“Knock knock, Andie Chase…”
Andie stood behind the protection of her locked bedroom door, crossed her fingers and went for the big lie. “Jose, I’m not well.”
She’d texted him saying she had a sudden onset of migraine and that the merry group should enjoy the apple pie without her.
If Jose got one look at her face, her scam was sunk.
“Horse Hockey. Missy, I’ve got two strong men, a French Chef, and a She-Devil out here and I will have them break this door down…”
“Oh, Come in.” Andie jerked the door open, pulling Jose and his big mouth into her room. The last thing she needed was Maurice and Stan alerted.
Jose did little more than flick his eyes in her direction, “What happened?”
Yep. Sunk. “Nothing.”
“Andie Chase, you have been crying. If you don’t tell me what’s wrong right this instant, I’m calling your Mom, your Dad, and Grandmother Chase.”
Oh, what the hell? She opened her mouth and let the words fall out, “I interviewed Damien Drake at a sex club. He thought I was his new submissive. He gave me an orgasm against a wall. Tonight, he got mad. I got mad. We yelled at each other and had screaming hot sex and oh yeah, he spanked me and I liked it. Are we at TMI yet?”
Jose’s eyes got wide and then wider. By the time she was done they were white all the way around. He fell back against the door. His mouth dropped open. A sound came out that, until now, Andie had thought unique to marine mammals, specifically dolphins, kind of an “eeping-eek”. He snapped immediately snapped it shut. It dropped again with another eeping-eek. This went on for a while. Open. Close. Open. Close. Eeping eek. Eeping eek. Like he was a life size ventriloquist dummy.
A broken one.
That was limited to dolphin calls.
Wow. She’d rendered Jose speechless.
After an especially long, drawn out “Eeep-eep-eeeeeep. Eeeeek.” Jose gave up on speech. He dropped his head, hanging his arms loosely at his sides. Andie saw his shoulders rise and fall. He was doing some deep breathing. Since she had nothing better to do, she counted them. On his seventh exhale he gave himself a little shake and lifted his head Andie saw his eyes were back to their normal size.
Jose raised one hand, index finger extended, and said two perfectly clear words, “Wait. Here.”With methodical patience, he opened the door and glided out, carefully closing it behind him. She heard sedate strides down the hall.
Then there was hand clapping and some hush-hushing. A few intense whispers and Jose said, “Oh no, everything is fine. Andie gets these, poor thing. She just needs a dark room and quiet”
Wow, Jose could sell it.
After this there were some “Oui ouis” and “Zee Zees” and the sounds of goodbye. The click of the door shutting, about a half second of silence and Layla, “Just what in the holy fuck is….huh?”
Urgent mile a minute whispers and then a wailing, shrieking, wake-the-dead screaming, “THHHHHEEEE FUUUUUCK?”
Feet pounded down the hall and Andie’s bedroom door was thrown open by a wild-haired, she-demon holding pie. “WHATTHEFUCKDIDTHATKINKYFUCKERDOTOYOU?”
“What the fuck did you do to Andie, you stupid fucker?”.
Damien had to wait until his jaw stopped throbbing, before answering. Stan Wyatt had a right hook like a hammer. “None of your business.”
“Did you hurt her?” The enquiry came from Maurice. He was slumped casually in the doorway to of his office. Damien wasn’t fooled. Maurice was about a second away from ripping his head off.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?” This time Stan’s hammer of a fist came down on his desk. He heard the crack that meant splitting wood, but didn’t take his eyes off the two men to confirm. “What the hell?”
“I’m not discussing this with you.”
“That fuck you aren’t. You met in my club. You are damn well going to talk to me about this.”
Shit. He forgot that little detail. Stan took the safety of the women in that club dead serious. He would have to explain. “I was in a…. black mood.”
“Yeah, we noticed.” Maurice said. Still in the doorway. Still deciding.
“She got… angry.”
“Uh-huh,” Stan’s too knowing gaze slid over him in disgust, “She stood up and sassed you and you lost it.”
He didn’t bother denying it. “She seemed to like it at the time.”
“So you threw that sweet girl in the deep end and she had to sink or swim.” Maurice came up off the door, but stayed where he was, “If I start hitting you, I won’t stop.”
Damien’s surprise must have shown. “I appreciate your restraint.”
“It’s for her sake not yours. I’m at my limit.” Maurice’s bulk shifted out of the doorway, “I’ll be in the car.”
“You stupid, selfish fucker.” Wyatt looked at him like he was an especially large pile of shit on a shoe, “She’s too good for you.”
“Well, you better do some fancy apologizing.” Wyatt shoved himself off the desk and headed out of the room, “If she agrees to see you again which she shouldn’t because you’re a dumb-fuck who doesn’t deserve her, but she will because you’re also the luckiest son of a bitch alive.”
“That fucking dirty fucking fucker. He hit you? He HIT you? …”
Andie covered her ears not that it did any good. Layla had powerful lungs and she was using them to great effect. She’d been screeching for a full five minutes, a crazed, murderous light flashing in her eyes. Andie let her scream it out. Finally, her friend had to stop and drag in gulps of air.
Andie jumped on it. “No, he spanked me.” She said, throwing a quelling look at Jose.
Jose was not quelled. “Oh, don’t give me that look. You can’t tell me you had kinky-spanking sex with the hot billionaire and expect me to not get reinforcements. So did you like it?”
“What the fuck?” Layla threw her rabid fury Jose’s way, “No, she didn’t like it. He. Hit. her.”
“No, he spanked her.”
“It’s not.” Jose shook his head.
“Shit Jose,” Shock battled the rage in Layla’s face. Rage won out, “Are you hearing yourself?”
“He’s right. I don’t think it is.” It wasn’t until the words were out of her mouth that Andie understood she believed them. She had no time to deal with her revelation as the effect on Layla was immediate. Her friend sucked in her rage until not a trace was left on a face that was serene as a lake at sunset. Andie had seen her do this many times when dealing with victims of abuse. “Andie, sweetheart, I see this all the time.”
Oh boy. As much as Andie would have liked to hold on to her anger. She couldn’t allow her friend to worry about something that simply was not true, “Layla, the women at the shelter, when they were being hit, was is it to induce screaming orgasms?”
“Then it’s not the same thing. Because the spanking did and it was mind-blowing.” And just what in the dickens she was going to do about the truth in those words she didn’t have a clue.
Layla’s dark-chocolate eyes closed in one slow blink, “Okaaaay…uh shit… “ She flopped down on the bed beside her, “Screaming……Mind blowing?”
“Some girls have all the luck.” Jose sighed, flopping down on her other side, “Now dish the dirty deets.”
Andie ignored him, her focus on the friend she still had to convince. “Damien might be a controlling jerk, but the sex was scorching hot.”
“Huh,” Layla mumbled around a thoughtful bite of pie, “Must run in the family.”
“You look like hell.”
“Thanks Layla, love you too.” She dropped into her seat. The car was practically empty. Sunday was the lightest day for the Amtrak express train from DC to Richmond. On Sunday people were training it in to DC not out.
“Just making a point.” Layla said.
Andie waited for the rest of the point. Best to let Layla get it all out there.
“If a man made me look like one of the walking dead, I’d seriously consider dumping him.”
“Oh shut it.” Jose said, plopping down on the seat across from her, “If a relationship doesn’t give you one or two sleepless nights, you’re not invested enough to care. Andie, this train takes exactly 83 minutes to get to Richmond, plenty of time to dish the deets on your magical evening.”
Oh nuts. For the first time since they’d been sharing the apartment Andie kind of wished her friends were spending their holiday with their own families. Ever since Jose’s mom had passed away, he and his Dad always spent the holiday with her Grandmother. It was a long standing tradition going back to her teens. Layla started tagging along after they’d moved in together. Her parents were divorced, and both were local so she had options, but insisted those options sucked dog poop. According to Layla, her Dad’s side of the family was a bunch of Richie-rich assholes who wouldn’t know a good time if it bit them on their uptight asses. And when Andie had asked about her mother’s side, Layla’s response was a disgusted, “They don’t eat meat. It’s Thanksgiving. What the fuck?”
So the three of them were training it down to Richmond to her Grandmother’s for the traditional meat-eating Thanksgiving. She’d gotten next to no sleep. Damien’s dark eyes, and darker whispers invading her dreams. She was not up to the jose inquest and the Layla critique. “I’m taking a nap. I’m exhausted. If I don’t get some rest I won’t be able to bake pie.”
“Jose, shut your trap.” Layla cut him off with a whack of her rolled up Washington Post to his head, “Your nosy nose is not costing me pie.”
Jose stuck his bottom lip out, but showed he had regard for his own well-being by staying quiet.
Andie closed her eyes and pretended to sleep.
Westover Hills was one of the oldest neighborhoods in Richmond, Virginia. South of the James River, it had gone through being a thriving community to a sketchy one and was now thriving again. Carolyn Adriana Chase had been there through all of it. By the time the cab pulled to a stop, the familiar sight of her Grandmother’s pristine white Tudor with its crisp black shutters and neat boxwood hedges was a welcome one to her itchy, granny, sleep-deprived eyes. She slumped up the slate walk feeling extra grubby between her bestest buds. Jose and Layla looked like they’d popped out a glossy magazine touting the best casual looks for fall. She on the other hand looked like something the cat left out in the yard cause he found something better to drag in. Her hair was a knot of bedhead thanks to her useless attempt to nap and her wrinkled shirt and jeans were stained thanks to her need for a large coffee and the cab driver’s need to brake at the possible minute.
Shower and a nap. Yep. That was going to happen. Pie or no pie.
Andie turned the key in the lock, pushing the door open and the scent of orange and spice wafted into the crisp autumn morning. A small smile curled her lips, knowing when she stepped over the threshold she’d find pure southern grace, hardwood floors gleaming around the edges of oriental carpets and the rich dark wood of well cared for antiques glowing softly in every room, but as she led her friends into the house, she couldn’t see any of it.
Layla’s head popping over her shoulder along with her “Holeee Shit!” and the thunk of a suitcase let Andie know the sight before was not an illusion brought on by exhaustion and too much caffeine. She supposed it could have been a shared illusion, but Jose following up his “OW!” and “What have you got in that suitcase, bricks?” with a “What the… .Who died?” let her know shared illusion was out.
This was reality. Strange, unbelievable reality.
“What the fuuu…dge?” Andie corrected her language in the nick of time.
Her grandmother appeared from the kitchen,
a white apron dotted with bright red cherries protecting her periwinkle blouse and black crepe slacks. If you brought June Cleaver forward in time and added thirty years to her you would have Carolyn Adriana Chase, from her ash blond bob to her ballet flats to her short strand of pearls, she made elegance look effortless.
“Don’t be impertinent, Jose. No one died.” She also put up with zero nonsense.
“Layla, if you’re going to curse, at least do so in Latin.” And she detested cursing.
“Adriana, you will tell me about this young man you’re seeing.” And she possessed one heck of a frontal lobe-piercing stare.
Andie closed her eyes, clicked her heels three times and wished to be back in her apartment.
She slitted one eye open.
It was a long shot.
She was still in her Grandmother’s living room with the flowers.
Lots of flowers.
Lots and lots and LOTS of flowers.
All the antiques were buried under them The rugs were covered with them. The hardwood floors were lined with them. Huge bouquets of roses in every color – white, red, fuchsia, pink, yellow, orange, even purple. Massive arrangements of garden flowers – hydrangeas, peonies, tulips, lilies, stock, wild heather… and more she couldn’t name. The scents were overwhelming. The colors breathtaking.
“I took the liberty of removing all the cards.” Her Grandmother said with her usual alacrity, “You’ll find them in your room on your dresser.”
All Andie could do was shut her mouth and dip her head in not quite a nod.
Layla and Jose however.
Those two peeled out of the room like the hounds of hell were in hot pursuit, racing neck and neck all the way to the stairs where Jose ducked under the elbow Layla threw and took the lead as they stampeded up to the second floor.
“How badly did he mess up?”
“Huh?” She turned back to her Grandmother.
“He sent an entire florist’s shop to my living room, Adrianna. A gesture like this always comes on the heels of bad behavior.”
“Uh….he…uh…”She searched for a change in topic. Telling her grandmother that her kinky billionaire boyfriend spanked her and made her like it didn’t seem appropriate.
“Whatever it was, it is safe to say, he’s remorseful.”
“Uh…yeah…I mean, yes.” Andie corrected her non-word at her Grandmother’s pointed look.
“All right then. We don’t need to do any meal prep today.” The piercing stare swept her head to toe, “You should rest. You’re looking a little peaked.”
“It’s been a busy couple of weeks.”
“Your parents aren’t arriving until Thanksgiving morning, but we have three full days. We should be fine. However, I think it would be best if Layla and Jose were assigned tasks outside of the kitchen. We don’t want a repeat of last year.”
“Good. Yes, that would probably be best.”
Last year Layla had been given the task of washing the turkey. Jose helped by holding the twenty-pound bird over the sink while Layla proceeded to squirt it with dish soap and scrub. Andie didn’t think they’d make the mistake again, but when it came to her two bestest buds it was better to play it safe than risk it soapy.
She’d had the same bedroom in her Grandmother’s house for over ten years. It had not changed in all that time. Same eggshell walls, same antique sleigh bed, same mahogany dresser, and the same giant full-length Scarlett O’Hara Mirror filling one corner of the room and reflecting over half of it. So there were now two Jose’s and two Laylas driving her batty and invading her privacy. Well, maybe not the privacy invasion. She’d had none since she moved in with them three years ago. You couldn’t invade something that wasn’t there, but the batty thing, oh yes. That was a definite.
“I’m sorry / I’m sorry / I’m so very sorry.” Jose flipped his way through his stack of cards
“I’m an ass. / I’m an ass. / I’m a selfish ass.” Layla butted in.
“Forgive me./ Please forgive me./ Please, Andie, forgive me.’ Jose butted back. “Ooo, here’s a long one. ‘I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I’m selfish enough to desire it.’ I like that one.”
“Call me. / Please call me. / Andie sweetheart please call me.” Layla.
“I’m sorry. / I’m sorry. / I’m sorry…” Jose.
“Forgive me. / Forgive me / Forgive me…” Layla.
“’Please call me, kitten.’ Oh, he calls you kitten.” Jose touched the back of his hand to his forehead, “Swoon.”
“’I have no excuse for my behavior’” Layla humphed, “He got that right.”
“And last but certainly not least, Jose read his final card, “I’ll understand if you never want to see me again, but please call me. I’m worried about you, kitten.”
“You should call him.”
“Don’t call him.”
Andie had a strong sense of déjà vu as if she’d been in this exact moment before. Oh right, she had, less than twenty-four hours ago.
“Don’t listen to Layla.” Jose put his hand beside his mouth and stage whispered, “She threw out her hot male hotness. She just wants company in her misery.”
“Don’t listen to Jose.” Layla didn’t bother with whispering, “He just wants access to Drake’s ‘oooh I think he might be gay’ friends.
“Horny all the time?”
Oh for fuck’s sake. Andie fell back on the bed. Maybe if she just lay real still they’d think she’d died.
Doggone it. Nothing was going her way today.
She opened one eye to see Jose’s face above her, “Your Grandmother will be appalled if you fail to acknowledge the flowers.”
“Text him.” Layla’s head popped in beside Jose’s, “The flowers are lovely. You’re still an ass.”
“I can’t think about it right now.” Andie dragged herself off the bed and headed for the bathroom. Shutting the door firmly behind her. Maybe they’d get the…
“Is your phone in your purse?”
“I could text him for you.”
Jose’s suggestion had her yanking the door open, her emphatic shout joining Layla’s in a resounding, “No!”
“Okay okay,” The bottom lip made an appearance, “It was only a suggestion.”
“Please,” Layla’s eyes rolled back in her head as finally her two buds began moving towards the door, sniping and bickering all the way. “You’d say your ass was in the air waiting for him to fly down here and smack it.”
“Some of us know what to do with hotness. We don’t toss it out on its biteable bum.”
“You haven’t had a bum, biteable or otherwise, in six months.”
Andie followed shutting the door as soon as Jose’s butt cleared it and locking it behind them before they could think of more ways to run into her life. Falling against it, she put her weary brain to considering her Adonis options.
Jose had a point. She was in her Grandmother’s house. If Andie didn’t acknowledge the flowers in some way Carolyn Adriana Chase would know. A proper thank-you was not optional. To this day, if she opened the desk in the corner of her room she’d find note cards and stationary galore.
Layla had an equally good point. In today’s modern world a text was acceptable.
Andie grabbed her phone out of her purse.
She typed out a succinct, “The flowers are beautiful. Thank-you.” Hit send before she could chicken out, and turned her phone off before he could respond. Okay, so she was kind of a chicken. But mostly she was exhausted. She didn’t even bother to shower. Just collapsed on the bed and closed her eyes.
Andie had never thought about hell much. Her parents, being archeologists, considered the search for God and the belief in an afterlife an ongoing anthropological experiment. Her Grandmother considered the belief in devils and demons nothing more than way to blame bad behavior on something other than one’s own decisions. In high-school, though, she’d done a thesis on Dante and his Inferno. She got an A.
Dante’s hell had nine circles. She knew them. Could name them to this day. So She knew for an actual and absolute fact that in all of those nine circles there was not a single mention of her Grandmother’s dining table with its Royal Doulton China, antique silver flatware, Waterford crystal, and linen napkins. Neither was there a single reference to roasted turkey, cornbread stuffing, potatoes – sweet and mashed, braised butternut squash, cranberry orange salad, green beans almandine, homemade parker house rolls, and perfectly thin slices of Red Eye ham straight out of Smithfield. Not a hint. Not a whisper. Not even a footnote. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.
Dante was a skeevy, lying, little sneak. She hoped he was burning in hell. The seventh one. The one with flaming desserts and caskets of burning blood.
The dress code for hell’s table was casual so at least she was suffering in her favorite jeans. She sat beside Layla, her friend’s hair was in a ponytail to keep it out of the way and she wore a chocolate long sleeve tee in 100% machine washable cotton. Layla took Thanksgiving seriously and dressed for minimum worry for maximum food consumption. Across from them was her mother, Delilah Chase, her long, stick straight hair held back in a tie-dye scarf. Though she looked like she’d just popped out of the 1960’s, the matching technicolor, tie-dye claim of, “Woodstock Baby” splattered across her mother’s t-shirt that was, as far as Andie knew, an unsubstantiated rumor. To her mother’s right was her father, looking his usual absent-minded professor self. His clothing a little rumpled his glasses a little askew, and his hair overdue for a trim. Jose was on her mother’s looking his usual sharp dressed self in a vintage shirt by some designer she couldn’t name, his phone in hand. And Grandmother Chase sat at the head of the table elegant, regal, and looking like she was chewing nails instead of turkey.
Screech to full stop.
Her parents hadn’t arrived until early this morning. The abundance of flora had been moved to Andie’s bedroom. So she’d avoided the topic of Damien Drake until the rolls were pulled from the oven. The family seated themselves, said what they were thankful for in ten words or less (a limit imposed years ago so gratitude would not become a hindrance to consuming food while it was hot.) and passed the loaded platters around the table in an organized left to right carousel of harvest bounty. Then her mother had asked about Damien Drake and Jose whipped out his phone.
Thus commenced the full narrative of her dating life; complete with pictures, sound effects, and props in the form of the two dozen white roses Jose had brought down earlier and placed in the middle of the sideboard between the numerous cakes, cookies, and pies.
“And look here, see this is Andie wearing Damien Drake’s coat.” Jose tapped and passed the phone to her mother. That phone made more passes than the potatoes and gravy and that was saying a lot. Layla and her Dad had been fighting over the mashed potatoes since before they got mashed. Andie kept waiting for the end. How many pictures could he have taken? Tons. That’s how many.
“Oh, he is something isn’t he?” Her mother gushed. She’d been gushing for a while now, “Oh, look at him spin you.” Gush, gush, gush, “Oh GAWD. That dip.”
Oh and video. There were videos.
Her father took a break from stuffing potatoes in his mouth to send his wife an indulgent smile. Andie had only ever seen that particular smile directed at her mother.
Her Grandmother sent her a look as well. Just like her father, Carolyn Chase had a look solely for Delilah. Unlike her father, it wasn’t indulgent and full of affection. It was frosty and loaded with daggers. Sharp, serrated, daggers of pure ice. Her Grandmother had been wearing it ever since her mother had dared ask Jose to get out his phone at the dining table. With every ensuing comment her mother made the temperature in the room dropped another ten degrees. As it stood, they were about three Delilah remarks away from total whiteout.
Yep. In about five minutes or less it would be snowing in hell.
Layla, must have sensed her distress. She took a break from loading her fork with perfect amounts of turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy to hiss, “One week.” In her direction.
One week and today was half over so really six and half days. She could make it, maybe. Andie loved her mother dearly, but she was a lot to handle by herself. Delilah and Jose together? Well, that was a perfect storm of something she couldn’t put a name to, but it always made her want to run….
Far, far, far… away.
“Look see here’s one without the coat. See the beading. It’s Vintage Chanel.” Jose did his own gushing.
Her father took another break to glance over at the phone. He cleared his throat, his cheeks reddened. He straightened his glasses, looking quite scholarly when he asked, “What kind of dress is that?” So of course Jose gave him the historically correct answer, complete with dates, names, and the most influential designers of the period.
This gave Andie time to close her eyes and try the three heel clicks again.
“Don’t be a prude, sweetie. She’s gorgeous.”
That was her Mom, so unless she’d transported them both…she opened her eyes.
Note to self: Acquire ruby slippers.
Her father passed the phone to her Grandmother. Her perfectly plucked brows promptly disappeared into her ash blond bob, “Well, it was gallant of him to offer the coat.”
“Decent of him.” Her Dad agreed.
“Don’t listen to them, darling. You look lovely.”
“Thanks Mom.” Andie crossed her fingers, hoping against hope that would be the end.
“So,” Her mother’s eyes sparkled. Andie braced. “Is he as good at the doing the horizontal mambo?”
“Thank-you!” Jose threw his hands up.
“Delilah!” Her grandmother set her Waterford down.
Layla paused with her final forkful of Thanksgiving masterpiece half way to her mouth.
Andie looked around for a hole to fall into.
“Oh, lighten up, Carolyn.” Her mother casually dished herself another helping of cranberry salad, “There’s no shame in a woman enjoying her sexuality.” She lay it on her plate and returned the serving spoon, “And there’s a hell of a lot to enjoy that a hunk of luscious.”
“Amen to that, sister.” Jose threw his hands up in a wave and threw out a “Hallelujah!”
“Really, Delilah!” Her Grandmother threw down her napkin and threw daggers at her-daughter in-law. And her father finally did something other than smile and eat. He jumped up to pat Layla’s back since she was choking on her masterpiece.
In the absence of a hole, Andie considered crawling under the table.
But if there was one person on the planet Carolyn Adriana Chase could not intimidate it was the woman fate had chosen for her son. Delilah’s eyes rolled, her shoulder moved in a careless shrug, “I’m married, Carolyn, not dead.”
Layla finally dragged in air and went for her water. A tactical error. If there was one thing her mother truly enjoyed, it was getting Carolyn’s….
“And that man looks like he knows his way around a g-spot.”
Her Grandmother stood, and oh it would have been one hell of a set down, followed by a crack of a comeback and escalated to a rip-roaring fight. The two women didn’t go at it often, mainly due to the three thousand miles of ocean between them, but when they did, it was 1970’s disaster movie bad, a towering inferno of crashing planes and flipping cruise ships bad. Who knew what dire disaster would have occurred if Layla hadn’t spewed water halfway across the table. Her father, who was halfway back to his seat, made a u-turn and resumed his back patting. Jose and her mother high-fived. Her grandmother resumed her seat in icy silence, emitting disapproval like vapor off dry ice.
And Andie saw her chance. Leaping from the table, she swiped the pumpkin pie off the sideboard and headed for the kitchen, saying she’d start cutting the deserts and thankful for the home’s old floor plan and the wall separating it from the dining room.
Using her friend’s near death experience as cover for her escape was a questionable practice, but Andie was taking that whole desperate times and desperate measures clause and running with it.
Not far enough, as it turned out.
She was putting the knife to the pie when the swinging door swung open, admitting her mother and Jose.
“Now that it’s just us girls.” Her mother giggled, “How was he?”
Jose now had reinforcements. He’d been trying to get details out of her for the last two days. Only her Grandmother throwing him out of the kitchen time and again had saved her.
So when her phone, that for some reason she’d been keeping in her back pocket, trilled, she plopped the pie on the counter and yanked it out, “Hello!”
“Oh my God, is that him?” Her mother asked. She and Jose descended on her like a couple of pack lions on an antelope.
Andie ducked and dodged and shouted the first thing she could think of, “Shelly!”
There was silence, masculine throat clearing, and finally, “Who?”
“Uh…yes. I mean…no. Your pie shouldn’t be lumpy.”
“I have lumpy pie?” The Adonis on the other end of the phone asked, all amused.
He wouldn’t find it so funny if he were sharing her all-expense paid tour of her own personal hell. “Yes, you do.”
“Alright kitten.” A low chuckle she’d have found drop-dead sexy if she weren’t in a blind panic, “Should I call back?”
“NO! I’ll uh… walk you through it. Um… hold on.” She held the phone tight to her chest and lied through her teeth, “It’s Shelly. She’s having a pie emergency. Mom, you’ll have to serve dessert.”
The look on Jose’s face said he wasn’t buying it, but her mother just smiled, “Go ahead dear. We’ll have plenty of time to talk.” Her mother’s smile turned bright and beaming,” Your father and I have decided to stay through Christmas.”
The floor fell away. “Come again?”
“We got a lease on an apartment in Old Town.”
“Huh?” The buzzing of a thousand bees filled her ears. Her knees turned to jelly.
“It was supposed to be a surprise.” Her mother kept on beaming, “Be sure and act shocked when your father makes his big announcement.”
“Shocked. Sure. Okay.” She pushed the words through numb lips, feeling like was floating outside of her body. She could see her Grandmother’s kitchen, the mahogany cabinets rich in the autumn sunlight streaming through the windows. It was peaceful, idyllic really. Ironic that her world was going to hell in the place that had offered her the most comfort throughout her childhood.
She looked up hoping to see the rabbit hole.
“Oh my God. Delilah, we’ll have so much fun!” Jose’s excited shriek pulled her eyes from the ceiling. “We’ll go thrifting and The Downton Abbey exhibit is in town, and you have to attend the Vernon Ferrar exhibit with me next week. He’s the Georgia O’Keefe of penises.”
Horror froze Andie’s limbs. Dimly, it registered that she was going to have to keep her eyes closed around the apartment for the next few weeks until Layla managed to pull all of the Penis Prints off the wall, but she was too consumed with the disastrous present to worry about possibly necessary brain-wipes in the future.
Meanwhile, Jose and her mother clasped hands, squealed, and hopped around the kitchen like a couple of cracked out teeny-boppers.
“Oh, sweet hell.” Layla appeared beside her, her pale face and horrified expression telling Andie she’d heard her mother’s announcement. “You want me to pull the car around? I can stuff you in the trunk and we can Thelma and Louise it to the border or some shit.”
“We took a cab.”
“Damn. See now, if I could hot wire a car we’d be set. That’s a skill a girl can use. But no, Mom had me learning Latin and doing flips on high-beams and useless shit like that.
“Okay, I’m going to go have a nice, quiet nervous breakdown, now.” Andie turned her back on Jose still listing all the fabulous things he and Delilah would be doing.
“Yeah, uh… you go right ahead.” Layla grabbed a spoon and swiped the pumpkin pie off the counter, “I’m going to eat this pie and fall into a sugar coma. If my luck holds I’ll be out through the New Year.”
“Go for it.”
Andie climbed the back stairs on leaden legs, wandered into her bedroom, and shut the door locking it behind her. She looked down and saw the phone still in her hand. “Uh…hello?”
“Sorry about that. I had to get away from Jose and Mom.”
“Your parents flew in from Stonehenge?”
“Yes,” Her confirmation caused her breath to catch. The walls of her room shrinking in on her, “Oh God. Oh God. I have to get out of here.”
“Get out of where?”
“Huh?” She couldn’t feel her legs.
“Kitten, is something wrong?”
“Oh yes. Yes, something is wrong. Really wrong. Way way way wrong.”
What the hell? Damien crept down the hall and shut himself in the only room in Jane’s house that he could be alone. Possibly. With the extended family gathered, the unfinished half bath was his best shot at privacy. Jane had bought what she called a fixer upper. He called it a mess, but with the house full of his cousins, who’d been relentless in their ongoing pursuit of managing his life, the lack of plumbing was a plus.
He shut the door firmly, relieved to see it locked. And gave his full attention to the woman dominating his thoughts waking and sleeping, “Andie, you’re worrying me.”
“Am I?” She asked wildly, “You’re filthy rich, right?”
“Yes.” He confirmed. Maybe if he let her talk, she’d start making sense.
“Do you have a private Jet?”
“Can I borrow it?”
And maybe not. Not yet anyway. “May I ask why?”
“Because Layla can’t stuff me in a trunk and drive me to the border.”
“It’s okay. She took useless Latin and learned to do flips.”
Flips? Alright, letting her talk was a dud. If anything she was deteriorating. “Kitten, is Layla there with you, now?” Maybe she’d be able to explain….
“No, she’s eating a whole pie so she can go into a coma. Lucky bitch.”
“Andie, have you been drinking?”
“No, but I’m about to start.”
“Kitten,” He said his next words with slow deliberate care, “I need you to take a deep breath, let it out and explain to me what has you so upset.”
He heard that breath, a couple of okay, okays and some fines like she was giving herself a pep-talk, and then rapid fire words, “My parents are staying in DC through the New Year.”
“I see.” Actually, he didn’t.
“No, you don’t.”
“You need to go into hiding.”
“I would say take the jet and fly to Bora Bora, but I need it. Maybe you can go into witness protection.”
A smile curved his lips. He was beginning to see the big picture. “Can’t we both take the jet?”
“They’ll be expecting that. We have to flee the country separately.”
“Your Mother and Father are that dangerous?”
“Oh no Dad’s not the problem.”
“So your mother….”
“Oh yes, my mother.” A wild half laugh and snother deep breath, “Adonis, Jose is the Yin to my mother’s Yang. The only reason the world is still spinning on its axis is that those two are hardly ever on the same continent. And they are going to be in the same city for six weeks. Oh God… I can’t feel my face.”
“Should I call 911?” He asked, leaning against the door. Now that he knew nothing catastrophic was happening he could relax and enjoy.
“No, I think it’s shock. if I get lucky, it’ll kill me.”
“That seems extreme.” He said, stifling his urge to laugh. His cheek would be the only casualty here.
“Uh-huh. Did you ever see that second “Meet the Parents” movie? The one with Barbara Streisand?”
“Rent it. Watch it. You need to be prepared. Oh, and the flowers are beautiful. Thank-you.”
“Does this mean I’m going to see you again?”
“That’s it? Sure.”
“Adonis, when you’re staring into the gaping maw of the apocalypse, kinky butt-smacking sex just isn’t that big of a deal.”
“Ah okay” He wasn’t about to look a gift “gaping maw” in the mouth, “So I’ll see you when you get back. I can pick you up at the station. We can go to a movie and eat popcorn and peanut M&Ms.”
“Oh no….” It was little more than a whisper, he barely heard it over the sudden pounding coming through the phone.
“Or we could have dinner….”
“Oh no no no no.”
“Okay, so no dinner…”
“Adonis, I don’t think you’ll be seeing me again.”
“I won’t?” He knew it couldn’t be that easy. He was prepared. He had plans A -F. He just needed to talk to her long enough to sell them. Hard to do with that incessant knocking “What’s that pounding?”.
“Jose and Mom beating on my door. My bedroom is on the second floor and my only escape is out the window. I probably won’t survive.”
Ah, false alarm, “Kitten, it can’t be that bad.”
“Really? You don’t think so? I’m opening the door and putting you on speaker. Be afraid, Damien Drake. Be very very afraid.”
This should be interesting. He slid down the wall and settled himself on the floor.
A female voice, similar to Andie’s was oohing and ahhing and talking excitedly about flowers. “See, how this is long stem here rises up in the center and the mouth of the iris lower on the left and right? That’s Splitting the Bamboo.”
“Ooh yes. Yes, I can see it.” Jose’s eager enthusiasm came right behind it.
“Kitten, did I send Bamboo?” If so, he was calling the florist. He’d told them “romantic.” Bamboo didn’t fit the bill.
“No.” She moaned like she was in pain, “No, you did not.”
“And this one has got to be The Lotus. And this one is obviously Right Angle.” Andie’s Mother continued her rundown. Jose chiming in with various affirmations.
“Oh, and this is very empowering – The Tigress.” Andie’s mother kept up the comments that were making no sense.
It was Jose’s hand clapping and his, “Oh Girl, you get to be on top for that one.” That clued him in, and in that moment, he wished he’d been born stupid.
“And that looks like Suspended Congress, but it could possibly be The Tongs.” Andie’s mother kept confirming the horrible truth.
“Andie sweets,” Jose’s voice came through strong and clear, “You better start doing yoga. Your hunny-bunny likes the exotic.”
“Uh…what?” His kitten sounded like she might be getting sick. Hell, he was feeling sick himself.
“It’s all in this book, The Secret Love Language of flowers.” Andie’s Mother confirmed the nauseating truth, “It tells you which Karma Sutra positions your man favors according to the flowers he sends. It’s so handy. I’ve got it right here on my I-phone.”
“Handy.” Andie repeated, her voice faint, “Wow. Okay. Excuse me, I’m going to go throw up, now.”
“Oh, don’t be a spoil-sport.” Jose chided, “It’s fun.”
He had to pull the phone from his ear. Andie broke into laughter, not her usual adorably happy hooting snorts. This laughter was wild, desperate, and more than a little hysterical. Not that he blamed her.
With a couple near shrieking howls, the laughter died. “Did you get all that? Say yes, because I’ve shut myself in the bathroom and I’m not budging until either they’re gone or the coroner is stuffing me in a body bag.”
“I’ll gas up the jet.”
“Thanks. You’re a peach.”
“So you’re spending Thanksgiving in a bathroom?”
“Yep. It’s not as nice as yours, but it’ll do. Maybe I can get Layla to smuggle me pie.”
“I thought she was eating the whole thing?”
“Adonis, this is the South. There are at least four pies and two cakes at any and all holiday gatherings.”
He was going to ask for a rundown of the specific kinds of pie, but what sounded like a herd of teenage girls squealing, a dozen fists pounding, and ten Jose’s shouting, “Oh my God, girlfriend! He sent you the Congress of the Cow. That dirty, dirty, kinky boy.”
“Oh now, that is a great position if he has one of those hook-shaped penises. Hit’s the “G” every time.”
Shit, he might never be able to form words again. Poor Andie was muttering in his ear. The words were low and jumbled, but it sounded like she was begging someone to kill her. Then a deep breath and, “Good to know Mom, thanks.”
“When you jump, aim for the bushes.”