THG 3 – Ch 5 – Sidetracked

New Mexico and surrounding cosmos / January 8 – 12, 1979

As Amanda had predicted, Jackson took a box with his stereo, two small TVs, bathroom and kitchen junk and dropped it in the middle of his dad’s side of his parents’ garage without a note. He pulled the door down and burned rubber all the way to the corner, glad he’d stalled on signing the spring semester lease on his apartment under the guise of ‘saving our parents some money and actually living together,’ trying to force Deanna’s hand.

Well, that didn’t work out, but at least she’d dropped England on him before he was out of options. Jackson hit the Oklahoma-Texas Panhandle line at 105 miles an hour and was almost in New Mexico by the time Deanna was taking the lettuce box and plastic bag up the stairs to her own boxed up apartment, thinking he’d be home later because he had to be, and she could talk her way around the mess she’d made of them.

His plan was to make it to Los Angeles, finish his application for USC, sleeping in his car for a week if he had to, and get in under the wire. That had been his plan all along, only a semester further down the road and without the sense of urgency. He would have gone somewhere else if she’d bothered to talk to him about what she was really upset about, what she wanted. The two of them, getting the educations they wanted, together somewhere. She never offered, wouldn’t talk to him and he let it slide until he didn’t want to stop whatever she’d set in motion. It was hers, she didn’t want him in it, she could have it.

He’d said Valentine’s ‘83. He could do the dance and slide on serious romance for that long, just to see what it was like without a hot girl’s bullshit. She didn’t show by noon that Valentine’s day? Screw her. There had to be thousands of hot girls in L.A. And four years was long enough to put eyes on the one Deanna didn’t want to be.

He dropped to the speed in limit in New Mexico. It was beautiful, and cold, in that thin mountain air way, with a million stars in a clear, light-and-air pollution free sky. He spent his first night gone in the parking lot of the Tewa Lodge in Albuquerque. Four days later he smoked some peyote he copped off a trio of hippie jewelry girls in Santa Fe, took off to Taos in their van with them, and disappeared.

***

Tony Nakata, a reasonably fit, forty-ish, tall for a full blood Navajo, got word through family that his niece at the Crownpoint Police Station had a message for him. He sobered up, drove to Crownpoint, found out his old military operations officer Sheffield was looking for him. He called collect from the pay phone in the cop shop lobby, told Shef yeah, he’d look around New Mexico for a missing kid.
Tony was looking for real work anyway. Sometimes. Sometimes he was just drinking beer in his grandfather’s cabin in the tumbleweeds between Grants and Crownpoint, wondering what happened to his life after Nam and Laos and Cambodia. His white, reservation schoolteacher wife took off with their daughter after he’d had another night of a few beers too many in a long string of nights exactly like it.

On his second day out he spotted Jackson’s car in a grocery store parking lot not far from the square in Santa Fe. It was unlocked, wires hanging where the stereo should have been, glove box open and empty. A few clothes scattered in the back seat, no sign of any keys. Kids, probably twelve or thirteen, had stolen the tapes and stereo. Pros would have taken the car or at least popped the trunk. Car like that had more valuable parts than a tape deck. Sheffield had said the kid liked girls and Nakata knew just where to find some a long haired kid might like.

The square was lined with jewelry makers, mostly Native American, a couple of old white women, and the three girls who pretended to sell jewelry as a front for the weed, hash, and peyote they sold to tourists into that sort of thing.

He squatted down in front of them and their blankets full of cheap, Indian looking Taiwanese jewelry. “Where is he?” He held out the teletype picture of Jackson. “He had to be here.” He tilted his chin slightly in the direction of the lot. “I found his car right over there.”

The smallish girl in the back with nervous fingers pretending to bead some fishing line didn’t bother to look up. “Why us? We’re not runaway lost and found.” That elicited light humor snorts from the other two.

Tony palmed his thigh with a loud pop, and they all three jumped into paying attention.“Because you three, and this kid?” He shoved the picture under their noses, looked up at the sky and slowly waved his other arm. “I see a rainbow. Hear a big choir singing like God’s fabric softener commercial.”

“We don’t know him or what you’re talking about. We’ve never seen him, okay? So beat it and take your mystical medicine man laundry moment with you.”

“How about I dump your purses on the sidewalk, one at a time, before I ask again?”

The nervous girl in the back reached for her over-sized saddle blanket purse and locked her small black eyes on him. “You can’t do that. We know our rights.”

“All this ‘we know’ talk. I’m no cop, ladies. I can dump your purses just because I’m a big Indian asshole.” He picked the leader of the pack. Pretty, in a rough sort of way. Dressed the part of a hippie jewelry maker. Too much make up and a touch too old for anyone paying attention. He could see how a young guy could get hooked right into her. He snatched her purse away from her.

“HEY HEYYY, Big Chief asshole! DON’T!”

Tony held the purse out of reach in a hand that would have made six of hers. Her eyes bounced between his eyes and the purse. “He bought some peyote…and some other shit, right? And we drove around and partied and then he got out of the van to puke. In Taos.” She turned to her friends for support. “Like almost three days ago, right? We couldn’t find him when we were leaving, so he’s still there.”

“No, you got him fucked up and ripped him off before you dumped him. You hope he’s still there.” Tony dumped the purse in disgust with what the Square had become and watched the girls scramble after the pharmacy that rolled out all over the sidewalk. There were never cops around when you needed them.

***

“Jackson, have you ever wondered what a life is worth?”

He felt her presence, knew she was there without seeing her. All he could see was an out of focus pile of clothes that might be him, lying in the dust next to a dilapidated, unpainted house on the edge of old downtown Taos. “Not really. I guess I never thought much about it…”

“Not many do. You paid five dollars and made a promise if it would go the way you asked. Have you tired so soon of your five dollar life?”

“I guess five wasn’t enough. Not the way it’s gone since then. I got close, but never close enough.”

“Self pity is a pair of lead boots. You are responsible for where you are. Now you’ll throw the gift of your life away, possibly hers as well, because you don’t understand it, can’t see beyond your own instant gratification? Can’t accept the journey that is yours?”

“There’s not much left of where I was going, is there? There I am, right down there. I tried, you know?”

“No, you played your own game of emotional dodge ball, just as you accused your five dollar young woman of doing, and put up a good front. Disguising anger and frustration as caring and supportive, using them to force volatile confrontations to get the emotional feedback you wanted from her. That was as unfair as her not sharing herself with you. Now it’s come down to a pharmacological potpourri and a pile of dirty laundry. In Taos?”

“I only took what I could handle. Whatever they gave me in the Gatorade I didn’t ask for.”

“That isn’t exactly true. You wanted to continue joyfully and irresponsibly fornicating your way through life and drank what they told you would give you the strength, and them the willingness, to let you have them all. They knew what you wanted. Those women have dealt with banes like you their entire lives. Yet you trusted them to find you irresistible when in truth they found you an expendable nuisance with four hundred dollars in your front pocket, and there you are.”

He felt his eyes drawn to to the pile of clothes.

“Robbed, humiliated, out of your mind and near death. Instead of irresistible you have discovered yourself to be a horny, lost, heartbroken, insignificant almost dead sucker in a pile of dirty laundry. A self-realization that needs not be accompanied by pity, self or otherwise. ‘Is’ just is, if you follow me.”

Jackson could feel the desert breeze blowing through him, holding him in position, a low flying kite and realized that he, and the woman’s voice, her ethereal touch and the wind were all one essence, floating together.

“So now what? I don’t know how I know, but when it gets dark and cold again, I’m toast. I can’t do another night out. I’ll die, if I’m not dead already, self pity and all. Ripped out of my mind with a mouth full of sand. And nobody gives a damn.”

“That is far from the truth as well. It is all much bigger than you. Don’t think, don’t surmise you understand even a pinhead of valuable truth, or run your mouth. For a moment, simply Feel.” He floated, the wind warmed him.

“You have come to me at this crossroads for a discussion of the Big Two. Forgiveness, and Participation. You need to grasp both. That you may use them to find a way to make a difference with every opportunity you are shown. Right now there is a man in a rusty old truck coming this way who needs to meet you as badly as you need to meet him, or he will also end up a pile of dirty, drunk, dead laundry in New Mexico. He will turn left or right. Left, and after dark, he will find a pile of laundry that was you. Right, and before the sun sets he will find you. You may choose to meet him and return to your five dollar life, or not. Left or right. Your call.”

“What happens after, either way?”

“That is not for me to say. But if it will help you with your decision I can tell you that we have a surplus of piano players right now. Really good piano players.”

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THG 3 – Ch 4 – Gone

Monday morning January 8, 1979 – Con’t

Amanda dialed Jackson’s number before Deanna was on the elevator. It was disconnected. Without a goddam word. The little shit. She punched her phone, waited.

Bonjour,  Developments of Morisé, Alix —”

“Alix, did Jackson tell you what he would do if Deanna leaving was more than a theory?”

Le petit bijou, she has flown with the coop, oui?”

“Yes. Five months early. Jackson?”

“Ahhh. Le Université de musique du sud de la Californie he found most to his liking, my love. Yu-Ess-See?”

“I speak French, Alix.”

“Not often enough, I think, and never in la chambre. Jackson also flies in the coop, no?”

“I’m not sure. Come home, we’ll talk. I’ll practice my French.” She hung up, punched her phone again.

“Stacey? I know you’re not reception, this is personal. Get Sheffield on the phone, get him up here.”

“Sheffield himself, not just someone from security?”

“Sheffield. Get him up here.”

***

Forty-five minutes after leaving Amanda’s office Deanna was in Jackson’s apartment, looked around at a furnished, semester lease college apartment that was now completely empty and new tenant ready except for a lettuce box with “Deanna” written in marker on the couch where she used to sit. He’d cleaned up all the posters, the hippie tapestries, the pictures after the last Valentine’s day she forgot. She’d told him it looked almost barren. He’d said barren was symbolic. She thought it was one of his artsy moments at the time, but now with even his cobbled together, tweaky musician’s stereo she was almost forbidden to touch, two little TVs and the pile of warm quilts missing, all of him was gone.

The lettuce box was loosely packed with all of her leftover things. Some earrings, a bracelet, too many loose pictures of the two of them, her toothbrush and hairbrush. Even the blow dryer of hers that he liked. The plastic trash bag beside it had some clothes, bathrobe, her knee socks and favorite jeans. They were his jeans, really, and too big on her, but she loved to wear them. His favorite sweater on her, so he said, and even the small tube of KY in a zip lock bag. Jackson bought it for her a couple of months ago after he’d told her she either wasn’t interested, or didn’t like him anymore. They’d only used it twice. Only made love three times in two months. She’d said ‘Lover, it’s nothing. I think it’s the pills.’ That wasn’t a lie, or too much of one. She’d stopped her birth control pills she’d been on under doctor’s orders since she was fourteen, and it had wasted her female chemistry. She didn’t want to mess with strange doctors and all of that in England. And Jackson used condoms most of the time anyway. They’d laughed about doubling up for safety, back when she’d been able to laugh. She was afraid he’d thought there’d been more than his business involved in some of her stunts and didn’t trust her.

He’d finally told her that if she needed an oil change before having sex with him she should just go home. He’d hold her some nights, but usually he said nothing and opened the door for her. Like “making love to the couch” he’d said. He told Amanda he knew. His apartment had said he’d known all along. If he had asked her, directly, what would she have told him? Would her brain have been just as dry as the rest of her? Would the transparent lies have come?

When it came to Jackson the words she wanted were never there. Last week she’d dreamed she and all of her words for him were locked in a jail, surrounded by bars and jailers without faces. She couldn’t talk, couldn’t ask for him, but he had to know she was there with her words, waiting for him. But he wouldn’t come and the jailers circling her cell slowly turned into demons with red eyes and long black robes. She woke up alone, drenched and shaking again. She knew she’d screamed in her sleep because her throat burned all morning.

***

Amanda had set up Morisé Private Security after Blackbeard’s burned down, for the sole purpose of keeping Sheffield available. Whatever business Sheffield got up to running private, high level secret service style security for politicians, heads of state and media darlings to the dark side of free lance intelligence and ‘assignments’ she left up to him. As a mercenary bouncer he’d cleared out two city blocks worth of pimps, dealers, low-lifes, junkies, every sort of bad guy who could prey on women around Blackbeard’s. In that job he and two Nam vets in a band had saved her life when a nutcase went off on an armed rant over an ex-girlfriend in ‘Beards.

It took Sheffield two hours to get to Seventeen Hundred after Stacey’s call. Amanda saw him step off the elevator and met him in front of her desk.

“Thanks for coming, Shef. I hope I didn’t interrupt —”

“You said emergency, I’m covered. I might have used every favor I had banked with the Troopers in two states who waved and didn’t stop me on the way.” He checked his watch. “Three hours and fifteen, legally. In two hours and three, even.” He crossed his arms at the wrists, low, gave Amanda a loose smile, waited.

Sheffield made her comfortable, something rare in men. He was okay with who he was, got dangerous jobs done without a load of macho bravado. Like Jackson, he could carry on a conversation with a wall. Unlike Jackson, Sheffield was carrying two handguns and knew at least eleven ways to kill a man with his bare hands while he was standing up.

“I need you to find Jackson.” Her arms were crossed as well, and she was patting one bare foot. Sheffield knew if she still smoked, she would be.

“The kid? The old band kid, boyfriend of the prize? Where’d he go?”

“Gone. I don’t mean down the street gone. He took off, I’m sure of that. Probably west.”

“Interstate gone, huh? He still have the same car?”

“Yes.” She shook her head, walked back around her desk. “Maybe it’ll blow up again and make this easy.”

“Prep and a plan make easy. Starting to sound like he pulled a shit and git.”

“That’s exactly what he did. I understand he’s been purging things for the last year, like he had a plan, but whatever plan he had just blew up in his face. He’s disconnected and gone.”

“Talked to his mother?”

“Not yet. He won’t go home. He might drive by and dump any leftover shit he didn’t want to take with him, but that’s it.”

“Details?”

Amanda pulled Jackson’s card out of her Rolodex, handed it to him.
He studied it, briefly. “When we find him?”

“Tell me where he is, how he is. Don’t be obvious or intervene unless he puts a dangerous spin on headstrong stupid.”

“Time frame?”

“Until he’s settled. If he lands somewhere, check on him from a distance. If he moves I want to know.”

“Not a daily?”

“No. Just where and how he is, a couple of times a week.”

Sheffield popped the Rolodex card with his finger. “We don’t have trackers on payroll, and this is an inside job. Contract the right help if he’s out of range?”

“You run security, not me. Hire whoever needs to do what needs to be done. Just find him.”

Sheffield switched on a radio in his sport coat pocket and started reading Jackson’s personal and car information to the air, waited for confirmation. When the radio squawked quietly he handed the card back.

“Thank you. Again. I know it doesn’t seem important, but…”

“Yeah, I know. Shame to lose his Cary Grant.” Shef’s smile was small and short. “Should we check with the girl?”

“She’s the reason he’s gone, Shef, and she hasn’t got a clue.” She locked her face like it hurt. “God, I hate to say this about any woman, but without him, Shef? She may never.”

***

Amanda waited for Sheffield to square up with the elevator, punched her phone for Amber again, who arrived in exactly two minutes, clutching an empty folder.

“Amber, dear. Why are you carrying an empty folder?”

“It started when we were interns, with Bev. She was in finance and always had one, and you were always talking to her. Stace and I thought she was your fave and we started carrying them everywhere, so it looked like we were doing something important.”

“My father said there were two kinds of employees on a job site. the guys who were working, and the guys who carried a shovel and walked fast all day. I’ve seen you and Stacey do real work.”

“Yeah, well…And then Stacey got an office and I became a lawyer way back in the corner, in a place full of lawyers. No biggie, I’ll address my insecurity issues when I get a minute.”

“Do not ride through this building naked, on a white horse, covered in nothing but all that hair you have bundled up to resolve them. Understood?”

“That was college. You know that can be.”

“I do.” Amanda pulled up to her desk, started a list on a legal pad. “I need you to shut down the D.C. Collings Project. All of it. Anything we’re signed up for, part of, related to…Shut it off.  Check with Stace and Bev, see if there is anything else open with liability attached. Have Stacey file all of the research, and put it in the library for now. Park the publishing company. Don’t kill it because we own the name and some material was published under that umbrella. Give all that to Stacey as well. Tell Bev to keep paying the bills, you keep signing documents, whatever is involved at the life support minimum, but park it. Stop the textbook conversations. Politely. You and Stacey will know how. And tell Bev to watch for any outstanding payables on the Collings project, particularly any personal expenses from Miss Collings, and bring them to me.” She started to put her list in a fresh folder when Amber offered hers. Amanda shook her head, took the folder, loaded it and handed it back.

***

Deanna left a huge mess of unfinished business in her wake. C.A. Morisé forfeited the three paid, professional D.C. Collings presentations, and Amanda was furious. Not about the money, but about their credibility hit. The Collings Project. Stacey packed away the unfinished textbook research and publishing materials along with Amanda’s dream of publishing an accurate historical representation of women’s history textbook and Alix’s topical reference on rape, abuse and the law in the Twentieth Century. All of it shut down in Amanda’s uncharacteristic reactionary response to one confused girl’s behavior.

Seventeen Hundred Oilman’s Bank Tower was on its way to becoming the tomb of women’s dreams left by Deanna Collings, and her alter ego, D.C. Collings. She might as well have taken their purpose in her wake when the glass door shhhhhed closed behind her.

THG 3 – Ch 2 – Organ Grinder’s Monkey

Deanna Collings’ apartment / Monday January 8, 1979

“Jackson…” Deanna held on to the door of her apartment, backed it open. “I know how you feel about my apartment. I don’t know why you can’t understand that I don’t need a separate life, I never have. Mom just needs me to have this. Will you sit? Somewhere? Please?”

What he’d come to expect from her apartment, the couch as clean clothes holding zone was covered in boxes. Both chairs the same, the kitchen chairs pushed against the wall, the kitchen covered in new, unused pots and pans and gadgets her mother had loaded her up with two and half years ago. The pink bean bag chair that had spit little white balls since Deanna was in junior high wasn’t inviting.

“You’ve always kept your life separate, Deanna, and I’ve been sitting.”

“I need to…” She paused and let it all out in a rush. “I’m leaving for Cambridge, the one in England, on Friday. I can finish my degree and maybe get a double masters in three years on their system because of no minors and different timing…” The look on his face…“I’ll even get specialized individual study between sessions. I need to do this. I need to know I can do it. By myself.”

“You’ve known this since October 28th? The day your post-grad adjunct friends had their Halloween party?”

“How do you know? About the twenty-eighth?”

“That’s when I started making love to the couch.”

“What?”

“That’s when the last of you disappeared. I didn’t know you were cutting it this close on cluing everybody before you skated.”

He was too aloof, too —

“Thanks for trusting me, Deanna. I need to go.” He reached for the door that had never quite closed. “Good luck in England. Take a coat. I worked with a guy from there who said it’s colder and wetter than the postcards and paintings.”

“I knew you’d leave me. I knew it. That’s why I couldn’t tell you.”

“You knew? You fucking knew? Sometimes smart girls don’t know shit, D. Here’s what I fucking know. I should have told you and Amanda to shove all your ‘we’re too perfect’ ‘They’re the perfect team’ ‘Jackson’s our boy’ game up your asses. I should never have listened to any of you, or ever gotten roped into this farce. You can do whatever you want, wherever you want, with whoever you want. I told you that the last time you came home with a line of shit a mile —”

“And I told you I didn’t want it that way.” She swallowed, hard. “You promised to love me forever, Jax, no matter what.”

“You, of all people, Miz rising star of feminism, should know that just some guy like me would say almost anything to get in your pants. All of your ‘I’m a virgin, promise me,’ crap. Fuck that. You were the first non-bar maid piece of ass I’d gotten since September. I’d have promised you a gold plated, life-sized statue of yourself to get out of that room smiling.”

“You can’t say that! It was true! You didn’t believe me? Ever? You just did that with me, made me feel like that and didn’t believe me?”

“Come on. You went all ice maiden on me about something that afternoon. All of your ‘I don’t do that, take me home’ stories. All your ‘Love is one of the big words, Jackson. But thank you’ bullshit. I’ve always been a convenience. That’s why you have your own separate life. You need it to keep me out of whatever your real life is.” He raised his chin, rotated it around her apartment. “This is yours, even if you’re never here you know you have it. Your mom riding your ass not to live with me never had anything to do with it.”

“That’s not true and you know it. I don’t care how mad you are or how mean you are, you’re it, Jackson. Only you. Ever.”

He looked at her, he thought for maybe the last time. “Yeah? Then why has it been impossible for you to talk to ‘only me’ about this until the door is hitting me in the ass? Why does who we are always feel like a dodgeball game, huh? Why am I always getting the shadow of where you were instead of you? Good luck, Deanna. I hope you can find what you’re looking for.”

She yanked his arm back from the door. “Okay, maybe I’m sick of it, too. You and Amanda with your little secret nobody knows, and all your godammit, Deanna, listen to yourself, Deanna, what the fuck was that, Deanna? Why don’t you care, Deanna? Dammit dammit dammit, Deanna. Well fuck you all. You and Amanda and fucking too sexy and smart Alix and Stacey and her BAM words and all that, all of you telling me the stuff I need to read and understand for myself. Maybe I hated being the organ grinder’s monkey…” She smacked him hard in the chest with both palms.

“As much as I hate grinding my organ for the monkey?”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“Good advice is always late.” He rubbed his chest. “I get my shot now?”

“Jax, goddammit don’t. I’ll be back. You can’t hate me. You can’t.”

“I can’t hate you, Deanna, but ‘us’ being ‘it’? I just found out how much of ‘us’ I’m not. Did you think you could drop ‘Oops, I’m leaving for three years’ like ‘Oh yeah, forget to tell you there’s a dead mouse under the sink?’ I was supposed to figure all this out by ESP because two months ago you turned me off cold like a shitty cry baby song on the radio?”

“Well…No. But…”

“Great. Deanna’s special universe where nobody gets it but her.” He picked up her Day-Timer, flipped to the back where they put all the calendars for ten years out. He circled Valentine’s Day, 1983, ripped it from the binder. “You want three years? Lucky fucking you.”

He pulled open the neck of her sweater, wadded up the day timer page and stuffed it down the front. “There’s four years, five weeks and two days. Five Valentine’s days. If you think there’s anything left of this, of us, if you aren’t married or pregnant or in a coma, rich or famous or a euro jet-setter? If you come home and need somebody to do your laundry, keep your car running? Look me up. I shouldn’t be hard to find.”

She’d never seen his eyes as cold as they were, and could feel hers getting warm again when she looked down at the lump in her sweater, tried get a grip on what was happening. Her orchestration of excuses and justifications, his failure to acquiesce like he was supposed to, all of it falling apart.

“You have to understand how much I’ll miss you, how much this means. You promised me, Jax.”

“I promised because I was young and stupid. I hoped some day you’d play me your whole song instead of beating the chorus until you faded out.” He grabbed a handful of loose sweater and the crumpled Day-Timer page. “I ‘understand’ you’re running away again, and your Aunt’s in Wichita isn’t far enough and your parents’ vacations aren’t long enough. I ‘understand’ you could have told me who you really are, what you really wanted, what the hell was going on, but didn’t. I ‘understand’ this could have gone on, maybe gotten a lot better, or ended another way.”

She felt the pull every one of the 3,000 miles she’d been putting between them for a year. He wouldn’t be downstairs, waiting in the parking lot or in the bedroom. He wasn’t stashed somewhere and saved for later when she needed him, where she could tell him a little of how she felt if she got around to it. He wouldn’t be where he could help her, focus her, love her until he got too close.

“Jax, it’s not over. It’s just…different. And I’ll be back, and it’ll be better then, really. Jax?”

He held his left hand above his shoulder, open wide, as he went through the door.

He didn’t slam it. He didn’t say “You got this one, D, see ya on the flip side,”  or “Do what you gotta do, I’ll be here,” like he did every time she left town. Not even a kiss goodbye. All the times she hadn’t wanted one for the last year, now, when she needed it to matter, it wasn’t there at all. And who was he kidding with his arrogant little timeline? School was school. She’d knock it out early like always.

THG 3 – CH 1 – Done Deal

I’m going to put these on auto pilot M-W-F (except today). The Hot Girl 3, draft mode.

Deanna Collings’ Apartment / Saturday afternoon, October 28th, 1978

Deanna crossed her fingers and opened the envelope carefully by sawing the top from under the flap with one of Jackson’s dull, white plastic handled Pier One steak knives she’d “borrowed” for the sole purpose of letter opener.

Ms Deanna C. Collings. Please be advised that your application to Newnham College, Cambridge, has been conditionally accepted…

She yelped and fell back into the bean bag chair in her apartment, stunned. It wasn’t a dream she couldn’t see, blinded and buried by her academic marathon. It was real. Really for fucking real. She folded the envelope, jumped up, wiped her sweaty palms on her thighs and smoothed her skirt. She had to get her shit together. In a few hours she needed to be at an early Halloween party with a circle of “couples” friends she’d grown through classes and academic societies, not the arts department weirdos Jackson hung around with. The crazy people he would be with tomorrow night playing the piano with a stupid egg beater for his old neighbor Audrey the dancing naked in a long wispy scarf whore’s dance recital that Deanna would noisily boycott. Whore bitch. Who did she think she was, wrapped in nothing but a huge scarf, rolling around on the floor in Jackson’s apartment. To loud booty rock! She didn’t care if they’d been neighbors since they were four. “Odd” was fucking nutso, no matter what anybody said and Jax went right down art nutso lemming road right behind her.

And that was thing, really, with Jackson. He could be so…Over the line with artsy stuff sometimes. Otherwise, Deanna was proud of the two of them as a couple. When they were out together, where she wanted them to be. He was comfortable with people, everyone liked him. He was cute, funny, different, smart. And knew exactly the right things to say to open up a conversation. He even taught her brother how to stay just on the right side of the flirty and potty mouth lines around “straights.” “Boyfriend theater,” he called it. “Like playing a tux gig.” Jax was really the guy he was without her. The guy she didn’t understand. All he wanted to talk about was how she couldn’t talk to him about anything that mattered except her starring role in ‘D.C. Collings, the New Voice of Feminism’ in Collegiate Debate presentations.

They didn’t get it. Him, Amanda, none of them. That stand and talk shit wasn’t cutting it anymore. She was tired of saying what they wanted her to say. She was by God going to Cambridge, going to get smarter, going get her own fucking voice and they could eat it.

She fidgeted by her breakfast nook table in the apartment directly over Jackson’s. She was out of place, never stayed here, only down there, and now…She fell into a palms down lean on the table. Jackson. Shit.

Jackson had tried to talk to her about USC and “cool” California, even Boston, and how that was what he really wanted to do. Instead of getting a degree that would send him to the unemployed lounge lizard waiting line for a band director’s gig in Podunk. Had tried to tell her he didn’t have to do the weekend pick up gigs she bitched about, and she didn’t need to kill herself studying. She’d said he just did it to hang out with his whore bartender friends and the whore blondie folksinger who was really a dentist and not really a whore…He’d said what did it matter, she studied twenty seven hours a day and what was he supposed to do, hold her books for her? Hold her head up?

She could do without that guy. But the other one? Mister funny conversation about nothing? Mister kiss her out of her shoes? And the only one ever who knew how to fix her presentations when they got away from her because he could hear things in her, find things in her, that she couldn’t. That Jackson was okay. She shouldn’t argue with him like the world would end when he was right. But goddammit, she was miserable and he couldn’t see it she and wasn’t going to roll over without making him miserable, too.

She rolled up, took a deep breath, put the letter in her big leather purse. Deanna and Jackson. In front of her friends, in public? They were an attractive, smart, fun couple that should make it out of college together. A couple that she was about to make no more. At least for a while. She flipped the purse flap over, covering the letter, physically sealing it in her private world. No matter how much Cambridge meant to her, it suddenly hurt more than she could ever have imagined to have to cut him off. She’d never been able to imagine him not being, well, Jax. And there. Tears she didn’t expect burned her eyes. She wiped them on the back of her hand, She had two months to steel herself. Wished she could go tomorrow. No. Now.

***

Amanda Morisé’s office / Wednesday afternoon, November 1st, 1978

Amanda stood behind her giant, clear desk, stretched across an equally giant unrolled blueprint, red marker in hand. She didn’t bother to look up when Jackson eased through her office door unannounced.

“Jailbait. There is some viable reason for you to be in my office during business hours without Deanna?”

“Yeah. Back in summer you asked what was going on with Deanna? She’s done, Amanda. It’s over. The last one was the last one, if you’re picking that up.”

“You are speaking in riddles and I’m busy. Be clear, dear. Or be gone.”

“She got an important letter of some kind on Saturday. I saw it in her mailbox, couldn’t see who it was from. By the time we went to a Halloween party Saturday night she was gone. All the way back to the cheerleader plastic smile gone. Where’s the D.C. Collings flunky release you told me about when all this started? I need to sign —”

Amanda held up her finger, punched the phone with butt end of the marker. “Amber? Got a sec? Yes, my office. Bring Mr. Jackson’s Collings Project file, please.” She studied him across the expanse of the clear Oz desk while they waited for Amber Free, Morisé’s legal and HR department. Amber floated in through the side door of Amanda’s office, replete with a ubiquitous Morisé manila folder that Amanda received without comment and turned to Jackson.

“Close, but no cigar, my shaggy young friend. Now, once more, all of it, for all of us. In English.” She had now would be good eyes working over her reading glasses.

“Okay, Saturday. She got a letter. Whatever was in it must have been what she’s been waiting for since the ‘big secret’ letters started a year ago. I think she wants to go to grad school someplace impressive and doesn’t want me to follow her.”

“Why would Deanna keep something as simple as graduate school a secret?”

“It’s just how she is. She needs to keep people and parts of her life at arm’s length, can’t find a way to tell anyone why.”

“Presume, for the moment, that you’re correct. Deanna will graduate a year early, go on to more prestigious aventures académiques —”
“Jesus, Amanda. You and Alix and the damn French.”

“Alix is French. For me French was a facet of my overpriced education and I have an aversion —”

“To wasting money. I’ve heard that one.”

She pushed a crystal vase to the edge of the blueprint, straightened from her palms on the blueprint posture. “As I was saying, before I was interrupted, presume Deanna does run off to graduate school. You will continue on your current academic path or…”

“We’re juniors. I’m a junior, anyway, and the loads she’s been carrying could have her out by summer. I figure she’ll hook it to wherever before the ink is dry on her diploma. While she’s graduating out during spring semester I’ll kick down and work part time, save the good shit for a music program somewhere I can live with when she’s gone. But we’re all done as D.C. Collings, and that’s a natural fact.”

“You’re basing that assumption on her academic overoad, a bad time at a party and a mysterious envelope?” She gave him the dead man stare for a few beats. “Convince me?”

“You know how her last presentation went a couple of weeks ago. She didn’t make it past the first round, didn’t call and boo-hoo, didn’t bitch about the judges. She sat in a hotel room for three days without telling anyone she’d cratered so she could eat high-rent room service breakfast, call for cabs and go sightseeing and do dinner with Ivy League McDreamys on your dime.”

“So she did.” Amanda pulled a form from the folder, gave it a cursory look. “And that, on top of the letter and her other behaviors over the last year is why you now want out of the D.C. Collings project?”

“I don’t want ‘out’, Amanda. What I’m saying, and you’re not hearing, is that I know y’all’s D.C. Collings show is history. And so is my Tonto flunky gig, and so am I. I can feel it folding. So I should sign whatever waiver of rights deal you set up now. If there’s a fuck up on the flip side of this thing I’m not the pile of legal horseshit that everyone else in the parade has to step in trying to get on down the road to next.”
“Jailbait, your poor mother.” She turned the form his direction with her fingertips. “You can be so considerate, and so disgusting at the same time.”

“It’s a gift. Pen?”

The Hot Girl III – Backstory 3

Jackson and the Fairy Godmothers

Last BS. Mind the date – we’re now 7 months downstream from that distracted Valentine’s Day

Late August 1978 / Alix and Amanda Morisé’s home

Jackson had never been in Alix and Amanda Morisé’s home. Deanna had been a frequent guest, for the obvious reasons. Her parents, even his mom and dad. But not him. For a couple of women with all their money he’d sort of expected the Casbah. A teenage boy’s vision of a flying carpet and hookah laden tart’s palace. What he got was just over four-thousand square feet laid out in a horseshoe around a center courtyard with a small pool, fountain and badass built-in grill. No exotic furniture or fancy Chinese looking vases, though. Spartan was the word he found to describe it. The big dining room table was “mid-century modern impressive.” In the “receiving room” there were tons of pictures of politicians and big shot businessmen and women, some people in academic robes, some scenic vineyards. A larger copy of the Bridge of Sighs picture with Amanda and Alix. Same size and next to it was picture of a big man with a cigar in his teeth and a beer can smothered by his hand who had a little girl in a crooked ball cap sitting on his leg. She looked a lot like a younger tomboy version of the swishy silk pants and blouse tomboy who’d let him in.

The whole place, from what he could see, was spotless. White carpet, marble, oriental rugs, indirect light and some art hanging in just the right places on the walls. Not a lot of knick-knacks. Pretty obvious they didn’t have a big, slobbery dog, or anyone like him making plaster palm prints and buying them Lady and the Tramp salt and pepper shakers for Mother’s Day. Every year.

Amanda let him wander before she ushered him into a large room with a wall length gray brick fireplace, the adjoining wall glass from the ceiling to a foot from the floor and looked into the courtyard. Alix was sitting on her feet in an over-sized tweedy chair off to one side, reading. She set her book down when Amanda moved him into the room with not quite a shove.

“It’s not a library or a museum, Jailbait, we live here. Please, sit anywhere you like.”

He wanted to ask if Alix’s lap was in that option anywhere, checked it. “The fireplace. When it’s cold do you like burn telephone poles in there, or what?”

Alix’s light, musical laugh floated through the room. “You have come as the entertainment most refreshing on a summer’s eve, my love? If such, we find you a most welcome relief.”

“Alix, don’t encourage him.” Amanda poured herself a glass of white wine from a bottle sweating in a sterling ice bucket on the marble topped end table, reloaded the glass Alix extended.

“For your information, we burn smart ass twenty-year old males in that fireplace. They don’t burn bright, or hot, and they smell like burnt hair. But they’re plentiful and disposable and most of them will never be missed. Jailbait, sit.”

He found a spot on the angular white linen L sectional, sat. Amanda leaned over from behind him, her cheek almost next to his, hair brushing his face. The faint scent of her perfume did its pirates and flying carpets number on him, her voice low and from somewhere far away.

“My shaggy young friend, this conversation is between you,” her clear, polished nail tipped index finger rose up from behind him and pointed across the room, “Alix…and me. No one else is here, no one else is listening, nothing leaves this room.” He could almost feel her breath heat up before the panther-ish growl dripped into his ear. “What. The hell. Is going on?”

“Whoa, that’s loaded.” He knew what she wanted, but he had to play her some or she’d think he was an impostor. “Let’s see, I played a pickup gig last weekend at this hooker dive off old 66 out by the lake. Glenn and I played with the girl who’s almost a dentist up in the Tower on Saturday. Good money, expensive food, dull crowd. My day job wrapped with the last brick in the wall on Wednesday. School starts in a couple of —”

“Don’t play with me, Jailbait.” She turned up the growl but not the volume in her panther. “What the hell is going on with Deanna?”

“Oh…That what the hell.” He leaned to the side, turned so they could glare at each other. “You want a run down on all her ‘Look at me I’m Golden’ trips? Or how she can’t listen, or how we have to get so pissed off at each other for her to go do y’all’s fucking presentations that I broke a refrigerator door last time she left? Or about how many hours her highness can take in summer and bust on all of us for not having time to cater her every wish because we have work we have to do? That sort of what the hell is going on?” His eyes followed her around the sectional, watched as she deposited her wine glass on the long marble top coffee table and sat beside him, only on the edge of the seat so she could face him and take up their glaring where they’d left off.

“You know all that shit, Amanda. She’s doing it to you and Alix and Stacey. And Amber and Bev as much as they’re involved. She bitched Bev down with ‘What the fuck is up with no first class’ last week when all she was doing was a turn-around getting her ass kissed at some girl’s boarding school in Connecticut. For being an ‘exemplary young woman’ and a ‘role model’. Those people don’t know her at all and are buying into y’all’s and Stacey’s eight by ten color glossy promo bullshit.”

He collected for a few, pointed to the shelf that ran along the top of the fireplace to an 8×10 framed picture of Deanna and Amanda at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. “Deanna’s an ex daring young feminist who doesn’t give a damn anymore. She’d rather be partying with politician’s aides and scuba instructors and antique perv ski jocks than being who she started out to be. So don’t ask me what the hell is up with Deanna. Ask her.”

“I have. She gives me the same ‘Oh, nothing Amanda,’ she always does. I thought you might be able to enlighten us since she sleeps with you every night.”

“That’s on the jive side of nowhere. She’s useless as a girlfriend anymore. Last week I kicked her out the door with her laundry basket, told her not to bother. I can watch TV and eat stale pies and ice cream without a silent, dead fish shadow.”

“And?” Amanda didn’t sip or slurp or slam wine but she made a half glass disappear without taking her eyes off him.

“She’s sitting on my couch the next afternoon like nothing happened. Hasn’t got anything to say when I ask her what’s up. She says we’ll get back into “talking” for her presentation in early October, I tell her that’s not what we need to talk about and she clams up tighter. She doesn’t care about anything but as many credit hours as she can cram into a semester. I’ll get her through the next presentation when it’s due, but I have some personal shit to figure. Shit I need to have figured by next spring, that she won’t talk about.”

Amanda’s wine glass silently returned to the marble. “What I see is a steady decline in desire for the project. She’s no longer motivated to be an instigator of change. She was doing a spectacular job, and she’s still doing well. But it’s as if she wants to see how close she can come to blowing it, and then smug that she pulled it off.”

“You guys don’t see it? Damn, Amanda, four years ago when I came to see you in the sleet at ‘Beard’s, she was scared of her own shadow and pissed off. The four high school presentations she did and the first one her freshman year were about how pissed off she was. For herself, and for you. I think back in cheerleader and jock time maybe one of those guys really raped her and she just buried it like she does everything, and these debate presentation doo-dahs were her way of getting rid of it. When you and Alix and Stacey tried to get her to ‘widen her vision to include all women’ it diluted her. When she stopped everything after last Christmas and you guys had to start writing for her? Fuck that. Stage mommin’ that has been as much fun as playing twister with a colorblind nun.”

“You seriously believe she became intoxicated with her success based on her own experience, essentially exploiting herself, and me, and when we attempted to change course she lost interest? Because she was no longer personally invested?”

“That’s my guess, but I have no idea who she is anymore. I take her abuse for her presentations, feed her, do her laundry, put gas in her car. Because she’d starve, fuck up and turn all of our clothes pink and run out of gas on the interstate if I didn’t. When she was Deanna it was okay. Because she’s addictively smart, doesn’t know she’s stop and stare hot, she’s sexy as hell when nobody’s looking, and she had a sideways eye about things that was a gas. I mean she’s perfect when she’s herself, even if she’ll never get me or what I do. I’ve learned a lot from her and I loved the girl that’s gone and no shit really hated the Morisé monster she became. And whoever she is now in this mopey, dopey silent movie of herself she’s throwing down is beyond useless for anything but a high GPA on a hundred and fifty percent load.”

The “Hmm” was way back in Amanda’s throat and nearly silent.

Catlike, Alix unwound from her chair, collected Amanda’s wineglass, hinted acknowledgment of the picture window and the gathering clouds. “For the Little Jewel of Morisé we wish to know such as we may know of the weather, oui? Predictions, I think, most impossible. The heat of summer oppresses, as she feels. Cool breezes, cleansing rain, the colors of spring…Seasons away. As such a return of the Little Jewel.” She sniffed as lightly as she had hinted at the window. “Ten minutes, my loves.”

Amanda waited, let the room settle while they both watched Alix vanish down the hall.

“Tell me, did you ever learn to drink wine when you were the early evening fern bar piano player of choice around here?”

“Yeah, white. Unless it’s sweet or face sucking dry. I can drink a beer with almost anything, if you’ve got one.”

“We have white wine, that is neither sweet or dry. And beer. Beer, however, is a plebeian choice in the face of Alix’s leftovers. Cold lamb and dill sauce, reheated French green beans with bacon, possibly re-roasted rosemary potatoes and a small salad. Always the small salad.” She stood, offered him her hand. “Join us. Tell us who you want to be in all of this, what your problems are that need to be addressed by spring. Tell us more about Deanna’s secrecy. Tell us how you feel about all of it. And relax. You’ve been sitting like you’re in church.”

“I was an altar boy in grade school. I can sit like this for over an hour. And cold lamb, dill sauce? Jeez, Amanda, I’m not —”

“Oh for Christ’s sake, Jailbait. Pretend you’re an adult for an evening, we won’t tell anyone. You can go back to hand food tomorrow.”

The Hot Girl III – Special Instance Backstory 2.5

Someone posted recently about “can you write on demand?” I answered “yes” because as a professional in another industry I have known editors and performance critics and art directors who throw things out, or back, with the expectation that something “creative” will be done, or enhanced, by their feedback. Since I was young. Two Hundred years ago. There was no followup to flowers in the sink. But LP posed a question of sorts, that made sense. Loose ends. Talk about draft mode…

Jackson’s Apartment – Wednesday, February 15, 1978

Jackson opened the door of his apartment, found Deanna studying in the same chair as always at his fake slate topped dining table, only she was behind a vase full of crazily arranged yesterday’s sink toss flowers and a stack of three books. Plus an open one and an open notebook, all facing the right direction to be used and useful.

“Card’s on the bed, Jax. Sorry.” She pushed her glasses up into a hair band for her wet hair. “I came back and fixed the flowers last night. Once a year, you know?” She tapped the vase with her pencil. “I don’t do very good. Where’d you go?”

“The city.” The vase got a glance and very tight smile. Deanna perpetuated her mom’s ‘no dead flowers except Valentine’s and anniversaries’ rule, only without Mom Jean’s eye for composition. “I dropped a load at Next Time Around. Went to Glenn’s. He made me smoke something with a name that sounded like a Mexican resort, then made me listen to Reggae all night like I’d never heard it and didn’t know how easy the guitar solos were until I passed out on the couch. I woke up with a cat that Stacey talked him into keeping rubbing its ass on my nose, bashed my leg on his coffee table, beat the speed trap south of town and made it to my eight-thirty.” He checked the clock on the stove. “Two-forty and everything still smells like cat butt, mixed with shampoo.”

“He didn’t make you do anything.” She closed a book and notebook, opened another of each. “Why do you hang out with people like that?”

“Glenn’s okay. You don’t like him, but Stacey does. Now that he’s finally got his accounting degree.” He rubbed his eyes, yawned. “She’ll be a VP at Morisé when Amanda finally puts all her Dad’s shit in one bucket. Amanda likes him, too, so he can’t be that bad.”

“He is that bad, they just can’t see it. He’s way older than you are, and he may be an accountant, like finally after forever, but he’s still that fake-y charm guitar player guy he always has been. And you could say ‘when Amanda completes her father’s partnership acquisitions’, not when her dad’s shit’s in a bucket.”

“He’s eight years older than we are. The same age as Stacey and Amber and Bev.” He pulled his sweater over his head, sniffed it, backhanded it into the bedroom. “How about, ‘Little and much will change, my love, quand la merde est réunie, oui’?”

“You do that to everybody, Jax. Yesterday I was stealing your stuff in a country song and now you’re making up fake French like Alix said something about shit in a bucket. She wouldn’t do that. Alix is like a legal and business genius who went to five or six colleges in four countries. And lady geniuses don’t talk like that. Really, they don’t.” She absently tapped a women’s world lit anthology without looking at it. “I know.”

“What she said, in French, was ‘when the shit is joined together, yes?’ If cussing is the barricade against genius you’re sunk down here in Dumbassville with the rest of us, D.” He laughed, headed for the bedroom, pulled off his t-shirt on the way. “I need a shower. How long have you been out?”

“A while. Asshole.” She leaned over the table, tried to follow him with her eyes. “Aren’t you going to read your card first?”

“It waited a day. It can wait till I don’t stink.” He knew she wanted to throw something, grab her books and slam the door again but she was entrenched in her studies, with wet hair, in one of his shirts and probably nothing else. He’d take a shower, bust on her for re-using the only Valentine’s card she’d ever bought him with an added line, and he’d ask why, and she’d say she couldn’t buy him cards “because, alright?” Happy recycled Valentine’s Day. Yesterday. Sorry.

If this Wednesday turned out like all the Wednesday’s lately, Deanna would take over his bathroom for half an hour bitching and dialing in her hair and be in her advisor’s office from four-thirty until the regally tall, twig thin, nasally, outright hostile distaste for him Dr. ‘Cruella DeVille’ Eckden cut her loose, starved, at almost ten. Deanna, her head full of whatever they were putting together, would drive past the Feathers and Fins drive-through, walk in the door of his apartment, drop her books on the floor, fall on the couch and tell him what an angel he’d be if he’d go get her a chicken sandwich, no mayo or mustard or any of that. From Feathers and Fins.

He’d go. Get a fish sandwich for himself and some extra fries, stop at the 7-11 on the way back and buy a nearly frozen beer from the pink, bulbous blonde woman who talked with an accent full of “echhh” and “awkkk” like she was trying to clear a wad of snot from her throat. He stuck his hand in the shower to check the temp. Still cold. Dammit, D‘A while’? Three minutes? He dropped his forehead into the crook of the arm that held him to the wall, the wet hand dripped cold water on his foot. What had fucking happened?

 

 

 

The Hot Girl III – Backstory 2

The Date Header will tell you this is three years downstream from the last one. Deanna and Jackson are living together in college, with two apartments. Raise your hand if you’ve been there. Deanna has grown, but feels caged by who she wants to be and the perceived control exerted over her by her mentors and even her boyfriend. All of whom are as confused as she is. Welcome to the 1970s.

October 4th, 1977

Deanna licked the big brown envelope full of papers, including a forged letter of recommendation from Amanda Morisé, on October fourth. She drove to the post office and watched as they put the express postage for England on it that she paid for with change from the over-sized mason jar on Jackson’s kitchen counter. Followed the envelope with her eyes and bit the tip of her tongue when the clerk tossed it offhandedly into the international bin.

“It’ll be okay, right?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“I mean that address is kind of weird. You know where it is and everything? Even in England?”

“Yes ma’am. England has been doing this longer than we have.” The post office lady swept the last of the counted change into her drawer.

“Well, they forget stuff. Like who built Stonehenge and all that. And that was enough, you know, to make it sure it gets there by the fourteenth?”

“Yes ma’am.” The counter lady dusted her hands from the change counting. “Plenty enough.”

Deanna stood, nervously chewing her lower lip, unable to leave the counter.
“Sure? I mean it. Really. Cross your heart?”

Counter lady gave Deanna a “beat it, little girl” look and said, “Next in line, please.”

November 2nd, 1977 – C.A. Morisé

A letter from the office of Student Records, Newnham College, Cambridge University arrived in the mail bin at Seventeen Hundred Oilman’s Bank Tower, addressed to Celeste A. Morisé. Amanda had never gone by Celeste as far as anyone knew, and never touched mail outside of legal, project management or finance that a department head hadn’t found worthy of her attention. The intern working in Public Relations and Marketing made a judgement call and pencil punched her boss’s extension.

“Hey, Stace. Cambridge wants to know if Ms. Morisé really knows Collings.”

“Cambridge, as in Ye Old-y-ier than moss and Collings as in Deanna?”

“Yeah, her. Deanna Christine, Not D.C., not Diva, not Bit —”

“Valerie?”

“‘Check the box and sign for verification. Please update your Alumni profile.’”

“Sounds like something Amanda set up. Check it, signature stamp it, pull Amanda’s latest headshot and bio. Send them a slick, not a Xerox. Impress them, overnight it. ”

November 11th, 1977

Another letter with English postage landed in Deanna’s flimsy apartment complex mailbox with her Cambridge conditions enclosed. Cambridge wouldn’t accept Deanna’s accumulated credit hours as transfer, but as a distinguished and generous alumnus had given her a reference letter, as well as many of her professors, and with consideration of her excellent academic and public service service and performance thus far, if she wanted a first undergraduate with Cambridge on it she could obtain an affiliate student second under-graduate degree in two years or less with summer terms and working her ass off. She could then apply for specialized Masters of Philosophy degrees that ran full time nine month terms. She needed to graduate where she was before any of those conditions were valid. Which meant that she had to graduate by the middle of her junior year.

Already a full semester plus five hours ahead, she would meet with her professors, take exactly what she needed and whatever fluff she could get away with for elective hours. Her speech presentations at the national academic level carried a lot of weight, and the horny congressman she’d met at one of them would have his cute but uninterested aide write her a letter. And all the other people she’d met on the academic presentation circuit would write her more letters. Her counselor had said she knew a way to make those speeches and presentations eat up more credit hours on paper. She crossed her fingers. She’d start on Cambridge’s conditions in January of her sophomore year, a week after her annual vacation with her parents ended. She dove headfirst into academic Supergirl and tuned everyone out, including Jackson, unless she needed them for something.

It became evident to everyone involved in the inner circle of the “it could and should be a women’s world” presentations by D.C. Collings that the D.C. Collings project had hit a wall. Deanna refused to spend time on research and only spit out well formed, perfunctory, passionless essays from material fed to her by Amanda and Alix, then proofed and assembled by Stacey. If they were they foolish enough to suggest an edit she argued with them like changing a word would throw the planet off its axis. Because done was done, she had other things on her mind. And the threat of going mega bitch kept them out of her way.

Except for Jackson, who claimed to be genetically mega-bitch proof and still rehearsed her like it mattered. If she tried to hide he’d find her. She’d scream at him when he stopped her, made her think about what she was doing, and he’d open the door while they waited for the cops because the old lady across the hall would call them every time. Deanna would finally acquiesce because Jackson might be an asshole for doing it, but when they were done she got that incredible high she always got when he’d helped her find the center of her voice.

Otherwise it didn’t matter that she had no life. Jackson had been a total asshole since the scuba instructor incident after Christmas their freshman year, and just shut her out after she’d set off the fire alarm to escape a porn loving perv masquerading as a ski instructor’s “fuck shack.” The timing couldn’t have been better, really. No extended “boyfriend” duties except sex when she felt like it. He helped her study and took care of her daily reality details and played on weekends while they passed each other in his apartment like strangers and she built her stacks of credit hours.

***

Jackson’s apartment, Tuesday, Valentine’s Day 1978

Deanna had daydreamed her way through most of the day. The latest letter from Cambridge agreed to her academic plan, asked her to please submita  final semester schedule when available, Newnham College was looking forward to being her new scholastic home. She heard Jackson unlock the door and panicked. Valentine’s Day. No card. She dropped a medium sized anthology on top of the Cambridge envelope and pretended to read.

Jackson tossed a card on the round, fake woodgrain Formica table in the “dining nook” of his rented-it-furnished, one-bedroom college apartment. The card skidded under an upside down open book Deanna was pretending to read that partially covered a manila envelope.

“Happy Valentine’s Day.” He set the wet waxed paper cone wrap full of flowers beside her. “You never take a vase to your place so you can pull one you like from under the sink. That a good book?”

“Mmm hmm. Multiplicity. English Renaissance.”

“Cool. ‘For thee watch I, whilst thou dost wake elsewhere,
From me far off, with others all too near.’

“Where did you get that?”

“Willy’s Sonnet Sixty-one. I go to college, too.” He tapped his temple with his index finger. “Reminded me of your vacations, so I stored it.” He leaned against the kitchen counter, folded his arms. “Are you going to tell me where you’re going, what’s going on? Or will it be like some country song where I wake up one morning with a hangover and you and my truck and my stereo and my dog are gone?”

“Nothing is ‘going on.’ You shouldn’t quote Shakespeare out of context and then make up things about me stealing stuff in some gross country song. Anyway, I don’t understand your stereo and you don’t have a truck or a dog. I told you, the ski instructor was a horny old man and I had no idea that his idea of training films were really gross porn. And all of your shit about the huge bed I told you about is way old. Old, old. He was showing me his house, that’s all. At first, anyway. That bed was so cool, Jax, and I thought if you had one we…Never mind.”

“Must have been a pretty ‘hot’ bed. That ‘tour’ cost your dad two hundred bucks for you setting off a false fire alarm.”

“Shut up. They shouldn’t have done that. That asshole tried to show me butt sex movies instead of skiing movies and I couldn’t get out and I was scared and that was the only way. Can I study now? Please?”

“I heard it helps if you turn your glasses over if you want to read an upside down book.”

He took two steps, reached out, yanked on the Pier One beaded curtain that separated the “dining nook” from the “living area” and it came down, brought the staples he’d put it up with and bits of popcorn ceiling with it.

“Dammit, Jax. What was that all about?”

“About time.”

“You’re being really stupid. About what time?”

“About time to take this place back to neutral. Too much of me in here.”

“It’s your apartment, Jackson.”

“Yeah? Tell me again why you have one?”

“Why are you being such a dick? I really need to study. Keeping my apartment keeps mom out of my shit. You know that, so, okay?”

He stuffed the beaded curtain in a paper bag, rolled the top down. “I thought it was so you had someplace to go when all the secrets and lies start stinking this place up like forgotten broccoli.”

“Fuck. You.” She slapped the upside down book closed, picked it up along with her unopened card and her letter, threw her empty Seven-Up can at the sink. “It wasn’t my fault, alright? I’ve told you a hundred times, I didn’t go to his stupid ‘fuck shack’ to be his little ‘fuck bunny’ no matter what you think or say. He was supposed to teach me how to ski. Ski. S-K-I. That’s all. I didn’t know about the rest. Thanks for fucking up another afternoon with all that.” She slammed his door behind her.

“Forgot your flowers.” He leaned against the kitchen counter, heels of his hands on the counter top. He hadn’t said a word about the horn dog ski instructor until she decided that was the conversation they were having. It didn’t matter. She would have picked one from the half dozen or so she had banked instead of having one of any consequence. He tossed her flowers in the sink beside the green can, pushed the stopper down and ran some water in the sink. If they were still there in the morning he’d toss them.

In just over an hour he’d pulled all of his posters and tapestries and gathered up all of his other college guy junk off the walls, shelves and counters of his apartment, rolled and rubber banded or folded them and tossed them in the trunk of his car. The hippie chick at the used jeans and old hippie funk place in the city could sell them again. To somebody just like he’d been. A guy who thought he knew who he was, and knew what he thought was funny or important, what kind of music he liked. Who knew what he wanted to be just before he grew up a little and found out it wasn’t a fairy tale after all, and nobody really gave a shit one way or the other. Including the girl who was supposed to.