Another Chapter

Our threat seems to be working. The author is madly filling holes, lest we post them for the world to see. Not at all sure what will happen when we get to the chapters that are nothing but hole. I guess we’ll cross that abyss when we get to it.

LAC 22 Chapter 3

As soon as the vegan rejoined the group, Holly held her cellphone as a reporter would a notepad. Her index finger hovered above it. “Okay, tell me what kind of trees you have.”

We had a Winesap and a Golden Delicious, and Claudia wasted no time telling her so. The professors had gone with pears, and the schoolteacher and the vegan had decided on plums. The copycat massage therapist and yoga instructor brought apples, but at least they were unique in their choice of variety. The artist and the detective informed us that they, too, had a Golden Delicious, and a Granny Smith.

Claudia felt compelled to say, “Only Kate’s tree is allowed to cross-pollinate my tree.”

Laura rolled her eyes. “I’ll put up a sign for the bees.”

Then, Claudia evil-eyed the others. “Kindly keep your pear pollen and your plum pollen to yourselves.”

Susan haughtily shook her head as she held her nose high. “My pollen wants nothing to do with your tree.”

“Chickies,” the madly tapping  artist yelled, “it’s a DWD forest. DWD trees do whatever they want to do, and they help their sisters whether they want it or not.” She dropped her phone to her side and looked at Laura. “Okay, babe, do your thing.”

Her ‘thing’ entailed bear-hugging a tree’s pot and counting footsteps away from the little trees they said they had planted the year before. She did the same with the other nine trees, and eventually, a very elaborate grid of a forest took shape. She had staggered the three-tree rows: pear, pear, apple; apple, apple, apple; apple, apple, plum. A lone plum looked rather dejected in a row all its own.

With perfect timing, Holly informed, “We’ll get a plum tree for the baby as soon as he or she gets here.”

“Speaking of that baby,” Susan said. “Would it be okay if I sat in the wheelbarrow for a few minutes? My feet are killing me today.” After declining Holly’s offer to get her comfy in the house, she said, “I want to be a part of this.” She aimed her butt at the wheelbarrow, and Laura had managed to remove her sweat jacket and place it beneath her before she sat. Laura, I knew, was an expert on a wheelbarrow’s lack of cushioning.

Laura put Susan in charge of supervising the supervisors and then explained to us that they had intended to have all couples plant their trees simultaneously. “However,” she said, “since we need to stall a bit until Thiel gets back, how about, as a group, we do one set at a time?”

No one had any objections, not even the green-eyed one so worried about philandering pollen.

We began up front with the professors’ pear trees. I had never been a fan of pears; they were a bit too granular for me. Nonetheless, I willingly took the shovel Laura handed to me. I had just aimed it at Earth Day’s guest of honor, when Kris said, “I think tree owners should dig their own holes.”

Again, no one had any objections, and the rest of us were tasked with removing the professors’ trees from their pots and shaking the dirt from the root-bound innards.

As common in a Midwestern spring, the ground proved wet and slurpy, making a disgusting sound with each shovelful Ginny and Kris pulled. Eventually, they had two holes and two goopy piles of dirt. They maneuvered their trees into the holes, and Holly moved many yards away and used her artist eyes to gauge their crookedness or lack thereof. Once given the go-ahead, they filled in the holes and then with Laura’s help, they spread out the dirt that remained in their piles.

With mission accomplished, we moved on to the next set, disregarding the apple tree at the end of the row belonging to the AWOL massage therapist. These two belonged to Holly and Laura, and now having a little experience under our belts, we had bare roots in record time, two holes, and two goopy piles. Holly lowered hers in and then had Laura head off to gauge its crookedness. They reversed the procedure after Holly’s Granny Smith was completely planted.

Four down. Six to go.

Again, we skipped the poor little apple tree at the end of the row and aimed for the plum trees belonging to Maggie and Susan. That, however, required the effort of three people to hoist a grunting and laughing Susan out of the wheelbarrow. Claudia and I grasped her underarms while Maggie pushed her back from behind. Detective Overprotective, refusing to allow a pregnant woman to shovel, volunteered to dig the hole for her. Fine and dandy.

I actually did not witness what the hell happened next; I only heard an anguished scream.

Whipping around, I saw Alison just finishing a fall to the ground that I assumed was not some weird-ass yoga pose.

Gasps erupted, and then her name was screeched along with numerous questions about whether she was okay.

With a horribly contorted face, she said, “I twisted my ankle.”

“Oh no!”

“Oh shit!”

“For Pete’s sake!”

We rushed to her.

Wagging her phone, Holly asked, “You want me to call Janice?”

She laughed. “I don’t think I’m dying or anything. It’s just a sprain.” She inhaled sharply. “My goodness, this really hurts.”

Detective Overprotective, of course, sprang into action. “Let’s get you into the house, Tenner. We’ll put it up with an ice pack on it, and then you can decide whether you need to see a doctor.” She walloped me in the gut. “Sutter, help me get her up.”

Hoisting Alison proved far, far easier than Susan and her penthouse suite. Surprise. Surprise. When we set her upright, she hopped on one leg. Then, as ordered, she slung her arm around Laura’s shoulders. She must’ve figured the same as I, that Laura would be her crutch on the journey to the house, because Laura unexpectedly scooping her into her arms shocked her enough that she screamed.

Detective Overprotective aimed for the house with everyone in tow, except for the two I glimpsed behind me. There stood the penthouse landlord staring at the house as though it were two hundred miles away. The vegan worked to assure her that Alison would be well cared for and didn’t require her presence.

“I still need to use the bathroom, though,” Susan said, “and I just want to make sure she’s okay.”

“Well, I’m pretty experienced with this wheelbarrow,” I stupidly boasted. “If you think it’s safe for you to go jostling around—”

“Oh, would you?” she roared and quickly waddled to the wheelbarrow. “I bragged about all the walking I’ve been doing.” She sat down, her legs between the handles, and sighed. “But, it’s getting harder and harder.”

“Just hang onto the sides,” I said with a reassuring smile. “And, Maggie, hang onto her so the whole damn—I mean, darn thing—can’t fall over.”

They took their positions, and as I leaned to seize the handles, Susan’s excited expression, just inches from me, made me a bit nervous. A thousand stupid yet well-meaning things I had done—we had done— ran clumsily through my mind. This could not be another on that long list. Please.

Now, to me, wheelbarrows were amazing contraptions, enabling a wuss such as myself to have superwoman power enough to move, um … let’s say a woman and an entire penthouse suite. At least I hoped so and that I’d neither herniate any part of my being nor spill a chick with child.

After taking a deep breath, I heaved the handles, and once I got past that initial dead-weight thrust, we were toddling right along. See? Amazing.

I went slow and used Susan’s expressions to gauge my competence.

Moments later, we hurried into the house to find them creating a wall in front of the living room’s couch. Alison, I assumed, was stationed on the other side. We stayed by the door, and my busybody got busy trying to determine what the hell was going on.

“Give her room to breathe,” Holly instructed with a flagging hand.

Their parting gave me a glimpse of Alison, seeming so tiny on that couch, her legs rising to make room for the pillow Detective Overprotective readied to shove under her calves.

“I’ll get ice,” Holly said, and what happened next proved completely discombobulating.

Alison rocketed off the couch, nearly bowling over several people. Then, she barreled straight at us. “April Fools!” she shouted, whipping past Susan and me and nearly taking out the vegan. “April Fools!” She whipped open the door, zipped outside, and slammed the door behind her.

That our collective gasp did not suck her right back into the frickin’ house defied the laws of physics.

For a long moment, we gaped at each other.

“What’d she mean ‘April Fools,’ babe?” Receiving no reply, she repeated her question as she marched to the front door. She took her turn to whip open the front door. “Alison, what do you mean ‘April Fools’?”

Whatever Alison’s answer, none of us could hear it, and we stampeded outside behind Holly to get the scoop. Except, the explanation had been delivered before we had a chance to get there.

“She didn’t get hurt, babe,” Holly said, hands on hips, fire in her eyes.

“You didn’t?” Laura challenged, her own eyes wide.

Wildly, Alison shook her head. “April Fools,” she coyly said, obviously a bit fearful in the midst of a mob known for going mental.

“Well, that was a cruel prank!”

Way not funny.”

“Way, way not funny.”

“Alison, how could you?”

Maggie furthered, “Yeah, how could you make a pregnant woman trudge all the way back to the house just to find out it was a prank?”

Although I could have disputed her use of the word “trudge,” I thought she posed a damn good question.

“Um, Maggie,” Alison said, all snooty-like, “I heard her tell you she needed to go to the bathroom. I timed it.”

“So, you’re really not hurt at all?” Ginny wanted to know.

Alison shook her head, which was probably grounds right there for us to go mental, but the little jig she danced to prove it, well, that could’ve easily required the services of a homicide detective, overprotective or not.

“Alison! Of all people!”

Her laughter made it obvious she felt not one iota of guilt. “No, ‘of all people’ you, Claudia!”

Me? What the—”

“And you, Kate.”

Me?” What the hell had I done—other than try to help her and then forklift a non-trudging pregnant woman across a field?

“And you. And you. And you.” She was stabbing her frickin’ index finger all over the frickin’ place. “And you. All of you—with the exception of Susan and Maggie, I guess.”

“You guess?” Susan challenged.

“Wait a minute here,” Ginny said with a referee’s gesture. “Alison, what the heck are you talking about?”

I could not have asked a better question than that English professor did.

Alison rapped herself upside the head. “Oh, let me think. Um… Oh, yeah, I remember.” Her face stretched with a maniacal smile. “Paintball war. Capture the Flag. Claudia pretends to twist her ankle so you guys can sneak into our territory and steal flags while Janice and I help her. Ding dong. Ring a bell?”

Um, yes, it did: a very loud one that vibrated my skull into tiny shards.  

“Ooooo, revenge prank! What a brilliant idea!”

“Yes, it is—as long as we start with Alison.”