A Sneak Peek of The Suite Life
A Math Lesson Courtesy of the Prodigal Son
Leopold Davenport – Paradise Bay, Santa Valentina Island
Most people have it arse backward. They work for forty years or so, usually at a job they hate, wearing down their bodies and minds along the way. At the end of it all, they’re too old and decrepit to really live (read: skydiving, scuba diving, cliff diving—any sort of diving, really, summiting the K1, making the most of a trip to Rio during Carnival, etc.). I, however, am doing the exact opposite. I’ve decided to take my retirement first, and for as long as possible, while I’m still young enough to enjoy it all. At some point, should I stumble upon the perfect career, I’ll spend a few years doing work I love while bettering the world until I grow tired of it. Then I’ll bid adieu to the workforce and go back to the life of leisure.
Up until now, my plan has worked out brilliantly thanks to the generosity of my parents, Lord Alistair and Lady Bunny Davenport. You’ve probably heard of them. He owns Davenport Communications, the largest media, telecommunications, and something or other company in all of the UK. Or is it in all of Europe? I can never remember because I really don’t care. Hmmm, I should correct what I said about my parents being generous. Mother is the benevolent one (when it comes to her youngest son—that’s me—anyway). Father, not so much. Until very recently, we’ve managed a peaceful co-existence where he pays for my life and otherwise ignores me while I ride the razor-thin line that exists between complying with his lowest expectations and embarrassing him to the point where he feels he must react.
As a teenager, I developed something called the Alistair Pain Ratio, or APR. So long as my “childish behavior” doesn’t exceed a level one, I’m golden. Basically, the APR is an equation used to calculate my father’s desire to pretend I don’t exist vs. his desire to avoid public humiliation. For those at the back of the room, it looks like this:
Leopold’s Latest Screw-up = Level of Humiliation ÷ Ability to Pretend Leo Doesn’t Exist
Alistair’s Ability to Pretend Leo Doesn’t Exist is always a remarkably strong factor of 10 on the scale. Yes, when Alistair sets his mind to something, he seldom falters. If the Level of Humiliation (LOH) is greater or equal to 10, bringing the Leopold’s Latest Screw-up (LLS) to a factor of 1 or more, I’m fucked (IF).
Based on twenty-seven years of careful trial and error, I discovered the following brings me to a quotient of 1+ (or IF):
On the front page of the Weekly World News = 3
Mentioned on the Avonian Broadcast News Channel (ABN) = 5
His golf buddies aware of LLS = 12
Warrant a conversation with his wife/my mum = Level 15
You get the idea.
Should the IF quotient reach a 1 or more, he engages in an attempt to stop the behavior. This time, as far as I can calculate, I’m at an unprecedented Level 50, which means not only being banned from my parents’ home, which has happened dozens of times before, but also a very surprising ban from the entire Kingdom of Avonia for a minimum of six months. As a side note, if you’ve never been to Avonia, it’s a lovely little island just north of Belgium and east of England. You should go sometime. It’s quite a lovely place. Like England, we have our own monarchy, and they’re far more interesting than those tossers to the left of us.
Anyway, back to this silly ban imposed by my father. Poor bugger thinks this’ll break me, which goes to show he really doesn’t know his youngest son. Not even the slightest bit. If he did, he’d realize I’d turn this whole banishment thing into an extended vacay in paradise. So suck it, Alistair, because I’m having a marvelous time.
Truth be told, I’ll have fun no matter where I wind up. And I’m not just saying that. I once turned an overnight stay in a jail cell in Bali into what the papers dubbed “the party of the century.” Even the chief of police had a grand time. In fact, he enjoyed himself so much, he not only had me released at dawn, but he dropped the charges and gave me a lift back to the resort, where we spent the day drinking by the pool. We’ve stayed friends ever since. Last year, I was one of the groomsmen at his fourth wedding.
For two days, I’ve been at my brother Pierce and his girlfriend, Emma’s, luxurious, ultra-private beachfront villa on Santa Valentina Island. Trust me, there are worse places for a guy to have to live in exile than the Caribbean. I sleep late, then lounge by the pool and work on my tan while Pierce’s housekeeper, Mrs. Bailey, prepares my meals and does my washing.
It’s been a little dull so far, but only because I haven’t bothered to get out there and meet people, and my big bro is a total bore. He’s a famous author (yes, that Pierce Davenport, the Clash of Crowns guy) so he spends all his time holed up in his office, tapping away at his computer—yawn. Emma’s a blast, but she’s also a very busy chef at the resort her family owns. It’s just up the bay from the villa, so she cycles off every morning, only to return late in the evening, needing to get off her feet.
Not that I’m complaining. Santa Valentina Island, known as the jewel of the Benaventes, is one of the most lush, beautiful places on earth. The water is crystal-clear turquoise, the sun is always shining, and the women are always in bikinis. I can easily find ways to amuse myself for six months until I’m allowed back home. The trick will be not annoying Pierce so much that he kicks me out, which could be a slight problem, because when I’m bored, I tend to find creative ways to amuse myself. And since Pierce has a giant twig up his arse, he doesn’t like people touching his things.
But that’s okay because I’ve decided to spend most of my time enjoying nature, so as not to be tempted to do something ill-advised, like take the Samurai sword off the wall to slice that big, juicy watermelon sitting on the counter at the moment. Just the thought of it is fun, isn’t it? Live-action Fruit Ninja. I can almost hear the satisfying swish of the sword as I slice through it in one quick blow. But since that would make a mess I don’t want to clean up, and the sword was a gift from the 126th Emperor of Japan, Naruhito, I shall distract myself by going for a swim. After a refreshing dip, I’ll have a bite to eat, then a nap by the pool. After which I’ll venture into town, find a pub, and turn Santa Valentina into Ibiza for the next six months. Which reminds me, I have to call Mother, because it seems as though my credit cards are frozen, and cash is always helpful at party time. Bunny’ll feel sorry for me and front me some play money. But first, a dip in the sea.
I walk down the wide, sunbathed hall toward the kitchen in my swim trunks, a snorkelling mask, and a pair of flippers. It’s a bright, beautiful morning, and I’m going to go to hit the ocean to see what I can find. Hopefully, some gorgeous lost tourist who has wandered away from the resort…
“What the hell are you doing?” Pierce asks from his position behind the kitchen island.
I pop the snorkel out of my mouth. “I’m going for a swim.”
Pierce closes his eyes. “And you’re planning to walk down the steep steps to the water in those things?” He opens his eyes and points to the flippers.
“Thought it would be a fun challenge.” I pop the snorkel back in my mouth and head for the sliding doors.
“At some point, we’re going to have to talk about why you’re here, Leo, and for how long.”
Waving my hand back at him, I continue, my flippers slapping the white tile floor.
Pierce’s mobile buzzes on the counter and I hear, “Bunny Davenport calling.”
Oh, yay! It’s so much better that she’s calling me. Now it won’t seem like I’m only calling for money. Hello, Amex.
I turn in time to see Pierce pick up the phone. “This wouldn’t be happening if you weren’t here, you know.”
Pierce hates Bunny. But I can’t blame him. She favours me in a way that is rather appalling. “Don’t move a muscle,” he says, swiping the screen.
“Mother, hello.” Pause. “Yes, he’s right here.” Pause. “I have no idea why he’s not answering his phone. I’m not his nanny.” Pause. “Lovely to speak to you as well.”
He rolls his eyes as he walks over to me and hands me the phone.
I pop the snorkel out of my mouth again and say, “Hello, Mum! How’s my favourite lady?” I know, I hate myself, too.
“Terrible, Leo. You’ve dropped a huge clanger this time.”
“Yes, I know, and I’m horribly sorry.” I’m not really, but she seems to like when I say that.
“No, you’re not, but you will be. Your father has never been this angry in all the years I’ve known him.”
“I find that hard to believe. His favourite pastime is being angry.”
“The King of Sweden is entertaining meetings with Vodaphone and MTS.”
“Seriously?” Shit. This is bad. I’ve never fucked up so badly that the family biz was affected.
“Yes, seriously,” she says dramatically. “Why her? Of all the women you could have…gotten to know better. She’s not even good-looking. Plus, you knew who she was. How could you not think this would happen?”
“I find her quite lovely. Also, I didn’t think anyone would find out.” Oh, that was a lame answer, wasn’t it? The truth is, I was so hammered, I forgot she’s in line for the Swedish throne. “Why don’t I come back so I can smooth things over? I’ll go see her father. Perhaps if I’m man enough to go there in person, he’ll change his mind.”
“Definitely not. Someone tipped off the press, and they’re sniffing around for a story. If you show up anywhere near Sweden, you’ll ruin us all.”
Good. I didn’t want to go anyway, but I have to act like I want to fix this so she’ll send me some money, and I can stay put. “In that case, how can I make it up to you and Father?”
“You can’t. You’re completely underestimating the level of rage this time,” she says with a sigh. “Oh, my head, Leo. This migraine you’ve caused is unbearable. I’ve been in bed in the dark since yesterday morning.”
“I’m sorry, Mum.” This time, I mean it. I never seek to harm anyone, especially not someone as delicate as my mother. “It was very selfish and stupid of me, and if I could fix it, I would.”
“Well, you can’t. And I can’t help you this time, either,” she says, sniffing. “Your father has cut off my wellness fund. He’s saying it’s because the stocks will fall if we lose Sweden, but I’m certain it’s because he doesn’t want me to send you any money. I can’t live without my wellness fund, Leo. You know how much I need my treatments.”
Her weekly spa treatments serve to preserve her like a jar of pickled woman. If my mother could live in a cryogenic chamber wheeled around everywhere to prevent her from aging, she would totally do it. Nothing gets in the way of her regime—not the time I broke my leg skiing when I was eight and had to have surgery, not even when her own father died. She sent an enormous flower arrangement from the medi-spa in Switzerland in lieu of actually bothering to show up.
“Not your wellness fund!” I roll my eyes at Pierce, who scrunches his nose up in disgust. “But surely after a few weeks, I’ll find a way to make it all right as rain, or at the very least, find the loopholes to get you your money back.”
“As much as I appreciate the offer, lamb, it won’t work. Your father has found a way to close all the loopholes this time.”
Impossible. There are literally limitless loopholes, and my superpower is finding them and squeezing my way out. “I’m sure I can finesse the situation—”
“Not this time.”
Her tone definitely has me worried. “All right, I’ll camp out here until this blows over, then come back and ask his forgiveness. It’s not half bad, really. I’m getting some sun and helping Pierce and Emma around the house a bit.” Eyeing the sword on the wall, I add, “I was just about to cut up some fruit.”
“Oh, well, that’s good of you,” she says, sounding completely caught off guard at the thought of me helping out. “Oh, my darling boy, I’m afraid things are about to get much worse for you.”
That sounded a little apocalyptic, no? “What is that supposed to mean?”
I hear a voice in the background. It’s mum’s personal maid, Genevieve.
“I’ll be right there,” Mother says, her voice a little muffled. When she comes back on the line, she says, “Leo, lamb, I didn’t realize the time. My massage therapist is set to arrive to help with my migraine, and I must shower before he arrives.”
Let’s pretend we didn’t hear that, okay? “Mother, wait. Can you please tell me why things are about to get much worse?”
“I must run, but your father is sending someone to see you. Do everything he says, and things may work out. Kisses!” With that, she’s gone, leaving me standing in my trunks wondering what the hell is about to happen.
I flipper my way over to the counter, lifting my knees in an exaggerated fashion with each step, and set Pierce’s phone down in front of him.
He narrows his eyes. “That didn’t sound good.”
“Yeah, not so much. Apparently, I’m going to have a visitor soon, and I’m to do whatever he tells me.”
“Are we in a tropical version of A Christmas Carol?”
“Christ, I hope not.”
Stuffed Dates and Tiny Pedos in Bellbottoms
Brianna Lewis – San Filipe, Santa Valentina Island
The secret to life is to never trust anything that can get an erection—a lesson I learned at the age of twenty-one, taught to me by a plus sign on a plastic stick and a vanishing boyfriend who had promised me forever. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret for a moment that I have the world’s sweetest, just-turned-four-year-old little girl. I can’t imagine my life without Isabelle. It just would have been uber helpful to have, at the most, a loving partner with whom to share my life, and at the very least, financial support for my daughter. I’m not sure if you have children or not, but they are bloody expensive.
You know what else is expensive? Being maid of honour for your sister. I’m learning firsthand how many parties there are that lead up to the big day. Today’s is likely the worst. At least, I hope so. It’s a themed engagement barbeque hosted by the parents of the groom. Unfortunately for me, the theme is famous couples in history, which isn’t the easiest thing to pull off when you’re very single.
Because my Great Aunt Dolores lives with us, my sister, Amber, thought it might be fun if she and I paired up for the event. Doesn’t that sound terrific? Me and my 71-year-old great aunt dressed as Bonnie and Clyde, or perhaps Cinderella and Prince Charming?
As pathetic as that would have been, it gets worse, because my aunt and my daughter quickly partnered up, leaving me feeling like the clumsy kid who gets picked last for kickball in phys ed. That was me, by the way, so this little moment has allowed me to replay some of the more traumatic parts of my childhood.
Anyway, they’re going as Sonny and Cher. If you’re wondering who is dressed as Sonny, it’s my daughter, Isabelle which meant fashioning a wig/moustache to fit a scrawny pre-schooler. Dolores made them matching faux-fur vests out of a throw from the thrift store. She already had the Cher wig. I do not want to know why.
My sister, Amber, and her fiancé, Zidane—Dane for short—are coming as Romeo and Juliet, so that’s nice. I’m not sure if either of them realizes it’s not actually a romance as much as it’s a teenage tragedy ending in a double suicide, but she’s going to look gorgeous, and he’ll be the height of handsomeness in his sweaty tights under the hot sun.
After much deliberation in front of my closet and computer screen, trying to find some extra cash that simply isn’t in my account no matter how many times I check, I’ve decided to go as Jane Goodall. I already have a light-green button-up shirt, hair elastics for a low pony, and I’m borrowing Mr. Bananas—Izzy’s chimpanzee stuffy with Velcro hands so it can stay affixed to my neck. The price was right, and now I have a plus-one. He can’t breathe or converse, but that also means he can’t lie or pull a disappearing act.
At the moment, I’m dressed in my costume sans Mr. Bananas, wrapping the seventy-five-dollar designer salad bowl from their registry. It was the cheapest thing on the list, which means I’m really screwed when it comes to the actual wedding gift.
Knickers, the calico cat whose tail was flattened by a mail truck when he was a kitten, hops up onto the table to see what I’m doing. He watches intently as I crease the ivory wrapping paper around the box. “Don’t even think about it, cat,” I say as he reaches one white paw for the ribbon.
He glares at me for a second before returning his attention to my furiously moving hands.
“Oh, fine. Here,” I say, cutting off a piece of ribbon and tossing it onto the floor for him. He hops down and starts batting it around like a soon-to-be-dead mouse.
Fold, tuck, tear off a piece of tape and place it just so. I need everything to be perfect today so I can avoid another round of, “Poor Brianna never should have got knocked up before she got married, because now her life is spiralling out of control at a violent pace, but we can fix that with this nice young man we met at the lumber yard so our granddaughter will have a brother and/or sister to play with someday soon.” Not my favourite game, to be honest.
Come to think of it, I’m not one for games, anyway. I don’t have the time for them. Likewise to going to the hairdresser for a cut and colour, shopping for new clothes, going out for drinks with my besties after work, or sleeping—all of which require money I don’t have. Well, not sleeping, I suppose. That one’s free, but only if you have the luxury of time. Which I do not.
Take today for example. I didn’t get home from my job as concierge at an all-inclusive (read: no-tipping) resort until two in the morning, and by the time I got to bed, it was after three. Izzy had me up at seven a.m. on the dot, because she’s an early-to-rise sort of girl. After making oatmeal and cut-up fruit for breakfast, we played her favourite board game, Snakes and Ladders, which to me is merely an irritating string of setbacks reminiscent of my life. Let the snake out of his pants, and you’ll quickly slide down the bloody ladder to the start-again square, instead of getting ahead like all of your peers who have already completed law school, passed the bar, and are happily practicing law and buying big houses to which they drive to in their BMWs. But I digress.
After board game time, I let Izzy watch cartoons for an hour while I studied, threw in a load of laundry, did the dishes, and cleaned out the kitty litter. The cats (plural, yes, there are three of them) are not mine. They belong to Aunt Dolores, so when I moved in with her because she could no longer work and I needed someone to watch Izzy so I could go to school/work, we also moved in with Milo, Knickers, and Puddy Tat. Three cats and three people in a tiny two-bedroom house is a LOT, but we make it work. Dolores and Izzy each have a room upstairs, and I sleep on the couch in the living room so I don’t wake anyone up when I come home in the middle of the night. It’s horribly inconvenient because all my clothes are upstairs in Izzy’s closet, and the couch is insanely uncomfortable, but it’s only temporary, so I keep telling myself it’s not that bad.
But that’s a lie because I long for a real bed the way Ferris Bueller longed to have his own car. Every cell of my body yearns for a soft-yet-firm mattress without springs that violate me while I attempt to sleep.
Soon. I just have to stay on track, and before I know it, we’ll be moving into an airy three-bedroom home with plenty of space for the cats, the toys, and the woman who’s paying for it all to have her own bedroom. I even have the perfect house picked out. It’s a bright-yellow two-story English cottage-style home with a nice big yard and an attached garage. The house is shaded by a huge old gum tree with a tire swing affixed to one of the long branches, and the property is only three blocks from the ocean in the nicer part of town. It’s not for sale yet, but the owners are getting on in years, and every time I drive by, I expect to see a for-sale sign. I hope it won’t go on the market until I’m ready, but if it does, I’m sure I can find something else I’d love almost as much.
The only thing standing in the way of me and the life I want is passing my bar exams. The tests are seven months away, which is both exhilarating (because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel) and terrifying (because I’m not sure if I’ll be ready in time). I know eight months sounds like a lot of time, but when you work evening shift five nights a week at a busy resort and have an adorable child who needs your love and attention, you find yourself being spread a little thin. And now with Amber’s wedding coming up, things are about to get trickier.
Glancing at the clock, I let out a sigh of relief. For once, I’m ahead of schedule, and it finally looks as though the stars are going to line up long enough for me to actually put on some makeup. I set the tape down on our small wooden kitchen table and hurry over to the living room, (which is also my bedroom and Isabelle’s playroom), open the secondhand buffet cabinet that serves as our art supply/linen closet/extra dish storage, and find a scrap of pink construction paper and black felt pen.
“Perfect.” I’m saving a bit of money by making my own card. I cut the paper into the shape of a gift tag, then use my hole punch to cut a circle to a loop some white ribbon through.
“Isabelle?!” I call up the stairs as I rush back to the kitchen table. “Are you almost dressed?”
“Almost, Mummy,” she calls down.
Almost. That means she’s probably standing in her knickers in the middle of her room playing with her stuffed animals, having completely forgotten we’re in a big rush.
“Come right down, honey! I still need to help you with your wig.”
No answer. I know exactly what’s going to happen. I’m going to have to go up there and finish dressing her, even though she’s fully capable of pulling a T-shirt over her head and pulling up a pair of elastic-waist bell-bottoms. Plucking my coffee mug off the table, I take three giant gulps of the sweet and creamy mixture that has now gone cold. I don’t even like coffee when it’s hot, let alone when it’s cold, but it’s pretty much what I’m fueled by, so it’s either that, or lie down on the floor and have a twenty-hour nap.
The sound of the stairs creaking indicates that Aunt Dolores is on her way down. Dolores is an unapologetic seventy-one-year-old bachelorette. Do not call her a spinster, not if you know what’s good for you. Milo and Puddy Tat, the tiny Siamese brother and sister, arrive ahead of her and trot into the kitchen, catching sight of Knickers, who is still bashing the ribbon around. Sighing, I cut two more pieces of ribbon and drop them onto the floor to avoid a catfight under the table.
I quickly draw a set of wedding bells and write:
For the happy couple, Amber and Dane,
Brianna, Isabelle, and Aunt Dolores
“Did you finish wrapping the ridiculously expensive bowl?” Aunt Dolores asks, shaking her head and rolling her eyes.
I start when I glance at her because she looks more than a little terrifying with a nylon pinned to her head in preparation for her Cher wig. She’s also wearing way too much eyeliner for a woman her age. “Why anyone needs a seventy-five-dollar bowl is beyond me. That thing won’t hold any more lettuce than the one I bought at Goodwill for a dollar.”
“Yes, but this one is very classy, so when they have guests over, everything will look just so.”
“It’ll look like they’re suckers who wasted the better part of a hundred dollars on a damn bowl.” Her gaze moves from the box to me. “Although technically, you bought it, which would make you the sucker.”
“Promise me you won’t say anything about the cost of the bowl—or their registry. You’ll hurt Amber’s feelings.” I raise an eyebrow at her. “Also, I should point out that she’s very nervous about our family meeting Dane’s.”
“What’s to be nervous about? Are they weird or something?”
“Not them. Us,” I say pointedly. Amber’s a bit of a delicate flower on account of everyone treating her like one since she was born four weeks early. She had a bit of a respiratory problem that she quickly grew out of, but for some reason, my parents remain certain she could stop breathing at any moment. She’s skinny and gorgeous like our mum (and unlike me who is built more like our big-boned father), but I still love her. Since getting engaged, the delicate hot-house flower has become a delicate bride-to-be. Unfortunately, Aunt Dolores couldn’t care less about coddling my little sister, so the unspoken expectation for today is that I will keep her under control. Since no one has been able to manage that task for seven decades, I really don’t have a hope in hell to do it now, but I have to try anyway. “Please, for my sake, just behave today so I won’t have to deal with a sobbing bride-to-be.”
“I’ll try.” She sniffs. “But I’m old, and sometimes I get confused.”
That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever heard. Aunt Dolores is as sharp as a tack, and even though she most certainly has a filter, she chooses not to use it. “Auntie…” I say in a warning tone.
“What? I’ve got one foot in the bloody grave. I should be allowed to speak my mind. Besides, whatever happened to the days when young people respected their elders?”
“Pretty sure those days were a myth carried down through the ages, like the brontosaurus or decent men. Now, where’s your costume? We have to leave soon.”
“I know that. I’m not thick in the head.”
“I’m not suggesting you are. I’m merely wondering why you’re still in your bathrobe?”
“Because I don’t want to get my Cher costume dirty while I’m finishing making my cheese people.” She walks past me and over to the fridge.
“Oh God. Not the cheese people today, please?”
Dolores’s head pops up from behind the fridge door. “And what exactly is wrong with my cheese people? They’re a very big hit everywhere I go.”
In lieu of the more popular hedgehog-style cheese balls, Dolores likes to shape processed cream cheeses into people she knows. Because the people only have four limbs as opposed to a hedgehog having hundreds of spikes, there is a total of four pretzels per cheese person on the plate. So once those are gone, it’s just generally two blobs of cheese that sit uneaten until the end of the party. I tried to point that out to Dolores once, but apparently, it’s by design, because if no one can eat it, everyone can enjoy her creation the entire time.
She sets the plate down on the table and beams at it.
“Yes, it’s the bride and groom. I used Velveeta for their faces since they both seem to like tanning so much.”
I stand, momentarily transfixed by the terrifying figures in front of me. The bride and groom are both dressed in white from head to toe and have big bulgy eyes made of green olives. Completely ignoring the horror on my face, Aunt Dolores smiles lovingly at her creation. “I took the pimentos out of the olives to make their lips. Kind of a nice touch, don’t you think?”
“Oh, it’s touched all right. What exactly did you use to make her eyelashes?”
“Oh, those are fake eyelashes. I picked them up at the Walgreens yesterday.”
“So, people probably shouldn’t…”
“Oh, yeah, no one should eat the olives, I’m pretty sure eyelash glue is toxic.” She walks over to the fridge again, and gets out some lettuce, then prepares the platter on which she’ll set the happy couple. “Is that what you’re wearing?” Aunt Dolores asks.
“Yes, you don’t think I look like Jane Goodall?”
“Oh, no, I think you do. I’m just pretending to be your mother because that’s exactly what she’s going to say when she sees you’ve decided to dress as a plain Jane. I want you to have a good comeback.”
Dolores and my mother, Naomi, have never exactly hit it off. My mum and my dad were high school sweethearts. She played the clichéd cheerleader to his football star. Petite and pretty, my mum is always well-put-together like one of those 1950s housewives, complete with the pearls. Dolores, who has absolutely no use for all things fashion or frilly, finds my mother a bore.
I pause for a moment, trying to think of a good comeback but coming up blank, which is quite frankly a bit concerning since I’ll need to be quick with the retorts if I’m going to argue effectively in a courtroom someday. But since my mother won’t be presiding over any of my cases, I should be fine. She’s really the one person who can effortlessly get under my skin. “Well, at least I’ll be in costume. That’s about all she could ask.”
The inescapable sound of bass guitar starts up courtesy of our neighbour, Jerry, who reckons he should be the new lead singer of the Grateful Dead because of his sweet licks, his pure vocals, and his name. Jerry is one of the many reasons I need to pass the bar, so I can move us to a nice house without a super loud pothead who walks around outside in his shorty robe all the time.
“Jerry’s up early,” Dolores says.
I glance at the clock and realize she’s right. Jerry normally doesn’t wake up and start playing until after noon, and it’s only eleven.
I’m quickly running out of time. “Isab—” I start to call but am interrupted by the sight of Isabelle, who, although technically dressed as Sonny, is sporting glittery eyeshadow, overly dark rouge, and blindingly bright-pink lipstick. She grins widely and does a spin. “See, Mummy? I did it myself with the makeup kit Grandma gived me.”
“You certainly did.” I plaster a smile on my face even though the sight of my child like this is rather disturbing.
She holds up both hands, displaying the rainbow of nail polish covering her fingernails, not to mention large patches of skin.
“Do you like it? I maked myself pretty.”
“Made. You made yourself look pretty. Maked isn’t a word.”
“Do you like it, Auntie?” Isabelle asks, blinking quickly.
“You’re absolutely gorgeous. Don’t change a thing.” Covering her mouth with one hand, Dolores mutters, “She looks exactly like that clown from IT.”
Oh, Christ, she’s right.
Dolores pats Isabelle on the head. “Do you know what that outfit needs? A red balloon! Let me see if I can find one in my room. In my purse.”
“Auntie, can you please just finish your cheese people platter?” I ask, rubbing the bridge of my nose. “We’re running out of time, and I promised Amber we’d be early.”
Turning back to Izzy, I lean down a little. “You look really lovely, sweetheart, but we need to take a bit of it off. Sonny didn’t wear makeup, honey.”
Isabelle’s face falls. “She didn’t?”
She? Oh, dear, I don’t think Dolores explained who Sonny and Cher were. “No. He didn’t. But you do get to wear a super fun mustache, so you’ll have something on your face anyway.”
Gingerly, I take her hand and start leading her up the stairs to begin the massive job of scrubbing her down, realizing I definitely will not have time to touch myself up a bit. It’s fine, really. I don’t need makeup. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure Jane Goodall doesn’t wear any more makeup than Sonny Bono did. Less, in fact.
Forty-five minutes later, we’re finally getting into my ancient Toyota Corolla that has been baking in the sun on the cement pad in front of our house. Isabelle, who is now sporting the light brown mushroom-cut wig and matching ‘stache, sits buckled into her five-point harness, kicking her feet with my date, Mr. Bananas, buckled in beside her. After a lengthy scrubbing, she’s gone from resembling Pennywise to a tiny creepy 1970s pedo. Not that I’m suggesting Sonny Bono was a pedo. I’m sure he was a wonderful guy. It’s just Isabelle is having trouble pulling off his signature look.
I’ve managed to settle Dolores into the passenger seat in her long black wig with her cheese people platter on her lap. We’re now running twenty minutes late, so instead of arriving calm, collected, and on time, I’m going to arrive late, frazzled, and frumpy—my normal state. This will lead to the inevitable, “Why didn’t you make yourself up? You’ll never catch a man looking like that” lecture from my mum as soon as she sees me. So obviously, I’m eagerly awaiting that moment…
Hurrying around to the driver side, I mutter, “Just get this over with so you can come home and study.”
The car door groans loudly when I open it, and I do my silent please-don’t-die prayer to the Corolla gods.
“Hey, Bree,” Jerry says as the screen door slams behind him and he lights up a cigarette. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
“My sister’s engagement party,” I say, getting in.
Aunt Dolores, who can’t stand Jerry and all his bass playing, scowls at him. “You should get a longer bathrobe, Jerry. You don’t have the legs to pull off that shorty robe.”
Jerry laughs and shakes his head, obviously believing she’s flirting when really, she’s dead serious.
I slam the door to the car and start up the engine. “That wasn’t very nice.”
“Well, it’s not very nice of him to wear that stupid shorty robe. For God’s sake, does that man have no sense of shame?”
“Yeah,” Isabelle pipes up from the backseat. “For God’s sake, he should get a long robe.”
I cringe and give Aunt Dolores a sharp glare, then a matching one for Isabelle in the rearview mirror. “Watch your language, Isabelle.”
“God’s not a swear,” Isabelle says.
“When you use it before the word sake it is,” I say, as if that makes any sense at all.
Unrolling the windows, I let the hot breeze in so as to push out the stiflingly hot air in the car. First purchase when I’m a lawyer—a new car with air conditioning that works.