Holiday with Elli
"So that's it, then?" Pete said with a glower aimed at "the honourable" mayor Thomas, "Everything we've been through, everything I've done for the community and you just chase me out of town, like some kind of criminal?"
"Don't make this any harder on yourself, Pete." said the mayor, never losing his stern furrowed brow, "We've all agreed, this is for the best."
"I concur." said Doctor Trent, "It would be to everyone's benefit if you just go."
Pete glared at the doctor akin to an alpha wolf, snarling at a threat to his pack. How did Pete know this wasn't just a scheme to keep Elli all to himself?
"You just want to get me out of the way, Trent. You've always resented my..."
"Oh for Goddess' sake, stop being such a dram queen!" Thomas bellowed, "All we're doing is making you use your vacation time!"
"In Summer?! When Pineapples are in season?!" Pete wailed,stretching his hand to indicate the massive field of newly watered seeds. "Pineapples are my biggest money maker! Those seeds need me to care for them!"
"And they'll still be here when you get back." said Trent "This is for your own good, Pete. Every summer, you work through the night and binge on bolengers. All that caffeine is bad for your heart. It may the the strongest muscle in your body but you can't take it for granted. All we're asking is that you a week's vacation, at least just five days. Here are some brochures. We'll be back around six to help you make the arrangements."
There was no point in arguing. Thomas and Trent were hell bent on making Pete skip a week's work.
Hence he was now on board a train, with Elli and her family, bound for the beautiful coastal town of Downport.
"Why couldn't we have flown in a plane?" Stu asked
"Because with all the waiting at the airport it would have taken just as long and cost twice as much." Pete said.
"Besides," Ellen added "the hotel is right across from the station. The sooner we get settled in, the sooner you can go and have fun."
Stu of course had been all in favour of the idea of a vacation together. Being at the age where every new experience outside of town was an exciting adventure.
The reason for having these people along was mutually beneficial. For Pete, it would work out cheaper if he went in a group, since the only rooms available at the cheapest hotel were twin rooms and he's have to pay a single occupancy fee. And since Elli was also being forced into using her vacation time at the clinic they agreed to go along together. Plus the big advantage of course to bringing Elli's family along would be that if Pete were to mysteriously vanish for a couple of hours, they'd be too busy dealing with Stu's mischievous pranks to notice that Pete had sneaked back to Mineral Town to make sure the pineapples were watered.
Elli returned from the buffet car with a selection of sandwiches and drinks.
"Here we go. Ham and cheese for Stu, a ploughman's for grandma and a BLT for Pete." she said as she distributed the picnic.
"When we get to the hotel, I'd better call the farm and make sure Claire stays on top of things." said Pete, starring out at the grassland that flashed by. The cows in the fields made him think of his own cattle. Were they getting fed on time? Was Claire brushing them properly?
"I'm sure your sister is managing, just fine." Elli said, reassuringly.
"Oh no. You don't know her like I do."
"It can't be too hard for her. You said yourself, you're both creatures of habit."
"Yes, but Claire's usual habits are buying flashy clothes, playing video games and chasing guys. She's so irresponsible, sometimes."
"Well, you obviously trust her enough to run your farm for the week, so she can't be that bad."
Poor innocent Elli. Always seeing the best in people. Pete couldn't tell her the real reason he let Claire run his farm- because if he told people that he was having seven magical Harvest Sprites work the farm, everyone would think he had gone mad. Then the next vacation Trent would make him take would involve a very uncomfortable white jacket with very long sleeves.
Well, that and the Harvest Sprites were just charging him too much. First rule of running a business- get your relatives to help out and underpay them.
"Come on, Pete. Have a bit of faith in your sister. She's not a child any more, you know."
"I guess you're right, Elli. Claire's not a little kid any more." Pete sighed, adding, under his breath- "Not chronologically, at least..."
The group ate their sandwiches and Pete reached for a can of drink to wash his down with, when he noticed something missing from the selection.
"Didn't they have any energy drinks?"
"You shouldn't drink too much of that stuff." Elli said "Too much caffeine can make your heart beat too fast."
Pete stood up with a sigh.
"A don't think one can of Monster will do me much harm."
"One can won't." Elli said raising the very finger she'd often wag when scolding her little brother "But considering you've had two cans of the stuff while we were waiting for the train, I'd say you've reached your limit.
"Oh, come on! I feel fine!" Pete said, as he headed towards the buffet car. The girl behind the counter gave a polite smile.
"Hi. Can I have a can of Monster?"
"We've just sold out, I'm afraid." said the girl, still with the smile.
"Okay. How about Red Bull?"
"I'm afraid we've sold all the energy drinks, just now. Sorry!" she finished with that annoying, condescending, sing-song "Sorry".
"Really? One person bought all the energy drink?"
"Yes, a young woman in a blue dress."
While a customer service operative isn't actually supposed to disclose that sort of information (what if a chocoholic with a Tommy gun and a short temper had been told who the last chocolate bar had just been sold?), it told Pete everything he needed to know.
Making his way to the onboard wash room, he examined the waste bin, next to the toilet.
Just as he suspected, several empty cans, once containing powerful energy drinks, now flushed down the drain. Succumbing to defeat, Pete returned to the table.
"Is something wrong?" Elli asked, smiling sweetly.
"You win this round." said Pete with as much dignity as he could muster. He wasn't completely certain, but he was sure that he heard the girl in the blue dress suppress a giggle.
"I have no idea what you're talking about." she said, as she handed him a bottle of fruit juice, from her previous trip to the buffet car.
Eventually, they arrived in Downport. The hotel was very close to the station, so it didn't take long for Pete to unpack in the room that he was to share with Stu. As the unruly eight year old was bouncing on his bed (purely for the scientific purposes of testing the softness of the mattress, you understand), Pete made his way to the phone in the reception area and called home.
Every ring that the phone made caused his heart beat to sting. Was Claire at home, taking care of the livestock or was she running around town, getting drunk and chasing village boys? Oh, Goddess, he hoped Harris hadn't arrested her for doing something stupid.
Every ring was another two seconds that he didn't get an answer to that question.
Then like an finding an oasis after a fifty mile hike through the dessert, came the click that signalled that the receiver had been picked up.
"Damn crocodile! Hello?"
"Crocodile? Claire, it's Pete."
"Agh! Hey Pete, what's up?"
"We've just got to the guest house and I wanted to make sure you're on top of everything."
"Look, everything's fine! I have everything under control!"
"Have you started watering the pineapples? I usually start watering around this time in the afternoon."
"Um, yeah! Doing it as we speak. Damn it!"
"Oh, I, er...almost tripped over a rock."
"What? I was sure I cleared all the rocks away... Wait a minute, what's that music in the background?"
Claire's gulp failed to drown out the melodious jungle music that Pete could faintly make out from the other end of the line.
"Is that Donkey Kong Country?! Did you bring your SNES over there with you?!"
"No! That's...okay it is Donkey Kong Country..."
"When I let you stay at my farm, I did it on one condition, that you take it seriously!"
"Oh, lighten up, Pete. Even the Harvest Goddess takes a break during winter."
"You're whole life is a big long break, Claire! Now get to work, and start feeding that the livestock! If I get home and find the chicken coop empty, there'll be hell to pay!"
As with most conversations between siblings, both ended the phone call wishing that they had been an only child.