Tag Archives: Brownie stealing bench

2.41 A Wind From the North

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Wood and I watched, from the Princess’s cozy confines, a patrol car cruise slowly past us. Fighting the instinct to hunker down, I sucked on my slightly scorched index finger while fastening my seatbelt with the other. Much to our mutual relief, the cruiser turned the corner, crawl by the park, then thankfully roll out sight. 

The appearance of the police at the site of our Moon Bathing soiree, after the Beagle and his Human, tootled past us on one last jaunt around the block, is probably pure coincidence. Undoubtedly the one-man watch missed the eerie flickering blue flames of the Snapdragon dish…

…that could possibly be seen from space due to an inadvertently heavy-handed pour from the bottle of apple brandy. (The fact we were laughing like an asylum of loons while popping bits of fire into our mouths – I’m sure escaped his notice as well.)

Pondering the question, should we count this as a close shave with the boys in blue, I turned towards the Princess’s passenger seat for a second opinion. Only to find an unsmiling Wood staring at the space up the street Sarah’s car had occupied up until a few minutes ago. 

Me (using a hankie to wipe the drool off my sore finger): “You think Sarah’s doing okay?”

Wood: “Can you drive past the park for me? Slowly?”

Me (incredulous and yet still turning the engine over): “You want me to follow the cop car?”

Wood: “I’ll explain in a minute.”

Shrugging, I depressed the handbrake, pulled the Princess into non-existent traffic, and followed the police car’s line around the corner. Instead of taking one last gander at the scene of our misdemeanor, Wood stared intently at the opposite side of the street then lapsed into a pensive silence. 

Concentrating on the distant tail lights, trying to divine which way the officer would turn, I let Wood follow his train of thought in peace. I even refrained from letting out a whoop of delight when the police cruiser decided to turn the opposite direction of Nevermore. 

Wood (breaking his own silence): “This isn’t the way home.”

Me: “We’ve one more stop to make.”

Wood (falling back into his thoughts): “Okay.”

Me (glancing over): “You going to tell me what’s going on, or do I need to start pulling teeth?”

Wood (frowning): “I think I’ve got a pretty good idea why Sarah was acting so weird.”

Me: “Shoot.”

Wood (slowly): “A couple of minutes after you stopped shouting in the gazebo and I said goodnight to Laney, the front door of that big brick house across the way opened. All I could see were silhouettes, so I started playing ‘What Are They Saying?’ in my head.” 

Me (looking for a parking spot): “Always fun.”

Wood (nodding): “Eventually, without any hugs, kisses, or handshakes, one outline went back inside, and the other walked towards the street.”

Me (carefully pulling the Princess between two huge SUVs): “An inevitable outcome at a front door.”

Wood (flicking my leg for interrupting again): “I lost interest in the scene until I heard a woman’s voice call out, ‘Sarah! Wait!’. That’s when I saw our Sarah standing under a street lamp across the way, a second later another woman jogged up and handed her something.”

Me (shutting down the Princess’s engine): “Okay…”

Wood: “Morticia, I’m seventy-five percent certain the other woman was Josie Reville.”

Me (jaw involuntarily dropping): “You’re kidding. The Brownie Stealing Bench? Did you know they knew each other?”

Wood (half laughing at the end of his sentence): “No, I didn’t, but if Sarah were hanging out with Josie tonight, it would explain why she was so weird at first. The bad blood between you two is NOT a secret.”

Silently my mind whirred, churning out rational reasons why Sarah might intentionally spend time in The Brownie Stealing Bench’s company. Unfortunately, since I couldn’t fathom spending more than two minutes together with her, my imagination quickly went into overdrive. Spinning out one improbable possibility after another. 

Wood (nudging me): “I might be wrong. That’s why I asked you to drive by the house, I was trying to see if her name was on the letterbox, which of course it wasn’t.”

Me (drumming my fingers against the steering wheel): “The obvious way to prove you right or wrong is to knock on the front door. But that’s not going to happen. The Beagle’s Human is far too nosey for a successful stakeout, even if we used your car….”

Wood (splitting a spare cookie in two and holding half out to me): “Are you really that worried about it?”

Me (around my bite of cookie): “Maybe.” 

Wood pursed his lips at me.

Me (rolling my eyes): “Alright, I’ll be an adult and let it lie. There’s no accounting for taste. In any case, I don’t suppose you’d be willing to hang out here while I pop into Nevermore for a second?”

Wood (unbuckling his seatbelt): “Not a chance.”

Me: “It was worth a try.”

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. 

2.33.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?”

2.21.b How Robin Hood Ruined My Day

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Me (thru clenched teeth): “What about that Brownie Stealing Bench?” 

Aunt Pearl (lips twitching upwards in response): “Do you remember how she earned that nickname, dear?”

Pondering her hint, I took a bite of a crinkle cookie and nearly choked to death on it when the memory Aunt Pearl was referring to flooded my mind in full technicolor splendor (having a crumb go down the wrong pipe might also have played a part). 

The summer I turned thirteen, my Uncle got a wild hair one night and took Aunt Pearl, my cousins, Wood, and I to a drive-in movie. We were initially bummed that we’d missed The Creature From The Black Lagoon by a week and were stuck watching Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood. 

We’d seen the Disney version with all its singing and dancing, how different could it be? Turns out very. Watching the silver screen archery tricks and swashbuckling, we were soon spellbound, our disappointment of missing Gill-Man entirely forgotten.

(We were so enthralled in fact we forgot to bicker, squabble or pummel each other – bring peace & quiet into our midsts for the first time in a week, which was probably the point of the entire endeavor.)

The very next morning, we transformed the woods behind our house into Sherwood Forest. We into its Merry Me. Then we spent the rest of the summer questing and perfecting our swordplay. (BTW – both Uncle and Aunt Pearl steadfastly refused to arm a pack of six teens with bows and arrows – no matter how much we pleaded our case – pointing out our homemade wooden swords caused more than enough mayhem.) 

When September rolled around, we retired our sabers and replaced them with pencils. While my cousins and Wood moved on to other extracurricular activities (ballet in Wood’s case apparently), I remained stubbornly fixed on Robin Hood. Devoting all my free time to the devouring of every book, the Librarian Extraordinaire Mrs. Schmit dug out of the stacks for me. Somewhere around the twelfth book into my self-imposed reading regimen, it happened…

I watched Josie Reville steal Summer Yates’ brownie.

Seizing my chance to foil a real dastardly deed, I reported the crime to King Richard the Lionhearted, aka my homeroom teacher Mrs. Sable. 

(Snitches might get stitches, but if I’d attempted to thwart the Great Brownie Heist on my own? Josie would have sicced her sycophants – Agata Canetti, Larissa Cardenes, Thomi Margazoitis & Kiyomi Kimura – on me. So I opted for the possibility of stitches later to the guarantee of stitches now.)

Turns out, I’d misjudged Mrs. Sable – she wasn’t King Richard – but his devious brother Prince John in disguise. Instead of righting this very obvious wrong, she cut me off mid-story and scolded me (in front of the entire cafeteria) for tattling. When I asked what I was supposed to have done, instead, she expanded her dressing-down to include whining.

Then sentenced me to detention for the rest of the week.

Heaping insult onto injury? Summer’s brownie was never recovered, and Josie got off scot-free. (She snickered at me from behind Mrs. Sable’s back the entire time I was being told off.)

Yeah. 

So my dumb-ass-adult-self quietly accepted my termination after eighteen plus years of employment (plus another seven years of volunteering) from Little Ben because I was afraid Big Ben might think me a tattle-tale if I called to ask, “What the hell man?” When his son let me go.

After Aunt Pearl finished pounding my back, she pushed her mug of coffee my way – to help wash away the offending crumb from my craw. 

Me (rasping): “Well crap, of all the stupid reasons…”

Aunt Pearl: “Glad I could help you find an answer, dear.”

Me (saluting her with her mug): “Thanks.”

Perhaps now, if I ever get a hold of Big Ben, I’ll feel less tetchy while talking to him.

Pushing up from the table, I check the timer – two minutes left. Hoping to distract my Aunt away from her usual refrain pertaining to Nevermore and now FLYT (i.e., I was too smart to be a Caretaker or a Chauffeur), I placed a bowl under the stand mixer.

Aunt Pearl (falling for it hook, line and sinker): “You’re welcome…do you need help making the frosting dear?”*

Me (keeping my smile on the inside): “No, but I could use a ride to the library when I’m done. I don’t want to dump the cake on the ground walking there.”

Aunt Pearl (visibly disappointed): “Oh, the cake’s not for dessert tonight?”**

Me (controlling my lips): “No, Aunt Pearl, I made you guys cookies.”

Aunt Pearl (rising from her chair): “Let me know when you’re ready, and I’ll drive you.”

Hiding her “heartbreak” over losing the prospect of cake rather poorly, Aunt Pearl drug herself (and several krumkakes) out the door to get ready. 

Her exit cued the buzz of my timer. 

Pulling on the oven mitts, I let loose the broad grin that had threatened during our last exchange, and carefully removed the Orange Blossom Honey cupcakes from the oven. 

*(Aunt Pearl Subtext: Can I “sample” a spoonful or five for you, dear?)

**(Subtext of her disappointment: You’re not leaving the cake here unattended, so I can nibble on it until your Uncle gets home. Then blame a family of mice, who’s conveniently scampered away into the aether, for the missing portion?)