by LA Tucker
Copyright © 2002
For disclaimers, see Part I
Chloe was at the deserted library, once again sweltering at her usual perch in front of the biggest box fan. She had sent Mrs. Cellone home, with assurances that she would be fine, and if she had to pick her nose or scratch her butt, she could do it left handed. Mrs. Cellone, being quite used to Chloe's odd sense of humor, and occasional unladylike outburst, had merely widened her eyes at the statement and gone home to spend the afternoon with her soaps in the comfort of her air conditioned bedroom.
A rousing bout of sexual activity, especially welcome after the cooling effects of the morning shower, had been the extent of Chloe's attempt at continuing her communication with Sara prior to making a mad dash for work. They hadn't gotten much talking done about all the new and recent turns of events, other than trying very hard to reassure each other, through strokes and kisses, that even these unforeseen happenings would not distract them from their devotion to each other. Chloe had imparted the exceptionally good news to Sara that Sandy would not be attempting to buy Marcy's house and Sara had reacted somewhat favorably in that she hadn't made a smart remark one way or the other about Sandy's possible motives in being so considerate and noble. Chloe knew Sara was brooding about Sandy, and Audra too. Down deep, Chloe was very suspicious too, but she pushed that aside, and promised not once, not twice, but three times that if she found out anything new about the very mysterious arrival of Sandy Baker in Stonecreek, and her new status as a Fort Lafayette teacher, that Sara would be the first on the information chain to know. Chloe finally had to resort to crossing her heart and hoping to die, stick a needle in her eye, before Sara finally gave her a grumpy, and somewhat reluctant acknowledgment of Chloe's promise. Sara had driven Chloe to work, given her a quick and surreptitious smooch before letting her off in front of the dry cleaners, where the poor employees cleaning and pressing other people's garments on a day like today was probably akin to working in the boiler room in Hades.
Sara had an appointment of her own to keep. She went home, put on an extremely uncomfortable but flattering summer suit, to make the trip into the outskirts of Erie. There she had scheduled a 1:30 meeting with Roger 'Even' Stevens at his dealership which was both a monument to fine Detroit made Ford products, and a huge eyesore on the stretch of road known locally as The Miracle Mile. Actually, it was probably a longer stretch of road than that, as it was also on Route 20 a short 12 minute drive due west from the Stonecreek Golf Course. Dave was out on the course on the John Deere somewhere, and Ralph Henderson was fanning himself behind the clubhouse counter before and presumably after she left for her appointment. She would have dearly loved to have talked with her brother before she left, but he was probably out on the course somewhere, doing a desperate rain dance in hopes of having a little bit of water soak the course that he didn't have to be billed for later.
Sandy Baker, having spent the evening before watching one news magazine after another in the emergency room of St. Vincente's hospital in Erie, waiting for her ex-love to be x-rayed and prodded, had packed her bags and checked out of the Ramada Inn where she had spent the night. She drove the two hours to Cleveland and caught a plane back to California, to begin packing her remaining worldly goods for her upcoming move to a backward little town in Pennsylvania. She drank three airport lounge vodka sours before she got on her flight, hating everything possible about flying, from the forced greeting of the flight attendants, the roaring rumble and unsettling vibration of the engines, and the claustrophobia that always overtook her as soon as the plane began taxiing inexorably down the runway. She immediately had two more drinks, and before she and her legs fell asleep in her cramped economy seat, she thought about how nice she felt she had been to give up her opportunity at the house, and her regrets that she had not been able to really speak to Chloe about much of anything of consequence the evening before. The only thing she had been able to extract from an otherwise uncharacteristically tightlipped Chloe was that her former lover's injury was self-inflicted. Having an intimate knowledge of Chloe's prior tendencies to rather emotional and unexplainable behavior from their former life together, Sandy had accepted Chloe's explanation without much doubt clouding her mind. She was somewhat disappointed that she couldn't place the physical cause of the injuries on Chloe's new and apparently egotistical lover. Chloe had been in too much pain to talk on their way to the hospital, and too dopey on the ride home, for much meaningful conversation to pass between the two of them. All she had told Chloe was that she need a 'change', and cryptically kept it to that.
Audra Simmons called her friend Julia Cardinger, and they lingered over a cheap lunch at a Big Boy restaurant in Harmercreek. Audra told Julia of her new job, and asked her opinion on whether Audra should find a place closer to Stonecreek, perhaps in Harmercreek, or even in Stonecreek itself. Julia reminded Audra of the nearly daily white-out conditions that plagued the path from Erie to Stonecreek from late November into late February, and between the two of them, they easily concluded that it would be quite prudent of Audra to live a little closer to Stonecreek, and a little farther away from her cloying family. Julia volunteered to be Audra's roommate, since Julia was still single, and living in a quite large 3 bedroom house in Harmercreek proper. Audra sucked up what was left of her vanilla milkshake, and immediately agreed to Julia's offer. Audra then found herself talking animatedly and a bit uncontrollably about Sandy Baker for the rest of the duration of their lunch together. Julia was both relieved and dismayed, glad to hear that Audra was finally talking about someone other than Chloe Donahue, but disappointed that Audra now seemed to be fascinated with Chloe's ex-lover as well. But the joy of Audra's agreement to share living quarters with her gave her long yearning heart a little hope.
Marcy drove home from her illuminating lunch with the strange and eccentric and oddly wise Doris Raeburn, her mind and stomach both churning from the meal and the information that Doris had passed on. Marcy's ankles were already swollen well past the uncomfortable point, and she kicked off her now impossibly tight sandals before making the short drive home, briefly reflecting upon the idiotic point that it was quite illegal to drive barefoot in Pennsylvania. She was worried, too worried and about too many things. Her mind flew from Chloe's injured hand, Sara's panicked exit the night before, and her decided pleasure that her old pal Audra would soon be teaching at the same school that she did. Then she realized that her own employment at that particular high school would be brief, at best, until the advent of the new year. The thought of maternity leave both vastly relieved her and made her irrationally irritated, and not for the first time. She thought it a terrible travesty of nature that the men who often so blithely fathered them didn't also have to carry and give birth to their own children. She spent considerable time thinking of nefarious and dastardly motives for the reasons why Whatsername had appeared in Stonecreek out of the proverbial blue, and most of those rationales Marcy was attributing to the thought that Whatsername Baker intended to be a homewrecker of the most notorious lecherous lesbian, deviously demonic sort. She'd rather by far have buried Whatsername in the basement of her home than to sell it to her. Luckily, Whatsername had saved herself from an untimely death by calling both the realtor and Marcy before Marcy had found the time and money to snag a jackhammer from the rental center attached to the town's hardware store. She decided that thinking about what Doris had said about the impending demise of the town's small library could keep until she had a chance to talk to Dave about it. Then she spent more time wondering, when exactly she had shifted her usual tendencies to talk immediately to her best friend about things, and switched them to wanting to discuss them first with her husband-soon-to-be. She finally decided that it was a very good thing, an adult sort of thing, and would certainly help her achieve a passing grade if she was ever forced to take a 'Are You A Grown-Up?' quiz in a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine.
Nelson D'Amico, tanned dark as a mahogany bookend, was happily applying another coat of #30 sunscreen to the bikinied back of his girlfriend, Jeanette Stavros, on a rough sand beach not two miles from the parched ground of the golf course his father was worrying over. Nelson smiled as he tugged the strap of Jeanette's top to one side, to apply the coconut smelling lotion more evenly to protect her very golden skin. He looked up into the cloudless blue sky, felt a refreshing breeze rise up from the softly swelling waves of the lake, and reflected to himself that it was a perfect day, in every way, and life surely, most certainly, just couldn't get any better than this.
Sara parked her Comet in a customer space, and stared at the glass walled showroom of the dealership in front of her. She'd taken just the smallest emergency dose of a Valium before she'd left her bungalow, hoping it would dull the creeping edge of the prickly nervousness that was determinedly sneaking up on her. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been subjected to being an actual participant in an interview, and for a real job, in the real world. She wondered briefly if she would be forced to take a math test, or if she should have thrown together some sort of a resume for Roger Stevens to glance through. Lets see, I'm a college drop out, a runway model, a TV star in a piece of dung cable series, a retired movie actress, and I know the difference between engine sizes. Yup, sounds like I'm the perfect candidate to sell Fords to the masses.
She got out of the car, nervously smoothed tiny wrinkles in her stifling linen skirt, and decided to make an entrance into the showroom that would be big on attitude, all movie star bright and breezy, and left her sunglasses on until the moment she could casually flip them up and focus her Thunderbird Blue eyes on someone who needed to be impressed and intimidated. It didn't take long. No sooner had she taken three steps inside the showroom door, than two salesman made a beeline right for her. God, I have to approach people? Is this in the manual or something? She did the sunglasses flip, with expected results, and coolly inquired about the whereabouts of Roger Stevens. One of the salesmen walked her through the sale area cubicles, around a loaded Ford Explorer parked directly in their path, and still farther back to a bland office door that was marked 'Manager'. He knocked, and there was a muffled 'come in', and he nodded at her, smiling yet disappointed that he surely wouldn't be getting to take this luscious, lovely, leggy brunette on a test drive on this hot afternoon.
Roger Stevens stood up from his desk, and gave Sara a winning, if jowly smile. He was a rather short, round faced, past middle age man, with graying temples and reddened nose, and Sara could see 'Hair Club For Men' written all over the top of his head. I should have saved the sunglasses flip for him, I wasted it on Mr. Used Car Sales out there. She leaned across his desk and shook his hand.
His grip was firm and moist. "Sara! You look wonderful. I can't tell you how pleased I was to get your call last night." He held onto her hand just exactly long enough to transfer most of the sticky wetness from his large palm onto hers. "Have a seat. How's that Comet I sold you running?" He settled into his own leather executive chair, and she sat down into her smaller, and less comfortable, naughahyde covered version.
"Like a top." She smiled, glad to not have to lie about something so early into their meeting. She glanced around the room, seeing plaques and trophies and framed #1 certificates neatly placed on the walls. At least the air conditioning was pleasant. "Great car." Oh, I'm a stunning conversationalist.
Roger leaned back in his chair, and his hands settled on the edge of his striped tie, idly playing with the ends of it. "Wonderful. I only part with my classic cars to people I'm sure will really appreciate them. You're going to garage her this winter, right? Don't need all the salt eating away at that paint job." He smiled again, crinkily wrinkles appearing around his eyes on his tanned face.
"Absolutely." She smiled back hesitantly, then remembered what she was here for, and then gave him a resplendent, trademarked Sara D'Amico toothy smirk. She watched him continue to smile, and he leaned forward again, and placed his arms across the surface of his deeply polished desk.
"Well, I'm afraid I didn't have time to prepare for this little meeting with you like I probably should have, Sara. I wanted to have more of a presentation ready for you. Your phone call took me quite by surprise, but I was so pleased to hear from you. Our new models are already arriving, and I'd like to start this year off with a real bang. I'm quite certain that you can provide that bang for us." He looked at her expectantly.
As long as that's the only 'bang' you're thinking of getting from me. Sara licked her lips. "Presentation? I thought I was here to sell myself to you." She grinned, and then immediately felt stupid for her choice of words. Oh, good, he doesn't have that wolf look on his face. Jeez, I'm going to have to take Chloe's Public Speaking class. I'd flunk it now.
Roger pushed back in his seat again, and returned to playing with the edge of his tie. "Well, yes. When I sold you the Comet, that job offer was just a sudden idea, and when you turned it down so quickly, I pushed it way all the way onto the back burner. I'm surprised that you remembered, and called me. I think this will be great for both of us, Sara. Mutually beneficial. I talked to my money man a bit this morning, and figured out how much we can offer you. Perks and benefits and such. Is there someone I should get in contact with, someone who represents you?"
Interviewees have to have representation now? Wow, Chloe never said a word ... Sara blinked, and looked blankly at him, thinking he was a little bit nuts. "Nope, I'm here representing myself. Now, uh, could you tell me a little about the job?" Are there any openings for mechanics?
"Well, I haven't had much time to map that out yet. I did talk to my wife this morning, and we chatted a bit about what we'd like to see you do. Something weekly, with a big push towards the end of every month, when we have to make our sales quotas. Mostly television, some voice over work, and maybe a few personal appearances."
Sara found herself blinking at him again, this time like she had a sliver of razor wire in both eyes.
He continued. "We'd like to contract you for six months to start, see how it goes. Commercials show mostly during the evening local news, you've probably seen them, around game show time, lots of folks love those game shows. Have you come in for our sales meetings with the Ford reps. Shake hands, you know, impress the suits."
Sara felt the corners of her mouth twitching uncontrollably, like she was sucking on the world's sourest lemon. The blinking went on unabated.
"I checked around. Or I should say, the wife made some calls. We'll pay you a contracted salary, a per appearance fee, and we can come up with a stipulated rate for each one of the commercials and each radio voice over you'll do. I just hired a new advertising firm, they have some whiz kid who'll be writing the copy for the ads. Most of them will be done right here on the lot, or inside the showroom, and maybe we can have you do a few blue screens with the cars showing up behind you. Only takes a couple of hours each week, we can set up a set schedule. We'll even provide the wardrobe, right down to the coat and boots you'll need to wear when the weather turns, and you have to stand outside for god knows how long, taping between snowstorms. We do 30 second spots, with a longer one for the end of the month. I've done most of our commercials for years, it never fails to snow on taping day." He smiled again, this time showing his teeth. "How's all this sounding to you, Sara? You sure there isn't someone we should contact? These contracts can get pretty detailed, but I think we can fix you up to your satisfaction."
Contact? Like my therapist? Sara's mouth was as dry as the sand trap near the fifth hole at Stonecreek Golf Course. I thought I would be selling cars, not ... selling cars. Her face twitched, her hands wiped themselves dry on her knees. Words finally found their way out of her mouth. "Well, Roger, this is a wonderful offer, I ..."
His face lit up. "Oh, and I forgot, you'll have to drive one of our cars around, whatever you want for the course of the contract. The Comet is nice, but it sure isn't a Ford, now is it? I don't know what other car you own, but I insist that you'll have to drive a new model Ford around. Can't have our spokeswoman driving around the area in a Chevy or 'Beemer' now can I? Once we get the papers signed, you can pick something out of the lot. A luxury car, or, really, I'd prefer if you would consent to drive one of our 4 wheel drive models. We've got a ton of them coming in, I gotta sell them."
Sara's face quit its flurry of conniptions, and she closed her eyes for a moment. An unbidden thought of a naked Chloe, lying in front of a glowing fire in front of Marcy's fireplace, no, their fireplace, filled her mind. So much for tough negotiating.
She leaned across the desk for the second time during her short visit with her new boss, Roger 'Even' Stevens, and warmly offered her hand. He smiled again, and reached out and shook it. She turned on her newly patented TV pitch lady smile, and said, "Sold."
Sara was standing behind the library checkout counter, sharing the breeze from the box fan with Chloe.
"Chloe, quit jumping around like that, you'll get heat stroke or something." Sara commented with a smirk.
Chloe looked like she was just warming up to do some splits and cartwheels. "I thought you were going to sell cars ...", she said, bouncing like a more demented version of Tigger, "Not ... sell cars! I thought you didn't want to do the acting thing anymore, I mean, you turned down the sequel offer ..." She stopped her bouncing for a moment. "Wait, are you sure about this, you're not doing it because of the house, my job going kablooey ..." A frown replaced her formerly delighted grin. She looked up at Sara, confused and uncertain.
Sara placed her hands firmly on Chloe's shoulders, and looked her directly in the eyes. "You bet I am. I'm doing it so we can get started on our future. Which I expect YOU to contribute to, too, however you can. This isn't going to translate into a fortune, Chloe. It's like five, ten hours out of each of my weeks for six months or so. Even so, if we go for a house loan before, and if, they give you your walking papers here at the library, we'll already have the house. Maybe I can get more work, especially if it's going to be this easy. Especially voice overs. What a great idea, no cameras, and voice overs ... well, I'll make sure Roger doesn't stipulate I can't do other voice over work." Sara's eyes twinkled. "It's not a fortune, Chloe. I'll be billing like an overpaid lawyer for saying 'BANG for your BUCK' a lot. Maybe I can get a commercial for something non competing, like, a pizza chain in Erie." She quirked an eyebrow, and said slowly in a low sultry voice, "Double cheese. Mushrooms. Hot wings. Anti ... pas-to." She gave Chloe a wink.
Chloe rebounded swiftly into frantic worrywart mode. "I've got two jobs now, a third hopefully, coming up, that's got to look good on a loan application, right? Right?," she said, hope and worry equally infusing her voice. "I should put my house up for sale, like, right immediately, I can call Marcy's realtor, kill a couple of birds with one stone, my place isn't worth much more than an overgrown doghouse, but I've got a little bit of equity in it, that should help, I mean, we can buy at least a cord of wood for the fireplace with the money left over! " She paused a moment, and then her head dropped. "What about a down payment on Marcy's place? We need at least ten thousand, maybe a little more." Chloe wasn't at all happy that derailed train of thought was interrupting and screwing up what should have been a hopeful time. "Geez, I forgot about that."
Sara rubbed Chloe's shoulders, then tipped up Chloe's chin with her hand. "It'll just about wipe me out, but I can come up with that much, and still be able to buy a gun to shoot a bear for that bearskin rug in front of the fireplace, Chloe. Don't ... " She saw the small cloud of doubt drift darkly across Chloe's face. "Don't worry about it. I'm going to ask for a Ford truck to drive, Chloe, maybe I'll have them put a plow on the front of it, I can make extra money with that over the winter. Now as for next spring and summer, I'll just start a lemonade stand in front of ... OUR house. That should tide us over. Call that realtor, Chloe. Wait, call Marcy first, I'll stick around, and then call the realtor. I want that 'For Sale' sign down from her house, and in front of your house real, real soon." She smiled, and held herself back from placing a reassuring kiss onto Chloe's still hesitant face.
Chloe carefully searched Sara's eyes. She couldn't shake her feeling of apprehension about all of this. "Are you sure? About all of it? The commercials, the house, the wiping out of your personal fortune ... the ... me?"
Sara leaned down and gave her a quick kiss. "Funny as it sounds in this God awful, hideous sweltering weather, my little librarian, all I seem to have on my mind lately is ... a roaring fire and a redhead on a bearskin rug."
Nelson was sitting on the steps of the porch, having slipped off his flip-flops. He was running a finger between his tanned toes, cleaning out the sand and the dirt from his afternoon at the beach with Jeanette. He heard the screen door behind him open, and soon Marcy was settled in next to him on the top step. She gave him a small shoulder shove in greeting, and handed him a glass of iced tea. He accepted the glass and returned the shoulder shove.
"That was your ... Aunt Chloe on the phone. Seems she and Sara want us all to go out to dinner tonight at the Embers, they have a bit of good news they want to share with the whole family."
Nelson looked up from his toe picking. "Really? What kind of news?"
"Well, some they want to share themselves. Some I can tell you now, I guess. Not all of it though." She gave him a teasing grin.
"Seems your Aunt Sara has found gainful employment ... somewhere. Other than working her ass of her at the Sahara Golf Course."
"Really, where?" He pushed a hand through his unruly, sun lightened dark hair.
"Uh, uh. Not allowed to tell." She turned her smiling face away from him, and began picking at her own bare toes, flicking off little loose pieces of pink nail polish.
He shouldered her. "What good are you, huh, Marcy?"
She shoved back. "Listen, College Boy, if I'm good enough for your dad, I should be good enough for you. You want to call Jeanette and see if she can come? It'll be pretty late, Dave has to make sure the golf course is deserted first. That won't be a problem, its been pretty bad. Although we do get that bunch who show up after five ..."
Nelson wiped some sand off his ankles. "Jeanette has girl stuff tonight. She's already having some kind of separation anxiety stuff from her friends on the cheerleading squad. Huh."
Marcy glanced up from her picking. "You have a nice day at the beach? Not like your dad needs any help around here, other than from the rain gods. The grass hasn't needed cut for three weeks now, he's just out there fussing with the greens. He's probably spitting himself dry, trying to keep them damp." Marcy shook her head, and stared out at the greenish brown of the course. "Nelson?"
Nelson had leaned back onto the porch, and was propping himself up with his hands, also surveying the dismal brown of what used to be a palette of luscious, rich greens. "Yeah, Marse?"
Marcy couldn't look at him. "You and Jeanette ... you guys use protection, don't you?"
Nelson nearly fell backward onto the wood planks of the floor of the porch. "Uh, yeah. I mean, yes. Yes we do." He was too startled to tell anything but the truth. Oh god.
Marcy nodded, but still didn't look at him. "Good. Just wanted to make sure. Your dad and I thought we were being pretty careful, and well, look what happened." She rubbed her rounded belly, and gave a quick roll of her eyes in Nelson's direction. "You two be TWICE as careful, OK? I'm too young to be a grandmother." She eyed him seriously, and if she could have seen Nelson's blush under that deep tan of his, she would have seen a bruised raspberry color rise to his cheeks.
Nelson nodded back, aware of the gravity of the odd turn in the conversation. Then he sat back up, and loosely linked his arm through a surprised Marcy's. He waited until her eyes met his. "Hey, Marcy, I was wondering ...."
Marcy felt quite good about the show of affection and trust Nelson was giving her. "Yeah, Nels?"
"I was wondering ... if after you and Dad are married ... I could call you ... ", he looked at her with bashful and wondering eyes.
Nelson looked down, and started again. "I was wondering after you marry Dad if I could call you ... Marcy."
He made it through the screen door before the flip-flop that came sailing through the air at his head could inflict any permanent damage.
Sara had left Chloe to go home and change out of her flattering but uncomfortable outfit. They would meet up later at her bungalow, to ride together to the Embers for dinner with Marcy and Dave, and hopefully, Nelson.
moved slowly about the library, turning off the fans and closing the windows
a good twenty minutes before closing time. The lack of moving air made
the confines of the library heat up quickly, and as Chloe stood, intently watching
the second hand on the big clock on the wall, she felt the heat envelope her,
and she began to sweat. The dead quiet assaulted her ears, and walls and
countertops and even the ceilings and floors appeared to close in around her.
She continued staring at the clock, the primary long hand seemingly cemented
in place. Finally, she looked away, and did something she'd never done
before. She grabbed her things, and locked up the library 15 minutes before
closing time. She couldn't spend even one more minute in a building that
used to feel as if it welcomed her, but today, it felt as though the library
owned her, was in control of her future, and she fled from those unsettling
feelings by escaping outside, into the equally unsympathetic heat of the late
Continued in Part V
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