The Light Fantastic

by L.A. Tucker

Part XXV:  I Said 'Yes'

For disclaimers, see Part I

It was Friday morning, the day after Stonecreek Day at WQEL.

It began not long after Sara began her trek on her John Deere tractor, crossing fairways in front of waving golfers, who patiently waited for her to pass in front of them so they could tee off.

The poop came from somewhere unknown, dropped itself onto some kind of karmic fan blades, and was flung, far and wide, hitting all four corners of the tiny town of Stonecreek, leaving almost no one in town untouched by the stench it left behind.

The day began, like others before it, with a sleepy librarian opening up the old oak doors to the town library, bending to pick up the newspapers on the stoop.  She entered the library, and dropped off her coat, and made herself a pot of coffee. She began opening up the plastic packaging on the various local and national newspapers, readying them to put out in the periodicals section.  The Erie paper was first, and quickly glancing at the folded paper's headlines, she flipped it over to scan the obituaries, as she always did, at the bottom of the page.  Instead, her eyes were drawn to a picture, black and white, and by the looks of it, none too recent, of her tall and dark lover. She blinked, and blindly reached for the telephone while she read the accompanying headline.

Out at Stonecreek Golf Course,  Dave was chatting about national politics with Ralph Henderson, already a regular at the tiny golf course in the few short days it had been open. Dave realized, the third day that Ralph shown up in the early morning, that Ralph really wasn't here for the golf, he was there for the company and conversation. Dave was just thinking of offering the garrulous and cheerful retiree a part time job working behind the counter when his cell phone rang.  He excused himself from Ralph, and answered it.  After a short, terse conversation, Dave hung up, excused himself from Ralph again, going to the wide barn doors to look out over the golf course to see if he could spot his sister anywhere. Not seeing her, his eyes tracked to the parking lot, where a white van was parked, with the call letters of a local TV station written artfully on its exterior. Not seeing anyone in it, or around it,  Dave trotted over to an electric golf cart, unplugged it from the wall, and quickly asked Ralph to watch the front counter, for he had to go find Sara.  Ralph happily agreed, and watched as Dave did a close facsimile to peeling out in the small vehicle.

Over at Stonecreek High School, Doris Raeburn had already finished with her morning announcements, and was perusing her schedule pad for the rest of her day. She'd already taken numerous phone calls from different parents who had students involved in the senior class play, and even some from people who didn't even have students at Fort Lafayette High School.  Every single call she took was complimentary of all the adult advisors to the play, from Paul and Marcy, to Chloe and Sara, and the talented students who appeared on the PBS station the previous evening.  The conversations eventually turned to Sara D'Amico, and the surprise of her not only appearing on screen to auction off items, but her amazingly touching performance of 'that song'.  Doris had to cut her conversations with these complimentary callers much shorter than she would have liked, but all 3 lines to the school were constantly ringing busy, and people were waiting on hold to talk with her. Just as she finished speaking with the last one, and was about to get out of her chair in search of a cup of decaf, the phone rang again, and she answered it.

She recognized the voice of a very frazzled sounding play director, who seemed to take great pleasure in cursing on the line, not directly aimed at Doris, but about her displeasure at being unable to get through to the school for nearly an hour and a half now.  Doris grinned back her amusement at the sound of the little librarian's exasperation, until she heard the reasons Chloe had been trying to call.  Doris listened intently, only interjecting the mildest of disbelieving curse words of her own. After a brief back and forth, she hung up, and hit the buttons on all three lines of the phones, so they would effectively be tied up, and no more calls could come through until she released them.  She walked directly over to the microphone of the PA system, flipped it on, twice repeating her request that Paul Hoderman and Marcy would please report to her office immediately.  Once Paul arrived, she would send him to get Nelson out of whatever class he was in.

The scene out at the golf course was remarkably like that of the one the night before.  This time, though, Sara was ambushed while she was down off the tractor, fixing some divots some inconsiderate schmuck had not bothered to stop and replace.  She was bitching the bastard out, under her breath, when she heard them approach. She looked up, and found they already were upon her, and the camera was rolling, perched on a burly man's shoulder. This morning, it was a handsome man, carefully groomed in suit and tie, who spoke the words, as he extended his hand in greeting. Numbly, she grasped and shook his hand as he spoke to her.

"Sara D'Amico?  I'm Mitchell Parks, from WJMM TV News over in Erie.  I wonder if I could ask you a few questions, on camera, for our noon news."

Sara, who was still holding a clump of sod in her hands, eyed the man, and pursed her lips, thinking.  She was just about to reply, when her brother rolled up in a golf cart.  He got out, stepped in between his sister and the reporter, and spoke before she could.

Dave stuck out his own hand to shake that of the reporter's. "I'm David D'Amico. I own this golf course," and Dave gave him a hearty smile, still gripping his hand.  " ... and you have 5 minutes to get off this property before I call," and he pulled his cell phone out of his shirt pocket, "the State Police, who have jurisdiction over this area."  He gave the reporter's hand a very definite squeeze, bordering on painful, before he let go. He stood in front of his sister, and effectively blocked the camera's view of her.

Mitchell Parks was no inexperienced reporter, he had successfully cajoled innumerable reluctant interviewees into changing their mind, and these two were not going to be his on his list of failures. "Thank you,  Mr. D'Amico. I'm sure we can get out of your hair very quickly.  I was just hoping your sister would answer a few questions for the local folks out there, just about her being back in the area, and appearing on the WQEL auction last night." He smiled encouragingly at her. "And she hasn't answered me yet as to whether or not she'd like to speak on camera."

Sara answered him by leaning down, replacing the sod in the ground and firmly tamping it in with her foot.  She patted her brother on the back, and said, "What my brother here says, goes."  She turned away, heading for the tractor again.  The cameraman tried to follow her, but Dave stepped in front of him, and did a little dance of obstruction until he heard the tractor start up and thrown into gear. He continued with his blocking, until he tired of it, and simply put a large hand over the lens, and the cameraman dipped the camera down.

He looked at Mitchell Parks again. "Now, Mr. Parks, I believe you've wasted more time than necessary.  This is private property, and I've asked you to leave. And while I'm at it, I am going to ask you, and your television station, to not step foot on my property again without calling first and asking for proper permission from me.  Although," Dave grinned, "feel free to golf 9 holes, without having a camera along, next time you're out this way.  But if I see a vehicle with your station logo on my property again, I'll call the police first, and not be so accommodating.  And, my sister lives on MY land, so you can't bother her here."

Mitchell Parks, pissed, but schooled in the idea that one has to remain ever polite, in case circumstances changed, and the opportunity to interview the movie star arose at some future time, merely nodded, and said nothing.  He and his cameraman began their long walk back to the van, with Dave, back in the cart, rolling along slowly behind them.  He almost offered them a ride back, and then shook his head.  Let 'em walk.

The wagons were being circled, and the D' Amico Family Anti-Harrassment Militia was taking its ready positions, having planned strategy the night before, once they had returned to the house, and Dave and Marcy had shown up.  Their defensive strategy was formed with only one goal in mind: keep the press away from Sara until they simply gave up, and got bored with the story.  They figured they had a week of battles before their war was won, and their lives would return to normal.

What they hadn't taken under consideration, was that in no way, shape or form, should they ever assumed they ever had what could be considered  normal lives.

The last of the local TV stations, WSEM, had been turned away from the golf course even before anyone could exit from the vehicle.  They pulled back out on to Route 20, and proceeded into Stonecreek, at once finding the the old library building, tucked between a dry cleaner's and a barbershop. The other two local station vans were already parked there.  The driver of the WSEM van parked next to an old brown Subaru station wagon, and got out, dinging the Subaru with a hastily thrown open van door. The WSEM reporter got out the other side, and began walking to the library entrance. She'd only taken a few steps when two cameramen and two disgruntled reporters exited the building in front of her.  She recognized them all, and stopped, nodding her greetings.

"Meg, Mitch. How goes it in there?"

Meg blew out a breath. "Hey Chandra, good luck with that one.  She's like a pitbull guarding her puppies. It took Mitch here 10 minutes of sparkling ass kissing wooing for her to even admit she was the same Chloe Donahue that was on WQEL with D'Amico last night." She shot disdainful smirk at the competing station's preening reporter. "She has some mouth on her. Mitchy there was cowering under a table by the time she got through with him. She verbally castrated him, and pretty much treated him like he was three day old road kill. And she did it all in a whisper ...." Meg shook her head and laughed.

Chandra looked at her cameraman and frowned. "I guess we'll head out to Fort Lafayette and try our luck there." She looked back to the two reporters still standing there. "I'm guessing that's your next stop, too.  We got kicked off the golf course without even seeing D'Amico, but we had a lovely non-productive conversation with her brother, who looks like he's going to be in the running for the next president of the NRA."

The six of them headed back to their respective vans, not noticing the peeking eye of Mrs. Cellone through one curtain to the left of the door. They also couldn't see this same Mrs. Cellone flashing the pitbull librarian a thumbs up sign as they walked away.  Chloe growled, and picked up the telephone again, dialing a number she had memorized.

"But it's public property, officer.",  argued a very ticked off Mitchell Parks, while the two other reporters looked on, waiting for their chance to make their case with the unsmiling, gray uniformed State Trooper. "We can wait for them to come out, or something, if we're not allowed to go in."

Officer Grafton nodded his stony demeanor at the three of them. "Principal herself called the barracks.  Requested that you not disrupt the school day.  I have to follow her wishes."  He laughed to himself, not letting it show on his steeled features. Ha. Aunt Doris always said I wouldn't come to any good. Guess I'm proving her wrong. "You are not to enter the property, with your vans, or personally. And seeing how you're all parked in the driveway of the volunteer firehouse, I'm going to have to ask you to move from here, too. "

Meg was quickly losing what was left of her patience. "Listen, you had the driveway to the school blocked when we got here.  There's no place else here out in ... "  She stopped herself from saying the word 'bumfuck',  "... the area to park, there's nothing out here but this firehouse on this side of the road, and the school over there."

"Can we pull up on the side of the road?", asked a cameraman.

"No, I would consider that a hazard to drivers.", said the state policeman, politely, but firmly. "And school property stretches from there," and he pointed far up the road, "to there," and he pointed even farther the other direction, "so let's take a moment and consider your options. You can't park on school property, you can't park on the side of the road, and you need to move your vehicles out of the fire department's way. Immediately, please." His voice invited no further comment, and he tapped the corner of his trooper's hat. "Have a nice day, folks."  He looked both ways, and then quickly strode across Route 20, and got back into his patrol car, and sat, watching them as they had a short conversation, and then got into their vehicles, pulled out, and drove back up the road to Stonecreek, a pathetic small convoy of irate members of the fifth estate.

Reporters from local newspapers met with the same reception, and resorted to writing meaningless, news lacking blurbs for the weekend editions of their rags.

Nothing much of consequence got onto the 6 o'clock news that night, and the same nothingness was repeated at 11 PM, too.  A glimpse of a woman getting onto a tractor. A polite and handsome brother who owned Stonecreek Golf Course firmly stating that his sister wished to maintain her privacy. File footage of Sara's interviews of years ago, and a rehashing of unsubstantiated rumors about drug abuse and her vehicular accident.

Each reporter had at least succeeded in finding a local yocal to speak in front of the cameras about the mysterious Sara D' Amico.

Meg Talarico spoke with Stan, owner of Stan's Bar and Grill.

Stan grinned. "Yeah, I don't know how long she's been back. She sang out here one night, I can't remember when. I haven't heard much of anything. She's something, isn't she?"

Mitchell Parks talked with a grizzled senior citizen, who he waved down after seeing his car leave the golf course property.

Ralph Henderson, a new employee of Stonecreek Golf Course, spoke sincerely into the camera. "I just met her. She sure has a great hand with machinery. She has that John Deere running like a top. No, I don't know much of anything about her, she's nice to me, but keeps to herself. She sure is a pretty thing. I didn't even know she acted."

And Chandra Lindstrom had the plummest interview of them all. A freckle faced, pudgy young man, who she had found coming out of the Quickie Mart, he seemed eager to talk about Sara D' Amico.

"Ms. D' Amico?  Yeah, I know her. She comes out once in a while and rides my horse, Cargo.  She loves my horse. My horse is going to be in 'Oklahoma'.  She teaches the dancing parts.  I wish she would bring Ms. Donahue with her. Ms. Donahue is so nice. I guess they're friends. I don't know if Ms. Donahue really likes horses ..."

Saturday morning rolled around, with all the significant players in the defense of Sara's privacy feeling confident and victorious in the aftermath of yesterday's skirmishes with the press. This Saturday was significant in that it was the last 'dance Saturday' the troop would be experiencing. The following  Friday and Saturday was the Senior Prom, with the Prom actually taking place on Friday night, and lasting in to Saturday. No one expected the kids to go all night without sleep, and then to show up at rehearsals on Saturday.  And the following Friday after that was full dress rehearsal, with the musical's opening night the next evening.

So, along with the tensions of the previous day draping over her head like a tangled parachute, Sara was feeling the pressure of this last opportunity to work with the kids as a whole group, solely concentrating on her responsibility, the dancing in 'Oklahoma'.

Not that these dancing parts were all that complicated. She had kept the routines to simple, evocative moments. She tried not to have anything too flashy that would end up looking awkward when performed by students whose dancing skills, until their involvement in the play, were mostly limited to jumping up and down, and bouncing off  each other as if they were in a mosh pit at a Nine Inch Nails concert. A few of the kids actually had the abilities of the world's worst Soul Train dancers, but those skills didn't translate well to the country inflected or waltz time ballads of 'Oklahoma'. The mere fact that these kids could now whirl and swirl and stomp with some agility and rhythm should have given Sara some measure of pride and a sense of achievement. But, being the perfectionist that she was, always too hard on herself, and placing those high expectations on those she was responsible for, she was not a happy dance monkey leading into the last full day of dance rehearsal.

Between her tensions caused by her 'outing' by the press, and her desire to get 15 hours of dance practice pushed into a 4 hour day, there was only one way to describe Sara's emotional state here on this Saturday morning.

Sara was a nervous wreck.

Nelson had left for rehearsals at 11 AM, early, so he could pick up Jeanette, and they could stop at the Quickie Mart for a brunch of microwave egg and cheese muffins and chocolate milk.  The blonde cheerleader picked up something a little more nutritious, a pint of Orange Juice and a veggie burrito. They drove along in the truck towards the school, eating and chatting on the short trip.

Nelson was not too surreptitiously picking melted american cheese fragments off his front teeth when they turned into the parking lot at 11:40.

Finger still jabbing at a stuck morsel on a back molar, Nelson took in the scene in the parking lot, and blurted. "Howy hwit!"

Jeanette's blonde mind had no problem translating that, and even though she was usually too demure to resort to cursing, she automatically repeated Nelson sentiments, only with more clarity. "Holy shit is right!"

The parking lot was full, not only with student's cars, but with vans, too many to count, more than 10, less than that of a new car lot.  Nelson quickly pulled into a vacant space, and scanned the lot for Paul, Marcy, Chloe's or his aunt's vehicle. Not seeing them, he looked again. Not here yet.

"What do we do?" inquired Jeanette, looking around, bewildered, and spotting most of the cast members over by the wall, standing in a clump like a small flock of sheep.  There were men and women, strangers, with cameras and microphones, waving them in their friends' faces. From what Nelson could see, one of these students was actually moving his mouth, being interviewed. His anger built up within him, and he grabbed his door.

"C'mon."  He got out, and walked straight over to the group, not caring if Jeanette was following. He stopped a moment behind the reporters, to listen to what Jason was saying into the numerous microphones that were being held in front of the young man's face.

"I think I speak for everyone here, nobody is going to talk to you. We like Ms. D' Amico, and we think you should just leave her alone. You guys are such fucking vultures."  The assembled group behind him called out their agreement, and Jason continued. "Go someplace else. We're not going to help you assholes." he said, a determined and mean grin on his face.

Nelson smiled in relief. I wonder if anybody has a cell phone, I could call ...

A reporter called out in general to the united students. "Sara D'Amico is a movie star!  Don't you kids think it's odd that she's here in Stonecreek, and hiding out from the public?  Maybe she has something she's hiding from you?  There were rumors about her using drugs in Hollywood, and then getting into that accident? Doesn't that bother you? "

Those were fighting words to the quarterback of the football team, and he pushed his way through the reporters to stand next to Jason, and turned an belligerant eye towards the cameras now pointing directly at him.

"She's not hiding in Stonecreek, she's LIVING in Stonecreek. She's not a movie star anymore, she's my aunt and she's everyone here's FRIEND." Nelson felt Jason clap a supportive hand on his shoulder, and it bolstered his angry resolve. He turned to the cast assembled behind him, and said in a loud voice. "Now, I believe there has got to be somebody that has a cell phone and can call the State Police?  911?  Disturbing the peace?" he said meaningfully. He heard a 'yeah' and smiled, and then turned back to glare at the reporters in newly resolved stony silence.  All of the students followed his lead, and folded their arms, set their faces set in different variations of determined scowls, and waited.  More questions were thrown their way and they met them with mute defiance.

The reporters gave up their shouted questions when the object of their inquiries appeared in the lot behind them, getting stiffly out of a cherry red, polished and very babied classic car.

The reporters all tripped over themselves in an effort to get over to her.  The redheaded woman getting out of the other side of the car was ignored.

"Sara! Sara D'Amico!  We're from ...."  and names of assorted tabloid news shows were called out.  Sara walked a few steps, and parked her rear comfortably on the hood of her car, not sitting, not standing.  Chloe stopped near the front of the car, just off to the side, and they both waited. Sara folded her arms, and waited for the assembled reporters to get comfortably situated in front of her.  She saw Chloe handing the school keys to Nelson, and whispering instructions for him to take the students inside while Sara dealt with the media. Nelson nodded, and shot his aunt a grim smile of encouragement. She smiled back, genuinely, a feeling of warm affection momentarily overshadowing her tension.

She continued to stare down the reporters, who were still shouting questions at her. She cleared her throat a few times, licked her lips and began.

"Excuse me. Excuse me. I'll make a short statement, if you want to shut the hell up and quit screaming at me."

This quieted the reporters down, and microphones were shoved in her direction, laying in wait.

"I understand that you're curious about what you consider my mysterious disappearance from Hollywood.  I understand, too, that this curiosity stems from my having once starred in a very popular movie, and that my reappearance here in Stonecreek is somehow 'big news' to those who follow the gossip in the entertainment industry."

She swallowed, focused and continued, trying not to be distracted by all the people, microphones and cameras hanging on to her words.

"I no longer consider myself a part of that entertainment industry. I consider myself a private citizen who has returned home to try and lead a quiet and productive life.  I have no plans to return to the 'industry'.  I appeared on WQEL the other night, not in an effort to revitalize my career, but to help out WQEL and to support the students here at Fort Lafayette High.  I am working with them as a volunteer advisor to their production of 'Oklahoma'. I'm having fun doing it.  I work at my brother's golf course now, and I'm very happy doing so." She blinked, and said firmly, but with a smile, "End of story." She straightened up, knowing exactly what was coming next, a barrage of questions from the media who was certainly not content with her rather bland explanation of her recent life events.

After much jostling and mixture of shouted questions, a reporter finally made himself heard. "There's been talk for years about the producers of 'Star Gazers' searching for you in hopes that you would agree to do a sequel. Are you simply holding out for more money?"

"I'm not interested in doing a sequel to 'Star Gazers'."

Another reporter. "You must have known that the public's curiosity would be piqued when you appeared, after all this time, on that public television station the other night.  Why, if you want your privacy, would you agree to be seen in such a public forum, if not to put yourself in the public's eye again?"

Sara glanced over at Chloe, and saw that Chloe had been joined by a glowering, pregnant art teacher. Sara grinned quickly at Marcy, and then answered the question.

"Someone very special to me asked me to do it, I was needed, so this time... "  Sara paused, and smiled broadly at the deeper meaning of what she was about to say. "I said 'yes'."

Marcy warmed at the sentiments clearly directed her way, and she and Chloe gave each other a quick hug around the waist, and left their arms wrapped there.

"And the singing?  You're not known to be a singer. Why did you sing?"

"Same situation. I was needed ...  I said 'yes'.  And," , she glanced swiftly at Marcy and Chloe again, "I've been known to sing in front of my family and friends on an irregular basis, whether they like it or not."  She couldn't quite stop the grin that appeared on her face at that comment. Cameras flashed, capturing that white and sexy smile.  That small bit of relaxed emotion disappeared with the next question that was asked.

"It's been rumored that you were a drug user in Hollywood, and that you were 'difficult' to work with because of your drug abuse. And that your continued drug use led to you having your accident. How do you respond to that?"

Sara's face turned very serious. "I have never, ever abused drugs. Never. My drug of choice was always alcohol, and I never had any kind of problem with it.  The day I had my accident, I was not under the influence of alcohol nor any drugs.  It was a combination of two things that caused my accident ... one, a truck in front of me suddenly came to a complete stop ..."  She paused, and closed her eyes a moment, trying to calm herself, "and two, I was talking on my cell phone at the time, and wasn't paying attention. So ..." she gritted her teeth and continued, "if you want to make me the poster girl, spokeswoman for something, I guess I'd be happy to speak out against the truly dangerous aspects of talking on a cell phone while operating a moving vehicle."

"And your notorious lateness, your absence, your temper tantrums on the set ... if not drugs, then what was it, Sara?"

Sara felt a nudging of blackness wave over her being. She chose her words carefully.

"Although employed as an actress by trade, at that time, I was not emotionally suited to all the tensions that that career can bring. I didn't deal with it well, and I apologize now for that behavior, and the difficulties it may have caused those I was working for, and with." She snorted. "What can I say, I have a lousy, difficult disposition."  She glanced at her watch, and then looked up. "I have things I have to do, and that's all I have to say to you folks. I will answer no more questions today, or in the future. I am a private person, and wish to lead a quiet, private life.  Thank you."  She moved away from the reporters, ignoring the many more questions that were being called her way.

She walked solo to the building, pulled the door, and walked in, hoping to find a quiet place where she could collapse and be by herself to attempt to reclaim her tenuous hold on any kind of serenity.

That moment of needed seclusion would have to wait for a few minutes, for there was a line of people inside that building, young and old alike, that were waiting, one by one, for their opportunity to hug their shaken choreographer.  She was about to tell them 'no', she couldn't handle it, but then she looked at them again.  No more 'no's'.

She did not deny them.

Sara sighed, and found the strength to give the assembled cast in front of her on the gymnasium floor a very appreciative smile. They had just completed running every dance number in the row,  one after the other, with nary a hitch or flaw.  Instead of her usual constant hammering of them, she was effusive in her praise, and they were eating it up. They knew, innately, that they were performing with flair, and were taking inordinate pride and care in displaying their hard earned skills today. They wanted to impress the tall former actress today, by showing her that she had taught them well, and that they had been paying attention, and that they did care. It showed in their performance, it showed in her reactions.

She was darn near feeling choked up, as the cast looked at her, grinning and expectant. They quieted. And waited.

"Uh, that was ... pretty good.  Really good, as a matter of fact."  More grins were sent her way. "We may ... uh ... have to take this thing on the road over the summer." Sara grinned back at them, a sight they had found themselves yearning for, an approval from the usually tight faced and demanding scarred woman. "Why don't you all take a fifteen minute break ... I could use one. And we'll, I don't know, do something when you get back."  It seems like overkill to have them do it again.  She watched as more undisguised, satisfied smiles were directed her way, and she felt a blush coming to her cheeks. Damn, these kids are getting to me. The little shits know they did good.  And they did it ... for me.  A very foreign feeling came over Sara, an unexpected wash of affection for these students, and the realization that the feeling was mutual, that they were liking her just as much as she was liking them. My troop. My gang of dancing idiots. My soldiers of the light fantastic.

Sara turned and looked around the gymnasium, looking for a familiar adult face, for Marcy, for Chloe, even for Paul. They had disappeared earlier, once that they had seen that the dancing was well in hand.  She thought for a moment about going to look for them, when the gym door opened and Marcy walked in, with a state policeman in tow behind her.  Marcy smiled, and they made their way over to Sara.

The policeman, sharp in his gray starched uniform, had his trooper's hat tucked under his arm. His hair was styled in a severe brush cut, and he looked every bit of the imposing law enforcement officer, from his rock hard, chiseled physicality, to the way he carried himself and stood almost at attention when they pulled up in front of Sara. The only trait that betrayed the perfect stereotypical image of the ideal Pennsylvania State Police Officer was, well, the man was no taller than 5' 7, and that made him a tad bit shorter than the lanky dark haired woman standing in front of him.

Marcy introduced them, a gleam in her eye. "Officer Grafton, this is my friend, and future sister-in-law, Sara D'Amico.  Sara, Officer Marshall Grafton."

Sara shook the officer's hand. She was unsure if he was here on official business, or was a friend of Marcy's, but she had a feeling that maybe it was a little of both.

"Officer Grafton. Pleased to meet you."  She gave him a little bit of her movie star smile, she wanted to impress the man.

"Ms. D'Amico." he said, officiously, then a small grin cracked his stern features. "Can I just say I've seen 'Star Gazers', oh, probably ... over 100 times?"

Sara blinked, and then laughed. "Oh god. Why would you want to do that to yourself?  I could hardly stand to watch it at the premiere."

He laughed, more friendliness infusing his face. "I'm a sci-fi nut. It's essential to the genre." He couldn't help himself, this was his big chance.  "I'd love to talk to you about that one scene." He saw Sara patiently smile at him, so he swallowed, and went for it.  "There's been talk for years on the internet as to the real reason why your character, Officer Calla, put herself in harm's way like that at the end." He looked at her, still not believing he was actually talking to 'Officer Calla'. He quickly went on. "Was it a death wish, suicide? Altruism? Trying to redeem herself?"

Sara laughed. This was not the first conversation she had with an ardent, if over zealous fan of the movie. "Officer Grafton, I have no idea.  I think she did it ...."

The officer leaned forward, hopeful of some inside information.

"Because the director told me to act it that way." She laughed again, this time at his confused reaction. "Yup, he told me to act it as ambiguosly as possible. I guess it worked." She frowned for a moment, unhappy memories of that director returning to her. "If you want a tidbit of truth, Officer Grafton, the director is a complete egotistical bastard. He made that movie in hopes that it would make his career. He was praying that it would generate interest in a sequel, and apparently it did. So ... I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he left all those parts as ... incomprehensible ...  as he did ... just to play with people's minds. Not because he's deeper than the Grand Canyon." Sara paused again, as this information swirled around in the man's head. "Well, Officer, I hope that enlightens you a little. Now, is there some other reason you stopped by today?"

The sci-fi fanatic in front of her straightened up again, and once again became one of Pennsylvania's finest, but not before he gave her a small smile of thanks for her candor and patience with him. He cleared his throat. "Just wanted to give you a run down on what's been happening," his voice deepening, and speaking much more formally now. "The media vans made a sweep through Stonecreek, out to your brother's golf course, and then apparently left town. I guess they ran into some townies, and a few of them got interviews. Jim, down at the hardware store, got interviewed. He was thrilled. He gave them all kinds of information about how you had a great eye for a piece of wood, and that you fixed a couple of lawn mowers that he was having trouble fixing himself." Officer Grafton said this last bit without the least bit of amusement in his voice or his face. He was practiced at keeping a stoic visage even in the face of the most idiotic, mundane scenarios. He continued. "Then, they blew out of town, some east, some west."

Sara and Marcy both nodded. This was good news.

"But there are a few stragglers ... a couple of guys, not together, I think, that were asking questions, at the diner, at the Quickie Mart, about your ... habits. Where you go, when, with who."

Sara bit her lip and scowled. "Free lance photographers. I figured.  They'll probably be skulking around, hiding in bushes, trying to get candids of me."

Officer Grafton nodded. "Not a thing I can do about that, unless they cross onto private property. And then if they do, you can call ..."

Sara shook her head. "They're hit and run. They knock off as many shots as they can, and then take off, waiting for their next opportunity."

Marcy cursed under her breath. "Hey, it's not like you ride around on that John Deere topless, and in your skivvies."

Officer Grafton's face reddened at that thought, and he was trying to regain his former composure, when a familiar voice called across the gym.

"MOONIE!!!"  The three of them looked over to the gym doors, to see a delighted Chloe Donahue trotting their way, and she jumped right at the startled patrolman, threw her arms around him, crushing his hat beneath his arm. His face broke into a large grin, and he returned the redhead's hug, one-armed.

"Well, Chloe Donahue," he breathed, as she finally pushed away from him, and smiled into his reddened face. "I haven't seen you in a few years now."

Chloe smacked him hard, right in the chest. "Where have you been?" Smack. Smack.

Sara and Marcy both smiled, bemused, at the sight of the little redhead beating on an officer of the law.

He backed off, laughing. "I worked down state for a few years, I just got transferred back up here a few months ago.  I live out closer to the state line, haven't had a chance to come visit yet."

Chloe smacked him one more time, just to emphasize her impatience with him. She turned to Sara, who was watching the whole scene with interested amusement.

"This is Moonie Grafton. We went here together, although,"  Smack. " ... he was a couple of years younger than me. I dated his brother, Frank, for a short time during my senior year."  Smack.  "Long enough to get to know his brother, MOONIE, here."

This time, Chloe moved her assault from his chest, and gave him a resounding smack right on his rear end.

Sara was thinking she was going to have to come up with some bail money for that maneuver. Her eyes widened.

The officer had lost whatever dignity he had left, and flat out laughed at Chloe's smack at his posterior.

Marcy smiled, already knowing the story. "Uh, Chloe, why don't you tell Sara here why you are beating up on a state boy, without fear of him hauling your ass off to jail?"

Chloe giggled, and then stuck her tongue out at Officer Grafton, who was emphatically shaking his head, silently begging her to stay silent.

"Oh, SURE." Chloe laughed at him. "You did it, you have to live with it the rest of your life, Moonie."  She turned to Sara, and began her story. "Here's me and Frank, in Frank's Camaro, and we're parked out on the land in front of their parent's house. Well, we're ... making out, pretty good, and the windows are rolled down ... it's dark, the radio's on, I'm trying to keep Frank from giving me too big a hickey, Frank's leaned across me ... I'm practically underneath him, and ... well, you know, the whole thing was almost getting out of hand ... and then, I open my eyes, and see, firmly wedged, in the opened window on Frank's side of the car ... "

She raised her sparkling eyes to the now furiously blushing officer, who was looking down at the gym floor, " ... a big, pink BARE ASS staring me right in the face." She grinned, and let the officer wallow in his embarrassment for a moment. "I screamed holy hell, Frank flew off me and hit his head on the ceiling of the car, we saw Moonie there, laughing his .... ASS off, outside, trying to get his pants pulled up, and Frank got out of the car, and spent the rest of the evening trying to chase ol' Marshall here down, I'm guessing to try and kill him."

Everyone, including the very chagrined officer, laughed. Chloe had to wrap up her story. "And that was the day that Marshall Grafton died, and  'Moonie' Grafton was born.

Marcy loved this story. "And you really should be thanking Moonie, anyway, Chloe, things between you and Frank were never the same after that night ..."

"Yeah, I know.  He was such a jerk about the whole thing. I thought it was the funniest thing ... and he got all mad at me because I thought it was hilarious.  He had no sense of humor ..."

"He still doesn't.  Frank's still an ..." The officer interrupted.

"Asshole?" Chloe cheerfully provided.

"Yup." Moonie grinned.  He checked his watch. "Well, this has been one hell of interesting visit, but I have to go take care of some of my duties."
"I think I'll be bringing the wife and kiddies to see what you've done to 'Oklahoma'.  Meanwhile, the parking lot is clear, and I'll cruise by again before I go off duty at 3:30." His tone turned serious. "I'm sorry I won't be around when you leave this afternoon, Marcy said you're done at 4 today. But I think they're mostly gone. Just pick up the phone ..."

Marcy drily replied. "I've got it on speed dial."

The officer gravely nodded. "Again, I hope this is the last of it. It was my  distinct pleasure to meet you, Ms. D'Amico. I wish it was under more pleasant circumstances." Just for a split second, his face split into a grin, "When I could grill you more about 'Star Gazers".  He watched as her face returned his grin. "And Chloe Donahue, I'll be seeing you, too, very soon, and not just for the play ..."

Chloe tilted her head at her old friend, confused.

He chuckled, and placed his hat back on his head, adjusting the chin strap. "I was the high bidder on some golf lessons out at Stone Creek golf course. As soon as I heard you were giving the lessons..."  He laughed and started heading towards the door, once again cutting an impressive figure in his officer gray, and he nodded at some returning students that were coming back into the gym. He waved, and departed.

Sara gave a huge snort of laughter, which was echoed by both women standing on either side of her. She looked affectionately at both of them, then said teasingly to Chloe, "You sure do have a very ...  interesting set of friends."

Chloe sighed and smiled pointedly at the both of them. "Yeah, I do, don't I?"

It was four o'clock and all of the students and Paul had left the school a half hour ago.  Just Nelson, Marcy, Chloe and Sara were left in the gymnasium, and Nelson had volunteered to go scout out the parking lot before they, too, left for the day.

Nelson came back into the gym, and strode over to where the three women were waiting, sitting on the bleachers. They searched his eyes for signs of bad news.

"All clear out there." His blue eyes flashed. "No worries at all. Safe as ... babes in arms."

Sara turned a skeptical eye on her nephew. "Are you sure?  I mean these guys are pretty sneaky ..."

"Oh yeah. Safe. Very sure." Nelson grinned, waiting to be questioned about his air of confidence.

It came from Chloe.  "How  can you be so...?"

He didn't let her finish, it was too good to hold back.

"Yeah. You're safe."  Nelson delivered his next lines with perfect comedic timing."Mrs. Raeburn has been sitting in the parking lot, in a lawn chair, for the last hour." He waited a beat. "She has her umbrella with her."

Continued in Part XXVI

Email me with feedback at:  L.A. Tucker

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