The Light Fantastic

by L.A.Tucker

Part XXIV:   The Reluctant Replacement

For disclaimers, see Part I

The D'Amicos would have busy lives now, busier than ever before, and the golf course, on its second day open, was inundated with retirees armed with coupons and a curiosity about the new course.  Dave, Nelson and Sara had agreed upon a schedule, a routine, to work the place. On rotating mornings, they would switch off the responsibility of rising at 5:30, and making a circuit around the fairways, putting flags in holes, watering greens, stocking the ball washers, filling water canteens.  As summer got closer, the time to rise to complete these chores would get earlier, to accommodate golfers who preferred to golf during the cooler hours of morning.  But for now, 5:30 was certainly early enough for any of them.

Dave and Sara agreed that Nelson should have the least responsibility over the care and handling of the course right now, since he was so occupied with the last month of school, and all of the activities that the soon graduating senior were plenty enough to keep the young man busy.  Dave would be running things from the barn/club house, while Sara spent her day tinkering with patching divots, mowing grass and greens, and generally working the land she knew so well.  Although she agreed to do it when needed, she wasn't entirely comfortable with the thought of working behind the counter, having to have casual conversations about new putters and golf shoes.  She was out in the public eye again, but never had been, even pre anxiety attacks, the most sociable of beings.  She preferred one on one contact with people she knew, or small groups of people she with whom she was familiar. Even on Sunday, and at the party the night before, she felt many curious stares being directed her way, and it made her uncomfortable.  Saturday night, a few hesitant town people had even approached her, and shyly asked her for her autograph.  She acquiesced, saying little, not chatting them up.  And Sunday, while she and Nelson were pushing cars out of the muddied soft ground behind her house, she had been aware, out of her peripheral vision, a thirtyish and handsome man standing off to the side, watching her .  She and Nelson pushed, they heaved, they grunted and finally, the car gained some traction, and went bumpily along its way.  She and Nelson gave quick nods of victory to each other . The handsome stranger welcomed the interruption of their physical labors, and with  a confident look on his face, he strode over the short distance to Sara, and stood in front of her.

"Hello. You're Sara D'Amico, aren't you?  From 'Star Gazers', right?", he said, giving her his best smile.

"Yup, that would be me." Sara replied, giving her standard reply.  Nelson was a few yards away, watching curiously.

The man's eyes dwelled briefly on her scar, and then traveled to meet her eyes.  He wanted to make the eye contact, make a connection.

"I'm a big fan.  And you're lovelier in person, if that's possible, than you are on screen. Even covered in mud." he grinned, turning on as much charm as he could.

Sara didn't want to be rude, and didn't want to encourage further conversation, either. She dropped her gaze, and distractedly glanced at the man's hands, expecting to see a piece of paper, a pen there, so she could scrawl her name and she could be on her way.  She saw that the man's hands were hitched in his shorts pockets. Hmm. OK.  Not a signature hound, he's a Romeo.

Her eyes came up and met his again. "Thanks. I appreciate that. Now, I have some things I have to do ..."

"Kevin. Kevin Shipman." He put out his hand, and she sighed internally, quickly shook it, noticing that he tried to prolong the contact.

I'm not in the mood for this. "Hello Kevin, and thank you again. Now, I really have to be on my way ..." she turned, and found the man moving with her, staying in front of her, blocking her way.

He flashed another smile. "I was thinking that, well, that if under different circumstances, you might like to ..."

Sara found that Nelson was now at her elbow, and had placed a quick arm around her waist. Her mind tumbled around when she felt Nelson pull her close.

"Sara, honey, is this man bothering you?"  Nelson said, narrowing his eyes at the man, and sounding like ... John Wayne? He leaned toward the man, all 6' 2", 210 lb. him speaking of unfriendly menace.

"Uh, no, I was just leaving. And so, I think, was he." She said purposely, narrowing her own eyes in collusion with Nelson.

The man, so full of confidence and bravado just a moment before, now felt cool, nearly cold blue eyes staring him down.  He had the sensation that he was a kitten, cornered, by two very threatening Dobermans.

"Uh huh, well, gotta go. Good luck ..." the man said as he backpedaled, suddenly searching for his car.  He gave a quick smile that turned just as quickly into a frown as he strode quickly to his vehicle.

Both Nelson and Sara noticed that his car was parked very near a torn up area, potentially dangerous for getting stuck. They stood back and watched as the man backed right into the mess, and then stood a little longer, watching as the the man spun his tires, putting the car in reverse, gunning it, and then in drive, he hammered the accelerator, digging himself in deeper.  They just stood there, arms folded, watching and waiting. Finally, the man got out of his car, refusing to look at them, and went up and looked at his buried tires. He sighed, and then turned to the D'Amicos, his eyes asking for help.

Sara and Nelson walked over, and Nelson took command. "Put her in drive. Slow. We'll push."  They got behind the vehicle, and with a couple of mighty heaves later,  the man was on his way, and he beeped his thanks as his car hit the driveway leading to the road.

Nelson looked at his tired aunt, and patted her on the back. "It's funny, Aunt Sara, I've never seen a guy hit on you before. You were ... pretty nice, even when he was being obnoxious. How did you handle that out in Los Angeles, when you must have run across that kind of guy, what, every five minutes?"

Sara just shook her head. "You know what, Nelson, I don't even remember any more. I ... was a flat out, scary bitch, and probably just told them to fuck off."  She saw Nelson's eyes widen slightly. "Yeah, I wasn't very nice. I didn't like myself, and I didn't give anyone a chance to like me, either." She stretched her back a little, and rubbed his arm quickly. "I don't know if it was the place, or the time, or me. All I know is, thank god I don't have to deal with assholes so much anymore. I have no patience for it. I'm not good at it." She saw the frown on his face, and she laughed. "Hey, c'mon Nels, lighten up. It's not like anyone is gonna swoop in here and talk me into going back to that kind of life ..."  She started walking back towards the golf cart, and after a moment, he started after her.

She had no idea how wrong she was.

"All right, wow, give me a minute, would you?" laughed Chloe. "I don't have supernatural recovery powers, ya know."

Sara grumbled into Chloe's belly, putting her lips to it, and blowing hard. A noise like a strangled tuba sounded, and she enjoyed the rolling of Chloe's vibrating belly when she giggled.  Sara turned her head, and laid her cheek on the soft skin near Chloe's ribs. Her hand, on Chloe's thigh, snuck up and ...

"Hey, cut that out, you ... I just told you ... " Chloe reached down, and softly thwapped Sara's head. "Behave."  Chloe was feeling very warm but tired, and it was just her luck, her lover was still feeling very frisky.

"That's not what you said a while ago," teased Sara. "A while ago, I believe you were begging me not to stop ... " she declared smugly and settled her arm contentedly across her lover's hips.  She felt Chloe's hand drop into her hair, and the gentle scratching that began. "Oh, yeah, that's so nice, don't stop ..." she sighed, loving the feeling.

Chloe didn't stop. "Are you begging me now?" she purred, and pulled a long length of Sara's hair through her fingers, and letting it drop. "I like playing with your hair."

"I like you playing with my hair, too.  Sell my clothes, I'm going to heaven." Keep that up, I'll be out in five minutes.

"Sara, it is like heaven to me. I love you."  Chloe was slowly drifting off, enjoying the peace and loving haze that enveloped her. "Don't forget, WQEL tomorrow. " She made an effort to keep up the soothing stroking of Sara's head, but she was losing the battle.  Just as she surrendered into sleep, she heard Sara murmur into the soft pillow of her belly, "I love you too."

Thursday. 2 PM. The town library. The small redheaded librarian, already anxious about the upcoming evening, answers the telephone in her office.

"Hello, Stonecreek Public Library, how may I help you?"

"Hi.  You got a minute?"

"Sure, Mrs. Cellone is manning the front desk. I'm in here hiding from all the people who are pissed off because both copies of Stephen King's latest book haven't been returned yet.  These people can get mean, let me tell you ... "

Oh, yeah, mean, thought Marcy, laying sprawled on her couch, we'll see about mean. "Uh, Chloe, don't kill me..." I've lived 30 years, I suppose that's long enough.

"What?" Chloe glanced at the clock on her desk. "Hey, don't you have a class right now? Why're you calling me?"

"I'm not at school. I took the day off." Marcy squinted her eyes in preparation for the pain she knew was going to come.

Chloe drew out the word, her voice rising as if she were climbing the scale. "W-h-y?"

"I, I'm OK but ... " Marcy was glad she lived as far as she did from the Stonecreek library as she did.  Otherwise, she would have to duck the flying objects that would certainly be lobbed her way. Maybe I should duck behind the couch, Chloe has a damned strong arm. "I'm really tired, have a bit of a sore throat and well ..."

Chloe finished for her. "You're not going, are you?"  Chloe picked up the rounded glass paperweight, shaped like a grape, from the corner of her desk and gripped it.

"Uh, no, I'm really tired and my throat's sore and ..."  I'm going to die single. There is justice in this world.

Chloe tossed the grape paperweight in the air and caught it. "Marcy ... " she said, desperation and aggravation mixing in her tone. "What the hell am I going to do tonight on WQEL, I can't talk for 5 hours by myself ..."

Marcy tried her best not to make a smart remark. "Well, I figured maybe Doris could help tonight?, I mean really, she'd certainly hold up her end of the conversation."

The glass grape went flying even higher. "Oh yeah, sure, she'd be great. She'd talk about her 3 items on her side of the board for the whole ten minutes we have to sell the stuff off, and I'd just be standing there on camera, doing a Vanna, pointing silently at my side of the board like some demented nitwit.  Plus, I'm pretty sure Doris' bowling banquet is tonight, Mrs. Cellone mentioned it earlier to me ... "

"Oh."  There goes that perfect solution.

"Yeah, 'oh'."

Marcy furrowed her brows. "How about ... Dave?"  As soon as the name came out of her mouth, she knew it was a bad idea.

"OK, that would leave me with the reverse situation. I'd be talking for ten minutes at a time, while he stands there pointing at his side of the auction board. He's not exactly Monty Hall. "

Marcy sighed. "You got me there."  Another thought. "Paul?"

"Oh my god, don't you remember the first year we did this?  Paul completely went into a coma in front of that red blinking camera. Not an intelligible word came out of his mouth. He forgot how to read.  He pronounced 'pizza' like 'piazza' for ten minutes, and the callers thought they were bidding on a twelve dollar trip to Italy. No, way, not Paul."

"Well, there is the perfect solution, we both know it, and we both aren't saying it." I, Marcy, being of somewhat sound mind and body ...

Chloe remained quiet, she wanted Marcy to say the name they were both thinking. Marcy did as exactly as Chloe expected.

"A woman who has tons of experience in front a camera. Who we're pretty sure knows how to read, and enunciate, and turn on the charm , and she could probably wing it quite well ..."   If she only has to speak in two word sentences.

Chloe hated saying it, but it had to be said. "A woman who is loathe to make chatty small talk, knows jackshit about public television, hates to be the center of attention, and is prone to having really terrible panic attacks without warning."

Marcy cleared her throat. "Yup, sounds perfect. Chloe, you know she'll do it if you ask her ..."  And I'm guaranteed road kill if I ask her.

"No, I don't know that. Don't say that, she may go ballistic if I ask her ..."

"Well, get Nelson to ask her for you.  She's absolutely a sap for that kid, and you know it ... just get him to ask her for ya ..."

"I can't do that Marcy.  You remember the last time I didn't approach her directly about something?  The choreographer thing? Nope, I have to ask her straight out, and then get shot down."  Chloe blinked. "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You're the one bailing on me here. It's YOUR responsibility to find a replacement, and YOU need to ask Sara. You do."  Chloe suddenly felt a little lighter, and the paperweight stopped flying so high out of her grasp.

"ME?  Why would she do it for me?" Marcy's voice got progressively hoarser.

"Well, she's practically your sister-in-law, which, in my book, makes you family, and family can screw each other over asking lousy favors ..."

Marcy rubbed her face and sighed. She owes me, sort of ... I think. "OK. I'll do it. Let me call her, and I'll call you back."

Chloe grinned, and put the paperweight safely back onto the corner of her desk. "Good luck."

"Yeah, yeah. It's been nice knowing you."

Chloe didn't get much done during the last two hours at work.  Marcy called back, and told Chloe the good news. Sara called, and complained for 20 minutes about the good news. Dave called, and wanted to know why his sister flipped him the bird, twice, when he mentioned to her in passing something about tonight's WQEL auction. Nelson called from school and told Chloe he had tried to call Marcy at home to see why she wasn't in school today. Marcy's line was busy, and so was his father's, so he called Chloe.  Marcy called back and told Chloe of her plans to leave the country for a few months, until Sara calmed down, and it was safe to come back to town again. Sara called, and calmly asked Chloe what she should wear for this fucking goddamned idiotic waste of her time, and casually mentioned that she knew a few shady types back in L.A. that could 'take care' of the Marcy 'problem'.  Chloe finally stopped answering the phone near to four o'clock, and made a bewildered Mrs. Cellone field calls for her, so she could leave to go home and get dressed for tonight.  As Chloe was heading home in her beat up but finely tuned Subaru, she thanked her higher powers for two widely disparate things. One, she was thankful to God that she had decided never to purchase a cell phone.  Two,  she was grateful to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for the outdated and arcane laws that wouldn't allow her to actually marry into, and thus become a full fledged member of, the looned out D'Amico family.

"Are you going to bitch the whole way to Erie?"  Chloe was tired of it already, and they had another 35 miles to go to get to the tiny public television studio just south of Erie. She glanced in her rearview mirror, and saw the two grim faces of Nelson and Jeanette sitting in the back seat of her Subaru. She glanced over to the passenger seat, where a stunningly dressed and completely unhappy Sara D'Amico was sitting. "You could have just told Marcy 'no', ya know."

Sara scratched at her elbow, and then at the shoulder of the dress she was wearing. "Damned itchy material."  She adjusted the clothing again. "And no, I couldn't say no, I owed her, as the artiste herself not so graciously pointed out to me ... "

Chloe glanced in her side view mirror, to make sure the two vans full of cast members were keeping up with her. One was being driven by Paul, the other by a parent volunteer. "What do you owe her for, anyway?"

Sara looked out her window, and gave the tiniest of gulps. Oops. "Just some ... family stuff, that's all, anyway, that's not the point."

"What's the point?"

"Nothing. Never mind. It's only five hours of talking about oil changes and buckets of chicken wings."

Chloe looked to Nelson and Jeanette again, and caught the look in Nelson's eyes. "Uh, Sara, not that I'm not sympathetic, but I have to do the same goddamned thing. And, there are other things to consider, like the fact that your nephew and his girlfriend have to sing and dance in front of a TV camera tonight, in between fielding bidders' phone calls.  So, shut up, grow up and bite the bullet, babe.  We've all got a job to do."

Sara blinked. "Oh."  Oh, shit. She turned in her bucket seat, and said to both Nelson and Jeanette, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm really sorry.  I just get all rattled and I don't think of anyone but myself.  You two are going to be great, I know.  And the rest of the kids, too. I'm sorry I'm being such an asshole."  Sara's bitchiness segued into a quickly pounding heart, and she turned in her seat, and quickly closed her eyes. Nope, here it comes. Here it comes.  Goddamit, I don't need to have an attack right now.

A minute or two later, there were three vehicles pulled over to the edge of the highway, and a beautiful woman was standing in the grass, fighting alone in a world of her own, oblivious to the passing cars and trucks that zipped by.  Seven minutes later, the three vehicles were pulling back onto the road, and proceeding along to their destination.

"Sacre Merde," the buxom brunette whistled through her teeth, "no wonder you volunteered us to work 'Stonecreek Night'."  Her eyes widened, and she stared through the control room window at the sight before her. "Mother of God, she's a stunner, holy hell."

Her partner in the control booth laughed. "See, I told ya, and wow, her friend is something, too, huh?  Wonder where she came from?  Last year, she had some ... artsy fartsy type working the auction boards with her.  She wasn't bad, either." She adjusted her headset and looked at the clock. 5:35.  Twenty-five minutes and we're underway. "The tall one looks familiar. I can't quite place her though."

"Wait, I was talking about the tall one before, although, come to think of it, the redhead is a babe, too. You were talking about the redhead?  She's the one that's done this before?"

"Geez, Fran, yeah." Her companion laughed, and adjusted her own headset. She swiveled in her chair, and gave the brunette a tsk through her teeth. "You're letting your fantasies  loose again, aren't you?  You like the brunettes, don't you?"

Angie laughed back. "Well, yeah, I do. You're the only exception to my rule." she said affectionately.  She grabbed a few sheets of paper off the sound board. "Oh, great, the school is doing 'Oklahoma', I guess I can suffer through that. Five songs ... did someone give us the music yet?"

"I imagine Nancy will bring them in with her after she gets done talking with the both of them. That tall one, does it say who she is?"

"Uh,  it says here,  Chloe Donahue and Marcy ... Marcy something I can't pronounce. I think Chloe is the redhead. And the Marcy name sounds familiar, too, I think it's the woman that was here with her last year. And whoever that tall drink of water is out there, I don't think she's Marcy."

Both women watched as Chloe and the mysterious tall woman were getting fitted for their lapel microphones.

Angie sighed and chuckled. "Boy, what I wouldn't give to be Tony right now." She felt a smack on her shoulder, and laughed again. She adjusted her headset microphone down, and in front of her mouth, and reached and flipped a switch on the console. "Hey, folks, we need to do a sound check. How about we start with ... Chloe, first?  Just say anything, we need to make some adjustments in here."

Chloe's head bobbed up when she heard the voice of the woman wafting out over the studio's speakers.  She looked at Sara, who in turn was glaring at the man who was having difficulty attaching the microphone to the V-neck of Chloe's green silk dress.

"Hey buddy, watch where you're putting ..."  Sara said, squinting her eyes.

Chloe licked her lips, and tried to ignore the now nervous man who was fumbling in her cleavage area. He moved away, taking a quick look at the glowering brunette.  He said into his own headset, "OK, Angie, she's ready to roll."

Chloe began speaking, in normal tones. "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. You talkin' to me?  You talkin to me? On our shoe tonight, right here on our stage, we've got Arvid Angolese and His Magic Spinning Plates. One moment please, and our operators will direct your call ..."

A laugh came over the speakers. "That's great, Chloe. Now for your friend ..."

Sara's eyes directed themselves up to the small control window glass, where she knew the woman was sitting. "Sara."

"Hi Sara, now, it's your turn.  Just a few words, in normal tones.  We need to get some highs and lows.  Start anytime."

Sara cleared her throat. "Captain's Log, star date 11032.244. The first officer ..."  she trailed off, and continued to stare past the cameras.

"Uh, Sara?  I'm Angie.  Do you think you could give us a little more?  Your voice is a little low ..."

Sara frowned, and thought a moment. A slow, feral grin graced her face. " ... a mighty princess, forged in the heat of battle.  The power. The passion. The danger. Her courage will change the the world ..."

The two women in the control booth looked at each other with startled eyes. They shrugged their shoulders, and shook their heads.

"Uh, Sara, that's great ... that'll work ..."

Chloe saw the camera was now fixed on her wary partner, who, even after 3 boards, hadn't relaxed very much into auctioneer mode.  She's stiffer than Al Gore. Poor thing. I'm glad I didn't get her items ...

Sara was doing her damnedest to sound interested and cheerful. "And on item number six, two one hour visits to Piotrowski's House of Electrolysis, we currently have a bid of $35, and it's a $100 value.  Surely we can get a higher bid on this ... surely someone out there has some ... unwanted facial ... hair or ... something they need removed?"  She faltered for a moment, and twisted the item description sheet in her sweaty palms. She opened it up, and quickly looked at it, then her face came back up to grin grimly at the camera. "The description says it ... well, I guess it doesn't have to be on your face, uh, it could be anywhere, uh, like, on your ... back?  I guess?"  She took a big breath, and looked to the dry erase board, sitting on an easel, between her and Chloe, who had stepped out of camera range, and now had her back to Sara. The redhead's shoulders were shaking. Sara blinked, and returned to item 4. "And with ... four minutes left, the bid on the furnace 23 point clean and check from Cotter's Heating is up to $15, and that's a $29 value. And don't forget folks, it's almost summer, and I'm sure that you're thinking about getting your furnaces checked for ... next winter, right?

Hey, I'm getting the hang of this. No sweat.  "And on number 5, the hyacinth bush from Barb's Flower Patch is up to $12,  that's a $22 retail value ... let's get that up there ... it's all for the benefit of WQ .....EL.  It's spring ...  and who wouldn't like to get a little bush?"

Marcy and Dave, who were watching the 'show' from the comfort of Marcy's home, both slid off the couch and onto the floor at the same time.

Nancy, the stage manager, was standing next to Sara, as they both watched as Jason and Moreen were performing a very credible job of 'It's All or Nuthin' in front of the cameras.  A boom mike was out of camera range, above their heads they sang. She looked at the tall woman sympathetically. "No really, you're doing a great job. We're going to run the station promo tape after the song, so you have about 8 minutes until you have to get out there again.  And where's Chloe?"

Sara sipped at her water, and said miserably, "She's getting her mascara fixed. She got it all messed up when I was droning on about the magical aspects of 'getting a little bush'." She looked at Nancy, and said seriously,   "Do you think the cameras picked up the tears that were rolling down her cheeks?"

"I'm sure Fran or Angie in the control booth kept that camera off her. Don't worry."

Meanwhile, in the control booth, Fran was placing a fresh videotape into the Camera Two tape machine.  The tape she had just removed, of Chloe reacting to Sara's 'bush' commentary, was going straight into Fran and Angie's private collection.

Paul, who was supervising the students while they answered the phones, was not really paying attention to what was happening in front of the cameras. He took his job very seriously, making sure that the cast members were filling out the bid cards correctly and fully, and when someone got a new bid, he checked the card carefully before he gave it to the stagehand.  The stagehand then went and entered the new bid onto the dry erase board, that listed each item's name, its donor, and its current bid. He tried to stay out camera range as much as possible, and he especially stayed clear of that tall brunette who snarled at him earlier.

Paul looked at his watch, it was nearly 7:20, time to pull Nelson and Justin off the phones, and get them ready to do 'Poor Jud is Daid'.  He motioned to both of them, and tapped his watchface.  Nelson finished getting information from his caller, got up and handed the card to Paul, and stood next to him and waited for Justin to join them. When he did, Paul whispered, "OK, head for the men's room, get your vests and stuff on. And really, take a minute and warm your voices up while you're in there, OK?  I know it sounds silly ... but you won't sound so rusty. Stretch your voices out, do something with highs and lows in it ..."

Louie, the Number One camera guy, was feeling a little desperate, and was glad when Angie gave him the OK to fix his camera in a tight shot on Chloe so he could go relieve himself before the next musical number.  He strode quickly to the men's room down the hall, and when he entered, there were two large young guys in there, blocking the path to the two available urinals.  The one guy was bent in front of the other, fussing with the front of the dark haired guy's leather pants.  They were so involved, they never noticed the camera man enter.  Louie did a double take, and exited the room quickly, because it was all too surreal ... they were also ... singing with each other.

"Don't praise my charm too much,
Don't look so vain with me,
Don't stand in the rain with me-
People will say we're in love ....

"Hey, that's guy's a natural.", praised Fran, watching how beautifully Nelson's face filled up her screen. "Look at those eyes, that face. And he can sing, I mean really sing, too."

Angie nodded appreciatively.  She looked at the sheet in front of her. "Says his name is Nelson D'Amico.  Wow, I've seen tons of kids come through here for these auctions, a bazillion every night from every damned high school in town. I've never seen anything even close to him. He has ... something."

"D'Amico?"  Puzzled Fran. She thought for a moment, and then comprehension struck. "D'Amico. That's who Sara is,  Sara D'Amico ... the actress! I mean, television and that movie, I never saw it .... 'Star Gazers'?"

Understanding dawned on her partner then, too. They both looked at the monitor in front of them, filled with a tight close up of Nelson's singing face, and then they looked out into the studio, where the newly rediscovered actress was leaning up against a cool cinderblock wall with the redhead right next to her.  Both Chloe and Sara were smiling, proud and happy with how well Nelson and Justin were doing with their song.

Angie whispered into her headset mike. "Hey, Matty, real quick, give me a headshot, tight, on Sara over there by the wall."

Matt, out in the studio, did as he was requested.

Angie and Fran looked at the side by side monitors, and saw Sara's and Nelson's images there.

"Wow.", they both murmured together.

Angie nodded to Fran, and went over to the cabinet on the back wall of the little control room, and pulled out a fresh 6 pack of videotapes.

Chloe had done the last three hourly 'Big Boards' with Nancy, because she had taken pity on Sara.  But Sara seemed settled down now, and had loosened up considerably, so much so that Chloe almost asked her if she had found a bottle to get a nip from somewhere.

But in reality, Sara had just calmed down, and she had done it because of the comforting presence of her lover.  Chloe had kept a very careful watch on her, and when Sara seemed halting or unsure, Chloe had jumped in, and quite naturally, with no pretense, set the nervous woman at ease, even on camera, with a soft smile, a helpful comment or silly remark.  Sara was, almost, enjoying herself now. Almost.  So she volunteered to do the next 'big board' with Nancy.

Chloe felt compelled to give her a few quick tips while the station's informational tape played for 8 minutes. "OK, all of the items, it looks like art work this time, are 'valued' at over $300 each, and they're donated by some well known local artists." Chloe squinted her eyes at Sara. "And listen, just because the artists are 'well known' locally, doesn't mean they're any good, you know what I mean?  Try to avoid the phrase 'will look great over any sofa', it pisses the artists off, got it? "

"Got it." Sara grinned. "See you in ten ... Nancy's waving me over there. I guess I should look at the painting first, huh?" She tossed her water bottle into a trash can. "Hey, who's up after the big board?"

Chloe grinned, "I think Jeanette with her solo."

"Well, if you talk to her, give her my best." Sara smiled, and headed off towards where Nancy was standing, next to, what Sara could tell already, was a garishly done painting of a sunset over Lake Erie. Oh my god. I wouldn't hang that thing under my sofa ...

"Dammit Paul, where the hell can she be?  She's not in the ladies room, I looked there. We have four minutes to find her.  The song is all queued up in the control booth, and I can't switch songs now, the other songs involve a lot of the kids, and they're all manning the phones. It's 8:30, it's prime time, everyone and their goddamned mother is calling the station right now, and the donations always go up during the performances ... well, except for last year, but hell ... where can she be?"

Paul glanced again at the three long tables where the cast was busily answering phones. "I'll go look again. Make sure the stagehand guy knows to grab the cards ..."

Chloe nodded, and started fretting.  Three minutes.  She strode over to the control booth's door and lightly tapped, and the door opened to a lovely woman with a great set of  ... lungs on her.  Chloe nodded shyly.

"Hi, uh, I'm Chloe, and I have a problem ..."

The brunette waved her in, and softly shut the door behind her.

"Listen, Heather,"  Jeanette said rather impatiently. "We can't stand out here in the bushes in the dark all night. I mean, your song isn't even up for over ... and she glanced at her watch, " ...  an hour and twenty minutes now.  And I have to be in there in ten minutes to get ready for my song, and this really isn't helping me ..."  Jeanette patted her best friend on the back again. "Can't we just go back inside and you can puke there ..."

Heather answered that question by heaving her guts up, again, in the bushes that lined the outskirts of the dark and full parking lot.  She moaned.

"I take it that's a 'no', huh, OK, I'll stay out here with you for 10 more minutes, try and get it together, OK? At least we have some time..."

The station's second promotional tape, approximately 4 minutes in length, began playing immediately after the finish of Nancy and Sara's big board.

Sara came strolling up and grinned at the frowning Chloe, who was nervously perched on the corner of a large table. "Can you believe some idiot paid $1200 for that piece of paint by number shit?"  Sara shook her head and laughed and then noticed the unhappy look on her partner's face. "What's wrong?"

"Sara, you told me once that I need to be straight out with you, no beating around the bush ... " Chloe's frown disappeared for a moment at the mention of the word 'bush', and then resettled on her face. "This is prime time, the hour the station gets its most donations, so we save some of the best musical numbers for now."

"I know all of this ..." Sara said, confused.

"Well, what you don't know, is that we can't find Jeanette, anywhere. And Heather is missing too. And if she doesn't show up in the next two minutes, well, it's too late to pull anyone else off the phones and get them prepped for their number.  Flat out, Sara, I need you to do it if she doesn't show."

"WHAT?  No way."

"Sara, I need you to do this. I'm begging you. Please. You know it inside and out, you taught her all the motions to it, I've heard you singing it myself.  Angie and Fran have it queued up to the second version, that's your key, I know.  So, are you going to do it?"  Chloe looked at her like she expected a 'yes' to fall from Sara's lips, and no other answer. There was all the trust in the world in those green eyes, and Sara couldn't ignore it.

Sara blinked, and grabbed Chloe by the arm. "Tell Nancy to stall for 2 minutes, and let's get my make-up fixed."

"DAVE!" yelled Marcy unbelievingly. Dave was in the bathroom. "DAVE, GET YOUR ASS OUT OF THE BATHROOM NOW! YOUR IDIOT SISTER IS GOING TO SING ON FRIGGIN' WQEL!!

Nelson, still dressed in the leather pants with the stuck zipper, had covertly taken his phone off the hook, so it would ring busy, and held the receiver to his ear, so it looked like he was doing his job.

No way he was going to miss this.

Angie, irritated, asked Fran, "Where's that damned phone number list  for the local major network affiliates?"

Doris Raeburn was standing in the bar of the Embers restaurant.  She had gotten tired of waiting for the poor overworked waitress who was serving their bowling banquet to come around for their next drink order, so Doris decided to enter the bar and get it herself. There was a TV perched on the wall over the bar, and she idly glanced up to it and saw that it was tuned to the WQEL auction.  Doris smiled, she had a tape in her VCR taping the whole thing at home. But just as she caught the bartender's attention, and as he was approaching her, Doris heard what the ash blonde station manager was saying.

"And now, something a little different here on Stonecreek Night at WQEL, one of Stonecreek's most famous residents and the choreographer for their presentation of Oklahoma, Sara D' Amico, is going to grace us with a song from 'Oklahoma', 'Many a New Day'.

Sara's face appeared on the screen, and music started. Doris threw a ten on the counter, and settled into a stool. She stared at the screen, and never looked at the bartender who was waiting for her order.  "Manhattan.  Make it a double."

Chloe had seen Jeanette perform this song so many times that she had every word, every motion, every choreographed movement memorized. It was a song sung with impetuous and defiant innocence, by a young woman jealous of her sweetheart's seeming interest  in another. Chloe was aware that Sara was 35 years old, and had no resemblance to a young and coquettish 17 year old.

That's what Chloe thought, that is, until the song began, and Sara transformed herself completely in front of the camera.

"Many a new face will please my eye,
Many a new love will find me,
Never've I once looked back to sigh, over the romance behind me,
Many a new day will dawn before I do ... "

Sara was fresh faced, her demeanor young and earnest.

"Many a light lad may kiss and fly,
A kiss gone by is bygone.
Never've I asked an August sky, "Where has last July gone?"
Never've I wandered through the rye, wondering where has some guy gone;
Many a new day will dawn before I do!"

In Stonecreek, even Dave and Marcy didn't recognize the raven haired,blue eyed creature singing coyly on their screen.

"Many a new face will please my eye,
Many a new love will find me;
Never've I once looked back to sigh, over the romance behind me;
Many a new day will dawn before I do! "

Doris blindly reached for her drink, she found it, sipped it, and she saw the same high school girl who had so captivated her so many years ago.

"Many a red sun will set!
Many a blue moon will shine  ... before .. I ... do!"

And Chloe fell in love all over again.

When everyone left the building together that night, tired and excited with the way the evening had gone, they were surprised to find a local ABC affiliate remote van parked nearby, and the form of a very recognizable local news reporter standing near Chloe's Subaru, with a cameraman filming their approach.

"Sara D'Amico?  I'm Meg Talarico, from Channel 23 Action News.  I was wondering if you would consent to speak to me a few minutes, on camera?"

The students stopped and stared at the reporter. Here was a real live celebrity in front of them, wanting to talk to their Ms. D'Amico. They had, in the course of the months they had spent with her, completely forgotten that Sara was anyone other than their workhorse choreographer, who worked at a golf course, and was the aunt to that sweet, shy guy, Nelson D'Amico, and lastly and most importantly, their neighbor and friend.

Everyone, including Chloe, turned and looked at the stunned golf course mechanic, waiting to see how she would respond to Meg Talarico.

Sara looked around at everyone, and then at Chloe.  Chloe's face was unreadable.

Sara closed her eyes, and then slowly opened them. "Sorry. No thanks."  She opened the door to the Subaru, got in, and closed it behind her.

Meg Talarico and her cameraman left with no interview, and only some minor footage of Sara exiting the WQEL building.

The kids in the vans chatted excitedly on the way home, and sang a few songs.

Four subdued people, traveling in a late 1980's model Subaru, rode in an uneasy silence all the way back to Stonecreek.

Continued in Part XXV

Email me with feedback:  L.A. Tucker

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