Blow the House Down
By Ciarán Llachlan Leavitt
Chapters 1 - 4 | Chapters 5 - 9a |
last update: 16 June 2005 - revised Chapter 8c (again) and added Chapter 9a
non-snail mail: llachness at gmail dot com
~~~ Chapter 5 ~~~
The problem with a late night was the guaranteed arrival of morning. Reed smacked the alarm. Somehow merely smacking the clock didn't seem quite in proportion to the egregiousness of the crime; yet throwing it across the room was too harsh, and given the configuration of the electrical outlet, not likely to be successful.
Reed threw the blankets off and headed for the shower. Forty-five minutes later she was on the set ready to be turned into the last hope of a post-apocalyptic, neo-renaissance, demi-feudal society. Or was that post feudal and demi-apocalyptic? She'd read the pitch but couldn't for the life of her keep the marketing details straight.
Silver case in hand, the stylist entered the room and Reed took her seat. Today was the last day of wardrobe fittings and make-up runs. This afternoon they'd start boot camp and she'd learn to wield the weapons of rebellion. Right now though, she had to survive having her hair stuffed under a wig, and her body encased in unforgiving leather. Reed stared at herself in the mirror. She'd kept up the dark mahogany colour, preferring its near black tones and red highlights to her natural brown. She'd also kept it uncharacteristically long, and now it was a pain in the ass.
Fuck it. "Cut it."
"Cut it. Dye it. Toss the damn wig." There was nothing to be done about the leather, but she could save herself weeks of morning torture.
"You're sure?" The stylist had already pulled her scissors out of their case, and was digging for combs and clips.
Reed smiled. "Dead sure."
Halfway through the application of the colour, the costume designer's production assistant entered the room, clipboard in hand. "Ms. Lewis is late for her fitting."
Reed smiled to herself, apparently she was a big enough star that the holdup wasn't her fault, but the stylist's. "She'll have to fit someone else, I need another hour here."
True to her word, an hour later the stylist swiveled the chair around. "Well?"
Reed stared at her reflection in the mirror. The change in length highlighted her cheekbones; the pale ice of her eyes seeming more intense as a result, but it didn't quite match the way she had come to think of Macalla. It wasn't too soft exactly; but it was wrong all the same. "It's too long."
"That's as short as I can go." The stylist held up a drawing and a wig.
"Humour me." Reed held up her hand and continued, "if Cassman hates it, we go back to the wig." And at the very least, wearing a wig over short hair would be more bearable in the heat. "Or I could just cut it off myself, later."
Reed relented. "Look, take a couple of more inches off, and I'll keep my mouth shut about it and say I did it. I'll wear the wig to the fitting. Please." There, she'd gone all Cavanaugh, or at least as Cavanaugh as she was willing to go.
A few minutes later, Reed pulled her fingers through her hair and shifted on the balls of her feet, studying the effect in the full length mirror. She was still in street clothes, and not dressed for the part, but it worked. She repeated the gesture, and closed her stance, still slightly on her toes. Perfect. She wouldn't need the wig. She'd found Macalla.
Make-up and wardrobe behind her, Reed's day began in earnest. She finished her second set of stretches and reached for a water bottle.
Reed looked over. Her trainer held out a practice sword. She put down the water and took the sword, her arm dropping involuntarily under its weight.
"Watch this." He took a stance, and Reed tried to absorb all of the details. "Now you."
He moved around too; so that she was facing him. "Stand with your feet shoulder width apart; turn to the left, pivoting on the balls of both feet." He demonstrated and she did her best to follow, feeling slightly unbalanced. "Your feet should form a forty-five degree angle. Good. Now, lean forward until the toes of the your left foot are aligned with your knee and the chin." She lost her balance and stumbled a little, but quickly moved back to the form.
"Your body should form a straight line from the back of the head down to the right heel. This is called the Lion's Posture
or basic stance." He reset his posture and demonstrated again.
Reed repeated the movement and winced as she smacked herself with the blade of sword. "What do I do with this?"
"You try not to cut yourself. Too badly."
She flicked the sword up in a short arc. "I'd be more worried about me cutting you."
"No worries there. It's not got an edge." He moved away and began stacking barrels into a pyramid in the middle of the room.
Interested, Reed watched the odd shaped pyramid grow. The largest barrels were on the bottom, a couple of 30 gallon drums sat on in the middle layer, capped by three smaller drums and surrounded by a layer of mats. Trev Kimberly was legendary for creating unique fighting styles, and if the pile of drums was any indication, he hadn't run out of ideas.
"Right. Up you go. No hands."
"No hands?" Reed looked at the first layer of drums; the tops were at least three feet off the ground.
"You've no balance to speak of. And until you've got that sorted, there's not much point in going any further with the sword work." Kimberly nodded at the barrels. "Up those, back to the Lion. Repeat."
Ah, Reed thought, the klutz factor. She was tall, and she knew she moved with a certain amount of grace, but Reed was also aware that she never quite got to graceful. Too bad Jae wouldn't be here to rescue her if she pulled another muscle. Her memory supplied a quick flash of a tousled blonde head insanely peeking over her balcony rail and pretty much sealing both of their fates.
She moved toward the barrel and sized it up again unsure of how to approach the problem. A running start might do it she decided. Five paces back she took a deep breath and headed for her target. Reed caught an edge, but lacked the strength to turn her momentum to mechanical advantage. Completely off balance she fell; some instinct helping her to tuck and roll as she hit the mat.
"Right then." Kimberly reached down and offered Reed a hand up. He moved next to the barrels and motioned for her to watch. "The way that this is done is by placing one foot on the first step and repositioning your center of gravity over the extended leg. Next, straighten out the leg bringing your whole body up right over the first step." He turned and grinned. "Repeat this to the top of the smallest barrel."
"Easy for you to say." Not in a million years was she going to be able to do that.
He flashed her another grin. "Too right that. But you'll have it in no time."
Two hours later every muscle in her body ached and she was no closer to the top of the pyramid. The Lion stance, she had cold, which basically meant all she had achieved was the ability to stand upright.
"Right. You're done." Kimberly walked across to where she lay, having fallen again. He stared down at her a moment, before once more helping her to her feet. "How do you feel?"
"Like a fucking idiot." Reed grabbed her water bottle and dumped half of it over her newly shorn locks and the other half down her throat.
"Why? You have a dozen years of martial arts and combat training no one told me about?"
She laughed. "No."
"There you go then." He walked to the side of the room and retrieved a large black duffel bag. "Here."
Reed accepted the bag, and fought to stifle an agonized groan as her stiff muscles took the unexpected weight. In Kimberly's hand it had looked weightless; but that was hardly surprising she realized. He'd made everything look effortless and graceful, fluidly moving from barrel to barrel and stance to stance.
She unzipped the bag. Fuck. It was full of cinderblocks. Reed looked up at the trainer. "Kimberly," she tried not to growl.
"Its Trev. Take those home with you."
"And do what with them exactly...Trev?"
"This." He scooped out two of the cinderblocks and one of plank lengths she hadn't noticed, then swiftly assembled them. "Stand on the beam. Now shift to your other foot." He demonstrated as he spoke. "And back again." He hopped down. "Be aware of where your center of gravity is and use that center to allow you to balance on one foot, then the other."
"My center of gravity?" Reed couldn't help but think that this would be a lot more fun if Jae was the teacher.
"Right. The point of mass that keeps you from tipping over in 40 kilos of armour."
Reed did a quick conversion. Ninety pounds? Suddenly the derivative Terry Cloth Jedi costumes the actors playing mages had ended up with didn't seem as ridiculous as the first time she'd seen them. Macalla the Doomed was a good name for a magician.
"Hey, no worries. By the end of the week you'll be doing backflips from the top of the pyramid." His eyes twinkled as he winked then performed the flip in question. "Nothing to it."
She grunted and tossed the plank back into the back, tempted to brain Trev with it instead. The bag she left in the middle of the room as she went to get her sweater; one of the ubiquitous PAs could wrestle it to the car. It was too hot still to put it on over her tank top, so she threw it over a shoulder and moved toward the door.
"With this." Trev interrupted and pointed at the practice sword. "From now on, this goes where you go. Does what you do."
Now that, Reed decided, could be fun.
Jae took another stick of charcoal and threw the old one onto a tray. Pages of the script were taped the wall next to pages of simple, elegant drawings. She re-read a piece of dialog and imagined where she'd put the camera; what she'd frame and what she'd leave out. The scene was about motion but what she wanted was stillness, a sense the character had been becalmed. Quickly, she sketched what she saw. One swipe of charcoal after another, the movie tumbled from pages to pictures.
Normally, she didn't storyboard a whole movie, preferring just to storyboard difficult or complex shots. But this time, everything was bigger. The budget, the effects, the crew, the cast; and she was afraid that if she didn't know exactly what she was going to shoot before she shot it, too much could go wrong. Every second and dollar mattered, this way she could just shoot exactly what she thought she needed.
She took a second look at one of the frames and decided that she wanted to zoom in on the background and stop. Jae added a box around the section she wanted highlighted and added the appropriate arrows. Satisfied, she leaned back.
Tomorrow she'd meet with [director of photography / cinematographer] and with any luck, he'd be able to glean enough from her storyboards to plan the lighting details and camera placements, leaving her free to concentrate on the actors.
The actors. Jae laid fully out on the floor and stared up at the ceiling of her room. She was still short a supporting actress. Idly, she wondered if there was anyway to hold off filming those sections of the movie until Reed was back from New Zealand. Maybe she could send the second unit to Auckland. She could go herself, twelve hour flight, an hour or so North to location - presto! Jae laughed and stood up. On her desk was a stack of glossy head shots; head shots she'd already gone over several times. Instead of flipping through them again, she pulled her cell out of her pocket up and keyed Cait's number.
Surprised by the clipped greeting, Jae pulled the phone back and looked at the numeric display. She'd entered Cait's personal code, and not the business one. "Sorry. Didn't mean to catch you at home."
"S'alright. What's up?"
"We still don't have anyone to play the patrol leader."
"And you're calling me instead of the casting director because...?"
Jae ran her fingers through her hair, suddenly aware of what she was going to say and how it was likely to be received. "I want to use Rebecca Deveraux."
"Are you fucking insane?"
"Maybe. But she'd be perfect."
"Yeah, a perfect vehicle to relationship suicide. Jae, you hire your ex, and Reed will go ballistic."
Involuntarily, an image of an angry Reed stalking away from her at the pediatric AIDS benefit roiled across her mind and she flinched, but shook her head. That was then. "Don't be so quick to underestimate Reed."
"Wouldn't dream of it." Cait said, sarcastically.
"Can you find out if she's available?" Jae asked. She let her fingers drag through the pile of the white wool throw rug that marked the border between her home office and her bedroom.
"Me? Why me? If you're so sure this is a good idea, you do it."
"I, uhh...," Jae struggled.
Cait supplied her own, typically insightful, reason, "Afraid she'd just hang up on you?"
"It'd serve you right. Sadly, though, I agree with you. She fits the role."
"So you'll call her?"
"Yeah. Should have my fucking head examined along with yours, but yeah, I'll ask her."
"No problem. That all?"
"Yeah. One Herculean task per call. Bye, Cait."
Cait laughed. "Bye, Babe. Oh wait. You back in the office tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I should be in around nine." It had been nice to work at home for a change, but the cramped office space off the master bedroom was lacking in several essentials.
"See you then."
"Bye." Jae closed her cell and sat it back on the small desk. Reed would understand. Suddenly Jae wasn't as sure about her decision. What would Reed think? She looked over at the clock. In less than an hour she'd be able to find out.
~~~ Chapter 6 ~~~
Well fuck. Cait sat down and curled her feet under her. Now what was she going to do? Should she go through the booking agent, or ask directly?
Startled, she looked up at her husband. She hadn't realized he was home. "Sorry, Thom. What?"
Thom waved one hand at the Blackberry that now rested on the end table and sat down next to her. "I asked what was wrong."
What wasn't wrong? She trailed one finger along the soaped ash frame of the leather Peterson sofa. "Nothing. Work stuff."
Thom grunted, "didn't sound like nothing. This though, might be something." He leaned forward, opened his laptop and swiftly accessed a file. "We got these this morning from some stringer. We're not running them, but someone will." As the entertainment editor for one of LA's most circulated dailies, he often received unsolicited celebrity photos better suited to a gossip magazine.
On the screen was a tiled set of photographs of Jae's weekend mishap; the crumpled front side of the Saturn clearly visible in three of the shots. The fourth was of Riordan and a battered Jae, but it was the last two shots that caught her attention. Twin gouges marred the otherwise manicured green of the interstate divider. Next to the sparkling pieces of broken window glass left behind by the towtruck were several beer bottles, and not all of them appeared empty. It was obvious what the photos were meant to imply, what Cait couldn't fathom was why anyone would stage the scene in that way. Hell, why would anyone bother to photograph the scene for sale at all?
She turned toward Thom. "Can I send these to Jae?"
Thom looked steadily back at her, and just as she thought he wasn't going to say anything he nodded. "Yes. We got them without an NDA, so no liability for us there."
"Really?" That was even stranger. No one submitted photos to a paper without some kind of non-disclosure protection, not if they expected to profit from them.
He typed a few more strokes and Cait heard her Blackberry ping as the photos arrived in her inbox. "Thanks."
They both leaned back, and Cait figured she'd at least make an effort. "Dinner? We could go to that Indian place."
"Can't. I've got to go back into the office, just stopped for clean jacket. Raincheck?"
"Sure." They'd need ten years to get through all of the rainchecks they already had, what was one more?
Thom shrugged into his clean jacket and left to resume his life; daily married interlude over. She looked around at the condo and tried to figure out how they had gotten to this point. Long days and secrets, she supposed. Cait picked her Blackberry back up and forwarded the photos, along with a note that she knew that Jae hadn't been drinking, to the director. She really did want Indian, a nice plate of mali kofta, some butter chicken and a slab of warm naan would be just the thing. A call to Danyal's for take-out and a quick shower later, Cait pulled her car out of its parking stall.
The traffic headed south toward Manhattan Beach from Santa Monica was light and she made good time. On the seat next to her, the take-out shot an appetizing array of scents into the car, tempting her to pick up speed. Five minutes from her intended destination, she realized that she hadn't called ahead, and might not be welcome.
Arriving, she turned her car into the small parking lot, relieved to find an empty visitor's slot. Cait unlocked her glovebox, removed the small, square parking hangar and hooked it over the review mirror. She exited the car and made her way around to the front of the small beachfront walk-up. The view, as always, stunned her. Just behind the pier the sun was beginning to set and the whole beach looked burnished.
Next to the wrought iron gate that separated the courtyard and condo entrances from the Strand and passersby was tucked a small call box. Cait entered the code and waited.
She heard the intercom buzz faintly, coming to life. Cait felt her pulse jump. "Hey," she said.
"Surprise. I thought I'd take a chance - I'm armed with Indian."
"Come on up."
The buzzer sounded and she went through the gate and up the half-flight of stairs to the left. Fresh flowers hung from the glass vase wired to the bright green door and partially obscured the nameplate, but Cait had been here enough times not to need to read the artistically stenciled Devareaux to know she was in the right place.
She didn't need to knock, Becky met her at the door and waved her inside. "Good timing. I just got back from the Playa Vista meeting."
Cait nodded. She'd forgotten that Becky was involved with the effort to save the Ballona Wetlands. "How's that going?"
"Gearing up for another media push." Becky shrugged. "Hey, what's wrong?"
"Well it just occured to me that you've never come over without calling first. And you look a little, I don't know exactly, just off, I guess."
She decided to just bite the bullet. "I've been asked to give you a job."
"By?" Becky prompted as she handed Cait a bottle of beer.
"Uhunh. Karmic payback for years of teasing her about how complicated her life is." Cait stepped forward and kissed Becky lightly. "I think you should take it. If you're available. It's actually a good part."
"And you and I?" Becky asked.
They kissed again, and Cait was sure that there would be hell to pay if Becky took the role, but she didn't care. "We," she punctuated her words with another kiss, "are doing fine." Cait's conscience twinged as she uttered the blithe reassurance. How fine could they be when one of them was cheating on her husband, and the other didn't seem to care?
Reed scanned the photos displayed on the screen of the Powerbook. The car actually looked better than she had thought it would. She shifted the phone receiver to her other shoulder. "Car doesn't look that bad, actually." Her right shoulder was killing her; she'd landed on it one too many times. She studied the images of Jae and Rio, taking note of the protective stance her lover had taken next to Rio.
"What?" Jae paused, "oh right. No, I guess it doesn't."
"You alright, Tigger?" Surely Jae realized that she'd been around paparrazi long enough to be immune to most of the tricks and photographic innuendo. "Jacqueline, I've been in your car. No way, no how does a half a dozen beer bottles spill out of your car, and not one soda bottle."
"There's something else."
Reed sat up, apprehensive. "What?"
"I made an offer to Becky Devareaux. Couldn't get the actress I wanted for the part."
Fuck. She took a deep breath, and fought the spark of jealousy the name conjured. Reed decided just to sidestep the issue. "Who was that?"
"Me?" The jealousy dissipated in surprise. It hadn't occurred to her that Jae would want to work with her again.
"Yes, you." Jae paused, then spoke in a rush, "I don't suppose you're looking for work?"
Reed felt her tension level rise again, her stomach unexpectedly in turmoil. What was really going on here? What was Jae offering exactly? And why did she want to say yes, no matter what it was? Bodies and talent. She hadn't counted on falling in love.
She searched for something clever to say, some flippant remark to bring them back from the brink they were suddenly on, some way to admit that she'd carry lighting cable if it give her an excuse to be with Jae. "Yes."
"Why not? I'd much rather work for you than anyone else, and its not like I'm drowning in offers." She shrugged as she spoke. That wasn't strictly true, but her part in The Riders wasn't scheduled to take long and there were only rumours of parts on the horizon.
"Reed, I don't want you to work for me. I want you to work with me."
"LA, Maine, Timbuktoo."
"Jae," she paused, marshalling her thoughts. It wasn't that simple. She'd been down this road before, the fallout had nearly destroyed her and her son. What if she was wrong this time, too? Jae was waiting, managing over the phone line to radiate a patience that Reed knew she wouldn't have been able to muster. She imagined the look in Jae's eyes, remembering the steady, reassuring warmth she'd always found there and the weight of her past seemed irrelevant. If it fell apart, it fell apart, but damned if she was going to give away the possibilites without even trying. In the end, it came down to trust. "Okay."
Unsettled, Jae placed the phone back on its cradle. She'd broken the news about wanting to hire Becky, and had finally confessed that she and Cait had optioned a project with Reed specifically in mind. None of it had seemed to even phase Reed. She got up from the oversized leather reading chair she'd been sitting in and walked out on to her balcony.
It had gone the way she'd wanted, so why did she feel so uneasy at Reed's lack of fireworks? Despite her contrary words to Cait, Jae had expected to need to convince Reed that Becky was the best available person for the role. She thought back over the last few months, unable to remember the last time they had appreciably argued. Jae realized that Reed was acting like she was on her best behaviour; not rocking the boat. It wasn't all Reed's fault though, Jae acknowledged. She'd walked away from one or two discussions that felt as though they might lead to a bigger argument than she was willing to face.
Jae slumped against the railing, and rubbed absently at the shade cooled metal with one thumb. She'd read the script for The Riders, and wasn't looking forward to seeing clips of Reed with her co-star, jealous despite her understanding of film making. It was so hard to get a solid handle on what was happening between the two of them. There were moments where it felt like they had grabbed forever, and then suddenly everything seemed so fragile that Jae was afraid to breath.
Why did it seem like two steps forward and one step back? She shook her head, as if, by doing so, she could clear herself of the weird melancholy that held her in its grip.
"In here." And just like that, she had a very tangible reminder of just how much trust Reed had in her. Her issues were not Reed's issues. "What's up. kiddo?" She had left the balcony and crossed to where Rio waited at the open bedroom door.
"Can I have some cereal?"
Oh crap. Dinner. "You need something more suitable for dinner than cereal."
He nodded in agreement. "Yeah, but you can't burn toasted oats. Can you?"
"Probably." There was no question that Rio had inherited his mother's sense of humour. "C'mon, let's introduce you to some of the best sushi in the county."
"Something you can't burn." And which had to be better for him than pizza or burgers.
It hurt. The smiles were painful. Burned.
The camera was a thief too. Moments recovered and stored. And more than thief; the camera was artist, inventor. New truths spilled through its lens, fragmentary illusion made real.
Across the street, The Boy was staring intently into a store window. The skateshop was a smorgasboard of the forbidden. Protected and coddled, the brightly painted boards and acrylic wheels were off-limits. Who was he that he should be so cozened, while the children of others suffered daily tortures minutely wrought and freely given?
Suffer the children. Suffer for the children. A buzz of words pressed over the sounds of traffic, lessons learned by rote and burned into flesh.
"Do not suffer life to stagnate; it will grow muddy for want of motion: commit yourself again to the current of the world. Do not suffer life to stagnate." The digital image in the camera was still, stagnate. "Do not suffer life to stagnate." Longer now before dropping the shutter. Motion. Played again.
Over again the pixels danced in sedate motion, the false harmony betrayed by the stagnant, festering current that flowed untraceably from the lens to the living.
To stagnate is to suffer. Children must not suffer. The boy must not suffer.
The restaurant stole The Boy from view, swallowed him in strokes of red and black. Traffic on the street had slowed, the army of cars diminished with the setting sun. It was enough. For today.
Reed flicked on the fan to disperse the humid clouds of steam and closed the door to the bathroom behind her. The hot water had done wonders for her aches, though her bruises now showed all too plainly. Kimberly had put her through new paces today. Balance, grip and stance had come almost in a rush of surprise proficiency, but actually swinging the sword and aiming her strokes was far more difficult than all the previous sessions combined. Reed was tempted to get back in the shower but standing under the spray for another ten hours wouldn't change the fact that she really wanted was a tub brimming with water as close to scaulding as her skin and nerves could stand.
She crossed the room, shifting from center stance to the weapon forward stance, then suddenly reversing to an off side forward stance and finally back to center stance. Reed broke off the pattern in mid-transition. The light in the ancient telephone was blinking. She punched the number for the front desk, then hung up as she noticed a piece of cream white paper on the floor just inside the door of her room. The hotel may have been on the anti-diluvian side of ancient, but the service was impeccable.
Reed scanned the message, disappointed, then guilty. It looked as though she and Jae were not the only ones playing phone tag, Heidi had also been trying to get through. She crossed the room to the small desk that overlooked the covered verandah and picked up her phone. She flipped it open and pressed the yes key to bring up a list of recently dialed numbers. Nothing, the screen was blank and Reed realized that she had neglected to turn it back on after leaving the training hall. It powered up quickly, and immediately a text message icon flashed over the digital acid flowers. She hit open and checked to see who it was from and discovered that there were three messages waiting, not just one. Opting to save the ones from Jae and Rio for later, she again brought up the listed of recent numbers and scrolled to Heidi's.
The other end rang softly, and Reed worried that she'd called too late, but the message her friend had left with the hotel said to call regardless of the time. Halfway through a ring, the line was picked up. "Hello."
"Reed?" Heidi's voice was quiet, nearly a whisper.
"It's me." She fought not to whisper back.
"Thanks for calling."
"No problem. How you holding up?" What she really wanted to know was how Heidi's mother was.
"I'm fine." A break. "But mom is sliding fast."
"Yeah. Oh shit. Its just all happening so fast. Too fast. Monday she couldn't talk at all, then yesterday, she was perfectly lucid, puttered around in the attic for hours. Today, she hasn't been able to get out of bed. Tomorrow, who knows...?" Heidi began to cry. "It's too fast, Reed, and its not fair."
"No, no its not." Reed tried to imagine the indomitable Anna Bradley too weak to move and felt a lump form in her throat. She moved past the desk chair and stepped out on to the porch. The night air was cool, hung with the smell of ocean salt carried inland from the bay. Along the edge of her left palm were the faint scars of once melted flesh. Reed stared at the broken filigree of lines. It had been sudden and devastating; unfair. But only she had suffered. The smoke had taken them long before the fire ever got to second story of the farmhouse. Her mother had died quietly unknowing, fully herself. She made soft reassuring noises into the phone, as Heidi cried, and only when the breeze kicked up and brushed over the wetness on her cheeks did she realize that she was crying.
Long minutes, that could have been seconds or hours, passed before Heidi quieted. "Heidi?" Reed asked, loathe to break the silence.
"I'm still here. Haven't dribbled away in a puddle yet. Sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry for. I'm the one who's sorry that I can't be there with you." She could have gone for a couple of days at the tail end of last week, but now there were only two days left before principal photography started and it was too late.
"That's sort of what I called about. Mom's not stable, and the doctors think this is pretty much how the rest will go. I can't leave her, Reed."
"Of course not." She realized what Heidi was trying to say; Rio was going to need to come to New Zealand, instead of returning to Maine while she finished filming. "Hey. It's all good. Rio will love it here."
"Yes. Now stop worrying about everyone else, take care of you."
"Yes. Ma'am." Heidi no longer sounded quite as tense. "But at the risk of incurring your wrath, you take care of you too, okay? Be careful, please."
Same admonishment as always, but this time she felt the weight behind the familiar words. "I will," she promised.
"Bye." The line went dead, but she stayed outside, staring down over the tops of the trees and the city streets to the dark waters of the bay below.
Reed pondered her options. Rio had never been on set with her, and while she'd seen other actors with their children on location, it hadn't seemed like an ideal arrangement for young children. Maybe it wasn't too late to withdraw from the filming. They had shot a few warm-up scenes, but nothing that in the end tied them to her irrevocably. Her character was not even the real hero of the piece - Macalla being truly doomed and not destined to make it to the end of the script. She would talk to Cassman, maybe they could work something out. If not, there was at least one director left who would still hire her.
Jae leaned back in her chair and took stock of the chaos that had once been her pristine, largely unused living room. A large flat-screen television dominated one end of the room, and blocked access to the fire place with its industrial design waterfall and smashed glass shards that burned. Wires led from a video game controller to a console, and from the console to the tv; a hazard for the unwary.
A half built Lego robot shared the upholstered coffee table slash bench with an impressive array of tools and spare parts. On the couch were two books, each open, and each apparently in mid-read. The kitchen didn't look any better. Glasses a quarter full of juice and water lined one countertop and open boxes of crackers covered the other.
If she got up and started now, she could probably have everything cleaned up before Cait arrived, but she didn't have the energy. Or the inclination. Even if she cleaned it up tonight, by tomorrow evening everything would have migrated back out again. At least Antonia had left a lasagna the day before. Slice, serve onto plate, reheat. Another successful meal.
A yawn forced its way out, followed by another. She got out of the chair and went into kitchen. A quick rummage through a cupboard yielded a clean coffee cup which she placed under the dispensing nozzle of the expresso machine. A gift from Reed, it was the one applicance in her kitchen that she was completely comfortable with. Fill the reservoir, add fresh beans daily, hit the appropriate button and wham, perfect coffee. It made everything from tiny demi-tasse portions to galactic size; on a good day she could even manage to steam milk to frothy perfection and procure her own latte.
The smell of ground bean yielded to the greater pleasure of brewed coffee and Jae could feel her neurons begin to fire again, ready for another round in a day that had already seen two sunrises. A trip to the fridge produced a round of snow goat's cheese, a half a wedge of camembert, and some strawberries, while the second tier of the hanging basket contributed a chunk of baguette. She took her treasures over to the small cafe style table and popped a strawberry into her mouth, chasing it immediately with a piece of the camembert.
She sat, content to pick at the fruit and cheese and to sip her coffee. Across from her, on one corner of the table, Rio's math books were neatly stacked. Jae hoped that their uncharacteristic neatness was an artifact of how he treated his school work instead of the more probable explanation that they hadn't been touched.
Jae shook her head. One more thing to double check on tomorrow. Rio was amazingly well behaved, that she would concede without argument. He remembered to knock before he came into her room, sat when he used the bathroom, used headphones when he was playing videogames and complied with minimal fuss to most of her requests. She sighed, it was ironic really, she had Reed's total confidence that nothing would happen to Rio while he was in her care; Jae just wished she as sure that she'd survive it.
Not that she wasn't enjoying the experience. But she'd kill for a trip to the gym, or good, long run. A bright drawing on the fridge caught her eye. It was a cartoon of a super hero whose power Rio hadn't specified, but whose mode of transport was a skateboard of sorts. On the rare occassions that the twins had been house guests for an extended weekend she'd perversly found it much harder to say no and stick to it when they asked her for things. Except in this case: Alex and Aine both had skateboards, so, of course, Rio wanted one too, and was being stealthily persistant about it.
The doorbell rang, one long steady blast to let her know that it was Cait and that she would let herself in. Seconds later Cait strolled into the kitchen, black nylon briefcase in one hand, coffee in the other.
Cait grabbed a chair. "What the hell happened here?"
"Rio." Jae took a closer look at her friend. "And I could ask you the same thing. You look a fright." Cait looked tired, and drawn, her pale complexion seemed washed out.
"A fright?" Cait laughed, but Jae noticed that she had sidestepped the question.
"A total fright." She reiterated and motioned at the remaining bits of cheese and bread. "Eat something."
"No thanks." Instead of food, Cait reached into her pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "I need one of these."
Shocked, Jae jabbed her thumb in the air over her shoulder, pointing to the deck outside. "Out there." When Cait got up and went outside, Jae followed. "Wow. So is the world coming to an end, or are you a pod person?"
"Neither. And I could ask you the same question." Cait exhaled, and a cloud of silver smoke wreathed her head, then dissipaited into the night air. She took another long drag, then stubbed out the cigarette. "You, my friend, need a plan."
Jae laughed, ruefully. "The thought had crossed my mind."
"I don't suppose it's occurred to you that you could hire a little extra help and stick the kid in school?"
Jae opened her mouth to retort, then closed it. To be honest it hadn't occurred to her. "I not sure I can do that."
"Why not? It was very noble of you to do this, but you've got a job to do, and frankly, he needs more structure than playing on a computer in your office everyday." Cait relit her cigarette. "Send him to the studio school."
"No way. Even if Reed agreed to that, there's no way I'd expose Rio to most of the child actors in that place."
"Fine. Then what about going to school with Danielle's kids?"
Now that was an idea. Her sister's children went to a cross between a Quaker school and a Free school, so even if Rio was only there for a couple of weeks, he'd most likely be able to follow the curriculum his own school had sent. "I'll give Danielle a call." Plus she wouldn't feel quite so much like she was abandoning him if Rio had the twins with him at school.
"So now that you've finished being all clever with my life, care to let me in on what's up with the measured doses of cumulative suicide?"
Cait snorted. "Wow, nifty progression. From sleeping with Reed to channeling her."
Jae's ears reddened, but she let the snide comment pass, more interested in learning what was going on than in defending her relationship or Reed. "If I were channeling Reed, I'd be lighting up with you."
"She didn't quit?"
"No, not really. I think she thinks that I don't know."
"I thought true love came without secrets." Cait sounded wistful.
Putting aside Cait's characterization of her relationship with Reed for now, Jae considered the idea. Did true love come without secrets? Of course not. It had to; you couldn't talk about everything, all the time. Assumptions would be made, things would be left unsaid, fears and insecurities would go unexpressed - a thousand secrets. In her mind though, things didn't stay secret. Eventually, given enough time and trust, it would all come out - maybe in little jokes or knowing tweaks, or maybe late night confessions. Jae said none of this, sensing that Cait wasn't really after an answer. "Is everything okay with you and Thom?"
"Yeah." Cait was quiet for a minute. "But I need not to deal with this just yet, okay? Now, about your shooting schedule," Cait let her words trail behind her as she went back into the house.
Jae followed, letting Cait shift gears. She tripped over a ramp constructed of an amalgam of blocks and cardboard and made a mental note to ask Antonia if she could recommend someone for the days she wasn't available.
Two long hours later, Cait left, the shooting schedule ironed out, the few, inevitable conflicts that had crept in had been smoothed out and Jae was confident that everything was ready for the start of filming. She checked in on Rio, and smiled. One fist was tucked under his chin and had a firm gip on the covers; a book lay beside him on his pillow. She lifted the book and closed it, only then looking at the cover. It was a standard composition notebook. In the blank space for name, it said: 'The Amazon Prince.'
Intrigued, she flipped to a random page, surprised to recognize Reed's handwriting. Secrets indeed. Despite her curiousity, she put the book down on the nightstand next to the bed and walked out of the room. The clock in the hall showed that it was well past two in the morning and she had to be up earlier than she wanted.
The studio lane was quiet. It was easy to slip unnoticed past first one bungalow, then another. It was harder to creep inside; exterior doors were locked, and the windows shut fast against intrusion. Harder, but not impossible. Telephoto lenses could capture more than people. The minutia of life coalesced onto film as easily as did an expression. Four groups of two digits, and the code gleaned from exploded pixels triggered the electronic lock.
Dark hallways cozened the path through the building. A careful count of steps taken was all that was needed. Forty. Forty-one. Forty-two. Stop. The door was shut fast, but not proof against skill. Click, click. The last tumbler gave a soft snick and released its hold. Careful. Not too quickly. Shadows crept in, the greater shard of ambient light encroached from the hallway and into the office.
Another step. Forced breath breaking the still sound, then quieted; a knuckle sacrificed to the calm of pain and the cruel clamp of teeth. Suffer.
The room is wrong. It has lost its rightness. The Boy's things are gone.
Where are The Boy's things? Another flare of pain, this time the knuckle bleeds, sharp, warm, addictive. Three steps across the office and relief mingles with still flowing blood. Not gone. Away. The things are away. They sit by the couch, piled in a box. The Boy is not gone. He is away.
It is time. The back pack disgorged its contents. The first eye is easy, inserted with ease behind a lightplate, a tiny lens where once sat a black screw. Another home is harder to find. The office is a zone of chaos, yet the walls are bare, the furniture stark and the only hiding places in danger of being moved or used on equal whim.
The hiding places must be reliable, safe. Overhead, a light fixture provided shelter to another of the microlenses, but it will not be effective at all times. Movies were wrong. Packaging was wrong. The eyes refused to sink inconspicuously into nothingness. Detritus of regular life provided neither perfect planes of shadow, nor crevices that would cradle an unseen spy. Once promising cracks became tiny splinters, and the tiny lens magnified its once inconsequential size to outgrow nooks.
The nail of the digit that was home to the abused knuckle, worried at the dry, parched surface of a chapped lip, lifting tiny slices of parchment thin skin. Not everything of import would happen in this office. There were other spaces. Night still held sway, the cover of quiet unbroken by the sound or the motion of crews beginning to craft eddies of reality.
The couch creaked slightly, the new leather giving under the pressure of added weight. A blanket nudged at one elbow, no longer resting on an arm, but sliding downward as though in welcome. It was soft, plush and heavy with scented texture of long nights. Intoxicating, but not worth the risk. Nothing must be taken, nothing must be found. Anger threatened to rise in combination with frustration, fueled by self-denial of pleasure sought, but the blanket would stay.
The blanket would stay but the secrecy of life would not. Fresh purpose killed the rising frustration. Risk had been anticipated. Calculated. The cloying temptation of the couch was abandoned. On the far wall, behind the desk, and between the two tall windows hung a wall clock. Standard, black. Not quite right. Risk. Swiftly, the wall clock was replaced, its near twin the owner of a wireless, wide angle lens that needed less lux than the human eye to record its images.
Lux. The word dripped promise and threat, its drawn out, single syllable attractive for the sake of its acoustics alone. A single perfect morpheme. Lux. Lighting. Under the right lighting all things were visible. In the right light, the obvious was hidden. The hidden and the seen.
The Boy would be seen now. Cameras already in the house, its environs less secure than these premises had been. Nothing would be lost, hidden. Final adjustments were completed, and the office abandoned. The reverse path was easy, and the night forgiving of the soft crunch of feet on gravel.
Less forgiving was the time. Too many minutes had been lost, and there was danger now of not achieving the next goal. Backlot alley, after backlot alley, each was threaded, until at last, the small gap in the perimeter fence gave safe passage to the larger world and the waiting flight.
Jae took the ladle and spooned a portion onto the newly purchased griddle pan. The phone next to her on the cupboard rang, surprising Jae into nearly dropping the ladle. "Hello?"
"Hey." Reed returned her greeting.
"I was just thinking about you."
"Well, you and a thousand pound chocolate sundae."
"Now there's a mental picture." Reed laughed and Jae felt her spirits lift.
"Truly. But since I fully expect Rio to trudge back into the kitchen at any second, I'm not going to pursue this line of conversation, except to express how disappointed I am that the sundae in question has no whipped cream."
"Duly noted." Reed said, and Jae could imagine her expression: studied seriousness betrayed by a twinkle in her eyes.
"Fark!" Jae grabbed the griddle pan and moved it to another burner, away from the heat. She was definitely going to have to throw away the first pancake of this batch. Rio came thudding back into the kitchen, holding up his duly washed hands. Or wet hands at any rate. "One sec." She tossed the pancake into the sink for the garbage disposal to deal with. "Here you try this one." She poured a fresh dose of batter and handed him the spatula. "Back."
"What? Oh, that. Tiny little accident." The fire alarm hadn't gone off, and that made it a tiny accident in her book.
"Try turning the heat down to medium."
Jae reached for the dial and turned it back a couple of dots to medium. "Thanks."
Reed laughed. "No problem. Pancakes are tricky that way."
Now Rio was laughing too, and Jae motioned him to flip the pancake, which unaccountably only made him laugh harder, leaving her to flip it herself. "Your son has lost his mind." Then it hit her. "Reed, how do you know I'm making pancakes?" She looked around for a web camera, then, not finding an obvious one, looked suspiciously at Rio. Yesterday he'd wired her old computer to an FM transmitter and now she had RadioJ, so discovering that, in the time between being dropped off from school and now, he'd gone into public broadcasting wouldn't have surprised her in the least.
"Turn around." Reed had stopped laughing and Jae felt the words shoot to her guts. Slowly she turned, amazed by the level of anticipation that had risen in less than a second.
Reed opened the door from the backyard deck to the kitchen and watched Jae turn to face her. Rio lost no time scampering over to give her a hug and she put one arm around his shoulder and kissed the top of his head. "Hey, kiddo." She looked over Jae's shoulder. "Better go rescue your pancake."
Jae still hadn't moved closer, and Reed decided that she'd remember the expression on her lover's face for as long as she lived. She also decided that she'd put some effort and a lot of time into trying to replicate it. "Hey."
Whatever spell that held Jae was broken, and the smaller woman was suddenly barreling across the kitchen. Reed barely had time to lift her own arms before she was wrapped in a fierce hug. She held the hug for a moment, then whispered, "not good enough, Jacqueline." She kissed Jae, and felt the younger woman's surprise. Reed pulled back, met Jae's eyes and smiled. "Still not good enough, but its a start."
Jae pulled back a step. "How?"
"You know, Reed. One of these days, your minimalist conversational style is actually going to kill me. Poof, I'll be pulling words out of you and then just drop dead of a heartattack." She snapped her fingers for emphasis.
Rio seemed to think this was funny and was pantomiming an undescribable death by unknown means.
"You, eat your pancake." She pointed Rio at his food. She and Jae both moved toward the stove, and Reed stopped, waving Jae ahead. "You make a few more and I'll set the table?"
Jae looked at her skeptically, "are you sure you wouldn't rather cook them?"
"Nuh-unh." She waited a beat. "I'm letting you practice on him."
"Just see if I ever bring you breakfast in bed."
Reed lifted one eyebrow, and raked her eyes over Jae, trying to be as suggestive as possible. Rewarded with a blush she turned away and grabbed a couple of more plates from the cupboard. Then, tired from the long flight, she settled into a chair at the breakfast bar, and enjoyed watching Jae and Rio finish cooking dinner.
Jae's hair was longer, and Riordan seemed taller; yet it had only been a couple of weeks since she'd last seen them. She took a second look at Rio. He was wearing grey flannel pants and an untucked white shirt, that judging by the lack of wrinkles, had never actually been tucked in. His feet were bare, and it looked like he had a couple of large somethings tucked in the front pockets of his trousers. "Jae, is Rio wearing a school uniform?"
"Yes?" Jae answered, and Reed could tell that she hoped it was the correct answer.
Rio himself piped up and settled the matter. "It's so cool." He was nearly vibrating he was so excitied. From his left front pocket, he pulled a rolled up, heavily creased, notebook and flipped it open.
She saw Jae look at the notebook and shake her head. "Would you believe that that was brand new this morning?"
Rio had come over with the open book and was showing her a graph he'd drawn on one of the pages. "Did you know you can use the slope of a line through stuff you measured to figure out what kind of light you need to make a shot with a camera?"
Slope of a line? Any school that made Rio want to talk about math was fine by her. "I didn't. Did you, Jacqueline?"
"No. But then its been a steep learning curve kind of day." Jae smiled wryly. She threw one pancake out, and put the other three on a plate with the other successful pancake clones.
Rio and Jae moved to the small corner table and she joined them., bringing the butter and syrup with her. Reed settled into a chair across from Jae. Their eyes met for a second, and Reed was stunned by the wash of contentment that slammed into her. There was no opprotunity to follow it up just yet, so she relaxed and listened to Rio and Jae talk, occassionally contributing comments of her own. Besides, she had a pretty good idea that she'd be able to put that look back on Jae's face a little later when she took off the wig.
Jae exhaled softly, trying to force the stress of the day out of her body with the air. Reed was putting Rio to bed, and Jae took a perverse measure of delight in that fact that he was giving his mother just as much trouble as he gave her. She wriggled, unable to find a comfortable spot on the couch. Not normally a homebody, she hadn't spent much time in her living room, and had to grudgingly admit that while the furniture looked attractive, it was neither comfortable nor functional.
A thousand questions flooded Jae's mind, not the least of which was the obvious one: what was Reed doing here? The Riders was just about to start principal photography, so Reed should still be in New Zealand. Then again, she'd only made Reed promise not walk off of her set, so she supposed, Reed could very well have declared herself done - though she sincerely doubted that to be the case. Secondary to her curiosity was the desire to berate Reed for not returning her calls. Text messages and emails were fine, but not a venue for discussing important issues - like the fact that she'd unilaterally chosen a school for Rio, and enrolled him, albeit on a temporary basis. Not that she expected Reed to be the least bit repentant; her manifest glee at surprising them was proof that Reed had planned her arrival.
She grabbed her working copy of the script from her briefcase, pleased with not having to search too hard for it. Antonia had hired a younger cousin as an assistant, and for the first time in the last couple of weeks, the house was tidy. Extra fortunately, she thought, the living room no longer bore evidence of the toy shopping spree she'd indulged in as a means to occupy Rio when she was working.
One of the scenes had been rewritten completely, and she if could finish up with her shooting notes while Reed was finishing up with Rio, then the rest of her evening would be free to devote to solving a mystery or two. Like what on earth had Reed done to her hair?
Finished the last story she planned to read to Rio tonight, and with fresh coffee in hand, Reed made her way to where Jae waited in the semi-sunken living room. Unnoticed, she paused at the entryway to watch Jae for a moment, fascinated by the level of concentration that radiated from the director. A mechanical pencil was clenched between her teeth and Jae was making notes on whatever she was reading with a pen. Fascination gave way to sudden nervousness. She was expected, but Reed wasn't sure how to break Jae's concentration. She'd felt like that a lot lately, tiny moments of uncertainty that washed away with a smile or a kiss.
This time the coffee did the honours, its aroma catching Jae's attention, sparing Reed the need to interrupt. Feigning an elusive ease, she moved into the room. "Hey," she said.
"Hey yourself," came the soft reply.
They locked gazes and Reed felt her skin go hot, but knew it was an illusion, there would be no tell-tale blush. Her body had much more esoteric ways of betraying rising emotion. They continued to look at one another, and instead of speaking, Reed held out one of the mugs of coffee.
Her offering accepted, she joined Jae on the couch. After handing over one of the mugs, Reed lifted her own cup to her lips, desperately in need of the small shield against the wave of exhaustion that was crouched on her heels. A cautious sip proved unnecessary, the coffee had cooled a little, so she took a deeper pull, not entirely pleased that she'd subsumed a number of bad habits under layers of caffeine. A cigarette would be much more effective at calming her nerves.
Craving the physical contact Reed leaned over and kissed Jae; an undemanding kiss that hinted at more. Too soon the blonde pulled back and raised an inquiring eyebrow. "To hell with the Rule?" she asked.
"Mmm, something like that," she replied, then repeated the kiss.
"[Rio saying something demi-annoying ---> ask Maven what he says] ?" Rio's disembodied voice cut into the moment and they separated, slightly.
"Maybe not the whole Rule," she whispered before straightening fully and turning to face the entrance to the living room, in the unlikely event her wayward son put in an appearance. He knew better, bedtime was bedtime.
"I think I can live with that." Jae whispered in return.
"So." Jae rotated to look fully at her. "How's work?"
Reed laughed. That was not the question she knew Jae wanted to ask, but in a more playful mood than she'd expected to be in, she decided she'd answer it. Reed mulled over whether or not to mention Heidi's phone call and her subsequent conversations with Derek Cassman. Instead she began to fill Jae in on some of training excercises. "Some boxing and weights. I spent yesterday afternoon smashing at pells with my sword. Not that I hit many."
"I was just thinking that given your poor impulse control, I kinda like you soft and docile."
Reed tensed with involuntary hurt, then forced to herself to relax. Jae was teasing, nothing more.
"Reed?" Jae had sat up a bit.
"I'm fine. And I guess the fact that just under twenty-four hours ago I was in New Zealand with no travel plans, and now I'm here sort of speaks for itself."
Jae exhaled in relief. She'd forgotten how mercurial Reed could be. "Not that I'm not estatic to see you, but why are you here?" The sudden air of sadness that settled over Reed told her a great deal, but she didn't say anything, settling for twining her fingers in Reed's.
"Heidi called." Reed stared toward the painting on the far wall, then continued. "Anna doesn't have much longer, and Heidi's gonna stay by her mother for...until...for however long."
"You going to go see them?"
Reed shook her head. "I don't have time. I'm supposed to be back in Auckland in thirty-six hours," she looked over at the small clock, "thirty-one now. I came to rescue you from Rio."
"Oh." It was her turn for quiet as she digested Reed's words. Softly, Jae exhaled, surprised at the level of disappointment she felt. "It's okay. I understand -- " Reed had reached up and put a finger across Jae's lips, silencing her.
She needed a moment to think. "Hmm?"
"Tell me what you're thinking."
Could she? Jae wasn't even sure what she was thinking. Having Riordan around twenty-four seven was terrifying, and she still wasn't convinced that she was doing a very good job, but she couldn't imagine waking up and him not being there. How could she explain that to Reed? "I don't know what I'm thinking." Reed shifted on the sofa, and made deliberate eye contact. Jae tried to work out what she was seeing on Reed's face. She had even less success fathoming the closed planes than she had had deciphering her own thoughts. "Can I ask you a question?"
"Is this a now thing or a long time thing?" Here it was, the distillation of everything they had never fully discussed.
"What?" Reed looked confused. "Rio?"
Jae was torn. It had taken more courage than she'd expected to directly broach their future. Did she press on or let things sidetrack again? Or, by discussing Riordan, could she get the information she craved anyway? "Us."
"Us." Reed repeated, then fell silent. She didn't break eye contact, but didn't respond to the question immediately either.
Despite her failure to answer, Jae knew from Reed's body language that she was thinking, not retreating. Nothing in her stance or in the set of Reed's jaw gave any hint that Reed was preparing to flee. Instead of fidgeting, Jae concentrated on watching the shadows and dappled spots of moonlight flutter on the wall next to them. The house was preternaturally quiet, or maybe it only seemed that way now that Rio was asleep.
When the silence continued to wear on, Jae wondered if she were wrong; maybe Reed had no intention of answering and the only thing keeping her in her seat was the fact that Rio lay sleeping down the hall and couldn't be left behind. Jae anchored her patience to the small, unaltered, boundary of physical contact between them, Reed's leg pressed against hers, and waited.
"I never told you about the night my mother died."
Jae felt her stomach clench. She knew that Reed's mother and grandmother had died in a fire, and that the small, slick scar on the outside edge of Reed's left palm was from a burn sustained in a futile attempt to get into the burning house. The facts had been in a file of notes and newspaper clippings she had found in Roan's office after he died. She had never told Reed that she knew, and wasn't sure what the details of that night had to do with her question. She kept her silence, and waited for Reed to continue, afraid to break the thread.
"I was grounded." Reed shifted again in her spot. "Couldn't go to the State Fair. I was fourteen and I just had to go. So I went anyway. Snuck out of my window and climbed down the porch stanchion."
Jae nodded. That explained how Reed had survived the fire - she hadn't been home.
"There was this girl from school," Reed paused and took a swallow from her coffee. The pause became silence, and again, Jae wondered if she should prompt Reed. "So I went."
Watching Reed closely, Jae saw the tiny shoulder shrug that was meant to be interpreted as Reed operating in laissez faire land, but which really meant that she was anything but sanguine. Again, Jae held her silence, and traded the gentle pressure of her hand against Reed's for verbal encouragement.
"We were in this big group, but they wanted to ride the roller coaster. I didn't want to go. Carrie stayed with me. She said she wanted to see the chickens, so I followed her to the 4H display. I would have followed her anywhere that night. So I don't think this is a new thing, and its not a now thing. Not for me."
Jae opened her mouth to speak, but Reed spoke again. "My turn. Did you want kids?"
The words signaled a return to a pattern they had established long ago; no matter how obliquely, Reed had answered her question and was owed one in return. Jae grabbed on to the proffered safety and took the plunge. "Reed, I've known I was gay since I was nine. Until you, I didn't know I wanted a family. Until you, I didn't know I could have a family."
The bare framework of words and what Reed had left unsaid ripped at Jae, and she moved to fold Reed into a hug. Some of the tension slid out of Reed, and Jae waited for the humour that she knew Reed would use to descalate the tension in the wake of her own admission. It didn't take long.
"So, about that job?"
"You'd get to play a super hacker with a secret identity." Respecting Reed's need for reprieve, Jae kept her tone playful, preventing them from sinking too rapidly into a second serious discussion. Their working relationship could wait.
"I dunno. Wouldn't that be a demotion?"
"I'm the Amazon Ice Queen, remember?"
Jae flinched. Surely Reed no longer saw herself that way? "Ice Queen, hunh?" Jae slid off the couch, then turned and sat so that she straddled Reed's hips.
Sitting facing each other, their eyes were level. Jae stared into the pale blue irises of her lover and wished she could read what she saw. There was something raw in Reed still, some untapped well of pain that made Jae ache with the imagining of it. Infrequent confidences shed occasional light on the shadows in Reed's eyes, but Jae was at a loss to weave a coherent whole from the fragile threads she'd been given. They had had a break through of sorts tonight though. Reed had stayed present through the whole conversation, and she had reined herself in, not interupting to ask the thousand questions that danced on the edges of her vision. Jae tilted her chin slightly and breathed across Reed's lips, then sank forward, bringing their lips together. She felt Reed's breathing deepen, and nibbled a full, lower lip, planting a last delicate kiss before she pulled back slightly. "No ice there."
Without warning, Reed put her arms behind Jae's back and smoothly stood, lifting Jae as she did. Surprised, she clutched at Reed's shoulders. "Whoa."
"I've got you."
Jae wasn't convinced, but they steadied, and she relaxed, though a little puzzled by what had driven Reed to the sudden display of strength. Cooperating, Jae wrapped her legs around Reed's waist. "On second thought, I think I like you a little butch."
"Ya well, this was so much easier, and much more romantic in my head."
"Then I don't suppose pointing out that your hair is crooked will help with the illusion?" Jae brought her feet to the floor and they were leaning against each other. She could feel the pulse points in Reed's wrists throbbing against her back. Warm bursts of air tickled at the sides of her hair as Reed tried to bring her breathing back under control.
"Probably not," Reed agreed, then reached up and pulled off the wig.
Jae felt her eyes widen. Short, but not severe, earlobes visible, and more flat than wild; the cut was was stunning - but the most striking aspect was its colour - white. "You look like a superhero."
Reed snorted, and her lips curled in the way that Jae had come to recognize as a precusor to self-deprecation. "Some superhero. Does a superhero outrank a Queen?"
"Probably not." Jae reached up and Reed obligingly leaned her head down. It was warm and silky, like feathery water and Jae luxuriated in the feel of it.
Reed captured her lips and Jae forgot about the silkiness of Reed's hair as softer skin danced lightly in time to her movements. A trail of kisses upward, along the underside of her jawline to the edge of an ear. "It's good to be queen," Reed whispered. It should have sounded corny, but the warm tenor undercut the words and made of them an earnest declaration.
Once again Jae felt herself being lifted and cradled against Reed's body. Somehow they had backed toward the bed, and as Reed let them fall backwards, Jae trusted the bedframe to support their weight, and let herself fall with Reed. She was forgetting something, but as Reed rolled them over, and began to explore the base of her throat with kisses, Jae lost the thought along with any inclination she had to chase it.
Reed lay awake, the low, warm buzz of adreneline from lovemaking not yet worn off. Her mind was cluttered with feelings masquerading as thoughts, as though by intellectualizing her life, she could avoid it altogether.
The balcony door in the bedroom was open and the sounds of surf on pounding on rock drifted in along with the late night breeze. Reed tugged the sheet up over Jae. Her eyes followed the shrouded contours, before lingering on the softly rising and falling swath where waist met hips. Momentarily overwhelmed by a sudden need to wrap herself around Jae, she didn't notice that she was being watched in turn.
"Hey." Jae spoke softly, then reached over and gently twirled her finger in Reed's shorn hair,
"I didn't mean to wake you."
Jae grinned, "you didn't." She let go of the piece of hair she'd been twirling and used that hand to prop her head up.
The movement had brought their eyes nearly level and Reed averted hers, momentarily seeking shelter from the intensity. When she looked back up, Jae still wore a smile, but Reed could see something mischeviousness now lurked under the benign facade. "Why were you grounded?"
"When?" But she was dissembling. She knew exactly what Jae meant. It had been an awful mistake, and one that had cost her in ways that were unimaginable at fourteen and were still not entirely fathomable at thirty. "I crazy glued Carrie Wood's shoes to the auditorium floor during assembly. I didn't know they had a hole in them."
Jae burst out laughing. "And there she was--"
"Stuck to the floor, shoe, sock, and foot. Yes." As Jae continued to laugh, Reed tried to picture what was going on in her lover's fertile imagination, but the actual images of Carrie standing helpless as the entire school laughed overrode her nascent impulse to join in. Instead she waited indulgently for Jae to come to rest.
"Wait." Jae sat up, and brushed away a tear that had rolled over her cheek. "Wasn't she girl at the fair?"
Jae started to laugh again.
"What's so damn funny?"
"C'mon Reed. You glued the shoes of the girl you had a crush on to the floor. You could have just pulled her hair. Even you have to admit that's pretty funny."
She didn't have to admit a damn thing. And besides, that's not why she'd done it. She'd walked into the locker room after gym and Carrie had been there with some other girls, laughing, and they'd gone all quiet as soon as they'd seen her. Or at least Carrie had, and they had followed. Oh fuck. She had hadn't she? She'd been hurt that Carrie was laughing at her, though why it had bothered her so much she hadn't understood until Jae pointed it out. And it was pretty fucking funny. Maybe not for Carrie, but funny just the same.
Her realization must of shown on her face, cause Jae doubled up again. "See."
When the last paroxisms of unfettered laughter finally passed, it hurt to breathe, and she lay next to Jae, exhausted. A companionable silence had expanded to fill the void left when they had stopped laughing, and Reed felt herself nestling into its welcoming warmth, as sleep finally began to claim her.
Jae felt Reed quiet into stillness, the unexpected spate of laughter having finally played itself out in both of them. She wrapped herself around Reed, melding into every fold she could reach. Warm beneath the covers, lethergy crept over her, and Jae found herself on the verge of drifting off to sleep. Images crowded into her mind, the hallucinogenic seeds of dreams to come. One sparked a thought and Jae fought back through the layers of sleep that pulled at her. "Reed?"
"Yes, Jacqueline." Reed's voice sounded far away and thick with sleep.
"Rio can't go with you."
There was no answer, and Jae realized that between one instant and the next Reed had fallen asleep.
Before she could decide how to wake Reed, she lost her own battle and succumbed to her body's demand for sleep. Her last conscious thought was to decide that she had closed the door at the bottom of the stairs. Almost positively.
~~~ Chapter 9 ~~~
The chirping of a cell phone cut through the hazy shroud of sleep and it took Reed a second to remember that she was in Jae's bedroom. Strangely, her phone was on the nightstand next to the bed, and not downstairs where she'd left most of her things last night. She debated whether or not to answer it, and decided that since she was awake and Jae was no where to be seen, she might as well. "Lewis," she grunted.
"I thought of a reason why Rio can't go with you."
Reed sat up and swung her legs off the side of the bed. "Where are you?"
A white terry cloth robe rested over the edge of Jae's reading chair. Reed grabbed it, jammed the phone between her chin and shoulder, and shrugged her way into the garment. The scent of sandalwood drifted up from the robe. Reed bent her head to sniff at a handful of the fabric, and smiled in recognition. This was Jae's robe, not hers. "Outside where?"
"On the balcony."
"Jae, what are you doing on the balcony?" Reed tried to peer outside, but the early morning sun was pouring directly in and making it impossible to see anything outisde.
"Talking to you. Can you sit down for a minute?"
Reed felt her throat constrict, but despite her sudden burst of fear, sat. Absently, she noted that the overstuffed chairs in the bedroom were much more comfortable than any of the furniture in the livingroom.
"No problem. Are you going to tell me what's going on?" She managed to keep her tone even.
"I just thought we needed to talk."
"So you phoned me? From what - forty feet away?"
"I get all knotted up when I try to talk to you about us, and Rio, and the future. I get so scared that I'll say the wrong thing. Or it'll be the right thing and come out all wrong, and even though it was the right thing, that'll be that. I'll have said it and you'll be gone."
Reed shuffled through her responses, and settled on honesty. "Me too."
"Yeah. Really. Now will you come back inside?"
The glass door swung open. Bright morning sunshine glinted from the panes, and doused the dark corners of the room with pale warmth. Reed kept her phone to her ear, connected; but she didn't speak. Jae, too, still held her own phone, the familiar battered, black handset pressed against blonde, sleep tousled hair. She watched Jae's lips moved and heard the echo in her ear. "Maybe I should go back outside."
Reed brought her arm down and snapped the phone closed. "Stay." Struck by the irony of her speaking those words to Jae, she smiled, receiving a warm, almost sheepish grin in return. "So, where do we go from here?"
Jae moved across the room, and Reed couldn't help but to track the movement of the muscular legs poking out from beneath the oversize shirt. By the set of Jae's shoulders, and the slight wrinkling of her forehead, it was obvious to Reed that Jae was not nearly as calm as she looked, but still, she seemed to glide gracefully from the open door to settle on the bed. They were facing each other now, Jae perched on the end of the bed, her head cocked to one side, her face masked with an unfamiliar intensity. "I don't know. Exactly." Jae voice was faint, hesitant.
"I know that I don't want to be without you. I also know that shit happens and people fall apart. But I also know that I love you, and I will not sit by and let our fear kill this before it gets truly started." It was strange, her stomach was knotted, but the sense of floating next to a cloud spoke more clearly of the cloying anxiety ripping through her body. Reed struggled to keep Jae in proper focus; to hold at bay the slide and connect the liminal to the possible.
"I love you, too." Jae whispered, then leaned forward and rested her forehead against Reed's.
The cool touch of skin and the familiar timbre tipped the balance in her fight to stay grounded, and Reed let herself luxuriate in the sensation.
"It's going to take more than that though, isn't it?"
Reed lifted her head away from Jae's to stare at the younger woman. Something had shifted in the immeasurable span between sentences, and Jae sounded crushed."Hey. What just happened in there?" She reached up and wiped away a nascent tear from Jae's ashen cheek with her thumb.
Jae answered in the form of a gesture, her hand waving cryptically at the room around them. Without an immediate clue to what was happening for Jae, Reed moved to the bed and wrapped her arms around Jae. "It always takes more than love." Or lust, but she kept that thought to herself.
"I wouldn't know. I woke up this morning, and there you were, lying curled up on your side, curved in toward me. Still and calm. Light had just started to come in through the window; it gave everything a burnished fairy glow. You were so beautiful. Are so beautiful. For the first time, I understood. I love you. And for the first time, I understand what that means. So I don't know what else it takes. This is the first time I've ever been in love." Jae looked down when she'd finished, her posture as earnest and controlled as her words.
Reed felt the wry grin that pulled the corners of her mouth back, and could do nothing to stop it, she just hoped that Jae didn't misinterprete it. Suddenly, she wished they were on the phone; she'd have the precious milliseconds she needed to master her unconscious reactions and pull them from her affect. Did Jae think she was the expert? "Jacqueline." She stopped, wanting to get the words exactly right, then realized that that was part of the bridge they needed to build - they had to stop waiting for everything to be at the perfect time and to be said with the perfect words. Neither of them was perfect, so no way in hell would their relationship be perfect either. But it didn't have to be. It just had to be honest. "I've said those words to exactly one person that I was sleeping with - you." In truth, she could exclude her thumb, and still be able to count on one hand the number of people she'd said it to in any context.
Some of the colour had come back into Jae's cheeks."The blind leading the blind, hunh?"
"More or less, we'll figure this out together. Remember Maine? This," and this time she was the one who waved vaguely at the air, "is up to us to define. Our rules." In the tiny hotel room in Bangor, they had worked out the rules for a friendship that her stupidity had nearly destroyed, and to Reed, the gulf they had crossed that night was wider than anything they faced now. She watched Jae fidget and tug at the pad of one palm with her thumb and forefinger.
Jae looked thoughtful. "Then rule number one is honesty."
"Good rule," she agreed, having come to the same conclusion herself.
"So, about Rio." Reed started, surprised, and wished again for the cushion of safety the phone afforded. "I'll tell him."
A blonde brow lifted, followed swiftly by the other one, "Good. But believe it or not, that's not what I meant. Besides, I'm still not convinced he doesn't know."
"Then what?" As she spoke, Reed remembered the original start to the conversation, but didn't have the chance to indicate it.
"I was going to say that Rio can't go with you because he doesn't have a passport. But the truth is, I don't want him to go."
Watching closely, Reed could see Jae's shoulders tighten up as she drew herself in, as if afraid of the response. "You sure?" Jae smiled and Reed felt her adrenaline level surge again in response; the tango between ecstasy and agony wreaking internal havoc, as she shot from stultifying anxiety into fierce joy.
"I'm sure. Besides, that way you have to come back." Jae's tone was light, but her eyes glanced downward as she spoke.
"Hey." Reed lifted her hand to cup Jae's face again, "You're reason enough." She used her greater height to her advantage and drew Jae towards her. Softly, she kissed Jae, increasing the pressure in tiny increments until she felt Jae's hunger rise to match hers. Reed slid her hands under Jae's shirt and gripped the smooth skin along the base of Jae's spine.
One of Jae's hands had tugged apart her robe, the other was circling under her left breast. Reed pushed off the floor with one foot, tumbing them over on the bed. She rose to her knees and shrugged out of the robe. Her eyes locked on Jae's, she bent forward slightly and began unfastening the few remaining buttons on the shirt. The last button undone, Reed switched her attention from the crumpled cotton to the trace the edges of muscle swathed ribs. With her index fingers, she traced the contours of Jae's navel, progressing from underneath, moving along the sides, then shooting upward across her stomach, following the motion of her hands with her body as she stretched out along the length of Jae's body.
The sheets had chilled slightly and the mix of prim, cool, cotton and warm skin threaded through her nerves, firing a relay of sensation. Reed nibbled the soft skin over Jae's jugular, her lips tingling in time to the beat of the pulse beneath the thin sheath of skin. Jae's hand tangled in her hair, fingers locked on the short sprays of white, and Reed followed the guiding pressure upwards to meet Jae's surge with need of her own.
updated 16 June 2005