After several awkward moments following Harley’s unorthodox speech, the group filed quietly into the Brownstone, where, in their absence, caterers from the Southside Cafe had set out a buffet of food in the dining room. Harley directed everyone to change out of their ‘going somewhere’ clothes and then gather in the dining room. A Welcome Home Mandrake party was in progress, with guests from all over the Under Dome in attendance. Everyone was excited to meet Mandrake … and find out what he actually was.
The dining room table was laden with an array of sumptuous foods, and additional tables had been brought in to hold even more. Harley’s instructions to the caterers has been explicit: “If it’s made from cheese, meat, or gravy – I want it.” Consequently an endless supply of rich, cheesy dishes was laid out over one entire table. There were cheese sauced Brussels sprouts and several different versions of macaroni and cheese. A copper fondue pot bubbling with white cheddar surrounded by cubed bread, chopped vegetables and crispy tater tots sat in the center of the table next to a tall cup filled with long wooden stiicks. A second table held platters of deli-style meats, cubes of ham, kabobs of chicken, jerky, and colorfully wrapped meat sticks. Both of these tables were cordoned off with red braid attached to brass poles and marked with signs declaring, “No Buffaloes Admitted.”
Another table boasted a gravy fountain, gravy punch in a decorative bowl, gravy shooters, sparkling gravy, and a gravy keg that was just being tapped.
And yet another, significantly smaller, table was filled with vegetable trays, colorful vegetable and fruit juices in tall glasses with fancy straws, fruit platters, fruit and vegetable kabobs, grilled vegetables and a large beverage dispenser filled with what appeared to be wheat grass juice. Gordy and Prescott moved in that direction and both filled glasses with the thick green liquid, gulping it quickly before swiping hooves across their mouths.
Harley surveyed the room and nodded in satisfaction. “This is great!” she enthused. “Just what I asked for.”
Looking around, she noticed Mandrake and B.H. hovering at the cheese table. Mandrake was pointing at one of the macaroni and cheese casseroles and B.H. seemed to be explaining something to him. Mandrake shyly put a small amount of casserole on a plate. B.H. handed him a fork and the young hippo timidly took a tiny bite. Suddenly, his face split into a wide toothy grin and he began to quickly shovel the remaining macaroni and cheese into his mouth. When he was finished, he helped himself to larger portions of the other varieties of casseroles on the table. After watching his clear enjoyment of the fare for a few minutes, Harley turned her attention to her own growling stomach.
She moved from table to table, filling her plate, sampling the offerings as she went. The thought crossed her mind that she should be paying more attention to her guests, but that was quickly dismissed upon her discovery of tiny grilled cheese sandwiches. After her initial pass was complete, she took a moment to survey the crowded room.
Roper, Fluffy and the children had arrived at some point. Roper was surreptitiously sipping from a flask he pulled out of his jacket pocket, all the while glancing furtively at Fluffy, as though he was afraid she would notice. Meanwhile, Fluffy herded the children around the various tables, putting food on their plates and continually cautioning them to hold the plates steady. When at last they had all they wanted, she scooted them out the door onto the back patio where the Southside Cafe Catering Company had set up tables and benches. Once she had settled the children, Fluffy returned to the dining room, filled her own plate efficiently and quickly and, with a slightly disgusted look in Roper’s direction, joined the children at their table.
Some of B.H.’s friends and their parents were there, as well. They spent a few minutes making small talk with Harry, then introduced themselves to Mandrake, congratulated B.H. and moved on to partake of the bountiful buffet.
Harley, munching on a cheese covered little cabbage, watched with amusement as Harry tried to talk Roper out of his little flask. Finally, after Roper had snatched it back for the third time and hidden it deep inside the pocket of his dark purple blazer, Harry shook his head and began to fill a plate for himself.
B.H. suddenly appeared at her side, tugging gently at her leg.
“Hello, B.H.,” she said, swallowing the bite in her mouth. “Are you having a good time?”
B.H. nodded vigorously.
“It’s a nice party, isn’t it?” Harley agreed.
B.H. nodded again.
“Is Mandrake enjoying himself?” she asked.
B.H. nodded and looked over at Mandrake, who was still standing beside the cheese table. He waved, and Mandrake waved back.
Harley followed his gaze. “So, I guess Mandrake likes the macaroni and cheese, then?”
B.H. giggled and pantomimed eating with great gusto.
“Well, that’s fine.” Harley nodded. “That’s just fine. He’s going to fit in great, isn’t he, B.H.?”
B.H. nodded once more and then scampered off to join Mandrake. When he touched Mandrake’s hoof, the hippo glanced down, smiled, and continued to eat happily.
The party began to wind down and guests left a few at a time. It was, after all, a work day in The Under Dome, and many had come only for a few minutes over their lunch break. Most wanted to get a good look at this new Water Horse creature Harley had brought to live among them. And all had enjoyed the free food.
As Fluffy carried, steered, and drug her children towards the door, Roper followed behind looking everywhere but at Fluffy, who was casting pointed and irritated looks at him. Seeing that Fluffy needed assistance, Harley stepped in and picked one of her nephews up and took the hand of a niece. She led them out onto the front porch, chatting with Fluffy.
“He’s not much into paws-on parenting, is he?” she asked her sister-in-law.
Fluffy growled and glared over her shoulder at Roper, who had now stopped in front of the mirror by the door, and was preening.
“I’ll be honest,” Harley confided, helping the children into their car seats, “if it weren’t for those boy-parts he flashes every chance he gets, I’d swear he was a female.”
Harley heard Fluffy’s snort of laughter, then saw her quickly cover her snout with her paw. She tried to level a stern look of reprimand at Harley, but failed completely and let a giggle spill out. Shaking her head, Fluffy continued to buckle the quadruplets into their seats, then turned to make sure the twins were also fastened in safely.
Turning, Fluffy let out a shrill whistle, which made Roper turn abruptly from his primping. Seeing Fluffy standing by the passenger filled Vole-Vo station wagon he rushed down the porch steps and across the lawn.
While Fluffy situated herself into the passenger seat, Roper addressed Harley.
“Thank you for inviting us to your little party, Harley,” he said politely. “Even though I don’t know what a Water Horse is and despite the fact that you didn’t bother to put out any of the foods I like to eat, it was quite festive. I guess. I think twinkle lights, some glittery party hats and maybe some of those fancy paper lanterns would have added some pizazz, though. But, whatever. I think Fluffy had a good time and maybe that will translate into some log time for me later. I’ll have to let you know about that.” He got into the driver’s seat of the car and roared away down the street, narrowly missing the mailbox on the corner.
“Boy, I sure hope he doesn’t let me know about that,” Harley muttered to no one in particular. Then she turned and went back into the house to oversee the clean up. And make sure that no food was thrown away.
She reentered the dining room just in time to hear Gordy and Prescott direct the caterers to load out all the leftover meat and cheese trays and disassemble the gravy fountain.
“What?!” she said, rushing forward. “No! No, no, no, no,” she said, snatching trays from the paws of the vole staff. “These things are to be left here,” she said firmly. “I paid for this food and I don’t want to waste any of it.”
Prescott snuffled loudly.
“I don’t care what you say, you-you-you Buffalo!” she sputtered. “This is my party! Well, mine and Mandrake’s party. And B.H.’s. It’s our party and we’ll keep this food if we want. Which we do!” She moved to stand between the Buffaloes and the tables.
Both Buffaloes snuffled again, louder.
“Huh uh!” Harley growled. “I’d be willing to donate some of the food to one of the homeless vole shelters down town, but I will not recycle a bit of it. Unless by recycle, you mean put it in my snout.”
Gordy shook his shaggy hump. Prescott snuffled again, but softly.
“Fine,” Harley said, then turned to the caterers, who were standing well away from the fracas of the bison/dachshund argument. Stories about their ‘disagreements’ were legendary around town and the voles on staff at the Southside Cafe were well aware of Harley’s feelings towards food.
Harley spoke to the service manager. “I want all the vegetable trays, fruit and vegetable juices and that wheat grass juice loaded into your trucks and taken directly to the Home for Homeless Voles and Moles over on Butterscotch Circle.” She ignored the loud snuffle and huffing from the Buffaloes and continued. “Take all the leftover desserts down to the wiffle ball diamond and let the Brown Dogs little league team sell them as concessions at their game this afternoon.”
She looked smugly at Gordy and Prescott. “All those yummy veggies will provide very nutritious meals for those poor homeless voles and moles. And think of all the money that will be raised for those sweet little kids through selling concessions. Maybe they can even afford to buy wiffle bats for next season so they don’t have to use breadsticks anymore.” Satisfied that her orders would be followed, she left the room, swishing her tail at the Buffaloes on her way out.
She wanted to know if Mandrake and B.H. had had fun at their party, so she began to look for them. They weren’t in the family room, the kitchen, or down in the new water park arena. Walking back upstairs, she heard laughter and what sounded like mooing coming from B.H.’s room.
The door to was slightly ajar. She paused outside, listening for a few minutes before carefully peeking in. She saw B.H. perched on a chair talking animatedly. Shifting slightly she was able to see Mandrake, sitting on the bottom bunk eating something.
She knocked lightly, grabbing B.H.’s attention. “Can I come in?” she asked.
B.H. nodded and leaped up from his seat to rush over and open the door all the way.
“So,” Harley began, looking from B.H. to Mandrake. “Did you have a good time at the party?”
B.H. nodded eagerly and began to chatter excitedly about all the fun he’d had, the food he’d eaten and the people he’d met. Mandrake didn’t look up from his snack, but grunted and snorted occasionally.
Harley tried engaging Mandrake in the conversation again. “So, Mandrake, I see that you liked the food. What was your favorite thing?”
Mandrake glanced up briefly before returning his attention to the container he was dipping food from. He grunted again.
“Oh,” Harley nodded. “The macaroni and cheese. Yes, I thought that was tasty, too. You know, Mandrake, macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite foods as well.”
When Mandrake didn’t respond, only continued to spoon food into his mouth, Harley sighed. Maybe she and Mandrake weren’t going to be as close as she’d hoped.
Her shoulders sagging sadly, she stood up. “Well, I’ll leave you two to your snacks and conversation. Maybe later we could watch a movie together in the family room? Mandrake, have you ever heard of Mary Lou Retton?” she asked as she walked toward the door.
Mandrake’s head snapped up and he grunted loudly.
“Yes, I think she’s pretty amazing, too,” Harley said, feeling better. “Let’s watch her Olympic Gold Medal winning performance on the vault together after supper, okay? I know B.H. likes that video a lot.”
Mandrake grinned suddenly, his mouth full of macaroni. B.H. laughed excitedly and began to chatter to Mandrake about his Mary Lou Retton t-shirt. Harley was smiling, too, as she left the room.
“I need to see if Jose has enough time between now and supper to make a bionic hippo sized Official 1984 Olympics Gymnastics Team Warm Up Suit replica,” she planned out loud. “After all, we can’t have Mandrake feeling left out when the rest of the family suits up for a Retton-Fest.”