Not long after the dinner at Cutlass and Bobo’s where I learned of Scorpion’s new squeaky-clean image and his name change to Etienne, I got a phone call from him.
“Crisis, crisis, crisis!” Etienne shrieked into the phone.
“What’s wrong? Is the house on fire? Is there a gun to your head?”
“Worse,” he said, panic clear in his voice. “My parents are coming for a visit!”
“They’re your parents,” I said. “How bad can it be?”
“Mt. Vesuvius is erupting and I’m Pompeii about to be buried in ash!”
Etienne said, “Mt. Vesuvius is erupting and I’m Pompeii about to be buried in ash!”
I said in a soothing voice, “You’re exaggerating. Calm down.”
“I’m not exaggerating! It couldn’t be worse,” he blubbered. “I’ll be Mama’s target, now that I’m working in her pharmaceutical company. She runs it like a tyrant. I’ve seen her chew people up and spit them out! Behind her back, she’s known as the Dragon Lady of Drugs.”
I laughed. “Aren’t you being melodramatic?”
“Wish I were!” His panic was palpable even over the phone. “You don’t understand. Being with my parents, both super achievers, is like standing in a museum in front of two perfect bronze statues. My father is a celebrity chef. My mother is super-efficient. She runs her family with the same warmth as she runs her company. My mother’s idea of affection was instructing my nanny to give me a good night kiss instead of her having to do it! No warm fuzzies from her. My parents are like walking bookends of polished good taste and finance. I don’t know why they had me.”
After this description, I couldn’t envision him being bounced on their knees as a kid but I said, “They must love you. They encouraged your venture into art. Shouldn’t you give them credit for that?”
He sighed. “My artistic life was my rebellion against them. As long as I was Scorpion, they left me alone but I think secretly they hoped I would grow out of it. I did, and now I’m taking on the challenge of working for Mama and I’m terrified!”
I took a moment to think. I wanted to encourage him. “If you stood up to them once, you can do it again.”
I heard him take a deep breath. “I always feel better when I talk to you.”
My friendship with Etienne hadn’t changed after all. He was still my Scorpion.
“So, the thing is, dearest Sylvia, would you and Max come to dinner while they’re visiting? They’re only staying for the weekend, thank goodness, and I’d love to have you on my side!”
“Don’t worry,” I said. “We’ll be there. Max and I will co-pilot this plane and no bailing out. We’ll all come in for a safe landing!”
“Dearest Sylvia and Max, thank you!” he said and hung up.
I repeated the call to Max. “He needs us and I said we’d do anything to help.”
Max, being contrite after he’d teased me about Scorpion’s change of image, said, “I’ll do anything but juggle.”
I breezed past him. “Max, you’re such a sweetheart!”
It was the night of the dinner and we were at Etienne’s front door. The housemaid let us in.
“Señor Etienne esta esperando,” she said and led us into the foyer with tinkling fountain, neatly pruned vines and smelling of exotic wild flowers.
Etienne greeted us and introduced us to his parents.
Marlene was tall and striking with severely and expensively cut blonde hair, an elegant caftan flowing around her. With her nose up, she regally extended her hand. In a slight Nordic accent, she said, “We are pleased to meet Etienne’s friends.”
For a brief moment I thought, “She’s not Mama but the Queen!”
His father, Antoine, shorter than Marlene, was fine featured with intense brown eyes and a handsome smile and could have passed for Etienne’s older brother. His pencil moustache, however, was unfortunate. “Enchante!” he said, bending over my hand to kiss it.
Etienne clapped his hands and said brightly, “Drinks on the balcony! And after, I’ve prepared a special dinner in honor of your visit!”
“Oh, darling, how sweet!” Marlene said, tossing her perfect flip. “And don’t worry. If the soufflé falls and the sauce burns, Papa and I can always take everyone to dinner in a good restaurant.”
My hackles were up. I felt like a protective lioness with her cub. I turned toward Marlene. “No need to worry! Your Etienne is an excellent chef! Max and I just can’t wait to get his invitations. Etienne, dear,” I said, looping my arm through his and leading the way, “I’ve been dieting all day, just waiting for one of your superb meals.”
As we all ascended the grand staircase to the balcony, I felt Marlene’s eyes burning holes into my back.
Cat claws out! Food fight to follow!