Note: I’m going to post this chapter here, then taking it off when I revise it and move it to the writing blog. I’m also going to be putting the other stories over there later on. Not to worry, I’m leaving those here. Maybe.
A bright flare of horns stabbed into the muted conversation. Drums quickly rumbled afterwards.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mr. Huxley said to the packed room, “I am pleased to welcome you all here to Bar Jocks. Today, we have a very special guest on stage. Will you please give a warm welcome to our resident of the jazz, Madeline Ybarra!”
The applause grew as she stepped on to the stoplight. She was dressed in a simple, unadorned navy blouse and slacks. She waved and bowed to the audience, her ringed fingers glinting with her gestures.
“Thank you, Mister Huxley. And thank you all. Tonight marks a very special occasion of mine….”
Mike and Joe were at the bar, seated and eyeing the scene unfolding. Carl was pouring a fresh bottle of champagne into a set of flutes on the table. All three were conservatory dressed in button down shirts and slacks.
“You’ve been doing this longer than I have,” Joe muttered to Mike. “Mind telling me what is going to happen?”
“Oh, the usual,” the roo said. “She sings a few classics; then she goes into freestyle bopping. She might even go for a bit of rock and roll songs.” Joe nodded.
Carl finished pouring. “Your turn, moosie boy.”
“Alright,” Joe said, adroitly picking up the tray. “Where to?”
Carl gestured to a corner table. “Over there.”
The moose glanced towards the table. “Got it.” He gently lifted the tray one-handed and walked on over to the shadowed alcove.
“Here you are, ladies and gentlemen.” He began placing the drinks around the table.
“Thank you,” a familiar voice said.
Joe looked at the person. “Oh hello, Frankie.”
“Mister Morris right now, if you please,” Franklyn Morris, one of Joe’s best friends and fellow band member, said. He nodded to the other guests. “We got invited to tonight’s ensemble.”
Ybarra’s voice cried out. “And introducing our new member of the band, The Saxaphonic Wizard himself, Gail Stevens!”
“What?!” Joe’s head swiveled around to see the other band member on the stage, dressed in black and white harlequin patterns, bowing to the applause.
Franklyn coughed. “You’re about to drop the tray.”
“Oh hell, sorry.” He leveled the tray and placed the last flute on the table. “I’m very sorry, guys. Wasn’t prepared for this.”
“You usually aren’t,” a plump panda jived to a few chuckles. Joe barely resisted sticking out his tongue at her; instead, he walked back to the bar.
“Sorry about that,” Mike said. “Morris told me not to tell you the both of them were to be here today.”
Joe shrugged. “Eh, it’s okay. I should have taken the hint when she said about the sax player.”
A smartly-dressed blue dragon walked up to the bar and placed a tray filled with crispy-looking canapés on it. “Puff-pastry filled with pesto and ricotta, ready for the guests.”
“Thanks, Matt,” Joe said, smiling. “How’s the kitchen?”
“Bustling,” the dragon said. “We usually enjoy ourselves when she’s here.”
The band struck up into a jazzy version of ‘Mame’.
“Ah, there’s a classic,” Carl said, waving fingers about.
“I’ll see if there’s anything else needing looking at,” Matt said. He nodded to the trio and walked off.
“Anything thing else needing doing, Mom?” Brian said.
“Nothing right now, darling,” Eudora Moose, Joe’s grandmother, said. A broad swath of silk material covered her ample torso, a silver brooch holding the fabric up. She sipped the tea and smiled softly. “I have to thank you for inviting me here, son.”
“Ah, no trouble at all, mom. Now that Joe’s working, I’m left with all this time to myself. I thought to have you over for tea.”
“Most unlike you,” she chided as she gazed around. “The place needs a bit of a refreshing, though. Perhaps a new paint job, perhaps?”
“I’ll talk to Joe about that,” Brian said, pouring another cup and placing it in front of Milhouse.
Eudora smiled at the snow leopard. “I also wasn’t expecting my son to have a boyfriend,” she said. “Especially one so handsome.”
Milhouse blushed pink and glanced down at his cup.
“Now, mom, you’re embarrassing me,” Brian said.
She smiled mischievously. “Intentionally so,” she said. She focused on the leopard. “First of all, I am familiar with your family. Your grandmother, bless her soul, was good friends with me before she passed away.” She went on dreamily, “I always considered her son a twat.”
Milhouse choked on his tea.
“It’s true, dear. A two-faced twat.” She reached down to pat his knee. “But you know that too well, I gather.”
The doorbell rang before Milhouse could respond.
“I’ll get that,” Brian said, standing up.
“I only wish I could give your father a firm kick on the buttocks,” Eudora said as Brian left the room. “From what I hear, he has only gotten worse. Your activities are only the latest evidence.”
“I take it Brian told you about me,” Milhouse said sullenly.
“Only a condensed version, dear. He had to because of the police report.”
The leopard winced.
“I do not approve of that,” she chided, “but I understand where you were. I am only happy that you and Joseph patched things over.” She sipped her tea. “Then I heard about Joseph paying your bail. That boy’s heart is going to cause trouble one day, mark my words.”
A small grin crossed Milhouse’s face. “I like you, miss,” he said. “And I don’t say that often.”
“Call me Eudora,” she said, grinning back, “and allow me the privilege to call you Milhouse. Unless,” she added coyly, “you enjoy Milly?”
The smile melted to a grimace. “Not Milly, ma’m.”
“Eudora,” she said firmly. “If I am to have the grandson of one of my closest friends in the family, you need to be more familiar.”
“Yes ma’m. I mean,” he after Eudora’s eyes flashed, “Eudora.”
Brian walked in, leading someone in a slept-in shirt and shorts. He was carrying a bulging duffle bag at his side.
“I’m glad you’re here, mom,” Brian said. “We are in a pickle.”
Gail’s saxophone lilted high above the drums, accenting the bebop Madeline dished out.
“Ye gods,” Joe said.
“Told ya she’s good, moosie boy,” Carl said. He passed over a glass of ice water, which Joe gulped down.
Joe nodded, taking a puff from the tray and popping it in his mouth. “These are also good. I have to get the recipe.”
“Best of luck,” the bear said. “Matty guards the recipes with furrrious zeal.”
“I wonder, though, if he can resist moose.”
Carl laughed softly. “If ‘e can resist muscled kangaroos, tigers, and bears in jocks, ‘e can resist moose.”
Joe snorted. “Bah. When it comes to recipes, I am irresistible. No one can resist my charms.”
“I can resist them because I don’t see those charms all the time.”
Joe turned to see Matt saddling up another helping of food, this time forkful sized mounds of pasta. “And if you were to see them all the time, will you let me peruse the Bar Jocks cookbook?”
The dragon glared through his glasses. “I think not,” he said sternly. “Our recipes are a guarded secret.”
“What if I traded them for a knitted scarf and hat?”
The glare strengthened. “No.”
“Awww.” Joe playfully slumped his shoulders. “I’d love to know what how you make those puffs.”
“You will never know,” the dragon said primly. “These,” he continued as he gestured to the pasta, “are to go to Table Sixteen.”
“Gotcha,” Joe said, lifting the tray and heading out.
Carl leaned over to the dragon. “When will you tell ‘im the recipes are from The Joy of Cooking?” he whispered.
Matt smirked. “Hopefully never.”
The party was winding down. The lights were turned up. The band played soft tunes while Madeline was in the middle of various fans, signing autographs and talking. A few people, including one with a camera and a notepad, also surrounded Gail. Joe went up to the latter group.
“Now,” the camera-wielding reporter said, “can we then say that ‘Before the Sandwich’ was the inspiration to do this?”
Gail shook his head. “As I said before, Miss Ybarra heard about me from a mutual acquaintance, and she contacted me about this.”
“And who is this acquaintance?” the reporter said.
“You’ll have to ask her about that.” Gail spied Joe. “If you excuse me, I need to talk to one of the staff and thank them for their work tonight. Excuse me.” He squeezed himself through the crowd and joined Joe. “A pleasure for inviting me, sir.”
Joe smiled, feeling a bit adrift. “I am not the manager, I am sorry to say. You will have to extend your thanks to Mr. Huxley.” He cleared his throat. “Perhaps I can escort you over?”
“No need for that, Mister Moose.” Huxley nodded to Gail. “A pleasure to have you here, kid. You are a marvel.”
“Eh, it’s nothing,” Gail said.
“I am serious,” the bison said. “If you want, we can have you be a regular here with the band.”
Gail smiled. “I will have to think about that,” he said.
“No problem about that,” Huxley said. “Just don’t take too long with this, okay?” Gail nodded.
“Excuse me, Mister Huxley,” the reporter from before said from behind the bison. “If I can get a few quotes from you about tonight?”
“A moment,” he called out, then he refocused on Joe. “Make sure you help Mike and Carl clean up, then you’re free to go.”
“Ah, that was pretty alright,” Joe said an hour later. He leaned back in Mike’s car. “I invited Frankie and Gail for breakfast tomorrow to discuss what happened.”
“Any idea if Stevens will accept the offer?” the roo said.
“Dunno. He isn’t one to chase the spotlight. He would say he’d be better off with us.” Joe sighed. “But that’s up to him.”
“Am I invited to the breakfast?” Mike slyly asked.
Joe chuckled. “I doubt it,” he said. “But tell you what. I’ll make a pot of tea when I get home, and we’ll have some pastries I got from the coffee shop. What say you?”
Mike smiled. “Sure, why not?”
When they pulled onto the curb, the house was brightly lit.
“That’s odd,” Joe said as they were getting out of the car. “Brian usually has the lights out about this time. What happened?”
“Only one way to find out,” Mike said. “At least we’re not going to find Milhouse on the steps, right?”
“I can only hope he’ll be with Brian.”
Joe grimaced. “If I am going to hear them thumping around, we’re going to the coffee shop.”
“Agreed,” Mike said.
Joe opened the front door to find four subdued people sitting around the coffee table, three of which he recognized.
“Grandma, what a surprise,” he said, leaning over to kiss Eudora’s cheek. “I wasn’t expecting you to be here.”
“I wasn’t expecting it either,” she said, “but Brian thought to invite me for tea and to introduce me to Milhouse.”
Brian nodded. “While we were getting acquainted,” he said, “someone else appeared.” He motioned to the fourth guest, who had his head hung low.
Joe focused on the person. He appeared to be on the beefy side, with a chocolate pelt and a small pair of antlers. A moose, then. Then the person raised his head and looked at Joe. It was like looking into a mirror.
Joe took a step back in shock. “What the hell?”
Eudora cleared her throat. “Allow me the privilege of introducing you to your son, Joseph. Bradley Nichols.”
Joe did the best reaction when faced in such a situation. He fainted.