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The characters in this story are purely figments of my imagination. It is my hope that they will seem familiar to you.
The story itself is about two women who meet and learn to love each other. Thats not so far fetched to me, but if it gives you a problem please read someone elses story. This is mine.
Your feedback is welcome but lets do play nice together. If you must poke me in the eye at least wash your hands first.
You can contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
All Manner of Madness by Anne Reagin
She grew up in a small town. It was sleepy and dull and contrary. The people there prided themselves on honesty of a kind. They could and did turn a blind eye to many unsavory things. They minded their own business unless somebody elses was more interesting.
Jamie always tried to make herself invisible by being the best behaved, the most earnest, the closest to perfection in all ways. It worked. She was almost through her teenage years before anybody even realized she was there and by then the torture of small town living had become a "lesser evil" in her lonely existence. She had begun to write.
An attractive, compact blonde with searing blue eyes, Jamie Fielding was extraordinary in secret. An only child left to entertain herself through many hours, she invented and vented and tried to work out her feelings by spilling them across blank pages.
Writing was the only thing she had conquered completely on her own. It had proved to be something positive and healing. She had always thought her work was foolish until her best friend got desperate for material to fill the literary magazine at college. She was the editor and was endlessly grateful for Jamies last minute contributions. The young author regretted handing the neatly written pages to her as soon as she had done it.
She steeled herself for ridicule but reaction to its publication overwhelmed her. It was the first in a long line of surprises in her life. Apparently her peers recognized some note of truth in the melody of this young mind. This newly won respect was her first taste of recognition. She thought she must be dreaming and wanted to never wake.
The path, long and meandering as it was, had brought Jamie Fielding to a day, place and pattern of cracks in a sidewalk that had her mesmerized until the sounds of voices drifted within earshot. The sound was coming closer, but she could not place the rhythm of the language being spoken yet. As she was concentrating on it the author surveyed her surroundings. Brick walls covered in soot and graffiti lined both sides of the narrow street. No windows or glass entrances were evident, only overhead doors. A warehouse district? She turned in a complete circle trying to determine how on earth she had gotten there.
She realized that it didnt matter at this point, she was utterly lost. In addition to that the voices she had heard earlier were now wearing bodies and they were coming down the street toward her.
She began to berate herself for mindlessly meandering into this obviously dangerous neighborhood, deserted on this holiday. There were no cars, no signs of life at all only a series of alleys that emptied into the street. Jamie had no idea what was about to happen. The young men coming toward her looked menacing. Dont panic she told herself, but her heart was hammering.
They were close enough now for her to see what she assumed to be gang insignias stitched on a sleeve here, drawn on a denim covered thigh there. They had seen the short woman too and were talking excitedly in a foreign language. She suspected that the conversation concerned her and that it would not please her to know what they were saying.
The young man in front was apparently the leader. He leered at her as he absently pushed the button to spring open the switchblade in his hand. He clicked it shut only to repeat the process. There were five of them in all, well muscled under their tattoos. Their eyes were cold and threatening.
Jamie considered her limited options quickly and settled on sending a prayer skyward. She closed her eyes fearing the nearness of certain calamity. Then she heard a scream? Her eyes snapped open looking for another victim. In the shortening distance between the men and the blonde woman a metal door was squawking on its hinges as it swung out onto the sidewalk. It was painted to match the color of the building and hung so that its flush surface blended into the warehouse wall. Camouflaged like this she had not seen it at first and was not sure if she could trust her eyes now.
A tall female figure with long dark hair appeared on the sidewalk. She seemed startled when she looked up and saw blue eyes staring back into her brown ones. Jamies silent cry for help was instantly communicated. At almost the exact moment the exiting woman caught a glimpse of the men in her periphery. She glanced in their direction and hesitated for a few moments letting the situation sink in.
She threw a hand up as if greeting the frightened woman. "Youre right on time!" she said loudly and pulled the blonde stranger into an embrace. She brushed a light kiss across the authors cheek for effect and watched the color creep up Jamies neck. She was startled and now embarrassed but in no position to question the methods of her only ally. Besides, the serious look on this tall womans face instructed her to go along with the charade.
The mumbling of the gang members swung the taller womans attention around toward them. She smiled in greeting as if seeing them for the first time.
"Jesus, how goes it hombre?" His face was slowly becoming less menacing as he took the last three strides to reach her. Each grasped the others forearm in greeting. His companions reacted to the silent signals of their leader and stopped as one unit behind him. Jamie took a deep breath. She was watching the woman who obviously did not feel threatened by these young men. She was also noticing her height, five-ten at least and the olive complexion of her outstretched arm. It contrasted the brilliant white tee shirt she was wearing.
"Doin great Joan. Happy Thanksgiving."
He eyed the shorter woman. He didnt seem quite convinced of the legitimacy of this situation. Jamie was concentrating on breathing. She closed her eyes and waited for the other shoe to drop. Just then she felt a warm touch on her elbow as her dark haired savior brought her from behind her and presented her to Jesus.
"This is my friend..." and she hesitated, waiting for the young woman to recognize her cue.
"Jamie. Jamie Fielding. Nicetomeetyou." She was so startled when she did pick up on it that her greeting came out in a one syllable rush.
The taller woman took control of the conversation again. "Hey guys, did everybody get enough copies of the pictures? I wasnt sure how many you would need. I just kind of guessed."
Five heads were nodding and the expressions of the entire group of young men softened immediately. They all started talking at once. The one called Jesus studied the situation for a moment then raised his hand and all fell silent again. Jamie held her breath.
She would always wonder what it was that made the intimidating young tough choose to believe what he was seeing. The animated conversation began again, but this time it was between just the two of them. Jesus and the dark haired woman spoke a mixture of English and some other dialect. Jamie could not focus enough to understand much. Her pulse was only starting to slow to normal, but she sensed that the danger had passed.
This tall stranger gestured with her hands in rhythm to the conversation. She, herself, only nodded occasionally to seem as if she was following along. In fact she was curiously studying the features of her holiday hero.
Joan stood with her sandaled feet slightly spread and planted firmly beneath her. Jamie glanced up for a second look into golden brown eyes under dark brows. She noticed again the contrast of dark complexion against a sparkling smile. Her hair hung in one careful braid. It was tied at the end with latigo lacing and swung below her shoulder blades. She thrust her hand into the pocket of threadbare jeans and brought out a brass key. As she talked she turned and locked the door she had come out of.
The conversation seemed to the nearing its end. The dark haired woman once again took her companions elbow as if to signal departure. Polite good-byes went around the group. The blonde nodded and started to add something but was turned quickly and steered up the sidewalk in the same direction she had come from. A firm had now at her back left no doubt as to the necessity of expedience.
"Hang on a second" the taller woman leaned in and spoke lowly into Jamies ear. They heard the voices moving away.
"OK, were out of earshot now." Stopping she glanced over her shoulder to confirm that they were alone. Her eyebrow went up as she offered her hand. She had questions the author could tell, but opted for an introduction. "Joan Wyckman at your service." She treated Jamie to a brilliant smile and bowed slightly at the waist.
The blonde stood there transfixed by her gaze, still in total shock. "I...wh...hey...I" was all the response she could manage. She did finally grasp the extended hand and she shook it meekly. Joan realized that she was trembling then and took the offered hand in both of hers.
"Forgive me," Jamie began. "I feel like such an idiot, because of course I AM an idiot! I dont know how I could have wandered this far. I think those guys were about to have me for lunch." She smiled weakly. "Youre an angel. Any relation to Saint Joan?" Her voice trailed off.
Intense brown eyes were watching her. "Sorry, I didnt mean to stare. The accent caught me off guard, I rarely hear it out here. You have got to be from the south."
Joan assessed her companion while she waited for a response. Several inches shorter and ten years younger than herself, she was dressed in walking shorts and a button down oxford shirt. She carried a rectangular wallet attached by a thin strap that crossed from her left shoulder to her right hip. Full blonde hair was boyishly cut and framed her face perfectly. Clear eyes looked out of that frame.
Jamie shook her head and confirmed her rescuers suspicion. She was casting about in her mind for some feasible explanation as to why she had been found in such a predicament. Nothing seemed to be forthcoming.
The taller woman released her companions hands and started walking again. After a few paces she turned the corner and headed them into an alleyway."
Jamie followed automatically, not questioning their destination. "What part of the south are you from? I grew up there too and I miss it something awful."
"Barnesville,...Georgia that is"
"Sounds familiar. Near Atlanta? Anyway, please forgive the familiarity back there. Those guys dont play and I needed them to buy my little performance. Jesus tried his best to intimidate me for a lonnnnggggg time when I first came to the neighborhood. It took a while for us to develop some mutual respect.
Jamie gave her a questioning look.
"I asked him to let me take some pictures of him and his buddies. Thats what I do. Im a photographer. Anyway, we did a lot of shots. They loved it. Try and feature those nose rings and tattoos up close through a camera lens. I had a blast and they thought they were something else. When they saw the proof sheets they stopped being nasty to me on the street. When I gave them the prints they made me an honorary member."
Jamie was smiling in amazement at this woman. Joan added "you are looking at the only forty year old, female gang member in the neighborhood." She stopped in front of an overhead door and pulled a device from her pocket. Punching several buttons she turned and asked the author "What do you say I give you a ride to wherever youre lost from? I cant recommend walking alone around here."
The shape of a Jeep Cherokee was now visible. "Unless youd like to go have coffee with a mad woman first? Thats where I was headed."
The young woman didnt know how to respond. This was a total stranger and yet she felt incredibly comfortable with her. She hated to give up the company of this unusual and confident woman. On the other hand she was in a strange city and no one had any idea of her whereabouts. She hesitated, but only briefly and accepted the offer. Even if Joan was a mad woman what was her alternative? Then too, she was also thrilled to meet someone from home. She was homesick for drawl.
"Jump in. I know a place that should be open, even today." The photographer fired up the ignition, turned the blaring CD player down and reached for her seatbelt in one smooth motion" I dont know if the seatbelt is necessary for you. After all, a woman who just faced off against an entire gang on a deserted street probably isnt worried about being in a car accident."
Jamie took the kidding good naturedly.
"Where exactly are you lost from Jamie Fielding?" Intense blue eyes stared at the drivers profile.
"Im staying at the Beverly Hotel".
"Pretty fancy for a small town girl." The eyebrow went up again.
The young woman explained that her publisher had made the arrangements in an effort to redeem themselves for some of the lousy accommodations they had put her in previously. "I just go where they send me."
"They know how to treat people at the Beverly. Youll be fine." After a moment of quiet, "Did you say you have a publisher?" The driver was watching her suddenly intrigued.
"Yes. Im on this little tour promoting my book."
Joan prodded. "Is it anything that I might have heard of?"
The author looked up and answered reluctantly. "I doubt it. Its called Southern Heart. I honestly never thought it would be printed at all, much less all of this. Im stunned."
Joan waited for her to complete her thought before reacting. "No kidding?" Youre that Jamie Fielding? Some friends of mine have been trying to get me to read it. They thought I might like it, you being from the south and all. I havent had time, but you can be sure Ill make time now." She smiled and turned her attention back to the road. It wasnt long before she announced their arrival.
They were in the parking lot of a low slung, stainless steel diner. "Welcome to my favorite eatery." This remark was accompanied by the sweep of an arm before her. As they entered Joan raised a hand silently in greeting to the staff. She hadnt been kidding, she was obviously a regular. Settling into a booth, a waitress appeared at Joans elbow.
"Please". She gestured in Jamies direction and received an affirmative nod. "Make that two, please."
"Something sure smells good in here" the younger woman noted.
"Everything is good in here. Its a local treasure and a well kept secret. You hungry?" Jamie declined for the time being. "Tell me about this tour of yours."
"Well, theres not much to tell. I found out I hate to travel, but by then there was no turning back." Joan nodded her understanding and agreement. "I also dont do well with strangers. I am so bashful and I would have thought they would have taken that into consideration." Earnest blue eyes had been staring at the tables shiny surface. Now they looked up and spoke volumes to Joan about this womans insecurities. Jamie went on, "I really dont mesh well with people if you want to know the truth. In fact I sometimes think I write to avoid conversation."
Joan laughed quietly, amused at the concept. She recognized some of her own vulnerabilities in this woman seated across from her. In addition she was certain that Jamie was unaware of the effect her charm and disarming openness were having. She was revealing secrets fearlessly to someone shed only known for an hour.
The waitress sat two steaming mugs of coffee on the table interrupting her train of thought as well as Jamies confession. It was the smaller woman who looked up first and spoke. "Seriously. I had no idea that Id be put on display. I mean, I dont know what I thought it would be like but this is certainly not it. She stirred the now light brown coffee in her cup thoughtfully. "I wanted to believe, deep inside, that someday I would get this chance but I visualized myself living an obscure life for years first. You know, the cottage by a deserted winter beach all alone with my thoughts and the profundity of life. You get the picture." And her companion did indeed.
Joans nod gave her permission to continue. "I just wasnt prepared for the invasion of my privacy and Im sure this is minor compared to what famous people have to deal with. If I had to go through this all the time I couldnt bear it." Realizing that she was still stirring she stopped and raised the steaming cup cautiously to her lips.
"Celebrity is weird." Joan spoke in a low voice. "Here you are, railing against celebrity and half of the people in this town are eating fire to obtain it. Its ironic." She sipped her coffee slowly. "Me, Ill take my Georgia mountain and my solitude ahead of all of it." She raised her cup higher in a mock toast which Jamie matched. Two glass mugs clinked and the new friends smiled at each other.
The waitress came by regularly and filled their cups. Eventually Jamie was persuaded to try some of the food that was filling the place with delicious smells. Joan enjoyed watching the blonde feast.
"How did you land in Los Angeles? This is a far cry from home."
"You would know wouldnt you, Miss Barnesville, USA? Everything is a far cry from home for you." They both laughed. "Actually I did some work on a movie set near Clarkesville. I guess I did too good a job and they asked me to come out here. It was supposed to be for a few months or I would have never let myself be talked into it. That was fifteen months ago. I have given notice though. I will be home for Christmas."
They continued to talk about the nature of their professions, sharing stories and enjoying each others company. In fact, neither woman realized it was getting late until the waitresses changed shifts.
"Uh oh. I had no idea." Joan looked at her watch and collected the keys. She paid the check over Jamies protests. She presented an indisputable argument. "Southern hospitality is still southern hospitality even when it takes place in southern California." They got into the dark green Jeep and headed out. "We had better get you home young lady."
The author gasped and her eyes widened. "Oh my gosh! I should have called the hotel hours ago. John will kill me! I was supposed to meet him at four." She slapped her hand against her thigh in frustration with her forgetfullness.
Joan was concerned for her new friend. She reached inside the door pocket and handed her a cell phone. "You know the number?" She was aware of the sudden urgency and speeded up a little.
Her passenger pulled a yellow post-it note out of her wallet and punched the numbers hurriedly. "John Jansen please". She waited nervously, running over a list of excuses in her head.
"Hello", someone barked at the other end of the line.
"John, its me. Im OK." She waited, making a face in anticipation of the explosion. She didnt have to wait long.
"Christ! Where have you been Jamie? I have been frantic. I have called every hospital, every police precinct, I have walked twenty miles..."
"I know, I know and Im sorry."
He obviously wasnt nearly done with his tirade. He started again. "I just knew you had been raped or mugged or worse."
She wondered to herself what could be worse than that? "Im really sorry, but I am fine. I just got lost and a nice woman found me." She ended the statement trying to make it sound as if it was no big deal. She had to hold the phone away from her ear when his response came. It was so loud she and Joan could both hear every word.
"What in the world possessed you? You might have been killed. Wait a minute. What woman?"
Both women giggled conspiratorially and waited for the diatribe to end. It was becoming a game now. He finally wound down to a normal speaking voice and she held the phone back to her ear. She interrupted him in mid-sentence. "John, Im on my way to the hotel. Ill see you shortly. Take a Xanax.." She was trying to feel guilty about her inconsiderate behavior. Until Joan looked over and drew her index finger across her throat indicating that she was "dead" now. Jamie fell out laughing, all remorse forgotten.
She handed Joan her phone back and anticipated her question. "John is a publishing representative. That means it is his job to watch over me. He keeps up with my schedule and airline tickets, that sort of thing. He organizes me to death and generally makes my life miserable." She laughed. "Just kidding. Its just that he is so melodramatic when I screw up. He acts like hes guarding a twelve year old virgin sometimes." Her exasperation was evident in her voice.
The photographer wanted to be sympathetic but she knew how the man must feel. There was an innocence in this woman that screamed for protection. Joan had a feeling there was a long list of those who were drawn to and cared for her and she hoped that her name had been added to that list this Thanksgiving day. "Hold up there little friend. I dont blame him really. Heck, an attractive woman like you, lost and alone in a strange city, missing for hours. This is the stuff Americas Most Wanted is made of. Id have called out the militia myself."
Jamie didnt like the "little" remark, but let it go in deference to the flattering part of the comment. She wondered if she was being flirted with a little but decided she must be delusional from the afternoons events.
Within minutes the younger woman looked up and recognized the awnings of her hotel. Their adventure was about to end and she dreaded it for a lot or reasons. Joan was also aware that they were about to part company and she didnt like it.
"I dont know how long youre going to be here but I would love to show you around. I know youve already seen the all important "diner" exhibit and the "warehouse district" but we have a few other sights to offer." She liked this unexpected new friend. "Of course I know its conditional on the warden giving you any time off, but it would be a kindness to him, too. We know how you do with sight-seeing on your own."
This wise crack earned her a swat on the shoulder. "Actually, Ive got three whole days off before I go back to the traveling rat race. Ive never been west of Texas before so I requested a layover. Ill take you up on your offer if youre really serious."
Joans face brightened. "Great. Here, let me give you my number and you can call me with the when. Ill be working on the where." She wrote it on the yellow paper right below the hotels number.
The blonde started to step out of the car. "I dont know how Ill ever be able to thank you for what you did today."
The brunette cut he off pointing toward the hotel gift show window and Jamies gaze followed her finger. "Think you can get me an autographed copy of that?" She referred to the gift shop window display visible from the curb. Southern Heart the sign above it proclaimed. The authors face started to color.
"Ill exert my influence and see what I can do. Thanks so much for everything." She smiled and waved as she moved towards the massive doors of the hotel lobby. A uniformed doorman pulled the door open for her and she went inside.
Joan put the Jeep in gear and then took it out again. She suddenly had a brain storm and turned her emergency flashers on. She sprinted for the lobby.
Joan jogged down the sidewalk. "Gotta grab something in the gift shop" she pointed at the window display and leveled a grin at the doorman. He took a step, tipped his hat and opened the door for her.
It took a moment for her to get her bearings in the dark paneled lobby. She went slowly watching out for Jamie whom she didnt want to run into. She was hoping against hope that the shop would be open even though it was a holiday.
"Yes!" she pumped a fist in the air when she made out two figures inside. Entering she headed straight for the display. She carefully chose a copy of the glossy publication and turned it over in her hands. It felt like a prize somehow. Joan was hoping that she would like it but chastised herself for doubting that she would. After all, she had just spent the afternoon with its delightful author.
Southern Heart the cover proclaimed in handwritten script. Jamie Fielding. She ran her finger over the name smiling. When the cashier had taken her money she exited the shop humming softly to herself.
The doorman gave her a smile and she waved to him in passing. As she pulled out into the lanes of traffic, her new purchase slipped from the plastic bag onto the seat. Jamies picture on the back cover smiled up at her with those incredible eyes. She could do nothing but smile back.
Jamie had crossed the lobby without even looking up. She was thinking of the bizarre events of her Thanksgiving day and knew it would be a memorable one. She smiled to herself as she stepped into the elevator. She finally located her door card after a thorough search. It was of course in the last pocket she tried. She stood before her door hesitating to open it. There was a fifty-fifty chance that John would be waiting for her inside. He did that sometimes and though she thought it an invasion of her privacy, she was in no position to point that out to him this particular day.
Click. The lock spoke to her like all the others in the twenty eight cities she had visited in the last seven weeks. One of the greatest pleasures of her homecoming would be the soundless entry into her own house when she returned to Covington. She never locked her doors there. She smiled imagining the weight of the door pushing open in front of her and the expanse of the entry...
"There you are!!" John ran across the small room as if it were a wide open meadow and threw his arms around her. Jamie blinked thinking that this melodrama was typical of him.
"Hey you still speaking to me?" Her question was tentative and heartfelt. The author hated to hurt anyones feelings.
He pushed her out to arms length so that he could examine her and scowled. "Tell me." He looked into her eyes. "Tell me, Jamie. Where have you been and what in the hell is going on?"
Turning she dropped her wallet on the bureau. She ran her fingers through her hair and confronted him. "Nothing is going on. I just went out looking for a drugstore. I wanted a magazine and some dental floss. Whats the harm in that, I ask you?" She did not get him to agree. "The cab driver dumped me out and left before I realized all the stores were closed. I started walking."
Her keeper stood facing her with his arms folded across his chest. "And?" he demanded.
"And. Thats all."
"What was that on the phone about getting lost and where is the cell phone I gave you young lady?"
"Boy this is sounding more and more like broken curfew" she mumbled. Then louder, "Look, I know youre angry. You have every right to be. You have really tried to keep me safe. The phone, the pager, the pepper spray, all of it was thoughtful. Please forgive me for resisting, OK?" She gave him her best look of contrition. Nothing doing.
"Hey. I couldnt have remembered your phone number anyway with that gang bearing down on me...."Uh oh. I have screwed up now.
"Pardon me? Did you say gang, as in street gang? Are you telling me that you were attacked by a street gang?" He fell down on the sofa and began fanning his face with a room service menu. "I think Im going to faint". He closed his eyes. Jamie rolled hers.
She sat beside him and put her arm around his shoulder. "Im fine, John. Really. I wansnt attacked so much as confronted. And anyway this nice woman happened along and spoke to them. They all seemed to be friends and anyway, she sort of rescued me."
He looked up to study her face, trying to decide if she was joking or not. When he was convinced that she was serious, he started fanning again. "Sweet Jesus" he murmured.
"Yes, thats right. The head guys name was Jesus, pronounced Hey-soos of course and Joan said that his nose ring had photographed very well. Anyway, she offered me a lift but we stopped for coffee and I lost track of the time." She shrugged her shoulder between upturned palms.
"Are you telling me that an intelligent woman like you got into a car with a complete stranger who is in the habit of befriending gang members and went out for coffee?" Looking at his watch he added "for three hours?"
He waited in mid-fan until the reply came. "Yes, I guess that about sums it up."
John fell back into the cushions. For the first time possibly ever, he was speechless. He wanted to hold class right now. He wanted to yell and stomp and shake his finger in her face. Thats what he wanted to do, but he told himself that this particular woman seemed to create situations like this one.
He recalled the incident in Kentucky when she had been too polite to admit her allergy of strawberries because a special effort had been made to procure them. John had spent three hours in the emergency room with her. The shots they gave her to reduce the swelling and get rid of the hives had knocked her out for eighteen hours. They had missed their flight.
Then there was the time she accepted an invitation to see a show with a bookish couple in Washington D.C. She had called panic stricken from a pay phone begging him to come and pick her up. The show had turned out to be a live body piercing onstage at a local club. Jamie had been too upset to tell him to this day, what body part she had seen pierced. When the cab had pulled up out front he spotted her and waved. While she wound her way to the car he noticed the stream of clientele going into the place. One woman had a long leather whip trailing out of her hip pocket. Her date had on a latex shirt with cut-outs to reveal his nipple rings.
John had laughed all the way back to their hotel. All Jamie could do was blush and stutter and try in vain to describe what went on without telling him what went on. She was a hand full this little blonde writer. He had tried to get her to follow his rules to insure her safety. Compliance was not so much a part of this woman as reinventing. She reinvented everything in her path.
Damn if he hadnt grown to love her anyway. "If they expect me to travel with you in the future they will have to provide me with adequate pharmaceuticals. After all, my sanity is at stake daily."
Jamie laughed loudly as only John could make her do. She knew he had forgiven her and the crisis was past. This time. She curled up on the sofa next to him as he started channel surfing.
Joan wasted no time returning to her studio. She parked her Jeep behind the garage door. Taking the hotel gift bag from the passenger seat she punched the code on the keypad by her door and waited for the loud click.
One short flight of steps led down to her studio, the other up to her living space in the loft. "I feel that sofa calling me" she chuckled to herself and started up the stairs. She walked past the blinking light on her answering machine and stepped down into the den. It was a huge room in volume, with three story walls. They were banded near the top with generous windows, letting the entire place be washed with natural light during the day.
Her footsteps echoed across the wooden floor. She went straight to the fridge and took out a bottle of water. Unscrewing the cap, she walked back into the den where she sank down into the worn leather sofa. She picked up the TV remote and flipped for a few minutes before deciding to try a movie. Her eyes ran over the many titles. "Saw that last week. Too heavy. Depressing. Too scary." She finally found a likely candidate. "Ah hah. Zorro" she cut the air in a Z motion and popped the tape into her machine.
While the credits rolled she pulled Jamies book out of its bag and studied the authors picture on the back cover. She appraised the photography deciding she could do a better job and hoping she would get a chance to try.
She opened the book and mentally approved of the brief dedication. She hated authors who found it necessary to thank their spouse, children, parents, friends, proof reader, editor and cat. Anxious to see what her new friend had to offer she dove right in.
She was lost in the opening pages when the phone rang. The machine beeped. Only when she heard the familiar voice yelling at her did she break her concentration. " PICK UP THAT PHONE. I just spoke with the Psychic Friends Network and they told me you were at home with your lazy butt flopped on that ugly, tired sofa of yours..."
She grabbed the portable and punched the button. "How bout ya Hollywood? Who you terrorizing today?" The amusement was evident in her voice. Nice of Kate to call, especially when Im sure shes up to her elbows in family hour.
Kate Kelly was Joans closest friend on the West Coast, or anywhere for that matter. An actress and rarified beauty oblivious of her looks she sought to conquer with her wit what she might have had without effort. The dark haired woman found her to be a challenging and worthy adversary on many levels.
"God, how I do love a wienie roast. Ive been here seven hours and I have chewed my nails off, lost a contact lens and checked my return flight reservations four times." A voice in the background was yelling for a beer. Kate laughed and commented wryly "aint families great?" The actress was barely concealing a genuine need for some moral support from her friend.
"Hang in their Katie. They can kill you , but you know they cant eat you. Too bony." This earned a prized laugh from the actress. "You been slaving over a hot stove all day?" This was a running joke between them. The actress could not boil water.
"Yeah, you know it. Youre having a good day I hope." Without waiting for a response she continued. "Dont forget about tomorrow night."
The photographer started to grouse but was cut off.
"Time to call out the dogs. Next week?" This was their code for getting drunk. Their agreement was that each was on call for the other if either felt the need to get hammered. In this event both would indulge and suffer the consequences together. It was a good system.
"Hey Joanie, gotta go. Another busload of relatives just arrived. Please send up a prayer or a flare. I love you. Happy Turkey Day."
The line went dead. "Same here", she said into the air. She was smiling when she laid the phone on the coffee table. Laying back into the sofa pillows she thought about her actress friend. She had only known her for a year but it was if they had grown up on the same playgrounds, joined forces to throw rocks at the opposing kids, played hookey and spent the hot sticky days of summer diving off the rope swing into the creek together.
She was trying to imagine the scene at kates mothers home. Looking up she realized that "Zorro" had been playing for a while. Good thing Ive seen it four times. She just let it play.
Taking a drink of the water she looked around for a cigarette then remembered she hadnt smoked for over four years. It was a marvel that the craving still hung on. She stood and stretched. Heading for the bathroom she passed a long dressing mirror over the vanity and noticed her reflection. She stopped and looked, something she rarely did.
Kate fought with her endlessly about her appearance. Her beautiful friend argued that Joan did everything in her power to hide how attractive she was. The photographer argued back that she beheld vanity through a camera lens all day and had no intention of waging an undeclared competition of appearances with the people in this town. Joan continued to wear her jeans and sneakers. Kate continued to bring her mascara and fashion suggestions. They each continued to ignore the other on this subject.
Padding back across the floor she settled into her nest on the sofa. I am not moving again tonight she thought. Her new friends book lay face down on the table where she had left it. It was still open to the second page. She began again.
When Joan looked up again the final credits of "Zorro" were rolling down the darkened screen. Bewildered that she had somehow missed the entire movie she groped for the remote. She stopped the tape and hit the rewind.
Getting her bearings as if waking from a sound sleep she glanced at her watch and realized that she had been reading, transfixed for almost two hours. Whew! What a gift she has. I would never have suspected so much to be going on behind those blue eyes. I thought she was just cute! Joan felt like she had been taken by Jamies words to places she had not visited in a very long time. She read some of the lines again.
There are places I would go if I didnt hate to travel so much. There are people I would love to meet, but Im too bashful. There are songs I might have written, but I was too wrapped up in taking care of people who resented my interference in their lives once the crisis was past.
There are moments when I am certain I have glimpsed secrets of the universe, but I answered a ringing telephone and lost the whole damned thing. There are people who love the person that they think I am, depending on what lie were accepting as truth between us that day. There are questions that have gone unanswered in my world because no one had the courage to ask them and I certainly didnt want to be accused of giving unsolicited opinions AGAIN.
There are memories, golden except that they are only memories. The reality of almost all those times was nowhere near as wonderful as I have a tendency to remember. My memories are most like wishes. They are inaccurate, but they are mine.
There are friends I would have today, if only I had known what it was to allow true friendship. I thought there were more scores to keep than burdens to share. I thought it had to come out all even. I am sorry, lost friends all, I really didnt know.
There could be arms holding me for all I know. There could be smiles, radiant and glowing, smiles meant just for me. There could be spring rain falling past my window, lulling me, anesthetizing me against the rawness of life.
God, I hope so.
Joan looked around for something to serve as a bookmark and finding nothing suitable reached in her pocket. She pressed a dollar bill into the deep crease at the books center and slowly closed the covers together. Jamies presence had been so familiar to her earlier today and she felt that again now. Joan wondered if it was the shared experiences of a southern upbringing or if it was something else. Looking back was not a habit of hers, but she needed some clue, perhaps from her past to help her understand what she was feeling.
An only child of only children, Joan had lost both of her parent in the same instant. She still remembered her fathers laughing smile and golden brown eyes. In fact, she was them in the mirror every time she looked. He started his life in a poor southern town, living in a house where the chickens were visible through the rough planks of the floor. His widowed mother took in laundry and ironing, but he finally had to quit school and get a job to support them. He washed dishes at a local cafeteria and contributed all his earnings to the household. Theirs was a hard life, but he never complained. He was grateful for small wonders. His mother, always sickly in his memories, seemed to surrender to her plight. When asked, he had always said that she died of poverty.
Seventeen and on his own he went to work with a vengeance. His diligence paid off and he was rewarded with more responsibilities. In time he met and married a southern beauty named Amelia. She had come into the restaurant for lunch one day and left it in love. He had never felt what he was feeling now and everyday he rejoiced. He wasnt alone anymore.
They laughed and loved and wanted six children at least but none came. They had other dreams too though and they set about turning them into reality. Within five years, John was put into management. In another ten he was vice president of a greatly enlarged corporation. They moved often to accommodate the companys growth and his career with it. They were happy.
When John had marked twenty years with the company and he and Amelia had lived in eleven cities two notable things happened. Amelia learned that she was pregnant just three days before John was named president and CEO of the corporation. They were awash in good fortune.
When their daughter arrived they were living the American Dream. It suited them so much it was if they had written the script. Years passed too quickly. He spent all of his time away from work with his girls. Johns traveling schedule increased but he rarely requested his raven-haired wife to accompany him now. He knew that she hated the dinners and wives outings and the rest of it. Besides she was enthralled in motherhood.
He approached the door of their bedroom one night and stopped to eavesdrop on his adored wife and little Joan. Amelia was explaining to her pajamaed daughter that she braided her long hair during the day because it was easier to manage when she was working in the flower garden or playing catch with her. It was her ritual to take it down at night and brush it for long minutes until it shone. This was the part of their day that mother and daughter shared and relished, sitting side by side before her dressing table and talking.
Amelia sensed Johns presence and mandated "come on in here you and stop spying on us." She laughed knowing her husband loved to record these tender scenes in his memory. He said they kept him company on the road.
The love for them both was written indelibly across his face. He bent over and to kiss his wife on the cheek. In anticipation of it, she turned her face up toward him at the last moment and he contacted her lips instead. They both laughed. "Bedtime for you anyway little one. Ill be in to say good night in a minute." Amelia put her arm around her daughters shoulder and gave her a squeeze.
"Goodnight sweetheart", John added and Joan hugged him before leaving the room. "She is gorgeous you know. I can hardly believe it. Of course, having you for a mother gave her a head start." He smiled and settled onto the bench by his wifes side.
"Listen I have to go to Chicago on Friday for the weekend. Its the takeover bid on that chain of restaurants. The wives are all invited and I know how you feel, but it would really mean a lot to me if you could go just this once. I am running on empty these days and seeing you across a dining table crowded with strangers would mean a lot to me."
"How can I refuse such an impassioned plea? Of course Ill go. I know you wouldnt ask if you didnt really need me. Its nice to be needed sometimes." She put her hand over his. "Ill have to make arrangements for Angelica to stay for the weekend. Well work it out." She mentally started making notes. The couple had always been able to rely on the nanny who helped Amelia out during the week. On rare occasions she had been pressed into service for a weekend or overnighter whether for business or just a much needed get away. Unfortunately Joan had no grandparents and as neither of her parents had any siblings she was the heart of a rather small family.
Amelia had managed to make and keep one good friend even with all of their moving and if Angelica could not stay with Joan for the weekend on short notice, she knew she could depend on Martha.
Three days later, the couple was rushing around seeing to last minute details before leaving for the airport. The nanny had in fact agreed to the weekend schedule and was carrying Joan on her hip to the front door to see off her mom and dad. Her parents kissed her hurriedly and picked up their luggage. Amelia stopped just as she reached the car, turned and smiled at Joan. It was the clearest and last memory she had of her mother.
The corporate jet that had been acquired to accommodate executive travel in the companys expansion took off as usual from the airport in Atlanta. Seventeen minutes into the two hour flight with no warning of any kind, the plane blew apart in mid-air. The investigation was extensive but never revealed the cause of the explosion that had turned Joan Wyckman into an orphan in a single instant.
Her mother sitting beside her in a wooden lawn chair. They were all smiling at the camera, but her dad was out of focus. Something had caused him to move at the last second leaving him out of focus forever in her memory.
She had searched and searched in her teenage years when it started to matter, certain that there had to be more pictures of them together somewhere. If any existed they never surfaced and finally she figured that between all of the moving around they must have been lost or destroyed. It saddened her to have only that one image of them as a family. It was one of the reasons she had gotten interested in photography when she was in college. On some level Joan was determined that there would be enough images recorded when she left the world. Enough to fill everybodys need.
She shook her head hard to erase the image of a faded photograph from her mind. Joan felt a kind of yearning in her subconscious now. On the surface she attributed it to hunger and stood propped on the open refrigerator door, checking out its odd assortment. Nothing much appealed to her so she closed the door. Her brows knit in concentration as she tried again to think what it was she wanted and snapped her fingers. Tea. Just the thing. She shook the kettle that stayed on her stove. Satisfied by the weight of it that their was plenty of water in it, she twisted a knob and waited for the coil on the stove top to redden.
Her mind returned to the passages she had so recently read. The words had flowed with a rhythm she recognized. Her initial instinct had been to call Jamies number and tell her how much she had enjoyed what she had read so far. It was too late though. It would have been rude.
The kettle whistled as if on cue. She poured steaming water onto the tea bag containing strawberry kiwi, a favorite. Adding equal she stirred and let the cup sit for a few minutes to steep.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow she would see her new friend for their sight-seeing adventure and she would tell her then just how much she had been moved by what she had read.
Squeezing and tossing the tea bag, she raised the cup and appreciated the aroma rising from it. She shuffled carefully back to her perch on the sofa. She sat on the generous arm at one end and let her feet sink down into the cushion.
A picture came into her mind of the small woman across the formica table at the diner today. She had seemed so relaxed there with Joan and yet she professed to be bashful. They had talked and talked as if both were starving for good conversation. She realized suddenly that at least in her case, that was true.
Damn. Im becoming a hermit. She paced the living room area now, thinking and sipping and fighting the recurring urge to pick up the phone. There were lots of reasons why she shouldnt and she was mentally placing them on a list. The catch was that she was walking toward the telephone the entire time the list was being constructed. When she reached it, she reflexively lifted the portable and punched the numbers for information. In the seconds it took for the connection to be made, she chickened out and pressed the phone into silence again.
Shaking her head, she told herself NO and laid the phone down. Flip. Flip. Flip. The remote was fast becoming her enemy. Frustrated Joan turned the set off and headed for the kitchen for more tea. The water was still hot so it only took a minute. Then she was back on the sofa and dialing the phone. Just about the time she convinced herself she was being absurd, she heard an almost inaudible "Hello" on the other end. Now the choice was made for her.
"Jamie. This is Joan. Im so sorry to call this late."
"Oh. Joan. Hey. I wasnt asleep. In fact I just did get John out of here. He knew I couldnt throw him out under the circumstances and he really took advantage of it." She smiled at the realization that she had been thinking of her rescuer just moments ago and now her voice was on the telephone.
"How pissed was he?"
The author laughed. "He was so hysterical he forgot to be mad. Hes a sweetheart really, but..."
"Youre lucky to have someone looking out for you kiddo."
"Yes. I guess I am. How are you doing?" She was wondering why Joan might be calling so late. "Youre not canceling for tomorrow are you?" She hadnt realized until this moment how much she was looking forward to it.
The question didnt register for a moment, then finally the photographer responded "Gosh no! I wouldnt miss it for anything. No, you just let me know when youre ready."
"Well... how about giving me a wake up call. It only takes me half an hour to be ready. Im quick." She chuckled.
Joan got a clear picture in her memory of how those blue eyes crinkled up whenever their owner smiled.
"Sure. Thats fine, but I warn you. I tend to be an early riser."
"Good, me too. Thats the best time to write for me. So generally..."
"Oh! Thats why I called." She struggled to collect her thoughts not wanting to gush. "I, uh. Well, I started reading your book tonight".
Jamie interrupted. "Where on earth did you find a copy on Thanksgiving Day?" She was pleased but didnt want to reveal how much.
"I just followed you into your hotel and lo and behold...The gift shop was open." She was enjoying herself immensely. She felt clever for having surprised Jamie in this way. "We southern women are resourceful arent we?" she quipped.
"Seriously. I couldnt wait until tomorrow. I had to tell you how much I am enjoying it. It is so comforting somehow." She waited
"I am flattered. I hardly know what to say." Blue eyes widened.
How far should I go Joan wondered to herself then decided what the hell leap off the cliff. "Actually youre amazing and your work is so honest, so tender." She decided to stop there.
The author had been lauded by others but strangely had always shrugged it off. This she knew was different. She sensed that these were difficult admissions for her new friend and yet Joan was compelled to make them. So much so, that she had called at an indecent hour. She knew suddenly that this woman had really read her words and she felt exposed in a new way.
"Im not much with words myself, thats your forte, but I wanted you to know."
" I dont know about that. Thats about the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my work, or me. Thanks."
It seemed like some sort of crisis had passed. Joan raised the mug of tea to her mouth and took a sip. "I guess you had better get some rest." She was reluctant to hang up.
"Sleep well, Saint Joan and thanks for calling. Praise is always nice but it is the perfect ending to an unusual day. I wont forget it either. Good night friend."
The line went dead. Joan was leaning against the counter top. She sat the mostly empty cup in the sink. Putting her hands in her pockets she headed toward her bedroom and sleep. She was anxious for tonight to be over so that tomorrow could begin.
End of Part 1
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