“Greta my girl, is that you?” Gretchen smiled into the phone as she leaned against the counter. With Dan, the unexpected was expected. “You are the only person I’d ever let call me Greta Danny Boy. You better not do it again either."
Standing in his own kitchen Dan Parker pictured her winsome smile, big blue eyes and curly blonde hair. “Greta Garbo was a beautiful woman sweets. Not only that she had class and style which are just a few of the reasons she reminds me of you. Speaking of pretty girls, is your sister around perchance?”
“She’s probably translating War and Peace into some unknown foreign language or something fun like that, hang on.” She put the phone on the counter and yelled up the stairs. “Phone call Lana, it's a boy.”
Lana was lying on her bed day-dreaming when she heard her sister's yell echo in her room. She walked into Gretchen’s room to pick up the cordless phone. “I’m right here Gretchen, no need to scream the house down. Hello?”
“Lolly girl, is it really you? I talked to Chelsea, she said you had shoved off for the weekend. I thought you swore you were never going to ride in a motor vehicle with someone like Michelle.” Lana gave the home across from hers a cool green-eyed stare. “As much as I love garlic, my supply of silver bullets was running low. I didn’t have time to sharpen my wooden stakes either. I take it Brad is still being bled dry by your favorite pharmacy student?”
“The puncture wounds on his neck are an undead giveaway. How did you get home if Brad didn’t give you a ride?”
“Simple Danny boy." Her lips curved into a smile. "I rode my broom."
Dan smiled as he twirled his pen between his fingers. His drawing of her home was coming to life. “I like that. I like you Lana my love, even if you won’t go out with me. That must have been a windy ride with Michelle for company. You should have been an airline stewardess like your lovely sister, then you could fly the friendly skies for free, even if it is just home from Madison.” Lana made a face into the phone. “My father is an English professor you know. He could have given me a ride."
"I didn't think so. The reason I called, I have some news for you. Big news. Guess what?" Her smile grew as she hugged a pillow to her chest. "I heard about your big news. Congratulations daddy."
"You impossible little brat, I told Brent mum’s the word." Excitedly Lana looked out the window wishing she could hug Dan and Natalie. "It just so happens you are for once blaming the wrong brother. And I have a little news on my front. Guess who stopped by the jewelry store and picked up a little gold baby ring because he’s sure it’s a girl? It was the moment we’ve all been waiting for Dan; Brad and Michelle at the mall looking at row after row of rings and none of them were for her. It’s a darling ring and of course Brad wouldn’t trust the clerks with anything so precious as a present for his niece." Her voice softened. "He wants you to call her Grace."
"You should hear some of Brent's picks. Not at all what I expected by the way."
"Jill Summerville would be a pretty name for a lovely little girl."
"I can easily top that."
"You just think you can."
"Is that so, how about trying this one on for size? Lana Renee Summerville." The maple tree that grew between her home and the one next door was bare, Lana had already spent the better part of the day looking at Brad's window across the way. But he was out with Michelle. "You do amuse me Daniel, I can't wait until the next family get together where you’re locked in the lions' den with Michelle. I hear cat scratch fever is a most unpleasant illness to recover from."
"At least I’ve had my rabies shot, it is the one and only reason I married into the Summerville family, top notch medical care."
"I’m sure it’s the reason my parents moved next door as well, they’re hoping to get a discount when they both need bypass surgery and a heart transplant." Dan sighed as he sketched a corner of the Summerville’s roof. A bowl of fruit caught his eye. He plucked a shiny red apple from a green bamboo bowl. "Even if Michelle showed up in the cardiac unit needing surgery, Dr. Summerville would have nothing to work on."
Lana’s green eyes flashed as she picked her notebook up. "A brilliant surgeon with the challenge of his career; how to save his son’s heart from an abscessed and cancerous woman. When he opens up her chest cavity he’s going to find a detailed listing of Brad’s assets."
Dan added a single rose to his sketch. "The way Michelle is bleeding him dry it will be a very short list. I don't consider myself a vindictive person and I above all know the Summerville's are just like your family, generous to a fault but I have never been so glad that all you spoiled little rich kids can't lay your nice clean hands on a penny of your trust fund money until you’re thirty-five."
"Brad could have the money until he’s ninety-five and never touch it. You know Dan, maybe it would be nice to see him and Michelle get married. I would love to see Michelle in the grocery store with him."
"I would love to see the expression on her face when she finds out he spends less than ten percent of his income."
"I like how he can figure out the price per ounce on thirty different brands of sardines in his head and remembers which store has the best deal."
"What I really like is how he gets new clothing twice a year: Christmas and his birthday when other people are buying it for him."
Lana smiled at that. If there was one thing she loved about talking to Dan it was the way he slid into sarcasm. "He did spent quite a bit in the bookstore, your daughter will have an abundance of books for mommy and daddy to read before bed."
"How much did you spend in there with him? You and Brad were meant for each other Lana." Her ivory cheeks flamed as she thought about being in the bookstore with Brad. "Every baby needs Beatrix Potter Dan."
The sketch in front of him was coming along nicely. Talking to Lana was inspirational and motivating. "You and Brad would have beautiful children Lana. Natalie and I would watch the kids when you and Brad want to go out with Brent and Gretchen. I predict that you and Brad will have identical twin girls, they'll have green eyes and red hair. Brent and Gretchen will have triplet boys. All three of them will have blonde hair and blue eyes. Natalie and I will adopt a set of mixed twins when we're done having kids of our own. All the cousins will play together, they'll be the best of friends. We can have awesome Parker/Schwartz/Summerville family parties. Jim and Rita will pay for everything, Rita will watch the kids while the parents work. Your parents can make sure the kids get a great education and know their way around the library. We can all go out together on weekends. Think about it before you say anything sweetheart, this is sledding, skiing, we'll go dancing and out to the theater, think about gambling in Vegas with Brad, Brent and Natalie. This is the chance of a lifetime Lana, make my dreams come true, say yes to Brad."
"I wonder what your baby will look like."
"Go ahead and ignore me, I'm not going away any time soon. And I’ve seen pictures of the Summerville babies. I hope my daughter's a blondie, without the Brad and Brent hairline."
"Their eyes would be gorgeous on a girl."
"That’s what Natalie always says. I want my kids to get Rita's nose. Her kids are lucky they got her nose instead of their father's."
"Everyone else has it, why not your baby as well?" Lana fingered the small bump on the bridge of her own nose. "I’m so happy for you Dan, you have to let me pretend the baby is my niece every once in a while, Gretchen already told Natalie she'd babysit when you guys want to go out. She bought the baby a darling little outfit."
"You know Lana, the whole Summerville family wishes Brent and Gretchen would get back together."
"It's not going to happen Dan, she's more scared of him than I was terrified of thunderstorms when I was a kid." She pulled her notebook closer, flipped to a clean sheet and started doodling.
"I can see why, he showers every woman he has with love and joy."
"Do me a favor Dan, ask Natalie if she thinks Brent and Gretchen will ever get back together again. Where is she anyways? I wanted to congratulate her too."
"She's out running, in this weather no less. Further proof that she’s a true Summerville."
"It's that or the bottle Dan, be thankful she’s pregnant and not turning to that. Are you interested in a potentially hypothetical situation?"
Dan nodded as he added texture to the wall behind her home "Have you ever known me not to be? Keep talking, I'm on a roll."
"What are you working on now?"
"I’m not sure but I think it's going to be Brad's Christmas present. What's this hypothetical situation all about?
"Build a case for Brad and Gretchen as a couple." In her notebook Lana wrote Brad's name next to Gretchen's.
"What do you want a couple of planets served up with the moon on a silver platter?"
Furiously she scribbled out the names she had written. "Build a case against it."
He drew a bold black line on the sheet in front of him. "I’m not sure I can do that either."
"I thought we were friends Dan."
“I thought we were too. Let’s see here, Brad and Gretchen, I love you dear.”
“Is that Natalie?”
“No, but I’m talking to her anyways. There’s something about you that makes her here even when she’s not and somehow talking about Brad helps that along. Would you ever go out with Brent?”
“Okay, Brad and Gretchen. Where are you and Brent when this is going on?”
“Here, there, anywhere. Do you want to hear my case for Brad and Gretchen?”
“I’d love to. Who likes apples better, you or Brad?”
“I do. Why?”
“Just curious. What’s your preference, apple orchard or vineyard?”
“Orchard. Brad would take the vineyard.”
“He’d be a good vintner. He has a wonderful sense of smell. Okay, lay your case on me.”
“Item one, he likes her feet. They were the first thing he saw and he likes cotton candy pink polish on them. Item two, he likes her hair. I’ve heard him say so. Item three…”
“Stop itemizing, she’s attractive, I get that. I want to hear what’s behind the attraction. What cosmic forces are propelling the two of them together? I find it hard to believe they’ve lived next door to each other for this long and have never gone out.”
“Brad is gay.”
Dan placed a strategic red apple in the orchard. "If he's gay I'm coming out of the closet just in time for Christmas. I'm also going to tell him that you said that. What else can you give me on Brad and Gretchen?”
“I can build a case for them being similar.”
“They're both perfectionists. They're organized. Public image seems important to them and on some level it is. Strip that level off and they don’t give a fuck. I’d say they’re both hedonists. If I could give her some of his workout ambition and him some of her relaxation techniques they would both have knockout bodies. When they’re around each other they move toward the middle, he becomes more outgoing and she becomes more reserved. They can talk for hours and they both really know how to spend money. They’d be the perfect host and hostess.”
“Brad never spends a dime.”
“Unless it’s something he really wants. No, unless it’s something somebody else really wants. A new car stereo for instance.”
“He said he wanted it.”
“Don’t play games with me Lana. At this point I’m planning a painting. I can see it in my head. I have every brush stroke planned and what would make it perfect, just perfect is if I could get Brad looking at something and I just can’t do it. The whole mood of the painting is going to be changed, but I just can’t do it. I cannot paint his face because I can not get in his head or behind his eyes.”
“What is he supposed to be looking at?”
“I’m sure you’ll laugh when I tell you it’s a rose.”
“I might cry but I don’t think I would laugh. I can feel the painting, I think. The apple is in it isn’t it?”
“Do you want me to tell you what I think is in Brad's head and behind his eyes?”
“I would love to hear that. Twenty bucks says you’re wrong.”
“You’re on. He is scared to death of being a failure.”
“I owe you twenty bucks. What else can you tell me?”
“Either Gretchen would be the best thing that ever happened to him or she’d take him down in a way not too many other people could. Michelle is a blind.”
“A bluff, along for the ride. She’s safe. She makes no demands on his emotions so he can save them for the people he really does care about. I don’t think he really even likes her.”
“I owe you forty bucks.”
“I don’t think Brad and Gretchen have ever gone out because they’re afraid of each other.”
“She’s everything he’s not and he’s everything she’s not. They’re complimentary.”
“Like she knows all the rules on how to play football and he’s never touched a ball?”
“I’m sure he knows the rules. He’d be a good wide receiver or maybe I mean running back. Whoever it is that catches the ball and runs eighty or ninety yards to make a touchdown.”
“He’d be a good quarterback, he’s nice and tall and he has a head for strategy. I’m sure he has a good arm and great aim. Just between you and me I'd give my left testicle if I could run as fast as he can too. Natalie can run faster than I can and she's a girl for crying out loud. I'm losing my masculinity to my wife. Next time you see me I'll be wearing an apron and pulling a turkey dinner out of the oven.”
Her wicked smile matched the sparkle in her eyes. "I'd pull an apron off of you Danny, even if that was all you were wearing. And Brad is never an offensive player. He always plays defense. And you forgot about his elbow, the first time he got tackled he’d either start crying or kill the person.”
“It would depend on the day. I forgot about the elbow situation. How did we get off on this tangent? The energy shift is destroying my picture. Get back in his head.”
“Simple. Brad is simple.”
“Lana is simple.”
“I believe you. I can build a case for Brad and Lana.”
“I can build a case for, dang, get back, get back to where we were talking earlier. I need something, something is missing. Start talking, what makes you wonder about Brad and Gretchen?”
“He picked out the diamond of a lifetime for her.”
Dan held his pen in mid-air, had he heard her right? “For Gretchen, not for Michelle?”
“Yes. It was very odd. Very interesting too. I almost wish he would have bought it so I could have shown it to you. Either Gretchen would love it or she would loathe it and I’m not sure which way she would swing.”
"What's it like?"
To be continued.