A lot of my friends are having birthday parties for their children these days—there must have been a lot of fall births several years ago! One of my favorite scenes from True Gold is the birthday party scene, when twins Alex and Aubry turn five, and Rebecca, like most new moms, has—err, overly optimistic expectations for what a five-year-old’s party should feature—times two, of course! I loved this scene, but much of it ended up on the cutting room floor. Maybe it was a little too chaotic!
Anyway, here it is, saved from the cutting room floor. No spoilers, so feel free to read without fear of a major reveal happening.
The backyard of Rebecca’s Victorian house looked like a kindergarten schoolyard at recess.
Five-year-olds were everywhere. In the small plastic wading pool, on the swingset…in the bushes. Rebecca was pretty certain there’d been one hiding under the picnic table for the last fifteen minutes, shooting sporadically at anyone who came near with a contraband water pistol. Next time she’d be sure to put “no handguns” on the invitation.
If there was a next time. But even with homicidal preschoolers aiming for her ankles, that possibility wasn’t one she wanted to contemplate, so she fixed a smile on her face and pulled Jared down from the fence where he’d apparently been staging a break out.
“The pirates are attacking!” he yelled as she hauled his squirming body back to the mothership.
“Then you’d better stick with your comrades, mate. They need you now.”
“Hey, Rebecca!” Alex yelled as she reached the swingset. “Can we have more Kool-Aid?”
“No you may not. Someone dumped the last pitcher all over Michael.”
“But it’s blood!” Alex protested. “Captain Hook chopped his arm off!”
“Violence is not the answer,” she muttered under her breath, raking her gaze around the yard. Signs of destruction were everywhere. The new lawn chairs she’d bought had been tossed “overboard” into the neighbor’s yard. The pool was filled with what looked like industrial sludge. The Scooby Doo piñata hung in ragged tatters near the back porch, emptied of its booty by a platoon of Lost Boys wielding a t-ball bat.
She’d known better than to invite so many. There was even a specific formula for determining the number of guests: All the books said to invite as many guests as the age of the child, plus one.
So she’d invited five for each twin, and then two more…but she didn’t want to exclude the other three members of their daycare class. So now she had seventeen party animals in her back yard—and one adult. If she were running a daycare, she’d no doubt be busted and charged with violation of the adult-child ratio.
Now the kids were all racing about the yard like screaming fireants, hosing each other down with a garden hose. No one was crying, though, not since she’d patched up Heather’s knee and admonished Brian to stop calling Madison a crybaby.
Even Aubrey seemed to be having a good time, though as usual, she stood apart from the action, surveying the scene, thumb in mouth, but with a smile in her blue eyes. Her pink bathing suit and rubber sandals were dry. None of the other kids had had the nerve to spray Aubrey with the hose. Her daycare teacher had told Rebecca the other children seemed to watch out for Aubrey, sensing that she wasn’t as emotionally sturdy as the rest of them.
Maybe, thought Rebecca, Aubrey was tired of being treated differently. Maybe she wanted to get wet…just like the other kids. Maybe she wanted to forget her fears and run screaming around the yard like banshees from hell were right behind her…
But Rebecca didn’t have time to ponder the thought. There was a tug on her sleeve, and she looked down to see Rachel…at least she thought it was Rachel, whose mother worked in Accounting. “I need to go potty,” she said, with a little squirm that confirmed her words.
“Do you remember where the bathroom is? Go straight through that door, then turn left.”
Another tug on the other sleeve. “I need a dry towel. My hair’s all wet.”
“That’s what happens when you stand in front of a pirate with a water hose, sweetie. Here…I think that’s your towel, over there on the bench.”
“It’s wet,” Macy explained patiently, her big brown eyes solemn. “Jared sprayed it with the water hose.”
“Okay, I’ll get you another—”
“Hey, Rebecca!” Alex’s shout interrupted her. “Can we have some more cake? Not the ballerina kind. That’s for sissies.”
Rebecca frowned. “What did I tell you about that word, Alex?”
He rolled his eyes, and for a second she saw the teenager he’d become one day. “I don’t care if ballerinas are stronger than Superman! They still have to wear silly costumes!”
She sighed. Political correctness was about as popular as the Big Bad Wolf with the pre-k set.
Just as she was about to go in the house for a clean towel and cake, wondering if she could leave the chaos for even an instant, the gate next to the garage opened, and Connor walked straight into Never Never Land.
She’d never been so glad to see anyone in her life.
Of course, at that moment she’d have welcomed any adult, but the fact it was Connor, whom she hadn’t seen since Monday afternoon, had her heart turning a funny little flip.
He was perfectly attired for the afternoon party, in carefully creased khakis and a short-sleeve white polo, and dark glasses that hid his eyes…suddenly she imagined the water hose aimed in his direction.
She dashed to the bushes where the spigot was located and put an end to the game.
“I just saved you from a dousing by a band of pirates. Or maybe they’re the Lost Boys. Are those for the twins?” she said, glancing at the gaily wrapped packages in his arms. “You didn’t have to—”
Behind his shades an eyebrow lifted. “I thought presents were required at birthday parties.”
She smiled, taking the smaller package from him. “You’re right. The twins will be thrilled. I’m glad you came. I need reinforcements.”
The sudden lack of firepower had caused a lull in the chaos as the pirates regrouped. Connor glanced around him, taking in the soggy devastation that was once a backyard. “I’ve seen Superfund sites that looked better than this. No one’s notified the EPA, have they?”
She laughed. “No, but I think the neighbors might be getting ready to complain about the noise.”
“What noise?” he asked, just as Alex let out an earsplitting whoop and pounced on little Angelica Freeman, who promptly began to wail and hit back.
With one hand, Connor scooped him up, propping the wet wriggling mass of kid on his shoulder. Rebecca cringed as water seeped onto his spotless shirt.
“Hey, look everybody! Connor’s here! Can you be Captain Hook?” Alex asked, obviously inspired by the quiet air of authority Connor wore to cast him as the head pirate.
Rebecca started to object, but Connor replied calmly, “Sure, but Captain Hook is going to have to insist that this ship get cleaned up. Any sailor who objects gets drawn and quartered.”
“What’s drawn and quartered mean?” Alex asked, as he scrambled down from his perch.
“It means no birthday presents. You’re in charge, Alex. See that those plates are cleared out of the pool, and gather up those wet towels…and you—what’s your name, mate?”
“Put that hose down and start picking up the lawn chairs. We can’t sail this boat until things are ship shape around here.”
“Aye, aye sir!” Jared gave him a sloppy salute and raced to obey the Voice of Authority.
“Whew!” Rebecca shook her head, exhaustion pouring out of her now that a grown-up was on the job. “How’d you do that? I’ve been trembling in terror here for the last fifteen minutes.”
“When you’re outnumbered, there’s only one thing to do: delegate.”
She acknowledged his wisdom with a solemn nod, admiring the way the sun kindled his black hair with brilliance. “You’re probably right…thanks for coming, by the—” A loud cry from the porch interrupted her grateful welcome. They both turned, and saw Rachel squatting on the porch steps. “I wet my pants!” she wailed.
“Oh no!” With a helpless glance at Connor, Rebecca darted off to help. Fortunately, the guests had each brought a change of clothes to the party, and before long, the pirates, all of whom were apparently issued a reprieve by the Captain after doing their share of clean-up, had changed out of their wet swimsuits. Alex and Aubrey made short work of the presents, and then, thankfully, parents began trickling in.