The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
Copyright ©  2002

Part X:  Your Call Is Important To Us

For disclaimers, see Part I

The phone rang in the D'Amico's house just before the soft blue glow of the numbers on the digital clock blinked forward to 1 AM.  Sara, Dave and Marcy, who had all dozed off within the first 15 minutes of the rental movie they were watching together in the living room, all looked blearily at each other, and Marcy fumbled a bit in the darkened room before she managed to find the mute button on the remote for the TV, and then hit the stop button on the VCR remote as well. She yawned as the phone rang again, insistent and loud.

"Let Sara get it, Dave." Marcy had no doubt about who was calling at this late hour.

Sara lifted herself wearily off the couch, aching and tense with fatigue and apprehension. The phone rang again. She looked at Marcy. "Are you sure?"

Marcy nudged Dave. "C'mon. We're going to bed. Sara will leave us a note."  Dave struggled to his feet as his sister moved sluggishly to pick up the phone.

He held his hand out to Marcy, and helped her up. He looked at his sister, brows raised for emphasis. "Be nice.  She's just confused.

Sara nodded at him numbly and clearing her throat, she spoke with some hesitation into the receiver. "Hello?"


"Hey Chloe."

"I'm glad its you. I'm sorry its so late, but when I got here, I was so tired. I stretched out on the bed and fell asleep."

Sara tried to sound sympathetic, but she was still sleepily on guard and edgy. "That's OK. We were just watching a movie."

"Anything good?"

"Bruce Willis. One of the 'Die Hards."

"Ah."  Chloe had her back against the headboard of the bed, and was clutching a pillow as unconcious protection against her chest. The room was dim, lit only by the light on the nightstand, and with Sara sounding like she was so close by, she suddenly knew that Sara was very far away. Too far away. "Sara?"

Sara settled back into the warmth of the couch. "Yeah? I'm right here."

"I miss you already."

Sara was perplexed at how vulnerable Chloe sounded, she had somehow expected Chloe to be defiantly chipper. It made her reflexively protective in return.  "I miss you too. Where are you?"

Chloe picked up the room card she had put on the nightstand, and read it aloud to Sara, with an odd feeling that it would magically explain everything about where she was, and why. "Room 917. Holiday Inn."

"Which Holiday Inn?"

"Well, from what the clerk at the desk told me, about 15 minutes away from USC."


"Yeah, you know, USC ... home of the Trojans. Football. Big film school. Nelson's school."

Sara really didn't need that much clarification.  She was quite familiar with the area. She just wasn't familiar with Chloe being in that area.  She made a dazed statement. "You're in California."

"Well, it seems so. I haven't seen much of it, but I think that's where the plane stopped. I wanted to ..."

Sara interrupted, finally fully cognizant of the implications of all of what Chloe had just said. "You're in CALIFORNIA?"  She was so surprised, her next question was completely automatic, without thinking. "Where's your car?'

Chloe pulled the phone away from her ear, and stared at it, before bringing it back. "In Cleveland, where I left it."

"What the hell are you doing in California? I mean, we thought, uh, I thought ... CALIFORNIA?"  She blurted, "What the hell is the matter with you??"

Chloe got a little defensive, she had hoped to be able to explain before Sara started yelling at her. "Sara. Whoa. Sara?"

"I'm still here."  Her deep breath was audible across the continent that separated them. "Go ahead."

"I've never seen California. You talk about it a lot. Nelson is moving here, what, for like five years? Maybe longer?  I wanted to see it, I wanted to walk the campus, see the sights, get a feel for it. I didn't think, I just did."

"Great," Sara said tonelessly.

"Well, I felt like I needed to do something ... extreme, Sara. I never do that. So, look, apparently I did. It was a choice between having to drive in a stuffy car for six hours, or fly for six hours in air conditioned comfort. I chose the second one."

Sara was swiftly getting more exasperated. "But if you wanted to see California, it's something we could have done ... together. I mean, I could show you around, I know it out there."

"That's just it, Sara. I wanted to experience it on my own, see it with my own eyes, like I'm ... this is going to sound silly ..."


"Like I'm on some adventure, you know, by myself. An explorer. Grown Up Chloe. It's hard to explain ..."

Sara thought a moment, and then sighed. "No, I get it. Some of it. Sort of. When I first went out there, that's exactly how I felt." And scared, too. "What are you going to do there?"

"Well, I'm really wanting to just ... soak things up. I don't really want to do touristy things, I just want to drive around, maybe check out the movie star homes, I know that's hopelessly touristy but hey ... visit the stadium where Nels might be playing football, the campus theatre, just, you know ... wander a bit. Breathe some different air. West Coast air. It's hard to explain."

Sara gritted her teeth and blew out a breath. Chloe was in California, and there was nothing she could do about it, she couldn't just hop in her car and go get her, bring her back where she belonged. It was only a week. Keep telling yourself that, D'Amico. "You're going to be there for a week?"

"I'll be back next Saturday for Nelson's party. Although my flight doesn't get into Cleveland until after 7, and then I have a two hour drive back home." Chloe's voice got serious. "You know I wouldn't miss Nelson's party, right, I mean, I took that into consideration ..."

Sara's skin prickled at the word. "Consideration? Funny, that's a great word right now. Consideration. Thanks. You're being more considerate of Nelson ..."

"Than I am of you?" Chloe interjected. "You're probably right. Scotch that. I know I am.  And I'm sorry about that. But I needed to get away ..."

"From me, right? You needed to get away from me."

"No, from ... Stonecreek. From the all the things I was doing, from all the stuff I was feeling. I need to get it sorted out. Then I'll come back, and things can get back to normal again ..." She laughed, no humor behind it. "As normal as things are there. I mean, lately, it's just too much. I've never felt like this, like I can't handle how I feel, and I seem to be doing a bad job of just ... coping."

Sara suddenly remembered what Marcy had told her. "Marcy told me about the panic attack, Chloe. Why didn't you just tell me?"

Chloe clutched the pillow to her middle even tighter. "I, uh, hell, I don't know. I figured, well, I don't know. It's stupid. I should have just told you. I just felt like it was something I should deal with on my own. It was all so new. I've ... I know that's inconsiderate of me."

"Listen, I know what they're like. Me. I should know. And I know I've been putting a lot of pressure on you lately, and it's my fault, and I'm sorry."

"No, Sara, it's not your fault!  I've been, well, putting the pressure on myself. Getting all tied up in knots about things, and I thought if I told you, you would think I was being a jerk, or nuts, or both. And I was afraid I would let you down if I said anything. I mean, here's you, being all positive and gung ho, and here's me, thinking up the worst scenarios for everything.  And I just ... popped. I guess."

"What are you afraid of, Chloe? Are you afraid of me?"

"No. Yes. Kind of."

"There's a definitive answer."

Chloe laughed genuinely this time. It felt good to be talking to Sara, even if it was this loopy, odd and disconnected conversation. But she felt like she was getting something important accomplished. She was allowing herself to express some inner fears to Sara. "I'm not physically afraid of you. I'm more, well, emotionally afraid. Like, we'll get the house, and then you'll want a dog, or two, with a jacuzzi, and then we won't spend any time together, because you'll always be in the jacuzzi with the dogs, and I'll be calling a divorce lawyer and whining to Marcy about how you love those damned dogs and that idiotic, unsafe jacuzzi more than me and well ..."

"Hold on a minute. What dogs? What jacuzzi? What the heck are you talking about?"

Although Sara sounded very confused and irritated, Chloe was far away enough to feel secure enough to be open, and the absurd freedom of it triggered her giggle. "That's just the thing, Sara. I got all worked up over you possibly wanting dogs, which I've never been around, and wanting a jacuzzi on the back of the house, which I surely wouldn't want ... I would hate that.  The worst possible, silly scenarios, that would drive us apart. They just seem to come to me out of left field."  Chloe took a deep breath in. "Don't you see? It's all me, it's nothing that you've done. It's just the ways that things could go bad. It really scares me. You don't scare me. I love you."

Sara rubbed her cheek tiredly with her free hand. "Cats, Chloe. How about a cat or two?"

Chloe was pleased that Sara seemed to be catching on to what she was trying to say. "Cats. I think I could live with that. Now about the jacuzzi?"

"It wouldn't be any fun without you in it, and cats, they tend to stay away from water. How about a really big ... bathtub instead?"

"You see? I get myself all worked up for nothing most of the time. But it feels real. There's so many things that could go wrong, so many things I could do wrong. I'm so sure about what goes on in the rest of my life. Work. Piece of cake. Directing school plays; I was born to do that. Teaching at Glenhurst. No problem. Moving in with my girlfriend? Terrifies me. I should be able to do this too. This is so stupid. I'm stupid."

"What? No you're not stupid, and yes, you CAN do this. We just need to talk more.  You need to talk to me more, Chloe. I know I'm not easy to talk to, I don't talk a lot in return. But I do listen, and well, we have to do both if this is going to work."  She had to ask. "You do want this to work out, don't you, Chloe?"

"More than anything, Sara. I just don't want it to work out badly, that's all. And I need to feel like this isn't all so overwhelming.  Like this is the way my life is supposed to go.  I wouldn't want you ... us ... me to get into a house, be together, and then find out that it isn't really what we wanted. That I'm not the one for you ..."

"But you are!  How many times, how many ways can I say it?"

"How can you be so sure? I mean, I'm a little crazy, a little impetuous, that's obvious. I wouldn't be $579 poorer right now, plus the hotel bill, and all the way across the country on top of THAT if I wasn't a little nutsy. Are you sure? I punched out a screen door the other day. That's not like me. I'm not even sure I'm good for myself right at this moment in time."

"I just know, is all. I knew it the moment I saw you pacing that stage with that determined look on your face, and when you laughed, instead of getting angry, when you realized you had on that ridiculous 'Porn Star' cap on. I figured, right then, down deep, that you might be able to handle me.  I certainly think I can handle you. If you give me a chance. It's just the family ... and friends I'm not so sure about. I'm not sure I can deal with some of them." She stopped there, unsure of how Chloe would react to that.

Chloe picked at the edge of the nightstand with her fingernail. She knew she had to bring something important up, and she was hesitant to do so. It might ruin everything, deep six any understanding they may have reached in their short conversation. But she had to do it, and had to tell her lover, even though she knew Sara would probably blow a gasket. Here goes. "Sara. That reminds me. I have to do something else while I'm out here." She hugged the pillow for strength. "Please, don't get mad."

Sara steeled herself. "What?"

"I want to, I already called her before I left Stonecreek ...  I'm going to go see Sandy."

Sara, tired from long hours in the hot sun, and her emotionally draining day, had not put Chloe + California = Sandy Baker together until Chloe brought it up now. Her voice got harsh. "What? What for!?"

"To talk to her. I need to talk to her. Resolve some things that never got taken care of." There was total silence from the other end of the line, and her heart sunk. "Sara?"

Sara's empathetic mood had evaporated, replaced by jealous anger.  She stood up from the couch, and her voice lowered into a disgusted growl. "Great. Just great. That's the real reason you're out there, isn't it? ISN'T IT?"

"No, come on now, calm down. I'm just going to see her one day early in the week, so just  ..."

"JUST WHAT? Say it's OK?  That you just UP and travel all the way across the country, don't tell anyone where you're going you can have a little CHAT with your ex-lover?" She moved off the couch and began pacing uncomfortably short steps between it and the coffee table. "Tell ya what, Chloe. Tell ya what. You DO that. Figure out whatever you have to, just don't ...not with THIS ... don't expect me to UNDERSTAND!" With that, Sara slammed the phone down hard, hanging up on Chloe.

She was already out of the house when the phone began ringing again.

Chloe had a short conversation with a cranky half-awake Marcy, just long enough to find out that Sara had left the house. Chloe was so upset, she told Marcy just to get the story from Sara the next day. Marcy was plainly irritated with her, her own nerves frayed, and she forgot how to be nice, and told Chloe that she was being an ass, and if Sara hung up on her, well, could you really blame her?

A sleepy Dave wrapped an arm around his agitated love as she climbed back into bed. "What now?"

"That was Chloe. She's in California. California!  And then she got all snippy about Sara hanging up on her about something, and then I told her 'Whattya expect?' and then on top of that, she gets even snippier with me, and tells me she doesn't need me copping an attitude with her right now, and well, I just told her she was being a big immature idiot." Marcy batted her pillow into submission, and snarled out that place name again. "California!"

Dave pulled her closer to him in the bed. "We'll go there some day, you, me and little Oscar Mayer D'Amico. We'll go see Nels out there."

"Well, yeah, I figured." Marcy grumped. "But what has that go to do with all of this?"

"You're just upset 'cause Chloe is in California having an adventure without you. Admit it."

Marcy sighed as she settled into his arms. "Dammit, Dave. I hate this."

He gave her an understanding smooch on the cheek. "What, honey?"

"That you know me so well."

Sunday, in California, and Pennsylvania, was quite a different experience for Donahue and D'Amico alike. For one woman, it was a day off, for the other woman, it was an off day.  In the D'Amico household, Marcy and Sara were wary, limiting their conversation to the barest of strained social niceties. Marcy was so adamant about staying out of Chloe and Sara's problems, she went to the extreme, and pretended as though Chloe didn't exist for the day.  So she never brought the subject up with Sara, who carefully steered clear of Marcy throughout the day just in case she might want to discuss things. Dave left the running of the course to Sara, Nelson and Jeanette, who had decided among themselves that they were a crackerjack team without him fussing about and puttering around.  Sara stayed out on the course, poking with lethal malice at errant weeds, and Nelson and Jeanette ran things from the clubhouse, stealing kisses in between taking greens fees.

Dave and Marcy spent the day wallpapering the baby's bedroom, formerly known as Dave's 'office'. They moved his desk and Lazyboy out of the room, and took down framed pictures of Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Tom Weiskopf and Tiger Woods. Marcy protested mightily, but they ended up hanging those photos in the bathroom, crowding the hallowed picture of Arnold Palmer.  Marcy had originally wanted to paint a mural on the walls of the baby's room, a bright and happy abstract of flowers. Dave thought that would be too 'girly' if, perhaps, their girl actually turned out to be a boy.  He suggested painting the OK Corral, which Marcy shot down with a wide eyed look and a shake of her head. Golf themes were voted out, cartoon characters and anything too childish in the extreme. So they broke down and bought wallpaper instead, consisting of swirled patterns of cheery primary colors.  Marcy was insistent that this child's life was going to begin in a bright way, because his or her parents were anything but bland. Well, Dave was sometimes, but his true nature was a sunny yellow, while Marcy was definitely burned a fiery red, and anything else in between would be provided by a colorful spectrum of friends and relatives.

In California, Chloe spent a good portion of her day thinking about what time it was in Stonecreek. She had adjusted her watch the day before when the plane had set down, but her heart was still beating on Stonecreek time, and the remainder of the week that she was there, it never altered.  So she would rise at extremely early hours, and bed down just after the sun met up with the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The ocean was the first place she visited in her rented Taurus.  She'd never seen the Pacific before, she had spent some time on a road trip with Marcy at the Atlantic Ocean, and she had come away unimpressed. It smelled rather dark, ancient and deeply different as compared to the freshness of her Great Lake, and the waves there held no more majesty or mystery to her than those that met the shoreline of the much maligned Lake Erie. She knew that the ocean held different creatures, inspired different stories of seafaring adventure.  The vessels floating on it were larger, and traveled to more exotic places than those so near her home. She thought herself mildly unromantic for not immediately falling in love with the depth and breadth of the ocean, but she chalked it up to simply knowing what she liked when she saw it.  Just like when she'd met Sara ... she'd known.

   She drove north through and out of the worst of the seemingly unceasing traffic along the Pacific Coast Highway, through the last of hugely crowded Santa Monica with its omnipresent palm trees, past the looming Palisades, and all the way through fabled Malibu with its endless number of eccentric beach houses crammed shoulder to tight shoulder on the cliffs overhanging the beaches, trying to find someplace that was lightly inhabited. Twenty five minutes farther up the coast, she saw a sign for Leo Carillo State Beach, and the name rang a distant bell from her readings about Hollywood and its early movers and shakers. Taking that as a sign, she pulled over into the left turn lane and then down into the tree dotted parking area, and drove all the way down to the end, finding a parking spot right at the edge of the sand, from which she could see sparkling sunlight on the gentle swells of the blue green water.

She popped eagerly out of the car and breathed in the fresh, cool and salty air, kicked off her shoes and walked through the fine white sand, much more velvety than the rough sand beach back home.  She found a quiet spot, with shade nearby, and peeled off her shirt and shorts to reveal an immodest one piece bathing suit. She was determined to do something she hadn't done in years --  achieve a tan. She was inadvertently tanned from spending her hours in her garden, or cutting the grass, or fulfilling her promise of teaching golf lessons to novice hackers at the golf course. And she rarely went more than a few days without hitting nine holes with Dave, who she beat every single time, quite handily.  He swore that by the end of summer, he'd beat her, just once. But he hadn't even come close, even with the somewhat easy layout of his manicured course.

She sat down on her carefully unfolded beach towel and languidly rubbed on some sun screen, and thought again about Dave.  Dave, who was marrying her best friend.  Dave, who unlike all of Marcy's other beaus, didn't seem to resent the closeness of the two women.  Dave had even confided to her about Marcy from time to time, his doubts as well as his dreams, his worries about Sara and Nelson, his hopes for his golf course.  As he and Chloe walked the course during the games they played, he'd told her that perhaps in the next three years or so, he'd like to buy the land adjacent to his property and turn his par three into a proper 18 hole course.  He pointed out landmarks where each hole would go, and they would discuss landscaping the course. He discovered that although Sara had a true greenskeeper's talents, it was Chloe who understood the intricacies of the game itself, the importance of the placement of hazards, the subtle bend of doglegs, the distance in a challenging fairway, the angle of slopes around greens.

And she returned his trust and openness with a surprising amount of truthfulness and honesty of her own.  She'd really never had a male friend that wasn't, as she told him laughingly one day, "trying to get into my pants", and it was very refreshing and novel for her.  He'd commented that maybe that was because she was an only child, and she found herself telling him about how she'd met Marcy, how very harsh Marcy's mother had been to the both of them, and the realization she'd had, after her own mother died, that she'd never really known much about her mother, never got to know her as a person, much less as a friend.  Her mother was always working, trying to pay bills, and once Chloe had been old enough, at age 13 or so, her mother had taken a job as second shift supervisor at work in order to earn more money.  Chloe was completely self sufficient by then, and more often than not, she'd make dinner at night for Marcy and herself, fixing a plate for her mother to eat when she came home after midnight. So, as Chloe explained to an attentive Dave, she never saw her mother much during her teenage years, except for her mom's days off, and by then, Mom's days off meant that Chloe could leave the house, and go do typical teenage things with Marcy. Sometimes, she mused, during her most unguarded moments, she'd felt like she was a replacement mother to Marcy, while maintaining a household that would be as trouble free as possible to her tired and aging mother.  Chloe's voice had caught and held a tremor when she recalled the evening of her graduation ceremony. It was the first Friday in years that she'd seen her mother before midnight.

Dave was a great listener, in that he simply allowed her to talk without asking too many questions, or making comments that weren't necessary or judgmental.  He also was terrific at remembering every little nuance or quirk or emotion embedded in one of Chloe's tales. After a few rounds out on the course, they became a regular duo, almost always looking forward to smacking a little white ball around the converted cow pasture together, laughing, letting people play through when the conversation became more important than the next shot. As time went by, Chloe realized, with a huge smile and a small laugh, that he'd become quite irreplaceable in her life, and she never wanted to do anything to let him down.  As she lay on the warm sand beach next to the softly swelling Pacific, she wondered what he thought of her impulsive actions, and then smiled again. For some reason, she knew he'd understand.

Nelson reluctantly let Jeanette bid him farewell around 5 PM, as the golfers were few and far between now, and the parking lot was emptying out.  He walked her to her car, and gave her a sweet, quick kiss in farewell.  Just like his 'Aunt' Chloe, he wasn't much for public displays of affection, because he always got a lot of ribbing for it when he was caught at it.

This afternoon was no different.  After he wistfully watched her car go up the drive, he turned to walk back to the clubhouse, and saw his father casually leaning against one of the doors, his arms folded, and a big, teasing grin on his face.  Nelson gave him a embarrassed look as he walked towards him. Here it comes.

Dave sucked his teeth awhile before he made his comment. "Nice girl, that Jeanette."  He paused to let Nelson squirm awhile. "She a keeper?"

Nelson's eyes grew wide. "God, Dad, I'm only 18, cut me a break, willya?"  But the glow in his eyes gave him away.

Dave clapped him on the shoulder. "You're hooked.  That's what happens to us D'Amicos, when we fall in love, we fall from the highest mountain into the deepest gorge, and happily never find our way out again. I know that look that you wear on that ugly mug of yours -- it's the same one I see in the mirror everyday. Hopelessly lost. And happy to be that way."  He grinned again at his uncomfortable but softly smiling son, who had moved to lean up against the barn door next to his father. "Yup, all of us. Lost sheep. We practically stick our nose out, waiting for the right woman to come along and put a ring through it. You, me, even your Aunt Sara. Although she's a late bloomer."

Nelson nodded, as they stood and watched some golfers rolling their clubs to their cars from off the 9th green. "Speaking of Aunt Sara ... is there trouble?"

Dave sighed, watching the same golfers as his son. "Yup. Trouble, right here in River City.  Seems our own Marian, Madam Librarian, has flown the coop, flown west to clear the goop out from between her ears."

"California, right?  Marcy told Jeanette, Jeanette told me.  And River City, that's from 'The Music Man', right?"

"Yeah. 'Music Man', damn that Robert Preston is something else. And Shirley Jones, too, she was in 'Oklahoma'.  And 'The Partridge Family."

Nelson gave his dad a puzzled look. "I know the musicals, but, 'The Partridge Family'?"

Dave shook his head, and laughed. "Never mind. I keep forgetting what a fossil I am, and what a young punk you are."

"So, is that why she's been avoiding everyone?"

Dave was still picturing Shirley Partridge driving that big, multicolored school bus. "What? Who?"

"Try and stay with the program, Dad. Aunt Sara. She's way upset, isn't she? I mean, did Chloe tell her she was going?"

Dave kicked at some loose gravel around his feet. "Nope. Chloe got pie eyed, then up and decides the next morning to buy a plane ticket for California. She called and told Marcy last night, before that, she talked to Sara, but Sara ended up hanging up on her. So today, Marcy doesn't talk about it all day, I know she's pissed at Chloe, too, and Sara is out picking on gophers and pond frogs, and neither one of them want to talk to each other about it, because they both think it's not each other's business anymore."

"So, what is up with Chloe, anyway? Does anyone know the straight story?"

Dave let out a great, amused guffaw, and looked at his son. "You're asking ME?  Hell, I get everything second hand."

Nelson quirked a grin. "How about a guess?"

Dave stared at him a moment, and the grin he was wearing slowly faded as he replied. "My guess? Well ... I think Chloe has been independent for way too long. She doesn't know how to give it up."

"But Aunt Sara is so independent, you know, just has been a free spirit for like, forever, hasn't she?"

"But Chloe is different. It's hard to explain. Chloe has been taking care of herself for, well, since she was a little kid. Her independence was sort of, well, not forced on her, but sort of well, she had to live independently in order to survive, emotionally.  I don't think she was born to be a wild thing like your Aunt Sara was or anything, she's just lived on her own, even when she lived with her mom, for so long, I think that it may be hard for her to think of herself as a  ... part of anything. Maybe it scares her. Like I said before, we D'Amicos, we just need the right woman to come along to tame us, domesticate us, and make us devoted and slobbering mates for life." His smile had reappeared as he said those words. "But Chloe, she's, well, she never had much of a  family around, well, one that she can remember -- her dad died when she was young. And her mom never remarried, but ... well, maybe that's why Chloe is so fierce, I think, about  ... giving away her heart.  Anyone who meant anything to her ... have died, or drifted off to someplace else. Her only constants have been Marcy and this town, and the fact that she's never really felt like a part of things, a family, a relationship." He looked at Nelson sheepishly, he wasn't used to thinking deeply about things.  "I'm just guessing, like I said."

Nelson had been listening carefully, hearing things about Chloe that he'd never known before, and the thought of her not having much of a family life made him shake his head in sympathy for her. "So, what, she gets all ... what do they call us guys ... commitment-shy?"

"Yup. Maybe. Who knows?  I hate trying to second guess anything, to try to figure out the future. I just kind of go day to day, Nels."

Nelson elbowed his father. "Seems like minute to minute with you some days, Dad.  But what you said, it makes sense."

Dave gave his son a grateful look. "Really?"

Nelson grinned. "Really."

Dave grabbed at his son, and wrestled him in a playful headlock, which Nelson quickly broke free from, pushing away, laughing. They settled in against the barn door again, and stood quietly side by side, father and son, staring at nothing in particular, mulling through their own thoughts.

Finally, Dave straightened up, and said, "Well, I'd better go see if Marcy wallpapered herself into the corner or something.  She about took my head off when I asked her about Chloe; I thought I'd better keep out of her way.  She's a terror today."  As Dave walked away, he made a pulling motion in front of his face as though he was being led along by his nose towards the house. "We got trouble ...!"  he sang out, grinning at his laughing son.

"Right here in River City!"  Nelson sang back, watching as his dad nearly skipped up the steps and into the house.  Nelson looked around, grabbed an old putter leaning against the door, lifted it high and into the air like a drum major, counted off a few measured beats, and then led an imaginary 76 trombones in a big parade, with a hundred and ten cornets right behind and straight into the barn.

Sara decided to skip the traditional D'Amico Sunday dinner. She knew it would be too difficult for her.  Chloe had been sharing those meals for so long now, that her absence was sure to cast a pall over the usual festive atmosphere that those meals encompassed.  She chose, instead, to eat a meal of some cold tuna noodle casserole in the confines of her sweltering bungalow.  She ate perched in front of her computer, which she had set up at the end of a kitchen counter. She hunted around, and finally found an AOL installation CD that wasn't being used as a coaster. She slipped the disk into the CD-ROM drive, and installed it, and plugged her modem into the nearby phone jack. Early in the next week she'd find a local ISP to use instead, but tonight, this would serve her purposes. She thought a moment about the busy signal that would arise on her line once she was connected, and how she might miss Chloe's call, if she chose to call. She dismissed that thought as she typed in her credit card information and chose a very lame screen name for her account. The password that appeared immediately in her mind gave her a small smile as she typed it twice into the little boxes for confirmation. This was a password she was positive she'd never forget.


Her account thus activated, she immediately left the irritating confines of AOL, and headed out onto the 'net. She went to the Weather Channel site in hopes of finding good news to share with a desperate Dave, and found that the five day forecast was dismally void of any chance of a downpour. She leaned back in her seat, reading the information for the surrounding area, and then typed in a search for the forecast for the area Chloe was visiting. It too appeared dismal to her, sunshine and temperate conditions for the next few days.  She battled herself before she typed in the URL for the Holiday Inn site, and found what she believed was the location of the hotel Chloe was staying in near USC.  She brought up the local site, and saw the telephone and fax information listed there.  She put down her plate, and looked around the counter beside her to see if she could find a pen and paper.  She didn't see any handy, so she bookmarked the site instead.  But her mind, trained from years of memorizing acting lines, had already committed that number to memory.

She swiveled in her chair, back and forth, wiped some perspiration from her brow and then got up to move a 12 inch circulating fan closer to her.  A bit more comfortable, she traveled to a search engine, and typed in some words concerning mortgages and lending.  She skipped the results advertising for companies providing these loans, and went to the general information sites, where she determinedly read all she could, and even typed in some financial figures for an engine that promised to figure out monthly mortgage payments based on interest rates, down payment and closing costs. She first typed in her projected monthly income, and what she thought Chloe's round numbers would be, and was pleased with the results. Then, on a whim, she typed in her own figures without the addition of Chloe's, and the answers on her monitor brought a deep frown to her face. Determined to succeed, she visited site after site, reading as much as she could about home mortgages, credit requirements and other real estate legalese, until her eyelids grew heavy with the late hour, and her brain could hold no more information without it leaking out her ears.

There has to be a way.

Chloe was laying naked on the bed in her room with the covers thrown back, and her sunburn was cooling against the clean cotton sheets of her bed.  She had the phone in her hand, dialing once again, and getting that damned busy signal. Who is she talking to?  Never mind,  I don't want to know.  She'd been dialing, over and over again for over an hour, and had continuously been stymied by the hideous beeping that notified her that the line was tied up.

She grabbed the remote control, after slamming the phone down impatiently in its cradle. She kept a constant pressure on the channel button, watching as the images in front of her changed like a speeding slide show.  She decided to try again in ten minutes. No, five. Damn, this is a bitch.   She picked listlessly at the remains of her take out salad, deciding that the bermuda onions weren't so awful after all, especially when slathered with her own dressing concoction - Franch.  She smiled to herself as she popped another red ring into her mouth. French and Ranch combined. Franch. I should write to Wishbone, or Seven Seas. I could be on salad bars across the world.  She mentally had a conversation with a imaginary waitress.

"And on your Cobb salad, Ma'am?"

"Hmm,  oh, make that Franch, please. On the side."

That imaginary order was interrupted by her mind taking a sudden swerve back to her original subject.  She looked at the clock, and decided that she'd been very patient for nearly four minutes, so luck had to be in her favor. She dialed the number again, and there it was, the beep-beep-drone-drone of a busy line.

Dammit. All I need is five minutes. Just three minutes. That's all it would take. I hate telephones, because of busy signals, and especially cell phones and people who drive and talk and don't pay attention to the road, and those idiots who walk around stores chatting with someone on the other end about what socks they're looking at like it's some huge decision they have to make.  And they're always ringing in the middle of a meal, or late at night when I'm all snuggled up with  ...

Suddenly chilled, she pulled the covers over her, and dialed again. This time, when the sound was the same, busy busy busy, she slammed the phone down with some real anger.

All I need is a minute, that's all. I have to tell her. It's not fair to leave her thinking one way, when I'm thinking entirely in another. This just isn't going to work, I know it, I have to tell her now while I have my nerve up. I hate the thought of doing this over the phone, but ... I'm a coward.  That's what I am.  A friggin' little coward.

She looked at the phone one more time, picked up the receiver then took a deep breath, and dialed again, hitting each number with a deliberate, steady cadence. A scant moment later, the phone was replaced gently and defeatedly in its cradle, and although the light of day was still peaking around the edges of the drapes in Chloe's room, she turned off the light, then the TV, and pulled the covers even more tightly around her as she closed her eyes.

I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry I'm such a coward.  

Continued in Part XI

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