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“Meg? Are you asleep?”
I kept my eyes closed while I pondered my answer. If I said “Yes,” would my husband, Michael, understand that I was only expressing how much my sleep-deprived body craved a few minutes of oblivion?
No, I’d probably just sound cranky. I felt cranky. Most women occasionally do when they’re eight-and-a-half months pregnant, especially with twins. Any woman who says otherwise has obviously never been pregnant.
“I’m thinking about it.” I opened one eye and saw Michael’s tall, lean frame silhouetted in the bedroom doorway. He was holding a small brown paper bag in one hand. “If that bag contains chocolate, then I’m definitely not asleep.”
“Chocolate chip cookies from Geraldine’s,” Michael said, shaking the bag enticingly.
“Okay, I’m awake,” I said. “It’s not as if Heckle and Jeckle were going to let me get any sleep anyway.”
I began the laborious process of hauling myself upright. Michael cleared some junk off the little folding table by my side of the bed, produced a plate from somewhere, poured half a dozen enormous soft chocolate chip cookies onto it, and placed a large glass of cold milk beside it. Then he pulled the curtains open, revealing that it was still fairly early in the morning, and a dreary gray winter morning at that.
“At times like this, I’m particularly glad I married you,” I said, reaching for a cookie. “So what’s the reason for this bribe?”
“There has to be a reason?” He snagged a cookie for himself and pulled a chair up to the other side of the table.
“As busy as you usually are in December grading exams and reading term papers and all that other end-of-semester stuff faculty have to do at the college, you still went all the way to Geraldine’s for cookies?”
“Okay, there’s a reason.” He paused, then frowned as if puzzled. I took a big bite of cookie and washed it down with a swig of milk, to brace myself. Michael was rarely at a loss for words, so what ever he wanted to say must be momentous.
“Is it okay if we have another house guest?” he finally asked. He sounded so anxious that I looked up in surprise.
“Is that all?” I said through a mouthful of cookie. His face relaxed into something more like its usual calm good humor. “Michael, I haven’t the slightest idea how many house guests we have already. There’s Rob—”
“Your brother’s not exactly a house guest,” Michael put in. “After two years, I think he qualifies as a resident.”
“And Cousin Rose Noire—”
“Also more like a resident, unless you’ve changed your mind about accepting her offer to stay on and help us through that difficult adjustment to having the twins around.”
“Right now, I have no objection if she stays on long enough to help us through the difficult adjustment to sending them off to college.” I reached for a second cookie. “But there’s still my grandfather, and of course all those displaced drama department students filling up the spare rooms and camping out in the living room. How many of them do we have, anyway?”
He frowned again.
“Maybe a dozen?” he said. “Or a dozen and a half?”
“Seems like more,” I said. “There are at least a dozen sleeping in the living room.”
“Two dozen, then,” he said. Still probably a conservative estimate. “More or less. And before you ask, I have no idea how much longer they’ll be here. Last time I heard, some critical piece of equipment down at the college heating plant was still in a million pieces on the floor, and the dean of facilities was running around with a harried look on his face and a bottle of Tums in his pocket.”
I heard a series of thuds and thumps in the hallway. A month ago I’d have gone running to see what was happening, or at least sent Michael to check. Our weeks of living with students underfoot had made us blasé about such noises.
“You’d think a big place like Caerphilly College could figure out how to get a boiler repaired,” I said. “It’s been—what, three weeks now?”
“Three weeks tomorrow.” Michael took another cookie. “Not that I’m counting or anything. Meanwhile, the whole campus is still without heat. And from the temperatures the weatherman is predicting next week, you’d think we lived in Antarctica instead of Virginia.”
“Which means the students stay for the foreseeable future,” I said. “And since the Caerphilly Inn is also full to overflowing with displaced students, and Grandfather can’t get the suite he usually stays in when he comes to town, we’re stuck with him, too. With all that going on, what’s one more person?”
“You’re a trouper,” Michael said, with a smile that could have convinced me to invite the entire freshman class to move in.
I heard the crash of something breaking downstairs in the hall. I winced out of habit, even though I knew nearly everything of ours that the students could possibly have broken had long ago been locked up in the basement or the attic. By the time I got downstairs, the student would have picked up the broken object, what ever it was, and Rose Noire would probably have washed, waxed, and polished the patch of floor on which it had fallen.
“So who’s our newest house guest?” I asked.
“Remember Ramon Soto?” he asked. “One of my grad students?”
“The one who’s been holding his play rehearsals in our library? Yes. I thought he was already living here.”
“He is. As is most of his cast. Makes it convenient. Anyway, the play’s part of his dissertation project. He’s doing it on Ignacio Mendoza, the Spanish playwright.”
Was Mendoza someone famous? The Spanish equivalent of Shakespeare, or Shaw, or at least Neil Simon? The name didn’t sound familiar, but one side effect of pregnancy, at least for me, was that my hormone-enriched brain temporarily jettisoned every single bit of information it didn’t think was useful in my present situation. At least I hoped it was temporary.
“Ignacio Mendoza?” I said aloud. “Is that a name I should recognize?”
“Not unless you’re a fan of obscure mid-twentieth-century Spanish playwrights,” Michael said. He finished his cookie and moved to sit on the foot of the bed. “For Ramon’s dissertation project, in addition to the critical study on Mendoza, he’s done a new translation of one of Mendoza’s plays and is directing it. And one thing he discovered while doing his research is that, to everyone’s amazement, Mendoza is still alive.”
“Because most people thought Generalissimo Franco had Mendoza shot back in the fifties.” He picked up my right foot and began massaging it.
I closed my eyes, the better to enjoy the foot rub. Carrying around an extra fifty or more pounds does a number on your arches.
“Apparently he just went to ground in Catalonia and kept a low profile for the last sixty years,” Michael added.
“Sixty years?” I echoed. “How old is he, anyway?”
“Nearly ninety. Which is why Ramon thought it was pretty safe to invite him to come to the opening night of the play. He just assumed the old guy would be flattered and send polite regrets. No one ever expected Mendoza to accept—and at the last possible moment. We’ve managed to scrape up some money from the department to pay for his airfare, but even if we had enough to cover a hotel stay—”
“Every single hotel room in town is full of refugee students,” I said. “Plus every spare room in just about every private house. I’d have thought we were pretty full ourselves.”
“The students are going to rearrange themselves to free up a room,” Michael said.
Aha. That probably explained the earlier thumps and thuds, along with the dragging noises I could hear out in the hall. Michael switched to my left foot.
“We’re also going to swap a few of our drama students who aren’t in the play for a few more Spanish-speaking students,” he went on. “That way there will always be someone around to translate for Señor Mendoza. And the students will chauffeur him around and cook for him or take him out to eat—in fact, your grandfather’s promised to help as well. And if he’s in his eighties, how much trouble can Señor Mendoza be?”
I thought of pointing out that even though my grandfather was over ninety, he regularly stirred up quite a lot of trouble. Of course, trouble was a way of life for Dr. Montgomery Blake, world famous zoologist, gadfly environmentalist, and animal-welfare activist. Why was Grandfather offering to help entertain our guest, anyway? Did he consider the elderly playwright a kind of endangered species?
But I had to admit, Michael had done everything possible to make sure our potential house guest wouldn’t cause me any work or stress.
“So it’s really all right if we host Señor Mendoza?” he asked.
“It’s fine. The more the merrier. Wait a minute—the play opens Friday and it’s already Wednesday. How soon is he arriving?”
Michael glanced at his watch.
“In about half an hour.”
Excerpted from Stork Raving Mad by Donna Andrews.
Copyright 2010 by Donna Andrews.
Published in 2010 by Minotaur Books.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.