Twenty-seven: Girl Meets Family
Redell opened the front door as we stepped onto the porch. He addressed Aunt Sully. "Was it a good ride?"
"Perfect, perfect, perfect," she replied. "Redell, this young woman is Miss Rachel Owen, who attends the same school as our Owen. We hoped for tea and a tray of snacks in the study, is that all right? Or should we use my study upstairs?"
"Welcome, Miss Rachel. The downstairs study is available, and the fire has been lit. What kind of snacks would you like?"
"Fruit slices, some thin slices of cheese, a few pieces of rye and white toast, umm, some cream cheese -- "
"Peanut butter and jelly," I interjected, knowing that Aunt Sully wouldn't even think of them.
" -- Redell, is there any bacon left over from breakfast?" Aunt Sully asked, suddenly looking famished.
"If there isn't, I'll see to it that some is rushed to your side," he said, nearly laughing.
"Thank you, from the bottom of my heart." she waved us on past the breakfast room. "Come on. The fire is going to feel good."
Rachel's eyes were wide as she took in the high ceilings with their lazily turning fans, the high windows, the clusters of furniture, the huge bookcases. She shrank in upon herself.
"Yup," said my aunt, patting Rachel's shoulder, "that's just how I felt. Relax, it won't kill you this time."
There was the sound of footsteps on the stair, and we looked up. "John!" Aunt Sully crowed, and went to greet him. He hugged her, kissed her quickly, then came to meet Rachel, still holding my aunt's hand.
I stood, saying, "Rachel Owen, this is my Uncle John LeMay -- he's from New York City. Rachel is from Rochester," I noted to my uncle.
"Holy cats, all the way up there in Siberia," he said shaking her hand. "Visiting? Or you moved here?"
His accent put her at ease. "We moved here. My mother wanted to get away from -- family influences that weren't so good. She got a job at the hospital in Port Laughton as a radiology technician. A friend of hers came out here about five years ago, and talked her into moving.
"It's a good place to be," Uncle John said. "The climate's kind of weird, but you can go east or north and hit snow in the winter if you want to, or go inland and roast in the summer. Or hit the beaches in July down by Monterey and freeze your -- uh, toes off."
Philip showed up with the tray of snacks, setting it on the table in the middle of the furniture grouping. The tea bags were on the side, as Aunt Sully preferred.
"Rachel!" screeched Kelsa from the top of the stairs. She and Michel flew down the steps to skid to a stop beside her. "Did you go riding with Owen and Aunt Sully?"
"No, I was out driving -- practicing -- and I saw them riding, and stopped to watch. I met your beautiful horses, you're so lucky to be able to ride."
"They went early so that they could ditch us," Michel said, globbing jelly on a quarter of toast. "They have secrets that they cannot share with the rest of the world."
"That's right," I said. "Tales too terrible for your tender ears."
"Must have been like watching TV news," Uncle John grumped.
"No, nothing quite that farfetched."
"Did you guys see that story about the pygmy goat in the sewer pipe in Denver?" he sputtered. "It was on every news feed on the internet this morning."
"Was it radioactive?" I asked.
"And had two heads, that one?" Kelsa said, cackling.
"That's the one," I agreed. "But wasn't that in Tokyo, rather than Denver?"
"No," Aunt Sully amended. "The one in Tokyo had one head, but glowed in the dark, and could talk."
"Yeah," Michel put in, "it kept saying, 'Maaaaaaa-thra! Maaaaaaa-thra!'"
All of us were laughing, Rachel dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.
Philip arrived with a platter of bacon and set it on the table before us. "They have bacon!" shouted Oesha from the top of the steps, only seconds before Grandmother Claire appeared in the door way.
"Stop." She said commandingly, holding out her hand.
All of us stood to greet her. "Grandmother Claire," I said, "this is my friend from school, Rachel Owen."
When she had received kisses from family, and a gentle handshake from Rachel, Grandmother took a seat and helped herself to several slices of bacon. "Now the rest of you can have bacon," she said, delicately munching her first slice. She turned to Rachel. "One must rely on protocol as one grows older, or else end up set adrift on an iceberg with no bacon," she said, in a serious tone of voice.
"I had a great-aunt who nearly died of grief when she couldn't get to the bacon in the mornings." Rachel said. "She was reduced to eating scrapple."
Uncle John and Aunt Sully laughed so hard I thought they'd fall onto the floor. The rest of us were confused at their hilarity. "Is this a Back East joke?" I asked.
Aunt Sully wiped her eyes on her shirt sleeve. "Scrapple is a ... "
"Crime against all of mankind," Uncle John said, which sent the three of them into gales of laughter again.
"No, it's pork ... liver? and things ground up and mixed with corn meal," Aunt Sully said between gusts of laughter.
"Things?" Grandmother Claire sneered, procuring another three slices of bacon.
"Things," Aunt Sully laughed, "any things you would not wish to be served at the dining table."
"Like brussels sprouts?" Oesha said, Marca at her side. They attacked the bacon like piranha.
"Pork things," Uncle John said, and then collapsed into laughter again.
"Ew," said Oesha. "I don't even want to know. Hi, Rachel."
"Hi, Rachel," mumbled Marca, around a mouthful of toast and cream cheese.
Philip reappeared with more cups, another teapot of hot water, more sliced strawberries, and more bacon.
"Mom!" cried Michel, jumping to his feet.
Mother was descending the staircase slowly, Uncle Bodie ahead of her. I realized with a jolt that he preceded her so that he could stop her if she fell. Once we were alone, I was going to suggest to her that she use Grandmother's elevator.
"We heard all the laughter, and had to come see what was going on," she said as she approached the fire and the chairs. I jumped up and offered her my seat, then pulled an ottoman close for her legs. "Owen, don't fuss. Thank you."
"This is my mother, Jesse Ambris, and my step-father, Bodie Talles," I said to Rachel, who stood to shake their hands.
Philip appeared with a glass of tomato juice and a small bowl of avocado crushed into paste. Mother buttered some of the toast with the paste.
"We have learned the composition of scrapple," said my grandmother to my mother, "and we are profoundly disgusted."
My mother laughed hard, having lived a portion of her life Back East as well. "I promise you, only those who special order scrapple will eat it."
"Thank you," said Grandmother.
"In fact, if they do, we'll impose a monetary fine upon them."
"Incarceration would teach them better," Grandmother muttered around her tea.
"Deal," my mother said. "Into the dungeons with them."
My grandmother darted a glance at my mother, and chuckled. I had never seen my mother and grandmother in such accord. It wasn't that they hated each other, or tried to make each other miserable, but Grandmother and my mother usually treated each other as though they didn't exist. My mother thought Claire too irritating to deal with, and Grandmother thought my mother too incompetent to make friends with.
I'd hoped Aunt Andersol would join us, and Uncle Bodie kept looking at the stairs, too. But she didn't. I hoped she was all right.
When all the bacon was eaten, and all the fruit slices, Rachel rose, and thanked us for the hospitality. We all stood, except Grandmother, who held to the old school that elders or betters should remain seated to be greeted or adieu'd. I escorted Rachel to her car.
"We didn't really get much of a chance to talk," I said. "Sorry about that. Family kind of swarms."
"Everyone was wonderful, Owen. Don't apologize." She hesitated as we came within sight of the stables, where she'd parked her car. "Are they always like that, or were they so animated because I was new there?"
I grimaced. "They were rather subdued because of a new visitor, to be honest. Sometimes we're a veritable zoo, with lemurs shrieking in the background and the roaring of Aunts and Mothers."
"I hope that I will be invited back some time," she said, making my guts wrench.
"That's a distinct possibility," I said, as I held the door of her car open for her to get in. When she rolled down her window to say goodbye, I held out my hand for hers. She reached out, as though to shake mine, but I kissed her hand instead. She gasped, and yanked her hand back to the steering wheel. I stood aside while she backed the car out of the parking area by the stables, and turned down the lane.
Probably I shouldn't have done that.
I shuffled back up the path to the house, looking back over my shoulder at the lane from time to time, half-hoping Rachel would return and give me a piece of her mind for acting so silly. Instead of her little white Focus, however, a large brown delivery truck came roaring its way up the hill. I started to run towards the house, knowing what was inside the truck for us -- the hazmat gear and lanterns for the attic 'dig'.