The Inside Out

by LA Tucker
Copyright ©  2002

Chapter IX:  Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost Too

For disclaimers, see Part I

    Chloe knew, better than most people do, the huge difference between 'want to' and 'have to'.  When she was a small child, she never would 'want to' brush her teeth before she went to bed, her mother would say 'you have to'.  She felt this way about scrubbing behind her ears, too, but her mother would end up 'having to', because Chloe would never do it herself. She still had flashbacks to having the tender skin behind her ears scrubbed roughly by a warm, soapy washcloth and a clucking, disapproving mother, who wondered more times than Chloe could remember how in Heaven's name so much dirt found its way to such a remote place.  Vivian would ultimately, but kiddingly, blame it on Marcy's influence over her daughter, and the young girls penchant for getting into trouble whenever they were together.

    But in the present, Chloe had discovered she was in a muddled, murky place in her life that seemed to be all of her own doing, and it brought her heart to a numbing, almost glacial standstill. 'Want to' and 'have to' had recently become enmeshed and endlessly entangled, their clear differences reduced to subdued shades of similar grays within Chloe's troubled and narrowed vision.  She couldn't blame her current state of flux on Marcy, no, this was certainly her very own personal boat to row. She felt as though she only had one oar pushing laboriously through the water, and yet for all her efforts was alternately languidly floating, or turning in disconcertingly dizzying circles.  It was time to pull herself back out of her existential swamp, rub the shine back on her self esteem, brush the dust off of her certainty and iron the wrinkles out of her priorities, so she took hold of her heart and took a big step forward.  She didn't 'want to' be in these circumstances, not knowing up from down, left from right or Dewey Decimal System from alphabetically by author.  She didn't 'want to' walk away from Sara last night, she knew she would 'have to', or she would surely end up doing something unfixable, regrettable, unpleasant and irrevocable. So, her head and heart, for once in complete and unanimous agreement, pronounced she 'had to' get away from Sara and the bungalow, away from making a mistake that might lead her to a decision for which she wasn't in the least bit ready.  She had been afraid that the situation might deteriorate into another unfortunate and disastrous argument; she'd been able to read Sara's dark mood that clearly. Or if she'd gone in, begging for forgiveness and pledging undying love and togetherness, she'd have felt like a liar -- even in her discombobulated state she knew making that kind of vow would have been a temporary patch on their relationship, not a honest examination.  So, she had to walk away, to spend her first night alone without Sara sharing her bed in more days, weeks and months than she wanted to or could even bear to think about counting. So, without pledge or promise, or apology or pleading, she'd done what she 'had to' do, which was get some physical distance away from the woman she loved, for she wanted to think the whole thing through by herself without doing any more damage to Sara, to herself, to them.

    She slept surprisingly well, the phone not ringing in the kitchen, the answering machine remaining idle all through the darkest hours of the night. She awoke with an idea niggling in her mind, and as she measured out coffee into a fresh filter, she couldn't decide if that idea had come to her in a dream, or had simply snuck up on her, nipped her in the ass, and worked its way up through her bloodstream to her befogged brain .

    As the half pot of coffee was brewing, she rubbed the sleepers out of her eyes, and grabbed a pen and a pad of paper to make a list. At first, the list consisted of a few sentences, then too soon the paper was covered with vigorous slashing marks dividing the page, and arrows from written sentences at the top were now pointing the way to scribblings towards the bottom.  After working out a plan of sorts, and chugging a cup of coffee in the process, she suddenly felt better, like something she was doing was finally going to go right for her, simply because everything she was planning was all wrong.  She was infused with an exhilarating sense of foolhardy adventure, as if a never before seen, chance taking, reckless streak in her had unexpectedly arisen that was possibly even strong enough to take her up Everest if she chose.  Not knowing, or really considering that everything might hit the shredder because of her actions, she pulled out her beat up phone number and address book from her satchel, and retrieved her telephone book from under the pile of magazines that was covering it.  Pouring herself a second cup of coffee, and consulting her convoluted list, she began making a series of telephone calls. As each one was completed, Chloe began feeling more focused, increasingly excited, even enthusiastic.  She was so wrapped up in what was soon to transpire, she forgot about her troubles with Sara, and almost automatically called her to share her good news about what was about to happen, very soon, in her life. After shrugging off that impossible notion,  she poured her final cup of coffee and made one last call, checking it off her list as she waited for the person on the other end to pick up.

    Sara's name was not on the list.


    The phone rang on the D'Amico's kitchen wall, and Marcy was there to answer it.  Unbeknownst to her, she was the last in a short list of phone calls her best friend was making. Also unknown to her was the fact that Chloe had almost not called her at all, but had decided to because someone had to know what she was doing. Not having any of this information beforehand, or afterwards, left Marcy in a very awkward situation. And she didn't appreciate it, now, or later even in retrospect, one friggin' bit.


    "Marse? Is that you?"

     There was a distinct swallowing noise, then a clearer greeting. "Hey. Sorry, I had a mouth full of Shredded Wheat."

    "Seems like you always have something in your mouth when I call you."

    "You know how orally fixated I am. I'm also smoking my morning Bic pen."

    "Right. Listen, I have to make this short, I have some things to take care of, and I'm on a very tight schedule. So ..." Chloe left off, and her heart began beating a little harder, she knew Marcy was going to run over her with a wheelbarrow full of manure for what she was about to tell her.  And then back it up, and plow her over again.

    Marcy mistakenly assumed that Chloe was late for work. "S'OK, what's up? Is everything OK, you know, between you and -"

    Chloe cut her friend off. "No, not really. We have some things to work out."  She swallowed, hard as she shouldered the responsibility. "I have some things to work out."

    Marcy nodded reflexively, not sure what Chloe meant. "So ... what do you need me to do? Do you want me to talk to Sara, find out ... "

    Chloe shook her head adamantly, even though Marcy couldn't see her. "That's just the thing, Marse. I'm not asking you to do a thing. I just wanted you to know, as my friend, that I'm ... leaving on a trip for a while. Like, later this afternoon, after I make a stop or two."


    Chloe breathed a huge sigh. "Yeah, it just came to me this morning, I need to get away from here. To clear my head, to decide some things."

    Marcy could barely believe this conversation, this was so unlike Chloe. Her eyes traveled to the Caller ID on the phone, just to make sure it was really her friend that was on the other end of the line. "Uh ... where? Um, do you need me to come with you? Is this like a 'spin the car' thing?"

    "Nope. Just me. And I'll call you when I get where I'm going. I promise. I have to get a shower, and then pack, so I have to go now, Marse."

    "Wait a minute, wait one minute here. What's with the fuckin' mystery? Are you playing some kinda game with Sara? Did you tell her?"

    "I was planning on calling her, too, once I got where I'm going. I just don't want either of you talking me out of it."

    "Since when have I ever been able to talk you out of anything? You're coming back, right?" Somehow, that disconcerting idea snuck into her head. This is so unlike Chloe.

    Chloe laughed. "Yeah, I could only take a week off from work, so don't worry, I'll be back."

    "A WEEK?" Marcy was even more confused." A week? You're leaving for a WEEK, and you won't tell me where? What the hell ...?"

    "I'm sorry, Marse. It's short notice, I need a vacation. I haven't ever taken a real vacation, in what, eight years at the library?  Now seems the perfect time to ... well, do what I need to do. Could you pick up my mail for me? Water my plants?"

    Marcy had so many questions, and no time in which to ask them. "Where are you going? When are you going to call me? And you'd better goddamned well call Sara, she's going to go all apeshit on me, and I ... well, dammit Chloe! You're pissing me off!"

    Marcy sounded nearly hysterical with worry and with anger. Chloe waited a moment before she replied, and she talked slowly, and lowly, so Marcy had the chance to settle down. "Marse, I'm just taking a vacation. Away from Stonecreek, away from pressures, and to have a little adventure, all by myself, before college teaching starts, my drama teaching starts, and well, just because I can ..." Because I want to, not because I have to.

    Marcy pursed her lips. "Well, I can tell you right now, I'll get over this ... you bugging out ... but have you considered what Sara's going to think?  I'm guessing you two didn't make up last night."

    "You're right. But I think she needs the time apart, too. I don't know if this time away will solve anything, anything at all, Marse. But it feels right to me, so I'm going for it. I've been too dependent on you for too ..."

     Marcy interrupted. "Chloe, listen, I never meant last night that I was trying to blow you off or anything ..."

    "I know, Marse. I know. I just need some time away. I don't know any other way to put it. I'm sorry if this gets you in the doghouse with Sara, but hell, just be honest with her. I'm tired of keeping things from her. And Marse, don't go plotting or scheming while I'm gone, trying to think of ways to fix this. This is between Sara and me. Take care of your own life, I'll be back soon enough to complicate it even more.

    Marcy was really, really, really missing the absence of caffeine and nicotine in her life at this particular point in time. She sucked particularly hard on her Bic, nearly drawing the black ink out of it. "Oh, hell. Be good, Chloe. Call me ... when you get ... 'there'. "

    "Later tonight. I promise. I love you, Marse."

    "Ditto, Chloe."

    When Dave walked into the kitchen a moment later from his trip out to the greens, he looked at Marcy, and absently thought that his fiancee looked like she wanted to strangle a chicken, lick an ashtray, and suck on wet coffee grounds, not necessarily in that order. He wasn't very far off the mark, except for the chicken part.  Actually, his fiancee wanted to strangle Chloe.

    "Don't shoot the messenger, Sara. She said she would call us both tonight."

    Sara was pacing the kitchen as Dave and Marcy watched her from their seats around the table.  Dave was feeling very protective of his pregnant fiancee and was going to keep his little sister from inflicting any bodily damage on her, short of tossing a wadded kitchen towel at her.

    "A WEEK?  That's like, what, seven days?"  Sara was so mad, she was being nonsensical. "She's taking a ... VACATION?  That's just a furkin' way to say she's taking off, blowing me off!  That's just peachy, dammit. PEACHY!  Yesterday morning, we were talking about seeing your realtor this week, going to the bank,  seeing about a mortgage, and now she's just ... going? I don't BELIEVE this.  This is her idea of communicating?"  She stopped, mid pace, and squinted at Marcy. "YOU told her to do this, didn't you?  While you were off with her last night, traipsing around the golf course in the moonlight! Tell me YOU didn't put her up to this.  She always listens to what to YOU have to say, so you must have suggested it or something!"

    Marcy took a deep breath, and squirmed in her seat.  She was trying to stay calm, and felt Dave's reassuring hand on her thigh. "No. Nothing like it. Exactly the opposite."

    Sara blew out a disbelieving breath. "Since when?  Since when have you ever been on my side?"

    Dave glared at his sister. "Now wait a goddamned minute, Sara."

    Marcy was really having a hard time not raising her voice. "I'm not taking sides here, Sara. This was just as much a surprise to me, I couldn't believe it. Nothing we talked about last night would make me believe she would just take off like this. But hell, it's her life. She's over 21, has a job, a few of them, a car, and vacation time at work. And maybe, just maybe, she's trying to avoid this banking talk, this realtor visit. Maybe, just MAYBE ..."  Marcy looked at her directly, "Maybe this is just what she needs. Hell, I don't know how she got the idea. Maybe some aliens came down and implanted it in a chip in her frontal lobe. All I know is  I didn't say to her, 'Get the hell out of Dodge, Chloe', as a matter of fact, I told her it was about time she start talking to you instead of me about things."

    Marcy could see that Sara wasn't believing a word of what she was saying. Which pissed her off further. "Fine. She told me to go ahead and be honest with you if I needed to. Fat lot of good it's doing me."  She got up out of her seat, and put her hand on Dave's shoulder. "I'm sick of this. I don't need this. I'm going to wait and see what Chloe says when she calls tonight. I don't care if she's in Timbuktu, I just hope she gets there safely, and has a great time, gets it all fuckin' worked out in her head and comes home to tell you that she's ready to live happily ever after. But in the meanwhile,"  she spat the words at Sara, who was leaning at the sink, staring at her feet, "like I said ... don't shoot the goddamned messenger, Sara."  She started towards the living room, when she heard Sara's voice calling after her.

    "Wait. Please wait." Sara saw Marcy turn, and put her hands on her hips, in a gesture that was disconcertingly very Chloe-like. "If she said to be honest, then tell me what she said. What happened? Why did she all of a sudden do a 180 from yesterday morning until last night? From all this summer until last night? I mean, she got the job, and then she tells me, yells at me that she doesn't know if she wants to work all those jobs!  Why did she even apply, then? I don't get it."

    Marcy could see how confused and miserable Sara looked. She softened her posture and voice before she replied. "Sara, sit down at the table, and I'll tell you exactly what I know."  Marcy moved towards the table again, and was relieved to see that Sara was doing the same. They settled down, and Dave took Marcy's hand again before she began. "Yesterday, on the way home from her interview, Chloe ended up stopping at the family planning clinic ..."

    Sara interrupted. "I already know that."

    Marcy held up a hand. "Give me half a minute here. Don't make me start calling you 'Asshole' again, just to get your attention. Chloe HAD to stop there, it was lucky she was in that area at the time, because Julia Cardinger was still there and took her in, and calmed her down."

    Sara looked even more confused. "Calmed her down? What happened?  Did something happen at the interview? On the way home?"

    Marcy sighed, not knowing how far Chloe's 'be honest' went. I hope this is OK, Chloe. "She had a panic attack on Route 20. Right around Harmercreek. From what Chloe told me, Julia recognized the symptoms immediately."

    Sara's eyes widened, and she lifted her head to stare at Marcy, then at Dave, and then back to Marcy again. "You're kidding me."

    "Nope. The whole nine yards and the kitchen sink.  Chloe thought she was dying. Couldn't catch her breath, was seeing spots, was superglued into the carseat."

    Sara sat back in her chair, and ran her hands down her cheeks. "Shit."

    "Yeah. Julia thought it was, you know, a 'one time' deal. But it really shook Chloe up."

    Sara shook her head. "So, well, how come she didn't tell me, I mean, I've got some history here ... I don't get it."

    Marcy looked carefully at Sara. "Now you're kidding me, right?  Chloe Superwoman, who goes to great pains to make sure not one hair of your head is disturbed in any way, makes sure that you're in your safety zone, finds out she's not human like the rest of us?  It really threw her for a loop. So all the stuff that happened during the week ..."

    Sara was way ahead of her. "All of the little stuff got magnified into even bigger stuff, then the bigger stuff made her head explode, and then ...Wham."

    "Wham. On top of way too much happening, she gets ambushed by a panic attack. All of a sudden, she thinks she can't cope -"

    "So she gets drunk, and yells at me. I've been there. I did that back in LA.  The panic attacks make you think you're not in control anymore."

    "And do you know anyone, besides you, who likes to be in her comfort zone of predictability more than Chloe? Sure, she has a great imagination, but she likes to see every 'I' dotted, every 'T' crossed. She always has to have a PLAN. Somewhere along the line, the plan wasn't working for her. You, you're just ... well, que sera sera. You work better on the fly, when you're not having an attack of your own. You'd much rather be living out your life by the seat of your pants." She saw Sara give grudging acknowledgment to this assessment, so she continued. "Sara, listen, I doubt very much that Chloe doesn't want to make a life with you. But in the space of a week, her whole world was aiming for this ... brain train wreck.  And she had a panic attack, which, what? I'm not sure. Would make her feel like she wasn't handling things very well? The closest thing I've ever had to having a panic attack was the night that I found out I was pregnant, and I got through that by smoking two packs of cigarettes and hashing it all out with Chloe. We all handle things differently, the problem is, Chloe's reactions right now are an unknown quantity, especially in this situation.  I kind of expected the fight between you, but this vacation thing, hell, I've known her for twenty years, and this is all new for me too. Let her take care of what she needs to take care of."

    "I'd take care of her, if she'd just talk to me. We can swing this house thing, all we have to do is get the mortgage. I'd move Heaven and earth for her.."

    "She knows that. I know that. Everybody knows that." Marcy leaned back in her chair. "But she likes to think she takes care of YOU, Sara. Not the other way around."

    "But she doesn't have to take care of me, Marse. We can take care of each other."

    "Not when you don't talk to her, either. It's a two way street here, it's just not her, you know. You're not exactly Chief Run-at-the-Mouth when it comes to sharing your feelings. And look what happens when Chloe does try to get you to talk."

    "What, is this that Whatsername thing again?  I just flipped, it was too much that day ..."

    "Well, well, quit thinking about how it affected you, and think about how it all affected her. Her ex, who gave her up some years ago, shows up mysteriously, wanting to buy the house. Moving into Chloe's home turf. And YOUR home turf. And you know Chloe, she's thinking that if things get screwed up now, it's her fault by extension. Multiply that by the rest of her week, the library job worries, the immediacy of buying my house, a new job, and then experiencing a panic attack for the first time in her life."

    Sara pursed her lips, squinted her eyes, and tried to climb into Chloe's psyche for a moment. It was hard to do, being so close to the situation. But she tried to give Marcy's theorizing the benefit of the doubt, until she got a better explanation from Chloe herself. Her mind drifted back to when she was in therapy, and a thought struck her.  "There's two kinds of attacks, Marse. The symptoms are the same, the reasons are different. Mine, they think is because of, you know, the happy chemicals in my head not working on a regular basis. Seratonin levels. Hers sounds like ..."

    "Too much, too soon. Emotional overload. Most likely an isolated incident. That's what Julia Cardinger told her while Chloe was puffing away on bummed cigarettes behind the clinic."

   Sara shook her head, over and over. "She should have told me, no matter what. How come she tells you, but not me? It just goes back to us not talking, her not letting me know how she feels.  Apparently, its fine with her to tell YOU how she's feeling."

    "Sara, the girl and I have history. Don't hold that against her.  Plus, when you think about it, its easier for me to deal with her faults, or her perceived faults.  She wants to be PERFECT for you ... and when she thinks she can't ..."

    "She implodes and takes off." Wow, have I ever been there. It's not a good place.

    Marcy rubbed her hands on her belly. "For some dumb reason, it makes sense to me. Not in the sense that she's running away, although that may be part of it. It seems to me that she's not feeling anything like herself right now, so she goes with that, and behaves in a way that makes it OK for her to be comfortable with her new sense of self."

    Sara wasn't convinced.  She didn't like to think she didn't know Chloe as well as she thought she did. "New sense of self?? What?  What kind of shrink-speak is that?  Have you spent your entire summer off making meatballs and watching Oprah? Since when are you a therapist, Dr. Phil? Are you sure you didn't give her this idea, to take her little 'vacation'?"

    Marcy ignored the blatant sarcasm. "Sara, I told her last night, very frankly, that it was time for us to ... change our relationship, and get closer to our loved ones."

    Dave, who had been carefully listening without commenting, got a small delighted smile on his rugged features. "Really?"

    Marcy reached across and ruffled his wavy dark hair. "Really." She smiled at him, and then with a touch of sympathy, at Sara. "So, this morning, she said she didn't want to feel so dependent anymore ..."

    Sara pulled her hair back into a handheld ponytail, and then dropped it. "So, she goes to the extreme, and gets overly independent. From everyone. Big time." She looked at the kitchen clock. It was nearly noon. "Do you think she's left already? Maybe I could get over there ..."

    Marcy cocked her head at Sara, and said, very firmly, "No.  She sounded excited about whatever she's doing.  She said she needs time to think.  She said she'd call you tonight."

    Sara knew Marcy was right. No one in the world hated it more than Sara when Marcy was right. "But I could ..."

    "You are not Chloe's 'fixer', Sara. She knows you love her and want a life with her, and vice versa. It's just a week, Sara. A week. Let her have this time, maybe she'll get a hundred miles away from here, and turn around."

    Sara ruefully smiled. "Yeah, I forgot. That damned car of hers -- no air conditioning. It's so hot, and she absolutely hates the heat. She'll be back."

    "Yeah, that's what I think, too."

    The trouble was, Sara and Marcy and the silent Dave were thinking along predictable lines, and they had no way of knowing that an emotionally frazzled and determined to be unpredictable Chloe Donahue was doing everything she could to think 'out of the box'.

    Chloe parked her car, locked it, and took a moment to wonder if she should have left the window open a crack or not.  It was parked on the top, open air level of the parking garage, and the sun would be beating on it unmercilessly for a week if the weather held, and no rain clouds appeared along the shores of Lake Erie. Not that it was any different than parking it in her own driveway. But banana peels and unfinished french fries didn't smell nearly as bad after one day baking under the front seat of her car, as opposed to slow cooking for a week at a time in a sealed environment. She pulled her suitcase along on two noisy wheels, and then looked back at the old Subaru wagon, and after taking a quick glance around, waved at it, and said 'Bye!' rather affectionately. No one would want to steal that car, what am I worried about? I should have cracked the window. But now she was halfway to the terminal entrance, and time was running ridiculously short for her to catch her flight.  I know there's a half cup of Diet Coke in the holder, does hot Coke stink up a car?  Chloe, notoriously neat at home, had a compost heap in her car, although she hid this inconsistency by stuffing her refuse under her front seats.

    She hummed a fragment from a song that was playing on the radio as she'd parked, off pitch but rather in tune with the squeaky wheels on her luggage, and readjusted her overstuffed satchel on her arm.  She entered the cool haven of  Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, sleekly remodeled since she'd been here last.  She walked up to the departure board, and scanned the listings for her flight, pretending, as she always did when she was flying somewhere, that this was something she did every day, she was a frequent flyer with bazillions of mileage bonus points racked up.  The truth was, her flying stints were so infrequent, that she never remembered what the routine was.

    Ah, check my baggage. She turned in one direction, and looked up hoping to find her airline listed on the walls, or on a sign, or somewhere so she wouldn't look like a naive waif who missed her flight because she got hopelessly lost looking for the baggage check in.  She took four or five more steps before she realized she was heading entirely in the wrong direction. Alphabetically, dumbass. Still trying to appear nonchalant, and world traveler weary, she casually stopped, struck a bored pose, and then gracefully turned, and headed the other direction, the correct way.  Why do I act like this when I know there isn't anyone around here even looking at me?  Why do I have to appear so self-assured?  She pondered that a little, striding along like she had somewhere to be, and for once, she realized, there was somewhere she had to be, and it wasn't at work, it wasn't at Dave and Marcy's for dinner, and it wasn't at some doctor's appointment she didn't want to keep. It was somewhere else, somewhere far away from Stonecreek and even Cleveland, Ohio, it was some place she wanted to go, and had decided to go there without consulting anyone but herself. She felt refreshingly powerful all at once, in control of her own destiny, and independent and strong.

    That burst of confidence lasted all of two minutes, when she pulled up to the baggage check area, and the airline representative began speaking to her.

    "Ticket please?"

    Chloe fruitlessly fumbled around in her satchel a good two minutes before she remembered. "Oh, I called and, uh, put it on my card. I should have express something or other."  Chloe blushed as she explained, feeling like an idiot. Now she's going to tell me I'm in the wrong line.

    "I'm sorry, Miss, you're in the wrong line."

    Chloe was already hastily zipping up every pocket on her satchel, and securing the flaps. As surely as she'd known those words were coming she suddenly knew that this was going to be a very long flight indeed, and she hadn't even left the ground yet. She hoisted the satchel back over her shoulder, made apologies to the airline person, and to at least three disgruntled passengers waiting behind her.

    She mumbled aloud, over the seeming squealing laughter of her luggage wheels, "Way to go, Donahue. It's a wonder you can tie your own shoes."

    Since there's no such thing as a coincidence, it was only proper that Chloe tripped over her own loose shoelaces as she headed towards the Express Check-In area of the airline.

    Sara was sucking down a bottle of ice cold water in her bungalow, and the chill of the water made her wince, both from brain freeze and from the obnoxious complaining of the fillings in her back molars. She'd just come in from off of the course, making the rounds of refilling the jugs of ice water at every other tee.  There were plenty of die hard golfers out on the broiling course on this late Saturday afternoon, and they were sucking up the water faster than Bedouins at an oasis.  She'd parked the electric golf cart  in front of her small abode, and walked in to the stifling air of her small kitchen.  She had tried to convince herself that she'd only stopped by to get some water for herself, but realized that she'd be hauling gallons upon gallons more of the stuff over the course of nine holes, and if she was really that thirsty, she could have used a little paper cup and whetted her whistle at any of her stops. No, she was really there to check her answering machine, to see if she'd missed Chloe's promised call. I haven't had an answering machine hooked up since ... California.  Nobody knew I was living here, and I'm always up at Dave's anyway.  So, when she was digging out her computer the night before, she'd found her old machine, hooked it up, and not finding the directions, she played hit and miss with it early this afternoon, trying to remember how to record an outgoing message on it, one that sounded properly friendly, but not overly so, and yet wouldn't sound like she was a receptionist at a funeral home. The exacting and careful actress in her was still there,  and she wanted to give the best performance as possible, as always, even if it was only an answering machine.

    She'd seen, immediately as she walked in, that the machine's incoming calls light was lit but unblinking.  She was deeply disappointed. It was nearly 6 PM. Chloe must have stopped somewhere by now, riding in that Subaru on a day like today must be like riding in an Easy Bake oven.  She took a final swig of her water. Where did she go?  Buffalo?  Toronto?  Pittsburgh? New York City?  Nah, that's like a ten hour drive. But she could be going somewhere where she'd have to stay overnight and then keep going ... she has a week, after all.  I wonder if she has a tent?  Maybe she went camping?  This is going to drive me crazy, because I know, I just know, when she does call, I'm going to end up playing it so cool that neither one of us will get anything said because we're just acting all weird with each other. But if I did this, if I just took off , well, there'd be no end to me hearing about it the rest of my life, and on into eternity. The woman would make me pay. Marcy acted as if Chloe had a right to do this, that I shouldn't have any say. Well, Marcy didn't say that, but she implied it.  She checked her watch again, and then rubbed off some of the sweaty dirt around the wristband. What if she doesn't call at all?  What if she just calls Marcy?  What if I'm not home when she calls, and she just says 'I'm fine, I'll see you in a week'? This is just not right, its not right, no matter what Marcy says, no matter what Chloe says, its just not right.

    The phone in front of her suddenly rang, and Sara's hand snapped out to answer it before the machine could pick up.

    "Hullo?"  Sara said, breathlessly, and immediately began kicking herself for not letting the machine do its job, so it wouldn't sound like she was sitting around, just waiting for Chloe to call.

    "Why, " a unfamiliar female voice laughed, "it didn't even ring."

    Sara was still mentally kicking herself in the pants for diving to answer the call. "Yes it did."

    "No, honey, it didn't. Not on my end, at least. Is this Sara D'Amico?"

    Sara's hopes deflated faster than a blowup doll after a very intense and raucous bachelor party when she realized that the caller wasn't Chloe. Her voice became guarded and formal. "Yes. May I ask who's calling?"

    "Oh, honey, I'm a big fan of yours!  I used to watch your show on cable every week!  Those splits, they must have hurt!" the woman chortled.

    "Um, how did you get this number?" Sara demanded, but in a polite voice.

    "Oh, I'm sorry. You must get strange calls all the time from your fans. I'm sorry, " the woman said again, "I'm Roger's wife, Ruthie. Ruthie Stevens."

    Sara's mind drew a huge, blank zero at the name. "Roger who?"

    The woman tittered. "EVEN Stevens? More Bang for your Buck? Hello? Is this Sara? Did that muddlehead give me the wrong number?"

    Sara's brain let the clutch out and the gears engaged, and once again began deciphering information. "Oh, I'm sorry,  not your fault. I think I spent too much time in the sun today. Hello, Mrs. Stevens. Yes, this is Sara D'Amico."

    "Well, hello there, YOU." There was more grating, tuba tinged giggling in Sara's ear, and she held the receiver farther back from her ear to get away from it. "I'm sorry, honey, but Roger asked me to give you a call to see if you could stop by the dealership on Monday morning, and look at the paperwork we've drawn up. He said you could pick up your car that day, too, would that be alright? I mean, once you've gone over the papers, signed them and such."

    Sara rubbed some sweat from her brow, and sighed. "Sure, Mrs. Stevens ... but I ..."

    "Ruthie. Call me Ruthie, hon. Got any particular model or color in mind?  I'll have one of the boys spiff it up for you."

     Sara, right at this minute in time, couldn't remember even one model name of a Ford. Model T? "Tell you what, Mrs. Stevens, you pick me out something, anything, with good, cold air conditioning, and I'll drive it."

    "Oh, my. It has been something awful, hasn't it? Roger has been a bear, an absolute bear in this, and well, when he's hot, he just can't think. That's why he's leaving all of this to me, the detail things. He says I'm much better at the details than he is. I still pick out the man's ties before he leaves for the dealership every day. Why, just yesterday, he was arguing with me about clip on ties, and that I should buy some for him, and I told him to get out of the 60's for once, and quit acting like an old fogey ..."

    Sara rolled her eyes, and thought briefly that she still had a way out, she hadn't signed any papers yet. But a strong glimmer of hope about Chloe and the house broke in, and ... well, she couldn't deny that those things were still what she wanted, so she straightened up, and got her mind fixed on business again.

    "Monday morning, you said, uh, Ruthie?" Sara interrupted, trying to sound professional, and a little bit actressy, whatever that was. "What time?"

    "Oh, how about around eleven or so?  We can sit down, get your paperwork signed, and then talk about making appointments with the stylist, and perhaps get you fitted ..."

    "Stylist? Fitted?  Fitted for what?"  A picture of a bridle materialized in Sara's mind.

    "Oh, for the clothes for the commercials. We're, well, to be honest, honey, I'm trying to make sure this comes out just as classy as we can. If it were up to Roger, he'd have you in a pair of cut offs and a leather bikini top to do the commercials. But don't you worry, I'll make sure you come across as the proper representative for Even Stevens Ford. So, I'll see you then?"

    Sara was still mulling over the fact she hadn't put her name on anything legal yet. She sighed. "Yup, I'll be there. Thank you, Ruthie, and I'll see you on Monday."

    "You betcha, honey. See you then."

    Sara hung up the phone. Huh.  They'd better NOT be putting me in some Daisy Duke outfit. No way. But she sounds like a nice woman, I guess she'll be looking out for me. Sara stared at the phone again, and then formulated a plan. Chloe said she'll be calling Marcy, so if I go up to the house, I won't miss her call.  I could sure use something to eat. She wiped her sweaty hands on her cut off shorts, and stood over the answering machine, studying it to see if she had all the right buttons pushed and it was ready to receive. A bikini top?  Roger Stevens had better not be thinking I'd wear any such thing. I have my standards.  She stepped away from the machine, satisfied it was ready to go, when and if Chloe called. She snorted. Ruthie will have something dignified, I'm a dignified person. She walked towards her screen door, pulled up, and quickly lifted both arms slightly, to sniff under them. Passable. Then she laughed, as she swung the door open. Yup, that's me. Dignified.

    Chloe had actually made her flight with a good 4 minutes to spare. She'd been nervous about getting to the gate on time, so she regretfully skipped a quick trip to the ladies room.  It was a good ten minutes into the actual flight before she'd stepped on her fellow traveler's toes in her haste to race up the aisle to the cramped powder room. By the time she made it back to her seat, and restepped on his toes getting back into her window seat, the young man had already pulled out his laptop and had several interesting thingamajigs that hooked into it. By the end of her flight, Chloe was bound and determined to get one of those amazing laptops of her own, and a bunch of thingamajigs to plug into it, too. The kind and patient, and let's face it, rather geeky and enraptured young man was more than happy to instruct Chloe in all rudimentary things about his computer, and by the end of their trip together, he was smitten by her, and she was smitten by modern technology.

    She did no better, after arriving in the strange confines of the distant airport terminal, in getting around there than she did in Cleveland. Here, she was even more confused, wondering if she should first claim her luggage before renting a car, or rent the car and then try to find her luggage. She decided the car could wait, her bag was more important, so she rode a few escalators down, and then up, and then down again, feeling like a five year old let loose in a department store before she finally found the baggage claim.  After grabbing at two different identical suitcases, actually owned by other people, she realized that maybe she should paint a large smiley face on the side of hers for easier identification when she made her trip back.  Once her sole bag had been retrieved successfully, she then followed the car rental logos to go sign the papers for the car she'd reserved. Here, at the back of a line at least 13 deep, she speculated that maybe she should have run the escalators instead, and headed straight for the rental area prior to picking up her suitcase.  Shorts and tank tops can be replaced, but the 45 minutes she spent in line could never be brought back into her life again.

    The man at the rental counter was snappy, proficient, and obviously gay.  Chloe, not used to being around men of the homosexual bent, grinned at him, and gave him a conspiratorial wink, in a show of gay brother/sisterhood. He merely blinked at her and looked away, apparently thinking she was trying to flirt with him.  Chloe, disappointed in her efforts, decided that she at least had to give it another try.  She awkwardly made comments about this and that while he typed her information into his computer, and dropped a few words here and there indicating that she had a 'girlfriend' back home.  The man, finally understanding that Chloe was just trying to intimate that she knew they were both 'family', smiled graciously at her, printed her a very detailed map of the area and instructions on how to get to her hotel, and quite rightfully guessed to himself that the sparkling redblonde in front of him didn't get out very much.

    Chloe navigated the bustling highway with some alarm, her sweaty palms gripping the wheel at the safest 10 and 2 o'clock positions. Even on this late Saturday afternoon, the highway was jammed with monstrous, shiny black SUVs, Jaguars, BMWs and Mercedes Benzes, and smaller Japanese imports of all varieties and models that never seemed to use a turn signal, as well as the beat up old pickups that she was more accustomed to seeing. She was scared to death of having any kind of a fender bender in this rented car.  It took her a few moments to get her left foot to relax. It was nervously searching for the clutch that the car didn't possess. Once out of the airport, and onto the highway, she had once again regretted not making a pitstop in the ladies room at the airport during one of her trips up, or down the confusing escalators. She drove along, noting the blue sky above her, and she reached for the window handle to crank it down, when she also remembered that the car, a cleanly lined Taurus, had an amazing button that did that job for her.

    Terrified, yet completely delighting in the strange but wonderfully interesting surroundings, she relaxed a bit, and concentrated on getting to her hotel. Discovering a might too late she was in the wrong lane for her fast approaching exit, she took a deep breath, gunned the engine, and pulled across three lanes of whizzing traffic like a Hollywood stunt driver, and made the exit with mere feet to spare.  Imbued with new confidence, she immediately made a right when she should have made a left at the stoplight (which she misread as 'stop sign') and found herself lost, with no idea where she was.  She stopped at a very modern and sleek looking convenience store, parked the champagned colored vehicle, slipped on her 10 dollar Foster Grants, and got out of the car. She paused a moment, relishing a sunny day that wasn't a broiling 95 degrees as it was back in Stonecreek, and made her way inside, where she asked the teenager behind the counter to direct her to her hotel.  The teenager, being wise beyond her years, wrote down directions for Chloe in a manner that all directions should be described by: by landmark, not street sign.  By the time Chloe left the shiny establishment, she had a six pack of Mountain Dew, a bag of cheese curls, and knew that she was only 10 minutes away from her hotel, or more precisely, past three gas stations on the left, a right at the big green ugly bank on the corner, and about a block up that street just past the huge billboard touting the new Mel Gibson movie. You can't miss it.

    Once safely checked in to her hotel, she took the elevator to the 9th floor, got off, and actually made a correct guess as to which direction her room was in. She was dragging now, not only her travel wearied body, but the unfortunate and heavy suitcase, which had lost one of its wheels.  After figuring out, after many mistries, that she should insert the room card in the slot, wait for the green light before turning the handle on the door, she made it into her room: a single with a double bed, closed drapes, and heavenly air conditioning. Dropping her satchel on the floor, and shoving her suitcase into a corner, she sat down on the edge of the bed, kicked off her sneakers, and fell backwards onto the firm mattress. Not many minutes later, her promised phone calls forgotten, and still with an unfortunately full bladder, she continued her travels, this time into dreamland.

Continued in Part X

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