I’m excited to announce I have sold my book Welcome to Aberdeen to a small publishing house. Hopefully in a year or so I will be a published author.
The annual All Saints Church Carnival and Lawn Fete had arrived in Aberdeen. It was the event every kid in Aberdeen looked forward to from the minute the carnival ended to the minute it returned. A full three hundred sixty-five days, give or take a day or two, of building anticipation.
This year, the carnival couldn’t have arrived on a better weekend. Especially for the month of May. It had been dicey right up to the last week. A cold front had shot down from the northern climes of Canada and nearly froze the town in its winter grasp. But now, a mere seven days later, the war that raged between Old Man Winter and Mother Nature, was over.
Warm spring sun brushed across the city park and only a few piles of snow remained. By the time the last carnival truck pulled out of the parking lot on Monday, what little snow was left, would be trampled into mud. The residents of Aberdeen sensing spring had finally arrived, emerged from their cocoon of heavy winter parkas and fur-lined boots, and replaced them with a colorful array of tank tops and shorts.
Maybelline was in whole-hearted agreement. The minute she heard the weather forecast for the upcoming week, she had dug through Mrs. Tidrow’s attic until she spotted her boxes of summer clothing. Four boxes later, and not a clear spot in her apartment, Maybelline happily pulled out her summer shorts, tank tops and dresses. She washed and ironed them, and when she finished, she shoved all her winter clothing into the now empty boxes and returned them to the attic. Winter was officially over for a good five months.
And not too soon in Maybelline’s opinion.
She had also done some shopping at Tyed and Dyed for some summer clothing. She found a perfect summer outfit. A swanky purple, lime green and yellow tied-dyed tube top and neon orange mini-shorts. She could just envision herself wearing them at the All Saints beer tent.
Unfortunately, she didn’t get to christen them at either place.
Instead of standing in a crowded beer tent with a hundred or so of her new-found best friends, she was stuck at the park packed with people who were milling about like they’d just been dropped from outer-space.
Not that she could even go to the beer tent. No, that wouldn’t be open for a good two or so hours. Which meant she was stuck here, at the carnival, holding the sticky hand of her two -year-old nephew Little Charlie.
So much for the start of spring.
Of course, it had been her idea to take Little Charlie to the carnival, so she really couldn’t complain. Plus, she practically had to beg her sister Janet, to let her have Little Charlie for the afternoon. For some unknown reason, Janet was hesitant to let Maybelline spend the day with her nephew.
“Why can’t I take Little Charlie?” Maybelline had demanded.
“Because, you won’t know how to handle him,” Janet told her, just as their mother Marney had walked into the room.
Maybelline turned to her mother. “Tell Janet, I’m capable of watching Little Charlie.”
Marney burst out laughing. “Honey, I don’t think even Janet’s capable of watching Little Charlie. He’s a handful.”
“Oh come on! How bad could be possibly be? He’s two, for goodness sake,” Maybelline argued. “Besides, this will be the perfect opportunity to test out my idea of becoming a mommy.”
Maybelline was highly offended when both her mother and Janet had burst out laughing. “You? A mom? Shouldn’t you have a husband first?” Marney had asked.
“Or even a boyfriend?” Janet quipped.
Oh sure, they would have to point out that little detail to her. Sure, she didn’t have a husband. And the last boyfriend she had, she’d tried to run over with her car. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t have a baby. She would just to do it in a slightly unconventional manner. Which meant, any future kid, would be just a number at the sperm bank colliding with her egg.
Definitely not romantic but totally doable.
“You think you are ready to be a mom?” Janet laughed. “Well, I’m looking forward to see this. You take Little Charlie to the carnival. And when you bring him back later, you can tell me if you still want a kid.”
Now, four hours later, Maybelline was seriously reconsidering the whole baby-mommy thing. The fact of the matter was, Little Charlie was a pain in the ass.
Maybelline could point out a number of things to prove that too. For one, when the kid when into a full-on tantrum, it was enough to strike the fear of God into most of the residents of Aberdeen. It wasn’t his crying that was the issue. No, it was the screaming. Honest to goodness, Maybelline would almost swear when Little Charlie let out a scream, it was like an air raid siren going off. Whaaa ahhhhh! Whaaa ahhhh! On and on it would go until Little Charlie got his way.
You couldn’t say Little Charlie wasn’t smart, because it took him less than half a day to figure out exactly what annoying sound to use to get his way. Once he locked onto its effects, there was no turning back. Little Charlie had a signature sound.
If that wasn’t annoying enough, Little Charlie had little to no patience. It didn’t take his wailing siren sound to help you figure that out. No, you pretty much had that idea when his face turned bright red, his eyes got all tiny, and his hands turned into tight little fists. If the kid didn’t get his way, he’d start that face and you knew it was only a matter of seconds before the siren blast would occur.
He was good at deception too. It wasn’t his words, but the looks he threw at you. From his carrot-top curly hair that stood on end, to his little designer glasses that were always askew to his chubby cheeks, Little Charlie looked like the perfect little angel.
It was all a lie. There was no angel inside of Little Charlie. Heck, Maybelline wasn’t even certain there was a little cherub hidden in there. And Maybelline was thoroughly convinced the hair that stood on end, hid his devil horns.
Four and half hours with Little Charlie and Maybelline was exhausted. And she still had a good hour to go before she could get rid of the little urchin . . . um nephew.
Little Charlie tugged on Maybelline’s hand. “What, Charlie?”
“Round! Round! Round!” Little Charlie chanted jabbing his finger in the air.
Maybelline let out a sigh. That was another annoying thing about Little Charlie. He had an inordinate fascination with anything round. Tires, circles, tubes, hoola-hoops, earrings. If it was round, Little Charlie loved it.
This was the third round thing Little Charlie had pointed to today. The first just happened to be when Little Charlie had spotted MarySue’s daughter eating a large, round, chocolate chip cookie. Little Charlie just had to have one. In an attempt to avert a near crisis, Maybelline had relented and gotten Little Charlie a chocolate chip cookie. And seeing as she was there, she got herself an oatmeal raisin, because everyone knew oatmeal raisin had virtually no calories. Or at least less calories than a chocolate chip cookie.
The chocolate chip cookie satisfied Little Charlie for a good hour. That is, until he spotted Little Tucker Jones eating the largest candy apple Maybelline had ever seen. Of course, as soon as Little Charlie’s eyes clapped onto the candy apple, he just had to have one. Not wanting to be the mean aunt, Maybelline acquiesced, and found the truck that sold candy apples. She bought Little Charlie one and while she was there, she got herself a caramel apple with chocolate toppings.
While they wandered around the area looking at all the rides and games, Little Charlie pointed out every round thing he spotted. From the garbage cans to the spinning wheel game to ring toss, Little Charlie just had to see it. It was enough to drive Maybelline nuts.
Now, Maybelline was standing in a line, twenty people deep waiting to get an ice cream cone because Little Charlie just had to have one them. The kid was a bottomless pit of round food. His stomach was getting round too, Maybelline noticed.
Maybelline frowned down at him when he tugged on her shorts for the umpteenth time. She looked down at him. Little Charlie was once again pointing upward.
“I know, Charlie. You want an ice cream. I want one too,” Maybelline told him, using the most patient, motherly tone she possessed. “But you see all these people in front of us? We have to wait until they get theirs first.”
“Round! Round! Round!”
Little Charlie’s chant became louder and more persistent as his finger jabbed at the air overhead. Maybelline’s frown deepened. She wasn’t feeling very motherly or patient at the moment. She wagged a finger at him. “Listen! You need to be patient. I told you, we have to wait in line for the ice cream.”
In response, Little Charlie opened his mouth to let out an ear-piercing scream. Maybelline looked around in panic. No help in sight. Desperate, Maybelline took hold of Little Charlie’s hand and virtually dragged him out of the line.
“Excuse us please . . .” she told the people waiting in line. “Just a little problem here . . . nothing to see. Just a kid starving. You know how they are. You’ve got to feed them when they’re hungry,” she told them as she hurried past them.
She took Little Charlie to a picnic table adjacent to the ice cream truck. She scooped him up, letting out a loud groan, as she set him on the bench. Maybelline bent down so they were eye to eye.
“Now listen Charlie, I know you want an ice cream,” Maybelline began. “So, if you sit right here and don’t move, I’ll get you one lickety split.”
This caused Little Charlie to laugh. “Lickety shit. Lickety shit. Lickety shit.”
Maybelline whipped her head around to make certain no one heard her nephew. The last thing she needed was for someone to tell her mom or her sister she was teaching her nephew how to swear. No one seemed to be paying them any attention.
She turned back to Charlie. “Not lickety shit. Lickety split.”
Apparently, along with lack of patience, Little Charlie had a hearing issue because he started to chant “Lickety shit. Lickety shit. Lickety shit,” at the top of his lungs.
“You know, you’re not making this easy,” Maybelline grumbled. She pointed a warning finger at him. “Now you stay right here! Or you won’t get an ice cream.” She stormed away with Little Charlie’s words, “Lickety shit. Lickety shit . . .” echoing behind her.
She started to walk to the ice cream stand when she spotted her cousin through the crowds of people. “Oh thank God, you’re here!” Maybelline rushed out as Ellen came up to her.
“Why is Little Charlie swearing?” Ellen asked.
Maybelline shot Little Charlie a disgruntled look as she and Ellen walked to the ice cream stand. It did nothing to deter his chanting. In fact, if anything, it only caused him to chant “lickety shit,” louder.
“He’s got hearing issues,” Maybelline grumbled.
“Where’s Janet?” Ellen asked as she gaze at the ice cream board.
“She’s home,” Maybelline replied. “I wanted to spend the day with Little Charlie,” she said before she placed her order with the ice cream attendant.
“Now why would you want to do that?” Ellen asked. “Little Charlie’s a terror.”
Secretly Maybelline agreed. However, she couldn’t very well admit that. “He’s not a terror. Just . . .creative.”
She knew it was a lame response but at the moment she was too tired to come up with anything more logical. She handed the ice cream attendant some money. She started to head back to the table when she realized something very important. Little Charlie wasn’t sitting where she left him.
Panic swelled inside Maybelline. “Where’s Little Charlie?”
Ellen looked around. “I have no idea. Maybe Wyatt knows.”
Maybelline hurried over to Wyatt Westerman, who was sitting in the exact spot she’d left Little Charlie not three minutes ago. “Have you seen Little Charlie?”
A frown creased Wyatt’s face. “Do I look like I’ve seen that devil?”
In Maybelline’s opinion, it was hard to tell. There was a frown on Wyatt’s face and a dark look in his eyes. After an encounter with Little Charlie, most people looked the very same as Wyatt. However, in the case of Wyatt Westerman, his face was always creased in a frown.
“Great! Now look at what happened. I’ve lost my nephew,” Maybelline grumbled as she marched away from Wyatt. Ellen was quick to follow behind her.
“Then if I were you, I’d stop searching right now,” Wyatt called after her.
Maybelline thought that wasn’t a bad idea. Only, it wouldn’t prove that she was very good at the whole mommy thing.
She turned to Ellen. “Come on. Help me find him.”
“Where do we start?”
“Let’s go to all the stands that sell round food.”
“What?” Ellen asked.
“Round food,” Maybelline replied. “Little Charlie has a thing for round stuff.”
“I thought he had a thing about stuffed animals,” Ellen returned.
“No. He had a thing about stuffed animals. But that fixation left a few months ago. Since then, he’s been into toy cars, striped clothing and baseball hats,” Maybelline told her. “Oh, and lip gloss.”
Maybelline shrugged. “What can I tell you? Little Charlie’s eclectic,” Maybelline said. “You know, if you lived up here, you’d know all this.”
“Don’t start,” Ellen grumbled.
They were just passing through the ride area, right next to the steps of City Hall, across the street from the police station which was probably where she was going to end up if she didn’t find Little Charlie. Or maybe she’d end up there, even if she did find Little Charlie. Right now, the way Maybelline figured it, the balance could go either way.
“I think we need to call your sister,” Ellen said, after they searched ever single food stand in the park.
“Are you crazy? I’m not going to call Janet,” Maybelline retorted.
“You’ve got to tell her,” Ellen insisted. “You lost her kid.”
“And I will,” Maybelline told her. “I’m just thinking it might be better to call her after I find Little Charlie. Besides, I don’t want her to think I’m not ready to a baby.”
“A baby? Did I miss something while I was away in Albany? I thought you and John broke up.”
“Oh, I broke up with his sorry ass,” Maybelline agreed. “But there’s more than one way to get a baby. I’m thinking of doing it on my own.”
Ellen burst out laughing. “If you think you can have a kid on your own, then I think you need to go back to sixth grade sex ed.”
“Ha! Ha! Very funny.” Maybelline grumbled. She gave Ellen a look of disgust. “Jeez, you lose one kid and suddenly you’re disqualified from ever having kids? That seems a little harsh.”
“Well, all I know is that it’s getting dark and if we don’t find him soon, there’s going to be trouble.”
Maybelline looked around. Ellen was right. The sun was setting on the carnival just as the lights turned on at the beer tent. The exact spot she had planned to be at this time. Great. Now she lost her nephew and the possibility of a beer and the one thing Maybelline knew she could use right now was a nice cold beer.
Suddenly, the cacophony of noise that had filled the area quieted. “Well now that’s weird,” Maybelline murmured. “I thought the carnival ran until midnight.”
“Me too,” Ellen agreed as she looked at the rides.
Maybelline frowned as the rides stopped moving. She spotted Ben rushing towards the Ferris Wheel. She snapped her attention to Ellen.
“Did you call your brother?”
Ellen rolled her eyes. “Now when would I have a chance to do that?”
“I don’t know but he’s here,” Maybelline replied as the sirens from the fire station sounded. “What the heck is happening?”
“Come on,” Ellen said. “Let’s go ask Ben.”
Maybelline wasn’t exactly thrilled with seeing her cousin. It wasn’t too long ago when Ben had warned her not to cause any more problems. The way Maybelline figured it, losing her nephew was definitely a problem.
Ben was standing next to the Ferris Wheel operator. His hands were on his hips, his legs braced apart and from the look on his face, he didn’t appear happy. Both Ben and the operator were looking upward.
Ellen rushed up to Ben. “What’s going on?”
Ben turned at the sound of his name. His gaze zeroed in on Maybelline. The muscle flexed in his cheek. His mouth pulled back in a frown. “Maybelline . . .”
“What?” Maybelline demanded just as Ben pointed upward.
There, all by himself in a basket, was Little Charlie. He was leaning over the edge of the handle bar as he waved down at the crowds that were forming around them. He wasn’t screaming or crying.
Instead he was yelling at the top of his lungs, “Lickety shit! Lickety shit!”
Maybelline turned to see her mother and Janet rushed up to them. A mixture of shock and disbelief on their faces.
She gave them a sheepish look. “Maybe I should wait to have a baby . . .”
“What do you think?” Lily asked as she circled the item for the third time.
Lindsey, with her finger pressed against her chin, looked at the item again, then turned back to Lily. “You want the truth?”
Lily frowned as she looked at her sister. “Of course. I wouldn’t have asked you otherwise.”
“Okay, but you’re not going to be happy,” Lindsey replied.
Lily rolled her eyes. Lindsey was always so dramatic. “Just tell me.”
“Fine. If you must know, I don’t think you should get it.”
This was not the answer Lily had expected from her sister. Lindsey liked loud, wild, vibrant things. And this was definitely loud, wild and vibrant.
“Really?” Lily asked in surprise. “Why?”
Lindsey shrugged. “You can’t do red, that’s why.”
“I can to do red!” Lily insisted. “Why would you say that?”
The way Lindsey rolled her eyes and let out an exaggerated sigh, indicated she wasn’t buying Lily’s argument.
“Let me explain a thing or two,” Lindsey began as she crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot on the floor. “First off, red is a sexy color.” Her blue gaze so identical to her sisters, swept the length of Lily. “Clearly, you don’t do sexy.”
Lily let out a gasp of outrage. “I can to do sexy.”
This caused Lindsey to let out a mocking chuckle. “Please explain to me what is sexy about khaki Bermuda shorts and a plain white tee shirt?”
Okay, so Lindsey might have a point about that. “I’m just wearing these because it’s Saturday and I’m shopping.”
“Which is all the more reason why you can’t do sexy,” Lindsey retorted. “Now me? Well, I can do sexy.”
This too was a true statement. After all, while Lily was decked out in khaki Bermuda’s and a sensible white tee shirt with white Ked’s on her feet, Lindsey was dressed in a snappy tiger striped spandex top and skin tight tan jeans that hugged every curve on her body and what looked to be three-inch leopard print patent heels.
In other words, Lindsey knew sexy.
But, Lily and Lindsey weren’t out shopping for clothing, shoes or men for that matter. They were shopping for a couch, for goodness sake. It wasn’t meant to be worn. It was meant to be sat upon. And you didn’t need to be sexy to sit on a couch.
“Oh for goodness sake, it’s a couch for Eric’s office,” Lily retorted.
“Well, if you ask me, this couch is so not Eric.”
“Why would you say that?” Lily asked.
“Isn’t it obvious? Eric is boring,” Lindsey told her. “And this couch is anything but boring.”
Lily looked up from the product sheet she was reading. A frown creased her face. “Eric isn’t boring.”
“Sure he is,” Lindsey argued. “He’s like white bread. All air, no substance.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. He owns his own business. Of course, he’s got substance.”
“I never said he wasn’t a good businessman,” Lindsey pointed out. “But outside of that, Eric has no personality.”
Lily ignored Lindsey’s comment. She knew only too well Lindsey’s distaste of Eric. Since Lily had begun dating Eric in college all those years ago, Lindsey hadn’t kept her opinion secret. After six years, Lily didn’t bother to argue with her. Lily had seen the men Lindsey dated. She was hardly one to judge.
She waved to the salesman. “Well, I think Eric will like this couch,” she said as she grabbed out her credit card.
“Seriously, I think you need to reconsider this,” Lindsey insisted as the salesmen took Lily’s card and walked away. “I’m telling you this couch is trouble.”
Lily was certain Lindsey was making too much of nothing. “It’s a couch. And Eric wanted a statement piece and a red velvet couch makes a statement.”
“You know what else a red velvet couch does?” Lindsey asked. “It causes problems.”
At the time, Lily had dismissed Lindsey’s words of warning. Now, a mere four days later and exactly twenty-four hours after the couch had been delivered to Eric’s office, Lindsey’s words of warning popped into Lily’s thoughts.
Lily set her empty paper box down on her desk in her former office and began to gather her stuff. Thankfully Eric and Janelle were on vacation and she wouldn’t have to run into them again. Of course, they were on the vacation she was supposed to be on with Eric. It was probably better anyway. If she was trapped on an island with him, one of them would be dead, and that one would be Eric.
She picked up her address book and dropped it into the box. Four years in the same job and now suddenly she was out of work. And out of a boyfriend. And a new couch for that matter. And all in the space of a week. Didn’t it just figure? Of course, when your boss was your boyfriend and Janelle was your co-worker, that was bound to happen.
Lily picked up the heavy crystal paperweight shaped in a heart Eric had bought for her on her first day of work. Sharp edges dug into her palm as her fingers curled around the heart. It took all her willpower to drop the paperweight into the trash. What she really wanted to do was throw it against the window, shattering the glass into a million pieces. She finished packing the few remaining items from her desk before moving to the bookshelf.
She had just packed a stack of books when Lindsey burst into the office startling Lily. “What are you doing here? Is everything okay?”
“I just had the best idea!” Lindsey rushed out as she clapped her hands excitedly. “We need to go on vacation!”
Lily looked at Lindsey like she’d lost her mind. Today Lindsey was dressed in a lime green tube top, low rider bootleg white jeans and brown wedges. A perpetual college student, Lindsey looked the image of a woman constantly on vacation.
“Have you forgotten I don’t have a job? You need a job to have a vacation.”
“Oh come on! Think about it,” Lindsey urged. “It will be fun. Me and you, enjoying the summer, doing nothing but partying.”
Partying all summer didn’t sound like fun to Lily. A peaceful retreat, reading books and lying at the beach, now that sounded like fun. But the fact was, Lily couldn’t take a whole summer off. She needed a job not fun.
“No, I don’t think so,” Lily sighed as she scooped up another stack of books.
Lindsey frowned as she plopped down on Lily’s leather office chair and propped her feet on the desk. Normally Lily would have told her to remove her feet. Now, she hoped Lindsey scratched the metal surface. It would serve Janelle right.
“Why not?” Lindsey complained. “It’s not like you’ve got anything else to do.”
“I’ve got to find a job,” Lily pointed out.
“And you will find one when you come back,” Lindsey returned. “But why not have some fun for a while. It’s not like you’ll have another opportunity at a vacation for a while when you get a new job.”
Lindsey had a point. “A vacation would be nice,” Lily mused.
“And what about that hot bathing suit you bought,” Lindsey continued. “That white one that’s barely there . . . don’t you want to wear that?”
Yeah, she did. Only the place she wanted to wear it was on the warm, white sandy beaches in the Bahamas and not on the pebbly shores of Lake Erie. Only now Janelle was getting to enjoy the sun and surf in the Bahamas instead of Lily.
Lily leaned against the edge of the bookshelf, crossed her arms over her chest as she studied her sister. “I don’t know . . .” she murmured. “Don’t you think I should save my money?”
“Absolutely,” Lindsey agreed. “That’s why I think we should go to the summer home.”
The summer home Lindsey was referring too was in the tiny town of Aberdeen in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Their parents had bought the home when the girls were little. Every year until the girls reached high school, they had gone with their parents to Aberdeen for summer vacation. Once the girls turned sixteen, they realized they’d have more fun in Buffalo with their friends than with their parents in the mountains.
“You know Mom and Dad are considering selling the home,” Lindsey added. “This might be the last summer we’ll get to go there.”
Lily hadn’t heard that their parents were thinking about selling it but she wasn’t surprised. They hadn’t gone up there in the last three or four years. Still, Aberdeen didn’t sound like the exciting place Lindsey would want to go to.
“Are you sure you want to spend your vacation there?” Lily asked. “You love Buffalo in the summer.”
The one thing Buffalo had was plenty of lakes, festivals and parties. None of which Lily had attended in years. Lindsey, on the other hand, hadn’t missed one in the same amount of time.
“Tammi isn’t coming home this summer,” Lindsey said, referring to her friend since grade school.
“Really?” Lily asked in surprise, as she pushed away from the book case and walked across the room to grab a lamp she’d purchased for her office. She set it next to her box. “Why not?”
“She’s doing some kind of internship for her summer vacation . . .”
Clearly, by the wrinkle of Lindsey’s nose, this was not the kind of summer vacation that appealed to Lindsey.
“Well, as tempting as vacation sounds, now would not be the time for me to go,” Lily said. “I don’t know how long I’ll be without a job. I need to conserve all the money I can.”
“That’s the beauty of the summer home,” Lindsey retorted. “It won’t cost us a thing. Only some food and fun money! And if we’re very lucky, we just might find someone else to take care of those items,” Lindsey added with a wink.
Lily rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what that meant. Lindsey planned on partying her way through a summer boyfriend. Nothing could be further from Lily’s interest.
“I think I’d rather just pay my own way . . .”
Lindsey shrugged. “Suit yourself. But it is an effective way to save money.”
“You might not pay in cash, but you’ll have to pay in other ways,” Lily replied.
“So? What’s your point?”
Only Lindsey would get to the heart of the matter. Lily shook her head in resignation. “No point. If that’s what you want to do,” Lily shrugged. “It’s just not my thing.”
“Okay, so fine. You pay your way,” Lindsey urged, watching Lily as she scooped up her box and followed Lily out of the room. “So, what do you think?”
Lily stopped at the entrance of Eric’s office. She turned to Lindsey. “I’ll think about it,” she said before taking a big breath.
It took all of Lily’s courage to open the office door. The last time she’d walked into this room, Janelle was laying upon the red velvet couch with her legs propped up in the air and her yellow dress bunched around her waist, as Eric, with his boxers pooled around his ankles, was boffing her right in plain view of anyone who might walk into his office. The stupid man hadn’t even locked the door. Talk about lack of professionalism. Lily could never forgive Eric for cheating on her but the couch, why she hadn’t even had a chance to sit on it! That was just plain cruel.
“Hey, what are you going to do in here?” Lindsey asked just as Lily pushed open the door. “Trash his office?”
Eric’s office was a mixture of sophistication and modernity. Abstract paintings intermingled with framed diplomas hung on the soft grey walls, plush black carpet covered the floor, a contemporary steel desk and matching chair padded in the finest leather, sat in front of a large glass window overlooking Lake Erie. Eric’s pride and joy and what had cost him a small fortune sat in the center of the room. It was a coffee table with a steel base and two black glass ovals that interlocked with each other and matching end tables flanked the now infamous red couch.
Careful to keep her gaze averted, Lily walked across the room and set the box on Eric’s desk. “I’m not trashing his office. I’m here to gather some stuff I bought,” Lily replied as she grabbed the silver picture frame from his desk and dropped it into her box. Like heck she was going to let Eric draw devil horns on her head or blacken out her teeth.
“It’s a shame about that couch,” Lindsey said, drawing Lily’s attention to the one place she did not want to look. “I did warn you though . . .”
Lily ripped her gaze from the couch, giving Lindsey a sideways glance. “Gee, thanks for your sympathy,” she said as she picked up the bright orange vase on the end table.
She had bought it the same day she had purchased the couch. She thought of it as a statement piece, just as she had the couch. Now she considered it hers and as soon as she got outside she was going to trash the ugly thing and maybe get rid of some of her frustration.
Lindsey shrugged as she looked at the couch. “Hey, I do sympathize with you. I’m just reminding you that the couch wasn’t your style. Clearly it was Janelle and Eric’s style,” Lindsey said as she eyed the black satin pillows on the couch. “I just love black satin,” Lindsey added as she reached for the pillows.
“Hey you might not want to pick that up,” Lily blurted out as Lindsey grabbed for the black satin pillow that was tossed haphazardly on the couch. Another statement piece. “They used it as a prop.”
“A what?” Lindsey asked as she hugged the pillow to her chest, and rubbed her cheek against the soft fabric.
“A prop,” Lily repeated. “You know . . . for Janelle’s backside.”
“Oh God!” Lindsey shuddered as she tossed the pillow away from her face.
The pillow sailed directly for Lily. Instinctively, she reached out to stop the pillow from hitting her, completely forgetting about the vase she held. The vase landed smack in the center of the table, obliterating it.
Silence descended in the room as both women looked at the gaping hole at their feet. What was left of the table was nothing more than a steel frame. On the black carpet was shards of orange intermingled with chips of shimmering glass.
“Oh my God!” Lily ground out in stunned horror as she stared at the scene at their feet.
Lily didn’t need to worry about killing Eric because he was most certainly going to kill her when he spotted his table. With a bubble of laughter erupting from her, Lily turned to Lindsey.
“You know what? I think summer vacation in the mountains sounds excellent.”
Frank looked at the crowd of people huddled on the pebbled shore of the lake. Everyone was dressed in their Easter finest. Not that you could tell. Most were cocooned in their warm, woolen coats and their knit scarfs. Their breaths rose upward like puffs of smoke from chimney stacks. Boot-clad feet stomped on the ground and gloved hands were burrowed into warm pockets. Despite the frigid temperatures, the women still found a way to gussy up their outfits. Their Easter bonnets, a colorful array of pinks, purples and yellows, was a bright contrast to the bleak spring day.
The calendar might say spring but winter still held the town in its icy grip. Evidence of it was everywhere. Snow, freshly fallen from the brutal storm that had ripped through town just three days’ past, blanketed the trees and bushes. Chucks of ice, bobbed on the surface of the frigid lake and a fierce wind sliced through the trees, chilling a person straight to the bone.
Off to the side, and decidedly much colder, were those to be baptized. None were babies. No one wanted to put someone so tiny through such an ordeal. No, the people who bunched along the shore, looking at the lake with a mixture of dread and worry on their faces, were adults, ready to become full members of the Catholic church. Frank couldn’t blame them for their lack of enthusiasm. He wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of sticking his toes in the ice-cold water either.
Unlike the parishioners and guests, the candidates stood dressed in their Easter finest without the benefit of warm coats, wool mittens and scarves or Easter hats to warm their heads. They stood with their dresses flying about, their legs chilled in nylons and slacks, their heads bare.
Hard plastic chairs ran in rows, a few feet from the edge of the water clear to the top of the sandy embankment of Lake Pleasant. Cars lined the edge of Lakeshore Drive, filled the parking lot and overflowed into the parking area of The Beach House, the only high end restaurant on the lake. In fact, it was the only high end restaurant in town.
Frank wasn’t surprised by the crowded lots. Between the baptism and the annual ice fishing awards ceremony held in The Beach House, there was hardly a space available for parking. Frank just wished the banquet had been held on a different day. It certainly would have prevented all the confusion that was occurring. Lord knows how many people had wandered into their area thinking it was the location for the banquet. He had directed so many people to the Beach House, that he’d lost count. Eventually, he’d given up and decided to let them figure it out on their own. At least, Frank had reserved a parking spot for the bishop. Otherwise, he’d have nowhere to park.
“Well, let’s get this show started,” Abe Drummond announced as he hopped from one foot to the other. “If we wait much longer, you won’t have to worry about baptizing anyone, Frank. You’ll be burying us all.”
Frank pulled his attention away from the parking space, still vacant and turned to Abe. “We’re not starting until Bishop Pellicant arrives.”
“Not him!” Kitty exclaimed. At nearly ninety, Kitty Buckman was still as feisty as ever.
“What’s wrong with the bishop?” Frank asked.
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong,” Kitty announced. “The man’s nothing but trouble.”
“What?” Frank burst out, stunned.
Sure, the bishop was a bit persnickety and prone to ostentation. And yes, he tended to be critical of things and expected people to kowtow to him. But he was a bishop. Shouldn’t that be expected?
“It’s true,” Abe insisted. “Don’t you remember Vegas Night at the church? He took us for a thousand dollars! I warned you we shouldn’t let him play blackjack! He has God on his side. He was bound to win.”
“I don’t think it was God, who helped him win as much as it was the card counting,” Kitty retorted. “That’s not allowed in Vegas,” she added. “When I was there, if the Mob found out you were cheating, you were as good as dead.”
“Oh, for goodness sake,” Claire, Kitty’s niece, exclaimed. “They wouldn’t kill a man of the cloth!”
Kitty gave Claire a look like she was a small, mistaken child. “You wanna bet? Let me tell you, Sam had strict rules. If he caught you cheating, his goons would take you out to the desert and whack you. I lost plenty of customers that way.”
“Sam who?” Frank asked.
Kitty rolled her eyes. “Jeez, don’t you know nothing? Sam Giancana. The owner of the Desert Inn Casino.”
“Kitty, would you stop telling that story! You were not Sam Giancana’s girlfriend,” Claire insisted.
“You’re right, I wasn’t,” Kitty agreed. “I was Frank Sinatra’s.”
Claire rolled her eyes at Kitty’s ridiculous statement. No one believed for a moment Kitty’s outrageous claim that she had been a casino showgirl back in the day, let alone Frank Sinatra’s girlfriend.
“Well, I assure you Bishop Pellicant is not a card sharp,” Frank told the group. “He just had a good night!”
“Hey, maybe it was the lack of alcohol that helped him?” Abe wondered. “It was probably the first time he had a clear head in who knows how long.”
“What do you mean?” Frank wondered.
Abe shrugged, negligently. “Everyone knows there’s not a sober priest in the bunch.”
“What?” Frank exclaimed.
“Think about it. There’s two Masses on Sunday, one on Saturday and one every day during the rest of the week,” Abe explained. “The way I see it, that’s eight occasions to drink. And we’re not even talking about what they do when they’re stuck in the rectory.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, Abe,” Frank exploded. “That’s not wine. It’s the blood of Christ!”
“Hey, you call it what you want, but booze is booze,” Abe sniffed.
“Abe is right,” Kitty agreed. “And frankly, in this cold weather I could use some booze myself.”
Burt, Kitty’s elderly husband, looked around the crowded area. “Where’s the table anyway.”
Frank had no idea what Burt was talking about. “What table?”
“The booze table,” Burt repeated.
Frank gritted his teeth. “There’s not going to be any alcohol here. This is a baptism not a . . . a . . .beer fest.”
“No one said anything about beer,” Kitty told Frank. “We’re wanting the good stuff, like Jack or Jim.”
“Whiskey? You want whiskey at a baptism?” Frank whispered in a stunned voice.
“Preferably,” Burt retorted. “If not that, then vodka. It seems to work for the ruski’s in the frigid cold.”
“We can’t have alcohol here! This isn’t that kind of event,” Frank muttered stunned.
“Without alcohol, it’s not any kind event,” Burt grumbled. “Let’s go get warm up and get some booze at the bar,” he told Kitty.
Frank watched them leave, relieved. At least they wouldn’t be here to embarrass him in front of the bishop.
It took another ten minutes for Bishop Pellicant to arrive. He parked his vehicle in the space reserved for him, then climbed out. He was dressed as if he was in the Antarctic. He had on a heavy wool coat, a thick knitted scarf wrapped around his neck, and upon his head was a Russian bear hat. The bishop flew down the pebbled beach, his wool coat and black cassock flying behind him.
“So sorry I’m late,” Bishop Pellicant huffed as he rushed up to Frank. “The roads . . .terrible . . .just terrible . . .” he said, gasping for breath.
Secretly, Frank was thrilled the roads had been terrible. At least the bishop hadn’t been around to hear the embarrassing comments of earlier.
“I’m just thrilled you made it,” Frank said. “We’ve got quite a group here today.”
Frank would be baptizing not only the few parishioners from his church but those from The Church of the Blessed Mary over in Newton. Every year, Father Gordon and Father Frank held a combined baptism on the lake. Normally, Father Gordon would be here to help. However, he’d gone out of town on Monday to see his ailing sister and hadn’t made it back in time for the baptism. Frank agreed to baptize both churches.
“Well, let’s get this started,” Frank said.
The baptism was a simple affair. No sense keeping everyone out in the cold. Normally, they’d have Mass before the baptism. But considering the weather, and the worry Abe’s words might prove true, Frank decided to forgo the Mass and head right to the baptism.
Frank lined the candidates up along the shores of the lake, preparing for the baptism. This was the part he dreaded. He could only imagine how they were feeling. While his toes might be dipped in water, their whole body was going to be submerged. Frank shot a quick glance at the lake. A shiver rolled from the top of his spine straight down to his toes. Thick, blocks of ice floated on the surface of the water. Yes, his toes were certainly going to freeze.
He blew on his hands, and whispered a prayer to the good Lord that this whole thing would be quick and easy. When he was finished, he walked up to the first man.
Frank would never claim to be a large man. At five foot four and one hundred and twenty five pounds, Frank was diminutive at best. But the man standing in front of him looked like Paul Bunyan. At nearly twice Frank’s weight and a good foot taller than Frank, the man looked like he could fell a tree just by leaning against it. He appeared to be somewhere in his fifties, with a touch of grey dusting his grizzly brown hair. He had a grizzly beard, which just added to his lumberjack appearance.
He was dressed like a lumberjack too. In a heavy, blue and grey flannel coat, tan dungarees, and work boats that looked like they’d seen better days, he was a dressed quite a few notches down from the other candidates for baptism. Still, it wasn’t Frank’s job to judge the way he dressed. The man was here to be baptized not to win a fashion contest.
Frank craned his neck back and smiled at the man. “What is your name, son?”
Bushy brows furrowed for just a moment before the man shrugged and stuck out his hand. “Amos,” he said.
Frank looked at the outstretched hand in surprise. This was a first. He’d never had a candidate offer to shake his hand before the baptism began. Then again, Frank figured the man was nervous. He couldn’t blame him. With the bishop standing just off to the side, Frank was pretty nervous himself. He decided the least he could do was ease Amos’ nerves.
Frank accepted his hand shake, asking, “And by what name will you go?”
This caused consternation to cross the man’s face. “Amos Bunker?” Amos replied, as if one of them were stupid and it wasn’t Amos.
Frank decided to ignore the tone in the man’s voice. People did strange things when they were nervous. Frank decided to take sympathy on Amos. He reached out to dip Amos in the water only, much to Frank’s surprise, Amos slapped Frank’s hands away. Frank, thinking it was the fright of the frigid water, gave Amos a sympathetic look.
“I understand completely,” he told Amos. “But I promise you it will be over and done with before you know it . . .” he added reaching for Amos.
“Like HELL it will . . .” Amos roared, as he started to turn away from the group.
Frank wasn’t about to let one of God’s children get away just because of a little cold water. So, putting all of his one hundred and twenty-five pounds into the effort, Frank lunged at Amos. They both landed in the water with a loud splash. Frank nearly died in the process when Amos landed on top, submerging them both.
They both popped up at the same time, shivering with goose-pebbled flesh. Frank shot a victorious smile in Bishop Pellicant’s direction. The look on Bishop Pellicant’s face was a mixture of shock and horror.
A bellow so loud, Frank thought the leaves on the trees shook. He turned to see Amos, sputtering invectives.
“I didn’t come to be baptized. I came for the fishing banquet,” Amos stammered out, his teeth chattering like a windup toy. “I’m an atheist! I don’t want to be a Catholic.”
Frank stood rooted to the ground. Ice cold water dripped off his clothing and his body felt like a block of ice. A sinking feeling landed in the pit of Frank’s stomach. Good Lord, what must the bishop think? Frank had never been so embarrassed or humiliated as he was right at this moment.
Suddenly, a loud, cackle of laughter erupted from the crowd. Frank turned to see Kitty, with a glass of amber liquid in her hand.
“Bet you wish you had some booze now!” Kitty yelled out, lifting the glass in salute to Frank.
Excitement filled the air. Today, the residents of Aberdeen would celebrate Mardi Gras. Everyone looked forward to the festival. They loved the parade that started it, the parties that ended it and everything in between.
Normally, the festival was on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. This year, however, things didn’t work out as planned. The first problem began at last year’s festival when the lead float hit a patch of ice, causing the vehicle to spin out of control, and run into the Bank of Aberdeen. Not only did this ruin the parade and nearly kill Mitzi Shapiro, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it also put a real damper on the Bank of Aberdeen’s business that day. Since the incident, City Council decided perhaps it was time to rethink the festival.
The first thing they considered was making Fat Tuesday an official city holiday and closing the schools and businesses in town so everyone could attend. Lyle Pickler, the president of the bank, did not like that idea at all. However, he wasn’t too keen at having another parade float decorating his pristine lobby either. So, Lyle suggested they move the parade to the Saturday before Lent began.
This created a whole new problem. How could you have a Fat Tuesday Festival on a Saturday when the name had Tuesday in it? And what about New Orleans? They always had their Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday. Surely Aberdeen would need their permission before the city could change the day. And what about tradition? Wasn’t that more important than attendance?
For nearly four months everyone in town voiced their opinion. When someone suggested they take the argument straight to the Supreme Court, Ben Jordan, the police chief of Aberdeen, knew things had gotten out of hand. With a very calm and rational approach, Ben stated they weren’t actually moving the day just the festival so that everyone could attend. City Council saw the logic to Ben’s argument and solved the problem by changing the name from Fat Tuesday Festival to the Mardi Gras Festival, thus beginning a new tradition.
Once that had been settled the town began to prepare for the festival. Things were progressing smoothly, until the new Farmer’s Almanac came out and confirmed a blizzard was going to arrive the very day of the event. This certainly put a wrench in the whole planning process. It didn’t matter that the almanac was predicting a storm nearly six months before the festival. Aberdeen couldn’t take the chance of losing out on such an important event. And so another debate ensued.
There were some who wondered whether the festival should be moved back to Tuesday. This went on for a few weeks until Ben once again reminded the council that if a blizzard did occur there was no way the city could expect to have a festival on the Tuesday either. This seemed perfectly reasonable. So, instead of canceling the festival all together, they decided to move the day from the Saturday before to the Saturday after. This way, if a blizzard did hit Aberdeen, surely the town would be ready by the following Saturday.
Come to find out, the town’s worry was unfounded. Not only did a blizzard not arrive but it ended up being unseasonably warm the Saturday before Fat Tuesday. A soft breeze and clear skies greeted the residents of Aberdeen. On the day of the festival, any lingering snow on the ground had melted and people could forgo heavy parkas and fur lined boots for windbreakers and short sleeves.
“Well, it looks like Lyle won’t have to worry about a truck landing in his lobby this year,” Mike Landry, the mayor, told Ben as they walked towards the judge’s platform.
“I’m sure he’s relieved about that,” Ben replied carefully keeping his face impassive.
It wasn’t easy, considering the Aberdeen High School Band could be heard warming up. Loud screeches and wails of the instruments echoed through the surrounding area. The band was expected to lead the parade this year. This was yet another change City Council had made. In the past, the school band would end the parade. However, after last year’s incident, City Council thought it would be best to have the band go first. This way, the floats could only go as fast as the band could march and seeing the band was only adequate at best and could barely march in a straight line, the town figured they wouldn’t have to worry about anyone being run over. At least, that was the hope.
The city square was filled with people. Bleachers, borrowed from the high school, were packed with spectators eager to watch the parade as it passed. Those who didn’t purchase seats in the bleachers, lined the sidewalks surrounding the city square. Between the parks decorations and the beads adorning the necks of the spectators, the sparkle of purple, green and gold shimmered in the bright sunlight.
A platform sat between the metal bleachers. This was for the judges and the news media. No one could figure out why there was even a media section, considering the town had only two news outlets; the Aberdeen Times and the Aberdeen Almanac. Although, there was some who questioned the Almanac as news, seeing the only news it provided was local gossip. Then again, in Aberdeen, gossip held a bit more importance than any kind of world news.
“And we don’t have to worry about Rufus ruining this event either,” Mike added.
Ben looked up at the judge’s platform. There, standing fully dressed, was Rufus Merriweather. The incident Mike was referring to was the Turkey Trot run just this past Thanksgiving. Rufus had crashed the run wearing nothing but a dayglo sock on a prominent appendage, shocking most of the people in town. Since then, in the city’s infinite wisdom, the council had decided the best way to keep Rufus out of trouble and fully dressed was to have him judge the floats. Ben thought that was a good idea. It was one less person he needed to worry about.
Along with Rufus as a judge was Father Frank and Charles Bird. All three stood on the platform next to Mack Olsen, the fire chief, Rose Smith, the owner, writer and editor of the Aberdeen Almanac and Jonah Walkman, the editor of the Aberdeen Times.
Ben was just about to climb the stairs to the platform when Mike’s words stopped him. “What the heck . . .”
Ben turned to see his cousin, Maybelline walking towards him. It wasn’t the sight of Maybelline that concerned Ben but the sight of his elderly uncle and aunt, Burt and Kitty. Or more specifically what they were wearing. Kitty had nothing more than a royal purple house coat on and what could only be called fluffy green slippers. She had a glittery gold boa around her neck and her hair was dyed purple and green. If that wasn’t startling enough, the sight of Burt nearly threw Ben over the edge. Burt was dressed in nothing but his grey and purple flannel robe. On his feet were black socks and white sneakers. His hair wasn’t painted purple or green, but his face was. And instead of a boa there were several long gold necklaces which looked suspiciously like some of Ben’s mother’s jewelry.
“What the hell are you wearing?” Ben demanded as soon as they reached him.
“I’ll have you know this is a very expensive coat!” Maybelline shot back.
The coat Maybelline was referring to just happened to be a bright orange with an intricate design of peacocks embroidered on it. The coat, in Ben’s opinion, was the ugliest thing he’d ever seen.
“Not you!” Ben snapped. “Them!”
Relief flooded Maybelline’s face. It was quickly replaced with annoyance. “I know, right? You do someone a favor and this is what you get stuck with!”
“Hey! I’ll have you know that this is all we could find to wear to the Mardi Gras festival,” Kitty retorted.
Ben closed his eyes and prayed for patience. It didn’t arrive. “Kitty, this isn’t a costume contest. You don’t have to dress like it’s Halloween. You don’t even have to dress in the colors of the festival . . .”
“You don’t have to yell at me,” Kitty grumbled. “And we’re wearing this to enhance our enjoyment of the festival. You should try it sometime,” Kitty sniffed irritably.
The muscle flexed in Ben’s cheek as he shot Maybelline a hot look. “Mom let them leave like this?”
“Your mother doesn’t know,” Kitty interjected. “She home sick. Frankly, I think she’s going to die.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “She’s got the flu, that’s all.”
“That could be death for someone as old as her,” Kitty reminded Ben.
“You’re older than Mom and you survived it,” Ben pointed out. He turned to Maybelline. “You need to take them home.”
“Yeah right,” Maybelline retorted. “I tried to get them to stay home. They wouldn’t listen to me. They were going to walk to town. You mother told me not to worry about it. They’d be okay. Honestly, I think she just wanted to get them out of her house.”
Ben couldn’t blame his mother. Burt and Kitty were a handful on most days. When she was sick, they were probably impossible. However, he wasn’t exactly happy either. Maybelline watching Kitty and Burt was like asking the fox to watch the hen house. Trouble was going to happen and Maybelline would be involved.
“We’re not the problem,” Kitty retorted. “She’s the troublemaker,” she said, pointing to Maybelline.
“Hey!” Maybelline protested. “I might have had a few incidents recently but there’s no reason to call me a troublemaker.”
Ben could argue that point for both women. The last time Ben had seen Maybelline, her car had been tattooed into the side of her ex-boyfriend’s brand new truck. The time before that, she had gotten into a fight with her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend who just happened to be Maybelline’s arch enemy. As for Kitty, there was too many stories to remember in one day, not that Ben wanted to remember any of them. And he most certainly wasn’t in the mood for either Maybelline’s or Kitty’s antics.
“I expect you to be on your best behavior . . .” Ben said, giving both a stern look.
Maybelline threw her hands up in protest. “How can I get into trouble when you took my taser gun and my car is destroyed? Without them, I’m virtually trouble-free.”
That’s what worried Ben. Virtually trouble free for Maybelline meant the same as being in trouble. “I mean it, Maybelline. If you cause any problems I’m going to lock you up.”
Maybelline let out an offended gasp. “You’re my cousin for goodness sake! I should get some benefit out of it.”
The muscle flexed in Ben’s jaw. “You have. Twice now. The third time won’t be a charm for you,” he assured her as he and Mike started to leave.
He didn’t get very far when Abe came up to. “I’ve secured the area,” Abe told them.
Ben looked at Abe in confusion. “Secured the area from what?”
Abe gave Ben an exasperated look. “Are you kidding me? Don’t you remember what happened just a few weeks ago?”
Remember? How could Ben forget? It had been beyond embarrassing to find out that the town had gotten swept up in the ridiculous rumor that the end of the world was coming and it was landing in Aberdeen. Not only had they gone into a full panic but they also had called the media outlet in Albany and the New York National Guard.
“This is a Mardi Gras parade,” Ben stated. “Nothing is going to happen.”
“That’s what you think,” Abe replied. “But you never know. Look at all these people. Any one of them could be ready wreak havoc.”
“Well, it certainly would make the parade a bit more exciting,” Mack interjected.
“I think last year’s parade was exciting enough for all of us,” Ben replied dryly.
“Oh Lord, wouldn’t it be something if George ran over his wife,” Abe said.
After last year’s debacle when Tipper Jones lost control of the lead vehicle in the parade and drove through the bank’s window, City Council had asked George Shapiro to drive. They thought it was the least they could do seeing as it was George’s wife Mitzi who was nearly splattered into the front end of Tipper’s car.
“Now why the hell would George do that?” Mack demanded.
“Who knows,” Abe said. “They’ve been married forty years. He might have a lot of reasons to run her over.”
“Well, as much as I don’t like writing stories about death and general sadness, I’ve got to say, that would be a scoop too hard to refuse,” Rose said coming up to the group. She flipped open her notebook, her pen poised over the paper in eager anticipation.
“George isn’t going to run over Mitzi,” Ben snapped. He could never figure out how he got involved in these ridiculous discussions.
“You better hope not,” Charles said. “Seeing as she is sitting in the bleachers. If George targets her, he’ll be taking out half the town.”
“Do you think I need to alert the fire department that a massacre might be happening at any moment?” Abe wondered as he grabbed his walkie-talkie.
Ben let out a sigh of annoyance. “I’m certain things will be just fine.”
It didn’t take long for the parade to make its way towards the judge’s platform. Everyone held their ears as the Aberdeen Marching Band screeched and wailed its way past them. They then held their breath as George Shapiro and the first float drove by without incident.
Abe was frowning as the lead float passed Mitzi without incident. “Well, now that was disappointing. I expected to have some excitement.”
“Yeah, so far, this parade is boring,” Rufus grumbled. “All I see is floats, floats and more floats.”
Ben had to agree with Rufus. The parade was boring. Then again, boring was far better than having a car run off the road and hit another vehicle or someone getting tased or Rufus running naked down the streets.
“I’m sure things will pick up soon,” Ben replied.
He wasn’t wrong. No sooner had he said it when Maybelline ran up the stairs of the judge’s platform and announced, “I’ve lost Burt!”
Ben spun around to see Maybelline, her hair a disheveled mess, dirt smudged on her face and her bright orange coat ripped at the pocket. Kitty wasn’t looking much better. She had a bruise on the side of her face, the gold feathers that once adorned her boa were now a bit tarnished and stuck in her hair, and her once questionable housecoat had a tear in the side.
“What the hell happened to you two?” Abe burst out in alarm. “Was it a terrorist?”
“Your darn right it was,” Maybelline burst out. “And his name is Crazy Eddie!”
Everyone breathed out a sigh of relief. “Crazy Eddie isn’t a terrorist,” Frank said. “He’s just an old homeless man.”
“Yeah, who thinks he’s a dog!” Maybelline protested. With a wild look in her eyes she turned to Ben. “He scared the hell out of me when jumped out from behind at dumpster, dressed in an old, dirty dog’s costume and chased after the three of us. I was running so fast, I tripped over a curb. Kitty landed on top of me.”
“What happened to Burt?”
“How the heck should I know,” Maybelline retorted. “I was hoping maybe you had seen him.”
“How could Burt get away from you so quickly?” Ben wondered.
“I don’t know, but if you ask me, it has something to do with a crazy homeless man dressed like a dog, chasing after you and growling, that will make you move pretty fast,” Maybelline reasoned. “I’m telling you, for a man that’s eighty-six years old, he sure is fast.”
“Well, he does try to keep in shape,” Kitty told them. “He’s always reading women’s fitness magazines,” she added.
“Women’s?” Mack asked with a laugh.
Kitty shrugged. “He said they give him inspiration.”
Ben was about to tell Abe to have his officers search for Burt when Mack nudged him in the side. “I think we’ve found Burt,” Mack laughed.
Sure enough, running down the middle of Main Street, was Burt with nothing on but his black socks, white sneakers and gold chains around his neck. Chasing him was Crazy Eddie, still dressed as a dog with Burt’s robe between his teeth.
“Maybelline . . .” Ben ground out in horror.
“I knew you’d blame me for this!” Maybelline cried out.
“Woo wee!” Kitty said, clapping her hands in excitement. “Burt was right. Those magazines really did the trick!”
Rufus shook his head in disgust. “When I said exciting, I didn’t mean Burt or Crazy Eddie.”
Exactly one week after the embarrassing incident of falling down the steps, Maybelline knew she needed a vacation. Of course, when your cousin Ben, who is also the police chief of Aberdeen, strongly encourages you to get out of town and ‘cool off,’ or get arrested, Maybelline knew it was time to leave.
The joke was on Ben, though. Maybelline hadn’t been cool at all in Florida. Just like the sun that beat down on the scorching beaches, Maybelline had simmered the whole time she was there.
She had taken her friend April with her, thinking April would help take her mind off John and Jenny. Come to find out, April wasn’t so good at diversion. Maybelline realized that on the flight to Florida.
“I heard Jenny’s going to New York City for a bit . . .” April told Maybelline.
“Really?” Maybelline replied, feigning interest as she flipped a page of the magazine she was looking at. “Why would she go there? Not enough relationships to break up in Aberdeen?”
April leaned into Maybelline and whispered. “Well, I heard it on good authority that she’s going there to get a wig.”
Now this was news. Maybelline snapped the magazine shut. “Really? Why would she do that?”
April rolled her eyes. “After the great Papa’s Pizza incident?”
Maybelline glared at April. It was one thing to discuss the fight. It was quite another to actually name it.
“It wasn’t that great!” Maybelline snapped.
“You nearly ripped out all of Jenny’s hair!” April shot back. “And that was after you jumped on her back and shoved her face into that pizza. You know she’s allergic to anchovies.”
“Yeah, well Father Frank shouldn’t have ordered anchovies and Jenny shouldn’t have come into Papa’s Pizza,” Maybelline answered, without a hint of regret. “I warned the town I was a woman on edge!”
“I don’t think you should be mad at Jenny, though,” April told her.
Maybelline snapped her attention to April. “Didn’t I just tell you I was a woman on edge?”
April hands flew upward. “Don’t get upset. I’m just saying it’s John you should blame. He’s the one who cheated on you.”
Maybelline hated it when April was right. After all, as much as she hated that stupid Jenny Pickler, she had to be honest and lay the blame where the blame was due and that was all on John’s lap. She tapped her fingers on the magazine, staring unseeing out the plane window.
“I just wish I had one more chance to get back at them . . .” Maybelline grumbled as the plane landed on the tarmac.
But April’s comment made Maybelline rethink her position. Maybe she was too content. Maybe Jenny hadn’t been the problem but herself. It was a lot to think about.
Fortunately, Maybelline had plenty of time to consider it, seeing as they had to drive a good hour every day just to reach the beach. Apparently, Maybelline’s sister Janet couldn’t afford beach front property. Or even near-beach front property. Or property within fifty miles of the beach, for that matter.
It didn’t take Maybelline long to figure out what she needed to do. When they finally reached the wide, expansive ocean with the soft waves and the white beaches, Maybelline made her decision official.
“That’s it, I’m going to do it.”
April spread out her beach towel on the warm sand before asking, “Do what?”
“I’m going to start running,” Maybelline said.
Maybelline was true to her word. She started running the very next day. It wasn’t easy. She could barely make it to the corner of her sister’s street on her first attempt. But she didn’t quit and by the end of the week she was making it around the block. Sure, her legs had felt like rubber and she thought her lungs were going to explode, but she’d made it a full half mile and in Maybelline’s opinion that was a good start.
While she and April were gone, neither called Aberdeen. Not only were they too busy, but Maybelline had put a moratorium on any gossip from home. While Maybelline wasn’t necessarily opposed to gossip per se, she much preferred to be a participant in the gossip and not the subject of it. And right now, Maybelline knew she, John and Jenny were gossip du jour. In hindsight, she regretted her lack of news from home. Maybe then she wouldn’t have been caught by surprise her first morning back.
It happened before Maybelline even knew what was going on. One minute she was out for her morning run, gasping for breath and having a delusional moment of eating ice cream on a warm Florida beach, and the next she was thrown into an ice hardened snow drift.
At first, she thought Crazy Eddie Jeffers had attacked her. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Eddie went from only semi-crazy to full blown nuts. Jumping out of a bush and throwing himself at her was a little uncalled for though, in Maybelline’s opinion.
It took Maybelline less than two heartbeats to realize it wasn’t Crazy Eddie on her back. Of course, the two helicopters flying overhead and the five rifles pointed at her face certainly helped her come to that conclusion.
Maybelline realized what was happening. That stupid Jenny Pickler had called the government and demanded they come and arrest her. As much as Maybelline didn’t want to do it, she knew the only way she could get out of this mess was to admit the truth.
“Okay, fine! I did it. I meant to get into a fight with Jenny Pickler!” Maybelline cried out as the commander snapped handcuffs on her wrists. “But she started it . . . “
Her words died in her throat when she saw Ben push his way into the circle. He didn’t look happy. In fact, he looked downright furious.
“They’re not here to arrest you for that,” Ben snapped as he walked over to the commander.
Maybelline’s eyes widened. “They’re not?”
A sound of exasperation erupted from Ben. “No. They think you’re a terrorist.”
She noticed the crowds then. They filled the park and All Saint’s Church steps. Some were laughing. Some were down on their knees in prayer. But all of them were looking at her with a mixture of laughter and disbelief.
If that wasn’t mortifying enough, Maybelline noticed the reporter standing just off to the side of her. A cameraman stood next to the reporter, his camera focused directly onto Maybelline as the reporter said something. Great! Now she was on T.V? This was not the way she wanted to get her fame!
“To be fair,” Mabel Maple said pulling Maybelline’s attention away from the reporter. “They don’t think you’re a terrorist as much as they think you’re bringing the end of the world.”
“That’s not any better!” Maybelline cried out as Ben pulled the commander aside and explained the situation to him.
Finally, after what seemed like an interminable amount of time, the commander removed the handcuffs from Maybelline’s wrists as the rifles were removed from her face. It was in that moment Maybelline really, really, really wished she’d taken her vacation this week and not last week. Maybe then she wouldn’t be facing this humiliation in front of the whole town.
Things didn’t get any better for Maybelline. Her once iron-clad determination to lose weight evaporated the minute the crowds dissipated. She grabbed April’s hand and dragged to her Papa’s Pizza.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” April demanded.
“Getting pizza and so are you,” Maybelline returned.
April stopped and dropped her hand to her hip. “Maybelline Jordan, I thought you were determined to lose weight and show that Jenny Pickler!”
“I just had a guy throw himself at me and trust me, that was not the way I wanted it.”
“But that guy was hot and his body was amazing!” April argued. “And you’re single. I’d think you’d be all for that.”
“Normally I would,” Maybelline agreed. “But let’s face it, his introduction sucked.”
By Saturday, not only was the whole incident the newest topic of the day, but Maybelline found out people were taking bets on what she would do next.
On Sunday, she skipped church and headed straight to Dainty Donut’s. She’d rather eat a grape filled donut or two and gain a half pound than see she the laughter on the faces of the people at All Saint’s Church. In the end, it didn’t solve anything but her eating four donuts instead of two and gaining a full pound instead of a half. And still, the town was gossiping about her!
Maybelline considered skipping work on Monday. After all, she had a good excuse. At least she thought humiliation and mortification was a good excuse. But seeing as she’d just taken a week off, she didn’t think Mr. Williamson, the principal at Aberdeen High would be quite as understanding.
As soon as she stepped into her office, and Mr. Williamson popped his head inside, Maybelline knew she’d made a bad decision.
“Good morning, Dooms.”
Maybelline’s head snapped up. “Did you just call me boobs?”
Mr. Williamson’s face turned bright red. “Good Heavens, no! I called you Dooms. You know . . .doomsday . . .”
Maybelline’s brows shot downward. “Dooms! Now that’s just wrong,” Maybelline sniffed. She’d rather he’d called her boobs.
On Thursday, Maybelline knew she had to do something. She’d eaten her way through Burger, Burger, Burger, Tiny’s Taco’s, and Candi’s Candies. But tonight, she vowed she was going to eat something healthy.
She was driving her rusted out, beat up old clunker to Stop ‘n Shop to purchase some vegetables when she spotted John’s truck driving down St. James Street. If that wasn’t bad enough, she thought she saw a head of blonde hair riding in the passenger seat of the truck.
“That stupid Jenny Pickler!” Maybelline ground out as she pressed her foot to the gas pedal.
Suddenly, her car hit an ice patch and started to skid. Maybelline grabbed hold of the wheel. She noticed the snow drift just as John’s truck crossed in front of her path. Maybelline closed her eyes and said a quick prayer that she’d hit her mark.
By the time her car stopped, people were out on the sidewalk in droves, drawn by the sound of squealing tires and crunching metal. With shaking hands, Maybelline pushed open her car door and stepped out just as Ben rushed up to her. A mixture of fury and fear lined his face.
“Are you okay?” he asked. When Maybelline nodded her head. The worry evaporated from Ben’s face leaving only fury. “That’s good because I’m going to kill you!”
Maybelline’s mouth dropped open. “Kill me? Why?”
Ben wasn’t in the mood for Maybelline’s denial. “Because you purposely aimed for John’s truck.”
Maybelline looked in the direction of Ben’s finger. There was her beat-up, rusted out car, crumpled like an accordion into the side of John’s brand new truck.
“I did not!” Maybelline protested. “I hit that patch of ice and lost control. I tried to hit that snow bank!”
Ben looked from the ice patch to the snow bank to John’s ruined truck then back to Maybelline. He didn’t know whether to believe her or not. He was about to question her further, only his attention was pulled away by the sounds of sirens coming down the street. He blew out a breath of frustration as he left to intercept the fire department.
Maybelline’s attention was pulled away from Ben when Jenny Pickler climbed out of John’s truck and began to scream, “You did this on purpose, Maybelline!”
Maybelline didn’t bother to acknowledge Jenny’s accusation. But a smile as broad as the dent in John’s truck split her face and a feeling of exhilaration filled her as she walked away from the accident. Maybelline guessed the saying was true. Revenge was best served cold.
Gladys Clapper woke up on Monday with a tightness in her stomach and her bones aching. When she looked at the calendar and saw that Friday was not only the full moon but also the 13th, she knew her body wasn’t lying. Something bad was about to happen.
She spotted Mabel Wilson, her neighbor, snow blowing her driveway. Gladys grabbed her heavy winter coat, threw on her fur lined galoshes and darted out of the house, to share the dismal news with Mabel.
The frozen ground was covered with freshly fallen snow. Gladys carefully maneuvered the ice crusted steps making certain she didn’t fall and break a leg. She wasn’t so lucky racing across her yard. One of her beloved gnomes, hidden beneath piles of snow, tripped her.
Mabel was just doing another sweep of her driveway when she saw Gladys sailing through the air, her arms flailing overhead. She shut off the snow blower just as Gladys landed with a resounding thud upon the frozen ground.
It took a moment for Gladys to collect her wits. When she finally opened her eyes, she let out a gasp of surprise to see Mabel, bundled up like an Eskimo in her faux fur parka and Elmer Fudd hat, staring down at her.
“I think something bad is going to happen on Friday . . .” Gladys croaked out.
Mabel looked at Gladys like she’d lost her mind. “Are you okay? Maybe I need to call an ambulance . . .”
“Don’t you understand what I’m saying?” Gladys persisted. “Doomsday is coming this week! I’m talking about death and destruction. The end of the world! Pestilence and plague!”
“The only plague we’re getting is more snow,” Mabel snapped.
“I’m serious,” Gladys insisted. “My bones ache and my stomach is in knots!”
“Well of course your bones are aching. You just flew ten feet in the air. Don’t you realize you’re old? Your bones are as brittle as icicles. You’re lucky you didn’t break something!”
“Okay, but remember, Friday is not only the 13th but there’s a full moon as well!”
“Gladys Clapper, I’ve known you for nearly seventy years and never once did I realize you were so superstitious,” Mabel exclaimed.
“I’m not superstitious!” Gladys retorted. “But I am worried. I’m going to see Madam Volta. She’ll tell me if my feelings are right.”
Mabel’s curiosity was immediately piqued. She’d been wanting to go to see the fortune teller who had just opened for business this past summer. Now, seeing as Gladys was going, it seemed like a perfect time for Mabel to go.
“Can I come?” Mabel asked as she started to push her snow blower back into the garage.
“Really? You want to come?” Gladys asked.
Mabel nodded her head. “I need to find out if I’m going to make it through the summer.”
Gladys’ brows pinched together. “Why wouldn’t you?”
Mabel shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m seventy-five. I’m rolling the dice every day.”
Seeing as Gladys was a little nervous going by herself, she didn’t think it was a bad idea to have Mabel come along with her. Gladys ran into the house, careful to avoid the gnomes this time, grabbed her money and keys off the hall table and was out the door in seconds.
They drove the short distance to Madam Volta’s shop. When they stepped inside the building, they came to a dead stop. The dark room was covered in red velvet and the smell of patchouli assaulted their senses. Exotic music played on the stereo and candles were lit on every possible surface in the room.
“Would you look at all these candles,” Mabel whispered to Gladys.
“I think it has something to do with calling up the otherworld,” Gladys returned.
“You mean dead people?” Mabel exclaimed, as a shiver of dread rolled down her spine. “Why would she do that?”
Gladys rolled her eyes. “Well, how else would she see into the future?”
Mabel shrugged. “I dunno. I thought she’d use a crystal ball . . .”
That was an excellent point and one Gladys hadn’t thought of. “Well, I suppose she could use one of them too . . .”
Their conversation halted when Madam Volta stepped out from behind the beaded curtain separating the main area from the dark hallway. If they expected Madam Volta to be dressed in a satin turban and silk scarves, they were sadly disappointed.
She stood before them in a pair of torn jeans and an old sweatshirt that looked like it could use a good washing. Her face was puffy, her eyes bloodshot and whoever had done her hair, really needed to find a new profession. The black and red hair stood erect atop her head like a medieval flail. She didn’t look like a lady who communicated with the spirits as much as she looked one who drank spirits.
“Welcome to Madam Volta Future Teller,” Madam Volta said in a voice that sounded like she’d just downed a pack of Pall Mall’s.
Mabel’s brows pinched downward. “Don’t you mean fortune teller?”
Madam Volta shrugged. “Is it not the same?”
Mabel was going to argue the point but she never got a chance. “Don’t make her mad . . .,” Gladys hissed. She turned to Madam Volta. “I’m Gladys Clapper and I have some questions I need answering.”
“I have many spirits clamoring to talk to you,” Madam Volta told her.
Gladys’ eyes widened. Many spirits? That didn’t sound good.
“Are any of them named Jack Daniels or Jim Beam?” Mabel asked because she was positive the lady in front of her had to be drunk.
“No. But one is named Morton.”
Gladys thought her knees were going to buckle. What the hell would Morton want to talk to her about? They’d been married for thirty-five years and the man had hardly spoken two dozen words to her in that whole time. Now, he’s been dead for three years and he wanted to talk? It was a little too late in Gladys opinion.
“Well go figure! Morton is here . . .” she exclaimed, looking around the room as if the man would appear at any moment.
“He said to get rid of the gnomes,” Madam Volta told Gladys. “They scare people.”
Gladys’ eyes widened to the size of saucers. “But they’re so cute!”
Mabel shook her head. “Morton’s right. They’re downright frightening.”
A frown creased Gladys brow as she turned back to Madam Volta. “Is there anything else?”
Madam Volta nodded her head. “You’re about to lose a lot of money.”
“I am?” Gladys exclaimed, clutching a hand to her heart. She turned to Mabel. “I knew I should have listened to my stockbroker. He warned me to get rid of that stupid stock Morton bought. I didn’t though . . .” Gladys grumbled.
Madam Volta shook her head. “It’s not your stocks. Your money is falling out of your pocket.”
Gladys looked down to see Madam Volta was right. She shoved the money back into her pocket then sat down at the table Madam Volta had indicated. Mabel quickly followed.
The table was covered in a white lacy cloth. In the center was a large bubble covered in red velvet. With a sweeping flourish, Madam Volta ripped the cloth off the mound to reveal a crystal ball.
Madam Volta chanted unintelligible words as she stared in fixated concentration at the crystal globe. Finally, in her deep mysterious voice, said, “I see many unusual things. Things no one could imagine.”
Both Mabel and Gladys eyes widened at her words. “Doomsday kind of things . . .?” Gladys whispered in a fearful voice.
“Something unexpected will happen,” Madam Volta murmured as her hands hovered over the crystal ball. “What has always been will be no more. What once was, will cease to exist. Things will be new and different.”
“Different good or different bad?” Mabel asked, enthralled.
Madam Volta turned her dark eyes in the direction of the women. A shiver of fear rolled over them. It was palatable in the room.
“It is too soon to tell . . .” Madam Volta replied before she slumped down in her seat, a great whoosh of air escaping her. The room went silent as the woman’s eyes closed.
Gladys and Mabel looked at each other. Neither was certain whether the reading was over or not.
“Oh, dear Lord, what should we do?” Mabel wondered.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to let Ben know!” Gladys replied as she jumped out of her seat. She tossed the money on the table and bolted out the door.
“Wait! I didn’t get a chance to find out if I’m going toes up this spring!” Mabel cried out as she chased after Gladys.
“Well, of course, you are!” Gladys said as she darted out of the building. “You heard her. The world is coming to an end!”
Gladys and Mabel went directly to the Police Station. Ben had just come out of his office when Gladys and Mabel burst into the station.
“What’s wrong?” Ben asked when he saw the worried looks on the elderly ladies faces.
“The world is coming to an end . . .” Gladys rushed out.
Abe’s eyes widened. “You don’t say?”
“It’s true! I woke up today with a really bad feeling in my bones and my stomach was queasy,” Gladys told the men.
“Don’t forget to tell them how you flew through the air and landed on the hard ground,” Mabel interjected.
“That’s true. I did fly through the air, but that’s not why my body hurt,” Gladys corrected.
“Well, it certainly didn’t help it,” Mabel pointed out.
“I’m sure that the world is not coming to an end,” Ben said trying to calm the two women down. It didn’t help. Neither women seemed interested in being calmed down.
“Oh yes, it is,” Gladys insisted. “Madam Volta saw it in her crystal ball!”
“Well, to be fair, she didn’t say it was coming to an end. She said that something unexpected was going to happen,” Mabel corrected. She frowned at Ben and Abe. “We left so quickly I didn’t get a chance to find out if I was going to make it through the spring . . .”
“Would you let that go?” Gladys retorted. “Didn’t you hear me? No one is going to make it through the week!” She grabbed her keys and spun on her heels. “Come on, Mabel we need to let the rest of the town know . . .”
And before Ben could stop them, both women were out the door.
“Well, what are you going to do about this?” Abe asked.
Ben looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “Do? I’m not going to do anything,” he told Abe. “Because nothing is going to happen.”
Abe frowned at the casual tone he heard in Ben’s voice. “Are you kidding me? We’ve got terrorists coming and you’re not doing anything about it?”
“Terrorist? They never said anything about terrorists,” Ben replied.
“Well of course it’s going to be terrorists,” Abe retorted. “Don’t you remember that Red Sox blanket.”
It took Ben a moment to recall what Abe was talking about. “You mean the blanket found at the nativity scene?”
Abe nodded his head. “Yup. Clearly there’s a terrorist bent on destroying our town,” Abe told him. “I think they’re using it as a warning.”
Ben let out an exhausted sigh. “As far as I know, terrorists don’t announce their intentions ahead of time.”
Abe wasn’t happy with Ben’s answer. “You know, you really need to take things more seriously.”
“I’ll take things seriously when they are serious,” Ben retorted.
Ben had completely forgotten about Gladys’ ridiculous worry until the next day when he had gone to Mo’s Deli for lunch. He was surprised to see the deli locked up tighter than Fort Knox and as dark as midnight inside. He was forced to go to Burger, Burger, Burger instead. He would have much preferred a triple meat grinder from Mo’s than the sloppy mess tucked inside the grease laden bag.
“Mo’s is closed,” Ben complained when he returned to the station. He handed Abe a burger.
“I know.” Abe replied, looking up from the book he was reading. He grabbed the burger Ben handed him. “He had to get out of town pretty fast.”
Ben knew Mo’s daughter lived in Florida with her husband and children. He hadn’t heard there was a problem. But that didn’t mean anything either.
Handing Abe an order of fries, Ben asked, “Family emergency?”
With a napkin, Abe swiped at the burger grease that dribbled down his chin. “I guess you could say that. When your life is being threatened it’s pretty much an emergency.”
That news got Ben’s attention. “What the hell happened?”
It didn’t take Abe long to regal Ben with the details. Apparently, bets were being placed how the end of the world would arrive. Mo made the grievous mistake of suggesting the Aberdeen Ice Men would lose the Frozen Cup, as the trophy was called, to Lake Placid Olympians. It wasn’t exactly an outrageous prediction seeing as the Ice Men had lost the ice hockey championship to the Olympians the past four years. The Ice Men took exception to the prediction, though. There was no way they were going to let the stinking Olympians have another shot at the ‘cup’ once again.
Realizing his mistake, Mo apologized profusely then got the hell out of Aberdeen until, either the end of the world arrived or the fuss blew over. The way Mo figured, it was better to let Armageddon come to Aberdeen while he was soaking up the sun on the beaches of Florida then being lynched by an angry, frozen mob in Aberdeen.
“The town has gone crazy,” Ben grumbled, only to notice the book sitting on Abe’s desk next to the crumpled burger wrapper. “What the hell are you reading?”
“The bible,” Abe replied as if it was an everyday occurrence.
Ben looked at Abe in surprise. “You’re reading the bible and not doing Word Jumbles?”
Abe’s bushy brows snapped downward. “You don’t have to appear so shocked! It’s not like I’ve never read the bible.”
“But you’ve given up on religion,” Ben pointed out.
“That’s not true,” Abe argued. “I’m what I like to call, a distance believer. Kind of like a distant learner. I like to keep a nice buffer between me and the church. However, I’m thinking about going back. It’s never too late,” he added, then frowned. “Well, unless Friday is the end of the world. Then it might be a bit too late.”
“Don’t tell me you actually believe all this nonsense?”
Abe shrugged. “I guess you could say I’m hedging my bets.” He paused for a moment before asking, “I’m thinking about going to see Frank and having a confession. Do you think I need to make an appointment for that?”
“Weren’t you once a Methodist?” Ben asked, confused.
“Yes,” Abe admitted. “But the way I figure it, you can never have too many religions praying for you. Besides, if those aliens come to take over our town tomorrow, I want to be prepared.”
“I thought you said it was going to be terrorists?”
“Flip a coin,” Abe replied. “There’s a fifty-fifty chance it could go either way.”
Ben thought there was a fifty-fifty chance Abe had lost his mind. “I don’t think we need to worry about either of them,” he told Abe.
“Now you see, that’s why we need to worry,” Abe retorted. “We’re so unprepared it’s going to be easy for someone with nefarious intentions to wipe us out.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “We’re not prepared because there’s nothing to prepare for.”
“Oh yeah?” Abe retorted. “Well, then if I were you, I’d take this here bible and do a little more reading. Your soul could probably use some saving.”
Ben let out an exasperated sigh. “I’d rather do your Word Jumbles.” And with that he walked into his office.
Abe wasn’t the only one who had gone crazy. Like a ripple turning into a wave, it wasn’t long before the impending end of the world was on everyone’s lips. Speculation ran rampant. From Abe’s terrorist invading Aberdeen to swarms of locusts and pestilence. Everything was on the table.
George Betts, a local lawyer in town, who once had more available appointments than he did customers suddenly found he didn’t have time to eat or sleep. He was too busy writing wills for the locals. Warren Henderson, from Henderson and Sons Mortuary, was so busy meeting with prospective clients that he completely forgot about the funeral for Jasper Martin. He only remembered when an angry crowd of Martin’s began beating on the mortuary door.
Ben knew things had gotten completely out of control when a good many of the residents started to withdrew their money from the Aberdeen National Bank then they drove straight to the grocery store. It wasn’t long before Stop ‘n Shop’s grocery shelves were mostly empty. Only the stuff people didn’t like were left there, like vegetables and tofu.
Wyatt Westerman stopped Ben on Thursday morning. “Where is the shelter in place?”
“What?” Ben asked in confusion.
“The shelter in place!” Wyatt roared. “Where are you going to store us until this doomsday is over?”
“There’s not going to be a doomsday,” Ben burst out. “So, there’s no need for a shelter!”
Wyatt’s brows shot downward. “Oh sure. Isn’t that just like you to keep it a secret from us just to keep your family safe.”
“Trust me Wyatt, that’s not a concern for me . . .” Ben shot back as he stormed up the steps of the police station.
Father Frank, seeing an opportunity to draw in new parishioners, called for an all-night prayer session. People flocked to the event, including Abe. The session started promptly at six o’clock on Thursday morning and ran straight through the night.
When Friday morning arrived and the town was still standing, Ben thought the drama was over.
He was wrong.
He knew it the minute he spotted a popular Albany news station van rolling into town. When he saw Rose Smith, from the Aberdeen Almanac and Henry Walkman, from the Aberdeen Times, two competing papers, meet with the reporter from Albany in the park, Ben knew he had to intercede. He had just entered the park when Mack, the fire chief, came up to him.
“Looks like we’re getting our fifteen minutes of fame,” Mack said as they continued across the park.
Ben was about to reply when he heard loud noises overhead. He looked up to see a fleet of helicopters hovering above. It didn’t take him any time at all to determine who they were. The Air National Guard had arrived and with them plenty of fire power. Even now, Ben could see soldiers clinging to the edge of the landing skids, their rifles poised for defense, as they circled the town square.
The reporter, not wanting to miss the story, waved frantically to the cameraman to catch the action. Swinging his camera around, the cameraman filmed the hysteria that was mounting when suddenly, the doors to the church opened and the bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived prayer warriors emerge.
It was then that a hush descended on the town as one of the prayer warriors spotted something off in the distance. “Oh, my God! It’s here! It’s here!”
The warriors, realizing they might need to say a few more prayers, dropped down to their knees and clasped their hands together, right there on the steps of the church. It was only as the object got closer that people began to realize their mistake.
Dressed in a tight neon green and orange sweat suit, was Maybelline, trudging past them, one laborious foot in front of the other. Everyone swung their gazes to an embarrassed Gladys.
Throwing up her hands and shrugging, she said, “Well, Madam Volta did say something unexpected was going to happen . . .”
Ben couldn’t argue with that. Maybelline running was definitely unexpected.
Maybelline had just accepted a glass of champagne when someone grabbed her arm and spun her around. She looked up to see her cousin Ben glaring down at her. She should have known she’d get caught. This was Aberdeen, after all. Gossip traveled faster than the speed of light in this town. She just didn’t expect to be caught this quickly.
“Hand it over,” Ben said in a deceptively mild voice.
Maybelline knew it was deceptive because there was a tick in Ben’s cheek and everyone knew that wasn’t a good sign. Oh, he was mad alright. But Maybelline didn’t care. She was a woman slighted and that was far worse than any man’s puny anger.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about . . .”
The muscle flexed in Ben’s cheek. “The gun, Maybelline.”
He looked mad enough to arrest her. Maybelline didn’t think he would. He was her cousin after all. But she didn’t want to take any chances either. Maybelline dropped her hands to her hips and glared at Ben. “I don’t have a gun!”
Ben’s gaze swept downward to Maybelline’s hand. Dammit. She was incriminated by her own stupidity! Why hadn’t she tossed the gun in the car.
“Okay fine. You can have it! But I’ve got to say, you were a lot more fun as a cousin when you weren’t the police chief!” she snapped, slapping the gun into his outstretched palm. She gave him a disgruntled look. “I don’t know why you won’t let me keep it, though. I’m not going to go after John again.”
“I’m sure you won’t,” Ben replied, although he didn’t believe it. “But you might go after Jenny.”
A slow smile crossed Maybelline’s face. “You’re right. There’s nothing I’d like better than to tase her.”
“Do you think you stay out of trouble for the rest of the night or do I need to get you a police escort?”
Maybelline gasped once again. “I don’t need police escort!” A look of doubt crossed Ben’s face. Maybelline let out a sigh of disgust. “Fine. I’ll stay out of trouble. But that stupid Jenny Pickler better stay out of my way, Ben. I’m a woman on the edge . . .”
“I know, Maybelline,” Ben replied. “That’s why I’m keeping your gun.”
That had been exactly three days, ten hours and forty-two minutes ago. Since then, Maybelline had been left with a lot anger and a stupid salad gift card. Maybelline stared at the card. She hated salads! If she had her gun right now she’d shoot the card. Of course, it wouldn’t do anything to the card seeing it was only a taser, but it would give Maybelline plenty of satisfaction.
Maybelline picked up the distasteful card and tapped it on the table in thought. Jenny Pickler probably ate salads every day. It would explain why she looked slim in her turquoise turtleneck and black leggings on New Year’s Eve and why Maybelline had looked like a sausage wrapped in space age foil. Maybelline didn’t want to look like a sausage. She wanted to look slim and stylish like Jenny Pickler.
Getting up from the table, Maybelline walked into her bedroom and studied herself in the full length mirror. The image that stared back left a lot to be desired. Dark brown sweats and a mustard yellow top, Maybelline was as far from stylish as a person could get. Something caught her eye on the hem of her shirt. She grabbed it up to get a closer look.
“Catsup? When did I eat catsup?” Maybelline wondered.
Everything fell into place in that moment for Maybelline. Now she understood why John had purchased the gun and the gift card for Maybelline. It wasn’t so she could get fit for their wedding. It was because he didn’t like the way she looked. She couldn’t blame him. The image staring back at her wasn’t one she exactly liked either.
When had this happened? When had she gone from slim and trim to . . .to . . .
Maybelline couldn’t say the word. Disgusted, she was just about to change into her shirt when a knock sounded on the door. She peered through the peephole. It was April. Maybelline ripped the door open, grabbed hold of April’s arm and yanked her inside the apartment.
There she said it. A breath of relief rushed out of Maybelline. It was like being an alcoholic, she supposed. The hardest step was admitting she had a problem. Now it would get easier. Maybelline was certain of it.
“What?” April asked.
Maybelline frowned. Wasn’t it bad enough she had to admit it once. Now she had to admit it twice? Jeez! This wasn’t as easy as she thought. She gave April a good glare to let her know she didn’t appreciate her question.
“I said I’m fat!”
April stood back and looked at her. “I wouldn’t say fat . . .” April mused as she walked around Maybelline. “I’d call you ‘fluffy.’”
“Fluffy? That’s not better!” Maybelline snapped as she stormed into her bedroom. “Jenny’s not fat! She’s not even fluffy.”
“Well sure. But that’s Jenny,” April reasoned. “She’s got at least five inches on you and let’s face it, she’s not as curvy.”
Maybelline considered April’s argument. She had a point. At five two, it was pretty hard to stay slim and trim. And Maybelline did have a lot of curves. They just weren’t necessarily in the areas she would have liked them to be.
“Yeah, well that’s not the only difference between us,” Maybelline huffed. She threw her arms wide. “Look at what I’m wearing.”
April shrugged. “So, you’re wearing sweats. What’s the big deal. Everybody wears sweats now and then.”
“Oh really? Does everybody where sweats with this stuck on it?” Maybelline asked thrusting the hem of her sweatshirt in April’s face.
April’s brow wrinkled as she studied the spot. “Is that catsup?”
“Yes it’s catsup!” Maybelline snapped. “And what about this?”
Maybelline threw open her closet door and exposed a whole rack of sweats, hung neatly on hangers as if they were the finest apparel in the world. She started to rip out the clothing from her closet, itemizing them as she did so.
“Sweat pant, sweat shirt . . . another pair of sweat pants . . . more sweat shirts . . .”
She tossed each item on the bed. When she was finished, there was a pile of sweat pants and shirts taller than her head. She turned to April. “Now do you think it’s not bad?”
April looked at the pile of clothing. “Yeah . . . that’s bad.”
Maybelline flopped down on her bed in disgust. The pile of sweats tumbled over, burying her in a mound of cotton comfort.
“Hey, what about this?” April asked.
Maybelline sat up abruptly to see April holding up a gold sequined dress. Hope swelled inside Maybelline. She jumped off the bed and grabbed the dress out of April’s hands.
“That’s the outfit I wore to Janet’s wedding,” Maybelline cried out.
“What are you doing?” April asked when Maybelline started to take her shirt off.
“I’m going to try it on. If it fits, I’ll know I’m not fat.”
Maybelline put the dress over her head. The dress made it to the upper half of her body then stopped. With her arms stuck up in the air, Maybelline tried to wiggle the dress on down. It didn’t budge.
“Help me get this dress on!” Maybelline cried out.
April tugged on the dress. The dress inched down just far enough for Maybelline’s head to break free. Encouraged, April got down on her knees and pulled harder.
“Don’t rip it!” Maybelline warned.
“I’m trying not to . . .” April ground out as sweat broke out on her forehead and her face turned bright red. “But . . .its. . . not . . .moving . . .”
Maybelline sucked in a deep breath and began to wiggle in an effort to help. It was no use. The dress wasn’t going any further south.
“What the hell . . .!” Maybelline burst out when her lungs were about to explode.
They spent what seemed like forever trying to yank the dress off the other way. It wouldn’t budge. It was like the dress had become a second skin.
“Oh my God!” Maybelline cried out. “Am I going to be stuck in this dress forever?”
“Don’t worry. We’ll get you out,” April said.
It took another five minutes after that and a pair of scissors before Maybelline was finally free. She plopped down on the bed next to the ruined dress. She refused to let the tears flow.
“I bet Jenny Pickler never gets stuck in a dress,” Maybelline mumbled, despondent.
“That’s not really a fair comparison,” April said. “Jenny doesn’t have hips or breasts.”
That was true. Maybelline had all sorts of landmines that she had to navigate to get dressed. Still, there was no denying the fact that she let herself go and that’s all there was to it.
“That’s it! It’s official. I’m fat,” she said sitting up. She grabbed her sweat pants and sweat shirt and started to dress when a thought came to her. She looked up at April. “You know what? I think I’ll teach that stupid Jenny Pickler and John a lesson . . .”
“Really? How are you going to do that?” April asked.
Maybelline walked back into the kitchen with April following her. “With this . . .” She thrust out her hand and showed April her weapon of choice.
April looked at Maybelline in confusion. “With a salad card?”
“Yup. I’m turning a new leaf and not just a salad leaf,” Maybelline said as she fluffed her hair. “It’s a new year after all. That’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to change and become better.”
“You mean like repurposing an ugly chair or a clunker car?”
Maybelline frowned. “I don’t exactly appreciate the analogy but yes, something like that.”
“So, what are you going to do? Eat salads every day?”
Maybelline nodded her head. “Yup. And that’s not all. I’m going to put those sweats to good use too.”
April’s glance swept over Maybelline’s old, stained sweats she was currently wearing. “Looks like you already have.”
“Not that way,” Maybelline replied. “I mean using them for the very reason they were made. I’m going to start exercising.”
That announcement certainly got the reaction Maybelline expected. April’s eyes widened and her mouth dropped open. “You are gonna exercise? Wasn’t your New Year’s resolution last year to not exercise”
Maybelline dropped her hands to her overly cushioned hips and glared at April. “That was last year!” Maybelline retorted. “People change you know. That’s the whole point of the new year. Remember? Repurposing. Besides, it’s not like I haven’t talked about exercising before.”
“I’ve heard you scoff at people who exercised,” April pointed out.
Maybelline gasped. “I have not!”
“Sure you have,” April argued. “Don’t you remember every time we pass Jim’s Gym, you’re always commenting on the people who walk inside. You call them weak, and egocentric, and full of themselves . . .”
Maybelline rolled her eyes. “That’s not scoffing. That’s just using positive encouragement,” Maybelline told her. “Don’t you see? I was trying to motivate myself by commenting on them.”
“Really?” April replied, narrowing her eyes at Maybelline. “Then explain to me why you protest the high school’s track and field event every year?”
Maybelline lifted her chin in defiance. “I just don’t think it’s right that they force the track and field event on the staff every year,” Maybelline argued. “I’m just voicing my opinion.”
“But you’re not the ones who participate! It’s the students,” April burst out.
“That’s not the point!” Maybelline snapped, dismissing April’s argument. “The point is that this year I’m turning over a new leaf.”
Maybelline grabbed her sneakers from the closet, plopped down on the couch and started to put them on. She looked up at April. “And that’s not all. I’m thinking of going to cosmetology school too.”
“What?” April laughed.
“I’m serious,” Maybelline replied. “I think I have a real talent for hair.”
April frowned in confusion as she glanced at Maybelline’s recent hairtastrophy. Her once beautiful mahogany hair had a decidedly leopard look to it. “Weren’t you the one who color your hair this last time?”
Maybelline looked up from tying her shoe. “Yeah. What’s your point?”
“Have you looked in the mirror?”
Maybelline rolled her eyes. “Of course I have. That’s what got me motivated.”
April breathed out a sigh of relief. “Oh good. I thought you didn’t realize your hair looked like a bad leopard print.”
Maybelline’s brows snapped downward. “Hey! It takes real talent to get these spots in your hair!”
April watched as Maybelline got up and wrapped her brown, blonde and black spotted hair into a pony tail.
“You know there’s a whole foot of new snow on the ground,” April cautioned. “Maybe you should wait until the weather breaks.”
“We live in New York State,” Maybelline retorted. “The weather never breaks. Besides, isn’t there a saying there’s no time like now? Well, now is now.”
April rolled her eyes. “I really don’t think you should rush into this.”
“And I think there’s no time like the present,” Maybelline replied as she opened the door and stepped out onto the stairs landing. “See another cliché that proves my point.”
Maybelline looked all the way down the whole flight of stairs. April was right. There was a foot of new snow on the ground. There was also a decided bite in the air. But the sun was shining and the sky was clear, and that had to be a good sign, Maybelline thought.
“I’m just saying, you don’t want to make too many changes at once . . .” April said following Maybelline down the stairs.
Maybelline turned to reply just as her foot landed on a slick of ice. Her feet flew out from under her, catapulting her five feet in the air. She landed with a thud on her back in the new snow.
It took a moment for Maybelline to catch her breath. Every part of her body hurt. The snow might look soft but it certainly didn’t feel soft when you landed on it, Maybelline decided.
She brushed the snow off her face as she looked up at April staring down at her. “You might be right. Maybe I should just start with the salad.”
Maybelline always hated Christmas. No matter how great it was, there was always a little bit of letdown. This year was even worse for Maybelline.
After ten long years of dating, Maybelline was certain this was the year her boyfriend John would ask her to marry him. She waited all through Christmas Eve for John to propose. She sat on the edge of the green velvet stool, her hands clasped in anticipation, as she waited for the big moment to happen. She could hardly contain her excitement when John handed her the gold and silver wrapped gift box. It was ten times larger than a ring box, but Maybelline wasn’t worried a bit. John always liked to be sneaky. This was just another example, Maybelline thought.
With shaking hands, Maybelline ripped open the box. After diving through piles and piles of white tissue paper, Maybelline stared at the gift in disbelief. A five carat diamond set in a platinum band was not staring back at her.
She looked up at John. “A gun?”
“A Taser gun,” John corrected. “I thought you could use it so nothing bad happened to you. You know,” he added. “If you should decide to take up running.”
Maybelline was certain she hadn’t heard him correctly. “Running?” she asked.
John nodded his head. “You know . . . to get some exercise.”
Maybelline blinked in surprise. Since when did John think she liked to run? Or for that matter, needed exercise?
“Well, gee, thanks for the advice and the gift,” she sniffed in irritation as she covered the gun with tissue paper.
John stopped her. “Wait, there’s more inside . . .”
A burst of excitement rolled through Maybelline. Of course! Maybelline thought. Now she understood why he wanted her to run. It was obvious. He wanted her to get into shape for the wedding!
The thrill of anticipation was short lived as Maybelline dug through the tissue paper once again in search of the black velvet box that would surely hold her five carat diamond. The only thing she found was a flat white envelope. Maybelline didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that a five carat diamond wasn’t tucked inside.
“What’s this?” she asked looking up at him.
He gave her an encouraging smile. “It’s a gift card. Open it . . .”
A gift card! Maybelline was certain it was for a jeweler’s. Maybe even Harry Winston. John knew how particular she was. Why, he probably wanted her to pick out her own ring. Bursting with excitement, Maybelline ripped open the envelope. It wasn’t the Harry Winston gift card as she had hoped but instead, one to the House of Salads.
“Do you like it?” John asked, eagerly. “I thought you could use it.”
Maybelline thought she could use it too . . . when she shoved it down his throat.
Once again, Christmas had proven to be a complete bust. When she left his house, she tossed the Taser gun and the gift card on the front passenger seat of her car and drove home, disappointed and depressed.
Maybelline fumed all through Christmas Day. She was still angry the next day when she went to her best friend April’s house.
“That’s it. John and I are finished!” Maybelline announced as she as burst into April’s kitchen.
“What happened?” April asked in surprise.
“I’ll tell you what happened!” Maybelline shrieked as she tossed her purse and keys on the table. “The stupid man got me a Taser gun and a gift card to the House of Salads!”
“Ouch. That hurts,” April said. She gave Maybelline a sympathetic look. “So how did he take it?”
Maybelline plopped down in a chair and looked at April. “Take what?”
“You breaking up with him,” April replied.
“Oh that.” Maybelline waved her hand in dismissal. “I haven’t actually broken up with him yet.”
Maybelline rolled her eyes. “I can’t break up with him before New Year’s Eve. I don’t want to be without a date on that day! Besides, I want to stick it to that stupid Jenny Pickler that once again I have a man on New Year’s Eve and she doesn’t.”
April sat and tapped her fingers on the table in thought. Suddenly her face lit up. “Maybe he’s gonna ask you to marry him at the New Year’s Eve Festival in the Park.”
Maybelline looked at April. “What?”
“Well think about it,” April said. “You know how he likes to do things in spectacular ways and what’s more spectacular than proposing at the biggest event in Aberdeen?”
“That’s true. He does,” Maybelline murmured lost in thought. A slow smile began to cross her face. “You know what? I bet that stupid stun gun was just a rouse to throw me off.”
They decided to celebrate the news by going to the mall to pick out the perfect outfit for Maybelline to wear on New Year’s Eve. She found it at a tiny boutique shop at the far end of the mall.
“This is it!” Maybelline announced, holding up the outfit.
“Are you sure?” April asked hesitantly. “Those are silver lamé leggings.”
“Exactly. They’ll match the platinum engagement ring,” Maybelline replied. “And I’ll really stand out. That will show that stupid Jenny Pickler.”
“What shoes are you going to wear with it?” April wondered.
“I’ve got some silver sequined peep toe platforms that will look perfect with it,” Maybelline replied.
“You’re gonna wear peep toes shoes in January?” April exclaimed.
“Technically it’s December, and yes, I am,” Maybelline replied.
“There’s gonna be a foot of snow on the ground. You’ll get frostbite on your toes”
Maybelline waved off April’s concern. “I can’t be worried about my toes! I have to look good when John proposes to me.”
“What you’re gonna, do is kill yourself,” April warned.
Maybelline rolled her eyes. “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m an expert in platform shoes.”
April didn’t even bother to try to change Maybelline’s mind. She knew Maybelline too well to know she’d be dissuaded by any arguments. Instead April asked, “Are you going to try those pants on?”
Maybelline held up the silver pants and looked at them. “Nah . . .there’s spandex in them, see . . .” she said as she pulled on them.
Maybelline took her time getting ready on New Year’s Eve. It was a good thing too because the silver lamé leggings she thought was her size, actually ended up being a size too small and didn’t have nearly the right amount of stretch in them that she needed. She threw on an oversized white and silver sweater to cover up the lumps and bumps that seemed to stand out in the leggings. She added large silver hoops in her ears and the four-inch peep toe platform stilettos on her feet. When she was finished, she looked at herself in the mirror. Maybelline thought she looked pretty darn good.
She grabbed her car keys and cell phone and headed down to her car. She tossed her cell phone on the car seat next to the forgotten taser gun. There was no way she was going to add any more lumps or bumps to her outfit. Besides, she wouldn’t need her cell phone when she was at the park. She’d just have April take the pictures of John’s proposing to her.
She spotted April was waiting outside of Jim’s Gym just like they had arranged. Maybelline parked her car then climbed out.
“Where’s John?” April asked, looking around.
Maybelline shrugged. “He said he was working,” she replied. “But I don’t believe him. I think it’s part of his surprise. Come midnight he’ll be up on the stage waiting to propose to me.”
April sighed. “This is all so romantic . . .”
Maybelline had to agree. It was just like a Hallmark movie. And just like any good movie, Maybelline wanted to have the perfect response to John’s proposal.
“Hey, I’ve been thinking about my answer when John proposes,” Maybelline said. “I figure he’ll want to do it on the stage so everyone in town can see it. So, I’ll want my answer to be perfect. What do you think of me saying, “I will?”
April considered Maybelline’s words. “I don’t know . . .” April replied. “Isn’t that what you say when you get married.”
Maybelline curled her lips in thought. “Yeah, that’s true.” She thought for a moment more then said, “Okay, then what about “Yes?”
“Every girl says yes,” April replied.
That was true too. Maybelline wanted her response to be original. “How about “I’m all yours?”
April looked at her like she’d lost her mind. “Really?” April laughed. Her face suddenly lit up. “Hey, how about “I accept?”
Maybelline shook her head. “Nah. Who says “I accept?”
“Well you better think of something soon,” April warned her.
“Don’t worry. I’ll come up with the perfect response,” Maybelline replied as she stepped off the sidewalk.
She was so lost in her dilemma that she wasn’t paying attention to her footing. Her four-inch platform heel hit a sheet of ice. Her platform clad feet flew out from under her and she landed with a thud on her backside. She tried to stand up only she slipped once again and kept right on sliding down the center of the street. She narrowly missed getting hit by Mr. Winders car. Thinking quickly, Maybelline dug her heels into the ice like they were ice picks.
“See? I told you I can do anything in these shoes!” Maybelline announced as April helped her to stand.
The park was decorated for the New Year’s celebration. Lights in a multitude of colors sparkled off the blanket of white snow that covered the ground. The large, custom-made, crystal pinecone was perched at the top of City Hall, just waiting for the countdown to the New Year. And where the town’s gazebo once sat, now was a stage where the New Year’s Eve band was playing. Tall stands were stationed around the park and upon them were video cameras sending images of the partygoers to the big screen T.V. on the stage.
Maybelline took one look at the large T.V. and turned April. “I just bet, John and I will be on that T.V. tonight!”
She could just picture herself up on the stage, so proud and happy as John got down on one knee and said the words she’d been longing to hear. A soft sigh escaped her. Why, she almost thought she could forgive John for the taser gun and for pretending to be working.
They spend a good part of the night searching for John. They didn’t find him anywhere. Maybelline’s confidence began to waver.
“Maybe he really is working,” April suggested.
Maybelline wondered the very same thing. The excitement in the park began to build. Everywhere they looked the hum and buzz of laughter and noisemakers sounded throughout the area. When the band announced it was three minutes to the New Year, Maybelline knew there was a slight glitch in the plan.
Determined to find John and get her proposal, Maybelline said to April. “That’s it. I’m going to call him. He’s probably lost track of time and doesn’t realize it’s almost midnight!” Maybelline turned to April. “Where’s your phone?”
April shrugged. “I left it at home.”
Maybelline glared at her. “You were supposed to photograph John proposing to me!” Maybelline huffed. “Fine. Let’s go. Mine is in the car.”
She hurried across the street, careful to avoid the ice patches. She opened her car door and reached inside for her cell phone when April said, “Oh God, there’s John.”
Maybelline looked up. There under the street light, not ten feet away was John. His back was to her but Maybelline could tell he wasn’t working. He was busy though . . . kissing Jenny Pickler.
Her cell phone was forgotten as Maybelline grabbed the first thing her hand touched. She scrambled out of her car and raised her hand. April let out a panicked cry when she saw the gun. She threw herself at Maybelline, jarring her. The sound of the gun discharging filled the air just a second before John dropped to his knees as fifty thousand volts shot through him. When he finally stopped flopping around, Maybelline walked over to him. A smile spread across her face as she looked down at him.
“Gee John, you were right. That gun did keep something bad from happening to me.”
And with that announcement, Maybelline linked her arm in April’s and strolled back to the New Year’s Eve festival.
“I guess you were right,” April finally said. “You and John are on the T.V.”
Maybelline looked up just in time to see the replay of her tasing John broadcast on the big screen. A smile of pure joy lit Maybelline’s face. She might not have gotten her beautiful ring, or the man she thought was perfect for her, but she did get something better than that. She got a whole ton of satisfaction and oh, wasn’t that just wonderful?
Yes, this coming year was going to be absolutely perfect, Maybelline decided, as the town rung in the New Year.
Claire vowed this was going to be a perfect Christmas. She wouldn’t have the Charlie Brown Christmas tree with the one light that refused to shine nor the house with its anemic decorations, a sad comparison to the neighbors. Her Christmas dinner wouldn’t have burnt rolls, lumpy mashed potatoes or overcooked beef. And just once, for the love of God, she wanted to have a Christmas where she didn’t have to hear about Gracie Picklers’ perfectly wonderful holiday!
Claire could just imagine the Pickler’s Christmas. The family would be dressed in their most expensive clothing, they’d receive the most expensive gifts and then they’d sit around the table and have the most wonderful dinner.
Why, it was enough to make Claire want to puke.
She had enough of Gracie’s perfect holiday. It was high time Claire had one too! She spent a whole week planning. When she was done planning she set about making her perfect holiday happen. The first thing she would need was a Christmas tree. She knew just the place to get one too, Sam’s Lot of Pines.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to get a Christmas tree.” The words were out of Claire’s mouth before she could stop them.
Kitty’s eyes lit up. “Woo wee! I love Christmas tree shopping.” She slipped her feet into a pair of Burt’s rubber galoshes and snatched her coat off the rack.
Claire didn’t see how she could out of taking her elderly aunt without hurting her feelings. With a sigh, Claire said, “Come on. Let’s go.”
Picking out a tree should have been simple. It probably would have been too if Kitty hadn’t been there. No matter what tree Claire picked out, Kitty had an opinion about it. The tree was either too tall, too short, too fat, too skinny.
“Kitty, it’s a Christmas tree, for God’s sake! I’m not picking a husband to spend the rest of my life with. I need the tree for one week,” Claire said in exasperation.
“It’s a good thing you’re not picking a husband, because you have terrible taste in men,” Kitty retorted
“What was wrong with Robert?” Claire demanded.
“He died at fifty, that’s what. You need someone like my Burt,” Kitty told her. “You watch, Burt’s gonna last another twenty years.”
“Burt’s ninety!” Claire exclaimed.
“That’s right. His right in the prime of his life,” Kitty said.
Claire rolled her eyes. “Does this mean you two will live with me for another twenty years?”
Kitty nodded her head happily. “Yeah. You’re a lucky gal.”
Claire kept her opinion to herself. They finally settled on a tree. As soon as they got it home, Claire called Ben to set it up for her. It took him a good ten minutes to place the tree in the stand then another ten to straighten it. Claire stood back and looked at it. The living room looked like it was on a slant.
“Is it me or is my living room slanted?” Claire asked Ben.
“It’s the tree,” Ben replied dryly. “It’s crooked.”
The muscle flexed in Claire’s cheek. “You see? This is what happens when you let Kitty pick out a tree!” Claire sighed. “And here I wanted a perfect Christmas. You can’t have a perfect Christmas with a crooked tree.”
“Since when has any of our Christmas’ been perfect?” Ben drawled out.
Exactly never, Claire thought, but she wasn’t about to admit that. After decorating the tree, Claire decorated her house. She had just finished putting up her Victorian Christmas village when Kitty arrived. She stood next to Claire and studied the village.
“Hey, where’s the casino I bought you?” Kitty finally asked.
The casino . . . the bane of Claire’s Christmas Village. It was an ugly thing with flashing lights and a showgirl with plenty of feathers in her hair and little else on her body. It certainly didn’t belong in a Victorian Christmas village.
“Oh, that one . . .” Claire said as she quickly popped the plastic lid back on the container before pushing it under the table. “Why, I don’t know what happened to it,” Claire lied.
A frown crossed Kitty’s face. “Well now that’s just too bad. You know that was miniature version of the casino where I had my affair with Frank Sinatra when I was a showgirl.”
Claire rolled her eyes. She’d heard Kitty’s story about her supposed affair with Frank Sinatra so often she almost believed it herself.
“Yes. Yes. I remember,” Claire replied as she hurried into the kitchen to get away from the whole conversation.
After church on Sunday, Claire sat down at her kitchen table and began to prepare her grocery list for the dinner. She had just started when Kitty dropped a fouling smelling plastic bag on the table.
“What the hell is that?” Claire asked.
“Lutefisk. It’s my gift to the family for our Christmas dinner,” Kitty replied as she opened the bag.
Claire started to gag. It certainly didn’t smell like any gift she wanted. Claire pushed the bag away. “I think we’ll just stick with the Crown Rib Roast.”
“Now why would you want to do that? Everyone does a rib roast. There’s nothing special about that,” Kitty pointed out. “Now lutefisk, that will make your dinner special.”
Claire didn’t think she wanted her dinner to be that special. But there was a look of determination in Kitty’s eyes that Claire knew only too well. It was the same look Claire’s mother once had.
“Fine. I’ll make it,” Claire said, snatching the bag off the table and stuffing it in the fridge.
Claire intended to do her grocery shopping alone. Kitty had other ideas. As soon as Claire grabbed her coat, Kitty was up and out of her chair.
“I’ll come with you,” Kitty said.
“You don’t need too,” Claire told her.
“Nonsense,” Kitty replied. “You can’t possibly do grocery shopping on your own. There’s no telling what you’ll get. You saw the tree you got, right?”
Claire started to reply then gave up. There was no sense pointing out the obvious to Kitty. Stop ‘n Shop was packed with last minute shoppers. It took them forever to get the items on the list what with all the people in the store. They were almost done and heading for the meat department when they spotted Gracie Pickler. She was dressed in a deep purple wool coat that matched her bruised eye.
“Now don’t you cause any problems like the last time we went shopping!” Claire hissed, giving Kitty a look of warning.
“Just for the record, I wasn’t the one to cause problems. That was all Gracie Pickler,” Kitty retorted in a tart voice.
“Why, Claire, isn’t this a happy coincidence,” Gracie said with a smug smile.
“I see you still have a black eye,” Claire couldn’t help saying.
Gracie fixed a furious gaze on Kitty. “Oh this . . . why it’s almost gone,” Gracie said, dismissing Claire’s comment.
“I certainly hope so. I wouldn’t want your Christmas pictures to be ruined,” Claire retorted.
“Oh don’t worry it will be gone. I wouldn’t let something like this ruin my Christmas,” Gracie replied. “I hope you have a wonderful Christmas . . .”
Both Claire and Kitty watched her walk away, her tinkling laughter mixing with the clicking of her Armani heels.
“I don’t believe her,” Claire hissed as they continued towards the meat counter.
“Yeah, I know. I think that purple eye looks great,” Kitty said. “It would really jazz up those Christmas pictures.”
Things took a decided turn for the worse when they reached the meat counter. Roger, the butcher, shook his head, frowning. “Sorry, Claire but Gracie Pickler got the last rib roast,” he told her. “Maybe you’d like to have a ham instead?”
A Ham? Claire didn’t want ham for her Christmas dinner. She wanted an elegant dinner with fine linen tablecloth, china plates, polished silverware, and cut crystal wine glasses holding deep red Merlot. There would be a beautiful floral arrangement in the center of the table and sitting proudly on the fine china platter Robert had bought would be the Crown Rib Roast! Not some ugly old ham.
“Woo wee! Looks like it’s lutefisk for everyone!” Kitty cried out with her fist raised upward.
Lutefisk for everyone? Claire didn’t think so. She turned back to Roger. “We’ll take a ham.”
She spent the rest of the week baking. She made cookies, her famous triple chocolate truffle cake and three different pies. Burt came into the kitchen just as she was finishing icing the last batch of sugar cookies she’d made. She sprinkled some green sugar on the cookie, keeping an eye on Burt as he opened one kitchen cupboard after another.
Finally, she asked, “What are you looking for, Burt?”
“The gingerbread cookies,” he said.
“Gingerbread cookies? I didn’t make gingerbread cookies.”
“What? You can’t have Christmas without gingerbread cookies!” Burt snapped. “Everyone knows that!”
“Burt, I’m certain Christmas is going to come whether I make gingerbread cookies or not,” Claire told him. “Besides, I made sugar cookies, peanut butter blossoms and Italian anise cookies.”
“Anise cookies? No one eats them!” Burt complained.
“As a matter of fact, Kitty does,” Claire pointed out.
“Oh sure, you make Kitty’s favorite cookie but not mine?”
Claire sighed. There was no way she was going to get out of it and she knew it. “Fine. I’ll make some gingerbread cookies.”
Christmas Day arrived bright and sunny. Claire woke up exhausted. She wanted to stay in bed and sleep. She couldn’t though. She had too much to do before her guests arrived.
“Woo wee, this is going to be fun!” Kitty exclaimed with her fist in the air as Claire stepped into the kitchen. “Now tell me, do we have any good-looking men coming to dinner?”
Claire frowned as she looked at her aunt. Kitty was eighty-eight years old. Should she be even looking at men?
“Burt, Sam and Ben will be here,” Claire replied. “Father Frank will be here, too,” Claire added.
“Frank . . .? Why would you invite him?”
“Because it’s Christmas and he’s our priest. You can’t leave him out.”
“I could,” Burt interjected. “The man has an inordinate fondness for gossip. He’s always listening to people’s conversations.”
“He does?” Claire asked in surprise. She couldn’t imagine Father Frank listening to gossip. Then again, if he did hear something, she couldn’t really fault him. This town thrived on gossip.
“Sure,” Burt returned. “He’s got that little room he sits in. People go in and out all day telling him all sorts of who knows what!”
Claire rolled her eyes. “That’s not gossip. That’s confessional.”
Burt frowned. “That doesn’t make it right . . .”
“Anyway . . .” Claire ground out with a frown in Burt’s direction. “Dax will be here.”
“Now we’re talking,” Kitty said, rubbing her hands together in anticipation.
“Whoa . . . whoa . . .whoa . . .” Burt said waving his hands in the air. “What do you mean Dax will be here. He’s not family and he’s not a priest.”
“He’s coming because he’s alone for the holiday and he’s Ben’s best friend,” Claire explained. “Why, he’s almost like family.”
“Well now, you’ve gone and ruined my Christmas,” Kitty grumbled as she got up from the kitchen table and shuffled out of the kitchen.
Claire spent the rest of the morning preparing the food for dinner. When she was finished, she collected Kitty, then drove to Blooms Galore to pick up the floral arrangement Mayme Wolfe had made for her. Claire dug under the door mat, found the key Mayme hid and opened the door.
“Hey, do you think there’s a silent alarm that will bring the cops here?” Kitty asked hopefully. “It’s been years since I’ve been arrested.”
Claire did a double take at Kitty. “What?”
“It’s a long story. Dean Martin and I . . .” Kitty began. Claire gave Kitty an exasperated look. “What? It’s a true story!” Kitty insisted.
Claire didn’t believe that for a minute. “Yeah, well you can tell me later.”
“Why do we need a floral arrangement for Christmas anyway?” Kitty asked.
“Because it looks nice and I want everything to be perfect.”
“That’s too bad because you’re stuck with the family you got,” Kitty replied as she followed Claire out the door of the floral shop.
When they got home, Claire started to put the floral arrangement on the table when she noticed the Christmas village. There smack dab in the center, exactly where Claire had place the church, sat the casino complete with the flashing neon lights.
Claire glared at Kitty. “What happened to Vicar Peabody’s church?”
“Why, I don’t know what happened to it,” Kitty replied innocently.
Clare gave up and set the floral arrangement right in the center of the table. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“It’s blocking the casino,” Kitty said.
Claire was about to respond when Burt chimed in, “It’s too big. I can’t see the person across from me. How do you expect me to have a conversation with a bouquet like that?”
Claire sighed. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
It was only later that Claire realized she should have been more explicit with her direction. She was just getting ready to bring out the dinner when she heard Burt say, “You want a piece of me?” Claire dropped what she was doing and rushed out of the kitchen. She stood in disbelief as she watched her ninety-year old uncle wrestling with her sixty-year old bother over the seating arrangements.
“Now we’re talking!” Kitty exclaimed. “Live entertainment!”
It was a good thing Ben was there to stop the wrestling. He took control of the situation by sitting in the seat under discussion. Seeing no other choice, Sam and Burt took seats in the opposite corners of the table. Claire gave her son a look of relief as she hurried to the kitchen to bring out dinner.
“Hey, don’t forget the lutefisk,” Kitty called after her.
With more regret than Claire could imagine she carried out the gelatinous mess and was about to set it on the table when Kitty stopped her.
“Here, let me move this,” Kitty said as she grabbed the centerpiece off the table.
“What are you doing with that?” Claire asked.
“Moving it. The lutefisk should be the centerpiece.”
Claire thought it should go in the trash. She wasn’t the only one. Everyone stared at the gooey mess with looks of disgust on their faces. Everyone that is expect Burt and Kitty. They were looking at the lutefisk like it was filet mignon.
Ellen was the first to break the silence. “What is that smell?”
“Oh dear lord, I think I’m going to be sick!” Marney said as she jumped up from the table. She didn’t make it to the bathroom in time. Vomit spewed all over the presents before she reached the stairs.
“Hey! You better not have ruined the present I bought for Ellen! Expensive silk like that can’t be replaced,” Kitty announced.
Claire sucked in a breath of outrage. “You didn’t buy that present! I did.”
“No you didn’t,” Kitty said. “You were too busy driving the get-away car.”
“You what?” Ben exclaimed.
Clearly this was something the police chief did not want to hear about his mother. “It wasn’t a get-away car per se . . .” Claire began only to be interrupted by Kitty.
“I’m thinking of starting a new career,” she told the group. “I think I’d be pretty good at shoplifting.”
Claire closed her eyes and prayed for patience. The muscle in Ben’s cheeks flexed. Ellen let out a soft groan and Frank said a quick prayer. Only Dax thought Kitty’s comment was funny.
“Why, Kitty, I think you’d be an amazing shoplifter.”
“For the love of God,” Ben ground out.
“What? It’s an honest profession!” Kitty said in defense.
“It’s a crime,” Claire snapped. “Do you want to go to jail?”
“I don’t know,” Kitty mused. She turned to Ben. “Will the jail be co-ed?”
Claire looked up to the heavens and sighed. “Why, for once, can I not have a perfect Christmas?”
“Who wants perfect?” Kitty asked Claire. “One day, I won’t be here and you’ll be missing this!”
Claire realized Kitty was right. One day Kitty and Burt would be gone and all this craziness would be replaced with the quiet, perfect Christmas the Picklers’ enjoyed. Suddenly any anger and frustration Claire felt evaporated. Claire sat back in her chair and smiled. Gracie Pickler could have her perfect Christmas with her perfect family. Claire wouldn’t trade a minute with her deranged family for Gracie’s perfectly boring one.
“You’re right Kitty. I will miss this,” Claire said with a smile as picked up her wine to give a toast.
And without missing a beat, Kitty said, “Of course you’ve got a least another twenty years before that happens.”
Claire drank all the wine out of her glass at that announcement.