Beatrice (mumbling around the chunk of apple she finally shoved into her mouth): “Not really.”
Unsurprised by her response, I shrugged, she would tell me about it or not. I can’t force her to spill her troubles. The slightly uncomfortable bubble created by her negative answer popped when her hand changed course from the snack plate to the brochure lying next to it.
Beatrice (opening the glossy trifold paper): “I didn’t know Nevermore hosted weddings.”
Me: “It doesn’t.”
Beatrice (tilting her head and rotating the pamphlet): “Then what am I looking at?”
Me (popping a bit of smoked cheddar in my mouth): “Can we keep this between us?”
Beatrice (leaning forward, drawing more promotional materials to her): “Yes.”
Me (snagging her glass before she could object): “Remember a few days back, when I went to Nevermore to pick up the boxes Sarah saved for me?…”
Beatrice, who apparently was only partially absorbed in reading every scrap of paper I’d put on the table, waved me forward in my story. Quietly pleased she’d found something other than her phone to focus on, I continued – after finishing my impression of a fish out of water. Apparently, only one of us can drink Pappy Van Winkle bourbon like it’s water.
Hint: It’s not me.
Me (still wheezing a bit): “I heard some rumors about Little Ben and Nevermore. When I went looking for answers, I found all this.”
Beatrice (arching an eyebrow): “Found?”
Me (squirming): “Not the point of the story.”
Beatrice, once again laughing at me without uttering a sound, motioned for me to continue.
Me (cheeks still hot): “As I was saying, what I found doesn’t make sense.”
Beatrice (glancing up): “Why?”
Me: “Because Little Ben’s only the Provisional Proprietor of Nevermore.”
Me (sliding the enlarged pictures of Little Ben’s Pipe-dream-dream-boards and Big Ben’s letter to the top of the pile): “Basically, it’s a fancy name for an acting manager/heir. It allows the Proprietor to take a step back from day-to-day operations while giving his replacement a safety net to work over. Which doesn’t work if Big Ben is gone for two years! Provided Little Ben’s timeline is accurate.”
Beatrice (interrupting my rant, squinting at the pictures): “Are all the buildings and services outlined here new?”
Me (throwing my hands up in the air): “Yes! That’s what I don’t get. If Big Ben is going to be gone for two years and give his son the latitude to rebrand Nevermore – why name him Provisional Proprietor?”
Beatrice (setting aside the photos for another brochure): “Perhaps Senior’s keeping a veto in his back pocket in case Junior goes off the rails.”
Me: “Maybe, but once again, that only works if Big Ben’s here keeping an eye on things.”
Beatrice: “What do you think of these new amenities?”
Me (picking up Beatrice’s glass again, only to find it empty): “The ideas are mostly solid, but the details undoubtedly need tweaking. They always do.”
Beatrice (starting to sort the papers into neat piles, tossing Little Ben’s new business card to the side): “So Junior dreams big but stumbles over the nitty-gritty, correct? So what happens if the Sunny Valley Farm and Cemetery’s renovations and business plan go off without a huge hitch. Thanks in no small part to your efforts?”
Me (trying to figure out my roommate’s method of sorting): “He’ll gain confidence.”
Beatrice (still shuffling): “Is two years enough time for his grand plan to come to fruition?”
Beatrice: “Do you think Junior wants his rebranding complete before Senior comes back?”
Leaning my head back, I squeezed my eyes closed, ignoring the squelchy feeling in my stomach. Recalling Wood’s ambitious plans for Doctor Hansen’s practice, after the elder statesman retires.
Me (opening my eyes): “I think he wants to put his own stamp on Nevermore, make it his own. So yes, I think he does.”
Pushing away from the table, her sorting finished, Beatrice, fetched a new glass and the remnants of the good bottle of bourbon from the cupboard. Setting the second glass in front of me, she splashed a reasonable amount of the amber-colored liquid into each before speaking.
Beatrice (Mona Lisa smile in place): “Drink this, it’ll help.”
Beatrice: “You’re missing the bigger picture.”
Me: “Bigger picture?”
Beatrice (tapping the nearest of the thirteen uneven piles of paper): “How is Junior going to get all of these improvements, three of which are pretty significant, built? Given that it’s unlikely Senior’s absence will extend the full two years?”
Looking, really looking at the thirteen unequal piles, the acid in my stomach started churning – the gulp of Kentucky’s finest didn’t help a whit.
Beatrice (taking my swig as confirmation of her summation): “Simultaneously construction. It’s the only way I can see Junior finishing his “rebranding” before Senior returns.”
Lowering my head onto the cool tabletop (after downing a less reasonable amount of bluegrass hooch), I let the ideas wash over me; How on earth am I going to explain this to the Residents? Or Joseph? And keep everyone calm, cool, and collected? Even worse, what if he moves some graves? Dear Gods above and below, what if Mazy’s squirrel buddy gets hurt…
Beatrice (grimly turning a photo of a budget page towards me): “That’s only a small part of the bigger picture…”
Me (raising my head): “That’s the small part?”
Beatrice: “How is he going to pay for it?”
Me (staggering out of my chair): “I have to make some calls….”
Beatrice: “It’s after midnight, no one in the know will be happy to take your call.”
Me (dropping back into my chair): “Well crap.”
Beatrice (picking up our glasses and putting them into the sink): “Sleep on it. You’ll ask better ones tomorrow.”
Me (rubbing my eyes): “You’re right. You’re right.”
Unaccustomed to ingesting that much bourbon in one sitting (and feeling weary/fuzzy for it), I left Little Ben’s rebranding plans on the table and shuffled out of the kitchen after Beatrice, shutting off the radio and lights as I went.