DISCLAIMER: A Bon-Bon. Nothing deep here, just a little light entertainment. Still, parts are not for the (linguistically) squeamish. And yes, happy ending, but along the way bad things happen to manuscripts, women, a dog, and a computer. Squicky things. Consider yourself warned. Also, I've probably made a few mistakes here and there. Feel free to let me know what they are.
The original seed of this story was a paragraph written by Lori Stobel as the premise of one of the Academy of Bards challenges. I have since re-written it, but retained the names and occupations of the characters, as well as several sentences and some dialogue. And without it I would never have written the story, so if you like it you can thank her too. (firstname.lastname@example.org) In addition, many thanks to Rocky for inspiration, beta reading, and the title; and to she who wishes to remain anonymous for her invaluable comments and suggestions. As always, ultimate responsibility for errors is mine. Feedback of any kind is very welcome. (email@example.com )
DISCLAIMER: A Bon-Bon. Nothing deep here, just a little light entertainment. Still, parts are not for the (linguistically) squeamish. And yes, happy ending, but along the way bad things happen to manuscripts, women, a dog, and a computer. Squicky things. Consider yourself warned. Also, I've probably made a few mistakes here and there. Feel free to let me know what they are.
The original seed of this story was a paragraph written by Lori Stobel as the premise of one of the Academy of Bards challenges. I have since re-written it, but retained the names and occupations of the characters, as well as several sentences and some dialogue. And without it I would never have written the story, so if you like it you can thank her too. (firstname.lastname@example.org) In addition, many thanks to Rocky for inspiration, beta reading, and the title; and to she who wishes to remain anonymous for her invaluable comments and suggestions. As always, ultimate responsibility for errors is mine. Feedback of any kind is very welcome. (email@example.com )
Fits And Starts
"Crap… Crap… Crap… More crap… Boring crap… Badly WRITTEN crap…Complete, Utter, TOTAL CRAP! Lyn, do you even look at this stuff before you send it to me? Can't you find something at least half-way good before you make me read it?" Jasper Villante slapped several reams of metal-clipped paper down one at a time on her co-producer's desk, making a great show of pique.
The producer just smiled indulgently. After more than fifty years in the business, actor tantrums were nothing new to Lyn Borysenko. "Jas darling, you don't really expect me to do the reading do you? I have staff for that, and so should you."
"No, I don't have staff, remember? I had to fire George after he let the Bloodbath script go without even asking me about it. And you let him! I would have been perfect for that role, PERFECT! Thanks to the two of you I did not get the Oscar last year." Jasper flounced as much as she dared. Lyn might look like the 'before' picture in a face-lift ad and dress like a drag queen's idea of an aging Grande Dame, but she had produced more hit series than half the men in Hollywood. Although her clout had diminished with time, she was still a force to be reckoned with in the industry.
Lyn knew that it had really been Jasper's agent, Ed Tamer's job to get Jasper to the Bloodbath audition, but she couldn't resist attempting a palliative remark. "That was a substantially different script, you know. I heard that Frank Ementhaler completely rewrote it without taking any screen credit."
"Really? Can you get me a look at whatever he's doing now?" Jasper knew she was being diverted, but chose to follow Lyn's redirection of the conversation.
"I'll see. Let me talk to his people and get back to you. Don't worry. We'll find you something good."
"Something flashy and contemporary. And not too much makeup, I hate the SF drag."
"I'll see what I can do." Lyn Borysenko winced inwardly, though not a sign of her misgivings appeared on her placid countenance. Jasper Villante was indeed becoming famous, but lately it was more for behaving badly in public than for her film work. True, she had starred in that offbeat TV series a few years back, but who remembered that now? She was getting a reputation for having inconvenient 'nervous breakdowns' that somehow usually seemed to end just short of the doors of a rehab clinic. And aside from a short stint as an alien spy in Space Weevils, she hadn't worked in over a year. If she hadn't offered to put up a substantial amount of money and agreed to work for scale, Lyn would have been hard-pressed to agree to co-produce. But Lyn was old enough to amused by a long shot, and powerful enough to be able to make a gamble pay off. She knew the desperation behind Jasper's entry into the starring-producing venue, but didn't share it. Whether they bombed or had a big hit, Jasper would owe her a favor, and Lyn had always had a knack for turning favors into money.
Rumor said that Lyn might have had other reasons for taking a chance on Jasper; though once married to a Russian media tycoon, she now surrounded herself almost exclusively with women. The producer favored young girls of a certain type-Jasper's type, boyishly androgynous, with dark hair and perfect skin. But Lyn never listened to rumors, and Jasper laughed at them.
"Are you nervous?" The handsomely dressed man smiled at the woman seated next to him in the rented limousine.
"A little," the small blonde answered. She resisted the urge to chew her fingernails and destroy her lipstick, the unaccustomed work of dressing up and applying cosmetics having grated sorely on her usually shy sensibilities. Despite her lack of desire to dress up, however, she had looks and to spare; the simple lines of the gown showing off a trim elegant figure, still perfectly proportioned despite her having recently attained what she referred to as "the big three-oh."
"Robbie, tell the truth."
"Okay, you know me too well. I am scared witless and I'm pretty sure I will probably stumble on the red carpet and fall flat on my face," Roberta Mackenzie answered her brother. "These shoes are vertigo on the hoof."
"It won't be that bad. You have to have something to give you lift enough to poke your head up into range of the cameras, you know."
"No short jokes, you jerk! I'd be happy just not to fall off them between the car and the chair, Mikey," Robbie shot back, deliberately using the nickname her brother hated most.
As his sister's proud agent, Michael resisted temptation. "If you stumble I am going down with you. Remember... just don't be in the restroom when they call your name," he teased. "That's one place I'm not hauling you out of."
"So, big Bro, are you ready to escort your favorite sister to the Emmys?"
"Considering you are my only sister, I guess I can do that," Michael answered, giving her a smug look.
Since her staff job on the Muffy Snyder Show had ended, Roberta Mackenzie was making her way as a spec writer. She had freelanced for the syndicated cable show Mercy Hospital, and had never expected to be nominated for an Emmy. In fact, her episode only made the filming schedule by a stroke of luck when the episode it replaced had legal issues. In a last minute decision, executive producer John Hall pushed the script through with very little editing being done on it. As she stood on the set the week of filming, she couldn't believe the late night idea that she frantically typed out had come to life. As the week ended several of the cast members made comments to her about the script, saying it was the best episode they had filmed so far that season. To be complimented by the actors had been reward enough for her, but when she was informed she had been nominated for the Emmy she was on cloud nine for days.
With the nomination had come many more pitch opportunities. Doors that had been firmly closed were now slamming open. The one that had intrigued her the most was the possibility of writing a pilot for Lyn Borysenko, who, rumor had it, was developing a series to star Jasper Villante.
As the limo slowed to a stop she brought her mind back to the present. Putting on her best smile she took her brother's arm and waved at the team from Performance News as they milled around the area reserved for the press.
They made their way safely to their seats and let the event wash over them. Robbie tried not to gawk; as an established writer she should be immune to the lure of celebrity by now. But that fact that she had a chance at a big break didn't dim the lights of tinsel-town for her; in fact the reverse was true. She was looking around as the stars began to assemble, when a flash of silver lame caught her eye. The body it was wrapped around had lost nothing since she'd last seen it on her television; classic cheekbones broadened an otherwise narrow face, while electrifying blue eyes scanned the room thoughtfully. As she turned, studiously casual dark hair floated across her back; as she moved, every curve shimmered as the dress caught the lights. Not simply a beautiful woman, but a commanding one, the actress had the presence to make herself felt well beyond the second balcony, even for those who were too far away to catch the expression in those unearthly eyes. Far from finding reality disappointing, Robbie was stunned at how much more powerful the woman was in person, even across a room full of glittering celebrities.
"Pssst! There she is!" Robbie whispered franticly to her brother.
"Who?" Michael wanted to know.
"Jasper Villante! The star of High Heeled Gumshoe! Remember? That crime drama set in the sixties?"
"Oh. THAT. That show you used to drool over every afternoon in secret, when you were supposed to be working," Michael teased. "It only lasted what, two seasons?"
"Four. And I was drooling over her, not the show. It was a forgettable execution of a silly premise, with mediocre has-beens as weekly guest villains. But she's gorgeous, and I had a terrible crush on her."
"No? Really? I'd never have guessed."
"Stop it. Yeah, yeah, I had a bigger than life size poster of her plastered on the wall in my bedroom where I could look up those endless legs, so what?"
"Okay, so that was my first clue I was gay," Robbie continued. "All my classmates were in love with her co-star, but I just couldn't get the hots for Barry Lourdes. All I ever dreamed about was her. I can't believe I might get to write for her."
"Just why did you think I schmoozed her producer-to-be so hard?"
"Thanks for getting me that, Mike. That really would be a dream come true."
"More than getting an Emmy?"
Robbie tried to catch the actress' eye, but the tall woman slid away like a drop of mercury, moving to her table on the other side of the room, her handsome escort in tow. "I wonder who she's with," Robbie mused. "Do you know the beard?"
"How do you know he's a beard?" Michael teased.
"Wishful thinking," Robbie said promptly. "Stop it, before people with cameras start staring at us and not in a good way," she added when her brother hooted with laughter.
"Alright. I'll behave." He said, looking suitably dignified as the cameras swept in his direction. "But don't expect me not to cheer when you win."
"IF I win."
Robbie tried to keep the butterflies at bay, and failed miserably. By the time her nomination was read her hands were clammy with sweat and she had to resist looking for some way of wiping them discreetly on the tablecloth. When the envelope was finally opened and the award went to Arthur Fremantle for his work on Murder One, Life In The Subway she didn't even blink, she was so numb with the combination of terror and disappointment.
Still in a daze when the evening was over, she didn't try to catch the eye of her favorite actress, although if she had she might have seen Jasper Villante yawning and peeling the arm of her escort off her torso on the way back to the limo. She also missed the look of sympathy combined with faint speculation that the actress cast in her direction.
Michael had insisted they go to at least three of the after-parties, so Robbie geared herself up, plastered a smile on her face, and tried to hold it in place with gin and tonic. By the time Michael poured her into bed in the smoggy dawn she could hardly remember her own name.
When she woke late that afternoon, it was to a dozen roses from Michael and a reminder that just being nominated made her hot property. She downed four aspirin and a large glass of water, and sat down at the computer. A flash of silver lame flickered across her memory, and still not properly awake, she began to type.
It was several months later when the call from Lyn Borysenko, summoning her to a meeting, came at last. Roberta had been kicking around a lot of different ideas for the actress' pilot, and finally submitted three of her best treatments. It was almost too freeing to be given such a wide-open assignment; usually she had to fit her story into a strict formula. But this time she actually had the ability to write her own bible, and for one of her most idolized performers, too. She was almost as nervous when she walked into the producer's office as she had been at the Emmys, if such a thing were possible. Michael had a last minute emergency, so he bailed on her. He had offered to reschedule, but she was eager to get to work, so she had decided to go by herself. She paused outside the door for a moment, gathering herself, while the young, exaggeratedly gay boy who managed Borysenko's office buzzed his boss.
From where she was standing she couldn't help but hear the raised voice on the other side of the door.
"What the FUCK is this fucking SHIT and who the HELL is the CUNT who wrote it?"
Robbie faltered a moment before the blast, but anger gave her the impetus to swing the door open with perhaps slightly more force than necessary. Her first impression was that there were far too many people in the room. Her second was that Jasper Villante was dressed to insult them. Her idol was sitting cross-legged in an office chair, knees poking through ripped jeans, her hair in a tangle, one arm pointing accusingly right at the open door and the writer standing in it.
She caught the actress in a full headlight glare, and moved to her seat with all the dignity she could muster.
Lyn Borysenko intervened, smooth as oil on hot pavement, making introductions as if no one had said a word, while Jasper's expression hardened into a scowl. Robbie decided her best strategy was to be sweet and pretend she hadn't thought the actress was talking about her.
It wasn't easy to do when the actress slammed her treatment down on the producer's desk with the comment, "I HATE this SHIT." But Robbie had been around Hollywood for a while and she had a sneaking suspicion the actress was testing her, or perhaps just playing with her to see how she would respond. Would she knuckle under at the first opposition? Could the woman make her cry? Would she back down or suck up? Neither was the right response.
She took her cue from Lyn's calm demeanor and kept her cool as she asked, "And which fresh cloaca has been flowing today?"
She could see that Jasper didn't want to smile; nonetheless a tiny smirk lurked in the corner of her mouth. The suits-with the exception of Jasper's agent, all network executives, she later realized-simply stared.
Despite its bad beginning, the meeting went on relatively normal lines after that. It turned out that what Jas hated was the idea of a medical drama. Robbie wondered why Lyn had invited her to submit a pilot script, in that case, since her Emmy nomination was for just that. When she explained that she was more interested in stories than gore Jasper seemed to relax, but Robbie wondered about Lyn's idea of what was 'suitable' material for her.
"Jasper is just like her name," Robbie complained afterwards when she recapped the meeting for Michael. "She's hard as a stone, nothing but common flint with cheap sparklies applied. The suits were bad enough, but Lyn Borysenko doesn't have a creative bone in her body, and neither does Edward Tamer."
"Well, that's your job, Snookums," Michael replied. "Agents aren't supposed to do that. We just get the best jobs and the most money for our clients. And producers just sell it."
"But you have to have some imagination or you won't be able to find what's right for your client."
"No, that's casting's job. You're the idea person. Don't sweat the other stuff. Do you want me to tell Lyn and Jasper to get lost? Shall I make the mean stupid actress go away?"
"No… No. The funny thing is that even though she was so rude, I… I kind of liked her."
"You have a crush on her, doll. That's different."
"No, she was totally different than what I'd imagined, not like 'Greta Gumshoe' at all. But there was something about her I liked. I really do want to write for her. Just… it will have to be something different-a challenge."
"I know how you just loooove those," Michael grinned. "You hated your sixth-grade social studies teacher so much that you wrote your term paper on the cultural implications of sewage treatment."
"I got an 'A', I'll have you know."
"I remember, kiddo. I'm sure you'll get one from Jasper and Lyn too, if that's what you want."
"And your job is to see they pay me well for it, Big Bro."
"Consider it done."
They had several more meetings, both with full representation, although fewer suits, at which Jasper was a different woman; she was well-dressed, charming, polite, attentive-And acting every second, Robbie was convinced. Now that she had more chance to observe the actress-turned-producer, she realized that Jasper did nothing by accident. She guessed the ripped jeans had been calculated to give the suits a bit of leg and make her seem more edgy. But it was hard for Robbie to tune into what would use the actress's talents best. Whoever the real Jasper Villante was, she'd been stuffed away. It made Robbie's teeth ache just to look at her, and her ideas refused to gel.
She finally had a tantrum of her own, and ended up sobbing in the ladies room. She was pouring cold water on her face when the actress came in.
"Are you alright?" Jasper asked. Her concern seemed genuine.
"Not really, no." Robbie answered. "I can't even begin to have an idea before Michael is doing percentages in his head, and then I can't finish my thought. It just makes me…"
"Frustrated. Yeah, me too. If Michael doesn't interrupt you, Lyn does. You know that line from Cat on Hot Tin Roof?"
Robbie laughed suddenly and her voice took on a deep bass southern drawl. "There's a powahful odah of mendahcity in this room," she quoted.
The accuracy of her delivery surprised a laugh out of Jasper. "That's the one." She took up the quote, and the accent. "And it stinks, Big Daddy. It stinks to Hah Heahv'n." She paused before resuming her normal voice. "Listen. I know you're a good writer. Despite what Lyn will tell you, the money isn't in place yet anyway." She scribbled something on a card, and handed it over. "Take my cell number, and give me a call if you want to just talk about some ideas. If not-no big deal. Okay?"
"Sure. Take mine, too." Robbie cast a speculative glance at the taller, younger woman, looking for some insincerity. She could find none.
It was only two days later that the actress took her up on the offer, and called, launching immediately into the conversation.
"So I was thinking, the lawyer bit has been done to death already. I'm sick of playing detective, it's mostly just trying to look scared to spooky music." Jasper held her cell phone in one hand while she doodled on a lined pad of yellow paper. She watched the hummingbirds squabble over their feeder. The last meeting had ended so inconclusively she'd felt compelled to have a recap with the writer. She could have had a meeting at Lyn's office, but it was much more pleasant to sit out by the pool.
"Yeah, I hear you. And aliens are out too, right?"
"Yeah, I know Mr. Ed would love to see me in 20 pounds of sponge latex every morning at 4 am, but please, no."
Robbie wondered at the reference, but passed it by as she had another idea. "Hey, remember that book that was such a big seller, about that female fishing boat captain?"
"One word: Wet. You want me to spend the rest of my working life as a prune?"
"Ha, ha. No, I'm sure there's plenty of things a boat captain has to do ashore-find the crew, break up bar fights, deliver the bad news to the widow, you know, things like that."
"Do I get to console the widows too?"
"Do you…What? Did you just ask what I think you just asked?"
"Hey, gay is in right now. Lesbians are hot. I wouldn't mind. I wouldn't mind at all."
"Well, wadda'yah know?'
"More than I'm telling, Miss Fishy. Put that on your rod and play it."
Robbie hadn't been able to stop laughing for the rest of the week.
Lyn and Michael were not amused. Both of them screamed "lawsuit" before the title was read. So it was back to the drawing board-or in Robbie's case, the hard drive.
Ring… Ring… Ring…
Click, crackle, "Yeah?"
"It's Robbie-Roberta Mackenzie."
"Robbie. What's on your mind?"
"I've been thinking. I… well, I got inspired. So I was wondering. Would you like to set up a meeting to read the result?"
"Sure. How about now? I'm not busy."
"Now? Is Lyn free?"
"I don't want Lyn looking over my shoulder. She makes me… she makes me itch. Why don't you come over here and we'll kick around some more ideas, just the two of us?"
"Ah, you don't want to be without your rep. I can understand that. Never mind, I'll see you Monday at the regular conference."
"It's not that. I… Are you sure?
"Am I sure of what?"
"That you want a face to face, I guess."
There was a long, static-y silence, followed by a sigh. "Yeah. I do. I like the way you bounce ideas on your feet. It's… it's more creative that way. Lyn's too controlling. I know she just want to protect the investment, but I have a hard time thinking that way."
"Good huh, or bad huh?"
"Good, I think. Okay. I'll meet you. Where?"
"Why don't you come over here?"
"Sorry. My home. I don't live far from you, actually."
Directions followed, and Robbie realized she knew the area very well. It was less than half an hour away.
"You want me to pick up anything for you?"
"Oh I don't know. Some corned beef from Jerry's Deli? Bagels?"
"Ha! Nah, I'm fine. Just park on the street at the side of the drive and I'll be there to open the gate for you."
When she found the number on the mailbox, Robbie was even more surprised. She'd stopped at Gelson's on the way, and bought flowers-'you may not get the food right, but you can't go wrong with flowers,' she thought-realizing very quickly that Jasper's home was only a few blocks from the store. But close as it was to the bustling intersection, the property was one that had always fascinated Robbie when she'd previously driven by it. The only one of its kind on a street of very nice homes, the place exuded mystery. Hidden behind high oleander hedges, she knew it must stretch back far from the street, and no houses overlooked it from the bluff above. On the street side, the sidewalk was cracked and the palms shaggy, giving the place an unkempt, abandoned look. She parked and got out, trying to catch a glimpse of anything beyond the heavy mesh screen of the privacy gate, and failing. But as soon as she rang the bell the gate slid open and she found herself in something like a Frances Hodgeson Burnett Secret Garden. Hidden behind the dusty unkempt vegetation was a magical world.
A short driveway led to a small and rather shabby garage, where she saw Jasper's Mercedes parked. Jasper herself appeared from the gatehouse on her left, and accepted the flowers with some surprise. As they walked back into the property, Robbie was enchanted by the rather wild, haphazard landscaping. It was as if everything had been crammed together in one lot and allowed to grow unchecked for a hundred years. There were huge agaves, a cedar walk, and enormous palm trees towering over all the other vegetation. Geraniums sprawled and a very old orchard gave off the scent of orange-blossom.
The house, when they reached it, was a simple stucco bungalow-style structure, rather small, with the ubiquitous red tile roof. But a large terrace was beside it, and a strange, black swimming pool, seemingly carved whole out of rock. Ancient live oaks bent over the house and terrace, and from the other side of the pool, spiky bird-of-paradise plants pointed their unlikely blooms back at them. Outlined in sun, a cat was peacefully lapping at the pool.
Catching Robbie's stare, Jasper explained, "No pool chemicals-it's some kind of enzyme. Don't ask me how it works, but if Ozma will drink out of it, I know the water must be fine."
"It's amazing. Did you put it in?"
"Yeah, my one big indulgence. But the animals love it."
"Do you have a lot of pets?"
"Three cats. I like their independence, the way they do what they please. And they keep each other entertained while I'm away at work." The actress sighed. "I had a dog once, but-" she grimaced and suddenly shifted back to being the perfect hostess. "Now. Can I get you something? You needn't drink the pool, I assure you." Jasper laid a soft hand on her arm and a shiver ran down Robbie's spine.
Robbie laughed and accepted a gin and tonic. She felt a sense of unreality drift over her, caused in part by the magical place and partly by the charming woman who seemed to have nothing better to do than to flatter and flirt with her. Jasper was wearing ragged jeans again today, cut-offs that showed her tanned legs to advantage, and a tank top that revealed tantalizing breasts. Robbie felt her libido shift into overdrive, and tried to reign herself in.
She brought up her idea-changing the ship to a girls' school.
Jasper immediately said, "Lucy Snowe."
"Wow. Not too many people read the Brontes in Hollywood." She grinned.
"Oh, I do. It's great when you're waiting around between takes. You know, I always wondered if Lucy Snowe and Madame Heger had something going on the side."
"You mean with each other?" Robbie wrapped her mind around the concept. "That would make for an interesting series. You could play it so many different ways."
"Exactly. And keeping it in the past allows for more-more suggestibility, don't you think?" Jasper's voice dropped. It astounded Robbie how she could infuse simple words with sensuality. Was she flirting?
"More erotically charged, you think? When attraction is suggested, more than graphically shown?" Robbie flirted back experimentally.
"Ye-esss." Jasper looked at her with what could only be described as a leer, and Robbie felt her body tighten under the taller woman's gaze, as if the glance alone brushed her nipples and caused her stomach to jump. Jasper looked away again, back at the pool, as if Robbie hadn't flushed in response. "Can I freshen your drink?" The actress murmured.
"Sure." Robbie's voice squeaked, her breath catching on the simple word. But Jasper had pulled back again. Perhaps she was just teasing. But her eyes were even more hypnotic in person than they were onscreen, and the crush Robbie had once felt for a character on her TV returned with redoubled intensity.
Robbie wasn't sure how the afternoon passed so quickly, what they actually talked about, or what was in her glass. She just kept drinking, laughing, and egging the tall actress on. Jasper was charming and acerbic by turns; Robbie never knew what would come out of her mouth. The conversation ranged far from the story meeting, going from philosophy to clothing and politics to gossip. Robbie couldn't believe that Jasper called her agent "Mr. Ed" but admitted that he did have a remarkably horse-like face, right down to the enormous false teeth and shaggy white-haired forelock.
To her somewhat foggy perception Jasper seemed to simply sip at the same endless glass of red wine, but Robbie was so entertained she had lost all sense of the passage of time, or how many drinks she'd had. She felt drunk from wit alone as they seemed to set fire to each other's imagination, out-doing each other's cleverness, turning phrases and sometimes sending up puns like showers of sparks on the Fourth of July. She was glued to her seat, intoxicated by sheer verbiage, until at last Jasper offered to show her the house.
It was small by contemporary standards, but comfortable, built in the 20's, Robbie hazarded a guess. It had been done over, but very tastefully, and retained many of its original features.
"That's right," Jasper confirmed, in response to the writer's question. "It was built by Emma Peplow."
"Emma Peplow? The silent film star?"
"Yep. I'm very impressed you've heard of her."
"Oh, I loved her movies. I mean, they were silly, really, but she had sex appeal to spare."
"She sure did," Jasper agreed. "This was her estate, actually."
"Wow. Emma Peplow. I can really imagine her here, though." Robbie took in the finely crafted woodwork, the etched glass and beveled mirrors.
"Oh yeah." And without a moment's hesitation the actress launched herself into a little dance routine in the foyer, the mirrors making her into a whole chorus line of Jaspers, her endless legs reflecting to infinity. All the writer could do was applaud, dazed beyond the point of speech. As they moved on she floated from room to room as if in a cloud, bemused by glamour past and present.
But Robbie had a moment of startling clarity when the house-tour paused in Jasper's bedroom, and their eyes met suddenly in the mirror, their images almost superimposed on each other. Every centimeter of Robbie's skin rose up; it was impossible to hide her response. The moment was electric, and suddenly she couldn't breathe, despite her gasping attempts to suck in enough oxygen for a small hospital. 'In one second she's going to kiss me' Robbie thought as the actress turned to meet her eyes directly. 'And it may never happen again, but I'm going to have the most memorable ride of my life.'
Her predictions proved accurate.
The kiss was immediate, possessive and hard, and Jasper was both rude and aggressive, but somehow Robbie found it all the more exciting. The way the actress leered at her and insisted on keeping her 'safe' when opening a box of latex gloves-the way she snapped them as she pulled them on, the way she muttered "Fuck you" when she tried to kiss her back-it was like walking into a room at the zoo, and suddenly finding herself sharing a cage with the panther. Hands moved her, pressed-pulled. She kept gasping for air.
Then her clothes were gone, she was lying down, and skin was rasping on skin, hands pushing, pulling…. The friction made her squirm harder, trying to get the hands to stop, just for a second, to linger-the mouth devouring, and when she least expected it, a little nip took her breath completely away. The hands grasped her buttocks, slid down her thighs, quick, insistent, rough. She pushed back, the impassioned wrestling only increasing her excitement. But when the taller woman's hand slid up the inside of her thigh, it slowed and the touch became strangely gentle. Robbie's soft and delicate tissues found it exactly right. 'I've never been a screamer' she thought, hearing a voice, loud, from a distance. But then thought ended, and she was carried off in a tide of pure sensation.
She was floating in a puddle of sweaty euphoria, completely unable to form a coherent thought, when suddenly it struck her-she was in bed with Jasper Villante, THE Jasper Villante. She looked over and met the blue eyes that were watching her warily. Whatever was in her own eyes, it must not have been good, because the actress gave a moody snort and jumped up from the bed, pulling on her robe and tying it viciously around her waist.
"All right. You got your trophy fuck. Now get out!" Jasper growled, scrubbing her hair back with her hands.
"My-What?" Robbie's stomach dropped.
"You got what you wanted, isn't that enough? Now can I have some peace?"
Robbie noticed that Jasper was shaking, a bitter expression twisting her turned-down lips, and there were tears starting to form in her eyes. She had a suspicion that for once the actress wasn't acting, and she couldn't bear to be turned into nothing more than a momentary impulse, or an embarrassed regret.
"Is that what you thought? That I'm here for the boasting rights? That I have some kind of…of…wall of celebrity fluids somewhere? That's not fair!" Robbie yelled. The actress had changed so suddenly and completely that Robbie felt like she was about to burst into tears, and for once she didn't care. She let loose the howls she suddenly realized she had wanted to indulge for a long, long time. Jasper seemed to be caught off guard; she pulled back and waited out the storm. When it subsided, she held out a large print handkerchief. Finally Robbie accepted it, blew her nose and said, "Well, I don't."
"Indulge in trophy fucks."
"Don't you?" Jasper scowled, twisting the tie of her robe as if contemplating using it to strangle someone.
"No." Robbie decided it was pointless trying to keep her dignity, between the tears and what they'd just done. She thought for a moment and opened up the memories she most wanted to put behind her. "Well… I made a big mistake once. Everyone's got to make at least one stupid gaffe when they get to LA. Mine was that I thought Bill Plankton really cared about me. Ha! Bill Plankton! You know?"
The actress snorted, even though she was still on edge. "I know." Plankton's appetite for young, eager interns was legendary, and his habit of turning them inside out for the amusement of the power elite was, in her estimation, truly cruel.
"Yeah, well, that's how naive I was when I moved out here," Robbie went on. "I do care about you, Jas. I didn't come over here for boasting rights."
"How can you care about me? You don't even know me. You fell in love with a stupid TV character like everyone else." Jasper stared sightlessly into her own bad memories.
"I did not!" Those piercing blue eyes swept her way, and Robbie met them and shrugged. "Okay, I had a crush on you when you were on High-Heeled Gumshoe. So did every lesbian in America. But this isn't like that, I'm not like that, and you aren't either."
"So what am I like?" Jasper challenged.
Robbie launched into one of her unplanned verbal tirades, having no idea, and very little control, over what went out of her mouth. "On the surface you are a spoiled bitch who has had too many of her tantrums indulged. Underneath that you are a bruised bisexual who's been taken advantage of by the best in the business. You have intimacy issues you couldn't fit in a fleet of Atlas vans, which is why you only really trust plants and maybe, just maybe, animals, but not, not, not people." She looked up and caught Jasper's stunned expression. She went on a bit more gently, "It doesn't take a lot to guess how you got here from there. I was one of Billy Plankton's office interns." She knew Jasper would know exactly what that meant. Plankton's abuse of women wanting a break in the business was one of the least hidden in-jokes in Hollywood. "I know exactly how the business works, now. I sure didn't back then." Robbie hadn't been wearing any clothes for more than an hour, but this was the first moment she actually felt naked. She shivered and pulled the sheet over her breasts.
There was silence while the actress absorbed the writer's remarks. She seemed to take them remarkably quietly, as if weighing them solely on their merits. Her tousled hair half-covered her face, and Robbie had to resist the urge to push it back tenderly over one perfect ear. When Jasper finally spoke, it was in a calm, thoughtful, conversational tone. "Emory Moffit sold my underwear on ebay. And nude pictures."
"My last agent before Mr. Ed. I slept with him too. As soon as the show was a hit he was making more dough off me on the Internet than in agents fees. And you want to know the really sick thing? If he'd gotten me the ad work for the underwear I would have let him."
"But he didn't."
"Do you trust Ed?"
"Not as far as you could throw him."
"That's not real far, hon." Robbie looked to see if Jasper would respond to the endearment. But the actress simply continued.
"Yeah, that's my point. Do you trust Michael?"
"Explicitly. That's the good part about having an agent who's family."
"Well, Ed's family too, not the same way; but I know what you mean. Don't take it personally. Lyn is my business partner and I don't trust her either," Jasper sighed, and there was a brief pause while they sat quietly together, but more comfortably this time.
"Listen, let's try this again." Robbie broke the silence.
"Let's pretend we didn't just have wild sex and go back to having a story meeting." Robbie said with a hint of irony.
"Now?" Jasper was so surprised she almost laughed at the absurdity of it. The small blond naked woman in her bed was totally serious and seriously adorable, with her skin still flushed and her hair spiked in every direction.
"Well, why not? Neither one of us is going to be able to sleep. We might as well get some work done." Robbie got up and started to look for her shirt.
Jasper gave a heavy sigh. "You're probably right." She retrieved the missing garment from the top of the wardrobe where Robbie had been unable to reach it and handed it over, before putting on a shirt herself. When they were dressed and seated in the kitchen with bowls of soup she took up the former discussion. "Okay, where were we? I want an action drama and you want to do a bisexual remake of Villette."
"That about sums it up. Although if I based it on you it would be more like Beastmaster meets Bringing Up Baby."
Jasper laughed, and began to relax, for the first time that evening. "No, it would be more like Cat-Mommie Dearest meets Liquid Sky, I'm afraid."
"Oh, god, you're a drug addict too?"
"Actually, no. But so many people are these days; I'm just going along with the program. It saves explanation when I just want to be alone. I pretend I'm in rehab. It's the only way to keep them off my cunt. So to speak."
They talked on through the night, sharing favorite lines from favorite movies, scenes by favorite writers. The sun found them again sitting on the deck by the pool, the actress in a quilted jacket, the writer wrapped in a large fleece blanket.
"I'll go make some coffee," Jas offered at last. "I guess those bagels you mentioned would come in handy about now, I'm sorry I nixed them. But I do have cereal, and if you want fruit, you can pick it yourself-as you can see I have grapefruit, tangerines, oranges, or if you are in a truly sour mood, some lemons over there." She indicated the orchard.
"Actually I can't drink coffee any more. If you have any tea-"
"Indian or China?"
"China, please. Not too strong."
"Just black-I mean green-please."
"Coming right up. Oatmeal?"
The sun strengthened, and as light and warmth crept over her, Robbie fell asleep in her chair. She was vaguely aware of a large tortoiseshell cat settling in her lap and purring contentedly, and she reached out to stroke her, but fell asleep in the process. By the light it was some time later when Jasper's voice woke her out of a very pleasant dream.
"Ozma doesn't give her paw of approval to just anyone, Robbie. You must be a special human, if you get lappage from her."
"Huh?" Robbie came fully awake, and for the first time in several hours repossessed her wits in complete sobriety. "Did I just have one hell of a dream? Or did last night actually happen?"
"To the best of my recollection, it happened. The marks on your neck appear to provide corroborating evidence."
"I hope you won't be offended if I say I don't usually do things like that." Robbie met the actress eyes hesitantly.
"No. I don't either," the actress agreed. 'Particularly not in my own home.' "How do you feel?" She asked aloud.
Robbie considered lying and discarded the idea. "Exhausted. How do you feel?"
"Same." Jasper blushed faintly.
"I'm also very embarrassed. I never intended…"
"Let's just skip over this part," Jasper interrupted. "Can we? It happened. Neither of us makes a habit of it, it was just one of those things. We got it out of our systems, now we can get on with work without it interfering. Okay?"
Robbie looked up at the actress's brisk summation. She wasn't sure what she wanted, but it seemed best to agree for the moment, so she did. There was a very nicely arranged tray of breakfast on the table next to her, and she helped herself to some melon and cereal.
They ate slowly and in silence, watching the hummingbirds go from flower to flower on the orange trees, the dry scents of cedar and eucalyptus drifting down to them from the hillside. The drone of distant helicopters seemed far away, the traffic and bustle of the busy streets lost somewhere beyond the oleanders. Stirred by a light breeze, the bougainvillea nodded overhead. The peace of the place was beginning to sink into Robbie's bones, and she could understand why the actress had fallen in love with this particular spot; she had enough acreage to make it seem almost like unspoiled country.
The dream almost took hold again, but she resisted the spell. She knew she must get home in the brief lull before the afternoon rush hour. She got up, kissed Jas on the cheek, collected her purse and began walking back toward the street. Jasper got up and walked with her, linking their arms. They strolled down to the gate and Jas opened it. She turned to Robbie and gave her a solid lingering kiss on the mouth, taking her time but not insisting. It was passionate, yet friendly, a kiss between two people who know each other well, and Robbie sensed she'd arrived in some way.
"You did WHAT?" Michael screamed at his sister, when he heard her answer to his mock serious 'where the hell were you' speech. She'd come home to several increasingly frantic messages on her voicemail, dumped her dying cell onto the charger, and called back on a landline.
"I spent the night at Jasper Villante's," Robbie patiently repeated. "Having a story conference," she added, crossing her fingers hopefully.
"Humph." Michael snorted. "Well, as long as you don't get involved with her. All you have to do is glance at the tabs to know she's trouble. Did you make any progress with the pilot?"
"I think so." Robbie took the subject change with some relief. "I have a whole new idea." Her brother groaned, and after a few more repetitions of the same information, they hung up.
She crawled into bed and slept like the dead until some time in the middle of the night, when an unsettling dream sent her bolting for consciousness. She got up and began to type.
It was only three days later, when an exhausted Robbie typed "The End" on a full two-hour pilot. Somehow she had bypassed the treatment phase entirely, and written a whole screenplay. It was nothing at all like what they had talked about, but inspiration had struck and she just went with it, typing as fast as she could. She printed out a copy, called the messenger service, and sent the script on its way to the prickly actress before collapsing into bed.
"WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?" Jasper's voice screaming in her answering machine drew Robbie out of sound slumber. She stumbled into her living room/ office in the dark and picked up the phone.
"I said, who the HELL are you? How did you get this? Who sent it to you?"
"What?" Robbie could tell that Jasper was completely frantic, but she was still disoriented; she had no idea what time it was, or how long she had been asleep.
"This damn SCRIPT! Where did you get it?"
"Jasper, I WROTE it. If you don't like it-"
"You COULDN'T have written it. I just want to know where it came from, that's all."
"Can I take it that you hate this one too?"
"NO! YES! That's not the point."
The actress was hysterical, but Robbie couldn't understand why. She was still half asleep and the woman on the other end of the line was screaming at her incoherently. When she heard the word "lawyer" followed quickly by "restraining order" she hung up.
She sighed. Silently debating whether or not to just get up she roamed into her tiny kitchen and began to make a cup of tea. Rather than soothing her, though, her stomach just rebelled at the idea. She dumped it in the sink and went back to bed, convinced she would never get back to sleep.
Pounding on her door woke her. Disoriented, she fought the blanket and pillow and tried to see the clock. She knocked it to the floor, fumbling in the dark. She slumped back, trying to ignore the noise, hoping it would stop, but it persisted. Finally she got mad enough to get out of bed and into a robe. She stumbled to the security peephole. Unable to believe her eyes, she turned on the porch light. It did not improve the sight of Jasper Villante, wild-eyed and unkempt, desperate, alternately leaning on the bell and pounding on the door.
"Am I hallucinating?" Robbie asked herself. Aloud she yelled, "It's no good pushing the bell. It's broken."
"Please. Let me in." Jasper seemed slightly calmer when answered by a real person.
"Jasper. It's the middle of the frickin' night. You're out of control. I'm asleep. What can you possibly have to say that can't wait for morning?"
"Look, I know, I know. It's late. But can't we just settle this? I'll write you a check, I'll do whatever you want."
"I brought bagels."
'This gets more surreal every minute' Robbie thought. "I don't want bagels, I want to go back to sleep." She called.
"You are keeping me and I suspect half the neighborhood up past our bedtimes. Now will you just go home or do I have to call the cops and have you removed?"
"Please. If we can just-I just want to talk. I won't take long, I promise.'
'I am a first class idiot,' Robbie thought as she began undoing locks. 'It's a sign of impaired judgment that I'm even considering this.' She got the door open, and stood aside to let the actress in.
Jasper was looking more of a wreck than usual; her face was dead white, and there were dark circles under her eyes. Her hair was a tangled mess. But she was clearly making an effort to control herself. She came in and took a seat at the one table that served as Robbie's combined desk, counter, and dining table. She dropped a bag on the table and pulled out her checkbook.
"Look." Jasper's tone was businesslike. "I don't know how you know Sandy, or how you figured out who I was. I don't want to make an issue out of it. I just want to make it all go away. How much is that going to take?"
"I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about." Robbie yawned. "My god, you really did bring bagels."
"You know Jerry's. Always open." There was a pause. "I'm serious."
"I'm confused. It's the middle of the night; I've been up for two days-more like three days-writing. I have to sleep or I will become psychotic. You, it appears, are already there. Can't you just take your meds like a good girl and let the office fix it in the morning?"
"NO!" Jasper seemed frightened as much as angry. "No. Please, keep Lyn out of it. Let's just settle. Look, even if the pilot were picked up you wouldn't get more than 40 grand probably, less Union fees and Michael's commission. I'll give you fifty clear, we say goodbye, you give Sandy her cut and we never have to speak again. Okay?"
"I don't-who the hell is Sandy?" Robbie rubbed her eyes.
"Don't be cute. I don't know how you found her, but that material had to come from somewhere."
"That material, as you call it, came out of my admittedly demented brain and nowhere else." Robbie had a moment of feeling slightly more alert, and fixed the actress with a look. "Have you been drinking?"
"No. No, why?" Jasper seemed surprised.
Robbie leaned over to smell her breath. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. No. I haven't been drinking."
"Good. Wait right there." As Jasper stared at her in bewilderment, Robbie vanished into the bathroom and reappeared a moment later with a glass and a small blue pill. "Now, take this."
"What is it?"
"It's my emergency dental Valium. We cancelled the last cleaning, so I still have it. I think you need it much more than I do."
"You have to take Valium to get your teeth cleaned?" The actress accepted the glass.
"Braces, wisdom teeth, long story. The last time I bit him my dentist changed his mind and agreed that giving me something to relax was a good idea."
"Okay." Jasper swallowed the pill.
They sat in silence. Jasper looked around her, taking in Robbie's room for the first time. Where there weren't crammed bookshelves, there were piles of books, and where those left off, magazines and clippings took over. There was a fully covered desk on one wall, it's top overflowing with things that were obviously manuscripts, while on what appeared to have once been a dining room table the sprawl of computer equipment rested. Leaning over it all, almost threatening to fall on them, was an enormous hunk of fiberboard, covered several layers deep in notes, clippings, postcards, and similar junk. Her eye fell on a piece of paper cut from a magazine, and she read the quote: " 'I felt like I was working for the pods.' Don Segal" 'Boy, he got that one right.' Jasper smirked and looked up at her unwilling hostess. Robbie's expression warned her not to comment, but on the whole she liked the air of studious industry. It wasn't a place she could imagine living in, but it was full of interesting details, like the writer herself. "Oh, Shit," Jasper thought to herself. "What the hell have I done now?"
"Any minute now I'll be feeling much better," she murmured, trying to cover her embarrassment. "I hate that waiting period, when you know it's going to kick in, but hasn't yet."
"Yeah. I think of it as waiting for the chemical police to show up."
Jasper laughed in spite of herself. "The chemical police?"
Robbie smiled. "Yup. The mood cops. The guys in little blue suits who come get your anxieties and haul them off to jail."
"You know, I think there's a skit in that."
"Maybe there is." Robbie paused while they looked at each other, still tense. She desperately wanted to end the moment, and yet she wanted to draw it out at the same time. Finally she spoke again. "More water? I hate that dry mouth feeling"
Jasper shrugged. "Sure." She sat for a moment, still vibrating, when a thought occurred to her. "You bit your dentist? Did you break the skin?"
"Three stitches. And a tetanus shot." Robbie said grimly.
"Oh, god, no wonder you managed to get the info out of Sandy."
"Not for the first time, Jasper, WHO THE HELL is Sandy?" Robbie slapped her hand on the table in exasperation.
"The one you called Blanche in your screenplay. Has she changed her name, or what?"
"Jasper. Listen to me very carefully. I wrote a screenplay from my im-ag-in-a-tion. That thing I sent over to you this afternoon? I made it up, every word."
"You made it up? You made it UP? But you couldn't have. That dialogue, nobody else was in the room except Sandy and me, and the damn dead dog. How did you know what we said? And how did you get my name, anyway? Nobody knows that, not Ed, not Emory, not Lyn-no one."
"Did you sleep with Lyn too?" Robbie had absolutely no intention of asking, but the question popped out of her mouth before she knew she was going to ask it.
"Where the hell did that come from?" Jasper had clearly not been expecting that particular question
"Never mind." Robbie said bitterly, thinking that the answer must undoubtedly be 'yes' if Jasper didn't immediately give the negative. Turning back to what Jasper had just said she was puzzled. "What name?"
"Aw, come-" The actress had to stop to yawn, suddenly, "…on." It seemed that the Valium had kicked in at last. Jasper languidly riffled through the pages of the screenplay she was still carrying. "The vet, name of Florence. That was how I was sh-sure you were blackmailing me."
"WHAT? Jasper, I'm not blackmailing you. You want the script to go away, fine. Hit delete, shred your copy, it's gone forever." Robbie motioned to the computer that occupied half the table.
"You're kidding. Why would you do that? I'm offering money, here." Jasper said sarcastically.
"Jasper, contrary to local belief, NOT everything is about money. I know you may have a hard time accepting this, but god help me I really wanted to work with you. If that means tossing three days work, so be it. I want to find something YOU want to do. I idolized your TV show, I had a major crush on you, part of me still can't believe I get to work with you, let alone that we had sex. Even if we never do again, I still want to work with you. Why is that so hard to understand?"
The actress slumped in her chair, eyes beginning to glaze, and for a moment Robbie thought she might just fall asleep there.
But Jasper cleared her throat, took a sip of water and began to speak.
"I was 16 when I ran away to New York. I was determined to get into Show Business and become famous. I used up the last of my babysitting money on a fake ID. I bummed around the streets on the Lower East Side and hung around the clubs, just sleeping with different guys to have places to stay. Eventually I landed a part in a really dreadful play about war refugees in the Amazon jungle. Ironically enough, I was playing the part of the girl who gets sacrificed and eaten-"
Although she didn't want to interrupt, Robbie couldn't help laughing. "Oh, God. I know JUST the Off-Off-Broadway scene you were in. Was nudity involved?"
"Full frontal. And throwing food."
"Yup. You got it. And potatoes. Or turnips, I forget which. And the set was mostly black garbage bags, representing environmental devastation, or something."
"Or no budget," Robbie agreed. "Yeah, go on."
"Anyway, I was getting smeared with lime Jell-O and baring my avant-garde bush five late nights a week when I met Sandy. She was nine years older than I was, and claimed to be working for an agent. We ended up having an affair, and I moved into her apartment. It was great for about, oh, six weeks or so, and then we started to fight about all kinds of things-household stuff, auditions, sex, everything. She used to bring guys over to watch me 'audition'-" Jasper choked, looking down and picking imaginary crumbs off the table with her fingers.
"Let me guess. Nudity was involved." Robbie's voice hardened.
Jasper nodded and hung her head.
"And sex," Robbie hazarded. "Oh, Jasper-"
Jasper nodded again, and a few tears flowed into her eyes, but did not fall.
"And you thought it was all part of the business."
"I was seventeen pretending to be 21, what the hell did I know?" she turned away savagely and pounded her fist on the table.
"Jasper, I'm so sorry." Robbie looked at her guest with genuine compassion.
"Ahhh, well." Jasper sighed and met Robbie's eyes, finally. "In a way, it was good prep for LA." She resumed her stare into the distance. "But anyway, I had this dog, a really sweet mutt I'd picked up in the park. Named her Sophie. Sandy hated her at first, but then she wanted to use her in one of our 'scenes'. I just thought that was sick, and refused. It was the first time her control over me had really slipped, and she lost it. She threatened me with a knife, and when I still wouldn't do what she wanted she stabbed the dog-slit her throat, actually." Robbie gasped, but didn't interrupt. "We fought and I got cut. Later I realized that the dog bled to death. By then it was about three o'clock in the morning, and I tried to get out, but she got between me and the door, got me by the hair, and pounded my face into the floor. At last I pretended to give in, but she wouldn't let me up. We sat there all night, her holding me hostage next to the dog's body-"
"Oh, Jasper. Oh, My God. What-How-Did you get away?"
"Well, eventually it got to be morning. I just pretended everything was normal, and offered to go up to the Vesalka and get us some breakfast take-out. She told me to wash my face and change, so I did. I walked out with eight dollars and the clothes on my back and never returned."
"God, what did you do?"
"On the street I ran into the woman who owned the theatre-she was a really great woman, despite her taste in plays-and she iced my face, taped up the cuts, and loaned me the money for a bus ticket to LA. I dyed my hair, changed my name from Florence Bell to Jasper Villante, slept with a real agent, and got some work. But as you see-"
"Oh, god, I gave you a script about a vet who has to patch up an abused dog-I called my characters Blanche Sands and Florence Graham-"
"Yeah. And you got Sandy's exact words. 'The dog is wise enough to know what's good for it'. I still don't know what your connection to Sandy is, but I promise you she's more trouble than she's worth. Just let me pay you whatever you want and call it quits. Okay?"
"Jasper, you have to believe I didn't know any of this, not with my conscious mind. I had a dream about a serial killer and a dog, blood on an oak parquet floor-" Robbie paused as Jasper gasped. "I didn't put that in the script, but I got that one right too, didn't I?"
Jasper nodded, hand over her mouth.
Robbie knew that the only reason the actress wasn't sobbing or screaming was that the chemical police had removed quite a lot of her ability to feel anything at all. She pondered how to handle the situation. Slowly she got up, and took the now-damp script out of the actress's cold, shaking hands. She took off the clips and fed it, clump by clump, into her shredder. Then she went over to her computer and slowly disconnected it, wire by wire. She picked up the computer, carried it out to the sidewalk, and placed it on its side.
Jasper watched her with bemused fascination. When Robbie came back in and began rummaging about under the sink she finally asked, "What are you doing?"
"Some things just shouldn't be allowed to happen, " Robbie said, her voice quavering as she picked up the hammer. "I'm sorry that happened to you. I'm sorry I brought up bad memories. I know I can't make yours go away, but I can keep you from having to re-live them." With that she went out and proceeded to beat her computer to death, while the actress watched in shock.
As pieces of the case flew in every direction and tears flowed down the writer's cheeks, Jasper's drug-muted fear evaporated. After a few minutes, she went out and watched as the writer smashed the lord only knew how many files, how many hopes and dreams, how much potential income-"Wait," She called, too late to stop the damage.
Robbie didn't answer. She just continued sobbing and smashing the defenseless machine.
She was too involved in her own emotions to notice the patrol car until she heard Jasper say, "Uh-oh. Here comes trouble."
"Ladies? Is there a problem?" The officer leaned out of his window while his partner sat at the wheel.
Jasper strolled over to the car, dripping sensuality, a sly smile on her face. "I'm Jasper Villante, officer," she began unnecessarily. "My colleague is a writer from Mercy Hospital, who is developing a new project for me. We were having a difficult script conference, and finally decided to just take the mature approach and blame it all on the computer."
"Is that true, Miss?"
"Yes, officer," Robbie said; now thoroughly embarrassed.
A few minutes later, after cautioning them about leaving the sharp bits of litter on the sidewalk, the officers left, still laughing, with autographs from both women.
Robbie turned to Jasper, and watched as the murky sun began to penetrate the haze, outlining the actress in light.
"We have had a night, haven't we?" Jasper observed.
Robbie nodded silently, wiping the tears away as she stood by the pile of debris.
Jasper looked at her. "You really didn't have to do that. I'm sorry I got so wigged. I know it won't make up for everything you lost, but I'll buy you a new computer. About the dream-I believe you. I just-" Jasper struggled to find words.
"No, don't. I'm sorry too. I've never had anything like that happen before. Honest."
"I believe you." There was another pause. "It felt really good to let that out, actually," the actress sighed. "I guess I never realized how much hold on me my past really had. How heavy the secret was. I feel a lot lighter."
"I promise, I won't tell anyone."
Jasper looked closely at her. "I know you won't."
Robbie got the broom and Jasper began to help her clean up the mess.
"What ever happened to Sandy?" Robbie asked curiously.
"I don't know. As I got more famous I kept being afraid she'd recognize me and show up demanding money, but it never happened. Maybe Gumshoe was never big in the East Village"
"In my dream," Robbie said slowly, "The whole thing took place in Florida."
"You know, Florida executed a female serial killer not long ago, as a matter of fact. She was caught after trying to kill an undercover vice cop. I remember reading about it in the paper…that's partly what gave me the idea, I guess. Do you suppose it could have been-?"
"I don't know, but we can find out. I'd still recognize her picture. If it was really her-If I'm finally free- What's wrong?" Jasper asked, suddenly noticing Robbie's expression.
"Overtired," Robbie sobbed. Jasper opened her arms and Robbie settled into them, relaxing as the actress stroked her back. "Maybe hungry, too. I forget to eat when I'm writing." Robbie mumbled into a warm shoulder. The woman holding her confused the hell out of her, but despite the strangeness, she'd never felt so perfectly comforted as she did right then.
"How about we go get some food, then? I'll buy, it's the very least I can do, after keeping you up all night doing therapy for me."
After breakfast they parted and Robbie was at last able to collapse. She slept for twenty-six hours, and was just struggling towards her first cup of tea, when someone knocked on her front door. "Oh, no, not again," she sighed. But it was just a delivery person. She let the woman in, only to be completely bewildered by the boxes that spilled over her table and onto the floor. Once opened, she found she had a complete new computer system, including a flat-screen monitor, a DVD player, exceptional speakers, a laptop, and a handheld.
She was still putting it together when another delivery arrived, a dozen roses with a card made of hand-made paper. 'Every time we have a story meeting,' the card said, 'something disastrous happens. So how about coming over here for dinner and a night of wild sex? That way we might actually get some work done. With all my love and apologies, Jasper.' "Jasper!" Robbie muttered. "The woman never does anything half-way, does she?"
She dressed carefully for the dinner, and drove slowly through the back streets to Jasper's home, avoiding the freeway. Dusk was falling; Jasper greeted her warmly and steered her to a beautifully laid table on the terrace. Delicious food released appetizing smells, and chilled wine sat on the bar. They fed each other morsels, and drank very moderately, being more interested in drinking in each other than dulling their senses. Shortly after the chocolate course they retired to Jasper's bedroom, but once there they took their time. Somehow, without a word spoken, they both knew that this was going to be more than a casual affair.
The next morning, after they had been swimming and were lying naked at the poolside, sunning their bodies dry, Robbie said suddenly, "That's IT!"
"The solution for the pilot. It's not a girl's school; it's a mental hospital. You'll be the doctor in charge. You'll use conventional medicine-on the surface-But you'll heal the characters by going into their dream realities. I'll get to use my psych background. You'll get to show a lot of range. We can change guest stars at any time, we can do issues, we can do science fiction, we can do family drama-we can do anything we want.
Jasper gave the idea careful thought. "I like it. I want it. I want you to write it. I want… you."
Jasper leaned over and kissed her, and Robbie suddenly knew that they had already moved far beyond what was covered in the standard contract negotiation.
"Done." She said. 'Robbie, what have you gotten yourself into now?' She thought.
The Best Laid Plans
"What do you think?" Jasper unfolded a big sheet of blueprint and spread it out on the table gracing the terrace.
"About what?" The small blond writer asked, her mind clearly elsewhere.
"About this, uh, new thing I'm thinking about building," Jasper said, her voice trailing off as she noted her lover's preoccupation.
The writer came back to the present, and scrutinized the plans. "Honey! You can't want to get rid of that big old cedar tree!"
"The landscaper tells me it's mostly dead. It'll have to go one way or the other. So why not get some use out of the space instead of just having a big hole there?" Jasper flipped a page and revealed the plans for a small neat cottage on the opposite side of her property.
"Well, it's about time you lived up to your fame, Jasper. Emma Peplow notwithstanding, this little bungalow you've been shacking up in is hardly a movie-star mansion. What are you going to put in? A gym? Entertainment center? A new master bedroom? Mind you, I have very fond thoughts about your old bedroom, but I'll understand if you want more space."
"Yeah, me too. I actually, uh… "
The writer stared at the actress. It wasn't like her to be inarticulate.
"I was thinking it would be more of, uh, a studio. For you." The actress looked closely at her lover to catch her response.
"For me? But I have a-oh." Robbie tried to take in what was being proposed. "You mean, I, uh, you want me to give up my old house?"
"No, honey," Jasper said carefully. "I just thought you might like to have a bit more space here."
Robbie looked more closely at the plans, riffling past the footprint to the architecturals. Her lover was proposing to build her what was basically a single large room, with a loft and bath at one end. It would be in the most secluded part of the property, with a view of liveoaks and the pool, but screened from the house. It was everything she could ever have dreamed of in a place to work, and she wondered why she hesitated. "It's beautiful," she said.
"But? Come on, spill it, I can see 'but' in your eyes," Jasper teased. "What should I add to these plans to make it your dream space?"
"I…." Robbie didn't voice her thought, 'but what if we break up?' echoed in her head. At the end of the first week of their involvement Jasper had given her the codes for the gate and a key to the house. A few weeks later she had moved into Jasper's bedroom, as she had been sleeping over every night anyway. But she retained the lease of her own small house, which she still used as an office. It had been a boon considering the work she was putting in on the new series she had been writing for the actress. She liked to pin up ideas and images and inspirations on a big wall, and in some untidy alchemy, cooked all those miscellaneous bits of paper into a series of tightly interlocking plot points. She didn't know if Jasper could handle that kind of mess in her life, now or ever. They had been together now for just under a year, and pre-production on the pilot was about to start.
She was dreading the hours her lover would soon be keeping: the long workdays, the travel; the inevitable estrangement; the moment Jasper would say, 'I'm sorry. I've met someone else, and I know we aren't happy. We're never together any more and…' The dialogue would go something like that, and what if she had gotten comfortable in this beautiful place? She wouldn't just have a broken heart; her work life would come apart as well. She was pretty sure she might survive one or the other, but not both. "I'm sorry, what did you say?" She asked when she realized she'd drifted off again.
"Nothing," Jasper said. But her hands were shaking and she had a closed, tense look in her eye.
"Oh, Jasper. I'm sorry, I was going over some dialogue in my head." Robbie turned and put her hands on Jasper's hips. "Don't be offended. Please. This is so beautiful. I'd love to accept it. But isn't it too much? We don't even know if the pilot will get picked up yet."
"I just want to make you comfortable here, and I have plenty of-of scratch," Jasper said. "If you feel more comfortable going back to your place every day to work, that's fine. But I thought-you get so involved when you're working-your hours-I just thought if you didn't have to drive half an hour to come to bed after you've been working half the night I might see more of you. It's pure selfishness, wanting you nearby. That's all."
Robbie realized that she did spend a lot of hours away from Jasper, but writing was basically a solitary profession and she was used to it. Even if they didn't break up, would she be able to think and dream up plots with Jasper, beautiful and so very distracting, right nearby? But she understood the lure being dangled for her: it would be secluded; it would be private; it really was everything she wanted in a workspace. But with one hitch: it wouldn't be hers, really. Or would it? She looked deeply at her lover, and wondered if this was some new kind of test.
Jasper had flung all sorts of difficult obstacles at her in the first few months they had been together. The actress was foul-mouthed and temperamental. She tested Robbie's limits constantly; egging her on, daring her to say things to Lyn, even to the network reps themselves, that the studio yes-men wouldn't dream of thinking, let alone saying. And she was almost as harsh a critic of Robbie's work as the writer herself was. But for all that she'd never been mean or truly hurtful. Challenging, yes; abusive, no. And, even more telling, she'd supported the writer against Lyn in several key meetings. She wouldn't start building a studio with the intent of yanking it away at the last minute. But what about the unforeseen? Wasn't there always some lurking menace, ready to destroy any little crumb of happiness she might be feeling? It had been hard enough for them to get together in the first place.
Then there had been Robbie's brother Michael's reaction. "Don't get involved with her," he'd said. And when she'd finally admitted it was too late for that, "I absolutely FORBID it!" They had had a major fight, almost costing her professional relationship with her brother, who was also her agent. If the pilot project hadn't taken off and pushed them back together from necessity, what would have happened? Michael still didn't trust Jasper. That was the key to this issue too. Did she trust Jasper? They had become friends as well as lovers, Robbie was sure. No one else could make her laugh in quite the same way; no one else made her heart beat faster, or took her breath away, or felt as comfortable to just hang out with and do nothing. She felt as if she belonged with the tall actress in ways she never had before.
So… what if the reverse was also true? She thought about the nights she had worked late, driving back to Jasper's compound in the middle of the night or later, to find the actress still up, sitting by the pool watching the few dim stars that shone through the smog. Was she just waiting up for Robbie? She never said so, and passed it off with a joke. But suppose Jasper needed her, wanted her there, what then? Robbie had never needed anyone; or at least never in that way. She had her brother's support; that had always been enough. Until now. If he had made her choose, she didn't know what might have happened, but she had a suspicion that Jasper might have won; and over her own family, too. The least she could do was accept that she was being offered a huge gift, no matter what it meant.
"You are serious," she said, looking into Jasper's eyes.
"Completely," Jasper assured her." You have a special place in my heart, in my life. I really want you to move in with me, Robbie. Work and all. I know you need special conditions to do that. I thought, well, it would be quieter here-except for the birds in the morning sometimes-but you said you were getting used to them, and-"
"Shhh." Robbie kissed her lover, taking her time, and fending off the questions they both still had with familiar passion.
Nothing more was said about the studio at that point, although in the weeks that followed, Robbie was aware that there were occasional calls and visits from contractors. But she was busy fine-tuning the bible of the show, in hopes the pilot would be picked up, and paid little attention.
For their anniversary Jasper and Robbie went to Mexico, spending their days on the beach and their nights in a rustic but comfortable house that belonged to some friend of Lyn's. Robbie left even her laptop at home, and although she missed the daily exercise of writing, she had to admit she was relaxed. Jasper did spend some time walking up and down the beach talking animatedly on her cell, but her attention didn't seem to waver from Robbie for long, so she simply wrote it off as work-related. There was still a lot to do on the pilot and the actress was very involved in the planning. Robbie had jokingly asked if there was another woman, and Jasper had gotten a wicked gleam in her eye, and said she was talking to a man, just daring Robbie to display a moment of jealous pique.
Their first real fight had been over Robbie's jealousy of Lyn Borysenko; Jasper had finally thrown up her hands and yelled, "So what if I had fucked her? I could have fucked her backwards on her own desk with a paperweight and twice on Sunday! As it happens I did NOT. But so fucking what? Is she in this room now? Am I fucking any other fucking fucker NOW? NO! NO! So what the fuck are you fucking worried about? I don't keep throwing Bill fucking Plankton in your face, do I?" Robbie had been forced to admit that she had a past as well, and the make-up sex more than made up for the argument.
Now Jasper was, as far as she knew, unrelentingly faithful, but never missed an opportunity to razz her. Robbie fumed silently, knowing she was being teased, and still unsure if there was any grain of truth in it.
But on the whole they were having an unusually idyllic time, not fighting at all.
On the morning of the one-year anniversary of the day they met in Lyn Borysenko's office, Robbie woke to a gentle tickling from her lover. She tried to get back to sleep, but Jasper was too ardent, too insistent, and kept making her laugh, until finally she was both fully awake and aroused. They made love, ate breakfast, made love some more and took a long nap wound together in sweaty bliss. When they woke they lay in the bed, watching the sun slowly set over the pacific.
"Sweetheart?" Robbie asked.
"Why is this our anniversary? More than the night we ended up in bed, I mean?" She resumed playing with Jasper's breast.
"Would you believe I feel in love with you at first sight?" The actress smirked.
"No. And it wasn't." Robbie corrected her.
"The Emmys don't count."
"Yes they do."
"No," Jasper insisted. "I wasn't capable of paying proper attention to you then."
"Riiight. You were toting around what's his name-"
"Brian. My bodyguard, incidentally."
"So why did he stop guarding your body?"
"Caught him lifting pictures from the den."
"Ugh. But answer my question."
"But don't get me off track." Jasper smiled. "This is our anniversary because I fell in love with you that day in Lyn's office."
"As I remember it, you called me a cunt and told me my screenplay was crap."
"It was. And you told me, in the biggest words possible, so an ignorant vid-whore like me wouldn't know what you were saying, that I was full of shit."
"But I didn't-"
"Yes, you did. You said, 'what fresh cloaca is flowing today?' The suits never blinked, it was totally over their heads. Even Lyn didn't get it."
"Oh, yeah, I guess I did." Robbie grinned. "And that was it? That was the moment?"
"You are one sick puppy."
"Your puppy." The actress put a completely goofy look on her face.
"So now you want treats?"
Jasper laughed. "You aren't complaining that I called you a cunt?"
"My cunt really likes you. So, no."
The conversation had gotten simply silly from there, but eventually they got up long enough to shower and eat.
When dinner was over and the wine was dwindling in the bottle, Jasper, who had been unusually silent during the meal, got up and stood over by the window. She seemed to be fumbling with something, and when she turned, she had a small box in her hand. Robbie had just time to wonder before she was presented with a beautiful emerald and diamond ring.
"Will you wear this for me?" Jasper asked, dropping to one knee. She had never looked more radiant, and at the same time, Robbie could see that her lover was terrified. It was huge risk, Robbie conceded; she'd never let Jasper talk about a commitment, and always kept part of herself back when Jasper talked about the future, their future. But damn the woman, she was forcing Robbie to choose. If she refused, the affair would be over, and this vacation would be a bittersweet goodbye, a moment of closure on what would become a purely professional relationship. If she accepted… she was agreeing to… to what? She looked at Jasper, trembling and sweating at her feet, and reached out for the hands holding the jewelry. She wasn't ready to say yes; but she couldn't bear to say no, to say goodbye. She would just have to put her fears on hold.
"I-I-yes, Jasper." She was overwhelmed as her lover surged up from the floor and wrapped arms around her. They kissed deeply, and Robbie could hear the jewelry box fall to the floor. Robbie gasped but Jasper kept going. They soon went back to bed, and by then Robbie was too involved to think about anything but Jasper.
When she woke up the next morning, Jasper was nowhere to be seen, so she stumbled into the shower and put on water for tea. While she waited for water to boil, she realized she wasn't wearing the ring in question and went looking for it. She was sure she'd accepted it the night before, that she hadn't dreamed it. She had been sitting on the couch, a wicker and cushioned affair that had gotten pushed away from it's original spot in the room by their activities. She pushed it back and began rooting around the rucked-up matting looking for the ring. Eventually she found the box, which had somehow gotten kicked under an armchair on the other side of the room, but it was empty. The ring was nowhere to be seen.
"Fuck!" Robbie cursed. "She'll never forgive me if I lose the damn thing before I even put it on!" she scurried around looking in and under the furniture. In the midst of that she made tea and drank it, feeling her wits begin to return. "Okay, girl, think," she admonished herself. "Where the hell is it? You were sitting here… Jasper was here… you let go... and she…" Robbie made a thorough examination of the cushions, taking them all off the sofa. She was rewarded with a muffled "clunk" as she moved one and something fell down behind the couch. She pulled it back, and eventually found a pair of sewing scissors, but no ring.
Increasingly concerned that her lover would return at any moment, she stacked the cushions, pulled back all the furniture, and scrabbled around trying to move the loose matting that covered the floor. What she got for her efforts was a huge cloud of dust and the realization that the board floor below the matting contained at least three different knotholes leading to darkness below. "Damnit to Hell. If that thing fell under the house…" There was no place else to look, however, and frustration was only adding to her panic. She went outside and cast an evil look at the lattice that covered the crawlspace. "Ugh. The things I do for that woman! All right, enough grousing. Get to it, Robbie. The sooner you find it, the happier everyone will be."
She rolled down her sleeves and pulled open the smallest section of lattice, looking into a dark, muddy, debris-filled zone. "Fuck it! It can't be down there. And I'm NOT going under there." Robbie was now not just talking, but shouting, at herself. She stomped back into the living room and half-heartedly thwacked a cushion. It fell defenseless before her, but failed to divulge any rings. "Damn it! God, damned, mother-fucking shit!" Robbie cursed some more, but it didn't help find the ring, and it didn't lessen her mental image of a heart-broken Jasper, either. She threw up her hands and went to get their flashlight from the baggage. "Alright. If there are any of you snakes down there-you'd better leave, NOW!" she called hopefully, before plunging into the darkness.
The crawlspace was no better place to be with a flashlight than without. Robbie slithered through the damp, rotting debris on her belly, still cursing, and trying to locate the errant knotholes as she went. She heard whistling coming from the path on the other side, the one that went to the beach, and struck out at a cobweb, cursing again. Her hand connected with a rotten crate, knocking it apart, and something alive burst out from under it. She screamed and jumped simultaneously, hitting her head on a floor joist. Outside, she could hear a yell coming from Jasper, accompanied by the crash of something falling into vegetation. She grabbed her head and whimpered, feeling around for the dropped flashlight. A few moments later she heard footsteps walking into the house. They came into what must be the living room and stopped abruptly over her head. 'Probably surveying the carnage' Robbie thought.
"Honey?" The floor muffled Jasper's call. "Where are you? What's going on?"
"I'm under the house," Robbie yelled up
There was a pause, followed by steps leaving the room.
"Do I want to know why you are under the house?" Jasper's voice, much too reasonable, sounded more clearly from the side of the building where she'd entered.
"No." Robbie sighed. "But I may as well tell you anyway. I'm sorry Jasper. I'm really sorry, but I lost-I lost your ring."
"So that's why you are terrorizing poor helpless Iguanas?" Jasper sounded amused more than upset.
"Oh, is THAT what it was?"
"Uh Huh." There was a pause. "Sweetheart? Why don't you come out and tell me what happened and we can look for it together?"
"Oh, okay. I'm not having much luck down here anyway."
She awkwardly tried to turn herself around and crawl back to where she could see the actress's silhouette against the gap in the lattice. When she got to the edge, Jasper reached out a long arm and pulled her back into the light. They stood up and regarded each other. Jasper had a collection of twigs in her hair, a big scratch across her chin, and another on her forearm.
"Well, aren't you the little mud puppy?" she asked, taking in Robbie's dirt-encrusted body. "How about we get cleaned up and start the day over?"
"Works for me," Robbie said a little grimly.
Jasper was unusually gentle with her when they stepped into the shower, and Robbie calmed down under her attentions. A little arnica and a couple of bowls of cereal later, Jasper, who was still slightly damp from the applications of hydrogen peroxide to her own wounds, took Robbie's hands and said, "So. Tell me."
Robbie recounted her morning.
"So. Did you start with the place the ring was last seen?" The actress wanted to know.
"Yup. I was sitting on the couch, and you were-"
"No, I mean after that."
"What do you mean? You picked me up-I must have dropped-"
"Uh. No, Honey. You had it when we were in bed last night. Remember?"
"Ummmhummm. You got really very creative with it, as I recall."
"Oh God." Robbie turned a brilliant shade of scarlet. "I did, didn't I?"
Jasper laughed. "Let's check the sheets, shall we?"
The ring was there, well down the middle of the bed, but easily retrieved. Jasper picked it up, gave it a little kiss, and put it on Robbie's finger. "Much as I liked that part, my little Tennessee Williams," the actress said, "I think it's safer for both of us here. Not to mention the wildlife."
"Tennessee Williams? Oh. Night of the Iguana." She laughed ruefully. " Well, speaking of being eaten-"
"Yes, Miss Venable?"
"Oh, you are too much."
"I could say the same."
"Never too much for you, though, am I?" Robbie looked into the eyes that gently took her in and caressed her soul.
"Nope." Jasper laughed. "How about a swim?"
The rest of their vacation passed quickly-all too quickly, and Robbie got used to the rock on her finger. Jasper didn't seem to be more demanding as a result-well, no more demanding than she'd ever been-and Robbie was beginning to think they were going to be all right. Still, she was looking forward to getting home and going back to work.
She debated going straight to her own home from the airport, but Jasper persuaded her to go back to the compound first. She had no inkling of what they would find there until Jasper, who was driving, gasped.
The street outside the gate was a mess of raw dirt, and large machines were parked idly by like abandoned green and yellow dinosaurs. The gate was open, perforce, but the driveway was an impassible ditch guarded by seas of mud. Jasper's home had become a construction site-and a notably unfinished one, at that.
Robbie could see her lover's scowl deepening like the arrival of a low-pressure system, and it was the first time she really appreciated the significance of the word 'thunderclouds' for Jasper's expression. They parked on the street, and Robbie had a fleeting moment of pity for the boss of the operation, whoever he was. There were no workers on the site, it being a Sunday, but Jasper was soon yelling into her cell phone as they picked their way up the drive on foot. Robbie was both surprised and impressed when her lover began to curse in an inventive mixture of English and Spanish.
They finally reached the house, which thankfully was still standing. To the right of the pool, where a big cedar had once stood, a small neat building nestled among piles of raw dirt. It was framed out, but lacked both siding and windows
Ominous trenches snaked out in several directions from the driveway, however, and when they entered the house they soon discovered the reason: there was no water, and from the smell, no sewer either.
The cats, Ozma, Buster and the Patchwork Girl of Oz (also know as Trixie) were nowhere to be seen, presumably cowering somewhere away from the noise and disturbance. Jasper (who had not stopped yelling since setting foot on her property) was probably keeping them away, Robbie realized. Gently she steered her lover back outside while she went to look for the cats. Eventually she found them in a remote corner of the property. Ozma, the bloodthirsty one, was chewing on a small white lizard, while the others pretended not to watch. Robbie went back to the house, got out the cat food and bowls, and was dispensing it when Jasper returned, her expression grim but her cell phone finally closed.
"I found the cats," Robbie told her. "They're all fine." She looked closely at the other woman. "How are you?"
"There's no water or sewer; the idiots broke the main pipes in 6 places. I told them they couldn't bring in the big delivery trucks-they agreed to carry everything in by hand. It says so right in the contract. But the cock-sucking bastard sub-contracted out to his brother-in-law or something, and lost the instructions. I'm sorry sweetheart. This was supposed to be all done, a big surprise for you."
"That's okay, Jasper. I don't-I mean it's inconvenient, I know. I know you wanted to surprise me, but it's okay. I don't mind for me, so much, but what will you do?"
"Bah. Go to a hotel I suppose, while my lawyers revoke his bond and I find someone else to finish the job."
"You hate hotels." Robbie paused. "So do I. Come on, we can both go back to my house. Unless you think it's too small?"
"Thank you, Robbie. It's still bigger than a hotel suite. And if it has you in it, I don't care how small it is. I just hope I won't drive you nuts, though."
"Time enough to re-negotiate when you do, Honey. Come on; help me feed the cats. It will calm you down."
They spent a little quality time with their pets, collected a few more clothes and personal items, and slogged back out to the car.
During the drive the actress was as quiet as she had been loud before. Robbie knew that it was more than just disappointment at not being able to finish what Jasper had planned as treat for her. The actress depended on her home to give her a sense of security and peace to recover from the corrosive effects of the business they were both in. When they got to the tiny house Robbie called home, she phoned for Chinese delivery and put her lover to bed with a couple of aspirins as soon as she had eaten.
She woke once in the night, feeling rigid stillness next to her. "What's wrong? Honey?"
Jasper gasped and then relaxed. "Sorry. I woke up and didn't know where I was."
"You're with me. Is that all right?"
Robbie stroked the soft skin of the shoulder next to her, letting her fingers wander onto the tender skin of Jasper's neck. She was amazed at how little she really knew about the other woman. She felt wetness on her fingers; sweat, or tears? She shifted her hand up to the cheek. Tears. "Can you tell me?"
"I know you don't-don't love-me-Not the way-but-"
"Shhh. Sweetheart. I…let's not ask for comparisons. Okay? I love you as much as I'm capable of loving anyone. I'm just not as intense as you are. You're the actress, remember?" the woman next to her took Robbie's hand, but didn't speak. "I… can you accept that?"
"I guess. But sometimes… you have doubts, don't you? I can hear you thinking."
"I…" Robbie stopped herself from a glib lie. "I do have doubts. But that's just part of me… part of my nature. Skeptics 'R' us, that's me. I know you say- I mean… you want-a commitment. I just don't know if you are just, well, just more flamboyant than I am. I don't know if that will change. It's not that I don't believe you. I'm just…"
"You don't trust me"
"I want to."
"What do you need?"
"Time." The actress echoed. "How much time?"
"I'm not sure. Can I have, uh, say, twenty or thirty years to think about it?"
Jasper gave a brief chuckle. "You want to know that you aren't just a-a passing role."
"Something like that."
"There's nothing I can say, is there?"
"Can you accept that I'm with you now? That I'm giving you all I can?"
"Be in the God Damn moment, huh?" Jasper said wryly. She thought about it, watching Robbie watch her. Finally she said, "Yes. Yes, I can. You don't… you really don't want anything from me, do you?"
"Don't be silly. You're my ticket to fame and fortune, remember. Also, I lust after your real estate. And I want your body, too. And your cats, let's not forget about them. They must adore me. I, ruler of the can-opener, demand tribute!" Robbie ticked her lover and knew when she made the actress laugh that she had shifted Jasper's mood for the moment. She snuggled in closer and began a further campaign of distraction, succeeding so well that she fell asleep still plastered to Jasper's chest.
It took a few days for them to work out a routine in the tiny house where they were literally on top of one another. Jasper got up early and went to the gym, leaving her girlfriend to wake up as slowly as she liked and write all morning. They met for a late breakfast or early lunch, parted while Jasper went to various appointments, and then had dinner together. Sometimes they made love and went right to sleep, and some nights Robbie went back to work, the keys rattling like hail through the actress's dreams.
At the end of the week, Jasper came home with a sheaf of papers and dropped with a deep sigh into Robbie's recliner, the only non-office-related piece of furniture the writer owned, barring the bed.
"What's up?" Robbie inquired.
"The new contractor says two months."
"Before I can move back in. The addition should be done another month after that."
"That sucks. Did you have any luck with your lawyer?"
"Oh, yeah, she got Asshole Number One to back down, and we'll definitely get insurance money to repair the driveway and redo all the pipes and mains and things. But there's no way around starting over with a new contractor, and it's going to take time."
"I'm sorry honey. But you're welcome to stay here as long as you want."
"I'm not bugging you? Or drawing too many flies?" Their code for paparazzi. It didn't seem fair that they should be hounded despite still only being modestly successful. After the initial buzz of tabloid gossip, and Michael's ballistic response, the papers had been relatively quiet, having more famous fish to fry, but they both still felt the pressure of eyes on them, far more than they expected.
"I'd really miss you if you weren't here, Jasper." Robbie wondered if that was really true, but forged ahead anyway. A little inconvenience was part of any relationship. "Besides, where else would you go?"
"Uh-furnished rental? I could make them put me up, since they wrecked my house."
"Well, do whatever will make you happy, sweetheart."
"Will you come stay with me, then?"
Of course." Robbie looked at Jasper. She knew she was missing something, but she couldn't tell what it was.
The next morning Jasper armed herself with the real estate section, and spent several afternoons looking at houses. She continued to spend her mornings at the gym, but Robbie noticed she was also beginning to sleep badly.
By the end of the second week, The writer knew that their living arrangements were not working out. At least, she assumed it was that which had taken a toll on her lover. Jasper had puffy dark circles under her eyes, and muttered to herself constantly under her breath. She was wound so tight she hardly slept; she lost interest in both food and sex. Robbie became seriously worried that her lover was ill, or having some sort of breakdown. The first thing she thought Jasper needed, however, was sleep. On Monday morning she purposely pulled herself out of bed much earlier than she wanted to, for the sole purpose of hauling Jasper back into it.
"But I don't want to interfere with your work" Jasper protested.
"Half of writing is procrastination, sweetheart, and I need you to help me procrastinate today. Okay?"
"Well, I guess."
Robbie reached out to stroke her lover's breast, but the other woman jumped under her touch, so she moved to the shoulder instead, changing her stroke to something more soothing. She had tried all the usual solicitous blandishments over the course of the week, and driven Jasper to the point of exasperation. If she was going to get to the bottom of their problem she was going to have to try a new tack.
She snuggled in and, said, "I know. Wanna hear a story?"
"I'm the writer, what's so odd about that?"
"Nothing, I guess. Okay, spill it."
"Well, once upon a time there were two little girls who lived in a deep dark forest called greater Los Angeles…" Robbie began, weaving a fantastic fairy tale out of their lives.
When the fire-breathing dragon began to dress like Lyn Borysenko, Jasper laughed outright, and wouldn't stop.
Robbie spun out the tale, happy she had eased Jasper's mood. "And so the dragon who wore gold and purple caftans with way too much ivory jewelry gave up on disputing benefits with the clean brave knight who was sometimes a pain in the ass, and they all lived happily ever after. The end." Robbie finished. "Feel better?"
"Oh, yeah, much better. Wait a minute. Did you say Lyn wasn't going to let you have benefits?"
"Oh, I don't know exactly-that's Michael's department. Don't quote me, okay?"
"Well, there are parts of the story I'm not keen on sharing with Lyn myself. But do you mind if I call Michael and ask him some questions?"
"No, not at all, go ahead."
"Thanks." The actress sighed and became pensive again, but Robbie pulled her back down and succeeded in getting her back to sleep. 'I'm not getting a thing done today,' she thought. 'Oh well, it's worth it if Jasper can calm down.'
"So. To what do I owe the honor?" Michael was civil, if a bit formal, to his little sister's lover.
"I hear that Lyn wanted to restrict some of Robbie's benefits. Is that true?" Jasper asked.
Michael stared at the actress. "She's your partner. Why don't you ask her?"
"I'm not sure she's going to be my partner forever. Look, I don't know what Lyn told you, but I want Robbie to get as much out of this project as possible. I won't do it unless she gets everything she wants, including onscreen writing credit."
"That's not a very good negotiating position, Ms. Villante."
"Negotiations my ass. What do you think I did, got her into bed so I could get a better deal?" At Michael's expression she did a double take. "Oh, my god that's exactly what you think. No wonder she doesn't trust me. Did you tell her this too?"
"Of course not. I'm just trying to make sure Robbie doesn't get hurt."
"Look, Michael. I'm working for scale and putting up a big hunk of the money-"
"WHAT?" Michael screamed. "What kind of idiot are you?"
"I'm a desperate, one step away from has-been-idiot without ever being more than a wannabe-idiot, that's what kind."
"And your agent let you get into this contract with Lyn? What was he thinking?"
"He was thinking I'm too much of a pain in the ass to bother about. Which is exactly what you think." When Michael was about to deny it she stopped him. "Ah, ah, ah. Don't demean yourself by lying to me."
"Alright. Fair enough. But Robbie is my sister. If you hurt her in any way-"
Jasper sighed. "Michael. I don't want to hurt your sister. Not even a little bit." She looked apologetically at her lover's brother. "But the reality is, if she's involved with me she's probably going to get hurt one way or another. I'm not great with relationships, I have a rotten temper, and even if by some miracle we work things out between us- well, just surviving in the industry is hard enough. It's a bear when only one person works in it, let alone both. So at least let's try not to have to fight over the contract. Personally-I-we both have issues, and we both have stalkers-" she stopped short when Michael gasped. "You didn't know?"
"No. Who? Tell me and I'll rip the bastard's face off. Legally speaking."
"I don't even know the woman's name. You'll have to talk to Robbie about how she wants it handled."
"Hey, It's my-"
"No, it's her decision, Michael. Not yours, and certainly not mine."
"Well. All right. I'll think about it. The stalker-what does she look like?"
"Brown hair, about 5'8", tan but not too tan, drives a beige Corolla. My security guy has seen her on at least six occasions parked out front all night. What?"
"Never mind." Michael was beet red in the face and Jasper wasn't sure if it was from anger or something else. "I'll make inquires. If it keeps happening let me know. Okay?"
He cleared his throat. "About the contract. I'm reviewing the provisions. We're very close to agreement. It's nothing against Lyn, or you. Just part of the business."
"I understand. But look, Michael. I care deeply about your sister. I don't want anything to happen to her either. Just keep that in mind, okay?"
"Jasper, would you stop vibrating? You are practically making the house shake!" Robbie was trying to get some work done, attempting to make up for time lost in meetings, but between the suggested changes from studio brass and the nervous rustlings of her roommate, she couldn't wring a single line from her keyboard.
"Oh, sorry. Do you want me to go for a drive or something?"
"Anything! Just get out of my hair for a while, would you?" Robbie knew she was hurting her lover's feelings but she couldn't concentrate.
"I'm gone." The actress called, her sentence punctuated by a muted slam as the front door closed behind her.
"Damn!" Robbie blew out a breath, and tried to pull her mind back to the script. But the more she tried not to think about Jasper, the worse her concentration became. Since the studio had put their fingerprints all over it she had completely lost interest in her teleplay, and now that her lover had left the building, her distraction was even worse. But she had no idea how long Jasper would be gone, and determined to make the best of it. She turned to the scrawl that her livelihood depended upon.
"I HATE Notes!" she wailed to the uncomplaining walls, taking a moment to fully resent the junior know-it-all who was busy second-guessing her carefully structured relationships. The walls refused to sympathize, and she opened the file, her eyes drifting to the window. There seemed to be a small, raggedly clipped lawn growing in a container on the windowsill. She went over and cautiously peeked out through the curtains. No sign of the annoying car, for once. Thank goodness for small favors, maybe the mystery woman had finally gotten bored with them. She jerked her attention back to the executive's remarks, and sat back down. "What the hell does, 'not enough punch' mean?" she muttered. "More holes in the margin? They want a WWF reference, or rum? I'm punchy all right. I'll give them punch. I'll give them so much punch they'll take it back to the way it was before they messed with it." But despite her threats, nothing came to her.
She got up and wandered over to the refrigerator, and opened it. It was clearly too small for everything that was trying to cram into it. She had never needed a full-size one before; at most there was usually a selection of beverages, a few snacks and a small medley of take-out leftovers. Now, with Jasper in residence, a slew of vitamin bottles filled the door and spilled onto the shelves, which were crammed with strange things Robbie had never heard of: odd green drinks and powders, egg white concoctions and peculiar salves. There was so much healthy stuff in there that there was no room left for any actual food. Being an actress was certainly hard work, Robbie thought, if you had to live on algae half the time. Jasper was growing wheat grass on all the windowsills and sprouts in one of the cupboards. A juicer that looked like a prop from a sci-fi movie now shared her computer table. The woman was a walking pharmacy; she had every herb known to folklore and vitamin known to science, and that wasn't even counting the cosmetics.
Robbie moved on to the bathroom; it told the same story. She herself had shampoo and conditioner, one lipstick, some powder, eyeliner, one nail polish, and one tube of toothpaste. Who really needed six flavors of dental floss? Jasper's gear had overflowed into the bedroom, and that didn't even begin to include the facial scrubs, night cremes, bath oils, tooth powders, herbal rinses, a whole herd of mousse, hair tools and other paraphernalia that the actress seemed to need. The only more comprehensive array was at the make-up department at the studio, and only because it included the sponge prostheses needed to make alien life forms.
"Arrrggh! I have been taken over by an alien life form, " Robbie thought, as she moved into the bedroom, trying to straighten up the confusion of bottles before they tipped over and spilled into the filing cabinets that crowded the bed on either side. She smelled the scents that mingled with her lover. " Hmmm… I wonder why all her stuff didn't bother me at her house? More room, maybe? Or it just fits better there? I always hated doing femme, because it was so much work; I don't know how Jasper finds time to do anything but primp. " Then her thoughts drifted back to a moment when Jasper had clearly been primping for her. It was peculiar method of foreplay, but Jasper certainly knew how to stimulate her imagination. "Not to mention other things. " Jasper really did love to dress up, as well as down; but she also enjoyed dressing Robbie up too, surprisingly. When they went out she applied cosmetics to her lover with even more loving attention than she lavished on herself. And she really liked un-dressing her as well, of course…and in Jasper's pleasure Robbie had rediscovered her own pleasure at being a woman. This surprised her a little bit, because until Jasper invaded her life she hadn't realized that she had ever had it to lose. It was odd what they brought out in each other.
Then she realized that mooning around wasn't getting her raft of notes addressed, and resolutely returned to her keyboard. "Punchy… punchy… Maybe if someone socks Louise in the jaw? No, that won't work. Fuck. " But she found herself thinking about Jasper again, wondering where she'd gone, if she would bring back some chocolate, if… "Oops. There goes my mind again. Shit!"
She tried all her usual tricks to focus her attention back to the screen. She listened to some music, starting and discarding several selections. Nothing seemed to be quite the right rhythm. She read a few pages of a favorite novel; she made tea; she went for a walk. She sat at the computer and played solitaire. She looked at the news and weather. She opened old files, and closed them again. Nothing.
Finally she decided to give up for the night and take a long hot bath, at the end of which she was sure Jasper would return. But the hours ticked by and no Mercedes drove up, no actress strolled into the room. Robbie was beginning to be really worried, and finally decided to call the actress's cell phone. It didn't help ease her anxiety when the jacket slung over the other chair began to ring. She'd driven her lover off and sent her away without a phone, and who knew where she could be by now?
Robbie paced and fretted, growing more and more anxious. Finally she decided to call Michael. She told him that Jasper was out for a drive, though she didn't elaborate on the reason. She said how long it had been and how worried she was. He told her to wait for a moment and he'd call right back.
But when the phone rang it was an unfamiliar number, and on the other end was Jasper, a very inebriated Jasper, accompanied by a background of music, laughter and tinkling glass.
"Jasper? Where are you?"
"Bar. Club. Someplacesh. Why?"
Robbie bit her tongue and tried to stay reasonable. "Because you've been gone so long and I was getting worried. Don't you want to come home?"
"Home? Home'sh a mess. Can I come to your housh?"
"Yes, Jasper. Let them call you a cab, all right? You shouldn't drive."
"'M not driving. She ish."
"SHE? She WHO? Jasper, who are you with?"
"I don' know 'er name. Hey, you, whash your name?"
"You picked up some woman in a bar? Jasper, where are you?"
"No, she picked me up. S'her phone. Here, you talk to her." There was a clinking sound as the phone was dropped. Robbie's anxiety was turning to blazing rage, when a cool sober voice took up the conversation.
"Yes?" Robbie could have frozen a raft of daiquiris with just that word, but it didn't seem to phase the woman on the other end of the line.
"My name is Kari Wallace, I work for Hanford Security Company. I was employed by your brother Michael to deal with a possible stalker?"
"You were WHAT?"
Kari repeated herself, slowly and clearly. "…Possible stalker. I observed the subject, a male, 40's, balding-"
"Thash Roger!" Jasper interjected. "Where'd he go, anyway?"
Kari ignored the interruption. "I observed the subject following Ms. Villante, so I proceeded to follow them both. After a time Ms Villante parked at a beach near Malibu and went for a walk. She appeared to be crying. The subject got out of his car and spoke to Ms Villante. They both got into his car, and drove to this establishment. I entered and observed them drinking together. Several patrons appeared to be asking Ms Villante for autographs. A scuffle ensued."
"A scuffle ensued, and the subject disappeared. I was not able to find him so I returned to my second assignment, to follow Ms. Villante. With the help of security I was able to remove the last of the hecklers. In the meanwhile Ms Villante seems to have become somewhat inebriated. I was just about to attempt to send her home when Mr. Mackenzie paged me, requesting I have Jasper call you."
"Hold on just a minute," Robbie said. "Michael hired you because he thought someone was stalking me? Or Jasper?"
"You cohabitate. Mr. Mackenzie instructed me to deal with any possible stalkers targeting either of you, and to keep detailed records of Ms. Villante's activities. I believe he thought she was having an affair."
"Oh, My God. Is she?"
"Until tonight I would have said no, ma'am. But this man that she met at the beach-"
"Thash Roger" Jasper's voice wavered back in. "Wheresh Roger? I thought he went out to get-"
More scuffling noises occurred, as the phone was dropped, and then stepped on, by the sound. The background noise was beginning to pick up, when suddenly it was cut through by a piercing guitar note. The band had returned from its break, and all conversations effectively ceased. Wearily, Robbie clicked off the phone and hit the speed dial for Michael.
Some hours later, a drunken Jasper had been poured into bed, and Robbie glared at the three very sober, very tired people who filled her other room.
"Let me get this straight." Robbie was not happy, but some things were finally beginning to make sense. She turned to Michael. "You hired a security company to keep an eye on me."
"Correct." Michael answered.
"And Jasper hired another security company to-do what exactly?"
"To protect you, ma'am and remove any persons who might be bothering either of you." The balding man whose name was Roger explained.
"That's bullshit!" Kari protested. "I looked you up; I looked up every company in the area. None of them have Jasper as a client."
"That's true, she fired the last one a couple of months ago, and hired me. I'm an independent contractor."
"Humph. So you say," Michael huffed. "How did you get the job?"
"We worked on a movie together, long time ago. Jasper's an old friend."
"I'll bet," Michael scoffed.
"Wait just a minute," Robbie interrupted. "What movie?"
"You've probably never heard of it. Holograms of Bass Fishing, it was called, or some damn thing. 'Location Hell', was what we called it. I was the key grip."
"I have heard of it, believe it or not," Robbie said. "Jasper told me about that one; she played Bait Girl."
"That's it!" the man exclaimed. "Did she tell you the story about the time she entertained the crew while we were waiting for the electricians to fix the genny by doing a parody of Batgirl with rubber worms?"
"Must have been early in her career," Michael muttered suspiciously.
"No, but she did tell me one about the guy who lost control of the crane," Robbie said. "He knocked down part of a bridge, felled a cast iron lamp post, and toppled right into the lake."
"Oh, god,' the man laughed, holding his head in his hands.
"Everyone thought he drowned," Robbie continued. "But he swam to shore about half a mile down the beach. And when they finally raised the crane he bagged a real fish that got caught in the 10 K-wait a minute-Roger-You're that Roger?"
"At your service," the tall man grinned. "And thank you for not calling me 'Splash'. Except for Jasper everyone else does."
"Oh my god, I'm so glad to meet you!" Robbie gushed and threw herself into the big man's arms for a hug. "You wouldn't believe how much Jasper told me about you."
"Oh, yes I would." He chuckled. "We were all a lot younger then."
"Well, since it appears we are all one big happy family," Kari said dryly, "I think I'll be on my way. Mr. Mackenzie, please call me in the afternoon with your instructions."
Michael looked embarrassed. "Will do."
They chatted a bit more until Roger took his leave, and the two siblings faced each other.
"I know you don't want to hear this," Michael began.
"You're right. I don't."
"But you can't ignore the fact that Jasper went out and got smashed tonight. She's not very well balanced, Sis. She should have stayed home with you, or asked you along at the very least."
"Michael, the reason she didn't-the reason she got smashed-is that I picked on her. I was trying to get work done; I couldn't concentrate. I was the one who sent her away. I told her to get lost."
"Oh, my. I had no idea you were so close to breaking up with her."
"I am NOT breaking UP with her!" Robbie screamed. "I was being a bitch to her. It didn't even help. I still haven't finished my damn revisions. You-" She pushed him toward the door, "have done nothing but interfere in our lives, spying on us, freaking the heck out of her. Do you know how frightened she was when we realized that woman YOU HIRED was hanging around us? Why couldn't you have just told us? Do you know how much strain it's put on us? Both of us? Do you?"
"I do now," Michael said. "I'm sorry. But-"
"Stop it right there," Robbie advised. "Now start to redeem yourself. Go get us some Gatorade and Advil. I'm much too mad to talk to you right now."
Without a word Michael turned and went out the door. When it closed behind him there was a faint sound of clapping coming from the bedroom.
"I thought you were asleep," Robbie said, drifting over to the doorway.
"Nope. Shom'thin' I gotta do firsht." Jasper slurred, struggling to her feet. She staggered part way toward the bathroom, slowly keeled over until she was on her knees, and lost her lunch.
Much later the next day, when both Jasper and Robbie had had a few hours sleep, along with some painkillers and supplementary fluids, they were able to begin to laugh over the incident.
"And then when you started to tell that story about the fish-" Jasper laughed, "Oh. Ow. Is it too soon for another painkiller?"
"I think so. But how about a little more of this stuff?" Robbie passed over the Gatorade. "You need the electrolytes."
"Okay. Are you real mad at me?"
"No, honey. I'm not mad at you at all. Michael, yes. That whats'ername woman, yes. Not you. It was all my fault for being mean to you. I know you just need downtime at home. I'm sorry. The idiotic notes from that turkey-stuffed suit got me all rattled and I took it out on you. It was wrong of me. Forgive me?"
"If you forgive me for going out and getting drunk."
"Deal. Even though you barfed all over my hallway rug."
"Yup." Robbie's face assumed an evil grin. "I made Michael take it to the dry cleaner. His car won't smell the same until he gets it detailed."
"Did I mention how much I love you lately?" Jasper laughed.
"Not yet. But it's never too early to start."
"Well, then." Jasper leaned over and planted an orange-flavored kiss on Robbie's mouth. "I," kiss; "love," kiss; "you." She stoked her lover's hair, and played with the short strands. "Honey, you know, I just realized something. I've always thought of myself as the high maintenance, princessy type. You know, emoting comes with the territory. All my lovers were supposed to treat me… well, a certain way."
"I know. I'm sorry, I…"
"No, No. What I realized is that you are the first person I've ever been with who's as sensitive as I am."
"What do you mean?"
"You're just as emotionally fine tuned as I am. You have to be, in order to write the way you do."
"Well, except that I prefer 'high strung' I suppose you're right. But what difference does it make?" Robbie looked perplexed.
"It means I wasn't thinking enough about your needs, that's all. And I'm sorry."
"That's okay, honey. You're going to make it up to me."
"How?" Jasper wanted to know. Robbie rolled her over in the bed, and demonstrated. "Oh." she said.
Things went a little more smoothly after that. They were learning how to share the space without having to step on eggshells every moment, and both of them were more relaxed about being together. It probably didn't hurt that Michael was finally coming around to the idea that they were going to continue being an item. Jasper never did move into another apartment, and now she often spent afternoons reading or napping in the bedroom while Robbie fought for a compromise between her ideas and those of the executives she had to please.
"Arrrggghhh!" Robbie stood up from her computer and stretched, scrubbing her scalp with her hands.
"What's wrong, sweetie?"
"I just can't get this passage right."
"What's the problem? Is there something I could go look up for you? I'm done with my lines for today." Jasper wandered in from the bedroom, still holding her cup of tea.
"Lines? What lines?"
"Oh, I try to learn at least a dozen lines of something every day, just to keep my memory skills up. I've been thinking about asking Mr. Ed to find me some stage work short-term just to keep me in the game."
"Yeah? Do you have something in mind?"
"No, not yet. So, want any help? You know I'd be glad to."
"Well, the problem isn't research, it's voice. I just can't seem to get into this one character. I keep thinking she's a street person, but I can't get her pinned down somehow."
Jasper laughed involuntarily. "She's a street person and she wanders away from you? Was she pushing a shopping cart?"
"Bah. You know what I mean." Robbie gave Jasper a little pretend backhand to the solar plexus.
"Plus they insisted I include a teenage boy to 'round out the demographic' whatever the hell that means. I didn't intend to have to deal with a relative. He throws off the whole balance of the scene."
"Well, why not just chuck him out until you're ready? Do you want me to read the lines out for you?"
"I'm the actress in the family, you said it yourself. Do you want to improv the scene you have in mind with me?"
"No, no, I don't want to take up your time. You have things to do."
"Not at all. Don't you want to hear some of those lines out loud?"
"I just don't think I'm ready for that."
"Fair enough. Just thought I'd offer. Any time you're ready, I'll read any lines you want. And besides, it will be fun."
"Fun? You think it's fun? You, who always throw up before you go onstage?"
"Sure. Stage fright is a whole different thing. For rehearsal, or for practice, or for you, it would be fun. If it's not, I'm in the wrong business, hon. I save my vomit for the paying customers." Robbie gave her a very eloquent look. "Mostly." Jasper blushed. She'd ended up buying her lover a new rug.
"Well, maybe it would work. What do you want to do?"
"Why don't I take the part you are having trouble with, and you can read the lines of the other-is it the doctor-character?"
"Okay. You start here." Robbie handed the actress a script, pointing out her part. "The cue is, 'What medications have you been taking, Mrs. Neothorn?' It starts halfway down page three."
Jasper took the script and shifted immediately into an Irish accent. "Medications? None." The script stopped there, but Jasper breezed right on. "Well dearie, I like a bit of thunderbird on cold night. Warms up me oldbushmills, if ye know what I mean."
Robbie laughed, but continued. "No, no, Mrs. Neothorn, I mean your pills. You're supposed to be taking them twice a day. Have you?"
"Pills? No. Except me nephew-he's a real pill." Jasper continued to improvise. "It's all waste of time if y'ask me. Now, I must get to the park. The pigeons have a very important message for me."
Robbie gave up on her prepared script and just followed along. "Really? Do pigeons speak to you often? What do they say?"
"Yes, dearie, almost every day. They tell me what me nephew's up to, ye know. He wants to have me taken to jail, so he can get all me money. But I'm too smart for that one, you'll see."
" 'Would that be your nephew Albert, Mrs. Neothorn?' And then we cut to the dream sequence." Robbie paused. "You know, this is really helping. I had no idea Albert was after his aunt's money. He seemed like such a nice young man when I first wrote him.'
"Don't you believe it, me dear. He murdered his own mum, me sister Kate."
"S'true. Pills. Y' won't catch me taking any pills o' Bert's giving. Now, a shot o' whiskey on a cold night. That's as good as life, to me. Ye understand me now, don't ye doctor?"
"Perfectly, Mrs. Neothorn. Only, if you're Irish, I'm going to have to change your name."
The scene went on and Robbie only paused once, to set up a tape recorder so she could rework the dialogue later. By the end of the afternoon the whole third episode had been roughed out, and had changed from a slightly sentimental medical detective piece to a fast-paced murder-comedy that had her rolling out of her chair with laughter and weeping at the same time. Her only regret was that Jasper would be playing the doctor, not the old woman. But the dialogue was close to perfect. Jasper just seemed to bring up out of herself exactly what Robbie needed to craft the twists and turns of the plot. Her version of Bert's air guitar solo was something Robbie knew should be filmed for posterity.
"Well, what did I expect?" Robbie asked herself. "I married an entertainer." And then she did a double take. "Married?" She paused. They had been living together for a while; there was significant jewelry involved; they had certainly shared fluids. And it seemed lately that they were sharing a lot more, too. "We might as well be," she concluded. "But are we going to call it that? I wonder who's going to be first to bring it up?'
It wasn't until they got ready for sleep, effortlessly moving around each other's bedtime routine, that Robbie realized what a big shift had taken place. It was more than just familiarity, and the ability to navigate the space. They had become more than just partners; now they were a team, too.
With Jasper's help she roughed out twelve episodes of the first season, and knew it was the best work she had ever done. In odd moments she wrote down the droll things Jasper did to entertain her, along with her best lines. She was secretly turning it into an hour-long comedy special. She thought it would make a fine birthday present, and she had Michael working on Ed-even she was starting to think of him as "Mr. Ed"- to feel out a few of the better comedy clubs. She knew it would be just the sort of present Jasper would most appreciate, (after she finished throwing up, of course) and one she was sure no one else would be able to give.
Jasper had been driving for a while. Lyn had given her the bad news, and she wanted to be with Robbie as soon as possible. She couldn't call, because she knew she was going to burst into tears as soon as she heard her partner's voice. And she didn't want to tell Robbie over the phone. But she had to find the damn woman first. She wasn't at the studio; she wasn't at the home she shared with the actress. Where the heck was she?
They had both invested so much in the show; not just financially-and Jasper had put a good chunk of her personal money into it-but emotionally. They'd been driving so hard. It just didn't seem fair that Dreaming Room had been cancelled after 10 episodes. It wasn't that the show was bad; it wasn't that the critics panned it. Some network exec had buried it; changed the order of the shows, so that the carefully constructed story arc made no sense; changed the nights it aired once, and pre-empted it twice. They hadn't had a fair shake.
Jasper exited the freeway, and drove slowly toward the small house-a converted garage, really-that Robbie had lived in before they got together. She still used it as an office of sorts; she didn't write there any more, but Eve, their assistant, had her office there, and from there handled everything they didn't want to be personally bothered with. Jasper thought a moment about that shift in their lives. She had managed, mostly, to overcome Robbie's jealousy of Lyn, but not the other way around. As they settled into couple-dom two things became clear: one, that the older producer had not expected to have such stiff competition for Jasper's attention, and she hadn't taken it well. Robbie's memos had a way of getting lost in Lyn's office. And second, even without the personal friction, they both needed someone to manage their schedules and keep track of the loose ends.
Before Robbie, Jasper had gone through assistants like water under a bridge, but somehow as a couple they had better luck. 'Well, who am I kidding?' Jasper asked herself. 'Robbie and Michael were the ones who went to the theatre and found Eve, heartily sick of her stage-managing job. Robbie recognized one of my credits in her bio and found that Eve still remembered me fondly from the Death on Three Wheels set. She hired Eve, got the whole thing organized, and just drove me over there one Monday morning, 'Honey, I have a surprise for you, Tah-dah!' And there we were, with an office of our very own. That was the best present anyone could have given me. ' Eve charmed Ed, soothed Michael, got rid of the irrelevant, took care of the important details and kept them both on track. There were still battles with Lyn, Jasper knew, but in general things ran much more smoothly. Too bad nothing could have saved them from network interference; they'd been locked into a bad situation from the start.
She pulled up to the house and saw the writer sitting on the curb in such an attitude of dejection that she knew Michael must have passed the word. She parked and got out, strolling over and plunking herself down next to her lover without a word. It was like entering a pool of grief; some things just hurt too badly to be spoken about. After a few minutes Robbie took her hand. They still hadn't made eye contact.
After a bit Robbie said in a low monotone, "This sucks."
"It sure does," Jasper agreed. She turned to look at her partner.
Robbie turned also and looked at her for the first time. She couldn't help herself any longer, but burst into tears in her lover's arms. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. "If I'd just-"
"Not your fault, Ro. Don't you dare take on the blame," Jasper said, leaking out tears of her own. "We did our best and they shafted us, plain and simple."
"But I wanted to give you-"
"I know you did, Hon. I wanted it for you too. There wasn't anything any of us could have done. It's just a damn suit somewhere having a bad case of mental diarrhea at the wrong moment. And that, my friend, is the definition of show biz."
Robbie had to laugh at that even through her tears. "It's just so not fair."
"Nothing is, sweetie."
"So you aren't mad at me?"
"God, no. Robbie, how could you even imagine--?"
"I feel so bad about losing your money. Not to mention, this was supposed to be your big role, I wanted it so much for you-"
"Honey, I know. It was supposed to be your big break too. But don't worry about the money- I'm okay, thanks to Michael steering Ed through the electronic stuff. It's my ego that really hurts. Listen, let's go inside before some bloodsucker with a camera catches us having a genuine moment, okay?"
"'Kay." Robbie sniffed and let Jasper pull her up from the cement.
"Let's go plan our revenge, shall we?" Jasper got a wicked gleam in her eye. "We still haven't shot the last two eps. I know we can cook something up".
Robbie hiccuped and laughed through her tears. "Like what? You want me to write in a gas leak or something and end it by blowing the whole place to smithereens?"
"It's sounding better and better to me all the time." Jasper said darkly. "On the other hand, maybe in a way they did us a favor."
"Well, look on the bright side, without work we might actually have the energy to have sex again."
"But we just… oh, well, I guess it has been a while, hasn't it? I'm sorry, I get so caught up in-"
"Shhh," Jasper soothed. "Let's not give Eve more information than she wants. And stop apologizing. It's as much my fault as yours, if it's any of ours, and it's not. Not, not, NOT. Got that?"
"Got it," Eve's voice floated out of the inner office, formerly Robbie's bedroom. "I'm sorry guys. You absolutely didn't deserve this. Does it make you feel any better that your fans are starting an email petition?" the young woman who had set up their office appeared in the doorway.
"Already?" Jasper wanted to know. "How do they get wind of these things so fast?"
"I'm not sure, Jasper. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a mole in the studio."
"If that's the case someone is going to lose their job very soon," Jasper growled. "And they won't get another one in a hurry."
"Do you want me to look into it?" Eve asked. "Or let the wonks worry about it?" She put the folder she was carrying back in the filing cabinet that had once served as Robbie's bedside table. Now that the bed had been replaced with a second desk, the office décor was complete.
"Leave it for the wonks," Robbie instructed. "We have better things to do. Right?"
"Yes," Eve said with a conspiratorial look at the writer. "I have an appointment for you with a director next week."
"Director?" Jasper asked.
"Director," Robbie affirmed. "It's about my other project."
"I can't believe you still managed to do a Mercy Hospital script on top of our show," Jasper commented.
"It was an old one," Robbie explained. "Actually they bought it two years ago, but the line-up shifted. I just had to do a couple of revisions."
"You get all the fun," Jasper sulked. "While I have to go do a Wailing Wall-I mean a press interview. Wanna help me practice looking outraged and philosophical at the same time?"
"Just think about sex," Robbie advised.
"What good is thinking?" Jasper whined plaintively, as Eve laughed.
"I don't want to know," their secretary smiled, effectively capping that part of the conversation.
Later that night, when Jasper and Robbie were both finally home, they took a moment before sleep to sit out on the darkened terrace by the pool. Robbie looked up at the sky, admiring the shaggy shapes of the palm trees. An owl was calling from one of them; the night noises of the city were muted, and they might almost be in the country. The scent of orange blossom drifted down the wind, and Robbie wondered how she had ever lived anywhere else.
On the other side of the pool, slightly raised up on a knoll, sat her studio, now merely a darker shape in the general darkness. The completed building was everything she could ever have wanted. Her desk sat in front of a large wall of glass and looked out at the pool and the grove of fruit trees beyond. The side walls were mostly covered with glass-enclosed shelves to hold her library, except that there were two bay windows, one on each side, with window seats. At the back a short counter held a sound system, a microwave, and some cupboards. In the center of the back wall she had installed a big corkboard for her many notes and file cards. Next to that a cast-iron spiral staircase, the relic of some film from the thirties, led to a small loft where she had a commodious sofa and the rest of her library. It also had a view through the glass wall, looking out at the pool and down to the grove of fruit trees, the added height giving a longer perspective, all the way to the oleander hedges at the gate. Next to the stair on the other side was the short hall that led to the entry door. A small bathroom completed the building.
Robbie had moved in with a sense of wonder and trepidation, not sure she would be able to work there. But it had proved easier to settle in than she'd thought possible. Even when she just wanted to daydream she could sit on the couch in her loft and watch the light change in the orange grove. She'd also discovered that she could just make out Jasper's headlights turning into the drive; she could wander down and meet her lover, or begin dinner, or… or not. The building was her sanctuary, her private space, as the den had become Jasper's. It wasn't that they never shared these areas; it was simply that they did so by invitation. In fact, one of the first invitations Robbie had issued to Jasper was to properly christen the new couch in her loft. She still got tingles from thinking about it.
Jasper yawned. "Hey, Ro. What are you thinking about?"
"How lucky I am."
"In spite of today?"
"Oh, Jasper, I know days like today suck. I stack them up against days like the one when I got the Emmy nomination. There are good days and bad days in the Biz. But I'm still lucky, because I can come home at the end of the day and have this."
"I know. I feel it too. I have all this; I have you. Are you going to work tonight?"
"Nah. I need some 'us' time."
"Good." Jasper gently disentangled the cat from her lap and stood up, stretching with audible cracks.
"God, Honey. Was that you?"
"Well, come on in and I'll rub your back."
"Any time. And I have a few other things you can rub, if you feel up to it."
"If I feel UP to it?" Robbie asked. "How old do you think I am? Have I been neglecting you that much lately?"
"We've both been busy, Hon. I neglected you just as much."
"Well, we better get to work then." Robbie laughed. "I'm sure we can catch up."
But despite their intentions, once they hit the bed they both collapsed. Jasper had begun an intimate stroking of her partner, but Robbie fell asleep on her, and she was so tired she didn't even remove her hand as she dozed off herself. The result was that each time Robbie moved slightly, she found herself coming around Jasper's fingers, sleep and orgasm blending in her dream-state. She had just enough consciousness left to appreciate the irony of that.
The end of their series came all too quickly. They had pitched a new surprise ending. The network wouldn't allow any changes to the material they'd already bought, but Michael called in a few favors and wrangled sponsorship for an additional two-hour episode to finish the story arc. The first half of the episode was a normal day-or what passed for normal-wrapping up several of the minor characters. Then the routine disintegrated into an apocalyptic battle where the entire hospital was destroyed in a ball of flame. Then, in a twist, the doctor woke up, finding that it was just a dream, her dream. She got up and went to work, as usual. She entered her office, only to find a pink slip; she'd been fired. Her assistant was outraged, and offered to move on to any new job with her, revealing, or confirming, a hinted-at but hitherto unexplored crush. As an arsonist barricaded himself in one of the wards with a hostage, the day extended into the night. It took teamwork between the assistant and the Doctor to avert disaster, but in the last moment the psycho backed down. The final scene was of the two of them walking out of the hospital together, shot from the back in silhouette. For a second their hands wavered, then met and clasped, as they walked out to meet the dawn.
Robbie was satisfied; Jasper was simply exhausted, and cable picked up the re-runs. It was the best they could have done, under the circumstances.
They took another holiday, this time to Hawaii, and Robbie brought her laptop this time. She didn't tell Jasper why, only that she was in the middle of something, and didn't want to lose the thread. No matter how many times she had thought she was done, she still kept having more ideas; she wanted to wait until the very last second before printing out a copy as Jasper's present.
When Jasper's birthday dawned, the actress woke cranky. She was having her period, and cramps were making her uncomfortable. She hated the idea of being a year older, and said so.
"But honey, you're only 26," Robbie said, giving her friend's belly a gentle massage.
Jasper looked at her. "I'm 29. I cut off three years when I came to Hollywood."
"Oh my gosh. You made them think you were, what, fourteen?"
"Well, no, not exactly. But I was 18 for five years, during one of which I was seventeen. It was easy enough when no one wanted to help me celebrate my birthday. I didn't drive; I didn't have the same agent… And you are the only one who knows this, so don't let on, okay?"
"How did you fake all that?"
"It wasn't all that difficult. Nobody paid attention to another little Hollywood whore. Mostly I said I lost things, and the agent who finally got me the series replaced everything. The character was supposed to be 16, so they kept me in that style, all I had to do was keep the weight off. Skinny equals young, you know that. Half the world thinks I'm about 21 now, you know. Promise not to tell on me?"
"I promise. I can't believe you told me."
"Why? Do you think I don't trust you? Should I put it into a pre-nup?"
"Are we getting married?" Robbie was completely taken by surprise.
Jasper hesitated. "Honey, I love you, but I'm really uncomfortable. Can we talk about this later?"
"Sure." Robbie sounded so dejected that Jasper got up and fed her a room-service breakfast in bed.
Later that morning they were walking on the beach. "Ro?" Jasper asked.
"Yeah?" There was something in her lover's tone that alerted Robbie: they were about to have a very serious conversation.
"I know there's… I've gone through all the bullshit, okay? I know you have too. There's tons of it out there. But between us, I just want truth. I trust you with my life. I'm not-I don't know how-" Jasper shook her head, sucked in a big breath of air and said, "What I'm saying is, I do want to be married to you. Would you… do you want to?"
'Oh, hell, she beat me to it after all' the writer thought. "Yes. Honey, oh yes." Robbie threw her arms around her lover, and they kissed very tenderly for a long time. After looking in each other's eyes for a long moment they slowly resumed their walk, still holding hands. "Jasper, I am committed to you," Robbie continued. "I want to spend my life with you, too." She was silent for a while, as they walked. "Do you want to have a ceremony?" Robbie asked. A sudden thought struck her. "Is this a publicity thing, now the series is over? " she wondered.
Robbie thought about it. "Would we be able to do it privately, duck the press and all that?"
Jasper smiled. "I think we could if we kept it very small. No industry, just us, Michael, and a few of our friends."
"Then yes, I'd like that." Robbie was almost shaking with relief. She couldn't believe she'd doubted the woman next to her. They had been through so much together. Another thought hit her. "I hate churches, though. Can we be somewhere else?"
"Sure. We can do whatever you want."
"Let me think about it."
"Okay." But Jasper kept thinking aloud. "We could go to Canada… do a little skiing… do you ski?"
Robbie laughed. "No. And no dogsleds. Or hockey."
"Riiiight, No hockey. No wonder Canadians think Americans are shallow. Registered domestic partners then?"
"That sounds so… utilitarian."
"I know. But we are." Jasper smiled. "How a about civil ceremony? We could go to Vermont."
"Vermont has residency requirements, and it doesn't mean a damn thing."
"Well, let's not do that then." Jasper found this getting married idea was going to be a bit more complex than she'd originally thought. "What the heck does marriage mean anyway? Is it just another contract? That's so unromantic. But…"
Robbie realized she was being difficult. "I… let me think about it, okay? In the meanwhile, how about a vacation in Vermont? We could go there next summer. Maybe do a little trout fishing? Would that be all right?" She thought to herself that it would be the perfect place to stop between the New York engagement and the Toronto one. That was assuming Jasper liked the material she was about to give her, and that Michael talked Ed into running with the idea of the one-woman comedy show as a vehicle for Jasper. Ed was close to retiring, and not very effective, but Michael had tactfully managed to take up a lot of the slack.
"Whenever you want, sweetheart." Jasper was puzzled by the delay, but not disturbed by it. She was beginning to form a plan of her own, but it would have to wait for their return to Los Angeles.
Robbie had decided to give Jasper her present after dinner; she'd kept teasing the actress by trying to get her to look for gift-wrapped boxes. She'd secretly printed out the show she'd written for Jasper enlisting one of the resort staff to get it wrapped for delivery with dessert.
"So this is it? The mysterious present?"
"Just open it," Robbie grinned.
Jasper pulled off the wrapping, and stared at the manuscript. "Forty Sevens?" Jasper asked, as she read the cover page. "A one-act play. By Roberta Mackenzie."
"It doesn't really have a firm title yet. I just put that as filler for the copyright notice." Robbie was suddenly intensely self-conscious. She had put a lot of herself into the manuscript, as well as some of the characters Jasper had been doing to entertain her over the time they had been together.
Jasper began to read aloud, her tone wondering, as she found her way around the different characters, all people who walked past a certain address, Forty-seven Oak Street. An hour later, her voice quavered as she read the final thoughts of the old woman dying behind the curtains of the ground floor apartment: "…into the light. Into the light. Into the light." A long silence followed.
"That was the most amazing cold reading I've ever heard," Robbie finally said when she could find her voice. They were both in tears; for all the humor that had preceded, the end was very touching as the dying woman, hearing all the thoughts of the passerby, brought them together before taking her last breath.
"That's the most amazing thing I've ever read," Jasper said, blowing her nose as the prosaic reasserted itself. "I can hardly believe you wrote this for me. How long have you been working on it?"
"Oh, I don't know. A while. It just grew."
"And I'm the first to read it?"
"Yeap. Mr.Ed knows it exists, though. Michael has had him setting up some bookings."
"Sight unseen? How did you manage that?"
"You're famous, Hon. We can always re-schedule, but actually Ed agreed it was a great way to keep you in the gene pool."
"Unbelievable. Without Michael, you know, old horse-face would have me opening in the Pribilofs in February. I have to thank you for having such a great brother."
"I know. And you're welcome. Eve knew I was doing a project for you too, only I swore her to secrecy," Robbie continued. "She's been charged with finding us a director. Unless you have someone in mind who you'd like?"
"No, I'm not sure… it will have to be someone who can deal with all our… all our stuff. It's all in here. I still don't know how you did that."
"After sharing your life for three years, honey, I know you. I may not know all the details, but I know your heart."
"Michael, where are we going?" Robbie was surprised by her brother's high spirits when he'd come to their office at her old home, and insisted on driving her to an appointment. "And why the big mystery?"
"You'll see." He looked so pleased with himself that Robbie wondered what had put him in such a good mood.
"The therapist miscalculate your prescription again?" She asked ironically.
"Oh, no. Just wait. I'm sure you'll be pleased."
But Robbie was more confused than anything when she was ushered into a beautifully paneled office, filled with plants and soft neutral carpeting.
Jasper arrived a few moments after they did, out of breath, and carrying an armload of flowers. "Hi sweetheart. Sorry I'm late," she said.
"You are right on time," Michael commented as his sister unresistingly took the flowers that had been put in her arms. "Come on Sis. Let's go do this."
"What?" Robbie was surprised to see Irma Colton, her lawyer, conferring with two other women as she was ushered into a very nice inner office.
"Well," Jasper explained, "domestic partnership doesn't really hold any water legally. So in honor of our nuptials, Michael and I-that is to say, our lawyers-worked out a legal arrangement that covers everything we'd need to do if we could legally get married. So we're here to do-"
"A pre-nup?" Robbie asked, shaking her head. "I can't believe you," she said to her brother. "Was this your idea?"
"Actually, it was mine," Jasper said. "He just brought you along for the ride."
Two hours later, Jasper and Robbie left the building and got into Jasper's Mercedes. Robbie wiped her brow and sank into the seat with a huge sigh.
"Tired?" Jasper asked.
"Oh, my god, yes," Robbie sighed. "If I hear the word 'subdivide' one more time I think I might lose the remains of my mind. "DON'T you dare," she added as she saw a smile of pure wickedness cross Jasper's face. "It's bad enough with Michael. He thrives on hashing out every little detail. If he wasn't a lawyer, he should have been a stage manager."
"Just be glad my property was already made up of several lots," Jasper said. "If I'd had to start from scratch this could have taken us years to sort out." They now both had equal shares of Jasper's real estate, but there was a conservation restriction on the orange grove and Robbie owned the lot her writing studio occupied outright. They had incorporated as a business, giving them both more security and some tax advantages. There were provisions for every conceivable and inconceivable eventuality, including death, divorce, fire, flood, fame, lawsuits, earthquakes, and children, if any. Robbie hadn't given any thought to kids, and hadn't even realized that Jasper might want them, until the lawyer asked the question.
"Do straight people have to go through this kind of thing?" Robbie wanted to know.
"Nope. If I were male you'd automatically get half of everything. I think Michael was a little shocked you'd already changed your will, though. I have to confess I was too. When did you do that?"
"Couple of years ago. A little while after we got back from Mexico, to be exact-the time when you gave me the ring. I knew you weren't doing that lightly. I didn't own much except my copyrights, but I couldn't stand the thought that, if something happened to me, Michael would get everything, including all the rights to the things I was writing for you."
"Gosh. I didn't even have a will. I should have, I guess. I owned stuff. I just couldn't imagine who I'd leave my things to, since I don't have any family at all."
"Didn't," Robbie corrected. "And now you do." She smiled. "And I think Michael is finally satisfied. Did you notice he introduced you to Irma as his sister in law?"
"Uh huh. Big change from the attitude he took in the beginning, wasn't it?"
"Do you want kids?"
The actress was silent for a long moment. "I think I might. Not right this second. I couldn't do them justice and stay in the biz too. I'm just not famous enough to take a year off. Or more. And I don't want spoiled brats who are raised by maids and hardly know us. How about you?"
"I honestly never thought about it." Robbie was silent for a while, as they got into the carpool lane. "I'm with you on not wanting them raised by the servants, though. I hate those little Hollywood automations who never had childhoods."
"I'm not ready yet. I want to be… I want to have one big movie, at least. Something to embarrass our kids with when they're old enough to rent it."
Robbie laughed. It had been a very strange exercise to go through all the provisions for dividing their property if they split up, and she'd resisted the idea at first, but somehow she felt more secure for doing it. It wasn't just Jasper's generosity, but her willingness to take responsibility for being a true partner, and to face the consequences that failure would bring. Robbie felt truly safe, and a little scared at the same time. Which, come to think of it, was how Jasper had made her feel from the beginning.
She did a lot of laughing in the next weeks, as they rehearsed Jasper's one woman show. As a director, Seth Angel had turned out to be the embodiment of an angel. He worked out the interconnections of the bits and refined the action until it was a seamless, fully integrated whole. He soothed relations with the union, and brought out the best in the sound and lighting directors they'd hired.
More to the point he appreciated Robbie and understood Jasper, in ways that brought out the best in both of them.
The narrow road wound along a gorge between very tall, very green, trees. Sunlight sparkled on leaves, on a trickle of water beside the road. It was very peaceful here, Robbie thought, in a completely different way from California. For one thing, there were unquestionably more trees than people, and the trees themselves, though not as big as Redwoods, were huge by LA standards. People were relaxed and friendly, if sometimes a bit taciturn. And there were cows, who also seemed to outnumber the human population, but seemed to take a similar attitude. Perhaps it wasn't the most fashionable part of Vermont in which to vacation, but they didn't care.
Nestled into a rocky outcrop at the top of a mountain, their rented house gave spectacular views over a cleared field out into hazy distances defined by ranges of the blunt New England mountains, scraped down by the weight of ancient glaciers. They had a fireplace, books, and an enormous waterbed. It was cool and breezy there, with a brook running down beside the road to a swimming hole nearby.
Jasper collapsed onto the sofa while Roger and his wife Maddy brought in the luggage. They were staying the guest cottage, while Kari and her girlfriend were at another house nearby. Jasper and Robbie considered themselves fortunate that the people who kept them safe were also now among their closest friends.
"I'm glad we came here," Jasper said. "I like this area. It's a great place to rest between gigs."
"Yes. And I'm glad we can do some impromptu stops where you can just sit in for a set, or improv things. It really gives me a lot of insight into the different audiences."
"Yeah, Town Hall was really fun. I hope you didn't mind my adding those characters."
"Honey, are you kidding? They were brilliant. And the audience ate them up. For once I think there were more characters in the audience than on stage. I think the idea of being able to shift material like that is genius."
"Not original to me, you know. Victor Borge did it all the time."
"Well, don't argue with success. But while we're here all we need to do is relax. It's a wonderful place."
Seems like a very nice community, too." There had been the inevitable eye-widening moments when Jasper was recognized, but no one had so much as asked for an autograph, and everyone was completely respectful. For the first time in a long time Robbie and Jasper both felt completely safe.
They slept in; they swam and fished. They had dinners at an old tavern down the road. None of the chairs matched, but the food was wonderful. Kids played on the lawn in front of the church next door; cicadas sang in the twilight. One evening, while they were waiting for Roger and Maddy to return with the van, Jasper wandered into the church. Robbie followed. Despite a bit of restrained stained glass in the windows it was quite plain in a typical old New England way, with simple white pews and a small lectern in and alcove at the western end of the room.
"Can I help you?" A pleasant, white-haired woman asked. She had been shuffling through pages at the lectern.
"Just looking" Robbie replied.
"Can I interest you in tickets for a turkey-and-pie supper next week?"
"Sorry, we leave on Friday," Jasper explained. "But you have a very nice church. It feels good to me.'
"Thank you. I like to think about the people who made this place, the hands that went into fashioning the pews, that made the meals, comforted the sick, tended babies; it's the work of love. That's how I look at the ministry. It's a work of love." She looked at them more closely. "Would you two be getting married?"
"We are married," Robbie explained. "We've been together three years. Three and a half."
"You seem very happy together," The woman commented. "But if you would like me to marry your spirits, I'd be delighted to perform a commitment ceremony for you."
"What do you think sweetheart?" Jasper asked, knowing Robbie hated churches. Or more precisely, she claimed to be allergic to them. When they'd registered as Domestic Partners, Robbie had looked at the cartoon on the bulletin board behind the clerk and said she'd much rather have Snoopy looking over her shoulder than Christ, under the circumstances.
"Well…" The last thing Robbie wanted was the religious claptrap she associated with church weddings. "I don't care much for pomp and Mendelssohn."
"It's not pomp, dear. If you've promised to love each other in the sight of god, that's all that's necessary." The minister explained
"Really? As simple as that?"
"As simple as that." the elderly woman confirmed. "If you'll excuse me, I have to go put all this away. You are welcome to stay as long as you want. I'll be downstairs in my office."
Jasper wandered over to the table that served as an altar, and lit a candle. Robbie followed.
"Jasper?" She took the actress's hand.
"Do you love me?"
"I do." They kissed gently. "I promise." Jasper turned the question around "Do you love me?"
"I do," Robbie confirmed. "I promise I always will."
They kissed once more. Deep, peaceful silence settled over them, as they stood in front of the simple altar. After a time they went over to the front pew and sat down, still holding hands
"When did you know?" Jasper asked.
"I think… I think it was when you hugged me. After I broke the computer. That's when it really started, for me. How about you?"
"I told you. I fell in love with you when you told me off in front of everybody, and no one else even knew what you'd said. But I knew you could handle me, then."
They sat holding hands and watching the candle-flame in silence for a time, while a nameless, formless, sensation of peace stole over them. The children had quieted down; the sun had set. At last Jasper stirred.
"Roger will be looking for us," she said.
"Jasper?" Robbie asked. Her partner looked at her, not speaking. "I think we are married in the sight of god. I never thought I'd be able to make my peace with him too. Thank you for bringing me in here."
"You're welcome sweetheart. I think we are too." Jasper put a donation card in her pocket, intending to send a gift to the church later. Then she got up and blew out the candle, and they walked back outside to take up life together.
(But it never is, is it?) Epilogue: 15 years later…
"Aunt Jazz! Do you want a hot dog?" The childish voice rang out across the dry lawn.
Jasper looked over at her half-sister's daughter and nodded, smiling. "Sure, Alice. Ask Ro if she wants one too."
"I still can't believe you are really going to eat something so unhealthy," Robbie commented, taking a slightly burnt hamburger from the plate the seven-year-old offered them as they stood by the picnic table.
"Why? Just because I had to keep the weight off all those years?" Jasper asked. She grinned as she added chili, onions, and a generous handful of shredded cheese to the hot dog. "I'm going to enjoy my retirement, anyway. Will you still love me if I'm fat and ugly?"
"Jasper, you will never be ugly to me. I'm happy to see you stop starving yourself at last. I just know what that's going to do to you at about three o'clock tomorrow morning, that's all. Don't wake me up, that's all I'm asking." Robbie sighed, knowing it was a forlorn hope. She was going to be up too, there was no question. Mentally she scanned Jasper's sister's medicine cabinet for heartburn remedies. Then a thought occurred to her. "You don't secretly hate me because I'm a lot heavier that I used to be, do you?"
"No, Honey. You're just right." Jasper mumbled as she struggled with the messy food.
"I'm always right." Robbie teased, as her sister-in law brought out a bowl of potato salad. "I'll be right about this too, wait and see."
"Yes, dear." Jasper rolled her eyes. They were sitting now, in cheap plastic lawn chairs, in a suburban backyard in Illinois. It was the last place Jasper would have expected to be celebrating her tentative retirement from acting, but she felt content. She had never had her much-desired "big movie," but she'd done quite a bit of TV work, as well as comedy and the occasional stage role. A few commercials filled in the gaps. No casting agents had shown any interest for quite a while, and she had talked it over with Robbie and finally decided to just retire. She was reasonably financially secure; they wouldn't be able to buy a bigger mansion, or a third home, but they'd paid off Grace and Ted's mortgage, and if Alice wanted to go to college in few years, Jasper thought they could put her through it. In the meanwhile they'd planned a long trip starting after the holiday with her sister.
She stopped eating for moment and mused on the unlikely sequence of events that had led to her finding the remains of her family. Once she'd found that she'd been put up for adoption, Jasper went looking for her parents. Years of searching had uncovered nothing; the records had been lost. But just when she'd almost given up, the vagaries of airline seating had put her partner on a plane next to a minister who was familiar with the town, the agency, and Jasper's biological mother herself. She was also named Alice, the minister told Robbie, and had given her the means for them to get in touch with the woman.
Jasper had always wondered what led to her mother's abandoning her. The reasons were relatively simple. She'd been under-age, without a house, a job, or a steady boyfriend, and let her parents pressure her into giving the child up for adoption. She'd had a long struggle with depression afterwards, and many troubles with her parents. Eventually she'd pulled herself together, finished high school, gone to nursing school, and married another man. She had Grace, Jasper's sister, with him, although he died when Grace was still quite young.
When Jasper finally contacted her mother, the woman had already been diagnosed with cancer, but at the time she was in remission, and well enough to meet them. They had a chance to become acquainted before the mother died. Jasper also met the half-sister she hadn't known existed. Her adoptive parents never forgave her for running away, but Grace and her husband Ted had been happy to have an unexpected sibling, and unfazed at either Jasper's fame or sexual orientation. Alice senior's death brought them much closer together. As they weathered the pain of her final illness, they bonded in ways that transcended time and difference.
Jasper looked down at the remains of the food on her plate and said, "You're right, you know. I know I'm going to regret this. Do you want me to sleep on the sun-porch?"
Robbie looked a little surprised at her spouse's easy capitulation. "No, honey. I'll live. Have some Pepto-Abysmall before you go to bed, okay?"
"Don't even think about it. What are you, a teenager?" Robbie sounded exasperated.
"What are you talking about?" Grace asked, half her attention on Alice, who was sliding enthusiastically down a short slide into her little wading pool. Grace still found their conversational style confusing sometimes, since they rarely needed to finish a sentence with each other.
"Beans." Robbie said succinctly.
"Bulimia," Jasper sighed. "Occupational hazard."
"Oh, Jasper. I'm sorry. I went through that too," Grace admitted. "Mom was almost ready to put me in a hospital, but she ended up taking me on a long vacation away from mirrors instead."
"Sometimes I wish someone had done that for me," Jasper said. "But if I'd never gone out west to do the acting thing I'd never have met this one." She looked at Robbie. "And that would never, never do. You know, even after all these years, you still surprise me."
"Really? You mean you don't always know exactly what I'm thinking at any given moment?"
"Nope. Well, I have some general ideas-I know you cry when you're angry, for example." Jasper said.
"Eh. Well, you get angry when you're scared. So we're even." Robbie looked at her partner. But the discussion was interrupted as Ted came out with the phone in his hand.
"Call for you, Jazz," he said. "I thought you big Hollywood types all had cell phones."
"We do," Jasper said, accepting the phone. "We turn them off for family." She looked at Robbie. "Who besides Eve and Michael knows we're here?"
"No one." Robbie said, smirking when Jasper greeted Michael on the other end of the line.
Jasper listened for a bit. "The what? Say that again?… That's what I thought you said… Uh huh… uh huh… uh huh… Maybe…. When? You're kidding. No, We're in the middle of dinner. No. Yes. I don't know… You want to talk to her? Here she is." She handed the phone over.
"Hi, Michael. What's up?" Robbie asked. A long pitch followed. It seemed there was a juicy part for Jasper in an upcoming film. No title yet, but the story was perfect. It was the perfect character role, a wildly eccentric woman who did everything by accident, including saving the ingenue (her daughter) and solving the murder. Jasper was perfect for it; it was perfect for her. They would have to fly out tonight, to be in the producer's office in the morning. She had to talk Jas into doing it. "I don't have to talk her into anything… No, I didn't mean that's an automatic 'yes'… Well, come on, Mikie, she's only one chilidog into retirement… No, she can make up her own mind… Yes, we'll call you back. Bye, Bro." She looked over at Jasper. "What do you think, honey?"
Jasper just looked at her. "I'm sorry… I know you were looking forward to our trip…would you mind very much?"
Robbie shrugged. "It's really up to you. I'm not the one who has to wear the costumes."
Jasper sighed. "I know it's going to put the kibosh on all our plans, but it just sounds so… perfect."
"You want it." Robbie stated. "So go ahead. Why not?"
"You know why." Jasper said. Visions of their planned extended tour, starting with family, going through Europe, and then around the world, crossed both their minds. It was supposed to be research for Robbie's novel, but they both knew that was really just an excuse to travel, as Robbie hadn't started a word of it.
But Jasper looked so hopeful, Robbie had to laugh. "Goofball." She said. "We can barge down the Nile some other year."
"I know I used to say playing someone's Mom was the kiss of death, but how often will I get to trap a murderer in a bathtub full of lime vodka Jell-O?" Jasper was already intrigued.
"You WHAT?" Robbie laughed. "Never mind. I know you'd rather act than do anything else."
"It's what I do." Jasper summed it up. "I'll call Mike… Eve can change the tics…"
"Here we go again," Robbie smiled, watching the old excitement rise up in Jasper as she spoke to their assistant.
"You don't mind? Grace asked, catching only that plans had changed, and a project was on offer.
"Nah. Jasper with a good part is better than a roller coaster. I predict we'll be back for Christmas, though. Better order the snow."
"One white Christmas, coming up. In the meanwhile, we'll take you to the airport."
"Thanks. I'd better pack. I'm glad we had a few days with you anyway, even if it did get cut short."
"It's always too short," Grace agreed. "Alice, come on, honey, let's get you into dry things. We're going for a drive."
As their sister and niece went back into house, Jasper put down the phone. They looked at each other, and moved together to share a kiss.
"So," Robbie teased, "it begins again."
Th-the-thuh-th-that's all, folks.