Plus-One With A Vengeance : 29 / 29

Plus-One With A Vengeance : 29 / 29

[ An Altered Fates Story ]
by Iolanthe Portmanteaux

 


"He looked for women in whom blood ran hotly,
whose breath was honey, and
whose soft touch a spurting train of fire."
— Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel


 

Melissa skidded to a noisy stop on Vivianne's gravel driveway and stepped from the car without turning off the engine or closing her car door. I reached over and killed the engine, then trotted behind her toward the front door. She grabbed my hand and pulled me along, the way a teacher would drag a student to detention.

Jaw set, eyes afire, hair all but in flames, she leaned on the doorbell, hard. Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong! I lost count before Ken's voice sounded jocularly from inside: "Sounds like someone's at the door!"

He pulled the door open only about a foot — just enough to see who who was playing fast and loose with the ringer. His florid face and manner suggested he was already pickled, and yet somehow he had the presence of mind to block the door with his foot. I know he did because Melissa pushed on the door but it didn't budge.

"Ahhh," Ken breathed, a slow breath redolent with gin. "Melissa, Melissa, Melissa. Have you ever thought of calling yourself Melanie?"

"No, I haven't," Melissa impatiently huffed. "We're here to see Vivianne."

"If your name was Melanie, we could call you Mel, like two of the Spice Girls."

Melissa growled, pushed uselessly against the door, and asked, "Is Vivianne at home? We need to see her!"

Ken's gaze floated over to me. "Elliot! We're missing your adorable cousin, once again." Then, after a moment, he pointed to me. "El," Ken pronounced. Then, gesturing first to Melissa, then to me, he said, "Mel... and El!"

Melissa opened her mouth wide, and I think was about to scream, when Vivianne appeared at Ken's shoulder. She patted his arm and said, "Thank you, honey. I'll take it from here," and gently pushed him back from the doorway and into the short hall leading to his room.

"Well done," Ken told her, and toddled off, closing his door behind him.

Melissa was fit to be tied. Her face was flushed, her eyes large as saucers. "Vivianne!" she exclaimed. "You have to fix this is! You have change—"

Vivianne silenced her with a fierce look and a tense finger to her lips. Then, with a gesture, Viv hissed, "Come with me." She led us to her fitting room, where I'd first changed into Lorelei. Before Melissa could open her mouth again, Vivianne cautioned, "Ken doesn't know anything about the medallion, and I want to keep it that way. Do you understand?"

Melissa blurted, "But Elliot—"

Viv fixed her eyes on Melissa's and repeated, "Do you understand?" She gripped Melissa's shoulder and locked eyes until Melissa finally gave in: "Yes, I understand."

"Good. The medallion is a powerful and dangerous artifact, and the fewer people who know about it, the better."

"Fine!" Melissa grumbled. "But we've got a problem. Look at him—" (she gestured to me) "—You have to turn him back to Lorelei. He can't go around looking like that! He can't keep changing back and forth! It can't be good for you!"

The shadow of an amused smile played at the corners of Viv's lips as she listened.

Melissa continued, "Is he supposed to turn into Elliot every time his father's in town?" She accompanied the question with big hand-gestures, as if she were flipping an enormous pancake. "You may not have thought about this — either of you — but flip-flopping could have a serious negative impact on family holidays! I mean: Thanksgiving — who is she supposed to be? And then, Christmas!"

"Melissa—" Viv tried to gently interrupt.

"And think!" Melissa arrived at her most passionate payload: "Once she has children, what's going to happen?" Then, dropping into a soft voice, as if talking to children (but rising to a shout at the end), "It's okay kids, don't worry: Mommy has to go and be Uncle Elliot for a couple of days BECAUSE GRANDPA IS IN TOWN!"

I was alarmed, but Viv fought back a laugh. She struggled to keep the smile off her face.

"I'm glad YOU think it's funny," Melissa sourly observed. "So so funny!"

"Look," Viv explained, "The most important thing that needs to be done in the next few days is to get Elliot's father on board. If Elliot doesn't take the time to that now, and to do it right, then yes, he would be changing back and forth, and probably at the most inconvenient times possible. In the short term, we're going to have to be patient, so that — in the long term — we can have Lorelei with us forever. Okay, Melissa?"

"I guess," she conceded in a grumpy tone. "So what's the grand plan?"

"Believe me, Melissa, it will happen one way or another, so try to not worry, Okay?" She smiled at Melissa, who dropped into an armchair in a attitude of fussy surrender, frowning.

Then Vivianne turned to me and gave my forearm a reassuring squeeze. "Why don't you tell us how things have gone so far?"

I unloaded my story, struggling to keep it brief. I began with Dad's misunderstanding at the airport.

"That's good, though," Viv pointed out. "He's already more or less accepted the idea of your being a girl."

"I guess," I half-agreed. "At this point, he knows I'm Lorelei, but he's confused about how... different I look." Then I described the conversation between Claus, Kitty, and my Dad, and Dad's question: "Does Lorelei look like Elliot in a dress?"

Melissa listened impatiently, radiating frustration and resentment like an angry adolescent.

Viv, on the other hand was fascinated by Claus's description, which focused on Lorelei's smaller features and her femininity.

When I mentioned the photo of Darcy, it was Viv's turn to huff in frustration. "That damn picture!" she exclaimed. "It's been nothing but trouble!"

But then she grew thoughtful when I described how my father got sidetracked by questions about Vivianne's apparent youth. When I used the words "fountain of youth," Melissa sat up straight in her chair, abruptly fascinated; actively interested.

"Can you do that?" Melissa asked. "Can the medallion make you younger? Keep you young?"

Viv looked thoughtful. She didn't answer; she pretended not to hear.

"Is that what *you* did?" Melissa demanded. "I always wondered! I mean, you could swim in a pool of botox, every day, but you'd never end up looking the way you do."

Viv glanced at her, but her only reply was to say, "Can you keep quiet for a moment? I'm trying to think."

"So what do you do?" Melissa insisted, persisting. "If I had an outfit I haven't worn since I was eighteen, would the medallion make me 18 again? Would that do it? Or what if I had a bathing suit in the size I wore when I was 30? Could the medallion work with that?"

"Melissa, let's put a pin in that topic for the moment. There's something important here that neither of you have noticed. Arlo believes that Elliot is about to transition to being a full-time woman as well as the lover of Max — by normal means: hormones and surgery."

"We know that!" Melissa snapped. "Nobody missed that!"

"The point you *are* missing," Viv explained gently, "is this: In spite of receiving this news, Arlo drove off, gaily whistling a happy tune. And what were his parting words to his son?"

I thought for a moment and said, "He talked about when he'd pick me up for dinner."

"Right!" Viv agreed.

"And so?" Melissa challenged.

"And so... put yourself in his shoes for a moment. Suppose Max came to you and told you that he was going to turn himself into a woman—"

"He wouldn't!" Melissa snapped back.

"But if he *did* tell you that, would you go off and play tennis or take off for brunch with your friends?"

"No..."

"No, of course not! You'd drop everything so you could talk with him and understand."

"Yes," Melissa protested, "but Arlo is a man. Men miss things."

"True," Viv agreed. "But I think Arlo is on a mission of his own. He's distracted; he's got something on his mind."

"He did say he needs to figure things out," I conceded. "He said he'd tell me about it tonight over dinner."

"At that stinky beef place."

"Yes."

"All right then," Viv concluded. "The next step is to find out what's on Arlo's mind. Elliot, you need to listen to him, and don't fight what he's trying to tell you. If he's got plans of his own, we'll find a way to accommodate them."

She smiled, and looked from Melissa to me, and said, "You cannot rush this revelation. You need to ease him into it. And the key to doing that is to understand where HE is now. We need to know where HE's going."

I let out my breath and nodded.

Melissa insisted, "But you HAVE to change him back to Lorelei."

Viv nodded. "We'll change him back, don't worry. All in good time."

I confessed, "I kind of thought that when he saw me change, or if you changed him... into a little boy or something, that THAT would do it. Then he'd be convinced."

Viv shrugged, noncommittal. "Maybe. Probably. Remember that it didn't help Max any."

Melissa interrupted, impassioned: "You have to change back, Elliot! You have to! How will I ever have grandbabies if you're not Lorelei?"

"Oh, Melissa," I groaned. "I've hardly been a woman for a month and you're pushing me to get pregnant. And it's not as though Max and I are engaged or anything! We've only just begun seeing each other. You're obsessed!"

"I'm not," she pushed back, but quietly. "I'm not obsessed. I'm not desperate for grandchildren."

I laughed. "Seriously?"

"Yes, I *am* serious. When Max and Amber were together, I never wished for grandchildren. Not even once. Of course, if they came along, I would have loved them and welcomed them. I would have been over the moon. But at the same time, I would have felt so sorry and sad for those children, having her for a mother." She reached over and squeezed my hands. "It means A LOT to me that YOU would be the mother of my grandchildren. I don't want it to be anyone else."

The two of us found tissues and dabbed our eyes. When we were done, we looked over at Viv. For those brief moments, we'd forgotten she was there.

When Viv caught our gazes, she smiled. "Do you know what I'm thinking?" she asked. "I'm thinking that maybe I should meet with Arlo alone."

Melissa and I gaped.

"Why?" Melissa demanded.

"Yeah, why?" I echoed.

Vivianne sat primly in her chair, legs crossed demurely, smiling like that cat who was about to eat the canary.

Then, with a laugh, she added, "It was just a thought." She waved her hand, dismissing the idea.

"Elliot," she offered, "Why don't you and your Dad come by for lunch tomorrow? Say 12:30?"

"Lunch? What do you mean, lunch? What should I tell him?"

"Tell him? Why do you need to tell him anything?"

"So he'll be prepared."

"If he's hungry, that's all the preparation he needs. It's lunch. All you have to do is tell him that the two of you are invited to my house for lunch. Period. Lunch. Isn't that enough? Keep it simple. Does that work for you?"

"Sure," I agreed, but I was full of uncertainty.

 


 

After that, things began moving rather quickly.

Melissa drove me back to her house in time for Dad to pick me up there. The two of drove us to the Hoof and How!

Once again, Dad ordered for both of us, the exact same meal as last time: a T-bone each, a mountain of hand-cut fries, onion rings, and a few other sides. He chose the same Cabernet as last time, from their abbreviated wine list. It was all very good. Comfort food. Man food, in a funky, cabin-like atmosphere. After I took the first sip of my second glass of wine, my father said, "Oh, good! You finally relaxed!"

I took a look at myself, and realized he was right. I saw myself leaning back, spreading my shoulders, easing into the chair. Clearly, all day long, I'd been pretty tightly wound. "I guess there's been a lot happening," I admitted.

"You said it," he agreed. In that moment I had a small illumination. Seeing the expression on his face, and his body language, it struck me that Dad was thinking about the *lot* that was happening in HIS life, while I'd only been seeing the *lot* that was happening in MY life.

The two of us, each of us, was so consumed by our own personal stories, that we didn't see — or even consider the possibility — that a world of changes could be evolving in the life of the person sitting on the other side of the table.

Viv would have seen it, I knew. I need to develop that kind of sensitivity. I could start off with a simple question:

"So what *is* happening, Dad?

He swirled his wine in his glass, then — watching how the red liquid spun along the sides of the glass — he asked me, "Hey — what do you say to a little cognac? We can get it in those little bulb-like glasses."

"As long as neither of us is driving," I replied.

He was silent until our snifters arrived. He swirled the drink in the glass, sniffed it, warmed it with his hands. I was going to make a crack about his newly-acquired sophistication, but I left it unsaid. It probably wasn't the moment to tease him.

At last, he said it. "Elliot, I've been thinking about moving back up here for good." I blinked in surprise. Dad nodded, then added, "In fact, I'm pretty sure — 99 to 100 percent sure — that's what I'm going to do."

Before I could make even the slightly sound of reaction, Dad continued, "Sam's house is big. You saw it. He says I can stay as long as I want. Of course, I'll look for my own place, but at least I'll have a base."

"But Dad," I protested. "You love Florida!"

He let out a brief laugh. "No, Elliot, I hate Florida. I hate it with everything in me. It's full of old people — and yes, I know: I'm an old person, too. But—"

"Aren't you surrounded by friends down there?" I asked.

"Yeah, sure," he sighed, "But you know what they all talk about? All day long? Their aches, their pains, their medications, their illnesses..." He looked at me and spread his hands helplessly. "I'm not unsympathetic, but it's like... that's all they've got."

"What about shuffleboard?" I couldn't help it — the quip escaped me.

Dad scoffed. "No, nobody even does that. Some of them play bridge all day long, drinking highballs."

"What are highballs?"

"It's just an alcoholic drink. A big alcoholic drink. It's a mess."

"I'm sorry to hear it."

"Nobody wants to go anywhere or do anything, except for the Early-Bird Special, which—" he shook his head. "I just don't have the words."

"What about sailing?" I asked. "Didn't you buy a boat?"

At that, he started laughing. "Yeah, a boat. Sure, I bought a boat. It was supposed to be a starter boat, a beginner's boat, but it was a piece of crap. It was for kids. Just imagine a square bathtub with a sail. I couldn't do anything with it. I had to hire high-school kids to take me out, to make it go and bring it back, and they got bored. I paid them, but after a while the money wasn't worth it to them." He shook his head and studied his cognac for a bit. "Let's face it: it was weird: an old guy hanging out with high-schoolers? It's not a good situation."

He swirled the cognac. He sniffed it. He sipped it. "Everything is so much better up here," he told me. "Up here, things are happening. People are doing things. Down there, I felt I was living in the antecamera of a funeral home."

He looked at me and smiled. "I've been happier this afternoon, just driving around town, than I've been in months, down there."

This time we skipped dessert. Together we took a cab back to Sam's house. It was a big place, as Dad had said, but it was dingy and needed a good airing. It was about on the same level as Hoof and How!

 


 

In the morning I told Dad about the invitation to Viv's house. He was pleased, but somehow didn't look surprised.

He took a shower, mid-morning, and went off to get his hair cut. When he returned, he was wearing a complete set of new clothes. "A gal at the store helped me pick things out. What do you think?"

Well, I thought he looked pretty good. I had to bite my tongue, though, to keep from reminding him that Vivianne is married.

Oh, Dad!

 


 

When we arrived at Viv's she answered the door. Ken was nowhere in sight. Viv gave her hand to my Dad, palm down, as if offering it to be kissed. Coyly, almost shyly, Viv asked him, "Tell me, Arlo: Do I have the hands of an old-lady?" His breath caught in his throat and he shot me a look.

In case you're wondering, the answer was no. She had young hands. Young, beautiful hands.

I could tell that Viv's shyness was all an act. She was charming the pants off my father. He was eating out of those young, beautiful hands.

Not that it took much, but Viv maneuvered it — I mean, she made it seem like the natural thing to do: I took lunch alone in the kitchen, while she and Dad ate outside on the patio. I played games on my phone to beguile the time, and exchanged a few "How's it going" texts with Max. I felt like an imposter, pretending to be Lorelei as I wrote.

The waiting was difficult, but in the end it was all worthwhile. I don't know what Viv told him, but Dad was primed and ready to watch me transform into Lorelei.

His demeanor surprised me. He was quiet, attentive, interested. You could even say he seemed invested in the transformation. In any case, his being there in that moment was an enormous relief.

Several times during the transformation (which, if you recall, takes an entire half hour), he exclaimed in wonder and astonishment.

After I dressed, Dad gave me an astonished hug, and marveled at the way I'd gotten smaller. "You're beautiful!" He whispered. "So beautiful! You're the very image of your mother!"

He looked at me up close and at arm's length. He had me twirl, walk away from him, walk towards him. He felt the skin of my arm and my face, and he admired the delicate structure of my hands and fingers. "Do you want to see my teeth?" I joked, but he didn't get it.

"I'm just floored!" he concluded.

"Do you mind?" I asked. "Does it bother you?"

"Somehow, no," he admitted. "I'll tell you right now, It's going to take some getting used to, but... my God!" He drew a long breath. "Will it hurt your feelings if I say you got an upgrade?"

"No, Dad," I laughed, and hugged him hard.

"Okay, okay," Viv said — a little bored, I think, by our odd family reunion. "Now it's your turn, Arlo," she declared. Viv picked up two sets of children's clothes, and asked, raising higher the boys clothes— "Would you like to be a little boy? Or—" raising higher the girls clothes — "a little girl?" She smiled a mischievous, saucy grin.

"Well," Dad replied thoughtfully, "I could be anybody, couldn't I? Isn't that right?"

"Well, theoretically, yes," Viv answered, "as long as we have the right clothes."

Dad regarded my discarded Elliot clothes, folded on a nearby chair. "Little boy? Little girl? No — I think I've got a better idea." He grinned at me and asked, "Unless you'd mind?"

My mouth fell open. Viv laughed and clapped her hands.

"You want to be me?" I asked.

"Nobody else is being Elliot at the moment," he replied. "You could let me take a whack at it."

 


 

About a month later, Max and I were in our kitchen, getting ready for a Sunday lunch.

"By the way," Max mentioned, "Did I tell you that Elliot is bringing his girlfriend?"

"His girlfriend?" asked, my voice rising high on the last word. "No, you didn't! Who is she?"

"I don't know," Max replied. "He sprung it on me this morning. He called while you were in the shower to ask if it was okay. Sorry, I forgot to tell you."

"Hmmph!" I grunted. "Suddenly Elliot is the big man in town!" I waved my hands like pom-poms. "Now he's got a girlfriend?"

"Uh... yeah," Max chuckled. "Isn't that allowed?"

"I don't know," I grumbled.

"Did you want him to ask your permission first?"

I huffed, but gave no other answer.

"Are you jealous?" Max teased, lightly pinching my cheek.

I twisted my mouth to the side. "Maybe a little," I admitted.

"Maybe a lottle," Max joked.

"Well, all of sudden, he's Elliot and he's a big deal. He's everywhere, doing everything. Everybody loves him."

"Everybody loves you, too. You know that."

"Yeah, but— He's better at being Elliot than I was," I pouted.

"Awww," Max cooed, wrapping his arms around me. "So... you don't mind him just being Elliot, right? But you don't want him to be better at being Elliot than you were."

"Do you think he's better? Is he a better Elliot?"

"He's different. He's a different Elliot."

I sighed.

Max squeezed me lightly. "You gotta let it go, babe. You be you, and he'll be— the old you."

He shook with slight laughter, so I poked him with my elbow. Max rocked me in his arms.

"Okay," I conceded. "I give up. He can be the best Elliot on earth if he likes. After all, I'm the one who got the upgrade — even he said so."

"*I* am the one who got the upgrade," Max countered, kissing me on the neck.

 


 

Inevitably, I was struck dumb when I saw the woman on Dad's — I mean, Elliot's arm. Of all the women in town—!

"Delphine!" I exclaimed. "You? And — Elliot?"

She narrowed her eyes. "Don't you remember I asked you about him? At the funeral? I mean, the wedding?"

"Well, yeah, sure, but I thought you were pulling my leg."

She laughed.

"I guess you all know each other," Elliot said, grinning like the guy who won the lottery. I just shook my head at him, disbelieving.

The conversation at lunch was like riding a rollercoaster.

First of all, even though I'd had a month of seeing him that way, it was still as weird as hell looking at the man I'd seen in my mirror for so many years, walking and talking completely apart from me.

Second of all, it was weird as hell knowing that the person inside the old me was my own father.

"How did you two meet?" Max asked Delphine.

"Aunt Viv introduced us," she admitted.

"Thank God she did!" Elliot exclaimed, and took her hand so he could kiss it. Delphine smiled a hot, lusty smile at him. I had a pretty good idea of what they'd be doing after lunch, and I blushed at the thought.

"But can you imagine?" Delphine picked up the thread again. "Scary old Aunt Viv, a matchmaker? She invited the two of us over — separately, not a clue about the reason — then told us she'd made dinner reservations at this quiet, romantic restaurant, and her driver took us there. It was a blind date."

"I *can* imagine Vivianne as a matchmaker," I told her. "She got me and Max together."

"Did she?" Max challenged. "I thought it was mostly you, Lorelei, pulling the strings."

"Oh, and your mother — she was pushing as hard as she could."

Delphine laughed. "I remember at the wedding — she tried to arrange it so you'd catch the bouquet."

Elliot wanted to hear the story, which led to other anecdotes, and we sat at the table three hours before we finished eating.

While we lingered over dessert, Elliot touched Delphine's hand. She looked at him and nodded, so he cleared his throat and said, "Max, I'm sorry that what I'm about to say doesn't include you, but, uh —"

He turned to me and continued, "Lorelei, I know that you're handy with tools and DIY and all that... so I wanted to invite you into my business."

"What business is that?"

"Renovating houses."

"Flipping houses?"

"No, not as such. I think more fixing up houses to rent, maybe. Maybe to sell. Depends on the property, depends on the market. Kitty's coming in on it with me."

"That's smart," I said. "Is Delphine part of the crew as well?"

"Hell, no!" She laughed.

"She can't tell a wrench from a pair of pliers," Elliot said. "Which is of course, part of her charm."

"Good save," Delphine said.

"You don't have to tell me now," Elliot told me, "But the sooner the better."

"You should do it, babe," Max told me. "You're good at that stuff. You know you are. And you like doing it. You'd have fun, working with Elliot."

"Okay," I agreed. "Yeah, we can give it a try."

"And — in spite of what you said, Elliot, I could come in on it, too," Max said. "As a silent partner? Investor? Backer? You need money to buy houses."

"True," Elliot admitted. "It would be you and Claus then. He said pretty much the same thing."

"Nice to have the right people behind you," Delphine commented, and raised her glass to toast the effort.

 


 

Later, in the kitchen, Elliot and I found ourselves alone. "I'm really glad you're in on the renovating," he told me. "It means a lot to me."

"So... you and Delphine?" I asked. "Isn't she a little wild for you?"

"Turns out, I like 'em wild," he replied, with a laugh. Then, "Hey, listen," he said, moving closer and speaking sotto voce: "I have to tell somebody this, and sorry, but I think you're the only one I can tell—"

"What?"

"When Viv turned me into... Elliot — I mean, definitively, not the first time, I knew about the tweaking you can do, so—" he looked around. Listened. Delphine and Max were talking in the living room, so he leaned back in and told me, "I got Viv to make my johnson longer."

"What?" I asked, not understanding.

"My johnson, my thing," he repeated. "I got an extra-long condom, and—"

"Okay, okay! I get it!" I told him. "I didn't realize what a dog you are!"

He laughed and gave me a playful push.

"Honestly, though," he continued, "it gives me a lot of self-confidence."

"Goody for you," I replied, in a tone that said, Please don't tell me any more.

"But, seriously, honestly," he asked, "Slight change of subject: Does it bother you that I'm — you?"

"No," I told him. "It's weird. It's definitely weird, but I'm getting used to it. I used to see that face in my mirror, and now it's alive on its own. But I'm glad to have you around — really glad — and I'm happy that you're not old any more."

After a pause, I said, "Hey — there is one thing I wanted to ask you. What if... let's say that you and Delphine have a child—"

"Whoa," he chuckled. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves!"

"Hypothetically," I added. "Purely hypothetically. What relation would that child be to me?"

"Okay," he said. "I've actually discussed this with Vivianne. First off, you and me — as far as the world knows, we're cousins, but as far as DNA is concerned, we're fraternal twins."

"I hadn't thought about that."

"Right. Now, if I had a child, they would in reality — I'm talking DNA — they'd be your niece or nephew, but we'd have to say that that child is your first cousin once removed. It would be the same for me if you had a baby, although it's a little more complicated."

"How?" In an instant I got it. "Oh—"

"Yeah. See, like I said, DNA would say your child is my nephew or niece, but on paper they'd be my first cousin once removed. In my heart, though, they'd be my grandchild."

I almost heard Melissa's voice chirping grandbabies!

"Psychologically," Elliot said. "I'm still your father, with all the feelings and worries that come with being a parent, but it's all strange and distorted — if I can use that word — now that we're in the these bodies."

"Yeah," I admitted. "Viv told me at the start that it's not like play-acting or role-playing. We become different people."

"I definitely feel that," he agreed.

I smiled.

Then he made a thoughtful face and said, "But do you know what? In this whole story, in everything that happened, there are so many things that are almost impossible to believe. But in all of that, there is one thing that blows my mind. One thing that I can't get over. It just stumps me, and every time it comes to mind, I—"

"Well, damn it!" I exclaimed, getting impatient. "What is it? Tell me!"

"That you did all this — put yourself to all this trouble, turned yourself into a girl — just because your friend couldn't get a date." He shook his head. "It takes the cake."

My mouth dropped open. He burst into laughter, full-throated laughter. "Take it back!" I told him, and snapped a dish towel at him. "That is so— oh! Take it back!"

Max and Delphine chose exactly that moment to enter the kitchen.

"Look at them, Max," Delphine said to him, "They're cousins; we're cousins. Why can't we be *fun* cousins like Elliot and Lorelei? Can you show me how to snap a towel at you, the way she's doing?"

Max regarded her for a moment, then said, "Delphine, I'm not giving you a dish towel to crack me with. Anyway, you and I — we're too serious for that kind of thing."

"I guess we are," Delphine saucily and insincerely agreed, and shook with silent, open-mouthed laughter as she stretched out her hand toward a wet dish cloth.



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