Tag Archives: Uncle

2.35 Lillith vs. Morticia

Daily Harvest - Halloween mockupjpeg

(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. 

2.34.b Olly Olly Oxen Free

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(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…”

2.34.a Kick The Can – Becker Style

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(Just a portion of the offerings from Family Feast Day!)

Other than six memorable hours spent helping Mr. Chen locate his lucky fishing lure, he swore he’d left in a rental boat at the bait shop at the lake – the rest of my week flew by in a blur of parking lots, newspapers, sandwiches, and thermoses of coffee. 

Even the Errant Orin encountered in Remembrance Park failed to cause even a flicker of electricity to arc across my toes. (Though unfortunately, that doesn’t mean as much as you’d think – as whizzing past the park at twenty-five mph on my way to pick up Mr. Fernandez, doesn’t provide the most reliable of reads.)

But never fear – things picked up again on Family Feast Day (Friday night) when I showed up at Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s wearing Squiddy (and grinned so hard I think I may have sprained a cheek muscle).

Aunt Pearl, inspired by Squiddy’s magnificence, decided an impromptu themed family photo was in order.

So following dinner (featuring bratwurst, baked beans, corn on the cob and potato salad – in case you’re curious), Aunt Pearl set about bringing her vision to life.

Her theme? International Cat Day.

Digging up from her treasure trove, that’s the envy of packrats everywhere, an array of cat-inspired outfits of varying mustiness. Jesse wore a headband with ears and a tail attached to his belt – leftover accessories from a Rye High’s production of Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Dylan and Ian sported matching t-shirts embossed with glitter and frolicking kittens – samples she’d whipped up while subbing in a junior high Home Ec. class years ago. With some help from Jesse’s partner Tad and a palette of old Halloween makeup, Dwight got his face painted like Mister Geppetto’s cat Figaro from Pinocchio. And poor Robbie, who by virtue of being the only one who could fit into it without busting a seam, wore the tabby cat onesie. Aunt Pearl uses said onesie to keep her student’s tardiness in check (if you’re late more than three times in two weeks – you must don the onesie for an entire class. Thank heavens for Squiddy. Otherwise I’d have had to shimmy into it!)

Aunt Pearl motivated my reluctant cousins into donning their respective cat costumes by withholding dessert until after the successful execution of her photographic vision. Since she’d gone all out this week, making a dark chocolate cake and homemade raspberry ice-cream, we were moderately motivated to assemble in the back garden and model for her.

Aunt Pearl (waving her hands around in an effort to convey her meaning – which may or may not actually fall in line with her words): “Robbie, stop grimacing and give me a smile! Ian, turn a little to your left so we can see the front of your shirt! Jesse, your ears are crooked, straighten them, please!”

Jesse (hollering back at her): “Mom, if any of my students get ahold of this photo, it will undermine my authority in the classroom!”

Aunt Pearl (scoping us out thru her viewfinder): “Nonsense. This shows you have a sense of humor! Now straighten those ears!”

Jesse (growling good-naturedly at me while readjusting his headband): “If this picture makes it on mom’s holiday card this year….”

Me (finishing his sentence with a giggle): “…then you’ll never fail to consider placing your Black-and-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool wager on me!”

I could practically feel my cousins roll their eyes in unison.

Aunt Pearl (looking thru her viewfinder): “Perfect! Don’t move! Now channel your inner feline and meow for the camera!”

*Click*Click*Click*

Aunt Pearl, pleased with her tableau, continued her documentation, while I felt several unexpected tugs on Squiddy. 

Me (thru stiff smiling lips): “Robbie, what on earth are you doing? You’re going to pull Squiddy off my head.”

Robbie (voice muffled): “I’m following Brando’s example and embracing my inner feline.”

Me: “What does that even mean?”

Ian (chuckling): “It means he’s nibbling on a tentacle.”

Me (placing one hand on Squiddy and using my other to try and detach my cousin): “Robbie, you brat! Stop that, I don’t want to smell your bad breath every time that arm comes near my face!”

Well, that was precisely the wrong thing to say. 

As one, my cousins turned towards me, each sporting the same impish glint in their eye, eliciting several squawks of aggravation from the direction of Aunt Pearl. Reading their intent – to nibble on and impart their own unique brand of halitosis into Squiddy’s yarned arms – I leaped forward to save my cephalopod friend. Thwarting Dylan’s initial attempt to prevent my escape, I deftly ducked under his bearhug and ran hell for leather across the yard – my cousins hot on my heels.

The boys may be quicker – but I’m craftier.

Plunging into the wilderness Uncle’s never gotten around to taming, I dodged and weaved around tree trunks and bushes, knowing their boughs would both slow the boys down and amplify the dimness of dusk. 

Hearing the closest pair of pursuing feet stumble, I took advantage of the split-second reprieve. Relying on muscle memory, I scrambled up my favorite tree, and into a bolthole, I’d used in my salad days. Though a hair snugger than I remembered, I still managed to secret myself into the heart of the tall tree where all the branches joined. 

Crouching ten feet above the ground, I strained my senses, trying to catch a hint of my cousins’ progress. While I did detect a shape or two moving slowly through the shadows below, I doubt I could have heard an elephant if it wandered on by. As the nieces and nephews – thrilled at watching us act silly and drive our parental unit to distraction – roared with laughter, called out encouragement, and shouted hints to the seekers.

We don’t see her dad! / Check around the shed! / You’ll find her Uncle Robbie! / Try by the rhododendron! / I’m guarding the bell for you guys! / Don’t think you guys are getting out of the family photo that easily!

That last one was Aunt Pearl if you hadn’t guessed. 

It didn’t take a mathematician to figure the odds of me ringing the dinner bell – with five seekers on my tail plus five pint-sized lookouts ready to rat me out – were not good.

However, this wasn’t my first rodeo.

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.

2.02 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.”

2.01 What The Cat Dragged In

2.01 no promis of fun tonight pic

Mr. Nelson (excitedly babbling): “…your niece and I were passing Nevermore when we saw him…”

Opening the front door, I heard Mr. Nelson’s enthusiastically recounting his sighting of The Grey Man to my Uncle. When he referenced my part in the story, Aunt Pearl stuck her head around the corner. She took one look at me, stepped into the hall, and picked up the phone.

Aunt Pearl (calling into the living room): “Dear, can you take Phoebe into the kitchen? She looks like a mouse the cat played with too long.”

Me (hoping to stop her dialing): “I’m fine…”

Aunt Pearl (into the phone, completely ignoring me): “Can you come over right away? Phoebe looks like she fell down a well….”

The grim set of my Uncle’s mouth when he crossed the threshold distracted me from the unflattering comparisons my Aunt continued to reel off into the phone. Without a word, he tipped his head towards the kitchen. The weight of his gaze was palatable as I shuffled past. 

Uncle (calling over his shoulder): “Help yourself to a bottle in the living room Jordie, I’ll be right back.” 

Mr. Nelson, sensing he no longer commanded anyone’s attention, attempted to follow us into the kitchen.

Uncle (rebuffing him at the door): “We’ll talk after I speak with Phoebe.”

Well, there goes all hope that they’ll let this go.

Uncle (swinging the door shut – I think on Mr. Nelson’s nose – he turned towards me): “Do I need to call Earl?”

I know the bandages on my hands made me look like the walking wounded, but why would he think I needed to talk to Earl? (Earl being a family friend and a detective for the Rye police department.) Please don’t let him be who Aunt Pearl jumped on the phone too…

Me (wearily): “What’s the fuss? I fell down and skinned my hands, like a little old lady, but other than that, I’m fine.”

Uncle (leaning against the kitchen counter and crossing his arms): “That’s the story you’re sticking with?”

Squirming like a twelve-year-old caught stealing apples from the neighbor’s tree (not that I know what that feels like), I nodded.

Uncle: “Go, look at yourself in the mirror.”

Walking over to the pantry door, I opened and stared out my reflection (the day Aunt Pearl went shopping, while wearing her blouse inside-out, saw the installation of mirrors near every exit). How on earth I was going to explain what happened without Uncle calling Earl himself?

The entire left side of my neck, above my collar, was a nasty dark purple color, and I had a feeling I knew exactly how far the bruise extended. To round out my rather colorful look, I had a goose egg on right my temple (where my face smacked into the door?) and the beginnings of quite a shiner just below it. With the white gauze currently obscuring the ends of my arms – I was quite a sight. 

Crap.

Uncle (colorlessly): “Did someone do this to you?”

Me: “I fell. I know it sounds lame, but I promise I’m fine.”

Uncle considered my words. If he didn’t believe me, I knew Aunt Pearl and Earl would feature prominently in my near future. Of course, my Aunt may have jumped the gun if the commotion coming from the front door was any indication. When Wood burst into the room, Gladstone bag in hand, relief, and trepidation (in equal parts) sang thru me.

Uncle (pushing off the counter): “Convince him, I’ll go take care of your Aunt.”

He walked out of the room and left me alone with a very angry Wood.

Wood (quickly surveying the situation): “Take off your shirt.”

Me (flabbergasted): “Excuse me?”

Wood (tightly): “You heard me. Take. Off. Your. Shirt.” 

Me (incredulous): “You are not my doctor.”

That earned me a withering look. 

Wood: “It’s either the hospital or me. Your Aunt will be thrilled to drive you there.”

Me (sulking): “I’m not taking off my bra.”

Knowing that he’d won the battle, he ignored me and started taking medical stuff out of the bag he’d placed on the kitchen table. Stepping slightly behind him, pretending I had some dignity, I grappled with my black vest and button-up. When he turned around, his doctor face was on, but I knew he was absolutely livid. Looking down at my own chest, I understood why. The vivid purple bruise on my neck morphed to an ugly blackish color. It covered almost my entire left side – from shoulder to just below my ribs and halfway across my chest. The delicate pink lacy bra I was wearing (everyone deserves to feel pretty) made the color look even more malignant.

There wouldn’t be any Guaranteed Fun tonight.

1.61 Distraction!

Praying to any god who’d listen that we could divert my Aunt’s warped sense of humor, “Good Morning Uncle!” On the other side of the screen door, my Uncle set his golf clubs down on the porch.

Wood chimed in with a mouth full of eggs and bacon, “Morning! How was golf?” Wood winced as the screen door banged loudly against the frame when my Uncle walked into the kitchen.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full Dourwood.” My Aunt reminded him for the millionth time since we were children, “Dear I was just reading to them from this morning’s police blotter.” 

A smile crept to the corners of his mouth, “Ah! I see.” 

Walking across the kitchen he put his hand on my Aunt’s shoulder (she was starting to get up) and kissed her cheek while cuffing the back of Wood’s head, he then circled the table to plant a kiss on my crown. Completing the revolution around the table, he snagged the coffee pot off the stove – filling up a cup for himself and refilling ours. With the essential tasks taken care of, he sat down across from my Aunt. 

She continued to pursue her twisted strain of conversation, “Seems the police think last night’s troubles could be a prelude to this year’s senior prank. Other than students, who else would dress up to trespass?” With this shot, my Aunt got up to fix my Uncle a plate. The instant she turned her back Wood sent my Uncle a hang-dog look while I laid my head on his shoulder and made doe eyes at him.

Happily, he helped us out, “Thank you for asking about my golf game Wood.” 

My Aunt let loose a snort then tried to pretend she was containing a sneeze.

My Uncle’s side quivered but his voice stayed even, “I kept my score relatively low today, but Earl’s game was all over the map. Seems he was on the job until the wee hours of the morning investigating a case.”

Wood and I both froze our cute appeals for help melting into sick smiles. They were serious enough about rubber ducks that they assigned a detective to investigate? 

Aunt Pearl placed a full plate in front of my Uncle, “Really? A case from last night you say?” She managed to pack in both glee and worry into her tone. 

My Uncle took a large bite of eggs, then toast and chewed them slowly while the three of us held our breath waiting for him to finish.

Peppering his eggs, he started to take another bite when my Aunt (with a touch of impatience) attempted to tease a response out of my taciturn Uncle, “Dear, what new case is Earl working on?” 

My Uncle’s sides quivered harder, “The Tiffany Grindle case took an unexpected turn.”

Distraction achieved!

Wood cocked his head, my Aunt gave him the shorthand version of Tiffany’s disappearance and subsequent reappearance. Listening to her ‘news’ all over again I tried to merge my facts with her newly unearthed information – it painted quite the picture. When she finished my Uncle picked up the conversational thread.

Putting his fork down for the moment, “Seems Grindle confessed not only to Tiffany and David Waller’s murders but to two more, a woman he dated a few years ago who strayed and a coworker who got a promotion he coveted. Seems Grindle is a very jealous man.”

“Really?” I asked. The information sent my mind reeling back to my dilemma the corner of Bitter and Sweet. Nothing warms the heart like the knowledge that you’d chosen the correct course of action.

My Uncle nodded, “Really. He seemed ready to get it off his chest. Earl reckons the anonymous tip came from him.” 

My Aunt did her best impression of an Irish Setter, “Anonymous tip?”

Smiling now my Uncle continued, “Yes, the only real loose end left. The ranger who found the remains went into the woods following information from an anonymous letter sent to him specifically. It contained GPS coordinates, pictures, a map and a statement of what he would find there. Grindle swears he never sent the letter. I tend to believe him. The letter was specific, but no prints were found on any of the papers, and it didn’t mention anything about Waller.” Shrugging off his consternation, my Uncle picked up his knife and fork and finished off the tail end of his breakfast.

Wood who looked much less bleary-eyed now asked, “This ranger, did he have a limp and an attitude?”

My Uncle’s turn to look curious, “As a matter of fact he did.”

Well, hell. Wood would make that connection.