The Inside Out

by LA Tucker

Part XXI:  The Eyes Have It

For disclaimers, see Part I

The rain had finally stopped, and Chloe and Sara had run the gamut of their own conceivable carnal desires and explored them all with one another. They were sated sexually, so they took care of their physical hunger next with a quick late supper of nuked meatballs hand fed to each other naked in Chloe's big bed, then decided to get dressed and venture out into the humid and sticky air.  They rode in Sara's van to a gas station to get the tank filled and after that was accomplished Sara had no trouble at all  convincing Chloe to stop at the local Dairy Queen to get a couple of cones.  Sara deftly pulled the big van into Chloe's driveway, and they opened up the rear doors, and sat just on the inside of the van, dangling their legs over the bumper and watching the cloudy dark sky of the deepening evening.  As they both finished off their cones, and occasionally licked ice cream drips off of each other's lips in lieu using a napkin, both women knew it was time for The Talk. And neither one was looking forward to it.

Chloe started it in her usual round about way. She looked out into the night, and watched some threatening clouds drift by, and when she spoke, it was like she was already in the middle of a conversation. "Don't you have any dreams?"

"Like what?" Sara replied back, like she'd been hearing it all along, leaning over one last time to clean one final bit of ice cream from Chloe's chin.

Chloe grinned. "What you'd like to be doing in 10 years?"

"I kind of thought I'd be pretty much doing the same thing as I'm doing now. Or thinking of putting a new roof on the house."

"That's all?"

Sara laughed. "I try to keep things simple, Chloe.  I had 15 complicated years, I want as simple as possible now. If I could live in a tent, and hunt and fish to get by, I would. But it gets too damned cold around here in the winters and I -"

"No college, no ... acting? I told you what I'd like to do -- get my degree, start directing. But what about you?  Open your own business?"

"What, like my own hardware store?  Sell drywall and lawn mowers?" Hey, that actually sounds pretty good. Hmm.

Chloe had to smile, she knew her lover that well, in some respects at least. "That would be something you'd like, wouldn't it?

"Or I could buy my own John Deere dealership. That would be pretty cool."  Sara's eyes glazed over dreamily. "I could fix them, too.  The closest dealership is just over the New York line."

Chloe could tell that Sara was getting rather intrigued about that idea, because she had the same interested look on her face as when she watched Chloe get undressed in a provocative manner.

"See, there ya go.  Nothing wrong with dreaming, Sara."

Sara narrowed her eyes at her. "And those dreams of yours -- do they involve moving away from here?"  From me?

"I'm not sure yet," said Chloe honestly, not catching the hidden insecurity in Sara's question. "If I can finish school, get involved with local theater, teach at a local college, that may be enough. I don't know yet."

Sara had to ask, even if it sounded harsh. "You'd let me know first, right? Or would you just spring it on me, after I have the tractor dealership up and running?"

"So you won't pursue your dreams if I want to pursue mine, you'd put your life on hold?  I don't want you to do that.  Of course I'd discuss it with you first. We'd decide together."

"Of course?" Sara repeated rather doubtfully.

Chloe blew out an irritated breath. "OK, I get it now.  I take off ONE time, and now it's going to follow me around for the rest of our lives together?  Are you going to worry every time I go to the store, or get home late from a class?"

"I didn't say that." But I was thinking it. "No, but ..."

But you were thinking it. "No buts about it. You have to decide if you trust me, Sara. Without trust, then what's the point?  I trust you."

"What's not to trust, Chloe?  Have you seem me kissing any other women around here?  Have you seen me jump on a cross country flight on a whim?  If we have another big fight, are you going to be visiting Sandy and Rose in Hawaii, and mailing me postcards that say 'Glad you aren't here?' "

"So you want me to sell my house, but not be a part of buying Marcy's house with you. You just want me as, what, a roommate? A boarder?"

It was crunch time, and both women knew it. Two hearts started beating with a more pronounced and anxious rhythm.

Sara snorted derisively. "No, get real, that's just plain silly, Don't put words in my mouth that weren't there to begin with.  You can sell your house and live with me."

"And what, pay you rent?"

Chloe's ire was rising, and Sara tried mightily to steady her own nerves.

"You can help out with the utilities, the groceries. Whatever you want, whenever you can.  You may not have your library job soon, you may need the money, and student loans need to be repaid."

"Don't condescend to me, Sara. I'm still paying my student loans from the first time around. I'm going to paying them forever. I have them budgeted even after I'm dead And while I'm in school, I can get them deferred.  And if the county lays me off, I'll get unemployment for a while. And I'll still be teaching at the high school. It's not like I couldn't contribute to the mortgage payments."

Sara shook her head stubbornly. She just did not want to be convinced. "I don't see what the big deal is. We can live together, less pressure on you, this is something I want to do. Me, I've only ever had one car that I outright owned, and I just gave that to Nelson. I leased them in California.  I rented wherever I lived. I've never taken on a mortgage before."

"So this is your way of proving you're a grown-up?" There was no kindness in Chloe's reply.

Sara snapped back, "Maybe.  I don't know. But we haven't been together that long, you said it yourself, and now you want to jump into a mortgage?  I just don't get it."

"I have a mortgage."

"Of your very OWN.  Why can't I do that?"

"Because ultimately it means you don't trust me. Trust me to be an equal partner for a long time to come."

"No, it simply means I want to try to do this on my own. I thought you appreciated independence, Chloe."

That comment put a momentary cork in the heated conversation, and they both silently considered their next statements.

Chloe began before Sara could., and her voice was now a little more controlled. "Tell me something. Before I left, you were all for making plans for us to get this mortgage together.  I flaked out, whatever you want to call it, I call it a 'time out', but still, I'm gone a week, and you aren't interested in getting legally entangled with me any more.  You say you semi-understand why I left, but you still won't forgive me for doing it, will you?  Is this your idea of revenge?  Getting back at me?"  She saw that Sara vehemently shaking her head in the direction of a nearby willow tree. Chloe furrowed her brow and her voice was again chilled.  "You know, it's kind of tough to come back to this. I thought I was making headway in moving our relationship forward.  I come back, and you've decided to bring it to a standstill."

Sara threw up her hands. "I don't see how our living together in a house is coming to a standstill, Chloe.  We could be renting a house together -- this is the same thing."

"It's not the same thing!" Chloe said adamantly.

"But it is!  Let's pretend your house was big enough for both of us to live there.  Would you be in a rush to put my name on the mortgage if I moved in there with you?

That brought Chloe to a dead stop. She rubbed at her chin. "I don't know."

Gotcha"You see, you wouldn't be."

"No, I said I don't know because I hadn't thought about it like that  Give me a second, willya?" Chloe responded impatiently.

Sara fidgeted, and almost wished she was a smoker, to give her something to do during the awkward silences.

Chloe looked away, and thought about it for a bit. Then she shook her head. "No, it's not the same thing.  In this instance, buying Marcy's house, we would be starting out fresh - together.  In your scenario, we would certainly have more time to think about putting your name on my mortgage.  But we don't have the luxury of time on our side if we get Marcy's house together. They're in money trouble, this needs to happen as soon as possible."

Sara sighed, glanced at Chloe, and then down at her worn sneakers resting on bumper above the van's license plate.  She just couldn't bring herself to look Chloe in the eye. "But I do have that luxury of time, Chloe. I can take the time to think it over, and get Marcy's house in the meantime. I want that time, I need that time. To decide. We could do it later, Chloe. Put you on the mortgage later. But right now, I need some time.

Chloe was about to try to argue her out of it, but she saw the combination of determination and sadness in Sara's expression.  If time is what Sara needed, then she would give it to her. Fine. "OK.  I don't like it, but ... OK."

Sara sighed in relief. "Good.  So, are we good now?"

Chloe swallowed back her disappointment, and nodded her head. But there was more to say, and this wasn't over yet, not by a longshot. "Good is all relative. So -- now I'm supposed to just sell my house and move in with you, is that what you expect?"

Sara growled. I thought we had this settled.  "I thought you wanted to do that.  Live together in Marcy's house."

"That was if we were buying it together. Not just you buying it and me living with you. But what if it doesn't work out, Sara?  You'd still have a house, I'd be moving out and in with ... who?  Dave and Marcy, or Doris, or even Audra and Julia?" God forbid. "I've got 6 years into paying my own mortgage, and since you aren't ready for me to buy the house with you, why shouldn't I just stay where I am?  Not sell it.  I can still, you know, sleep with you."

"You really want to be commuting between two houses like we have been? " Sara challenged, a deeper frown darkening her features. "How, exactly, is that moving our relationship forward?  We sleep together every night, we eat meals together, we watch bad movies ... you really want to keep having to have two sock drawers?

Chloe really didn't think they were getting anywhere at all, even with all the airing out of frustrations they were doing. She wants to be independent, and me to be dependent. Great. "Let me get this straight, you want me to sell my house, become totally dependent on you providing living space for me, and you want me to kick in for the gas bill and Little Debbies and chuck steaks.  And I need to sit back, and wait for you to decide whether you want to put my name on a dotted line." She had trouble not rolling her eyes, but she managed to hold them still.

Sara thought this over for a moment, and then without a trace of sarcasm replied. "Yeah, pretty much. That's a lousy way of putting it, I think it would be great to live with you and that's what I want. But I'd rather you didn't have that extra burden of you still owning your house when we can easily live in mine."

"So, in other words, what you were really planning was getting this house with or without me, no matter what kind of news I had when I returned from my vacation. Is that right?"

Sara thought about this also, and then nodded her head in agreement.

Marcy had something to do with this, I know it. "So, it really doesn't matter what I think about the house -- since you already made up your mind when I was gone, right?"

Sara cringed a little, and kept her face a blank.

"That's so not right, Sara.  Can't you see that?  You're punishing me. You've decided that you'll only give me so much latitude, and you won't take the big leap.  I'm ready to commit to this relationship, I think I've made that plain. Before I went to California, that was your plan, too."  Chloe fidgeted and then spoke in a quiet tone that admitted defeat. "Listen, I have to protect myself too. So here's what I'll agree to.  You buy the house on your own, we keep the relationship status quo -- I'm not about to sell my house just yet. Not when you don't trust me.  That hurts. I'll do my best to win back your trust, but know this:  I don't like it.  I wanted us to start our life together, and I know that buying a house together is a pretty big risk this early in our relationship, but I'm tired of being scared of taking risks.  I would rather the both of us be sharing this adventure together, but you seem to want to leave me behind and have the house buying adventure by yourself.  I can see that, I can, but ... well, never mind. It's simple. You're getting the house; I'm staying in mine.  But I still wish you'd reconsider ... " Chloe wiped her hands off on her shorts, and looked around at the fireflies beginning to skate across the surface of the damp grass. She shrugged and straightened her shoulders, trying to shake off the depth of her disappointment.

Sara gazed at her in the light of the fading day, and saw the frustration etched in Chloe's features. She nearly broke her self-protective resolve and took the unhappy woman in her arms to tell her they could go to the bank tomorrow to sign the papers and begin their life together as a committed couple.  But something locked deep inside her stopped her from making that move, and she battled inwardly with her conflicting feelings. Am I punishing her?  Or do I just want to do this on my own?  Am I just trying to prove to myself, and to her, that I can do this without her?  I never figured that I could get the mortgage by myself ... or with Doris' help.  Why am I so willing to tie up Doris' credit line, and not Chloe's?  The problem is, I trust Doris more than I trust Chloe. Doris doesn't own my heart the way Chloe does. She glanced again at the troubled face of the woman she adored. The smaller woman seemed engrossed in her own pensive thoughts, her arms hugging a knee bent to prop up her chin, staring across the expanse of grass and the highway beyond.

Chloe was alternately regretting the last week or so, and then the last few months or more, and then even her return to Stonecreek after graduating from college many years ago.  There was a defensive barrier that had been erected between the two women, built by her dark lover while she was away in California, and she didn't know how to breech it. She met Sara's eyes, and Sara smiled almost apologetically at her, then turned her head away again to stare off into the night.

Both women sighed internally. Chloe watched a dragonfly in flight, and then she quietly laughed a humorless laugh to herself. And Sara said that sex won't cure everything. She was right.

Chloe was watching the commercial making process from out of the line of Sara's eyesight.  Mrs. Cellone had shown up unexpectedly at the library on Monday, insisting that Chloe take the rest of the afternoon off so she could be at the taping of Sara's first commercial for Stevens' Ford.  Chloe had protested only mildly, she was still feeling the letdown that always comes after taking a vacation, so she eagerly drove her Subaru over to the dealership, and parked well away from the controlled commotion going on in the center of the lot.

Sara was dressed, rather sexily, Chloe thought after she first coughed down her surprise, in a skin tight Seven of Nine uniform that left nothing to the imagination. She had several vehicles parked in a semi-circle around her, and it appeared to Chloe that her lover was supposed to walk from vehicle to vehicle, while pointing out their assets and stating the vehicle model, year and sales price.

Pretty simple stuff on this overcast and swelteringly humid day.

But as Chloe watched, still unseen by Sara, she noticed some very disconcerting events taking place.

Sara seemed very nervous, and kept flubbing her lines. Badly. Very badly.  A young man was holding up cue cards so Sara could read the lines off of them.

And the dark haired woman director of this commercial, looking to be somewhat younger than Chloe, was berating Sara for every mistake that she made, in clear, loud and demeaning tones.

"Are you reading the obituaries, Ms. D'Amico?  Try not to look so serious. Let's do it again." stated the woman, and the cameraman began taping as Sara started over..

Chloe narrowed her eyes  from the sidelines and tightened her fists in an unconscious reflex.

Sara hadn't even read her second line all the way through when she screwed up again.  She looked pale, even under her deep tan and makeup that concealed her scar.

The director swore under her breath. "You can read, can't you, Ms. D'Amico?  'Ford' is a four letter word! Not so tough!  Let's do this again, from the top."

Chloe saw the discomfort that Sara was plainly trying to hide, but her lover took a deep breath, squinted in determination, and began again.

Chloe began pacing a short path, but kept her eyes glued to her struggling lover. Four letter word, huh? I'll give you a few four letter words, you little bitch ...

Sara hesitated when reading the lines from the cue cards, and really blew the pronunciation of some easy words.  She stopped in mid speech, and looked completely frazzled.

"Cut! Cut!  OK, everyone take ten.  The light's changing, we have to reset some spots."  The director practically sneered in Sara's direction. "Who's idea was it to hire her, anyway?", she said to everyone within earshot.

Ruthie Stevens tapped her lip and watched the director approach her.  The two women began a quiet and serious conversation, the director saying things that Chloe just couldn't make out.

Sara looked positively miserable as she apologized to the small crew again for her continuing mistakes. Then she turned, and saw Chloe softly gazing at her from near a used Ford Explorer, and her exasperated and depressed expression positively melted away with relief at finding her standing there.

Chloe crossed the lot, and took Sara's hand and studied her face. "Not going so good, huh?"

Sara shook her head. "Fuckin' disaster."

Chloe squeezed her hand, and wished away the frustration in the taller woman's eyes. Wait a minute.  Her eyes ... that's what the problem is!  Why didn't I notice it sooner?  She cleared her throat, and began carefully. "Gotta get your eyes checked Sara?  It's important. It could be that you're just going a little nearsighted, farsighted ..... but on the other hand, you could have ..."

Chloe knew her instincts were correct in regard to what was really the contributing factor to the actress' poor performance when Sara softly snorted, and finally admitted the problem out loud, and to herself.  She smiled softly at her redheaded lover. "Women don't make passes at women in glasses, Chloe."  She winked a halfhearted wink at her, and then shrugged.

"This one does," Chloe assured her. "And you might be able to wear contacts."

"Something sticking to my eyeballs?  All the TIME?" Sara's eyes started tearing at the thought.

"Wimp.  I thought it was a little strange when you only put a couple of dollars worth of gas in the tank last night, when it really needed filled.  This explains a lot,"  Chloe teased gently.

"That didn't have anything to do with my eyes, I just wasn't paying attention." Well, much.

"And come to think of it, since when can you order pistachio ice cream at a Dairy Queen?"

Sara knew exactly what Chloe was referring to, but chose to deny it.  "So, I got it confused with a Peanut Buster Parfait."

"There's more WORDS involved in reading 'Peanut Buster Parfait', Sara.  And you ended up getting a cone."

"Well, I don't remember doing that." Much. The Seven of Nine uniform was working its way into Sara's butt crack. It was like wearing a thong with legs attached.

"Is your memory going along with your eyesight?  This isn't the first time you've had trouble making out words.. At the drive through the other week, when you tried to order a Big Mac at an Arby's,  the girl inside thought you were illiterate."

"I just forgot where we were is all."

"You couldn't read the damned drive through menu from the passenger's side, that's what. Don't try to kid a kidder, Sara."

Sara only grumbled a response, and looked away.

"Is that why you always have your sunglasses on, so you can hide your squinting?"

"It's not that bad. I can still see pretty well." As long as I don't have to read, or focus a camera, or watch TV too far from the screen, or sit in front of my computer ...

"I'm pretty sure Mr. Magoo uses those very same excuses there, Fearless Fly." Chloe chided softly, and then she continued, more seriously,  "You need to get your eyes checked.  All of that squinting is just going to give you massive crow's feet.  Which one are you going to be more vain about, the wrinkles or the fact that you need some help seeing things clearly?"

"I DO see things clearly.  It's just that the whole world is a big blur that I can't seem to focus on right now."

"Oh, let's talk about focus, Sara. Focus. Is that why you just flubbed your line, and read it as a 1987 Ford FISCUS?  I'm pretty sure a fichus is a tree or something, I'm not sure what a fiscus is, but I'm pretty sure that they didn't even make Ford Fiscus' s in 1987.  And it's Ford Taurus, not Tortoise." Chloe couldn't help but giggle at that one.

"Alright already! I'll put an order in for a Seeing Eye dog tomorrow," Sara groused impatiently. "Meanwhile, what am I going to do? Today, right now?

Chloe thought a moment.  "You remember the 'QEL auction?  You think you can ad-lib your spiel around the model names, prices and model years if I write them really, really big on cue cards?  Same thing.  You get up in front of each of the cars again, and I'll have the cards ready, say in 10 minutes.  Would that help?

Sara's frown was smoothing into a straight line, and eventually the corners of her mouth began rising into a relieved smile. "Yeah, I think that would help a lot.  There's too much stuff crammed on those cards the way they are. If I memorize the script first I can get the lead lines down, and I won't have to remember the details about the car if you have them right in front of me. Really BIG. Then we can just run it through."  Sara's heartbeat and anxiety level decreased, and she looked gratefully at her concerned girlfriend. "And you could flip the cards for me?"

"Of course I can.  I'm not about to let you suffer because Ruthie Stevens hired some rude storm trooper for a director."

"Well, I've just never been one to have temper tantrums on a set, Chloe. I do my job, I always let the director do theirs. Even if they are insulting schmucks. At least I have some standards. But with that woman, I may lower my standards and pop her head like a zit ..."

Chloe did a squint of her own, and then she got another idea, and this time, didn't share it with Sara. Her plan required Sara's absence. "Hey, why don't you go powder your nose, suck up some water, get into the air conditioning for a while?  That Star Trek suit looks great but really uncomfortable. I'll get started on the cue cards." And have a little chat with that bitch ..

Sara wanted to hug Chloe right then and there for being so understanding and helpful. Thank God Chloe showed up. If all directors were like her, I might have stayed in the business. She leaned and whispered into Chloe's ear, "OK, I have to take a whizz anyway, and I think I'm going to need a squeegee to get out of this uniform first. It's so far up my butt right now it feels like a spandex suppository."

Chloe smirked at her, and watched her walk away into the front doors of the dealership.  She then steeled herself, put on her imaginary Porn Star cap backwards over her dark red hair, and marched over to where the commercial's director was complaining incessantly to a stone faced Ruthie Stevens.

She had absolutely no qualms about interrupting them. "Excuse me, hi, I'm Chloe Donahue, and you're what, the director for this shindig?"  She assumed her most natural pose, that of hands on hips, and glaring eyes.

Ruthie Steven's eyebrow rose. Interesting. I always wanted to meet her, and never had the chance.

"I'm Roberta Taproot, yes, I am the director, and what can I do for you, Ms. .... Donahue?"  The younger woman fixed Chloe with a decidedly cocky stare, irritated that her rant to Ruthie about the incompetent 'has been' actress had been interrupted.

Chloe turned up her own attitude a notch or two.  Actually, it went right off the scale. Somewhere from deep within, she mustered up every butch mannerism she usually had shallowly buried, and it made her feel quite potent. Her voice was cold, threatening, and very LOUD as she pulled back the trigger on her verbal shotgun, and began shooting with both barrels, not one to waste time mincing words with petty minded assholes. "Well, I just want to say that if I hear you put Sara down ONE MORE TIME, the local police force is going to be sending out search teams to look for your ASS, because I'm going to take it down to the Shop N Save and chip it into 30 pounds of chip chopped ham!  You will treat her with respect, Ms. Taproot. She's treating you with dignity, like you have a brain in YOUR head, and to tell you the truth, I haven't seen one iota of proof that you do have anything resembling a brain sitting in that space above your neck! I certainly know that whatever gang of simians raised you never taught you any manners, nor did they teach you how to direct anyone with any sort of professionalism."

Her voice got even louder yet, and a few more people came out of the surrounding buildings to see what the hubbub was about. "So, whatever misguided ideas of cinematic grandeur you have floating around in that apparently useless gray matter wasting space between your ears, just forget about them now, or I'm going to make a few phone calls about you to the right people. Ms. D'Amico is a many skilled, semi-retired actress and maybe she's a little rusty right now, but she's a PROFESSIONAL all the same. She's wonderfully talented, and has a ton of experience under her belt. You, you've got some kind of bloated false ego holding up your pants, and guess what, your dumb ass is showing!  I've got quite a little bit of experience being a director, Ms. Taproot, and this fuckin' ain't a production of MacBeth, so if you want to work directing in this neck of the woods again, you'd best fast freeze that 'I'm the next Martin Scorcese' attitude of yours, or it just won't be pretty --you do get my meaning here, you pompous assed, shitbrained future BURGER FLIPPER!!"

Chloe got all of that out in four long breaths or less, and if she hadn't run completely out of air, she would have had plenty more to say. Very loudly, because that's the way she did it best.  But before the angry car commercial director could formulate a reply, Ruthie Stevens bit her lip, grinned, and held up a hand between them. It was a prudent thing to do, because Chloe's hands had formed into fists, and the way she was leaning into the dark haired director's personal space, she looked like she wanted to get downright physical and slug her clean into the next solar system

"Now, now,"  Ruthie croaked,  her thin arms cutting through the thickening air between them like fan blades, "No need for fisticuffs or a cat fight. There's a perfectly easy solution to this problem." She looked at both directors, and then settled her gaze on the darker of the two. "You're fired."

Both directors took a step back, and stared at Ruthie.  But Ruthie was perfectly serious. "Ms. Taproot, you had a great opportunity to prove your abilities with us. We had a faith in you that certainly appears not to be justified. I don't care if this is a dumb commercial for a local yokel Ford dealership, it still would have looked good on your resume. For when you wanted to apply for your first job directing an infomercial for some kind of miracle rice cooker. But you blew your chance. So, pack up your stuff, and get off of my car lot right now!"

Roberta was flabbergasted. "But, but ...."  She slitted her eyes at Chloe, and couldn't find the right scathing words.

Chloe had hers ready and waiting. "Looks like you'd better get your eyes checked there, toots, squinting is a telltale sign of vision trouble. And I can unequivocally state that your VISION is sorely lacking!." All she wanted was one good meeting of Roberta's face, up close and personal, with her fist. Talk to MY lover that way, will ya, you fuckin' bitch?  You're  first on my death row short list. She really wanted the woman to just make one baby step towards her. C'mon, c'mon, the hardass in Chloe silently chanted.

But Chloe was disappointed; the pissed off but ultimately all bluster and no balls former director simply turned on her heel, and stormed off, almost knocking a returning Sara over in the process. "Fuckin' has-been!" she snarled at Sara, who stopped and looked at her in amazement, but the other woman kept going, into the dealership with one of Ruthie's salesmen shadowing her to make sure she got off the property without tossing a lit match into a gas tank.

Sara strolled over to a stock still, plainly fuming Chloe, who was still so charged up she really hadn't noticed her return.  She nudged her with her elbow, and adroitly adjusted the stretchy material around her butt which was already creeping up and forming a wedgie again. She looked to a softly smiling Ruthie Stevens for some sort of explanation, but the gangly woman was watching the dearly departed director come back out of the dealership with huge satchel in tow as she stomped over to her Hyundai and got in. She started the engine, and peeled out of the lot as a small smattering of applause from the onlookers began in happy recognition of her departure. Then the applause picked up in volume, coming from watching mechanics, secretaries, salesmen, lighting techs, cameramen and even Ruthie herself began an enthusiastic clapping punctuated by an ear piercing whistle.  At first Sara thought the applause was for her, but she couldn't figure out why since she was still fully clothed and going to the ladies room and back didn't merit this kind of adulation. She turned and saw that everyone's appreciative gazes were fixed on Chloe, who was beginning to blush and rock on her heels nervously in the gravel of the lot, looking both sheepish but ultimately proud of her passionate outburst.

As the applause died out, Sara looked to Chloe, then to Ruthie and back again. "Did I miss something?"

Just as Chloe was about to say something, Ruthie interrupted with a pleased smile. "Well, you certainly did! I just fired your director." She paused a long moment, relishing the perplexed look on Sara's face, and then she turned her gaze to Chloe. "And it seems I just hired us a new one."

Both Chloe and Sara swallowed hard.  Chloe's brain temporarily lost the ability to speak in the English language, and she never could remember any of her high school German, so she remained mute, but her eyes spoke startled volumes.  So did Sara's, who blinked, and then ended up squinting at her dumbstruck girlfriend, but not because of her aforementioned focal problems. No, she was squinting because she was smiling so broadly, her lips curling impossibly high, pushing up her cheeks, which rose even higher, thus causing the narrowing of her eyes. To compensate for the squint, she lifted her eyebrows, allowing her to almost clearly see the disbelieving look on Chloe's face. She snorted, and threw an arm around each woman's shoulders. "Relax, Chloe, it's just that you have to picture everything in a flat 8 inch square now, instead of a stage."  She began walking Chloe and Ruthie over to the friendly looking long haired cameraman. "He can give you the gist of it."  She softly shoved Chloe in his direction.  "Then you just wing it from there."

Chloe took a few steps, and then turned around, gaping at both Ruthie and Sara with a confused look on her face. "Ge .. de...," still no English within her grasp.

Sara smiled at her. "G'wan.  Ruthie and I are going to step into her office, and discuss the details of your employment.  Don't worry, I'm representing you. Let Ellis the cameraman give you a quick crash course. Just tell him what you want to do, and he'll tell you if it's possible."  Sara grinned as she felt Ruthie slip her arm into hers, and they both purposefully walked past a still shell-shocked Chloe.  Sara stopped at the dealership door, opened it with a flourish and waved Ruthie in. They stood inside the glass doors, and watched as Chloe's brow furrowed in thought a moment before she shrugged her shoulders and walked over to the waiting cameraman, shaking her head at the unexpected and completely strange turn of events.

Both Ruthie and Sara chuckled, and then Sara tilted her head and looked quizzically at Ruthie. "So, you going to fill me in?  What happened out there?  I mean, I thought it best to just play along, because, well, Chloe can get pretty talkative, and if you're serious about her directing this, then it's better that she just jumps in feet first. Otherwise, she'd be setting up storyboards for the next month or so, and talking to me endlessly about character 'motivation',  But really, I mean .... I know she can do it, she's talented enough. And I'm pretty sure she worked with some TV production stuff in college. But ... why now?"

Ruthie clapped Sara on shoulder so hard that the communicator badge pinned on Sara's chest almost flew off. "Because I know talent and determination when I see it, Sara.  I know you have it, and I know that little girl has it.  I saw 'Oklahoma' three times, and come to think of it, I saw that unfortunate opera she directed a couple of years back.  That girl is scrappy, Sara, and I've never seen anyone come to anyone's defense like I saw her come to yours.  I had to fire that idiot of a woman, if I hadn't, I would have looked like I wasn't supporting you. I'm sorry I let her do that to you. Not like I could ever support you like Chloe did though. She was like an avenging angel out there, and I was sure she was going to rip that woman's head off in  defense of your goodness and honor." She watched through the window as Chloe peered into the cameraman's monitor, and knew she would be quite happy with her rash decision to put the zealous redhead in charge.  "You've got some kind of loyal and devoted friend there, Sara," she said with true wonder and admiration in her voice. "I sure hope you realize it."

Sara was listening intently, and nodding her head, floored by Ruthie's statements while still watching her lover who had begun talking to the cameraman out in the sales lot.  She saw Chloe's expression change from tense to rather animated, and she felt her own anxiety dissipate as her eagerness escalated.  She let out a long pleased breath, and then turned to a slyly grinning Ruthie. "I do know it.  Some kind of devoted friend all right."  Sara began walking towards the office, and Ruthie trailed behind, listening as Sara's voice took on a business like tone. Sara was remembering how every slick agent representative she'd ever met spoke with absolute conviction, so she mimicked that behavior now as she took on her role as Chloe's representative. "Now Ruthie, you know Chloe has much more experience than that other hack you just fired, and I believe that experience should be reflected in her compensation.  And we're not talking about her doing this just today, are we? Of course not!  Why, I'm sure we can come up with an acceptable agreement where Chloe is signed on as director oh, for the duration of my contract with you?  This all hinges on how this commercial turns out today, but I'm confident that you'll be extremely satisfied with the results."  Sara pushed open the door marked 'Manager', and held it open for Ruthie.  "Do you have one of those blank contracts laying around?"

Ruthie trudged right on by her, and sighed and laughed at the same time as she settled into her leather chair to begin the negotiations.

The commercial, once Chloe and Sara both lost their respective cases of jitters, didn't take long at all to tape.  Ellis, the affable and laid back cameraman and also the editor for the small firm in Erie that was contracted to make the ads, was a great help to Chloe. It turned out the firm had hired Roberta Taproot as a independent director, and he was pleased to see the unpleasant woman make a hasty exit.  At one point, the newly hired director grinned at him and asked him why he just didn't take over the directing chores himself.  He smiled, and stroked the straggly beard on his face, and told her he preferred to avoid being put in situations of possible conflict, as it would ruin his karma.  She looked at him to see if he was kidding, and saw that he wasn't, and took him at his word. And then he shyly put a big hand out for her to shake, and complimented her on the henna dragonfly tattoo on her exposed shoulder.

The rough tape footage Ellis would take with him to Erie, and he'd work on the special somewhat mystical transition shots that Chloe had come up with while puzzling over how to make the commercials unique, yet reflect the peculiar fact that Sara D'Amico was dressed in a Star Trek uniform while standing in front of a used lime green Mustang.  He liked her ideas immediately, and told her he'd do his best to make some nice 30 and 60 second spots from the footage they'd shot.  Chloe was going to meet him in the small studio in Erie on Wednesday night, and help him polish the results.

By the time Sara stood in front of the camera again, she had already acted as a witness to Chloe signing a contract to direct weekly commercials for Stevens' Ford over the course of the next six months.  Of course, although Sara had argued against it, the contract stipulated that Ruthie and Roger Stevens had final approval over the finished product.  Chloe, privy to this point of the negotiations, humbly wanted to point out that she had absolutely no professional experience in the electronic medium.  But she quite smartly kept her mouth shut for once and let Sara quite adeptly handle the details. She did, however, find it ironic that she signed a contract on the dotted line in front of Sara. It was not the legal paper she wanted to be signing in the company of the dark haired car saleswoman, but she wasn't about to point that out in mixed company.

Sara had literally peeled off her costume, and deposited it in a halfhearted folded manner into a dry cleaning bag that Ruthie Stevens had provided.  Ruthie would make sure it was clean again in case they needed it for future commercials, or, to Sara's dismay, personal appearances by the actress on behalf of Stevens' Ford promotional events.  Ruthie had also taken the time to show Chloe and Sara the next outfit she had chosen for the upcoming week's commercial.  She wanted to give Chloe plenty of time to think up special scenarios for each commercial.  Chloe was surprised to find that not only was she expected to direct the ads, but write the content, too.  But she felt she was up to the task. That is, until Ruthie unzipped the garment bag containing the costume.  It was a suede jacket, handsome to be sure, with long fringe on the arms and down the sides, with a matching skirt.  Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, take your pick, that would have been a good description of the clothing.  Chloe had to excuse herself to go the into Ruthie's private bathroom, so she could recover from the stunned look on Sara's face without peeing her khaki shorts.

Sara was both inwardly and outwardly pleased at the way the afternoon had turned out.  She had never been one to concern herself with the final product once her job was done, but she'd curiously watched the monitor when Chloe and Ellis ran the rough footage.  Chloe had directed Eli to shoot Sara from particularly flattering angles, and Sara was duly impressed and put at ease with her decision to champion Chloe as her director.

So she and Chloe, with a modestly paying 6 month contract copy in hand, left the dealership in the conversion van with smiles on their faces and new hope in their individual hearts. They'd decided to leave Chloe's car there, and ride back together. Sara, in particular, was feeling lighter and more optimistic than she had in weeks.  She couldn't put a name to the reason, but then her companion in the captain's chair next to her reached out and put a light hand on her knee and squeezed.  One glance over at her glowing, red-haired co-pilot, and Sara immediately put a face to the reason why she was feeling so happy and relaxed.  They laughed and giggled all the way back on Route 20, until they got within a mile of the Stonecreek Golf course, and simultaneously, their smiles faded.  They were about an hour late in getting home because of the unexpected happenings of the day, and now they had a most unpleasant milestone to attend.

Nelson leaving for California.

The van pulled up into the driveway, and both women looked around, trying to spot the Comet among the golfer's cars parked in the adjacent lot.

It wasn't there, and Chloe and Sara exchanged quizzical looks as Sara brought the big van to a stop to the side of the house.  Dave, Marcy, and surprisingly enough to the two women in the van, Jason were sitting motionless on the steps.  Dave lifted a hand in greeting, and Chloe waved back.

Both women jumped down from the maroon behemoth at the same time and together approached the small group of people huddled there, each noting the forlorn faces on their friends and family.

"Hey," said Sara, her face twisted into a question mark.

Dave glanced sadly at both Marcy and Jason, and they both smiled weakly at him.  He turned to his sister and her girlfriend, who stood at the foot of the steps, looking at him.  He cleared his throat and frowned.

"He's gone.  He waited around, but when Justin got here with the U-Haul two hours early, well, they all were just anxious to get going."

Sara blinked. "Gone?"  She felt Chloe's hand take hers.

Dave nodded. "You know Nelson. He was up, packed and ready to roll first thing this morning.  They have a long drive ahead of them.  They figure they can make Phoenix in three days, drop off Jeanette, then head to UNLV for Justin, and then Nelson could go on from there in the Comet, and be at USC by Saturday."

Sara had a lost look shading her features. "Gone?" she whispered.

Chloe dropped her hand, and put her arm around Sara's waist. Sara unconsciously leaned into the comforting embrace.

Marcy, who was barely recovered from the wrenching departure just a few hours earlier, took pity on the shocked and heartbroken faces of the two women standing in front of her. "Well, I think he just couldn't stand the thought of saying goodbye.  He probably thought it would be easier this way. The poor guy was barely holding it together when they left anyway. After they got the Comet hooked up to the back of the U-Haul, he looked like he was going to jump out of his skin.  We were all crying."  She looked back up at Jason, who was staring at his shoe tops from his perch at the top of the stairs. "All of us."  He didn't look up.

There was a long, long silence, as everyone looked around, unsure as what to say or do next. Chloe continued holding Sara, who hadn't moved, hadn't said a word. Finally, Sara cleared her throat. "Well, huh. I suppose ...." she trailed off. She cleared her throat again, trying to control the shaking of her voice. "I suppose I'll take the John Deere out and take a look at the course." She leaned and gave Chloe a soft kiss on the forehead.

Chloe knew that this was a time that Sara truly needed to spend alone. She hugged her quickly then let go, and she walked up the few steps, pausing to pat Dave consolingly on the arm, and settled onto the step next to Marcy.  Marcy and Chloe, long time best friends, put every one of their personal troubles aside and reached out for each other. Marcy laid her head on Chloe's shoulder, and Chloe stroked her friend's curls.

Jason stood up as Sara had turned to start her walk towards the barn. "Ms. D'Amico?" he called softly.

Sara stopped and said with a small smile, "Yeah, Jase?  and you can call me Sara, you know that."

Jason blushed and nodded. "Nelson wanted me to give you something."  He moved towards the back of the porch, and picked that something up as she walked over to the railing.

He turned around, and handed the item to her.

Everyone immediately recognized it.  Nelson's cherished cowboy hat from 'Oklahoma'.  She took it from him, holding it as if it was a fragile and tender flower, and her eyes began brimming with tears.  She nodded her thanks at him, and then turned away again and quickly walked off towards the barn, the hat gripped in her hand at her side.

Not long afterwards, the silent and mourning people on the steps looked to see the rumbling green tractor headed their way. Sara's face was a study of composed sadness, and each of their hearts went out to her.  She pulled up directly in front of them, looking at each one in turn.  Finally, her gaze searched out Jason's eyes, and she suddenly became aware of Jason's depth of feeling for the dark young man who had left Stonecreek to find his future out West. She threw the tractor in neutral, letting it idle, and she smiled at him.  He sighed, and then smiled dejectedly back.

"C'mon, Jase, let's go for a ride."

He hesitated only briefly, then after swift long strides, he was standing solidly on the back bumper of the tractor, holding on to the high roll bar, and Sara turned and nodded up at him.  She threw the tractor into gear, and two solitary figures were riding steadily across the driveway towards the pale green yellow of the course.

The last thing the family on the porch steps saw of them was Sara placing the cowboy hat on her head, and firmly pulling the brim down to shade her eyes from the harsh rays of the fading sunlight breaking intermittently through the clouds above.

Continued in Part 22

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