10-29-2011, 09:41 PM
Sunday of the fourth week was Mother's Day. Criss' own mother, Dimitra, had flown in from New York to visit her three sons and only granddaughter, to everyone's delight. JD picked her up from the airport in a taxicab instead of the usual limosine Criss customarily sent for her. "Where's Christopher?" she had asked him.
"Oh, he's tied up at the moment," JD had replied as he loaded his mother's luggage into the trunk of the cab. "But don't worry, everything is just ducky."
Dimitra ignored the quip and settled back into the cab for the ride to the Luxor. Later she would travel with Criss to Serenity where she had her own suite of rooms. It was quieter than a room at the hotel where she was accosted by overzealous fans and followed everywhere by cameras, even the ones not belonging to the hotel security system. Privacy had become a luxury since her youngest son became famous; she herself had become a celebrity by proxy, the Queen Mother of MindFreak Productions, adopted by fans as a surrogate mother figure. She had graciously accepted the role foisted upon her, but there were times she yearned for a bit of peace and quiet, away from the maddening crowd. Serenity afforded just that, isolated in the desert as it was. No fans demanding photos of her, no cameras in her face, no reporters asking questions about her life with Criss Angel--as far as she was concerned, Serenity was twenty-five million dollars well spent.
The cab pulled up to the hotel's taxi drop-off area. The cab driver helped with the luggage, a service which he received a generous tip. A uniformed attendant loaded the bags onto a polished brass luggage rack and wheeled them through the sliding glass doors into the lobby. Dimitra spotted Criss standing right in the middle of the lobby, waiting for her. This was no surprise to her, of course. What really startled her were the six little balls of fluff peeping loudly around his booted feet.
Dimitra drew closer to clarify what she just saw. "What's all this?" she asked, perplexed and amused at the same time.
Criss laughed nervously. "Say hello to your foster grandchildren, Mom," he said.
"I'll explain later." He looked down at the ducklings. "C'mon, guys, let's go home."
He turned and walked toward the production office. The ducklings followed en masse, waddling as fast as they could to keep up. Dimitra could not help but laugh at the sight. "How did this happen?" she asked JD.
"Criss found some duck eggs while we were setting up a demonstration by Lake Meade, see," JD explained, "and the mother duck had been shot by poachers, and so, out of the goodness of his heart, he took them in. They hatched at Serenity, and so, Criss being the first thing they saw, became their mother, so to speak."
Dimitra could only shake her head in disbelief. "Hmph! Well, isn't that interesting? Oh, well, considering what Christopher's done in the past, this should be the least of my worries."
Now, it was Mother's Day. Criss had arranged a small party in one of the banquet rooms at the Luxor, with immediate family and a few close friends in attendance. That, of course, included the ducklings, frolicking happily beside a larger plastic pool (they had outgrown the small blow-up model) complete with an artificial nest accessable by the molded slide covered with sand to allow for better traction. A heat lamp provided by the hotel kitchen provided warmth for the still vulnerable ducklings. They were still half-covered with down, but their necks had elongated and their bodies were becoming more streamlined. A tiny colored plastic band encircled the leg of each duckling for better identification and protection by state law.
Criss took the time to introduce his mother to his brood. "Okay, Mom," he said, "the one with the yellow band is Yolk-O--JD came up with that one--and the one with the white band is Omlette. They're both girls; the rest are guys. There's Ducky with the green band, Downy's is blue, Quackers is the orange one, and Ferdinand's red."
"Ferdinand?" Dimitra laughed.
"Costa came up with that one," Criss explained. "He got it from the movie Babe; there was a duck named Ferdinand in it."
"Oh." Dimitra grasped Criss' arm. "Well, I'm glad to see you taking such good care of them, Christopher."
"Well, I couldn't do it without Brenda's help."
As if on cue, Brenda came into the room with a paper sack and began scattering duck chow mixed with sand and grit into the pool. "Oh, hey, Brenda," Criss called out to her. "I'd like you to meet my mom."
Brenda stopped scattering feed into the pool and walked over to Criss and Dimitra. "Mom, this is Dr. Brenda Gilchrist," he said. "She's an orthinologist from Wildlife Rescue in Valgado; she's helping me raise the ducks. Brenda, this is my mom, Dimitra."
"Oh, how do you do," Brenda greeted her, shaking her hand.
"Hello, Doctor," Dimitra said. "I'm pleased to meet you." She looked at the paper bag. "What is it that you are doing?" she asked.
"Oh, I'm just spreading out some feed for the ducklings, that's all." Brenda explained. "I mix it with sand so they learn how to sift it out when they dabble for food."
"That's how ducks search for food. They take up a beakful of dirt and water and sift it through their nostrils to get at the food."
"What do they eat, anyway?" Dimitra asked.
"Oh, slugs, bugs, snails, things like that. The meal I give them is ground up maggots and beetles--"
Criss blanched. "Uh, Doc, please," he groaned, "not before dinner. I mean, it's bad enough I had to nose around in it."
Brenda nodded toward Criss. "Your son's got a weak stomach," she chuckled.
"You've never seen him do his so-called 'demonstrations', have you?" Dimitra retorted. "They tied mine up in knots!"
The banquet manager announced the small buffet was now open for service. There was a fine glazed baked ham (under the circumstances, Criss didn't think it right to serve poultry.), fluffy golden dinner rolls, steamed vegetables and potaotes au gratin. Everyone helped themselves to the food spread out before them. Quiet music coupled with the splashing of the ducklings in the nearby pool provided the soundtrack for the afternoon.
"So, Doctor," Dimitra said, "tell me all about your work with the little ducklings."
Brenda smiled. "Well, there's really not much to tell," she said modestly. "I've been working for Wildlife Rescue for at least three years now. Problem is, we're running out of funding; our grant proposal was turned down, and we're having difficulty getting donations. Criss here promised to help out if I helped out with the ducklings he found."
Dimitra smiled warmly at Criss, glowing with maternal pride. "I'm so glad you did, Christopher."
Criss merely shrugged. "Hey, what do I know about raising ducks?" he said. "I was going to turn the eggs over to a wildlife sanctuary, but they hatched when I got home."
"They probably wanted to escape the heat," JD spoke up. "He had the heater on full blast all the way back to Serenity--Costa and I were roasting alive in the back seat! When we got back home, first thing we did was hit the pool."
"Well, he did the right thing in keeping the eggs warm, at least," Brenda said. "I would have taken them back to Valgado, but we just don't have the facilities for them right now."
A furious peeping noise interrupted Brenda. Criss and Brenda looked down and saw Quackers and Ferdinand nipping and wrestling with each other in the pool. "Hey!" Criss snapped angrily. "You two break it up! You hear me? No fighting during dinner!"
The ducklings went at it for a while longer, then separated and dabbled for more duck chow. "They're just competing for food, Criss," Brenda said. "They'll be doing it a lot in the wild."
"Well, when they're here, they're gonna behave themselves," Criss insisted. "There's plenty of food down there, so there's no need to fight over it."
"Spoken like a true mom," JD said.
"Can it, JD," Criss grumbled.
On impulse, Costa tore off a piece of his dinner roll and tossed it into the pool. "No!" Brenda shrieked as she bolted out of her chair and scooped out the chunk of bread out of the water. "No breadcrumbs!" She tossed the soggy bread into the nearest wastebasket. "Don't ever, ever feed them bread!" she scolded.
"What's the deal?" Costa asked. "People in New York feed the ducks in Central Park bread every day."
"They're still ducklings," Brenda reminded him. "Their digestive systems can't handle breadcrumbs. They need a protein diet to stay healthy, and bread has too many carbs--it'll give them intestinal problems."
Costa held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay, I won't give them any more bread. Happy now?"
Brenda sat down at the table, appeased for now. "Thank you," she breathed.
Criss suppressed a laugh. "My ducks are on Atkins," he joked.
When dinner was over, Dimitra was treated to a lovely floral layer cake with Happy Mother's Day, Mom written in perfect calligraphic icing script. There were more pictures, greeting cards and a gift of a shimmering black designer dress suit, complete with pearls. "Oh, this is much too nice to wear!" Dimitra protested as she held up the jacket. "Thank you all!"
A fanfare of duck calls startled everybody. Everyone turned to see none other than Doug Malloy and a few other members of his crew. In front of them was a serving cart with a sheet cake upon it. "Happy Mother's Day!" Doug shouted. "Heard you were having a party, so we dropped in!"
"Well, thank you," Criss said, bemused. "And, uh, by the way, we already got Mom a cake."
"This ain't for your mom," Doug said, "it's for you."
Criss was startled. "Me?"
Doug wheeled the cart forward. "Of course it is! We couldn't let your first Mother's Day go without a cake, now, could we?"
Criss looked down at the sheet cake and groaned. The top was frosted in blues and greens, simulating water, on which six gumpaste ducklings with colorful name tags floated. In the center was printed Happy Mother's Day, Criss! in big bold red letters. "I am so gonna kill you guys," he said.
"Personally, I think it's cute," Brenda said.
Doug pulled out a pastel envelope. "See, we even got you a card."
With a feeling of dread, Criss took the envelope and opened it. He pulled out the greeting card and looked at the cover of it: six yellow cartoon ducklings waving their wings at him underneath the message Hope Your Mother's Day...He opened the card to read the rest...is just ducky! it read.
Everyone, even Dimitra, was laughing at Criss' discomfort. He tossed the card aside. "Cute, guys," he said, "real cute."