Everyone seemed to talk at once as Fillmore and Twin began to pile the luggage onto the luggage rack.
Twin said, “It’s great to see you, Gloria. Hi, Melly. And Fillmore. This is wonderful . . . ”
“Don’t try to sweet talk me, Twin,” Gloria said crossly. That’s the thing about Gloria when she’s tired. She’s also short-tempered. “I’m so mad at you and . . . ”
The twins, as I may have mentioned, are Gloria’s houseboys. Nicholas and Michael Stawicki, aka Nicky and Micky, are identical, so there’s no future in trying to keep them straight. Everybody just calls both of them Twin.
I stared at him. “Twin. Look at you. You’re not chubby anymore. And look at those biceps. Oh my God. Where’d your tummy go?”
“ . . . your brother I can’t see straight . . . ”
Twin briefly noted Gloria’s ongoing rant and then he turned and grinned at me. “Nicky and I’ve been working out. Lifting and heavy cardio.”
I said, “So you’re Micky?”
“I prefer Michael now. I mean, I’m gonna be thirty in a few years. Micky seems a little juvenile.”
I said, “Okay. Michael, then. And you say Nicky’s all fit and buff now, too?”
I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I’d known the twins all my life, and they’d always been pudgy. As I looked at this twin now, this new, cut version of a twin, I felt like I was seeing him for the first time.
A petulant male voice behind me said, “Here. T-toss my suitcase on there, t-too. If the p-plane M-Mother arranged for isn’t coming, I b-better catch a ride with you.”
I turned around and nearly bumped into the skinny guy. I hadn’t realized that he’d followed us.
The mall-hair girl, Vanessa Gonorría, was right behind him. She said to the skinny guy, “You’re going with them?”
Gloria’s diatribe continued, “ . . . have driven Asdrubal half out of his mind with all your bickering . . . ”
Skinny Guy said, “C-correct.”
“ . . . to the point where he’s threatening to quit . . . ”
The Gonorría pushed her luggage forward. “I have no idea what the (ibid) to do, but I’m not (ibiding) staying in this (ibiding) place by myself, so you might as well throw my (ibiding) luggage on there, too.”
Gloria was still going strong. “ . . . what gets into you two. What are you fighting about? Are you even fighting about anything? Or are you just fighting for the sake of . . . Wait a minute. What’s going on here?”
She said this last part when she noticed for the first time that we’d picked up two extra customers. Everyone turned to look at her.
The skinny guy gave his glasses an upward shove and said, “I have to ride along with you, G-g-Gloria Dalrymple. I have to g-get to Q-quepos. Mother said I have to m-meet my uncle.”
Vanessa Gonorría said, “Yeah. Me, too.”
It seemed to me that the possibility was remote that she could have had a pressing need to meet the skinny guy’s uncle, but Gloria said, “Oh, it’s too hot to argue. All right. We’ll drop you off in Quepos.”
“My name’s B-B-Babcock, by the way. Ronald B-B-Babcock. But you can call me B-butchie.”
Gloria said, “Whatever. Twin. Start the car and crank the AC. I’m melting.”
Fillmore rode in front with Twin. Gloria took one of the side benches and almost immediately stretched out on it with her face turned to the seat back. I took the other side bench. I was pretty exhausted myself but, knowing what kind of a road we were about to tackle, I had my doubts about trying to keep my balance stretched out on the bench like Gloria was. I was pretty sure I’d roll right off onto the floor the first time we went around one of the terrifying mountain switchbacks that I knew lay ahead of us.
I thought I’d do better sitting up. I tucked a pillow behind my head and tried to get comfortable.
The Babcock and the Gonorría sat together on the back seat. I started out dividing my attention between the soft murmur of voices coming from the front, where Fillmore and Twin were talking about things like ellipticals and kettle bells (Fillmore’s quite a fitness fan), and the sporadic bits of conversation as the Babcock and the Gonorría attempted to communicate.
I remember thinking that I wished I could fall asleep so I wouldn’t be conscious during the harrowing trip that loomed before us, and the next thing I knew, the limo had come to a stop and I heard a female voice shrieking, “Gloria. Over here. It’s me. Nicole Van der Vander. Melly’s friend.”
There was a sharp rapping on the window behind my head and from outside the limo Gloria said, “Melly. It’s for you.”
I straightened, tried to shake myself conscious, and scrambled out the open car door. A quick reconnaissance showed that the sun had set far out over the Pacific, the stars were twinkling in the tropical heavens, and the limo was idling at the curb in front of the main entrance to La Pacifica – a massive newish resort hotel – really, more like a little city unto itself – that sits high on the cliffs just south of Quepos.
Fillmore and Twin were removing the Babcock and Gonorría luggage from the top of the limo and Gloria and Nicole Van der Vander were hugging.
Nicole spotted me and shrieked again. “Melly. Oh my God. Are you down here right now?”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t answer a question like that without feeling stupid. I’d have felt stupid had I answered yes, because, I mean, obviously I was down there . . . and I’d have felt equally stupid had I answered with a sarcastic no. So I did neither. I made a small gesture with my hands that more or less communicated the implied, Duh.
I met Nicole Van der Vander in a yoga class in Phoenix a little over two years ago. It was shortly after I graduated college, packed up, and moved to my Paradise Valley house, bringing Fillmore along as my PA, or, as he likes to call himself, for reasons of his own, my gentleman’s personal gentleman, overlooking as he does the minor detail of my extra X chromosome.
Here’s the thing about Nicole: she’s a nice person and everything. She’s fun to go to lunch with, as I do once a week or so when I’m at home in the Valley of the Sun. I say she’s fun to go to lunch with because I don’t have to talk. I can kick back, fully confident in the knowledge that she’ll carry the conversational burden all by herself without breaking a sweat. In fact, once she gets rolling, you almost need to hit her in the head with a shovel to make her stop.
So I like her and everything. It’s just that she’s so enthusiastic all the time. Very, very enthusiastic.
Nicole gave me an enthusiastic hug. “This is great. We’re just going for dinner right now. Most of the family’s down here for a family reunion they put together at the last minute. Isn’t that fun? We’re at my Uncle Al’s house. Look at this.”
She thrust a large bronze-ish handbag at me. “Is this the cutest thing you ever saw? Don’t you love it? Louis Vuitton. Could you die right now? You’re at Gloria’s, huh? How fun. Oh my God. Do I know you?”
These last two sentences were directed at the Gonorría, who was standing just behind me.
Nicole began to snap her fingers. “Don’t tell me. I’ll get it. And I have it. Real Families of Trenton, right? Hah. You’re the daughter. Well, one of the daughters. Vanessa, right? Did you see my handbag? How do you know Melly?”
The Gonorría, smiling broadly, assuming she’d been recognized by a fan even though Nicole hadn’t actually offered an opinion on the relative merits of Real Families of Trenton, said, “I . . . ”
That was as far as she got, because Nicole is Nicole and the Gonorría isn’t. “Well, Melly, I can’t keep the cousins waiting. We just came down for dinner. Look. This is my cousin Jim McGuinn right now. And this is another cousin. Cody Chanticks.”
A large party of Nicole’s relatives stood by, watching her mingle. Two male members of that party stepped slightly forward as Nicole introduced them. They nodded in a friendly manner.
The Cody Chanticks cousin was tall and dark and the Jim McGuinn cousin was somewhat shorter and lighter over-all and had a nice smile. The Cody Chanticks cousin turned to the Jim McGuinn cousin and said something I didn’t catch and the Jim McGuinn cousin burst out laughing and punched the Cody Chanticks cousin on the bicep.
Nicole continued, “We have to get together. I’ll stop over at Gloria’s. Don’t worry about directions. I’ll find you. Gotta go.”
We all watched her melt into the crowd flowing through the wide La Pacifica doors. I was left feeling a little, I don’t know. Limp?
While I slept, it had been arranged that we’d drop the Babcock and the Gonorría at La Pacifica and they could shift for themselves from there.
The Gonorría, looking over the La Pacifica façade and the steady stream of tourists oozing in and out of it, remarked that this was more along the lines of what she had expected of San Juan, to which everyone replied that we were no longer in San Juan, which was, in fact San Jose, this was Quepos, to which the Gonorría said, “Whatever.”
Once their luggage – and by their I mean the Babcock’s and the Gonorría’s – had been removed from the top of the limo, the remaining luggage was re-strapped and we rolled away down the driveway leaving the Babcock and the Gonorría standing aimlessly in the busy entrance staring at each other.
It was a short trip on down the coast toward Manuel Antonio and Gloria’s house. Before long Twin shifted into park at Gloria’s front door and she and I stumbled out of the Rolls.
From the front, Gloria’s house almost looks like part of the jungle if you overlook the collection of satellite dishes sprouting out of her roof. I swear you can pick up every channel in the world on the TVs at Gloria’s Costa Rica house.
The stucco-ed, three-story, spot-lighted building is painted lime green and it’s nearly buried by every kind of rapidly-growing, constantly-blooming type of tropical vegetation you can imagine. Various species of monkeys frequently swing from the tree branches and brilliantly-colored parrots and other exotic birds chatter and screech from their perches.
The house was originally built for Gloria’s grandparents, or, no, it must have been her greats, or even her great-greats, sometime in the twenties, when Quepos was a major banana port. Gloria’s people had something to do with shipping and were friends with many of the planters, so when they decided to have a second home in Costa Rica, they built down in Quepos instead of farther north in Playa Flamingo which was, at that time, beginning to be popular with the Hollywooders.
Later, when the banana industry was decimated by a disease of some kind and land prices dropped through the floor, Gloria’s family bought up a bunch of it. Land, not bananas.
In recent times, suddenly everybody and his brother have decided they desperately want land to build a marina or a major resort hotel or at least a breathtaking mansion somewhere along the coast between Quepos and Manuel Antonio. Gloria’s been taking advantage of the soaring land prices by slowly selling off some of her vast holdings.
That night the hot, humid tropical air was sweet with the intoxicating scent from some blooming plant or other. Since I’m not up on my tropical flora, I can’t tell you what it was. We left Fillmore and Twin to the luggage and dragged ourselves inside, barely bothering to speak before we dragged ourselves, each to her own room, and bed.
I was just tucking my knees under the sheets when I heard a light tapping at my door and Fillmore came in, preceded by a tray with a frosty glass on it.
“I thought you might like a nightcap before retiring, Miss.”
“You’re welcome. Will there be anything else tonight, Miss?”
I lifted the glass and sipped contents. “Kahlua and Coke? I didn’t know Gloria stocked Kahlua down here.”
“I saw several bottles of Kahlua, Miss.”
“That’s good to know.”
“You have decided to forego your usual bath tonight, Miss?”
“I’m too tired. I’m going to call Aunt Iris just to let her know we got here and then I’m crashing.”
“Very good, Miss. Then if there’s nothing else . . . ”
“Just . . . get to work on the twins if you can, Fillmore. The sooner you get those two straightened out, the sooner we can go home.”
“I understand, Miss. Aut inveniam viam aut faciam.”
“I will either find a way or make one.”
“Uh, oh. Okay, then.”
He streamed out and I, after another refreshing sip, called Aunt Iris.
Spratly answered, but a few seconds later Aunt Iris bellowed, “Hello. Is that you, young Melly?”
Aunt Iris is a wonderful, terrific, excellent aunt, but she’s loud. From her position at third base on her college fast pitch softball team, they say her chatter could reduce opposing batters to greasy residue. And I sometimes think that the farther away the origin of the call, the louder she thinks she has to yell.
“It’s me. I’m just calling to let you know we’re at Gloria’s, all safe and sound.”
“No flocks of Canada geese flew into the plane’s engines?”
“No crazed, gun-wielding highjackers tried to divert you to Havana?”
Where does she come up with these things? “Not that I noticed.”
“Well, very good.”
“How’s everything in Bratenahl, Ohio?”
“About the same as it was this morning, you young fathead. Have a good time and we’ll see you when you get home.”
With that, she was gone. Aunt Iris doesn’t linger over long goodbyes.