The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
© 2002

Part XII: From a Distance, The World Looks Blue and Green


For disclaimers, see Part I

Chloe had her rented Ford's radio station tuned to an alternative rock station, and she was headbanging to Puddle Of Mud, Rob Zombie and Linkin Park, all fairly new music to her, introduced to her earlier in the summer by Nelson. He, like Chloe, - his close to being his Aunt by implied marriage - loved all kinds of music. From Broadway to Bach, from bluegrass to ladies who sang the blues, to the 'cry baby' singers such as Connie Francis, Patsy Cline and Johnny Mathis, and all around the diverse and different blocks of gospel and bubblegum, TV show themes and Weird Al Yankovic and Polka Party. He and Chloe would play 'Name That Tune' in the barn's clubhouse on the days that they worked together, Nelson taking greens fees, she patiently teaching 6 and 7 year olds how to hold a cut off driver then showing a neophyte 67 year old golfer the correct way to tee up a ball. He was quietly amazed at her endless good spirits when teaching these diverse newbies, and as he stood in the door of the barn, watching surreptitiously, he more than once looked at her with more than respect in his young eyes, he looked at her as any young man would when admiring a beautiful and intelligent woman, and he swallowed back his crush on her more times than he could count. But the crush eventually waned and a deeper love chased away his rounds with rising testosterone levels when he interacted with her.

She returned his feelings, it was not hidden on her part just how much this strapping, steadfast and noble young man had become someone so important to her. She had been quietly aware of his crush, and wished it away on many occasions. As time went by, she was relieved to see that he no longer nervously adjusted his bangs when she approached him, or covered an errant zit by talking with his hand in front of his face. Chloe was always underfoot at the D'Amico's house, and they saw more and more of each other. She got to see him with sleepers in his eyes and wispy whiskers on his cheeks before his daily shave, and he eventually no longer practically ran to open doors for her. The capper was the morning she entered the kitchen to find him in his purple satin boxers, shirtless, sublime and entirely breathtaking, and he didn't blush, or apologize, and went back to reading the paper at the kitchen table without covering up or leaving the room.

He had come to the conclusion that she was now part of the family, even though he never put that name to it. Chloe was simply Chloe to Nelson, and Nelson was Nels to Chloe, and as their personal space boundaries and shyness with each other eased, their bond and familiarity grew. If only the other relationships in their lives were that easy.

Chloe was again cruising up the Pacific Coast Highway, windows rolled down, free air conditioning readily supplied by the heady ocean breezes. She wished now that she had rented a convertible, especially on a day such as today. It was mid afternoon, she'd been to the computer store and back to the hotel again, struggling with an absurdly large array of differently sized and colored packages. She had fought with herself, she really wanted to sit and play with her new iBook laptop, read the apparently endless number of instruction books, and get totally immersed with her new and very expensive bunch of toys. Her credit card had carried a zero balance on it only days before and now, with charges for a plane ticket, hotel room, car rental and computer with all the gizmos that went with it, she felt very irresponsible, and hence, very free and a bit crazy. She drove along, with the breeze tossing her hair into her mouth as she sang along with the radio.

For long moments at a time, she felt as though she belonged nowhere, was beholden to no one, had endless monetary resources with all the time in the world, and thus could easily presume that she had the luxury to simply avoid thinking about the things that were troubling her. And yet those troubles would resurface during commercials, or when a rude driver would pass her, tearing up the curving highway in front of them as though they owned every inch of the pavement, and she was reduced to just an irritating trespasser on their turf. In those moments, the lightness she felt would dissipate, and she would forget that the color blue belonged to the sky above her and the ocean next to her, and she would remember where the color blue truly shone -- that vibrant blue that blazed deep in her lover's eyes.

A song she was vaguely familiar with began playing, and she jacked it up, not caring if she damaged an eardrum or two. She needed to live in her moment. She needed the thunder in her ears to drive away any invading thoughts of Sara, Stonecreek and her lingering, encompassing feelings of guilt. She mindlessly sang along, pounding out the beat on the steering wheel, shouting out the words, not knowing or caring about their meaning.

Nelson, Dave and Sara, all acting like the immature and irresponsible adults that they claimed to be, spent a good deal of time on their way to nowhereland arguing over who would get to drive the 'bus' next. Sara had claimed her shotgun, so had possession of the passenger captain's chair seat, Dave was behind Nelson, and Nelson was acting as though he was driving a double decker bus in London. They stopped at a strip mall, and came out a half hour later with a few CDs and DVDs in plastic bags, and got back on the road again. Watching a movie in a moving vehicle lost its novelty in around fifteen minutes time, and they reverted back to their true driver's nature, that of blasting the stereo and singing along as though they were three rejects from the casting rounds of 'The Partridge Family'. Sara mused out loud about her long standing crush on Susan Dey, Nelson pretended he knew who she was talking about, and Dave, finally in the driver's seat, rolled down his window and shouted lunatic hello's at vendors at roadside vegetable and fruit stands. They were out in the country, driving not too far from the lake's shore, and their conversations were limited to choosing favorite songs to play next. Sara played with the electric adjustments on her seat, from a tight, upright position, then to a reclining, almost prone position. They oohed and ahhed over the possibilities of this current seat angle, all thinking dirty thoughts, and laughing because each knew the others were thinking the exact same thing.

Sara jacked up the stereo and sang along with a Lyle Lovett song that she was particularly fond of, with Nelson and Dave joining in on the chorus.

And if I had a boat
I'd go out on the ocean
And if I had a pony
I'd ride him on my boat
And we could all together
Go out on the ocean
Me upon my pony on my boat

The song wound down, and the road wore on. Each one of the passengers, as usual as in their many other flight of fancy joyrides, turned mentally inward to ponder over their own thoughts.

I wonder if she's with Whatsername right now. She said 'early in the week'. This is Monday. That's early. In the week. I wonder what she's doing now? I should call her when I get home. And say what? How's it going? Are you missing me as much as I'm missing you? Are you sleeping alone?

The Beach Boys came on from a 60's compilation CD. 'Wouldn't It Be Nice?' wafted through the 'bus'.

Jeanette. How am I going to say goodbye to her? I should have gone to school in Arizona with her. But I'm committed to USC. I'm sure going to go nuts missing her. She's so worried I'm going to find someone else. I told her I wouldn't, I can't even imagine. I've barely even dated other girls, and she's worried about me looking around? This will work out, it has to, I don't know what I'd do without her. What if she finds someone else?

Marcus Aurelius D'Amico. That sounds ... potent. Sounds like ... a professional bowler. Mark D'Amico. Nah. Ernest? After Dad? Or Marjorie? after Mom? Arnold Palmer D'Amico. There we go. That sounds ... golfy. Goofy, is more like it. I wish Marcy wasn't so dead set about being surprised about the baby's sex. We could get this name thing straightened out early. Sara. Oh, Sara would hate it if we had a little Sara Jr. running around. She already nixed that when we brought it up as a possibility. Although I did kind of like her suggestion of Shania Twain D'Amico. I wonder if she was just kidding?

Englebert Humperdinck began crooning 'Please Release Me.'

Enough of Chloe, Chloe, Chloe, already. She's probably hit every lesbian bar in the city by now. Her hotel phone number is probably in every stall. The Kissing Bandit Does Hollywood. I've got to get Dave to stop on the way back to pick up the Comet at the dealership. I have set up a meeting with Doris about this damned spectacle she wants me to be in charge of. Tomorrow? I'll call her when I get back home. Chloe can't lose the library, it would kill her. It would kill me to lose Chloe. Enough already, of the Chloe, Chloe, Chloe.

Chloe D'Amico? That would be a great one, I bet Marcy would go for it? But if Chloe and Sara break up, now or sometime in the future, that would be sort of awkward, wouldn't it? Stan D'Amico. Stanislaus D'Amico. He sure would fit into every Polish-Italian festival in the area. Let's see, uh, other family. Emil. Roberto. Oooh. Roberto Clemente D'Amico. That rolls off the tongue. Too bad we're not having twins, they could be Chad and Jeremy D'Amico. Starsky and Hutch D'Amico. Dear Ann and Abby D'Amico. Oh, wait! Eva and Zsa Zsa!

Petula Clark went 'Downtown'.

I wonder how well I'll fit in, in California? Do I have to start saying 'Dude' a lot? Will I have to get a tattoo? That would be kind of sweet, and that's not really a Californian only thing, I mean, I almost got one a couple of weeks ago with Jason and Justin. Although I'd never get a lame one like Justin did. I like Dale Earnhardt, but to get his car and number permanently etched on my skin? I don't think so. I'm not going to be a 90 year old in a nursing home someday, getting my I.V. through a drawing of a NASCAR car. On the other hand, I do like piercings. Oh, God, Dad would kill me. Maybe just a little tattoo, on my leg, a snake or something.

Everett D'Amico. Aagh. OK, enough with the boy names. Think, David. OK. Laura. Oh, no, not after her mom, no way. Doris? HA! There ya go ... I like that one, Doris D'Amico. Doris Day D'Amico. I'll run that one past Marcy for sure. And then she'll hit me square in the eye with a meatball ...

Frank's daughter, Nancy Sinatra, sang her big hit, 'These Boots Were Made For Walking.'

What else? Meeting with Doris, then, do I do it? Go to the bank, try to get a loan on my own? That would solve a lot, well, maybe, sort of. If I could get the house on my own, then Chloe could live there too, I would be totally responsible for it, no pressure on her, her name wouldn't have to be on the mortgage. I wonder if Dave would go with me to talk to someone at the bank? I have a signed contract now, money on the way, if not an actual job history. I could sell the Comet, that would give me some extra cash. I could borrow some money from Dad and .. oh, forget that. I'm still on Mom's shit list. Last time I talked to them, Mom made a crack about being surprised that I was still around here ... I should call her, and tell her Chloe's flown the coop. Great. I'm always the one doing the incomprehensible in Mom's eyes. If I told her that Chloe took off, unannounced, for California, she'd find some way to blame the whole thing on me. It's not my fault, dammit. It's just not. I'm doing all the adult, responsible things, and Chloe's acting like a ... I don't know, a fuckin' bitch. God, she makes me mad.

Prudence D'Amico. Penny. Pansy. Patsy. Oh no, I'd better not mention that one in front of Sara, she'd be all for it. Where was I? Oh, the 'P's. Pauline? Parker. Phillip. Phillipa? P, Q, R. Roberta. Rhonda. Rhonda, Help Me Please D'Amico. Raul. Nope, back to the girls. Renee? Oh, I like that one.

Nelson leaned forward and turned up the volume when the Turtle's 'Happy Together' came on.

So, I gotta just believe that Jeanette won't get scooped up by some guy with a bazillion bucks and a muscle car. She loves me. I know it.

Whatever we name her, it'll be just fine with me. We'll both love her. Or him. I know it.

I am not going to call her. She's the one who screwed up this time. I know it.

Dave began singing along, and then Nelson joined in. Sara didn't feel much like singing, but she finally gave in on the chorus.

I can't see me lovin' nobody but you
For all my life
When you're with me, baby the skies'll be blue
For all my life

Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together ...

"Uh, I'm sorry, Officer. I didn't realize. I was just sort of zoning out ..."

The stern look on the highway patrol officer's face softened just a bit behind his mirrored aviator sunglasses. He almost smiled at her, she was so beguiling in her guilt. "You drive 85 miles per hour in Pennsylvania, do you? You can't do that here, even if you are daydreaming."

Chloe caught the understanding tone in his voice, and she relaxed just a little. She glanced to her right, to the panoramic view of the ocean so close by, and then she looked back up at him, standing stolidly beside her car door. He had made no move to write a ticket yet, and she felt an almost desperate need to talk to someone, anyone, even if it was a disgruntled officer of the law. She chanced a smile back at him. "No, actually I drive like a little old lady in Pennsylvania. I just sort of got caught up in forgetting my troubles for a while, and well, I guess my nerves got transplanted down into my foot on the accelerator." She thrummed her thumbs against the steering wheel and began berating herself, out loud. "There's just so much going on at home, and I came out here to figure things out and ... well, I haven't done what I wanted to do yet and well ..." she shook her head. "It's just so easy to get caught up in the freedom ..." and she waved her hands as expansively as she could in the tight confines of the Taurus, "and I just wasn't paying any attention to how fast I was going. Seriously, I never drive this fast at home, I'm so law abiding and straight and narrow and I follow all the rules and I've never gotten a speeding ticket before and that would be something my friends would do, they just don't think and live and work the same way I do and ... I'm rambling now, aren't I?" She looked up at him sheepishly, and her blush started all over again, deeper. "Oh, hell, just write me the biggest ticket you can. My life's been heading for this moment, I mean, I have to pay for being irresponsible, don't I?" She looked away from him, still standing with a crouch at her window. She couldn't see his eyes behind the sunglasses he wore, she couldn't read his expression, which had changed little from the moment she'd begun her guilty monologue.

He straightened up, and fingered her license and registration still in his hands. His next sentence took her by surprise. "What part of Pennsylvania is Stonecreek in?" His voice was still deep and commanding, but the stern edge had been smoothed away.

She was so startled, she just answered honestly, as she would in the presence of any intimidating law official. "Northwest. About equal parts between Cleveland and Buffalo. Right on Lake Erie. Near Erie. The Mistake on the Lake."

"I have a brother in Philly. He says Philly isn't really a part of Pennsylvania, that New Jersey should just go ahead and annex it. He's a cool guy. I miss him. I've been out there many times." He flipped over her license, and idly studied it, while he awaited her reply. He'd already decided against giving the poor flustered redblonde a ticket, it was a nice afternoon, and she didn't look like she'd swat a fly without agonizing over it first.

Chloe forgot about the situation she was in, and it never occurred to her to try and talk him out of giving her a ticket. She was too in awe of the law, with the exception of Officer Moonie Grafton back at home. "New Jersey can have Philly. We won't miss it a bit. I've been there a few times, out on a 'spin the car' or two, and the traffic around there is amazing. Around where I live, we mostly putz around. Tractors going up the highway, that sort of thing. An odd horse and rider or two. I drive an old Subaru there, I'm afraid the clutch will drop out half the time, this Taurus, well, it's just so different and smooth, and the scenery is so beautiful, not that it isn't at home, but I just don't get that same feeling of ...." she paused, and thought a moment, " ... endlessness ... there. This all just seems to go on forever ... and I'm sorry, I just got lost in it for a little while." She trailed off, and dropped her hands into her lap. She had transported back to Stonecreek in her mind, and a feeling of pervasive homesickness overcame her. She didn't notice when the officer leaned in, and held out her documents to her. She looked up at him, and her face reflected her puzzlement, then a shy smile formed as she realized what the officer's intent was. She took the license and registration back. "Thank you. Thank you very much." Her voice choked, and all of her emotions rose swiftly to the surface, and the beginning of tears welled at the corner of her eyes. She felt powerless to stop it, and to her chagrin, she began softly weeping, helpless to stop the cascade of tears that were unexpectedly rolling down her cheeks.

The officer cleared his throat. "Ms. Donahue, why don't you take a break from driving, and pull over up there, and have yourself a good cry? My wife says a good cry always helps her." His kind words only reinforced her mood, and he watched as her tears overflowed to drop onto her shirt, and she began hiccuping embarrassed sobs. "And slow down. Sounds like you're more suited to the slower pace in life, don't just come out here and get caught up ... " He straightened into his imposing patrol officer stance again. "Just another 50 yards or so, a good place to park and think and ... " He watched her nod her grateful thanks up at him, and then drop her head down, trying to get control of her emotions. He tapped the window ledge of the car. "Have a good stay in California, Ms. Donahue." He turned and briskly strode away.

Chloe blindly tucked her license away in her satchel, started the engine, and eased the car out on the highway again, all with a sheen of tears blurring her vision. She pulled over to the spot he had suggested, turned off the motor, and with a slump of her shoulders, followed his other instructions to her immediately. She burst into a hot flood of tears, and sobbed with abandon. The California sun, the ocean breeze and the continuous sound of the crashing waves brought no solace or comfort to the confused and heartsick woman from Pennsylvania.

Back at the barn after the trip in the van, Sara found herself mindlessly pacing back and forth. She was trying to come up with ideas, and she kept getting distracted by thoughts of Chloe. She mentally calculated the time difference between there and California, and decided that whatever Chloe was doing at this moment in time, it wasn't back in the confines of her hotel.

She soon tired of the back and forth pacing, and moved to muster her thoughts by leaning up against the John Deere tractor, absently stroking the green hood of it, or what she imagined was its nose. Things were not going exactly to plan, to say the least. She'd gotten a job, not the one she expected, but a good paying job nonetheless. So what if she had to wear a Star Trek Voyager suit? I've done worse. At least it isn't short, like those costumes or skirts or whatever I had to wear on that cop show. She'd gotten a new vehicle, although it wasn't exactly what she'd had in mind, a sturdy 4X4 to get through the rough winter months. It's like a traveling movie theater. It has a fridge in it. And let's not forget the air conditioning. And Dave and Nelson said they would help me take out the back seat, that will leave more room for hauling things.

She walked over, and picked up a golf ball from the counter, and tossed it in the air.

A hand with a white dish cloth in it appeared in the barn's doorway. The dish cloth waved feebly, in the international sign of 'Truce'.

Sara sighed, and shook her head. "C'mon in, Marcy, you're safe."

Marcy's rounded face took a peek into the barn. "Put that golf ball down. I know what a good arm you have."

Sara put down the ball, and stuck her hands into her pockets. She gave Marcy a glum smile, and then dropped her head and watched her toe scuff patterns in the dry dust of the barn's floor.

Marcy eased into the barn, and draped the dishcloth over her shoulder as she studied Sara. "Sorry about the mural. I swear I haven't seen that in years. I thought they stopped using it." She gave Sara a sheepish smile, as Sara glanced up and accepted the explanation with just a minute shrug of her shoulders.

Marcy took a few more steps until she was leaning up against the counter with Sara. She'd been using the time during the D'Amico joyride to do some thinking, and decided to try and talk to Sara. Dave had come in the house from the drive with a wan smile of apology on his face, which Marcy had immediately knocked off with a thwack of the dishtowel across his butt. He told her that Sara hadn't said much of anything at all, and they had just drove around like teenagers with, well, a new conversion van. Sara had even let Nelson drive her Comet home from the closed dealership, and had never taken a turn at the wheel of the big van. She gave Sara a sideways glance. "You want to talk to me? I mean, about your day? I promise to hold back all smart remarks. Although, lately, I think I've been just about on the verge of exploding, with everyone else getting to unload, and I've had to keep my lip zipped. Not an easy thing for a person like me, Sara. But I'll try." She saw Sara just look away, but that her remarks had brought a hint of a smile to Sara's mouth. She kept trying, this time, taking the heat off of Sara to talk. She would try to draw the sullen woman into conversation, even if it killed the two of them, or actually, the two and two thirds of them.

"You know what? I have issues of my own, Sara. Problems. What with everyone being so careful not to upset you, I think I'm feeling a little neglected. I'm the pregnant woman here, I should be getting showered with attention, and speaking of showers, some of my friends," and she poked Sara in the arm, "should be spending a little time planning on, oh, maybe a combined Baby and Wedding Shower for me?" She noted Sara's look of surprise. "Yeah, you, tall, dark and Dudley, you're a friend of mine. We're about to get related, so we can wait until after the wedding to start hating each other. Meanwhile, since you're still in my good graces, I have a project for you. You could do the shower planning. You aren't so butch that you can't sit around making centerpieces out of styrofoam balls and pieces of lace glued together with Elmer's." She paused there, hoping for some sort of reply. She got a grin on her face when she saw the startled way Sara looked at her.

"No WAY, Marcy. Nuh, uh, not me. That's Chloe's department." That name that they were both trying to avoid cut through the air like flatulence the day after consuming large amounts of ham and cabbage. Unpleasant and unavoidable.

"Since when? Did she get assigned the 'femme' stuff somewhere along the line? God, Sara, in some ways she's dykier than you. She has bigger muscles. She swears more manfully than you. She smokes every once in a while. She can stomp you at any sport, and I've seen her open JARS for you. Since when did she get assigned the 'girly' role?" Marcy teased her, using a light tone.

Sara drew a figure 8 on the barn floor with her toe. "I guess I just do things like that. Stuff I can't think of doing, or trying, I assign automatically to Chloe. I guess that's not right." Sara then nudged Marcy with her wandering toe. "But hey, I'm taller, my muscles are just as strong, just not so defined. She's more ... compact, so they stand out more. But I'm a bruiser." She flexed an arm into a tight curl, and Marcy reached out, and felt her bicep, and gave Sara a satisfactory, if not truly honest, 'Ooh' in compliment.

The air was almost visibly lightening around them, so Marcy marched on. "So, what a day, huh? New job, new ... bus ... I got the baby's bedroom done, the wallpaper at least. It looks like someone got loose with a box of crayons in there. But it's bright and sunny, and colorful, and it should be nice. Junior here will probably hate it, and want to wear dark glasses and as soon as she starts talking, will want the full line of Martha Stewart pastels for the room. Or God forbid, Barney stuff."

Sara crinkled up her nose, and chuckled. It felt good to just chat, casually, with Marcy again, even if their self imposed avoidance had only lasted the better part of two days. "No Barney stuff. I promise. We'll just start the baby's gun collection right at the first year. And knives, too. Militia Baby. That would be a good theme for your baby shower."

Marcy smacked her with the dishtowel, and gave her an affectionate grin. They both settled in more comfortably against the counter, and began talking in a more relaxed manner. "You scare me sometimes, D'Amico. Here and I thought you'd suggest a Craftsman tool themed shower. Guess I had you pegged all wrong."

Sara merely blew her a raspberry in reply, but the soft smile remained on her face.

"Did you talk to Doris yet, about the ... whatever ... spectacle she wants you to be in charge of?"

"I was going to call her once I got up to the bungalow. But now I'm not so sure ... "

"Sure of what?"

"Well, if Chloe wants me to be involved with all of this, I mean ..."

Marcy's relaxed posture vanished, and she stood up taller, and faced Sara. "What, in two days, you have yourself ... broken up with the woman? How did you come to that conclusion, may I ask?"

Sara was hoping this conversation, which had started out so promising, wouldn't turn into one of their usual confrontational snipefests. "No, well, I've been thinking, and NO, I haven't talked to her, and well, maybe she'll have bad news when she gets back. God, Marcy, I always expect the worst. I just seem to think that way, I try and get my defenses up and well, since she went out there to see Sandy, what am I supposed to think?"

Marcy blinked at her. "Whatsername? She went to see Whatsername? That ... bitch? What the ever living fuck for?"

Sara's head dropped, and Marcy barely heard the words she softly whispered. "To clear up some loose ends. I don't know. I got all upset and that's why I hung up on her."

Marcy leaned against the counter again, to puzzle over this new bit of information. Her dander was rising with every passing moment. "Well," she huffed. "Well. This is interesting." She huffed louder. "This is stupid." She turned to Sara, and frowned at her. "This is ... bullshit, Sara. Are you sure? I mean, travel all that way just to see Whatsername? I can't believe it. Chloe said that?"

Sara's toe had begun drawing X's and O's on the barn floor. She never looked at Marcy when she replied in the affirmative. "That's what she said." Her voice trailed off, and her face twisted into a defeated and hurt scowl.

Marcy stared at her. "Do you have Chloe's phone number in California?"

Sara just nodded, and then she lifted her head to meet Marcy's eyes. "Yeah, why?"

"Because I just may decide to call the little brat, and hang up on her, MYSELF."

The 'little brat' had finally returned to her hotel from her solo trip to nowhere, feeling much more drained than she'd ever felt she could. Her driving had taken her far up the highway, and after a while, the ocean next to her seemed to blur into a long line of tedious blue green, and she realized that the fascination and the newness had worn off. There was so much more she wanted to see, to do and all she'd seen so far was miles of ocean front, odd housing, white sand, a few dolphins following the coastline in her direction, which was a bit exciting, the interior of her hotel room, and a few specialty stores here and there. She stopped on her way back to her hotel, at a small but seemingly eclectic little supermarket where she'd purchased her salad the day before, which sold shark steaks right across from the Hostess Ho-Ho's display.

Today when she stopped there, she wandered down the aisles, marveling at the diverse assortments of both cheap and incredibly expensive designer foods parked side by side on the shelves. She strolled to the produce section, in search bananas and maybe a citrus fruit or two to snack on later. An attractive young woman about her age was shopping nearby, and Chloe studied her profile curiously as she watched her picking up bunches of bananas. The woman was a blonde, much blonder than Chloe, and had a sweet looking, kind way about her, and she seemed to be talking to the bananas in a low voice as she examined them. Chloe stood back, biting her lower lip as she tried not to giggle out loud at the conversation the woman was having with the fruit. The woman finally found some to her liking, and then announced to them that they were perfect, and they were going to go home with her. Chloe couldn't hold back any longer, and laughed aloud.

The blonde woman looked up, still holding the bananas, and seeing Chloe grinning at her, blushed and unleashed a wonderfully unselfconscious laugh when she realized that Chloe had witnessed the whole scene. She smiled a bright and delightfully crooked smile at Chloe, and giggled. "So, you caught me. I just wanted to make sure they wanted to go home with me." Her eyes twinkled with humor. "I wouldn't want to take bananas home with me ... by force, ya know? It has to be a mutual thing."

Chloe was temporarily dazzled by the smile, the bright laugh, and the self effacing humor the woman possessed. She found her tongue after gazing at her vapidly for a moment. "I've been known to feel bad for the poor banana peel. Nobody loves them, they always get thrown out."

The woman laughed in agreement as she carefully placed the bunch of bananas in her shopping basket that was slung low on her arm. She patted them in mock reassurance that they would be safe and happy with her, and then she looked up at Chloe again, the friendly smile still on her face. She cocked her head to the side, and gave Chloe a quick once over. "This may sound stupid, but don't I know you? Did we work on something together? I've had a few lost years here and there, but you look really familiar to me. I'm sorry, I'm so bad with names."

Chloe, who had a bag of Doritos in one hand and a 12 pack of Squirt in the other, wrinkled her forehead in contemplation as she replied. "Nope, I'm from Pennsylvania. Just a visitor out here. Not unless you've been to a librarian convention in the last seven years."

The young woman blinked, and then let loose a melodious and pleasant laugh, her cheeks rising so high that her eyes nearly squinted shut. But that twinkle was still emanating. "You're a LIBRARIAN? Well, how do you like that? Wow, I would have thought ..." Just then, her cell phone rang, and she efficiently plucked it out of her shorts' pocket, and nodded an apology at Chloe as she answered it. She spoke a hello into it, then told the caller to hang on. She dropped the phone down a moment, and grinned in that crooked way again at Chloe. "Sorry, I gotta take this one." She pointed towards Chloe's bag of Doritos. "Be nice to them when you get them back home. No telling what kind of life they've had." She winked as Chloe guffawed, and then she turned up the aisle, gave her a wiggling finger wave in goodbye and began speaking into her phone again. Chloe shrugged, and watched her walk away, and for a moment she was cheered by the thought that it was nice that another woman had taken an interest in her, even if it was over bananas and Doritos in a small supermarket. She nabbed a few bananas of her own, silently promising to be nice to them until their time here on earth was through.

As she was checking out, the young male cashier casually spoke to her. "You know her, huh? She comes in here all the time. She's always so funny and nice."

Chloe looked behind her, and saw the Banana Woman still talking on the phone as she wandered up the cereal aisle. "No, never met her. She does seem nice." And come to think of it, pretty damned familiar. "She thought she knew me. But we've never met."

The cashier peered at Chloe closely. "Have I seen you in something? You look like someone, I'm sorry ..."

Chloe smirked as she handed the cashier a twenty. "My mom said I look like my dad. My best friend says I look like my mom. So, yeah, I guess I do look like someone."

The cashier gave her an understanding smile. "Gotcha. Low profile. No problem."

Chloe took her change, and frowned, not getting the gist of his intimation. "What? Really, I'm just ..."

Another cashier, a small older woman, came over and nudged the young man with an impatient but kindly elbow. She gave Chloe a very apologetic smile. "Excuse him, Miss, he has no manners yet. He's new here, and well, he gets a little excited when he sees, you know, famous people." She elbowed him again as he blushingly began to protest.

Chloe, more than just a little confused, tucked her change into the front pocket of her shorts as the young man bagged her purchases. "No, but really, I'm ..."

The older woman gave her a most knowing smile. "That's OK. I'll make sure it doesn't happen again. We want you to feel free to come in here without fear of being harassed. But when we saw you talking to Drew, we realized that you must be, well, you know." She gave the embarrassed young man a quick dressing down with her eyes, and then she continued on to Chloe, "Have a good day, Miss. We hope you come in and see us again."

Chloe, now in a very dazed state, took one more glance up the cereal aisle, and nodded at the two beaming cashiers as she took her bag. She turned and walked out the door into the parking lot.

After taking a few steps towards the Taurus, she stopped. Dead. "Drew?" She took another step and then pulled up again. "Drew?" She got to the car door, pulled her keys from her pocket, and then squinted at the storefront.

"OHMYGOD." She nearly dropped her grocery bag onto her sneakered feet. "DREW!!"

Sara was back in her bungalow, a mission fixed firmly in her mind. She had decided, completely on her own, well, after a little one-sided conversation with the John Deere tractor, that she was going to go to the bank and attempt to get the loan on her own. She'd considered talking it over with Marcy, then decided against it. She didn't want it to appear that she was relying on Marcy too much, something she had accused her lover of doing time and time again. After all, she mused to herself, she had gone and gotten a job all on her own, without the aid of 'handlers', and although the contract signing hadn't exactly gone to plan, she decided she was going to make the best of however it eventually turned out. She was confident that she could think quickly on her own two feet, and next time, it was going to be without the assistance of mood-altering medication.

It was after ten o'clock now, much too late to call the bank and make an appointment with a loan officer. But it wasn't too late, to her disappointment, to make her promised phone call to Doris Raeburn and set up a time to talk to her about the show or spectacle that Doris had tricked her into directing. Sara had caught on to Doris' manipulation of her, although it wasn't until a few days later, while she was out riding the John Deere to the 6th hole. Sara's realization that she had been set up to take the reins of this production at first angered her, and then she sort of laughed, and then she laughed wholeheartedly that she had been scammed, big time, by her old high school principal. The more she recalled the conversation that night at the Embers, the more she was suspicious that Marcy had been in on it too. Looking back, she could see that Marcy had been cleverly feeding Doris leading lines, and that made her angry for a bit too. But in the end, she sighed as she raked through the sand trap near the 6th hole, and had to give the both of them grudging credit for artfully taking in the highly suspicious curmudgeon that she was. She thought ruefully that she'd been shmoozed by some of the best in entertainment industry, and now here at home, she gave credit where credit was due. Doris Raeburn could possibly go down in the Shmoozers Hall of Fame. Sara would move to Florida to vote twice for her, and bribe the judges, if necessary.

She mentally prepared herself as she sat down on her couch, and dialed Doris' number.


"Hiya Doris. It's Sara, I thought I would give you a ..."

Doris was off to the races as soon as she heard who it was, and she interrupted Sara faster than a desperate bidder at a pricey art auction. "Well, it's about time! I thought you were never going to call. I thought I was going to have to track you down, and rope you into having this talk with me. Having second thoughts? Don't. Once you agree to do something, don't turn your back on it, you'll regret it, and then you'll have a migraine headache for a good ten years. Although my dotty grandmother, may she rest in peace, once told me you get migraines from drinking any water other than well water. On second thought, she also told me that you get VD from drinking tap water. Never could get the damned old woman to have a meal at my house. Well, she did come, but she only ate meat, left everything else just sitting there, with her nose in the air. What a pain in the ass that woman was, God bless her ornery soul. Now where were we?"

The hell if Sara knew. She only could mumble out a very unintelligent sounding "Uh .." before Doris started in again.

"Yes. Anyway, you called me. Finally. We need to meet and talk about this talent show, or whatever, you're going to be in charge of. Right? Right. Although the more I think about it, the talent in this town, present company excluded, probably begins and ends with Wally Henderson playing a very bad 'Moon River' on his zither. Although he's about , say, 101 now. Did you know he's dating one of the Cumberland sisters? Not the one who was the dance director, the other one. Minerva. She's 90 if she's a day, and still a hussy. She was the town slut before Marcy came along, not that I think Marcy is a slut, but Minerva would sleep with anything that had a pair of pants with a ten dollar bill in the back pocket. My husband, God bless his dear departed soul, used to deliver milk to her house when he was a milkman for Meadowbrook, and he told me she came to the door once at 5:30 in the morning in nothing but a slinky negligee and a come hither smile. The hussy! That was a good thirty-five years ago, and I almost went over there and clawed her eyes out with my bare hands. I was a bit of a spitfire back then, I certainly have calmed down a good bit since then, haven't I? And I could turn a man's head back then, don't think you have the corner on that market, Sara. I probably turned a good number of women's heads my way too, but nobody took notice of it then, no parading around with this 'pride' stuff. Nope, everyone was in the closet back then, the queers and the hussies and the men who took an unnatural interest in their farm animals. Oh dear, there's someone at my door. I have to go. Is eleven o'clock tomorrow up at my office at the school alright for you dear? I'll be expecting you. See you then."

The phone clicked off before Sara could say anything in return. She held the phone out and stared at it for a long while, feeling a little shell-shocked from Doris' barrage. She shook it off, replaced the phone, and glanced at the clock on her VCR. It was just after 10:30, and Nelson still hadn't returned with her car yet. She was getting a little irritated with him. He had said he was going to go visit with Jeanette, and then would return her prized possession back safely in a little while. That little while had now turned into nearly three hours, and although she rarely got ticked at Nelson, she was feeling that way now. She picked up the phone and dialed her brother's number.

"Dave? Is Nelson up there?"

Dave had barely murmured his greeting. "No, I haven't seen or heard from him since we dropped him off at the dealership."

Sara got up off the couch and went to peer out her living room window. "He said he was just going to be a while. He'd better not be at the drive-in with one of the Justins, swilling bear whiz beer and puking all over my dashboard. I'll kill him."

"Didn't he say he was going up to Jeanette's? You want her number? I have it right here ..."

Sara turned away from her window, and stood in the middle of her living room floor. "No. I'll give him some more time. But I'll be damned if I let him borrow the Comet again, not if he's going to pull this shit. If he wanted to use it longer, he should have told me."

Dave wasn't used to hearing Sara talk about Nelson with such a negative tone in her voice. "I'll call Jeanette, and see what's up."

"Forget it. Never mind." Sara braced herself, and decided to ask Dave about what she'd been pondering. "Listen," she said a little impatiently, "do you think you could free up some time tomorrow morning? I want to do something. I have to go see Doris at eleven, but I thought, well, if you're free, you could go somewhere with me. I don't have an appointment or anything, but I thought I would just do this, well, talk to someone, get a feeling to see if it's possible ..."

"If what's possible? What are you getting at, Sara?"

Sara bit her upper lip to get her to force the words out of her mouth. "I want to see if its possible to get the loan for the house on my own. You know, solo. Without ..." She couldn't bring herself to say the name, it was just too hard for her to think that way right now. Right now, she was Sara D'Amico, single hopeful home buyer.

Dave couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice. "Really? Sure, well, anything I can do, I'll do it, Sara. When do you want to go?"

"The bank opens at 9. I'm sure I can get someone to talk to me before 11, when I have to go see Doris."

"That's fine with me. It's Nelson's and Ralph's morning with the golf course tomorrow, so no problemo."

"Great." Sara said that word without any verve behind it. "Listen, Dave. I'm hitting the hay. I'm dead assed tired. Nelson had better be back with that car very soon, or have a really good explanation, like being abducted by aliens, or I'm gonna have his hide, you hear me?"

"I hear you. Tell you what, if he's not back by eleven, I'll call up to Jeanette's. They're probably parked somewhere, necking. I don't want to make excuses for him ..."

Sara was not in any mood to hear about anyone's happy love life right now. "Then don't. I'll talk to him tomorrow about it."

"Right. Try and get a good night's sleep, Sis."

Sara snorted. "Yeah, like that's going to happen." She didn't want to explain why.

Dave didn't need any explanation. He knew why. He softened his voice. "She's just confused, Sara. She'll be home in a few days."

Sara dropped tiredly back onto her couch. "Yeah, you said that before. Sorry, Brother, but it just doesn't help."

"I know. But I don't know what else to say."

"I know, too. Thanks." Sara closed her eyes. "G'nite, Dave."

" 'Nite Sara."

Sara was just beginning to fall asleep when she heard the familiar rumble of the Comet's engine as it rolled up next to her house. She opened one eye, and noted the time on her bedside clock. It read 11:45 PM. Her anger piqued for a moment, but it wasn't enough to pull her away from the enticing arms of sleep. She slid gratefully back into the comforting embrace of slumber, only to toss and turn the rest of the night with nightmares of Chloe telling her she loved her - but was leaving her. Sleep held no sanctuary for Sara's longing heart.


Continued in Part XIII

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