Bartholomew tried to work his way through the crowd of the council chamber toward Geraldine. Geraldine was trying to work her way through the crowd to Bartholomew.
The moment Bartholomew saw Geraldine standing before the council, his heart leapt. Geraldine had been a missing person for six months! Everyone who knew this assumed she was kidnapped and killed by one of her numerous “boyfriends.” Geraldine was known for her “daliances,” her trysts, her incontinent desire to have sex. Bartholomew remembered the first time he met Geraldine. He was sitting at a table at an outdoor restaurant. She sat down, introduced herself and invited herself to eat with him.
Shy was never a word to be applied to Geraldine. And though her appearance, at first, was a bit repulsive, Bartholomew had enjoyed her company and how she would say exactly what was on her mind, especially complimentary things about Bartholomew. He knew that Geraldine had been with many men, but she still had a way of making Bartholomew feel special, like he was the only one she was interested in. But her constant desire for sex became too much for him. In those intimate moments, Bartholomew didn't want a partner who was lost in her own experience, he wanted someone who would be enjoying intimacy with him.
As Geraldine drew nearer to Bartholomew she remembered that first time they met. Bartholomew had just taken some cash out of an ATM machine. To Geraldine, money is an aphrodisiac. Actually, to Geraldine, most everything was an aphrodisiac, but money more so than some other things: ping pong balls, envelopes, cereal bowls, curtains, etc., so she followed him. When he sat down at a restaurant she was hoping he would have sex with her, but if not, she could at least try to get a free lunch out of the deal. And yet, there was something about Bartholomew that soon changed her mind. She did get her free lunch, but Bartholomew was so polite and kind to her that Geraldine felt special when she was with him. Where she was from, people weren't kind. She would have gladly given herself to Bartholomew if only things didn't catch on fire whenever the two of them were starting to be intimate.
Bartholomew and Geraldine made their way through the crowd and hugged each other for a long time. When Bartholomew pulled back to look into her eyes, Geraldine was crying.
“I'm sorry,” she apologized as she wiped away the tears.
Bartholomew had never heard Geraldine apologize for anything before.
“That's okay,” assured Bartholomew, “You can cry.” And then he started to tear up, too.
“No, I'm sorry I... I've been gone so long.”
At that moment they both realized how much they had missed each other. When Bartholomew had heard the news from Topping that Geraldine had disappeared, he couldn't believe it and was surprised at how strongly his heart responded. What he had always been denying, that he cared for this wild somewhat unattractive young woman, now embraced him. He hugged her again and held her as close as he could.
“Where have you been?” he asked into her neck.
“I have no idea. It's like I've been here, but not. I remember incidents and situations, but it’s like I wasn't really present.”
“Did somebody kidnap you and drug you?”
“No, I wasn't kidnapped at all. At least I don't think so. I sorta woke up in my room at home, just this morning.”
“Weird,” replied Bartholomew noticing that Geraldine's large nostrils didn't seem quite so large as before.
“Yeah, I looked for The Nanny thinking she would know what had happened to me, but I couldn't find her anywhere. You guys were dating, do you know where she is?”
Bartholomew was surprised that Geraldine knew about him and The Nanny. They hadn't started dating until after Geraldine had disappeared.
“Uh, no,” replied Bartholomew. “She seems to have disappeared now. But then she told me she was leaving. It was sorta strange. I guess she went on to be a nanny somewhere else.”
“Oh,” said Geraldine, saddened by this news.
“I'm glad you're back,” said Bartholomew as he smiled. He took Geraldine's hand and led her to where Aunt Josephine, Uncle Jeffrey, Topping, Charlotte and Claire were standing.
“Party's at my place!” said Bartholomew. * * *
Bartholomew's tiny house was wall-to-wall people as many of those in the chamber, hearing that Bartholomew was throwing a party, followed him home. He didn't have much food, but more appeared as more people showed up, and there was enough for all. Bartholomew was happy because these people were bringing good food to his party-- food he liked. There were kale chips, corn on the cob, pickled beets, stir fry broccoli and tomatoes, sweet potato pie, carmalized onion soup, apple and red onion marmalade, battered green beans and so much more that he didn't recognize but couldn't wait to try. And there, at the back of the table, was one small sack of Donkey Burgers.
Music was playing-- the Dionne's-- and people were dancing and singing and laughing. Bartholomew and Geraldine spent much of the party together, often holding hands. This was hard for Claire to watch, and she avoided being in the same room with Geraldine. At certain points in the evening, Bartholomew would lead people down the block to the garden and give them a brief tour. He pointed out where Mr. McBarden had grown the marijuana and the section of the garden that was on railroad property. On one of these tours, Bartholomew announced that the railroad company had sent men to destroy the part of the garden on its property. Bartholomew, who was in jail at the time, had assumed that the men came from the railroad tracks down to the garden. Geraldine corrected him that the men had come in vans and parked at the curb.
“How do you know this?” asked Bartholomew.
“I was here when it happened.” Geraldine let those words fall from her lips before realizing she couldn't have been there; she was missing at the time. Bartholomew didn't say anything.
Back at the house, Geraldine was in the kitchen talking with some people when Bartholomew walked in. Geraldine was pointing out the window.
“Yes, and he fell right out of the tree. Right there.” she said pointing to a place on the ground.
“Are you talking about Mo?” asked Bartholomew.
“Yeah,” said a young man. “What happened to his crown?”
“Crown?” asked a confused Bartholomew. “There was no crown. Not that I saw.”
“Geraldine said he held a crown to his head during the entire fall and didn't let go of it until he hit the ground.”
Geraldine kept quiet and turned away from Bartholomew as she wracked her brain trying to understand how she could have seen this. “I have to go to the bathroom,” she excused herself.
Bartholomew walked into the dining room. Claire took this opportunity, while Bartholomew was alone, to talk with him.
“Good job at the council today, Bartholomew,” she said.
“Thanks,” he answered a bit distracted.
“What's up?” asked Claire, noticing his distraction.
“I... I... just can't figure out how Geraldine knows things that she knows.”
“I mean, Geraldine has been missing for months, but somehow she seems to know the details of things that happened here while she was gone,” said Bartholomew. He was thankful to talk with Claire. She always had good advice and was easy to talk to.
“How could that be?” asked Claire.
“I don't know. She knew about the men tearing down the garden and saw Mo falling out of the tree. She knew exactly where he fell.”
Bartholomew heard a soft quiet meow coming from above. He looked up at the top of the china hutch and there was Oliver, Bartholomew's cat. Oliver didn't like crowds and this was his hiding place.
“Oh, Oliver,” sighed Bartholomew. “I forgot all about you. I bet you're hungry.”
Oliver let out a plaintive meow as if to say “Please stop ignoring me.”
Bartholomew reached up and grabbed Oliver off the hutch. “I'm so sorry. I forgot to feed you and Geraldine,” said Bartholomew.
“Geraldine!” Bartholomew called for his dog. There was no response. Where was that little pug? Her behavior had improved greatly, but he thought surely she would have been in the crowd trying to hump at least one leg. “Geraldine!”
Claire helped Bartholomew search for his little dog. Not finding her anywhere, Bartholomew went to look in the dog's favorite hiding place: under the bed.
As he passed by the bathroom on the way to the bedroom, he called out again, “Geraldine!”
Geraldine, the young woman, opened the bathroom door. “What?”
“Oh,” Bartholomew chuckled. “I'm not calling you, I'm calling my... dog.” Awkward.
“You have a dog named Geraldine? My name?” asked Geraldine pointedly.
“Yeah, she's a cute little pug. She's got kinda yellow eyes and teeth, a turned up nose and used to... hump... any... thing...”
The young woman just stared at Bartholomew with her hands on her skinny hips.
“I forgot to feed her. But I can't find her. So I'm going to look under the bed.”
“You go look then,” spat Geraldine who went in the other direction in a huff.
Bartholomew searched under the bed and in the closet. No dog. He lay down on the bed that was covered with coats and breathed a heavy sigh.
“Really?” he whispered to himself. “Really? But that's not possible.” He heard his own voice in his head “Good, cuz that would be like trying to have a conversation while a dog is humping your leg.” Did he really say that to The Nanny over six months ago when they ran into each other shopping? And what did she reply? “That gives me an idea.” How could Geraldine have known all that she knows? “But that's impossible,” he whispered again to himself and got up and re-joined the party in the dining room.
Geraldine had cornered Claire and was asking her questions.
“What are you talking about?” asked Bartholomew walking up casually.
“What do you think?” said Geraldine.
“Really, the dog came to me with that name,” lied Bartholomew.
“I thought everyone called it Hump-Pug until you named her Geraldine,” added Claire, relishing the opportunity to get Bartholomew in trouble with the human Geraldine.
“HUMP-PUG?!” yelled Geraldine. “You find a dog that went around humping everything and you decided to call it my name?”
“Look, Geraldine. It was just a cute little dog that would comfort me. She was real nice to me, not always humping my leg or anything. When I found out you were missing, this dog showed up and was so nice to me it made me think of you. Honest, I didn't call it Geraldine because of how its looks and that it liked to hump things.”
“BECAUSE OF ITS LOOKS! You saying I look like a dog?!”
“NO! No, absolutely not! That came out wrong. I'm sorry,” said Bartholomew. And he really was sorry.
Geraldine seethed at Bartholomew for a moment.
Bartholomew's mind scrambled. What could he say that might smooth things out? But he knew he would just be saying something, anything, just to calm her down. No, he couldn't do that. His mind searched more. What was it he really wanted?
“Can we start over?” he asked. “All I know is when I saw you in the council chamber today, I was so happy to see you. I hadn't realized how much I missed you. Can we start over, please?”
“There he goes again,” thought Geraldine to herself, “doing that polite thing - being kind to me.” But she could tell it was for real. He wasn't just playing her, like so many other men had. She stopped seething and it felt good to start breathing normal again. She moved forward and hugged Bartholomew.
“Yes, I was so happy to see you, too,” said Geraldine into his neck. “I still am.”
“Awwww,” was heard from several people standing around them. Geraldine and Bartholomew had forgotten they were in a crowded room, and they both blushed. Even Claire didn't feel so bad about this. She could tell that Geraldine and Bartholomew truly cared for each other.
The rest of the party was fun and lasted long into the night. Uncle Jeffrey went home a little early as he didn't like the loud music. Aunt Josephine stuck around long enough to do some cleaning so Bartholomew wouldn't have as much to do in the morning. Everyone else slowly drifted out of the house until Geraldine was the only one left.
“Bartholomew, I don't want to go home,” she said as they piled the last of the plates and glasses on the kitchen counter and threw an unopened bag of Donkey Burgers into the garbage. “I got my dad thrown in jail, my brothers will be mad at me and The Nanny isn't there to protect me.” After a slight pause, she asked, “Can I stay here tonight?”
Bartholomew wiped his hands on a towel and said very kindly, “Yes, you can stay here.” He put the towel down on top of the stack of dishes, took Geraldine's hand and said, “Let's go to bed.”
They walked to the bedroom where they made love until the morning light started coming through the window. There was no sign of fire anywhere, except in their hearts.________________________________
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Mary Esch