Ears, Eggs & Bunnies
© Mary Calmes 2014
Technically it was my daughter’s fault and not mine, but I seriously doubted that the love of my life, US Supervisory Marshal Sam Kage, would see it that way. But really, it was. Hannah Banana––B for short––had wanted bunny ears for Easter. I looked everywhere without success because by the time she decided she wanted them, and the kind she wanted, everywhere close to us was sold out. So, because I’m a sucker for my sweet kid, I took the afternoon off to call around and find ears.
Since it was Good Friday and the kids were already with me at the office, once I found a place that said, “Sure, we have some,” I put both my daughter and son in the minivan, and we drove out to Northbrook. It wasn’t far, at one in the afternoon only 45 minutes, and we easily found the place that sold costumes and a ton of other stuff, as it turned out to be this enormous warehouse called Masquerade Emporium. It was huge, the kind of superstore that probably did a bustling business at Halloween but otherwise, people just trickled into.
They had more costumes than I’d seen in years, and so I assumed that there had to be bunny ears in the place somewhere. It wasn’t the cleanest establishment I’d ever been in, and smelled a bit like mothballs. Kola, who had just learned about germs in fifth grade science, wanted a hazmat suit and a ventilator.
“Pa, it’s not clean in here,” he informed me, clearly revolted.
“Oooh, do you think they have a sonic screwdriver?” Hannah happily asked. She was the only one in her class that had a Doctor Who lunchbox and thermos. She wasn’t watching the kind of TV the other second graders did. She could not converse about Hello Kitty or My Little Pony, but ask her to draw you the Tardis, and she was right on top of that.
“I don’t think so, B,” I yawned, walking down the aisle that the texting clerk had directed me to.
“Pa, we’re going to go down the aisle with the werewolf masks,” Kola said as he followed his little sister, informing me of their destination. It was funny how much like Sam he was, cautious and deliberate. Hannah was more like me, all about leaping and then looking to see if there was a net there.
Both of my children stopped to look at me.
“We should all go together.”
Kola sighed heavily, as though I were simply too tedious for words. “I’m nine now, and Hannah’s seven,” he explained gravely, as though I were not aware of these facts. “We’re not going to run away or be stupid enough to go off with a stranger.”
“And we’re together, Pa. You don’t have to be right next to us anymore, as long as we’re in the same general vicinity.”
Vicinity. Who taught him these words? “I just worry.”
Hannah gave me her most patronizing smile.
“We know,” he said, nodding sagely. “But Dad said that we need to start being more independent. It’s why he’s teaching us how to survive in the wild.”
Which had nothing to do with anything but Sam wanting to take his kids––and me––camping. Fishing, making a fire, those things were fun for the marshal. I had drawn the line at hunting, and with Hannah becoming a vegetarian, Sam wasn’t going to convince her to shoot Bambi either. Kola wanted to learn to shoot, but not at animals. He wanted to go target shooting because when the zombie apocalypse hit, he wanted to be ready.
They were waiting on me as my mind drifted. “Fine, but not too far.”
Kola rolled his eyes.
Hannah gave me another too sweet smile, like I was adorable. I didn’t remember why I even wanted kids. “Why would you go down the werewolf mask aisle?” I asked them.
“Because wolves chase rabbits,” Hannah said, like it should be fairly obvious. “Hello.”
That made sense. “Okay.”
They left me and I wandered.
I found a glitter covered, black top hat with pink bunny ears, so I carried that around while I looked through boinger antennae things with eggs on them, dog ears, mouse ears, cat ears, and finally shamrock glasses left over from St. Patrick’s Day.
“Pa,” Hannah said, appearing at my side fifteen minutes later, slipping her little hand into mine. “The bunny’s crying.”
When I gave her my attention, I was startled for a minute. She was wearing a gold top hat, but not gold lame; instead, one that looked fairly sturdy, not a child’s hat, and treated to resemble burnished gold, like actual metal, and aviator goggles. The whole top of her was steampunk; the rest was second-grade jeans and a loose smock romper with cherries, and a long sleeve white knit top underneath. On her feet she was wearing her red patent leather Doc Martens that I wanted when I was a teenager but couldn’t afford, that I had, of course, purchased for her. Sam was somewhat concerned that I was reliving my childhood through my daughter, but I suspected he found it more endearing than anything else.
“What are you wearing?” I inquired.
She flipped the glasses up so she could look at me not through the darker glass but just the clear. “I need this.”
“You need that?”
She nodded. “But there’s more important things right now. The bunny’s so sad.”
I let her tug me forward, following my short person, the top hat cracking me up as I followed her down one aisle, cut across to another, and then ended up in the back by what was a sectioned off area that I wasn’t sure about until we got close, and I realized I was looking at fitting rooms.
“So, we’re talking about a person in a bunny suit?”
“Well yeah. A real bunny could cry, Pa, but I wouldn’t be able to talk to it and know it was sad. That’s silly.”
Of course it was.
I was expecting someone dressed like a big, furry bunny standing around, but B dropped my hand and ducked behind one of the curtains and into a room before I could stop her.
“B,” I called, but the curtain had closed, so I stepped through.
On the floor, knees against her chest, hugging her legs, was a woman dressed like a slutty version of a Playboy Bunny. Everything on her body was sweet carnation pink, but for starters there wasn’t much of it, and neither was it kid-friendly. She had on four inch platform stilettos, fishnet stockings, garters, a bustier, and a sequined thong. Added to her outfit was a pink cottontail and very tall, velvet ears. Also, her make-up was running. When she looked up, she gasped, seeing me and my son, who was there beside her, patting her shoulder and telling her it was okay.
“That’s my Pa, who I told you about. He’ll fix it.”
Both my children looked at me expectantly. They had such faith in me, which was both good and bad. I hated to let them down.
“They are sweet,” she said in a thick Eastern European accent that I couldn’t hope to place, as she wiped at her eyes. “Your daughter, she heard me crying and she came to see.”
“And your son, he watches for her, yes?”
“And so he came,” she explained, her voice breaking, “She said she would go and find you, and he would stay and keep me safe. Now you are here––” big breath, “––you should take them and go before Rolf returns.”
“He’s a bad man, Pa,” Kola informed me. “We need to get her and her friends and take them to our house.”
I didn’t yell. I thought that was impressive. “Uhm, B, if she’s in trouble, we should probably call the police.”
Hannah scowled at me. “No police. She says that the police are helping the bad man.”
That was actually not all that likely, but I was sure the woman believed it. I cleared my throat and directed my attention to the weeping bunny. “So, sweetheart, where are you from?”
“I am from Ukraine,” she told me. “My friends and I were here on holiday from Cherkasy. We were supposed to return already, but the man we were staying with, he took our passports and forced us to dance in his club. My friend Katia, she was sold to a man today, and we all worry what will become of her.”
“There are five of us with Katia. Rolf says that we are to be entertainment tonight at his club downtown.”
Hence the outfit. “And where are your friends?”
“They are here with me to get these costumes. We are alone because the man who brought us had to take Katia her clothes like this.”
Clothes were a loose interpretation of what she had on. “Okay,” I said, taking a breath, “let’s get everyone together so we can figure out where Katia is.”
It took a second for my words to sink in, but when they did, she moved fast, arms around my neck as she rolled to her knees and lunged at me.
She was a taller than me and so knocked me on my ass as I struggled to hug her. Patting her back as she sobbed, I saw how big Hannah’s smile was. She was so very pleased with me.
“My name’s Jory,” I said, smiling. “And you are?”
“Nyura,” she answered, smiling through her tears. “Nyura Petriv.”
When she stood up, with the heels on she was easily six feet, and when she leaned out and called to her friends, three other curtains were thrown aside, and girls in similar outfits all peeked out. There was a spring green bunny, a sun yellow one, and lastly, a baby blue bunny. My daughter was thrilled.
“Oh, Pa, all the bunnies are coming home with us!”
It was smart, really; Rolf had shoved the girls into the fitting rooms, made them strip, and had then taken their street clothes with him. He was coming back to approve the outfits and since they had nowhere to go and no one else knew them, and because he’d put a fear of the police in them, he’d basically marooned them in the middle of the costume store. That was, until Hannah found Nyura.
I walked to the front of the store, bought everything the four girls were wearing, plus Hannah’s hat and goggles, a Mad Hatter hat for Kola, and we left. It was so odd to look into the back seat of the minivan and see what looked like a Las Vegas floor show.
“Now, who has an idea of where we can find Katia?”
As I drove to Highland Park from Northbrook, Hannah entertained the four women with the songs like Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Easter Parade and She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain, which didn’t really make sense with the rest, but I wasn’t going to say anything. Kola was talking to one of the women, Lavra, and explaining about germs. She was listening intently. Each had taken a turn using my phone, calling their parents in the Ukraine, telling them where they were, who they were with, and telling them to contact their State Department. I was going to run the girls right down to the Ukrainian consulate on East Huron, but they wanted to get to Katia first, and Olena had a pretty good idea of where she was.
“Hey,” Sam greeted me, picking up the phone when I called him, “I’m on my way home. Did you need me to get something? More cups?”
“You’ve got like what, six kids coming?” He scoffed. “And they all want their own colors for dipping? I think you need more plastic cups, J.”
“If you think so.”
His chuckle was deep and very sexy. “Why were you calling, then?”
“Just to tell you that everyone’s supposed to show up to the house pretty soon, so I wanted to make sure you were on your way. I just got a text from Dylan that she and Chris and the kids are headed over now.”
“Yeah, so? Aren’t you home?”
“Not quite yet.”
“Hey, Dane and Aja should be there in a half an hour, and Aubrey and Rick and Chisholm too.”
“Horrible,” he grunted.
“It’s a cute name, Sam,” I chided him.
“For a trail, not a kid.”
I laughed at him.
“So, where are you?”
“Just running a bit behind.”
“Okay. Did you find the bunny ears?”
I caught a glance at Lavra’s ears in the rearview mirror. “Yes and no.”
“How is that a yes and no question?”
I coughed. “I wanted to find out, do you know if a consulate closes?”
“Like, you know, does a consulate close for the evening?”
“Of course. I mean, they’re always guarded, but the gates close unless there’s an emer—wait. Why?” he asked, sounding instantly suspicious.
“You have no reason to ask about a consulate?”
“Yeah, okay,” I relented, “I have some friends that need to go tomorrow.”
I cleared my throat. “Hannah, Kola, and I met some girls at the costume store, and tomorrow, since it’s late already and we still have to pick up Katia, we’re probably going to need to––”
“Wait, what costume store?”
“Where we went to get the bunny ears,” I apprised him.
“I thought you were going to Target or something.”
“No, everybody’s out of the kind Hannah wanted.”
“The white ears on the headband thing, and they stick up. Isn’t that what she wanted?”
“No, she was thinking more like a cap or the top of a costume that she could snap under her chin.”
Silence. And I could hear him breathing.
“I don’t really––okay, so now what happened?”
“Well, we went there and Hannah got a gold top hat instead, and Kola’s dressed like the Mad Hatter, and I’m not really sure how that makes sense except for the white rabbit part of that story, but that would be kind of obscure for––oh, hold on, Olena’s talking.”
“Mr. Jory, you must turn soon to find mansion.”
“Which way? Left or right?”
“Is left, I remember. The man chose Katia instead of me, but I was driven to house as well.”
I caught Olena’s gaze in the mirror. “You don’t think he’s hurt her, do you?”
“She is for party. They keep her in room until tonight. If we hurry, we will find her.”
“Okay,” I said soothingly, “you tell me when.”
“Hey,” I sighed, moving my phone back next to my mouth. “Sam, I’m––”
“Where the hell are you?” he barked, his voice icy.
“In Highland Park.”
“Jory, your kids are with––”
“Oh, Sam, I’m not taking the kids anywhere near the house. I’m gonna go in, get Katia, and come home. I’m gonna park the van a block from the––”
“Is time to turn, Mr. Jory.”
“Okay,” I said softly, pulling the car over to the curb.
“Why do we stop?”
“I don’t want you guys or my kids near the house. Olena, you just have to tell me the house number.”
“Who knows how to drive?”
Nyura did, and once I kissed Kola and Hannah and locked the door, I started walking down the street toward the house. I lifted my phone to talk to Sam, but he’d hung up. I ended the call and continued down the street. I was surprised when I was almost there, and it rang.
“Hey,” I said, smiling into the phone. “You hung up on me, and––”
“Jory, what the hell is going on?”
Only Sam could actually yell into a phone loud enough that I could feel it reverberate through my entire body. “I need to get this girl out of the house, and I have a really good plan.”
“Oh God, no,” he groaned. “Just stop walking and wait for me.”
“Sam, other people will be here soon. I have to get her out now.”
“Jory, the kids are––”
“Oh no, Sam, it’s fine. Nyura knows how to drive, and if there’s any trouble, she’s gonna drive the kids right to you. Kola knows how to work the GPS in the van.”
He cleared his throat. “Baby, I’m not worried about the kids. I actually know you’d never put them in harm’s way. It’s you that I’m worried about.”
“What? No. I’ve got this.”
He sounded like he was having trouble breathing.
“Are you okay?”
“Please wait for me,” he pleaded.
“I’ll call you right back,” I said before I hung up and walked up to the house.
I had information that Sam didn’t because I didn’t have time to explain. From what Olena told me, it was a big party. Lots of rich men, lots of women, and Katia was going to be sold to the highest bidder because she was a virgin. I wanted her to stay that way, so I was hurrying.
My phone started buzzing, so I muted the ringer and shoved it in my pocket. It did not stop vibrating.
In past the catering trucks, the guys setting up the big white tent outside, the wait staff, and the guys with guns under their coats. No one noticed me. I was one person moving in a sea of people and whenever someone looked at me, I sighed like they were stupid, and asked where they wanted the ice sculpture.
“Big swan,” I said, using my bored tone and annoyed scowl that I had picked up at the feet of the master––my brother Dane––and waited, one eyebrow lifted.
“Uhm,” quick cough, “go ask Carl.”
Or Jeff. Or Lisa. Or Palmer. There was always someone new to ask, until I was on the second floor of the enormous English Tudor, moving quickly from room to room. In the fifth one, next to the back stairs, I opened the door and found a lavender bunny. They would be a matching set.
“Katia,” I said and smiled, only slightly distracted by the continual pulse of my phone.
“I’m Jory and I have your friends with me in my van, Nyura, Olena, and Lavra. It’s sort of groovy, all the names ending in -a.”
She made a face like a lot of people did when my mind wandered.
“So, instead of staying here, I’d like you to come with me. You can call your folks once we get to my van, and tomorrow we’ll go to the consulate.”
Her face, the way it scrunched up as she started to cry, told me how badly she wanted to trust me.
“I promise, honey, I’m here to help you. All your friends are in my car with my kids.”
“You have children with you?”
That did it. She was up and across the room and on me like a cheetah on a gazelle. If she wasn’t so tall it would have been okay, but as it was, I was smothered in boobs. Which, if I wasn’t gay, would have probably been really great.
“Okay, sweetie, let’s go. Take off the hooker heels for me, okay?”
She looked confused.
“The shoes. We might need to run.”
Yes, she was ready to run. No problem.
They probably had ditched her in the last room closest to the stairs so they could bring her down easily and not have to walk her through the entire house. It made sense. So we took the same route, and took a winding staircase that my kids would have loved but I found sort of tedious.
On the ground floor, I took her out the side door, across the backyard, around the pool, and along the side of the house to the front yard. As we made our way down the driveway, a man yelled out for me to stop.
“Keep walking,” I whispered before I turned and continued moving myself, but backwards. “Rolf told me to come switch out the girls,” I yelled back at the man. “He says someone messed up, they wanted Olena, not Katia. This one is being auctioned at the club; Denny’s dropping off the other one.”
“Denny?” He wasn’t sure, and so kept coming after me, reaching under his suit jacket.
“Donny?” I squinted like I was confused. “Chucky? Tommy? Harry? I dunno man, it ends in a -y.”
“Yeah, yeah, Eddie,” I agreed, and he instantly stopped moving and relaxed as I shoved my hands in my jeans pockets. “He’ll be over with the other girl in, like, ten minutes.”
“Okay, got it,” he said, and turned and started back for the house.
The second he turned, I bolted and found Katia waiting for me out on the road, huddling behind the neighbor’s hedge.
“Come on, come on,” I called to her as I ran by. “Let’s go.”
The two of us blew down the street, turned the corner, and ran the other half block to the van. Everyone clapped when we got in and I was in the driver’s seat and had the van turned around in the street, heading for home as I finally answered my phone. I had a total of 18 missed calls from Sam.
“Hey,” I said, making quick turns, needing to get to Deerfield.
“Where the hell are you?” he roared.
“On my way to you, of course.”
“I told you I had it. Now me, the kids, and the girls are all headed home. We should be there in like an hour, maybe less. We’re gonna hit traffic, though, right? I mean, it’s like what now, four something?”
“Jesus Christ, Jory,” Sam breathed out. “Who the hell are these people?”
“Well, you can talk to the girls when we get there. Wait ’til you see B’s hat, it’s so adorable. And maybe you can figure out about Kola.”
“Oh hey, Sam, I invited the Latimores over from next door too, so could you look out for them for me? I’m trying to get Mrs. Latimore to like me.”
“She hates me because my husband is hotter than hers.”
“Have you lost your fuckin’ mind?” he yelled.
“Why’re you mad?”
“Why am I mad?” He was incredulous.
“I have marshals en route to your location, Jory.”
“You do? But why? I’m not there anymore.”
“Hey, make sure Dylan doesn’t eat any boiled eggs ’cause otherwise the count will be off for the kids.”
“Pa, I wanna talk to Daddy.”
“Hold on, your daughter wants to talk to you.”
“Hi, Daddy,” Hannah said happily into the phone. “Guess what?”
“The next person that says the word ears to me will be beat,” Sam threatened me and his two children.
The three of us stood around the kitchen island with him, and waited.
He had held the front door open and allowed the girls to parade up to his front door and into the house, with his lips pressed tight together and not uttering a sound. He had returned Hannah’s wave when she sauntered by, accepted a high five from his son as he followed her in, but me, I wasn’t so lucky.
He grabbed my bicep, wrenched me off my feet, into his arms, slammed the door and threw me over his shoulder. I was carried into the sitting room that we never sat in, and deposited in the middle of the floor. There, my chin was taken in hand and tipped up so that our gazes were locked together. The fury in the slitted gray-blue eyes was not lost on me.
“They were abducted, Sam, what was I supposed to do? The guy stole their passports and was going to do God knows what with them and, well, not really God knows,” I corrected myself quickly, “because I do know what was going to happen to Katia, and that would have been horrible, and they’re so scared of the police because of what Rolf told them, and I have no idea if you’re allowed to intercede on––”
“I’m a federal marshal, Jory, I can do whatever needs to be done.”
I reached up and took hold of his wrist, gently rubbing my fingers over the underside. “I’ll keep it in mind for next time,” I said as the doorbell rang.
He’d growled, bent, and laid a kiss on me that was hard and punishing and so hot that I wrapped around him like a spider monkey and tried to climb down his throat. Holy God. Sam Kage all worried and furious was something I wanted to be under in bed.
But, we had company. Lots of company. And he had about a million questions for not just me but his children as well.
And Hannah kept asking about eggs.
“When are we going to color the eggs with everyone else, Daddy?”
And then it changed to ears.
Why were we in the costume store?
To find the ears.
Why did Hannah even go into the dressing room?
Because she saw someone with ears.
Where was I when Hannah was going into the dressing room?
Looking for ears.
Why did Kola let his sister go into the dressing room?
Because Hannah thought she saw ears, and Kola was there to help her find some.
Thus, the comment…
“Do not say ears to me again,” he reiterated, his big hands clenching on the granite kitchen island.
“Daddy, please… I wanna go color eggs with everybody else,” Hannah whined.
He took a deep breath, one of the ones he learned to do in a seminar he had to take on anger management. You inhaled through your nose and exhaled out your mouth, slowly. Like the air was taking a lap inside your body. He was supposed to do that before he spoke.
“Pa,” Hannah said, cuter at seven than she’d ever been.
“Can the bunnies live with us now?”
“No,” he said flatly.
“You guys go color,” I said, and they flew toward the swinging kitchen door.
“Hey,” Dylan said, walking in as they went out. “Why are there strippers in your dining room, dying eggs with my kids?”
“They’re not strippers,” I said for the fifth time, having told Aja, my sister-in-law, as well as my brother and Aubrey, Rick, and Sam’s brother Michael.
“Your neighbor just took her husband home,” Aja said, leaning into the kitchen. “And she said that you’re not funny, Jory.”
“Shit,” I groaned.
Aja cackled. “Uhm, the color coordinated slutty bunny outfits are a nice touch.”
Dane walked by his wife into the kitchen. His scowl looked permanent. “I can’t wait to hear this.”
“May I just say,” Rick Jenner said, one hand on Aja’s shoulder, the other on the door frame as he leaned in, “you and Sam know the most interesting people.”
I groaned, Sam rubbed the bridge of his nose, and Dane noticed that there were others traipsing around the side of the house to the back door. He moved quickly, answered before they knocked, and was the one our neighbor on the other side, Mr. Grierson, asked about the strippers. Were we really having a party with strippers and dyed eggs?
Dane’s snicker was priceless.
My candidacy for treasurer of the Homeowners Association was shot.
Twenty minutes later, Dylan and Aja were talking to the bunnies, Sam was on a conference call with the State Department and the Ukrainian consulate, and two of his marshals were onsite in Highland Park, with Chicago PD vice detectives, another two at a club downtown where Rolf Steckler was being taken into custody.
“You’re a trouble magnet,” my brother said solemnly, gray eyes with flecks of silver in them locked on me.
“If people didn’t actually know you, they’d never believe you were real.”
I went upstairs to find sweaters for all the girls, hoodies or whatever of mine would fit, and when I turned for the door, Sam was there.
“People are coming for the girls now.”
“Is it safe?” I asked him as he walked slowly into the room.
“Yes, but you won’t be if you ever put me through that again.”
“No,” he cut me off, charging across the room and lifting me into his arms. I wrapped around him tight, holding on, and he bent and kissed me, mauling my mouth as I clung to him.
“Don’t fuckin’ scare me,” he ordered between kisses.
I swore I never would again, even though, technically, it was B’s fault anyway.