Sixty-three: The Big Leap
The Spring Alumni Gala coincided with Spring Break, so there was no particular reason Marca and I could avoid it. We were still young enough to be able to be escorted by our relatives (she by John, Aunt Sully by me) which was more or less a relief; I might have preferred Rachel by my side, but if she had been with me, we both would have been scared silly by the crowd of much older people. Instead, Marca and I were able to observe and catalog the behavior of guests, and were coached by our agreeably poised Aunt and Uncle.
None of us were alumni, but we were cosseted and chatted up by a lot of people, many of which tried to pin Marca and me down to attending Port Laughton University when we graduated from high school. It was my intent to do so, but both of us had been warned by Aunt Sully (and Mother, by email) not to commit to anything, to anybody, in promise, statement, or hint. Marca was able to fall back on a completely feigned coy, "Well, my twin is currently living in Italy, and I miss her, so I just don't know."
To my delight, I was actually taller than a number of the adult men who approached me for conversation. I focused on using my baritone voice (it was with me almost all the time now) and keeping my register low. I preferred to be remembered as a murmurer rather than a boomer, as many of the Gala crowd men were, as though they could impress their listeners through loudness alone. I was deferential, telling them that I had not yet decided on what course of education I preferred, and so could not say where I might apply for admission.
It was true enough, and we got through the orchestral performance and the dinner with very few moments of unease. I mentioned to Aunt Sully afterwards that having that many suckups chatting to me could go to my head.
"That's what they're aiming for. They're hoping that by crawling up your pantleg and flattering you while you're young, you'll give them preferment later on, or convince your mother to give them preferment sooner."
Marca and I were lounging in Aunt Sully's suite, as a way of coming down after the evening. As wearisome as these long events were, by the time we were home, we were as wound up by our escape as if we were just starting the day with three cups of tea.
John and Aunt Sully had hustled us away when the dessert was done, citing our youth and the need for us to turn in at a reasonable hour. In reality, they had no interest themselves in staying longer, nor wanted us to be present as the faculty and university suckups availed themselves of an open bar. I thought the older folk were glad to see us go, and we were glad to be away from them also. According to Aunt Sully, they would hang around the Yacht Club bar until well after midnight.
"How do you know about that?" Marca asked bluntly.
"Because I accompanied your father on quite a few of these socials, and occasionally he did conduct business afterwards. I sat nearby and watched the faculty and administration turn from people into animals with their drink."
"But Father didn't turn into an animal," I said, hoping it was true.
"Your father didn't drink at university functions, except for a few sips of wine with dinner. His business contacts would buy him (and themselves) drinks, which he would then hand off to me. I would pick up the drink, and wander off to chat with people until I could make my way to the restroom, or the patio, and pour the drink out. Between us, we poisoned more than a few geraniums."
Not too long after that, lulled by quiet voices and chamomile tea (with a squirt of Tabasco and a hint of chicken bouillon) we went back to our own suites -- our own houses! -- and went to sleep.
Some kind of corner has been turned. We're no longer children to go ignored. Even last year, when we were at dinner events, they were all here at home, and we were almost like dolls being paraded to bolster our mother's image as a mother. "This is the next generation, aren't they cute?" But she was no longer in residence, and we were hardly the children of the house. There was still the jokesy first name-address when strangers addressed us as "Owen" and "Marca" but there was also a glitter in the eyes of the Gala attendees -- a calculating affability.
Mays Alderson at school had the same expression when he confided to Jimmy Daniels, "Dude, we got a big party coming on at graduation. Smoke, Snort, Drink, Shoot, all of it. Fifty bucks gets you a ticket and everything you can do." Jimmy Daniels had the money on him the next day, and so did a bunch of other kids who were thrilled with the idea of being bad and being invited to a graduation party. Only when the party was about an hour in, cops raided it, and funny, Mays was nowhere to be found, nor was any cocaine or heroin, just a couple kegs, some vodka, and a baggie of marijuana. "Hey," Mays told people afterwards, "who knew the cops would show up? And some bastards made off with all the good stuff!"
According to popular legend, Mays shrugged off demands for refunds for the "tickets," saying he wasn't responsible for the raid by police. But some of us who observed the transactions, and some of those who felt they had unfairly lost money in the transaction, thought that Mays had never had the expensive drugs on site at all, and probably had one of his cronies tip off the police to cut the party short. A bitter ex-girlfriend started a rumor that Mays had made close to $10,000 on his ticket sales. Whether it was true or not, I can't say, but I will always remember the look in his eyes as he elbowed Jimmy. The eyes said, "You're a dummy, and I can make money from you."
I don't want to be a sucker for the suckups from the university. This is why I need Aunt Sully with us.
The weeks crept on. My siblings reported daily that our mother was well, but sullen and irritable, as well as huge. Aunt Andersol was also huge, but spent much of her time outdoors in the gardens, doted on by the staff. Oesha continued to flit about Europe on the weekends with Grandmother; Michel and Kelsa focused on art, with their English classes negligible and the math remedial compared to their fellow students.
"History is the one that is really a bitch," Michel messaged me one evening. "We started off our school year focusing on California and the Gold Rush and the founding of the missions, but here, the teacher isn't all that sure where California is, nor does he care, and we are expected to know all the countries in Europe and who all was attacking whom during World War II."
"Crap, you used 'whom' in a sentence."
"Let's just say I have learned how agreeable it is to converse in English. I pay it homage by being grammatical. I tell it I miss it and will never abuse it again if only I have the promise of returning to its use one day."
I leaned back in my desk chair at that point and just marveled at the genius of his melodramatic words. I was actually envying his style. A picture of him in a beret came to my mind: he would be batting his dark lashes at some young woman and trying to speak Italian, and rather than coming off as an ignorant little tourist, the young woman would find him unbearably cute, and buy him a sweet drink just to keep him talking.
"Picking up older women?" I typed, returning to the fray.
"In two weeks, when we visit the gallery in Florence, I am to meet with the lovely Francesca Cattaneo and her friend Maria, and they will conduct me on an Italian-speaking tour of the shops."
"How the hell did you meet them?"
"They visited the gallery. They admired my art. I chatted them up, I mangled their language, and they found me charming. They admired my attempt to learn Italian."
"Michel, you watch your step. Remember that you are a goob."
"I am a goob with a date to stroll up and down a pretty street with two very pretty young ladies."
"It's time for bed here. Talk to you tomorrow if you're online, Successful Goob."
"And I must partake of a huge lunch," he replied. "I must keep up my strength. Truly it is exhausting, being so incredibly adorable and so very attentive to all that Italy has to offer."
He was going to be unquenchable after he returned home. Shaking my head, I was about to sign off when he typed, "Wait."
He forgot about grammar then and just started hammering out phrases:
aunt is on the couch they called an ambulance"
"Is she all right?" I typed hurriedly, and picked up my phone and dialed Aunt Sully.
uncle bodie's with her, mom's up"
"Aunt Sully, I'm on line with Michel, something's happening with Aunt Andersol, he says she's on the couch and they called an ambulance!"
"I'm calling them now. Come over when you can."
"talking to Aunt Sully right now. bye"
I left the computer and hurried down the hall. The door was open. Aunt Sully was roaring into the phone, "Calm down! Is Claire home? Get your mother, then, GO, Michel!" She listened, waiting, then cried, "Jesse! What's happening? Okay, it's not too soon for her -- how's her color? Good, that's good. Are you pacing? You always pace when you're upset! Just keep this line open, and for God's sake sit your control freak ass down before you have two emergencies!"
John came wandering out of their bedroom area sleepily, buttoning a denim shirt over his sweatpants. "What's up?" he murmured, squinting against the light.
"Crisis with Andersol. Jesse says she's going into labor, hard labor! They've called an ambulance ... the kids are freaked out, Bodie's a case, and Claire and Oesha are off in Norway somewhere for some spring festival."
"Great. When was Andersol checked by a doctor last?"
"Two days ago. Everything was good, though the doctor did think her cervix was softening up. Guess he was right.
"What's that? Oh, very good, thank you. Someone on staff says that they have the local midwife there already. God, I hope she's not a quack."
"But she's not due until next month!" I cried into the conversation.
"Babies do what they want to do," my aunt said. "Marca and Oesha were two weeks late, Michel and Kelsa were a week early. You, being unusual, came out on the very day you were predicted, checking the wristwatch you were born with."
"Come on, Owen, let's put on some tea and get some eats. We're gonna have a night of it." He went to the little kitchen alcove (the suites on the third floor were never meant for culinary extravagances) and began pulling a tea jar out of the cupboard.
While he boiled some water, I went and pounded on Marca's door. When there was no answer, I barged in and found her watching some stupid television show while unrelated music blared into her head from head phones. Relishing my chance to be rude to her without retribution, I yanked the headphones off her from behind. She jerked spasmodically in startlement, but before she could leap up and end my short life, I told her Aunt Andersol was in labor. Both of us ran out of her rooms and back to Aunt Sully's.
"Oh my God, she's already dilated and they can see the baby's head!" Aunt Sully was shouting.
"What does that mean?" I asked John.
"I think it means a baby is gonna be born soon, but I never saw it done, so I don't know." His brow was furrowed.
"IT'S A GIRL!"
"It's a girl," John said to Marca, smiling. "We need more girls in this house!"
"That was kind of quick, wasn't it?" Marca asked. "I thought labor was supposed to take hours."
All I could do was shrug; movies made childbearing out to be a time of high drama and agony, with screams and ... I didn't want to think about what else.
We carried our cups of tea and the cutting board with cheese and summer sausage from the kitchen to the sitting room and went to Aunt Sully. She still had the phone pressed to her ear. Suddenly she bellowed, "AND A BOY! THEY'RE ALL OKAY! ANDERSOL IS HOLDING THEM BOTH!"
"We're here, you can stop shouting. A boy and a girl, and they're all okay?"
"Yes, oh my God, this is fantastic!" My aunt's eyes were overflowing with tears.
As he held her, John turned his head to me and said, "Hey, we need more boys in this house, too."
"The ambulance is there, now -- they're going to take them to the hospital just to make sure everything is all right."
Technically speaking, if only blood can make brothers and sisters, the two new babies were no relatives of mine, or of Aunt Sully. But then if only blood counted, we Five had no stake in Uncle Bodie, which was ridiculous, because we loved him and needed him to be our mother's husband, and our anchor in the house. Or in Uncle John, but we loved him, too, having grown up with him.
I don't think blood is necessary for love, or attachment, or loyalty. I think we have to choose to whom we give our hearts. Isn't that what happens when a man and woman marry? Two different bloodlines become one. And if they don't have children, are they any less one? Aunt Andersol's babies were part of this household, even if they weren't here yet. Not of my bloodline, they were still amazingly to be part of my life.
I can't wait to meet them.