* No disclaimers needed for this, its mine, lock stock and barrel. Jae Cavanaugh and Reed Lewis are copyrighted characters belonging to themselves, why they talk to me is anyone’s guess, but at least they've started talking again.
Blow the House Down
By Ciarán Llachlan Leavitt
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
llachlan at telus dot net
~ One ~
Want. It burned within, driving the hunger and reaching into darkness, impossible to stop. Photographs glinted on the table’s polished surface, the grainy images a perfect compliment to lifelines in the wood, displaying frozen smiles devoid of the warmth of breath, of life. Faces that mocked and beckoned - crying for rescue. It was more than want, it was need. Desire.
There was only one cure.
The parcel was wrapped, non-descript brown paper shielding the contents from prying eyes. With careful deliberation, letters were added. A name and address materialized on the surface - a tangible connection - contact.
But not first contact.
Mud wrapped around the four by four, coating it with camouflage. She would have washed it - but until the rain stopped, it was pointless. Split rail fencing kept pace alongside the winding road, guiding her along the last half a mile to the house.
Nervous and excited, Jae looked in the rearview mirror, brushing an errant strand of blonde hair back into place. It had gotten shaggy in the week she’d been away, and her bangs were threatening to obscure her vision. It would have been easy to get it cut in New York, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun as the alternative. And maybe she’d let it grow. Haircuts were fun - but the feel of Reed’s fingers tangled in it was even nicer.
The turn for the long drive approached rapidly on her left. Jae swung the wheel, unconsciously picking up speed in her haste, only remembering to slow down as she passed under the cracked and weather-beaten ‘Farsing Farms’ sign that hung from a large wooden beam over the road. Placid sheep wandered from the car’s path, and continued on their way with some indefinable purpose. Avoiding the assorted barnyard fowl, she passed the main house and aimed the car toward the small cabin.
Light burned in the loft window, and Jae smiled, her own purpose very definable. Before she could get out of the car, her cell phone chirped, the volume increasing as she struggled to free it from the front pocket of her commuter bag. "Cavanaugh."
"Did you get a chance to finish going over the numbers?" Caitlyn Waters characteristically skipped the hello, how was the trip and plunged directly into business.
"And?" Cait prompted.
"And I haven't had a chance to dicuss them with Reed, but from my end it looks good." Not quite a lie. In truth she'd had the chance, but not the inclination. She sighed inwardly. Actually, she was flat out too scared to broach any topic that had a future tense associated with it. Now was hard enough to manage.
"We're going to lose it if we don't make a decision soon. It's a good project."
"I know, Cait. I'll talk to her this weekend." Caitlyn was right to push. It wasn't just her company anymore. In giving Caitlyn Waters a stake in the production company along with a promotion, Jae had forfeited the privilege of dithering over a project. On the bright side, at least Cait had given up questioning Jae's desire to include Reed in the project. "Bye." She hung up, knowing that she had nothing else to say and that Cait wouldn't take it personally.
As much as she wanted to see Reed, to crawl under the down comforter, she didn’t hurry. Instead, she took her time; partly to let a week's worth of her own anticipation crest, and partly to tease the woman waiting upstairs.
It was just getting dark, the days beginning to shorten noticeably as summer turned to fall. Jae stopped unlacing her shoe and looked out into the graying sky. Had it really only been a year? Reflexively, she looked around the living room of the cabin spotting traces of her presence: a few knick-knacks, a couple of CDs, some videocassettes, a novel - not much considering, and an entirely different question occurred to her. Has it been that long?
Yes, to both, she thought.
Reed propped herself up on her elbows, watching Jae. Blonde brows were furrowed in absolute concentration, every ounce of attention centered on what she was doing. They had only been lovers a few short months and in the sporadic moments available to them, they had yet to get to familiarity; everything still seemed new. Reed hadn't really needed Jae to teach her that she was a bit of a voyeur, but she was definitely enjoying the remedial course. Very much.
Jae noticed that she was watching and moved up her body, trailing kisses across all the exposed skin within reach.
"Kiss me." Reed asked. It hadn't been at all difficult to kill old taboos and fears and slide into a life that she'd never imagined. In fact, it had been so easy, it frightened her occasionally. The part of her brain that was still capable of rational thought turned the idea over, and examined it. Not frightening exactly, but not safe either. Jae bit down slightly on the skin just under her jaw and Reed lost the thought; she didn't bother to chase it.
Using her size to an advantage, she rolled on top of Jae, one hand more than enough to pin both of the blonde’s in place. "Let me." Part of her wanted to dive in - she enjoyed this facet of their lovemaking as fully as she had others - but the mischievous part of her took over. With what she thought had to be excruciating slowness, Reed thoroughly worked her way down, listening for the telltale hitch in Jae’s breathing.
It didn’t take long. "Please."
Reed didn’t make Jae beg. Later for that.
Later came, but not quite as she planned. It wasn’t something she could put her finger on exactly, just a vague disquiet, and an awareness that the tension that had sprung up between the two of them over the last month was still there. She snorted. Lie to everyone else, but never to yourself. It wasn't vague. It was a damned herd of white elephants. Some were parked in the metaphorical living room as tradition demanded, but in truth, most of them lived in the bedroom of one happily clueless little boy.
Careful not to wake Jae, she slid out of the bed and climbed down the loft ladder. Out of habit she checked Rio’s room, belatedly remembering that he was at Heidi and Geoff’s for the night.
On his bed was a package and she wondered what expensive present Jae had produced this time. For some reason, Jae seemed to think that she had to buy Rio’s continued acceptance of her in his mother’s life.
Reed studied the pattern on the wrapping paper, maybe it was her acceptance of Jae’s role in Rio’s life that the director was trying to buy. Mercifully, they hadn’t argued about it tonight. Yet. But then, you didn't argue about white elephants did you? You ignored them.
Leaving the bedroom behind, she went into the living room, amused to note that Jae had lit a fire before coming up to bed. If Jae needed a fire in September, they were going to need their own private inferno by December, or she would freeze to death in her first Maine winter.
Reed stopped, then sat on the edge of the hearth. She’d just assumed that Jae would be around for the winter, but they hadn’t really talked about it. Couldn’t talk about it at all really, because any talk about the future led to talk about telling Rio the truth about their relationship and she wasn’t prepared to do that. It was also a rather moot point. Neither of them were going to be around for most of the winter. She in New Zealand filming, and Jae back in LA, directing a new movie. Damn.
She picked a picture up from the mantle. It had been taken in the hospital just before Riordan's release. Her son was leaning back against Jae, both of them absorbed by something just out of range of the camera, identical looks of concentration on their faces. She traced her fingers over the faces of the two people she loved most in the world and smiled.
Maybe it was time he knew. And maybe it would ease some of the tensions.
Quietly she pulled on a pair of sweat pants and a shirt. Her shoes in one hand, Reed shut the door with the other and started toward the beach. Maybe it was time to take a few more risks.
The shutter closed, capturing another image. They were on the beach now. The Boy too. He was the key. Get to the boy and she would follow.
They were different when the boy was around. Less painful to watch.
Watching was important.
The Boy was important.
He had a name. Riordan Liam Lewis. It was easier to think of him as The Boy.
Just in case.
"No peeking." Reed carefully climbed the short slope from the beach then reached back to help Jae over the ridge.
"Would I do that?"
"Yes." Avoiding the rope strung between marker pins, she guided them inside the boundary and turned her companion to face the sea, moving so that Jae was leaning against her.
The wind had picked up a little, whitecaps dancing on the edges of the growing waves and her hair was whipping around her ears, tangling. Reed wrapped her arms around Jae, who in turn brought her hands up to enclose Reed’s. It was a moment she wanted to hide away and save for later, to take out and enjoy during one of the late nights when she was one place and Jae was another. With one hand she tugged on the scarf, gently freeing Jae from temporary blindness.
Reed followed Jae’s eyes with her own, amused. To their front a large, rectangular gazebo had been erected, its elevated platform enclosed in screen. and elevated slightly. It was clear that the director didn’t know what to make of it. "What do you think of the view?"
"Mmm. It’s lovely."
Reed swallowed. In her head she heard words that were much more romantic. More permanent. The words just wouldn't flow out the way she wanted them too. "I was thinking it might be time to build a bigger place." The cabin was too small to afford them much privacy, and when Jae stayed over it meant playing musical bedrooms. It was a game she ended up feeling guilty over - to her, sending Rio to Heidi’s for the night meant he lost - though to him it was a normal part of how his life worked. A bigger house would mean no more shuffling Rio off to Heidi and Geoff on the nights they wanted to spend together.
Jae turned slightly so that they were facing each other. "What about Rio?"
Reed pulled Jae closer, letting their lips meet. No more stolen kisses either.
"He gets his own room." Right now he was on the beach, arranging driftwood to form a rudimentary raft. She looked back at Jae, who was watching her intently. "You're right. But not yet. Later."
It was a major sticking point between them, between all of them really. Jae and Geoff feeling that the sooner someone told Rio the less awkward it was going to be in the long run, while she and Heidi had, for completely different reasons decided against it.
Jae looked surprised, then shook her head. "He’s gonna figure it out sooner rather than later."
"Then we’ll deal with it then."
"He’s too young to understand."
"You’re not giving him enough credit."
Reed watched her son lash several logs together. The wind was wreaking havoc with his curls, and every few minutes he’d sweep his fingers through his hair to get it out of his eyes. "Maybe. But maybe it won’t be an issue if we don’t make it one. He loves you, he knows I love you. Isn’t that enough?"
"I love him too." Jae turned her collar up and buttoned the wool pea coat. "And I love you. Even if I think you’re wrong about this. I just hate all the sneaking around."
"No more sneaking around." For emphasis, she kissed Jae again. "But you have to learn to be a lot quieter."
"Me?" Jae protested.
"Yes. You." For some reason, Jae refused to believe that she was extremely vocal. Maybe she'd have to set the camera up one night, just to prove her point.
The wind picked up. Jae shivered and pulled the hood of her jacket up. "So, how many fireplaces is this place going to have?"
Reed let her change the subject. The herd had shrunk and that was enough for her. "As many as you want."
The campfire had died down, but continued to radiate heat, well banked against the slight breeze and protected by a large stone circle. Idly Jae poked at a log, watching the orange glow intensify as more oxygen hit it, then settle back to a dull gleam. Surf pounded against the beach just beyond her range of vision, the moonless night keeping the shoreline cloaked. They were sitting next to the gazebo, neither of them in any hurry to leave the beach.
It had been a surprise. She'd known that Reed was planning on moving out of the cabin, and that some of the land on the farm had been earmarked for the new house, she just hadn't expected to be included in the process. Hadn't dared to hope. And, she acknowledged to herself, she had been hoping hadn't she? Did Reed know that she'd never lived with anyone else before? Romantically, she mentally amended. So many things left unsaid between them, so many secrets, things half-seen and acknowledged. What she felt was strong, real, it had to be, cause she'd never felt anything like before, but it was fragile too. Almost as if they named it, defined it, then it would begin to break, fade. Fear clutched her, before she took a deep breath and shooed back into the darkness. It was too real to just break, and too important not to work at keeping it from fading.
Reed shifted in her sleep, the movement bunching the sleeping bag under them. Jae held her breath, trying not to move. The tightness in the body nestled against her, told Jae it could go either way. Reed would slip back into sleep or be caught in another nightmare. She began to rub the small of Reed’s back, trying to ease away the knots and tip the balance toward sleep.
Slowly, she felt Reed relax, but didn’t stop the small circles, wanting to prolong the contact, to somehow store enough touches to get her through the next six weeks. In two days Reed would leave for New Zealand and three days after that she would be back in Los Angeles ready to start principal photography on her own picture. Smack in the middle of all that would be Tropical Storm’s wide release.
They’d held off releasing it hoping to catch the holiday market. Opening opposite a slate largely composed of thrillers and action pictures meant it should fill a vacuum and carve a niche for itself.
And she didn’t give a damn. Couldn’t get excited about something that was taking her away from where she really wanted to be. She didn’t want to be in Los Angeles. She wanted to be here; wanted to explore what they were building between them. They hadn’t spent longer than two weeks together in the last three months, and even half that time they had to be careful.
But tonight it was just the two of them.
And a few stars. Perfect.
Close enough to touch. To smell.
Close enough to hear.
Red light spilled over the chemical baths, further distorting the images.
One by one they were added to the clothesline strung across the room. Slowly, bottom corners shed the last of their fluid burdens, leaving each picture shiny and dry.
It was all about composition; objects, light, people.
The photopaper ripped easily, each ragged piece dropping to the floor, captured by the droplets of fluid, prevented from skittering any further.
Compositions could be changed.
Jae was moving against her hand, pressing back against her, waking up. Reed increased the tempo, trying to coax a moan from her lover. "Jacqueline...." She drew the syllables out, aware of the effect her voice had.
She knew the instant that Jae crossed into wakefulness, felt the increase in presence as surely as she felt the increase of moisture coating her fingers. The side of Jae’s neck tasted faintly of salt, and she drank in the mixture of wood-smoke tinged with vanilla that clung over them, carrying pleasant memories of the night before. "I love you."
That was all it took. Jae shivered and bucked. But she wasn’t ready to stop yet and somehow she knew Jae wasn’t either.
Without shifting positions, she increased her own motion. Jae’s leg slipped backwards, a muscular thigh giving her something to press against. Reed buried her face in the nape of Jae’s neck, feeling the racing pulse through the soft skin. "Jacqueline…."
Her own arousal was growing, the intensity again surprised her. And the more Jae responded, the more it grew, until she found it almost impossible to concentrate on Jae’s pleasure and gave into her own.
She found the tendon at the base of Jae’s neck and closed her teeth around the cord. The effect was electric.
"Turn around." Jae whispered.
Hands roamed over her chest, along her sides and back again, lingering for fleeting seconds before touching down somewhere else, never falling where she expected.
That was the difference. Before Jae she had never really been touched. Not in love.
"Trust me Reed." Jae’s fingers entwined with hers, pulling her hand lower. "Help me."
The whispers sent shivers along the sensitive skin below her ear, though whether it was from the warmth of Jae’s breath or the words themselves she wasn’t sure.
Reed circled the small nub, enjoying the sensations but not expecting it to be different this time that any of the others, content to be held.
She swallowed her hesitation and guided Jae’s fingers lower. "Inside. Please."
Jae kissed along the side of her jaw and their mouths met. Somehow she hadn’t stopped the gentle stroking of skin, her hands seeming to be everywhere at once.
Then she lost track of everything except the sense of being held, cradled, and when she finally was able to sort out the tangle of emotion, it was to hear Jae’s voice. "I’ve got you."
The cabin was empty.
Stumped, Rio paused in thought, tongue poking slightly out of his mouth as he concentrated. It wasn’t like Mum and Jae to disappear without telling him. It wasn’t even eight o’clock in the morning yet. Maybe they went to the new house.
He got the thermos out of the cupboard, then stopped. The stove was off-limits without an adult. Rio started back toward the big house. "Aunt Hei --" That wouldn’t work. She’d say no and tell him to come back inside. Like a baby.
The stove was out, and the coffee maker had too many buttons. That left the old fashioned way. Pulling a kitchen chair across the hardwood floor, Rio lined it up with the cupboard and clambered onto the stainless steel countertop. The coffee grinder was where he remembered. Hmm, doesn’t smell like peanut butter anymore. Cool.
He couldn’t find the coffee.
A zillion kinds of tea were stacked in boxes and tins, piled high on the wooden shelf next to the fridge, and Rio lifted the Bodum down, careful not to break the glass or knock over anything else. He set it aside and resumed searching for the coffee. One blue container yielded a clump of pink candy wishbones. It took a couple of whacks with the end of a spoon, but one finally broke free. Happily, he popped it into his mouth, tucking it against one cheek and continued opening containers. Which were much easier to open than close.
The electric kettle was hiding in the cupboard next to the stove. Rio filled it with a thermos full of water, then added a bit to be safe, before plugging it in next to the toaster. He was allowed to use that.
He couldn’t find any bread.
Some surprise this was going to be.
"I will adapt." Rio giggled, and opened the freezer. Ice cream was as good as coffee. At least to Mum.
He found the coffee.
The ground was squeaking. Jae opened an eye, one hand blocking the light. Squeaking? That can’t be right. Easing herself back from Reed slightly, Jae strained to hear the noise again, partly afraid she’d rolled onto a baby field mouse or something. Not that she really wanted to know it if she had, but she’d heard the noise and now she needed to know what made it.
This time the squeak was accompanied by a dull clang.
Puzzled, she listened again, before realizing that it wasn’t the bed that was squeaking.
Someone was coming.
Without thinking, Jae leaped from her warm nest. Frantic, she grabbed her clothes from their resting place. The clanging of the bell warred with the sound of her breath in her ears, both noises too loud for comfort.
If Rio came around that bend…
If Rio came around that bend, he’d find his mother sleeping peacefully, something Jae was sure he’d seen before. She had her own pants, but Reed’s shirt; fortunately, that was something Rio had seen before too.
It took her a minute to realize that there were tears on both cheeks. It took a few seconds more before she realized that it was too late to move. Rio had arrived. Angrily, she wiped the tears away. She didn’t have time for this right now.
"Jae! Jae! Up here!" Rio called, unnecessarily, she thought.
Jae chided herself for the uncharitable thought. It wasn’t his fault. "Morning, Tiger." Forcing a smile, she waved back and slid on the shirt as non-chalantly as possible.
Indicating Reed, she held a finger up to her lips. Rio immediately parked the sheep and tip-toed the rest of the way. His movements were exaggerated and cartoon-like. In his haste to take care, Jae was sure he made more noise than he would have if she hadn't said anything at all.
Jae watched the tableau, her own sense of the absurd kicking. Rio was standing over his mother, one foot on each side of the sleeping bag.
She took it all in; the furtive way Reed glanced around her; the look of relief; and finally the guilty look as Reed spotted her watching them. It was too much. Jae smiled wanly at Reed and ruffled Rio’s hair. "I’ll see you guys in a bit."
The walk back to the house passed too quickly. In need of time to think and some separation from what she was feeling, she changed into her running gear and headed away from the farm.
Fall was beginning to show in the trees, hints of red and gold visible over the green of maples and birches. A car came toward her, slowed, then sped past, the driver considerate enough not to spew road dust and gravel at her. Running on the backroads of Maine beat running on the smog layered roads of LA or the canned air of indoor tracks.
A couple of miles from the farm, the rhythm lulled her into thought. Nothing was perfect she supposed. And its not like kids are supposed to know their parents are having sex.
Jae increased her pace. Reed was leaving for New Zealand tomorrow and this was no time to press an issue that they had already agreed to address. Besides, she told herself, Rio had a surfeit of parents.
An arrangement that suited her fine.
Reed turned away from watching Jae leave, aware that Rio was speaking to her.
"I made coffee." He was flushed with pride.
Mustering an enthusiasm she didn’t really feel, she smiled warmly. It wasn’t his fault. "Give me half a second to throw on some pants, and I’ll have a cup."
He hopped over the sleeping bag and sat on a nearby log, immediately beginning to pick at the lose bark.
Entranced, she watched him, pants momentarily forgotten. Without the scar on his chest, there was no evidence that he’d ever been sick. The summer had seen him add two inches and ten pounds to his frame. Reed smiled to herself. He’d also added a small scar to his chin and several to his knees.
At nine, he was normal.
For that, she was grateful enough to drink his offering, and hope that Heidi had helped him make it. "All ready, kiddo."
"Is Jae mad at me?"
Reed knew Jae wasn’t angry with Rio, but she also knew that his surprise visit was the trigger for Jae leaving. "No. She’s not angry with you."
It was clear from the look on his face that he didn’t understand. "Mornings are tough for Jae." It wasn’t a lie and it would get her out of the conversation.
"Is she having a baby?"
Reed blinked. "No." Then, unable to resist, added, "why?"
"Tim's mom had tough mornings and that's how Jenelle got borned."
Oh boy. With a slow uncertainty Reed became aware of two disparate things: conversations with Riordan would never again simple, and her nose was starting to bleed. "C'mere."
He scampered over, looking at her expectantly. She turned her body to make room for Rio on the sleeping bag, surreptitiously dabbing the corner of one nostril in the process. "Nah, Jae's morning cranky, not morning pukey." Reed ruffled his hair and pointed at the thermos. "Do you want to pour or should I?"
Distracted, Rio leaned over and picked up the thermos. "I’ll do it."
Reed watched, amused, as he unscrewed the lid then began to carefully pour the hot coffee. She focused on him and laid her disquiet aside, aware that the reprieve was only temporary. When she got back from filming, she, Rio and Jae were going to have talk.
Carefully balancing the detritus of the their impromptu beach camp out, Reed crossed the threshold of the cabin, neatly sidestepping Jae's running shoes. At least she thought they were Jae's. A quick second look confirmed her original assumption, they were definitely Jae's, though by size alone, they could just as easily have been Rio's. Jae was right about one thing - he was growing.
Problem was, that didn't actually make things easier. In fact, it made them harder. Young children accepted the things and people around them unquestionably. They weren't interested in politics or pulpits. She dropped part of her load in the small area just inside the door that passed for a traditional New England mudroom, and took the now empty thermos into the kitchen.
She could hear the shower running, so she piled things on the counter, pushing aside the mischievous urge to cut off the hot water supply in favour of an urge of another kind. Reed smiled, the dishes could wait.
Reed wasn't sure what she was going to do if the bathroom door was locked, but she had a few ideas as to what to do if it wasn't. The knob turned easily in her hand and every thought evaporated as the door swung wide, revealing Jae's shadowy form.
Wow. She could feel the tingles leave her stomach and crawl over her skin, every nerve had fired and they were all centered on the woman in the shower.
She opened her mouth to reply and found that her tongue had gone dry. A forced swallow later she found her voice, "yeah." It wasn't quite a whisper, but she wasn't sure that Jae would be able to hear over the rushing water. "It's me." Without thinking she peeled out of her clothes and stepped into the shower. "Need your back washed?"
Jae must have picked up some of her intensity because the blonde raised a questioning eyebrow. "You okay?"
"You're beautiful." Came out instead of the habitual fine, and she meant it. "You are beautiful, Jae." She leaned down slightly, not caring that the spray was directly in her eyes and nose, and planted a row of kisses along Jae's jawline, ending at the junction of a perfect ear. Hair tickled her nose and she drew back a couple of inches. "You need a haircut."
"No." She didn't think they'd be getting to it anytime soon either.
Somehow, neither of them drowned and she couldn't quite remember exchanging the shower for the bed, but the tingles still running the length of her body bore testament to the thoroughness of the process. Three months. Reed growled low in her throat.
"Roo?" Jae propped herself up on one elbow, her other hand finding a swath of exposed skin over which to swirl her fingers.
"You don't usually growl. At least not like that."
"Oh? And how do I growl?"
Jae traded fingers for lips and traced a series of arcs along the line where the sheet fell away.
"That's not going to make me growl." She shuddered as Jae's breath swept over her naval.
"Growl? Who's trying to make you growl? I had something else in mind."
Reed tried to laugh but lost it as another ripple coursed across her skin and turned the sound into a low moan.
When she could breathe steadily again, she turned to face Jae, her fingers tangling in the curls beginning to form in the hair at the base of Jae's neck. "You're never going get a haircut if we keep this up." She ruffled Jae's hair, noticing that it was still damp from the shower.
Green eyes focused on her intently, Jae's face suddenly serious. "I can wait three months for a haircut, but I don't think I can wait three months to touch you again."
Reed moved until they were tangled together. "Me
And it was true. She had no idea how she was going to get through
the next three months without Jae. "Hey," she whispered, throat
"I love you," then ducked her head to capture Jae's lips again,
to spin three hours worth of contact into something solid enough for
both to hang onto.
~ TWO ~
The airline ticket rested on the table, all that remained was to wait.
Slowly, more from habit than any true desire to be deliberate, clothes were laid in the small suitcase. As an after thought an extra pair of shoes were wedged carefully along the top. Into each of these, more canisters of film were hidden, seven in all.
Seven was magic.
A manila envelope was next. It went into a sturdy leather briefcase, along with the ticket. The smell of the leather was reassuring; comfortable. It had been bestowed to an elder, along with a class roster and a chit for school supplies forty years ago and then passed down upon graduation. It wasn’t suitable for the camera and lenses; they would go in another bag. But it was important just the same.
Packing complete, there was nothing to do but retire for the evening. The small room was barren of distraction now that the pictures that had lined the walls were safely tucked away.
It was time to sleep. Giddy, a half remembered quote stole into the air as disused vocal chords spoke the words aloud. "[sleep/dream quote]
Jae trailed along a step behind Reed and Rio, feeling impossibly out of place. It might have been easier if the airport wasn't so deserted, but somehow she doubted it.
They passed easily through the lone gate, and the small plane that would take Reed to Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles then finally onward to New Zealand, was already waiting on the tarmac.
The time for good-byes was limited and she knew that Riordan had first dibs on what little remained. Which was exactly how it should be, she knew, but still couldn't quite silence the part that made her wish that her eyes would be last ones Reed looked into before boarding the plane.
"Hey, Tigger." Reed looked at her over the top of Rio's head.
"Hey, Roo." A secret code, all their own, flashing in recognition that it was a difficult moment.
Jae stepped forward surprised to be so publicly folded into Reed's arms.
"I love you, Jacqueline." The low words thrummed against her ear, the vibration sending a shiver down her spine. Her name sounded as wonderful now as it had the first time she'd heard Reed use it, and the tones washed away the disquiet that had been haunting her since leaving the cabin.
She turned her head slightly, angling her chin upwards. "I love you too," she whispered. "Try not to torture the stewardesses, okay?"
Reed laughed, and pulled back. "Wouldn't dream of it." She loosened her grip but didn't completely let go so Jae stayed in place, enjoying the last warmth they'd share in person until Reed returned. "Not too many all nighters, alright?"
It was her turn to laugh. "Wouldn't dream of it." But she was lying and they both knew it. Some habits were harder to break than others, and Jae was pretty sure that a sixty million dollar budget guaranteed a film that would demand more than one all nighter before she finished her duties as director.
Then, before any of them was ready, the final boarding call was made, and she and Rio were left to watch the retreating back of Reed Lewis. They stood together, his hand clasped in hers, until the plane had swallowed Reed up, then slowly began a retreat of their own, toward the parking lot, and the long drive home.
Belately, she remembered that she still hadn't talked to Reed about the script option. No help for it now.
The farm was quiet and dark, no lights shone from the peak of the barn roof, and only a single light, muted by curtains, glowed from the main house. Jae's first impulse was to wake Rio, but she decided that maybe it would be better to go and see if Heidi and Geoff had waited up for their return, or whether or not the brief detour through a truck stop just outside of Eastport had pushed their arrival too late for personal greetings.
If it had, then she might as well put Rio to bed in the cabin and drop him off to Geoff in the morning. Either way, it wouldn't phase him. He was used to staying at the Chappelle residence with Heidi and Geoff.
A quick glance at the chronometer made her decide not to take him to the main house. Eleven o'clock seemed too late to knock on someone's door. The Chappelle's might be surrogate parents to Rio, and Reed's best friends, but to her they were virtual strangers.
"Hey kiddo. Wake up, Rio." She shook him gently, to no avail. Crossing around to the passenger side, she unbuckled his belt, unhooked the child restraint, and slid her arms under him, careful not to bump his head on the door frame as she lifted him out.
He never woke as she tucked him into his bed, and Jae let herself linger for a moment as she finished straightening the blankets. They wouldn't stay that way of course, but she enjoyed the brief instant of repose. "I'm going to miss you kiddo."
It all looked the same. No change in anything but size, and even that was hard to gauge. Suburbs sprawled out, separate, yet part of the whole. The airport had changed, and that was a problem. New gates, new security; new risks.
Risk was acceptable.
Reed got off the plane. It had been a decent flight, as short hoppers went. The small packet of chocolate orange wedges had gone a long way to improve the experience. She'd found it tucked in the side pocket of her cargo pants, and couldn't for the life of her figure out how it had gotten there without her noticing. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, she'd promptly stuffed a slice of the chocolate into hers before uncrumpling the note. The chocolate was long gone and the note was carefully tucked into someplace she was sure she wouldn't lose it, and that wouldn't accidentally end up in the hotel laundry. She took out her cell and keyed in a response. 'I'm always nice.'
She could hear Jae's reply as though the director was standing next to her, instead of being sound asleep three thousand miles away. 'Liar.'
The imaginary exchange made her feel better and she set out earnestly in the direction of her next flight. It wasn't until she was crossing the last expanse of the old terminal that she was able to identify the source of the nagging deja vu that had seemed to follow her most of the day. A year ago she'd made the same trip. Maine to Boston, Boston to LA. Los Angeles.
Reed grinned wryly. She hadn't gotten out of Dodge fast enough after all. Not, of course, that she'd have it any other way. But it sure as hell hadn't been easy. She cut a path through the crowd, her long legs propelling her easily through the small spaces that opened unpredictably in front of her. Still wasn't easy, she acknowledged. And just when did you get so fucking introspective? Reed ignored the mocking little voice, usually it was worth listening too, but today she was out of sorts and that never went anyplace good. Instead she followed her original line of thought, much as she followed the crowd headed for the red-eye to New Zealand, not easy, but worth it.
And then the voice was back. You hope.
Jae felt that something was wrong the instant she walked into the farmhouse. Rio must have felt it too, because he stopped as suddenly as she did, and didn't let go of her hand.
"Geoff?" she addressed Heidi's husband, and tried to brush aside the panic that wanted to rise up. It couldn't be Reed. Could it? She'd gotten a text message at about 3 a.m., and Reed's plane would still be enroute. Wasn't it?
Geoff still hadn't answered, as though he didn't know quite what to say, but before Jae could spiral any deeper into the rising dread, he spoke. "We've had some bad news." He faltered, then continued. "It's Heidi's mother."
"I'm so sorry." And she was, but that didn't stop the selfish ball of relief from untangling the knot in her stomach. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Yes." Geoff answered.
Heidi shook her head. "No."
The Chapelle's answers were unsurprisingly contradictory. What did did surprise Jae was the depth of despair that rang through Heidi's refusal. The veterinarian had captured more emotion and meaning in one word than most trained actors ever managed. The dark look Heidi shot her husband also told Jae a great deal. The yes and no was related to Rio. Jae suspected that she and Heidi would have gotten along perfectly if it had only been Reed that she was involved with. But it wasn't, and none of them could change that.
She bent down and whispered into Rio's ear. "Can you give us a few minutes, Tiger?"
He didn't argue, just nodded solemnly, crossed the kitchen to give Heidi a hug then disappeared around the corner that led to his room.
Jae just waited. She'd be happy to watch the farm for them until they could get a locum to cover things. She hadn't planned to leave for a day or two anyway, and an extra couple wouldn't be a problem either. A lot of her work could be done remotely - at least for the next week. Jae didn't know much about animals, but she was pretty confident she could keep them from starving.
The silence continued and she finally had to break it. It was too cloying, she'd rather risk provoking Heidi, than to suffocate under the tension and fear. "When are you leaving?"
Heidi whispered. "Now. I mean today. Soon."
Jae nodded. "I'll go get Rio packed." She turned for the door.
Jae turned back to face them.
"I can't take him with me. Mom's too sick." Heidi refused to look at her.
Jae looked between the two of the them, and spoke before she even realized she'd made a decision. "I'll take him."
"No fucking way." Heidi snapped.
She'd expected opposition, even anger, but the vehement rejection shocked her.
Geoff cut in, one hand lightly rubbing his wife's shoulders, "Heidi --"
He continued, kneeling to make eye contact. "You know there's no one else. I'm not letting you go alone, we can't take him with us, and even if Reed gets on the next plane home, she's still 36 hours away."
Heidi's response was to nod and bow her head, nestling herself into Geoff's shoulder.
Geoff looked up and Jae read the silent apology along with relief. "Thanks Jae. We've left messages for Reed, she'll be back in a couple of days."
Jae knew that was true. Reed would drop everything for her son, but that wasn't what she'd meant when she'd said she'd take Rio. Reed didn't need to come back. Wisely, she kept her own counsel, she'd talk to Reed and they'd work out something. "I'll sort the details out when she calls."
"Reed, I can do this. It's not like there's two of him."
Jae sounded confident, and Reed had to acknowledge that compared to Jae's niece and nephew, managing Rio was a breeze. He adored her, and maybe given the situation it wasn't such a bad arrangement. "You're sure about this?" Under the circumstances, she was positive she could get a couple of days to go and collect her son.
"It'll be fine," there was a pause, "I miss you."
"Already?" Reed shifted on the hotel bed, looking around the room and thinking of a different room all together. "I miss you too. I think I started missing you before I even left. Corny hunh?"
"Then colour me peaches and cream."
"Well, you are edible." She stilled her breathing, wanting to hear Jae's reaction, pleased when she caught the tell tale hitch on the other end of the line.
"Rio is still sitting roughly five feet away, so I'm going to change the subject and ask you how your flight was, before I get us both into trouble."
"I ran out of chocolate. They ran out of milk." She shrugged even though she knew Jae couldn't actually see her.
"Did you kill any of them?"
"Nah. Customs is tough enough without explaining a dead stewardess. I spent most of the flight going over the script." As if speaking of the movie summoned its awareness, someone rapped on her door, and she looked at her watch, realizing she was late. "Hey, I have to run."
"Yeah." She stood up and grabbed her room key. "Talk to you later?"
"Definitely. Love you."
"I love you, too." Reed put the receiver down and headed for
door, wondering how long she had to wait before it was officially
Jae took one last scan of the doors then turned her back on the crowded arrival gate, careful to keep Rio in her line of sight. He was slumped in a chair, tired, but mustering all the reserves his nine year old body possessed to keep from falling asleep. His dark curls were flattened on one side and he looked as though if given half a chance he'd happily lie down on the floor and flatten the other side. Next to him, their bags were piled and Jae was glad that she'd had the foresight to FedEx most of their luggage.
Frustrated, she dragged a hand through her hair, annoyed when she had to shake a few blonde hairs onto the ground. She dug into her pack until she found the slim phone and pulled it out. One quick tap and the phone began to ring. The ringing stopped and it sounded like it had been picked up, but nothing came through, so she disconnected and tried again. Two rings and it was again picked up.
"Where are you?" Jae snapped, more peevishly than she'd intended.
"O Christ! Jae."
"No. But if you don't get here soon I may crucify you." Now that she had finally reached the unusually elusive Caitlynn Waters, Jae relaxedly slid into an empty chair next to Rio. She wouldn't actually crucify Cait, and Jae suspected that Cait was well aware of how valuable she was as both a business partner and a friend.
"I'm on my way, Jae, I'm so sorry, I, ah, forgot." Soft, scrapping noises and what sounded like a hushed voice came back through the phone. "Do you need anything on the way?" The unmistakable sound of rushing water muted the last of her words.
Jae considered. She needed coffee, but she could get that here in the airport. Was there anything else they needed? She'd asked Antonia to pick up some groceries, but she wasn't entirely sure what the housekeeper would have picked up; it wasn't as if she normally cooked. "No, if I think of anything, we'll stop on the way home. Just hurry." She felt a little guilty that she had interrupted something that left Cait needing a shower, but considering she had just dragged a child across the continental US, not quite guilty enough to apologize.
The phone went back into the backpack and Jae leaned back, closing her eyes for a second.
"Jae?" Rio sounded as sleepy as he looked.
"Yeah, babe." She opened one eye to look at him.
"Is Ms. Waters coming?"
"If she knows what's good for her she is." Jae sat up. "She'll be here soon. You okay?" He'd been a real trooper, polite and compared to most of the other children she'd seen over the course of the day, a virtual paragon of well-behaved. She leaned over and kissed the top of his head.
"Can I have something to drink?"
"Sure. I'm in dire need of a coffee myself." She stood up, slinging her pack over her shoulder and grabbing his duffel with her left hand. Smiling, she held out her right hand for him to take.
"Me too." He was swinging her hand slightly and she let him steer them toward a likely looking spot.
"You too what?"
He gave half a hop over a seam in the tiles as they arrived at a coffee bar. "Coffee."
"Oh no, Tiger. I don't think so." She dropped his bag at her feet and dug in her pocket for a couple of crumpled bills she'd shoved there after their last pit stop.
"Mum lets me." Rio looked up at her.
Jae sighed. She was pretty sure that no way, no how, had Reed ever let her son drink coffee. "Hot chocolate?" He looked disappointed, blue eyes staring solemnly back at her. "With whipped cream?"
He nodded and she placed the order. "Large latte, and a medium hot chocolate with whipped cream, please." She watched the clerk lift up a jug of chocolate milk and pour it into a steamer. Maybe she should have let him have the coffee; the caffeine had to be less dangerous than all the sugar that he was about to get.
She paid and handed Rio his drink, adding a sleeve so that it wouldn't burn him. Her coffee was ready a moment later and she guided them back to the arrivals lounge they'd been in earlier. He flopped back in his chair, suddenly looking so much like his mother that she had to blink. Rio had drawn his left knee up to his chin, foot on the chair, and was delicately sipping at the foam leaking through the lip of his cup. She'd seen Reed sit the same way, somehow folding her nearly six foot frame into place, looking comfortable no matter what the surroundings.
Jae wondered what Reed was doing now, whether her lover was through the endless round of costume fittings yet, or if they had started rehearsals. They had probably started rehearsals before costuming was finished with the alterations to Reed's wardrobe. She smiled, recalling their previous night's conversation. Nothing had quite fit the statuesque actress, and Reed had lazily drawled her impression of the Costume designer. 'My you're a big one.' Jae had heard the worry under the light words and had reassured the actress that she hadn't gotten fat - just put on some muscle in unexpected places. Her physically active lifestyle had begun to rub off on Reed, and Jae had to admit that she liked sharing that part of her life.
Watching the entry to the lounge, Jae smiled as she saw Cait hurrying toward them. Normally exquisitely groomed, Cait looked frightful, painting a very clear picture of just how sorry her assistant was that she'd forgotten to pick them up. Caitlynn Waters never went anywhere with her hair untouched. Jae looked over at Rio. "Your camera handy?"
He nodded, and pulled it from the front pocket of his blue hoodie. She pointed at Cait. The flash went off just as Cait came through the entryway.
Jae grinned in partial reply. "Paybacks, Babe, paybacks." She stood as she spoke and pulled her best friend into a hug. Shorter than Jae herself, Cait nevertheless gave as good as she got and crushed Jae enthusiastically in return.
They broke apart and Cait looked over at Rio, then back at her, lifting an elegant eyebrow, as if to say she couldn't quite believe what she was seeing, despite the fact that she'd made the plane reservations. "Hello," Cait said, turning back to Rio. "Let's see if we can't get you guys home before you fall over."
"Hi." He stood up and put his satchel over his shoulder. "I'm not tired."
They moved to the car Cait had waiting and he was barely buckled in before he fell asleep. "Oh, no, kiddo, you're not tired at all." She reached out a hand and smoothed one of his curls out of his face. She looked up to find Cait staring at her. "What?"
Cait shook her head, and mouthed, "later."
Carrying their bags, Cait preceded Jae up the flagstone path to the house and unlocked the door. She stepped out of the way and let Jae move past her. The director was carrying the sleeping child, and was trying to maneuver down the hall without banging into a wall and waking him.
After deposting their bags in one corner of the under used kitchen, she opened the fridge and drew out two of the Coronas she found on a shelf. Cait considered for a moment then grabbed a lime from the wire basket hanging over the counter. Damned if she'd drink this crap without a lime in it. Silently, she made her way to the living room and put both drinks down on the mess that passed as a coffee table.
The linen couch prickled at her back and she smiled, thinking that if Jae knew what was good for her, she'd get rid of the thing before her new house guest could destroy it. Or maybe Rio would ruin it and then Jae would be forced to get a new one. She broke off thinking as Jae flopped down next to her, seemingly unaffected by the spectaculary uncomfortable surface.
"Hey." Jae took a long pull from her beer. "Thanks for coming."
"No problem. I really am sorry. I got sidetracked." Cait used Jae's favourite excuse on purpose, a shared shorthand for 'not now'. She didn't really want to discuss what she'd been doing, and she knew Jae well enough to know that if they started in on it, it wouldn't be dropped that easily, so she swiftly changed the subject, just in case. "Are you insane?"
Jae paused mid-swallow and lowered the bottle, both eyebrows raised in silent question.
"I mean Jesus, Jae, what are you going to do with a kid?" She'd been totally shocked when Jae had phoned needing her to switch the airplane reservations and cancel some appointments, and, in truth, hadn't believed that the director was really bringing Reed's son back with her until she'd seen him sitting in the airport.
Jae looked annoyed. "The same thing I'd do with Alex or Aine."
"What? Wind him up and send him to your mother to deal with?" Jae doted on her niece and nephew, no question, but Cait wasn't really sure if Jae appreciated the difference between pizza fueled weekend sleepovers and parenting. At the mention of her mother, Jae's face clouded over and Cait conceded that she'd probably taken the wrong tack.
"It's just temporary. We've got a couple of weeks before filming starts, by then everyone will have had time to sort something else out."
"And if it's not temporary?" Cait asked, thinking to herself that Jae definitely hadn't thought things through - and more than just playing baby-sitter. If Jae kept seeing Reed, then in no way, shape or form, was Rio's presence temporary. She loved her friend dearly, but the woman didn't have a great track record as far as long term relationships went. "Jesus Jae, you can't even ask her to make another movie with you."
"It'll be fine. He's nine." Jae spoke as if that fact was a complete explanation.
Cait shook her head, but decided to let it go, at least for now. "You're the boss." She held up her nearly finished beer, and drained it. "I'm out of here, the limo driver is probably going nuts."
She gave Jae another quick hug and left, barely waiting until she got into the car before dialing her phone. A soft hello greeted her and she slammed down the quick sense of guilt and smiled into the receiver. "You still up?"
"Good." Cait let the line go dead and stared out of the blackened windows, watching the bright lights that topped the freeway divider flash by. She supposed that she had no real right to castigate Jae about how complicated the director's life was becoming, not when she'd added a few complications to her own.
No right by a long shot.
Reed leaned against the faux rock, careful not to let her shoulder press into the surface. She had no actual lines in this scene, the existance of her character, Macalla the Doomed, as yet unrevealed by the storyline. Nevertheless, she stayed precisely on her mark, and let the scene roll around her. She tapped her own vein of natural curiousity and let her eyes flicker over the other cast members, studying their faces and mannerisms, just as the scene direction called for.
The cast was largely local, only one of two of the larger roles had been cast in the States, with a couple of Australians to round out the group. She'd read for the part on a whim, and had been pleasantly surprised when they'd offered it to her on the spot. Heavy on action and computer generated effects, The Riders promised to be a demanding film to produce, and Reed was looking forward to the experience. And, heh, what was not to like about playing a Queen with a destiny? She kept the mental grin from showing on her face, allowing only it's ghost a brief play across her lips, mindful of the characterization she wanted.
"Cut!" echoed across the set, ending the rehersal, and she stepped away from the wall, returning her features to their neutral mask. Four short strides and Reed joined her castmates, clustered around the director. She got a couple of polite nods and a few speculative looks, but nothing overtly hostile. It was a nice change, but then, she'd only been there three days; things could change.
Scene elements were discussed, none of it pertained to her and she let her attention drift away, choosing instead to gather in details of the cavern set. It looked impressive, but Reed was aware that a real cavern would not be as large - or as well lit as this one was going to appear on film. Finished speaking the director nodded at her, and she nodded back before turning to leave. She'd been spoiled. No matter how good Derek Cassman was as a director, Reed knew that, in her eyes, the robust, blond Australian would never measure up to one petite, blonde, American.
She glanced at her watch. Two-thirty p.m.. Reed did the calculations, adding three hours, but subtracting a day. It was only five thirty in LA., so there was no point in calling Jae's house; they wouldn't have arrived yet. She added the extra hour for Atlantic time over Eastern time and decided to check and see how Heidi was holding up.
Nimbly, she slid into the front of a waiting car, trusting the driver to remember which hotel he'd picked her up from earlier. Her hotel was close to the studio, more a collection of little townhouse units than a traditional hotel, and a couple of minutes later, they pulled through the gates into the circular drive. She got out of the car, nodded a thanks to the driver and headed for her room.
The front desk connected her with an outside line and she waited for the call to go through.
"Hello?" Heidi's voice sounded thick, and she hoped she hadn't woken the other woman.
"Hey," Reed said, "how is she?"
"Resting." A deep shaky breath followed the word and filled in the gist of what hadn't been said.
Reed swallowed. Anna Bradley had wanted to keep Reed with her family after the fire and only stubborn government beauracracy had defeated Heidi's mother; the Canadian authorities refused to issue the documents that Reed needed to stay in New Brunswick. And years later, when happenstance had brought Heidi and Reed to the same college, Anna had taken one look at her and wrapped her in a hug. What, she wondered, would her life had turned out like, if she'd gotten to stay with the Bradleys, or if she'd stayed in school, instead of letting her inner demons drive her out of their lives again? Her mind and heart answered at the same time. Not enough.
It wouldn't have been enough; there would have been no Rio, and no Jae. She tried never to concentrate on the past, preferring the present, but she felt a chunk of old resentment slide away.
She started. "I'm here." Reed took a deep breath of her own. "What does the doctor say?" A previously removed growth had spread from its origins in a saliva gland upward, and she feared the worst.
"Four to six weeks." Clipped words hiding the pain of their weighty pronouncement.
Jesus. Reed felt the sting in her eyes. She and Heidi had talked enough about death. It wasn't fair that they had to do it again so soon. "Then there's noth--"
"--they can do. No." Heidi's tone showed the tears that must be falling down her face. "And I don't think she wants them to."
Oh. Reed thought about that and knew that in the same situation, she'd want to be let go sooner rather than later, but that didn't make it any easier to hear. "Do you want me to come back?" Silence came through the phone and Reed realized that Heidi had assumed that she was coming back to get Rio.
"Where are you?"
That was, Reed knew, not the question being asked. Heidi knew where she was. "Jae and Rio are on their Way to LA." Maybe it was the intensity of her emotions, or maybe it was the safety that the physical distance between them afforded, but Reed spoke more plainly than she ever had. "I love her, Heidi. Every piece of me knows when I look at her that if I shattered and she picked up the shards, not one piece would be lost and only she could put me back together again." Silence filled the space where her words trailed off. "Nothing I'd ever been told about this touches a fraction of what I feel." More silence, but this time it felt thoughtful rather than angry.
"Tell her to call and let me know they arrived okay."
"I will. Give your mom a hug from me."
"Poetry and a hug?"
Poetry? She hadn't said anything poetic had she? Reed ignored the jibe. "Call me if you need to talk, and give my love to Geoff."
"Ayuh. Behave yourself down there."
She let the phone slowly drop back on to its ancient cradle, and stretched out on the bed. A fan hung from the ceiling and she watched its blades whirl around, remembering the last time she'd lain in a hotel room mesmerized by a twirling fan. The night the sudden shocking reality had hit; the night she realized that she was in love with Jae. The night that she'd been left grappling with the realization that she was gay. It had taken her mind longer to accept the truth that her heart and body already knew.
Her words played over again in her mind and she realized that she'd said them to the wrong person. Would Jae understand? Or would it be too much? It didn't matter. Now that she had the words, she wanted to shout them out loud; they wanted to bubble out and burst from her heart into the solid reality of her voice. Reed looked over at the small clock, squinting slightly to resolve the image. Five hours.
Slowly the seconds passed into minutes, and then finally into hours
as the soft snick of the falling plastic cards in the clock marked the
end of eternity. Reed lifted the handset and spoke, the familiar
numbers rolling easily from her memory, their sound a curious poetry of
Jae grabbed the phone on the first ring, allowing habit to override hope. "Cavanaugh."
"I'm yours. Body and soul."
The quiet, ernest words stunned her, and Jae blinked, trying to bring the room back into focus. She closed her eyes, letting the echo of the declaration wash over her memory and felt the last barrier fall away. "I believe," she whispered, wondering if Reed remembered the first real conversation they'd had, the morning she'd sat in her office sorting through another searing failure. Without reservation, Jae stepped over a line she hadn't realized was there, deciding in an instant that the past didn't matter.
So this is what it feels like, she thought, wrapping the sound of Reed's breathing around her. Jae let herself sink back into the rumpled comforter. She closed her eyes and could picture Reed's long, lean form, sprawled across the bed; could picture the gentle rise and fall of her chest as she breathed.
Neither of them spoke and Jae was content with the silence, happy to let it weave a magic connection between them. Her eyes grew heavy and she stirred, not wanting to break the silent spell. A wistful sigh left her lips before she could call it back, so she followed it with quiet words of her own, surprised at how much meaning they could hold when spoken truly, with nothing held back. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
She relaxed against the gentle words, wishing that instead of a phone, she were cradling the woman who held her soul. Who was her soul. A soft click came through the line, and Jae smiled, her heart had found a home - there would be no goodbyes.
Jae almost ignored the insistant whine of her cell. She wanted to cling to the warm sheets and chase the pleasant dream she was having just a little longer. The chirping stopped, then after a brief pause started again. She looked up at the clock over her desk. Seven a.m.. "Uggh." She found the cell, and flipped it open. "Cavanaugh."
Jae smiled and rolled over onto her right side. "Not that I'm not ecstatically happy to hear your voice, but it's what - four a.m. there - what are you doing up? And, why are you calling on the cell?"
Reed laughed and even though she knew it was impossible, Jae swore she could feel the rich timbre tickle against her cheek. "I'm up because I have a five o'clock call, and I called on the cell because I've been getting a busy signal for the last twenty minutes."
A quick glance at the bedside table provided an explanation. "I forgot to hang up the phone." She did so now. "I'll call you right back."
Slight hesitation, then, "alright," and the line went dead.
Well, whatever that was about she wouldn't have to wait long. Jae got up and padded over to where she'd dumped her pants the night before. A crumpled paper was stuffed in a pocket. After carefully smoothing it out, she laid the paper on a corner of her bed and dialed the number. A mechanical voice prompted her for an extension and she entered in Reed's room number, then hung up. Hmm. She smiled and dialed again, this time choosing the front desk option. It rang a couple of times and was answered by a sleepy drawl. "Is it too early for room service?"
"Depends. Are you after wanting coffee, or something more complicated?"
"Pot of coffee and a bowl of any sugared kid's cereal you have."
"No worries on that lot. What room?"
"Twenty-one." She dug a credit card out of her wallet. "My friend's going to be there for a while, and I was wondering if we could set up a special account for surprises?"
"Why not?" He sounded amused.
"Good." She rattled off her credit card number, double checking that it was her personal one and not the business card. Cait hated having to sort out the charges. Jae said thank you and ended the call, waiting only a beat before redialing Reed's number.
"Hey." Jae waited, aware that Reed would plunge into whatever reason she had called in her own time.
"Still sleeping I think, I'll check if you want."
"After. I talked to Heidi last night. She wants you to give her a call and let her know you guys arrived safely."
Jae felt her brow creep into her hairline. Okay. That seemed easy enough. "Sure. I'll do it when Rio is up, that way he can talk to her too."
"What the fuck?" Reed almost growled.
"Umm. If that's someone knocking on your door, answer it. I ah," she floundered for words and sighed. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. "Just be nice. It's not his fault." There was no response and she strained, trying to hear what was going on in Reed's room. Was that a squawk? She thought she heard a door shut and crossed her fingers waiting for Reed to come back on the line.
"I like your 'I ahs', they're great." The syllables were drawn out in a perfect imitation of a certain cartoon tiger who shilled cereal.
"Cool. Aren't you glad you didn't traumatize the poor waiter?"
Contented crunching filled the air before Reed answered. "Well."
Jae heard the sheepishness in the drawl and closed her eyes. She was almost afraid to ask. "Reed. What did you do?"
"Nothing." More crunching.
Then it hit her. It was an hour before she had to leave her hotel room. "Tell me you were wearing something when you answered the door."
"Other than your birthday suit." Jae was well aware of how Reed normally slept.
Her patient, teasing questions were rewarded with a small laugh. "Actually, I was wearing a shirt. Your shirt to be exact."
Jae blushed, remembering how said shirt had been acquired and why it had no buttons. "What am I going to do with you."
"Count on it." She could feel her body reacting to the promise and took a shallow breath. "Talk to you later?"
"Oh yeah. You can count on it." Reed laughed and hung up.
She sat a moment longer cradling the receiver to her chest. Eighteen hour flight each way, sixty hours in a weekend. Plenty of time. Jae grinned, maybe they could meet in Hawaii. Still shaking her head at the idiotic notion of flying all the way to New Zealand simply to indulge the urge to wrap her arms around her lover, Jae descended the staircase and went in search of Rio.
Studio security had not improved. Papers from one department, a stamp from another. A few props.
The camera helped. Not a tourist's camera, but a slightly weathered professional model. A pouch of film, a few lenses. Most importantly, an air of detachment, as though being here were unimportant, boring.
It hadn't taken long and the newly acquired ID tag was hung in place.
Now it was time to get oriented. Find the set. Find the trailers. Know everything, everyone. Every detail was important.
A catering truck approached, necessitating a brief detour.
The rest of the way was clear, and the sets were deserted. In a hour or so labourers would arrive and work would resume on the partially finished areas. Slowly completeing a circuit, each area was catalogued for useful nooks, each section measured against the goal.
It wasn't the perfect setting, but it would do for a beginning. It would do.
Very nicely, indeed.
The phone rang four times before she picked up the receiver. Heidi cleared her throat before speaking. "Hello."
"Heidi?" Jae Cavanaugh's contralto filled her ear.
Warm and bright, the voice was a perfect match for the personality that had captivated her best friend. Heidi shook her head in wonder. Had, in fact, so captivated Reed that the normally taciturn actress had waxed poetic about the woman. And if Jae could inspire that in Reed, then who was she to wish the woman would go away? Pretty damned petty. She'd fought this demon before. First at the hospital watching Rio and Jae form an almost instand bond, then when Reed had publicly claimed her son for the first time, and finally when Jae began spending time at the farm. She'd always lost; jealousy and fear overcoming good sense and maturity. No more. Life was too fucking short.
She took a deep breath, exhaled and tried to project a smile into the phone. "Hello, Jae. You guys arrive safe and sound?"
"Except for a brief stranding at LAX, it went without a hitch."
"Good." Heidi thought furiously, she'd exhausted the gamut of what she'd normally talk to Jae about. Surely, there had to be something else to say. "When do you start filming?" That ought to be safe enough.
"Next week." There was a pause. "But before we lay any tape, we'll have a few rehersals and walk throughs, so things won't start in earnest until after that."
"Rio will enjoy that. I know he's fascinated by what you do."
Jae laughed. "Well, if he does get bored, I'll just turn him over to FX. I suspect he's way more interested in that."
"You're probably right." Heidi agreed, very aware of some of the disasters that Rio had tried to recreate in the barn - some to more intentional effect than others - she hoped.
The conversation lulled for a moment before Jae spoke again. "Are you okay?"
Heidi was surprised by the question, or rather by the personal edge to the inquiry, and then surprised herself by her honest response. "No. But Geoff's here, and that helps." She looked over at the fridge, the same one they'd had since she was fourteen, calmed by its sudden, but familiar humming. "The worst part is the polite smiles from everyone, as though Mom doesn't know what all this means. She knows. She wants to go through everything in the house with me. Tie up all the loose ends. Like a life was a project, or a set of books. She knows."
"Courageous." There was a pause, as though Jae was afraid she'd overstepped her bounds. "It must hurt to see people trying to deny the dignity she's displaying by pretending it's not happening."
It was an unexpected glimpse into what had drawn Reed to Jae and Heidi felt stupid for not having appreciated it sooner. "I end up getting mad on her behalf." Talking about it was bringing the feelings to the surface, and she'd had enough crying already today, so she deliberately changed the subject, but made an effort not to sound abrupt. "I have to go in a few minutes. Is Rio around?"
"Yes. I'll get him."
Heidi listened to the noises coming through the phone. Quiet, receeding footsteps, then pounding ones. No crashes. The receiver being lifted.
"You behaving yourself?"
"Yes." He sounded indignant and Heidi laughed.
"Well, mostly. I'm trying."
"That's all you can do." Privately, she was glad he was beginning to test limits and misbehave. He always seemed preternaturally well behaved, and she knew that didn't bode well for his future. "Love you."
"I love you too."
"Sell." He giggled and hung up.
Feeling better herself, she followed suit. She stared at the
again, looking at the collection of papers and photgraphs held in place
by a plethora of magnets, no two alike. If Jae was going to do
she'd need a few things. Things Heidi was sure that neither she
Reed had thought about. The lawyer could arrange the
papers, and the school would be able to send a homework package.
wouldn't thank her for that one, but someone had to worry about stuff
that, and it might as well still be her. She smiled.
Rio hung up the phone and slid off of his stool. He had gotten dressed, but his hair still showed the evidence of sleep and travel. Or maybe, like her, he needed a haircut. One thing he definitely needed was breakfast.
"Toaster waffles?" Jae asked. She'd mistakenly offered him waffles once before and had had to struggle through a very unsatisfactory kitchen experience before giving up on scratch anything, and resorting to granola.
"What kind?" He'd gotten back up on the stool.
"Can I have whipped cream?"
Jae shook her head. "No. Two waffles or three?"
She grabbed the box from the freezer, surprised at the variety of foods lurking inside the icebox. A half a second later, she realized she had no idea where the toaster was. If I were a toaster where would I hide? Jae knew it had to be around somewhere - Holly Wolfenden had given Reed a toaster oven after the premiere - and it had migrated here. "Rio, where does Reed keep the toaster at home?"
He got up again and padded over to the cupboard next to the stove. "Under here." He opened the door and there it was; box and all. Rio turned and looked at her.
"Yeah. Yeah. I told you, kiddo, I don't cook much." She opened the box and plugged in the toaster oven. It was similar to the one Cait had in the office, so she felt confident choosing a cooking time for the waffles.
A couple minutes later and they were neatly stacked on a plate and she turned her attention to planning her day. Normally she'd go for a run or a light work out, but going for a run and leaving Rio alone in the house was out of the question, and he was too old to take to the gym. No boys over seven, and while he was small for his age, she wasn't going to wound his dignity for the sake of sweating.
Maybe she'd be able to grab some gym time at the studio later, she thought her membership was still valid. Scratch the work out then.
She needed to finalize the shooting schedule before Friday, and double check that the correct scripts had made their way to the cast and crew. The sets needed to be inspected, and the wardrobe signed off on. It would be a tight couple of days, but things were going well and they should hit the sound stage ready to go into production on Monday.
The phone rang, and she absently answered it, still allocating time to tasks. "Cavanaugh."
"Mother." Jae leaned against the cupboard. Of course her mother would call.
"Nice of you to let me know that you'd arrived safely."
"It was late, I didn't want to wake anyone." Jae wondered how old she'd have to be before phoning home after a trip was no longer obligatory.
"Your father wants you to come for dinner on Sunday. We haven't seen you in months."
The big guns were out. Elizabeth Cavanaugh was invoking her father. Jae looked over at Rio, who was still contentedly cutting his waffles into tiny squares before dragging the through the syrup and onward into his mouth. "Can I bring a guest?"
"Honestly, Jacqueline." The words didn't come with an audible indignant snort, but it was there anyway. "Of course you can bring your girlfriend."
"Actually, Reed's in New Zealand."
Jae imagined what was going through her mother's mind. Commiserate or yell? Elizabeth and Reed had gotten off to a rocky start, but she knew that her mother was very pleased that things appeared to be working out, and would be disappointed if she and Reed had split up. "Riordan's here with me for a bit."
"Is that wise dear? Aren't you filming next week?"
Jae sighed. "It's complicated, Mother, but it will be fine. Honest."
"You'd better hope so. A child is not a girlfriend or a musical instrument."
What was that supposed to mean? Jae decided not to ask; she'd hear enough about it on Sunday. "We'll see you on Sunday."
Jae made herself focus on the road, ignoring the voice in her head that insisted she turn the car around and head back to LA. She was slightly behind schedule and Sunday dinner with her folks was not high on her priority list, but she'd promised. A swift glance in the mirror and she changed lanes, easily overtaking the semi chugging up the four percent grade. Another, longer look told her that Rio was still sleeping, so she let the truck fade out of sight without trying to get the driver to sound the horn.
Another thirty minutes or so and they would be there. At least her mother wouldn't quibble over the mode of conveyance this time, though she suspected that Rio would have loved to ride on the motorcycle. She smiled, of course he would love it, and it would probably take him all of thirty seconds to list a dozen reasons why it would be alright to let him. Idly, she played her mother's reaction to them arriving for dinner on the Hawk over in her mind and decided that if there were anyway she could stage it convincingly, she would.
Jae put the thought aside before she could make too detailed a plan and end up getting herself into real trouble. Besides, there was one bright spot to dinner. Rio and Alex would finally get to meet in person. That had to be worth her mother's silent questioning looks and her father's amused tolerance.
Off in the distance she could see the aquaduct meandering across the terrain, snaking to the point where it would merge its course with the road and the two would travel together. She remembered wondering what it would be like to sail along that artificial river. Boring, she'd finally decided. No life in the river other than what it gave to the land it rolled through. Land that was unchanging mile after mile, farm after farm. Jae looked around at the terrain speeding by the car window. She loved its flat browns and muted greens, but she had to admit she missed the startling array of colours that sprouted from the trees in Maine as the season had begun its turn toward winter.
She flipped on her blinker, waited a beat, then smoothly pulled into the passing lane. Out of habit, she double checked her mirrors to be sure that she was well clear of the aging van she'd just passed, and drifted neatly into place. They passed the highway sign marking the distance to their exit, and she debated whether or not to wake Rio. As she rounded a curve, the wheel shuddered in her hands and she felt the Saturn jerk suddenly to the right.
Instinctively, Jae fought for control, disregarding the carefully imparted wisdom of driving instructors, as panic overcame advice. The car spun, its tail whipping around until she could no longer tell which direction to steer. Its rotating slide carried them across both lanes and dumped them over the edge of the median. Forward momentum stopped, throwing her against the steering wheel, as the Saturn came to rest in the bottom of the ditch.
Slowly, Jae lifted her head. The pressure of the seatbelt against her chest made it difficult to turn or breathe, but she wedged her leg against the footwell and heaved. It took her a couple of seconds to separate Rio's form from the pillow and blanket that had tumbled about during their fractous slide. Blue eyes blinked back at her. "Are we here?" he asked, words slurred by sleep.
Jae felt the sting of tears and blinked, clearing them, but was unable to choke back the burble of hysterical laughter that broke free. "No sweetie. Not yet."
Then the car door was being wrenched open, and she being helped out of the car. Someone pressed a cloth to her forehead, and only then did she realize that she was bleeding, and that not all of the tracks on her face were tears. Where was Rio? Fear clutched at her again, and she twisted away from her caregiver. "I'm fine." The sudden explosion of pain in head told her that she was lying, but it didn't matter. He was less than three feet away, looking slightly confused, but otherwise unhurt. Gingerly, she knelt down in front of him, eyes searching for any hint of pain in his face. Not finding any obvious signs, she gathered him to her and wrapped him in a hug. He relaxed against her and she kissed the top of his head.
"I think we're going to be late for dinner." She'd found that humour worked best on most people, and that children, in particular, took their cues from those around them. He didn't need to know just how serious it could have been.
Jae was rewarded with a small grin, as Rio turned to look first at her then at the car. "I think you're going to need a new car."
She looked over at the car and saw the large rock that had brought their spin to an end, crumpling the right fender in the process. "I think you're right." She tweaked his nose. Sirens edged into earshot, the mixed cacophony of varied emergency services heralded the arrival of assistance out of proportion to the need.
Within minutes, a small army materialized at her side and she shifted her attention to trying to answer their questions. It was like watching a walkthrough for a disaster movie. Clipboards, white shirts, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuff, a thermometer.
"Ma'am?" A hand touched her shoulder and she blinked, realizing that she'd let herself become caught in the flashing lights. "Are you okay?"
His quesion let her cover her lapse in attention. "Fine. Just a little overwhelmed." She indicated the noisy scene around them.
He nodded. "Yeah, it can get a little loud." The cuff came off of her arm, and was tucked back into a bag, exchanged for a small packet and a bottle. "This might sting a little."
Jae winced, as the liquid was swipped across her forehead. The skin had split under pressure when she'd banged against something, and wasn't deep, but now that it been poked at, it began to hurt in earnest. She watched intently as another paramedic examined Rio.
"How old are you?" The paramedic had picked up a clipboard and was ticking off boxes.
"Almost ten." Rio answered and looked up, allowing his eyes to be examined.
The paramedic grinned, and looked over at her for confirmation. "How almost?"
"Not almost enough." She smiled back at the man and gave a Rio a mock glare, reassured by his response.
"Right. Nine it is." He made a few more notes, then put the clipboard aside. "He's fine, but might be a little sore tomorrow; a trip to the family doctor wouldn't hurt.
She nodded gratefully then looked around again. It seemed so surreal. It couldn't actually be happening. A stretcher was lifted down from one of the ambulances and wheeled in her direction. Jae shook her head. She'd go to the hospital if they wanted her to, but she was not being strapped down. "I'll walk."
The attendant gave her an apraising look then nodded assent. Jae turned around, about to say something to Rio and was stopped by the look on his face. He had gone completely still and his eyes were fixed on the ambulance. She had no idea what to do. Reed would know how to handle it. Or Heidi. She half expected that even Caitlynn would have a better idea of what to do than she did. Jae dropped a arm over Rio's shoulders and stepped closer. She didn't want to go in the ambulance either. Hated the things. Everytime she heard an ambulance or fire truck, her stomach turned queasy flips. Hearing one of those sirens meant that someone's life would never be the same.
"You said he was fine, right?" It occured to her that if she the ambulance was for her, rather than Rio, then it might not be a problem afterall.
That confirmed, Jae turned and watched the tow truck finish winching her car out of the ditch. The front passenger tire was flat and from here it looked like the windshield was cracked. Even if she felt up to driving, it wasn't likely that the Saturn was going anywhere other than a garage. "Then if it's all the same to you, I'll skip the ambulance ride."
"You really should have that looked at." He pointed at her head.
"I agree. It's just that I grew up pretty close to here and I'll go see my family doctor." Maybe.
The attendant looked at her. "You're not going to change your mind, are you?"
Jae shook here head negatively, then wished she hadn't. "No. No ambulance." She smiled.
"Alright." He tone indicated otherwise. "I'll just need your insurance info, and fo you to sign your sheet and your son's."
Jae froze. Her son. "He's not my son, but I can sign." The attendant looked skeptical. "He's staying with me for a while, while his mother's away in New Zealand."
He nodded. "You have guardianship?"
"Yes." Somewhere. She thought the paper was in her backpack still, but that was unfortunately, in the car. Maybe he wouldn't ask to actually see it.
"Sign here then." He handed over the clipboard.
Jae scrawled her name on both forms. "Thanks."
"No problem. Make sure she has that head looked at, okay Sport?" This time he addressed Rio, who gave a grin of his own, and nodded.
She waited until the paramedic had walked away, then knelt in fron of Rio. "Better?"
"Yeah." He seemed to have forgotten he had been upset.
"C'mon, let's see just how bad it is."
A Highway Patrol officer was talking to the tow truck driver and the men looked up as they approached.
"Your car?" The officer asked.
He made some notes. "Glad to see you folks are okay. An idea of what happened?"
"No." And she didn't. One minute everything was fine, the next she was facing the wrong way and sitting in a ditch. "The car just jerked and..."
"It happens." He made more notes, his face composed, almost bored. "Looks to me like you blew a tire."
That explained why the tire was flat. "Ah."
"I just need your license, registration and insurance card."
Jae waved at the car. "It's in the glovebox." She fished it out, and grabbed her bag for good measure. The officer had followed her, and she handed over the documents and watched while he made more notes. Making mental notes of her own, she stored his precision and relaxed professionalism as a benchmark for future use.
"Right. Just a couple of more things. I have most of your stats, but what's your son's full name and date of birth?" He looked up expectantly.
She decided not to correct him; it would only complicate things and so just gave him the information, spelling Rio's full name out when she got a quizzical look back.
Dutifully he copied it down, then closed his notebook. "That's all I need." He handed over a form. "This is the incident number and details. Your insurance company will need that. "
Jae took the paper and tucked it in with the car documents. "Thanks." It seemed almost absurb, polite formalities, rituals carefully observed, but what they were dealing with was a random act that had no rules. She knew the next part though. A short ride in the tow truck to a garage, a phone call home, and someone would come and get them, fuss a little and do nothing to remove the surreal sting from the event.
And that had been pretty much how it had gone. Except that her mother had insisted on a trip to the hospital, arguing that a potential head injury wasn't something to trifle with.
It had taken better than three hours before they were finally clear of the hospital, and Jae let herself sink back into the swing. Rio was curled up on the couch in the living room and she'd managed to free herself of her mother's solicitous attention and creep out onto the porch. The reprieve wouldn't last long, so she dug her phone out of her pocket. Who first?
Jae shut her eyes and leaned her head back. She knew exactly who she wanted to talk to. Needed to talk to. Reed.
Reed leaned into the tepid spray, roundly cursing the lack of a tub and the apparent inability of the hotel's water heater to achieve a temperature above luke warm. Her body ached, her head hurt and neither the shower nor the pair of aspirin that she'd choked down earlier were helping. Frustrated, she turned off the water and stepped out of the stall. The mirror was unoccluded, the water not nearly hot enough to cover it's surfuce in condensation. Her aches were matched with bruises, her arms a mottled mess of strap marks and small, circular bursts of purple that were the result of her own clumisness.
Tired, she crawled onto the bed, using her towel as combination blanket and pajamas. She ignored the dampness of the fabric; the resulting cool patches invigorating rather than annoying. Exhaling, she rolled over an reached for the telephone receiver, nearly jumping off the bed in surprise when it rang just as she touched it. "Yes."
Reed sat up. "What's wrong?" She wasn't sure what she was sensing, but something was wrong, she held her breath and waited.
"Rio is fine. Better than fine." Jae hesitated. "I blew a tire on the way up to to my parents' house."
Her guts clenched tight, and Reed let out her breath with a rush of words. "Are you okay?"
"Fine. I do, however, need a new car."
"I'm fine, really. You want to know the worst part?"
Other than wrecking the car? But Reed recognized that Jae was trying to reassure her and so she played along. "Listening to your mother?" she hazarded, well aware of Elizabeth Cavanaugh's tendancy to treat Jae like an errant teenager.
"You know it. Two and a half hours about how lucky I was that I wasn't on that horrible machine, and another hour about the need for airbags."
"She didn't thnk you'd actually bring Rio on the back of your motorcycle?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. Everyone seems to think I'm going to break him." Jae's voice tailed off.
"Hey." Her own momentary fear quelled, she could hear the fear in Jae's voice. "I don't."
"Really?" The edge of fear was still in Jae's normally confident voice.
"Really." And it was true. Jae might end up destroying her, but Reed was certain that Jae wouldn't do anything to hurt Rio. "Just promise me one thing." It was time to lighten things up.
"Get something bigger. And steel."
Jae laughed a little. "They don't make big steel cars anymore. I was thinking of one of those new hybids."
"Do they make an electric Humvee?"
Now Jae laughed in earnest, the familiar tones exploding through the receiver and Reed was glad that she hadn't freaked out, or blown things way out of proportion. "Or how about a classic car. A big, old '75 El Dorado?"
"Hmm. They made those in convertible, right?"
"Yeah and they make the Humvee in armoured." Reed shifted on the bed, finally trading the damp towel for part of the comforter.
"I saw a bright green Hummer2 the other day."
"The question you have to ask yourself is: could I see over the dash? I'm betting no."
"Are you implying I'm short?"
Reed dropped her voice a register. "No."
"Good, cause I'd hate to have to fly down there and demand satisfaction."
"In that case. You're short." She rolled over and propped herself against the headboard. "Joking aside, I can come get him." And see you. But she didn't say that part out loud.
"I miss you too, Roo." Jae answered, giving a voice to Reed's thoughts. "We're fine." There was a slight pause. "Well, speak of the devil, someone wants to talk to you."
"I hear you had quite the day." Reed pulled another layer of blanket over herself and relaxed into her son's voice.
Trampled grass and a deep rut marked the spot. The flashbulb lit the ground, details flaring into life before being reclaimed by the dark. Too close.
Methodically, anger was tamped and turned to precision, the camera acting as mind and memory. Pictures of the car rested in another pocket, a succesion of images that showed how close a premature endgame had been. The camera went into its case, a cell phone replacing its smooth weight. One call would set things in motion. Opportunity should never be wasted.
continued in next file