Rewind eight hours.
Before, KARB aired Berlioz’s, Béatrice et Bénédict. Before, I baked several breakfast treats. Before, I ingested several gallons of coffee.
I sat alone in the kitchen of the Lavender Lady, listening to Wood tootle off in the direction of the living-room couch, finishing off the last swig of my beer…….When my eyes slowly slid towards the corner of Ira’s envelope peeking out of my pack.
Firming up my upper lip, I told myself the contents would be exactly the same tomorrow morning.
Emphatically nodding my head, my mind made up, I happened to notice a ring of condensation the bottom of my beer bottle left on the table. Getting up, I grab a rag from the sink and wipe down the table, then the counters. Because if you’re going to do one, you may as well do the other. However, whilst taking care of the counters, I knocked over the stack of empty containers I’d packed the Moon Bathing nibbles in. Deciding I couldn’t leave dirty dishes for Beatrice to find in the morning, I unloaded, reloaded, and ran the dishwasher. Because that’s what good roommates do. Similarly, I couldn’t leave the stack of soiled blankets sitting on the kitchen chair, so I washed them as well.
Scanning the kitchen, cleanup complete, my eyes once again strayed towards the manila covered temptation……and caved. One quick peek, to give my subconscious something other than Toby to chew on, what could it hurt?
Famous. Last. Words.
Fast forward eight hours and twenty-seven minutes.
Past the anatomizing of Ira’s information down to the subatomic level. Past the flabbergasting discovery of double-dealings. Past my forty-five-minute catnap hunched over the table, on top of my spiral-bound notebook. (I’m lucky to only have a wire imprint on my face. I’d missed dozing on my uncapped hot pink highlighter by mere inches.) Past Wood and Beatrice looks of incredulity when I’d begged off from their afternoon plan to partake of barbecue and sniff old books in favor of completing a chore.
Stepping out of the Princess and onto the drive, I leaned my seat forward and pulled my hulking pack from the backseat. Trudging around the side of the house, I slowly climbed the back stairs and pushed open the door.
Stunned by the spectacle hitting my retinas, it took me a moment to recall the last time I beheld such a sight. (I do believe it occurred the year Robbie’s school hosted the regional Spelling Bee finals and the PTA pounced on the opportunity to fund their after school programs.) Every surface, plus a few extras brought in especially, were covered in unfrosted cakes, cupcakes, cookies, the odd pie, a half dozen loaves of bread, and one sad-looking pan of sausage rolls.
My early morning efforts paled in comparison.
Amid this unadulterated homage to flour, eggs, and butter stood Aunt Pearl operating my great-grandmother’s stand mixer. Next to her stood my niece Ruby. Who, for reasons outside my ken, was responding to my Aunt’s instructions with expressive meows.
Aunt Pearl (over her shoulder): “Jesse, if you forgot the whole vanilla beans again, you can turn right back around.”
Me: “It’s not Jesse Aunt Pearl.”
Ruby (at the sound of my voice, she started scrabbling off her stool): “Ppuurrrrr? Meow!!!”
Aunt Pearl: “Hello Dear! Give us a minute. We’re almost done.”
Drifting towards the two-foot square of open space at the kitchen table, where Uncle sat sipping his coffee and reading his stack of newspapers, I looked around for another seat. Deciding the chances of finding a chair free of thumbprint cookie trays slim to none, I dropped both my pack and backside onto the floor.
Uncle (setting aside his paper): “So what brings you by? Besides the floorshow.”
Me (leaning against the cabinet, my legs stretched out in front of me): “Did Aunt Pearl lose a bet?”
Uncle (chuckling): “No, one of the vendors for the district’s Carnival pulled out at the last minute. So your Aunt’s helping bridge the gap. She roped the whole neighborhood, plus Jesse, Tad, Dylan, and Dwight, into helping.”
Heart sinking, I reconsidered asking Beatrice and Wood for help, then rejected the idea immediately. There’s no way I could ask without being an awful friend. Ira and Leo were similarly off-limits. Maybe Mrs. Schmit? I trust her….but do I trust her that far?
Uncle (forehead crinkling in concern): “Phoebe?”
Me (pulling my heavy pack towards me): “Sorry, I didn’t realize you guys were so busy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered you with this…”
Uncle (tilting his head): “With?”
Me (sighing): “I was hoping you could double-check my work.”
Uncle’s gaze sharpened. However, before either of us could say anything else, Ruby scampered onto my lap purring madly, and Aunt Pearl thunked a bowl of frosting at my Uncle’s elbow.
Ruby (four inches from the end of my nose): “Auntie Morticia! Come see! Come See! Grandma’s saving the Carnival’s cakewalk! And she’s going to let me decorate the cookies! I get to use ALL the frosting I want!… What’s wrong with your face?”
Aunt Pearl (bustling over): “Ruby’s right, what’s wrong with your face? You look tired. Did you not sleep well? Do you want some coffee? Can you stay and frost some cupcakes?”
It didn’t take the intuition of Nancy Drew to figure out Aunt Pearl let Ruby sample some frosting, her blue-tinged teeth told the story. The dark tint to Aunt Pearl’s lips told a similar sugar-filled tale. As did the fact neither waited for or required a response to their series of rapid-fire questions.
Me (sliding Ruby off my lap): “No, Aunt Pearl. I’m fine. I should be going….”
Uncle (finishing my sentence): “…back to my office. Mind if I take the coffee pot back with us, Pearl?”