I managed to swing past The Alter three times today, coffee was mandatory after last night’s adventures! (Plus I wanted to see their new advert)
(Photo credit here, Words are mine)
I managed to swing past The Alter three times today, coffee was mandatory after last night’s adventures! (Plus I wanted to see their new advert)
(Photo credit here, Words are mine)
(Aunt Pearl makes the best gingerbread muffins!)
The floorboards groaned underfoot as I made my way down the hallway towards the beckoning scents of bacon and coffee. The others were still snuggled in their sleeping bags on the living room floor, the fire in the hearth warming their toes. Walking into the kitchen the vintage red cherry wallpaper, red enamel sink, glass front cupboards and white walls waved a cheery ‘hello’ in my direction. Aunt Pearl stood at the stove cooking enough food to feed a small army or Wood in the morning.
Walking to the cupboard, I opened it and grabbed a cup and saucer – then poured the best concoction man has ever made into the cup – coffee. Sitting down at the kitchen table I took a moment and savored the very first sip of the day. My Aunt familiar with this ritual waited until said sip passed my lips before making conversation, “The others still asleep?”
Resting my elbows on the tabletop, I held the cup under my nose, “Yeah, they’ll be out for a while yet. Long night.”
More specifically a whole lotta spiced rum.
I did know she wasn’t irritated about last night’s late hour since she never threatened to put us over her knee. Wood and I might be thirty-something but every now and again we do something silly enough to warrant her standard threat (which in all fairness she’s never actually carried out). It’s just her way of letting us know we’re leaning on her last nerve.
“Thanks for coming to get us last night and grabbing Beatrice’s car on the way her,” taking a nice big second gulp of coffee, trying to quickly conclude this portion of the conversation.
After flipping some flapjacks onto a plate, she answered, “Your welcome dear. We thought it would be faster to pick you up than bail you out.”
Laughing softly into my cup, “I’m sure it had nothing to do with Wood texting you to come get him and his mateys, right?”
So, amongst the giggling last night during our impromptu sleepover, which struck all our silly bones, Wood admitted that he’d texted Aunt Pearl and Uncle to come get us. She’d asked him to take a photo of me in full pirate regalia when I settled up on our ancient bet. He did one better and tempted her out of the house at one in the morning to take her own pictures. I am pretty sure she’s going to get an eight by ten made and place it smack dab in the middle of the living room mantle.
Could be worse.
Robbie howled when we’d stumbled in the front door, he’d been eating a late dinner with them when he got the text from me – I didn’t mention a word about our ensembles. During dessert, Aunt Pearl got Wood’s follow up text which coaxed her into action. Robbie stayed to see how committed we were to the bit, he should have known we’d go full pirate – it was Wood’s plan after all. Wood did apologize for my mortification, but The Brace Affair went so spectacularly awry, he really felt we needed to end the night with a laugh.
Aunt Pearl’s voice recalled me from my musings, “Of course not dear, that was just a happy accident.” Her voice sounded bland, but I knew better. Her back was turned because she didn’t want to show how funny she found the entire situation last night. She doesn’t get roped into our mischief very often, anymore. “Are you working today?”
Feeling the marrow in my bones droop, “Yes. Just a half day though. I only have two more days, including today, left of this insanity.”
“Well hard work builds character.”, she placed a plate of fresh pancakes in front of me and topped off my coffee. “To keep your energy up.”
Digging into the stack of flapjacks Aunt Pearl took the reigns of the conversation while I chewed, “Oh. Remember when you asked me about Tiffany Grindle, my old student who went missing twenty years ago?” Walking over to the table she placed the newspaper to the right of my plate an opened it to the front page (my fingers were sticky with syrup), “They found her remains last week up in the mountains about fifteen miles from where they found her car.”
I choked on my bacon.
Trying to clear my airway gave me the moment I needed to contain my jubilation, “They found her last week?”
Aunt Pearl stopped whacking my back and went back to her position in front of the stove, “Yes, apparently the police kept it under wraps until now, waiting for a positive identification. They’ve had a few false started over the years, so they wanted to make absolutely sure before they went public. But that’s not even the most interesting part!”
We’d both employed the same cunning strategy – waiting. Perhaps my “plan” wasn’t as lame as I’d previously thought.
The coffee seemed to need a few more minutes to seep into my system to bad I didn’t have the time. Even in this deluge maintenance would be working (death doesn’t wait for a sunny day) and I really didn’t want to answer the inevitable questions they’d ask if they ran across me sitting in my car. I had a feeling my hair would give away last night’s sleeping arrangements.
Which meant Joseph and I had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time.
Joseph (still looking amused): “So why were you waiting for me?”
Me (taking another swig straight from the thermos): “The Stalker, isn’t a Stalker, she’s a Woman In White.”
Joseph (his gaze sharpened): “Tell me.”
Me: “I found her genesis point when I went up into the mountains…”
While I laid the relevant events from the Fall Foliage Tour into a coherent narrative, Joseph sat in the passenger’s seat listening, his fingers tracing the inside band of his grey fedora over and over while I talked.
Joseph (enunciating each word): “You think she will come here, at some point.”
Me (nodding): “Yes. After I got back I asked Aunt Pearl about the whole affair, she told me Tiffany’s father still lives in Rye, so I expect she’ll come to Nevermore. When she does, we’ll need a plan.”
Aunt Pearl also hinted at some other old gossip about Tiffany, but wouldn’t repeat it, “not wishing to speak ill of the dead.”
Joseph: “A plan?”
Me (nodding): “If she’s allowed to wander the grounds she will find a Resident then hunt down the others. She won’t hesitate to increase her own power at their expense. With my odd hours and the uncertainty of when she’ll arrive we need to coordinate. You can contain her until I get here and salt her bones directly, right?”
Utterly oblivious to my companion, I failed to notice his amusement and continued to spout off half-formed ideas.
Still Me (spacing out for a moment): “Sarah would call me the moment she arrives if I asked…. Though if she’s cremated that would eliminate all our worries since fire purifies everything… I could ask Sarah to try to steer things that way…Then there’s the rubber ducks, work, sabotage, and I’ll need to shower sometime…”
Joseph (interrupting my revery, amused): “Phoebe.”
Me (fretting): “I could sleep in my car here after she’s found so I could be on hand more.”
Joseph (plonking me in the forehead with his index finger): “Phoebe. The Residents and I can manage her. What do you think happened before you came here?”
Me (puzzling): “I never put much thought into it.”
My brain jumping the tracks, how did they cope? The first burial happened in 1840, Nevermore (as it is now) came about in 1846, and I’ve been coming here for twenty-seven years, so that leaves one-hundred-and-seventy-eight-years unaccounted for. Something to think about later…
Joseph (catching my attention again): “…Woman In White.”
Me (my mind reversing from its derailed state): “Pardon?”
Joseph: “I will handle the Woman In White.”
Me (nodding, my head still not entirely on this portion of the conversation): “Okay, I’ll leave her to you…”
Joseph (a hard look creeping into his eyes): “You have a handle on Little Ben’s expansion? I assume there’s a problem.”
Me (nodding, diverted by the small opening he’d given me): “Yes to both…How did the Residents cope before I came?”
Joseph (his hands finally still): “They have me. I protect Nevermore and the Residents from all threats.”
Me (slowly sinking into the quicksand of the conversation): “Like Women In White, Stalkers, Walkers, and Soldiers?”
Joseph (somber): “And anything else.”
Me (feeling small): “So Nevermore doesn’t really need my help.”
Joseph (his tone commanding me to meet his eyes): “You value those who’ve been forgotten. You find the lost and bring them home. You protect those who undervalue you – no matter the cost. You are Nevermore’s most unique Resident because you choose to be here. You are needed, never doubt that.”
Not know what to say and trying not to cry – I moved on – Joseph doesn’t do tears.
Me (blinking rapidly): “Since I’m not here as much right now, how can I find you if I don’t want to ask a Resident to pass on a message?”
Joseph (looking at me thoughtfully, pausing for a beat longer than I’d anticipated): “Knock on a gate, Toby will lead you to me.”
Me: “What’s a Toby? And any gate?”
Joseph (smiling): “He’s shy. But I think he’s ready for you to meet him. And yes, any gate in Nevermore.”
Me (startled into dry eyes): “Wait, there’s a Resident I haven’t met yet?”
Joseph smiled, put on his hat an exited the Princess, the rain (plus his grey suit) erased him almost instantly from my sight. So many layers to the conversation, but no time to consider them if the clock on my dash was correct. I had precisely forty-five minutes to get home, shower, change and eat before my shift starts.
Aspirin, I also needed to take many aspirins, not being able to turn my head right – due to a stupid crick – won’t make my day any easier.
(Unsplash Picture Credit Here)
While Rye does not contain a single drive-thru Asian joint (which is a travesty), it does include an Italian one. So instead of eggrolls, I am eating spaghetti for dinner.
While both countries of culinary origin reside in the same hemisphere – spaghetti does not satisfy an eggroll craving.
In case you are wondering.
Despite the lack of pork, cabbage and plum sauce I attacked my dinner with gusto. While spaghetti & meatballs wasn’t what my stomach demanded, it did sate my hangries, leaving me in a mellower frame of mind. I offered up silent thanks to whichever god steered Joseph away from me pre-food. If he’d stopped by before, I might have taken him up on his offer to actively ‘persuade’ Little Ben to leave Nevermore.
After stowing away my trash, I snuggled under the Princess’s matching afghans and propped my tablet up against the steering wheel. Deciding my neurons needed a jump-start, I snagged one of the three thermoses of coffee from the back seat.
No rest for the wicked.
My brain and I needed to start working on my other problem, Sunny Valley Farm.
If Wood’s ridiculously fun Brace Affair didn’t do the job, I needed a fallback plan – which unfortunately placed the corner of Bitter and Sweet. Because, subversion, subterfuge, and counterfeiting aren’t pleasant words, but they defined what I might be forced to do to keep Nevermore safe.
Turning on my tablet, I opened my copy of the program Little Ben loves to use when concocting his proposals, campaigns, and announcements. Over the past few days, I’d retyped all of Little Ben’s original text and yesterday I’d copied all the graphics from the Sunny Valley Farm website (which thankfully did not include the proposed location yet).
All of this allowed me to while away the time waiting for Joseph by creating and/or updating the documents from the press packet Sarah’d given me.
Turns out this was only a one thermos task.
Switching tracks I tuned (which just sounds nicer than googled) my tablet to KARB hoping to catch the news. Leaning my seat back a bit and pulling the afghans over my arms I listened to the cymbals, drums, and piano of Brubeck’s Take Five start playing….
The rain beat down in time Diana Krall’s Devil May Care while my brain struggled to convince my unwilling eyes to open up just a crack. Yup, it was raining, the drops obscuring the mausoleums from my vision (which was impressive as they were touching distance away). With this small sensory input, my nerves decided to chime in and let my brain know their displeasure at sleeping in the Princess’s drivers seat….for, well crap, five hours.
An amused voice addressed me: “Good Morning.”
Crappity crap crap crap.
Rubbing my eyes…
Me (thickly): “Morning.”
Vision moderately clearer I attempted to turn my neck. Well, that was a bad idea. A crick informed me that under no uncertain terms should I attempt trying that feat again in the near future.
Turning my entire body, I leaned against the driver’s door and blinked at the man in my passenger seat.
The crease in his dove grey pants could slice a steak in half.
Trying to remove the custard filling from my head I leaned forward to snag the full thermos from behind the passenger’s seat. Not bothering with the cup I drank straight from the top.
Cold coffee is better than no coffee at all.
Joseph looked even more amused when I put the thermos down.
Joseph: “Long night?”
Me (it took a moment for me to quit staring at him): “Yes, I’ve been here since midnight.”
Joseph (tilting his head): “Problem with your new rooms?”
Me (waiting for the coffee to catch up): “No, nothing like that. I was waiting for you.”
Joseph (laughing quietly): “Funny, I’ve been waiting for you to wake up.”
Day six of my fourteen hour fortnight.
FLYT held a general meeting last Friday which I missed due to the Fall Foliage Tour. It turns out one of the drivers came in sick with – swine, C, Spanish, bird, #10 – some variety of nasty flu which knocked out almost the entire fleet of FLYT drivers. Not wanting another rideshare program to “muscle into their territory” they asked the last standing healthy drivers to extend their service hours for a rather nice bonus, plus base pay, and tips.
When FLYT emailed me about Flu-Gate, I immediately contacted the Senior Center. I wasn’t the only driver the members used, but I didn’t want someone going without services because they couldn’t get a ride. It turns out one of the Center’s members did scheduling for Rye Memorial Hospital for forty years and hasn’t lost her touch. With sacred promises made by all not to fork up her work, she set a two-week schedule (for me, another driver who works the Center and the members). I think she may have issued a veiled threat somewhere to ensure compliance – hard to remember now – it feels like a hundred years ago.
At this point, I am not sure if the Princess’s driver’s seat is taking on my butt shape or my butt is taking on seat shape. These are the things I wonder about now. Either way, it’s been firmly planted since Tuesday morning.
Last night I dreamt scientist created a bottomless cup of coffee.
Even with all this driving, I’ve managed to wedge a tiny bit of multitasking into my day – monitoring the radio waves. Without a single fib I’ve managed to keep the Princess’s radio dial planted on KARB 98.1, Rye’s jazz/classical station – ‘Giving you energy thru the day!’. My fares grumbled a bit at first (they love their rock music) but gave in when they figured out I was working from 6 am to 8 pm helping them out.
Why am I on tenterhooks at the top of each hour? Because KARB’s news desk delights in scooping The Daily Harvest every chance they get (a feud which according to my Aunt Pearl dates back to an incident in high school between the Newspaper’s Managing Editor and Radio Station’s Manager). In the last year they’d been the first to report Stripper Gate (former mayor taking out visiting officials to said establishments), the apprehension of the Cascadia Con-man and the reacquisition of six lost Dutch Masters by RAM (Rye Art Museum and it turns out the paintings weren’t lost so much as stolen).
KARB is the only non-news station, west of the Mississippi, which employs four full-time investigative reporters – I’m pretty sure. So I figured if/when the sourest member of the Thin Green Line follows up on my materials – they will broadcast it first (it’s harder to monitor the Daily Harvest, traffic cops frown on reading & driving).
Are drive-thru egg rolls are a thing?
If they aren’t, they really should be because my shift’s finally over and I can’t go home yet and I’d really like some egg rolls or Mongolian beef with fried rice or pad thai or pho or banh mi or sushi.
Visions of wontons dance through my head…
Wouldn’t be the first time I ate dinner whilst wandering through Nevermore. According to my phone Rye doesn’t have a drive-thru Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Japanese restaurants, drat.
At the time I didn’t realize how serendipitous running into Joseph at The Crossroads was. When I’d taken care of Nevermore, we spoke daily, no big deal. Now that I’m out in the cold it’s not so easy, which fills me with an uncontrollable urge to kick Little Ben in the shins.
Why you ask is my chest crammed with a thousand angry bees who’d like a word with my former manager? Since returning from the Fall Foliage Tour seven and a half days ago, I’ve been unable to locate Joseph and let him know about the looming problem getting ready to land in Nevermore. Not wanting to alarm the Residents I’ve kept the news to myself but he needs to know, and we need to fix on a solution.
Why not ask them where Joseph is? Or pass a message onto him? Since my exile, this might lead to panic amongst the Residents, which could mean some uncomfortable nights for Little Ben in the cottage.
So I’d worked out a cunning plan which cut the Residents out of the equation entirely. Regrettably, it requires my butt to remain planted in the driver’s seat for a few more hours (hopefully only minutes, but I’m not holding my breath). My bright idea? I will sit in the Princess, in Nevermore until Joseph finds me – listening to the radio – drinking coffee.
Without egg rolls.
Sarah and Laney (and the boys) were sitting outside on the veranda sipping coffee when we returned. The three of us (and an amused plus two) headed straight into the dining room to snag our favorite flavor of danish before the breakfast bar closed.
On the walk back to the hotel our conversation devolved from the apologetic maple bacon scones to our general favorites among the pantheon of baked goods – cakes, cookies, pies – we covered them all. So when reached the hotel we were more than ready for second breakfast (which completely undid all the health benefits of our morning walk).
The fog continued to cling to the treetops, and from the small specks of sky we could occasionally glimpse, rain looked likely. So instead of heading back outside for another hike, we trooped to the game room with plates of danishes in our hands.
Unfortunately, we weren’t the first ones with this diversion in mind, the room was filled to the brim with people putting together puzzles and playing games (with a very few were reading books). Claiming a table nearest the window Wood went in search of an unclaimed board game which still possessed all its pieces.
Which, at this point, was as likely as finding the Marx Brothers’ missing first film next to the Yahtzee box (containing four of its’ five dice) on the top shelf.
Never one to give up, Wood won the day when he ferreted out a full deck of cards wedged in the back of the games closet and decided to teach the others (plus one kid who was hanging around our table hoping to score a danish) how to play bridge. (Wood and I acquired a taste for bridge from my Aunt Pearl and her cronies – our love of pastries rose from his Gran’s kitchen).
Since only four can play at a time, I sat the first rubber out – which as much as I love playing – worked for me. Pulling the armchair closer to to the fireplace I propped my feet up on the hearth and took stock of all the good things surrounding me – a raspberry danish & coffee at my elbow, a warm fire toasting my toes and my friend’s laughter ringing in my ears.
My Stalker is The Pink Lady who is a Woman In White.
Despite the denting my calm took under this progression, I forced myself aboard this uncomfortable train of thought.
After a few moments of watching the flames dance, I closed my eyes and threw my head back, rhythmically bouncing it against the top cushion of the chair. All the while making a concerted effort not to let loose a string of profanities (there were kids around after all) when I figured out exactly where I stood.
My quandary placed me directly on the corner of Bitter & Sweet.
They say all roads lead to Rome. Perhaps that’s true. But I am starting to suspect some masochistic engineer figured out a way to steer travelers repeatedly thru this junction on the way to the heart of the empire. Or maybe these crossroads are scattered at alternating intervals along the road, so you don’t realize where you stand until you look up and read the sign. Either way, I find myself here with disturbing regularity, a corner I do not want to frequent.
This damned corner with its’ loathsome words is where Romeo and Juliet find love but are forever separated by a name. Where dreamers can follow their dreams but are required to make money. This is where my opposition to the Woman In White has placed me.
No one would ever know if I just left her on the mountain.
Even with her increased vita, chances are she didn’t possess enough energy to actually kill Mr. Grindle (and didn’t he deserve a broken leg every now and again?). Clearly, the locals know about the Woman In White and have taken measures against her. So the odds of her coaxing anyone else off the path are pretty low. And the salt will render the cairn inert eventually. Probably.
Walking away would allow me to avoid all risk of discovery.
So much easier to let sleeping dogs lie.
But it’s not the right thing to do.
Fortunately, I still had my raspberry danish and a lukewarm cup of coffee to remove the bitter taste from my tongue.
The best way to start your day!
Swimming reluctantly up to consciousness, it took several moments for my brain to register the stomping outside my door as the reason why Mr. Sandman’s spell broke. Burrowing into the warm covers, I hoped a speck of his sand remained to help.…
….When the shouting started just outside my window I gave up all pretense of sleep, unrolling myself I headed to the shower, trying to drown out the voices of the unhappy campers.
When I emerged fresh as a daisy from my shower (though much less perky), I deduced the Party of Much Yelling would no be heading out anytime soon. The continued cacophony showed no sign of abating, Sue’s flashlight died; it wasn’t Rudy’s fault that the extension bar of his pack was missing; Paul couldn’t find his first aid kit; Why couldn’t they take a boat there and skip the hike.
I decided if this many individuals were up at the crack of dawn coffee must be present somewhere. Where else could they be getting enough energy to shout this much? Descending the stairs in search of this magical bean based elixir, barely controlled chaos met my eyes when my toes touched the lobby.
Some sort of school outing was the only explanation I could think of as to why there were so many teenagers milling about at such an hour. And from my count, the adults did not enjoy majority status in the Party of Much Yelling. On the upside, their frenetic faces lent credence to my coffee theory, the artificial stimulation it provided was their only hope of winning the day.
Following my barely firing logic circuits, I searched. The dining room? Nope. The lobby? No dice. But I did notice a trend, a steady stream of parental types sipping steaming cups while walking thru the front entrance. Deducing my precious first cup lay just outside the doors I brushed past the other adults into the crisp morning air. Where I beheld the most beautiful sight, an island of sixteen airpots, featuring eight different kinds of brewed coffee.
A sullen teen tried to cut in front of me, but the judicious use of the stink eye (I might smell like a rose, but my attitude currently featured their thorns) sent him scurrying to the end of the line.
Cup in hand, the aroma helped me focus on the world beyond the shouty people. And the first thing I spied? Wood sitting alone at the end of the porch wholly engrossed in his phone.
Weaving my way past yet more teens, I managed to catch a glimpse of the screen a moment before he noticed me.
Me (mock sternness): “Laney will kill you if she gets a hold of your phone.”
Wood (pleading): “It’s the Manchester Derby, and she isn’t awake yet.”
Me (laughing): “Lucky for you.”
Wood: “It’s the eightieth minute…”
Me: “Watch your football. I have coffee to drink.”
So we sat together enjoying our harmless vices. I thought herding kittens posed a monumental chore, watching ten adults trying to wrangle thirty adolescents? They wished for some as simple as kittens! Then it hit me. The kids weren’t kittens. They were squirrels! The adults were attempting to corral squirrels. The Squirrels sheer exuberance meant they could not stay silent or still long enough for the chaperones to get a handle on the situation. Without any stake in the dramedy and a cup of coffee in hand – the scene provided high entertainment.
Wood’s ‘whoop’ of victory pulled me back (his cheer didn’t even dent the din around us).
Me: “City win?”
Wood: “Of course.”
Me: “Laney will skin you if she figures out you’re watching matches up here. How are you, by the way?”
Wood (slipping the phone into his pocket): “The office bought satellite phones, so they could get a hold of us if something urgent crops up with a patient while on vacation. I reimburse them back for the data I use. Kids wake you up?”
Me (sipping my coffee): “Yeah. My window faces this way and stealthy they are not. But neither were we at their age.”
While we reminisced about days gone by the Party of Much Yelling’s shouting reached a crescendo. When the Adults of the Party of Much Yelling were satisfied they’d collected all their Squirrels, the entire party put forth one last effort to wake the whole hotel at this unholy hour, before filing onto the path and out of sight. A stunned silence descended in their wake. Even the birds took a moment to savor it before a tentative chirp tested the morning air. The only artificial noise left? The soft gurgling of the coffee pot under my fingertips, The Party of Much Yelling emptied them all, well not entirely – the decaf remained untouched.
Wood and I wandered back inside looking for a refill, spying a pot behind the front desk we went to beg for a refill. Fortunately for us, Sam was more than willing to oblige.
Sam: “So what’s on the agenda for you guys today?”
Me (adding milk to my coffee): “I thought I might rent a boat and hike Pumpkin Mountain again. Meditation is easier without dogs…”
Sam (tensing up while shaking his head): “We aren’t renting any boats today. We don’t want you to meet The Pink Lady.”