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 3 – Alone

Amanda Morisé’s office / Late Monday morning January 8th, 1979

“Cambridge?” The skepticism in Amanda’s voice was almost theatrical.

“Yes, like you.”

“I was being groomed for Cambridge when I was twelve, Deanna.”

“I want to be a smart girl, a smarter girl. It will only make me better.”

“Another member of the Smart Girl club?” Amanda picked up a piece of marble the size of a business card a quarter of an inch thick. The engraved brass plaque read “Sometimes smart girls don’t know shit.”

“Wow.” Deanna felt the weight of the stone before handing it back. “Jackson told me that. This morning, before he, uh…Did he get that from you?”

“No, I got it from him. He told me this the day before your seventeenth birthday when he put you on this road. His point, I believe, was that constantly having to be the smartest person in the room sometimes got in the way of what was important.”

“What could ever be more important? To Jax or anyone?”

“Heart. We had this discussion Saturday. I keep this on my desk and pass it around the office to those who have momentarily lost sight of theirs, as you have. However you have never known the difference between your head and your heart, Miss Collings. In fact I often wonder if you possess the latter. It’s all facts and figures and Jackson’s conducting.”

“Then you don’t understand, either?”

“No. I don’t understand you at all, Miss Collings.”

“Why are you all being so, so fucking weird? What’s to understand? I just need to do this alone. By myself. I need —”

“That’s what this last year has been about? Paving the way for you to make you, by yourself?” Amanda made a tent with her fingertips, gave Deanna the briefest of appraisals. “Very well, Miss Collings. Alone it is.” She pencil punched her phone. “Amber, got a sec? Bring me the Deanna C. Collings open contract file.”

Miss Collings. Not Ms. Collings. Not Deanna, not Deanna Dear, not God fucking dammit what-the-hell Deanna Dear which is what she expected. Simply ‘Miss Collings.’ It took Amber two of the longest minutes of Deanna’s life to enter Amanda’s office through the side door.

“Amber, thank you. I need you stay, please.”

“I don’t like the way this room feels, Amanda. Are you –”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Amanda took the folder from Amber, opened it on the desk in front of her. “Miss Collings, we need to discuss some legal documents with you. If you feel that you would like personal counsel, we can call someone from elsewhere in the building. Would you like your own counsel for this?”

“No. I trust you.”

“‘Love all, trust a few, do harm to none,’ Miss Collings. Are you certain?”
Deanna nodded.

“I need to hear it, please.”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.” Amanda stood the papers in the folder, popped them on her desk, laid them back down. “You are, or rather were, involved in several operations at C.A. Morisé. A number of people here have an investment in you, and we need to sever those relationships and investments. Do you understand?”
“Yes. No. Amanda, what is this?”

“You, on the way to alone.” She spun one of the papers Deanna’s direction. “Your publishing contract. I was a softy when I drafted it. This waiver is a mutual severance of rights. The D.C. Collings materials were developed at the expense of C.A. Morisé. However, this severance gives both you and C.A. Morisé equal right to the material without punitive consequence for use. We can use it. You can use it. We can’t sue each other over who the materials belong to. If you agree, check the box, and sign the bottom. If you disagree, sign the top.” Deanna picked a pen from the row on Amanda’s desk, checked and signed. “Thank you. Wise choice. No more lawyers.”

Amanda removed several more pages paper-clipped together, uncapped her fountain pen, wrote the date and signed the top page. “This is a personal release starting with today’s date. Simply stated, anything you may do or create after this moment in time will be treated as having nothing to do with C.A. Morisé, and releases us from any liability incurred by any action or actions you might take. You are no longer an agent of C.A. Morisé in any personal or professional endeavor. Sign there. Thank you.”

The last document from the file was one page. Amanda turned it towards Deanna like all the rest. “This is your open ended offer of contract for internship employment, available to you upon graduation. You may destroy it, we can keep it on file as it is, or you may waive it now or at any time in the future. We will keep it on file for seven years from the last date of communication with you regarding this offer. After that time your offer is legally voided.”

“I’m coming back, Amanda. I don’t understand all of this.”

“If you fall in love with Alix’s ‘real boy,’ the boy you can share your life with instead of the one you exchanged for this enterprise, send us something in writing to release us from our obligation, because this company is full of lawyers. The only binding obligation is ours to accept you for a year upon your graduation from college unless you waive this. Waive it by signing here.”

No. I’m coming back.”
“‘No’ to waiving your internship?”
“Yes. No, I mean. No, I won’t waive it. I’m coming back.”

Amanda dated the internship form, had Amber and Deanna initial it. From a second folder came two more documents, each with a check voucher attached. “There are a few other contracts we can no show, Miss Collings. They’re simple entry forms. However I need you to waive these two. They are, or would have been, professional D.C. Collings guest speaker appearances where you would have had a chance to tell the world what you think needs to happen and been paid for your opinion.” She turned the papers to Deanna. “Sign here and here. Thank you. There were appearance retainers involved, and we’ll need to refund them. You haven’t been paid yet, so there will be no tax documents for you to be concerned about. Amber, give these two to Bev when you leave, please.”

“Can I take them now?”

“Not yet. Not all lawyering is pleasant, Amber. Miss Collings, do you have any questions?”

“What does the mutual use thing mean, really?”

“That any images, writings, or other materials developed by you or C.A. Morisé during the course of the D.C. Collings project can be used by you or C.A. Morisé or any entity to whom either of us assign agency, in any way either of us sees fit.”

“You could use my stuff to make me look bad?”

“No, that would be unethical, to no one’s benefit and legally actionable.”

“Even Jackson? I saw his signature behind mine. On the last page.”

“He signed mutuality as well. He participated materially on our behalf, and his handwriting is all over your archive documents. If he hadn’t signed, he could sue us both. Are you worried about him using any of our material negatively?”

“No, I guess not. When did he sign it? Today? Has he already been here?”

“Yes, he was here, but not today.” She flipped through the forms in the folder. “November first. He came in and asked me about the waiver I’d explained to him when you signed your contracts several years ago.”

“Is that all he said? Just ‘Where’s the waiver,’ like Jax suddenly got interested in forms?”

“No, he said, in words to this effect, ‘Where’s the hot girl flunky release you told me about. Something’s going on, so I’ll sign it now. Between you and I, D.C. Collings is history, and so am I. I can feel it.’”

“He didn’t say that, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t say that to anyone, ever, about being a flunky and being history.”

“Amber was in attendance then as she is today, Miss. Collings. Amber, please?”

“Those were close to his exact words, Miss Collings.”
Miss Collings? Even Amber? They’d worked together one summer with Jackson and that football player architect. Architectural reclamation Amanda had called it. Amber had covered for them when she and Jackson, that day…When she rented the cold hotel room and made him promise. She’d watched Amber the hippie with a masters become Amber the corporate attorney. Now she was Miss Collings?

Amanda sat back in her chair with a look Deanna had never seen, at least not directed at her. People who did business with C.A. Morisé called it the invisible man stare because it was as if she were looking through whoever her target was. If you had a secret it wasn’t a secret anymore, it was on the desk in front of her.
“Did you tell him, and he was doing his Jackson man thing, keeping your secret for two months? Did you lie to me recently in Boston?”

“No. I didn’t lie, really. Not about that. What I don’t know is how he ‘felt’ anything.”

“Jackson runs on how he feels, Miss Collings. Much like Amber and Alix. Feeling things and being disconnected from reality are not the same. We all obtain our information in different ways. Jackson understands considerably more than you give him credit for.”

“I don’t need another lecture on Jackson, not from you or anyone. I know he’s not stupid. He’s just Jax, that’s all. None of you know him like I do. He must have ‘felt’ a few things from reality. Did you know his SAT scores were higher than mine? He studied with me, prompted me. He says I’m supposed to be the smart one for both of us, and there he is again, out in front of me with his ‘far fetched analogies,’ and his ‘feelings.’ I know who he is, alright? I’m coming back. We…We love each other.”

“Interesting. You know who he is by a test score? And you’love’ for each other is leftover from a once-upon-a-time fairy tale turned sex driven little romance of convenience you have finally destroyed? I believe you know far less about him than you think. Was he a jerk when he told you about his scores?”

“He never told me, really. I looked at his transcripts. They… They were on his kitchen table a couple of weeks ago.”

“If you didn’t tell him you were leaving when you found out, when did you tell him?”

“This morning. Before I drove up here.”
Amanda closed Deanna’s folder and handed it to Amber. “Miss Collings, do you have any other concerns?”

“No, I guess not.”

“Yes or no please.”

“No.”
“You are officially alone. Miss Collings. Good day.”

Deanna picked up two of Amanda’s cards from the small silver tray by the door on her way out. She hadn’t expected alone to feel so…alone.

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 1b –

Jackson’s apartment / Thursday night January 4th, 1979

Deanna sat on Jackson’s lumpy, furnished apartment couch in typical evening wear and study position. Winter weather knee socks, her flannel boxers and one of his t-shirts, her feet on his thigh. For once she didn’t have a book in her hand, and for once she’d escaped her parents’ winter vacation. And she regretted both. Since high school all she’d ever wanted was Christmas break with him. Hot chocolate and leftover pumpkin pie and deep in the quilts giggly sex. The Niners hadn’t made the playoffs, two teams that made Jackson throw tennis shoes at the TV were in the Super Bowl and she was trapped with nothing to say until Monday and the only way out was a trip to Boston with Amanda.

“Jax? I’m not sure I want to go this time.”

“Call her and bail, D. She’ll survive.”

“I can’t.”

“Sure you can. You oughta go someplace, even with Amanda, ‘cause you’re not much good around here.” He stood up without bothering to move her feet.

“Thanks. A lot.” She rubbed her ankle where it had banged the coffee table. She wanted to stay home. She wanted, for the first time in over two months, to grab the front of his shirt, pull him over on the couch and say Love me, Jax, like you promised. Three more days is all I have with you for awhile. But she couldn’t. Because she’d already shut him off and the minute “Cambridge” was out of her mouth as why everyone had been out of her life for a year, and he knew he was going out of her life for three more she’d find herself freezing in the breezeway on the other side of his door.

***

There was no competition, nothing was “at stake” when Deanna flew in uncomfortable silence to Boston with Amanda to a clinic for presentation professionals being taught by successful men and women from broadcast, politics and the private sector. There were even some theatrical people from the Actor’s Studio, East and West. Before she’d been sure about Cambridge she would have loved it. All she could do was get through it.

Halfway through the first morning session, on the back row where Deanna had parked them, Amanda snapped the lid on her lukewarm rust-water hotel coffee and sailed it fifteen feet to a gray plastic trash bin. She turned to Deanna without waiting to see that she’d nailed it. No rim, no bin, nothing but air.

“Are you going to tell anyone what’s on your mind, Deanna, or have you already told Jackson and he’s keeping your secret?”

“I don’t have a secret,” Deanna lied. “I’m just tired.”

“You should have gone on winter vacation with your parents and gotten some rest.”

“No.”

“They do always seem to end in disaster.” Amanda changed the cross of her legs and the hand the session pamphlet was curled in and went one-eighty. “If you don’t really love Jackson, you should tell him. I believe that you should have told him a long time ago. If you want something else you shouldn’t use him for an emotional and sexual crutch. He deserves better than that.”

“I do love him. You don’t understand. He doesn’t understand. He never has. None of you do. You all see it your own way, and it’s not like that. At all.”

“You’ve never bothered to tell any of us what we should understand.”

“I tell him everything.”

“You tell him a lot of nothing, Deanna. You talk at him. You study, you write grocery lists, send him on errands. You talk about your day, maybe his day. You tell him you love him, you make love. You never tell him how you feel, what you’re dreaming, who you are, who you want to be. Who you want him to be or what he wants to be. How you could be together. The saddest is you both have this wonderful opportunity that most people will never even get a glimpse of, and it’s so superficial it makes me sick. You’re two cute, smart kids fucking, and it’s disgusting to watch you both wasting something that could be grand.”

Deanna, emotionally padlocked, tried to seethe, couldn’t find it and twisted her morning program in half. “How do you know what I tell him and what I don’t? How do you know how I feel about anything?”

“Because I was young once, and madly in love.” She rubbed her hands together, took her mind to a place far away and brought it back. “I gave him all of me. Everything. He was my world. I was so happy I thought I could fly. When it ended I didn’t believe I could ever pick up the pieces of myself and be whole again. I know how it feels to love with everything I have. And knowing how much of me there was is how I rebuilt myself. Love is what we are. Who we are.”

Deanna had heard a world of tirades come out of Amanda’s mouth, but never anything as unexpected as Amanda on Love with a capital L.

“Deanna, I know you can’t, or won’t, give all of yourself to anything or anyone. If that’s what you want understood, find the words. If you wish you could give all of yourself but can’t find a way, you need to find those words. Until you find the words to let everyone know what you need, you’re going to be a very lonely and unhappy young woman. Believe me, abstinence as a higher ground lifestyle or the alcohol and casual sex route at your age both get old, quick. If Jackson isn’t the one for you, surely there’s one out there with your name on him, just waiting.”

Deanna unconsciously bit her lower lip until she tasted blood, heard her pulse pounding in her ears. Shit. She was going to have to tell them both on Monday that she was leaving. Why all this deep love stuff, now? Love and Jackson were going in the same box with Amanda’s fucking D.C. Collings voice of feminism presentations. Amanda could just shut the hell up and leave her alone.

It had been easier to wall it all out when she believed Amanda didn’t understand, but it looked like she did. Deanna loved Jackson with her whole being, but she couldn’t let herself go. No matter what she said it wasn’t really Jax. It was her. She was the one who was always scared when anything or anyone started to climb her fences. She’d had her dreams stolen once, goddammit, and she was still scared. And mad. And nobody got it.

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.”