Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Little (Vegan) Cheese with that Whine?

Did I sound whiny before? I apologize. I know -- believe me -- that there are many, many people with much worse situations than mine. I am ashamed of myself. I guess that part of the function of this blog is to write what I feel -- but that doesn't mean I don't need any filter at all. I'm grateful and blessed that one way or another there is an end in sight for my knee issues. I am likely to have more knee function than I've had for over thirty years, which would be amazing. So I just need to suck it up and do what needs to be done.

Along those lines, I've dropped off both release forms at the appropriate doctors. If the orthopedist nurse has not called me by Monday, I'm going to call her. I THINK that as soon as she gets the forms we can schedule the surgery, so I'm eager for that to happen.

And now, without further ado, here is chapter six of Caroline...

Dinner was a typically chaotic Brennan family affair. If Kael wasn’t loudly complaining about his work schedule he was going on and on about a canoe trip in the Everglades that he was planning with a couple of friends. Donny was teasing his parents to take him to Disney World. Mr. Brennan chattered on about the softball league he belonged to and Dr. Brennan tried to engage Alex by asking him about his family, where he lived in New York, what his interests were. In the middle of all of this Barkley began sounding his “I’ve got an animal cornered” bark. 

“I’ll go,” Caroline quickly volunteered, happy for an excuse to get away from all the noise. Sure enough, Barkley had discovered a gopher tortoise in a corner by the back door to the clinic. Mrs. Anderson, Caroline’s calico cat, looked down on the scene from the roof, her tail flicking rapidly. The tortoise wasn’t moving of course, and had retreated as far into its shell as it possibly could. Barkley was elated, even if his discovery wasn’t doing much. Besides, he got most of his enjoyment out of barking and jumping and seeing if he could make one of his people come to check to see what the fuss was all about.

After assuring Barkley that he was indeed the smartest, handsomest, cleverest, and bravest dog in the history of Bonita Key Caroline found an empty milk crate in the garage and placed the tortoise inside. After dinner she’d get Alex to walk over to the dunes area with her and they’d release it.

By the time she got back into the house, dinner was almost over. “What did Barkley find?” asked Donny through a mouthful of garlic bread. 

“A gopher,” said Caroline. “I’ll walk it down to the dunes in a bit.”

“A gopher?” Alex looked confused. “Like…a groundhog?”

Mr. Brennan explained. “A gopher is what people around here call gopher tortoises. My grandmother called ‘em ‘scrub chickens’ because her family would catch them and eat them, but it’s illegal to do that now. They make burrows in sandy dunes areas, mostly just down the street, and occasionally one will make a wrong turn and end up in Barkley territory. Barkley wouldn’t do much damage to it but we always rescue the poor things and take them back where they came from.”

It was Donny’s turn to clear the table and Kael’s to wash the dishes, so that left Caroline free to run her wildlife rescue mission. Alex insisted on a quick detour to her bedroom so that he could retrieve the letter. He slipped it back underneath his shirt and they were off to save the tortoise. Caroline took Alex around back where she’d stashed the creature. Alex grabbed one side of the milk crate and she took the other and they walked down the block to an undeveloped area of sandy scrubland and dunes. Caroline pointed to a hole in the ground.

“There’s a gopher hole,” she explained. “One gopher will make lots of burrows and other animals live in them, too. A gopher can survive just about anything when he’s in that burrow—even a fire. It never gets too hot or too cold down there. They mostly eat plants—this scrubby looking stuff around here that looks inedible. Okay—we can just leave him here.”

The tortoise sat there after they placed him on the sand, immobile, still tightly encased in his shell. They stood quietly and watched him and eventually he began to poke his nose out a little bit. That was it, though.

“They’re not exactly the most exciting animals in the world,” admitted Caroline. “Hey—did you think about Chris and Cassie at all during supper?”

“Are you kidding? That’s the only thing I thought about. By the way—is your family always that…um…loud?”

Caroline laughed. “Man, they were on their best behavior for you tonight! You should see us when we really get going!”

“I’d like that,” Alex said. “My folks are great and all, but it’s always pretty quiet at our place.”

“So, what is it like to live in a penthouse in New York City?” Caroline asked. At dinner Alex had mentioned that he lived in an apartment—Caroline knew about the penthouse part because of her research online.

“It’s like living anyplace else. Hey wait—how did you know that I live in a penthouse?” Alex asked sharply. Suddenly his expression softened and he laughed. “I guess I live here now so I need to expect everyone to know everything about me.”

“Well, you attacked me,” Caroline defended herself. “I had to know who I was dealing with,” she added sheepishly.

“So what else do you know about me? How do you find this stuff out?” Alex looked interested.

“I went online. There’s a lot of information out there about your parents. Your mother’s really beautiful, by the way—I found a picture of the three of you. You pretty much told us everything else I found out about you—except for the penthouse part, I mean.”

“Do you think we can find out anything online to help us with this mystery of the pictures and the letter?”

Caroline paused for a second, thinking. “I’m not sure. I don’t know how long ago all of this happened. Give me your email address, though, and if I come up with something tonight I’ll let you know right away.”

The sun was setting. In Florida, especially in the summer, when the sun goes down the mosquitoes come out. Caroline swatted her arms a couple of times, smacked Alex once just for fun, and the two of them said good night.

“Come on over after breakfast tomorrow, Alex. We’ll go down to the library and make a copy of the letter and the pictures.” Caroline took the empty crate and headed back home. She wanted to get to her computer to see if she could poke around and find something useful, something that might help them to solve this puzzle. She also wanted to see if there were any emails from Rachel and Hannah. She went into the house and headed for her room.

Caroline grew thoughtful as she closed the door to her bedroom. Something was bothering her about the pictures in the tiny frame. She couldn’t put her finger on what it was, though.

She logged on and sure enough there were emails from the twins. Hannah’s was filled with stories of her aunts and cousins and how much she missed Caroline. Rachel’s was all about how much she missed Kael. Caroline answered them, omitting the story of the photographs and the letter. She wanted to keep that information to herself—or between her and Alex—for the time being. She sat and stared mindlessly at her computer screen. That’s when she saw it.

Find your old college roommate!” the advertisement along the side of the web page read. “Track down that high school sweetheart!” It was a service that promised, for a fee, to help people find old friends and acquaintances using the resources available through the internet. What hit Caroline like a ton of bricks, however, were the faces staring out at her from the web page. A serious young man and a smiling young woman in black and white images with hairstyles right out of the 1980s. Old yearbook pictures.

“Old yearbook pictures,” Caroline said aloud, smacking herself on the side of her head. “That’s what those pictures are—old yearbook photos!” She quickly went to her dresser and took out the tarnished frame. She opened it gently and studied the pictures inside carefully. They were slightly different—Chris’s face was a tiny bit larger than Cassie’s, as if the photograph it had been cut from was a little bit bigger. She carefully pried the pictures out of the frame using the point of a nail file. She turned them over. Like Chris’s photo, Cassie’s had part of another image on the back, and also part of what Caroline assumed was a name:  “—e Dou—.” The type underneath each photograph was slightly different.

“They’ve used a different font,” Caroline thought to herself. “I wonder if they’re from different yearbooks—different years or even different schools.”

Excited, she sat down at her computer to email Alex. She took a moment to add him to her buddy list and as soon as she did he popped up, showing that he was also online.

Hey,” she messaged. “I figured something out about the pictures!

???,” Alex typed. She filled him in with her latest theory.

That’s good,” Alex responded. “What’s on the back of each picture?

On the back of Chris’ picture I can see part of someone’s head and the letters ‘Joa’,” Caroline typed. “And on Cassie’s there’s a letter ‘e’ and then a space and the letters ‘Dou.’ Y? Do u think it might be something important?

Well, the ltrs on the back of Cassie are probably part of a last name. So her last name would start with something close to the beginning of the alphabet – close to the letter D – probably a B, C, D, E, or F, depending on how big her school was. We don’t know if the letters on the back of Chris are a first or a last name, so that’s not quite as helpful. I have a feeling, though, that if we track down one of these people we’re going to be able to find the other.

Caroline typed a smiley face: “ :-D

ttyl,” Alex responded. Talk to you later.

Caroline signed off and went downstairs. Her parents were in the family room. Mr. Brennan was watching television and Dr. Brennan was reading a veterinary journal.

“Mom, do you have any of your old high school yearbooks?” Caroline asked.

“Sure, honey. Bottom shelf of the bookcase in my room.” Dr. Brennan was too engrossed in her journal to wonder why Caroline would want an old yearbook.

Caroline’s mother had gone to high school in Seminole, a small town near St. Petersburg. “The Home of the Fighting Warhawks!” was embossed on the front of the book. Caroline opened its pages. The pictures in her mother’s book were larger than those in the frame, but they had the same look, the boys and girls had similar poses and expressions.

“And similar hair styles,” Caroline realized. “Maybe Cassie and Chris are the same age as my parents!”

Just to be thorough, she quickly skimmed the entire book, looking for photographs the same size as the ones in the frame. There weren’t any – the pictures of the seniors were too big and in color and the ones of everyone else were too small.

“I wonder if they went to school around here. Maybe we can find some old yearbooks at the library tomorrow.” Caroline was getting more excited, determined to find Chris or Cassie or Danny.

She didn’t think it was going to be possible for her to fall asleep that night. So much had happened in twenty-four short hours! It was not a typical summer day on Bonita Key, that’s for sure. She thought again about the letter, about the picture frame, and wondered about the people in the photographs. Had Cassie gone to New York and married Chris? Had he become a famous inventor? Was she an international spy? And the most intriguing question of all: who had hidden the envelope underneath the gazebo…and why?

More later...

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