I said, “Didn’t we redecorate the periwinkle bedroom and turn it into a burgundy bedroom?”
I was finishing my crepe and Fillmore was looking through his cell phone directory. He’d already arranged for a personal trainer and he’d also called our maid service to let them know we were going to need a live-in instead of the two day girls who come once a week.
He told the person at the maid service it was possible we’d need the live-in for as long as a month. When he said this I squeezed my eyes shut and silently prayed, Please, please, not a whole month.
“No, Miss. It was the beige bedroom that we redecorated in burgundy.”
“Ah,” he said. “I knew it was in here somewhere. The caterer we used for your pool party last month. I remember one of the chefs mentioned he was available for temporary live-in service, and, if memory serves, he also said he did vegan.”
He turned and headed back toward the kitchen to make the call.
I said, “You may as well find us a chauffeur while you’re at it. You know the aunts’ll want to shop at the Sag every afternoon. All our out-of-town guests do. And I know neither one of us’ll want to drive them.”
He nodded. “Very good, Miss. Will you want the chauffeur to provide a car so that the Navigator will still be available for our use?”
I nodded. “And if we’re going through with this physical trainer who-ha, you might as well call At Home Fitness and tell them to bring us that new Landice treadmill you’ve been salivating over.”
“Thank you, Miss.”
“I guess you should let them know we’ll want them to take the old Pacemaster away. Unless you want it upstairs in your spare room.”
“I would like very much to have it upstairs, Miss.”
“Have them move it up there, then.”
“Thank you, Miss.”
As it turned out, the chauffeur he found was immediately available. He was also willing to go to the airport and meet the aunts’ plane, which saved Fillmore the aggravation.
During the course of their conversation, the chauffeur expressed a willingness tolive in during his employment, explaining that he had recently purchased his limo and was temporarily staying at his brother’s home at the far end of Chandler to save money.
I got my afternoon swim in after all. It wasn’t one of my usual long, carefree swims, but oh well. At least I got in the pool. I didn’t think I’d be doing much swimming for the foreseeable future.
As much as I dislike having to share my house, I really hate having to share my pool. When the house is crawling with relatives, I don’t feel the least bit guilty about locking myself in the master suite and only coming out for brief encounters and occasional meals. My house offers plenty of ways for guests to amuse themselves. There’s a home theater with seating for eight, there’s a billiard room that also has several arcade games along one wall, there’s a library which Fillmore is carefully stocking, there’s a fully-equipped fitness studio, and there are flat screens in nearly every room.
And there’s also the pool. Which I avoid like plague when there are house guests. It’s too galling. I want to swim laps, and there’s someone in my way, sprawled on a floatie. I want to sprawl on a floatie and there’s someone Australian crawling past me and making the icy drink in my cup holder slosh out all over my hot skin.
No. When we have guests, I stay away from the pool. And once they’re gone, I don’t go back in until after Fillmore has given it a good chlorine blast. I wouldn’t say I’m a germophobe, but please.
Huh. Where was I? Oh, yes. I dressed after my swim and annoyed Fillmore by putting the Converse sneakers back on. He glared at them. Ignoring this, I suggested we sit at the breakfast bar and enjoy the peace and quiet with glasses of iced sun tea, since the current p and q would soon be nothing but a distant m. We did so.
Fillmore said, “There has been another email from Mrs. Vanderlay regarding Mrs. Glumly-Shrop’s fitness regime, Miss. In addition, Mrs. Vanderlay texted while they were waiting at the departure gate in Boston.”
I groaned. “What now?”
“In the email, Mrs. Vanderlay went into great detail as to the sort of food she will require. She states that there are to be absolutely no sweets or fats of any kind anywhere in the house. Meals are to be strictly low-calorie. She also expressed the desire that you not mention anything regarding this fitness regime to Mrs. Glumly-Shrop. Mrs. Vanderlay . . . ”
“Fillmore. Call them Gazel and Eleanor for once. All this Shrop-this and Glumly-that is giving me a headache.”
“Forgive me, Miss.”
I waved my hand at him.
“Very good, Miss. In the email, as I said, Gazel advises that Eleanor is unaware that the purpose of this trip is to, er, trim her down and tone her up. Gazel warns you not to mention anything about diets or fitness regimes.”
“Okay. Got it. And the text?”
“The purpose of the text message was to place additional emphasis on the need for . . . ”
“The text was more of the same.”
“Possibly with some threats, implied and/or spelled out?”
“Got it. My lips are sealed.”
Fillmore had no sooner said, “Very good, Miss,” than we heard the doorbell.
I followed him to the foyer and he opened the door. I expected to be confronted by a swarm of aunts, maids, and luggage. Instead, our visitor was a small, slumping wraith, wrapped in a black scarf. I stared at it in disbelief.
Soft whimpering noises came from somewhere under the black scarf.Fillmore bent closer to hear, and then he turned to me.
“It’s Miss Wiltbank. Apparently there has been some sort of medical mishap.”
I said, “Courtney?”
Courtney Wiltbank is one of my cousins, and at school she was also, briefly, one of my roommates. In spite of having been roommates, and continuing to be blood relatives, Courtney and I have never been BFFs. I hadn’t exactly wept at the news when she decided to leave the town house and move in with her then boyfriend who, if memory serves, was pronouncedly nasal, was allergic to nearly everything, and lisped.
The Courtney wraith turned in my direction. “Oh, Meddy,” it groaned in a voice I didn’t recognize. “It’th tho tebbible.”
The voice had a strange quality to it, like the mechanism had a lot of extra moving parts. Flapping parts.“I deed a beb. I deed a pwathe to thtay. The bwue bebwoob wiw be fide.”
By this time I had moved closer. I leaned in, trying in vain to see through the heavy scarf, but she shrank away. “Doh,” she cried. “Tay bag. I dut bant to thweeb.”
I couldn’t imagine what was the matter with her. Courtney isn’t my favorite person on earth. She isn’t even in the top fifty, if you pin me down. But she is a cousin, and she had once been a roommate, and she seemed to be in dire straits, so what choice did I have but to help?
“The blue, or periwinkle, bedroom, if that’s what you said, isn’t available, but Fillmore can make you comfortable in one of the others. Are you going to be okay? Do you need us to find you a doctor?”
The black scarf moved in an east – west direction, which I took to indicate a negatory. “I jut deed to thweeb.”
If she hadn’t seemed so pitiful, I’d have asked her why, if she wanted to thweeb so bad, she didn’t just go thweeb in her own beb, which was in her three-bebwoob condo just a little over a half-hour’s dwibe away.
I was oddly dispassionate as I watched Fillmore lead her away up the stairs. I was a little surprised to realize that, since the peaceful household was already due to be turned upside-down by the arrival of the aunts, Courtney’s sudden and mysterious appearance seemed hardly to matter at all.
A thought occurred to me. Courtney was in for a very unpleasant surprise when she found herself under the same roof as Aunt G. Courtney isn’t any fonder of Gazilla, and vice versa, than I am. I’m not proud of this, but the prospect of the two of them coming face to face was, well, sort of tasty.
I was in the kitchen when Fillmore returned a few minutes later. I had dumped the rest of my iced tea in the sink and was mixing myself a nice Kahlua and Coke. It seemed like a good idea.
I said, “Courtney’s all settled?”
“Yes, Miss. I put her in the orange ochre bedroom. I gave her one of the guest gowns from the linen closet and reviewed with her how to use the intercom. In case she needs anything.”
I nodded. Knowing Courtney, I felt safe in anticipating that she would need quite a bit of stuff in the coming hours. Courtney’s a pretty needy type of person.
“Did she explain? Did you see what . . . ”
“No, Miss. I think I understood her to say it had something to do with a Botox injection, but I could be mistaken.”
I sighed. “I think we’d better see if we can get a doctor over here to take a look at her. Or at least a nurse.”
“Yes, Miss. I . . . ”
“We wouldn’t want her dying all over the orange ochre bedroom.”
“No, Miss. I . . . ”
“Then we’d have to re-redecorate it. Recreate the beige bedroom, or something.”
“I have already attended to the matter, Miss.”
This stopped me. “Huh?”
“I have put in a call for a visiting nurse. We should be hearing from her shortly.”
I had to laugh. I mean, that Fillmore . . . you know?
Once I stopped laughing, I managed to say, “Um, okay.Good.”
We were quiet, Fillmore sipping the last of his iced sun tea, me sipping my Kahlua and Coke, me wishing I had gone a little stronger on the K and a little less strong on the C.
I said, “Botox, huh?”
“That is what I believe she said.”
“I swear, when I saw her huddling there all wrapped up in that black scarf, I could almost hear creepy organ music.”
I thought I detected a struggle, but he managed not break a smile. I decided to take another stab at him.
“At least she didn’t show up with a hunchback dwarf trailing her . . . ”
That one might have done the job but we’ll never know because at that moment the doorbell rang a second time and he hurried away to answer it. I followed. As I entered the foyer, an infestation of aunts, chauffeur, maid, and luggage swarmed through the door.
By maid, I mean to say that they had only brought one maid, she being Margaret, a junior maid from Aunt G’s Boston staff. I wondered why Aunt G had brought Margaret instead of her personal maid, Doris.
Aunt Eleanor hadn’t brought anyone from her own staff. Maybe Aunt G had decided Aunt Eleanor didn’t need a maid, or maybe Aunt G had decided she would share Margaret. If the latter was the case I thought, good luck with that and, also, poor Margaret.
“Aunt Gazel,” I forced myself to say warmly, taking the bull by the horns, as it were. I threw my arms wide and fully intended to go ahead and hug the witch, but she stopped me short. Her radar vision had run a quick ultra-perceptive scan and her eyes were fixed on my Converse shoes.
“Melinda Shrop,” she said. “What do you mean by those shoes?”
Meanwhile, Aunt Eleanor was in the midst of a whiney monologue directed at the baggage-laden chauffeur.
“ . . . why they make you arrive at these airports two hours early, and for what? So you can sit at gates for an hour and-a-half, that’s for what. Just set those there by the wall. My niece’s man will show you where they go.”
She blinked rapidly as her eyes adjusted to the indoor light after the brilliant Arizona sunshine. She spotted me.
“Oh, hello, dear. I was just telling this young man here it was a ghastly flight. Have we missed lunch? They give you ghastly cardboard food on the plane. I’m starving. What’s the name of your chef? Oh, that’s right. You don’t employ a chef. It all comes back to me now. Which way is the kitchen? Never mind. I’ll find my own way.”
I said, “Uh, wait . . . ”
But she was already out of the foyer. Fillmore gave me a meaningful glance and hurried after her.
Aunt G watched them go. “That woman. One complaint after another. I don’t know what my brother was thinking.”
This stumped me until I realized she was referencing Uncle Edwood’s marriage proposal. Thirty-some odd years earlier.
She continued.“Well, never mind. There will be an extra guest for dinner, Melinda. A young man of good family is flying up from Houston. I expect you to make an effort. I’ll have more to say on this later. You there.”
This last was to the chauffeur. “Take this bag and that one and that carry-on there. Not that one. The one that matches the other two . . . ”
She glanced my way and rolled her eyes nastily, indicating she thought the chauffeur was a moron. She pretty much thinks everyone is a moron.
“ . . . and Margaret, get as many pieces as you can of Mrs. Glumly-Shrop’s luggage, and the two of you follow me.” She turned back to me. “I’m going to freshen up. I don’t suppose you thought to put out clean towels . . . ”
“I’m sure Fillmore did.”
Actually, I didn’t know for sure whether Fillmore had managed this, but I knew it was a pretty safe bet that he had.
“Wait a minute, Aunt G. This dinner guest you mentioned. You said it’s a guy from Texas . . . ?”
But I was interrupted by the doorbell, which rang again. Everyone froze in place.
Sometimes stress has a paralyzing effect on me. Systems cease to function momentarily. Palms sweat. Breathing becomes labored. Knees wobble. Vocal chords freeze. Brain goes to a happy place. This happened now.
As brain began to snap back to reality, I ran down a list of bad reasons the doorbell might be ringing again. More aunts arriving. Miscellaneous uncles. Worst case scenario – little Arthur, Jr.the mutant had come after all and been forgotten on the porch.
I forced myself to snap out of it, danced my way through and around luggage and people, and pulled open the door. A pair of red-shirted delivery kids stood on the porch, their out-stretched arms stacked with red leather food bags.
A soft ahem sounded behind me and I realized Fillmore had rematerialized. One moment there had been empty air behind me and now there was Fillmore. The last I’d seen of him, he’d been hurrying after Aunt Eleanor, who’d been streaking for the kitchen.
“I took the liberty of ordering food earlier, Miss. Just to tide the household over until the chef arrives.”
I said, “Uh . . . ” and moved aside to make room for the little fast-food procession.
Fillmore said to them, “If you’ll follow me . . . ”
Aunt Gazel interrupted. She turned on Fillmore and fixed him with an absolutely furious glare.
“Pizza?” she thundered, outraged because pizza was definitely not part of the fitness regimen she had outlined. She paused to inhale deeply, preparatory to giving Fillmore several large chunks of her mind.
But he cut her off. “Forum holitorium alieni generis, Madame.”
I said, “Abso-lutely.”
Fillmore said to the kids, “If you’ll follow me, I’ll show you where to unpack your cases.