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These characters are purely figments of my imagination which is subject to outside influence. I hope they seem familiar to you.

This is a story about two women who meet and learn to love each other. That’s not so far fetched to me, but if it gives you a problem please read someone else’s story. This is mine.

Your feedback is welcome but let’s do play nice together. Throw little rocks if you must throw them at all.

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Part   1   2   3   4

All Manner of Madness by Anne Reagin

Part 2

She reached out to locate the snooze button on her alarm clock. Finally Jamie realized it was really the telephone ringing and she blindly grabbed for the receiver.

"Hello" she mumbled and then responded to her caller "Hey. Yeah, I’m awake. Sort of." She was trying to convince herself as much as her friend. Neither was buying it.

"Sure you are. I let you sleep in longer than I intended to. It took a while to arrange your itenerary for today. I’m leaving the studio in five. That gives you twenty-five minutes exactly. I’ll meet you downstairs with coffee."

Jamie smiled and received the instructions gladly. "Aye, aye sir. I’ll be there." She hung up the phone and rolled onto her stomach, relishing the feel of the comfortable bed for a moment more, along with the warmth of the friendly voice that had just awakened her. She launched herself up and out of the sheets and made for the shower. It would be tough meeting Joan’s deadline.

In exactly twenty-five minutes the elevator doors opened, revealing a freshly scrubbed, compact blonde with laughing blue eyes. As she stepped off and looked up, she recognized Joan lounging against the back of a sofa, smiling broadly at her. She was holding a steaming travel mug out to her. It was the twin to the one she was sipping out of.

"As promised" Joan grinned and relinquished the mug.

"You have a wonderful smile" Jamie observed and was immediately embarrassed. She had obviously not meant to say that out loud. This unintended revelation was appreciated by the photographer and she smiled even wider.

"Well thanks." Joan offered this casually and gazed directly into blue eyes, making her friend’s blush deepen.

‘Better to let her off the hook.’ Joan turned and extended an arm towards the twin glass doors at the front of the hotel. They both headed in that direction.

The studio had asked Joan to come to Los Angeles on a temporary assignment. She had now been there for fifteen months and in all that time had never visited any of the typical tourist attractions there. Now, she had offered to show Jamie around and she was clueless. She hit the panic button.

She had called Sally, her secretary, who had grown up in LA with her seven brothers and sisters, three cousins, one aunt and grandmother. Between all of them they knew everything there was to know about their town. She was only too glad to provide her boss with input. In fact she loved ‘telling her what to do for a change’.

They discussed in detail the possible places that Jamie might enjoy. Most of Sally’s inquiries were a thinly veiled attempt to discover who this person was and who she was to Joan. Sally knew her boss and that nothing ever shook her rock solid confidence. Something had to be going on for the photographer to be making such an effort at putting together a ‘great’ tour. This author must have a special importance to her boss and she kept thinking that it was a good thing. A very good thing.

"OK. Now, try not to be too bossy. Don’t scare the little one to death and feed her. You always forget that normal people got to eat!"

Joan wanted to protest, but knew it was a waste of breath. Sally had been right beside her in the professional trenches for over a year. They had seen each other at their collective best and worst. It was impossible to reason with her sometimes and pointless to try hiding anything. She was the most tenacious person Joan had ever met. The two of them had finalized a short list of possibilities.

Now, the two women were about to test out that list. They had reached the Cherokee in the bowels of the parking decks where Joan had left it. "First stop, Graumann’s Chinese Theater. Sound OK?" She glanced over the hood hoping for a positive response. She nodded as she ducked her head and slid into the Jeep on the passenger side. She was enjoying the coffee so much that she seemed oblivious to anything else.

They were off.

The theater was a real oddity to Jamie. The structure itself mimicked an ornate Chinese Palace and would have looked totally out of place anywhere in LA. She was certainly not prepared for it to be in the middle of a city block surrounded by storefronts.

Joan stood patiently, hands in pockets and let her friend study each set of hand and foot prints. The oldest autographs fascinated her, even though she didn’t recognize most of the names. She strolled around exclaiming periodically to Joan. "Look. Clark Gable" she spoke softly. At one point Joan got down on her knees to try on Joan Crawford’s handprints. Everybody looked at her like she’d lost her mind. Jamie laughed and said her friend was only doing what they would all have liked to do had they not been ‘gutless’.

They spent the early afternoon just like that. Jamie pointing and Joan shaking her head and smiling. Neither could remember ever having had a better time.

"Sally says I’m not to starve you."

"Who’s Sally"

"She’s my secretary and punishment. She’s the one who helped me figure out where to take you. She said I’d bore you with my choices and she’s right." Joan laughed at herself.

"Oh come on. You seem so funloving. I would think that you and your friends have lots of laughs." She looked up to see if what she said had any effect before adding, "I know I love your company."

Joan was not used to this type of candor and was unprepared for it. After all, they were in the heart of Hollywood, home of the fake. She had to wait a few seconds and let the compliment sink in.

"You’re just easy." She finally responded and quickly changed the subject. "How about an early dinner. Mexican? I know a great place."

"Sure. Even John says the Mexican food is great around here and he is fussy."

"What’s the story on him anyway?" They were heading for the car.

"He works for the publisher in New York. I think they thought I needed a chaperone, but they have another name for it. He keeps things organized. Between the plane and hotel reservations, the addresses and times and date, it gets a little complicated. I could never have managed on my own. John’s really sweet, just a little bossy."

"His wife must hate him traveling all the time."

"He’s not married, at least not in the conventional sense. John is gay. He’s actually closer to divorced right at the moment. He says I’m a good listener."

"I suspect that’s true" the driver offered and whipped into a parking space.

Jamie was thoughtful for a minute. "My best friend Jeff was gay." She smiled remembering.

Once inside, they were seated immediately and menus were laid on the table. Joan began looking her over and picked up the conversation. "You said he was your best friend?"

"Yes" came the almost inaudible reply. She looked up and caught Joan studying her face.

"Sorry. I didn’t mean to pry. I’m sure you would rather not talk about it."

"Apparently I do, I brought it up. That’s funny. I’ve never been able to before", she lost focus momentarily and then continued "we were friends for ten years. Most of that time was so fun. She looked into brown eyes. "I don’t mind talking about that part at all."

The waiter came over and Jamie asked her friend to order for both of them

"I met him when we both lived in Midtown." She was watching her own hand toying with the silverware in front of her. "He was so crazy, would do anything to try and shock me. I opened my apartment door one night and he was standing there in a wedding gown." They both laughed at the mental picture. "He had pulled his shower curtain down and put two of the plastic rings on his earlobes for earrings. I laughed until I cried."

The waiter interrupted momentarily to sit chips on the table.

"I used to go out with him and his friends. They became my friend too of course. I was so naive that they would take me places just to watch me cringe." She was recalling memories. "He’d go shopping with me. I worked downtown and was forever needing clothes. Anyway, I’d miss him for a few minutes and then he would walk up with his britches legs rolled up wearing red high heels. The clerk would usually vanish at that point."

"He ‘interviewed’ everybody I went out with. Said none of them were good enough for me."

"That’s understandable" Joan interjected.

"We sat up many nights just talking and talking." She suddenly had a deep sadness in her eyes. "I miss him".

When the first tear fell onto the tablecloth a warm, strong hand reached across the table and covered Jamie’s. She concentrated on the short, square clipped nails trying to regain her composure. They sat quietly, giving her time.

Joan knew suffering like this herself and wouldn’t let Jamie suffer it alone. She was debating what to do next when the younger woman apologized.

"Don’t be silly. I’m sorry I brought all of this up. I had no idea it was tied in with so much heartache for you." Her expression spoke volumes more apologies.

Joan wanted to know more about this complex woman. Her instinct was to press. After all, she only had a couple of days to get to know her. On the other hand, Jamie had told her that she was a shy person. She had also specifically criticized John for his invasion of her privacy and he had known her a lot longer than Joan. ‘Better just take it real slow’.

A change of scenery was indicated she thought, so she signaled for the check. Neither had much appetite left anyway. "I had sort of thought we’d ride out to the beach if you’re up to it."

The response she got was mildly enthusiastic but by the time they had ridden half way there in silence the mood was lifting. Joan turned on the CD player and was letting the changer make random selections. Jamie approved of the mixture of music that her driver apparently liked.

They found a place to leave the car and walked the short distance to the cliffs that overlooked Crescent Cove. The surf was crashing against the rocks way down below. Sprays of rainbows twenty feet into the air were breathtaking in the late afternoon light. The jagged edge of the land along the cliff looked treacherous. Nearing it Jamie’s heart rate accelerated. By offering her hand and guiding her slowly Joan coaxed her to sit beside her on the grass near the edge. They sat side by side watching the colors on nature’s palette painting the afternoon sky. Neither spoke a word, they simply enjoyed the spectacle and the comfort of each other’s presence.

When the light faded they headed back by mutual consent. On the trip back to Jamie’s hotel Joan asked some of the questions she’d been saving up.

"What’s the rest of your tour look like, city-wise I mean?"

The author concentrated and responded. "Phoenix, Dallas, Fort Worth, Mobile, Birmingham and home. I think that’s right. Anyway, the worst is over. That’s why I begged a couple of days to catch my breath here."

"You’ll be home in a week or so, then? I’ll bet you’ll be glad to sleep in your own bed." She got a smile as an answer. "Where exactly is home now?"

"Covington. It’s only twenty miles up the road from where I grew up, but it is another world. I have ten acres and no neighbors and it’s heaven."

Nearing the hotel Joan asked the last question. "You call me tomorrow, deal?"

"Seems fair. Can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve." Brown eyes sparkled.

Jamie came home to an empty hotel room. It would have been complete bliss if she hadn’t discovered the faxed itenerary on her coffee table and creeped out over someone having been in her room. Even if it was only John. ‘He couldn’t have just slipped it under the door. That would have been too simple.’

She was it the tub which she’d filled with scalding water, her favorite thing, when the phone rang. Fortunately, this bathroom was well equipped and she was able to stretch the receiver from its’ strategic place between the tub and commode. "Hello".

"Hey honey. It’s Mama."

She smiled at the standard greeting. It wasn’t likely that she wouldn’t recognize her mother’s voice, but she invariably identified herself in this same way."



"Hey Mom! You doing OK?"

"Sure. Just had you on my mind. We missed you yesterday. I hope you found something nice to do."

"Yes, actually I did have a nice time yesterday, except that I just know you cooked and I missed it. You did, didn’t you? Who all came?"

They chatted for a half hour, catching up on all the news. When each was convinced the other was fine, they wound down the conversation and hung up, promising another one soon.

Jamie loved her mother even though she’d never understand her and she often worried that she was lonely. Her father had been gone for nine of her thirty-one years. That was an eternity in a small town if you were a widow.

Hazel Fielding had met a nice man, finally, who made her laugh. He had taken early retirement from General Motors the year before and they spent all their time together. He plowed for her tomato plants and she cooked sumptuous meals for him daily. They attended the same church, which was where they’d met. They both liked to sing. He could even play piano a little. They sat on the front porch swing every day a twilight.

They didn’t hold hands of course, because Hazel feared talk from the town gossip. Jake (that was his name) was wearing her down. He kept telling her that what she could do before God she could do before the town gossip and all of her foot soldiers. He could not see the harm. Jamie liked him in advance.

Only the week before, Jamie had been in Chicago or was it Portland, when her mother had called and casually mentioned in conversation that Jake had asked her to marry him. That was Hazel’s way of soliciting her daughter’s opinion without having to ask for it. Jamie was happy for the two of them and she said so without hesitation. She could not go back to living in that tiny town, but she wanted her mother to have somebody. As long as he was a good man it was a perfect solution for everybody. As far as she could tell, Jake was a very good man.

In the bargain she was inheriting a twenty-seven year old stepbrother who lived in the Atlanta vicinity, although everyone was kind of vague on the exact address. She had told her mother to relay a message through Jake that she would look him up when she got back into town. That seemed to please Hazel. She was probably hoping that Jamie would have someone in her life too, even a stepbrother. Everybody needs family.

Her mind drifted back to bits of the conversation she’d had with her friend and tour guide earlier that day. Joan had not been generous with information and Jamie was curious as to what the story really was.

Joan dropped her keys and the mail from her lock box on the table in the foyer. She must

have been distracted or she’d never have hit the message button on her answering machine.

Beep * Sally. Giving her more information on sightseeing.

Beep* The lab wanting to know next week’s schedule.

Beep* Kate, reminding her that she had promised to meet the sister of a friend of hers tomorrow night at a bar. ‘Damn. I had hoped she would forget’.

Beep * Sondra Wilson looking for a favor.

Beep * Sondra Wilson desperate for help. She began sifting through the pile of mail, bored.

Beep * Sondra Wilson telling her that the photographer she had engaged for Saturday’s charity event had broken some bones or something. She had to find something something. Celebrity auction something something. Two hours tops. Something. I’ll owe you big. Something and a number.

It suddenly dawned on Joan what the message was about. While she had flatly refused this woman the last several times she had called she knew that her somewhat star struck friend from Barnesville would probably get a kick out of a celebrity event.

Tossing the mail aside, she rewound the tape and listened closely this time, writing down the number.

She does sound desperate and hey, she is truly screwed. This is a holiday weekend. Where’s she gonna book a photographer on twelve hours notice? Right here, that’s where!’

Joan had agreed to shoot charity events for Sondra Wilson on two other occasions. The first time, she was lied to and treated shabbily. There was only a second time because the apology she had received from the offending matron had seemed sincere. She was assured that it was an isolated incident.

Had she received no credit for her work the second time she would have overlooked it. Somehow another photographer’s name had been published with her pictures and she could not overlook that. She had confronted Sondra, a studio head’s wife and perennial do-gooder. Most often the publicity for her "events" mattered more to her than the causes they supported. Joan firmly explained that she would not be available for any more of these fiascoes.

This has got to be an emergency. No way she would call me after the things I said. Sally must have bitched me out for a week about my attitude and about alienating clients. She only shut up finally because I told her I was not in the ass kissing business.’

She located the phone and then played the last message again, memorizing the phone number Sondra had left. She dialed and waited only two rings before it was answered.

"Hello" Joan rolled her eyes.

"Joan Wyckman. Heard you were looking for me." It seemed to have the desired effect.

"Oh! Thank God! Joan, I am in such a mess. I’m so glad you called. I’ve got this event at the club tomorrow afternoon and that fool Howard Benton has broken his arm."

Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy’ "Well, I guess even you can’t expect him to work with a cast." She waited to see if her sarcasm would even register.

"I was hoping you could or would consider doing this for us. It is such a good cause and just EVERYBODY will be there. I don’t know what to do if you can’t help!"

"What cause is that Sondra?"

"Why AIDS research of course."

Figures. That’s the most popular cause going in this town right now. It’s a shame it’s for all the wrong reasons.’ Joan knew that everybody would be willing to help out with this. The publicity would be major because it was a visible cause. The contributing celebs would polish their images by contributing. Most of the attendees would pay big bucks to hobnob with the rich and famous. And Sondra Wilson would get another star in her crown. Most importantly, Jamie would love it and that it was benefitting a charity close to their hearts. Joan made her decision and plowed ahead.

"If you can meet my conditions you have got yourself a photographer".

"Name it and it’s done Joan."

" I want transportation. Nothing tacky either. No stretch, just a plain black limo. I want it for the afternoon and evening."

"Done!" Joan heard a sigh of relief. She knew her adversary was thinking that had been easy.

"Any food at this shindig?"

"Why of course, we have hired the best caterer in the city." Her reply was indignant.

"Good. Then I want grazing rights for me and my guest."

"And done, certainly. You would naturally be treated as guests."

Uh huh. Like the last time and the time before that’

Sondra hesistated a moment not believing she was going to get off so easy. She had been nasty to this woman more than once. Joan deliberately waited wanting her develop false confidence. She was good at these games.

"One last thing." She paused for effect. "No by-lines. Not mine, not anybody’s on these pictures. Got it?"

"Whatever you say." She closed the subject quickly.


"HMMMMM?" She had already moved forward to other planning problems in her mind.

" If all of my conditions are not met, particularly the last one, you will sit for a nude portrait in my studio. I will work extra hard at making it unattractive and you can bet your husband’s hairpiece I will leak it all over this town. Have I made myself perfectly clear?"

Shocked into silence, Sondra Wilson was scandalized. She knew this woman was capable of this just as she knew from experience the sharpness of her tongue if she decided to spread it around.

"Surely you must be joking." She was trying to convince herself of it anyway.

"Don’t try me and you won’t find out. Have us picked up at the Beverly Hotel. What time?"

"Two-thirty alright?" She stammered

"Fine." Joan hung up.

Old bag deserves worse. I can’t wait to see the look on Jamie’s face when she walks into this shindig.’

She headed down the stairs to her studio. A fair amount of equipment would be needed for this job. Her mind was organizing an inventory of things before she had even reached the second step tread.

They had opted for a big breakfast that morning. Joan has struggled to think of something that would occupy the morning without interfering with the surprise. She had run through a short list and opted for a drive to Venice Beach.

Always a delightful mix of humanity, she thought it would contrast well with the afternoon’s entertainment. As they pulled into the parking lot Jamie wished out loud that she had brought her camera. Joan said nothing but pulled a 35mm autofocus Minolta from the glove compartment and handed it to her. Jamie laughed. "Another of the benefits of touring with a photographer. I’m not sure I can work this thing though."

"Don’t worry, I’ll show you or take pictures for you if you’re not comfortable with it." Jamie immediately handed the camera back to her.

"Thanks. I’m used to an Instamatic." She exited the Jeep. Joan smiled, shaking her head and followed.

They headed in the direction of the crowded boardwalk. Bicycles, rollerblades and skateboards were in evidence. Jamie watched the activities to her left while perusing the shop wares offered on her right. She sought Joan’s advice about what tee shirt to get for her mom. They decided on one and picked up a matching one for Jake. Although no one to her knowledge had ever seen her mother wear a tee shirt, especially in public, Jamie knew both of them would get a kick out of the matching shirts.

The crowd on the sidewalk parted at one point and revealed the square of concrete where the bodybuilders were working out. Blue eyes opened wide and Joan led them closer for a better look.

The photographer hung back and let her friend find a spot a short distance from her. Fascinated by the tanned and muscled people, Jamie didn’t notice the pictures being snapped of her. Taking care not to be discovered Joan took several shots and then ambled over to stand beside her friend. She noticed two women working out amongst the normally all-male group. This was a pleasant surprise and unprecedented in her previous visits.

Not wanting to stare Jamie turned to walk on. They came to a vacant bench and settled on it to rest their feet. Now Joan asked "How would you feel about letting me take some pictures of you?" Jamie was caught off guard.

"I’d hate it. But my mom would probably love you forever if you’d send her some. She is always complaining that there aren’t any pictures of me since I left home."

"That settles it then." As she raised the camera Jamie began to protest.

"I didn’t know you meant now. I look terrible."

After several assurances that she looked great she relented. Joan went to work but her subject was fidgety and uncooperative.

"I’m taking these pictures. You agreed. Now, you can make it tough or I can make them good." She waited the softened her tone and spoke again. "Please just sit back and relax and let me do what I do." She smiled and Jamie did as she was asked.

When the camera was sitting on the bench between them once again they watched a stream of oddball and normal folks parading by. They laughed together once or twice when a particularly odd spectacle revealed itself. There was an obese woman with a lemon python. They knew that because they had asked her. She spoke to the snake in an unintelligible language while holding it’s head in her hands and gazing intensely into its’ eyes. Two women looked at each other wide eyed and left the bench.

Neither was aware of the passage of time. They were enjoying the sights and the company. Joan finally glanced at her watch and announced that they needed to get going for the beginning of phase two.

"What, pray tell, is phase two.?" Jamie wanted to know.

"I can only tell you that you should dress casually, you know, khakis – no jeans, and be prepared for anything."

"Why so cryptic?"

"It’s a surprise. Ever heard of one of those? Trust me. I think you will like it." She hoped she had been right in assuming her new friend would enjoy this. "You do trust me, don’t you?"

The blonde head nodded and they wove their way through the crowd on the sidewalk.

It had been almost one when Jamie had gotten back to her hotel. She jumped in the showed immediately and had dried her hair. She found herself daydreaming several times before she realized that she needed to apply a dash of makeup. She still hadn’t decided what to wear. ‘It’s after two o’clock and I’m still not ready’ she chided herself. ‘This is just the kind of thing that gives blondes a bad name’. She laughed at her own joke. Hearing a faint knock at the door, the laughter died instantly.

"Shit". She jerked a pair of khakis off a hanger sending it flying out into the floor. Pulling them on quickly she grabbed a red golf shirt and headed for the door. She looked through the peephole and recognizing the profile, opened the door for Joan.

"Come on in. Sorry, I’m running a little late." She smiled and moved across the room, pulling her shirt on as she went.

When Joan recognized her half dressed status she looked at the floor to avoid staring at her young friend. Locating her shoes Jamie sat on the bed to put them on and was amused when she realized the taller woman’s embarrassment. ‘Modest, huh?’

"I’m a little early. I wanted to be sure to arrive before the driver."

"Driver?" She stopped with her foot in mid air, her shoe in her hand. "My gosh, you got us a limousine?". Jamie’s face brightened.

"Well, sort of." Joan shrugged her shoulders. "They’re sending a car for us. I kind of volunteered us to replace a photographer at a celebrity auction this afternoon. The one they had got hurt and they were in a spot." She waited for a reaction, but none came so she continued. "I’m filling in. You’re my guest. Hope you don’t mind." Still nothing and she was beginning to kick herself for not asking Jamie about this before committing them.

A blonde head went up and blue eyes confronted brown. "Explain."

"They get these famous people to donate autographed stuff and they sell it to the highest bidder, that’s all. The money goes for AIDS."

"Who do you think will be there?"

"I couldn’t say for sure. I only found out about it last night so I don’t have many details."

"Wow! This sounds like fun. Can’t wait."

Joan was enjoying the flood of relief she was feeling when the phone rang. It was the desk calling to say their car had arrived. Jamie hung up the phone grinning. "I’ve only been in a limousine once and that was with seven other teenagers on the way to the prom." Her excitement was obvious. Her face was beginning to flush. She checked her image quickly in the mirror and they were on their way.

They found their driver in the lobby and Joan told him that her equipment bags were stashed with the desk clerk. He retrieved them and escorted the two women to the car.

Joan settled into the comfort of the sleek car. Jamie wanted to play with all the buttons and her friend just let her try them out without interference. She didn’t want to ruin the thrill of discovery for her.

When she had thoroughly researched the interior of their ride she spoke to her friend. "Joan, thanks for including me in this. And I know you got the car for me. I’m not unaware of how you feel about all this Hollywood stuff. ‘Stretches and sequins’ I believe you called it." Joan’s eyebrow went up but she remained silent. "I’m so glad I had the good sense to be rescued by someone so thoughtful."

Brown eyes smiled. Things were working out according to her plan.

"I guess people around here are used to limousines. I bet they’re not even curious who’s inside the way people in Covington would be. Heck. Some of those old ladies on the square would probably walk right up, tap on the glass and expect an introduction."

They rode in silence for a while. Joan remarked that they would be at the event for a couple of hours. "There’s a buffet after the auction and we are invited. I hope you’re hungry, this old bat owes me big for this." She bagan recounting the history between her and Sondra Wilson.

By the time she finished her story, they were passing through massive iron gates. "There’s no name," Jamie noticed.

"This place is too exclusive for that. Presumptuous, isn’t it?" She had a disgusted look on her face.

A winding drive was lined with beautiful expanses of manicured landscaping. The car pulled up under the roof of a two story portico and their driver hurried around to let them out.

Jamie glanced around trying to be unobtrusive. She heard Joan tell the driver that they could manage the bags so she turned to take up her share of them.

Several parking attendants were eyeing them. Dressed in tennis whites their bronzed and well exercised bodies looked like ice cream cones.

"You guys know where we’re supposed to be, or where we might find Sondra Wilson?"

One of the young men walked toward Joan and began giving her directions to the set up on the rear lawn. Jamie couldn’t help noticing the appreciative looks her friend was getting from the other two young men. It caused her to take an appraising look herself. It really was no wonder that they were openly staring. Her companion was a strikingly attractive woman though Jamie was certain she was unaware of it. Her gentleness and consideration contrasted the confidence and assertiveness she exuded. Joan Wyckman was an enigma.

‘I can’t believe she would go through all this and put up with that witchy woman just so I could see a real Hollywood event.’ She was wondering if maybe she was being a little presumptuous when Joan came over and jerked her head in the direction they needed to go.

"Joan. Did you do this just so I’d get to see this event?"

The frankness of her question caused the photographer to switch to a lower gear. Her face was coloring when she turned to the shorter woman. She was looking to Jamie like a deer caught in the headlights of a car. This was not one of the contingencies she had prepared for when planning this outing.

"In a way, I guess." Struggling to supply some reasonable story Joan finally just dropped her hand to her side and resigned herself to the truth. "Yes."

Jamie moved closer, pushed the camera bags out of the way and kissed Joan soundly on the cheek. She smiled and walked on toward the back lawn.

Slightly shaken by this response Joan stood watching her friend retreat up the sidewalk and then shook her head and followed.

Within the hour guest started arriving. Jamie stuck close feeling lost on several levels. She hoped she could observe unnoticed because if anybody spoke to her, she would probably go mute.

Sondra Wilson arrived late. She patted Joan on the shoulder and expressed unfelt gratitude then moved on past them.

"What a bitch" she breathed.

"Correction. Royal bitch" Jamie amended cracking them both up. A waiter came by offering them crystal flutes of champagne. Joan waved him off and pointed to the camera in her hand, but the shorter woman readily accepted.

The auction began roughly an hour late and the crowd settled into it. There were several people from both films and television that Jamie recognized. She absorbed her surroundings while trying to remain as unobtrusive as possible.

She noticed her friend had also blended into the event. The shutter clicks were the only evidence of her presence. She stayed to the sidelines and remote area of the crowd using longer lenses to bring her subjects back into short range. That way they were unaware of her presence. She was intense in her method and though Jamie stayed close by they did not speak for almost an hour.

Jamie sat her empty glass on a passing tray and the server stopped to offer a full one in it’s place. She shrugged her shoulders and took it. The crowd was bidding on Tyne Daley’s autograph now. She had always admired the actress and would have liked to know what it brought but missed the final bid. Thirty items in all were offered and all were jealously sought after by the crowd.

Elizabeth Taylor could not be in attendance but she had contributed a costume from her movie with Paul Newman "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof." The gorgeous lacy slip had been shadow boxed in a gilt frame. A mounted card next to it proclaimed "Best Wishes, Maggie the Cat". Below that was the actress’ signature. It brought the largest bid and the loudest applause of the day. It’s sale signaled the end of the auction.

Joan glanced over at her friend periodically to make sure she was alright and noted that she seemed to be enjoying all aspects of the event. In fact she seemed to be having another glass of champagne every time she looked. ‘Could be trouble’ she thought and chuckled.

Everything was fascinating to Jamie. These people and the interpretations of life they created interested her. There was no parallel between them and the much smaller interpretation of her writing. Theirs was a spoken dialect, hers a written one and that’s as close to each other as they would ever get. She was lost in this train of thought when she felt a familiar warm hand on her elbow.

"The crowd is thinning out at the buffet table. You hungry?" She received the expected answer.

"Let me ditch these camera bags and we’ll see what they’ve got. Wait right here?"

When Joan returned they fell in with the sharks circling the laden table, selecting tidbits until both were satisfied. They decided to sit on the manicured lawn under the canopy of a tree, ignoring the linen covered tables. A waiter broke from the dining area to offer them his tray of champagne. Once again, Jamie accepted.

A dark eyebrow went up as she requested a diet coke at his convenience. "I’m driving" she explained. Jamie started to protest and Joan waved her off.

"I’m here to make sure you have a good time. Don’t worry about a thing." She began to sample and critique the food. Some of it was impossible to identify. Some of it was just normal food but disguised to look like something else.

"This stuff is too fancy for me. I’ll take a good old cheeseburger any day." Joan grimaced at a puff of pastry she was holding up between her fingers. It had some kind of red and white thing that looked like a tail hanging from it.

"I love to try new things myself, but I have to say, this green stuff is out there. You think it’s just for decoration and we’re not supposed to eat it?" Joan shrugged and put her plate down on the lawn beside her. She wasn’t hungry anyway.

They talked and kidded each other for a while. It was approaching eight o’clock.

"Some two hour job, huh?"

Jamie was leaning back, her legs crossed at the ankles in front of her. By the tilt of her head her companion decided that she was concentrating on something. She seemed to get lost in thought a lot. "Where to now?" she asked out of the blue.

Joan had made no other plans for them tonight. In fact she was going to be pushed to meet Kate’s sister’s friend on time.

"Well, I have to meet a friend of Kate’s in a while..."

"Great! Where are we meeting him?"

"Her, actually."

Jamie was up and dusting herself off. She was swaying a little Joan noticed. She had beeped the driver, ‘411, their prearranged signal. He would meet them on the circular drive in ten minutes. They started across the lawn. "Listen, I’m meeting this woman in a bar" she explained without explaining.

" Any music there, ya think? I love to dance." She was moving out across the lawn. Joan had to hurry to catch up.’’

Uh oh. What happened to bashful and demure? What happened, period?’

"Well, yeah, but I’m not sure you would enjoy this place Jamie."

The driver knew their destination. Joan had briefed him earlier. Her protests had all fallen on deaf ears and Jamie was determined to accompany her to the bar. She would always be able to say that she tried to warn her. She considered coming right out with it, after all her friend’s stories of her times in Atlanta had proved her tolerance but it was impossible to gauge her reaction. She hated to waltz the young author into this place on a Saturday night unprepared, but she couldn’t figure out how to avoid it. Finally she decided to let the situation take care of itself and she just relaxed.

Jamie was humming to herself and drumming her hands on the tops of her thighs. Joan wondered if she might be tipsy. "You go out much when you’re at home?"

Blue eyes looked at her as if she had lost her mind. "I live in Covington. Our night life is very limited there."

"I see. Well do you entertain a lot?"



"No. People in town don’t like to come way out to my house to party. It’s too far to drive especially if they have been drinking. I don’t drink myself except on special occasions. I live a quiet life, really." Joan nodded silently as her friend continued to beat the imaginary drums and crash the imaginary symbols above her knees.

They pulled up outside the bar and stepped out of the car. Joan had anticipated taking Jamie to her hotel before coming here. This change of plan had caused her arrival to be early as opposed to late. It would be a while before her meeting would take place.

Pulling a bill from her pocket she paid their way in. She took Jamie’s arm and stopped her long enough for a young woman to touch her wrist with a rubber stamp. She scrunched up her face trying to make out the symbol but was unsuccessful. She led her into a quiet seating area behind glass doors. A grand piano dominated the small area, which included several clusters of furniture positioned to create settings for more intimate conversation.

They chose a table and sat down. Jamie could hear music coming through invisible speakers, but it was decidedly not dance music.

"It’s quieter in here when the music cranks up. The dance floor is out there. Joan indicated an area beyond the doors they had just come in. She asked the blonde if she wanted anything to drink. She declined but left the option open for later. Joan was relieved. It was going to be hard enough to do this ‘meet and greet’ for Kate without having to deal with an inebriated guest.

She had asked Kate repeatedly if this was another of her blind date schemes. Each time she had been assured that it was not. Right. Like she believed that.

"Jamie?" She wasn’t paying attention. She was watching two women a the next table. They were holding hands and in deep conversation.

"Jamie?" Joan said again, a little louder this time.

"Hmmmm?" She reluctantly drew her attention away from the couple and looked at her dark haired friend.

"You OK?" She shook her head yes but said nothing. The photographer decided she might need to confront this head on.

"Guess I should have told you what kind of bar this is before we came in, huh?"

"No. It’s fine. I’ve been in plenty of them, believe me. I somehow just never considered that we were coming into one tonight, that’s all."

"Are you sure it’s OK with you because we can leave."

"Hey, I’m fine. I’m not totally naïve you know, besides I thought you were meeting someone here?"

"That’s the other thing. This is someone my friend Kate is trying to fix me up with. Remember Kate, the one I told you about? I generally avoid these situations at all costs, but she kept on me until I gave in to shut her up. She swore this is just for a drink but I have a feeling I have been misinformed." She was really dreading this encounter. There was no way of knowing what she was in for and she hated to expose Jamie to anything unsavory.

Just then the gates of heaven opened and Jamie interrupted with an idea. "How about if I pretend to be here with you? Surely she would take the hint and not stick around. Besides, you were told this is not a set up. That means you would be perfectly within you rights to bring someone else with you." She leaned down so that her mouth was even with Joan’s ear and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. "That is of course according to the ‘southern belle’ book of dating etiquette."

The sensation of her laugh into Joan’s ear made the photographer’s face tingle. She closed her eyes to regain her composure. Smiling with relief, gratitude and something else. She could not believe her good luck. "Thanks. You don’t know how much I appreciate this."

"Hey, it’s the least I can do. I owe you one rescue at least don’t you think?"

She smiled and shook her head. "Tell you what. Let’s do have a drink. What’ll it be?"

"I’ll have what you’re having." She went back to checking out the patrons of the bar.

Joan came back with two long neck bottles of Mexican beer. She handed one over. "Try this, it’s a local brewery. You said you like to try new things." The bar was starting to fill up a bit. Most of the tables in the room were now occupied. It sounded like the music was cranking up on the dance floor outside.

They talked about the events of the day. Both were retelling their favorite parts of it when a woman stopped at their table. Joan saw the buttery leather pants first and followed them up, across a matching doeskin shirt to a pair of dark brown eyes. "Joan Wyckman?"

She shook her head and stood up. Holding out her hand in welcome, the other woman introduced herself. Her eyes were appraising Joan appreciatively. "Ellen Marcus. Kate described you perfectly".

Yeah, well she didn’t describe you at all’ she thought insulted by this woman’s attitude.

Joan reclaimed her hand as soon as Ellen would let it go and dropped it on her little friend’s shoulder. "This is my friend, Jamie Fielding". She tried to make the ‘my friend’ part sound as ambiguous as possible. Jamie smiled up at her, but did not offer her hand.

"Hi" was all Ellen said back. ‘Kate didn’t say anything about her bringing a date’. She was obviously not pleased. There had to be some kind of a mistake and she was beginning to think she had made it.

"Where you from?" she asked absently. She had already started surveying the room.

"Covington, Georgia. I’m Scarlett O’Hara’s third cousin." Jamie deadpanned.

"Never been east of Texas myself." Obviously Ellen was so distracted with checking out the room’s inhabitants that she had missed the sarcasm of Jamie’s remark. It had not, however, been wasted on Joan who had almost blown beer out through her nose.

Joan slid her chair over so that she could maintain an arm draped across Jamie’s chairback. This message was clear, but unwelcomed. "Sorry to be late. You guys want anything." Ellen jerked her head in the direction of the bar.

"We’re fine, thanks?"

"Be right back." The leather clad woman walked away.

"She’s mad!" Jamie giggled.

"No kidding."

"Hey, if she acts up, I’ll just ask her to step outside." Jamie laughed at herself. This woman was a good six inches taller than she was. Seeing the look on Joan’s face she patted her on the top of her thigh and advised her "you worry too much. This will all be over shortly, take my work for it." Then she winked and Joan really started worrying.

"I’m gonna run to the ladies’ room while she’s gone. Will you be OK?" The blonde nodded. The music was beginning to liven up. Jamie had recognized several songs now and he foot tapped involuntarily.

Unfortunately Ellen got back from the bar before Joan returned. She sat down and looked around her. Jamie finally realized that the woman had been shopping all this time. She watched her take a long pull from the beer bottle and then point it in the direction of the dance floor. "How about it?"

Jamie opened her mouth but before any words came out she heard a voice behind her. "Actually, this dance was promised to me. Sorry." Joan led Jamie by the hand away from the irritated Ellen.

"Whew. It looks like I owe you another one, Saint Joan." She looked up and smiled appreciatively. "But I don’t get it. Why would she ask me? By the way she was looking, I am sure she’d have preferred to dance with you."

"Let’s see now. You’re a very beautiful young woman. You were alone and unprotected at the time, her favorite I’m sure. And then, there is the thing about her thinking it would really piss me off." ‘And she is right.’ She felt annoyed with herself.

Just then they reached the edge of the crowded dance floor. Jamie pulled her friend through an opening in the crowd to an empty spot behind a huge black speaker. Joan was apologizing for being a terrible dancer when the music stopped. They laughed in unison and waited for the next one. It was an old Patsy Cline song, a favorite of Jamie’s she admitted. It was also a slow one.

They looked at each other uncomfortably, not quite knowing what to do next. "In for a penny, in for a pound" the younger woman commented and reached her arms out to her dance partner.

Looking around her Joan realized that most of the couples on the floor were locked in full embrace. Although she wouldn’t have minded that too, she considered her friend’s feelings and went with a more traditional and less intimate embrace. She was very pleasantly surprised when halfway through the song a blonde head tucked itself under her chin and she felt arms tighten around her neck. "Gotta make it look good" Jamie mumbled into her collarbone.

"Right" came a startled reply.

Jamie closed her eyes and relished the feel of this woman in who’s arms she was being held. She tried to name the feeling it gave her and realized it felt like coming home. The comfort and safety of the embrace warmed her. She wondered if dancing with another woman felt so easy because the other woman was Joan.

She’s very good’ the photographer was thinking. ‘Maybe I don’t hate dancing after all’. She chastised herself. ‘Stop. She is doing this to help you out, that’s all.’ The music stopped too soon to suit either of them. "Thanks" Joan said softly hoping that all she was feeling was not evident on her face. They started the winding route back to their table.

She place her hand against the small of Jamie’s back steering her through the crowded room. The feel of warm flesh through the knit shirt was welcome.

Meanwhile Ellen had finished her beer as evidenced by the new empty on the table and was well into another one. She seemed more surly than when they had left if that was possible. She made a weak attempt at small talk until the beer gone. Then suddenly, so was she.

Joan spoke up as soon as they were alone. "I have to thank you for helping me get rid of Igor". She indicated the empty seat that Ellen had vacated.

"Not to worry. I think too much of you to leave you in her clutches. Besides, she wasn’t nearly so easy to get rid of as Jesus and his buddies. You needed reinforcement." She smiled trying to get Joan to lighten her mood.

When she reached out and covered Joan’s hand with hers both women’s smiles faded. The look that passed between them was intense. It lasted for several beats and then the moment passed. They sat in silence, sipping their drinks and people-watching. It never occurred to either to separate their chairs now that the masquerade was over. They were comfortable where they were.

The limo ride back to the hotel has been uneventful. It had been a full day and both women were pretty well worn out. The driver called ahead to have Joan’s Jeep brought around and it came out of the parking deck just as they pulled up to the curb. Their driver popped the trunk and transferred the camera bags for Joan.

"Want to come to the loft tomorrow or do you have time before your flight?"

"I’ve got lots of time and I’d love to, but I’ve already monopolized your entire holiday weekend."

"I wouldn’t have asked if I hadn’t wanted you to come. Besides I believe you still owe me a book signing. I’ll trade you the quarter tour of my studio."

"I forgot about the autograph" she made a face. "But I would love to see where you work".

"Give a yell. I’ll pick you up."

"Tomorrow then" Jamie said. Joan started to exit the car as she was seated on the curb side. Jamie reached up and touched her arm, stopping her.

"Hey" she said. Joan looked back at her. Jamie scooted forward on the seat and in an awkward tangle of feet put her arms around Joan and pulled her into a hug. She held her for a long moment while reiterating her thanks for the day’s events. The sincerity of her words melted the photographer’s heart.

"No problem" . The dark haired woman pulled on the door handle. The chauffeur opened it up and both women stepped out. Jamie headed toward the big lobby doors and Joan stayed behind watching her safely inside. She reached out to shake the driver’s hand and put a fifty dollar bill into his palm in the process. He smiled brightly and tipped his hat.

"Thanks. Perfect evening" . She smiled after the woman who had just disappeared into the hotel.

As a rule, Joan liked to get up early. Unfortunately the activity of the last few days had finally taken it’s toll. Not to mention the fact that she’d been unable to go to sleep until the wee hours of the morning. She struggled toward consciousness which included an annoying ringing in her ears and finally was aware enough of her surroundings to reach over and grab the telephone receiver.

"Hello" she gruffly spoke into it.

"Hello Sunshine. Sound a little grumpy this morning" Jamie rattled off.

"Hey." Her voice softened considerably. "What time is it?"

" Time for you to get up and come let me in your front door. The cab driver’s waiting. I wouldn’t let this one leave until I was sure I could get in."

Startled that she was here, Joan spat out "be right there" and quickly surveyed her surroundings. She pulled on a pair of jeans that were draped over a chair back and ran her fingers through her hair. ‘No bra. Where is it?’ and she tossed aside the linens trailing onto the floor trying to locate it. Having no success she decided she’d have to forgo it and headed for the door. When she got there, she was decent, if disheveled and she pressed the code to activate the automatic lock.

Sunlight came streaming in with Jamie. "Come on up".

The short blonde followed her up the steps. She was carrying two paper bags that were emanating delicious smells. She kicked the door closed as she entered.

She looked around her at the expanse of white walls bathed in bright morning light. The large room was sparsely but adequately furnished. There were no nick knacks or pictures to personalize it at all. "I brought breakfast. I figured it was at least my turn." She was looking around for a place to sit the bags down.

Joan pointed toward the kitchen area. She was obviously still half asleep as she followed. She measured coffee in the coffee maker and hit the brew button. The clock said 10:15. "Gosh. It’s late." Jamie waved her away to the small dining table against the wall.

" Plates?" Joan pointed. "Silverware?" she pointed again.

Jamie was relating her argument with John that morning. He had been unhappy because she had insisted on meeting him at the airport for their departing flight instead of going with him. He stubbornly refused to believe that she was capable of getting herself there without his help.

This monologue kept the younger woman occupied while she arranged their food onto plats and poured coffee. She was practically bubbling. Joan meanwhile was fighting a throbbing headache. Jamie finally noticed the pained expression on her face. "You alright?"

"I just got somebody’s hangover this morning. I didn’t drink that much, but sometimes the smoke in those places gets me. Be right back." She came back from the bathroom with aspirin and tossed them back. She washed them down with black coffee. Jamie watched and made a face.

"Looks good". Joan complemented the breakfast assortment her friend had provided. They sat down and fell on it hungrily.

" I had to have something substantial this morning. That finger food was pretty but this body needs the real thing." The dark head nodded, amused at the appetite of her breakfast partner.

"Sorry you caught me snoozing..." She pinched the front of the well worn tee shirt she had slept in and pulled it out in front of her.

"It was my turn, if you’ll remember. I was only half-dressed when you got their yesterday and we had to be someplace."

Joan smiled and went back to eating. She remembered alright. They ate in silence for a few minutes and she decided to grab a quick shower.

"You finish up here, I’ll get dressed. I believe you were promised a tour."

Jamie ate her fill while eyeing her surroundings once again. Everything was clean and neat. She put her napkin on the table and wandered across the loft to the ‘den’ area, which was delineated by the furniture grouping. The unusual design of the table in front of the sofa caught her attention. As she moved closer, she recognized the cover of her book lying on top of it. This brought a smile and she picked it up and turned to the page that Joan had marked.

I’d like to say it’s all an ugly, seething lie, but then I would be the liar and I’m not cut out
to suffer a vandal’s life.
I’d like to think you know my name or how I happen to be
staring and startled when I see you for the first time
in every day.
It’s only dreaming that I do.
More, I’d like to know that in some upcoming and just
as fleeting an instant there would be an understanding
communicated between us in one brief, but knowing
glance passed across a barren
path of faceless strangers and back again.
I’d like to see you smile.

She read the words and they were so familiar. ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to seeing my words on a page between the covers of a book.’ She closed the cover and laid it where she had found it.

Jamie was studying the movie and book titles on the shelves by the huge television when her friend returned. "See anything you like? I’m having a fire sale in two weeks."

"Can you plan on having a fire sale?" Blue eyes smiled.

No. I just mean I have told the studio that I am out of here regardless of whether their project is completed or not. I’m going home." There was conviction in her voice and Jamie could certainly relate to her homesickness.

Looking around her she commented "actually, I guess I never did really move in did I?" Not waiting for an answer "I hadn’t planned on being here this long. But that might not have made a difference anyway. This is not where my heart is." She went into the galley to refill her coffee cup and decided to clear the breakfast clutter while she was there.

Jamie followed and offered to help. "No you cooked. That’s the rule in my house. Whoever cooks does no dishes. I made that the rule because I like to cook but hate to clean up."

"Guess I won’t starve if I hang around with you then, huh?" She backed up to the counter and used her palms to push herself up so that she could sit on it’s top.

"What is your home like Joan?" Blue eyes regarded her.

Brown eyes answered back and then found a voice. "It’s a cabin that sits on a ledge about half way up a mountain right outside of Clarkesville. Out back is a collection of peaks and valleys covered in treetops. I’m into trees, can you tell?"

Jamie smiled. "We’re Georgia girls. I laughed on the way here from the airport when John referred to the palms we saw as trees. Of course, he’s from New York so he doesn’t know any better."

"What’s your house like, did you build it?"

"I had it built. I did the finish work myself. I’ve still got a lot that I want to do actually. I’ve got a small studio out back".

"Lived there long?" She realized she was asking a lot of questions but she knew so little about this woman and their time together was running out.

"Six years." She finished up and dried her hands. "Ready for your tour?" The younger woman nodded.

"This, as you have already seen is my loft." She pointed to a door opening on the wall beyond the kitchen area. "That leads to the bathroom and my bedroom. The bathroom is descent , the bedroom you enter at your own risk. Haven’t been home much lately. Been showing a friend of mine around LA".

"Come on, I’ll show you the business end of the place." She headed down the stairs through a neat office. "Sally’s office. Don’t touch anything, she dusts for prints every Monday."

She led them through a pair of glass doors. "Why is the glass blacked out?’

"For when I close the shoot, you know just me and them. Sometimes I get nervous people, you know, bashful?...Like you?"

"Hey I can’t help it if I’m shy, can I?"

"You didn’t seem all that shy when you met Ellen last night." Her eyebrow went up. This was the first mention of the previous evening. There was plenty she would have like to discuss, some of which had kept her awake late into the night last night.

"Well, she was hostile and a little condescending. It just came out that way."

"I’m not criticizing, I loved it myself. In fact, I plan on inviting you to all my blind dates to protect me. They were traversing a dark entrance of some kind. Joan reached out and took her friend’s elbow to guide her. She hit a light switch and Jamie was temporarily blinded.

"Sorry, give it a minute." They stood and waited until the brunette was sure her friend’s vision had cleared. She led a few steps into a three storied room. "This is where I work". She extended her hand palm up. Cables and tripods were arranged against one wall, along with other equipment that Jamie did not recognize. The center of the area held a slightly raised platform with several metal rods suspended above it. She figured they were to hold lights.

Jamie took her time absorbing her surroundings. She wandered over to a row of open doors and looked inside. One room held a large dressing area . Another held more equipment, neatly parceled out into cubicles on the walls. A third housed Joan’s office and the final one was a bathroom. "Think I’ll check this out" and she disappeared inside. The photographer busied herself with a clipboard that she had removed from a pegboard outside her office door. She was studying the papers attached to it when Jamie came out.

Not wanting to disturb her concentration, the young woman strolled into Joan’s office. The walls were covered with glossy pictures neatly thumbtacked to the sheetrock walls. She took her time and studied each one. She was no expert but she thought they must be very good because several gave her goosebumps. There was one of an ancient woman enjoying a youngster who danced in the center of a crowded street. The camera had captured her heartfelt, snaggle toothed smile. Love and pride were both evident on her face.

"This is incredible" Jamie became aware of Joan watching her from the doorway. "And this. And this."

"Thanks. Careful, you’ll give me the big head". She was enjoying the praise.

"Where did you learn this?"

"Mostly by trial and error to tell you the truth. It started as a hobby when I was in college. I’m still pretty unorthodox after all these years."

"You trying to be humble? You must be good if this studio you talk about had brought you out here to work for them."

Joan explained that she did the stills that were either printed or scanned and used for many purposes. It saved the expense of digitals. Most of them guided the make-up and special effects people by giving them authenticity to work from. She provided the real thing so that they could doctor it. "I don’t do glamour, or fashion or product photography. I only do people and even then I don’t do sugar coating. I told you, I’m unorthodox."

"The fact that I won’t take direction from my clients or my subjects doesn’t always go over so well, but that’s the way I work. Everybody knows it going in but they still love to try and make me bend."

"Well your work doesn’t suffer for the honesty obviously, but I would think an unpopular attitude would cause you to be without work."

"Jamie" she was considering something serious, the author could tell. "I work because I like it. I always have worked at something and I always will. It challenges me and makes me feel valuable to myself. I know that I sound arrogant, I hear it often enough from Sally. I’m also well aware that we all supposedly have to tolerate some crap in order to do what we love, but I draw a line at the traveling and the Sondra Wilsons of the world."

The author was listening intently. She thought she was hearing something more than Joan was saying. Finally it was distilled down to a simple statement. "I don’t have to work at all, Jamie."

"How lucky you are" the response was immediate and sincere.

"My folks died when I was eight. There was some money, but I always wanted to work for my sake. I went to school but no paying profession came out of a history degree. I built houses for a time. Worked in printing for many years. This photography thing is something I fell into, like everything else I have ever done."

Jamie smiled and put her hand on her friend’s shoulder. "I think it’s miraculous, what you do" she indicated the office walls "especially since you haven’t sacrificed your principles to do it. Now, show me how this is done". She pointed at an enlargement of a huge camera. Reflected in the lens was a clear image of Joan pointing a camera at her. It was an intriguing concept.

The dark woman was good at explaining what the various pieces of equipment did. Jamie’s questions were intelligent and unending. They laughed a good deal, especially at some of the experiences Joan related. By early afternoon they mutually consented to wrap it up and they wandered upstairs for a coke.

Jamie situated herself on the sofa. Joan came over from the kitchen with the drinks and pointed to the book lying on the table.

"Told you I was reading it. I hope you have decided on a fabulous inscription. That was the deal, right? A tour in exchange for an autograph?"

Jamie sighed and picked up the volume. "Got a pen, I might as well get this over with".

Reaching in her hip pocket, she produced the requested pen hen crossed to the stereo to turn on some music.

While she was making her selection, Jamie opened the book to write her message. She only hesitated a moment then quickly executed her inscription. She closed the book smiling and placed it back on the table. Sheryl Crow came over the speakers.

"It’s so good to do something normal, like just hang out and listen to music. It’s been a long time."

"My favorite pastime, that and movies. I get criticized for it though. Everybody says I’m boring."

"Who is everybody?"

"Kate, Sally my friend Andrea, my assistant Kevin. How much time have you got?"

"They obviously don’t understand your artistic nature. You’re supposed to be withdrawn. Who is Andrea by the way?"

"Just somebody I went out with a couple of times. Another one of Kate’s non-fix ups. She’s nice, we just decided that we’d do better as friends. She loves music too and I go with her to hear local groups sometimes. With the exceptions of Sally, Andrea and Kate I won’t miss anything about this town."

"Speaking of Kate, how on earth do you happen to know her?"

"I literally ran her down at the studio one day. I was on a golf cart in an emergency. She was crossing the alley between two soundstages and talking on her cell phone. By the time I saw her I was practically on top of her. She looked up, threw her cell phone into the air and flattened herself against the wall. I swerved to miss her by inches. I also managed to snag her phone as it fell past me. She asked me to tell her caller that she was having a religious experience and she’d call them back. I repeated her message and hung up. We have been friends ever since."

There were many more stories about the adventures of Joan and Kate and Jamie pried several out of her companion over the early afternoon. The telephone rang and Joan opted to ignore it until she heard Kate’s voice haranguing her on the machine. She sprinted across the room and picked it up. "Speak of the devil. How was your trip?" was her salutation. "We’re just listening to the stereo and telling lies about you." She smiled at her blonde friend. "Yes, she’s the woman who was with me last night. I see Ellen has filled you in."

"Well if you’re worried about her beating you up how do you think I felt?" Jamie closed her eyes and laid back in the sofa cushions enjoying the music. "She’s leaving tomorrow. I would have loved for you to have met her too, she’s terrific." Another short silence. "Yes, of course she has a job! She’s an author. Yeah and she’s here on a book tour". She held the phone out and made a face. "Georgia. Yes, imagine Kate, both of us."

Jamie could fill in the blanks easily and though she was trying not to eavesdrop it was hard not to. "Well I don’t know. Yeah, but.....OK, OK, I’ll ask her". She held the receiver against her shirt front. "She wants us to come over. I understand if you say no after all I know you have things to do..."

Jamie interrupted her in mid-sentence. "I’d love that". Joan blinked at this woman who constantly surprised her. She flashed a brilliant smile and held the phone up again.

"She says yes. She’s heard all about you and wants to see the wart on your face."

Jamie laughed. Whoever this actress was she was obviously a good friend to Joan. She was glad as it seemed the photographer had few people in her life. She had told Jamie over the course of her visit that she was an only child and an orphan and that she would be back in Georgia by Christmas.

"See you in a bit then". Joan turned to her. "Remember, you agreed to this and don’t come crying to me. The Spanish Inquisition was a dress rehearsal next to this meeting. You wait and see."

Joan was obviously only faking annoyance. She was glad to her friends, new and old would get to meet each other. "She says her cook left her a pot roast if we’re hungry. She’s hopeless in the kitchen herself. "

Her companion was very receptive to the pot roast idea and went to the bathroom to ‘run a comb through her hair.’

"Ready to rip?"

They headed out, talking more on the way about the actress. "I know you hate the matchmaking but even you have to admit it’s nice that she cares about your happiness."

"I admit to nothing. Ever. It keeps me out of trouble."

Joan held the tray steady in one hand. As she reached for the door knob it opened and she looked up into smiling blue eyes. "Need some help?" They were comfortably lounging on the patio.

As Joan moved past her with the tray she said in a low voice "Your friend Kate is out here doing an infomercial for you." She was obviously amused at the whole situation.

Uh oh. Exactly what is she selling I wonder?’

Jamie asked the actress about her work and a long conversation ensued. The photographer took the opportunity to observe and absorb things that the past few days hadn’t allowed her to record. She’d been busy in the entertainer role which Kate had taken over now.

The actress was a wealth of information and her candor in relating it kept the blonde laughing. Joan was watching yet another Jamie. There was no introspection in this one, or sadness. There was no timidity of spirit at all. It was fun for her to witness these two women feeding on the light hearted conversation between them.

Her stomach growled loudly and both of her friends smiled in her direction but didn’t halt their conversation. She rose and drifted back into the kitchen and began scouting the fridge for the makings of an early dinner. As promised there were lots of delectibles prepared by Kate’s fantastic cook. Everything needed heating and they were in business. She started the microwave and the oven according to the post-it’s that Rosa had left attached to the various dishes. She, too knew how hopeless her boss was in a kitchen.

When everything was ready she stuck her head out the door. "Remember me?"

"Hey, you been prospecting in my refrigerator?" Getting an affirmative nod, she stood and made for the dining room. "Let’s eat."

"By the way, I’m expecting a call from Andy at four o’clock" turning to Jamie "my dear, sweet husband. He’s in Japan on business. I’ll excuse myself when it comes through and take it in his office. I’m sure the connection is better in there."

"More like phone sex if you ask me." Joan quipped.

"I didn’t ask you but I can if you have a problem?" Kate shot back along with an evil look.

The photographer backed off deciding her friend knew too much and had embarrassed her plenty already.

Joan had taken her attention once again to the fringes of the conversation and was mulling over the departure of her new companion and dreading it. When she realized that she had been asked a question she got back to the here and now in a hurry. "Excuse me?"

"How far is Covington from Clarkesville? Maybe you two could get together when you get back home Joan?" She smiled at Jamie because she dared not look at the remaining diner. She knew her tall friend would be fuming.

She is incorrigible! I am going to kill her.’ "Pretty good ways, maybe two hours. Possibly even more." She exaggerated to get back at Kate for her obvious and embarrassing ploy.

"Tell you what. You’ve been trying to get me to visit that mountain of yours. How about if I come visit you Joan and we’ll get together with Jamie ?" Her conspiratorial smile made Joan steam even more, but Jamie seemed unaware of what was going on between her two companions.

"What fun! When could you both get away? I’m done with my obligations in a week. At least for now."

While Jamie and Kate discussed the possibilities Joan cleared the table and stewed. By the time she had all the dishes in the sink it didn’t seem like all that bad an idea. The phone rang as she dug into the soap suds before her. It wasn’t long before Jamie was beside her drying the dishes and putting them away.

"What time is your flight?" The taller woman already knew the answer.

"Eight fifteen. I bet the airport is crowded today. Everybody will be coming home from Thanksgiving".

Joan nodded. "We’ll have to be leaving soon. By the time we drive back into LA and grab your luggage it’ll be tough for us to make it."

"Oh. I arranged for a cab to take me, I couldn’t ask you to get in that mess tonight. Besides, I hate to leave so much, it would be better if a stranger took me to the airport."

She nodded in understanding. They worked efficiently together and made short work of the task.

The brunette turned to hang up the dishtowel just as Jamie spun around from putting away the last dish. When they crashed into each other the taller woman instinctively put her arms around the blonde to steady her. They stood toe to toe, immobilized by the look that passed between them. Joan offered no resistance when Jamie reached behind her neck and pulled her down within reach. Their lips met very briefly.

Joan Wyckman had experienced surprises in her life, but none rivaled this one for complete shock value. She withdrew enough to get a better look into blue eyes but they yielded nothing except confusion.

"He is really such a darling man". Kate was almost on them. They both turned away hurriedly and busied themselves doing nothing. The actress eyed them suspiciously. Something was going on, but she couldn’t be sure what exactly. She was aware that Joan was blushing which was odd, very odd. She looked her straight in the eye expecting to see a readable explanation. When nothing was evident she decided to drop it and led them into the luxurious living room for the remainder of their visit.

When it was all said and done Kate and Jamie had decided on a week at the end of January. Andy would be in New York then. Kate would meet him and they could return to the west coast together. The author had agreed to research the flight reservations and the actress promised to deliver Joan ‘even if she kicks and screams’. Kate turned to her readying herself for a sarcastic comeback. Instead she found her friend brooding under sinister looking eyebrows. The actress waved her hand in front of Joan’s face. "Earth calling, how about it".

"Sorry. What were you saying?"

"Never mind, I can fill you in later, besides you’ve got to go if she’s gonna make it on time."

The author checked her watch. "You’re right but I sure have enjoyed this." She stood up and put her hand out to Kate who pushed it aside and hugged Jamie long and hard before releasing her. "Thanks for everything. This is my first trip to California and I feel like I’m going home with two new friends." She pointed a finger at each of them.

Kate crossed to Joan and hugged her too. She was still puzzled by her behavior. "Call me later?" She gave her friend a serious look and extracted an unspoken promise. Be careful driving into town. There are a lot of folks on the road tonight."

They waved their last waves to the actress and pulled out of her circular drive. Neither spoke for several miles and then it was Joan who broke the silence. "Do you want to talk about it now?"

"I would if I knew what to say. I mean, it wasn’t premeditated or anything, although I do remember wondering at one point last night what it would feel like...." Her voice quieted.

"And how did it feel?" There was a peculiar tone in her voice. It was anger.

Jamie turned to watch her profile for reaction. "I liked it. I liked it a lot." She waited, noticing her facial expression. "Are you mad at me?" When no answer came she added "why?"

"I don’t like being used for your experiments. Every other explanation I can come up with really makes me angry." Joan’s voice was loud. Jamie chastised herself for upsetting her even though she hadn’t a clue what she was talking about.

"What experiment? Say what you mean so that I can understand." Silence. "Maybe we should just drop this. I have obviously hurt your feelings in some way. Please believe that I would never do that intentionally, not to anyone, but especially to you." Her voice was so sincere and the photographer wanted to believe it. She slowed her speed and drove in silence.

When they reached the hotel room Jamie went to change into her travel clothes. Joan sat on the sofa. Her mind was on overload and she was feeling a sense of urgency. Nothing was making sense to her.

Jamie came out of the bathroom in a soft knit pant suit perfect for travel. She stowed the dirty laundry and bathroom junk and was facing Joan studying her face. "I wish you would talk to me. I don’t even know how to apologize because I don’t really know which thing to apologize for" she smiled hopefully, but her smile was not returned. "I’m not leaving like this. I couldn’t stand it."

"That’s just it." Joan broke the silence. "You are leaving like this." She looked at her feet trying to organize her words into some kind of sense. "You spend every waking minute with me for three days without ever mentioning anything. Then, two hours before you get on a plane and fly out of here you kiss me. Standing in the middle of Kate’s kitchen! What am I supposed to think? How am I supposed to feel?"

Jamie collapsed into the armchair closest to her friend. She shook her head and her shoulders dropped in defeat. "I’m just as confused as you are, maybe more. After all, this is all completely new to me. I’ll tell you that I’m sorry if you want." She looked so unhappy Joan was afraid she might cry and no matter how angry she was she knew she couldn’t take that.

"OK, look." She heaved a sigh. "We both know the facts. We just don’t know what it all means. We need more to go on.". She took a smaller hand into hers and made Jamie look into her eyes which she’d steadfastly resisted until now. "You’ll call me from Phoenix. It’s the information age, we’ll talk." She smiled trying to exhibit an enthusiasm she didn’t feel. Blue eyes stopped threatening tears at least. There was a soft knock at the door.

Joan let the bellman in. He called the desk for information at her request. "Twenty minutes." She handed him a folded bill. He took the suitcases and left them alone.

"Your car is leaving in twenty minutes. We don’t have much time. Are you sure you don’t want me to take you?"

"Yes, I’m afraid I might cry. I hate to leave you and I have made such a mess of things. You’re right. We had a wonderful time and then I screwed it up."

She walked over and stood in front of the chair Jamie was sitting in. She offered an unneeded hand to help her up. The contact was welcomed by both of them. "I’ll call you from the hotel tonight then." She managed a weak smile.

That’s when Joan broke the promise she’d made to herself two days previously. She put her arms around the trembling young woman and held her close. The sensations were intense enough to make her eyes close involuntarily. Reality was unbearable for the moment. Answering arms clung to her and she was gifted with a soft moan. She whispered next to Jamie’s ear "I want to be sure we have plenty to talk about later".

The blonde head retreated slightly. "Huh?"

Then Joan broke the promise she’d made to herself earlier that day.

When she kissed Jamie it was not briefly. There was nothing tentative in it at all. It was slow and deep and didn’t speak so much of experience as it did of promise. When it was over and they returned to a breathless and shared reality they simply held on to each other and the moment.

Then it was time to leave.


End of Part 2

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