The hottest guy I ever saw was playing “Pop Goes the Weasel” on the piano while fifteen cagey preschoolers circled fourteen chairs. My father-in-law’s annual
Fourth of July shindig—the biggest event of the year—was a family picnic. We’d
set aside a play area for the littlest kids and I’d volunteered to supervise, but the piano man blindsided me and I nearly missed an outrageous hair- pulling
Like a too bright pair of headlights on a moonless night, he was all I could see.
Mayor Calder Hamilton—a cartoon bear of a man with a white handlebar mustache—snuck up on me with one of those painful backslapping man hugs.
“Ryder Dent, you son of a bitch. Which one is your boy?”
“That’s Jonas.” I pointed out my son. “Blue plaid shirt, cowboy hat. Crass determination to win?”
“I know that look, I see it every day when I look in the mirror. But how can that
be him? Last time I saw him he was half that size.”
Why do people always say that? Is it some rite of passage? Am I going to be
surprised kids grow someday too? “We had to buy him a new pair of cowboy boots
just last week.”
“He’s a fine-looking boy. Where’s Andrea?”
“She doesn’t come to these things to hang around with me.” I glanced toward the windows. “You’ll find her wherever there’s dancing.”
“She leaves you in charge of Jonas?”
“Gosh, yeah. Andi’s the social one. She likes to kick up her heels and I don’t mind if she wants to have some fun.”
“So have you met our new doctor yet? Isn’t he something? I have never seen anyone play piano like that.”
“That’s Doctor Winters?” The doc had started playing “Pop Goes the
Weasel” like a Russian folk dance, all the while yelling Hai! Hai,! Hai! Hai! The music stopped and the chaos started. Jonas ended up on another chair.
“Go, Team Jonas!” I pumped my fist like a goofball.
“Yeah. Go, boy, go!” Hamilton was already tipsy enough to be unaware he was shouting right in my ear. It didn’t matter; I was going deaf from all the kids squealing anyway. “I’d like to ask your help with something.”
“Sure thing, Mayor. Shoot.”
“I need you and your family in a campaign ad”
“My family?” Good grief. Bitterroot’s founding fathers would shit in their graves at such an idea. “I don’t think we’d make a very good ad.”
“C’mon.” He punched my arm. “You and Andrea are both attractive. Jonas is a cute kid. You had to make some tough choices in the beginning, but look where you are now.”
“Uh. . . I don’t think—”
“I need a family exactly like yours to represent my campaign to the twenty-somethings. I need them to believe they’re important to me.”
Me and Andi? My stomach did a full 360, front to back, as if I was on a Six Flags ride. Mayor Hamilton wanted some picture-frame perfect family, and we were not it. Plus, we hadn’t exactly voted for him. “I’ll ask Andi about it, but—”
“Andrea’s dad just told me he’s backing me all the way again this next election.”
“Is he?” That figures. Her dad likes politicians to owe him.
“So you just tell her you’re doing it, okay?”
“Sure, I’ll mention it, but—”
Hamilton’s wife, Sally, came up to collect him. “C’mon Cowboy. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
She grabbed his hand and, after a good-natured tug-of-war, they left together. I
breathed again. Andi’s dad ran one of the most successful ranches in the area.
If he wanted to see my family on a billboard, I’d have to figure a way to get out of it or learn to say “cheese.”
It was pretty hard to say no to Sterling Chandler. I’m not sure he understood the word.
The new doc managed to make “Pop Goes the Weasel” sound like a funeral dirge and the children all lurched around like little zombies. Then he turned it into a
raucous honkytonk song.
Who was this guy?
Jonas got eliminated fourth from last but he wasn’t crushed by the loss. His
attention shifted right away to the buffet, where the cater-waiters had installed several trays of Texas-sized cookies, all colored with red, white, and blue sugar crystals in honor of the holiday.
Musical Chairs, the Survivor edition, came down to two particularly crafty-looking femme fatales. One wore a jeans skirt, cowboy boots, and a pretty white blouse, and the other had on a daisy-printed sundress with lacy socks and jelly shoes.
Lacy socks girl won by body-checking white blouse girl out of the way and pouncing on the last chair. She gripped the seat so tight with both hands no one could get her off it.
The new doc consoled the runner-up with a box of big-block Legos and gave the
winner a play set with pink and purple Ponies but it seemed she thought she was
getting the chair as her prize. Eventually her mom pried her up and they all
wandered off to join the party outside.
Doc Winters was left to tidy up. I figured I ought to help, being family and all.
Plus, it might get me out of small talk outside.
But the doc was the best looking man I had ever seen up close. I was bound to mess up and say something super stupid, and Andi was going to hear about it, and
then she was going to tease me for the rest of my life, because she was just waiting for me to lose my shit over some guy.
And Doc Winters, M.D., The Yankee Doodler?
He could be the guy.