Tag Archives: story

2.08 Needs Must When The Devil Drives

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Leaving a still laughing Leo to his work, I entered the stairwell for the fourth time today when the muffled click of kitten heels on hardwood hit my ears, pausing my ascent on the second stair. Only one person wears heels around here…

Lottie (hitting the push bar of the door above): “I’m heading to Sarah’s office now….Yes…Yes, I’ll walk Phoebe up to the lobby to meet you…back in a minute.”

Making a split-second decision, I ducked into the shadowy corner under the stairwell to wait for Lottie to walk past.

When playing hide-and-seek with an unknowing seeker, you can take advantage of more blatant hiding spots. But the fundaments still need following; hold your breath, do your best impression of a statue, attempt to reduce your mass to that of a mouse and chant ‘don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me-don’t-see-me’ in your head. Blending in with your surroundings is a plus, but not always an available option, today all I could do was offer up a silent thanks to past me for choosing to wear a dark woolen coat instead of my bright orange gore-tex.

Not even Lottie could miss my imitation of a pumpkin.

Why am I hiding from Little Ben’s secretary? Leo’s scuttlebutt raised a number of questions, none of which would get answered if we spoke in front of an audience. But in private? Perhaps I could pry out a few. 

(And only a little to do with the fact that Lottie’s the pineapple to my pizza.)

Listening to Lottie descend the stairs, I enacted the principles of a champion hider and was only a little light-headed from the lack of oxygen when she finally past by me and out the door. Counting to five after it swung shut, I scampered swiftly up the stairs (thanking every lucky star in the sky my sneakers had dried enough to stop squeaking). 

In two slightly wheezy (don’t tell Wood) minutes flat, I breezed past Lottie’s empty desk and into Little Ben’s new digs. When my entrance failed to elicit any expletives about barging in unannounced, I leaned back against the door, flipped the lock, and caught my breath.

Usually, the Proprietor’s Office brings a smile to my face. 

With three out of four walls featuring floor-to-ceiling built-in bookcases filled with midnight blue bound books who’s bindings combine to create a mosaic – an unkindness of ravens taking flight from gnarled leafless trees under a full moon in silver filagree. How could you not smile at such a sight? (Big Ben never lends out these books ever – I’ve asked).

But today, this awe-inspiring biblio vista filled me with fury. 

Skirting around a heaping conference table, I confronted the fifteen feet of display boards obscuring my favorite sight in all of Nevermore. 

Well, I found Little Ben’s dream boards…….taped to the shelves. Big Ben will mount his son’s hide to the wall if he damages any of the books.

Intending to find a footstool to determine the damage, my eyes fell away from the offending adhesive and locked onto the papers pasted on the poster boards themselves.  

Panic quickly supplanted ire as the series of adverts, slogans, sketches, maps, and action items, Little Ben had plastered across his unusually professional dream boards, penetrated my brain. If accurate, the bisecting timeline placed Sunny Valley Farm & Pet Cemetery as the first significant step in rebranding Nevermore. 

(Even more curious? How spot-on Leo’s intelligence proved. My termination appeared as an action item dated two months prior to the date Little Ben handed me my pink slip – between other ticked off items of ‘secure financing for MacGregor Farm purchase’ and ‘shut off the boiler in Club House’. Seriously, how does Leo do it?)

Taking a deep breath and steeling my nerves, I focused on the problem at hand – time. Little Ben and/or Lottie could return at anytime since I’d yet to steal my very own TARDIS, I needed a way to examine this in detail later… Whipping out my phone, I started snapping pictures of every slip of paper featured on his Pipe-Dream-Dream-Board. Concentrating on the context and not the content – kept me from getting distracted – because even skimming them caused my insides to wobble about uncomfortably. Rapidly finishing my photo documentation, I turned my camera onto the conference table behind me. 

Avoiding the two obvious workstations (no need to call attention to my unsanctioned scrutiny), I focused on the binders. Trying to keep my hands steady, I photographed the title pages, table of contents, and anything labeled ‘budget’. About the time I started perusing the boxes stacked next to the conference table, the sound of kitten heels accompanied by a heavier tread reached me thru the door. 

With one ear, I listened to Little Ben giving Lottie further instructions, while frantically pulling the tops off the five boxes of promotional materials and stuffing one folder from each in my PULP tote. After replacing the box tops, I pulled the fourteen-foot scarf off my neck and crammed it around the folders in my bag. Then I flew across the room, tossing the tote, my coat, and purse into one of the guest chairs. 

The locked door bought me just enough time to slip behind the Proprietor’s desk and watch (in the reflection of the floor to ceiling windows) Little Ben’s reaction when it dawned on him who’d spent an indefinite amount of unchaperoned time in his office.

Because Leo’s information dovetailed disturbingly with Little Ben’s Pipe-Dream-Dream-Boards to raise one singularly critical question…

Where in the world is Big Ben?

2.07 Bad News Everyone!

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Parting ways with Sarah at the stairwell, we set out to complete our separate missions – the only hitch in the giddy-up? 

Little Ben wasn’t in his office. 

To clarify, not only was his person missing – but so was his desk, dream boards, and Lottie (his secretary).

Which prompts the question, what the hell? 

Unwilling to waste my time cooling my heels in front of an obviously unoccupied office, I strolled down the corridor, peering thru doors hoping to catch someone between calls. But unfortunately, at three pm, on a stormy Friday afternoon, no one was around. 

Which suited me just fine. 

In Nevermore, there are two desks which remain occupied during business hours – Reception and Receiving – and one of those desks is manned by a veritable fount of office gossip, Leo Wasinski. Anyone could tell me where to find Little Ben. But Leo could tell me what prompted the office switch, details on the move and probably what Little Ben had eaten for breakfast. (Plus I was absolutely dying to see what enthusiastic but odd creation his knitting needles had festooned his frame with today.) 

Beelining it back downstairs, I found the gentleman right where I knew he would be, working diligently at his desk on the loading dock. And not for the first time, I wondered how exactly he managed to acquire his seemingly inexhaustible stream of insider information – while sitting in plain view of anyone walking by.

Receiving is many things, but private is not one of them.

A squeaky hinge alerted Leo to my entrance into his territory, “Hey boss!”

Beholding his hat, it took a moment to frame a proper reply – as it seemed I’d interrupted it in the midst of strangling and devouring him whole.

Me (laughing): “What is on your head!”

Leo (his grin hitting two hundred watts): “Pete!”

Me (rolling my eyes): “Hello, Pete!”

If you’re Leo; it’s perfectly normal for your winter headgear to unhinge its jaw and start swallowing the top of your skull, while its body coils around its “snack’s” neck in order to choke Leo into submission. (It did look really warm & fuzzy and surprisingly cute, Leo is very talented – but twisted.)

Leo (chuckling): “Pete’s an endangered striped whipsnake. The Naturalist Club is raising money and awareness by selling handmade hats and scarves featuring endangered animals to fund our move. This is my contribution to the cause…”

Me: “Wait. Rewind, the Naturalist Club is moving?”

Leo (dimming): “Hadn’t you heard? You’re not the only one Ben’s booted from Nevermore. He gave the Club three months to move and cut off access to the grounds for our programs.” 

Me (shocked): “Little Ben doesn’t have the authority to do that.”

Placing a boot against the metal stool next to his desk, he shoved it towards me.

Leo (no longer smiling): “Sit.” 

I took the hint.

Leo: “Little Ben’s the Provisional Proprietor.”

Holy mother forking shirt balls. 

Me: “What? How? When?”

Leo: “The day after you moved out of the Cottage, he switched offices and made the announcement. He’s been holed up there ever since, ‘planning Nevermore’s future’. Last week he started in earnest, offering early retirement to all the old-timers, axed the apprentice program, asked the Club to leave, and he’s scheduled a meeting with the head of the Historical Society for this coming Tuesday. Make of that what you will.”

Me (voice tight): “So he’s eliminating all the programs I pulled in.”

Leo (eyeing me): “Pretty much. He’s also nixed the plans to certify Nevermore as a Natural Habitat.”

Taking a deep breath, I shoved my fury and four-letter opinions down towards my toes. Leo may have been the first person I hired as Caretaker, who knits marginally inappropriate attire for work and whose gregarious nature makes him a riot to hang with – but at heart, he’s a gossip. 

The last thing I needed to do was blow my top like Vesuvius – in front of him. 

Me (evenly): “Has anyone brought this up with Big Ben?”

Leo: “Can’t, he hasn’t been home since he left for vacation. Little Ben’s promotion came via letter.”

Me (eyes wide): “Wait, Big Ben didn’t come back for the holidays?” 

Leo: “Nope.”

Well, that explains why he hadn’t called to wish me a Happy Christmas last year.

Me: “Is he okay?”

Leo (shrugging): “As far as I know.”

Me: “Well, crap. At least this answers my question.”

Leo raised an eyebrow.

Me (getting up): “Where Little Ben’s office is.”

Leo (smiling again stood with me): “Another interesting item? I have it on good authority Big Ben’s letter arrived well before Little Ben issued you your pink slip.”

Not sure what to make of that morsel of information, I decided to change the subject.

Me (trying to pull off cheerful): “I’ve never asked, but do you ever make custom hats for people?”

Leo (cocking his head): “Sometimes, why?”

Me (a wicked smile wreathed my face): “I believe I’m in need of a giant….”

Leo split a seam when I described exactly what I was hoping he could knit up for me, after some technical questions and measurements he assured me he could make my vision come to life. 

My cousins will never forget about me in the Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool again! Woot!

Rain!

So this should give some context for the amount of rain that came down from the sky for several hours today…this is the runoff from a nearby building…and this wasn’t even when it was raining the hardest!

2.05 What Wood Doesn’t Know Won’t Kill Me

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The rain beat mercilessly against the Princess’s windscreen, leaning forward, I struggled to see anything thru the deluge. The wipers were doing their level best, but visibility still sucked. As omens go, I’m pretty sure someone is telling me to go back home.

But after nineteen days of hiding out in the Lavender Lady, waiting for my face (among other portions of my anatomy) to resume something akin to a natural hue, I needed a new set of walls to look at, hence my current unsanctioned expedition in the Princess.

The only real positive to come out of the aftermath of my confrontation with the Woman In White (beyond the demonstration of my friends and family’s affections, and you know, stopping her), was winning the Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool. 

In an unexpected, unprecedented, and insulting twist, Uncle revealed that no one placed a wager on me ruining the next family portrait! Which sent the pot into immediate adjudication, i.e., Aunt Pearl, who awarded it to me because I’d flown so far under everyone’s radar. Happily, the rude windfall sorted out my rent & bills while keeping me in chicken wings during my “seclusion”.

(I mean seriously not one of my cousins bet on me? I’ve sported my fair share of lumps, bumps, and bruises over the years! Gggrrr…)

But back to me driving thru a monsoon in the Princess.

The night Wood patched me up in my Aunt & Uncle’s kitchen, he extracted two promises as payment for services rendered. The first? My solemn word that I would follow doctor’s orders (i.e., his) to the letter until he pronounced me fit as a fiddle. Which, other than embarrassing bouts of shirtless poking and prodding (which found me unearthing, from the bottom of the undies-drawer, my only full-coverage-granny-style brassiere), were easily followed. 

Until this morning, when the Stir-Crazies came to visit, accompanied their annoying cousins Ants-In-The-Pants and Cabin-Fever. 

Exacerbating the brouhaha, these unwanted visitors were causing in my psyche. My darling friends, in their zeal to help me heal – furnished me with anything and everything they thought I might require (Beatrice brought books from PULP, Laney supplied takeout and Uncle brought over his chessboard). Which inadvertently, but successfully, stripped me of any reason/excuse to leave the Lavender Lady. 

Until an hour ago. 

The Golden Ticket to the magical world of adventure outside the Non-Judgmental-Elastic-Waistband-Pants-Land? A sour email from Little Ben complaining about my “boxes of old junk” cluttering up Sarah’s Domain & Depository. 

Normally, I’d let his grumbling roll off my back, like water off a duck, but the way things stand right now? It wouldn’t be politic to intentionally irritate him. What if he started paying attention to my skulking around Nevermore? Things could get unnecessarily sticky.

Thus with my justifications firmly in place, confident in my ability to talk my way out of trouble if Wood found out about my expedition (he’d only prohibited driving FLYT fares). The Princess and I motored towards the main gates of Nevermore at a perfectly respectable hour……under a National Weather Service Winter Storm Warning. (Which adds a certain zing to the adventure! Don’t you agree?)

Pulling in next to a maintenance truck, I took a moment to study (as best I could) the vintage neon sign of The Three Roses (Nevermore’s onsite flower shop). The high winds made me ridiculously glad Little Ben had finally been persuaded to refurbish it two summers ago (it could probably withstand a tornado now).

Unable to stall any longer, I scampered from the Princess thru the automatic doors of the main building. Which inadvertently placed me on a collision course with Nevermore’s Chief Grounds Keeper. Luckily, Ira possesses excellent reflexes because I didn’t see him in my mad dash.

Ira (a smile creasing his face): “Phoebe? You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

Not counting Big Ben, Ira’s Nevermore’s longest-tenured employee (he has me beat by twenty-five years).

Me (pushing my hood away from my face, returning his smile): “Right back at you! How are things?”

Ira (glancing over his shoulder and lowering his voice a notch): “Fair to middling, but I can’t talk now. Call me soon, and I’ll buy you a beer after work.”

Me (spidey senses tingling): “I’ll hold you to that.”

Tipping his cap, he walked out the doors, while I pondered his troubling words for a moment. 

Recalling my original objective, and hoping to pull off the secondary goal of avoiding detection by Little Ben and his secretary/spy Lottie, I hustled towards the setting of my recent spat of bad dreams. All the while silently cursing my less than stealthy sneakers. As predicted, the notorious stretch of linoleum bordered by plain beige walls looked just as dull as I knew it would. This Proof of Blandness satisfied the small reservations my mind insisted on toying around with about coming down to the scene of The Confrontation. 

It didn’t hurt that my sneakers squeaked so much with every step I felt like an awkward participant in a dance party attended solely by boisterous but invisible mice.

2.04 The Black-And-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool

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Familiar Voice One: “Did you pick her?”

Click.

Familiar Voice Two: “Not sure I remember who I put my money on. Its’ been over a year since the last payout.”

Click. Click. Click.

Familiar Voice Three: “Someone’s going to get paid! She’s the dark horse.”

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Familiar Voice Four: “Can’t wait until Dylan gets here, and Dad opens the envelope.”

Click. Click. Click. Click.

Me (cracking my left eye open just a slit): “You are going to wear out the shutter on that camera.”

Robbie (unrepentant): “Morticia! Did we wake you?”

My cousins (in descending order Jesse, Dylan, Ian, Dwight, and Robbie) agree with Wood that the nickname Morticia fits me better than my given one of Phoebe.

Me (staring blearily up at four out of five of my cousins crowding around the bed): “Yes. What are you guys doing here? And why is Dylan on his way?”

Jesse (continuing to snap pictures of me): “Mom texted everyone that the Black-and-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool was paying out today!” 

Fantastic.

The Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool is one of our clan’s seriously cracked institutions, inspired by Aunt Pearl and observed by my cousins, their spouses, and me. 

On Thanksgiving Day six years ago, while arranging us in that year’s woodland-inspired family photo, Aunt Pearl let out a gusty sigh and thanked us for finally giving her her-heart’s-desire. We were baffled. None of us had any announcements pertaining to grandkids, promotions, or winning a marathon. So what did we give her? Besides each of us wearing (with minimal grousing) a sweater sporting a cuddly woodland creature on its chest? (At least she’d given up making us dress up as the woodland creatures. I feel sorry for my nieces and nephews.) 

The Answer: A group photo unmarred by bruises, gauze, or plaster-encased limbs.

(Personally, I don’t believe the addition of crutches, slings, or the occasional brace really detracts from these tableaus of mortification she insists on and includes in her annual Christmas letters – but I digress.)

My cousins and I thought her claim pure exaggeration. During dinner, we went round and round with Aunt Pearl, until in a fit of exasperation, she pulled out every photo album in the house (there were a dauntingly large number of them) and challenged us to find single unblemished holiday, any holiday would due, photo. Which, much to my Aunt’s disgust (and due to her excellent pie, Uncle’s smooth bourbon and the overall level of tryptophan), evolved into a bout of reminiscing over all the stupid shirt we did which unintentionally mucked up Aunt Pearl’s carefully planned and themed snapshots. 

Idle speculation from Jesse’s partner Tad compounded her indignation when he wondered who’d be the next one to mess up a family photo. The question caused instantaneous Bedlam when we all pointed at each other and loudly declared why our chosen-one would be “The One” to complete the deed. 

Then Dwight came up with a brilliant idea. 

To prove who guessed correctly and therefore won – we’d write our predictions down, put them in an envelope, seal it up and wait until one of us showed for a holiday sporting a cane, band-aid, or splint. To make things interesting, each of us stuck in a hundred bucks in, thus establishing the Black And Blue Becker Betting Pool (in case you’re curious, Dylan triggered the first payout by showing up the following Easter with his left arm encased in a cast).

The crucial detail here? You must be present to win.

It doesn’t seem like Aunt Pearl totally bought whatever Wood’s explanation was last night – so she called in the cavalry. 

Me (struggling to untangle myself from the blankets): “But Chinese New Year isn’t until next week.”

Uncle refuses to celebrate New Year’s Eve or Day, claiming seven days isn’t enough time to recover from his Christmas hangover. (I think he got tired of the squabbling over who had to don Baby New Years’ diaper for the photo.) So we now celebrate Chinese New Year with our neighbors, the Lu’s, instead (much to everyone’s satisfaction). 

Ian (drily): “You think that shiner will be gone by then?” 

Me (mumbling): “Maybe if I put a steak on it?”

Finally prevailing over the blankets and stiff muscles I sat up, the collective hiss from the four boys cut off the rest of my reply. Jesse even stopped snapping pictures (we record every injury responsible for a payout, it’s not as weird as it sounds). Looking down, I realized the scoop neck tank I wore to bed last night gave them a fair idea of the sheer square footage my bruise covered.

Dwight (recovering first): “You’re going to need an entire cow to cover that sucker.”

Robbie (sarcasm dripping off his words): “What happened? Purple hair too passé now? Decided to dye your skin instead?” 

Me (rolling my eyes): “No. A colossal land squid engineered on the Island of Doctor Cousteau attacked me! The Doctor set the enormous invertebrate on my trail after I uncovered his dastardly plan to steal Rye’s entire water reservoir to create an aquatic inland base. Of course, I foiled Cousteau’s evil agenda, but not before he told Squiddy to ink me! Fighting him is how I got banged up and dyed.”

Several beats past while my cousins considered the merits of my explanation.

Jesse (laughing): “The use of a historical figure, a cephalopod, and transforming a classic science fiction story to suit was inspired! Nine out of ten stars!”

Aunt Pearl may have called in the calvary – but we’ve hurt ourselves enough over the years that we don’t fess up to how it actually happened – because it’s usually really dull. Walked into a bulldozer while texting. Tripped on our own shoelace, dog, or second base. Got punched in the eye by a three-year-old. None of these make good stories. So unless we lose consciousness or hospitalization occurs, we don’t fess up to how a payout worthy injury actually occurs.

That being said, I was pushing the limits of the acceptable non-disclosure range of injuries. 

Which explains my cousin’s current close quarters hovering.

Me (smiling): “Only nine? Well, then I’m not going to lift up my shirt so you can record the magnificence of Squiddy’s inking!”

This was met with a chorus of boos and laughter.

2.03 The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth

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So Wood took ballet. 

I wonder if his Gran taped his recitals…I bet she did. 

The glimmerings of a party started percolating. We could watch all of Wood’s performances in sequence while eating potato salad, pasta, and wings. The wings would, of course, require a plethora of sauces, Thai sweet chili, Kansas City bbq, Hawaiian, Korean bbq, teriyaki, maple-chipotle, ginger-scallion, mole, tandoori, honey-mustard…

Pulling myself physically from the visions of plum sauce dancing in my head, my mind slid back to the man winding cotton around my wounds. 

Do they teach conversational wizardry in medical school? Sounds like a class Wood would ace, it’s probably an elective. Because trading truth for truth feels like a tactic discovered by Hippocrates (Father of Western Medicine). Which he then handed down to his students, who handed it down to their students, and on thru generations until it landed in a modern medical text as Chapter Seventeen – Securing The Truth: Ten Ways to Sway Your Patient.

What’s worse? It’s working.

The thought of paying Wood’s twenty-year-old Twinkle-Toes Revelation with a bunch of lame excuses made me feel rotten to the core. Especially since I’ve kept my knack a secret from him since the day we met…

Me (sighing): “How did you know I’d gotten hurt at Nevermore tonight?”

Wood: “Logic. It’s the only place where you wouldn’t call anyone for help. Sit still for a minute.”

With a snick of his scissors, he finished up my new wrappings. 

Me: “You’re right, I did happen at Nevermore.”

While I cast about for a way, to tell the truth, without telling the whole truth. Wood continued to ride the silence stretching between us (another tip from chapter seventeen, I’m sure). 

Me (watching him clean up): “So here’s the thing, I can’t tell you what happened.”

Yanking (and thankfully cracking) a can of cola from the fridge, he thumped it down in front of me, then dropped some impressively large pills next to it.

Wood (curtly): “Take these.”

Me: “But I can tell you why.”

Wood, after handing me my button-up, sat down and started balancing his chair on its back legs (a habit which Aunt Pearl’s been trying to break for years) while watching me thru narrow eyes. 

Me (fumbling with my sleeve): “Ever wonder why I’m still trying to save Nevermore from Little Ben? And Little Ben From himself?”

Wood: “Loyalty to his father?”

Me (now floundering with my buttons): “That’s part of it…”

Wood (softly): “Because you’re related to some of the residents there?”

He knew about the Residents? Panic lanced thru my stomach until it struck me who Wood was tactfully alluding too. Blinking rapidly, I focused on our different definitions of the word, which permitted the knots in my middle to slacken.

Me (deciding I’d buttoned enough buttons to pass muster, I chuckled without any humor): “That’s where it started, a newly minted nine-year-old’s melodramatic promise, to always take care of them, the best I could.”

Wood (lowering his chair onto all fours): “Those were extenuating circumstances…”

Me (wondering if a bruise turns colors when you blush): “Yes. Well. I never forgot about it. So when Big Ben put me in charge of Nevermore’s internal operations, basically everyone above and below ground, my promise expanded with my promotion. Which includes, no matter how annoying he is, Little Ben.”

Wood started to say something – but I cut him off – if I stopped now, I’d never have the courage to sail this close to the whole truth again.

Me (rushing): “I know what you’re thinking, but I can’t just abandon my promise just because Little Ben handed me walking papers. That’s not how it works. Tonight, these {waving hands} happened seeing those promise thru, and before you ask, I can’t promise you it won’t happen again.”

Leaning back, Wood stared at the ceiling processing. I tried and failed to rest my head on my crossed arms (seems bending at the waist isn’t for me at the moment, this should make picking up groceries/luggage/cat carriers for my FLYT fares exciting).

Wood (leaning towards me): “These promises, they’re what really prompted your sudden need to hike up Pumpkin Mountain?” 

Crap. Crap. Crap. Did he make the connection between the Fall Foliage Tour and Tiffany Grindle’s anonymous tipster? It didn’t matter, he’d know if I lied. 

Me (sighing): “Yes.”

Wood (nodding): “Okay.”

Me (wary): “Okay?”

Wood (meeting my gaze): “I’ll smooth thing over with Uncle and Aunt” Pearl.

Relief swept thru me (or perhaps the painkillers kicked in – it could go either way) and put a smile onto my face.

Wood (returning mine with a small sly one of his own): “Oh, don’t thank me yet, we still need to settle your tab.”

2.02 The Twinkle Toes Review

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(I imagine these were the cliffs Wood imagined I was pushed off of…)

Wood: “Sit. Tell me what happened.”

Following his directive, I took a seat on the table and stared at the floor while Wood did the doctor thing. First listening to my heart and lungs, then testing my ribs, making sure nothing was broken, and finally examining the bruise.

Me: “Wood, I fell…”

Wood (snorting): “Really? Who pushed you off the cliff?”

He continued his examination and waited for my response. Since I had no way of adequately explaining a bruise of this magnitude, I continued to flounder.

Wood (prodding me): “I’m your best friend first and your doctor second – I won’t rat you out. But I am also not going to tell your Aunt and Uncle there’s nothing to worry about if you don’t tell me the truth.”

He waited for a beat for my response. 

Wood: “This happened at Nevermore, didn’t it.”

Inspiration (or perspiration, hard to tell at the moment) struck, perhaps there’s a workaround…

Me (looking him in the eye): “Do you remember when we were fifteen, and you sprained your ankle really bad? But you wouldn’t tell me how it happened? You just asked me to trust you that it was a silly accident?”

Still pressing on various portions of my anatomy and asking ‘if that hurt.’ Which of course it did because my torso sported a bruise approximately the size of Montana.

Wood (guardedly): “I do.” 

Me: “I’m asking you to trust me. This isn’t a case of abuse or something worse. The goose egg and black eye happened when I slipped on some rock salt, which caused me to lose my balance and my face to bounce off a door. My hands got messed up when I got up from where I landed in the salt.”

Wood (starting to unwind my wraps): “And the bruise on your torso? It certainly didn’t happen by getting your foot caught in a coil of rope while practicing a pirouette right before your ballet recital. And who bandaged you up? Were they hoping you’d audition for The Mummy?”

Joseph was rather exuberant in his bandaging job.

Me: “That’s an oddly specific reference. Wait, are you trying to tell me you took ballet? That’s how you nearly broke your ankle? Ow!”

Concentrating very hard on the gauze pads on my palms (hopefully attempting to remove them with as little pain as possible – but I wasn’t holding my breath), his answer to my question sounded distracted. 

Wood: “It helped me with my footwork on the soccer pitch.” 

Curiosity ate me up.

Me: “How long did you stick with it? Why didn’t you tell me? I would have come and cheered you on! OW! What are you doing to my hand?” 

Gently prodding, the now oozing divots, he looked thoughtful.

Wood: “There’s something in this one. I took ballet for five years, Gran was the only one who knew, and I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think your homemade foam finger would be appreciated by the rest of the audience.”

Me (loftily stating fact): “My foam finger was epic and appreciated by all.”

When he started excavating into my flesh, all I could say/yell was ‘OW!’ which caused Aunt Pearl to inquire, thru the door, if Wood needed help torturing the truth from me. (Can you believe the woman teaches Sunday School?)

Me (trying to distract myself from what Wood was doing): “Hold on, when did you go to ballet class? How did….were they on Sundays? When Uncle and I went on our Safaris?”

Wood (holding what he found in my palm up to the light and inspecting it): “Yes.”

Proving how much the rest of me ached, I hadn’t noticed the extra sting of the leftover salt until Wood relieved me of it.

Me: “Seriously, why didn’t you tell me?”

Wood (a ghost of a smile passed over his lips while he concentrated on cleaning my wound): “I was a freshman in high school, the starting forward on the varsity soccer team and angling for a college scholarship. I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously if they knew the secret to my success.”

Me: “But I could have helped! Choosing music or making costumes! We could have had so much fun! I wouldn’t have told anyone, you know that!”

I saw the trap snap closed the second the words left my mouth. 

Conversational. Wizard.

Wood (carefully applying ointment): “Well, that bit you in the ass, didn’t it.”

Me: “Little bit.”

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