"Olio, olio, olio," I sigh as I settle onto the throw pillow that's been haphazardly tossed on the ground. Despite only having just turned eighteen, my knees and back cry out in strain. Dad always told me to stop cracking my joints and I never listened so here I am, groaning like a fifty-something-year-old and saying phrases stolen from my friend's Italian grandmother. Under the canopy of blankets, couches, string lights, and pillows, a teal plastic bowl of popcorn and other snacks are steadily hacked at and devoured by two small children with all the enthusiasm.
"Olio, olio, olio," the kids parrot back. Molly, on the right, cocks her head in her signature pose and asks, "Why do you always say olio, olio, olio?"
I smirk at her, rubbing my hands together quickly. "Why, it's a summoning spell, of course. But only I know the secret part that makes it work." In amazement, their six-year-old faces drop, Adam's further than his sister's. His blind faith in the world has made him ready to accept whatever an authority figure tells him. When I accidentally explained Socrates and his method to Molly as "essentially, you just keep asking why" she took off and continues to try and dig to the bottom of everything. "It summons the story to this plane from the over the realm. And it's unbreakable." I shoot a look at them both and smirk when they share the look accusingly at the other. They know that their constant and cute interruptions have often led to the early or unsatisfying ending of my stories and aren't exactly eager to repeat their mistakes. "Now, where were we?"
Adam's brow creases furiously as he tries to remember. "Um, um—"
My shoulders pop as I reach over and grab the box of tissues off the side table. I release a short and sharp breath as I return to my original pose. "Adam, blow your nose, you're just suckin' all that snot back up there, bud." The swirling and generic design on the box draws my attention enough to notice that certain Disney characters are woven into the design.
He nods and grasps one of the thin pieces of paper in his hand before trumpeting loudly until his nose is clear. "Tesco and Marsh just reached the Bay of Sweetwater and were about to get on the Emerald Seeker."
"Aah, righteo, Marsh," I drop my voice into the rough and well-weathered accent of the captain of a small but trustworthy ship. "The name's Sycus and this here's the Emerald Seeker, the fastest ship on either side of the Sweetwater as I often am. I'm a merchant, myself. Trade mostly in silks and gems, I do, but I'll take on the odd barrel of spices every now and then. Have ye two anything with which to pay me? I'm a very busy man. I don't have all day to dawdle on a pair of adventurers." At my chin, my fingers begin to stroke an imaginary beard. My many years of service upon the seas have given me a grizzled look that I manicure obsessively. The hairs precisely clipped to just one inch beyond my chin naturally turned to rust and russet by years of being out in the sun.
"I have my lute!" Adam holds up the remote to the tv triumphantly. "I could play you a song. If you want to hear it."
"I have gold." Molly offers, presenting a handful of yellow M&M's.
Pinching my fingers together, I grasp one of them and hold it up to my eye, moving it back and forth in pretend focus. "Hmm." I consider it before popping it in my mouth. "Unfortunately, this is the Emerald Seeker, little lady. I only accept—" she holds up two green peanut M&M's fused together by their sugar coating. "Emeralds," I finish. "Right on the nose. All aboard and set sail for… Moonset Cove!" I crawl out of the tent and take hold of the edge of deep blue blanket forming most of the ceiling. Under my hands, the piece of fabric rises and falls like an angry ocean. Between this and my next sentence, I bleach my voice of the captain and resume the character of the narrator. "The seas were rough as the Emerald Seeker and cargo braved the horrible weather. Waves the size of mountains rose and fell with the strength of rabid dragons, the horrible groaning of the sea roaring just as loudly." My pant leg tugs until I stop waving the blanket and look down at the top edge of Molly's magenta glasses and her deep brown eyes behind them. "What, yah stinker?"
"Why's the weather so bad?"
"You've incurred the wrath of a god." I roar and toss my head mightily. My gaze returns to them and they stare blankly at me in confusion. "Murtick, the god of the sky and sea is mad at you." I roar and wave the blanket again. This time, their faces are appropriately transfixed in horror. "Hidden deep within the hull of—" Molly's hand flies up this time. "Yes, Molly?"
"What's a hull?"
"A fancy word for body. It's where they keep all of the cargo on a ship."
"Why not just call it body, then?"
"I dunno," I shrug. "I wasn't there when they decided to call it a hull."
"My hull needs to go to the potty."
"You guys are holding up the story." I fix a pout on my face and shift my weight to one foot.
"But I just really gotta go." Adam scrambles past my legs and off in the direction of hall restroom.
"Remember to wash your hands after!" He pauses momentarily outside the door and holds up his thumb. In all my years of babysitting them, Adam's frequent bathroom trips have become points at which Molly's character interrogates mine. I turn back to her and see that her face is fixed in a thinly veiled mug of desperate curiosity. "What can I do for yah, little lady? Now that the ladies' run below deck with seasickness—"
"Cut the cheese, old man, I know you aren't telling us all you know. A silk and gem trader don't carry around a bag of spices around his neck for no reason. What's in it?"
"Ah, so ye know about my magic spices, aye?" I pretend to grasp at the pouch she said is around my neck. "And what're ye to do of it?"
"I'll ask you what they do and why the god of the sea and, and—which god's mad at us again?"
"Murtick, the god of the sky and sea."
"Thanks. Why is he mad at us?"
"Because…" I old off, waiting for Adam to settle himself back into place before saying "Murtick, the god of the sky and sea is mad at you because… you gave me his eye as payment!" I pull down one of my lower eyelids and move my eye around in circles. I force my voice to stretch and morph until it's in the booming voice of a god. "How shall you repay your debt me!" I stand tall on my toes; I stretch my limbs out until I'm larger than my frame would allow me to be. My cheeks puff out and I grumble with displeasure.
"Oh, mighty Murtick," they beseech in unison, their arms outstretched. "We—"
"Kids! We're home!" In the mudroom, the door slams behind their parents. Ms. and Ms. De Loum step into view, their clothes still comfortably from their evening of dancing and dinner. "Here you guys are." Karen adjusts her glasses after leaning down to kiss them both on their heads. "They weren't too much trouble, I hope?" She turns to me. My head is shaking before she can finish.
"Perfect angels, as usual, Ms. De Loum."
Jen comes around the corner and purses her lips to one side in a mocking and false look of doubt. "I find that hard to believe."
"Mooom," Molly groans, "we were just about to slay the evil god of the sea and sky." Her eyes are shining with desperation, and just enough grounding that any concerns of possible temper tantrums for the night I may have to melt away.
"I never said he was evil."
"Oh. I added that part. Sorry."
"Well, we don't want to keep Dylan any longer. Say bye, kids."
"Bye, kids." They parrot perfectly.
I smile down at them and wave. "Bye, guys." I lean down and hug them both as best I can with them wrapped around my legs. Turning my head up to Karen, I ask, "Same time next week?"
She shakes her head with a small, emotionless frown. "We're actually heading off to Disney next week, but the week after, if you're free."
"For these little monsters? I wouldn't miss it for the world. Besides, we still must finish the story with Murtick, the apparently evil god." I wave, take the thirty dollars she holds out to me, and leave through the front door. "Thank god for Karen, Jen, and their blatant disregard for the structure of a story," I whisper to myself in the warm summer air. "I really thought I was going to have to come up with a proper ending."