The morning after our mother told us about her pregnancy, Aunt Andersol didn't get up to go to church with us. Kelsa reported that one of the maids had brought some toast and tea on a tray to Aunt Andersol's room, which was as shocking as if the maid had climbed onto the chandelier in the big dining room. Aunt Andersol never expected staff to bring food to her. The house rule was that if anyone was hungry, they could sit down at mealtimes, or go to the kitchen and pick up their food themselves. (We didn't cook for ourselves; Chef was not about to let us mess with his equipment.)
"Do you think she's mad at Mom for having a baby?" Oesha asked when we'd got back from Mass and went to our cellblock to change clothes.
"Why would anyone get mad about a baby?" Michel asked in reply.
"Unless she's jealous because Mom has a husband and she doesn't."
"Marca, she goes out on dates. She told me she doesn't want to get married."
"Oh, I forgot. You're Little Mister Knows What Everyone Thinks," she told me with a sneer.
"Yes, Dah-ling," I replied, "unlike you, who are Little Miss Doesn't Give a Crap What Anyone Thinks. I happen to have this tragic belief that other human beings might be sentient."
"Come on, stop it," Oesha whispered loudly, as Kelsa and Michel exited the hall with alarm in their eyes. "You're scaring them, and if you guys start fighting, they're all going to think we're mad about Mom having a baby. And I'm not! I think it's great!"
"Get off my back," said Marca to me.
"Stop calling me 'Little Mister,' Sister."
"Up your left nostril."
"Ah, no, thanks. I don't want to cut in on your action," I told her, turned on my heel and walked away. She didn't manage to curtail her foul language, but at least this time she didn't shout it.
Might I note here that I never snotted off to Marca anywhere near a balcony or stairs? She has always had a fairly violent impulsive nature.
Once I reached the stairs, and she was not poised to shove me down them, I descended four steps at a time, keeping an eye on the upstairs floor at all times. Aunt Sully, Uncle Bodie, and Mother were sprawled in the study, with an early bottle of wine and a tray of cheeses, pickles, and pepperoni-and-olive-and-cheese-stuffed mini-croissants. That indicated to me that there were no appointments that afternoon, and that they would probably have football on the television to play in the background while they played dice or cards. Gabe stretched out on the floor by Aunt Sully's seat, his tan eyespots shifting as he listened to voices and movements and watched the tray of food. But where was Aunt Andersol?
"Why is Andersol still holed up in her room?" my mother asked Uncle Bodie. "The Raiders are about to pound the stuffing out of Dallas, and she's not here to gloat? I'm worried about her -- she's not herself lately."
Uncle Bodie frowned and looked at the door to the study. "I know. Owen," he said, turning to me, "have you guys seen anything unusual about Andersol? This is important, so don't keep secrets."
I looked at Aunt Sully. She had her green eyes fixed on mine. Tell all, I could almost feel her saying. If she had wanted me to keep secrets, she wouldn't have looked at me at all, her posture saying for her, Do what you choose. I don't care. I answered Uncle Bodie, but directed it to her. "She's been getting sick over and over again since we had that flu. She was sick again last night."
"That was weeks and weeks ago!" my mother exclaimed. "She needs to see a doctor!"
Uncle Bodie stood, caressed Mother's hair, and left the room. There was no doubt at all that he was going to talk to his sister, and I wished that I had told my brother and sisters to listen for any Aunt Andersol Activity.
"What about you, Sully? Do you know what's up with her?"
Aunt Sully didn't look at my mother, but instead studied something in Gabe's black fur where he lay beside her. "I know her face is thinner than I've ever seen it, and she's layering sweaters as though she was cold. She even had a big shawl scarf on last night at dinner."
"Well, it was colder than Norway in January in there. I couldn't wait to get away from the table and put on some insulated slippers."
"I didn't think it was that cold." Aunt Sully sighed. "But then I'd been upstairs until dinner. Upstairs is always so much warmer, it's a relief to come down here where it's cool."
My mother chuckled. "We're right on the cusp, aren't we? I'm having a baby at the end of my fertile times, and you're forging new ground into menopause! With teens in the house, we've got all the transitions covered."
I felt my face burn with the embarrassment of being relegated to an age, as well as to hear taboo words like "fertile" and "menopause" spoken. It was, as they say, more than I wanted to know. I stood and went to the sidebar. I piled about seven of the croissant goodies on a napkin and excused myself. My mother laughed, and Aunt Sully said, "Sorry, Owen."
When I got to the top of the stairs, I called out in a wheedling voice, "Sooooo-eeeee! Sooooo-eeee! Pig pig pig pig!" Kelsa and Michel came out of our wing, sliding on the floor in their socks.
"What have you got, Owen?" Michel said, even as he sniffed the air. "Ohhh, God, croissant-pizzas!"
"Quick, can I have one before Marca smells them?" asked Kelsa. She wolfed one from the napkin I offered her.
"Did either of you hear what Uncle Bodie had to say to Aunt Andersol?"
Michel had followed Uncle Bodie to Aunt Andersol's room. "He asked her if she was all right. Is she all right? I know she's been sick, but is she all right?"
"What did she say?" I prompted him.
"Couldn't hear that. He said, 'Have you talked to a doctor lately?' and then he said, 'Oh, okay. Don't be so cut off.' She said something else, and he said, 'Grades aren't as important as your health.' She mumbled something, and Uncle Bodie said, 'Just come downstairs if you get tired of studying, okay?' And then he left.
"Well, where did he go? He didn't come back downstairs."
"Dunno." He took a croissant from the napkin. "He went down the staff stairs."
"Nobody followed him?"
Both twins looked up at me with alarmed eyes. "No," Kelsa piped. "He'd hear us!"
"He would not."
"He did when those raccoons broke the tomato planter on the patio by the ballroom! He heard me when I went to see what he was doing, and I was only in the butler's closet! I'm not following him again -- he was mad when he found me!"
"That's because you were wearing those sneakers the size of your head that light up in the dark, dimwit."
"I don't care. I don't want to be in trouble like you and Marca are all the time."
That was unfair to say. We weren't in trouble all the time. Maybe Marca was, but that was probably a safety measure. She was destructive, and only looked out for herself. If I got into trouble, it was only for trying to level the playing field and give us kids a chance. Or for setting Marca up to take a fall, but that was in self-defense.
The five of us met in the nursery room as soon as it was completely dark to compare notes. I always wondered if the adults were spying on us as we did on them, and that was why Michel was usually posted at the door to listen for the approach of our mother or our aunts. Or Uncle Bodie.
"What do you want now?" Marca said grumpily. "The crown and the scepter?"
"That's not fair," Oesha said. "We're all worried about Aunt Andersol."
"Aunt Sully told Mom that she's losing weight."
"Does she have cancer?" asked Kelsa, looking like she had tears ready to fall. "I heard people who lose weight have cancer."
"Chemotherapy!" Oesha hissed in the darkness. "That's why she's been barfing so much!"
"Is she going to die?" squeaked Kelsa.
None of us had an answer for her.