The Light Fantastic

by LA Tucker

Part VII:  Mrs. Cumberland Takes a Holiday

For disclaimers see Part I

Tuesday came too soon for Nelson.  He was wound up, nervous, ready to go, not getting any sleep, unable to concentrate in class.  He was dreading the first day of what he was so ardently anticipating.  Ever since the cast list had been posted, he'd been getting a lot of good-natured ribbing from his football buddies. This was a small town with a small high school. The reality was that everyone in the school knew, or knew of Nelson, and had known him since he first dipped his thumb into paste and ate it in kindergarten.  And everyone, with the exception of those who had been present at his audition, was doubting that the boy had any kind of acting talent in his body, and were equally convinced that Ms. Donahue had really gone off the deep end casting him as the male lead.

So the young man, already so nervous and unsure of himself, was roundly hooted and teased in every class, in each hallway that he paused to get a drink,  and 'yee-haw'-ed' and 'Giddyup'-ed by students who weren't even in his circle of friends. He tried to act good naturedly about the razzing, but by the first day of rehearsals, he had so completely psyched himself up to fail, that he was sure doom was inevitable the moment he first stepped out on that stage. It was worse than any nervousness he had ever experienced in his long football career. But what he didn't know, and hadn't counted on, was the strength and the support of determined adults and a soon-to-be close knit family of fellow actors, who were just as determined that he, and everyone around him, was going to succeed.

Nelson casually strolled into the theatre, as casually as he could under the circumstances.  He walked down the aisle, and sat in the first row,  and saw some of the other cast members wandering about, with rolled up scripts in their hands.  Some waved at him, and he waved and smiled back. Jeanette was nowhere around.

Chloe Donahue, dressed in jeans and a green sweatshirt, had a Penn State cap on her head and was sitting at a card table at the front of the stage, talking animatedly with Paul and Marcy.  Actually, to Nelson,  it looked more like Chloe and  Marcy were having a heated discussion. No, it would better be described later as Chloe and Marcy were getting close to taking a swing at each other. Paul was prudently keeping his mouth shut. Since Nelson had chosen a seat so close to the stage, with only an empty orchestra pit separating him from the three adults, he was privy to the conversation that was taking place.

Chloe's hands were jabbing the air in full expressive throttle. "Marcy, listen, this was all your idea anyway.   I am so booked up right now, I am not planning on taking a dump until at least mid April."

"Yeah, well, I don't know a damned thing about them, so how would I be a good judge?  I've never even been near one before."

"Marcy, I just don't have the time. It was your idea,  I think you should be the one to follow up on it. I have to work all day, and then come spend my evenings here until God knows when ..."

"My schedule is the same as yours, toots.  I'm going to be doing the same damned thing." Marcy shot back, skilled and experienced in her verbal parries with her obstinate friend.

"Yeah, well, in your capacity as creative director, you can just tell a bunch of your crew to paint a tree, and take off for an hour and go see about this."

"Do you remember what Doris said about me leaving these kids to their own creative devices? You're going to get a tree that looks like a potted palm.  And we all know that they're indigenous to Oklahoma. Oh yeah." Marcy rolled her eyes.

"Well, take ... Paul, here, with you. He probably knows something about them. Don'tcha, Paul?"  Chloe eyed Paul, willing a 'yes' out of him.

Paul shook his head 'no', and edged his chair even farther away from the table.

"See, he doesn't know, either.  It's not like he's some farm boy, for god sakes, his mother sells Avon, not Amway." Marcy said sarcastically.

Paul looked left and then right, planning  his most likely avenue of escape.

"Well, then, get your boyfriend to take you.  You said he thought it was a good idea, so take him and  ... "

Nelson saw Ms. Donahue's finger point his way, so he just naturally looked behind him. Hmm, nobody there, wonder who ....

"...our boy Curly there with the two of you. He is the intended victim of all of this. Let him see if he thinks it's a good idea or not."

Three sets of adult eyes settled on Nelson.  Three sets of eyes that wanted him to do something that they didn't want to do.

Nelson blinked, and cracked his knuckles.  This doesn't sound good.

"Hey, Nelson, come up here, would you please?",  sweetly called Ms. Donahue, who was giving Marcy a snotty look.

Nelson, being brought up to respect his elders, no matter what their mental state, made his way up to the stage. He stood next to Mr. Hoderman, who could no longer be described as 'sitting at the table' for he had worked his chair back to almost center stage. Paul took Nelson's arrival as the perfect cover to make his getaway. "Here, Nelson, take my chair. I'll be right back." Paul fibbed, and exited, stage left.

"Pull up your chair, Nelson.  Marcy and I were just thinking about how nice it would be ..."

"Don't you blame this on me, Chloe, if the poor kid here ..."

"Marcy, don't interrupt me. Now, Nelson, as I was saying,  Marcy and I agreed ..."

"Under duress. I only agree to this under duress ... Nelson, do you know what 'duress' is?  It's what I am going to plead to when I am charged with Ms. Donahue's murder.  I did it because of extreme duress ..."

The two women glared at each other. Nelson furtively glanced in the direction Paul had gone, and wondered if it would be a smart thing to follow after him.

Chloe nailed him before he could figure out his next move. "Nelson, we were just thinking that if maybe you, and Marcy and perhaps even your dad could ... well, go see a man about a horse."

Later,  Nelson was recounting this conversation to a rapt audience of his closest relatives in the living room.

"So it looks like I've been elected to go check out this horse with you, huh, Nelson?" Dave was pleased.  No one can accuse me of not being supportive of my boy.

"Well, since neither Marcy or I know anything about them, and you do, I suppose it's a good idea." Just don't embarrass me, Dad.

"And it will probably keep your girlfriend out of jail on a murder rap, so, yeah, Dave, why don't you help out your son there." A horse. I love horses.

Nelson didn't give his father an opportunity to refuse. "Ms. Donahue gave me the phone number and address, I think we can go on either Thursday or Friday.  Would you call the guy, dad?"

"Not a problem.  I'm not the one who has to ride him while yodeling ..."  Dave chucked Nelson on the shoulder.

"So what's your schedule look like, Nelson?" inquired Sara.  In other words, when does Ms. Donahue have some free time?

"Let's see, tomorrow, the whole cast sits down and does a read through.  Then we do it again, this time, with Ms. Donahue giving us some direction along the way. That will probably take up tomorrow.  Then it's pretty much Tuesday through Thursday from four until 8 each day, and Saturday afternoons from noon until four or so. Saturday is the day we work on the dancing.  That's the only day Mrs. Cumberland can make it."

That name brought a smile to Sara's face. "Geez, Dave, wasn't Mrs. Cumberland doing the choreography for these school plays even way back when you were in high school? I remember her ..." Sara pictured the tiny, wizened woman from her high school years.

"God, yeah, come to think of it. She must be close to 102 by now." Dave said, a bit amazed at the thought.

"That should be some interesting display of dancing. Leaning up against walls and tapping your foot will probably be the extent of it." Sara cracked.

Dave suddenly remembered something. "Hey, Nelson, a buddy of mine is moving on Saturday, and I said I'd help him. I'm going to need to take the Explorer and your truck so we can get more moved at one time. I can give you a ride to rehearsal and pick you up that day, too. And pick up Marcy, too, if she isn't in jail by then."  He winked at Nelson. "And maybe, if she isn't dead, we can pick up a little redheaded librarian for your aunt here, too."

Sara felt the color rise in her cheeks, and she gave Dave her best instant death glare.

Dave grinned, pleased with the embarrassment showing on his sister's face. "Well on that note, Nels, give me that phone number of the guy with the horse, and I'll go call him and see what I can set up."

Nelson reached in his back pocket, and handed his dad a slip of paper. Dave went off to his office to make the call.

"Oh, Aunt Sara,  I forgot to tell you the best part! It was so weird, it was practically surreal." Nelson was grinning wildly. "Ms. Donahue had us all in the front rows of the theatre,  you know, like at the auditions. And she was giving us all this pep talk, how great we were all going to be, and yaddayadda, and all of a sudden, from the side of the stage ... there's the principal, Mrs. Raeburn,  coming at Ms. Donahue with a big, I dunno,  BULL'S head in her arms. You know, with great big horns out to here ... and she's using the horns to sort of jab at Ms. Donahue, and all the while, Mrs. Raeburn is shouting out something about  ...  her having to use adult diapers for the rest of her life ... and Ms. Donahue is laughing so hard that her hat is falling off and there are tears rolling down her face ... and Mrs. Raeburn is just getting madder and madder ... and chasing Ms. Donahue around the stage ..." Nelson was slapping his knee now, "and finally, Mrs. Raeburn just threw the bull's head down on the stage and stalked off.  I'm telling you, it was the funniest thing I've ever seen. We didn't get much done after that, Ms Donahue would take one look at that bull, and just start laughing all over again.  I wish you could have seen it."

Sara's grin was so wide her face could hardly contain it. "Me too, Nelson ...  me too."

"All right, everyone settle down, and we're going to read through this thing once."  Chloe, Paul and the student cast were in the cafeteria,  the only place in the building that had a table large enough accommodate all of them. "Paul and I will be reading any of the stage directions, such as  'Ado Annie enters and stands next to Ali Akim' . You folks will be reading your own parts. Take notes if you need to, right on your script.  And for this first go 'round, don't try and act the part. Don't try to be putting any accents to your characters. We'll be giving that a go on the second read through.  Oh, and yes, we will be 'reading' the songs. No singing just yet. Any questions?"  Chloe scanned the group, who mercifully decided that if they did have any questions they could keep. She stood up and moved next to Paul. "Let's begin. Paul?"

Paul began reading the narrative directions of the beginning of the play.  It was going along pretty well, with Chloe interjecting corrections along the way.  The collected cast  quickly found out that Ms. Donahue, who looked like she was all sweetness and light and was imbued with prenatural patience , actually had the heart of a tyrannical, demanding director, and expected to be treated with a mixture of fear and respect.

"Justin, excuse me, the word is 'ne'er', pronounced 'nair', like 'never' without the 'v' in it."

"Mo, what is it with you and the word 'the'?  Every time you say it, it sounds like you were brought up Quaker. It's 'thuh' not 'thee'."

"Jason, did you even OPEN this script before today?  I can still put you in as an understudy .... for MOREEN."

"Jeanette,  quit emoting and batting your eyelashes. We're reading this, not flirting it."

"Nelson, I'm pretty sure cowboys didn't chew gum back then. Lose it."

"Why is everyone slipping into accents?  This is starting to sound like a bad read through for 'The Dukes of Hazzard'.  Knock it off."

And so it went, pretty swiftly,  and Chloe, as badly in need of a break as the kids were, gave them ten minutes with the directive to return promptly for the second reading.

Paul sidled up to a silently musing Chloe. "That went pretty well. Sorta. I think it might have. It could have been worse.", declared the always decisive Paul.

"Uh huh.", agreed Chloe, busily writing notes in her director's copy of the play.

Paul anxiously twisted his copy of the script in his hands. "Uh, Chloe, I just found out, just before we started ..."

Chloe looked up at Paul, just daring him to screw up her day.

"Uh, Chloe, we have a problem."  The fear in Paul's eyes showed; he was not wont to be the deliverer of bad news. He gulped a breath and mustered up a bit of bravery. "Mrs. Cumberland called. She can't do the play this year. Something about all her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren all getting together to send her and her older sister on a six week cruise."

For some silly reason, the only words that made an impression on Chloe from that statement were 'Mrs. Cumberland' and 'older sister'.  That's impossible. No one in the world is older than Mrs. Cumberland.  Then Chloe's mind fixed on the phrase 'can't do the play' and she yelped, "No way! Mrs. Cumberland has always directed the dancing parts! I don't know anything about dancing. What are we gonna do?", she practically wailed. No no no no no. Wait!  She looked Paul up and down. "Do you dance? At all? "

Paul thought a moment about making a smart remark about being adept at the 'Hokey Pokey' but thought better of it. "Nope, two left feet."

The kids were milling back into the cafeteria, and finding their seats.

Chloe blustered on.  "But I can't direct the kids and do all I have to do and teach these kids their dances too. I just can't. We'll have to find someone else." Marcy. Marcy can dance. No, wait, that's after four margaritas and even then, it's pretty bad. Scary even. Mrs. Raeburn?  Nope, can't ask her. I'm currently holding all ten positions on her top ten shit list after that little stunt that Sara pulled with the bull's head in her office.

Chloe's mind whirred and clicked. "Nelson?  Can your aunt dance?"

Everyone's eyes turned to Nelson, nephew of the Famous Reclusive Movie Star.

"Like nobody's business. Why?", answered a bewildered Nelson.

"Just tell her I'll be giving her a call. Now, let's get started again, and please, everyone, try to keep your southern accents toned down.  We don't want to have to have closed captioning for this thing ..."

"Yeah, sure. Marcy probably just looked at you, gave you a puppy dog look, and said 'Oh, honey, please, for me?' and you fell for it, didn't you? And then she begs off, and you rope me into coming along ..." Sara teased, and tried to find a little more room for her long legs in the old Ford pickup. She was squeezed between Nelson, who was driving, and Dave, who was taking up more space than he needed on the passenger side. It was Thursday evening, Nelson had just gotten out of rehearsals, and they were on their way to see a 'John Cagney' about a horse. The directions he had provided indicated that he lived on Route 20, just as everyone else did from this town. Route 20 the main drag, and was comprised of a stretch of road of about an equal two miles east and two miles west of the town center. The houses were widely spaced apart on either side of the road.  Some of the land was devoted to growing cherries, and those farms had a road side stand, boarded up until late June, when the cherries came to fruition. Others were lined with grape vines, now withered and barren in wait for the approaching Spring.  A number of these vineyards produced a nice variety of local wines, and some of the larger places even had their own small stores and did a brisk business selling to bus tours of the scenic lakeside area.

They were heading east, having already past through the town's center, and Sara saw the rusting sign of the old '76 station, and a hundred yards from it, a small yellow house with the porch light on.  I wonder if that's Chloe's house.  She turned her head to see Chloe's Subaru parked on the side of it. Yup, that's it. She said it was small. She wasn't kidding. I wonder what she's doing?

Nelson began to slow the truck. "I think it must be up here, soon. On the left." They scanned the mail box at the end of a  long drive. "Cagney. That's it."  Nelson turned and carefully drove the truck down a long, rutted drive and then stopped at a large house, that had a big barn just behind it. He was just turning off the motor when a small form darted out of the barn and stopped at Nelson's door. Nelson opened his door, and immediately recognized the small person, and greeted him with a familiar grin. "Hey there. We're here about the horse."

The small, round figure nodded eagerly. "Yeah, I know. I made my step-dad call you guys. Wait 'til you see her, she's a beauty, "

Sara and Dave were awkwardly trying to get out the other side of the truck, and missed this little conversation. They both stopped to stretch, and then proceeded around the front to the truck and Sara took in the small manic form talking to Nelson. Oh, good god, it's him. Curly. I mean, Charlie. Charlie Shemp.

Dave and Sara stopped in front of the chatting pair, and Charlie's eyes surveyed them both, and then looked past them, as if looking for someone else.  He looked up at Nelson, and said, rather disappointedly, "Um, I thought Ms. Donahue would be coming. She's not with you?"

Nelson shook his head, and introduced his dad and Aunt Sara to Charlie. "This is my buddy, Charlie Shemp. He's the one who volunteered us the use of his horse. Let's go take a look at her, OK, Charlie?

Sara and Dave trudged up the path behind Nelson and Charlie, and caught a bit of what Nelson was saying to Charlie.

"... she couldn't make it, Charlie, she wanted to, but she is so busy with everything else right now, you know ..."

Dave nudged Sara, a smirk coloring his voice. "Oh, another one in love with the wonderful Ms. Donahue, huh?  Maybe we should start a proper fan club for her ... but who would be president? You, Charlie, Paul, ... even Nelson?"

Sara's arm shot out and shoved Dave off the path, and nearly onto his keister. Dave, recovering, laughed and said, "Alright, alright. You can be president, but I'm holding out for the sergeant in arms position ..."

Dave and Sara made their way into the brightly lit barn, and over to a stall where Nelson and Charlie were standing.

Nelson looked at the tall horse doubtfully, and the animal turned and made its way over to the four of them.

"You're right, Charlie, she sure is a beauty." Nelson exclaimed.

That's an understatement. Sara's eyes were dazzled by the glow of the tall, golden colored palomino. She stepped closer to it, and it came to her, and softly nuzzled her outreached hand.  The tall dark woman and the horse began a long conversation without words.  Sara was so enraptured by the beautiful beast, that her mind barely registered on the words that were coming, rapid-fire, from Charlie's mouth.

"She's really gentle, and will even listen to whistled commands. Nothing seems to bother her, not even thunderstorms. I don't think all those people in the audience, even if they're clapping or something, will scare her at all. We can put her in the trailer, and bring her out each night right before the play starts. I could stay with her. She listens to me really good.  My step-dad won't be able to bring her each time, but I thought if somebody had a hitch on their truck, I could get her all ready and the high school is just a mile or so up the road ... "

Dave interrupted the youth. "I have a hitch on my Explorer, and I'm planning on being there for every performance I can, so it won't be a problem getting her there and back."  He turned and grinned at his sister, who seemed to be ... cooing to the large beast. "Charlie, when do you think Nelson could come out and take a trial spin on her? And maybe his aunt here, too.  If she wants to ... "

Sara, never taking her eyes off the beautiful horse, immediately said, "Oh yeah. You know it. You bet." She then turned to Charlie. "If it's all right with you, Charlie ...?"

"Sure. How about Sunday?  After we get back from church?  Would that be OK, and you could bring Ms. Donahue, if she wants ..." said Charlie, desperate hope burning in his eyes.

Charlie, Dave and Nelson settled the final arrangements for Sunday, and then Sara felt a tug at her sleeve.  Dave gently chuckling, teased her. "I hate to break up this little love fest between you two, but it is a school night, and Charlie here needs to get his beauty rest."

Sara sighed, and gave the tall horse one final scratch behind its ears. "Hey Charlie, " she murmured dreamily, "What's her name?"

"Well," said a still tightly wound Charlie, "Officially, her registration name is 'Petit Escargot'. Something French. But we shortened that up." He turned and patted the big horse on the nose. "We just call her 'Cargo'."


The small inhabitant of the tiny yellow house near the old gas station was busily punching a number into her telephone, unaware that the person she was trying to call was just this second passing her house in a Ford pick-up truck.  Hmm. No answer, no machine either. I should just call at Dave's house, she's more likely to be there.  She dialed the number, and on the fourth ring, the machine picked up.  Chloe never knew how long she had to deliver her message, some machines cut her off before she even could clear her throat to speak.  So, to be on the safe side, she spoke rather rapidly. She never heard the beep after the taped greeting, so there was some dead airtime before she finally began.

"Hello, this is Chloe Donahue, and I'm trying to get in touch with Sara. Please call me back as soon as ..." Beep.

Chloe, cut off, but happy that the most important part of her message had gotten across, turned to the next name on her list of calls.

Audra. All right, I told her on Sunday I would call her today, and let her know if I'm free on Saturday night.  I haven't really got any plans. But why do I feel like I would be doing something, well, not exactly wrong, but not right, either? She had picked up the phone a few times during the week to call Sara, but always found a shy reason to stop herself. She sure hasn't attempted to call me, either. Maybe she needs her space.  Maybe she isn't as interested as I seem to be. Oh, crap ...

Chloe entered Audra's number.  Audra picked up on the third ring.

"Hey, Audra, it's Chloe." she began pleasantly.

"I recognized your voice, how're you doing?" Yes!

"Well, other than rehearsals starting this week, and that I'm already dead tired, and I'm ready to smack the next person who says 'no' or 'can't' to me, I'm perfectly fine.  And you?"

"Sounds like my week is going better than yours. So I won't irritate you with the details." A small pause and then Audra continued. "Well, what do you think about Saturday, think you'll be ready for a break by then? "

"I think that would be ..." Chloe took a breath, and impetuously decided to take the plunge. "A great idea.  As long as you don't try to drag me to a play or anything theatrical. I might start yelling out directions ..."

"What time are you done on Saturday?"  Yes. This is good, this is good, this is good.

"Around four or so, why?"

"Well, I was thinking it would be nice, if you wouldn't mind, if I could come out and see Paul and Marcy for a few minutes, and then we could go up to New York to a little restaurant that I know of near Chautauqua. It's about a 45 minute drive from where you live, but I'll drive and you could snooze on the way up ... "  Audra was feeling extremely pleased with the way this was turning out.

Chloe thought that that sounded nice, so she said so. "That sounds really nice. I haven't been out that way for a long time. And I know that Paul and Marcy will be thrilled to see you. I told them that I ran into you, and they started reminiscing about all the trouble you got into while you were student teaching at the school ..."

"All the trouble you got me into, don't deny it ..." Audra shot back.

Chloe's mouth twitched in amusement. "All right, already. I'm a bad influence. I'll admit it, just not in court. So ... how about you come by around 3 or so, just come in the back door of the school, you know your way around. Just look around for me, and I'll point you in the direction of the broom closet that I'll have Paul and Marcy tied up in."

Audra chuckled. "Looking forward to it. See you, Chloe."

"Me too. 'Bye, Audra."  She hung up.  Well, this is different. I actually have a real live 'date'. I wonder if ...

Chloe's thought was cut off by the sound of her phone ringing, right in front of her. Damn!


"Chloe?  It's Sara.  I got your message. We all just got home."

"Family shoplifting night at Walmart again?" Chloe pleasured in the sound of Sara's low voice.

"Pretty much. Got me a nice 6 pack of tube socks, and Nelson got a nifty curling iron, and Dave, well, let's just say that he got enough stuff that he'll never have to worry about that pesky jock itch of his ...", Sara bantered playfully.  She pictured the librarian in the yellow house, hopefully she was smiling as she spoke.

"You've got a quick mind, anyone ever tell you that?" Chloe countered.


"You've got a really qu... oh, never mind, I've got it now." Shithead.

"Hehe. So, what's up, why are you enjoying the pleasure of me returning your call?" I practically wrestled the phone away from Nelson before he could return Jeanette's call.

Oh god.  I can't ask her this over the phone. I'm so much more persuasive in person. "I was wondering what you were doing tomorrow night?"

"Friday night. Let's see. Oh, yeah. I have it right here in my date book. 'Librarian brings over Chinese take-out. Much hilarity ensues'." God, it's been so long since I flirted with anyone, this feels good.

"Oh, then you're busy then?"  Chloe pumped her free arm in a small victory celebration.

"I suppose I could get out of it."

"No, no.  I wouldn't want to impose."

"All righty then. Hey, I didn't write down what time the librarian was going to show up. Stupid me." Right now wouldn't be too soon.

"What time did you think she might show up?"  I have tons of personal days. I could take one tomorrow.

"I dunno, around 6 or so?"  OK, so now was too soon to hope for.

"I'll bet you're right."

"I always am. But you knew that." Sara declared.

"Well, then, have a good time with the bookworm."  Chloe, not wholly satisfied with the previous arm pump, did a bad version of the 'Snoopy' dance next to her coffee table.

"I'm sure I will, she's always good for a laugh, and a funny story.  She's going to tell me about Mrs. Raeburn and a bull's head, and I'm going to tell her about a certain little Stooge I met tonight, who has a lovely horse by the name of 'Cargo'."

"Good. Glad to hear you'll be entertained. I guess I'll see you when I see you. And, Sara?" Chloe hesitated, then decided on a plan.

"Yeah, Chloe?"

"Have you ever seen 'Fame'? 'Dirty Dancing'?  or better yet, 'Urban Cowboy'? "

"Sure I have, why?" said Sara distractedly.  She'd just noticed that her brother and nephew were watching her converse, and they were both having a hell of a good time at her embarrassed expense, watching the gamut of smiles and grins that traveled her face while she was talking with Chloe.

"Just wondering. Take care."

"You too." Sara hung up the phone, sat it down, and immediately started moving menacingly towards Nelson and Dave, who were retreating in different directions in a strategic attempt to evade the thumping that she surely intended to inflict on them.

Chloe got out her own date book and flipped it to Friday.  She wrote down 'Chinese food, mass quantities' and 'Bob's Video Shack, dancing'.

"Not that I mind, but why do you want to eat in the living room?"  Sara was tossing the magazines and other clutter off the coffee table.

"Well, I thought it might be a good night for movie night."  She rattled a plastic bag that looked like it contained some video tapes.

Sara started placing numerous small cartons of Chinese food onto the coffee table.  "Ooh, great!  Home movies,  or is it porn?, or better yet, home porn movies?"

"Oh, you wish. I lost all those in the flood of '99. "

"Haven't made any new since?"  Sara was really enjoying the blush on Chloe's face.

"Haven't had the time to edit out the slower parts yet."

"Shame you're so busy.  I've got some free time, perhaps I could volunteer to edit ..." said Sara, a suggestive gleam in her eye.

Perhaps you could volunteer for something, but let's see how this goes first. "I like to do them myself. Relive the memories and all. I'm very sentimental."

Sara brought plates, utensils and a couple of beers from the living room. "You want a beer?  I can only have one, doesn't mix well with my meds."

"Sure. Now park it, and let's eat."

Chloe had already put a tape into the VCR. Now all she had to do was get it to the right point in the tape.

They started eating, and chatting about their week. Sara told her that she and Nelson were going over to the infamous Charlie Shemp's on Sunday to let Nelson actually get up on the tall horse and see if he thought he would be able to handle her.   Chloe told her pretty much the same story about Mrs. Raeburn and the bull's head, except for the part that Nelson hadn't heard.

"So, every day this week, today included, I have found a, or what I believe is a, cow patty on the hood of my car. Right up by the windshield. How they got there, well, I can imagine. But where she gets them, well, that's a mystery."

Sara threw her head back and laughed. "She's one determined woman.  I miss her. She was the one thing about that school that I liked." Sara leaned over and poked Chloe softly in the arm. "She's the one woman, I think, that even is able to outtalk you."

Chloe smirked . "Yeah, well, you haven't seen me when I really get going ..."  She spooned some more rice out of a container, and more sweet and sour chicken.

"If you do everything with as much enthusiasm as when you talk or eat ..." Sara couldn't help herself, she was feeling happy, and very flirtatious.

Chloe coughed some rice out of her mouth. "SARA! geez oh pete oh man."

"You really are a nice small town girl, aren't you?"  So much nicer than those women out in L.A., they had absolutely no qualms about just, well, going for it.  Five minutes after they met you.  Huh, no challenge there, no build up.  Not that I minded, but ...

Chloe picked some rice of of her lap, and grabbed a napkin and wiped her mouth. She frowned. "I can't help what I am. I've never gotten any complaints before now. " She was getting defensive, and didn't know why. Oh, yeah, she's probably been with some real, I dunno, sophisticated, slutty types out in Lala land. She probably had her pick every night. Chloe scowled, and continued eating.

Sara was quiet a moment, and then leaned forward and set her plate on the table.  How do I say this without giving too much away?  "Chloe?" She waited for Chloe to look at her. "I'm not complaining. Not at all."  Chloe's green eyes searched hers for sincerity. "Not at all, Chloe. Please believe me."

Chloe felt a bit silly for getting snappish.  "Oh, bother. It's OK. I know you didn't mean anything by it.  I'm just tired, and I shouldn't be drinking even this one beer. I'll be dozing by the middle of the first movie."

Relieved that Chloe wasn't angry, and had apparently accepted her words as the truth, the smile returned to Sara's face. "So what's on the schedule for tonight?  Get anything good?  Action, adventure, chop-sockey?  I love that stuff."

Chloe put her plate on the table, and suddenly scooted to sit right against Sara's hips. Chloe leaned towards her, placing one hand firmly on her upper thigh, and then moved ever closer across the front of her, brushing oh so softly against her chest, and then reached out her hand to grasp at ...

The remote control. Which was on the other side of Sara.  Once Chloe had it safely in hand, she quickly moved back to her original position. And smiled in the direction of the TV, and pressed a button on the remote. The television came to life, and Chloe hit the play button.

Sara wiped her brow.  "And I thought I was evil."

Chloe tilted her head at her and said innocently, "What?"

The previews for upcoming releases were playing on the TV. So Chloe hit the fast forward and let the tape run.

"I'll show you what." Sara wanted nothing more at that moment to kiss that smugness off of Chloe's face, so she leaned forward, put a hand under Chloe's chin, and turned her face towards her own.  Chloe's smirk turned into an expectant soft smile, and she reveled in the feel of Sara's fingers so gently pulling her chin towards her.  Blue met green, and Sara purposefully closed in on those soft red lips and ...


"Man, I just don't get women.", came a disgruntled voice from the kitchen. Nelson, looking red faced and ticked off, came pounding into the living room.

"Hey,  Chlo ... uh, Ms. Donahue!  I didn't know you were going to be here." Nelson pulled off his jacket, and threw it on the recliner. "Hey, Aunt Sara."

His eyes traveled to the food cartons on the table. "Wow, is that Chinese? I'm starving."

Chloe and Sara, who were now on opposite ends of the couch, both sitting quite primly, offered indistinct, garbled 'hellos'.

Chloe found her tongue first .  "Grab a plate, Nelson, and help yourself. Your aunt and I were just going to watch a movie."

Nelson went out to the kitchen and the banging of cupboard doors could be heard.

Sara turned quickly to Chloe, and hissed through clenched teeth, "He was supposed to be on a date with Jeanette tonight!"

Chloe barely had time to shrug her shoulders in reply, when Nelson came back into the room, and glanced at the TV set. "Are you watching the movie in fast forward?"

Chloe grabbed the remote and hit the Play button, and the movie, 'Urban Cowboy' came on the screen.  It had fast forwarded, luckily for Chloe, right to the part that she wanted to use as an opening for her little discussion with Sara. Perfecto.

Nelson was putting food away like it was his last supper, his eyes glued to the TV screen. After a few moments, Chloe, using what was happening on the screen as an introduction, casually paused the tape and said to Nelson, "Hey Nelson, do you know how to line dance?  I was thinking we could use it in the play, you know, maybe at the box social scene, or at the train station. I think it'd be easy for everyone to learn."

Nelson chewed a few times, and swallowed. Why does Aunt Sara look so cranky? "Nope, I don't much go in for that country stuff, but it looks easy to learn."  He looked at his aunt, who was staring at the paused screen, and had her hands folded across her chest. "Aunt Sara can, though.  I've seen her doing it out in the garage."

Aunt Sara was counting to 100,  trying to figure out a way to get rid of Nelson without embarrassing herself and Chloe. Well, I don't care about embarrassing myself, but she's his advisor in this damned musical.  It just wouldn't look right for me to tell him to get lost because I want to neck with his director.  I was THIS close to those lips ...

Chloe's plan was now perfectly set in motion by the unsuspecting Nelson. She turned to Sara. "Do you think you could show him a few steps?"

Sara, who was feeling full blown snarly now, and didn't care who knew it, humphed, "Sure."

Chloe crossed her arms, and looked at Sara expectantly.

Sara looked back, and then caught on. "You mean NOW? Right now?"

Chloe smiled her most winning smile. "Why not? I could use a few ideas, and well, we could just use the music from the movie, and I could ... well, if Nelson doesn't mind."  Chloe turned that winning smile onto Nelson.

Nelson was just cleaning off his plate and let out a contented sigh. "I'm game, if Aunt Sara is.  We can move the coffee table back and the couch ..."

Sara was now busily counting back from one hundred, and wondering where she could hide Nelson's body.  Out by the 9th hole, right next to that pond, no, it might flood there ..

Two sets of eyes were now fixed upon Sara, waiting. "Oh ... ALL RIGHT ..."

Twenty minutes later, with Chloe manning the remote so she could start the music over, and over, and over again, Nelson and his aunt were doing a pretty fair impression of competent line dancers.  Chloe was beaming. She's a natural, so patient teaching him.  She decided to let the whole song play through, and both Nelson and Sara finished with a little bow, and Chloe clapping appreciatively.

"Can you two-step, too, Sara?" Chloe inquired.

Sara, who had forgotten her grumpiness, was actually having a bit of fun. "Sure. Piece of cake. But I only know how to lead ... "

"Not a problem, hang on." Chloe quickly fast forwarded the tape to a mid tempo song. Nelson had plopped himself back down into the recliner.

Chloe got up from the couch, and said sweetly, "You know how to lead, I know how to follow.", and she tossed the remote to Nelson. "Watch and learn, big guy."

Nelson hit the play button, turned the volume up and watched, mesmerized, as his Aunt Sara took Chloe into her arms, grinned her a dazzling smile, and they began to dance around the living room. As the song progressed, Sara began trying more intricate steps, and was pleased to find that Chloe naturally followed along, step for step. Sara whirled Chloe around, and back again, and the two women moved together as if they danced this dance together every night. As the song ended, the women were breathless and quite pleased with themselves and each other, and the room fell away,  Nelson was no longer there, they were so close, so heated, so ...

"What's going on?  We having a hoe-down in the living room?", asked Dave, standing in the kitchen archway.  Sara and Chloe both started, even Nelson, who was caught up in the moment, was startled to hear his dad's voice.

Two body bags.  That's what I need. TWO body bags.  And the back hoe. "Hey Dave. No barn dance tonight, we're just showing Nelson here how to two-step." Sara explained.

Chloe, catching her breath, grinned at Dave. "I thought you would be out with Marse tonight. She told me she was seeing you tonight."

Dave hung his head a little, and grumbled to no one in particular,  "Yeah, well, we had a little argument, and decided to call it an early evening."  He shifted uncomfortably in the doorway, and then looked to Nelson. "Speaking of dates, I thought you had one with Jeanette tonight."

Nelson, uncomfortable in saying it, said it anyway, "Yeah. Me too. But seems she is suffering a bad attack of, you know,  female stuff."

Chloe and Sara both broke out in loud laughter. "Well, Nelson, get used to it, about every 28 days or so, you're going to have one unhappy woman on your hands, and there isn't a damned thing you can do about it,"  Sara teased. "Maybe run. Run far away."

Dave spoke up from the doorway. "Yeah, well, I don't know what Marcy's problem is, female stuff or not, she sure wasn't very agreeable." He looked at Chloe.  "Did you find a replacement for Mrs. Cumberland yet?  Is that why you have Sara here doing the old Arthur Murray routine?  She's the one who taught me how to dance, and I'm hopeless.  I can at least waltz without looking like a trained monkey, thanks to her. "

Chloe cringed inwardly, and looked a little frazzled. "Uh, no, no replacement yet. Uh, I was kind of hoping that Sara here ..."

Sara, not knowing what had transpired concerning Mrs. Cumberland, put her hand on Chloe's shoulder, and tugged her around to face her. Chloe wasn't meeting Sara's eyes. "What happened to Mrs. Cumberland, and what were you hoping about me?" Sara said, truly puzzled. Why isn't she looking at me?

Chloe looked at down at her socked feet.  Should I feel guilty about this? "Mrs. Cumberland, our choreographer, is going on this cruise, and can't do the play." She rubbed the sole of one foot on top of her other foot. "So I was thinking, and I asked Nelson if you could dance and ..."

Sara was studying Chloe's newly uncomfortable body language, and she thought about Mrs. Cumberland, the lack of a dance coach, the videos, the way Chloe had charmed Sara into showing Nelson how to line dance.  It didn't take the former actress long to form a strong opinion about what had transpired this evening. Her hands, which had been in her jeans pockets, slid out, and formed loose fists.  She took a step away from Chloe. "So this is what this is all about ... the tapes, the dancing, the 'show Nelson how to line dance' ... "  Sara took a deep breath and came to a conclusion. She tonelessly asked Chloe, who still had her eyes averted , "What exactly was your little plan, Chloe?  What was it that you wanted to happen here?"

This is not how it was supposed to happen. "Well, when Nelson told me you could dance, I thought I might ask you if you would be interested ..."  She stopped, and looked cautiously at Sara's eyes. They seemed to be a blank blue slate . Sara was waiting for her to continue, her hands still working their clench.

Dave, seeing that the situation looked like it was getting a bit tense, motioned to Nelson from the archway, and they both grabbed their jackets, and left out the kitchen door.

Sara continued, her voice a monotone, "Interested in what, exactly?"

Chloe was sure that Sara's voice held no patience for any more hemming and hawing. Just tell her. "I was going to ask you if you would be interested in taking her place. Teaching the kids some dances for the play. Being our choreographer."

Sara hardly heard her; she was expecting that answer. She spoke in hard, even tones. "So, let me get this straight. You lost your choreographer, I'll bet you couldn't find anyone else, so you cook up this little plan to come over here, and in some round about way, with what?   Chinese food and ...", she picked up the bag containing the videotapes and pulled the other ones from the bag, "Oh, yeah, 'Fame' and 'Footloose'. I sense a theme here, Chloe." Her voice picked up some of her growing anger. Chloe wasn't saying anything, so she continued. "Butter me up, and then when you dance me around the living room a couple of times, flirt it up with me ... how could I possibly say 'no', right? "

Sara took no pains to hide the bitterness that she was feeling.  "You know what, Chloe? You should have been an agent. That's how those people work. They work people, they don't talk to us like we're real, thinking people.  We're just 'things' to use."  She snorted with derision.  "This, tonight, is just another variation on how my old agent got me to take a role I didn't want to do.  She wined and dined me, usually straight into bed, and the next morning, she'd just casually talk me into taking some dumb part on some asinine show. I didn't want to let her down, disappoint her by then, so I'd agree ... oh yeah, you missed your calling."

Chloe felt like her feet were nailed to the floor. She was half agreeing with Sara's assessment, and yet knew that the situation was not the same. Her  own anger and frustration rose to challenge Sara's. " That's not exactly true. It may look like it, but it's not true. That ... this ... wasn't my intention. That's not fair for you to think that about me.. "

"So tell me, Chloe, which part isn't true?  You didn't want me to take Mrs. Cumberland's place? No, you already said that you did. So, the videotapes, the dancing with me, WHAT PART ISN'T TRUE?"

"You make it sound like I was manipulating you ... that wasn't my intention ... I was only trying to ... " Chloe darted her eyes away from Sara.

"Oh, what do YOU call it then, you certainly didn't just call me up last night and ask me then, did you?  'Sara, Mrs. Cumberland, our choreographer, dropped out, and I wondered if you would be interested in taking her place.' " Sara stared Chloe down. "You certainly didn't take the direct route, did you?" Accusation was painted on every word that she spoke.

"Well, no, but..." Chloe was completely exasperated. I don't know how to explain this, without it sounding bad to her. She just expects the worst, and no matter what, it looks that way to her ...

"Well, then, why didn't you ask me last night, you certainly knew about it then, we talked on the phone and ..."

"I wanted to wait and talk to you in person about it.  I thought it would be easier ... " I wanted to be with you, yes or no.

"Easier.  Oh, I see. That explains everything.  You haven't called all week, and then, when you do, it's to set up this ..." Sara's arms made a wide gesture around the room. She turned away from Chloe, her jaw tight and set.

"Sara, it really wasn't supposed to be like this. Really, I wasn't thinking that ..." She reached to touch Sara's shoulder, but stopped short. "Let me explain, so you'll understand..."

"Chloe, I already understand." Sara's tone was low and controlled. "I'd appreciate it if you'd leave now."

"Sara ..." pleaded Chloe. "You have to believe me ..."

Sara whirled and strode down the hallway into Dave's office, and shut the door behind her.

Chloe took a few halting steps toward the hallway to follow, then stopped, and turned around. She slid into her boots, and gathered up her tapes and coat, and left, closing the kitchen door behind her.

Continued in Part VIII

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