I found this sign taking Mrs. Lebondowsky home later today…
I found this sign taking Mrs. Lebondowsky home later today…
Still in shock that T.V. dinners are Laney’s secret vice – Wood set over this photo as proof! Though the second photo makes me wonder if she’s alone in this vice…
(The corner doesn’t allow photography….)
Why am I standing on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet?
Today was supposed to be nothing but fun, food, and home movies – not no-win scenarios. Though I guess most people who find themselves standing under this streetlamp often wonder how things went sideways so fast. (Jake Gittes, Hamlet, and Captain Kirk habitually find themselves here – in case you’re wondering).
The impossible choice facing me today? Either I place Wood at risk, or I risk damaging our friendship.
For one hot second, I thought about putting pen to paper without harboring any intention of abiding by the agreement. However, the same little voice in my head, which caused me to confess in the first place, wondered what kind of friend perpetuated that kind of fraud on another.
It also pointed out that that level of deceit guaranteed a visit to the Corner of Bitter and Sweet every time I spoke to, hung out with, or thought of Wood. Until I either I confessed to my sins (and hoped he didn’t unfriend me) or we stopped hanging out all together, drifted apart and stopped being friends.
Both my conscience and I agreed all those eventualities sucked.
Walking over to where Wood was sitting by the window, I dropped bonelessly into the chair opposite his.
Me: “Can I think about it overnight?”
Wood: “Nope. Either sign it and let me into the weird frontier or don’t.”
Me (speaking slowly due to a brainwave): “Then, there are a few stipulations I’d like to include.”
Wood (leaning forward, eyes gleaming): “Let’s hear them.”
We haggled, finagled, dickered, bickered, bartered, and bargained, but eventually, we hammered out an agreement we both found acceptable.
Wood’s original terms remained unaltered, though he did manage to wrangle an addendum out of me. Should he be out of town or sick when I needed help, either I enlist a stand-in or wait until he could participate. (Thus closing a loophole that hadn’t occurred to me.)
In return, I managed to pry two significant concessions from Wood.
First, while accompanying me on an outing, he needs to follow my instructions, even if they sound mad, to the letter. Second, I could decline to answer any question he poses without any followups or pouting.
Violating my terms will require the forfeiture of his vintage volume of Sherlock Holmes published in 1892.
Fair’s, fair after all.
It wasn’t until the hopping herd of hares (Laney, Beatrice, and Sarah) started setting out the spread that Wood and I noticed ninety minutes ticked off the clock during our wheedling and dealing. However, rather than trying to talk his way out of the Office, Wood leaned back in his chair and gave me an impish grin.
Wood: “Do you think they’ve finished prepping for the party?”
Me (pausing mid pen stroke): “Wait, is that why you were early? Did you know about our party before you arrived?”
Wood’s grin turned wicked.
Me (placing a note of warning in my voice): “Dourwood Utley, did you know?”
Wood (plucking the signed document out of my hand): “Just thought I’d allow you to clear your conscience.”
Me (aghast): “You tricked me into coming clean?”
Wood (inking his name below mine): “Morticia, I know you did your best to keep your promise. I also know you’d beat yourself up until you ended up confessing, apologizing, and forking over the book anyway. I don’t ever want to make you unhappy. So I figured out a way to fast-forward your process by a couple of months and give you a do-over.”
Taking a deep breath, I held it until the count of twelve, then steadily released it. (Trying to tamp down the heartburn and indignation his statement filled my chest with. It didn’t help he made a valid point. Drat him.)
Wood: “Forgive me?”
Me (sighing): “Maybe…But how did you figure out I broke our original agreement?”
Wood: “I saw the Princess parked in front of The Alter.”
Me (rolling my eyes): “Of course you did. And the party?”
Wood (now grinning): “The Smurf Spectacular part Two? I’m not telling.”
Me (wicked smile of my own spreading across my face): “Oh, our party doesn’t feature Smurfs.”
Wood (looking dubious): “But Laney said….”
Me (holding out my hand): “Gentleman’s agreement, I’ll forgive you and tell you about our theme. If you promise not to complain about today’s feature presentation and tell me how you found out.”
Wood (suspicion plain upon his face): “Deal.”
Ignoring the groans my explanation of today’s entertainment produced, as Wood’s not particularly keen on watching his Gran’s home movies, I moved on. (For him they are akin to Aunt Pearl’s appallingly stylized holiday family photos. The difference being in his Gran’s videos she coos over Wood’s performance the entire time and interjects random stories, which may or may not be relevant to what’s happening.
Me: “Your turn spill, how did you find out?”
Wood (looking at his feet ruefully): “Laney talks in her sleep.”
Me (laughing): “Well, that explains a few things.”
(Our first agreement…seems a bit tattered…)
Me (ignoring his glee): “I pulled my bookshelves apart looking for something yesterday, but if we work together, it shouldn’t take too long to locate Chamber of Secrets.”
On the upside, at least I found a sliver of a silver lining to the mystifying vanishing act pulled by my copy of Nevermore’s Conventions. It will take well over an hour to excavate the aforementioned book from the jumbled up piles currently cluttering up most of my bedroom floor (especially if I’m only helpful adjacent).
Hip, Hip, Hooray for my hapless housekeeping!
Wood (leaning against the desk): “Do you really want to break your set?”
Me (shrugging): “Not particularly. But a deal’s a deal.”
Wood (looking frighteningly thoughtful): “Well, you did do pretty well following doctor’s orders….”
Me (tilting my head): “Except when I didn’t.”
Wood (ignoring me): “…and I don’t want an incomplete set either…”
Me (squinting): “Does one book really count as a set?”
Wood (still ignoring me): “…perhaps our first deal wasn’t entirely equitable since you were under the influence of painkillers and hurt at the time…”
Me (eyes goggling): “First deal? That implies there’s a second…..wait, are you saying you want to make another deal?”
Wood (snapping his fingers at me): “That sounds like a great idea!”
Letting me stew, Wood pulled a documents folder from beneath his Gladstone, unzipped it, and handed me a crisp sheet of paper.
Wood (giving me a tight grin): “Here it is, either we stick our original bargain, and you can grab me Dobby’s first adventure with Harry Potter while I head to the kitchen to see what smells so good. Or we sign this new deal, and I’ll stay in here until the cabal decides they’re ready for me to join the party.”
Me (mind working at warp speed): “You came prepared with a new deal? You couldn’t know I was going to confess. I didn’t know. I might have tied you to a chair.”
Wood: “Do you own any rope?”
Me (narrowing my eyes): “Not the point…Wait…You knew I broke our deal before you got here today, didn’t you.”
Wood (giving me a smile that nearly reached his eyes): “Sure did.”
Wood (chuckling): “Later. Now read my proposal.”
Me (wrinkling my nose): “Fine, Mephistopheles.”
Wood settled into the window seat to wait with his feet up while I paced the length of the room, evaluating the particulars and subtext layered into the few short sentences.
At first glance, his deal sounds chillingly reasonable. Should I ever find myself entering a situation where I know – ahead of time – I might come to harm. I am required to bring Wood along as backup. No questions asked. If I break said deal, I forfeit my entire run of signed first print Harry Potters to him.
Putting a pin in the fact, Wood’s incapable of restraining himself from asking questions and my lack of discretionary income (blowing twenty to thirty grand rebuilding the set if I lose it isn’t in the cards).
Accepting the proposal means potentially; placing him in harm’s way if I misjudge a situation and/or causing irreparable damage to his professional reputation should we get caught performing marginally illegal, supremely weird, or inexplicable acts. (Which, if you haven’t already figured it out yet, occur more often than not when Nevermore requires my aid.)
Neither of my points adjusted his attitude a whit. He simply stated he understood the risks, has complete faith in me and then reminded me his reputation isn’t mine to manage. (To a man who went Trick-or-Treating for the hell of it last July, I wasn’t surprised he brushed aside my appeal to his professionalism.)
Then there’s the delightful chance my extracurricular activities will convince him I’m a lunatic. (Because I don’t think telling him I’m ‘rehearsing for my improv group’ is going cut it now – especially if we’re standing in the middle of Nevermore at midnight and I look like I’m talking to myself.)
On the other hand, if I decide keeping my secrets is more important -there’s a distinct possibility my refusal will plop a permanent blot on our friendship.
His earlier waggishness belied tension I could see radiating from his frame. Coupled with the fact a salmon would find it tough to swim against the undercurrents in the room, tells me he’d take an opt-out as a sign that I don’t trust him. (I don’t think he’ll find a shred of comfort in the fact he’s the only one I’ve ever come close to telling about my Knack, Nevermore and the Residents.)
Never mind the fact if I don’t sign, he’ll walk straight into the kitchen and ruin our surprise…
Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath…and dug my nails into my palms – finally figuring out exactly where this document places me.
(Turns out Yarn is the closest to rope we had in our apartment…)
Wood: “You going to give me a hint about what’s happening here?”
Me (plastering on a serene smile): “Nope.”
Wood (walking into the Office while giving me the stink eye): “You know the drill.”
Thank the gods above and below for Beatrice’s contribution to today’s soiree was airpots of strong black coffee and jam-filled pastries from The Alter. I’m going to need every iota of sugar and caffeine present in my bloodstream to fast-talk Wood into staying put.
Especially since I knew that he knew, we’d actively conspired against him (in the nicest possible way).
Wood immediately started the familiar routine of unpacking his instruments on the side table, loudly not asking any more questions about why the apartment not only smelled of chicken but of bacon, barbecue and brisket as well. He also visibly restrained himself from questioning our decision to relocate our kitchen table to the living room and dress it in its Sunday best. Even the ringing doorbell and the words ’special delivery’ which carried clearly through the Office door a minute later (heralding the arrival of the twelve tubs of mac’n’cheese from the Rare Records Room) failed to elicit any comment.
While we followed the familiar checkup routine I wracked my brain for a bright idea on how to stall Wood for forty-five minutes: he already knew how to solve the Chinese finger trap in the pen/pencil mug; locking him in the office set a poor precedent (plus he could always just climb out the window); slipping him a mickey won’t work because neither Beatrice nor I own a bottle of knock drops, and bonking him on the head is just plain rude.
After entertaining and rejecting each ludicrous notion in turn, positive if Wood placed the cool disc of his stethoscope against my temple, all he’d hear was static, my conscience finally proffered the perfect solution.
Wood (patting me on the shoulder): “I pronounce you fit for FLYT.”
Hopping off the desk, I pulled my blouse on over my tank, closed my eye, took a deep breath…and fell on my sword.
Me (blurting to his back): “I broke our agreement. I left the house, drove to Nevermore, and ran around before you okayed it.”
The night I showed up bruised and battered on Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s doorstep, I scared the ever-loving crap out of them, and they (unsurprisingly) required an explanation for said injuries. Whilst the incomplete (but truthful) account I gave Wood, was enough for him, we both knew it wouldn’t cut the mustard with either Uncle or Aunt Pearl.
Which meant I needed to secure the silver-tongued services of Wood…and they didn’t come cheap.
In exchange for persuading Uncle & Aunt Pearl not to call Earl (family friend and Rye police detective), I promised to follow every order, suggestion, and hint made by him until he pronounced me sound in wind and limb. Well acquainted with my inability to layabout idly (even when sick as a dog), he requested I put up my signed copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets as collateral (the second book in my complete run of signed first British prints).
And here we are.
Wood (turning towards me, a sly smile lighting his face): “Man, you really don’t want me going out there yet, do you.”
Along with my official papers which were inexplicably in the wrong spot – the book mark I used exclusively in my copy of the Conventions – was inside my copy of Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes!
(Mazy helped me pick out the pattern.)
In case you aren’t sure what a marmot looks like, here’s a pic of a yellow-bellied one!
The upside at waking up at an inordinately early hour? I got to see the sunrise!