of the niblings was producing a speed from me only a three-toed sloth could admire.)

Coaxing the rest of my limbs into coordinating their efforts, I finally sat up. Blinking, my eyesight gradually came into focus on the elephant sitting stoically on the edge of the oak desk, waiting for me to wake up.

The patient pachyderm being a worn inter-office envelope. In theory, it contains a list of names Big Ben dropped in his correspondence with Ira. But after examining the envelope last night, I’m certain Ira included a whole lot more information than just a simple list.

(I’d like to say my powers of deduction have improved…But the fact is the envelope’s bulky, somewhat lumpy and weighs approximately the same as Uncle’s leather-bound, fully illustrated, gilt-edged copy of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities made this illation rather obvious.)

Even though I knew the niblings would return shortly to strong-arm me into ‘helping’ them make banana pancakes and bacon – I longed to solve the riddle wrapped in buff-colored paper. However, the same sly voice in my head that staid my hands last night kept my butt firmly planted on the couch this morning.

It not-so-subtly reminded me that I needed a carrot. 

Not a literal carrot – only donkeys are motivated into action by root vegetable dangling from a stick – but a metaphorical carrot.

Like New Magazine Day.

Founded just under twenty years ago, New Magazine Day developed in response to an unfortunate incident at the Sudsy Bubble Laundromat. When a tremendously tedious chore turned unexpectedly mortifying after the cute guy at the next machine remarked on the shabby state of my underpants. 

In fairness, they were faded, ever so slightly pilled, and threadbare – but that’s beside the point. Snarky Underpants Guy’s comment was a Grade-A violation of laundromat etiquette! Tenets including: never leaving your clothes unattended, never overloading a machine, and never folding a stranger’s finished load. 

You definitely don’t allude to, offer opinions on or critique another patron’s drawers! 

They’re called unmentionables for a reason! 

In any case, instead of wiping the smirk off his face with a well deserved verbal skewering – I turned beet red, stammered out a nonsensical apology, ducked my head, and scurried away (ah, the joys of being nineteen). His subsequent laughter at my very obvious embarrassment caused me to contemplate abandoning my clothes on the spot. Fortunately, I’m made of sterner stuff (and calculated I didn’t have enough money in my checking account to replace them) and waited the sixty-five agonizing minutes for the dryer to finish fluffing my last load. 

Then I booked it out of there, vowing never to set foot inside those four walls ever again. A completely ineffectual vow, as the Sudsy Bubble was both the closest & cheapest of the laundromats in Rye.

Three weeks later, grasping at straws, i.e., dressed in the dredges of my closet, I showed up to Family Feast Day wearing a nuclear green polyester skirt and vest set given to me by my colorblind Grandmother one Christmas.

Aunt Pearl immediately sensed something was wrong.

After sussing out why I was wearing an outfit only Don Knotts could love, she told me I had nothing to be embarrassed about and offered to blister Snarky Underpants Guy’s ears for me. An offer I declined on the grounds it wouldn’t make the situation any less cringeworthy. Nodding thoughtfully over her coffee cup for a few moments, Aunt Pearl leaned forward and confided in me how she managed to sit thru her bi-weekly meetings with her sourpuss of a Principle. 

On the way home, after each of the aforementioned maddening meetings, she stops off at either the Yarn Underground, Warp and Woof or The Crafty Fox to buy herself a little something. A skein of yarn, a yard of fabric or kit – it just needed to be something she’d enjoy playing with – as a reward for keeping her mouth shut. By following her carrot down the straight & narrow, she got something new to craft, kept the peace, and remained gainfully employed. 

(It also explains how Aunt Pearl’s sewing space slowly engulfed the neighboring room – she worked with said pettifogger for fifteen more years after giving me this kernel of wisdom.) 

All I needed to do was find my carrot.

Mulling this over the next day while contemplating which would be worse – wearing my high school P.E. uniform or the ghastly bridesmaid’s dress Jesse’s new husband chose – my eyes landed on a stack of months old magazines I’d borrowed from the Library. 

Eureka! My carrot! I’d buy myself the latest issues of all my favorites magazines to get me past my dread, thru the front doors, and recharge my closet with clean cloths! 

(BTW – I ended up at the Sudsy Bubble at six-thirty am, carrying twelve magazines, in my old P.E. uniform. I used seven machines simultaneously to get every scrap of fabric washed, fluffed, and folded in one go. Thankfully it was a Sunday, and no one, other than the attendant, was around. Otherwise, I’d have been committing a Grade-B violation of laundromat etiquette! Speaking of violations, I didn’t run into Snarky Underpants Guy again for over a month, and happily, my stack of magazines allowed me to ignore him entirely.) 

Ever since then, New Magazine Day has worked beautifully as my go-to carrot.

Until now.

The foot-high stack of unread magazines next to my bed testifies that I needed something more substantial to compel me into investigating the Errant that Flared at Orin.

2.35 Lillith vs. Morticia

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(Yeah, the Halloween mock-up looks just as silly in my mind’s eye as I thought it would!)

Wood, knowing the answer to my question, finished the rest of his beer in one long pull and left to fetch another. 

I’d texted him the news the moment Leo and I parted ways in the Rusty Hinge’s parking lot. The string of emojis he sent back mirrored my own thoughts on the matter. 

On the other hand, my cousins, close to succumbing to sugar comas, only showed a flicker of interest in my intelligence. Though in fairness, their comatose states were enhanced by twenty-five minutes of sprinting from pillar to post and beer. 

Fortunately, nothing, including Morpheus’s sweet embrace, could tamp down Dwight’s professional training and natural curiosity. 

Dwight (visibly forcing the word out): “Who?”

Lounging on the veranda’s railing, as was my custom, I was perfectly placed to watch their reactions in the dim light radiating from the open kitchen door – only Uncle was inscrutable. Sitting, as was his habit, in the comfy chair at the farthest end of the porch fully engulfed in shadows.

Me: “The Brownie Stealing Bench, Josie Reville.”

A collective groan, plus a few choice words, filled the air (the Mynah birds were out of earshot ). 

During the ensuing silence, due to everyone taking a healthy slug from their bottles, I’d have bet money that my relations were replaying a dusty old memory starring Josie and her pack of sycophants. (I wasn’t the only one she’d used to sharpen her poisonously honeyed tongue, just the first of us to ping her radar.)

A disturbingly loud crash from the kitchen treat makers and Susan’s subsequent shout of ‘everyone’s fine’ broke the spell my words had unfortunately cast over the party.

Jesse (sounding confounded): “Did Lucas open a hell-mouth under Rye to lure her back?”

Me (giggle snorting): “No, she’s not vying to reign over hell, Western Regional Bank made her their Chief Loan Officer.” 

Dwight (absently): “Don’t discount the whole Queen of Hell thing entirely.”

Tad: “She’d make a good Lilith though, using her position in the bank to corrupt the hearts of men. Oh! If it helps, we could change your nickname to Sabrina. You already have that luscious red coat, and if you adopted a black cat and named him Salem, you’d really be cooking with gas.”

Carefully backing out of the screen door, Wood reemerged from the kitchen, his hands occupied by a tray ladened with the next round of brown bottles, which we proceeded to helpfully lighten for him. Only Dwight and Uncle declined seconds.

Wood (chiming during the distribution of beer): “Never gonna happen, Morticia Addams would never allow an upstart like Lilith steal her crown.”

Me (laughing): “Plus, I look terrible as a blonde.”

Wood: “That too.”

Sealing our complete agreement, which may or may not be rooted in an unfortunate episode of summertime boredom and an old bottle of peroxide, we clinked our bottles together. 

Jesse (stretching his legs out): “Hate to rain on your parade, but isn’t Lilith literally biblical in origin? Morticia Addams is just a shade over eighty. Lilith would wipe the floor with her.”

Tad (happily diving into the debate): “Wrong part of the multiverse. The original Archie comic version, Madam Satan, is two years younger than Morticia. Lilith, from Netflix’s Chilling Adventures, is less than three years old. Making Morticia the hands-down favorite in a face-off!”

Jesse: “The story is three-ish years old I grant you, but in the Chilling Adventures, Lilith was the second person ever to walk the earth and was literally taught magic by Lucifer. No dice beans and rice.” 

Winding up for the defense of his stance, Tad took a deep and audible breath.

Knowing from prior experience, their bickering over pop culture spin on for hours without any outside help. (And I knew Robbie, who’d just joined us from the kitchen, mug of chocolate in hand, would be unable to resist throwing Dr. Who’s Missy into the mix.) I decided to track back to an earlier point in the conversation. 

Me (looking at an inattentive Dwight): “How exactly can Josie become Queen of Hell?”

It took Wood tapping him on the shoulder before he resurfaced, requiring me to repeat my question.

Dwight (raking his hands thru his hair): “While I was covering the Grindle trial for the paper, I overheard a rumor…”

Wood (grinning): “That Rye really is built on a hell-mouth?”

Dwight (missing Wood’s comment he shook his head): “No, though that might make interesting copy for Halloween, I heard Lucas might be retiring soon.”

Robbie (leaning against the rail next to me): “So? He’s about the right age, isn’t he?”

My cousins reflected a similar sentiment back to Dwight. Wood and I exchanged uneasy looks.

Dwight (clearly still having only half his mind on our conversation): “That’s what I thought too. Which is why it seemed odd that the person repeating the rumor was warned they’d lose their job if word got out they blabbed. So I did some digging in the Harvest’s archive. Do you know how Lucas Reville got his start on the city council?”

We all shook our heads in unison.

Dwight: “He took over his Uncle’s seat midterm. Apparently said Uncle caught scarlet fever as a child and developed a significant heart murmur later in life. After it was discovered and on the advice of his doctor, he retired immediately. Making use of a little known bylaw that allowed a family member to assume his post mid-term.” 

Tad (making the connection Dwight laid out): “At least if Josie was crowned the Queen of Hell, she’d be out our hair, do you really think……..”

The niblings, hopped up on cayenne and chocolate, unintentionally cut Tad’s appalled question off by exiting the kitchen en masse. Jesse and Tad’s lot set about pleading their case to sleepover at Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s house while Susan and Dylan’s two started entreating Robbie, Ian, Dwight, Wood, and I to camp out with them in the living room. 

2.34.b Olly Olly Oxen Free

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(This was the lure Aunt Pearl placed before us to get my cousins and I to comply with her ‘photo op’!)

Tad was slicing himself a second piece of cake when I stole into the kitchen, returning my puckish grin he saluted me with a wave of the cake knife. Easing open the screen door, Squiddy and I slipped onto the back porch and quietly shut it behind me. Tucking in next to Wood, who’d stationed himself in the patio chair next to the dinner bell, he handed me a beer he’d had waiting at his elbow.

Wood (softening his voice): “You’re losing your touch Morticia, twenty minutes?”

Me (twisting the cap off my beer): “The small fry were harder to fool than my cousins.” 

Speaking of those five adorable lookouts, they’d shifted from shouting out hints to peppering my cousins with questions. 

Do you see her dad? / Uncle Ian, do you want to borrow my flashlight? / Did the blueberry bushes just move? I’m pretty sure I saw it move! / Can I try looking? Please! / Have you ever caught Auntie Morticia dad? 

Uncle (sounding amused): “Once or twice.”

Dylan (over his shoulder, his eyes still scanning the yard): “More than that!”

Me (blandly): “Not since we were twelve, and I figured out no one cool wears neon.”

My reply sent a laugh rippling across the line of lookouts – because both Dylan and Ian’s frolicking kitten t-shirts sported a neon hue – pink and orange, respectively. A minute ticked by, then two, but none of the kids registered who’d made the funny, which sent a corresponding ripple of stifled chuckles thru the adults seated behind them. About the time I figured the only way they’d work out I was literally standing under the dinner bell was by ringing it, my youngest niece grew bored with her peripheral participation in the game and turned around.

Standing still as a statue, I watched Ruby’s eyes wander down the line of dim adult silhouettes until they landed on Aunt Pearl – three seats away from me.

Ruby (trying a parental end-run): “Grandma, can we make special coco now?”

Aunt Pearl (a smile in her voice): “It’s a little late, dear, you need to ask your papa if it’s okay.”

Intent on securing a cup of cayenne laced dark chocolate coco, her gaze slid right over me and on to Tad standing just inside the screen door on my left. The other kids perked their ears up but continued to keep their eyes aimed forward.

Ruby (squinting): “Papa, can I have some special hot coco?”

Tad (trying hard to contain a laugh): “After you find your Aunt Morticia.”

Ruby (expressively exhaling): “But it’s taking forever! And dad won’t let us help…”

Smothering a wide grin, I leisurely raised my hand towards the leather strap attached to the bell’s clapper, blocking her view of Tad’s face for a few seconds. When she succumbed to a fit of giggles, I knew my hint had been successful.

Ruby (pointing at me still tittering): “Now, can I have some special coco?”

Aunt Pearl (getting up): “You can be my sous chef.”

This appointment instantly redirected the other nibling’s attention off the backyard and spawned a chorus of protests. (Aunt Pearl’s helper gets to lick the pan – after it’s cooled sufficiently.)

‘Why does she get to be the sous chef?’ / ‘She hasn’t found Auntie Morticia’ / ‘That’s not fair!’

Ruby (thrilled at the chance to cover herself in glory): “Oh yes, I did! She’s right there.”

Pandemonium broke out on the back porch as the kids followed Ruby’s pointer finger and realized they’d been outfoxed. The adults split a seam, the lookouts started hollering for my cousins, and I rang the bell ending the game. 

By the time my cousins slowly rambled across the lawn, joining the rest of us on the porch, the nieces and nephews were in a full-tilt-tizzy; trying to figure out how I’d snuck past them, how long I’d been standing behind them and why Squiddy covered in fir needles….Aunt Pearl, heading off the inquisition, brought a bit of peace to the proceedings by herding the niblings inside to help her concoct the hot cocoa. 

My cousins didn’t bother to ask how I’d outflanked them – the liberal distribution of dirt and detritus on Squiddy, and I told the story. Though they did give me a series of high-fives, attagirl’s and a few friendly pats for Squiddy. (I did divest myself of my cephalopod friend, draping him over the bracket holding the bell, I needed a reprieve from his woolly magnificent.)

So after a quick detour to collect our promised slices and scoops (Wood and Uncle following us in for their second helping of dessert and Tad for his third), we regrouped back on the veranda and started talking about this and that. All of us keeping a half an ear on the din emanating from the kitchen – the clanging of pots and pans, opening and closing of cupboard doors, smacking of spoons against the rim of metal bowls, laughing and chatter – as the kids prepared their treat.

After a short strolling down memory lane, namely other epic bouts of kick the can, we fell into a comfortable silence. 

Right up until I tossed a tiger into our midst.

Me (glowering at my beer): “You’ll never guess who I ran into the other night…”

2.33.b …The Brownie Stealing Bench

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I’m not sure who my words shocked more Leo, Josie, or I. I’m thinking Leo, only because he nearly spat out his mouthful of beer.

Regarding me cooly for a split second, she shifted her focus back onto a red-faced Leo, who’d swiftly stopped choking and/or coughing, without any further acknowledgement.

Josie (smile a little tight at the edges): “I’ve been struggling to find a perfect gift for KARB’s Programming Director. You probably haven’t heard, as David’s only told a select few, but he’s handing over the reins to my inamorato Julien Dewinter and retiring at the end of next month. I think he’d love your work.”

Is she using selective hearing on me? Seriously? And how ostentatious, inamorato, why not just call Julien her boyfriend?

Leo (returning her smile with a polite one of his own): “Thank-you, but…”

Me (thoughtfully interrupting Leo): “Perhaps a viper is to on the nose. How about a spider? You could go as Arachne, from that story by Ovid, I’m sure Leo could whip up a cobweb mini dress and an appropriate eight-legged hat…”

Easing her left hip against the edge of the table, giving me an excellent view of her backside, Josie continued to pretend I was existentially challenged. 

Well, who’d have thunk it – I do believe I’ve found a fourth solution for dealing with Josie and her ilk – and I owe it all to Ms. Hettie.

Josie (ratcheting up her charm-o-meter): “If you have a moment right now, we could discuss designs and your fee. I’m sure Phoebe won’t mind moving to the bar while we talk business. I believe she’s on excellent terms with the bartender.”

Woot! She just intimated I was a drunk! I wonder which Ms. Hettie would appreciate more; butter cookies or a bottle of bourbon? I feel I ought to repay her for the year of verbal sparring and zinger training I’ve received.

Me (snapping my fingers): “I’ve got it! You should go as a magpie! They’re handsome and thieving, just like you!”

Leo utterly failed to suppress a guffaw. 

Man, how did I miss this? I never once considered needling-her-back as a viable defense! Probably because we were in school and she’d have made my life a misery.

Josie (turning back to me, her tone tetchy): “Are you still bent out of shape over that brownie thing back in junior high? It was over twenty years ago, we’re different people now, let it go. You’ll feel better for it.”

Is she trying to out adult me?

Me (Cheshire smile splitting my face – I let her): “Naw, don’t wanna.”

Ready to take the lumps Josie’s sub-zero stare promised were in the offing, Ruth quadrupled her tip by arriving at our table with our wing order a split second before the icy blast.

Leo (delighted): “Dinner!”

Digging into the baskets, Leo started distributing the sides and dividing the wings equally between our plates – as is our tradition – and successfully diffused the impending sleety squall.

Me: “Sorry, Josie. I’d ask you to join, but we only ordered enough for the two of us tonight.”

Josie (stiffly): “No problem, I’m a vegan anyway.”

Me (quizzically): “Really?” 

Josie: “Yes, really, eating animals is beastly.”

Me (shrugging): “How very ethical of you.”

Josie (addressing Leo): “Can I contact you about the commission early next week?” 

Leo (setting down his barbecue-gochujang coated drumette): “Unfortunately, I’m not taking on any new projects at the moment.”

Josie: “Are you sure? A vintage microphone hat would be perfect, and I’d pay triple since I know its short notice.”

Leo: “Sorry, Josie, Phoebe’s hat is the last custom order I’m doing for a while.”

Josie (letting loose a healthy sigh, then smiling): “I suppose it’s for the best. I’m not sure Julien would be comfortable giving his former boss something cute. Well, it was nice running into you, Phoebe, and a pleasure to meet you, Leo. I’ll see you both around.”

Dear lords above and below, I hope not.

After delivering her parting shot, using a tone that would make even Jack Frost shiver, she turned on her heel to leave – without waiting for our response. Unable to resist needling her one last time, I decided to impart a helpful laundry tip Aunt Pearl gave me soon after I discovered this place.

Me: “Hey Josie, you’ll want to run the front of your blouse and the bottom edge of your cuff under cold water, then soak it in liquid detergent for a couple of days before you wash it.”

Without sparing a glance at the tell-tale reddish specks splattered across her shirt, she turned towards my voice, her mouth compressed in a flat rigid line.

Josie (icicles hanging off the word): “Why?”

Me: “It’s the only way to keep that buffalo sauce stain from setting.”

Wow, I do believe Josie Reville just flipped me off.

Ms. Hettie’s definitely deserves both a bottle of bourbon and several dozen butter cookies.

Leo (regarding me with amusement): “Does the Hinge serve buffalo sauce on anything other than their chicken wings?”

Me (grinning): “No, no, they do not.”

2.33.a Fan-forking-tastic…

(Squiddy is so big I couldn’t fit him in a single frame! So here he is in pieces!)

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine. 

The Brownie Stealing Bench.

Man, I thought Josie Reville pulled an Ingrid Bergman (in Casablanca) and put Rye in her rearview mirror forever. 

Blotting out the riptide of after-images threatening to suck me under (Ogden Nash Middle School’s cafeteria, cotton candy pink nails against the rich brown of the pilfered brownie, Mrs. Sable’s index finger wagging in front of my nose). I used the split second before Josie descended on us to warn Leo instead.

Me (in a low tone): “No matter what, ignore her jibes and keep your answers short.”

Leo (arching an eyebrow): “Okay, Boss.”

Josie: I thought it was you when you walk in, but the tie and the tailored suit and all that black threw me! But when you pull that hat on, I knew! You’re the only person I know fearless enough to wear something that makes you look like a long lost cousin of the Coneheads!

Now you might be wondering: How do you deal with a Brownie Stealing Bench who holds Iago, Don John, and Lady Tremaine (Cinderella’s evil stepmother) in high esteem. Without spiraling into bad manners, worse language, and a series of rude gestures.

Well, over the six years of our enforced association, otherwise known as school, I fine-tuned three simple techniques to move along any conversation without descending into the aforementioned churlish behavior. Fun Fact: Pointing out the backhanded nature of her ‘compliments’ will invariably lead to a derisive laugh, hair flip, and assurances you merely ‘misunderstood’ her remark – and you end up giving her the bird anyways. 

Technique One: kill her with kindness. Slather on a smile and praise her on whatever triumph she will inevitably boast about during your chat. Helpful Hint: Taking the technique’s name literally gives school officials all the wrong ideas. So avoid naming any nearby fork, knife, pen, pencil, scissors, or other stabby object Kindness and brandishing it.

Gambit Number Two: the one I’d advised Leo to take, employ selective hearing. Simply stop listening after the superficial compliment is delivered. Warning! Sticking your fingers in your ears and humming a little ditty to block out the predestined dig is not recommended.

Third (and often the best option of the lot): take it on the chin. Deprived of a visible and/or volatile reaction, she’ll get bored and move onto more fertile ground. Originally called playing possum. This option was revised after pretending to croak every time Josie entered my sphere resulted in another month of mandatory sessions with the school counselor and Aunt Pearl despairing over dinner about my sense of humor. Uncle, however, bought me an ice-cream cone, took me for a walk in Nevermore, and helped me refine my methods.  

Taking a deep breath – deciding on a twofer – I plastered on a nearly genuine smile and tilted my chin towards her.

Me: “Well, Dan Ackroyd is a comedy legend. What brings you back to Rye Josie? Vacation?”

Please be a short one.

Josie (modesty): “Work, actually. Western Regional Bank appointed me as their Chief Lending Officer, and since corporate is headquartered in Rye, I moved back home.”

Me: “Congrats.”

Drat.

Josie (beaming): “You too! I heard you got a new job as well! I think FLYT’s a perfect fit for you. I know how much you love taking the Piggy Bank out for a spin.”

Dear lords above and below, I’d forgotten her nickname for the Princess.

Leo (the beer bottle hovering halfway to his lips): “Piggy Bank?”

Swiping my own and thankfully alcoholic drink off the table, I took a deep draw and waited for Josie to deliver the punchline.

Josie (letting out a merry laugh): “Phoebe’s car and a piggy bank are both pink, adorable, and when you smash them – worth the same amount.”

Man, I’d have been happy never to see the whites of her eyes again.

Leo shot me an apologetic look over the top of his brown bottle.

Josie (giving Leo a sweet smile): “Forgive my rudeness, Phoebe, and I have known each other forever! Hi, I’m Josie Reville.”

Leo: “Leo Wasinski.”

During Josie’s introductions, she held out her hand for Leo to shake – Leo picked up his beer instead. Josie, ignoring the slight, dropped her hand and plucked a pretzel out of our bowl instead.

Josie (eyes wide): “Nice to meet you!… Oh, wait, I’m not interrupting a date. Am I?”

Leo (ruminatively): “Not tonight…”

Me (pointing at my head): “He’s delivering my special-order.”

Josie (rewarding Leo with a dazzling smile): “Oh good. Monday’s not traditionally a hot date night, but Phoebe’s always marched to the beat of her own drummer, so I wasn’t sure.”

Regrettably, my remark recentered Josie’s awareness squarely on Squiddy again. Invading my personal bubble, Josie leaned in and rubbed one of Squiddy’s arms between her fingers. 

I managed to restrain myself from swatting her hand away – but only just.

Josie (looking thoughtful): “Though not my style, the craftsmanship of Phoebe’s….hat is excellent. Do you often take commissions?”

Distracted by Ruth, who delivered another two beers to the table (and reassured us our wings were only moments away), the question popped unbidden from my mouth.

Me (smiling my thanks to Ruth): “Why need help channeling your inner viper this Halloween?”

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