Chapter 15 - 'American Life in the Summertime'

Zac

 

"....why hello, Zac Hanson....."

She sat up from where she was lying on the front lawn, filming clouds or planes or something, and pointed the lens in my direction.

"....why hello, Rachael What'syourlastnameagain....?"

"....Beckinsale...."

That camera lens stuck in my face was vaguely unnerving. Probably because of the fact it looked like some weird growth protruding from the left side of her face. I didn't really like cameras much anyway.

"....Beckinsale, that's right....." I said nervously. I fidgeted under the glare of the lens.

"...nice to know you've been brushing up on your Rachael trivia...."

"......well.....you wouldn't have remembered my last name if it wasn't for that world-famous pop group, you know that one with those three hunky looking guys in it that goes by the same name....?"

"....you wouldn't happen to be associated with that world-famous pop group or anything, would you now....?"

"....not at all. I'm your typical voice-breaking, zit-squeezing, unco-ordinated American teen guy....who isn't associated with any world-famous pop groups...."

".....well, that's good....because I really hate voice-breaking, zit-squeezing, unco-ordinated American teen guys who are associated with any world-famous pop groups....."

"....oh, I know....how annoying are they....?"

She grinned.

I grinned.

All was good in the world of Zac.

 

(cut to inside the Beckinsale residence)

 

".....Pop? I'd like you to meet my friend Zac.....Zac, this is my Pop....."

"....nice to meet you, er, Pop....." I stuck out my hand.

The little old guy grinned at me pumping my hand with an energy that was a little surprising considering he was, well, old.

"....Mr Beckinsale is just fine, son.....unless you're marrying my Rachael Blossom, and in that case Pop will just have to do, won't it.....?"

"....I'm a little young for marriage, sir, uh, Pop, uh, Mr Beckinsale...."

".....but you wouldn't mind getting my Rachael in the sack one day, would you now, eh...?" Mr Beckinsale nudged me in the side.

"....Pop...." Rachael covered her eyes with her hand, with a half-shocked, half-amused look on her face.

This was a pretty cool grandpa.

"...if I found a sack, sir, there's no doubt Rachael would be the first one I'd ask in it...."

'Sir' just seemed right for this guy. He was the kind of guy who probably taught English Literature at Harvard in his hey-day.

Mr Beckinsale roared with laughter, his tea almost flying out the tea cup he was holding in his hand. He was the kind of grandfather you'd read about in picture books that whittled wood for a hobby and whistled through his teeth.

Rachael glared at me. I guess she didn't want to be in my sack.

I laughed at Mr Beckinsale laughing. And a little at Rachael (who'd turned bright red and was twisting her mouth around, eying me with evil intent).

He was pretty funny. Like one of those guys in 'Grumpy Old Men'. I remember our grandma made us watch that movie for like a month of Sundays because she thought Jack Lemmon was 'a hottie'. I loved my grandma, but just hearing her say the word 'hottie' was a little more than I could handle.

".....Pop....keeping your tea in the cup instead of on the rug is a great idea....."

"....oh, yes...sorry blossom....." He set his tea cup down on the lace-covered side table "....so what are you two young 'uns up to today....? Cruising the streets? Hanging with your....er, pussy.....?"

"....I think you mean 'possy', sir....."

"....so there aren't any cats involved.....?"

"....not really, no....."

".....I always did think it was a strange thing for kids to want to do these days.....play with their cats....." he shook his head with befuddlement.

 

(cut to cloud watching on the lawn in the Beckinsale's backyard)

 

".....um......a pig....with wings.......and I think he's being chased by a piece of swiss cheese...."

".....actually, I think it's being chased by a loofah mitt....."

"....a loofah mitt....?"

"...yeah, you know those things you use---"

"...I know what a loofah mitt is, Zac.....it's just that you would be the only person to think that cloud looks like a loofah mitt rather than a piece of swiss cheese.....it is so obviously a piece of cheese....."

".....pieces of swiss cheese can't chase pigs with wings....." I explained patiently.

She turned her head on the side, her curly black hair all tangled with blades of grass (not that it was anything unusual - I'd never actually seen Rachael's hair resemble anything but a tangled ball of fuzzy wool that an overzealous kitten had been playing with) "....as opposed to loofah mitts which areknown for their abilities to chase pigs with wings...."

"....didn't you know? That's what loofah mitts were originally made for before people came along and mistook them for bathroom products...." I put on a solemn face and made my voice inflect, or should I say not inflect, like our monotone pastor back in ol' Tulsa town "....'on the Seventh day He made loofah mitts and said 'ye shall chase pigs with wings for it is God's work' and so they went and chased pigs with wings, happy, for they were doing as He asked....."

"...Zac, shut up....you're making me think......" she yawned loudly, looking as though she was going to swallow me whole like the whale did Jonah.

And maybe Sunday School fried my brain.

"....ooh.....thinking.....a crime against humanity for which we will inevitably be damned...."

'Shut up with the God stuff!' I screamed silently at whatever part of my head was conjuring up these God-related thoughts.

She groaned "....will a soda shut you up.....?"

"....possibly....I make no guarantees......"

"....you want to maybe get up and get it with me.....?"

"....not really...."

"...get up you big lump...."

She sat down on my stomach.

"...how can I get up with you sitting on me...?" I cried plaintively, making Italian hand gestures and trying to sound like a Guido.

".....well, you're all buff now....you work out...." she shrugged ".....show me what you've got, muscle man....."

It still kind of weirded me out the way Rachael and I acted as if we've known each other so long we'd shared a stroller or eaten dirt together. But it felt right. It felt like we'd shared a stroller and eaten dirt together. The world works in strange ways that I don't think I'll ever get.

"....firstly, I don't work out, it's all in the genes baby.....and secondly, do you see any muscle here....?" I pointed at my stomach.

She grabbed my t-shirt, lifting it up and poking my belly.

".....you have a nice belly.....even if it isn't rock hard...." she reported gravely, putting the t-shirt down ".....so are we getting these sodas or not....?"

"....I believe we are...."

 

Rachael touched my stomach. Oh God.

Does this mean she likes me?

 

(cut to inside the Beckinsale residence)

 

".....so how's the film going....?"

"...oh...good.....how's the album going....?"

"....oh...good...."

She handed me the can of diet Coke. Must watch those zits. Can't have a pimply teen heartthrob now, can we?

"....we're a talkative duo aren't we...?"

"....very.....Regis and Kathie better watch out...."

".....Regis and Kathie have to watch out for anyone that's not mute...." She walked to the fridge and pulled an apple out of the crisper drawer.

Rachael always ate apples. Practically every time I saw her she was eating one.

"...want one....?"

"...no thanks....I prefer a fat intake greater than 0.5 grams...."

She took a huge bite of her apple, a little juice spilling out on to her chin. She wiped it with the back of her hand.

"....Zac.....?"

"....mmhm.....?"

I had huge mouthful of soda again. Geez, do girls do this on purpose? First Anna and now Rachael. Damn it, let me drink my soda in peace!

"......I feel like camping out in my backyard tonight...."

"....and you're telling me this why....?"

"....because I'm asking if you want to camp out too, you idiot...."

"....oh....sure...." I shrugged "...that'll be cool...."

".....you don't have to if you don't want to, it was just a suggestion...."

".....no, I want to stay...."

"....it's not like you're being invited to Buckingham Palace to receive on OBE...you can say no and everything...it's not a big hassle....."

".....sheesh...Rachael, I want to stay....Zac Hanson wants to camp out in your backyard....got it...?!"

".....fine....fine....."

".....can I just call my dad to ask him if it's okay and all....?"

She just laughed.

What was funny about that?

 

Taylor

 

I fiddled with the key around at the doorknob. It always takes me a standard five minutes to open the door at night.

"....aha......!" I cried as the key slid into the keyhole, and opened up the door.

"....well, finally....." Ike rolled his eyes and followed behind me.

"...you open it next time, Big Shot...." I shot irritably. I considered throwing the keys at his head, but that would probably make a lot of noise. And, you know, it might hurt.

My eyes were itchy I was that tired. It isn't usually that my eyes get itchy, but tonight was one of those nights. An itchy-eye night.

"....what time is it.....?"

"....eleven thirty....."

"....you're kidding me, right.....?"

"....Tay, I'm too tired to kid....." he squinted at me through his creased eyelids, rubbing his hand roughly over his face.

"....it's eleven thirty and we're tired.....?"

"....considering last night we got to bed at three am, the night before that at two and the night before that at four, it's kind of...." he paused, obviously having trouble with sentence construction "....not weird....."

"True. Very....not weird." I agreed.

We wandered towards the light.

No, not towards THE light. Just A light. The living room light to be precise.

Ike and I paused in the doorway.

I felt like....one of the shepherds in the nativity. Yeah. I know, it's a strange thing to feel like, but you know when you see one of those scenes? The ones that are permeating peace and goodwill and other such holy expletives?

".....Pack up all my cares and woes.....feeling low here I go......I say....Bye Bye blackbird......oh blackbird now......Where somebody waits for me.......sugar sweet so is she......."

That was Joe Cocker's 'Bye, Bye Blackbird' if I wasn't mistaken. If ever a song was to beautiful for us to cover it would be this one. This was the song of every one of our childhoods. Every Hanson child was rocked, consoled and soothed to this song.

Mom was cradling Georgie and singing to her by the window. She swayed ever so slightly to the music, her hair following her movement like a blonde shadow two steps behind.

Zoe was lying outstretched on the sofa, sleeping soundly with her thumb lolling around her slightly parted lips. Mackie was doing the same, without the thumb and from the other end of the sofa so that their curled up feet met together in the middle.

Anna and Avie were dancing in the middle of the room. Every so often Anna would hold up her arm so that Avie could turn a pirouette underneath.

The difference between the two was that Avie had rhythm and Anna just had none at all. She was one of those people you see at weddings dancing the madison to 'nutbush city limits' and just cringe at and hope that someone would put on a slow track and restrict their wayward movements with a partner.

"......Bye Bye Blackbird........No one seems to love or understand me.......and all the hard luck stories they keep handing me.......where somebody shines the light.......I'll be coming on home tonight now.......I want to say bye, bye....blackbird....."

Anna looked up at me and smiled that smile that could revive the most weary traveller. And was I a weary traveller tonight (well, not on a 40 days in the desert scale, but, you know, the Hollywood equivalent).

"....may I cut in.....?"

Anything to stop her dancing like that. I wanted to go to sleep with happy thoughts.

Avie eyed me with amusement "....she's all yours....." she winked, proffering me Anna's hand.

"....why thankyou sir...." I took Anna into my arms and smiled "....hey....."

".....hey......." she grinned, resting her cheek against mine.

I closed my eyes. Mission accomplished. Now I could dream dreams, not nightmares.

".....Bye Bye Blackbird......Nobody seems to love or understand me........and all the hard luck stories they keep on handing me......where somebody shines the light.......I'm coming on home tonight......Bye Bye Blackbird.....I wanna say.....Bye, Bye Backbird.....Lord have mercy...."

Anna's shoulder shifted a little "....Taylor, are you falling asleep on me.....? Literally....?"

"....I'm just....." I yawned loudly ".....resting my eyes......"

".....okay, we're taking you to bed....."

"....no, no....I'm not tired...." I murmured into her shoulder.

"....you have the limb control of a beanie baby...."

".....mmmmm......"

"....what if we go upstairs and....you know....." she whispered suggestively in my ear.

My head shot up.

"....oh, look at that....he's wide awake....now off to bed....." she smiled and patted me on the behind in the direction of the stairs.

"....you're a mean, mean person, Anna McLaren...."

"....I know, sweetie....."

 

Zac

(cut to the tent in the Beckinsale's backyard)

 

Why is it that old people are so polite?

"Why hello there, Mavis" "Oh, hello there Kathleen. Isn't it just a lovely day?" "Oh yes! Such a lovely day!" "Such a lovely day for a walk" "Isn't it just?" "How are the grandkids going, Mavis?" "Oh, they're growing at the rate of a giraffe's neck, Kathleen! How about yours?"All grown up now, Mavis!" "And how about Harold, Kathleen?" "His heart's been troubling him lately, the poor dear..."

Do they wake up one day and find that their rudeness evaporated overnight?

I think my grandma must have recaptured the rude gas and sucked it back in. That's not to say that my grandma was a rude person. I'd say she was just....feisty.

Yes. Feisty's the word.

My grandma, being the feisty person that she was, wasn't exactly a favourite in her retirement home possy. She was majorly ousted by the Mavises and Kathleens. That never really bothered her though. All she cared about was us and her miniature violets, she used to say.

Grandma had a way with her miniature violets. Aunt Callie always used to complain that her miniature violets were never as good as grandma's. I always wondered why Grandma and Aunt Callie called them miniature violets. They never looked miniature to me. But, then again, when you're four, most things are pretty gigantic.

Grandma's miniature violets didn't last long after she died. Aunt Callie brought them back to Chicago with her and the next Christmas we saw them they were definitely miniature violets. They were definitely dead as well.

Tay, Ike and I used to pelt people with grandma's homegrown tomatoes, the ones that fell off the bushes because they were too ripe or because a worm had gotten to them. We used to hide behind the picket fence waiting for our unsuspecting victims to ride by. I should say unsuspecting victim, since mostly the only person riding by was the postman. Grandma thought our tomato throwing was pretty funny (unlike the postman).

"....Zac....."

"...yeah..."

"....you awake....?"

"...yeah..."

"....I feel like sleeping under the stars...."

"....is that really a good idea.....?"

"....where's your spirit of adventure....?"

"....well, the last time I saw it was in the seat of my pants and trickling down my leg when I agreed to the Tower Of Terror......but you know, I'm all for sleeping outside and getting raped by the resident feline....." I said, the sarcasm wafting heavily through the comfortably humid air of the tent.

".....the resident feline is a creature called Flopsy, who gets fed three times a day and is so fat she couldn't make the fence to rape you in the first place....."

The picture of a hundred-twenty-pound Persian in an armchair with a TV dinner (with separate compartments of sardines, fish jelly and dry biscuit) watching the Dodgers V Mets game, flitted across my mind. The thought of something like that raping me wasn't particularly pleasant even if Rachael claimed it couldn't make the fence. You never knew in these kinds of neighbourhoods. Strange things could happen.

"....what are you thinking about.....?"

"....that cat.....and my grandma...."

"...she died....?"

"....yeah, a while ago....I still miss her though....."

"....I bet my parents and your grandma are up there having the time of their eternal lives...." she poked upwards, the silky material making a little tent of its own with Rachael's finger as a main pole.

"....so long as heaven has miniature violets my grandma'll be having a time....."

"....miniature violets.....?"

"....and tomatoes...."

"....I won't ask....."

 

(cut to an hour later)

 

"....Rachael.....?" I whispered tentatively into the silent darkness.

"yeah?"

Can I kiss you?

"...nothing...."

 

(cut to two days later at the front door of the Beckinsale household)

 

What is it with people taking their time to open doors when you're nervous? It's like there's a sensory system - kind of like those front porch lights that turn on automatically when someone walks up the front path - which senses nervousness and then locks the door for five minutes so it makes the kid out on the welcome mat sweat. Literally. I wiped my palms on my shorts. Two damp streaks now ran down the sides of the khaki legs. I fiddled with the hairband around my wrist. I tied my hair back. I pulled it loose again. I knocked on the door again hesitantly.

The door finally creaked open. Like they do in haunted houses. Except I'd never seen a haunted house whose doorknob was in the middle of the door. But I'mj sure that dude that made Scream could overlook that. He could even use it to his advantage. You know.

"....Hey Mr Beckinsale, is Rachael home....?"

"....sorry young Zachary, Rachael Blossom's at work.......she's got one of those old-fashioned All-American jobs at that there McDuffy's or something....."

I've started to realise Mr Beckinsale's not exactly as senile as he pretends to be.

I think he thinks being senile is funny. And he thinks right.

"....you mean McDonalds, don't you sir.....?"

"....that's it....." he slapped his hand on his leg.

"....well, thanks anyway sir....."

".....anytime young Zachary......have you had any luck in courting my Rachael Blossom yet.....?"

".....how did you---"

"....the expression of desperation's the same no matter whether it's 1941 or 1999......"

"....you sure do know a lot, Mr Beckinsale....."

"....I should think so after 74 odd years...."

I paused for a little thoughtfully

"....well, I've got to get going sir...."

"....I'll tell Rachael Blossom you called by, son....."

".....thanks sir......"

 

He's a pretty cluey guy for a grandpa.

 

(cut to two hours later in the spacious laminex kitchen of the second Hanson house)

I was sitting at the breakfast bar observing mom making some weird casserole concoction for dinner. Well, I was observing her do that while drumming on the laminex bench top with two asparagus stalks.

"....Zac honey, don't you have something to do.....?" she pulled the two asparagus out of my hands and inspected them for damage before looking at me expectantly.

"....no....." I chewed on my lower lip "...Rachael's working and Tay and Anna are making out upstairs and Ike's writing and Avie'll just whip my ass at basketball which is no fun and---"

"....Rachael.....?"

"....she's---"

"----don't tell me.....the new woman in your life.....?"

"....you're pretty perceptive aren't you, mom.....?"

"....not really, your brother just said the same thing to me nine months ago.....you're going to ask me if she can come to dinner now, aren't you....?"

".....well---"

".....it's fine....."

"....actually, I was going to ask if she could stay the night...."

".....stay the night.....? Hmmm......" Mum mused thoughtfully at the asparagus ".....well, I think we'll have to ask your father about that....."

".....mom, look at this face.....you can trust this face.....this face exudes trust....."

"....it's a pity the rest of you exudes everything but....."

"....come on mom, she can sleep in the girls' room even....."

".....oh right, she can sleep in the girls' room like Anna sleeps in the girls' room....."

She looked at my gaping face

"....honey, I've had eight kids....it's given me three special abilities - light sleeping, good hearing and enough common sense to know that any male with Hanson blood running through his veins has too many hormones for his own good....."

"....so I'm taking it that means no to the sleeping thing....."

".....you're pretty perceptive aren't you, Zac.....?"

 

Isn't poking fun at your son against the code of the International Mothers' Guidebook?

 

Anna

 

"....can I help you....?"

I scrambled up from where I'd been sitting indian-style on the rug by a bookshelf in Book Soup. I frequented the aisles of Book Soup almost daily since I'd been in LA. I'm afraid I took advantage of their hospitality, tending to read five novels in the store for every one I bought and took home. Yes, one of those annoying people. The equivalent of the supermarket shopper that buys toilet paper in bulk.

"....um, no...I'm right thanks....."

This would be the 56th time I'd been asked that. Perhaps they were trying to tell me something. To shit or get off the pot probably.

I smiled apologetically, burning slightly in the cheeks before slotting the book back into the shelf. It looked like I'd just done some dental work on a pirate, filling in a missing front tooth on the middle shelf. And that is the extent of my powers of description and creativity. Which is why I read books and don't write them.

"...it's great, isn't it.....?"

"....sorry.....?"

"...the book....it's great...."

She pulled 'Veronika Decides to Die' by Paulo Coehlo from the bookcase again.

"....oh, yeah....I might actually get around to buying this one....."

"....it doesn't bother me....." she shrugged lightly "....it's not like I get paid on commission....."

"....well in that case I'll just sit myself back down and read it here then....." I grinned.

".....I'm Sass......" she stuck out her hand "....I thought I should introduce myself considering I see you more than I do most of my family and friends....."

".....Anna......" I shook her hand "...lovely to make your acquaintance..."

"....you don't happen to be looking for a job, do you....?"

".....are you offering one.....?" I asked suspiciously.

"....actually yeah......Sarah...you know, the tall bosomy one with the red hair....?" she explained, as I nodded in recognition "....well, she just left since she's backpacking through the Himalayas for the rest of the summer so we're kind of one person short and I thought----"

"....I'll take it....."

"...you will...?"

"....why not.....?"

"....great, welcome aboard....."

"....ahoy captain, indeed....."

 

(cut to the next day on a lunch break at the cafe next door to Book Soup)

 

"....so is Sass a nickname or did your parents consult one of those horrible alternative baby name books that should be banned from print....?"

I took a bite from the tasteless sandwich I'd ordered from the cafe next door. The only reason the place has managed to stay open this long, so Sass told me, was because it was the prime place for people watching on Sunset Boulevard. And there definitely were people to watch. I think we glimpsed the back of Keanu Reeves head.....but it could have just been the hallucinogenic properties of whatever it was they put in those sandwiches. Since I thought the production of bologna had stopped sometime in the mid 90's, the presence of the same meat product in my sandwich was only slightly worrying.

"....it's actually Sassafras....."

".....Sassafras......?"

"......I know....they named me after an obscure medicinal plant.....why they couldn't have picked Rosemary I don't know, but I should just count my lucky stars it wasn't Basil or Oregano....."

".....or Parsley....it's always nice to be named after a garnish...."

"....I don't expect anyone with such a mundane name as Anna to understand....." she replied snottily, sipping her drink.

"....it's actually Annesley...."

"....oh, Annesley......" she raised her eyebrow and grinned "....don't tell me...private school, white collar parents and a chalet in Aspen for the winter months...."

".....close, but no cigar....."

She looked at me expectantly when I didn't continue on. Telling people every detail of my background isn't a policy of mine, it makes me feel really uncomfortable. And as much as I liked Sass, I'd known her for all of a day now. Somehow divulging personal information to someone I'd known for a day seemed wrong, if not downright stupid.

"....so you live around here.....?"

".....actually, it's complicated.....I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma...went to boarding school in Chicago....will probably end up going to college in Massachusetts and am here for the summer to stay with my boyfriend who normally lives in Tulsa, but who's living in LA for around a year...."

"....'complicated'.....yep, that's the perfect adjective....."

"...how about you....?"

"...oh, we live near Joshua Tree.....I was born in a hippie commune in Israel though..." she added cheerfully.

"....a hippie commune, that's always....nice....."

".....I was raised on a diet of maize, that's always.....not......" she mused with a thoughtful look on her face.

"....maize.....well, you can make a lot of things with maize....." I conceded, shrugging and taking a sip of my banana smoothie.

 

(cut to later that day)

 

"....that looks lovely, girls....."

Millie, the elderly owner of Book Soup, exclaimed while clasping her hands. Sass and I stepped back and admired our handiwork.

Actually the window display didn't look too bad at all. Sass was a crafts fiend. Probably a side-effect of that hippie commune upbringing. God knows how many cane baskets she'd weaved or shirts she's tie-dyed in her short life, but I was sure it was too many for her own safety.

It (the window display) was for a new children's book by an English writer called J.K. Rowling. Apparently England had gone completely mad over it. I was halfway through the book, entitled 'Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone'. It actually wasn't bad at all. I mean she wasn't the second coming of Roald Dahl, but I hadn't been able to put the thing down for most of the afternoon which had to be a good sign.

Anyway, the window display included a black felt witches hat, a multitude of cut-out stars, and a few broomsticks for good measure. I had suggested a sprinkling of fake spiders and toads, but apparently that would have scared the kids. I disagreed. I was very pro-insect as a child.

Sass and I nodded at each other, admiring our morning's work beside Millie who was still cooing her praises.

".....listen, you don't feel like coming over for a swim at my boyfriend's house on Saturday, do you.....? Actually, it'll probably be less swimming and more reclining on deck chairs, but a few friends are coming over and....."

"....sure I'll come....."

"....brilliant.....I'll have to write out the address for you but---"

"---it isn't one of those bikini-clad girl parties is it, because I object to those kind of gatherings....it's what's caused the corruption of a generation of young people.....or so I hear...."

"....well, we really can't have that, can we....? It will be a bikini-free zone...except for Harper, I take no responsibility for her....."

"....well if it's only one, I'm all for it....."

 

(cut to....the weekend)

 

".....ANNA!!! PHONE FOR YOU!!!"

"....Zac, I'm sitting on the sofa next to you....."

"....right.....sorry....." he said sheepishly, passing me the receiver. I shook my head, trying to restore my hearing organs to their former function.

".....'lo.....?"

"....Anna? It's Sass....."

".....oh, hi......you aren't abandoning ship on me are you.....?"

What was it with the overuse of nautical jargon between us? As far as I knew none of us knew how to steer a boat, but we were all 'welcome aboard' and 'ahoy there' regardless.

"....no, I was just wondering if I could bring my twin brother along....he was supposed to be going out somewhere and it was cancelled and now he's at a loose end so----"

"....it's definitely fine....the more the merrier....."

".....good....."

"....well, I'll see you in a half-hour then......"

"....sure, I'll see you then...then....." she replied confusedly, then let out a short laugh ".....bye....."

"....bye......"

 

(cut to that afternoon by the pool)

 

Was it just me, or beside Taylor did Sass and her brother look like long lost Danish cousins of the Hanson family? The resemblance was uncanny.

"....you're.....Taylor Hanson....." Sass looked back and forth between Taylor and I suspiciously. Her brother didn't seem fazed at all, which wasn't surprising really. Most guys weren't fazed by him. Except for Luke. But Luke liked boys. And Taylor was a good-looking specimen of boyhood. And...I don't know where I'm going with this.

".....hi....." Taylor smiled, extending his hand "....you must be Sass...."

"....yep....."

Oh, please don't tell me she was going to get all monosyllabic on me.

"....the one and only....." she added grinning.

Well thank goodness for that.

"....this is my brother Jesse.......Jess, this is Anna and Taylor....."

"....hey....." he shook both of our hands solemnly, but with an underlying friendliness that made me take to him straight away.

He was rather tall (maybe an inch above me) with long blonde hair to just above his shoulders, bee-stung lips and deep set green eyes. And, like I said, he looked like he was a Hanson, without the pristine supermodel bone structure of Taylor or the solid bulkiness of Zac. He exuded outdoors like Sass and reiterated that fact by smelling like pine needles.

The close relation between him and Sass was obvious. Their eyes were the same just-off-a-caribbean-coast colour and their hair long, straight and sun streaked.

"....pick a deck chair, any deck chair....." I settled myself back on Taylor's chair.

"....hellooo....." Harper waved her hand regally in the air, pulling up her sunglasses to rest them atop her head.

The girl was more Taylor than I'd realised.

Both had the same uncontrollable urge to Make An EntranceTM. Yes, it's a patented move made famous by Adolf Hitler in the 1930's and 40's. I'm sure Harper was still a little perturbed that with certain advantages over that particular dictator (ie. breasts, mane of hair, lack of moustache) she hadn't yet managed to gain an entrance on the same scale. I mean, not even a "Hail Harper!". How utterly depressing for her.

A guy was towed along behind her - a tanned, 5ft11 handbag. He was obvious new and completely entranced by Harp.

The poor boy.

Harper ate men like dogs did bones - gnawing at them for a prolonged period of time before tossing it (him) around and lastly burying it (him) in a deep hole, to resurface only when she deemed the situation desperate enough to rekindle the gnawing relationship.

Few (if any) survived the trauma.

"....Hey Harp...." I stuck my extended palm up in acknowledgement. Taylor's chest was too comfortable a resting place to remove myself again.

Okay. I had to ask. I sat up grudgingly "....and who is this....?"

".....this is Andy....." she introduced him like the models do to the prizes on 'The Price Is Right'.

"....Andy, hi......lovely to meet you, I'm Anna....." I stuck out my hand "....and this is Taylor.....Sass.....and Jesse......"

"....hey....." everyone waved.

"....right, well just to recap.....this is Harper....Andy.....Taylor....Sass....Jesse....and I'm Anna.....everyone happy? Good....."

"...God, Taylor, you're so white....." Harper exclaimed, shimmying out of her sundress to reveal the bikini underneath. Now I understand what Sass meant about the corruption of a generation. Zebra print on any piece of material that small could corrupt anything.

".....always the Queen of Tact, aren't you Harp.....?"

She shrugged and settled herself on a deck chair. I doubted if she's actually get into the water at all that day. Harper was the kind of girl that owned swimwear but never actually swam. The closest she got to water was drinking it (7 Litres A Day, To Keep Pimples At Bay) and reclining prettily next to it.

"....well, I'm going for a swim...." I announced, yanking Taylor up behind me.

"...you do that, Anna..." Harper called, waving one hand (which held a nail file) nonchalantly already having begun on her self manicure.

 

(cut to later that day - everyone slightly more sunkissed and Harper's manicure successfully completed)

 

"....you know your name means 'graceful'.....?"

"....I know, I think it was a cruel joke on my mother's part....." I drifted my arms through the water lazily. It was nice being able to touch the bottom of the pool in the deep end. If Harper had managed to get into a pool she'd be submerged at the same depth.

I rested my forearms on the side of the pool, letting my legs float up to the surface so that I almost lay on a bed of water.

Jesse laughed "....so you're not graceful then.....?"

"....Webster's Dictionary has a picture by the word 'graceful'....it's a negative of me...."

"....I see....." he grinned, rubbing his hands briskly up and down his shins. He, as opposed to Taylor, had quite hairy legs. The hairs were bleached blonde by the sun but contrasted against his tanned caramel skin perfectly.

Now don't start getting the impression that I find people's hair growth interesting. But since Jesse was sitting by the pool in a deck chair and I was in the pool, I was getting an eye-full of leg and leg hair rather than anything else.

He was wearing this short kind of sarong made of dark cloth. He was possibly the only man I'd ever seen that looked good in....well, a skirt.

I think even Harper was suitably impressed by his manly physique (did I just say 'manly physique'?).

"....so why exactly do you have a relatively normal name like Jesse when Sass was bestowed with Sassafras.....?"

".....well, I got Leif for a second name so don't think I got let off lightly.....I was named after apparently famous explorers...."

"....I can't say I've actually heard of any explorers called Jesse or Leif....." I cringed apologetically, lifting myself out of the pool and sitting on the edge. Staring at his leg hair was getting only slightly frustrating.

"...neither has the rest of the population..." he offered cheerfully.

"....so do you actually explore anything or are you like me - the total opposite of your name....?"

"....I explore.....I'm doing Nepal and India later this year....."

".....Nepal....? Wow...." I nodded enthusiastically "....it'd be a great place to travel...I'd love to go, especially the Himalayas...."

"....you'd love to go where....?" Taylor interjected with a suspicious look on his face, sitting down beside me.

"....Jesse's going to Nepal...."

"....wow...." he said with his eyebrows, his mouth full of sausage and bread and ketchup.

"...that's what I said.....just without my lunch...." I smirked.

 

He just smiled and planted a disgustingly wet kiss on my cheek.

 

Taylor

(cut to the next day)

 

"...what are you doing...?"

I'd just watched her spend fifteen minutes pulling the cord of a set of headphones in various directions, pausing every so often thoughtfully with the cord held aloft. She was doing this while almost being swallowed by the big blue bean bag in the living room.

"EUREKA!"

The cord was curled up in a bunch near her neck.

I tapped her on the shoulder.

"WHAT?"

I gestured for her to take off the headphones.

She contemplated for a moment and then turned down the volume on the cd player quizzically.

"....what are you doing....?"

"....the wires are screwed in the cord so I have to move it around until the wires magically hit otherwise I only get sound in one ear....."

"....why don't you just buy a new pair....?"

"....because it takes all the fun out of using headphones Taylor...." she looked at me with an expression that oozed 'well, duh!'.

I shook my head.

Trying to understand Anna sometimes was like trying to understand the point of boy bands.

"...are you coming today...?"

"....am I coming where.....?" she was still half yelling with the sound-muffling headphones on.

"...meeting....you know one of those boring corporate things where we sign loads of forms and pretend to understand why exactly we need to release different singles in different countries....?"

"....oh, one of those....well, sounds exciting Taylor but I have so many things to do around here....clean the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush for instance....." she grinned.

"....come on, An....I'll die a long and painful death if you're not there....."

"....oh diddums....." she mimicked my pout, but struggled up from the bean bag nevertheless "....you do realise this means you're making an appearance at the book signing next week....?"

"....if I must sacrifice myself for the cause, it will be done....." I sighed melodramatically, draping my hand over my forehead.

"....Taylor, you don't have a cause....."

"....well, it sounded cooler having one than not....."

 

(cut to meeting)

 

I looked warily at Zac. He looked warily back before looking warily at Ike. Ike looked warily at me and Zac.

We were triangularly wary.

It's amazing how people in the most expensive looking suits can be the most shifty looking. Take for instance our lawyers. Or any lawyers. They make a lot of effort to dress well, but everyone knows they're scheming to get more of your money under that suit.

I wondered what exactly they'd propose today. A fifty foot billboard in Times Square to announce the release date of the as yet untitled, unmixed, unfinished album? It would probably require us to be posing naked with an inscription reading 'The MMMBop Boys are MMMBack and MMMBigger Than Ever'.

The suits walked in, hand in hand with leather briefcases.

"....hey guys......"

'Guys'. Right. Like a middle-aged guy can say 'hey guys' and think it'll make him appear instantly cool in our eyes.

I looked at Anna sitting next to me. She was squinting almost unnervingly at the middle suit. While doing that she was almost crushing every bone in my hand with her steel grip.

Almost as soon as the suits were seated, Anna sprang up, looking at the middle suit accusingly like someone in Salem during the witch trials.

"....you're Daniel McLaren aren't you.....?"

The suit's suave grin ceased to be and he looked up, caught like a moose in a set of headlights - dazed, confused and a little stupid "....yes...."

".....Hi, Daniel McLaren...." she sent him a twisted smile ".....I'm your daughter....."

 

I think the contract negotiations just flew out the window.

.

Chapter 16 - 'Teenager of the Year'

ANNA

 

I must be committing the biggest music executive meeting faux pas there was. The artist's girlfriend was making a spectacle of herself.

It was just....well, this bastard impregnated my mother and didn't have the guts to handle it. Because frankly, I wanted to make him squirm like he was seeing that spectacle of childbirth for the very first time. In a sense he was - although I was a very large, post-pubescent newborn dressed in cotton/polyester blend rather than placenta.

".....you're....you're......you can't be......" he gabbled for a few moments before ending indignantly, in his Australian accent "....you're making this all up....!"

(we'll address the accent at a later date, there are more pressing things at hand right now such as......er, him being my father)

"....right....do you want to explain to me why exactly your name is on my mother's marriage certificate and my birth certificate and why I've had a photo of you in the bottom of my dresser drawer for sixteen years then....?"

".....uh......."

"....THAT ISN'T AN ANSWER....!!" I screamed at the top of my lungs.

Boy, that felt good.

I felt Taylor's hands on my shoulders. He was standing behind me, almost like a supporting stake that held little tree saplings upright.

"....maybe we should go outside...." my father wrung his hands nervously.

"....maybe we shouldn't...." I smiled sweetly ".....maybe we should stay right here and you can explain to all of us your little game of Love 'Em and Leave 'Em...."

"....yeah...why don't you tell her why you left....?" Zac glared at him with an evil only a Hanson boy could muster in their eyes.

"...Zac...." Mr Hanson looked at him warningly.

"....hey, he's the asshole in this situation...." Zac shrugged.

I sent a weak smile in his general direction.

"....this isn't the thing to discuss right now..." my father interjected, suddenly regaining some of his former composure.

".....look, I've scheduled this damn appointment with you for sixteen years.....if I'm not mistaken I have prior claim to some of your time and I'm claiming now to be it....."

 

(CUT TO TEN MINUTES LATER LATER WHERE THE CAULDRON OF TENSION HAD BUBBLED DOWN A LITTLE [AND ANNA AND HER FATHER HAD TAKEN THEMSELVES OFF TO ANOTHER ROOM])

 

"......I have brothers and sisters I don't know about, dad.....?!"

".....well, seventeen years is a long time, Anna....I didn't take myself off to a different planetary system.....and they'd be your step-brother and half-sister...."

"....Aren't they just quintessential modern American relationships....?"

My father looked only slightly fazed now by the turn of events.

"...so what are their names....?"

"......Jordan.....and---"

".....Jordan as in Jordan Jordan......?"

"....you've got it....."

"....Jordan McLaren....?"

".....no, Jordan Chadwick....he's my wife's son with her first husband....."

".....and this is what number wife....?"

".....Janet's my third wife...."

"....well, we have been busy haven't we.....?"

".....this is all a little......strange....."

".....really....?" I raised my eyebrow "....I thought meeting my father for the first time in my life was just part of my daily teenage routine.....along with squeezing my zits in the morning and spending five hours on the phone discussing lurid orange hotpants......"

"....there's no need for sarcasm, Anna...."

God, he was falling into the Paternal Gap within three minutes of my knowing him.

".....my name is Annesley.....Annesley Yamamoto McLaren....."

"....Keiko hasn't married......?"

"......mom doesn't have time for marriage.....and anyway considering her first experience of it, I could hardly blame her not wanting to try it again..."

"....true....." he nodded solemnly.

"......so are you going to tell them about me......?"

"....tell whom.....?"

"....Jordan Chadwick....and my half-sister---"

"----Israel....."

"...yes. Israel.....and Janet the Third...."

"......well, I don't know about that----"

He doesn't want anyone to know about me. The bastard. I wish this day had never happened. I wish my life had never happened.

"----fine..." I swallowed the lump rising in my throat "....so we'll just forget the whole thing happened then....."

"...Anna...Annesley.....I didn't mean it like that....."

"....oh, so what did you mean it like....?"

"......this isn't an easy thing for any of us......"

".....REALLY??!! BECAUSE APPARENTLY SHOOTING YOUR SPERM AROUND IN MY MOTHER WAS....!!!"

"....Annesley.....!!!"

".....look, I'd rather you just stayed out of my life....you're the last person I need in it....!!"

"....Anna....."

"......we have to go......"

".....I'll get in touch...."

"...no, you won't...." I grabbed my bag and stalked out of the room.

"....Hi Zac....."

He was rubbing his head where the door had just made contact with his skull. Who knew eavesdropping could be so physically painful.

"....hi...." he offered me a sheepish grin.

"....better than a Danielle Steel novel huh.....?" I smiled half-heartedly at him and Taylor who stood just beside him.

"....come here....." Taylor mouthed with those eyes of his wallowing in concern, holding out his arms for me.

 

If home is where the heart is, I was at home.

 

(CUT TO FIVE MINUTES LATER IN ONE OF THE PRACTICE STUDIOS)

 

"....sit down here...." he steered me towards the piano stool before sitting down beside me.

I rested my head on his shoulder.

"....I always said you'd make a good pillow, despite the protruding bones....." I joked softly.

"....well, I'll be sure to market my shoulder to manchester stores when the music thing's not working so well....."

"....you do that....." I closed my eyes, breathing in his warm, slightly soapy scent.

I could hear him trailing his fingers over the keys of the grand piano.

I smiled. He must have seen it because he began, softly and huskily "....I'm looking for a song to sing.....I'm looking for a friend to borrow......I'm looking for a radio, so I might find a heart to borrow....."

".....I've never been just longing for your loving...." he continued as I mouthed the words into his shoulder "....I've never been just wearing down to nothing....I've never been just looking for a reason, so that maybe you'd be thinking of me......you'd be thinking of me......"

"....a water main just burst on your shoulder, Taylor....." I mumbled apologetically.

"....I'll call the water board...." he smiled back, kissing my forehead.

 

RACHAEL

(CUT TO THE NEXT DAY)

 

I am Rachael Beckinsale. I am Teenager of The Year.

I was alerted to my newly found status this morning at 7am, the time I am routinely awoken by my grandfather's electronic rooster alarm crow every weekday, on finding I had an extremely large pus-filled pimple stationed on the bridge of my nose.
My pimples are an inherited phenomenon which, if brought to a county fair of some description, would no doubt win a blue ribbon for Most Outstanding Blemish. Three generations of Beckinsales have endured these banes of teenage existence, and it is likely (being a dominant, rather than recessive allele in our gene pool) my own children with one day suffer this tortured, acne-prone existence.


Of course, Zac Hanson will be dropping by today.

Of course he will be, because I have a huge zit on my face which is generally acknowleged to be indisguisable (unless I wear a brown paper bag over my head.....which, now that I think about it, is high up on my list of options).

Of course I'm going to look like I've grown a third eye overnight in front of the most beautiful living, breathing boy I've ever met.

Note : Rachael's life is a shithole.

Of course, that would be the doorbell.

Of course, that would be my pop yelling 'Rachael blossom, Zac's here!'

There's never a brown paper bag around when you need one.

 

ZAC

 

"....come on up Zac....." I heard Rachael's muffled yell coming from upstairs.

"....yep.....I'm a-coming......." I took the stairs three at a time (it just wasn't humanly possible for me to take them one by one...) and arrived on the second landing. It always amazed me how huge Rachael's house was for only two people. Apparently there was an elusive third member of their very weird family unit, but since I never exactly saw 'Jonah' I had pretty much decided he was a figment of Rachael and Pop's imaginations. And what imaginations they were.

I tugged on the cord dangling from the ceiling and the stairs shot out, almost taking out my head. I guess Rachael had finally gotten around to oiling the brackets.

"....I just oiled the brackets....." she called.

"...you could've mentioned that ten seconds ago...."

"...you wouldn't have heard me ten seconds ago.....soundproof floors, you know....."

"....oh right, yeah....soundproof floors....."

I got up to the landing to find Rachael scratching the middle of her forehead and a little kid, who was so obviously a relation of hers (you could tell by the hair), standing near the window seat with a black coloured cloak dotted with silver stars draped around him.

This must be Jonah.

Jonah doing the invisible cloak thing. I went through the invisible cloak thing when I was seven. You know that stage where you think a piece of clothing makes you instantly invisible to veryone around you? It's kinda fun until you grow out of it and realise everyone was just humouring you, all the while thinking what planet of freak you'd come from.
I just maintain that the invisible cloak thing was better than Tay's naked cowboy thing. Now that was Planet Freak material.


"....you know----what's on your forehead......?"

"What? Nothing!" she said tersely, with her hand roaming over her forehead.

"....come on.....there's something on your forehead....what is it.....?" I grinned, grabbing her forearm and trying to yank it away from her head.

Now if it's one thing I'm known for, it's my brute strength. I am the reigning champion of arm wrestling. I have biceps like you would not believe.

But Rachael. I couldn't budge that arm.

Well, if you don't succeed, try, try, try again.

I wrestled her to the bed, with her letting out shrieks all the way.

Ow. A knee to the balls. That's always got to hurt.

".....yeeowww, WHAT WAS THAT FOR.......?!"

"....for trying to move my hand, that's what......"

"HA!" I pointed at her head.

"....'HA!' what.....?"

"...'HA!' I saw what you were hiding.....that is one huge zit....."

".....that's IT.....get out.....!!" she yelled and pointed at the door. I was surprised sparks didn't fly out of her finger or fire wasn't breathed from her flaring nostrils.

".....but I just got here....!"

"....and you can just leave.....!" she sneered, putting her hands on her hips. The large zit burned angrily on her forehead.

"......fine, but it's only because that zit looks like it's gonna squirt pus at a high velocity towards my head....."

".....GET OUT.....!!"

 

I exchanged a sympathetic look with Jonah The Invisible before shrinking down the stairs.

Geez, now I was going to have to wait on the curb for someone to pick me up.

 

 

(CUT TO THE HANSON HOUSE)

 

 

"....Taylor.....Anna.......where are you two.......?" mom called from the doorway of the girls' room ".....oh.....there you are....getting a lot of work done I see....."

We poked out heads out from under the bed sheet sheepishly.

"....hi mom....."

"....hi Mrs Hanson...."

".....come on......you can muck around once the beds are made....."

We attempted to get off the bed, but we were so entangled in the sheet set that after a moment of unsuccessful attempts at extricating ourselves, it unravelled us on to the floor with a thump.

"....ouch...." Anna rubbed her head.

Mom covered her mouth, her shoulders shaking with laughter as she walked out of the room.

"....maybe we should make the bed now...." I suggested, removing myself from the floor.

"....yes, no more funny business from you mister....." Anna shook her finger at me.

"....me....?! You're the one that started it if I do recall.....!"

"....I think not....." she said primly, smoothing the edge of the sheet in her fingers "...now take that end...."

I picked up the opposite end of the sheet and we flicked it up in the air so that the middle billowed as we set it down on the bed. This was where we came into trouble last time (since we ended up diving under it).

But this time it settled down on the mattress uneventfully. Anna smoothed the top of it and then crossed to the other side of the bed to tuck in the excess under the mattress. I followed her lead and started to tuck in my side. Except there was something under there. Something rustly.....maybe a hidden stash of money left over from the last people who rented it? The Last Will and Testament of Clint Eastwood? Oh wait. He's still alive, isn't he?

Oh. Envelopes.

"....what are these....?" I pulled the five large envelopes out from the gap between the bedframe and mattress. The things you find when you get around to making your bed (or Anna's bed, in this case).

"....uh......er....."

"....are these college applications....?"

".....not applications - offers, or denials......I don't know yet...haven't opened them....." she stared at the envelopes as if they were sent specifically to be the death of her. But I knew for a fact the Unabomber was now in state custody.

"....you're kidding me.......Anna, it's a quarter of the way through vacation and you haven't accepted an offer....?!"

She waved her hand nonchalantly "....plenty of time....."

".....you've only got a month and a half.....!"

".....Taylor, I'll make a decision, okay.....? Just let me do it in my own time.....it's not likely they'll send me away because I made an official acceptance a little late...."

I sorted through the five envelopes, looking at the college crests on the front of their wrinkled and unopened covers.

Yale. Harvard. UCLA. Oral Roberts. Seton Hill.

"...Seton Hill....?" I giggled.

"....what's wrong with Seton Hill....?"

".....it's Seton Hill....." I gestured "....another three years of all-girls education....?"

She scowled at me.

"...I thought you said you weren't applying to Harvard...." I looked back and forth between the envelope and Anna.

"....there's a letter from Harvard.....?!" she looked genuinely surprised.

"....right here...." I waved the envelope in front of her face.

"....I didn't apply to Harvard....." she said with a suspicious look on her face "....that damn Sister Perpetua.....!!"

".....what.....?"

"....my principal......she must have sent in an application for me....she must have copied my essay......" she shook her head in wonder.

".....why in the hell would she do that.....?"

".....because she had some stupid idea in her head that I'd do law at Harvard....and.....my mother.....she had a hand in this I'm sure....." she threw a retinal dagger at the wall.

"....can I open them.....?"

She pondered them for a minute, then sat opposite me on the floor indian-style.

"...okay..." she breathed in deeply.

I pulled out the Seton Hill one first and slid my finger under the opening flap, ripping the paper.

Dear Ms McLaren, I read silently We are pleased to inform you your application for the undergraduate degree of Advanced Pure Mathematics has been accepted.....

"...Advanced Pure Math....?" I snorted "....are you on a suicide mission or something....?"

".....unfortunately we're not all waffling literature junkies....." she smirked at me, before gesturing with her hands expectantly "....so......?"

"....An, you got in....."

I rolled my eyes. What a surprise.

I looked down at the remaining envelopes.

Eenie, meenie, miny, mo........UCLA.

"....okay...." I stuck my tongue out, ripping it open.

To Ms Annesley McLaren, Your application for the double undergraduate degree in Pure Mathematics and Civil Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles Campus has been accepted. Congratulations........'

She looked at me. I nodded.

She broke out in a smile "....UCLA, right.....?"

"....mmhm......" I nodded again.

Okay. Yale this time.

'To Ms A. Yamamoto McLaren, Congratulations. Your application to the undergraduate program in civil engineering and physical science for the school year beginning September 1999 has been accepted......'

"....Yale.....?"

"....yeah, them too....." I nodded.

I held up the two remaining envelopes. Oral Roberts and Harvard.

She pointed at Oral Roberts. I slit open the top. Okay. I was just going to read these aloud.

"......Dear Ms Yamamoto McLaren.....We are happy to inform you of your successful application to the undergraduate degree of civil engineering and mathematics at the Oral Roberts University....."

She nodded and then stared at the other envelope on the floor.

"....want me to open it....?"

"....why not.....?" she shrugged.

".....To Ms Annesley Yamamoto McLaren......The Board of Applications is pleased to extend an offer of a reserved place in our law school for undergraduate students. As you know, only a select amount of students are privy to this program which on the basis of high school GPA reserves a place for the student in the Master of Laws program after the completion of an undergraduate degree (regardless of tertiary scores). Once again, congratulations, and we hope to see you in the coming school year...........wow......."

"....wow indeed...." Anna mumbled.

 

TAYLOR

(CUT TO A FEW HOURS LATER)

 

 

A sharp brass jazz sound wafted downstairs to the living room where Georgie and I were squished into the big blue bean bag watching repeats of Animaniacs. Well, I was watching them, Georgie was more interested in chewing on her hand and dribbling on her little pink t-shirt.

".....who's that, George......?" I looked at her rosy face with wide eyes and my mouth in an 'o'. It's funny how when you're with little kids you feel the need to exaggerate your facial expressions like you were a professional mimist "....why don't we go investigate, huh.....?"

I put my arm safely around her middle, holding her to me as I pushed myself up out of the chair.

We arrived upstairs to find Anna playing her trumpet with the five envelopes spread out over the floorwhere she was playing. Hm. Do I really want to know?

"....you haven't played for ages...." I said as she separated her lips from the valve.

"....I know, I'm a little rusty....." she tapped her fingers on the keys randomly, looking at the shiny trumpet with dull frustration.

".....can I ask why exactly the envelopes are all over the floor.....?"

"....well, I figured the way to choose is to go to whichever college that the first drip from the rim falls on......" she shrugged happily.

"....riiiiight......"

"....oh, and you have a better idea.....?" she put her hand and trumpet on her hips.

".....well, you might want to choose a college you actually want to go to....."

"....Taylor, the point is that I want to go to all of them, but since that's not humanly possible I'm doing the drip thing....."

"....well, George and I 'll leave you to it then......"

"....okay....." she nodded and brought the trumpet back to her lips again.

 

(CUT TO A MINUTE LATER)

 

Danny Boy rang forth before she appeared down stairs clutching an envelope and a pained expression.

"....Harvard....." she muttered, flopping down on the sofa and showing me the crested envelope with the large damp drop on its cover.

I chuckled ".....Murphy's Law strikes again....."

"....what.....?"

"....Murphy's Law....you know, when you drop a piece of buttered bread, it'll always land on the floor the buttered side down....."

"....and that is relevant to this situation how....?"

"....the place you least wanted to go was the one the spit fell on.....it's Murphy's Law....."

"....yeah, well.....Murphy's Law is a pain in the ass...." she scowled.

 

 

(CUT TO LATER THAT NIGHT)

 

Taylor and I were wandering aimlessly through the well-stocked shelves of the local Blockbuster. We'd given up trying to control or indeed track the movements of Avie, Jessica and Mackie who were running rampant through the store and causing organised chaos. At least Zoe's little legs were too short for her to make her escape unnoticed and Georgie was basically unable to do much aside from trying to stick her fingers alternately in my mouth, Taylor's mouth and her own.

"...you have some pumpkin drool on you...."

"....I love when people point that kind of thing out to you.....they never say 'I'll just wipe that pumpkin drool off your shirt', they just diffuse responsibility....."

".....well, I'm not touching it, it's gross....."

"....its called a kleenex....."

".....you know however much they claim the new kleenex are thicker and softer, I know that pumpkin drool will seep right through it....."

"....don't bother your little head, I'll clean it myself....meanwhile, I hope she drools her creamed corn on you......"

He looked warily at Georgie who smiled happily and shoved her tiny fist in his mouth.

".....great....so what movie we getting......?"

I shrugged, craning my neck to look at my pumpkin-drooled-over shoulder.

".....why is it at home you always have a list of movies you want to get, but the second you walk into Blockbuster your mind is erased of all movie related memory.....?" he muttered.

".....I know....." I tentatively touched the still slightly damp orange patch on my shirt "......what about this....?" I picked up the first movie on the shelf.

"...Wild America...?"

"....uh.....yeah......"

"....you like Jonathan Taylor Thomas....?"

I went with it. I can't say I've ever seen Wild America, nor felt the need to see it, but after half an hour of aimless wandering, I was getting desperate.

I shrugged "...I'm always partial to someone with a Taylor in their name..."

"....as flattered as I am, I'm not enduring bad acting for...." he peered at the case ".....93 minutes....."

"....well what does The Second Coming of Leonard Maltin want to see tonight then.....?"

"....something good...."

"....would you like to define good.....?"

".....something with girls......cars.......and a bit of terrorist action....."

".....I'd maybe suggest a Bond movie....."

"....you read my mind, gorgeous...."

".....no, I read that other organ that you think with more than your brain...."

He made a mock gasp "....really, Anna.... in front of the children....!"

"....you know you love it...." I winked at him as he slid his hand into the back pocket of my cord pants. It was rather uncomfortable shuffling over to the Action section with Taylor's hand in my backpocket and each of us holding a small human bag of potatoes, but we managed it somehow and selected Octopussy. I always like a movie in which an octopus attaches its tentacles to someone's face.

"....we've got ours....!!"

Aha. The prodigal children return.

'The Lion King'. Well, that was a surprise. Not an entirely bad surprise either. I'm a sucker for animated films. I actually go an see them in the cinema without the accompanying guise of a five year old cousin. That's probably because I don't have a five year old cousin. Or any cousins to my knowledge.

And 'Sixteen Candles'. As if the world needed that movie (as if the world needed Molly Ringwald). Hm. I can already hear the backlash if I voiced that opinion aloud. What is it with girls and 'Sixteen Candles'? The characters have less depth than an inflatable plastic baby pool, and (oh, the shock of it all) the girl gets the guy she always dreamt of. If the script couldn't possibly get worse, it had to be directed in the 80's, which as everyone knows is an era we'd all rather erase from our memories, by a man who went on to give the world 'Home Alone' and Macauley Culkin.

"....okay, time to go...."

We herded them all to the counter.

I swear counters are the stuff of mothers nightmares. A perfectly peaceful child could throw a tantrum at a counter. Why? Large amounts of attractively packaged candy and large amounts of already annoyed people (they're in a queue, people in queues are generally frustrated [not sexually, just in general, although it could depend on what you were hiring]).

"....oh Tay, can't we get some popcorn...."

"....we've got popcorn at home...."

"...but I want that popcorn....."

"....we don't need that popcorn, it tastes exactly the same as the stuff at home....."

"....but Taaaaaaay......"

Oh no. Don't turn on me.

"....Annaaaa, can't we get some popcorn....?"

".....sorry, speak to the one with the wallet...." I fondled Taylor's wallet chain ".....whatever he says goes....."

"....what about ice cream....we need ice cream...."

".....we don't need ice cream...!! We've got ice cream at home too.....!!"

"...but not that ice cream...."

"...it's Blockbuster ice cream, how good can it be....?!"

"....I wan' that....." Zoe pointed at a box of maltesers. Hm. She has good taste.

I can't ask him to get those. It'll open the floodgates for other candy-related purchases (and probably 'Why does she get whatever she wants?' comments from Jessica).

"....sorry, Zoe.... we've got stuff at home I think....."

There goes the quivering bottom lip - a 4 on the Richter Scale. A quick escape is in order here.

"....we'll just go to the car, I think...." I whispered in Taylor's ear, glancing at him quickly. His eyes were large and full of fear as he nodded.

 

Oh, the horror.

 

 

(CUT TO EVEN LATER THAT NIGHT)

 

 

There are some times that I like the Big Blue Bean Bag.

I don't like it when I have to get up in a hurry since I'm not really all that comfortable with furniture that has all the qualities of jungle quicksand (or so I've picked up from Indiana Jones movies).

I do like it when Anna and I are swallowed by its folds with a bowl of buttered popcorn.

"....what is that.....?"

Anna started fiddling around in my various pockets.

"....what is what....?" I asked five pockets later.

"......do you carry electrodes on you.....?"

"....electrodes....? Well, can't say I do.....no......" I replied dryly.

Where exactly was this leading? For the.....actually, I've lost count how many times I've been absolutely clueless when it comes to the workings of Anna's mind.

"....are you sure about that.....?" she questioned. Was she serious? I could never tell with her.

"....definitely sure that I'm not sure....." I joked and Anna snorted "....can I ask why....?"

"....I'm trying to find a logical, scientific explanation for the feeling I experience when you do---" she grasped my hand and placed it on her stomach "---that..."

"....that is scientifically unexplainable......just like that feeling you get when I do this...." I kissed her lingeringly on the lips.

"....ah, I see...."

"....hey, you two...down the front...." a voice hissed.

A malteser hit me in the side of the head.

".....HEY....what was that for.....?!"

".....do you mind keeping it down and keeping it clean...." Zac whispered loudly at us, I'm sure pretty pleased with himself that his aim with snack food projectiles was as good as ever.

Ike, Zac and I used to just go to movies to throw small, hard candy at the couples. It was probably one of our favourite pastimes as juvenile delinquents of Tulsa.

Oh, how the tables had turned.

I tossed a piece of popcorn back in his direction. It landed about two metres short of its target. Damn popcorn and its poor aerodynamic design.

Zac fell off the couch laughing. Well, that's what I assume he did since I heard a loud laugh and then the thump of something hitting the rug.

".....can you guys shut up.....now we have to rewind it.....!"

"....rewind it....?! You know what happens, Nala and Simba chase each other through the jungle....you even know the dialogue off by heart, for Christ's---"

"----Taylor...." mom said warningly.

"....I was going to say Christmas.....'for Christmases sake', that's what I was saying....."

"....'for Christmases sake'.....? What in the hell does that mean....?" Zac sniggered.

"....oh wait......here it is......"

We have this thing. A family thing. Yeah, one of those. Whenever we watch The Lion King we all have to sing 'In The Jungle' at the top of our lungs when Timon and Pumbaa do.

And this was that time.

 

".....oooohhhwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiumumawayyyyyyyyy...........weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiieeeeeeeiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiumumaway.......in the jungle, the mighty jungle the lion sleeps tonight.......in the jungle the mighty jungle the lion sleeps tonight......hey hey.......OOOOOHHHHHWEEEEEEEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEIIIIIIIIUMUMAWAY............"

 

I put down our incredibly bad rendition of the song to the fact that we aren't trying.
Even though I know that if we tried to try, it would still sound as though someone was murdering a cat with a chain saw.


 

 

(CUT TO THE NIGHT AFTER)

 

 

".....we've got the house to ourselves tonight....." I winked at Anna suggestively, encircling her waist with my arms.

She smelt like chlorine. I was actually getting to like the smell of that particular corrosive chemical.

".....what, you mean your parents are going out....?"

"....no, I mean everyone's going out...."

"....how on earth did you manage that....?"

"....I don't really know actually...." I pondered the situation for a minute ".....I actually think they forgot about us..."

".....and strangely enough I'm not offended in the least...."

"....hm...neither am I...." I nibbled on her ear lobe. Not for the first time was I thankful that Anna had no mulitple ear piercings like that last ex-girlfriend of mine. After that painful and rather bloody experience, I chose (rather than getting my retainer removed or to stop nibbling on girls earlobes) to only date people who were anti-ear jewellery.

"....before we start anything we can't finish, can we get something to eat....I'm ravenous...."

"....ravenous....?"

"....yes....."

"....well, I could make us something to eat...." I said cautiously, reminding myself that the only 'something' I could make that was digestable was canned spaghetti on toast. And I usually managed to burn the toast.

"...okay, well what's say I have a shower and then I'll join you downstairs for dinner....?"

".....suuure....."

 

(CUT TO FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER)

 

"....canned spaghetti on toa.....is this toast burnt.....?"

"....no....." I paused "...it's charred.....it's a delicacy in France....."

"....is it now....?"

"....toast du charre`....." I inspected my own portion cheerily. It looked like someone had vomited a bad breakfast on a plate. I was hoping it wouldn't taste that bad though. Heh. I wouldn't be surprised.

She laughed "....right....."

She poked the mound cautiously with her fork as though it was going to recoil and attack.

"....just making sure it's dead....." she smiled at me innocently.

 

 

(CUT TO THE NEXT MORNING)

 

 

"....HEY ANNA.....THERE'S SOMEONE AT THE DOOR FOR YOU......!" Zac hollered from, I assume, the front door. Unless the visitor in question had arrived through the window, but then again he/she probably wouldn't be announcing their arrival to Zac, but rather heading straight for the valuables.

".....COMING.....!" I called back detaching my lips from the trumpet valve. I glanced in the mirror, flattening my hair. Well. I had to look good for my public.

Wow. My lips were as big as an inflatable life raft. It's funny that when you get what you want, you always tend to end up looking like an idiot. I'll never wish for Zac's lips again.

I took the stairs five at a time, except for the last four which I stumbled down having gained a little too much momentum. I landed on the tiled floor awkwardly, realising my trumpet was still in my hand.

"....finally.....what were you doing up there? Milking a herd of cows....?"

"....of course, I pasteurised the milk too.....can't have any bacteria lurking around in our dairy products, can we now.....?"

Zac grinned and nodded his head towards the little person in the doorway.

I hadn't seen this kid in my life before, because I surely would have remembered her if I'd seen her before. She was about 8, had the hugest translucent blue eyes of any child on this earth and straight light brown hair to her shoulders. She seemed amazingly fragile and tough all at once. She looked like an elfin child, something that Enid Blyton wrote about along with Moon Faces and Magic Faraway Trees.

I bent down smiling. I felt like Gulliver beside a Lilliputian.

".....hi......"

".....hi......." the little kid searched my face cautiously before sticking out her hand ".....I'm Israel.......most people call me Ray though, 'cept for dad and mom...."

Israel. Israel. I could hear my mind bubbling over. A bubble popped.

".....Israel McLaren.....?" I said tentatively.

"....yep.....we're sisters....."

"....so we are....." I broke out into a grin ".....how on Earth did you get here? You didn't hitchhike did you, because your dad wouldn't be too hap----"

"---our dad, you mean....."

I laughed softly "....yeah, our dad....."

".....I didn't hitchhike, I walked, we only live two blocks from here....."

".....how did you find out where----"

"----well, dad told us about you and then I was listening to him and mom talk last night and he said you were staying with the Hansons and then I kind of looked in his files and stuff, but don't tell him I did that...."

"....ah, your secret's safe with me....."

"...so....you don't look like me at all....."

"....my mom was Japanese...."

"....cool.....so is this where you live....?"

"....yep....want to come inside.....?"

"...sure...."

 

(CUT TO HALF AN HOUR LATER)

 

".....hey An......"

Taylor rolled over the backrest of the sofa, landing upside down with his legs hanging over the backrest and his head on the seat. His face was slowly getting redder with all the blood rushing to it. He pushed himself up, his legs still dangling over the back of the seat and kissed me.

".....uh.....Taylor, this is my sister....Ray......"

"...your sister....?" he yelped, turning the right way up with some difficulty.

"....that's what I said dearest...."

He straightened his shirt and held out his hand "....hi, I'm Taylor....."

"....hel---" Israel flushed a bright pink, and choked on her greeting. Oh dear. The dreaded Taylor effect.

"....so I was thinking, what if we go to The Elephant Walk tonight....?" he yawned and dropped his arm lazily around my shoulder.

The Elephant Walk was now christened out favourite hangout. It was this coffee house which was made like the inside of turn-of-the-century train carriages. It was made of these consecutive little rooms which were all fitted out with these old-fashioned bench seats. It was really dingy, but that was what probably made it so appealing.

".....sure......I'll call Sass and Jesse....what about----"

"----no Harper.....I need a week to recover every time I see her......"

"....okay....fine......" I conceded ".....maybe we can drop Ray home on our way then.....?"

".....sure, whatever....."

"....uh.......I can......my brother.......Zeke......will pick me up......" she choked. The pink had turned to blotchy red and white.

".....Zeke? I have another brother.....?"

"......there's only Zeke......."

"....what about Jordan.....?"

".....that is Zeke.....dad and mom call him Jordan, but everyone else calls him Zeke 'cause his middle name is Ezekiel...."

".....I see.....he's doing a Taylor then.....?"

"....huh.....?" she blushed again, glancing at Taylor who was chewing on a piece of his hair meditatively.

".....the middle name thing, I never did get it....."

 

(CUT TO FIVE MINUTES LATER)

 

...ding dong.....

 

"....Avon calling....." Taylor snickered.

I rolled my eyes and Israel turned red. Again.

We all sat motionless on the sofa, staring at each other.

 

.....ding dong......ding dong......

 

The door. Yes. We might want to get that.

I stood up and strode to the door, glancing at my reflection in the mirror for only the first time that day.
Oh, I wasn't really wearing that was I? Emerald green pants and a canary yellow top that appeared as though I'd swiped it from the back of a Danish milkwoman or something - so embroidered and peasant-like was it.


I opened the door.

The boy gaped for a moment.

".....and who do we have here.....?" he drawled in a private school voice, the sexual innuendo dripping from his lips.

".....I'm Anna......your step-sister......." I added with a smile.

".....and I'm Taylor, her boyfriend....." Taylor came from behind, slipping his arms protectively around my waist. He leant his chin on my shoulder and eyed Jordan (excuse me.....Zeke) warily.

Was it just me or did he look more crest-fallen at the 'step-sister' than at the 'boyfriend' revelation?

".....right......I just came to pick up......Ray----" his voice brightened as Israel slipped out from behind Taylor and I "---you know we were about to get a search party organised to track you down......"

"......yeah, well....." she cringed, looking guilty "....I just wanted to meet Anna....."

"......you could have written a note, you know, maybe a 'hi everyone, I'm just going to meet Anna. Be back soon'....."

".....okay, okay, I'll remember next time....."

They bantered like Isaac and Taylor and Zac did. Like they'd known each other before life on earth. Perhaps that's a free gift given to those who share a womb.
I think I was the first and last to ever take up residence in my mother's womb and from the birth records, even I couldn't wait to get out of there fast enough.
It must have been fairly shocking accommodation, that's all I can say. I bet the decor was beige floral print - with a cream shagpile.


".....well......"

".....well....."

".....I guess we should be going....."

"....it was nice meeting you both...." I offered hastily. Taylor was still giving off hostile vibes.

"....you'll come and see us sometime, right.....?" Israel looked across at me hopefully.

"....sometime? You won't be able to get rid of me......"

She broke out in a grin "....cool......"

"....bye......"

"....bye......"

 

Taylor and I retreated back into the house.

".....I don't like that guy......" Taylor muttered.

".....why? Your manhood threatened......?"

".....My manhood? Threatened? Ha! I could beat him to a pulp!"

".....sure you could, honey......but I don't need you to beat my step-brother to a pulp, I prefer to have relationships with people I don't share family bonds with......"

"....well....." he mused "....if ever the need arises, just know that I could beat him to a pulp....you know....if I had to......"

".....I'll make a mental note of it......"