A brief introduction to Alex's sisters:
Alex's parents, the Prochnows, were an active couple, and fertile to say the least, the three girls having each been born within a year of one another. David's late in-laws were also quite insane--or so Alex had deduced in her early teens, noticing the painfully alliterative similarity between her name and those of her sisters, Alice and Alyssa.
Taken by themselves, these monikers were mundane, even pretty. But with the three sisters a grade apart in that acme of childhood cruelty known as elementary school, Alex quickly realized it probably wasn't a good idea to name one's children after reading a baby names book on acid which, she also deduced, her parents very likely did.
Alice evidently hadn't let up on her verbal barrage during the five hour drive between Toronto and Ottawa--Alyssa's beleaguered expression testifying to this. Alex caught sight of what looked like a fresh wrinkle in the corner of her older sister's eye as they leaned in to hug.
"Long drive?" she asked, tilting her head to the side and lightening her voice in order to convey as much sympathy as she could muster for her older sister.
Alyssa chuckled, a forced guffaw if there ever was one. "The T.O.-Cobourg stretch wasn't too bad," she said below her breath, casting a cautious eye as her littlest sister besieged David with the unfiltered stream-of-consciousness narrative of her life. "But once we hit Belleville I would have strangled a child just to get out of that car."
"Cruel, but I get the idea," Alex commented, reaching for Alyssa's overnight bag and feeling every tendon in her body groan in protest. She figured the major hurdles of the day had been successful leapt over and left in the dust, what with dinner nearly prepared and anything and everything Rick-related taken care of, but something said otherwise--intuition, superstition or even plain, simple cynicism, it didn't matter, just that something was off.
She found her trading glances with David as he shared a half-hearted embrace with Alice. The brief look she caught in his eye was similarly beaten. She beamed lightly at him, in spite of the day's events, and saw her muted gesture was reciprocated.
"So, Alice tells me you have another guest? . . . " Alyssa began. Her voice, laced with a nearly homogenous mixture of apprehension and discomfort, suggested Alice had told her exactly who it was.
"Oh, yeah, Richard," Alex said, a little apologetically.
"Oh, yeah, him."
Alex shrugged. "He showed up this morning, kind of imposed a little," she elaborated.
"Well, I suppose it'll be nice to catch up with him," Alyssa sighed.
"Actually that was flagrant sarcasm."
"Yeah, I should have guessed," Alex said, wincing. Her spirits lightened a little, seeing Alyssa tip her head to the side in a sort of "well, what can you do?" fashion, but nevertheless she sensed her ominous feelings were already starting to be justified--and it wasn't even 5:30.
Taking Alyssa's coat, Alex snaked past her elder sister, muttering a barely-audible "Sorry" and went to retrieve Alice's leather trench coat as well.
"I'll take that for you--" She turned her head sharply to look David in the eye. "--Hey, help me grab something from the kitchen."
And, like that, she was away, leaving David and Alice in a mutual state of mild bewilderment. A few seconds passed, and David raised a finger and slipped off to the kitchen without a word. For once, Alice was speechless.
He found Alex leaning over the range, feigning checking on the potatoes in case either sister became too inquisitive--a likelihood, seeing as both had been left suddenly by themselves in the foyer. David sauntered up to his fairer half, waved at Alice (who was now peering curiously from her spot next to the staircase) and lowered his voice to little more than a whisper. "Um, what?"
"How's Rick shaping up?" she asked, keeping her attention focused on the potatoes for reasons that, like her current sense of foreboding, that weren't entirely clear to her.
"Fine, I guess. Why?"
"Did you talk to him about . . . " Again, she shot a careful look over her husband's shoulder, assuring that neither Alyssa nor Alice were close enough to listen in. ". . . you know, that."
"I've been talking to him nearly all day about that but, yeah, sure."
"I mean, how clear is he on the being-a-respectable-human-being part?"
David thought about the exchange in the basement minutes before, mentally noting his friend's dampened mood and all the little idiosyncrasies that went with it. "He seemed, hmm, on another wavelength, maybe a little more moody." Yeah, he thought, that seemed about right. "Maybe what we said actually got to him for once in his life."
"You sure?" she asked earnestly.
"Yeah, yeah," he asserted, nodding. "Well, I assume so."
"Hey, he wasn't acting like he normally does, so by all accounts that's a good thing--"
A sudden rush of air, swiftly followed by the crack of a brass doorknob against the wall. They both pivoted to catch sight of Richard standing on the threshold of the basement entrance, leaning against the door in what he assumed was a casual manner, though his face, contorted into a murderous-deer-in-headlights facade, betrayed his new, alleviated mood.
"Lady, gentleman," he said. "Are we going to begin with the festivities?"
Once again, husband and wife traded glances.
"'Another wavelength'?" she asked.
"Yeah, t'would seem so," he replied.
Richard twirled his arms windmill-style, then gestured toward the foyer entrance. "Guests?"
David nodded weakly.
"Fuckin' a!" He started off toward the staircase and the women adjacent to it, creeping forward in an unsettling half-walk, half-dance. He abandoned the couple to stew in their own bemusement.
"Huh," David said.
* * *
In hindsight, David felt dinner could have gone better.
The five of them crowded around the dining room table--a small yet strangely dignified piece, a recent layer of varnish cutting twenty or thirty years from its (considerable) age. As Alice sat down next to Alice (optimum gabbing distance, of course), Richard silently dropped into the seat on her right, Richard quietly noting this with some amusement.
Wine was poured, bread was broken, all the little pleasantries exchanged. And, obviously, food was enjoyed--a simple but rich course of prime rib, greens and the aforementioned boiled potatoes. In short, all the requirements for hosting a successful dinner party were met.
At least until Richard opened his mouth.
"So," he began, looking first at Alyssa, then Alice, "I heard you two were bridesmaids at Dave and Alex's wedding."
"You heard?" Alyssa replied, her voice flat and devoid of enthusiasm.
"Yeah, earlier today," he said through the whole potato currently in his mouth.
"Were you at the wedding?" Alice, this time.
"Shit yeah. Best fucking man!"
Alex downed half of her glass of shiraz.
David coughed, correcting his friend: "Just an usher."
"Oh, my mistake. Fuck me, these potatoes are good."
"Mmm-hmmmm," groaned David.
Alice pivoted toward Richard. "But weren't you? I mean, you did that speech."
Oh no, David thought. He emulated his wife's sudden wine consumption.
"Shit yeah!" Richard popped a green bean into his mouth, continued his spiel whilst chewing. "You know, the others--some of those other cocks wearing tuxes--they didn't think I should do one, what with me not being the best man, and all that, but Dave was--and still is--the fucking man, so he was all like, 'Dude, speak,' and I was all like, 'Bitch I'm gonna' sermonized like you never heard'."
He flopped back into his chair, having risen slightly from the seat while rambling on. He speared a clump of beans with his fork and brought the utensil to his mouth, Alyssa regarding him with what David realized in retrospect was muted fear. "Alex, my commendations: these are some great Goddamn beans."
She swished her glass in thanks and hid her quickly advancing aggravation with her own forkful of beans. "Couldn't have said it better myself."
Richard's face twisted into a frightful, clownish approximation of a grin, rubbing his nose like a child with a cold. Alyssa shifted her chair an inch or two away from his.
After a moment, David contributed. "I don't remember that," he said to his friend.
Richard perked up, the tip of one green bean sticking out from between his teeth. "Come again?"
"That stuff, at the wedding party--me allowing you to speak even though you weren't best man, all that--I never said that. Any of it."
"Fuck off, I had to have."
"Maybe you did, I didn't." Dave looked at Alice. "I didn't bar anyone from speaking at the wedding. Believe it or not, your brother-in-law isn't as big a dick as you might think."
"But he said the others wouldn't let him," she pointed out.
David nodded. "This is true. But not because of any rules we had instated." No, it was more because of the two glasses of merlot and the six bottles of beer Rick had drank prior to his groggily standing up at the wedding party table, wailing on a glass with his spoon and devoid of any sense of rhythm or volume. Come to think of it, the best men and remaining ushers had something going with their whole prevent-Richard-from-speaking-while-trashed policy.
"Yeah, what a bunch of stuck-up jackasses."
"Indeed. What kind of horrible people would stop you from talking?" Alyssa asked drolly.
"Exactly!" Once again, he had to sit back down. Collecting himself, he ran a hand through his hair once, twice, three times. "Shit, that's some great conditioner you have up there, Alex. My head feels like a baby chick."
Interested, Alice's hand left her fork and reached for Richard's head, but a sharp glance from Alyssa stopped her.
"Ahhhhhh, party pooper," he lightly chastised before stuffing a chunk of meet in his mouth. As Richard munched away, David noticed his friend kept massaging his scalp, fingers absentmindedly moving down his face, a dim smile forming.
The Hell? David thought. The bastard acted like he had chickenpox, scratching and rubbing the way he did. Reddened knuckles chafed nostrils, finger nails left the briefest of divots on his lips . . .
And like that, clarity: Richard's mannerisms, oral deluge and disposition explained in one fell swoop. Suddenly, David knew exactly how his friend had disposed of the cocaine.
Palms? Meet face.