“Do you see him?”
Scott craned his neck over the line of people who were coming off the commercial flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Brains had flown from London to Sydney, and made connections to Melbourne from there. “I don’t see him yet, Tin-Tin.”
Beside him, the Malaysian girl fidgeted a little. “I wonder how things went with Sir Jeremy. He seemed anxious to stay behind and see if he could help.”
Scott glanced at her. “I wonder if we should have brought a bigger plane than Ladybird. You know what Virgil said about all those packages.”
“Oh, Scott,” she replied, waving her hand dismissively. “You remember how many gifts we managed to fit into Ladybird the year Nicky visited us. We’ll have no problem carrying home whatever things Brains purchased.”
“I hope you’re right,” Scott said, shaking his head. “Hey! There he is… I think.”
“Hiram!” Tin-Tin called, beckoning frantically. “Over here… oh my!”
“H-Hello, Scott, Tin-Tin.” The young man who presented himself to them was dressed in a pair of light, well-pressed khaki trousers, with a short sleeve, open-collared polo shirt in a forest green tucked into the waistband. He wore brown loafers, and basically looked as if he’d stepped out of an L.L. Bean catalogue… if you could discount the glasses and the hair. He carried an overnight bag , and a garment bag was slung over one shoulder.
“Nice duds there, Brains,” Scott said, grinning. “That shirt reminds me of a certain large, green flying machine… which will remain nameless in present company.” He reached out to take Brains’s bags from him. “Need some help there?”
Brains shook his head. “No, I’m, uh, fine.”
The threesome began to walk toward the luggage pick-up. “Uh, we may n-need a skycap or at least a float,” Brains explained, blushing a little. “I, uh, have more luggage coming b-back than I left with.”
“Thought as much,” Scott said, as he guided them along. “Especially after all that shopping you did with Lady Penelope.” He snorted a laugh. “I bet you’ve got as many suitcases as she usually brings!”
“N-Not quite that many,” Brains said, smiling. “B-But I’d g-give her a run for her money!”
All this while, Tin-Tin was frowning slightly as she looked at Brains, then finally she said, “Brains? Did you go to Heathrow in that? You must have been terribly cold!”
“Oh no, Tin-Tin!” he exclaimed, shaking his head. “I w-wore something much, uh, warmer, and a good overcoat as well.” His eyes lit up behind his lenses. “There was sn-snow before I left! Point three seven meters, to be precise. Lady Penelope was afraid that the flights might have been, uh, delayed, but they weren’t.” He glanced down at his new outfit. “I changed clothes during my l-layover in, uh, Sydney. I wanted to be p-prepared for the change in, uh, climate.”
“I see,” Tin-Tin said thoughtfully, nodding. “You look very nice.”
“Th-Thank you, uh, Tin-Tin.” The blush on his face deepened and his expression turned to a shy sheepishness that had Scott rolling his eyes.
“So, which bags are yours?” Scott asked, surveying the luggage conveyor that was marked with Brains’s flight number.
“All the ones with the, uh, purple tags,” Brains explained. “Lady Penelope thought they’d s-stand out more. She wanted me to use, uh, pink, but I d-declined.”
“One, two… four… six…” Scott was counting under his breath. He turned to Brains. “You’re right. I’ll get a skycap.”
“Ladybird One to Tracy Island. Requesting permission to land.”
“Tracy Island here. Permission granted.” Jeff’s voice came over the radio. “You’re just in time for dinner.”
“Hm, dinner,” Scott said, a wry twist to his lips. “Any chance of getting dessert?”
There was a heavy sigh on the other end of the broadcast. “It doesn’t look like it.”
“That was some load you brought up from the hangars, Brains,” Virgil said as they sat at the dinner table. “Thought for a moment you’d brought Lady Penelope to visit.”
Brains uttered a whispered groan as he shook his head. “Uh, no, Virgil. I m-may have had a lot of l-luggage, but there’s no way I could compete with, uh, her Ladyship.” He smiled suddenly. “Besides, that was just once. I don’t, uh, foresee any more trips quite like th-that one.”
“I think you look particularly nice this evening, Brains,” Eleanor said, smiling at him. “Your stay with Lady Penelope did you some good.”
“Thank you, Mrs., uh, Tracy,” he replied, blushing a little. He had changed clothes once again for dinner, and was now wearing a button down shirt in a dark burgundy, with one of the few items of his older outfits that Lady Penelope had declared stylish and appropriate: his gray waistcoat and matching slacks. He’d chosen one of his bow ties, a complementary plaid one that Lady Penelope had selected as being particularly appropriate. “This is the Cavalier tartan,” she’d told him, a sly smile on her face. “I think it very apropos, considering your goal.”
“Uh, Mr. Tracy?”
“I m-made an appointment with my ophthalmologist in Wellington for, uh, next week. I’ll need the time off, and someone to fly me there and b-back.”
Jeff frowned. “Is there a problem, Brains? Or is this a routine visit?”
Brains sighed. “A p-problem, I fear. My vision is, uh, deteriorating.”
There was a quiet murmur of concern around the table, and Jeff put up a hand to quell it. “Do you want me to pull some strings? Get you a more timely appointment?”
“N-No, that won’t be, uh, necessary,” Brains replied. “I can wait.”
“Maybe you can, but I’m not sure we can,” Jeff told him.
“Now, Jeff,” Eleanor said. “Let Brains be. He can make the call tomorrow and ask for an earlier date.” She gave Brains a no-nonsense look. “And he will, won’t you, Brains dear?”
“Y-Yes, ma’am,” was Brains’s bewildered reply.
“And when you have that appointment, Jeff can plan for the flight,” Eleanor said smugly. “I should think Alan or Gordon could be spared to fly you out and back.”
“Y-Yes, ma’am,” Brains said again.
“Good.” She nodded, and then turned to Kyrano. “I think it’s time for dessert.”
“Of course, Mrs. Tracy,” he murmured.
“Dessert?” Scott said eagerly. “All right!”
“It’s about time,” Jeff muttered. Eleanor pretended not to hear him.
“What did you make, Grandma?” Gordon asked, grinning.
Kyrano, who had gone into the kitchen, came out with a tray, which he placed on the sideboard behind Eleanor. Then he came to stand at her shoulder. “This evening, we have chocolate cream pie or banana cream pie. Which would you prefer, Mr. Tracy?”
“Hm,” Jeff said, a pleased expression on his face. “We haven’t had this for quite a while. I think I’ll have banana.”
“Very good, sir.”
Kyrano asked his question of each member, serving up slices of the pie to everyone. When everyone was served, and they began to eat, Virgil took a bite of his chocolate cream pie and said, “This doesn’t quite taste the same as usual, Grandma. What did you do with it?”
“Do you like it, Virgil?” she asked as a reply.
He nodded. “Yes, I guess so. Just takes a bit of getting used to.”
“Well then,” she said, a wide, triumphant smile on her face. “I used fat-free, low-calorie pudding, skim milk, sugar-free whipped topping, and a low fat shortening in the crust.”
Scott’s eye grew wide, and he finished his mouthful, then put his fork beside the remaining half of his slice. He patted at his mouth with his napkin. “Thanks for the pie, Grandma. I think I’m finished.”
“You should try the banana, Scott,” Gordon said. He took a wide bite, chewed, and took a drink of his coffee. “You can’t grow diet bananas.”
“Hey, if you don’t want that, Scott, I’ll gladly eat it,” Alan offered.
“Knock yourself out.” Scott had started to hand it over when Eleanor spoke sharply.
“Alan! Scott! Give that to me.”
“Aw, Grandma! No sense it going to waste,” Alan exclaimed.
“No sense it going to your waist,” Grandma replied crisply. “There are still calories and carbohydrates in it, and you don’t need them.” She glanced around the table, catching each person’s eye as she did so. “One piece per customer from now on.”
Alan looked imploringly to the head of the table, but Jeff was studiously paying attention to his coffee and a data pad he’d brought to the table.
“Please excuse me, everyone,” Scott said as he rose from his seat. “Delicious meal, Kyrano. Thank you.”
“You are very welcome, Mr. Scott,” the retainer said with a short bow.
Scott left the table, followed quickly by Alan, then Virgil. “Hmph,” Eleanor said irritably. “Not a word about the dessert.”
“Give them time, Mrs. Tracy,” Tin-Tin counseled. “They’ll get used to it.”
“At least we got some dessert,” Gordon said. “I’ve been going through withdrawal symptoms the past few days!”
“You’re exaggerating, Gordon,” Jeff said, a clear indication that he was listening to the conversation. He glanced up at Brains. “Let me know if you get an earlier appointment. Your vision’s important, Brains.”
As the rest of the family excused themselves from the table, Brains had an errand in the lab. Better bring those new lab coats down and put them in the lockers. That was one thing that Penelope couldn’t really help me with; lab coats aren’t exactly fashion items. But I needed some new ones, and these will help protect my new clothes. He glanced at his phone as he gathered the coats up. I think when I make that call tomorrow, I’ll call my dentist, too. No sense going to Wellington several times in a row when I can get my eyes examined and teeth cleaned on the same day.
“So, what are you going to do?” Alan asked as they flew on to Wellington.
“Wh-What do you, uh, mean?” Brains sat up in the cockpit of the JT-1 with Alan.
“Well, you’ve come home with an entire new wardrobe,” Alan said. “Now you’re heading out to have some procedure done on your eyes and seeing your dentist at the same time. You’re obviously trying to prove something.”
“I don’t see that it’s so, uh, o-obvious,” Brains replied mildly. “I’ve noticed a deterioration in my eyesight, and I’m h-having an examination. I most likely will get a p-prescription for new eyeglasses.”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. I guess I figured that you’d want to get rid of those glasses altogether,” Alan said, surprised. “I mean, eye surgery is so easy these days.” He paused, then asked, “How about the dental appointment?”
“Alan, it’s merely time for my, uh, usual dental prophylaxis.”
“Time to get my t-teeth, uh, cleaned.”
“Oh.” Alan was quiet for a few moments, mentally chewing over what Brains had told him. “Then, if you’re not trying to prove anything, why the new wardrobe?”
Brains glanced at his pilot, and shook his head. “Why not a new, uh, wardrobe? You b-buy clothes all the time and b-barely wear them twice. I just t-took advantage of an opportunity to sh-shop, and to ask the, uh, advice of someone knowledgeable about men’s f-fashions.”
“Still, this is kinda out of the blue for you, especially in light of your mysterious resolution,” Alan argued.
The engineer raised his hands, palms up. “Wh-What can I say? Sometimes a little, uh, change is good.”
Alan shook his head in frustration and disbelief. I don’t think I’ll ever dig this guy.
“It’s not good news, Hiram.” Dr. Briscoe shook her head. “Your eyes are getting worse. It’s time to consider surgery.”
Brains drew in a deep breath and let it out in a deep sigh. “I th-thought as much. And truthfully, I was already, uh, considering it, even if my eyes hadn’t ch-changed. I j-just didn’t want it to s-seem like I was, uh, choosing it. If it’s a n-necessity, that’s b-better.”
The ophthalmologist folded her arms. “I don’t understand.”
He leaned over to her in a conspiratorial fashion. “You, uh, see, I’ve made a resolution to b-better myself. I want to impress people, and b-be less of a wallflower. But I d-don’t want my employer’s f-family to pick up on this r-right away. I’d like to keep them, uh, guessing.”
“Ohhh-kay,” Dr. Briscoe said, still puzzled. “Whatever you say. Let’s get your surgery scheduled, and I’ll prescribe some drops for you to use during the week before your appointment.”
“Good,” Brains said, beaming. “I c-can hardly wait!”
His surgery was scheduled for the twenty-first. He took the prescription drops with him, and let Alan choose a restaurant where they could eat lunch.
“I’m taking us somewhere with a dessert buffet,” Alan announced. “Need to satisfy my sweet tooth. Maybe while you’re in the dentist’s office I can buy some cookies to bring back.”
After lunch, Alan drove him out to his dentist’s office.
“Your teeth are in good condition, Hiram,” Dr. Forbes told him as he examined Brains’s teeth. “Just a little cleaning and you’ll be fine.”
“C’n oo eck-om-men a ort-o-dntst?” Brains tried to ask.
“Recommend an orthodontist?” Dr. Forbes translated. “Yes, I can. Finally going to take my advice about that gap and your malocclusion?”
“Eyah,” Brains said, nodding slightly.
Dr. Forbes smiled. “Good call. Would you like my receptionist to set up an appointment?”
Teeth clean, orthodontist referral made, Brains went out to find Alan. He waited ten minutes before the sports car arrived. Alan flashed a bright smile as Brains climbed in. “Sorry I’m late, Brains. I found a grocery not far from here and stocked up.” He indicated the bags in the minuscule back seat. “The guys will be happy; I bought enough for all of them.”
“They’ll be g-grateful,” Brains replied, grinning back. “Especially, uh, Scott.”
“Hey, do you think you could have another ‘appointment’ sometime soon? It’s the perfect cover.”
“I’ve g-got one on the, uh, twentieth. Is that s-soon enough?”
“If we can get the other guys to ration their sweets out until then, it’ll work just fine.”
“Oh, Brains,” Tin-Tin said as he told her about the upcoming surgery. “Are you sure you really need it?”
“Y-Yes. Dr. Briscoe was very, uh, certain,” Brains told her. He smiled slightly and reached up to touch the blue frames. “It will b-be a nice change to see you without any, uh, impediments.”
“But… you look nice in your glasses,” she told him softly. “I will… miss them.”
He glanced down, scuffing the toe of his new loafers on the lab’s floor. “You’ll g-get used to it, Tin-Tin, in t-time.”
She sighed. “I suppose I shall.”
While readying himself for bed that evening, he tried to see what he would look like without the glasses. He had to lean very close to the mirror to actually get a relatively clear image. Funny, I rarely see myself in the mirror like this. I never bother to look at myself unless I’ve got my glasses on. Soon this will be the face I see when I look in the mirror. He cocked his head to one side, then the other. I think it’s a good face. Sure, I’m not handsome like the Tracys are, but I don’t think I’m ugly either. He ran a hand through his hair. And I’ll look even better with a new hairstyle. Tin-Tin will like that.
“No dessert for me, thanks,” Scott said, putting up a hand. Kyrano had made a fruit torte this evening, but Scott was looking forward to grabbing a package of snack cakes to assuage his craving for chocolate. He missed having Eleanor’s apple pie; Alan had brought a pie back for him, and it was the first thing he’d eaten. Even so, it hadn’t been the same. Hm. Maybe I should volunteer to be Brains’s pilot on this next trip to Wellington.
“Who’s flying Brains to Wellington on the twentieth?”
Jeff glanced at the other diners. His sons were watching him intently; each in turn had asked him if they could go and Scott was the last to do so. He hadn’t made a commitment to any of them, not knowing who he could easily spare for the trip. The smuggled-in sweets had not escaped his notice, even if Alan had neglected to buy any for him. I understand what Mother’s trying to do, and in a way, I approve. I miss having apple pie or chocolate cake at meals, but this way, when we do have it, it will be special and more appreciated. Yet, I still do miss it, and understand what my sons are going through. I think I’d better take this trip myself. I’ll decide later if I want to bring some treats back.
“Well, Scott, I thought I’d do it this time. I know it’s an overnight and all, but you can handle things for me while I’m gone.”
Around the table, eager faces fell. There goes any hope of getting restocked, Scott thought glumly.
“Has anyone seen Brains?” Jeff asked, a puzzled frown on his face as he came back into the lounge.
“Last time I saw him, he was out by the pool,” Virgil said, glancing up from his music.
“By the pool? What’s he doing out there?”
“He’s reading,” Gordon offered, looking up from his surfing magazine. “I asked him for a game of chess, but he wasn’t interested.”
“I’ve got some questions about Thunderbird One’s last post-flight check. I’d better call him in.” Jeff moved behind his desk, and flipped a switch on the intercom system. “Brains? I need to see you right away.”
“Y-Yes, Mr. Tracy. I’m on my, uh, way.”
“Uh, Dad?” Gordon said, a concerned look on his face.
“Dad?” Virgil said at the same time. He glanced at his brother, who nodded. “I think we’d better warn you…”
He stopped speaking as their topic of conversation entered the lounge, removing his sunglasses and blinking owlishly. Jeff noted that the scientist had come from the balcony, but that little fact was overshadowed by the way Brains was dressed. He wore a pair of khaki walking shorts, a navy blue golf shirt, and brown leather boat shoes on his feet. The reality of Brains, who always wore trousers, exposing his skinny white legs to the public was shocking, to say the least. Even more shocking was the magazine he had tucked under his arm: Hollywood Report.
“Hope you put some sunscreen on,” Gordon commented dryly.
“I t-told you I, uh, had,” Brains replied as he fished his glasses out of his shirt pocket. He put his magazine down and turned his attention to his employer. “You n-needed me, Mr. Tracy?”
“Well, uh, um, yeah,” Jeff sputtered. He shook his head as if to clear it, and because curiosity demanded it, asked, “Why are you reading that?”
“Oh, uh, this?” Brains glanced down at the magazine, and then laid it on one of the small tables in the room. “J-Just trying to keep up-to-date on the l-latest entertainment t-trends.”
“But why?” Jeff’s voice had a tone of pleading in it as he sought to understand. “You’ve never had any interest in such things before.”
Brains colored. “W-Well, I, uh, thought it m-might help us to a-avoid incidents like the one with the M-Martian movie. We c-come into contact with the, uh, media quite often and having kn-knowledge of the way it works…”
Jeff held up a hand. “Okay, okay, I guess it makes sense. I don’t need to hear anymore.” He beckoned to the engineer. “I’ve got some questions about your report on Thunderbird One’s last post-flight check.”
“O-Okay, Mr. Tracy.” Brains moved closer, pulling a chair with him. “What’s y-your question?”
Gordon glanced at the two of them, then at Virgil. He made a motion with his head toward the study. Virgil nodded and the pair moved out of the room, leaving Jeff and Brains to plan in private.
“So, what do you think is happening?” Virgil asked as they stepped out into the hallway.
Gordon sighed, letting his breath out his nose. “I’m not sure, but I know that song and dance Brains gave Dad was just that: a song and dance. He’s always been a lousy liar.”
“I bet Dad knew it, too, but was too shocked by Brains’s clothes to comment.”
“Yeah. I just hope Brains doesn’t get burned. It was weird seeing those pale legs of his sticking out in the sun like that.”
“I agree.” Virgil stopped walking and faced Gordon. “What do you think is going on with him? I mean, I can see the new wardrobe; he’s needed new clothes. And from what I understand, he really needs the surgery on his eyes. But… sunning himself? Reading about Hollywood? Where’s this all coming from?”
“I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with that resolution he’s made.” Gordon shook his head. “Tin-Tin’s all confused over it.”
Virgil gave his brother a piercing look. “Do you think she’s the reason why he’s doing all this?”
“Possibly.” Gordon shrugged. “I wish…”
“Nothing. It’s wishful thinking on my part.”
“It’s obviously something,” Virgil pressed. “Wouldn’t it do you good to talk it out, whatever it is?”
“No.” Gordon shook his head. “It’s no use talking about it. I know the answers, and I have to respect them.” He smiled ruefully. “Let’s just drop it. Have you come up with a way to get Grandma to drop her resolution?”
“Not yet,” Virgil said. “And it’s hard to justify having sweet desserts at every meal anyway.”
“Wonder why Scott’s been avoiding those desserts we do have?” Gordon wondered aloud. “I mean, some of the low-calorie stuff tastes just like the real thing.”
“You mean besides the treat stash Alan came home with? I have no idea.”
“Maybe we should ask him.”
Virgil nodded his head slowly. “Good idea. Let’s go.”