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April 15, 2024

Transitions 46

By Sand Pilarski

Forty-six: The Need of a Plan

Aunt Andersol leaned on the counter of the fitting room desk while I tried on a pair of blue jeans at Target. She was studying notes for her Anthropology class, on proper reporting of finds and writing up the attendant articles describing the objects. She was not fond of writing, but she was determined to gain enough expertise to follow Mother when she went back out into the field. As a result, she was so focused on her study that she was taken by surprise when Michel and Kelsa scurried up to her, just as I was exiting the fitting room with several pairs of pants in my arms.

"Someone just took a picture of us!" squeaked Kelsa, tugging on my aunt's arm.

My aunt looked up just in time to have a flash go off in our faces. "Port Laughton Times -- who'd have believed local celebrities shop in Target?" he laughed. "Oh, look there are the other two heiresses -- !"

Oesha and Marca were approaching, carrying T-shirts and DVD's and a bag of potato chips. They cringed back when the man leaped in front of them to snap another picture.

"Celebrities," I said in disgust, as we climbed into the van after checking out, the annoying photographer having followed us through the store taking picture after picture. I was really glad we hadn't been buying underwear or athlete's foot medication.

"Yeah, Owen, we're not people, just celebrities. Damnit, I didn't mind the society page pics so much, but this is crap. He shouldn't be taking pictures of us without permission, that's just rude." Her face was red with embarrassment and her eyes filled with tears. I didn't understand why at the time. I knew she was angry -- we all were, but tears?

Over dinner, Mother shared our outrage. "So this is how it begins," she said hotly. "Now that the kids aren't babies, they're going to get dogged every time they go out -- all of Port Laughton wants to see if they get into trouble, who they're hanging around with, do they have pimples, are they getting fat -- "

Aunt Andersol gasped and turned white. "Thank God I had on my coat!"

Grandmother put down her fork, Aunt Sully stared, as white as her co-aunt, and Mother whispered, "Do you think?"

The rest of us were puzzled, but as the subject was immediately and precipitously dropped, we finished our food with reports of school work and my fencing lessons and the younger twins' artwork. After we were dismissed from the table, Kelsa whispered, "They're going to talk about this without us, aren't they? Where do you think they'll hole up?"

"Either Mom's rooms or Grandmother's," I predicted as we climbed the stairs. "Grandmother was upset by the news, too."

"What, that we had some dork paparrazzi-ing us?"

"Maybe. But she reacted after Aunt Andersol did, so it might be more than that. I don't know."

Oesha said with a bored sneer, "Well, I guess we better not get fat or sprout pimples, huh?"

"Or shop anywhere the sweats go for less than $200," said Marca bitterly. "I should have punched him, shouldn't I?"

Her twin slapped her on the shoulder. "Don't even think about that -- that's the kind of crap that would make headlines!"

"Great headline," Marca laughed. "Miss Reich-Ambris knocks out nosy reporter and smashes camera into bits!"

"Quickly followed by 'Miss Reich-Ambris is arrested for assault and misses soccer practice because she's in jail'," Michel continued.

"That's right, Michel. You, however, are young enough not to be prosecuted for infringement of the law. Therefore, it falls to you --"

"No, wait, I can't punch anyone out, look at these feeble little sensitive artist hands!"

"-- to listen to this family conference to find out what is up. If they meet in Mother's parlor, we're out of luck, as her door opens up on it. But grandmother has a formal waiting room before the sitting room with the fireplace. I'm almost positive that's where they'll meet. You can slither in and squeeze under the Chesterfield and hear what they're saying."

"Why me, Owen, damn it? Kelsa's smaller than I am!"

"Kelsa always falls asleep, that's why."

"Crap, you shitheads, they'll never trust me again if they find me!"

"Michel, they don't trust you now, what are you thinking? I'm the eldest, Oesha is the next, Owen is the singleton, and Kelsa is the youngest. You're the one they refer to as the cockroach of the family."

"They do not," he retorted, but his voice was unsure.

"Don't be an idiot," Oesha said. "The worst than can happen is that they'll see you and throw you out. It's not like they're going to beat you or anything. What are they going to do, tell you that you can't run around down town at the shops? We're not allowed to do that now, unless we have one of the aunts with us. They might be angry, but it won't last beyond the next day and your next slimy winning smile."

"We need a couple sentries to see which wing they choose," I said. "We should all be there at the door if it's Grandmother's wing, in case someone comes to investigate the door opening. Then we could all run, and draw attention away."

"Like no one would notice that I wasn't in the crowd," Michel muttered bitterly.

"You know, I sometimes don't think they know how many of us there are. Who noticed that Marca wasn't with us when we went down to the bus stop when she was tailing our Aunt? No one! We're like a school of fish, tricking a shark!"

"Owen, you're so weird you make me wish I was growing up in Mississippi, having to choke the chickens for Mama's cooking."

"I'll spot in the hall to see where they go," Kelsa said, heading toward the junction of the halls. "And then I'm going to figure out how to Listerine my brain."

It was Oesha, however, who informed us where the next nexus of information was going to be. She'd gone to Grandmother's rooms as usual after dinner, and then been sent away after a few moments. Grandmother was to be the hostess with the circle of family meeting to discuss our fortunes.

Moments after Aunt Andersol had shut the door to the wing, we opened it slowly, glad that the staff had kept the hinges oiled. Michel barefooted himself in, staying out of the light, and then slithering beneath the Chesterfield sofa, sliding up near the floor lamp, which had not been lit.

We were in.

"How did you get out?" Kelsa asked, spreading her math homework out for him to copy. He had nonchalantly ambled into the old nursery room as though he had just come from dinner and not a spying action. I believe the question was uppermost in our minds, even above information; we had heard no shoutings of discovery or frantic hallway scrambles. Eventually, we knew he'd tell us what he had heard, but his lack of twitchiness was suspect.

"Everyone else left, and when Grandmother went to the bathroom, I took my leave of her warm and comfortable carpet at my leisure." He looked at his fingernails like he should be proud of them.

Marca shut the door of the nursery, against the rule of the house about closed doors. "Did you hear anything?"

"Yeah! Aunt Andersol is afraid that pictures of us will be posted in the online edition of the Port Laughton Times, and that the father of her babies will Google "Port Laughton" and see it and try to cash in on us."

"But he couldn't," I put in. "She's not an inheritor, so neither would be her babies."

Michel nodded. "Aunt Andersol said that in practical terms, she's living off our charity (which is stupid thinking, that's my opinion) and that if she had to keep him from trying to take money from us, she'd have to move out, be poor, and that would give him some leverage in taking the babies away to Russia with him."

"What?" I squawked. "That's nuts!"

"Wait," Oesha said. "Didn't we hear on that tape that he wasn't living with his wife? Couldn't he divorce and marry Aunt?"

"They brought that up -- Aunt Andersol isn't interested in marrying him. It was a fling, she said, and nothing more."

Oesha finished Michel's English homework and shoved it across to him. "It's hard imitating your scrawling. Work on not having penmanship like an arthritic crab."

"So did they come up with any solutions?"

"No, they just mumbled a bit and then went off to their respective warrens. Oesha, I would rather have the script of a crab than your hideous balloon-like letters. They can only represent the content of your brain."

With a shout of insult, she threw the sheets of paper at him and theatrically flounced to the door, opening it -- and coming face to face with Aunt Sully.

"Closed door session?" she asked. "What's up?"

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-02-01
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