The Guest of Honor

By Maya M

Music danced through the halls of the bright summer home. The smell of raspberry pies wafted through the air, accompanied by the fragrant scent of freshly handpicked peonies. Sunlight poured through every window, illuminating the entry hall in a way only the high noon sun could. I shuffled down the dark wood stairs, fumbling hastily with the cuffs of my shirt. Unfortunately, the cufflinks given to me by Grandfather John that I had been hoping to wear were nowhere to be seen, so I was left with a silver pair.

I caught Alexander, my footman, at the bottom of the stairs. “Alexander, have you seen my gold cufflinks, by any chance? The lions?”

The large man shook his head. “I will keep an eye out for them, sir.”

We all collected in the entry room. Myrtle’s mother, Lillian, my own parents, Clarence and Irene. George Berry, Oliver Davis, and Patrick Wilkerson stood with us, babbling on with each other as old pals do. All close friends of John’s. Myrtle stood at my side, her arm through mine. Alexander and William stood at the opening of the tall mahogany doors, looking posh in white gloves and black suits. The only thing missing was the guest of honor, and his overwhelmingly august wife, Florence.

After a minute or so, an automobile chugged into the driveway. I straightened and took a last look at the house. Myrtle squeezed my arm comfortingly. “The party will be fantastic. Quintessential. I’m proud of you, Peter.”

I brought her hand to my lips. Bless the woman’s heart. No one else on the planet could be more patient with my relentless perfectionism than my wife. Even still, my mind was restless with the thought of those damned cufflinks. When was the last time you wore them? Most likely for Christmas dinner, I realized shamefully. You didn’t check your desk in the library. How in the world would they get in there?

“John and Florence Sennett,” Alexander announced as the pair stepped through the doors.

“Happy 90th Birthday!” The words seemed to echo through the room, not quite in unison but all with the same staged excitement. Some ended it with “John,”my parents with “Dad”.

Happy 90th Birthday, Grandpa John! Is what I had planned on saying when he walked in. Instead, my mouth stood open and unmovable.

My grandmother, beautiful as ever with a feathered Edwardian hat, strutted in like she owned the place. My grandfather however… well, he was nowhere to be seen. Surprisingly enough, that wasn’t the thing generating my utter terror.

In John’s place next to my grandmother was a creature far from human. It sauntered into my house, its paws landing heavily on the alabaster rug. When it shook its golden mane the people chuckled. Long muscles shifted under its fur as the creature moved. Still, I couldn’t move. My parents went up to it, grinning, patting it on the back. The rest of the room followed the same way, saying things that were inaudible to my ears. John’s old friends walked up dangerously close to the creature’s face and its strong jaw. Are they mad?!

“Is this a joke?!” I blurted out. The whole room turned their heads to look at me with widened eyes. The lion faced me as well, and I trembled at its piercing stare. Golden eyes that were unreadable and unpredictable. A giant nose resting over its mouth undoubtedly full of knife-like teeth.

“Peter!” My grandmother was the first to speak, a disappointed scowl on her face. “What is wrong with you, boy? Come wish your grandfather a Happy Birthday!”

My father shook his head at me, gesturing for the party to follow him through the home when I stayed silent. The lion was the last to turn away, walking regally beside my grandmother. What is wrong with you!? I wanted to shout. How dare you bring this vile animal into my home!

Myrtle forced her body in front of me, looking up at me with a concerned stare. “Is everything okay?”

I could barely hear her as my eyes still trailed the lion walking from the room. Its tail swayed behind it, brushing against every piece of furniture. “I need to sit down,” I stammered. Blindly I stumbled to the stairway, Myrtle doing her best to help me. As I sat on the bottom step, she put a hand to my forehead and checked my eyes.

“You haven’t been drinking?” She asked. I shook my head.

There was a moment of silence. Finally Myrtle sighed. “Well then what’s so wrong?”

What is so wrong? I met her eyes, confusion spreading from mine to hers. “Myrtle, don’t you see it? Don’t you see the lion? Where’s my grandfather?”

Myrtle looked frightened. “I think you should lie down, Peter.”

“No,” I decided, heaving myself to my feet. Hallucinations, it had to be.

Nope.

The luncheon was an impossible nightmare. No matter how hard I tried, the lion never disappeared. Every once in a while it would look at me again with those mysterious eyes from across the room. What is wrong with me? Everybody seemed completely content with a lion in the room. Was I not seeing the same thing as them?

A wreck in the corner, I sat alone at a table far from the rest of the group, at the edge of the tent. Sunlight burned the back of my neck through a crack in the tent flap, sending sweat down my back. I shrugged out of my jacket and loosened my tie. I needed a drink, though I knew I shouldn’t. Relax. It was exceedingly difficult to relax when there was a giant predator in the midst of my family. At least Myrtle was keeping her distance from it. I practically had to beg her to stay away. “But it’s your grandfather, and it’s his birthday,” she had argued.

What was that supposed to mean? My grandfather had not made an appearance since his wife had shown up with the animal. Unless…

There was definitely something wrong with me if I was coming to the conclusion that the lion was my grandfather.

“Impossible,” I mumbled, downing another glass of water. But wasn’t the lion itself impossible, too? I watched as Alexander poured tea at the table on the other edge of the tent. He said something to the lion, who was sitting in the chair facing him. A hysterical laugh escaped my lips.

“You are acting as a child. I have to say, you are quite the disappointment this afternoon. Your grandfather is worried about you, the poor soul. You didn’t even greet him and he thinks you are purposefully avoiding him.” I hadn’t even realized Florence had come over to stand next to me.

I slammed my glass onto the table and chuckled. “He’s an animal, of course I’m avoiding him.”

Florence gasped. “I beg your pardon?” She spit through gritted teeth. Most of the people standing around turned at her menacing voice, even the lion. I shuddered as I met his gaze.

“That is a creature, can’t you see it?!” I stood up and pointed to the lion, guiding Florence’s gaze as well. “You have to see it!” Another hysterical laugh, as I stepped a few paces closer to the lion, challenging it. “Although it’s hard to believe since you let him sit in our chairs, eat our food! What the hell is wrong with you people? I feel as if I am stuck in some foolish, terrible joke! I want this animal out of my house! I want this stupid party to end!” What was the point of a party for my grandfather if my grandfather was nowhere to be seen?

The room erupted in gasps and angry shouting, all directed my way. My father was screaming at me. My mother was in tears. Florence had gone to comfort the lion. Myrtle was nowhere to be seen. All I could do was stare at the lion. “What a sick joke,” I spat. I laughed again. “Hilarious, I must say. Where did you get him? The zoo? I didn’t know you could rent animals from the zoo.” I knew I was going too far with it, most likely an effect from the heat. I was simply and absolutely just disgusted with the whole situation. My beloved grandfather’s party was ruined. An event I had spent weeks preparing for.

Florence stared me down, too furious to find words. I didn’t understand why she was so mad, but if it meant she would take the lion away, her “disappointment” was fine by me.

The two of them walked back into the house as the rest of the group followed. Good. I lingered on the back porch, watching everyone leave through the window.

Myrtle was at my shoulder. “Pete, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but that was absolutely cruel kicking your grandfather out of his own birthday party like that. You need to apologize.”

I stared at her, done with the jokes. “What are you talking about? Apologize? I know-”

My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach. I stared through the window, terrified of what I was seeing.

The lion was gone. In his place next to my storming grandmother was grandfather John, chatting solemnly with my parents in the doorway.

Impossible.

You fool.

I had just kicked my grandfather out of his own party.