When we arrived at the See-Saw, I noticed that Grandma’s Beemer was already there. The idea of seeing Claire and my sister cheered me up a bit. The parking lot was packed with SUV’s, their ski racks loaded. The diner was the only inexpensive place to eat on the way to and from the mountain if you didn’t want to get stuck paying six dollars for a Lodge Dog.
Mom parked way around back by the dumpsters. I got out of the car and raced inside, too impatient to wait for her.
I hurried to the far corner where our group was sitting around two tables that had been pushed together. Everyone looked up at me from their menus and smiled. I took a seat across from Ben, in between Melody and Claire.
Ben winked at me. “Nice eyes. You find a helpful bellhop too?”
“What?” He’d lost me.
He pointed to his eyes. “I discovered what takes the red out and I was going to offer my services, but it looks like you’ve already, uh, hooked that up, so to speak.”
Oh. “Yeah, not if you were the last–”
“Chill, Little House, I was just joshing ya.”
“Little House?” It was like he spoke another language or some hipster dialect I wasn’t familiar with.
“You know. Little House on the Prairie?”
“Uh huh. And…”
“Oh, c’mon!” He turned to Claire. “Claire, explain to Zellie why it’s funny that I call her Little House.”
Claire choked on the drink of water she was in the process of swallowing. Ben swiftly rewound her and waited for her to finish her mouthful before asking the question again. She got a serious case of the girly giggles. I was a little bit embarrassed for her.
“That is too funny!”
Aunt Hazel tsked Ben for rewinding. He shrugged her off. “You wear a lot of floral prints, that’s all. Well and the red hair and you give off a very wholesome virginal vibe.”
I glowered at Claire, her face flushed from laughing so hard. Glad someone thought it was funny.
Ben reached across the table and chucked me under the chin. “Hey, don’t be pissed. I didn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you and you’re obviously not as virginal as I thought if you and Avery managed to clear up your eyes.”
“Thanks for reminding me,” I said under my breath as I sank down into my chair. Where the heck was the waitress? I was going to need chili fries and a hot fudge sundae STAT. I caught her attention and she smiled. “Be right over in a sec, Zellie.”
My gaze landed back on Ben. Wait, his eyes really weren’t red anymore. I leaned across the table. “Did you hook up with a bellhop? For reals?” I whispered.
“More like bus boy,” Claire snarked. “After we finally got Frank to tell us what he thought the red eye antidote was, I offered my services, but totally got shut down.”
“Clairecita, you know I like my women curvy, Latin, and rich, but you’re not even sixteen yet.” Ben grinned a lascivious grin. “Still, check back with me after your birthday okay?”
Because she’d attended boarding school before moving to Rosedell, Claire had tested a grade level ahead of where her age put her. Not that she’d ever had trouble keeping up. Her sixteenth birthday was only a little over a month away, at the beginning of February. I’m sure her parents were going to get her a really nice car that she wasn’t going to be able to drive. Due to the accident she claimed to have caused to cover up my first chaotic rewind, she was restricted from driving until she turned seventeen. It looked like we were going to be biking it and depending on other people for rides for another whole year.
The waitress came over and took our orders. Everyone but Mom got something covered with chili, and Mom would have, she said, if even smelling it didn’t give her heartburn. We all continued to make chit-chat, Ben teasing and flirting with me and Claire, Mom, Mel, and Aunt Hazel hanging on Frank’s every word. Halfway through the chili fest it finally dawned on Ben that Avery wasn’t there.
“How come your boy’s not here, Little House?” Ben said, licking chili from his fingertips.
I took a deep breath and then in a low voice told him about Mrs. Adams’ diabolical plan to keep Avery and I apart.
“Damn! That’s harsh,” Ben said loudly, quieting our table and making everyone look at him. “Did you all know about this Avery ban?”
Frank spoke first. “Yes. Grace filled Hazel and me in on the plan over the phone earlier today.”
“And I made Claire tell me,” Melody said, frowning.
“Sorry, Zel, but I thought–”
I cut Claire off. “It’s fine. Okay, so now everyone that needs to know knows. Frank, Ben, Aunt Hazel, any advice?”
None of them said a word. The situation was hopeless, just as I feared.