Eleven Pipers Piping

This is the eleventh installment of the short-story series, “The 12 Days of the Tilley-Blandin Coronavirus Christmas.” More stories about the Tilley-Blandin family universe can be found here.

Silver Tilley-Blandin sat still and listened. While her boyfriend Louis Guidry left her duplex in Logan Circle on a long run around Hains Point, she took up a challenge from her colleague at the Washington Post, the music critic Chris Richards. He dared her to compare Taylor Swift’s new album, “Evermore,” with Joni Mitchell’s classic album, “Blue” and write 500 words to contribute to his column. She accepted the challenges and, as she wrote her essay, Silver could not escape the feeling that listening to Taylor Swift made her want to break up with Louis and listening to Joni Mitchell made her want to marry Louis.

Silver mulled over the legendary lyric, “we don’t need no piece of paper from the City Hall keeping us tight and true.” She also considered the why of her father – or all people! — surprising Louis by calling him and asking whether or not Louis was going to ask her to marry him. Silver and Louis had not discussed marriage. To her, it felt silly for anyone to discuss long-term plans in the midst of a pandemic that was killing 3,000 people every day, especially with new research indicating that young people were just as susceptible to the worst outcomes of COVID-19 infection.

Silver had experienced Louis in all four seasons — winter, spring, summer, and fall – and continued to be charmed, surprised, and amused by him. She admired his traits of doggedness and creativity. He possessed a joie de vivre that was infectious. He had excellent prospects as a provider. She liked the lilt of a patois in his speech. His athlete’s physique and dedication to fitness promised that he would not grow a man-belly by age 30. He listened and followed instructions in bed. He held her hand as they sat on the sofa a night and watched “Queen’s Gambit.” In other words, Louis Guidry possessed many admirable traits as a human being, man, and possible mate.

And then Silver would remind herself not to act like a moonstruck teenager drawn to cute boys on the thinnest of pretenses and not dream about the future. Her practical side loomed heavily in the symbolic debate raging in her head: Were she and Louis a good fit? She had seen her sister Olympia dive into relationships with men who possessed good traits only to watch them collapse under the weight of mismatch. The “love of her life,” Chasen Whitney was the golden boy as a time in her life when Olympia as the golden girl. However, her paramour had judged Olympia lacking. Then he himself settled for a dullard nicknamed Dabber, who had been cultivated as a floormat for men like Chasen. Dabber fit right into the life Chasen’s parents had designed for him. Her most recent boyfriend, Huey Newton Wallace, checked all her boxes save one. He did not possess a poet’s soul.

So, reflecting on her sister’s roster of love-life failures, Silver wondered, where did that leave Louis Guidry in the matrix of her own life choices? Then she heard Joni Mitchell sing these lyrics:

Oh, you are in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh, I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet
Oh, I would still be on my feet

Silver wasn’t sure what it meant to “still be on my feet.” Was that a good thing or a bad thing? However, she felt that way the song made her feel every time Louis played piano and sang for her, every time he left her for a run and walked back in the front door dripping with sweat, every time he nearly burst with enthusiasm describing a case he was studying in law school. Every time Louis listened to her discuss her work or her family or whenever she just felt the need to break down and cry because everything in the world seemed so horrible and then, after the Electoral College vote, when everything in the world seemed like it would turn out alright. And that was when Silver knew that she would be prepared with an answer should Louis ever bring up the subject of marriage.

*****

Silver and Olympia worried about legal exposure following two revelations in the blog. First, that Olympia had kept a secret journal about her college roommate from Barnard whom she had nicknamed “Astrid.” Astrid, whose real name was Sylvia, was alleged to have taken part in very bad crimes while in college, possibly involving mob figures. According to Olympia’s account, Astrid had successfully covered up her involvement in these very bad crimes and, after graduating from Barnard, joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Second, that Silver was in possession of the secret journal.

When FBI Sylvia learned of this journal, she reached out to an old boyfriend, Silver and Olympia’s brother Hopper, and asked him, “What should we do about this?”

“Why are you involving me in this?” was Hopper’s first response. “I’m in New York right now. Olympia is in Bum Fuck, Pennsylvania, and Silver’s in DC.”

“Because when the weight of federal shit hits your sisters, some of the federal shit is bound to splatter on you, too, bucko,” FBI Sylvia said.

Hopper remembered that it was never good for him when Sylvia called him “bucko.” He and Sylvia had met while she was interning at the University of Chicago Medical School. Hopper was on faculty of the university, teaching mostly undergraduate sociology. He remembered that they had a good time. In his mind, they had broken things off when her internship was complete, and she moved back to the East Coast. In her mind, he had been something of a cad when he broke things off because he had met another woman. That woman was his future wife, Ingrid.

“What can I do to help resolve the situation,” was Hopper’s second response, spoken in a more solicitous tone.

In very clear terms, terms Hopper was certain had been drafted by an FBI attorney, FBI Sylvia instructed Hopper to have Silver burn the journal and then discuss the journal’s destruction with Silver and Olympia.

“It seems that every thought and word within your family shows up on this goddamned blog,” FBI Sylvia remarked after giving him the instructions. “No doubt this conversation will show up on the blog, too. I just want to ensure that people understand that I am not any kind of secret agent or operative. I do not carry a gun, nor a badge. I am a psychologist, pure and simple. I am becoming a joke around the agency, and you need to help me put a stop to it.”

*****

Two hours after his conversation with FBI Sylvia, Hopper Facetimed with his sisters.

“One, destroy the Astrid journal,” he said in his big-brother voice.

“She can’t be serious,” Olympia remarked in her forgotten middle-child voice.

“Olympia, do you know what the inside of a federal prison looks like?” he asked.

“She did not threaten criminal charges,” Olympia said. “It’s just a journal filled with made-up stories. It’s private property!”

“Olympia, do you want one of those no-knock raids carried out at Silver’s duplex? They know she has the journal,” he said. “And…you just know that Louis has a gun. He’s a Southerner. They all have guns. And Louis is all filled up with that fucking Southern testosterone-fueled gallantry and chivalry. He’ll try to protect Silver from those mean men. Someone’s gonna end up…you know. Just like in the Breonna Taylor situation.”

“But we’re…” Silver began.

“What?” Hopper asked. “Were you going to say, ‘but we’re white?”

“Well…” she answered.

“That’s just hideous,” Hopper said. “Just destroy the journal and never mention the name ‘Astrid’ again. Never speak that name. Never think that name. Never write that name in a text, email, or on a piece of paper. Permanently spell-check the name ‘Astrid’.”

Hopper could see that rarest of expressions on his sisters’ faces on his computer screen. Silver and Olympia — who believed in every nerve of their bodies that they controlled their destinies, who believed that women had finally been fully empowered, who believed that their parents would bail them out of any situation if called – looked unsure of themselves. Perhaps even scared.

“Think this through,” Hopper instructed them. “No good will come from you holding on to the journal.”

“You’re right,” Olympia said.

“Okey-dokey,” Silver responded.

“Then it’s settled?” Hopper asked.

“Yes,” they both said.

*****

Immediately after Hopper ended the Facetime conversation with his sisters, Olympia phoned Silver.

“Sis, do not destroy the journal,” she said. “It’s way too valuable to me.”

“What do you mean valuable?”

“I have figured out a change in my life’s path,” Olympia said. “That journal is the ticket I need for the next part of my journey.”

“My god, Olympia, you are sounding scary, like Marianne Williamson or someone like that,” Silver said.

“No, it’s nothing spiritual,” Olympia said. “but I still need the journal.”

“What should I do with it?” Silver asked. She was seated at one end of the dining room table; Louis was seated at the other end. He was engrossed in something on the computer screen in front of him, occasionally typing what she presumed were notes for one of what she called his “grown-ass man law school classes.” She was trying to get Louis’ attention. When he looked up, Silver put the call on speakerphone so that her lawyer-in-training could rush to protect her.

“Here’s what I want you to do,” Olympia said. “Take photos of all the pages and upload the images to your Dropbox. Text me the password, give me 30 minutes, then change the password. Take the journal and make a video of you burning it. Make sure it’s destroyed. Send the video to Hopper. He’ll send pass it along to FBI Sylvia.”

“What will that do?” Silver asked. “FBI Sylvia will eventually know that the journal’s contents have been duplicated.”

“It will buy us time,” Olympia said.

“You mean you,” Silver said. “It will buy you time.”

Louis shook his head. When Silver ended the call, he said, simply, “You and your sister are such idiots sometimes.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Man Law Student?”

“That Astrid person was playing you,” he said. “You two aren’t in any legal jeopardy. There’s no subpoena, no charges, no nothing. Presumably, in a few minutes there will be no journal. Your sister’s friend Astrid never said a thing about not copying the journal.”

“Burn, baby, burn,” Silver responded. “Also, come here, Mr. Boyfriend.”

*****

The default ring tone for Olympia’s phone – for calls from unknown telephone numbers – was “Lola” by The Kinks. Her mother used to play the song and sing along with it while cooking dinner when she was a child. When her mother cooked dinner at the Tilley-Blandin Fortress these days, she was more likely to sing something by Linda Ronstadt or Judy Collins. Still, Olympia found the opening dobro chords of “Lola” comforting.

She normally let the ringtone play out and ignored the calls, except for this one call. She was cleaning up after lunch and loading the dishwasher with breakfast and lunch dishes. She planned to do her and her parents’ laundry afterwards. They had disappeared to their respective workspaces. Olympia planned to spend a few hours in the afternoon online office hours with her students and baking a cherry pie. She was looking forward to leading her online yoga class for students later that night. Olympia did not recognize the telephone number at first, but it seemed strangely familiar. She decided on a whim to answer.

She gasped when she heard the voice speak to her. It was Chasen Whitney.

Chasen Whitney skewed the narrative of Olympia’s life. There was everything that came before Chasen broke her heart in a diner on the Upper West Side and everything that came afterwards, including her living with her parents in a godforsaken oasis out near the Delaware Water Gap while the coronavirus pandemic swirled around the rest of the world, poking for weaknesses in their defenses. Over lunch, Olympia’s life was transformed from a smorgasbord of opportunity to an altar of compromise. Her path to achieving “world domination,” which she had discussed as a teenager, had suddenly derailed.

A few years earlier, Chasen was a bit dreamy, smart enough, and cruelly ambitious, which is how Olympia’s friends also described her. Though her mother had warned her against dating students at Columbia Law School, Olympia had fallen in love with him. They glided past every obstacle. Every door opened for them. They never paid for anything. They moved effortlessly in sync, like the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of yore. He called Olympia “kiddo” and she called Chasen “hoss.” And then, while she was still a student at Barnard, Olympia got pregnant.

“That was not part of the plan,” he told her forcefully, when informed about the pregnancy test results. “You have to get rid of it.”

“So, we don’t get to discuss it?” she asked.

“There’s nothing to discuss,” he said. “I’ll pay for it, if you’re worried about that.”

Those were the only words they exchanged on the subject of Olympia’s short pregnancy and abortion. She had the procedure done out of town and Chasen made good on his promise to pay. Her parents never found out. His parents never found out.

Over Christmas break from college, she talked to Silver about it at John’s of Bleecker Street. She loved the pizza. She and Silver shared some of their secrets. Who else was there?

“It’s not like I got into this relationship with Chasen so that I could get an abortion,” Olympia said.

Silver nodded.

“I mean, who likes having abortions?” she continued. “Do you ever hear any of your friends going around proclaiming, ‘I loved having an abortion! I think every woman should have an abortion’?”

Silver shook her head no and took another bite of her pepperoni slice. They had ordered half pepperoni and half sausage. Silver liked the pepperoni and Olympia liked the sausage.

“Do all these pro-life hypocrites think that we like having abortions?” Olympia further continued. “No, we do not like having abortions. Sometimes we have abortions because we need to…I don’t know… keep control over our lives. Our lives matter, too.”

Silver nodded her head.

“Does that make us bad people?”

“Olympia, I don’t think you are a bad person,” Silver said. Silver was not ready to tell Olympia that she, too, had just had an abortion in Oregon. On the very same day as her sister.

Olympia hoped things would return to normal for her and Chasen, but almost from the moment she told him that she was pregnant, everything about him changed. Just as he had dismissed her desire to discuss the pregnancy, he began to act as though the pregnancy had never happened through an act of his will. Chasen began to criticize Olympia for her old habits like skipping playfully on the sidewalk; for some of her long-held sentiments like the Republican Party being built on a foundation of racism; and even things like her taste in music — he hated when she played The Kinks.

Olympia began to feel like a…pest. He was irritated just being in the same room with her.

“Sometimes it seems like I am the responsible one in this relationship,” he said to her over that lunch at City Diner. He was eating a club sandwich on white toast; she was eating a Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing, hold the croutons. When they ate lunch together at City Diner, he always ordered a club sandwich on white toast for lunch; she always had a Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing, hold the crouton. When they ate at the Manhattan Diner, he always ordered the Dallas BBQ Burger with waffle fries; she ordered the Classic Denver Omelette.  It was one of their “things.”

At first, it did not register with her what he had just said. She thought maybe she had misheard him. She kept chewing, believing that she would catch up to his train of thought.

“I have to think about my future,” he continued. He had stopped eating. “I have plans, Olympia. Plans that require that I build and maintain stability and reliability around me, supporting my plans.”

Olympia stopped eating. She put down her fork and wiped her mouth with her napkin, then replaced it in her lap. Olympia was the picture of grace in any restaurant. Never a spill. Never a slip. Never a bump. She was the Audrey Hepburn of New York diners.

It seemed to Olympia like Chasen had prepared what he was saying. The more he spoke, the more it sounded like he was giving a memorized speech.

“My parents are expecting me to become a public figure, a person they can point to with pride. A prominent lawyer or businessman or politician,” he said. “Someone who is sought-after for expertise and wisdom. Someone who is accustomed to being quoted in the Times or the Wall Street Journal.”

Olympia could not believe the words coming out of his mouth. She took a sip of water, sat back in her chair, and crossed her arms like her father would before he meted out punishment for an infraction of the invisible rules of the Tilley-Blandin household.

“Don’t look at me like that, Olympia. I need to be able to count on the person by my side,” he continued. “I have to know that the woman who will become my wife, the mother of my children, and my helpmate is the kind of woman who knows how to take precautions against the unintended consequences of her actions.”

Jesus wept.

“Olympia, I’m sorry, but you are too unpredictable, too downtown, too artsy, too bohemian for my family’s sake,” he said.

At that point, he seemed to veer away from his talking points. “You are a heck of a lot of fun,” he continued, “but, seriously, where did you actually think this was going? In the long run?”

“This? You mean us? Is that even a serious question?” she asked.

“Yes.”

Olympia gathered herself for what she feared would be her last assault on the Normandy Beach of her relationship with Chasen.

“I thought we could spend our lives together, Chasen,” Olympia sobbed, not so loudly as to attract the attention of other diners, though not of their usual waiter, who moved towards their table until she stopped him in his tracks with a subtle movement of her right eyebrow. “I thought you loved me. I thought you would ask me to marry you. I thought we would grow old together and play with our grandchildren.”

“Olympia, you cannot be serious,” Chasen responded, sounding a little too much like John McEnroe in his prime. “You simply cannot be serious.”

“Why not?”

“Because you are not a serious girl,” he said. He looked like he regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth, but he let them linger in the air between them too long to take them back.

Olympia had seen enough rom-coms to know where this discussion was going to end. She was going to get the last word in. She rose from the table, folded her napkin, and placed it next to the bowl containing her Cobb Salad. Before leaving the restaurant, said to Chasen, “You just broke my heart. I hope you never feel the way I do now.”

She then walked to her waiter and said, “Thank you for all the meals you have served me. I will not be returning.”

After Olympia left the diner, Chasen finished his club sandwich and paid the bill. He tipped 100 percent.

Those were the last words spoken between Olympia and Chasen. Two weeks later, Silver told Olympia that Chasen was dating Mackenzie “Dabber” Armfield. Olympia and Dabber knew each other, or, rather, they knew of each other. Dabber was uptown. Her family’s money stretched back to 18th century “shipping.” Her mother was on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her father described himself as a “private investor, fabulist, and pundit.” Dabber was a junior at Pembroke College, studying art history. Dabber was dumb as a brick, but she knew enough to do what she was told. A year later, Chasen earned his law degree and Dabber graduated from Pembroke. They married that summer. The first step of his career path began at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; Dabber did something or another at the Frick. They lived comfortably in Murray Hill. Then they proceeded to have two young children and move to Larchmont. And that was that.

Olympia moved to Washington DC to teach at Sidwell Friends. She never expected to run into Dabber again or hear from Chasen, except for when he was quoted in the Times or the Wall Street Journal. Then she heard “Lola” on her phone.

“Hi, kiddo,” he said.

Olympia was breathless. Her face flushed. Her skin felt prickly. She struggled to keep the phone from slipping from her hand.

“Olympia,” he said. “Are you there?”

“Yes,” was the only word that could escape her mouth.

“Look, kiddo, I don’t want to beat around the bush, but I read about you and me on the blog,” he said. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry. I had no idea that I had hurt you so much.”

“You did hurt me, Chasen,” she said. “You goddam hurt me so goddam much.”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I was wrong.”

“Wait…you were wrong?” she responded.

“I should not have broken up with you,” he said.

Olympia then experienced a divine gift: a moment of clarity. The moment of clarity allows one the ability to make sense of it all: why you were born and your place in the universe, your purpose in life, what path you should choose, how and why to resolve conflicts, when and whom to forgive, and from whom to seek reconciliation.

In this moment of clarity, she understood that Chasen may have felt weak when he mentioned his family when breaking up with her. He should have just told her that he didn’t love her anymore, because you cannot argue with what the heart wants. Chasen may have finally felt the true cost of marrying a person like Dabber Armfield, who would function as a set of golden handcuffs for the rest of his life. Chasen also recognized from the blog post how important he had been in Olympia’s life. Just as important, he had learned that she had just broken up with her latest boyfriend, Huey Newton Wallace. Olympia represented the just the person, just the action, just the transfiguration he needed to offer a balance between the weight of obligations and responsibility and his desire to be free of that weight.

“Chasen?” she said in a measured tone. She had seen enough rom-coms to know how Chasen wanted this to play out. Again, she was going to get the last word in.

“Yes, kiddo?”

“I need a lot of things in my life, but I don’t need an asshole like you,” she said. “Lose this number.”

In another moment of clarity, she also understood that she would blend in lessons on female empowerment in her English classes. Her girls, she believed, needed to be armed against the idiocy of her boys.

Even her latest ex-boyfriend Huey, the most mature young man she knew, had told her, “When I was 19 years old, I was barely human.” Olympia would also warn her girls against ever dating men who were students at Columbia Law School.

*****

Edward Norton was getting nervous. No, not nervous. Not really. Edward Norton really doesn’t get nervous about anything. Concerned? Edward Norton experienced concern. Frequently. He was concerned about his schedule. Concerned that he was losing money because of the uncertainty about his schedule. He was supposed to start principal photography for “The Living Canvases” next month. He was supposed to have started rehearsals with Charlize Theron, who, he understood, was still 3,000 miles away. He was concerned about the discussions with Greta Gerwig, the director, which were to have started later today; however, she had dropped out of the film. He was concerned that he, the other cast members, and the crew were supposed to get inoculated from COVID-19 ahead of the rest of the population’s schedule through the offices of Jared Kushner, who, apparently, had stopped returning Reese Witherspoon’s calls. And he was concerned that his agent was calling him with offers to shoot other movies that would conflict with “The Living Canvases” if Reese’s production was held up or postponed. So, he was concerned that Reese was costing him money. But, damn, he wanted to act opposite Charlize Theron.

He called Reese Witherspoon.

“I am concerned,” he said. “I want to have a discussion with you without Charlize on the call. I am learning that Charlize tends to get her way, even with you, and that is saying something.”

“I will take that as a compliment,” Reese answered.

“Is this movie going to happen?”

“Your agent asked me the same question 30 minutes ago.”

“What did you tell my agent?”

“Same thing than I am about to tell you,” she said.

“I am not going to like this, am I?”

“I want you to call Charlize and tell her that the movie is proceeding as planned,” Reese said. “I want you to tell her that I used a connection with Dolly Parton to get the Moderna vaccine.”

“So…the movie will proceed as scheduled?”

“No. Dolly Parton said ‘no’ and the movie is pretty much fucked right now,” Reese admitted. “But I need Charlize to move her ass from New York to the West Coast.”

“Wait…what?”

“What part of the movie has been postponed and I want you to lie to Charlize as a favor to me don’t you understand?”

“You really have become a producer, Reese,” he said. “How long do I have to keep up this charade?”

“Just keep that smile on your face until Christmas.”

*****

Reese Witherspoon did not need Charlize Theron on the West Coast. She needed Olympia Tilley-Blandin and her mother on the West Coast. She needed Olympia to lie to her family, she needed Charlize and Hopper Tilley-Blandin to remain infatuated with each other, she needed Charlize’s personal assistant Chlöe van der Rohe to accept a job offer from her production company, Hello Sunshine, and she needed Heidi Brzezinski’s private jet.

What had happened was:

Jared Kushner was supposed to get Hello Sunshine all the vaccine they needed to fully inoculate cast and crew of “The Living Canvases” in time for principal photography to begin in southern California in mid- to late January. He had actually stopped returning Reese Witherspoon’s calls, along with everyone else who could possibly give him an avenue to glamour once he left the White House. The word was the Jared was going to bunker, hoping to emerge after his father-in-law died. He California’s governor Gavin Newsom had personally told Reese that he would not grant a Coronavirus Waiver for the location unless the vaccine had been administered. Reese knew that production on the movie was probably going to be pushed to 2022 at the earliest. She had lost Greta Gerwig as director and she was probably going to lose her co-stars Edward Norton and Charlize Theron as well. “Time to move on to the next thing,” she had told her staff. “And this discussion is covered under your Non-Disclosure Agreements.”

Seemingly unrelated, Hopper Tilley-Blandin had convinced Reese to call his sister Olympia. Olympia described to Reese the contents of the “Astrid” journal that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had demanded she destroy. Reese was transfixed by the story. Olympia emailed her a PDF of the journal that she had converted from JPEG files that her sister had created just before burning the journal. Reese agreed to option the story. “I want you to work on the script for this story with your mother,” she said. “I want the two of you out here in Los Angeles working on it.”

“But you know that my mother wants to get out of screenwriting and return to writing novels,” Olympia said.

“Your mother agreed to come to Los Angeles for ‘The Living Canvases’ project. She is planning on traveling here on Heidi Brzezinski’s jet,” Reese explained. “Nothing about that should change. When she gets here, it will be easy enough to convince her to work with her daughter, won’t it? Believe me, mothers are always trying to earn their children’s affection.”

“How will I explain me being on the jet?” Olympia asked. “After all, it would mean me leaving my father alone in the Poconos with Fiona Apple.”

“You are going to be hired as Charlize Theron’s new personal assistant,” Reese answered. “And I would bet money that Fiona Apple will be returning to New York if she knows what’s good for her.”

“But, I thought Charlize already had a personal assistant, Chlöe something or another.”

“Earlier today, Chlöe accepted a job offer to be a production assistant with Hello Sunshine,” Reese explained. “There is a job opening in the Theron sphere of influence. You must call your brother Hopper and plant the seed of an idea. Tell him that you want to quit teaching and move away from the East Coast. Because your big brother is good at putting two and two together, he will suggest to Charlize that she hire you.”

“How does that make sense?”

“Because everyone knows that you want to get back into the spotlight, Olympia,” Reese answered. “You can be to Charlize Theron what Kim Kardashian was to Paris Hilton.”

As with most Reese Witherspoon plans, this one worked to perfection.

*****

With all the change about to take place, Hopper arranged for a Zoom conference call with his parents and his sisters. “I just want to make sure there are no surprises right before Christmas,” he said. “With Jim Carrey being replaced on Saturday Night Live, we now live in a world of increased uncertainty. What’s next? Is Trump actually going to get innoculated?”

No one laughed at Hopper’s joke. No one in his family thought he was funny.

“Did you hear about the woman police officer who was killed in DC last week?” Silver asked. “Louis knew her. Kind of. Husband and two children. That’s going to be one sad Christmas.”

An awkward pause followed. If the Tilley-Blandin family had one shared superpower, it was the ability to induce an awkward pause during their family gatherings. When she had announced that she was going to college in Oregon. When Hopper had announced that he was moving to Chicago. When Olympia had announced that Chasen Whitney had broken up with her over lunch. The unimaginable cruelties of life were not supposed to be visited on the Tilley-Blandin’s. They assumed that some god somewhere had supposedly blessed them. Experience taught them that the blessing was incomplete.

In Hopper’s mind, he, Charlize and her two children, and his mother would be getting on his ex-wife’s sister’s private jet tomorrow and flying to Los Angeles for the filming of “The Living Canvases,” based on his book and adapted for the screen by his mother. Almost from the beginning of the Zoom, surprises abounded. The ex-wife’s sister was an investor in the movie.

“What do you mean that your mother is flying to Los Angeles tomorrow?” his father shouted when Hopper announced this itinerary. “It’s supposed to be your sister Olympia, your mother, me, and Fiona Apple here in the Poconos for Christmas.”

It did not escape Hopper or his sister’s notice that their parents appeared on separate screens. Their mother was in her office and their father was in his studio. Olympia was seated along on the large sofa in their living room. Their mother’s serene countenance was cemented on while their father became increasingly unhinged. Olympia appeared nervous.

“I’m sorry if this is a surprise for you dad,” Hopper said. “Everyone’s Christmas this year is going to suck. Maybe you can focus on a couple of your commissions. Mom told me that you were behind schedule…”

“Wait,” Silver interrupted. “Louis and I were planning on driving to the Fortress on Christmas to surprise all of you.”

“No, no, no,” said Hopper. Haven’t you heard about the whole ‘Just Say No to Ho Ho Ho’ campaign?”

“Just Say No to Ho Ho Ho?” Silver, Olympia, and their mother asked simultaneously.

“Yes. It’s a thing. No one is supposed to travel home for Christmas this year,” Hopper said. “Dr. Fauci isn’t even going to see his kids.”

“Yeah, well you are traveling, Hopper,” Silver said in a very accusing fashion.

“Not home,” he corrected her. “And very controlled circumstances.”

“I don’t see the difference,” Silver shot back.

“It’s been arranged to be all safe,” Hopper said evenly.

“Safe? By whom? Rudy Giuliani?” Silver asked.

“Enough!” their mother shouted. “What’s done is done. And Silver, Hopper is right. You and your boyfriend should stay in DC.”

“Hypocrite,” Silver whispered. She thought no one could hear her. Everyone heard her, but they chose not to respond. Which was Standard Operating Procedure for awkward pauses.

“At least Olympia will be here with me on Christmas morning,” their father said brightly, trying to fake glee. “I have a great surprise gift for you to open, dear.”

“Dad, I kind of have another surprise for you,” she said. “Mom, you, too!”

“You and Huey are getting back together?” her mother asked expectantly.

“No, mom, Huey and I are just friends.”

“Yeah, right,” Silver jeered. “Friends who text each other every day. That’s not how it’s supposed to go with ex-boyfriends, Oly.”

“Silver, how nice of you to share your expertise on ex-boyfriends us,” Olympia sneered and snarked. “Anyway, I am quitting my job teaching English at Sidwell Friends.”

“Why would you do that?” her mother asked. “You were so good at it.”

“Like everyone else caught in the net of the pandemic, I feel like I need to make a change, mother,” Olympia answered. “I have accepted a new job.”

“That was quick,” Silver said. “And quite a surprise.”

“I was surprised, too,” Olympia said. “Charlize Theron called me out of the blue and asked me to become her new personal assistant.”

“Why that sounds wonderful, dear!” her mother exclaimed with the kind of enthusiasm reserved for mothers who are continually greeted by confounding news from their offspring.

“Sure, that’s great,” her father said with less enthusiasm.

“I’m glad you both feel that way,” Olympia said. “Because Charlize asked me to get on the plane with her tomorrow and fly to Los Angeles.”

“I think that’s an astounding bit of news, sis,” Silver said. “Well done. Way to surprise the hell out of all of us. I bet that you will become like Kim Kardashian to Charlize’s Paris Hilton.”

“Well, then, anyone else have any surprises?” Hopper asked. He had purposely signed up for the free Zoom to keep family meetings to a strict 45-minute time limit. “This meeting has about five more minutes.”

“I suppose I should let you all know,” his mother said, “that I am going to divorce your father.”

The Zoom conference abruptly ended before any of their children could ask who was going to get the New York apartment in the settlement.

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