(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…”