FEMALES OF THE SPECIES
Skidding into the chamber ahead of her slower companions, a slender girl with long reddish-gold hair and sparkling blue eyes leaned back on the stone wall for a moment. Putting her left hand to her breast and brushing her hair away from her eyes, she fought to catch her breath.
After eyeing his daughters’ disheveled state, Vincent peered back down at his journal, asking solemnly, "Are you evading the police, Eleanora?"
"Yes, Papa." Rolling her eyes Heavenward, the teenager heaved an overly dramatic sigh. Everyone else called her Ellie, but not dear old dad. Crinkling up her nose at his attempted humor, she grunted just a tad disdainfully, continuing, "And I’m here to find out if you have enough money for my bail."
From the bed came a ill-concealed snort of laughter. Got him again. Keeping her head down and pretending to study the stack of papers she’d been grading, Catherine waited to see who’d win - this time.
Arching an eyebrow, her father sighed. This one was not the quiet child. "I don’t think I have any money at all; at least not at hand."
"Oh well…" Moving to stand behind him, Ellie leaned forward on his left shoulder and kissed the side of his face. "…then I guess it’s jail."
"And why are you being incarcerated?"
With that, Vincent felt a handful of his hair being gathered up and then yanked - rather hard. "For doing this."
"Uh!" Reaching around his left hip with a swiftness only he possessed, Vincent swept his child into his lap and hugged her to his heart. Growling as earnestly as he could, given the circumstances, he observed, "At times you are a rather impertinent young woman."
Glancing at her mother, Ellie returned the wink coming from that direction and smiled, replying, "I’ve had a very good teacher."
Mentally waving the white flag, Vincent shook his head from side to side. Then, gazing at his wife through narrowed eyes, he muttered, "Hmm, yes, I’d have to agree."
Oh he would, would he? Waggling her tongue at him, his mate hastily hauled the pink appendage back into her mouth as Samantha’s voice called out, "Is it okay for Jamie and I to come in?"
"Sure!" Catherine hollered back, then immediately winced. Even now, she sometimes forgot how sensitive Vincent’s ears were.
Followed closely by Jamie, Samantha stepped through the chamber entry. Hesitating just inside of the stone opening, she peered over at Ellie. "Well?"
"I haven’t asked him yet."
"Well, ask him! We’ll be late."
Vincent frowned. "Late for what precisely?"
Batting her long eyelashes in her father’s direction, Ellie explained, "Sam and Jams have asked me to go to the movies with them. They’ve already asked Father and after the usual twenty questions, he said it was fine with him." Before Vincent could make any sort of reply, she exclaimed, "Oh, I nearly forgot! Jacob wants to go, too."
Now it was Catherine’s turn to frown. "Where is Jacob? I haven‘t seen him since breakfast."
"He’s helping Mouse with some weird looking mess of wires right now. But he’d said he’d like to go, if we can." Eyeing her mother hopefully, and then her father, Ellie waited.
Shifting his weight slightly, Vincent realized that his daughter was no longer the little girl who once upon a time had fit quite comfortably in his lap. When had she grown so tall? It seemed like only yesterday she’d been dancing around the chamber in a diaper. And when had she become… God help them all… a teenager?
Waiting impatiently for his reply, Ellie stood up and shifted from one foot to the other.
"What is the title of the film you wish to see," Vincent finally asked.
"It’s called The Polar Express," Ellie replied hopefully.
Samantha began, "It’s a Disney movie."
"… with Tom Hanks", added Jamie, as though those two facts alone said it all.
"Ah yes, I‘ve heard of him." With that, Vincent glanced at Catherine, but she offered no sign of either acceptance or denial. So then, this decision was all his, was it? Oh bother! "How will you pay…"
Interrupting him in her excitement, Ellie exclaimed, "I’ve been saving my allowance for two whole weeks! And Jacob earned enough working at Mister Chan's to go. Plus he promised to buy me some popcorn!"
Turning his gaze to Samantha and Jamie, Vincent asked, "What time does the film end?"
"At four," both women answered in unison.
Jamie continued, "So we’ll be home well before dark."
Vincent seemed unconvinced." Please define ‘before dark’?"
"In time for supper."
Hmm, supper was at six. Peering over at the mantel, he eyed a large antique clock. "You should be on your way then, or as Samantha contended a few moments ago, you’ll be late."
"Okay!" Grinning widely, Ellie dashed over to the bed and smooshed a wet kiss to the side of her mother’s face. Then, racing past her father, she swatted him gently on the top of the head and sped out of the chamber, declaring over her right shoulder, "Papa, sometimes you‘re just too cool!"
For a moment all that could be heard in the chamber was the quiet ticking of the clock. Then, still not looking up, Catherine murmured, "You seem to have difficulty saying no to our daughter, don’t you… Mister Cool?"
"Hmm. Quite possibly as difficult as you find it saying no to our son."
"I… you… oh!"
Just managing to evade the small notebook that went whizzing past his right ear, Vincent refocused on his journal and chuckled low in his throat. Point made and conceded, but not graciously.